It’s Not Just Trump, and It’s Not New.

While doing some maintainance on Mahablog today I came across a post I wrote in 2007, On Our Own. It was about the Bush Administration, but it could have been applied to Trump.

I’d say what we’re really dealing with is not a lack of leadership, but negative leadership. By that I mean a stubborn refusal to deal rationally with the nation’s problems accompanied by an equally stubborn refusal not to let anyone else deal with those problems, either. The Bush Administration accumulates power and won’t share it with anyone, but neither will the Bush Administration use that power to anyone’s benefit but its own.

I say you could substitute “Trump” for “Bush” and it would still be true, except now it’s worse. As we’ve seen, one of the several reasons the administration has failed to respond to the pandemic is that Trump’s people are afraid to so much as breathe without orders from Trump. So the Trump appointees leading the CDC and FDA did not take actions that were within their power. This includes functions those agencies had exercised in previous administrations, such as quickly giving private labs the go-ahead to develop tests. Weeks were wasted.

There is also a fascinating parallel between the Trumpies and the Bushies in the way they stubbornly refused to heed warnings — about terrorism or pandemics — and then, like Condi Rice, complained “no one could have imagined” a warned-about thing would happen after the warned-about thing did happen. See Aaron Blake, Trump keeps saying ‘nobody’ could have foreseen coronavirus. We keep finding out about new warning signs.

Back to what I wrote in 2007,

A year ago The Center for America’s Future released a report (PDF) documenting the failures of the Bush Administration to respond to Katrina. The Bushies failed to prepare, they failed to respond, and they have failed to rebuild. And behind these failures was more than just sheer incompetence; it was conservative ideology. The disabling factors were rightie disdain for government, their reckless determination to privatize core functions (placing blind faith in the market without oversight or accountability) and their fondness for “pay-to-play” politics, in which money capitalism and personal gain count for more than performance. These three “beliefs,” beloved of the extreme Right, are crippling America.

And, unfortunately, not nearly enough was done in the Obama years to push back against this nonsense. I’m being hard on Republicans, but Democrats have been way too accommodating to the whackjobs for lo these many years. That’s got to stop.

Mr. Ivanka, Trump’s pea-brained son-in-law, has set up what’s being called a “shadow task force” in the White House that is tasked with improving testing and health care delivery. He’s pulled together random people from private industry — officials from UPS and FedEx, for example — with some of his allies in government to work independently of everyone else in Washington and otherwise be in the way. Mr. Ivanka wants to bring “an entrepreneurial approach” to the pandemic crisis. Seriously, he said that.

Kushner defended his role in an interview, saying his team’s goal was to bring “an entrepreneurial approach” to the crisis.

“We’re getting things done in record speeds and are doing everything possible to avoid damage and mitigate the negative impacts,” Kushner said. “In America, some of our best resources are in our private sector. The federal government is not designed to solve all our problems; a lot of the muscle is in the private sector and there’s also a lot of smart people.”

Recalling what an absolute mess Mr. Ivanka has made of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I’d say we’re doomed. Kushner’s entrepreneurs are mostly causing chaos, according to WaPo. Senior officials say they are confused by all the emails they get from private industry employees connected to Kushner’s team, and they worry that the shadow people aren’t following government security protocols. “We don’t know who these people are,” one senior official said.

Kushner said, “The federal government is not designed to solve all our problems.” Not all problems, of course, but in times past it has done a damn good job addressing problems that were beyond the scope of for-profit private enterprise. But 40 years of Reaganite government-is-the-problem politics have left us with a useless, incompetent federal government and many state governments that are just as bad.

The hapless Max Boot, once a full-throated supporter of George W. Bush and the use of U.S. troops to spread good ol’ hairy-chested American hegemony, by damn, seems to see the world differently now. In The coronavirus shows how backward the United States has become, he writes,

We should not be especially surprised by our failure at pandemic-fighting, because if we are being honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that the United States has long been failing. We remain one of the richest countries in the world, but by international standards we look more like a Third World nation.

As Quartz pointed out in 2017, we lag in almost every measure of societal well-being among the wealthy nations (now 36) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). As of 2016, we had the second-highest poverty rate, the highest level of income inequality and the highest level of obesity. We spent the most on education but produced less-than-average results. We were also below average on renewable energy, infrastructure investment and voter turnout. We are the only OECD nation that doesn’t mandate paid family leave. One area where we do lead is gun violence. Our homicide rate is nearly 50 percent above the OECD average.
Our health-care failures are particularly important now. We spend more on health care than any other country in the world, but we are the only OECD country without universal medical coverage (27.9 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2018). Child mortality in the United States is the highest in the OECD, and life expectancy is below average. We have far fewer hospital beds per capita than other advanced democracies (2.4 compared to 12.2 in South Korea), which makes us particularly vulnerable to a pandemic.

How did this happen? Boot asks. And after some hmmming and hawing, he concedes: “The Republicans’ decades-long demonization of government has consequences.”

Consider the eight senators who voted against the Covid-19 relief package yesterday: Marsha Blackburn (R-TN); Jim Inhofe (R-OK); James Lankford (R-OK); Mike Lee (R-UT); Rand Paul (R-KY); Ben Sasse (R-NE); Tim Scott (R-SC), and Ron Johnson (R-WI). Ron Johnson made some revealing remarks

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has called on people to have some “perspective” while the nation deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that “no more than 3.4 percent” of the infected population is in danger of dying from the virus, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. … “we don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways.”

Yeah, people, just tough it out. The economy comes first, never mind the workforce. No clue whatsoever.

I wrote in 2007,

I fear that someday Americans will find themselves living in a post-industrial backwater, and our status as the most powerful and prosperous nation on the planet will be a dim memory. Our only hope is to use the representative government established by the Constitution to restore sanity to government. But the right-wing crazies are doing their damnedest to destroy that, too.

And here we are. See Derek Thompson, America Is Acting Like a Failed State.

Throughout the world, the most effective responses to the historic threat of the coronavirus have come from state governments. China imposed a lockdown of tens of millions of people in Wuhan and other cities. In Singapore, the government built an app to inform citizens how to contain the virus and what public spaces to avoid. South Korea opened a number of drive-through centers to accelerate diagnostic testing.

But in the United States, the pandemic has devolved into a kind of grotesque caricature of American federalism. The private sector has taken on quasi-state functions at a time when the executive branch of government—drained of scientific expertisestarved of moral vision—has taken on the qualities of a failed state. In a country where many individuals, companies, institutions, and local governments are making hard decisions for the good of the nation, the most important actor of them all—the Trump administration—has been a shambolic bonanza of incompetence.

Now the Great Orange Moron is strutting around calling himself a “war president.” It won’t be long before he’ll be telling people he should have been POTUS during World War II instead of that loser Franklin Roosevelt.

Assuming we defeat Trump in November, it will be up to the next administration to educate people that we can’t go on like this. Even if we somehow stumble through this disaster intact, there will be another. And another. Global pandemics will become more common. Terrorism isn’t going away. Our infrastructure isn’t going to repair itself. The health care system isn’t going to reform itself. The very wealthy are not going to stop plundering the planet and exploiting the rest of us. We need a competent government.

Trump Realizes He’s Supposed to Be Doing Something

One gets the impression that Trump finally has realized the coronavirus is a big deal (that could cost him the election) and that he should be doing something. The markets are rebounding a bit after the White House hustled out a stimulus package. There’s actually serious talk of sending some amount of cash directly to people, but I’m going to believe that one when I see it.

Paul Waldman:

The pivot has begun.

At a news conference Tuesday, President Trump took pains to tell the public not only that the coronavirus crisis is serious — “We want to save a lot of lives. If you get too steep on that curve, you’re gonna lose a lotta lives” — but that he never downplayed it in the first place.

“I’ve always known this is a real — this is a pandemic,” Trump said. “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

That followed a press conference Monday when for the first time he seemed to acknowledge the magnitude of the crisis (“this is a very bad one”), amid the expected self-congratulation (“we’ve done a fantastic job from just about every standpoint”).

I sincerely hope that Michael Bloomberg and his advertising team are putting together television ads replaying all the times Trump downplayed the virus and claimed it wouldn’t be a big deal. And I want to see television ads showing the time in 2018 Trump explained why he was cutting the pandemic team, juxtaposed with his claim from last week that he didn’t know anything about it. And I sincerely hope most Americans aren’t fooled. See also A new poll shows Trump’s magical lying powers are failing him.

The question is, can Trump and Senate Republicans do the right thing even if they try? Or will they water the stimulus proposal down, or make sure its benefits mostly flow to rich people, or add a bunch of abortion restrictions and dare Democrats to not vote for it, so that Dems can be blamed for not addressing the crisis?

Paul Krugman flat-out says that the entire Republican Party can’t do economic policy.

Why are Republicans useless at best in the face of an economic crisis? As I’ve pointed out before, there are many competent center-right economists, but the G.O.P. — not just Trump, but the whole party — doesn’t want their advice. It prefers hacks and propagandists, the people Mankiw famously called “charlatans and cranks,” whose only idea is tax cuts. The party truly has nobody left who is capable of putting together a plausible economic rescue package.

The Senate probably will eventually pass Pelosi’s bill. But with all signs pointing to a steep economic dive, we need a much bigger stimulus package — perhaps along the lines being developed by Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader — as soon as possible. This package shouldn’t include tax cuts; it should focus overwhelmingly on cash grants, perhaps a basic grant to every legal resident plus additional grants to those in special need.

And since there’s nobody left in the G.O.P. who can put together a coherent stimulus plan, Democrats will have to do the job, perhaps with help from the Federal Reserve intervention to stabilize highly stressed financial markets.

Economists agree that Trump’s favorite idea — a payroll tax cut — is a bad idea, mostly because it does nothing for those not getting a paycheck. But maybe he’ll warm to the cash giveaway, thinking it will buy him some votes.

David Atkins has an excellent analysis at Washington Monthly, Trump Is Running a Pandemic Response Like a Business, With Disastrous Results. This goes further than just explaining why Trump is screwing up; it explains why Republican ideas about the government’s role in the economy are screwed up, and why government must not be run like a business.

Today’s fast-moving capital markets are explicitly designed to be reactive rather than proactive, and every incentive built into them is to push for growth at all costs. Problems are meant to be pushed to the side and out of sight so the good times can keep rolling at the top; inconvenient costs are externalized and socialized on the backs of workers, the impoverished, and the environment. In the best of times, this dynamic creates massive inequalities and injustices that the market doesn’t notice, because the victims most affected are insignificant to—and go unnoticed by—the invisible hand. In the worst of times, however, it utterly hobbles a society’s ability to respond to crises that require active management before they can be directly felt in the marketplace.

Do read the whole thing. In short, business is always pushing to find the shortest route to profit. “Crisis management” in business is mostly viewed as a problem of reducing liability and maximizing public relations after something goes wrong. If possible, the damage and cost of a problem are pushed off on someone else (often the government). But by the time business notices there is a problem, it’s too late to stop it. “It’s true of any problem with an exponential curve whose solution requires acting well before the curve turns irrevocably steep, but where the action to prevent it would impact corporate profits,” Atkins writes.

As Trump said when he explained disbanding the pandemic team, “I’m a business person, I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them.” But by the time you realize you need them, you’re already way behind the curve. It’s like waiting until there’s a fire to start hiring firefighters.

There are a lot of “insider” looks at how the Trump White House mismanaged the crisis. See, for example:

Gabriel Sherman, Vanity Fair, “There’s No Boogeyman He Can Attack”: Angry at Kushner, Trump Awakens to the COVID-19 Danger

Julia Ioffe, GQ, The Infuriating Story of How the Government Stalled Coronavirus Testing

Maggie Haberman and Noah Weiland, New York Times, Inside the Coronavirus Response: A Case Study in the White House Under Trump

DALLAS, TX – SEPTEMBER 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the American Airlines Center on September 14, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. More than 20,000 tickets have been distributed for the event. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)



Pandemics and Politics

In The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum writes that the coronavirus pandemic could utterly change how America sees itself. It could even have an impact similar to Matthew Perry’s steamships in Tokyo Bay, 1853. And I’ll come back to that.

What if it turns out, as it almost certainly will, that other nations are far better than we are at coping with this kind of catastrophe? Look at Singapore, which immediately created an app that could physically track everyone who was quarantined, and that energetically tracked down all the contacts of everyone identified to have the disease. Look at South Korea, with its proven testing ability. Look at Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel managed to speak honestly and openly about the disease—she predicted that 70 percent of Germans would get it—and yet did not crash the markets.

The United States, long accustomed to thinking of itself as the best, most efficient, and most technologically advanced society in the world, is about to be proved an unclothed emperor. When human life is in peril, we are not as good as Singapore, as South Korea, as Germany.

That depends on what happens in the next few weeks, of course. Maybe our social distancing and hand washing will be enough to limit the pandemic’s reach, and most of us will be untouched. It’s not impossible that our vast rural areas, so sparsely populated but so over-represented in the Electoral College, will not see much of the disease. In that case, expect a mass whining that it was all overblown and those libtards in the cities are just snowflakes.

However, I understand the S&P 500 dropped another 12 percent today, and the Dow dropped almost 3000 points. The effects of that will ripple everywhere sooner or later. People are hesitant to say the “R” word — recession — but eventually some authority figure will declare there is one.

A painting of US commodore Matthew Perry’s squadron of ships, believed to have been painted by Hibata ?suke.

What about Matthew Perry? If you’ve made it to Chapter 8 in my book The Circle of the Way, you’ll find Matthew Perry introduced on page 241. The Tokugawa shogunate had introduced a policy of strict isolation of Japan in the 1630s. This was mostly a reaction to the European colonialism that was spreading chaos and destruction through Asia. For more than two centuries Japan allowed only limited outside trade, and that only through the port of Nagasaki on the southernmost island of Kyushu. The only foreign presence allowed in Japan was a Dutch consolate in Nagasaki. Foreign books were banned as well. Only the most educated Japanese had any idea what was going on in the world outside Japan.

Matthew Perry and his smoke-bellowing, steam-powered warships were a huge shock to the Japanese. The flagship USS Susquehanna was twenty-five times larger than any Japanese vessel of the time. The squadron’s seventy-three guns included artillery that fired 150 lb. shot. The Japanese realized they were helpless against modern military technology. Isolation ended absruptly, and in the late 1850s and 1860s Japan came to be overrun by foreign, mostly European, merchants.

Shoguns, military dictators, had been the de facto rulers of Japan since 1185; the emperors were mostly figureheads. But the stresses caused by the foreigners ended the last shogunate in 1868. The young Meiji emperor seized control, and in a generation Japan went from medieval feudalism to westernized modernity. I wrote about these events in The Circle of the Way because they profoundly impacted Japanese Buddhism.

But the social-psychological shock of change also had a lot to do with the militarization of Japan in the early 20th century. The Japanese still were a deeply conservative and xenophobic people, and all those centuries of military culture didn’t end because the emperor said so. So the lingering effects of the Meiji Restoration were not all positive.

Will the coronavirus be our Matthew Perry? Maybe a hundred years from how someone can address that. It’s hard to know what the long-term effects of a cataclysmic event will be. I would have thought that Hurricane Katrina, and the abandonment of a major American city by the Bush Administration, would have been a huge red flag that something is deeply wrong in American politics. But other than making a fool of George W. Bush, nothing much seems to have changed. The effects of the September 11 attacks appear to have faded, except we’re still stuck in overseas wars. The financial crisis of 2008 doesn’t seem to have taught us any lessons.

But maybe those events didn’t impact enough people. Perhaps an old-fashioned plague will be just the thing to force a great re-thinking upon us. But the impact of Perry’s squadron in Tokyo Bay wasn’t immediate, either. Getting ourselves unstuck from stupid will probably take the next few years.

Trump: Greed, Incompetence, and Desperation

In yesterday’s post about the elusive Covid-19 tests, I described Trump as a guy who has never held a real job and who has no experience working with complex organizations. His knowledge of work flow is limited to two steps: He gives orders, and then somebody carries out the orders. Such things as planning, procedures, protocols, and coordination are not part of his world.

So, brilliantly, he ordered travel restrictions from Europe on short notice, apparently without notifying allies or airlines and without consulting with federal agencies that would need to manage the restrictions. A stampede of Americans flew back before the deadline. They were then jammed together in huge bottlenecks in U.S. airline terminals waiting to get screened for coronavirus to get through customs. So if they weren’t already infected when they left Europe, they probably got infected at the airport waiting to get screened. Here was the scene at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport yesterday.

And here is O’Hare:

Brilliant, yes? See Landing at Dulles Airport, I encountered a case study in how to spread a pandemic.

The pictures you may have seen only begin to capture the chaos. There was no attempt to enable social distancing; we were packed closely together. Two giant queues of people — one for U.S. citizens and green-card holders and one for foreign nationals — wound their way through the cavernous hall. I counted and came up with approximately 450 people in each section, for a total of just under a thousand. Many were coughing, sneezing and looking unwell.

When I inched closer to the front, I could see that a scant six immigration desks were in service. Two additional desks to the left had less traffic. These are ordinarily for people in wheelchairs; now, the wheelchairs were mixed in with the rest. When I asked a security guard about the other lines, he told me they were for people with a confirmed corona diagnosis. There was no separation for this group — no plastic sheets, not even a bit of distance. When your line snaked to the left, you were inches away from the infected. …

… Some of the agents were asking people to use the fingerprint screen — all fingers, then the thumbs. Mine didn’t, but I watched the adjoining one and was astounded to see that the screen was not wiped, sprayed or in any way sanitized between individuals, or indeed at all during the hour I had it in my line of sight. My agent asked me how I felt (the true answer would have been upset by your colossal ineptitude) and if I had been to China or Italy. (I had not.)

The writer, Cheryl Benard, goes on to describe much more organized and sensible procedures in other countries.

In Other News: Is Trump Trying to Corner the Coronavirus Vaccine Market?

Welt am Sonntag, which is the Sunday edition of the German newspaper Die Welt, reported that Trump has been trying to persuade a German company working on a Covid-19 vaccine to move operations to the U.S. Reuters:

Welt am Sonntag quoted an unidentified German government source as saying Trump was trying to secure the scientists’ work exclusively, and would do anything to get a vaccine for the United States, “but only for the United States.”

The Guardian elaborates a bit, saying that Trump allegedly offered large sums of money to get exclusive access to the firm’s vaccine work.  The company, CureVac, has denied “rumors of acquisition.” However,

When approached about the report by the Guardian, the German health ministry would only confirm the accuracy of the quotes attributed to one of its spokespersons in the article.

“The federal government is very interested in vaccines and antiviral agents against the novel coronavirus being developed in Germany and Europe,” the spokesperson quoted in the original article had said. “In this regard the government is in an intensive exchange with the company CureVac.”

The German health ministry spokesperson declined the opportunity to correct any inaccuracies in Die Welt’s account.

So maybe this report is true, and maybe it isn’t, but it sounds like something Trump would try to pull.

Recommended Reading

Infighting, missteps and a son-in-law hungry for results: Inside the Trump administration’s troubled coronavirus response in WaPo. Mr. Ivanka tried to take charge and bring some semblance of order to the administration’s response to the pandemic, but Trump blew it anyway because he appears to not understand anything that’s happening around him. Or, perhaps he just fell back on his long habit of overhyping and overpromising to make a deal.

Anne Applebaum, The Coronavirus Called America’s Bluff in The Atlantic. Applebaum argues that the coronavirus might finally explode our myth of American exceptionalism.

Update: Tonight is the last Democratic debate. I may or may not watch. At this point I’m resigned to Biden being the nominee, and I’m kind of exhausted with it all. But feel free to comment on it here, if you’re watching.

Where Are the Tests?

In his capacity as Virus Czar, VP Mike Pence on several recent occasions has promised us “millions” of coronavirus tests. For example:

TUESDAY, March 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Millions of much-needed testing kits for COVID-19 are on the way to clinics and labs nationwide, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters during a White House briefing Monday evening.

Pence heads the Trump Administration’s coronavirus task force. He said the group reached out to governors from 47 states on Monday, and was “able to confirm with them that testing is now available in all state labs in every state in the country.”

“Over a million tests have been distributed,” Pence said, and “before the end of this week, another 4 million tests will be distributed.” Pence said. He added that, “with the deployment of the commercial labs we literally are going to see a dramatic increase in the availability of testing.”

Furthermore, major medical testing companies such as LabCorp and Quest have also “brought a test forward and are taking that to market effective today,” Pence said.

If you look at the number of tests actually conducted, however, one suspects the promised tests are lost in shipping. According to the CDC, from March 10 (the date on the news story above) to March 12, the last day for which there is data, only 23‡ people were tested using the CDC test.

Since private lab tests have become available, somewhat more testing has been done, as you can see on this graph from the CDC website:

The blue bars are CDC tests conducted; the orange bars are private lab tests conducted. On the best day, March 9, we see there were ‡2,000 tests. This is still frustratingly slow, however, especially compared to several other, mostly smaller, countries. (For more updated data on the U.S., see the Covid Tracking Project.)

Before going any further, let us review the first and primary reason why the U.S. fell so far behind.

On Saturday Jan. 11 — a month and a half before the first Covid-19 case not linked to travel was diagnosed in the United States — Chinese scientists posted the genome of the mysterious new virus, and within a week virologists in Berlin had produced the first diagnostic test for the disease.

Soon after, researchers in other nations rolled out their own tests, too, sometimes with different genetic targets. By the end of February, the World Health Organization had shipped tests to nearly 60 countries.

The United States was not among them.

Why the United States declined to use the WHO test, even temporarily as a bridge until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could produce its own test, remains a perplexing question and the key to the Trump administration’s failure to provide enough tests to identify the coronavirus infections before they could be passed on, according to POLITICO interviews with dozens of viral-disease experts, former officials and some officials within the administration’s health agencies.

There has yet to be an explanation as to why the U.S. refused the WHO tests, but I’m betting it’s a combination of wingnut ideology — the United Nations is evil, you know — and belief that if there’s a crisis going on, someone ought to be making some money from it. Even so, the administration caused long and pointless delays in producing the private lab tests, which I’ll explain in a bit.

The Atlantic has been doing some outstanding reporting and commentary about Trump’s blumbling response to the pandemic. We’ve gotten better information on how many Americans are (not) being tested from Atlantic than anywhere else, for example. See especially What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus and The Dangerous Delays in U.S. Coronavirus Testing Haven’t Stopped.

It may be premature to declare, as one Atlantic writer did, that The Trump Presidency Is Over. But there is useful information in The 4 Key Reasons the U.S. Is So Behind on Coronavirus Testing.

The first of the Atlantic’s four reasons for testing delays is red tape. But it seems the red tape has gotten worse under Trump than it was for previous presidents. In past epidemics, the Food and Drug Administration moved quickly to give many labs around the country the authorization to begin testing for the contagion. Trump’s FDA didn’t do that. Even labs that had independently developed working tests were not given clearance by the FDA to go ahead and begin testing. So they sat on their working tests and did nothing. And the logjam didn’t budge until a group of top scientists petitioned Congress, and the next day the FDA allowed testing to begin. But weeks had been lost.

My understanding is that fairly early during the crisis the CDC had contracted with just a couple of companies, LabCorp and Quest, to produce tests. But I’m not getting a clear picture from news stories what went on with LabCorp and Quest. The more recent tests seem to be coming from a lot of places.

The second reason test development has been delayed is that it has been difficult for labs around the country to get samples of the new virus. And, of course, the government couldn’t be bothered to expedite that.

The third reason is an issue with equipment, which ties into our lack of a national health care system. The tests that have been developed so far are called “lab-developed” tests. Apparently this is a specific thing that requires specific equipment that most medical labs don’t have. Most labs are equipped to run something called a “sample-to-answer” test.

As late as this week, several lab directors told me that no sample-to-answer versions of the coronavirus test had been approved in the U.S. “That means that the vast majority of clinical labs in this country will not be able to do in-house testing at this time,” says Susan Butler Wu, an associate professor of clinical pathology at the University of Southern California.

The U.S. health-care system is broken up into state and county public-health laboratories, which have different equipment than academic research institutions, which have different equipment than hospitals that diagnose patients. So the same test won’t necessarily work in different places. “We don’t have a nationalized health-care system where you put the same equipment in all the hospitals,” Wu says. “We have all these independent hospital systems with their own equipment in their own labs.”

And the fourth reason is “leadership and coordination problems.” Ya think?

Going back to the inactive FDA that wouldn’t allow labs to procede with testing until prodded, one gets the impression that everyone in the Trump administration, top down, is afraid to breathe without  permission from Dear Leader. They don’t even exercise their own authority. And with no leadership coming from Trump, the various department heads have to work on their own initiative to coordinate their activities. But they don’t. Instead, the Atlantic says, there’s nothing but in-fighting and back stabbing.

Containing a new infectious disease requires a lot of close collaboration between the president, the CDC, the FDA, and other parts of the Department of Health and Human Services, several Obama-era health officials told me. “One reason we were able to move quickly [during the Ebola outbreak] was that there was a great deal of coordination and issue spotting and troubleshooting that went on,” Hamburg, the former FDA commissioner, told me.

Trump’s people don’t do coordination. They don’t issue-spot or troubleshoot. They just blame each other for the screwups.

At WaPo, Paul Waldman lists Nine reasons Trump is uniquely incapable of managing crises — including this one.  It’s a legitimate list, but I think it leaves out the one, over-arching reason, which is that Trump has no experience whatsoever working within a complex, hierarchical organization. That’s one of the reasons he has no appreciation for coordination. Time and time again, for example, he’ll kick off some major change in policy without notifying key allies or stakeholders or the agencies that will have to carry it out. He did it this week with the Europe travel restrictions; neither airlines nor European allies were notified before the announcement was made.

In the kind of close family business he’s always run you can get away with that. In any large and complex organization with many interacting parts, you can’t. This is what I’ve seen in Trump over and over again — a guy who has never had a real job and has no clue how organizations function. And he is utterly disinterested in learning.

Reporting has also hinted that even people who tried to alert Trump that the coronavirus could be a serious issue didn’t give him the whole picture of how bad it could get.

In the case of Alex Azar, he did go to the president in January. He did push past resistance from the president’s political aides to warn the president the new coronavirus could be a major problem. There were aides around Trump – Kellyanne Conway had some skepticism at times that this was something that needed to be a presidential priority.

But at the same time, Secretary Azar has not always given the president the worst-case scenario of what could happen. My understanding is he did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks, and that’s partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak, and the president had made clear – the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential reelection this fall.

I am betting no one in the administration has the courage to bring Trump really bad news that he doesn’t want to hear and face his famous temper.

Combine that with Waldman’s nine factors of Trump’s incompetence — such as his inability to plan ahead — and you’ve got a government that can barely organize a picnic, never mind respond to a complex crisis.

Read More

German Lopez, Vox, The Trump administration’s botched coronavirus response, explained

Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, America Is Acting Like a Failed State

Maria Cardona, The Hill, Coronavirus exposes Trump’s greatest weaknesses

Carolyn Y. Johnson and William Wan, Washington Post, Trump is breaking every rule in the CDC’s 450-page playbook for health crisis

NBC, Mismanagement, missed opportunities: How the White House bungled the coronavirus response

Elections Don’t Happen in a Vacuum

Trump’s address last night was such a disaster the markets dropped like a rock as soon as Trump said “God bless America.” The Dow Jones average was down more than 2,000 points at one point today, but it recovered a tad after the Federal Reserve announced it would inject $1.5 trillion into bond markets. See also Something Weird Is Happening on Wall Street, and Not Just the Stock Sell-Off.

As Trump read from a teleprompter, his inflection often was odd, and at moments he seemed out of breath. He also botched his own message. For example, in announcing a ban on travel from Europe, he said,

There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings, and these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval. Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing.

Daniel Larisen at The American Conservative:

Administration officials had to issue multiple clarifications to reassure the public that the president had not meant what he had just told us. It turns out that “Europe” only refers to people who have been in Schengen zone nations, and it doesn’t apply to goods at all.

Trump pointedly exempted the UK from the travel ban. Ireland is exempted also. Trump owns resorts in the UK and Ireland.

Trump also said,

Earlier this week, I met with the leaders of health insurance industry who have agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments, and to prevent surprise medical billing.

Business Insider:

Not long after his speech, however, a representative for the insurance-industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans told Politico that major health insurers had agreed to waive co-pays only for coronavirus testing, not the far more costly coronavirus treatments.

I’m still not hearing a plan for testing people without insurance. I’m not hearing a plan for expanding hospital capacity and keeping coronavirus patients separate from non-infected patients.

And testing still is not happening. As of Wednesday morning, the CDC had tested only 77 people for the coronavirus since Sunday. Trump crows because there are more infections in Europe, but we have no idea how many people are infected here.

Charles Pierce:

This was not a speech. This was a cry for help, an SOS from a guy who knows, as Micheal Ray Richardson once put it, that the ship be sinking. You could almost imagine thousands of tiny feet running for lifeboats behind his eyes. You could see him reacting to storm sirens only he could hear. He is thrashing and floundering and he is surrounded by thrashers and flounderers who owe their entire careers to him now. This isn’t chaos. It is surrender to it.

The brief speech revealed that Trump is not dealing with the reality that the virus is already spreading here. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s a safe bet that the situation will get worse before it gets better.

Which leads me to my real point, which is that the November election may well be determined by events that haven’t happened yet. This is why it’s pointless to claim (as many do right now) that our probable Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, can’t be elected.

I personally believe that Biden would have been elected had he run in 2016, if only because it was a terribly close election and he didn’t have half of Hillary Clinton’s negative baggage. That’s not something that can be proved, of course.

But do consider how much unexpected events change presidential fortunes. Were it not for the financial crisis of 2008, it’s very possible Barack Obama would not have been elected, for example. Hurricane Sandy may also have helped President Obama’s re-election, since Obama is famous for his grace under pressure, and Mitt Romney isn’t. Approval ratings for George W. Bush lept after September 11 and sagged after Hurricane Katrina, although unfortunately Katrina happened too late to keep Dubya from getting a second term.

So now Trump’s beloved stock market is tanking, and while it will likely recover well enough in time, the economy itself is going to be in shock for the next several months. Lots of people will have lost wages. Lots of businesses will have lost lots of income. It’s going to take a while to recover from that. And the more Trump tries to step up, the worse he looks.

It has to be said that Joe Biden is not someone I would have picked out of a lineup as The Man for Our Times. He is a creature of the status quo. There is much about his record I do not like. He was never the sharpest tack in the box, and I have wondered publicly if he’s even less sharp now.

But compared to Trump, Biden is Winston Churchill during the Blitz. Zack Beauchamp writes at Vox that while Biden’s remarks today on the coronavirus were unexceptional, Trump’s bumbling efforts make Biden seem strong and presidential. And while Biden may be famous for gaffes, he can speak extemporaneously in complete sentences most of the time. Trump cannot.

I’ve long thought that you can fool the American people about foreign policy all day long, but when something goes wrong in their own backyard they eventually notice. What’s about to happen in communities around the country will be hard to explain away.

I imagine that a lot of Republican politicians are getting an earful today from a lot of their deep pocket donors who have watched billions of their dollars evaporate over the past few days. However, it may be too late for the GOP to step back from being the party of Trump.

There May Be a Problem

Trump is supposed to address the nation tonight, 9 pm eastern time. I’m sure I can find something else to watch on Netflix. Let us know if you watch and he says anything significant.

The Dow officially entered a bear market today, and coronavirus officially became a pandemic.  The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade may or may not be cancelled; there are contradicting reports. This may be getting serious.

Jordan Weissman writes at Slate that nobody likes Trump’s ideas for dealing with the financial meltdown being caused by the pandemic. For example, Trump is pushing for a payroll tax cut that would last past the November election. Lawmakers of both parties shot that down, although for different reasons. Republicans want something more “surgical.” Democrats slammed Republicans for thinking tax cuts fix everything.

Senate Democrats put forward a bill to require employers pay up to fourteen days of sick leave during the pandemic. Republicans shot that down because, you know, it’s not fair to employers. So the food service workers will show up to work sick.

Complicating matters, the toddler-in-chief is throwing tantrums over having to work with Nancy Pelosi.

President Donald Trump can’t stand the idea of negotiating one-on-one with his chief counterpart, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Indeed, he suspects that she would use the moment to try to humiliate him.

She doesn’t need to humiliate him; he’s doing that job just fine, all by himself.

Two senior Trump administration officials described a president who, out of an intense bitterness toward the House Speaker, has shuddered at the prospect of being in the same room with her during the ongoing public-health crisis and economic reverberations.

So juvenile.

Reuters is reporting that

The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, an unusual step that has restricted information and hampered the U.S. government’s response to the contagion, according to four Trump administration officials.

Did they think no one would notice the pandemic?

The officials said that dozens of classified discussions about such topics as the scope of infections, quarantines and travel restrictions have been held since mid-January in a high-security meeting room at the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), a key player in the fight against the coronavirus.

Staffers without security clearances, including government experts, were excluded from the interagency meetings, which included video conference calls, the sources said.

“We had some very critical people who did not have security clearances who could not go,” one official said. “These should not be classified meetings. It was unnecessary.”

See also Max Boot, The right-wing media’s contempt for truth has never been more dangerous. Yeah, tell us about it, Max.

Americans Get Schooled on Why They Need Government

My favorite headline today is at the Atlantic: There Are No Libertarians in an Epidemic. Peter Nicholas writes, “In the 2020 election, Donald Trump’s aim is to brand his opponent an avatar of socialism, whether it’s Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. But the COVID-19 outbreak demonstrates the emptiness of these sorts of ideological labels. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, in a national emergency, there’s no truly laissez-faire government.”

Trump is only concerned about the economy, of course, and he is thrashing around trying to come up with a big-government economic response. The Holy Free Market (blessed be It) isn’t going to do the job. CNBC:

The White House is not ready to roll out specific economic proposals in its response to the widening impact of the coronavirus outbreak, administration officials told CNBC.

The revelation comes as U.S. stock futures pointed toward a sharp rebound at the open Tuesday following the Dow’s 2,013-point drop Monday and President Donald Trump’s suggestion that a payroll tax cut and other stimulus measures may be in the works to mitigate economic damage from the virus’ spread. Trump has also invited Wall Street executives to meet at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the response.

However, inside the administration, some officials were stunned by Trump’s claim Monday that he would hold a press conference Tuesday to announce an economic plan. “That was news to everyone on the inside,” one official said.

Trump did meet with Republican senators today and tossed out some proposals, but I take it nothing was agreed upon. Trump wants to use emergency funds to goose the economy. Obviously, he worries that a weakening economy will hurt his re-election chances. He seems less concerned for what is likely to happen if the virus starts spreading through more nursing homes.

And the Trumpers might consider using emergency funds to goose our virus testing capabilities. To review:

A February 28 ProPublica report describes how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “lost valuable weeks that could have been used to track [the coronavirus’s] possible spread in the United States,” because the agency insisted on developing its own tests for the virus instead of adopting those provided by the World Health Organization.

Then the CDC-developed tests proved to be unreliable, setting the agency back in its effort to enable widespread testing and squandering precious time needed to prepare for the virus’s arrival. On top of that, early federal guidance provided only for testing of people returning from international travel—and even after those restrictions were loosened, story after story surfaced of potential COVID-19 patients who had been denied testing despite their symptoms. Private labs and companies have only recently been allowed to run tests. As a result, only about 4,300 people in the United States had been tested for the virus as of March 9. Compare this with South Korea’s numbers, which total as many as 10,000 people tested a day.

See also The Dangerous Delays in U.S. Coronavirus Testing Haven’t Stopped and True number of U.S. coronavirus cases is far above official tally, scientists say. We really have no bleeping idea how many Americans have this disease already and how far it has spread.

Other countries are doing a much better job dealing with the crisis. See, for example, Taiwan has millions of visitors from China and only 45 coronavirus cases. Here’s how. In brief, that had an epidemic crisis management task force already in place, and it began to respond to the spread of the virus in December. Taiwan began testing on December 31. It has had only one death so far.

Oh, and The Intercept reports that the Health and Human Services department just requested bids on contracts for manufacturing 500 million face marks, since there’s a shortage. The bids are due March 18.

And I still haven’t seen anything like a comprehensive plan for enabling the uninsured to get tested, assuming we ever get our testing capabilities up to standards. See 5 million Texans lack health insurance. Here’s how that complicates the coronavirus response in today’s Texas Tribune.

The good news is that this virus seems not to be dangerous to healthy children and adults under age 60. The fatality rate for elderly Covid-19 patients in China was over 20 percent, however. If you have any health issues such as heart disease or diabetes, take great care.

Bernie’s Last Harrah?

I just voted for Bernie Sanders in the Missouri primary, so he’ll get one vote, at least.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that if Joe Biden sweeps today’s primaires as predicted, Bernie Sanders will not stay in the race much longer. He’ll stick around for the last debate on March 15, but if there isn’t some sign that voting patterns can turn around, there’s not much point in going on. And the rest of the March primaries are not in friendly territory for him.

Of course, there’s always a chance Sanders will do better than expected today and the rest of March. He might decide to keep going to the end of April, as some big northeastern states (New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut) are voting then, but he lost those states in 2016 (Connecticut only by a hair, but it was still a loss). If the young folks continue to not bother to vote, however, for all practical purposes the nomination will be decided very soon, and the nominee will be Joe Biden, like it or not. I am not at all happy about that, but it has to be said that so far Biden is showing deep strength with African American and suburban voters, which are the two most critical groups for a Dem victory in November. And as long as Gen Z and younger millennial voters can’t be counted on to show up, they don’t get a say.

In 2016 Sanders wasn’t completely out of it mathematically (not counting superdelegates) until after the California primary in June. After losing California he knew he had no shot at the nomination, but he wanted his people to have a say in the party platform and waited to concede until after the first ballot. If the Democrats offer Sanders a role in the convention and a say in the platform, he might not hang on to the end this time but shift to campaigning against Trump on Biden’s behalf. Sanders’s devotees will go nuts, but Sanders himself is, shall we say, more mature.

This year the superdelegates won’t be voting on the first ballot, which theoretically could make a difference if nobody gets the 1,991 pledged delegates needed to win the nomination outright. But unless voting patterns change, Biden’s going to have those delegates before the convention, and the superdelegates won’t vote.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Elise Amendola/AP/Shutterstock (10551224k)
Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, embraces Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during a Democratic presidential primary debate, hosted by ABC News, Apple News, and WMUR-TV at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H
Election 2020 Debate, Manchester, USA – 07 Feb 2020

Carnival of Derp: The Trump Covid-19 Response

Larry Kudlow is still talking happy talk about Covid-19.

Kudlow, who in the past has mischaracterized the position of the World Health Organization in an attempt to reassure the financial markets, put out yet more misinformation on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” Friday morning.

“We don’t know what the magnitude of the economy might be in terms of a slowdown,” Kudlow said. “We don’t actually know what the magnitude of the virus is going to be, although frankly, so far it looks relatively contained, and we don’t think most people — I mean the vast majority of Americans are not at risk from this virus.”

I’m not sure why anyone still bothers to interview Kudlow, except for amusement. There is absolutely nothing that’s going to stop Covid-19 from sweeping the country. A lot of us are going to get it. Those of you who are elderly or have other health problems, please take care. The response to the virus has revealed that Trump and his administration are unfit to be in charge of anything more complicated than a can opener.

We’ve known for at least two months — probably longer — that the virus would very likely be introduced to the United States. (See the timeline.) Yet the Trumpers continue to be caught flatfooted by the spread of the disease. Note:

WHO had been alerted to a new disease spreading rapidly in Wuhan, China in December.

On January 7, China announced that a new coronavirus had been identified.

On January 13, WHO announced a case in Thailand, the first outside China.

The first case in the U.S. was diagnosed on January 20; the patient was a man who had recently visited Wuhan.  He had been sympomatic for about four days before he was tested.

Eleven days later, on January 31, the Trump Administration finally announced restrictions on travel to and from China.

By early February the virus had been found in several countries. On February 5, more than 3,600 passengers, some infected and some not, were quarantined on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, anchored off Yokahama, Japan.

On Friday, February 21, stocks closed sharply lower on fears of the disruptions caused by the spreading virus.

On Monday, February 24, the Trump Administration began to prepare for the virus to spread in the United States. The administration requested Congress to allocate $1.25 billion in new emergency funds and also called for taking $1.25 billion from other federal programs and using them for whatever it was they planned to do to slow down the virus. Some members of Congress warned the administration that wasn’t nearly enough.

On February 24, when the Trump Administration began to stir itself and pay more attention to the virus, there were 34 confirmed cases in the U.S. As of March 6,  the CDC is reporting a total of 164 cases in the U.S., in 19 states, with 11 deaths. But there are almost certainly many more Americans infected with the virus, since we are way behind where we should be in testing. And that brings us to the woeful saga of the test kits.

The first test kits issued by the CDC, and I’m not sure when that was, were flawed. And we’ve been playing catch up ever since. Do read Robinson Meyer and Alexis Madrigal, The Strongest Evidence Yet That America Is Botching Coronavirus Testing.

On Monday, Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, estimated that “by the end of this week, close to a million tests will be able to be performed” in the United States. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence promised that “roughly 1.5 million tests” would be available this week.

Notice that “Monday” was March 2, which was already late.

But the number of tests performed across the country has fallen far short of those projections, despite extraordinarily high demand, The Atlantic has found. …

… Through interviews with dozens of public-health officials and a survey of local data from across the country, The Atlantic could only verify that 1,895 people have been tested for the coronavirus in the United States, about 10 percent of whom have tested positive. And while the American capacity to test for the coronavirus has ramped up significantly over the past few days, local officials can still test only several thousand people a day, not the tens or hundreds of thousands indicated by the White House’s promises.  …

… In South Korea, more than 66,650 people were tested within a week of its first case of community transmission, and it quickly became able to test 10,000 people a day. The United Kingdom, which has only 115 positive cases, has so far tested 18,083 people for the virus.

In typical Trump Administration fashion, the various spokespeople have made conflicting statements about what’s happening with the test kits. As the Atlantic article says, there is no official information available anywhere about how many kits will eventually be delivered where. And the CDC announced this week it would stop publishing testing results, as it normally does during an epidemic, leaving us further in the dark.

According to Politico, most other countries have been using tests supplied by WHO that appear to work and have been distributed quickly. But not the United States.

Why the United States declined to use the WHO test, even temporarily as a bridge until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could produce its own test, remains a perplexing question and the key to the Trump administration’s failure to provide enough tests to identify the coronavirus infections before they could be passed on, according to POLITICO interviews with dozens of viral-disease experts, former officials and some officials within the administration’s health agencies.

The slowness of the testing regimen — which, administration officials acknowledged this week, is still not producing enough tests to meet the national demand — was the first, and most sweeping, of many failures. So far there have been confirmed cases in at least 23 states, and at least 15 deaths, while the stock market plunged and an otherwise healthy economy braced for a major disruption.

But neither the CDC nor the coronavirus task force chaired by Vice President Mike Pence would say who made the decision to forgo the WHO test and instead begin a protracted process of producing an American test, one that got delayed by manufacturing problems, possible lab contamination and logistical delays.

The CDC itself had already been compromised by Trump’s decisions to gut much of it: You’ve probably heard that in 2018 Trump eliminated the U.S. pandemic response team to save money. And there’s more. See Trump spent the past 2 years slashing the government agencies responsible for handling the coronavirus outbreak in Business Insider. The next administration will have to do some work to restore the CDC to its former level of competence.

It doesn’t help that the head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, came into the job in 2018 with dubious qualifications. CNN at the time of Redfield’s appointment:

Redfield’s early engagement with the AIDS epidemic in the US in the 1980s and 90s was controversial. As an Army major at Walter Reed Medical Institute, he designed policies for controlling the disease within the US military that involved placing infected personnel in quarantine and investigating their pasts to identify and track possible sexual partners. Soldiers were routinely discharged and left to die of AIDS, humiliated and jobless, often abandoned by their families.

In the 1980s Redfield worked closely with W. Shepherd Smith, Jr. and his Christian organization, Americans for a Sound AIDS/HIV Policy, or ASAP. The group maintained that AIDS was “God’s judgment” against homosexuals, spread in an America weakened by single-parent households and loss of family values.

Redfield wrote the introduction to a 1990 book, “Christians in the Age of AIDS,” co-written by Smith, in which he denounced distribution of sterile needles to drug users and condoms to sexually active adults, and described anti-discrimination programs as the efforts of “false prophets.”

In the early 1990’s, ASAP and Redfield also backed H.R. 2788, a House bill sponsored by deeply conservative Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-California). It would have subjected people with HIV to testing, loss of professional licenses and would have effectively quarantined them. (The bill died in Congress.) In the 2000s, Redfield was a top advocate for the so-called “ABCs of AIDS” in Africa, pressing to prevent HIV infection through sexual abstinence, monogamy and the use of condoms only as a last resort.

There’s more; it goes on and on. The clowns are running the circus.

Speaking of clowns, you’ve probably read about The Creature’s surreal visit to CDC yesterday.

… during the press conference, Trump urged people to stay calm and dismissed any criticism against the government’s handling of the virus, stressing in particular the availability of Covid-19 tests.

“As of right now and yesterday, anybody that needs a test [can have one], that’s the important thing, and the tests are all perfect, like the letter was perfect, the transcription was perfect,” Trump said, referring to the White House transcript of his call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in which he requests an investigation into his political rivals.

Yeah, perfect.

In fact, perhaps the most concerning aspect of the CDC conference was how it gave us a glimpse into Trump’s view of the coronavirus as a political rather than health-based issue.

During his remarks, Trump said he would rather have the passengers of the Grand Princess, a cruise ship docked in San Francisco with 21 confirmed cases onboard, stay on the ship than move to the land — all because doing so would raise the number of total Covid-19 cases in the US.

“I would rather because I like the numbers being where they are,” Trump said. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault. And it wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship either, okay? It wasn’t their fault either and they’re mostly Americans. So, I can live either way with it. I’d rather have them stay on, personally.”

Such a mensch. He takes his responsibilities to we, the people, so seriously. (/sarcasm)