The Week of Saturday, February 22 through Friday, February 28, 2020 [#32]
The Week’s Most Notable:
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) becomes the lead story. Two months ago, some people kept an eye on developments in China. A month ago, the virus officially escaped China and many people began keeping an eye on it. This week stock markets began crashing, thousands have died, and 56 countries report cases. Next week?
Because it aggressively affects the lungs and is relatively contagious, the more people know about coronavirus the more disturbing it seems. The fatality ratio still hasn’t been precisely determined but looks to be about 2%. That’s way above common flu (0.1%) but far from the worst. Nevertheless, because it spreads readily and the fatality risk is real, the coronavirus provokes drastic reactions – businesses close, people are quarantined en masse, transportation crawls, and events are canceled. It can have a big impact on the life of a community and a country.
To be completely realistic about it, the most far-reaching impact may be economic. By disrupting work and transport patterns all over the world, the relatively fragile links between supply chains (especially just-in-time systems) may get out of synch, if not broken. When that happens, economies slow down, possibly for months. In fact, if it truly turns into a pandemic the coronavirus could cause a global recession. That’s why stock markets worldwide are “adjusting” (which looks a lot like crashing).
Saturday, February 22
[Election 2020] Sanders Handily Wins Nevada Caucuses – The clear victory, with the second-place Biden and third-place Buttigieg receiving less than half his vote, puts Sanders in a strong national position. Expect that he will take a heavy attack from corporate and establishment Democrats leading up to the South Carolina primary.
[Syria] Fighting Between Turkish and Syrian Forces – Russian backed Syrian forces attacked Turkish troops in northwest Syria, reportedly killing 33 soldiers. Turkey threatened retaliation. Putin, Merkel, and Macron will meet in March with Erdogan to discuss the situation. Meanwhile, after threatening to do so for several weeks, Turkey is now sending Syrian refugees into the EU, claiming that it is not getting enough support, as in being paid (more) to keep the Syrian refugees.
Sunday, February 23
[Coronavirus] Italy Isolates a Dozen Towns – In a few days the number of infected went from 3 to 152, provoking community-wide quarantine procedures. Large-scale quarantines are also in the works for Germany, Great Britain, Japan, and at least a dozen other countries.
[Coronavirus] South Korea Raises Highest Alert – With the number of infections exceeding 600, and five dead so far, the government announced travel restrictions and potential closings of schools and government operations.
[Government] Trump Compiles “Enemies List” of Government Officials – Trump is using White House staff in a concerted effort to remove “disloyal” federal employees. He referred to people who don’t agree with him as Deep State “snakes” who need to be fired.
Monday, February 24
[Trump in India] Modi Plies Trump with Pageantry – In addition to a massive rally in the world’s largest cricket stadium, Trump and Melania also visited the Taj Mahal. Trade talks are also scheduled and likely to be preliminary.
[Coronavirus] Stock Markets Plunge on Coronavirus Fears – In the U.S. the Dow dropped more than a thousand points [a pattern that held for the rest of the week]. International recognition that the Chinese economy is all but shut down has forced investors to attempt to adjust to the ripple effect.
[Weinstein Trial] Weinstein Found Guilty on Two Counts – His guilty verdicts on sexual assault and 3rd-degree rape charges are something of a milestone in the #MeToo era. That he was acquitted on other more serious charges demonstrates the difficulty of proving sexual assault, given contemporary laws and mores.
[India Riots] Riots over Citizenship Law Kills Seven in New Delhi – Just as Trump was praising the moderation and tolerance of Modi’s India, despite the Kashmiri crackdown, rioting and demonstrations over Muslim oppression by Hindus broke out in several cities.
Tuesday, February 25
[Coronavirus] CDC Warns of U.S. Disruption as Coronavirus Spreads – Although the numbers of affected are still small, the CDC expects the virus will spread and that peoples’ frightened reactions, combined with control measures, will have a profound effect on communities and the economy.
[Election 2020] Democratic Presidential Debate – In the run-up to the South Carolina primary and the last of the scheduled debates, as expected most candidates turned their attacks on front-runner Bernie Sanders. What ensued has been generally characterized as a melee with no particular winner. Trump and the GOP quickly made political hay from the unruly event.
Wednesday, February 26
[Sanctuary Cities] Court Rules Trump Can Freeze Funds to Sanctuary Cities – In a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed that the administration can legally freeze money to so-called Sanctuary Cities until they conform to Trump’s immigration management requirements. The case may now go to the Supreme Court, where a similar ruling is likely. Another piece of Trump’s immigration power-play is falling into place.
[Coronavirus] Trump Appoints Pence Coronavirus Czar – At the same time, he announced that all official communications concerning the virus must go through Pence’s office. This effectively muzzles the experts and thus the media, and puts the spin in the hands of unqualified, science-denying Mike Pence. [Trump had earlier named HHS Secretary Alex Azar to head a virus Task Force; now it’s Pence, who in turn named Deborah L. Birx as response coordinator. Three heads, all in less than two months.]
[Mass Shooting] Milwaukee Brewery Employee Kills Five – Duly and dully noted.
Thursday, February 27
[Coronavirus] Whistleblower Files Complaint against HHS – A Health and Human Services employee filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, claiming that more than a dozen workers were dispatched without proper training and equipment to work with American evacuees from China to California. The upshot: the employee’s job has been threatened and two new cases of infection have occurred in that same area of California.
Friday, February 28
[Congressional Subpoena Power] Court Rules McGahn Does Not Have to Honor House Subpoena – A three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit took the position that it cannot adjudicate constitutional issues between branches of government. The next step is an appeal to the full court (en banc), followed by an appeal to the Supreme Court.
[Coronavirus] Dow Average Finishes Week Down Over 3500 Points – Not since the financial crash of 2008 have markets dropped this much so fast, which underscores the economic vulnerability associated with a pandemic.
[Director of National Intelligence] Trump to Nominate Ratcliffe for DNI Post – Representative John Ratcliffe (R-TX) was nominated once before for the job of national intelligence director. Thoroughly unqualified and with a questionable legal background, he was rejected by both Democrats and Republicans and pulled by Trump. This time around he appears to be a red herring. If again rejected by the Senate, current acting DNI Michael Grenell will remain in place for another 263 days, which appears to be what Trump wants to continue his purge of the intelligence agencies.
[Immigration] Appeals Court Blocks “Remain in Mexico” Policy – A cornerstone of the Trump immigration agenda is to send asylum-seekers back to Mexico to wait for their appeal; a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled against the policy but did not lift the stay issued by another court, pending further appeal.
Will the coronavirus be Trump’s undoing? This is a question serious people are pondering, and sometimes asking. How will Trump handle the first major crisis not of his own making? By the record so far, the Trump administration is not off to a good start. It began by pooh-poohing the danger, “It’s a Chinese problem,” “It’s really just a common cold.” Then stock markets started to crash and the knee-jerk response was to calm the markets, which didn’t work and looked like caring more about markets than lives. By the end of the week Trump had replaced HHS Director Alex Azar with the unqualified Mike Pence as a kind of hall monitor/czar/media censor and explicitly blamed Democrats and the media for hyping a hoax. So far, there is no national policy, no rapid response team, and quite a lot of semi-official denialism. Given the lack of preparation and an obvious unwillingness to face the problem, Trump may be engaging in an epic wager – that the coronavirus is, to use a very Trumpian derogative, a nothingburger.
However, if (and it’s still a big if) the coronavirus outbreak goes massively viral (pun intended) and infects, say, a million people or more – there will be someone to blame. If the economy starts to tank, the presidential election comes squarely into play. This is a complex situation with more unknowns than knowns: don’t make any bets.
Sanders is up, Bloomberg is not out, Biden will be buoyed by a win in South Carolina, and everybody’s fortune seems to be riding on the 14 primaries of Super Tuesday next week. The media, even right-wing media, have been playing this like it was a momentous struggle between socialism (Sanders) and more reasonable centrist Democrats. It’s not clear voters actually see it this way, which is why the results from Super Tuesday are anything but a foregone conclusion. Even a brokered convention, a possible outcome of indeterminate voting, is unpredictable.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are passingly familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search (Google it).]
Quote of the Week
“Examples of Congress ceding its powers to the executive through the years include the power to regulate international trade, the power to authorize the use of military force in foreign conflicts and, when the president declares national emergencies, the power of the purse. In addition, the partisan gridlock that is all too routine in recent decades has led the executive branch to effectively ‘legislate’ on its own terms through executive order and administrative regulation. The Senate’s abdication of its legislative and oversight responsibilities erodes the checks and balances of the separate powers that are designed to protect the liberties on which our democracy depends.”
Open Letter to the Senate, signed by 70 Former Senators, 2/25/2020