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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – June 13, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring in Grand Teton NP, WY – photo by MaxFoster098

Posting on her Instagram, AOC answered a question that read: “What does an America with defunded police look like to you?” AOC’s answer:

“It looks like a suburb…”

She continued:

“Affluent white communities already live in a world where they choose to fund youth, health, housing etc. more than they fund police. These communities have lower crime rates not because they have more police but b/c they have more resources to support healthy society in a way that reduces crime.

Why don’t we treat Black and Brown people the same way?”

Words to live by.

On to the issue for Saturday. From the WaPo: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Federal officials responsible for spending $660 billion in taxpayer-backed small-business assistance [PPP Loans] said Wednesday that they will not disclose amounts or recipients of subsidized loans, backtracking on an earlier commitment to release individual loan data.”

Since 1991, the Small Business Association (SBA) has previously released detailed loan information for the federal 7(a) program, on which the PPP is based. More from WaPo:

“The SBA initially intended to publish similar information for the new coronavirus-related loans. An SBA spokesman told The Washington Post in an April 16 email that the agency “intend[s] to post individual loan data in accordance with the information presently on the SBA.gov website after the loan process has been completed…”

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is saying that the Treasury Department won’t disclose the recipients of more than $500 billion in bailout money delivered to 4.5 million businesses through the PPP, because that the information is “proprietary” and “confidential”.

As Charlie Pierce says:

“In one sense, of course, the money is “proprietary information” and we’re the damn proprietors. It’s our damn money.”

According to filings with the SEC, nearly 300 publicly traded companies received $1 billion in stimulus funding. That led to a subsequent ruling from the SBA that public companies with access to credit elsewhere didn’t qualify. Many of those businesses subsequently returned the money, although the SBA has declined to say exactly who, or how many did so.

The reversal on disclosure comes amid a waning belief that the $2.2 trillion pandemic relief package approved by Congress in March will be subject to any oversight. The GAO, which is responsible for preparing a mandated report on the relief spending by the end of June, has requested loan data for both the PPP and a separate program for economic “disaster” loans, but has not been told if or when their request will be honored.

Republicans are not even trying to hide their true intentions any more. The overlap of people who believe in “small government” and people who do not object to Trump’s handing out $500 billion in unmarked bills is total.

But, we’ve had enough body blows for one week. Time to take a few minutes, and escape from all of the world’s chaos. It’s time for our Saturday Soother.

We’re expecting a beautiful weekend in Connecticut, and Wrongo hopes there’s fine weather wherever you are reading this. Start your weekend off by brewing up a cup of Ethiopian Suke Quto coffee ($19/12oz.) from the Greater Goods Roasters of Austin, TX. This is the fourth time they have been featured in the Saturday Soother.

Now, settle back in a physically-distant chair in the shade, and listen to Playing For Change (PFC) perform Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. The message in his song is as relevant today as it was in 1971:

PFC’s focus is to record musicians performing in their natural environments as part of a series called “Songs Around the World”.

Sample Lyric:

Picket lines and picket signs

Don’t punish me with brutality

Talk to me, so you can see

Oh, what’s going on

What’s going on

Ya, what’s going on

Ah, what’s going on

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – May 23, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Sand Dunes NP, Colorado – NPS photo by Patrick Myers. The animals are elk.

Happy Saturday, fellow disease vectors! And welcome to Memorial Day Weekend.

Trump isn’t alone in peddling conspiracy theories. The WaPo reports that conspiracy theories and political smear campaigns are as old as American politics. From the WaPo:

“As far back as the campaign of 1800 — the first contested presidential race in US history — pamphlets circulated that accused John Adams of possessing “a hideous hermaphroditical character,” which was a suggestion that he had the sex organs of both a man and a woman.”

WaPo lists some others:

  • In 1828, a newspaper reported that Andrew Jackson’s mother was “a common prostitute” brought to this country by British soldiers, who married a mulatto man with whom she had several children. Actually, Elizabeth and Andrew Jackson Sr. married in Ireland, and then came to America to escape religious persecution.
  • In 2004, a right-wing group, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth made up lies about Democratic nominee John F. Kerry’s military service in Vietnam. Kerry had piloted a swift boat, and the group’s tarnishing of Kerry’s war service came to be known as “swiftboating”. A shorthand for an outrageous kind of smear.
  • Bill Clinton’s presidency brought many crazy stories, including claims that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been involved in drug-running and murder in Arkansas. Or, accusing them of murdering Vince Foster, an aide who committed suicide. Or, the convoluted theme of the “Clinton Body Count” conspiracy theory, promulgated by Newsmax publisher Christopher Ruddy among others, which says the Clintons are responsible for as many as 50 deaths.

While these tactics aren’t new, social media amplifies and spreads disinformation more efficiently than ever before. In 2020, the real force behind it is Trump, who has both a knack for branding along with zero capacity for shame.

Trump’s constant hammering on birthergate, accusing Obama of being foreign-born, built Trump a big following among people with “white grievance” by trafficking in lies about Obama’s birthplace.

With the 2020 presidential campaign about to get active, Trump has now come up with Obamagate! Something he calls “the biggest political crime in American history, by far!” It’s a hazy set of accusations that Trump and the GOP are trying to plant in the public consciousness.

The gist is this: After Trump was elected in 2016, senior Obama administration officials, including Obama and Joe Biden, tried to entrap his incoming National Security Adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn, in the then-emerging scandal about Russian election interference. There will be Benghazi-style Obamagate hearings by the GOP-controlled Senate. It must be true, since the term contains the word “gate”.

But can Obama be guilty of something he did as POTUS, when Trump claims that POTUS has ‘absolute immunity’ for everything?

He clearly hasn’t thought that one through.

It’s time for our Saturday Soother, and we need to move past these petty conspiracies and talk about a real conspiracy. The trees on the fields of Wrong are attempting to have sex. All. The. Time.

That means tree pollen is covering everything, including those of us of the non-tree persuasion.

But much yard work still needs to be completed, so this beautiful weekend in Connecticut must include a sinus spray. Yard work is a form of Saturday Soother, it lets you escape from all of the problems and issues of the day, and focus on the great weed conspiracy that our main stream media refuses to cover.

But before grabbing your work gloves, take a moment in a comfortable and socially distant space to listen to “The President’s Own” US Marine Band play Gustav Holst’s “Chaconne” from his Suite No. 1 in E-flat, Opus 28, No. 1. Here it is played by 34 US Marine Band Musicians, all social distancing:

Holst apparently wrote it as the “1st Suite for Military Band Op. 28A” in 1909, but there is no record of a performance until 1920. Holst was one of England’s most prominent twentieth-century composers. He composed hundreds of works, the most famous of which was his orchestral suite, “The Planets” (1922).

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – May 8, 2020

The Daily Escape:

The Second Wave, Coyote Buttes North, AZ, bu\ it’s easiest to reach from Kanab, UT – March 2020 photo by thatstheguy

“You know, that might be the answer – to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail.” – Joseph Heller

Happy Saturday, fellow disease vectors! That’s quintessential Trump. He’s doing with the Coronavirus what was patented by Richard Nixon in Vietnam: “Declare Victory and Get Out”.

Trump had no intention of using the agencies of the US government as a positive force to deal with the pandemic, and now he’s backing out of any role helping the country to recover. From Eric Boehlert:

“Trump has no plan to “reopen” the country and he has no plan to manage this pandemic moving forward. The way I see it, the press dutifully starts each day assuming today is the day Trump gets serious and finally provides serious leadership. It’s not going to happen, though.  We’re on our own, yet the press stubbornly pretends otherwise because presidents are supposed to provide leadership in times of crisis.”

Boehlert refers us to Jay Rosen, an NYU journalism professor, who writes:

“The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible— by telling the governors they’re in charge without doing what only the federal government can do, by fighting with the press when it shows up to be briefed, by fixing blame for the virus on China or some other foreign element, and by “flooding the zone with shit,” Steve Bannon’s phrase for overwhelming the system with disinformation, distraction, and denial, which boosts what economists call “search costs” for reliable intelligence.”

Trump’s playbook is to have his re-election ride on manufactured confusion. There won’t be a plot for us to expose, it’s happening right before our eyes. We all know that Trump has no intention of leading. That he has no desire to get involved in helping to solve the greatest American crisis since 9/11. And the disconnect is, that a president acting like this would have been inconceivable before Donald Trump.

It isn’t debatable: Trump has washed his hands of the pandemic, and plans to blame the governors when things go wrong, while taking credit for anything that goes right. He isn’t even trying to hide that anymore.

We heard this week that Trump buried the CDC’s detailed advice about reopening. The administration doesn’t want the public to know what the scientists are recommending. That means people won’t be in a position to hold their employers, or their local governments, to a standard that they either can’t, or don’t want to meet.

At this point, all we can do is grit our teeth, and try to protect ourselves and our loved ones as best we can.

It seems likely that Trump, because of opting out of what a president is supposed to do in a crisis, will be the proximate cause of the deaths of thousands. All as a cover for his callous ineptitude.

And there’s little that we can do about it, except hunker down and be careful as we try to get through it.

We need a break from all of this negativity.

We need to settle back in a comfy chair at a socially distant spot, and de-stress from another difficult week. It’s time for another Saturday Soother, those few moments when we move to a different and better emotional plane. This weekend includes Mother’s Day, so it’s also a time to think about family and how we got to where we are.

To help with that, take a few minutes and listen to some of the world’s biggest current musical artists who collaborated on a BBC Radio 1 cover of the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These”. Each performing from their own homes, as has become the standard these days. The group was dubbed the “Live Lounge Allstars” and included the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl:

Wrongo knows very few of these artists, perhaps showing his age. But this also shows that they should make more music outside of their usual genre. Those who read the Wrongologist in email can watch the video here.

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What Should Biden Do?

The Daily Escape:

Theodore Roosevelt NP, ND – photo by lightcrafterartistry

Happy May Day! Look on the bright side: Halloween is 184 days away, and everybody already has their masks.

Joe Biden is the likely Democratic presidential nominee, and he’s carrying the hopes of many Americans that the Trump era will be just a single term. There are many hurdles for Biden to overcome on his way to winning the presidency, and a new one has emerged from an old story.

Tara Reade, a former Biden aide has accused him of sexually assaulting her in 1993. That story had been reported many times without really touching Biden politically, largely because the media was skeptical of Reade’s story when she came forward initially.

Recently, she changed her story from a creepy sexual harassment to sexual assault. And we now find out that she may have told others of the more serious allegation 25 years ago. That puts her story in a very different light.

Business Insider reported that two sources came forward to corroborate details about Reade’s new claims. One, a former neighbor of Reade’s, says that Reade disclosed corroborating details to her about the alleged assault in the mid-1990s, possibly one-to-two years after it happened.

Dealing with this sort of accusation when we’re focused on the political rather than the legal consequences, is tricky. People point to the Brett Kavanaugh nomination hearing and say that Kavanaugh and Biden are in the same boat. The WaPo says that at the time, Biden insisted that Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault:

“…should be given the benefit of the doubt…for a woman to come forward in the glaring lights of focus, nationally, you’ve got to start off with the presumption that at least the essence of what she’s talking about is real, whether or not she forgets facts.”

The HuffPo reports that Tarana Burke, a founder of the Me Too movement in 2007, thinks that Reade’s accusations against Biden are being felt differently because of the stakes in the 2020 election, which will feature two men in powerful positions who have both been accused of sexual assault.

Burke has suggested that Biden could be both “accountable and electable” for Democrats in 2020:

“The defense of Joe Biden shouldn’t rest on whether or not he’s a ‘good guy’ or ‘our only hope.’ Instead, he could demonstrate what it looks like to be both accountable and electable…”

Standards for evaluating evidence in the context of a job interview should be different than standards for evaluating evidence in a legal proceeding, or in a criminal trial.

Nobody has a right to become president of the US, or to be on the Supreme Court. If you think there’s a reasonable chance that Reade’s sexual assault allegation is true, it’s perfectly appropriate to take your estimate of that probability into account when deciding whether to support Biden or not.

Wrongo thinks that it would be better for the country if Biden replaces Trump. That’s true for Wrongo even if he assumes Reade’s allegation is 100% accurate.

So what should Biden do? He has to put this behind him. He should say he believes her, even if he has no memory of the event. And he should earnestly apologize.

Fess up and move on.

Republicans know that dividing the left radically improves their chances in November. They can see how easily the Dems’ laudable virtue of “believe all women” could be weaponized.

One thing an apology will do is make it easier for Biden to select a woman VP, as he has promised to do. Biden’s shaky past behavior around women will also be a part of the opposition’s message in the fall. He has worked to overcome some of that over the years by co-sponsoring Clinton’s Violence Against Woman Act. He has improved his views on both abortion and the Hyde Amendment, and he’s sort of apologized to Anita Hill.

Whichever woman Biden chooses will be forced to answer questions (probably endlessly) about Biden’s treatment of women, including the allegations of assault by Tara Reade. His VP choice may become the leader of the Democratic Party in four years, and the only way to inoculate the VP nominee against this is a full Biden apology.

Will a heartfelt apology hurt Biden? Certainly with some progressive voters. But even those whose only issue is a principled stand against sexual assault, will have to choose between Biden and Trump. If they do so based only on which man has sexually assaulted fewer women, it’s likely that Biden would be their choice.

This isn’t the choice Wrongo had hoped for, but it’s the choice we have.

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Monday Wake Up Call, Social Cohesion Edition – April 20, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Alstrom Point overlook, Lake Powell, AZ – photo by Gleb_Tarro

World War II lasted six years. Americans from coast to coast planted victory gardens; turned bacon grease into bombs; recycled paper, metal, and rubber. Staples like sugar were rationed. Mothers went to work in defense plants. The war lasted six years, and half a million Americans died.

Fast forward: While some might say we’re not at war, it sure feels like we’re under attack. But our flag-waviest Americans today can’t even last six weeks, much less pull together.

Turns out, we have lost most of our social cohesion, the collective will to commit to a path, and work together to make the goal a reality.

In the past, we had a set of unwritten expectations that members of our society were expected to comply with, like voting, paying taxes, and displaying tolerance for others. Even these deminimus expectations are fraying today.

We’re being told that we’re on one team, or the other: Team working, or Team lockdown. Each is supposed to do the best it can to help control the virus, but people are becoming frustrated and angry.

If you need a visual representation of the reasons why, take a look at this chart from Visual Capitalist:

You can view a bigger version of the chart here.

The chart graphs jobs by income and degree of risk of catching COVID-19. They used the following criteria to establish level of risk:

  1. Contact With Others: How much does this job require the worker to be in contact with others in order to perform it?
  2. Physical Proximity: To what extent does this job require the worker to perform tasks in close physical proximity to others?
  3. Exposure to Disease and Infection: How often does this job require exposure to hazardous conditions?

Visual Capitalist then assigned a Risk Score between 0 and 100, with 100 representing the highest possible risk to each job. More from Visual Capitalist: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Many individuals have been practicing social distancing by working from home in recent weeks. While this arrangement can be a great way to reduce one’s exposure to COVID-19, it’s a luxury that’s available to just 29% of Americans.

The situation for the remaining 71% is uncertain, to say the least. A significant portion of the population has lost their jobs due to business shutdowns and mandated lockdown orders. Others employed in “essential services” have continued working as usual, but may face a higher risk of potential exposure to the virus.”

Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor and an expert on the 1918 influenza pandemic, observed:

“Someone is at home wondering how he’s going to make rent and feed his family,” he said. “And someone else is wondering if they can binge-watch the first season of The Sopranos…”

So it’s understandable that at least 71% of America want to end the lockdown. They are business owners who stand to lose plenty, or unemployed workers who have nothing left to lose.

There’s a disconnect with the end the lockdown reasoning and the world in which we live. We live, work, play, and eat together. We buy from and sell to each other. We depend on the farmers, the truck drivers, the street repair people, and the bankers. More than ever, we depend on the medical people, the teachers, and the people who run all kinds of business, big and small. And they depend on all the people who work for them.

The virus has disrupted all of that.

Are the lockdown protesters ready to pitch in and take the high risk jobs above? Will they drive the buses? Wait on tables? Deliver the groceries? Clean hospital rooms? Work with people who may be infected in nursing homes?

Time to wake up, America! We need to reach back and try for more social cohesion, or we’re lost. To help us wake up, we turn to Bob Dylan. Let’s listen to his “Slow Train Coming”:

Today, it’s no longer a Slow Train. It’s high-balling down the track.

Sample lyric:

Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters

Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition

But the enemy I see wears a cloak of decency

All nonbelievers and men stealers talking’ in the name of religion

And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting

Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it

They say lose your inhibitions follow your own ambitions

They talk about a life of brotherly love show me someone who knows how to live it

There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend

 

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 19, 2020

One week ago, the cumulative US COVID-19 death toll was 15,000. Seven days later, the death toll is now 36,000. That means in a week, about 21,000 Americans have died, a growth rate of 140%. In the past two months, here’s how US coronavirus deaths have grown:

  • Feb 17: 0 deaths
  • March 17: 111 deaths
  • April 17: 36,997 deaths

Although deaths are a lagging indicator for how successful we are in our efforts to contain the Coronavirus, and despite all the happy talk about flattening the curve, this looks like a rocket ship leaving the launch pad.

The Navy has now tested about 94% of the crew on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the aircraft carrier that was sidelined with a Coronavirus outbreak. As of Friday, 660 crew members (of about 4,865) have now tested positive for Coronavirus.

However, of those 660 who were positive, 60% have not shown any symptoms associated with the illness. This should cause us to question the true rate of infections in the US. The proportion of people who are asymptomatic carriers worldwide remains unknown, but at 60%, the Theodore Roosevelt’s figure is higher than the 25%-50% range Dr. Fauci laid out in early April.

Taking these two data points together, America should proceed carefully as it leaves the lockdown.

On to cartoons. Another day, another spin of the big blame wheel:

With big business, some things never change:

If not his signature, then certainly his fingerprints:

The right’s narrative that can kill:

Individual responsibility has consequences:

John Roberts has to live with his Wisconsin voting decision:

 

 

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Saturday Soother – April 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Rainbow appears over NYC at 7pm, the time of change of shift for NYC’s health workers – April 13th 2020 photo by Steve Braband. Thanks to reader Shelley VK.

An argument by those who want to end the lockdown about those who think we should keep it is:  “You have shut down the economy because you think even one death is too many.”

That is a misrepresentation of what America’s governors have done. They really have said: “We reduced the economy and restricted daily activities because otherwise, as many as a million people might die.”

What is missed by the “live free or die” folks is that these actions were taken to reduce the risks to human life from the pandemic. They say, you shouldn’t ask us to stay locked down, because “life is full of risk anyway”.

To a degree, they are correct. Lockdowns only work for the privileged. They don’t work for everyone, because the level of income support and debt relief provided by the government is inadequate to the need. If landscapers are not essential in a state, they don’t work. But since they live paycheck to paycheck, they won’t be able to buy food. And when they see others working and earning, that’s got to be angering.

If we ask people for sacrifice and compliance, the country must at least secure their short term needs.

Since the government isn’t providing adequately for those needs, rebelliousness, non-compliance, and virus denialism are on the rise, as we saw in Thursday’s large demonstration in Michigan.

In Connecticut, Wrongo’s home state, the major issue every spring is passing the town budget. With a COVID-19 shutdown in effect, Governor Ned Lamont (D) issued an executive order suspending in-person voting for the next fiscal year’s budget. And there is no vote by mail option in CT.

His order has been met with livid anger on the right and left, conjuring up “no taxation without representation” and calls to “stand up for your rights”. People are saying if they can shop using social distance, why can’t they vote using social distance?

What angers many in town is that voters have rejected several budgets in recent years. The town then lowers the numbers, and it goes back to voters who eventually approve it. They could simply roll over last year’s approved budget, but instead, they’re going to pass a budget increase along with an increase in taxes, without ratification by voters.

The executive order seems wrong-headed, and it’s making people very angry. And so non-compliance will grow, as will denialism that the virus is a serious health problem.

All of this may help the virus flare up again soon.

In a comment, blog reader Terry McKenna brought up the concept of the “Tragedy of the Commons”, the idea that all individuals have a right to consume a resource even if it comes at the expense of other individuals. If demand overwhelms supply, every individual who consumes an additional unit directly harms all others who can no longer benefit from it.

Most Americans don’t think about how their actions impact others. Most are unwilling to even temporarily comply with limitations placed on them for the common good. With Operation Gridlock in Michigan, we’re seeing more proof that when human health and safety go up against the almighty dollar, humans will lose.

People should remember that finding a vaccine for the virus is not a sure thing. There’s also little reason to believe that once a vaccine is found, that it will be completely effective. The longer people are allowed to think that universal Coronavirus immunity is just around the corner, the angrier they will get when that isn’t the case.

Until we know if a vaccine is likely or not, the current political climate won’t be conducive to rational discussions about difficult decisions. The virus can’t spread itself, but it seems to have plenty of helpers.

On this spring Saturday, let’s forget about non-compliance and the Coronavirus for a few minutes. Let’s have a brief respite, and indulge in a Saturday Soother.

Start by inviting your besties to a Quarantini video conference. The term “Quarantini” was actually coined several years ago on the podcast “This podcast will kill you”, hosted by two disease ecologists/epidemiologists. Wrongo prefers Irish single malts, but pour whatever makes you happy. And make a toast: Confusion to our enemies!

Next, settle back and spend a few minutes watching and listening to a parody tribute to NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, from Randy Rainbow, “ANDY!”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email, can view the video here.

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Should America Be Reopening Now?

The Daily Escape:

Poppies, Antelope Valley, CA – 2020 photo by user_greg. Part of the annual spring “super bloom” in CA.

Given Trump’s decision to open the country to walking around while infected, it’s becoming clear that for the administration, the business of America is strictly business.

But this is wrong. In a pandemic, the business of America is not business; it’s public health. Absent public confidence that the virus is at least under control, many businesses and workers won’t be comfortable heading back to work, no matter what politicians say:

“More than eight in 10 voters, 81%, say Americans “should continue to social distance for as long as is needed to curb the spread of coronavirus, even if it means continued damage to the economy…. Democrats (89%) are more likely than Republicans (72%) to say Americans should continue the “social distancing” measures”

Looks like Trump holds a minority view. To see if there was any concrete basis for saying the US was in a position to reopen soon, Wrongo looked at the COVID-19 Tracking Project’s state-level numbers, and subtracted the terrible NY numbers from the rest. Here’s the result:

The conclusion is that NY isn’t all that terrible compared to the rest of the US. It has a decreasing share of America’s total infections and deaths. But the highlighted rate of increase in deaths in the rest of the US since April 12th should concern the White House.

In fact, the seven-day average for growth in new cases shows that cases in the rest of the US are growing faster. NY is growing at 5.27%, while the rest of US is growing at 5.83%.

And the news from the places without lockdowns isn’t good. Politico reports that hot spots have erupted in farm belt states where governors insist lockdowns aren’t needed:

“The only hospital in Grand Island, Neb., is full. The mayor…asked for a statewide stay-at-home order that the GOP governor insists isn’t needed. More than one-third of those tested for coronavirus in the surrounding county are positive — and there aren’t enough tests to go around.

Grand Island is the fourth-biggest city in a state President Donald Trump and his top health officials repeatedly [say is]…keeping the virus at bay without the strict lockdowns 42 other states have imposed.”

New cases in Nebraska and in Iowa, South Dakota and other parts of the heartland are starting to spike. This should be raising concerns about whether we’re controlling the disease. Here’s Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts saying that voluntary social distancing is working: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“This is a program that depends on people exercising personal responsibility and their civic duty….This is about making that decision, not the heavy hand of government taking away your freedoms.”

All of a sudden, as if they saw the bat signal, Republicans want to do the “Live Free or Die” thing. From the Daily Beast:

“A protest movement is taking hold targeting states that have extended social-distancing rules, closed schools, and restricted access to large religious gatherings. And it’s being fed by loyalists and political allies of President Donald Trump.”

This seems to be “spontaneous” support for Trump’s effort to reopen the economy.

In Michigan, a demonstration called “Operation Gridlock” protested Governor Whitmer’s shelter-at-home orders. Michigan has the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in America, and the lockdown lowered infections. But Republicans criticize the order. Several thousand cars blocked the Lansing streets to protest what they see as an infringement of their liberty.

A lot of calories are going into the open vs. lockdown debate. It’s all a waste of time. How will we get a healthy economy if we eliminate the lockdown before we have any chance of stopping the mass transmission of this disease?

People aren’t staying at home because governments told them to. They’re doing it because it’s not safe to be out there. They aren’t going to go to work willingly in crowded offices, or travel, or attend concerts unless the danger is visibly lessened. And the economy will not recover until people are willing to do these things.

It’s not about flipping a switch. Businesses reopening will happen in small steps, as public health officials and political leaders, especially mayors and governors (and businesses), work to establish the basic conditions for a return to economic activity.

The bottom line is that the people are in control. We had to be convinced to stay home, and now we’ll have to be convinced to go out.

You go first, should be the people’s mantra. Trump should go back to holding MAGA rallies immediately. He should put his life and those of his supporters, where his mouth is.

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Is The Cure Worse Than The Disease?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, CA – photo by kristophershinn

Here are the latest national pandemic numbers from The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/5)

  • Number of daily cases: 333,747, up 27,992 or +9.2% vs. April 4
  • Rate of case increase: 9.2% vs. 12.4% on 4/4 and 13% average for the past week
  • Number of deaths: Total 9,558, up 1,244 vs. April 4
  • Rate of deaths increase 4/5 vs 4/4: 14.9% % vs. 19.4% on 4/4
  • Daily number of tests 4/5 vs. 4/4: 1,778,487, up 154,680 over 4/4
  • Rate of increase in tests: +9.5% vs. previous day

The rate of growth in cases and deaths are slowing. Testing is still growing, although slowly.

Two pandemic-related stories today, each purporting to offer a cure. First, from the Guardian:

“Neo-Nazi groups in the US are looking for ways to exploit the coronavirus outbreak and commit acts of violence, according to observers of far-right groups, law enforcement, and propaganda materials…”

The Guardian says that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) raised an alarm about opportunism from far-right so-called “accelerationist” groups who believe sowing chaos and violence will hasten the collapse of society. More from the Guardian:

“Late last month, the FBI warned such extremist groups were encouraging members to deliberately spread the virus to Jewish people and police officers.”

Apparently, the shorthand in a variety of extremist and fringe movements and subcultures is the word “boogaloo”, used as shorthand for a future civil war:

“From militia groups to white supremacists, extremists on a range of online platforms talk about—and sometimes even anticipate—the “boogaloo.” The rise of “boogaloo,” and its casual acceptance of future mass violence, is disturbing.”

Similar sentiments may have motivated a Missouri man who planned a car bomb attack on a hospital which was treating coronavirus patients. He was shot dead by FBI agents who were seeking to arrest him on March 24th. The man was active in chat rooms associated with two neo-Nazi groups: the longstanding National Socialist Movement (NSM) and the accelerationist group Vorherrschaft Division (VSD).

The NSM was involved in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and is facing a federal lawsuit for its role there. VSD is an organization that urges members to engage in mass shootings or terror attacks to help bring about the collapse of modern civilization. This is disturbing and distracting when we are seeing a few nascent signs that Americans are coming together in the fight against COVID-19.

Second, many saw, or have heard about Trump’s Sunday “briefing” where he doubled down on his pushing chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine as a possible cure for Coronavirus. Trump again said “what do you have to lose?” Remember that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are used to treat malaria and lupus.

It turns out that many of us may indeed have something to lose. In an abstract from researchers at Johns Hopkins entitled: “Fatal toxicity of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine with metformin in mice” they say: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…we report a cautionary note on the potential fatal toxicity of chloroquine (CQ) or hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in combination with anti-diabetic drug metformin. We observed that the combination of CQ or HCQ and metformin, which were used in our studies as potential anti-cancer drugs, killed 30-40% of mice.”

Metformin is the fourth most prescribed drug in the US and is used by more than 150,000,000 people worldwide. It is usually the first drug prescribed for Type 2 diabetes. Its side effects are usually mild, and it is even being researched as a possible “longevity” drug.

Now, these mice results aren’t conclusive, so it may or may not be lethal in humans. This is why we test before prescribing an approved drug for another disease.

BTW, Drugs.com says there are 332 HCQ drug interactions (59 of them are major), but it doesn’t list Metformin as one of them. Feeling lucky?

Despite this, the NY Post reports that as many as 4,000 patients are currently being treated with hydroxychloroquine:

“A state Health Department official said the DOH has shipped doses of hydroxychloroquine to 56 hospitals across New York…”

And NYU Langone Medical School is conducting a random trial with a $9.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Sooner or later, we’ll have some proof if it helps with COVID-19, and whether it is safe for people who take Metformin.

So, the answer is, at this point, you may have a lot to lose.

Remember the guy pushing this told us that the cure can’t be worse than the disease, so we should all go back to work, before he had to admit that he had spoken too soon. Now, he’s pushing a cure that MIGHT be worse than the disease.

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Coughs And Prayers

The Daily Escape:

Lake Colchuck, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, near Leavenworth, WA – photo by atgcgtt

Until 1956, e pluribus Unum (out of many, one) was the country’s unofficial national motto. It was officially replaced by In God we trust by Congress in 1956. And in America today, there are many, many pastors who are telling their members that for Coronavirus, trusting God is enough. There’s no need for social distancing or flattening the curve. From Crooks and Liars: (Brackets by Wrongo)

“Apparently the Coronavirus was wiped off the face of the earth Sunday by televangelist Kenneth Copeland, [who]…around 12 eastern [said]…..In the name of Jesus… I execute judgment on you, COVID-19!..It! Is! Finished! It! Is! Over!”

But it isn’t over, we still have plenty of coughs right along with our prayers.

Many Americans just don’t like to be told what to do, even when it’s readily apparent why they should do it. Most are beginning to accept the arguments about transmission rates and mortality rates being higher than with the flu.

They are accepting curve flattening. But it’s doubtful they would have accepted it simply based on the words of scientists. Without the exercise of state and local power closing schools and stores, and banning social gatherings, along with their painful economic consequences they would be out and about like the kids in Florida during spring break.

Social media is filled with pandemic denialism and fantastic rumors about the true origin, or the severity of the virus. Most of us aren’t public health experts, so going along with the program boils down to “the government seems to be taking it seriously, so maybe I should too.”

And the government is finally taking it seriously, despite Trump’s refusal to take the COVID-19 outbreak seriously during the entire first quarter of 2020. Now suddenly, he is, and much of the media are giving him credit for a change in tone, for looking presidential, and for finally acting seriously.

Praising Trump for changing his tone is like praising your puppy for shitting closer to the door.

Trump frittered away January, February and most of March as a coronavirus denialist. It is a hoax, he said. We only have 15 cases. It will just go away. It is like the ordinary flu. It shouldn’t interfere with business, or with the stock market.

But it did interfere with our lives, and now it looks like an unstoppable force. Here’s a chart from the Financial Times:

This graph tracks most countries by number of cases and the days since the country’s 100th case. The steeper the curve, the faster the cases are growing, and the bigger the national problem. There are reference curves for cases doubling every day, every other day, every three days, an once a week.

The graph shows that America’s on a track to face a massive public health problem, perhaps the worst among nations. One made worse by the wide mistrust of the state’s authority by significant segments of America. Many politicians and citizens seemingly reject stay at home orders, or other measures to control the rapid spread of the virus.

Two stories of interest. First, a delicious irony is how dependent America is on foreign-born doctors and other health workers, given Trump’s aversion to immigration. Juan Cole reports that nearly one third of American physicians are foreign-born. And about a quarter of nurse aides are first-generation immigrants. More from Cole:

“About 17% of US physicians are Asian-Americans. These are the same Asian-Americans against whom Trump fomented beatings and harassment by calling Covid-19 “Chinese.” About 6% of our physicians are Hispanic. Fully one percent of them are Muslim, which is proportional to the Muslim-American population.”

Second, returning to the “In God We Trust” motto, a makeshift tent hospital was built in Central Park in Manhattan. The group Samaritan’s Purse is working with Mount Sinai Health System to open a 68-bed respiratory care unit. Sounds great, we need all the help we can get, right?

Wrong. Gothamist reports that Samaritan’s Purse has asked all volunteers working at the field hospital to sign a pledge that includes one that defines marriage as “exclusively the union of one genetic male and one genetic female” and another that says “human life is sacred from conception to its natural end.” So, don’t work here if you are for same sex marriage, or abortion.

Maybe it helps to know the group is headed by Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, and a guy with a history of incendiary comments. Samaritan’s Purse is specifically seeking Christian medical staff for the tent hospital.

In the middle of this plague, the last thing anyone needs is a bunch of superstitious hatemongers judging those who either want to help, or who need help.

People should both cough and pray privately.

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