28 March 2020 – Saturday – #13

There is plenty of criticism of Spain’s slow response to Covid-19 and an investigation has started, but the trend lines are going the right way now. I’m repeating myself, but Covid-19 is a math problem. Spain is finding the solution.

Meanwhile, Spain and the Czech Republic are returning rapid test Covid-19 test kits purchased from China. The tests kits had only 30% accuracy. Maybe that explains why patients in Wuhan are recovering and then testing positive.

Here’s a new Covid-19 dashboard brought to you by IBM and the Weather Channel (I added to the Resources page, too). It’s easy to navigate and has good historical and trend analysis. If you want to test your Covid-19 knowledge, see if you can tell which line represents which country without looking at the chart legend.

Rate of Covid-19 Spread by Country – 27 March 2020

Yesterday, Trump signed an order under the Defense Production Act forcing General Motors to produce ventilators to meet expected demand. The president claims GM will produce 100,000 ventilators in 100 days. Most of the ventilator demand will be in the next 45 days. GM says it expect to start delivery early April and also says it’s not sure why the DPA order was needed.

Meantime, the Trump administration is leveraging the Covid-19 epidemic to push forward its political agenda while no one is looking. I noted yesterday that EPA is using Covid-19 as an excuse to further relax environmental protection. My Canadian cousins tell me that the US is about to station military forces along the Canadian border to aid border patrol agents in detaining people trying to cross the border. Canada objects to the deployment of US troops along its border.

While the Trump administration focuses on its political agenda, Americans in the Covid-19 line of fire are self-organizing.

In the absence of coordinated federal assistance, Americans are making websites!

American oligarchs are not pleased with government shelter-in-place programs. Charles Koch’s political affiliates want the CDC budget slashed by US$1 billion and workers back at work. David Green wants his workers back at Hobby Lobby, too!

While we do not know for certain what the future holds, or how long this disruption will last, we can all rest in knowing that God is in control.

CEO David Green to Hobby Lobby employees

Billionaires can be so predictable.

Well, maybe not. Bill Gates has been studying the pandemic problem for a while. My friend Stephen turned me on to this video from 2015.

Gates’ message now is to close down all the states at once, not to apply different degrees of lockdown on a county-by-county basis.

Not surprisingly, an oligarch’s opinion relates to how he (and they are mostly men) made his money. Koch and Green, who made their fortunes on the back of labor, have the most to lose if the labor economy crumbles. Gates, on the other hand, made his fortune at the dawn of the information. His company and others like it enable information workers to stay at home while adding value remotely.

Trump is an oligarch in his own category. An heir to his now crumbling real estate “empire,” his claims to fame include leaning on Roy Cohn’s mafia friends to build a tower on Fifth Avenue, putting a number of Atlantic City casinos into bankruptcy, and starring in a reality TV series where clever editing made him appear to be a brilliant businessman.

The reality is that yesterday’s Defense Product Act order for ventilators is an enormous capitulation for Trump, a capitulation to the reality of Covid-19. Probably the reason the GM order was announced on a Friday afternoon as the news cycle quieted down for the weekend is that Trump implicitly acknowledged with his signature that the Covid-19 epidemic is much worse than he’s been saying. There are limits to what clever editing can accomplish.

Covid-19 is not a hard problem, it’s a herd problem. When Trump ignores Michigan’s pleas for medical supplies because its governor hasn’t spoken nicely about him, he’s deciding that the part of the American herd that doesn’t bow to him doesn’t deserve his help. It’s a classic mafia move to keep gangsters in line. It’s a classic stunt in the zero sum world of reality TV to stay on the island, to keep from getting fired. What Trump fails to grasp is that if he mistreats part of herd during an epidemic, he ends up mistreating the entire herd. The same way that Koch and Green frame the Covid-19 problem as a labor shortage, Trump frames it as a mafia deal or a reality TV episode. We are all prisoners of our past.

Some good news in the science department. Covid-19 does not mutate quickly according to a study from Italy. That means vaccines will be easier to develop and won’t need continuous updates.

Some bad news in the celebration department. Easter may be a little less colorful in the US this year. The Peeps factory is closed for now due to Covid-19.

My favorite stories today are from San Francisco. First, toilet paper drone delivery. Why toilet paper is such a large element of the unfolding Covid-19 story is beyond me, but this is best toilet paper story so far and perhaps also a preview of future Amazon deliveries.

The other story from San Francisco is important for a different reason. While the government here in Spain has forbidden employers to lay off workers, the US service industry is laying off employees in droves. However, Tadich Grill hasn’t fired its staff even though the venerable San Francisco institution is closed due to Covid-19. I have fond memories of eating abalone in this wood-paneled restaurant when abalone was on the menu. Tadich serves good seafood and the waiters make sure you have a good dining experience.

So, then, wouldn’t it be great if, following the lead of the family that owns Tadich Grill, Charles Koch and David Green closed their businesses for the safety of their employees and paid them a salary out of their own pockets? Isn’t that what leadership is all about? Or is it simply about having money and letting God be in control?

This is kind of a stupid story, but I still remember when I went to Tadich as a kid and one of the waiters was on the phone at the bar telling someone to go shoot themselves if they didn’t like the food. I was flabbergasted that a waiter would say that to anyone, let alone a customer. Then the waiter winked and replaced the handset in a way that revealed his other hand was pressing down on the switch hook. He hadn’t been on the phone with anyone the whole time. I burst out laughing. Like I said, I was a kid.

I think we’re all feeling a little homesick for life before Covid-19 and, don’t get me wrong, I love Barcelona, but I’m clearly feeling a little homesick for the San Francisco bay area.

Hi, Mom!

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