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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Tulsa Edition, June 22, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Trump Tulsa loyalist – photo by: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

(Blogging for the rest of the week will be light and variable, as Wrongo and Ms. Right embark on our first trip since COVID entered our lives)

Wrongo’s initial reaction to the smaller-than-expected crowd in Tulsa on Saturday was that quite a few Trump supporters actually had common sense, despite what they might have said to the press about COVID.

CNN said the venue estimated that 6,200 people were in the arena. The blue section where the lone Trump supporter above is seated, is the highest level of the arena. It holds 9,000, and was largely vacant. Despite that, the Trump campaign said that 12,000 went through the metal detectors.

Wrongo was wrong about the Trumpets. It turned out that teenage users of TikTok were behind the early huge crowd estimates by the campaign:

“TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups claimed to have registered potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets for Mr. Trump’s campaign rally as a prank.”

And the NYT reports there’s a story behind the story:

“Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old from Fort Dodge, Iowa, said she had been watching black TikTok users express their frustration about Mr. Trump hosting his rally on Juneteenth. (The rally was later moved to June 20.) She “vented” her own anger in a late-night TikTok video on June 11 — and provided a call to action. ‘I recommend all of those of us that want to see this 19,000-seat auditorium barely filled or completely empty go reserve tickets now, and leave him standing there alone on the stage’….When she checked her phone the next morning…the video was starting to go viral. It has more than 700,000 likes, she added, and more than two million views.”

This will be spun many ways over the next few days, but a few days ago, the campaign claimed the equivalent of a quarter of Oklahoma’s population had requested a ticket. Today, they blamed invisible Antifa’s for both the cancellation of the planned overflow outdoor speech, and that the indoor venue was not even half full.

This shows how far the Trump campaign has to go in the next 132 days.

Today’s real topic is AG Barr’s firing of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), Geoffrey Berman. First, Berman was asked to resign, and he refused to comply. Then Barr said that Trump had fired Berman, so Berman then agreed to leave.

Wrongo has no position on Berman’s worth as a federal prosecutor. He was the Assistant US Attorney for the SDNY while Rudy Giuliani was the US Attorney. He later became a partner at the law firm, Greenberg Traurig. Still later, Rudy Giuliani also joined Greenberg Traurig.

The SDNY has pursued a series of highly visible cases that are Trump-adjacent. It handled the arrest and prosecution in 2018 of Michael D. Cohen. Then there was the indictment last year of a state-owned bank in Turkey. Turkish president Erdogan wanted Trump to quash the investigation. Bolton’s book says Trump promised Erdogan that he would get rid of the current leadership of SDNY, and then they’d “take care of it.”

Berman also has an inquiry into Rudy Giuliani and his henchmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Berman’s dismissal seems to be either questionable judgment, or an effort to obstruct ongoing investigations. We’re way past the point of optics. Trump and Barr are in a scramble to do ANYTHING to get re-elected. Their hope is to keep the conspiracy going for four more years.

And their latest effort, to short-circuit the ongoing criminal investigations of Trump’s affiliates and associates, is only the most recent evidence. If Barr continues down this road, he will make John Mitchell, Nixon’s disgraced attorney general, who did time for his transgressions, look like a man of principle.

When Barr was up for Senate confirmation, he was the old Washington hand everyone respected and who, we were assured, had nothing but respect for the law. Now it’s clear that he’s someone who had a pedigree and the right connections, but no moral center.

Trump plans to replace Berman with the head of the SEC, Jay Clayton. Clayton is a lawyer who doesn’t have any criminal experience. His former client, Deustche Bank, is party to a Trump tax return case that is before the Supreme Court.

Time to Wake up America! None of Trump’s people have a moral center. We have a few weeks remaining to register and turn out voters in such overwhelming numbers that these bastards are thrown out of office.

To help you wake up, consider this quote from John Adams:

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And right now, we have a government without ethics or morals.

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Trump’s Authoritarian Impulses

The Daily Escape:

Lake Superior from Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Ontario CN – photo by crazytravel4

If you want to know where Trump is headed on civil disobedience in 2020, consider this about China’s Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Nicholas Kristof reminded NYT readers what Trump had to say about it in 1989:

“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, Trump told Playboy Magazine….Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”

Overwhelming force is Trump’s plan, just like the Chinese. Here’s a list of the military, government police units and militia-like components of the US Government that are walking the streets in Washington DC:

That’s 14 discrete police and military groups patrolling DC. And it didn’t stop there. The Trump campaign just changed his MAGA hats from red to camouflage, and is calling supporters the “Trump Army“:

Yep, Trump wants an army to fight off the liberal mob.

The Daily Beast reported that Trump and Barr have come up with a possibly legal way to bring troops into America’s cities:

“The idea was to…rely on the FBI’s regional counterterrorism hubs to share information with local law enforcement about, in Barr’s own words, ‘extremists’.”

More from the Beast:

“That’s when Barr turned to an existing counterterrorism network—Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs)— led by the FBI that unite federal, state and local law enforcement to monitor and pursue suspected terrorists….The construction we are going to use is the JTTF. It’s a tried and true system. It worked for domestic homegrown terrorists. We’re going to apply that model….It already integrates your state and local people. It’s intelligence driven. We want to lean forward and charge… anyone who violates a federal law in connection with this rioting.

We need to have people in control of the streets so we can go out and work with law enforcement…identify these people in the crowd, pull them out and prosecute them…”

See any reason to be concerned?

According to multiple current and former Justice Department and law enforcement officials, Barr is misusing the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) in support of Trump’s insistence that antifascists are “terrorists” exploiting the nationwide protests. Using the JTTF against the protesters is a political ploy to make being anti-Trump look like terrorism.

Authoritarians world-wide call domestic demonstrators “terrorists”. Saddam did it in Iraq, so does al-Assad in Syria. Duterte does it in the Philippines, as does Erdogan in Turkey. Xi does it in China.

And now, it’s happening here.

On Wednesday, Trump again violated the First Amendment by authorizing federal police to block clergy’s access to St. John’s Episcopal Church (the one he used for his photo-op), effectively “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

That, from the holy defender of religious rights.

Monday wasn’t the worst day in American civilian-military relations. But the use of force to create a photo-op, including ordering military helicopters to fly low, scattering protesters with the rotor downwash, broke many established norms.

Trump followed that by deploying many different groups of uniformed “peace-keepers” to the streets of DC. So Monday became the worst day for American civilian-military relations since the military attacked the veterans march on Washington when Herbert Hoover was president.

Political Violence at a Glance asks a few questions:

  • If Trump insists on sending troops to states where governors don’t want them, will they go? On Monday, elements left their bases for operations in DC, which has a special status that Trump could legally exploit. That’s different from sending regular US forces into states without an invitation. That would cross a red line.
  • What would Congress do in response? The Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, vowed to bring the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to testify. Would they even show up to the invitation?
  • How will the public react? The US military is one of America’s most popular institutions. In part, because it is seen as non-partisan, whereas most other government institutions are viewed as partisan. If the US military enters American cities, public support of the armed forces will surely drop.

Trump’s rhetoric continues to support white supremacists and far-right militias, while encouraging violence by his followers.

His effort to label the demonstrators as outsiders is meant to justify an increasingly aggressive police/military response. In the past few days, we saw them attack regular people on the streets, along with the journalists reporting on what was happening.

Former high-ranking military officers are finally calling out Trump, but his authoritarian instincts combined with Barr’s right-leaning reflexes pose a clear and present danger to our democracy.

Let’s hope the republic is still here for us to defend by overwhelmingly voting him out on November 3d.

They’re already telegraphing how they might respond if they lose.

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Can America Avoid Becoming a Failed State?

The Daily Escape:

Fall sunset, Shenandoah NP, VA – photo by juliend73

Sorry, but this column is going to be a downer.

We’ve been talking for the past few days about how hard it is to get politicians to focus on fixing what’s wrong in America. Wrongo originally started down this path in 2009. His plan was to lay out the problems, and to suggest ways in which America might fix them.

But 11 years later, little of what has been suggested here has occurred. Explaining what’s wrong has made very little difference.

Our really big problems now seem to be locked in: Climate change will happen. We can’t (or won’t) deal with the burgeoning disinformation platforms that threaten civil society. It’s difficult to see what will change our growing income inequality. As always, politicians are itching for a fight with some country. Today, the villain is China. Globalization has won, our supply chains now hold us hostage, and our economic future is increasingly controlled by Asia.

America is fast becoming a failed state: Our president tells people to drink bleach. There are more than 100,000 dead in the pandemic, and a significant percentage of them probably were needless deaths.

We have the ability to deal with the crises,but we’re choosing not to. Trump and McConnell, along with Biden, Pelosi and Schumer, all have access to the same, or more likely better information than we do.

They are choosing to ignore that the country is going to hell. Instead, they use each individual crisis for their own political benefit, and for their patrons’ financial benefit. They choose to ignore the near-certainty of a second wave of infections in the fall of 2020, bringing with it the possibility of a second economic collapse, along with more deaths.

We no longer provide the basics for our citizens. We live in a nation where income, savings, happiness, trust in government, and social cohesion are all in free-fall.

This is a recipe for social collapse.

In America most infrastructure is decrepit, from airports, to schools, to roads, because there hasn’t been much public investment. That’s because Americans don’t want to pay higher taxes like the Europeans do. Politicians on both sides still believe the evidence-free ideology of neoliberalism: We’ll all be rich if we invest in nothing, and wait for Mr. Market to correctly allocate resources.

No one cares about anyone else. Nobody will support any group’s pursuit of any goal unless it is also their goal. American life is becoming purely individualistic, adversarial, and acquisitive.

We haven’t invested in the systems that provide healthcare, education, retirement, and childcare. As a result, the average American family now goes without many of these things, since they’re priced out unless they have high paying jobs.

We pay absurd prices for health care. Having a child? That’ll be $50K. An operation? It will cost about what you would pay for a starter home. If she didn’t have health insurance, Wrongo’s daughter’s medication would cost $10,250/month. These basics of life are affordable in the rest of the rich world, but in America, they cost more than the average person can pay.

The average American now dies with $62k in debt. Life has become a sequence of unrepayable loans. Student debt becomes credit card debt and a mortgage, which leads to medical debt. These forms of debt define life in America. The average American is now a poor person, in the sense that they barely make enough to pay for the basics of life. Today, 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, struggle to pay their basic bills, and 63% can’t raise $500 for an emergency.

These are the statistics of a nation that is descending into poverty.

Can it be fixed? Sure, but who’s going to pay for it? If taxes can’t be raised, if deficits can’t grow, what will happen? Nothing.

Except that we will move closer to a collapse. Our leaders say it’s because there isn’t an alternative. They say that we don’t have the money to pay for the changes we want. 70% of Americans say they want decent healthcare, retirement, and education, but they never vote for it.

Not even when it is offered during the primaries.

And it’s never offered in the general election, because nobody will vote for higher taxes to fund a functioning society. The idea simply isn’t acceptable to either of our political parties.

Wrongo’s decade of writing about what’s wrong hasn’t changed anything. Change requires a commitment to taking political risks, and massive voter turnout.

Otherwise, same old, same old is the path to our society’s destruction.

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Flattening the Curve May Take Time

The Daily Escape:

Dying Tornado, KS – photo by mattgphoto

When it comes to ending the lockdown, the theory is that once we’ve “flattened the curve” we can ease up on social isolation, mask-wearing and get back to work. The problem is that when we think about the downside of the curve, we think parabolas. This chart demonstrates that even with the “flattening”, we’ve been told to expect a sharp drop-off in cases:

But as Cathy O’Neil says: (brackets by Wrongo)

“The dying won’t be over nearly as soon as it [a curve like that] suggests.”

O’Neil looked at the curves for Italy and Spain. Both had uncontrolled outbreaks and climbed the curve about two weeks ahead of the US. They also turned to lockdowns late, leading to overburdened hospitals. So, they offer a decent indication of what to expect in in America:

 “Their curves…are not symmetric curves. They go up fast, flatten out and then descend slowly. How slowly? It’s still hard to tell, but the shape strongly suggests that the bad news won’t go away nearly as quickly as it arrived.”

Here’s Italy for example:

It’s too early in the virus’s growth in the US to know what the right side of our curve will look like, but the evidence from Europe suggests that the descent will be slow. More from O’Neil:

“New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said ‘the worst is over’ and ‘we’ve reached the peak.’ He should have followed with “now comes the long wait.”

She’s saying that the far side of the curve is likely to be a long, slow slog. This is food for thought for politicians who must decide when to end the lockdown.

It should also be food for thought for all of those protesting the lockdowns. In addition to the shape of the curve, we still have almost no idea what the actual prevalence of the virus is in the general population.

Abbott Labs has developed a 5 minute serology test that it says has 100% sensitivity and 99.6% specificity (Sensitivity means the test detects the presence of antibodies triggered by the COVID-19 virus; specificity means it successfully avoids mistaking that virus for similar coronaviruses).

The test was used in the Boston suburb of Chelsea. It found that of 200 randomly sampled residents who were stopped on the street and asked to give some drops of blood, 64 had antibodies. That’s 32%. The study was conducted by physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital.

John Iafrate, a pathologist at Harvard and the study’s principal investigator, said:

“We don’t know at this point what percent of these antibody-positive individuals are still carrying virus, but a fair estimate is likely 30-50%.”

Soumya, a health reporter for the LA Times, tweeted: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“LA County just released the results of their antibody study. Tests found that 4.1% of the county’s population has antibodies to the coronavirus. That figure is 55 times higher than what is suggested by the official case count.”

This suggests that there are many more infected, but asymptomatic people than are in the official numbers.

So, we need to be more sensible about both the shape of the curve, and about how little we know about who has the disease, and who doesn’t.

We’re still flying almost totally blind, four months after the government found out this was coming.

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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 5, 2020

We’ve already lost more Americans to the Coronavirus in the month of March than we lost during the 9-year long Iraq war.

Here are the latest national numbers (which will be out of date by the time you read them). From The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/3)

  • Number of daily cases: 271,988, up 32,889 or +13.75% vs. April 2
  • Rate of case increase: 13.75% vs. 15% for the past week
  • Number of deaths: Total 6,962, up 1,178 vs. April 2
  • Rate of deaths increase 4/3 vs 4/2: 20.4% % vs. 23.1% on 4/2
  • Daily number of tests 4/3 vs. 4/2: 1,407,344, up 139,596 over 4/2
  • Rate of increase in tests: +11% vs. previous day

There is some evidence above that “flattening the curve” is working. Wrongo recommends visiting The COVID Tracking Project which has the most comprehensive data, both nationally, and by state. It is updated several times a day and can be exported to your device, if you are interested.

On to cartoons, starting with a chart Wrongo originally posted on Wednesday, now updated by Sharpie, showing why wearing a mask may be a very good idea:

Georgia governor Kemp said he didn’t know the virus could be spread without symptoms. Why do so many Republicans excuse their behavior by saying “I didn’t know“? Aren’t they the party of personal responsibility?

Kushner and Pence: little men trying to operate WAY beyond their abilities:

Remember when George W. Bush was the most incompetent president imaginable?

Remember when George W Bush was the most incompetent president imaginable?

Perhaps, “Thou shall not run a church as a money making enterprise” might help:

Why is gathering in a church not as dangerous as sitting in a restaurant? Is it because God will protect you in a church but not at Applebees? Or is group praying simply worth the risk? Or that Republican governors are afraid of pissing off their evangelical base?

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Can the Economy Endure a Two-Month Shutdown?

The Daily Escape:

Cannon Beach, OR – 2020 photo by franks28

The short answer to the question above is no, not without outright financial support for individuals by the government. That support if it comes, is likely to be too little, too late.

But the Fed tried something. On Sunday, it announced that it slashed its federal funds rate by a full percentage point, to a target range between 0% and 0.25%. In addition, they launched a new Quantitative Easing program for another $700 billion.

Investors threw up all over the Fed’s Sunday moves, because we’re looking at a “demand shock”, the state-enforced loss of consumer sales,something that can’t be stimulated away. The S&P futures immediately plunged 5% to hit its downside limit. That made for an interesting Monday, with the Dow ending down nearly 3,000 points, or another 13%. In the past month, the market has lost nearly a third of its value.

All these efforts to provide stability actually showed the market that our leaders have no idea what they’re doing. It’s the exact opposite of inspiring confidence.

Did the Fed panic? Fed Chair Jay Powell lowered rates right after Trump said he had the authority to remove Powell. That makes it seem, true or not, like the Fed is now in Trump’s pocket. No confidence-builder there.

Looking through a wider lens, Mr. Market has decided that the Fed is pushing on a string. Rates were already so low that there was little gain from the interest rate reduction, and little else that the Fed could do. Mostly, the Fed signaled that it is very frightened about the prospect of a global recession.

In addition, the market understood that the stimulus bill working its way through the House and Senate is inadequate to the task ahead. For one thing, Pelosi’s bill promises paid sick leave, but as written it only covers about 20% of all workers.

Again through that wide-angle lens, the growing COVID-19 business lockdown strategy will have an economic impact similar to a natural disaster, like a hurricane, but played out over a longer time frame. FEMA has found that 40% of businesses close in a natural disaster. And of the businesses that reopen, only 29% survive the after the following two years.

Since our economy is 70% services, many industries facing the lockdown, like tourism, casinos, restaurants, and hotels, will soon be in meltdown mode. The Fed has no answer to a massive drop in consumer spending, only the president and Congress can solve that.

We know that 40% of Americans don’t have enough cash on hand or room on a credit card to handle a $400 emergency. Many service industry workers will be hit with either cutbacks in their hours, or outright job losses. Without financial assistance, we’ll quickly see defaults on rent or mortgages, and delinquencies on credit cards and car payments.

So the Fed creates some more money. But just like in 2008, rather than distributing it to every citizen, they’re giving it to the banks. Somehow, all that money is going to people who already have plenty, while those who need it get nada.

Why is the answer always to give more to the supposed “job creators” when we get basically nothing in return? Why not just send a check to the actual people who need it?

Finally, what will this interest rate cut do for the economy?

  • Are restaurants going to start hiring workers that can’t actually come to work just because loans are cheap?
  • Are workers not collecting a paycheck going to go out and buy a new car/TV/house because interest rates dropped a bit?
  • Are banks going to lend cheap money to airlines, restaurants, and cruise lines when we have no idea how long this will last?

Every company on the planet has simultaneously realized that it is in an existential cash-flow crisis due to COVID-19. The big and smart companies already have drawn down their unused loan facilities to ride through the slowdown.

The slower and the smaller firms are staring at an economic nuclear-winter scenario where their revenue plunges for months, and they can’t pay their staff, or make their fixed payments.

The speed and comprehensiveness of the lockdowns, and their drastic impact make what’s going to happen very clear. Our leaders are in a fog of denial. They don’t see that much of what was the traditional mode of operating our system is crumbling.

During the 2008 financial crisis, we learned that events can move too quickly for anyone to intervene and limit the damage. Our business environment’s drive for highly efficient systems, from just-in-time inventory sourcing to reducing the number of hospital beds per capita, have created fragile systems that are now being stress-tested.

We may be learning, to our collective detriment, that all of these systems along with our leaders, have failed us.

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Is America Prepared For the Coronavirus?

The Daily Escape:

Coronavirus or not, it’s always business as usual – credit: Dave Note

The photo demonstrates why the coronavirus won’t be contained. 21st century humans will do what they want, when they want, and how they want. They’ll trust that their government will sort out the consequences.

We need to take a hard look at resilience, which is defined as the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune. We talk about it for individuals, markets, governments, and society. In truth, it applies to every system on earth.

We had our first wake-up call about American resilience with 9/11, followed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. We watched the news, and saw that America was unable to snap back quickly, that we were powerless in the face of incomprehensible disaster.

There are still scars in New Orleans 15 years later.

We have ignored that the Covid-19 virus is at least as infectious, and possibly more than, the normal flu virus we see every year. But the mortality rate of Covid-19 is about 2%, or about 20 times as deadly as the normal flu, which has a mortality rate of around .1%.

Thus far in 2020, 19 million cases have been reported to the CDC, with 10,000 deaths and 180,000 hospitalized. Multiply 10,000 by 20, and that’s 200,000 deaths in the US, and following the flu model, perhaps 3,600,000 incremental hospitalizations.

We need to think about our resiliency. According to the American Hospital Association, there are 924,107 staffed beds in hospitals, down about 53,000 beds since 2000. Of the 2020 total, 792,417 are in community hospitals. The national occupancy rate for all of those beds is about 65%, based on the latest figures from 2017, so perhaps we have sufficient beds, assuming all hospital beds are equally capable.

Logistics will drive our resilience response. There is much to learn from the Chinese response. Wuhan didn’t have enough beds when the Covid-19 virus struck, and built two new hospitals in an attempt to have a place for all victims who needed to be in a hospital setting. They quickly had shortages of sterile gowns, masks and gloves. Then they had a shortage of health care professionals, and moved some professionals to Wuhan to deal with the explosion of cases.

They quarantined cities, something that we can’t do effectively without declaring martial law.

But, it gets more difficult. Covid-19 is a severe respiratory illness. Victims need the kinds of breathing therapies equipment that are usually in limited supply in each hospital. The NHS in England only has 15 available beds to treat the most severe respiratory failure in the entire country. They say they will struggle to cope if there are more than 28 patients who need them.

Testing is an issue, because without tests, we can’t be sure that the patient has the virus, and test kits are in very short supply. Iran reported on the BBC that it had just 14 test kits in the country at the time of the outbreak.

Live Science reports that in early February, the CDC sent testing kits to labs across the US, but a glitch in the kits made them unusable. Now, just five state health departments: California, Illinois, Nebraska, Nevada and Tennessee, as well as the CDC, have the ability to test for the virus. As of Feb. 26, just 445 people have been tested in the US, not including the travelers who returned on evacuation flights. In contrast, the WaPo reported that as of Feb. 25th, South Korea had tested more than 35,000 people for the virus.

How will America scale up?

We need tests that work, equipment to treat respiratory failure, hospital beds, sterile gowns and gloves, along with trained healthcare professionals. Where will they come from? These are the questions the media and politicians should be asking Mike Pence, the new Covid-19 Czar.

Don’t count on answers. The administration has already told the federal government that all communication to reporters and others, is to go through Pence. That’s even more dangerous, because there is no one who will tell Trump or Pence anything they don’t want to hear. And Pence is muzzling the scientists who really know what’s going on.

The economic consequences are even greater than the blood-letting in the stock market this week would lead you to believe. The health consequences are enormous.

What about the political consequences? We’re in the middle of a presidential election, so we’re bound to hear the right and left version of this story. Wrongo doesn’t want Democrats to try and exploit the government’s less-than-adequate efforts to contain the virus.

They should be rational. They should invite scientists to testify to break through the administration’s spin. They should pass a supplemental spending bill aimed at containing the crisis based on the scientists’ advice.

This is a time for good policy that will turn out to be good politics.

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Saturday Soother – February 22, 2020

(There will be no cartoons posted this week)

The Daily Escape:

Bass Harbor Head Light, Acadia NP, ME – 2019 photo by York Chen

Some are saying that the Democrats have abandoned the House as an instrument of power, and that it might be lost forever. The idea is that Democrats have surrendered the power of oversight, because they haven’t been able to use it effectively, and they can’t enforce their subpoena power.

This was the calculus of the Trump administration. If you stonewalled the House Democratic majority, their only option was to declare contempt. Once contempt is declared, it is up to the Department of Justice to enforce the order, an impossible expectation so long as it’s Trump’s DOJ.

After a contempt order has been issued, Congress can pass the order on to the DOJ or, to the DC US Attorney’s Office for prosecution as a civil or criminal matter. In theory, a charge of contempt could result in a fine or jail time, though in reality, that’s unlikely to happen.

After that, it’s up to the courts. That process takes a long time, and the outcome is far from certain. If a judge rules against Congress and in favor of the Trump administration, it could set new legal precedent that could make it easier for future presidential administrations to withhold information from future congressional committees.

The House did exercise its impeachment power, but it’s clear that regarding oversight, Trump has no intention of cooperating, nor will his administration. So the Democrats are facing a Constitutional question: The House is either an independent instrument of power and authority, or it is not.

We’d like to think that the next president and those that follow will not abuse their powers. Or if/when they do abuse power, they will be confronted by a Congress controlled by the other party, and both contempt and impeachment will be taken seriously by the president.

If a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress were elected, they could agree on a series of changes to limit presidential overreach and misconduct. Here are a few options:

  • Statutory penalties for contempt of Congress followed by swift review by the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit
  • Tightening time limits for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests and enacting penalties for abuse
  • Restatement and enforcement of whistleblower protections, including penalties for outing and retaliating against whistleblowers

Even these moves may not be enough to rein in a president who has operational control of the DOJ. It will take the Supreme Court to settle the issue of the power of Congressional oversight vs. the power of the president’s executive privilege.

Trump’s presidency has revealed great vulnerabilities in our politics. Americans must want democracy badly enough if democracy is to survive. Despite our adulation of the framers, the Constitution works because Americans have made it work, not because of the brilliance of its design.

We’re facing a critical presidential election. There must be serious soul-searching by all of us regarding who should have political power.

The question for November is why have so many Americans lost faith in democracy, and what must we do to restore that faith?

No coffee recommendation today, we’re already waay too amped up from Trump’s pardons of bad actors along with his threat to pardon convicted liar Roger Stone. Or, maybe his arguing in Colorado Springs that Obama should be impeached put you over the edge. Maybe you were interested in seeing Mike Bloomberg take the debate stage, only to find out that Bloomberg brought a wallet to a knife fight.

Bloomberg was probably wishing he had bought a podium in a better neighborhood!

It’s time to get some distance from the circus in DC and forget about the shouting and posturing. It’s time to take a break with a Saturday Soother. This week settle back and listen to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” performed by the 5th grade chorus from PS22 in Staten Island, NYC. Wrongo promises you will be happy that you watched:

Think about how a public school music teacher reinvents his chorus every year with a new 5th grade class. This is one reason why we need to fund arts in public schools.

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – January 13, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Many Glacier, Glacier NP, MT – 2019 photo by MDodd

Let’s clear the air about Iran and their use of terror. Wrongo isn’t an apologist for Iran, although he thought that the Nuclear Deal was a positive step forward. We need to look carefully at the data supporting what our government and the US media say about Iran’s terrorist activities.

Here’s what the US State Department says about Iran and terrorism:

“Iran remains the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism. The regime has spent nearly one billion dollars per year to support terrorist groups that serve as its proxies and expand its malign influence across the globe. Tehran has funded international terrorist groups such as Hizballah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

It also has engaged in its own terrorist plotting around the world, particularly in Europe. In January, German authorities investigated 10 suspected Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force operatives. In the summer, authorities in Belgium, France, and Germany thwarted an Iranian plot to bomb a political rally near Paris, France. In October, an Iranian operative was arrested for planning an assassination in Denmark, and in December, Albania expelled two Iranian officials for plotting terrorist attacks.

Furthermore, Tehran continued to allow an AQ facilitation network to operate in Iran, which sends fighters and money to conflict zones in Afghanistan and Syria, and it has extended sanctuary to AQ members residing in the country.”

From Larry C. Johnson:

“You notice what is absent? A list of specific attacks that caused actual casualties. Plans and plots are not the same as actions. If Iran’s malevolent influence was so powerful, we should be able to point to specific attacks and specific casualties. But you will not find those facts in the U.S. State Department report because they do not exist.”

This State Department Annual Terror report details who is really responsible:

  • The Taliban was responsible for 8,509 deaths and 4,943 injuries, about 25 percent of the total casualties attributed to terrorism globally in 2018
  • With 647 terrorist attacks, ISIS was the next-most-active terrorist organization, responsible for 3,585 fatalities and 1,761 injuries
  • Having conducted 535 attacks, al-Shabaab was responsible for 2,062 deaths and 1,278 injuries
  • Boko Haram was fourth among the top-five terrorist perpetrators, with 220 incidents, 1,311 deaths, and 927 injuries

Not a single group linked to Iran or supported by Iran is identified. Here’s a table from the report’s statistical annex that identifies the worst offenders:

Iran doesn’t make the list. The attacks are predominantly from Sunni affiliated groups that have ties to Saudi Arabia, not Iran.

America takes exception to Iran because we have a long and negative history, but with justifiable complaints on both sides. Recently, Iran has thwarted the US’s actions in Syria. We should remember that Iran is a Shia Muslim state. When we removed Saddam Hussein and destroyed Iraq’s government, the Bush Administration installed Iraqi Shias in leadership. No GW Bush administration policymakers expressed any concern that these Iraqi politicians and military personnel had longstanding relationships with Iran, which naturally increased Iran’s influence in Iraq.

Iran also had a longstanding relationship with Syria. Obama decided that by eliminating Syria’s Bashir Assad, Iran would be weakened, but that policy backfired. Iran, along with Russia, came to the aid of Syria. Assad is now secure, and America’s influence in the ME has been weakened.

Time to wake up America! We need to get educated about which terror groups are committing what terror acts. Back in the 1980s, Iran was very active in using terrorism as a weapon to attack US military and diplomatic targets, but not so much lately. Iran was behind the early development of the IEDs used in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many US soldiers died. That technology is now globally ubiquitous.

The real issue we should be asking our government to resolve is whether we can (or should) halt the expansion of Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Administrations since Carter have bet that isolating Iran diplomatically, ratcheting up economic pressure, and using limited military power will somehow energize the Iranian regime’s opposition and lead to the overthrow of the Mullahs.

They forget that we’ve used that exact policy with both Cuba and North Korea. How has that worked out for America?

We shouldn’t mourn Gen. Soleimani; he was a bad actor who tried to build shadow Shia militaries in many ME Countries. But Trump and Pompeo need to stop ranting about Iran and terrorism.

The actual issues driving Iran’s growing influence in the ME aren’t based on acts of terror. Our recent policies and actions towards Iran are now accelerating their cooperation with China and Russia, not diminishing it.

Is that in the long term interest of the US?

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