Live and Let Die: The Data Manipulation Begins

From the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, various entities in the United States were always engaged in the kind of dishonesty we accuse China of to hide the extent of the virus. Trump tried to keep a cruise ship off shore so it wouldn’t count against “his” numbers. States everywhere didn’t reveal the crises in nursing homes by hiding where they were occurring. Other states refused to track known COVID-19 deaths because they didn’t occur in a hospital.

But now that Trump has fully committed to reopening the economy before the shut down has its desired effect, he and allied governors are engaged in more aggressive data manipulation to hide the stupidity of what they’re doing.

Georgia had long manipulated its data, by rigging cut-off numbers to make it look like the only outbreaks were around Atlanta and in the Black Belt outbreak around Albany. But as Brian Kemp moved to reopen Georgia in the stupidest possible way, the state shifted its reporting to show confirmed cases.

That means it can always show a trend of declining cases that would match White House guidelines for reopening, rather than the plateau the state actually has, because the trend reflects known cases that aren’t counted yet.

Interestingly, Georgia may also be hiding the extent to which this virus has moved beyond predominantly African-American areas, thereby hiding that Kemp’s stupid decision is actually killing white people, too.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s Doug Ducey, who already lost the state’s experienced emergency manager, just ordered some  epidemiologists at the state’s public universities to stop work on a COVID model that used the states internal data, because their model showed the only way to avoid exponential growth would be to stay closed until the end of May.

The universities’ model had shown that reopening at the end of May was the only scenario that didn’t dramatically increase cases.

In late April, Tim Lant, a mathematical epidemiologist at ASU, said the model showed five different scenarios for how the disease could progress in Arizona, depending on how social distancing efforts were relaxed.

The slowest curve, based on if the state reopens at the end of May, is “the only one that doesn’t put me immediately back on an exponential growth curve,” Lant said in April. That’s because transmission rates would be lowest at that time, he said.

“I can say, scientifically, no, it’s not safe to reopen unless you’re planning on, you know, shutting down again after a couple of weeks, and we can help figure out what the appropriate amount of time is to stay open before we shut down,” he said.

Bailey wrote that health department leadership asked the team to “pause” all work on projections and modeling. The department would also be ending access to special data sets the modeling team had been using for their efforts, Bailey said.

Finally, yesterday the White House tweeted out the model that is has embraced in lieu of models by epidemiologists.

This release is an effort to rebut WaPo reporting on how this model — by the guy behind the Dow 36,000 book, Kevin Hassett — continues to be pulled out of Hassett’s ass whenever Trump needs to be told something he wants to hear.

The epidemiological models under review in the White House Situation Room in late March were bracing. In a best-case scenario, they showed the novel coronavirus was likely to kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans. President Trump was apprehensive about so much carnage on his watch, yet also impatient to reopen the economy — and he wanted data to justify doing so.

So the White House considered its own analysis. A small team led by Kevin Hassett — a former chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers with no background in infectious diseases — quietly built an econometric model to guide response operations.

Many White House aides interpreted the analysis as predicting that the daily death count would peak in mid-April before dropping off substantially, and that there would be far fewer fatalities than initially foreseen, according to six people briefed on it.

Although Hassett denied that he ever projected the number of dead, other senior administration officials said his presentations characterized the count as lower than commonly forecast — and that it was embraced inside the West Wing by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and other powerful aides helping to oversee the government’s pandemic response. It affirmed their own skepticism about the severity of the virus and bolstered their case to shift the focus to the economy, which they firmly believed would determine whether Trump wins a second term.

[snip]

By the end of April — with more Americans dying in the month than in all of the Vietnam War — it became clear that the Hassett model was too good to be true. “A catastrophic miss,” as a former senior administration official briefed on the data described it. The president’s course would not be changed, however. Trump and Kushner began to declare a great victory against the virus, while urging America to start reopening businesses and schools.

The effort to prove the value of the epidemiological models done by people who are considered frauds within their actual profession of economics comes as the CDC’s own model showing an increase to 3,000 deaths a day was leaked. And the Council of Economic Advisors released this line-drawing exercise comes as the US has blown by Hassett’s original estimate of 60,000, one also adopted publicly by Trump.

Understand: This is not just an attempt to lie about the sanity of the decision to reopen the economy even as COVID cases continue to grow. It’s an attempt to lie about the stupidity of the economic decisions Trump made, too.

While other countries have had more cases per population, that has happened with economic relief focused on actual human beings rather than cruise lines and luxury hotels. Here, much of Trump’s economic policies have been just another attempt to loot the economy for his friends and campaign donors. That has made the economic impact of all this in the United States worse than it is in other countries, and it will only continue to get worse.

Some places that reopen prematurely will be forced to shut down again. And as more people are out spreading the virus, more bottle necks in critical infrastructure will be exposed.

Trump has pursued the worst of all policy options. After his initial dawdling let the virus spread in some cities, he endorsed shutting down the economy in an attempt to mitigate the pandemic. That had a predictable catastrophic impact on the economy (and more unemployment numbers will be out today). But because Republicans refused to adopt policies that would actually cushion that crash, the impact was much worse than it might have been.

Now, after taking the full hit of shutting down, Republicans are insisting on reopening — bolstered by their fraudulent charts and graphs — before the shutdown has any lasting epidemiological value. We’ll have the medical impact of a herd immunity approach, with the economic impact of a badly executed mitigation strategy. The worst of both options.

And to pretend that this is not all knowable and known now, Trump has swapped briefings by medical experts for photo ops set to campaign music, to the apt Live and Let Die.

Update: Meanwhile, Florida just removed details of possible positive COVID cases in January and February from a public website.

After Years of Squealing about “FISA Abuse,” Trump’s DNI Nominee Won’t Rule Out Warrantless Wiretapping

As I noted earlier, in his confirmation hearing to be Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe made it crystal clear he will lie to protect Trump by stating that he believed Trump has always accurately conveyed the threat of COVID-19.

Ratcliffe made some other alarming comments. For example:

  • He repeatedly said that Russia had not changed any votes in 2016. The Intelligence Community did not review that issue and Ratcliffe has no basis to make that claim.
  • Ratcliffe also repeatedly refused to back SSCI’s unanimous conclusion that Russia intervened to help Trump.
  • He dodged when Warner asked him to promise to brief the committee even if Russia were trying to help Trump.
  • When asked whether he supported Inspectors General, Ratcliffe said that he supported Michael Horowitz when others attacked him but then suggested he disagreed with Horowitz’ “opinion,” making it clear he does not accept Horowitz’ conclusions that he found no evidence that bias affected the investigation into Trump’s flunkies.
  • Ratcliffe claimed he didn’t have enough information to address Michael Atkinson’s firing.
  • When Dianne Feinstein read his quotes about the Ukraine whistleblower to him, Ratcliffe pretended those quotes were about something they weren’t.
  • He might not provide intelligence on COVID-19 that showed how Trump blew it off.
  • He suggested that if only the IC had reviewed open source data, they might have warned of the dangers of COVID-19, which they did warn of using both OSINT and classified intelligence.
  • He refused to answer whether he thought there was a Deep State in the IC, and later suggested a few members of the IC were Deep State.
  • Ratcliffe refused to agree to release a report showing that Mohammed bin Salman had Jamal Khashoggi executed and chopped into bits, as required by last year’s Defense Authorization. He suggested that it might have been properly classified; as DNI, he would be the Original Classification Authority to make that decision.
  • He refused to answer clearly on whether Trump’s policies on North Korea and Iran have worked.
  • He later suggested he might not share intelligence if it were too sensitive, again ignoring that as OCA he gets to decide whether it’s really classified.
  • After saying he would appear for a Global Threats hearing, he then dodged when later asked whether he would appear before the committee generally.

Ratcliffe made several comments to make it clear he would side with expansive Unitary Executive interpretations holding that:

  • There are limits to whistleblower protection.
  • If torture were deemed legal it would okay to do it.
  • The executive can use warrantless wiretapping.

There were a few additional hints about stuff going on right now:

  • Mark Warner said that intelligence professionals have been pressured to limit information they share with Congress.
  • Warner also said that Ric Grenell was undermining the IC’s election security group.
  • Both Warner and Richard Burr seemed concerned that the DNI would not declassify their 1000-page Volume V of their Report on Russia’s 2016 election interference (I’m not sure whether this assess the Steele dossier or lays out whether and how Trump “colluded” during 2016).
  • Martin Heinrich made it clear that Grenell is reorganizing the IC, without any consultation or approval from Congress.

It’s not just unqualified, he’s a sycophant. But it seems like there’s so much that Grenell is already screwing up, Republicans on the committee, at least, prefer Ratcliffe.

Update: Here are Ratcliffe’s Questions for the Record. They’re particularly troubling on sharing with Congress.

He twice refused to say that he wouldn’t impose loyalty tests.

QUESTION 39: Personnel decisions can affect analytic integrity and objectivity. A. Would you consider an individual’s personal political preferences, to include “loyalty” to the President, in making a decision to hire, fire, or promote an individual?

Answer: Personnel decisions should be based on qualifications, skills, merit, and other standards which demonstrate the ability, dedication and integrity required to support the central IC mission of providing unvarnished intelligence to policymakers.

B. Do you commit to exclusively consider professional qualifications in IC personnel decisions, without consideration of partisan or political factors?

Answer: Personnel decisions should be based on qualifications, skills, merit, and other standards that demonstrate the ability, dedication and integrity required to support the central IC mission of providing unvarnished intelligence to policymakers.

He refused to promise to keep the Election Threats Executive Office open.

QUESTION 45: Would you commit to keep the Election Threats Executive Office in place to ensure continuity of efforts, and build on the successes of the 2018 midterms?

Answer: If confirmed, I will work with IC leaders and ODNI officials to ensure the IC is well-positioned to address the election security threats facing our Nation.

He refused to promise to notify Congress if Russia starts helping Trump again.

QUESTION 53: Do you commit to immediately notifying policymakers and the public of Russian attempts to meddle in U.S. democratic processes, to include our elections?

Answer: If confirmed, I would work with the Committee to accommodate its legitimate oversight needs while safeguarding the confidentiality interests of the Executive Branch, including the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified intelligence sources and methods

He suggested he had no problem with Section 215 being used to access someone’s browsing records.

QUESTION 7: Do you believe that Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act should be used to collect Americans’ web browsing and internet search history? If yes, do you believe there are or should be any limitations to “digital tracking” of Americans without a warrant, in terms of length of time, the amount of information collected, or the nature of the information collected (e.g., whether particular kinds of websites raise special privacy concerns)?

Answer: I believe it is important for the Intelligence Community to use its authorities appropriately against valid intelligence targets. The amendments to Title V of FISA made by Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act expired on March 15, 2020 and, to date, have not been reauthorized.

Ratcliffe dodged several questions about whether FISA was exclusive means to collect

Extra-Statutory Collection

QUESTION 9: Title 50, section 1812 provides for exclusive means by which electronic surveillance and interception of certain communications may be conducted. Do you agree that this provision of law is binding on the President?

Answer: If confirmed, I would work with the Attorney General to ensure that IC activities are carried out in accordance with the Constitution and applicable federal law.

QUESTION 10: Do you believe that the intelligence surveillance and collection activities covered by FISA can be conducted outside the FISA framework? If yes, please specify which intelligence surveillance and collection activities, the limits (if any) on extra-statutory collection activities, and the legal authorities you believe would authorize those activities.

Answer: If confirmed, I would work with the Attorney General and the heads of IC elements, as well as the General Counsels throughout the IC, to ensure that intelligence activities are conducted in accordance with the Constitution and applicable federal law. As set forth in Section 112 of FISA, with limited exceptions, FISA constitutes the exclusive statutory means by which electronic surveillance, as defined in FISA, and the interception of domestic wire, oral, or electric communications for foreign intelligence purposes may be conducted.

QUESTION 11: What would you do if the IC was requested or directed to conduct such collection activities outside the FISA framework? Would you notify the full congressional intelligence activities?

Answer: Consistent with the requirements of the National Security Act, I would keep the congressional intelligence committees informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any illegal intelligence activities. As you know, not all intelligence activities are governed by FISA.

If confirmed, I would work with the Attorney General and the heads of IC elements, as well as the General Counsels throughout the IC, to ensure that intelligence activities are conducted in accordance with the Constitution and applicable federal law.

Senator Wyden asked a question about the IC purchasing stuff they otherwise would need a warrant for.

QUESTION 12: Do you believe the IC can purchase information related to U.S. persons if the compelled production of that information would be covered by FISA? If yes, what rules and guidelines would apply to the type and quantity of the information purchased and to the use, retention and dissemination of that information? Should the congressional intelligence committees be briefed on any such collection activities?

Answer: Elements of the IC are authorized to collect, retain, or disseminate information concerning U.S. persons only in accordance with procedures approved by the Attorney General. As you know, not all intelligence activities are governed by FISA, and it is my understanding that in appropriate circumstances elements of the IC may lawfully purchase information from the private sector in furtherance of their authorized missions. Nonetheless, any intelligence activity not governed by FISA would be regulated by the Attorney General-approved procedures that govern the intelligence activities of that IC element. Consistent with the requirements of the National Security Act, if confirmed, I would keep the congressional intelligence committees informed of the intelligence activities of the United States.

 

John Ratcliffe Demonstrates How He’ll Politicize Intelligence by Claiming Trump Has Been Honest about COVID-19

John Ratcliffe just had his confirmation hearing to be Director of National Intelligence.

I’ll have more to say about what we learned about the Intelligence Committee after I walk June Bug the Terrorist FosteX Dog. But the main takeaway from the hearing is entirely encapsulated in this exchange (my transcription):

Kamala Harris: Do you believe President Trump has accurately conveyed the threat of COVID-19 to the American people?

Ratcliffe: Are you saying, presently?

Harris: We are in the midst of the pandemic, presently correct.

Ratcliffe: Can you repeat the question? I guess I’m misunderstanding the question. I’m sorry. Has he accurately represented the status of the pandemic?

Harris: Conveyed the severity of the pandemic, yes, Has he accurately conveyed the severity of COVID-19 to the American people.

Ratcliffe: I believe so.

Harris asked a question which has just one true answer. The only objective answer to this question is that no, Trump has not accurately conveyed the seriousness of COVID-19.

Ratcliffe answered yes.

Ratcliffe was asked over and over again whether he’ll politicize intelligence and each time he dutifully delivered his rehearsed answer, no, he won’t. Both Politico and NBC reported those rehearsed answers as the “news” of the hearing. Neither mentioned the Harris exchange, where Ratcliffe answered far more clearly than in any yes or no questions that he will, in fact, lie to the American people to serve Trump (and there were other instances where he made it clear he will politicize intelligence, just not so clear cut).

It is a matter of life or death during a pandemic to separate false information from truth. Everyone should be doing that, and such truthful reporting is supposed to be the job of journalists. For political accountability on the pandemic to happen, it must be clear that Trump appointed a sycophant as Director of National Intelligence, someone who is unwilling to tell the truth about it. It must be clearly reported that Ratcliffe lied in this hearing about a clear factual issue. Hiding that fact by treating Ratcliffe’s false assurances as truthful contributes to the danger of the pandemic.

Ratcliffe will be confirmed DNI. He might even get some Democratic votes, from people who view him as a less awful alternative than the Twitter troll turned German Ambassador turned part time DNI he would replace. But it matters that it be accurately reported that it was clear going into it that Ratcliffe would lie to and for Trump.

Michigan’s Militia-Like Morons Can’t Math [UPDATE]

[Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

They didn’t look very smart, the armed motley mess which staged a protest last Thursday on Michigan’s capitol steps culminating in a tantrum in the rotunda.

The protest reminded me of GOP representatives storming of a closed-door House hearing on the Ukraine quid pro quo — a staged protest meant to interfere and interrupt official governmental proceedings while providing a photo op for media and distracting the public from the underlying problem.

But last week’s armed protesters looked bad even if they were merely a distracting photo op. How does this serve their interests? They’ve undermined any credibility their right-wing ‘Blue Lives Matter’ brethren pushed since Ferguson protests in 2014.

Photo: Jeff Kowalsky, AFP-Getty Images. Shared here under Fair Use.
They’re an embarrassment to this state just as their whiny predecessors were during their Gridlock protest on April 15, violating the executive Stay Home order to rally on the capitol building’s steps, waving their Confederate flags and talking smack about the governor while puling about their lawns not getting cut and their roots not getting colored. Both protests two weeks apart violated the state’s laws related to the governor’s executive powers under a state of emergency.

But the embarrassment doesn’t end at the sight of the right-wing monkey horde barking like mad dogs at public servants who are only doing what they’re paid to do. It’s the horde’s inability to do basic math which makes them look deeply stupid.

The math:

Key:

Pink: 21 days from exposure at Easter to likely recovery.

Blue: 21 days from exposure at Gridlock protest to likely recovery.

Yellow: 21 days from exposure at Armed protest to likely recovery.

Lavender: 21 days from latest likely secondary exposure via Armed protest to likely recovery.

The period from exposure to COVID-19 carriers to average date clear of virus is about 21 days. The two protest rallies are marked off, Easter included since at least one church planned to hold service in spite of Governor Whitmer’s Stay Home order.

(Note a boo-boo on my part, should have marked April 30 as the first of 21 days ending on June 10.)

If Michiganders hadn’t had their little Gridlock tantrum on April 15, we’d have been done with Stay Home and more Michiganders would be alive today.

If all Michiganders stayed home uniformly as ordered and scrupulously obeyed the Stay Home order instead of a few hundred protesters having an armed conniption fit last Thursday, had they rigorously used masks whenever venturing into public spaces for essential business only, we’d have been done with the Stay Home order on the very day these rabid cretins protested in Lansing.

But no.

It’s bad enough that Easter observations in violation of the Stay Home order may have caused a spike in deaths 9-10 days later. But a protest which was supposed to be confined to cars?

Deaths were trending downward until the idiots’ Gridlock protest. It would be nice to know how many of the spike in deaths were people who attended the protest, or who broke the Stay Home order because they were inspired by Gridlock to do so. We may never know how many deaths were because of asymptomatic carriers exposed on that date unless researchers conduct a forensic genetic examination some time in the future.

To ignore this calculus and show up in the capitol without masks, ranting and exhaling in a confined space where law enforcement and lawmakers work is just plain moronic, risking personal health and life in a manner which also threatened others.

Or it’s something far worse — a deliberate attempt not only to interfere with the deliberative process in which all Michiganders have a stake and are represented by their democratically elected officials, but a terror attack intended to hurt and possibly kill the targets of protesters’ ire.

How many of the Michigan State Police, capitol police, lawmakers and staff will come down with COVID-19 as a direct result of this protest?

How many will represent minority majority regions of the state, disproportionately affected by COVID-19?

And how long will the rest of Michigan put up with the death cultists who threaten others, waving guns around inside our representatives’ workplace while blowing contagious viral material at others?

At this rate we’ll be under some form of quarantine all damned summer because these spoiled, stupid wretches can’t make the connection between their bad behavior and Michiganders’ deaths.

This is an open thread.

UPDATE — 05-MAY-2020 2:45 PM EST —

It doesn’t seem obvious to some people why Stay Home/shelter-in-place/lockdown is necessary in the absence of either proven pharmaceutical interventions to treat COVID-19 or a proven safe and effective vaccine targeting the underlying virus SARS-CoV-2. This tweet sums up the primary reason why Stay Home orders are necessary:

Henry Ford and Beaumont hospitals in the Detroit area experienced a month ago what happens to our health care system when people aren’t restricted from their former normal behavior. ICU beds are swamped, overflow capacity is likewise exceeded, ventilators and other respiratory aids are in short supply, painkiller and other drug inventory is decimated. Health care workers are overwhelmed and more likely to become sick themselves from a combination of stress, too many hours exposed to massive viral loads especially after personal protective gear has been depleted.

Lockdown to slow down the rate of contagion buys time for the health care system to handle the additional demand COVID-19 places on it — not to mention easing the pressure on other peripheral systems like refrigerated trucking and mortuary services.

It’s as if these armed cretins have already forgotten bodies piled up in hallways in at least on Michigan hospital.

But one additional benefit from a firm, well-enforced, and rigorously-observed lockdown: a change in citizens’ perspective. A societal reset, a reboot of our expectations.

There will be no return to what we once called normal. It’s done, gone, like poodle skirts and Brylcreem, rotary-dial phones and Betamax video, along with home parties hawking baby shit gold Tupperware.

These assholes spraying saliva as they scream at police — some of them out-of-state provocateurs — aren’t saving anything with their assault weapon intimidation. They are hanging onto a past by their fingernails while the virus has its mindless and predictable way with our population.

As contributor Peterr wrote, a virus doesn’t care. Those of us staying at home do. We don’t want to excessively burden our health care workers and system, we don’t want to hurt our friends and families by infecting them or causing them sorrow.

We want our state to get through this protracted period of discomfort and come out on the other side healthy and alive.

We’ll observe the lockdown orders long enough to break the growth of contagion. We’ll learn how to make and wear masks, and our lawmakers will learn how to ensure our law enforcement have the framework they need to maintain the break in contagion. If confirmed cases and deaths increase again, we’ll go back into another lockdown until we break it again.

This will be our new normal, our new social compact, until drug therapy and/or vaccines are ready in a year or two if we are lucky.

Lastly, we’ll observe the lockdowns because this isn’t the end of it. COVID-19 is only our here and now. Something else is out there waiting for us in the future once our new normal has been built.

These saliva-speckled jackasses screaming about their freedom while interfering with our democracy demonstrate our society isn’t ready if another pathogen like SARS-CoV-2 emerged as the climate crisis worsens.

Stay home. Wear a mask when you can’t. Keep your distance. Wash your hands.

NY Times Finds Trump Administration Inserted Wuhan Cables Into The Aluminum Tubes Echo Chamber

In my last two posts, I went into detail on what is known on the scientific front about the origin of SARS CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak and then into what evidence Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) has offered to refute the rumors of the virus escaping from her lab. This post will set aside discussion of the science (other than to eventually provide a few quotes that have been provided by scientists addressing these issues) and will instead focus on what has been increasing evidence that there has been a concerted effort akin to an information operation to create acceptance of the idea that the virus escaped from WIV. Today, the New York Times confirmed these suspicions and indicated clearly who is behind the operation. Here’s a partial screen capture of the story by a team that includes Mark Mazzetti and Adam Goldman:

Although I was becoming convinced of an information operation, I wasn’t sure who was orchestrating it. This Times article leaves no doubts:

Senior Trump administration officials have pushed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that a government laboratory in Wuhan, China, was the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, according to current and former American officials. The effort comes as President Trump escalates a public campaign to blame China for the pandemic.

Some intelligence analysts are concerned that the pressure from administration officials will distort assessments about the virus and that they could be used as a political weapon in an intensifying battle with China over a disease that has infected more than three million people across the globe.

Most intelligence agencies remain skeptical that conclusive evidence of a link to a lab can be found, and scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus say that the overwhelming probability is that it leapt from animal to human in a nonlaboratory setting, as was the case with H.I.V., Ebola and SARS.

The article even goes on to name some of those pushing the link to an escape from the lab, including Mike Pompeo and Anthony Ruggiero. Who is Ruggiero, you might ask? Oh, that answer is full of rich irony:

And Anthony Ruggiero, the head of the National Security Council’s bureau tracking weapons of mass destruction, expressed frustration during one videoconference in January that the C.I.A. was unable to get behind any theory of the outbreak’s origin. C.I.A. analysts responded that they simply did not have the evidence to support any one theory with high confidence at the time, according to people familiar with the conversation.

Here we have officials working for Trump who are actively pushing an unsubstantiated theory that could be used to spark an international conflict. And one of those officials just happens to work on the issue of weapons of mass destruction. Gosh, it’s not like that topic has ever led to problems based on manipulating information from the intelligence community, is it? In fact, the article eventually gets there on how this is looking like a replay of Iraq:

A former intelligence official described senior aides’ repeated emphasis of the lab theory as “conclusion shopping,” a disparaging term among analysts that has echoes of the Bush administration’s 2002 push for assessments saying that Iraq had weapons of mass of destruction and links to Al Qaeda, perhaps the most notorious example of the politicization of intelligence.

The C.I.A. has yet to unearth any data beyond circumstantial evidence to bolster the lab theory, according to current and former government officials, and the agency has told policymakers it lacks enough information to either affirm or refute it. Only getting access to the lab itself and the virus samples it contains could provide definitive proof, if it exists, the officials said.

And the parallels go even deeper:

The Defense Intelligence Agency recently changed its analytic position to formally leave open the possibility of a theory of lab origin, officials said. Senior agency officials have asked analysts to take a closer look at the labs.

The reason for the change is unclear, but some officials attributed it to the intelligence analyzed in recent weeks. Others took a more jaundiced view: that the agency is trying to curry favor with White House officials. A spokesman for the agency, James M. Kudla, disputed that characterization. “It’s not D.I.A.’s role to make policy decisions or value judgments — and we do not,” he said.

So now we even have the remains of Cheney’s “Team B” within DIA, itching to make Trump happy. For those who may have forgotten, we have none other than that neocon himself, Eli Lake, talking glowingly of the Team B folks and DIA pushing back on CIA even before the invasion of Iraq:

THE CURRENT SCHISM has roots going back to the early ‘70s. In 1974 a collection of neoconservative foreign policy intellectuals on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board began attacking the CIA-authored NIEs for the Soviet Union, accusing the Agency of cooking its books to defend Henry Kissinger’s policy of détente by underestimating Soviet military expenditures.

So the group—which included Harvard historian Richard Pipes; former arms control negotiator and ambassador-at-large under President Ronald Reagan, Paul H. Nitze; the retired director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Daniel Graham; and a then-little-known staff member of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Paul Wolfowitz—asked the CIA for access to the Agency’s files to create their own assessment of Soviet intentions and capabilities. In 1976 they received that access from then-CIA Director George H.W. Bush. That fall the group—which came to be known as Team B—produced an intelligence assessment for the president, contending that the Soviet Union’s military expenditures would not be curtailed by concerns over their potential impact on the ussr’s economic health. That conclusion became the cornerstone of Reagan’s policy for outspending the Soviet military in order to hasten the collapse of the Soviet economy.

Fast-forward to the current day. Wolfowitz, now deputy secretary of defense, still doesn’t trust the CIA—but this time the bone of contention is Iraq. As during his tenure on Team B, Wolfowitz finds himself amid a loose network of neocons inside and outside government—this time including his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John R. Bolton; Chairman of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle; and Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff and national security adviser I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby—arguing for an aggressive foreign policy posture. So, in a repetition of history, the neocons have devoted themselves to offering an alternative to what they see as the CIA’s timid and inaccurate intelligence assessments—assessments that downplayed the possibility of Al Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States prior to September 11; failed to predict India’s nuclear tests in 1998; and underestimated the speed with which the North Koreans would be able to test a multistage missile. The difference is that this time the neocons don’t have to ask the CIA’s permission to gain access to classified intelligence, because Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld already control between 85 percent and 90 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget, including the agencies responsible for signal intercepts, satellite surveillance, and the DIA. “This is a case of going in-house because [Rumsfeld] is not happy with the intelligence he’s gotten from the CIA,” says Melvin Goodman, a professor of international security at the National War College and a former CIA analyst.

Of course, as always, the neocons were dead wrong about the Iraq intelligence and were simply gaming it to get the war they longed for.

Another of the key bits of intelligence gaming came with the aluminum tubes story, “broken” by Michael Gordon and Judy Miller. In the retrospective in 2004, we find that there was in fact ample evidence showing the tubes were inadequate for uranium centrifuges and were in fact components for small artillery rockets.

Cheney and Miller have since been inextricably linked to this huge information operation, because Miller’s article was quickly followed up by multiple appearances by Cheney talking up this “intelligence” in the drumbeat for the Iraq war.  Marcy has noted how this history follows both Miller and Cheney.

If August 24 is seen as Aluminum Tube Day, then it seems likely that April 14 will become Wuhan Cable Day. And just as the aluminum tube story was catapulted nearly simultaneously by multiple people for maximum media impact, the same is true on the attacks on WIV.

The timing of April 14 is interesting, as the Times article today notes that on the 7th, a meeting of the intelligence community came to the conclusion that the origin of the outbreak is unknown:

Richard Grenell, the acting director of national intelligence, has told his agencies to make a priority of determining the virus’s origin. His office convened a review of intelligence officials on April 7 to see whether the agencies could reach a consensus. The officials determined that at least so far, they could not.

Just one week later, it looks like Team B has its ducks in a row and we suddenly have John Roberts of Fox News noting the 2018 State Department cables and asking an incredibly specific question about supposedly infected WIV personnel while pushing the lab as a source:

And the same day, we have Josh Rogin, who formerly worked with Eli Lake, putting out his column hawking the cables, claiming that they show officials being concerned that lax security at WIV at that time created a huge risk for a release of a dangerous virus. But his only actual quote from the cable he says he saw was one that just talks about a shortage of trained personnel. He then grudgingly admits the cables were sent as a plea for help in getting more training for the lab.

I had missed until yesterday this terrific takedown of Rogin and his April 14 column by Max Blumenthal. Blumenthal notes that virologist Angela Rasmussen also finds the cable excerpt not to be a smoking gun:

Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist and associate research scientist at the Center of Infection and Immunity at the Columbia University School of Public Health, pointed out that the cable “argues that it’s important to continue working on bat CoVs because of their potential as human pathogens, but doesn’t suggest that there were safety issues specifically relating to WIV’s work on bat CoVs capable of using human ACE2 as a receptor.”

Ultimately, Josh Rogin was forced to admit that there was no evidence to support his insinuations, conceding in the penultimate paragraph of the article, “We don’t know whether the novel coronavirus originated in the Wuhan lab.”

Of note also is that Blumenthal found Rasmussen calling out Rogin on Twitter. Among several exchanges between the two was Rasmussen asking for Rogin to release the entire cable and Rogin refusing.

And just because the Iraq parallels never end, Blumenthal also found the 2020 version of Curveball, a regime-change agitator posing as someone in possession of important technical information:

Instead of discussing issues surrounding WIV with scientific experts, Rogin attempted to bolster his claims by relying on the speculation of anonymous Trump administration officials and Xiao Qiang, an anti-Chinese government activist with a long history of US government funding.

Rogin referred to Xiao merely as a “research scientist,” dishonestly attempting to furnish academic credibility for the professional political dissident. In fact, Xiao has no expertise in any science and teaches classes on “digital activism,” “internet freedom,” and “blogging China.” Revealingly, Rogin completely omitted the real record of Xiao Qiang as an anti-Chinese government activist.

For over 20 years, Xiao has worked with and been funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the main arm of US government regime-change efforts in countries targeted by Washington. The NED has funded and trained right-wing opposition movements from Venezuela to Nicaragua to Hong Kong, where violent separatist elements spent much of 2019 agitating for an end to Chinese rule.

Xiao served as the executive director of the New York-based NGO Human Rights in China from 1991 to 2002. As a long-time grantee of the NED, he served as vice-chairman of the steering committee of the World Movement for Democracy, an international “network of networks” founded by the NED and “for which the NED serves as the secretariat.” Xiao is also the editor-in-chief of China Digital Times, a publication that he founded in 2003 and that is also funded by the NED.

It’s truly remarkable how these folks have been using the same playbook for nearly 50 years. But because tossing out bogus information and then firing up the echo chamber to repeat it endlessly has worked for them so many times, they’ll just keep doing it until we stop them or at least impose some real consequences once the truth comes out. I suppose we can take some solace in the fact that this time these actions are being called out in real time, but I still don’t hold out a lot of hope for Team B being prevented from inciting more violence before this is all over.

A Video Guide to Understanding Covid-19 without Freaking Out

It’s a complicated time, and we’re all emotionally worn out.

Here at emptywheel we’ve covered the current pandemic’s scientific side in some depth. (see Jim White’s look at the origin of the virus, Rayne has done several very good updates on the science, politics, and misinformation,
and I’ve gone into the mechanisms of the disease and how it compares to other pandemics )

But we haven’t done as much for the overtaxed, overwhelmed reader who just wants some pretty pictures and gentle talking heads to make Covid-19 make sense. Even those of you who voraciously keep up with Marcy’s intricate political  and media analyses might like to give the emotional roller coaster a break, and still feel like you have some frickin’ idea what is going on.

The Modeling

Nothing is more calming yet informative than 3Blue1Brown’s soothing and surprisingly clear explanation of epidemic models. This 3Blue1Brown explainer uses SIR, a mathematical modeling system for epidemics. While simplified, it can give you a sense for how more complicated models work, and why policies like social distancing and contact tracing are important and effective.

SIR stands for:
S = the number of susceptible individuals
I = the number of infected individuals
R = the number of removed individuals (removed here means no longer infectious, and includes both immune and deceased.)

3Blue1Brown is also one of the most pleasant-to-watch Youtubers of all time. Even when you don’t have any clue about the math he’s describing, it all comes together and you feel smarter by the end. “It’s the mental equivalent of ice-skating,” my daughter says, “You’re a little bit worried about falling over, but it’s nice.”

The smartypants at minutephysics and Aatish Bhatia teamed up to visualize the progress of Covid-19 cases around the world. They use a visualization with a logarithmic map of total cases versus new cases to clearly show both how similar the track of the disease is, and what it looks like for a geographical area to get a handle on the spread. This video explains how it works, and here is the site where you can watch the model play with current data.
But why did this happen?

The why us and why now question is lurking in the back of everyone’s mind, and SciShow comes through on it. SciShow has a long and storied history of well-researched and approachable science education, and their video tackling the zoonotic source of Covid-19 (and other viruses) in bats keeps in the tradition. Bats have evolved different approaches to having a mammalian immune system, which makes them better at handling some of the viruses and worse at handling other pathogens we can overcome easily — this is why their viruses can be so rough on us. We have a lot to learn from them, but we should probably stop disturbing their habitats if we don’t want to keep catching novel viruses from them.

The Medicine

If you’ve heard a lot of terms and you don’t know what they mean, Dr. Hope’s Sick Notes goes through 26 of them with clear and non-technical definitions. Dr. Hope is an NHS doctor who teaches and works in an English emergency department as well as a YouTuber. (His ongoing Covid-19 vlog is great, but more stress inducing than the videos featured here.) He gives easy explanations of complicated concepts with handwritten flashcards, a nice soft focus, and some comforting quiet background music. At the end he hands it over to Dr. Sonia, an anesthesiologist at the same hospital, defining some of the more hardcore technical terms we’ve been hearing in the media, but with equal calming friendliness.

Dr. Sonia appears in our next video as well, as an avid AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego). Dr. Hope and Dr. Sonia discuss how the ICU and ventilation really work, demonstrating with a detailed Lego model built by Dr. Sonia in her day off. It goes over all of the scary terms and procedures and why and how they’re used, but with Lego, so it’s fine. My daughter confirmed this too.

 

 

There’s a lot of questions about immunity, herd immunity, and the potential for re-infection, and a lot of misunderstanding about what any of those terms mean. Dr. Seema Yasmin breaks it down on a spectrum from life-long immunity to HIV (The worst). Where and how Covid-19 might fit into this is yet to be found, but she lays down the situation and puts it in context.

 

And Finally, Something of Less Value

Watching night shows, comedy news, and Youtubers adapt to filming inside their houses has been some hits and a lot of misses, but there’s a few amazing hits. These aren’t so much information about Covid-19 as a few gems life in quarantine has generated. Relax, it’s what everyone’s therapist is suggesting we do.

Stephen Colbert interviewing fellow Daily Show alumnus John Oliver is somehow both unbearable and ten minutes of comedy gold. I wish all late night interviews could be like this, but I also think that would kill me.

 

Kate McKinnon takes to a spare bedroom to reprise her role as Barbara DeDrew, trying to get you to adopt a cat, any cat, all the cats, from Whiskers R We.

 

 

 

Last but not least: what would you say to yourself, if you could travel back to January?


Please feel free to add your own calming and informative, or just funny contributions in the comments, BUT NO STRESS INDUCERS!!!11!!!!!

Um, am I doing this right?


My work for Emptywheel is supported by my wonderful patrons on Patreon. You can find out more, and support my work, at Patreon. Thanks to H.alhajji for the featured image.

Trump Policy Maximizes Deaths in Food Factories

Even before coronavirus spread to the United States, the risk to meat-packing plants was known. Major meat-packers in the US are either owned by Chinese companies (Smithfield) or have factories in China (JBS and Cargill). Still, the plants were slow to offer their workers masks, much less space out the lines sufficient to prevent infections. In most cases, workers were not given sick pay to encourage infected workers to stay home.

All of those policies could have cut down on infections. Those policies might have prevented shutdowns of at least 15 plants. Those policies are within the emergency authority of OSHA. AFL-CIO called on OSHA to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard for protecting workers back on March 6. And a bunch of Democratic Senators called on Eugene Scalia to do the same days later.

At the time, a number of industries wanted to mandate masks, but could not because of the shortage of personal protective equipment destined for medical workers. Trump could have deployed the Defense Production Act to mandate manufacturers like 3M to prioritize first line workers.

Trump didn’t do any of that.

Indeed, OSHA waited until yesterday to issue non-mandatory guidance for meat facilities. Upwards of 20 workers at a number of facilities have died. Even a food inspector died.

And today — as livestock slaughter starts to backlog and red state voters contemplate lost sales — Trump will announce he’s going to (try to) use the DPA to mandate that meatpacking plants — including some that have closed because of COVID outbreaks — open and remain that way (it’s not clear the DPA authority extends this far). Apparently, he will provide liability protection for the companies, even as their workers continue to infect each other and their surrounding communities.

Trump’s action might address the failure of the food supply chain.

But along the way, his inaction will have led to infections and death before today, and any success he has at forcing workers to work while sick will lead to infections and death after today. At each stage, Trump’s policies have maximized the deaths of workers.

He has only prioritized that his meatpacker executive donors can keep killing cows and pigs and chickens, along with their workers.

Update: UFCW, which represents some of the affected workers, demands that this order include safety provisions. It reveals the union wrote Pence last week asking for five safety actions:

In the last week, UFCW sent a letter to Vice President Pence urgently calling for the White House Coronavirus Task Force to prioritize five safety actions targeted toward the meatpacking industry, including: (1) increased worker testing, (2) priority access to PPE, (3) halting line speed waivers, (4) mandating social distancing, and (5) isolating workers with symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19.

Today, new internal UFCW estimates have confirmed 20 worker deaths in meatpacking and food processing. In addition, at least 5,000 meatpacking workers and 1,500 food processing workers have been directly impacted by the virus. Those directly impacted include individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, missed work due to self-quarantine, are awaiting test results, or have been hospitalized, and/or are symptomatic.

UFCW announced today that new estimates show 22 meatpacking plants have closed – including union and non-union plants – at some point in the past two months. These closures have resulted in over 35,000 workers impacted and a 25 percent reduction in pork slaughter capacity as well as a 10 percent reduction in beef slaughter capacity.

Shi Zhengli Provides Proof SARS CoV-2 Was Not An Accidental Release From Wuhan Institute of Virology

On Saturday, I took a deep dive into the origin of SARS CoV-2, the virus that is the cause of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. That post was the result of several long days of deep reading and thinking. Somehow, I missed that Scientific American had put out an update on Friday of their profile of Dr. Shi Zhengli, the scientist responsible for much of what the world knows about bat coronaviruses, including isolating the bat coronavirus from Yunnan Province that is the closest relative to SARS CoV-2 that has been seen in a laboratory. Even worse, commenter Zinsky linked to the Scientific American article in one of the earliest comments on my post.

I finally got around to reading the article today. As you might imagine, this editor’s note at the top really got my attention:

Editor’s Note (4/24/20): This article was originally published online on March 11. It has been updated for inclusion in the June 2020 issue of Scientific American and to address rumors that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from Shi Zhengli’s lab in China.

I strongly urge you to read the entire article. It provides an effective look into work that Shi had been doing prior to the outbreak and then takes us along with her as she gets the news on December 30 that a novel coronavirus had been detected in two patients in Wuhan with atypical pneumonia. On instruction from the lab director, Shi left the conference she was attending in Shanghai and rushed back to Wuhan to concentrate all of her attention on the new virus.

It is important to keep in mind that Shi’s career up to the SARS CoV-2 outbreak was aimed at just such an event. In fact, she and her team had warned us. From the Scientific American article:

With growing human populations increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitats, with unprecedented changes in land use, with wildlife and livestock transported across countries and their products around the world, and with sharp increases in both domestic and international travel, pandemics of new diseases are a mathematical near certainty. This had been keeping Shi and many other researchers awake at night long before the mysterious samples landed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology on that ominous evening last December.

More than a year ago Shi’s team published two comprehensive reviews about coronaviruses in Viruses and Nature Reviews Microbiology. Drawing evidence from her own studies—many of which were published in top academic journals—and from others, Shi and her co-authors warned of the risk of future outbreaks of bat-borne coronaviruses.

With that as background, her actions in digging into the new virus make perfect sense for how a respected scientist engaged in work with dangerous viruses would seek the source of the outbreak.

She and her team jumped into work on the train trip back to Wuhan from the conference in Shanghai:

On the train back to Wuhan on December 30 last year, Shi and her colleagues discussed ways to immediately start testing the patients’ samples. In the following weeks—the most intense and the most stressful time of her life—China’s bat woman felt she was fighting a battle in her worst nightmare, even though it was one she had been preparing for over the past 16 years. Using a technique called polymerase chain reaction, which can detect a virus by amplifying its genetic material, the team found that samples from five of seven patients had genetic sequences present in all coronaviruses.

But here’s where the character of a person who has been dedicated to science her entire career comes out:

Shi instructed her group to repeat the tests and, at the same time, sent the samples to another facility to sequence the full viral genomes. Meanwhile she frantically went through her own lab’s records from the past few years to check for any mishandling of experimental materials, especially during disposal. Shi breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back: none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves. “That really took a load off my mind,” she says. “I had not slept a wink for days.”

Yes, months before the rumors of an accidental release from her lab started circulating, one of Shi’s very first steps was to make sure that the sequence of the virus found in patients from the wet market did not align with the sequences of any of the viruses isolated from bats that she had in her lab. She had already warned the world of the danger posed by some coronaviruses jumping from bats to humans. [Note: even though we talk about SARS CoV-2 and the bat virus RaTG13 being “closely related”, they still differ by enough that it is clear that SARS CoV-2 came from a different source than either the virus circulating in that bat population at the time it was isolated or the virus as it exists now in the lab.]

Even more importantly, she checked lab safety records and did not sleep until she could eliminate the nightmare of her lab being responsible for the outbreak.

The article goes on to detail the steps taken to confirm SARS CoV-2 as the agent for the outbreak and the use of sequencing of multiple isolates from different patients over time to indicate that it’s very likely that there was only a single introduction of the virus into humans.

Clearly, the rumors of a leak from her lab have bothered Shi, but she will not allow them to stop her:

Despite the disturbance, Shi is determined to continue her work. “The mission must go on,” she says. “What we have uncovered is just the tip of an iceberg.” She is planning to lead a national project to systematically sample viruses in bat caves, with much wider scope and intensity than previous attempts.

/snip/

“Bat-borne coronaviruses will cause more outbreaks,” Shi says with a tone of brooding certainty. “We must find them before they find us.”

Epilogue

In my post on Saturday, I posited that if we are to believe that the outbreak was the product of an accidental release from Wuhan Institute of Virology, we would have to claim that China has removed from the record any evidence of workers from the lab, or the family or other close contacts, being infected or dying.

Now, after the details that Shi has provided, we would have to believe that a scientist with a long history of top-notch peer reviewed research would be involved in such a lie and would further fabricate the story that none of the previous isolates in her lab match the outbreak.

A scientist of this caliber would know that such a lie would eventually be uncovered. That Shi intends to continue her work unabated is very strong evidence that she is being truthful and can rightfully proceed with a clear conscience.

Those considerations prompted me to return to the “evidence” that was presented to suggest an accidental release. Recall that in my post Saturday, I was perplexed by what looked like the outlines of an information operation. First, the specificity, out of the blue, of the question from John Roberts of Fox about an intern at the lab being infected. I still haven’t heard any others make this same suggestion, so that still stands out as suspicious.

But then I went back and looked at the Josh Rogin column from the same day, where Rogin concentrated on two State Department cables from 2018 about Wuhan Institute of Virology. Here’s the setting Rogin provided for the cables:

In January 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing took the unusual step of repeatedly sending U.S. science diplomats to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which had in 2015 become China’s first laboratory to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety (known as BSL-4). WIV issued a news release in English about the last of these visits, which occurred on March 27, 2018. The U.S. delegation was led by Jamison Fouss, the consul general in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health. Last week, WIV erased that statement from its website, though it remains archived on the Internet.

What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.

And yet, even though Rogin says he got a copy of the first cable, this is the only money quote he chose to put into his column:

“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” states the Jan. 19, 2018, cable, which was drafted by two officials from the embassy’s environment, science and health sections who met with the WIV scientists. (The State Department declined to comment on this and other details of the story.)

Rogin then adds what I think is the most important part:

The Chinese researchers at WIV were receiving assistance from the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch and other U.S. organizations, but the Chinese requested additional help. The cables argued that the United States should give the Wuhan lab further support, mainly because its research on bat coronaviruses was important but also dangerous.

Really? The scariest language that Rogin could lift from the cable warned of a “shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate”, but then he grudgingly had to note that this was in fact tied to a request from the lab for more outside assistance in getting that training. When we couple that thought with the failure, so far, of Rogin or anyone else to have actually published the full cables, I am more convinced than ever that the whole cable story is part of a coordinated information operation where Roberts asked the specific question and then Rogin took information that had been twisted inside-out from a cable asking for help with training at the lab to try to turn it into a potential whistle-blowing event.

One more bit. I did some digging. Rick Switzer, the “embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health” is not a scientist:

Rogin says the cable he saw was written by “two officials  from the embassy’s environment, science and health sections who met with the WIV scientists”. One would hope that there was at least one actual scientist among those two officials.

Mitch McConnell Just Helped Trump Take Kentucky’s Cops and Teachers Hostage

“I would like you to do us a favor, though.”

There’s been a lot written about Mitch McConnell’s motives for refusing to give aid to states and localities whose budgets have been decimated by coronavirus response in the last round of COVID relief.

John Harwood described it as an anti-government effort, generally, though notes it could backfire among white working class voters.

Wealthy Republican donors disdain government as an unwelcome source of taxes and business regulations. They can purchase private alternatives to broad-based public services in realms such as education, health care and transportation.
Republicans in Congress see unionized government workers as hostile soldiers fighting against their reelection. Responsibility for financing the services those workers provide falls to governors and state legislators, not them.

The GOP infused those sentiments into the 2017 tax law that remains Trump’s principal legislative achievement. It limited deductions for state and local levies from federal tax bills — which both punished taxpayers in blue states that provide more services and made it harder for those states to finance those services.

The wild card in this constellation of forces is the party’s increasing dependence on working-class white voters. Republicans have long capitalized on their suspicion that many government programs benefit others, not them. Trump placed appeals to their racial resentments at the center of his 2016 campaign.

Axis of Evil expert David Frum described how, by forcing states into bankruptcy, Republicans hope to exercise power even after Trump has been defeated.

Republican plans for state bankruptcy sedulously protect state taxpayers. The Bush-Gingrich op-ed of 2011 was explicit on this point. A federal law of state bankruptcy “must explicitly forbid any federal judge from mandating a tax hike,” they wrote. You might wonder: Why? If a Republican Senate majority leader from Kentucky is willing to squeeze Illinois state pensioners, why would he care about shielding Illinois state taxpayers? The answer is found in the third of the three facts of American fiscal federalism.

United States senators from smaller, poorer red states do not only represent their states. Often, they do not even primarily represent their states. They represent, more often, the richest people in bigger, richer blue States who find it more economical to invest in less expensive small-state races. The biggest contributor to Mitch McConnell’s 2020 campaign and leadership committee is a PAC headquartered in Englewood, New Jersey. The second is a conduit for funds from real-estate investors. The third is the tobacco company Altria. The fourth is the parcel delivery service UPS. The fifth is the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical corporation. The sixth is the home health-care company, LHC Group. The seventh is the Blackstone hedge fund. And so on and on.

A federal bankruptcy process for state finances could thus enable wealthy individuals and interest groups in rich states to leverage their clout in the anti-majoritarian federal system to reverse political defeats in the more majoritarian political systems of big, rich states like California, New York, and Illinois.

[snip]

But McConnell seems to be following the rule “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” He’s realistic enough to recognize that the pandemic probably means the end not only of the Trump presidency, but of his own majority leadership. He’s got until January to refashion the federal government in ways that will constrain his successors. That’s what the state-bankruptcy plan is all about.

Andrew Cuomo recognized the same dynamic. Amid a rant noting that, as governor, he serves people of all (or no) party, he described the hypocrisy of bailing out airlines and small businesses but not cops and other first responders.

I understand that, but state and local government funds police and fire and teachers and schools. How do you not fund police and fire and teachers and schools in the midst of this crisis? Yes, airlines are important. Yes, small businesses are important. So police and fire and healthcare workers who are the front line workers, and when you don’t fund the state, then the state can’t fund those services. It makes no sense to me. Also, it makes no sense that the entire nation is dependent on what the governors do to reopen. We’ve established that. It’s up to this governor, it’s up to this governor, it’s up to this governor, but then you’re not going to fund the state government. You think I’m going to do it alone? How do you think this is going to work? And then to suggest we’re concerned about the economy, states should declare bankruptcy. That’s how you’re going to bring this national economy back? By states declaring bankruptcy? You want to see that market fall through the cellar?

Let New York state declare bankruptcy. Let Michigan declare bankruptcy. Let Illinois declare bankruptcy. Let’s California declare bankruptcy. You will see a collapse of this national economy. So just dumb. Vicious is saying, when Senator McConnell said, this is a blue state bailout, what he’s saying is if you look at the states that have coronavirus problems, they tend to be democratic states. New York, California, Michigan, Illinois. They are democratic states. So if you fund states that are suffering from the coronavirus, the democratic states, don’t help New York state because it is a democratic state. How ugly a thought. I mean, just think of what he’s saying. People died. 15,000 people died in New York, but they were predominantly Democrats. So why should we help them? I mean, for crying out loud, if there was ever a time for you to put aside your pettiness and your partisanship and this political lens that you see the world through Democrat and Republican and we help Republicans, but we don’t have Democrats. That’s not who we are.

It’s just not who we are as a people. I mean, if there’s ever a time for humanity and decency, now is the time. And if there was ever a time to stop your political, obsessive political bias and anger, which is what it’s morphing to, just a political anger, now is the time and you want to politically divide this nation now, with all that’s going on? How irresponsible and how reckless/ I’m the governor of all New Yorkers. Democrat, Republican, independent. I don’t even care what your political party is. I represent you, and we are all there to support each other. This is not the time or the place or the situation to start your divisive politics. It is just not.

Cuomo also noted that McConnell’s own state, Kentucky, is a net aid recipient, not New York.

Let’s talk about fairness, Mitch. NYS puts $116 billion more into the federal pot than we take out. Kentucky TAKES $148 billion more from the federal pot than they put in. But we don’t deserve help now because the 15,000 people who died here were predominately democrats?

David Sirota is the only one I saw who observed that McConnell’s own state of Kentucky would be one of the hardest hit states.

In a half-assed play to avoid looking like he’s deliberately enriching his elite financiers and starving the peasants, McConnell cast himself as a principled opponent of “blue state bailouts” — a seemingly shrewd anti-coastal framing for his own potentially difficult reelection campaign.

In reality, though, McConnell’s opposition to pension aid is even worse than a pathetic Gerald Ford impression. It is him giving the big middle finger to hundreds of thousands of his own constituents whose Republican-leaning state is now facing one of America’s worst pension crises after McConnell’s Wall Street courtiers strip-mined Kentucky’s public retirement system.

That’s right: for all the talk of pension shortfalls in blue states like Illinois and California, the bright red state of Kentucky has one of the most underfunded pension systems in the country. The gap between promised benefits and current resources has been estimated to be between $40 billion and $60 billion. One of the state’s pension funds is less than 15 percent funded.

Those shortfalls are not the product of Kentucky’s public-sector workers being greedy or lavishly remunerated — Kentucky teachers, for example, are paid 23 percent less than other workers with similar educational credentials, and they do not receive Social Security benefits.

No — the shortfalls are the result of 1) state lawmakers repeatedly refusing to make annual contributions to the system, 2) investment losses from the 2007 financial crisis and now the COVID downturn, and 3) especially risky hedge fund investments that generated big fees for politically connected Wall Street firms, but especially big losses for the state’s portfolio. (Executives from some of those specific firms are among McConnell’s biggest collective donors, and those firms could be enriched by other parts of McConnell’s federal stimulus bill.

The pension emergency in Kentucky has become so dire that teachers staged mass protests last year, resulting in national headlines and a PBS Frontline special, and a court case that ultimately overturned the Republican legislature’s proposed pension cuts, which the GOP literally attached to a sewer bill.

There’s another aspect of all this, however: leverage. Mitch McConnell says he won’t dole out aid for states and localities until the Senate comes back into session. That’ll give him the opportunity to resume packing the courts.

In addition (as I predicted), part of this is an effort to retain leverage with which to force states to reopen.

BUT FIRST … SENATE AND HOUSE DEMOCRATS have been pushing hard in negotiations for $150 billion in funds for state and local governments to pair with the hundreds of billions the administration wants in small business lending. But THE WHITE HOUSE and TRUMP ADMINISTRATION have been holding out because, in part, they believe if Congress keeps cutting checks for state and local governments, they will be disincentivized to open up their economies.

Trump tried and tried and tried to say he got to decide how to reopen the economy. And then the first state that tried — his ally Brian Kemp — made him look bad by ignoring the White House’s own guidelines.

To regain any control over this, short of Billy Barr making good on his suggestions that DOJ might start litigation, Trump needs something to withhold to force governors, of both parties, to take actions they otherwise wouldn’t.

Aid to keep states and localities running is one of the few things Trump has. Want to pay your cops? Okay, then, “but I would like you to do us a favor, though.”

And here’s where Mitch’s actions become really perverse. Kentucky’s own governor, Andy Beshear, is one of the red states with a Democratic governor. Under his leadership, Kentucky has a lower level of infections than any neighboring state but West Virginia (which is even more rural). Kentucky is a member of the Midwestern pact that, along with a bunch of Democratic governors that Republicans would like to damage ahead of the elections, also includes Mike DeWine, one of the three most proactive Republican governors. Of those states, Beshear might be most susceptible to pressure from nutjobs.

That is, among the governors that Mitch is helping Trump to blackmail — to withhold aid from until they give Trump a favor — is Mitch’s own state. Like all other governors, Beshear will need to make some devastating budgetary decisions, decisions that will hurt public workers in Kentucky, and those decisions will start immediately, affecting Beshear’s ability to serve the people of Kentucky.

This is an ugly, vicious ploy. But it’s also one that Mitch’s opponent, Amy McGrath, really ought to be able to use against him in November.

Research Misinfo/Disinfo: Ain’t No Sunshine Kill COVID-19 Gone

[Check the byline, thanks! /Rayne]

I thought this series would end after three posts but clearly the misinfo/disinfo related to research studies on COVID-19 continues.

This time Department of Homeland Security is one of the problem children.

By now you know about Trump’s wrong-headed comments about light and disinfectants used in and on humans’ bodies to eliminate SARS-CoV-19. You’ve also heard he gaslighted the public by claiming he was being sarcastic during Thursday’s briefing about light and disinfectants, followed by even more dog-ate-my-homework excuses.

You may have heard speculation that bleach as a COVID-19 therapy specifically may have been the result of communications with Trump by some crackpot who sells this re-labeled chlorine dioxide product as a miracle cure-all.

What you probably haven’t seen is the DHS’s “study” which may also have spurred Trump’s idiotic remarks about light or sunlight. Yahoo News reported about the “study” a week ago, sharing a link to the DHS document it received outlining DHS’s findings.

It’s not a paper. It’s a goddamned slide presentation of which stability of SARS-CoV-19 on surfaces was only a portion.

No peer-reviewed study has been published by DHS in any of the articles since Trump’s ridiculously inappropriate comments last evening.

News outlets have been all over Trump’s remarks, which as Marcy said elicited justifiable uproar. But outlets are doing a pissy job covering the sources of Trump’s practice of medicine without a license at the podium.

Newsweek offers a great example:

Fortunately, CNN got it right:

If DHS’s science and technology advisor Bill Bryan isn’t qualified to make declarative statements relying on research, who is?

Who did the research and where’s their data and output?

Why did the American public have to hear what DHS learned filtered through Trump who has proven himself to be incapable of understanding science let alone demonstrate respect for it?

We need to see the work because there are other studies which do not appear to agree with DHS’s presentation.

This widely cited piece tested the viability of SARS-CoV-2 on different surfaces after exposure to aerosolized virus. The temperature of the study was comparable to a nice spring day — 21-23 degrees Celsius or 69-73 degrees Fahrenheit — with 40% relative humidity.

Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1
van Doremalen N, Bushmaker T, Morris DH, et al.
March 17, 2020
DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973
https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2004973

SARS-CoV-2 is quite stable in conditions one might find in an air-conditioned indoor setting according to this study. This much agrees with what DHS presented.

This study looked at viability of the virus over time at different increasing temperatures and exposure to ultraviolet light — like solar radiation.

Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions
Alex W.H. Chin, Julie T.S. Chu, Mahen R.A. Perera, Kenrie P.Y. Hui, Hui-Ling Yen, Michael C.W. Chan, Malik Peiris, Leo L.M. Poon
https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.15.20036673v2.full.pdf

Here’s a table from the study addressing viability of SARS-CoV-2 at different temperatures:

You can see the virus is viable at 37 degrees C — that’s coincidentally 98.6F, the old average temperature for humans. The virus is stable at that temp for as long as a day. It’s not stable for long at 56C (132.8F) and not at all at 70C (158F) but then neither are humans.

Unsurprisingly, disinfectants disinfect according to the study’s results shown in the table above. Only one little burp with hand soap solution — one of three attempts showed some viability.

This study looked at the differences in number of outbreaks over time in a particular region of China, as the season changed and both temperature and amount of sunlight increased.

No Association of COVID-19 transmission with temperature or UV radiation in Chinese cities
Ye Yao, Jinhua Pan, Zhixi Liu, Xia Meng, Weidong Wang, Haidong Kan, Weibing Wang
Published online April 8, 2020.
European Respiratory Journal 2020, 2000517; DOI: 10.1183/13993003.00517-2020
https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/early/2020/04/01/13993003.00517-2020

These researchers hypothesized that COVID-19 transmission may decrease or even disappear when the temperature and UV radiation increase in the summer.

They collected the confirmed case numbers of 224 cities from China’s National Health Commission, the daily mean temperature and relative humidity collected from the China Meteorological Data Sharing Service System, and daily erythemally-weighted daily dose of UV radiation data extracted from the Dutch-Finnish Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard NASA’s Aurora satellite. After adjustment for relative humidity and UV, they found temperature held no significant associations with cumulative incidence rate, and that UV was not significantly associated with cumulative incidence rate after adjustment for temperature and relative humidity.

These studies — though some are pre-print and in peer review — do not agree with what DHS’s Bill Bryan or the DHS presentation published a week ago said.

And none of them match what Trump said, whatsoever.

Media outlets really need to have a science reporter covering Trump’s briefings rather than the usual White House correspondents — people who are already highly versed in COVID-19 research and are able to put Trump on the spot.

Or the media needs to give up covering Trump’s briefings live if they can’t do real time pushback and demand better of the guy occupying the White House. Carrying his unfiltered bullshit will get somebody killed and damage businesses which are doing their best to operate under the strain of pandemic conditions.

~ ~ ~

We know now from the Washington Post that Trump’s unacceptable remarks on light and disinfectant therapy for treatment of COVID-19 may have been inspired by a briefing about a DHS study:

Trump’s commentary seemed to be inspired by a presentation from a Department of Homeland Security official about a promising but still inconclusive government study exploring the possibility of heat, humidity and light to kill the virus, as well as the effectiveness of disinfectants in killing it on surfaces such as tables, countertops and office workspaces.

Emphasis mine. An in-fucking-conclusive study, the same one on which Bill Bryan gave a presentation. Why was it offered at all? To provide happy talk for the daily propaganda program?

William Bryan, the department’s acting undersecretary for science and technology, first shared the study with members of the White House coronavirus task force on Wednesday and returned Thursday. He said his department had studied the virus in an air chamber and never said chemicals or UV light had been studied on humans nor suggested they be used in humans, according to several administration officials.

Why did he come back? Did some asshat on the White House coronavirus task force think Bryan could finesse this inconclusive report?

Others on the task force, including Birx, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, as well as McEnany and others in the communications and press shops, were concerned that the Department of Homeland Security study had not been thoroughly vetted. “It was not ready at all to go to the president,” the senior official said. “There was no guideline. There was no data. There was nothing.”

Oh. Now we have sources named. At least one of these people and/or Dr. Fauci are most likely to have said this “study” was not ready to go to Trump. If these three and Dr. Fauci didn’t think it was ready, how did it end up getting in front of Trump?

Still, Vice President Pence and his team wanted Bryan to present the information to the president and to the public, eager to have something positive to share. They hoped the study would help encourage people to spend more time outdoors and to disinfect their homes, aides said.

Oh great — Mr. HIV-outbreak-of Indiana Pence with a history of ignoring public health officials’ advice to the public’s detriment, probably ignored the opinions of task force members who felt the DHS “study” was not ready for Trump’s propaganda show.

This time Pence’s bad decision-making resulted in an onslaught of calls to poison control center numbers and at least 20 people in New York alone who ingested bleach or disinfectant.

No word yet as to whether someone has fried themselves crispy outdoors in an effort to get rid of SARS-CoV-2 using ultraviolet light having relied on the misinfo/disinfo served up by the idiocracy in the White House.

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