Friday, April 24, 2020

Last Call For The State Of The Pandemic, Con't

Here in Kentucky as Gov. Beshear's initiative to increase testing means more cases are being confirmed, the long, slow fight against COVID-19 continues as the state reaches 200 deaths amid 3,800 cases.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced 322 new cases of coronavirus in Kentucky Friday, the largest daily increase so far. Beshear said the increase is partly due to the state’s efforts to expand testing and that he still believes Kentucky is in the “plateau” of the pandemic. 
There are 3,779 confirmed coronavirus cases in Kentucky as of Friday evening. Beshear reported nine new deaths associated with the illness, for a total of 200. 
The governor said the uptick in cases shows that Kentuckians need to keep practicing social distancing guidelines. 
“We’ve got to stay at it, we’ve got to stay strong. This is a reminder, or even a wake up, of what we’re dealing with,” Beshear said. 
Nursing homes have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, with 578 residents and 268 staff testing positive for coronavirus. There have been 91 coronavirus deaths in Kentucky long-term facilities. 
Beshear also announced that an additional 352 state prisoners convicted of non-violent, non-sexual crimes near the end of their sentences have been released from state custody. Beshear said all of the prisoners had five years or fewer remaining on their punishments and that 339 of them were state inmates serving out their punishments in local jails. 
Beshear said it might be possible that some coronavirus restrictions will be lifted by Memorial Day on May 25, but that Kentuckians need to be prepared to still engage in social distancing and wear masks in public. 
“At best we’ll be dealing with a new normal,” Beshear said. “We’ll be able to do many more things, but the way we do them is dramatically changed. I think it’s really important for people to know we will reach something akin to an old normal once we have a vaccine or a very effective treatment.”

Beshear is making it clear this is a marathon, not a sprint.  It's going to be months before we're out of this pandemic, and then years before we can emerge from the economic carnage.  Just about everything will be different in America.  3800 cases and 200 deaths is bad, but Kentucky as an entire state is actually in better shape than neighboring Indiana, where Indianapolis/Marion County by itself has 4250 cases and 217 deaths alone.

The good news is that Kentucky isn't going to repeat the mistakes of Ohio and Michigan.  All Kentuckians will be able to request a mail-in ballot for the June primaries, GOP Secretary of State Michael Adams is fully backing Beshear on this.  Adams is still a Republican, but it seems that with the state in no danger of failing to vote for Trump and 99% certain to vote for McConnell, it's not a fight that the KY GOP figures it has to have now.

Besides, the real fight is going to be the coming massive austerity cuts to the state budget, and it won't be much of a fight with state veto override provisions in the constitution only requiring 50% +1 in the General Assembly and Senate to override anything Beshear does, tying Beshear's hands completely and the KY GOP easily has those numbers, even without the conservative Democrats in rural parts of the state.

It won't be much of a fight.  The cuts Bevin wanted but the KY GOP didn't want to be blamed for will happen thanks to COVID-19 and while Republicans are largely content with their ongoing failed attempts trying to close the state's last abortion clinic, the goal is to pin all of the state's economic woes on Beshear himself.

This era of "cooperation" will not last, I guarantee you that.

Food For Thought

The disruptions in America's food supply chain caused by COVID-19 shutdowns are going to be noticed starting in a few weeks.

Americans could start to see shortages of pork, chicken and beef on grocery shelves as soon as May as major packing plants swept by the coronavirus remain shuttered and the nation’s massive stockpiles of frozen meat begin to dwindle.

Any empty shelves to date have been the result of bumps in the supply chain, with stores being unable to restock as quickly as customers are buying. But bacon, pork chops and ham could be the first to face actual shortages: The amount of frozen pork in storage nationwide — more than 621 million pounds — dropped 4 percent from March to April, the USDA reported this week. Slaughter rates are down 25 percent, and 400,000 animals are backed up in slaughterhouses.

And with meat plants of all kinds operating at 60 percent of capacity, shortages loom for beef and poultry as well. That could also lead to higher prices and a financial squeeze for farmers, who are collecting less per animal slaughtered.

“If we start to see more closures and these facilities remain offline for a prolonged period of time, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which consumers don’t see changes at the supermarket,” said David Ortega, an agricultural economist at Michigan State University.

Multiple economists who spoke with POLITICO said May could be when consumers have fewer options when buying meat.

There is enough — for now. The Agriculture Department’s monthly tally of meat in warehouse freezers showed total pounds of beef — about 502 million — were up 2 percent. Poultry in storage went up 4 percent, to 1.3 billion pounds. The amount of chicken in storage dipped slightly to about 921 million pounds.

But the pipeline bringing meat from farms to stores is slowing. The dip in daily pork slaughter rates “is troubling, especially for producers,” said Scott Brown, a University of Missouri agricultural economist. “If these keep declining at the rate we have seen recently then we need to worry,” he added.

The shutdown of restaurants and schools have wrecked the market for both produce and for dairy products as well. Prices are going to start spiking on food pretty quickly. Having 500 million pounds of beef sounds like a lot, and it is, but in a country of 330 million people, that won't last long, even factoring in all the folks that don't eat beef. The same goes for chicken and pork.

The nation's food processing companies turn a profit by taking out as much of the slack from the system that they can, and the system's now entering week six of major disruptions in both supply and demand.  This wouldn't be an issue if it was one, two, or even a few states experiencing something like hurricanes or ice storms that knocked out power to a region for a week.  This is the entire country, for months, and no real end in sight.

We're seeing spikes now in egg prices to start, due to industry consolidation.  Costs will be passed along as the market gets smashed on both the supply side and the demand side.

I've talked about systemic cascade failures before.  You can only break so many bits of the system before the entire system collapses and no longer works.  The more complex the interactions are between the parts, the easier it is to push the entire system over the edge.  We saw it in 2008, and we're seeing it again now, only this time a lot more systems are involved.

And yet we have Trump's "leadership" at the top.


Trump Goes Viral, Con't

As the US death toll from COVID-19 now approaches 50,000 this weekend, Trump's once unbreakable bastion of support from his base, while still strong, is starting to show some ugly cracks.

President Donald Trump has made himself the daily spokesman for the nation’s coronavirus response. Yet few Americans regularly look to or trust Trump as a source of information on the pandemic, according to a new survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research
Just 28% of Americans say they’re regularly getting information from Trump about the coronavirus and only 23% say they have high levels of trust in what the president is telling the public. Another 21% trust him a moderate amount. 
Confidence in Trump is higher among his supporters, though only about half of Republicans say they have a lot of trust in Trump’s information on the pandemic — and 22% say they have little or no trust in what he says about the COVID-19 outbreak. 
But even as many Republicans question Trump’s credibility during the pandemic, the overwhelming majority — 82% — say they still approve of how he’s doing. That’s helped keep the president’s overall approval rating steady at 42%, about where it’s been for the past few months
Lynn Sanchez of Jacksonville, Texas, is among those who backs Trump despite reservations about his credibility. Sanchez, who identifies as a political independent, said she trusts “only a little” of what the president says about the crisis, but believes he’s “doing the best he can.” 
“He’s contradicted his own health experts a couple of times. I believe he gets carried away and doesn’t sit down and think things through,” said Sanchez, a 66-year-old retired truck stop manager.

The survey’s findings underscore Trump’s rock-solid backing from Republicans, who have been unwavering in their overall support throughout his presidency, despite reservations about his credibility and temperament. If that support holds through the November election, Trump would still have a narrow — but feasible — path to victory.

It's that last part, the "support through the November election" part, that I don't see happening.  A lot has happened in just the last six months, let alone the last six weeks.  We're now up to 26 million jobless claims since March 15. There's no real end to this mess in sight, despite the wishful thinking of Republican governors wanting to open restaurants and beaches. 

Trump has no clue how to handle this situation, he is almost uniquely and aggressively unqualified compared to even the average American, let alone past chief executives. He's just throwing things at the wall six days a week and seeing what sticks and what tests well among his base, no matter how outlandish and ridiculous the statements are. There remains no coherent national response, it's 100% up to the states at this point as far as the "boots on the ground" actions of dealing with the virus.

It's going to become pretty clear that extended shelter-in-place orders aren't going to be tolerated by the truly dangerous end of Trump's base much longer.  Stirring up a couple hundred "grassroots" supporters on Facebook to go harass the governor's mansion is one thing, but the violent white supremacist terrorists aren't going to sit around and play Animal Crossing all day.

And while the virus may be more prevalent in NYC than in Des Moines or Flagstaff or Mobile, the economic damage to red state economies that are already dependent on the federal government is going to be much more devastating. We're looking at a perfect storm situation where a lot of bad things could possibly happen all at once on both a pandemic and social unrest scale and given that the last month or so has felt like a year, we still have six months and change to the election.

A lot can happen in six months, and I expect very little of it will qualify as good.  It's going to get to the point where the lack of leadership from the White House is going to result in something breaking down deep in the gears of society and at that point all bets are off once we hit that systemic failure scenario.

Things didn't really go bad in 2008 until Bear Stearns went under, and even then it still took a year before the economy stopped bleeding.  We've seen more damage than 2008 to our economy by a factor of three in just six weeks.  We're just plodding along trying to get through the next 24 hours and repeating that right now and it's taking all we have just to do that.

And I think very, very soon something fundamental will change all this and then we see how long we can juggle bottles of nitroglycerin before the whole thing blows.   I don't know what comes next, and anyone who says they do is lying.


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