I mentioned this morning that the President has ordered a halt to payments to the WHO to shift the blame from his own failures. That explains part of the story; Graeme Wood explains the rest:
Defunding the WHO (or at least threatening to do so) is yet another instance of Trump’s signature move, one that I described just weeks ago, when he insisted on calling SARS-CoV-2 “the Chinese virus,” and for a few days journalists and social-media scolds obediently modified their criticisms to fit his latest outrage. The move is simple. When Trump is ensnared in controversy, when he is being asked straightforward, damning questions and his inquisitors do not stop asking them, he says or does something outrageous to change the subject. It works every time. It is working now.
The trick, as with the “Chinese virus,” is to choose a plausible enemy, one whose misdeeds are not only undeniable but vital to acknowledge. It is, of course, true that COVID-19 originated in China, and anyone who suggests otherwise should not be trusted. As for the WHO, its errors were serious and unforced. Its delegation to Wuhan helped China underplay the severity of the outbreak, costing the rest of the world precious weeks. It denied that COVID-19 was contagious among humans as late as January 14, in an infamous tweet.
These are all good reasons to criticize the WHO.
But to weigh these reasons, good and bad—the WHO’s sins against its virtues—is to go back to playing the sucker’s game, and to have an excellent view of Abdul-Jabbar’s armpit as the basketball hurtles overhead toward the hoop. Cutting off money to the WHO is not about policy. It is misdirection: Look here, not there, because you are calling attention to something you are not welcome to see.
The tactic he is using is one that has fooled too many people, too many times. We should hope, along with the WHO, that we won’t get fooled again.
And if you'd like to watch a drowning man who thinks he's an Olympic swimmer, just watch:
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.
Illinois' doubling time for Covid-19 cases has increased from 2.1 days to 7.9 days, as of yesterday.
In other news:
And finally, I'll leave you with this touching performance of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" by its composer, Curt Smith, and his daughter Diva:
Retired US Army Colonel Jeff McCausland rings an alarm about the president's politicization of our apolitical armed forces:
Officers are taught from the beginning of their military careers that the profession is apolitical. The oath they swear is not to the president, despite the fact that he is the commander-in-chief. Rather it is to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” This forms the basis of civil-military relations, and it has served America well for over two centuries. It is likely that few Americans realize the United States is only one of handful of countries that has never experienced a serious military threat to civil authority.
Not coincidentally, the nation’s Founding Fathers were very suspect of the military. They viewed it as a threat to civil authority and the democracy they were attempting to create. Consequently, throughout most of our history the standing military remained relatively small. At the onset of World War II, the U.S. military was the 19th largest force on the planet — smaller than Portugal. But in that conflict’s aftermath, American political leaders accepted both global leadership and the associated responsibilities that required a large standing military force.
Is it not likely that during this moment of national crisis an erratic president, concerned by his sinking popularity, might be tempted to further politicize the military to support his re-election? Could this result in his exporting the national political divisions that have sustained him to the military? Could the leadership climate that resulted in the USS Roosevelt fiasco reach a point where the espoused political affiliation of not only civilian leaders, but also military officers, have more to do with his or her advancement than their ability? Sadly, this is not just the story of a political appointee who allowed his ambition to override his good judgment. Rather it is a warning about a growing threat to a foundation of American democracy.
I've said similar things, as have every military officer I've ever spoken with on the subject. Let's keep our armed forces out of politics, mm kay?
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.
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.
Indiana University history professor Rebecca Spang compares the world's response to Covid-19 to the conditions that led to the French Revolution in 1789:
Fear sweeps the land. Many businesses collapse. Some huge fortunes are made. Panicked consumers stockpile paper, food, and weapons. The government’s reaction is inconsistent and ineffectual. Ordinary commerce grinds to a halt; investors can find no safe assets. Political factionalism grows more intense. Everything falls apart.
This was all as true of revolutionary France in 1789 and 1790 as it is of the United States today. Are we at the beginning of a revolution that has yet to be named? Do we want to be? That we are on the verge of a major transformation seems obvious.
An urgent desire for stability—for a fast resolution to upheaval—is in fact absolutely characteristic of any revolutionary era. “I pray we will be finished by Christmas,” wrote one beleaguered member of the French Constituent Assembly to a good friend in October 1789. In reality, of course, the assembly took another two years to finish its tasks, after which another assembly was elected; a republic was declared; Louis XVI was put on trial and executed in January 1793; General Napoleon Bonaparte became “first consul” in 1799 and emperor in 1804; Europe found itself engulfed in wars from 1792 to 1815. In short, life never went back to how it had been before 1789.
People sometimes imagine yesterday’s revolutions as planned and carried out by self-conscious revolutionaries, but this has rarely, if ever, been the case. Instead, revolutions are periods in which social actors with different agendas (peasants stealing rabbits, city dwellers sacking tollbooths, lawmakers writing a constitution, anxious Parisians looking for weapons at the Bastille Fortress) become fused into a more or less stable constellation. The most timeless and emancipatory lesson of the French Revolution is that people make history. Likewise, the actions we take and the choices we make today will shape both what future we get and what we remember of the past.
Keep that in mind as you read these indications that Republicans have entirely incompatible views with the rest of the world about most things:
- Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly addressed the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt yesterday, calling the CO he removed last week "stupid," among other things certain to endear him to everyone in the Navy.
- Conservative propaganda news outlets continue to repeat the president's lie assertion that no one knew how bad the pandemic would get, despite ample evidence that it would.
- It looks like the Federal government is seizing protective equipment en route to Democratic-leaning states, but no one seems to know (or will admit) why.
- Three academics who specialize in health policy warn that when, not if, Covid-19 starts hitting rural areas in force, it will get much worse, owing to the older populations as well as a general lack of hospitals and supplies outside of cities.
- This week's New Yorker takes a long look at Illinois' response to the crisis, which is different than, say, Georgia's.
- Wisconsin governor Tony Evans issued an executive order earlier today postponing the state's primary election until June 9th. The state was to hold its primary election tomorrow, despite the Democratic governor and Democratic minority in the state legislature demanding postponement or universal mail-in ballots. The Republican-controlled legislature refused even to take up the proposal, perhaps because, as other Republicans have admitted, more votes means Republicans lose. The state's top Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), said the governor "cave[d] under political pressures from national liberal special interest groups" like, one must assume, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a known hotbed of partisan Democratic thought.
Finally, ever wonder about the origin of those creepy plague-doctor outfits from the 17th century?
Oh, where to begin? I'll start with the article of most use to actual people:
- Bruce Schneier outlines Zoom's sloppy security, bad privacy, and questionable labor practices that might make these things worse. (And yet, I'm probably going to subscribe today...)
- Jared Kushner, the Milo Minderbinder of 2020, has inserted himself in the White House Covid-19 response, and immediately made those efforts even less effective. (Note that Goldberg's column originally had the headline "Jared Kushner is going to get us all killed.")
- David Corn looks ahead to President Trump "spinning 200,000 coronavirus deaths as a win."
- The acting Navy Secretary, Thomas Modly, personally relieved Captain Brett Crozier of command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt following Crozier's memo to Navy leaders asking for help dealing with hundreds of sick sailors. Ironically, this action by political appointee Modly came with the rebuke that Crozier had acted outside the chain of command.
- Josh Marshall has two posts about how all those masks and gowns we've airlifted from China and other countries are actually going to private distributors who are making profits off them, often by selling them to foreign countries.
- Ed Yong in the Atlantic examines what we know and don't know about wearing face masks to slow coronavirus transmission.
- The Chicago Tribune shares some data about how things have changed since March 16th. For instance, sales of frozen cookie dough are up 570%, while CTA and Metra ridership is down 80%. (I put my own observations in an earlier post.)
Finally, satarist Andy Borowitz this morning jokes that "Fauci urges non-essential worker to go home." Three guesses who that worker is.
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.