COVID-19 By The Numbers

Let’s look at some numbers just to get a sense of COVID-19’s possible effects. This is not a prediction or an attempt to find precise numbers. Just something to wrap your mind around.

United States population: 329,000,000 (US census)

Number of deaths in 2017: 2,814,000 (CDC)

Deaths from influenza and pneumonia: 55,672 (CDC)

Cases of influenza: 9,300,000 to 45,000,000 (CDC)

That’s a wide uncertainty, no doubt because not everyone who has influenza goes to the doctor, much less is tested.

The numbers of cases of influenza are kept down by vaccinations and immunity in people who have had a similar strain of influenza in the past. COVID-19 has no such mitigating factors, which is why limiting people’s movement becomes important.

Don’t bother to try to make the numbers of deaths from influenza and pneumonia fit neatly with the cases of influenza. My purpose in this post is to provide a general sense of how COVID-19 might affect the United States and give some numbers for you to make sense of.

Right now, the death rate for influenza is generally agreed to be about 0.1%. For COVID-19, it’s about 2%.

If there are as many cases of COVID-19 as there are of influenza, that gives 186,000 to 900,000 deaths. That’s compared to 56,000 for influenza. Heart disease kills about 650,000 people a year, cancer 600,000 (CDC). And, without a vaccine or immunity from earlier infections, those numbers could be larger.

 

Thinking About Deterrence

I have always been suspicious of arguments about nuclear deterrence. After the Soviet Union broke up, it seemed to me that those arguments needed to be redrawn, since they had been based on the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. Nobody’s done that.

Back in the 1960s, Robert McNamara recognized that nuclear deterrence could easily deteriorate into a comparison of weapons. That’s what’s happened in the justifications for the lower-yield nuclear weapons introduced to nuclear submarines. That’s all the justification that’s been made. That’s not deterrence.

So I wrote a piece about that, and Foreign Policy published it. There’s another little piece that didn’t quite fit, that Inkstick Media published. All the talk about “restoring deterrence” vis-à-vis Iran is nonsense.

So please read those two.

John le Carré And The Passage Of Time

At a particular point in my youth, I tried to understand various durations of time by thinking back in history. That point was between about 1955 and 1965. I would think about the Civil War a century before, or fifty years back to before the First World War. I still do it to put perspective into the movement of history.

The Second World War had ended only ten to twenty years earlier. Because that was before my memories began, it seemed like a long time. Now ten to twenty years goes back only to the financial crash, or to 9/11. The end of the Soviet Union, a definitional event in my life, now extends back 30 years. In my earlier calibration, that would be before the Great Depression, which had made a permanent imprint on my parents, which they strove to pass on to their kids. Read More

Targeting Veterans With Disinformation

There’s plenty of disinformation out there, from plenty of sources. Often it is aimed at particular demographic groups. Vietnam Veterans of America became concerned about disinformation targeted at veterans and went to the Veterans Affairs and Defense Departments to ask for help. They didn’t get any. VVA has since prepared a detailed report and testified to Congress.

Kristofer Goldsmith has done much of the organization’s investigating. An in-depth portrait of him here. Read More

McFaul On Disinformation

Started, they have, the disinformation wars.

Michael McFaul, the US Ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, warns us that the disinformation will be flowing thick and fast during the impeachment trial. He points out three tactics:

  1. Deny facts
  2. Deflect attention, also known as “whataboutism”
  3. Disseminate lies

The net of all this is to make us feel that nothing matters, that there is no such thing as truth. Watch for Republicans to do this and for it to be amplified by bots and trolls (my collective term for automated and other troublemakers) on social media, the unthinking media, and your friends and relatives.

Don’t let the argument degenerate to “Well, that’s your opinion.” There are facts, and we need to keep pounding them.

Also, read the whole thing.

Follow The Money!

Following the money is difficult and tedious. Each story is detailed, and the stories appear at different times, later overshadowed by the next Trump scandal. In this post, I collect instances of Russian-associated money going into Republican coffers.

There aren’t enough instances to connect into a pattern beyond that theme, although some names occur in more than one example. I hope reporters will see this as a fertile path forward. Foreign money is prohibited in US political campaigns, but there are ways to get around that.

There are probably more – add them in the comments, preferably with a link, if you have them. Read More

What Is This “Re-Establish Deterrence” They Keep Talking About?

I have a short piece up at Inkstick Media. It’s short enough that I won’t quote it here, except to say that I have found the claims that the Trump administration killed Qassem Soleimani to “re-establish deterrence” annoying in multiple dimensions.

Besides, Inkstick is a new enterprise, trying to make this stuff more understandable, and I support that goal. If you like what I write here, you’ll probably like Inkstick. Go ahead, give them some clicks!

Iran’s Action On The Nuclear Agreement

A lot of claims are flying around about Iran’s actions with regard to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Some things are not yet clear. Here’s the official statement and interpretation by Mehr News:

“The Islamic Republic of Iran, in the fifth step in reducing its commitments, discards the last key component of its operational limitations in the JCPOA, which is the “limit on the number of centrifuges.”

As such, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program no longer faces any operational restrictions, including enrichment capacity, percentage of enrichment, amount of enriched material, and research and development.

From here on, Iran’s nuclear program will be developed solely based on its technical needs.

Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA will continue as before.

If the sanctions are lifted and Iran benefits from its interests enshrined in the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic is ready to return to its commitments.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) is obliged to take the necessary steps and arrangements in coordination with the President.”

US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled Washington out of the JCPOA in May 2018, and reimposed “toughest ever” sanctions against the Islamic Republic in defiance of global criticism.

In response to the US unilateral move, as well as the European signatories’ failure to safeguard Iran’s economic interests in the face of US sanctions, Tehran rowed back on its nuclear commitments step-by-step in compliance with Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA, but stressed that its retaliatory measures will be reversible as soon as Europe finds practical ways to shield the mutual trade from the US sanctions.

As a first step, Iran increased its enriched uranium stockpile to beyond the 300 kilograms set by the JCPOA.

In the second step, Tehran began enriching uranium to purity rates beyond the JCPOA limit of 3.76 percent.

In the third phase, after the Europeans failed to meet a 60-day deadline to meet Iran’s demands and fulfill their commitments under the deal, Iran started up advanced centrifuges to boost the country’s stockpile of enriched uranium and activated 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges for research and development purposes.

In November, Iran began injecting gas into centrifuges at the Fordow plant as part of its fourth step away from the JCPOA under the supervision of the IAEA.

Iran will continue to cooperate with IAEA inspections. This is important, because it keep us informed of what is happening in Iran’s nuclear complex. Iran remains within the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which is their commitment not to build nuclear weapons.

Worth requoting from above:

If the sanctions are lifted and Iran benefits from its interests enshrined in the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic is ready to return to its commitments.

This has been Iran’s position all along. They have acted in a measured and predictable way. In fact, they have done less than they might have; a number of experts expected today’s announcement to be that they were enriching uranium up to 20% U-235, which would have been worse than that they are removing limits on numbers of centrifuges.

There are fine points that are still not clear, like what will happen to the Arak reactor and to the international cooperation they have been participating in to convert their nuclear installations to peaceful use.

Here are a couple of threads from people involved in the negotiations and implementation of the JCPOA.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Moving Into The New Year With Molotov and Ribbentrop


In 1939, the Soviet Union formally allied with Nazi Germany and agreed on how to split up the countries located between them. Immediately after, Germany invaded Poland. It is generally thought to be the beginning of World War II. Russia did not acknowledge the existence of the secret protocol on dividing Europe until 1989.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is David-Low-Rendezvous.jpg
Cartoon by David Low in the Evening Standard depicting Hitler greeting Stalin after the invasion of Poland, 

But that is not what Vladimir Putin wants you to believe. No, it was dastardly France, United Kingdom, the United States, and others who joined up with Hitler first at Munich, leaving the poor Soviet Union with no choice! Putin has mentioned this in several speeches, and in the last several weeks, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has joined in.

And they’re dissing diplomats who disagree with them.

The nations Russia has accused of starting World War II are pushing back.

Even Germany…

And, of course, a lot more from amateur and professional historians on Twitter. If you ever wanted to learn more about the beginnings of World War II, this is your big chance.

It’s hard to know what is motivating this propaganda storm from Russia. Here’s a person I trust.

That’s a little unclear, but I think the second sentence is intended to say that when Russia wants to use WW2 to gain friends, it usually talks about its sacrifices rather than the war’s origins.

There is speculation, as you see in the Dalsjö tweet, that it’s in preparation for some sort of military action from Russia. I tend to doubt that – Russia doesn’t need that kind of trouble right now. OTOH, Putin has been feeling cocky about his new weapons designed to deter the United States.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Long Read: The 84-Day Hold On Aid To Ukraine

This is an important article. The broad story it tells isn’t new: Donald Trump held back Congressionally appropriated funds for Ukraine, in contravention of law and recommdations by the Departments of Defense and State. What is new is the detail of how that was done, an attempted legal justification, and who was eager to help him.

News reports about the administration now usually give information about the sources the reports are based on. In this case, it was

Interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials, congressional aides and others, previously undisclosed emails and documents, and a close reading of thousands of pages of impeachment testimony[.]

Here’s a short summary. Lots more details in the article. Basically, Trump decided to withhold the money; White House lawyers tried to construct a justification; civil servants and even some of Trump’s appointees tried to talk him out of it; his messenger boys went to the departments to work it out; and, when the whistle was blown, Trump gave it up. All this time, Rudy Giuliani was meeting with Ukrainian officials and others; this was not known to all participants at the time.

Robert Blair, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, was a key player along with Mulvaney. Mulvaney brought him along when he moved to the White House. On December 23, he was named Special Representative for International Telecommunications Policy, although he will also continue to serve in his previous role.

On June 19, Blair called Russell T. Vought, the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget, and told him to hold up the aid. Trying to understand the reason for the holdup, Vought’s staff searched the internet and found an article in the Washington Examiner that might have set off the President. In a normal White House, a decision like this would have been made in consultation with experts from the Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury. In fact, State and Defense had already certified sending the funds to Ukraine as appropriate.

The career official in the budget office in charge of the funds was Mark Sandy. He phoned other officials in the budget office and Defense Department to try to understand what was happening. It was not a normal request. He was concerned that it might violate the Impoundment Control Act, which prohibits the President from holding up money Congress has appropriated.

A month later, on July 18, William Taylor, acting Ambassador to Ukraine, and other officials learned about the hold in a meeting. Taylor testified to Congress that he was astonished. On the same day, administration sources called four Congressional staffers and urged that they look into the hold.

A week later, Trump famously telephoned Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelinsky and asked for a favor. Ninety minutes after the call, the budget office sent an email to the Pentagon saying not to spend the money. Ukrainian officials were beginning to get word that something was up.

In late July, Sandy’s authority over the funds was removed and given to his boss, a political appointee. Defense Department officials were becoming impatient. Deadlines were approaching by which portions of the money had to be spent, or it would be lost.

Backed by a memo saying the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department all wanted the aid released, Mr. Bolton made a personal appeal to Mr. Trump on Aug. 16, but was rebuffed.

On Aug. 28, Politico published a story reporting that the assistance to Ukraine had been frozen. After more than two months, the issue, the topic of fiery internal debate, was finally public.

Mr. Bolton’s relationship with the president had been deteriorating for months, and he would leave the White House weeks later, but on this front he had powerful internal allies.

On a sunny, late-August day, Mr. Bolton, Mr. Esper and Mr. Pompeo arrayed themselves around the Resolute desk in the Oval Office to present a united front, the leaders of the president’s national security team seeking to convince him face to face that freeing up the money for Ukraine was the right thing to do.

Through this time, White House lawyers were trying to develop a legal justification for the hold. Then came the whistleblower’s report, at the end of August. Shortly after, the hold was lifted.

Many questions remain unanswered, like who knew about Giuliani’s activities and when they knew; how long the shakedown was in progress before the hold; and how Trump came to his ideas about Ukraine. Once again, it was civil servants who tried to hold firm against inappropriate actions.

In addition to Trump’s corrupt use of government funds to force Zelensky into helping his election campaign, holding up those funds and causing uncertainty in the Ukrainian government benefits Russia.

The specifics in this article will be helpful in making a case that Mulvaney and other officials must be called as witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial.

Cross-Posted to Balloon Juice