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Archive for March 19th, 2020

Where Are the Billionaires?

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Jeff Bezos is worth $112 billion, though (a) that’s probably diminished by the stock-market dive, but (b) will probably increase because with “shelter in place” (aka “stay at home”) Amazon.com will be getting a lot of business.

So he can reasonably tithe to help combat coronavirus. $10 billion would help a lot to manufacture and distribute ventilators throughout the country, purchase N-95 breathing masks, buy supplies for hospitals; set up temporary hospitals in gymnasiums across the country, and so on. And Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and others could tithe as well. It’s time for them to give back — really give back, not just a piddling $1 million (which is one-hundredth of 1% of Bezos’s wealth).

And if they quail, they can be reminded that the donation is tax-deductible.

Russell Berman writes in the Atlantic:

n the comparatively halcyon days of mid-February, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked the world’s ninth-wealthiest man, the multibillionaire Michael Bloomberg, perhaps the most biting personal question of the Democratic-primary season.

“Mayor Bloomberg,” the moderator asked during a debate in Las Vegas, “should you exist?”

Todd wasn’t suggesting that the 78-year-old former New York mayor, then a presidential hopeful, shuffle off to an early demise; rather, he was raising a delicate but emerging argument on the left—that the very presence of billionaires amassing jaw-dropping sums of money at a time of rampant income equality represented a policy failure.

Less than a month later, Todd’s query comes across much differently. The coronavirus pandemic is cratering the American economy and threatens to overwhelm hospitals across the country. Governors, mayors, health-care executives, and frontline responders are warning of shortages of crucial medical equipment and supplies, including the ventilators that infected patients will need to breathe and the face masks and other protective gear that health workers require to avoid contracting the virus themselves.

The federal government is scrambling to assume a warlike footing and make up for a painfully slow initial response to the outbreak. On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence urged construction companies to donate their protective face masks to the health-care industry and hold off on further orders that could strain supply. That night, the Trump administration reached out to manufacturers across the country, seeking “volunteers who can donate and/or produce large-scale quantities of critical supplies” such as masks, cotton swabs, gloves, and ventilators, according to an email circulating among industry officials obtained by The Atlantic. Yesterday, the president said he would invoke the 1950 Defense Production Act to mobilize industry to supply the pandemic response.

If ever there were a time for billionaires, isn’t this it?

Some of the world’s richest humans are contributing to the effort, but in varying ways. Jack Ma, the former chairman and co-founder of China-based Alibaba, purchased several million testing kits and face masks and had them shipped to affected countries, including 500,000 kits and 1 million masks to the United States. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has been in contact with the White House and announced that the company would hire 100,000 workers at higher salaries to handle the spike in demand for shipping, and that it would prioritize filling orders of essential medical and household supplies. “We recognize that at times like this, large companies can really help, and we’re standing by to do so, in addition to serving our customers who need critical supplies and services at this time,” an Amazon spokesperson told me.

In the U.S., two of the nation’s leading public-health philanthropists are Bloomberg, for whom the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is named, and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. They also happen to live in the two biggest coronavirus hot spots: New York City and Washington State.

Both Gates and Bloomberg have, through their eponymous foundations, announced commitments totalling several hundred million dollars to combat the pandemic in the U.S. and abroad. But, as of today, neither is directly funding the purchase of crucial supplies.

“The foundation does not typically directly fund procurement of health equipment or supplies,” a spokesperson for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation told me. “During global health emergencies, however, our goal is to provide fast and flexible funding to government agencies, multilateral organizations and others at the front lines. This allows our partners to quickly translate funding into impact, and gives them discretion to purchase emergency supplies as needed.”

The Gates Foundation is targeting its money toward detection, isolation, and treatment efforts as well as to research toward a vaccine and possible treatments. It’s also offering technical assistance to government agencies working on a vaccine and directing funds to curb the local outbreak in the Greater Seattle region.

Bloomberg Philanthropies has launched two initiatives. One will, beginning this week, convene top officials and public-health experts from cities around the country in virtual gatherings for up-to-date virus information and crisis coaching. The other is a $40 million project to combat the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, in partnership with the World Health Organization and Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And what about buying and donating supplies and medical equipment? That’s not really what Bloomberg Philanthropies does, Dr. Kelly Henning, an epidemiologist and the head of the organization’s public-health program, told me. . .

Continue reading.

I do understand that the action requested is a role the Federal government is supposed to play, but the current Federal government — the Trump administration and the GOP-controlled Senate — is apparently incapable of action, and the country is in dire straits. These billionaires have done quite well by the country. Now it’s time to return the favor.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 7:15 pm

What Do You Tell Someone Who Still Won’t Stay Home?

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Medical, Science

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Blatant corruption: Senator Dumped Up to $1.6 Million of Stock After Reassuring Public About Coronavirus Preparedness

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Unfortunately, this self-dealing and using public office for private gain seems to be the rule in the US Congress these days. Robert Faturechi and Derek Willis report in ProPublica:

Soon after he offered public assurances that the government was ready to battle the coronavirus, the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, sold off a significant percentage of his stocks, unloading between $582,029 and $1.56 million of his holdings on Feb. 13 in 29 separate transactions.

As the head of the intelligence committee, Burr, a North Carolina Republican, has access to the government’s most highly classified information about threats to America’s security. His committee was receiving daily coronavirus briefings around this time, according to a Reuters story.

A week after Burr’s sales, the stock market began a sharp decline and has lost about 30% since.

On Thursday, Burr came under fire after NPR obtained a secret recording from Feb. 27, in which the lawmaker gave a VIP group at an exclusive social club a much more dire preview of the economic impact of the coronavirus than what he had told the public.

“Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak,” his spokesperson said. “As the situation continues to evolve daily, he has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy.”

Burr is not a particularly wealthy member of the Senate: Roll Call estimated his net worth at $1.7 million in 2018, indicating that the February sales significantly shaped his financial fortunes and spared him from some of the pain that many Americans are now facing.

He was one of the authors of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which shapes the nation’s response to public health threats like the coronavirus. Burr’s office did not respond to requests for comment about what sort of briefing materials, if any, on the coronavirus threat Burr may have seen as chair of the intelligence committee before his selling spree.

According to the NPR report, Burr told attendees of the luncheon held at the Capitol Hill Club: “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history … It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

He warned that companies might have to curtail their employees’ travel, that schools could close and that the military might be mobilized to compensate for overwhelmed hospitals.

The luncheon was organized by the Tar Heel Circle, a club for businesses and organizations in North Carolina that are charged up to $10,000 for membership and are promised “interaction with top leaders and staff from Congress, the administration, and the private sector.”

Burr’s public comments had been considerably less dire. In a Feb. 7 op-ed that he co-authored with another senator, he assured the public that “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.” He wrote, “No matter the outbreak or threat, Congress and the federal government have been vigilant in identifying gaps in its readiness efforts and improving its response capabilities.”

Members of Congress are required by law to disclose their securities transactions.

Burr was one of just three senators who in 2012 opposed the bill that explicitly barred lawmakers and their staff from using nonpublic information for trades and required regular disclosure of those trades. In opposing the bill, Burr argued at the time that insider trading laws already applied to members of Congress. President Barack Obama signed the bill, known as the STOCK Act, that year. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 5:07 pm

Good explanatory video

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 4:25 pm

Example of Trump incompetence: Before Virus Outbreak, a Cascade of Warnings Went Unheeded

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David E. Sanger, Eric Lipton, Eileen Sullivan, and Michael Crowley report in the NY Times:

The outbreak of the respiratory virus began in China and was quickly spread around the world by air travelers, who ran high fevers. In the United States, it was first detected in Chicago, and 47 days later, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. By then it was too late: 110 million Americans were expected to become ill, leading to 7.7 million hospitalized and 586,000 dead.

That scenario, code-named “Crimson Contagion,” was simulated by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services in a series of exercises that ran from last January to August.

The simulation’s sobering results — contained in a draft report dated October 2019 that has not previously been reported — drove home just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed.

The draft report, marked “not to be disclosed,” laid out in stark detail repeated cases of “confusion” in the exercise. Federal agencies jockeyed over who was in charge. State officials and hospitals struggled to figure out what kind of equipment was stockpiled or available. Cities and states went their own ways on school closings.

Many of the potentially deadly consequences of a failure to address the shortcomings are now playing out in all-too-real fashion across the country. And it was hardly the first warning for the nation’s leaders. Three times over the past four years the U.S. government, across two administrations, had grappled in depth with what a pandemic would look like, identifying likely shortcomings and in some cases recommending specific action.

In 2016, the Obama administration produced a comprehensive report on the lessons learned by the government from battling Ebola. In January 2017, outgoing Obama administration officials ran an extensive exercise on responding to a pandemic for incoming senior officials of the Trump administration.

The full story of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus is still playing out. Government officials, health professionals, journalists and historians will spend years looking back on the muddled messages and missed opportunities of the past three months, as President Trump moved from dismissing the coronavirus as a few cases that would soon be “under control” to his revisionist announcement on Monday that he had known all along that a pandemic was on the way.

What the scenario makes clear, however, is that his own administration had already modeled a similar pandemic and understood its potential trajectory.

The White House defended its record, saying it responded to the 2019 exercise with an executive order to improve the availability and quality of flu vaccines, and that it moved early this year to increase funding for the Department of Health and Human Services’ program that focuses on global pandemic threats.

But officials have declined to say why the administration was so slow to roll out broad testing or to move faster, as the simulations all indicated it should, to urge social distancing and school closings.

Asked at his news briefing on Thursday about the government’s preparedness, Mr. Trump responded: “Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion. Nobody has ever seen anything like this before.”

The work done over the past five years, however, demonstrates that the government had considerable knowledge about the risks of a pandemic and accurately predicted the very types of problems Mr. Trump is now scrambling belatedly to address.

Crimson Contagion, the exercise conducted last year in Washington and 12 states including New York and Illinois, showed that federal agencies under Mr. Trump continued the Obama-era effort to think ahead about a pandemic.

But the planning and thinking happened many layers down in the bureaucracy. The knowledge and sense of urgency about the peril appear never to have gotten sufficient attention at the highest level of the executive branch or from Congress, leaving the nation with funding shortfalls, equipment shortages and disorganization within and among various branches and levels of government.

The October 2019 report in particular documents that . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including a clear list of lessons learned — and then ignored.

Later in the article:

What is striking in reading Mr. Kirchhoff’s account today, however, is how few of the major faults he found in the American response resulted in action — even though the report was filled with department-by-department recommendations.

There were deficiencies “in personal protective equipment use, disinfection” and “social services for those placed under quarantine.”

There was confusion over travel restrictions, and the need “for a smoother sliding scale of escalation of government response, from local authorities acting on their own to local authorities acting with some federal assistance” to the full activation of the federal government.

The report concluded that “a minimum planning benchmark might be an epidemic an order of magnitude or two more difficult than that presented by the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, with much more significant domestic spread.”

But one big change did come out of the study: The creation of a dedicated office at the National Security Council to coordinate responses and raise the alarm early.

“What I learned most is that we had to stand up a global biosecurity and health directorate, and get it enshrined for the next administration,” said Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 1:40 pm

The Other Essential Pandemic Office Trump Eliminated

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Rosa Li writes in Slate:

Much attention has been paid to the Trump administration’s shortsighted elimination of the White House Pandemic Response Team. The frustration with this decision is obvious: In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we should have public health experts working with the federal government to tell us that social distancing is the best thing we can do to prevent infections and slow the strain on our health care system. But we also need behavioral scientists who can help advise on exactly how to get people to actually follow such instructions. The Obama administration created a White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, or SBST, tasked to use “behavioral science insights to better serve the American people” precisely for this reason. Unfortunately for the U.S., the Trump administration got rid of that too.

In its brief existence, the SBST tackled a broad range of issues, from fighting food insecurity to helping people save for retirement, through an evidence-based policy approach that drew inspiration from decision-making research. For example, they encouraged households to make their homes more energy-efficient by highlighting the immediate, concrete benefits of saving money on their power bills, rather than trying to appeal to the abstract, distant goal of slowing climate change. Crucially, SBST programs rarely tried to tell people what to do by throwing a bunch of facts and statistics at them—a current coronavirus-fighting approach that has only worked with a subset of the population. Instead, the SBST found ways to encourage better decision-making by capitalizing on the mental shortcuts we take and the biases that we have.

Though the SBST is no more, findings from decision-making research can still help us understand why people are not taking the threat of coronavirus seriously and how they could be convinced to follow social distancing recommendations. While epidemiologists are trying to model COVID-19’s true fatality rate—is it 3.4 percent? 1 percent?—decision scientists already know that people are generally pretty bad at objectively assessing probabilities. Famous behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky argued that people “discard events of extremely low probability,” simplifying minuscule percentages to basically zero. In other words, regardless of COVID-19’s true case fatality rate, our human brains are tempted to shortcut it to “super unlikely, so probably not me.”

Of course, even a 1 percent fatality rate means a devastating number of lives lost around the world. Effectively communicating the lethality of COVID-19 is paramount to convincing people to take the threat seriously. One strategy is to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

It’s easy to see why Putin wanted Trump to be president. Moving the US from a state of readiness for emergencies to a state of being completely unprepared weakens the country.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 1:25 pm

The looting of the US accelerates

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James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post:

A trillion here, a trillion there and soon you’re talking real money.

The national debt has surged from $20 trillion to $23 trillion since President Trump took office, even though the economy was at or near full employment, despite his campaign promises in 2016 to eliminate it altogether if he’s elected to two terms.

The $1.5 trillion tax cuts in 2017, which the GOP passed on a party-line vote and overwhelmingly benefit the biggest corporations and the richest individuals, made trillion-dollar federal deficits the new normal – long before the novel coronavirus sent lawmakers scrambling for emergency spending.

Many companies that are now seeking lifelines from taxpayers, especially the airlines, used the windfall from those tax breaks to buy back their own shares, which increased share prices and therefore boosted executive compensation.

The Trump administration outlined a $1 trillion stimulus plan on Wednesday to respond to the pandemic, including $500 billion in cash payments to individuals and $300 billion toward helping small businesses, as well as $50 billion for bailing out airlines and $150 billion for other unspecified sectors. This will likely include hospitality, in which the president has a significant personal financial stake. “We’re coming up with numbers,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday. “Haven’t gotten there yet, but certainly the hotel industry, cruise ship industry, the airlines — those are all prime candidates.”

A few hours later, the Senate approved and Trump quickly signed the House-passed bill that would spend some $100 billion on paid leave, unemployment insurance and free testing to people affected by the coronavirus fallout. That’s on top of the $8.3 billion emergency spending package that passed earlier this month. And it’s distinct from the $46 billion emergency funding request the White House sent Congress yesterday for “ongoing preparedness and response efforts” by various agencies.

All told, between the various packages and other actions the government is taking, a senior administration official said the White House is pushing an economic plan that is “over $2 trillion and counting” to stop the coronavirus from wrecking the economy. Compare that to the $800 billion stimulus package enacted under Barack Obama and the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program enacted under George W. Bush to respond to the Great Recession.

The tea party movement on the right and the Occupy Wall Street movement on the left stemmed from animosity to the bailouts for Wall Street. Conservatives spent the entire Obama era loudly decrying him for supposedly trying to “pick winners and losers.” In 2012, Trump himself accused “Obama’s auto bailout” of “ruining American industry.” Now he promises to help Boeing specifically in the White House briefing room – and few in his party balk.

When aides presented Trump with a $850 billion stimulus proposal earlier this week, he encouraged them to go bigger and ask for $1 trillionBob Costa and Phil Rucker report. “Trump ‘doesn’t give a [expletive]’ about how his rescue plan affects the federal debt, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be frank. ‘It’s all about the markets and the economy for him. It’s all about the jobs numbers.’ … One adviser who has discussed the matter with Trump said the president does not believe voters will be concerned about adding to the debt.”

There is certainly some political sensitivity inside the Trump administration to the optics of bailouts for big companies. . .

Continue reading. The US is starting to fold, it seems to me. The government has been hollowed out and weakened steadily since Reagan and the GOP beginning with Newt Gingrinch accelerated the trend, with the result that the structure, now flimsy, is not able to withstand the stress the pandemic brings.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 10:46 am

Benefits of Turmeric Curcumin for Uveitis and Eye Cancer

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Dr. Michael Greger blogs:

In 1989, ophthalmologists in India found that eyedrops made from the spice turmeric (known as haridra in India) seemed to work just as well as antibiotic eyedrops in the treatment of conjunctivitis, or pink eye. So, researchers decided to give turmeric a try against more serious inflammatory eye diseases like uveitis, which blinds tens of thousands of Americans every year. Uveitis is often an autoimmune or infectious inflammation of the central structures in the eye. Steroids, given to knock down people’s immune systems, are the standard treatment, but they also carry a slew of side effects.

Researchers tried giving uveitis sufferers oral supplements of curcumin, the yellow pigment in turmeric thought to be responsible in part for the spice’s anti-inflammatory effects. Eighteen patients were given curcumin alone, and every one improved, showing “efficacy…comparable to corticosteroid therapy,” but without any side effects.

A larger, follow-up study was similarly encouraging. A total of 106 patients who had had a uveitis relapse in the year before starting curcumin were followed for a year. As you can see at 1:10 in my video in my video, Benefits of Turmeric Curcumin for Inflammatory Orbital Pseudotumor, only 19 had relapses in the year after starting curcumin. Altogether, the 106 patients had had multiple relapses—a total of 275 times—in the year before starting curcumin, but, in the year on curcumin, they had only 36 relapses.

If turmeric curcumin works for mild eye inflammation and serious eye inflammation, what about really serious eye inflammation, like idiopathic inflammatory orbital pseudotumours. Let’s break that down: “Idiopathic” means doctors have no idea what causes it—from the Greek idios, as in idiot. “Orbital” refers to the bony cavity that houses our eyeball, and “pseudotumor,” as in not really a tumor. A lot has changed since the study was published in 2000. “[I]nflammatory orbital pseudotumour is now generally attributed to low-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” so it does appear to be a form of cancer. Well, what can curcumin do about it?

The researchers decided to look at curcumin because the available treatments are so toxic—steroids, radiation, and chemotherapy. In fact, all of the patients in the study were initially put on steroids but had to stop them because they either did not work or they had to be withdrawn because of complications. The researchers didn’t want to use radiation because they didn’t want to blind anyone. But they had to do something. All of the patients had so much swelling that they couldn’t move their eye as they normally would. If only there were some cheap, simple, and safe solution.

Four out of the five patients who completed the study with curcumin therapy had a full response, defined as complete recovery with no residual signs or symptoms. In fact, complete regression of the eye dislocation and swelling occurred in all five out of five patients, but one patient continued to suffer some residual effects. . .

Continue reading for links to more information on turmeric and also a post on who should not use turmeric. The links begin:

There are quite a few.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 10:26 am

Trump administration dead in water for effective response to pandemic

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No big push to build hospital space and room for beds; no big push to manufacture ventilators. Once again, the Trump administration is standing flat-footed, waiting to be pushed into action—a total lack of leadership.

David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times:

The best kinds of economic stimulus right now are those that directly fight the human toll from the coronavirus.

Examples include using federal money to build temporary medical facilities, buy ventilators and spur production of millions of virus tests. All of which may not only save lives but also hasten the day when life — and, by extension, economic activity — can return to normal. These measures have the additional benefit of doing what more traditional forms of stimulus do: Provide income and jobs at a time when both are badly needed.

“The most important thing you can do for the economy is slow the virus or show it has a lower bound,” the economist Austan Goolsbee has written. “Pay sick not to work, buy ventilators, test/isolate. Nothing works until you get a handle on this.”

Unfortunately, the federal government is not nearly focused enough on these kinds of measures.

From Christopher Rowland of The Washington Post:

Hospitals are holding back from ordering more medical ventilators because of the high cost for what may be only a short-term spike in demand from the coronavirus epidemic, supply chain experts and health researchers say, intensifying an anticipated shortage of lifesaving equipment for patients who become critically ill. …

Ventilator manufacturers could achieve, within a few months, a significant boost in production from about 50,000 units a year currently, said Julie Letwat, a health-care lawyer with McGuireWoods in Chicago who is monitoring the industry. Orders have not flooded in, she said, because most hospitals can’t afford to increase inventory of expensive equipment for what could turn out to be a short-term event.

Hospitals’ hesitance to order ventilators is a problem that only the government can solve. It’s certainly true that the purchase and production of additional ventilators may turn out to be a money loser for some hospitals and companies. But the country needs additional ventilator capacity now. To Washington, the cost is practically a rounding error, relative to the stimulus sums — hundreds of billions of dollars — now being discussed.

Can you think of a better stimulus idea than erring on the side of buying too many ventilators?

For more …

  • Officials in some other countries seem to be reacting with the right level of aggressiveness. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 8:44 am

Phoenix Solstice for the equinox, with Baby Smooth for the shave

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I think Phoenix Artisan might consider a couple of Equinox shaving fragrances: Vernal Equinox (a floral, surely) and an Autumnal Equinox (dead leaves, moist earth, smoke). And a Winter Solstice (lots of mint and menthol) would balance their current (summer) Solstice, which has desert fragrances.

A very fine lather from the Solar Flare brush, and then three easy passes with the Baby Smooth, which for me seems easier to handle and manipulate than the OneBlade, though that may be simply the result of familiarity and practice.

A good splash of Spring-Heeled Jack, partly to recognize that I’m jumping the gun a bit: the equinox does not occur until late this evening.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2020 at 8:30 am

Posted in Shaving

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