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Trump And Southern Governors Team Up To Kill Republican Voters

The New York Times is out with another set of jaw-dropping cell phone data. This time, the analysis addresses, on a county by county basis, when various areas reduced their average travel below two miles a day. When I saw the map, it immediately looked to me like the map for the 2016 presidential election results. Because the areas where people still had not curtailed travel by March 26 were primarily in the South, I grabbed that section of the map and pulled a similar cut from a map of the 2016 voting results.

There really isn’t much that needs to be added to this, other than to point out that Southern Republican governors, by delaying statewide stay home orders, allowed control to devolve to the county and city level. The small pockets of blue you see in the 2016 election results overlay almost perfectly on the pockets which shut down despite the lack of action by Republican governors. My little island of blue, Alachua County, stands out nicely in north central Florida. Note also how isolated the Birmingham area is in Alabama. This map makes it not at all surprising that Birmingham elected a progressive mayor in 2017.

The correlation is not complete, as I’m a bit stumped by St. John’s county appearing to have shut down travel around the same time as Alachua County. I don’t think they ever did a county shut down, and in fact they didn’t even close their beaches until March 29, after a viral photo showed massive numbers of people on the beach on the St. Johns side of the line at Duval County on March 28.

What the Times map shows, though, is that we have a massive social experiment underway. In the South, red counties have been much slower about curtailing travel (and presumably social contact) than blue counties. According to Marcy’s constantly updated list, Florida, Georgia, Mississipi and Texas have statewide shut down or stay home orders going into effect today or tomorrow. I do hope that the cell phone tracking data collection continues, so that we can see if there even is compliance in these deep red areas. Considering Trump’s early rhetoric and the blather from Fox News, it would not surprise me in the least if compliance is much slower and spottier in these areas.

It almost goes without saying that the longer these areas continue social mixing, the longer the rest of us who are already isolating will have to wait before there can be a consideration of a general easing of restrictions. And, of course, we can sadly expect the death toll to stay high longer in those areas continuing to travel. The end result of this is that Trump’s failure to move quickly on a national stay home order, coupled with red state Republican governors parroting that rhetoric, means that in the South, counties that vote predominantly Republican could see deaths stretching out much farther into the summer than in counties and cities controlled by Democrats who enacted social distancing much earlier.

Update: I am too angry to address this any further than to give this link and a couple of paragraphs:

Hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order Wednesday, he quietly signed a second order to override restrictions put in place by local governments to halt the spread of coronavirus.

The second order states that new state guidelines that take effect Friday morning “shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19.” In other words, local governments cannot place any limitations that would be more strict than the statewide guidelines.

Locally, it means Hillsborough County cannot mandate churches close their doors, a rule that drew national attention and the ire of the local Republican Party after Tampa megachurch The River of Tampa Bay held two Sunday services, leading to the arrest of pastor Rodney Howard Browne.

Seriously though, fuck Ron DeSantis very thoroughly.

A Virus Does Not Care

There’s a right way to deal with a pandemic, and a wrong way to deal with a pandemic

A virus does not care. A virus simply wants to reproduce, and for that it needs a host. A virus does not care about who that host is. A virus just wants a place to live, eat, and reproduce. A virus does not care if it makes the host sick. A virus does not care if it kills the host. This is the First Rule of Viruses: A virus does not care.

In 1918, as WWI was being fought in Europe, a virus emerged at Camp Funston, in the area of Fort Riley, Kansas. This virus did not care about the war. The virus did not care about Our Boys who were preparing to go fight that war. The virus did not care about the farmers in the Kansas fields, who dropped at their plows in the fields when the virus attacked.

A virus does not care.

The soldiers from Fort Riley went to the front lines in Europe with their guns, their ammo, their packs, and their gear, and they took that virus with them. It attacked their comrades in arms, and it attacked their enemies across the trenches.

A virus does not care.

The virus attacked King Alphonso XIII of Spain. Wherever the virus appeared, people began to speak of “the Spanish Flu,” going back to the widely-reported news of the mighty king it brought low. But the virus didn’t care. The virus attacked soldiers. The virus attacked ordinary villagers. Some lived, and some died.

A virus does not care.

The virus spread across the US, just as the war was beginning to come to an end. Bonds were being sold to pay for the war, and soldiers were starting to come home. The virus did not care about the bonds. The virus did not care about the homecoming celebrations being planned.

A virus does not care.

But people care, and they care about lots of things, and that’s where things got worse. People care about their status. People care about their businesses and their livelihoods. People care about parades the celebrate the end of a long and ugly war. People care about gathering in the corner bar with their friends, and playing sports in the local parks. People care about staying safe when danger threatens. People care about singing and dancing and enjoying life. People care about a million and one things, but a virus does not care about any of those things.

A virus does not care.

By 1918, people knew how to deal with a spreading virus in two broad ways: quit interacting so closely with others and practice good hygiene (both individually and as a community). They knew that beating a virus requires that a community care about itself just as much as the virus does not care at all. Give the virus an inch, and it will continue its deadly spread.

Because a virus does not care.

Some communities enacted a wide variety of what epidemiologists today call “nonpharmaceutical interventions” – prohibiting large public gatherings, closing businesses, shutting down churches, suspending schools, and so on. Other communities enacted some of these measures, but not all of them. Some communities took few measures, or decided “We’ll prohibit large gatherings, but not until after the big parade next week.” On the spectrum from “we need to shut everything down” to “we need business as usual,” St. Louis was on one end of the spectrum, and Philadelphia was in the other.

St. Louis:

By late September, Jefferson Barracks [a US military post in St. Louis] went under quarantine as the first soldiers came down with the flu.

In early October, city health commissioner Dr. Max C. Starkloff ordered the closure of schools, movie theaters, saloons, sporting events and other public gathering spots. Churches were told to suspend Sunday services. At the time, with nearly 800,000 residents, St. Louis was among the top 10 largest American cities. . . .

Theater owners, as some of the largest taxpayers at the time, protested the closures. Musicians and entertainers claimed the quarantine threatened their careers. Others were delighted — anti-alcohol leagues that were forming in the runup to Prohibition went on the lookout for taverns that violated the shutdown, [director of library and collections at the Missouri History Museum Chris] Gordon said.

Within two days of the quarantine, eight soldiers at Jefferson Barracks were dead, another eight residents died at St. Louis City Hospital and the number of area flu cases topped 1,150.

Jacob Meeker, a St. Louis congressman, died Oct. 16, six days after touring Jefferson Barracks. He was 40.

With the flu continuing its rampage, Starkloff imposed a stricter quarantine in November, closing down all businesses with few exceptions including banks, newspapers, embalmers and coffin makers, according to Post-Dispatch archives.

The American Red Cross shifted from making bandages to face masks. Volunteers passed around blankets and vats of broth to flu sufferers. An ambulance waited at Union Station to take any sickly train passengers directly to the hospital upon arrival. Police officers and mail carriers wore masks on their daily routes.

And as these measures took hold, it slowed the virus down.

Philadelphia:

In an effort to boost morale for the war and also to sell bonds, the city of Philadelphia threw a parade that drew 200,000 people, despite warnings that the Spanish flu was spreading among the soldiers who were about to head off to World War I and would be in the parade.

That didn’t turn out to be a good idea.

Days later, hospitals in the area were filled with patients suffering or dying from the Spanish flu.

Weeks later, more than 4,500 people in the Philadelphia area died from the virus.

The graph at the top of the post, from a 2007 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paints the picture of these two approaches in stark, and by now familiar, terms.

Unlike a virus, people get to choose what they care about and how that care will be expressed. In 1918, to borrow from the Grail Knight, the leaders of Philadephia chose . . . poorly, while the leaders in St. Louis chose wisely.

Today, like many places, I and my neighbors in metro Kansas City (on both sides of the state line) are living under a locally-imposed “stay-at-home” order, with school buildings closed, business activity limited to those deemed essential and curtailing large public gatherings completely, including weddings and funerals.

You see, the leaders here know that a virus does not care. Other leaders, however . . .

From an interview on Fox:

Trump: I saw wouldn’t it be great to have all of the churches full—you know the churches aren’t allowed to have much of a congregation there. And most of them, I watched on Sunday online—and it was terrific, by the way—but online is never going to be like being there. So I think Easter Sunday and you’ll have packed churches all over our country—I think it will be a beautiful time. And it’s just about the timeline that I think is right.

A virus does not care about whether churches are full or empty on Easter. A virus doesn’t care if it is beautiful. A virus doesn’t care about your personal faith or lack thereof. In Omaha in 1918, Rev. Siefke S. de Freese, a seemingly healthy 35 year old pastor, led worship on a Sunday, then quickly died days later. A virus does not care.

From yesterday’s coronavirus task force presser:

Q: Mr President, you just reiterated that you hope to have the country reopened by Easter. You said earlier you would like to see churches packed on that day. My question is, you have two doctors on stage with you. Have either of them told you that’s a realistic timeline?

Trump: I think we’re looking at a timeline, we’re discussing it. We had a very good meeting today. If you add it all up. That’s probably nine days plus another two and a half weeks. It’s a period of time that’s longer than the original two weeks, so we’re going to look at it. We’ll only do it if it’s good and maybe we do sections of the country. We do large sections of the country. That could be too, but we’re very much in touch with Tony and with Deborah whenever they [crosstalk].

Q: Who suggested Easter? Who suggested that day?

Trump: I Just thought it was a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline. It’s a great day. . . . I’d love to see it come even sooner, but I just think it would be a beautiful timeline.

A virus does not care if it is a beautiful time. A virus does not care if it is a great day. A virus does not care what you think. A virus does not care what you love.

A virus Does. Not. Care.

We can choose how we respond to an uncaring virus. We can choose like St. Louis did, or we can choose like Philadelphia. And for far too many people, my friends, that is a choice between life and death. And in 1918, even St. Louis didn’t get it completely right:

The quarantine was temporarily lifted Nov. 18 but reinstated when the flu roared back in December. By Dec. 10 the flu peaked in the city with 60 deaths in one day. After illnesses declined sharply, the quarantine was lifted just after Christmas.

Look at that graph again, and you can see the bump at the end of November when the quarantine was prematurely lifted. The virus came back, because a virus does not care.

I’m a pastor. I’d love to see my church packed to the rafters on Easter. I’d love to hear the trumpets leading a 1000 voices in grand hymns of celebration. But that’s not going to happen, because while a virus does not care, I do.

We’re going to be closed this year. Not because we want to be. Not because we lack faith. Not because we don’t care about worship. Not because we’re giving in to the virus. It’s because we care about ourselves and our community so much that we’ll give up this kind of gathering to defeat the virus. Anything less than a full community commitment to a choice like that, and the virus will not be slowed, because the virus does not care.

I pray that more local leaders, state leaders, and national leaders choose wisely, even as Trump seems determined to choose . . . poorly.

I pray this, because I know the First Rule of Viruses: a virus does not care.

Donald Trump Just Killed A Man. Now He Wants To Kill A Million Americans.

It wasn’t in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but yesterday, Donald Trump killed a man. The man’s wife survived, and did not have good things to say about him. Here’s NBC News on the death:

An Arizona man has died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate — believing it would protect him from becoming infected with the coronavirus. The man’s wife also ingested the substance and is under critical care.

The toxic ingredient they consumed was not the medication form of chloroquine, used to treat malaria in humans. Instead, it was an ingredient listed on a parasite treatment for fish.

The man’s wife told NBC News she’d watched televised briefings during which President Trump talked about the potential benefits of chloroquine.

The wife talked further with NBC:

This death and near-death drive home the danger of Trump’s daily “press briefings” which he is now using as a replacement for his political rallies. His touting of chloroquine on Friday has now killed someone in the US. Recall that Nigeria had to put out a warning Friday as well, as NBC in the same article reported that there were at least two known chloroquine poisonings there right after Trump’s presser. (Chloroquine is more widely available in areas where malaria is endemic.)

But the chloroquine story is far from the biggest problem with Trump’s daily gaslighter. It’s hard to believe that we are only at one week since the publishing of the epidemiological model that really seemed to get the attention of even those who felt COVID-19 fears were overblown. Here’s a summary of the US findings of this modeling, as written by University of Minnesota researchers:

To understand how mitigation or suppression would play out, the Imperial College team, led by Neil Ferguson, OBE, ran a model based on three scenarios. In the first, US officials do nothing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, schools and businesses are kept open, and the virus is allowed to move through the population.

This would result in 81% of the US population, about 264 million people, contracting the disease. Of those, 2.2 million would die, including 4% to 8% of Americans over age 70. More important, by the second week in April, the demand for critical care beds would be 30 times greater than supply.

If mitigation practices are put in place, including a combination of case isolation, home quarantine, and social distancing of those most at risk (over age 70), the peak critical care demand would reduce by 60%, and there would be half the number of deaths. But this scenario still produces an eightfold demand on critical care beds above surge capacity.

In order to suppress the pandemic to an R0 of below 1, a country would need to combine case isolation, social distancing of the entire population, and either household quarantine or school and university closure, the authors found. These measures “are assumed to be in place for a 5-month duration,” they wrote.

So, with no social distancing, this model predicts over 2 million deaths in the US. Even with fairly strong mitigation practices, there are still over a million deaths and we will need more than 8 times the number of ICU beds we have now. Sadly, from what I can tell, we are somewhere around that level of mitigation with perhaps a few states going a bit more stringent. The UK just yesterday went to social distancing of the entire population, a move that Trump has resisted. Note also that even should the US move to full distancing, the model suggests a need to do so for five months. I’ve seen some pushback against this model, but I would argue instead that if anything, it is an underestimate because I fully expect compliance to fall far short of the assumptions in the model. I’ve seen suggestions that lack of compliance with early distancing orders drove much of the rapid outbreak in Italy.

It appears that the World Health Organization agrees that the US is far short of the level of distancing needed to quash the outbreak here. From Reuters:

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday it was seeing a “very large acceleration” in coronavirus infections in the United States which had the potential of becoming the new epicentre. Asked whether the United States could become the new epicentre, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters: “We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential.”

I can only imagine Trump’s presser on the day we become “number one” for the virus.

So even though there was a push for distancing as the Imperial College model was released, we’re already hearing that Trump has had enough. To be fair, Trump and his team were only talking about a 15 day process from the start, but any fool can see that we are still moving in the wrong direction in terms of new cases being discovered to even contemplate letting up on social distancing.

David Farenthold suggests one reason Trump wants to ease restrictions in the Washington Post:

President Trump’s private business has shut down six of its top seven revenue-producing clubs and hotels because of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, potentially depriving Trump’s company of millions of dollars in revenue.

Those closures come as Trump is considering easing restrictions on movement sooner than federal public health experts recommend, in the name of reducing the virus’s economic damage.

In a tweet late Sunday, Trump said the measures could be lifted as soon as March 30. “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” he wrote on Twitter.

Heaven forbid that Trump should lose a few dollars to save some lives. Sadly, though, Trump isn’t the only one spouting the bullshit. In fact, it’s pretty clear that Trump’s tweet about the cure being worse than the problem came right after he heard that phrase on Fox News. And to soften the territory for easing distancing, Fox yesterday had the Lieutenant Governor of Texas on to suggest that old grandparents like me need to be prepared to sacrifice our lives so that the economy can get going again. Of course, that’s complete bullshit, as once distancing is reduced anywhere, the effects will be spread over a huge area and across age groups. Anyway, here it is:

So that’s where we find ourselves today. We are perched at a spot where WHO is convinced that the US will be the epicenter of the outbreak within a few days. Instead of moving ahead with the full nationwide lockdown that will be needed actually flatten the curve, Fox News is helping Donald Trump to prepare the public for losing grandma and grandpa so that Trump properties can generate income again and Trump can hold his ego-stoking rallies. If distancing is reduced in a week, as Trump is wanting, the death toll in the US will reach catastrophic levels somewhere between the 1 and 2 million mark Imperial College calculated.

What is likely to interrupt Trump’s desire here, though, is the rate at which New York hospitals are filling. It sounds like they will be overwhelmed as soon as this weekend, so I’d like to think that there will be too much pressure to increase rather than decrease distancing once that reality strikes.

With Trump, though, there are no guarantees and reality often gets left in the dust.

Trump Considers Getting Hospitals Ventilators Nationalization But a Bailout for Him and His Rich Buddies Necessity

Yesterday, Trump sent remarkably mixed signals in his press conference. He was asked whether he was going to use the Defense Production Act to address the shortage in key medical supplies. He replied by suggesting that using DPA to push manufacturers to prioritize urgently needed supplies amounts to nationalization.

We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business. Call a person over in Venezuela, ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well. The concept of nationalizing our business is not a good concept.

He went on to suggest his Administration doesn’t know who could fill urgent needs, which sounds like a confession that he shouldn’t have fired the pandemic experts.

Later however, Trump treated the socialization of big business losses — of his big business losses — as an acceptable step to save great businesses. After Seung Min Kim asked whether Trump would commit that none of the funds from a $500 billion bailout of big businesses would go to his company, he complained that he hasn’t been thanked for things like taking no salary. He ultimately said he would see, the kind of deferral he often uses to avoid saying yes.

He returned to his complaints later in the presser. In response to a question about whether he had sold stock, he first lied, and claimed that he didn’t own any. He rambled for minutes complaining about being booed. Ultimately, however, he complained about how much it cost rich people to run for office.

A big part of the reason the economy had to be shut down is because Trump did not respond in January when he was warned of the pandemic. And now he’s treating taking steps to provide medical workers the equipment they need as some kind of socialism but bailing himself out as a necessity.

Trump Is Providing Free Advertising for a Bunch of Companies that Don’t Offer Paid Sick Leave

Because President Trump’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak largely consists of having press conferences designed to goose the stock market where he calls out a series of big corporations, I will start tracking the paid leave policies of those companies getting all this free advertising. This is particularly important to track given that the House excluded employers with over 500 employees from the paid sick leave benefit in their bailout bill. As you’ll see, a few of these employers rolled out some version of two weeks of sick leave in response to the crisis — but some appear to be written to require a diagnosis of the virus before granting the leave, which is too late to prevent further infections. Others appear to have no sick leave available to the workers providing our food during the crisis.

Until someone with more resources replicates this effort, I will update it as Trump provides more free advertising during the crisis.

Albertsons (President and CEO Vivek Sankaran mentioned on March 15). No leave benefits listed on website. Left message.

Amazon (mentioned on March 15). Emergency policy matches Whole Foods. Diagnosed or quarantined workers can get two weeks paid leave, and employees can have unlimited time off without pay. Delivery workers will have to apply for grants to obtain paid time off.

Campbell Soup Company (CEO Mark Clouse mentioned on March 15). Paid sick leave not differentiated in public benefits package.

Cargill (Chairman and CEO David MacLennan mentioned on March 15). Standard policy provides two weeks of short term disability at 100% of pay, and 6 weeks at 60% of pay. No paid sick leave mentioned.

Costco (CEO Craig Jelinek mentioned on March 15). Paid sick leave is a standard benefit, though on an accrual basis.

Dollar General Corporation (CEO Todd Vasos mentioned on March 15). Barebones benefits publicly listed.

General Mills (CEO Jeff Harmening mentioned on March 15). Expanded paid leave benefits for salaried and non-union production workers, including up to eight weeks of short term disability, in 2019.

Google (mentioned on March 13 and 15). Set up a fund to provide paid sick leave to contractors and temporary employees otherwise not eligible. Also provides pay for hours that furloughed employees would have worked.

Hy-Vee (Chairman, CEO, and President Randy Edeker mentioned on March 15). Website lists paid vacation and personal time, but not sick leave; does claim family medical leave.

Kroger (CEO and Chairman Rodney McMullan mentioned on March 15). Most employees do not get sick leave.

Publix Super Markets (CEO Todd Jones mentioned on March 15). Full time employees accrue paid sick leave, but not part time employees.

Sysco (President and CEO Kevin Hourican mentioned on March 15). Ties pay during leave to paid time off (that is, treats pay as an accrued benefit, not as paid sick leave).

Target (CEO Brian Cornell mentioned on March 15). Enacted an emergency policy offering 14 weeks of paid leave for employees who have tested positive for the virus or who are under mandatory quarantine. It is waiving its absence policy for employees who are not diagnosed but feel too sick to come in or are taking care of children.

Tyson Foods (Donnie King, who is neither CEO nor President, was mentioned on March 15). Hourly workers do not get paid sick days.

Walmart (CEO Doug McMillon mentioned on March 15). Enacted emergency policy offering sick leave to all hourly workers, without the normal 1-year eligibility requirement. If employees choose to stay home it comes out of their regular paid time off. In case of a quarantine, employees will get two weeks of paid leave, which will not count against their existing benefits. If an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus, that person will get two weeks of leave, with up to 26 weeks of “pay replacement” if the employee is unable to return to work.

Whole Foods (Dave Clark mentioned on March 15; John Mackey is the CEO). In response to coronavirus crisis, offered unlimited unpaid time for during March, and two weeks of paid time off if someone is diagnosed with Covid-19. Suggested workers should share their paid time off.

Trump’s Customs And Border Protection Just Created Hundreds Of New COVID-19 Superspreaders

Earlier this week, Donald Trump announced Vladimir Putin’s dream of travel restrictions in response to the the COVID-19 pandemic, “banning” travel from Europe, but excepting the UK, where there are many more cases than in a number of European countries. Trump eventually was forced to add the UK to the ban. As the new policy began to roll out yesterday in the major international US airports, there was nothing less than a clusterfuck of epic proportions. The feature image for this post comes from a Brooke McDonald tweet showing a huge crowd trying to clear customs at O’Hare. Here is a tweet from a Fox station in Texas showing the crowd trying to clear customs at DFW:

What could possibly go wrong? With large crowds of people coming back from infection hot zones, milling about for what was reported to be up to seven stress-filled hours, it’s hard to imagine a scenario more conducive to efficient spread of the virus.

Here is the New York Times on what unfolded:

Under the new screening rules, when travelers arrive at 13 designated airports they are to be interviewed by a Customs officer, who will also review the person’s travel history using a Homeland Security database. The officer will ask them about their current medical condition. If they don’t show symptoms, they will be asked to quarantine in their homes for 14 days. Depending on their symptoms and previous medical history, travelers could be subject to an additional screening by a medical professional at the airport. They could also be subject to a federal quarantine.

Seems simple enough. But in Trump’s era of never having enough of the right employees in the right place, this simple screening resulted in the massive delays. Here is the Acting Head of Customs and Border Protection on the situation last night:

Yeah, right. Nothing is more important that the health of our citizens, so you trap thousands of people into tight spaces that are virtually guaranteed to have symptom-free people shedding large amounts of virus.

Here’s how that happens.

First, we know that virus can be spread by folks not showing symptoms. From CNN:

New studies in several countries and a large coronavirus outbreak in Massachusetts bring into question reassuring assertions by US officials about the way the novel virus spreads.

These officials have emphasized that the virus is spread mainly by people who are already showing symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing. If that’s true, it’s good news, since people who are obviously ill can be identified and isolated, making it easier to control an outbreak.

But it appears that a Massachusetts coronavirus cluster with at least 82 cases was started by people who were not yet showing symptoms, and more than half a dozen studies have shown that people without symptoms are causing substantial amounts of infection.

Next, as the CNN article notes, the Boston cluster of cases arising from the Biogen conference resulted in many people being infected from a small number who were infected but asymptomatic at the time. From WBUR:

Among the coronavirus numbers that Massachusetts officials have shared recently, one is particularly striking: Of the state’s 95 cases detected as of late Wednesday, they say 77 stemmed from a meeting that the Cambridge biotech company Biogen held in late February.

In public health parlance, the Biogen meeting is looking like a “superspreading event.”

The article continues:

Yale professor Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist who studies networks, says the current outbreak in Italy also stemmed from a “superspreader.”

“We know from genetic analyses in Italy that the epidemic there was started, we think, by two people, one of whom gave it to 43 other people,” he says.

But here’s the kicker:

Christakis from Yale says other factors could cause people to become superspreaders — like even a propensity to cough.

“Maybe they have a lung disease, for example,” he says. “And so they’re doing more coughing anyway. And so compared to a person who doesn’t cough, they transmit it more.”

The environment can contribute to spreading, too, he says — poor ventilation, overcrowding.

Yep. There we have it. Overcrowding can create superspreaders. And Customs and Border Protection just overcrowded thousands of people for long periods last night. In thirteen different airports.

I keep re-reading the description of the “screening” and don’t see how the outcome of screening would be any different if people cleared Customs in a normal way but were given a set of printed instructions informing them that if they were returning from Europe they should self-quarantine for at least 14 days and that if they have or develop any symptoms they should notify their health provider and/or county health department. At that point it would seem safer to have them call a call center where they can share their travel history with someone coordinating the DHS database. Making people mill around for so long really appears to have accomplished nothing other than spreading the virus.

Update

I started writing this post before finishing my coffee this morning, and so I missed this great article in the Washington Post:

Airports around the country were thrown into chaos Saturday night as workers scrambled to roll out the Trump administration’s hastily arranged health screenings for travelers returning from Europe.

Scores of anxious passengers said they encountered jam-packed terminals, long lines and hours of delays as they waited to be questioned by health authorities at some of the busiest travel hubs in the United States.

The administration announced the “enhanced entry screenings” Friday as part of a suite of travel restrictions and other strategies aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Passengers on flights from more than two dozen countries in Europe are being routed through 13 U.S. airports, where workers check their medical histories, examine them for symptoms and instruct them to self-quarantine.

And WaPo even went there:

But shortly after taking effect, the measures designed to prevent new infections in the United States created the exact conditions that facilitate the spread of the highly contagious virus, with throngs of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in bottlenecks that lasted late into the night.

John Galt Is Impotent In A Pandemic

Discontinuity.

Abrupt change.

Collapse.

Chaos.

Whatever term you might choose to use, there’s no disputing that if the epidemiologists are correct, the COVID-19 pandemic will be the largest, most impactful world event since 9/11. How we respond to the pandemic will define our society, likely for generations to come.

The response to 9/11 was close to exactly the opposite of what I would consider best. Instead of asking why small groups of people felt so ostracized and minimized that violence was their last resort and then acting to address the root causes, the US chose to demonize and further ostracize Muslims in generally, thereby creating a much larger and endless supply of new terrorists to fight. Over a million people died, many more millions were displaced and an entire generation of US military lives were wasted. But a handful of people got filthy rich off it.

The business and political worlds of today live for these discontinuities. Back when I was running an agricultural biotechnology startup, we were instructed that Monsanto and their spin-offs were so successful because they stood ready to respond to market discontinuities in their areas of operation. Regular, 1-3% annual changes in markets were for chumps. Giant change is what mattered, and so be it if mom and pop seed operations were obliterated by consolidating the entire seed industry. Likewise, in business generally in that era, the rise of the big box store was seen as a John Galt-like hero development as the parasitic small stores disappeared. Today, Big Bezos seems to be feasting off even those big boxes.

On the political front, Naomi Klein laid out in excruciating detail in Shock Doctrine how various disasters have been exploited by the political class to advance the interests of the oligarchy. Both civil rights and economic opportunity for huge portions of the population have been eroded.

Naomi Wolf warned us a few days ago to be on guard against deterioration of our rights in the COVID-19 outbreak:

Today, CNN reports on ongoing discussions between the Trump Administration and the airline industry. It appears that at least some in the industry are concerned that data collection being demanded under a public health guise will be used “for other purposes”:

The US aviation industry and the Trump administration are in a pitched battle over the response to the coronavirus pandemic, three sources familiar with recent calls between officials from several government agencies and US airlines have told CNN.

In a series of contentious conversations, agency officials and aviation executives have clashed over the administration’s demand that airlines collect new kinds of data from passengers to help officials track potential virus carriers.

Okay, on the surface, I’m all for public health officials being able to access information quickly on who was sitting near whom on a flight with an infected person and quickly contact those who need to self-quarantine and get tested. But how do we make sure that data doesn’t wind up being misused? Also, it appears that the Trump Administration also wants the airlines to collect information on recent other travel by passengers:

This industry official says it took the US aviation industry two years to meet post-9/11 requirements, which also involved data collection.

Airlines are concerned that the Federal Register gives no clear end date on the data collection and worry that the US government could continue forcing them to collect it “for other purposes.”

“It seems they want us to do this for forever and we are pushing back,” the first source familiar said. The airlines — particularly their lawyers — are worried about what Customs and Border Protection officials will do with the information.

Yeah, I wouldn’t trust the Trump Administration on that, either. I will leave it to Rayne to address what seems to be a real argument between the administration and the industry on just what information the airlines already have and whether their existing technology can provide it to the government. And Marcy can address whether it’s feasible or even possible to have any kind of effective firewall between public health officials and intelligence, criminal or immigration investigators when it comes to access to this information. There are serious competing interests here and recent experience suggests it won’t be resolved in favor of civil rights for many groups of people.

But what of the COVID-19 disruption? Rayne’s post yesterday provided much of the stark data. This tweet thread from Eli Pariser even goes so far as to suggest that we are just days away from the point at which Italy shut down large regions:

When hospitals are completely overwhelmed, there will be no Galt’s Gulch where heroes can wait out the outbreak. If we really see 20, 30 or even more than 50% of the global population being infected, the concept of isolation breaks down. No heroic action can be taken, because every single individual will be at risk for infection.

This impotence against the virus is because public health, in the end, is a social exercise. Will the outbreak become the discontinuity needed to convince the US to join the rest of the civilized world in making health care a social effort rather than a perk reserved for the very rich? If this doesn’t do it, it’s hard to imagine how it will ever happen.

US COVID-19 Cases Now Spreading Due To Trump’s Testing Restrictions And Dismantling Of Pandemic Response Teams

Back on January 31, Pulitzer Prize winner Laurie Garrett warned us how Donald Trump has dismantled the country’s ability to respond to a pandemic. Her Foreign Policy piece, headlined “Trump Has Sabotaged America’s Coronavirus Response“, Garrett opened with a description of the extreme measures taken in China:

The epidemic control efforts unfolding today in China—including placing some 100 million citizens on lockdown, shutting down a national holiday, building enormous quarantine hospitals in days’ time, and ramping up 24-hour manufacturing of medical equipment—are indeed gargantuan. It’s impossible to watch them without wondering, “What would we do? How would my government respond if this virus spread across my country?”

The problem, though, is that although Barack Obama built a working pandemic response structure during the Ebola outbreak (which of course Trump criticized incessantly on Twitter), that structure has now been obliterated:

In the spring of 2018, the White House pushed Congress to cut funding for Obama-era disease security programs, proposing to eliminate $252 million in previously committed resources for rebuilding health systems in Ebola-ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Under fire from both sides of the aisle, President Donald Trump dropped the proposal to eliminate Ebola funds a month later. But other White House efforts included reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS. And the government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated.

In May 2018, Trump ordered the NSC’s entire global health security unit shut down, calling for reassignment of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer and dissolution of his team inside the agency. The month before, then-White House National Security Advisor John Bolton pressured Ziemer’s DHS counterpart, Tom Bossert, to resign along with his team. Neither the NSC nor DHS epidemic teams have been replaced. The global health section of the CDC was so drastically cut in 2018 that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries it was working in was reduced from 49 to merely 10. Meanwhile, throughout 2018, the U.S. Agency for International Development and its director, Mark Green, came repeatedly under fire from both the White House and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And though Congress has so far managed to block Trump administration plans to cut the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps by 40 percent, the disease-fighting cadres have steadily eroded as retiring officers go unreplaced.

But it’s even worse than that. Until sometime over this last weekend, the Trump Administartion, through the CDC, blocked all entities other than CDC from running tests for COVID-19. They only allowed testing under such extremely narrow circumstances that pitifully few tests have been carried out to this point.

In an interview yesterday on KPFA (that I’m only halfway through listening to but just had to stop and write this part up) Garrett pointed out that New York City has had its own dedicated lab ready to go for testing for the past six weeks. Coupling that with the various reports coming out today on just how long it’s going to take for testing kits to get widespread distribution now that manufacturing is FINALLY kicking into high gear, we are presented with direct evidence of just how much damage Trump’s COVID-19 policies have done.

As Garrett points out, we are now seeing “community transmission” of the virus, meaning that cases are appearing in patients who have not traveled to known hot spots and who are not known to have had direct contact with someone confirmed to have the virus. Once community transmission is seen, the correct public health policy with respect to testing is to switch from narrow testing criteria to widespread testing. China was remarkably quick in developing and mass manufacturing DNA-based tests for the virus as soon as the sequence became available. That this was not done in the US is criminal, and the mounting death toll, now at 9, will drive this point home. That’s because, if you listen to the early part of Garrett’s interview, she compares COVID-19 to the 1918 flu pandemic. She describes characteristics of the spread of the virus that make widespread testing an incredibly important tool in containing its spread. Today’s news says we are weeks away from widespread testing. I fear just what we will see when wider testing is available.

 

With Suleimani’s Assassination, Trump Unites A Divided Iran

Jim here.

Marcy has already provided some perspective on the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, although I would double the time frame in her observations by pointing out that the Tehran embassy hostage situation began just a year before the 1980 election and provided a chance for Reagan to break many norms in his back channel negotiations during the campaign. Note that had the militias acting as Iran’s proxy been successful in storming the Baghdad embassy and taking hostages earlier this week, we would have been put in the exact same situation just a year before an election 40 years later.

What I want to concentrate on here, though, is that Trump’s desire for regime change in Iran, even with John Bolton now sitting on the sidelines, was showing at least a small chance of success without a need for outright military confrontation. Barely a month ago, Iran was rocked by internal unrest that led to massive demonstrations that were violently quashed. From the New York Times:

Iran is experiencing its deadliest political unrest since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago, with at least 180 people killed — and possibly hundreds more — as angry protests have been smothered in a government crackdown of unbridled force.

It began two weeks ago with an abrupt increase of at least 50 percent in gasoline prices. Within 72 hours, outraged demonstrators in cities large and small were calling for an end to the Islamic Republic’s government and the downfall of its leaders.

In many places, security forces responded by opening fire on unarmed protesters, largely unemployed or low-income young men between the ages of 19 and 26, according to witness accounts and videos. In the southwest city of Mahshahr alone, witnesses and medical personnel said, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps members surrounded, shot and killed 40 to 100 demonstrators — mostly unarmed young men — in a marsh where they had sought refuge.

But today, after last night’s assassination, there are massive demonstrations mourning Suleimani and calling for a presumably united Iran to avenge the killing. This photo the New York Times put up from Shutterstock conveys the mood:

Iran’s Fars News Agency tweeted more from the protests:

Those protests against Iran’s government are now gone and seem very unlikely to come back. Assassinating such a popular figure has clearly united the country in a newly-stoked hatred of the United States. On the surface, then, it would seem that Trump’s dream of regime change in Iran now has to align fully with the neocon desire to do so by means of a massive invasion.

With Trump, though, linear paths of logic never apply. Perhaps I’m being too much of a Pollyanna here, but note that Trump’s M.O. in many cases is to undo a perfectly good policy, escalate the bad result, and then go back to something very akin to where we started while claiming to have broken through a situation that was previously insoluble. In that regard, let’s remember that Obama sat quietly while Mossad assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists inside Iran but then a couple of years later signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Here’s hoping that Trump decides to pull back from war by “negotiating” a “whole new agreement” that takes us right back to the JCPOA from which he unilaterally withdrew and takes the world back from the brink of disaster.

Trump HJC Defenders Claim Ukraine Aid Withheld To Fight Corruption While Rudy Rounds Up Fired Corrupt Ukrainians To Help Trump

Just as the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing was getting underway today, Inside Defense published yet another debunking of one of the central Republican defenses of Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine by pointing out that the Defense Department, back in May of this year, certified that Ukraine had made sufficient progress in fighting corruption so that the defense assistance funds designated for Ukraine could be released. Once they later learned that the White House had blocked the funding, they never got a good explanation:

The senior Pentagon official who certified in May that Ukraine should receive $250 million in U.S. military aid because it had made sufficient progress combating corruption said today he never got a “very clear explanation” from the White House as to why the funds were delayed over the summer.

“In the weeks after signing the certification I did become aware that the aid had been held,” John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, told reporters this morning.

“I never received a very clear explanation other than there were concerns about corruption in Ukraine,” he continued.

Rood was the person in charge of determining whether Ukraine had made sufficient progress:

Rood said he learned of the White House hold on the aid, which was part of a larger $400 million assistance package, “significantly after May,” when he certified that Ukraine had made sufficient anti-corruption progress to receive the aid.

“It was a requirement under the law that we certify that and I was the person that certified it,” he said.

Despite the fact that this has been widely known for months, Republicans continued to claim that Trump was very concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that was the only reason he withheld the aid.

And yet, also around the time the hearing started, we also learned of yet another foreign trip for Rudy Giuliani in his world tour aimed at protecting Trump against impeachment. As usual, Marcy was way ahead of this move, asking yesterday if Yuriy Lutsenko, Viktor Shokin, and Konstantin Kulyk were the three former Ukrainian prosecutors who had provided statements to John Durham in Bill Barr’s “investigations” aimed at protecting Trump. In what can only be seen as confirmation of her suggestion, the New York Times told us this morning that Rudy met Lutsenko yesterday in Budapest and was in Kiev today to meet with Shokin and Kulyk:

Even as Democrats intensified their scrutiny this week of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s role in the pressure campaign against the Ukrainian government that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Giuliani has been in Europe continuing his efforts to shift the focus to purported wrongdoing by President Trump’s political rivals.

Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, met in Budapest on Tuesday with a former Ukrainian prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko, who has become a key figure in the impeachment inquiry. He then traveled to Kyiv on Wednesday seeking to meet with other former Ukrainian prosecutors whose claims have been embraced by Republicans, including Viktor Shokin and Kostiantyn H. Kulyk, according to people familiar with the effort.

Even Ken Vogel, who had the lead byline on this story, has to admit that these former prosecutors are corrupt:

The former prosecutors, who have faced allegations of corruption, all played some role in promoting claims about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a former United States ambassador to Ukraine and Ukrainians who disseminated damaging information about Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in 2016.

Isn’t that interesting? We are being asked to believe that Trump withheld aid Ukraine desperately needed in its war with Russia because of his concerns about corruption. And yet, as Team Trump is doing its best to protect him, they feel that his best defense lies with some of the most corrupt of those Ukrainian officials who have been removed from office. They have provided statements that Bill Barr is likely depending on in his investigation and we learned in today’s Times article that Rudy was also traveling with a team from a wingnut media organization to film a “documentary” providing a “Republican alternative to the impeachment hearings”.

Let’s take a look at just how corrupt these three OAN stars are. First, Lutsenko. USA Today reported on a criminal investigation of him on October 1:

Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) opened criminal proceedings against Yuriy Lutsenko over his possible abuse of power, the government agency said.

It said that Lutsenko and other former lawmakers may have conspired to “provide cover” for illegal gambling businesses in Ukraine. Lutsenko disputes the allegations.

And if that’s not enough, it appears that Lutsenko was also involved in the ouster of former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch:

The unnamed Ukrainian official referenced in a federal indictment as directing a plot to oust the then-U.S. ambassador is Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, according to a U.S. official familiar with the events.

According to the source, Lutsenko is the Ukrainian official who prosecutors say urged two associates of Rudy Giuliani to push for the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was forced out in May.

The associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested Wednesday night as they prepared to board a one-way flight out of the country at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.

So Lutsenko helped the efforts to oust a very important ambassador who was doing good work and was so corrupt in general that he not only got fired but had a criminal case opened against him, and yet he’s one of the prime targets of Team Trump when they are trying to mount their final defense against impeachment.

But Shokin is even more corrupt. Recall that the false Trump claim is that Shokin was fired for investigating Hunter Biden. The truth is pretty much the opposite:

At the heart of Congress’ probe into the president’s actions is his claim that former Vice President and 2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden strong-armed the Ukrainian government to fire its top prosecutor in order to thwart an investigation into a company tied to his son, Hunter Biden.

But sources ranging from former Obama administration officials to an anti-corruption advocate in Ukraine say the official, Viktor Shokin, was ousted for the opposite reason Trump and his allies claim.

It wasn’t because Shokin was investigating a natural gas company tied to Biden’s son; it was because Shokin wasn’t pursuing corruption among the country’s politicians, according to a Ukrainian official and four former American officials who specialized in Ukraine and Europe.

Shokin’s inaction prompted international calls for his ouster and ultimately resulted in his removal by Ukraine’s parliament.

It comes as no surprise then, that Shokin’s “depostion” was central to John Solomon’s propaganda campaign in favor of Trump.

But what about Kulyk? It turns out that Kulyk is the first person mentioned in a Washington Post story that ran on Sunday informing us on the real progress Zelensky is making against corruption and that this progress comes at the risk of angering Trump:

By the end of this month, more than 500 Ukrainian prosecutors will be out of their jobs as part of sweeping professional reviews under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Among the prosecutors heading for the exit: a key Kyiv contact for Rudolph W. Giuliani.

/snip/

Now that Zelensky’s reform push is underway, some of those Giuliani-linked officials are in the crosshairs.

A prosecutor named Kostiantyn H. Kulyk is one of the first.

Zelensky’s new prosecutor general, Ruslan Ryaboshapka — “100 percent my person,” Zelensky told Trump in July — last week gave a dismissal notice to Kulyk, a key player in the effort to provide Giuliani with political ammunition of dubious accuracy. Kulyk denies meeting Giuliani, but former associates say he prepared a seven-page dossier that his boss later passed along to the former New York mayor. Kulyk did not respond to a request for comment.

And so Team Trump has decided that in order to protect Trump in relation to actions that they claimed were part of a fight against corruption in Ukraine, corrupt Ukrainians are needed in order to produce a narrative that will exonerate him. The Post summed it up well:

Trump’s views of Ukraine — and his demands to investigate the Biden family — were largely shaped by Giuliani, his personal lawyer. The theories and opinions that were passed to Giuliani came from some of the very officials whom Ukrainian activists claim are prime corruption culprits in their own system.

By relying on these corrupt Ukrainians to support their arguments, Trump, Giuliani and Barr are proving that under the Trump Administration, the US courts corruption in order to advance the personal and political future of its President, at great risk to the strategic interests of the US.