The Week of Saturday, March 14 through Friday, March 20, 2020 [#35]
The Week’s Most Notable:
Here are some salient points that developed this week in the coronavirus crisis:
– Congress and the administration knew from intelligence reports in January that the coronavirus would become a major worldwide problem. Because of political considerations, Trump and the GOP chose not only to do no preparation, but also to mislead the public. Chief among the many points of misinformation, the lack of sufficient ability for coronavirus testing was not addressed for two months.
– The United States missed the opportunity to use information generated by coronavirus testing to do what South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore did – identify the infected population, isolate it, and treat it without totally disrupting the economy.
– Not only are coronavirus tests lacking but also mundane medical supplies such as masks, personal protection equipment (PPE), and ventilators are in short supply. All of this put added pressure on hospitals and medical personnel, at some point exceeding their ability to treat patients. The dark shadow of Italy, approaching 1,000 deaths a day, may be in the near future for the U.S.
– Although the administration announced we were in a “war” against the coronavirus, there was no evidence of the kind of massive, systematic mobilization needed to conduct such a war. It became clear throughout the week that the Trump government could not or would not take the lead in coordinating an effort, but instead insinuated that it was a job for state and local governments. This guarantees an inconsistent patchwork response, resulting in unnecessary illness and death.
– During the week it also became clear that the economic damage done by coronavirus mitigation (such as restriction of movement, large-scale quarantine, voluntary isolation, and even social distancing) would be worse than anyone imagined. Other than the death count, the pain caused by a major recession and massive unemployment could prove greater than that of the illness itself. This highlighted a terrible trade-off: without testing and analysis as a guide, the effort to save lives damages the economy.
– Governments worldwide struggle to comprehend the magnitude of the coronavirus disaster and the necessary response. While epidemic specialists repeatedly said over-responding was necessary, leaders and legislators continue to think in terms of traditional budgets and “proportional” responses. Characterize this as too little, too late.
– While nobody knows the exact future of the coronavirus crisis, it’s likely to continue for 6 to 18 months. During that time, it will alter many patterns of life as we know them, perhaps permanently. As one headline put it, “The new coronavirus economy: A gigantic experiment reshaping how we work and live.”
Saturday, March 14
[Coronavirus] House Passes Coronavirus Relief Bill – While the legislation boosts unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, and Medicaid support, its coverage is very limited especially in the context of the ever-widening coronavirus crisis. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by President Trump, soon to be followed by far more expansive (and expensive) bills.
Sunday, March 15
[Election 2020] Sanders and Biden Debate – Billed as “too old white guys debate without a live audience,” it was a unique moment in American presidential campaigning – a field of candidates suddenly reduced to two (Tulsi Gabbard didn’t qualify), severely constrained by the coronavirus crisis, and the almost certain nomination of Joe Biden. it may have been Bernie Sanders’ last hurrah. It was a relatively solid, relatively even debate and unlikely to affect voter opinion.
[Coronavirus] Fed Cuts Rates – The U.S. Federal Reserve took the highly unusual initiative to cut federal interest rates to near zero while instituting a number of sweeping actions to preserve financial liquidity during the coronavirus crisis. This time there was no outcry of any kind.
[Coronavirus] Chaos at Major U.S. International Airports – Thanks to the sudden imposition by the Trump administration of travel bans for foreign travelers and the call for Americans to return to the United States, airlines and airports were caught off guard and unable to handle the complicated situation.
Monday, March 16
[Stock Markets] A Black Monday for the Stock Markets – The Dow index dropped nearly 3,000 points, highlighting the fear of a recession (or worse) caused by the coronavirus crisis.
[Coronavirus] Amazon to Hire 100,000 – One of the effects of the coronavirus crisis has been a massive spike in online purchasing from people who are quarantined or in voluntary isolation. This will become a major trend and may affect American retailing for years to come.
[Iraq] U.S. Begins Moving Troops from Iraq – As part of the agreement with Iraq to decrease the number of U.S. troops there, hundreds are being moved from three small bases. Some of them are being returned to the United States. This is part of the fallout from the Soleimani assassination.
Tuesday, March 17
[Elections 2020] Biden Wins Illinois, Florida, Arizona Primaries – The landslide wins give Biden an almost insurmountable lead in delegates (1,132 – 817). The situation is further complicated by the uncertainty of holding additional primaries because of the coronavirus crisis.
[Corruption] Former Rep. Hunter Sentenced to 11 Months – Hunter originally called the charges of corruption a witch hunt; he then pleaded guilty and he has now been sentenced.
[Coronavirus] EU Votes to Close Outside Borders – As a temporary measure to control the spread of coronavirus, the EU will refuse entry to all but a few doctors and scientists. Individual countries within the EU may also restrict entry, although many do not have the infrastructure to do this.
Wednesday, March 18
[coronavirus] U.S. Census Halted – The coronavirus contagion limiting face-to-face contact poses serious challenges for the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the U.S. Census.
[Coronavirus] Trump Invokes Defense Production Act – The obscure 1950 act gives the president emergency powers to compel industries to increase or shift production for essential materials; in this case potentially medical supplies such as ventilators and masks. However, reportedly on ideological grounds (no big government) Trump is resisting actual use of the act.
[China] China Expels 12 U.S. Journalists – The ongoing tit for tat dispute over media coverage seems strangely incongruous with efforts to seal a first phase end of the trade war deal with China. Yet it seems congruous with the latest Trump/right wing shift to blaming China for the coronavirus (“China virus”).
Thursday, March 19
[Coronavirus] California Issues Statewide Stay-at-Home Order – California becomes the first state on lockdown. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) estimates that 56% of Californians, 25.5 million people, will be infected in the next two months. On Friday Illinois and New York joined California with similar restrictions.
[Coronavirus] Senate Republicans Introduce Coronavirus Relief Legislation – Although most appropriation legislation begins in the House; the Republicans are attempting to seize the narrative by promoting a $1 trillion plan that includes direct payments (checks) for individuals and loans for small businesses. In actuality Senate Democrats must approve the bill, which means extensive negotiations are ahead – not to mention that the House will also get its say. The significant point is that unlike the Republicans of the 2008 financial crisis, the Trump/GOP is willing to spend enormous amounts of money and dedicate some of that money for directly helping people hurt by the coronavirus crisis.
[Coronavirus Corruption] Senators Accused of Dumping Stocks after Briefings – Following intelligence briefings on the coronavirus outbreak, Senate intelligence committee chair Richard Burr (R-NC)( 1) Publicly said the Trump administration had everything under control, (2) Told a private donors’ meeting that things looked very bad, (3) Sold $1.56 million in stocks in February just before the crash. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) also dumped stock, and bought stock of a company likely to prosper from the coronavirus crisis. Both senators profess innocence; but “the optics” are bad. There may be others. [Update: Add Diane Feinstein (D-CA).) and James Inhofe (R-OK).]
Friday, March 20
[Coronavirus] Markets Close Out Worst Week Since 2008 – With a drop of 913 points on Friday, the Dow is down 24% for the month and on track for the worst monthly performance since 1931. The fall of the markets this week wiped out all advances since Trump’s inauguration.
[Coronavirus] Senators Will Work Over the Weekend on a Coronavirus Bill – Insiders say the new bill is pushing well beyond $1 trillion (latest: $1.3 trillion, even up to $2 trillion), which truly is indicative of a bipartisan concern (read panic) about the effects of the coronavirus crisis. Although being fashioned in obscurity this may turn out to be one of the most significant pieces of legislation in recent history; the ability of the American economy to affect a healthy survival of the coronavirus crisis may ride on the details of this bill.
[Coronavirus] U.S. Tax Filing Deadline Moved to July 15 – Although 2019 taxes have nothing to do with a 2020 economic collapse, apparently the administration does not want the newly unemployed to be distressed by filing taxes.
“Coronavirus Weary Americans…” (New York Times, March 20). We’re barely two months into the coronavirus crisis and, who knows, there may be six to eighteen months to go. Eventually there might be a few hundred thousand infected but it could be tens of millions. There could be tens of thousands dead but it might be millions. With each dead or incapacitated person, another piece of the interlocking economy falls out, until it’s possible the man-made puzzle that is modern life no longer fits together. What we may have is social and economic disruption of a magnitude no contemporary generation has seen. It developed so suddenly and on such a scale, we can hardly believe it’s real; in fact, many – with heads filled by the propaganda of skepticism that may get them killed – still do not believe. We should be weary of partisan tribalism.
Given our contradictions and divisions what will we have on the other side of the crisis? A return to “normal”? Merely suffered a period of discomfort? Fallen into dystopia? Or could we have developed something constructively novel? As usual for humans, the dynamics of the coronavirus crisis are complicated and messy. However, bottom line, what we do matters. Some countries will figure things out and do better than others. Some people will pay attention to social-medical advice and increase their chances of survival. Some societies (and/or economies) will adapt well enough to keep some beneficial changes. As with any lengthy and significant travail, we will weary of the coronavirus; but not yet. And coming out of this we can look forward to something, we will have choices to make – we can vote.
With the completion of this week’s primaries, we’ve entered a campaign hiatus. For now, the 2020 elections are no longer the top of the priority list. Biden is all but officially the Democratic nominee, while Bernie Sanders works to unwind his campaign and mollify his supporters. Future primaries, even the conventions, are problematic. We may have to go to all mail ballots for the general election in November. As mentioned, the coronavirus crisis, among other things, opens up a lot of political possibilities.
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Quote of the Week
“Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals.”
“Inside Trump’s Hour-by-Hour Battle for Preservation,” New York Times, 3/19/2020, quoting from its 12/09/2017 article.