MAGA Flu: An Epidemic of Incompetence

Today, for the first time in weeks, no new confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported in China, outside Wuhan. No new cases have been added in Hubei in three days. Quarantine conditions are being removed across the country, and should be lifted soon in Hubei.

South Korea, the hardest-hit country outside China thanks to the bizarre antics of a Christian evangelical cult, has largely contained the disease in a single city. That city, Daegu, now accounts for 90% of the active cases. Hong Kong has experienced only three deaths and fewer than 200 transmissions. Taiwan has seen fewer than fifty cases and only a single death.

Across Asia the coronavirus pandemic is winding down. More people have recovered from the virus there than currently have it. So far, approximately .006% of the Chinese population has contracted the disease as life returns to normal. About 3000 have died in China. Rapid response, sensible containment measures, and a science-based approach have limited the impact of the disease in the region.

COVID-19 carries some strange characteristics. Death rates in the Chinese city of Wuhan have hovered near 5%. Elsewhere in China mortality rates have been steady at about .7%. Italy has suffered nearly six thousand cases with more than 200 dead. Meanwhile Germany, with nearly a thousand cases, has yet to see a single fatality. The virus, which has spread rapidly in the US and Iran, barely made a dent in crowded, bustling Hong Kong. Why should the same virus, infecting a biologically similar host, display such remarkably different disease progression in different developed countries?

What if nature has evolved a pathogen that preys on societies more than individuals? This virus seems to thrive or fail based less on the biological traits of its individual victims than on the social and political ecosystem those hosts inhabit. In that respect, it’s more like typhus or tuberculosis. COVID-19 is a rampant killer. COVID-19 is also a mild illness sitting somewhere on the spectrum between the common cold and the flu. The same disease can be a lethal threat or a cough based largely on the strength of your public institutions.

Do you live under a government that can identify a COVID-19 patient, pinpoint the apartment building where they live, notify vulnerable people who may come in contact with that person, and quickly distribute necessary testing kits to health care providers? If so, life will continue more or less as normal, as in Germany, with little economic impact and a public health burden barely distinguishable from a normal flu season. If not, then you may be in for serious event that could alter your country’s demographic composition. Nature is not just cruel; she is endlessly creative.

A disease that kills disproportionately based on the relative dysfunction of a society is very bad news for Americans. US stock markets shed more than $6tr in value last week. While Asia is already emerging from this test relatively unscathed, we still have no plan in place to respond. Call it the MAGA Flu, because there’s reason to believe that COVID-19 was born to thrive under Trump’s demented leadership.

Almost two months after US officials were first briefed on the COVID-19 outbreak, a competent, career official at the CDC finally broke with the Administration, publicly acknowledging the severity of the crisis for the first time. Dr. Messonnier’s comments on February 25th, acknowledging that a broad US outbreak was now inevitable, sent markets into a tailspin and sent Trump into a screaming rage. Local outbreaks of the disease, which never should have happened and did not occur in recent pandemics, had already begun in several parts of the country. Our chance at containment had already been lost.

Messonnier’s statement was set against the comically inept Senate briefing by acting Homeland Security Secretary, Chad Wolf on the same day. Wolf is a career Congressional staffer and recent lobbyist who fell into this interim role because the President has failed to fill this seemingly important job for almost a year. In his briefing, he had no answer for tough questions like “how many cases have there been?” When asked, “how is the virus transmitted?” his answer was, “a variety of ways, including human to human.”

Fear not, for the President had already on January 31, announced the formation of a task force to coordinate the US response to COVID-19. This elite team includes such seasoned, pandemic response specialists as:

Joseph Grogan, a lobbyist for pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences.

Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia AG and anti-immigration activist whose appointment to a top immigration post was just ruled illegal, and his orders invalidated.

Stephen Biegun, lobbyist for Ford and current deputy Secretary of State.

Chris Liddell, former CFO of the talent agency, William Morris Endeavor.

Matthew Pottinger, former soldier, journalist, and hedge fund manager appointed to the NSC by the illustrious Michael Flynn.

Derek Kan, a former regional manager at Lyft and advisor to Mitch McConnell. He came to government direct from a position in a biotech startup called Genapsys.

There was a qualified doctor on the task force, but he was quickly instructed to shut the hell up. Anthony Fauci led the US through remarkably successful responses to Zika and Ebola. He’s a qualified professional who knows what he’s doing. In response to his early comments insisting on a muscular response to the threat, the White House insisted that all communications from task force members should run through the Vice President.

It’s Vice President Mike Pence who is responsible for the Administration’s response to this public health emergency. This is a man who, as Governor of Indiana, turned a minor AIDS outbreak in a small Indiana town into a rural epidemic through the power of his faith. When public health officials begged Pence in 2015 to finally implement a series of measures, including a needle exchange, to contain an HIV outbreak around Austin, Indiana, it took him weeks to finish talking to the Lord, during which time dozens more people contracted the virus.

Pence brought with him to Washington the man who lead his idiotic HIV response in Indiana. Former Indiana Health Commissioner Jerome Adams is now the Surgeon General and has joined Pence on the task force. Up to now, his main project as the nation’s top doctor has been to warn the public of imaginary threats from marijuana.

The President’s official team may be a bunch of opportunists and cranks, but you may yet be counting on the seasoned professionals in our national health bureaucracy to rescue us. Think again. Life under Trump has taken a toll on The Deep State.

Thomas Frieden was the last Director of the CDC to serve under President Obama. Frieden earned his medical degree from Columbia, along with a Masters in Public Health from the same school. He studied infectious disease at Yale, going on to work for the CDC, World Bank and the City of New York on public health issues. He’s gone.

There are three kinds of people left in the Republican Party, racists, religious nuts, and grifters. New directors must be chosen from those three categories. To date, we’ve checked off two of the three.

Trump’s first pick to head the CDC was a crank doctor and failed Georgia Congressional candidate who made a living selling phony anti-aging cures. Rita Rubin at Forbes dug up the archive of Fitzgerald’s old website. It’s excellent reading.

In her previous job heading up Georgia’s Department of Public Health, Fitzgerald partnered with Coca-Cola to emphasize the importance of childhood exercise, rather than diet, on obesity and diabetes. She lasted only a few months at the CDC, when it was discovered that she’d been investing in tobacco stocks. Her replacement has not raised the bar.

New CDC head, Robert Redfield is a bona-fide medical researcher, with degrees from Georgetown and a long career as a tenured professor at the University of Maryland. He’s also a religious nut.

Redfield led an abstinence-only health education program for HIV in coordination with evangelical activists. He wrote the introduction to a 1990 book, titled “Christians in the Age of AIDS.” In it, he blamed the spread of AIDS on “single-parent households.”

Conditions in the agency aren’t good. Trump summarily fired the leader of the US pandemic response team back in May 2018 for no clear reason. There is still no replacement. Tom Bossert, who would have been responsible for pandemic response in the White House, was fired in April 2018, apparently to satisfy some petty vendetta from John Bolton. No one performs that function now.

Having failed to contain the importation of the virus, and faced with an incompetent central authority, the last line of a defense would be a robust public health infrastructure that covers everyone, providing a stable network of quality care. We don’t have that. America has a health infrastructure which has been converted over the past few decades to a wildly expensive for-profit vampire squid, swelling to consume 18% of GDP while life expectancies decline. To even begin to contain this disease, millions of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck would have to be willing to shell out hundreds of dollars in copays and deductibles and lose work time over a cough. It ain’t gonna happen. MAGA Flu will thrive in our for-profit health care system.

Trump says he’s considering closing the Southern Border to prevent the spread of COVID19. It’s an uncharacteristically generous move which might spare the lives of many Mexicans otherwise threatened by the coming gringo plague. There’s good reason to expect that, COVID-19 will thrive here like nowhere else in the world. From here it’s likely to continue to spread in waves until it settles into the permanent viral ecosystem, like our seasonal flus.

There was no reason for COVID-19 to spread in the US. Despite the hype, the disease is not very contagious, far less transferrable than influenza. With the only potential sources coming from outside the country, it would have been relatively simple, as in previous pandemics, to institute controls on travel from affected countries and test returning travelers. And we had months to prepare.

An Administration built on white nationalist xenophobia and lead by a paranoid germaphobe should have greeted this threat as a gift, a justification for unleashing their worst impulses. They botched this election year political opportunity and turned the US into a petri dish because incompetence takes a toll.

Mike Pence kicked off a meeting of his shiny new task force with a prayer. May God have mercy on him. No one else will.

35 Comments

  1. Y’all probably know that Houston and Harris County canceled the remainder of the annual rodeo and livestock show at an estimated cost of $40-50M to vendors, hotels, restaurants, etc.

    The mayor and county judge made announcements yesterday afternoon.

    This morning when I went to Costco to pick up a refill, three adjoining parking lots were totally full and a news copter was flying overhead to document the situation. Bottled water and toilet paper? Am I ready for this?

    Attendance was way down at the county-run community center’s exercise classes. But no appearance of cancelling any event, class or meeting yet.

    Unfortunately, this weekend is my regular meet-up with some other local artists. We generally talk, eat, laugh, curse 45, and make collages for a few hours on a Saturday. But two of the group are fighting cancers, so the group will not meet.

    Stay well.

    1. Every asset type was inflated by over a decade of near zero interest rates in the US and negative interest rates in various other places. That price inflation drove down yields on all assets, leading to Wall St. leveraging up to squeeze as much yield as possible on every trade, while near-zero interest rates made debt so cheap that businesses worldwide went on a debt binge and used it to buyback stock to further inflate price, and also pay out their executives whose salaries were otherwise under newer tougher rules and scrutiny after the financial crisis.

      If EVERYTHING is a bubble, then EVERYTHING falls when the bubble burst. In fact the first rounds of Covid-19 based market turmoil was probably as much companies just getting rid of riskier stuff or big voids they were trying to hide without showing a loss, now that they could show losses as being from something other than their own ledger.

      The big risk of any market turmoil, regardless of cause, was a liquidity squeeze. There were already warning shots of such squeeze fired in Dec 18, when the Fed had to intervene on the repo market.

      What’s happening right now might set off that landmine — everybody trying to get out and get their cash back, and there’s no cash wherever they look. Fed just today announced a $1.5trillion injection.

      We’ll see if it helps.

      Me, ironically my personal trading account might end up better off than my retirement account. My retirement account is just dollar-cost averaging indices, but my personal trading account is a thing I put individual stops on. It went all cash on Monday so I’m just kinda sitting here with that cash, twiddling my thumbs, watching daily drops of 10% off the NYSE, pretending I’m learning something.

      (We’ll see.)

    2. By the way, Bitcoin also is dropping. Gold was mentioned in your NYTimes link. So much for ‘alternative assets’ providing protection from market panic, like fanboys of both claim.

      Lastly, as of today the NYSE composite is

      220 points lower than it was on October 31st, 2016, the bottom of the market correction that occurred when Comey informed Congress that the FBI was re-opening the Clinton email server investigation,

      600 points lower than it was the week Trump won the election, and

      a full 3,150 points lower than when he took office.

      So … Yeah.

      1. That commentary by Aaron Dow sounds astute, but I’m certainly far from being an expert on financial markets. Anything but. Seems to me you’re saying the tremendous rise in recent years in market prices has been artificial, right? If so, that’s what my layman’s instincts tell me. And if Trump has been building his case for re-election around his great success in this aspect of the economy, then the “walls are coming tumbling down…” (and perhaps, hopefully, his attention to the southern border wall will be diverted to other problems.)

      2. @Joseph:

        “Seems to me you’re saying the tremendous rise in recent years in market prices has been artificial, right?”

        It’s complicated. And I am not a finance professional, I just worked closely with them for the past couple of years.

        There’s a bunch of things that have happened over the past decade, since 2009, that have inflated the value of assets across markets. The biggest one is the Fed and other central banks across the world (collectively called ‘Global Central Banks’ or GCBs) lowering interest rates to flush the system with liquidity and suppress volatility, which caused governments and companies alike to take out a ton of cheap debt and investors to pump cash into anything that provided a minimum yield. Since volatility is suppressed investors don’t feel they can lose as much, and since yields are so low higher risk is needed to gain yield. So everyone everywhere went risk on.

        That’s probably the biggest thing. But also, at the same time, markets themselves became far less diverse and dynamic and consolidated through ETFs and Index funds, funds of funds, and other sort of ‘passive investing’ procedures due to personal distrust of markets from 2008-9 crash mixed with higher punishments to finance people for doing anything inventive that blows up in their face. With a higher risk of getting in trouble and lower risk of making money by following passive indices, or higher risk of being distrusted by clients if you don’t meet or exceed your benchmark but lower risk of alienating anyone if you at least make 1-2% near it, even individual money managers checked out and put everything in funds that automatically purchase assets that fit certain parameters regardless of whether they have any inherent value. Add algorithmic trading on top of that and basically nobody is choosing to buy or sell a single stock based on whether it has good fundamentals. All that matters if that their portfolio has x% ‘exposure’ to the stock regardless of its current value.

        If the stock drops the algos kick in and buy more. If the stock rises the algos kick in and sell it off. The institutional investors don’t want to be left behind, so they ‘re-balance’ accordingly. The individual investors then check their portfolio balance, and rebalance accordingly. Everything becomes a slow gray drag that literally drove finance people up the wall. There was no edge or fun anymore for them (not saying this is good or bad for markets, but finance people hate it).

        The other issue with bundles-of-benchmarked-proportionate-stocks versus individual stock selection, esp. regarding ETFs in particular, is that the liquidity of the ETF may not match the liquidity of its underlying assets. Here’s how that works:

        I buy an ETF that promises me 35% of A, 35% of B, and 30% of C. The ETF is easy to buy: I give them $10 per share of the ETF, and it takes $3.50 to buy A, $3.50 to buy B, and $3.00 to buy C. A, however, doesn’t have $3.50 available on the market to buy. That’s fine, the ETF can buy at that level once it’s available. The ETF collectively is worth $10 more for everyone who owns shares of the ETF. The $3.50 stays as part of that value until A is purchased.

        Now I want my $10 back. ETF doesn’t have $10, it has $3.50 of A, $3.50 of B, and $3.00 of C. It sells that much of each to give me the $10 back.

        But what if the ETF can’t sell B at $3.50? Nobody wants B at $3.50. B is worth $1.

        The ETF share I sold, someone bought for $10. I have my $10 back. But the ETF itself is struggling to re-balance its shares. Now imagine thousands of ETF shareholders wanting their money back, and the shares of A, B, and C are not selling. And then hundreds of thousands of ETF shareholders wanting their money back, and company B goes bankrupt and has no more shares to sell. Etc.

        So ETF’s don’t correctly reflect the safety of the underlying assets while they promise safety through diversification. And unlike the subprime loan crisis, it’s not just a novel asset trading among high end finance groups, it’s pretty much every investor on every level. And those institutional investors aren’t just Wall Street people, but family money management offices, corporate investments…. this also affects state pension funds. So, next step:

        Boomers. They didn’t save enough to retire, so are overly dependent on their 401ks and company pension plans to cover what social security cannot — at a point when yields on investments are shit and everything’s overpriced. So the delay retirement and delay selling their assets. Boomers have a far higher percentage of stocks in their account than any previous generation historically at their age. Millennials don’t have enough money to buy their stocks from them at current valuations (maybe after this crash), so there’s no way for Boomers to get the full money their accounts claim they have. As they increasingly sell over the next decade and a half, it’ll be basically impossible, mathematically, for Millennials to funnel their money in to fill the gap.

        So, assuming no crash like the the past few days, but demographic decay as Boomers sell their assets to pay for their retirement, we had a second worst-case scenario beside the usual ‘bubble will burst’ — that it will deflate, very painfully slowly, over a full generational period (15-20 years). Think pension fund assumptions of 7% growth are bad now, imagine annual averages of -1%.

        So at about the time I stopped working with the finance people I was working with, most stocks on the market, esp. those in the S&P500, had valuations around the following concept:

        If every single dollar of revenue, not only gross revenue, not only post-tax revenue, but literally every single dollar of revenue, was paid back to the stockholders on a yearly basis, it would it take over 100 years for the stockholders to make a profit.

        For that to be sustainable, the economy would have to grow like China circa 2005.

        Even pretending that was possible, it would necessitate companies getting down and dirty on being more productive than ever before.

        While companies were doing exactly the opposite — using debt (negative productivity) to use high stock prices to pay out their upper management and executives to the tune (collectively) of trillions of dollars of years.

        Tl;dr: Central banks and ETFs and demographic dependency on high valuations all cohered to create a massive transfer of wealth from savers to management and executives at the cost of massive debt and reduced productivity, creating a feedback loop of suppressed volatility and risk-on passive investing.

        By the way, that places us at 2016. Then Trump got elected and placed the confidence of his administration directly on the foundation of the stock market.

        That’s as best I understand it. I could probably explain it better and could always understand it better. Actual financial people are probably cringing at some of the broader strokes and things I’m overlooking.

  2. So the xenophobe-in-chief says on national television that all trade is being stopped as well, and his staff has to immediately walk that back to only people. You folks seriously still believe that the tyrant and his regime are not planning on using this hysteria to push back the election, at the very least?

    1. A ‘man’ that trembles at the thought of firing someone to their face and has never taken a punch in his life is not going to declare martial law and try to cancel the election.

      Donald Trump is a coward, period. Full stop. He would run first. I will die on this hill.

      1. I don’t know what planet you are on for the past 3 years, but this is PRECISELY the kind of thing this regime will do.

        Is the tyrant a coward? Of course. But he is also a bully, and has fired hundreds of people through his handlers and minions.

  3. I don’t know Chris… I get where you’re coming from, and Trump’s administration is criminally incompetent (appointing Pence to head the taskforce was the piece-de-resistance of this comedy of clowns). But despite all of that, I still think our response to the disease will be better than China.

    First, China is not a great example to look to. Contrary to what you’re saying, the outbreak did tremendous damage to their economy and the political legitimacy of their government. The people are wondering about their leader just as much as we are wondering about ours. And I still don’t believe their numbers. Due to the lack of testing kits, and tremendous pressure on district officials to keep their numbers down, there was widespread undercounting of cases. It’s pretty easy to classify someone who dies of pneumonia at home as having the common flu, especially when you decline to test them. Sure, the apparatchiks in Beijing promised greater transparency, stating they “learned the lessons of SARS”, but when they faced an existential crisis to their authority as public anger boiled over, the lessons they learned from Tiananmen Square overrode anything they ever learned from SARS.

    Even now, I don’t believe their numbers. Call me a tinfoil hat conspiracist, but epidemics don’t die down that quickly, even with draconian quarantines. Without a vaccine or cure, it takes time for epidemics to burn out, especially ones with long incubation times and a population of asymptomatic carriers. SARS took over 6 months from the start of the epidemic to when it settled down (it wasn’t declared officially over for nearly 2 years). And that was a much smaller epidemic. I fail to believe that this thing is over in China in less than 2 months.

    More likely, with their economy coming close to annihilation, Beijing officials have decided it’s far less risky to their power to let a few thousand people die than keep their factories closed, especially once the media was brought back under control and pesky stories of doctors dying from the virus, or old people trapped in their apartments unable to get care, can be replaced by glowing reports of factories back online. And so they ordered people back to work regardless of their personal safety.

    Unfortunately, even the absolute power of totalitarians can’t cure a disease. So the people still haven’t returned. This article shows how, under pressure from central officials to show that economic activity has resumed, businesses are keeping machines, A/C, lights, etc. on in order to consume electricity. Since no one believes China’s GDP numbers, most analysts track electricity consumption as a proxy for economic activity in the country. Keeping factories on with no one inside allows the government to claim the economy is humming again.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-01/china-s-push-to-jump-start-economy-revives-worries-of-fake-data

    In short, China’s government is facing an existential crisis far larger than us. Even if Trump loses his election, most Americans’ faith in democracy hasn’t been shaken (except for Dins 🙂 ). But ever since Deng Xiaoping uttered the words “To get rich is glorious”, Beijing understands that their people will only accept their government as long as the economy keeps growing. Bungle the economy and it’s not a just a single administration that falls, but the entire system of governance. In the face of the loss of their power, what’s a little media distortion and a few more thousand deaths?

    I do agree that our country has many structural deficits (including deficits in governance) that make us uniquely vulnerable. Number one is a for-profit health system in which, as you astutely state, many people will forego diagnosis and treatment so as to avoid the ensuing bankruptcy that our system often throws in for free with every hospital visit. But we also have many strengths, particularly compared to China. First and foremost is a medical infrastructure that is still largely independent from and immune to the antics in Washington. Doctors aren’t being imprisoned for taking care of patients, gathering data, or speaking out. Public health departments, while tremendously under-resourced, are still doing better than ones in China that must kowtow to local Party officials. The jury is still out on whether our specific combination of strengths and weaknesses is better or worse than China’s.

    Your comparisons to Europe are much more germane, but even there, it’s not clear they’re doing any better than us (*cough* Italy *cough*). Again, the jury is still out on whether despite all the deficiencies of Trump’s policies, we’ll do a better or worse job than the rest of the world. We probably won’t really be able to assess that until months or years after the epidemic is over.

    P.S. Sickness, disease, and health have *always* been an indicator of a society’s functional status. Which is why even simple health indicators like life expectancy, infant mortality, and even the average height of a country’s population is a surprisingly good indicator of its overall functional status (Europe continues to grow taller; Americans stopped getting taller a few decades ago. If you don’t believe this, visit Scandinavia and try not to feel like a midget). COVID-19 is nothing new in this regard. Amartya Sen famously said famine arises not from a lack of food, but from a lack of good governance. The same can be said about disease: it arises not from an abundance of microbes, but an abundance of political chicanery. Unfortunately, Trump has ensured we have plenty of that…

  4. There’s a weird metaphorical quality to this Covid-19 I am hesitant to speak much to, that the virus created in a Boomer world exacerbated by Boomer neglect somehow disproportionately affects and threatens Boomers, even over other immunocompromised demographics such as young children; and though the economic impact will spread to everyone, the immediate hit is to Boomers’ retirement packages right before they retired, being a demographic with historically high ownership of stocks this close to retirement and also being historically high owners of stocks compared to other demographics during a time period.

    And then it’s not so surprising that the Boomer created virus in the Boomer created world causes, effectively, the entire world to hide under their beds, cancel all public events, and try to avoid shaking hands with each other. I feel like if the Boomers weren’t particularly, exclusively threatened by this, there’s actually be less global fear. If they knew everyone else was going down too, they’d not be so scared.

  5. Joseph Grogan: “He lobbied for a pharmaceutical company so that means he should have knowledge of medicine.”

    Ken Cuccinelli: “Why not pick someone from immigration to handle this pandemic, after all who brings foreign diseases into the country? Immigrants.”

    Stephen Biegun: “Well it is a foreign disease so naturally our secretary in charge of foreign policy should handle this.”

    Chris Liddell: “Someone’s got to monitor the budget of this elite team.”

    Matthew Pottinger: “Being a disease from a foreign country, that we don’t like, naturally the disease is a threat to National Security, let’s put someone on the team. Plus he’s a soldier so he knows a thing or two about fighting.”

    Derek Kan: “We should have someone who can coordinate travel involved in our team, and I’ve heard some things about Lyft.”

    I’m not sure what’s scarier, that I can guess what Trump’s logic was in picking these people, or that I might be right.

  6. Re the Obama/Biden comment

    Obama was NOT a “do nothing” POTUS

    He had actual power to DO ANYTHING for about FIVE MONTHS

    And that was used up saving the American economy and improving the US Health “system”

    For the other seven and a half years of his Presidency he was hamstrung because the GOP controlled the legislature

    He did try a bit too hard to “reach out” – but that was a very minor issue

    1. I never said Obama was a “do nothing” POTUS. I said that he enacted surface-level progressive reforms while engaging in neoliberal, basically GOP-Lite pro-corporate and authoritarian policy goals.

      Obama’s administration persecuted Snowden for the revelations he delivered. His administration persecuted the whistleblower Chelsea Manning and merely commuted her sentence rather than giving her a full pardon, meaning that she’s still a convicted felon that has limits on her rights. Obama never got us out of the Middle East. He exacerbated situations with his Drone Wars, the mess in Yemen, and by continuing to remain buddy-buddy with the Saudis, all the while refusing to close Guantanamo Bay like he promised.

      Obama also oversaw the expansion of the U.S. into a major climate-change-enabling titan, a major producer and exporter of fossil fuels, and did nothing to stop it in spite of his administration entering us into the Paris Agreement. All he did was stop some offshore drilling and a pipeline while leaving the Shale Revolution to do its dirty work.

      Obama also tried pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a progressive and beneficial trade deal, when in reality it was a corporate giveaway in disguise. It would have exported America’s draconian intellectual property and copyright protections (including on much-needed medicines) to other member nations. Any environmental or worker protections were non-binding. Everything that helped safeguard corporate profits was binding. The administration ignored mass graves of human trafficking victims in Malaysia so that the country could have its human rights ranking upgraded in order to get just one more country on board. The Partnership was negotiated in secret where no regular citizen or advocacy group could voice their concerns. Leaked documents gave the TPP well-deserved scorn across partisan lines. It, alongside other issues, also proved Obama’s talk of his administration being oh-so-open and transparent to be a lie.

      Obama trying a bit too hard to reach out was a very major issue. This came to a head when he decided to stick to some unspoken rules and decorum and not use his executive power to put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court via recess appointment.

      I voted for Bernie in the primaries, and am hoping that he wins a ton in these upcoming states. If the Bloomberg-backed Biden becomes the candidate and actually wins, the populist progressive momentum for real reforms has to continue and grow so as to keep future Presidents and Congress-critters in check.

      1. *clap*. My thoughts exactly! Obama was a center-right President. And that’s saying something in a political climate that’s moved so far right that Ronald Reagan would be considered a liberal Democrat (hollywood media elite, union president, raised taxes when the budget deficit increased, wanted to increase immigration, negotiated arms reduction treaties with Russia, appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court, etc.).

        Obama didn’t prosecute a single Wall St. criminal, expanded GWB’s War on Terror to include extrajudicial assassinations, and didn’t even bother with the pretense of asking for Congressional approval before involving us in Libya’s war (in a bit of ironic blowback, this led to the Benghazi disaster which helped to keep Hillary from being elected his successor). Oh yeah, and his signature domestic policy was written by the Heritage Foundation. What a progressive!

        I supported Bernie in 2016 and Warren this time around. I think Biden is a nice, competent guy, and I’ll vote for him in the general, but I really hope Bernie pulls through, although the chances of that are pretty low at this point. We need someone who understands that von Clausewitz had it backwards: politics is war by other means. The Republicans understand that, while Dems like Biden still talk about appeasement.

  7. Howdy, it’s been a while. I’ve been doing much better since the last time I logged on. With the fear and panic and everything reaching an unavoidable fever pitch, I thought I’d hop on and give my thoughts on how things look right now.

    Not gonna lie, things look bleak. We have what looks like a big recession on the way with Saudi Arabia and Russia duking it out over oil production alongside COVID-19 causing massive supply chain disruptions and prompting organizations to cancel events left and right, putting a dent in local and state economies that depend on tourism and travel. Alongside this is the U.S. government completely bungling its response to the disease combined with out healthcare system being woefully unequipped to deal with this.

    And looking at the Democratic Primaries, we are set to have an election between Donald Trump, the woefully-inadequate Republican incumbent that’s made the U.S. even more of a laughing-stock on the world stage than ever before and Joe Biden, a Democratic Neoliberal geriatric that’s set on giving us 4-8 years of kick-the-can-down-the-road surface-level progressive policy and small accomplishments and reforms that serve as a facade for neoliberal pro-corporate and authoritarian policies like what the Obama Administration did. A Biden Administration could very well get a free pass on almost everything because “Well, at least they’re not Bush/Trump” and that would likely pave the way to another Trump-like figure taking office in 2024/2028.

    Warren was an excellent candidate who got disqualified because of America’s systemic misogyny. Meanwhile, Chris is pushing the idea that since Bernie was soft on the Soviets and Russia and would therefore, somehow, be a disaster for the U.S. in spite of the fact that many of his policies, had he won the candidacy and Presidency in 2016, would’ve helped greatly curb the spread of wealth-influenced corruption as well as COVID-19 and the devolution of our country to the state it’s in now.

    My opinion is that whoever comes after Trump, whoever comes after this current Congress, no matter who it is, constant pressure needs to be applied to ensure that the three branches of our government alongside our electoral systems become functional for, representative of, and responsive to the needs of regular people and marginalized groups rather than just the rich and powerful. The wellspring of progressive Left-Populism that has come to be over the last few years has given me hope, and we simply cannot let it fizzle out once Trump leaves office, however or whenever that comes to pass.

    I’m remaining hopeful, though, because I’d like to eventually see a day where I can finally be proud of the collective accomplishments of me and everyone else in my country as we make progress on the long and winding road of undoing the harm that the last near-century or so of U.S. imperialism, interventionism, nation-building and unchecked corporate greed and exploitation have wrought upon the world as well as our own citizenry. I’ve seen and read posts and articles from countless others who want that to come to pass as well. If this country out-and-out collapses before that happens, then quite frankly, I will never forgive the people who let it occur.

  8. This corona virus is worse than the common cold, as it is more likely to cause lower respiratory infections.

    I have a feeling that ultimately, it’s already washed over the country and if you aren’t chronically ill, or immunocompromised, you’ve probably already come into contact with it.

    I say this because the only people being tested right now are people with recent travel to particular places, or people with particular symptoms. An otherwise healthy 25 year old with a cold isn’t being tested.

    Or, to put it another way, we can’t quarantine our way out of the common cold, and we can’t quarantine our way out of this one. We need systematic improvements – free healthcare, better individual healthcare standards (washing hands, covering cough/sneeze), and better regulations on who can and can’t just walk into a long-term acute care facility taking care of chronically ill people.

  9. May want to dig a little deeper into the credibility of Dr Jerome Adams. On another fb site, one of the docs there offered this alternative view of Dr Adams as key to changing the Pence’s abysmal policy about needle sharing.

    Just a clarification – people I know from school really had good things to say about Dr. Adams (healthier than me comment notwithstanding.). And he actually helped try to undo Pence’s disaster

    https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/07/05/535618770/surgeon-general-nominee-championed-policies-to-curb-indiana-s-opioid-epidemic

  10. Here is a good companion piece to Chris’ post from Jim Wright:

    http://www.stonekettle.com/2020/03/fever.html

    This is the weakest of all the weak spots in our healthcare system- all the people form whom it is cheaper to get sick and suffer through it than to see a doctor. If the Trump administration really wanted to spend $ to combat this epidemic in an effective way, they’d be authorizing payments for people who catch this and should stay home, but will go into work as long as they can still stand up. Seriously, pay low income people who have to quarantine themselves 3-4 weeks pay, and you’ll slow this down, and hopefully prevent overwhelming the hospitals. But we all know that would be socialism, and that’s bad.

    Governor Kate Brown of Oregon, to her credit, is proposing using things like paid family leave and unemployment insurance to do give sick lower income people incentive to stay home. Poor people in the Blue states with competent government could get through this. Poor people in states like Texas and Florida are going to catch hell.

    But don’t be shocked when these Trump grifters push tax cuts or even direct subsidies to the hotel industry, the cruise ship industry, the airline industry. What to bet how much of that would trickle down?

    1. EJ

      Britain and Australia are sadly in the same position: having built nonresilient supply chains because they’re more profitable, and having put all the labour in the hands of “independent contractors” with no sick benefits, they’ve ended up with a society almost tailor-made to suffer under coronavirus. A crueller man than I might conclude that speaking English correlates with poor social outcomes.

      Germany nowadays is worse-positioned to handle this than we would have been ten years ago: we have more precarious and casual workers now than we did then. Hopefully we can still manage some sort of response.

  11. When the richest country on the planet embraces a madman, and made sick people a profit center, well, bad things happen.

    That being said, I imagine the tyrant will take his lead from the PM of Italy, who has effectively put 16 million under house arrest. Same deal as what China did. That is likely the only logical way to contain the virus now.

    One last thing: Can you provide a link to that 0.7% mortality rate. I imagine it is reasonable, but would like to see the documentation on it.

      1. Based on reported numbers, the u.s. kill rate is around 4% right now. Now, with such a horrible joke of a medical system, the real numbers of infections is not known, which wildly skews the real kill rate. I have an extremely hard time believing the kill rate is 4%.

        I expect as this thing spreads, and things get worse, the regime will stop producing any verifiable facts. The tyrant is quite unhappy this virus did not hit 3 or 4 months from now. Then him calling off the election would seem reasonable to his cult members. That being said, if the regime can drag out shutting this virus down, they still might use it as an excuse to push the election back.

        Today is the day of the greatest bloodshed for those of us heavily invested in the markets. The scene in Animal House with Kevin Bacon comes to mind” All is well, all is well.”

  12. EJ

    I was terrified to read Pelosi’s remark that a vaccine should be available for “a very affordable price.”

    I had not, even in my worst moments, considered that anyone might want to charge for a vaccine. That’s not how vaccines work: if you don’t vaccinate everyone, the community is at risk.

    Alas for America. In a way this was entirely a self-inflicted problem, but that’s an oversimplification: the people who caused this problem are not those who will suffer under it.

    1. Some of the people who suffer will do so from their own willful ignorance. There are Trump supporters buying into the lie that the virus is just another liberal hoax. CNN had a video of one woman saying things like that. I can’t find it to link it, and just as well, as watching it makes my brain hurt.

      And concerning paying for vaccines, I totally agree with you. I can get some for free via work/insurance, but others I must pay for. I can afford it but many can’t. Our system is royally fucked up, and we may be about to get a nasty eye-opener.

    2. Welcome to the royally screwed American healthcare system. Of course vaccines should be free as everyone in society benefit ms. In this healthcare wasteland, where businesses make obscene profits from sick people, the idea that making vaccines free accrues to the common good is indefensible to those who stand to profit – again and again and again.

  13. A lot of good info here. I want to comment only on the last sentence, about Task Force Chairman Pence. You’re right, no one else (except God) will have mercy on poor Mike, and foremost among those is his boss. I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees failure however perceived as resulting in a “decision” by the Veep to “retire” and pave the way for a new VP nominee for the 2020 election. I’d bet on Nikki Haley.

      1. EJ

        Haley’s soul is already forfeit. Nobody respectable would touch her anyway; she loses nothing by damning herself further.

        I am reminded of the story that some of Hitler’s last and most loyal soldiers were French. They had decided to fight for the Nazis back when France seemed defeated and the Nazis seemed unstoppable; by the end, Hitler’s ethnic-German soldiers were deserting in battalions and just going back to their families. The French Nazis, however, could not go home: the people of France had long memories and do not love traitors. As such, they had no choice but to fight to the death.

        Nikki Haley is a long way from being an SS member, but I can see her having to make the same decision.

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