Week of May 01, 2020

Americans have no patience with continuous lockdown

245 years ago, this month, Americans showed their disdain for following the orders of their government.  In that case, it was American militiamen who refused to disperse when ordered by the British military.  The resulting firefight was the beginning of the American Revolution and what is now called the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

That same disdain for government edicts remains at the heart of the American Spirit.  While state governments have issued orders to keep Americans at home, tracking of cell phone traffic shows that Americans are leaving home in growing numbers.

One segment of the government, the courts, have aided the “breakout” as judges across the nation have ruled many of the government edicts unconstitutional and an infringement on American rights.

But courts or not, Americans are growing tired of staying at home.

Unacast used “anonymized cell phone location data” to measure foot traffic at retail locations.  According to the report, traffic increased by about 25% from the previous week.  Nor was the shopping just at drug stores or supermarkets.  It was a wide range of retail stores and travel facilities.  Although shopping trips are down 20% over last year, Americans made 103 million stops at retail stores on Friday, April 25.

This data raises several questions.  Is the economic downturn going to end within weeks instead of years?  Will this scoffing at government orders to stay home force state governors to recognize reality and allow the economy to restart?  And will the stimulus checks going out to Americans now help jump start all the economy – not just grocery stores?

States like Georgia have already allowed many stores to restart. In fact, retail traffic has surged above 2019 levels, which promises to bring the economy back quickly according to optimists.  Other states like Ohio and Wisconsin, who have allowed more business to open, are also seeing increased traffic.

Actual sales data has not come in, so how the stimulus money will be spent is still a question.  However, with the ability go places, the spending profile should change.  During the shutdown, groceries and medicines were in the greatest demand. Much of that demand went to internet “stores” like Amazon that offered home delivery.   There was also an increase in home improvement purchases as people stuck at home spent some of their time in home improvement projects.

Some of the money will be saved as Americans remain unsure of the future.  There will also be the paying of some overdue bills.

However, there will be increased demand for gasoline as Americans move about more.  Automobile and home sales, which dried up in the last two months, can be expected to pick up.  Travel and apparel purchases are also expected to come back.

Much will also depend on future stimulus checks and how quickly the unemployed can be reabsorbed into the workforce.  However, the ability of the economy to bounce back also depends on how optimistic consumers are.

Of the Western nations, the US is the most optimistic about the ability of the economy to recover.  In fact, for every European who is optimistic about their economy’s future rebound, there are two Americans who have faith in the US economy.

Given this bit of information, it appears that stories of America’s economic death have been greatly exaggerated.

The Case Against a Nationwide Lockdown

After being flooded with advice about locking down a nation to “flatten the curve,” many medical experts are questioning the tactic.

Some note that many people are delaying preventative care by not going to their doctor or an emergency room.  And many hospitals have stopped usually routine cancer screenings during the current emergency.

Now WHO’s Dr. Adhanom has officially endorsed the “no lockdown” approach by Sweden.

Evacuation of Washington still possible

Despite the confidence of Americans in the future, the US government is advancing its plans to evacuate the capital if the Corona virus spreads.

It now appears that the 106th Aviation Regiment, which is a National Guard unit, has been called up by the Pentagon.  The unit flies Blackhawk helicopters, which are used for moving soldiers, but also can carry a wide assortment of weapons.

The unit is now stationed at Fort Belvoir and has been isolated to prevent contamination by the Corona virus.

Captain Adam Kowalski of the 106th said, “We are the quick reaction force that allows us to help mobilize forces within the Washington DC area, evacuate people, or whatever that might be.  We are kind of that big taxicab that makes sure everybody gets where they need to be and keeps the government going.

However, the 106th Aviation Regiment is more than a “big taxicab.” They have also engaged in combat training.  A couple of years ago at Fort Irwin in California, a brigade of the 106th was involved in providing air assault capability for the 155th Armored Brigade Combat Team.

In an emergency, the 106th could move troops in order to secure parts of the capital, provide tactical fire support, and evacuate critical government personnel.

The 106th Aviation Regiment falls under the command of Major General Omar Jones, the Commander of the Washington Military District.

Logistics Chain Showing Signs of Stress

Over the past four weeks, a dozen large meat packing plants have closed due to many workers contracting the Corona virus.  As a result, meat products are starting to disappear at grocery stores.  And, while meat prices at the retail level are going up, the price for cattle, hogs, and chickens at the farm level are dropping.

According to Bloomberg, 25% of America’s pork and 10% of America’s beef processing capacity has gone offline in the last few weeks.

This week, Tyson Foods, a major meat processor, placed ads in several papers warning the nation about the problem.  They wrote, “As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain…the food supply chain is breaking.” But some reports are circulating about euphemizing pork in many pork farms,

to get rid of the excesses created by lower demand in order to maintain higher prices.

As we have noted before, we are just about half a dozen meals away from a breakdown of society.  With widespread civil disobedience over the strict “stay at home” rules, a lack of food could quickly lead to massive civil unrest.

In order to keep the meat supply chain from falling apart, President Trump signed an executive order keeping meat processing plants open during the current crisis.  He is using the Defense Production Act, which was passed during the Korean War.  It has been used in the past in the wake of hurricanes and President Clinton and Bush used it to supply California utilities during an energy crisis.

Currently, many plants are decontaminating their equipment and taking steps to keep the Corona virus from infecting their workforce.  Some meat processors are also offering higher pay and bonuses for employees who return to work.

At the same time, Brazil and Australia are ready to scale up exports to the American meat market.

A Corona Virus Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Try as he might, it has been hard for Trump to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.  Many generals and officials insist that the US must remain in the country and have done their best to slow down the withdrawal process.

However, now it appears that the Corona virus may help Trump keep one of the campaigns promises he made in 2016.

The peace deal between the US and the Taliban includes a complete withdrawal of US and allied forces from the country in 14 months.  However, Trump is dissatisfied with the pace of the withdrawal.

Now US officials worry that the Corona virus could become rampant in Afghanistan given the country’s lack of health care and its border with Iran, which has been hit hard by the virus.  The Afghan health ministry is bracing for possibly millions of cases.

This leaves the US in a bind.  The soldiers could stay in Afghanistan but remain confined to a few bases.  US troops confined to base and unable to patrol would be an inviting target for attackers.  In that case, it makes more sense to withdraw them earlier than planned.

 Of course, there are generals who want to keep US forces in Afghanistan.  They argue that if Trump is that concerned about American troops getting infected, maybe the US should withdraw from Italy.