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My family had the same virus as Trump, but not the same privilege

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On Friday, the president of the United States informed the world that he contracted the coronavirus. Soon, medical staff and Trump himself outlined the extensive care he was receiving — around-the-clock physicians who were able to administer oxygen and the best experimental drugs currently unavailable to the public, not to mention a helicopter ride to a hospital where this VIP treatment would continue.

His diagnosis came after spending most of the pandemic flouting any cautionary measures against spread, holding massive indoor rallies despite warnings from the CDC, and refusing to consistently wear masks, mocking those of us who faithfully wore them. Fortunately for him, the response to his actions have been met with an unprecedented level of medical care. The rest of us who have been cautious and considerate haven’t been so fortunate.

Around mid-March, one of my family members got Covid-19. Much of my family works in the medical field in New York— from caring for sick and elderly patients in nursing homes, to working as registered nurses in hospitals. At the height of the pandemic, when cases in the city were the highest in the nation, my family member told us on a phone call that they felt physically exhausted and had trouble breathing. They immediately went to the hospital, fearing Covid-19, and were told they weren’t “sick enough.” They were not given a test and were simply told to go home because the tests, beds, and space was reserved for those with more “severe symptoms.” So they went home.

As a frontline worker, it was very possible that they were in contact with an infected person. Out of a sense of responsibility, they called out of work and attempted to self-medicate with tea and rest. A couple of days later, their symptoms intensified. It became even more difficult to breathe and their chest pains were especially challenging at night.

Once again, we urged them to go back to the hospital. Again, they were told despite the escalations in symptoms, the hospital simply did not have enough tests to administer one to somebody who was not presenting with “severe and clear signs of Covid-19.” They returned home more emotionally broken than the previous time. It took a third attempt at a hospital, one that was located in a more affluent community, before my family member received a test. They tested positive and were told to quarantine for 14 days at home.

Last weekend, as Trump’s inner circle continued to test positive, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced he was experiencing “mild symptoms” and was checking himself into the hospital “out of an abundance of caution.” (Christie attended a September 29 White House event for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, with Trump and other Republican officials, that may have fueled spread of the virus.)

Based on this report, Christie — now a civilian, like my relative, yet not an essential worker, like my relative — had the privilege of being quickly tested and able to decide he should occupy a bed at a hospital. He had the luxury to make this decision as effortlessly as many of us decide between the option of which hotel to stay at for vacation.

Earlier treatment is a life-or-death situation. When my relative got sick, they had to watch the virus quickly spread through my family as they slowly recovered. Almost every family they came in contact with before they were tested became infected. None of my family members were admitted to the hospital despite each of them having a consistent temperature of about 103, some with a history of asthma, and extremely difficulty breathing. This in turn meant the significant others of said family members were also infected. It was a wild-spreading fire fueled by lack of privilege.

While the exact number of people hospitalized for Covid is still unclear, according to self-reported data, people across the country indicated they were denied care at alarming rates. Seven months into the pandemic, I deduce this number would be even greater if we factored in the amount of people who lack access to reliable transportation to get them to drive-thru testing centers and hospitals. Which makes it likely that thousands upon thousands of Americans suffered at home with all the symptoms of Covid-19 without an official diagnosis.

Fortunately, my relatives lived, but hundreds of thousands of other Americans did not. I get to tell the story of my family while they are all still alive. Others are sharing similar stories over Zoom funerals.

The impact of Covid-19 will be written about and dissected by historians for decades. However, perhaps the most important theme to note is that privilege dictates how we are all experiencing this pandemic. It’s a tale of two pandemics.

It’s well documented that Black people are dying at 2.3 times the rate of white people. As of June, reports indicate that almost one-third of Black Americans know somebody who died of Covid-19. The disproportionate death rate isn’t exclusive to Black Americans, either. The impact of the disease has also devastated the Latino community and families living below the poverty line. Then there are the frontline workers, particularly those with lower paying jobs, who have not had the privilege of working from home. Some families with even less income were forced to quit their jobs in order to educate their children when schools resorted to remote learning, contributing to the high rate of unemployment among especially women of marginalized groups.

Social inequality and the exorbitant income gap in this country was not created by Covid — it was magnified. So while Trump is able to quarantine in his “map room,” many families in lower income communities are trying to navigate the space of a one-bedroom apartment while they self-isolate.

Many will argue that no expense or treatment should be spared to keep the leader of the country alive. I understand that notion. However, it’s intellectually dishonest to ignore the fact that this administration not only failed to respond to the virus at the speed required, but they downplayed its severity multiple times during this crisis. All of this was done with the complete understanding that they themselves would receive the best health care this country could provide if they contracted it. It’s a despicable lack of empathy. Why should the lives of other Americans be valued any less?

At this very moment, the world is discussing Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis. Arguments are circular about what is and isn’t true about his health. Discussions continue about the fairness of the leader of the free world being treated with the best therapies his privilege can afford while so many American citizens were denied hospital care. Regardless of your political affiliations, or even your position on these discussions, one thing can’t be ignored: In America, the impact of this pandemic is predicated on your privilege. Privilege, as well as negligence, is Trump declaring that a disease that killed over 200,000 American citizens is something we shouldn’t be afraid of. My family, and millions like us, will tell a different story.

Shanita Hubbard is a former therapist, current adjunct sociology professor, and the author of the upcoming book Miseducating: A Woman’s Guide to Hip-Hop.


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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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Classic toy tie-up: Etch A Sketch maker to acquire Rubik’s Cube

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Spin Master Corp., the company behind the Etch A Sketch and Paw Patrol brands, has agreed to acquire Rubik’s Brand Ltd. for about $50 million, tying together two of the world’s most iconic toy brands.

The merger comes at a boom time for classic toymakers, as parents turn to familiar products to entertain kids stuck in lockdown. Like sales of Uno, Monopoly and Barbie dolls, Rubik’s Cube purchases have spiked during the pandemic, according to the puzzle maker’s chief executive officer, Christoph Bettin. He expects sales to jump 15% to 20% in 2020, compared with a normal year, when people purchase between 5 million and 10 million cubes.

By acquiring Rubik’s, Toronto-based Spin Master can better compete with its larger rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. All three companies have pivoted to become less reliant on actual product sales, diversifying into television shows, films and broader entertainment properties based on their toys. Spin Master CEO Anton Rabie said he wouldn’t rule out films or TV shows based on Rubik’s Cubes, but he was focused for now on creating more cube-solving competitions and crossmarketing it with the company’s other products, like the Perplexus.

“Whoever you are, it really has a broad appeal from a consumer standpoint,” Rabie said in an interview. “It’s actually going to become the crown jewel; it will be the most important part of our portfolio worldwide.”

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, a solid block featuring squares with colored stickers that users could twist and turn without it falling apart. It gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained one of the best-selling toys of all time, spawning spinoff versions, international competitions of puzzle solvers, books and documentaries.

The toy has been particularly well-suited to pandemic conditions. During lockdowns, parents have sought to give kids puzzles that boost problem-solving skills useful in math and science careers. Normally, toys tied to major film franchises are among the most popular products headed into the holidays, but studios have delayed the release of major new movies because of coronavirus. So classic products are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

“The whole pandemic has really increased games and puzzles,” Rabie said. “But whether the pandemic existed or didn’t exist, we’d still buy Rubik’s. It’s had such steady sales for decades.”

Rubik’s CEO Bettin said it was the right time to sell the company, with the founding families behind it ready to move on. London-based Rubik’s Brand was formed out of a partnership between Erno Rubik and the late entrepreneur Tom Kremer, while private equity firm Bancroft Investment holds a minority stake in the company.

Early on, Bettin felt Spin Master was the right home for the puzzle toy, he said. Spin Master, which was started by a group of three friends in 1994, has expanded through the purchase of well-known brands, including Erector sets and Etch A Sketch. Rabie says he works to honor the “legacy” of those products, which Bettin cited as a key reason to sell the brand to Spin Master over larger companies that were interested.

“It was important for us to not be lost in the crowd, and to be sufficiently important and cared for,” Bettin said. “And there’s a balance between being with someone large enough to invest, and agile enough to ensure you are key part of their plans.”

Spin Master won’t own Rubik’s Cubes in time for the holiday season – the transaction is expected to close on Jan. 4. At that time, the company will move Rubik’s operations from a small office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to Spin Master’s new games operations center in Long Island.

Some of Rubik’s Brand’s 10 employees will be part of the transition, but they won’t stay permanently, Bettin said.

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