Thursday, March 26, 2020

Who Tanked The Economy?


There were two votes in the Senate last night regarding the $2 trillion bailout package. The bill itself, which was a compromise concoction with some flimsy, temporary relief for ordinary families that progressives wanted and a hideous grab bag of corporate giveaways and bailouts conservatives insisted on-- while holding working people hostage-- passed 96-0 in the wee hours. Cowardly Democrats looked the other way as the corporate conservatives ripped off the country again. But before the Senate voted on that nightmare bill put together by McConnell, Schumer and Mnuchin-- H.R. 748 (Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act of 2019 )-- they voted on an Amendment proposed by Ben Sasse (R-NE), Rick Scott (R-FL), Tim Scott (R-SC) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) meant to kick workers in the face. The amendment, meant to hold down unemployment benefits for low wage workers, required 60 votes but failed 48-48. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was the only Democrat voting with the Republicans against workers while extremely endangered Republicans up for reelection in November, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), broke with their own party to vote with the Democrats against it. This bill will prove to be catastrophic historically-- and politically harmful to everyone who voted for it. Pelosi and Hoyer are working on a method of voting in the House tomorrow so that there will be no record of who voted for it and who voted against it.

Last night, before the senators voted, we looked at a study showing the efficacy of shelter in place by comparing COVID-19 in San Francisco to COVID-19 in New York (and L.A.), where shelter in place came later and is relatively superficial. Shelter in place works... bigly. But Trump wants to end it-- even before it's started in most of the country. In a tweet yesterday, urbanologist Richard Florida asserted-- with good reason-- that "Trump is positioning blue states and governors to take the fall for the bad economy. He knows they will do whatever it takes to keep their people safe. He can then 'blame them' for the bad economy. He can tell his supporters, he wanted to reopen and fix the economy. 'They' tanked it." Well, that certainly does sound like our Trumpy-the-Clown alright. After all, who else could move without batting an eyelash from "It's a hoax" to a blatantly insane Easter Sunday resurrection of himself, even with the Pope urging people to stay away from the churches Trump is urging people to fill (and turn into pods of contagion and death traps for the devout)?

Tuesday evening, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell was at his very best, exposing the psychological wreck that defines the worst asshole to ever occupy the White House. It's 8 and a half minutes long and it's worth listening to.

Thailand puts the lie to Trump's stupid statements about how the warm weather will kill off the virus. COVID-19 has been ravaging Thailand, where the weather is usually in the 90s, since January. The hard-pressed Thais have been trying to work through this by gradually shutting down. Yesterday (at midnight), this country-- which is so dependent on tourism-- banned all foreigners from entering the country. Most tourists come from China, India, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the Gulf countries, Europe and North America. But the decree also impacts migrant workers, 60,000 of whom left the country. The authorities have announced that shops selling food and essential consumer goods can remain open but price gougers and hoarders will be prosecuted. If a poor, developing country like Thailand can chose life over lucre, why can't Trump? (Rhetorical question-- although that Lawrence O'Donnell video above answers it very throughly.)

A couple of days ago the New York Times editorial board did what Trump is way too cowardly to do-- the editors told all Americans that the pandemic is getting worse and that all of us need to shelter in place. On Tuesday they wrote that the madman in the White House "needs to call for a two-week shelter-in-place order, now, as part of a coherent national strategy for the coronavirus to protect Americans and their livelihoods. Once he does, and governors follow his request, there will be time to debate how soon some controls might be lifted, or how soon certain people, like those under a particular age, might be free to resume something like normal life. There will be more time then to develop palliative treatments, and more time for the federal government to order up the test kits and ventilators needed nationwide. There will be more time to gather data about which regions, and which people, are most at risk. But the United States has passed the point where aggressive, targeted efforts at tracking and containment, like those pursued by South Korea, have a realistic chance of success. And calls for voluntary social distancing have had mixed results, as the photos of spring breakers crammed together on the Florida beaches last week made clear."

These editors wrote that they're not suggesting that the orange orangutan "has the authority to order a national lockdown, much less advocating that he attempt to enforce one. Instead, we are urging him to use the bully pulpit to put pressure on, and provide political cover for, governors to take the hard steps that are needed. As the president’s own health advisers warn, the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to come. The nation’s slow and spotty response has allowed the virus to spread to every state. Modeling by researchers at the Imperial College London indicates that upward of two million lives could be lost to the pandemic unless America somehow manages to 'flatten the curve.'"

Some cities and states, and even entire nations, already have lockdowns in place. On Tuesday, India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, ordered a “total ban” on leaving home for the population of 1.3 billion, for the next three weeks. He warned, “If you can’t handle these 21 days, this country will go back 21 years.”

Other countries have opted for narrower restrictions, and enforcement has varied. But patchwork approaches, like the one the United States defaulted to in the absence of a national plan, have proven inadequate.

The coronavirus can spread so quickly that to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, the restrictions need to be sweeping, they need to be uniform across jurisdictions and they need to be put in place now. It may already be too late for New York, despite the urgent efforts of state and local governments.

Everyone shares Mr. Trump’s concern for the economy. But this is not a moment for mere salesmanship, for conjuring a cheerful vision rather than facing reality. It’s a moment for providing a plan. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump said he’d “love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” which falls this year on April 12. Who wouldn’t? But wishing will not make it so. This crisis has not turned a corner-- it hasn’t even hit yet.

Rather than raising false expectations of a rapid and full return to business as usual, the president needs to be pursuing even more drastic measures. He should announce that, within 24 hours, all nonessential businesses should be shut and residents directed to remain in their homes except for vital trips out, such as to obtain food or medical care. Provisions can be made for people to walk in outdoor public spaces, so long as they maintain a distance of at least six feet.

Two weeks from now, with more testing, we will also have a far better sense of where infections are clustered if more people confine their movements to a limited number of places.

Mr. Trump has proclaimed himself a “war president.” Why, then, won’t he rally Americans around this cause? Winning this war will require shared sacrifice, and tremendous short-term hardship for Americans. But failure would mean devastating loss of life and prolonged, widespread economic pain.

Of course, even extreme social distancing and withdrawal is no panacea. The Trump administration will need to take other steps to stop the spread of this disease.

Lines of authority and policy aims need to be clarified within the White House. Vice President Mike Pence is the official crisis czar, but Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has his own response team working on, among other things, outreach to the private sector. Certain senior aides, with business leaders whispering in their ears, are at odds with some health advisers about what restrictions are needed and how heavy the government’s hand should be. There has been much grumbling among people both inside and outside the administration that it’s hard to tell who’s running the show. That is complicating decision-making at all levels.

Federalism is integral to American government, but the administration needs to get serious about running a coordinated national response. When Mr. Trump effectively told governors, You’re on your own. Go find your own supplies in the marketplace, he at least gave states greater purchasing flexibility. But he also set up a free-for-all in which states are now bidding against one another-- as well as against municipalities, the federal government and other nations-- for scarce resources such as protective equipment and ventilators. This causes not only price competition but also misallocation of resources, as each state scrambles to amass its own stockpile, regardless of relative need.

This editorial board is reluctant to grant any White House more executive power, much less this one, given its track record. But in this case, there is no one else to coordinate at the national level. It is the federal government’s job to look at the big picture, tracking where needed resources are available and deciding where they should go. Systems must be set up to provide for quickly shifting equipment and workers from areas with low levels of infection toward those in dire need.

There are encouraging signs that the White House is moving in this direction, albeit belatedly. On Tuesday, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Peter Gaynor, announced that his agency would make its first use of the Defense Production Act to speed procurement of test kits, protective masks and other equipment needed to fight the virus. Later in the day, Vice President Mike Pence said that 2,000 ventilators were en route to New York State from the national emergency stockpile, with another 2,000 being dispatched on Wednesday. The state estimates it will need 30,000 of the machines.

There remains a drastic shortage of not only protective gear and other equipment but also hospital capacity in hard-hit areas. The administration should use the Defense Production Act to ramp up assembly and distribution of much-needed medical supplies where it makes sense. The president also should fully mobilize the National Guard, with an assist from active-duty military and Reserves, to tackle projects such as erecting field hospitals and setting up drive-through testing centers.

It’s time to put an end to the free-form daily task force briefings featuring the president, the vice president and a rotating cast of other officials. They are a poor use of time for most of the participants and, worse, have repeatedly served up confusing and even false information. The president should tap a respected figure, preferably someone apolitical and with experience in crisis management, to serve as the point person for these briefings. When developments merit, other officials can be brought in to address specific topics.

All this may seem like an overreaction to a health crisis that many Americans aren’t yet feeling. But though it has already wasted time and opportunities to contain the coronavirus, the United States still has a chance to apply hard lessons learned by China, Italy and other nations. A nationwide lockdown is the only tactic left to parry a viral adversary that is constantly on the move, and to buy the time for medical workers to prepare for what comes next.

Former Afghanistan War general Stanley McChrystal and former Navy Seal Chris Fussell, also in The Times, gave a quick tutorial about what a post-9/11 world entitles us to expect from our leaders. Short version: not what we've been seeing. They feel that effective leadership today is expected to communicate, share information, make decisions and, most critically, maintain a cohesive culture... and today our nation's leadership-- both political and corporate-- is managing their teams through a crisis with no clear end in sight. Their column points clearly to the horrifying inadequacy of Trump and his pathetic team of fifth raters.
Leaders must be visible with their plans, honest with their words and adaptable with their actions-- all while maintaining compassion for the situation and the impact it is having on their team.

Understandably, these leaders are already weary from a succession of crisis response meetings and market assessments designed to get their team through this change. While tiring, these are all necessary efforts. But the leaders we’ve spoken with also recognize that these are simply the very first steps of a marathon. They know that the real challenge lies ahead.

In any crisis, there is a natural temptation to simply wait it out. Today’s leaders cannot give in to this instinct. We’re facing a perfect storm of economic downturn, social isolation and a fast-spreading pandemic. The answer to this problem will not suddenly reveal itself; leaders must create solutions. Any leaders who are not already on a war footing and preparing to fundamentally change their organizations for the foreseeable future must start moving today.

Here’s what that means.

First, don’t hunker down. At the height of the Royal Navy’s dominance, British naval officers, impressive in ornate uniforms, were expected to stand erect on the ship’s decks during battles, clearly exposed to enemy fire. It was not that little value was placed on their lives. Rather, ever greater value was placed on their leadership. Their job was to be visible to their sailors, and show calm amid the chaos. Today’s leaders must also stand and be visible to their organizations, their communities, and their families.

Second, demonstrate candor-- and demand it from the leaders below you. In combat, when things look bad, the front-line troops always know it before the leadership. Denying reality makes your people assume you’re either lying or out of touch. Organizations can handle bad news and tough times if they feel their leaders are focused on solving the issues at hand. Today’s leaders must be honest with their people to a level that will and should feel uncomfortable.

Third, give up more authority than feels natural. Fighting through complexity requires quick and informed action at the edge. This is dependent upon fast, transparent and inclusive communication. Organizations will need teammates making independent decisions close to the point of action, not waiting for direction. It’s tempting in times of crisis to grab the reins and yank back, but this will be more disruptive than it is helpful. Be connected, listen and adapt based on what your front line is telling you.

Finally, be more compassionate than you think you need to be. As your organization disperses to remote-work status, the loss of personal interactions will quickly sink in. It will be easy for leaders to overlook or undervalue the fear and stress their people are feeling because of this isolation. All of us learn by watching our teammates, and we gain confidence through informal feedback from our colleagues or bosses. Your organization has lost that person-to-person contact. You must immediately take your culture online, and learn to reinforce camaraderie, esteem, and compassion, via digital platforms.

...We are now weathering a once-in-a-hundred-year event, and Americans are hurt-- physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. Leaders at all levels in society need to embrace the changes this crisis brings rather than struggle against it. Your people need you. This is your moment, and you can rise to it.

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At 6:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was an incredible amount of column inches wasted issuing a loud call to action to the deaf. There is no one to hear the call. "Democratic" ineptitude and compliance has given Trump an approval ratings bump over 50% in some polls, and donors expect only they will receive any relief.

Millions are going to die, and in the process hand Trump the emergency he's created to declare martial law and establish the dictatorship he clearly desires.

At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nodding sadly in agreement with 6:16

"This bill will prove to be catastrophic historically-- and politically harmful to everyone who voted for it."

horse shit! No matter how often or how badly either party and its members ratfuck or ass rape people, they NEVER suffer any consequences for it.

because American voters, who vote, are fucking dumber than shit!!!


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