US gives a lesson in how to twist, ignore and suppress data

Last weekend, The Washington Post reported that Donald Trump was so unhappy in March with epidemiological models suggesting a death toll of over 100,000 that the White House created a new economics team, led by Kevin Hassett, “Former Chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers with No background in infectious diseases” to produce internal analysis suggesting a lower death toll.

Now, both the White House and the CEA are attempting to justify modelling that used “cubic fit” to bring deaths down to zero as early as May. As Mother Jones explains in ‘Lying With Statistics, COVID-19 Edition‘, the application of that “up and down” function on existing data:

“… gives you an extra parameter to play with, which means it’s easier to generate a result you like. In this case, it projects that deaths will drop to zero in about two weeks. This is neither particularly honest nor particularly likely, but I imagine the White House likes it”

While the White House has defied criticisms and plans to continue using its own modelling, the chart has been slammed by former CEA chair Jason Furman.

Earlier this week, New York Times opinion writer Paul Krugman has unpacked how the experiences demonstrates that advisers, not just Trump, have shown and continue to show an inability to learn from/even acknowledge past mistakes.

Specifically, not only does Hassett not have a background in epidemiology, he remains a sought-after economist despite:

  • denying the existence of a housing bubble in the mid-2000s;
  • warning, in an open letter from conservative economists and pundits in 2010, that the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchase plan would lead to currency debasement and inflation. When Bloomberg News tried to ask signatories four years later why that inflation never materialised, “not one was willing to admit having been wrong.”
  • promising that the 2017 Trump tax cuts would lead to a surge in business investment; as Krugman writes, “it didn’t, but he insisted that it did.”

Now, in a significant escalation, The Arizona Republic reports that the Arizona Department of Health Services has told a team of two dozen professors at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona to “pause” their modelling work.

The email, from the DHS bureau chief of public health statistics, came on Monday night after after Governor Doug Ducey announced plans to begin easing social distancing from Friday, 8 May; the universities’ model had shown that reopening the state at the end of the month is the only scenario that does not create a surge of cases.

Reportedly, the state will now rely on a model from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has not been released to the public.

China’s Post-COVID Economy to Face Low-Carbon Projects, New BRI & Likelihood of Resumed US Trade War

At The East Asia Forum, ANU’s Jorrit Gosens and Frank Jotzo have unpacked the government’s low-carbon “new infrastructure construction” plan, which, while promising, has yet to see real action. Money, however, continues to pour into high-polluting programs such as a coal.

The “new infrastructure construction” concept, envisioned by the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, covers seven fields:

  • 5G networks
  • data centres
  • artificial intelligence
  • the industrial Internet of Things
  • ultra-high voltage (UHV) power transmission
  • high-speed rail and
  • electric vehicle charging infrastructure

Elsewhere, The World Economic Forum has explored how COVID-19 hast affected the country’s Belt & Road Initiative, specifically the three biggest changes to BRI: a change in supply chains, the digitising of the BRI itself, and the rise of private sector involvement.

Finally, also at The East Asia Forum, C H Kwan from Tokyo’s Nomura Institute of Capital Markets Research has provided a recap on everything that’s happened with the US-China trade war amidst COVID-19, and looked at where the countries could be headed after something of a ceasefire.

On the Home Front: States launch Volunteering Programs

Amidst a surge in demand for community organisations, the New South Wales government has joined the Emergency Support Volunteering initiative, a volunteer platform that, since launching in Western Australia and Victoria, has recorded 5,000 registrations.

The platform connects residents with relevant local organisations, which get in touch as opportunities arise, and offers four main options:

  • delivering supplies (4,300 sign-ups)
  • providing essential transport i.e. doctor’s appointments (2,300)
  • urgent household maintenance (936)
  • welfare checks (eg, phone call or text)

The state government has partnered with the Centre for Volunteering to develop state opportunities, which have also been designed to consider physical distancing restrictions.

Similarly, the South Australian government has committed $20,000 to Volunteering SA&NT, the 35-year-old peak volunteer body for SA and the Northern Territory, to help manage new registrations.

Victoria plugs JobKeeper public sector hole, launches disability package
Yesterday, the Victorian government announced a plan to support and redeploy 3,000 casual public sector workers, who, under federal guidelines, are ineligible for JobKeeper.

Workers can now access their usual fortnightly payments of up to $1500 before tax, up until the end of September, provided “they are happy to be redeployed to other public sector roles where demand for more resources is high, such as healthcare”.

Examples of casual state government jobs include:

  • swimming pool lifeguards and staff at the Melbourne Aquatic Centre
  • ticket staff at the Melbourne Museum and the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre
  • park staff at the Royal Botanic Gardens

Unlike JobKeeper, payments will be available to workers regardless of their length of service, age, and citizenship. The scheme followed consultations with unions as part of the state’s public sector IR Framework, which will be overseen by a specialist workforce advisory group to include both members of government and union representatives.

As 10 News reports, the scheme does not cover council staff.

Separately, Victoria has pledged an additional $17 million in disability support funding, to include:

  • $2.6m for disability liaison officers in health services
  • $2.2m for advocacy organisations
  • $4m to assist organisations helping Victorians with psychosocial disabilities to transition to the NDIS
  • $1.7m to support people with disability in the forensic disability, youth justice and adult prison systems
  • almost $1m for the Office of the Public Advocate to ensure people under guardianship do not experience long wait times and to provide new technology for the community visitors program
  • another $2m to help smaller not-for-profit services with infection control and business continuity, targeted at regional providers
  • an additional 11,000 hours of respite care for about 600 carers, in case they become ill and need to self-isolate
  • expanding the Department of Health and Human Services’ intensive support team, which supports Victorians struggling to access and navigate the NDIS
  • extending the ‘Our Home and Community Care Program for Younger People’ to support young people ineligible for the NDIS who still need help with daily living due to physical limitations or chronic health conditions
  • 20,000 free police and working with children checks to streamline the process for workers transitioning into the disability sector.

Western Australia to Conduct asymptomatic Tests on FIFO Workers

Over in Western Australia, the McGowan government has announced a partnership with resource companies including Chevron, Woodside, Mineral Resources Ltd, Rio Tinto and BHP to test asymptomatic fly-in fly-out workers.

The testing of FIFO workers forms the second stage of the DETECT program, a joint initiative between the Department of Health and state researchers was first launched 1 May to test WA schools. The program, which will test healthcare workers next, is designed to examine the prevalence of COVID-19 in key sectors of the state’s community, and is aimed at creating greater certainty around possible undetected transmissions.

Led by Curtin University and the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, DETECT FIFO will be funded by industry and has been endorsed by the Chamber of Minerals and Energy. It is expected that nearly 30,000 tests will be conducted during the life of the project.

State Wrap

Because it’s been another bumper day for state and territory programs:

  • Queensland announced a further $2 million for domestic and family violence service providers, in addition to an April boost of $5.5 million, at yesterday’s virtual summit. The government also issued a warning against potential scammers ahead of Mothers’ Day.
  • The NSW government announced a $9 million regional court upgrade program, under the government’s $10 billion stimulus project, to include improvements to 63 regional courthouses; $1 million for digital adaptation grants of up to $5000 for Creative Kids providers, to go towards purchasing equipment and internet services to help transition for online classes; and four-week extensions on hunting licences as hunters regain access to state forests.
  • The NT government has announced one-off grants of up to $10,000 for NT childcare operators, an extension of the Urban Sport Vouchers program to 12 June, and news that the Home Improvement Scheme has officially begun in Alice Springs.
  • The Tasmanian government launched, ‘AGFEST 2020 in the Cloud’, a three-week digital version of the AGFEST exhibition.
    • Additionally, the state government announced a rapid response team — to be comprised of 15 staff in public health, Tasmania Police, Department of Health — and the names of some of the first successful applicants for the state’s $2 million sports package.
    • Tasmania’s COVID-19 Disease Emergency (Commercial Leases) Bill 2020, which gives effect to the Code of Conduct for commercial tenancies agreed upon by National Cabinet last month, passed the state’s House of Assembly.
  • Last but not least, South Australia welcomed a new freight route delivering produce to Singapore and launched a new health and well-being website, ‘Open Your World’ which includes “tips on staying fit and healthy, activities for kids as well online resources for learning and skill development ranging from language classes to cooking courses”.
Author: Chris Woods, Journalist for The Mandarin based in Melbourne.
Editor’s Note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of the editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.