Archive for April 16th, 2020

The spies who predicted COVID-19 but ignored by their President

April 16, 2020

Kent Harrington, a former senior CIA analyst has a damning piece in Proj Synd:

Despite US President Donald Trump’s claims, a pandemic has long been among the top threats listed by the US intelligence community. But even America’s best analysts could not foresee that America would end up with a president willing to sacrifice so many lives on the altar of his ego.

Directors of National Intelligence (DNI) have warned multiple times of Pandemic risk:

More to the point, the DNI’s annual briefing has repeatedly warned about the risk of a global pandemic. The intelligence community first raised the alert immediately after President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, when then-DNI Dennis Blair testified that, “The most pressing transnational health challenge for the United States is still the potential for emergence of a severe pandemic, with the primary candidate being a highly lethal influenza virus.” Following the 2009 H1NI (swine flu) outbreak, Blair doubled down in 2010, highlighting the potential for a pandemic to disrupt the economy. A “lack of consistent surveillance and diagnostic capability for diseases in animals,” he said, “undermines the United States’ ability to identify, contain, and warn about local outbreaks before they spread.”

Blair’s successor, James Clapper, delivered the same message in March 2013, but also refined the US assessment of the threat with prescient detail. Pointing to the growing danger posed by zoonotic viruses, he warned that “an easily transmissible, novel respiratory pathogen that kills or incapacitates more than one percent of its victims is among the most disruptive events possible. Such an outbreak would result in a global pandemic.”

In foretelling the COVID-19 pandemic exactly, Clapper made clear that, “This is not a hypothetical threat.” Trump received the same message in May 2017, when Coats highlighted a World Bank assessment predicting that a pandemic would cost the world around 5% of GDP. Coats then issued the same warning in 2019, testifying that, “The United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.” Is anyone surprised that Coats’s successor isn’t bothering with a briefing this year?

Another agency also spoke of the pandemic risk:

But the DNI’s annual assessments aren’t the only unclassified briefings that show the extent of Trump’s negligence in the face of the pandemic. Every four years, the National Intelligence Council, the US intelligence community’s senior analytical body, produces Global Trends, a forecast of the forces likely to shape the decades ahead. The timing isn’t coincidental: the strategic outlook appears when administrations change, offering presidents a long-term international perspective with which to fashion or refurbish their national-security goals.

Trump has described the COVID-19 pandemic as an “unforeseen problem” that “came out of nowhere.” The authors of the past three Global Trends reports would beg to differ, as would the hundreds of experts whom they consult in constructing their analyses.

Consider the 2008 report, “Global Trends 2025,” which was all but oracular. “The emergence of a novel, highly transmissible, and virulent human respiratory illness for which there are no adequate countermeasures could initiate a global pandemic,” the authors warned. The threat, they added, would likely emerge “in an area marked by high population density and close association between humans and animals, such as many areas of China and Southeast Asia.” Even with limits placed on international travel, “travelers with mild symptoms or who were asymptomatic could carry the disease to other continents.”

From peddling disinformation about the virus to disbanding the National Security Council directorate overseeing pandemic threats, Trump has squandered multiple opportunities to get ahead of the COVID-19 crisis. The health and economic consequences that we are now experiencing have long been predicted. US intelligence analysts were warning about precisely this scenario for at least 12 years. But even they could not foresee that America would end up with a president willing to sacrifice so many lives on the altar of his ego.

Just amazing. It is even more frightening to imagine that the virus has led to stronger chance of Trump being reelected. The virus has dismantled the opposition and gives a perfect recipe for dictators to continue their rule.

Agriculture After the Pandemic..

April 16, 2020

Martin Ravallion in Proj Synd piece say we could have a famine:

This is not solely the familiar, cruel, trade-off between economic welfare and personal health that many poor people face. It is also a trade-off between two aspects of health: illness due to the virus, and hunger and poor nutrition resulting from economic isolation and disruption to markets and institutions, including private social protection.

While the case for a sensible degree of social distancing to combat COVID-19 in developing countries is strong, the case for a lockdown is not. Lockdowns pose new threats, and could even turn the pandemic response into a famine in some poor places. I do not say this lightly; I believe it is a looming threat. Both research and experience demonstrate how famines can result from the sort of institutional and market breakdowns implied by a strict lockdown. We saw this recently in the wake of the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak in Sierra Leone, where starvation soon emerged as a new threat.

Famine among poor and vulnerable people can result from multiple causes, as Amartya Sen demonstrated in his book Poverty and Famines. Sen cited examples in which there was no decline in the total amount of food available. The problem was its distribution among people and over time. And here, markets and other institutions play a crucial role. Lockdowns can disrupt the production and distribution of food, alongside a collapse in poor people’s earnings and higher food prices. We are learning that today’s food supply chains have vulnerabilities, even in rich countries. And even if famine is averted, spells of poor nutrition can have lasting consequences, including higher vulnerability to other illnesses.

Another piece by Wandile Sihlobo says we could see more automation in agri:

After suffering severe labor shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems unlikely that advanced-economy farmers will return to business as usual. Instead, many will probably attempt to mitigate the risks stemming from dependence on foreign seasonal workers by automating more of their operations.

From Great Depression to Global Financial Crisis to Great Lockdown

April 16, 2020

IMF’s World Economic Outlook- Apr 2020 has named this crisis as Great Lockdown.

The world has changed dramatically in the three months since our last update of the World Economic Outlook in January. A rare disaster, a coronavirus pandemic, has resulted in a tragically large number of human lives being lost. As countries implement necessary quarantines and social distancing practices to contain the pandemic, the world has been put in a Great Lockdown. The magnitude and speed of collapse in activity that has followed is unlike anything experienced in our lifetimes.

This is a crisis like no other, and there is substantial uncertainty about its impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. A lot depends on the epidemiology of the virus, the effectiveness of containment measures, and the development of therapeutics and vaccines, all of which are hard to predict. In addition, many countries now face multiple crises—a health crisis, a financial crisis, and a collapse in commodity prices, which interact in complex ways. Policymakers are providing unprecedented support to households, firms, and financial markets, and, while this is crucial for a strong recovery, there is considerable uncertainty about what the economic landscape will look like when we emerge from this lockdown.

Under the assumption that the pandemic and required containment peaks in the second quarter for most countries in the world, and recedes in the second half of this year, in the April World Economic Outlook we project global growth in 2020 to fall to -3 percent. This is a downgrade of 6.3 percentage points from January 2020, a major revision over a very short period. This makes the Great Lockdown the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis










Not really a nice name. I am also disappointed that IMF has not really questioned China in this crisis.






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