The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Random Tuesday Thoughts

(Wrongo and Ms. Right are away until July 9th visiting our CA family. Expect the next column to be posted then.)

The Daily Escape:

White Sands National Monument, NM – 2019 photo by Bernard-F

#1: Wrongo watched the video of Trump walking across the Korean DMZ. While most foreign policy professionals will have a cranky reaction to the event, it represents progress. Both sides had stopped negotiations and in fact, were not even talking, after Trump walked out of the Hanoi meeting.

Whether it is a breakthrough that leads to a deal remains to be seen. OTOH, Trump took his daughter Ivanka and Tucker Carlson to the DMZ, while sending John Bolton (who he called “Mike”), and Mike Pompeo on to other tasks. Anything that drives the GOP neocons crazy can’t be all bad.

The incoherence of Trump’s global strategy shows itself in extending himself to North Korea, a country that has nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them. The US has no agreement with NorKo to contain its weapons of mass destruction. We don’t even have a peace agreement after the War that ended in 1953, but we’re talking.

Contrast that with Trump’s walking away from the signed Iranian nuclear deal, which was negotiated to prevent an exact North Korea-type situation from happening. Inexplicable.

#2: Forbes has a very interesting article on new solar power capacity in California:

“Los Angeles Power and Water officials have struck a deal on the largest and cheapest solar + battery-storage project in the world, at prices that leave fossil fuels in the dust and may relegate nuclear power to the dustbin.”

Cheaper than fossil fuels, the new plant will be built north of LA, in Kern County. LA officials said that it will be the largest and lowest-cost solar and high-capacity battery storage project in the US. When up and running, it will operate at half the estimated cost of power from a new natural gas plant. The plant is expected to deliver its first megawatt by April 2023.

#3: Reuters reports that Trump’s “deal” with China may not be a deal at all. In their article, China warns of long road ahead for deal with US after ice-breaking talks, Reuters quotes the official China Daily, an English-language daily often used by Beijing to put its message out to the rest of the world. It warned there was no guarantee there would ever be a deal: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“Agreement on 90 percent of the issues has proved not to be enough, and with the remaining 10 percent where their fundamental differences reside, it is not going to be easy to reach a 100-percent consensus, since at this point, they remain widely apart even on the conceptual level.”

#4: Next, it’s that time of year again where Americans camp out for days in order to visit with a pop-up rural clinic nurse. Why? Because we have the most expensive “health care” on earth, and a system absolutely designed to keep it that way:

“They were told to arrive early if they wanted to see a doctor, so Lisa and Stevie Crider left their apartment in rural Tennessee almost 24 hours before the temporary medical clinic was scheduled to open. They packed a plastic bag with what had become their daily essentials after 21 years of marriage: An ice pack for his recurring chest pain. Tylenol for her swollen feet. Peroxide for the abscess in his mouth. Gatorade for her low blood sugar and chronic dehydration.”

A view from the volunteers:

“…a clinic volunteer….patrolled the parking lot late at night and handed out numbers to signify each patient’s place in the line. No. 48 went to a woman having panic attacks from adjacent Meigs County, where the last remaining mental-health provider had just moved away to Nashville. No. 207 went to a man with unmanaged heart disease from Polk County, where the only hospital had gone bankrupt and closed in 2017.”

With Republicans doing everything they can to break the Affordable Care Act, and then refusing to fix it, this is what their actions have caused. Rural hospitals are closing, people in rural counties have no health care. And the GOP tells them to blame Democrats. The reality is that Republicans in these states have cut funding for the programs that kept red state rural clinics and hospitals operating.

#5: Columbia University reported that scientists have discovered a gigantic aquifer of relatively fresh water trapped below the Atlantic Ocean. This undersea aquifer stretches from Massachusetts to New Jersey, extending more or less continuously out about 50 miles to the edge of the continental shelf.

The water was trapped in mile-deep ice 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. When the ice melted, sediments formed huge river deltas on top of the shelf, and fresh water got trapped there. It would have to be desalinated for most uses, but the cost would be much less than processing seawater.

See you next week!


Ebola: Oh My God, We’re All Gonna Die!

Why is it that so many pundits feel the need to tweet/talk/bloviate in a way that sounds like they’re proven right when there is a new case of Ebola? Why did Bill O’Reilly feel the need to say that he knows better than the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how to keep Americans safe from the Ebola virus? The greatest cost of our rampant corporatism may be the continued chipping away at our trust in public institutions.

Even though spreading panic is great politics, if we need to reevaluate our protocols for healthcare workers caring for patients with Ebola, fine, but if you live in another state from the person infected in Dallas, you’re gonna be ok.

Let’s remember that Thomas Duncan, the sole Ebola fatality in the US, spent 3 days at home with a fever of 103. He was infectious for the 3 days he was at home with the illness, and he could have infected someone else in the household, but he did not. Apparently, his family took great care not to be exposed, and they seem to be on the verge of succeeding, since the incubation period is up to 21 days. Duncan showed symptoms on Sept. 24th. If we count from then, the family still have a day or two before they are out of the woods. If we count from Sept. 28th, when he was vomiting and went to the hospital for the 2nd time, they would be safe on Saturday.

Most of the Americans flown to the US with Ebola were healthcare workers. The person who died from the disease in Spain was a healthcare worker. Many who get it in Africa are caregivers or healthcare workers. So, again, this indicates an ongoing risk for those who care for patients with Ebola, but the average American’s risk for catching the disease is still near zero.

That said, this report in Scientific American by Judy Stone, MD and infectious disease specialist, speaks to the problems with both process and culture in hospitals:

One hospital I am familiar with has Powered Air Purifying respirators (PAPRs), purchased with bioterrorism preparedness grants, but neither stethoscopes nor other dedicated equipment for isolation rooms. So nurses and docs gown up to go in the room of a patient with a “superbug” but take their stethoscopes into the room and then on to other patients, perhaps remembering to wipe it down first.

This New York Times blog post & graphic on the procedures for healthcare workers caring for people with Ebola echoes Dr. Stone’s discussion and shows how hard it is to be careful.

Here is a chart by Dr. Stone on of our expense for Public Health Preparedness spending since 2001:

Public Health Funding since 2001

This shows that funding for preparedness efforts have fallen by a cumulative total of $2.4 billion since the high point in 2006. The chart shows that the deepest cuts came in GW Bush’s second term. Since then, substantially more has been cut from the programs. Starve a program designed to educate and isolate a deadly outbreak among public health professionals and then blame the government when something goes wrong. Thanks Mr. O’Reilly.

Politics, as usual, is the fly in our soup. Unfortunately, next month Americans again go to the polls and at least half of them will vote for the very people who are doing everything in their power to eliminate public health care.

Isn’t it strange that public health policy is being decided based on economic beliefs about free trade and travel rather than mathematics and science? We in the West offered no assistance to immediately help control the initial Ebola outbreak in Africa. We said, let it burn itself out, like it has done before.

But, the New York Times reports that the new head of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, was among the first to see the need to move quickly against the Ebola threat. He committed $400 million to fight Ebola, and $105 million has already been disbursed. In September, he said to Dr. Margaret Chan, the head of the World Health Organization:

You have the authority to act in this emergency…so why aren’t you doing it?

Now, in October, she seems to be finally on the case.

Here at home, Republicans are vying with each other to shame the Obama administration into implementing a travel ban against Ebola-affected countries. That wouldn’t be an unreasonable suggestion if it could stop the spread of the disease. But it won’t. Here’s why:
• There is a de facto private ban already in place, since US-based airlines stopped flying to Ebola-afflicted countries two months ago (to protect their crew and passengers from exposure — and themselves from lawsuits).
• Delta and United offer direct, nonstop service between the US and West Africa—Delta to Lagos, Accra, and Dakar, and United only to Lagos.
• No travel ban or quarantine will seal a country completely. Models predict that even if travel could be reduced by 80%, new transmissions would be delayed only by a few weeks.

And health-care workers who become ill would not be able to get out for treatment, and the international health personnel needed to quell the outbreak would no longer be able to get in.

Despite the fear-mongering, we know what needs to be done. We have organized the deployment of 3,000 troops and have begun marshaling a wider international response that is tragically slow. With the announcement of the Dallas case, hospitals across the country are now scrambling to get their procedures up to snuff.

We need to have the boots in Africa to help manage the probable local panic as well. It is a linear investment by the US that could have an exponential payback.