The Virus vs. Our Ruling Fatuous Asses

I’ve argued for a while that the U.S. is being run by a class of decadent, inbred aristocrats. I wrote back in 2007 about Bush policies in Iraq

But after all that’s happened (and gone wrong), the unflappable hubris of the Bush Administration continues to amaze me. They remind me of Old World aristocrats — the ones in movies, anyway — inbred, vain, spoiled, and privileged. Movie aristocrats are arrogant fops who get shown up by the plain spoken American hero, who (unlike the fops) is skilled and experienced and smart. Now I wonder how many Bush Administration officials it takes to screw in a light bulb. Oh, wait, they have maids for that. Never mind.

See also Our Decadent Aristocracy, written a year ago.

Now here is another exhibit for the “this must be how democracies end” file. Some colossally fatuous ass named Richard Epstein wrote an analysis for the Hoover Institution “think tank” that argued everybody is overreacting to the pandemic and should just stop being hysterical. Oh, and social distancing is silly.

Now, Epstein is not just any colossally fatuous ass. He’s made a lucrative career of it. This is from Wikipedia:

Epstein is currently the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law and director of the Classical Liberal Institute at New York University, the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law emeritus and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago. In March 2020, Epstein influenced the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic with his writings where he attacked measures to enforce social distancing, claimed the Coronavirus was not a “pandemic,” and predicted there would ultimately be 500 American deaths.[1][2][3]

Epstein’s writings have extensively influenced American legal thought. In 2000, a study published in The Journal of Legal Studies identified Epstein as the 12th-most cited legal scholar of the 20th century. In 2008, he was chosen in a poll taken by Legal Affairs as one of the most influential legal thinkers of modern times. A study of legal publications between 2009 and 2013 found Epstein to be the 3rd-most frequently cited American legal scholar during that period, behind only Cass Sunstein and Erwin Chemerinsky. He has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1985.

You may think I’m being hard on Epstein. But I give you this interview with Epstein, The Contrarian Coronavirus Theory That Informed the Trump Administration by Isaac Chotiner in the New Yorker, in which Chotiner brilliantly allowed Epstein to display his fatuous assholery in all his ghastly glory. I’m not going to quote it; you really have to read the whole thing. It is jaw-dropping. The man has no clue what he is talking about and is clearly too stupid to realize he has no clue what he is talking about. Calling him a mere fatuous ass is being kind. But there he is, a fatuous ass who somehow is considered smart and scholarly and is paid a lot of money for it.

The ever-brilliant Andrew O’Hehir nailed Epstein’s ass in Salon:

Let us note that Epstein has zero expertise in science or medicine, and also that he belongs to the lard-ass “conservative intellectual” caste for whom pronouncing something “contrarian” always carries a sort of erotic thrill and always means that one is boosting the cause of so-called free-market capitalism, and arguing that anything government could possibly do is destructive (except to poison itself and die).

One gets the impression that the cognitively challenged Epstein has made a lucrative career out of telling the worshippers of “free market” capitalism what they wanted to hear.

Corrections and math errors aside, Richard Epstein did his duty to the overlord class that employs him. For a hot minute there, he slapped a seemingly dispassionate intellectual gloss on the notion that all this was a giant overreaction, and some new bug that might carry off a few less-than-productive grandmas was no reason to shut down the malls and the office parks and the call centers.

It appears that Epstein’s work of contrarian genius circulated rapidly — one could almost say virally — among the captains of Big Capital. I think it’s fair to say they were (and are) collectively shit-scared by the plunging stock market, the spiking unemployment numbers and, most of all, by the hypothetical possibility of losing their financial and ideological hegemony over the vast, rigged shell game of the global economy.

The old, inbred, decadent aristocracies that held absolute power in feudal times needed courtiers who catered to their greed and egos, and today’s aristocrats are no different. The key to success in America today isn’t hard work, talent, smarts, or good grades. It’s money and connections. And if you weren’t born into the aristocracy, you can become a member in good standing by providing pseudo-intellectual / propaganda support services to help the privileged and inbred stay in power — in other words, by telling the ruling overlords what they want to hear. Thus Richard Epstein.

Note that Epstein also is the author of a book that argues health care should not be a universal right.  Here is the Amazon blurb:

Most Americans assume that universal access to health care is a desirable and humane political goal. Not so, says distinguished legal scholar Richard Epstein. In this seminal work, he explodes the unspoken assumption that a government-administered, universal health-care system would be a boon to America. Basing his argument in our common law traditions that limit the collective responsibility for an individual’s welfare, he provides a political and economic analysis which suggests that unregulated provision of health care will, in the long run, guarantee greater access to quality medical care for more people.

At this point it’s obvious to anyone living in the Real World that “unregulated provision of health care” in some completely free-market system will mean that only the very wealthy will have access to 21st-centiury medical care. The rest of us will make do with quacks and witch doctors.

Now that the coronavirus has so publicly pantsed Epstein, one would think his career would be over. But it won’t. In today’s America you can be such a completely fatuous ass that you can barely tie your own shoes and still get paid for your opinion. See, for example, Mark Penn.

Even so, history shows us that aristocracies tend to be self-limiting. Eventually, after generations of insulation and inbreeding, there are no candidates for the throne who aren’t hopelessly dimwitted and demented, and then comes the coup or the revolution and the cycle begins again. The frailties and insulations of our aristocracy — both parties — gave us the ultimate in dimwitted and demented rulers, Donald J. Trump. I question whether there will be a coup or revolution, however, because there is just too much damn money invested in the old order. Our situation may have to get even worse before the chains can be broken. And they need to be broken.

Jet Heer writes of Richard Epstein,

Although Epstein is a crackpot, he’s a crackpot who has a far-reaching influence thanks to the right-wing legal network that has nurtured his entire career. His absurd article on the coronavirus is not just a personal scandal or a blot on his record, but also evidence of wider social and political corruption.

Epstein has been allowed to flourish thanks to a host of institutions, including the Federalist Society, the University of Chicago, New York University, and the Hoover Institution. All of them are tarnished by his ridiculous coronavirus article.

The pandemic has made Epstein more famous, but his ideas have been circulating in elite legal and political circles for decades. As such, his influence on the current moment is deeper than just a few articles read in the Trump White House. As author Matt Stoller tweeted, “In case you’re wondering why we can’t handle the #coronavirus as a society it’s because Richard Epstein types have been designing our corporate and government bureaucracies for four decades.” In other words, Epstein’s delusional views on the coronavirus resonate in the Trump White House because Republicans have been acting on Epstein’s ideas for decades.

These are, of course, the same people who fight us on global climate change, health care, income inequality, and every other issue you can think of. IMO the nation can’t survive their influence much longer.

Update: See also Paul Campos, A Plague of Libertarians

 

It’s Everywhere, It’s Everywhere …

So far, the pandemic has hit big cities/blue states a lot harder than rural areas/red states. But that’s likely to change. Nate Silver wrote a couple of days ago,

Overall, although the number of detected cases is higher in blue states, the number is increasing at a more rapid rate in red states.1 Moreover, blue states have conducted more tests per capita than red states, so — given that the large majority of coronavirus cases remain undetected — the lower rate of cases in red states may partially be an artifact of less testing.

It already has changed, actually. New York City is being slammed, but if you remove New York, the distribution between red and blue states looks a lot more even.

About three-quarters of the confirmed cases in the United States are in states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. About half are in New York alone. …

… If we take New York out of the mix, the distribution of confirmed cases still indicates that blue states, which often are more heavily urban and populous, have the most cases. But this also reveals there are a number of states that preferred Trump in 2016 and now have a significant number of cases. …

… New York has more cases in part because it’s got more people. If we control for population, showing the number of confirmed cases per 100,000 residents in a state, other problem areas emerge. The District of Columbia, for example, has the fifth-most cases as a function of population. Louisiana has more cases as a function of population than any other red state, by a wide margin. …

… What’s important is that the number of cases has increased significantly across the board. In states that voted for Clinton in 2016, which make up three-quarters of known cases, the number of new confirmed cases from March 17 to March 24 increased by an average of 530 percent.

In red states, the average increase was 860 percent.

It’s now widely believed the rapid spread of the virus in Louisiana began with the big crowds in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, February 25.

And then there’s Florida, whose utterly worthless governor refused to close beaches for spring break and who still hasn’t issued shelter-in-place orders for his state. Instead, Gov. DeSantis has become obsessed with keeping New Yorkers and other “foreigners” out of Florida. It appears DeSantis was the one who put the idea of putting all of New York under quarantine into Trump’s head. Trump was talked out of it last night some time. See also Florida begins coronavirus checkpoints, threatens jail time for out-of-state travelers who don’t self-quarantine.

In truth, there’s no question that the virus is spreading freely within Florida and is past the point of containment. “The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Florida is doubling every three days,” it says here. It’s way too late to keep the virus out. In a couple of months, Floridians may be trying to escape to New York.

As the pandemic spreads into rural areas, another big weakness in our sorry-ass health care system will soon come into view — the shortage of rural hospitals. More than half the counties in America have no intensive care beds, it says here.

Even in heavily impacted blue states, though, there is a significant partisan difference in how people understand the crisis, with Democrats taking it more seriously than Republicans. “Republicans consistently report less concern about the virus and that they’re taking fewer actions meant to slow the virus’s spread,” writes Philip Bump at WaPo. We’ll see if that attitude persists when the pandemic gets personal. Right now, it’s still an abstraction.

At Rolling Stone, Sean Woods says that the coronavirus pandemic can be compared to a fast-motion climate crisis.

Warnings about the crisis went unheeded. Scientists were ignored and called doomsayers. The press accounts were labeled fake news and brushed aside. “The cure would be worse than the illness” went the argument. Government watchdogs saw their budgets gutted. Lawmakers misled the country and did more harm then good. We were told by leaders that “everything was under control” or that the worry was nothing more than “a hoax.” …

…The mishandling of the coronavirus has terrifying parallels to the climate crisis. It’s difficult to think about the other civilizational calamity on our doorstep. It’s much easier to be consumed by what’s happening right now, or better yet to hunker down and binge watch your favorite shows and hope the plague passes over. But we cannot. Both tests call for innovation and a collective response. During the pandemic, we have witnessed failures of leadership but also incredible bravery, resolve, sacrifice, and innovation. That is the blueprint for our future. …

… In the face of the coronavirus and the climate crisis, any ideology that worships profit above all else, that trumpets individualism above the common good every single time, is simply a roadmap to self-immolation. As Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told Rolling Stone’s Tessa Stuart, “It’s not just about the science — it’s about the systems that protect all of the power that goes into defying the science.”

I’m reading that in places like New York, the peak probably will hit about mid-April. In rural areas, it will be later. And it is possible — no one really knows — that the spread of the virus will slow as the weather warms up. But even if that’s so, it will be back in the fall. There won’t be any escaping it.

So Much for Oversight

When he signed the phase three relief bill yesterday, Trump added a signing statement saying that the oversight part of the bill wouldn’t be enforced, and he’s not too keen on some other parts, either.  Here is the signing statement, obviously written for Trump by some lawyers, if you want to read it.

Charlie Savage wrote in the New York Times,

In a signing statement released hours after Mr. Trump signed the bill in a televised ceremony in the Oval Office, the president suggested he had the power to decide what information a newly created inspector general intended to monitor the fund could share with Congress.

Under the law, the inspector general, when auditing loans and investments made through the fund, has the power to demand information from the Treasury Department and other executive branch agencies. The law requires reporting to Congress “without delay” if any agency balks and its refusal is unreasonable “in the judgment of the special inspector general.” …

… But in his statement, which the White House made public about two hours after the president signed the bill, Mr. Trump suggested that under his own understanding of his constitutional powers as president, he can gag the special inspector general for pandemic recovery, known by the acronym S.I.G.P.R., and keep information from Congress.

Of course, the only reason he would want to keep such information from Congress is that he’s funneling the money to his deep pocket political supporters and his own businesses. An honest president wouldn’t have any problem with the oversight.

In other news, now Trump is pushing to get his signature on the $1200 checks going out to individuals. Usually, a disbursing officer’s signature would be on such checks. Those of us who get tax refunds through direct deposit will avoid the dreaded signature, of course. But considering that the paper checks will be considerably slower than the direct deposits, possibly by months, this may not do Trump any good, politically. (Does anyone remember if George Dubya Bush’s “tax rebate” checks of 2001 had his signature on them?)

Among the weirder bits of news today — Trump announced he was “thinking about” putting a quarantine on New York, and maybe New Jersey and parts of Connecticut as well. It’s not clear to me whether “New York” refers to the city or the state. It’s also not clear to me what good that would do now. Andrew Cuomo was not consulted.

Must Reads

The Lost Month: How a Failure to Test Blinded the U.S. to Covid-19, the New York Times.

Executive summary: Everyone in an administrative capacity in the Trump Administration is grossly incompetent, with the exception of Dr. Fauci.

The missing six weeks: how Trump failed the biggest test of his life, the Guardian.

“The US response will be studied for generations as a textbook example of a disastrous, failed effort,” Ron Klain, who spearheaded the fight against Ebola in 2014, told a Georgetown university panel recently. “What’s happened in Washington has been a fiasco of incredible proportions.”

The Great Ventilator Flap

I’ve been struggling to write something about the failures of the Trump administration to address the pandemic, and it’s just too overwhelming. There have been other incompetent presidents, but I don’t believe we’ve ever faced a serious crisis with such a total failure of leadership. So I’m scrapping what I’ve been working on and starting over.

Today Trump tweeted this:

Mary B is GM CEO Mary Barra. “Invoke ‘P'” may refer to the Defense Production Act, which Trump likes to toss around as a kind of threat.

And then he tweeted this:

Because, you know, an automobile plant can be retooled to make medical ventilators at the drop of a hat. What are they waiting for (she said, sarcastically)? But Trump claimed a week ago that GM, Ford, and “many other companies” were already making ventilators, which turned out not to be true.

But here’s more to this ventilator story. Yesterday the New York Times reported on a potential deal with GM that was dropped by the White House.

The White House had been preparing to reveal on Wednesday a joint venture between General Motors and Ventec Life Systems that would allow for the production of as many as 80,000 desperately needed ventilators to respond to an escalating pandemic when word suddenly came down that the announcement was off.

The decision to cancel the announcement, government officials say, came after the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it needed more time to assess whether the estimated cost was prohibitive. That price tag was more than $1 billion, with several hundred million dollars to be paid upfront to General Motors to retool a car parts plant in Kokomo, Ind., where the ventilators would be made with Ventec’s technology.

I suspect it would take a boatload of money to retool a car parts plant to produce something entirely different. And capitalism says you’re supposed to make a profit.

Oh, and the New York Times article says that the FEMA effort to get more ventilators is being directed by Jared Kushner, which probably has a lot to do with why it’s not happening.

A General Motors spokesman said that “Project V,” as the ventilator program is known, was moving very fast, and a company official said “there’s no issue with retooling.” …

The only thing missing was clarity from the government about how many ventilators they needed — and who would be paid to build them.

Those are common questions in any manufacturing venture, I would think.

The initial projection, one senior administration official said, was that after three weeks of preparation it could produce an initial run of 20,000 ventilators, or about two-thirds of what Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York recently said his state alone needed to cover the influx of coronavirus patients expected in two weeks, if not sooner.

That number then shrank to 7,500 ventilators in the initial run, or maybe 5,000, an apparent recognition that auto transmissions and ventilators had very little in common. Those numbers are in flux and so are the Trump administration’s because the White House cannot decide how many ventilators it wants.

So the real fault here is that Mr. Ivanka is in way over his head and doesn’t really understand how any of this manufacturing and production stuff works. And his father in law is even more clueless. Anyway, Josh Marshall wrote,

While Americans die in escalating numbers and hospitals around the country announce plans to deny care to those already seriously ill the White House is negotiating with various businesses and joint ventures over producing ventilators. Today a deal with GM and Ventec was put on hold because the White House was unsure whether it was paying too much or whether they’d be purchasing too many and left with extra ventilators there was no need for. The White House point man on this critical life and death effort is Jared Kushner. They’re trying to cut the best deal while people die. It will make you furious and it may make you cry.

Indeed.

New York, especially New York City, is being slammed by the pandemic. This is from three days ago:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo sounded his loudest alarm yet on New York’s coronavirus crisis Tuesday, warning the curve was showing no signs of flattening out and was in fact rising faster and more dangerously than projected. He said last week that peak infection was 45 days out; now, he says, the state may see it in two weeks.

It looks like the wave will be bigger, and crash harder, than expected. “We have exhausted every option available to us,” Cuomo said Tuesday, declaring with unprecedented urgency that New York needs help now — and far more than it has gotten to date.  …

… The federal government has sent supplies, including masks and gowns and another 400 ventilators that arrived in New York City this week. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the city needs 15,000 — the state needs double that, on top of the 7,000 it already has procured. The governor’s frustration boiled over Tuesday.

“What are we going to do with 400 ventilators when we need 30,000? You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators,” Cuomo said.

And how did our president respond?

President Trump pointed the finger right back, saying Cuomo declined to order 15,000 ventilators in 2015. He quickly shifted tone, adding, “I’m not blaming him or anything else … but he shouldn’t be talking about us. He supposed to be buying his own ventilators … we’re going to help.”

I have not been able to find out why Cuomo was supposed to order 15,000 ventilators in 2015. Right now state governors are bidding against each other, and FEMA, for needed supplies. It’s a mess. But I’ll come back to that.

Last night, no doubt pissed at Cuomo and frustrated by not having some great deal to brag about, Trump went on Hannity’s show and declared New York doesn’t need that many ventilators, anyway.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being in said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be. I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators,” Trump said. “You know, you go into major hospitals, sometimes they’ll have two ventilators, and now, all of the sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

Because, you know, Andy Cuomo just asked for all those ventilators to mess with Trump. He doesn’t really need them. Right? But today Trump is rage tweeting that GM had better crank out those 40,000 ventilators, fast.

Obviously, Trump is furious that the pandemic is messing with his glorious administration and making him look bad. And he’s flailing and shrieking, and by now the entire White House staff must be ready for straightjackets and a few hours in a rubber room.

Trump’s next move in the ventilator spat was to insist New York already had ventilators.

Cuomo responded that the ventilators he requested were in addition to what he already had. As it says above somewhere New York has a stockpile of 7,000 ventilators procured from various sources, plus it had received 400 from the federal government. They are not being distributed now because the peak hasn’t hit yet.

“We’re gathering them in the stockpile so that when we need them they will be there,” Mr. Cuomo said of the ventilators. “We don’t need them today because we’re not at capacity today.”

But that was enough for the Fox News and New York Post propagandists to declare that Cuomo can just distribute the ventilators he already has and doesn’t need any more. This is the plan for covering up Trump’s inability to actually get anything done, such as make a deal with GM to manufacture some ventilators.

Unfortunately, it’s not just New York. Hospitals all over the country are reporting shortages of all sorts of vital equipment, including ventilators. There have been myriad news stories about this over the past several days.

Please see Critical Supply Shortages — The Need for Ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment during the Covid-19 Pandemic in the New England Journal of Medicine. Executive summary: Hospitals all over the country don’t have enough equipment. They all need a lot more equipment. They will need a lot more equipment over the next few months. What they have now is not nearly enough. Without enough ventilators, people who could have been saved will die. Without enough personal protective equipment, medical personnel will die.

This is what has been happening in Italy and elsewhere, and it’s about to happen here. And instead of addressing the problem, Trump goes on Fox News to make excuses. See also Greg Sargent, Trump just raged at Michigan’s governor. Here’s what’s really behind it.

Right now there is breaking news that Trump has actually used the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to make the damn ventilators.

President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act to make General Motors manufacture respirators to help fight the coronavirus outbreak. The announcement was made hours after Trump complained in tweets that GM and Ford were not doing enough to help produce the medical equipment during the pandemic.

“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” Trump said in a statement. “GM was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.”

GM was not wasting time. Trump was wasting time. And this should have been done days, if not weeks, ago. I will post more details when I have any.

Why “Demexit” Is an Empty Threat

(Taking a brief break from focusing on the coronavirus to look at the upcoming election and funky shit going on about it in social media.)

Here in the middle of a historic national crisis, I’m still seeing people on social media say Joe Biden should not be the Democratic nominee. Maybe he shouldn’t, but here in Reality World, Biden is going to be the nominee as long as he makes it to the convention alive and breathing. There’s really no point arguing about “shoulds” any more. We’re past that point. Continuing to argue against Biden’s nomination is a bit like arguing that the Texas Rangers shouldn’t trade Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. It’s done already.

By all means, go ahead and vote for another candidate in your primary if it hasn’t happened yet, and work to get out the vote for Sanders if you wish. And for those who don’t know me, I voted for Sanders in my state’s primary, which he lost to Biden, 35 percent to 60 percent. In 2016, it was Clinton 49.61 percent, Sanders 49.36 percent.

That’s the basic story of the 2020 primaries, in a nutshell. Sanders is not doing nearly as well as he did in 2016. That’s the hard reality.

Now, how much should Biden worry about younger lefty voters withholding their votes from him in November? Not too much, actually.

Biden needs some Sanders primary voters to support him in November, since Sanders has won about 31 percent of the national popular vote so far. But he doesn’t need every single one.

Note that Sanders received about 47 percent of primary votes in 2016, so he’s doing considerably worse overall now, possibly because younger voters are voting at lower rates this year and the union/working class votes he got in 2016 are now going to Biden.

Some Sanders-or-bust voters might stay home in November; that happens to some degree in every election.

But most Sanders voters don’t fit that description. According to a recent Morning Consult poll, 82 percent of Sanders supporters say they would vote for Biden in the general election, and just 7 percent said they would vote for Trump. And Quinnipiac University found that 86 percent of Sanders voters would vote for Biden, 3 percent would vote for Trump, 2 percent would vote for someone else, 4 percent wouldn’t vote, and 5 percent didn’t know who they’d vote for.

Of course, in a close election, every vote counts. So the Sanders voter factor is of some concern, but the Sanders camp doesn’t have nearly enough voting leverage to issue threats or make demands, sorry.

On the one hand, it’s possible that some of the anti-Hillary, conservative Democratic voters that Sanders won in places like Oklahoma and West Virginia are now Republicans who didn’t participate in the 2020 primary. But it’s also possible that a handful of those voters back Biden. For instance, he’s already been doing better than Sanders among white primary voters without a college degree, a group Sanders won handily in 2016.

So the tradeoff for Biden in 2020 may be that he loses youth turnout but gets more votes from suburban moderate types who are older. Given that older voters are more reliable voters, that might be an OK trade for Biden.

Basically, demographic groups who can’t be counted on to vote don’t get catered to by politicians.

Sanders’s argument before the primaries started was that he would do better with union and working-class and younger voters, as he did in the 2016 primaries. Younger voters in particular were anticipated to show up in record numbers. But the union/working-class vote has been going to Biden, and the youth vote turnout has been lower than in 2016. And Biden has been crushing Sanders with African-American and suburban voters, two groups considered most vital to beating Trump in November.

And no, there are no exit polls that show that Sanders should have won a lot of primaries that he lost but the evil DNC somehow changed the vote in spite of the fact that the DNC doesn’t run primaries; state election commissions run primaries. I keep seeing claims of these exit polls, but I have looked and looked and have yet to find solid evidence of one. I believe if such exit polls existed we’d be hearing about it from the Sanders campaign.

What about independent voters? I understand independents have preferred Sanders to Biden in several primaries, but that tells us nothing about how they are going to vote in November. And there are polls that show lefty-leaning independents preferring Biden to Sanders. Independents are not a monolithic group, but at the end of the day most independents lean toward one of the two parties and will vote for the nominee of the party they prefer, even if that nominee wasn’t their first choice. That’s the historic pattern.

The real determining factor in November is how badly independent voters will want to get rid of Trump. Few are going to think, “Gee, I hate Donald Trump with a white-hot passion, but I guess I won’t vote for Joe Biden because he wasn’t the best nominee.” No; they will vote for a bleeping gerbil to get rid of Trump.

On the other hand, if by November Trump doesn’t seem to be doing that badly, he could win a second term, and that would be true no matter who the Dem nominee is. In a close election, incumbents do have an advantage.

So, to those who haven’t yet adjusted to reality, please stop embarassing yourself with empty boasts about how millions of disaffected people will somehow do something that will teach the DNC a lesson. If it didn’t happen during the primaries, it’s not going to happen, period.

If you want to be useful, do whatever you can do to elect Democrats to the Senate and House. Because it’s really going to be Congress, not the president, who decides if the Green New Deal or Medicare for All becomes law. And, frankly, even if Sanders somehow sweeps the rest of the primaries and becomes POTUS, neither is likely to happen in a first term. Paul Krugman, last January:

What about Joe Biden? The Sanders campaign has claimed that Biden endorsed Paul Ryan’s plans for sharp cuts in Social Security and Medicare; that claim is false. What is true is that in the past Biden has often been a Very Serious Person going along with the Beltway consensus that we need “adjustments” — a euphemism for at least modest cuts — in Social Security. (Actually, if you go back a ways, Sanders turns out to have said similar things.)

But the Democratic Party as a whole has moved left on these issues, and Biden has moved with it. Even if he has a lingering desire to strike a Grand Bargain with Republicans — which I doubt — he would face such a huge intraparty backlash that he would be forced to back off.

So in terms of policy, here’s what I think would happen if Sanders wins: we’ll get a significant but not gigantic expansion of the social safety net, paid for by significant new taxes on the rich.

On the other hand, if Biden wins, we’ll get a significant but not gigantic expansion of the social safety net, paid for by significant new taxes on the rich.

One implication, if I’m right, is that electability should play a very important role in your current preferences. It matters hugely whether a Democrat wins, it matters much less which Democrat wins.

And if the GOP keeps control of the Senate, we’re screwed, no matter who is POTUS.

So, all of you people intoxicated with self-righteousness who are thumping your chests and proclaiming you will remain pure and principled and not vote for Biden and will lead millions of people out of the Democratic party and show the Democrats what’s what — please try to join the rest of us in Reality World. Oh, and take care against the Trump flu. Thanks much.

You Will Know Them By Their Priorities, II

Dan Patrick, Lt. Governor of Texas, got some attention when he asked older Americans to give their lives for the economy.

The premise of Patrick’s argument is, of course, since only the old folks die from Covid 19, aka “Trump flu,” it should be okay with them if we stop restricting economic activity and go back to work. If some old folks have to die off to save the economy, so be it. Seriously, that’s what he said.

First, let’s be clear that people of all ages are dying of Trump flu. A 31-year-old woman with no known medical issues just died in St. Louis. And a child has just died in Los Angeles County. Younger people shouldn’t assume they don’t need to worry. But Lt. Gov. Patrick has exposed something dark and ugly about his values. Do economies exist to serve people, or do people exist to serve economies? Clearly, Lt. Gov. Patrick believes the latter. Most Republicans and many neoliberal Democrats believe the latter. And by “the economy” is meant a means to generate great wealth for the few by exploiting the many.

For his part, Trump is tired of the virus and has gone back to wishing it away.

President Trump, in the latest signal of his mounting frustration with the economic impact of the coronavirus, is back to inaccurately comparing the death rates of the virus to the seasonal flu in order to justify calling for the reopening the economy in the near future—possibly as soon as Monday.

“We lose thousands of people a year to the flu, we never turn the country off,” Trump said during Fox News’ Tuesday coronavirus special. “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We didn’t call up the automobile companies and say, ‘Stop making cars, we don’t want any cars anymore.’ We have to get back to work.”

Trump then appeared to argue that the economic damage of keeping social distancing measures in place would bring a greater loss of life than the increase of deaths that experts have warned would come after ending the restrictions. “You’re going to lose more people by putting the country into a depression,” he said.

He’s going back to arguing that Covid 19 is no worse than the flu. He wants to order an end to the restrictions on business. The problem with that is that he isn’t the one who ordered a start to the restrictions on business. It’s governors, mayors, and other local officials who have done that, and few of these people are likely to lift restrictions on Trump’s say-so. His calculus appears to be that those governors, mayors, and other local officials can own the shutdown.

And yes, he’s very unhappy with the restrictions, for some reason.

President Trump’s private business has shut down six of its top seven revenue-producing clubs and hotels because of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, potentially depriving Trump’s company of millions of dollars in revenue.

Those closures come as Trump is considering easing restrictions on movement sooner than federal public health experts recommend, in the name of reducing the virus’s economic damage. …

… In his unprecedented dual role as president and owner of a sprawling business, Trump is facing dual crises caused by the coronavirus. As he is trying to manage the pandemic from the White House, limiting its casualties as well as the economic fallout, his company is also navigating a major threat to the hospitality industry.

That threatens to pull Trump in opposite directions, because the strategies that many scientists believe will help lessen the public emergency — like strict, long-lasting restrictions on movement — could deepen the short-term problems of Trump’s private business, by keeping doors shut and customers away.

So now much of the Right has concluded that We (or, rather, some other people We don’t know) Must Be Willing to Die for the Greater Good, the “greater good” being not inconveniencing rich people. Required reading today is Charles Pierce, No Thanks, I Will Not Immolate Myself on the Altar of Your Stock Portfolio.

Over the past couple of days, the response in certain quarters has turned ghoulish. Quite simply, it is becoming a kind of revealed wisdom on the right that we’re going to have to take some casualties—especially among we Olds—to get the economy moving again. … I’m telling you, by the weekend, screw-it-everybody-dies-sometimes will be Republican gospel. We’ll all be spring breakers on South Padre Island.

Dan Patrick isn’t even the worst example. “R.R. Reno, the editor of First ThingsAmerican Catholicism’s most prominent Pius IX fanzine, explained at length that demonic forces may be at work in the efforts to keep people from being dead,” Pierce writes. Yes, Reno believes demonic forces are at work in the pandemic, and we citizens have a duty to put our lives on the line and fulfill our economic functions, or Satan wins.

Note that Liberty University students have been ordered back to campus, over the objections of pretty much everyone in Virginia.

A writer to Talking Points Memo:

The comments I heard went something like this, “This is going to sound bad, but 2% really isn’t that many people and it’s mostly old people anyway. They’ve lived a good life. Overpopulation is a major problem and it will also help with social security.”

I’m writing in because I fear we are treating this as a more fringe idea than it actually is. I don’t think this is Trump reacting to his properties being forced to close or to a Fox News segment he saw. I think this has serious legs. …

It’s part Ebeenezer Scrooge morality; part inability/unwillingness to comprehend the scope of horror coronavirus is capable of inflicting on us. Of course, implicit in their thinking is that it won’t affect them.

We must be clear-eyed about what we’re up against. These people absolutely do not give a shit if 2.2 million people die. And they lack the imagination to understand what exceeding our hospital bed capacity by 30X looks like.

I really don’t think this is Trump sending out a trial balloon by himself. This is mainline Republican thinking and we should act accordingly.

See also Dana Milbank, Trump risks the lives of millions to save himself.

In Related News — There may be a vote on the Senate phase 3 stimulus bill this evening. Word is that the Republicans agreed to allow an inspector general and a five-person congressional panel to oversee the half trillion pot of money for corporations. I’d rather there were no half trillion pot at all, but at least this will make it harder for Mnuchin to use the fund to reward Trump and his campaign contributors.

Mitch Gets Obstructed

I’m reading that the Senate has nearly come to blows over the third stimulus bill. Democrats need to hold their ground; it’s a terrible bill. This Vox article explains the main ponts of contention pretty clearly. See also Greg Sargent, The GOP just smuggled another awful provision into the stimulus and Paul Waldman, Why we can’t trust Trump on the big bailout ‘slush fund.’

The primary issue is the “slush fund” which would give Steve Mnuchin a half trillion dollars to hand out to corporations enitrely at Mnuchin’s discretion, with no transparency whatsoever. Mnuchin is thoroughly corrupt; I wouldn’t trust him to watch my coffee for ten seconds. See Charles Pierce, No Thinking Person Would Vote to Give Steven Mnuchin a Blank Check.

Five GOP senators are in quarantine — Rand Paul is infected — and Mitch McConnell is resisting holding a remote vote. The Republican 53-47 majority has shrunk to 48-47, and Republicans need 60 votes to move forward. And so far, the Democrats have been united. Even Joe Manchin is refusing to switch sides and got into a shouting match with Mitch McConnell today

“You can throw all the money at Wall Street you want to,” Manchin said after McConnell blamed Democrats for a stalled stimulus bill. “People are afraid to leave their homes. They’re afraid of the health care. I’ve got workers who don’t have masks. I’ve got health care workers who don’t have gowns.”

“And it looks like we’re worried more about the economy than we are the health care and the wellbeing of the people of America,” the West Virginia senator complained.

Good for you, Senator. But as it is, the Senate can’t do anything without some Democratic votes, and so far the Dems are standing together. We’ll see if McConnell budges. No doubt the plan all along was to slam the Dems on obstructionism, anyway. But they need to pass a bill. Somebody must budge.

The NY Times editorial board:

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky failed to do his job this weekend. As the economy spiraled downward, Mr. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, said he would produce a bipartisan bailout bill authorizing an infusion of desperately needed aid.

Instead, Mr. McConnell emerged on Sunday evening with a bill that would provide a lot of help for corporate executives and shareholders, and not nearly enough for American workers. It would let the Treasury Department hand out hundreds of billions of dollars to corporations — potentially including businesses owned by President Trump — without requiring a binding commitment to preserve jobs and wages. And the bailouts could remain secret for six months.

Senate Democrats, refusing to play along, blocked the bill in a procedural vote on Sunday night and again on Monday afternoon. But responsibility for the deadlock rests squarely on Mr. McConnell’s shoulders.

The markets fell further today, which no doubt has the Creature in the White House enraged. It’s up to you, Mitch. As I write this Trump is on the teevee saying the Senate should pass the bill as written. This should not be a time for political agendas, he says. Like that GOP isn’t a political agenda?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, dismisses the impeachment process against President Donald Trump saying, “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process,” as he meets with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

You Will Know Them by Their Priorities

In an all-hands-on-deck crisis, those whose priorities lie elsewhere do stand out. For example, the wingnut attorney general of Ohio is using the pandemic as an excuse to close the state’s abortion clinics. AG Bill Barr has used the crisis to ask Congress to suspend habeas corpus and other rights, which beside being a terrible encroachment on the constitution just plain makes no sense. The request was rejected on a bipartisan basis.

It’s clear that Trump’s priority is blaming China. He is doubling down on calling Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” and complains that China could have kept it contained, a big change from his tune of a few weeks ago. This is too obviously an attempt to deflect blame for Trump’s own negligence, which has been massive. Republicans have joined in

At Trump’s behest, Republicans are blaming the coronavirus on China. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex, said, “China is to blame because the culture where people eat bats and snakes and dogs and things like that, these viruses are transmitted from the animal to the people and that’s why China has been the source of a lot of these viruses like SARS, like MERS, the Swine Flu.” Cornyn is a proud graduate of the Trump University School of Medicine.

This is, basically, the “Spanky did it first” defense beloved of small children.

The international community has work to do in preventing the transmission of viruses from animals to humans, but this doesn’t just happen in China. AIDS orignated in Africa, for example. The infamous “Spanish flu” epidemic of 1918-1919 may have originated in Kansas. This is an international problem.

And at this point it hardly matters how it started. Trump is still not doing enough himself. Right now we have a gross shortage of medical supplies. Right now medical personnel don’t have enough protective gear. It’s anticipated that very soon we will be short of hospital beds and respirators needed to keep people alive. And Trump is doing nothing.

Today, Trump tweeted that people should be blaming governors, not him.

Get that? Trump’s plan is to step in after the states fail.

Gov. Pritzker, who has been doing everything in his power about the virus, didn’t take this well.

Pritzker responded to Trump on Twitter soon after, saying, “You wasted precious months when you could’ve taken action to protect Americans & Illinoisans.”

“You should be leading a national response instead of throwing tantrums from the back seat,” he added. “Where were the tests when we needed them? Where’s the PPE [personal protective equipment]? Get off Twitter & do your job.” …

… Speaking with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Pritzker said the federal government’s response to the crisis has improved since earlier this month but that Illinois has received only about a quarter of the personal protective equipment that it has requested from the Trump administration.

“We … got a call this morning, before I went on the air, that we’re going to receive another shipment of PPE later today or tomorrow from FEMA,” he said. “But it’s a fraction still of what we have requested. We need millions of masks and hundreds of thousands of gowns and gloves and the rest. And, unfortunately, we’re getting still just a fraction of that.”

Pritzker said that, as a result, his state has to compete on the open market — against other states — for those items. Trump has pushed for states to secure masks and other essential items on their own.

“We’re all competing against each other. This should have been a coordinated effort by the federal government,” he said. “And the national defense authorization that the president has to essentially push this manufacturing really hasn’t gone into effect in any way. And, so, yes, we’re competing against each other. We’re competing against other countries. It’s a … Wild West, I would say, out there. And, indeed, we’re overpaying, I would say, for PPE because of that competition.”

Trump had already refused to help the governors who call him and begged for federal help.

President Donald Trump on Thursday put the onus on governors to obtain the critical equipment their states need to fight the coronavirus pandemic, telling reporters that the federal government is “not a shipping clerk” for the potentially life-saving supplies.

Appearing at the daily press briefing of the White House coronavirus task force, the president defended his decision to invoke the Defense Production Act — which would allow the administration to direct U.S. industry to ramp up production of emergency medical provisions — without actually triggering the statute.

“Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work, and they are doing a lot of this work,” Trump said. “The Federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. You know, we’re not a shipping clerk.”

I honestly believe Trump is just too bleeping stupid to understand the situation and what needs to be done. He has a great opportunity here to be the big hero and bleeping do something, and still he isn’t doing it.

Regarding the Defense Productin Act, this is dated March 18.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to get medical equipment to hospitals in the fight against the coronavirus.

But don’t expect new masks, ventilators, gloves and goggles to show up in the field right away.

The Trump administration has yet to complete a comprehensive assessment, despite weeks of discussion about using the act to help prevent the medical system from being overrun, according to current and former administration officials. Even Trump said on Wednesday that he’s in no hurry to order the supplies.

Today the chief of FEMA admitting nothing is happening.

President Donald Trump has invoked but not yet started using the Defense Production Act (DPA) to get companies to manufacture critical supplies for the fight against the coronavirus, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor revealed to CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday.

“No. We haven’t yet,” Gaynor replied when asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” if the Trump administration has ordered any companies to make critical medical supplies needed on the front lines of the coronavirus fight.

The FEMA chief insisted that donations and voluntary offers of assistance from companies are presently sufficient. “It’s happening without using that lever,” he explained, adding, “If it comes to a point we have to pull the lever, we will.”

Right now, Trump should already have ordered an assessment on what will be needed and where resources should be allocated, and the order to produce those resources should have been given. But Trump has done nothing.

This happened Friday:

On Friday, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, said he had urged Mr. Trump in a phone call to actually use the Defense Production Act to get going on producing more ventilators and other equipment needed to combat the virus, and that Mr. Trump had yelled to someone in his office to do it now.

I am not reassured.

Later that day, in a testy news conference, Mr. Trump claimed that he had already used the law to spur production of “millions of masks.” But Mr. Trump has a long history of saying things that have no basis in fact, and no company has disclosed receiving any such order.

In the most recent daily briefing Trump went out of his way to praise the private sector for stepping up to produce masks, ventilators, whatever, and that’s fine, but I’m betting no one is tracking exactly what is being produced and where it is going. A lot of that stuff will disappear into private hands. I can imagine that smaller publicly funded hospitals will go entirely without. And who is building facilities to provide for more hospital beds?

But get this — Trump’s offered help to North Korea.

President Trump has sent a letter to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, expressing his willingness to help the North battle the coronavirus, North Korea said on Sunday.

“I would like to extend sincere gratitude to the U.S. president for sending his invariable faith to the Chairman,” said Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader’s sister and policy aide, in a statement carried by the North’s state-run Korean? Central? News Agency. Ms. Kim lauded Mr. Trump’s decision to write the letter as “a good judgment and proper action.”

In the letter, Mr. Trump “wished the family of the Chairman and our people well-being,” Ms. Kim said, referring to her brother by one of his official titles.

But Chicago can just go bleep itself, I guess.

But this is what we can expect from Trump. He can blame China all day long; it was his own negligence that let it into the U.S.

When Wuhan began burning with infections in December, the U.S. government took only illogical, inadequate actions to stop the virus’s spread: It banned foreigners from entering from China, but inconsistently monitored Americans returning from the country. The president laughed off the virus and the Democrats’ response to it, calling it their “new hoax,” which immediately polarized the citizenry’s response to precautionary public-health information. When the sparks of this conflagration hit, Seattle was aflame before anyone at the CDC had started to reach for water.

And, we might ask again, where are the tests? One more time, this was Mike Pence a couple of weeks ago:

“Over a million tests have been distributed,” Pence said, and “before the end of this week, another 4 million tests will be distributed.”.

And that was all a bald-faced lie. There were no millions of tests. Testing is slowly becoming more available, but not available enough. According to the Covid Tracking Project, a total of 228,216 Americans have been tested to date. But even if everyone could get tested tomorrow, it’s too late to talk about containment. Containment may have been possible a few weeks ago, but the federal government moved way too slowly. See How the Coronavirus Became an American Catastrophe.

 

The Four Senators Who Sold Their Stocks Just in Time

By now you’ve heard that Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) is in big trouble for dumping stocks before the stock market crumbled. And you may have heard he wasn’t the only one. But Burr, who had already announced he would retire when his term ends in 2022, seems especially vulnerable, since even Tucker Carlson thinks he should resign.

Greg Sargent explains,

The revelations raise questions about whether private briefings that Burr, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, received from Trump officials about the scale of the threat might have influenced the financial move. As The Post summarizes:

Burr reportedly was receiving daily briefings on the threat of the virus. In mid-February, he sold 33 stocks held by him and his spouse, estimated at between $628,033 and $1.72 million, Senate financial disclosures show. It was the largest number of stocks he had sold in one day since at least 2016, records show.

Making this potentially worse, that same month, Burr privately advised a group of well-connected players that the coronavirus threat was very alarming — “akin to the 1918 pandemic” — even as Trump was publicly downplaying it.

But Burr doesn’t seem to me to be any more guilty than Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), who is running to keep her seat now.

The Senate’s newest member sold off seven figures’ worth of stock holdings in the days and weeks after a private, all-senators meeting on the novel coronavirus that subsequently hammered U.S. equities.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) reported the first sale of stock jointly owned by her and her husband on Jan. 24, the very day that her committee, the Senate Health Committee, hosted a private, all-senators briefing from administration officials, including the CDC director and Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on the coronavirus.

I seriously want Loeffler to be defeated.

When Loeffler assumed office, she immediately became the wealthiest member of Congress. The Atlanta businesswoman, whose husband is the chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, has a fortune estimated at $500 million.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA)

Next we move on to Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), one of the eight senators who voted against the first Covid-19 relief package this week, and who is also up for re-election.

A late January stock sale worth up to $750,000 was part of a continuing divestiture plan and unrelated to news about the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said Friday.

Senator Inhofe says he wasn’t at the January 24 meeting, nyah nyah nyah.

Of course, none of the other senators who did attend the meeting would have talked to him about it, would they?

There is also a Democrat in this mix. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sold between $1.5 million and $6 million in a biotechnology company’s stock in late January and early February.

Loeffler, Inhofe, and Feinstein say that they didn’t personally sell those stocks. Their financial managers sold those stocks; the senators themselves deny knowing anything about it. According to TPM, “Burr has since claimed that he dumped between $628,000 and $1.72 million of his holdings in February, based solely on publicly available news reports.” The “insider” information he was getting as a senator had nothing to do with it, he says.

One suspects we’ll be hearing more about this. And it’s not just about potential “insider” trading; it’s about these people knowing the situation was dire but going along with the Trump Administration’s claims that everything was just fine and under control. Well, the Republicans, anyway. I’m not aware of Feinstein trying to cover Trump’s ass.

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.