Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Oct 20: The CDC estimates 299,028 excess U.S. deaths during the pandemic. Voters line up across the country, setting a record for early voting.  Lawyers enlisted to identify migrant families separated at the U.S. southern border during the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy say in a court filing on Tuesday they have been unable to find the parents of 545 children.

Oct 21: Democrats announce that they plan to boycott Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma is expected to pay $8.3 billion in a settlement regarding their role in promoting the drug and lying about its side effects. New U.S. COVID cases exceed 60,000 for the second day.  Clips from the new Borat movie emerge. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and former New York mayor, is apparently duped in the movie. He speaks with the actress who portrays Borat’s daughter for what he thinks is a conservative news show. They return to the actress’ hotel room, which is filled with hidden cameras, and from there, Giuliani “can be seen lying back on the bed” and then “reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals,” according to The Guardian. Cohen, playing Borat, then storms into the room apparently yelling “She’s 15. She’s too old for you.”

From the cutting room floor ...

The significance of this “Great Barrington” versus “John Snow” debate resonates beyond the scientific community. Is the purpose of the government to prolong life and protect public safety or is it to preserve the machinery of elite power structures and ensure entrenched consumption habits (which is what Americans often mean by “the pursuit of happiness” and “personal autonomy”)? It is a debate older than the United States—a false choice, really—that seems to recur frequently.[1] We saw it in France in the eighteenth century, during the Industrial Revolution and the fight to end slavery in the nineteenth century, and during the Red Scare seventy years ago. In the United States, the stakes in the debate have always been tightly wound to the race and class of the people on the receiving end. The poorer and less white need to be controlled so the whiter and wealthier can have long life, safety, autonomy, and maintain their desired consumption habits.

Take, for instance, the 545(?!) migrant children who, we learn today, have been separated from parents due to American incompetence mixed with the bland malevolence of the Trump administration.[2] According to the US Inspector General, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office of Field operations (OFO) personnel at ports of entry had separated 60 asylum-seeking families between May 6 and July 9, 2018, despite CBP’s claim that it had separated only 7 such families.”[3] Here we see a moment when the machinery of the system, which is ostensibly in place to protect the autonomy of individual American citizens, does nothing to prolong human life, even with children.  

To investigate just how inhuman and blunt the American justice system can be, I scan through the Office of Inspector General press reports year by year. In 2009, there were 45 reports covering incidences like people defrauding Hurricane Katrina relief funds, child porn in a Customs and Border Protection office, immigration officers receiving bribes, and so on. In 2014, I find thirty-six such reports recounting bribery and misappropriation of funds. Thirteen were tallied in 2019, less than half the typical number over the last few decades—signaling not less corruption and malfeasance, but less interest in rooting it out. Sadly, three of those thirteen reports are not inspections of corruption at all, but declarations of honors for various personnel or commemorations.

These numbers are even more concerning in 2020.

So far this year, OIG has put out a single press release regarding a single indictment. And that target? The OIG itself: The indictment alleges that, from October 2014 to April 2017, Charles Edwards (a former acting(!) inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, Murali Venkata (one of Edwards’ subordinates), and others “executed a scheme to defraud the U.S. government by stealing confidential and proprietary software from DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), along with sensitive government databases containing personal identifying information (PII) of DHS and USPS employees, so that Edwards’s company, Delta Business Solutions, could later sell an enhanced version of DHS-OIG’s software to the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture at a profit.”[4] True, we are in a pandemic, and our attentions are understandably diverted elsewhere. And even in the best times, we seldom watch the watchers.

But here is the rub. In 2020, this year when government oversight for massive, million dollar criminal activities has been lacking, ICE raids have continued, labelled as “targeted enforcement operations,” with names like “Operation Broken Promise.” There have been five raids between September 1 and October 16, rounding up 2,390 people. The news media speaks at length today about the orphaned children in detention, but they make no mention of the fact that many of these children have been there since 2018 or sooner. Can we compare for a moment the overzealous vigor applied to migrant families at the southern border and in the country to the silence of the OIG during the Trump administration? The optics of ICE officers rounding up illegal immigrants reads well with the demographic that sees Trump as the defender of las and order in this nation. The optics of the OIG rounding up criminals within Trump’s government does not. Not to mention that, once power becomes sufficiently centered, the OIG becomes a lame body, only useful as a government tool for internal purges of remaining dissenters.


[1] Kavi Shah, “Safety Versus Freedom: An Eternal Fallacy Unveiled in Modern America,” International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research 4, no. 10 (2013): 4.

[2] “Lawyers: We Can’t Find Parents of 545 Kids Separated by Trump Administration,” NBC News, accessed October 21, 2020,

[3] Office of Inspector General, “CBP Separated More Asylum-Seeking Families at Ports of Entry Than Reported and For Reasons Other Than Those Outlined in Public Statements” (Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, May 29, 2020),

[4]U.S. Department of Justice, “Former Acting Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Indicted on Theft of Government Property and Scheme to Defraud the United States Government,” March 6, 2020,

Read more

“After Louisville Police Shooting Deaths, Cases Quietly Closed,” Newsy, October 21, 2020,

“Dolly Parton’s Mom Used To Sing Songs That Told Great Stories,” A Late Show with Stephen Colbert, CBS, October 21, 2020,

Tom Llamas, “Parents of over 500 migrant children missing after border separation, ACLU says,” ABC News, October 21, 2020,

Sky News Australia. Rudy Giuliani Caught in Humiliating Bedroom Scene in New Borat Movie, 2020.

“Great Barrington Declaration and Petition.” Great Barrington Declaration, 2020.

 “John Snow Memorandum.” John Snow Memorandum, 2020.

Claxton, Gary, Wyatt Koma, Tricia Neuman, Matthew Rae, Jennifer Kates, and Josh Michaud. “How Many Adults Are at Risk of Serious Illness If Infected with Coronavirus? Updated Data.” KFF (blog), April 23, 2020.

Hughes, Lauren, and Roberto Silva. “In Rural America, Resentment over COVID-19 Shutdowns Is Colliding with Rising Case Numbers.” The Conversation, October 26, 2020.

Moore, Katie. “As This Rural Kansas County Sees Surge in COVID-19 Cases, Governor Urges Mask Mandate.” The Kansas City Star, October 20, 2020.

Spicuzza, Mary. “‘People Are Dying Every Night’: Staff at Overwhelmed Wisconsin Hospital Urge People to Take Coronavirus Seriously.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 19, 2020.

Shah, Kavi. “Safety Versus Freedom: An Eternal Fallacy Unveiled in Modern America.” International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research 4, no. 10 (2013).

Alwan, Nisreen A., Rochelle Ann Burgess, Simon Ashworth, Rupert Beale, Nahid Bhadelia, Debby Bogaert, Jennifer Dowd, et al. “Scientific Consensus on the COVID-19 Pandemic: We Need to Act Now.” The Lancet 396, no. 10260 (October 15, 2020): e71–72.

Dolgin, Elie. “Core Concept: The Pandemic Is Prompting Widespread Use—and Misuse—of Real-World Data.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 21, 2020.

MS. L, et al., vs. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, et al., No. 18cv428 DMS MDD (UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA October 20, 2020),
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