It is interesting to watch Trump’s authoritarian instincts clash with some strongly held views of his most ardent supporters. Many people have wondered why Trump refuses to mount a vigorous federal response to COVID-19. My hypothesis is that the Trump team knows that, if they were to enact a nation-wide stay-at-home order, his far-right base would freak out and direct their anger at the federal government, including maybe Trump himself. Instead, Trump demurred and let governors issues such orders, thus deflecting any potential anger to them (and, in particular, states governed by Democrats). This prevents the far right from turning on Trump while simultaneously creating grief for democratic governors. We can see this playing out now. This is a sound political strategy if one ignores the loss of life that’s the logical result.
On Thursday, 4/2/2020, Jared Kushner said the following regarding the national stockpile of medical supplies:
“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile. It’s not supposed to be states’ stockpiles that they then use,” he said. “So we’re encouraging the states to make sure that they’re assessing the needs, they’re getting the data from their local situations, and then trying to fill it with the supplies that we’ve given them.” (emphasis mine)
So, if not the states, who does “our” refer to? Is the intent for the federal government to distribute masks themselves, bypassing the states? If so, how, when and, maybe most importantly, why?
According to POLITICO, the Strategic National Stockpile website was updated to align with Jared’s remarks shortly after he made them. The website previously said: “Strategic National Stockpile is the nation’s largest supply of lifesaving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out.”
Given the situation with COVID-19, I was reminded of a Politico article from earlier this winter describing a feud between Seema Verma and Alex Azar, both now members of the COVID-19 “task force” led by Pence:
Azar, Verma battle for Trump’s favor amid White House showdown
White House prepared short list to shake up HHS leadership
This might help to explain the Trump administration’s clusterf*ck of a response so far. Putting someone who doesn’t believe in evolution in charge of the task force likely didn’t help (though I’m sure everyone appreciates his prayers). And maybe the president’s inability to understand–well, anything that doesn’t fit on a post-it note–might be contributing to the confusion.
This article is a good read:
How Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality
It contains some historical points about the New Deal that I didn’t know, and describes the emergence of the so-called “submerged state” I’ve written about previously.
While reading “The Bertrand Russell Collection: 8 Classic Works” last night, I accidentally read this sentence:
That some risk of error remains must be admitted, since human beings are fallible.
That some risk of error remains must be admitted, since human beings are infallible.
I received a copyright infringement notice letter from CBS today referring to my computer conversion of the old FASA Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator game. Consequently, I’ve taken the site down and the game is no longer being distributed. I guess FASA’s alternate universe got swallowed by a corporate black hole. Here’s hoping that Star Trek: Beyond will return to the roots of the series (morality plays set in the future) and doesn’t end up as another generic sci-fi setting.
Sharon Begley at The Daily Beast posted an interesting piece entitled “One Word Can Save Your Life: No!” about the relative ineffectiveness (and expense) of many frequent medical tests and procedures. I think the issues described in the article get to the root of what’s wrong with our health care system: good intentions with bad incentives.
This article by Joe Nocera at the New York Times gives some interesting background information about the bank bailouts. The article is about Sheila Bair, the director of the FDIC at the time.
As she thinks back on it, Bair views her disagreements with her fellow regulators as a kind of high-stakes philosophical debate about the role of bondholders. Her perspective is that bondholders should take losses when an institution fails. When the F.D.I.C. shuts down a failing bank, the unsecured bondholders always absorb some of the losses. That is the essence of market discipline: if shareholders and bondholders know they are on the hook, they are far more likely to keep a close watch on management’s risk-taking.
This article at the Washington Monthly makes a compelling argument for ending various forms of spending in the tax code (a.k.a. “tax breaks”). This form of indirect spending tends to favor the wealthy and dwarfs direct programs that benefit the poor. Obviously we need to balance our budget, but the article provides some additional interesting reasons for ending tax expenditures. For example, how government intervention in this form is generally not recognized by the beneficiaries, which in turn distorts politics in such a way that individuals become disconnected from government while special interest groups (and their lobbyists) flourish. Definitely worth reading.
In my opinion, many people have very distorted and inaccurate views about how taxes are spent. These distorted views adversely affect political decisions to the extent that those decisions are based on misconceptions rather than reality.
In order to combat these misconceptions, the Obama administration has created a website so one can determine how one’s taxes are allocated to programs. The website can be found here:
At the same time, people seem to believe that taxes are higher now than ever before. The reality is that tax rates are currently lower than they have been at any point since World War II. For some historical data, take a look at this page on Wikipedia: