Where We Are – 36 Days Out

The New York Times now has Donald Trump’s income tax returns “extending over two decades”. They say that the returns come from a person who had legal access to them. The Times’s first article provides eighteen takeaways. They promise more to come. Each takeaway is a string that other news organizations can pull.

Trump runs through money and then manages to find yet another source to bankroll him. At this point, he owes $421 million to unknown parties. There are hints and guesses about connections to a hotel deal in Azerbaijan that appears to have laundered money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and to Deutsche Bank through Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s son.

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PSA: Donald’s New Drug Can Kill You

Man, I hate articles like the one in Axios about Donald’s latest snake oil. I’m not going to link to it. It should have started with

OLEANDRIN CAN KILL YOU, AND OTHER EXTRACTS FROM THE OLEANDER PLANT WILL KILL YOU

Instead, it cites papers to look authoritative and buries a quote from one researcher that translates to

DO NOT DO THIS

and shows pretty flowers in the pill bottle.

One of the heuristics I’ve carried with me from my time in California is “Oleander is poison. Do not eat.” The flowers are pretty, and it’s everywhere in California. So when I saw this a week or so ago, I did some research. Apparently oleandrin is one of the less toxic oleander components. It’s being used experimentally against cancer. God only knows why anyone is researching it for COVID-19, because it’s still pretty toxic. Not a path I would take until less toxic alternatives are exhausted.

It also looked like people refer to broader extracts from oleander as “oleandrin,” not just one component. So it’s only a matter of time until someone dies.

LALALALA Redux

A little more than a year ago, when Donald Trump was in the throes of a love affair with Kim Jong Un, I advanced a theory of his behavior. He wanted the photo-ops and signatures and the sense of a nuclear nonproliferation deal, but was incapable of making a deal, in his words. His incapacity lay in his ignorance about how treaties are negotiated.

At some point, my North Korea watching colleagues maintained, Trump would have to recognize that his photo-ops had no effect whatsoever. Would he freak out against the unfaithful “Little Rocket Man”? Would he admit failure? No problem, I said. His continuing response would be “LALALALA I can’t hear you.”

How would he proceed from those photo-ops, as North Korea was continued to accumulate fissile material and build weapons, even test missiles? When North Korea issued statements insulting Trump and the people working for him? When there were no talks to develop a path towards Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Complete, Verified, and Irreversible Disarmament (CVID) and variants on that theme? When North Korea explicitly said that no way would that happen?

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Where We Are With COVID-19

If you’re hoping to go back to normal, it’s not going to happen. The normal of November 2019, before SARS-CoV-2 got a foothold in the human population, will not return. There will be a time when COVID-19 is no longer one of the top causes of death in the United States and a primary topic of concern around the world. But we can’t know when that will be. I’m guessing it’s at least two years away.

Because of negligence by leaders, particularly President Donald Trump, the virus is everywhere. It will take serious effort to bring it under control. The United States has handled the pandemic almost uniquely badly, but even countries that have minimized cases continue to be affected as well. Vigilance must be constant to keep the virus from returning with travelers. Where there are outbreaks, they will have to be tamped down with isolation, testing, and tracing.

After the long, hard slog to where virus cases and deaths are few, repercussions will continue. Some people continue to have symptoms for months. Because we have only seven months’ experience with the virus, we don’t know how many people will suffer virus-related disabilities, how long they will last or if they will flare up again later.

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This Is Definitive On Masks

The Journal of the American Medical Association has a short article saying that the evidence is strong for wearing masks in public.

There is good evidence that masks help both in keeping viruses from being spread by the wearer and also in preventing the wearer from breathing viruses in. Further, wearing a mask does little harm, which is greatly outweighed by the benefit of reducing transmission.

Some selections:

After emerging data documented transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from persons without symptoms, the recommendation was expanded to the general community, with an emphasis on cloth face coverings that could be made more widely available in the community than surgical masks and to preserve personal protective equipment such as N95 respirators to the highest-risk exposures in health care settings. Now, there is ample evidence that persons without symptoms spread infection and may be the critical driver needed to maintain epidemic momentum.

…recent research of household textiles’ performance when used as source control suggests cloth face coverings may be able to do so with acceptable efficiency and breathability.

Like herd immunity with vaccines, the more individuals wear cloth face coverings in public places where they may be close together, the more the entire community is protected. Community-level protection afforded by use of cloth face coverings can reduce the number of new infections and facilitate cautious easing of more societally disruptive community interventions such as stay-at-home orders and business closings.

At this critical juncture when COVID-19 is resurging, broad adoption of cloth face coverings is a civic duty, a small sacrifice reliant on a highly effective low-tech solution that can help turn the tide favorably in national and global efforts against COVID-19.

The article is easy to read and gives examples with references. Check it out.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

A Few Relevant Numbers

Few people are publicly considering what the COVID-19 pandemic is doing to the American economy. Paul Krugman is not optimistic. I agree with him. The country will, arguably, have less money to spend in the future, although there are many caveats to that.

The right, in the past, has used crises to justify radical social changes. It’s time for progressives to do that. A Democratic sweep in November makes many things possible. Let’s assume that can happen.

To start, we need to know some numbers, to get a handle on the scale of things.

National Debt  $24.95 trillion

Deficit in 2019  $984 billion

Wealth of top one percent (Exceeds wealth of bottom 80 percent)  $25 trillion

Department of Defense 2019 budget  $686.1 billion

Department of State 2018 budget  $52.4 billion

Amount spent on policing 2017  $115 billion   Corrections  $79 billion

Community colleges   $126 billion*

Student debt  $1.5 trillion

Healthcare  $3.5 trillion

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* Calculated from the report as 9 million students x $14,000 per student per year

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

Masks, Condoms, And Treaties

Some time back, I started a Twitter thread which I called “Adventures in Masculinity.” I wanted to bring attention to examples of masculine gendering where it was not needed to explain or talk about something but might go unnoticed. The thread is up to 86 entries now, with the last two example tweets having been deleted by their authors. I guess I need to do screenshots.

The Trump administration is masculinist and patriarchal in all things, with misogyny, racism, and xenophobia thrown in. It’s hard not to notice the photos of white men in suits sitting around tables or chatting with each other. I have tried to avoid such obvious things in my thread.

Recently, I’m seeing a throughline that may not be obvious that starts at macho self-presentation and links to the administration’s dislike of arms control treaties.

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A Small Bit Of Good News

I’ve warned before not to believe one single publication until it is confirmed by others, but this study looks solid enough, and there’s another that partially confirms it.

One of the things that has worried me most about SARS-CoV-2 is that it may not provoke robust immunity. That would leave us all vulnerable to it forever, and it would be impossible to stamp out. These studies suggest that a vaccine is possible, or at least that having had COVID-19 confers immunity. There’s no data about how long that immunity lasts, though.

Science magazine has a readable summary of the research. I’ll summarize the findings.

  • Helper T cells, part of our immune system, recognize SARS-CoV-2 proteins and react to them, including the important spike protein that attaches to cells so that the virus can infect them.
  • The T cell response is strong enough to suggest a vaccine is possible.
  • In the second study, T cells from people who have not had COVID-19 responded to virus proteins. This may be because other coronaviruses, which cause colds, are similar enough to provoke the response.

You can bet that virologists working on vaccines are reading these papers, and the ones whose approach is immunization through viral proteins are feeling good about them. But it’s still a long way to a vaccine.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

CDC Projects 200,000 Deaths This Summer

The New York Times obtained a CDC document indicating the likelihood of 3000 new cases of COVID-19 a day by summer, and a total of 200,000 deaths or more.

The White House says

This is not a White House document nor has it been presented to the Coronavirus Task Force or gone through interagency vetting. This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force or data that the task force has analyzed

Additionally, White House officials say they are using a “cubic model” prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers, led by Trump adviser Kevin Hassett. Hassett is the fellow who predicted a Dow Industrial average of 36,000 just before the tech crash. The “cubic model” is said to predict that deaths will drop to zero by May 15.

What We Don’t Know About SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus in the human ecosystem. Humans didn’t pay much attention to it when it was only in bats. It’s of great interest to humans now. Because it’s new to our bodies and societies, we know nothing about it. We are picking up empirical observations quickly, but it’s hard to put them together in real time, motivated by sickness and death.

Research is proceeding, particularly for testing methods for both the virus and human immunity to it, for a vaccine, and for treatments. Many questions are still open. We will hear bits and pieces from the research, but the bigger questions won’t be answered for some time. Read More