More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week (including 178,000 in Illinois), following the 3.3 million who filed the week before. This graphic from The Washington Post puts these numbers in perspective:
Hotel occupancy has crashed as well, down 67% year-over-year, with industry analysts predicting the worst year on record.
In other pandemic news:
Finally, unrelated to the coronavirus but definitely related to our natural environment, the Lake Michigan/Huron system recorded its third straight month of record levels in March. The lake is a full meter above the long-term average and 30 cm above last year's alarming levels.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker extended the state's stay-at-home order through April 30th, which came as absolutely no surprise, as the state nears 6,000 total COVID-19 cases. Rush Hospitals predict 19,000 total cases in Illinois a week from now—far less than the 147,000 they predict would have shown up without the stay-at-home order.
In other news:
- During the Obama administration, the Health and Human Services Department paid $14 million to a Pennsylvania firm to manufacture low-cost ventilators that we could stockpile for emergencies. They took the money and never manufactured the inexpensive devices, preferring to make expensive ones instead.
- Kellyanne Conway previewed the lies the Trump Campaign will spread this fall, in particular that "no one could have predicted" the pandemic that literally everyone paying attention predicted.
- Speaking of moronic right-wing authoritarians, the dictator of Belarus believes that virus-control efforts are psychotic, and refuses to do anything to halt its spread there.
- Two economists at UC-Berkeley argue that the American relief effort, which focused on paying people directly, could have prevented lasting damage to the economy by paying employers to keep them employed instead, as most other democracies have done.
- Consumer Reports recommends using actual disinfectants to disinfect, not homemade sanitizer, vodka, vinegar, or tea tree oil.
- Stores have made changes to keep people separated and reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
- Looking to the near future, Libby Watson argues in The New Republic that COVID-19 will make our ongoing health insurance crisis unimaginably worse.
- Siddhartha Mukherjee, writing in the New Yorker, examines how the virus behaves within a human body.
- Finally, our very own moronic right-wing would-be authoritarian has used the distraction of the virus to roll back all of Obama's climate policy, today by loosening environmental standards for cars.
Oh, and the stock market suffered its worst first quarter. Ever.
Just a few articles of note today:
- The City of Chicago urges residents to call 311 to report non-essential business remaining open.
- President Trump admitted on "Fox & Friends" this morning that adopting common-sense election reforms would mean "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again." (Unless, I suppose, they changed their policies to match the mainstream, right?)
- The Times reports on General Motors' efforts to produce 2,000 ventilators a month (an order-of-magnitude change from now) even as the president slagged the company on Twitter.
- Jennifer Rubin points out that "Trump's narcissism has never been more dangerous."
- Richard Florida examines how society will need to change after the current stay-at-home phase of the pandemic passes.
And finally, London took advantage of reduced traffic on March 24th to give the Abbey Road zebra crossing a much-overdue paint job.
Welcome to 2020, the year when the GOP says the quiet things out loud. In the middle of a pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency has given every polluter who wants one a get-out-of-jail-free card:
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.
The move comes amid an influx of requests from businesses for a relaxation of regulations as they face layoffs, personnel restrictions and other problems related to the coronavirus outbreak.
Issued by the E.P.A.’s top compliance official, Susan P. Bodine, the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.
Companies are normally required to report when their factories discharge certain levels of pollution into the air or water.
“In general, the E.P.A. does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the E.P.A. agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the E.P.A. upon request,” the order states.
Cynthia Giles, who headed the E.P.A. enforcement division during the Obama administration, said: “This is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. It is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.”
How long before some asshole kills an entire river "because of Covid-19?" How long before a working-class neighborhood sees a spike in respiratory illness "because of Covid-19?" They don't even try to hide their corporatist ideology anymore.
Meanwhile, in the president's fact-free world, his supporters think epidemiology is a hoax. I mean. What the ever-loving fuck.
That seems like a reasonable conclusion based on recent statements from conservative broadcasters:
At the heart of their campaign is a skepticism over the advice offered by experts and a willingness to accept a certain number of deaths to incur fewer economic costs.
Many also see in the mass shutdowns and shelter-in-place policies a plot to push the country to the left.
[Glenn] Beck, for example, suggested Democrats were trying to “jam down the Green New Deal because we’re at home panicked.” Heather Mac Donald, a conservative thinker and Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, sees the restrictions as “a warm-up for their wish-list of sweeping economic interventions.”
A less common line of argument that has also been picked up by Trump comes from the religious conservative camp, a sure sign that the debate about public health and the economy has also become part of the nation’s long-running culture wars.
Reno, in an article entitled “Say No to Death’s Dominion,” called the widespread shutdowns of nursing homes and churches the result of a “perverse, even demonic atmosphere” that was preventing people from practicing their faith. The closures, he argued, were evidence of Satan preying on the fear of death.
The Independent UK takes a stab at understanding why:
The reason for the president’s rapid about turn may be no more simple than people may guess.
Covid-19 has not become any less deadly, or infectious.
Rather, as Axios reported earlier in the day, the president has grown tired with the advice of health officials whose recommendations will likely result in financial meltdown. That is not something he wants to have on his back as he campaigns for re-election.
Exactly. It's all about Trump. As long as "the economy"—i.e., equity markets and the immense stores of wealth they represent—keeps ticking along nicely, everything is fine, even if a few people in big cities have to suffocate on their own blood because the president has refused to send ventilators.
At least the president can't order states to end quarantines, according to University of Texas Law School Associate Dean Bobby Chesney. But he can encourage such things, and many parts of the country will listen.
The governor ordered everyone to stay at home only a few days ago, and yet it seems like much longer. I started working from home three weeks ago, initially because my entire team were traveling, and then for safety. My company turned off all our badges yesterday so I couldn't go back even if I wanted to. And I find myself planning meals a week out because I find it nearly impossible to cook small amounts of food. (Sample entries: Monday dinner, shrimp in garlic, butter, and wine sauce with wild rice; Tuesday lunch, leftover grilled chicken with wild rice. The shrimp were delicious, by the way.)
It doesn't help that the President and Senate Republicans are trying to turn this whole thing into a corporate giveaway. Some other lowlights:
But in one bit of good news, China announced an end to the two-month lockdown of Hubei province a few hours from now. Could we also start getting back to normal mid-May?
And finally, enjoy some scampi:
President Trump claims he knew COVID-19 was a pandemic all along, even though he had a strangely ineffective way of showing it.
Finally, and not related even a little to COVID-19, Olga Khazan writes in the Atlantic about "the perks of being a weirdo."
The Dow Industrial Average index of 30 blue-chip stocks dropped almost 3,000 points today, erasing almost all the gains the index made since President Trump's inauguration. This comes on the first business day after the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to near zero, and the CDC issued new guidance on avoiding groups of 50 or more for the next 8 weeks.
Related stories, just from today:
I will now resume beating up a partner organization for deploying software on Friday night that broke literally everything on our side.
What an exciting 24 hours.
President Trump made a statement from the Oval Office last night about the COVID-19 pandemic that completely failed to reassure anyone, in part because it contained numerous errors and misstatements. By announcing a ban on travel from the Schengen area of 26 European countries that applies to non-US residents, he enraged our European allies while doing nothing to stop the spread of the virus for the simple reason that the virus has already spread to the US. Not to mention, having a US passport doesn't magically confer immunity on people.
But let's not question the virologist-in-chief at this moment, who has so far refused to heed his experts' advice to issue an emergency declaration until Jared Kushner signs off on it. And wouldn't you guess? Republicans in the Senate have balked at an emergency spending bill because it has the potential to demonstrate that government can help in a crisis, which is why they blocked prevention measures earlier.
A few minutes after trading started today, the New York Stock Exchange hit the brakes to hold the plunge in equities values to 8% for 15 minutes while traders pissed themselves. Trading seems to have stabilized as it resumed, but the markets have now fallen about 25% from their February records.
The National Basketball Association has suspended its season and the National College Athletic Association played the first few games of March Madness without audiences.
In Chicago, PepsiCo became the first company to close its headquarters building, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has halted in-person trading entirely. Following California's ban on assemblies of more than 250 persons, Illinois is considering a similar measure. (Scotland has banned groups of 500, and Ireland has cancelled St Patrick's Day events.) And local colleges have moved their spring classes online.
Finally, as a member of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago Board of Directors and as the co-chair of our annual benefit, I am in the position of having to make some of these decisions myself. In another post I'll talk about that. For now, I can say we've sent a few hundred emails around the organization in the past 24 hours because we have concerts scheduled for this weekend and a dress rehearsal scheduled for tonight.
And, of course, I'm working from home again, and I think I should vote today instead of Tuesday.
Updates as conditions warrant.
My preferred candidate for president, Elizabeth Warren, dropped out of the race earlier this morning after depressing results in Tuesday's elections. This leaves three serious candidates for the 2020 presidential election: the 73-year-old white male incumbent, 78-year-old white male US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and 77-year-old white male former US Vice President Joe Biden (D).
(Apparently US Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is clinging to her one delegate and refuses to go away, and 74-year-old white male former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld (R) also seems determined to stay in the race.)
As the New York Times points out:
Ms. Warren struggled to win over voters beyond college-educated white people, in particular white women. She was above the 15 percent threshold to win delegates, as of Thursday, in only a handful of highly educated liberal strongholds: places like San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Santa Monica and West Hollywood.
Yeah. It's almost as if some people believe competence, intelligence, and humanity should determine who governs us. Weird, right?
This also means that a 70-something white male will almost certainly take the Oath of Office in 321 days.
I really, really wish the Boomers would get out of the way already.