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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – June 15, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Bright Angel Trail, in the middle foreground, Grand Canyon NP – photo by glowrocks

The chickens are coming home to roost. Michael Flor was originally the longest-hospitalized COVID-19 patient. Somehow, he survived. He came close enough to death that a night-shift nurse held a phone to his ear while his wife and kids said their final goodbyes.

Today, he’s recovering at home in West Seattle, WA. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he just got the bill. From the Seattle Times:

“The total tab for his bout with the coronavirus:…$1,122,501.04, to be exact. All in one bill that’s more like a book because it runs to 181 pages.”

More from the Seattle Times:

“…the charge for his room in the intensive care unit was billed at $9,736 per day. Due to the contagious nature of the virus, the room was sealed and could only be entered by medical workers wearing plastic suits and headgear. For 42 days he was in this isolation chamber, for a total charged cost of $408,912.

He also was on a mechanical ventilator for 29 days, with the use of the machine billed at $2,835 per day, for a total of $82,215. About a quarter of the bill is drug costs.”

Those charges don’t include the two weeks of recuperating he did in a rehabilitation facility.

Since Flor has Medicare, it is unclear how much he will actually have to pay out of pocket. Further, since Congress set aside more than $100 billion to help hospitals and insurance companies defray the costs of the pandemic, it’s possible that Mr. Flor may not have to pay even the out-of-pocket charges normally billed by his Medicare Advantage policy, but that remains to be seen.

The insurance industry has estimated treatment costs of COVID-19 could top $500 billion, so unless Congress steps up with more money, co-pays for COVID will soon become injurious.

One outcome of the pandemic may be that America takes a closer look at universal health insurance. There are many detractors in Congress, but the sticker shock that so many families will see from COVID-19 cases may restart the discussion. Medicare for all could work: A single payer with a set system of prices would be good for employers and employees alike.

It will be hard. Universal health insurance is such a tough problem to solve that only 31 out of 32 developed nations have managed to do it.

A second issue for today is the killing of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta over the weekend. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“Officers were called to the restaurant after receiving a complaint about a man asleep in his vehicle, which forced other customers to go around his car to get their food at the window. The man, Atlanta resident Rayshard Brooks, was given a field sobriety test, which he reportedly failed…”

Brooks grabbed a cop’s Taser. More:

“…surveillance footage from the Wendy’s appeared to show Brooks turn toward the police and attempt to fire the Taser as he ran away. That’s when the officer chasing Brooks pulled out his gun and shot him…”

Tasers are a form of de-escalation instead of using firearms. The Taser momentarily incapacitates, but ultimately doesn’t threaten life. So shouldn’t it follow that if a suspect steals a cop’s Taser and threatens to use it, the cop can’t just shoot him dead since he’s being threatened by an ultimately harmless weapon?

The cops had his car, it’s likely they knew where he lived. They could have picked him up at any time. Instead, they killed him. The police tried to do something, the suspect resisted, and in the heat of the moment, the cop escalated to show that he’s in charge. It was a terrible reason to kill someone.

Time to wake up America! We have both out-of-control policing and out-of-control capitalism harming our society. To help you wake up, listen to Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 song, “Everyday People”. This is Playing for Change again, along with Turnaround Arts students. Trust Wrongo and watch:

Sample Lyric:

Sometimes I’m right and I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I’m in
I am everyday people, yeah, yeah

And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
Ooh, sha sha
We got to live together
I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do

Of course there was racism back in 1968, but the musicians were preaching integration. Despite the racism back then, people were optimistic. Compare that to today.

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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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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Saturday Soother – April 18, 2020

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Coughs And Prayers

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People should both cough and pray privately.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Leadership Edition, March 30, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Last light, Tombstone Territory Park, Yukon, AK – fall 2019 photo by tmsvdw

A few days ago, Wrongo heard someone say that we should be careful what we wished for from Trump. He was talking about Trump’s lack of leadership regarding the pandemic. His thought was that the last thing people should want was Trump in full command, and attempting a vigorous response. We’re already failing, and that wouldn’t make it better.

OTOH, it’s been terrible to learn how ill-prepared we are, and how passive-aggressive the administration has been about doing more. It’s past time to accept the excuse that these people are well-intended but awful managers. Take this bit of news from the WaPo:

“On Feb. 5, with fewer than a dozen confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the United States but tens of thousands around the globe, a shouting match broke out in the White House Situation Room between Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and an Office of Management and Budget official….Azar had asked OMB that morning for $2 billion to buy respirator masks and other supplies for a depleted federal stockpile of emergency medical equipment…”

Several weeks later, the request was cut to $500 million. Now, there’s $16 billion in the stimulus bill for the strategic stockpile, but that’s at least six weeks too late. The government has been overwhelmed by urgent requests for masks, respirators, gloves and gowns since the first US case of Covid-19 was confirmed. But on February 7th, Secretary of State Pompeo announced that we were sending:

“…nearly 17.8 tons of donated medical supplies to the Chinese people, including masks, gowns, gauze, respirators, and other vital materials.”

Yes, this was after there were already 12 confirmed cases in the US, and after the HHS request for $2 billion to buy the same things was denied.

Then there’s Trump’s strategy, “better be nice to me if you want any medical gear”. More from the WaPo:

“Anecdotally, there are wide differences….Democratic-leaning Massachusetts, which has had a serious outbreak in Boston, has received 17% of the protective gear it requested….Maine requested a half-million N95 specialized protective masks and received 25,558 — about 5% of what it sought. The shipment delivered to Colorado — 49,000 N95 masks, 115,000 surgical masks and other supplies — would be “enough for only one full day of statewide operations…”

But, when Trump’s guy is in charge, as in Florida, it’s a different story: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Florida has been an exception in its dealings with the stockpile: The state submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later…It received an identical shipment on March 23, according to the division, and is awaiting a third.”

So, three times what they asked for, while California, with Trump nemesis Democratic Governor Newsom in charge, actually got worse than nothing. KRON-TV in San Diego reports that Los Angeles received 170 broken ventilators from the national stockpile. Surely, a simple clerical error.

California also asked for 20 million N95 respirators, and has received 358,381.

Trump is actually doing what he’s been saying: “I am sending aid to states that like me, and withholding aid from states that don’t like me.” That’s Trump’s re-election strategy: Support the states he needs to win for an Electoral College victory.

Reward your friends, punish your enemies. Is that the kind of leadership America needs?

You know leadership when you see it. Sadly, even the UK’s Prime Minister Bozo Boris Johnson shows more leadership than America’s Bozo. After Johnson’s terrible start fighting the Coronavirus, one that rivaled Trump’s, things have turned around. There is consistent messaging: The government has adopted the slogan “Save lives”, “Protect the NHS” [the national health system], and “Stay home”. Simple and clear, something the entire country can rally around.

In the US? No message is simple, or clear. Most messages are conflicting or simply unworkable, like Trump’s suggestion of issuing an executive order quarantining the states of NY, NJ and CT, an unconstitutional and unenforceable idea. How about THAT for leadership.

Trump’s plan for re-election is: “If you aren’t dead, I saved you. Show some appreciation. I take no responsibility for those whose governors failed to save you“. Favoring those states he may need in 2020 is outrageous and criminal.

Two audio-visual aids today for your Monday Wake Up. First, a staggering animated chart showing the growth in Coronavirus cases world-wide during March, with a particular focus on the US:

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

Second, a hilarious YouTube video done to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Naturally, it’s called “Coronavirus Rhapsody“:

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – March 29, 2020

“To prevent the Black Death spreading in the 14th century, all ships thought to be infected were isolated for 40 days to prevent the spread of the disease. In fact, the word quarantine comes from the Italian quaranta giorni, meaning ’40 days’”.  via Ilargi

Some math. $2 trillion from Congress, and $4 trillion from the Federal Reserve so far is how much per family? 83.5 million families divided into $6 trillion = $71,856 per family of new national debt. Hard to know exactly, but households are likely to see only about $3,400 of that $71,856, assuming it is a two-person, two-kid family that makes under $150,000/year. Your mileage may vary.

This shows that our government has once again misdistributed the stimulus. Isn’t it always the case that in a crisis, our Crisis Capitalism government never misses a chance to give money to the corporations and the rich? Why is it so difficult to distribute the funds more equitably? Because they want to distribute as little as possible to the people.

Don’t you think that Trump should wait until every state has all the tests, medical gear and ventilators they need before he starts prognosticating on what date we can all return to normal lives?

As part of his deflecting of responsibility, Trump blames Obama for not stockpiling medical masks during his presidency. But Trump has been president for the past three years, he owns the stockpile. Clearly, he made no effort to add new medical masks in his time in office. He owns the shortage.

NY Governor Cuomo has shown miles more leadership ability than Trump in dealing with the crisis. He’s been blunt, factual, and realistic. In contrast, Trump has downplayed and lied about the pandemic. On to cartoons.

Anything you need in order to revive the bull:

Trump’s driving the Death Train:

The pandemic shows that our safety net is full of holes:

Hypocrisy begins with the GOP:

Our new reality:

Stay at home used to be for the timid:

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Sacrificing Resiliency For Efficiency

The Daily Escape:

Convict Lake, Eastern Sierras, CA – photo by wild_NDN. It got its name after a group of escaped convicts ambushed the posse at the lake in 1871.

There will be a few winners in the race to source products for the Coronavirus fight. One winner is Puritan Medical Products Co. of Guilford, ME. If you’ve been tested for Covid-19, it’s quite likely that the swab used to collect a sample from inside your nose was made by Puritan.

Puritan is one of two companies that produce the world’s supply of the swabs used for coronavirus testing. (The other, Copan Diagnostics Inc., is in Italy). From Bloomberg:

“If swabs are necessary for testing, and if testing is crucial to slowing the virus’s spread, then it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the world’s future depends, at least in part, on Puritan.”

Unless the method for conducting the COVID-19 tests changes, Puritan’s ability to make more swabs will remain the long pole in the tent for figuring out which Americans have the virus. Puritan sells 65 different kinds of swabs. It has more than $45 million yearly in sales revenue.

On March 12, Puritan started getting calls from the US government. Bloomberg quotes Timothy Templet, executive vice president:

“We are ramping up to produce and wrap a million swabs a week that we need to put into the supply chain across the US…”

Please think about that. The Trump administration first contacted the swabs guy on March 12th, two and a half months after we should have known we needed as many as we could get, assuming America was interested in testing for the Coronavirus.

Early tests used two swabs—one for the nose, and another for the back of the throat, but the swab shortage forced changes to CDC guidelines, and now, only one is required. Puritan has two swabs patented for this purpose, and they’re making and shipping both, but scaling up production isn’t simple. Workers are in short supply, with more aging out of the workforce than entering in rural Maine. More from Templet:

“The whole labor shortage has created difficulties to have enough machines and build equipment…I could use 60 people tomorrow.”

Second, let’s talk the shortage of hospital safety gear, including disposable face masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns. Farhad Manjoo had an Op-Ed in Thursday’s NYT, “How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask”, that details another sourcing problem:

“The answer to why we’re running out of protective gear involves a very American set of capitalist pathologies — the rise and inevitable lure of low-cost overseas manufacturing, and a strategic failure, at the national level and in the health care industry, to consider seriously the cascading vulnerabilities that flowed from the incentives to reduce costs.”

Twenty years ago, most hospital protective gear was made domestically. But like the apparel and consumer products business, face mask manufacturing has since shifted largely overseas. Today, China produces 80 % of masks worldwide. More from Manjoo:

“In January, the brittle supply chain began to crack under pressure. To deal with its own outbreak, China began to restrict exports of protective equipment. Then other countries did as well — Taiwan, Germany, France and India took steps to stop exports of medical equipment. That left American hospitals to seek more and more masks from fewer and fewer producers.”

In 2006, Congress funded adding hospital protective gear to a national strategic stockpile. At one point, it contained 52 million surgical face masks and 104 million N95 respirator masks. But in 2009, about 100 million masks in the stockpile were deployed to fight the H1N1 flu pandemic, and the government never bothered to replace them. Today, we have about 40 million masks in the stockpile — around 1% of the projected need for the Coronavirus fight.

Fighting the coronavirus is forecasted to require 3.5 billion face masks, according to DHHS. Mask producers say it will take at least few months to significantly expand production. Here’s a chart of the shortfall:

3M says that they are ramping up towards 100 million masks/month.

But, until that happens, the forecast is that we’re going to be short 170 million masks per month. Most of that must be sourced from China at a time when there is huge global demand, and Trump is fighting with the Chinese.

The real issue is that our system is built to optimize efficiency, not resiliency. But we’ve just learned the hard way that without resiliency, we could lose many more Americans.

This is where our priorities are misplaced. We have plenty of redundancy built into our military hardware, and our bloated defense budget assures it will stay that way. But pandemics are also a significant (and growing) threat to our national security.

How about rebuilding the “strategic reserve” of protective gear with some defense dollars? To add 300 million masks at $0.75 each would cost $225 million.

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