Tuesday, March 31, 2020

MASH has the answers

Check out this video with clips from MASH. Washing your hands is just one episode!

Fundamental changes in a post-coronavirus world

bonddad at Daily Kos counsels Accept That Everything You Understand About the World Will Fundamentally Change.

I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to develop a way to understand exactly what is happening. At times I’m remarkably calm about things; at other times, I think we’re in the opening scene of a post-apocalyptic movie where the world is falling apart and society is desperately trying to maintain order and stability but to no avail.

Yesterday morning I finally hit the nail on the head and realized the following (which is from my Facebook feed):

Changes

I got the idea from a governor Cuomo press conference (God bless that man, BTW). He noted that we will get through this but that it will forever be with us — we’ll look back in 10 years and say, “I was doing “X” during the pandemic.” This statement implies that this is a world-defining event much like WWII or (I hate to say it) the Great Depression. It’s something that will change, well, everything.

Here are some of the things that are going to fundamentally change.

  • A big return of Keynesian economics. Almost overnight, Republicans ditched their austerity mantra and quickly voted for a $2 trillion stimulus. There was no talk of “we need to balance the budget;” instead there was talk about keeping people whole.
  • A return to government expertise. Watching Dr. Fauci and other experts during this crisis has been very comforting because they tell the truth (which stands in stark contrast to Trump). Polls show that the public trusts them. Once this is over, expect the public to become a lot more comfortable with expertise.
  • A rise of teleworking: Modern technology allows people to work remotely. I’ve observed there’s a clear generational divide regarding this idea: old people dislike it, younger people are all over it. Once this is over, expect this idea to become part of the modern workforce
  • A huge rise in automation. One of the big problems with manufacturing in the current crisis is that large groups of people have to be in close proximity, which prevents social distancing. Expect factories to adopt automation at a faster pace to ramp-up production as this thing comes to an end. And this will lead to …
  • A future discussion and eventual adoption of Universal Basic Income: I’m behind in understanding the specifics of this concept, but I understand the basic idea, which is pure Keynesian in concept. Expect this to become a commonly expressed idea.
  • A complete rethinking of the US health care system. Watching this disaster unfold one thing has become very clear: the healthcare system has to change in a big way. I have no idea what it will look like. But it’s going to change.

This is what I see.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Do gun sales presage a toilet paper war

Gawd, I certainly hope not.

However, the Daily Star’s front page feature is Tucsonans aim their sights on guns, turning them into a hot commodity.

One person was quoted as saying “I’m not stocking up for any sort of war or revolt, but just to protect my family and what’s mine.”

So, perhaps I’m too optimistic after all. Americans really are capable of shooting each other over a role of toilet paper.

In Arizona, the incidence of Covid-19 is far higher than you think

Coronavirus in AZ
Covid-19 in AZ

What you need to remember to interpret what follows here.

(1) AZ, like the US and other countries is experiencing exponential growth in new cases. The numbers burble on early in the outbreak and then take off rising steeply. The graph here shows that AZ is in exponential growth.

(2) The US has the fastest growing number of new cases, doubling now every 4 days. We are likely to experience an outbreak even more severe than Italy.

(3) All these numbers are gross underestimates. Because of the lackadaisical approach to testing and contract tracing, and the failure of the nation at large to uniformly adopt control and containment measures (like social distancing), the number of cases reported is far less than what is likely to be the case.

(4) “The absence of symptoms is NOT evidence for the absence of infection.”

So …

Michael Bryan at Blog for Arizona reports that COVID–19 is on Track to Kill Thousands in Arizona Alone.

Due to the very limited testing across the country (entirely the fault of President Trump), official tallies of verified COVID–19 cases undoubtedly represent only a small fraction of the actual numbers. Arizona is dead last in per-capita testing in the nation, and has not even attempted contact tracing or active screening for infections or antibodies. For every verified case there could be dozens or hundreds of cases that are sub-clinical, sub-critical, incubating, and all the while spreading, at an exponential rate.

The actual extent of the epidemic is like a vast, and swiftly growing, invisible mass below the water line. In the official numbers of verified cases, we see only the very tip of the mass and assume that is the disease. Dead wrong. Those numbers in the media are merely the tip of an epidemic iceberg. And we’re steaming straight toward it, full speed ahead.

Arizona’s governor has thus far refused to take this pandemic seriously and has not ordered citizens to shelter in place, despite elected officials’ and health experts’ urgings. Such an order early in the outbreak is literally the difference between hundreds, or thousands of cases, and an infection rate of up to 70% of the population: That’s millions of infections. In Arizona alone. That’s 100,000 deaths, or more. In Arizona alone.

Ducey must act. Now.

This is not alarmism, nor a conspiracy to take down the economy, this is simply what epidemiological science projects. Failure to take this outbreak seriously will cost lives: a hell of a lot of them.

Dr. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has already gone on record that we are currently on track to have millions of infections and between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths in the United Sates due to COVID–19, as things now stand. Dr. Fauci and his team must be making some assumptions to project numbers that low. He is likely assuming that in short order all states will follow those states with the earliest outbreaks and institute “shelter at home” orders to their populations. If he weren’t making such an assumption, then the predictive models indicate that a novel virus like COVID–19 will infect a large percentage of the whole population, with between 1 and 2 million deaths expected.

Consider that up to 11 million Americans are at risk of serious adverse consequences, including hospitalization and death, if infected by COVID–19 because of underlying health conditions and age. We don’t have the hospital capacity to handle that many serious cases. The death rate of an unmitigated epidemic could thus easily be much higher than even the 1 or 2 million statistically indicated by death rates in populations thus far affected. People will be dying in their homes for lack of medical care, en masse.

Luckily, we have non-pharmaceutical interventions that can bring down the infection rate markedly, including social distancing measures, and “shelter in place” orders. Unfortunately, it requires political leadership to make those interventions work. Unfortunately, wise leadership is not an evenly allocated resource. We in Arizona (not to mention our execrable President) have been unlucky in this regard, thus far. Local leaders, like many of our mayors, have been far more pro-active than has statewide leadership. Doug Ducey could change that tomorrow and save thousands of lives by doing so.

Call or email your state’s elected officials (AZ House, AZ Senate). Call the Governor’s office. Your life and those of your loved ones depend on them getting this right.

You can text “state” to 50409, to contact your state officials through ResistBot.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Trump's signing statement assumes kingly power to negate transparency

“Deal or No Deal” – Mnuchin Says “Yes” and Shakes Hands, Trump Doesn’t Give a Whit reports Arizona’s Politics.

Although Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin proclaimed he reached a “Deal!” with the leaders of both Houses of Congress – and he knew of the accountability provisions included in the deal – President Donald Trump ripped up a key part of that deal two hours after signing it into law.

The smooth-yet-gutless trick came in the form of a rare presidential “signing statement”. However, this statement was not released until the Congressional leaders and Cabinet members left the Oval Office signing ceremony. (No doubt, Democratic leaders are even more glad that they were not invited to stand behind him.)

The key provision that the signing statement demolished was that the Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (the actual title) would report to Congress every three months. That report is to include “a detailed statement of all loans, loan guarantees, other transactions, obligations, expenditures, and revenues associated” with the monies spent abroad.

This was one of the provisions that Democrats held out for in the early part of the week. It is inconceivable that Mnuchin had not signed off on it before either the Senate or the House had voted. Not so fast, people who are concerned with this accountability. The Signing Statement says that the President can censor the report before it goes to Congress.

“I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required by the Take Care Clause, Article II, section 3.”

That is the Clause in the Constitution that says he shall “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” allows him to censor the Special IG’s reports. He is treating that very expansively, to say the least.

The Signing Statement unilaterally changes his deal in a couple of other ways, and those are set forth in the annotated copy of the Statement – you can read both pages and the notes at Arizona’s Politics.

Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego reacted today on Twitter, saying “He is not a king.”

Wanna bet? Who will now challenge his assumption of monarchical power?

Might the signing statement be the means by which Trump, his family, and businesses benefit from the “deal”?

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Coronavirus and our reactions to it reveal our past, present, and future

I thought I’d share with you three things that came across my desk this morning. They examine the past, the present, and our future.

The past

National Geographic reports on How some cities ‘flattened the curve’ during the 1918 flu pandemic. Posted in this blog as Flattening the curve by social distancing - Evidence from 1918.

The present

Let’s ‘Kick Coronavirus’s Ass’. In this nightmarish moment, we’re feeling warm and fuzzy about the cold and calculating Andrew Cuomo.

True - the man is addictive. Perhaps that’s because the alternative … well … offers less?

The future

In the New Yorker Masha Gessen makes the case for why, In the Midst of the Coronavirus Crisis, We Must Start Envisioning the Future Now.

… The measures we are taking to save ourselves from a global pandemic of the novel coronavirus are changing us in fundamental, possibly irreparable ways. By instituting lockdowns and deploying a variety of emergency powers across the country, we are destroying our economy, our social fabric, and our political system. We will never be the same. Whether we change for both the better and the worse, as opposed to the solely catastrophic, will depend on how mindful we remain of the damage we are doing as we attempt to save ourselves from the pandemic.

… what do we do now that so much economic, social, and political damage has already been done? We have to start talking about the damage, and thinking about tomorrow. We have to recognize that what we are doing to avoid being killed by a virus is also killing us as a society. We have to make it a priority to restore the social fabric.

… Direct cash payments to tax-paying Americans, which are included in the government’s relief package, will provide an unexpected nationwide test run of universal basic income; distance learning may pave the way to more accessible and more equitable higher education; the drastic rise in telecommuting could reduce pollution and free up real estate that could be converted from offices to housing. All of this may be true. But how and whether these changes play out months and years from now depends entirely on how we think about both them and ourselves.

For example, will we think of universal basic income as a new approach to distributing resources—one in which society values people for their humanity, and not for what they produce—or simply as a less bureaucratic alternative to welfare checks? Will we think of distance learning as a way to make education more accessible or as a way for colleges to save money on professors and classrooms? For younger kids, might the shift prompt us to stop thinking of school as a place to warehouse children while their parents go to work, and start thinking of ways to engage children in learning? Will we emerge more atomized than ever before, with all casual links severed, accidental connections precluded, and public spaces destroyed—insuring that the new authoritarianism continues—or will we take care to create our public space anew? Will we have the courage to resist trying to restore the world we have lost, with its frenetic pace, its air travel and traffic jams, and its obsession with growth and production?

Our track record is abysmal. We have responded to crises by exacerbating the fundamental problems of society, including the root causes of the crises themselves. Our response to 9/11 sacrificed civil liberties and human rights. Our response to the financial crisis of 2008 created even more wealth inequality. If our response to the coronavirus pandemic follows the same patterns, it will make previous crises look like child’s play in comparison. If we continue to create more authoritarian powers; if we continue to go on nationwide lockdowns, or even effectively stay in one for a year or a year and a half; if we continue to feel virtuous because we’ve stayed home and done nothing (and those of us who managed not to murder their children will feel even more virtuous)—if we do all these things, we will have prevented the worst outcome of the coronavirus, but we may still destroy ourselves in the process.

Trump signs 2 trillion dollar CARES act but guts the oversight provisions

Heather Cox Richardson (March 27, Letters from an American) has some interesting observations on how the 2 trillion bill got passed - and what Trump did to f*ck it up.

Today the House of Representatives passed the Senate’s massive coronavirus relief and stimulus bill, the CARES Act. This $2.2 trillion bill is an attempt to address the massive economic dislocation caused by the pandemic now convulsing America. Lots of people have written to me to ask about all the “pork” that Democrats demanded in this bill and how they were playing with Americans’ lives for their own interests. This, once again, is Republican messaging, not reality.

I’ll just dive into the middle of the process.

Discussions hit a stalemate over a number of things, but primarily over the provision for a $500 billion fund to be used by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to shore up businesses (whose applications to that fund would be secret for six months) with little oversight. This was a nonstarter for Democrats, who pointed out the money could be funneled to Trump’s financial supporters, or even to Trump himself (it did not help that the president refused to pledge that he would not accept bailout money).

… [In the end] the Democrats got their primary concern taken care of in the Senate bill: it would have oversight of the $500 billion fund for businesses. An independent inspector general and an oversight board would oversee the dispersal of funds.

They also got a number of other items in the bill, making it look in many ways like a normal appropriations bill, with both parties getting appropriations for things they prioritize. … The idea that this was some sort of Democratic coup is belied by the fact that this was a bill written without Democratic input in the first place. It is also belied by the fact the bill passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 96–0.

Then it went to the House. Since the House had disbanded on March 14 to protect its members from the novel coronavirus, it was expected that the bill would pass by voice vote in the House, meaning that it would have unanimous consent and the members would not have to come back for a roll call vote. But a single representative could block that, and one did, Thomas Massie (R-KY), who demanded that his colleagues return to Washington, D.C. to vote. He could be voted down by a quorum, and was, as members of the House returned to vote against him, and hoo, boy, were they angry that he had demanded a grandstanding vote that would threaten their health. House members came back into the chamber to make a quorum, standing apart from each other, and attacked Massie for the arrogance that made them take airplanes and meet in close quarters against medical advice. Still, it was former Secretary of State John Kerry who had the last word. He tweeted: “Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an asshole. He must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity.”

The House then passed the bill and sent it on to the president who signed it.

But.

And with King Donald there always is a “but”.

When Trump signed it, he included a “signing statement.” These used to be quite innocuous statements in which a president would thank the people involved in writing the bill, or talk about how important a bill was. President George W. Bush began to use these statements to challenge the content of a bill without being forced to veto the entire thing, saying, for example, that he would not honor certain portions of it. And that’s what happened tonight. Trump issued a signing statement saying he would ignore the law’s provisions for an independent inspector general overseeing the disbursal of funds for corporate bailouts. His argument is that such a provision intrudes on the rights of the executive to block information from Congress. If this holds, it would erase the Democrats’ key victory in the negotiations over the bill.

So now who is against transparency and who is playing politics with our lives?

It is not the House Democrats, but rather the president, who is playing politics with this massive relief bill that was so painstakingly negotiated. He remains eager to gather power into his own hands.

I’ve got a label for it: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. See my other posts today on Trump’s mental disorders.

In other news, tonight Trump told reporters he would not talk to the Democratic governors he thought were insufficiently grateful for his help fighting the coronavirus. “All I want them to do—very simple: I want them to be appreciative.”

Flattening the curve by social distancing - Evidence from 1918

Social distsancing
Evidence from 1918 for social distancing.
Weekly deaths per 100,000 from 1918 pandemic
above the expected death rate.
Shaded bar is duration of social distancing.

National Geographic reports on How some cities ‘flattened the curve’ during the 1918 flu pandemic. Social distancing isn’t a new idea—it saved thousands of American lives during the last great pandemic. Here’s how it worked.

From left to right, top to bottom:

“Philadelphia waited eight days after their death rate began to take off before banning gatherings and closing schools. They endured the highest peak death rate of all cities studied.” 748 deaths per 100,000 during 24 weeks.

“After relaxing social distancing measures, San Francisco faced a long second wave of deaths.” 673 deaths

“New York City began quarantine measures very early—11 days before the death rate spiked. The city had the lowest death rate on the Eastern Seaboard.” 452 deaths

“St. Louis had strong social distancing measures and a low total death rate. The city successfully delayed its peak in deaths, but faced a sharp increase when restrictions were temporarily relaxed.” 358 deaths

For data on more cities consult the National G report.

And here’s an instance of what happened when social distancing was not implemented.

PHILADELPHIA DETECTED ITS first case of a deadly, fast-spreading strain of influenza on September 17, 1918. The next day, in an attempt to halt the virus’ spread, city officials launched a campaign against coughing, spitting, and sneezing in public. Yet 10 days later— despite the prospect of an epidemic at its doorstep—the city hosted a parade that 200,000 people attended.

We cannot afford an Easter opening - unless we want to do the Philadelphia thing for the whole nation. And that would trigger a catastrophic Trumpidemic.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Venting about Ventilators in the Age of the Trumpidemic

After considering a $1 billion price tag for ventilators, the White House had second thoughts

Days ago, the White House was nearing a deal with GM and Ventec Life Systems to produce up to 80,000 ventilators. Then they realized it’d cost over $1 billion. Now, despite the urgency, the government is dragging its heels while the president yells at GM and Ford on Twitter.

That was the 12:30 PM headline from Wired Science. In the context of signing off on a 2 Trillion stop gap measure, Trump balks at a 1 billion cost for ventilators. WTF? Run the numbers. The billion is just 0.0005 of the total 2 trillion bill.

This is now, more or less, and hour and a half later reported in WaPo:

The president invoked the Defense Production Act to force General Motors to make ventilators, after weeks of resistance. “I just haven’t had to use it,” Trump had said Thursday, insisting companies were volunteering the necessary efforts. But Friday morning, Trump raged on Twitter at GM chief executive Mary T. Barra, claiming she had backed away from an agreement to make tens of thousands of ventilators, and he invoked the act a few hours later.

Trumpidemic Tales - those of us at greatest risk are expendable

This morning (March 27) I posted Why I think Trump’s ‘feeling’ about the coronavirus may kill me. One view of that post is that I engaged in mere hyperbole. My hysteria is unwarranted ( so goes the apology for Trump’s willingness to sacrifice people for a stock market tick).

Pardon me as I double down.

The right wing, you see, is perfectly content to let the old and infirm die off so that (1) the stock market and larger economy will improve thus (2) stroking Trump’s malevolent mental maladies.

With regard to (1), the right-wing connection between killing off the elderly and jacking up the economy, I recommend this post by Max Boot at the Washington Post Now we know: The conservative devotion to life ends at birth. Here is some of what he wrote.

After watching so many on the right deny the science of climate change for so many years, I am not remotely surprised to now see so many “conservatives” denying the reality of the novel coronavirus. I am, however, shocked to see that the “pro-life” movement is so willing to sacrifice the lives of the elderly and ailing in a sick attempt to restart the U.S. economy while we are struggling with more coronavirus cases than any other country. Apparently, the right-wing devotion to life ends at birth.

The Republican reaction initially was to write off concern about the virus as a “hoax” designed to embarrass President Trump. There was a brief turn in mid-March, when both Trump and his media boosters began to take the virus a bit more seriously. But now Trump and the right-wing media are coalescing around the theme that “the cure is worse than the disease” — meaning that, after trying social distancing for a week or two, we should all get back to normal and pretend people aren’t dying around us.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham, for her part, touted Trump’s miracle cure, claiming: “Lenox Hill in New York among many hospitals already using hydroxychloroquine with very promising results.” As a HuffPost reporter noted, this was based on false information from a man who doesn’t actually work at Lenox Hill Hospital. In fact, a small Chinese study just concluded that hydroxychloroquine is no more effective than standard treatment for the coronavirus. More research needs to be done, but it is highly irresponsible to tout this anti-malaria drug as a “gift from God,” as Trump has done. An Arizona man even died from ingesting fish tank cleaner containing chloroquine phosphate in hopes of preventing covid–19.

Vastly more irresponsible — in fact, downright terrifying — is the willingness of some right-wingers to argue that we should sacrifice the lives of seniors to restart the economy. This notion was put forward most explicitly by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) on Fox News and amplified by other right-wing commentators. “You know, we don’t shut down the economy to save every single life that’s threatened by a widespread disease,” said Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume. “We just don’t.” A Daily Wire host said we should accept “way over 35,000” deaths to “preserve our economy.”

I thought I was hardened to the depravity of the Trumpified right, but even I am astonished by the callous willingness to risk large numbers of innocent casualties — as if the economy can function while the medical system is overwhelmed and people are (rightly) terrified of being infected.

Many on the right sound like characters from “Dr. Strangelove.” (“Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.”) R.R. Reno, the editor of the “theocon” publication First Things, writes that “there are many things more precious than life” and laments that “fear of death and causing death is pervasive.”

But for a truly “sick” response it’s hard to top the Federalist. This right-wing website published a piece urging a “somewhat unconventional approach to COVID–19,” namely infecting volunteers to boost their immunity. In a similar vein, the Wall Street Journal editorial page ran an article urging the “deliberate infection” of first responders. I wonder what Christell Cadet would think of that. At last report, this 34-year-old paramedic in New York City was hooked up to a ventilator, fighting for her life, after contracting covid–19.

I wish I could dismiss these commentators as an inconsequential, lunatic fringe. But they have the ear of a president who wants “packed churches” on Easter. If churches really are packed on Easter, those same houses of worship should be prepared to hold a lot of funerals by Memorial Day — if, that is, funerals are even permitted during a pandemic.

Scriber won’t be among any of those congregations on Easter Sunday but that does not mean that I won’t suffer from those pestilential conflagrations as they disband and send their members out into our communities. Think of “Amen” as a pronouncement of a death sentence for their friends and neighbors.

Now with regard to (2), Trump’s mental maladies, I recommend this piece from rawstory, Psychoanalyst explains the bizarre and dangerous reason Trump lacks ‘the ability to cope with’ reality. Here are excerpts.

Dr. Justin Frank literally wrote the book on Donald Trump’s mind and behavior. In “Trump on the Couch,” Frank tracks Trump’s life from childhood to adulthood and reveals a man who is mentally unfit in many ways — from his intelligence, values, emotions and temperament down to the deepest parts of the psyche — to be president of the United States of America.

Trump’s lies, delusions, greed, corruption and malignant narcissism have thrown the United States and the world into peril as this unstable president has confronted the coronavirus pandemic in increasingly erratic fashion. It’s a crisis of science and empirical reality that he cannot simply wish away or ignore, much as he has tried.

In this conversation, Frank told me that Donald Trump is essentially a sociopath who has no feelings of care, concern or empathy for other human beings. More frightening still, Frank raised the possibility that Trump is not capable of feeling guilt or remorse. Not only will Trump feel no responsibility for the thousands if not millions of Americans who may die in the coronavirus pandemic, Frank said, he is likely to blame Barack Obama and the Democrats for the carnage. Trump’s followers, Frank warned, now perceive him as an infallible deity, and will obey his commands — even at the risk of their own lives.

On Monday he also tweeted that the cure may be worse than the disease, and that social distancing can wreak havoc on our economy. Will he end social distancing because he needs the attention at his rallies?

President Trump himself is a public health risk. What I mean is that his paranoid behavior risks America’s physical and emotional health. Because he is obsessed with the press being out to ruin him, he cannot accurately assess reality — even the reality of his own intelligence services. He ignored the threat of coronavirus when presented with it on Jan. 24. He didn’t even think much about it because it didn’t fit with his delusional belief system about “fake news.”

… Trump could not perceive the dangers of the virus and therefore he is ill-equipped to respond to the pandemic. Because Donald Trump lies about reality so much, he does not have the ability to cope with it.

… Donald Trump could see dead bodies lying in the street from the coronavirus and step over them. Trump would say to himself, “Why are all these people lying around? How did that happen?” Trump would never think that he had anything to do with all of the deaths.

One of those deaths could be yours or mine.

To repeat: “President Trump himself is a public health risk.”

So, don’t go to church. Stay home and worship in your own way. Stay home and stay safe.

(Tnx to Paul McCreary.)

Presidents Bush and Obama - America needs your leadership - NOW!!!

Trump needs Bush and Obama
Two and a Half Men

An Open Letter to George W. Bush and Barack Obama America needs your leadership now—more than ever.

(From A.B. STODDARD March 27, 2020)

Following is the letter in full (block quotes suppressed).

Dear President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama,

The moment you have sought to avoid for nearly four years is here. We are witnessing one of the worst crises to ever confront the United States and one of the worst government failures in the history of the country you served and love.

Together, you have a collective 16 years as president, during which you dealt with a number of crises: the September 11 attacks, two wars, the collapse of the financial system, and the Ebola and H1N1 outbreaks. Faced with these events, you marshaled the vast forces of our government, trusted our best experts, told hard truths, led capable teams on complex missions to tackle these emergencies, and called upon our citizens to unite in patriotic spirit to ride out the storm together. Neither of you were perfect presidents—you both would be the first to admit that—and you each have your detractors.

But both of you knew what the job of the president is in times of crisis and how to manage the basic blocking and tackling of government responses.

President Donald Trump has now proven what many of us long suspected: He has not done any of this, because he cannot do it. He lacks the most basic capabilities required of a president in this moment.

America doesn’t just deserve better. We need better.

And you can help.

This is the time for you to join forces and publicly demand that the government create a plan to manage the COVID–19 outbreak.

The United States is now a worldwide epicenter for the virus. We have outpaced the rest of the world even though we had a long lead time to prepare for it and were one of the last large countries to be struck by it.

But the scariest part is that we are leading the world in total number of cases and the wave has still not crested here: The pace of infections is still accelerating.

These are not political talking points. They are facts. Because COVID–19 doesn’t care where you live in or what party you vote for. In a pandemic, there are no red or blue states—only infected states.

These facts have developed for one reason and one reason only: They are the catastrophic consequences of President Trump’s leadership. He denied the threat the virus posed for weeks. He ignored months—years—worth of warnings and calls to action to move faster on testing capacity and to stockpile essential medical supplies.

And even now, with the evidence of his failure everywhere around us, President Trump continues to push for an arbitrary, dangerous end to the suppression measures which have been enacted by state and local authorities.

You both know that Trump’s response has failed and that continued failure could result in damage which will extend not for years, but decades, to come.

So it is time for you to step forward publicly, rally Americans of both parties to heed the recommendations of public health officials, and demand that the current executive leadership do better.

I know you are both loathe to do this and believe that former presidents should not criticize sitting presidents. Under nearly every other circumstance, that impulse is a wise one. But in this particular situation there is an ongoing disaster where a course-change by the current leadership could effect a material change in America’s outcome. And the only two men in America with enough moral and political leverage to make a difference are the two of you.

Please do not wait another day.

President Obama, you have tweeted encouraging messages about social distancing, which were clearly meant to counter Trump’s sudden case of Social Distancing Disgust. That was helpful, but not enough.

President Bush, you don’t tweet. (And God bless you for that. May you be a beacon to the world on this score.)

But what we need from the two of you is more than tweeting. We need you to publicly stand together and speak out.

Yes, we know President Trump will be dismissive of anything you recommend. As he said recently, he hasn’t reached out to his predecessors because he doesn’t think he would “learn much.” But it may prompt him, begrudgingly, to act—if for no other reason than to want to control the optics of looking like he’s doing something.

For now, Trump is basking in his mother’s milk—polling—which shows the public approves of his handling of the outbreak. These have convinced him that all is well. But what the polls don’t tell—and what the current numbers of diagnosed cases do tell—is what’s coming next.

President Trump plans to “revise” social distancing guidelines next week to “open up” economic activity in places he would like to classify as “low risk.” He has telegraphed that shelter-in-place restrictions—which seem to be working in slowing the progress of the virus—are a plot to defeat him at the polls in November.

On Wednesday he tweeted that “The LameStream media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP.”

On Thursday he claimed that “the mortality rate is way, way down.” It’s unclear what he means by this—precise language is not his strong suit—because we don’t have a clear handle on the mortality rate from COVID–19. There seem to a number of deaths occurring from coronavirus-like symptoms that aren’t being classified as COVID–19 deaths because the patients weren’t tested. Further, the mortality rate varies by age and by access to healthcare. You are more likely to die from COVID–19 in a setting where healthcare resources are maxed out than if you are the only case in the hospital ward.

What we do know is that the total number of “official” deaths will soon eclipse the number of Americans killed on 9/11.

As that number continues to increase—including in states which Trump hopes to carry in November—he may reverse course and tell those “real people” to stay home instead of go back to work. You could help both to focus his mind and give him cover on this.

If Trump could be forced to focus more on the pace of infection, instead of the stock market, he would. But as our infection and death curves spike in the days to come, don’t assume that Trump can focus on the right data.

Neither should you not take comfort in the hope that those around the president will help him do what’s necessary. We cannot count on them. We have all watched as they continue to tolerate his purposeful negligence in this crisis—a combination of magical thinking, denial, impatience, political calculation, and lies.

The posture of the president’s abettors seems to be that he will get it, soon. But he may not, and waiting in hope that he will next week, or the week after, is a dangerous gamble.

What you—and only you—can do is outline a national plan of action, rally public support to it, and force President Trump’s hand.

You can determine the exact specifics of the plan by working with public health experts and economists. It would likely involve a national lockdown for some weeks—the final duration of which to be determined by (1) the infection data and (2) the completion of a nationwide testing system. The lockdown should probably not be eased until we have a testing regime that can easily identify infected people so that they may self-quarantine and also be running random sampling so that we can identify potential hotspots before they flare up. Also: The lockdown should probably not be eased until the supply lines of PPE and other essential healthcare materials are moving efficiently.

The intricacies of epidemiology may be too complicated for the average voter to grasp, but the basic plan for fighting the spread of an epidemic is not.

If you create a plan, and rally support for it among the general public, then you can create the a groundswell of support for it which can then carry Trump into executing it. This need not be done in an adversarial manner. In a perfect world, you two can do the work that he has not been capable of and then give him the space to take ownership of it.

Trump’s own current posture remains both foolish and inhumane. Trump recently remarked that state governors “have to treat us well” if they want help, as if he were a mafia don brokering the allocation of sanitation contracts between his underlings and not a president trying to save the lives of American citizens.

Meanwhile, governors in ravaged states are begging for ventilators that experts estimate we will need roughly a million of, despite the current national inventory of only 200,000. Public health officials also tell the New York Times that a centralized government effort is needed to “referee” the allocation of ventilators to places in the most need, as well as bidding for newly produced ones.

Yet while Trump signed legislation to invoke the Defense Protection Act, he has yet to trigger it. It is mystifying why he has declined to use the available power to supercharge our supplies in the face of such dramatic shortfalls. For instance, New York state requested 30,000 ventilators; the government, provided 4,000 of them. This week more than 100 former national security officials from both parties called upon President Trump to mobilize the law “to the full extent” to provide masks, tests, ventilators, and other critical supplies and equipment, stating the private sector “lacks the ability to process incoming requests, prioritize the most urgent needs and coordinate with other companies absent more concerted government involvement.” In spite of all of these urgent messages and requests and reports from the frontlines of our crushed health care system Trump still questioned the amount of ventilators governors are asking for in an interview with Sean Hannity Thursday.

Outlining a pathway to fix these critical supply chains should be part of your plan, too.

Both of you saw your predecessors working together in their post-presidencies to return to service: George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton not only raised millions for Asian Tsunami recovery but for the victims of Hurricane Katrina as well. When people were in need, Bush and Clinton stepped back into the public square to help.

Americans are in dire need today. And even though Donald Trump may not want your help, he can’t stop you from proposing plans and uniting Americans in shared interest to meet needs that aren’t being met.

Unlike congressional Republicans, who fear Trump and want to please him, you are former presidents of the United States. I suspect that at one point or another the two of you have discussed Trump and are likely of one mind on his administration. Over the last four years you have stayed silent on the subject, for many reasons—most of them good and wise.

But in the face of so much death and destruction—some of which has already happened; much of which is still to come—there are no good reasons for you to be quiet now.

America needs you. And even though he does not realize it, so does President Trump.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics.

Trump vs. God on Easter Sunday

This is a hoot. Check out the video.

Why I think Trump's 'feeling' about the coronavirus may kill me

Woo hoo! USA now leads the world. We always knew that we are exceptional. Check this.

The U.S. Now Leads the World in Confirmed Coronavirus Cases reports Donald G. McNeil at the NY Times. Following a series of missteps, the nation is now the epicenter of the pandemic.

Scientists warned that the United States someday would become the country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. That moment arrived on Thursday.

In the United States, at least 81,321 people are known to have been infected with the coronavirus, including more than 1,000 deaths — more cases than China, Italy or any other country has seen, according to data gathered by The New York Times.

[Unlike the US] China’s autocratic government acted with ferocious intensity after the belated start, eventually shutting down swaths of the country. Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan quickly began preparing for the worst.

The United States instead remained preoccupied with business as usual. Impeachment. Harvey Weinstein. Brexit and the Oscars.

The United States, which should have been ready, was not. This country has an unsurpassed medical system supported by trillions of dollars from insurers, Medicare and Medicaid. Armies of doctors transplant hearts and cure cancer.

And, God help us, the US now gives Trump’s handling of the pandemic a 51% approval rating.

Understand this as our likely future if Trump succeeds in opening up in April: “Cellphone videos leaking out of China showed what was happening as it spread in Wuhan: dead bodies on hospital floors, doctors crying in frustration, rows of unattended coffins outside the crematories.”

“We are the new global epicenter of the disease,” said Dr. Sara Keller, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“Now, all we can do is to slow the transmission as much as possible by hunkering down in our houses while, as a country, we ramp up production of personal protective equipment, materials needed for testing, and ventilators.”

But the need for ventilators remains and is exacerbated by Trump’s negative attitude.

Despite governors’ pleas, Trump questions need for ventilators reports Steve Benen (MaddowBlog). Why did the White House balk at a contract for 80,000 ventilators? Perhaps Trump’s belief that they’re not really needed had something to do with it.

The New York Times published a hard-to-believe report late yesterday about the Trump administration having “second thoughts” about a contract for ventilators. Later in the evening, however, it started to make more sense.

As the Times’ article explained, the White House was prepared to announce a new joint venture this week involving General Motors and Ventec Life Systems, which would produce 80,000 ventilators. Depending on the speed with which the machines could be produced, the deal had the potential to be a life-saver: because so many people who contract the coronavirus experience severe respiratory distress, ventilators are needed to keep patients breathing. It’s exactly why so many states are scrambling to buy the equipment.

But the White House announcement didn’t happen this week. The administration reportedly stepped back because of the $1 billion price tag.

At first blush, this seemed incomprehensible. If Congress is advancing a $2.2 trillion economic package, why would the White House balk at $1 billion for life-saving medical devices? Soon after, as Donald Trump spoke to Fox News’ Sean Hannity in a telephone interview, the answer became clear: the president doesn’t think the ventilators are necessary.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be. I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes, and they’ll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

Note the fact that Trump drew these ridiculous conclusions based on “a feeling,” not a policy assessment. The comments came less than a week after the president pointed to the possible use of malaria drugs with no track record of success in combating COVID–19, telling reporters that he has “a feeling” the medications might be effective.

Earlier in the month, he also rejected the World Health Organization’s assessment on fatality rates, telling Sean Hannity on March 4, “[T]his is just my hunch.”

In last night’s interview, Trump went on to emphasize the costs of the machines, adding, “You know, when you talk about ventilators, that’s sort of like buying a car. It’s a highly – it’s very expensive. It’s a very intricate piece of equipment…. And you know, the good ones are very, very expensive.”

They’re also very, very necessary for patients with compromised lungs.

At that point, Trump went back to complaining about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) appeals for tens of thousands of ventilators.

Looking ahead, the president signaled a reluctance to act because he simply prefers to hope for positive outcomes. “I don’t think that certain things will materialize,” he told Hannity. “And you know, a lot of equipment’s being asked for that I don’t think they’ll need.”

The host didn’t ask about the consequences if the president’s rosy assumptions are wrong.

If I get that virus, the odds are that I may very well need a ventilator. One may not be available should I have to be hospitalized due to Trump’s anti-science, anti-medicine “feeling”. That’s why I think Trump may kill me.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Trump attorney demands cease and desist for ad starring Trump himself

Kerry Eleveld of the Daily Kos Staff reports that Trump sends cease, desist letter on ad featuring one giant sound bite of his mad coronavirus musings. Here is some of it, but you really should go there and click on the video showing the ad.

Donald Trump is angry. The Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA assembled an ad that features the sound bites of Trump and Trump only, and guess what? Turns out he’s an unhinged maniacal liar who’s gotten everything about the coronavirus wrong. That may not be news to you, but it is apparently news to Trump. And his dangerously factless musings on the coronavirus over the past several weeks have not worn well.

So on Wednesday, a Trump campaign attorney released a cease and desist letter demanding that TV stations across the nation pull the ad immediately. “On behalf of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., President Trump’s principal campaign committee, this letter notifies you that your station is airing a patently false, misleading, and deceptive advertisement,” wrote Alex Cannon, special counsel to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. “Because [the] ad’s central point is deliberately false and misleading, your station has an obligation to cease and desist from airing it immediately to comply with FCC licensing requirements, to serve the public interest, and to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation.” Um, yeah, the ad simply regurgitates all Trump’s falsehoods on the virus, sound bite by sound bite. So if it’s “patently false” and “misleading,” that’s because Trump narrates the entire thing in his own words.

(Tnx to Mrs. Scriber and Roving Reporter Sherry.)

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) also wrote about the ad and the Trump campaign’s response.

Part of the problem, of course, is that the idea that the White House has done a “good job” in its response to the crisis is impossible to take seriously.

The other part of the problem is that the Trump campaign’s efforts to denounce the Priorities USA ad appears to have generated more interest in the commercial the president’s team didn’t want people to see. As of this morning [March 26th], the spot has been viewed online over 6.5 million times.

'The President is Crazy' ...

… says Al Franken at his web site. The case is strong. Read all about it.

(Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry.)

America will open for business - but just not the dangerous way that Trump imagines

JVL in the March 25 The Bulwark counters Trump’s dangerous “Open For Business” fantasy. Here is a phased approach to getting America back to business that is quite different than Trump’s whimsical impulsive

We talked yesterday about the benchmarks that need to be met in order to begin re-opening the economy: A clear understanding of the infected population and rate of transmission; the healthcare system at a steady-state; a rigorous and basically unlimited ability to test and process cases on-site.

But what does “re-opening” the economy look like after those goals are met?

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t look like: Millions of people who may or may not be carrying viral loads crammed on top of each other in churches on a Sunday morning just to make a rhetorical point.

The economy will have to be re-opened in phases.

Manufacturing comes first. You want to get production lines moving and you can do that with reasonably low people density.

In the next tranche you’ll want to get low-density retail open. Daycare facilities. Food-service that can be run at a distance with delivery or carry-out.

After that, you start to think about high-density retail and getting remote-workers back into office settings.

The very last things you think about are big, nonessential, communal spaces: churches, bars, theaters, sporting events.

If you move through the re-opening gradually, at each step making sure the virus isn’t breaking out again, then you build confidence as you go. Because if you think things are bad now, imagine what it will look like if we open up everything again and then have to shut it down because we lose control over the management of the virus.

The idea that America is just going to throw the doors open on a Sunday morning two weeks from now and declare “We’re Open for Business” is yet another one of Trump’s dangerous fantasies and it is irresponsible of him to have planted it in the public’s mind.

Trump embraces calamity

Dana Milbank writing at the Washington Post has some observations on how Trump barrels toward calamity.

President Trump has issued his order: Damn the mortality — full speed ahead.

With all the foresight of Napoleon invading Russia and all the caution of George Pickett charging the Union lines, Trump barreled ahead Tuesday with his plan to send Americans back to their workplaces — and, consequently, their airplanes, subways and restaurants — within 19 days, even as the rapidly spreading pandemic builds toward a peak.

“We’re opening up this incredible country,” he declared midday in the Rose Garden to Fox News interviewers, hours after the World Health Organization declared a “very large acceleration” of coronavirus infections in the United States, raising the prospect of this country becoming the pandemic’s new epicenter.

“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Trump declared. He went on to say he “wasn’t happy about” his public health experts’ recommendations, but he reluctantly accepted two weeks of restrictions because “we would have been unbelievably criticized for not doing it.”

If Trump succeeds in getting Americans to mix again in public at the height of the pandemic (many governors are unlikely to be so foolhardy with their constituents’ health), he will be risking the lives of hundreds of thousands if not millions. Just a week into his tepid embrace of social distancing, he’s ready to abandon the fight against the virus and instead force Americans to accept a new strategy for dealing with a pandemic: survival of the fittest.

For what?

It won’t work: The economy won’t bounce back if people don’t feel safe. “There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus,” Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican said on Twitter.

Dr. Anthony Fauci pushes back saying that The coronavirus pandemic ‘is not, as it were, under control’. Here are a couple of his responses to a WaPo interview. (Tnx to Roving Reporter Sherry.)

How are you balancing trying to explain this pandemic to the public, so they really understand what’s going on, without creating hysteria?

The fact that you’re asking that question — I think you realize that it’s a delicate balancing act. And it’s hard to do because you have to be truthful. You don’t want to withhold important information. At the same time, it’s frightening for people, understandably so. So here’s what you do: You make sure that you always tell the absolute truth and don’t hold back data. For example, the one thing that I have been saying that never came across particularly clearly in the way some people — and I’m not mentioning names — have expressed this: We are in the escalating phase of a very serious pandemic. That is a fact. We have got to realize that and to prepare and respond. It is not, as it were, under control. Because it’s still going up. Are we trying to control it? Yes. Are we having an impact? We are doing some rather dramatic things. California shutting down. New York doing the same thing. And for the country in general, the physical separation. So even though the inflection is going up, there’s no doubt that what we are doing is having an impact.

When you look at what happened in China and in Italy, you can’t run away from the potential of what this virus can do. That’s the reason why, when people ask me how long is this going to go on, we don’t know. If you look at the pattern, things are not going to turn around in two weeks. I mean, it’s just not going to happen. We’re in a several-week, I guess, fight, if you want to call it that. At best.

when you see images of people out jogging or hanging out, what does that make you feel?

I’m actually pleading with the younger generation that, although you feel you are invulnerable — which is not true; nobody’s invulnerable — the fight is not only trying to protect yourself. You have a societal, in some respects, moral responsibility to protect yourself so that you don’t then inadvertently and unintentionally infect those who are more vulnerable. So people in bars and in restaurants and on the streets hugging each other, in crowds, it just completely frustrates me to see that.

How will the pandemic change America

Here are a couple of items from Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American .

National news media finally gets it.

Trump is using his daily briefings on the coronavirus in place of his rallies, and media channels are trying to figure out how both to cover the briefings and to avoid spreading disinformation that will hurt Americans’ ability to respond to the crisis. It is clear Trump is relishing the constant television coverage, and is using it to advance his reelection campaign. In the process, he is playing fast and loose with the truth. Media channels are aware that Trump got scads of free press coverage by engaging in shocking behavior, and are trying to cover the news without repeating that mistake. Today an NPR station in Seattle announced that it will no longer cover his briefings because they disseminate misleading or false information. On Monday, CNN and MSNBC cut away from the briefing after an hour, saying that “the information no longer appeared to be valuable to the important ongoing discussion around public health.” Deputy White House Press Secretary Judd Deere said their decision was “disgraceful.”

How will the pandemic change America?

I blogged about this previously.

The country is reordering itself as we hunker down for this crisis. Already our work habits, our social habits, our shopping habits, and our personal lives have been knocked into new grooves. It is a mistake, I think, to imagine that when we finally get a handle on this disease, America will go back to what it was before coronavirus. Observers cannot help but note that such profound dislocation presents a perfect opening for an authoritarian power grab.

It’s happening!

The Department of Justice’s recent attempt to get Congress to pass legislation permitting the arrest and detention of defendants at will during a time of emergency is a troubling step in that direction. (I thought the DOJ story might well be untrue and said so when I wrote about it; I was wrong, it is true.)

During past crises, a number of Americans have welcomed such authoritarianism, hoping to ditch the slow messiness of democracy in favor of quick, strong fixes. Notably, during the Depression, fascism didn’t strike everyone as a bad idea.

But while it is imperative for citizens of a democracy to watch for and resist the rise of such authoritarian power during a crisis, these times are also open for a redefinition of the nation, not only of our government, but also of how we live. We are learning that many of us can work from home—how will that change our urban and rural spaces? We are learning that our lives depend on a strong government response to pandemics and economic dislocation—how will that change our government? We are learning that our families and friends are even more important than even we knew—how will that change our priorities?

The questions raised by this life-changing crisis are open… and so, suddenly, is America’s future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Does Trump really want to open the country - at the cost of millions (dollars and lives)

Quote of the Day: “There really is no middle ground, and it’s very tough to say to people: ‘Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts.” - Microsoft founder Bill Gates (via Heather Cox Richardson)

So did Trump say that?

Yep. Here’s the story from WaPo: Trump says he wants ‘the country opened’ by Easter, despite warnings from public health experts.

President Trump said Tuesday that he wants to have the country “opened up” by Easter — April 12 — as he continued to press the case that the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak is more damaging to the economy than it’s worth.

Trump continued to express concerns that federal guidelines for social distancing, including the closure of some businesses, and other steps to mitigate the outbreak could go too far, despite warnings from public health experts that the restrictions may need to stay in place for weeks.

“I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter,” Trump said during a Fox News town hall broadcast from the Rose Garden at the White House. Easter falls on April 12 this year.

“Our people are full of vim and vigor and energy. They don’t want to be locked into a house or an apartment or some space,” Trump said. “It’s not for our country, and we are not built that way."

During the broadcast, Trump said he reluctantly gave his blessing to the White House strategy of social distancing to “slow the spread” of the virus for 15 days and reiterated that he’ll be reevaluating the wisdom of that approach in coming days.

Speaking of the economy, Trump said, “The faster we go back, the better it’s going to be.”

That is coming from a one-man death panel. Even monarchs, who claim to derive their power from God, would not be so cavalier about the deaths of their citizens.

Now its time for a sobering analysis of why and how Trump is so very wrong - again. I subscribe to the morning emails from The Bulwark. (Yeah, I know. It’s populated by arch conservatives but it’s one of the few Never Trump assets and these folks are principled.)

Following is the analysis by Jonathan V. Last (JVL).

Here is the crux of the argument as charitably as I can put it: The economic pain which is here already is real. More is coming. If you lift all of the health restrictions, maybe you get some dead people. But maybe not. And if you don’t lift them, you know you’re getting massive economic dislocations, for sure.

I get this. Because the economic pain is real. Hell—not only is what we’re seeing right now real, it’s only the start. It’s going to get worse. People need help and not the half-measures that are in either the House or the Senate bills. They need the full force of the U.S. government backstopping the entire economy.

Here is the problem with the argument that it’s time to restart the economy: It assumes that all we have to do is flip a switch and then we’ll be able to go back in time.

We can’t. Because we live in a new world. The old reality—and by old, I mean the reality as of December 2019—is gone. The idea of going back to it isn’t a plan. It’s a fantasy born.

We cannot return to the economy of three months ago by simply “restarting,” as if it was a machine we just happen to have idling.

We will have to rebuild the economy. This will take a great deal of time and effort. And cannot even begin to set ourselves to this task until the underlying problem has been managed.

Here is the plain fact: You cannot reconstruct the economy until COVID–19 is under control. Period. Full-stop.

This does not mean that you have to wait for the virus to be eradicated.

But understand that at this point we still don’t even have a handle on what the scope of the contagion is in America because we still don’t have enough tests.

There a number of milestones that need to be passed before we can seriously begin rebuilding the economy:

(1) We need to have a clear epidemiological picture of the scope of infection and transmission rates.

(2) The healthcare system needs to be in a place where it has the resources to manage the demand load.

(3) We need to have the capacity to rapidly test (and immediately process) an hugely elastic number of people.

Once those tasks have been met, we can start to slowly rebuild. To attempt to “restart” the economy before they have been met will give us the worst of both worlds: An out-of-control pandemic plus a ravaged, non-functional economy.

Think about how small the external shocks are that have hobbled economies in the past: Regional wars in the Middle East; real estate bubbles; banking scandals. Now imagine how the economy would function with large numbers of Americans hospitalized; with many others sick; with people afraid for the lives of their loved ones; with some large percentage of children pulled from school; with workers calling out sick for fear of infecting their workplaces; with international travel severely curtailed; with supply chain disruptions across the globe; with demand—especially international demand—decimated.

To believe that you can have a robust—or even functional—economy with a pandemic raging in the background is a fantasy. And it’s a dangerous fantasy, because acting on that belief will cause both more death and more economic pain.

What’s more, the rates of increases - cases and deaths - are mind-blowing. Here are two facts from JVL.

Where we are today doesn’t matter.

As of this morning, we have only 46,481 confirmed cases of COVID–19 in the U.S. and 593 deaths. When people say, “Oh, it’s just a few thousand people, it’s no big deal” they are not wrong, exactly. If we were only talking about 46,481 cases, we would be in manageable territory.

But the problem is not the number of cases. It’s the rate of increase …

Yesterday’s new-case total was double the number from four days ago. The four-day ago new total was almost four times the number from four days before that.

That’s a very small doubling time.

So again: Today’s numbers are not alarming if today was the end point. The worry is, what happens if four days from now we double, and four days after that, we double again. That puts us as 40,000 new cases per day in eight days’ time, with a total addition of somewhere in the neighborhood of 180,000 news cases during that period.

And the curve would still be active.

Until the new case curve begins to flatten we can’t have any sense of what the steady-state looks like.

Same thing with the death rate.

That’s right: Our number of deaths is currently doubling every three days.

So is 500-some deaths worrisome? I mean, sure, in the sense that every life is precious. But that number isn’t what’s really scary: What’s scary is the curve and were that projects out to 8 days, or 16 days, or 32 days from now.

Until you have control over these curves, any attempt to “restart” the economy will fail because the underlying economic problem—a global pandemic which has the United States in its grip—has not yet been brought to heel.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

What Trump says can kill you - as one couple found out the hard way.

George Conway tweeted: “Some advice from the woman in Arizona who, along with her husband, took chloroquine phosphate because @realDonaldTrump said on TV it was a cure and was safe. She’s in an ICU. Her husband’s dead.”

Here’s the story from CNN: Fearing coronavirus, Arizona man dies after taking a form of chloroquine used to treat aquariums.

(CNN)A Phoenix-area man is dead and his wife is under critical care after the two took chloroquine phosphate in an apparent attempt to self-medicate for the novel coronavirus, according to hospital system Banner Health.

It does not appear they took the pharmaceutical version of the drug, but rather “an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks,” Banner Health said in a statement.

Banner Health, which is based in Arizona, didn’t give any details on how the couple, both in their 60s, acquired the chloroquine or which Banner hospital treated them.

“Within thirty minutes of ingestion, the couple experienced immediate effects requiring admittance to a nearby Banner Health hospital,” its statement said.

It didn’t stop there. Nigeria records chloroquine poisoning after Trump endorses it for coronavirus treatment.

Health officials in Nigeria have issued a warning over chloroquine after they said three people in the country overdosed on the drug, in the wake of President Trump’s comments about using it to treat coronavirus.

A Lagos state official told CNN that three people were hospitalized in the city after taking the drug. Officials later issued a statement cautioning against using chloroquine for Covid–19 treatment.

Remember Rick Wilson’s view of Trump: Everything Trump Touches Dies." The antidote is simple: do not believe anything Trump says.

Trumpidemic - Where's Fauci - Trump advisors playing a zero-sum game, millions dead or economic collapse

Heather Cox Richardson publishes a daily news recap “Letters from an American.” She wrapped up the Monday email with this disturbing observation.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a voice of calm reason in this crisis, is not on board with Trump’s increasing flirtation with the idea that the country can abandon its isolation policies after fifteen days. Fauci was not at today’s press briefing, and while Trump brushed off his absence, there were signs today that he might be on his way out of his prominent role in combatting the coronavirus. Fauci has advised every president since Ronald Reagan and brings much credibility to Trump’s team, but he has corrected the president repeatedly in public, and his insistence that the coronavirus is more dangerous than Trump says is increasingly unwelcome.

This is not surprising given the long line of responsible “adults in the room” given the boot by Trump - who sheds competent people faster than the coronavirus.

In all my reading today, one thing jumped out. In an interview, Dr. Fauci pointed out that every president he has served, starting in 1984 with Ronald Reagan, has had to deal with epidemic disease: Zika, AIDS, SARS, Ebola, H1N1, MERS. Some have handled their crises better than others, but after Reagan botched the AIDS crisis, they have always prioritized public health so effectively that most of us have had the luxury of forgetting that we live under these grave threats.

No longer.

Margaret Carlson at The Daily Beast expands: Trump Is Raving, Fauci Is Losing and the Virus Is Winning. The president pushed the doctor off the stage, and dismissed the spreading medical threat as a little thing that we can’t afford to shut down business over.

Also see the post by AZ Blue Meanie, GOP: ‘What’s a couple of million dead Americans, when we are talking about making money?’

Trump is putting American lives at risk, because he built his reelection campaign around the economy, and a recession or even possible depression is not the economic message that his reelection campaign needs right now. So some Americans are just going to have to die, damnit!

So, if Republicans and their propagandists in the conservative media entertainment complex get their way, we will soon see our health care system overwhelmed and collapse, as it is doing in Italy, and hundreds of thousands if not 2.2 million Americans dying, as projected by the Imperial College London, because “the cure is worse than the disease.”

And no, saying “We’re back in business, let’s go” is not going to save the economy or Wall Street. Repeated waves of infection and exponential growth of the virus, with millions of Americans sick and dying and unable to work, or nor permitted to work, is not going to save the economy or Wall Street.

Trump and Republicans are opting for the worst case scenario for both crises.

Dante is going to have to create a new ring of hell in his Inferno for these Republicans.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Trumpidemic Part 3 - Mystery solved - Trump won't use the Defense Production Act because big business thinks it's bad for big business

Wait for it! As I posted in Part 1, the Daily Beast reports that Trump Hints He Might Give Up on Social Distancing Next Week.

social distancing appears to be the only measure that works when it comes to slowing down the coronavirus pandemic. But President Donald Trump hinted late Sunday that he may be ready to abandon the practice as early as next week

He tweeted in all-caps Sunday night: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!” The 15-day period is set to end next Tuesday.

Why would he do this? Scriber thinks it’s hooked up with Tump’s reluctance to use the Defense Production Act as Jonathon Chait reports in the NY Magazine Intelligencer: Trump Refused to Order Coronavirus Supplies Because Big Business Complained. (Tnx to Roving Reporter Sherry)

President Trump’s reluctance to use the Defense Production Act has been one of the most enduring mysteries of the coronavirus epidemic. The Defense Production Act is a 1950 law allowing the federal government to redirect vital industry for use in a crisis (primarily a war, but an epidemic would also do). Hospitals are desperately short of ventilators and respirators, and governors, doctors, and public-health officials have begged Trump to invoke the act to direct emergency production before hospital staff gets infected and patients begin dying.

Trump’s diffidence is puzzling, given his normal tendency to push presidential authority to, or well past, its constitutional limits. This is a president who claimed national-security powers to slap tariffs on steel from Canada and Mexico, and to build a border fence.

The New York Times resolves the mystery. Trump has refused to invoke the act because big business doesn’t want him to. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the heads of major corporations have lobbied the administration against using the act,” the Times reports. “They say the move could prove counterproductive, imposing red tape on companies precisely when they need flexibility to deal with closed borders and shuttered factories.” Trump, Lawrence Kudlow, and Jared Kushner all reportedly found these arguments persuasive.

Of course, persuading that troika does not necessarily require a solid factual basis. Kudlow is a fanatical adherent of supply-side economics whose career of wrongness has been sustained by a willingness to advance the narrow interests of the superrich. Kushner is a dilettante heir to his father’s shady construction empire. Trump is … also that, but less intelligent than Kushner.

Trump has touted the voluntary efforts of businesses to crank out emergency supplies. But Trump appears to be getting his rosy information from the firms themselves. Production is not happening fast enough, or at a high enough level, to ensure hospitals will be protected. The Times reports that Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, and other companies are producing respirator masks, the underwear masks “will be made of a three-ply underwear fabric, and do not provide the level of protection given by the N95 masks that health care workers need for intubation and other procedures.”

That isn’t the fault of the underwear-makers, who are dealing with the materials they have and trying to help. It does suggest that the administration’s policy of corporate voluntarism is being driven by the needs of business owners, not the public health.

Now you know.

The Trumpidemic of lies and incompetence, Part 2 - How to manage a Pandemic

Jonathon V. Last has some things to say about that in the morning email from The Bulwark.

Last week, a reader sent me a passage from the end of John Barry’s book The Great Influenza, which is generally regarded as the definitive history of the 1918 pandemic. Barry spent years of his life studying this one moment in history and it’s fair to say that he understands it as well, or better, than anyone. And he came away with some very specific lessons for dealing with outbreaks.

Here’s one of them:

Of all the lessons from 1918, the clearest is that truth matters. A specialty among public relations consultants has evolved in recent decades called “risk communication." I don’t much care for the term. It implies managing the truth. You don’t manage the truth. You tell the truth… .

Those in authority must retain the public trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one.

I want to put that in contrast with the constant lies Donald Trump has foisted on the public since the very start of this crisis:

  • He lied about how the outbreak was progressing for nearly three months.
  • He repeated the lies of the Chinese government, over and over, boosting Chinese propaganda while dismissing the conclusions of American officials.
  • He lied about the nature of his “travel ban” with China, which allowed travelers from China to arrive in the U.S. daily.
  • He lied about the availability of testing, which is the single most important weapon we have for fighting contagion.

I mention this not to fixate on Trump’s deficiencies as a leader, but to highlight that he is actively making the situation worse.

In a time of pandemic, truth is a tool to fight infection. Lies contribute to the spread.

God help America as it faces a Trumpidemic of lies and incompetence

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin has good advice: Save time: Assume Trump is inept and lying. (Tnx to Roving Reporter Sherry.)

President Trump last week told the country he activated the Defense Production Act, which allows the president to retool and redirect factories to make urgently needed equipment and materials in case of emergency.

On March 18, Trump issued an executive order finding, “To ensure that our healthcare system is able to surge capacity and capability to respond to the spread of COVID–19, it is critical that all health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID–19 are properly distributed to the Nation’s healthcare system and others that need them most at this time.” The order declared that "health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID–19, including personal protective equipment and ventilators” as well as additional resources could be identified by the secretary of Health and Human Services.

One problem: He set no goal for the production of materials, ordered no factories to be converted and set up no new distribution system so states would not have to fight one another for scarce equipment.

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” FEMA Administrator Peter T. Gaynor had this exchange:

MARTHA RADDATZ: We know you’re working hard. The task force announced yesterday that 600 million N–95 masks to protect health-care workers have now been ordered. But no one on that task force, not the president, not the vice president, not you, could answer the question, “When will they be ready for use?” … So can you tell us this morning when those masks will be distributed and how many?

GAYNOR: …[Scriber: The bottom line is he did not and, I think, could not. You can read more on your own. Rubin has the whole transcript. Sickening.]

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Gaynor conceded that the act had not been invoked. The administration seems to be husbanding its powers rather than leading by directing a massive, national effort. (“I think that to demonstrate that we can use it, the president can use it any time,” Gaynor said.)

This is inexcusable. He clearly has no idea how many masks we have and how many have been shipped. He has no idea when current needs can be met. He was followed on “This Week” by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D). He said bluntly, “We are desperate for more PPE equipment, personal protective equipment. We’ve had a big ask into the strategic stockpile in the White House. They’ve given us a fraction of our ask.”

Then follows transcripts of interviews with state governors pretty much saying the same things.

This is a chaotic, dangerous situation that is entirely unnecessary. The Defense Production Act is designed to prevent the Wild West scenario and shortages.

Former homeland security secretary Jeh Johnson explained, “You cannot have a bidding war between one state and another over ventilators, the very medical device we use to cling to life. And so I hope the FEMA administrator has the authority he needs to prevent that and to actually enforce a proper allocation of, of medical supplies and resources.” He added, “The role of the federal government in a crisis like this is to not answer the question about how long schools are going to be out. That is a question for state and local authorities to enforce social distancing. The role of the federal government in a national crisis like this is actually to be the shipping clerk.” In short, Trump has no idea what his role is, provides no incentive for his administration to take the lead and, in fact, seems to prefer shoving off national obligations onto others.

Former vice president Joe Biden appropriately blasted the administration. “He is still failing, even this morning: despite telling the American people that he was using the Defense Production Act to bring the full force of our government to protect our doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals and get them the devices that they need to save Americans in hospitals who are literally struggling to breathe, his lead emergency management official says it is not true,” Biden said in a written statement. “Hospitals, mayors, and governors are forced to fend for themselves to secure the gear and equipment they need. … Mr. President, stop lying and start acting. Use the full extent of your authorities, now, to ensure that we are producing all essential goods and delivering them where they need to go.” He added, “President Trump’s dithering on preparing us for this global pandemic and his lies about his response to this dangerous crisis is one of the most unjustifiable failures of presidential leadership in American history.”

We should commend businesses that are engaged in voluntary efforts to provide medical supplies. However, what is being done is plainly insufficient. At a time we need federal leadership to direct production and take over distribution, Trump is AWOL. What he said was being done is not really being done. What he “hears” — there is no mask shortage — is blatantly false.

If a captain on a ship froze in the middle of a crisis, he would be relieved of command. If a CEO routinely dispensed false information and was incapable of getting into the weeds to rescue his company from a disaster, he would be fired. By any definition, Trump is failing, caring more about creating a Chinese boogeyman to blame than in competently addressing the problem before him.

This is not simply a matter of assigning blame for having left us unprepared and allowing precious time to slip by. This goes to Trump’s ongoing inability to competently manage the federal government. The Post reports that “the growing gulf between the White House and officials on the front lines of the pandemic underscored concerns in cities, states and Congress that Trump does not have a coherent or ready plan to mobilize private and public entities to confront a crisis that could soon push the nation’s health-care system to the brink of collapse.” In short, lives will be lost because no one can tell Trump he is wrong and making things worse.

As evidence, I submit the following from the Daily Beast. Trump Hints He Might Give Up on Social Distancing Next Week.

So far, social distancing appears to be the only measure that works when it comes to slowing down the coronavirus pandemic. But President Donald Trump hinted late Sunday that he may be ready to abandon the practice as early as next week to ease the effect the pandemic is having on the economy. Last Monday, the White House urged people to spend the next 15 days doing everything they can to slow the spread of the disease. He tweeted in all-caps Sunday night: “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!” The 15-day period is set to end next Tuesday. Anthony Fauci, an infectious-diseases expert and a prominent member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, has said previously that he thinks it will take several more weeks until people can start carrying on with their lives as normal.

Various news sources have reported on the masses of people on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and the beaches of Florida. These people deserve a huge mule kick to the head. Their willful actions will only prolong the pandemic and increase the number of fatalities, And now the president gets in that line.

Blood is on his hands. By his own admission, Trump does not listen and cannot learn. God help America.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Kos makes a case for VP Warren

The Kos himself provides reasons why Warren for VP would not be the wrong move. And that from someone who prefers a black female VP nominee.

Here’s a sample of Kos’ case.

Biden is in a pretty good place, with a great many vice presidential options in our party. Warren doesn’t just bolster his standing with a key, brand-new base demographic (educated suburban white women), but helps unify a party fragmented by a bruising primary.

Throw in her competence, intelligence, and binder full of plans, ready to be implemented on Day One, and you have one hell of a choice.

I’m not saying she’s the best option. I don’t think such a thing exists. I’m not saying she’s my preferred option. I’ve made that clear.

But it would be a great option, with untold benefits, if Biden goes in that direction.

John Cassidy summarizes The Coronavirus and the Economy as A Two-Pronged War ...

… in his weekly New Yorker newsletter via email. Here it is (with block quotes suppressed).

In medical and economic terms, the country is battling against time to gain some control over the coronavirus and its effects.

The coronavirus pandemic is giving Americans a wrenching lesson in what exponential growth looks and feels like. Two weeks ago, most people, including the President, were downplaying the potential impact of the virus in the U.S. By the end of this weekend, there will likely be more than thirty thousand confirmed cases within our borders, roughly a fifth of Americans will be largely confined to their homes, and great swaths of the economy will have closed down temporarily. On both the medical front and the economic front, the country is engaged in a battle against time to gain some control over covid–19 and its effects. Despite the dramatic steps that some cities and states have taken this past week, it is far from clear that we are winning this battle. More Draconian measures may well be needed, at both the national and state levels.

As of Saturday afternoon, the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. was 23,480, and the number of confirmed deaths was two hundred and eighty-five. There were 10,356 confirmed cases in New York State alone, Governor Andrew Cuomo said at his Saturday briefing. New York is now at the center of the pandemic in this country, but it is also the state doing the most testing—more than forty-five thousand, according to Cuomo—which probably explains much of its rapid growth in case numbers. “We are taking more tests per capita than China or South Korea,” Cuomo said. That is encouraging, but in many states the number of tests is still less than a thousand. To have so little testing on a national basis this far into the pandemic is a failure of historic dimensions.

A number of people have asked me about the best way to track the numbers for testing, infections, and deaths as they come in. Each day at noon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates the figures, based on numbers from the previous day, and many individual states are providing updates, too. It’s hard to keep up with all of these announcements, but the COVID Tracking Project, an independent Web site founded by a data scientist and two journalists, is doing the job for all of us. In addition to providing links to a wealth of raw data on its home page, the project maintains a separate page with all the latest figures for testing, infections, and fatalities.

Of course, the United States is only one country. To see how the U.S. experience compares to that of other countries, I check the data on the Web site of the Financial Times, Europe’s business newspaper. The first two charts on the data page, which show the time path of infections and deaths in a number of major countries, demonstrate why America’s current trajectory is so alarming. “No other country has been this far into the pandemic and still had the number of cases growing at the rates the U.S. is seeing,” Justin Wolfers, an economist who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, pointed out on Twitter on Friday.

As the virus rages, policymakers in Washington are racing to stabilize the economy and the financial markets. On Saturday, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill resumed negotiations about a coronavirus spending bill that would provide more than a trillion dollars in financial assistance to households, workers, businesses, and states and municipalities. Negotiations between the two sides began in earnest on Friday, a day after Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, released a Republican bill. In a post analyzing the Republican proposal, I noted that it had several big holes in it, including failures to provide adequate support for the millions of gig workers and self-employed people who have seen their businesses devastated. According to reports on Saturday afternoon, the two sides had made some progress, but there were still a number of unresolved issues, one of which related to Democratic demands to expand the unemployment-insurance system to cover more workers.

An agreement would be a positive development, especially when you consider that just a week ago the two parties were struggling to agree on a much smaller covid–19 spending bill that provided for free testing and somewhat expanded paid sick leave. (Trump signed this legislation on Wednesday.) Despite its enormity, however, the bill almost certainly won’t be sufficient to offset the coronavirus-related slump in the economy, which is rapidly intensifying as more and more businesses announce closures. (Starbucks announced plans to rely on delivery and drive-through locations and shut most of its cafĂ©-only stores.) A report at the Washington Post summed up the economic situation thus: “Next week, the Labor Department will likely report that roughly 3 million Americans have filed first-time claims for unemployment assistance, more than four times the record high set in the depths of the 1982 recession, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That is just the start of a surge that could send the jobless rate spiking to 20 percent from today’s 3.5 percent, a JPMorgan Chase economist told clients on a conference call Friday.”

Clearly, the hit is going to be enormous, at least in the short term, and many economists think that Congress will have to pass at least one more stimulus package as we move into the spring and summer. Referring to the package that is currently being negotiated, Torsten Slok, the chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, told Politico’s Ben White, “It’s only a down payment.”

The Trump Administration, along with anyone who has money in stocks, will be hoping that an agreement on the stimulus bill settles the financial markets, at least somewhat. On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell another 913.21 points, or slightly over four per cent. For the week, the Dow was off about fourteen per cent. Compared to the February peak, it is down about thirty per cent.

The dive in the Dow is obviously disconcerting news for people who have their retirement savings in the stock market, but on Wall Street many professional investors are just as concerned about how the bond market has been behaving. The bond market can sometimes herald a looming financial crisis, and this week “long-term Treasury securities have suffered significant price declines alongside large stock-market retreats, an unusual dual downturn that has raised alarm among traders,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday evening. Normally, bonds rally when stocks decline, but this week investors have been dumping both asset classes, which could signify distress selling and worries about the future of the economy. On the Street, there are rumors of margin calls and big losses among hedge funds, even though the published figures for how funds are performing aren’t overly dramatic.

The Federal Reserve, which has introduced a whole series of emergency lending measures during the past week, won’t be too concerned about the fate of overpaid hedge-fund managers, but it is clearly very concerned about how the credit markets are performing over all. “Credit is the blood flow of the body economic,” Barry Eichengreen, an economic historian at the University of California, Berkeley, reminded me when I spoke to him earlier this week. “Without credit still flowing through the system, parts of the economy that are still operating will no longer have the means to get the inputs they need to produce and distribute things.” In its latest intervention, which came on Friday, the Fed said it would expand its emergency asset-purchase program to include municipal bonds. In normal times, these bonds—which states, cities, and other municipalities issue to finance various types of spending—are considered relatively safe investments. But the “market for munis this week has all but collapsed, with few willing to step in and buy the government debt in the uncertainty of the current climate,” CNBC reported on Friday. As in other credit markets, the threat of a seize-up prompted the Fed to step in.

Economic turmoil driven by covid–19 and chaos in the markets isn’t confined to the United States, of course: it is a worldwide phenomenon. So how far will governments have to go in order to stabilize things? Some analysts believe policymakers may eventually have to consider an option that has long been regarded as verboten: explicit monetization of stimulus spending by the central bank, sometimes referred to as “the helicopter drop.” In 2016, Ben Bernanke, the former Fed chairman, discussed this as the ultimate fallback policy during an economic downturn at a time of low interest rates, and Adair Turner, a former head of the British Financial Services Authority, also discussed it in a 2015 book that I wrote about for The New Yorker. Now it’s back on the table. “I do think the time is right for monetary finance,” Turner told Martin Sandbu, who wrote a big piece on this topic for the Financial Times. “There would be a clarity of assuring people that there is no limit on the money available.”

Not everybody agrees with Turner. Right now, the ultra-low level of bond yields suggests that the U.S. Treasury wouldn’t have any trouble issuing trillions of dollars’ worth of paper to finance an enormous stimulus package, or several very large ones, so it wouldn’t need the backing of the Fed. But history suggests that as economic crises proceed, and things get more desperate, policy ideas that were previously considered out of the question sometimes come to appear more reasonable.