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Welcome back to this week’s installment of the all-new What Just Happened?!, a semi-comical weekly digest of the most important news from the UK, US and the World from Will Marshall, and Alistair Simmonds-Yoo. Look out for us every weekend, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The World

Corporate Fail-Outs 2 Electric Boogaloo

It’s almost as if the extent of a nation’s response to this pandemic is inversely proportional to the quality of their existing institutions. The 16th president of the Philippines, Duterte, is instructing security forces to shoot anyone who leaves their homes or otherwise causes trouble (taking the fight to the virus, cunning…). Whereas Sweden has been enjoying springtime belligerently  unperturbed (although, their sense of exceptionalism might go the same way of other nations in recent weeks… looking at you, U.K. and U.S., in that order). 

The $2 trillion expenditure by the U.S. government, which hypothetically would equate to $6,000 to everyone in the US if it were all distributed in a naive UBI fashion. 

The 800 page piece of legislation lays out: $130 billion for hospitals; $150 billion for state/local government; 

$250 billion in direct payments to individuals; 

$350 billion in small business loans; 

$250 billion for extra unemployment benefits in the shape of $600 a week over the next 4 months (i.e. $10,320 over 4 months, where 250 Billion/$10,320 implies) for some 24.2 million ‘jobless workers’, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms…; 

“Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Fox News on Sunday he believed the additional funds (~$450 billion) could help the Fed and Treasury provide about $4 trillion in loans.”

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$500 billion in loans to companies (including $50 billion to the airlines – supposedly an oversight committee will be set up… worth watching this one). 

Apparently even the largest financial stimulus package in U.S. history might not scratch the surface of the problem; bearing in mind that there exists:

“roughly $9.5 trillion in outstanding U.S. corporate debt, much of which is either in the lowest-tier investment grade rating or already rated as junk, with a higher risk of default. Other areas that need support – such as the commercial paper market where borrowers go for short-term funding or the municipal market that local governments use to raise money for roads and schools – total trillions of dollars more.”

So that’s all looking great. 

If it ain’t broke… Completely redesign it and slap on a Dyson badge

When we look back on the Covid-19 crisis, one of the major failings of Western governments that will stand out will be the absolute shitshow that has been procuring desperately needed supplies.

In the UK, public proclamations have failed to match reality. Health Secretary Matt Hancock stated: “if you produce a ventilator we will buy it”. Except they aren’t doing. Numerous well-established manufacturers’ offers have been snubbed or ignored in favour of completely new designs from the likes of Dyson and JCB (who, coincidentally, are large donors to the Conservative party). That’s not to say what Dyson has done isn’t remarkable, it is, but we could have already had tens of thousands of the existing designs, working, in hospitals, before we’ll have the first from Dyson. 

Meanwhile, another British vacuum company, Gtech, were asked to design a new ventilator, did so, and were asked to gear up to produce 30,000. Before being told, without reason, 6 days later not to bother. Admirably, they completed the design and have made it freely available online.

I’ve actually spent part of my working week at the mercy of the NHS’ failure to organise central procurement, as I’ve been trying to assist an acquaintance to literally give away as much as 4 tonnes of much-needed bulk hand sanitizer at cost. Only to be told by procurement teams at trusts we’ve already stocked up that they “don’t have contacts” at other NHS trusts, so they can’t help.

Meanwhile, the state of affairs in the US is somehow even more confusing! The President can order the use of the Defence Production Act to force manufacturers to make equipment needed for the good of the country. More than a week ago, Trump tweeted that the act “is in full force”, which came as a shock to various government departments. But he also said it didn’t need to be used… Then he said it did… Then finally on Thursday he used the act to compel six companies to manufacture ventilators, and 3M to make N95 masks. 

So far the only tangible result of enacting the DPA has essentially amounted to ‘piracy’ of other nations. The 50’s era piece of legislation has been used to justify redirecting some 200,000 masks en route to Berlin for the local police force… who now join the extensive ranks of those directly downstream of the Trump administrations tide of poor preparation and zero-sum-game-theory (sidenote: while the American’s are going out of their way to damage their international image the Russians are taking a markedly different tract, delivering medical supplies to New York).

The Pentagon itself has been happy to offer up a supply of ventilators held in military stocks. Unfortunately, nobody has bothered to give them a shipping address, so they remain unused.

Yet more embarrassing was an administration official making contact with the Thai government to request emergency supplies, only to be met with bafflement seeing as the US had just sent a shipment of aforementioned medical equipment to Bangkok, with another not far behind.

And what of the 70,000 ventilators that experts predicted in 2007 would be required in a moderate flu outbreak? Contracts were awarded, money was budgeted, but 13 years later none have been delivered. 

To be fair, recently, the government have had their hands full making sense of Kushner’s incoherent babbling and updating official websites to not directly contradict the resident nepo-weasel (that’s a weasel who hasn’t earned their status in life, but instead has relied on various nepotistic advantage, think ‘Weasel King/Queen/Gender-Non-Specific-Dynastic-Ruler’). 

Van Gone

“The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring” (1884), you know, your favorite Van Gogh painting, has been stolen from the Singer Museum in the Dutch town of Laren. The painting was stolen on March 30th, which is also Van Gogh’s birthday. There have been many similar thefts of Van Gogh’s work and all 28 stolen since the 80’s have eventually been found. Though admittedly some are easier to recognize than others (Sunflowers was stolen in 1991 only to be recovered from the abandoned getaway vehicle… amateurs) there is perhaps grounds for cautious optimism that the latest will follow a similar pattern of Van Gogh Boomerangery. 

The US

Off The Rails

Scared about Big Government intervention are we?! 

Scared as this dude driving a freight train engine off the tracks in an attempt to sabotage a U.S. Navy Hospital vessel in LA… The train was about 250 yards shy of hitting its target and the engineer has been charged with (and this is actually a real thing) one count of ‘train wrecking’, which might mean 20 years in federal prison. 

That’s what you get for fucking up a train and needing a bunch of specialists to come clean up your stupid mess. It’s unclear if the driver will be charged for any steeper crimes such as… you know… trying to hit a Navy ship with your train by cruising off the tracks at full speed while wielding a flare in the drivers cab… (“A […] video shows Moreno in the cab holding a lighted flare”). 

While the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force will be leading the investigation it’s perhaps worth considering what caused this act of apparent lunacy and how we can treat root causes rather than just symptoms.

A Great Big Floater

Meanwhile, the commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt asks for help before being promptly fired. The Roosevelt is an aircraft carrier with ~4,000 sailors aboard and 137 Covid-19 cases, as of Friday morning… Here’s a video of chanting crowds aboard the vessel sending the captain off; there’s a petition with almost 100,000 signatures to reinstate him (as of Friday morning). The culture of fear is real and will likely affect the willingness of the following ship’s commanders to speak up in efforts to be more effective (or even ask for urgent help due to hundreds of ill sailors…):

The USNS Comfort (a navy hospital ship) currently docked at Pier 90 in New York City has a capacity of up to 1,000 beds. Trump is doing the ‘wartime’ president thing as only he can by endorsing something showy and useless. The Comfort has 3 patients (in addition to 1,200 crew) on it at the moment and it’s not obvious it will have many more based on its track record of being a large, expensive political stunt not entirely dissimilar to a 900 foot long, 70,000 tonne, flaming-turd on one’s doorstep… (with all due respect to all servicemen and women.)

In order to get admitted to the Comfort, patients have to go through area hospitals before being tested for, and confirmed not to have, Covid-19 (or a number of other conditions). When a hospital in Queens has ~500 beds and 13 people die in a day, having tested positive for Covid-19, the hundreds of staff aboard the Comfort seem some distance from the front lines yet. 

The hospitals of New York are understaffed and poorly equipped while facing unusually high demand; under such circumstances, arranging to alleviate pressure on the healthcare system by only treating other folks in need of emergency care doesn’t seem like the obvious way to relieve pressure (as is the logic with the Comfort). Especially since there are less typical accidents/injuries at the moment, in any case, since everyone is at home on a Zoom call in their underwear rather than out and about getting into shenanigans (this study suggests the rate of traffic fatalities in California to have almost halved compared to before the pandemic).

In 2017 the Navy told the WSJ that the ship (then offering 250 beds and with ~800 crew) cost ~$180,000 per day to operate. So adjusting for inflation and taking account of the quadrupled speculative bed capacity it presumably now costs 100 million billion dollars… or, seriously, certainly a lot more than 200 grand daily.

It seems much cheaper and more effective to just expedite the city’s donations of ventilators to area hospitals; rather than, you know, waiting for a bunch of people to needlessly die. As happened while the Elmhurst Hospital was overwhelmed, having been running at 80% capacity before the pandemic. Those patients that didn’t absolutely need to be there were moved out of the epicenter to other hospitals while the sailors aboard the comfort were isolating for two weeks before service… 

“Any outbreak on board could quickly spread and disable the ship’s operations. As a precaution, the ship’s crew isolated for two weeks before embarking on their mission to New York. They must remain onboard for the duration of their mission in New York.”

That’s (14 X 0.2) $2.8 million cost assigned to the ‘relieve urgent resourcing problems in New York’ mission before anything has even not been done. For context, ventilators cost around $25,000 (to take a rough average). So, 40 units from the city to bolster Elmhurst’s prior capacity of 60 looks something like a $1,000,000 cost. 

The UK

Finally Excelling

Okay, so it isn’t good news that we need it, but the NHS, alongside contractors and Army Engineers have constructed one of the world’s largest hospitals in just 9 days. It’s set up entirely as intensive care and is ready to take 500 people, with capacity for an additional 3500. Using the existing Excel exhibition centre meant a huge adaptable space was readily available, just needing tweaks to its power supply and basic infrastructure to be adapted, whilst exhibitions stands were used to construct bed bays. An additional 7 ‘Nightingale’ hospitals are in the works across the UK, showing exactly what the NHS can do when it’s at its best. Have a gander at this brilliant Ikea-style manual the architects have drawn up to assist other countries to do the same.

Miscommunication

As *mis-informed* train drivers in the US attempt to ram hospital ships (see above), people in the UK have started setting fire to 5G phone masts in an attempt to stem the spread of Coronavirus. (In the rank of ‘sentences I never thought I’d write’ that one would be pretty high.) The *theory* seems to stem from a combination of Hubei province being both one of the first areas of 5G rollout and total misinterpretation of a couple of academic papers. An article from the Daily Star quotes a ‘philosopher’ from the Isle of Wight who claims 5G suppresses immune systems, and a disputed hypothesis that bacteria may be able to communicate using radio waves (for the gazillionth time, its coronaVIRUS you cretins, even the BBC keep getting this wrong). 

It’s all very well laughing at the muppets who unthinkingly believe this crap, but misinformation is being spread at an alarming rate, even in the mainstream media, while anybody presenting reasoned arguments struggles to gain credibility amongst a populous who’ve been told by populist political leaders to ignore experts! You only need to go on Facebook or Twitter and read the replies under any article dismissing the claims to realise how alarmingly widespread these sort of beliefs have become.

The Daily Express (still somehow a popular source of news in the UK despite having written almost exclusively about the death of Princess Diana for 20 years) has run an article claiming an academic paper shows Coronavirus is genetically engineered, whilst on Thursday The Sun published videos of a Chinese scientist catching bats “fueling conspiracy theories”. Only at the end of the article, in which it draws all manner of ridiculous links, does it call the conspiracists ‘crackpots’. This is proper bottom of the barrel journalism!

The, increasingly respected (rightly or wrongly), political leadership in the UK urgently needs to step up and counter these claims, before a panicked population goes all ‘Lord of the Flies’.

Respectable Miscommunication

It isn’t just the tabloid rags jumping on the shit-journalism bandwagon, the Financial Times has done us no favours by publishing highly questionable conclusions from an unpublished and un-peer-reviewed paper from the University of Oxford. The article claims that the study says “half the UK has already has Coronavirus”, which to be fair to the study it does not, but it’s also a seemingly pretty shit study that hasn’t looked very hard at the numbers and makes some sweeping assumptions. Naturally it was unquestioningly picked up by most other UK newspapers. 

Let’s lull the peasantry into placidity shall we? If only we had some literal walls around the colleges to keep them out in times of danger… oh wait…. remember that time in the 14th century where almost 100 people were killed following some Oxford students complaining to a tavern owner regarding the quality of their wine? Shit don’t change.

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Horticulture?!

The collapse of the ornamental plants business could mean throwing out millions of plants. Perhaps slightly more pressingly to our survival (remembering the MI5 planning maxim that we’re only ever ‘four meals away from anarchy’) is a similar economic problem for food. 

Despite the reassurance of Supermarket Execs, the UK might run out of fruit and vegetables… embarrassingly, this issue is largely due to a shortage of labour from precisely those whom the Brexit programme has earnestly endeavoured to fuck over and disenfranchise. 

I for one Welcome our New Four Legged Overlords 

If you’re in the UK, you can’t have missed this, but for the benefit of those who aren’t: goats have literally taken over a seaside town in Wales. Yup. Goats have taken over a town. Just enjoy that, and these pictures.

The Internet

Zoom and Your Data is Gone.

It’s insane that this needs saying

“It’s also understood that Nato’s policy on Zoom is not to use the app for any meetings, briefings or conversations between ambassadors if classified or sensitive information is shared.” 

The back up plan should government communications not be able to occur in person is using an utterly notoriously insecure video conferencing software, because everyone else is using it?!

Many zoom meetings are joinable so long as one has the meeting ID (or is otherwise able to guess it…). So, predictably, some ne’er-do-wells are cycling through the digits until they end up in a meeting and then trolling the participants. Sometimes in a big corporate version of chat roulette and other times to hurl some hate speech at academics. Zoom’s usage has obviously grown exponentially recently; Daily Active Users increased by a factor of 20 over this past quarter to 200 million.

Model Example

There’s so much opinion masquerading as fact circulating at the moment, but this incredibly visual modelling of the effects of a variety of social distancing and lockdown measures on disease spread (admittedly not conducted by an epidemiologist) is superb. Take 20 minutes out of your day and watch it properly, it’s truly worth your attention.


Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, get in touch with the authors Will Marshall and Alistair Simmonds on Twitter and let us know what you did and didn’t like.

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