About Other Things

The coronavirus pandemic rages on:

The United States has recorded its most coronavirus-related deaths over a weeklong period, as a brutal surge gathers speed across the country.

With a seven-day average of 2,249 deaths, the country broke the previous mark of 2,232 set on April 17 in the early weeks of the pandemic. Seven-day averages can provide a more accurate picture of the virus’s progression than daily death counts, which can fluctuate and disguise the broader trend line.

The United States is approaching 300,000 total deaths, with nearly 283,000 recorded, according to a New York Times database. The nation is averaging nearly 200,000 cases per day, an increase of 15 percent from the average two weeks earlier, and has recorded over than 15 million total cases.

And of course, it’s everywhere now:

Many of the hardest-hit counties on a per person basis are now in the Midwest. North Dakota, where one in every 10 residents has contracted the virus, has the highest total reported cases by population, followed closely by South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

The latest wave to hit the United States has hospitalized record numbers. Each day since Dec. 2, more than 100,000 Covid-19 patients were in hospitals. That far surpasses the number of people hospitalized during the peaks spring and summer, which at their worst had nearly 60,000 Americans in the hospital daily.

The new peak also comes as the nation prepares for holiday celebrations, and as colder temperatures may push people to congregate indoors. Infectious-disease experts have warned that trends in the United States, which reported a record 2,885 deaths on Wednesday, could continue to worsen over the next several weeks.

And that has consequences:

As the United States neared 15 million coronavirus cases, the governors of California and New York again sounded alarms about the spiraling public health crisis on both coasts.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York on Monday announced new criteria for rolling back the state’s reopening and reintroducing shutdown restrictions by region, as his counterpart in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom, warned that hospitals across the state have continued to fill rapidly to dangerous levels.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, echoed the concerns of both governors as officials across the country have warned that the spread of the virus could accelerate during the holiday season and into 2021.

“The middle of January can be a really dark time for us,” Dr. Fauci said.

But almost everyone is already stuck at home, or should be. Stay away from crowds. Stay away from others. Hide. Wait. Sit quietly and read a book. Read Dickens –  Oliver Twist will do and Great Expectations is right for these dark times. Read about hopeless poverty and the hardest of hard times long ago and far away. The theme is unlikely survival. There’s hope. But that’s hard to see now. We’re all in the middle of our own Dickens novel. The hardest of times is right now. The Washington Post’s Heather Long tells that tale:

Millions of Americans who lost their jobs during the pandemic have fallen thousands of dollars behind on rent and utility bills, a warning sign that people are running out of money for basic needs.

Nearly 12 million renters will owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities by January, Moody’s Analytics warns. Last month, 9 million renters said they were behind on rent, according to a Census Bureau survey.

Economists say the data underscores the deepening financial disaster for many families as the pandemic continues to shut off work opportunities, lending new urgency to negotiations over a second round of stimulus that could reinstate federal unemployment insurance and rental assistance, among other forms of aid.

On Monday, lawmakers were working to release an outline of the latest $908 billion bill, which has some bipartisan support.

But that’s not going well. Republicans believe in personal responsibility and fiscal discipline. Think of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol – your poverty is your problem – your life is your problem. In fact, your death is your problem. Democrats are Scrooge after the three ghosts have done their thing. We’re all in this together. Charity is everything, and if you can’t manage that, common decency will do. And if you can’t manage that, silence will do. Just step aside:

“This is like a Charles Dickens novel,” said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association. “It’s an evolving story of how people at the bottom are suffering.”

Many unemployed Americans were able to delay paying rent this fall under eviction moratoriums. But those protections end soon, and landlords and utilities are eager to get paid, because they have their own bills and taxes to pay. Economists warn low-income families won’t be able to suddenly pay back three to six months of rent at once.

The federal eviction moratorium is slated to end on Dec. 31, even as coronavirus cases spike and the economic recovery fizzles. Researchers at the Philadelphia Fed say even their conservative forecast warns evictions will spike 50 percent higher next year.

This will look like the Great Depression. Breadlines at soup kitchens and hollowed-eyed men on every corner begging for work of any kind – and the big-eyed starving children and Tiny Tim in there somewhere – the Dickens thing.

These are dark times:

Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress remain far apart on a stimulus deal, which they have been debating since July. A bipartisan compromise unveiled last week includes $25 billion for rental housing assistance, but a package released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not include any money for housing or utilities. The House Democrats’ Heroes Act includes $50 billion specifically for low-income renters.

“It’s much better for Congress to err on the side of helping too much than too little,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “There’s nothing scarier than losing your home, especially in January with a pandemic out of control. That would be overwhelming.”

Zandi predicts as much as $70 billion in unpaid debt by January, a painful amount that renters, landlords and utility companies will have to sort out. But he thinks the bigger damage to the economy could come from Americans watching people get evicted in early 2021 – a sign the federal government no longer cares.

That’s the darkest part. This is your country. This is your government. This is family. And no one gives a damn about you. Your government certainly doesn’t. Those people just talk, about other things.

Kevin Drum has had just about enough of this:

It’s depressing as hell to watch our leaders screw around with partisan bullshit while COVID-19 is destroying people’s lives. At the end of the year, millions of people will lose unemployment payments. More millions will be in danger of being evicted from their homes. Small businesses are going bankrupt and taking their owners with them. And right here, in the richest nation on earth, lines at food banks are stretching for miles in some places.

Forget about macroeconomics. Sure, spending more money would be generally good for the economy, but I happen to believe that we can squeeze by without a ton of new stimulus. What matters now is simpler and rawer: helping people who need help. That’s it.

And that is possible:

I know that even rich countries have practical limits on how much they can spend on social welfare programs. But we’re nowhere near that limit. And anyway, we’re talking about temporary help. By summer, when vaccine uptake reaches critical levels, most of this temporary assistance can be phased out.

So why the hell are we still arguing over it? Why can’t everyone agree that this is a one-off emergency and we need to help the people who need help? It doesn’t require anyone to change their deeply-held beliefs about spending or welfare or economics. It just requires a bare minimum of human decency.

How is it that we’ve lost even that?

Who knows? But this is a Dickens novel:

The Trump administration on Monday declined to tighten controls on industrial soot emissions, disregarding an emerging scientific link between dirty air and Covid-19 death rates.

In one of the final policy-moves of an administration that has spent the past four years weakening or rolling back more than 100 environmental regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency completed a regulation that keeps in place the current rules on tiny, lung-damaging industrial particles, known as PM 2.5, instead of strengthening them, even though the agency’s own scientists have warned of the links between the pollutants and respiratory illness…

Douglas Buffington, the deputy attorney general of West Virginia, said the rule “represents a big win for West Virginia coal.”

Yes, every Dickens novel has a bit of soot in there somewhere, and more than a few fools:

Before Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine was proved highly successful in clinical trials last month, the company offered the Trump administration the chance to lock in supplies beyond the 100 million doses the pharmaceutical maker agreed to sell the government as part of a $1.95 billion deal months ago.

But the administration, according to people familiar with the talks, never made the deal, a choice that now raises questions about whether the United States allowed other countries to take its place in line.

This seems to be a Trump thing. He had his people hold out for a better deal that would be his triumph and their humiliation and once again its time to save face:

As the administration scrambles to try to purchase more doses of the vaccine, President Trump plans on Tuesday to issue an executive order that proclaims that other nations will not get the U.S. supplies of its vaccine until Americans have been inoculated.

But the order appears to have no real teeth and does not expand the U.S. supply of doses, according to a description of the order on Monday by senior administration officials.

And those weren’t “our” supplies of the vaccine anymore. We didn’t buy them when offered. Pfizer shrugged and sold them to other parties:

On Nov. 11 – two days after Pfizer first announced early results indicating that its vaccine was more than 90 percent effective – the European Union announced that it had finalized a supply deal with Pfizer and BioNTech for 200 million doses, a deal they began negotiating in months earlier. Shipments could begin by the end of the year, and the contract includes an option for 100 million more doses.

Oops:

Asked if the Trump administration had missed a crucial chance to snap up more doses for Americans, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said, “We are confident that we will have 100 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine as agreed to in our contract, and beyond that, we have five other vaccine candidates.”

The government was in July given the option to request 100 million to 500 million additional doses. But despite repeated warnings from Pfizer officials that demand could vastly outstrip supply and amid urges to pre-order more doses, the Trump administration turned down the offer, according to several people familiar with the discussions.

Demand would never vastly outstrip supply. We knew that. They were just trying to scare us, to get our money. We would play the America First card anyway. But that failed this time:

The bulk of the global supply of vaccines has already been claimed by wealthy countries like the United States, Canada, Britain and countries in Europe, leading to criticism that people in low- and middle-income countries will be left behind. The United States has declined to participate in a global initiative, called Covax, that is meant to make a vaccine available globally.

And now we will go without:

Pfizer has told the Trump administration it cannot provide substantial additional doses of its coronavirus vaccine until late June or July because other countries have rushed to buy up most of its supply, according to multiple individuals familiar with the situation.

That means the U.S. government may not be able to ramp up as rapidly as it had expected from the 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine that it purchased earlier this year, raising questions about whether it can keep to its aggressive schedule to vaccinate most Americans by late spring or early summer.

Again, oops:

Trump administration officials denied there would be availability issues in the second quarter, citing other vaccines in the pipeline, but others said problems are possible.

“I’m not concerned about our ability to buy vaccines to offer to all of the American public,” Gen. Paul Ostrowski, who oversees logistics for Operation Warp Speed, the government’s initiative to expedite vaccine development, said in an interview Monday. “It’s clear that Pfizer made plans with other countries. Many have been announced. We understand those pieces.”

But several officials knowledgeable about the contracts said that supplies from other companies may be insufficient to fill the gap.

What is the president doing about this? He’s doing nothing at all about this. The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner and Josh Dawsey and Rachael Bade cover that:

President Trump called the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives twice during the past week to make an extraordinary request for help reversing his loss in the state, reflecting a broadening pressure campaign by the president and his allies to try to subvert the 2020 election result.

The calls, confirmed by House Speaker Bryan Cutler’s office, make Pennsylvania the third state where Trump has directly attempted to overturn a result since he lost the election to former vice president Joe Biden. He previously reached out to Republicans in Michigan, and on Saturday he pressured Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in a call to try to replace that state’s electors.

The president’s outreach to Pennsylvania’s Republican House leader came after his campaign and its allies decisively lost numerous legal challenges in the state in both state and federal court.

He’s worried about that. He’s losing. Someone else can worry about total economic collapse in the middle of an out-of-control pandemic with three thousand dead each day. That’s their problem, not his. But he’s not solving this problem either:

Cutler told the president that the legislature had no power to overturn the state’s chosen slate of electors, [Cutler spokesman Michael] Straub said.

But late last week, the House speaker was among about 60 Republican state lawmakers who sent a letter to Pennsylvania’s congressional representatives urging them to object to the state’s electoral slate on Jan. 6, when Congress is set to formally accept the results.

Although such a move is highly unlikely to gain traction, at least one Pennsylvania Republican, Rep. Scott Perry, said in an interview Monday that he will heed the request and dispute the state’s electors.

And it won’t make a damned bit of difference, nor will this:

Protesters chanting “Stop the steal,” some with firearms, demonstrated over the weekend at the homes of Cutler in Pennsylvania and the Democratic secretary of state in Michigan.

Trump stoked those flames Saturday at a rally for two Republican Senate candidates in Georgia, where he ranted for an hour and 40 minutes almost exclusively about fraud.

“We will find that hundreds of thousands of ballots were illegally cast in your state and all over the country, by the way, more than enough to give us a total historic victory,” Trump said. “This is our country… they are trying to take it from us through rigging, fraud, deception and deceit.”

That was not wise:

The false narrative “gets people to a place where they are now livid because they believe that their democracy has been ripped away from them and that the election has actually been stolen,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel (D). “And it causes them to commit these desperate acts.”

Dozens of protesters showed up late Saturday at the home of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in Detroit, promoting more false accusations that fraud had tainted Biden’s victory in the state. Nessel noted that the protesters, some armed with bullhorns and some with guns, arrived shortly after the end of Trump’s rally in Georgia. She said neighbors came out to plead with the protesters to go home because they were scaring children – including Benson’s 4-year-old son.

“This should not be happening in a civil, polite, democratic society,” said Nessel, who spent much of her Saturday evening on the phone making sure Benson and her family were safe. “But here we are. And this would all come to an end tomorrow if the president would do what any decent person would do and say, ‘You know what, I concede the election.’”

But he is not a decent person:

While Trump was seeking to make inroads with GOP leadership in Pennsylvania, he called Kemp on Saturday, berating the Georgia governor for not calling a special session to take up legislation that would change the way the state’s electors are chosen.

Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said that while the governor does have the power to call a session, he must give a reason for doing so. As in Pennsylvania, there is no legal recourse for the Georgia legislature to alter the election after the fact, and therefore no legitimate reason to call a session.

“Any attempt by the legislature to retroactively change that process for the Nov. 3rd election would be unconstitutional and immediately enjoined by the courts, resulting in a long legal dispute and no short-term resolution,” Kemp said in a joint statement issued Sunday with his lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan.

Several Republican strategists who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity said they believe that Trump has reserved a special level of anger for Kemp in part because Georgia is the most conservative state he lost and therefore his most embarrassing defeat.

But what about total economic collapse in the middle of an out-of-control pandemic with three thousand dead each day? This is a Dickens novel. Charity is everything, and if you can’t manage that, common decency will do. And if you can’t manage that, silence will do. You lost. Just step aside.

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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