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Archive for March 15th, 2020

How a country serious about coronavirus does quarantine

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Watch this.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2020 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Daily life, Healthcare, Medical

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How America got this way

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An excellent Facebook post by Heath Cox Richardson:

Heather Cox Richardson
March 14, 2020 (Saturday)

The reality of the novel coronavirus pandemic is sinking in as our infections continue to rise. Still, a number of people insist that alarm about the pandemic is political, whipped up by the media to weaken the president. When New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez begged people under 40 to stay out of bars, restaurants, and public spaces to keep from spreading Covid-19, Katie Williams, a former Ms. Nevada who was stripped of her title for putting pro-Trump postings on the non-political Ms. America social media accounts, responded “I just went to a crowded Red Robin and I’m 30. It was delicious, and I took my sweet time eating my meal. Because this is America. And I’ll do what I want.”

As Americans either settled into self-isolation or ignored expert advice and hit bars and beaches, the administration’s travel restrictions from Europe, which went into effect today, created chaos in the 13 airports assigned to handle American passengers returning from 26 countries. Those airports were understaffed, leaving passengers at Chicago’s O’Hare to wait for up to six hours for their bags, and then another 2-4 to get through a health screening and customs, all the while packed together. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, finally took to twitter to get Trump’s attention, prompting Pritzker’s political opponents to tell him to fix his own state.

But customs is under federal, not state, jurisdiction. There was nothing Pritzker could do except tweet: “The federal government needs to get its s@# t together. NOW.”

The fight over whether to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously, as well as the administration’s inept handling of it, is the outcome of forty years of assault on the American government. Since 1980, when Ronald Reagan ran for office on the warning that “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” Republicans have made war on the idea of an expert bureaucracy in charge of our government.

It was a huge shift for the party, which had come out of World War Two with a deep commitment to a conservatism that focused on using the government to promote stability at home and across the globe by fostering equality of opportunity and rising standards of living for all. Those commitments required extending the government regulations, social safety net, and infrastructure development pioneered in the 1930s by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democrats. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower did just that, regulating business to protect labor, expanding civil rights, and passing what was at the time the largest public works program in American history: the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created our interstate highway system.

But a small group of reactionaries who hated business regulation, civil rights, and the taxes that public works programs require, insisted that the growing government infringed on their liberty. They got little traction because Americans liked the new, active government that enabled people to get educations, make a decent wage, and stop worrying they would have to live off their children or root through garbage cans for food when they got too old to work.

But when the Supreme Court, overseen by former Republican governor of California Earl Warren, unanimously agreed that segregated schools were unconstitutional, and Eisenhower enforced that decision in 1957 with federal troops at Little Rock Central High School, these reactionaries tied racism to their hatred of federal bureaucracy. The growing government of “experts,” they said, was taking tax dollars from hardworking white people and using them to give benefits to people of color. They were redistributing wealth. They were snaking communism or socialism into America and would destroy the very individualism that made America great.

That formulation—that an active government run by bureaucrats trying to regulate business, promote social welfare, and develop our infrastructure is socialism that will destroy us—gradually took over the Republican Party. In 1980, Reagan, who used this rhetoric but in fact governed far more moderately than he sounded, brought this ideology into the White House. He began the Republican addiction to tax cuts. When it became clear the cuts were not, in fact, expanding growth and paying for themselves as promised, but rather were cutting programs voters liked, the Reagan team shored up their support by courting evangelicals, marrying religious dislike of secularism to Republican pro-business individualism.

Over the years since, Republican leaders have continued to cut taxes, regulations, social safety nets, and infrastructure, all in the service of shunning socialism and promoting individualism. Whatever needs to be done, businessmen can do it best, they say. Government bureaucrats are inefficient and wasteful.

As this ideology has increasingly degraded our society, more and more voters have turned against it. So Republican leaders have stayed in power first by suppressing opposition voters, and then by gerrymandering districts so that Republicans have a systemic advantage. In 2012, for example, after states drew new districts after the 2010 census, Democratic candidates for seats in the House of Representatives won 1.4 million more votes than their Republican counterparts, and yet Republicans came away with a 33-seat majority.

Republican leaders have worked to pack the courts. too. As Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese put it, the idea was “to institutionalize the Reagan revolution so it can’t be set aside no matter what happens in future elections.” Reagan appointed more judges than any other president before him, including three Supreme Court justices and one chief justice. The rightward swing of the court continued when George W. Bush (who lost the popular vote) appointed two Supreme Court justices, including a chief justice.

That swing has gone on steroids under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). He held up the judicial appointments of Democratic President Barack Obama and finally refused even to consider Obama’s moderate nominee for the Supreme Court. Another Republican elected with a minority of the popular vote, Trump filled that seat and another. McConnell has been rushing through Trump’s judges at an unprecedented pace—almost as many as Obama appointed in his entire 8 years– and vowed this week that the pandemic will not slow down judicial appointments.

So extreme has the court become in the service of the Republican agenda that on Wednesday, former Judge James Dannenberg resigned his membership in the Supreme Court Bar—lawyers admitted to practice before the high court– of which he has been a member since 1972. Dannenberg’s resignation charges that the court is practicing “radical ‘legal activism,’ at its worst.” It is an “extension of the right wing of the Republican Party, he wrote, subverting or ignoring the law “to achieve transparently political goals.”

He accused the court of taking us back to the first Gilded Age and warned, “The only constitutional freedoms ultimately recognized may soon be limited to those useful to wealthy, Republican, White, straight, Christian, and armed males— and the corporations they control. This is wrong. Period. This is not America.”

And so, it seems the reactionaries of the 1950s got what they wanted. We have decimated our government bureaucracy and expertise, slashed taxes and the social safety net, and crippled our infrastructure, all in the name of promoting American business and the individualism that, in theory, encourages economic growth. The president, along with his enablers in the Senate, have tried to cement this ideology onto the country through the courts.

And now, the coronavirus pandemic is putting their system to the test. So far, it is failing miserably.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2020 at 7:15 pm

The Coronavirus Called America’s Bluff

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Anne Applebaum writes in the Atlantic:

In July 8, 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy sailed into Tokyo Bay with two steamships and two sailing vessels under his command. He landed a squadron of heavily armed sailors and marines; he moved one of the ships ostentatiously up the harbor, so that more people could see it. He delivered a letter from President Millard Fillmore demanding that the Japanese open up their ports to American trade. As they left, Perry’s fleets fired their guns into the ether. In the port, people were terrified: “It sounded like distant thunder,” a contemporary diarist wrote at the time, “and the mountains echoed back the noise of the shots. This was so formidable that the people in Edo [modern Tokyo] were fearful.”

But the noise was not the only thing that frightened the Japanese. The Perry expedition famously convinced them that their political system was incapable of coping with new kinds of threats. Secure in their island homeland, the rulers of Japan had been convinced for decades of their cultural superiority. Japan was unique, special, the homeland of the gods. “Japan’s position, at the vertex of the earth, makes it the standard for the nations of the world,” the nationalist thinker Aizawa Seishisai wrote nearly three decades before Perry’s arrival. But the steamships and the guns changed all that. Suddenly, the Japanese realized that their culture, their political system, and their technology were out of date. Their samurai-warrior leaders and honor culture were not able to compete in a world dominated by science.

The coronavirus pandemic is in its early days. But the scale and force of the economic and medical crisis that is about to hit the United States may turn out to be as formidable as Perry’s famous voyage was. Two weeks ago—it already seems like an infinity—I was in Italy, writing about the first signs of the virus. Epidemics, I wrote, “have a way of revealing underlying truths about the societies they impact.” This one has already done so, and with terrifying speed. What it reveals about the United States—not just this administration, but also our health-care system, our bureaucracy, our political system itself—should make Americans as fearful as the Japanese who heard the “distant thunder” of Perry’s guns.

Not everybody has yet realized this, and indeed, it will take some time, just as it has taken time for the nature of the virus to sink in. At the moment, many Americans are still convinced that, even in this crisis, our society is more capable than others. Quite a lot was written about the terrifying and reckless behavior of the authorities in Wuhan, China, who initially threatened doctors who began posting information about the new virus, forcing them into silence.

On the very day that one of those doctors, Li Wenliang, contracted the virus, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issued a statement declaring,“So far no infection [has been] found among medical staff, no proof of human-to-human transmission.” Only three weeks after the initial reports were posted did authorities begin to take the spread of the disease seriously, confirming that human-to-human transmission had in fact occurred. And only three days later did the lockdown of the city, and eventually the entire province, actually begin.

This story has been told repeatedly—and correctly—as an illustration of what’s wrong with the Chinese system: The secrecy and mania for control inside the Communist Party lost the government many days during which it could have put a better plan into place. But many of those recounting China’s missteps have become just a little bit too smug.

The United States also had an early warning of the new virus—but it, too, suppressed that information. In late January, just as instances of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, began to appear in the United States, an infectious-disease specialist in Seattle, Helen Y. Chu, realized that she had a way to monitor its presence. She had been collecting nasal swabs from people in and around Seattle as part of a flu study, and proposed checking them for the new virus. State and federal officials rejected that idea, citing privacy concerns and throwing up bureaucratic obstacles related to lab licenses.

Finally, at the end of February, Chu could stand the intransigence no longer. Her lab performed some tests and found the coronavirus in a local teenager who had not traveled overseas. That meant the disease was already spreading in the Seattle region among people who had never been abroad. If Chu had found this information a month earlier, lives might have been saved and the spread of the disease might have slowed—but even after the urgency of her work became evident, her lab was told to stop testing.

Chu was not threatened by the government, like Li had been in Wuhan. But she was just as effectively silenced by a rule-bound bureaucracy that was insufficiently worried about the pandemic—and by officials at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who may even have felt political pressure not to take this disease as seriously as they should.

For Chu was not alone. We all now know that COVID-19 diagnostic tests are in scarce supply. South Korea, which has had exactly the same amount of time as the U.S. to prepare, is capable of administering 10,000 tests every day. The United States, with a population more than six times larger, had only tested about 10,000 people in total as of Friday. Vietnam, a poor country, has tested more people than the United States. During congressional testimony on Thursday, Anthony Fauci, the most distinguished infectious-disease doctor in the nation, described the American testing system as “failing.” “The idea of anybody getting [tested] easily the way people in other countries are doing it? We’re not set up for that,” he said. “Do I think we should be? Yes, but we’re not.”

And why not? Once again, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2020 at 6:30 pm

President Trump has no moral compass: Trump ‘offers large sums’ for exclusive access to coronavirus vaccine

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Philip Oltermann reports in the Guardian:

The Trump administration has offered a German medical company “large sums of money” for exclusive access to a Covid-19 vaccine, German media have reported.

The German government is trying to fight off what it sees as an aggressive takeover bid by the US, the broadsheet Die Welt reports, citing German government circles.

The US president had offered the Tübingen-based biopharmaceutical company CureVac “large sums of money” to gain exclusive access to their work, wrote Die Welt.

According to an anonymous source quoted in the newspaper, Trump was doing everything to secure a vaccine against the coronavirus for the US, “but for the US only”. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2020 at 5:23 pm

No Matter What Some Public Officials Say, the Message You Need to Hear Is “Stay Home”

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Charles Ornstein reports in ProPublica:

On Saturday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz took to Twitter to ask his followers to heed the advice of public health officials and politicians on the other side of the aisle:

“If you can stay home, stay home,” the Texas Republican wrote. “And wash your hands.”

Hours later, the Republican governor of Oklahoma tweeted from a packed restaurant in Oklahoma City showing that he is performatively not doing this. “Eating with my kids and all my fellow Oklahomans at the @CollectiveOKC. It’s packed tonight! #supportlocal #OklaProud”

He deleted the tweet an hour later.

On Sunday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told CBS’ “Face the Nation,” “Right now, personally, myself, I wouldn’t go to a restaurant.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican, spoke on Fox News and said, “If you’re healthy, you and your family, it’s a great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant, likely you can get in easy. Let’s not hurt the working people in this country … go to your local pub.”

Stay Home, Even if You Feel Fine

The discordant messages underscore the immense challenges conveying common messages during a public health crisis, one that has happened time and again as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has swept across the country.

“The most important thing is for people to change their daily routines and really reduce their social interactions,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a former federal and state health official who is now vice dean for public health practice and community engagement for the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.

“I don’t think it is the consistent message from all health and political officials. If people are going to change the way they live their lives, they need to hear about the need to do that from every credible source of information they have because if they get mixed messages it’s easy to lapse back to not changing.”

From the availability of testing to the need to avoid handshakes, from where patients should go if they develop symptoms to whether to touch your face, the messages — and the actions by the public officials and even sometimes the doctors delivering those messages — have been contradictory.

Go to the ER; Don’t Go to the ER

One day last week, for example, a New York City allergy practice sent patients an email telling them what to do if they suspect they have symptoms consistent with infection with COVID-19.

“As you may be aware, there is a shockingly low number of available tests, and all testing now is done through local emergency departments in the area,” the note read.

Hours later, the advice was retracted: “It has been brought to our attention that the recommendation to visit the ED if one suspects COVID19 is incorrect. One should call their primary care provider to be screened and whether a visit to a lab or emergency department is necessary. … We are sorry for the confusion.”

While the government’s inability to get coronavirus tests in the hands of doctors and local health departments has been roundly criticized for preventing leaders from understanding how the virus is spreading, the mixed messages being given by leaders and others throughout this outbreak threatens to have a continuing effect.

“In some places, at least, there’s an advice vacuum and that leaves a lot of people trying to figure out what’s available and what to do,” Sharfstein said.

Conflicting Information Causes Real Harm

Accurate information is the coin of the realm in public health emergencies such as this one. Setting expectations and sharing accurate information is vital, experts say.

At all levels of government and medicine, that hasn’t happened.

During a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2020 at 3:06 pm

Posted in Daily life, Medical, Politics

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Increase in obituary pages of a local Italian newspaper

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This compares a typical obituary section of a local newspaper in Bergamo Italy from February to the obituary section now.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2020 at 1:26 pm

Smashed chickpeas: Recipe ideas

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Aliza Abarbanel has a good column in Bon Appetit. She takes a can of chickpeas, drains and rinses the contents, and smashes them (a potato masher works well). From the column:

I aim for a one or two mix-ins from each of these categories:

  • Something briny/acidic: capers, pepperoncini, half-sour pickles; when all else fails, a lot of lemon juice does the trick.
  • Something punchy/sharp: sliced scallions, grated garlic, flaked smoked trout, harissa, almost-too-many red pepper flakes—the goal is to add flavor!
  • Something creamy/rich: a good dollop of Greek yogurt, tahini, organic mayo, Dijon mustard, leftover green goddess or tahini ranch; add in a drizzle of olive oil or an additional spoonful of your chosen creamy condiment if things look dry

After everything’s combined, I add some salt and cracked black pepper and tweak the levels of acid and spice until it tastes intense and bright.

Sometimes I eat my smashed chickpea salad as is, but most of the time, I make it a sandwich. To ward off Soggy Sandwich Syndrome, I bring the salad to work in a little container, sometimes along with sliced cucumbers or quick-pickled carrots, and pack up a separate container of toast (or toast-like things) to serve underneath the salad: Toasted sourdough, rice cakes (I like this tamari with seaweed flavor), or Norwegian crisp bread, sturdy crackers. When lunchtime comes, I assemble.

It goes without saying that smashed chickpea salad is more than just a panic lunch. It’s a great weeknight dinner, and it can certainly be planned in advance.

Read the whole thing.

BTW, I strongly advise against rice cakes: they have an extremely high glycemic index:

The glycemic index rating for rice cakes is approximately 87–91, compared to pure glucose at 100.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2020 at 1:16 pm

The way money rules the world isn’t cutting it

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Eddie Kim writes in MEL:

As soon as the signs of the coronavirus apocalypse became clear, the people knew what to do: Stand in winding lines at Costco, waiting to blow as much money as they could muster on all the toilet paperbottled water and hand sanitizer they could grasp.

There is something innately hilarious about people wasting time and hundreds of dollars in an attempt to stockpile things that won’t save us from the virus at all — nobody’s dying because they can’t wipe their asses with enough Charmin Ultra Soft, nor is our water poisoned, nor is hand sanitizer any better than, you know, soap. What is less hilarious is the fact that amid a pandemic fear that affects people across the lines of race and class, a whole lot of capitalists have decided to personally profit by scalping the items they hoard.

One 37-year-old told the Atlantic that it’s a simple matter of “supply and demand.” He bought hand gel for $7. He resold it for $138 on eBay the same day — while also acknowledging that he, himself, didn’t think hand sanitizer was useful at all. Another seller, 43-year-old “Russ” in Michigan, admitted he was profiting too, albeit on much smaller margins ($25 resale for a normal bottle). “I know what you want to ask me. I weighed whether or not this was a moral thing,” he said. “My conclusion was: If I don’t do this, someone else is going to. That allowed me to do it.”

If that conundrum sounds familiar, well, it’s because it’s the core tension at the heart of capitalism itself — an economic theory that hinges on the balancing of personal profit with social benefit, on the scale of the individual as well as the nation-state. And amid an unprecedented time of human wealth and achievement, we’re all witnessing how a sneaky virus is laying bare the assumptions we’ve held about the fundamental benefits of a world that runs on free markets and money. There’s more money to spend than ever before — and it isn’t doing shit to stop the spread of coronavirus.

While people panic-spend on “emergency” goods, major corporations are grappling like mad to get whatever tax cuts they can. Most of the world’s billionaires are silent, nowhere to be found (perhaps they’ve already flown off to their private luxury bunkers); the ones who have begun offering their funds to fight the virus in China appear to be getting ripped off, proving once again the philanthropy from the hyper-rich isn’t the answer to social ills.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is bloviating about a payroll tax cut that would make the 2008 bank bailout look pretty moderate in comparison. A lot of people on both sides of the aisle hate the plan, perhaps because a payroll tax cut seems to, once again, benefit households earning more than $123,000 a year while also potentially placing the responsibility of trickle-down benefits in the hands of employers, not workers. Cash assistance or help for the unemployed remains on the margins of Trump’s plan, at least for now; similarly, the GOP won’t green-light a plan drafted by House Democrats to help the working class in the pandemic because they accuse the Dems of politicking by slipping in a permanent policy for national sick leave — a policy idea that has broad support from Americans. . .

Continue reading.

Some days ago I blogged Matt Stoller’s post on why the US can’t withstand what the coronavirus will bring. As he points out, this crisis is revealing the extent to the which the US has been looted and gutted and now is frail and unable to be self-reliant. Corporations and the very wealthy have benefited and accumulated great gains but have left standing a house of cards that is not going to do well as the pressures of the pandemic build. I fear for the future of the country.

Written by Leisureguy

15 March 2020 at 5:10 am

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