Light At The End Of The Tunnel

One of the things that has made endurance difficult through the pandemic is the lack of an endpoint. A great many yardsticks are available from many sources – cases by day or month, numbers of hospital beds available, hospitalizations, deaths – but not when things are likely to get better, when we can see our friends and family in person again, when children can return to school, when we can feel safer.

The measures we have go up and slightly down, then up again. They can be tied to the early call to “open things up” long before it was wise to, with no plans for stopping the spread. They can be tied to the politicization of measures, like mask-wearing, that might have helped to stop the spread. The general movement in numbers has been upwards, to our current state of almost 4000 deaths daily and a total of 400,000 dead, a medium-sized city of Americans gone forever.

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William Burns To CIA Director

President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of William Burns to be director of the CIA is an inspired choice.

Burns is the most senior and most respected diplomat in the US today. He is currently president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, one of the think tanks to which experts go when they are out of government. It’s also the sponsor of the Carnegie Conference on Nuclear Policy, which I’ve attended for the past decade or so, also known as #nukefest. It’s THE gathering for experts on international nuclear issues. The next one will be virtual, in June.

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Chain Of Command

Nancy Pelosi says that she “spoke to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to discuss available precautions for preventing an unstable president from initiating military hostilities or accessing the launch codes and ordering a nuclear strike.

I can tell her the available precautions, and I hope Milley did too: NONE

The President has sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. He is not required to consult anyone else, nor is there provision to force him to.

This situation came about because back in the Cold War, it seemed plausible that the President might not know about a nuclear attack until the missiles were on the way. That gave him a half-hour or less to decide. It was also assumed that we would elect only presidents capable of doing the job.

Nuclear strategists have pressed Congress to change the situation, but so far Representative Ted Lieu’s and Senator Ed Markey’s bill has gone nowhere. Maybe the next Congress will see fit to consider it.

No, there wasn’t a workaround when Nixon was wandering the corridors of the White House, drunk, talking to the portraits. We were lucky.

Nancy Pelosi can’t do a workaround with Mark Milley. That would be tantamount to a military coup, and I think that Milley is not interested in a military coup right now.

If this is a concern, Speaker Pelosi, and I think it is, then bring articles of impeachment to the floor of the House. NOW.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Dr. Fauci’s Warning

Dr. Fauci is warning us that it may take more than we thought to get to herd immunity. Now that anti-science Donald Trump is on the way out and Fauci is advising President-elect Joe Biden, he’s telling us what he thinks.

A year ago, we knew next to nothing about SARS-CoV-2. Since then, experts have bootstrapped us all the way to effective vaccines. The bootstrapping started from what we know about other coronaviruses and pandemics in general. It’s a matter of informed guesses, testing them against each other and observations, modifying them, and testing again.

Because the math of epidemiology is similar to the math of chemical kinetics, I’ve been following the modeling. It is also bootstrapping, guessing parameters, testing them, and modifying them. It’s a set of multiple parameters (an unknown number of them) being fitted to data that has serious limitations. The estimates get better as we get more data. That’s what Fauci is saying. Our first guess for herd immunity was around 70%. With almost a year of data, it looks like that could be as high as 90%.

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Pwned!

Alexei Navalny is a Russian critic of the Putin government. He was nearly killed by a Novichok nerve agent in August. Yesterday, he talked to the FSB agent who poisoned his underwear and got a full confession.

Bellingcat is an investigative organization that developed out of Eliot Higgins’s investigations of Syrian munitions, particularly nerve agent munitions, when he blogged as Brown Moses. They worked with CNN and Navalny in this operation.

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The Pandemic Cabinet

Job One for the Biden administration is controlling the pandemic. The economy won’t recover until people feel safe going shopping, to restaurants and movies, and all the rest. We can’t effectively work with other countries until we can think beyond full hospitals and people sick and dying and losing housing and going hungry. The justice system can’t work well with Zoom hearings and prisons as hotbeds of infection. We need to sort out priorities among education, bars, gyms, and yoga classes.

Simultaneously, the Biden administration must repair the government, hiring back to full agency capabilities and reversing malign policies. Assessment of the situation has already started in the transition. We need a fully staffed government, not hobbled by ridiculous policies, to control the pandemic.

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Assassination Attempt On Iran’s “Father Of Nuclear Program”

There has just been an assassination attempt on Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s leading nuclear scientist. He is seen within Iran in a role much like that of Robert Oppenheimer in the United States.

Israel has assassinated other Iranian nuclear scientists and is thus the prime suspect. Bibi Netanyahu has mentioned Fakhrizadeh by name.

Israel, and the Trump administration, have been trying to break the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) so that it cannot be revived. The JCPOA froze and even pushed back Iran’s nuclear weapons program, putting it under greater international scrutiny than any nuclear program in the world.

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The Biden Administration’s Job One

Congratulations to President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris! Biden has already announced Job One.

The numbers of sick and dead from Covid-19 are shooting up the steep part of the exponential curve, where they become hard to control. Most of the country is seeing uncontrolled spread of the virus – that means that people don’t know how they contracted it. The numbers set records every day now.

Biden has already announced that he will name, on Monday, a 12-member COVID task force.

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How To Tell A Real Vaccine From A Political Stunt

Donald Trump hinted that he could have an “October surprise” in a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. That isn’t going to happen. The closest is Pfizer’s announcement that it may apply for emergency authorization for its vaccine before the end of November. But, of course, that’s after the election.

The pharmaceutical companies, fortunately, are more interested in preserving their credibility than in currying Trump’s favor. Perhaps they have calculated that Trump is unlikely to win a second term.

ProPublica has a long article on how vaccines are approved. If you want the whole story, check it out. Here’s a tl;dr to provide more of a checklist.

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Mike Pompeo’s War On Iran

One of the many damages Donald Trump inflicts on the country is the inability to focus on events elsewhere in the world. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo uses Trump’s distractions to move closer to war with Iran.

Pompeo’s diplomacy begins by presenting a list of impossible demands to establish leverage for his next moves. In the case of arms control, the next move has been to pick up his marbles and go home. The US believes that Russia has been violating treaties. Instead of using the treaties’ mechanisms to bring Russia back into compliance, the US representative insisted that Russia publicly admit to its violations. When it didn’t, the US withdrew from the intermediate-range missile treaty and shot off a missile that would have violated the treaty. They are using the same strategy now to allow the New START Treaty, the last of the big arms control treaties, to lapse.

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