A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part XI

All of us know the widely-broadcast facts about COVID-19. Even so, I would venture that there remain enough new virus-related perspectives that continuing this vein of posts seems appropriate.

Since I began this blog in 2017 rather than 2007, I suspect that my low rating of George W. Bush’s presidency hasn’t been apparent; before President Trump, I would have easily ranked him as the worst President of my lifetime (which dates back to the Truman Administration). That said, I was heartened and bolstered like the vast majority of Americans by Mr. Bush’s initial response to the 9/11 attacks. Rarely articulate, he then united and rallied us. As many may be aware, Mr. Bush’s Center released a video on May 1 addressing how our nation can best respond to the pandemic.  It provides a graceful, warm, inspirational message that in part calls upon us to put partisanship aside. A link is provided below.

https://www.bushcenter.org/about-the-center/newsroom/press-releases/2020/05/president-bush-call-to-unite

As one may also be aware, Mr. Trump issued a tweet within a couple of days after the Bush video was released, criticizing Mr. Bush for not speaking in Mr. Trump’s defense during the Impeachment proceedings: “ … [W]here was he during Impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside. He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!” Mr. Trump’s tweet is, to be sure, yet another in his countless stream of classless outbursts; even so, it has caused me to ponder whether the President’s generally well-honed political instincts are failing him. Criticizing Mr. Bush, even obliquely, seems ill advised. If Mr. Bush was to issue a statement in, say, mid-October, to the effect: “I didn’t feel that I could speak out four years ago, since my brother was one of President Trump’s adversaries for the Republican presidential nomination. Now I state clearly: during my administration, I asked our people to give their lives in America’s cause. The least I owe them is to tell them directly what I think is best for our nation without regard to party affiliation. I consider the way that President Trump has conducted himself in office to be a greater danger to America than terrorism. I have an honest disagreement with former Vice President Joe Biden on many issues, but he is an honorable man who wants what’s best for America. I intend to vote for Mr. Biden, and encourage you to join me,” such a statement could, notwithstanding Mr. Bush’s diminished national and party standing, cause a decisive sliver of Republican voters in swing states to either vote for Mr. Biden … or stay home. In an election that could be that close, I’m surprised that Mr. Trump would choose to poke a buried landmine.

What follows are links to several articles recently called to my attention. In the first, Erin Bromage, a specialist in immunology and infectious disease at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, concretely describes where our risks may and may not lie as states open their economies. His tone is clearly one of caution. It’s reasonably lengthy – even by the standards of these pages – but I found it informative.

https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them

The next is to an Atlantic article by Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School. What I find interesting is that Ms. Marcus’ (much shorter) message doesn’t seem to me to be objectively that different from Mr. Bromage’s, but it focuses upon the wellbeing risks that can arise from too stringent a quarantine.  Her article contains a link to an earlier Atlantic piece that provides a helpful FAQ for “Staying Safe as States Reopen.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/quarantine-fatigue-real-and-shaming-people-wont-help/611482/

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/05/restaurants-stores-reopen-dos-and-donts/611314/

The last article is from AARP, describing immunosenescence (a word after my own heart) – the process by which one’s immune system declines with age, correspondingly increasing COVID’s risk. Although “inflammaging” – which means what one would expect — is inevitable, the rate of decline is apparently idiosyncratic to the individual. By a staff writer, it sets forth manners in which one can reinforce one’s immune system. Like Mr. Bromage’s piece, it isn’t short, but offers some information that at least I had not seen reported before.

https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/coronavirus-immunity-age-risk.html

I have previously ventured that as millions of our people lose their employment-related health insurance, it will significantly increase the support for a government-run Medicare for All. Below is a link to the Brief of an Urban Institute Report recently published by the Robert Wood Johnson Institute, estimating that 25 to 43 million people could lose their employer-based health coverage due to the pandemic. I don’t see how Republicans will be able to effectively scare Americans with a cry of “socialized medicine” as so many lose their health care.

https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2020/05/how-the-covid-19-recession-could-affect-health-insurance-coverage.html

In a previous post, I remarked upon the fogging challenges that wearing a mask creates for wearers of glasses, and noted a friend’s suggestion that smearing spectacles with shaving cream might serve as a remedy. That observation generated a fair amount of feedback – including suggestions that one could avoid the fog by spitting on one’s glasses or go without glasses if one’s eyesight is still acute enough. This weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran a front page article on the mask fogging problem. In addition to the suggestions already offered by the followers of these pages, the Journal described Americans that had used a plastic straw protruding from the side of the mask, put tissue paper between the glasses and the mask, or had put the mask on really tight. I’m always gratified to call attention to an issue on this site before it’s addressed by a hallowed news organ  ;).

I’m ready to think about something else, but it seems that no matter what reputable authority one consults, responsible vigilance and diligence remain the key to getting through this. Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part X

I ventured some time ago that President Trump’s most critical foreign policy flaw is that he knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing: that his focus on trade, his harping on perceived underpayments by NATO allies, etc., etc., betrays his own preoccupation with money and finance that has frequently hampered his understanding of and ability to effectively deal with global leaders, who generally think in terms of power. I would pose that the President’s chief substantive and political defect during the COVID crisis has proven to be the same: his visceral fixation with the virus’ effects on the state of the U.S. economy, which – arguably because his perception of Americans’ priorities is colored by his own – he sees as the proxy for his electoral prospects. He doesn’t understand that the vast majority of Americans of all political stripes place the highest value on the health and wellbeing of their families, friends, neighbors and themselves; that they view money not as an end but as a means to secure their higher priorities. Since the Coronavirus provides a particularly acute instance in which wellbeing and money can by some measures be considered at odds, it has caused Mr. Trump to be uncharacteristically tone deaf even with his base. Most tragically, his initial and continuing denials of the realities of the virus – reportedly due to his fear of the effect on the economy – has arguably resulted in greater illness and loss of life (and, ironically, damage to the economy) than would have occurred had he acted promptly, decisively, and consistently. At the time this is typed, the New York Times is reporting upon an internal CDC document projecting that virus-related deaths will increase from their current level of 1,750 a day to 3,000 a day by June 1. Even from a purely the political perspective, Mr. Trump’s uncertainty, inconsistency, pettiness and unreasoned behavior (the comment about disinfectant injection being the most disconcerting) has made plain to a wider swath of Americans – perhaps an electorally determinative swath — that he is at least a bit unstable, that his values are different from theirs, and – most crucially — that he cares more about himself than he does about them. I’ve seen various scholars grasping for American historical parallels to the bootless manner in which Mr. Trump has approached the COVID crisis. To me the most apt is obvious: Herbert Hoover, who proved unable to effectively deal with an economic depression engulfing his people — the closest an American President has heretofore come to the apocryphal account of Emperor Nero, said to have fiddled while Rome burned.

The Foxconn saga in southeast Wisconsin provides its own Coronavirus-related kaleidoscope. It is undisputed that the project is now a drastically-scaled back version of that proposed with such fanfare by Mr. Trump, then-WI Gov. (Republican) Scott Walker and then-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (Republican) Paul Ryan in June, 2018. It seems not unreasonable to assume, given a March Wall Street Journal report that Foxconn’s net profit had fallen 24% in Q4 2019 even before Coronavirus effects and an April Reuters report that its 2020 Q1 revenue was 12% below its comparable 2019 totals, that the company wishes to tap funding sources and perhaps reassess its investments. In light of the Wisconsin’s project’s underperformance, I had wondered whether Foxconn might attempt to take the political sting out of its shortcomings by blaming the virus. The company is apparently taking a different tack: below is a link to an April 9, 2020, CNBC piece indicating that Foxconn has filed paperwork with the state asserting that it has met its contractual hiring targets, perhaps entitling it to incentives approximating $50 million. The piece further indicates that the Administration of WI Gov. Tony Evers is studying Foxconn’s filing, but even if Foxconn is accurate and is entitled to the contractual benefits, the 550 jobs Foxconn claims to have created are reported to be a quarter of those it originally promised by this juncture. This seemingly creates a political optics problem for Republicans: a financially-strapped company seeking millions in incentives for a dramatically-reduced project from a state currently receiving ten times its 2019 unemployment claims while reasonably anticipating declining tax revenues. Foxconn is presumably aware of this; the final (at least as of now) pattern to its kaleidoscope: Medtronic and Foxconn are allegedly partnering to make ventilators at the Wisconsin facility. If brought to fruition, this welcome news and will put a positive face on the project; whether this is any more than talk remains, like other representations related to this Wisconsin facility, to be seen.

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/09/foxconn-says-it-met-hiring-targets-in-wisconsin-now-it-wants-its-money.html

Costco has recently announced that it will not let customers into its stores unless they are wearing masks. This has provoked an emotional negative response from what is obviously a tiny segment of Costco customers, who have been reported as tweeting comments such as, “Im [sic] a free citizen of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA I will not comply with your mask rule! My body, my choice!” While the overall level of American mental acuity may be enhanced if, as we confront a highly contagious and dangerous disease, Charles Darwin’s principle of Natural Selection manifests itself within this segment of our populace as well as within the segment carrying assault weapons while demonstrating in and about state legislatures, one cannot help but fear for all lives endangered by such capricious behavior.

We consider the CDC projection a warning: Don’t get bored, or complacent. Keep your guard up.

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part VIII

It is a travesty that the decision as to how and when to reopen the economy is becoming so politicized. While it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that our extreme shutdown over the last six weeks has saved as many or more lives as we have thus far lost to the Coronavirus, there is consensus among economists that the shutdown has already started a recession of now-undeterminable duration. I would submit that while we risk a tragic reappearance of illness and death if we reopen the economy either too soon or inappropriately, there is a credible argument that moving too slowly has its own potential to result in unnecessarily destroyed American lives: irretrievable poverty, serious damage to essential public services, increased suicide, mental-health related violence and suffering, and the general health and other ravages that destitution wreaks. At the global level — since our economy still drives the world economy – an extended and deep downturn will in many parts of the world cause chaos, famine, disease, and terror. Unfortunately, what we need is the measured judgment and courage of an Abraham Lincoln or a Franklin Roosevelt. I would venture that Bill Clinton was the only president we’ve had in modern times that combined the acute intelligence, knowledge (in two weeks of briefings and study, he would have made himself a lay expert) and exquisite feel for the rhythms of the country to be able to effectively make such a call. Currently, we have a leader who mused on April 23 that perhaps the virus might be cured by light or disinfectant injections into the body. (Mr. Trump has since said that he was being sarcastic. I suspect that you have seen the tape. He wasn’t.) (A friend commented in an email on Friday: “Have to run and do a shot of Lysol with my lunch.” Too good.)

There is a link immediately below to an article recently appearing in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune by Dr. Richard Levitan, opining that reduced oxygen saturation in the lungs without acute patient distress is an indication of COVID pneumonia and that such hypoxia can be detected in its early stages through use of a pulse oximeter (available without a prescription, but given a COVID-related run, perhaps now unobtainable by consumers until mid-summer). This piece particularly resonated with us because we have family experience with the danger of hypoxia and value of pulse oximeters.

https://www.startribune.com/what-i-learned-during-10-days-of-treating-covid-pneumonia/569857042/

There is a link immediately below to a Washington Post article by our son, describing Brazil’s perilous Coronavirus situation, wildly aggravated by the wantonly counterproductive actions of President Jair Bolsonaro. Mr. Bolsonaro’s complete denial of the virus’ danger makes President Trump by contrast appear reflective, cautious, and competent. Brazilians’ health has been left to responsible local leaders and their own diligence.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/coronavirus-brazil-testing-bolsonaro-cemetery-gravedigger/2020/04/22/fe757ee4-83cc-11ea-878a-86477a724bdb_story.html

There is currently what I consider a tempest in a teapot over Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s recent comments that he didn’t favor having the federal government provide the states Coronavirus-related relief, and that he was instead “in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route.” This was an absurd comment, even for Mr. McConnell. State and local governments employ between 15 and 20 million Americans, and the two levels of government collectively provide police, fire, sanitation, highway, and a host of other services valued by all Americans of all political stripes, not to mention … health professionals. Sen. McConnell has been in the Senate too long – obviously for many reasons, but in this context, due to his seeming obliviousness to the optics of his negotiating ploy. State and local governments of both red and blue states are going to be unable to provide critical services without federal help. An article in The Atlantic following Mr. McConnell’s comments suggested that he sees forcing states into bankruptcy as a means to require certain states to shed their wildly underfunded pension liabilities — while at the same time protecting their bondholders. I think the piece is hyperventilation. In this time of crisis, not even Mr. McConnell – although he alluded in his comments to an unwillingness to bail out states’ underfunded pension funds — can believe that being saddled with responsibility for leaving local governments without help in serving their constituents or for forcing states to terminate their pension obligations to thousands of Americans (many of whom are Trump supporters) can be an advantage politically. Candidly, I believe that for once, Mr. Trump gets it even if Sen. McConnell somehow doesn’t – part of the reason why I think progressives and commentators have overreacted to Mr. McConnell’s trial balloon. Democrats shouldn’t provide one cent of concession to his ploy, and let him swing. Whether such optimism is properly placed obviously remains to be seen.

As we grapple with the disease and its many consequences, it’s a pleasure to add entries to these pages that may bring a smile. Below is a YouTube in which Mr. … er … Trump provides another perspective to his claim that he was merely being sarcastic in his comments about light and disinfectant ;).

https://digg.com/@digg/trump-disinfectant-impression-NZUFSuel

As we begin another week: Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part VII

After inevitable Presidential grandstanding, last week the Trump Administration issued guidelines about opening the economy generally in keeping with health experts’ recommendations. The President told Governors, “You’re calling the shots.” Soon afterward, he tweeted, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN,” LIBERATE MINNESOTA,” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” in an attempt to score political points against three Democratic Governors performing in the manner suggested by Administration guidelines. Given the size and complexity of the challenge we face, the President’s de facto encouragement of states’ opening up their economies without regard to his Administration’s own guidelines is not only asinine political pandering, but might have tragic consequences for a percentage of our citizens who actually place credence in his and his chorus’ propaganda.

It is commonplace for talking heads to intone, “The Coronavirus doesn’t care if you’re from the city or the country, white or black, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, etc., etc.” Actually, I would submit that it does. It is undisputed that the virus is highly contagious and spreads through close human contact. Close human contact is unavoidable (at least without rigid shutdown orders) for city dwellers, while generally more readily avoidable for rural residents; it is frequently unavoidable for those working at close quarters in lower-paying service jobs, while frequently more avoidable for those whose white collar jobs enable them to work from home; it is frequently unavoidable for those of lesser means (often minorities), who tend to live in tighter clusters in rented units, while being generally more avoidable for those whose families can shelter in individual homes. These are, of course, generalities; but which categories of our people are most likely to be subject to the brunt of any virus resurgence if Stay-At-Home orders are lifted prematurely?

In the first weeks of the shutdown, I saw more exercise equipment commercials during daytime hours than I can ever recall. Old ads for the Total Gym, featuring movie and TV Star Chuck Norris, proliferated. Clearly, the manufacturer saw the opportunity presented by the virus, and aired the ads it had available; in one spot, Mr. Norris – unquestionably in great shape for any age – mentions that he is 76. Mr. Norris is now 80.

The foreign policy effects of the crisis currently appear mixed and developing. No one could be surprised that North Korea’s recent testing of a short range cruise missile indicated that Chairman Kim Jong-Un (who himself is reportedly currently suffering from non-COVID physical ails) has no intent of suspending his nuclear program because of the crisis. On the other hand, there are reports that the disease has entered the North, and that if it passes rapidly there as it has elsewhere, the regime has no effective means to check its spread. Iran naval forces have initiated skirmishes with U.S. and other nations’ ships in the Persian Gulf, but a number of high Iranian officials have the virus and the regime is clearly currently focused on its own virus outbreak. (There are accounts of a philosophical split among U.S. foreign policy experts as to whether the U.S. should ease or harden its Iranian sanctions while Iran is under such stress. “Hawks” believe hardening the sanctions during the epidemic will cause the regime’s downfall; “Doves” believe that easing the sanctions during the crisis is the appropriate humanitarian response. With very little research, and although there is intellectual weight to both positions, I favor relieving sanctions. Foremost, it is the right, humanitarian – dare I say American – thing to do. Additionally, however, it seems to me the wise strategic step. Any replacement regime that views American sanctions as having added to the suffering of the Iranian people will not be any more favorably disposed to the U.S. than the current regime – nor will the Iranian people themselves; and it’s a little harder to call your adversary, “The Great Satan,” if it provides relief when you desperately need it.) Finally, there are reports of potentially dangerous interactions during the last month between U.S. and Russian air forces over the Mediterranean Sea initiated by the Russians. While no one can doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin would leverage the Coronavirus to press his strategic international objectives if he could, the virus is crippling the Russian economy and the recent sharp drop in world oil prices caused by the COVID crisis is presumably causing Mr. Putin to direct his attention to his domestic challenges.

If – a huge if – we come out of this crisis more united (given our toxic political climate, clearly a challenge) and with a less adversely impacted economy (given our overall financial strength, a real possibility) than a number of our principal adversaries, and we leverage our advantages to assist those across the globe still favorably disposed toward us, we will have an opportunity to reclaim some of the strategic advantages either tossed or frittered away by the Trump Administration over the last three years.

We are blessed to live in a part of the country with enough open space that we can walk in our city parks and maintain appropriate social distancing (at this point, it seems that the vast majority of our area’s residents are mindful of social distancing). Even so, I note that while on our walks, I now maintain the same watchfulness regarding the whereabouts and approach of our fellow park patrons … as I employed last summer for bear sign as we hiked in Alaskan national parks. [All that is lacking is the call, “Hey, Bear” as we trudge along ;)].

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part VI

As millions of people lose their jobs – and for many, their employment-based health insurance as well – it may, for a pivotal segment of our electorate, transform government-run Medicare for All from a “socialist” idea into a preferred policy position. Depending upon how the COVID crisis evolves in the coming months, finessing any such transition in voter sentiment could present a challenge for President Trump and Republicans. It might, ironically, also present a challenge for former Vice President Joe Biden if U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders presses Mr. Biden too overtly to embrace it. I would submit – and hope that Mr. Sanders will recognize — that even if Mr. Biden simply maintains his call for a “Public Option” to augment the Affordable Care Act, the pandemic’s impression upon the American psyche will, for good or ill, probably tilt public sentiment and selection toward a government-operated health care system.

Despite last week’s verbal skirmishes between President Trump and state Governors, and irrespective of any White House guidelines guiding states as to how to ease Coronavirus prevention behaviors and reopen businesses, I agree with those that suggest that the economy is going to open up slowly no matter what the President declares or state governments implement. The United States is a consumer-driven economy. Drawing upon the basics of the project planning methodologies in which I was tutored at times during my days in corporate America [my primary tutors being among those that follow these pages  ;)], I would offer that consumers have “Needs,” “Should [Have]s,” and “Nice [to Have]s.” Food, prescription drugs, ATM cash, doctor visits, and car repairs all are or can be Needs; these have continued through the crisis. Visits to close family, barber/hair stylists, and dental hygienists seem among the “Shoulds” to which most of our people are likely to more readily return when the economy reopens. But until there is an effective way to identify disease trends and hotspots, and/or a widely-administered effective vaccine, how enthusiastically will they engage in Niceties? If during May, our citizens can return to favorite restaurants, how many will? If youth activities officially open, how many will allow their children to participate? How likely are most to quickly return to the mall rather than buy online?

That said, I’m of two minds regarding WI Gov. Tony Evers’ recent extension of his Executive “Safer at Home” Order through the Memorial Day Weekend. Assuming that the surge of Wisconsin’s new cases will have passed by Memorial Day, Gov. Evers is commendably attempting to avoid a resurgence of the Coronavirus in the state by limiting the increased human interaction that accompanies the Holiday. On the other hand, the Memorial Day weekend is a pillar of revenue generation for much of the state. At the time this is typed, approximately 75% of the state’s 4000+ reported cases are in Milwaukee, Dane (Madison, for those that read these pages from outside the state), and the counties in proximity to Milwaukee County. Waushara County – in the middle of the state, where we spend one of our favorite weeks of the year every August – has two reported cases. Although Milwaukee area and Dane County residents (as well as Illinois residents from in and around Chicago) – likely transmitters of the Coronavirus – provide much of their tourism revenue, upstate financially-strapped communities and small business owners – for whom all have sympathy — may wish to ignore the danger. Mr. Evers may be inviting civil disobedience by being perceived to have prematurely imposed a quarantine on a majority of the state’s counties that (1) need the money and (2) have thus far experienced few COVID consequences. While extending his original order into May was a necessary step, it might ultimately prove to have been wiser for him to have taken the approach of NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo: extend the quarantine to May 15, and let the data existing in early May inform further extensions that might have included Memorial Day.

Speaking of Gov. Cuomo: although later last week, Mr. Trump in effect backtracked on his earlier declaration that the President’s authority to address a crisis such as a pandemic is “total,” since he is clearly nettled by both Mr. Cuomo’s proactive leadership during the crisis and the generally positive response Mr. Cuomo’s efforts have received, there seems no small irony that in No. 67 of The Federalist, Andrew Hamilton (writing as “Publius”), advocating for adoption of the Constitution, sought to reassure Americans leery of the danger of a monarchial presidency by declaring that under the Constitution, the President’s power would be akin to “[t]he authorities of a magistrate, in few instances greater, in some instances less, than those of a governor of New York …” [Emphasis Added]

We consider Friday, March 13, to mark the beginning of our self-isolation, since it was the first night that we didn’t go out to dinner as we normally would because of Coronavirus uncertainty. We both woke up on April 13 feeling … the blahs. Whether our doldrums arose from a letdown after Easter, or because it coincidentally marked the end of our first month in self-quarantine, the feelings were unmistakable. Our virus-related behavior changes are no longer arrestingly novel, merely humdrum. Perhaps you are feeling or will feel the same. We are resolving to keep at it. If you are among the fortunate experiencing no virus symptoms, it seems likely that the safeguards you’ve been employing have been working. It seems reasonable to suggest that getting through the remaining period of this crisis – no matter how long that might be – may depend upon your diligence and constancy. If you’re getting restless and assessing your odds of surviving a COVID-19 infection, you might find the recent Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal articles linked below – although much of what is related in couched in qualifiers — sobering antidotes for cabin fever.

https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2020-04-10/coronavirus-infection-can-do-lasting-damage-to-the-heart-liver

https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-ravages-the-lungs-it-also-affects-the-brain-11586896119

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part V

The political impulses of the Trump Administration’s response to the Coronavirus (to be contrasted with the efforts of its chief health experts) have been largely a profile in cowardice. President Trump — unwilling to assert the broad presidential authority to effect a coordinated national response to the crisis that he has been all too willing to wield for his political purposes — has sought to cast primary responsibility for virus response upon the states. Although it can be readily predicted that Mr. Trump will try to rewrite history during the fall campaign, it’s not unfair to state that the three virus-related aid packages passed thus far are law primarily due to proactive Congressional efforts. The President’s electoral prospects may hinge upon his ability to defy the impression of his office most deeply engrained in the American psyche since the Great Depression, most succinctly put by President Harry Truman: “The Buck Stops Here.”

I’ve found interesting New York Times Columnist David Brooks’ suggestion on the PBS NewsHour in recent weeks that Democrats’ funding priorities, although well-intended, have been (literally) misguided: Congress’ furnishing of funds directly to people by extending and enhancing unemployment insurance (UI) programs (while perhaps necessary to avoid citizen backlash from any perceived “business bailout” that is a residual of the Great Recession) provides employers a counterproductive incentive to lay workers off, while if Congress would have instead directed more of the UI-targeted aid to businesses on the condition that they retain and pay their employees, the funding would have incented employers to retain jobs.

[Note: at this time, Democrats are blocking a Republican-backed bill that would provide an additional $250 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a loan program for small business, until Republicans agree to back additional funding for health care providers, states and cities, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for needy families. While anyone that has watched Mitch McConnell perform as Republican Senate Majority Leader over the years can well understand the Democrats’ approach, this delay in assistance to small business is extremely unfortunate both substantively and because of the complete lack of trust between the two party caucuses it indicates continues to exist even in a time of crisis.]

Although it has been a bit colder of late, it has been for the most part unseasonably warm in southern Wisconsin during the crisis. If we were not now battling the Coronavirus, there would be numerous articles pointing to the mounting effects of Climate Change.

Over 50 years ago, Author Victor Lasky quoted Joseph P. Kennedy, patriarch of last century’s greatest American political dynasty and survivor (some would say, profiteer) of Prohibition and the Great Depression: “I’d rather have whiskey than money.” As seeming proof of the wisdom of Mr. Kennedy’s assertion, alcohol beverage sales were reportedly up by more than 50% in the latter half of March. A recent observation by Wall Street Journal Columnist Peggy Noonan (worth repeating, whether or not it stands up to historical scrutiny): “[N]o nation in the history of the world has closed both its churches and its liquor stores simultaneously and survived [Emphasis Ms. Noonan’s].” Our household has thus far tried to do its share to maintain this vital American industry ;).

Stay safe.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part II

Although the references to Fox News in this post have been noted by many, the divergent national media coverage of the disease’s spread, continuing as it did into March, is a stark reminder of the power of propaganda. Below is a link to a March 16 Washington Post article documenting (with embedded video) Fox News personalities doing a figurative 180-degree turn on the severity of the Coronavirus as President Trump changed the tone of his message. Hopefully, most that read these pages can access the article, because the juxtaposition of what Fox News commentators were saying before President Trump decided to treat the disease seriously, and after the President awakened, is best grasped through video and sound, not text; even so, the article itself is damning:

“For weeks [while President Trump was discounting the severity and spread of the virus], some of Fox News’s most popular hosts downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, characterizing it as a conspiracy by media organizations and Democrats to undermine President Trump.

Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham accused the news media of whipping up ‘mass hysteria’ and being ‘panic pushers.’ Fox Business host Trish Regan called the alleged media-Democratic alliance ‘yet another attempt to impeach the president.’

With Trump’s declaration on Friday [March 13] that the virus constitutes a national emergency, the tone on Fox News has quickly shifted.

On his program on Friday, Hannity — the most watched figure on cable news — lauded the president’s handling of what the host is now, belatedly, referring to as a ‘crisis.’

Regan’s on-air speculation at the start of last week that coronavirus was merely another impeachment gambit for Democrats drew widespread pushback… The network announced late Friday that her discussion-and-commentary program on Fox Business would leave the air indefinitely …

Fox insiders said that Regan’s removal from air showed that only some hosts — those with the biggest ratings — are protected at Fox News.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/on-fox-news-suddenly-a-very-different-tune-about-the-coronavirus/2020/03/16/7a7637cc-678f-11ea-9923-57073adce27c_story.html

It has become a cliché – recognizing that premises become clichés because they are true — that during his rise to power, President Trump didn’t create our citizens’ divisions, fears, and resentments, but merely exploited them. While such is the clearly the case, I would add that Fox News, likewise, didn’t create them … but, purely for profit, has done the most to accentuate and aggravate them. I would submit that the network has been a greater catalyst for hyper-partisanship, biases, and antipathy between our people than any other single factor, including Mr. Trump himself.

In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, published in 1959 and I believe still considered the definitive account of the genesis and collapse of the Nazi regime, William Shirer wrote the following of Germany in the mid-1930s, after Adolf Hitler seized absolute power but before the Second World War:

“[A] German listener could still turn his dial to a score of foreign radio stations …. [T]hough as the years went by, [Nazi Propaganda Chief Joseph] Goebbels … proved that the radio [Comment for the young: there was then no television] … did more than any other single instrument of communication to shape the German people to Hitler’s ends.

I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio …. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to [London, Paris, and Zurich] newspapers … and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts … a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. [Emphasis Added]”

While there is an undisputedly liberal bias in the mainstream media, I would submit that the mainstream media strives to present the truth, and that the news sections of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal remain our definitive American chroniclers. I don’t think it’s unwarranted to supplement Mr. Shirer’s statement regarding the effect of totalitarian propaganda with the observation that until Fox News, it was difficult for us in American society to conceive that a dominant media outlet would so purposefully and irresponsibly slant its message and manipulate its audience. On the Coronavirus, which may be the most significant public health challenge of our lifetimes, Mr. Trump’s change in tone caused the network — named last summer in a Suffolk University poll as the “most trusted” news source by almost 25% of our people — to shift the tenor of its coverage from “hoax” to “crisis” like … that.

We bear a heavy, although obviously necessary, burden for our First Amendment Freedom of Speech. Since all of us know one or more Fox News watchers, the YouTube links below (each containing some of the same clips) might be worth saving to forward to a conservative friend with a short memory of Fox’ sudden Coronavirus reversal when – not if – Fox begins to spread a particularly egregious distortion during the coming election campaign — such as Mr. Trump’s latest claim that mail-in voting is inherently corrupt.  May I suggest:  if former New York, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg is serious about maintaining the American way of life, he should be ready — soon — to start devoting his billions to creating media spots refuting Donald Trump’s and his surrogates disinformation campaigns.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifKbwDf51bA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DmW_H4U-MI

Admittedly Random Coronavirus Information

Since a number of those who read these pages are 60 or older, and those 60 and older have been consistently reported to be at greater risk of dangerous Coronavirus-related complications and death than the younger population, I sought to discover currently-indicated mortality rates for those over 60. The first citation below links to a piece indicating that the risk of dying for the more senior infected by the virus roughly doubles by decade: for those aged 60 – 69 it is 3.6%, for patients aged 70 to 79 years it is 8%, and for patients above 80 years of age it is 14.8%.

[NOTE:  The data related to the septuagenarians and octogenarians underlying the first link is apparently derived from a Chinese study based on 72,000 case records that I found cited on other sites (no links to those attached)]. [SECOND NOTE:  Since the information underlying the first link is dated in late February, I’ve searched for more recent data; the second link below is to a MarketWatch story updated as of this morning (March 9), which still appears to rely on the same Chinese study for mortality rates among those 70 and older.]  [THIRD NOTE:  It is seemingly arguable that the virus is accelerating much more quickly than the data.]

We have seen indications that the disease can be particularly dangerous for adults with “underlying health conditions.” I have seen two sites that indicated that about 60% of U.S. adults have at least one affliction that would be considered “an underlying health condition.”

Below are links to four sites addressing different aspects of the challenge. Although I obviously lack the knowledge or resources to verify their accuracy, I found them informative.

Age, Sex, Existing Conditions of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/coronavirus-age-sex-demographics/

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/coronavirus-fatality-rates-vary-wildly-depending-on-age-gender-and-medical-history-some-patients-fare-much-worse-than-others-2020-02-26

How Does Coronavirus Kill?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okg7uq_HrhQ

A Reason Viruses Can Originate in China

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPpoJGYlW54

A Modest Note of Optimism for Trump’s Coronavirus Response

Although in his Wednesday press conference President Trump sought to quell Americans’ fears by expressing a more optimistic view about our ability to address the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) than is shared by the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), Mr. Trump did signal (notwithstanding his self-serving asides) that his government knows that the threat is serious, and that by appointing Vice President Mike Pence to be the Administration’s point man — despite reports that Mr. Pence failed to competently address an HIV outbreak in Indiana during his days as Governor — that the Administration is taking it seriously.  Although the Administration’s record for dealing with scientific reality is atrocious, this challenge doesn’t involve any conservative shibboleths.  I think we now need to wait to see whether the Administration’s efforts are effective.

On Thursday morning, MSNBC’s Morning Joe panel, while grudgingly giving Mr. Trump some credit for his response, noted that our national ability to address the virus is now somewhat hampered by the manner in which the Administration has, through budget cuts, reduced the strength of the CDC and other U.S. health agencies and our assistance to world health organizations. During his press conference, Mr. Trump brushed away such concerns, saying that the Government will be able to get needed people back and that we will spend the money we need to spend. For once, I tend to agree with the President: no matter the level of antipathy a wronged health official might feel about the Administration, the potential danger here is of sufficient magnitude that it’s hard to imagine that any relevant expert, if asked to serve, won’t immediately respond to the call. I also believe that money won’t be the problem: Mr. Trump indicated during his press conference that he was ready to take the funding appropriated by Congress, which is some four times larger than that the Administration had asked for. If Mr. Pence asks for more money in the future, I am confident that Congress will appropriate it. Right now, we are behind the curve, but as was the case after our Pacific fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor, we have the best talent, and despite our deep deficit, still have the financial means to stage a comeback. If we come up with a vaccine, our economic machine will reproduce it and distribute it worldwide. No American politician of any stripe will stand for drug company profiteering.

There is one other reason to feel optimistic: for once, our nation’s and the world’s health fortunes run in the same direction as Mr. Trump’s political fortunes. Members of the Morning Joe panel suggested that Mr. Trump’s focus during his press conference was to steady the financial markets.  Perhaps; if so, it would reflect a lack of understanding that the S&P 500 consists of corporations with global operations whose profits seem destined to be significantly adversely by the disease’s worldwide impact no matter what happens in America.  That said, I have trouble believing that the President doesn’t comprehend that if there is a significant panic and/or spread of Coronavirus in this country, and the Administration is perceived to have responded inadequately, he will lose the presidency resoundingly, even to U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders. This is the kind of threat that trumps (if you will) even our deep cultural divide – a threat, like an invasion, that will affect Red and Blue states equally. Any health crisis will overwhelm his messaging.  He won’t — although he would undoubtedly try — be able to effectively shift the blame to Mr. Pence.  I recall – subject to correction by those with perhaps better memories — that President George W. Bush’s core support actually began to dwindle during his second term not because of his egregiously terrible decisions in Iraq and the Middle East, but because of what was perceived to be his Administration’s inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina. So in this I have complete confidence: assuming that Mr. Trump understands that doing the right thing — in this case, to pull out all stops to control to the extent possible the spread of the Coronavirus in the United States — is in his best interest, he will do the right thing.

I know very little about the virus and the attendant illness (COVID-19), and others may feel the same.  What follows are two links to recently-published descriptions of myths about the virus.

The World Health Organization

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

Johns Hopkins

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/2019-novel-coronavirus-myth-versus-fact

[Comment: since I believe that this is the first time I have ever posted on three consecutive days, this is to reassure exhausted readers of these pages that such is an aberration; given the need to tend to other chores — such as our income taxes – it may be a while before another note surfaces.]