The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: March 2020 Page 1 of 4

The Terrible Impulse to Rally Around Bad Leaders in a Crisis

So, Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, had his approval ratings soar 30 percent during the Covid-19 pandemic. There is talk of him becoming the US President (presumably this means making him Biden’s VP candidate, then having Biden step aside).

He sounds good on TV.

Cuomo is attempting to cut funding for Medicaid because he refused to tax the rich, as the crisis continues. A panel Cuomo appointed has recommended 400 billion in cuts to hospitals. He repeatedly said New York City has too many hospital beds. He has let prisoners in New York jails stay in them even as he was warned they would be breeding grounds for the disease. He left going to isolation at least two weeks too long.

In other words, he’s a neoliberal who wants to cut key resources even during a crisis, and incompetent to boot.

Back after 9/11, we saw the same thing happen with Bush, Jr. Bush not only ignored warnings about Al-Qaeda’s intention to strike in the US, the actual government response on 9/11 was terrible–the US could not get armed jets into the air, only unarmed ones. It would have been a hilarious display of incompetence if it weren’t for the consequences. Canada had armedjets up before the US: I joked that, if we invaded the US, we could have destroyed the entire US Air Force on the ground (then given you universal health care).

Bush was an incompetent, stupid, and mentally challenged (listen to his speeches–he was impaired). He used the blank check given to him by the rally-round effect to take the country to war with Iraq, a disaster which has spawned disaster after disaster. The money and resources used in Iraq should have been spent on other things–on almost anything else–and the death, maiming, rape, and torture are his legacy, as well as the legacy of Americans who ran to an incompetent leader.

Something similar is happening in Britain. Boris Johnson, the PM, has had his party’s ratings soar. Boris is the fellow who originally didn’t want to do any social distancing at all, based on a herd immunity theory which amounted to “let the maximum number of people die and the hospital capacity be overwhelmed.” Personally, Boris bragged about shaking hands with infected Covid-19 patients, then going on and shaking hands with everybody else he met. Personally, a typhoid Mary. The Conservative party has spent ten years defunding the NHS, to the point where it has one of the lowest numbers of hospital beds per capita in the developed world.

Yet Johnson and the Conservative party’s ratings have gone up.

Trump’s ratings, while they have not soared, have gone up, and Trump’s Covid-19 reponse has been beyond incompetent, sliding into delusional, Emperor-has-no-clothes territory.

This tendency to rally around even incompetent leaders makes one despair for humanity. The correct response in all cases is contempt and an attempt, if possible, at removal of the corrupt and venal people in charge. Certainly, no one should be approving of the terrible jobs they have done.

All three of these leaders have, or will, use their increased power to do horrible things. The Coronavirus bailout bill, passed by Congress and approved by Trump, is a huge bailout of the rich, with crumbs for the poor and middle class. So little, in fact, that there may be widespread hunger soon. Cuomo is pushing forward with his cuts, and I’m sure Johnson will live down to expectations.

Incompetence and ideological blindness to the good of the people are, then, encouraged by the behaviour of the masses. This, it seems, is what they want.

We either break this cycle, or over the crises and catastrophes to come (and the 21st century will be a century of tragedy), we will lose billions of people we needn’t have.

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Monday March 31st US Covid-19 Data

Here are the numbers again, from our anonymous benefactor. The doubling rate has dropped from it’s previous higher number. In the (unattached) spreadsheet VA had its deaths go from 20 to 15.

This has a ways to run yet. Remember that these numbers are absolutely and completely understated. There are people dying who aren’t registered as being from Covid and there are tons of unknown cases since there isn’t a lot of testing. What is important is the trendline and the doubling rate.

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March 30th US Covid Data, Doubling Rate Slows

Our anonymous benefactor has added a doubling rate chart and you can see the doubling rate has slowed. However, that’s based on one day and I wouldn’t get too excited until we get more data in. Also, there are states which are still not in isolation, so I’m not sanguine.

That said, it’s still good news.

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 29, 2020

by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

The Pandemic

The Doctor Who Helped Defeat Smallpox Explains What’s Coming
[Wired, via The Big Picture 3-24-20]

Flatten the Curve

By slowing it down or flattening it, we’re not going to decrease the total number of cases, we’re going to postpone many cases, until we get a vaccine–which we will, because there’s nothing in the virology that makes me frightened that we won’t get a vaccine in 12 to 18 months. Eventually, we will get to the epidemiologist gold ring.

What’s that?

That means, A, a large enough quantity of us have caught the disease and become immune. And B, we have a vaccine. The combination of A plus B is enough to create -herd immunity, which is around 70 or 80 percent….

How will we know when we’re through this?

The world is not going to begin to look normal until three things have happened. One, we figure out whether the distribution of this virus looks like an iceberg, which is one-seventh above the water, or a pyramid, where we see everything. If we’re only seeing right now one-seventh of the actual disease because we’re not testing enough, and we’re just blind to it, then we’re in a world of hurt. Two, we have a treatment that works, a vaccine or antiviral. And three, maybe most important, we begin to see large numbers of people–in particular nurses, home health care providers, doctors, policemen, firemen, and teachers who have had the disease–are immune, and we have tested them to know that they are not infectious any longer. And we have a system that identifies them, either a concert wristband or a card with their photograph and some kind of a stamp on it. Then we can be comfortable sending our children back to school, because we know the teacher is not infectious.

And instead of saying “No, you can’t visit anybody in nursing home,” we have a group of people who are certified that they work with elderly and vulnerable people, and nurses who can go back into the hospitals and dentists who can open your mouth and look in your mouth and not be giving you the virus. When those three things happen, that’s when normalcy will return.

Total Cost of Her COVID-19 Treatment: $34,927.43

[Time, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-23-20]
And this isn’t even actually treatment for COVID19, because she was sent home before the test results came back positive. 

Israeli doctor in Italy: We no longer help those over 60.

[Jerusalem Post, via Naked Capitalism 3-23-20]

Open Thread & March 28th US Covid Numbers Update

As usual, use this for topics unrelated to recent posts. Since the blog has been all Covid, all the time this last week, this is a good place to discuss other issues.

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Morning Covid-19 USA Data

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous is tracking Covid cases using the daily John Hopkins numbers and is now sending me the data, a very kind gift. These numbers are the confirmed numbers. Credible reports are coming in that not all deaths are being properly attributed, and of course, we really don’t know how many people have the virus.


I’d suggest that the doubling rates are what to keep an eye on.

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Will Trump’s Fumbling of Covid-19 Lead to His Exit in Weeks?


I’ve said a number of times now that my intuition is that Trump will be gone soon. My current intuition is within five weeks of today. But the more I look at the numbers, the more true it seems to me, and might be worth unpacking.

It seems clear that Trump is the figurehead for an informal oligarchy of CEO’s and finance heavy-hitters, and they are rapidly developing a ‘back to work’ consensus, to be delivered by Trump at some point in the immediate future, mostly to try and staunch the catastrophic market losses they are all suffering.

But, on the other hand, the US is just starting the steep ascent of its exponential infection curve, and therefore, its death rate. In certain places, mostly LA and New York, they might be able to implement lockdowns sufficiently strong to flatten their curves, but this will be far outweighed by a complete lack of distancing and quarantine in other regions, and the resulting backflow cases into areas with better protocols.

It appears right now that total deaths are doubling every three to four days. There are 780 deaths so far. Five weeks would be between eight and 12 more doublings. That’s, on the low side, around 200,000-400,000 deaths. And this is being very conservative, I think. Fortunate areas of the US will look like Italy at it’s worst, and quite a bit will look more like Iran. (As an aside, the parallels between the social/ideological forces in red states vs those in Iran are quite interesting to think about.)

Anyway. Let’s say half a million deaths in under two months from now. Nothing like that has happened in living memory. It will be completely undeniable. Unspinnable. And it will hit the Trump base hardest of all. And the market impacts will dwarf anything we’ve seen so far. It will, quite simply, blow any consensus currently keeping Trump in power to pieces. The money people will need him out, so they can try to restore some confidence and recoup losses, and his political base will be dragged under by a wave of ill or dead constituents. There will be no rallies–that would be abject insanity. No one will be listening anymore to his pronouncements, as they will be manifestly, grotesquely, false. There will probably not even be White House briefings at that point. He might try to start a war, but I simply do not believe the military would go along with that. There might even be a coup if he tried.

At that point, he will be in a vice: Either strengthen the lockdowns, in which case the money people will dispense with him, or release the lockdowns totally and risk mass insurrection on many levels.

His best bet, at that stage, to avoid removal and probably jail is to resign, blame whoever, and have Pence pardon him for everything. At that point, things will be so bad I doubt anyone will have a problem with it. He will just need to be out, so that professionals can tackle the crisis he created.

That’s it. I don’t really see any holes in the theory. You could adjust some of the numbers a bit, but exponential growth is exponential growth, and unless I’m drastically wrong in some respect, it would only change the timeline by a week or two.

The alternative to his removal is complete pandemonium and the collapse of the United States as a world power, and even I am not that pessimistic, or optimistic, depending on my mood.

Economic Consequences of the Pandemic

Or, I should say, rather, of the Fed and Congress’s actions.

The Federal Reserve has spent one trillion a day for 30 days (when this is over, they’ll have spent more) to prop up markets and financial firms. They’re buying debt, and making non-recourse loans (non-recourse means there is no penalty for not paying the loan back).

Congress’s deal, includes $350 billion for small businesses, and $1,200 for individuals, +$500 per child, and some excellent provisions for laid off workers–but this is a one time payment, and if things go on, how many more be passed when business has their bailout? It also has some fairly stringent restrictions on stock buybacks and executive compensation.

But most of the bailing out, in this crisis (as in 2008), will be done through the Federal Reserve, whose operations dwarf those of Congress and the Treasury department.

Assuming this crisis goes on for months, in waves, which is what the science seems to say, predicting the end result is simple: A lot of small businesses will go out of business. A lot of people will lose their homes, and a lot of small landlords (not large ones) will lose their property.

Companies which are bailed out, and companies and individuals with strong cash positions going in, like private equity, will then do what they did after 2008: They’ll buy up distressed assets for dimes on the dollar and wind up owning more of the economy than they did going in. Industries will consolidate, as smaller firms go under, and the remaining companies will be even too-bigger-to-fail.

Must it be this way? No. Will it be this way? Assuming the policies continue as they are, yup. But there’s a lot of road to go, and when people start dying in droves the calculus may change if the politics change. In particular, if people truly can’t afford to eat or pay rent, in large numbers, things may get nasty. It’ll be interesting to see just how whipped Americans are: Are there circumstances under which they’ll actually revolt in a way that hurts elites?

A lot of this depends on how the pandemic plays out. If Trump and idiot governors can be convinced to stick out isolation, probably they’ll be able to slide by. If not, things will get ugly.

Much will also depend on whether Republicans want more bailouts through fiscal policy for corporations. If they don’t, they will resist sufficient money for ordinary people, which will make things worse (and cause people to break isolation).

It’s going to be an interesting few months.

But basically, nothing has changed in ruling lass ideology: Every crisis is to be used to increase the share of the economy, national wealth, and the income that the rich control.

So for this crisis is no exception.

(Update: Matt Stoller reports there’s trillions more dollars of giveaways:

So that’s the stuff that’s been reported. Here’s what hasn’t, and why the bill goes up in value to $6-10 trillion.

  • An additional $4 trillion from the Federal Reserve in lending power to be lent to big corporations and banks.
  • Authorization to bail out money market funds, multi-trillion dollar unregulated bank-like deposits for the superrich.
  • Authorization for the the government through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to guarantee trillions of dollars of risky bank debt.)

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