Indivisible Upper Yellowstone – Weekly Journal
The Week of Saturday, May 2 through Friday, May 8, 2020 [#42]
“Reopening Goes Viral”
The Week’s Most Notable
It’s the stupid economy. This was to be the big week for the White House, shifting from focus on the coronavirus to the “Reopening of America” and resurrection of the economy. The administration used suppression of experts, strategic silence, and Trump’s inimitable brand of contradictory hyperbole to make the issue of COVID-19 begin to appear diminished if not anathema. However, COVID-19 did not cooperate, as rising death rates and poll numbers showed Americans are still very much focused on the effects of the virus. Overall, it was a week of profoundly mixed signals.
It’s a small event but notable. Last Wednesday was National Nurses Day. Trump hosted some nurses in the Oval Office. One, Sophie Thomas, had the temerity to say, “PPE has been sporadic.” Trump jumped in, “Sporadic for you, but not sporadic for a lot of other people. I have heard we have a tremendous supply to almost all places.” Ms. Thomas is president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and hears from nurses on the front lines all day. Who you gonna believe? That may be the coming struggle in a nutshell. Do you believe reports from the 50 states and the people working to deal with the medical crisis or the economic crisis, who usually report on a lack of resources and the lack of a coordinated national plan? Or do you believe Trump administration reports, especially Trump himself, who usually see things like this: “We’ve loaded up the hospitals with things to take care of people. We’ve ensured a ventilator for every patient who needs one. The testing and the masks and all of the things, we’ve solved every problem. We solved it quickly.” This illustrates the nub of vindictive mendacity in the emerging propaganda war.
Saturday, May 2
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Crisis: Deaths – 64,943; Cases – 1,133,000; Hospitalizations – 123,860
[Coronavirus] Research: U.S. Death Toll Underestimated – An analysis of federal data by the Yale School of Public Health found the death toll due to COVID-19 to be approximately 1.5 times the official number. Through the first two weeks of April they found an estimated 37,100 excess deaths beyond normal for the period, and 13,500 more than the official figures for COVID-19 related deaths.
Sunday, May 3
[Coronavirus] FDA Clears Antibody Test for Emergency Use – Antibody tests can determine who has had a COVID-19 infection and from that potentially a degree of immunization. They could be used, for example, to determine who is eligible to go back to work. There are dozens of existing antibody tests; unfortunately, many of them bogus. The new Roche test claims 100% accuracy in detecting antibodies and 99.8% free of producing false positives.
[Coronavirus] Pompeo Claims “Enormous Evidence” COVID-19 Originated in Chinese Lab – It was a week of simmering claims and counterclaims. While at times contradicting himself and without presenting any evidence, Pompeo stuck to the White House anti-Chinese line. American health officials, the military – including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – and intelligence agencies uniformly reported the virus did not begin in a lab (RNA characteristics rule that out). The anti-Chinese motif in the Trump-GOP political campaign seems to be waning, perhaps because Trump is ambivalent about attacking China and his friend Premier Xi.
[Elections 2020] Biden Wins Kansas Primary – Notably, in 2016 36,000 voted in the caucuses; this year with an all mail-in vote, more than 400,000 cast ballots.
[Coronavirus] G. W. Bush Calls for Unity, Is Attacked by Trump – In a video, Bush praised healthcare workers and closed with, “In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God we rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.” That evening Trump tweeted, “He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!” (Trump’s impeachment.)
Monday, May 4
[Coronavirus] CDC Predicts 3,000 Deaths, 200,000 Cases per Day by June – Based on revised CDC modeling, which includes relaxing social distancing and other COVID-19 mitigation, the devastating new figures more than double current numbers (that would mean well over 100,000 deaths by the end of May). At the same time, Trump was pronouncing joy at the opening of the country, while admitting that he thought the final death count could increase to as much as 100,000. For the rest of the week media highlighted competing models and made a largely successful attempt to obscure the scary numbers and confuse the public.
[Supreme Court] Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments by Teleconference for the First Time Ever – Bowing to the coronavirus crisis and an extremely full docket, the court will hear arguments by phone all week.
Tuesday, May 5
[Coronavirus] Trump Signals Coronavirus Task Force Winding Down – Along with other cabinet officials, the word was out that there would be no more daily briefings and that the coronavirus task force would be dispersed into other unspecified functions. That same day the nationwide response (governors, media, politicians – even Republicans) was outrage, “How could they do this when the coronavirus crisis hasn’t even reached peak.” The next day, Trump backtracked from this glaring unforced error, saying the task force would continue indefinitely – but with a changed composition and mission. While once again signaling incompetence, the move revealed a White House pivoting from what it sees as an unfavorable medical situation to a more pressing reelection-related issue, reviving the economy.
[Supreme Court] Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospitalized with Gallstone Infection – The news caused a hundred million hearts to skip a beat, but on Wednesday RBG participated in Oral Arguments by teleconferencing from her hospital bed, and was discharged later that day.
[Racial Injustice] Georgia Prosecutor Investigates Charges in Murder of Ahmaud Arbery – Prompted by a video of a young black jogger being stopped and shot on a suburban street, the uncharged murder and consequent public uproar brought this event to the top of the media queue. [Thursday the FBI arrested a father and son for murder and aggravated assault.]
Wednesday, May 6
[Government] Trump Names Top Donor as Postmaster General – Call this Trump’s trifecta: he gets to have a loyalist, Louis DeJoy, at the head of the USPS, which will make it easier to raise the rates on Amazon (archenemy Jeff Bezos), privatize pieces of the post office, and, along with the crisis of funding, weaken its operations for voting by mail in November.
[Border Wall] Trump Calls for Painting Border Wall Black – Before Thursday’s calamitous job reports, a prime example of a Trumpian distraction: $500 million to paint the wall so it would be “imposing” and “too hot to handle.” BTW, this is another Jared Kushner project. It was not a good week for Jared, but the incidents are not significant enough for recounting.
Thursday, May 7
[Economy] New Unemployment for Last Week at 3.2 Million – This brings the number of officially unemployed to 33.5 million and the worst unemployment rate, 14.7%, since the Great Depression. Unfortunately, due to overloaded systems an unknown number of people were unable to file for unemployment insurance. It appears the economy is heading toward 40 million unemployed by the end of May and eventually to an unemployment rate of around 30%, the worst in American history. As a rule of thumb for individuals as well as the economy, it’s quicker and easier to lose jobs than to get them back.
[Rule of Law] DOJ Asks Judge to Drop Michael Flynn Case – In something of a bombshell, Attorney General William Barr announced the DOJ determined Flynn’s guilty pleas were invalid because they were obtained without “proper predicate” – meaning that the evidence of his lying to the FBI was not “material” to the case. The consensus response of the legal community was condemnation of the “twisted technicality” (the lack of a predicate claim is almost nonsensical for an ongoing FBI counterintelligence case). Worse, if this stands it opens a Pandora’s box for defense attorneys to claim improper predicates for all kinds of cases, thus potentially damaging the rule of law. While the DOJ can itself halt its participation in the case, the case cannot be dismissed without the permission of Federal Judge Emmett Sullivan. His options are limited, but it is likely he will at a minimum summon the DOJ for explanations. Barr’s actions in this case are consistent with a pattern of defending Trump’s friends, and as will be seen later this summer, of attacking Trump’s enemies. This is how authoritarian countries use justice systems.
[Coronavirus] White House Has Top-of-the-Line Coronavirus Testing – As revealed by positive tests for White House staffers, including VP Pence’s press secretary and Trump’s valet, it turns out the White House gets the most advanced testing with a five-minute result, for some on a daily basis. Contact tracing is also done; for example, the director of the CDC is now under partial quarantine for having met with the president. Of course, such a comprehensive system is not what Trump recommends for the rest of the country, even on a spot basis. In fact, his stance this week was, “We have enough testing, in fact probably too much.”
Friday, May 8
[Coronavirus] U.S. Coronavirus Crisis: Deaths – 77,180; Cases – 1,284,000; Hospitalizations – 142,037
[Coronavirus] White House Quashes CDC Guidelines for Reopening Economy – The 17 pages with details for many industries was rejected because it was “overly prescriptive” and “it would take too long to implement” – besides which this was a job for governors, not the CDC. Of course, this is precisely what the CDC was created to do and has done throughout its history.
[Government] Office of Special Counsel Recommends Reinstatement of Dr. Bright – The former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for the Department of Health and Human Services, one of the leading immunization researchers in the world, filed a whistleblower’s complaint on the grounds that he was removed from his job for political reasons. The OSC agreed that there were “reasonable grounds to believe his firing was retaliation,” and that he should be reinstated to his job for 45 days while the OSC completed its investigations. The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee plans to hear testimony from Dr. Bright in the coming week.
Coronavirus Crisis Notes
What is a proper COVID-19 testing regime? Everybody talks about testing and the need for doing enough of it. Unfortunately, this is an area of extraordinary misunderstanding and often misinformation. When the White House press secretary says it’s ridiculous to test everybody in the country, she’s right – but that’s a strawman argument, nobody is calling for 320 million tests a day or anything like that. No country in the world tests everybody or even conducts as many tests as they would like. All proper testing plans are a compromise; it’s using limited resources to get as much information as possible.
Step one is to analyze where the virus is prevalent. Hotspots like nursing homes and meat processing plants are predictable locations. Urban concentrations, even down to smaller cities, may have higher infection rates. Serum-immunization tests can be used to determine statistically significant areas where people have already had a COVID-19 infection. A picture can be assembled that indicates where more intensive testing and monitoring will be most effective.
Step two is to react quickly to outbreaks. Here’s a best-case hypothetical example: a car pulls into the Glendive Medical Center with two very sick adults from the little town of Lindsay about 20 miles away. Doctors and nurses in the ER have already worked out their protocols and run simulations. They have equipment, basics such as PPEs, and more advanced gear such as quick test machines and ventilators. If pushed they can handle up to 10 isolation/intensive care cases.
First, they interview everybody and administer the COVID-19 viral test. Fortunately, they have the equipment to get results in five minutes. This shows that all three people are infected. They are immediately quarantined and the most ill sent to isolation/intensive care rooms.
Meanwhile the hospital’s tracing team has notified the state coordinating office, which in turn is tied into a national center. The team begins contacting people in Lindsay; although it’s a tiny village there is a school and a busy co-op. It’s estimated that somewhere between 30 and 50 people may have had COVID-19 contact. So, the hospital sends two members of the team to Lindsay to conduct more interviews. By the next day it’s decided to do a serum test and a viral test for the entire area. About 80% of the population is tested and ten are identified as carriers. Two of them are sent to Glendive for treatment. At this point, a number of state and local support services kick in to help with quarantine.
Step three is to monitor areas where outbreaks occurred, to do statistically significant random testing, and conduct follow-up analysis. Although COVID-19 is more communicable than seasonal flu, it is also cyclical and possible re-emergence is somewhat predictable. Educating people about the virus and how to deal with it can be part of the follow-up. Eventually, treatments and vaccination for COVID-19 will become as common as it is for seasonal flu, which means this strain of virus joins the others in routine healthcare.
Food lines are forming. Their length and the people’s desperation will become one measure of the Coronavirus Depression. As the number of unemployed approaches 40 million, and during the summer as unemployment insurance and other sources of income dry up, hunger and even starvation will grow prevalent. It’s already beginning to affect children, although according to the GOP it’s appropriate to continue cutting the food stamp program.
Trump-GOP and Right-Wing Media are making the biggest political gamble in U.S. history. It’s important not to understate this. There have been other portentous electoral moments, such as the election of 1860 before the Civil War and 1940 at the beginning of World War II; but the 2020 election combines one of the worst pandemics in U.S. history, the onset of a major depression, and arguably the most serious challenges (threats) to democracy in almost a century. In this context, their gamble to win the election rests on two very risky assumptions:
(1) The overhyped coronavirus pandemic will fizzle-out between now and, say, July.
(2) The “reopened” economy will make a dramatic recovery starting, say, in June, leading to a brilliant fourth quarter.
One would think the delusion of these predictions would be self-evident. Certainly, from the perspective of science, medicine, and economics there are metrics that can demonstrate whether these conditions are met or not. Most of us, that is, more than 50% of the voting public, would say that obviously the COVID-19 pandemic is not going away soon. It is also highly likely that with approximately 30% of the workforce unemployed and consumer confidence weak at best, the economy is not going to rebound quickly.
As obvious as this may seem to us, in a world of propaganda it’s possible to muddy and discredit measurements, and successfully promote what is not true. The ability to weasel out of the consequences of an obvious failure is a highlight of Trump-GOP propaganda. It is difficult to visualize what the mix of ongoing illness and death, a stubborn and desperate economic calamity, a volatile political division, and an onslaught of propaganda will produce by, say, September. Without wanting to sound like a Cassandra, let us hope we make it to the November elections.
[The IUY Weekly Journal assumes readers are passingly familiar with names and events. For more details, check with internet search (Google it).]
Quotes of the Week
“How many deaths and how much suffering are you willing to accept to get back to what you want to be some form of normality sooner rather than later?” Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNN, 5/4/20.
“History is written by the winners. So it largely depends on who’s writing the history.” Attorney General William Barr, on his decision to drop the federal case against convicted perjurer Michael Flynn, 5/7/20.