May 28, 2024

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American analyst: Iran’s performance at containing COVID-19 ‘truly amazing’

TEHRAN – A senior American political analyst tells the Tehran Times that despite U.S. “economic assaults” on Iran efforts by Tehran to contain the coronavirus pandemic have been “truly amazing”.

Yuram Abdullah Weiler also casts doubt about the number of coronavirus victims given by western countries.

“It could be that the western powers are not doing enough testing, or are not reporting the true numbers,” Weiler opines.

The analyst also censures Donald Trump for his handling of the deadly COVID-19 in the U.S., saying “this dangerously demented dilettante should be indicted for negligent homicide.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Question: Reportedly, people are queuing up in the U.S. to get free food. If true, what does this suggest?

Answer: Over 15 years ago when I volunteered at a food bank in the relatively prosperous city of Denver, Colorado, people were already lining up to get free food.  This was before the global financial meltdown of 2008 and I can only imagine what it must be like there now with the coronavirus pandemic, which has brought most of the U.S. economy to a halt.

Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan and his philosophy of “government is the problem,” the social safety nets set up under the Franklin Roosevelt administration during the Great Depression of the 1930s have been gradually and persistently dismantled.  As a result, private organizations, often in partnership with local governments have tried to fill the gaps, but without consistent, adequate funding, these programs are at best stop-gap measures in lieu of support at the national level.

“Millions of people (in the U.S.) lack access to healthcare and are food insecure.”

With the ascendancy of Trump, who has done his best to gut any remaining social programs, we see the culmination of the neoliberal agenda.  In February at the height of the stock market when the Dow Jones index was around 29500, this little man, who really should be tried for negligent homicide, proposed more budget cuts to the Centers for Disease Control after having eliminated 80 percent of the agency’s capabilities to respond to a global outbreak like we are seeing now.

Q: Are these things the consequences of capitalism in which a very small percentage, or better to say “one percent”, keeps everything in its possession to the extent that when a crisis, such as the Covid-19 emerges, the people are pushed to near starvation.

A: Absolutely. The neoliberal ideologues see the free market as the solution to all social problems, and when applied to healthcare, housing and food distribution, the results are exactly what we are witnessing now in the United States: millions of people lack access to healthcare, cannot find affordable housing and are food insecure.

Q: Don’t you think that the weaknesses of capitalism are being laid bare more evidently in such situations?

A: Definitely.  One of the consequences of the free market is the lack of robustness in the healthcare delivery system.  The free market approach dictates profit maximization, so healthcare deliverers concentrate on what is profitable, such as elective surgeries or other boutique services, which only the one percent, as you put it, can afford.  There is absolutely no incentive for a corporate healthcare provider to plan for a “black swan” event like the COVID-19 epidemic. For a large health care conglomerate to provide hospital beds and to stockpile masks and other supplies would be considered a breach of fiduciary trust.

“Had the culpable clown in the White House taken the pandemic seriously when first informed of it in his daily security briefings in December 2019, and acted decisively upon the warnings, there would have been fewer than the 23,000 deaths as of this moment.”

And this is precisely the problem with applying the for-profit model to the healthcare system. If a hospital system only uses 85 percent of its beds on average, then eliminating the unused 15 percent would make the system more profitable by reducing unnecessary costs.  The end result of this process, which has been going on in the U.S. for at least 40 years, is a bare-bones healthcare system that functions efficiently, but has no robustness to cope with a pandemic, a hurricane, an earthquake or any other unusual calamity.

Q: Socialism is being constantly attacked by the capitalists. However, in a country in which avaricious capitalism does not talk first, the public should enjoy minimum standards of living, having a home (no matter how small it is) and have access to free healthcare. In view of such realities, don’t you think that capitalism must be controlled?

A: As for myself, I have long held that public control of an enterprise must be in direct proportion to the amount of capital invested.  I suppose a corollary of this would be that all essential public services, such as healthcare and public transportation, should be nationalized.  Certainly, public housing should be expanded on a national level, as currently the local public-private partnerships building “affordable housing” suffer from an inability to meet the demand.  

Recalling the Iranian experience, Imam Khomeini (ra) instituted a Construction Jihad following the victory of the Islamic Revolution. While it would be too much to expect a similar national program in America, even in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, still there is historical precedent:  President Franklin Roosevelt took dramatic action during the Great Depression to revitalize the economy. So, if after the COVID-19 outbreak subsides American policymakers are still too arrogant and ideologically challenged to use Iran as a model for rebuilding their country, then they can look back 80 years to Roosevelt’s actions for guidance.

Q: Also, do you think that the statistics given by the U.S. about COVID-19 victims are true, especially as officials in Washington keep accusing Iran of covering up the extent of the crisis at home?

A: Ask an old mathematician a statistical question, and… Well, no, frankly I believe the U.S. numbers reported are low.  There is a theorem in statistics called the Law of Large Numbers.  Basically, the idea is that given a set of random samples, the averages of each should converge to the same value as sample size increases.  Now looking at the attack rates, that is, the cumulative number of confirmed cases per 100,000 persons, the range is from 0 (Yemen) to almost 1000 (San Marino) with 500 (Iceland) in the middle.  The U.S. is around 150 in the middle of the other major western powers, ranging from 100 to 200. To me, this seems like an incredible spread. It could be that the western powers are not doing enough testing, or are not reporting the true numbers.

Q: Do you also believe that the world, in general, failed to contain the virus?

A: If we accept the hypothesis that the virus had its origins in Wuhan, then, based on reported cases and deaths in comparison to Europe and America, China has done a spectacular job of containing the pandemic.  Likewise, Iran’s efforts at containing the outbreak have been truly amazing, especially given that the country remains under an economic assault by the United States, and can’t even purchase all the necessary medical and humanitarian supplies for its population.

Q: What is your assessment of the handling of the virus by the Trump administration?

A: Honestly, I would have to say at best, the current U.S. president has shown a complete lack of leadership, leaving individual state governors to cope with the outbreak as best as they can.  Here in New Mexico, we are fortunate enough to have a governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, who saw the danger coming, marshaled the necessary resources and issued a state-wide stay-at-home order to reduce the spread of the virus.

“I maintain this dangerously demented dilettante (Trump) should be indicted for negligent homicide.”

Forgive my bluntness, but had the culpable clown in the White House taken the pandemic seriously when first informed of it in his daily security briefings in December 2019, and acted decisively upon the warnings, there would have been fewer than the 23,000 deaths as of this moment. Medical supplies could have been allocated from federal stockpiles; a national task force of medical professionals could have been formed; responses, testing methods, and strategies could have been developed; and, international lines of communication made ready. 

But no, the bigoted buffoon in residence chose to pretend, at least publicly, that there was no danger, everything was under control, and the coronavirus would die out. Worse yet, this criminal con man claimed hydroxychloroquine was a cure, and several people have died as a result.  That’s why I maintain this dangerously demented dilettante should be indicted for negligent homicide. So now, Americans are faced with a raging pandemic that also happens to be causing an economic crisis, which portends to be greater than the Great Depression.

Q: It seems that East Asian countries, such as Japan and South Korea, have been acting more successfully in containing the virus than the U.S. and European countries. What are the reasons?

A: The number one reason for Japan and South Korea’s success in combatting COVID-19 is effective leadership. Both countries’ leaders recognized and acknowledged the threat, informed the public of the danger, and initiated a vigorous program of mass testing and quarantine. The opposite happened in the U.S., with Trump being more interested in keeping stock prices high for his billionaire buddies than in the wellbeing of his fellow Americans.  In Europe, there seems to have been a lack of coordinated leadership, so each country acted more or less independently, much like the individual states in the U.S. have done.

Q: How do you see the post-Coronavirus world?

A: Whether or not one believes the coronavirus was engineered, it is clear that the one-percenters had contingency plans in place to activate during such a calamity.  For example, the speed with which the U.S. Federal Reserve responded was astounding. On March 3, long before Trump fully acknowledged the severity of COVID-19, the FED lowered the federal funds rate to 0 to 0.25 percent, which represents an extremely drastic 1.5 percent reduction, in response to falling stock prices.  In addition, the FED has returned to the policy of quantitative easing (QE), purchasing treasury and mortgage-backed securities, as it did during the 2008 global financial crisis.  The greatest activity is in the so-called repo market, where the FED has gone from loaning $100 billion overnight to $1 trillion to keep credit markets afloat, and even is offering $500 billion for up to three months.

“In Europe, there seems to have been a lack of coordinated leadership, so each country acted more or less independently, much like the individual states in the U.S. have done.”

The immediate problem for U.S. small businesses is staying afloat until the pandemic passes.  While loans are available from the FED through banks, problems have already arisen.  Wells Fargo was unable to process loans because of additional reserve requirements imposed as a result of past behavior involving fraudulent accounts.  Additionally, navigating the bureaucracy requires legal help that most small businesses do not have nor can afford.  Furthermore, with their customers lacking sufficient disposable income to buy goods and services, many small businesses will undoubtedly go under.

As far as the aftermath of U.S. healthcare, I really don’t see major changes coming despite the shocks now taking place. With privatization so engrained in the minds of policymakers, it is almost inconceivable that, in the wake of COVID-19, there would be a logical and rational shift towards nationalized healthcare. In addition, Americans react negatively to any hint of socialized medicine, or threats to their imagined and nonexistent freedom of choice when it comes to medical care.  I would expect at most in the post-coronavirus world that Medicare might be expanded by lowering the eligible age to 60, and the so-called ObamaCare, the Affordable Care Act, might be amended to provide a greater choice of coverages.

It is harder to predict what the post-corona virus American society will look like. Following the relaxation of social distancing and a resumption of daily schedules, people will undoubtedly feel the residual effect of COVID-19 for years to come. The only similar event with respect to a profound impact would have been the 9/11 attacks, and it was years before daily life returned to a semblance of normality. With the coronavirus, I doubt that life in America will ever be the same.  It will be interesting to see what happens next.

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