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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

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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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 19, 2020

One week ago, the cumulative US COVID-19 death toll was 15,000. Seven days later, the death toll is now 36,000. That means in a week, about 21,000 Americans have died, a growth rate of 140%. In the past two months, here’s how US coronavirus deaths have grown:

  • Feb 17: 0 deaths
  • March 17: 111 deaths
  • April 17: 36,997 deaths

Although deaths are a lagging indicator for how successful we are in our efforts to contain the Coronavirus, and despite all the happy talk about flattening the curve, this looks like a rocket ship leaving the launch pad.

The Navy has now tested about 94% of the crew on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the aircraft carrier that was sidelined with a Coronavirus outbreak. As of Friday, 660 crew members (of about 4,865) have now tested positive for Coronavirus.

However, of those 660 who were positive, 60% have not shown any symptoms associated with the illness. This should cause us to question the true rate of infections in the US. The proportion of people who are asymptomatic carriers worldwide remains unknown, but at 60%, the Theodore Roosevelt’s figure is higher than the 25%-50% range Dr. Fauci laid out in early April.

Taking these two data points together, America should proceed carefully as it leaves the lockdown.

On to cartoons. Another day, another spin of the big blame wheel:

With big business, some things never change:

If not his signature, then certainly his fingerprints:

The right’s narrative that can kill:

Individual responsibility has consequences:

John Roberts has to live with his Wisconsin voting decision:

 

 

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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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Should America Be Reopening Now?

The Daily Escape:

Poppies, Antelope Valley, CA – 2020 photo by user_greg. Part of the annual spring “super bloom” in CA.

Given Trump’s decision to open the country to walking around while infected, it’s becoming clear that for the administration, the business of America is strictly business.

But this is wrong. In a pandemic, the business of America is not business; it’s public health. Absent public confidence that the virus is at least under control, many businesses and workers won’t be comfortable heading back to work, no matter what politicians say:

“More than eight in 10 voters, 81%, say Americans “should continue to social distance for as long as is needed to curb the spread of coronavirus, even if it means continued damage to the economy…. Democrats (89%) are more likely than Republicans (72%) to say Americans should continue the “social distancing” measures”

Looks like Trump holds a minority view. To see if there was any concrete basis for saying the US was in a position to reopen soon, Wrongo looked at the COVID-19 Tracking Project’s state-level numbers, and subtracted the terrible NY numbers from the rest. Here’s the result:

The conclusion is that NY isn’t all that terrible compared to the rest of the US. It has a decreasing share of America’s total infections and deaths. But the highlighted rate of increase in deaths in the rest of the US since April 12th should concern the White House.

In fact, the seven-day average for growth in new cases shows that cases in the rest of the US are growing faster. NY is growing at 5.27%, while the rest of US is growing at 5.83%.

And the news from the places without lockdowns isn’t good. Politico reports that hot spots have erupted in farm belt states where governors insist lockdowns aren’t needed:

“The only hospital in Grand Island, Neb., is full. The mayor…asked for a statewide stay-at-home order that the GOP governor insists isn’t needed. More than one-third of those tested for coronavirus in the surrounding county are positive — and there aren’t enough tests to go around.

Grand Island is the fourth-biggest city in a state President Donald Trump and his top health officials repeatedly [say is]…keeping the virus at bay without the strict lockdowns 42 other states have imposed.”

New cases in Nebraska and in Iowa, South Dakota and other parts of the heartland are starting to spike. This should be raising concerns about whether we’re controlling the disease. Here’s Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts saying that voluntary social distancing is working: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“This is a program that depends on people exercising personal responsibility and their civic duty….This is about making that decision, not the heavy hand of government taking away your freedoms.”

All of a sudden, as if they saw the bat signal, Republicans want to do the “Live Free or Die” thing. From the Daily Beast:

“A protest movement is taking hold targeting states that have extended social-distancing rules, closed schools, and restricted access to large religious gatherings. And it’s being fed by loyalists and political allies of President Donald Trump.”

This seems to be “spontaneous” support for Trump’s effort to reopen the economy.

In Michigan, a demonstration called “Operation Gridlock” protested Governor Whitmer’s shelter-at-home orders. Michigan has the third-highest number of COVID-19 cases in America, and the lockdown lowered infections. But Republicans criticize the order. Several thousand cars blocked the Lansing streets to protest what they see as an infringement of their liberty.

A lot of calories are going into the open vs. lockdown debate. It’s all a waste of time. How will we get a healthy economy if we eliminate the lockdown before we have any chance of stopping the mass transmission of this disease?

People aren’t staying at home because governments told them to. They’re doing it because it’s not safe to be out there. They aren’t going to go to work willingly in crowded offices, or travel, or attend concerts unless the danger is visibly lessened. And the economy will not recover until people are willing to do these things.

It’s not about flipping a switch. Businesses reopening will happen in small steps, as public health officials and political leaders, especially mayors and governors (and businesses), work to establish the basic conditions for a return to economic activity.

The bottom line is that the people are in control. We had to be convinced to stay home, and now we’ll have to be convinced to go out.

You go first, should be the people’s mantra. Trump should go back to holding MAGA rallies immediately. He should put his life and those of his supporters, where his mouth is.

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More on What’s Next

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Mauna Kea, HI – 2020 photo by laramarie27

Here’s the COVID-19 tracking report as of April 12:

The rate of increase in infections and deaths appear to have plateaued, while deaths as a percentage of cases continues to rise. Testing hovers around 140,000 per day, still growing slower than the rate of new infections.

The next chart seems to indicate that opening the lockdown would be a mistake. The impression is that the rest of the country isn’t doing as badly as New York. Here is a comparison of cases in New York to cases in the rest of the US:

On the 12th, infections in the rest of the US started to grow faster than new infections in NY. The rate of new deaths in the rest of the US has also become a larger share of total US deaths. So far, there is little evidence to conclude that the administration should reverse the lockdown strategies of the states.

Today we continue with yesterday’s question, “what’s next?”

When parts of the US, and eventually all of it come out from physical and economic quarantine, we will attempt to return to “normal”. Normal will bring with it a level of economic devastation, bankruptcy, and household impoverishment that will almost certainly be beyond what politicians can now imagine.

To bridge across to a sustained level of economic activity, the Federal government and the Federal Reserve will have to add substantial stimulus beyond the $2 trillion so far, possibly an additional $5+ trillion, in new stimulus.

Most of those new funds will have to go to individuals and small businesses in the form of outright grants. Otherwise, small and medium size firms will not be able to reopen their doors after a prolonged shutdown.

Grants to individuals will be most important. Renters and homeowners will have no means to become current on back rent and mortgage payments. Without these funds, the impact within the financial sector will exceed that of the Great Recession, as rents and mortgages would go unpaid for months. Foreclosures and evictions would skyrocket.

Local and state governments that rely on tax revenue from sales taxes, income taxes, real estate and property taxes will be deeply affected as well.

Bipartisan talk in DC of a new effort to create $2 trillion in infrastructure funding makes sense as a source of jobs and needed economic revival. It will also jump start the downstream suppliers of steel, cement and heavy equipment.

The Federal government may have to take equity stakes in large companies like it did in the 2008 auto bailout. In a fashion, this will make the US look a lot more “socialist” than it did in 2019.

There will also be psychological fallout that will be difficult to anticipate. Axios thinks the Coronavirus may be a defining experience for Generation Z, shaping its outlook for decades to come, disrupting its entry to adulthood and altering its earning potential, trust in institutions and views on family and sex.

Pew Research says that nearly half of workers ages 16-24 held service jobs in bars, restaurants and hotels — many of which have now been shut down or greatly scaled back. And young workers with less experience are the first to be let go.

Nearly 25% of US workers, 38.1 million out of 157.5 million, are employed in industries most likely to feel an immediate impact from the COVID-19 lockdown. Among the most vulnerable are workers in retail trade (10% of all workers) and food services and drinking places (6%). In total, these two industries employ nearly 26 million Americans. More from Pew:

“Workers in these industries have lower-than-average earnings. Across all industries, the average weekly earnings in January 2020 were $975. By contrast, workers in food services and drinking places earned only $394 per week on average. Workers in the other high-risk industries had earnings ranging from around $500 to $600 per week.”

Hence the need for a financial bridge by the federal government.

Part of the new normal must be adequate inventory of medical supplies to deal with any future replay of the Coronavirus or another pandemic. The NYT reports that China today makes about 80% of the world’s antibiotics, along with the building blocks for a long list of drugs. That supply can be shut off at any time, for any reason. It is now painfully obvious that health care must be a primary national security concern, something our politicians were blind to just a few months ago.

Will these, and other necessary things change?

So far, we have a redux of 2008. The Fed and Treasury have decided to bailout speculative capital and big corporations, let small businesses fail, and let the working poor employed by small business to become even more impoverished.

Will there be a Marshall Plan for us?

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Monday Wake Up Call – What’s Next Edition

The Daily Escape:

Chamisa plants near Abiquiu, NM – photo by zuzofthewolves

(Publishing of daily COVID-19 data is on hold while Wrongo tries to understand inconsistencies in the data)

Trump isn’t wrong to begin thinking about what comes next. At some point, we will again poke our heads out of our burrows, and feel the warmth of sunlight. We’ll attempt to resume the life we had before the virus struck. There are two risks in this: First, will we be back in the swing of things too soon? And second, what should we demand be different, given what the nation has experienced?

In Trump’s view the answer is simple. He wants most people back to work in time to have a robust economy come Election Day. He’s targeted May 1st as the start date for his governor buddies to begin revitalizing the economy.

Once again, the Trump administration is showing itself to be utterly incapable of dealing with this crisis.

He’s moving the country to re-open, despite warnings from public health officials and from most state governors. Here’s a germane comment on Wrongo’s Saturday’s column by long-time blog reader Terry McKenna:

“We really know so little. To begin with, we don’t know how the virus spreads. We are learning but that’s all. In the beginning, we guessed wrong that it was not spread by healthy (asymptomatic) persons. Doctors disagree over the size of the droplets that carry the virus. So we are almost like we were before we had the germ theory where all we can do it isolate.

Also “test” is a simplistic word. Which test? We need a test that tells a clinician that someone had the virus in his system, and a test with a fast result is essential. But a negative test means little, especially in a healthy (asymptomatic) person, because in the absence of a vaccine, that person could be infected next week or next month. So we need a test of antibodies – but even still, we don’t know how long immunity lasts.

And then we have the notion that the president can order the country back to work. Even if a business reopens, who will come? And yes, I know someone will, but imagine the NY Mets having their opening day May 15. Will anyone show up? And if they do, will we see a spike in sickness a few weeks later?

We need time for the science to do its work. We may get lucky, viruses do became less virulent over time (sometimes to re-emerge with vigor).”

A partial re-opening of those portions of the economy that are now shuttered is a risk both to the workers, and to the returning customers. Terry is right to ask if we’ll see a spike in sickness a few weeks later, and if we do, what will be Trump’s plan then?

Broadening out our view, many are starting to think about what needs to be different post-pandemic. As we emerge from this crisis, we have a rare opportunity to focus on change: Do we want a Star Trek, or Blade Runner future? A utopian, or a dystopian one?

As Viet Thanh Nguyen said in the NYT:

“Our real enemy is not the virus but our response to the virus — a response that has been degraded and deformed by the structural inequalities of our society.”

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild for tomorrow. Or will we just prop up the economic and political process that has given us today’s problems? As an example, if we don’t want sick and contagious people trying to go to work, America must have paid sick leave.

During the lead up to passing the CARES Act, Democrats in Congress recognized this, but at the behest of business lobbies, the Act exempted 80% of all workers, including all those working at firms with over 500 employees AND those working at firms with under 50 employees!

Here’s an illuminating chart:

And in America, add $600 for four months for 20% of our workers. This is post-Reagan America. Assistance to the poor and working class is given grudgingly, and with strings attached. The rich and corporations are showered in subsidies since they are too virtuous and important to let fail. MAGA really means “Make Americans Grovel Again”.

What has to die after Covid-19 is the myth that America is the best country on earth. We’re not as healthy as we thought we were. The symptoms — racial and economic inequality, callousness and selfishness, have been covered up by our unquestioned acceptance of American Exceptionalism.

We’ve lost our right to that view, despite the many, many small acts of heroism every day by health workers and all the “essential” hourly workers who face becoming infected every day.

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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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Trump Not Gaining in Polls

The Daily Escape:

Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier NP, MT– September 2018 photo by shinyoutdoors

Here’s today’s update from the Covid Tracking Project:

  • We’ve added new data showing the daily change, increase or (decrease) for cases, deaths and tests.
  • There’s no good news today. Today registered the highest number of new infections.
  • The daily rate of deaths rose by 3,629, the highest so far. The percentage of deaths to total cases continues to rise.
  • Daily testing increased 280,569, the highest so far. That’s some good news, but the worst news is that the ratio of new infections to new tests is 22.1%.

We’re now down to the most likely two candidates for president, barring some last minute event. The new Quinnipiac Poll has some interesting head-to-head comparisons.

“When asked who would do a better job handling a crisis, voters say 51 – 42% that Biden would do a better job than Trump. Biden tops Trump by a similar margin on health care, as voters say 53 – 40% that he would do a better job than Trump at handling the issue.

However, voters say 49 – 44% that the president would do a better job than Biden handling the economy.”

And the pandemic scares people:

“More than 8 out of 10 registered voters, 85%, say they are either very (50%) or somewhat (35%) concerned they or someone they know will be infected with the coronavirus, a spike of 31 percentage points from early March….Three-quarters of voters say they are either very concerned (39%) or somewhat concerned (36%) that they or someone in their family will need to be hospitalized because of the coronavirus.”

Quinnipiac also says the head-to-head matchup favors Biden:

“In a head to head matchup between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden beats Trump 49 – 41%. Republicans go to Trump 91 – 7%, while Democrats go to Biden 91 – 4% and independents favor Biden 44 – 35%.”

As always, it will come down to messaging and turnout, and after Wisconsin, expect a sustained effort by the GOP to hamper Democrats’ attempts to cast ballots in November.

And in the current CNN poll:

“A majority, 52%, say they disapprove of the way Trump is handling the coronavirus outbreak, and 45% approve. Both figures have risen since early March, when 41% approved, 48% disapproved and 11% weren’t sure how they felt about the President’s handling of the viral outbreak. Still, just 43% say the President is doing everything he could to fight the outbreak, while 55% say he could be doing more — including 17% among those who approve of his handling of it so far and 18% of Republicans.”

CNN says Trump’s overall approval hasn’t changed much since he started holding daily briefings:

“The President’s overall approval rating stands at 44% approve to 51% disapprove, little changed from a 43% approve to 53% disapprove reading in each of the previous three CNN polls.”

It isn’t clear why people would think Trump will do a better job on the economy than Democrats, but jobs and stock market values fell off so quickly and so steeply that it may take a few more weeks to see if voters actually blame Trump for what is certain to be a terrible economy.

Overall, Trump isn’t moving the political dial in his direction in either of these polls.

When the outbreak started, voters saw his performance as a positive. But once he began his daily briefings, acting like they were campaign rallies, or political theater, and offering unvetted solutions, his numbers returned to the basement.

Biden isn’t a lock. He is a weak candidate, and he’s far from mentally or physically robust. There’s 207 days left before the election. Anything can happen.

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Is The Cure Worse Than The Disease?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine, CA – photo by kristophershinn

Here are the latest national pandemic numbers from The COVID Tracking Project: (as of 4/5)

  • Number of daily cases: 333,747, up 27,992 or +9.2% vs. April 4
  • Rate of case increase: 9.2% vs. 12.4% on 4/4 and 13% average for the past week
  • Number of deaths: Total 9,558, up 1,244 vs. April 4
  • Rate of deaths increase 4/5 vs 4/4: 14.9% % vs. 19.4% on 4/4
  • Daily number of tests 4/5 vs. 4/4: 1,778,487, up 154,680 over 4/4
  • Rate of increase in tests: +9.5% vs. previous day

The rate of growth in cases and deaths are slowing. Testing is still growing, although slowly.

Two pandemic-related stories today, each purporting to offer a cure. First, from the Guardian:

“Neo-Nazi groups in the US are looking for ways to exploit the coronavirus outbreak and commit acts of violence, according to observers of far-right groups, law enforcement, and propaganda materials…”

The Guardian says that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) raised an alarm about opportunism from far-right so-called “accelerationist” groups who believe sowing chaos and violence will hasten the collapse of society. More from the Guardian:

“Late last month, the FBI warned such extremist groups were encouraging members to deliberately spread the virus to Jewish people and police officers.”

Apparently, the shorthand in a variety of extremist and fringe movements and subcultures is the word “boogaloo”, used as shorthand for a future civil war:

“From militia groups to white supremacists, extremists on a range of online platforms talk about—and sometimes even anticipate—the “boogaloo.” The rise of “boogaloo,” and its casual acceptance of future mass violence, is disturbing.”

Similar sentiments may have motivated a Missouri man who planned a car bomb attack on a hospital which was treating coronavirus patients. He was shot dead by FBI agents who were seeking to arrest him on March 24th. The man was active in chat rooms associated with two neo-Nazi groups: the longstanding National Socialist Movement (NSM) and the accelerationist group Vorherrschaft Division (VSD).

The NSM was involved in the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and is facing a federal lawsuit for its role there. VSD is an organization that urges members to engage in mass shootings or terror attacks to help bring about the collapse of modern civilization. This is disturbing and distracting when we are seeing a few nascent signs that Americans are coming together in the fight against COVID-19.

Second, many saw, or have heard about Trump’s Sunday “briefing” where he doubled down on his pushing chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine as a possible cure for Coronavirus. Trump again said “what do you have to lose?” Remember that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are used to treat malaria and lupus.

It turns out that many of us may indeed have something to lose. In an abstract from researchers at Johns Hopkins entitled: “Fatal toxicity of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine with metformin in mice” they say: (emphasis by Wrongo)

“…we report a cautionary note on the potential fatal toxicity of chloroquine (CQ) or hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in combination with anti-diabetic drug metformin. We observed that the combination of CQ or HCQ and metformin, which were used in our studies as potential anti-cancer drugs, killed 30-40% of mice.”

Metformin is the fourth most prescribed drug in the US and is used by more than 150,000,000 people worldwide. It is usually the first drug prescribed for Type 2 diabetes. Its side effects are usually mild, and it is even being researched as a possible “longevity” drug.

Now, these mice results aren’t conclusive, so it may or may not be lethal in humans. This is why we test before prescribing an approved drug for another disease.

BTW, Drugs.com says there are 332 HCQ drug interactions (59 of them are major), but it doesn’t list Metformin as one of them. Feeling lucky?

Despite this, the NY Post reports that as many as 4,000 patients are currently being treated with hydroxychloroquine:

“A state Health Department official said the DOH has shipped doses of hydroxychloroquine to 56 hospitals across New York…”

And NYU Langone Medical School is conducting a random trial with a $9.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Sooner or later, we’ll have some proof if it helps with COVID-19, and whether it is safe for people who take Metformin.

So, the answer is, at this point, you may have a lot to lose.

Remember the guy pushing this told us that the cure can’t be worse than the disease, so we should all go back to work, before he had to admit that he had spoken too soon. Now, he’s pushing a cure that MIGHT be worse than the disease.

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