Issue of the Week: Disease, Human Rights, War, Economic Opportunity, Hunger, Population, Environment, Personal Growth

Front page, The New York Times, Sunday, May 24, 2020


This is the Memorial Day weekend in the US.

It falls on the last Monday of May every year and honors those who died in war serving with the US.

For years, as a matter of practice, it has also been a day when family and friends who have passed away are also remembered.

And in this year particularly, it honors those who have died in the Coronavirus pandemic in the US, where the worst death toll in the world so far has occurred.

We had planned a longer piece on the national and global short-term and long-term fallout from the pandemic, the false choice between health and the economy based on systems that died some time ago and will not be propped up much longer, and the increasingly apparent likelihood that the final resistance to change, accompanied by a last head fake that it can be avoided, will lead to far greater chaos and suffering before the ultimate bottom is hit.

However, this will wait a bit more, as it will continue to unfold in any event.

For today, the cover of the Sunday New York Times has stolen the show once again.

And it requires undivided reverence.


It is both paean and dirge, to the first one hundred thousand dead from the pandemic in the US alone, “Remembering the Nearly 100,000 Lives Lost to Coronavirus in America“.

Before letting it tell its own story without further comment, we do need to acknowledge the evolving art form the cover of the Sunday Times is becoming. The following story behind the front page of the Times does this as well. But we need to salute the Times in this age of radically changing journalism as it adapts brilliantly to this needed modality to bring the reader in deeper–at first sight. Our credentials in this arena over decades is not a focus of interest here, except to underline the credibility of our observation of the accomplishment of the Times, and its importance.

After the following lead article, we have picked one other from today’s paper in The Sunday Review, “Crumbs for the Hungry but Windfalls for the Rich“, by opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof, the most emailed as we write, the importance of which cannot be overstated. It outlines, in the clearest possible terms, what has gone wrong, once again, in the face of this crisis–and what must go right for our survival and global survival.

This is the 75th Memorial Day since VE Day, Victory in Europe over the Nazis on May 8. The end of civilization was averted and enormous possibilities of equality were created. After that promise was delivered in many ways, it was reneged on. For all its faults though, the international order was a critical precondition for any chance of stability, preventing nuclear war during the Cold War, preventing disease, addressing hunger, protecting children, bringing justice to crimes against humanity, increasing the odds for peace and prosperity, led by the US (which has also caused or been complicit with human rights atrocities itself at times and increasing inequality over the past few decades as we’ve continuously pointed out–but was still in an unmatched position, if it reformed itself, to lead to a more equal and sustainable future on the planet), which it has virtually abandoned. It may have one last chance. But it will not be a return to normal–an unsustainable inequality in providing basic needs and halfway measures on human rights starting with nurturing children–unless as a final drug-addicted delusion before a far worse crash. Can we form a clear-eyed majority, with heart, dedicated to basic needs and rights for all on a sustainable planet, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt mustered in fighting the Great Depression (in large part, with some glaring shortcomings, as noted before), and as the reason for defeating fascism 75 year ago? Millions died for this cause then, millions have since, and millions more may now and in the near future. We have no Roosevelt, no Lincoln, leading us. Not even a lesser light operating with a modicum of functional normalcy.

Cohesive and functional social coordination and cooperation is not possible without this. So the outcome of what comes next is up to each and every one of us.

As we have written for some time, civilization has increasingly been heading to the bottom of the behavioral sink for a long time. Children are expected to learn that freedom doesn’t exist without responsibility. Many adults have properly and bravely modeled this behavior. Yet, too many have modeled a kind of narcissistic psychosis as if reality didn’t exist, risking the lives of others and the only sustainable route to an economic future. These personality disorders cross ideological lines. And for too many around the world, survival and human rights have forced the truly desperate back on the streets–the ones who were not allowed healthy lockdown or provided for in what they needed–and were already fighting on the streets for basic equality long before the pandemic began.

Again, we owe the following our reverence.

Then our action.

“The Project Behind a Front Page Full of Names”

By Times Insider, The New York Times, Sunday, May 24, 2020

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A presentation of obituaries and death notices from newspapers around the country tries to frame incalculable loss.

Remembering the Nearly 100,000 Lives Lost to Coronavirus in America

As the U.S. approaches a grim milestone in the outbreak, The New York Times gathered names of the dead and memories of their lives from obituaries across the country.

Additional research by Yuriria Avila, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Penn Bullock, Sophia June, Lauren Leatherby, Alex Lemonides, Denise Lu, Aimee Ortiz, Anjali Singhvi and Chi Zhang. Additional editing by Jason Bailey, Eric Morse and Alison Peterson.


Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

Instead of the articles, photographs or graphics that normally appear on the front page of The New York Times, on Sunday, there is just a list: a long, solemn list of people whose lives were lost to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the death toll from Covid-19 in the United States approaches 100,000, a number expected to be reached in the coming days, editors at The Times have been planning how to mark the grim milestone.

Simone Landon, assistant editor of the Graphics desk, wanted to represent the number in a way that conveyed both the vastness and the variety of lives lost.

Departments across The Times have been robustly covering the coronavirus pandemic for months. But Ms. Landon and her colleagues realized that “both among ourselves and perhaps in the general reading public, there’s a little bit of a fatigue with the data.”

“We knew we were approaching this milestone,” she added. “We knew that there should be some way to try to reckon with that number.”

Putting 100,000 dots or stick figures on a page “doesn’t really tell you very much about who these people were, the lives that they lived, what it means for us as a country,” Ms. Landon said. So, she came up with the idea of compiling obituaries and death notices of Covid-19 victims from newspapers large and small across the country, and culling vivid passages from them.

Alain Delaquérière, a researcher, combed through various sources online for obituaries and death notices with Covid-19 written as the cause of death. He compiled a list of nearly a thousand names from hundreds of newspapers. A team of editors from across the newsroom, in addition to three graduate student journalists, read them and gleaned phrases that depicted the uniqueness of each life lost:

“Alan Lund, 81, Washington, conductor with ‘the most amazing ear’ … ”

“Theresa Elloie, 63, New Orleans, renowned for her business making detailed pins and corsages … ”

“Florencio Almazo Morán, 65, New York City, one-man army …”

“Coby Adolph, 44, Chicago, entrepreneur and adventurer … ”

Ms. Landon compared the result to a “rich tapestry” that she could not have woven by herself. Clinton Cargill, assistant editor on the National desk, was Ms. Landon’s “editing co-pilot,” she said. Other key players in the project were Matt Ruby, deputy editor of Digital News Design; Annie Daniel, a software engineer; and the graphics editors Jonathan Huang, Richard Harris and Lazaro Gamio. Andrew Sondern, an art director, is behind the print design.

Marc Lacey, National editor, had warned Tom Bodkin, chief creative officer of The Times, that the milestone was coming. “I wanted something that people would look back on in 100 years to understand the toll of what we’re living through,” Mr. Lacey said in an email.

For the front page of the paper, two ideas stood out: either a grid of hundreds of pictures of those who had lost their lives to Covid-19, or an “all type” concept, Mr. Bodkin said. Whichever approach was chosen, he said, “we wanted to take over the entire page.”

The all-type concept came to the fore. Such a treatment “would be hugely dramatic,” he said.

The design references that of centuries-old newspapers, which Mr. Bodkin is keenly interested in. For many years after The Times started publishing in 1851, there were no headlines, in the modern sense.

“It was kind of running text with little subheads,” Mr. Bodkin said, describing newspapers in the mid-1800s.

Online, readers can scroll down for the names, descriptive phrases and an essay written by Dan Barry, a Times reporter and columnist. The number “one hundred thousand” tolls again and again.

Mr. Bodkin said he did not remember any front pages without images during his 40 years at The Times, “though there have been some pages with only graphics,” he said, adding, “This is certainly a first in modern times.”

Inside the paper, the list continues, threaded with Dan Barry’s essay. But mostly there are names. More names, and more lives lost.

. . .

Crumbs for the Hungry but Windfalls for the Rich


Billions are going to zillionaires under the guise of pandemic relief.

While President Trump and his allies in Congress seek to tighten access to food stamps, they are showing compassion for one group: zillionaires. Their economic rescue package quietly allocated $135 billion — yes, that’s “billion” with a “b” — for the likes of wealthy real estate developers.

A line to receive application forms for unemployment benefits in Hialeah, Fla., last month.

A line to receive application forms for unemployment benefits in Hialeah, Fla., last month.Credit…Cristobal Herrera/EPA, via Shutterstock

My Times colleague Jesse Drucker notes that Trump himself, along with his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, may benefit financially from this provision. The fine print was mysteriously slipped into the March economic relief package, even though it has nothing to do with the coronavirus and offers retroactive tax breaks for periods long before Covid-19 arrived.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Representative Lloyd Doggett of Texas, both Democrats, have asked the Trump administration for any communications that illuminate how this provision sneaked into the 880-page bill. (Officially, the provision is called “Modification of Limitation on Losses for Taxpayers Other Than Corporations,” but that’s camouflage; I prefer to call it the “Zillionaire Giveaway.”)

About 82 percent of the Zillionaire Giveaway goes to those earning more than $1 million a year, according to Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation. Of those beneficiaries earning more than $1 million annually, the average benefit is $1.6 million.

In other words, a single mom juggling two jobs gets a maximum $1,200 stimulus check — and then pays taxes so that a real estate mogul can receive $1.6 million. This is dog-eat-dog capitalism for struggling workers, and socialism for the rich.

Many Americans understand that Trump bungled the public health response to the coronavirus, but polls suggest that they don’t appreciate the degree to which Trump and Congress also bungled the economic response — or manipulated it to benefit those who least need help.

The United States simply accepted that the pandemic would cause vast numbers of workers to be laid off — and then it provided unemployment benefits. But Germany, France, Britain, Denmark and other countries took the smarter path of paying companies to keep workers on their payrolls, thus preventing layoffs in the first place. The United States did a little bit of this, but far less than Europe — yet the United States in some cases spent a larger share of G.D.P. on the bailout than Europe did.

So the unemployment rate in Germany and Denmark is forecast to reach about 5 percent while in the United States it may already be about 20 percent, depending on how you count it.

It’s not fair to viruses to blame our unemployment crisis simply on the pandemic. It’s also our national choice.

At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that money intended to rescue small businesses has often gone not to those with the greatest need but rather to those with the most shameless lawyers. They are part of our national equation: Power creates money creates more power creates more money.

One provision in the rescue package provides a tax break that benefits only companies with more than $25 million in gross receipts. AutoNation, a Fortune 500 company, received $77 million in small business funds, although it returned the sum after The Washington Post reported its haul. For-profit colleges, which are better known for exploiting students than educating them, have raked in $1.1 billion.

A Brookings Institution study found that young children in one in six American households are not getting enough to eat because of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and we’re rushing to help … tycoons!

A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that because of layoffs, 27 million Americans as of May 2 were at risk of losing employer-sponsored health insurance. You might think that this would lead to a push for universal health coverage. But, no, the opposite: Trump is continuing to support a lawsuit to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act — and allow millions more to lose coverage.

During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt responded boldly to economic desperation by creating jobs, passing Social Security and starting rural electrification. In this crisis, Trump is trying to restrict food stamps and health insurance while giving free money to real estate tycoons — probably including himself.

Of course, America does remain a land of opportunity, if you have the wealth. A new study determined that in the two months since March 18, roughly the start of the economic crisis, America’s billionaires saw their wealth collectively grow by 15 percent. And another 16 Americans became billionaires in that period. It’s great to see people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps!

The House of Representatives is trying to repeal the Zillionaire Giveaway, but Trump and his congressional allies are resisting. Trump meanwhile sees little need to help states and localities, which in April alone laid off more employees than in the entire Great Recession.

Trump was elected in part by voters angry at the way the system was rigged. But under Trump, the economy has become rigged ever more decisively, even as children go hungry and ordinary workers lose their jobs and their lives.

(From WC–The following are four out of neary two thousand comments that Kristof responded to expanding on his themes):


We should not be shocked or surprised. This always happens. Why can’t this country ever manage to do things right? I am so tired of the corporate squandering of resources that are – or should be – intended to support people who need help.


Nicholas Kristof commented May 24


Nicholas Kristof


@PSS Actually, I don’t think it’s quite right that this “always” happens. The response to the Great Depression by FDR was the CCC, WPA, Social Security and Rural Electrification, and these resulted in huge investments in America’s human capital and productivity. American life expectancy actually increased by six years during the Great Depression, and those reforms laid the groundwork for decades of inclusive growth after WWII. But, as you suggest, the response more recently has been to magnify inequality. In 2008-09, we rescued Wall Street and let 10 million Americans lose their homes. This time around, we rush to rescue airline shareholders and bondholders, but allow workers to lose their jobs — and in some cases their lives. History shows we can do better, and that’s one reason I wrote the column.

Victor Huff commented May 23

Victor Huff

Perhaps it’s not fair to call it our “national choice.” Very clearly it is is the one being ramrodded on the people of this country, as you have clearly pointed out. One can only hope that somewhere along the way a big chunk of the people who were charmed into letting these mongers into power see the error in their voting ways and ramrod the ramrodders right out of office.


Nicholas Kristof commented May 24


Nicholas Kristof


@Victor Huff Yeah, maybe it isn’t fair to say that it’s our “national choice.” But I was trying to point out that mass unemployment is not an inevitable consequence of Covid-19, and that other countries have had not shed workers the we have. This is about policy choices made by the leaders we elected, not about storms over which we have no control. In the same way, globalization and technological change created real pressures on the labor force in Germany and Canada as well as in the US, but those countries pursued wiser and more labor-friendly policies, so the result was not the evisceration of the working class, “deaths of despair” on a massive scale, and three years of falling life expectancy. My point is that the challenges are real, and that the US repeatedly makes poor policy choices in response. We can do better.

Katie Paul commented May 23

Katie Paul
Elmhurst, IL

“For-profit colleges, which are better known for exploiting students than educating them, have raked in $1.1 billion.” Grrrrrr is right. Far better to use this money to forgive student debt incurred by low-income workers who first were defrauded by deceptive colleges and now left by the department of education in the muck of a life-long loan burden.


Nicholas Kristof commented May 23


Nicholas Kristof


@Katie Paul Thanks for your comment on my column. Yes, another good way to allocate that money would be bandwidth for all. Right now there are approximately 7 million children out of school who are supposed to be engaged in remote learning — yet they don’t have Internet at home. As my column notes, FDR responded to the Great Depression in part with rural electrification, which transformed small towns across America and hugely amplified opportunity and productivity. The modern equivalent would be bandwidth for all.

Lou Good commented May 23

Lou Good
Page, AZ

Disgusting but hardly surprising. There’s zero oversight of a lot of these funds. Despite the legislation’s call for oversight Trump flatly refused to cooperate as required and has kept his word. Just another day for the most corrupt, cynical administration in modern history. Money’s available. How can we get as much as possible for ourselves?


Nicholas Kristof commented May 23


Nicholas Kristof


@Lou Good Yes, your oversight point is crucial. I agreed with the idea of a rapid economic response, but the best approach would have been one like Denmark’s or Germany’s that focused on keeping workers employed. Then they can pay their rent, so you don’t need to bail out landlords. And when the economy starts up again, businesses don’t need to go through the expense of rehiring. There was of course some corruption in Denmark and Germany, but it was modest — because of oversight and a real threat of sanctions. Here, there has been no meaningful oversight except from the news media and the House of Representatives.

Nicholas Kristof has been a columnist for The Times since 2001. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes, for his coverage of China and of the genocide in Darfur. You can sign up for his free, twice-weekly email newsletter and follow him on InstagramHis latest book is “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope.” @NickKristof Facebook