Two pieces caught my eye this week, one telling us that things will get better, and the other...well...
First, a letter from New Yorker London correspondent Mollie Panter-Downes—sent 14 September 1940, the 14th day of the London Blitz:
In getting about, one first learns that a bomb has fallen near at hand by coming upon barriers across roads and encountering policemen who point to yellow tin signs which read simply “Diversion,” as though the blockage had been caused by workmen peacefully taking up drains ahead. The “diversion” in Regent Street, where a bomb fell just outside the Café Royal and did not explode for hours, cut off the surrounding streets and made the neighborhood as quiet as a hamlet. Crowds collected behind the ropes to gaze respectfully at the experts, who stood looking down into the crater and chatting as nonchalantly as plumbers discussing the best way of fixing a leaking tap. Police went around getting occupants out of the buildings in the vicinity and warning them to leave their windows open, but even with this precaution, when the bomb finally went off that evening there were not many panes of glass left.
The scene next morning was quite extraordinarily eerie. The great sweep of Regent Street, deserted by everyone except police and salvage workers, stared gauntly like a thoroughfare in a dead city. It would have been no surprise to see grass growing up out of the pavements, which were covered instead with a fine, frosty glitter of powdered glass. The noise of glass being hammered out of upper windows, swept into piles at street corners, and shovelled into municipal dust vans made a curious grinding tinkle which went on most of the day. The happiest people there were two little boys who had discovered a sweet shop where most of the window display had been blown into the gutter, and who were doing a fine looting job among the debris.
Londoners kept the British end up, and got through it, though it took the UK 18 years before post-war debt fell below 100% of GDP.
The second, from Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman, reminds us that the Republican Party doesn't believe in the legitimacy of a Democratic government. So we should expect GOP intransigence and sabotage throughout the Biden administration:
We’ve been here before, and not that long ago. After the 2008 election but before Barack Obama took office, Time magazine put him on its cover photoshopped as FDR, under the headline “The New New Deal.” But while he did pass a string of significant legislation utilizing government power early in his presidency — a large stimulus bill, Wall Street reform, saving the auto industry, ending bank profiteering on student loans, the Affordable Care Act — two years later Republicans took back the House and ground it all to a halt.
You can bet that Republicans will be holding strategy meetings and fielding polls and writing reports to determine not just how to stop Americans from becoming more open to expansive government action, but how to turn this crisis into anger at government itself....
America’s response to this pandemic was so awful not just because Trump is incompetent, but because conservative you’re-all-on-your-own philosophy was put into practice in ways that left us all vulnerable. In so many ways what we’re suffering through now, both in public health and economically, is a failure of conservatism.
Republicans know that the public might arrive at that conclusion — and they’re working to make sure it doesn’t happen. Democrats need to work just as hard to make sure it does.
This is what I wrote about this morning. Remember: The Democratic Party wants to govern, the Republican Party wants to rule.
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.")
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.
Today is the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, which began the American Revolution.
It's also the 25th anniversary of the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
And day 28th day of Illinois' stay-at-home order.
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.
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:
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.