Sunday, March 15, 2020
News this week was totally dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.
A good overview is Dylan Matthews:
9 charts that explain the coronavirus pandemic. (For more, see:
A coronavirus reading guide for the perplexed, the anxious, and the
obsessive.) This has produced
a lot of political and economic turmoil, most obviously (or at least
best reported) in the United States. The Trump administration, which
has worked so hard over the last three years at proving how incompetent,
corrupt, and politically blinded government can be, has come off as
insensitive, uncaring, and bumbling -- especially the president and
his inner tier of henchmen. The one concern they do seem to have is
how the disease effects the economy -- especially as the economy has
long seemed to be the silver lining in their own political fortunes.
The most obvious effects have been the cancellation of nearly all
public gatherings (including the NCAA "March Madness" tournaments
and the NBA season) and major (mostly but not all self-imposed)
reductions in travel. That, in itself, is a big chunk taken out
of the economy, with ripple effects to follow. I expect this will
extend to a psychology averse to spending, which will persist for
months or years.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden has continued to mop up Democratic primaries,
winning Mississippi, Missouri, Michigan, Idaho, and probably even
Washington last week. (Bernie Sanders did win in North Dakota.) More
states will vote soon, but unless Biden stumbles catastrophically
there is no chance Sanders can catch up. There is a debate between
Sanders and Biden tonight. It should clearly favor Sanders, but I
doubt it will have any effect. We seem to be primed for disaster,
and willing to settle for just barely less.
Some scattered links this week:
Our worst crisis since 2008 . . . and we have an idiot at the helm:
When this piece appeared in my mailbox, I
Sasha Abramsky's title is pretty obvious, but how quickly one forgets
that we had "an idiot at the helm" in 2008 as well, and that worse than
idiocy, all Bush/Trump proposals bail out the rich while hurting everyone
The difference, of course, is that Bush was accustomed to being a
"front man," and therefore to deferring to others. When the 2008 crisis
hit, he didn't have a clue what to do, so he simply got out of the way,
leaving the administration's response to Hank Paulson (his Secretary
of Treasury, and more importantly a former CEO of Goldman Sachs). Of
course, Bush didn't get out of the way after 9/11. He led the charge
into war, first with Afghanistan and then with Iraq. Of course, he
surrounded himself with people inclined to rush to war, just as he
surrounded himself with big bankers. Trump is no different in that
regard, but finds it much harder to get out of the way.
Kamiar Alaei/Arash Alaei:
How Iran completely and utterly botched its response to the coronavirus.
Object lesson here on "what happens when you make health policy subservient
to politics," a statement which succinctly describes Trump's own instincts
and those of his most devoted followers.
'Assault on democracy': A sitting federal judge takes on John Roberts,
Trump and Republicans: Lynn S Adelman.
The US-Taliban deal won't bring real peace, but it could reduce the
bloodshed. Related: Daniel R DePetris:
Could Donald Trump get tricked into staying in Afghanistan?
Landing at Dulles Airport, I encountered a case study in how to spread
This is not the moment for progressives to despair: "Disappointed
supporters of Bernie Sanders can actually get a lot of what they want
through the medium of Joe Biden." As I've been saying for some time
now, the answers are on the left. If Biden wants to be effective, he's
going to have to move left to adopt them. In some ways, this is like
Roosevelt in 1932. He wasn't a leftist. He was at best a pragmatist
who was willing to try anything that might work. His major achievements
in the first 100 days, and in the months that followed, were scattered
all over the map, but the ones that worked were on the left, and that's
where he increasingly looked for them. He backed his way into the most
progressive presidency in American history. In some ways that was only
possible because he wasn't pigeonholed as a leftist.
The only treatment for coronavirus is solidarity. Related: Eric
We need social solidarity, not just social distancing.
Trump's 7 worst statements on the coronavirus outbreak.
I ran the White House pandemic office. Trump closed it.
What would a proper coronavirus stimulus plan look like? Some good
ideas here, also some not-so-good ones. I personally doubt that drops
of cash would help much: reduced demand has more to do with distancing
and prudence brought on by fear of mortality than with a shortfall of
money, even among those most in need of it. Pumping money faster won't
change that, although it would help if/when the fear abates. Much more
useful now is patching the floor in the safety net. I've been saying
for some time that short of a really nice Medicare-for-All system, we
could start by providing bare-bones universal coverage starting with
a few obvious needs, and coronavirus testing and treatment just leaped
to the top of that list. You could then expand that list gradually --
child care and accidents are obvious needs -- and expect private health
insurance, relieved of those expenses, to start to wither away, turning
eventually into supplemental policies like many Medicare recipients
still buy. It also seems like a good idea to just accept that there's
going to be more unemployment as long as the pandemic is raging, and
focus on making that less painful for those who lose their jobs.
Trump's discordant display of nativism in a pandemic.
Who gets forgotten in a pandemic: "The only certainty is that rich
countries and rich classes will focus on saving themselves to the exclusion
of international solidarity and medical aid." Davis has thought about this
longer than most: fifteen years ago he wrote a book, The Monster at Our
Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu.
Trump first proposed a payroll tax cut six months ago: "And here's why
it doesn't make sense as an economic response to the coronavirus."
Daniel W Drezner:
The unique incompetence of Donald Trump in a crisis.
Jesse Drucker/Jessica Silver-Greenberg:
Trump administration is relaxing oversight of nursing homes.
A survival guide for the coronavirus economy.
How the coronavirus pandemic fuels Trump's autocratic instincts.
Well, crisis always brings instincts to the fore. I know a guy who
after 9/11 argued that we should allow more guns on planes. I think
that the pandemic shows that we are more dependent on science than
ever, that social trust is extremely important, that private interest
is usually suspect, and that we need a trustworthy government all the
time -- not just in times of crisis. But Trump? Of course, he thinks
we need more Trump. By the way, this New Yorker
cover sums him up aptly.
Biden in 2020 vs. Clinton in 2016 (vs. Sanders) in Michigan.
Thomas Piketti goes global. Review of his new book, Capital and
The Trump administration plans to kick 700,000 off food stamps during
a pandemic. That's what "work requirements" mean as recession lays
workers off. That's exactly what sane poeple don't want. For an update,
see Zeeshan Aleem:
Citing coronavirus concerns, a federal judge blocks the Trump administration's
food stamp cuts. The House's coronavirus bill would also help here.
Coronavirus will also cause a loneliness epidemic: "We need to take
both social distancing and the 'social recession' it will cause
Big Pharma prepares to profit from the coronavirus.
The GOP's ideological sickness is going to get people killed.
The man behind Trump's Facebook juggernaut: Brad Parscale.
The Fed's $1.5 trillion loan injection, explained.
Nolan D McCaskill:
America shuts down: "From the Capitol to California, officials are
taking aggressive new measures to limit social interactions."
Bernie winning battle of ideas, Biden winning nomination.
Trump's failing coronavirus response is standard issue Republicanism
Democrats have finally struck a deal with the White House on a coronavirus
package. Sensible stuff, a far cry from Trump's own wishes: free
coronavirus testing, emergency paid sick days, emergency paid leave,
expanded unemployment insurance, expanded food security. The bill was
passed by the House, but note: Anya van Wagtendonk:
The House coronavirus bill's paid leave provision would leave out
millions of workers. Also: Li Zhou:
The Senate won't consider urgent coronavirus legislation until next
Netanyahu says 'all humanity is in same boats' fighting virus -- except
The dismantled state takes on a pandemic: "Conservatives won their
war on Big Government. Their prize is a pandemic."
The Democrats' cult of pragmatism: "Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and
other moderates claim they Get Things Done -- but not because they actually
do get things done." Not to quibble overly, but my impression is that they
do get things done -- just the wrong things. Pareene offers an illuminating
example: when Andrew Cuomo won his third term, finally securing a large
Democratic majority, the New York legislature passed 935 bills, only to
have Cuomo veto 169 of them.
Trump wouldn't save you from this pandemic even if he could: "This
administration has always prioritized Wall Street over working Americans.
Its response to the coronavirus will be more of the same." [Same piece at
4 astonishing signs of coal's declining economic viability. Note,
however, that Japan is trying to buck the trend. Umair Irfan:
Why the world's third-largest economy is still betting on coal.
In a word: Fukushima.
Cass R Sunstein:
The right way for presidents to address 'fear itself': "The Great
Depression was worse than coronavirus. Yet FDR found a way to warn and
reassure all Americans, all at once." No American president ever has
handled a crisis as adroitly as Roosevelt dealt with the bank runs in
his first month in office. I suspect we're too divided and distrustful
to give anyone the same chance these days, but Trump has none of the
qualities that made FDR a viable leader. Still, I doubt it's possible
to dispel fear from this particular crisis.
Bernie's last chance: "Heading into a one-on-one debate with Joe Biden,
Bernie Sanders should not go gentle into that good night." At this point,
I doubt that Sanders is going to try to attack or embarrass Biden, but I
do expect he'll stick to his issues, especially to point out that the
coronavirus pandemic is yet another reason we need Medicare-for-All, as
well as a competent, dilligent, and concerned leader in the White House.
If Biden fails to present himself as such, Bernie's (and our) loss will
be all the more a shame.
Anya van Wagtendonk:
The White House reportedly tried to poach a German company working on a
coronavirus vaccine: "Trump reportedly wanted the vaccine to be "only
for the United States." Actually, I've been wondering what happens if a
Chinese company finds and patents the first vaccine. Americans may start
to question the sanctity of patent law (which is actually the main issue
in most modern "trade" deals).
The US retaliatory strikes on an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, briefly
The Saudi Arabia-Russia oil war, explained. One surprise for me
is the chart showing that the United States has extended its lead as
the world's leading crude oil producer, to 18% of the world total,
vs. 12% for Saudi Arabia and 11% for Russia. I knew that the US had
been the top producer before its decline following the 1969 "peak
oil" moment, and had languished in 2nd or 3rd ever since -- passed
first by Saudi Arabia, then by Russia. I knew that with Obama's
support for fracking, the US had rebounded recently, and moved into
first place, but didn't realize by this much. As the article points
out, fracking is expensive, so Saudi and Russian oil are cheaper to
produce. When prices decline, they remain profitable, while more
expensive resources (especially Canada's vast shale oil deposits)
can become prohibitively expensive. Surprised also that Venezuela
has dropped off the list. Also that China and Brazil are up there:
both are net importers who've never been noted as major producers
(although Brazil has long been interested in biofuels, which seems
to have been factored in; come to think of it, that may explain
why the US share seems so excessive, although I've never thought
that biofuel was that big a deal). Related: Juan Cole:
"A toothpick in a tsunami": US big oil faces bankruptcy as prices
plunge 30% on Saudi expansion. Also: Scott L Montgomery:
The oil shock of 2020 appears to be here -- and the pain could be wide
and deep. Still, a bit odd to describe falling oil prices as