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Good morning. Chicago announced it would start the school year remotely. And Joe Biden will not travel to Milwaukee for the Democratic convention. Let’s start with a look at why the U.S. has fared so poorly against the virus.
Nearly every country has struggled to contain the coronavirus. But only one affluent nation has suffered a severe, sustained outbreak for more than four months: the United States.
Our colleague David Leonhardt — the usual writer of this newsletter — and a team of other Times journalists around the world interviewed scientists and public health experts to reconstruct America’s unique failure. Their reporting points to two central themes.
First, the United States has a tradition of prioritizing individualism over government restrictions. That aversion to collective action helped lead to inadequate state lockdowns and inconsistent adherence to mask wearing based on partisanship instead of public health.
Second, many experts agree, America’s poor results stem in substantial measure from the performance of the Trump administration. “If you had to summarize our approach, it’s really poor federal leadership — disorganization and denial,” said Andy Slavitt, who ran Medicare and Medicaid from 2015 to 2017.
The administration’s travel restrictions were insufficient. Health officials initially gave confusing advice around wearing masks in public. And the president’s public statements — including claiming that the virus wasn’t serious and would disappear — regularly spread misinformation. In no other high-income country have political leaders so frequently departed from expert advice.
Together, skepticism toward collective action and the administration’s scattered approach have undermined the national response to the pandemic. True, the United States has made some improvements, including on mask wearing and testing. But unlike in South Korea, Germany and other countries, the virus continues to overwhelm daily life for Americans.
The frustration for many experts is that this outcome was avoidable. As one said: “This isn’t actually rocket science. We know what to do, and we’re not doing it.”
THREE MORE BIG STORIES
1. More cities move to remote schooling
Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, reversed course and said it would begin the academic year remotely in September, after teachers and parents opposed a hybrid plan that would have sent children into classrooms two days a week.
The shift leaves New York City as one of the only major school systems still planning to offer in-person classes this fall. But New York — which has some of the lowest viral transmission rates in the country — is confronting a torrent of logistical issues and political problems.
“The entire country is watching how New York City handles this,” our colleague Eliza Shapiro told us. “If the city can pull off a safe reopening, it could provide a blueprint for scores of other districts trying to figure this out. But if the city halts or delays its plan, or has to close schools quickly after they open in September, it could be a warning shot to other districts.”
A novel solution: Faced with rising concerns about distance learning during the pandemic, Kenya canceled its entire school year, and will require all students to repeat a grade.
2. Beirut was in crisis before the blast
The death toll from an explosion that rocked the port area of Lebanon’s capital city has risen to 135 people, with at least 5,000 injured. As residents waded through the warlike destruction yesterday, many saw the explosion as the culmination of years of leadership failures and neglect by the country’s politicians.
Before the blast, corruption and financial mismanagement had caused shortages of critical imports like food and medicine, and a failed government policy led banks to limit withdrawals, costing many Lebanese their savings.
“Destroyed homes and businesses can’t get fixed if the banks won’t let people access their deposits,” Ben Hubbard, The Times’s Beirut bureau chief, told us. “And the lack of dollars will make it that much harder for the country to import all that it needs to bounce back, from glass and cement to medical equipment.”
What the videos show: Times reporters reviewed more than 70 videos of the incident and satellite images of its aftermath to better understand the blast and the devastation it left behind.
If you’re looking to help: Groups like the Lebanese Red Cross and Baytna Baytak, which is working to shelter those displaced by the blast, have mobilized in the country.
3. U.S. eyes Saudi nuclear program
American intelligence agencies are scrutinizing efforts by Saudi Arabia, working with China, to build up its ability to produce nuclear fuel. A classified analysis has raised alarms that doing so could be a cover to process uranium and move toward development of a weapon, U.S. officials told The Times.
American officials have searched for decades for evidence that the Saudis are moving toward a nuclear weapon, and the kingdom has made no secret of its determination to keep pace with Iran. But the spy agencies have been reluctant to warn of progress, for fear of repeating the colossal intelligence mistake that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Here’s what else is happening
Deutsche Bank last year handed over detailed financial records provided to the bank by President Trump after the Manhattan district attorney’s office subpoenaed them. The subpoena suggests that prosecutors are conducting a wide-ranging criminal investigation.
Facebook took down a video posted by the Trump campaign that claimed children were immune to the coronavirus, a violation of the social network’s rules against misinformation. Twitter also temporarily restricted the campaign’s ability to tweet because of the video.
Joe Biden will accept the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination remotely, the party announced yesterday. That means this month’s Democratic National Convention will effectively be entirely online.
The police chief in Aurora, Colo., apologized after officers handcuffed members of a Black family, including two children, in a mistaken stolen-car stop that was recorded on video, which was widely shared online.
Lives Lived: Doris Buffett, a self-styled retail philanthropist, once declared that her billionaire younger brother, Warren Buffett, “loves to make money and I love to give it away.” She shunned what she called “the S.O.B.’s” — symphonies, operas and ballets — and instead concentrated on the underprivileged. She died at 92.
IDEA OF THE DAY: Hiroshima’s legacy
The United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima 75 years ago today. Three days later, a second bomb leveled Nagasaki.
The attacks killed an estimated 200,000 people. Now the survivors — known as hibakusha in Japan — are dwindling, numbering around 130,000 and averaging 83 years old. That has some envisioning ways to keep the historical memory of the bombings alive.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT, OPERA
Burgers, with a twist
This heavily spiced twist on a burger is the perfect remedy to a dinnertime rut. It’s inspired by Pakistani chapli kebabs — thin, flavorful patties often served with naan. This version swaps the naan for buns, but what really sells the dish is the homemade condiments that come together in minutes: a creamy herbed yogurt sauce and a tangy ketchup spiked with tamarind paste.
Classical music tends to draw an older crowd: The average age of the audience at the Metropolitan Opera last season, for example, was 57. And for years, classical music institutions, worried about the sustainability of relying on older patrons and subscribers, have made elaborate attempts to engage younger audiences.
“Aging audiences are pointed to as an ominous indicator that this art form continues on a slow, inexorable death spiral,” writes The Times’s classical music critic Anthony Tommasini. But that shouldn’t be the case, he argues in a new essay.
There are no other books on offer like “Luster” by Raven Leilani, which follows a young Black woman as she becomes involved with an older white man in an open marriage. The book has received high praise for its humor and sexual frankness; in a review for The Times, Parul Sehgal describes it as “brisk and pleasantly pulpy, hobbled occasionally by some seriously mangled prose and pat psychology.”
From The Times’s best-seller list: All three books of “March,” a trilogy of graphic novels about the civil rights movement by John Lewis, make first appearances on our latest monthly graphic books and manga list.
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: “The Fox and the Grapes” storyteller (five letters).