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9/11, twenty years on: memories launch our perspectives

Just about anyone who remembers September 11, 2001 – a full twenty years ago, to the day, of this writing – can pinpoint exactly what they were doing, who they were with, and what they were looking forward to doing in their immediate futures.

But how many can admit, or recall, with any degree of certainty, how much those aims, goals or perspectives were permanently altered?

Truth is, September 11, 2001, as a singular date, exists as – with apologies in advance to the millennials who were either born after this date or too young to remember the events of the day itself – a watershed day of linked events in the course of global history.

Every generation has their relative points in history such as those. Such as when U.S. President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas (that’s the one people of my parents’ generation speak to), when the Challenger space shuttle exploded in the sky, when the first Gulf War broke out, when Princess Diana was killed, or for those aforementioned millennials, when terms like “COVID-19”, “global pandemic”, and/or “lockdowns” became a part of our general lexicon.

But focusing on the day which has been abbreviated to “9/11” in the modern global parlance, many of us possess vivid memories of what they were doing at the moment, and what was to follow.

My personal story starts with me being in another country.

For those who are familiar with my life’s narrative, and not just my works of journalism, can recall that I am an American ex-pat who has lived in Australia for almost the last 20 years. In fact, this December marks 20 years since I decided to arrive on Australian shores, as a first-generation immigrant, to live here permanently.

So by that chronology, that “other country” was not Australia, but rather The Netherlands, otherwise known colloquially as Holland.

Among the variety of freelance journalism jobs that I was doing at that time, with freelance journalism existing as a self-employed pattern for myself in the first 10-plus years of my journalistic odysseys, was for a late, lamented website called DailySoccer.com, covering American soccer features and the occasional match report around the USA’s men’s and women’s national teams, Major League Soccer, and other writings of interest.

I was doing a great string of regular work for them, and getting a global exposure for my writings as well. Not bad considering a World Wide Web that was still evolving, pre-iPhones and social media and the like.

I had started freelance work for DailySoccer.com in early 2000 as I was preparing for two things – my work ahead of the 2000 MLS season and a key World Cup qualifying campaign for the USA’s men’s national team, and my first overseas trip in June, to Australia to meet Jennifer, a woman I had been chatting online with for the previous 18 months or so. That Australian visit lasted just three months on a tourist visa, but by the time it was done, I had proposed to her (she said “yes”, by the way).

So returning to the U.S., and returning to my day job, I had a wedding to finance and prepare for, the return venture to Australia for the wedding to take place in February 2002. Quite the balancing act awaited me for the next several months.

In early August of 2001, one of my editors at DailySoccer.com rang me with a different sort of proposal. (At this stage, we were speaking once per week, at least via telephone, despite the time difference between central Europe and my then-home in California.)

“William, we’re planning some exciting new changes to the website, the business model and everything else, and we want you to be a part of the launch of it all,” he said.

“That’s great! What do I have to do?” I asked in reply.

“We want to fly you over here, to partake in the meetings. How does early September, around the 8th or 9th sound? We’ll pay for your flight on KLM Airlines and your accommodation, too,” he said.

How could I say “no” to that!

Of course, that “over here” was Amsterdam, and then off to the website’s offices and my accommodation in Haarlem, about 30 minutes outside of the city.

My first trip to Europe – and return airfares from San Francisco to Amsterdam at the time were just less than $600 USD, in economy class.

I left on the morning of September 9, arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam in the middle of the afternoon same day. My hosts (office co-workers) showed me around Amsterdam and then Haarlem on the day and evening. I was so impressed, with the centuries-old history, the architecture, and everything about the cities and towns (even the “hey, it seems like everything is legal here” observation).

 

Amsterdam

 

The next day, Monday the 10th, we had the essential meetings which we had discussed, and I mentally coasted through them – my head was in a fog, not sure if it was from jetlag from the flight, or too much good Dutch beer from the night before.

Whatever it was, the buzzkill was yet to come.

As I was finally settling into a rhythm of writing features and doing other duties for the website, especially after lunch, on Tuesday the 11th, just after 2pm Central European Time, one of my editors pointed to the TV, which was on CNN International, and said to me:

“William, are you watching this? Perhaps you should.”

One plane after another hitting into the World Trade Centre’s famed Twin Towers. Needless to say, I was stunned, my eyes did not divert back to my laptop screen, and – for obvious reasons, and we already know the rest of the story in New York from here, and the consequences from it – I was excused from getting any more work done for the day.

Flights all over the world were suspended from this point, until the following weekend. “How am I going to get home?” and “How am I going to get to Australia?” were two of my most immediate thoughts. These were themes as I kept ringing nightly to my mother and brothers in California, my managers and co-workers at my day job, and to Jennifer in Australia.

The Dutch locals in Haarlem and Amsterdam, every time they’d pick up my American accent, were absolutely lovely, offering condolences for my countrymen and women, regardless of whether I was in the streets, the pubs, hotels, restaurants, wherever (including, yes, in front of the hash bars and sex hostels). And all this was occurring while my DailySoccer.com co-workers and I were contemplating the future for the world at-large. The compassionate acts were as meaningful as the larger consequences, good and bad alike.

Ultimately, I did make it home – and on the first permitted flight out of Europe, on the following Saturday, in fact – and I did eventually make it to Australia for the wedding (and yes, Jennifer and I are still married).

When I did get home, many people, especially those at my day job and other reporters whom I saw on a regular basis at soccer matches, told me how lucky I was, to be in another country when it happened.

However, this was also with the knowledge that over 2000 others weren’t so lucky: the largest American death toll from one event until the COVID-19 pandemic. In our inner circles, many of us either knew people or knew people who knew others who were involved in the 9-11 terror attacks, including those who wouldn’t come back.

These memories, along with the perspectives of how much the world has changed in the last 20 years, with global economies, the airline industry, security in general, and the geo-political spectrum having irreversibly been altered, can never be dulled from the minds of those having been touched.

It is a much different world now. And no going back to what it was then – no matter how much we long for those days.

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The Mad Monk Strikes: Tony Abbott, Taxi Rides and Coronavirus Despotism

This is a man who decries the use of experts. He prefers things rough, ready, pungent with vernacular promise and populist feeling. To be in the front seat of a taxi, no less, is considered a right. But former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, made a trade envoy of Brexiting Britain to much consternation and now fellow of the right wing Australian think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, is clear: the coronavirus regulatory world is despotic.

In a video presentation for the IPA, an organisation claiming with decidedly arbitrary taste that the quality of Australian life has declined by 28.5% since 2000, Abbott insists that Australia has “much to be proud of.” But coronavirus rules enacted “for our own good” were dangerous, threatening “freedom and self-reliance.” A virus had been allowed to “dominate our lives” for a whole year, “and in the process put safety before freedom, prudence before courage and avoiding danger before accepting risk.” Experts had become a high priest caste, with the populace “conditioned to have [them] give us all the answers and to have governments then tell us what to do.”

Abbott sees much gloom on the horizon for the “Australian way of life” under assault by “virus hysteria and health despotism.” Trodden upon were such entitlements as sitting in the front seat of taxis “along with singing, dancing and having too many friends and family around for a barbecue.” A closet Bohemian is old Tony.

From afar, there is much to say pandemic regulations have, in some of their variants, slipped into a form of authoritarianism, creating regimes of control and monitoring that will stubbornly linger. These come in various forms. Countries such as China have opted for fists and truncheons, the surveillance option and a good deal of mistrust over the behaviour of their citizenry. In contrast, the voluntary aspect of observing social distancing, minimising movement and keeping gatherings small in number has been a feature of such states as Sweden, with mixed results.

In Australia, a more punitive, coercive approach has been endorsed, with no better example being the state of Victoria. Abbott has previously described the Victorian response to COVID-19 as typical of a “health dictatorship” where “homes can be entered, people can be detained, and the ordinary law of the land suspended.”

Extensive, poorly circumscribed police powers have been exercised harshly, with the Ombudsman of Victoria clear about the consequences. The sudden lockdown of the North Melbourne and Flemington housing towers in Melbourne on July 4, 2020 “was not,” claimed the office, “based on direct health advice and violated the Victorian human rights laws.”

Ombudsman Deborah Glass at the time stated that, “Many residents knew nothing of the lockdown or the reason for it when large numbers of police appeared on their estate that afternoon.” Residents were left without food and medicine. “At the tower at 33 Alfred St., the focus of the investigation, residents waited more than a week to be allowed outside under supervision for fresh air.” Certain rights had been breached, including the right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty. “In my opinion, based on the evidence gathered by the investigation, the action appeared to be contrary to the law.”

In other words, Abbott is not totally bereft of sense in the matter. Where he tends to fall over and, it should be said, flat in the mud of argument, is his unqualified contempt for coronavirus regulations in general. The economic imperative, not to mention a good deal of social Darwinism and managed natural selection, tends to feature in the Abbott world. No one really wants the aged and frail to live beyond a certain point, so why not admit it? Youth and resilience must be given a chance. This much was said in his September 2020 speech before the Policy Exchange think tank in the UK.

This brings us to that problem of values, a term used with such regularity by politicians and pundits of all shades it loses shape. The jubilant Executive Director of the IPA, John Roskam, was happy to indulge this in announcing the appointment of Abbott as a distinguished fellow. “Mr Abbott has consistently defended mainstream Australian values, often in the face of tremendous hostility, and his 2013 election victory was a watershed that foreshadowed the cultural and political realignment seen around the Western world in recent years.”

Roskam fails to enumerate what these values are, but if they involve a pro-authoritarian, Fortress Australia mentality in the face of a global refugee crisis, he would be on to something. To cut to the chase, liberty and human rights are not for the swarthier types.

The director might well also thrown in remarks made by Abbott at the Third Demographic Summit held in Budapest in September 2019, one filled with jittery concern about Western Christian civilization and demographic decline before the dark hordes of Islam. As an example of Australian values, Abbott was all reproach of the English royals and the decision by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to stop breeding at two children. The royal family might well be “entitled to have as few or as many children as they choose. But having fewer children in Western countries will hardly make the climate better given all the children that will be born elsewhere.” Fine, cradle-to-grave values.

Such talk delighted his audience, all spears at the ready for the next invader waiting to breach the borders of Christendom. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was glowing about Abbott’s “respect … for the brave, direct and Anglo-Saxon consistency” Australia under Abbott showed “on migration and defence of the Australian nation.” Racial and cultural purity, as fictions, are never far away.

As if often the case, Abbott slips up on the issue of what norms undergird his country. Being tenaciously Anglophile, he can still make the specious remark that Australians are distinct in not necessarily wishing to form queues. “Thanks to the pandemic, we’re now told to form orderly and socially distanced queues – as if we were English.” Given the fact that he has been, since the 1990s, a member of governments that insisted upon queues being the natural order of life, not to mention governing war zones, applications for asylum and detaining refugees indefinitely, this seems something of a retreat.

Sadly, then, constructive critique of the global coronavirus state goes begging, lost in the miasma of parochialism, mad pseudo-eugenics and the tangle that any talk of values always presents. But that is the Mad Monk for you, ever consistent in placing bombs of destructive despair into his own bed even as he chides others for the way they have made theirs.

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What really happened, yes I really was told to ‘rough it’ and miscarry on the side of the road… (part 2)

Continued from Part 1

Meanwhile, still in a hospital bed [in an isolation room] and beside myself with grief, tears still streaming down my face and still in shock, after running some simple blood tests, the doctor informed me the miscarriage had likely not been completed and that even though they were certain I had lost the pregnancy, they could not confirm the miscarriage as medically ‘complete’. Following this knowledge, I was told I was free to go, as they told me the process would continue sometime between now and the next 14 days, advising me to follow up with my doctor when I got home. After I was discharged, I had explained to one of the nurses that I didn’t know what to do or where to go and one of them said ‘Well I’m just going to close this dose [the door in the isolation room] and pretend you don’t exist for the next 3 hours until you or your partner work something out or until your partner can come and get you’. But that wasn’t a solution, so I asked for the police. Why did they discharge me? Because they didn’t know what to do with me and would rather I was someone else’s problem. Additionally, there was no policy that could allow me to stay, since I no longer required urgent medical attention, and only medical and domestic violence emergencies are covered under quarantine directive. They had no-where to put me and just wanted to pretend I didn’t exist.

All I wanted to do was be with Mike, I didn’t want to be separated from him anymore. Unfortunately, the doctors and nurses treating me were not aware of the situation that would unfold soon after and assumed other arrangements by the police would be made, my guess is that they were busy and being in a small country town not really having dealt with real COVID-19 protocol, they never imagined or understood the sheer difficulty of my situation and just assumed the authorities and police would sort something out. Since I was considered under SA state government law, a public health risk, there was no possible way for me to arrange transport to Mike as I’d be essentially putting myself and others at risk and anyone coming in contact with me or him would risk 14 days of quarantine or by some miniscule chance contract the virus that at the time no one knew I wasn’t infected with. We have since received two negative tests and await the results of the third.

I was dependant on authorities for direction, so I asked the appropriate staff at the hospital to contact SA police to ask how I can get back to Mike (I didn’t care if his parents were coming that evening or not) all I wanted was to be with Mike so we could grieve the loss of his and my first pregnancy together. I pleaded with the nurses to help me get back to Mike and to contact the police to help me, as only they could tell me what to do and how I could get back to Mike and the car. The nurses at the hospital agreed to contact the police on my behalf since I wasn’t (for obvious reasons) capable of explaining my situation clearly. The nurses then told me it was fine and that SAPOL understood our circumstances and given that technically anyone in quarantine is not allowed to be out in the public, the nurses told me that SA police would transport me back to Mike. I finally breathed a sigh of relief because Mike was a long way from the hospital, it was dark and I didn’t even know what direction he was in and didn’t know how I was going to get to him and I have never been to this town. Learning of this news from the nurses, I agreed I wanted to be discharged then and there.

However, when SAPOL arrived, two men (Berri police officers) stood in front of me and having known my full situation miscarriage and all, said the opposite to what I had been expecting: ‘We can’t transport you from the hospital, you are not permitted to travel with us and unfortunately we can’t help you’. They continued ‘Because you are a health risk, you would put our car out of commission for the evening and we don’t want to do that because that’s one less car for all of us, so it’s unfortunate we just can’t help you, but we have spoken to your partner and he is coming to get you’. At that moment I breathed what I thought was another sigh of relief, thinking Mike had somehow made other arrangements under their directive and that they had organised a means of him getting to me… ‘So you arranged something for him instead though?’ I said. To which they replied ‘No… he is walking to come and get you and you are walking back with him’. My knees started to buckle and my hearted started to pound in panic. I was essentially haemorrhaging and had no control over the process. It was hard enough to control in the hospital setting and I had no idea if it was going to get worse or if I would be able to manage the 20-minute walk. The pain was intermittent and would come on suddenly and immediately bring me to my knees and I had no control over the bleeding nor its intensity, not to mention I knew I shouldn’t be using any public bathrooms for fear that on the small chance I was more than a normal risk of having COVID-19.

Tears started to well up soaking my mask as they went, before I then said; ‘But I’m bleeding heavily, do you think it’s a good idea for me to walk that far?’ ‘I also haven’t had dinner, I’m woozy from blood loss, I’m dizzy, I’m hungry and how will we get food?’ I continued, ‘We aren’t allowed to go to the shops… I don’t know what to do?’ ‘Please, there must be something you can do, please help me, please contact someone higher up, I need help, I don’t want to walk, I’m so tired and I don’t think I can handle such a long walk whilst I’m bleeding heavily, I really need your help…’ They stared blankly at me. I paused still trying to grasp the gravity of the situation. ‘Why can’t you HELP us, I thought it was your job to help us?!’ To that they replied, ‘Well, we can’t offer the help you are looking for, it’s a small country town everything is shut now anyway, what would you have done otherwise?’ I looked at them still with a pleading look whilst I started to imagine what will happen with my bleeding as I made the journey. They didn’t even consider my personal tragedy and that walking will not be simple and that I couldn’t even get a taxi to Mike (which I would have done if things were different), and so they continued ‘It’s not our problem that your car broke down- this happens to lots of people and they get through it, we’ve all had a tough year and that’s just how it is now, that’s COVID-19, so you’ll just have to ROUGH IT’.

My head started to spin, and I thought to myself, ‘Rough it!? ROUGH IT!? But I am having a miscarriage. I am bleeding uncontrollably, I am grieving, I am in pain and I can barely comprehend my reality…’ He continued, ‘Look it’s been a tough year for all of us, that’s just how it is now, but your partner will be here to get you soon’. I stood there bemused, they were talking to me like I was property or just some other man’s problem. I was completely lost for words; these men were sexist. I tried to imagine who among the 3 of us in that moment was truly suffering and having a tough year and it wasn’t them. How was I supposed to ‘rough it’… how was I supposed to ‘rough it’, whilst my body was violently miscarrying my first pregnancy, and how was I supposed to ‘rough it’ as the process would continue even more violently, the more walking I did. How was I supposed to ‘rough it’ as my uterus violently bled at a pace and speed I could not predict and would not be able to control when it did.

In that moment I just froze, and I looked into their eye’s scanning them for a shred of empathy and just I couldn’t find it! This is one of the strangest moments in my life. I realised they simply did not have a shred of human decency inside them and did not care to imagine not only what I was going through, but how impossibly hard it was going to be to make that 20-minute journey by foot whilst bleeding heavily and uncontrollably. Overwhelmed with their total lack of human qualities I tried through exhaustion to open my mouth to speak, but they spoke over the top of me, so finally I gave up.

But this is what I had tried to say: ‘Plenty of people have not been in our situation! How many people do you know who are in a pandemic, are told to return home to a cut-off that is physically impossible to meet, who are advised to drive on a dangerous road that leads to a popped tire… how many people do you know that have not only been through that, but at the same time are also violently beginning to miscarry their first pregnancy!?’ I also wanted to say: ‘When was the last time it was considered unsafe for someone to use public spaces and amenities such as toilets and purchasing food/drink from the shop? When was the last time it was considered unsafe for one to arrange transport other than our own… ?’

Whilst I would rather health directives that are overly cautious there should never be a time when the authorities don’t know what to do with situations that are human and out of one’s control, let alone force a woman to undergo immense pain, needless suffering and humiliation simply for being born with a uterus – an organ who’s function they cannot control. So what I really really wished to say was this: ‘I am bleeding out of body and I am sorry that the fact that I have a vagina means that you don’t know how to treat me like a human being!’. Instead, I stood there in silence. Then the nurse then spoke to me and offered me some food before directing me to the waiting room where I would wait for Mike. Not wanting to cause a panic in a pandemic among people from a small country town, I asked for another option and to simply wait outside. So, in the grips of sobbing after having tried to get the two men to display even an ounce of empathy and help me, they both gestured to a park bench whilst one of them said: ‘There’s a picnic bench across the road, you can go and wait there whilst you wait for your partner to come and get you’… and that was it. Both of the officers turned around and went back inside without even looking back or with a second thought.

After that I sobbed and wailed on the phone to Mike to find out he was still 15 minutes away and so I waited in the dark afraid, because I am a woman and being alone at night is dangerous. For the next 15 minutes whilst constantly looking over my shoulder, I also watched people walk in and out of the hospital to their cars and not one person came to ask me if I was okay. I was, for all intents and purposes released into the wilderness by two men with less than a shred of empathy and human decency. Two men who also seemed to have no concept that women cannot control when they bleed and that when we do, the situation can often be humiliating if amenities and appropriate sanitary items are not around. Everybody just wanted ‘the risk’ i.e. me, to disappear into the wilderness. So like many women early in this century and centuries gone, like an animal of prey bleeding and vulnerable to predation, I was left on my own to deal with what nature had thrown at me.

Finally, and out of the corner of my eye, about 15 minutes later I see Mike, he was running to me. He did not walk to me, he ran to me, desperate to be by my side. Only then did I learn we would be going home (expected to arrive home at 4.40am) but also learning it would still be another 4 hours before the car would arrive. Unfortunately, I still had to make the 20 minute journey back to the car, the only place in public we were provisionally permitted to be in- until such time that it was logistically possible for us to self-quarantine. So until then, I surmised to myself that the pain, suffering, torture and loss of my dignity was simply not over yet. So we walked the several blocks to the edge of the town where the car was. On the way and of no surprise to me and Mike I was not able to walk well, and several times I had to stop and let the violent process that was taking place in my body continue to expel the pregnancy. Not knowing the location of and also too afraid to use public amenities to clean myself up; for fear of breaking the law and also for fear of endangering anyone with the miniscule chance I was unknowingly infected – the humiliation continued as I was forced to stop several times… Whilst having a miscarriage I was more concerned about my impact and presence in the community for fear that I may be infected and transmit the virus. I abstained from using a toilet as we passed a service station to firstly protect others and secondly because I did not want to break the law.

When we finally reached the car, I was in so much pain that I knew what was coming; and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I asked Mike to find me ‘somewhere’ where he could shield me from passing cars and in that moment ‘following the health directive’, not far from the repair place, with no amenities in site and with Mike by my side, my last shred of dignity as a woman that bleeds, gave way. There in the most private place a woman would find, in a gully hidden from the road; pants down under a huge Eucalyptus tree, I passed a 4-week-old embryo. I had completed the miscarriage. Pregnancy hormone levels, previous to and post to have since confirmed that completion indeed occurred at this point. All the hopes, all the dreams of a mother-to-be lay on the ground. All the early pregnancy advice, all the careful eating and all the sacrifices I made, it all lay on the ground underneath my body, in a pool of blood, exposed to the elements and passing cars – in Australia on the side of the road, under a Eucalyptus tree.

The trauma of a miscarriage should end at the miscarriage. I was in pain, I was not at home, nor a place of comfort and I was not afforded even the dignity of using a public toilet, as it was against the law. That night I was not considered a human being and I just have to hope no one saw me. I continue to relive the trauma of that evening in my nightmares. Every night since the incident I have had nightmares of being in a public place, naked and exposed and covered in blood with prying eyes everywhere. In these dreams I am covered in blood and trying to find a toilet. I was denied basic human rights and I felt like a farm animal. And maybe this has happened to women before me, and maybe even to some women in Australia but for as long as I will live, I will never understand why any woman in Australia would be discharged from a hospital, be completely aware they were in the process of a miscarriage but would have no choice but to miscarry under a tree on the side of the road. What’s more, I will never understand how on that night, that woman under the tree… was me. My name is Nicole Clark and I’m telling my story publicly because I want the authorities to know I want the last woman to ever go through this, to be me.

Final words and message to the South Australian Government

I will not let you sweep this under the rug! I was humiliated beyond all words, there are no words to describe what it felt like as I squatted on the side of the road, I was treated like a second-class citizen or like a dog on heat. I demand a full and formal public apology from the South Australian police. As Mr Grant Stevens stated in his Commissioners Message “you expect us to be there in times of personal and community emergencies.” It is clear this did not occur, a personal emergency occurred at the border check point, yet a lack of basic human empathy was not displayed, let alone what would be expected as a minimum from a police officer(s) who are supposed to be serving their community.

This was further evident when police were unwilling to explore any options regarding the transportation of me or potential emergency accommodation for the night. Making me walk was painful and humiliating; for a police officer to tell me that I’d have to “rough it” it for the night with no consideration for my basic human needs and the trauma I had just experienced is disgraceful. South Australian police have already made a statement saying, “it was not the responsibility of police to make quarantine accommodation arrangements,” however I would have expected the police officer to at least have made some enquiries to see what could be done for both the transportation of me and possible accommodation. This did not occur, and the police officer made no attempt, their only concern was that we either stay put in the car or make our way home somehow.

My partner expressed concerns that staying in the car all night was not an option as I needed access to a bathroom as I would continue bleeding all night, the only alternative was for my partner’s parents to drive 3 hours in the dark on country roads to come get us. My partner told the police officer he was concerned that his parents are close to 70 years old, they have to use country roads through the hills, and they would not arrive until 1am. The police officer seemed unfazed by this. My partner further stated it would mean we wouldn’t arrive home until at least 4am and he was concerned about the already long journey we had undertaken the previous day from Hay and the trauma we have both endured. Again, the police officer seemed unfazed of the severe fatigue my partner would face driving back home, and potential for another fatality on the road. This also goes against Mr Stevens message of “you want to travel safely on our roads”… how is encouraging two people to keep driving at that time of night and after what they have endured considered to be at all safe?

 

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What really happened, yes I really was told to ‘rough it’ and miscarry on the side of the road…

The following story may seem completely unbelievable, but unfortunately every word of it is true. What I’m about to tell you is a complete, full and factual recount of what happened to me, as featured on ABC News Adelaide and in The Guardian. Readers are advised that this story contains descriptions of miscarriage and pregnancy loss, hence some readers might find the following story confronting and may not wish to read on.

This story is not a light-hearted read, it is long and will take some time to digest. This story will shock you and may spark rage in you, you will question whether something like this could really happen in Australia especially if you are a woman, but it is so important that I tell it exactly as it occurred, for it is an example of what is seriously wrong with Australia right now. It is not easy to tell this story and most people who read it will question its authenticity, as it just seems so unbelievable, however all I can simply to say to that is, every word of it is true. In fact shortening the story would only create confusion – as told by the media and the public’s reaction to it over the past week. I have provided a short version below to draw you in until you can get around to reading it. I am not a journalist, so I have nothing to gain by not telling you the truth. I’m telling this story as I refuse to let this be swept under the rug! The public must know how I was treated, so I have chosen to share this story not out of sympathy but as a matter of Public Interest – nevertheless it is a deeply personal and humiliating story so please be respectful when making comments.

Brief history

Readers are encouraged to follow my journey on Twitter but in short, I am a COVID-19 scientist who was just awarded a full PhD scholarship here in Adelaide. Adelaide is a long way from where I grew up in rural NSW, so at the end of 2020 and due to border closures it had been a year since I had seen my family. With my grandfather in particular being very frail and in his late 90s and my grandmother in her late 80s and with COVID-19, we decided there may never be another chance like it. When the South Australian borders finally opened up to NSW, my partner Mike and I were eager to travel the 15 hours by car (over two days) to visit my family in rural NSW.

The very short of it

On the 01.01.21 I miscarried my first pregnancy. That’s where the trauma should have ended, but it didn’t. On the 01.01.21 I miscarried my first pregnancy AND the entire ordeal was nothing short of inhumane and utterly humiliating.

After attempting to transit through Victoria to South Australia, in which we were not permitted because of inconsistent and non-publicly available advice regarding border closures, we arrived at the South Australian border check point where officers were informed we needed an ambulance due to what we assumed at the time was a miscarriage occurring.

Not a single police officer was interested in offering compassion and assisting him nor me, despite I was hunched over in pain and sobbing by the car. No body offered me a drink, a tissue, or to use the toilet, despite being fully aware of the uncontrollable and deeply personal tragedy I was facing; and shockingly too, there were women at that site.

I was pregnant and then I wasn’t and the circumstances and the way I had to endure the miscarriage was not dignified and the hospital and the police were fully aware that I was in the process of going through a miscarriage.

As per South Australian Quarantine directives, the only mode of transport I was permitted to use was my own two legs and I was not permitted to use public spaces, this includes a public toilet- which I desperately needed.

I could not get a taxi. I could not get a bus; I had no choice but to walk for 20 minutes back to our un-drivable car to the car repair place (read on to find out why) where it had been towed. It was dark. Our un-drivable car was 20 minutes’ walk from the hospital.

Mike was not with me at the hospital at any point, I was forced to endure the miscarriage of the life we created TOGETHER in hospital ALONE he was not permitted to be by my side whilst I was in hospital, he was not permitted to enter the hospital. This means he also was not there when I was discharged.

Mike was with the car and in the car were all of my toiletries and personal belongings. I just wanted to be with Mike, and he was a long walk from me, he left the car at the repair place and walked to me to help me make the long 20 minute journey back to the car. The walk took me 35 minutes because I could barely contain the product of the miscarriage as blood soiled my clothes.

The South Australian State Government and associated departments had a duty of care to transport me safely and humanely, since I was dependent on their direction under quarantine directives. They refused to transport me despite knowing I was enduring a miscarriage and that doctors advised I should not walk.

They humiliated me and forced me to endure a miscarriage in public. This did not need to happen, I could have miscarried and bled in privacy because I knew it was not over, they knew too. I had no choice but to bleed onto the side of the road because I could not even use a public toilet.

The full story

My family, like us, were separated and protected by the countryside where they were hundreds of kilometres away from any hot spots or confirmed COVID-19 transmission. So coming from South Australia with 0 community transmission to a rural area with 0 cases and also 0 transmission; and fearing the next time may be too late, we travelled the 1,360 km and spent Christmas with my grandparents and the rest of family. Unfortunately, we would not be able to visit my other grandparent who lives in Sydney. Strangely, the previous New Year, on what also started on New Year’s Eve, [whilst visiting other family in Sydney] we became separated from my immediate family on the South Coast, by none other than the fires; and so spent the night in a rescue centre in Sussex In-let- with hundreds of other climate refugees. So, we were accustomed to foregoing New Year’s celebrations and acting quickly to any public health directives and in all types of situations.

On the 30th of December following multiple cases exploding all over Sydney (still more than 400 km from the rural town we were staying in) in the late evening, the South Australian government announced hard border restrictions were coming. On the following morning of the 31st of December (to our surprise) the South Australian government gave the directive that all South Australians visiting NSW must return home immediately before midnight or else face mandatory quarantine. The rules had changed very quickly. The previous day the borders were open, the health directive was that all returning travellers from rural NSW into SA would not be required to quarantine but simply to get tested and isolate until they received a negative test. The rules had changed so suddenly that we were not able to follow these unrealistic expectations and cut-off.

Both my partner and I looked at each other as we realised avoiding quarantine was not an option for us. There was no way we would reach the border in time, just absolutely no way. So we both needed to get home in time in order to complete quarantine by the 15th which marked Mike’s return to work; and the commencement of my PhD journey as a COVID-19 scientist. So we packed up our things immediately, said goodbye to my family within the hour, (for what will likely be another year) and we left the area to get as close to the SA border as possible (safely). We were hoping for some sort of leeway in the process, as it would take 2 days of driving to finally reach the SA border.

Additionally, I had not long found out I was pregnant. It was my first pregnancy, and I was dealing with pregnancy symptoms that lead us to stop almost every hour along the way. So again, there was absolutely no way we would ever reach the border by midnight on the 31st of December. Since the journey to SA involves passing through Victoria, we had resolved to the fact that we may have to explain our situation very carefully to allow us to pass through Victoria and onwards to home, where once reaching the SA border we understood we may need to quarantine but hopped as with other states exceptions (even for Victorians) it wouldn’t have to be the case. After spending the night in accommodation in Hay NSW, we set off first for Victoria.

When we arrived at the Victorian border, met by police we were told due to border closures it was not possible to pass through Victoria and that we had to traverse across countryside and take ‘back roads’ through NSW to reach SA. Following that directive, we proceeded to drive the extra 4 hours around Victoria to hopefully reach our destination. Since the police took our details, 2 hours later we received a phone call from the same Victorian police officer that told us we couldn’t pass through Victoria, that the directives had changed and now we can. The officer said that the information they gave us about travelling through Victoria was incorrect and that we should be able to go online and get a permit to pass through, giving us the directive to travel to Mildura and present our permit. So we began to abandon our plans to traverse across NSW, stopping frequently due to my pregnancy symptoms; and head for Mildura after filling out a permit online as directed. However, when we arrived back at the Victorian border we were again told the information we had been given previously was incorrect and again told to traverse across the country side and take the back roads through NSW. So taking a deep breath we proceeded with our initial plans as directed at the first Victorian check point. We were told the back roads should get us to our destination and we set off again.

Not more than 2 hours later following the directions given by the police officers in Mildura we arrived at a turn off to enter a 130km stretch of road in an arid zone known as ‘Renmark/Wentworth Rd’ and to our surprise less than 20km in, was a sign that said ‘unsealed road ahead’. My partner looked at me nervously as our car hit the dirt road- it is not at all designed to go off road. But since it was our only choice, looking at each other, we both shrugged and thought ‘well this is the only way, and it must be safe considering this is the path we were directed to take by the authorities i.e., the Victorian Police. The stretch of road was dangerous, we had to drive slowly, and our car struggled. Outside it was 36 degrees, phone reception was patchy, there was no shade, no trees and we were looking at a vast empty landscape in all directions. We didn’t see another car for over an hour. So if we ran into any problems, a tough potentially dangerous situation lay ahead for us. It truly was a dangerous road. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened and only 1 km from the check point our tire suddenly popped, and Mike and I got out of the car to investigate. At that very moment I also felt a sharp pain in my abdomen and buckled to my knees, I was losing my first pregnancy right then and there.

In agony and unable to control the process, I bent down on the side of the road… and there as I called to Mike in the hot scorching sun my body started to let ‘it’ go. Not two minutes later, another car crossed our path, so I rushed to make myself decent, temporarily stopping the process with what little I had on hand. Still 2.5 hours from our home in Adelaide, but with advice from the well-seasoned off-road driver, we managed to limp to the border check point and were greeted by SA police. In agony and in tears, as well as in complete shock, I stayed in the car trying to work out what we needed to do next and more importantly what I needed to do next, as I knew I needed urgent medical attention – after all it was my first pregnancy and though it wasn’t very far along I had no idea if what my body was doing was normal or whether I was having a dangerous pregnancy such as ectopic or molar pregnancy. It definitely didn’t feel normal. Since we arrived from NSW our situation required support and direction from the authorities, we were dependant on them for direction if we were to get home and begin our 14-day quarantine. We needed a new tire and I needed urgent medical attention. Both my partner and I assumed the SA police would know what to do and would understand our situation and show compassion. Unfortunately, instead we were met with complete hostility as if we somehow broke the law when we couldn’t control the reality of being unable to meet the impossible border closures and cut-off that occurred 24 hours prior.

So, despite my partner telling the officers our ordeal, explaining that we came from rural NSW and how we couldn’t have made it to the border any sooner, with him finally also telling them I was having a miscarriage. To our surprise, not a single police officer was interested in offering compassion and assisting him nor me-despite I was hunched over in pain and sobbing by the car. We posed little more than a normal risk of transmission and certainly no more than anyone else who had previously crossed the border less than 24 hours before hand that were less than 12 hours from the border when closures begun. None of that mattered, to the SA police we were considered ‘infected’ and nobody would come near us even with safe protocol. We were not even offered a mask and ours were not on hand. Nobody offered me a drink, a tissue, or to use the toilet, despite being fully aware of the uncontrollable and deeply personal tragedy I was facing; and shockingly too, there were women at that site. One female police officer even asked ‘where is she bleeding from’ to which Mike perplexingly explained ‘from her vagina’…

Nobody knew what to do for us or what to do with us we were simply an inconvenience- since we couldn’t simply follow the health directive and drive straight home to quarantine. In fact it was Mike, my partner, who decided the only option for me was to call me an ambulance and as the ambulance arrived whilst I was being wheeled on a stretcher, despite Mike had made them fully aware, a female police officer aggressively demanded I tell her what part of NSW I had come from as Mike was reaching for my hand to say goodbye. Mike was not allowed to come to the hospital with me because a) we were considered ‘high risk’ but only by SA standards, in fact even in Victoria we were considered a normal risk and b) we no longer had a road worthy vehicle for him to travel to me and he was not allowed to use alternative forms of transport, this includes a taxi or other means.

On the way to the hospital in the nearest town, Berri South Australia whilst under the care of the hospital staff I was thankfully treated with dignity, however that soon changed when the hospital had begun the process of discharging me. They too like the police, realised that with no policy in place they had no idea what to do with me or what they were permitted to do. Whilst I was tended to at the hospital, Mike organised a tow truck to take him to the town and to the nearest repair place to arrange for a new tire- though unfortunately given the time of the year and the fact it was a public holiday we would not be able to get a new tire for likely several days.

I am not on anyone’s side and frankly I have little faith in democracy, this may sound like I am slamming COVID-19 policy or that I disagree with it but it is about consistency and this is simply a factual recount of what occurred. I was given a mask as soon as I entered the ambulance, but I was not offered one prior to this. If Mike was a risk as the police or as policy had surmised, well then they also did not ask him to wear a mask and SAPOL (SA Police) did not seem to care that the tow truck driver was also not wearing a mask either. The police told Mike we were permitted to get a hotel for the night but had to remain in the hotel room until the following morning where they expected us to arrange transport back home the following day- in a process that also presumably couldn’t be in breach of the Public Health Act. However, if you stop to think about this for a moment, you quickly realise the idea of not coming into contact with others and putting others at risk is more than the health directive requires and it goes beyond the job of a police officer enforcing a simple directive to return home and quarantine. No, instead it requires compassionate thought, innovation to adapt to the rules (safely) directives from others higher up the chain and most of all common sense- none which were evident amongst any police officer we had come across that day!

The tow truck driver was permitted to transport Mike to either a hotel or to the repair place, but there was no way for me to be transported to Mike – wherever that would end up being. What’s more, the tow truck driver was not expected to quarantine, presumably because the police had surmised we were not a risk to him? So by the time the car was towed to the repair place under the directive of SA law, Mike was forced to wait by the car whilst I lay in a hospital bed on the phone to him- desperately wanting him to be by my side, sobbing uncontrollably over the loss of our first pregnancy- whilst I struggled to comprehend I was no longer a mum to be all whilst my battery threatened to die. Unfortunately, we were refused a hotel because a) we were considered a risk to other hotel guests and any business is allowed to refuse if they feel unsafe b) because we had our dog with us. So Mike chose to make other arrangements where his parents (in their 70’s) came in two cars leaving the other car with us. Initially it was thought [due to circumstances outside their control] that his parents could not make the 3.5-hour journey from their home that night, and neither of us knew whether I’d be staying overnight in hospital or whether I’d be discharged that evening. So at that stage I had not received the update from Mike and did not know we would be going home that night. Really all I wanted to do was be with Mike and grieve the loss of my pregnancy and what to me was a baby – in that moment nothing else mattered to me nor Mike.

Story concludes tomorrow

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Aged care’s pandemic reply still a mess, unions say

The Morrison government has failed to respond specifically to the findings of the recent Aged Care Royal Commission and the problem points and issues revealed from it – and the longer which that persists, especially on the findings specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, the longer the crisis over the aged care sector will go on, members of Australia’s union movement said on Tuesday.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) asserted that the government – specifically aimed at Prime Minister Scott Morrison and indicted by association, Greg Hunt, the government’s health minister, and Richard Colbeck, the government’s minister for aged care – will not address shortages and shortcomings in providing responses to staffing levels, training or transparency within the aged care system.

“This Government needs to take responsibility for the years of understaffing and low wages in aged care. There have been 685 preventable deaths caused by COVID-19,” said Michele O’Neil, the ACTU’s president.

“In the midst of a crisis in aged care which has been exacerbated by a pandemic, aged care workers need more funding, and they need that funding to be tied to outcomes for staff and residents so it cuts through the bloated for-profit system.

“Yesterday, the Morrison Government opposed legislation to require aged care providers to publicly report on how they spend their revenue. Accountability for government funding is long overdue,”

O’Neil and the ACTU were responding specifically to an announcement on Monday from Hunt regarding a $132.2 million investment package which, in representing the government’s official response to the findings of the Aged Care Royal Commission as it pertains to the needs brought on by the pandemic, included a detailed breakdown of spendings on top of a $245 million funding in August.

“This investment directly addresses issues raised by the Aged Care Royal Commission and will improve and support the health and wellbeing of aged care residents most significantly impacted by COVID-19,” said Hunt upon announcing the new package of investment.

“For our aged care sector, the revised plan allows flexibility to manage individual situations in each state and territory [and] also builds on and consolidates the critical and successful work already undertaken by the Commonwealth government,” said Hunt.

Colbeck said that the current updated plan attached to the new investment was created upon conjunction with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s Aged Care Advisory Group (ACAG), thereby meeting one of the Royal Commission’s aims.

“While we hope there won’t be further COVID-19 outbreaks in aged care facilities or in home care, if it does happen, key learnings will inform the future work of the ACAG and be shared with the aged care sector,” said Colbeck.

Previously, Annie Butler, the national secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), said that her union had welcomed the six basic conclusions from the Aged Care Royal Commission’s findings, but still fears that maximum protections for older Australians living in nursing homes and aged care facilities will not be met.

“Nursing homes desperately need additional nurses and care staff to provide safe, effective care outcomes for residents, not just to enable more visitors,” Butler said in October, shortly after the Royal Commission’s findings were released.

“While that is critical for the wellbeing of residents, more staff are urgently needed just to meet basic needs for residents in far too many nursing homes.

“Our members have been on the frontline during the pandemic and have witnessed how it has stretched staff and resources even further, again demonstrating the importance of having sufficient staffing levels and skills mix, to cope with intensified demands and workloads,” added Butler.

O’Neil suggested that the government utilise a quota-based system which possesses a variety of skill sets to suit the needs of a maligned aged care sector, whose shortcomings in a privatised status continue to be greatly exposed during the pandemic.

“The crisis in aged care won’t be turned around by one announcement, this government shows no commitment to the long-term change which it has been told again and again is necessary,” said O’Neil.

“We need minimum staffing levels with a mandated mix of skills on every shift in every workplace. This announcement takes us no closer to this goal.

“Mandated training requirements are urgently needed to ensure that workers and residents are safe. This announcement will do nothing to improve training,” O’Neil added.

Butler suggested that any additional funding, regardless of when it would become available, be used in a targeted budget approach in intended areas rather than a government-based value-for-money tactic would be of better use to the sector.

“We welcome the recommendation for immediate additional funding, but reiterate the need for greater transparency for any additional government funding, because aged care providers must be held accountable – and actually use the money for its intended purpose of employing additional nurses and carers for the depleted sector,” she said.

Ultimately, O’Neil languishes at the likes of Hunt and Colbeck failing to adhere to finding common ground between the Aged Care Royal Commission’s findings and the needs of the aged care sector itself.

“We have been willing to work with the Morrison government on this issue. So it is deeply regrettable that they continue to ignore the expertise of the workers in the sector,” said O’Neil.

 

 

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Aussie Politics in 2022

As one speculates on the deteriorating trajectory of the Australian economy under the stranglehold of COVID-19, it’s not hard to see the gradual demise of the Morrison government as we limp toward 2022, despite the perception that they have managed the whole health crisis reasonably well.

With an election not due until mid-2022, something Labor can count as a blessing, the Coalition will be hard pressed to explain to an impatient electorate as to why things are taking so long to improve.

By 2022, the economy will still be very fragile, with unemployment likely to remain high, perhaps as much as 8% without JobKeeper and a new improved JobSeeker. Combine that with outstanding bond issues close to, or in excess of, $1 trillion dollars and a government ideologically committed to reducing this fake debt and its deficit spending, a prolonged period of low wage growth and rising inflation will persist.

By that time, however, the patience of the Australian voter will have run out. No longer will they believe the rhetoric, the mantras or the likely dire predictions of the Murdoch media that an incoming Labor government would be worse.

It will become apparent to those middle-class swinging voters who view themselves as little capitalists, that a marked decline in living standards has occurred for which the Conservatives have failed to adequately respond to, or appear to be able to remedy.

It’s a scenario similar to 1983 when we saw the Hawke Labor government elected following a period of high unemployment and economic mismanagement under the Fraser government….the one where John Howard was Treasurer.

Labor went on to lead the country for the next 13 years. They introduced several major economic reforms that fundamentally changed and elevated the Australian economy to a point, somewhat ironically, where conditions in a growing world economy enabled the very same, Lazarus performing John Howard to subsequently govern and to be seen to be so successful.

Ironic because, if a conservative Government had remained in power during that time, they would never have had the vision necessary to enact those reforms themselves.

By 2022, with much of the world still struggling under the weight of post-Covid mismanagement and conservative governments under increasing pressure to perform better, time will have run out for Scotty from Marketing, assuming of course, that he is still there.

That does not assume either, that Anthony Albanese will still be there. Bright minds with more charismatic appeal and a flair for theatre are already waiting in the wings establishing their credentials. Just as Labor’s Bill Hayden was convinced to stand aside in 1983, so too might Albanese. If events become such that a quick leadership change may be seen as a pragmatic, if not irresistible opportunity, it could happen.

The Morrison Government, however, will be on a hiding to nothing. They have only ever looked good when the economy was on auto-pilot. Their lack of vision has always been their undoing. Once events transpire to challenge their capacity to be innovative and creative, they collapse in a clumsy heap of confusion and dysfunction.

There will be a lot of challenges for the Coalition over the next 18 months; challenges they will struggle with, ideologically. History tells us that it won’t end well.

Over time, history has a habit of repeating itself politically and such a time, for Australian politics, is less than two years from now. So let the games begin.

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More Hopeful Times Ahead with President Joe Biden in a Post-Virus Era?

By Denis Bright

Can the politics of hope replace the normal circus of a US Presidential election in these times of public health and financial crises? Is Joe Biden as the Democratic hopeful up to the task against a well-resourced and canny incumbent?

How are things trending on the Twin Fronts? What unchartered scenarios lie ahead before the scheduled Presidential voting day on 3 November 2020?

Coping with the COVID-19 Crisis

The Guardian (9 April 2020) provided useful updates of the COVID-19 Crisis across the USA. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web site in Atlanta provides daily updates of the trend-lines.

While the North Eastern Metropolitan Areas are virus epicentres, there are clusters of COVID-19 around all major urban hubs across the USA.

Graphs of cases of COVID-19 may follow trends established in South Korea and China in the coming weeks after the peak of the crisis is finally attained.

 

 

Countries with different health systems may be following similar trajectories.

Perhaps the degree of enforcement of social distancing is a key factor.

 

Regrettably, President Trump is uneasy about keeping the US in lockdown. The US was a late starter in issuing lockdown directives. The Trump Administration took its lockdown cues from the key epicentre states.

President Trump’s unease is linked to his concerns about the consequences of an over-extended lockdown for the financial welfare of the nation.

The US Financial Crisis-The Times They Are A-Changing

As the vital COVID-19 case numbers are likely to plateau and then to flatten in a few weeks, it is the financial crisis which is likely to intensify (The Guardian 9 April 2020). Perhaps there is provision to defer the presidential and congressional elections if unemployment trends worsen at a time of public health crisis. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first landslide victory in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression came with a voter participation of 56.9 per cent. This was similar to recent voter participation rates in recent presidential elections.

McKinsey Global Institute in New York offers the possibility of a China-led recovery if the pandemic can be contained in the medium term in 2020:

 

 

Trajectories for the US economy and its global influence are of course unknown quantities at this stage. The McKinsey Institute does not extend its more detailed US projections beyond the current year.

 

 

Unchartered Social Outcomes of Previous Crises

In these times of financial and health crises, it is surprising that the US is turning to veteran leaders on both sides of the congressional aisles.

Old musical folk-heroes are being respected anew even if they maintain some left-leaning agendas as in the 1960s. Perhaps the popular music scene is an ongoing escape from the excesses of centre-right politics now as before.

Like Barry McGuire (Born 1935) of Eve of Destruction fame, Bob Dylan might be still alive to sing out the Trump Era. This is less likely if President Trump gains a second term. The changeover inauguration date in January 2025 is still a very long way off.

From near-retirement, Bob Dylan has just offered a new release on 27 March 2020. Murder Most Foul recalls the social aftermaths of President Kennedy’s (JFK’s) assassination on Friday 22 November 1963 (Full lyrics here).

Writing for MIT Press Reader, literature guru Timothy Hampton of the University of California, Berkley reminds every one of the haunting tragedies that afflict US society over which a cheery popular culture continues to offer band-aid compensations (The MIT Press Reader 3 April 2020).

Social band-aids were needed as high-profile assassinations in the 1960s. Formal politics in the USA tilted to the right while most of society continued its freedom-loving ways in the shadows of a more disciplined corporate society with its enormous and growing military industrial complexes.

The losses of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King within a few weeks of each other in 1968 deepened the wounds against a healthy social recovery from JFK’s assassination. When the Woodstock Festival convened in upstate New York in August 1969, President Nixon had already won by a landslide at the 1968 election. There was no It’s Time Era in formal US Politics as in Australia, Britain and across the expanding European Union.

Writing in The Conversation, Aniko Bodroghkozy, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia summed up the eerie mood across the USA as COVID-19 takes its toll:

Over the past few weeks, the coronavirus has turned the country’s cultural spigot off, with sports suspended, museums closed and movies postponed.

But the virus hasn’t stopped Bob Dylan, who, on the evening of March 26, released “Murder Most Foul,” a 17-minute long song about the Kennedy assassination.

Many have pondered the timing. So, have I. I’m a Kennedy scholar, writing a book about how television handled coverage of the Kennedy assassination over a traumatic four-day “black weekend,” as it was called. I’ve also explored how Americans responded to the sudden upending of national life with the murder of a popular and uniquely telegenic president.

NBC News anchor David Brinkley, as he signed off that first night, called Kennedy’s death “just too much, too ugly and too fast.”

The coronavirus crisis may also seem too much and too ugly, though it’s unfolded much more slowly. While a global pandemic is certainly different from a political assassination, I wonder if Dylan sensed some resonance between the two events. Inscrutable as always, he’s unlikely to ever explain. And yet it’s hard to ignore the poignant similarities in the ways Americans have responded to each tragedy.

Ana Swanson of the New York Times notes the switch from trade and investment wars with China to increasing dependence on China for vital medical supplies in the current health crisis:

WASHINGTON — A commercial aircraft carrying 80 tons of gloves, masks, gowns and other medical supplies from Shanghai touched down in New York on Sunday, the first of 22 scheduled flights that White House officials say will funnel much-needed goods to the United States by early April as it battles the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak.

The plane delivered 130,000 N95 masks, 1.8 million face masks and gowns, 10 million gloves and thousands of thermometers for distribution to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, said Lizzie Litzow, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Ms. Litzow said that flights would be arriving in Chicago on Monday and in Ohio on Tuesday, and that supplies would be sent from there to other states using private-sector distribution networks.

While the goods that arrived in New York on Sunday will be welcomed by hospitals and health care workers — some of whom have resorted to rationing protective gear or using homemade supplies — they represent just a tiny portion of what American hospitals need. The Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that the United States will require 3.5 billion masks if the pandemic lasts a year.

That overwhelming demand has set off a race among foreign countries, American officials at all levels of government and private individuals to acquire protective gear, ventilators and other much-needed goods from China, where newly built factories are churning out supplies even as China’s own epidemic wanes.

This sharing of medical assistance from China in a time of crisis is particularly significant. Australia has the green light to respond in a likewise manner (ABC News):

A freight flight from the city where the deadly coronavirus first appeared has arrived in Sydney, carrying 90 tonnes of protective masks, gowns and ventilators.

Tough restrictions on travel in and out of Wuhan, China were only lifted in the last 24 hours, and the city’s airport whirred back into action along with many other transport hubs in Hubei province.

The cargo flight, operated by Chinese carrier Suparna Airlines, arrived in Sydney after 9:00pm on Wednesday, and is the first flight from Wuhan to land at Australia’s busiest airport since late January.

“This flight will be carrying up to 90 tonnes of much needed medical supplies,” a spokesperson for the Home Affairs Department told the ABC.

Readers who would like to promote discussion on this possible change agenda should add their comments in the interests of citizens’ journalism.

The Atlantic (20 November 2013) has offered some trivia from The Wire to assist in your assessment of Joe Biden from a selective focus on his College Years (The Atlantic 20 November 2013). Select quoting from this article would spoil its punch-lines.

Luck will have to be on Joe Biden’s side again if he is to overcome the challenges posed by the political colours on the 2016 US Presidential Election Map. The 2016 Campaign delivered a 304 to 227 margin for President Trump in the Electoral College. Hillary Clinton gained almost 3 million primary votes over Donald Trump and attained 48.2 per cent of the overall vote.

The campaigning style of Joe Biden has yet to be tested against a canny incumbent with almost limitless campaigning resources to communicate with a nation in lockdown. Joe Biden’s ultimate political trial on 3 November 2020 must surely attract some of the silent majority who are not scared off by the long-odds.

Australia is so entwined in the global soft power network of the USA that our interest is imperative. I can recall the exact ABC radio news bulletin at 6 a.m. on that Saturday morning here which informed me of JFK’s assassination. It took years to understand the long-term even immediate consequences. With the assassin incorrectly portrayed as a communist sympathiser at the time, the electorate was already ready to stay with Robert Menzies on 30 November 1963 with his commitments to new F11 Fighter Jets and negotiations to accept the North West Cape Communication base through negotiations with US Ambassador William Battle. Australia was intimately caught up in the right-wing tendencies in global politics within the US Global Alliance.

The guide to form map from the 2016 Presidential Campaign shows the challenges facing my own outsider wager in favour of Joe Biden knowing that President Trump has a knack of mobilising his own support base in those key Swing States like Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania which have the numbers to change our political world through the strange mechanics of the US Electoral College. Building up more progressive majorities in California and New York do help congressional numbers but do not influence the race prize for Joe Biden.

In the Hope of Progressive Change, I choose to Trust in my current assessment of Unchartered Times.

Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizens’ journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from Insiders with specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.

 

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You will catch it

You are going to catch it.

Not everyone who reads this article will contract COVID-19, the novel coronavirus originating in Hubei province, China. On the current rates of transmission and expected trajectory, however, the chances are better than even that if you are reading these words, in the near future you will catch this virus.

Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch believes that the virus has moved beyond any attempts to contain it. Whilst governments around the world, Australia included, continue to talk about containing the virus and preventing its spread, they are also mobilising their plans for responding to a global pandemic. Dr Nancy Messonnier, head of the US government’s Centre for Disease Control, said on Tuesday that COVID-19 could not be stopped and that public policy would have to switch from containment to mitigation.

“Pandemic” has a formal definition. Professor Brendan Murphy, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, explains: “A pandemic is a label that simply says that there’s sustained community transmission in several countries. We are already preparing for the eventuality that we have further outbreaks in Australia should they happen. So that’s what the preparation is about. So, declaring a pandemic doesn’t change what we do.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today announced that the government is preparing its full response plan for management of the crisis. Current plans include securing the supply chains for required medical supplies and personnel, and as reported elsewhere, the repurposing of sports stadiums and other infrastructure as temporary medical facilities.

The truth is, it is likely this virus already qualifies for “pandemic” status. Whilst the majority of cases have so far been detected in China, the disease is spreading rapidly and largely uncontrolled throughout Asia. The United States has seen its first case of an apparently disconnected diagnosis – a confirmed case of coronavirus in a patient with no known contact to people from affected areas. There have been reports of people becoming symptomatic up to 28 days after exposure, which is well outside the accepted quarantine measures. In all likelihood, in several countries or many, the disease is spreading unchecked and unseen throughout populations.

They won’t know about it for some time yet. The disease is often mild, or even for some asymptomatic. This virus appears to be more contagious than influenza, and every individual affected may on average infect four others (reducing, as the virus becomes more endemic in the population). In combination, a highly contagious virus with mild effects is likely to be impossible to control. Once it gets out of control in any one place, in practical terms our globalised economic system ensures it will spread everywhere.

The most important direct response anyone can take towards this sobering thought is: Don’t panic!

The moments of greatest disruption from this virus are right now. There is much that is yet unknown, but from the cases we have so far seen, we can draw some conclusions.

COVID-19 is far more virulent than the common cold, it’s true. It’s more severe than normal strains of influenza. Typical influenza hospitalises a small percentage of sufferers, with complications and severe outcomes including death for between 0.1% and 0.5% of all infected. COVID-19 has a mortality rate between 1.5% and 4%. The wide range reflects that the severity of virus outcomes depends largely on the quality of medical care sufferers receive. Untreated, obviously more people die than those in countries with advanced medical systems, such as Australia. COVID-19 appears also to be particularly severe in the elderly and those with co-morbid conditions (pre-existing conditions such as Diabetes or Asthma). This is no different to the regular strains of annual influenza and related cold and flu viruses.

COVID-19 is not a devastating new epidemic to kill vast swathes of Australians. It’s far more akin to a particularly severe flu strain. The more pernicious effect of the virus is measured in how societies are responding to its threat.

Governments have already closed borders, and even after a few short weeks the global economy is shuddering under the strain. Australia’s universities are suffering a loss of international students, many of whom will not return. Global trade markets are at a standstill, as are many major industrial facilities in China. (As a result, China’s CO2 emissions for the quarter are hugely reduced, although if COVID-19 is contained and restrictions are lifted there is an expectation that China’s factories will roar back into life, seeking to make up for lost time.) There have been reports already of panic buying of medical and infection prevention materials in various cities. Japan is terrified about the possibility of the Olympic Games not going ahead, or (worse) being run without an influx of tourists. International art, fashion and music festivals have been postponed or cancelled for fear of spreading the virus amongst attendees. Forget making people sick, COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on modern society, in much the same way terror of terrorism used to.

Our modern economy cannot operate if people are reluctant to go out in public, if they avoid sporting events and art galleries, beaches and rock concerts, if they avoid Chinatown and restaurants and shopping centres, the whole edifice that is our carefully constructed and tended economy may crumble.

Already stock markets are tottering, and the worst effects have not yet begun to bite. Investors have been so far reluctant to admit the worst possibilities of this pandemic, assuming that the effects of the virus will be to depress the stock market for a short while – perhaps one fiscal quarter – before the inevitable rebound. It seems hugely optimistic to assume that COVID-19 will be under control in a single quarter. This crisis has, almost certainly, a lot longer yet to run. Some analysts fear that the results of COVID-19 will be worse than the GFC. Compared to the damage this could do to modern societies and nations, the physical effects of this virus seem positively benign.

In reality COVID-19 is not too dissimilar, in many ways, to the existing strains of flu. If it becomes endemic in world populations, to the extent that governments cease attempting to contain and eliminate it, we will treat it much as any other flu-like illness: with symptomatic treatment. It is important to note also that there are vaccines currently being developed for this disease. Contrary to some breathless reporting elsewhere, such efforts will not be providing an immunisation against COVID-19 any time soon. The best-case scenario is for a working, mass-produced vaccine to be available 22-24 months from now. This timeline is unprecedentedly swift: most vaccines take up to a decade to bring to market. Two years from now, COVID-19 will either be eliminated in practical terms, or it will be everywhere, sweeping across the globe in annual waves with the weather.

So what would a world with COVID-19 look like? Largely this depends on a couple of factors, which are currently not known.

One of the most important questions is whether COVID-19 might, like existing influenza strains, be highly mutable, changing form every year such that the touted vaccine for this year will be less effective next year. If this proves the case, COVID-19 might be here to stay. The good news is that the severity of COVID-19 might be due in part to its novelty – it is a new virus not previously found in human populations, so it’s feasible to suppose that this virus is proving harder for the human immune system to beat. Unlike the flu, nobody has immunity to COVID-19 from either immunisation or having experienced an earlier strain. After we’ve all experienced COVID-19 once, the likelihood is that many will resist any future strains, should they come. Once you’ve recovered from this year’s strain, your body might more easily fight off the next iteration.

Our most probable future is one where COVID-19 has swept through most global populations and most, at least in western, advanced societies, are now either immune or vaccinated against it. Perhaps the virus will be mutable, each year seeing a new strain, with the medical fraternity encouraging us all to get our Flu-and-COVID shots as each flu season rolls around. Or it will be a one-and-done. In either case, we will no longer be afraid to step outside our doors, to interact with our fellow humans, to socialise and share company and food and experiences. In truth, we shouldn’t be afraid of these things now. Either the authorities will prevail, against the odds, and COVID-19 will go the way of Polio and Ebola, eliminated in most human populations with only a rare outbreak occurring from time to time. Under this scenario the chances of a typical Australian contracting the virus are slim. We are protected by our strong biosecurity and the tyranny of distance. If any country can retain control of such a disease it is Australia. Or else the virus will slip past our defenses anyway and run amok through our cities. Your chances of avoiding the disease then, due to your own vigilance, become unfeasibly small. You are likely to catch it. And that shouldn’t bother you. Most of us will catch it, and for the vast majority of us the result will be a case of coughs-and-sniffles.

At 2% morbidity, COVID-19 would be a substantial killer of the old, the sick, the vulnerable, but as always this cost will be borne most heavily in third world countries, rural areas or those with undeveloped medical systems. Here in affluent Australia it will be a mere sub-component of the list of diseases which can kill us, and we will give no more thought to it than we do to Measles. So, don’t panic. If COVID-19 becomes a pandemic, the likelihood is we’ll just have to live with it. So we shouldn’t let it stop us living now.

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