Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Topical thread

by rjs
Once again, here are the links to this week’s coronavirus news collections, as posted overnight at Econintersect:
New coronavirus cases in the US were down another 10% this week, and the week’s virus death toll was down by about the same percentage, so my projection that deaths would continue rising another two or three weeks was clearly off the mark….if deaths don’t spike back up, the current wave of the virus will mean a US virus death rate of about 2% of those who test positive…that a big improvement from the 8% to 10% of those who tested positive who were dying early on…it’s hard to say how much of that is due to better care, or simply the big increase in the number who are now being tested and being confirmed positive…it could also be demographics; as more young people have been catching the disease in this recent wave, and their cases tend to be less severe..
The “economic’ news here includes a thread of articles on the failed virus relief negotiations in Congress and Trump’s subsequent executive orders to enact parts of the package anyhow, several articles on Friday’s jobs report, and another batch of articles on school’s plans for this fall, which barely scratches the surface because they’re probably discussing what to do in every school district in America…

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Why It’s All Dr. Fauci’s Fault

Photos emerged last week of students, with very few wearing masks, in a crowded hallway in North Paulding High School, in Dallas, Georgia. Dallas, about 45 miles NW of Atlanta, is in Paulding County. Last week, Paulding County recorded 214 new cases of COVID-19 and an infection rate of 1,036 per 100k population. Nearby by Fulton county, home to Atlanta, had 1789 new cases and an infection ratio 1,922/100K. According to a CNN story, a sophomore student named Hannah posted the photos on social media, because, “I was concerned for the safety of everyone in that building and everyone in the county because precautions that the CDC and guidelines that the CDC has been telling us for months now, weren’t being followed,” she said.

On 16 July 2020, Georgia Governor Kemp sued the City of Atlanta for trying to enforce Atlanta’s mandate to wear masks in public.

Back in May, Trump has strongly urged states to reopen. Against CDC advice, Georgia was one of the first places in the US to allow nonessential businesses to reopen, with nail salons, massage therapists, bowling alleys, and gyms allowed to open on April 24. They were followed on April 27 by limited dine-in service for restaurants, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues. By May 4, some shopping malls had also reopened. By the end of June, Georgia’s hospitals were at maximum capacity. According to a Johns Hopkins Report, during the week Georgia set another all-time high for new cases. Governor Kemp said that he was of a mind to stay the course.

Since the pandemic struck, Georgia has suffered at least 4,177 deaths from COVID-19. During the week of 2-8 August, Georgia has seen at least 18,992 new infections and suffered at least 292 deaths from the virus.

On August 5, 2020, Dr. Fauci revealed to reporters that he has received death threats and that his daughters had been harassed.

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Healthcare Workers Union Pushing Medicaid Expansion in States

Oklahoma
If you remember, I wrote about Oklahoma squeaking through its own initiative to expand Medicaid for low-income people. In theory, the state will be in the driver’s seat (mostly) in deciding how much money it will allocate to the program rather than the Federal government. Political interests will have a difficult time killing Medicaid without another ballot initiative to override what The State Question 802 initiative was passed by a margin of less than 1 percentage point amongst voters.

Missouri
This last week, Missouri approved the expansion of Medicaid for many of the state’s poorest adults up to 138% FPL (which is 90% funded by the Federal Government. The expansion under Missouri Amendment 2 makes their conservative state the second to join the ACA through a ballot imitative changing the Missouri constitution during the pandemic.

The Missouri ballot measure expands Medicaid to about 230,000 low-income residents at a time when the state’s safety net health care program is already experiencing an enrollment surge tied to the pandemic’s economic upheaval. If you are unemployed you may qualify for Medicaid if you have income less than 138% FPL. Medicaid looks at current income and not annual income. The Medicaid expansion measure was supported by 53 percent of voters.

Fairness Project and the United Healthcare Workers Union West
Backing these initiatives is a nonprofit organization called the Fairness Project which grew out of the frustration of healthcare strategists with 19 states, governed by Republicans, refusing to pass the Medicaid Expansion . . . which from the start of the ACA covered Medicaid expansion costs at 100% up till the end of 2016 and then gradually decreased to 90%.

A memo written by a California union leader in 2014, warned of steep declines in union membership potentially could leave workers unprotected with fewer benefits.

Dave Regan, president of United Healthcare Workers West, a union of 95,000 hospital workers; “Unionism is in decline, and there is no end to that in sight. We still need to give regular people the opportunity to have positive change in their lives.”

Regan proposed creating a nonprofit to promote the ballot initiative process to secure policies that would benefit workers, like increased access to health coverage and a higher minimum wage.

“Ballots are an opportunity to put a question, in its undiluted form, in front of millions of people as opposed to traditional legislative work, where things get watered down to get out of committee. You end up with what you actually want when you use the ballot.”

The Fairness Project came into existence in 2016 with initiatives to increase the minimum wage in both California and Maine. The following year it returned to Maine to work on healthcare and Medicaid. Five times, the Maine legislature passed bills to expand Medicaid and each time they were vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage. Efforts to override the veto failed by a vote or two each time.

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Initial and continuing jobless claims: back to being “less awful”

Initial and continuing jobless claims: back to being “less awful”

This morning’s initial and continued jobless claims resume the trend of “less awful” numbers.

New jobless claims fell to under 1,000,000 for the first time on an un-adjusted basis – 984,192, to be specific (gold in the graph below). After seasonal adjustment, they declined 249,000 to a new pandemic low of 1,186,000 (blue), also a new pandemic low:

Continuing claims (red, right scale), reported for the prior week, also made a new pandemic low of 16,107,000.

All of these remain at far worse levels than even at their worst during the Great Recession. Further, that there are still 1 million *new* layoffs a week almost 5 months into the pandemic indicates that longer-term damage is being done to the economy, I.e., if there were a vaccine tomorrow, there would be no “V-shaped” immediate recovery back to pre-pandemic levels. Almost all of which has been totally unnecessary, and has been caused by incompetent leadership at the very top.

But after about a month of stalling, on a very very very relative basis, I will take this “good” news.

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July jobs report: a very good *relative* gain – perhaps the last

July jobs report: a very good *relative* gain – perhaps the last

HEADLINES:

  • 1,763,000 million jobs gained. Together with the gains of May and June, this makes up about 42% of the 22.1 million job losses in March and April.
  • U3 unemployment rate declined -0.9% from 11.1% to 10.2%, compared with the January low of 3.5%.
  • U6 underemployment rate declined -1.5% from 18.0% to 16.5%, compared with the January low of 6.9%.
  • Those on temporary layoff decreased -1,300,000 to 9.225 million.
  • Permanent job losers decreased by -6,000 to 2.877 million.
  • May was revised upward by 26,000. June was revised downward by -9,000 respectively, for a net of 17,000 more jobs gained compared with previous reports.

Leading employment indicators of a slowdown or recession

 

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Mail order prescription shipping delays

Because of what Trump is doing to the post office postal
shipments are being delayed.

If you use mail order services to take care of your prescriptions
you should order your refills as soon as you can to keep from
running out of your drugs. I just had to have my doctor write
a new two week prescription at the local drugstore because
shipment delays caused me to run out of one prescription.

My provider is reporting many delays.

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The Disaster That Lebanon Has Become

The Disaster That Lebanon Has Become

 

It is now on the front pages with a massive explosion of over 2000 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse near Beirut’s port, with over 100 dead and thousands injured and possibly more than 300,000 displaced from their homes. Juan Cole reports that this had been dangerously sitting there since 2013, when it was moved off the Moldavan Rhosus, where it was apparently unsafely loaded after having been on its way to make fertilizer in Mozambique. But thanks to entrenched corruption and dysfunction in the Lebanese government nothing was done with it while the freighter has sat in the harbor. Now it has exploded.

Just to add to the trouble, President Trump claimed that some people at the Pentagon had told him that this was a bomb and that Lebanon was under attack by somebody. Juan Cole reports that many in Beirut took this seriously and think that attacker is Israel, where PM Netanyahu is facing a corruption trial and would love a foreign policy distraction to boost his popularity. The Saudis have encouraged some reporters in Riyadh and Dubai to claim that it was Hezbollah that did it, the Iranian-backed group that is powerful in what is left of the Lebanese government and that was charged by Netanyahu recently of engaging in a border incident, although Hezbollah has denied this latter charge.

However, Beirut-based CNN reporters communicated with people at the Pentagon who apparently all deny that anybody at the Pentagon told Trump that it might have been a bomb or attack. Now SecDef Epper has apparently publicly piled on with this, denying that it was an attack or a bomb, although ammonium nitrate certainly has been used as a bomb, from Sterling Hall in Madison, Wisconsin a half century ago to the Murrah building in Oklahoma City about half as much time as that ago. It is pretty clear now that Trump has baselessly hyped an unfortunate accident into a possible casus belli.

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Coronavirus dashboard for July 28: the “pain threshold” exists, and leads to a decline in new cases

Coronavirus dashboard for July 28: the “pain threshold” exists, and leads to a decline in new cases

 

Total US coronavirus cases: 4,275,188

Average daily cases last 7 days: 65,896
Total US coronavirus deaths: 140,309
Average daily deaths last 7 days: 1,004

(Source: COVID Tracking Project)

Several months ago I wrote:

my forecast over the past month [has been] that the population of the US as a whole lacks the political and social will to beat the coronavirus. As a result, the outbreak will continue to wax and wane as complacency alternates with the fear generated by big new outbreaks.

The complacency of May gave rise to new outbreaks that showed up in June and deaths that have shown up in July. Case statistics over the past week show that the surge in cases and deaths, in turn, has caused the fear to kick back in, as shown in the below graph of the 7 days average in cases (solid line) and deaths (dotted line, separate scale) per capita for the US:

 

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Just Some Conversation

Republicans finally get “death panels,” Hullabaloo, Tom Sullivan, July, 26, 2020

Dr. Jose Vasquez, the health officer for Starr County, Texas located on the US-Mexico border “The situation is desperate.” At the only hospital in the county, over 50% of patients are testing positive for the COVID-19 virus — 40 new coronavirus cases were reported Thursday. Starr County Memorial Hospital in Rio Grande City made plans to set up a committee to decide which patients to send home to die. The hospital will ration its resources to patients with the best chances of surviving  (CNN).

Texas
Fri, July 24, 2020
126 died this day
5 002 total deaths
391 609 tot. confirm cases
7 947 new confirmed
2.1% daily growth

The hospital quickly filled the eight beds in its Covid-19 unit, so it expanded to 17 and then 29 beds, Vasquez said. About 33 medical workers, including medical practitioners and lab technicians, were deployed by the state to assist the hospital.

“Unfortunately, Starr County Memorial Hospital has limited resources and our doctors are going to have to decide who receives treatment, and who is sent home to die by their loved ones,” Starr County Judge Eloy Vera wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. “This is what we did not want our community to experience.”

Republicans screamed about ACA death panels  deciding whether citizens could have treatment under its regime.

Does Gun Ownership and Concealed Carry Deter the Frequency of Mass Shootings and Firearms Homicide?,” Justice Quarterly, Emma E. Fridel, July 23, 2020

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Covid litigation and immunization

(Dan here…a note for reality)

Full liability release for businesses and hospitals

It’s necessary, Mitch McConnell and his colleagues say, because of a “flood” of frivolous lawsuits crushing businesses and threatening economic recovery. So it’s important to say this clearly and out loud: there is no crisis of COVID-19 litigation. It’s made-up, it doesn’t exist, it’s a ploy to get businesses out of paying for compliance. That’s entirely it.

We have all the evidence we need on this. Hunton Andrews Kurth, a law firm, has been dutifully tracking COVID-19 complaints at its website for all to see. As of today, it shows 3,521 “complaints,” but the majority of those involve petitions for prisoner release and fights over insurance claims, as well as consumer and contract disputes. Under “labor and employment” there are a grand total of 302 cases, total, across the entire country.

There are 616 “civil rights” claims, and while most of those are challenges to stay-at-home orders, a couple of those might be business-related. At least one high-profile workplace case, against Tyson and JBS meatpacking plants, is being contested under the Civil Rights Act. The claim is that the largely Black and Latino workforces were not protected due to racial discrimination, compared to the mostly white managers. But that’s a very particular situation.

If you’re talking about the kind of cases that McConnell claims are “flooding” courts—“conditions of employment” cases alleging wrongful death, exposure to COVID-19, or a lack of personal protective equipment—there are 67 such cases. There are 33 wrongful death cases in the “Health/Medical” section but almost all of them have been filed against nursing homes. There are 6 malpractice cases, only one a COVID-19 misdiagnosis that resulted in death (three others are about nursing homes). There’s exactly one (1) miscellaneous wrongful death tort case outside the labor and health sections.

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