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Marian Hill Is the Coolest Band You Probably Have Heard Of

Mother Jones Magazine -

Samantha Gongol doesn’t mind the mistake. It’s become the running joke of the tour: The lead singer of Marian Hill isn’t named Marian Hill. The band’s name is actually a mashup of two characters from the corny play The Music Man. So, how does it end up sounding so cool?

When Gongol and Jeremy Lloyd, the other half of the band, chose Marian Hill it was more indicative of their sound—personal influences collaged to evoke universal and undeniable hipness—than the claiming of an influence. “We weren’t like, ‘Yes! The themes of The Music Man resonate deeply with the type of music we want to make,” says Lloyd. “It was very much, ‘What are cool word combinations?” It’d be hard to know, with their vibey status that they both acted in the musical in high school together.

Marian Hill exudes a nuanced edginess. They create a well-balanced tincture of electro-pop, old school jazz, and R&B that feels rebellious but controlled. It makes sense Marian Hill’s big break came from a 2017 AirPods commercial that used their song “Down.” Their sound could be labeled “designed by Apple in California.” It is careful but innovative—even chic. That has led to a commercial appeal that has skyrocketed the group onto every curated playlist from Spotify and to your local Target shelf.

Their newest release, Was It Not, delivers on this musical composure. Longtime collaborator, sax master, and school friend Steve Davit is back for the high of the collection, “Eat U Alive” and new-to-the-scene songstress Dounia declares their darker sides on “Take a Number.” “No One Knows” is the throwback indie-emo track made for anyone craving the days of The xx’s Tumblr-ruling era.

Lloyd and Gongol recently chatted with me (from our respective quarantines) about the new EP, being an independent artist in the age of coronavirus, and a musician’s purpose in these trying times. Their answers have been edited for clarity.

You had this infamous Apple AirPod commercial that aired using your song “Down,” launching you into the mainstream right between albums. How did that alter your process and approach to making music?

Jeremy Lloyd: It’s hard for anything to compare to Act One. As our debut album, that was something we were writing towards. For years we were like, “What are we? What is Marian Hill?” Unusual [their third studio album] was written way more in the context of just trying to steal time while we were touring. We were also trying to lean into a little bit more of a pop sensibility due to the spotlight. 

How did writing and producing Was It Not compare?

JL: The EP came from a place of reflection—there’s finally been some calm. Kind of turning around and realizing we’re an established artist. We’ve been in the industry for six years. There’s a lot of exploration of that, reckoning with the past and these adult emotional experiences.

Joupin Ghamsari

Typically after artists drop new music they tour. But you recently had a show canceled, like so many others. How’s coronavirus been affecting you as independent artists?

Samantha Gongol: When you play live shows, when you plan a tour, you get guaranteed [money] from these venues and festivals that make up—depending on how much of your income is made up by streaming—a really significant part [of your pay]. Especially if you’re touring all the time. That allows you to have some sort of financial stability and when that’s taken away, it really does affect things.

JL: I’ve been thinking about how lucky we are. We have different sources of income to fall on back on, but group members we’ve worked with, they’re people who had two or three months of steady work lined up. That was just canceled.

SG: Jeremy and I haven’t been touring as much in the last year, so that’s been interesting to see how that affects us and how much of a financial component it does makeup. When you’re in it and constantly touring, you take that for granted. But when you don’t, it allows you to see how important [touring] really is.

What’re you hoping for out of this new EP?

JL: I hope this reaches people who have both grown with us over time and [they] can share in the emotions of looking back on things, wondering about their significance and find the beauty in the uncertainty.

SG: We’re so lucky to have been able to do this for as long. Anytime we’re able, we’ve got to connect with people and make them feel better.

Was It Not is out now on all streaming platforms.

Can COVID-19 Be Treated? Does Blood From Survivors Help? Experts Answer Our Questions on Antibodies.

Mother Jones Magazine -

On January 20, just a day before the coronavirus officially showed up in the United States and more than a month before the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, doctors in China launched a small, five-person clinical trial to test whether plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients could help treat others in critical condition. Within days of receiving this plasma, four of the five patients began to recover—and as of late last week, three of the patients had been discharged, and two were in stable condition.

The results are preliminary, of course, but early studies like this, plus the long history of successful plasma treatments, offer a promising option to help some patients with severe cases among the 1 million globally who’ve contracted the coronavirus. “Convalescent plasma,” as plasma from survivors is called, is now being deployed in clinical trials in the US: Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state, which has been overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, would become the first to conduct research with the treatment, and the state is currently collecting blood donations from people who’ve recovered.

Vaccines basically teach your immune system to fight a virus, while antibody treatments help your immune system fight a virus. It’s sort of like, if you wanted to eat a pie, you have two options—learn to bake the pie or buy one that’s already made.

As treatments go, convalescent plasma is low-hanging fruit—it is widely accessible and relatively safe—but it’s actually just one of several antibody-based COVID-19 therapies currently in development. Some researchers, for example, are producing coronavirus antibodies in a lab; others are testing antibody treatments already on the market for other conditions, with potential crossover benefits for COVID-19 patients; and some scientists are even sourcing coronavirus-fighting antibodies from mice. Overall, there are dozens of antibody treatments (and several more that aren’t antibodies) in clinical and preclinical stages of development.

But remember: Nothing is a sure thing here.

There are a lot of possibilities to unpack. To start: How do these various antibody treatments actually work? How are they different from a vaccine? Will receiving plasma from a survivor make you immune to the virus? And what about testing for antibodies in the first place? What does that look like, especially since we know that many infected people don’t show symptoms

Over the past week or so, I joined my colleague James West, himself a COVID-19 survivor looking to help, to dig into these questions and so much more. We spoke with several experts: Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and co-host of the podcast This Week in Virology; Jesse Goodman, a professor in the School of Medicine at Georgetown University and director of the university’s Center on Medical Product Access, Safety, and Stewardship (COMPASS); Shane Crotty, a professor in the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI); and Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious diseases physician and the medical director of the Special Pathogens Unit at Boston University School of Medicine.

Below I’ve distilled our conversations into some key points:

Antibody treatments are different from vaccines. A COVID-19 vaccine would give you immunity to the disease, but antibody treatments won’t.

There is a simple difference between vaccines and antibody treatments: Vaccines basically teach your immune system to fight a virus, while antibody treatments help your immune system fight a virus. It’s sort of like, if you wanted to eat a pie, you have two options—learn to bake the pie or buy one that’s already made. Buying a pie from the store may satisfy your craving immediately. But if you learn to bake, you can make as many pies as you want in the future.

It’s the same with your immune system. If you’re vaccinated against a virus, your body will be trained to fight the virus over and over. Receiving antibodies from someone who has recovered from COVID-19, on the other hand, won’t make you immune to the virus. That’s the job of your own immune system.

The clear consensus is that surviving COVID-19 confers some immunity. And doctors can test to see if you’ve had the coronavirus in the past, even if you weren’t diagnosed at the time. 

Though it hasn’t been proven yet, based on what we know generally about the immune system’s response to viruses, it’s assumed among experts that after you get the novel coronavirus once, you’ll have some immunity to it in the short term. As Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert leading President Trump’s coronavirus task force, told the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah last week, “It’s never 100 percent, but I’d be willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection.” It’s unclear how long that immunity lasts.

“There will always be a low level in the blood that you can detect for years and years after infection.”

With a blood sample, doctors can conduct a test to see whether someone had the coronavirus—even if they were asymptomatic—and is now likely immune. These tests, called “serological tests,” are different from the diagnostic ones taken by more than 1 million Americans.

Widespread testing for immunity could prove crucial as we try to get this crisis under control: People who are immune could, in theory, go back into the workforce, care for the sick, and donate plasma for treating patients. “Doctors and nurses are being exposed to this all the time,” Crotty says. “And if you knew you had a group of people who were immune, you might stratify some of the jobs differently in terms of who takes care of the most severe cases or whatnot.”

Luckily, experts say serological tests are accurate long after someone has recovered

Serological tests, which work by detecting antibodies in the blood, are accurate for a very long time after infection. Your body starts making antibodies against the coronavirus between seven and 21 days after you’re infected, Racaniello says. Those initial antibodies typically stick around in your system for about three months, while other antibodies take a little longer to develop and can be found in your blood years after you’ve had COVID-19. “Their levels go down gradually,” Racaniello says. “But there will always be a low level in the blood that you can detect for years and years after infection.” Serological tests can detect both types of antibodies.

These tests, which are already starting to be rolled out in New York, could be critical in revealing how many total Americans were really infected with the virus.

The tests work by first removing the cells from the blood with the help of a centrifuge and then exposing the remaining liquid to a little piece of the virus. If you had COVID-19 at any point, antibodies in the liquid will attach to the virus fragment, just as they would in your body.

Listen to the Mother Jones Podcast to hear our own James West explain what it was like to live through COVID-19 and detail his attempts to donate plasma as a survivor—which, it turns out, he as a gay man was barred from doing. James also wrote about the experience here.

Not all antibodies are created equal

Some people are capable of producing powerful immune responses. Others, not so much. It’s not exactly clear why, and it could be due to any number of factors, including genetics, diet, and prior infections. “For sure, people differ in their immune responses, right? Some people have great immune systems, and they rarely get infections,” says Racaniello. “And other people get infections all the time.” This variation in immune response includes, but is not limited to, antibodies. “There are lots of places where your immune system can be defective,” he adds.

On one end of the spectrum, some people can’t produce antibodies at all, Racaniello explains. Some people will make antibodies but they won’t be very diverse. Or they’ll be ineffective. That’s why doctors test plasma from recovered patients before giving it to others. In some people “it won’t be very good,” Racaniello says. In “other people, it’ll be better.”

There are several types of antibody treatments in development—all of which have different upsides

Researchers across the world are trying to determine if antibodies can help cure COVID-19 patients. These are three common methods that could potentially use antibodies to help block the coronavirus:

  1. Convalescent plasma: This is what you’ve probably already heard a lot about, as patients in New York are starting to be treated using this method on an emergency case-by-case basis. It relies on plasma sourced from patients—or pooled from many patients—who’ve recovered from COVID-19. The plasma is injected into sick patients intravenously, providing the antibodies that another person created. This approach is generally safe and more than 100 years old.While it “is not proven for COVID-19 or any disease related to COVID-19,” Crotty says, “the overall concept of antibodies being protective is proven to be true for many infectious diseases, but not all of them.” The other potential catch is that for this treatment to be applied at a large scale, it would require tons of recovered patients to donate their plasma.
  2. Synthetic antibodies: This is another option that relies on patients who have recovered from COVID-19, Racaniello explains. It requires taking the cells out of their blood that make these coronavirus-fighting antibodies, called B cells. In a lab, scientists can use the B cells to make tons of antibodies, purify them, and then administer the product to patients. “That’s what we did for Ebola,” Bhadelia says. “We looked at the serum of survivors and we found those antibodies that were particularly effective. And then we created drugs that were basically biological drugs that were clonal copies of those antibodies.” Companies in South Korea, Israel, Canada, and the United States, among others, are working on making antibodies sourced from COVID-19 survivors. Researchers are also testing lab-created antibodies that are already on the market for other conditions, like cancers, arthritis, and HIV. They’re hoping these antibodies may also be effective in COVID-19 patients, to help their immune system in fighting the coronavirus or suppressing their immune system’s over-response to it, which can be deadly. There are several of these drugs already in clinical trials across the world, including in the United States, China, and Italy. Until a vaccine is available for the new coronavirus, these lab-grown antibodies, which can be produced rapidly, might make a better widescale option than collecting blood plasma, Goodman says.
  3. Coronavirus antibodies from animals: This would entail basically the same process as creating human antibodies in a lab—expose an animal, like a mouse, to parts of the coronavirus, collect the animal’s B cells, and create virus-blocking antibodies. The only problem is, humans’ immune systems may reject the antibodies from another animal, Racaniello says. “What people do instead is to try and make the mouse antibody as human as possible. It’s called ‘humanizing’ the antibody. And that will overcome these problems,” he explains. The benefit of this treatment is that it doesn’t require the complex process of screening for human coronavirus-specific antibodies, experts say. In fact, some synthetic antibodies already on the market that are being tested against COVID-19 were sourced from mice or other animals. New York biotech company Regeneron aims to start clinical trials with antibodies from mice in June.
It’s possible that certain antibodies can be administered to prevent, not just treat, COVID-19. “The overall concept of antibodies being protective is proven to be true for many infectious diseases, but not all of them.”

It’s a somewhat complicated distinction: While antibody treatment for sick patients will not directly give them immunity to the coronavirus, it’s possible that administering antibody treatments to people before they get sick could prevent illness temporarily. “When you inject the antibodies into your blood, they end up diffusing into all of your tissues, including your lungs. And so they would prevent infection,” Racaniello says. “That’s how a vaccine would work—except the vaccine would have you make your own antibodies.”

This isn’t the same as being immune, because, as I explain above, your body isn’t making its own response to the coronavirus; you’re still using someone else’s. That’s why, to prevent an infection with antibodies, you’d need an injection every month or two, Racaniello says. While this wouldn’t be considered effective long-term preventive care, this sort of treatment could be especially helpful for health care professionals on the front lines. 

We’re already using antibodies as a prophylactic for some diseases that don’t have a vaccine, Goodman says. Take RSV, a common respiratory virus, especially in babies. “There is no vaccine against [RSV] yet,” he says, “but there is an approved [lab-grown] antibody that, in very high-risk children—for example, children with certain congenital lung and heart disease—can reduce their incidence of what are severe infections that occur in them.”

Additional reporting by James West

Here’s When Your State Will Run Out of Hospital Beds

Mother Jones Magazine -

As of today, more than 239,000 people in the United States are infected with the coronavirus, the most cases of any country in the world. More than 6,000 people have died, which is almost twice the number of people who were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

The number of people infected is doubling every six days, a rate higher than that of Italy, Iran, and Germany. The number of deaths is doubling every four days.

From New York to Michigan to Louisiana, hospitals are overwhelmed with new cases. In some states such as New York and Connecticut, there’s already a shortage of hospital and ICU beds. As the virus continues to spread, more states are going to run out of hospital beds.

New projections from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, a research center based out of the University of Washington, have created models that predict when every state would run out of resources including hospital beds, ventilators, and ICU beds in the next four months. Its predictions assume the strict social distancing policies that are already in place will continue in most states. Researchers say they expect the worst of the epidemic to be over by June, but not before it burdens our healthcare systems. 

Using the institute’s data projections, we created maps to show which states will run out of hospital beds, by when and by how much. The darker the shade, the more acute the shortage.

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Tennessee has such an acute shortage of medical supplies and protective gear that the governor asked healthcare workers to repurpose swim goggles and diapers into masks. The state is looking to convert college dormitories, convention centers, and hotels into makeshift hospitals

Many states, such as New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana, are already running out of ICU beds. Many more states will face an acute shortage of ICU beds in the coming weeks.

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Researchers from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation suggest that interventions such as “canceling elective procedures, setting up additional beds, constructing temporary facilities, and using mobile military resources” can ease the burden on hospitals. “Production of ventilators, masks, and other personal protective equipment may need to be scaled up to ensure these resources are available to hospitals as demand grows.”

Yes, Even Health Care Is Losing Jobs to the Pandemic

Mother Jones Magazine -

Earlier today I was surprised that there had been big job losses in the “health care and social assistance” category. You’d think those would be up. I just now got around to looking at the detailed establishment report, and it turns out the losses are concentrated in three areas:

  • Offices of physicians, dentists, and other health care practitioners
  • Home health care services
  • Child daycare services

These three account for virtually all of the 61,000 jobs lost in this sector.

Donald Trump Did Nothing to Stop the Export of Respirator Masks

Mother Jones Magazine -

The 3M mask story keeps getting weirder, and neither 3M nor the Trump administration seems eager to provide details of exactly what their dispute is about. However, it’s been widely reported that 280 million masks were sold overseas in a single day last month even though American health care workers were desperate for them. This number originates from a Forbes story by David DiSalvo, who spent a day in mid-March with a mask broker named Remington Schmidt:

When contacting potential buyers, Remington needs two things to secure a deal with a seller: a letter of intent to purchase and proof of funds. “If you are working with a seller who has masks but you can’t quickly show proof of funds, someone else is going to buy them,” he told me.

And I watched that happen repeatedly throughout the day. Buyers from state procurement departments and hospital systems expressed desperate need for masks, but the deals bogged down when it came to providing proof that they could commit and follow through. In the meantime, another buyer provided proof of funds and the masks were gone, sometimes within the hour.

By the end of the day, roughly 280 million masks¹ from warehouses around the U.S. had been purchased by foreign buyers and were earmarked to leave the country, according to the broker — and that was in one day. To his knowledge none of the masks had been purchased by buyers in the U.S.

Remington told me that his focus now is to try to sell masks to federal agencies like FEMA, responsible for securing PPE so the items can go directly to the states that will distribute to hospitals, but it’s been challenging to close a deal and the number of “middle men” in the negotiations keeps rising.

Somebody please stop me if I’m wrong, but halting these shipments didn’t require use of the Defense Procurement Act. It required two things: (a) an executive order banning the export of masks unless approved by federal authorities² and (b) purchasing authority for FEMA to buy as many masks as it wants. You could add to that guidance from FEMA about which items US companies should and shouldn’t export overseas. These are things President Trump could have done two weeks ago with a stroke of his pen. No new legislative authority would have been required.

So unless I’m missing something, this is all on Trump. 3M has no control over the secondary market. Only Trump does. But apparently he did nothing back when it mattered, and now that it’s too late he’s engaged in a war to make it look like someone else’s fault. That’s typical Trump for you.

Eventually I assume we’ll get more details of exactly what’s going on here. If my take on this is wrong, I’ll update.

¹FWIW, this sounds high. But the precise number doesn’t really matter.

²This is, obviously, not something that states can do. Only the federal government can do it.

Who’s Losing the Most Jobs to the Coronavirus?

Mother Jones Magazine -

As I said earlier, I don’t normally spend a lot of time on the details of the monthly jobs report. This month is an exception since people are understandably interested in the effect that the coronavirus lockdown has had. With that in mind, here’s an excerpt from the household survey:

There are several obvious takeaways:

  • Men and women are losing jobs at about the same rate. Both groups now have an unemployment rate of 4.0 percent.
  • Whites and blacks are losing jobs at the same rate. Asians and Hispanics are losing jobs at a much higher rate.
  • The poorer you are, the more likely you are to lose your job. Among those with no high school diploma, unemployment is up 1.1 points. Among college grads, unemployment is up only 0.6 points.

Keep in mind that these figures only go through mid-March, so they should be considered tentative. Next month’s report will include all ten million (or more) who have lost their jobs and will give us a much better idea of where job losses are concentrated.

Laid Off? You Can Still Sign Up for Obamacare

Mother Jones Magazine -

Roughly 9 million Americans have applied for unemployment insurance in the past two weeks as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the economy. But, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, those who have lost their employer-based health coverage don’t need to go uninsured.

Loss of job-based coverage counts as a qualifying event for a so-called “special enrollment period,” allowing people to sign up for an individual Obamacare plan outside of the annual open enrollment period, which ended on December 15. People typically have 60 days from their loss of coverage to enroll. Lower-income people may also be eligible to enroll in Medicaid.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, which considers the ACA a “substantial health care safety net,” provides a handy calculator for estimating how much a marketplace plan might cost, based on an individual’s location, income, and household details.

For people who were already uninsured before the economy melted down, the picture is more complicated. Twelve states that run their own insurance marketplaces—including coronavirus hotspots like New York, California, and Washington—have opened special enrollment periods in response to the crisis, allowing anyone who lacked insurance prior to the pandemic to get covered. President Donald Trump reportedly considered opening a special enrollment period for residents of the dozens of other states that participate in the federally run insurance marketplace, but he ultimately decided against it.

Trump has been an outspoken critic of Obamacare, siding with Republican attorneys general in a lawsuit that seeks to undo the health care law entirely. The short-term health insurance plans he espouses as an alternative do not have to comply with the ACA, meaning they could deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or refuse to cover services like mental health care.

“Customers Don’t Adhere to the Six Feet of Distance at All”: A Butcher on Working Through the Coronavirus

Mother Jones Magazine -

Sean Krane, a 32-year-old butcher in Los Angeles County, has been working long hours during the coronavirus outbreak as an essential grocery worker at Vons. While some states, including Minnesota, Vermont, Michigan, and Colorado have designated grocery workers as emergency personnel, which qualifies them for emergency child care, California so far has not. Along with his United Food and Commercial Workers union local, Sean has joined an effort to call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to classify grocery workers as emergency personnel and make sanitation protections and crowd control mandatory at stores. I spoke with him about his experience. You can hear Sean on our latest episode of Bite:

I’ve worked at Vons for 15 years. The thing that I like about my job is helping my community and also just my co-workers in general. I’m a butcher, I cut meat; it’s kind of an art, a craft in itself.

I have a girlfriend and a five-year-old son. It’s probably been a week or two weeks since I’ve stopped seeing them because of the whole outbreak, and I’m concerned about getting her grandparents sick.

“Customers don’t adhere to the six feet of distance at all. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.”

I normally work five days a week. The past two weeks, I’ve worked seven days, every single day, because we’ve been doing record sales that we’ve never even seen. Usually the busiest day in the meat department or in the store is two days before Christmas. The past two weeks, we’re beating those sales on a daily basis.

Courtesy Sean Krane

I tried contacting my union about the crowd control within the stores. It says 100 people on the front of the door, but there’s no one at the front door counting people coming in and out. And customers don’t adhere to the six feet of distance at all. It makes me feel very uncomfortable. Pretty much every time I’m going to load the meat case, I’m bringing out a whole dolly of meat or maybe a six-wheeler of ground turkey or chicken. And everyone will turn their head and see what I have on the cart, and they just want to come walk over and grab the cart from me. That’s probably the most scary thing, that people aren’t really observing or acting on the six feet of social distancing. It’s very stressful to work in those kinds of conditions.

My store manager went over today saying that we can wear gloves and masks, but the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] does not recommend it. They are giving us hand sanitizer and they’re allowing us to wash our hands every hour. They actually recommend us to be washing our hands and sanitizing rather than using gloves and masks.

I had a customer today that I politely asked if she could give me my six feet social distance, and she kind of gave me this dirty look. She was on the cell phone with a family member, I’m guessing, and kind of thought I was being rude for asking. It’s just hard to get everyone on board, I guess.

The best thing that a grocery shopper can do is give us a thank you. That’s been the biggest thing that I’ve seen lately within the past few days. There’s not many people that give me a thank you, but when they do, it goes a long way.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

‘These Devices Making the Super-Wealthy Super-Wealthier Will Have to Come Apart’ - CounterSpin interview with David Cay Johnston on the 2008 bailout

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

The March 27, 2020, episode of CounterSpin included an archival interview with David Cay Johnston about the 2008 bailout, which originally aired October 10, 2008. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The coronavirus is new, but economic shocks and the government response of bailing out certain industries are not. We have experience to draw from there. In 2008, the New York Times described the announced $700 billion bailout bill, presented to address the financial crisis, as, “One of the most favored new options being discussed in Washington and on Wall Street.”

Of course, many asked, “What about Main Street?”—the people whose calls to legislators had spurred the House’s initial rejection of the legislation. Once policy has that much-vaunted “bipartisan support,” it’s an elite media juggernaut.

But CounterSpin spoke with a journalist who’d been calling for skepticism from the start. David Cay Johnston, then recently retired from the New York Times, is an investigative reporter and the author of a number of books, among them Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill) and, most recently, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

When he spoke with CounterSpin in October 2008, he’d just issued a call for reporters covering the bailout not to “repeat the failed lapdog practices that so damaged our reputations in the rush to war in Iraq and the adoption of the Patriot Act.” CounterSpin asked him, first, for his general assessment of big media’s bailout coverage.

***

David Cay Johnston: The electronic coverage, broadcast television and cable, has been awful, absolutely awful, including both the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News, opening their newscasts on Monday night, September 29, when the stock market tanked, with a flat-out untrue statement. The very first thing they told their audience was that this was the biggest one-day decline ever in the stock market. It was only the third-biggest decline in just the last 21 years.

The coverage in the print media has gotten better as we have gone along. A lot of it is still very gullible. I’m particularly troubled by some areas of print, including the Washington Post, that just seem to accept that you need to trust the official version of events. But both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have actually done some extraordinary, solid reporting on this stuff, and have dug up some very troubling things.

New York Times (9/28/08)

JJ: I know you had a cite for a former colleague of yours, Gretchen Morgenson in the New York Times, who’s done some reporting that maybe she’s the only one on, so there are some investigations going on there, right?

DCJ: There is some. Fundamentally, the problem here is the constant problem with Washington journalism, which is this idea that sources are what matter. And this is fueled by editors, who say, “Well, the reason we have you in our Washington bureau is to talk to the official sources.”

Well, you’d probably get better coverage if you had a reporter sitting in your newsroom in Chicago or Rochester, where I live, or Los Angeles, reading the government’s record and writing about all the things the government has to disclose. We’ve known there was a high risk of something like this happening, not exactly what would happen, but some kind of serious collapse, for 14 months.

And one of the questions I haven’t seen journalists asking is, “All right, when you were put on notice 14 months ago, in August of last year, what plans did Treasury and the other government agencies put in place in the event that the credit markets seized up, that there was a huge collapse of asset values?” And I’m fairly confident we will find out they didn’t do anything.

JJ: You mentioned the question of sources, and one of the things that we’ve complained about is the “no one saw it coming” angle, which you’re just touching on. It certainly looks a lot like the Iraq War story, where we were told, “no one could predict” the post-invasion scenario that we’re now experiencing. Well, in fact, of course, in both cases, people did predict the current situation. They just weren’t the folks we were seeing on TV. So I guess the question is, why are they still not the people we’re seeing on TV?

DCJ: Yes. Well, that, Janine, is exactly what troubles me. And in the case of the Iraq scenario, remember that we now know—we didn’t know then for sure, but we absolutely now know for sure—that the Bush administration was aware that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Knowing that, recognizing that you have an administration that will lie through its teeth to pursue a policy that’s cost thousands of Americans, and probably tens of thousands of Iraqis, their lives, why would you hesitate to think that they might not be telling you the whole truth and nothing but the truth about something dealing with money? Particularly when, as President Bush famously said when he ran for office, that the people at the top were his base, the haves and the have-mores.

Some of us have, for years, been warning about this. I wrote a book called Perfectly Legal, that came out five years ago, almost; I wrote it six years ago. And I say in the book, inevitably, these devices that are making the super-wealthy super-wealthier will have to come apart, because they involve artificially inflating assets. And when that happens, all of us will be worse off. Some of us—and I wasn’t the only one—wrote stories; there was a housing bubble four or five years ago. So it wasn’t like this wasn’t known. It wasn’t like there weren’t economists and government data telling you, sooner or later, the bubble had to prick and come apart.

Steve Rendall: I just want to note that in that piece by Gretchen Morgenson that Janine mentioned earlier, that you had blogged about, that in that piece, she actually had a scoop that showed that the CEO of Goldman Sachs was actually in the room as the bailout plan was being put together.

DCJ: Yeah, that’s right. And Gretchen Morgenson also revealed that Goldman Sachs is on the hook for as much as $20 billion from AIG, and that’s one of the important issues not being covered here. Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, has devised a plan that is exactly what one would expect from someone who spent his whole career at Goldman Sachs, the premier investment bank—and, by the way, where a lot of these toxic products and derivatives were cooked up and sold. And it turns out that one of his first actions, the one that the Wall Street Journal says triggered the panic, was the decision to not rescue Lehman Brothers, a competing bank.

Then he decides that he’s going to rescue AIG. Guess who benefits from that, first and directly? Goldman Sachs. Now we have pumped more than $120 billion into AIG, so that people who wanted to cash out of AIG could get their money. You think it just might be possible that a little bit of that money went to people who are either Goldman Sachs or its clients? Well, we don’t know, because the government isn’t asking, and neither are reporters demanding answers.

SR: Many people, perhaps over-hopefully, imagined that this crisis might lead to an actual reevaluation of what have been dominant ideas about regulation, the role of financial institutions and so on. What do you see as likely to happen, and what role should or could journalists play?

David Cay Johnston: “We now have 28 years of experience with Reaganism. The average income of the bottom 90% of Americans is today what it was back in 1980, when you adjust for inflation, and the incomes of the top tenth of 1% and above have gone through the roof.”

DCJ: You know, I’ve written two books about this, Perfectly Legal and Free Lunch, and they are about how we now have 28 years of experience with Reaganism. The average income of the bottom 90% of Americans is today what it was back in 1980, when you adjust for inflation, and the incomes of the top tenth of 1% and above have gone through the roof. It doesn’t work. It works if your goal is to take from those with less to give to those with more. But fundamentally, it doesn’t work.

And I think the public, after years and years and years, is beginning to change. Now, one thing I can tell you, as someone who does an enormous amount of radio around the country: Five years ago, I would always get hostile calls, and people would say things like President Bush has created the strongest economy in American history, which is utter nonsense.

I’m not getting calls like that anymore. I’m getting callers who are saying, What do we need to do to fix this? How do we address this?

And, by the way, the most fundamental thing is: Elect a different Congress! Elect a Congress that is not in the pocket of Wall Street and the companies that Wall Street finances, which is where most of the campaign contributions come from.

***

JJ: That was journalist and author David Cay Johnston, speaking with Steve Rendall and me in 2008.

 

An Interview With Elizabeth Warren: Trump’s $500 Billion Coronavirus “Slush Fund” and More

Mother Jones Magazine -

Few people know more about conducting financial oversight during an economic crisis than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who led the congressional panel that monitored how billions in federal bailout funds were spent—and misspent—following the 2008 crash. This week, she Zoomed with Mother Jones’ Washington, DC bureau chief David Corn from the back porch of her Cambridge home with her golden retriever, Bailey, by her side. Warren, who last month ended her presidential bid, discussed what could go wrong with the Trump administration’s $500 billion coronavirus corporate bailout fund and how best to monitor this “slush fund.” She also recounted her efforts two years ago to get answers from John Bolton after he abruptly disbanded the National Security Council’s global health security unit and talked about whether she is interested in the veep slot on the Democratic presidential ticket.

The Navy Has an Absurd Explanation for Why It Fired Captain Brett Crozier

Mother Jones Magazine -

On Monday, Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt dashed off a four-page letter to his superiors detailing the frightening conditions on his ship, where dozens of sailors had become ill with COVID-19. Because of the confined nature of the aircraft carrier, Crozier said in stark terms that his crew would be unable to safely quarantine infected sailors, a situation that increased the chances of the virus spreading to others. He said 90 percent of the sailors needed to disembark in Guam, where the ship was docked, or risk further infections. “The current plan in execution on TR will not achieve virus eradication on any timeline,” he wrote

Hours later, the San Francisco Chronicle published excerpts from Crozier’s letter. By Thursday, he had been relieved of his command. The Navy offered no detailed rebuttal of his letter. In describing his reasons for firing Crozier, acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly sounded at times more like he was giving him a promotion than relieving him of command. “Captain Crozier is an honorable man who, despite this uncharacteristic lapse of judgment, has dedicated himself throughout a lifetime of incredible service to our nation,” Modly told reporters on Thursday. “And he should be proud of that.”

So what did Crozier do wrong? Here’s how Modly explained it:

The letter was sent over non-secure, unclassified email even though the ship possesses some of the most sophisticated communications and equipment in the fleet. And it wasn’t just sent up the chain of command. It was sent and copied to a broad array of other people. It was sent outside of the chain of command. At the same time, the rest of the Navy was fully responding. Worse, the captain’s actions made the sailors, their families, and many in the public believe that his letter was the only reason help from our larger Navy family was forthcoming, which was hardly the case.

That explanation makes it seem like the Navy’s primary problem was not with Crozier’s choice of words, but his method of delivery. Instead of contacting his superiors discreetly, he wrote a memo that—intentionally or not—could have been leaked. Or he leaked it himself. The Navy wasn’t too clear on that, either. 

Earlier in the press conference, Modly took time to note specifically that the Chronicle is Crozier’s “hometown newspaper,” but when pressed later over whether he believed that Crozier leaked the letter, Modly demurred. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever know who leaked the information,” he said, adding that Crozier “sent it out pretty broadly. And in sending it out pretty broadly, he did not take care to ensure that it couldn’t be leaked.”

The Navy is in the midst of one of the more serious peacetime crises in its history, after already enduring turmoil in its top ranks. Modly, formerly the No. 2 civilian in the department, only took over in November after the Navy’s last civilian leader, Richard Spencer, was ousted for insubordination in a convoluted chain of events surrounding President Donald Trump’s intervention in the case of disgraced Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. Crozier had racked up several major awards for outstanding service since graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1992 and seemed to clearly hold the support of his crew. A video circulating online of him leaving the Roosevelt to cheers from his sailors is one piece of evidence for that. Even Modly acknowledged that Crozier was beloved. 

Wrongfully relieved of command but did right by the sailors. #navy @UncleChaps @katebarstool @ZeroBlog30 @CaptainCons pic.twitter.com/M0aZhHNMXT

— Dylan Castillo (@Sotero269) April 3, 2020

Given the tenuous time and Crozier’s obvious track record, shouldn’t there be a stronger argument for firing him beyond the fact that his letter reached too many people? 

“I have no doubt in my mind that Captain Crozier did what he thought was in the best interests of the safety and well-being of his crew. Unfortunately, it did the opposite,” Modly said. “It unnecessarily raised alarms with the families of our sailors and marines with no plan to address those concerns. It raised concerns about the operational capabilities and operational security of that ship that could have emboldened our adversaries to seek advantage. And it undermined the chain of command who had been moving and adjusting as rapidly as possible to get him the help he needed.”

Rather than raise unnecessary concerns among families, it seems that Crozier’s memo accurately reflected their fears. One mother of a sailor on board the Roosevelt who tested positive for COVID-19 told the Washington Post that the captain’s “letter touched on all the points that us, as family members, were feeling.” The parent of another sailor under Crozier’s command told the Post he “is a hero” who cares “tremendously for the well-being of my daughter and all her shipmates on board TR.”

Even if Navy officials were already responding to Crozier’s concerns in private, their urgency clearly did not match what he felt was necessary. On Tuesday, Modly outlined a possible reason for this in an interview with CNN. “We have been working actually the last seven days to move those sailors off the ship and get them into accommodations in Guam,” he said. “The problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now and we’re having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create tent-type facilities.” 

But in that same interview, he also said Navy leaders “don’t disagree” with Crozier’s assessment of the threat posed by COVID-19. By Thursday, when speaking with reporters to justify his decision to fire Crozier, Modly seemed to reverse that support. This time around, he said, Crozier’s letter “misrepresented the facts of what was going on on the ship.” When asked to cite a specific example, Modly said, “Well, you raise a particular level of alarm when you say 50 people on the crew are going to die. No one knows that to be true. It does not comport with the data we have.” 

Crozier’s advice to remove sailors quickly from the ship was ultimately heeded. On Wednesday, the Navy announced a plan to remove more than half of the sailors off the ship. In announcing that decision, Modly and Admiral Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, acknowledged a possible misunderstanding with Crozier. “The misunderstanding perhaps was the requirement of the speed to get people off the ship,” Gilday said. “In order to act on a requirement, we have to clearly understand the requirement.”

Crozier’s letter could not have made the timeline more apparent. “Decisive action is required,” he wrote. “Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

The only thing decisive about the Navy’s response was the speed with which it fired Crozier. 

Guy Snodgrass, a former Pentagon official under Defense Secretary James Mattis who served with Crozier on the USS Ronald Reagan, said his firing “sets the Navy back significantly as a professional organization, losing trust with both the American public and Sailors.” High-profile Democrats have also latched on to Crozier’s ousting as an example of the Navy’s failure to properly address the accelerating coronavirus crisis among its ranks. In a statement to Reuters, Joe Biden said, “Donald Trump’s Acting Navy Secretary shot the messenger—a commanding officer who was faithful to both his national security mission and his duty to care for his sailors.” Tommy Vietor, an Obama administration national security official who co-hosts the popular liberal podcast Pod Save America, said on Twitter that it was “moving” to watch Crozier’s sailors wish him well, “but infuriating to know that he was fired for refusing to whitewash the disastrous coronavirus response.”

The Navy, in the meantime, expects there will somehow be no deleterious impact stemming from Crozier’s firing. “I trust that it won’t have a chilling effect,” Modly said. “I hope this will reinforce the fact: We have the proper way of handling this.” When time is running out in a crisis of unexpected magnitude, Captain Brett Crozier’s story raises the question of how proper that process really is.

Friday Cat Blogging – 3 April 2020

Mother Jones Magazine -

This is Hilbert a couple of days ago, distracted by some kind of shiny object while he was strolling along the fence. Little does he know that our squirrel flanked him while he was staring upward and made an end run to . . . somewhere. Whatever it is that squirrels go haring off at. After Hilbert was done with his promenade he jumped over into our neighbor’s yard to provide them with some company while they are sheltering in place. What a warmhearted cat!

The Economic Crash Is Going to Be Particularly Awful for Women and People of Color

Mother Jones Magazine -

The 6.6 million Americans who filed for unemployment last week have earned themselves a grim superlative: They, along with the 3.2 million people who filed the week before, mark the fastest-growing unemployment disaster in recorded US history.

These early numbers don’t tell us exactly who these jobless workers are, but we have some clues. Major retailers, which have closed stores after government orders to shelter in place, have furloughed staff without pay. There have been sweeping layoffs in the food service industry, which employs an estimated 15.6 million Americans, as major suppliers cut staff and most states limit restaurants to takeout only.

These layoffs have been especially bad for two groups—namely, the same people who were particularly screwed over in the last recession: women and people of color. National unemployment numbers haven’t been broken down by demographics yet, but state numbers are looking dire for these groups. Minnesota has reported that women make up nearly two-thirds of new unemployment applicants. In pre-pandemic times, they typically accounted for only a third of them.

The retail industry accounts for 10 percent of all private sector jobs, and the retailers most affected employ the most women. Almost half of the workers employed by restaurants are people of color—and those workers are concentrated in the sector’s poorest paid positions. The low pay that accompanies these positions doesn’t really allow for the sort of long-term savings that could soften the blow of a lost job. The median hourly wage for a retail sales worker, for example, is $11.70, and it’s just $10.47 for restaurant servers. Congress passed legislation last month to increase unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans who’d lose their livelihoods as the pandemic raged, but for women and workers of color, that might not be enough. That’s because they’re likely to be among those who were never made whole after the Great Recession 12 years ago.

“Recovery had been uneven,” says Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “The gains of the economy did not really trickle down to women or people of color in the ways that we might have expected.”

The end of the last recession marked the longest sustained stretch of economic growth in US history, but the benefits weren’t reaped universally across all Americans. A report from IWPR in September 2011 found that 39 percent of women—including 52 percent of Black women and 48 percent of Hispanic women—reported difficulties in paying monthly utility bills, compared to just 26 percent of men who said the same. Even as the wider economy improved, those gaps persisted. A 2017 analysis from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that, adjusted for inflation, Black men and women across all races are earning less than they did in 2007.

What led to such an uneven recovery? Much of it has to do with how the recession reshaped the jobs landscape. Positions in the public sector, which historically were committed to fair and inclusive hiring, faced steep cuts as states committed to austerity measures, and many of those jobs never came back. The gig economy—premised on part-time, low-wage, benefits-free labor—ascended in its place, disproportionately employing workers of color, who, like all women, are also overrepresented in minimum wage work.

Beyond wages, the wealth of those populations also took a tremendous hit during the Great Recession. Both women and people of color have less wealth than white men and were more likely to dip into their retirement or other long-term savings accounts to stay afloat. Crucially, homeownership and property values never fully recovered, particularly for households of color. In 2009, the median Black household wealth dropped 53 percent, compared with just the 17 percent white households lost. “Home equity is used to start a small business, pay for retirement, and pay for college,” Mason says. “The last recession wiped all of that out.”

And so a wealth gap that persisted long before the Great Recession widened in its aftermath. In 2010, for example, the average white household had eight times the wealth of the average Black household. In 2014, white families had 13 times the wealth of their Black counterparts.

Those setbacks now form the fragile foundation for workers weathering this latest crisis. Women, still often relegated to the role of family caretaker, will find themselves particularly squeezed as dwindling workforce meets new demands at home. “This is a gendered crisis,” explains Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “They’re facing a double burden of being really strapped in the paid economy as well as trying to care for their family members—maybe children who now need homeschooling, or elderly parents and a spouse at risk of getting sick.”

Disparities in health care coverage put these populations in a precarious position. Roughly a quarter of women delayed or declined medical attention due to costs in 2017, while only a fifth of men did the same, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. That same year, a third of Black households skipped health care, compare to just 21 percent of white households, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking. “And that was in the good times,” says Christian Weller, an expert in labor and inequality at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “You can imagine what decisions people are making now.”

The natural conclusion of these conspiring circumstances leads to a doomsday scenario. Poverty rates will rise, Weller predicts, as people cut back on utilities, food, and prescription drugs necessary for preventative or long-term care. “Right now, there are a lot of things going wrong at the same time,” Weller says. “All of these inequalities already existed—they’re just magnified right now.”

The emergency relief bill Congress passed last week tried counteract the worst impacts of the current crisis, extending unemployment benefits to gig, freelance, and part-time workers for the first time ever. It also suspended six months’ worth of payments on federally held student loans, a burden that disproportionately affects borrowers of color.

But the experts I spoke with identified key shortcomings. Bahn wishes there had been more of an emphasis on labor standards and compensation, particularly for those who are on the frontlines of the pandemic response. Many of those who are still gainfully employed work in health care, regularly exposed to the deadly virus. Roughly three-quarters of hospital and health care workers are women, and while most of them are white, Black and Latinx workers are vastly overrepresented among home care and nursing home employees. “I’m just horrified thinking about people making $20,000 a year while dealing with the most vulnerable populations,” Bahn says.

Darrick Hamilton, an economist who studies disparities across race, says he’s particularly concerned about the one-time payment of $1,200 most adults will receive from the federal government. He says it’s neither sufficiently large nor sustained enough to keep people whole until the economy recovers. Hamilton also raised concerns about the small business loan program, which is already under scrutiny for how it plans to distribute emergency funds to firms. “Various small businesses—and particularly those that are black owned—are not capitalized to be able to withstand an economic downturn where you shut their business down for an extended period of time,” he says.

“I don’t think we’ve learned the lessons from 2008 at all,” IWPR’s Mason tells me. “We’re still targeting the largest amount of support for big businesses, and we’re doing so little for the people who will be suffering long after those businesses have rebounded.”

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in March

Mother Jones Magazine -

The American economy lost 701,000 jobs last month. We need 90,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth, which means that net job growth clocked in at—

Ahem. I suppose that accounting for population growth hardly matters at this point, does it? Just for the record, though, here’s the jobs chart for March:

This is for early March, by the way. The full extent of job losses due to COVID-19 won’t show up until next month.

And also just for the record, March was a fairly good month for wages. Average hourly wages for blue collar workers went up about 3 percent after accounting for inflation. That’s pretty good! Assuming you still have a job, that is. Most of you probably do, but there are obvious exceptions. I don’t normally bother showing job losses by category, but it’s worthwhile this time:

The biggest job losses by far came in four areas: retail, temp services, health care, and hospitality (which includes restaurants). I’m a little surprised about the job losses in the health care sector. There must be a specific story behind this, but I’m not sure what it is.

My Sister Has Been a Travel Agent for 30 Years. We Talked About Her Work Life During the Pandemic.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Michelle Mazzie has been a travel agent in Park City, Utah, for 30 years, serving mostly corporate clients and some leisure travelers. She also happens to be my sister. So when the travel industry became one of the first business casualties of the novel coronavirus, I started interviewing her about what that looked like on the ground as the pandemic first took hold.

Our first interview was on March 6. That’s the day Austin canceled its annual music and ideas festival South by Southwest. That’s also the day Vice President Mike Pence announced that 21 people aboard a Princess cruise ship were infected with the virus. President Donald Trump said he wanted to prevent it from docking in California because, “I don’t need to have the numbers [of US cases] double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.” Businesses were canceling work travel; big conferences in Las Vegas and elsewhere were halted. I’d planned to write up the interview and post it soon after. But the travel industry proved to be a moving target. Everything we thought was true on March 6 turned was totally different a few days later. 

Within a week of that first conversation, every major sporting event in the country, from professional hockey to college basketball, got canceled. Schools closed, the economy started slowing, and the airlines were panicking. I couldn’t update my story fast enough to keep up, so we just kept talking. I’ve continued to interview my sister several times over the past month about what it’s been like to be a part of an industry that is imploding, with projected losses of more than $400 billion in 2020. Here’s what she told me. (Our interviews have been edited for clarity.)

Can you describe what it’s been like to be on the frontlines of the travel industry during the pandemic?

It’s been a nightmare. People are just exhausted. We’ve been working night and day to get people home. We’re trying to balance the needs of our clients while following the guidelines that each travel vendor has in place. But the guidelines have been changing multiple times a day. I feel like I need a law degree to figure out the logistics. I really don’t want to make an error that will cost my company money in the long run. It’s not an easy job. When the airlines won’t answer their phones, we’re the ones that are fielding everything. My company did layoffs for the first time in its 35-year history, and it’s my understanding that the largest travel management company in Utah laid off 200 people a few weeks ago. It’s been hard to watch the whole world come down like that.

When I first started talking to you about the industry in early March, you said you had friends in the travel business who were traveling around a lot right now and saying how great it was because there were no crowds. Has that changed?

Yep. Now people are definitely canceling their trips. I feel like there wasn’t a clear direction when all this started happening. I have a friend who was stuck on a ship. She went to Antarctica. They were supposed to disembark on March 17, but no one would let them dock. They sent her to the Falkland Islands. She finally got home on the 27th. 

 

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Look at that there I am! A Signature Travel Expert. I love this conference. I have learned so much over the past year and met some awesome travel advisors along the way. #hesstravel #galavantingtattler #sigsocial #sigtn #travelmatters #lasvegas #mandalaybay #traveleducation #stn2019 @signaturetravelnetwork

A post shared by Michelle Mazzie (@galavantingtattler) on Dec 2, 2019 at 6:43pm PST

What sorts of issues have your clients run into in the past month?

I had a gal call, and she was actually in Seoul [just before all the travel bans] and was flying to Melbourne. She was worried her flight wasn’t going to go, if she was going to be stuck there. Her flight went, and I think she was wondering if they were even going to let her get off the plane connecting through Sydney. She made it. But in Seoul, she was very concerned she’d be stuck there for 28 days. That would be so interesting because do you stay in a hotel room for 28 days and who pays for that? How much does it cost to stay in a hotel room for 28 days and eat?

Are people pissed off about having to cancel or postpone trips?

Pissed off? No, they’re mostly scared. I haven’t had anybody that’s been pissed off. Leisure travelers, they’re definitely not pissed off. It’s more of a concern thing.

I have heard that getting your travel canceled or changed, especially with the airlines right now is a nightmare. The hold times to call sound really long. Are people freaking out about this?

I feel like I should really point out that this is why you should use a travel agent. We could get [a flight] canceled and get it all figured out for you a lot faster, so you don’t have to wait four hours on hold with Delta. There is actually value in a travel professional. We will sit on hold for four hours for you. People who don’t book with us have actually called and said, “Is there something you can do?” We help them the best we can, but it’s hard when we didn’t do the booking originally.

What sorts of interesting questions are you getting?

Somebody asked me, “Do you think the airports will be empty when I go?” I said, “I sure hope so!” They want to know, “Will I get a whole row to myself?”

The Trump administration has made a number of missteps during this crisis that seem to have had an adverse impact on travel, like when he announced during a March 11 prime-time TV address, with no advance warnings, that travel from Europe to the US would be banned. Lots of people paid ridiculous amounts of money to get home before the ban took effect, and then many got stuck in crowded lines at the airport when they arrived in the US. Have moments like that made things worse for travel agents?

It has gotten worse. After he gave his speech, travelers went into a panic, and they were calling wanting to know what he meant, and we didn’t know. We had no idea what he meant. Nobody knew. On the [after-hours] lifesavers line, it was just panic. When we have all these people who are already in Europe, and then he comes out and says there’s a ban, and now they can’t come home. It’s been a lot. People were upset. They really took it out on the lifesavers line.

You couldn’t pay me enough to go on a cruise, even before the coronavirus outbreak. So I’ve been shocked to see that right up until the companies were forced to shut down people were going on them. Are you seeing any sort of change of opinions about cruise ships now that so many people have gotten sick on them?

Nobody has said they won’t get on a cruise ship. They are more just like, “When do you think we’ll be able to go?” People love cruising.

Have you ever seen anything remotely like this before?

There was 9/11 when all the flights were cancelled, and then people didn’t want to travel. That was interesting. Then there was SARS in 2003 and that cost $50 billion in travel. I think it was SARS that really hit the travel industry. But they say that this is more comparable to 9/11 as far as what the travel industry is going to lose, and that’s a lot.

“I feel like we have to be here for our travelers and the corporations we work with.”

Are you worried about your job?

My company has a contingency plan. I feel pretty confident in their plan, and I honestly believe that travel will come back because it always does. I feel like we have to be here for our travelers and the corporations we work with. I don’t know how long it will go on. That’s the unknown of it, right?

When the outbreak first started to get really serious, people were saying there were travel deals to be had. Were there any deals? And are they now all just a fantasy?

There are a few deals now. I think if you wanted to try to fly tomorrow you could get a really good deal! But then you land in DC or somewhere, and you have to be quarantined for 14 days. I think you can fly from DC to Salt Lake now for like $200 for immediate travel or in June, to Hawaii from SLC is $400. Soooo there are a few deals. But everybody should just stay home.

Is anyone actually traveling anymore?

It’s funny because every day, I’m so busy still doing cancellations. If somebody calls to book a new trip, I’m like, “How do I do that?” We’re like, “You actually want to buy something? Are you sure?” That’s the first question. I am happy to issue a ticket because I know next week I’ll be canceling. It will give me something to do.

One of the hardest things I’ve found about the pandemic is the way it’s put life on hold. I’m a big planner, as you know, and this time of year we’re usually making all sorts of plans: summer camp, vacations, trips to see you. What do you tell people who are in this weird purgatory?

You really have to go on like everything’s fine and make your summer plans. You could interview me now about the Utah toilet paper shortage.

Democracy Dies in Blah Blah Blah

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

In a live appearance on the Fox News network (3/30/20), Donald Trump said it was good that Democratic proposals for increased voting protections and ballot access—including vote-by-mail, same-day registration and early voting, as well equipment and staffing to make voting safe during the pandemic—were not included in the coronavirus relief package.

“The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said. “They had things—levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

“There is scant evidence of actual large-scale voter fraud in this country,” Aaron Blake (Washington Post, 3/30/20) notes in his 14th paragraph.

If Trump was guilty of saying the quiet part loud, as a number of commentators pointed out, the Washington Post can be charged with saying a straight thing crooked. In the Post‘s March 30 account:

Trump didn’t expand on the thought. But he clearly linked high turnout to Republicans losing elections. The most generous reading of his comment is that he was referring to large-scale voter fraud resulting from the easier vote-by-mail options; Trump has in the past baselessly speculated about millions of fraudulent votes helping Democrats in the 2016 election. The more nefarious reading would be that allowing more people to participate in the process legally would hurt his party because there are more Democratic-leaning voters in the country.

Well, which do you want to be—”generous” or “nefarious”? And baseless speculation about fraud—that’s otherwise known as lying, right? So now the generous reading—not “unreasonable,” but “generous”—is that a person who has lied about this very thing is lying about it again. There had to be a clearer way to get that across.

The reporter, Aaron Blake, would likely say, if asked, that he believes, and thinks readers will take away, that “nefarious” reading. Yet here we have the specter of voter fraud—debunked again and again, including in the Post (e.g., 11/5/18)—being legitimized by consideration. Reporters may think this is tactful, grown-up language, when it’s actually misleading, milquetoast language that does the opposite of what journalism is meant to do—which is clarify issues, break down doublespeak, and help readers understand what’s happening.

Which is that the president of the country has declared himself an opponent of one person, one vote democracy. We already knew that, but he said it out loud, on the record. The thing to do would be to take him at his word, and to assume that his actions have been and will be of a piece with this expressed view. And if you really want to get wild, you might actually be critical of this anti-democratic position, call for resistance to it, and actually platform those who do resist it.

“Democracy dies in darkness,” the Post‘s Trump-era branding tells us. True, but sometimes also in broad daylight, if you smother it with blah blah blah.

ACTION ALERT: Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

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