Posts

Despite Rapid Growth In Civil Rights Tourism, Montgomery Remains Firmly In The Grip Of Racist White Men

In a tragic vote yesterday, the City Council in Montgomery, Alabama failed to pass an ordinance that would have required the use of face masks in public. This vote came after an impassioned plea from local doctors:

Jackson Hospital pulmonologist William Saliski cleared his throat as he started describing the dire situation created by the coronavirus pandemic in Montgomery to its City Council before they voted on a mandatory mask ordinance. “It’s been a long day, I apologize,” he said.

“The units are full with critically-ill COVID patients,” Saliski said. About 90% of them are Black. He said hospitals are able to manage for now, but it’s not sustainable. “This mask slows that down, 95% protection from something as easy as cloth. … If this continues the way it’s going, we will be overrun.”

More doctors followed him to the microphone, describing the dead being carried out within 30 minutes of each other, and doctors being disturbed when people on the street ask them if the media is lying about the pandemic as part of a political ploy.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Note that Salisky said that units at the hospital are full with critically ill patients. But also note especially that the newspaper adds that he said 90% of the patients are black. Finally, he said that without intervention, the hospital certainly will be overrun.

The intervention measure proposed is simple and direct. Salisky claimed 95% reduction in transmission with a mask. I’m not so sure on that number, but it is becoming increasingly clear that masks, especially when coupled with social distancing, make a huge difference in reducing transmission.

We need to set the stage properly before getting to the details of the council’s vote in order to fully appreciate it.

Montgomery has a truly sordid past. As the Equal Justice Initiative has noted, Montgomery was Alabama’s center for the slave trade. EJI erected this plaque on Commerce Street in downtown Montgomery:

That’s right. Humans were literally warehoused between auction dates in Montgomery. In a bit of rare social justice, that building, 122 Commerce Street, is now one of several Equal Justice Initiative facilities in Montgomery:

I have these photos because, as I mentioned previously, I had the opportunity in February to travel to Montgomery with a busload of people from here in the Gainesville area. We visited two EJI facilities, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (seen in the featured image for this post) and the Legacy Museum. We also made the approximately one hour bus trip to Selma, where we experienced the Footprints to Freedom Tour which included stops at the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute, the Slavery and Civil Rights Museum and a walk across the Edmund Pettis Bridge.

It turns out we were far from alone in making this trip. In November of 2018, the Montgomery Advertiser noted a significant uptick in visits to Montgomery and traced them directly to the opening of the National Memorial and Legacy Museum that April:

Over 250,000 people have visited the Equal Justice Initiative’s downtown museum and memorial to lynching victims since the sites opened in April. More than that, the burst of international attention that came with those sites has turned the city into a destination, instead of a stop on the way to something else. That’s led more people to discover the city’s other historic sites and attractions, from Martin Luther King Jr.’s church, to the site where Rosa Parks boarded the bus.

/snip/

“EJI has put Montgomery on the world’s radar,” he said. “I think Montgomery is in the best position for tourism appeal than it has ever been.”

Now, they’re voting with dollars.

Hotel room stays in Montgomery inched up by about 5,500 in 2017, according to state figures. This year they’re up 97,579 through October, according to the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Note the mention of Rosa Parks as another part of Montgomery’s role in civil rights history.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott, from December, 1955 to December, 1956 marked Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rise to national attention. This adds significantly to the historic legacy of Montgomery and civil rights.

It should also be noted that Montgomery’s demographics are 61% black and only 33% white.

So with this rich history of civil rights activism, burgeoning civil rights tourism and a population 61% black, surely Montgomery’s City Council would vote for an ordinance that would slow down a disease where one doctor characterized those hospitalized as 90% black, wouldn’t they?

Not so fast. This is, after all, still Alabama. Here’s a link to the current Montgomery City Council. In a city that has 61% black citizens and only 33% white, the City Council has five white men, three black men and one black woman. Hardly representative.

Returning to the Advertiser story on last night’s vote:

After they spoke, and before the council voted on a proposal by Councilman C.C. Calhoun to mandate mask-wearing in public in Montgomery, Councilman Brantley Lyons questioned whether masks and six-foot distancing really helps. They do, the doctors replied. Lyons was unmoved. “At the end of the day, if an illness or a pandemic comes through we do not throw our constitutional rights out the window,” Lyons said.

From the crowd, doctors called for him to visit the hospital sometime.

Instead, the council killed the ordinance after it failed to pass in a 4-4 tie, mostly along racial lines, with Councilman Tracy Larkin absent. Councilman Clay McInnis voted with three Black council members — Calhoun, Oronde Mitchell and Audrey Graham — in favor of the ordinance. Lyons, Charles Jinright, Richard Bollinger and Glen Pruitt voted against it.

Only one white man voted for the ordinance. Sadly, one of the black men on the council was absent. I haven’t seen anywhere whether there might be an attempt at a new vote with all members present, since if no members change their vote, it would have a good chance at passage.

But note especially the behavior of Brantley Lyons. He asked the doctors whether it is true the masks and distancing would help prevent spread of the disease. Even though the doctors assured him it was true, Lyons trotted out the trope that the frothy right has been spewing all through the pandemic. Trying to claim that an ordinance mandating masks somehow would “throw our constitutional rights out the window” is the same sort of stupid rhetoric that racist conservative white people have spewed for generations whenever blacks sought equal protection under the law. And that circles back perfectly on the first quote from this article, where the doctors described being upset when the public approaches them to ask if the media is lying about the pandemic as part of a political ploy.

We know exactly where the real political ploy is coming from. Donald Trump is saying the quiet part out loud to fan the flames of racism in our country and he is directly responsible for these ideas spreading rapidly through people who listen to OAN and Fox News creating the narrative that the pandemic is fake. There also is no doubt that there is a huge component of racism in this entire process. Trump doesn’t hide his, but two-bit worthless politicans like Brantley Lyons happily spew this bunk without regard to the real and ongoing danger to the black citizens of Montgomery. You can rest assured that if this disease primarily attacked old white men, those not wearing masks would risk being shot on sight.

 

 

COVID-19 Exposes Migrant Worker Conditions Amounting To Modern Day Slavery In Florida Agriculture

My home county, Alachua County in Florida, has been rocked by news that came out just after noon yesterday, that, as of that time, 76 agricultural workers in the county had tested positive for COVID-19. Today, that number appears to have grown even more, as the Florida COVID-19 dashboard shows 91 new cases of the disease being added on June 10 and 11, bringing the total to only 506. That means that this outbreak in only two days has grown the total for the county by about 20%.

Here is the report from one of the local television stations:

Although the particular farm where the outbreak occurred is not identified, this report appears to confirm my first suspicion, which is that due to the time of year, this outbreak almost certainly had to be among migrant workers harvesting watermelons, which are at the height of their season now locally.

The problem of migrant agricultural workers living and working under conditions conducive to an outbreak of the virus is not localized to Alachua County, of course, as we have been aware for some time of a severe outbreak in Immokalee. As AP reported today:

Immokalee is among several immigrant communities in Florida — and numerous rural areas across the U.S. — that have recently experienced outbreaks of the coronavirus. Once thought likely to be spared because of their remote locations and small populations, such communities have seen spikes in infections while having fewer resources to deal with them.

/snip/

The secluded town of 25,000 north of the Everglades has reported more than 1,000 cases, outpacing in recent weeks the rate of infection in Orlando, which has a population 10 times bigger and is home to a busy international airport. The number of total cases in Immokalee has surpassed those in Miami Beach, with more than 900, and St. Petersburg, which has more than 800, according to state health department statistics.

Meanwhile, the percentage of tests that have come back positive in Collier County, home to Immokalee, is the highest in the state among counties that have tested more than 5,000 people.

Because they initially couldn’t get the attention of state officials in Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers enlisted Doctors Without Borders to help them with testing and treatment. But that is not enough.  See their website for their very simple demands and how you can lend your name to their call for help. Here is Greg Asbed of the Coalition in a New York Times Op-Ed published back in April:

Picture yourself waking up in a decrepit, single-wide trailer packed with a dozen strangers, four of you to every room, all using the same cramped bathroom and kitchen before heading to work. You ride to and from the fields in the back of a hot, repurposed school bus, shoulder-to-shoulder with 40 more strangers, and when the workday is done, you wait for your turn to shower and cook before you can lay your head down to sleep. That is life for far too many farmworkers in our country today.

Those conditions, the result of generations of grinding poverty and neglect, will act like a superconductor for the transmission of the coronavirus. And if something isn’t done — now — to address their unique vulnerability, the men and women who plant, cultivate and harvest our food will face a decimating wave of contagion and misery in a matter of weeks, if not days.

Yes, Greg told us so. The conditions under which migrant agricultural workers are forced to work in the US are horrific and incredibly conducive to disease outbreaks.

Returning to the story here in Alachua County, I want to share information I received today from the farmer who runs the CSA from which our family gets its produce for much of the year (today was coincidentally our final pickup for a while, as production pauses during the hottest part of the summer). It turns out that some of the footage (but not the watermelon harvest footage) in the TV story above was shot, without permission, at his farm, presumably because his farm is very close to town and media outlets tend to contact him about any agricultural story. He shared with us his response to the media organizations that contacted him regarding the outbreak:

Our produce has always been safe. We have always practiced good hygiene and field work is by nature socially distanced work.

The problem is when people work and live and travel in groups. The American system of farming depends on mobile low wage workers who are are powerless to poor conditions. I’ve seen 15 people living in a single wide mobile home that another local farm pays for. The workers don’t make enough to live elsewhere and their work is transient because our American model of production is based on the efficiency of monoculture.

People will get sick when they live in crappy conditions. You should do a story that brings modern day slavery to light in Alachua county. Don’t put our farm in with all the rest. We have a safe normal job with benefits for our workers. We pay a living wage and retain employees for years. That is not the norm for agriculture in the United States. People demand cheap produce and people in the shadows pay the price. That should be the theme of your story.

And don’t call it a community. A community is when people live stably together. These people travel up and down the east coast. Their children miss school or they are separated from their parents. They have no home and their families are split up for economic reasons. Calling it community is just more ignorance for the general public who have no idea where food comes from.

Wow. That is just so damning in how our country goes about producing food. These migrant workers really are trapped in a modern version of slavery with virtually no chance of escape. They are forced into cramped living and working conditions that put them much more at risk than those affluent citizens whom they feed. And our media mostly misses the true impact of those conditions and the fact that it doesn’t have to be that way. My CSA costs are a bit higher than buying the same items at the local grocery store, but the difference is very small. When you factor in the cruelty of the modern slavery system and the cost to society when outbreaks like this hit workers, our current system can be characterized as nothing less than heartless evil.

Oh, and one last note in parting. The Gainesville Sun article on the outbreak opened with this gem:

One farm worker who traveled to Alachua County from Miami-Dade County unknowingly infected at least 76 additional workers with COVID-19.

A total of 98 people traced back to the worker were tested for the virus Saturday evening, said Paul Myers, administrator for the Department of Health in Alachua County. Eight tested negative, and 14 tests are still pending.

Hmmm.  So one person coming here from South Florida managed to infect over 70 (and likely now around 90) people with COVID-19. And yet, our esteemed governor is hell-bent on “opening” the University of Florida this fall. Yes, there are plans to “screen” students before they’re allowed on campus. And students don’t live with 15 or so people in a single wide trailer. But student living groups like fraternities, sororities and dorms do wind up with many students in close quarters. And does anyone really think that student parties or even student bars downtown will follow social distancing guidelines?

This will not end well.

 

 

105,746

Apart from having to hide in the bunker this evening, how convenient for you, Bronx Colors user, that the media has been under fire for two days and unable to hold you accountable.

How convenient for you the media and public have changed the subject to this country’s original sin, racism.

So convenient it’s almost as if the distraction was organized.

So convenient the riot gear purchased by the feds earlier this year may have found a good use, depending on how it was distributed when received.*

What a pity personal protection equipment for the entire American health care system hadn’t been ordered at the same time the riot gear was purchased. We’ll chalk that up to another one of your gross failings.

The dust will eventually settle on the streets, the tear gas will drift away, the arrested will pay bail and head home.

And the subject will return to your gross failings because they continue to mount every day. We’ll grant you that much: your malignant neglect of your role as president to protect and defend the Constitution and the people who live within its reach is greater than that of any American president in history and grows apace.

COVID-19 US death toll, June 1. 2020 800h ET
You owe this many Americans and their surviving family and friends an apology, at a minimum, for having failed so wretchedly handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly all of these deaths could have been avoided had you gotten off your ass and done what was needed in January after China and WHO announced the risk of pandemic.

Being a malignant narcissist, though, I’m sure this will only make you feel like a victim.

You’d be better off staying in your bunker, whether below the White House or on one of your goddamned golf courses. It would cost this country fewer lives if you spent the rest of your term at one of your resorts, tooling around in a taxpayer-rented golf cart, chasing a little white ball.

_________

* Links to purchase orders:

Order signed 23-MAR-2020, $25,963.10, for POLICE GEAR,DISPOSABLE CUFFS, GAS MASKS, BALLISTIC HELMETS, RIOT GLOVES

https://beta.sam.gov/awards/89062523%2BAWARD?keywords=%09%2036C26220P0825%20&sort=-relevance&index=&is_active=true&page=1

Order signed 17-MAR-2020, $63,333.96, for POLICE PROTECTION EQUIPMENT FOR WASHINGTON D.C. VA POLICE IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 OUTBREAK.

https://beta.sam.gov/awards/89176706%2BAWARD?keywords=%09%2036C24520P0413%20&sort=-relevance&index=&is_active=true&page=1

NB: 105,773 — U.S. death toll from COVID-19, June 1, 2020 8:00 a.m. ET via Wikipedia’s COVID-19 pandemic data page.

Is COVID-19 Why Florida Has About 1300 More Pneumonia Deaths This Season Than Average Over Previous Five?

Earlier today, I saw this tweet that suggests a huge excess of pneumonia deaths in Florida this year compared to previous years. The data in the tweet suggested that Florida has around 4000 more pneumonia deaths this year than the average for the previous five years. That sounded a little high to me, as I have spent a lot of time over the past few months poring through the data at this CDC site on weekly numbers for pneumonia and influenza deaths. Looking deeper into the tweet, it appeared to depend on a reddit post and it had a low number for Florida reported COVID-19 deaths, so it was necessary to go back to original sources.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent several hours downloading data from the CDC national database you can access at the link above and picking out just the Florida data to paste into another spreadsheet. I chose a poor strategy that day, as I only looked at the total pneumonia and influenza deaths even though the data are broken down into both categories. I few days later, I realized that I needed to go back into the data and look only at pneumonia deaths, as it seems likely that there could be quite a few deaths attributed to pneumonia in patients who were never tested for COVID-19. Also, flu deaths vary widely from year to year depending on the severity of the outbreaks and the effectiveness of that year’s vaccine, so that total number has a lot of noise year to year. Seeing the tweet today prompted me to go back and download the data again so that the 2019-2020 data would be more up to date.

As downloaded today, there are data in the spreadsheet through week number 20 for each state. For Florida, the week 20 numbers appear to be only partial totals, so for this analysis, I only went through week 19 of 2020. Each season in the data begins with week 40 of the year (so this year’s data starts at week 40 of 2019). However, since the COVID-19 outbreak is generally considered to have started in earnest in mid- to late November of 2019, I included only the last four weeks of 2019 with the first 19 weeks of 2020. I then found the totals for the same time period in each of the five previous seasons.

The totals for pneumonia deaths are:

2014-2015                 5510

2015-2016                 5214

2016-2017                 5540

2017-2018                 5792

2018-2019                 5374

2019-2020                 6772

One of these things is not like the others. The average total for the previous five years is 5486 pneumonia deaths for weeks 49 through week 19 of each season. That means that 2019-2020 has 1286 more deaths from pneumonia than the average for that period in the previous five seasons. The Florida COVID-19 dashboard right now is showing 2319 deaths from the virus. I would suggest that number is more like 3605 when the excess pneumonia deaths are included. Note also that there may well be other deaths due to the virus in patients who were not tested but died due to the other types of pathology seen by the virus that don’t manifest directly as pneumonia.

Last week, I asked how many COVID-19 deaths Ron DeSantis is hiding. We can now account for about 1300 and it seems likely there may well be more.

 

 

Negotiating a New Routine in the Time of Pandemic

My youngest has now emerged from quarantine within quarantine (henceforth QwQ) in our household. They were restricted for two weeks inside our house once they came home from college after having health problems during finals week.

This meant open windows and masks worn during the most mundane conversations — on my part, slapping on a mask before yelling that dinner was ready, and on their part slapping on a mask before picking up their dinner tray outside their door.

I can tell you two weeks of room service, three meals a day and occasional snacks, delivered outside the bedroom door or placed on the deck table outside is no fun for either the cook or the eater.

But now that they’ve emerged from their confinement suite we have to negotiate a new routine within the household. I’ve had to remind somebody a couple times they no longer have QwQ room service.

We also have to negotiate new approaches for an adult child living at home with parents, unable to go about living as young people did before this pandemic forced Stay Home orders.

How does one date when one can’t leave the house? How does one conduct one-on-one dialog with a romantic interest while across the room from one’s parents?

Awkwardly.

This past Friday was a dinner date. I was warned in advance this was a regular event before QwQ. We’d been discussing options to plan dinner later in the day — the adult child told me I didn’t need to plan for them because they were going to have dinner with their romantic partner.

Okay…you may imagine my eyebrows in my hairline.

Apparently these two lovebirds have been cooking together on Friday nights since they can’t go to restaurants. This time they can’t even meet in person to cook in the same kitchen, but cook together they would.

“Are you going to Zoom a meeting? Will you need a tripod set up in the kitchen?” I’d asked.

These are not exactly the kinds of details for which one designs and builds a kitchen, but here we are, thinking about methods to retrofit my kitchen into a Food TV network set for two.

No extra work needed this time; just a set of headphones with mic and their cell phone along with full use of the kitchen.

In other words, get out of the way, mother.

Not exactly easy since the kitchen is at one end of the family great room and my office is in the middle of the same space. Which means while I am poking around online and moderating comments here, my spawn is cooking away while engaged in discussion with their romantic partner.

The really awkward part: partner can hear me, I can’t hear them, and my adult child isn’t prefacing questions to me or to their partner so that we can’t tell who the question is aimed at before we both answer.

And then after dinner is done and the adult child flees with a prepared plate in one hand and the phone in the other, I’m left with the dirty dishes and other cooking detritus.

As I said, we have to negotiate a new routine within the household. Looks like I need to find something to do every Friday night in the garage, the basement, or the garden. And it looks like the adult child needs to clean the kitchen before taking off for the private part of the date.

~ ~ ~

Another aspect of pandemic life in a multi-generational household I hadn’t anticipated: the late night snack attack.

I dozed off while reading in my lounge chair sometime around 11:00 p.m. last evening, rousing in a heart-stopping fashion when someone banged LOUDLY on my front door. Stumbling toward the door I realized I had no mask with me, couldn’t open the door safely, flailed around in a groggy state, heart pounding, wondering if the lights in the driveway were the police or some other authority figure.

The lights began to back out of the drive as I turned on the porch lights and opened the door slowly. The vehicle pulled away just as I noticed a fast food bag on my porch.

What the hell? Did I get a neighbor’s midnight meal by accident? I looked up and down the street and could see no lights on, no one looking for their — at this point I checked the slip on the bag without touching it — burgers and fries.

The tumblers of awareness clicked into place.

Yelling for my adult child to come down and handle the fast food delivery was nearly as annoying as being jolted awake. They couldn’t hear me with their headphones on while gaming online, requiring yet more pounding on another door.

“Oh — the meal was 45 minutes early, sorry about that,” they said. “How do you want me to handle this?” they asked.

“Good gods, you ordered food with packaging you would have to decontaminate and you didn’t plan ahead for that?”

Much scowling and hand washing ensued, sprinkled with questions and feedback about the delivery service and tipping and how to handle future food deliveries.

Yes, we have to negotiate yet another new routine within the household.

~ ~ ~

I felt really old after the fire drill of late night food delivery by way of app. It never occurred to me to have french fries delivered to my doorstep.

Sure, I’ve joked for years now about a business plan for drone-based app-ordered deliveries of chocolate and alcohol and condoms. I didn’t imagine we’d still use cars for deliveries like this, or that orders would be so mundane instead of pricier upscale items.

But then I didn’t imagine business models relying on a permanent underclass ferrying products instead of flying machines.

I also didn’t imagine an adult child of mine would become so inured to such exploitative business models that they saw delivery of a milkshake or burger as entirely normal and acceptable.

Perhaps the profits are greater in the density of a college town and this now-former student had become too accustomed to a different norm at university, especially since friends also worked for delivery firms. But we’re at the edge of suburbia in what many Americans might consider a small town. This shouldn’t be the norm without green transportation.

Some of the negotiations we need to have are about the ethics of our expectations both in the time of pandemic and in the years ahead during a new normal.

Imagine as this pandemic pushes us deeper into an economic depression how easy it will be to exploit increasingly desperate people. We’re privileged to be able to think about this — we need to use this privilege for good, beginning with greater consciousness about our spending choices and making more donations to local food pantries.

And someone here may be learning how to cook those late night french fries at home, alone or perhaps with their partner or gaming opponents online.

I might even be able to sleep in my armchair through that.

 

This is an open thread.

How to (Not) Hydroxychloroquine COVID-19

The medical journal The Lancet published a study Friday which showed anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) — the same drug repeatedly pushed by Trump — does not work as intended against the virus which causes COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine’s precursor drug, chloroquine, has shown mild antiviral action in vitro against the Borna disease virus (an orthobornavirus), the minute virus of mice MVMp (a parvovirus), and the avian leukosis virus (a retrovirus) as well as the coronavirus which causes SARS. It has also shown promise against Hepatitis A (a hepatovirus).

But both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine posed inherent risks to patients as they increased the risk of heart arrhythmia.

Ideally, HCQ’s antiviral effect would prevent the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 from replicating, allowing the body to attack and remove the virus before it could attack human cells and spread through the body, resulting in earlier recovery from the infection.

Patients who received both HCQ, or its precursor chloroquine, with or without an additional antibiotic, did not recover faster than the cohort which didn’t receive chloroquine.

Further, the patients receiving the drug therapies were more likely to die than those who didn’t.

This study is the latest showing HCQ or chloroquine both didn’t work and increased patient mortality. Previous negative studies included:

Effect of High vs Low Doses of Chloroquine Diphosphate as Adjunctive Therapy for Patients Hospitalized With Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Infection – A Randomized Clinical Trial
Mayla Gabriela Silva Borba, MD; Fernando Fonseca Almeida Val, PhD; Vanderson Souza Sampaio, PhD; et al
JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(4):e208857. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.8857
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2765499

Of particular note:

Findings In this phase IIb randomized clinical trial of 81 patients with COVID-19, an unplanned interim analysis recommended by an independent data safety and monitoring board found that a higher dosage of chloroquine diphosphate for 10 days was associated with more toxic effects and lethality, particularly affecting QTc interval prolongation. The limited sample size did not allow the study to show any benefit overall regarding treatment efficacy.

Outcomes of hydroxychloroquine usage in United States veterans hospitalized with Covid-19
Joseph Magagnoli, Siddharth Narendran, et al
Pre-print; posted April 23, 2020. medRxiv 2020.04.16.20065920; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.16.20065920
https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.16.20065920v2

Of particular note:

CONCLUSIONS: In this study, we found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with Covid-19. An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone. These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs.

We still don’t know why Trump is pushing this drug. It’s no longer under a patent and now a generic medication; it’s cheap to produce. If there’s money to be made by promotion of this medication it’s not clear how Trump profits.

We still can’t be certain he’s taking it himself though he claims he is; the letter from his doctor does not clearly state that Trump has been prescribed HCQ and at what dosage for what period of time nor has there been any information provided with regard to the nature of monitoring Trump receives while taking HCQ.

We don’t know why Trump would claim to take HCQ on the advice of some unknown person alleging to be a doctor. We’ve no further information about the letter, the letter’s author, whether a letter even existed since Trump has a proven propensity for making up shit.

All we can be sure of at this point is that more patients with COVID-19 may have died, potentially because of HCQ’s promotion by Trump, than may have died had he refrained from practicing medicine without a license by pushing HCQ.

In the case of the study of HCQ at Veterans Health Administration medical centers, former service persons who’ve already paid a price for our freedoms have been used in human experimentation in what might have been an attempt to validate Trump’s claims about HCQ — and some of them died for it.

It seems odd VA doctors used it out of the clear blue when the Food and Drug Administration hadn’t formally approved this drug for COVID-19 patients. (It’s probably just a coincidence the Center for Disease Control lifted its guidance on off-label use of HCQ two weeks before the VA study was published, right?)

It’d be nice to know if Trump’s three golf buddies at Mar-a-Lago — one of then a doctor — had anything to do with the use of HCQ and chloroquine at VA hospitals on COVID-19 patients.

There’s simply no good reason for Trump’s plugging this particular drug therapy except to harm and kill Americans.

Pompeo’s Latest Attempts To Propel Propaganda On Lab Escape Of SARS CoV-2 Suffer Two Epic Swat-Downs

Recall that back on April 30, I wrote about how the Trump Administration had been orchestrating a propaganda push to claim that SARS CoV-2 was accidentally released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Of special importance is that the New York Times article I cited on the topic specifically mentioned Mike Pompeo as one of the primary forces behind pushing the story. Recall also that a part of this propaganda effort came from “leaked” State Department cables.

Apparently, getting called out by the New York Times was not enough to deter Pompeo from this effort. He returned to the airwaves on May 3, telling ABC that there is “enormous evidence” that the virus came from the lab. And then “magically”, but in reality following the aluminum tubes playbook straight out of Cheney’s Iraq WMD playbook, a “report” came into the hands of NBC, who published it May 8. The report purportedly relied on “open source” data to make the case that some sort of accident occurred at the lab in late October, prompting officials to shut down the lab and block roads surrounding it. NBC debunked one aspect of the report in their story, noting that a conference at the lab that the report claims was cancelled in this timeframe actually took place as planned.

Yesterday, Erin Banco and colleagues at Daily Beast published what can only be described as one of the most epic slap-downs of fake intelligence I’ve ever seen. Please go read the piece in full, because summarizing cannot properly capture its full glory.

The dissection of the false intelligence in the report begins with work done by Jeffrey Lewis (one of the best follows on Twitter at @ArmsControlWonk), who utterly destroyed the report’s claims regarding satellite data:

What’s more, imagery collected by DigitalGlobe’s Maxar Technologies satellites and provided to The Daily Beast reveals a simpler, less exotic reason for why analysts believed “roadblocks” went into place around the lab after the supposed accident: road construction. The Maxar images also show typical workdays, with normal traffic patterns around the lab, after the supposedly cataclysmic event.

“This is an illustrated guide on how not to do open source analysis,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who analyzed the MACE report for The Daily Beast. “It is filled with apples-to-oranges comparisons, motivated reasoning, and a complete refusal to consider mundane explanations or place the data in any sort of context.”

That’s right. The report took images showing roads blocked for ordinary road construction and claimed they showed that a catastrophic accident in the lab meant that traffic had to be kept away to prevent exposure to the leaked virus.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. I’ll get to who MACE, who prepared the report, is a bit later. The story continues:

MACE’s analysts tried to establish a “pattern of life” at the Wuhan lab in order to reveal what they claim is an anomaly, one purportedly caused by a leak. The MACE document charts the movement of apparent Wuhan lab personnel into and out of the facility leading up to October, when the alleged leak took place. In one slide, analysts wrote that there is an “18 day gap” in which “there were no observable events” from devices at the lab between Oct. 6 and 24, supposedly suggesting an accidental leak.

In doing so, they appear to have been unaware of a key cultural factor complicating the normal course of events: a holiday. “The first week of October is a golden week in China, which is going to disrupt that pattern,” Lewis said.

Yep. The “anomaly” MACE ascribes to leak was in fact an ordinary holiday when activity would be diminished around the lab for a perfectly ordinary reason.

And the Daily Beast investigators spread the fun around, getting the folks at Bellingcat involved in investigating the claims made in the report:

The Daily Beast asked analysts at the award-winning open source investigative news outlet Bellingcat to review the MACE dossier and evaluate the quality of its conclusions. Within minutes of receiving the dossier, Bellingcat senior investigator Nick Waters disproved one of the MACE document’s claims: that a conference on biosafety lab management at the Wuhan lab scheduled for the first week of November was canceled.

But the conference did take place, as NBC first reported. Waters found a Facebook post from a Pakistani scientist who had attended the event and taken selfies there, including at the BSL-3 laboratory.

Wow. And Waters doesn’t stop there:

He also took a dig at one of the many amateurish elements in the MACE presentation. “Perhaps the authors should have spent more time testing their analysis rather than working out how to crop the eye of Sauron into a logo copy-pasted from the internet,” Waters said.

Okay, I got a huge laugh at the eye of Sauron bit. That’s because I’ve run into the folks behind MACE before. As Daily Beast points out, MACE stands for Multi Agency Collaboration Environment. And according to this link they provide, MACE is hosted at a company in Las Vegas by the name of Sierra Nevada Corporation. Way back in 2011, I wrote about a technology called Gorgon Stare, developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation, that claimed to enable real time remote viewing analysis of entire villages in Iraq or Afghanistan from imaging equipment carried by high-flying drones. Of course, this technology turned out to be a very expensive boondoggle that did nothing to help intelligence-gathering. I can’t help wondering if the eye of Sauron bit was an insider joke at Sierra Nevada that Waters understood and shot right back at them to ridicule this report and the old Gorgon Stare technology.

So, while the MACE report clearly originated in the US, what I haven’t seen yet is a clear indication of just when it surfaced, especially when it surfaced for senior Trump Administration officials and the intelligence community. It would not surprise me if it goes all the way back to the propaganda campaign in mid-April I described in my previous post. The version of the report that NBC published has the last several pages redacted with the description that this was done to protect names from being disclosed. That really makes me wonder if the specific question from John Roberts of Fox News to Trump on April 14 about an intern at the lab being infected and then spreading it to her boyfriend and the wet market was based on the redacted portion of the MACE report. All we know about timing is that the report had made its way to Congressional committees by May 8 when NBC published it.

There is another weak intelligence document, though, that this time is traced directly to the State Department. On May 7, the Sydney Morning Herald debunked a “dossier” that had been leaked from the US embassy in Canberra that the Daily Telegraph (a Rupert Murdoch paper in Australia) wrote about on May 2. The Herald says this about Australian officials  looking for the basis of the dossier:

Senior members of the Morrison government and Australian intelligence agencies at first had trouble finding the document. Eventually they found a research report, based on publicly available information including news reports, which appeared to fit the description. The research paper contained no information that was generated from intelligence gathering, according to people who have read it.

Labor MP Anthony Byrne, the deputy chair of the influential intelligence and security committee, was “incensed” by the report of the dossier. Mr Byrne, one of Parliament’s biggest supporters of the US alliance, directly raised his concerns with senior members of the Morrison government and intelligence agencies, saying Australia shouldn’t accept intelligence that doesn’t exist and fall for a “tricked-up document”.

There are now widespread suspicions within senior ranks of the Australian government and the intelligence community that the document was leaked to The Daily Telegraph by a staff member in the US embassy in Canberra. This suspicion, whether true or not, underlines how the positions between sections of Canberra and Washington national security circles have diverged over the claim. Some senior officials clearly believe the US embassy is pushing a narrative in the Australian media that could be counter to the beliefs and interests of its hosts.

The story continues:

The episode highlights the danger of mischaracterising the work of intelligence agencies. Some of the footnotes in the document contained references to US media reports that were based on unsubstantiated assertions from the US government – the same kind of circular intelligence which resulted in the “children overboard” affair in 2001.

Wow. The Herald also goes there, comparing this propaganda ploy to an Australian false information scandal of similar magnitude to the Iraq WMD operation in the US.

But again, Pompeo and those under him seem to be central to this whole operation. The Daily Telegraph story appeared just a day before Pompeo claimed “huge evidence” and likely was based on a document leaked by a US embassy. And then NBC published the MACE document a few days later. I haven’t seen anyone suggest that the document in Australia is the MACE document, but the Herald’s description and debunking of it sure would fit with them being the same or at least having the same source.

Given Pompeo’s central role in spreading propaganda that has been so easily refuted, I can’t help wondering if we will have another shoe drop on the firing of Steve Linick. Note that in his letter to Congress on the firing (which will be complete at the end of a 30 day clock starting Friday night), Trump said it was based on Pompeo’s suggestion that Linick be fired. Also note that we were first told it was because Linick was investigating Pompeo using State Department personnel to run personal errands. Today, that’s been expanded to cover the fast-tracking of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. But in their article on that, CNN notes:

But at this time, House Democrats say they do not yet know which investigation was the biggest factor behind the decision to dismiss Linick.

“I wouldn’t assign percentages,” a Democratic committee aide said.

Democrats on both the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees are interested in learning more about Linick’s investigations into Pompeo, and Engel emphasized the importance of cooperation from the administration in his statement Monday.

“The administration should comply with the probe I launched with Senator Menendez and turn over all the records requested from the Department by Friday,” he said, a reference to Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I find it hard to believe that Pompeo would have felt truly threatened by either the investigation into using aides for personal errands or expediting the Saudi arms sales. Those just seem like garden variety Trump corruption that gets shrugged off as the next daily outrage appears. However, if Linick had started nosing around the leak of the State Department’s own Wuhan cables and/or the allegation of the leak of the report from the Canberra embassy, I think Pompeo would see a bigger danger. That would represent an investigation into an ongoing propaganda operation in which Pompeo disseminated easily disproved disinformation.

The final beautiful irony here is that if Linick had started such an investigation, it likely was based on open source information. Unlike the MACE information though, this open source information would consist of Pompeo’s own recorded media appearances and the subsequent public debunking of the propaganda. That propaganda getting debunked would be both Pompeo’s direct statements and the debunking of the “supporting” material that appears to have been released either by him or those doing his bidding.

It’s the Inequality, Stupid: Why Test, Trace, Isolate Won’t Stop Covid-19 in America

Asian teens dancing memes on disease safety precautions are amazing

Everything is changing, and in the face of that, America is failing. Over 90,000 souls have paid for our failing. Millions more are living in terror for their livelihoods and their families. But Covid-19 isn’t a technology problem, or a science question, or a supply chain issue, or even a question of doctoring. This challenge is public health, and that is something we’ve been failing at for a damn long time. Not completely, but for most people the American health system is a nightmare, and interacting with it is among Americans’ greatest fears. Without addressing that fact, anything else we do can’t succeed, not in the models of countries like South Korea, Germany, or the overlooked best of all pandemic responses, Vietnam. (Not only did they aggressively treat, trace, and quarantine every case, but they did wonderful and memeworthy public communication from the start)

 

…Versus pasty uncool white people protesting their right to sicken other people before they die themselves.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who reacted quicker than any other governor to shut down the state of California, saved innumerable lives. Now he is opening many shops for curbside pick up, and relaxing other measures. “This is a very positive sign,” he said, “and it is happening for only one reason: The data says it can happen.”

But with testing capacity still lacking in the state, (fewer than 1 in 20 Californians being tested) the data says no such thing, and it’s even worse in most of the country. We are not ready to open. The history of fighting epidemics from Ebola to AIDS to antibiotic resistant TB is very clear. To stop an epidemic: catch every case with testing, trace every contact, and make sure the ill and their contacts can and do isolate safely, and be treated promptly if they fall ill. That last part is key, and each of these epidemics have borne  out that treatment is important to both preventing transmission, and creating a unified populous for fighting the epidemic. Without all of those elements, the only thing stopping Covid-19 burning through the world is staying home, staying distant from everyone else – the isolated life we’ve been living so far in this pandemic.

Sars-CoV-2 is an infectious respiratory virus with a as-of-yet unknown but presumed small infectious dose. One person missed, one popular guy or woman about town doing essential work can start the whole cycle again within days without ever so much a cough or a headache. One party full of invincible young people or one pre-symptomatic nurse can begin another train of transmission that can eventually sicken or kill thousands.

The decisions that determine the course of an epidemic, all epidemics, are personal decisions. They happen millions of times every day in all kinds of contexts around the world. They happen when a kid stays in, or sneaks out a window. They happen when a community of faith cannot bear to be apart and tries to find ways to cope. They happen when people are balancing the need for health and comfort against the proclamations of some local official who is now a soi-disant disease expert. They happen when a doctor with unexamined bigotry passes over caring for a black patient in favor of a white one, or a rich man over a poor woman. They walk the balancing line between top-down power, community consciousness, and the choices each person makes about who they care about and how they enact that caring. On this score, in this pandemic, America has one terrible failing that rises above all of its others: its unwillingness to provide treatment to the sick.

This nonsense.

There are a lot of bad and desperate ideas in America right now: immunity get-out-of-jail-free cards, Bluetooth contact tracing apps, incoherent partial re-openings, and going wild and pretending it’s all going to go away if we just can get a haircut.

The idea of certifying immunity status would be terrible. If you wanted something like that to work, it would have to convey no immediate benefit to the person being certified immune, and certainly not convey the benefit of being free and able to earn a living for yourself and your family. It is the ultimate moral hazard arising out of an immoral and unjust system.

How would you punish people for defrauding this system? Incarceration and fines would only drive more disease. And people faking immunity is the best case problem a health system would face. The worst is people intentionally getting the disease in order to be allowed back into society, and spreading the virus, even knowingly, because they are desperate. What will you do to the people using this system to get ahead in life? Covid-19 parties are inevitable, because people are people, but what happens when they become a condition for public life? Not only will it drive the poor to risk death while the rich sit away safer in their homes, it means that the level of disease will persist in semi-permanently trapping everyone who doesn’t want Covid-19 and can afford to never go out.

Bluetooth apps do not contract trace. Tracing is an intimate process, a long empathetic conversation with a person who understands your community and seeks to understand and hear you. You have to trust a contact tracer, you have to feel like the people who you name and place in their system will be cared for, protected, and treated, should the worst come to pass.

Bluetooth can’t tell if there’s a wall between you. It can’t tell how windy it was between you and that other person, or if you were stuck in traffic next to them for a half hour. An app can’t tell that you left your phone at home that one time. It cannot tell you of someone who went to the emergency room suddenly, phone lost and forgotten, only to be admitted for a week. It cannot tell you about someone who died alone at home, without ever being tested at all. It can tell you about neighbors you never see or speak to, but it can’t tell you it’s them, so you sit, wondering who it was, wondering if it was real, and what to do now.

Tracing a disease through a community is a human conversation. These are things only humans can do. This is a human job, and a job for those who are trusted by their communities, that speak the language, that know about the things that happen in the neighborhood.

Contact tracers don’t just question people. They mostly are there to listen, and to listen carefully, to safeguard people’s secrets and hopes as well as their shame and their double lives. They need to not just speak the language of those affected by the disease, they need to speak the culture. In the largely Spanish-speaking immigrant neighborhood where I am sheltering-in-place, I take many walks. And in those walks, I have seen hundreds of informational flyers, but almost none in Spanish – more failing.

We know that we need more testing and contact tracing, and we know we need people to quarantine to slow this disease, but before all that, we need to treat the people who are most at risk as human beings. In the long term, everyone’s fate depends on that.

If you want people to stay home and be safe, it has to be financially and logistically possible. People who are doing the right thing have to be supported and cared for. If you want people to seek medical care, it must be available and not cost more than the patient can reasonably pay – which means nothing for the poorest people.

Using police powers to enforce public health is also fool’s game. Any use of police powers must be rare and only for the most unusual situations — no one should be able to look at those situations and say “That could be me there.” The racist enforcement we’re seeing now defeats the goals of public health and endangers everyone, not only spreading the disease to the victims of these arrests, but preventing the populations they come out of from cooperating with public health investigations. Incarceration or fines only threaten to spread disease as wells as deepen poverty and resentment. Diseases, all diseases, feed on poverty and resentment.

Even with some as yet un-obtained insight into immunity status, we won’t know for years how long immunity lasts, or how strong it will be from person to person. We still need to understand how the virus is likely to evolve, and how it affects its victims long term, before we can say much about what the elusive goal of “herd immunity” would really mean.

The simple fact is: a million tests a day, a hundred million, won’t make a difference if the people most likely to get the virus don’t want to be tested because they can’t afford to test positive.

The unspoken problem with engaging with a testing regime is why do it when you can’t get treatment, or afford it if you could get it? Why go to the doctor when that risks destroying your family’s future? We want to test, trace the contacts of every case, and isolate everyone infected, and thus reopen the economy, but without the treatment piece, this idea fails the most basic part of epidemiology: universal participation.

The way we get out is not immunity passports or herd immunity, it’s not test test test, it’s a whole system of health that cares for the whole population. The things that have worked the world over, from Germany to Vietnam, always begin and end with universal access to healthcare. Not just testing, tracing, isolating, but the most important part of public health: treatment. But doing that requires a public health system with the public as the beneficiary, not a small percentage of those who can afford it with ease.

If you want people to work together to get out of this, the people coming forward need to know that themselves and their people will be tested and treated with dignity and mercy. They need to know that going to the hospital with Covid-19 doesn’t mean going bankrupt, giving up on dreams of educating their children, taking care of their parents, or facing deportation. They need to know that they will be treated on the basis of their illness, not their skin color, class, sex, or any other distinction the virus doesn’t respect. Biology doesn’t care about social distinctions. The virus doesn’t either — it is a simple machine that responds to the environment it finds itself in. It’s we who create more susceptible bodies through stress, ill health, co-morbidities untreated in a failed healthcare system. But the virus is not prejudiced, it only seems so in statistics. It will kill rich men in good health, and spare prisoners.

Not everyone is going to be prosocial, but when incentives are right, and peoples’ needs are met, overwhelmingly people do the right thing. There’s always exceptions, and those exceptions become news, but rarely are those the people who tip the balance. People well cared for and informed, educated and competent, will act for the best of their communities and loved ones. This in turn creates the kind of healthy communities that break the chains of transmission. If we concentrate on building healthcare capacity and supporting communities, many of the antisocial people will disappear into them, looked after by their own people. There will always be exceptions, but no one can tell you what to do like Grandma can, especially if Grandma can also see to it you get healthy food, a good education, and most importantly right now, medicine when you’re sick.

America’s health disparities, and the likelihood that Covid-19 could follow other coronavirus immunity patterns could mean that we’re doing this again every couple of years, even as other places in the world begin to recover. Our inability to treat, based on our desire to make medical treatment profitable, will doom us to cycles of disease until most susceptible Americans have died, and others who remain are maimed by the potential long term consequences of this disease.

Even with a vaccine, access in our current system, as well as the poison of antivaxxers, could doom the effort to control the disease. If we chose to do nothing to help or treat the victims of Covid-19, our commitment to denying healthcare to all could potentially keep chains of transmission alive for decades. With universal access to care and aid for isolation, we could break that chain in the next few months. But as we have currently constructed what it means to be American, that would be impossible. The choice this country faces is whether to change as a country, or possibly cease to be out of our commitment to inequality.


My work for Emptywheel is supported by my wonderful patrons on Patreon. You can find out more, and support my work, at Patreon. Photo thanks to Becker1999, and more thanks to Ryan Singel


Deficit Hawks Screeching In The Background

The deficit harpies are warming up in the background. [1] Inflation is just around the corner, they shriek, by which they mean Democrats might take over government. There must be a handbook in which their arguments are laid out probably in red ink. They claim that whatever the Fed and the Treasury do to help anyone has to be paid for sooner rather than later by increasing taxes. Those taxes will fall heavily on the capitalists, which (or who) will destroy economic growth. They claim the government is sucking up all the investment capital, which chokes growth. They say the vast amount of debt will hurt the standing of the US in international finance. It’s predictable and this time it’s silly.

1. The numbers. Congress has authorized $2.2 trillion in spending to deal with the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis. That’s on top of other spending in a budget originally proposing a deficit of $!.1 trillion. With other spending on Covid-19 issues and reduced tax revenue, the current estimate for fiscal 2020 is about $3.8 trillion. We can reasonably assume another $1 trillion will be needed for states and municipalities, treatments and vaccines, and support for hospitals.

2. Funding Covid-19 expenditures. The US deficit is funded by the sale of US Treasury obligations. Sales are handled by a group called Primary Dealers, who act as market makers in Treasury securities. [3] In the past most of the debt is has been purchased by financial institutions for their own accounts or for the accounts of investors, or by the central banks of other countries. In the current crisis, the Fed has promised to buy all the Treasury debt. Here’s a good explainer. [2]

To get a picture of the situation, in the two months ended 30 April 2020, the national debt held by the public increased by $1.645 trillion. In the comparable period the Fed’s holdings of Treasuries increased by $1.448 trillion. The projected deficit during that period was about $183 billion, so we should estimate the increase in the total debt includes that amount. If we deduct that, we get an estimate of the amount of debt issued on account of the Covid-19 crisis of $1.462 trillion, meaning that the Fed purchased substantially all of the Covid-19 debt.

3. So what? The fear-mongering is based on two speculations: that the federal debt will have to be paid, or that interest rates will somehow increase, and either will have to be paid out of current tax revenues. In either case, we will have to increase taxes. [5] Another theory is that the Fed will have to sell off the Treasuries it bought into the private markets which will be bad for some reason.

The good news is that the Fed can just return the Treasuries to the Treasury in the form of a dividend, or a remittance in Fed parlance, and the debt drops by a like amount. Or the Treasury could pay off the securities and the Fed could remit that payment to the Treasury. If the Fed wants to hold the securities to help it control interest rates or for other reasons, it can just remit the interest payments to the Treasury.

Why would anyone think otherwise? That is the power of neoliberal ideology, which has taken root in the minds of practically every media personality and Twitter economist. There was a moment after the Great Crash when similar questions were raised, but no one paid any attention to see what happened after that, which was a big fat nothing.

It’s possible that the Treasuries aren’t the problem, it’s all the trillions of new dollars flooding the world that will cause inflation. This might actually happen in different circumstances, so it requires a bit of explanation.

1. Demand has fallen dramatically as we cope with lockdown, and in turn, income to business and working people have collapsed. This new money is largely going to people and businesses who need it to replace part of the income they would usually derive from their normal business activities or from employment. It won’t create new demand as it might have six months ago. It just replaces lost income, enabling people and businesses to avoid bankruptcy. It’s true that there are inflationary pressures on certain things, such as medical supplies and equipment. That’s just normal capitalist price-gouging, and unlike similar cases, say, lumber after hurricanes, won’t be prosecuted.

2. Most US business sectors are oligopolies, meaning that three or four companies control 80% or more of revenues. This is certainly true in the medical sector, including the drug business. Thus, salvaged demand paid for by the new money will flow to capitalists. It may be that some will be needed to expand production in some areas and reduce production in others. The rest will go to capitalists, in the same way the Trump tax cuts did, in the form of dividends and stock buy-backs. It is highly unlikely to have a serious inflationary effect.

3. If, however, there were a problem, there is a solution. Congress can increase taxes. The good news is that it can do so in a way that won’t actually impact working people. Congress can hike taxes on the capitalists and on capital.

a. This makes sense in an oligopolistic economy, which is by definition not competitive. When capital flows into oligopolistic businesses, some of the money goes into some new productive use. The rest goes to capitalists. Taxing oligopolistic profits away means that there won’t be inflation in the things only capitalists buy, giant yachts, private jets, politicians, and political favors, for example. Taxing them is doing a service in tamping inflation that only affects them.

b. Republicans will choke on tax hikes. But if inflation driven by all the new money is a problem, it’s one they caused. They threw away any claim to their version of fiscal responsibility when they cut taxes on the rich in the middle of an expansion. If inflation arises, they can’t expect the Fed to fix it for them, because they wouldn’t be able to survive the depression that would cause, just as Carter couldn’t survive the Volcker recession.

c. If this sounds like a layman’s take on Modern Money Theory, well, it is. I hope I got it right.

Update: Shortly after I posted this I saw this headline in the Washington Post: Top White House advisers, unlike their boss, increasingly worry stimulus spending is costing too much.
======
[1] Here are some examples. This is a fairly restrained version. Here’s one from the Federalisr; I read it so you don’t have to, it’s ridiculously wrong on everything, including the conclusion:

In summary, the newly proposed bailout and stimulus packages smack of big government welfarism and crony capitalism. These are the sort of policies that will move the needle toward socialism, impoverishing us and stripping the productive engines of our economy.

I think the writer is worried about our precious national bodily fluids.

Here’s one from a columnist for the Arizona Republic, saying that this is bad, bad, even if the guy has been expecting disaster his entire career. It’s easy to see how this guy scared himself with numbers.

Here’s one explaining that the Fed buying municipal securities from towns and states shifts tax burdens to national taxpayers. That’s aimed specifically at my home state, Illinois, and I hope every shithead who makes this argument loses 75% of their deferred income. Here’s one from the occasionally sober SeekingAlpha.

One more from USA Today, complete with towering red bar graphs.

[2] After the Great Crash, the Fed made a similar promise. Buying and selling Treasuries is one way the Fed controls interest rates. And it’s worth noting that Treasuries are often used by financial institutions in various short-term transactions, such as repurchase agreements, and as collateral for short-term loans, rather than as investments or savings.

[3] Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Primary Dealers, which lists the current dealers.

[4] The Fed’s weekly balance sheets are here. Debt figures from the Treasury are here.

[5] This idea never surfaced from the Republican wing of deficit hawkers when the Republicans insisted on tax cuts in the middle of an economic expansion. And for Grover Norquist, I note that a government small enough to drown in a bathtub has proven to be a nightmare in responding to Covid-19. Norquist and his groupies drowned the federal government’s administrative ability to cope with the pandemic.

All COVID-19 is Local, BBQ edition

Burnt Ends from LC’s BBQ in Kansas City
(photo by stu_spivak CC BY-SA 2.0)

Here in metro KC, our five county area that straddles the MO/KS border and the Missouri River did a relatively good job of shutting down, even in the face of state-level idiocy in both Topeka and Jefferson City. School buildings were closed, large gatherings were cancelled, and when the two states finally caught up and issued state-wide orders, it meant fairly little around here because metro KC had already done much of what was prescribed. It hasn’t all been easy, of course, but folks adjusted and life has gone on.

Now, though, things just got real.

From this morning’s featured story on the KC Star’s website (with emphasis added):

Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue lucked out with a hefty contract two months ago, securing 1,200 cases of brisket at a price of $2.45 per pound. As the pandemic began, meat prices actually dropped and the restaurant snagged another 400 cases at $1.75 per pound, said owner Jerry Rauschelbach.

He said those purchases mean Arthur Bryant’s will be set for the next several months. But they also show how fast the market has moved: brisket was selling for more than $6 per pound this week, he said.

At that price, menu prices would soar by the time the meat is trimmed, smoked and served.

“If I didn’t have brisket and I had to pay $6 a pound, I would take brisket and burnt ends off my menu,” he said. “There’s just no way I could consciously serve sandwiches at 20 bucks. There’s just no way.”

For the uninitiated, a brisket is a big slab of meat with two parts – the flat and the point. The point takes longer to cook properly, so the two parts are either split and cooked separately, or they are cooked together until the flat is done and then the point goes back into the pit. It has more connective tissue that needs longer time to break down, and when done right you get a dark “bark” on the surface of the meat and some of the most tender and flavorful deliciousness on the inside. They’re generally cut in cubes and served either on a plate or a sandwich and when done right, they are spectacular.

There’s a lot of folklore around BBQ and who invented different styles or cooking methods or what kind of sauce to use, and damn near every little thing about putting meat over a fire. The origin of selling burnt ends is not folklore or in doubt: they were invented at Arthur Bryant’s. The point of the brisket was seen for years as waste when you trimmed and cooked the brisket flat for sandwich slices, and the counterman at Bryant’s would cut the point in chunks and set it up on the counter for customers to nibble on while waiting to get to the front to order their food. (Note: Bryant’s has also been legendary for its lines.) Eventually they realized “Hey, we could sell this stuff!” and so they did. And then so did everyone else in town. [Time suck warning: that link goes to a 30 minute video that will introduce you not just to burnt ends, but to a good chuck of KC’s best BBQ joints as well.]

So I’ll say it again: things are getting real in KC when Arthur Bryant’s is even contemplating having to take burnt ends off the menu.

I do not want to dismiss what’s happening in hospitals and prisons and nursing homes. That’s as real as real gets. I know a lot of folks in a meatpacking town in southeast Kansas where a cluster of cases has emerged. Things got real there, really quickly, once that hit. What I am saying here is that KC takes its BBQ seriously — as seriously as the pope takes communion — and this nugget about Arthur Bryant’s BBQ is a very KC-specific cultural sign of just how deeply this pandemic is hitting. We can deal with closing our school buildings and postponing our April elections until June and even closing our church buildings, but burnt ends going off the menu of Arthur Bryant’s (even temporarily) would truly be a sign of the apocalypse.

But if BBQ is the way Kansas City identifies the the apocalypse, it’s also how KC identifies hope.

For several years, Jim White has been active in Operation BBQ Relief. which was founded in KC by a bunch of folks in the competition BBQ world. Over the last 9 years, OBR has expanded across the country, and their crews of volunteers have taken their cookers to areas hit by natural disasters, to feed both those hit by the disaster and the emergency workers who come in trying to deal with it. When I sent Jim, Marcy, Bmaz, and some others a link to the KC Star piece, Jim replied with a link to an April 8 press release about OBR and their newest project, Operation Restaurant Relief:

In addition to deploying their trademark effort of providing hot barbecue meals to those affected by natural disasters, Operation BBQ Relief launched a new program called Operation Restaurant Relief with great success last week in Kansas City.

The new initiative revives closed restaurants by utilizing their kitchens to provide free meals to those in need and those on the front lines. As part of the effort, the restaurants will rehire laid off workers to comply with the program and receive a stipend for their participation from Operation BBQ Relief.

Jim could tell you a lot more about OBR, but he’s got a very important matter to attend to at the moment* so unless/until he shows up in the comments, let me direct you to their website at the link above. He did share with me his impression that OBR is doing “pretty amazing work for a group that is populated with folks who lean to the more conservative side of things – sometimes very conservative. They are slowly learning empathy.” This sounded familiar, and sure enough, Jim wrote in more depth about this kind of empathy after he worked on a OBR mission in Wilmington, NC.

That’s another thing about BBQ. Here in KC, despite having a long and ugly history when it comes to race, BBQ is one of those things that does better when it comes to crossing racial divides, in part because some of the most respected historic BBQ joints around here are African American. Even if someone’s favorite ‘cue doesn’t come from Bryant’s or Gates or LC’s, these places get a lot of respect. Arthur Bryant’s and the original location of the Gates chain are in areas of KC that a fair number of white folk would never dream of entering — but they’ll go there happily to get their BBQ fix if that’s their favorite.  Put it this way: BBQ lovers have very firm opinions about color and argue a lot about color, but they’re usually talking about the smoke ring when you cut the meat open or the overall doneness of what you’ve prepared, not the color of the cook’s skin or anyone else’s. And when people share a disaster response cooking line with folks who don’t look like themselves, it changes the way people see each other – that’s the empathy part.

Back in the day, I waited tables and washed dishes, so I know what restaurant life is like from the worker’s point of view. If you’ve got some money and are looking for a charity out there doing great COVID-19 work on the non-medical front, you could do a lot worse than Operation BBQ Relief and their restaurant relief program.

And if you’re a praying kind of person, you might pray that burnt ends do not disappear from the menu of Arthur Bryant’s.

Ever.

______

* Marcy, knowing what happens when BBQ lovers start talking BBQ, interrupted our email discussion before it could really get going, with the observation that this subject “would be a lovely post if any one of you had access to a blog.” Since I brought up the subject, I agreed I could write it up. Jim, for his part, begged off: “The BBQ site I hang out on is having a virtual cookoff. We had two weeks to submit an entry and I forgot to load up on interesting stuff to cook and submit. But we got a spaghetti squash in our CSA basket yesterday and I have some chicken breast and sweet peppers around. Gonna roast the squash and a bunch of veggies on the grill with the chicken and then make pasta sauce to go on it with the chicken.”

Jim may hold various heretical BBQ notions, but those words above comes from the heart of a true BBQ person. When your plans go awry (or you forget to follow them), you make do with what you’ve got — and that menu sounds delicious.