My day kept getting longer as it went on in a way that people living through the pandemic will understand. So I didn't have time to read any of these yesterday:
Finally, Jon Oliver has put out a line of Last Week Tonight stamps to help support the US Postal Service. So naturally I bought some.
The US unemployment rate exploded to 14.7% in April as 20.5 million people officially left the workforce, with millions more people leaving full-time work and others not even trying to find new jobs. April's job losses were more than 10 times the 1.9 million reported in September 1945 as the US demobilized from World War II.
Once you've absorbed that, there's more:
Finally, today is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when the Nazi army finally surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe. Germans celebrated the event today as a day of liberation from the Nazis.
The differences in the way Democrats and Republicans have approached the pandemic shouldn't surprise or shock anyone, but one might still expect Republicans not to say the quiet parts quite so loudly. Last week, 3.2 million more Americans filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the total to 33.5 million since mid-March and the unemployment rate to nearly 20%. The last time we had 20% unemployment, Herbert Hoover (a Republican, let's remember) sat on his ass in the Oval Office waiting for the market to fix itself. Millions starved and lost their homes. The economy didn't recover fully for over a decade, and then only because we had to mobilize the economy around the biggest war in human history.
So how is this Republican administration trying to save the economy? Pretty much the same way Hoover's did, except with less compassion and more stupidity.
This morning, the Small Business Administration announced that its Economic Injury Disaster Loan program had all but run out of money, so they won't accept new applicants and they will only give out $150,000 awards instead of the $2m loans people have applied for.
Here in Illinois, downstate Republicans want to reopen businesses soon rather than wait for the empirical triggers in Governor Pritzker's plan to apply. What they haven't said here, but what seems obvious from the experiences of other states, like Georgia, is that they want to reduce unemployment insurance payments by forcing low-income workers back to work even if it's not safe. What do the owners or Republican legislators care, right? See, if shops and businesses are legally entitled to open, and workers refuse to go in because, you know, they want to live a few years longer, then the workers will no longer qualify for unemployment insurance. QED. This is almost explicitly Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's plan.
As Josh Marshall wrote today, "Again and again, the Trump Era forces us to the crudest and most unsubtle portrayals of the role of wealth and privilege in our society. But it’s no surprise since that is the essence of Trumpism."
Finally, one of the president's valets tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, which reportedly made the president angry. Did the president express concern for the guy or his family? Oh, how droll.
Remember slow news days? Me neither.
And finally, a cute diner in Toronto where I had breakfast last June has moved to delivery service during the lockdown. Too bad they can't deliver to Chicago.
Happy May Day! Or m'aidez? Hard to know for sure right now. The weather in Chicago is sunny and almost the right temperature, and I have had some remarkable productivity at work this week, so in that respect I'm pretty happy.
But I woke up this morning to the news that Ravinia has cancelled its entire 2020 season, including a performance of Bernstein's White House Cantata that featured my group, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. This is the first time Ravinia has done so since 1935.
If only that were everything.
First, via Josh Marshall, former Obama Administration disaster-preparedness expert Jeremy Konydndyk lays out the facts about our plateau (60,000 excess weekly deaths) and how the Trump Administration continues to do nothing to help us slow Covid-19 deaths.
Next, all of this:
- The Experimental Aviation Association cancelled AirVenture 2020, the huge annual fly-in that brings thousands of airplanes to Oshkosh, Wis. (Bonus: video of a brand-new Airbus A-380 landing at the small Wisconsin airport in 2009.)
- The New Republic on "the morbid ideology behind the drive to reopen America."
- Republican legislatures and governors made it harder to get unemployment benefits in general, which makes it needlessly difficult to get them in this current crisis.
- Trump whipped out his "very good people" trope to support the armed protesters who stormed the Michigan State Capitol this week.
- Paul Krugman: "Crashing economy, rising stocks: What's going on?"
- Megan Garber: "Groundhog Day was a horror movie all along."
- Bruce Schneier says Covid-19 contact tracing apps "have absolutely no value." Only "ubiquitous, cheap, fast, and accurate testing" will make a difference.
- Alexandra Petri: "Heroes, we cannot possibly repay you for your sacrifice, so we will make no effort to." ("We will give you everything except PPE, and we will offer you all the thanks in the world but an increase in compensation.")
But some good news:
Finally, while alarming in its own right, the record water levels in Lake Michigan (4 months in a row now) have exposed some historic shipwrecks.
Congratulations! You've made it to the end of April. This month has felt like one of the longest years of my life, and probably yours.
So as we head into May, here's what the last few hours of April have wrought:
Well, the only cops I've seen out in force recently were the guys who responded to a shooting and captured the two suspects a block from my home. (Yeah, that happened, and it didn't even make the paper.)
Another 4.4 million people filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the total unemployed in the US to 26 million and the unemployment rate to around 20%. This is the fifth straight week of record weekly unemployment filings, but the third straight week of declining filings, which is about the only silver lining in economic data today.
For comparison, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), it took three years for unemployment to go from 4.7% to over 20% in the Great Depression. (It peaked in 1933 at around 25%.)
It would help if the Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress would work towards a sensible response to the pandemic, but alas, they can't get past their ideologies or basic stupidity. Political appointees at the Dept of Health and Human Services sidelined Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority director Dr Rick Bright, a physician who has studied immunology and molecular pathogenesis for most of his career, because he refused to endorse President Trump's quackery. Bright joins a number of other scientists and experts canned for not following the party line over the past two months, including the head of the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. The Centers for Disease Control hasn't had a press conference since March 9th "in part out of a desire not to provoke the president," according to the Washington Post.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken the opportunity to push his ideology of small government (i.e., everyone for himself) one step further by suggesting states like Illinois could simply go bankrupt rather than get Federal aid to help their governments through the crisis. Note that the reason states like Illinois have a crisis right now looks a lot like the reason the whole world has a crisis right now, but McConnell, who hates government as much as Trump hates women, thinks screwing millions of retirees out of their pension benefits sounds like a great thing to do in a pandemic.
One should note that Illinois ranks 43rd on the list of how much Federal aid goes to the states. Kentucky ranks 8th. In fact, there seems to be a correlation between the percentage of votes for Republican candidates and a reliance on Federal aid. This makes perfect sense, of course: these states vote against their own taxes but they still have to keep their poorest citizens from dying, so they go hat-in-hand to the Federal government. Also, the New Jersey plan makes sure that small, rural states have disproportionate power in Congress, further guaranteeing that these places will suck money from larger, urban states even while crying about the size and scope of national programs.
My fervent hope in the next 194 days is that people understand how much we need effective government, and how the disastrous response of our current government comes directly from the administration's and the Republican Party's twin desires to increase wealth inequality through decreasing government effectiveness in general.
When the economy went into its current medically-induced coma, cash movements slowed almost to a halt in some sectors. If you had cash four weeks ago, you have probably held onto it; if you held debt four weeks ago, you probably haven't gotten all the cash flows you expected.
As yesterday's brief collapse of oil futures contracts demonstrated, the game of musical chairs almost became frighteningly real for traders:
When you read a news article or hear an economist mention the price of oil, it typically refers not to a physical barrel filled with viscous liquid but to the price of a futures contract that trades on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. By convention, the “price of oil” is the going per-barrel price reflected in a futures contract for the ensuing month.
In the case of the most widely followed contract in the United States, that would be West Texas Intermediate crude, which you would need to physically obtain from storage facilities in Cushing, Okla., where major pipelines intersect.
Plenty of major entities trade such futures without ever thinking too much about those physical details — and certainly without getting any oil on their expensive suits. Speculators speculate, companies hedge their risks of price swings, and transactions take place at the level of abstraction on a computer screen.
But as each contract’s settlement date approaches, the financial speculators sell their contracts to “real” buyers of oil, like refineries. This can cause problems for traders who may be in over their heads. Chris Arnade, a trader-turned-author, said on Twitter on Monday that he once found himself in that position: “I ended up almost taking physical delivery of lots of oil.”
It gets worse:
All of that points to a deflationary collapse — a glut of supply of goods and services, and consequently falling prices — that surpasses anything seen in most people’s lifetimes.
Oil isn’t the only commodity with a plunging price. Corn futures have fallen 19 percent since early February. The price of inflation-protected government bonds suggests inflation will be only 0.56 percent a year over the coming five years, and the Consumer Price Index fell 0.4 percent in March.
In other words, the suckage has barely started for a lot of people.
So, instead of worrying about the end of the world as we know it, enjoy Chicago Public Rado's drone footage of a quiet city:
Demand for petroleum has crashed so hard and so fast that North American oil producers have run out of space to store the excess. This morning the price of US crude collapsed, falling 105 500% to $-2 $-37.63 per barrel; Canadian oil prices also dropped negative. That's right, if you want to take a million or so barrels off their hands, they'll pay you to do so. (This only affects delivery by month's end; for delivery in May, oil still costs $20 a barrel.)
Meanwhile, in other horrific news:
Finally, the Covid-19 emergency has led to mass layoffs of architects, one of the hardest-hit professions in any recession. I'm currently reading Robert Caro's The Power Broker, his biography of Robert Moses, and just at the point where he mentions that in 1934, 5 out of 6 architects had lost their jobs. Everything old is new again.
The president continues to ignore the opprobrium leveled against him after his asinine Tweets Friday morning:
In other news:
Finally, WBEZ, Chicago's NPR affiliate, has some tips for dating during quarantine.