• Unblock TV Box Reveals All About COVID, America, and Maybe Sweden

    June 10, 2020 // 3 Comments »


    So is this it? The last COVID column? Writing from New York I feel behind the curve (we’re still locked down) much as returning from Iraq and wanting to tell everyone what I saw only to learn most people had already changed the channel.
    We didn’t all die fighting over the last ventilator. Human colonies still exist in Georgia and Florida. Six Flags is gonna reopen soon. Joe Biden re-appeared in public (masked so he couldn’t hack up a new “gaffe,”) Trump is still president, the stores are full again with iJunk from China and despite any real imagined “Second Wave” (remember ISIS? The Yazidis? Kurd genocide?) it looks like most Americans are kind of done with this. We tend to binge watch now anyway, and the good part is over.
    Not for me. To pass the time inside while I wait for America’s governor to realize the COVID zombies on NYC streets are actually just our homeless emerging from the subways to molt, I’ve been watching TV news from around the world.
    I bought a Chinese-made streaming device of ambiguous intellectual property rights morality that delivers over 700 free TV stations from around the globe. I’ve made a little obsession watching COVID news from dozens of countries in English where I can find it, some in languages I know a little of, some in languages I can’t even identify. Grossly unscientific as well as probably a little illegal, but if you watch enough of it the patterns become very, very clear.
    No nation on earth tore itself apart over a virus response like the U.S. There was plenty of debate globally over the right thing is to do, but it all appeared intended to be productive and not politically-motivated destructive in nature. Not to say the U.S. media didn’t try to show the leadership they claim the world wants from us; while the BBC headlined new vaccine trials, CNN ran a report based on “sources” claiming the four countries which make up Great Britain are at odds with each other over how to respond. CNN even helpfully reminded Americans “Wales and Northern Ireland too often feel like an afterthought.” Indispensable nation FTW!
    In Italy, the news simply reported the Prime Minister announcing the sensical “We’re facing a calculated risk opening in the knowledge that the contagion curve may rise. We have to accept it otherwise we will never be able to start up again. Italy would end up with a strongly damaged economic and social structure if it waited to relax distancing measures until a vaccine becomes available.” The headline on what would have triggered calls for impeachment if not in the U.S. translated into something like “Relaxing social distancing is a calculated risk.”
    Perhaps most importantly of all, I found no other nation where a large number of people were convinced their leader was literally trying to kill them, to the point nightly news in America is still weeks later falsely reporting Trump wanted people to drink bleach. This is more than one item on this list. It is the core of America’s failure, the willingness to believe their government is not simply men who make mistakes, but men out to kill them. You can’t get past that, forgive it, correct it.
    No other media I found globally did what the NYT did on May 24, just ahead of Memorial Day, devote its front page to the names of COVID-dead Americans, the first front page in four decades to be just words, no photos or graphics. One has to go back to LBJ and the Vietnam War to find something similar — hey hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today? people chanted — holding the president himself directly responsibility for the deaths of individual Americans. LIFE magazine later devoted most of an issue to the photos of the men who died in Vietnam one week (which included Memorial Day 1969), a shocking sum of a failed policy. In 2020 the social/MSM toadies took the Times’ bait, and superimposed images of Trump golfing over the names. For readers who know history, the connection to Vietnam was undeniable. The direct responsibility link seems however more a creation of 2020 than the realization it was in 1969. The message’s intent was unambiguous: he killed them.
    I found no other nation where a large number of people were convinced their neighbors were also literally trying to kill them by not wearing masks, or any place where the decision to mask or unmask is seen so significantly as a political one. In Taiwan the government said people should wear masks, and then distributed them, and made extras easy to obtain. In other places cops hand masks to people who aren’t wearing one. Everyone in Japan just put them on. Americans weren’t sure where to find them and had to create their own masks via little handicraft projects, and then have to make heart-felt decisions multiple times a day under the judgement of strangers. Outside the U.S. a mask seems to just be a mask, whether you’re wearing one or not.
    People nearly everywhere they are able to criticize their government did so, and the debate in the UK and elsewhere over decisions was robust (they don’t all like their leader, either.) But nowhere except the U.S. was everything on TV so centered on blame, looking backward, rather than getting it right, look forward.
    No where else did armed protesters challenge their government. No place else where government decisions on which stores to allow open are so closely tied to broader over-arching national political themes. In no other place did anyone cry “give me nail salons or give me death.” I saw nowhere else where the response was so geographically different, where in one region bars were open and in another the police arrested people for not having a mask.
    America is the only place using the virus to justify less public transportation.
    With the possible exception of China responding to U.S. criticism, I cannot find any place that made the virus into a signature foreign policy issue, and feinted toward punitive actions to come. Borders got shut, then opened, as expedients, not as sneaky answers to unresolved immigration policy.
    No place else seems so determined to find new crises within the crisis — the virus yes, but in America we had a sub-crisis-of-the-week. Not enough tests, not enough doctors, not enough PPE, not enough ICU, not enough ventilators, no enough lockdown. And of course each sub-crises comes with its own sub-blame game.
    Not everywhere holds press conferences. Swedes tune in to the dry daily news conferences that pace like farm price reports. Of course the U.S. press have always been aggressive questioners, but I cannot find anywhere where open mockery and loaded passive-aggressive questions so dominate any discourse. This follows through to the “news” itself, so much of which is simply name calling, saying people are bonkers, stupid, mentally ill, incompetent, corrupt, and liars. This has uniquely spilled over into entertainment. It is very difficult to find anything produced in the last few years labeled in America as “comedy” that is not just name calling and mockery aimed at one side of the political spectrum. I cannot find anywhere outside these United States where media stars attack each other, where networks engage in ideological name calling, and claim each other distorts the facts to the point they are producing foreign propaganda, are anti-democratic, or are a literal threat to the nation. You get a little of that during Prime Minister’s question time on the BBC, but they are much more clever. Otherwise, you have to read the tabloids for it.
    No other nation has a cheerleading squad embedded in its media happy when a possible cure fails. Except when talking about America’s reaction, everywhere else hydroxychloroquine is just another medicine to be evaluated. Hope is rationed in America because it is a political weapon.
    I see nowhere else people wish fellow citizens get sick and die to prove a political point — You reopened too soon! You didn’t wear a mask! You voted Republican so die! Your third-party vote will kill grandma! I don’t see elsewhere the U.S.-standard told-you-so story, something with the headline “Barber Who Defied Lockdown to Cut Hair Tests Positive.”
    Racism is not unique to the United States but I cannot locate anywhere else where it is so embedded in the way the nation talked about or dealt with the virus, real stuff or imagined. Same for a search for “communities” hurt more than you by the virus: LGBT people, immigrants, Asians in general when just Chinese are not enough, special needs kids, a lip-reader who can’t understand masked people, prisoners, heroes who stock shelves, various “survivors” of other bad things, an endless search for more victimized victims. At the same time, no one seems driven to create and fetishize “heroes,” from cashiers to trash collectors. Same for countries with woman leaders; they don’t make a big deal of it but the American media sure does. The press from those women-led countries just talks about Leaders. They talk about competence in government not gender.
    No one else seemed so anxious to both undercount and overcount the virus deaths. A fair number of nations seem to want to underplay their death tolls, but nowhere is it both under and over at the same time.
    I don’t see anywhere else where whatever is on one’s political agenda (free college, debt forgiveness, public housing, social programs, guaranteed income, economic inequality, national service, freedom of religion, right to bear arms, abortion rights, the freaking post office and voting by mail) is being so directly tied to a virus response one way or another.
    So that’s it for COVID, a good couple of seasons’ worth. I’m still inside, though. Anybody heard anything good about this Netflix thing? I’m looking for something new to pass the time. Jeez, I gotta get out more.

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    Posted in 2020

    Time to Get Back to Work

    May 8, 2020 // 2 Comments »


     
    If America has a fast forward button on it someone should push it ahead to November. We won’t be done with the virus until we’ve done with the election. Between prudence and overreaction lies politics.

    We bleat about wanting decisions based on science. Then we do the same dumb red-blue thing, even counting the corona dead differently (nothing left certain but taxes now) to make the numbers seem better or worse depending on the shifty politics of better or worse. Something that should not be about Trump at all is All About Trump.

    There is no other country in the world so driven by politics so devoid of science. It’s killing us. Other countries have good leaders, some not so good. But look at us. Our nation is held hostage to protests and counter-protests, lockdowns and open bowling alleys. There is no other nation where so many are convinced their leader is actively trying to kill them with his virus response, even imagining he wants them to drink bleach.

     

    The MSM portrays protesters against government restrictions as dangerous, Trump death cultists who’d rather end up in an ICU that skip a haircut. It is an echo of the things that lost 2016 for the Democrats. The people don’t want haircuts. Such flippancy insults the righteous anger over lost livelihoods. They want to feed their families. They want thought-out targeted restrictions instead of politically driven over-reaction and fear mongering. It’s about deep emotional waters, sense of self, a whole lot more than just how the economy will help Trump win or lose. Many also are concerned that their lives, including the right to assemble, to worship, and to protest, are being controlled by leaders they don’t trust while a media they abandoned years ago mocks them. Beaches open in a red state are #FloridaMorons; in a blue state it’s #SurfsUp.

    But they see this time the Brooklyn elites are going a step further, beyond the deplorable label, to wishing them to catch the virus, figuring the infection will teach them a lesson before they vote wrong again. Wishing death on people you disagree with. It’s almost like cheering for a guy who drives his car into a crowd of BLM protesters.

     

    Elsewhere, medical professionals say the protestors have no right to put others’ lives at risk, and think it is just more than OK to physically stop the rallies. That’s called “the heckler’s veto” by the Supreme Court and is not allowed under the 1A, even if you’re a hero ER nurse or just an abortion protester blocking the door to a clinic. Stopping someone from protesting by shouting them down, driving a car into their crowd, or otherwise trying to stop them from exercising their rights (including the right to hold a dumb opinion or one you disagree with) is disdainfully unconstitutional.

    The medical professionals and their Muppet chorus of journalists sound like some soldiers who felt their sacrifice was made cheap by people who protested the war. Thank you for your service. It does not however allow you to choose which people can exercise their rights. When you choose to serve you serve those you define as worthy and those you don’t. It’s bigger than you, doc.

    Government is not supposed to be able to take away freedoms, even if it’s for “our own good.” Governments always invoke safety and security when they are taking away rights (see the Patriot Act.) The invoke the majority over the minority. It’s an old playbook, joined in this century by our 1A nannies on social media, who electronically block efforts to organize. If you’re screeching about how rights don’t matter when lives are at stake, the same old safety vs. liberty argument people always use, you’ve got company. The KKK used that argument to block blacks from marching, claiming it was a safety issue.

    Protesting against the government taking away your right to assemble is about as fundamental a civil right as you can get. The argument restrictions are needed to keep us safe (“we’ll get the virus!”) are about as fundamentally wrong as you can get. Yet authorities in California will no longer issue permits for anti-lockdown protests at any state properties, including the Capitol.

    Agree? Just remember what you’re saying now about these redneck inbreeding gun nuts the next time someone claims a march permit can’t be issued in the interest of public safety to a group you support. Hint: It’s the same thing. Rights are rights. Because you know what else can spread rapidly if “left unchecked?” Tyranny. Justice Louis Brandeis held free speech is not an abstract virtue but a key element of a democratic society. He ruled even speech likely to result in “violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression.” In braver times when Americans challenged the safety vs. liberty argument, the Supreme Court consistently ruled in favor of free speech, reminding us democracy comes with risk. But that was another world ago, before we measured human worth in RTs.

     

    There is science which should be informing decisions. The irony is that while claiming a small rally in Denver will cost lives, or Florida will kill people by opening its beaches, the same voices remain silent as NYC keeps its subway running 24/7. The timing of the public beach versus public transportation debate came as a new study detailed NYC’s “multitentacled subway system was a major disseminator — if not the principal transmission vehicle — of coronavirus infection,” “seeding” the virus throughout the city. Without a superspreader like the subway it can be contained locally. It is tragic when the virus rips through a nursing home or meatpacking plant (it is a virus after all, it will go viral), but all of those together barely touch a week’s body count in New York. Shut down mass transport.

    We can put most people back to work with limited risk; the protesters are right. The virus kills a very specific patient. About half the dead are over age 65. Less than one percent of deaths were under age 44. Almost 94 percent of the dead in any age group had serious underlying medical issues (about half had hypertension and/or were obese, a third had lung problems.) The death toll in NYC under total lockdown: 22,000. Death toll in much more densely populated Tokyo with “smart” lockdown: 93.

    About 22 percent of New Yorkers already have the virus antibody and thus expected immunity. A logical conclusion — large numbers already have or had the virus, and that it is harmless to them — is simply ignored. Quarantine/social distancing is for those most vulnerable so we can stop wrecking all of society with cruder measures. Hospitals should separate patients by age. No need to keep kids from school, especially if that means isolating them inside a multigenerational household. Let them wear soggy paper masks to class, even tin foil on their heads, if it makes things easier. Online classes are lame and America doesn’t need a new generation dumber than the current one.

    The New York-New Jersey area, with roughly half the dead for the entire nation, practices full-on social distancing while Georgia was one of the last states to implement a weaker stay-at-home policy. Yet as Georgia re-opens, the NY/NJ death count is over 27,000. Georgia is 892. NY continues adding around 500 bodies to the pile every day, even with its bowling alleys closed.

    We judge risk versus gain for every other cause of death. We wear condoms. We watch our diets. Time to do the same for the virus. As for lockdowns, we may not even be judging them accurately. Some 22 states have had fewer than 100 deaths. Only 15 states had total deaths for the entire duration of the crisis higher than NYC’s current 500 a day. The original goal of lockdowns, to buy time for the health care system (and most resources were never needed due to over-estimates of the viral impact), has passed. If the new goal is Virus Zero it will never come. If the real goal is harm Trump we’ll have to put up with this without serious discussion until November.

    A Stanford doctor nails it: “Strictly protect the known vulnerable, self-isolate the mildly sick and open most workplaces with some prudent large-group precautions. This would allow the essential socializing to generate immunity among those with minimal risk of serious consequence, while saving lives, preventing overcrowding of hospitals, and limiting the enormous harms compounded by continued total isolation.”

    We are fretting and frittering away our national muscle watching TV about a bigamous tiger keeper. There are too many who want this isolation to continue indefinitely, a pathetic nation whose primary industries for its young people are camming and GoFundMe. We focus on the virus deaths, but the Reaper keeps a more accurate tally: deaths from despair, from hunger (two million new people became food insecure in NYC since the virus), financial losses (26 million Americans have filed for unemployment), mental health issues, and abuse (domestic murders during the viral months in NYC  outstripped the total from 2019.) In some ultimate irony, parents are postponing vaccinations for fear of bringing their kids to medical facilities.

    It is the reaction to the pandemic that exhausts us, not the pandemic itself. So when someone claims it is Money vs. Life they miss the answer: It’s both. It should not be taboo to discuss this. The debate needs to be about human life in full.

     
     

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    Posted in 2020

    Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio?

    April 18, 2020 // 11 Comments »


     

    The talk in New York is about when to return to normal. But that misses the point; normal never really left, it just changed clothes. We traded economic disparity expressed through poverty for economic disparity expressed through viral death. The real problem isn’t when we’ll return to normal, it is that we will.
     

    All the energy that made this city more than livable, made it desirable, is gone. It’s just a big, empty place now, all the seams showing. The closed stores still have St Patrick’s Day decorations. Time stopped in March. I am a native New Yorker by birth, seven years now returned. I don’t know how many times we can all stand on the ledge and not jump. From 9/11, the 2008 financial crisis, Super Storm Sandy. This feels more like the gray of post-war East Germany than the white hot panic of late WWII Berlin.

    New York state has more corona cases than any other country in the world. About half of all U.S. deaths are here in the broader New York area. Sure, there are other hot pockets but while NYC counts the bodies in the thousands there are some states still in single figures and most others in the hundreds. The stars may soon again hold benefit concerts for us, echoing post-9/11’s “ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” When the city talks in its sleep what many remember most is the kindness people showed toward one another that blue September, little courtesies of holding doors and allowing someone to cut the line, half smiles from total strangers in a place where such vulnerability could previously have made you prey.

    Not with the virus. We snap at each other, enemies now, each a potential carrier. This is a not a city which lends itself to personal space without a flash of aggressive eye contact. Walk without a mask and someone will snap at you. Two guys hissing something in Spanish at an Asian woman. Lines to enter the food store with everyone watching like North Korean border guards for sneaks. SNL and late night never mocked Bush in the immediate 9/11 aftermath. If we ever were one we are not now. Because we are for certain not all in this together as Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “Everyone is subject to this virus. I don’t care how smart, how rich, how powerful you think you are.”

    That is not true. The virus is highly concentrated in the poorest Hispanic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx. The viral death rate for Hispanics is 22 people per 100,000; for blacks 20 per 100,000 while the rate for whites is 10 per 100,000. For whites even that is deceptive, given the hot spots in the isolated Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn versus the paucity lack of white deaths in the high-income areas. Poorer people are more likely to die at home than in a hospital, and so the surge in at-home deaths, most never tested, suggests the death rate for the virus is being under-counted. Overall the virus is twice as deadly for Hispanics and blacks than whites in NYC.

    In New York we speak hundreds of languages but not to each other. A map of viral cases neighborhood-by-neighborhood tells the tale. America’s most diverse city, America’s most sanctimonious city about that, is also one of her most segregated on the ground.

    New York City is also the most economically unequal city in the country. It is home to 70 billionaires, more than any other American city. Living among those billionaires (NYC is also home to nearly one million millionaires, more than any other city in the world) the city also has the largest homeless population of any American metropolis. The number of New Yorkers who live below the poverty line is larger than the population of Philadelphia or Phoenix, and would be the country’s 7th largest city. The billionaires fund the social services and the poor clean the homes and scavenge the trash of the billionaires.
     

    The reasons are the same reasons. Poor neighborhoods are served by the city’s miserable public hospitals, not its world-class private ones. A virus patient in the ravaged Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. The problem is the quality, not the quantity, of healthcare. “We are watching, in real time, racial disparities and the pandemic of poverty,” one assemblyman said.

    Poor people suffer from comorbidities (86 percent of the dead have one), particularly the ones of bad diets like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Hypertension is 3x more prevalent, and diabetes 5x more, in the South Bronx than in well-to-do lower Manhattan. Influenza, which has already killed about twice as many people this season as COVID-19, follows a similar pattern.

    The Elmhurst neighborhood in Queens is “the epicenter within the epicenter,” according to the mayor. Some 64 percent of its residents are Hispanic, and the median household income is three-quarters of that of the metro area. Nearly 11 percent of households there are multigenerational. The grouping of young (who carry the virus without symptoms) and elderly together helps drive the higher infection rates.

    Park Slope, Brooklyn, has some of the city’s lowest rates of COVID-19, 56 percent below average. Two-thirds of its population is white and the median household income is one and a half times greater than average. Less than two percent of households are multigenerational. But when the Surgeon General specifically admonished people of color to stop drinking and using drugs during the pandemic to power up their immune systems he was called a racist.
     

    This is the normal. The economic disparity driving the viral load in NYC was here long before the virus; COVID-19 was superimposed on that sordid base. What is happening now, the deaths, was always happening, albeit slower. This mocks what pundits are calling the big question, how to balance the city’s health and the city’s economic needs, when to re-open for business. Economic inequality has been killing people all along, and keeping poor people from working by decree only makes them poorer and eventually sicker. It is a slow death as opposed to the quick countable deaths from the virus.. Tom Hanks will thank the food delivery guys for their service on SNL but we still won’t pay them a living wage.

    One of the things blamed in NYC was the late decision to close the public schools. Many wealthy private schools closed on their own in early March. The mayor kept the massive public school system open until the middle of the month not for educational reasons, but because it doubles as a social service center for poor children, including 114,000 who are homeless.

    More than half of all public students get their meals at school, and for the homeless kids it is the only place they can wash clothing and clean themselves. Birth control and STD testing for kids from strict Hispanic Catholic homes mostly happens surreptitiously through the schools. The schools provide daycare so poor people can work, and are the last hope to keep a few children out of gangs and offer them a break from abusive homes. “Given the alternatives, schools are a safer place for many kids,” one teacher said. Closing the schools was a “last resort,” judged a better option than hiding from the virus at one point. The uptick in child violence and domestic violence in general New York is experiencing now was understood to be coming, collateral damage.

    The city made up its mind a long time ago. During the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which killed 30,000 New Yorkers, the Health Commissioner demanded public schools be kept open, believing the risks of gathering kids together were outweighed by the benefits of giving them a break from their crowded and unsanitary tenement apartments. The Commissioner also noted working immigrant parents had no time to care for their kids, better to have them looked after at schools. As he put it, sick people don’t go to the theater when they feel bad but they do go to work.

    Same for the subway system, still running 24/7, a remarkably effective way to spread the virus. As in 1918, poor people can’t work remotely. NYC kept the public schools open, and keeps public transport running, then and now, knowing it would spread the virus, because the alternative hardships seem worse.
     

    I’ve lived in the developing world and you get used to this. You have and they don’t, way it is, beyond one man’s blame and seemingly any man’s fix. The biggest barrier to some sort of “re-opening” in NYC is to figure out how to express that in palatable terms for 2020. Not that we weren’t already already doing it for the last hundred years, but now we need to make rules to govern our apartheid of dollars that sound OK in the Sunday Review section. The rest is just logistics.

     

    BONUS

    New York is not alone. In Chicago, more than 70 percent of the deaths related to the coronavirus were among black residents, though blacks make up only a third of the city’s population. In Michigan, black residents make up just 14 percent of the population, but over 40 percent of the COVID-19 deaths.

    It was always sort of this way, but maybe a slightly better version of it. Up until the 1970s or so, New York had always been about The Deal. You put up with the filth, the crowding, the lack of empathy, and she’ll throw you a bone. If you really make it, the luxuries of the world are available at your fingertips. In the middle, for the plumbers and the clerks, a spring afternoon at the stadium with a hot dog and a beer (or nowadays more commonly, a churro) reached at heaven. For the immigrants, from the 19th century Irish, Germans, Jews, and Italians to today’s Dominicans and Vietnamese, work until you’re running, burned, and near blind, and we’ll educate your kids so they don’t have to.

    We did away with The Deal when we switched to more disposable workers. A janitor I know tells the tale. His father came to New York from Puerto Rico a few Americas ago. Dad worked nights until he bought a house in Queens. Miguel’s brother is out of work with a high fever, but the real worry is dad, diabetic and elderly and living downstairs. Miguel cleans for rich people and “can’t get sick” because he’s now holding the family purse. He’s angry his kids have to “online school,” because he wants them to make the move, third generation, up and out, and online isn’t going to be enough.

     

     

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    It’s Trump vs. The Virus in November

    April 14, 2020 // 1 Comment »

     

    There’s a new variant on an old joke. Trump and Biden are in the woods and see a bear racing toward them. Trump starts to run. Biden says “You can’t outrun a bear!” Trump replies “I only have to outrun you.” The election is between Trump and the Virus. If by November the public concludes he did a good enough job however that ends up being understood he’ll be reelected. Approval ratings only measure how fast one guy runs, and miss that’s it is a two-man race. Election day will be about adding up the smiles and cries from the coronavirus to see who the virus, er, bear gets.

     

    The Virus (capitalized to include the actual virus and the political panic and opportunism surrounding it) drove the progressive movement off the campaign battlefield. No more Parkland Kids, no more Pink Pussy Hats, Beto who? Mayor Pete who? Got a Plan for That who? Articles in HuffPo about how the publishing industry is especially unfair to left handed LGBT disabled Muslim people with eczema seem like Olde English. AOC is an artifact reduced to demanding free stuff from the government not from her ravaged district in the Bronx, but broadcasting from her DC luxe condo. When Bernie finally quits he’ll be lucky to make the “And in other news today…” part of the broadcast.

    Biden is a dishrag, through no fault or promise of his own the guy in the right or wrong place come autumn (that’s also how he got to be VP.) By choosing Biden Dems took healthcare reform off the table at a time when it might have had a real audience. If the Virus exposed anything, it laid bare our system’s shortcomings. Well, nobody plans to do anything about that. If voters’ big takeaway in November is the healthcare system kinda sucks, you know, the system last tinkered with by Obama-Biden ten years ago and which Biden sees no need to overhaul, well, so much for Biden.

    With Trump dominating the media, big footing his way into prime news time with daily press briefings (remember when the MSM chastized Trump for not holding briefings?) Biden is smart to not be saying much now. Whether he has anything worth saying in the autumn is a good question, when it all may be too late.

    The key flaw since Inauguration Day 2017 has been the Dems telling Americans they need a savior, a hero, a bear daddy, a rescuer and then serving up… Joe Biden. They have put few ideas forward on the road to making this a one issue election. They remain cemented at the buttocks with the MSM to auto-criticize everything Trump does, while the public remains unmoved as they generally have through the sagas of Russiagate, Ukraine, Emoluments, taxes, wars that never happened, trade crisis that never happened, ending of democracy that never happened, ending of abortion rights that never happened, ending of LGBT rights that never happened, etc. Democrats presented no alternatives during the stimulus process, just taking their share of the pork to include appropriating an additional $25 million in salaries and expenses for the Dem-controlled House. In a gesture as limpingly sad as it was predictable, Nancy Pelosi did announce an investigation into the coronavirus response. The problem is by November there won’t be much to investigate.

     

    Long before anyone votes this is all going to be some version of “over.” One can always play (as we did with Russiagate) the “but just wait” game of blunting every rational argument with an irrational one hoping for a turn for the worse, but as this is written New York City is reaching its Virus apex. Estimates of millions of Americans dead seem silly in the rear view mirror, and scientists are backing off even milder doomsday modeling. Governor Cuomo’s threat that Trump would have blood on his hands if New York did not get 30,000 ventilators (it got about 7,000) should embarrass him; a few days later he admitted the state had adequate supplies.

    As time passes the many mini-crises of not enough tests then tests caught up, not enough masks then the masks caught up, then not enough ventilators then ventilators caught up, etc. will demand perspective. Hydroxychloroquine, the MSM’s current stalking horse, will either have been shown to help or not and half of us can tell the others “I told you so.” Disaster management is a process not an event. Logistics take time. Mistakes get made. A response starts at zero with the disaster at something more than zero. The two curves compete while the media assigns blame until mitigation catches hold. Don’t forget the Dems failed with this gambit once before, Trump the lousy crisis manager who will kill us all after the hurricane in Puerto Rico, and even had the female mayor of San Juan in the current Andrew Cuomo role. George W. Bush was reelected despite Katrina.

    So it will be a tough sell in November for Dems to get people to vote Biden when they mostly have to offer a mistelling of Trump calling the virus a hoax nine months earlier. Few will remember and even fewer will care because the response over those nine months will be judged in full, not based on the daily name calling the media passes off as journalism. Cuomo, Fauci, Birx, Cuomox2, and whatever still-to-come good guys and bad guys the media will have created won’t be on the ballot. Might as well recycle those pleas for Michael Avenatti to run for president.

    All the faux controversy as the media tries desperately to create gossip (Are Trump and Fauci fighting?), what did or did not happen “fast enough” in January, like the impeachment hearings that took place alongside that, will be forgotten as something that hardly mattered then and certainly does not weigh heavy months later, a whole pandemic having passed specter-like through America. At what point might the numbers matter? For comparison, here are causes of death in America (2019) not being blamed on Trump as corona reaches 12k: cancer 606k, car accidents 39k, regular flu 34k, and in 2009 due to H1N1, 12k. Some states still have corona deaths in single digits. Now imagine Trump thanking and congratulating all those spared for their sacrifices and efforts at successful social distancing. USA! USA! We did it, together!

     

    This measuring of events in full will be exacerbated if the trend we are seeing plays out. There are actually two pandemics in America, one tearing into the New York-New Jersey area, and the other scraping past most of the country. Some half of the cases and deaths for all of the United States are in the New York City area. Hot pockets exist across the nation but there are only relative handfuls of cases in many states. The draconian quarantine measures won’t last long in places like Ohio and Iowa if that stays steady. This could be a NYCish problem, like Super Storm Sandy, devastating but isolated. By September rock stars may be again holding benefit concerts for The People of New York. Think Springsteen revising The Rising (“Come on up for the nurses, come on up wash your hands with mine.”)

    The thing is that even that image of the pandemic may be too generous, scrapping what one writer called post-9/11 “the ferocious tenderness of how desperately America loves New York.” Because at present the Virus is not a pan-New York City phenomena per se. It is highly concentrated in the poorest ethnic and black neighborhoods of Queens and the Bronx, along with mini hot spots in Hasidic Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn. NYC is fighting like hell to hide the demographic data, but studies suggest a Virus patient in the Bronx is twice as likely to die as one in a “nice” neighborhood. What if pandemic ends being mostly a passing inconvenience for most of America, and largely not only just a NYC-centric tragedy, but a poor-centric tragedy? Throw in California and Detroit if you’re a fatalist, it doesn’t change the basic equation.

    When nobody in the Heartland cares about all that in November pundits will blame it on racism, the convenient tar baby of all bad things (that will help blame Trump for a mostly localized disaster without smearing Democratic pin-up Andrew Cuomo.) But the explanation which will elude strategists is that people vote for themselves.
     
    Looking back to the Vietnam era, much of Middle America was agnostic toward the war until the draft started sending bodies home to Bloomington, Dayton, and South Bend. Even then many held to their patriotism and sucked up the sacrifice. As long as most people in Iowa think of the Virus as an Other problem, Trump is secure. If they start to realize they all know someone who died of the virus, things get a little more competitive. So don’t be surprised to see liberal pundits rooting for an autumn viral wave as this year’s October Surprise.

    All elections are in the end local. Votes are personal things, big picture issues rendered small. People vote their own experiences, and judge what a vote means for their future. For every game changer you think you see happening now in April, remember it will be judged by what happened after that on the road to Election Day.

      

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    The Monsters Are Due on Pennsylvania Avenue

    April 11, 2020 // 3 Comments »


     

    “There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own…”
     

    That’s the closing narration to a classic Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. A summer’s day turns darkly paranoid as a group of neighbors convinces themselves strange doings are part of an alien invasion. Worse yet, one family among them may be aliens in disguise. Their fears escalate until a neighbor is shot and the former friends descend into a mob. The episode ends on a nearby hilltop where real aliens are watching the riot on Maple Street while manipulating the neighborhood’s electricity to encourage the violence. They comment on how simply fiddling with consistency leads people to descend into paranoia, and that this can be exploited to conquer Earth. The message is clear: while there is a real threat, the worst damage is done by ourselves, driven by the search for someone to blame.
     

     
    And oh yes in 2020, in what the NYT calls this “land of denial and death,” we search for someone to blame. Paranoia does not require much grounding in real life. So while a global pandemic unfolds, affecting over 150 countries, the blame for what is happening rests with one man. China, Spain, Canada, wherever, have no Trump. They don’t have America’s grossly commercialized medical system, or the economic inequality, or the the presence/lack of border controls, to exacerbate the virus. Yet they have the virus, statistically flexible enough to be worse than the U.S. where needed (China and Iran, they lie) or better than the U.S. to prove some point (South Korea tests more, Denmark has socialized medicine.)

    The Boston Globe has it clear: Donald Trump “Has Blood On His Hands” over coronavirus. The idea that a global pandemic is not “anyone’s” fault is unthinkable and Trump is a ready foil. The MSM has spent three years seeding our thoughts Trump is deadly. He was a Russian spy selling our secrets even as the #Resistance lead by Alec Baldwin practiced shouting “Wolverines!” He brought us to the brink of civil war, or nuclear war with North Korea, Iran, and China, enroute to climate change death. So what if the MSM got the details wrong — it wasn’t Russiagate or white nationalism or Ukraine — it was, we found it, this.
     
    Look, Trump did away with the “Pandemic Response Team” in 2018. If we had had that Team they would have swatted the virus away. Except there was no Team. What was fired was one man, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, who was actually only a bureaucratic coordinator on the NSC. Ziemer was originally a George Bush anti-malaria appointee after his naval aviation career, an evangelical Christian, with little real-world experience with a pandemic. Not a doctor, not a specialist. No matter his team and its duties were reassigned inside the NSC to a new biodefense directorate. And no matter Ziemer still works for the government, at USAID, in case anyone needs his expertise. And no matter he and his position did not exist in 2009, when by most MSM accounts the U.S. successfully handled the swine flu virus.
     
    Well, maybe it is because Trump cut funding to the CDC and NIH! Except that did not happen. The president’s budget proposals called for reducing funding even as Congress said no every time. Joe Biden claimed Trump “tried to defund the NIH” even as lawmakers enacted increases. Not that it matters much, but Trump never called the virus a hoax, though he did call Democratic efforts to tar him with inaction a hoax. And a Johns Hopkins study in 2019 ranked the U.S.  the best-prepared country in the world to handle a pandemic.
     
    But Trump didn’t test! Of course testing has ramped up quickly to the point where the U.S. has tested more people than other countries and is leading the world in deploying the new, faster, antibody test. But blame requires focus on an initial couple of weeks, mid-impeachment proceedings, when testing was not available in large quantities. One typical headline claimed, “The U.S. Badly Bungled Coronavirus Testing.” But the problems were old news almost as soon as the stories were written. Within a week, nearly a million tests would be available. The initial testing rollout of a CDC-designed test kit to state and local labs was unsuccessful because it contained a faulty reagent. CDC quickly backed away from a policy position limiting full testing to its own labs for statistical and quality control purposes, and commercial, university, and state labs gained approval to use their own tests.
     
    The CDC’s actions were standard procedure, and for good reason. When a new disease emerges CDC normally gets the ball rolling because it has the expertise and the biosafety laboratories to handle dangerous novel pathogens. Typically there are few confirmed viral samples at the outset, which researchers need to validate their tests, and CDC has the capability to grow the virus for this critical quality assurance step. You lose that if you allow everyone to test simultaneously. It’s not a “blame,” it is science.

    As for the technical problem with the original CDC kits, here it is: “The key problem with the kits is what’s known as a negative control. CDC’s test uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay to find tiny amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in, say, a nose swab. To make sure a test is working properly, kits also include DNA unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. The assay should not react to this negative control, but the CDC reagents did at many, but not all, state labs. The labs where the negative control failed were not allowed to use the test; they have to continue to send their samples to Atlanta.” The CDC has been supplying reagents through the same place for a decade. So if you want to blame Trump for stirring in the wrong DNA in the kits, whatever, go ahead.
     
    Oh, you want someone to really blame? Well, there’s two pandemics’ worth of it to go around.

    But what about the ventilators? The U.S. tried to build a new fleet of ventilators, but the mission failed, leaving us in the present situation. Left out of the discussion was that the failure took place under the Obama administration, following the H1N1 pandemic. It was understood then some 70,000 ventilators should be stockpiled. Yet through a failure of oversight by the Obama administration the project ultimately produced zero ventilators. Last year the Trump administration approved a new design to kickstart the project, with deliveries to start in the summer.

    But didn’t we once have more ventilators? Yes, in California, but Governor Jerry Brown sold them. In 2006, citing the threat of avian flu, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had the state invest $200 million in a powerful set of medical weapons. He created a truck-borne system of some 50 million N95 respirators, 2,400 portable ventilators, and 21,000 patient beds. Then in 2011 the new Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, cut off the money to maintain the stockpile. The ventilators were given to local hospitals and health agencies without any funding to maintain them. Many were resold to dealers who shipped them abroad. The N95 respirators were allowed to expire without being replaced.
     
    New York, once again Ground Zero for a national tragedy, may not have enough ventilators. After learning in 2015 the state’s stockpile of medical equipment had 16,000 fewer ventilators than New Yorkers would need in a severe pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo could have chosen to buy more ventilators. Instead, he asked his health commissioner to draft rules for rationing the ventilators they already had.

    Governor Cuomo also recognized, but failed to do anything about, a shortage of masks and other protective gear. On March 6, weeks before Trump raised the issue, Cuomo stated people were stealing the equipment out of hospitals in New York. “Not just people taking a couple or three, I mean just actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said. “I’ve asked the state police to do an investigation, look at places that are selling masks, medical equipment, protective wear.” There is no evidence he or the police ever followed up, directly resulting in a shortage today. Cuomo did not restate his order to investigate even after a warehouse with pallets of black market masks was reported.

    Despite the crisis, Cuomo continues to pursue $2.5 billion in Medicaid cuts to NY’s hospitals alongside limiting their expansion to save more money. That will end up being a lot of ICU beds missing if needed.

    Elsewhere in New York, city mayor Bill De Blasio’s decision to keep public school open through mid-March, well into the pandemic, is seeing its gruesome legacy play out in Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, where multi-generational households are among the hardest visited by death.
     
    What about Congress? Public health experts testified on in 2018 and 2019 asking for over a billion additional dollars as part of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, explaining programs created after 9/11 to ready the nation’s health system for any kind of disaster had since been stripped down to dangerously low levels. Congress cut the funding. That decision is “among several key moments over the last few years where experts warned of the likelihood of something like current pandemic and government leaders did not do enough to prepare.”

    The point is not to absolve Trump. The point is not to blame others. There exists among too many an ugly need for things to fail, so we can blame someone. That glee cruel because the desire for a scapegoat coincides with much suffering.
     
    You never defeat a disaster, whether a hurricane in Puerto Rico or a virus. You mitigate it. Success is measured by how well those natural processes are pushed back beyond civilization’s walls and by how much suffering is relieved along the way. The process almost always follows the same path: recognize the disaster (easier with earthquakes, harder with a virus), determine what is needed (time consuming and ever-evolving with the goal being the right help to the right places in order of priority), procure and transport (can take time), and allow the mitigation efforts to go to work. Disaster management specialists know it will never be fast enough, as the response starts in deficit. But a tipping point will take place, and people will start to receive the help they need.
     
    The press conferences, clogged with ritual passive aggressiveness, grow wearisome, do not inform and entertain only in the way slowing down at a car wreck does. It’s not Weimar, it’s not Rome, but it is time to grow up; we’re all on the Diamond Princess now. We’ll have an election soon enough, and the people can decide for themselves what the MSM and Democrats have been trying to force on them for more than three years. Until then, focus on fixing the problems for our neighbors, not the blame.
     
     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020