And you say there are no heroes left
The Senate is looking increasingly in play for Democrats, as Trump’s horrifying inability to respond with a modicum of seriousness to the pandemic continues to drain support from the Republican Party, and, not incidentally, to kill people at a rate of thousands per day. Trump’s push to reopen the country appears driven by a simple political calculus: Opening the country will lead to a surge of deaths, but, from a political perspective, it’s better for Trump if those deaths occur now rather than closer to the election, giving the economy time to improve. I know that sounds sociopathic, but there is simply no other plausible logic to it.
Recent polls have found close races or non-trivial Democratic leads in Maine, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Iowa, and Montana. Democrats would need to win four of these, assuming they lose Doug Jones’ seat in Alabama and hold Gary Peters in Michigan.
That brings us to Georgia, where Democrats have not one but two shots at a seat. One GOP primary pits scandal-plagued Kelly Loeffler against the far-right Doug Collins. Both are beatable for different reasons. The other seat is held by Republican David Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General who was elected in the ebola year of 2014. Perdue, like Loeffler, is under fire for his stock trading, and today I published an investigation into his relationship with an Atlanta-based startup that changed the terms of his compensation package after he was elected to the Senate in a way that ended up benefitting him to the tune of millions.
The question of why precisely the U.S. hit a shortage of N95 masks for healthcare workers, which has resulted in countless needless deaths, comes down to a deliberate choice by HHS superiors to ignore pleas to get ahead of the situation. In January and February, the masks were available, but the Trump administration did everything they could to make sure we didn’t produce or acquire them. This horrifying story was first reported by Sharon Lerner, and has to be read to be believed.
I also have a recent piece, with Akela Lacy, about a fun race going on in North Jersey, where an obscure machine politician is being challenged for a congressional seat he’s quietly held for 14 years. It’s kind of a crash-course in the insanity of New Jersey politics. (And thanks to several readers who live in the district for helping me with the context of the race.)
House Democrats are out with their opening offer toward a new round of coronavirus relief, and they’re calling it the Heroes Act. It’s being called a $3 trillion package, and progressives are frustrated that some of their key priorities, such as Pramila Jayapal’s Paycheck Guarantee proposal, were left out. In a testy caucus conference call, Jayapal challenged Pelosi, and leadership aides later said that one problem with Jayapal’s idea was that it didn’t have legislative language yet. (Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, who faces a primary challenge from Alex Morse, kept Jayapal’s legislation out, he said, because it was too expensive.) Yet House leaders have been explicit that this is a messaging bill, not intended to go immediately into law, so the precision of the language shouldn’t matter.
But also, the Office of Legislative Council, which produces legislative language, is bottlenecked and only leadership priorities are being handled. That’s a neat Catch-22: Leadership will only put your idea into the major package if legislative language is already written, but you can only get the language written if leadership approves of the idea. The centralizing of power in the “people’s House” is getting quite extreme. At least the House is doing something, finally.
Still, our entire political and economic system remains in denial. A piece by James Galbraith puts it in stark and simple language:
Even if the pandemic is now contained the economy will not revert to “normal.” The United States is a premier producer of energy, aerospace, advanced information technologies and financial services. It assembles many million automobiles, appliances and other consumer durable goods every year. The oil sector has suffered a price collapse and borders now on mass bankruptcy; when fracking wells are capped they will sand up and become very costly to reopen, so the US energy-based economic expansion is over. Airplanes are lined up in parking spaces; no new civilian passenger airliners will be needed indefinitely. Households who are either unemployed or working from home (and therefore not commuting) or that face deferred rent and mortgages will not soon be in the market for new cars; in any event the old ones will last longer as they are being driven much less. As office buildings remain empty, new ones will not be built. Similarly for retail stores, already driven to the wall by on-line ordering and deliveries. The banking sector is on the hook for energy loans gone bad, and for household debts, and for corporate loans that will be at risk once the bailout money runs low. The debts built up during the pandemic will be defaulted in many cases, ruining credit for the households affected. All of which foretells a long depression even under the best foreseeable public health conditions. A cycle of infections and lock-downs will make all of this that much worse.
There is an illusion about, that the recent prosperity can be revived by “reopening.” But many industries – aircraft, airlines, hotels, automobiles, appliances, commercial construction, energy – will definitely shrink, whatever happens now and no matter how much money they receive. The bailouts were a measure predicated on the idea that these industries were facing just a temporary interruption. But it is difficult to see how bankruptcies and liquidations can be avoided if there is no revival in the demand for product. And large-scale production relies on interlinked supply-chains, so that if a single major producer (for example one of the majors in the automotive sector) fails, there is a risk of cascading liquidations (for example in auto parts), making operations difficult – perhaps impossible – for the survivors. In these industries the supply chains and subcontractors are much larger in the aggregate than the assembly operations of the final production firm.
Higher education, a large sector in America, faces a crisis of high costs, collapsing enrollments and the actual alternative of cheap on-line instruction in many fields. This was already in the works for demographic reasons, and is now being accelerated by the loss of household wealth. Health care, ten times larger, also faces financial difficulties as millions are losing their insurance and – for the moment anyway – as accidents, other infectious diseases and such are down, depriving doctors and hospitals of reimbursements. Service industries from restaurants to retailers cannot function profitably at one-quarter of capacity; bars, nightclubs, and most sporting venues cannot reopen at all.