S1: Slate Plus members, I’m here to remind you to take the sleep survey. It’ll be open through April 1st. This is your chance to tell us what you think about sleepless and sleet. It’ll only take a few minutes and you can find it at Slate.com slash survey.
S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest for March 19th, twenty, twenty. How long will it last edition?
S3: I’m David Plotz of My House. I’m in my daughter’s bedroom. I’m joined by Emily Bazelon of Yale, The New York Times magazine from her home in New Haven. Hello, Emily.
S4: Hello, David. I feel like that is a dangerous title you chose because we’re gonna be asking that question for a long time, perhaps, but I am also ready to ask that question. So I approve of it.
S5: Asked, but not answered. John DICKERSON of CBS 60 Minutes joins us from his house in Manhattan. Gotham, New York City, hello, John.
S6: Hello, David. Hello, Emily. It’s nice to see everybody. I’m going to just focus on the positive. We usually record one of us, at least as in. Usually it’s me. Actually can’t see you. Yeah. And now I can see you all. I can even see Joslyn. I’m going to I’m going to say that’s a good thing.
S7: That is that’s the only good thing.
S8: The only good thing at all on today’s gabfests, the most unsettling week of our lives, a whole new way of living. We’ll talk about what we can expect over the next weeks and months of the pandemic with Dr. Amesh Adalja, a scholar at Johns Hopkins, an expert on pandemic preparedness, emerging infectious diseases and biosecurity.
S9: So he knows what he’s talking about. Then can the economy be saved from the depression, the recession, the catastrophe that’s coming? Can the federal government do enough to stop the disaster? Neil Irwin of The New York Times will be here to talk to us about that. And then we’ll talk to the author of a new book about one of the worst natural disasters in American history and how people recovered from it. I’m really looking forward to that segment. The book has a lot to tell us about where we are now.
S10: And the author is John Allen and the authors John Allen.
S7: Also plugging the book is We’ll Talk. We’ll get to that.
S11: We’ll get to the people right now are reaching for a Pen is the name of the book Across Their Kitchen. This write down name of the book.
S5: The name of the book is This is Chance.
S12: This is Charles the Shaking if an all American city. Plus, we’ll have cocktail chatter and we’ll have a slate plus segment.
S13: So there you go. How are you? Hey, you’re not sure about any of those last two things?
S14: This is an unusual gabfest that we’re gonna have guests for all of our segments today.
S8: And our first guest probably knows more about what we’re gonna be talking about than almost anyone around. Dr. Amesh Adalja is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. He focuses on emerging infectious disease, pandemic preparedness, biosecurity. Dr. Adalja, thank you for joining us. So it’s Thursday morning as we’re taping. What is it that we as a society should be looking out for in the coming weeks that will signal how this pandemic is moving, whether we’re doing enough, whether social distancing is working, whether the health system can withstand it? What are the signals for us?
S15: So the biggest signal is going to be ICU bed capacity and hearing about crunches at I.C. use around the country, seeing if they are having difficulties obtaining ventilators for patients, seeing what they’re doing to manage ICU bed space, that that’s what our big indicator is, because that’s going to kind of be the canary in the coal mine because that’s really what we’re doing. All of this for us to try and preserve hospital capacity for the most sick individuals that are going to consume hospital resources. And that that, I think is the best marker. You’re also going to look at, for example, crowding in emergency departments. Are there a lot of people there versus what you would expect at this time of the year? And then the rest is looking at the number of deaths, the number of nursing homes that are affected. And in a number of cases, I would look at and I don’t think I would put as much stock in it because we have a lot of issues with testing and not everybody is going to need to be tested. So it’s always going to be an underestimate, but you can expect to see that ramp up. But it’s really the markers for hospital stress that we’re going to have to look at to see if this is if this is working and how bad it’s going to be.
S16: Could we talk about the relationship between testing and social distancing? When I read about other countries Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan that have had more success in containing and seeming to stifle the spread of coronavirus. It seems like massive testing and things like fever check to make sure that you’re keeping people who have symptoms separate have been really important. It seems like we kind of missed a moment to do those kinds of interventions. The United States, because we had so little testing, are we now with ourselves or distancing, buying ourselves some time so that we can get more testing into place and perhaps down the line, try those kinds of strategies?
S17: So I do agree that I think a lot of the window has been was was missed because we not only did we not have testing, but the protocols that were out there that were pushed out were actually discouraging testing of people with mild symptoms. And we know that mild symptoms don’t really mean anything in terms of contagiousness. They can still spread it. And if you tell someone you’ve got mild symptoms, go about your day. They’re not going to change their behavior and then self isolate. So I do think that what we needed to do if you were going to do this appropriately would be to aggressively find the cases and test them and isolate them. Or if you couldn’t test them, say, we presume that you have this. So just stay stay inside for 14 days and limit your contacts. That’s what you needed to do. So testing makes it very easy because if you give someone a test result, they’re going to actually take that action. But in the absence of that, you can still tell people what to do. And just to protect the community from this virus. But that wasn’t something that was done. And I think now now the testing is ramped up. It may be too late in many, many cases to do this because we’ve got so many undocumented chains of transmission all over the United States because we don’t know who has it, who doesn’t have it, where it where it is. And you’re almost left in the position with these mild cases. You’d have to say you probably do have it. So you should stay home for 14 days. For someone who studies pandemic preparedness, don’t necessarily think that this is how we wear our issue would be we knew we had issues with hospital capacity, but we didn’t do the diagnostic capacity. What would be would be something so important and that would kind of sink the response in this way. And it’s still baffling to me why the guidance in the very beginning was it was not to test mild patients and only to look at people that have been to China in the last 14 days when we know that this had been spreading since mid-November.
S18: So, Doctor, it all jives. I have a broad question and a narrow one. The narrow one is as we’re testing and making determinations based on the spread. Could it be possible that we’re getting numbers that are coming in of people who’ve already had it, that are sort of now that we’re just it’s just a factor, the fact we can test more people, that we now are having cases go up, that it doesn’t tell us necessarily anything about the success or failure of social distancing, because we’re still catching up to sort of scoping the problem in the first case and then that. So that’s the specific question of how to read the actual testing result numbers as they come in. And then the broader question is, relative to the narrative of this, so far it seems like the U.S. response has been woefully behind. Are we in a new category? Are we still woefully behind or have we caught up a little bit on where we should be and now we’re just simply behind? Or give us a sense of where we are in the race right now.
S15: So for the first question, I do think you’re going to see cases go up and that might be partly catching up. Just because we’re now running all these has the backlogs are going down. So we could so that it’s not really reflective of actual spread. That’s actually reflective of a test test catching up and finding the cases that we’re sitting and not being able to be tested and more people coming to access those tests now that we’ve got drive through clinics and have commercial labs and kits out there everywhere. So I wouldn’t look at that number and get along. I know there was a 40 percent increase overnight, which probably got a lot of people nervous, but that’s getting us to capturing some of these undocumented infections that we have all throughout this country. When it comes to our we are on the. We caught up to the world in responding. I would say that we are pretty much on par with the rest of the world. But the problem is that some of our tools have not been able to be used because we lost that opportunity, because we weren’t aggressively finding these cases when they came in. Maybe back in January and isolating them.
S17: Now, there’s an argument whether or not that that’s so. South Korea did that and now they were touted as this big success. But they’re having some more cases come back up now. So it’s unclear how effective or how sustainable that approach is right now. It’s a very we’re kind of in unchartered waters a lot with this virus because it’s it’s something that spread so efficiently. And when you look back at viruses like this and just going back to 2009 H1N1, there was no idea of this being containable because we knew it was flu, we knew was going to spread. And from the start, there’s been this idea of containment of this type of virus. And to me, it’s been very, I think, puzzling that we would be treating this differently in terms of how we approached it from a containment perspective versus something like influenza. Because, you know, this comparison is there’s analogies that are good with influenza, analogies that are bad, but one that is good is the way that it spreads. And when these cases in 2009 appeared in Mexico, there was no idea of trying to contain it. Something that was thought to be possible and that poses a problem because this has a higher case fatality ratio than than than the 2009 virus. And we’re just in this crunch because our hospitals do not have the capacity to deal with that many sick patients. So it’s it’s now something that I’m completely puzzled over how to how to come out of this solution, because it doesn’t seem like there’s any good solution right now. And then all the answers kind of lead to bad, bad outcomes for something. So it’s kind of like this is like the ethics of emergencies where there’s not really a good way to get out of this that I can think of.
S16: Can you explain that a little more like what the different bad outcomes are as you’re sort of it sounds like a kind of pick your poison scenario?
S17: Yeah, I think that’s that’s kind of what I’ve I’ve over the last 24 hours, I started to get a little bit less optimistic than I was about how we get out of this. And I tended to be somebody dropped the US. And I still do think the US is the best prepared country for pandemics, but I think that it’s increasingly coming to a choice of either you have to social distance and disrupt the economy and disrupt people’s lives. Live with that. That those are real people that are now not being able to work or feed their families or be able to do go about their daily life. Companies and businesses are going to shutter. People are being laid off. That’s real costs. And you’re going to see that have long term consequences. Schools being closed for for time that are going to that are going to have a cost to them, not just an economic cost, but a societal psychological and even a health cost eventually if people are out of work and unable to provide for themselves. And then on the other hand, you have a virus that can maybe has a case fatality ratio, about 1 percent, which is clustered mostly in high risk groups. But the fact is, so many people are going to get sick that there is not enough hospital capacity in our hospitals are going to grind to a halt and be basically in crisis mode. And we’re going to have to be thinking about rationing equipment and people are going to die from that. So I think that’s what that’s kind of where we are. The only hope it is if the hope is if the case fatality ratio isn’t that high and we still have a lot of uncertainty about the case. Fatality ratios are using 1 percent as an upper bound. Maybe it’s lower and maybe we’re spared. Maybe we won’t have an Italian type of experience. I don’t I don’t know the answer to that. So I think that’s the bad outcomes is, you know, you basically disrupt the entire economy and people’s livelihoods, lives, and you have to do that for some time for this to work. Modelling studies say it might have to be done for four months and months until there’s a vaccine available or you have to deal with the fact that our hospitals are not don’t have capacity and we’re gonna have hospitals, you know, in a big mess. And I don’t know what the right solution is or how to balance that or where the inflection point is, where you make where where the costs of social distancing are too high for the benefits of. That’s going to be a major societal policy decision needs to be made. And I don’t think there’s an easy answer to it.
S19: Dr. Delgado, which parts of science and medicine do you think can accelerate to reduce the impact? We know from World War Two, certainly when when the entire economy was turned towards war production, they were able to do things that they were not able to do in regular life. Is the same thing possible in science and medicine or which which parts of it might there be the ability to accelerate or to scale that we just think, oh, we could we can’t do it because because we’ve never done it before.
S15: The only way I would see the ability to scale is going to be on the capacity side. So that might mean building new hospitals. There’s lots of hospitals that have shuttered all around the country trying to open them back up. Maybe they’re not full service hospitals, but there are places where you can do so. You can render some type of care. I know that there are that the Navy, the military hospital boats are going to be coming to New York. At least one of them is coming to New York. That type of way to offload the health care system of patients. That’s what I think is that the lowest hanging fruit is to try and increase capacity by creating more hospital beds so that we don’t have that problem. At the same time, we may have a problem of ventilators, meaning that there’s not enough anti-elitist for all the people that might require mechanical ventilation and there are efforts to try and buy more ventilators and increase capacity. I heard that the automakers are looking to see if they can have if they can learn how to make those ventilators. And I know Royce in England is trying to make ventilators now. So there are ways to do it that way. It’s just gonna take some time to scale to get get ready. But I do think that’s one. One solution is to increase the capacity so that you can say, OK, we’re going to let the world resume, but we’re going we now have more hospital capacity. So we’ll be able to absorb the hit of the individuals who are creating demands on our hospital system without disrupting the function of the hospital. Because remember, people are still going to have heart attacks, strokes, psychiatric emergencies, other infectious diseases. All that stuff is going to be happening at the background. And that’s what people, I think sometimes lose sight of when everybody’s focused so much on this pandemic that they’re going to be long term health needs and eventually those types of things are going to start to suffer. I mean, they are already suffering. We’re already hearing about research labs and universities shutting down all of the research except for related to this virus or what’s called critical research. And that’s going to. Long term consequences, so I don’t know somebody who studies pandemics and has always talked about the importance of putting everything. You know what a cascading impact of pandemic can have. This is really a. It’s it’s really surreal to see it all happening. All the stuff that we write in papers happening and it is not clear, easy ways out of this because we don’t have a miraculous vaccine before the credits roll. Like in the movie Contagion.
S20: Dr. Adalja, what is the. The the quality of information we know about the testing versus non testing? How many people might actually have it? But other pieces of information that you and other people thinking about this are looking at how how dirty is that information? Do you feel like there’s what you don’t know? But then there’s the quality of what you do know and then added to that. What questions should we be asking public officials to find out if they’ve really got a handle on what’s going on?
S15: Well, they have to have insight into what hospital, what what’s going on in hospitals. We have to kind of have a dashboard to understand what’s going on in our eyes to use across the country. And knowing when they’re hitting stress, because that’s really that like I said, that’s the main indicator we’re looking at. And right now, we’re not hearing about over the people that are over-capacity. We’re hearing they’re nearing capacity at certain hospitals in certain parts of the country, not everywhere. I know that many countries, many, many states don’t have any cases in their ICU use now. But there are some that do have a lot. I think that’s what that’s what officials need to be looking at. It’s something that you have to think about looking forward that we have this idea just the way you would look during a during a hurricane or something like that that’s going to be there for some time trying to get that kind of situational awareness. I do also think it’s important to look at the data on data coming out of other countries on what’s going on in Italy, specifically Italy, because that’s really what a lot of this Worst-Case scenario is being derived from.
S17: Is the Italian experience trying to understand how replicable that is in the United States. And in trying to get that data and drill into it very in a very detailed manner, because there are obviously differences in the demographics in Italy in terms of the age of the population, not smoking status. All that stuff needs to be looked at.
S15: And I do think the case fatality ratio is going to be really important because a lot of the panic and a lot of fear is based on the need for hospital resources. And we need to see exactly what what that is to try and rightsized the outbreak response. The last issue is personal protective equipment. We need to have a good idea of how many ventilators we have, how many masks, what the issues are for that. That also something that we need to have an ongoing data stream for.
S9: Dr. Delgado, maintaining social distance is going to be incredibly difficult. It’s gonna be incredibly difficult because it has such a huge economic cost. And it’s incredibly difficult because humans are social creatures and we’re we are accustomed to dealing with each other and to touch and to human connection and all of that. If you had to and I know you’re you’re one person and one doctor, which are the most important parts of that for for our listeners, if you were going to say here are the things you really, really need to focus on and here are the things that are that are less important because because people just are going to be unable to maintain that level of disconnection and lack of activity for for a very long time.
S15: You know, it’s definitely one of the hardest things I think that we’re gonna have to cope with. And when people ask me this question a lot and I try to you want it as best as I can. People have to look at their own life and decide what’s essential and what’s not essential. There clearly are obvious things that we know are going to be dangerous and small groups are likely are likely going to be fine as long as you make sure that no one is sick there and you make it easy for people to social distance or not not not just social distance, but to be able to practice good hand hygiene and things like that at your at whatever event it is. I do. And then there’s lots of things like, you know, going out in the park or going outside, that’s fine. That’s not going to be an issue even where you have a lockdown. And Sara shelter-in-place order in San Francisco, people are still going out and doing things not like don’t hug your children, that kind of stuff. That’s not what we’re talking about here. And that’s not feasible. And it’s not a one size fits all type of answer. It’s kind of it’s sometimes much easier to answer the scientific questions on the virus than it is to answer these questions, because those I could rattle off the answers and not having hot when you ask me questions about the RNA of the virus. But this is a lot much harder to deal with, right?
S10: Well, it’s all about tradeoffs. I feel like you keep reckoning with that and recognizing it, which I really appreciate, because sometimes when people talk about this, they only focus on the science and the public health consequences of the virus, which I understand because we’re all focused on it. But there are all these other elements of our world in our life that are it’s a constant balancing.
S17: I think that, you know, a lot of modelers do come up with great predictions. And but then they’re looking at a computer model and not realizing that those peop-, those are like people’s lives. And it just gets a little bit difficult for me when when the models have such they have such influence on people. Rightly so, because it kind of gives you the best idea of a prediction. But you have to remember that there that it’s a model, but then you have to translate that model into practice. And then then those are real decisions that affect people. And they’re really in real life, not a simulated not a simulated city that you’re using in a model.
S9: Dr. Amesh Adalja. As a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, Dr. Daalder, thank you so much for joining us. Go off and do some good work here and try to help us get this done faster.
S15: All right. Thank you for having me.
S9: Slate Plus members, you get bonus segments on the gabfests and on other slate podcasts can go to Slate.com, Plesch Gabfests plus to become a member today. It supports Slate’s journalism, which is really good at this time and and supports the work we’re doing here on the gabfest. So consider becoming a member. Today I got a surprise. It might be a boring surprise, but it’s a surprise. It’s in the Slate Plus segment. So just listen.
S21: We’re gonna see how it works.
S8: The economy is broken. Frozen, completely screwed. We’re joined by Neil Irwin, the senior economics correspondent of New York Times, who is going to tell us how to save it. He’s got 17 plans. He’s already it’s all teed up. Neil, you had a great story about why the economic collapse that’s being caused by this pandemic is so different than what we’ve seen in previous economic crises, particularly in post-9/11 and in the Great Recession following the financial crisis.
S12: Why is it different? What does it mix it? What makes it different?
S22: So what’s happening is the economy. Large chunks of it, anyway, are coming to a standing stop. You know what? What an economy is, is you produce things and you sell them to others. Other people buy those things that then, you know, gives them the things they need. It’s a kind of circular system that that works in an ongoing way forever and ever. And what’s happening with this is a huge chunk of that. Anything involving restaurants, leisure, hospitality, travel, who knows how far it reaches is just shutting down all at once. So you’re looking at millions of people losing ultimately their income, their ability to kind of productively, you know, be part of that productive system. And we’ve just never seen anything like that. I mean, I looked at the numbers after 9/11 and yeah, restaurants had a slump in business, but it was like two percent. We’re looking at something much bigger than that.
S10: So I find this part of the story kind of more terrifying, maybe because it just feels so unknown. But also the tentacles are reaching out and seem seeming to affect just so many people. Does the government have the tools to keep everyone afloat while this crisis plays itself out?
S22: It potentially does. But I think there’s in Washington, everyone has been thinking too small for too long. It’s it’s nobody’s quite gotten their heads around just how big this is. Well, is the United States a 20 trillion dollar economy? If you assume something like 15, 20 percent of it is going to have to just shut down. And that’s the scale we’re talking about. I mean, you can run the math. That’s something like four trillion dollars a year. Do you think it’s six months? We think it’s three months. We can do the math. But we’re talking massive amounts of money. We’re talking about the federal government backstopping a tremendous range of industries, individuals, incomes on a scale that we really haven’t seen. It makes the 2008 bailouts seem like child’s play. And, you know, trying to both get your head around how big this needs to be. Get your head around how to actually execute it, how to try and get money into the hands of individuals and businesses so they can keep operating. And, you know, accepting that the government will end up taking on a lot of risk and more debt in order to do that is something that everybody is slow to come around to deal.
S18: What was the fiscal and monetary picture going into this and how many tools were available or were not available because of the the conditions going into it? And then secondly, do you have a scale of structural damage that could be done? So if we think of the analogy of personal illness, you get sick, you’re off work for two weeks, but then your body comes back and you’re able to, you know, lift that bale and tote that barge or tote that bale and lift that barge. But you’re able to go back. Does the economy, whenever this ends, has long term structural damage or could it go back and and kind of get to where it was before?
S22: So on that second point, that’s that’s a choice that we have to make as a society. Right. So it is totally plausible that this lasts for X months. And then after X months, we go back to the status quo ante and businesses that were shuttered for a while reopen. And, you know, everything keeps churning again. The airlines start flying again, hotels get full again, normal stuff starts happening. And that’s the optimistic scenario. I think the question is, are we going to not have an adequate policy response? And will that result in a bunch of major industries collapsing or falling apart in ways that take way longer to repair? That’s a much different situation. If the restaurant down the street from me right there shut down right now, they’re not they’re not operating zero dollars in revenue. If they’re able to get forbearance on their rents and their employees get in a kind of helped to get through this period, they’re you know, they owe money to the bank. The bank gives them forbearance. Three months later, they can reopen, hire the same people back. Everything’s fine. If, on the other hand, they get foreclosed upon, they could go bankrupt. Suddenly that restaurant ceases to exist. Suddenly, it is no longer there to go back into business. And it’s a much longer, more difficult process for the entire economy of rebuilding the capacity we once had. So that’s that’s the choice that’s going to be made in Washington. The stimulus bills go forward. How do they try and address the idea that millions of businesses around the country are facing choices and tradeoffs like that and help make sure that we can have that V-shaped kind of bounce back after this is over?
S12: So, Neil, your colleague, Andrew Ross Sorkin, and then I saw this in AEI and it may have been the same. They may have been drawing on the same source or maybe I didn’t notice. And Sorkin had drawn a. But there is a very grand idea, which is essentially the federal government should agree to backs up every business in the country and say if you retain your retain your workforce, we’ll give you a loan and no interest loan to retain your workforce and pay you for some period of time. And we’re just going to do that. And it’s going to be an enormous amount of debt that we’re gonna take on for the federal government. But that’s what’s going to happen. Is that an idea, A, that you think makes sense, A and B, has any possibility of going forward in this Congress and with this president?
S22: So that is the sort of idea that is on the scale of addressing what we’re talking about here. And, you know, the fact that you’re seeing that coming out of conservatives and centrists is telling you something that the people with a would would would embrace something like that.
S10: But that’s the scale of what we’re looking at to AIG, the American Enterprise Institute, which is a conservative think tank. And so that when you are talking about people in the center and the right coming to this decision, that’s just to sort of give that context.
S22: And you know what? Congress do it. Well, you know, I would have said, no, we could go, but things have been moving very, very quickly. And I think we are starting to see Congress and lawmakers and the Trump administration get their heads around just how big this is. Everybody has been a couple of steps behind as as it’s become clearer to some of us who follow this stuff really closely how bad this might become. But I think there’s finally a kind of catching up starting to happen. You know, it’s I’m hesitant to try to handicap the politics because it’s just moved so fast that whatever I say now might look different in 24 hours. But I’m a little more optimistic about Congress and the Trump administration really taking this seriously and being willing to deploy trillions of dollars. But I was even 48 hours ago.
S10: To me, that just sounds so sensible that you would basically just try to backstop everything and hold it in place while we churn through this. And then afterward, like we’re all still here, we all still have the same needs and desires we had before. So if the money was still available and flowing, it seems like it could come back. When you look at the current package that Congress is talking about, five hundred billion dollars, I think, being mailed in checks to American individuals and then $500 billion for businesses. Does that seem to be on the scale or do you feel like that’s going to seem very partial and incomplete? All. I’m going to add one more question, which is how should we think about the the calculus of saving small businesses, which I think tool, at least to me, seems so deserving vs. the bailouts to the big industries that we all or many of us, I think, have kind of resentment towards from the 2008 2009 bailout. Senators like Elizabeth Warren have been talking about attaching strings. Do those kinds of conditions make sense for that segment of industry?
S22: It’s so it’s tricky. So getting at small businesses, that hypothetical restaurant or the restaurant down the street I mentioned earlier, making sure that restaurant employs 50 people can get access to these programs or however it’s actually structured is really desirable, but it’s really hard. Right. It’s one thing to to do a transaction. So, for example, big companies borrow money on the bond market. They issue what’s called commercial paper, more bartrop from money or corporate bonds. The Federal Reserve can do a lot of stuff to try and make bond markets, which they started doing, rate which they have started doing this week in a big, big way. A little restaurant on the street does not go to the bond market. They go to their local bank. And if their bank is, you know, you get a small business in attritional, their tools out there. I think how the government deploys them, how quickly on what scale is the open question? And I think to your point, like I’m kind of strings attached. This is different from 2008 in this regards the 2008 banking crisis, financial crisis. The banks had culpability. Right. So Bear Stearns and Bank of America and Citigroup, they had been contributing to these forces that led the economy to unravel here. There’s no culpability, right. It’s not the airline’s fault that nobody is allowed to fly right now. It’s not the hotels falling off the restaurant’s fault. So I think the case for having strict strings attached is a lot more questionable than it was then. That said, I understand where Elizabeth Warren is coming from. Right. I if you’re going to make trains of dollars available to American business. You might wanna have some some strings attached. And so, you know, we saw in 2008 how toxic the politics becomes when you’re deploying vast amounts of money to private industry and private entities. The fact that this is not a moral hazard issue. This is not something where it’s. It’s the restaurants and the airlines and hotels.
S20: Fault does change the equation a little bit and it does slow the policy response. While everybody argues over whether these are good or bad limits to put on the rescue and then people try to put those kinds of limits on other groups being bailed out. So it does if the idea is get the buckets in the brigade as fast as possible. That would seem to slow it down.
S18: Can I ask about, you know, interest rates are already pretty low in Europe. They were. You know, there’s negative interest rates. How did the existing underlying economic conditions help or hurt in our thoughts about policy response?
S22: So the good part of that is that the economy was strong. We were 3.5 percent unemployment as of three weeks ago. This is all such a blur. I can’t even my time references are not quite right. Yes, we’re the strong labor market. But as you’re suggesting, the downside was we had we were at very low interest rates already. Federal deficits were already quite large. So that does create more sticker shock. First of all, the Fed can cut rates to zero. They’re doing quantitative easing, pushing hundreds of billions of dollars into the financial system. They do not have the tool kit that they had in 2008. In the sense that this had less room to work with Congress. Look. Interest rates are so low, there’s no reason Congress can’t spend a lot of money and you have very large deficits. But I understand how there can be sticker shock when we’re already running a trillion dollar a year deficits. And that’s kind of a choice that we made with with the Trump tax cuts, with, you know, spending policies. But that is a situation where we’re going to have a truly jaw dropping federal deficit this year.
S12: Neil, we watch the stock market. I’m sorry, because I think we’re not trained to watch anything else. And. It’s. It clearly is. You know, it agitates people. Lots of people don’t have any money or not significant amount of money in the stock market. But if those people who do can get agitated by it. But it is the it is the metric that people are trained to watch, because that’s the thing that is crammed down their throat every day. Is there something else that we could watch that would be useful as a indicator of economic health during this besides the stock market?
S22: Sure. So I think the most important thing right now is monitoring what happens in the bond markets. So the U.S. government borrows money by issuing bonds. Those trade on the open market. And so the price they’re trading at tells you something about what kind of risk appetite and what investors think the future is. But in the last week or two, the debt markets, the bond markets have become completely dysfunctional. And so even though the Fed’s been cutting rates and throwing money at this and doing everything they can to lower interest rates, lower the cost of capital in the economy, extreme actually risen, which is really problematic. And so that makes it more expensive for the U.S. government to borrow money. But it’s also spreading out to other types of markets. So corporate debt markets, municipal bonds. So what that means is if you’re a state or local government, you’re about to have tremendous burdens. You know, your tax revenues about to fall and you’re about to have tremendous expenses to try and help people get through this. But your cost of borrowing money has skyrocketed in the last week and a half. That’s very problematic. I expect the Fed and the administration trying to do some things to fix that. Same on corporate bonds. You know, this is a great time if you’re a big company to, you know, issue some debt and borrow money to help ride out this period.
S23: And, you know, business is going to come back. You might need some extra liquidity, some extra cash to get through this. Right now, the cost of that is through the roof. You might not be able to issue more debt at all. So I think right now the question the stock market’s kind of the tail being wagged. Not that not the dogs. And right now, the debt markets are the dog and they really are dogs now. So seeing those things heel is what the Fed is trying to do. That’s what we really need to see if we’re going to get out of this without a really severe.
S6: And is the bond market reacting that way? Because it just thinks that where the future is going to be worse than everybody’s saying.
S22: So that was the narrative about two weeks ago. So what was happening is yields the interest rate on bonds was was plunging through about two weeks ago. What’s happened since then is now there’s a liquidity squeeze. There’s a cash crunch. So all kinds of businesses around the world need dollars.
S23: They need cash. So they’re drawing down our lines of credit. They’re hoarding cash. Nobody has any money to kind of put into these markets right now. That’s what the Fed is trying to counteract. So probably they’re already doing 700 billion dollars in quantitative easing. They’ll probably do more. The Fed is trying to fight this. But. But right now, you know, this is a very, very much repeat of 2008. Everybody’s hoarding their cash. That means money is not flowing around the places it’s needed in the economy.
S10: I mean, I’ve got really. I know this is a dumb question. Why can’t we just three. Make the markets stop? Like, why can’t we just cancel them? Hold them in position while we figure all this out? Just like take a big pause.
S22: I mean, there’s been some discussion of that. You know, shutting down the stock market and shutting down trading for a week and let everybody kind of get a grip on exactly what’s happening. I mean, there are some reasons you maybe don’t want to do that. You know, these are markets where everybody’s kind of raising money and these are crucial to funding everything that happens in the world. And you don’t want to keep those markets open for that reason. And you know, again, that the problems we’re seeing in both the stock markets, the debt markets, those are not the cause of this crisis. They are a result of the crisis. And, you know, shutting things down may not actually give us more information about how to get out of this. And it may actually kind of hide what we need to understand. You know, I actually do think the stock market dropping is what got a lot of people’s attention the last few weeks. You know, it was just a bunch of public health nerds saying, oh, there’s going to be a disaster. Many people are going to die. We need to radically rethink how we how we work with each other. It was easy to ignore when the stock market’s down 20 percent. It’s harder to move more.
S12: Neil Irwin is the senior economics correspondent for The Times, The New York Times, that is Neil. Thanks for joining us.
S21: Thanks. All right. So we’ve had two guests, I’m about to have another guest, but it’s just it’s just the three of us here.
S12: What are you guys feeling? How are you feeling? Having listened to that alarming public health news and that alarming economic news. Like what? What is your state of mind?
S10: I feel so upset and worried for small businesses right now. I mean, people just pour their lives into into those businesses. And the idea that it’s harder to help them and then that works against them just makes me really upset.
S24: Yeah. And the idea usually is, well, you you work harder, you lose sleep lasts. You you have there’s some buttons you can push to try to change your circumstances. And in this case, there are none of those normal things exist. And even the saos that you self-administer to get you through those tough times are, you know, are not working in this instance when when we hear, you know, that this might be with us for a very long period of time. And I’m thinking in terms of this, small businesses, you know, until we get back to normal behavior, that would that would bring customers through the door.
S12: I just don’t see how we get through this without something like what Sorkin described.
S19: Andrew Ross Sorkin described in The Times with every business essentially getting a bailout, getting a loan, not being afloat just so that everyone can stay employed because we’re going to have to it’s it’s not like these businesses are going to go to business and there’s somebody waiting there to replace it. There’s nobody if you foreclose on this business, this restaurant. It’s not like there’s another restaurant that’s ready to jump in. It’s not because nobody can do anything right now. And so the idea that we would just be like, oh, this is the market telling everybody they have to shut down is nonsense. These are these are places that need we. Society has been frozen.
S12: We are frozen. Whether it’s for a month or for six months, we don’t know. And that means that the government has to step in. And and and the best way to step in is sort of say, well, we’re going to we’re going to try to restore more or less as much as what we can from what was before the disaster, after the disaster. And, you know, some of those things, like some things won’t be able to survive. Some things are just not going to make it. We have to accept that and there’ll be fraud. And and so forth. But but the idea that we’re gonna let all these things go under doesn’t make sense.
S8: And sending people a thousand dollar check now doesn’t make sense because people are going to spend it. They don’t have a place to spend it. It’s not that’s not what works.
S25: What works will be knowing you have a job to go to, although that’s what people need, another thousand dollars. I mean, I partially agree. But part of it also is just letting people, you know, letting their bank accounts have a little bit more space so they’re not as emotionally terrified.
S10: Also, the gate economy, people might really need that money.
S5: Like the people who are just losing gas tips for sure. I didn’t mean don’t I don’t mean don’t do that. I just meant I just meant that there’s this other this other piece, which is this huge category of businesses and their employees that need to be supported.
S12: I’m also not sure that like if you.
S5: If you do this kind of save all the businesses, whether the gig economy, people are helped at all from that, right, because they’re not employees too.
S16: Maybe they get the checks.
S26: What do you guys think about?
S9: Like just I’m the thing I’m fixated on is this social distancing and how long we can maintain a world on which we don’t interact and don’t like concrete in any fashion and don’t engage in commerce and don’t engage in most of our economic activity and most of our work activity or much of our work activity.
S16: So I don’t think it’s sustainable. And I. It leads me to like kind of panicked cold-hearted place to think about that, because we’re supposed to be focused on saving people’s lives right now. But there’s just this enormous just dislocation and cost to doing that. And I think it’s fair to take that into account, especially as time goes on. Like 15 days. Yes, I think we can do that. I think we can do longer than that. But a year and a half is not possible until at some point we have to recalibrate how we think about those competing costs. I don’t know how to do that. But at some point, we have to talk about that.
S9: But you were sent you were making this point just off, Mike, a few minutes ago. This isn’t a huge wealth transfer to make that point again. And because it’s a really it’s. I hadn’t thought about it that way in such a good.
S10: Well, I was just thinking about kids last night. My kids, everybody’s kids. And we are for the sake of saving lives. Many of those lives are older people’s lives. We are imposing a gargantuan cost on younger generations right now. I mean, one way to think about this is just this massive transfer of wealth and well-being from young people to older people. And some of that may be worthwhile as a way of saving lives. I mean, I totally understand the focus on making sure the hospitals have capacity, because that’s horrifying. I mean, these stories out of Italy about people dying alone in the hospital and the coffin stacking up like that is completely chilling. And yet at some point, like younger generations have to be able to be well and live and thrive, too.
S5: And I guess one thing, we all die alone. We all die alone. I’m just saying it’s that way. Even if you die in a room with it, you die alone.
S24: So just F.Y.I, I just want to note that seems that seems important. But but adjacent.
S19: Well, no. I’m just saying that. Sorry to interrupt you, Emily. Just this idea, people, everyone is going to die. And the idea that we’re preserving life people an extra year or two of life for people. Of course you want to do that if especially you want to do it if it’s at no cost or minimal cost. But the idea that we would do that at the cost to. All of us seems really wrong.
S10: Well, it depends what that cost is and how high it is. Right. And I think what we’re looking at is increasing awareness that that costs just could just be huge and kind of incalculable. And there’s some moment at which like we’re gonna have to rethink that. And I don’t know what it is. I mean, part of what’s so hard about this is that right now the number of deaths is relatively low. And so at least for me, even though rationally I understand the risk, I see the rising numbers and the fear and I see the stories out of Italy and China and they’re upsetting. There’s also just this feeling of like, well, wait a second.
S27: Well, what do you mean? Well, wait a second.
S10: Well, like, how how long can this utter dislocation go on and how if we prove. I mean, I guess it’s this catch 22 if we prevent the worst from happening, which we’re hoping will do like. And yet we’ve imposed all these other terrible costs on ourselves collectively. Like then what? Is there a moment where we kind of change how we think about the cost benefit analysis?
S27: Well, if 40 percent of the people have been hospitalized, according to the CDC, or between 25 and ARod between 20 and 54. If we stop doing the behavior, then it’s not just that. I mean, you’re talking about we can lower the safeguards, but but it is not going to get better if everybody over. If if it’s affecting everybody over age 25.
S10: I mean, the people dying are the older people, right? I mean, I don’t mean to sound right, but the people about them because they do. Well, yes.
S27: But if your hospital. If 40 percent of the people you’re hospitalizing are our age or younger, presumably if they’re not being hospitalized, they’re going to have a less good chance of staying alive. Yes. Yes.
S5: Yes. Yes. People are going to die. But absolutely, I do. I’m not I’m not of the I’m certainly not yet at the place, which is like, oh, we have to stop social distancing. But there has been no time at all.
S19: But I I think this point about the tradeoffs that Dr. Dolgov made is so important because, A, that when you take away people’s livelihood and work, they become less healthy. And so we’re imposing economic reposing health costs on people down the road. When kids don’t get an education, they become less healthy. They were less productive. Society is less rich. That’s a cost down the road when you don’t do necessary other medical research that imposes the costs. That’s a that’s a health costs down the road. Lives lost later on when you isolate people. I was talking to a friend about this yesterday when you were isolated. You are unhappy or your immune system’s down. You are more depressed. You are you are more likely to get sick yourself. You’re more likely to be vulnerable to sickness, ironically. And so and so the idea that it’s that it’s simply a matter of controlling this one, this one variable, which is this absolutely terrible disease that is ravaging us, not correct. It is this huge multivariate thing that we have to think about. And we don’t yet have perfect information or even good information to be able to make those decisions. And that’s what’s so frustrating is to live to that uncertainty is terrible to live in.
S10: I mean, we’ll know a lot more pretty quickly. Right.
S27: And I think like I’m not sure we will really. Well, I mean, our testing numbers are awfully, awfully low and they don’t seem to be getting any better.
S10: But what really matters is like how many people are going to the hospital getting super sick and dying, like that’s just going to unfold in front of us. Right. No matter.
S28: Well, maybe. But if those numbers are low, then because of the lack of information, the question is whether.
S24: What’s. How did that how did that why did that take place? Is it because the social distancing worked? Is it because it wasn’t as bad as we thought?
S6: Is it we we won’t know. So let’s say people don’t die and then behaviors change based on the wrong conclusion. Then we’re right back in the soup again.
S29: You know, we haven’t had high attacks at all on this show.
S10: And, you know, the early like just thinking of the government as not as, you know, made up of individuals or Democrats and Republicans right now, which is, of course, wrong because people are certainly acting in partisan fashion. But it’s kind of comforting to imagine that you can ignore that for a little bit.
S5: But I I really don’t wanna do this now because it would be a much longer discussion. I really want to talk about that question next week. Maybe our next episode.
S12: Yeah, because I I’m wondering, you know, when you start to see the I mean, if the if the Republicans in Congress or the Democrats choose not to. Be as ambitious as Neil Irwin propose they be. It’s gonna be a real it’s gonna be a really interesting issue.
S26: I agree and I can’t wait to dig into that, you know, find out where people’s principles are.
S19: They’re there. That principle where they’re in the moment of this emergency, we recognize that only there’s only one thing that can possibly lift us, which is the might of us together, which is the federal government.
S6: And there’s the financial response. And and there has been no national. You know, Norman Schwarzkopf, who in the middle of the first Gulf War was that was a stable voice of of information about what was going on. And that’s another big, huge deficit we have in the moment, is there’s nobody who when they come on the television, everybody says, wait, be quiet. I want to hear what person access to say with the exception of maybe of Anthony Foushee.
S7: But we’re gonna talk to our next guest. But we’ll we’ll process talk a lot more about this.
S9: We’ll be still processing. Next week, we’re joined by one of my favorite journalists, a writer I admire unreservedly, John Moualem. John has written a book that is out this month. That is one of the most satisfying books I’ve read in a very long time. It’s also a shockingly timely book. The book is called This is Chance The Shaking of an All American City. And it is the story of the 1964 Great Alaska earthquake, which I think is the second most powerful earthquake ever, the most powerful earthquake in the United States. Although John will correct me and it devastated the city of Anchorage.
S8: And the book is about what happened when the city of Anchorage was devastated and how that city survived. It’s a gorgeous book and a weird book, and it’s inspiring as heck right now. So, John, this is not going to be, I think, the usual author interview in the sense that we’re in a very different moment. So I’m not sure going to spend that much time exactly on the details of your book and more on some of the implications of it. But first, I’m going to recommend the book unreservedly. But why don’t you start by telling us the about the disaster that overtook Anchorage in 1964?
S30: And the response to it. Yes. Well, thanks for that introduction. The earthquake that in Alaska, this was in 1964. It happened on Good Friday, just as the sun was going down. The magnitude was ultimately measured at 9.2 and which is pretty astonishing. And what what makes it even more surreal, I think, is that it lasted for about four and a half minutes within the city of Anchorage. So I’d like to describe that as if you played the Stevie Wonder song. I just called to say I love you. You’d still have 10 seconds of shaking left after the song was over. And that was what really captured my imagination at first. It’s just the surreality of that experience, especially for Anchorage at the time, because this was only five years after Alaska became a state. And Anchorage was sort of the only community in in Alaska that would even really qualify as as a city by some standards. And it saw itself as this metropolis, this frontier town that was fulfilling this promise of what Alaska could be said to be disrupted and overturned by this by this giant disaster at that time had all kinds of implications, I think, just for the psychology and this civic sense of identity for the town.
S10: So, John, one of the heroes of your book is a local news reporter named Jimmy Chance. And I’ve been thinking about her character in our current predicament. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about why you focused on her and what lessons her response to the earthquake has for us in our different and yet also calamitous time.
S31: Yeah. Well, Jeannie was actually just a part time news reporter at this local Anchorage radio station. Kate, you and I. She was sort of half a radio reporter, half mother with with three small children at the time. And she ended up being one of these people that’s often you know, you often see these these cases in emergencies like this where someone kind of rises to the surface as as fulfilling and important in an improbable role through almost a quirk of of luck and also her own persistence. She wound up sort of in the center of the action right after the quake downtown. And so when the station was able to get back on the air, she had all of this information that that no one else really had. She had seen a lot on her own. And she was also position that the city’s police station. So she began broadcasting from there. And then through the hard work and ingenuity of the engineers at the station, they were actually able to get her broadcasts from the police station. And she stayed there all weekend and became this voice that could first just get information out, get requests from city officials. You know, we need more diesel fuel over here. We need a doctor over here. And also just communicate to the city what had just happened to them, because the sunset shortly after the quake, the phone lines were out. There just was no way for a lot of people to know how severely their town had just been scrambled. People were missing family members. People did not know if the neighborhood they were in was the worst hit or the one that had survived the best. And it took a central narrator with access to the entire community over the air to help everyone piece those things together John.
S12: The thing that drew me to your book is really what happened to the people of Anchorage in the wake of disaster. And you have really vivid writing. It’s a really well-studied disaster. You talk about the sociologists who came out from from lower 48 to study how people were responding. But what you found seemed to be that that in one sense, there’s this amazing line.
S19: Were you quoting somebody saying life becomes molten metal, old customs crumble and instability rules where everything that had been there and seemed so stable is gone. And then also so many people seem to have found a sense of meaning and purpose and even happiness in the wake of the disaster. And I would like you to talk about that and talk about as you’re looking at what’s happening with this pandemic. What lessons that teaches us.
S31: Yeah. I mean, because the book is really just an attempt to tell the story of these first three days this Easter weekend in Anchorage. That’s really the moment after a disaster, this immediate aftermath or what sociologist called the emergency period where you see that kind of cohesion and collaboration and altruism. Most clearly you see people, you know, from the very specific, you know, someone is standing in front of a building where the facade falls and they immediately rush toward the rubble to try to dig out people, people who were searching through collapsed buildings. There was a whole group of kind of hobbyist mountaineers in Anchorage who would get together on weekends and just practice avalanche rescues just for fun, just to kind of keep their skills sharp. And they sprung into action and actually wound up running the entire cities search and rescue operation because they were more qualified to do that than the fire department. The fire department, the municipal fire department doesn’t know about, you know, necessarily to the same degree, but searching through a collapsed environment. So you had this all of this energy of people helping and not just helping, but banding together to form these ad hoc groups that could organize and help in very productive ways. And that kind of uprising, I call it in the book, like a civic immune response kicks in right away and then keeps developing over time. Now, looking at all the firsthand accounts that I was able to collect for the book, it was impossible not to recognize these on an anecdotal level. And then what happened? You know, I was very lucky that what happened in reality was these sociologists arrive the evening after the quake and they’re coming from Ohio State University from a place called the Disaster Research Center, which is set up to study natural disasters by the Pentagon as proxies for nuclear war. And they’re expecting to document chaos and this evolution of society. But instead, they see the opposite. They see people working together. They see civilians being part of the solution instead of part of the problem. So I think we’re all starting to recognize that now. It’s the the strangeness of corona viruses that all of that energy, that impulse that we have to help is being refracted through this very bizarre kind of disaster where we’re also supposed to be keeping our distance from one another. So the helping looks a little scrambled. I think it’s hard for some of us to even feel like we’re doing anything productive because we’re staying home. But I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of what we’re thinking of as the, you know, the slow unraveling of society right now or the cancellation of things that the retreat. It’s not it’s not defense. We’re playing offense. Right. It’s that same thing. We just don’t have the luxury of seeing a concrete problem like a bit of concrete rubble that’s landed on a car and rushing to it to help the driver out. We have to think a little more abstractly about about how our energy is putting being put to use.
S10: That makes a lot of sense to me. I also think, though, that the difference between the emergency response, the urgency of a three day period versus the long slog that we’re in is really difficult. And I wonder how you’re thinking about that distinction.
S31: I confessed like so much of my thinking is is jumbled. Right now, things are changing so quickly. And I think what you just said is something that really didn’t dawn on me until last night when I was reading about these bills that are going through the House right now in terms of, you know. Just helping people prop themselves up economically right now. And I think it’s. I’d be really curious actually to ask some of the sociologists that I that I interviewed, too, to speak specifically about that, because now you have not just this emergency period, but what they call the recovery period, which comes afterwards when the nature of the disaster is plain, the extent of the damage is plain. And society has to go about picking itself up. And that’s traditionally in the research, a pretty tense period, because now you have this sense of togetherness begins to to fray when people start seeing, you know, who’s getting what and how the problems are being addressed. Inequities come up to the surface. And in those periods, actually what you see in the literature is that exactly the opposite, that existing divisions in the society can actually get greater. So I all that to say, I guess that’s just something we should all be keeping our eyes on, because obviously in a in a crisis like this, like David was saying before this, this sense of life becoming molten metal, there’s great opportunity to recognize the flaws in the system and actually carry lessons from this forward and and try to fuse us back together in a more equitable way.
S28: So, John, the question is, in both time periods, you did discuss the cohesion that was created during the emergency period. Where did that come from other than the obvious places where all human beings and we want to rush to to help other human beings. But I mean, was there a was there a religious component? Was there a frontier, a sense of self component that created this original glue? And then during the recovery period, when there are these forces that create either division or exacerbate existing division, who was showing up the ran’s in the garment to try to hold everyone together, because you could imagine looking for that person in this current instance and not really knowing exactly who would be wielding the needle and thread.
S31: Yeah. It was interesting. Just even the way you you ask the first part of that question, John, because it really mirrors like a lot of the way people were. We’re talking about it immediately, immediately afterward. It really does seem to be as simple as we’re all human. You know, there’s not a real intellectual answer for why. When people were asked, you know, why did you do this? This was one of the most fascinating things about reading the transcripts of these sociologists interview. They came to Alaska. They did close to 500 interviews with individual people that were literally just tic-tacs tell me everything that happened from the moment the shaking started. Right. And you see the sociologist just clamoring for some sense of logic or you know, who told you to do that? Why did you choose to do X when you could have done Y? And the Alaskan’s are basically just flummoxed, you know, and they’re saying, well, what was I going to do, you know?
S32: And then and then the more they hit that dead end, then these questions of, well, was it something spiritual?
S31: Was it something about the nature of Alaskan’s as a people? And you start to get a lot of very, you know, esoteric philosophical explanations that in a sense don’t really hold up. There’s a moment in the book where I describe a psychology professor at the local university in Anchorage, a very small university there, who winds up running the search and rescue task force in the moment, because he walks in off the street at the police station and he has a lot of experience doing these mountain rescues. And he’s holding forth and saying, you know, there’s this egalitarian society in Anchorage and we all look at each other as equals to begin with. And this pioneer spirit and he’s going on and on and, you know, all of which is true. But the sociologists eventually make the point of saying that even that belief in a community’s own exceptionalism in these times of disaster turns out to be the most unexceptional feature of these disasters, that the instinct is always to say, well, yes, society does break down in these moments of crisis, but not our society, because we’re just stronger, kinder or better equipped somehow. And you see that, you know, I was in New York at 9/11. You saw that there. You know, we’re just New Yorkers being New Yorkers or New Orleanians being New Orleanians after Katrina. And that’s not to take away the, you know, the individual kind of joyous characteristics of a particular community. Everyone’s gonna respond slightly differently. You know, in Alaska, you had people rushing in to help in most of these situations and people rushing to help in Alaska. They rushed in to help with their own bulldozers sometimes. And that’s not going to happen in Manhattan. But the point is, is that they always rush in to help. So it’s just sort of flattens the whole equation down to something as simple as just kind of what we do.
S12: John? Well, I’m. Has a new book. This is Chance. It is the book to read right now. If you want to feel better about what we’re facing and B, just have it immensely satisfying and thoughtful distraction. John, good luck out there. You’re you’re you’re in the woods, so you’re maybe you’re further from virus than some other folks, but. But stay healthy and we’ll talk to you soon.
S31: Thank you to.
S12: So, man, you know, I don’t know what this week to, like, start drinking heavily, to stop drinking, whatever it is. It’s certainly a week to gather and talk to the few people that we’re able to talk to up close or to Skype with. John, if you’re having a virtual happy hour across across Skype or Zoom or Google Hangout with with your friends and your tippling, what are you going to be telling us about?
S6: So much chatter is about the great influenza. The story of the deadliest pandemic in history. It’s by John M. Berry. And it’s so IBSA say people are reading this. I’m reading it because of all the comparisons people are drawing to this. And I had forgotten this story that George W. Bush read this in 2005. And after after he came back from the summer in which he read this, he went to Fran Townsend, who is his terrorism adviser inside the White House, homeland security adviser, and said, we’ve got to figure out something if this happens to us again.
S25: We’ve got to have a plan. And that’s how the Bush administration came up with its first pandemic plan, which it then handed off to the Obama administration. So in addition to being a great book, it also has that little role in history.
S5: Emily, what’s your chatter?
S16: So I decided I could have two pieces of chatter because I wanted to say something serious, but I didn’t want to only say something serious.
S33: My serious chatter is about the battle going on over coronavirus in the nation’s jails and prisons. There are some counties and cities that are really doing their best to make sure there are as few people as possible in jail right now, given the risks they are looking at. The older prisoners who would be more vulnerable to the virus and they’re also looking at people charged with low level offenses to see if they can be released. And what’s really important about this is that once coronavirus is in a jail or prison that places like a cruise ship, everybody there is going to be susceptible. There is already a guard at Rikers who has tested positive. And I’m sure that person is not the only staff member who’s accidentally bringing the virus into jails and prisons.
S10: So Cuyahoga County in Ohio did this like mass plea bargain on a Saturday, a whole set of hearings last week. San Antonio has been looking at getting people out of jail.
S33: Philadelphia is starting to do that. Mayor de Blasio finally promised after a lot of pressure to do that in New York. But there are also jurisdictions where it’s business as usual. I was talking to a public defender in New Orleans this week, and the district attorney in New Orleans actually filed a motion saying it was unsafe to let people out because they could be spreading the Byler virus, essentially using that as a reason to keep them in jail, which is not legal. I would argue. So this is just really worth watching because the populations in jails and prisons are going to be so vulnerable.
S10: On a happier note, I just started reading a book called The Body in Question. It’s a novel by Jill Cement that Curtis Sittenfeld, who we’ve had on our show before. She recommended this book to me and it so far is great. So if you’re looking for unrelated to virus reading material, the Body in Question by Jill Cement.
S12: My chatter. It is hard to find any culture that doesn’t somehow.
S9: Echo or speak to me today at least. But I want to recommend two things quickly. One is the book The Guns of August, which I just started reading Barbara Tuckman account of the beginning of World War One. And it’s just a beautifully written book. It’s one of the great popular histories ever written of anything. But it’s it echoes today because it’s all about these leaders in various countries in Europe making mistakes that would come and haunt them and would cost millions of lives. And in retrospect, it’s so obvious what was happening. It’s so obvious the mistakes that were being made. And we can look back from history and say, don’t do it. You’re about to destroy the civilization of Europe. And they didn’t see it. And so it has a small echo. I’m not saying that our leaders today are doing the same things, but there’s some ways in which it echoes. The other is that my kids have been watching the show on Netflix called The Circle, which is everyone has talked about. It’s one of these reality shows, but it’s it’s it is social distancing. It’s a show in which everyone is isolated from each other and they can simply communicate electronically and build relationships and jockey for position and influence within this community. This virtual community they built. And so it’s it’s a tit’s a terrible vision of society. But it is it is similar to the world that I feel that we’ve entered into. Listeners, you have also sent us chatters this week. Please keep them coming. Please send us more and more because God knows all of us can use some form of relief, respite, distraction and a period of such uncertainty and and fear and appreciate all the ones that you sent to us. And the one that spoke to me came from Tricia 6 1 7. And it is one of many similar kinds of videos that are out there. It says Start Your Day with a song of hope from the Chino Hills High School Chamber Singers. Their concert was canceled because of Kove at 19. So they did this instead. And it’s a YouTube video. It’s linked up YouTube video of about 20 kids each in their own different YouTube box and their own little box. And their audio has been thinked and they’re singing the great version of Over the Rainbow. And it’s beautiful. It’s just beautiful and cheerful and and lifts the spirit. So thank you, Tricia, 6 1 7 for that. If you enjoyed the gab fest, please subscribe to us and you can get new episodes the second they’re published. So we may even be publishing extra ones during the pandemic because we got so much to talk about and there’s there’s so many different ways to talk about it. So maybe there’ll be extra shows if you subscribe.
S3: That is the gap. As for today, we’re produced by Jocelyn Frank. My God, Jocelyn did a job. Jocelyn, you have done such a number this week. It’s unbelievable.
S29: Good job. Just to be clear. Should not be bad. No, no, no. The number 10 number is 10 out of 10.
S3: And our researcher is Bridget Dunlap, who it’s done same same, but with small children. Oh, my gosh. Like, I am so appreciative of you guys. Gabriel Roth is the editorial director of Slate podcast. June Thomas is managing producer. You should follow us on Twitter at Slate Gabfests. And please do send chatter to us for Emily Basilone and John DICKERSON and David Plotz. Thank you for listening.
S34: I hope you are doing well and are healthy and safe. And we will talk to you next week.
S35: Hello, Slate, plus slate plus sleep.
S29: That’s really the last thing we need this week. Yeah. Laughs.
S14: Hello? Slate Plus, I meant, oh, my God, how are you? All right. So I I I built up with John, Emily. I just I was like, I have an idea for Slate Plus. And the more I thought about, the more I think this is not a good idea.
S11: But anyway, I’ve arrived to develop it nonetheless.
S14: So I was I was up for a walk, a very socially distant walk with a friend.
S5: And and I was just thinking like this was almost like this moment. It feels like we’re in some like Arabian Nights or something. There’s nothing but time to still tell stories. It’s time just to tell stories. And I was we were gonna be out for a long walk. And I was. And I just had this thought, which is like, what’s a really boring story you have? What’s a boring thing that you think about all the time? Like, let’s let’s just treat like what’s some super boring thing? It does have to be a story, but some super boring thing that, you know, it just occupies you even though, you know, it is so boring. And and and it was actually really fun. It was really fun to do that.
S11: Maybe you should go since you’ve already had. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
S18: I think this chatter may be itself self realizing what you’re asking.
S36: So no but it was it was like it just it was a way of like getting a human connection that was unexpected. I got that art show. I give the example I did, which is John, you your man, you shave.
S37: I don’t shave that much anymore. I have a beard. But so when I was in college, I was a college sophomore and I had three dear beloved roommates. And one of them I remember we were sitting around one day talking about how shave. I think one of us was shaving. I think I think Dan was shaving. And Dan took an amount of shaving cream, like took a large amount of shaving cream with lathering on his neck. And Aaron, might one of my other roommates goes, that’s way too much shaving cream. Like you don’t need that much. You’re just like wasting shaving cream. That’s ridiculous. And so literally, every time I have shaved since that day, I replay that conversation in my head. I’m like, do I have a darn sized blob of shaving cream or an air inside? And I don’t even know which is correct.
S5: So it’s, you know, what is it, 30 some years, 450 times a year. So so 5000 times I have shaved. And every single time this really boring conversation about the size of the glob of shaving cream, Munib has run through my head.
S38: That is a really good. I know I can’t I’m now I feel I feel worried about my own example.
S18: So what is the question? Here is the question. You’re the most boring thing that’s constantly in your head.
S14: Yeah, yeah.
S20: But because in a way, that story is it’s like a little personal tick for you. I mean, it’s not a little thing you repeat to yourself or a song you hum, but it’s a it’s a it’s an it’s a part of your story.
S33: It’s an earworm, though. It’s like something you wish you had never encountered. So you would just be able to shave in peace.
S18: The truth is, I actually have a second shaving one that I have actually to have a shaving one, too. Actually, I wonder if this is interesting. I won’t because it does. You don’t do it when you comb your hair. Although I actually I have my shaving one is Jim Kingdon said that his father used to call when you shave in both directions. It was called an Excelsior shave.
S11: I’ve no idea if that’s true, but whenever I shave up, I think of Jim canin’s father.
S38: I never thought you guys having to decide whether shave up or down on your face.
S11: Well, I mean, it’s not a well, you just when you go against the grain, you raise it up against the grain, right? Yeah. Excelsior. Yeah, I. I don’t even know if it’s true. But it’s that that pops into my head more often than once.
S18: I wonder if there’s something about shaving itself that’s different than you know, if you’re tying your shoes or doing some other part of the daily.
S38: Well you have to pay a little more attention because otherwise you’re gonna cut yourself.
S13: Exactly. I think that’s exactly right.
S10: Really boring things about packing. I have. I like actually it’s pretty organized person, but I often forget one or two things or I just worry about forgetting one or two things. And so I feel like when I have to pack and go somewhere, I have this like really boring anxiety-provoking short circuit in my brain about the things I need. And even when I have like pre-packed bags etc and it lists to run through, it never really takes away the anxiety and it causes into my dreams in a way I really resent. I’ll wake up realizing that. I’ve just been dreaming about being unable to pack or I forget to pack something or I just am in a big rush and it just seems like such a waste of my dreamscape.
S36: That is a real way to treat it. Wow.
S18: You know, I think all three of us all dream stories are kind of in this category of inco stories.
S24: Although just a sensory in that in this territory this morning, I started to have a dream and I feel like it was the shortest possible dream ever because the dream started and then the alarm went off. It may not have actually worked out that way, but it was it was just like the Verrett like the opening scene of the dream. And then it was over.
S12: That is boring. It was really boring. At least you didn’t say what the dream.
S38: I’m going to add one more thing to this is that one of my kids was telling us the other day that on Reddit there like a mildly interesting category. I don’t know if it’s like in the threads that he pursues or whether it’s just like a general read it thing. But we’ve been making a lot of jokes about this lately because so much of family life is like someone’s idea of something worth saying is actually only maybe mildly interesting to everyone else. Anyway, we’re finding that youthful in Corona virus family together time.
S13: A friend of mine, former colleague Mary Hood, once you when she would find herself in the middle of a story that was sliding from mildly interesting to not at all perhaps not interesting at all, she would oh, she would end the story by saying and then I found $5 to try to last ditch attempt to make the story kind of interesting enough to clear the mildly interesting threshold.
S36: All right. And then I found $5 biathlete plus.