Perhaps knowing that they only have a few more months to steal billions from American taxpayers, the president and his allies have used the pandemic to award huge no-bid contracts to their friends:
Several weeks ago, President Donald Trump forced the Food and Drug Administration to reverse a safety ruling and clear the way for one of the nation's premier defense contractors to sell, service and operate new machines that reprocess N95 face masks for health care workers.
Within two weeks, Battelle, the company that makes the machines, had a contract from the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency to recycle masks for up to 20 uses each at locations across the country. The no-bid deal, ordered up by the White House coronavirus task force, is worth up to $600 million.
But nurses, doctors and scientists who have spoken to NBC News about Battelle's hydrogen peroxide vapor chambers said the process it uses remains unproven over long-term use and using masks cleaned by it more than a couple of times could leave front-line health care workers vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus.
There is effectively no independent oversight of the Battelle deal or others like it.
The lack of oversight means voters will have less information by which to judge the president when they go to the polls. Trump surely understands that.
But because Trump has effectively gutted oversight of his administration, only voters can hold him accountable if his decisions were bad — or made for the wrong reasons.
And the money came rolling in from every side. Reminder: populists are corporatists first. It's about the money, not the politics.
I rode the El yesterday for the first time since March 15th, because I had to take my car in for service. (It's 100% fine.) This divided up my day so I had to scramble in the afternoon to finish a work task, while all these news stories piled up:
Finally, author and Ohio resident John Scalzi sums up why he won't rush back to restaurants when they reopen in his state next week:
My plan is to stay home for most of June and let other people run around and see how that works out for them. The best-case scenario is that I’m being overly paranoid for an extra month, in which case we can all laugh about it afterward. The worst case scenario, of course, is death and pain and a lot of people with confused about why ventilator tubes are stuck down their throats, or the throats of their loved ones, when they were assured this was all a liberal hoax, and then all of us back in our houses until September. Once again, I would be delighted to be proved overly paranoid.
I have sympathy for the people who are all, the hell with this, I’ll risk getting sick, just let me out of my fucking apartment. I get where you’re coming from. You probably don’t actually know what you’re asking for. I hope that you never have to learn.
Note to Mr Scalzi: I hope to start The Last Emperox this week. I really do.
I think today is Tuesday, the first day of my 10th week working from home. That would make today...March 80th? April 49th? Who knows.
It is, however, just past lunchtime, and today I had shawarma and mixed news:
Earlier, I mentioned that the state's unemployment office accidentally revealed thousands of records in an own goal. Turns out, Deloitte Consulting did the work, so I am no longer surprised. Note to anyone who needs software written: don't hire a big consulting firm. They don't attract the best developers because they use manager-driven development patterns that irritate the hell out of anyone with talent.
Today I'll try to avoid the most depressing stories:
- The North Shore Channel Trail bridge just north of Lincoln Avenue opened this week, completing an 11 km continuous path from Lincoln Square to Evanston.
- Experts warn that herd immunity (a) is an economic concept, not a health concept and (b) shouldn't apply to humans because we're not herd animals.
- Wisconsin remains in total chaos today after the state supreme court terminated Governor Tony Evans' stay-at-home order, approximately two weeks before a predictable, massive uptick in Covid-19 cases.
- Delta Airlines has decided to retire its fleet of 18 B777 airplanes years ahead of schedule due to an unexpected drop in demand for air travel.
- The pro-contagion, rabid right-wingers flashing placards saying "Be Like Sweden" clearly have no comprehension of Sweden's efforts to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
- US retail sales declined 16.4% in April, pushing the total decline since February to nearly 25%, the worst decline in history.
- Wired has a portrait of Marcus Hutchins, the hacker who stopped the WannaCry virus from killing us all and then went to jail for his previous activities designing and spreading malware.
- Andrew Sullivan tells the story of Samuel Pepys, "the very first pandemic blogger."
Finally, Vanity Fair has reprinted its 1931 cover article on Al Capone, which seems somehow timely.
The US unemployment rate exploded to 14.7% in April as 20.5 million people officially left the workforce, with millions more people leaving full-time work and others not even trying to find new jobs. April's job losses were more than 10 times the 1.9 million reported in September 1945 as the US demobilized from World War II.
Once you've absorbed that, there's more:
Finally, today is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, when the Nazi army finally surrendered to the Allies, ending the war in Europe. Germans celebrated the event today as a day of liberation from the Nazis.
Remember slow news days? Me neither.
And finally, a cute diner in Toronto where I had breakfast last June has moved to delivery service during the lockdown. Too bad they can't deliver to Chicago.
What an exciting 24 hours.
President Trump made a statement from the Oval Office last night about the COVID-19 pandemic that completely failed to reassure anyone, in part because it contained numerous errors and misstatements. By announcing a ban on travel from the Schengen area of 26 European countries that applies to non-US residents, he enraged our European allies while doing nothing to stop the spread of the virus for the simple reason that the virus has already spread to the US. Not to mention, having a US passport doesn't magically confer immunity on people.
But let's not question the virologist-in-chief at this moment, who has so far refused to heed his experts' advice to issue an emergency declaration until Jared Kushner signs off on it. And wouldn't you guess? Republicans in the Senate have balked at an emergency spending bill because it has the potential to demonstrate that government can help in a crisis, which is why they blocked prevention measures earlier.
A few minutes after trading started today, the New York Stock Exchange hit the brakes to hold the plunge in equities values to 8% for 15 minutes while traders pissed themselves. Trading seems to have stabilized as it resumed, but the markets have now fallen about 25% from their February records.
The National Basketball Association has suspended its season and the National College Athletic Association played the first few games of March Madness without audiences.
In Chicago, PepsiCo became the first company to close its headquarters building, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has halted in-person trading entirely. Following California's ban on assemblies of more than 250 persons, Illinois is considering a similar measure. (Scotland has banned groups of 500, and Ireland has cancelled St Patrick's Day events.) And local colleges have moved their spring classes online.
Finally, as a member of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago Board of Directors and as the co-chair of our annual benefit, I am in the position of having to make some of these decisions myself. In another post I'll talk about that. For now, I can say we've sent a few hundred emails around the organization in the past 24 hours because we have concerts scheduled for this weekend and a dress rehearsal scheduled for tonight.
And, of course, I'm working from home again, and I think I should vote today instead of Tuesday.
Updates as conditions warrant.
Eddie Lampert continues to destroy the once-great retailer Sears piece by piece. Yesterday, the company revealed that it has sold the DieHard battery brand to Advance Auto Parts for $200m in cash:
The move follows news in October that Sears had hired investment bankers to advise it on potential asset sales, including the DieHard brand, according to the Wall Street Journal at the time.
Sears has spent the last several years selling key brands to receive cash infusions and survive. In 2017, it sold the Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black & Decker.
In February 2019, Transform Holdco, owned by former Sears CEO Edward Lampert and his hedge fund, emerged as the buyer of 425 Sears Holdings stores after the company filed for bankruptcy in late 2018.
Transport for London (TfL) has declined to renew Uber's operating license for that reason:
Uber has lost its licence to operate private hire vehicles in London after authorities found that more than 14,000 trips were taken with more than 40 drivers who had faked their identity on the Uber app.
Transport for London announced the decision not to renew the ride-hailing firm’s licence at the end of a two-month probationary extension granted in September. Uber was told then it needed to address issues with checks on drivers, insurance and safety, but has failed to satisfy the capital’s transport authorities.
TfL said on Monday it had identified a “pattern of failures” by Uber, including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk.
Steve McNamara, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, which represents London black-cab drivers, said: “It’s all about public safety and the mayor has taken the right decision.
“As far as we’re concerned Uber’s business model is essentially unregulatable. It is based on everyone doing what they want and flooding London with vehicles. Uber cannot guarantee that the cars are properly insured, or that the person driving the car is the one that is supposed to be driving, as recent incidents show.”
I expect Uber will work something out with TfL, eventually. For now, they'll continue to operate while appealing the ruling.
Uber, the ride-sharing company that pretends it isn't a ride-sharing company, has started a massive PR campaign against the city of Chicago because Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants them to pay for the damage they're causing to the commons.
Let's unpack all of that.
Lightfoot has proposed a $3 tax on ride-sharing trips into the Loop, Near North, Lincoln Park, and other affluent areas, and a smaller tax on trips out of the center city, because trips in and out of those areas cause several kinds of damage to the city's infrastructure. This is the definition of "negative externalities." In fact, Uber's and Lyft's pricing model has caused the following problems:
- A glut of cars on the road during rush hour, with all the emissions and traffic they cause;
- Reduced public-transit ridership and revenue, which disproportionately harms less-affluent users;
- The destruction of the regulated taxi industry in Chicago, including thousands of bankruptcies due to taxi medallions losing more than two-thirds their value since 2014; and
- The enrichment of Uber's officers and shareholders on the backs of underpaid Uber drivers.
Lightfoot's tax will increase the cost of a trip from Lincoln Park to Chicago by $3. If that pushes people to use public transit instead, we win. If people pay the tax, we win. If Uber's board take home less money, that's a neutral result we can all cheer anyway.
Compared with the way London, for example, has dealt with the environmental damage of cars in the central city, Uber's getting off easy in Chicago.
But of course, having gotten very rich through exploitation of other people, they don't see i that way. (Why are billionaires so whiny these days? Even Carnegie built libraries.)
Because we don't have Satanic mills employing thousands of 9-year-old orphans any more, it's hard to see the direct similarities between companies like Uber and companies like those portrayed in Dickens novels. But guess what? They're fundamentally the same. And Lightfoot's tax is only the first, modest step in Chicago government making life better for everyone in the city in the aggregate. The people complaining the most about the Uber tax are the people to whom $3 hardly matters. You can tell because $3 is more than the price of a CTA ride, and less than the current cost of an Uber ride.
If some Uber shareholders have to suffer a little so that people on the South and West Sides can get to work more reliably, I'm OK with that.