Illinois Governor JB Pritzker extended the state's stay-at-home order through April 30th, which came as absolutely no surprise, as the state nears 6,000 total COVID-19 cases. Rush Hospitals predict 19,000 total cases in Illinois a week from now—far less than the 147,000 they predict would have shown up without the stay-at-home order.
In other news:
- During the Obama administration, the Health and Human Services Department paid $14 million to a Pennsylvania firm to manufacture low-cost ventilators that we could stockpile for emergencies. They took the money and never manufactured the inexpensive devices, preferring to make expensive ones instead.
- Kellyanne Conway previewed the lies the Trump Campaign will spread this fall, in particular that "no one could have predicted" the pandemic that literally everyone paying attention predicted.
- Speaking of moronic right-wing authoritarians, the dictator of Belarus believes that virus-control efforts are psychotic, and refuses to do anything to halt its spread there.
- Two economists at UC-Berkeley argue that the American relief effort, which focused on paying people directly, could have prevented lasting damage to the economy by paying employers to keep them employed instead, as most other democracies have done.
- Consumer Reports recommends using actual disinfectants to disinfect, not homemade sanitizer, vodka, vinegar, or tea tree oil.
- Stores have made changes to keep people separated and reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
- Looking to the near future, Libby Watson argues in The New Republic that COVID-19 will make our ongoing health insurance crisis unimaginably worse.
- Siddhartha Mukherjee, writing in the New Yorker, examines how the virus behaves within a human body.
- Finally, our very own moronic right-wing would-be authoritarian has used the distraction of the virus to roll back all of Obama's climate policy, today by loosening environmental standards for cars.
Oh, and the stock market suffered its worst first quarter. Ever.
Goldman Sachs released an economic outlook this morning predicting GDP growth of -9% in Q1 and -34% in Q2, along with 15% unemployment by June 30th. Both Calculated Risk and Talking Points Memo believe the recovery will take longer than the slowdown. In other words, we won't have a V or an L but probably something more like a U with a wide bottom.
I looked at some figures of my own. Looking at 4-week moving averages, as of Sunday my spending on groceries is up 37% from the period between January 27th and February 23rd, which includes a massive grocery bill for a party I threw on February 15th. But my spending on eating out is down 46%, and on lunch (I buy lunch nearly every day when I work downtown) is down 36%. And I have not taken public transit since March 16th, saving $45 a week right there.
I haven't stopped buying food from local restaurants entirely because I want them to be around in three months. Just, I get a lot less take-out food (every 5th lunch and every 5th dinner, staggered), and I don't buy take-out alcohol. (Of course, a local bar has a special deal of a fried chicken sandwich and old fashioned cocktail for $20.) I also have my dog walker coming in twice a week because I want him to be around in two months. His other job is that he plays jazz sax, so without the few walks I and other customers of the walking service send him, he'd have no income at all.
Obviously the uptick in groceries means I'm cooking more. Like last night, when I made my mom's tuna fish casserole recipe, and it came out like I remember it from childhood:
Just a few articles of note today:
- The City of Chicago urges residents to call 311 to report non-essential business remaining open.
- President Trump admitted on "Fox & Friends" this morning that adopting common-sense election reforms would mean "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again." (Unless, I suppose, they changed their policies to match the mainstream, right?)
- The Times reports on General Motors' efforts to produce 2,000 ventilators a month (an order-of-magnitude change from now) even as the president slagged the company on Twitter.
- Jennifer Rubin points out that "Trump's narcissism has never been more dangerous."
- Richard Florida examines how society will need to change after the current stay-at-home phase of the pandemic passes.
And finally, London took advantage of reduced traffic on March 24th to give the Abbey Road zebra crossing a much-overdue paint job.
And now, Adult Storytime brings you Brenda's Beaver Needs a Barber:
Subway ridership numbers for New York City show a slower-than-expected drop-off. Still, IHME has New York Covid-19 cases peaking April 7th, while Covid Act Now says April 28th. Florida, where idiots flocked to beaches and churches this weekend, should see its peak mid-May with cases lingering through July. IHME puts Illinois' peak at April 18th; Covid Act Now, April 28th. But our shelter-in-place rules should lengthen our experience through the beginning of June. Oh, goody.
The New York Times has new reporting today about how the Chinese fail-safe contagion-detection system failed due to political interference:
The alarm system was ready. Scarred by the SARS epidemic that erupted in 2002, China had created an infectious disease reporting system that officials said was world-class: fast, thorough and, just as important, immune from meddling.
Hospitals could input patients’ details into a computer and instantly notify government health authorities in Beijing, where officers are trained to spot and smother contagious outbreaks before they spread.
It didn’t work.
After doctors in Wuhan began treating clusters of patients stricken with a mysterious pneumonia in December, the reporting was supposed to have been automatic. Instead, hospitals deferred to local health officials who, over a political aversion to sharing bad news, withheld information about cases from the national reporting system — keeping Beijing in the dark and delaying the response.
The central health authorities first learned about the outbreak not from the reporting system but after unknown whistle-blowers leaked two internal documents online.
Then there's the Guardian's extensive reporting on how our own moronic executive branch lost six weeks when we could have slowed the outbreak dramatically.
At some point, we will probably settle on the red planet. In a fascinating article from 2018, The Atlantic wondered how we'll police it:
Consider the basic science of crime-scene analysis. In the dry, freezer-like air and extreme solar exposure of Mars, DNA will age differently than it does on Earth. Blood from blunt-trauma and stab wounds will produce dramatically new spatter patterns in the planet’s low gravity. Electrostatic charge will give a new kind of evidentiary value to dust found clinging to the exteriors of space suits and nearby surfaces. Even radiocarbon dating will be different on Mars, [UC-Davis archaeologist Christyann] Darwent reminded me, due to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, making it difficult to date older crime scenes.
The Martian environment itself is also already so lethal that even a violent murder could be disguised as a natural act. Darwent suggested that a would-be murderer on the Red Planet could use the environment’s ambient lethality to her advantage. A fatal poisoning could be staged to seem as if the victim simply died of exposure to abrasive chemicals, known as perchlorates, in the Martian rocks. A weak seal on a space suit, or an oxygen meter that appears to have failed but was actually tampered with, could really be a clever homicide hiding in plain sight.
Imagine a criminal armed with a knife has been cornered on a Martian research base, near a critical airlock leading outside. If police fire a gun or even a Taser, they risk damaging key components of the base itself, endangering potentially thousands of innocent bystanders. Other forms of hand-to-hand combat learned on Earth might have adverse effects; even a simple punch could send both the criminal and the cop flying apart as they collide in the reduced Martian gravity. How can police overpower the fugitive without making things worse for everyone?
And then there's the surveillance....
A Tweet is making the rounds right now:
The Covid corporate bonus bailout costs about $18,000 per citizen.
So Congress is taking $18,000 from you, giving $16,800 to corporations and giving you back a check for $1,200.
My reply to the Facebook friend who posted the Tweet:
It's not that simple.
First, given the current political landscape, where a minority of 44% of the population have 53 Senate votes to the 66% of us who have 47, compromise—that is, weakening the recovery legislation—was inevitable.
Second, most of the money going to corporations will actually go to normal people. The legislation keeps people on salary and in health insurance instead of being laid off. (Don't get me started on the link between employment and health insurance. That stop-gap ploy to get around WWII salary caps outlived its usefulness by 1955. But it won't go away until we control the Senate.)
Third, I completely support the phase-out that means people like me won't get a single cent of the recovery money for the simple reason that other people need it more. So not everyone gets $1,200; only about 80% do.
Fourth, taxes don't work like that. On average, the recovery act might cost $18k per taxpayer (not per citizen—let's unpack that word choice later). But most people don't pay $18k in taxes. I don't know the exact proportions, but as a percentage of tax, though the $2.2 trn recovery package takes a lot of tax revenue, it's still only a proportion of what an individual pays.
Fifth, most of the corporations getting bailouts are small businesses. Anecdotes aren't evidence, but I will provide one anyway: A good friend of mine owns a used-book shop. She has no employees. She spends 60 hours a week in her shop. Her entire inventory is donated. The State of Illinois closed her business a week ago, and she doesn't know when she can reopen. She's getting a couple thousand bucks from the recovery legislation. You really want to claw that back because it's a corporation getting the money?
Sixth, I commend to the OP the story of Herbert Hoover's steadfast belief that the market would fix the problems revealed by the 1929 crash and subsequent depression. And then go read about the Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-op, which demonstrated better than any textbook why printing money in a liquidity crisis can save marriages.
Finally, my sincerest hope from this disaster is that people finally understand elections matter. What politicians say matters. What they do matters. When my lot were screaming to the heavens that the Republican Party were no longer able to govern, let alone be a responsible opposition party, 48% of the electorate said they didn't care what he said, only how he made them feel. And here we are.
I have a degree in history. That doesn't give me any special ability to fix these problems. But wow, does it help me understand their magnitude.
I just binge-watched the Netflix series Travelers, which postulates that the fate of humanity rests on the 21st century. I'm starting to agree.
Passover starts next week, but in no small irony, most seders have been cancelled because of plague. It would have been enough if we just had covid-19; but we also get thunderstorms, hail, and tornadoes tonight:
Adhering to the stay-at-home order should come easier Saturday as the rumble of thunder began in the early morning hours and was expected to continue throughout the day.
In a hazardous weather outlook, officials warned of possible thunderstorms, large hail and up to 60 mph winds through Sunday.
The outlook for north central and northeast Illinois, and northwest Indiana, warns of a significant thunderstorm risk, golf ball-size hail and damaging winds up to 100 km/h. Officials also added a risk of flooding and fog for the region.
In other disaster news, today is the 41st anniversary—yes, forty-first—of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident.
I'm just excited that it's Saturday, so I get to go to the grocery store today. (Several of them, probably, depending on what Trader Joe's is out of.)
People who don't study history tend not to understand why our foreign allies and adversaries behave the ways they do. Case in point: the Soviet Union, of which the largest part lives on as the Russian Federation, ended in part because we forced them to spend down their economy just to keep up with us. They might still hate us a little for that.
One man who helped this effort, Gus Weiss, hit on the idea of sabotaging the technology that Soviet spies bought or stole from American and other Western companies. Via Bruce Schneier, Wired has a long-form description of Weiss and his plan:
This plan to feed defective technology, which Weiss says carried the operation designation “Kudo,” existed as part of a larger government mobilization in response to the Farewell intelligence across the national security community. “It was multilayered operation,” Galahad told me. According to Galahad, Weiss didn’t hold any formal leadership role in this effort; instead, “Gus did his work through his own contacts. He was a White House guy. He could get people to pay attention to his ideas. He had friends in the computer business. He had Casey’s ear.”
Galahad told me that Weiss zeroed in on the Soviet industrial sector; he wanted to gut punch the Soviet economy. Galahad recalled that Weiss was friendly with the analysts in the CIA’s Office of Soviet Research. “Let’s say the Italians were building a tractor factory for the Russians in the Ukraine—the guys in OSR would have had access to those blueprints. Gus shared his ideas and recommendations based on that intelligence to his friends at the DoD.”
Meanwhile, the government worked with private sector software companies to create doctored industrial products. They were then made available to the patent clerks and engineers in American technology and arms companies who’d been recruited by the KGB.
High up on the Soviet tech shopping list was software to regulate the pressure gauges and valves for the critical Siberian gas pipeline. According to Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the Soviets sought the software on the open market. American export controls prohibited its sale from the US. However, a small industrial software company located in Calgary called Cov-Can produced what the Soviets wanted. As Weiner writes, “The Soviets sent a Line X officer to steal the software. The CIA and the Canadians conspired to let them have it.”
The faulty software “weaved” its way through Soviet quality control. The pipeline software ran swimmingly for months, but then pressure in the pipeline gradually mounted. And one day—the date remains unclear, though most put it in June 1982—the software went haywire, the pressure soaring out of control. The pipeline ruptured, igniting a blast in the wilds of Siberia so massive that, according to Thomas C. Reed’s At the Abyss, “at the White House, we received warning from our infrared satellites of some bizarre event out in the middle of Soviet nowhere. NORAD feared a missile liftoff from a place where no rockets were known to be based. Or perhaps it was the detonation of a nuclear device. The Air Force chief of intelligence rated it at three kilotons.”
I wonder if Presidents Putin and Trump discussed this history during any of their recent unrecorded conversations?
Welcome to 2020, the year when the GOP says the quiet things out loud. In the middle of a pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency has given every polluter who wants one a get-out-of-jail-free card:
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.
The move comes amid an influx of requests from businesses for a relaxation of regulations as they face layoffs, personnel restrictions and other problems related to the coronavirus outbreak.
Issued by the E.P.A.’s top compliance official, Susan P. Bodine, the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.
Companies are normally required to report when their factories discharge certain levels of pollution into the air or water.
“In general, the E.P.A. does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the E.P.A. agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the E.P.A. upon request,” the order states.
Cynthia Giles, who headed the E.P.A. enforcement division during the Obama administration, said: “This is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. It is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.”
How long before some asshole kills an entire river "because of Covid-19?" How long before a working-class neighborhood sees a spike in respiratory illness "because of Covid-19?" They don't even try to hide their corporatist ideology anymore.
Meanwhile, in the president's fact-free world, his supporters think epidemiology is a hoax. I mean. What the ever-loving fuck.