COVID-19's dark economic pall

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COVID-19's dark economic pall

...plus revisiting the Donald Trump catastrophe

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, November 22, 2020

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Supposing doesn't fill the grain basket 'if' doesn't fill the larder. — Ovambo proverb, Namibia

Jamaica's economy contracted by 11.3 per cent between July and September this year, according to information released last Wednesday by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ). In September, the PIOJ told us that there had been an 18 per cent decline between April and June this year. We are in extremely rough economic waters. These are slated to get rougher.

COVID-19 has the global economy not only on its knees, but on its face, and gasping.

Consider this: “...COVID-19 will exact a $16 trillion toll on the US — four times the cost of the Great Recession — when adding the costs of lost lives and health to the direct economic impact, according to former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and fellow Harvard University economist David Cutler. About half of that amount is related to lost gross domestic product as a result of economic shutdowns and the ongoing spread of the virus, while the other half comes from health losses, including premature death and mental and long-term health impairments, Cutler and Summers wrote in an essay published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.” ( Bloomberg, October 12, 2020)

Our major trading partners are wobbling. When they catch a cold, we often contract pneumonia.

Check this! “It is clear that the UK is in the largest recession on record,” the statistics agency said. “The latest estimates show that the UK economy is now 21.8 per cent smaller than it was at the end of 2019, highlighting the unprecedented size of this contraction.” ( The Associated Press, September 30, 2020)

For Latin American and Caribbean economies the prognosis is not good. The novel coronavirus pandemic has hit this region the hardest.

News last week of a second vaccine, with over 90 per cent effectiveness against COVID-19, is light in the tunnel, but it is not yet the light at the end of the tunnel. There is still the crucial hurdle of approval and the Herculean task of distribution to a significant percentage of the globe's nearly eight billion people.

Tough realities

The Andrew Holness-led Administration has severely limited economic choices before it. The wage bill has not got any smaller. Our debt obligations have to be honoured on a timely basis. And the immediate, medium- and long-term costs associated with COVID-19 are skyrocketing.

In a short while the public sector will be back at the negotiation table. Sources in some of the largest unions say any talk about austerity and/or wage freeze will not be welcomed.

Our major money earner — tourism — is just beginning to gather some semblance of recovery. Manufacturing is limping. Agriculture has been dealt a severe blow by nearly eight weeks of continual torrential rains. Damage to our roads, according to estimates provided by the Administration, is approaching $2 billion and counting.

The Administration does not have the same or even a similar deck of cards as it did, prior to March 2020.

Dry Harbour Mountain

Tough realities mean even tougher decisions. Should mining and quarrying at Dry Harbour Mountain in Discovery Bay, St Ann, be permitted? Prior to March 2020 my answer to this question would have been a straight no! Given the present dire economic realities and bleak forecasts my answer computes differently.

I agree with the position put forward in this newspaper's editorial last Wednesday. It noted, among other things: “Mr Holness has said that mining is only being permitted on 20 per cent of the land that has already been disturbed by previous mining activity. The remaining 80 per cent of the 572 acres, he said, would continue to be untouched and form part of the forested cluster in the parish.

“Both sides in this dispute, we believe, could achieve much by calming down and having a rational discussion on the issue. At that point, the Government needs to tell the country how it would ensure that the company abides by the conditions of the permit.” ( Jamaica Observer, November 18, 2020)

We are living in unusual times. Many experts in virology and related sciences warn that even with an effective vaccine(s) we will not return to pre-COVID-19 normal until around mid-2023. Those who say no mining and quarrying at Dry Harbour Mountain without any consideration for our grim economic realities need to pause and understand that when folks cannot get the services that a Government is obliged to provide, they don't all indefinitely sit quietly and twiddle their thumbs.

Similarly, it will not hurt the Administration to sit with all the stakeholders and lay all its cards on the table. Holding the proverbial hard end (uncompromising positions) cannot be the only game in town. If, however, reasonable compromise cannot be achieved in short order the Administration has to make a decision either way. We will all live with the consequences — good, bad, or indifferent.

The clock is ticking.

Yes, catastrophic!

“Catastrophic,” that is how I described the presidency of Donald Trump three Sundays ago. Since then I have been receiving numerous long — and rather curious — e-mail responses which denounce my use of the adjective “catastrophic” to describe Trump's presidency.

In gist, the pro-Trump e-mail responses, which are quite anaemic as regard facts, submit that his presidency, more than any other over the last 25 to 50 years, has greatly improved the lives and livelihoods of people of colour in particular.

I think these overzealous Trump supporters have neglected to do their homework. Many seem to suffer with an acute allergy to reality and an aversion to even basic facts. Let's set the record straight.

I have listed their three trump card arguments. I have also provided facts which nullify each:

1) President Trump's economic programme, particularly his employment policies, has created more and better job opportunities for black Americans.

Dr Rashawn Ray, a David M Rubenstein Fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and professor of sociology and executive director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research (LASSR) at the University of Maryland, College Park, and Dr Keon Gilbert, an associate professor at the Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice in the Department of Behavioural Science and Health Education, in a publication put out by the Brookings Institute on October 15, 2020, entitled 'Has Trump failed black America', wrote inter alia: “It is true that black unemployment was at an all-time low in February 2020, before COVID-19. Yet, the black unemployment rate under the [Barack] Obama-[Joe] Biden Administration had one of the largest declines in American history following The Great Recession. Trump largely inherited a growing economy. However, when we look at the jobs picture, in addition to the unemployment rate, we are concerned about the quality of those jobs. Quality jobs pay living wages and benefits. Blacks still continue to be concentrated in lower sector jobs, which do not have adequate health care or paid sick leave, and have disproportionately exposed them to COVID-19. For black men, job prospects are even more limited. In addition to facing more barriers to work entry, the available jobs often do not provide enough money for them to provide financially for their families. For these men, the labour market has failed them. Thus, their unemployment is not factored into the rate. In fact, research notes that 1.5 million black men are missing from social and economic life.” ( Brookings, October 15, 2020)

2) Trump's criminal justice policies have reduced the mass incarceration of black people and numerous other marginalised communities in the USA. They are better protected today.

In relation to this mistaken notion, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University and an affiliated faculty member at Stanford Law School and the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, Keith Humphreys noted, among other things, in an article in The Washington Post: “Obama-era changes to drug crime prosecution and sentencing coupled with a historic level of clemency grants to federal inmates by President Barack Obama helped bring the federal prison system to its lowest population size since mid-2004, and its lowest incarceration rate (that is, adjusted for population) since the end of 2002.

“Given President Trump's penchant for 'tough on crime' rhetoric, some observers may find it surprising that the federal prison population kept dropping under the first year of the Trump Administration. The most likely cause is also the most obvious. When a nation is blessed with two decades of falling crime rates, this eventually translates into lower incarceration rates, because there just aren't as many offenders to arrest, charge and imprison.” ('The number of people in federal prisons is falling, even under Trump', January 5, 2018)

Trump was dealt a very good hand by his predecessor. Of course, he could have overturned the deck. He did not. I give him credit there.

Trump has repeatedly said that, “I have done more for black Americans than anybody, except for the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.”

Excavation into that utterance finds it woefully wanting.

The Federal Judicial Center of America has kept track of all presidential judge nominations/confirmations since the beginning of the country. That data include gender and ethnicity. Its data up to September 11, 2020 show that the Trump Administration has confirmed 203 federal judges. Of that number, eight are black. Under President Trump, 86 per cent of the judicial confirmations have been white, in comparison, 64 per cent of the Obama Administration's judicial confirmations were white.

Relations between the police and black people, especially, worsened under Trump. In 2017 he advocated for police being rougher during arrests, claiming he's told cops, “Please, don't be too nice.” ( Vox Magazine, September 11, 2020)

Close to 70 per cent of police officers in the USA are white (non-Hispanic). When a white police officer knelt on George Floyd's neck, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest on May 25, 2020, eventually killing him, the incident followed a long-standing pattern of unchecked police brutality toward African Americans. There were protests in 75 cities, some violent, over this killing.

At the height of the protests, a characteristically angry Trump called on governors, police, and security officials to “dominate” George Floyd protests, or “look like a bunch of jerks”. Recall, Trump called protesters in Minneapolis “thugs” and, in rant on Twitter, he said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” His tweet was quickly flagged by Twitter as violating rules against “glorifying violence”.

The White House said the president “did not glorify violence. He clearly condemned it”. Dog-whistle politicking was used as an accelerant by Trump. He poured it on already smouldering fires.

3) Trump speaks his minds, says what the majority is thinking, but is afraid to say, and his uncompromising 'America First' approach has “Made America Great Again”.

Trump does speak his mind and is “pathologically mendacious” — to borrow the words of former Senator K D Knight. This seems so certainly according to this headline in the UK Guardian of July 13, 2020: 'Tsunami of untruths: Trump has made 20,000 false or misleading claims — report'. The news item said, inter alia: “Donald Trump has made 20,000 false or misleading claims while in office, according to The Washington Post, which identified a “tsunami of untruths” emanating from the Oval Office. The paper's Fact Checker column said Trump hit the milestone on July 9, a day on which he delivered 62 such claims.”

Joe Biden's landslide win in the presidential elections nearly three weeks ago proves that Trump does not speak for the majority of Americans. At the time of writing this column, Biden had amassed just over 79 million votes to Trump's just over 73 million, a difference of over six million votes.

Donald Trump has harmed the standing of the US in the world. He has fostered tense relations with traditional allies of the US, such as Canada, France and Germany. America's withdrawal from the Paris climate change agreement is viewed globally as a dark day. Noted political scholars argue that many of his political advances towards Russia's Vladimir Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong-un can correctly be interpreted as cosying up to dictators. His actions in Syria — where he rapidly withdrew US troops and left the Kurds stranded at the request of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan — unnerved America's military allies and sent ripples around the globe.

Trump's mistreatment of his own intelligence agencies has earned him many unnecessary enemies and few friends in key American institutions.

The nadir of the Trump Administration was his attempts to maul America's greatly admired democratic voting apparatus.

His refusal to concede to Biden and his numerous frivolous court actions magnify his unworthiness for the office of president.

America's founding fathers must be turning in their graves.

Goodbye, President Trump.

Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com


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