Useful Blame for Everything

It was just another Wednesday night in Washington:

The Senate on Wednesday evening rushed to pass a $2.2 trillion emergency relief package that was designed to flood the U.S. economy with money, as households and businesses continue to reel from the coronavirus outbreak.

But shortly after announcing the deal, Senate leaders struggled to fend off a number of last-minute snags, and they encountered various hurdles as they tried to write the bill’s fine print.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) demanded changes to help his state deal with a flood of new virus cases. Four Republican senators on Wednesday said a provision in the bill needed to be fixed immediately or it would incentivize people not to return to work. And House Democrats wouldn’t provide a firm timeline of when they would vote to pass the bill.

That is, there was too little in there to really help with that nightmare in New York, a preview of the nightmare every city and state will face soon enough, and really, if you give the unemployed too much free money they won’t want to work ever again and the nation is screwed, and then some of the House Democrats are going to make trouble. And somehow Trump’s push for an eight-month payroll tax cut turned into the largest emergency relief bill in American history, because it had to turn into that:

Lawmakers and the White House were bombarded with lobbyists and special interest groups seeking assistance during the negotiations, and the price tag rose from $850 billion to $2.2 trillion in just a matter of days.

With confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States climbing swiftly to over 60,000 Wednesday with more than 800 deaths, lawmakers acknowledged that no amount of economic relief from Congress could stop the pain for the American public. A surge of Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, including 1 million in California this month alone. In addition to layoffs, many workers are dealing with salary reductions or furloughs. And despite Trump’s push to restart much of the economy by April 12, there are growing signs that the drag on business could last well into the second half of the year.

So they threw money at that frightening prospect, a somewhat random unfinished effort:

Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday demanded changes, though it’s unclear how amenable lawmakers might be to any final adjustments. About half of the country’s coronavirus cases are in New York, and the health-care system around New York City is overwhelmed. Many hospitals are still rushing to find masks and other protective equipment. Cuomo said the bill would be “terrible” for his state and added that “we need the House to make adjustments.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave an upbeat assessment of the bill early Wednesday, but the logistics of its passage through the House remained uncertain. Representatives looked likely try to approve the measure by “voice vote,” after concluding that members would like an opportunity to debate. They recognized that it would be difficult to receive “unanimous consent” for the measure because it could be blocked if just one member objects.

But at least this was clear:

The legislation ensures that taxpayer-backed loans cannot go to firms controlled by Trump, other White House officials or members of Congress. This would suggest that Trump-owned properties, including hotels that have been hurt by the downturn, cannot seek taxpayer assistance.

It seems Trump can live with that, or he knows better than to even try for any taxpayer-backed anything. This legislation does not fund the reopening of Trump University.

But what does it do? Heather Long is an economics correspondent for the Washington Post and she had been a senior economics reporter at CNN. She has her sources. She asked them what this legislation does. The answer is not much:

The good news is the majority of the money is going to laid-off workers, small business owners, hospitals and state and local governments. The bad news is it won’t be enough to stop a recession. And it’s an open question whether the nation can avoid an economic depression, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 1930s.

“By any measure this is a huge stimulus package. One thing that it cannot stop is the recession that is coming,” said James McCann, senior global economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments.

It’s too late for that, and Congress was fighting the wrong war, the last war:

Economists say Congress’s response was too slow, too stingy and too focused on big Wall Street firms during the Great Recession, and that prevented a faster turnaround. Many analysts say Congress deserves some credit for doing better this time. This relief package is more than double the $830 billion that Congress passed in 2009. It came together in a few days, and it’s far more targeted at Main Street.

Middle class and low-income Americans are slated to get $1,200 checks (more for people with kids). Small business owners look likely to get access to $10,000 emergency grants and millions in loans. And there’s additional money set aside for the unemployed. It’s looking like only about a quarter of the money will go to large companies this time around, including billions earmarked for Boeing and airlines.

But economists say two key problems remain: Fixing the health crisis and getting money to people in time.

Congress can do nothing about the first problem, which is medical, and little about the second:

Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG, predicts it will take at least six to 10 weeks for the government to get a significant amount of the money disbursed. That’s a long time for laid-off workers and small business owners with no money coming in to wait. It makes it less likely they will bounce back quickly…

James Bullard, a noted economist and head of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, put out a chilling forecast of what’s ahead for the nation in the coming months: He expects 46 million Americans to be unemployed (30 percent of workers), and an unprecedented 50 percent decline in economic output.

President Trump has floated the idea of getting people back to work by April 12. Yet, public health officials don’t think that is realistic and going back too soon could cause a second spike in coronavirus cases and deaths, forcing more shutdowns.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared on the Senate floor Wednesday that “this is not even a stimulus package, it is emergency relief.” Economists agree. This $2 trillion isn’t about boosting the economy. It’s about trying to compensate people for what could be $2.5 trillion in lost business and wages in the coming weeks.

And that’s a best-case scenario. Losses will be deeper if the pandemic lasts into the summer.

Expect that, and since this is about boring economic facts, expect the telling anecdote:

To get a reality check on what’s happening to the U.S. economy, call a small-business owner. Nearly all will tell you that business is severely down – or closed – and they have no clue when that will change. In recent days, most of these owners have talked to anyone they can think of – bankers, insurers, politicians, friends, customers, Small Business Administration officials — about getting a loan or aid. But everyone is waiting to see what Congress does first – leaving business owners fearful they will run out of money before help arrives.

John Russell started the small tech company Webconnex in 2008, but he says this crisis is even harder to navigate than the Great Recession, because it’s so uncertain when it will end or whether the recovery will be fast or slow. His company makes affordable software for fundraising and events and processed about $1 billion in credit card payments last year. Now most of their 2020 events are canceled, leaving almost no money coming in…

Russell has taken an ax to his budget. Advertising spending is gone. He cut up the credit cards. The company managed to end its lease in Sacramento at the end of the month. All trips are canceled. Those decisions are already rippling across the economy, cutting revenue for other businesses.

If he has to do layoffs, like so many restaurants and hotels have, Russell knows the pain will escalate. But taking on a hefty loan right now feels risky given the uncertainty.

Now scale that up:

It’s a similar story for many states and cities hardest hit by the pandemic so far. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, is furious at the latest congressional package, saying about $4 billion in aid is not nearly enough as the state tries to battle the virus and beef up health care and safety personnel during the crisis.

“I’m telling you these numbers don’t work,” Cuomo said to reporters.

It didn’t matter. At midnight it was over – Senate unanimously passes $2 trillion coronavirus aid package, including direct cash payments to Americans – with the House to vote (and pass this) two days later.

And that was that. And no one was happy. And it was time to blame someone for this whole mess. It couldn’t be Trump. Half of the country wouldn’t stand for that. It couldn’t be Obama or Hillary or Hunter Biden. The other half of the country wouldn’t stand for that. It had to be inscrutable devious foreigners:

Foreign ministers representing seven major industrialized nations failed to agree on a joint statement Wednesday after the Trump administration insisted on referring to the coronavirus outbreak as the “Wuhan virus,” three officials from G-7 countries told the Washington Post.

Other nations in the group of world powers rejected the term because they viewed it as needlessly divisive at a time when international cooperation is required to slow the global pandemic and deal with the scarcity of medical supplies, officials said.

But we needed someone to blame, and this wasn’t a big deal:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has brushed off criticism of his use of the term, saying it’s important to point out that the virus came from the Chinese city of Wuhan and that China’s government had a special responsibility to warn the world about its dangers.

When asked about a report that his insistence on including the term caused a rift at the Group of Seven meeting, Pompeo did not deny the charge but said that any disagreements among the group were tactical and not sweeping in nature.

Take his word for that. No one was really upset. But this had been getting nasty:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have discouraged referring to the novel coronavirus by a geographical denomination amid concerns such terms are correlated with a rise in discrimination and targeted violence against Asian Americans.

President Trump and some Republican lawmakers have referred to the outbreak as the “China virus.”

Pompeo, in his remarks on Wednesday, doubled down on his criticism of Beijing.

“We tried, you’ll remember, from the opening days to get our scientists, our experts on the ground there so that we could begin to assist in the global response to what began there in China, but we weren’t able to do that. The Chinese Communist Party wouldn’t permit that to happen,” he said.

“The Chinese Communist Party poses a substantial threat to our health and way of life, as the Wuhan virus outbreak clearly has demonstrated,” Pompeo added.

Not everyone was buying that:

One European official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations, said there were multiple disagreements among the G-7 members Wednesday but acknowledged “Wuhan virus” posed the most significant obstacle. Besides viewing the term as inappropriate, some officials noted that experts could not say with absolute certainty that the virus came from Wuhan until further research is conducted.

But we were being nice. We did NOT call it the Chinese virus. Washington’s insistence on using the term “Wuhan virus” was first reported by Der Spiegel, so this is recent, intended as an improvement, but the day before it had been this:

House members introduced a resolution Tuesday that would condemn China for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation, spearheaded by Reps. Jim Banks, R-Ind., and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., accuses the Chinese government of having made multiple “serious mistakes,” including the deliberate perpetuation of misinformation to downplay virus risks and the censorship of doctors and journalists in the nascent stages of the outbreak.

Those actions, the resolution says, “heightened” the severity and spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The measure demands that the Chinese government “publicly state that there’s no evidence that COVID–19 originated anywhere else but China.”

However, the resolution has prompted criticism from many lawmakers who argued that it could put Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in harm’s way by perpetuating the racist association of the virus with Chinese people. The community has seen an increase in coronavirus-related attacks, correlating with the spread of the illness.

That is an issue:

Since the start of the outbreak, Asian Americans have confronted attacks and violence related to the virus. People across the country have been hospitalized because of the virus-prompted racism, including a 23-year-old woman in New York City who was alleged to have been punched in the face, as her attackers invoked anti-Asian slurs. In California, an Asian teen was sent to the emergency room after he was bullied and assaulted.

That’s a lot of that going around, but that may not matter:

The Trump administration is pushing the U.N. Security Council to call attention to the Chinese origins of the coronavirus, four diplomats posted to the United Nations told NBC News, triggering a stalemate as the global body seeks to cobble together a response to the pandemic.

Talks among U.N. Security Council nations over a joint declaration or resolution on the coronavirus have stalled over U.S. insistence that it explicitly state that the virus originated in Wuhan, China, as well as exactly when it started there. China’s diplomats are enraged according to the diplomats, even as they seek to put their own language into the statement praising China’s efforts to contain the virus.

But we did shift the wording slightly:

President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed China for its spread, accusing Beijing of concealing early knowledge of the virus. But after reports of a rise in racism and attacks against Asian Americans emerged, Trump tweeted this week that it was “NOT their fault” and said he’d no longer call it the “Chinese virus.”

“Everyone knows it came out of China,” Trump said Tuesday. “But I decided we shouldn’t make any more of a big deal out of it.”

Still, his administration has continued working to brand it as a Chinese-created crisis, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again Wednesday referring to “the Wuhan virus” and “this crisis that began in Wuhan, China.”

That won’t fly at the United Nations:

At the Security Council, the administration’s push to name China as the source of the virus started in recent weeks when Estonia, a rotating member of the council, began drafting a declaration for the council to issue.

Although the U.N. has a separate public health body – the World Health Organization – the Security Council has sought to warn how ongoing global conflicts could exacerbate the crisis and undermine the response.

France, a permanent member of the council, proposed a version demanding a “general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all countries,” including a 30-day humanitarian pause in conflicts, to allow coronavirus-related supplies to flow, according to a text reviewed by NBC News.

But the U.S., in various drafts and edits circulated among the countries, sought to insert references to “the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Wuhan, Hubei province in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in November 2019.”

Another U.S. draft encouraged the U.N. to build on lessons learned in the past, “especially from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) coronavirus outbreak originating in Guangdong Province in the PRC in 2011.”

Those demands have hit a wall with China, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, whose diplomats accused the U.S. of “irresponsible practices” in a blistering email to other nations’ diplomats this week obtained by NBC News.

It WAS the Chinese! It’s ALWAYS the Chinese! And they say no:

“We are astonished by the choice of the United States to use this opportunity for politicizing the outbreak and blaming China, which we strongly oppose,” China’s mission to the U.N. wrote. “The groundless accusations and malicious fabrication from the U.S. aim at shirking its own responsibilities, which severely poisoned the atmosphere of global cooperation in containing the outbreak.”

And then Russia decided to be just a pain in the ass:

Complicating efforts has been Russia’s insistence that ambassadors show up in person at the Security Council to vote, contradicting public health guidance urging people to stay home and not to congregate in groups, diplomats from three Security Council nations said.

For more than a week, as other countries on the council directed nearly all their staff to work from home, Russia’s diplomats were still showing up at their mission in New York, the diplomats said. Meanwhile, they argued that virtual meetings were untenable, citing technical issues with the videoconferencing equipment.

That wasn’t helpful, but nothing was helpful:

In discussions about a Security Council declaration or resolution, Chinese diplomats have had their own wish list, two diplomats familiar with the talks said: references to the success of China’s extensive efforts to control the crisis once the virus was identified. After enforcing a strict lockdown in Hubei province, the center of the crisis in China, authorities have started easing restrictions as the number of new cases has fallen to nearly zero.

A diplomat involved in the Security Council talks said other nations were encouraging a compromise in which China and the United States would drop their insistence on language that would be inevitably problematic for the other.

Sure, but Trump never backs down, ever, on anything. That’s why everyone loves him, and why the whole world loves America, for the very first-time, or that’s been his general theory. He’s not giving that up.

Madeline Leung Coleman, a senior editor at the Nation, sees that as the problem:

Over the past two weeks, many Republicans pivoted to insist on the term “Chinese virus” at every opportunity. It was just the latest chapter in the Trump administration’s standoff with the Chinese government – an oppressive regime that does deserve criticism for its handling of the outbreak, whose officials have falsely suggested that the new coronavirus came from the United States. When confronted about his use of the term last week, Trump claimed that he was trying to be “accurate” – “It’s not racist at all, not at all. It comes from China, that’s why.” He finally recanted Tuesday, saying he’d no longer say “Chinese virus” – perhaps because China has been able to weaponize American xenophobia for its own ends. For Asian Americans, though, the damage is done.

China has been able to weaponize American xenophobia for its own ends? Well, we do come off as racist bigots at times, and Trump did try to fix that, but that couldn’t really be fixed:

The GOP knew that most Americans wouldn’t associate the word “Chinese” with the Chinese Communist Party. They just didn’t care, shrugging off the idea that linking an ethnicity to a deadly, economy-destroying pandemic would get people hurt. Within weeks of the first positive diagnosis of the coronavirus in Washington State on Jan. 21, there were reports of Asian Americans around the country being harassed, intimidated and assaulted by people who assumed they were Chinese and blamed them, personally.

But that’s a tricky business:

Asian Americans have sometimes struggled to understand our place within the wider landscape of race, bamboozled by the “model minority” myth pushed by white politicians. As the historian Ellen D. Wu has written, the idea that Chinese Americans in particular were high-achieving and compliant was exploited first to bolster an alliance with China during World War II, and was then spun to discredit the black civil rights movement. (A movement from which, ironically, all Asian Americans greatly benefited.) The model-minority term is one of American white supremacy’s most successful campaigns, simultaneously driving a wedge between Asian Americans and other people of color and alienating us from our own right to dissent. What did we have to complain about, anyway?

And that’s the trap:

On Monday, Trump tweeted, unconvincingly, “It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world.” Needless to say, his is not the kind of “protection” we can believe in…

The coronavirus may be new. But the hate it inflamed was there before, barely symptomatic and easily triggered.

A pandemic will do that. And being forced to spend two trillion dollars right now to keep the economy from total collapse, if possible, when that might not be possible at all, will inflame all sorts of free-floating hatred in need of something or someone to hate. The universe cannot be random and indifferent to us all. Someone had to be blamed.

Trump found someone.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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