This is a robbery in progress,” wrote David Dayen, executive editor at The American Prospect. “And it's not a bailout for the coronavirus. It's a bailout for 12 years of corp. irresponsibility that made these companies so fragile that a few weeks of disruption would destroy them”
McConnell declaring a Senate recess is with the expectation that the bailout deal will hold because like other bills there’s pork fat to be skimmed, for “both sides” because that’s how its always works in Congress. Even if the unemployed get insurance, corporate interests get their bottom lines covered.
The virus will ebb as it spreads to the Southern Hemisphere, and there will be long-term effects. There could be be positive outcomes but only with a collective strength of will even as the crisis lasts 12-18 months. PBO recommends this Atlantic article because it holds out the hope for a happy ending rather than the incessant Trump happy talk.
One could also envisage a future in which America learns a different lesson. A communal spirit, ironically born through social distancing, causes people to turn outward, to neighbors both foreign and domestic. The election of November 2020 becomes a repudiation of “America first” politics. The nation pivots, as it did after World War II, from isolationism to international cooperation. Buoyed by steady investments and an influx of the brightest minds, the health-care workforce surges. Gen C kids write school essays about growing up to be epidemiologists. Public health becomes the centerpiece of foreign policy. The U.S. leads a new global partnership focused on solving challenges like pandemics and climate change.
With little room to surge during a crisis, America’s health-care system operates on the assumption that unaffected states can help beleaguered ones in an emergency. That ethic works for localized disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires, but not for a pandemic that is now in all 50 states. Cooperation has given way to competition; some worried hospitals have bought out large quantities of supplies, in the way that panicked consumers have bought out toilet paper.
Partly, that’s because the White House is a ghost town of scientific expertise. A pandemic-preparedness office that was part of the National Security Council was dissolved in 2018. On January 28, Luciana Borio, who was part of that team, urged the government to “act now to prevent an American epidemic,” and specifically to work with the private sector to develop fast, easy diagnostic tests. But with the office shuttered, those warnings were published in The Wall Street Journal, rather than spoken into the president’s ear. Instead of springing into action, America sat idle.
Numbers are now starting to rise exponentially: As of Wednesday morning, the official case count was 54,000, and the actual case count is unknown. Health-care workers are already seeing worrying signs: dwindling equipment, growing numbers of patients, and doctors and nurses who are themselves becoming infected.
While the President invoked the Defense Production Act to have the private sector produce more ventilators and other necessary medical equipment, such as respirators and hospital gowns, that Act principally provides for government purchases and the authority to allocate scarce supplies.
As part of this effort, if it is not already in the works, the President should require manufacturers of such equipment – especially ventilators – to license at low or no royalties any and all intellectual property rights required for such production to as many other manufacturers that are willing and capable of making this equipment as rapidly as possible, 24/7. The President should further direct FDA to surge its inspector force to ensure that the processes and output of these other manufacturers are in compliance with applicable FDA requirements. The same IP licensing requirement should extend to manufacturers of any other medical supplies expected to be in short supply.
To avoid price gouging – yes, this is one instance where market principles should be suspended – the declaration should cap the prices of future ventilators, including those manufactured by current suppliers, to the price pre-crisis.
The heist was also built on intel failure and willful ignorance
Most leaders lack the discipline to do routine risk-based horizon scanning, and fewer still develop the requisite contingency plans. Even rarer is the leader who has the foresight to correctly identify the top threat far enough in advance to develop and implement those plans.
Suffice it to say, the Trump administration has cumulatively failed, both in taking seriously the specific, repeated intelligence community warnings about a coronavirus outbreak and in vigorously pursuing the nationwide response initiatives commensurate with the predicted threat. The federal government alone has the resources and authorities to lead the relevant public and private stakeholders to confront the foreseeable harms posed by the virus. Unfortunately, Trump officials made a series of judgments (minimizing the hazards of COVID-19) and decisions (refusing to act with the urgency required) that have needlessly made Americans far less safe.
In short, the Trump administration forced a catastrophic strategic surprise onto the American people. But unlike past strategic surprises—Pearl Harbor, the Iranian revolution of 1979, or especially 9/11—the current one was brought about by unprecedented indifference, even willful negligence. Whereas, for example, the 9/11 Commission Report assigned blame for the al Qaeda attacks on the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush, the unfolding coronavirus crisis is overwhelmingly the sole responsibility of the current White House.
[Mapping the Coronavirus Outbreak: Get daily updates on the pandemic and learn how it’s affecting countries around the world.]
Chapter 8 of the 9/11 Commission Report was titled, “The System Was Blinking Red.” The quote came from former CIA Director George Tenet, who was characterizing the summer of 2001, when the intelligence community’s multiple reporting streams indicated an imminent aviation terrorist attack inside the United States. Despite the warnings and frenzied efforts of some counterterrorism officials, the 9/11 Commission determined “We see little evidence that the progress of the plot was disturbed by any government action. … Time ran out.”
Last week, the Washington Post reported on the steady drumbeat of coronavirus warnings that the intelligence community presented to the White House in January and February. These alerts made little impact upon senior administration officials, who were undoubtedly influenced by President Donald Trump’s constant derision of the virus, which he began on Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
The labor “market” will remain damaged for a while, regardless of relief.
As we’ve written previously, 53 million people in the U.S.—44% of the country’s workers—earn low wages. Their median hourly earnings are $10.22, and for those who work full time year-round, median annual earnings are about $24,000. These workers already sit in precarious economic circumstances, but as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe and fears of a recession abound, they’re at greater risk than ever.
Some of the most common low-wage jobs are inherently interpersonal in nature (think retail and food service) and are thus uniquely vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19, both as a health and economic matter. Many low-wage workers are barely making ends meet—we estimate that about half are either the sole earner in their family or contribute substantially to family budgets. Moreover, they are less likely than higher-earning workers to receive health insurance or paid leave through their employment.
Reports of widespread layoffs and furloughs are coming in, concentrated in retail, food service, and accommodations jobs. Our workforce and safety net programs are currently ill-equipped for job losses of this magnitude, and a host of policies are under consideration in response. These include federal efforts to provide limited paid leave to more workers, cash sent directly to workers, and assistance for small businesses.
There is an unevenness that does not mean that areas are exempt, only that there are regional curves.
— Andrea Contigiani (@AndyContigiani) March 25, 2020
These messages are helped by the implicit contrast with efforts to battle the virus in the West, particularly in the United States—Washington’s failure to produce adequate numbers of testing kits, which means the United States has tested relatively few people per capita, or the Trump administration’s ongoing disassembly of the U.S. government’s pandemic-response infrastructure. Beijing has seized the narrative opportunity provided by American disarray, its state media and diplomats regularly reminding a global audience of the superiority of Chinese efforts and criticizing the “irresponsibility and incompetence” of the “so-called political elite in Washington,” as the state-run Xinhua news agency put it in an editorial.
Chinese officials and state media have even insisted that the coronavirus did not in fact emerge from China—despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary—in order to reduce China’s blame for the global pandemic. This effort has elements of a full-blown Russian-style disinformation campaign, with China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman and over a dozen diplomats sharing poorly sourced articles accusing the U.S. military of spreading the coronavirus in Wuhan. These actions, combined with China’s unprecedented mass expulsion of journalists from three leading American papers, damage China’s pretensions to leadership.
The United States, by contrast, lacks the supply and capacity to meet many of its own demands, let alone to provide aid in crisis zones elsewhere. The picture is grim. The U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s reserve of critical medical supplies, is believed to have only one percent of the masks and respirators and perhaps ten percent of the ventilators needed to deal with the pandemic. The rest will have to be made up with imports from China or rapidly increased domestic manufacturing. Similarly, China’s share of the U.S. antibiotics market is more than 95 percent, and most of the ingredients cannot be manufactured domestically. Although Washington offered assistance to China and others at the outset of the crisis, it is less able to do so now, as its own needs grow; Beijing, in contrast, is offering aid precisely when the global need is greatest.
Crisis response, however, is not only about material goods. During the 2014–15 Ebola crisis, the United States assembled and led a coalition of dozens of countries to counter the spread of the disease. The Trump administration has so far shunned a similar leadership effort to respond to the coronavirus. Even coordination with allies has been lacking. Washington appears, for example, not to have given its European allies any prior notice before instituting a ban on travel from Europe.