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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – May 4, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Flathead River with Mission Mountains in background, MT – photo by Jay Styles

Can the Republicans force the economy to open? Bill Barr thinks so.

“Justice Department officials have spoken on conference calls with leaders of conservative groups, who have flagged individual cases as worthy of the department’s review. Some cabinet officials have signaled that they back the effort by participating in private calls with conservative allies, according to multiple people involved with the calls.”

The COVID-19 outbreak sparked many states and municipalities to order their citizens to stay at home and businesses to close in order to slow the spread of the illness, and to protect the public, but do the states have the authority to do it?

According to the Incidental Economist:

“Terms like isolation and quarantine have legal meaning, and relate to the government’s powers to act in the public’s interest. Isolation is a targeted approach for individuals already diagnosed with a disease while quarantine restricts the movement of individuals or groups exposed to an illness, some of whom may not be sick.

Both strategies restrict the movement of individuals and are considered a severe deprivation of liberty.”

Last Friday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham (D) quarantined the town of Gallup, at the request of the city’s mayor, because the city is a COVID-19 hotspot. Grisham invoked New Mexico’s Riot Control Act. The order shuts down all roads to and from Gallup.

We can expect that this will lead to legal battles over whether governors can close individual American cities.

Last week, AG Barr issued a memorandum directing an effort to monitor state and local shutdown policies. Barr wrote: (emphasis by Wrongo)

 “We do not want to unduly interfere with the important efforts of state and local officials to protect the public…But the Constitution is not suspended in times of crisis.”

Actually, it has happened many times before.

  • Both GW Bush and Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus.
  • John Adams helped pass the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, those four laws “restricted the activities of foreign residents in the country and limited freedom of speech and of the press”.
  • FDR built internment camps and imprisoned Japanese Americans.
  • Woodrow Wilson presided over the passage of the Espionage Act followed by the Sedition Act. People couldn’t say anything: “…insulting or abusing the US government, the flag, the Constitution or the military.” Violators could receive 20 years in prison.

And now, Barr barges in. Since Wrongo isn’t a lawyer, we’ll have to leave the arguments to those who are qualified. But it seems that in the past, all the Constitution-breaking has been done by presidents, not governors. What we have is a federal vs. state powers question.

So far, the DOJ has intervened in only one case, a “religious freedom” complaint, a lawsuit by a Baptist church in Greenville, MS.

Conservatives are perfectly willing to be inconsistent. They are champions of “states’ rights” until the state in question happens to lean blue. Speaking of inconsistency, remember that it was Trump who when asked why he wasn’t going to issue a nationwide ‘shelter in place’ order, said that it was up to the states.

The Trump administration delegated responsibility to the states with one hand, yet allows the DOJ to threaten governors with legal action. We also have religious conservatives who seem to forget the basis of Christianity, and are willing to put their neighbors at risk. Finally, there is a worrying increase in right-wing civil disobedience (while carrying weapons) that could easily ignite a real civil problem.

Once again, shopping is patriotism. Legitimate fear is unconstitutional. This isn’t unprecedented. After 9/11, GW Bush told everyone to go out and shop. Shopping is apparently how Republicans show their love of country.

Taken together, we as a nation have truly lost our way.

Wake up America! Insist that by November, the states have prepared well enough that it is safe to vote in huge numbers to get these birds out of office.

To help you wake up, let’s listen to Bruce Springsteen and his wife, Patty Scialfa playing two songs from their home studio, “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl”. This was part of the Jersey 4 Jersey benefit for the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

This is dedicated to daughter Kelly, a former Jersey girl who can use a pick-me-up. Remember, dreams will not be thwarted!

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – May 3, 2020

Last Sunday, PA Governor Tom Wolf requested:

“…as many people as possible wear a nonmedical or homemade mask when leaving their homes.”

This week in Mercer PA, a protest against the Pennsylvania governor’s stay at home restrictions yielded this sign:

If this woman thinks wearing a mask is slavery, then she has no idea what slavery is. She, (along with the rest of us) aren’t permitted to drive on the wrong side of the road, either. This isn’t the time for people who are asked to stay at home and to wear a mask when outside to sing: “Nobody knows the trouble I see”.

Speaking of masks and rules, how about Mike Pence:

Why didn’t the Mayo Clinic say: “Thank you for visiting us, Mr. Vice President, but I’m afraid you can’t enter the clinic without a mask per our policy.” Mayo may do fantastic work, but they failed utterly by letting Pence go in unmasked.

Will Mitch pass aid to the states?

Where Wrongo lives, the nurses, fire fighters, police, and town workers are preponderantly Republican voters. Have they been screwed enough to realize they’ve been voting AGAINST their own self interests?

Biden can’t run from this, no matter how many Dems hope he can:

Even the cows know opening meat processing plants without PPE is wrong:

We’re entering a different kind of graduation season:

(It’s control P for a PC)

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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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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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Time to End The Shit Show

The Daily Escape:

Early snow at Schwabacher Landing, Grand Teton NP, WY – October 2019 photo by travlonghorns

The shit show visited on America by Republican nihilists must end. Here are three of the latest examples.

First, Bloomberg reports that Trump says he won’t allow federal aid for states facing budget deficits caused by the Coronavirus unless they take action against their sanctuary cities: (brackets by Wrongo)

“We would want certain things…as part of a deal with House Democrats to aid states, [Trump] he said at a White House event on Tuesday…including sanctuary city adjustments, because we have so many people in sanctuary cities.”

Yes, Trump wants to hold Democratic states and cities hostage unless they end their sanctuary designations. He has previously tried to cut off their federal funding unless they change their pro-immigrant policies, and he thinks now he has some leverage.

Second, Mitch McConnell and industry lobbying groups want to make immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits a condition for state aid. In a Monday interview on Fox News Radio, McConnell said he considers liability protections for companies a non-negotiable demand for the next coronavirus stimulus legislation:

 “That’s going to be my red line….Trial lawyers are sharpening their pencils to come after healthcare providers and businesses, arguing that somehow the decision they made with regard to reopening adversely affected the health of someone else.”

McConnell is arguing that companies should have the right to be negligent, and suffer no consequences for negligence that kills their staff.

As some states begin opening their economies, lobbyists say retailers, manufacturers, restaurants and other businesses struggling to start back up need temporary limits on legal liability. The lobbyists want to give companies more protection against lawsuits by customers or employees who contract the virus and accuse the business of being the source of the infection.

Think about this: Workmen’s compensation takes care of what might happen to an employee, and does so at ridiculously low rates, even for death benefits. So this means that the primary corporate liability issue is over employees who bring the virus home from work and infect family members. Under the new legislation, family members would be precluded from filing a suit against the employer.

What about corporate liability for retail customers? Would retailers be held harmless if people getting sick are traceable to their store? There is a tension between companies having confidence to reopen, and employees and customers having confidence that they will be protected from unsafe practices that raise their chance of infection.

Lobbyists and Republicans want permanent changes to the business liability laws, while Trump is looking at how they could create some of those shields either via regulation, or executive order. But McConnell wants permanent legislation. His leverage is to make it a part of the next stimulus package.

Finally, GOP governors are holding their own constituents hostage: return to work immediately with no protection from the virus, or lose your unemployment checks:

“If you’re an employer and you offer to bring your employee back to work and they decide not to, that’s a voluntary quit,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said Friday. “Therefore, they would not be eligible for the unemployment money.”

The only exception for workers getting unemployment after not returning to work is if they are ill with the virus or taking care of a family member who has the disease. The situation is similar for workers in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Monday gave the go-ahead for retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls to reopen on Friday.

“According to the Texas Workforce Commission, to qualify for unemployment benefits in the state, a worker must be “willing and able to work all the days and hours required for the type of work you are seeking…..employees who choose not to return to work will become ineligible for unemployment benefits.”

The only solution to these anti-worker policies is re-unionization of workers in nearly every industry, and these Republican efforts during the pandemic may energize that unionization.

Mitch wants to protect employers. Trump says the whole problem is China’s fault.

Now they’re teaming up to protect Smithfield, a Chinese company since 2013, to shield it from not protecting its American workforce. A positively Chinese idea!

At least there’s no pretense that they’re really just trying to increase employment.

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Monday Wake Up Call – April 27, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Harvest Moon over Bisti Badlands, south of Farmington, NM – 2019 photo by navidj.

Question: How many Americans have died from COVID-19? A: 54,024 as of Sunday.

Question: How many Americans died in the Vietnam War? A: 58,220.

Barring a miracle, we will pass that Vietnam milestone this week. By then, there will be more than one million confirmed cases, and 60,000 deaths in the US. Can we take a minute, and try to place the Coronavirus in the context of the dead and broken bodies from Vietnam?

Vietnam took ten years to reach that horrible number, while COVID-19 has met it in less than three months. Wrongo served during the Vietnam War. It was a trying time for all Americans. We were disunited at home, at much at war with each other, as with the Viet Cong. It scarred at least a generation, and there are still victims of both the domestic and foreign fights among us.

Today’s fight against the Coronavirus may become the current generation of 20-something’s Vietnam. Jobs won’t come back quickly, friends and family are dying, and the lack of testing and a vaccine will make life scarier for young people than for any other group.

Like Vietnam did to the boomers, Coronavirus could scar young people for years to come.

As we head into month four of the outbreak, we know that we are undercounting deaths. The Economist reported on one aspect of the undercount early in April, comparing cardiac arrest deaths in NYC to the historical average:

Are the increased rate of cardiac arrest deaths really COVID-19 deaths? A strong case can be made that they are. Back to the Economist, who says that the outbreak will be worse in the South: (emphasis and parenthesis by Wrongo)

“Places with older residents and more diabetes, heart disease and smoking have higher CFRs (case-to-fatality rates)…..Counties with lots of poor or black people tend to have more health problems, less social distancing and fewer ICU beds. Yet CFRs in such areas are even higher than you would expect from these factors alone.

Together, these variables leave a geographic footprint….the highest death rates will probably…be…in poor, rural parts of the South and Appalachia with high rates of heart disease and diabetes. Worryingly, the three states that announced plans this week to relax their lockdowns (Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina) are all in this region.”

It didn’t have to be like this. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but in the end, the single most important factor in America’s disaster of a response was the lack of early testing. That will be a greater disaster if we fail to keep growing testing as the lockdowns end.

One thing that’s difficult to comprehend is the lack of empathy for the dead and their families and friends by some Americans. Most can rouse themselves to celebrate the first responders, health care workers, and “essential” workers, but not all can.

The WaPo has analyzed all of Trump’s Coronavirus briefings, and found this:

“The president has spoken for more than 28 hours in the 35 briefings held since March 16, eating up 60% of the time that officials spoke….Over the past three weeks, the tally comes to more than 13 hours of Trump — including two hours spent on attacks and 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, but just 4½ minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims.”

Trump has not even ordered American flags lowered in tribute to the dead, while some governors have. New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy and New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo both did in April. As Susan B. Glasser said in the New Yorker:

“Trump, who has in the past personally asked for the flags to be lowered after a shooting or a politician’s death, can’t even bring himself to do this much for victims of the coronavirus.”

Time to wake up, America! We must tread carefully for the next few months, because we truly know very little about the virus. For example, there’s no evidence that Coronavirus antibodies prevent reinfection.

To help you wake up, listen to “Road to Nowhere” written by David Byrne for the 1985 Talking Heads album “Little Creatures”. Here, it’s performed in 2012 by David Byrne and St. Vincent, live in Paris with a brass band:

Sample Lyric:

Well, we know where we’re going
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowing
But we can’t say what we’ve seen

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 26, 2020

From the WaPo: (brackets by Wrongo)

“President Trump on Friday threatened to block an emergency loan to shore up the U.S. Postal Service unless it dramatically raised shipping prices on online retailers…“The Postal Service is a joke,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. [In order] To obtain a $10 billion line of credit Congress approved this month, “The post office should raise the price of a package by approximately four times…”

The USPS is enshrined in the US Constitution. BTW, killing it might accomplish a few things for Trump:

  • It obstructs any Congressional effort to mandate mail-in voting.
  • It rewards private sector delivery carriers like FedEx and UPS that compete with the USPS. Many of them have donated both to Trump and Republican candidates.

The USPS is entirely self-funded. If you buy stamps, you’ve funded the Post Office. Its operations are profitable. It loses money on paper because of Congress’s unique requirement for the USPS to pre-pay all future pension liabilities, something no other American corporation or institution is required to do. That was imposed by Republicans in 2006 in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.

He’s trying to make the Postal Service unprofitable. And when it’s a shell of its former self, sell it to UPS or FedEx who would be delighted to have one of their biggest competitors destroyed. On to cartoons.

Our grim future:

MAGA-ites drink the healing Kool aid:

Your lockdown inconveniences my freedumb:

Georgia takes aim at the lockdown:

Nursing homes account for 25% of US COVID-19 deaths. Remember the elderly and infirm:

The oil glut has forced the oil companies into the suburbs:

 

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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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The One World At Home Concert

The Daily Escape:

Hanging Lake, CO – 2018 photo by porkchopsandbeer

Wrongo and Ms. Right watched the “One World Together at Home” television concert last Saturday. We stumbled upon it, meaning that wherever it was promoted, it never entered our consciousness. Let’s chalk that up to the distractions abounding in our year of living dangerously.

The two-hour event featured pre-recorded remote performances from Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Lizzo, and Taylor Swift, among many others. If you haven’t seen it, the video is available here.

It wasn’t originally planned as a fundraiser, but it inspired people across America to donate. Billboard reports that the show was watched by more than 21 million people, and we learned that it raised $127 million for COVID-19 aid.

For Wrongo, there were three highlights of the show. First, the Rolling Stones lip-synching to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, with Charlie Watts air drumming. He played a cushioned chair as a hi-hat. We definitely needed a pick me up, and unsurprisingly, Charlie was right on time. Mick, Keith and Ronnie were actually playing, and there was a keyboard and drum track, but it all worked.

Second, Lizzo, this generation’s Aretha, sang Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Very nice, it was worth the whole show.

Third, Keith Urban performed “Higher Love” as a trio, with two digital copies of himself performing. At the end of the tune, Nicole Kidman came out and kissed one of the carbon copies. Like the Rolling Stones, Urban’s video added levity to an otherwise somber set of performances.

Some down notes: Jennifer Lopez doing a note-for-note cover of Barbara Streisand’s “People”. And although not noticed by Wrongo, industry pros reported that Lady Gaga sang to the wrong side of a $20k Neumann microphone.

On balance, although the performances rarely were of the quality of the studio or live experience we are used to, it was a nice way to pass a couple of hours. Watching some big names live streaming using (mostly) modest home equipment leaves us with a sense that maybe, there’s not a huge divide between the talent of the anointed few, and the talents of the rest of us.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have been flooded with feel good moments from around the world, many are musically based, and the musical parodies can be fun.

Here’s one that is a serious reworking of The Band’s classic tune, “The Weight” by Robbie Robertson, remade in 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the song. It features musicians performing together across 5 continents, led by Robertson and Ringo Starr.

It was produced by the charity, Playing For Change. Their focus is to record musicians performing in their natural environments in a series called “Songs Around the World”. They also have a nonprofit that builds music and art schools for children internationally.

The musicians performing on “The Weight” are incredible, but whoever mixed and edited it deserves a Grammy. The changes in vocalists and instrumentation feels natural and seamless. The sound is always balanced, and the editor also gives each musician a sufficient share of the limelight. We also meet some amazing artists many of whom were unknown, at least to Wrongo.

In these days of social distancing, this shows that distance can be a state of mind. Take a load off and turn it up. Trust Wrongo, you won’t be dissapointed:

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

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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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