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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Supreme Court Voting Remotely, Denies Wisconsin Voters the Right to Vote Remotely

The Daily Escape:

Super moon, Crested Butte, CO – 2020 photo by itsaberglund

First, here are the latest national pandemic numbers from The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/7):

  • The good news is that the daily rate of increase in new infections is now in single digits (see green above).
  • Deaths have again spiked, and the percentage of deaths to total cases is rising steadily.
  • Daily testing has stalled (again) at about 150,000/day. Growth in testing is again lagging growth in new infections.

Next: The Wisconsin primary debacle: Wisconsin held its presidential primary on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination. Unifying the Party will be much easier than in 2016. The stakes are different, the mood is different, and Bernie seems to like Biden more than he liked Hillary.

But that was far from the most surprising thing about the Wisconsin primary. The big Wisconsin news was that the US Supreme Court decided a case called “Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee along political lines. The symbolism is glaring.

The issue before the Court was whether to stay a lower court’s decision that would have extended absentee balloting for a week due to the Coronavirus. And the most notable race wasn’t the Democrat’s primary. It was a conservative Republican’s battle to keep his seat on Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court. From the WaPo: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The scant, 10-page opinion issued Monday night highlighted the [US Supreme] court’s ideological and partisan divide. The justices’ inability to speak with one voice on matters as serious as the coronavirus pandemic and voting rights raised concerns about the legal battles bound to proliferate before the fall elections.”

The great irony in the SCOTUS decision is that the justices didn’t meet together. They are practicing social distancing, because of the Coronavirus, conducting their business via teleconferences. They have also suspended all public Court proceedings for the current term, because, you know, public safety.

But the Supreme Court’s Republican majority felt it was proper to insist that Wisconsin’s normal rules about elections be followed, and hold the primary as if there was no pandemic, no public health threat.

The best comment on the ideological divide in America today came from Tom Sullivan’s column, where he quotes a 2018 observation about conservatism by Frank Wilhoit: (emphasis in the original)

“Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect….So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.”

More on Wisconsin from Sullivan:

“This morning’s online headline at the Washington Post reads, ‘The coronavirus is infecting and killing black Americans at an alarmingly high rate.’ Wisconsin Republicans on Tuesday made them stand on line in Milwaukee for hours to vote during a deadly pandemic. That will show them.”

And this tweet from Sen. Cory Booker underlines the evil intent:

“Milwaukee is home to the largest African-American community in Wisconsin. Don’t tell me that forcing people to choose between their health and their right to vote today is anything but an appalling act of voter suppression. https://t.co/4Leq1CtMHZ

— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) April 7, 2020

Chief Justice Roberts may claim that he is only calling balls and strikes, but he’s using a different strike zone for his friends.

Finally, let’s spend a moment remembering that both John Prine and Bill Withers died this week, Prine from the Coronavirus.

Both released their debut albums in 1971. Both were among the true greats. Here’s a Prine song that shows his social consciousness. Written in 2005, it was prescient. He wrote about the kinds of people who would eventually lead the nation in 2020 in his “Some Humans Ain’t Human”:

Sample Lyric:

Have you ever noticed When you’re feeling really good There’s always a pigeon  That’ll come shit on your hood Or you’re feeling your freedom And the world’s off your back  Some cowboy from Texas Starts his own war in Iraq

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

And this Withers song about Vietnam has always hit Wrongo hard. “I Can’t Write Left-Handed”:

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

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Stimulus Money is Going to Churches

The Daily Escape:

View of Mt. Rainer from Reflection Lake WA – 2018 photo by NathanielMerz

Here is the 7-day look at the national numbers for COVID-19:

The rate of growth in deaths as a percentage of cases continues to rise, while the rate of increase in cases picked up slightly on 4/6, although overall, it is slowing vs. 7 days ago. Testing is still growing, although the rate of growth in tests is now about equal to the growth in cases.

A little-noticed part of the $2 trillion stimulus package allows the federal government to provide money directly to US churches to help them pay pastor salaries and utility bills. From NPR: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…the $2 trillion economic relief legislation…includes about $350 billion for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to extend loans to small businesses facing financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus shutdown orders. Churches and other faith-based organizations are among the businesses that qualify for aid under the program, even if they have an exclusively religious orientation.

So, we’re not simply speaking of not-for-profit subsidiaries of churches such as charities. The Trump administration is saying churches themselves will qualify for direct loans. Apparently, the program is based on the average monthly payroll of a church school or the parish, which is extrapolated to eight weeks. The cost of maintaining staff for that period becomes the loan amount.

From the SBA’s statement:

“Faith-based organizations are eligible to receive SBA loans regardless of whether they provide secular social services….No otherwise eligible organization will be disqualified from receiving a loan because of the religious nature, religious identity, or religious speech of the organization.”…

The SBA’s regulations currently exclude some religious entities. Because those regulations bar the participation of a class of potential recipients based solely on their religious status, SBA said it will decline to enforce those subsections and will propose amendments to conform those regulations to the Constitution.

The SBA is quoting a 2017 Supreme Court decision, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which was the first time the Court said the government is required to provide public funding directly to a religious organization. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority in the 7-2 decision. The key argument was that Trinity Lutheran faced discrimination solely because of its identity as a church. That, the Court decided, was discrimination. From the opinion:

“There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is….A church.”

The grant was for refurbishing the church’s playground.

But in this case, the SBA is offering direct funding of religious entities with money provided by tax dollars from the rest of us. We’re likely to see this in the courts soon.

This isn’t the first time that the Trump administration provided funds directly to churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious organizations. In 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed its rules to make houses of worship eligible for disaster aid.

First Amendment watchers have reacted. Alison Gill, legal and policy vice president of American Atheists said:

“The government cannot directly fund inherently religious activities….It can’t spend government tax dollars on prayer, on promoting religion [or] proselytization. That directly contradicts the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”

If they want Federal funds, shouldn’t they pay Federal taxes?

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Is The Cure Worse Than The Disease?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, CA – photo by kristophershinn

Here are the latest national pandemic numbers from The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/5)

  • Number of daily cases: 333,747, up 27,992 or +9.2% vs. April 4
  • Rate of case increase: 9.2% vs. 12.4% on 4/4 and 13% average for the past week
  • Number of deaths: Total 9,558, up 1,244 vs. April 4
  • Rate of deaths increase 4/5 vs 4/4: 14.9% % vs. 19.4% on 4/4
  • Daily number of tests 4/5 vs. 4/4: 1,778,487, up 154,680 over 4/4
  • Rate of increase in tests: +9.5% vs. previous day

The rate of growth in cases and deaths are slowing. Testing is still growing, although slowly.

Two pandemic-related stories today, each purporting to offer a cure. First, from the Guardian:

“Neo-Nazi groups in the US are looking for ways to exploit the coronavirus outbreak and commit acts of violence, according to observers of far-right groups, law enforcement, and propaganda materials…”

The Guardian says that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) raised an alarm about opportunism from far-right so-called “accelerationist” groups who believe sowing chaos and violence will hasten the collapse of society. More from the Guardian:

“Late last month, the FBI warned such extremist groups were encouraging members to deliberately spread the virus to Jewish people and police officers.”

Apparently, the shorthand in a variety of extremist and fringe movements and subcultures is the word “boogaloo”, used as shorthand for a future civil war:

“From militia groups to white supremacists, extremists on a range of online platforms talk about—and sometimes even anticipate—the “boogaloo.” The rise of “boogaloo,” and its casual acceptance of future mass violence, is disturbing.”

Similar sentiments may have motivated a Missouri man who planned a car bomb attack on a hospital which was treating coronavirus patients. He was shot dead by FBI agents who were seeking to arrest him on March 24th. The man was active in chat rooms associated with two neo-Nazi groups: the longstanding National Socialist Movement (NSM) and the accelerationist group Vorherrschaft Division (VSD).

The NSM was involved in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and is facing a federal lawsuit for its role there. VSD is an organization that urges members to engage in mass shootings or terror attacks to help bring about the collapse of modern civilization. This is disturbing and distracting when we are seeing a few nascent signs that Americans are coming together in the fight against COVID-19.

Second, many saw, or have heard about Trump’s Sunday “briefing” where he doubled down on his pushing chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine as a possible cure for Coronavirus. Trump again said “what do you have to lose?” Remember that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are used to treat malaria and lupus.

It turns out that many of us may indeed have something to lose. In an abstract from researchers at Johns Hopkins entitled: “Fatal toxicity of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine with metformin in mice” they say: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…we report a cautionary note on the potential fatal toxicity of chloroquine (CQ) or hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in combination with anti-diabetic drug metformin. We observed that the combination of CQ or HCQ and metformin, which were used in our studies as potential anti-cancer drugs, killed 30-40% of mice.”

Metformin is the fourth most prescribed drug in the US and is used by more than 150,000,000 people worldwide. It is usually the first drug prescribed for Type 2 diabetes. Its side effects are usually mild, and it is even being researched as a possible “longevity” drug.

Now, these mice results aren’t conclusive, so it may or may not be lethal in humans. This is why we test before prescribing an approved drug for another disease.

BTW, Drugs.com says there are 332 HCQ drug interactions (59 of them are major), but it doesn’t list Metformin as one of them. Feeling lucky?

Despite this, the NY Post reports that as many as 4,000 patients are currently being treated with hydroxychloroquine:

“A state Health Department official said the DOH has shipped doses of hydroxychloroquine to 56 hospitals across New York…”

And NYU Langone Medical School is conducting a random trial with a $9.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Sooner or later, we’ll have some proof if it helps with COVID-19, and whether it is safe for people who take Metformin.

So, the answer is, at this point, you may have a lot to lose.

Remember the guy pushing this told us that the cure can’t be worse than the disease, so we should all go back to work, before he had to admit that he had spoken too soon. Now, he’s pushing a cure that MIGHT be worse than the disease.

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Saturday Soother – Even More Pandemic Edition, April 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring in Town – Grant Wood, 1941

Welcome to Saturday, fellow disease vectors! Here’s a quote often mis-attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through Hell, just keep going”. Those are words to live by in pandemic America.

You remember Joe Biden, right?

His campaign was premised on Trump’s complete unsuitability for the presidency, and on Biden’s particular experience and fitness for it. Biden wasn’t running on the issues, he was hammering on Trump. Before the pandemic, according to Joe Biden, Trump was:

“A threat to this nation unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

But lately, Biden could be a picture on a milk carton. He’s disappeared. Rather than holding a news conference in public every day, demanding to know why the administration isn’t providing enough tests and PPE to the states, Biden’s trying to organize a phone call with Trump. To share lessons learned from Obama-era pandemic responses. That will certainly change everything.

Does Biden have a strategy to win in November? The ABC/WaPo poll found that only 24% of Biden’s supporters were ‘very enthusiastic‘ about him, compared with 53% of Trump’s. While ABC News reminded us that in 2016, “Hillary Clinton’s ‘very enthusiastic’ score was 32% in September.”

These numbers are from the poll that has Biden beating Trump by only 2% points. Now, this poll could be an outlier, since the Real Clear Politics Polling Average has Biden at 50.6% to Trump at 44%.

Regardless, Biden needs to get off his ass, get out in public, and act like the leader of the opposition.

And speaking of leadership (again), Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a great column about leadership in the pandemic era. He differentiates between the visionary giants like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  and our current crop who he calls “Little Managers”:

“They all failed to a horrific extent at their #1 task when it comes to Disasters, Pandemics, whatever their respective governments file these events under: Prevention. But now we’re in a whole new world. Now these failed leaders move into a situation they actually MAY be able to handle. That is, the -crisis- management that inevitably follows AFTER the failure at their #1 task of Prevention.”

Ilargi says that they might be able to succeed at crisis management because they were trained to be little managers. He describes them: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Core characteristic: these people don’t act, they re-act. Prevention is a job they’re absolutely not qualified for… Trump, Macron, BoJo, Merkel, Rutte, Xi, Abe, Conte, you name them, they’re all little managers…they have no ideas or visions, at least not original ones. People with original ideas don’t become politicians…”

Worse, politics isn’t policy. More:

“For now, the only thing to do is hope the little managers are better at step 2, Crisis Management, than they were at step 1, Prevention. Because there are no ready alternatives. When they say stay home, that’s the best thing to do right now.”

And finally:

“Can we blame our own respective…little managers? To an extent, sure. They didn’t do what they promised to when they swore their respective oaths. But maybe just maybe we should blame ourselves more, for picking little managers to lead our countries in the first place. We should have known that they were never going to be more than 2nd rate “leaders” who were never going to deliver more than 2nd rate societies.“

Hard to improve on that.

We’re all going through hell with no choice but to keep going. So, let’s take a breath, and try to spend our self-isolating time concentrating on something other than COVID-19. Here are “Two English Idylls” by the little-known George Butterworth, who was part of the English pastoral idiom.

These are Butterworth’s earliest surviving orchestral pieces, with No. 1 dating from 1910-1911, while No. 2 is from 1911. Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan Williams were close friends, and you may hear similarities in their music. Butterworth was killed in 1916 in WWI during the Battle of the Somme, he was 31.

Here it’s performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, under Sir Neville Marriner, in 1975. The accompanying photography of the English countryside is transporting and wonderful, so Wrongo urges you to take a few minutes to watch:

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

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Coughs And Prayers

The Daily Escape:

Lake Colchuck, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, near Leavenworth, WA – photo by atgcgtt

Until 1956, e pluribus Unum (out of many, one) was the country’s unofficial national motto. It was officially replaced by In God we trust by Congress in 1956. And in America today, there are many, many pastors who are telling their members that for Coronavirus, trusting God is enough. There’s no need for social distancing or flattening the curve. From Crooks and Liars: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“Apparently the Coronavirus was wiped off the face of the earth Sunday by televangelist Kenneth Copeland, [who]…around 12 eastern [said]…..In the name of Jesus… I execute judgment on you, COVID-19!..It! Is! Finished! It! Is! Over!”

But it isn’t over, we still have plenty of coughs right along with our prayers.

Many Americans just don’t like to be told what to do, even when it’s readily apparent why they should do it. Most are beginning to accept the arguments about transmission rates and mortality rates being higher than with the flu.

They are accepting curve flattening. But it’s doubtful they would have accepted it simply based on the words of scientists. Without the exercise of state and local power closing schools and stores, and banning social gatherings, along with their painful economic consequences they would be out and about like the kids in Florida during spring break.

Social media is filled with pandemic denialism and fantastic rumors about the true origin, or the severity of the virus. Most of us aren’t public health experts, so going along with the program boils down to “the government seems to be taking it seriously, so maybe I should too.”

And the government is finally taking it seriously, despite Trump’s refusal to take the COVID-19 outbreak seriously during the entire first quarter of 2020. Now suddenly, he is, and much of the media are giving him credit for a change in tone, for looking presidential, and for finally acting seriously.

Praising Trump for changing his tone is like praising your puppy for shitting closer to the door.

Trump frittered away January, February and most of March as a coronavirus denialist. It is a hoax, he said. We only have 15 cases. It will just go away. It is like the ordinary flu. It shouldn’t interfere with business, or with the stock market.

But it did interfere with our lives, and now it looks like an unstoppable force. Here’s a chart from the Financial Times:

This graph tracks most countries by number of cases and the days since the country’s 100th case. The steeper the curve, the faster the cases are growing, and the bigger the national problem. There are reference curves for cases doubling every day, every other day, every three days, an once a week.

The graph shows that America’s on a track to face a massive public health problem, perhaps the worst among nations. One made worse by the wide mistrust of the state’s authority by significant segments of America. Many politicians and citizens seemingly reject stay at home orders, or other measures to control the rapid spread of the virus.

Two stories of interest. First, a delicious irony is how dependent America is on foreign-born doctors and other health workers, given Trump’s aversion to immigration. Juan Cole reports that nearly one third of American physicians are foreign-born. And about a quarter of nurse aides are first-generation immigrants. More from Cole:

“About 17% of US physicians are Asian-Americans. These are the same Asian-Americans against whom Trump fomented beatings and harassment by calling Covid-19 “Chinese.” About 6% of our physicians are Hispanic. Fully one percent of them are Muslim, which is proportional to the Muslim-American population.”

Second, returning to the “In God We Trust” motto, a makeshift tent hospital was built in Central Park in Manhattan. The group Samaritan’s Purse is working with Mount Sinai Health System to open a 68-bed respiratory care unit. Sounds great, we need all the help we can get, right?

Wrong. Gothamist reports that Samaritan’s Purse has asked all volunteers working at the field hospital to sign a pledge that includes one that defines marriage as “exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female” and another that says “human life is sacred from conception to its natural end.” So, don’t work here if you are for same sex marriage, or abortion.

Maybe it helps to know the group is headed by Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, and a guy with a history of incendiary comments. Samaritan’s Purse is specifically seeking Christian medical staff for the tent hospital.

In the middle of this plague, the last thing anyone needs is a bunch of superstitious hatemongers judging those who either want to help, or who need help.

People should both cough and pray privately.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Leadership Edition, March 30, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Last light, Tombstone Territory Park, Yukon, AK – fall 2019 photo by tmsvdw

A few days ago, Wrongo heard someone say that we should be careful what we wished for from Trump. He was talking about Trump’s lack of leadership regarding the pandemic. His thought was that the last thing people should want was Trump in full command, and attempting a vigorous response. We’re already failing, and that wouldn’t make it better.

OTOH, it’s been terrible to learn how ill-prepared we are, and how passive-aggressive the administration has been about doing more. It’s past time to accept the excuse that these people are well-intended but awful managers. Take this bit of news from the WaPo:

“On Feb. 5, with fewer than a dozen confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the United States but tens of thousands around the globe, a shouting match broke out in the White House Situation Room between Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and an Office of Management and Budget official….Azar had asked OMB that morning for $2 billion to buy respirator masks and other supplies for a depleted federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment…”

Several weeks later, the request was cut to $500 million. Now, there’s $16 billion in the stimulus bill for the strategic stockpile, but that’s at least six weeks too late. The government has been overwhelmed by urgent requests for masks, respirators, gloves and gowns since the first US case of Covid-19 was confirmed. But on February 7th, Secretary of State Pompeo announced that we were sending:

“…nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to the Chinese people, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials.”

Yes, this was after there were already 12 confirmed cases in the US, and after the HHS request for $2 billion to buy the same things was denied.

Then there’s Trump’s strategy, “better be nice to me if you want any medical gear”. More from the WaPo:

“Anecdotally, there are wide differences….Democratic-leaning Massachusetts, which has had a serious outbreak in Boston, has received 17% of the protective gear it requested….Maine requested a half-million N95 specialized protective masks and received 25,558 — about 5% of what it sought. The shipment delivered to Colorado — 49,000 N95 masks, 115,000 surgical masks and other supplies — would be “enough for only one full day of statewide operations…”

But, when Trump’s guy is in charge, as in Florida, it’s a different story: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Florida has been an exception in its dealings with the stockpile: The state submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later…It received an identical shipment on March 23, according to the division, and is awaiting a third.”

So, three times what they asked for, while California, with Trump nemesis Democratic Governor Newsom in charge, actually got worse than nothing. KRON-TV in San Diego reports that Los Angeles received 170 broken ventilators from the national stockpile. Surely, a simple clerical error.

California also asked for 20 million N95 respirators, and has received 358,381.

Trump is actually doing what he’s been saying: “I am sending aid to states that like me, and withholding aid from states that don’t like me.” That’s Trump’s re-election strategy: Support the states he needs to win for an Electoral College victory.

Reward your friends, punish your enemies. Is that the kind of leadership America needs?

You know leadership when you see it. Sadly, even the UK’s Prime Minister Bozo Boris Johnson shows more leadership than America’s Bozo. After Johnson’s terrible start fighting the Coronavirus, one that rivaled Trump’s, things have turned around. There is consistent messaging: The government has adopted the slogan “Save lives”, “Protect the NHS” [the national health system], and “Stay home”. Simple and clear, something the entire country can rally around.

In the US? No message is simple, or clear. Most messages are conflicting or simply unworkable, like Trump’s suggestion of issuing an executive order quarantining the states of NY, NJ and CT, an unconstitutional and unenforceable idea. How about THAT for leadership.

Trump’s plan for re-election is: “If you aren’t dead, I saved you. Show some appreciation. I take no responsibility for those whose governors failed to save you“. Favoring those states he may need in 2020 is outrageous and criminal.

Two audio-visual aids today for your Monday Wake Up. First, a staggering animated chart showing the growth in Coronavirus cases world-wide during March, with a particular focus on the US:

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

Second, a hilarious YouTube video done to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Naturally, it’s called “Coronavirus Rhapsody“:

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

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Saturday Soother (Not) – March 28, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Mono Lake, CA, just after sunset – 2020 photo by hodldeeznutz. Those columns are called tufa, and are made of limestone.

Trump has finally made America number 1! We’re again showing the world our exceptionalism by having more COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world.

The House has also passed the stimulus bill, and Trump has signed it, so we will also spend the greatest amount of money on the pandemic, with the smallest fraction of it going to the people who really need it.

Or on the medical equipment that we need the most.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the $2 trillion does a whole lot more than provide relief to very rich people and corporations. This from the NYT:

“Senate Republicans inserted an easy-to-overlook provision on page 203 of the 880-page bill that would permit wealthy investors to use losses generated by real estate to minimize their taxes on profits from things like investments in the stock market. The estimated cost of the change over 10 years is $170 billion.”

The NYT explains that under the existing tax code, when real estate investors generate losses from depreciation, they can use some of those losses to offset other taxes.

This is a big tax break because depreciation is a paper loss, resulting in cash flowing to the investor while tax deductions also flow to the investor.

But the use of those losses was limited by the 2017 tax cut. The paper losses could be used only to shelter the first $500,000 of a married couple’s nonbusiness income. Any leftover losses had to be carried forward and used in future years.

The new stimulus bill lifts the $500,000 restriction for three years, this year, and two retroactive years, a boon for couples with more than $500,000 in annual capital gains or income from sources other than their business.

The IRS says the group that benefits comprises the top 1% of taxpayers. Final words to the NYT:

“A draft congressional analysis this week found that the change is the second-biggest tax giveaway in the $2 trillion stimulus package.”

As we approach a new week, doesn’t it seem like fear is setting in? One thing that might have helped would be an empathetic leader in the White House, but you fight the pandemic war with the bozo you have.

In the Thursday evening Coronavirus briefing he acted like a mafia boss, saying that one governor:

“Used to be a big wise guy but not so much anymore…we saw to it he’s not so much anymore.”

He’s referring to New York’s Andrew Cuomo asking for more ventilators. This is GoodFellas meets House of Cards.

As long as Trump controls the distribution of federal resources, he will use it to bully and threaten states for his own political benefit. And think about this: Trump is willing to hand out $500 billion to corporations to save executives, but isn’t willing to spend $1 billion on more ventilators to save sick Americans?

This is what the Trump administration has become:

Trump is NEVER going to do what is necessary to bring this pandemic under control. Success will only be achieved through cooperative action by the States. And, by the rest of us.

Reality is sinking in, we’re gonna be in our houses for a long time. 2020 is becoming the people vs. Donald Trump.

But, there are uplifting moments if you look carefully. Here’s a small effort at a Saturday Soother, aided by the students of Berklee College of Music in Boston MA. After the school closed down and the kids left for home, they created a virtual performance of Bert Bacharach’s “What The World Needs Now”:

Despite Trump, the rest of us are in this together. Protect yourself and your loved ones, this will eventually end, and you want to be here.

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

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Sacrificing Resiliency For Efficiency

The Daily Escape:

Convict Lake, Eastern Sierras, CA – photo by wild_NDN. It got its name after a group of escaped convicts ambushed the posse at the lake in 1871.

There will be a few winners in the race to source products for the Coronavirus fight. One winner is Puritan Medical Products Co. of Guilford, ME. If you’ve been tested for Covid-19, it’s quite likely that the swab used to collect a sample from inside your nose was made by Puritan.

Puritan is one of two companies that produce the world’s supply of the swabs used for coronavirus testing. (The other, Copan Diagnostics Inc., is in Italy). From Bloomberg:

“If swabs are necessary for testing, and if testing is crucial to slowing the virus’s spread, then it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the world’s future depends, at least in part, on Puritan.”

Unless the method for conducting the COVID-19 tests changes, Puritan’s ability to make more swabs will remain the long pole in the tent for figuring out which Americans have the virus. Puritan sells 65 different kinds of swabs. It has more than $45 million yearly in sales revenue.

On March 12, Puritan started getting calls from the US government. Bloomberg quotes Timothy Templet, executive vice president:

“We are ramping up to produce and wrap a million swabs a week that we need to put into the supply chain across the US…”

Please think about that. The Trump administration first contacted the swabs guy on March 12th, two and a half months after we should have known we needed as many as we could get, assuming America was interested in testing for the Coronavirus.

Early tests used two swabs—one for the nose, and another for the back of the throat, but the swab shortage forced changes to CDC guidelines, and now, only one is required. Puritan has two swabs patented for this purpose, and they’re making and shipping both, but scaling up production isn’t simple. Workers are in short supply, with more aging out of the workforce than entering in rural Maine. More from Templet:

“The whole labor shortage has created difficulties to have enough machines and build equipment…I could use 60 people tomorrow.”

Second, let’s talk the shortage of hospital safety gear, including disposable face masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns. Farhad Manjoo had an Op-Ed in Thursday’s NYT, “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask”, that details another sourcing problem:

“The answer to why we’re running out of protective gear involves a very American set of capitalist pathologies — the rise and inevitable lure of low-cost overseas manufacturing, and a strategic failure, at the national level and in the health care industry, to consider seriously the cascading vulnerabilities that flowed from the incentives to reduce costs.”

Twenty years ago, most hospital protective gear was made domestically. But like the apparel and consumer products business, face mask manufacturing has since shifted largely overseas. Today, China produces 80 % of masks worldwide. More from Manjoo:

“In January, the brittle supply chain began to crack under pressure. To deal with its own outbreak, China began to restrict exports of protective equipment. Then other countries did as well — Taiwan, Germany, France and India took steps to stop exports of medical equipment. That left American hospitals to seek more and more masks from fewer and fewer producers.”

In 2006, Congress funded adding hospital protective gear to a national strategic stockpile. At one point, it contained 52 million surgical face masks and 104 million N95 respirator masks. But in 2009, about 100 million masks in the stockpile were deployed to fight the H1N1 flu pandemic, and the government never bothered to replace them. Today, we have about 40 million masks in the stockpile — around 1% of the projected need for the Coronavirus fight.

Fighting the coronavirus is forecasted to require 3.5 billion face masks, according to DHHS. Mask producers say it will take at least few months to significantly expand production. Here’s a chart of the shortfall:

3M says that they are ramping up towards 100 million masks/month.

But, until that happens, the forecast is that we’re going to be short 170 million masks per month. Most of that must be sourced from China at a time when there is huge global demand, and Trump is fighting with the Chinese.

The real issue is that our system is built to optimize efficiency, not resiliency. But we’ve just learned the hard way that without resiliency, we could lose many more Americans.

This is where our priorities are misplaced. We have plenty of redundancy built into our military hardware, and our bloated defense budget assures it will stay that way. But pandemics are also a significant (and growing) threat to our national security.

How about rebuilding the “strategic reserve” of protective gear with some defense dollars? To add 300 million masks at $0.75 each would cost $225 million.

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Stimulus Bill Blocked By Rogue GOP Senators

The Daily Escape:

Late winter, NH – February 2020 photo by Betsy Zimmerli

Just when you think that the two Parties and the White House have found agreement on a massive stimulus bill, a few rogue Republicans decide that there’s too much welfare in it for them. From NBC News:

“A handful of Republican senators on Wednesday threatened to delay the $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill over a proposed increase to unemployment insurance.

Sens. Tim Scott, (R-SC), Lindsey Graham, (R-SC), and Ben Sasse, (R-NE), said that the bill “could provide a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work” because some people could theoretically make more by being unemployed. Senator Rick Scott (r-FL) jumped onto the obstructionist bandwagon as well.

More from the Senators’ statement:

“If the federal government accidentally incentivizes layoffs, we risk life-threatening shortages in sectors where doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are trying to care for the sick, and where growers and grocers, truckers and cooks are trying to get food to families’ tables.”

The fight is over an additional $600 per week payment to each recipient on top of their unemployment insurance payment. The proposed benefit also extends to workers who typically would not qualify, such as gig economy workers, furloughed employees, and freelancers.

Imagine! These Senators are so out of touch, they think you can receive unemployment payments if you quit your job.

This is hypocrisy in action: These Republicans obstructionists pretend to be suddenly concerned about either deficit spending, or about government fraud and abuse after they blew a trillion dollar hole in the our last budget to give unneeded money to their wealthy benefactors.

The bill was supposed to be voted on late yesterday, but the Senators who are objecting could hold up the bill by forcing votes on amendments. Sen. Chris Murphy, (D-CT), tweeted:

“Let’s not over-complicate this…several Republican Senators are holding up the bipartisan Coronavirus emergency bill because they think the bill is too good for laid off Americans. “

From Charlie Pierce:

“Right on cue, of course…Bernie Sanders threatened to block the bill unless the stooges dropped their opposition. Which, of course, is exactly what every Republican everywhere would like. The stooges are running a bluff. They don’t want to be the people who block this. They just want to talk about blocking it. If Sanders does them the incredible favor of blocking it himself, thereby pulling Mitch McConnell out of the ditch into which the Democratic minority has rolled him, they’ll all get re-elected.”

So the question is what is Majority Leader McConnell prepared to give up to pass the bill? And are Chuck and Nancy prepared to give up anything in order to move the bill on to the House?

It seems likely that McConnell wants to meet their demands with no real Democratic pushback. Is that likely to happen?

So, a few Republican supporters of our capitalist super heroes want to reduce the crumbs provided to ordinary workers. They have a small point about people not “earning” more from the government than they did on the job. The problem is that each state has its own unique unemployment insurance system, and it would be a nightmare to adjust each payment for each worker just to make Lindsay Graham feel good.

That’s the trouble with grifters. They simply can’t understand that there are people who aren’t always grifting.

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It’s the Economy Stupid. Or Is It?

The Daily Escape:

On Tuesday, Trump was in the Rose Garden for a “virtual town hall” on Fox News. The Boston Globe reported that he wants the country “open and raring to go” by Easter, which is less than three weeks away. “I think it’s possible, why not?” he said with a shrug.

Watching Trump do a press conference is like watching the kid who didn’t read the book give his book report.

The top health professionals have called ending social distancing by Easter far too quick. But, Trump compared the potential for Coronavirus fatalities to our annual flu casualties and, to automobile accidents. That led Charlie Pierce to say:

“I can speak with some authority on this. On December 9, I got hit by a car. It has been three months now. Nobody I came into contact with in the aftermath has been hit by a car.”

It’s important to remember that Trump is saying this while we still have no idea how many Americans have, or have had, the virus. It seems safe to say the number is vastly higher than the number of people who have tested positive (nearly 50,000). Here’s a terrifying tweet:

(James Gallagher is the BBC’s Health and science correspondent)

Trump’s “let’s get America back to work” plea comes at a time when we have no idea about the extent of the virus’s impact, or how large the tsunami of cases will be. Trump is sounding a bit like General Buck Turgidson in 1964’s “Dr. Strangelove“:

“I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops.”

There are operational issues involved in conducting a safe economic restart while the virus remains rampant in the country: It would require testing all who enter the workplace, every time they come to work. Where do those test kits come from when we can’t get enough for America’s hospitals? Who will read the tests and get the data back to the individual and the business? Can social distancing really be practiced at work? In offices?

Obviously there are conflicting opinions about how long to use severe Coronavirus mitigation and suppression measures when the economic consequences of that mitigation could be disastrous. The medical experts can tell us what the consequences of various courses of action are most likely to be in terms of illness and fatalities.

But the willingness to endure the likely costs of a particular course of action is a political, and possibly an ethical question. Last week, Wrongo asked:

“Is restoring our economy, and putting Americans back to work worth a million lives lost? Is it worth 300,000?”

Trump is right both to wrestle with this question, and to be concerned that Coronavirus could end his presidency. Here’s a chart that shows how long prior stock market crashes took to return to the pre-crash level:

This compares three prior crashes and the time it took to recover. Only the 1987 crash was a sharp “V” recovery, and that recovery took nearly two years. Both of the others took four years.

This most likely means Trump can’t run as a peace and prosperity president. He’ll simply be running as another Republican who ran up the debt with the crucial difference that Americans died on the home front on his watch, after trying to go back to work prematurely.

A few words about the attempted bailout. As Wrongo writes this, it’s likely that there may be a “deal” sometime late on Tuesday . The stock market has already closed up more than 2,000 points, or 11% on the hope of a deal.

The bailout deal should absolutely be as big as possible, but Mitch, Trump and the GOP have it wrong. We should be pointing our water hoses where the immediate fire is: Low – moderate income households and small businesses that have a week or two of cash reserves, and little access to credit markets.

While this is an emergency, it’s no excuse for another GOP round of opportunistic, potentially wasteful spending with little oversight. We have more important things to do than setting up a $500 billion Republican slush fund in an election year.

Trump will no doubt make an announcement that “America is again open for business”. But, that’s not really within his power. The economy is not usually like a faucet you can turn off and on.

It also means that Trump’s replacement will have a major job starting in 2021 trying to restore the stock market and the employment level to where they were pre-Coronavirus.

It is the highest duty of the US President to keep the country safe, and protect its people. Trump’s downplaying of what his science and security advisers have told him is doing exactly the opposite.

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