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A new world order for the coronavirus era is emerging

By Alan Crawford
A new world order for the coronavirus era is emerging
People wearing masks collect their purchases at a curbside pickup counter outside a wine and spirits shop in New York on June 28, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Angus Mordant.

In July 1945, at the close of World War II, the leaders of the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union gathered at a Prussian royal palace in Potsdam outside the conquered German capital to hammer out the new global order. The seeds were sown for the Cold War.

As visitors in face masks ponder the consequences of those decisions at a new exhibition to mark the 75th anniversary of the conference, the geopolitical map of the world is again being redrawn. This time, it's a result of the coronavirus, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described as the biggest challenge of the postwar era.

Half-way into a year dominated by the pandemic, governments are confronting a health crisis, an economic crisis and a crisis of institutional legitimacy, all at a time of heightening geopolitical rivalry. How those tectonic shifts crystallize over the next six months will go a long way to determining the post-virus era.

Trends that were already discernible pre-covid-19 have intensified and accelerated. As a fast rising power, China is growing more assertive and jostling with countries from Canada to Australia. The U.S., the one superpower that has remained at the top table since Potsdam, is increasingly self-absorbed as the virus rips through its population and economy ahead of November's presidential election.

"A lot of structural problems in the international order are becoming much more glaringly apparent," said Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University.

With a convergence of multiple pressure points, from failures of leadership to a lack of trust in the veracity of information, "it does add up to a kind of perfect storm," he said. "The big test is really whether we can get through let's say the next six to 18 months without these crises coming to a head."

In Potsdam, the key dynamic was the ideological struggle between the Communist and Capitalist systems as espoused by Moscow and Washington. The Soviet Union under Josef Stalin had emerged from the war as a superpower, while American President Harry Truman demonstrated U.S. technological and military superiority by issuing the order from the conference to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Today's standoff between the U.S. under President Donald Trump and Xi Jinping's China was compared to the "foothills" of a new Cold War by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in November. Historian Niall Ferguson says we're already there. Most agree that a Joe Biden presidency would be unlikely to reverse the deterioration of U.S.-China relations.

For Medcalf, whose book "Indo-Pacific Empire" deals with the strategic rivalry in the region, the defining issue now is not just how the U.S. responds to the challenge of China's rise, but whether "middle players" including India, Australia, Japan and Europe are prepared to take risks to defend the international order-and to work together in doing so.

The problem is that there's no obvious forum to debate the shape of the post-pandemic world. The Group of Seven is in limbo while this year's host, Trump, disputes who should be a member. A planned September summit of European Union leaders and Xi has been postponed indefinitely. The November G-20 meeting under the presidency of Saudi Arabia remains uncertain.

The United Nations, formed in 1945 to prevent further wars, is largely dysfunctional: Russia and China, two of five veto-wielding powers, blocked another resolution this week, this time on Syria.

The sources of conflict with Beijing, meanwhile, are suddenly and bewilderingly everywhere.

China, which elicited broad sympathy and medical support at the start of the year when it became the first country to suffer the impact of coronavirus, has since frittered away that goodwill.

It's locked in a tussle with Australia over the origins of the virus, with Canada over the detention of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou, and with India over a disputed border. Japan and the EU are moving to become less dependent on China as a result of supply-chain deficiencies exposed by the virus. Germany and Australia are two among many to enact or tighten legislation to protect against predatory investments from China.

Europe's attitude to China is hardening inexorably, helped by a rapid shift in public opinion against Beijing, according to Agatha Kratz, a Paris-based associate director at Rhodium Group who leads research on EU-China relations.

"We are actually advancing faster than many of our colleagues and partner countries, the U.S. included, on a number of fronts," said Kratz. She cited steps including an EU policy paper on competition issues released in June that is "a huge deal" in terms of the bloc's stance toward China.

China's national security law imposed on Hong Kong has spurred global anger at Beijing's interference in the former British territory's independence and is causing severe strains with London.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to reverse an earlier decision and shut out Huawei from its 5G networks, prompting a warning of "consequences" from China's ambassador in London. Johnson's government also offered 3 million Hong Kong residents a fast track to British citizenship.

Ulrich Speck, a senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, compared the symbolism of China's stance on Hong Kong to Berlin's blockade by the Red Army in 1948-1949. That was the moment when reality struck that the U.S. and Soviet Union had moved from wartime allies to deadly rivals.

Tensions are also high with Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea and the East China Sea amid a "hyper-power display" by China, according to William Choong, senior fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

"In the Chinese mind, the U.S. has lost its mantle of leadership in the Asia-Pacific, if not the world," he said. "So China does see it as an opportunity to press the advantage on some of the hotspots in my part of the world."

Choong worries that a confrontation between the U.S. and China, or between Japan and China, could turn to open conflict as a result of some "trigger-happy commander on the ground who decides to press a point and push the button."

History is littered with unintended consequences, and the Potsdam Conference had its share.

Over 16 days, Truman, Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided Germany's fate and debated Poland's western border, while also taking positions that would have far-reaching consequences for the Middle East and for China, Japan and Korea.

Shifting Poland's border west to compensate for territory carved out of the east-as well as the closing communique's reference to the "removal" of ethnic Germans from eastern Europe-led to the mass displacement of some 20 million people.

Within less than a year, Churchill, who was replaced in Potsdam by Clement Attlee after losing the British election, referred to an Iron Curtain descending across Europe. By 1950, war broke out on the Korean peninsula between the Soviet-backed Communist north and the U.S.-backed south.

Many of the fault lines established then can be traced today, overlaid and accentuated by the coronavirus.

The pandemic hasn't so much changed the world as "thrown a brutal spotlight on the flaws, deficiencies and the disrepair both for the international order and national order," said Constanze Stelzenmueller, senior fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "And where there have been flaws and weaknesses, the pandemic has ripped through with particular brutality."

That applies to the U.S. and the U.K., both of which have suffered a disproportionately high number of deaths to Covid-19. Stelzenmueller also sees China and Russia as having had bad crises: Beijing's aggressive virus diplomacy contributed to the backlash it's witnessing, while Vladimir Putin's move to consolidate his grip on power underlines his domestic weakness rather than strength.

Populism and its scorn for experts has been exposed. By contrast, Europe's efforts to present a viable third way have been given a spur, and appear be on the verge of becoming credible. Stelzenmueller sees hope in the performance of her native Germany, which has proved that "one sane government" can get a grip on even incredibly complex problems. "Sometimes you really have to stare disaster in the face," she said.

But the crisis is still very much with us, as renewed outbreaks from Florida to Melbourne show, with question marks over how frustrated populations will react to fresh government-imposed lockdowns and deepening economic hardship.

To Medcalf in Australia, a better analogy for what comes next is the prewar period of the 1930s. "Whatever's happening we're on the edge of some kind of gathering storm," he said. "It's just that we don't yet know what the storm will look like or how it will break."

Six months, six countries, six families - and one unrelenting, unforgiving epidemic

By Steve Hendrix
Six months, six countries, six families - and one unrelenting, unforgiving epidemic
Karen Yip, an actress who began disinfecting public buses during the pandemic as her theater work dried up, poses for a portrait in her neighborhood in the Sha Tin of Hong Kong on June 25, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Photo for the Washington Post by Laurel Chor

For the rising actress in Hong Kong, who had broken free of the poverty of her peasant parents, 2020 began as a moment of hope. For the window cleaner in New Delhi, finally able to afford a new cellphone, the year's start was a time of small advances. For the young nurse newly assigned to the coronary care unit of a Madrid hospital, it was a dawn of promise.

They had their troubles, of course, as did the sorbet hawker from a Rio de Janeiro slum run by drug lords, the publishing manager in Budapest nervous about rising authoritarianism and the single mother in Nairobi staying steps ahead of hunger and her HIV infection. But the concerns were familiar, the challenges of a kind that could be faced, or fought, or at least recognized.

Now, the new year was bringing a new peril.

An invisible menace emerging out of China was building into a wave that over the coming months would roll inexorably across a defenseless globe, swamping some while seeming to spare others, only to overwhelm them later. It would batter those hopes, amplify those woes and upend so many of life's norms.

In far-flung corners of the Earth, six families, like millions of others, would struggle to ride out the wave as it crested and then receded and then threatened to rise again.

This account, detailed in dozens of interviews over several months, is their story - and the world's.

Reporting by The Washington Post's Max Bearak, Rachel Cheung, Marina Lopes, Shibani Mahtani, Niha Masih, Loveday Morris and Pamela Rolfe.

- January

Hong Kong, Jan. 1

The first day of the year was a busy one for Karen Yip. She was juggling rehearsals for a play scheduled to open in just a few weeks and preparing for another that would tour dozens of schools. School theater workshops filled the rest of her calendar.

This was a life Karen, now 33, had dreamed of since her high school drama club.

Her career - her calling, really - marked a radical shift in her family's history. Her father had fled to Hong Kong from a starving Chinese village during the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s. He rose from garment worker to owning three workshops, which he saw go bust in the 1980s. By the time Karen was in kindergarten, he was a street sweeper who scrimped on groceries and never stopped pleading with her to pursue something more secure than acting, even as she earned a master's degree in drama.

She and her partner, Cheng Ka-chun, hustled parts in local plays, puppet shows and traveling productions. They could afford a 300-square-foot slice of Hong Kong's real estate market, one of the world's most expensive, which they shared with a 2-year-old son.

That would soon be in jeopardy. On that first day of the year, next door on the mainland, Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan had been closed for urgent cleaning after more than two dozen people who had been there were hospitalized with a perplexing pneumonia.

Hong Kong, remembering the 2003 SARS outbreak that rattled the city, watched nervously as the outbreak blew up on the mainland. On Jan. 28, the city closed its rail links to the mainland.

When the Lunar New Year vacation ended late in the month and Karen was preparing her workshops for returning students, she got word: Schools were closed. Rehearsals were canceled. Her income was gone.

- February

Madrid, Feb. 14

Total known cases worldwide: 66,908

Maria Maraver had begun her assignment as a coronary care nurse at Gregorio Marañón Hospital just a few weeks before the reports of a respiratory syndrome wreaking havoc in China caught her eye. On one level, she was intrigued. If the novel coronavirus ever reached Spain, she could imagine treating the infected. She was confident her hospital was well-equipped for it.

At 25, Maria was part of an accomplished family from suburban Madrid. Her Arkansas-born mother, with the help of an older brother, ran a chain of stores selling imported American foods. One sister was a first-year medical student; the other was cramming for the medical school entrance exam. An academic interest in the distant epidemic was part of breakfast table chatter.

But their interest soon grew more immediate. Sixteen cases of coronavirus suddenly appeared in northern Italy. The outbreak had arrived in Europe.

Budapest, Feb. 17

Total known cases worldwide: 73,269

About 1,500 miles to the east in Hungary, Tamas Bodi and Melinda Biletics watched the news from Italy and thought of all the families on ski holiday there, some from the school where Melinda taught second grade and their two daughters were students.

The school's headmaster asked parents who had visited the Alps to keep their children home for two weeks. But many ignored him, and Melinda knew the virus had a way into her classroom. For the first time, she said, she could feel the epidemic "on my skin."

Tamas, 41, was a project manager for the publisher of HVG, a respected economic and political weekly, one of the few independent media outlets left under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Tamas dreaded the appearance of the coronavirus, not just as a health threat but also a political one. In Hungary, it was not hard to imagine a shutdown becoming a crackdown.

Nairobi, Feb. 19

Total known cases worldwide: 75,651

Hyrine Auma Mita had yet to hear of coronavirus as she visited the small clinic in Kibera, the city's biggest slum, where she lived. She had another virus on her mind: her long-standing HIV infection. The news at the clinic was good. The infection had fallen below detectable levels.

Finally, these were "good times," said Hyrine, 33. She had five children in school and a job cleaning for a wealthy Indian family, earning enough to pay for her antiretroviral medicine. She lived in a one-room shack, barely the size of a king-size bed but still big enough if they moved the table aside when anyone had to pass. Her son Daniel, 16, had earned a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, a possible ticket for the family out of the slum.

It had been a long climb from the bottom of despair. Her husband, who had infected her with HIV, had died by suicide. His family had then had kicked them out of the rural house they all shared. Days later, Daniel had knocked rat poison from Hyrine's hand before it reached her lips. "Let us suffer until the end, but together," said the boy, who was 10 at the time.

She had gone on to build a family of adoring children by herself. She was eating more than one meal a day. Her face wore an irrepressible smile, and the front door bore the sign "Happiest Family."

Only two weeks later, an airplane from London would land in Nairobi, introducing a threat to the "good times" unlike any Hyrine could imagine.

New Delhi, Feb. 21

Total known cases worldwide: 76,840

Manoj Kumar was leaving his job packing airline meals near Indira Gandhi International Airport when he noticed the white blurs behind the windshields speeding by on the airport road.

Masks, more and more of them, covering the faces of passengers.

A friend who worked at the airport said something about a mystery sickness. It seemed distant, foreign, nothing to distract Manoj from his family's scramble from village poverty to the fragile stability of life in India's sprawling capital.

Manoj, 25, and his wife, Divya, had been in the city six months, joining his cousin Anar Singh, who had moved five years earlier. After months of job hunting, Manoj was now packaging food and cutlery for $50 a week.

Anar, 35, had a steady job cleaning windows at the four-story Radisson Blu Plaza. He sent much of his $160 in monthly pay back to his parents, wife and children in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

The cousins both lived along a narrow street, where the open sewer was usually clogged with food waste. Anar slept on the floor of a room shared with two other men but was set to move to a better room. Manoj had just bought a new Chinese smartphone on monthly installments of $25. It all felt like progress.

But "Covid19" kept showing up on the WhatsApp messages that were their main source of news. Whole cities in China were in lockdown. The virus was vaulting borders and oceans in the lungs of travelers.

Manoj wrapped a handkerchief around his face. And he stopped meeting up with his friend from the airport.

Hong Kong, Feb. 24

Total known cases worldwide: 79,543

With two more infections confirmed among the passengers of the stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship, Hong Kong's coronavirus cases bumped up to 81. It was still a modest tally, but the outbreak had already vaporized Karen's life in the theater. Her hard-won career was on hold, but she still had to pay for rent and groceries.

All her job applications fell through until, desperate, she applied to one of the few growth industries: disinfecting public buses. The job was all grime and sweat, nine hours a day of the hard physical labor her father had hoped to save her from. During her first week, her cleaning cart rammed her leg, leaving her bloody and limping.

"It literally feels like hell," said Karen, who despite her runner's stamina and strength from practicing taekwondo was barely able to get through a day. "I didn't expect that I would ever have to deal with this mess."

She was too embarrassed to tell her father about her new job.

Rio de Janeiro, Feb. 25

Total known cases worldwide: 80,396

By the end of February, the wave had reached every continent but Antarctica. The coronavirus, according to official accounts, arrived in South America after stowing away in a Sao Paulo resident returning from Italy.

Three hundred miles up the coast, Rafaela Machado was lugging a heavy cooler of acai sorbet up and down a crowded Copacabana Beach. The mother of four made $400 a month, hustling the beaches by day, returning home to dodge the drug gang that ran her crammed hillside favela by night.

Life was hard in the slum, but neighbors looked out for neighbors in a place where residents even had to run their own mail system because letter carriers wouldn't dare enter.

Once, when Rafaela's 3-year-old daughter had wandered off, the girl was scooped up by Carla "Momma Carlona" Pereira, a heavyset saloon owner who rarely budged from the doorway, where she spent the day watching her block and, in the view of many, mothering the neighborhood. Momma Carlona got word to the frantic Rafaela. All Rafaela could do was cry and thank her.

Now, Rafaela had no idea that favela life would soon get even harder. With coronavirus cases mounting rapidly in Italy and Iran and plateauing in China, Brazil was only just starting its climb to heights that would surpass them all and shake Rafaela's world.

- March

Budapest, March 2

Total known cases worldwide: 90,360

The first two cases reported in Hungary were a pair of Iranian students. They were deported, as more than a dozen Iranian students would be in coming weeks. Tamas said it triggered a campaign of "xenophobic propaganda."

As the number of cases climbed, Tamas and his wife took their girls out of school a week before it officially closed, and they limited shopping trips to once a week, wiping down every vegetable before bringing it into the house. They stopped using cash except for the bills they sterilized for the monthly rent. Melinda fretted about her husband's intensity.

One afternoon, their daughter Csenga, 11, saw a friend from the building in the garden. Tamas pulled her back. "If you are going to try to play with her, we will go inside," he warned.

The playmate's mother sent him a text saying he was overdoing it.

"I got paranoid," he said.

Madrid, March 11

Total known cases worldwide: 126,547

The World Health Organization's declaration of the coronavirus as a pandemic confirmed what many already knew. Three days later, Maria was transferred to an intensive care unit urgently readied at the hospital for covid-19 patients. The sick were pouring in. Doctors and nurses were responding on the fly to a threat they didn't really understand.

Maria had only just arrived in the isolation unit when a patient was wheeled in, already intubated. She scrambled into a white protective suit and donned an FFP3 mask, the hospital's best.

"We talked about it like we were at war," she recalled.

Maria would often go an entire frenzied shift without eating or visiting the bathroom, trapped in a suit that was stifling and constricting, emerging hours later emotionally gutted.

Maria lost her first patient within days. She had never seen death as wrenching as that in these last moments of isolation, with no final human touch, the family that should have been bedside reduced to pixels on an iPad, farewells over a phone.

The hospital offered hotel rooms to front-line workers, but Maria's family wanted her to stay at home so long as she could decontaminate. "She needs to be with us," her mother, Dana, said. Maria would leave her shoes outside a side door leading straight into her bedroom and step right into the shower.

"Hi, how was your day?" Dana asked one afternoon when Maria arrived home from an early shift.

"Fine," Maria answered.

But when Dana looked, the tears were already streaming over the mask lines still visible on her daughter's face.

"I had cried multiple times," Maria would say later. "But that was the first and only time I cried in front of them."

New Delhi, March 16

Total known cases worldwide: 183,597

A few days after the Hindu festival of Holi, there was a problem at Anar's hotel. Several members of an Australian tourist group had fallen ill. Fearing covid-19, the cleaners refused to enter their rooms until they had been disinfected by pest-control workers. Anar was anxious. He needed the job to support his family but feared for his life.

Less than a week later, the number of cases in India was spiking. On March 24, with just four hours' notice, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day lockdown of the entire country.

Anar's hotel emptied within hours. His manager couldn't say when he would call back the workers. India had also banned almost all air travel, and Manoj's job at the airport was gone too. Neither was paid his March salary. They had about $15 between them.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, resigned to going back to their village 190 miles away, Divya put a pair of undergarments in her purse. Manoj put flatbread and a bottle of water into a plastic bag. They met Anar and Divya's sister, Payal, and the four began to walk.

Rio de Janeiro, March 24

Total known cases worldwide: 425,559

With Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dismissing the coronavirus as a "little flu" and belittling social distancing measures, the gangs that govern Rio's vast slums stepped in. In Pavão-Pavãozinho, Rafaela's labyrinthine neighborhood, it was the Red Command that ordered residents to wear masks, told businesses to close and barred outsiders from entering, even to buy cocaine or marijuana.

Rafaela had continued pounding the beach with her cooler, in violation of the city's new curfew orders, until the last customer was gone. "My biggest worry was rent," she recounted. "Without income, how am I going to feed six people?"

She took the only job available: working for the local residents association to distribute food in coordination with the drug cartel. A year before, she and her son had been caught in a cartel shootout walking home from school. It terrified her to get so close to the gang.

On a road outside New Delhi, March 26

Total known cases worldwide: 539,336

It was rainy as the four set out for Uttar Pradesh, joining an estimated 5 million other Indians, many suddenly unemployed, who had begun a mass migration home. At least a half a million were on foot. After hours of walking, they came across a mob piling into a bus, but they didn't have the $6.50 for spots riding on the roof.

The four finally persuaded a truck driver to let them hitch a ride for part of the way and crammed into a cab built for two. Climbing down, they ate their only dinner: two chunks of bread apiece.

In the dark, Anar got separated from the others. He searched fruitlessly for an hour and then kept going, walking through the night.

When he reached his home village of Mohammadpur the next afternoon, after a day and a half on the march, the seams of his shoes were split wide. He couldn't walk for two days, but he knew he was lucky to have made it. Many who had trekked out of India's cities had been left stranded, injured or dead.

Hong Kong, March 29

Total known cases worldwide: 730,921

By the end of the month, after taking every available daytime shift disinfecting buses and also cleaning hotels and offices when her company asked, Karen had made almost $1,300, close to her earnings in the theater. But with her partner out of work, this barely covered the rent. With each bus and bathroom she sterilized, the life of an artist seemed further away.

And with coronavirus cases now spiking in her city, the end of the epidemic seemed no closer either.

Karen started working nights, breastfeeding her son before heading out. But the boy threw tantrums, and Ka-chun begged her to cut back her hours. Karen felt the weight of supporting them all. Home life had become "disastrous," she said.

Budapest, March 30

Total known cases worldwide: 795,560

Faced with an escalating outbreak, the Hungarian parliament granted Orbán open-ended powers to rule by decree. Tamas followed the developments with growing dismay, scouring news websites for details. The emergency decree, he noted, gave the government power to jail journalists for coverage deemed "misleading."

He was already careful about his social media posts, but now he was even more worried about Hungary's democracy.

Inside the family's second-floor apartment, located near the Danube River, Tamas and Melinda worked to create a safe and rich shutdown experience for their girls. They practiced piano and re-created classic paintings as part of an online art challenge.

Melinda set up a home studio in front of the bookshelves for daily Zoom classes with her second-graders. She also cooked and oversaw the shopping. Tamas overheard her say in a meeting that she felt like the family "servant."

Money worries were growing because Tamas's pay had been cut by 20 percent as the economy stalled. The family discussed whether Tamas was adding to the household tension by being so strict.

"Yes, yes, yes," said 13-year-old Hanga.

- April

Nairobi, April 1

Total known cases worldwide: 948,197

Kenya had reported only one covid-19 death by the start of April. But the economic shock wave was already decimating poor families like Hyrine's. The Indian family she cleaned for - one of the few who would employ an HIV-positive woman - had fled because of the pandemic.

The government imposed sanitary and social distancing measures, which were all but impossible to observe in the slums, along with an evening curfew. And when Hyrine finally found a job, sandpapering walls in houses being built in a gated community, the curfew restricted her working hours and her pay. At the end of the day, when she would return home with her face coated in white dust, there was often no proper dinner for the family. "That means maybe we drink porridge instead of having a meal," said her daughter Catherine, 13.

Even when the schools were shut down and Daniel moved back in, Hyrine insisted he maintain his studies rather than go to work. If he got a job now, she feared it could be a slippery slope. The family's future depended on the children somehow keeping up their education.

But she already could feel the dream slipping away.

Rio de Janeiro, April 14

Total known cases worldwide: 1,985,472

By the middle of the month, Brazil's Health Ministry had reported more than 25,000 cases. Bolsonaro fired his health minister days later, pledging to bring in someone who would quickly reopen business. Within another two weeks, Brazil's cases had more than tripled, surpassing China's total.

In Rafaela's slum, the cartel tightened its grip, announcing an 8 p.m. curfew. Notices appeared: "Anyone caught not wearing a mask will have to answer to the cartel."

Several times a day, Rafaela radioed cartel members, asking permission to deliver donated food around the neighborhood. But donations from wealthy neighborhoods were drying up. "Everyone is hungry," she said. It broke Rafaela's heart when neighbors begged for help she couldn't give. Others complained about the amount she delivered.

She was interacting ever more closely with the commanders of the drug gang, getting to know them far better than she wanted to.

"I'm afraid," she said. "Every day that passes, I end up more involved."

Hong Kong, April 17

Total known cases worldwide: 2,250,737

Karen's partner, Ka-chun, had been looking unsuccessfully for work for weeks when her company announced it needed someone to fill in on the bus disinfecting team. His "machismo" made him dismissive of cleaning work, and he had resisted doing something a woman could, Karen said. "Especially if I can do it."

But they were desperate for the money.

She noted how sweaty and red-faced he was upon returning from his first day. "He insisted it was really easy, just a piece of cake," she recalled.

Mohammadpur, April 20

Total known cases worldwide: 2,478,129

Anar's shoes were still broken when he headed into his father's six-acre plot to help harvest wheat for flatbread. Along with a final cache of lentils and a few kilograms of government-issued rice, it was their only food. Without Anar's income, provisions were dwindling.

They all stayed in his father's three-room house with no toilet and electricity for only a few hours a day. With temperatures above 100 degrees, most slept on the roof.

The epidemic in India was accelerating, with more than 1,500 new cases a day. Manoj and Anar, so determined to climb out of rural poverty, could feel their foothold growing more tenuous.

They called back to Delhi every day to see when they could return to their jobs. Anar had to borrow his father's phone after his 3-year-old daughter accidentally dropped his in a bucket of water.

He was still owed back pay from his work at the hotel, but the contractor said the lockdown made it impossible to deposit the money at the bank. So Anar hadn't paid the rent for his New Delhi room for two months, and he knew he was close to losing it.

Working in the fields left him sore and spent, and he wasn't sure he was up to doing other manual village work, such as breaking bricks. But, he said, "that day may not be far off."

Madrid, April 25

Total known cases worldwide: 2,890,259

It wasn't long before the epidemic outran Spain's ability to safely protect those fighting it. European officials reported that health-care workers accounted for 20 percent of new cases in Spain. Hospital staff blamed a growing shortage of protective gear.

At Maria's hospital, managers told her to start saving the top-strength FFP3 masks for treating only the most contagious patients. Then, soon after, she was instructed to use weaker masks for all cases. Some days, there were no new masks at all.

On television, Maria saw the nightly applause across Spain for doctors and nurses. But it wasn't backed up by action. She and her colleagues were giving their all without being afforded the most basic protections. Television had also aired images of Spanish nurses donning garbage bags because protective suits had run out.

"We feel completely abandoned," she said. "A lot of people we work with die."

- May

Nairobi, May 6

Total known cases worldwide: 3,759,295

Total infections in Kenya were still relatively modest, but one section of the city had been identified as a growing hot spot. The government put it under total lockdown. Hyrine's construction job was gone.

To help her out, a family from her church gave her some flour. Another congregant said she could pick spinach in her garden. Hyrine parsed the food carefully, deciding when to skip meals.

More ominously, Hyrine could no longer buy her HIV medicine. The hospital where she was registered to get it had run out because of supply disruptions arising from the pandemic. Because she couldn't afford to pay her outstanding bill, the hospital refused to transfer her case to another clinic that might have the medicine.

Even then, she would have confronted a choice between her health and her family.

"If I am being honest, even if they had it in stock, I would have to stop buying food in order to afford it," she said.

Rio de Janeiro, May 11

Total known cases worldwide: 4,176,020

Rafaela could feel death and desperation closing in. The number of cases in Brazil had nearly doubled during the first 11 days of May and would double again by the end of the month, leaving about 30,000 people dead.

One of Rafaela's neighbors, Dilson Gomes, died in the second week of May.

Then, a few days later, she glanced at her phone. She stopped and stared and didn't want to believe the text: Momma Carlona was dead. After about a week in the hospital, she had succumbed to the virus. Her weight, heart problems and difficulty breathing had made her an easy mark.

"Carlona came to my rescue when I needed it most," Rafaela said with dull grief. She said she would remember Momma Carlona "by her smile and her contagious happiness."

The cartel shot off fireworks to honor the neighborhood icon. But with hunger stalking the favela, it wasn't possible for Rafaela to take the day off from work to mourn.

"We can't stop," Rafaela said wearily. "She wouldn't have wanted us to."

Rio de Janeiro, May 13

Total known cases worldwide: 4,344,370

Karen pulled nylon strings from the dripping black dye. They would make perfect puppet hair. After four months, theater life was stirring, sort of. Ka-chun was rehearsing for a show that would pay no salary and play to a house with every other seat empty.

Hong Kong was gradually loosening up, allowing slightly larger public gatherings and planning to reopen schools by month's end.

Karen and Ka-chun were still disinfecting vehicles. But each evening, she rushed off to make props or rehearse her upcoming children's show. She spent late nights with her small drama troupe. She signed up to re-create scenes for a documentary on the 1989 protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, brutally repressed by the Chinese government.

In Hong Kong, returning to normal meant confronting Beijing's ever-growing shadow. Protesters would return to the streets later in the month for the first time. But citing coronavirus fears, authorities had banned the annual June commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Karen feared they might survive the pandemic only to lose their freedom.

Mohammadpur, May 16

Total known cases worldwide: 4,629,637

Anar was frightened by the perils posed by the epidemic, but he knew his future would depended on salvaging the life he'd been building in Delhi and he was getting impatient.

The virus, however, was showing no signs of slowing down. Back in Delhi, there had been several infections on the very street where Anar and Manoj had lived. Uttar Pradesh had sealed its border with the capital. Anar's father and wife urged him to stay put.

Madrid, May 26

Total known cases worldwide: 5,582,910

After a long struggle, Spain had turned the corner. The country's daily death toll had dropped below a hundred for the first time in two months.

Maria's hospital mothballed the coronavirus unit and sent her back to her old assignment in coronary care.

But it was hard for Maria to let it all go: the top-speed intensity, the hours grappling with life and death, the foxhole camaraderie. She was stamped by the times she and her colleagues lined the corridor to excitedly applaud a survivor leaving the isolation unit and the brief pauses to grieve those who never would.

Spain had allowed some nonessential workers back to work, and groups of up to 10 were permitted to walk and exercise together. But it was jarring for Maria to see many people packing cafes and sidewalks.

"We put our lives on hold for this, and then people forget what we went through," she said.

She was infuriated. She saw the rules as a thin line of sandbags holding back a second wave.

- June

Budapest, June 1

Total known cases worldwide: 6,256,493

As the year approached its halfway mark and reported deaths worldwide neared half a million, the global wave was swelling to unprecedented heights in Latin America, South Asia and the United States, even as it continued to recede in parts of Asia and Europe.

In Hungary, a summer vacation now seemed possible, and Tamas began planning trips to the grandparents and camps on Excel spreadsheets. They even pondered a holiday in Croatia or Serbia.

Virus fears faded from the headlines and the Bodis' routine. Tamas' mother came to help with kids and shopping; he was pretty sure she didn't disinfect the produce at all. They had their first meal out at a local inn.

The government announced plans to rescind the emergency law giving Orbán expanded powers. But Tamas was more worried than ever, fearing this might not actually rein them in.

Hong Kong, June 7

Total known cases worldwide: 6,993,970

Karen finally had a week when she spent every day crafting plays and puppets without disinfecting a single bus.

She was back in pursuit of a middle-class artistic life, which now seemed threatened less by the coronavirus than the tightening restrictions imposed by Beijing, including a national security law that, among other things, would let Chinese security agencies operate in the city.

Karen never did tell her father about her job cleaning buses, and she planned to keep taking a couple shifts a week. She wanted to make sure she would be employed if the epidemic returned, and she valued what she had learned of endurance. "I think I have gained something," she said. Her newfound strength could help her resist China's threat.

Madrid, June 12

Total known cases worldwide: 7,621,346

Maria's managers gave her a month's vacation to make up for all the overtime she had worked. Before taking off, she joined several of her colleagues for a beer near the hospital. They were still leery, and the gathering broke up quickly.

She also got to celebrate her sister's high school graduation with several of her friends. They watched the online ceremony projected on the living room wall.

She welcomed the return of a normal life, even as she was unable to forget what she had seen. If the coronavirus were to return, she said she was ready to face it like a veteran. "I think this made me tougher in some way."

Nairobi, June 13

Total known cases worldwide: 7,755,445

The global wave has left families around the world forever marked by the strain of uncertainty and the pain of lockdown, by sickness and death. But it has not crashed upon their communities with equal force. For the rich, the road back has often been clearer. For those in the lowlands of poverty, the wave has left more lasting devastation.

In Kenya, the pandemic continued to press in on Hyrine. Her slum, Kibera, was reporting hundreds of new infections and had become synonymous with the coronavirus across the city.

Hyrine and her five children now expected to share their cramped shack through the end of the year, the earliest that Daniel's boarding school would reopen. Unless they were evicted before then. They were three months behind on rent.

Hyrine was now sick and unable to work. A doctor diagnosed her with a urinary tract infection, common in the Nairobi slums, where women often share a pot to avoid paying for the public toilet. "I can't treat you until you pay," the doctor said. That would mean more begging and more shame.

Without Hyrine's knowledge, her son Michael, 13, had been taking money from neighbors for food and the toilet fee, falsely promising that his mother would return it. When Daniel found out, the two boys came to blows.

The once-tight family bonds were fraying. Their diet, at times, had been reduced to nothing but cabbage. Between her illness, missing her anti-viral meds and the humiliation of begging, her life was once again frighteningly precarious.

Rio de Janeiro, June 25

Total known cases worldwide: 9,583,608

The death toll continued to soar as Brazil became a new epicenter of the global epidemic, exceeding more than a million reported cases.

Yet all around Rafaela were those who had no choice but to venture out and look for work. Shops and cafes were reopening. But the risks seemed too great. "When I turn on the television and I see the scale of the problem, I get worried," she said.

She felt the walls closing in, trapped in a job linked to the cartel that frightened her more all the time as drug buyers crept back into the neighborhood and tensions flared amid rising joblessness and hunger.

New Delhi, June 29

Total known cases worldwide: 10,273,510

Three weeks after India began reopening as lockdown restrictions eased, coronavirus infections were surging. The country was adding more than 10,000 reported cases every day, faster than anywhere on Earth but Brazil and the United States.

Manoj returned to Delhi and spent days walking among shuttered factories looking for employment. Even the shop that used to let him buy lentils on credit was closed.

Manoj thought of trekking back to the village, but Anar was having no more luck there. His employer had deposited $26 of his back wages. Anar spent most of it on food, new shoes and diarrhea medicine for his daughter. He wasted $5 on cellphone repairs that didn't work.

On a scorching June afternoon, Anar sorted through what was left of the life he once knew and realized there was no longer money for his daughter's school fees. Gone were her bright job prospects, her favorable marital prospects. So much promise washed away.

"This disease has destroyed everything," Anar said. "Not just our lives, but also the future of our children."

Americans are bewildered by patchwork of social-distancing rules

By Kristen V Brown
Americans are bewildered by patchwork of social-distancing rules
Pedestrians wearing protective masks pass in front of customers sitting outside to eat at a restaurant in the Corona neighborhood in the Queens borough of New York on June 27, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Amir Hamja.

As states report record numbers of new covid-19 cases, Americans are left confused about how to handle daily life.

The surges have prompted some of the most aggressive reopening advocates, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, to reverse course and require masks. President Donald Trump, who told reporters he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of being spotted in one, is planning a rally for Saturday where attendees will be "strongly encouraged" after a June campaign event, noteworthy for its lack of social distancing, drew a fraction of the supporters staff had claimed.

Even so, in New York, once the U.S. epicenter, Independence Day and the first weekend of reopened beaches brought crowds out. In Brooklyn, Prospect Park buzzed with barbecues boasting a dozen or more guests and birthday parties complete with balloons and buffets. At the Jacob Riis Park beach in Queens, crowds of sun lovers gathered while others staked out social-distanced camps, marking their perimeters with beach chairs, coolers or lines drawn in the sand. And sidewalk seating at some bars and restaurants was downright crowded, with patrons sometimes seated less than six-feet apart.

"These rules are hard," said Jonathan Marron, a bioethicist at Harvard University. "I don't blame people for being fed up and sick of this. It's human nature to want to be doing this stuff."

In Los Angeles, where new infections have spiked in recent weeks, Shayna Englin said she and her husband took social distancing seriously early on. But as cases seemed to ebb in late spring, they decided to invite some friends over to hang out in the backyard, complete with individual cheese platters for socially distant snacking.

"The rationale was we have more exposure to people we don't know when we go to the grocery store," the 46-year-old said. "We hung out outside, 10 feet apart, we were never in the house at the same time, and if anyone went to the bathroom, there were wipes to wipe everything down."

After that success, they invited two friends who had tested negative recently over to stay the weekend. Next, they contemplated hitting up their favorite outdoor bar. But "we saw the massive increases in cases and hospitalization rates and got scared, honestly," Englin said. New activities are off, and they're holding their social circle to six until things improve.

"We maybe had some irrational hope for a hot second there," she said. "We reassessed what we were willing to take risks for."

Epidemiological modeling has suggested that lockdowns have limited new cases and saved lives. In one study, researchers at Imperial College London assessed the impact in 11 European countries and found lockdowns saved around 3.1 million lives. A study from the University of California, Berkeley's Global Policy Lab showed by April 6, had there been no restrictions, there would have been nearly 14 times as many cases in the U.S.

Confusion about rules has been less common in countries where social-distancing rules have been set by central governments and enforced diligently. In France, people needed paperwork to justify leaving the house and police were deputized to check them and impose fines. But in the U.S., local officials have drafted a patchwork of often competing standards - often in accordance with local political preferences - making it difficult to determine how to appropriate navigate life during the pandemic.

A growing number of public health experts agree that there needs to be more nuanced guidelines for Americans that allow some liberties. Public-health non-profit Vital Strategies has suggested color-coded alerts that communicate to the public how severe the virus is in a given region so that people can adjust their activities appropriately on any given day. (Vital Strategies has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable foundation of Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News's parent company.) The Texas Medical Association has an activity guide citing camping, tennis and take-out as low-risk, while movie theaters and gyms are high.

Finding a way to balance the risks with the realities of needing to resume some economic and social activity will be critical pending a vaccine, according to Abrar Karan, a physician at Harvard Medical School.

"I think some people are thinking, 'Okay, yes this is bad, but I don't know that my personal risk is that bad,'" he said. "People are just fatigued. They are tired of staying inside."

Officials should look at it as many smaller epidemics happening in different places, Karan said, with some spots needing stricter rules. And it's important to tell people what they can do, as well as what they can't.

"We need to compromise. It's not just masks versus no masks. You need to give people something they can feasibly do," he said. "Even by listening to 50% of our advice, people are making huge compromises."

Polling data has consistently shown most Americans are keeping cautious as new cases hit records. An Axios-Ipsos poll from last week showed two-thirds of respondents saying they were "very concerned" about the virus, levels not seen since early May. At the same time, though, few said they'd reduced outside social engagements, with 45% reporting visits with friends and family in the past week, compared to 49% a week earlier. Going out to eat continues to increase, and visits to salons and retail stores remained flat.

At Vinny's Barber Shop near Houston, Vinny De Leon doesn't require patrons or barbers to wear masks as some local officials have signaled they wouldn't enforce Abbott's new mask policies.

"It's very confusing," said De Leon, who owns two barbershops in the Houston area, one where masks are required and another where they aren't. "One day one person says one thing, the next day another says something else."

He's letting his barbers and customers decide what makes them comfortable. While at first, about 90% didn't wear a mask, he's seeing more as cases have risen in Houston. Most customers are tested regularly since their work is considered essential, De Leon said, and his employees get tested. Two of his 15 barbers have tested positive for the virus. On both occasions, the shop shut down until everyone else had tested negative.

"I'm not trying to buck the system," he said. "I'm being pulled in every direction."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Trump's GOP is becoming a Garish Opera of Paranoia

By dana milbank
Trump's GOP is becoming a Garish Opera of Paranoia

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, July 12, 2020, and thereafter

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON -- It is a case of being hoisted by his own petard.

President Donald Trump has convinced his own supporters of the false conspiracy theory that mail-in ballots are subject to rampant fraud -- so much so that Republicans are, evidently, refusing to vote by mail.

The Washington Post's Amy Gardner and Josh Dawsey report that Democratic voters have embraced mail ballots in far greater numbers than Republicans in primaries this year -- alarming Republican strategists who say it could undercut their candidates, including Trump, particularly in states such as Florida and Arizona. In Michigan, Trump supporters actually burned absentee-ballot applications.

This is but one sign of the descent into madness that Trump has caused. Conspiracy theories, long a staple of the president's, are spreading faster than COVID-19 among his supporters, inducing mass delusion. In the most ominous manifestation, he has convinced his supporters that fears of the virus are overblown (a Democratic "hoax"), that mask-wearing is effete political correctness and that the pandemic's spread merely proves that "our TESTING is much bigger and better."

Now the pandemic is growing unchecked in Trump-backing states, and hospitals are running out of rooms. Tulsa, where Trump insisted on having an indoor rally, has seen a dramatic surge in cases "more than likely" spurred by the rally and protests, the local health department said.

Everywhere, it seems, reality is colliding with Trump's fantasies. This week alone, the White House pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise its advice on reopening schools to fit Trump's rosy claims; an inspector general accused the administration of undercutting public trust by forcing the National Weather Service to support Trump's fanciful claim that a hurricane menaced Alabama last September; and a lopsided Supreme Court majority dismissed Trump's claims of "absolute immunity" as inconsistent with "200 years of precedent."

Trump responded Thursday with another conspiracy theory. He rekindled his unsubstantiated "Obamagate" allegation that his predecessor perpetrated "the biggest political crime and scandal in U.S. history" by trying to sabotage Trump's campaign.

This followed Trump's revival of an old smear saying MSNBC host Joe Scarborough "got away with murder" in the death of a former aide, Trump's suggestion that an elderly demonstrator in Buffalo injured by police was actually an antifa agent, and his assertion that opponent Joe Biden is addled. Meanwhile, Trump's son Eric renewed the theory that the virus is a Democratic hoax that will "disappear" after the election. And prison-bound Trump confidant Roger Stone just had more than 100 deceptive accounts and pages taken down by Facebook.

Now we see growing ruin caused by so much lunacy coming from the highest office in the land. The GOP is becoming a Garish Opera of Paranoia.

In Colorado, an incumbent member of Congress lost a Republican primary to a candidate who embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory about a "deep state" child-sex ring plotting against Trump. Believers in this craziness, who have been retweeted by Trump and display QAnon symbols at his rallies, include the party's Senate nominee in Oregon and a Republican in a House runoff in Georgia.

A Pew Research poll last month found that by nearly two to one, Republicans are finding it harder to identify "what is true and what is false about the outbreak." A similar proportion of Republicans -- 48% -- found it definitely or probably true that "powerful people planned the coronavirus outbreak," while 57% believed deaths had been intentionally overstated. Why the confusion? Seventy-five percent of Republicans believed the White House presents accurate information.

We have been building toward this for some time, as Republican officeholders and commentators touted conspiracy theories as fact, first during the Clinton administration and then during the Obama administration: Vince Foster. Troopergate. Black helicopters. Benghazi! Hillary Clinton's brain damage. Huma Abedin and the Muslim Brotherhood. Pizzagate.

In that sense, Republicans were primed for Trump when he proposed that Barack Obama was born in Africa, climate change is a Chinese hoax, Ted Cruz's father aided the Kennedy assassination, Antonin Scalia's death could have been foul play, American Muslims celebrated 9/11, Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, the Democratic National Committee server was hidden in Ukraine, Seth Rich was killed because of the DNC emails, globalists and a deep state manipulated government, millions voted illegally against him, and many more.

It was all fun and games in 2015 and 2016, when three-fifths of his supporters (according to one Democratic poll) embraced his claim that Obama wasn't born in the United States. But now he's convincing his supporters not to mail in their ballots and not to protect themselves against the virus.

A president disenfranchising his own supporters and jeopardizing their lives sounds like the wackiest conspiracy theory of all. But this one is true.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Rebuffing one president - and protecting those to come

By ruth marcus
Rebuffing one president - and protecting those to come

RUTH MARCUS COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, July 12, 2020, and thereafter

(For Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Ruth Marcus

WASHINGTON -- If hard cases make bad law, a corollary may be that bad presidents risk making bad law. A president who ignores settled norms and makes maximalist legal arguments in defending his conduct may provoke courts to overreact -- solving the problem at hand but setting bad precedents that could bind future occupants of the office.

In its pair of rulings concerning subpoenas for President Trump's financial records, the Supreme Court appeared heedful of this danger and avoided it. In short, the justices did not let this terrible president make bad law. They neither accepted Trump's extreme positions nor set out rules that could prove problematic for successors. As a matter of law, this president lost, as he should have; the presidency survived.

The first case, involving a grand jury subpoena to Trump's accountants from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., was the easiest, both because precedents so clearly argued for upholding the subpoena and because Trump's position was absurdly overwrought.

Trump's personal lawyers contended that a sitting president enjoys absolute immunity from state criminal subpoenas. This is a view of the chief executive as hothouse flower, unable to survive the supposedly distracting, stigmatizing and harassing impact.

This position, as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. noted, was so out there that the solicitor general, representing the interests of the presidency rather than Trump himself, did not endorse it, and the court rejected that argument unanimously.

"No citizen, not even the president, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding," Roberts wrote.

The fallback position, taken by the solicitor general, was that a state prosecutor should have to demonstrate a heightened need when subpoenaing a president. Such subpoenas should be issued only as a "last resort," when the information is "not available from any other source" and is needed "now, rather than at the end of the president's term."

The court majority wasn't buying it. "That double standard has no basis in law," Roberts observed.

As a practical matter, the criminal subpoena case, Trump v. Vance, may be the less important. State prosecutors aren't likely to be issuing a flurry of subpoenas against future presidents, notwithstanding the overheated warnings from Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., in dissent, that the ruling "provides no real protection against the use of the subpoena power by the Nation's 2,300+ local prosecutors." As Roberts noted, this was the first known state criminal subpoena directed at a president.

Congressional subpoenas are another matter: They are more common, so the court's road map has real-world consequences.

The court could barely contain its exasperation with being summoned to referee this dispute. As Roberts observed, sounding like a parent annoyed at having to break up a fight among squabbling toddlers - Don't make me stop this car! - inter-branch struggles have been erupting since the dawn of the republic.

Still - thank you, Trump administration - this was the first time the court had been forced to adjudicate. Historically, disputes over congressional demands for presidential documents have been hashed out, as Roberts wrote, quoting the late justice Antonin Scalia, in the "hurly-burly, the give-and-take of the political process between the legislative and the executive."

Now that hurly-burly has a set of court-established rules -- which strengthen Congress's hand in future showdowns without unduly weakening the president.

Congress is empowered, in part, because the majority forcefully rejected Trump's contention, echoed by the solicitor general, that a congressional subpoena for nonprivileged, private information from a president had to be justified by a "demonstrated, specific need."

That was the standard the court applied in dealing with a subpoena for President Richard M. Nixon's Oval Office conversations with top advisers, a case that posed legitimate worries about chilling future presidents' ability to get candid advice. But the Roberts Court slapped down Trump's efforts to apply this stringent test to his private records, saying that would give "short shrift to Congress's important interests in conducting inquiries to obtain the information it needs to legislate effectively."

However, the court said, the House committees seeking Trump's records had overstepped in going after the material without providing adequate justification, posing the risk that they were engaged in a fishing expedition.

The court set out a four-part test to govern such cases: Could Congress obtain the information it needs for its "asserted legislative purpose" from other sources? Is the requested information too broad? Has Congress provided a "detailed and substantial" explanation of why it needs the material? And is the subpoena too burdensome on the president's time? This won't provide an automatic answer in every instance, but it sets reasonable rules going forward.

Meanwhile, the notion that Trump won these cases because his tax returns will remain shielded until after the election misses the bigger point. A dangerously bloated view of presidential power was resoundingly rejected by a conservative court -- a court that rebuffed Trump but protected presidents to come.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Stay away from South Carolina

By kathleen parker
Stay away from South Carolina

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, July 12, 2020, and thereafter

(For Parker clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By KATHLEEN PARKER

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

Pawley's Island, S.C. - At times like this, I'm tempted to dig out my father's doormat, which bore the words: "Go away." A dedicated misanthrope, he at least maintained a sense of humor.

Today, as South Carolina's COVID-19 infection rate skyrockets, there's not much to chuckle about. As of Friday, more than 75% of hospital beds were filled and one coastal hospital was seeking staffing help from the National Guard.

How did we get so sick so fast? In a word, tourism, especially in Charleston, erstwhile "Best City" in America, and north along the coast to Myrtle Beach -- now among the un-safest places in the United States and, therefore, the world.

There, you'll see very few people wearing masks, and social distancing is a joke.

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, though he has urged citizens to wear masks in public, as he does, has stopped short of making them mandatory. As he has said, how could the state possibly enforce such a mandate?

Stubbornness and rebelliousness come naturally to my fellow natives, a large percentage of whom rely on tourism to pay the bills. But summertime has brought fresh challenges along with rotating crops of close-contact human bodies. A quick survey of license plates along the Grand Strand is testament to the state's appeal to vacationers.

Still, out-of-staters don't get all the blame. Locals are guilty of not taking the virus seriously enough in part because for a long while they seemed immune from the terrible outbreaks elsewhere. For several months, Georgetown County, where I've been hiding out since February, had just a handful of COVID cases and only the occasional death. Graduation, beach-week parties and Memorial Day weekend changed all that. Today, this county has an estimated 724 cases, while bordering Horry County, home to Myrtle Beach, has more than 5,200, with numbers increasing exponentially by the day.

South Carolina now has more cases per capita than most countries, and no one thinks things will get better any time soon. Some Northern states, including New York, have imposed a two-week quarantine for visitors returning from South Carolina. And we're just getting rolling.

Over the July 4 weekend, around 4,000 boaters from 11 states convened on Lake Murray, due west of Columbia, for a pro-Trump boat-parade. And next week comes the annual windfall event - Myrtle Beach Bike Week. Postponed in May because of the pandemic, nothing will stop these engine-revving partiers now. Revelers are expected to fill Highway 17 as they gather for beach time, rallies and, reputedly, the best biker bars this side of the Mississippi. Wait until they get wind of the state's order Friday to shut down alcohol sales at 11 p.m.

What is one to make of such insanity? Well, tracks, for starters. My moving van is almost packed. But a smart leader might recognize what these various in-denial groups share - a lust for freedom and distrust of government - and forge an appeal to those instincts. As Bike Week founder Sonny Copeland recently told the Daily Beast, "We don't need the damn government to tell us what to do ... We're smart enough to know how to take care of ourselves, distance when we ride, and we have common sense … We're not a bunch of teenagers who are going to hug and kiss on the beach. This is about riding motorcycles, being in the wind."

Well, OK, let's work with that. What's needed is an alternative narrative that makes sense to that rebel-biker spirit. By not following health guidelines, which makes tighter restrictions more likely, conservatives are actually threatening freedom and weakening the underlying structures of the free market. Masks are economic drivers.

As a Christian matter, disregarding guidelines is the opposite of professed care for the common good. And what of the Christian belief that the body is a temple in which his or her Holy Spirit lives? Not caring for the self and the common good, thus, can be seen as un-Christian.

A comparison could also be made to another shocking, illness-related period in our history, when then-U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, a man of deep Christian faith, scandalized conservatives as the AIDS crisis intensified by urging non-monogamous, sexually active men and women to use condoms for HIV prevention.

The conservative, Christian world nearly toppled from its axis.

Today, it's shocking that such a minimal instruction was controversial. And, some day, our inheritors likely will be aghast that so many Americans refused to don a mask and social distance to protect themselves and others from a potentially life-threatening disease.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

The real problem with 'cancel culture'

By megan mcardle
The real problem with 'cancel culture'

MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

Advance for release Saturday, July 11, 2020, and thereafter

(For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Megan McArdle

The online "cancel culture" of Twitter mobs, public shamings and the occasional public firing has become pretty unpleasant of late. And unsurprisingly, people whose job it is to say things resent being hushed. Hence "The Letter," published this week by Harper's Magazine, in which 153 writers and public intellectuals warned that widespread cancellation is chilling the free exchange of ideas.

Indeed it is. I've been hearing from people, center-left as well as center-right, who have moved from astonishment to concern to terror as senior editors were fired for running op-eds written by conservative senators or approving inept headlines; as professors were investigated for offenses such as "reading aloud the words of Martin Luther King"; as a major arts foundation imploded because its statement of support for Black Lives Matter was judged insufficiently enthusiastic.

These people were becoming afraid of their own colleagues, who might, if they feel they're not being listened to, leak internal communications to friendly websites, or organize a public protest on Twitter.

Twitter's reaction to The Letter seemed to illustrate these concerns; unsurprisingly, the letter triggered some of the very tactics it implicitly condemns. To the panicked defenders of the old liberal order, it was a self-rebuttal of progressive claims that they weren't trying to stifle free expression, even of anodyne sentiments like: "The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away."

Coincidentally, this controversy erupted just after Osita Nwanevu of the New Republic had published one of the best defenses of cancel culture, justifying it as an exercise of vital First Amendment rights, not just to express displeasure with the words of others, but to freely associate with like-minded people. Which implies the right not to associate, either.

For backers of The Letter, Nwanevu offers a useful clarification: "Free speech" has turned into a fight about institutional norms and associational privileges, not just civil rights. The arguments may overlap with the civil rights debate, but the points of difference matter.

To be clear, I'm not neutral in that institutional fight. The cancelers aren't merely trying to expand the range of acceptable ideas so that it includes more marginalized voices. They are pressuring mainstream institutions, which serve as society's idea curators, to adopt a much narrower definition of "reasonable" opinion. The new rules would exclude the viewpoints of many Americans.

Intellectual monocultures are inherently unhealthy, and the tactics by which the new orthodoxy is being imposed are destructive. But I'm enough of an old-school liberal to think that I have to persuade my opponents, and I doubt they'll be moved by one more anthem to the glories of open inquiry.

They might, however, consider a few pragmatic problems with imposing their code by Twitter force. Twitter, with its 280-character limit, is not a medium for making lengthy, nuanced arguments. It's most effective at signaling the things you can't say. Consider the ultimate Twitter put-down: Delete your account.

That's especially a problem for institutions that are in the business of making arguments. Effectively handing over the reins of power to the Twittersphere, as seems to be happening, means offering control to those who are especially adept at not making arguments.

More broadly, this approach is at odds with what makes any institution function as more than a collection of self-supervising individuals. When much of your workforce is worried about summary firing, they put more and more effort into protecting themselves, and less and less effort into advancing the work of the institution. Doubly so when it is fellow employees who are pressing public attacks, as happened with the Twitter insurrection against a New York Times op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. Cotton had called for deploying the military to control riots; outraged staffers responded through coordinated tweets, which read, "Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger."

Though it was framed in the language of workplace safety, this was the kind of critical pressure campaign that is normally run by outsiders, not insiders - customers, not workers. In this, they are demonstrating a growing tendency that conservative policy maven Yuval Levin recently identified among American elites: people treating their institutions as platforms for personal performance, rather than a group effort with its own larger work. That's a tendency Twitter encourages, and not just among journalists, or academics: The foremost example is President Trump.

In fairness, the insiders of cancel culture might say that they have no choice: Twitter was their only way to accelerate urgent value shifts that might otherwise have taken decades. They're right that Twitter speeds everything up, and they're right that causes like racial equality are urgent -- and also that white, straight, cisgender liberals always seem to be asking marginalized people to wait until they get around to fixing things.

And yet, even the critics clearly recognize that there is great value in these institutions. They might also recognize that there are reasons that institutions favor incremental, internal change. If you hold those sorts of fights on a public and inherently limited platform, then some part of your audience will inevitably wonder whether the ensuing consensus, such as it is, reflects what people actually think, rather than who they are afraid of.

So achieving victory this way risks damaging the ultimate prize, which is the power those institutions have as institutions, not just algorithmic amplifiers. That power is rooted in the perception that they are the patient accumulators, and, yes, the occasional revisionists, of something broad enough to be called "mainstream discourse."

It's that power, not the names on the doors, that lets those institutions establish the boundaries the cancelers are really hoping to control: not just of what people are willing to say in public, but what they are willing to believe.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump has only been protecting us from things in his taxes too terrible to know!

By alexandra petri
Trump has only been protecting us from things in his taxes too terrible to know!

ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

Advance for release Saturday, July 11, 2020, and thereafter

(For Petri clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Alexandra Petri

WASHINGTON -- There are some secrets too terrible for man to know. There are some runes which destroy their interpreters. There are some texts which, when opened, lay waste the minds of those who contemplate them and spread devastation all around.

And yet, knowing this, we still sought the release of Donald Trump's tax returns. Oh, fools that we were! Fools that we are!

Four years ago, an attempt was made to audit Donald Trump's taxes. Where are those audits now? What audit takes four years? Some say they sent the auditors in, young and spry, and none of them has returned. Another rumor has it that one of them stumbled out and his auditing hand was missing - no wound, just as though an eraser had been taken to the end of his arm. Whenever he tried to speak, words would catch in his throat. He kept opening his mouth, turning purple with effort, and - nothing, except, in once instance, a frog, which took two feeble hops and fell dead on the spot.

Donald Trump is merely trying to spare all of us this young man's fate. He has nothing to hide. He has nothing to fear. Every president in recent memory has been glad to share his tax returns, yet Trump persisted in concealing his. He has, as he has repeatedly said, no cause for shame. Then what possible explanation could there be, but that he was trying to protect us from this hideous knowledge man was not meant to know?

It has been said that a single glance in the direction of these tax returns will turn a man into Roger Stone. It is said that before he looked upon the tax returns, Stephen Miller was merely . . . but we must not panic.

Only Donald Trump himself can withstand years of exposure to the Thing in his returns, and look what has become of him. Even his impeccable health and his great brain are showing signs of strain. (As he himself admitted to Sean Hannity, he recently took a cognitive test whose administrators were "very surprised" to discover the results were as good as they were.) Donald Trump is our last bulwark against this vile minotaur, and when it makes its way out of the protective labyrinth of lawsuits and into the light of day, I only pray it will spare us.

The Supreme Court says he is not above the law, and now he can protect us from the mind-destroying contents no longer. It has been a good fight. Soon, whether we like it or not, we, too, will be forced to look upon his tax returns. Donald Trump did all he could -- the gruesome revelation will not occur, in all likelihood, until after the election -- but now the day must come.

Do you remember how the world was, before we started trying to look into them? Those years ago, before the murder hornets, and before the forest fires? Do you see what is happening now, as the last efforts to contain them fail? Do you see what wrack lies before us?

Why did we seek to know? Why did we not take him at his word? Ah, fools that we are! Soon we will all know, and we will all be sorry.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

How the Trump administration is turning legal immigrants into undocumented ones

By catherine rampell
How the Trump administration is turning legal immigrants into undocumented ones

CATHERINE RAMPELL COLUMN

Advance for release Saturday, July 11, 2020, and thereafter

(For Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Catherine Rampell

The Trump administration is turning legal immigrants into undocumented ones.

That is, the "show me your papers" administration has literally switched off printers needed to generate those "papers."

Without telling Congress, the administration has scaled back the printing of documents it has already promised to immigrants -- including green cards, the wallet-size I.D.'s legal permanent residents must carry everywhere to prove they are in the United States lawfully.

In mid-June, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' contract ended with the company that had been printing these documents. Production was slated to be insourced, but "the agency's financial situation," USCIS said Thursday, prompted a hiring freeze that required it to ratchet down printing.

Of the two facilities where these credentials were printed, one, in Corbin, Kentucky, shut down production three weeks ago. The other facility, in Lee's Summit, Missouri, appears to be operating at reduced capacity.

Some 50,000 green cards and 75,000 other employment authorization documents promised to immigrants haven't been printed, USCIS said in a statement. The agency said it had planned to escalate printing but that it "cannot speculate on future projections of processing times." In the event of furloughs -- which the agency has threatened if it does not get a $1.2 billion loan from Congress -- "all agency operations will be affected."

Some of the missing green cards are for immigrants newly approved for legal permanent residency. Others are for existing permanent residents who periodically must renew their identity cards, which expire every 10 years but sometimes must be replaced sooner (for example, if lost). These immigrants have completed every interview, required biometric assessment, cleared other hurdles - and often waited years for these critical credentials.

The Immigration and Nationality Act requires every adult legal permanent resident to carry their green card "at all times." Failing to carry it is a misdemeanor, subject to jail time or fines. Immigrants must also show their green card to apply for jobs, travel or reenter the United States.

Understandably, panicked immigrants have been inundating USCIS with calls seeking to locate their documents.

"Our volume of inquiries [has] spiked concerning cases being approved, but the cards [are] not being produced," said one agency employee. "A lot are expedite requests, and we can't do anything about it; it's costing people jobs and undue stress."

This employee added: "It really does frustrate a lot of us to not let applicants know what's really going on."

Normally, within 48 hours of an applicant's approval, USCIS's online system indicates that a card has been printed. Immigration attorneys across the country have been puzzled recently because these status updates never appeared. Many thought the delays were tied to covid-19, which has caused other service disruptions.

One Philadelphia attorney, Anu Nair, said a USCIS officer let slip in early June that all contractors were about to be laid off and to expect long delays with paperwork.

Memphis-based attorney Elissa Taub inquired about her client's missing green card and got a cryptic email: "The system has to be updated so that a card can be produced. You will receive the [card] in the mail once the system in updated [sic]."

USCIS, which is funded almost entirely by fees, is undergoing a budget crisis, largely caused by financial mismanagement by political leadership. The printing disruptions are no doubt a preview of chaos to come if the agency furloughs about 70% of its workforce, as it has said it will do in a few weeks absent a congressional bailout.

In recent conversations with congressional staffers about cutting contracts to save money, USCIS mentioned only one contract, for a different division, that was being reduced - and made no reference to this printing contract, according to a person who took part in those discussions. The company that had this contract, Logistics Systems Inc., did not respond to emails and calls this week requesting comment.

The administration has taken other steps in recent months that curb immigration. Presidential executive orders have almost entirely ended issuance of green cards and work-based visas for people applying from outside the country; red tape and bureaucracy have slowed the process for those applying from within U.S. borders. For a while, the agency refused to forward files from one office to another. The centers that collect necessary biometric data remain shuttered.

These pipeline delays are likely to dramatically reduce the number of green cards ultimately approved and issued this year.

Under normal circumstances, immigrants who need proof of legal residency but haven't yet received their green card would have an alternative: get a special passport stamp from USCIS. But amid covid-related changes, applicants must provide evidence of a "critical need," with little guidance about what that means.

"The bottom line is that applicants pay huge filing fees, and it appears that these fees have apparently been either squandered through mismanagement or diverted to enforcement-focused initiatives, to the great detriment of applicants as well as the overall efficiency of the immigration process," says Anis Saleh, an immigration attorney in Coral Gables, Florida. "The administration has accomplished its goal of shutting down legal immigration without actually changing the law."

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

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