April 4, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Grassley demands 'explanation' for firing of intel community watchdog (ANDREW DESIDERIO, 04/04/2020, Politico)

President Donald Trump's firing of the intelligence community's top watchdog "demands an explanation," Sen. Chuck Grassley said on Saturday.

He's doing what you told him to do.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


How America's decimated pandemic response capabilities led to one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world (Sonam Sheth, 4/04/20, Business Insider)

In 2018, the newly minted Trump administration was intent on distinguishing itself from its predecessor by trimming bureaucracy and what Trump characterized as "waste, fraud, and abuse" across the government. But some of the agencies that took the biggest hit were those tasked with responding to public health crises. 

In May of that year, the National Security Council's pandemic response team was disbanded amid a reorganization of the NSC under then-national security adviser John Bolton. One month earlier, Bolton forced out Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser who had called for a robust strategy against pandemics and bioweapons attacks.

Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, who would have overseen the US's response to the coronavirus pandemic in his previous role as head of the pandemic response team, also abruptly left the Trump administration after the unit was disbanded. The group, called the Global Health Security and Biodefense unit, was created under the Obama administration in 2015 following the Ebola outbreak.

The Trump administration also eliminated the US government's $30 million Complex Crises Fund, which consisted of emergency response money that the secretary of state could use to deploy disease experts and others in a crisis.

More recently, it ended a pandemic research program aimed at training scientists in China and other countries to detect and prepare for a threat like the coronavirus, the Los Angeles Times reported. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the initiative, called PREDICT, in 2009; it worked with 60 different foreign laboratories, including the lab in Wuhan that identified the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The program shut down in September when it ran out of funding -- about two months before the novel coronavirus began surging through China.

The administration has continued targeting the nation's health and science agencies for budget reductions, even in the face of a rapidly escalating pandemic. According to the 2021 fiscal year budget proposal the White House sent to Congress in February, the administration has requested an almost 10% cut to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a 16% cut to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  [...]

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the Trump administration allowed a contract with a company maintaining the government's stockpile of emergency, life-saving medical devices to expire last summer. A contract dispute meant a new firm didn't begin its work until late January, when the US coronavirus outbreak was well underway.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Telehealth visits are booming as doctors and patients embrace distancing amid the coronavirus crisis (Bertha Coombs, 4/04/20, CNBC)

The adoption of telemedicine shifted into hyper-drive over the past month, with virtual health-care interactions on pace to top 1 billion by year's end, according to analysts at Forrester Research. That would represent a massive expansion from telemedicine usage before the coronavirus pandemic.

"There were three barriers that impacted the lack of adoption, or the slowness of adoption, before the pandemic hit. We saw cost ... availability ... and then we also saw relationships playing a factor," said Forrester analyst Arielle Trzcinski. "If a patient was able to see their existing provider, they were much more likely to use the service."

Those barriers collapsed dramatically last month after President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency after the COVID-19 outbreak hit the U.S. The administration also strongly urged doctors and patients to avoid in-person visits and instead use telehealth visits to help prevent the spread of the virus.

"President Trump talking about the benefits of virtual care, I think, helped reduce one of those barriers that we found in our research of awareness," said Trzcinksi.

One of the understandable obstacles to telehealtth has been fear of fraud by practitioners, but it's hard to believe the savings wouldn't be greater.  It should not just be permitted but required/incentivized.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Inerrant or Oblique?: a review of A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths by John Barton (Robert Alter, Spring 2020, Jewish Review of Books)

 In explaining that the original Hebrew text of the Bible is entirely consonantal (as, of course, is typical modern Hebrew prose, from newspapers to novels), he helpfully remarks that "there is no more difficulty in reading a purely consonantal text than there would be in understanding an English sentence such as 'Hbrw wrtng ds nt hv vwls,' especially when (as here) the context helps us to decipher it."

However, the picture of the Bible that emerges from Barton's scrupulous account may be disquieting to many believers. We think of the Bible as a "book"--as in the proverbial phrase, "the Good Book"--when, in fact, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are what we would now call anthologies, though the two are radically different in nature. The Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, brings together works composed over perhaps seven centuries, nine centuries if one includes the oldest pieces of poetry such as the Song of Deborah. The New Testament, also the product of different writers, was, by contrast, composed over roughly just seven decades. The two anthologies further differ in purpose, character, and intended audience. As Barton incisively puts it, "The Old Testament is the literature of a nation, written over some centuries, and having a certain official character. The New Testament is the literature of a small sect, distributed over the eastern Mediterranean world, and in its origins unofficial, even experimental writing."

This brief formulation handily dismisses supersession, the idea that virtually everything in the Old Testament is a prefiguration of what is grandly fulfilled in the New Testament. The notion has long dominated Christian readings of Hebrew scripture but is now almost universally rejected by scholars, whatever their confessional background. Barton is forthright on this issue. The early Christians, following what they believed Jesus had taught,

proceeded to read the Old Testament as though it already taught these new ideas, and in the process they distorted its natural meaning, because they wanted the two Testaments to hang together as a seamless whole, despite the fact that they tell significantly different stories, and for Christians the New Testament story always trumped the Old one. This was worked out in practice by a creative rereading of the Old Testament as though it spoke in the New Testament's voice.

In this tradition, for example, Second Isaiah's vision of national redemption in imminently unfolding history becomes in the splendid music of Handel's Messiah a rousing evocation of the coming of Christ, something the anonymous Israelite prophet of the Babylonian exile by no means had in mind.

Beyond this disparate character of the two Testaments, one must also say that the texts of both anthologies are, in rather different ways, a mess, a consideration that is bound to be discomfiting to those who seek to regard the Bible as the always reliable source of truth. Barton neatly illustrates the problem by showing how, in Exodus 24, Moses ascends the mountain with Aaron and his sons and the 70 elders--or is it with Joshua while these others stay behind, or does he go up alone? These three accounts from three juxtaposed sources cannot be reconciled. Barton concludes that whoever put them together was not concerned with reconciliation. Rather,

he wanted to ensure that no piece of tradition got lost. He was not writing a coherent story of Moses, like a modern biographer, but collecting pieces of Moses's tradition and working them together to keep them safe. This means that he did not see the finished text as a consistent work, as we do with novels or with historical accounts, but as something more like an archive.

Deliberate inconsistency--the biblical text as an archive--takes us quite far from prevailing conceptions in our general culture and in the Jewish and Christian traditions of what the Bible is. One may add that, beyond this sort of inconsistency, which is especially visible in the first four books of the Torah, there is another kind of contradiction when material is inserted by a later editor, as in the case of the David story, in an effort to pull a resistant inherited narrative into the editor's ideological line. To be sure, some splicing of sources is actually quite purposeful, but the frequent incoherence of the biblical text is undeniable.

The New Testament has its own textual problems, which are somewhat different from those of its Hebrew predecessor. The stylistic and theological gap between John's gospel and the three synoptic gospels has often been observed, but there are many differences and even contradictions among the synoptics as well. The text of the Hebrew Bible was well established by the late years of the pre-Christian era. Barton cites as evidence the Dead Sea Scrolls, which, despite numerous divergences in their biblical texts from the Bible we know, are nevertheless fundamentally the same as what was adopted as the received text. The gospels, on the other hand, are based on varying oral accounts of the life of Jesus passed on during the decades following his death, and their stability as written formulations in different manuscript groups is itself open to question. The Pauline epistles are not much better off. Barton states the issue baldly: "[T]here is not, and can never be, a text of 'the New Testament' as it left the hands of Paul, Luke, or John: we have only variants." In any case, these sundry reports in the gospels give us only a rough idea of the actual words Jesus spoke, if indeed he spoke them, and those, of course, would have been in Aramaic, not in Koine Greek.

All this is bound to confront believers with perplexities, but they are not insuperable. I was recently interviewed by an American evangelical, and, in the course of our conversation, he wanted to know whether English versions of the Bible conveyed the real meaning of its words. I told him that I had made a consistent effort to do that in my own translation but that, unfortunately, it was sometimes impossible to know the meaning with any confidence. There are words that appear only once in the Bible, the meaning of which can merely be guessed based on context or flights of etymological fancy.

Then, there are many places where the text has been scrambled in transmission, and whatever may have been the original is simply not retrievable. "You may believe," I explained to him, "that all of the Bible is inspired by God, but even inspired words have to be copied by scribes passing on their texts to subsequent generations of scribes, and because they are, after all, human, they are prone to error, skipping words or phrases or inadvertently repeating them, replacing unfamiliar terms with familiar ones that don't belong, and, in a variety of related ways, turning an originally coherent text into something incomprehensible." In translating the Hebrew Bible, at a few points that read as gibberish in the original and where no emendation seemed viable, I deliberately reproduced the gibberish in English, explaining in a note that we will never be able to recover whatever had been there to begin with. My evangelical interviewer seemed to understand this, or at least was willing to consider it, which gives me some hope for Barton's attempt to make the inevitability of historical and textual scholarship clear to readers seeking to guide their spiritual lives by the Bible.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Remembering Kryzystof Penderecki 1933-2020 (James Martin, 4/04/20, The Quietus)

When Penderecki finally completed his De natura sonoris trilogy in 2012, it was hard not to feel that "the nature of sounds" was now an historical fable, rather than an achievable insight. Even a sophisticated response to natural law started to look like a Yuan dynasty painting of trees laid out to mirror the Confucian order of society. A spiritual allegory long swallowed up by the materialism of the present. No one wanted it on their living room wall.

So Penderecki bent (rather than broke) his avant-gardism, to escape redundancy in a world that was substituting the dialectic opposition of economic systems for the pragmatics of perestroika. His principles were not abandoned in his later music, but rather 'phased out' to produce a streamlined modernism, one which accounted more for the resistance musical innovators encounter from financially stretched orchestras and artistic institutions than for bourgeois taste as a universal maxim. If his music was to attain popular appeal among audiences who shrank from the New Sound, he needed to express it in more traditional means. 

...no one will listen.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


USS Theodore Roosevelt Commanding Officer Followed the Example of Colonel Roosevelt (Commander Ward Carroll, U.S. Navy (Retired), April 2020,  Proceedings)

In an interesting twist of history, the aircraft carrier's namesake was involved in a similar situation. During the summer of 1898, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. Army, was leading the famed "Rough Riders" in Cuba. The Rough Riders were part of the Army's Fifth Corps garrisoned near Santiago de Cuba. At the time, more than 4,000 of the Fifth Corps' 4,270 soldiers were sick with malaria and yellow fever. Many were on the verge of dying. The eight divisional commanders, including Roosevelt, were convinced that if they remained in Cuba Fifth Corps would be wiped out.

The divisional commanders met with Major General William R. Shafter, Fifth Corps Commander, and requested that Fifth Corps immediately redeploy to the United States. While it is unclear how Shafter responded to the request, he was certainly aware that President McKinley wanted to maintain a military presence in Cuba until the United States was able to finish peace negotiations with Spain. Whatever his reaction, the divisional commanders left the meeting compelled to put their request in writing.

The writing allegedly fell to Colonel Roosevelt, as he was the lowest ranking officer among them and the only volunteer, which meant he had the least to lose, career-wise, in the event the chain of command was to react negatively to the letter. As documented in Roosevelt's book The Rough Riders, published in 1899, the letter, known as the Round-Robin letter and signed by all of them, reads as follows:

MAJOR-GENERAL SHAFTER.   SIR: In a meeting of the general and medical officers called by you at the Palace this morning we were all, as you know, unanimous in our views of what should be done with the army. To keep us here, in the opinion of every officer commanding a division or a brigade, will simply involve the destruction of thousands. There is no possible reason for not shipping practically the entire command North at once. Yellow-fever cases are very few in the cavalry division, where I command one of the two brigades, and not one true case of yellow fever has occurred in this division, except among the men sent to the hospital at Siboney, where they have, I believe, contracted it. But in this division there have been 1,500 cases of malarial fever. Hardly a man has yet died from it, but the whole command is so weakened and shattered as to be ripe for dying like rotten sheep, when a real yellow-fever epidemic instead of a fake epidemic, like the present one, strikes us, as it is bound to do if we stay here at the height of the sickness season, August and the beginning of September. Quarantine against malarial fever is much like quarantining against the toothache.   All of us are certain that as soon as the authorities at Washington fully appreciate the condition of the army, we shall be sent home. If we are kept here it will in all human possibility mean an appalling disaster, for the surgeons here estimate that over half the army, if kept here during the sickly season, will die. This is not only terrible from the stand-point of the individual lives lost, but it means ruin from the stand-point of military efficiency of the flower of the American army, for the great bulk of the regulars are here with you. The sick list, large though it is, exceeding four thousand, affords but a faint index of the debilitation of the army. Not twenty per cent. are fit for active work.   Six weeks on the North Maine coast, for instance, or elsewhere where the yellow-fever germ cannot possibly propagate, would make us all as fit as fighting-cocks, as able as we are eager to take a leading part in the great campaign against Havana in the fall, even if we are not allowed to try Porto Rico.   We can be moved North, if moved at once, with absolute safety to the country, although, of course, it would have been infinitely better if we had been moved North or to Porto Rico two weeks ago. If there were any object in keeping us here, we would face yellow fever with as much indifference as we faced bullets. But there is no object.   The four immune regiments ordered here are sufficient to garrison the city and surrounding towns, and there is absolutely nothing for us to do here, and there has not been since the city surrendered. It is impossible to move into the interior. Every shifting of camp doubles the sick-rate in our present weakened condition, and, anyhow, the interior is rather worse than the coast, as I have found by actual reconnoissance. Our present camps are as healthy as any camps at this end of the island can be.   I write only because I cannot see our men, who have fought so bravely and who have endured extreme hardship and danger so uncomplainingly, go to destruction without striving so far as lies in me to avert a doom as fearful as it is unnecessary and undeserved. Yours respectfully,THEODORE ROOSEVELT, Colonel Commanding Second Cavalry Brigade.

Roosevelt delivered the letter to Shafter, but, presumably not convinced the corps commander would act on it in a timely fashion, also allegedly handed a copy of it to the Associated Press correspondent who was covering the Cuba beat. That correspondent quickly cabled the letter to AP headquarters and it published nationwide the same day.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


How Samuel Pepys really dealt with the plague: Pepys wrestled with some of the same questions confronting us today, but approached daily life in a pandemic rather differently (John Phipps / April 2, 2020, The Prospect)

Pepys's plague came in 1665, a descendant of the Black Death, now known as the "great plague of London." It was the last great British plague epidemic, lasting for over 18 months and killing an estimated 100,000 people. That number feels real again today, as we are warned to expect deaths numbering 20,000 or more.

In September of that year the plague was at its peak. It tore through the country killing more than 5,000 people each week in London alone. But Pepys was thriving like never before. Removed to the safety of the countryside, he was busier than ever: a tailor's son, elevated by a mixture of chance and merit, well on his way to becoming a dignified man of state.

His entry for the 14th of that month shows him caught between moods, weighing personal security and wellbeing against the death that was all around. He had travelled into the city that day, racked with an all-too-recognisable anxiety:

I did endeavour all I could to talk with as few as I could, there being now no observation of shutting up of houses infected, that to be sure we do converse and meet with people that have the plague. 

In London he settled his business with great success, securing his goods and advancing his career again. The day, he wrote, gave him "matter for as much content on one hand and melancholy on another" as any day in his life. In a bravura passage, he went on to describe the effects of the plague in the city. He had seen corpses carried close by him on their way to be buried; he discovered that someone had been dying of the plague at an inn when he was there.

To hear that poor Payne, my waiter, hath buried a child, and is dying himself. To hear that a labourer I sent but the other day to Dagenhams to know how they did there, is dead of the plague; and that one of my own watermen, that carried me daily, fell sick as soon as he had landed me on friday morning past, when I had been all night upon the water [...] and is now dead of the plague.

Here we can see Pepys wrestling with the way epidemics invert our normal intuitions about the opposition between public and private concern. Each victim is to be pitied, but each is also a potential threat. The closer someone is, the more dangerous they become. This can be awkward: before he fled to the countryside, Pepys had found himself among people so anxious about the disease that he had to lie about where he lived. Conversely, many of us are now wrestling with the counter-intuitive notion that the most public-spirited thing to do may be simply looking after ourselves.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


The political lessons of the 1918 pandemic (David Faris, April 4, 2020, The Week)

[P]resident Trump's decision to take counsel from crackpot law professors and his useless son-in-law instead of public health professionals means that many states are only now taking the steps necessary to contain the spread of this awful virus. Despite the brief polling sugar high from a rally-around-the-flag effect, the president and his obeisant red state governors own the response to this crisis. With unemployment headed to levels not seen even in the 1930s, as many as 200,000 Americans condemned to die agonizing deaths in hospital isolation wards and millions trapped in houses away from friends, family, and any source of joy, there will likely be a reckoning in November.

How significant the ruling party's punishment will be depends on a number of factors. Political scientist Alan Abramowitz's "Time For Change" model of post-WWII presidential elections featuring an incumbent shows that two factors -- second quarter economic growth, and the president's net approval rating in June -- are decisive in the incumbent party's fortunes.

Let's say, for example, that President Trump's approval rating eventually floats back down to the net -7.7 mark where it was on Super Tuesday, what we might now think of as the last normal day any of us will experience for months. Let's also say that second quarter economic growth comes in at -5 percent, which is significantly less dire than what economists now think is likely. What currently looks like a best-case scenario in these variables for Trump would yield something in the range of a 388-150 Electoral College landslide for the Democratic nominee in November, according to Abramowitz.

However, these models simply cannot account for the Black Swan nature of this crisis, or whether President Trump's base will ever acknowledge his administration's role in leaving America defenseless to the ravages of COVID-19. It is certainly possible that he will successfully emit some kind of blame miasma at other targets -- Democrats for impeaching him, governors like Andrew Cuomo for not acting quickly enough, Congress for failing to pass a sufficient relief package, the Obama administration for whatever he can -- and get away with it. But that strategy seems likely to run into limitations given the likely scale of human and economic suffering that is in store for this country.

To get a better sense of what awaits the GOP in November, we might also look at how natural disasters effect parties-in-power around the world. Here, the data is mixed. Some studies have shown little effect. And sometimes, as with Hurricane Sandy just before the 2012 election, incumbents seem to benefit. A 2011 paper presented at the International Studies Association conference by Constantine Boussalis, Travis Coan, and Parina Patel looked at the effects of natural disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes on subsequent elections between 1980 and 2007. They found that incumbent parties and leaders are most likely to be punished by voters if a) the state lacks the capacity or wherewithal to respond appropriately and b) enough time -- but not too much time! -- has passed for voters to assign blame to the incumbents.

The United States, the richest and most powerful country in the world, certainly possesses the wherewithal to respond capably to this disaster. But thus far the federal government has failed comprehensively to prevent the spread of the virus, to provide the needed testing, to distribute the necessary protective equipment for health care workers, and to put the kind of cash in people's pockets needed to avoid large-scale economic displacement. It is hard to identify any feature of this crisis that has been competently managed by these White House ineptocrats. [...]

The 1920 election therefore features the convergence of all three variables -- a sharp economic downturn in the second quarter of the election year plus an unpopular incumbent president who presided over the application of difficult and painful measures to fight off an exogenous shock in the form of a flu pandemic. Really, there is absolutely nothing remotely as similar to this year as the 1920 election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Trump fires watchdog who handled Ukraine whistleblower complaint (MARY CLARE JALONICK, 4/04/20, AP)

US President Donald Trump has fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community who handled the whistleblower complaint that triggered Trump's impeachment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories an odious symptom of France's virus crisis (CNAAN LIPHSHIZ, 4/04/20, Times of Israel)

"It's deeply saddening and it's revolting, but the coronavirus pandemic is a reminder that Jews will be blamed whenever there's an epidemic, be it today or 1347," said Marc Knobel, a historian who since 2002 has been the head of studies at the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities.

In recent weeks, a caricature of Agnes Buzyn, France's previous health minister who was Jewish, pouring poison into a well -- a depiction of one of the most prevalent theories that led to pogroms during the Black Death plague -- has made the rounds on French social media. It's been shared tens of thousands of times.

Another viral image superimposes Buzyn's face on the "happy merchant" anti-Semitic caricature, which shows a grinning Jewish man rubbing his palms together.

Then there's a widely shared video accusing Buzyn and her husband, Yves Levy, also Jewish, of withholding chloroquine -- an anti-malarial drug being touted as a possible coronavirus antidote by some, including US President Donald Trump, but whose effectivity against the coronavirus is unproven -- from the French public for financial gain. It garnered 170,000 views on YouTube before being deleted.

Ooops, nevermind

April 3, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Top Georgia Republican says mail-in ballots would be 'devastating to Republicans' (GEOFF EARLE, 4/03/20, DAILYMAIL.COM)

The top Republican in the Georgia state House says emergency efforts to send a mail-in ballot to every state voter could cost Republicans control of the state legislature.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston issued the warning as he complained about plans by Secretar of State Brad Raffensperger 'to ensure all Georgians can vote without fear for their health.'

'So, here, you know, the process keeps going up and up and up and so a multitude of reasons why vote by mail in my view is not acceptable," Ralston said, referencing recent comments by Donald Trump. 'The president said it best, this will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia,' he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


The impossible for capitalism is suddenly possible (SEBASTIAN BUCK, 4/03/20, Fast Company)

In the last few years, the political science concept of the Overton Window--the range of ideas seen as politically acceptable--entered the zeitgeist. Both the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are seen as having stretched the Overton Window, bringing ideas into the mainstream that had previously been radical.

Just a few weeks ago, it was radical to think of luxury goods production lines being reoriented to make products of collective necessity or CEOs committing their entire attention to a public health crisis. It would have been radical to think of fine dining restaurants pivoting to serve the food insecure. It would have been radical to think of grounded flights and 50% less pollution in one month. It would have been radical to think of not prioritizing annual growth, year after year after year.

It would have been radical to think of a major company ever saying this, as clothing company Arc'teryx just did: "Pull the emergency handbrake on business as usual and, individually and collectively, accept the choice of hitting one of two buttons: the panic or the pause. Let's embrace the pause."

Now, all of those things have happened in the space of a few days. What was radical is now the norm-- not just accepted, but so strongly required (legally and morally) that companies would be vilified if they did not take these steps.
The idea that companies, markets, the capitalist system could ever stop, change course, and focus on what matters seemed absurd just a few weeks ago. The question for business becomes: What's possible for companies today that was impossible, and what's impossible today that was once possible?

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Russia detains activist doctor trying to help hospital amid virus (DARIA LITVINOVA, 4/03/20,  AP) 

An activist doctor who had criticized Russia's response to the coronavirus outbreak was forcibly detained as she and some of her colleagues tried to deliver protective gear to a hospital in need.

Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva of the Alliance of Doctors union was trying to bring more than 500 masks, sanitizers, hazmat suits, gloves and protective glasses to a hospital in the Novgorod region about 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) northwest of Moscow on Thursday when she and the others were stopped by police on a highway.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Brazil health minister has big job, difficult boss (Jordi MIRO, April 3, 2020, AFP) 

As if leading his country's fight against coronavirus wasn't hard enough, Brazil's health minister has to deal with a boss, President Jair Bolsonaro, who criticizes, undermines and ignores him.

But Luiz Henrique Mandetta takes the far-right leader's snubs in his stride: "I'm working here," he says.

Tension has been brewing for weeks between the president known as the "Trump of the Tropics," who downplays COVID-19 as a "little flu," and the pediatric orthopedist tasked with making sure Brazil's health system doesn't collapse because of it.

The strain burst into the open this week, when Bolsonaro lashed out publicly at Mandetta, a professorial veteran of the public health system who has reacted to the pandemic with urgency and science.

Those are two things notably lacking in the response from the president, who has criticized coronavirus "hysteria" and said Brazilians' immune systems are so strong they can swim in raw sewage and "don't catch a thing."

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


The Trump administration stopped funding a pandemic warning program just a few months before the novel coronavirus outbreak (Kayla Epstein, 4/03/20, Business Insider)
Just months before the novel coronavirus outbreak began, the Trump administration cut funding to a program that helped train scientists to detect and monitor over 1,200 viruses that had the potential to explode into pandemics, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

The program, known as PREDICT, partnered with 60 foreign laboratories, including the lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan that first identified the novel coronavirus, according to the L.A. Times. But funding for the $200 million program ran out in September 2019, and dozens of scientists and analysists were laid off.

The project's fate worried many public health experts, according to an October 2019 report in the New York Times.

The project was founded in 2009 by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of its Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) program.

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


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Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


AP-NORC poll: Less than half back Trump's pandemic response (JULIE PACE, HANNAH FINGERHUT and WILL WEISSERT, April 1, 2020, AP)

Forty-four percent of Americans support Trump's oversight of the pandemic, in line with his overall 43% approval rating. That's at the high end for the Republican president during his more than three years in office.

Given the low point at which he topped out at even while we all rallied 'round the flag, his low is likely closer to the 20% that oppose immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


The collapse of the US fracking industry, in seven charts (Tim McDonnell, 4/03/20, quartz)

[C]oronavirus and all the associated travel restrictions and social distancing will cause demand for oil to plummet by at least 20 percent this year, according to the International Energy Agency. Yet global producers, particularly Saudi-led OPEC and Russia, still haven't been able to agree on a plan to slow production.   

That's a big problem for fracking companies, almost all of whom require oil prices of at least $30, if not much higher, to turn a profit. Many are also under a lot of debt: The industry as a whole will see $133 billion in debt come due between now and 2026, according to analytics firm Rystad Energy. Meanwhile, the glut in production has been so extreme that the world is quickly running out of places to keep it all, which could drive prices down even further. 

At current prices, not one of the 100 largest fracking operations in the country can turn a profit.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 AM


Bill Withers death: Ain't No Sunshine singer dies aged 81 (Roisin O'Connor, 4/03/20, Independent)

"A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other.

"As private a life as he lived close to intimate family and friends, his music forever belongs to the world. In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones."

Withers' song "Lean On Me" had become a source of comfort for many during the coronavirus pandemic, with care workers, nurses, doctors and fellow artists sharing their own renditions online.

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Trump is meeting with oil company CEOs to raise gas prices he just celebrated as a 'massive tax cut' (Peter Weber, 4/03/20, The Week)

On Tuesday, Trump told the White House press corps that he'll join Russia and the Saudis "at the appropriate time if need be" to work on helping end their price war, explaining, "it's hurtful to one of our biggest industries, the oil industry." In mid-March, meanwhile, Trump said he "would have dreamed about" oil prices this low, adding: "With gasoline prices coming down, that's like a tax cut. Frankly, that's like a big tax cut, not a little tax cut, for the consumer." 

He was hired to save Putin, after all.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


The Trump Virus Is Getting Worse: As COVID-19 gets worse, so does the president. (RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON  APRIL 3, 2020, The Bulwark)

For Trump, America's craving for hope as deaths proliferate bespeaks, instead, its mass adoration for an incurable narcissist who proposes to affix his own signature to the stimulus checks so many desperately need.

So swiftly does his daily deluge of falsehoods, contradictions, and self-exculpation swell that the New York Times sorts them into categories: "Playing down the severity of the pandemic"; "Overstating potential treatments and policies"; "Blaming others"; and "Rewriting history."

Reality vanishes. When a Democratic Super-PAC ran a videotape of Trump's most egregious misstatements, his campaign threatened to sue.

One pronouncement consumes the next: Democrats are overhyping the danger because "this is their new hoax." He may quarantine New York and Connecticut. If you want a test, you can get a test. COVID-19 is just like the "flu."

And all of this as we pay in fatalities for his original sins: ignoring warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies about the outbreak, and failing to prepare the tests and stockpiles needed to combat the virus.

Yet he learns so little. Until Sunday, he meant to celebrate Easter by relaxing social distancing - which, public health experts estimated, would cost between 1.6 and 2.2 million lives. That any imbecile would have known better only intensified the relief when, at last, Trump heeded Drs. Fauci and Birx - and the warnings of campaign advisors that the dead would doom his re-election. By this point, Dr. Birx explained, if Americans at large observe social distancing "perfectly," we may confine our fatalities somewhat in the range of an appalling 100,000 to 200,000 lives.

Another president would have taken his own harrowing history of sustained and fatal misjudgements as a mandate for self-reflection. Trump called into Fox & Friends to congratulate himself...

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


The Rise of Sexless Moralism? (Titus Techera, 3/29/20, University Bookman)

America is now all about the one, not the two, so the most massive corporations lack competition. Marvel, too, is conforming to the rest of Disney and turning to magical fantasy stories, shedding any interest in science fiction. And now our new technology companies have also become entertainment companies, collapsing yet another distinction that must be collapsed in order to achieve oneness, or identity, the highest dream of democracy.

Disney and Amazon are therefore likely to ruin Netflix and drive Warner Bros. (owned by AT&T) into irrelevance. They are far wealthier and more connected to the American home. Meanwhile, Netflix's own attempts at family stories, Stranger Things and Lost in Space, don't seem to have much of a future or any relevance, though the former was much applauded for a few years.

Family values ultimately win in American entertainment, for the most part, and it's worth wondering what shape this entertainment will have. This makes The Mandalorian, a very banal show, quite important. It is a revelation of what is coming in the near future. What we can see already is that characters will be simplistic to the point of caricature, plots will be simple and almost entirely bereft of imagination, and dialogue will be spare and sparse.

The show's success is owed to this lack of complexity more than to anything else--we know immediately who the good guys are and who the bad guys are and in each episode the good guys win. The faceless hero and the cute animal prevail every time and never pay a price for their victory. We win along with them, as does morality. Every week, we can enjoy a bit more certainty about the inevitable victory of good over evil.

Until recently, self-styled sophisticates were telling us that TV has finally become sophisticated, even more so than the movies. Anti-heroes of various kinds dominated TV until recently, so more and more money, talent, and prestige was poured into this form of entertainment. But of course, even anti-heroes depend on exclusivity for their allure, on glamour of a kind TV used to be able to bestow--and so flooding the market cheapens everything.

That short age of seemingly sophisticated storytelling dominating entertainment, epitomized by Game of Thrones, now looks like an accident, a matter of luck. Star Wars above all shows that moral simplicity and bad plots are what the largest audiences pay most for, and since the Internet democratized TV, there is no talking back to success--there are no more oligarchic gatekeepers or success makers who might control what audiences see.

TV was hot precisely because movies had been engineered for global appeal.  Now that popular tv shows are seen globally, they Are just following the same path.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Jared Kushner -- who is operating a 'shadow' coronavirus task force -- appears not to know why federal emergency stockpiles exist (Tom Porter, 4/03/20, Business Insider)

When asked about his work with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure states can obtain vital equipment, he said that state officials should not assume that federal stockpiles of equipment are for state use.

"You also have a situation where in some states, FEMA allocated ventilators to the states and you have instances where in cities they're running out, but the state still has a stockpile and the notion of the federal stockpile was, it's supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use," Kushner said. [...]

Kushner's remarks seem to contradict the purpose of the Strategic National Stockpile, which is operated by HHS. According to its website, the stockpile is "the nation's largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out."

"When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency," the website said.

Some critics were baffled at the line Kushner seemed to draw between equipment for federal use, and state use. 

"Dear Jared Kushner of the @realDonaldTrump Administration: We are the UNITED STATES of America. The federal stockpile is reserved for all Americans living in our states, not just federal employees. Get it?" tweeted Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat. 

Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, took issue with Kushner's use of the word "our." 

"Shocking. His use of the word, "our" , is so wrong. Mr. Kushner and the federal government work for US, citizens of the United States, who also happen to live in states. These masks in the stockpile are OUR masks, paid for by OUR money," he tweeted. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


A Tale of Two Nations? Populism, Plutocrats, and the Managerial State : Michael Lind's The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite (WILLIAM HAY, 4/02/20, Public Discourse)

Quoting James Burnham's adage that "only power restrains power," Lind frames present discontents around the tensions that first arose in America in the late nineteenth century out of industrial capitalism. By that time, large enterprises, run by salaried managers rather than owner-operators, had come to dominate manufacturing and related sectors. While Lind does not cite the book, Alfred Chandler's The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business makes a similar point, tracing a story about changes that reached beyond the economy. Industry may have generated work and wealth, along with a wider range of consumer products, but it also concentrated power. In the twentieth century, class conflict, exacerbated by the pressures of two World Wars, divided societies until a settlement rebalanced the equation.

The economic part of the settlement that Lind describes involved "a state-brokered system of bargaining over wages and working conditions, among employers or employer associations and independent trade unions, compatible with representative democracy." Mass-membership parties, with accountability up and down their structures, filled an equivalent political role. American Progressives, Lind notes, held politicians in contempt, while idealizing purportedly nonpartisan civil servants, "who would apply expertise in social science to the making of policy in the public interest." They accordingly treated the public as subjects to be administered rather than as citizens who governed themselves. Politicians, who could not ignore constituents without losing office or the support that gave them influence, put a check on both oligarchs and the administrative state.

Lind also discusses how religious and civic groups, whose leadership came from the communities they served, gave their members a voice in culture and education. The Catholic Legion of Decency imposed a check on Hollywood by rating films; local Protestant groups imposed community standards on schools and libraries. They restrained both mass media that rewarded "sensationalism, obscenity, and violence" to turn a profit, and elites that imposed their own preferences or intellectual fads. Far from seeing these efforts as censorship or small-mindedness, Lind sees them as democratic participation that gave individuals and families more power--more than merely the choice to reject offensive material.

The settlement was dismantled in the later twentieth century by what Lind calls a neoliberal revolution from above. Deregulation removed constraints on business that had benefited workers. The offshoring of production and immigrants' entry into domestic labor pools weakened native workers' position. On matters beyond economics, judicial review "usurped much of the former authority of legislatures," thus curtailing voters' power to check the government through elected representatives. Neoliberals were able to push aggressively a "counter-majoritarian, rights-based liberalism" that became antidemocratic. Elites withdrew from cross-class membership organizations and associated instead with nonprofits, which were themselves staffed by university graduates and funded by wealthy donors. These nonprofits in turn sought no longer to cooperate with a cross-section of fellow citizens, but rather to do things for or to them. The people did not respond with humble gratitude.

Neoliberal elites, Lind argues, pushed their pro-market economic policies and anti-traditionalist social policies against the wishes of the working class. The latter sought, not a more open society, but "a combination of economic and cultural protection" against the changes that had disrupted their lives.

There's an insight here, just not the intended one.  the rise of the Labor movement was indeed an economic/cultural protection racket, engineered by and for white men.  It endured for awhile, largely because the rebuilt economy of the post-War period was so productive that it could withstand employment and salaries disconnected from market economics.  But the Civil Rights era required managers to bring blacks, women, etc. into the workforce too.  And, since unions had already secured job protections, the new employees were simply added to the old--they weren't displacing them--and with union contracts levering salaries ever higher we got the inevitable explosion of inflation.  Then Thatcher, Volcker, & Reagan intervened and accelerated the long decline of manufacturing employment that we're still in, even as we manufacture ever more.

But we are never going back to the world the Populists want, where white men worked in splendid isolation, while their wives tended the home, and minorities were largely unseen. Instead, the markets are coming for the insanely bloated managerial class with computers and robots serving as the new class of workers. the Pandemic should accelerate this process as employers realize just how little work most employees do.

The upside for Mr. Lind's white working class is that once unemployment/underemployment becomes a problem of the elites too, we will take the sorts of social welfare steps that will protect everyone: UBI, lifetime savings accounts, free college, etc.  And his subjects will be reintegrated into America instead of adhering to Nationalism.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Fauci endorses national stay-at-home order (QUINT FORGEY, 04/03/2020, pOLITICO)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggested Thursday that the federal government should impose a nationwide stay-at-home order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

Asked whether all states have to be "on the same page" in terms of issuing those directives, Fauci told CNN, "I don't understand why that's not happening," and acknowledged the Trump administration's hesitance to encroach upon local authorities.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Germany has a low coronavirus mortality rate: Here's why (Holly Ellyatt, 4/03/20, Deutsche Welle)

The low mortality rate in Germany, at just over 1%, is far below its neighboring European countries, and this has been put down to Germany's decision to implement widespread testing of people suspected of having the virus, as opposed to Italy or the U.K.'s decision to only test symptomatic cases.

Karl Lauterbach, a professor of health economics and epidemiology at the University of Cologne, and a politician in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Germany, told CNBC that Germany's less severe experience of the pandemic so far was down to a handful of factors.

"I think so far we've been lucky because we were hit by the wave of new infections later than many other European countries, for example Italy, Spain and France," he told CNBC Thursday.

"So we had a minor but important delay in the wave of infections coming to Germany. Secondly, the first people that got infected in Germany tended to be younger than the average of the population ... so we were hit later and with younger patients initially."

Lauterbach noted that a third factor that helped Germany was a slow increase in the number of infections, allowing those patients to be treated at the country's top medical institutions, including some of the country's best university hospitals (including those in Bonn, Dusseldorf, Aachen and Cologne) in the Heinsberg region where there was a cluster of infections at the start of the outbreak.

"Number four, all things considered, the German health-care system and hospital system has been modernized by the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats over the last 20 years ... this meant we had more hospital beds, more ventilators, more ICU (Intensive Care Units) beds and more hospital doctors, roughly speaking, than any other comparable country in Europe ... So our system is in a reasonable shape for such an epidemic."

While almost all European countries have introduced lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, fatality rates have differed wildly.

The mortality rate in Italy around the end of March stood at 11%, for example. Germany's rate is comparable with South Korea, a country that has also attracted plaudits for its management of the coronavirus crisis with extensive testing, contact tracing and digital surveillance of its citizens. Germany's lockdown, alongside a rigorous testing regime, has also helped, Lauterbach said.

They've also had a prolonged period of serious and competent leadership.

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