Beware the Coronavirus Truthers

Here’s a political analysis by Philip Bump from April 23, which was six days ago, about how Trump reveled in a downward projection of the coronavirus death toll in the U.S.

With 60,000 deaths, “you can never be happy,” Trump said at a briefing on April 10, shortly after the model revision. “But that’s a lot fewer than we were originally told and thinking. So they said between [100,000] and 220,000 lives on the minimum side, and then up to 2.2 million lives if we didn’t do anything. But it showed a just tremendous resolve by the people of this country. So we’ll see what it ends up being, but it looks like we’re headed to a number substantially below the 100,000. That would be the low mark. And I hope that bears out.”

By Trump standards that wasn’t an outrageous thing to say, on April 10. But he didn’t keep up with revisions.

As recently as Monday [April 20], Trump again touted this number.

“We did the right thing, because if we didn’t do it, you would have had a million people, a million and a half people, maybe 2 million people dead,” he said. “Now, we’re going toward 50, I’m hearing, or 60,000 people. One is too many. I always say it: One is too many. But we’re going toward 50- or 60,000 people.”

We passed the 60,000 deaths mark today. Models may show that the curve is flattening, but the numbers keep going up higher and faster than predictions said they would go up. It seems to me that unless there is a major slowdown, we’ll reach 100,000 dead sometime in June. That tragic number at least should blow the “it’s no worse than the flu” argument out of the water, although it probably won’t.

If anything, right-wing media seems to be doubling down on the claim that covid-19 is no more deadly than the flu. Chris Hayes went on a memorable rant about that last night.

Another example: An article by Joseph Curl dated April 28 in the Washington Times is headlined “COVID-19 turning out to be huge hoax perpetrated by media. Media hyped the virus and alarmed Americans to the point of shutting down the economy.” I am not going to link to it, because links just make it more visible to search engines, but it shouldn’t be hard to find if you want to read it. I wrote a takedown of it on Facebook. Curl repeats some of the same cherry-picked data to argue that covid-19 is no worse than the flu that I took apart on April 18 in Death by Stupid. The zombie arguments just won’t die.

Viral photo by Joshua A. Bickel, Columbus Dispatch, of Ohio anti-restriction protesters.

Curl also claims that a “major model relied on by the White House Coronavirus Task Force predicts about 70,000 dead by the end of August.” At the rate we’re going, we’ll pass 70,000 dead some time next week. Seriously. I notice Curl provides no links or other information on where this “major model” came from. It may be that this is the model Trump seized on to announce only 70,000 deaths two days ago. April 27:

President Donald Trump on Monday acknowledged more Americans would die of the coronavirus than he has recently predicted,now saying that the nationwide toll is likely to be between 60,000 and 70,000.

Yes, the nationwide toll for the coming week almost certainly will be between 60,000 and 70,000. Then it will be higher.

See Beware of studies claiming covid-19 death rates are smaller than expected. The authors are the dean of Harvard Medical School; a professor and researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston; a professor and researcher at the Ragon Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital; and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. The studies they criticize, conducted in California, appear to be the same studies cited by Curl to argue that the covid-19 mortality rate “is likely 0.1% to 0.2%.”

And regarding Fox News, see also Sean Hannity’s self-own by Erik Wemple in today’s WaPo.

Even when they’re proven wrong, the coronavirus truthers don’t give up. Remember Richard Epstein, the highly esteemed “legal scholar” who made a complete ass of himself claiming that coronavirus would kill no more than 500 Americans? He then claimed that “500” was a typo; he meant to write “5,000.” Hah. Well, Epstein hasn’t given up. Jonathan Chait reported on April 21 that Epstein has another essay out arguing that the official coronavirus data is completely overblown and doesn’t justify the economic shutdown. See Chait, Richard Epstein Can’t Stop Being Wrong About the Coronavirus.

This pooh-poohing of the worst pandemic of our lifetimes — so far — unless you’re really, really old — of course is in service to Republican political interests. But I’ll have to rant about that tomorrow.

The Economy as Pandora’s Box

Bloomberg is reporting that Trump is preparing to order all U.S. meat packing plants to either re-open or remain open.

Trump plans to use the Defense Production Act to order the companies to stay open as critical infrastructure, and the government will provide additional protective gear for employees as well as guidance, according to the person.

The order sets the stage for a showdown between America’s meat giants, which have been pressing to reopen plants, and some local officials and labor unions who’ve called for closures in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading. The president himself has long agitated for Americans to return to work and restore an economy crippled by social distancing measures.

Trump must be worried he won’t be able to get an overcooked steak or hamburger whenever he wants one.

Farmers are dumping all kinds of food, including crops, milk, eggs, and livestock, because the supply chains are screwed, and in response the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Purdue, has provided more happy talk than help. Many expect big food shortages down the road, and there there are long lines at food pantries now. But Sonny Purdue tells us not to worry. Even so, Trump will see to it that meat packing workers — a considerable percentage of whom are immigrants — risk their lives to keep the meat coming.

Meanwhile, Trump lawyer and alleged Attorney General Bill Barr has sent a directive to federal attorneys to watch out for states going too far with their pandemic restrictions. What “too far” means is open to interpretation, I suppose. Barr has been under pressure from conservatives to get more involved in ending the pandemic restrictions to get the economy going.

Speaking of wackjobs, an Illinois county circuit court judge has issued a restraining order exempting one Illinois legislator from having to adhere to a stay-at-home order.

As some Republicans seeking to reopen the economy launch a full-court press against stay-at-home restrictions, one GOP lawmaker in Illinois scored an unusual legal victory on Monday — for himself.

State Rep. Darren Bailey apparently became the only person in Illinois, besides essential workers, who is now exempt from Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order after a judge in southern Illinois granted a temporary restraining order blocking the state from enforcing Pritzker’s order against him.

Now, Bailey is evidently free to roam wherever he pleases, but he said Monday that was not the main reason he sued the governor.

“The governor was just clearly overreaching his authority and his powers,” Bailey, a farmer who represents a rural district in southern Illinois, told The Washington Post.  …

… In Bailey’s quest against Pritkzer’s order, the lawmaker argued that the governor’s continued extensions of the stay-at-home order, recently extended through May, were illegal. He charged that the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act restricted the governor’s emergency powers to 30 days from the day he declared a disaster, which was March 9, without allowing extensions. The state sought a continuance of the case.

Here’s the especially odd part:

Clay County Circuit Judge Michael McHaney said in his Monday ruling that there was a “reasonable likelihood” that Bailey would succeed in making that argument when the court considers its merits. He said Bailey “has shown he has a clearly ascertainable right in need of immediate protection, namely his liberty interest to be free from Pritzker’s executive order …” He agreed that Bailey has shown that he will be “irreparably harmed” without swift court intervention, although the judge did not explain his rationale.

Although McHaney’s ruling doesn’t extend to anyone except Bailey, as he is the sole plaintiff, it appears to provide a framework for other similar lawsuits around the state, which Bailey would welcome. Bailey said that he hopes his case will ultimately result in the order being invalidated for the entire state — a possibility that Pritzker appeared concerned about during his Monday news conference.

No, I haven’t found out why Rep. Bailey is uniquely harmed by the stay-at-home orders and requires special privileges to not be bound by them. Gov. Pritzger is appealing the ruling, obviously.

See also The Pandemic, the Constitution, and Civil Liberties.

It does strike me that there’s a lot of magical thinking going on out there among Republicans. They are still trying to will away the pandemic with their mind-beams rather than deal with the reality of it. There is reason to believe that ending restrictions prematurely will cause a resurgence of infections and death, which is not going to help the economy. On the other hand, it might be that sparsely populated parts of the country wouldn’t have that problem. The medical science people are still figuring out how this virus works. Without being able to test people, we’re flailing around in the dark.

Republicans, however, are certain the economy has to be re-opened now, because otherwise they are going to have to consider more stimulus spending. And you know the drill — all of a sudden, they care about deficits. So, they see the re-opening of the economy as imperative. But they may be opening Pandora’s box and letting the nasties out.

At Politico, Ben White writes that Trump faces the risk of a coronavirus cliff.

Republicans are trying to pull off a high-wire act over the next three months: Reopen the economy enough to get most jobless Americans back to work and off the public dole, while resisting another giant stimulus package.

If they fail, they’ll face a coronavirus cliff — an even deeper collapse in spending and sky-high unemployment in the months before Election Day. That could both damage President Donald Trump’s reelection prospects and put the party’s Senate majority at serious risk. …

… Republicans are currently betting that efforts to reopen states will be successful and the nearly $3 trillion already allocated by lawmakers — the largest federal rescue in American history — will be at least close to enough to start bringing the unemployment rate down and sending economic growth back up.

In other words, the priority is to get the economy working again so it doesn’t mess with their election chances. However, IMO, you have to deal with the virus first. All the mind-beams and happy talk in the world won’t do a damn bit of good if the rate of infections and deaths keep climbing. Economists keep saying that it’s not an either-or; meaning it’s not a choice between dealing with the virus or reviving the economy. The economy will not recover as long as the virus is spreading around out there. You have to deal with the virus.

See also Gabriel Sherman, Inside Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s Two Months of Magical Thinking. The reason we’re in this mess is that Trump refused to deal with the virus.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, shared Trump’s view that the media and Democrats were hyping the crisis for political purposes. And for both of them, the biggest worry was how the response to the coronavirus might impact the health of the economy. According to sources, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, a fierce China hawk, and deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, a former China-based Wall Street Journal reporter who’d covered the 2003 SARS pandemic, argued to officials in mid-January that the White House needed to shut down incoming flights from China.

Kushner pushed back. “Jared kept saying the stock market would go down, and Trump wouldn’t get reelected,” a Republican briefed on the internal debates said (a person close to Kushner denies this). Kushner’s position was supported by Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council chief Larry Kudlow. Trump sided with them. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Trump minimized the threat in his first public comments. “It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control,” he told CNBC. (The White House and Treasury Department deny Mnuchin and Kudlow were against closing flights.)  …

…Navarro and Pottinger finally convinced Trump to stop the flights when they showed him that more than 400,000 people had entered the U.S. from China since early January. “Trump was stunned by the sheer scale,” a Republican briefed on the meeting told me. “Navarro banged on the table enough to get the flights stopped.” On January 31, Trump barred travel from China. Even then, it was a half measure: the ban only applied to non-Americans who had traveled to China in the previous 14 days. American citizens could come and go.

Trump saw this as the end of the story—he’d taken strong public action, built his China Wall. Now, he looked forward to hitting the campaign trail and trumpeting the booming stock market. “He just wanted to hold rallies and watch television,” a former West Wing official said. “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China,” Trump told Sean Hannity during a pre–Super Bowl interview on February 2. He held a half dozen rallies over the next month.

Do read the entire piece; it’s fascinating. Of course, we now know that the daily presidential intellligence brief that Trump famously doesn’t read carried warnings about the virus beginning in January. So you had practically the whole planet sending warnings to Trump to deal with the virus, and except for the January 31 travel ban he ignored it all until the stock market tanked. He seems to have believed that if he just ignored it, the virus would go away.

Republicans seem to be making the same mistake. And I wonder, if the meat packing plants continue to be covid-19 hot spots, if we’ll even still have hamburger? If not, would Republican legislators volunteers to work in them? Not likely.

Not a Bang, Not a Whimper. Just Rage Tweets

Trump spent the past several hours rage-tweeting. He is angered by the New York Times story that portrayed him as a lazy sot who spends most of his day watching television to see what people are saying about him, instead of doing his job. (Obviously that’s wrong; he also spends a lot of time rage tweeting instead of doing his job.) He is angered that the allegation that Vladimir Putin helped make him President refuses to die. He still hates the news media with a white-hot passion. He also posted an obvious deepfake video of Joe Biden making faces.

The tweets were full of the usual mispellings and odd capitalizations as well as weird misstatements about reporters returning their “Noble prizes.” I’d say Trump was losing it, but I’m not sure he ever had it to begin with.

A lot of these tweets were later deleted; here is a selection, preserved for posterity.

He’s obviously still stung by the firestorm of ridicule inspired by the “disinfectant” briefing. And he wants you to know that he is too doing a good job responding to the pandemic. Not a bad job, like the news media says. Aaron Blake, at WaPo:

The fusillade began later Saturday night, when Trump began reasserting his false claim that the United States has tested more people than have other countries combined.

“Just passed 5 Million Tests, far more than any other country in the world,” Trump said. “In fact, more than all other major countries combined.”

“We have now Tested more than 5 Million People,” he added Sunday morning. “That is more than any other country in the World, and even more than all major countries combined!” …

… Trump can say this as many times as he wants, but it won’t make it true.

As an Associated Press fact check showed, “Together, just three ‘major countries’ alone — Russia, Germany and Italy — have tested more people than the U.S.” Those three countries account for about 6.5 million tests.

(The claim of superior U.S. testing by using raw numbers is also misleading; that’s because more than 30 countries have tested more people per capita.)

Today he’s been cranking out gems like this:

And this:

Since unemployment benefits are administered by the states, I’m not sure how sending checks directly from some undesignated federal source would work. And it’s not like the feds have been all that efficient at getting checks sent, either.

See also Paul Waldman, Please, Mr. President: No more briefings. America can’t take it.

The word is that the coronavirus task force will no longer be holding daily briefings, with or without Trump. Maybe they will hold occasional hearings; maybe they will be muzzled altogether. The White House is shifting its messaging away from dealing with the pandemic to rah rah economy! “Expect to see a pivot from the White House in the days ahead, focusing on the economy and a more hopeful, forward-looking message,” a White House official said.

It appears there’s nothing on the agenda about addressing supply chain disruptions or the continued shortage of medical supplies and testing components. Talk of the almighty Defense Production Act seems to have faded away, since it’s clear Trump isn’t going to use it. I doubt that he understands how to use it. He seems to have thought he only needed to sign the thing and it would automatically just fix production, like a wind-up machine.

Instead, the focus will be on putting on a new kind of Trump theater, so that Trump can look like he’s doing something, but it will be focused on the economy rather than on the pandemic. The theory must be that he’s better at faking expertise on the economy than on medicine. And how did America come to this?

There’s a column by Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times that’s making the rounds on social media. It’s behind a subscription firewall, so it’s being copied and pasted. Here’s a link. Please do read the whole thing. It begins this way:

Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.

However bad things are for most other rich democracies, it is hard not to feel sorry for Americans. Most of them did not vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet they are locked down with a malignant narcissist who, instead of protecting his people from Covid-19, has amplified its lethality. The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.

And it ends this way.

As things get worse, he will pump more hatred and falsehood, more death-wish defiance of reason and decency, into the groundwater. If a new administration succeeds him in 2021, it will have to clean up the toxic dump he leaves behind. If he is re-elected, toxicity will have become the lifeblood of American politics.

Either way, it will be a long time before the rest of the world can imagine America being great again.

The U.S. president is no longer “the leader of the free world,” and there is no way future presidents will reclaim the title. Eight years of George W. Bush was bad enough; during my 2005 trip to England and Wales, people kept asking me, “You do know your president is an idiot, don’t you?” The election of Barack Obama redeemed us in the eyes of the “free world” as having come to our senses. But then came Trump. They aren’t going to cut us any slack after Trump. If Trump is re-elected, we’ll be persona non grata to the world for the rest of this century. We pretty much are already.

The saddest thing is that We, the people have been rendered helpless to do anything about Trump as long as he is in office. What we’re facing with Trump is precisely the situation for which the 25th Amendment was designed. And the impeachment hearings and trial proved that Trump abused the power of his office and should have been removed from it. But we can do nothing because the officials charged with protecting the Constitution and the national interest are instead invested in protecting Trump. Our last hope is the election.

Daniel O’Hehir (what is it about the Irish and doom?):

What the coronavirus has shown us, if we’re willing to see it, is America as an imperial power in steep decline, revealed before the world as a weak, divided and ineffectual nation — albeit one with the greatest military force in world history. To put it in the mildest possible terms, that’s a dangerous combination; it might better be described as profoundly terrifying. … This pandemic has stripped away much of America’s pompous, self-aggrandizing façade and has made many aspects of the nation’s decline, and its fast-decaying claim to world leadership, even more obvious than they already were. …

… We need to stop pretending that America after the coronavirus, and after the Trump presidency, will be the same kind of nation it was before, with the same role of more-or-less unquestioned global dominance. We have deluded ourselves far too long on that front already. There is no making America great again, and it’s time to move past that. But there’s a real chance to make a better future for this country and the world.

So we end with a little bit of hope. But it hangs by a hair.


Trump Show Cancellation? And Other Disaster News

Well, folks, The Trump Show may be cancelled. What may be considered one of the most hilarious dark comedies of the ages is about to end because the star — one Donald J. Trump cast against type in the role of “the president” — doesn’t like being laughed at. 

President Donald Trump has expressed growing frustration with his daily coronavirus-related press conferences, calling them “not worth the time and effort” Saturday.

The sentiment, coming days after an erratic briefing at which Trump incorrectly suggested that injecting cleaning products could help kill off the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, has been echoed by some Republican allies, who reportedly worry that the conferences hurt the party as a whole.

On Saturday evening, Trump lashed out in a tweet about how the media has responded to his press conferences, calling reporters “hostile,” while suggesting he has helped network news receive high ratings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yeah, the whole planet has been laughing its butt off at you, Donnie. Deal with it.

One bit of drama I missed until I read about it this morning — before the Friday live broadcast of The Trump Show, White House officials tried to move CNN’s Kaitlan Collins from her front row position to the back of the room, switching seats with the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson. Both reporters refused to budge. The seating positions are worked out in advance by the White House Correspondents’ Association and are not supposed to be changed on the whims of the White House. Trump’s people threatened to bring in the Secret Service to force Collins to move, but she did not budge, and the Secret Service did not get involved.

There had been a brief clash between Trump and Collins the day before.

The run-in occurred after Trump dismissed a question from another reporter about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s health, saying it was based on an “incorrect” report from CNN earlier in the week. As Collins tried to ask a follow-up question, Trump interrupted her.

“No, that’s enough,” he said, adding, “The problem is, you don’t write the truth.” Collins continued to press, but Trump replied, “No, not CNN. I told you, CNN is fake news. Don’t talk to me.”

Collins had pushed Trump in other episodes, also, although she was hardly the only one. Anyway, whether it was because Collins was still in the front row or for some other reason, the star cut The Trump Show short and walked out after only 22 minutes, without taking questions.

Perhaps it was for the best; it would have been hard to top the brilliant Thursday “disinfectant” episode. Although there are rumors the writers were planning to have the “president” character suggest bombing the virus with nukes. Zany stuff!

Other Stuff to Read

Todd Tucker writes What Donald Trump Could Learn from Herbert Hoover. Although the title isn’t promising, it’s actually a good historic review of what the federal government could accomplish when it took a more robust role in addressing disasters. It’s more about FDR than Hoover.

New York Times, Closed Hospitals Leave Rural Patients ‘Stranded’ as Coronavirus Spreads.  Rural hospital closings couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Blame our for-profit system.

Philip Bump and Ashley Parker, Washington Post, 13 hours of Trump: The president fills briefings with attacks and boasts, but little empathy

Politico, USDA let millions of pounds of food rot while food-bank demand soared. Note that the current head of the USDA is Sonny Purdue.

The Road to Serfdom Turned Out to be Capitalism. Who Knew?

A few days ago I wrote a post that riffed off George Packer’s We Are Living in a Failed State at The Atlantic. Now Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns and Money comments on the Packer article also:

An economy based on ruthless profit maximization by the owners of capital at the expense of all other social values decrees that workers must be vulnerable at all times to the whims of just in time supply chains, increasingly precarious conditions of employment — aka the “gig economy” — minimal or non-existent job benefits, and, most crucially, a shredded or imaginary social safety net, so that the whip of the ownership class can be wielded with terrifying effectiveness on tens of millions of people who are always only a paycheck or two away from immiseration.

America is a house of cards, and a strong breeze has, inevitably, begun to blow.

Sums it all up pretty well, doesn’t it? And if one couldn’t see it before the pandemic hit, it’s damn obvious now. The “relief” packages passed by Congress provided truckloads of money to big corporations without transparency or oversight while providing relative pennies to workers facing destitution. A New York Times editorial:

Millions of lower-income households are still waiting for the federal stimulus payments that have landed in the bank accounts of middle-class families.

Many who lost jobs are struggling to register for unemployment benefits.

Only a quarter of small businesses have received federal aid.

For the second time since the crisis began, the end of a month is approaching, and bills are coming due. For all the government has done so far, it is starkly clear that more is required.

Instead of providing for the people who are on the edge of destitution, too many in Congress  fret that too generous unemployment benefits will “incentivizing people to leave the workforce.” Indeed, the unemployment compensation system was designed to be punative, to be frustrating, to fail. The peasants have to be incentivized to take any job they can get, you know. Even when there are no jobs.

Katrin Bennhold wrote in the New York Times that Europeans have been stunned by how badly the U.S. is handling the pandemic crisis.

As images of America’s overwhelmed hospital wards and snaking jobless lines have flickered across the world, people on the European side of the Atlantic are looking at the richest and most powerful nation in the world with disbelief.

“When people see these pictures of New York City they say, ‘How can this happen? How is this possible?’” said Henrik Enderlein, president of the Berlin-based Hertie School, a university focused on public policy. “We are all stunned. Look at the jobless lines. Twenty-two million,” he added.

I’m predicting that by the fall, most of Europe and other industrialized democracies around the world will have — cautiously and tentatively — returned to something approximating “normal,” while we will be locked into cycles of waves of infection, and our economy will be tanking beyond redemption. It didn’t have to be this way, but I fear that’s how it’s going to be here.

And one reason we’re going to be more hurt than other countries is that we’ve been skirting by on the cheap for years, with the flimsiest safety net and most inefficient and  inadequate health care system. And that’s because every bleeping thing in this country is calibrated to squeeze whatever can be monetized out of natural resources and  people and send it up the food chain to the fabulously wealthy few at the top.

“America has not done badly, it has done exceptionally badly,” said Dominique Moïsi, a political scientist and senior adviser at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne. …

… “Europe’s social democratic systems are not only more human, they leave us better prepared and fit to deal with a crisis like this than the more brutal capitalistic system in the United States,” Mr. Moïsi said.

Eric Levitz, Coronavirus Exposes the Sickness of America’s Shoddy Welfare State

Twenty-seven million people in the world’s wealthiest country possess no health insurance of any kind. Millions more have coverage too skimpy to use for nonemergencies. Last year, a record-high 25 percent of Americans told Gallup that they or one of their family members delayed treatment of a serious condition out of concern for the cost of seeking care. And it isn’t hard to see why: The average deductible for an individual with employer-sponsored insurance has increased by 162 percent since 2009.

More than 33 million Americans lack access to paid sick leave. About half of all service workers (among them, line cooks and elder-care workers) cannot take a day off without losing pay. Meanwhile, thanks to our nation’s weak labor unions and at-will employment policies, many workers who do officially have paid leave are too afraid of repercussions to use it.

It’s gospel to American conservatives that providing citizens safety net benefits — also known as “handouts” — renders them lazy and shiftless and keeps them out of the workforce. In truth, the lack of supports such as paid sick leave, health care, and child care probably hampers productivity far more than the welfare recipients of Republican fantasy who are somehow enjoying carefree lives on government checks.

One recent study found that when states require employers to provide paid sick leave, influenza infections fall by more than 10 percent. There are also quantifiable ways in which failing to provide Americans with access to health care imposes cost on society at large. For example, there is some evidence that the financial insecurity and medical deprivation that low-income Americans suffer when they lack health insurance impedes their capacity to work: In Michigan, Medicaid expansion was associated with an increase in labor-force participation among low-income and nonwhite residents. Meanwhile, when Americans forgo early treatment of an ailment due to cost concerns, they often end up requiring even more expensive care — and suffering worse health outcomes — than they would have otherwise.

I’ve written a couple of times about the parallels between today’s Republicans and the English during the Irish Famine. As more than a million Irish starved — in spite of producing plenty of food, which of course was owned by the English — members of Parliament argued that it would be wrong, even immoral, to provide the Irish with food, because it would spoil them as a source of labor.  Timothy Egan:

“The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine,” wrote the fiery essayist John Mitchel, whose words bought him a ticket to the penal colony of Tasmania.

What infuriated Mitchel was that the Irish were starving to death at the very time that rich stores of grain and fat livestock owned by absentee landlords were being shipped out of the country. The food was produced by Irish hands on Irish lands but would not go into Irish mouths, for fear that such “charity” would upset the free market, and make people lazy.

By the same token, “Providence,” or however the natural world arranges these things, produced the coronavirus. But it took decades of American conservative policy to create the mess we’re in now. And the foundational basis of American conservative policy is that capitalism must be pure and unimpeded, and is next to godliness.

And this takes us to Friedrich Hayek and his book The Road to Serfdom, first published in 1944, which became a cornerstone of movement conservatism and libertarianism. Hayek was certain that the ultimate evil that would destroy democracy and individual liberty is central planning of the economy. Free markets equal free people. The key to maintaining individual liberty is to support the free exercise of capitalism and markets. Conversely, it was self-evident to conservatives that capitalism and tyranny cannot co-exist, and that if (for example) Communist countries would become more capitalist, individual liberty for their citizens would follow closely behind. Hayek wrote,

Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his absolute mercy. And an authority directing the whole economic system of the country would be the most powerful monopolist conceivable…it would have complete power to decide what we are to be given and on what terms. It would not only decide what commodities and services were to be available and in what quantities; it would be able to direct their distributions between persons to any degree it liked.

And, by damn, you can go into any WalMart in America and find a dozen different brands of toasters offered at a variety of prices. Freedom!

Hayek failed to imagine the rise of a wealthy and powerful rent-seeking class, an oligarchy if you will, ruthlessly exploiting the labor and lives of a growing majority of citizens. Why he couldn’t see that is a bit mystifying, since it’s what the world was like in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but never mind.

It’s true that communism and democracy have never co-existed. But now the question is being asked — can capitalism and democracy co-exist? The terrible irony is that the same Hayekian school of economics that came to dominate American conservative thought, and which promised that capitalism equals liberty, is turning the U.S. into something approximating a fuedal state. Most of the government is on the side of the oligarchy, while more and more of us live on the economic edge, dependent on the oligarchy that exploits us. The system creaks along well enough until some unforeseen event — a potato blight; a pandemic — kicks the props out from under it. And then it all comes crashing down.

And since our government is still controled by the oligarchy, most of it can’t respond to the crisis in any effective way. I say can’t instead of won’t; I think the idea behind the relief checks and the Paycheck Protection Plan was not bad, but the system is so creaky and so calibrated to benefit only the oligarchy that it can’t get relief for ordinary citizens right even when it tries.

And between Trump and McConnell, going forward don’t expect it to try very hard.

Do not doubt that the genuinely hard-core right-wingers would not flinch at letting millions of Americans die rather than end the gravy train for the rich. There are more important things than living, after all.

Now we have the double whammy of a portion of the exploited class turning to an authoritarian strongman to save them, somehow blind to the fact that the strongman is purely a creature of the system that exploits them. Thus it is that mostly working-class white men are marching around calling for pandemic restrictions to end so that they can risk their lives working for the oligarchy.

This may not end well.

In this April 2020, photo provided by Tyson Foods, workers wear protective masks and stand between plastic dividers at the company’s Camilla, Georgia poultry processing plant. Tyson has added the plastic dividers to create separation between workers because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Tyson Foods via AP)

Cancel The Trump Show? Let’s Think About This.

Just for the record, here’s a video of the segment of yesterday’s Trump Show in which Trump proposed injecting people with disinfectant. That’s what he said. Loudly and clearly.

And this is from the official White House transcript of yesterday’s Trump Show:

And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.

Is he not saying that we should try injecting disinfectant? Of course, that’s what he’s saying.

I’m bringing this up because the disinfectant remark was stupid even by Trump standards, and right-wing media is tripping all over itself claiming that he didn’t say what he said. For example:

I don’t dignify Breitbart with links, but the article says:

Trump used the word “inject,” but what he meant was using a process — which he left “medical doctors” to define — in which patients’ lungs might be cleared of the virus, given new knowledge about its response to light and other factors.

Let’s review:

And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.

Especially in the larger context, in which he also proposed shining lights into the body to kill the virus, there’s no mistaking that he was proposing injecting people with disinfectant.

A lot of people have called for the networks to stop broadcasting the daily briefings. Some of them have complied; The Trump Show has disappeared from my local NBC affilliate, possibly because it was pre-empting Jeopardy and viewers complained. I suspect there will be louder calls now to cancel the Trump Show before people start dropping dead from drinking Lysol.

The makers of Lysol want you to know you should not injest their product, btw.

But I’m wondering if we’re being hasty. If Trump wants to make a fool of himself on television, why get in the way?

There’s a long but fascinating article in the New York Times headlined Home Alone at the White House: A Sour President, With TV His Constant Companion by Katie Rogers and Annie Karni. This reveals a lot, including about the origins of The Trump Show.

Mr. Trump became enraged watching the coverage of his 10-minute Oval Office address in March that was rife with inaccuracies and had little in terms of action for him to announce. He complained to aides that there were few people on television willing to defend him.

The solution, aides said, came two days later, when Mr. Trump appeared in the Rose Garden to declare a national emergency and answer questions from reporters. As he admonished journalists for asking “nasty” questions, Mr. Trump found the back-and-forth he had been missing. The virus had not been a perfect enemy — it was impervious to his browbeating — but baiting and attacking reporters energized him.

“I don’t take responsibility at all,” Mr. Trump told White House correspondents in answer to one question.

The next day he planned to attend a briefing, but since he was there he was encouraged to just take the podium. And a television phenomenon was born.

The daily White House coronavirus task force briefing is the one portion of the day that Mr. Trump looks forward to, although even Republicans say that the two hours of political attacks, grievances and falsehoods by the president are hurting him politically.

Mr. Trump will hear none of it. Aides say he views them as prime-time shows that are the best substitute for the rallies he can no longer attend but craves.

Mr. Trump rarely attends the task force meetings that precede the briefings, and he typically does not prepare before he steps in front of the cameras. He is often seeing the final version of the day’s main talking points that aides have prepared for him for the first time although aides said he makes tweaks with a Sharpie just before he reads them live. He hastily plows through them, usually in a monotone, in order to get to the question-and-answer bullying session with reporters that he relishes.

Reviewing the transcript, it appears the “disinfectant” remarks came after the prepared talking points part of the program. He might help himself if he, you know, rehearsed some of the show before going live. But I guess that would be too much work.

The article also describes a typical Trump day this way: He shows up in the Oval Office about noon, having been up since 5 am watching television — “Fox News, then CNN, with a dollop of MSNBC thrown in for rage viewing” — and making calls with the television audible in the background. He’s mostly interested in what people are saying about him, not in the news per se. In the afternoon he is given his daily security briefing — whether he pays attention or not isn’t clear — holds staff and other meetings, and makes more phone calls before it’s time for The Trump Show, which apparently is all he really cares about. After the show he watches television in his private dining room, comforting himself with french fries and Diet Coke. He may occasionally have dinner with Melania and Barron before retiring to his bedroom to watch more television.

Somehow I don’t see Franklin Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln spending most of the day watching television to see what people were saying about them.

Anyway — so should The Trump Show be canceled? I say no. If the man wants to hang himself on live television, let him. There also have been calls to give Joe Biden equal time, since The Trump Show amounts to unpaid campaign advertising. At the moment, though, it may be just as well if Biden stays in the background while Trump stumbles around. We’ve got a few months left before the general election. See Joe Biden is leading in presidential polls as a generic alternative to Trump.

And as of this morning, 50,939 Americans are known to have died of covid-19.

Other Stuff to Read

Politico, Trump owes tens of millions to the Bank of China — and the loan is due soon. Maybe China will repossess him.

Washington Post, FDA issues hydroxychloroquine warning, citing serious effects, including death

Paul Krugman, McConnell to Every State: Drop Dead

Timothy Egan, How Republicans Became the Party of Death

Mitch Antoinette’s Blue State Bailouts

This post is about Mitch McConnell’s suggestion that states facing budget shortfalls because of the pandemic should declare bankruptcy rather than receive federal funds. Mitch actually called relief funds for states  “blue state bailouts,” even though red states need funds, too. This inspired Rep. Peter King of New York to call McConnell “the Marie Antoinette of the Senate.”

My impression is that it’s broadly, but not universally, believed that a state couldn’t declare bankruptcy even if it tried. But let’s look at some background to see what’s going on here.

Something Paul Krugman wrote on April 16:

… But the special loan program for small businesses has already been exhaustedState and city governments are reporting drastic losses in revenue and soaring expenses. And the Postal Service is on the edge of bankruptcy.

So we need another large relief package, targeted at these gaps. Where would the money come from? Just borrow it. Right now, the economy is awash in excess savings with nowhere to go. The interest rate on inflation-protected federal bonds is minus 0.56 percent; in effect, investors are willing to pay our government to make use of their money. Financing economic relief just isn’t a problem.

Yet at the moment further relief legislation is stalled. And let’s be clear: Republicans are responsible for the impasse.

Basically, Krugman is saying that if we want to save the bleeping economy and not slide into depression, the feds should just crank out the money to keep us all afloat until the pandemic is no longer threatening us. This is not the time to be cheap.

Congress is still struggling with a new relief package. Here’s the most recent news

The House prepared Thursday to pass a bipartisan $484 billion spending package that would restart a small-business loan program that was swamped by demand during the coronavirus pandemic and allocate more money for health-care providers and virus testing.

Once approved, lawmakers would send the legislation to President Trump for his signature, following Senate passage earlier this week.

One thing not in the bill is money for states and cities. Senate Democrats tried to get $150 billion for states and cities added to the package, but Republicans wouldn’t allow it.

From the New York Times, April 15:

States provide most of America’s public health, education and policing services, and a lot of its highways, mass transit systems and waterworks. Now, sales taxes — the biggest source of revenue for most states — have fallen off a cliff as business activity grinds to a halt and consumers stay home.

Personal income taxes, usually states’ second-biggest revenue source, started falling in March, when millions lost their paychecks and tax withholdings stopped. April usually brings a big slug of income-tax money, but this year the filing deadlines have been postponed until July.

“This is going to be horrific for state and local finances,” said Donald J. Boyd, the head of Boyd Research, an economics and fiscal consulting firm, whose clients include states and the federal government.

I am no economist, but I understand that if states are forced to cut services and lay off employees this will not just cause inconveniences; it will prolong whatever recession, or depression, we will face going forward. And it will hurt the economies of red states as well as blue ones.

But somehow relief for states has become a partisan issue. And that’s insane. Eric Levitz wrote for New York magazine (April 15),

Political coverage of negotiations on Capitol Hill in recent weeks has consistently framed aid to states and municipalities as a concession to Democrats. And by all appearances, this is an accurate description of the legislative dynamics. But it’s difficult to understand why. Neither the pandemic nor its economic consequences have been confined to blue states. In fact, the collapse of global demand for oil is hammering deep-red petro-states. Oklahoma’s budget was written around the presumption of $55-a-barrel oil, which is more than double crude’s going rate these days. The Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, meanwhile, has estimated that every dollar shaved off the price of oil knocks $85 million in revenue out of the Lone Star State’s coffers.

Beyond the fact that Republican-leaning states are hurting for aid about as much as blue ones are, the president’s party has a profound political interest in mitigating the economic impact of an election-year recession. This is ostensibly why Republicans promoted mailing checks directly to low-income and middle-class households: to prop up consumer demand and prevent economic decline from feeding on itself. And yet, if states are forced to lay off public workers, cut social benefits for constituents, and cancel planned investments in public goods, then they will deepen the recession.

See also The case for a massive federal aid package for states and cities by Dylan Matthews at Vox.

Why are congressional Republicans taking this position? Levitz attributes this to long-held GOP “small government” ideology, and maybe that’s it. Kevin Drum thinks Mitch McConnell is also seizing an opportunity to crush public sector unions and take their pensions.

Republicans have been targeting the pensions of state workers forever. For the most part, these pensions are protected because they’re part of union contracts, but that just makes them even more attractive targets: If you can gut pensions, then not only will you reduce state spending, but you can crush the unions at the same time. Legally, though, the only way to do this is as part of a bankruptcy restructuring.

So as far as McConnell is concerned, COVID-19 has an upside: by wrecking state finances, it will force them into bankruptcy. And that means Republicans can get their revenge on public sector unions, who are big supporters of Democrats. What’s not to like?

Regarding pensions, there is an argument that starving the states for funds would hurt more blue states than red ones. According to an article in Forbes,

… what the Senator failed to mention is that his Commonwealth of Kentucky does not issue general obligation bonds. He also neglected to mention its bottom-level ranking in state public pension funding, 50th in the nation. If state bankruptcy is permitted, Kentucky has no outstanding state general obligation debt that would be negatively impacted, but it would presumably allow the state to renegotiate the terms the pension that tens of thousands of Kentucky pensioners rely on. It is unlikely their payments would increase.

Mitch might also think that hurting some states might help Republicans keep the Senate.

Of the top ten underfunded state public pensions, five states are straight Democrat controlled in both the statehouses and have majorities in federal representation: New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Hawaii. Each face budget pressures and have either raised taxes or contemplated raising taxes to deal with budget deficits. Some recently had Republican governors that lost to Democrats, suggesting the electorate is not opposed to Republican rule. A local Republican push in those states to file for bankruptcy over raising taxes might be well received. Well received enough to flip those states over to Senator McConnell’s side of the aisle.

Now, how might this backfire? While it’s true that the worst of the pandemic has, for the most part, slammed blue urban areas the hardest, notably New York City. McConnell may not have gotten the memo that the virus is moving in to red states now.

new analysis from demographer William Frey finds that coronavirus is now spreading into whiter and more Republican-leaning areas of the country. Despite initially being concentrated in blue and urban areas, it has slowly extended into new parts of the Midwest and the south, into outer suburbs and small metropolitan areas, and into parts of the country carried by Trump.

Some people are clinging to a perception that the pandemic is mostly a blue state — and urban — problem, and perhaps McConnell assumes his position will be popular in Trump Country.

The organizers of the anti-lockdown protests have worked to create the impression of a groundswell of populist rage at elites shutting down the economy in parts of the country far less impacted by the virus, to protect heavily impacted areas.

Those elites, of course, are mostly Democratic governors, relying on scientists who shouldn’t be trusted. As Tucker Carlson put it, the idea that quarantines are necessary to save lives is “a lie,” because “there is no scientific record to consult.”

Tucker Carlson wouldn’t know a scientific record if it bit his ass.

At times these political-geographic fault lines have been made explicit. The New York Times recently observed that in Michigan, protesters from rural areas are “nearly all white,” with some “hoisting Trump signs and Confederate flags,” even as the vast majority of those afflicted and dying are “concentrated in heavily black and Democratic Detroit.”

Trump himself crudely nodded to this when he mused about quarantining off East Coast blue states, as if to protect virtuous Red America — often described as “Real America” by his propagandists — from infestation by an export from diseased Blue America.

As Ed Kilgore noted, Trump and his followers are relying on such sentiments to fuel the anti-lockdown protests, by blaming “social and economic restraints that are still in effect in much of the country on cities, many of them heavily black, where the coronavirus has been most destructive.”

However, there is all kinds of polling saying that most Americans support the pandemic restrictions and are concerned they will be lifted too soon. And if the poorer red states start getting slammed with more sick people than they can handle, you can bet they are going to be begging for federal relief dollars.

I will give Andrew Cuomo the last word.

Cuomo took McConnell to task in a Thursday press conference, first laying out why he finds state and local government funding to be so important, and then decrying McConnell’s “obsessive political bias and anger.” …

… Cuomo then brought up some cold hard numbers. While New York state contributes billions more dollars to the federal government than it gets in return, McConnell’s state of Kentucky relies on billions of dollars of federal funding each year, prompting Cuomo to ask, “Sen. McConnell, who’s getting bailed out here?”

Maybe that issue of red states being parasites on the blue states can be addressed by a future Democratic-controled Congress…


Conventional Wisdom Has Been Cancelled

It’s sometimes said you can predict the future by looking at the past and extending it. But the pandemic has scrambled the old trajectory. Maybe not completely, but close enough. All bets are off now.

Clearly, the pandemic has completely flummoxed Donald Trump. Kevin Drum points out that Trump is, literally, doing nothing at all about the pandemic.

Let’s review our president’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

* He has no plan for mass testing.

* He has already let everyone know he’s unenthusiastic about masks.

* He wants to “liberate” states from stay-at-home orders.

* He wants to open up non-essential businesses as soon as possible.

* He appears to have no particular opinion about social distancing, school closings, or large gatherings.

In other words, he literally has no concrete response to the pandemic at all, aside from closing our borders and passing along damaging fictions about vaccines and folk remedies.

Speaking as an armchair psychologist, my take on this is that Trump has absolutely no clue what he’s supposed to be doing about the pandemic, because it is utterly outside his very limited experience. And he is incapable of learning, so he’s not going to somehow salvage some initial mistakes with more proactive and effective policies. That would be like expecting a poodle to play the tuba.

Now Trump is flailing around trying to promote himself as a successful, tough-guy president without having accomplished anything to address the pandemic. His big strategy so far was a hail-mary pass — being the big hero who saves everyone with the miracle drug hydroxychloroquine! But after weeks of promotion, and after stockpiling 29 million pills, the hail mary turned into a fumble. So what’s next?

“Next” appears to be that Trump will revert to his original strategy of pretending his mightly mind-beams can just make the pandemic go away. There are reports he even wants to resume rallies.

But the lipstick-on-the-pig strategy is unlikely to work.

Donald Trump’s botched handling of the Covid-19 crisis has left the US looking like a “third world” country and on course for a second Great Depression, one of the world’s leading economists has warned.

In a withering attack on the president, Joseph Stiglitz said millions of people were turning to food banks, turning up for work due to a lack of sick pay and dying because of health inequalities.

The Nobel prize-winning economist said: “The numbers turning to food banks are just enormous and beyond the capacity of them to supply. It is like a third world country. The public social safety net is not working.”

I doubt most Americans grasp the depth of the trouble we’re in. There is still a lot of hope that in a month or two everything will go back to how it was. But that’s very unlikely. This disaster may be just getting started.

The November election is going to be a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Trump is desperate for that to be otherwise, but there’s nothing he can do about it, or at least nothing he will do about it that won’t backfire. All other conventional wisdom is now cancelled. Republicans who assume turnout from Trump’s base will save them in November are in denial, as are lefties who are still arguing that Joe Biden can’t win without the progressive vote. It may barely matter who the Dem nominee is by November.

Do read Everyone is in denial about November by Daniel Drezner. In the face of the pandemic, Republican strategies about messaging and smearing Joe Biden for this or that issue just seem pathetic. “The important thing is that campaign tactics are meaningless when the administration has bungled its pandemic response and the economy is cratering,” Drezner writes.

The only thing that could save Trump is to successfully re-open the economy so that the pandemic is no longer an issue in November. His own incompetence has gotten in the way, however. The experts keep saying test! test! test! And Trump has washed his hands of tests. Instead he appears to be embarking on “Hail Mary 2.0: The Return to Prosperity.” Just push open the economy, now, without testing and tracing. Those governors who won’t comply might be subject to legal action from Attorney General Barr. The strategy appears to be to turn the pandemic restrictions into a red state versus blue state culture war issue, never mind that some Republican governors have seen the light about the restrictions.

But the public health experts say that reopening the economy prematurely will almost certainly result in another wave of virus deaths, possibly worse than the first wave. And as long as the virus is lurking out there, the crowds will not be returning to stadiums, shops, or restaurants even if they’re open. Some people, yes, but possibly not enough to turn a profit. And then when new cases flare up, the restrictions will have to be imposed again. See Matt Yglesias, Opening Up the Economy Won’t Save the Economy.

I have little hope that Trump won’t continue to screw up America. Trump doesn’t want to hear about the tests, possibly because even he suspects pandemic is more widespread than we know. Numbers might make him look bad! In his narrow little mind, mass testing is not in his self-interest.

But you can’t hide the reality of death. The officially recorded numbers of cases of and deaths from covid-19 are almost certainly lower than actual infections and deaths, but the low numbers are bad enough and going up fast. (I’ve added a link to the right-hand sidebar, right over the calendar, that provides a running update of the official number of infections and death by covid 19 in the U.S.. Checking the numbers daily is disturbing.)

There are signs that Trump’s support among seniors is eroding fast.

The latest Morning Consult poll found that 65-and-older voters prioritized defeating the coronavirus over healing the economy by nearly a 6-to-1 ratio. And over the past month, they’ve become the group most disenchanted with Trump’s handling of the crisis. In mid-March, seniors were more supportive of Trump than any other age group (plus-19 net approval). Now, their net approval of the president has dropped 20 points and is lower than any age group outside of the youngest Americans.

Those findings were matched by a new NBC/WSJ poll, which tested the presidential matchup between Trump and Joe Biden. Among seniors 65 and older, Biden led Trump by 9 points, 52 to 43 percent. That’s a dramatic 16-point swing from Hillary Clinton’s showing in the 2016 election; she lost seniors by 7 points to Trump (52-45 percent).

Greg Sargent:

Trump allies have tried to tell seniors that they shouldn’t feel this way, but that hasn’t gone too well. For instance, Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, gamely tried to argue that grandparents should perhaps be prepared to sacrifice themselves rather than allow the economy to continue to tank.

The national backlash was fierce. And as one of the polls highlighted above shows, seniors continue to disagree in overwhelming percentages.

It may be that this debate just might not provide Trump with the culture-war tinderbox he thinks it does.

See also Trump loves to create chaos. But it can come back to bite him.

And do see Richard Stengel, Why Trump’s Coronavirus Optimism Isn’t Working.

The projection of optimism is a hallmark of great leaders, and FDR might have been our greatest model of that presidential virtue. But from the first he was clear that in times of crisis, optimism also required realism—realism in the form of honesty about the nature of the challenge itself. He understood that to engage a whole nation, he could not sugarcoat the task ahead. Optimism had to be earned. In President Donald Trump’s efforts to project optimism, he has been anything but candid and honest. To simply say, “We see light at the end of the tunnel,” without facts or data to back it up, is not optimism but dissembling. Optimism unaccompanied by realism is hollow. Trump’s optimism is more like that of the classic American species, “the confidence man,” the swindler who sells you a bill of goods and then moves on to the next sucker. Moreover, his optimism always seems self-serving, as though it is more about people rewarding him for being upbeat than how he is grappling with the crisis itself. As FDR said in the third paragraph of his inaugural address, “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.”

Trump sometimes tries to project seriousness and empathy, but he fails. He lacks genuine empathy or emotional intelligence. Further, Trump’s incessant self-pity and complaining about the way he is treated is totally out of keeping with great leadership, especially in a time of crisis.

Polls are saying that a significant majority of Americans are reluctant to rush into re-opening the economy. But some of Trump’s favorite governors are rushing in where angels fear to tread:

By the end of the week, residents in Georgia will be able to get their hair permed and nails done. By Monday, they will be cleared for action flicks at the cineplex and burgers at their favorite greasy spoon.

And it will almost certainly lead to more novel coronavirus infections and deaths.

As several states — including South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida — rush to reopen businesses, the sudden relaxation of restrictions will supply new targets for the coronavirus that has kept the United States largely closed down, according to experts, math models and the basic rules that govern infectious diseases.

“The math is unfortunately pretty simple. It’s not a matter of whether infections will increase but by how much,” said Jeffrey Shaman, a leading epidemiologist at Columbia University.

And there is evidence the virus can spread through air conditioning systems. If true, this is going to be especially hard on the southern states.

This is going to be a year to remember. Stay safe.

U.S. President Donald Trump announces an agreement with Mexico on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque – RC1D94FA7CB0

Today’s Disaster News

Update: The Constitution versus Bill Barr

This just happened. See Barr Threatens Legal Action Against Governors Over Lockdowns

The Justice Department will consider taking legal action against governors who continue to impose stringent rules for dealing with the coronavirus that infringe on constitutional rights even after the crisis subsides in their states, Attorney General William Barr said.

I want Barr to be prosecuted for something as soon as we can get our hands on him.

The Senate just reached a tentative deal on another relief package, says the New York Daily News:

Senate Democrats, Republicans and the Trump administration have reached a tentative deal on $470 billion in coronavirus relief to expand testing and provide lifelines for cash-strapped small businesses and hospitals, a source involved in the negotiations told the Daily News on Tuesday.

The bill, which is $220 billion larger than the initial proposal put forth by Republicans last week, could be approved by the Senate as early as 4 p.m. Tuesday, when the chamber convenes for a pro forma session.

This could all fall through, of course. It ain’t a done deal. I do hope they don’t spin their wheels over it too much longer, though. People need help now.

Is this what’s happening to the PPE and ventilators being confiscated by the feds?

Newsweek reports:

The United States has fast-tracked assistance to North Korea in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes despite the countries’ leaders stalled denuclearization-for-peace talks and amid strict international sanctions. A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek that the U.S. had greenlit the delivery of certain goods to the largely closed-off country in an effort to ensure the country had access to critical supplies. 

BTW, there are reports that Jim Jong Un is seriously ill, and also reports that he isn’t. So take your pick.

Someday somebody’s going to take Dan Patrick at his word.

The lieutenant governor of Texas, who was criticized last month for saying it was worth risking lives to return to work if that meant saving the economy, has doubled down on his comments.

Dan Patrick, who turned 70 this month, faced a social media backlash in March for telling Fox News that many of his generation were willing to “take a chance” and return to work because an economy that was shut down by the coronavirus would harm future generations.

As parts of Texas started to reopen this week following weeks of restrictions, Patrick defended his comments on Monday, telling anchor Tucker Carlson again that the recent economic hardship had left him “vindicated.” …

… Patrick went on: “There are more important things than living, and that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us.”

I wouldn’t throw a victory party just yet, champ. The science guys are telling us that the pandemic is just getting started.

So much for hydroxychloroquine

The Associated Press:

A malaria drug widely touted by President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus showed no benefit in a large analysis of its use in U.S. veterans hospitals. There were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, researchers reported.


Another Trump misfire

Late last night Trump tweeted that he was going to order a temporary ban on all immigration. But now we’re hearing that farm workers are exempt. Somebody might have explained to the Stable Genius that food shortages won’t help him get re-elected. But is there any other immigration going on right now? I can’t imagine anyone in a nice, sane country with sensible leadership would want to be here. See also Greg Sargent, Trump’s new immigration ban is a scam. Don’t pretend otherwise.

The Virus May Be Killing You Right Now Even If You Feel Fine

Not to be alarmist or anything, but medical science is still struggling to understand how the covid-10 virus works. A Dr. Richard Levitan writes in the New York Times about what’s been happening in Bellevue Hospital in New York City. In The Infection That’s Silently Killing Coronavirus Patients, Dr. Levitan explains that the virus is causing what he calls covid pneumonia, and that you can have this pneumonia without knowing it.

During my recent time at Bellevue, though, almost all the E.R. patients had Covid pneumonia. Within the first hour of my first shift I inserted breathing tubes into two patients.

Even patients without respiratory complaints had Covid pneumonia. The patient stabbed in the shoulder, whom we X-rayed because we worried he had a collapsed lung, actually had Covid pneumonia. In patients on whom we did CT scans because they were injured in falls, we coincidentally found Covid pneumonia. Elderly patients who had passed out for unknown reasons and a number of diabetic patients were found to have it.

And here is what really surprised us: These patients did not report any sensation of breathing problems, even though their chest X-rays showed diffuse pneumonia and their oxygen was below normal. How could this be?

The doctor explains that the virus appears to cause a slow hypoxia, meaning that the infected person is slowly being deprived of oxygen without feeling discomfort or showing other symptoms. By the time people are sick enough to get to the hospital, the hypoxia is seriously bad, and the infected person is close to respiratory failure. If it could be caught sooner, Dr. Levitan says, a lot fewer people would need ventilators.

The doctor suggests that everybody should be screened through pulse oximetry. That’s the test they do in the doctor’s office by putting a little clip thing on your finger to test oxygen saturation. Easy peasy. People who have unusually low oxygen saturation should be further checked for coronavirus. That’s the most sensible thing I’ve heard this week. Of course, this is America, so it won’t be done.

More Stuff to Read

Facing a Dying Nation

If you read nothing else today, please do see George Packer’s We Are Living in a Failed State at Atlantic. It starts this way:

When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.

The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dys­func­tional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message.

And so on. Years of corruption, neglect, obstruction, program cutting, and economic inequality left us helpless to deal with with this pandemic in the manner befitting a first-world, industrialized nation, never mind the United States of America. Our federal government and many of our state governments are close to being utterly dysfunctional. Systemic change, anyone?

Not to say I told you so, but back in 2009 I wrote a post called “The U.S. as a Failed State” that holds up fairly well. And that links to a George Monbiot article in The Guardian that lamented our inability to address climate change. “Why do we treat the world’s most powerful and innovative nation as if it were a failed state, rejoicing at even the faintest suggestion of common sense?” Monbiot asks.

As many have said, the breakdown of effective government we are experiencing now has been a long time coming. Trump is a symptom, not the disease itself. However, he’s a late-stage symptom. It is particularly telling that all of our fail-safes built into the Constitution to remove a corrupt or despotic president, such as the 25th Amendment or impeachment, can’t work because there’s too much corruption in the rest of government to make it work. If the U.S. were a cancer patient, we’d be close to the point when the doctor says it’s too late to operate, but maybe we can get you into a research study.

Just one sign of our helplessness is that many of the so-called “stimulus” checks are lost in the system because over the years the IRS has been gutted. See Where’s your check? Ask GOP lawmakers. at the Washington Post.

Congress itself deserves much blame for the undercapacity of the IRS. Years of GOP defunding led to severe underinvestment in staff, technology and customer service, the folly of which is only more obvious now.

In normal times, the big problem with the Republican campaign against the IRS was that it led to lax enforcement of tax laws, which let cheaters skip out on paying massive amounts of money to the Treasury. Small amounts of funding spent to maintain a functional IRS would have yielded large amounts of income that the federal government was owed, at the same time ensuring fairness for the vast majority of Americans who obeyed the law.

Now the big problem is that Congress suddenly needs an efficient, staffed-up agency to help rescue the economy, but it must fight the downturn with the agency lawmakers built. Without the years of cuts, the IRS would be more capable of answering Americans’ many questions about confusing procedures to obtain their stimulus checks. It would also have had more capacity to build the technological tools it had to create on the fly to aid distribution.

Similar stories apply to many other government agencies. And then there’s our rickety health care system that’s been tooled to maximize profit over, you know, providing health care. After years of hospital closings — rural hospitals can’t make a profit, you know — and a large part of our population essentially cut off from health care because of no insurance, we are less able to deal with a pandemic than nations with a healtheir population and a national, taxpayer supported health care system. Bernie Sanders wrote in the New York Times recently,

The absurdity and cruelty of our employer-based, private health insurance system should now be apparent to all. As tens of millions of Americans are losing their jobs and incomes as a result of the pandemic, many of them are also losing their health insurance. That is what happens when health care is seen as an employee benefit, not a guaranteed right. As we move forward beyond the pandemic, we need to pass legislation that finally guarantees health care to every man, woman and child — available to people employed or unemployed, at every age.

The pandemic has also made clear the irrationality of the current system. Unbelievably, in the midst of the worst health care crisis in modern history, thousands of medical workers are being laid off and many hospitals and clinics are on the verge of going bankrupt and shutting down. In truth, we don’t have a health care “system.” We have a byzantine network of medical institutions dominated by the profit-making interests of insurance and drug companies.

So here we are. The old song from Hair seems to fit —

We starve-look
At one another
Short of breath
Walking proudly in our winter coats
Wearing smells from laboratories
Facing a dying nation
Of moving paper fantasy
Listening for the new told lies
With supreme visions of lonely tunes

Yesterday David Wallace-Wells wrote for New York magazine that The White House Has Erected a Blockade Stopping States and Hospitals From Getting Coronavirus PPE. I want to write more about that, mostly because it makes absolutely no sense unless you assume that at least part of the confiscated medical supplies are being re-directed into a black market, with Trump and his son-in-law getting a cut of the profits. Do read this for the details of how much has been confiscated by the feds. I’ll skip to the end:

You could call this piracy. You could call it sanctions. The federal government is choking supply chains to states like it chokes supply chains to Iran and North Korea. These blockades aren’t as complete as those surrounding sanctioned regimes, of course, and some amount of the disruption may be honest confusion in a time of crisis. But the disruption is being brought about by federal interference, and unlike the kind of disruptions you’d want to engineer against antagonistic states, the purpose seems completely unclear — indeed the policy is inexplicable and indefensible.

Which may be one reason why no explanation has been given. We don’t know where these supplies are going. We don’t know on what grounds they are being seized, or threatened with seizure. What business do the DHS and FEMA have with ventilators and PPE purchases by governors and local hospitals? “This is like a story out of the last days of the Soviet Union,” David Frum wrote on Twitter of the NEJM letter. “This is what it means to be a failed state,” wrote the essayist Umair Haque, echoing him. In the absence of an explanation, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than that this is simply mafia government, exerting control for the sake of control, not in spite of but because of the crisis-led demand, and squeezing the American people, as they die in hospital beds and attend — with inadequate protection — to the sick and scared.

And let’s not get started on the lack of oversight on the pandemic relief bills that have passed so far. But we can also go back to the failed Katrina response and the billions appropriated by Congress that, somehow, never seem to have reached the Lower Ninth Ward. I understand that what recovery was done there was done by private foundations and volunteers. I don’t believe there has ever been an accounting of which middlemen’s pockets that money disappeared into.

It didn’t start with Trump. But if you aren’t depressed enough yet, do read Paul Wadlman’s The War Against the States.

President Trump and congressional Republicans are going to war with the states.

It’s bizarre, it’s self-defeating, it will do enormous harm to Americans in every corner of the country, and it can be fully explained only by understanding the president’s pettiest and most narcissistic motives. In other words, it’s the kind of thing we’ve come to expect in the Trump era.

Last week, the $349 billion allotted for small businesses in the CARES Act rescue package ran out, with only a portion of the American businesses that have suffered in this pandemic-driven recession getting the help they need. While everyone seemed ready to provide more money, we found ourselves in a familiar situation, with Democrats saying we need to be swift and aggressive in saving Americans suffering from this economic catastrophe, and Republicans saying that we shouldn’t spend too much or help too many people.

The cities and states are facing huge budget shortfalls from losses of revenue and horrendous expenses, including paying three times too much for medical supplies. This is setting us up for a long-term economic recession if not depression. And the federal government is making it worse.

It is affecting red states and blue states, cities and rural areas, anyone and everyone. And you’d think that even if they’re indifferent to human suffering, Republicans should at least see it as in their political interest to help. After all, the worse the recession is, the less likely it is that Trump will be reelected and that Republicans will hold on to the Senate.

So why is it that Democrats have to beg and plead for aid to states and cities, while Republicans resist?

Waldman says the most likely explanation is that the Trumpies think the shortfalls will force states to re-open their economies sooner than they would like. Economists don’t think it’s possible to re-start the economy until people stop being fearful of the virus, but Trump and his enablers don’t see that. They want normal life to resume now. They want the pre-pandemic stock market back.

That is, in a word, bonkers. It’s as though they think state governors (of whom there are 26 Republicans and 24 Democrats) are keeping lockdown orders in place only because they and their citizens haven’t been forced to endure enough economic pain; let them suffer a little more, and out of desperation they’ll lift the orders even if public health concerns dictate otherwise.

Trump’s support for the anti-restriction protesters is of a piece with this. If he can’t order the states to end restrictions, he’ll force it some other way.

It may be that if Democrats are very successful in November we can begin to salvage what’s left of our country, although I’m not that confident that Joe Biden is the guy to provide leadership for that. But if Republicans keep the Senate, or the White House, or both, there will be no salvaging anything. Whatever can be sold off for parts will be sold, and the rest will be left to rot. Maybe we’ll get CARE packages.