By Robert A. Vella
After reviewing today’s news stories and considering all that you know about economics, politics, and our inexplicable human nature, I urge readers to ponder the three questions posed at the end of this post. If we cannot answer them as individuals, then we will be as collectively unprepared for future catastrophes (which are sure to come) as we were for the coronavirus pandemic now ravaging the world.
The US recorded its highest number of coronavirus deaths in a day after several days in which the death toll had fallen or was nearly flat.
The daily death toll was 2,405 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tally of cases, bringing the total number of US deaths to 26,033. At least 609,240 people have been infected with the virus in the US.
April 15 (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has instructed his administration to temporarily halt funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.
Fox News anchor Bret Baier on Tuesday called out the “hypocrisy” of President Trump’s claim the day before that he has “total” authority when it comes to reopening the nation’s economy, saying that conservative heads would have “exploded” had former President Obama said the same thing.
The Treasury Department has ordered President Trump’s name printed on stimulus checks the Internal Revenue Service is rushing to send to tens of millions of Americans, a process that could slow their delivery by a few days, senior IRS officials said.
The unprecedented decision, finalized late Monday, means that when recipients open the $1,200 paper checks the IRS is scheduled to begin sending to 70 million Americans in coming days, “President Donald J. Trump” will appear on the left side of the payment.
It will be the first time a president’s name appears on an IRS disbursement, whether a routine refund or one of the handful of checks the government has issued to taxpayers in recent decades either to stimulate a down economy or share the dividends of a strong one.
(Bloomberg) — Hydroxychloroquine, the 65-year-old malaria drug that President Donald Trump has praised, appeared not to help patients get rid of the pathogen in a small study.
The pill didn’t help patients clear the virus better than standard care and was much more likely to cause side effects, according to a study of 150 hospitalized patients by doctors at 16 centers in China. The research, which hasn’t been peer-reviewed, was released Tuesday.
The drug did help alleviate some clinical symptoms of Covid-19, however, and the patients who took it showed a greater drop in C-reactive protein, a measure of inflammation.
The number of coronavirus tests analyzed each day by commercial labs in the U.S. plummeted by more than 30 percent over the past week, even though new infections are still surging in many states and officials are desperately trying to ramp up testing so the country can reopen.
One reason for the drop-off may be the narrow testing criteria that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last revised in March. The agency’s guidelines prioritize hospitalized patients, health care workers and those thought to be especially vulnerable to the disease, such as the elderly. Health providers have been turning away others in part due to shortages of the swabs used to collect samples.
It’s not clear whether demand has peaked among the groups on the CDC’s priority list. But after being overwhelmed for weeks, commercial labs say they are now sitting with unused testing capacity waiting for samples to arrive.
(Reuters) – As coronavirus infections exploded in New Orleans, state and local officials repeatedly told the Trump administration that its new drive-through testing effort wasn’t going well. Those tested often waited more than a week for results, and local officials had no information on who had been notified by a federally contracted call center, according to emails between local and federal officials reviewed by Reuters.
As deaths mounted, local officials requested details on the notifications as they increasingly fielded calls by those left in limbo – including health workers. But Washington officials largely brushed off their concerns, according to the correspondence, which has not been previously reported.
Frustrated city officials started their own operation to notify people after the state began receiving test results on March 26, nearly a week after testing started. One big problem: The lab initially sent many results with no phone numbers to reach those tested.
First, the US Food and Drug Administration relaxed its rules, and now companies can sell antibody tests without submitting validation data that shows they actually work.
The American Public Health Lab Association says that has resulted in “crappy” tests flooding the market.
“It’s like the wild, wild West out there — or wild East,” said association CEO Scott Becker, a reference to the fact that at least half the companies making these tests are in China.
Becker said that in conference call Tuesday that FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said antibody tests would undergo scientific review by the National Cancer Institute.
There has been concern that some of the tests might confuse the coronavirus causing the current pandemic with one of several coronaviruses that cause the common cold.
Second, there are good tests in the midst of the bad ones, but they’re not yet widely and easily available throughout the country.
Third, it’s not entirely clear that having antibodies to Covid-19 means that you truly have immunity and won’t get the disease again.
U.S. retail sales suffered a record drop in March as mandatory business closures to control the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak depressed demand for a range of goods, setting up consumer spending for its worst decline in decades.
The Commerce Department on Wednesday said retail sales plunged 8.7% in March, the biggest decline since the government started tracking the series in 1992, after falling by a revised 0.4% in February.
Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity. It grew at a 1.8% pace in the fourth quarter, with the overall economy expanding at a 2.1% rate over that period. Economists see no respite for consumer spending in the second quarter, with estimates as low as a 41% rate of decline, despite a historic $2.3 trillion fiscal package, which made provisions for cash payments to some families and boosted unemployment benefit checks.
Question 1 – Economics: Do the benefits of neoliberal globalization outweigh its risks?
The coronavirus pandemic has shined a bright light on the vulnerabilities of modern civilization in an era dominated by neoliberal-style globalization. Firstly, large dense populations are perfect breeding grounds for infectious diseases. Secondly, the sheer scale of travel between countries, regions, and continents, provides an ideal vector for disease transmissibility. Thirdly, the concentration of economic production in nations offering low labor/operational costs, minimal government regulations, and robust transportation infrastructures, as well as the elimination of inventory stockpiles, are specifically designed to increase corporate profits and decrease consumer prices but it creates severe logistical and market barriers to move necessary supplies in times of crisis (e.g. COVID-19 test kits, drug treatments, protective masks, and vital hospital equipment like life-saving ventilators).
Question 2 – Politics: Can humankind survive if we’re constantly at each other’s throats?
There have been times in human history when our political systems rose to the occasion. The ending of institutional slavery, the defeat of fascism in WWII, and the international efforts to eradicate polio, are just some notable examples. Unfortunately, the current crisis is not one of those times. Aside from a few countries (e.g. South Korea) which took effective actions early on, most of the world’s governments were slow to respond and some even behaved negligently (e.g. the U.S.). Let’s be clear. There are coming crises which will be far more deadly and destructive than COVID-19 (e.g. climate change). If our governments perform as poorly when the stakes are much higher, then the potential costs will also be much higher. It is probably inevitable that a crisis will emerge which will directly threaten the survival of our species.
Question 3 – Human Nature: How can we evolve beyond our baser instincts?
When a predator attacks an ant colony or bee hive, the entire population mobilizes in defense. Individuals sacrifice themselves for the collective good. Human beings aren’t insects, of course, but we are similarly dependent upon each other and upon our social organization. What is both obvious and quite disturbing today is the level of antisocial behavior in this moment of crisis. From irrational narcissistic leaders like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, to businessmen who take a cavalier attitude towards human lives, and down to reckless people who endanger others only because they feel hostility towards authority, the war against COVID-19 is being tragically undermined. Are we determined to be our own worst enemy even in the face of the gravest of threats? Can such a flawed species hope to endure? If we cannot change, do we have a future?