Observations on the Great Hunkering (8)

You want to know how long the month of March has been? It was still this month that Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Michael Bloomberg were running for president. Remember impeachment? Seems as long ago as Andrew Johnson’s impeachment. How long is April—T.S. Eliot’s “cruelest month”—going to be?

By the way, in retrospect does anyone think the frivolous impeachment whose outcome was foreordained might have distracted the White House from the coronavirus? See Henry Olsen’s article on this question from last week.

In any case, if you should happen to miss the daily deep thoughts of Mayor Pete, well pine no more, because he’s offering his own thoughts in New York magazine on being quarantined at home. And while he doesn’t say whether he has an adequate supply of toilet paper, it is apparent that he has run short of razor blades (see photo). About which he says, “It seems to be popular online. I just relish the fact that I’m no longer expected to shave every day.”

You’re welcome.

John has already noted how suddenly we seem to recognize that maybe we don’t need so much heavy regulation. Here’s my favorite example right now, from The Hill:

EPA Suspends Enforcement of Environmental Laws Amid Coronavirus

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws Thursday, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Actually, this is the epitome of fake news, as the headline and the lede are wholly misleading (but what else is new?), as the second paragraph makes clear:

The temporary policy, for which the EPA has set no end date, would allow any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency saying it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”

Translation: You won’t face EPA fines or penalties if you don’t keep your paperwork up to date. It does not mean that water pollution, air emission, or toxic disposal regulations or other quantitative limits are waived. It most emphatically does not mean industrial plants “would not need to meet environmental standards,” or that refineries, coal power plants, chemical plants, etc. can pollute to their heart’s content, or that General Motors can go back to making cars that run on regular gasoline for the next two months. It is simply a real-world recognition that if we’re trying to reduce the number of non-essential personnel going to workplaces, keeping up the logbooks and monitor data is one thing that can go by the wayside for a couple months. Similar waivers were issued for oil refineries after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with no effect on pollution levels. Actually pollution is going to go way down during this period because of depressed economic activity—a point I’ll come back to in a sequel some time in the next few days.

You would think even the dimmest reporter would be able to grasp this point. And it ought to be a vivid example of how it is possible to rack up big environmental fines for paperwork violations, even if you are in full compliance with regulatory limits. (State and local environmental agencies actually feast on fining people for paperwork violations—it’s how many of them make their budgets.)

We’ll be arguing for months/years about the efficacy of the COVID-19 response from all levels of government, but one aspect of the matter ought to be setting off alarm bells. Ever since 9/11 we’ve been told that we need to prepare for potential mass casualty terrorist attacks, including bombings, chemical attacks (Anthrax), and . . . biological weapons. And New York City is obviously Target One for any such attack, along with every other major American city. You’d have thought that our Homeland Security apparatus would have been making plans along with serious preparations and materiel procurement for a significant surge capacity for hospitals, including respirators, masks and other PPE, as well as quarantine facilities, etc. Yet New York seems to have caught desperately short of the necessary facilities to accommodate a biological pandemic, whether from Chinese negligence or a terrorist bioweapon.

You know who does build in significant hospital surge capacity as a matter of routine preparation? Israel. For the obvious reason. There ought to be some serious questions about our unprepared state of affairs after we get past the current moment.

I’m borrowing this meme from the TWiP pile just so I can set up today’s comic relief video immediately below:

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