By Sunday, novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19, a respiratory illness and worse has infected 157,197 and killed at least 5,839 in 146 countries in just three months; a 3.4 per cent mortality rate, WHO estimates.
No-one knows when the pandemic will peak. Yet just as incalculable is COVID-19’s capacity to disrupt the world economy. The virus, moreover, is advancing faster than any financial crisis; government officials who must deal with it, risk becoming infected by a deadly pathogen, which is pretty enough under the microscope to be mistaken for a spring blossom, Maureen Dowd discerns.
Jason Furman, Barack Obama’s chief economist warns that coronavirus could harm the economy more than the GFC. Worse, he frets that politicians can’t fashion an adequate response. Certainly that’s abundantly true in Australia.
“If two months from now we go back to normal, I think we’d be OK. If this lasts six months or longer — and I think that’s the more likely scenario — all of that just compounds. Even if you discover a cure in December, you still have people out of jobs, broken balance sheets, bankrupt companies that won’t be particularly eager to hire.”
Its economic effects are bound to outlast COVID-19’s impact on our health. Unlike Australia, where some token stimulus measures are applied, even if three out of four dollars is spent on business, in the US, the world’s largest economy, rescue measures betray no sign that the administration even understands the nature of the task before it.
Morrison at least uses the coronavirus to hide the Coalition’s seven years of economic mismanagement. Of course, the PM was treasurer or PM for only five of these years and on that basis, given his Sports Rorts inquiry model, is completely innocent of any fiscal negligence or the fact that the Australian economy has not once grown above its trend rate.
Scotty’s recent shot at Coronavirus busting, something, he says, will soak up $17.6 billion is a ruse. It has to be seen, Richard Denniss argues, in the context of the PM’s failure to do a single thing to the fix the economy his own party has wrecked. Just as he did with the bushfires and just like his mentor Trump, he’s airily dispensed with expert advice. He’s never once seen fit to take advice from an economist. He’s not waving; he’s drowning in malignant narcissism.
Even the RBA can go down on its knees to plead he do something to stimulate the economy as it did in July 2019. But instead of listening, Scotty from marketing and Josh the wannabe stand-up comedian slapped each other’s backs in public about how they were back in black – next year; how the economy was about to take off.
Instead it tanked. It’s been tanking for seven years. Just take the ABS record of increase in household incomes. 1995 to 2012, sees a healthy increase during the Howard and then Rudd/Gillard governments. It collapses in 2013; never to recover.
Morrison’s rosy picture of the economy is based on a farrago of lies. Labor’s shadow finance minister, Katy Gallagher, is quick with some key facts; net debt has more than doubled under the Coalition even before the outbreak, from $175 billion or just under 11 per cent of GDP in September 2013, to $430 billion or over 21 per cent of GDP seven years later.
Back in black was never going to happen. There is no budget surplus of $7.1 billion as predicted. Never would have been – coronavirus or not. Even the “back in black” slogan was ripped off from former Kiwi PM John Key’s 2014 ad which appeared on a Young Nationals’ Facebook page. Back in black is also an AC/DC song, a tribute to late singer Bon Scott.
In 1998, Sneaky Pete Costello used “back in black and back on track” in his budget speech. What he forgot to explain is how he squandered the proceeds of the mining boom on middle class welfare and lowering taxes, as part of Howard’s cunning plan to put short-term vote-winning policies ahead of the long-term interest of the nation.
Apart from a $750 sop to pensioners and others on government payments, which may help a few pay the arrears on the electricity or gas bill, or pay the rego on the car, the stimulus package is pretty much a non-event. True, there is a great, big, huge, instant tax write-off. But all this does is tweak the depreciation schedule from $30K to $150K.
To stimulate the economy, you have to be a business rushing out to invest thousands in plant, just because you can write it off – at a time when you’re likely to struggle to earn enough just to stay in operation – especially in tourism, hospitality or education.
Paying half the wages of 120,000 young apprentices is good if the boss has the work to keep them on. Until we know the severity of the recession we are about to enter, it’s impossible to estimate how many apprentices will still be laid off.
As for the grant of $25K to small business, that is small beer to a Small to Medium Enterprise in tourism or hospitality whose work has dried up as a direct result of travel bans or a pandemic keeping people at home. Even to flourishing businesses, it is more of a reward or an insurance policy to the Liberal Party’s traditional base in case, as is not impossible, things really go belly up.
In brief, Morrison’s Clayton’s stimulus only makes Donald Trump’s look good. Trump announces a US$50 billion loan program for small business, subject to congressional approval. Nothing says borrow money more than discovering your income is collapsing.
Trump will get Treasury to defer $200 billion worth of tax payments. Businesses who struggle to turn a profit now will love having their tax deferred. It sure beats watching demand dry right up.
Then Trump runs out of ideas. True, he hankers after cutting payroll tax which Crikey’s Bernard Keane sees as a good idea. Yet he’ll need Congress to support it.
Both Democrats and Republicans call for stimulus measures, but getting them to agree on any one package is fraught. True Democrats have cooked up a batch of measures but we’re yet to see if the GOP will back it and Trump will sign it.
A virulent disease, COVID-19’s rapid spread is sped up by the wilful stupidity; toxic, populism and malignant narcissism afflicting many current world leaders and the even greater number of frauds, from BoJo to ScoMo, who simply pretend to be leaders. Badly. Enter Nemesis, punisher of hubris, writes The NYT’s Bret Stephens.
Nemesis is a Greek goddess of divine retribution who avenges evil deeds and undeserved good fortune. She will level the jumped-up; often Trumped-up post-truth poseurs, hypocrites and con-men who clog up the top jobs.
Also known as Adrasteia, “the inescapable”, Nemesis, hates injustice and rushes to help the arrogant, insolent and depraved get what they deserve. Who better to reveal the empty rhetoric and lies of our top imposters?
Past peak vacuity and a top contender in the keenly contested policy stupidity stakes is political clown prince, Britain’s PM, Boris Johnson. Not for Boris are restrictions, nor indeed policy; that’s for sooky-la-la countries. Boring. Instead, Boris reverts to his signature buffoonery; do nothing.
It’s a novel response to a novel virus. And it’s cheap. When most of the world is hell-bent on prevention, Boris wants Britons just to lie back and think of England.
BoJo’s latest stunt, the non-response, is billed as a “herd immunity” approach. The uncertainty is thrilling. No-one knows if it will work; how long it will take to work, or just how many will die in the process. Yet it parallels Chris Uhlmann’s “war footing” a chilling buzz-phrase which evokes the jingoistic mania which led us into disaster at Gallipoli, The Great War, Viet Nam, Korea, Iran, Syria, or our longest war in history, the war in Afghanistan.
Herd immunity does not spring fully-formed like Pallas or Athene from the head of her father, Zeus. Typically it’s only seen as a preventive strategy in vaccination programmes. If we don’t have a vaccine – as we don’t for COVID-19 – achieving herd immunity would require massive numbers of Britons to be infected and then recover from COVID-19.
Has anyone ever made a vaccine for a coronavirus? Currently circulating in humans are four coronaviruses which cause the common cold. We are yet to create a vaccine for one of them. Pesky, beta coronaviruses are most likely to just become endemic. New variants would crop up each year.
At least it would liven up the doctors’ waiting rooms. Dull and boring cold and flu season could soon become quite a bit more exciting: a cold and flu and COVID season.
Doing bugger all is of course richly attractive to BoJo and many of his compatriots. The theory is inertia will help Britons catch COVID-19 as quickly as possible in the hope – fingers crossed – that when up to seventy per cent of the population is infected, some type of immunity will develop. Genius. If it’s only forty per cent, Daily Kos’ Mark Sumner extrapolates from Italy’s mortality rate, this would cause 27 million cases and about 2 million deaths.
It’s likely to be more. At least sixty per cent of the population – possibly seventy – will need to become infected and recover to create immunity, suggests, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser.
Paediatrician and former WHO director Anthony Costello, says that the UK government is at odds with other countries in proposing herd immunity. Shifting from containment to mitigation is “wrong and dangerous”, he says. He doubts COVID-19 herd immunity would even last. It’s possible that like ‘flu, new strains will emerge each year and it will need repeat vaccines. By Saturday, Boris is happily selling his brainwave, however, to PM Morrison.
ScoMo and BoJo have discussed international co-operation in responding to the coronavirus pandemic in a telephone call, Boris Johnson’s office says. “The two leaders updated each other on their countries’ respective responses to the virus and agreed on the need to take a science-based approach to mitigate its impact.”
Science-based? There’s little science in either PM’s brief. We are trying to contain; not mitigating. Aren’t we?
But we can’t let Boris steal the hotly contested title Imposter of the Week so easily. Donald Trump mis-reads his tele-prompter in his rushed, unrehearsed and wooden address to the nation Wednesday night. His miscues panic the stock market, prompting an overnight sell-off on Wall Street Friday 13 March which helps erase most of big gains since Trump took office in 2017, gains, albeit, more the result of Obama policy than anything Trump ever did.
Karma? Or more of a SNAFU? His gaffe comes on top of claiming to close borders which happen to be still open. “As you know, Europe was just designated as the hot spot right now and we closed that border a while ago,” he lies. It’s vastly reassuring, nonetheless, to learn that Covid-19 is a nasty un-American foreign disease.
The Donald oozes reassurance. Part of his charisma. An alleged sexual predator, he is accused of 26 incidents of “unwanted sexual contact” plus 43 instances of inappropriate behaviour detailed in a new book last December.
Trust him? Trump can’t lie straight in bed. He did impose a raft of travel restrictions on 26 European countries, Wednesday night, but they were effective midnight Friday. They are not a total shutting down of the border.
A pal of fellow travellers, Prince Andrew and the late financier and convicted paedophile, Jeffrey Epstein, Trump was a passenger on Jeff’s private jet, nicknamed “The Lolita Express” as 1997 logs show. In 2002, Trump called Jeffrey “a terrific guy and a lot of fun to be with.” Doubtless the feeling was mutual given that Epstein had fourteen numbers for Trump and his staff in his phone book, leaked in 2009. Yet everybody lies but The Donald.
“Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign,” the Republican nominee said at a 2016 rally. “Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.”
Trump falsely blames Obama for testing shortages Trump himself has helped create. Whilst COVID-19 is now thought to have evolved in China in November, Trump’s administration is only putting key elements of US testing strategy in place, Friday, two months after the danger of the outbreak was communicated by China in January.
With a highly contagious virus that is lethal to vulnerable populations, the delay amounts to criminal negligence.
The Guardian Australia reports Dr Anthony Fauci, a top US official dealing with the crisis, calls US testing a failure on Thursday. South Korea tests up to 15,000 people a day. More than 230,000 people have been reached. The US, has managed only 11,000 in total. The USA’s per capita rate is about 130 times lower than in South Korea.
There have been delays and stuff-ups with botched testing kits but the origin of the problem lies in The White House. Trump has seen COVID-19 as a foreign problem. Yet he has it all under control. Or so he believes.
In his address to the nation, Wednesday, Trump calls it the “foreign virus”, a dangerous misnomer. Remarkably, he still rambles on Friday about combating coronavirus through “a very strong border policy”, when COVI-19 has clearly been spreading inside the US, undetected, for weeks. Then, incredibly, he invents a Google solution.
“I want to thank Google. Google is helping to develop a website, it’s going to be very quickly done, unlike websites of the past, to determine whether a test is warranted and to facilitate testing at a nearby convenient location,” he waffles and lies, hyping a pilot screening service, which is actually being built by Alphabet subsidiary Verily, a site limited to health workers in the Bay Area, which is still being developed.
Such disinformation will help kill his presidency, which is now terminal, given last week’s stock market losses.
Our pseudo- populist, Team Australia’s Scott Morrison, Bronte’s bogus bogan with the slogan, a conman with a cap for all seasons, will not escape either. COVID-19 may not strike him down, as it has Peter Dutton, but it is setting acid tests of his leadership, especially in public health policy and economics that he is already, comprehensively, failing.
How good are the Sharkies? Originally from the Emerald City’s rugby-loving eastern suburbs, Morrison professes his passion to watch his beloved Sharkies, a Cronulla NRL team he adopted only in 2009, dismissing any hint that he act like a leader and self-isolate, especially since he’s up close and personal with Peter Dutton in cabinet since Tuesday.
There’s a bit of a fuss on Sunday’s ABC Insiders regarding Morrison’s intention to flout his own Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation. Whatever that is. From Monday, we’re supposed to self-isolate; stay away from gatherings of five hundred or more. Whew! This gives Scotty and other Hillsong well-wishers a free pass to mingle at Hillsong’s Colour Conference Sunday at the Hillsong Convention Centre in Baulkham Hills in Sydney’s north-west, Saturday.
The venue has a capacity of 3,300.
“A journalist needs to come straight out and ask Morrison if his reluctance to stop large gatherings is related to the big Hillsong Church gathering with people from all over the world attending. Why only stop gatherings larger than 500 people, Chief Medical Officer?’ a concerned Australian tweets.
“Massive Hillsong conference over two weeks finishing this weekend in Sydney. Tens of thousands of people from all over the world tightly packed in. Millions of tax free dollars for our PM’s best friend and mentor. No wonder there is no shut down of mass gatherings yet,” writes another.
Even more baffling is Morrison’s live broadcast to the nation from Kirribilli Thursday. In true Scotty from marketing style, he doesn’t give away much information but there’s a lot of spin about how well his government’s doing at the economy; keeping people safe; all the regular bullshit and buzzwords. As Matilda’s Chris Graham notes, it takes Scotty barely fifty seconds before he’s into party political mode; back in the Trumpian bubble of his eternal campaign.
“I want to assure you and your family tonight, that while Australia cannot and is not immune (sic) from this virus, we are well prepared and we are well equipped to deal with it, and we do have a clear plan to see Australia through.”
Morrison keeps his speech brief, only 605 words, but, as Graham notes, “plan” gets a plug once in every hundred.
There’s a “clear plan” at the beginning, a “plan [with] three goals”, a “national health response plan”, an “economic stimulus plan”, “targeted local recovery plans”, and another “clear plan” at the end.
This is classic Crosby Textor marketing. It is all to do with pitching and spin; the man with the plan thrashes the living daylights out of the word “plan”; banging on and on about his coronavirus stimulus package at his presser earlier.
Seven times in under two minutes, you hear him utter the words “clear plan” Evading a question from a journo minutes later, he abuses the word plan” another seven times.
Some are troubled by Scotty’s hypocrisy. Oddly, it’s never worried him. After bagging Labor mercilessly, stimulus is not only OK; it’s the new black. The complete U-turn bothers the man who did help get us through the GFC, Wayne Swan.
“For six years,” says Wayne Swan, “there virtually wasn’t a day where they didn’t pour shit all over me, telling lies about the effectiveness of the stimulus.”
The lies have hardened into orthodoxy with the help of the News Corp megaphone. School halls which employed locals and which function today as multi-function community centres remain a brilliant investment in social capital as well as being textbook examples of public money wisely invested. As does the much-maligned home insulation scheme, thank you News Corp.
The opposition’s framing of the issue was reflected in most reporting and commentary, writes Rodney Tiffen. The narrative was one of disaster and incompetence, especially as the controversy gathered intensity. He sums up
As a tool of economic policy, the stimulus worked. Although other factors, including the strong demand from China and the sound position of Australia’s banks, were also important, the stimulus played a central role in making sure that Australia suffered less of a downturn than most other developed countries.
The opposition has criticised the public debt that resulted, but compared with most other developed nations this is fairly small. Moreover, the capacity to repay that debt – and, in the meantime, to service it – has been greatly aided by the success of the stimulus in minimising unemployment and boosting output.
Pensioners the length and breadth of the land enjoy homes made more comfortable. Better insulation has also meant lower heating and cooling bills despite electricity’s continuous rise to record levels due to the rising cost of gas and coal and the abject failure of coalition governments to evolve an energy policy.
The coronavirus crisis is a catastrophe in both public health and in its depression of economic activity. Alternative facts do not help leaders in times of recession, as Trump and Morrison are discovering. Trust and credibility are not rebuilt by talking quickly or by simultaneous mass press drops. A leader who cannot be believed will not be followed – especially in an emergency, Bret Stephens reminds us.
Does Team Australia inspire anything but derision? Did it ever inspire? Morrison will learn to his cost, Team Australia is too closely associated with suppression of dissent; the hoax prime ministership of Tony Abbott, a brief but convincing demonstration of a leadership job that was too big for the man. As for patriotism it is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
The Canberra Bubble has been used so often by Morrison to rule out questions he wishes to dismiss out of hand. It has come to signal a reluctance to be accountable, responsible or open – transparent in the jargon of the day. First there are testing kits in abundance; later in the day, the Chief Medical Officer warns they are in short supply.
In these ways, the coronavirus health and economic crisis will be Morrison’s nemesis as it will his mentor Donald Trump. As Bret Stephens concludes
It should not have had to take a deadly virus to expose this presidency (or prime ministership) for what it is. But it’s fitting that it has. A man who thinks he can twist every truth to suit his needs has at last discovered that he cannot twist the truths of nature and of one of nature’s gods. Her name remains Nemesis.