Thursday, October 15, 2020

Today's observations from Letters from an American - herd immunity and changing the makeup of SCOTUS.

Heather Cox Richardson reports on the COVID–19 pandemic Letters from an American for October 13. Perhaps the most predictable, but the most alarming, is that the Trump administration has abandoned any pretense of trying to control the virus. Instead, they are embracing junk science of “herd immunity” (or perhaps in Trump land, “herd mentality”). (On the other hand, the administration was doing nothing from the get go.) The net result is that the U. S. continues to lead the world in cases and deaths.

Excerpts follow.

The White House has abandoned the idea of controlling the virus and instead is openly embracing the idea of “herd immunity.” Officials are arguing that the nation should protect our most vulnerable neighbors—the elderly and the infirm—and the rest of us should go about our lives normally, without waiting for a vaccine.

While the White House has been saying this for months, it now has a group of scientists advancing the plan in a document called The Great Barrington Declaration. This idea is being pushed by the libertarian American Institute for Economic Research, and scientists whose work has been dismissed by most epidemiologists. It offers no data or scientific argument; it is a political opinion.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called the plan “unethical” because it “means allowing unnecessary infections, suffering and death.” He explains that the concept of herd immunity is one used for vaccines, achieved “by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.” “Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic,” he said. “It is scientifically and ethically problematic.”

The idea of simply letting the infection spread is not popular among Americans, especially among the seniors Trump needs to win Florida. In 2016, seniors preferred Trump to Hillary Clinton by 49% to 44%. Now they are turning to Biden rather than Trump by 54% to 43%. Weirdly, Trump took to Twitter today to post a tweet apparently making fun of Biden by picturing him as a resident of a senior home—not calculated to win over more older Americans.

This approach reinforces the idea the president is trying to push after his own bout with coronavirus: that the illness is not a big deal and that those who say it is are simply trying to hurt his chances of reelection. At the Barrett hearings, Republican Mike Lee of Utah, recently diagnosed with coronavirus, refused to wear a mask. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows also refused to wear one when talking with reporters, apparently concerned about being filmed in a mask when the official White House position was to downplay the virus.

Meanwhile, another official who attended the celebration for Barrett at the Rose Garden on September 26 has tested positive for the virus.

America leads the world in infections and deaths. Globally, at least 38 million cases of Covid–19 have been recorded as of 6:30 this evening. More than a million people have died. America has had at least 7,850,000 cases and more than 215,000 deaths.

As horrific as those numbers are, an article published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association says they are far too low. Dr. Steven Woolf, the author of the study, says that “for every two Americans that we know of who are dying of Covid–10, another American is dying.” Woolf looked at what are called “excess deaths” from March through July, that is, the increase over the average number of deaths expected in those months. He found 225,530 excess deaths. Sixty-seven percent of those deaths are linked directly to Covid–19, but the remaining 33% are unexplained, suggesting this unusual spike is related to the pandemic.

Erika Edwards of NBC News highlighted this study today, along with another in the same issue of the JAMA that compares U.S. death rates to those of other wealthy countries. The U.S. ranked poorly. According to the article, our Covid–19 mortality rate is 60.3 per 100,000 people. Canada’s rate is 24.6 per 100,000, and Australia’s was 3.3 deaths per 100,000. If we had had the same rate as Canada, we would have lost 117,000 fewer people, and 188,000 Americans would have been saved if we had the same death rate as Australia.

And here are some more observations on how things are going for the Trump campaign and the Barrett SCOTUS Senate hearings, also from Heather Cox Richardson for October 14.

First of all, the Trump campaign is in trouble. Polls show the president down by significant numbers, and the voters he has been trying to suppress are turning out in droves. Today Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, issued a statement saying he “cannot support Donald Trump for President,” and the Biden campaign announced that it raised an eye-popping $383 million in September alone, a historic record which comes on top of the historic record of $364.5 million it set in August. This means Biden has $432 million on hand for the last month of the election. …

Second, … [not going well is] the third and final day of Amy Coney Barrett’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in her hearing for confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. The hearings have not been going particularly well for the Republicans. They have the votes to confirm her, and confirm her they will, but her insistence that she is an “originalist,” along with her refusal to answer any questions on topics relevant to the present, including on racial prejudice, climate change, voter suppression, and so on, have made her extremism clear.

Nevertheless, “Republicans are determined to force her appointment through, even though it threatens to delegitimize the Supreme Court.”

To what end?

As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, illustrated in careful detail at the Barrett hearings yesterday, it is no accident that Barrett’s nomination has the support of secret dark money donors. She will be the key vote to having a solid pro-corporate Supreme Court.

In 2014, New York Times journalist Linda Greenhouse wrote that it is “impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Republican-appointed majority is committed to harnessing the Supreme Court to an ideological agenda.”

That ideological agenda has profound implications for our society as we know it, beginning with the Affordable Care Act, which the court is slated to take up on November 10, just a week after the election. But it is not just our healthcare that is at stake. At risk is the whole infrastructure of laws protecting our civil rights, as well as our democracy.

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