Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
Epidemiologists model how an infectious disease outbreak may spread within and between communities. The computer models are based on research into past epidemics, the virulence of a pathogen,the severity of the illness it causes and various other factors. But these scientists assume that leaders will offer a coherent response to the crisis, and that people will modify their behavior appropriately. Trump, the conservative press and the Republican base are upending those assumptions.
The Washington Post reports that “one factor many modelers failed to predict was how politicized their work would become in the era of President Trump, and how that in turn could affect their models.”
In recent days, a growing contingent of Trump supporters have pushed the narrative that health experts are part of a deep-state plot to hurt Trump’s reelection efforts by damaging the economy and keeping the United States shut down as long as possible. Trump himself pushed this idea in the early days of the outbreak, calling warnings on coronavirus a kind of “hoax” meant to undermine him.
The notion is deeply troubling, leading health experts say, because what the country does next and how many people die depend largely on what evidence U.S. leaders and the public use to inform their decisions. Epidemiologists worry their research — intended to avert massive deaths in situations exactly like this pandemic — will be dismissed by federal leaders when it is needed most.
According to FiveThirtyEight, while the COVID-19 pandemic has hit blue states harder than red ones so far, it is currently spreading more rapidly rate in more conservatives states. And this is completely unsurprising. Almost all of the 24 states that currently have shelter-in-place orders are governed by Democrats. And polls continue to find that Republicans, especially Fox News viewers, are less likely than the public as a whole to take the threat of this disease seriously, and to wash their hands, maintain social distance and take other steps to slow or contain the outbreak.
As I wrote this week, “pandemic denialism won’t survive widespread outbreaks in conservative communities, but it all but guarantees that they will suffer a lot of illness and death in the coming weeks and months.”
Most of this week’s roundup is news related to the outbreak.
This may be the most important story this week, via The New York Times…
When President Trump signed the $2 trillion economic stabilization package on Friday to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, he undercut a crucial safeguard that Democrats insisted upon as a condition of agreeing to include a $500 billion corporate bailout fund.
In a signing statement released hours after Mr. Trump signed the bill in a televised ceremony in the Oval Office, the president suggested he had the power to decide what information a newly created inspector general intended to monitor the fund could share with Congress.
Politico: “The three states that President Donald Trump has formally declared coronavirus disaster areas have not received the disaster unemployment assistance that they expected to follow that designation.”
Washington, California and New York are all blue states whose governors have feuded with Trump.
Which reminds us of this bit of testimony from last year’s impeachment hearings…
KARLAN: “Imagine living in a part of Texas that’s prone to devastating flooding. What would you think if your governor asked for a meeting w/POTUS to discuss getting disaster aid that Congress has provided for [and POTUS] said, ‘I would like you to do us a favor?'” pic.twitter.com/JGcXFQHUBO
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 4, 2019
“When the federal government told us that we needed to go it ourselves, we started procuring every item we could get our hands on,” Whitmer said Friday on WWJ 950AM. “What I’ve gotten back is that vendors with whom we had contracts are now being told not to send stuff here to Michigan. It’s really concerning.”
Whitmer didn’t say who has told vendors to stop sending medical supplies to the state, but strongly implied the order came from President Donald Trump’s administration. [Crain’s Detroit Business]
EXCLUSIVE: White House national security officials prepared a “pandemic playbook” — a step-by-step guide to ensure testing, check on workers’ equipment, even consider the Defense Production Act.
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) March 26, 2020
America’s chance to contain the coronavirus crisis came and went in the seven weeks since U.S. health officials botched the testing rollout and then misled scientists in state laboratories about this critical early failure. Federal regulators failed to recognize the spiraling disaster and were slow to relax the rules that prevented labs and major hospitals from advancing a backup. [USA Today]
180 inmates at NY’s Rikers Island jail facility have tested positive for the virus.
But her emails…
Jared Kushner’s shadow coronavirus task force appears to be violating both the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by using private email accounts with no assurance their communications are being preserved and by meeting in secret. [Propublica]
As much of his government battles the coronavirus outbreak, President Trump is pushing ahead with major reversals of environmental regulations, including a restriction on scientific research that some doctors worry would complicate future pandemic controls.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws Thursday, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak.
EPA may be out of business but immigration authorities are going full speed ahead, using the pandemic to justify further militarization of the border region, according to The Nation.
Small para in NYT daily COVID-19 update reveals children arriving alone at the border are now turned away w/out even minimal screening to find out if they are victims of trafficking or fear return. Our gov’t is sending kids to be killed or harmed. Illegal, unethical, devastating. https://t.co/K0eTJ7aO7C
— Heidi Altman (@heidiraltman) March 27, 2020
The Justice Department has quietly asked Congress for the ability to ask chief judges to detain people indefinitely without trial during emergencies — part of a push for new powers that comes as the novel coronavirus spreads throughout the United States.
EXCLUSIVE-The U.S. military has decided it will stop providing some of the more granular data about coronavirus infections within its ranks out of concern that the information might be used by adversaries as the virus spreads. W/@idreesali114
— Phil Stewart (@phildstewart) March 26, 2020
Rhode Island police began stopping cars with New York plates Friday. On Saturday, the National Guard will help them conduct house-to-house searches to find people who traveled from New York and demand 14 days of self-quarantine.
Meanwhile, people who live year-round in The Hamptons say wealthy New Yorkers fleeing the big apple are buying everything that isn’t screwed down and are asking NY Gov Andrew Cuomo to issue a travel ban from the city. [NY Post]
And a fancy soiree in Connecticut may have been a “super spreading” event, according to The NYT.
California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an order this week that “prohibits landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent and prohibits enforcement of evictions by law enforcement or courts.”
Propublica is calling out what looks like eugenics in several states emergency plans: “Disaster preparedness plans in Washington and Alabama say people with cognitive issues are a lower priority for lifesaving treatment.”
Coronavirus RNA survived for up to 17 days aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, lasting far longer on surfaces than previous research has shown, according to new data published Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Note that researchers couldn’t “determine whether transmission occurred from contaminated surfaces,” and wrote that “further study of COVID-19′s spread through touching surfaces on cruise ships was warranted.”
Instacart, the grocery delivery company, “has refused to offer its 175,000 gig workers basic protections like hazard pay, hand sanitizer, and paid leave for those with pre-existing health conditions,” according to Vice. The workers are going on strike nationwide.
The $2 trillion rescue package that Congress passed this week “includes a potential bonanza for America’s richest real estate investors,” according to The NYT. People like, you know, Donald Trump.
Senate Republicans inserted an easy-to-overlook provision on page 203 of the 880-page bill that would permit wealthy investors to use losses generated by real estate to minimize their taxes on profits from things like investments in the stock market. The estimated cost of the change over 10 years is $170 billion.
A couple of items out of China that are worth noting. Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, is reopening after months of tight lockdown measures.
But “some Wuhan residents who had tested positive earlier and then recovered from the disease are testing positive for the virus a second time,” according to NPR. It’s unclear whether this indicates a problem with the testing.
And casting further doubt on official data coming from the Chinese government, it appears that there are far more urns being delivered to funeral homes in Wuhan than the official death count would indicate. [Shanghaiist]
In other news, the Pentagon has ordered military commanders plan for escalating combat in Iraq, but “the United States’ top commander in Iraq has warned that such a campaign could be bloody and counterproductive and risks war with Iran.”
In a blunt memo last week, the commander, Lt. Gen. Robert P. White, wrote that a new military campaign would also require thousands more American troops be sent to Iraq and divert resources from what has been the primary American military mission there: training Iraqi troops to combat the Islamic State.
“The Trump re-election campaign told TV stations they could lose their operating licenses for airing an ad criticizing the president’s actions in the coronavirus crisis.” Bloomberg reports that this “may be more bluster than actual threat,” but it is intended to have a chilling effect.