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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother, Economic Damage Edition – May 16, 2020

The Daily Escape:

View of grasslands, south of Denver, CO – 2020 photo by crappydenverphotog

Happy Saturday fellow disease vectors!

Jerome Powell, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that the effects of the pandemic could permanently damage the economy if Congress and the White House did not provide sufficient financial support. Job losses average 25% currently, and are higher in some states.

Powell thinks the country needs more funding for the segments of the economy that are seriously underwater. While the House has offered up a plan for new money, Mitch McConnell says he’s far from interested in new money for the states, or those who are out of work.

We can’t say often enough how badly federal leadership has failed us throughout this crisis.

In the executive branch, we’ve seen incompetence and political ideology overwhelm what little crisis leadership there might have been. Test kits were available from the WHO in January, but the CDC choose not to use them. Then, their own tests didn’t work.

Testing was deliberately limited by the administration as disease transmission grew, and the virus escaped early containment. Supplies of PPE were not allocated to hospitals according to need. And, no federal system to manage the global medical supply chains exists, despite every governor saying it’s needed.

Congress wasn’t much better. Action was marred by politics, and a misunderstanding of the economic issues. Instead of simply replacing lost wages, the SBA issued rules that firms found difficult to comply with. Banks gave preference to their big clients, and the money soon ran out. The effort to save the economy by pouring money into it through conventional channels was inadequate, inefficient, and in some cases, corrupt. The only thing that can be said is that it was better than doing nothing.

The push to reopen the economy is premature. Some state governments facing fiscal disaster are reopening. Georgia, for example, has now lost the jobs of 39.5% of those who were employed in February 2020. It is unclear that closed retail businesses can be profitable when reopened, since their capacity will be limited for public health reasons. Right now, many businesses may face bankruptcy.

In any event, rents, mortgages, utility bills and other debts continue to accrue for individuals and businesses. And we found out that 40% of low income households have experienced job losses, compared to 20% overall.

Employees are also potential victims of the reopening. The Trump administration is advising state governments on how to remove workers from unemployment insurance.  Employers can demand workers show up, and if they refuse, they no longer qualify. Why would the workers refuse? Because their workplaces will still be unsafe.

It gets worse: Nearly half of people surveyed by Magnify Money now say they have to draw money from their retirement accounts because of the COVID-19 lockdowns:

The majority of respondents who withdrew funds to cover basic expenses is disheartening. The survey revealed that 60% of respondents used their retirement funds to pay for groceries, 42% spent it on household bills, 31% used it for rent or mortgage payments and 27% used it for debt payments.

Although the scale of the pandemic-caused economic catastrophe was known almost immediately, the Trump administration had limited interest in the health and well-being of the rest of us. Their main interest appeared to be winning the presidency in November.

But you can’t beat something with nothing.

People need help. If they aren’t offered anything good, many will accept something pretty awful, like more Trump for example. Biden is promising a return to the status quo ante, but that’s magical thinking.

The economy wasn’t working for many Americans before the pandemic. Now, the pandemic has taken a sledgehammer to it, and we are looking at what is left. American Capitalism needs to be reformed.

Sorry that we’re entering the weekend on a gloomy note. Since it’s our Saturday Soother, let’s kick back and forget about all that’s weighing us down. Let’s free our minds for a few moments. It’s going to be a spring-like weekend here at the fields of Wrong, so time for more yard work.

To help you settle into the weekend, start by listening to Vaughan Williams composition from 1903, “The Solent”, played by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Paul Daniel.

The Solent is the channel between the Isle of Wight and southern England:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Tax Revenue Has Never Been More Important

The Daily Escape:

Harris & Ewing “Less taxes, more jobs”, US Chamber of Commerce campaign in 1939. Photo via Shorpy. Maybe the sign should have said “lower taxes”. It was the first of 25,000 such signs put up all over the nation as part of a drive for a reduction in corporate taxes. And it worked. An alliance between the Chamber, Henry Morgenthau, Treasury Secretary, and Sen. Pat Harrison, (D-MS) conservative chair of the Senate Finance Committee, prevailed over the New Dealers. He blocked further tax hikes, and helped to create new corporate tax loopholes. Roosevelt went along, expecting that business would support him. The following year, the Chamber simply demanded more tax breaks, while backing Wendell Willkie. It’s all so familiar. Trickle down is an old idea, and everything old is new again!

 Here’s an interesting chart from End Coronavirus.org showing the progress of states toward beating the current COVID-19 pandemic. The numbers are through May 5. Those in green are winning the fight, those in yellow are nearly there, and the red ones still need more action:

There are four states in the green: Alaska, Hawaii, Montana and Vermont. Ten are nearly there, including Maine, Louisiana, New York and South Dakota. The remaining 37 still need work, some more than others. And many of the “needs more work” states are exiting their lockdowns this week.

So it goes in America. States and cities are going broke, primarily because of the sharp drop in tax revenues since the shutdown. They all face increased costs, from unemployment claims to spending on additional hospital capacity, and overspending on new purchases of PPE because of federal government inaction.

New York City says it will need $7.4 billion in federal aid, while NY state faces a $13 billion shortfall; Alaska’s budget gap might top $1 billion; Colorado’s at $3 billion. California? Its shortfall may be $54 billion. Red ink will be true for nearly every state, county, city, town and village in the country. States can’t deficit spend. They and their local governments must balance their budgets somehow, with some combination of federal aid, budget cuts, or tax increases.

In addition, the WSJ reports that some manufacturers that furloughed employees during lockdowns say their plants definitely won’t reopen.  Manufacturing output last year finally surpassed the 2007 previous peak, but factory employment has not returned to levels reached before the great financial crisis. It appears that in 2020, it will again fall below 2007 levels. And the more that job losses turn from temporary to permanent, the bigger the hit to unemployment insurance, to consumer spending, and to every company that relies on it—including manufacturers.

Wrongo spoke by phone with the mayor of his little town this morning. We are still not sure how we will balance the town’s 2020-2021 budget. In most years, the budget has been approved by the voters in May, but that will not happen this spring. The consequence is that, regardless of how the budget gets balanced, the town’s recovery will likely take several years.

So, states and cities think they have little choice but to reopen. They need the tax revenue, while they face even higher costs if they start an aggressive test and trace program. And they can’t expect the federal government to fund that new testing and tracing.

So most states are moving toward opening, regardless of whether they are red, or blue.

But, states may not all be EQUALLY reckless in what they choose to open, some are planning a phased reopen, followed by a re-evaluation before moving forward to the next step. Some are opening up just about as fast as they closed businesses six – eight weeks ago.

We are living in a federal system with a broken central government. The federal government has handled the pandemic badly, and shows no interest in trying to do better now. Even a robust federalism will fail if there is no federal financial help for the states.

It is a hell of thing to be shown clearly and in no uncertain terms that your federal government doesn’t give a shit if your citizens live or die.

Or if your state suffers a debilitating blow to its finances and future.

Wrongo can’t be sure, but this is probably how black people have felt forever. Now it applies to the rest of us.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Get Back to Work Edition, May 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Pileated Woodpecker chicks – photo by JH Cleary

Americans are starting to peek out of their nests again. Governors have decided, and 30 of them are re-opening their states. Those states are not exclusively Republican; there are a few Democratic states too. The logic behind reopening is that of risk assessment and risk management. Somewhere between prudence and overreaction lies today’s American toxic politics.

We judge risk versus gain for everything, including for other causes of death. We try to model healthy behaviors. Most of us wear seatbelts, most watch our diets, and have stopped smoking years ago.

We also have to judge the risks associated with whether to end, or continue the lockdown. That means deciding which steps to take that will minimize both the spread of the virus, along with minimizing the crushing economic hardship being experienced by many Americans.

Ignore that the government isn’t currently taking care of healthcare and housing if you are unemployed.

The lockdown could go on for much longer if the federal government was willing to underwrite living costs for those who are out of work, until such time as it was safe to go back to work. But they have no intention of doing that.

So, from the Trump perspective, the choice is clear: Businesses need to open and their workers need to go back to work, despite the risks. Their argument is that living with COVID-19 isn’t as risky as it seems. Twenty-two states have had fewer than 100 deaths. So far, only 15 of 50 states have had total deaths for the crisis that are higher than NYC’s current rate of 500 a day

The original goal of lockdowns was to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed, and in the largest cities, that risk seems to be behind us. Whether that will be true in rural America where few hospitals operate, remains to be seen. Derek Thompson said in the Atlantic:

“This crisis represents an existential threat to America’s small businesses. Almost half of all job losses in April occurred in leisure and hospitality, where small businesses are overrepresented in companies like restaurants and stores. The decimation of small business would have long-lasting implications. It would destroy jobs that would be unlikely to return quickly, while creating a crisis of long-term unemployment.”

And all of those restaurants, cafés, theaters, community centers, and specialty shops that are part of the local fabric of our towns and villages could be wiped off Main Street. Losing many of them would be an economic tragedy. More from Thompson: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The virus is real, the hospitalizations are real, the deaths are real, the need for masks and social distancing is real, the threat to millions of restaurants and shops is real, and the incomparable levels of unemployment are real, too. The White House plan to reverse this cavalcade of horrors is to “reopen” the economy. But 20 million Americans just lost their jobs in the past few weeks, not because the government shut down the economy, but because a pandemic scared millions of Americans into staying at home. There is plenty to be wisely afraid of, but Washington thinking that a pandemic economy is like a garage door that it can reopen by pressing a button might be the scariest thing of all.”

No one knows what will happen between now and Election Day. It’s not just a matter of businesses opening up. For people to go back to work, schools must be open, day care must be open, public transportation must be safe, and customers must show up.

Are you up for all of that?

In the Great Depression, we learned that unemployment at today’s scale required massive government intervention to address: Jobs programs, infrastructure investment, and a robust social safety net.

It required an FDR to galvanize the country. Needless to say, neither Trump nor the Republican Party have the desire to provide that leadership. They will be every bit as uncaring and incompetent at rebuilding our economy as they have been at stopping the pandemic.

Time to wake up America! The economy has been opened, and you need to protect yourself whether you’re back to work, or trying to find a new gig. And you know that Trump isn’t going to help you protect yourself and your family, and he’s certainly not going to help you find a new job.

To help you wake up, listen to Guns ‘n Roses cover Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” which played during Trump’s visit to an N95 mask manufacturing plant in Phoenix:

Remember all of this in November.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 10, 2020

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has an interesting new report showing that New York City’s subway system was a major disseminator of COVID-19 during the coronavirus’ initial infection of the city during March 2020.

They show that subway ridership correlates directly with new cases, particularly in Queens. The near-shutdown of subway ridership in Manhattan (down by 90%) at the end of March correlates strongly with the reduction in the rate of increase in new cases in Queens thereafter.

They superimposed maps of subway station turnstile entries with zip code-level maps of reported coronavirus incidence. That showed Coronavirus propagation followed a process strongly consistent with subway riding. Moreover, local trains appeared to have a higher propensity to transmit infection than express trains, perhaps because people spent longer on those trains. Bus hubs served as secondary transmission routes out to the periphery of the city.

The subway was shut down because of staffing issues on March 25, not because the mayor or governor thought it was an important disease vector. Since then, at least 98 transit workers have died from coronavirus. On to cartoons.

Jogging in Georgia requires evasive tactics:

Trump did it again:

It never ends. On Fox and Friends, Trump said there is “no question” the video of the Ahmaud Arbery shooting is troubling. But, he hinted that further evidence might emerge that could possibly exculpate the shooters:

 “You know, it could be something that we didn’t see on tape. There could be a lot of — you know, if you saw things went off tape and then back on tape”

BTW, the NY Daily News reported that no burglaries had been reported for seven weeks before the shooting.

Small man sits near a great man:

America grows smaller as the president tries to make himself bigger, all the while failing at the actual mission of leading the Republic.

Pro-life doesn’t get in the way of reopening:

The only animal Trump wants at the White House:

Dropping charges against Flynn looks partisan:

Another reason to stay indoors:

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Saturday Soother – May 8, 2020

The Daily Escape:

The Second Wave, Coyote Buttes North, AZ, bu\ it’s easiest to reach from Kanab, UT – March 2020 photo by thatstheguy

“You know, that might be the answer – to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.” – Joseph Heller

Happy Saturday, fellow disease vectors! That’s quintessential Trump. He’s doing with the Coronavirus what was patented by Richard Nixon in Vietnam: “Declare Victory and Get Out”.

Trump had no intention of using the agencies of the US government as a positive force to deal with the pandemic, and now he’s backing out of any role helping the country to recover. From Eric Boehlert:

“Trump has no plan to “reopen” the country and he has no plan to manage this pandemic moving forward. The way I see it, the press dutifully starts each day assuming today is the day Trump gets serious and finally provides serious leadership. It’s not going to happen, though.  We’re on our own, yet the press stubbornly pretends otherwise because presidents are supposed to provide leadership in times of crisis.”

Boehlert refers us to Jay Rosen, an NYU journalism professor, who writes:

“The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible— by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.”

Trump’s playbook is to have his re-election ride on manufactured confusion. There won’t be a plot for us to expose, it’s happening right before our eyes. We all know that Trump has no intention of leading. That he has no desire to get involved in helping to solve the greatest American crisis since 9/11. And the disconnect is, that a president acting like this would have been inconceivable before Donald Trump.

It isn’t debatable: Trump has washed his hands of the pandemic, and plans to blame the governors when things go wrong, while taking credit for anything that goes right. He isn’t even trying to hide that anymore.

We heard this week that Trump buried the CDC’s detailed advice about reopening. The administration doesn’t want the public to know what the scientists are recommending. That means people won’t be in a position to hold their employers, or their local governments, to a standard that they either can’t, or don’t want to meet.

At this point, all we can do is grit our teeth, and try to protect ourselves and our loved ones as best we can.

It seems likely that Trump, because of opting out of what a president is supposed to do in a crisis, will be the proximate cause of the deaths of thousands. All as a cover for his callous ineptitude.

And there’s little that we can do about it, except hunker down and be careful as we try to get through it.

We need a break from all of this negativity.

We need to settle back in a comfy chair at a socially distant spot, and de-stress from another difficult week. It’s time for another Saturday Soother, those few moments when we move to a different and better emotional plane. This weekend includes Mother’s Day, so it’s also a time to think about family and how we got to where we are.

To help with that, take a few minutes and listen to some of the world’s biggest current musical artists who collaborated on a BBC Radio 1 cover of the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These”. Each performing from their own homes, as has become the standard these days. The group was dubbed the “Live Lounge Allstars” and included the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl:

Wrongo knows very few of these artists, perhaps showing his age. But this also shows that they should make more music outside of their usual genre. Those who read the Wrongologist in email can watch the video here.

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Who Should Fight America’s Pandemics?

The Daily Escape:

Lightning strikes with rainbow, Dickinson, ND – photo by Lightcrafterartistry

COVID-19? Nobody thought anything like this would ever happen. Wrong. Lots of people did. From VOX:

“Per capita, the United States is currently seeing about twice as many confirmed coronavirus cases as Canada and about 30 percent more deaths.”

The key difference between the US and Canada says David Fisman an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto:

“We have a federal government that is supporting provinces’ responses….You have a chief executive who is directly undermining the public health response.”

Politics and politicians by definition, are always in the loop in a national emergency. Yesterday, we talked about how civic-minded politicians stand aside, letting the experts decide strategy. Then they help the experts by making the government work to support the strategy. And they then help with communicating priorities to citizens.

Our national response to the pandemic has been mostly incompetent. The wealthiest, most scientifically advanced country in history has been brought to its knees by a virus it knew was coming. As late as 2016, we had a coordinated national strategy to combat pandemics.

What can we do to insure we do a better job in the future?

This has been a hot topic in pundit land for the past few weeks. There are two threads of discussion: First, make the US military the leader in fighting pandemics. Alternatively, an “empowered” civilian agency or possibly, an empowered public-private partnership should direct the fight.

Let’s start by talking about how civilian government agencies might do a better job, if they were “empowered” and also funded. In 2005, GW Bush said: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare….we need medical personnel and adequate supplies of equipment…In a pandemic, everything from syringes to hospital beds, respirators masks and protective equipment would be in short supply….If a pandemic strikes, our country must have a surge capacity in place that will allow us to bring a new vaccine on line quickly and manufacture enough to immunize every American against the pandemic strain…”

Bush thought it would take $7 billion to build out his plan, plus annual appropriations thereafter. But that wasn’t supported by Congress. Obama built on Bush’s plan, but his efforts also were not sustained by a Tea Party Congress. Trump’s FY 2021 budget proposal reduces CDC funding by 16%. It was submitted just 11 days after the WHO declared the Coronavirus a public health emergency.

What should we be doing? First, we need to invest in ourselves, to break our reliance on offshore sources of PPE and pharmaceuticals. We saw that China stopped exporting PPE to the US, husbanding it for their own needs, and subsequently, showing a preference for shipping these goods to nations they perceived as friendlier.

Second, we need to empower an elite governmental team to combat a pandemic. The 2014 Ebola outbreak told us we needed a health security infrastructure. By 2016, America had coordinated an “all-government response” to the next pandemic. Laurie Garrett, a science journalist summed up the infrastructure created by Obama as a:

 “…special elite corps inside of the National Security Council, the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and CDC…an emergency capacity for surge drug approval at FDA… a lot of co-ordination with the states… a division that was doing nothing but training hospitals in infection control and appropriate epidemic responses… and…Study on how to surge hospital beds, how to surge physicians out of retirement…”

Sounds great, no? It needs to be rebuilt if we are to have effective control of our pandemic response.

The story of using the military also begins with Garrett. In September 2014, she briefed the Joint Chiefs of Staff on how the US military could help the countries affected by Ebola. She says that this was:

“…unprecedented in US history; we’d never mobilized US military for a medical response like that before”.

But today, the military wants the job. From Roll Call:

“To many lawmakers, the Defense Department is an attractive place to fund medical programs, partly because the defense budget is so large and enjoys support from both political parties, especially Republicans.”

Congress not only funds the NIH, it also provides $1 billion a year for DOD research labs looking into cures and treatments for cancers and other diseases.

Going forward, the military would like to see an increased focus on health as a part of national security. The debate is not a matter of either health security, or military security, it has to be both.

With a new administration, we need to think beyond stimulus packages, to fundamentally rethink what national security means. In the next pandemic, we can’t be scrambling for enough face masks to protect our medical professionals and hoping that the military can save us.

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Can We Get Our Act Together?

The Daily Escape:

Hummingbird with bee balm – 2014 photo by JH Cleary. Hummingbirds arrived on the fields of Wrong yesterday.

When was the last time that America got its act together when it needed to? It’s been a very long time, probably not since WWII, or possibly, during our effort to immunize everyone, once there was a polio vaccine. That’s between 65 and 75 years ago.

We didn’t get our act together during the Vietnam era. We’re reminded of that with yesterday’s 50-year anniversary of the Kent State shooting in 1970, when four unarmed college students were killed by soldiers of the Ohio National Guard. It was a small, but significant tragedy that became a part of a greater national tragedy, the Vietnam War.

We didn’t get our act together after 9/11 when we attacked Afghanistan and Iraq. Like Vietnam, we’ve been losing to people who wear sandals and fight with antique weapons, for 50+ years.

These aren’t the only examples. New Orleans was whacked by Hurricane Katrina, but a week later, survivors were still sitting on roof tops surrounded by floating corpses. Even now, 15 years later, there is still evidence of damaged buildings in the city’s 9th Ward.

We haven’t gotten our act together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re currently seeing 1,750+ deaths per day. While the death toll is dropping in NYC and NJ, it’s rising pretty much everywhere else.  Here’s a chart showing the growth in cases, not deaths:

The dotted lines are a 7-day moving average, which allows us to see the trends more clearly. Politicians outside of the NY metropolitan area who are busy relaxing restrictions look like they’re simply giving up and pretending it’s over, when it isn’t. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is dropping requirements that residents wear masks. It is now a “strong suggestion”. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) wants residents to wear masks starting May 11, but will not enforce it.

Getting our act together has never been a feature of America’s Coronavirus fight. A depressing story in the New Yorker, “Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead. New York’s Did Not”, sheds light on Seattle’s response vs. New York City’s. Although the initial coronavirus outbreaks emerged in both cities at roughly the same time, by the second week of April, Washington State had about one recorded fatality per 14,000 residents. New York’s death rate was nearly six times higher.

The article describes how Seattle’s political leadership followed a tried and tested CDC playbook for epidemics, called the CDC’s Field Epidemiology Manual, which places public health and scientists at the core of the response. New York’s mayor DiBlasio cut NYC’s public heath bureaucrats out of the loop. In early March, both NYC’s mayor and NY’s governor Cuomo were giving speeches de-emphasizing the risks of the pandemic, as the city was announcing its first cases.

This partially explains why Washington State has less than 2% of coronavirus cases in the US, while NY has 27%.

We’re all familiar with the confusion of message and policy sown by Trump as the primary national spokesperson for the pandemic, a person notoriously hostile to science. His team includes Mike Pence, Dr. Fauci from the NIH, Dr. Deborah Brix from the State Department, and Jared Kushner, from the family. With contributions from Mike Pompeo and Steve Mnuchin.

The New Yorker quotes Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security, at Johns Hopkins:

“When there are so many different figures, it can cause real confusion about whom to listen to, or who’s in charge of what….And, if the response becomes political, it’s a disaster, because people won’t know if you are making recommendations based on science or politics…so there’s the risk they’ll start to tune out.”

From the NYT:

“As President Trump presses for states to reopen their economies, his administration is privately projecting a steady rise in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths over the next several weeks. The daily death toll will reach about 3,000 on June 1…nearly double from the current level of about 1,750.”

Math tells us that this will amount to about 81,000 more deaths by then, making the total somewhere around 150,000, assuming that the death rate remains on its current trend.

Should we expect that America will continue to flub it’s response to the pandemic? If so, Aaron Sorkin and Jeff Daniels will have to re-do the famous opening scene from “The Newsroom” where Daniels says “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore”:

Since we haven’t gotten our act together for so long, a failure to control the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic will be depressingly similar to the tragedies of the past.

Failures of leadership, coupled with warring political factions who refuse to work together for a common good.

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Flathead River with Mission Mountains in background, MT – photo by Jay Styles

Can the Republicans force the economy to open? Bill Barr thinks so.

“Justice Department officials have spoken on conference calls with leaders of conservative groups, who have flagged individual cases as worthy of the department’s review. Some cabinet officials have signaled that they back the effort by participating in private calls with conservative allies, according to multiple people involved with the calls.”

The COVID-19 outbreak sparked many states and municipalities to order their citizens to stay at home and businesses to close in order to slow the spread of the illness, and to protect the public, but do the states have the authority to do it?

According to the Incidental Economist:

“Terms like isolation and quarantine have legal meaning, and relate to the government’s powers to act in the public’s interest. Isolation is a targeted approach for individuals already diagnosed with a disease while quarantine restricts the movement of individuals or groups exposed to an illness, some of whom may not be sick.

Both strategies restrict the movement of individuals and are considered a severe deprivation of liberty.”

Last Friday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham (D) quarantined the town of Gallup, at the request of the city’s mayor, because the city is a COVID-19 hotspot. Grisham invoked New Mexico’s Riot Control Act. The order shuts down all roads to and from Gallup.

We can expect that this will lead to legal battles over whether governors can close individual American cities.

Last week, AG Barr issued a memorandum directing an effort to monitor state and local shutdown policies. Barr wrote: (emphasis by Wrongo)

 “We do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public…But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

Actually, it has happened many times before.

  • Both GW Bush and Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus.
  • John Adams helped pass the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, those four laws “restricted the activities of foreign residents in the country and limited freedom of speech and of the press”.
  • FDR built internment camps and imprisoned Japanese Americans.
  • Woodrow Wilson presided over the passage of the Espionage Act followed by the Sedition Act. People couldn’t say anything: “…insulting or abusing the US government, the flag, the Constitution or the military.” Violators could receive 20 years in prison.

And now, Barr barges in. Since Wrongo isn’t a lawyer, we’ll have to leave the arguments to those who are qualified. But it seems that in the past, all the Constitution-breaking has been done by presidents, not governors. What we have is a federal vs. state powers question.

So far, the DOJ has intervened in only one case, a “religious freedom” complaint, a lawsuit by a Baptist church in Greenville, MS.

Conservatives are perfectly willing to be inconsistent. They are champions of “states’ rights” until the state in question happens to lean blue. Speaking of inconsistency, remember that it was Trump who when asked why he wasn’t going to issue a nationwide ‘shelter in place’ order, said that it was up to the states.

The Trump administration delegated responsibility to the states with one hand, yet allows the DOJ to threaten governors with legal action. We also have religious conservatives who seem to forget the basis of Christianity, and are willing to put their neighbors at risk. Finally, there is a worrying increase in right-wing civil disobedience (while carrying weapons) that could easily ignite a real civil problem.

Once again, shopping is patriotism. Legitimate fear is unconstitutional. This isn’t unprecedented. After 9/11, GW Bush told everyone to go out and shop. Shopping is apparently how Republicans show their love of country.

Taken together, we as a nation have truly lost our way.

Wake up America! Insist that by November, the states have prepared well enough that it is safe to vote in huge numbers to get these birds out of office.

To help you wake up, let’s listen to Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patty Scialfa playing two songs from their home studio, “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl”. This was part of the Jersey 4 Jersey benefit for the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

This is dedicated to daughter Kelly, a former Jersey girl who can use a pick-me-up. Remember, dreams will not be thwarted!

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 3, 2020

Last Sunday, PA Governor Tom Wolf requested:

“…as many people as possible wear a nonmedical or homemade mask when leaving their homes.”

This week in Mercer PA, a protest against the Pennsylvania governor’s stay at home restrictions yielded this sign:

If this woman thinks wearing a mask is slavery, then she has no idea what slavery is. She, (along with the rest of us) aren’t permitted to drive on the wrong side of the road, either. This isn’t the time for people who are asked to stay at home and to wear a mask when outside to sing: “Nobody knows the trouble I see”.

Speaking of masks and rules, how about Mike Pence:

Why didn’t the Mayo Clinic say: “Thank you for visiting us, Mr. Vice President, but I’m afraid you can’t enter the clinic without a mask per our policy.” Mayo may do fantastic work, but they failed utterly by letting Pence go in unmasked.

Will Mitch pass aid to the states?

Where Wrongo lives, the nurses, fire fighters, police, and town workers are preponderantly Republican voters. Have they been screwed enough to realize they’ve been voting AGAINST their own self interests?

Biden can’t run from this, no matter how many Dems hope he can:

Even the cows know opening meat processing plants without PPE is wrong:

We’re entering a different kind of graduation season:

(It’s control P for a PC)

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Saturday Soother, Covid Plateau Edition – May 2, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring flower bloom at Keukenhof Garden in Holland. (Hat tip to Ottho H.)

Remember when we had fifteen COVID-19 cases, and they were just going to be gone, like a miracle?

If you ask Trump, that’s where we are, plus a few orders of magnitude. All of the recent happy talk about reaching or being past the peak have omitted the detail that so far, “flattening the curve” isn’t substantially reducing the number of cases, or deaths.

The theory was that once we “flattened the curve”, we could ease up on social isolation, mask-wearing and get back to work. When we think about the downside of the curve, we think bell curves, with a sharp rise and fall from a high peak. As Wrongo said on April 20, that was unlikely to be the outcome, because it didn’t happen like that in countries that started fighting the virus long before us. And that’s how it seems to be working out. Here is where we are:

Source: Washington Post

The chart tracks a 3-day average of cases, since that smooths out some of the big day-to-day variances. As of April 29, it seemed clear that we have reached a peak, but we’re not showing any real signs of a rapid decline. This means the COVID-19 curve could remain elevated for a long time.

And we should remember that 878,839 cases are still active.

Politicians are obsessed with “the peak.” Are we at it? Are we past it? When will it come? Has it come? Now they’ve turned to communicating their plans for reopening the economy. That makes sense. Re-opening is becoming urgent, with more than 30 million Americans out of work, but it’s dismissive for politicians to say we’re past the worst of it “medically” while more people go to the ICU every day.

Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker (R), sees the plateau, and wonders when the curve will start to decline:

“Baker focused on hospitalizations and ICU admissions, saying, we’ve basically been flat for 12 days. We’re flat at a high level. But 12 days, 13 days counting today — you’re not going to find a lot of other places that just sit like this for 13 days.”

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb MD, an advisor to Baker, tweeted:

IHME (mentioned in the tweet) is a closely watched model from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

What we do over the next few weeks will determine whether we get this right, or whether COVID remains a large ongoing threat. We need to understand the potential risks that come with a decision to reopen, and make plans to mitigate these risks as best we can. Some states, like Connecticut, are planning carefully.

If we look state by state, in about half of the country, the numbers of cases are still rising. In about another third of the country, there is a leveling off. Only in a minority of states are the numbers actually coming down on a daily basis. New York, Washington, Louisiana and Idaho have had reductions of more than 50% from their peaks in new infections.

According to STAT, there are several possible outcomes: Recurring small outbreaks, a monster wave of cases, or a persistent crisis. And no one knows which outcome is most likely. We should expect new infections to start rising again in states without much testing, but with large populations that opened early like Texas, Florida and Georgia.

We should also realize that in some states, cooking the books about new cases and deaths will happen. Newsweek reported data compiled by Florida medical examiners was no longer being reported by the state government. The official state data has not been updated in over a week.

Acting like we’re flattening the curve when we really don’t know if we are, is likely to create a San Andreas-sized political earthquake if cases spike again.

But let’s try to get past all this, because it’s time for another Saturday Soother, when we stop checking Twitter, and think about spring.

Here on the fields of Wrong, the pear, plum and cherry trees have flowered, while the crab apples are soon to bloom. We have bluebirds nesting in both bluebird houses. Our weather remains cold and wet, so stay indoors and brew up a hot mug of Bengal Spice tea.

Now grab a socially distant chair and have a few minutes of fun with a song parody by the Opera Guy, Matthew Ciuffitelli. Here’s his parody of “Phantom of the Opera”, called “Phantom of the Quarantine”. Wrongo promises you won’t be disappointed:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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