Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
May 8, 2020
Mr. President: If the US effort has been characterized by a daily presidential news
conference, the German response has distanced itself from politics. Local and
apolitical, state teams have descended on each cluster and methodically traced the
chain of infection, testing, and then isolating those infected.
Of the major advanced European countries, Germany with 87 deaths per million
(dpm) population has, as of Thursday, May 7, one-sixth the death rate in Italy (495
dpm) and one-fifth compared with the UK (443 dpm). Over 1.26 million cases have
been reported in the US and over 75,431 have died; Germany has had a little over
168,000 cases and under 7,322 deaths -- a tenth of the US when its inhabitants
number about a quarter of the US population.
How Germany has been so outstandingly successful can best be illustrated by
studying its reaction to its first cluster of cases:
Webasto Group is a car parts supplier based in Stockdorf, a small town close to
Munich. A Chinese program manager based in Shanghai visited in January to attend
meetings and facilitate workshops. She has said she was feeling unwell during her
stay but attributed it to jet lag and continued working. On her return flight, she was
feverish and when her symptoms worsened in Shanghai, she was hospitalized and
tested for the coronavirus. She was positive. Her parents, who live in Wuhan, had
visited her before she left on January 19 for Germany. They, too, tested positive for
the virus. She promptly emailed her superiors in Germany.
There, local doctors and scientific experts went into action immediately. Our task is to
trace all contacts and "reconstruct the chain of infection", said the doctor treating the
patients. They found 16 in what came to be known as the Munich cluster. All were
hospitalized so that doctors could observe the progress of this novel viral infection,
and all but one displayed symptoms.
Munich is in Bavaria which acted to minimize public life in mid-March joining the
country as a whole to gradually impose a shutdown. Schools and nurseries were
closed by the Federal Government on March 13 and nursing home visits prohibited to
protect the old. Borders to five neighboring countries were also closed two days
later. A week later on March 22, Germany announced the complete lockdown and a
Observing social distancing and careful but extensive testing has minimized spread
and ensured sufficient testing kits and intensive care beds remain. The surplus has
been offered to neighbors. Contrast Germany's actions with the US and Donald
When Germany responded immediately to the first case in mid-January, the epidemic
in the US was about to start. On January 21, a man in Washington state who fell ill
was tested and diagnosed with the coronavirus.
As the news media picked up the story, highlighting the spread and fatalities in
Wuhan, President Trump characterized it as a seasonal flu that will disappear as the
weather warms up. He ascribed the rush of newspaper reports to a Democratic hoax
designed to make him look bad before the November election. Thus valuable time
was lost allowing the virus to spread across the country.
That is how and why most of the US is in lockdown now while Germany went over the
hump mid-April when recovered patients started to exceed new daily infections.
Chancellor Merkel said the goal of slowing the spread of the coronavirus had been
achieved, and the lockdown is being relaxed gradually. Shops have reopened and
schools have started to in stages. The football league will resume playing to televised
Meanwhile, the boastful, bullying, blubbering and blabbering Trump betrays his woeful
ignorance, although no longer daily, at the afternoon news conferences. Devoid of
sympathy for the families of the dead and dying or the jobless running short of
money, he sought aid for businesses -- it took Congress to move to provide some sort
of help for individuals. Trump promptly turned the IRS notification into a personal
letter to claim credit. The guy never misses a campaign trick.