Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, April 18 through Friday, April 24, 2020 [#40]
The Week’s Most Notable
The grimmest tug of war: control the virus vs. reopen the economy. While it is clear there is a fateful dynamic between coronavirus mitigation (school and business closings, social distancing, testing) and the desire to reopen economies because of the increasing economic damage, by the end of the week it’s apparent that in the United States every approach will be tried – simultaneously – from complete lockdown to complete reopening of a state’s economy. As many as 12 states have already reopened or are planning to end restrictions, most of them on some kind of phased-in conditional basis. This is what scientists call a “natural experiment,” unfortunately one with life-and-death consequences. Most epidemiologists say that few states have met the criteria (14-day case decline, adequate testing regime, effective contact tracing) to safely reopen their economies. The likely result of reopening under the wrong circumstances will be local and regional spikes in cases, and a stubborn persistence of crisis-level cases and deaths.
COVID-19: One wave is not goodbye. An unfortunate corollary of the desire to get back to work and reopen economies is a belief that the pandemic wave is ebbing and will be “insignificant” (according to Trump) by mid-summer. The overwhelming consensus of epidemiologists is that the U.S., much less the world, has not reached the top of the first wave and, secondly, there will be more waves, especially this fall. This is a novel coronavirus, which means human immune systems have never seen it before, meaning the virus will continue to spread, including through the summer. AND in the fall the usual flu epidemic will add to the pressure on healthcare systems.
Saturday, April 18
[Coronavirus] Total U.S. Cases: 702,714 Deaths: 36,296
[Coronavirus] Anti-lockdown Protests – Crowds up to 300 appeared at several state capitals (Michigan, Texas, Maryland, Ohio, and Wisconsin). Considering the encouragement from Trump and right-wing media, the turnout was modest and tentative at best. Polls continue to show that about 60-80% of Americans support continued lockdown efforts. Although protests continued early in the week, plans by more than a dozen states to begin reopening seems to have deflated the proto–movement.
[Coronavirus] Contaminated CDC Tests Delayed Initial Coronavirus Testing – According to the FDA and other sources the rollout of active-virus testing, especially in California and Washington, was delayed by weeks because of contaminated production (tens of thousands of tests). This will certainly be an important consideration in the eventual investigation of the faltering U.S. response to the crisis.
[Coronavirus-Economy] Nieman Marcus to File for Bankruptcy – It is likely to be the first well-known brand to collapse in the coronavirus economic crisis. It will close 69 stores and furlough 14,000 employees.
Sunday, April 19
[Mass Shooting] Gunman Kills 18 in Canada’s Worst Shooting Rampage – Although rare in Canada, this is likely to increase the call for stricter gun control (Canada already controls guns far more than the U.S).
[Coronavirus] CDC Workers at WHO Sent Coronavirus Warnings in December 2019 – Seventeen Americans working at WHO provided a series of reports and warnings to U.S. officials about the growing threat of the coronavirus epidemic in China. Following Trump’s de-funding of WHO last week, the administration continues to seek criticism and blame of WHO. Other countries, including France and Germany, have vowed to support WHO and seek ways to make it more responsive. It remains the only organization capable of coordinating international pandemic responses.
Monday, April 20
[Economy – Oil] Collapse in Oil Prices – While the price of oil futures – $0 – caught the attention, the rapid decline in oil prices because of the coronavirus crisis signals an ongoing bankruptcy of oil producers and oil-based economies (such as Russia’s) in the face of a demand that is not likely to recover quickly.
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Rules Against Non-unanimous Juries – In this somewhat unusual ruling, a conservative court ruling against states’ rights, the majority, led by Justice Gorsuch, read the Sixth Amendment to mean that fair jury trials must be unanimous in all states. Dissenters, led by Justice Alito, objected to pushing aside a 48-year-old decision that lets states set their own laws on unanimous decisions.
[Immigration] Trump Tweets That He Will Suspend Immigration – On the advice of Stephen Miller, Trump announced he would sign an executive order temporarily suspending all immigration into the United States. Protecting against the coronavirus was given as the reason. This turned out to be a classic hit-and-fall-back diversionary tactic. By the end, most of the suspension was limited to 60 days and so many exemptions created that the suspension meant little. Meanwhile Trump took no little flak from corporate executives and Republican donors, who did not want to see the flow of talent and needed workers interrupted.
Tuesday, April 21
[Coronavirus] CDC Director Warns of Second Coronavirus Wave – In a Washington Post interview, Director Robert Redfield said that not only would coronavirus be active in the fall but it would be joined by a wave of seasonal flu, making the situation that much more difficult. This was not what the White House wanted to hear. At a later press conference, Trump pressed Redfield to recant his statement but there before the cameras, he did not. It was an excruciating moment.
[Coronavirus] Wisconsin Finds 17 People (So Far) Were Infected While Voting – Predictably, the primary election which forced voters in Milwaukee to stand in line for hours produced new cases of COVID-19 infection.
Wednesday, April 22
[Coronavirus] Trump Criticizes Georgia Plan to Reopen – On Monday Trump had approved the Georgia plan and praised Governor Brian Kemp [R]. Today he said, “I disagree, strongly.” This vacillation is characteristic of Trump’s positions all week.
[Coronavirus] Lab Director Demoted for Opposing Hydroxychloroquine – Dr. Rick Bright, one of America’s top infectious disease experts and director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, was demoted and transferred for saying that Trump’s pet coronavirus treatment lacked scientific merit. Dr. Bright filed a whistleblower complaint with the HHS Inspector General HHS.
[Environment] Earth Day – 50 years – Celebrating online only seems so inappropriate.
Thursday, April 23
[U.S. Economy] Unemployment Insurance Has 4.4 Million More Applicants – Last week’s addition brings the total to about 26.5 million or just under 20% of the workforce. At the height of the Great Depression, 25% were out of work. We may hit that level, or more, by the end of May.
[Coronavirus – Economy] Congress Passes $484 Billion Coronavirus Relief Bill – The bill now goes to President Trump for signing. After a week of contentious debate, the Democrats settled on additions of $60 billion for emergency loans and grants, $75 billion for hospitals, and $25 billion for coronavirus testing. The basic bill provides $310 billion to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program.
[Coronavirus] Trump’s Stunning Gaffes – During the Thursday press conference/rally Trump made two statements that subsequently rocked the medical and political environment: “So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light – and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it,”. . . “And then, I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way.” Trump also said, “I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it be interesting to check that.” Of course, Trump was musing, but regardless of the context the statements were vastly ignorant of the underlying science, and in the case of injecting disinfectants obviously dangerous. Coming from the President of the United States, literally poisonous commentary.
Friday, April 24
[Coronavirus] Total U.S. Cases: 895,766 Deaths: 50,439
[Coronavirus] Trump and White House Attempt to Walk Back “Bleach Injection” – The two gaffes from the previous day went around the world, sounding more surreal at each spin. The final rebuttal, “it was sarcasm” was an obvious lie and didn’t fly. The impact was so great that Trump cut short the Friday presser/rally and took no questions. In fact, there was no presser/rally at all on Saturday. It could be the end of the Trump-led daily show. (Trump said, “not worth the effort”.)
Coronavirus Crisis Notes
Congress may have passed the last Coronavirus Relief Bill. While progressive Democrats were fuming about items left off the current $484 billion bill, Sen. McConnell was hinting that Republicans would return to their previous debt sensitivity, which would probably mean no further significant relief bills. It remains to be seen if the coming collapse of the economy to depression levels might change attitudes toward relief and stimulus.
The hydroxychloroquine crisis, or, the hype came in with a bang and went out with a whimper. For two weeks Trump obsessed about the panacea (“game changer”), the great potential cure for the coronavirus. (“What do you have to lose?”) Fox News and other right-wing media took up the chorus, apparently ignoring the risk, and promoted the hell out of hydroxychloroquine. What risk? As doctors are quick to say, any such “cure” that re-purposes an older medicine needs to be tested for safety and effectiveness. The testing results started coming in this week and to no great surprise, the FDA announced it not only appears to have no positive effect (other than possibly placebo). but it can kill people (cardiac complications). Other than a lame attempt to discredit the medical studies, Trump, Fox News, and the right-wing media have gone silent on hydroxychloroquine. Thus ended one more episode of the surreal and dangerous medical notions peddled by the poltroon in chief.
Is this a coming deep recession or a short depression? By the numbers it looks like it will be a depression with something like a loss of 6% of GDP and an unemployment rate of around 30% by year’s end – both figures worse than the Great Depression. However, it may not last that long, say two years, and then it would be more like a recession, a very bad recession. Problem is, this has never happened before and nobody really knows how it will play out. For one thing, the cause of it all, COVID-19, hasn’t run its course – in fact, we don’t know what its course is. If it comes back in many waves before we get treatment or a vaccine, what effect will that have on the economy? Also, this is a world event in a so-called interconnected world. What does an international recovery look like?
The economy is not likely to make a recovery until most people believe it is safe to go out for normal business activity, whether work or shopping. Without a fairly sophisticated testing regime, especially in the workplace, that confidence will be difficult to establish. What may happen instead will be outbreaks of the coronavirus that create a cyclical pattern of reopening and locking down, which will incapacitate a recovery.
At the political level, Republicans have always championed small government and debt reduction. The coronavirus crisis put government spending (federal, state, and local) into high visibility, so much so, that Republicans have felt compelled to spend trillions, all as debt, and to struggle with the obviously massive role of government in saving the lives and livelihood of Americans. However, it seems inevitable that at least some Republicans will try a return to their basic principles. Mitch McConnell opened this week with, “[T]he states can use the bankruptcy route. . .. My guess is their first choice would be for the federal government to borrow money from the future generations to send it down to them now so they don’t have to do that. That’s not something I’m going to be in favor of.” Earlier he said, “[G]overnors would love to have free money. [Such funding is] blue state bailouts.” Gov. Cuomo had a good riposte: In this crisis New York needs the federal funding, but New York is one of the states that pays more in taxes than it gets back from the federal government. On the other hand, Kentucky gets a lot more federal money than it pays in taxes.
To no one’s surprise, Biden won the Wyoming primary this week. It was notable that this was an all mail-in vote. Otherwise, this was a week for Biden to take a low profile while Trump hung himself with his own words.
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Quote of the Week
“The Postal Service is a joke. . . . The post office should raise the price of a package by approximately four times” in order to obtain a $10 billion line of credit Congress approved this month].
President Trump to reporters in the Oval Office, as reported by The Washington Post, 4/24/2020