Writing for Vox, Ezra Klein looks at three major plans for re-starting the economy, and how difficult they would actually be to implement:
There’s one from the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, the left-leaning Center for American Progress, Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics, and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer.
In different ways, all these plans say the same thing: Even if you can imagine the herculean political, social, and economic changes necessary to manage our way through this crisis effectively, there is no normal for the foreseeable future. Until there’s a vaccine, the US either needs economically ruinous levels of social distancing, a digital surveillance state of shocking size and scope, or a mass testing apparatus of even more shocking size and intrusiveness.
All of them then imagine a phase two, which relaxes — but does not end — social distancing while implementing testing and surveillance on a mass scale. This is where you must begin imagining the almost unimaginable.
The CAP and Harvard plans both foresee a digital pandemic surveillance state in which virtually every American downloads an app to their phone that geotracks their movements, so if they come into contact with anyone who later is found to have Covid-19, they can be alerted and a period of social quarantine can begin.
The AEI proposal is the closest thing to a middle path between these plans. It’s more testing, but nothing approaching Romer’s hopes. It’s more contact tracing, but it doesn’t envision an IT-driven panopticon. But precisely for that reason, what it’s really describing is a yo-yo between extreme lockdown and lighter forms of social distancing, continuing until a vaccine is reached.
This, too, requires some imagination. Will governors who’ve finally, at great effort, reopened parts of their economies really keep throwing them back into lockdown every time ICUs begin to fill? Will Trump have the stomach to push the country back into quarantine after he’s lifted social distancing guidelines? What if unemployment is 17 percent, and his approval rating is at 38 percent?
For the time being, we'll stay in our homes and away from other people as much as we can. But wow, even for me, an introvert with a dedicated home office, it's very trying.
And how long will it go on? A while. National Geographic says a vaccine may take a lot longer than a year.
An Andy Borowitz bit from last year is making the rounds again: "Trump Comes Out Strongly Against Intelligence." More evidence of why that's true after these two videos. First, the Ohio Department of Health demonstrates social distancing:
Second, the Lincoln Project, a Republican organization headed by George Conway, has put out this ad:
And now the roundup of horror promised above:
Finally, 50 years ago today, Paul McCartney announced the Beatles had broken up.
Oh wait: here's another cool video.
Unemployment claims jumped another 6.6 million in the US last week bringing the total reported unemployed to 16.8 million, the largest number of unemployment claims since the 1930s. Illinois saw 200,000 new claims, an all-time record, affecting 1 in 12 Illinois workers. And that's just one headline today:
After all of that, why don't you watch this adorable video of skunks chattering away as they investigate a cyclist?
As we go into the fourth week of mandatory working from home, Chicago may have its warmest weather since October 1st, and I'm on course to finish a two-week sprint at work with a really boring deployment. So what's new and maddening in the world?
And finally, two big gyros manufacturers, Kronos and Grecian Delight, are merging. Kind of like all the lamb and stuff that merges to form gyros.
Enjoy the weather, Chicago. The cold returns Thursday.
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.
Goldman Sachs released an economic outlook this morning predicting GDP growth of -9% in Q1 and -34% in Q2, along with 15% unemployment by June 30th. Both Calculated Risk and Talking Points Memo believe the recovery will take longer than the slowdown. In other words, we won't have a V or an L but probably something more like a U with a wide bottom.
I looked at some figures of my own. Looking at 4-week moving averages, as of Sunday my spending on groceries is up 37% from the period between January 27th and February 23rd, which includes a massive grocery bill for a party I threw on February 15th. But my spending on eating out is down 46%, and on lunch (I buy lunch nearly every day when I work downtown) is down 36%. And I have not taken public transit since March 16th, saving $45 a week right there.
I haven't stopped buying food from local restaurants entirely because I want them to be around in three months. Just, I get a lot less take-out food (every 5th lunch and every 5th dinner, staggered), and I don't buy take-out alcohol. (Of course, a local bar has a special deal of a fried chicken sandwich and old fashioned cocktail for $20.) I also have my dog walker coming in twice a week because I want him to be around in two months. His other job is that he plays jazz sax, so without the few walks I and other customers of the walking service send him, he'd have no income at all.
Obviously the uptick in groceries means I'm cooking more. Like last night, when I made my mom's tuna fish casserole recipe, and it came out like I remember it from childhood:
A Tweet is making the rounds right now:
The Covid corporate bonus bailout costs about $18,000 per citizen.
So Congress is taking $18,000 from you, giving $16,800 to corporations and giving you back a check for $1,200.
My reply to the Facebook friend who posted the Tweet:
It's not that simple.
First, given the current political landscape, where a minority of 44% of the population have 53 Senate votes to the 66% of us who have 47, compromise—that is, weakening the recovery legislation—was inevitable.
Second, most of the money going to corporations will actually go to normal people. The legislation keeps people on salary and in health insurance instead of being laid off. (Don't get me started on the link between employment and health insurance. That stop-gap ploy to get around WWII salary caps outlived its usefulness by 1955. But it won't go away until we control the Senate.)
Third, I completely support the phase-out that means people like me won't get a single cent of the recovery money for the simple reason that other people need it more. So not everyone gets $1,200; only about 80% do.
Fourth, taxes don't work like that. On average, the recovery act might cost $18k per taxpayer (not per citizen—let's unpack that word choice later). But most people don't pay $18k in taxes. I don't know the exact proportions, but as a percentage of tax, though the $2.2 trn recovery package takes a lot of tax revenue, it's still only a proportion of what an individual pays.
Fifth, most of the corporations getting bailouts are small businesses. Anecdotes aren't evidence, but I will provide one anyway: A good friend of mine owns a used-book shop. She has no employees. She spends 60 hours a week in her shop. Her entire inventory is donated. The State of Illinois closed her business a week ago, and she doesn't know when she can reopen. She's getting a couple thousand bucks from the recovery legislation. You really want to claw that back because it's a corporation getting the money?
Sixth, I commend to the OP the story of Herbert Hoover's steadfast belief that the market would fix the problems revealed by the 1929 crash and subsequent depression. And then go read about the Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-op, which demonstrated better than any textbook why printing money in a liquidity crisis can save marriages.
Finally, my sincerest hope from this disaster is that people finally understand elections matter. What politicians say matters. What they do matters. When my lot were screaming to the heavens that the Republican Party were no longer able to govern, let alone be a responsible opposition party, 48% of the electorate said they didn't care what he said, only how he made them feel. And here we are.
I have a degree in history. That doesn't give me any special ability to fix these problems. But wow, does it help me understand their magnitude.
I just binge-watched the Netflix series Travelers, which postulates that the fate of humanity rests on the 21st century. I'm starting to agree.
People who don't study history tend not to understand why our foreign allies and adversaries behave the ways they do. Case in point: the Soviet Union, of which the largest part lives on as the Russian Federation, ended in part because we forced them to spend down their economy just to keep up with us. They might still hate us a little for that.
One man who helped this effort, Gus Weiss, hit on the idea of sabotaging the technology that Soviet spies bought or stole from American and other Western companies. Via Bruce Schneier, Wired has a long-form description of Weiss and his plan:
This plan to feed defective technology, which Weiss says carried the operation designation “Kudo,” existed as part of a larger government mobilization in response to the Farewell intelligence across the national security community. “It was multilayered operation,” Galahad told me. According to Galahad, Weiss didn’t hold any formal leadership role in this effort; instead, “Gus did his work through his own contacts. He was a White House guy. He could get people to pay attention to his ideas. He had friends in the computer business. He had Casey’s ear.”
Galahad told me that Weiss zeroed in on the Soviet industrial sector; he wanted to gut punch the Soviet economy. Galahad recalled that Weiss was friendly with the analysts in the CIA’s Office of Soviet Research. “Let’s say the Italians were building a tractor factory for the Russians in the Ukraine—the guys in OSR would have had access to those blueprints. Gus shared his ideas and recommendations based on that intelligence to his friends at the DoD.”
Meanwhile, the government worked with private sector software companies to create doctored industrial products. They were then made available to the patent clerks and engineers in American technology and arms companies who’d been recruited by the KGB.
High up on the Soviet tech shopping list was software to regulate the pressure gauges and valves for the critical Siberian gas pipeline. According to Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the Soviets sought the software on the open market. American export controls prohibited its sale from the US. However, a small industrial software company located in Calgary called Cov-Can produced what the Soviets wanted. As Weiner writes, “The Soviets sent a Line X officer to steal the software. The CIA and the Canadians conspired to let them have it.”
The faulty software “weaved” its way through Soviet quality control. The pipeline software ran swimmingly for months, but then pressure in the pipeline gradually mounted. And one day—the date remains unclear, though most put it in June 1982—the software went haywire, the pressure soaring out of control. The pipeline ruptured, igniting a blast in the wilds of Siberia so massive that, according to Thomas C. Reed’s At the Abyss, “at the White House, we received warning from our infrared satellites of some bizarre event out in the middle of Soviet nowhere. NORAD feared a missile liftoff from a place where no rockets were known to be based. Or perhaps it was the detonation of a nuclear device. The Air Force chief of intelligence rated it at three kilotons.”
I wonder if Presidents Putin and Trump discussed this history during any of their recent unrecorded conversations?
I'm trying to get my mind around a Conservative government announcing this a few minutes ago:
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced the government will pay the wages of British workers to keep them in jobs as the coronavirus outbreak escalates.
In an unprecedented step, Sunak said the state would pay grants covering up to 80% of the salary of workers kept on by companies, up to a total of £2,500 per month, just above the median income.
“We are starting a great national effort to protect jobs,” he said. “It’s on all of us.”
Sunak said there would be no limit on the funding available to pay people’s wages.
The government is also deferring the next quarter of VAT payments, which is the equivalent of injecting another £30bn into the economy and is designed to help companies stay afloat.
(Another thing that I just learned: Sterling has dropped 12% against the dollar in the past week, hitting £1 = $1.1641 a few minutes ago.)
Closer to home:
And finally, Mother Jones asks "How do you know if you're living through the death of an empire?"