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.
Either I spent all day coding and therefore didn't have time to read these things, or I just didn't want to read these things. Let's start with the big questions:
You should have the same answer to all these questions ("yes"), though you might want to extend your answer to the first one after reading the article. (I vote "electric.")
Welcome to day 31 of the Illinois shelter-in-place regime, which also turns out to be day 36 of my own working-from-home regime (or day 43 if you ignore that I had to go into the office on March 16th). So what's new?
Finally, via Bruce Schneier, the Dutch intelligence service had an unintentional back door into several other countries' communications. (Scheier says, "It seems to be clever cryptanalysis rather than a backdoor.")
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.
No, really, the president Tweeted that earlier today:
I mean, what the actual f? (He also wants to liberate Michigan and Virginia, by the way.) Charlie Pierce warned only Monday that this kind of nonsense was coming:
The acting director of the Office of National Intelligence is encouraging citizens to break local laws, endangering themselves and others, in the middle of a pandemic. Of all the screwy moments that we have experienced since the founding of Camp Runamuck, this is going to rank very close to the top. And it is not going to be a surprise to anyone if another AstroTurf movement similar to the Tea Party rises, especially if the president* “opens up” the country at the beginning of May.
This nonsense is coming, and it’s going to be encouraged by the national government, and I don’t know how we avoid it.
Andrew Sullivan, after point out that the virus doesn't have a social message, breathed a sigh of relief that Trump is so very lazy:
But of course we all know by now, including the Republicans, that it is meaningless. Trump claims the powers of a tyrant, behaves like one, talks like one, struts like one, has broken every norm a liberal democracy requires, and set dangerous precedents that could enable a serious collapse in constitutional norms in the future.
This, in Bill Kristol’s rather brilliant phrase, is “performative authoritarianism.” It has a real cost — it delegitimizes liberal democracy by mocking it and corrodes democratic institutions by undermining them. But it is not the cost of finding ourselves run by an American Victor Orban. Orban saw the coronavirus emergency the way most wannabe strongmen would and the way I feared Trump might: as an opportunity to further neuter any constitutional checks on him and rule by decree. Trump saw it purely as an obstacle to his reelection message about a booming economy, a blot on his self-image, an unfair spoiling of his term. Instead of exploiting it, he whined about it. He is incapable of empathy and so simply cannot channel the nation’s grief into a plan of action. So he rambles and digresses and divides and inflames. He has managed in this crisis to tell us both that he is all-powerful and that he takes no responsibility for anything.
And I suspect that this creepy vaudeville act, in a worried and tense country, is beginning to wear real thin. A man who claims total power but only exercises it to protect his personal interests, a man who vaunts his own authority but tolerates no accountability for it, is impressing no one.
The emergency I feared Trump could leverage to untrammeled power may, in fact, be the single clearest demonstration of his incompetence and irrelevance
Simply put, "Trump can't lie his way out of this one," as several pundits have observed. Also:
Fun times, fun times. Good thing it will actually seem like spring tomorrow in Chicago after another snowfall last night.
The number of new Covid-19 cases per day may have peaked in Illinois, but that still means we have new cases every day. We have over 10,000 infected in the state, with the doubling period now at 12 days (from 2 days back mid-March). This coincides with unpleasant news from around the world:
- Covid-19 has become the second-leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for 12,400 deaths per week, just behind heart disease which kills about 12,600.
- More than 5 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total unemployed to 22 million, the highest percentage of Americans out of work since 1933. April unemployment figures come out May 8th, when we will likely have confirmation of a 13-15% unemployment rate. Note that the unemployment rate was the lowest in history just two months ago.
- Consumer spending on nearly everything except groceries has fallen, in some places catastrophically. Chicago's heavy-rail authority, Metra, has seen ridership fall 97% system-wide and predicts a $500 million budget deficit this year. (For my own part, since my March 31st post on the subject, my spending on dining out, lunch, and groceries combined has fallen 70% month-over-month.)
- UK Foreign Secretary (and acting Prime Minister) Dominic Raab announced today that lockdown measures would continue in the UK "for at least the next three weeks," reasoning that premature relaxation would lead to a resurgence of the virus as seen worldwide in 1918.
- FiveThirtyEight explains why Covid-19 has caused so much more disruption than Ebola, SARS-1, and swine flu.
- Talking Points Memo takes a deeper look at the hidden mortality of Covid-19.
- Brian Dennehy has died at 81.
- Chicago could get 75 mm of snow tonight. In April. The middle of Spring. FFS.
But we also got some neutral-to-good news today:
I pitched the Goat-2-Meeting to my chorus board for our next meeting, and unfortunately got told we don't donate to other NPCs. I guess we're not a bleating-heart organization.
Today's Covid-19 news roundup highlights how no one in the White House should go anywhere near this crisis response effort:
All of this, and we still have an hour to go before lunch.
There was one bit of good news, though. The National Transportation Safety Board released a report this week that said air-transport fatalities dropped by 75% between the 1983-2000 period and 2001-2017. One expects that Covid-19 will reduce those numbers even further.
I mean, we all knew this was coming, especially after Bernie Sanders endorsed Biden yesterday. Because, I mean, he had to. Lookit:
And finally, despite my grocery bill, I'm going to take a look at these upside-down drink recipes to preserve my liver through the crisis.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director Dr Anthony Fauci, while never rude nor inappropriate, nevertheless persists in not letting the president get away with bullshit about Covid-19. James Fallows has some thoughts about why:
Anthony fauci is different from any other prominent official Donald Trump has dealt with in his time as president. The difference is that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is not afraid. To put it in terms Trump might recognize: What the hell does he have to lose?
This reality does not make it possible to predict what Trump will do with Fauci—fire him, ignore him, give him buddylike Hey, we see things differently respect, or something else. Nothing about Trump is predictable, except his reduction of all discourse to the two themes of his own greatness and the unfairness of his critics.
Anyone behaves differently in the presence of any president. People who say that is not true have not had the experience themselves. But Anthony Fauci has dealt with a lot of presidents before Trump.
Fauci is a sophisticated bureaucratic officer, and he knows how to “tell them exactly what’s the truth” as tactfully as he can. In his repeated press-briefing “corrections” of Trump’s fantasies and misstatements, Fauci has made it sound as if he is saying, “Yes, and …” rather than “No, that’s nuts.” His occasional face-palm moments while Trump is riffing are little glimpses of indiscipline while not at the microphone. Onstage he is honest and polite.
Fauci is offering an unusually clear lesson to all others who have submitted to Trump: This is how it looks when you’re not afraid.
Exactly. Intelligence, integrity, and nothing to lose, plus a healthy understanding of how the president has destroyed the reputations (or worse) of everyone who has worked for him, have given Dr Fauci the cojones to let all of Trump's crazy roll off him. I wish more Republicans had those.
We all know President Trump's pathologies pretty well by now. Between the malignant narcissism and his natural distrust for anyone who knows more than he does on a particular subject, plus his well-documented habit of believing things he wants to believe instead of the black-and-white reality right in front of him, it doesn't take an Oliver Sacks to guess how he has reacted to everyone telling him he can't simply restart the economy on May 1st. And, sadly, he does not disappoint:
Over the weekend, the president said he would weigh multiple factors to arrive at the "toughest" decision of his administration to date. Trump signaled that he has consulted his top health professionals, business leaders and others whom he described as "smart people" in recent days. The ultimate call "will be based on a lot of facts and instincts," he said. In a Fox News phone interview Saturday, Trump said he would come to a conclusion "fairly soon."
But Trump seemed to telegraph his eagerness to restart much of the U.S. in a tweet Sunday evening, urging governors to perfect their testing abilities and to "be ready, big things are happening. No excuses!"
Trump has said he would like to reopen the country with a "big bang."
The motivation to restart the economy — even piecemeal — sooner rather than later may be based on a political calculation by the president that he needs to demonstrate that things are "on the upswing."
Naturally, Dr Anthony Fauci, who as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become the de facto spokesperson for the government on the realities of the pandemic, has drawn the president's ire, given the inevitability he would have to contradict the most prolific liar in US history. Greg Sargent:
As part of this latest exercise in blame-shifting, Trump has taken his first public shot at Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and his own administration’s leading medical expert. Trump angrily retweeted a call for Fauci’s firing, while again hailing his own early restrictions on travel from China and furiously bashing the media for failing to recognize that decision’s foresight and brilliance.
As for reopening the economy, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden published his plan yesterday:
First, we have to get the number of new cases of the disease down significantly. That means social distancing has to continue and the people on the front lines have to get the supplies and equipment they need. President Trump needs to use his full powers under the Defense Production Act to fight the disease with every tool at our disposal. He needs to get the federal response organized and stop making excuses. For more Americans to go back to their jobs, the president needs to do better at his job.
Second, there needs to be widespread, easily available and prompt testing — and a contact tracing strategy that protects privacy. A recent report from Mr. Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services made clear that we are far from achieving this goal.
Third, we have to make sure that our hospitals and health care system are ready for flare-ups of the disease that may occur when economic activity expands again. Reopening the right way will still not be completely safe. Public health officials will need to conduct effective disease surveillance. Hospitals need to have the staff and equipment necessary to handle any local outbreaks, and we need an improved federal system to get help to these places as needed.
Imagine if the incumbent president had a plan—any plan—other than "May 1st." Because if we simply go back to pre-pandemic norms then, it will indeed be a May Day situation.