Canada and COVID-19 – February 2020

James Somers ended his excellent article on how American engineers responded to the COVID-19 crisis, more particularly, the shortage of ventilators (“Breathing Room: Engineers take on the ventilator shortage,” The New Yorker, 18 May 2020) with a quote from Michael Ryan, the executive director of health emergencies at WHO. Ryan stressed the importance of speed. “If you need to be right before you move, you will never win.”

Commentators have noted with favour the speed at which Vietnam, Taiwan and even South Korea responded to the COVID-19 crisis as a critical explanation of why their infection and death rates were so low in this pandemic. Canada, in contrast, I have suggested, acted with alacrity. One reason given for the speed of the response of the Asian countries is their experience with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003. As a result of lessons learned from that new coronavirus epidemic that emerged out of Foshan, Guangdong, China, preparations were put in place for the future.

As Christopher Kirchhoff wrote in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs, “Ebola Should Have Immunized the United States to the Coronavirus.” And even more acutely SARS in Canada, for Canada had its own SARS crisis. A Chinese woman returning from Hong Kong on 23 February 2003 died on 5 March. Eventually, 257 individuals in the Province of Ontario were infected.

The crisis in the ill-prepared Hoping Hospital in Taiwan where the hospital was sealed off with 1,000 patients inside in response to the SARS scare in April 2003 was an example of a panic reaction when there was an absence of preparation. Vietnam had a similar fright. A Chinese-American, Johnny Chen, carried the SARS virus to Hanoi where, when in the French Hospital, he infected 38 members of the staff. He died on 13 March.

The Asian states were determined never again to be caught unprepared. The COVID-19 crisis proved that they were not. Why was Canada seemingly caught unawares when it had its own terrible experience with SARS? Canada, too, had responded to the 2003 crisis with a provincial thorough investigation and a detailed report by Justice Archie Campbell and the federal government with the Naylor Report. The final report of the Ontario independent commission was completed in 2006. The Minister of Health and Long-Term Care made it public on 9 January 2007. The report documented how the SARS virus came into the Province of Ontario, spread and the inadequate response of the health authorities. The report documented the need to isolate and quarantine, to test and track contacts, how to work on treatments and vaccines, but the greatest stress and emphasis of the report was on the measures needed to protect public and health workers. Quality tested masks, gowns and other protective equipment had to be purchased and stockpiled.

Were these lessons learned and applied? What about the public reaction to a new epidemic scare? Were preparations in place. With the outbreak of COVID-129, some racist Canadians attacked Canadians of Chinese ancestry. Attention was also given to the airlift to extract Canadians from Wuhan. At the same time, public health research was referred to as supporting the Government refusal to ban travel. The federal government has decided to follow the WHO’s advice against travel bans. According to Health Minister Patty Hajdu on 3 February, “There isn’t evidence’ that they effectively contain viral outbreaks.”

Imposing a total travel ban on China was viewed as contrary to both Canadian foreign policy and a source of stimulating anti-China sentiment. China, in turn, referred to Canada as a bulwark of calm in response to the crisis. Andre Picard in The Globe and Mail on 4 February even questioned whether Canadians returning from Wuhan, in an unprecedented move, who were quarantined for 14 days at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, needed to be. He had clearly not read the Campbell Report and, it turned out, few had. Picard advised, “Canada hasn’t acted promptly, so at least it can do so smartly.” He argued that medically, quarantine was unnecessary but politically essential. “Politicians and public health officials have to be seen acting, even if their actions are not especially useful.”

However, the problem was not pretence but that officials were not acting sufficiently quickly and implementing what had been learned from prior experience. As Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s first chief public health officer and Deputy Minister of the Public Health Agency of Canada, wrote, in opposition to Picard at the same time, there was a dire need for public health specialists and expertise. “There are few things that focus the mind quite like the fear of contagion. With the emergence of a new coronavirus, the world is once again reminded of the outbreak of SARS in 2003.”

However, Butler-Jones insisted that, “Public health officials and governments across the country are responding quickly and diligently to the current outbreak, applying lessons from SARS.” If this were true, why the failure to introduce a travel ban? Why was there no systematic effort to document the poor state of our protective equipment and, more importantly, take action to redress the problem? Butler-Jones, while mentioning the Campbell Report, focussed on the federal Naylor Report response to the 2003 crisis which stressed communication, coordination and cooperation across jurisdictions.

After all, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Public Health Ontari0 were created in response to SARS in 2003 and that proved crucial in stopping the HiN1 pandemic in 2009. Since then, however, “many governments seem to have forgotten those lessons as changes since 2014 have diminished the capacity of public health to prepare for and respond to new and inevitable threats, as well as to carry out their mandate to protect and promote health and prevent illness and injury.” Government offices have been fragmented and depleted. Generic public servants have replaced specialists. Economic management rather than resource expertise were placed at the forefront.

However, changes in the make-up and organization of the Canadian civil service were not the only problems. For why were the experts complacent even in light of past evidence and reports. The University of Toronto by the end of the first week in February had established a steering committee of senior administrators and infectious disease experts who announced that, “the risk in Canada is low.” A more serious concern was stigmatization and discrimination.

There was another problem. Most observers have attended to the economic crisis that followed the COVID-19 crisis. However, even before the crisis in early December, Statistics Canada revealed the loss of a staggering 71,200 jobs, the worst month since the Great Depression. The monthly consumer confidence index slumped to its lowest reading in three years. The fear of a made-in-Canada recession became extant.

Canada faced a real firestorm – fear of an even greater impact on an already endangered economy, especially in the tourist and oil and gas sectors. Fear of domestic tensions with racist overtones. In place, there was a bureaucracy more concerned with coordination and communication than taking action. While China, Taiwan and Vietnam were promoting dedication and sacrifice, Canadian officials were reassuring its citizens that there was little to worry about even as the lucrative Chinese tourist industry (750,000 the previous year) died overnight. The fear was economic, not health. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious-disease specialist and physician with the University of Toronto, advised that. “Travellers need to be aware of where they are going, how they are getting there and know the latest [travel] restrictions, but they don’t need to cancel trips or stop thinking about future ones.”

Canadian tourists consoled themselves: “the decreased volume of tourists was a godsend as we encountered smaller lineups, less traffic and easier access to everything.”

Where was the real crisis in Canada located? – the Wet’suwet’en blockades that had brought the rail transportation system to an effective halt. Bruce Aylward, a renowned Canadian epidemiologist who led a team of experts to China to study the novel coronavirus on behalf of the World Health Organization, was still living in an echo chamber in which Canadians did not or would not listen to his insistence that an aggressive approach to managing and treating the disease was needed. By the end of February, Canadians began to fear that the new virus was past the point of being contained as Italy began collapsing both in terms of public health and in terms of its economy.

A woman in her 60s who recently travelled to Iran became the 5th person in Ontario, the 12th in Canada, with the coronavirus, and was at home in self-isolation. At the end of February, as the pandemic was about to assault Canada, there were still relatively few cases. However, epidemiologists saw what was coming. Instead of reassuring Canadians about the low risk, as they had largely been doing, they now urged immediate action, including:

  • Directives for walk-in clinics, policies on patient transfers and guidelines on the appropriate use of isolation rooms and masks.
  • Large-scale tests of people who visited clinics and hospitals to determine if and when the virus starts spreading in Canada.
  • Ensuring there are enough ventilators, an especially important treatment tool for people over the age of 65, who appear to experience the worst effects.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu changed her tune from reassurance to urging Canadians to prepare by ensuring they have an adequate supply of food and any prescription medications, and be vigilant about hand washing and staying at home when sick.

Why was Canada so complacent and passive as the COVID-19 crisis grew in January and came to world attention? Why did this complacency continue almost through all of February? We noted that the intelligence about contagious diseases had been tucked away in a small unit if the Defence Department. But defence itself as a whole had been grossly neglected. Canada was not only complacent about its security interests related to contagious diseases, but about all security matters, particularly those that arose in the Far East.

In a commissioned research paper by the Canadian Department of Defence, “A MAPPING EXERCISE OF DND AND CF ACTIVITIES RELATED TO ASIA PACIFIC AND INDO PACIFIC SECURITY, 1990-2015,” at a time when security concerns, diplomacy, and governance, non-state and state institution building, security concerns and dialogue, were all bywords, at a time when China was being acknowledged as a major full player in the region, and when Canadian soft as well as hard policy was pivoting to Asia, ”there has been a noticeable decline (my italics) in the Canadian presence, never mind leadership.” By neglecting our interests and opportunities, we undermined Canada’s security interests, now most apparently in the health field. Canada just does not, and did not, sustain or maintain its commitments even in areas central to our security concerns. The authors (David Dewitt, Mary Young, Alex Brouse and Jinelle Piereder) of the report in the article they published in International Journal in 2018 (Vol. 73:1, 5–32) entitled their piece, “AWOL: Canada’s defence policy and presence in the Asia Pacific.” They concluded not simply that Canada was asleep at the switch, but that Canada was just not there. Canada was absent without leave. In other words, complacency in Canada was a trademark rather than an aberration.

“Many factors combined to reinforce Canadian inertia. The lessons from SARS in 2002 had not been institutionalized. The Canadian administration had been hollowed out of expertise; administrators with a primary preoccupation with budgets replaced the experts. Stress was placed on cooperation and coordination rather than action and initiative. Canadian leaders feared Chinese and anti-China prejudice more than COVID-19. They were even more fearful of the already looming economic downturn and did not want to face the economic disaster that would result from the COVID-19 crisis. Diplomatic priorities with China in foreign policy also took priority. Initiative, entrepreneurship and action were effectively undercut until the crisis loomed like a huge monster before Canadian leaders.”

Canada and COVID-19: January 2020

Where does Canada stand in its handling of the pandemic crisis? The situation clearly is not as bad as America’s. Just past mid-May, Canada had 77,000 cases of COVID-19 with 5,782 deaths. Two months later, on 11 July, the country had almost 108,000 cases and 8,783 deaths compared to America with 3,236,000 cases and 134,572 deaths, up from 1,520,000 cases and 89,932 deaths on 15 May. The U.S. doubled its cases over the last two months and increased the number of deaths by 50%. The Canadian case load increased 40% and the number of deaths by 52%. Thus, while a great deal of attention has been paid to the horrendous situation in the U.S and Canada has seemed in good shape comparatively, a close look at the figures indicate that Canada is increasing its number of cases at half the American rate but its death toll at roughly the same rate.

The U.S. has a population of 328.2 million people while Canada’s has only 37.6 million. That means that in absolute numbers relative to population, Canada has suffered about half as much from the pandemic as the U.S.

U.S.Canada

Population328,200,00037,600,000
COVID-19 cases3,236,000108,000
Cases per 1,0001.28
COVID-19 deaths134,5728,783
Deaths per 100,00035.623.4

Thus, although our rate of increase in cases is half the American rate, in absolute terms we have less than 30% of the number of American cases though one-third fewer deaths on the basis of population. However, if the American record was not such a complete disaster, Canada’s record would look like a horror show.

This becomes clear if we compare the Canadian rate to that of South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.

CountryCasesDeathsCases/1000Deaths/100,000

Canada107,5908,7833.323.4
South Korea13,479299.273
Taiwan4517.04.04
Vietnam3710.0040

In my accounts on Taiwan (more than half of Canada’s population), South Korea (1.5 times Canada’s population), and Vietnam (2.5 times our population), the number of cases over almost the same period, was 451 and 371 from Taiwan and Vietnam respectively and 13,479 in South Korea (versus 107,600 in Canada), while the number of deaths respectively were 7 and 0 with 299 in South Korea (versus 8,783 in Canada). There is no comparison between Taiwan and Vietnam compared to Canada. Even South Korea has been far more successful in handling the pandemic. It is only when Canada is compared to the United States that the Canadian record looks reasonably good.

Why is Canada’s record, as much as it differs from the American one, so much closer to the experience of the USA rather than Taiwan and Vietnam and even South Korea? If we focus on the differences between Canada and the USA, some of the reasons are obvious. Canada was led by a reasonably articulate leader who paid attention to scientists. America was led by a buffoon. By and large, on this issue, in Canada, the ruling party and the opposition generally saw eye-to-eye. Conservative premiers were as rational as the federal prime minister. The United States has a raucous large minority opposed to government. The Canadian public generally trusts government. Canada has a universal health system revered by Canadians; America does not.

But the differences go much deeper. The American right has a distrust of not only government, but of what it refers to as the deep state. As a result, there has been a much deeper hollowing out of government in America. The resulting chronic structural weaknesses and underinvestment in governance, compounded by Republican Party hostility to a federal bureaucracy, has meant that the capacity of the government to respond adequately to a health crisis had been severely compromised.

Further, the American media also made a difference. Daily, the media are caught up in Donald Trump’s antics and media distractions, treating his clownish performances as news. Instead of covering the president as a performer, he is covered as a politician when he is simply a corrupt narcissist who is often downright stupid. Except, the American press remains generally obsequious to the office even when the occupant of that office is a fool, all in the name of “objectivity.” The media avoids pressing a case of manslaughter as a result of negligence.

obsequious to the office even when the occupant of that office is a fool, all in the name of “objectivity.” The media avoids pressing a case of manslaughter as a result of negligence.

But none of this tells us why Canada, relative to the Asian country performances already analyzed, has performed so badly. Using my notes I took over the last three months, let me try to reconstruct and analyze the Canadian performance. Was Canada fast off the mark and, if not, why not? Did Canada develop a national strategy and a centralized authoritative agency to deal with the crisis? How did Canada handle the issue of providing adequate protective gear for its health professionals? What did Canada do about testing and about tracing in all its dimensions? Why did Canada opt for a lockdown and a stress on distancing and isolation? What has Canada done to advance treatment and a protective vaccine?

At the end of December, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission in China reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia and soon identified a unique virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) went on an emergency footing. At the beginning of January as the news of the pandemic was creeping out of China, and the day after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had already created an “incident management system” and issued a travel notice for travelers to Wuhan, Hubei province, the Canadian media was understandably focused on the 63 Canadians among the 176 people killed when Ukrainian International Airlines flight UIA 752 was shot out of the sky by the Iranian military just after the plane took off from Tehran Airport on 8 January 2020. Justin Trudeau’s suggestion, implying that the plane crash was partially the result of escalating tensions in the region between America and Iran, though undiplomatic, was perhaps understandable.

However, the existence of a possible very virulent virus was already extant. I have not written about Hong Kong or Singapore, but on 4 January, the head of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Infection, Ho Pak-eung, insisted that the city implement the strictest possible monitoring system for a mainland mystery new viral pneumonia expecting a surge in cases during the upcoming Chinese New Year. The Singapore Ministry of Health on 4 January reported the first suspected case of the “mystery Wuhan virus” in Singapore, involving a three-year-old girl from China who had traveled to Wuhan. On 7 January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had already created an “incident management system” and issued a travel notice for travelers to Wuhan, Hubei province.

Further, media interest in Canada could have been expected since there were reports that China was silencing its scientists. Chinese authorities censored the hashtag #WuhanSARS. They began investigating anyone who was allegedly spreading misleading information about the outbreak on social media. On 10 January 2020, Li Wenliang, a Chinese ophthalmologist and coronavirus whistleblower, started having symptoms of a dry cough. He was summoned to the Wuhan Public Security Bureau and forced to sign an official confession promising to cease spreading false “rumors” regarding the coronavirus. “We solemnly warn you: If you keep being stubborn, with such impertinence, and continue this illegal activity, you will be brought to justice—is that understood?” Li signed. “Yes, I understand.” On 12 January 2020, he started having a fever and was admitted to the hospital on 14 January 2020. He died on 7 February. Only then did the Canadian press take notice.

Why in mid-January was the Canadian media preoccupied with whether the Queen in Britain would allow Prince Harry and Meghan Markel to live part time in Canada and reporting virtually nothing about the virus? On 5 January, WHO had already published its first Disease Outbreak News for the world community on the new virus named novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia (NCIP), although, as yet, there was no risk assessment. By 10 January, WHO had issued a technical package of guidelines to countries on how to detect, test and manage potential cases. Based on experience with SARS and MERS and known modes of transmission of respiratory viruses, the guidelines covered infection and prevention controls to protect health workers, recommending droplet and contact precautions when caring for patients, and airborne precautions for aerosol generating procedures. Two days later, China published and shared the genetic sequence of COVID-19.

On 14 January, based on the experience with SARS and MERS, WHO’s technical team suggested that among the 41 confirmed cases, some limited human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus, mainly through family members, could be expected. WHO warned that there was a risk of a possible wider outbreak. Very significantly, over a week later a small specialized Canadian military intelligence unit (MEDINT) began producing warnings and analyses. There was no indication that the intelligence reports were being widely distributed within government at the time. I could find no evidence that these reports were distributed to the media.

Canadian military intelligence unit (MEDINT) began producing warnings and analyses. There was no indication that the intelligence reports were being widely distributed within government at the time. I could find no evidence that these reports were distributed to the media.

America was much further ahead. On 3 January, Dr. George Gao from China was on vacation in the U.S. with his family and briefed US CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield on the severity of the virus. Redfield was rattled. By contrast, in Canada, other “more serious” items appeared in the press which in retrospect are the height of irony. Several items stand out. Boeing very reluctantly stopped its production of the 737 Max jet and probably saved billions. Trump appeared before the World Economic Forum in Davos calling climate change advocates “prophets of doom” while he celebrated American oil and gas production that would soon enough result in over-production and a drastic drop in prices. Meanwhile, the Canadian government had won its case before the Supreme Court against B.C.’s rejection of pipeline expansion.

By the time President Trump’s impeachment trial had opened in Congress on 22 January, two days earlier the U.S. had confirmed its first cases of COVID-19, then called the Wuhan coronavirus. While Canada was preventing Meng Wanzheu of Huawei’s return to China and holding her for possible extradition to the U.S., the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had an emergency response system and activated it. America authorities were advised to step up airport health screenings and Trump stopped all flights from China.

China had reported 453 cases and 9 deaths. Health authorities in China were given sweeping powers to initiate lockdown and quarantine prevention efforts. On 22 January, the World Health Organization (WHO) convened an Emergency Committee to assess whether the outbreak constituted a public health emergency of international concern. By 30 January 2020, after a meeting in China to better understand the context and international implications as well as exchange information, upon their return, the Executive Committee of WHO reconvened and advised the Director-General that the coronavirus outbreak constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern with 7,818 confirmed cases, dubbing the risk assessment very high for China and high for the rest of the world. By then at very least, Canada should have stood up and taken notice.

On 16 January, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reported its first case. Researchers from the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin developed a new laboratory assay to detect the novel coronavirus allowing suspected cases to be tested quickly. On 17 January, US CDC sent 100 border officers to three American airports to screen travelers coming from Wuhan, China. However, when Donald Trump was briefed by US HHS Secretary Alex Azar about the virus, Trump was more concerned with the question of when flavored vaping products would be back on the market. When US CDC learned from the Chinese on 10 January of the genetic sequence of the virus, it developed its own testing kit using three small genetic sequences instead of two used by Germany. Within weeks, the test kits were found to be defective because the third sequence, or “probe,” gave inconclusive results. CDC lost five weeks in developing its testing program.

By the time of Trump’s impeachment, and after 300 confirmed diagnoses and 6 deaths had been reported in China, the Chinese cover up the spread of a new coronavirus ended. On 21 January, the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Commission called for the public to be kept informed and warned that deception could “turn a controllable natural disaster into a man-made disaster.” In the U.S., on the day the impeachment trial began, Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s foremost infectious disease expert, gave video news report on Voice of America.

Data was quickly accumulating on the rapid spread of the disease, human-to-human transmission and a rapidly increasing rate of transmission. China shut down Wuhan with a total quarantine on 23 January and suspended its public transportation. But while the American experts were issuing alerts, at the Davos Forum Trump assured everyone that America had the problem under control and that “its going to be just fine.”

The sense of the enhanced riskiness of this disease was growing by leaps and bounds. On 24 January, in Lancet, Chinese scientists established that people could be symptom free for a few days after being infected, thereby greatly increasing the rate of infection. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) ws strongly recommended for front line health workers. The disease had spread to Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Japan and Singapore when Canada reported its first case in Toronto on 25 January.

Governments should have been in panic mode. Gabriel Leung, Dean of the University of Hong Kong medical school, a world expert on SARS and viruses, offered nowcasts and forecasts of the coronavirus projecting that the true number of coronavirus infections was likely 10 time more than the official reported numbers and that draconian measures were needed to slow the progress. He predicted that the number of infections would exponentially peak in late April or May when there could be up to 100,000 new infections per day. The disease had spread to Austria, Romania, Ecuador, Fiji, Samoa, Poland, Mongolia, Switzerland, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Russia, Tibet, UAE, Brazil and who knew where else.

While senior officials in the U.S. were on top of the crisis with dire warnings from its intelligence agencies, Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, initiated regular meetings and briefings on the virus, but Trump himself was dismissive. A senior medical adviser at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Carter Mecher, emailed public health experts in government and universities that, “The projected size of the outbreak already seems hard to believe.”

As of 30 January, finally there was some substantive action in Canada. Air Canada halted direct flights to China following the federal government’s advisory to avoid non-essential travel to the mainland. In contrast, Trump’s economic adviser, Peter Navarro, even as Trump downplayed the crisis, warned that the virus could evolve “into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.” Azar, Redfield and Fauci supported the travel ban because it could buy some time to put into place prevention and testing measures. Little did they know or recognize that the time bought in February would almost entirely be wasted.

Meanwhile, in Canada, an op-ed appeared fearing the transportation cut-off to China would disrupt our agricultural trade with China. And the Canadian Health Minister, Patty Hajdu, not Donald Trump, was reassuring Canadians at the end of January that the risk to Canadians remained low. David McKeown, former medical officer of health for Toronto, advised Torontonians not to “let the coronavirus mutate into an epidemic of fear and panic.”

However, on 29 January, the House Committee on Health began to discuss the threat. Better late than never. But was Canada just late?

Vietnam and COVID-19

In addition to Taiwan and South Korea, Vietnam was another country with an exceptional record in fighting the virus. But it is neither a democracy nor a prosperous country like South Korea or Taiwan. It is both an authoritarian and a developing state. With 96 million people, it has almost twice the population of South Korea and four times that of Taiwan. Its medical and hospital system is not well-developed. In 2018, there were only 8.6 doctors per ten thousand inhabitants in Vietnam compared to 25.4 in Canada and 23.3 in South Korea. Vietnam also had the major disadvantage that it actually bordered onto China.

Around the world as a result of the COVID-19 virus, as of today (12 July), there have been almost 555,00 deaths, up from 300,000 on May 15. Of those, about one quarter are Americans. In contrast, Vietnam has had only 369 confirmed cases, up from 288 on 15 May, from a world total of 12.24 million, and not a single death. 350 of those 369 cases have recovered. What accounts for Vietnam’s success?

Like Taiwan, South Korea and the U.S., COVID-19 spread to Vietnam in January. The following summarizes the initial spread.

  • 22 January – first two cases, a Chinese man travelling from Wuhan to Hanoi to visit his son who also developed the disease
  • 24 January – on the basis of only those two cases and reports from Wuhan, Vietnam activated its Emergency Epidemic Preventive Centre and the Civil Aviation Administration which cancelled all flights to and from Wuhan 
  • In the very prestigious weekly, New England Journal of Medicine, Vietnamese physicians immediately described the coagulopathic and antiphospholipid antibodies developed in the 69-year-old Chinese man, his son and a third identified case; this was the first report in a prestigious medical academic journal of human-to-human transmission outside China
  • 29 January, the Ministry of Health in Vietnam established 40 – yes 40 – mobile emergency response teams on stand-by to help detect, quarantine and trace contacts of suspected cases
  • Before the end of the month, 3 other cases had been identified, all Vietnamese nationals who had returned from Wuhan
  • 1 February, a 25-year-old Vietnamese woman who had direct contact with the father and son became the first case of domestic transmission
  • 2 February, a Vietnamese-American girl had become infected in a two-hour layover at Wuhan Airport
  • 2-4 February, a 20-year-old female and a 30-year old male, part of the first training team, were diagnosed with the illness; shortly after, another 29-year-old trainee was diagnosed
  • 7 February, with only 13 cases, Vietnam had cultured and isolated the virus in a lab – thus far, only Singapore, Australia, Japan and China had managed to do so
  • The 15th case was a 3-month-old grandchild of someone who contracted the disease through a contact on Lunar New Year; this was the 10th of 15 cases identified, all in Vinh Phuc Province
  • Vietnamese leaders quarantined the whole village of 10,000 of Son Loi, dividing the village into groups of 50 or so households for close monitoring
  • 3 March, the quarantine was removed when, after 20 days, no new cases were reported in Son Loi, but schools that had been closed in February remained closed until the end of March
  • The same day, Assoc. Prof. Dong Van Quyen, Deputy Director of the Institute of Biotechnology of the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, announced the completion of research and development of the SARS-CoV-2 detection kit; two days later,  the Vietnam Ministry of Science and Technology announced that it had a second test developed by the Military Medical Academy and Viet A Technology JSC.
  • On 6 March, a 26-year-old female returning from travelling across Europe tested positive for COVID-19; 200 people were tracked who had contact with the patient
  • By 7 March, Vietnam had a total of 18 cases as a 27-year-old Vietnamese in Ninh Binh Province returning from Daegu, South Korea, was diagnosed with COVID-19 as well as 2 cases in Hanoi discovered as a result of contact tracing
  • Vietnam introduced three levels for isolating cases: 1) self-isolation at home; 2) isolation in a central facility; 3) hospitalization
  • By 9 March, 11 more cases were tracked; all were foreigners, that had contact with the patient returning from South Korea and were now spread throughout the country
  • the next day, the first Vietnamese=originated case was traced, a 24-year-old Vietnamese woman who had just returned from England; she as well as a  British man on the same flight and a 51-year-old businesswoman returning from the United States via Qatar and Korea tested positive
  • On 11 March, 4 Vietnamese who were part of the same contact group were diagnosed
  • On 12 March, a 29-year-old tour guide in the contact group was diagnosed, 3 more a day later, and 3 two days  later; tracing was working very fast to identify and isolate infected patients directly or indirectly in contact with infected foreigners, a Vietnamese returning from Paris, a Vietnamese student who had been travelling across Europe, and a Czech national
  • The risk was coming from returnees, the most dangerous, a Muslim from the Cham minority who had attended a religious event in Malaysia and then the Jamiul Muslimin Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City before returning home to Ninh Thuân; that led to the quarantine of  the whole province and the closure of the mosque
  • In the next few days, 2 more patients were identified, one returning from the same religious event and one in contact with the infected patient
  • By 26 March 26 additional cases, almost all of returnees, were identified
  • By 22 April, the authorities had got on top of the epidemic with no new cases the previous week; however, when one new case was identified in Dong Van town, the whole province was locked down  
  • There appeared to be the first death on 4 May, but the man died of liver disease and the initial diagnosis had been incorrect
  • On 15 May, Vietnam confirmed 24 new cases, all of them from a repatriating flight from Russia; they were immediately quarantined
  • With no new cases by the beginning of June, Vietnam Airlines opened domestic flights
  • By 15 June, two months had passed without a single new confirmed case as a result of local transmission
  • On 25 June, the flight from Vietnam to Tokyo was resumed.

In February, Bill Gates published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine warning of this once-in-a century pandemic to insist not only on saving lives but on developing a system to respond appropriately to pandemics. Vietnam did this; the U.S.A. did not. In March, in that same journal, Anthony Fauci, H. Clifford Lane and Robert Redfield, who would soon become well known to the American and world public, identified the COVID-19 virus as the latest threat to global health caused by a novel coronavirus that is structurally related to the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Like SARS (2002 and 2003) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) (2012 to the present) — the Covid-19 outbreak, they warned, posed critical challenges for the public health, research, and medical communities of all countries. They pointed out that the median age of the patients was 59 years, with higher morbidity and mortality among the elderly and among those with coexisting conditions and that 56% of the patients were male.

But the learning curve about the virus is also apparent on re-reading the article today as these great authorities on infectious diseases noted that, “there were no cases in children younger than 15 years of age. Either children are less likely to become infected, which would have important epidemiologic implications, or their symptoms were so mild that their infection escaped detection, which has implications for the size of the denominator of total community infections.” As we now know, this eventually proved to be misleading.

Experts also reported a case fatality rate of less than 1% akin to severe seasonal influenza with a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%, much lower than SARS or MERS with case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively. As of today, the death rate of 133,000 of 3.1 million cases in the U.S., which had been 6% in mid-May, has now dropped to 4.2% with improved treatment. Clearly, the most expert voices in the world on infectious diseases were still underestimating the virulence of COVID-19. Further, the authors credited travel restrictions on China for helping slow the spread of the virus, though we now know that the first cases in the U.S. came from Europe, not China.  

The authors noted that, “Community spread in the United States could require a shift from containment to mitigation strategies such as social distancing in order to reduce transmission. Such strategies could include isolating ill persons (including voluntary isolation at home), school closures, and telecommuting where possible.” The authors did note that, “The Covid-19 outbreak is a stark reminder of the ongoing challenge of emerging and reemerging infectious pathogens and the need for constant surveillance, prompt diagnosis, and robust research to understand the basic biology of new organisms and our susceptibilities to them, as well as to develop effective countermeasures.” Unfortunately, the U.S. did not introduce constant surveillance, prompt diagnosis, robust research or a strategy of effective countermeasures. Vietnam, by contrast, did all of these.

The best illustration in Vietnam emerged in the second phase of the outbreak when community transmission became a prominent concern. On 6 March, a 26-year-old woman in Hanoi was diagnosed with the virus and immediately 200 persons who had close contact with the individual were traced, identified and tested. But most new cases remined those of returning travelers on flight VN0054. Most cases in the second phase were patients returning to Vietnam or in close touch with such returnees. Further, to demonstrate the concern and concentration of the government, the armed forces were deployed to patrol and enforce quarantine and other control measures so tracing and focus made up for Vietnam’s limited ability to undertake extensive testing.

There was no shutting down of the economy wiping out businesses and jobs. Instead, speed. A quick start, an even faster reaction time when cases were discovered, early development of detection kits, systematic tracing and identification, rigorous and thorough quarantining, isolation of hot spots or hot bubbles and the use of tweezers, large tweezers rather than a hammer, caution in opening schools and extreme caution in resuming international flights. Pluck carriers out of society, quarantine them and their contacts who were immediately traced and keep them at home or in isolation hotels. To repeat, emphasize science and scientific leadership, robust research, constant surveillance, prompt diagnosis, and a strategy of effective countermeasures.

Instead of underdetermination and granting license to individuals in the face of both a communal crisis and a challenge to which individuals were ill-equipped to make decisions, overdetermination and centralized planning, resource allocation and decision-making, decisions which erred always on the side of extreme caution. The strategy was not secret. Fast action. Effective action. Social distancing, limited testing, extensive tracing and the use of isolation. Swift, strict and focused responses. The political leadership was effective in implementation, communication and gaining the people’s trust.  

South Korea and COVID-19

South Korea has not done as well as Taiwan, but its record in fighting the disease seems exemplary relative to other countries. On 23 February when the total number of cases in the world was 78,000 with 76,000 in China (compared to the well over 11 million today), South Korea had over 600 confirmed cases and 5 deaths. Of the cases outside China, 691 were on one crew ship in Japan that was subsequently quarantined. Of the 600 Korean cases, the vast majority, at least 500 in Daegu and immediate environs, could be traced to the Shincheonji religious sect or cult, the “Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.” 

By 10 April, South Korea had almost 10,500 cases and 204 deaths. According to Johns Hopkins University. By 10 May, South Korea had still only over 10,000 cases and only 256 deaths. 34 new coronavirus cases were reported in May when for a month the highest number of cases had been 39 and South Korea reported many days with zero cases. By 5 July, the total number of cases had risen to 13,091 but the death toll to 1,269, still a relatively small number compared to the almost 130,000 in the U.S. This meant that outside China, though South Korea initially looked pretty bad, by May seemed to gain total control. It has had a second spike but still looks good compared to the rest of the world, especially America.

Clearly, South Korea got control of the pandemic early in its sweep across world. With contact tracing, the 34 cases in May were all tied to three nightclubs and bars in the Itaewon district of Seoul and confirmed by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Seoul immediately ordered the closure of all bars and nightclubs in the area. A 29-year old male who had visited five nightclubs in the area on 1 May tested positive. It is estimated that he had contact with 1,500 others. Contact tracing became intense and eventually 54 cases, 43 nightclub patrons and 11 acquaintances of the owners. were traced to the event. However, there were bound to be others that showed up later if only because the Itaewon bar establishments cater to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. Clientele and hate speech against LGBTQ people remained rampant. There was little incentive for disclosure.

What initially appeared to be the possibility of a new wave turned out to be a single hotspot. Containment through a rapid and thorough response suppressed the outbreak somewhat. Nevertheless, in spite of this success, President Moon Jae-in predicted a second wave and asked Koreans to be prepared as the country tried to enforce both strict safety standards while trying to restore normal daily lives to South Koreans. The plan to reopen schools on 13 May remained in place with a watching brief. And there was a second wave, but relative to other countries, a relatively small one.

South Korea, like Taiwan, was very quick off the mark. On 16 January 2020, South Korean biotech executive, Chun Jong-yoon, directed his lab to develop detection kits, kits which the U.S. could have adopted instead of its initial failed effort. Further, it almost immediately introduced a system of widespread testing establishing drive-through testing centres. Even more importantly, contact tracing under the authority of the KCDC was developed using a central tracking app that informed citizens of any known COVID-19 case within 100 metres. Phones and credit card data traced their prior movements and found their contacts. Those determined to have been near the infected individual received phone alerts with information about their prior movements. Identified infected individuals were required to go into isolation in government shelters and could be fined if they did not comply.

Thus, although South Korea and the U.S.A. identified their first cases on the same day, 20 January 2020, the U.S. with over six times the population of South Korea had 10 times more confirmed COVID-19 cases by mid-May. As of 12 May 2020, the U.S. had over 1.3 million cases (1,347,881) and over 80,000 (80,682) deaths, the rate doubling every twenty-one days. By 5 July, the number of cases across the world had grown to 11.3 million with 2,852,807 cases in the U.S. and the world death toll of 531,000 with almost 130,000 in America. Further, while South Korea had reduced its rate of new cases to one-tenth of the peak by mid-May, the number of new cases in the U.S. keeps rising. U.S. citizens with a population of 331,002,651 had a 5% mortality rate in mid-May and remained at 4.5% on 5 July compared to only a 0.13% normal flu mortality rate per year.

In contrast, in mid-May in South Korea with a population of 51,269,185 had a mortality rate of 2.4% but by 5 July the death rate had risen to almost 10% of cases. The number of cases were trending much lower but a greater percentage of those who contacted the disease were dying, perhaps because a number of deaths included people who had been suffering from COVID-19 for months.

The major difference for the relatively strong record of success in South Korea was the speed of initiative and thoroughness of action. By the end of January, South Korea had developed successful tests for the coronavirus. A week later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a coronavirus test developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but it proved to be unreliable and unusable. It was a month later before the Americans had a successful test, but by then COVID-19 had a huge running head start.

The initial steps in South Korea are telling.

  • 20 January 35-year-old Chinese woman identified with the virus
  • 23 January, 55-year-old man who had worked in Wuhan identified
  • 26 January, a 54-year-old South Korean evidently crossed paths with the second case as he traveled to three restaurants, a hotel and a convenience store; all contacts were immediately traced and tested
  • 27 January, a 55-year old man who had returned from Wuhan
  • 30 January, a 32-year old South Korean who had worked in Wuhan until 24 January
  • 30 January, a 56-year old South Korean who had visited the same restaurant as the third patient above
  • 31 January, five more patients detected, each having caught the disease as a result of communal contact.

The next victims were returning travelers from Japan, Thailand and Singapore. But by mid-February, beginning with the church in Daegu, more incidents of communal infection emerged. The fact that by 19 February, the South Korean Department of Health could trace the source of the infection of over 100 victims identified was telling. Further, because of the huge infection rate from the Daegu church, Daegu was the only municipality that saw extensive closures of restaurants and stores while the rest of South Korea operated close to normality with the exception of large sports and entertainment events.

However, at the end of February, South Korea had 3,700 confirmed cases while the U.S., without testing, had only identified 74 cases. Further, because Trump announced that the disease was “like a miracle” going to disappear, production of tests developed very slowly. When the U.S. had finally tested 3,300 suspected cases, South Korea had tested over 94,000, 10,000 per day by the end of February when the U.S. was only beginning to get its act together.

By March when the disease was racing through the U.S., passing South Korea’s total number of cases by mid-March, South Korea had initiated not only widespread testing but tracing as well, enabling the country to find infections rather than just allow those infected to find hospitals. This prevented widespread community transmission. Further, in March South Korea guaranteed a minimum income to anyone whose life was upended by the pandemic – 454,500 South Korean won or US$371.63 per month. Economic security was made as important as physical security. When Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, boasted on 24 March that the U.S. had finally surpassed South Korea in the number of tests performed (830,000), only 1 in 400 was being tested while in South Korea, 1 of every 130 persons had been tested.

Americans did not trust their government which offered contradictory advice and pushed the professionals into the background. Contrast this with the relationship developed in South Korea between the government and a people which learned to trust and invest in good governance. Even more important than testing and tracing, South Korea practiced separation, not simply people standing five meters from another, but the focus on and separation of sick people from the rest of the healthy population.  Isolate in the grander sense was as important as test and trace. But undergirding the whole effort was a belief in and trust of government.

Raw politics do not enhance health policy. Second, South Korea’s Ministry of Health kept the citizenry fully informed every step of the way, both the steps being taken and the reasons for them. Further, the government trusted the public to comply. Like Taiwan, South Korea never required an almost complete lockdown. Citizens stayed home because it was the responsible thing to do. They washed hands. They wore masks. They kept their distance. Finally, South Korea has a powerful civic ethos and memory. The people remember MERS. They remember SARS. They know everyone in society is in the same fight. They have been collectively vaccinated to follow the government’s lead and fully cooperate in the effort to fight the pandemic.

However, South Korea was not utopia. Religious sects repeatedly undermined government efforts, not only in collecting together, but in adopting harmful methods of treatment, such as spraying salt water into the mouths of parishioners. In late February, there was a sudden jump in cases. “Patient 31” had participated in the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony Church in Daegu which taught that illness was a result of sin. Stupid politicians are not the only source of ignorance. Of 4,400 followers of the church, 544 contracted the disease by mid-February and by the third week, 1,261 of 9,336 parishioners were tested positive. There were 245,000 members of the church altogether and all were ordered forcibly tested.

On 6 February 2020, the U.S Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal government entity, issued a declaration stating, “USCIRF is concerned by reports that Shincheonji church members have been blamed for the spread of # coronavirus. We urge the South Korean government to condemn scapegoating and to respect religious freedom as it responds to the outbreak.” In addition to Willy Fautré, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, the Commission included Massimo Introvigne, Center for Studies of New Religions, Rosita Šorté, International Observatory of Human Rights of Refugees, Alessandro Amicarelli, Attorney, European Federation for Freedom of Belief and Marco Respinti, a journalist. Fautré criticized South Korean authorities for demonizing the church, for calling it a heretical movement that should be combatted, that taught its members to reject medical treatment, for sitting on the floor during religious services in an unhygienic way, and that Patient 31 abused a nurse in resisting treatment.

The Commission offered no evidence that South Korean authorities had demonized the church nor did it refute evidence that church members took into their own hands the use of unrecognized methods to treat the virus. Further, sitting in large numbers in such close quarters clearly, on the evidence of the infection rate, was unhygienic. Patient 31 may never have abused the nurse, but no evidence was offered that anyone in authority leveled such an accusation. Further, that 61-year-old woman in Daegu refused testing on two occasions and ended up infecting another 37 people. Members and direct acquaintances of the church group make up two-thirds of all COVID-19 cases.

Clearly, this supposed religious rights organization was eager to defend deviant behaviour in the name of religious rights even when that behaviour demonstrably threatened the health of the larger community and was a key reason South Korea did not match Taiwan in the low rate of infections. The law applies to everyone. Under the revised anti-infectious disease law, violators of demands for self-isolation can face up to a year in prison, a 10 million won fine, or, in the case of foreign passport holders, deportation.

In addition, non-South Koreans, especially Chinese, suffered from discrimination. In February 2020, an entrance to a South Korean restaurant in downtown Seoul reportedly had a sign in red Chinese characters stating: “No Chinese Allowed.” There were other “No Chinese” signs reported. Other businesses simply banned all foreigners. Foreigners who were not subscribed to government health insurance were not offered free masks. The main focus remained China. More than 760,000 South Korean signed a petition lobbying the government to ban Chinese tourists from entering the country

As the Oscar-winning film, Parasite, portrayed, income differences create wide life disparities that breed both social distrust and manipulation to foster self-survival.  However, in mid-February, when the director Boon Joon-ho returned to South Korea from Hollywood, he, like many other celebrities, set an example by promising to “wash [his] hands from now on, and participate in this movement to defeat coronavirus.”

What about the reactivation rate in South Korea which by April had emerged as a new problem? Was it because the virus remained active or because the immune system weakened or were the tests inadequate in capturing the presence of all the virus? Success does not mean all questions can be answered but only that a successful program is in place to attack new problems. The key difference between South Korea and Taiwan had been the existence of a large religious cult in South Korea responsible for almost 80% of cases, not the system South Korea had developed for attacking the spread of the disease. South Korea used very similar methods as Taiwan to contain the disease and is worthy of significant credit in fighting the worldwide pandemic.

Taiwan and Covid-19

In this series of papers, I want to explore why some countries were successful in combatting the pandemic and others, including Canada, were not. Why were some countries clearly more successful than others? Behind that question lurks another, more connected with prophecy than with retrospective analysis even though historians are very wary of engaging in predictions. How will the world change after Covid-19?

There is a family context to this inquiry. My oldest son, Jeremy, is a history professor at Princeton and a leading scholar on globalization. My two youngest sons, Daniel and Gabriel, were totally alert to the immanence of the pandemic in February when the West was just beginning to awaken to the threat. Recall that WHO did not declare a pandemic until March. In early February, my youngest sons insisted we not travel to Spain when there were only two Covid-19 cases reported in the country. They insisted in stocking us up with enormous amount of supplies when a week after we cancelled Spain I suffered a heart arrest. Behind the sensitivity of my youngest children to the enormous threat of the pandemic was a fine-tuned sensitivity to a tragedy that would make Covid-19 into a sideshow – the emerging climate change crisis. With this preoccupation came a concern with shifting attention from the global to the local.

I begin this inquiry with what has been the most apparent success story, that of Taiwan. Taiwan, a country of 23.6 million, is only 81 miles from Mainland China. It receives 2.7 million visitors a year from China and 1.25 million of its citizens work or reside in China. It is relatively densely populated, 651 inhabitants per square kilometer. One might have expected the country to have a very high rate of infection. In fact, it probably has the best record on earth. As of 5 May 2020, it has had only five deaths. Compare that to Canada with only a 50% greater population but over 4,000 deaths. The number of cases in Taiwan reached a peak of 307 on 6 April 2020. Taiwan now has only 427 active cases. The majority of those cases have been imported.

Some answers are readily apparent. First, Taiwan has had an excellent centralized system of disease control since the SARS outbreak in 2004. Data is collected and integrated using not only national health care statistics but migration and customs figures. Further, policy has a command centre – the national Health Command Center (NHCC) of the Taiwan Center for Disease Control (TCDC), the agency of the Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Republic of China (Taiwan). It is charged with combatting the threat of communicable diseases and had an excellent practice run with the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Further, it is not just an information collection and analysis agency nor one that simply proposes alternative policies; it has the authority to coordinate country-wide efforts to combat threats of communicable diseases and can enlist personnel and whole departments to its efforts.

Centralizing information, policy and decision-making is just the first key peg in the tale of success. This capacity was accompanied by swift action. On 31 December 2019, TCDC initiated inspection of inbound flights from Wuhan, China. Recall that it was a week later that Chinese officials reported a pneumonia outbreak that was not SARS. TCDC had quickly determined that the new disease was neither SARS nor Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), bird flu or an adenovirus when only 59 people from Wuhan had presented themselves with what appeared to be a unique disease characterized by fever, body aches, shortness of breath and signs of lung injury. Further, between 31 December and 6 January, Hong Kong reported 21 similar cases.

But TCDC was already off and running to collect information and determine the health challenge they were facing. This was at a time when Chinese authorities had censored the hashtag site, #WuhanSARS and “disappeared” some Chinese doctors who were issuing warnings of the new outbreak while other medical authorities in Singapore were urging calm and warning against a panic – such as Wang Linfa an expert in infectious diseases at the Duke-NUS Medical School. But the issue was not panic but preparation with information, policies and the implementation of immediate action.

By 5 January 2020, all flights from Wuhan were being monitored. Any individuals with any indication of the symptoms were immediately quarantined. On 21 January, Taiwanese health authorities had identified its first case, a 50-year-old teacher from Wuhan. On 28 January, a domestic case was identified. By 16 February, the first person had died. Almost a month later, there were almost 50 cases, one an American expatriate.

During this period, Taiwanese authorities took steps to ensure the country that the required PPE equipment (personnel protective equipment), including respiratory protective devices in stock in sufficient quantities. PPE equipment included facemasks, gloves, isolation gowns, eye protection, N95, powered air purifying and elastomeric respirators and ventilators. While during April, American political and medical authorities were panicked over the severe shortages, almost three months earlier, on 24 January, the Taiwanese government announced a temporary ban on the export of face masks. By early February, TCDC ordered the mobilization of the Taiwanese Armed Forces to work in factories to enhance 62 production lines for producing masks. By early March, just when Americans were beginning to become aware of their mask shortages, Taiwan was producing 9.2 million masks per day and by the end of March, production had reached 13 million.

Gowns were another story. Taiwan had relied on the American firm, Dupont, to manufacture and supply its safety gowns. On 16 March, as information gathered on impending American shortages even before Americans were aware of it, Tsai Ing-wen announced that Makalot and other Taiwanese industrial companies would begin the mass production of protective gowns. Respirators and ventilators followed a similar trajectory of a shift to domestic production and reliance even before other countries in the West were even aware of an impending severe shortage. Americans, in contrast, were advising on strategies to extend and re-use existing PPE supplies as contingency strategies, neglecting protocols rejecting re-use and stressing training on donning and doffing procedures. Hospitals were being advised to reserve PPE and replace PPE normally used for source control with other less effective barrier precautions. Thus, on 23 May 2020 – yes May – as Covid-19 patients turned up at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, nurses were issues two – yes two – N95 masks for use for the whole week.

In Canada and America, people on the street are advised to but not required to wear masks. On 31 March, Lin Chia-lung required that anyone using transit had to wear masks and by 3 April were threatened with fines of between 3,000 and 15,000 NT$. At the same time, in early April Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen donated ten million masks to countries suffering from the pandemic. At the same time, at the beginning of May, exports of hand sanitizers were banned.

The same preemptive story can be told about early screening, tracking and quarantining. By 17 April, 51,603 tests had been performed. Ontario reported that about the same time it had a capacity for 20,000 cases. Thus, extrapolating for the country as a whole, Canada with a population 50% higher could perform the same number of tests. It is generally agreed that widespread testing is a key tool for fighting coronavirus and the USA which had been totally derelict in this area in mid-March began to catch up to the rest of the world rapidly by mid-April.

Widespread testing is one of the most important tools for fighting the coronavirus, and while the US initially lagged behind many other hard-hit countries in its per-capita testing rate, it has been catching up. By mid-April, the USA was performing 150,000 tests per day. However, the US has just begun a program of contact tracing which has been central to the way Taiwan has tried to control the spread of the disease from the very beginning.

One major difference in Taiwan is that although it totally closed off travel abroad, there was no wide scale lockdown. Schools, though delayed in opening, schools and businesses were kept open during the pandemic.

Taiwan did not order its population to shelter in place. Taiwan’s economy did not suffer the shocks of Canada and the USA. Instead, its inspection and surveillance strategy were specific and targeted. Isolation and quarantine were strictly enforced. Masks became de rigeur. Most of all, Taiwan was totally open and transparent with its citizens, keeping them fully informed of each step and the rationale. Unfortunately, WHO ignored the warnings of Taiwan. Was Taiwan’s example followed by other Asian countries?

The Loudest Voice: Rodger Ailes

After he was fired from CNNBC owned by General Electric, Roger Ailes founded and built Fox News. Very often he was called brilliant. After all, had he not been an innovative Republican strategist and media consultant to Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He culminated his political success by facilitating and even engineering the victory of his erstwhile fraternal twin, Donald Trump. And he was clever in protecting his own self-interest. Was he not clever in negotiating a non-compete clause from CNNBC with his exit payment that only included existing networks? Had he not built Fox News into a ratings bonanza?

In the 7-part series and biopic based on the book, The Loudest Voice in the Room,as well as the magazine articles of Gabriel Sherman who appears in the series, Ailes is often called a visionary. And he was – a mad man who invented and created a lying, divisive and destructive TV network in the guise of a news empire. It was devoted to fantasies and magical thinking disassociated from reality, all in the guise of a news organization but which Ailes called opinion TV. For Ailes, Fox made the news; it did not report it. And Ailes made it entertaining.

He personally represented those values. He was clever in selling himself as brilliant, successful and powerful, in the same way as he sold the fantasies and misrepresentations of Fox News. He was a purveyor of unhinged conspiracy theories and was one of the powerful Americans behind the vicious allegations of the birther movement. Ailes’ supreme sense of self-entitlement only displayed his unwarranted belief in his own superiority. But Ailes’ words and his actions reveal extreme ignorance combined with a very high opinion of himself. Yet he presumed that he understood everything better than anyone else.

However, if you expect to watch an insightful analysis into the media of TV or even business in general, this series is not it. Certainly, Ailes was clever in putting the network’s studio at street level, but this had been pioneered years before by City TV and Moses Znaimer in Toronto. Certainly, Ailes was skilled at taking handsome outspoken ruffians and turning them into anchors (Sean Hannity played by Patch Darragh). He followed CNN’s lead with even more obsessive coverage of 9/11 and the Twin Tower terrorism, but with much louder displays of patriotism and slogans calling for making America great again.  

If you expect a lesson in demagogic right-wing racist politics, this is not it, even though Roger Ailes was a demagogue and a racist. To view an excellent right-wing political biopic, see Vice, the series on Dick Cheney. The absence of close business, media and political analysis brought the series considerable critical opprobrium. However, if you want to watch one of the best, if not the best portrayal of pathological narcissism, this is it.

What was Ailes so-called genius? He saw the current television networks as inherently liberal, as committed to the principle of fair and balanced reporting and, therefore, as controlled by an intellectual elite while the other half of the country who did not want to think and reflect, who wanted to be told how and what to think, were starved and felt that they had no voice. Roger Ailes would give them that voice. Roger Ailes would be that voice. The voice of the voiceless. A singular voice. The loudest voice. Ailes would supply “real” balance, that is, an alternative illusion of balance to offset the liberal media with a blatantly and unabashedly right-wing agenda that he would offer.

Ailes claimed that he was brilliant. He was often called a genius. However, he was a one-trick pony. Just as Hitler was a master of radio and Donald Trump is a master of the twitter universe, Ailes became a master of cable TV. But like all such masters, he had a common trait. He was an authoritarian mentally disordered demagogue bereft of any principles. But he strongly held onto one immoral principle. As he claimed at the very beginning of the series, and repeats a number of times through the seven episodes, “Tell people what they want and then give it to them – not once, but over and over again.”

Roger Ailes was not brilliant. But the series is. It is the best portrait of an egomaniacal narcissist that I have ever seen. Russell Crowe who plays Ailes is superb. He looks like Ailes. He sounds like Ailes. He rages like Ailes. He pats women’s asses like Ailes. He bullies like Ailes. He is arrogant. He also eats like a greedy pig and is self-admittedly ugly. But he knows that. He knows that if you are fat and ugly, what matters in getting women is that you have power, that you exude power and that you exercise power. Crowe offers an amazing portrait of a man starving for power and able to exude it out of every pore in his body. It takes great artistry to portray such a one-dimensional megalomaniac and retain our fascination more than just interest.

What we are offered is a phenomenology of egomaniacal narcissism – not a dissection or analysis of it. Turn to some extraordinary documentaries to find that. What we get is the appearance of such a personality in a straightforward retelling of the Ailes trajectory. The series is a display, like the fireworks put on by Donald Trump at Mount Rushmore on July 4th. For both intellectuals and the man in the street all love pyrotechnical displays of light and flash and noise. Russell Crowe with his prosthetics (Adrien Morot was the makeup artist), his protruding belly and his shaky jowls, his weighty girth topped by a bald head, his beady eyes and succulent mouth, is an exhibitionist of all those traits of madness. We see him. We are not supposed to understand him. For such evil is beyond understanding. Most of all, we are not supposed to like his mindless posturing.

The trajectory starts at the end with Ailes collapsed and dead on the floor and offers us the route to that end concentrated mostly on the role anchor Gretchen Carlson (Naomi Watts) plays in revealing to the world his lechery, his browbeating, his misogyny, his insulting and gratuitously cruel comments and ridicule intended and successful in making beautiful women distrust and even hate themselves. Ailes required women to be meek and submissive while men are lauded when they are strong and proud – with a pecking order of course. And when he was finished with those women, or if they sought to fight back, he was scurrilous is spreading scandalous claims that damaged their reputations and ruined their careers.

Ailes demonstrated an ability to bully and blackmail women into silence until Gretchen’s courage smoked out an array of women demeaned by Roger Ailes. However, the road to Carlson is paved with much worse – Ailes’ excruciatingly painful mistreatment of Laurie Luhn (Annabelle Wallis) who was also a beauty queen now reduced to going down on Ailes so she could remain in front of the camera. And there were so many others.

The series is advertised as telling you how Ailes built Fox News. It does no such thing even though, after he was fired as a result of sexual harassment claims mounting at the network he then headed, CNNBC, the seven episodes follow the trajectory of Ailes twenty years as head of Fox News with the largest cable audience in history. You learn why it was successful. Know your target audience and know them better than they know themselves. Hire people with very specialized and demonstrated skills behind the camera and men with the same predatory instincts and lack of any ethical principles in front of the camera. And beautiful women who will cow tow to your advances. He demanded deference, even self-debasement. As part of that lesson, you learn that powerful and extremely rich men like Rupert Murdoch (Simon McBurney), who funded and owned Fox News, can be manipulated and effectively controlled as long as you produce what they most want – money.

When all relationships become transactional,  when there is only the necessity of advancing self-interest, when empathy and sympathy are considered faults and weaknesses, when strength requires crushing others who are not absolutely loyal to you and when success is defined as not caring for another but caring for yourself, then what you watch is the portrait of a social psychopath. Roger Ailes had a lethal and ineradicable narcissistic personality disorder. More precisely, he exhibited this disorder but, until the very end, profited from it rather than suffered as a result.

Ailes’ guiding rules which are stated throughout can be easily summarized. Paranoia is not a psychological condition needing treatment but a necessary protective device in a ruthless world. Liberals are bad because they are weak and bleeding hearts. Right wingers display strength, with the emphasis on display. Never display weakness. Never apologize. Never back down. Change in response to pressure is weakness. Roger Ailes always needed to be right.

Geraldo Rivera on air did not even know the location of Afghanistan. The cause? Not ignorance but the “fog of war.” Problems always can be traced to others. Solutions always require being more yourself. Double down. No moderation. Eventually, Ailes’ public relations genius, Brian Lewis (Seth MacFarlane), became exasperated by the extremes to which Ailes was willing to go in blatantly lying. He walked off into the sunset.

And do not display any authentic empathy, for sympathy for another is weakness. Strength is not caring for another but for yourself. Strength requires crushing those who challenge you. Displaying strength includes hitting below the belt and paying no attention to objective truth. Selling a message, not the portrayal of objective reality, was the goal. For everything was opinion and subjectivity. Never admit fault and always blame others. Further, there are no grays. If another is not with you, he or she is against you.

(Blind) loyalty and unquestioning compliance are the highest values, but Ailes himself was a person incapable of exhibiting any loyalty whatsoever – to his colleagues, to his employees and especially to his own obsequious wife, Beth, played by Sienna Miller. He preached family unity but he offered the unity of a dictatorship. He exemplified the epitome of hypocrisy that made him incapable of seeing or understanding himself. Instead, grandiose displays substituted for honest revelation of his own feelings of inadequacy. The result of this packet of inner resentment was the need to lash out, to humiliate and degrade another.

Dominate. Berate. Humiliate. Bully. Exploit others. Disparage others. Insult others. Blame others. Roger Ailes was an outsized personality and Russell Crowe plays him with outsized skill and force. The keys to the portrait are the psychological revelations and displays. Ailes was starved for adulation. He was a hemophiliac who received beatings rather than recognition or praise from his father. He was driven by an uncontrollable urge to flaunt his abilities and, therefore, his madness. Though steady in the realization of his ambition, he was psychologically unstable, prone to self-delusion and large swaths of lethal incompetence.

Subject to mood swings, he would rage like a bull with unreasoning fury and turn on a dime to play the obsequious and charming flatterer and then revert to a bombastic bully.  His mercurial need to humiliate others and boast about himself were products of his own low self-esteem. He had an overwhelming need to dominate others, even hurt them, rooted in a deep hurt as a child. 

When he ate his midnight snacks, he seemed to be a friendly Dagwood Bumstead advising his new young editor of the local newspaper he had purchased. But the advice he offered was bizarre and infantile. Most of all, it was untethered from constraint. He offered no concession to common sense and was himself consumed with instilling a specific sensibility in the average American while manipulating the external world to his own advantage. For all relationships are transactional. Further, Ailes preached paying attention to his own inner gut and not really dissecting the world out there.

In the end, he exhibited lethal incompetence because he increasingly reified his own thoughts and clung to them like lifesavers. In the end, when he was finally fired by Rupert Murdoch, he most exhibited his inflated and exaggerated sense of his own self importance. Hence, the extreme consistency of his underlying self as he exhibited deep inconsistency in dealing with the changing world. Fox News continues to thrive even though Roger Ailes had been shown the door. For Ailes had built the foundation and the general architecture within which Fox continues to operate.

Defunding the Police: Part IV, Policing and Racism

Under the pressure of racism to resist the results of the Civil War and the rise of blacks, both in the north and the south, policing entered a different stage of ineptitude, widespread corruption and partisan politics when police forces were politicized and made instruments of corrupt party machines, facilitated because the control of police had been left in the hands of local authorities. Police were not public servants so much as political operatives.

Then the police under the pressure of the Progressives were professionalized (1920-1980) and new technologies, such as patrol cars and two-way radios, were introduced. A new emphasis was placed on rehabilitation as well as prevention by means of humane treatment of the mentally ill, creating healthy working conditions and building decent public housing. Social problems were to be dealt with positively. But this model came to be identified with detached bureaucracies and a cold enforcement mold. In the 1980s, efforts were initiated to replace the model with the idea of community policing.

In all of these stages of so-called reform. the mixture of the French, British and the German models increasingly favoured the German. However, tackling underlying causes shifted over time and never embraced the most fundamental underlying cause of all, the economy and the mal-distribution of resources. Further, abstract norms that provided guidelines borrowed from the British model seemed to be observed more in the breach. Offences against those guidelines were publicized rather than obedience to them enforced.

Each of the stages of transition was triggered by widespread public discontent and upheaval and special committees to look into reforms. Thus, the era of the inauguration of community policy got its boost from the increase in crime, the anti-Vietnam War protests and President Lyndon Johnson’s 1967 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission) and the Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. As well as unfair economic distributive practices in employment, housing and educational opportunities, the Kerner Commission identified racism as an underlying cause of many of the 1960s riots. Police were accused of inadequate training and accountability, brutality and harassment, and disastrous community relations traced to police estrangement from the communities they served. Finally, here was a commission, one in a long series, but the first to call out both racism and economic inequality. But the Kerner Commission and its recommendations were ignored.

However, the Kerner Commission was the exception in its conclusions and only the norm in the failure to implement recommendations. In Watts in Los Angles in 1965, six days of riots and burning followed the arbitrary arrest by 27 squad cars of police of several brothers and the mistreatment of their mother near their home followed by the arrival of thousands of national guardsmen. In Newark and Detroit in 1967, thousand of militarized police and national guardsmen suppressed protests and arrested thousands. Selma, Alabama offered another example of extreme police violence.

Suspects in the June 1964 abduction and murder of one black and two Jewish civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner (we named three co-op houses in Waterloo after them), in Neshoba County, Mississippi were released from prison. It took 41 years before Edgar Ray Killen, the Klu Klus Klan leader who orchestrated the “Mississippi Burnings,” to be arrested and eventually sentenced to three consecutive 20-year prison terms.  No one was punished for the murder of Medgar Evans and Violet Liuzzo.

The inquiries that followed protests and riots yielded almost identical results. A very few, such as the 1968 Kerner Commission mentioned above, blamed systemic racism, economic discrimination in housing, employment and the injustice system caused in part and grossly exacerbated by the brutality of the police. (Cf. Stephen M. Gillon, “Separate and Unequal: The Kerner Commission and the Unraveling of American Liberalism.”) But most inquiries blamed agitators and civil rights workers no matter the amount of precipitating injustice and the violence of the police followed by almost Initially, professionalization was identified with alienation and estrangement. In other words, the professional model of policing came face to face with the same problems identified at the core of current community policing practices. Community relations to replace public relations became the inadequate initial response, but this approach soon gave way to community-oriented policing. “In 1974, the Kansas City Patrol Experimented demonstrated that increasing routine preventive patrol and police response time had a very limited impact on reducing crime levels, alleviating citizens’ fear of crime and increasing community satisfaction with police service. Similarly, a study on the criminal investigation process revealed the limitations of routine investigative actions and suggested that the crime-solving ability of the police could be enhanced through programs that fostered greater cooperation between the police and the community (Chaiken, Greenwood, and Petersilia). The idea that a closer partnership between the police and local residents could help reduce crime and disorder began to emerge throughout the 1970s.”

Instead of the racial and ethnic conflict being undermined, a new emphasis was placed on the partnership of the community and the police. “An innovative project in San Diego specifically recognized this developing theme by encouraging line officers to identify and solve community problems on their beats.” (Boydstun and Sherry).

Though supposedly improving police-minority group relations and strengthening the principle of equal protection under the law as operative guidelines and goals, there emerged too many sensational examples in which community policing model undermined such goals. Neighbourhood watch programs were invaded by vigilantism intended to keep strangers (blacks) out of communities. These activities sometimes extended to individual assaults on innocent civilians. Further, team policing to replace professional detachment became a method of inculcating a police culture of cops under siege and an emphasis on a common self-protective ethos. Don’t rat on your fellow officers.

The German model was revived wherein crime fighting is viewed simply as one aspect of maintaining law and order in society. Setting and supervising food and food packaging standards, psychological services to the mentally ill, health services to drug addicts, all become part of an overall approach to public law and order. That shift entails close cooperation among many agencies and an effort to shift some responsibilities police have assumed to other bureaucratic units. However, unless the mal-distribution of goods and services is tackled, redistribution of efforts will be as likely to fail as happened in both the community policing and the professional models.

The results were generally the same. In North Minneapolis in 2015, Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old unarmed black man, was shot by a white office who was eventually not even charged. In 2016, in nearby St. Paul, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man was stopped by police for a broken tail-light and shot dead in front of his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds. This time, Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer was charged, but he was acquitted. The killing of Floyd George in Minneapolis was but one in a long list of unjustified killings of black men by police officers.

Why? In Minneapolis,

  • Black unemployment is twice that of whites
  • Only 25% of blacks owned their own homes compared to 75% for whites
  • The median income for blacks is half that of whites
  • Blacks were nine times more likely to be arrested for minor offences, earning a police record and almost a guarantee of unemployment
  • A pattern of discrimination and persecution of black police officers
  • The emergence of a culture of impunity.

But the results thus far were not identical to previous incidents of unjustified violence by white police officers against blacks. The event had been videotaped. The officer who committed the murder was charged, not just with manslaughter but with murder. His three fellow officers were charged with abetting the crime. Protests, and a few riots, broke out right across America and around the world. White protesters generally far outnumbered black ones. Further, instead of protests turning into riots, initial riots, assaults of property and widescale theft were replaced almost entirely by peaceful protests. Instead of more commissions, initiatives were taken to reform the police, to reallocate funds from them to specialized intervention units for mental health problems and, in a few cases to dismantle police forces and replace them by security and safety services.

I venture a prediction, however. Community policing will increasingly be replaced by the equivalent of charter schools through the creation of private associations identified with common goals and strategies. These will be able to hive off public surveillance, look after the interests of the group, co-opt and protect members. The self-interest of individuals will become subsumed within a larger organization in which individuals will receive recognition and status through the role they play. The cost will be a loss of privacy as a public unit closer to home takes on the responsibilities of overseeing all activities – whether one wants to cut a tree down or add a garage to one’s home. Thus, the robust and activist state functions will be increasingly assumed by local organizations, but they will be even more impotent in dealing with the inequities produced in the development of global capitalism and the inevitable victims that result.

Systemic racism and the police as the face of such a system of structured inequality will be gradually replaced by systemic reification of classes and divisions between natives and foreigners. The definition of a crime will be tremendously broadened while the impotence of any supervisory or accountability system to prevent poverty or undermine the underlying sources of crime will become further exposed. Individual liberty will be further limited for the sake of community solidarity. Policing as an ethical power of the state to provide limits and boundaries to civil society will take on a more general meaning rather than being the preserve of a specific paid force with the legal power to use violence to enforce community standards.

The injustices will remain.

Defund the Police: Part II, The Philosophical Roots

On 27 August 2016, in response to the Ferguson riots in Missouri, David Byrne wrote a scholarly article, “The Hegelian Roots of Black Lives Matter.” It eventually appeared in the American Thinker. (https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2016/08/the_hegelian_roots_of_blacklivesmatter.html) The article was published in Theoria: A Journal of Political and Social Science (61:141: 5-29) It suggested that attempts to reform the police have deep philosophical roots. They do. Understanding those roots can help us understand the reform movement and its goals.

Whatever the demands and whatever the outcome, it seems clear that policing will once again soon undergo some radical and fundamental changes. This is far from the first time that radical revisions in policing have followed indiscriminate deaths and wide scale protests. The last major shift was from a professional model to an emphasis on community policing that began in the sixties civil rights movement when protests as well as riots targeting racial injustices focused attention on the sources of racial discrimination and systemic racism in police forces in America. These pressures for change culminated in the 1980s. However, at the very beginning of the modern era when police departments were founded, community policing had been the norm. Those responsible for the maintenance of law and the protection of life and property were the citizens themselves who served on a voluntary level as constables and justices of the peace, though sheriffs might be hired and paid.

In the American south, policing entailed slave patrols of white volunteers to capture escaping slaves. In the West, the frontiersman and the Indian killers predominated. In the North East, the neighbourhood patrol backed up by paid watchmen predominated. Clearly, the local needs and norms of the society determined the mode of organization of policing and its functions. But not the philosophical premises which came from abroad, specifically Europe.

Police were first introduced as an instrument of the state in the eighteenth century in France, but modern policing did not begin until the nineteenth century in Britain and Germany when the police were first envisioned as primarily part of civil society to protect property and persons rather than just an instrument of the state to enforce public order. In France, police had meant government and the passage of special regulations to ensure public order even more than the protection of individual lives and property. In Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s 1765 Encyclopédie, police was defined as “the art of providing a comfortable and quiet life” to all the Earth’s inhabitants, especially city dwellers.  

Institutionalizing police as an instrument of government centered on an authority who possessed regulatory, judicial and enforcement powers to keep order. It was instigated by the 1660 plague and food riots in France. France had lost one-third of its population (one million deaths) in the epidemic of 1628-31 that itself had its roots in the devastating Black Death caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis beginning in 1348. Epidemics plagued society. Disorder followed. By the time of the French Revolution, there were 3,000 troops in Paris assigned to keep order led by commissioners and inspectors who accepted bribes to top up their minimal pay.  

My personal experience with the French model of policing in a modern dress took place just outside of Versailles in 1977. I had picked up my eldest daughter in a Volkswagen camper van in Britain where she had finished a concert tour (she was then a flautist) and we had travelled across to the continent. We stopped to refill the gas tank before we got to Paris. The attendant filled the tank and I offered him my visa card to pay.

He did not recognize a Canadian visa card and insisted I pay cash. I had not had a chance yet to purchase French francs. (The Euro clearly had not yet been introduced.) He asked me to wait while he made a telephone call. I presumed it was to someone who could authorize payment. We waited ten minutes. A police van arrived and a platoon of 16 police officers with their batons piled out of the back. They certainly communicated a police presence designed to deter crime and preserve public order. My daughter spoke French and got into an argument as I collapsed beside the VW van in fits of laughter watching this keystone cop event. Eventually, unable to resist the verbal assaults of a Canadian teenager, the police retreated and advised the attendant to accept my visa card.

I could not imagine such an event in England from where we had come or Germany towards which we were heading. Philosophers in Britain and Germany entered the picture at the beginning of the nineteenth century opposed to the French model and the concept of a militarized government police force charged primarily with keeping public order. Both countries favoured a police force primarily focused on civil society. These reforms also coincided with urbanization and the great expansion of cities.

Besides the French, there were two major schools of thought: the German school, Policeiwissenschaft, in which the main function of policing was the promotion of the economic well-being of the community and the establishment of the core elements of a welfare state as a means of preventing crime.  The other British one was led by Jeremy Bentham, the great English utilitarian philosopher. I will refer to the three visions as the French, British and English models.

At the very end of the eighteenth century, along with the police magistrate, Patrick Colquhoun, Bentham wrote a philosophical disquisition to form the basis of two Parliamentary Bills intended to reform the policing of London, on the one hand, and the whole Thames basin on the other. (Cf. Writings on Political Economy, Volume III: Preventive Police, ed. Michael Quinn.)

Since 1791, Bentham had led the crusade against the transport of criminals to New South Wales in Australia in favour of the progenitors of our penitentiaries based on a philosophy of preventive policing. Previously, criminals were supposedly deterred by facing either exile or capital punishment for a wide variety of crimes. The continued presence of the police would now deter crime. The Thames River Police prevented the theft of cargo in the busy London port and the Bow Street Runners operated on land. Sir Robert Peel became the foremost advocate for implementing Bentham’s ideas and, in 1829, established the Metropolitan Police Service in London. Peel became the father of modern policing in Britain and London police were called “bobbies” in his honour. To overcome the heated opposition and the fear that police would become an arm of the state to control citizens, as in France, he offered the following principles to guide the governance of a police force:

  • The purpose of the police force is to prevent crime and maintain order.
  • Police depend on the approval and trust of the public to effectively do their jobs.
  • The ultimate goal of policing is to achieve voluntary compliance with the law in the community.
  • Police must be unwavering in their duties and adherence to the law, maintaining impartiality and avoiding the temptation to be swayed by public opinion.
  • The use of force and physical control is to be used as a last resort, only when other forms of persuasion have failed.
  • Police officers must remember that they, too, are members of the public and that their purpose is to serve and protect the public.
  • The true measure of the effectiveness of any police force is not the number of arrests or police actions taken, but the absence of criminal conduct and violations of the law.

At the time that Peel was forming his London police force, George Wilhelm Hegel was writing his Philosophy of Right in Berlin. In the Third part dealing with Ethical life, civil society was viewed as the link between the family and the state, the sphere in which the individual was “torn” from his or her family and recognized as a self-subsistent person. Civil society was divided into the system for taking care of needs – the economic system – and the administration of justice, including rights and the legal system on the one hand, and the police and “The Corporation” on the other. The function of the police was to ensure security, the safety of persons and property. Further, the individual had duties as well as rights. And the organization of the economic sphere had a direct bearing on establishing a balance. For if the distribution of wealth is skewed to the rich and the general part of society is impoverished, disorder and discontent will result.

In Bentham, the role of the police could be governed by a self-contained set of guidelines to deter crime. In Hegel, this was not possible since the definition of crimes and challenges to public order varied with economic, social and political circumstances. The justice system was an external system and organization “for the protection and security of particular ends and interests en masse.” Thus, the ethical principles that emerge will reflect the character of civil society and cannot be independently established.

Success, as stated above, was measured in each case by the prevention of crime (defined by Hegel as a “subjective willing of evil”) and by bringing those who threaten that safety and security to justice. The police do not derive their authority from the internal “natural” order of civil society, as in Bentham, but in performing on behalf of society a supervisory and preventive ethical power that, in the end, resides in the state.

The difference between Hegel and Bentham is that in the latter’s utilitarianism, the function of prevention is guided by universal norms. In the Hegelian schema, there is “no inherent line of distinction between what is and what is not injurious…or between what is and is not suspicious, or between what is to be forbidden or subject to supervision and what is to be exempt from prohibition, from surveillance and suspicion.” That is determined by custom, the spirit of the constitution, contemporary conditions, the crisis of the hour, etc.

In other words, norms of policing are always subject to revision relative to the time and place. Further, policing for Hegel had an additional problem. Supervision of the police was to be conducted with as little public knowledge and visibility in civil society as possible. This also meant that police operated surreptitiously, invisible to the public eye so that individuals would not recognize that they were being “policed”. In his Addition to his book on rights, Hegel showed how prescient he was and included the following: “As a result of this presence of accident, of personal arbitrariness, the public authority acquires a measure of odium.” Further, the public authority tends to be accumulative, drawing everything possible under its ken.

That is why you need constant oversight and care. For the actions of individuals may theoretically always be wrongful depending on what is considered injurious and what is not. Can a child open a cap? Does a photo promote child molestation? The public has a right not to be led into harm’s way, to be defrauded and, hence, even the mode of production and packaging of goods must be supervised and ordered. Then, as a result of the clashes between the needs of consumers and the rights and interests of producers, overall control is necessary “to diminish the danger of upheavals.”

Clearly, the Benthamite (English) and Hegelian (German) positions overlap in stressing deterrence. But the Hegelian emphasis in the fundamentals of the economic order in ensuring fairness, on oversight because there can be no permanent ethical norms for these vary over time and circumstances, on the inevitability of police incrementalism and accumulation of the opprobrium of the public, offered a very different trajectory for the establishment of police forces.

Of the three alternatives, the French, the English and the German, which philosophical position did America adopt?

Defund the Police: Part III, Historical Developments in America

In 2016, the Sherwood Park neighbourhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin erupted in three nights of violence after a fatal police shooting of an African American. In April of this year, 25-year-old Joel Acevedo died from blunt force trauma to the head a week after he was put in a chokehold in an altercation at his own home by an off-duty policeman, Michael Mattioli, who was charged with reckless homicide, was suspended from the police force but still received a pay check.

Why Milwaukee rather than Minneapolis or Ferguson? Milwaukee is considered America’s most racially segregated city and ranked as the worst place for black Americans. Critics claimed that lack of equity in health, wealth and education destroyed black lives. A half century ago, sparked by Martin Luther King’s assassination, 200 nights of marches demanded an end to housing discrimination. Milwaukee has repeatedly been characterized by systemic racism, gross economic inequality and very troubled police-community relations. In the current context following the murder of George Floyd, the city’s mayor and police chief have both commended the demonstrators in Milwaukee for the peaceful nature of their protests while condemning those responsible for the rioting, arson and looting at night.

Officials follow the Hegelian model and trace the problem to gross economic and social disparities. Milwaukee has the worst gap in academic success between blacks and whites. Half the city’s African American children live below the poverty line. The tension between the police and the community persists in spite of police reforms that introduced new training for police and made cops wear body cameras. When did things go so wrong? The historical outline below only provides a general overview and no one police department fits precisely into the stages, the three different models of policing and the corresponding eras depicted.

In the last blog, I indicated that the French model of policing in the eighteenth century and then under Napoleon in a military-administrative state was based on social control and maintaining order in a sovereign nation state. The British and German models shifted the emphasis to different aspects of civil society. However, in all three cases, the maintenance of order and/or the protection of persons and property largely depended on “educating” citizens to discipline themselves and support law and order. Theoretically, the force of the state would not be needed to discipline individuals to serve a collective purpose. Instead, the individual would be trained to discipline his or her own body either as part of an administrative-military state, or as part of an economic welfare state or, finally, as part of a civil society in which each individual sought his or her personal happiness and satisfaction.

In Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin promoted the French model. While stressing self-criticism and self-improvement to inculcate virtuous citizens to serve the state and its institutions, the institutions would, in turn, help forge those citizens so they could be loyal and serve the state. To combat the lack of safety on the streets of Philadelphia and its alleged higher crime rate, that he blamed on the passivity of the Quakers in dealing with violence, Franklin advocated a preventive police force with watchmen who would target trouble-makers, rogues, vagabonds, malefactors and anyone they suspected of evil intent.

With the revolution, sovereign power and legislative authority had been placed in the hands of the people who, in self-government, minimized the role and need for the state in the quest for “frugal government” yet, at the same time, supported “invasive intrusions” by a powerful police force. Over the following decades, the combination of frugality towards the institutions of governance and empowerment of the police resulted in social movements of resistance and revolts. The policing of the suspect “idlers” and “vagrants” meant incarceration, assignment to work gangs and labour for private contractors. This was not a philosophical justification for either a preventive or a reformed police force.

For the imported French model, the issue was not the formation of individuals who could contribute to the creation of wealth or, at the very least, train individuals to use their labour to lift themselves out of poverty. Rather, the indigent and the slothful had to contribute to the “harmony and beauty, the symmetry and order of that system, which God and nature have established in the world,” (Franklin) which included ensuring that the populace retained the proper respect for the status and authority of the police. Keeping the populace whose lot in life was poverty required taming the lions and the tigers while teaching obedience and subordination through inculcating civility and decency as norms of behaviour. “To relieve the misfortunes of our fellow creatures in concurring with the Deity; ’tis Godlike, but if we provide encouragements for laziness, and supports for folly, may it not be found fighting against the order of God and nature, which perhaps has appointed want and misery as the proper punishments for, and cautions against as well as necessary consequences of idleness and extravagancy.”

Poor relief and policing were two sides of the same coin opposed to both the laissez-faire of Jeremy Bentham or the welfare state of Hegel. Further, Franklin believed that “certain groups of people were less inclined to toil than others, less inclined to engage in productive labour thereby creating a natural division between the idle and industrious classes which determined the power relations in a polity. Native Americans, for example, were “naturally” less inclined to submit to the discipline of work and industry and live in cities. African Negroes, he contended, enjoyed a wandering, careless life, making them unsuited to living in civilized society.

Charity, philanthropy and the promise of salvation, either religious or civic, were the instruments to induce participation in the workhouses for the poor. Compare that to the proposals in Jeremy Bentham’s Pantopican letters (“Pauper Management Improved”). Since labour was necessary for a productive society and since the poor evidently lacked the virtues of self-discipline, Bentham recommended privatizing indentured work for a National Charity Company, modelled after the East India Company that would have absolute authority over the “whole body of the burdensome poor.”  

These two French (Franklin) and Bentham archetypes and rationales for policing models were different again from the Hegelian one. When the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office could not provide adequate protection for its citizens, the Milwaukee Police Department was founded in 1855 when the city was already known for its high crime rate and the widespread presence of gangs of thieves. This was the same time that the St. Louis Hegelians consolidated as a group to advance Hegelian ideas. They were led by Henry Conrad Brockmeyer (1828-1906), a Prussian, and William Torrey Harris (1835-1909), a New Englander educated at Yale. They focused on social and political problems, individuals assuming responsibility and the need for reform inspired mainly by Hegel’s The Philosophy of Right. Economic injustice was seen to be at the root of the disorder in the cities in the mid-west.

By the 1880s, the reforms set in motion by these Hegelian ideas were undermined and then destroyed by the introduction of a political spoils system. In 1878, the new mayor, John Black, appointed Daniel Kennedy, a fellow Democrat, as police chief and he in turn fired 25 Republican patrolmen as the police force was turned into a corrupt arm of the equivalent of Tammany Hall in New York. This was the same time that, in the face of the failures in social reform, the St. Louis Hegelians dissolved as a group and turned their attention towards individual interests and moral advancement based almost solely on education. It is then that they were most influential in shaping the ideas and concerns of the American pragmatists. The first phase in the development of policing in the United States, in particular, Milwaukee, had shifted from a concern with economic and political reforms to eliminate the underlying causes of bad police/community relations, to a second phase, the politicization of the police as part of a spoils system.

The corruption of police departments in America influenced by the English model (without the norms of the “bobbies”) continued to focus on abstract governing norms and an emphasis on property and personal protection. The police forces constructed on that model were taught to utilize intrusive and even punitive measures to restore social order much more than providing a main line of defense against deviants and lawbreakers. As a result, here again the maintenance of public order became more important than the prevention of crime. In fact, it became a recipe for the police to become criminals themselves.

The corruption of the police forces through patronage that succeeded the noble ideals of either the German or the English model of policing became intolerable. Reforms were introduced across the land to professionalize the police force, either by hiring private firms to patrol one’s property or changing the way police were appointed, trained and deployed. But the new emphasis on police patrols to apprehend offenders and deter lawbreakers was soon determined to be ineffective and very costly.

“Community policing” became the new battle cry for reform in the 1960s to 1980s. A return to the London “bobbie” model was called for. It did not just mean taking cops out of patrol cars and making them walk the beat so they could get to know the members of the community. It meant extending their work from simple law enforcement to promoting the common good by serving as community social workers and engaging in cooperative and interactive relationships with the members of the communities in which they served. It is precisely this “overreach” that has currently come under fire. Police are criticized because they do not have the skills or training to act as psychologists and social workers. Personnel trained to use force to apprehend criminals should not and cannot be used to tackle underlying social causes and engage in prevention.

One of the results – police activity became more visible and more open to public accountability. At the same time, police operations were more likely to be identified with community crime prevention through aggressive maintenance of order when engaged in problem-oriented policing. Thus, it is ironic that today, Oregon, that was at the front end of community policing reform, is now at the core of taking back community protection from the police. In 1990, the Portland police department published their definition of community policing.

“’Community policing is based on a philosophy which recognizes the interdependence and shared responsibility of the police and community in making Portland a safer, more livable city. It is a method of policing which encourages a partnership that identifies community safety issues, determines resources, and applies innovative strategies designed to create and sustain healthy, vital neighborhoods. Community policing will coordinate with efforts being made by private, non-profit, and public agencies to bring a comprehensive approach to Portland’s problems of crime and disorder. Community policing reflects the values of: community participation; problem solving; officer involvement in decision making; police accountability; and deployment of police personnel at a level closer to the neighborhood.”

Generalities displaced specific instructions. Broad goals identified more with social work, but NOT economic reform, became the focus so that the police became even more reactive and impotent in dealing with underlying causes. Efforts were made to expand community policing and create partnerships between the police and health authorities, for example, to create safe injection sites and distribute clean needles. But these only created greater confusion for the police who had been charged with enforcing anti-drug laws. The problem-solving preventive approach that replaced police professionalism as a reactive model in dealing with crime ended up subjecting the police to even greater criticism given the inherent contradictions in their mandate.

Thus, the philosophy of policing underwent several important transitions from the era when policing first became a paid position that replaced the earlier amateur and largely voluntary policing in which police earned a percentage of taxes collected or fees, with a corresponding widespread inequality and injustice. The enforcement of criminal law became subservient to the application of civil law, whether that law emphasized the recapture of slaves as property, the collection of taxes, the payment of fines or the payment of rent.

No matter what the stage of development, no matter what the original model of policing, police forces were constructed on contradictory demands that could not result in a coherent, effective and just model of policing. By the sixties and the seventies, injustice became the norm in dealing with violence against blacks. So did a culture of impunity and the tendency of policy officers to initiate violence and justify such actions with bogus claims. Even minor infractions by blacks risked police brutality, especially if subservience was not communicated.

Defund the Police: Part II, The Philosophical Roots

On 27 August 2016, in response to the Ferguson riots in Missouri, David Byrne wrote a scholarly article, “The Hegelian Roots of Black Lives Matter.” It eventually appeared in the American Thinker. (https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2016/08/the_hegelian_roots_of_blacklivesmatter.html) The article was published in Theoria: A Journal of Political and Social Science (61:141: 5-29) It suggested that attempts to reform the police have deep philosophical roots. They do. Understanding those roots can help us understand the reform movement and its goals.

Whatever the demands and whatever the outcome, it seems clear that policing will once again soon undergo some radical and fundamental changes. This is far from the first time that radical revisions in policing have followed indiscriminate deaths and wide scale protests. The last major shift was from a professional model to an emphasis on community policing that began in the sixties civil rights movement when protests as well as riots targeting racial injustices focused attention on the sources of racial discrimination and systemic racism in police forces in America. These pressures for change culminated in the 1980s. However, at the very beginning of the modern era when police departments were founded, community policing had been the norm. Those responsible for the maintenance of law and the protection of life and property were the citizens themselves who served on a voluntary level as constables and justices of the peace, though sheriffs might be hired and paid.

In the American south, policing entailed slave patrols of white volunteers to capture escaping slaves. In the West, the frontiersman and the Indian killers predominated. In the North East, the neighbourhood patrol backed up by paid watchmen predominated. Clearly, the local needs and norms of the society determined the mode of organization of policing and its functions. But not the philosophical premises which came from abroad, specifically Europe.

Police were first introduced as an instrument of the state in the eighteenth century in France, but modern policing did not begin until the nineteenth century in Britain and Germany when the police were first envisioned as primarily part of civil society to protect property and persons rather than just an instrument of the state to enforce public order. In France, police had meant government and the passage of special regulations to ensure public order even more than the protection of individual lives and property. In Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s 1765 Encyclopédie, police was defined as “the art of providing a comfortable and quiet life” to all the Earth’s inhabitants, especially city dwellers.  

Institutionalizing police as an instrument of government centered on an authority who possessed regulatory, judicial and enforcement powers to keep order. It was instigated by the 1660 plague and food riots in France. France had lost one-third of its population (one million deaths) in the epidemic of 1628-31 that itself had its roots in the devastating Black Death caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis beginning in 1348. Epidemics plagued society. Disorder followed. By the time of the French Revolution, there were 3,000 troops in Paris assigned to keep order led by commissioners and inspectors who accepted bribes to top up their minimal pay.  

My personal experience with the French model of policing in a modern dress took place just outside of Versailles in 1977. I had picked up my eldest daughter in a Volkswagen camper van in Britain where she had finished a concert tour (she was then a flautist) and we had travelled across to the continent. We stopped to refill the gas tank before we got to Paris. The attendant filled the tank and I offered him my visa card to pay.

He did not recognize a Canadian visa card and insisted I pay cash. I had not had a chance yet to purchase French francs. (The Euro clearly had not yet been introduced.) He asked me to wait while he made a telephone call. I presumed it was to someone who could authorize payment. We waited ten minutes. A police van arrived and a platoon of 16 police officers with their batons piled out of the back. They certainly communicated a police presence designed to deter crime and preserve public order. My daughter spoke French and got into an argument as I collapsed beside the VW van in fits of laughter watching this keystone cop event. Eventually, unable to resist the verbal assaults of a Canadian teenager, the police retreated and advised the attendant to accept my visa card.

I could not imagine such an event in England from where we had come or Germany towards which we were heading. Philosophers in Britain and Germany entered the picture at the beginning of the nineteenth century opposed to the French model and the concept of a militarized government police force charged primarily with keeping public order. Both countries favoured a police force primarily focused on civil society. These reforms also coincided with urbanization and the great expansion of cities.

Besides the French, there were two major schools of thought: the German school, Policeiwissenschaft, in which the main function of policing was the promotion of the economic well-being of the community and the establishment of the core elements of a welfare state as a means of preventing crime.  The other British one was led by Jeremy Bentham, the great English utilitarian philosopher. I will refer to the three visions as the French, British and English models.

At the very end of the eighteenth century, along with the police magistrate, Patrick Colquhoun, Bentham wrote a philosophical disquisition to form the basis of two Parliamentary Bills intended to reform the policing of London, on the one hand, and the whole Thames basin on the other. (Cf. Writings on Political Economy, Volume III: Preventive Police, ed. Michael Quinn.)

Since 1791, Bentham had led the crusade against the transport of criminals to New South Wales in Australia in favour of the progenitors of our penitentiaries based on a philosophy of preventive policing. Previously, criminals were supposedly deterred by facing either exile or capital punishment for a wide variety of crimes. The continued presence of the police would now deter crime. The Thames River Police prevented the theft of cargo in the busy London port and the Bow Street Runners operated on land. Sir Robert Peel became the foremost advocate for implementing Bentham’s ideas and, in 1829, established the Metropolitan Police Service in London. Peel became the father of modern policing in Britain and London police were called “bobbies” in his honour. To overcome the heated opposition and the fear that police would become an arm of the state to control citizens, as in France, he offered the following principles to guide the governance of a police force:

  • The purpose of the police force is to prevent crime and maintain order.
  • Police depend on the approval and trust of the public to effectively do their jobs.
  • The ultimate goal of policing is to achieve voluntary compliance with the law in the community.
  • Police must be unwavering in their duties and adherence to the law, maintaining impartiality and avoiding the temptation to be swayed by public opinion.
  • The use of force and physical control is to be used as a last resort, only when other forms of persuasion have failed.
  • Police officers must remember that they, too, are members of the public and that their purpose is to serve and protect the public.
  • The true measure of the effectiveness of any police force is not the number of arrests or police actions taken, but the absence of criminal conduct and violations of the law.

At the time that Peel was forming his London police force, George Wilhelm Hegel was writing his Philosophy of Right in Berlin. In the Third part dealing with Ethical life, civil society was viewed as the link between the family and the state, the sphere in which the individual was “torn” from his or her family and recognized as a self-subsistent person. Civil society was divided into the system for taking care of needs – the economic system – and the administration of justice, including rights and the legal system on the one hand, and the police and “The Corporation” on the other. The function of the police was to ensure security, the safety of persons and property. Further, the individual had duties as well as rights. And the organization of the economic sphere had a direct bearing on establishing a balance. For if the distribution of wealth is skewed to the rich and the general part of society is impoverished, disorder and discontent will result.

In Bentham, the role of the police could be governed by a self-contained set of guidelines to deter crime. In Hegel, this was not possible since the definition of crimes and challenges to public order varied with economic, social and political circumstances. The justice system was an external system and organization “for the protection and security of particular ends and interests en masse.” Thus, the ethical principles that emerge will reflect the character of civil society and cannot be independently established.

Success, as stated above, was measured in each case by the prevention of crime (defined by Hegel as a “subjective willing of evil”) and by bringing those who threaten that safety and security to justice. The police do not derive their authority from the internal “natural” order of civil society, as in Bentham, but in performing on behalf of society a supervisory and preventive ethical power that, in the end, resides in the state.

The difference between Hegel and Bentham is that in the latter’s utilitarianism, the function of prevention is guided by universal norms. In the Hegelian schema, there is “no inherent line of distinction between what is and what is not injurious…or between what is and is not suspicious, or between what is to be forbidden or subject to supervision and what is to be exempt from prohibition, from surveillance and suspicion.” That is determined by custom, the spirit of the constitution, contemporary conditions, the crisis of the hour, etc.

In other words, norms of policing are always subject to revision relative to the time and place. Further, policing for Hegel had an additional problem. Supervision of the police was to be conducted with as little public knowledge and visibility in civil society as possible. This also meant that police operated surreptitiously, invisible to the public eye so that individuals would not recognize that they were being “policed”. In his Addition to his book on rights, Hegel showed how prescient he was and included the following: “As a result of this presence of accident, of personal arbitrariness, the public authority acquires a measure of odium.” Further, the public authority tends to be accumulative, drawing everything possible under its ken.

That is why you need constant oversight and care. For the actions of individuals may theoretically always be wrongful depending on what is considered injurious and what is not. Can a child open a cap? Does a photo promote child molestation? The public has a right not to be led into harm’s way, to be defrauded and, hence, even the mode of production and packaging of goods must be supervised and ordered. Then, as a result of the clashes between the needs of consumers and the rights and interests of producers, overall control is necessary “to diminish the danger of upheavals.”

Clearly, the Benthamite (English) and Hegelian (German) positions overlap in stressing deterrence. But the Hegelian emphasis in the fundamentals of the economic order in ensuring fairness, on oversight because there can be no permanent ethical norms for these vary over time and circumstances, on the inevitability of police incrementalism and accumulation of the opprobrium of the public, offered a very different trajectory for the establishment of police forces.

Of the three alternatives, the French, the English and the German, which philosophical position did America adopt?