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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – D-Day Edition, June 6, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Normandy – 2016 photo by Wrongo

Today, let’s tie a few things together. D-Day was 76 years ago. Less than three months later, by the end of August, the allies had entered Paris, and the rout was on. Germany would surrender in May of 1945. That was the original Antifa war.

What’s going on today, with Trump and Barr trying to gin up a domestic Antifa enemy is bullshit.

First, a bad experience for a multi-racial family of four in Washington State that was accused of being members of Antifa. They were followed and prevented from leaving their campsite when the bad guys cut down trees to block the roadway out. From the article: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“The family had shopped for camping supplies at Forks Outfitters and were confronted by seven or eight carloads of people in the grocery store parking lot….The people in the parking lot repeatedly asked them if they were Antifa protesters. The family told deputies that at least four vehicles followed them as they drove northbound out of Forks. They said that two of the vehicles had people in them carrying what appeared to be semi-automatic rifles.”

Not dangerous, and no connection to Barr and Trump, just a coincidence, right?

Next, HuffPo reports that a shipment of hundreds of cloth masks that read “Stop killing Black people” and “Defund police” that an Oakland, CA Black Lives Matter-affiliated organization was sending to cities around the country was seized by law enforcement. The group’s objective was to protect demonstrators against the spread of COVID-19:

“The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) spent tens of thousands of dollars on the masks they had planned to send all over the country. The first four boxes, each containing 500 masks, were mailed from Oakland, California, and were destined for Washington, St. Louis, New York City and Minneapolis, where on May 25 a white police officer killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old handcuffed Black man, setting off a wave of protests across the country.”

The items never left the state. The US Postal Service tracking numbers indicate they were “Seized by Law Enforcement”. Again, what is behind Barr’s and Trump’s thinking here? The government has been urging independent groups to make masks to help protect against COVID-19. The difference here is that the government objects to the message on these masks?

Finally, Trump is now living behind a tall and imposing fence wall that was hastily erected around the White House:

The fencing is intended to provide security for the White House. Trump may have thought that the show of force in Lafayette Square made him seem more powerful, but the more he closes in—physically and figuratively—the more isolated and small he seems.

Don’t you wonder how carefully the White House has thought out their strategy?

  • Do they have an exit strategy for how their daily undermining of people’s Constitutional rights will play out?
  • Do they intend to have troops on our streets indefinitely?
  • Do they plan to make protesting so dangerous that there will be ever increasing violent incidents that, in the administration’s eyes, justify the continuing use of force?

On this D-Day weekend, things aren’t looking good for the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free.

It is hard to write this stuff, and it’s certainly hard to read about all the new insults to democracy that are now occurring daily by this president.

So, let’s take a break from the news, and find a little bit of time to forget the ominous place where all this seems to be heading. Time for a Saturday Soother.

First, we brew up a cup of Mocha Java ($14.50/12oz.) from Fort Bragg, CA’s Thanksgiving Coffee. They call it Mocha Java, but this version replaces the original Java with a wet-hulled Sumatra, and replaces the Yemen Mocha with a similar coffee from Ethiopia. You be the judge.

Today, partially to mourn George Floyd and all the others who died before, including those who died on D-Day, let’s listen to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”, played in its original version by the Dover Quartet.

This is the second time Wrongo has chosen this recording, primarily for the deep sadness in the music. Usually played by a string orchestra, here it feels raw and vulnerable, and much more intimate and powerful than with an orchestra:

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

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Saturday Soother – May 30, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Cactus flowers, Devils Bridge, Sedona, AZ – May 2020 photo by sooperb4d

It’s hot and muggy at the Mansion of Wrong. Today we received our usual daily visit from a momma turkey and her eight chicks. Some are already able to fly for short distances, while the smaller ones just jog along.

This morning, Wrongo was thinking that he’d never expected to have to live through something as tumultuous and dangerous as 1968, but here we are. We’ve got:

  • A Plague killing people in every state
  • Economic collapse (potentially on the scale of the Great Depression)
  • An incompetent incumbent president who will say anything in order to win re-election
  • Heavily armed yahoos complaining about having to wear masks, or that they can’t get haircuts

But rather than talk about those four things, America’s talking about a racially based killing in Minneapolis that has morphed into an urban dystopia. Hennepin County finally brought charges against a cop who murdered a man in public with dozens of witnesses. That has incited urban violence. Second, Trump called for the looters in Minneapolis to be shot, tweeting:

“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,”

We will assume control? Does Trump think he has the right to invade Minnesota? And that wasn’t the worst of his tweet.

You may know by now that the other phrase was notorious in the civil rights movement. It was used in 1967 by Miami’s police chief at the time, Walter Headley, after he sent police dogs and officers armed with shotguns into Miami’s black neighborhoods in what he called:

 “…a crackdown on…slum hoodlums….We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.”

Headley claimed that Miami had not experienced “racial disturbances and looting” because he had put the word out that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Headley thus elevated stealing to a capital crime punishable by death without due process. And now Trump is advocating the same thing.

Some are saying that Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter has taken a courageous stand against Trump, that Dorsey is standing up for all of us. CNN reports:

“…Trump has angrily complained this week about social media companies, repeatedly accusing them of censoring conservative voices and going as far as to sign an executive order Thursday seeking to limit their power. But data from Facebook, the world’s largest social media company, pours cold water on the assertion that conservative voices are being silenced.”

Here’s the data:

The red bars represent conservative sites. CrowdTangle, the company that made the chart, says that in the last month on Facebook, Trump has captured 91% of the total interactions on content posted by the US presidential candidates. Biden has captured only 9%.

Trump and the Republicans repeatedly accuse Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms of bias, saying that they are the villains in the culture war the GOP uses to excite the conservative base.

The dispute is about whether Twitter has the right to disagree with and respond to the president. As a private company, it obviously does have that right. The chilling part is that the president and his advisers think otherwise.

Wrongo started by talking about 1968, the year that Nixon won the White House, running on a law and order message. He split the vote with George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey. That was 52 years ago, and a few things have changed. From Paul Campos:

“For one thing, the current president is somebody who makes George Wallace look like a statesman. For another, the country is much less white. (As a percentage of the total population, white non-Hispanics have declined from about 85% of the population to 60%).”

Nixon in 1968, like Trump in 2020, clearly exploited racial tensions, but a crucial distinction: Nixon wasn’t in power at the time of the 1968 elections. We’ll have to see whether Minneapolis helps or hurts Trump in November.

Time to take a break from our worst year in 52 years, and calm ourselves with a Saturday Soother. There is more yard work to do on the fields of Wrong, but we’re starting with a cold brew coffee from Greater Goods roasters in Austin TX. Food & Wine named them the best coffee in Texas in 2019. Their cold brew is called “Connections” ($15/12 oz.) and features the sweet, chocolatey goodness of beans sourced from Colombia and Brazil.

Now settle back and listen to the Tedeschi Trucks Band play a stunning live version of “Midnight in Harlem“, written by Minnesota band member Mike Mattison. Stay for the fantastic slide guitar solo by Derek Trucks:

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

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Saturday Soother, Economic Damage Edition – May 16, 2020

The Daily Escape:

View of grasslands, south of Denver, CO – 2020 photo by crappydenverphotog

Happy Saturday fellow disease vectors!

Jerome Powell, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that the effects of the pandemic could permanently damage the economy if Congress and the White House did not provide sufficient financial support. Job losses average 25% currently, and are higher in some states.

Powell thinks the country needs more funding for the segments of the economy that are seriously underwater. While the House has offered up a plan for new money, Mitch McConnell says he’s far from interested in new money for the states, or those who are out of work.

We can’t say often enough how badly federal leadership has failed us throughout this crisis.

In the executive branch, we’ve seen incompetence and political ideology overwhelm what little crisis leadership there might have been. Test kits were available from the WHO in January, but the CDC choose not to use them. Then, their own tests didn’t work.

Testing was deliberately limited by the administration as disease transmission grew, and the virus escaped early containment. Supplies of PPE were not allocated to hospitals according to need. And, no federal system to manage the global medical supply chains exists, despite every governor saying it’s needed.

Congress wasn’t much better. Action was marred by politics, and a misunderstanding of the economic issues. Instead of simply replacing lost wages, the SBA issued rules that firms found difficult to comply with. Banks gave preference to their big clients, and the money soon ran out. The effort to save the economy by pouring money into it through conventional channels was inadequate, inefficient, and in some cases, corrupt. The only thing that can be said is that it was better than doing nothing.

The push to reopen the economy is premature. Some state governments facing fiscal disaster are reopening. Georgia, for example, has now lost the jobs of 39.5% of those who were employed in February 2020. It is unclear that closed retail businesses can be profitable when reopened, since their capacity will be limited for public health reasons. Right now, many businesses may face bankruptcy.

In any event, rents, mortgages, utility bills and other debts continue to accrue for individuals and businesses. And we found out that 40% of low income households have experienced job losses, compared to 20% overall.

Employees are also potential victims of the reopening. The Trump administration is advising state governments on how to remove workers from unemployment insurance.  Employers can demand workers show up, and if they refuse, they no longer qualify. Why would the workers refuse? Because their workplaces will still be unsafe.

It gets worse: Nearly half of people surveyed by Magnify Money now say they have to draw money from their retirement accounts because of the COVID-19 lockdowns:

The majority of respondents who withdrew funds to cover basic expenses is disheartening. The survey revealed that 60% of respondents used their retirement funds to pay for groceries, 42% spent it on household bills, 31% used it for rent or mortgage payments and 27% used it for debt payments.

Although the scale of the pandemic-caused economic catastrophe was known almost immediately, the Trump administration had limited interest in the health and well-being of the rest of us. Their main interest appeared to be winning the presidency in November.

But you can’t beat something with nothing.

People need help. If they aren’t offered anything good, many will accept something pretty awful, like more Trump for example. Biden is promising a return to the status quo ante, but that’s magical thinking.

The economy wasn’t working for many Americans before the pandemic. Now, the pandemic has taken a sledgehammer to it, and we are looking at what is left. American Capitalism needs to be reformed.

Sorry that we’re entering the weekend on a gloomy note. Since it’s our Saturday Soother, let’s kick back and forget about all that’s weighing us down. Let’s free our minds for a few moments. It’s going to be a spring-like weekend here at the fields of Wrong, so time for more yard work.

To help you settle into the weekend, start by listening to Vaughan Williams composition from 1903, “The Solent”, played by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Paul Daniel.

The Solent is the channel between the Isle of Wight and southern England:

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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Saturday Soother, Covid Plateau Edition – May 2, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring flower bloom at Keukenhof Garden in Holland. (Hat tip to Ottho H.)

Remember when we had fifteen COVID-19 cases, and they were just going to be gone, like a miracle?

If you ask Trump, that’s where we are, plus a few orders of magnitude. All of the recent happy talk about reaching or being past the peak have omitted the detail that so far, “flattening the curve” isn’t substantially reducing the number of cases, or deaths.

The theory was that once we “flattened the curve”, we could ease up on social isolation, mask-wearing and get back to work. When we think about the downside of the curve, we think bell curves, with a sharp rise and fall from a high peak. As Wrongo said on April 20, that was unlikely to be the outcome, because it didn’t happen like that in countries that started fighting the virus long before us. And that’s how it seems to be working out. Here is where we are:

Source: Washington Post

The chart tracks a 3-day average of cases, since that smooths out some of the big day-to-day variances. As of April 29, it seemed clear that we have reached a peak, but we’re not showing any real signs of a rapid decline. This means the COVID-19 curve could remain elevated for a long time.

And we should remember that 878,839 cases are still active.

Politicians are obsessed with “the peak.” Are we at it? Are we past it? When will it come? Has it come? Now they’ve turned to communicating their plans for reopening the economy. That makes sense. Re-opening is becoming urgent, with more than 30 million Americans out of work, but it’s dismissive for politicians to say we’re past the worst of it “medically” while more people go to the ICU every day.

Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker (R), sees the plateau, and wonders when the curve will start to decline:

“Baker focused on hospitalizations and ICU admissions, saying, we’ve basically been flat for 12 days. We’re flat at a high level. But 12 days, 13 days counting today — you’re not going to find a lot of other places that just sit like this for 13 days.”

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb MD, an advisor to Baker, tweeted:

IHME (mentioned in the tweet) is a closely watched model from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

What we do over the next few weeks will determine whether we get this right, or whether COVID remains a large ongoing threat. We need to understand the potential risks that come with a decision to reopen, and make plans to mitigate these risks as best we can. Some states, like Connecticut, are planning carefully.

If we look state by state, in about half of the country, the numbers of cases are still rising. In about another third of the country, there is a leveling off. Only in a minority of states are the numbers actually coming down on a daily basis. New York, Washington, Louisiana and Idaho have had reductions of more than 50% from their peaks in new infections.

According to STAT, there are several possible outcomes: Recurring small outbreaks, a monster wave of cases, or a persistent crisis. And no one knows which outcome is most likely. We should expect new infections to start rising again in states without much testing, but with large populations that opened early like Texas, Florida and Georgia.

We should also realize that in some states, cooking the books about new cases and deaths will happen. Newsweek reported data compiled by Florida medical examiners was no longer being reported by the state government. The official state data has not been updated in over a week.

Acting like we’re flattening the curve when we really don’t know if we are, is likely to create a San Andreas-sized political earthquake if cases spike again.

But let’s try to get past all this, because it’s time for another Saturday Soother, when we stop checking Twitter, and think about spring.

Here on the fields of Wrong, the pear, plum and cherry trees have flowered, while the crab apples are soon to bloom. We have bluebirds nesting in both bluebird houses. Our weather remains cold and wet, so stay indoors and brew up a hot mug of Bengal Spice tea.

Now grab a socially distant chair and have a few minutes of fun with a song parody by the Opera Guy, Matthew Ciuffitelli. Here’s his parody of “Phantom of the Opera”, called “Phantom of the Quarantine”. Wrongo promises you won’t be disappointed:

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

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Saturday Soother – April 25, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Wildflowers, Hidden Lake, Glacier NP, WY – August 2019 iPhone photo by anadoptabledog

Wrongo shopped at both Costco and at our local chain supermarket, Big Y in the past two days. Both were out of significant items, and not merely paper products.

A hallmark of American culture is the size of our supermarkets, and the dazzling variety of products available. Anyone who has shopped in foreign countries can attest to the difference, so it’s unsettling to see so many bare shelves.

What exactly is going on here? This is a downstream impact of COVID-19 and how we’re fighting the pandemic. We have a finely tuned supply chain, and the shutdown has upended it. On the demand side, commercial buyers of food, like restaurant chains, and commercial bakeries aren’t buying what they bought in pre-COVID times. While consumers are cooking at home, and buying much more than ever before.

On the supply side, there are clear disruptions: Consumer demand for meat has skyrocketed. The WSJ reports:

“US grocers are struggling to secure meat, looking for new suppliers and selling different cuts, as the coronavirus pandemic cuts into domestic production and raises fears of shortages.”

The Journal quotes Jeff Lyons, SVP at Costco:

“I have not seen beef sales and all protein behave this way since the Atkins Diet days…”

US beef production fell 24% compared with a month earlier, pork fell by 20%, and poultry was down 10%, according to estimates from CoBank, an agricultural lender. And wholesale prices are creeping up:

April’s sharp decline in beef and pork prices reflected the drop in demand after the shutdown closed restaurants, while the spike is due to increasing consumer demand when production is down.

The spread of COVID-19 among US meat plant workers has hurt meat production. Companies are trucking poultry and livestock to be processed at more distant plants that remain open. On some farms, pigs are being euthanized because slaughterhouses have closed. In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds dispatched 1,000 National Guard members to help deliver COVID-19 tests to Iowa meat plants so they could get back into operation.

Egg farmers are destroying eggs. Dairy farmers have been dumping thousands of gallons of milk. Some cattle ranchers are sending their herds to early slaughter because the restaurant market is dead: No one is going out for steak & eggs, or a bacon and egg breakfast in a diner. The Hill described more lost food output:

“Some $5 billion of fresh fruits and vegetables have already gone to waste, according to the Produce Marketing Association, an industry trade group.”

We know how the virus outbreaks at food plants hurt meat production, but there are other supply chain problems.

The primary issue is supply chain mismatches caused by the lockdown. In normal times, people get a significant amount of food at restaurants, while many kids eat lunch at school. Our highly specialized supply chains can’t adapt easily or quickly to the lockdown reality.

Wholesalers who focused on restaurants do not have the facilities for packaging food in a way people are used to seeing it on shelves, and grocery stores don’t have relationships with the wholesale producers. The 50-pound bags of flour that mills sell to large bakeries or restaurants are of little use to people needing a five pound bag for a family of four.

Getting food to grocery shelves is also hampered by delivery people and grocery store workers alike who are increasingly calling out sick, either with Coronavirus, or the fear of getting it.

Finally, we’re seeing increased food insecurity. Before the pandemic began, 37 million Americans were considered food insecure. Since the start of the lockdown, about 25 million people have applied for unemployment. The bigger problem now is that so many people have no cash coming in. Meanwhile, food banks are having trouble supplying enough food to people who need it. In parts of America, that problem is far more acute that food shortages, and it’s unlikely to get better soon.

Sadly, we have millions needing food, when farmers are destroying what to them, is surplus food.

But enough of bad news, you’ve had it with a week that saw us hit 50,000 COVID-19 deaths, and Trump grabbing at straws for a Coronavirus cure. Time for our Saturday Soother, a few moments when we forget about Trump, Corona and lockdowns to focus on our breathing, and something a little different.

Today, pull up a socially distant chair and listen to Maude Maggart sing an old standard from the 1930’s, “Deep Purple”. Maggart is Fiona Apple’s sister. Pretty talented family:

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

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Saturday Soother – Back to Work Edition, April 11, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Great Sand Dunes NP, CO – photo by AddisonTract

Welcome to the 85th Saturday in April, fellow disease vectors! Here are the updated COVID numbers (as of 4/9):

  • There’s good news today. New infections are down dramatically as is the rate of new deaths.
  • The percentage of deaths to total cases has stabilized, at least for the moment.
  • Daily testing increased by 159,130. That’s helpful, but the growth in new tests still lags the growth in new infections.

America and the world are fighting a two-front war, one with the COIVID-19 pandemic, and another with our self-imposed, slow-rolling financial meltdown. Many think, like Trump, that the damage to the economy is worse than the loss of 50,000-100,000 American lives.

The irony is that it is the US governors that have precipitated the economic crisis while trying to moderate the public health crisis. And it has been the Trump administration that is trying to moderate the economic crisis by attempting to prematurely end the Coronavirus crisis.

A tenth of the work force has applied for unemployment benefits, while millions more are not working. In addition, small businesses are going under. So the GOP is pressuring Trump to declare victory and re-open the economy, and he’s looking for a plan to get people back to work.

But it isn’t just a plan. Attorney General Barr strongly suggested in a FOX TV interview that states don’t have the right to shut down businesses and schools during a public health emergency, and hints that the Trump administration could take action against states that don’t rescind shelter-at-home orders next month:

“When this period of time, at the end of April, expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under their bed, but allow them to use other ways — social distancing and other means — to protect themselves,”

Apparently, Barr is focused on what happens after the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing expire at the end of April. This is a clear sign that, while Barr is willing to allow states to do what they are doing now, his and the administration’s patience will expire when the CDC’s guidelines expire.

The WaPo reports that Trump is about to announce the creation of a second Coronavirus task force aimed at combating the economic consequences of the virus:

“The task force is expected to be led by Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and include Larry Kudlow, the president’s chief economic adviser, and Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, along with outside business leaders. Others expected to play a role are Kevin Hassett…and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner…”

One of the lynchpins of reopening the economy is supposed to be universal testing for the virus. But NPR reports the government is ending its funding for testing:

“…the federal government will end funding for coronavirus testing sites this Friday. In a few places those sites will close as a result.”

Reopening the economy without adequate testing is just like walking blindly in a minefield. And we know that testing remains generally unavailable.

The job of the administration should be to make the “5-minute” test kits cheap enough that every urgent care, every pharmacy, every clinic, can have two or three, and be running tests. Not just the current 10 -15 per state, but tens of thousands, so that widespread testing can be easily available.

Trump gave his game away yesterday when CNN’s Jim Acosta asked him:

“How can the administration discuss the possibility of reopening the country when the administration does not have an adequate nationwide testing system for this virus? Don’t you need a nationwide testing system for the virus before you reopen?”

TRUMP: “No.” pic.twitter.com/JokZYfy97T

What could go wrong? Plenty of things could go badly wrong.

If/when they do, Trump will blame the states, especially those with Democratic governors. Believe it or not, he will then campaign as the man who stopped the epidemic, and at least 40% of voters will say he accomplished it.

Let’s focus on relaxing for a few minutes with a new Saturday Soother. Wrongo hopes that you are staying healthy, productive, and in good spirits. If your income stream has been disrupted by the pandemic, Wrongo hopes you use the time constructively: Do something you’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Today we continue in the English pastoral idiom that we started last week.

Here is British composer Gerald Finzi’sIntroit for Solo Violin & Small Orchestra Op. 6”.  Played by the Northern Sinfonia with Lesley Hatfield on solo violin. It is conducted by Howard Griffiths. This is music that leads to private thoughts, something we all need right now:

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

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Saturday Soother – Even More Pandemic Edition, April 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Spring in Town – Grant Wood, 1941

Welcome to Saturday, fellow disease vectors! Here’s a quote often mis-attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through Hell, just keep going”. Those are words to live by in pandemic America.

You remember Joe Biden, right?

His campaign was premised on Trump’s complete unsuitability for the presidency, and on Biden’s particular experience and fitness for it. Biden wasn’t running on the issues, he was hammering on Trump. Before the pandemic, according to Joe Biden, Trump was:

“A threat to this nation unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”

But lately, Biden could be a picture on a milk carton. He’s disappeared. Rather than holding a news conference in public every day, demanding to know why the administration isn’t providing enough tests and PPE to the states, Biden’s trying to organize a phone call with Trump. To share lessons learned from Obama-era pandemic responses. That will certainly change everything.

Does Biden have a strategy to win in November? The ABC/WaPo poll found that only 24% of Biden’s supporters were ‘very enthusiastic‘ about him, compared with 53% of Trump’s. While ABC News reminded us that in 2016, “Hillary Clinton’s ‘very enthusiastic’ score was 32% in September.”

These numbers are from the poll that has Biden beating Trump by only 2% points. Now, this poll could be an outlier, since the Real Clear Politics Polling Average has Biden at 50.6% to Trump at 44%.

Regardless, Biden needs to get off his ass, get out in public, and act like the leader of the opposition.

And speaking of leadership (again), Raúl Ilargi Meijer has a great column about leadership in the pandemic era. He differentiates between the visionary giants like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  and our current crop who he calls “Little Managers”:

“They all failed to a horrific extent at their #1 task when it comes to Disasters, Pandemics, whatever their respective governments file these events under: Prevention. But now we’re in a whole new world. Now these failed leaders move into a situation they actually MAY be able to handle. That is, the -crisis- management that inevitably follows AFTER the failure at their #1 task of Prevention.”

Ilargi says that they might be able to succeed at crisis management because they were trained to be little managers. He describes them: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Core characteristic: these people don’t act, they re-act. Prevention is a job they’re absolutely not qualified for… Trump, Macron, BoJo, Merkel, Rutte, Xi, Abe, Conte, you name them, they’re all little managers…they have no ideas or visions, at least not original ones. People with original ideas don’t become politicians…”

Worse, politics isn’t policy. More:

“For now, the only thing to do is hope the little managers are better at step 2, Crisis Management, than they were at step 1, Prevention. Because there are no ready alternatives. When they say stay home, that’s the best thing to do right now.”

And finally:

“Can we blame our own respective…little managers? To an extent, sure. They didn’t do what they promised to when they swore their respective oaths. But maybe just maybe we should blame ourselves more, for picking little managers to lead our countries in the first place. We should have known that they were never going to be more than 2nd rate “leaders” who were never going to deliver more than 2nd rate societies.“

Hard to improve on that.

We’re all going through hell with no choice but to keep going. So, let’s take a breath, and try to spend our self-isolating time concentrating on something other than COVID-19. Here are “Two English Idylls” by the little-known George Butterworth, who was part of the English pastoral idiom.

These are Butterworth’s earliest surviving orchestral pieces, with No. 1 dating from 1910-1911, while No. 2 is from 1911. Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan Williams were close friends, and you may hear similarities in their music. Butterworth was killed in 1916 in WWI during the Battle of the Somme, he was 31.

Here it’s performed by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, under Sir Neville Marriner, in 1975. The accompanying photography of the English countryside is transporting and wonderful, so Wrongo urges you to take a few minutes to watch:

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

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Saturday Soother (Not) – March 28, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Mono Lake, CA, just after sunset – 2020 photo by hodldeeznutz. Those columns are called tufa, and are made of limestone.

Trump has finally made America number 1! We’re again showing the world our exceptionalism by having more COVID-19 cases than any other country in the world.

The House has also passed the stimulus bill, and Trump has signed it, so we will also spend the greatest amount of money on the pandemic, with the smallest fraction of it going to the people who really need it.

Or on the medical equipment that we need the most.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the $2 trillion does a whole lot more than provide relief to very rich people and corporations. This from the NYT:

“Senate Republicans inserted an easy-to-overlook provision on page 203 of the 880-page bill that would permit wealthy investors to use losses generated by real estate to minimize their taxes on profits from things like investments in the stock market. The estimated cost of the change over 10 years is $170 billion.”

The NYT explains that under the existing tax code, when real estate investors generate losses from depreciation, they can use some of those losses to offset other taxes.

This is a big tax break because depreciation is a paper loss, resulting in cash flowing to the investor while tax deductions also flow to the investor.

But the use of those losses was limited by the 2017 tax cut. The paper losses could be used only to shelter the first $500,000 of a married couple’s nonbusiness income. Any leftover losses had to be carried forward and used in future years.

The new stimulus bill lifts the $500,000 restriction for three years, this year, and two retroactive years, a boon for couples with more than $500,000 in annual capital gains or income from sources other than their business.

The IRS says the group that benefits comprises the top 1% of taxpayers. Final words to the NYT:

“A draft congressional analysis this week found that the change is the second-biggest tax giveaway in the $2 trillion stimulus package.”

As we approach a new week, doesn’t it seem like fear is setting in? One thing that might have helped would be an empathetic leader in the White House, but you fight the pandemic war with the bozo you have.

In the Thursday evening Coronavirus briefing he acted like a mafia boss, saying that one governor:

“Used to be a big wise guy but not so much anymore…we saw to it he’s not so much anymore.”

He’s referring to New York’s Andrew Cuomo asking for more ventilators. This is GoodFellas meets House of Cards.

As long as Trump controls the distribution of federal resources, he will use it to bully and threaten states for his own political benefit. And think about this: Trump is willing to hand out $500 billion to corporations to save executives, but isn’t willing to spend $1 billion on more ventilators to save sick Americans?

This is what the Trump administration has become:

Trump is NEVER going to do what is necessary to bring this pandemic under control. Success will only be achieved through cooperative action by the States. And, by the rest of us.

Reality is sinking in, we’re gonna be in our houses for a long time. 2020 is becoming the people vs. Donald Trump.

But, there are uplifting moments if you look carefully. Here’s a small effort at a Saturday Soother, aided by the students of Berklee College of Music in Boston MA. After the school closed down and the kids left for home, they created a virtual performance of Bert Bacharach’s “What The World Needs Now”:

Despite Trump, the rest of us are in this together. Protect yourself and your loved ones, this will eventually end, and you want to be here.

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

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Saturday’s (No) Soother – March 14, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Pavlov and Pavlov’s sister, the Aleutians, AK – Pavlov is the most active volcano in the US. Hat tip: Ottho H.

We’re crossing a threshold between what we knew about public health, toward an unseen future. There’s no certainty about what that future will look like. As important as it is to remove Trump, his incompetence has made his removal our second national priority. He’s made beating the Coronavirus our number one priority.

This has a domino effect: We don’t just have a national health emergency, but soon, a recession. So many things cancelled. So much commerce deferred, and for how long? Think about how many working people are/will be out of work due to postponements and cancellations, due to small companies closing. Due to illness of family and deaths of loved ones.

Widespread illness is showing the cracks in our health care delivery system: In early January, America was among the best-prepared nations for an epidemic. Our large number of ICU beds, plus our stockpiles of drugs and medical equipment, made us the envy of many nations.

And we took an early lead: On January 6, the CDC issued a Level 1 travel watch for China. On January 7, the CDC established a 2019-nCoV Incident Management group. On January 8, the CDC began alerting clinicians to watch for patients with respiratory symptoms and a history of travel to Wuhan. On January 17, the CDC issued an updated interim Health Alert Notice (HAN) Advisory to inform state and local health departments and health care providers about this outbreak. We began screening passengers on flights from Wuhan to five major US airports.

On January 31, Trump announced blocking of entry of Chinese nationals and mandatory quarantines on US citizens who returned from affected parts of China.

Since then, we’ve had inaction and mistakes by the FDA and CDC, including screwing up the provision of desperately needed tests. Even now the CDC and FDA say there’s an inadequate supply of reagents used in the tests, a bottleneck that should have been dealt with in January.

Organizations require strong leadership. That allows established process and procedures to rule in an emergency. That’s why we need good elected leaders in charge of the experts. Today, it’s the other way around. This is inexcusable.

Here’s a thought about one of the detestable people who helped bring us to this new threshold between where we were, and where we’re going: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). In 2009, she singlehandedly removed $870 million in pandemic funding from the economic stimulus package:

From Grunwald’s tweet:

“Collins also deleted the pandemic flu preparations as a nonstarter”

Stop saying that Sen. Collins is a reasonable Republican. She’s proven time and again she’s not. It’s possible that there may not be any reasonable Republicans left. Please donate to Collins’s opponent, Democrat Sara Gideon.

Finally, haven’t we had enough of the lying and purposeful misinformation spewed by Trump? Eric Boehlert has a great idea: The media and the rest of us should stop listening to Trump:

“The President of the United States is actively endangering the American public, and at what point does the press decide that dutifully broadcasting Trump’s misinformation is not in the nation’s best interest. At what point does the press unplug Trump for the good of the country?”

His forum should be restricted to only FOX news. There is no reason to have presidential debates, since no fact-checking organization, much less any citizen, can keep up with Trump’s lies and misstatements. Sure, the GOP will complain that Biden (or Sanders) are chickens, that they’re too old to match wits with Trump. But the truth is, Trump should be denied a forum when and wherever possible.

He hasn’t earned being normalized by the rest of us. And don’t say we should respect the office – he doesn’t.

We need only one point to prove this: Trump did not push to do aggressive Coronavirus testing because more testing might have led to more Coronavirus cases being discovered. Trump made it clear the lower the numbers on Coronavirus, the better for him and his re-election this fall.

That disqualifies him.

Here’s a little tune to help you through the weekend. It’s “Enjoy Yourself (it’s later than you think)” by Jools Holland, The Specials, Hozier, Rhiannon Giddens and others performed in 2015:

And it IS later than you think! Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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