Later On

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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

The GOP makes excuses — weak excuses

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Judd Legum has a good column at Popular Information that destroys the GOP’s current excuses:

The federal government’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States has been a disaster. As of Tuesday, there were more than 170,000 confirmed infections, the most in the world. While the virus spread in China and elsewhere, the federal government conducted virtually no testing, allowing COVID-19 to spread within communities undetected. During these critical weeks, there was no effort to stockpile protective equipment for health care workers or ramp up production of critical medical devices like ventilators. Already, more than 3,400 people have died. And it’s projected to get much worse.

How did this happen?

Appearing on the radio with conservative media personality Hugh Hewitt, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the federal government was distracted because the House of Representatives impeached Trump. “[I]t came up while we were tied down on the impeachment trial. And I think it diverted the attention of the government because everything every day was all about impeachment,” McConnell said.

If the federal government failed to respond to an imminent pandemic because it was too concerned about the political fate of Trump, it would be an outrage. But the reality is even worse.

Years before Trump was impeached, he decimated the government’s capacity to respond to a pandemic. Moreover, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2020 at 8:11 pm

Stop the $6 Trillion Coronavirus Corporate Coup!

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Too late. But a good column by Matt Stoller:

Since Saturday, I’ve seen an emerging right-left argument about what we need to do to address the pandemic.

The American Economic Liberties Project (my org) put out a statement against the bill, AFL-CIO official Damon Silvers, who oversaw the 2008 bailout, put out an article against the bill, as did dozens of economics and finance professors. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warned of the risks of a bill tilted to big business, as did libertarian member Justin Amash. John Cassidy wrote in the New Yorker how to do a bailout without corruption. And Georgetown law professor Adam Levitin pointed out that the bill is “robbing taxpayers to bail out the rich.”

But then these two Senators, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, cut a deal last night. And from what I can tell, it’s really really bad, and much of the bad stuff is not being included in the sleazy marketing materials from Schumer and McConnell, or in the reporting about the bill. There’s a reason for that. Sunlight would kill this thing.

That means there is a narrow way to stop it.

What Is In This Bill?

Congress is going to pass a bill with a lot of important stuff for workers, hospitals, cities and small business, and to address the pandemic. That’s inevitable. And the bill on the table includes some of this. The question though is what else the bill includes, and that’s where we get into trouble. Because while we have to deal with the pandemic and crisis, we do not have to fundamentally eliminate the economic rights of all of us in the process.

Now, first I should say I don’t have the final deal in hand because it’s not public. I have only seen versions of the negotiating text. But I’m fairly sure most of these provisions haven’t changed, because the final sticking points were over various direct pandemic spending pieces. If I get that wrong, I’ll tell you in an update.

On Saturday, I went over the Christmas wish list of corporate lobbyists in this process, everything from Adidas letting people deduct gym costs to candymakers seeking a $500 million loan to Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk seeking $5B in loans for their space corporations. Of course what Wall Street sought, and got, dwarfed all of these requests.

Here’s how you can tell. A lot of reporters have been talking about how this is a $2 trillion deal, with a bunch of spending for hospitals and whatnot. But last night White House advisor Larry Kudlow announced it is actually a $6 trillion deal. And business reporter Charlie Gasparino said he’s hearing chatter that the total will be $10 trillion! Say what?!?

How does this work? How can Wall Street have one impression of the amount of money, and everyone else have a different impression? Easy. Confusion, lying and bad reporting. If important people don’t talk about the boring sounding big stuff, then us non-important people sound crazy or nerdy mentioning it. It’s a giant game of social climbing, and the goal is to make all of us afraid to point out what’s going on. (Incidentally I hope Rep. Brad Sherman, who is an accountant and a key anti-bailout leader, really delves into this.)

So let’s talk about the big stuff that McConnell, Schumer and Pelosi are hiding.

The bill establishes a series of boring-sounding slush funds, and these will be given strange alphabet soup names by the Federal Reserve and Treasury, names like ‘special purpose vehicle’ and ‘ABS’ and ‘TALF’ and FDIC bank guarantees. That’s where the real money is. Here are some of these slush funds, starting with the ones that are more understandable:

  • $50 billion in loans and loan guarantees to airlines
  • $8 billion in loans and loan guarantees to air cargo carriers
  • $17 billion in loans and loan guarantees to “businesses critical to national security”
  • A $425 billion fund for loans and investments to be used at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin. He can use it to loan money, buy stock, buy bonds, whatever.

Obviously helping certain enterprises is important, so I’m not opposed to industry aid. But the terms and conditions matter, and based on what I’m seeing, I don’t believe there will be meaningful restrictions on this aid. Executives and financiers are going to profit off of taxpayer money.

So that’s the stuff that’s been reported. Here’s what hasn’t, and why the bill goes up in value to $6-10 trillion. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. I think the US is toast.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 10:18 pm

How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask

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Farhad Majoo writes in the NY Times:

Why is the United States running out of face masks for medical workers? How does the world’s wealthiest country find itself in such a tragic and avoidable mess? And how long will it take to get enough protective gear, if that’s even possible now?

I’ve spent the last few days digging into these questions, because the shortages of protective gear, particularly face masks, has struck me as one of the more disturbing absurdities in America’s response to this pandemic.

Yes, it would have been nice to have had early, widespread testing for the coronavirus, the strategy South Korea used to contain its outbreak. It would be amazing if we can avoid running out of ventilators and hospital space, the catastrophe that has befallen parts of Italy. But neither matters much — in fact, no significant intervention is possible — if health care workers cannot even come into contact with coronavirus patients without getting sick themselves.

That’s where cheap, disposable face masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns come in. That we failed to procure enough safety gear for medical workers — not to mention for sick people and for the public, as some health experts might have recommended if masks were not in such low supply — seems astoundingly negligent.

I am sorry to say that digging into the mask shortage does little to assuage one’s sense of outrage. The answer to why we’re running out of protective gear involves a very American set of capitalist pathologies — the rise and inevitable lure of low-cost overseas manufacturing, and a strategic failure, at the national level and in the health care industry, to consider seriously the cascading vulnerabilities that flowed from the incentives to reduce costs.

Perhaps the only way to address the shortfall now is to recognize that the market is broken, and to have the government step in to immediately spur global and domestic production. President Trump, bizarrely, has so far resisted ordering companies to produce more supplies and equipment. In the case of masks, manufacturers say they are moving mountains to ramp up production, and some large companies are donating millions of masks from their own reserves.

But given the vast global need for masks — in the United States alone, fighting the coronavirus will consume 3.5 billion face masks, according to an estimate by the Department of Health and Human Services — corporate generosity will fall short. People in the mask business say it will take a few months, at a minimum, to significantly expand production.

“We are at full capacity today, and increased production by building another factory or extending further will take anywhere between three to four months,” said Guillaume Laverdure, the chief operating officer of Medicom, a Canadian company that makes masks and other protective equipment in factories around the world. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Later in the article:

. . . Few in the protective equipment industry are surprised by the shortages, because they’ve been predicted for years. In 2005, the George W. Bush administration called for the coordination of domestic production and stockpiling of protective gear in preparation for pandemic influenza. In 2006, Congress approved funds to add protective gear to a national strategic stockpile — among other things, the stockpile collected 52 million surgical face masks and 104 million N95 respirator masks.

But about 100 million masks in the stockpile were deployed in 2009 in the fight against the H1N1 flu pandemic, and the government never bothered to replace them. This month, Alex Azar, secretary of health and human services, testified that there are only about 40 million masks in the stockpile — around 1 percent of the projected national need.

As the coronavirus began to spread in China early this year, a global shortage of protective equipment began to look inevitable. But by then it was too late for the American government to do much about the problem. Two decades ago, most hospital protective gear was made domestically. But like much of the rest of the apparel and consumer products business, face mask manufacturing has since shifted nearly entirely overseas. “China is a producer of 80 percent of masks worldwide,” Laverdure said.

Hospitals began to run out of masks for the same reason that supermarkets ran out of toilet paper — because their “just-in-time” supply chains, which call for holding as little inventory as possible to meet demand, are built to optimize efficiency, not resiliency.

“You’re talking about a commodity item,” said Michael J. Alkire, president of Premier, a company that purchases medical supplies for hospitals and health systems. In the supply chain, he said, “by definition, there’s not going to be a lot of redundancy, because everyone wants the low cost.”

In January, the brittle supply chain began to crack under pressure. To deal with its own outbreak, China began to restrict exports of protective equipment. Then other countries did as well — Taiwan, Germany, France and India took steps to stop exports of medical equipment. That left American hospitals to seek more and more masks from fewer and fewer producers. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 2:14 pm

Republicans often cause my jaw to drop — here’s one

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Just read this.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2020 at 3:15 pm

“Republicans like me built this moment. Then we looked the other way.”

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At least one Republican is accepting responsibility — not Donald Trump, of course. In fact, Donald Trump explicitly refuses to accept responsibility. But Stuart Stevens, a writer and Republican political consultant who has advised a pro-Bill Weld super PAC in the 2020 election, does. He writes in the Washington Post:

Don’t just blame President Trump. Blame me — and all the other Republicans who aided and abetted and, yes, benefited from protecting a political party that has become dangerous to America. Some of us knew better.

But we built this moment. And then we looked the other way.

Many of us heard a warning sound we chose to ignore, like that rattle in your car you hear but figure will go away. Now we’re broken down, with plenty of time to think about what should have been done.

The failures of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis can be traced directly to some of the toxic fantasies now dear to the Republican Party. Here are a few: Government is bad. Establishment experts are overrated or just plain wrong. Science is suspect. And we can go it alone, the world be damned.

[More coverage of the coronavirus pandemic]

All of these are wrong, of course. But we didn’t get here overnight. It took practice.

Long before Trump, the Republican Party adopted as a key article of faith that more government was bad. We worked overtime to squeeze it and shrink it, to drown it in the bathtub, as anti-tax activist Grover Norquist liked to say. But somewhere along the way, it became, “all government is bad.” Now we are in a crisis that can be solved only by massive government intervention. That’s awkward.

Next, somehow, the party of idealistic Teddy Roosevelt, pragmatic Bob Dole and heroic John McCain became anti-intellectual, by which I mean, almost reflexively opposed to knowledge and expertise. We began to distrust the experts and put faith in, well, quackery. It was 2013 when former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said the Republican Party “must stop being the stupid party.” By 2016, the party had embraced as its nominee a reality-TV host who later suggested that perhaps the noise from windmills causes cancer.

The Republican Party has gone from admiring William F. Buckley Jr., an Ivy League intellectual, to viewing higher education as a left-wing conspiracy to indoctrinate the young. In retribution, we started defunding education. Never mind that Republican leaders are among the most highly educated on the planet; it’s just that they now feel compelled to embrace ignorance as a cost of doing business. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, as an example, denounces “coastal elites” while holding degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School and having served as a Supreme Court clerk.

The GOP’s relationship with science has resembled some kind of Frankenstein experiment: Let’s see what happens when we play with the chemistry set! Conservatives have spent years trying to cut funds for basic science and research, lamenting government seed money for nearly every budding technology and then hoping for the best. In the weeks ahead, it’s not some fiery, anti-Washington populist with an XM radio gig who is going to save folks’ lives; it is more likely to be someone who has been studying this stuff for decades, almost certainly at some point with federal help or outright patronage.

Finally, there is the populist GOP distrust and dislike of the other, the foreign. Yes, it is annoying that the Chinese didn’t come clean and explain everything to us from the start. But it appears that a Swiss company is helping to jump-start us in testing; and it is a German company that American officials reportedly tried to lure to the United States recently to help develop a vaccine for the virus. We talk about how we need to be independent even as we do all kinds of things that prove we aren’t.

What is happening now is . . .

Continue reading.

His book about the Republican Party, It Was All A Lie, will be published next month.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2020 at 11:45 am

Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance

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Tomas Pueyo describes a good approach, which (unfortunately for the US) requires a strong and capable leader. Pueyo writes in Medium:

Summary of the article: Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way. If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed.

Within a week, countries around the world have gone from: “This coronavirus thing is not a big deal” to declaring the state of emergency. Yet many countries are still not doing much. Why?

Every country is asking the same question: How should we respond? The answer is not obvious to them.

Some countries, like France, Spain or Philippines, have since ordered heavy lockdowns. Others, like the US, UK, Switzerland or Netherlands, have dragged their feet, hesitantly venturing into social distancing measures.

Here’s what we’re going to cover today, again with lots of charts, data and models with plenty of sources:

  1. What’s the current situation?
  2. What options do we have?
  3. What’s the one thing that matters now: Time
  4. What does a good coronavirus strategy look like?
  5. How should we think about the economic and social impacts?

When you’re done reading the article, this is what you’ll take away:

• Our healthcare system is already collapsing.
• Countries have two options: either they fight it hard now, or they will suffer a massive epidemic.
• If they choose the epidemic, hundreds of thousands will die. In some countries, millions.
• And that might not even eliminate further waves of infections.
• If we fight hard now, we will curb the deaths.
• We will relieve our healthcare system.
• We will prepare better.
• We will learn.
• The world has never learned as fast about anything, ever.
• And we need it, because we know so little about this virus.
• All of this will achieve something critical: Buy Us Time.

• If we choose to fight hard, the fight will be sudden, then gradual.
• We will be locked in for weeks, not months.
• Then, we will get more and more freedoms back.
• It might not be back to normal immediately.
• But it will be close, and eventually back to normal.
• And we can do all that while considering the rest of the economy too.

Ok, let’s do this.

1. What’s the situation?

Last week, I showed this curve: . . .

Continue reading. There’s much, much more, with lots of charts.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2020 at 2:47 pm

How Do You Know Whether You’re Living Through the Death of an Empire?

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Patrick Wyman writes in Mother Jones:

The fall of an empire is supposed to be a dramatic thing. It’s right there in the name. “Fall” conjures up images of fluted temple columns toppling to the ground, pulled down by fur-clad barbarians straining to destroy something beautiful. Savage invasions, crushing battlefield defeats, sacked cities, unlucky rulers put to death: These are the kinds of stories that usually come to mind when we think of the end of an empire. They seem appropriate, the climaxes we expect from a narrative of rise, decline, and fall.

We’re all creatures of narrative, whether we think explicitly in those terms or not, and stories are one of the fundamental ways in which we engage with and grasp the meaning of the world. It’s natural that we expect the end of a story—the end of an empire—to have some drama.

The reality is far less exciting. Any political unit sound enough to project its power over a large geographic area for centuries has deep structural roots. Those roots can’t be pulled up in a day or even a year. If an empire seems to topple overnight, it’s certain that the conditions that produced the outcome had been present for a long time—suppurating wounds that finally turned septic enough for the patient to succumb to a sudden trauma.

That’s why the banalities matter. When the real issues come up, healthy states, the ones capable of handling and minimizing everyday dysfunction, have a great deal more capacity to respond than those happily waltzing toward their end. But by the time the obvious, glaring crisis arrives and the true scale of the problem becomes clear, it’s far too late. The disaster—a major crisis of political legitimacy, a coronavirus pandemic, a climate catastrophe—doesn’t so much break the system as show just how broken the system already was.

Comparisons between the United States and Rome go back to the very beginning. The first volume of Edward Gibbon’s magisterial The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published in 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers had a deep appreciation and understanding of classical antiquity, and to some extent, they modeled aspects of their new nation on that understanding of the Roman past. Southern planters retained a distinct fondness for the Roman aristocracy, cultivating a life of high-minded leisure on the backs of chattel slaves.

As at the beginning, so too at the end. If anybody knows anything about Rome, they know that it fell, and they usually have a theory—lead poisoning is a popular one—to explain why. Every scholar working on Roman history has faced the linked questions of whether we’re Rome and where we are in the decline and fall. Those twin queries might come from students, casual acquaintances at a mandatory social function desperately trying to find conversational common ground, some guy at a party ripping massive bong hits to whom you made the mistake of telling your occupation, or, in my case, from podcast listeners and people on Twitter.

I spent the better part of a decade thinking about the end of the Roman Empire in its various manifestations. Academics, being academics, agree on very little about the topic. The idea of “fall” is now passé, for better and for worse; scholars prefer to speak of a “transformation” of the Roman world taking place over centuries, or better still, a long, culturally distinct, and important-in-its-own-right Late Antiquity spanning the Mediterranean world and beyond. If the Roman Empire did ever come to a real end, all agree, it was a long, slow process spanning many lifetimes—hardly the stuff of dramatic narratives. There are still a few catastrophists out there, but not many.

On one hand, this is all beside the point. While the eastern half of the Roman Empire survived in some form for the next thousand years, brought to an end only by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453, the Roman Empire in the west did in fact come to an end. After a certain point, either 476 (Romulus Augustulus) or 480 (Julius Nepos), there was no longer an emperor in Ravenna claiming authority over the vast territory it had encompassed, stretching from the sands of the Sahara to the moors of northern Britain. Supply wagons laden with grain and olive oil for garrisons of Roman soldiers no longer rolled along roads maintained at state expense. The villas everywhere from Provence to Yorkshire in which Roman aristocrats had passed their time, plotting their election to town councils and composing bad poetry, fell into ruin.

Depending on the time, place, and the identity of the observer, this process could look and feel much different. Let’s say you were a woman born in a thriving market town in Roman Britain in the year 360. If you survived to age 60, that market town would no longer exist, along with every other urban settlement of any significant size. You lived in a small village instead of a genuine town. You had grown up using money, but now you bartered—grain for metalwork, beer for pottery, hides for fodder. You no longer saw the once-ubiquitous Roman army or the battalions of officials who administered the Roman state. Increasing numbers of migrants from the North Sea coast of continental Europe—pagans who didn’t speak a word of Latin or the local British language, certainly not wage-earning servants of the Roman state—were already in the process of transforming lowland Britain into England. That 60-year-old woman had been born into a place as fundamentally Roman as anywhere in the Empire. She died in a place that was barely recognizable.

Let’s consider an alternative example. Imagine you were lucky enough to have been born the son of an aristocrat in Provence around the year 440. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2020 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, Government, Memes, Politics

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