Saturday, March 21, 2020
In a time of global emergency, we need calm, directness and, above all, hard facts. Only the opposite is on offer from the Trump White House. It is therefore time to call [Trump's]
the president’snews conferences for what they are: propaganda.We may as well be watching newsreels approved by the Soviet Politburo. We’re witnessing the falsification of history in real time. When Donald Trump, under the guise of social distancing, told the White House press corps on Thursday that he ought to get rid of 75 to 80 percent of them — reserving the privilege only for those he liked — it may have been chilling, but it wasn’t surprising. He wants to thin out their ranks until there’s only Pravda in the room.
Sometimes, I stare at Deborah Birx during these briefings and I wonder if she understands that this is the footage historians will be looking at 100 years from now — the president rambling on incoherently, vainly, angrily, deceitfully, while she watches, her face stiff with the strangled horror of a bride enduring an inappropriate toast.
If the public wants factual news briefings, they need to tune in to those who are giving them: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, whose addresses appear with English subtitles on Deutsche Welle. They should start following the many civic-minded epidemiologists and virologists and contagion experts on Twitter, like Harvard’s Marc Lipsitch and Yale’s Nicholas Christakis, whose threads have been invaluable primers in a time of awful confusion.
These are people with a high tolerance for uncertainty. It’s [Trump's]
the president’sincapacity to tolerate it — combined with his bottomless need to self-flatter and preserve his political power — that leads, so often, to his spectacular fits of deception and misdirection.
Only a liar — and a weak man with delusions of competence — would be so unnerved by the facts.
Compare this to Cuomo, who takes questions at his news conferences calmly and systematically — and, more to the point, has a substantive response when asked the same questions about anxiety. He hears it. He relates to it. He says it’s real.
On Friday, Cuomo said something else that was quite striking, as he was issuing his executive order for nonessential workers in New York to stay home, other than to run errands or exercise outside. “If someone wants to blame someone or complain about someone, blame me,” he said. “There is no one else who is responsible for this decision.”
Cuomo is nothing if not politically shrewd. He knows full well how this comment compares to Mr. Trump’s “I don’t take responsibility at all.”
But telling the media that they’re peddling fake news is straight from the playbook of the political gangsters of the last century. So many of Trump’s moves are.
How about Orwellian doublespeak? Ooooooh, check. Trump and his team are continually deploying words and phrases that disguise a reality that suggests the opposite. Vice President Mike Pence talks about a “strong and seamless” partnership with the states, when at the same time Mr. Trump is trolling the states, telling Cuomo to get his own respirators.
Pence speaks relentlessly of a “whole-of-government approach,” when in fact the government is hollowed out — defunded to fight pandemics, denuded of experts — and broken in shards, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sidelined in this fight, and the president’s task force now mutely competing with a shadow group run by the president’s son-in-law.
But most dangerous of all is Trump’s insistence that things are fine, or will be shortly, that they’ll be stronger and better and greater than ever. We don’t have any evidence that this is true, and the president finds any suggestion to the contrary quite rude. When a journalist pointed out to him on Thursday that the economy had all but ground to halt, Trump cut him off.
Here’s the truth: Things might be hard — unfathomably hard — for months, perhaps even north of a year. Anyone who’s reading or listening to other sources of news besides the president knows that. It takes sensitivity and strength and intelligence to speak truthfully to the public about imminent hardship, the prospect of enduring pain.
So I listen to Justin Trudeau, a sci-fi experience, a dispatch from an alternate universe that prioritizes the needs and anxieties of the middle class.
And I listen to Cuomo, who says the same thing. His news conference on Friday was about the practical things, knowing the entire state — country, globe — had just taken a precipitous slide down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with food, shelter and safety now topmost on many people’s minds. No one can evict you for 90 days. We’re getting hospital beds. We’re recruiting doctors and nurses in training to fight this fight, and we’re coaxing medical professionals out of retirement.
The U.S. economy is deteriorating more quickly than was expected just days ago as extraordinary measures designed to curb the coronavirus keep 84 million Americans penned in their homes and cause the near-total shutdown of most businesses.In a single 24-hour period, governors of three of the largest states — California, New York and Illinois — ordered residents to stay home except to buy food and medicine, while the governor of Pennsylvania ordered the closure of nonessential businesses.
The resulting economic meltdown, which is sending several million workers streaming into the unemployment line, is outpacing the federal government’s efforts to respond. As the Senate on Friday raced to complete work on a financial rescue package, the White House and key lawmakers were dramatically expanding its scope, pushing the legislation far beyond the original $1 trillion price tag.
With each day, an unprecedented stoppage gathers force as restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and offices close to shield themselves from the disease. Already, it is clear that the initial economic decline will be sharper and more painful than during the 2008 financial crisis.
Next week, the Labor Department will likely report that roughly 3 million Americans have filed first-time claims for unemployment assistance, more than four times the record high set in the depths of the 1982 recession, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That is just the start of a surge that could send the jobless rate spiking to 20 percent from today’s 3.5 percent, a JPMorgan Chase economist told clients on a conference call Friday.
“We are looking at something quite grave,” said economist Janet L. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair. “If businesses suffer such serious losses and are forced to fire workers and have their firms go into bankruptcy, it may not be easy to pull out of that.”
Most economists expect the economy to begin climbing out of its deep hole in the second half of this year. But those forecasts depend upon the pandemic being brought under control and the United States and other governments enacting policies that prevent lasting harm to factories and financial arteries. Even if all that happens, the economy will be smaller at the end of this year than it was at the beginning, according to Bridgewater, Goldman and JPMorgan.
Individual workers and their families — many only recently recovered from the economic cataclysm of 2008 and 2009 — are already feeling the effects. The unexpected economic shock has put millions of Americans living on the precipice of ruin. In a Fed survey last year, 39 percent of Americans said they would be unable to handle an unexpected $400 expense.
The sudden turnabout in U.S. economic fortunes is without historic parallel. As 2020 began, the U.S. economy had been expanding without interruption since the middle of 2009. The jobless rate was near a half-century low, and the stock market was headed toward a record high.
Now, the economy is screeching to a halt and the stock market is in free fall. On Thursday, the Big Three automakers said they would close their factories through March 30. Real estate agents have canceled open houses. Marriott, the largest hotel company in the world, is closing its hotels and furloughing thousands of workers. . . . . On average, hotel revenue is down 75 percent, which requires draconian retrenchment.
“A stunning reversal of fortune for the best economy in history to the worst economy in history in not even two months. The fastest recession in history. With no one spending a dime, it will stay that way a long, long time.”
Let's hope two weeks of social distancing reins in the virus' spread and that normalcy can be restored.For small-business owners, there is palpable fear of bankruptcy.
Friday, March 20, 2020
[N]o matter how the coronavirus pandemic passes, or how quickly, there is likely in these strange housebound weeks a new political epoch being born.
Trumpism as a style is defined not just by boasting and bluster; his triumphalism depends on projecting certitude. The president early on acted as if he could indeed create reality by proclamation, when he assured the public that U.S. infections would soon be down to zero.
Only in recent days, as the possibility of widespread domestic disease mounts, has Trump acknowledged imprecision—the fragmentary nature of our understanding of how far the virus has spread, how effective efforts to blunt its impact will be, or when these efforts will be deemed sufficient.
The coronavirus pandemic does not remotely have the cataclysmic shock and violence of 9/11. For many people, however, the virus’ actual day-in, day-out impact will be more pervasive. 9-11 was followed by a period, which turned out to be short-lived, of national connection and goodwill. Trump, who has made mockery and castigation of opponents his signature, surely did not conjure fuzzy feelings from many quarters with his appeal at the White House on Wednesday that, “We are all in this together.”
Yet the pandemic has a logic that transcends politics and personal feeling. Never mind how one feels about Trump. Never mind how we feel about one another. The reality of a dangerous virus is that we are all in this together.
Andrew Sullivan's piece is lengthier and notes among other things that much of America's medical supplies come from China - the nation Trump is seeking to blame for his administrations failure to prepare for a pandemic. It also looks at how the pandemic could either strengthen Trump - especially among his cult followers - or be his undoing. It might also force Americans to reassess where American society had descended. Which direction will prevail is yet to be seen. Here are column highlights:
And this will change us. It must. All plagues change society and culture, reversing some trends while accelerating others, shifting consciousness far and wide, with consequences we won’t discover for years or decades. The one thing we know about epidemics is that at some point they will end. The one thing we don’t know is who we will be then.I know that I was a different man at the end of the plague of AIDS than I was at the beginning, just as so many gay men and many others were. You come face-to-face with mortality and the randomness of fate, and you are changed. You have a choice: to submit to fear and go under, or to live with the virus and do what you can. And the living with it, while fighting it, is what changes you over time; it requires more than a little nerve and more than a little steel. Plague living dispenses with the unnecessary, lays bare whom you can trust and whom you can’t, and also reveals what matters.
Plagues destroy so much — but through the devastation, they can also rebuild and renew. . . . . Like wars, plagues can make us see where we are, shake us into a new understanding of the world, reshape our priorities, and help us judge what really matters and what actually doesn’t. Testing kits matter. Twitter not so much. Politically, who knows? Much will depend on the skills of the politicians grasping this moment for their various ends. But a lot is at stake, and I suspect that those who think COVID-19 all but kills Donald Trump’s reelection prospects are being, as usual, too optimistic.
National crises, even when handled at this level of incompetence and deceit, can, over time, galvanize public support for a national leader. As Trump instinctually finds a way to identify the virus as “foreign,” he will draw on these lizard-brain impulses, and in a time of fear, offer the balm of certainty to his cult and beyond. It’s the final bonding: blind support for the leader even at the risk of your own sickness and death.
Watching Fox News operate in real time in ways Orwell described so brilliantly in Nineteen Eighty-Four — compare “We had always been at war with Eastasia” with “I’ve felt that it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic” — you’d be a fool not to see the potential for the Republican right to use this plague for whatever end they want.
On the other hand, even further incompetence or failure on Trump’s part could finally, maybe, puncture the cult, and deliver the White House to Biden and the Congress to the Democrats. And the huge sums now being proposed by even the GOP to shore up the economy and the stock market at a time of massive debt, as well as the stark failures of our public-health planning, could make an activist government agenda much more politically palatable to Americans. “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” as Rahm Emanuel once put it. And if a public-health catastrophe doesn’t bring home the need for effective universal health care, what could? This virus is also an opportunity for the left to move away from its unpopular woke identity obsessions toward a case for structural economic change fitting for the scale of the epidemic.
For the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be spending much, much more time at home, or communicating entirely virtually. There will abruptly be less work to do, and less money coming in, and marriages under the acute stress of unending cohabitation. We will retreat into our online worlds, where viruses only affect computers, and withdraw from our neighbors when we could do with coming together.
Good will happen too. Surely it will. The silence in the streets portends something new. The other day, I realized I’d been texting a lot less and calling a lot more. I wanted to make sure my friends and family were okay, and I needed to see their faces and hear their voices to be reassured. As we withdraw from each other in the flesh, we may begin to appreciate better what we had until so recently: friendship and love made manifest by being together, simple gifts like a shared joint, a head resting on your shoulder, a hand squeezed, a toast raised.
These weeks of confinement can be seen also, it seems to me, as weeks of a national retreat, a chance to reset and rethink our lives, to ponder their fragility. I learned one thing in my 20s and 30s in the AIDS epidemic: Living in a plague is just an intensified way of living. It merely unveils the radical uncertainty of life that is already here, and puts it into far sharper focus.
The trick, as the great religions teach us, is counterintuitive: not to seize control, but to gain some balance and even serenity in absorbing what you can’t. . . . There may be moments in this great public silence when we learn and relearn this lesson.
On the evening of June 21, 1941, American Communists went to bed subject to one party line. At the sun set, Britain was fighting an imperialist war against Germany, about which the United States must remain neutral.American Communists awoke on June 22, 1941, to discover the party line abruptly changed. Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union. Now the war was a struggle between democracy and fascism, one the United States must immediately join.
The personalities on Fox News executed a similarly abrupt and total pivot on March 13, 2020. The Washington Post produced a stark before/after anthology of the same hosts saying precisely opposite things a few days apart.
Yet the many weeks of denial have had their effect. An Economist poll released March 18 found that only 38 percent of Fox News viewers took the virus seriously, half as many as among MSNBC and CNN viewers. For Trump’s sake, Fox risked the lives of its own audience.
Like the old Moscow-line Communists, the upholders of the Trump party line now need an excuse for their long history of denial and deception. They insisted it was not Trump’s fault that he, and they, squandered precious weeks and that his administration is suddenly dithering and failing. . . . They accused anyone who recalled the truth of repeating Chinese propaganda.
The Trump party line swaps new lies for old. Whereas once the ideological enforcers called concern over the virus a hoax, now they say that it’s a hoax to remember they said it was a hoax.
The Atlantic has been pulled into the crosshairs of the new lies that replaced the old lies in a retweet by the president himself. In response to an article that documented how China’s official lying had aggravated the crisis in that country, and lamented that Trump’s official lying had done the same here, the president’s Twitter feed repeated a slur that The Atlantic “spews communist China’s propaganda.”
Trump wants Americans to call the novel coronavirus “the Chinese virus.” Trump’s new slogan aims at two goals.
The first goal is to shift blame away from Trump’s failures and onto China’s. This goal is very unlikely to succeed. We all saw Trump’s catastrophic misjudgments inflict their toll in real time. . . . No, Trump won’t succeed in shifting blame.
It’s the second goal that could succeed. By revving up hate among their supporters against China, Trump and Fox can redirect those supporters’ rage from the dangerous target it might otherwise find: the trusted political and media figures who lied and lied and lied to them, exposing those supporters to disease and death for their own crass ends. Hate China, not me!
A president who sincerely mistrusted China would not have to resort to name-calling after the fact. He would have acted decisively, in good time. Instead, Trump relied on China to do his job for him.
It was Trump and Fox, not the independent media, who repeated Chinese propaganda and put Americans at risk.
A personal note: I was a target of one of Trump’s key media allies on Fox on Tuesday night, Tucker Carlson. Carlson has played an interestingly complex role on the Fox network. On the one hand, he was the first Fox host to speak some measure of truth about the virus. . . . On the other hand, Carlson is the most explicit of Fox’s race-baiters, the Fox personality furthest from traditional conservatism and nearest to the new alt-right. Carlson is the main voice on Fox for Russian state propaganda, . . .
While Trump, Fox, and Carlson try to redirect the anger of the people they betrayed, it’s worth noticing something strikingly absent from the speeches and writings of this administration and its Trump-line network: a word of sympathy or compassion for the thousands of Americans getting sick and dying on this president’s watch, as a result of this president’s neglect of his duties. They’re not capable of such language. They gain power by targeting outsiders.
After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush made an early visit to a Washington mosque. He spoke feelingly against bigotry, and helped curb the rash of hate crimes that erupted in the fall of 2001.
Trump and his party-line media do not do that. They cannot do that. That would take empathy—and empathy might dangerously remind Americans of the tragic cost of Trump’s mismanagement and absent leadership. . . . . The government and the government-line television network are, for the time being, in the charge of broken souls. Those broken souls are breaking a nation.
Thursday, March 19, 2020
The outbreak of the respiratory virus began in China and was quickly spread around the world by air travelers, who ran high fevers. In the United States, it was first detected in Chicago, and 47 days later, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. By then it was too late: 110 million Americans were expected to become ill, leading to 7.7 million hospitalized and 586,000 dead.That scenario, code-named “Crimson Contagion” and imagining an influenza pandemic, was simulated by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services in a series of exercises that ran from last January to August.
The simulation’s sobering results — contained in a draft report dated October 2019 that has not previously been reported — drove home just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed.
The draft report, marked “not to be disclosed,” laid out in stark detail repeated cases of “confusion” in the exercise. Federal agencies jockeyed over who was in charge. State officials and hospitals struggled to figure out what kind of equipment was stockpiled or available. Cities and states went their own ways on school closings.
Many of the potentially deadly consequences of a failure to address the shortcomings are now playing out in all-too-real fashion across the country.
In 2016, the Obama administration produced a comprehensive report on the lessons learned by the government from battling Ebola. In January 2017, outgoing Obama administration officials ran an extensive exercise on responding to a pandemic for incoming senior officials of the Trump administration.
The full story of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus is still playing out. Government officials, health professionals, journalists and historians will spend years looking back on the muddled messages and missed opportunities of the past three months, as
PresidentTrump moved from dismissing the coronavirus as a few cases that would soon be “under control” to his revisionist announcement on Monday that he had known all along that a pandemic was on the way.
What the scenario makes clear, however, is that his own administration had already modeled a similar pandemic and understood its potential trajectory.
Asked at his news briefing on Thursday about the government’s preparedness, Mr. Trump responded: “Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before.”
The work done over the past five years, however, demonstrates that the government had considerable knowledge about the risks of a pandemic and accurately predicted the very types of problems Mr. Trump is now scrambling belatedly to address.
The knowledge and sense of urgency about the peril appear never to have gotten sufficient attention at the highest level of the executive branch or from Congress, leaving the nation with funding shortfalls, equipment shortages and disorganization within and among various branches and levels of government.
The October 2019 report in particular documents that officials at the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, and even at the White House’s National Security Council, were aware of the potential for a respiratory virus outbreak originating in China to spread quickly to the United States and overwhelm the nation.
“Nobody ever thought of numbers like this,’’ Mr. Trump said on Wednesday, at a news conference. In fact, they had.
Christopher Kirchhoff, a national security aide who moved from the Pentagon to the White House to deal with the Ebola crisis, was given the job of putting together a “lessons learned” report, with input from across the government.
The weaknesses Mr. Kirchhoff identified were early warning signals of what has unfolded in the past three months.
What is striking in reading Mr. Kirchhoff’s account today, however, is how few of the major faults he found in the American response resulted in action — even though the report was filled with department-by-department recommendations.
But one big change did come out of the study: The creation of a dedicated office at the National Security Council to coordinate responses and raise the alarm early.
After Mr. Trump’s election, Ms. Monaco arranged an extensive exercise for high-level incoming officials — including Rex W. Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state; John F. Kelly, designated to become homeland security secretary; and Rick Perry, who would become energy secretary — gaming out the response to a deadly flu outbreak. . . . . But by the time the current crisis hit, almost all of the leaders at the table — Mr. Tillerson, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Perry among them — had been fired or moved on.
[I]n testimony to Congress last week, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggested that ending the stand-alone directorate was ill-advised. “It would be nice if the office was still there,” he said.
On Feb. 10, nearly three weeks after the first coronavirus case was diagnosed in the United States, Mr. Trump submitted a 2021 budget proposal that called for a $693.3 million reduction in funding for the C.D.C., or about 9 percent, although there was a modest increase for the division that combats global pandemics.
The exercise from last year then went on to predict how the situation on the ground in the United States would worsen as the weeks passed. . . . . But the problems were larger than bureaucratic snags. The United States, the organizers realized, did not have the means to quickly manufacture more essential medical equipment, supplies or medicines, including antiviral medications, needles, syringes, N95 respirators and ventilators, the agency concluded.
Congress was briefed in December on some of these findings, including the inability to quickly replenish certain medical supplies, given that much of the product comes from overseas.
These concerns turned more urgent at a hearing last Thursday on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers peppered officials with the Department of Health and Human Services with questions that sounded almost as if they had read the script from the fictional exercise, reflecting the shortage of respirators and protective gear.
Although not mentioned in the article, another problem is that so many of Trump's appointees are not competent to run their agencies and were appointed because they adhered to Trump's ideology. Appointments based on actual knowledge, skills and expertise might have made a difference. It is imperative that Trump and Pence be held accountable for their failings.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended almost every aspect of American life over the past few weeks, and the 2020 presidential election is no exception. We have already seen candidates forced to cancel rallies, hold a debate with no audience present, and shift their campaign staffs to working online. But the biggest impact of the crisis on the 2020 election is likely to be through its effect on the U.S. economy.With major sectors of the economy grinding to a near-standstill due to the pandemic, many economic forecasters are now predicting that the U.S. will experience a major downturn in economic growth in the current quarter that could continue for at least the next two quarters. Some forecasters are predicting a major recession with the economy shrinking by 5% or more in the second quarter of 2020. That’s significant because, in many election forecasting models, including my own “time for change” model, economic growth in the second quarter is a key predictor of the election results. . . . . So it’s possible that even if the economy recovers later in the year, the most electorally-salient perceptions will nonetheless be formed in the spring and summer.
It takes 270 electoral votes to win a presidential election. The results indicate that, despite the huge boost that Trump is predicted to receive as a first-term incumbent, an economic downturn in the second quarter, combined with a net approval rating in negative territory, would very likely doom Trump’s chances of winning a second term. The only scenario here in which Trump would be favored to win a second term would be modest economic growth combined with a small improvement in his net approval rating, which has been stuck in the vicinity of -10 for many months according to the FiveThirtyEight average. The model suggests that a major recession would likely result in an Electoral College landslide for Trump’s Democratic challenger, especially if it is accompanied by a further decline in [Trump's]
the president’sapproval rating.
Based on the results of presidential elections since World War II with running incumbents, a president with an upside-down approval rating and an economy in recession would have little chance of winning a second term in the White House. If President Trump’s net approval rating remains where it is now or declines further, and if the recession is severe, with real GDP shrinking by three points or more in the second quarter, the result could well be a defeat of landslide proportions.
A few caveats are in order here. Voters may not hold an incumbent president responsible for a recession brought on by an unforeseeable disaster like the coronavirus pandemic — although they may hold him responsible for the government’s response to the pandemic, which is a story that is still being written.
Overall, one of the best arguments in favor of [Trump’s]
the presidentwinning a second term has been strong economic performance for much of his term. The public health crisis seems very likely to depress that performance for at least the next few months. This poses an electoral threat to [Trump] the president, which the model vividly demonstrates.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
PresidentTrump, as he often does when he has made a mistake or revealed his ignorance, changed course to claim that he knew all along that we were facing a pandemic.As a preliminary matter, this is a lie, as this video shows: . . . .“Trump didn't cause the pandemic. What he did was squander America's only advantage—a lag time during which to prepare for the crisis—thus encouraging the spread of the disease when it might have been contained. He has, in real and material ways, made this crisis worse.”
the presidenthas consistently downplayed, denied and misled the public about the seriousness of the threat. Moreover, since the first cases appeared in China in late December, he took few steps to prepare the country for the pandemic before it inevitably reached our shores. We are to believe that he knew there was a pandemic but willfully allowed the crisis to get worse.
There are two possibilities here. The first is that he was ignorant, buying into the Fox News disinformation loop. (Disclaimer: I am an MSNBC contributor.) The second is that he was thinking of his election — which he thinks is tied to the economy — so he refused to take action that would have spooked stock markets. (It’s not logical because the pandemic would eventually hit, but it would be emblematic of Trump’s short-term thinking.)
[W]hat is inescapable is that had the president not frittered away valuable time that could have been spent deploying tests (which could have been obtained from the World Health Organization), building up medical equipment and facilities and preparing for a series of escalating steps to promote social distancing, he might have reduced the strain on our health-care system and saved lives.
This is the biggest blunder in presidential history. Former Department of Homeland Security official Juliette Kayyem writes for the Atlantic: “With little guidance from the federal government, governors — along with mayors, CEOs, university presidents, and leaders in the sports and entertainment businesses — have taken it upon themselves to try to slow the spread of the virus before it overwhelms the medical system’s capacity to respond.” . . . . In essence, Trump’s delinquency has turned the governors into rivals for scarce resources.
Trump did not show any real recognition of the magnitude of the problem until his administration got hold of a study from Britain. “The Imperial College London group reported that if nothing was done by governments and individuals and the pandemic remained uncontrolled, 510,000 would die in Britain and 2.2 million in the United States over the course of the outbreak,”
We have lost the window of opportunity that Singapore had, for example, to enact severe measures to test and quarantine infected persons. . . . It is not clear whether we were capable of undertaking the swift measures Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong took; but had we begun any efforts at suppressing the virus, the task of now mitigating its damage likely would have been made more manageable.
Trump shares the blame for failing to develop an infrastructure to fight pandemics (and removing structures put in place by the Obama administration). But, to borrow a phrase, “he alone” made the crisis infinitely worse by doing nothing for so long when leaders around the world were responding forcefully.
However events unfold, one thing is becoming clear: As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. job market, the damage looks likely to be much deeper and longer lasting than seemed possible even a week ago.Marriott International, the hotel operator, said Tuesday that it would begin furloughing tens of thousands of employees worldwide. Restaurants, coffee shops, gyms and other small businesses have begun laying off workers outright. On Monday, a flood of inquiries from newly jobless New Yorkers crashed the website for the state’s unemployment insurance system.
With striking speed, Democrats and Republicans in Washington have embraced proposals for cash payments to Americans to help offset the economic damage.
Relatively few companies outside the hospitality industry have announced significant job cuts, with many saying they will continue to pay employees even while they are closed, though often for fewer hours of work than normal.
But that cushion seems unsustainable. Most small businesses do not have the financial buffer to pay workers for long if revenue dries up. And while larger public companies may have access to cash, they also have shareholders who want executives to watch the bottom line.
The scope of layoffs will help determine how badly the outbreak will damage the broader economy. If companies largely retain workers, the downturn could be relatively shallow and the rebound relatively swift. But if people lose their jobs, and their spending power, the damage could mount.
“The question is, do we get trapped in that vicious cycle?” Mr. Challenger said. “Do we get stuck where workers who don’t have wages stop going out to buy things?”
The answer could depend in part on what happens to the retail industry, the country’s biggest private-sector employer and one that was already struggling amid the shift to online shopping.
Grocery stores and big-box chains have seen sales surge as shoppers rush to secure toilet paper, disinfectant wipes and food. And in an indication of how the outbreak has accelerated the shift to online retail, Amazon announced Monday that it would hire 100,000 workers to handle the surge in demand caused by the crisis.
Meanwhile, there is this at Huffington Post:For brick-and-mortar sellers of “nonessential” items, however, the spread of the virus has spelled trouble. A wave of retailers announced temporary store closings over the weekend, . . .
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned Republican senators on Tuesday that the country’s unemployment rate could hit 20% if they failed to act on a proposed coronavirus rescue package and there was lasting economic damage, a person familiar with the closed-door meeting said.
Mnuchin met with senators to persuade them to pass a $1 trillion stimulus package that would send cash to Americans within two weeks and backstop airlines and other companies.
A Treasury official said Mnuchin was not providing a forecast but trying to illustrate the potential risks of inaction.
Behold, the perils of the Pinocchio presidency. For three years, President Trump told his supporters that the federal government perpetrates hoaxes and frauds, that the media produces fake news and that nothing is on the level except for his tweets. He did the same with the novel coronavirus, portraying it as an ordinary flu that would “disappear” and accusing Democrats of a hoax and the media of exaggerating.
Belatedly, Trump has begun to speak the truth about the virus, which by some estimates could kill more than 2 million Americans without attempts to control it.
But Trump’s late conversion to reality has left behind one group of Americans that will be difficult to convince: his own supporters. Their alternative-facts diet has left them intolerant of anything the government and the media feed them.
An alarming new poll from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist shows that the number of Republicans who believe the virus is a real threat has actually fallen over the past month, from 72 percent in February to just 40 percent now. A majority of Republicans now say the threat has been blown out of proportion — more than double the 23 percent who said so last month.
Naturally, they’re not so inclined to cooperate with efforts to slow the virus’s spread. Only 30 percent of Republicans plan to avoid large gatherings (vs. 61 percent of Democrats), a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll found just before Trump proposed such limits. Republicans were half as likely to say they were rescheduling travel and a third as likely to stop eating out at restaurants.
Key Trump allies aren’t cooperating, either. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) recommended on Monday: “If you want to go to Bob Evans and eat, go to Bob Evans and eat.”
Also Monday, Ron Paul, the former presidential candidate and father of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said, “People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus ‘pandemic’ could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated.”
After weeks of false reassurances and disinformation, Trump abruptly shifted this week. At Tuesday’s briefing, he lavishly praised the government scientists and public health experts he had until lately been contradicting, and he celebrated recent bipartisanship.
For once, he put his priority where it should be: on the human toll. “For the markets, for everything, it’s a very simple, very simple solution. We want to get rid of it. We want to have as few deaths as possible.” And he admonished those not following social-distancing guidelines: “I’m not happy with those people.”
There can be no doubt who “those people” are: Fox-News viewing Trump supporters who, until this week, had been encouraged to believe Trump’s claims that the virus was well under control. . . . . After encouraging his Fox fan base for weeks to scoff at the virus, Trump now finds that his presidency, the U.S. economy and countless lives depend on him convincing them otherwise.
Monday, March 16, 2020
Sunday, March 15, 2020
PresidentTrump took office in 2017, the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense survived the transition intact. Its mission was the same as when I was asked to lead the office, established after the Ebola epidemic of 2014: to do everything possible within the vast powers and resources of the U.S. government to prepare for the next disease outbreak and prevent it from becoming an epidemic or pandemic.
One year later, I was mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like covid-19.
The U.S. government’s slow and inadequate response to the new coronavirus underscores the need for organized, accountable leadership to prepare for and respond to pandemic threats.
In a health security crisis, speed is essential. When this new coronavirus emerged, there was no clear White House-led structure to oversee our response, and we lost valuable time. . . . The specter of rapid community transmission and exponential growth is real and daunting. The job of a White House pandemics office would have been to get ahead: to accelerate the response, empower experts, anticipate failures, and act quickly and transparently to solve problems.
It’s impossible to assess the full impact of the 2018 decision to disband the White House office responsible for this work. Biological experts do remain in the White House and in our government. But it is clear that eliminating the office has contributed to the federal government’s sluggish domestic response. What’s especially concerning about the absence of this office today is that it was originally set up because a previous epidemic made the need for it quite clear.
[I]in 2016, after the formidable U.S.-led Ebola response, the Obama White House established the global health security office at the National Security Council and asked me to lead the team. We were to prepare for and, if possible, prevent the next outbreak from becoming an epidemic or pandemic.
Our team reported to a senior-level response coordinator on the National Security Council staff who could rally the government at the highest levels, as well as to the national security adviser and the homeland security adviser. This high-level domestic and global reporting structure wasn’t an accident. It was a recognition that epidemics know no borders and that a serious, fast response is crucial. Our job was to be the smoke alarm — keeping watch to get ahead of emergencies, sounding a warning at the earliest sign of fire — all with the goal of avoiding a six-alarm blaze.
Shortly before Trump took office, we were watching many health security threats, including a rising number of cases in China of H7N9 influenza, a deadly strain with high mortality but low transmissibility between people. . . . . We were focused on naturally occurring diseases and potential bioterrorism — any and every biological threat that could cause a major global health and security emergency.
Another critical task came in early 2017, when we began transitioning pandemic preparedness to the incoming Trump administration. As a civil servant and the head of the directorate, I remained at the White House for several months after the transition. I attended senior-level meetings and directly briefed the homeland security adviser and the national security adviser. After I left the White House that March, pandemic preparedness remained on the agenda; my office remained intact under the leadership of my well-respected successor, Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer; and the national security adviser was tracking H7N9 and other emerging threats.
It’s unclear whether the decision to disband the directorate, which was made in May 2018, after John Bolton became national security adviser, was a tactical move to downgrade the issue or whether it was part of the White House’s interest in simplifying and shrinking the National Security Council staff. Either way, it left an unclear structure and strategy for coordinating pandemic preparedness and response. Experts outside government and on Capitol Hill called for the office’s reinstatement at the time.
In his remarks Wednesday night, [Trump]
the presidenttalked about travel bans and the resilience of the U.S. economy but made little specific mention of the public health crisis unfolding across America — exactly the kind of detail a dedicated NSC pandemics infrastructure would have pushed to address.
Pandemics, like weapons of mass destruction and climate change, are transnational threats with potentially existential consequences. No single department or agency can be responsible for handling them. Pandemic threats may not arise every year, but the White House should constantly prepare for them. We can’t afford for federal decision-makers to waste time relearning old lessons when they should be innovating and acting.
One can only wonder how many Americans will lose their lives because of Trump's stupidity and hostility to science and objective facts.