Later On

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Archive for March 25th, 2020

Stop the $6 Trillion Coronavirus Corporate Coup!

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Too late. But a good column by Matt Stoller:

Since Saturday, I’ve seen an emerging right-left argument about what we need to do to address the pandemic.

The American Economic Liberties Project (my org) put out a statement against the bill, AFL-CIO official Damon Silvers, who oversaw the 2008 bailout, put out an article against the bill, as did dozens of economics and finance professors. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warned of the risks of a bill tilted to big business, as did libertarian member Justin Amash. John Cassidy wrote in the New Yorker how to do a bailout without corruption. And Georgetown law professor Adam Levitin pointed out that the bill is “robbing taxpayers to bail out the rich.”

But then these two Senators, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, cut a deal last night. And from what I can tell, it’s really really bad, and much of the bad stuff is not being included in the sleazy marketing materials from Schumer and McConnell, or in the reporting about the bill. There’s a reason for that. Sunlight would kill this thing.

That means there is a narrow way to stop it.

What Is In This Bill?

Congress is going to pass a bill with a lot of important stuff for workers, hospitals, cities and small business, and to address the pandemic. That’s inevitable. And the bill on the table includes some of this. The question though is what else the bill includes, and that’s where we get into trouble. Because while we have to deal with the pandemic and crisis, we do not have to fundamentally eliminate the economic rights of all of us in the process.

Now, first I should say I don’t have the final deal in hand because it’s not public. I have only seen versions of the negotiating text. But I’m fairly sure most of these provisions haven’t changed, because the final sticking points were over various direct pandemic spending pieces. If I get that wrong, I’ll tell you in an update.

On Saturday, I went over the Christmas wish list of corporate lobbyists in this process, everything from Adidas letting people deduct gym costs to candymakers seeking a $500 million loan to Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk seeking $5B in loans for their space corporations. Of course what Wall Street sought, and got, dwarfed all of these requests.

Here’s how you can tell. A lot of reporters have been talking about how this is a $2 trillion deal, with a bunch of spending for hospitals and whatnot. But last night White House advisor Larry Kudlow announced it is actually a $6 trillion deal. And business reporter Charlie Gasparino said he’s hearing chatter that the total will be $10 trillion! Say what?!?

How does this work? How can Wall Street have one impression of the amount of money, and everyone else have a different impression? Easy. Confusion, lying and bad reporting. If important people don’t talk about the boring sounding big stuff, then us non-important people sound crazy or nerdy mentioning it. It’s a giant game of social climbing, and the goal is to make all of us afraid to point out what’s going on. (Incidentally I hope Rep. Brad Sherman, who is an accountant and a key anti-bailout leader, really delves into this.)

So let’s talk about the big stuff that McConnell, Schumer and Pelosi are hiding.

The bill establishes a series of boring-sounding slush funds, and these will be given strange alphabet soup names by the Federal Reserve and Treasury, names like ‘special purpose vehicle’ and ‘ABS’ and ‘TALF’ and FDIC bank guarantees. That’s where the real money is. Here are some of these slush funds, starting with the ones that are more understandable:

  • $50 billion in loans and loan guarantees to airlines
  • $8 billion in loans and loan guarantees to air cargo carriers
  • $17 billion in loans and loan guarantees to “businesses critical to national security”
  • A $425 billion fund for loans and investments to be used at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin. He can use it to loan money, buy stock, buy bonds, whatever.

Obviously helping certain enterprises is important, so I’m not opposed to industry aid. But the terms and conditions matter, and based on what I’m seeing, I don’t believe there will be meaningful restrictions on this aid. Executives and financiers are going to profit off of taxpayer money.

So that’s the stuff that’s been reported. Here’s what hasn’t, and why the bill goes up in value to $6-10 trillion. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. I think the US is toast.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 10:18 pm

What is the best beverage?

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Interesting chart from one of the papers quoted in the video:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the video itself:

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 9:45 pm

Posted in Health, Science

A Rapid End Strikes the Dinosaur Extinction Debate

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Joshua Sokol writes in Quanta:

The last time the world was ending, two cataclysms aligned. On one side of the planet, a wayward asteroid dropped like a cartoon anvil, punching through the edge of the Yucatan Peninsula and penetrating deep into Earth’s crust. Around the same time — 66 million years ago — a million cubic kilometers of lava were in the process of bubbling up to the surface, releasing climate-altering carbon dioxide and sulfur into the atmosphere and forming what would become the Deccan Traps of modern-day India.

Rock layers around the world show what happened next. No dinosaurs besides the birds made it out. Neither did the squidlike ammonites that curled like rams’ horns, or marine reptiles including the plesiosaurs (Loch Ness conspiracies notwithstanding). But because of the close timing of the asteroid and the volcanism, geologists have spent years staking out increasingly acrimonious positions on which one deserves the blame for the ensuing carnage. In 2018, The Atlantic called the debate “The Nastiest Feud in Science.”

Until recently, Pincelli Hull kept out of the fray. In her subfield, marine plankton fossils, the impact was considered the obvious sole cause of what’s called the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction. Instead, she focused on understanding how life bounced back, not on what had almost snuffed it out. “There was a lot to be done without really ruffling any feathers,” said Hull, a paleontologist at Yale University.

That changed over time. First, a paleontologist friend who worked on other time periods argued that of course both the asteroid and volcanism were responsible. “I remember feeling so irritated,” Hull said. “This isn’t your topic of study; how do you have an opinion on this?”

But once she realized that researchers looking at other records of the extinction considered the volcanism theory an open question, not just a minority view, Hull started reaching out to them. Many of these scientists were working on more accurate ways to date when exactly the Deccan Traps erupted, and she wanted to understand their emerging evidence.

Researchers had long known that the Deccan Traps erupted within a few million years of the asteroid strike. But in 2015, a group based at Princeton University significantly narrowed the timing. They found that the lava began squishing out of the earth only 250,000 years before the impact and continued for 500,000 years afterward. Then last year, they estimated that a major pulse of lava erupted just tens of thousands of years before the strike. (At the same time, a Berkeley group argued instead that a big pulse began right after.)

It may seem like an obscure chronological feud, but this one matters: If the Deccan Traps released lava and gas just before the asteroid fell, at least some of the subsequent carnage could be attributed to climate change from the volcanoes. “It made me start to think, ‘OK, this is an open question,’” Hull said.

She didn’t think that for long. Hull went on to lead a global collaboration that, early this year, published a definitive timeline of how the mayhem played out in small ocean fossils. The team tracked changes in global temperature over time. The planet did warm up before the impact, Hull found, but then cooled back down before the asteroid arrived. And while that warming event didn’t seem to correlate to marine extinctions, over 90% of plankton species abruptly vanished after the impact. The study suggests that the major influence of the Deccan Traps was to guide the post-apocalyptic evolution of surviving species — not to drive the extinction itself.

Quanta spoke with Hull about that cataclysm — often abbreviated as the K-T extinction — her deep love of planktonic creatures, and the ways in which the K-T extinction resembles what’s going on today. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Do you remember first learning about the extinction of the dinosaurs? In my own childhood, it was always blamed on the asteroid impact.

I have to admit that as a child, I wasn’t obsessed with dinosaurs at all. I came into all of this pretty backward. I’m from Ohio, and I grew up without ever seeing the ocean. I remember the first time I saw the ocean and I looked at plankton, at the stuff in the water, under magnification. I was enamored of their strangeness; they’re just crazy weird. So I went off to grad school to study modern ocean ecosystems, and it was only there that I came into studying mass extinctions, essentially from the present back.

You’ve also mentioned in talks that you left high school early to go sailing.

The root of that story is that I am a chronic procrastinator. When I should have been doing my high school project, I was online looking at how I could go sailing around the world. And then I left halfway through my senior year and went to the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole and did some training in oceanography, maritime history and literature. I headed out on an oceanographic vessel and I liked it so much that I didn’t want to go to college. My parents were like, could you please try college out for a semester? I was like, no, I’d rather be a deckhand. But I tried college out for a semester and decided to stick it out.

You started your career trying to understand modern-day ecosystems, only to jump to the extinction that killed the dinosaurs. Is that a logical place to leap, 66 million years back?

People have been wondering whether or not we’re in the middle of a mass extinction right now. The most recent big mass extinction is the K-T mass extinction, and its influence is so big that you actually see it profoundly. Another reason why it’s helpful to study the most recent big mass extinction is that as you go further back in time, you have exponentially fewer fossil archives, because the whole world is basically a gigantic rock recycling factory.

Does that mean it’s rare to drill a seafloor sample that spans even this extinction?

Yeah, I’m a biologist, and when the cores are coming up, it’s sort of intriguing, but in the way that staring at clouds is intriguing. Usually you’re like, oh, there’s another tube of brown mud. There’s another tube of grayish-blue mud. But when you come across a boundary like the K-T boundary, it’s blaring. It’s awesome.

For your new paper, do you remember getting those specific cores? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 9:02 pm

Nancy Wilson: “The Very Thought of You”

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Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Jazz, Video

How this pandemic will end

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Ed Yong writes in the Atlantic:

Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.

A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”

So, now what? In the late hours of last Wednesday, which now feels like the distant past, I was talking about the pandemic with a pregnant friend who was days away from her due date. We realized that her child might be one of the first of a new cohort who are born into a society profoundly altered by COVID-19. We decided to call them Generation C.

As we’ll see, Gen C’s lives will be shaped by the choices made in the coming weeks, and by the losses we suffer as a result. But first, a brief reckoning. On the Global Health Security Index, a report card that grades every country on its pandemic preparedness, the United States has a score of 83.5—the world’s highest. Rich, strong, developed, America is supposed to be the readiest of nations. That illusion has been shattered. Despite months of advance warning as the virus spread in other countries, when America was finally tested by COVID-19, it failed.

“No matter what, a virus [like SARS-CoV-2] was going to test the resilience of even the most well-equipped health systems,” says Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious-diseases physician at the Boston University School of Medicine. More transmissible and fatal than seasonal influenza, the new coronavirus is also stealthier, spreading from one host to another for several days before triggering obvious symptoms. To contain such a pathogen, nations must develop a test and use it to identify infected people, isolate them, and trace those they’ve had contact with. That is what South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong did to tremendous effect. It is what the United States did not.

As my colleagues Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer have reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed and distributed a faulty test in February. Independent labs created alternatives, but were mired in bureaucracy from the FDA. In a crucial month when the American caseload shot into the tens of thousands, only hundreds of people were tested. That a biomedical powerhouse like the U.S. should so thoroughly fail to create a very simple diagnostic test was, quite literally, unimaginable. “I’m not aware of any simulations that I or others have run where we [considered] a failure of testing,” says Alexandra Phelan of Georgetown University, who works on legal and policy issues related to infectious diseases.

The testing fiasco was the original sin of America’s pandemic failure, the single flaw that undermined every other countermeasure. If the country could have accurately tracked the spread of the virus, hospitals could have executed their pandemic plans, girding themselves by allocating treatment rooms, ordering extra supplies, tagging in personnel, or assigning specific facilities to deal with COVID-19 cases. None of that happened. Instead, a health-care system that already runs close to full capacity, and that was already challenged by a severe flu season, was suddenly faced with a virus that had been left to spread, untracked, through communities around the country. Overstretched hospitals became overwhelmed. Basic protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves, began to run out. Beds will soon follow, as will the ventilators that provide oxygen to patients whose lungs are besieged by the virus.

With little room to surge during a crisis, America’s health-care system operates on the assumption that unaffected states can help beleaguered ones in an emergency. That ethic works for localized disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires, but not for a pandemic that is now in all 50 states. Cooperation has given way to competition; some worried hospitals have bought out large quantities of supplies, in the way that panicked consumers have bought out toilet paper.

Partly, that’s because the White House is a ghost town of scientific expertise. A pandemic-preparedness office that was part of the National Security Council was dissolved in 2018. On January 28, Luciana Borio, who was part of that team, urged the government to “act now to prevent an American epidemic,” and specifically to work with the private sector to develop fast, easy diagnostic tests. But with the office shuttered, those warnings were published in The Wall Street Journal, rather than spoken into the president’s ear. Instead of springing into action, America sat idle.

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

I. The Next Months

Having fallen behind, it will be difficult—but not impossible—for the United States to catch up. To an extent, the near-term future is set because COVID-19 is a slow and long illness. People who were infected several days ago will only start showing symptoms now, even if they isolated themselves in the meantime. Some of those people will enter intensive-care units in early April. As of last weekend, the nation had 17,000 confirmed cases, but the actual number was probably somewhere between 60,000 and 245,000. Numbers are now starting to rise exponentially: As of Wednesday morning, the official case count was 54,000, and the actual case count is unknown. Health-care workers are already seeing worrying signs: dwindling equipment, growing numbers of patients, and doctors and nurses who are themselves becoming infected.

Italy and Spain offer grim warnings about the future. Hospitals are out of room, supplies, and staff. Unable to treat or save everyone, doctors have been forced into the unthinkable: rationing care to patients who are most likely to survive, while letting others die. The U.S. has fewer hospital beds per capita than Italy. A study released by a team at Imperial College London concluded that if the pandemic is left unchecked, those beds will all be full by late April. By the end of June, for every available critical-care bed, there will be roughly 15 COVID-19 patients in need of one.  By the end of the summer, the pandemic will have directly killed 2.2 million Americans, notwithstanding those who will indirectly die as hospitals are unable to care for the usual slew of heart attacks, strokes, and car accidents. This is the worst-case scenario. To avert it, four things need to happen—and quickly.

The first and most important is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 4:55 pm

Walmart Was Almost Charged Criminally Over Opioids. Trump Appointees Killed the Indictment.

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Jesse Eisinger and James Bandler report in ProPublica:

On a Tuesday just before Halloween in 2018, a group of federal prosecutors and agents from Texas arrived in Washington. For almost two years, they’d been investigating the opioid dispensing practices of Walmart, the largest company in the world. They had amassed what they viewed as highly damning evidence only to face a major obstacle: top Trump appointees at the Department of Justice.

The prosecution team had come to Washington to try to save its case. Joe Brown, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, led the group, which included Heather Rattan, an over-20-year veteran of the office who had spent much of her career prosecuting members of drug cartels.

They first went to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s headquarters to meet the acting administrator, Uttam Dhillon. There Rattan laid out the evidence. Opioids dispensed by Walmart pharmacies in Texas had killed customers who had overdosed. The pharmacists who dispensed those opioids had told the company they didn’t want to fill the prescriptions because they were coming from doctors who were running pill mills. They pleaded for help and guidance from Walmart’s corporate office.

Investigators had obtained records of similar cries for help from Walmart pharmacists all over the country: from Maine, North Carolina, Kansas and Washington, and other states. They reported hundreds of thousands of suspicious or inappropriate opioid prescriptions. One Walmart employee warned about a Florida doctor who had a “list of patients from Kentucky that have been visiting pharmacies in all of central Wisconsin recently.” That doctor had sent patients to Walmarts in more than 30 other states.

In response to these alarms, Walmart compliance officials did not take corporate-wide action to halt the flow of opioids. Instead, they repeatedly admonished pharmacists that they could not cut off any doctor entirely. They could only evaluate each prescription on an individual basis. And they went further. An opioid compliance manager told an executive in an email, gathered during the inquiry and viewed by ProPublica, that Walmart’s focus should be on “driving sales.”

After they finished their presentation, Dhillon sat back in his chair and exclaimed, “Jesus Christ,” according to five people familiar with the investigation. “Why aren’t we talking about this as a criminal case?”

That’s precisely what had occurred seven months earlier: Rattan had informed Walmart that she was preparing to indict the corporation for violating the Controlled Substances Act. Indictments of Fortune 500 companies are unheard of, let alone of one with $500 billion in annual revenue and over 2 million employees. But Rattan, with support from her boss Brown, believed the evidence justified such an unprecedented step.

Before the Texas prosecutors could file their case, however, Walmart escalated concerns to high-ranking officials at the DOJ, who then intervened. Brown was ordered to stand down. On Aug. 31, 2018, Trump officials officially informed Walmart that the DOJ would decline to prosecute the company, according to a letter from Walmart’s lawyer that lays out the chronology of the case.

But the Texas prosecutors hadn’t given up. Now, two months later, they still thought they had a chance to bring the then-deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and other top officials around. After the first presentation at the DEA offices that day, the Texas group — now accompanied by the DEA’s Dhillon — caravanned over to the DOJ.

They filed into a big, bright conference room, where they were received by Rosenstein and a collection of political appointees and career staff. Rattan and her team were given a half-hour to make their presentation. She explained that dispensing opioids without a legitimate medical purpose is legally akin to dealing heroin. Criminal law says if a person or entity is willfully blind or deliberately ignorant, they are as liable as if they had acted intentionally. Once Walmart’s headquarters knew its pharmacists were raising alarms about suspicious prescriptions, but the compliance department continued to allow — even push — them to fill them, well, that made the company guilty, the Texas prosecutors contended.

This was not a question of a few rogue employees, Rattan explained. Walmart had a national problem. Worse, the prosecutors contended, the company was a repeat offender. Walmart had agreed to a settlement with the DEA seven years earlier in which it had promised to improve its controls over the abuse of opioid prescriptions. Still the problems persisted. That’s why the prosecutors believed they needed to pursue the extraordinary path of a criminal prosecution. As they concluded, Brown was emphatic, telling Rosenstein: “We have to act.”

A fine would not be a sufficient deterrent, the DEA’s Dhillon added, since Walmart “has more money than it knows what to do with.”

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Rosenstein responded, according to five people familiar with the investigation. “We are all capitalists here.”

Rosenstein’s quip brought the prosecutorial team up short. They weren’t pursuing Walmart because it was profitable but because, in their view, the company had put its customers at deadly risk. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — and it’s disgusting.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 3:27 pm

Does Trump Care About the Coronavirus Killing Blue America?

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

This morning, President Trump wrote a pair of tweets belittling two of his antagonists, Mitt Romney and Michael Avenatti. The thread of “humor” running through both jokes was Trump’s mock-hope that neither would contract the coronavirus, teasing the notion that they might get sick and die, and prompting his followers to enjoy the morbid thought along with him, while maintaining plausible deniability. (“Romney’s in isolation? Gee, that’s too bad,” Trump sneered earlier this week.)

This level of indecency is hardly new for Trump. But that fact is itself revealing. Not only has the coronavirus failed to somehow elevate Trump to a higher plane of conduct, he is making clear that he regards it as nothing more than the latest extension of political conflict. Trump wants to win, and his enemies to lose. Succumbing to a deadly pandemic is just another form of losing.

Trump is the first American president to dispense even with the pretense of representing the entire nation on an equal basis. He openly shares his preference for the parts of the country that voted for him. (“I love rural America. All that red. Rural. I love rural America.”) And he routinely spits contempt for parts of the country that voted against him. Trump is the only president — perhaps the only world leader — who dismisses parts of his own country as disgusting hellholes.

When asked last summer about Vladimir Putin’s attack on “Western-style liberalism,” Trump misinterpreted the term to mean the West Coast, and launched a riff about how Putin had a point. (“He says what’s going on. I guess you look at what’s happening in Los Angeles, where it’s so sad to look, and what’s happening in San Francisco, and a couple other cities which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people, I don’t know what they’re thinking, but he does see things that are happening in the United States that would probably preclude him from saying how wonderful it is.”)

Trump describes California as a Democratic vote sink, which supposedly allowed several million illegal votes in 2016. (Why Democrats focused their illegal vote-harvesting operation there, rather than in states that had some prospect of helping flip the Electoral College, he has never explained.) The president “has attended meetings, asked detailed questions at briefings, and pressed aides to find ways to use policies to go after” California, three sources told the New York TimesThe fruits of this campaign have included targeting state pollution standards and citing an environmental violation against San Francisco for its homelessness problem.  

Trump has taken even more hostile action against New York. Last month, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 2:53 pm

The plague of Donald Trump

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I do view Donald Trump as a symptom, though he also is an active agent of destruction. Sarah Kendzior, co-host of the podcast Gaslit Nation and author of coming book Hiding in Plain Sight, writes in the Globe & Mail:

“Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die,” Donald Trump, then a real estate tycoon bound for bankruptcy, told Playboy magazine in 1990. “You know, it is all a rather sad situation.”

“Life?” the interviewer asked. “Or death?”

“Both. We’re here and we live our 60, 70 or 80 years and we’re gone. You win, you win and in the end, it doesn’t mean a hell of a lot. But it is something to do – to keep you interested.”

For his entire life, Mr. Trump has been a self-described fatalist. He has called himself a fatalist in interviews spanning nearly 30 years. This admission is a rare expression of consistent honesty for a man infamous for lying about everything – his fortune, his criminal ties, objective reality. It’s the outlook he hints at when he does things such as retweeting a meme of himself fiddling like Nero, while the novel coronavirus spreads across the United States.

Nothing seems to matter to Mr. Trump – not only in the sense that the things that matter to other people, like love and loss, do not matter to him. Nothingness itself matters: Destruction and annihilation are what he craves. “When bad times come, then I’ll get whatever I want,” he told Barbara Walters in an 1980s interview. His initial reaction to 9/11 was that the collapse of the World Trade Center made his own buildings look taller. His initial reaction to the 2008 economic collapse was joy at his potential to profit. Everything to Mr. Trump is transactional, and you – all of you – are the transaction.

In February, 2014, when asked about the direction of the United States, Mr. Trump rooted for its demise:

“You know what solves it?” Mr. Trump told Fox News. “When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [laughs], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.”

Everything Mr. Trump has done since taking office has served to fulfill this goal, from appointing Steve Bannon, who also called for the collapse of the government, as an adviser; to gutting departments that protect national security and public health; to his disdain for slain soldiers and their widows; to his horrific handling of natural disasters such as Hurricane Maria.

For months, Mr. Trump has done little to stop the coronavirus from spreading . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 2:49 pm

How the World’s Richest Country Ran Out of a 75-Cent Face Mask

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Farhad Majoo writes in the NY Times:

Why is the United States running out of face masks for medical workers? How does the world’s wealthiest country find itself in such a tragic and avoidable mess? And how long will it take to get enough protective gear, if that’s even possible now?

I’ve spent the last few days digging into these questions, because the shortages of protective gear, particularly face masks, has struck me as one of the more disturbing absurdities in America’s response to this pandemic.

Yes, it would have been nice to have had early, widespread testing for the coronavirus, the strategy South Korea used to contain its outbreak. It would be amazing if we can avoid running out of ventilators and hospital space, the catastrophe that has befallen parts of Italy. But neither matters much — in fact, no significant intervention is possible — if health care workers cannot even come into contact with coronavirus patients without getting sick themselves.

That’s where cheap, disposable face masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns come in. That we failed to procure enough safety gear for medical workers — not to mention for sick people and for the public, as some health experts might have recommended if masks were not in such low supply — seems astoundingly negligent.

I am sorry to say that digging into the mask shortage does little to assuage one’s sense of outrage. The answer to why we’re running out of protective gear involves a very American set of capitalist pathologies — the rise and inevitable lure of low-cost overseas manufacturing, and a strategic failure, at the national level and in the health care industry, to consider seriously the cascading vulnerabilities that flowed from the incentives to reduce costs.

Perhaps the only way to address the shortfall now is to recognize that the market is broken, and to have the government step in to immediately spur global and domestic production. President Trump, bizarrely, has so far resisted ordering companies to produce more supplies and equipment. In the case of masks, manufacturers say they are moving mountains to ramp up production, and some large companies are donating millions of masks from their own reserves.

But given the vast global need for masks — in the United States alone, fighting the coronavirus will consume 3.5 billion face masks, according to an estimate by the Department of Health and Human Services — corporate generosity will fall short. People in the mask business say it will take a few months, at a minimum, to significantly expand production.

“We are at full capacity today, and increased production by building another factory or extending further will take anywhere between three to four months,” said Guillaume Laverdure, the chief operating officer of Medicom, a Canadian company that makes masks and other protective equipment in factories around the world. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Later in the article:

. . . Few in the protective equipment industry are surprised by the shortages, because they’ve been predicted for years. In 2005, the George W. Bush administration called for the coordination of domestic production and stockpiling of protective gear in preparation for pandemic influenza. In 2006, Congress approved funds to add protective gear to a national strategic stockpile — among other things, the stockpile collected 52 million surgical face masks and 104 million N95 respirator masks.

But about 100 million masks in the stockpile were deployed in 2009 in the fight against the H1N1 flu pandemic, and the government never bothered to replace them. This month, Alex Azar, secretary of health and human services, testified that there are only about 40 million masks in the stockpile — around 1 percent of the projected national need.

As the coronavirus began to spread in China early this year, a global shortage of protective equipment began to look inevitable. But by then it was too late for the American government to do much about the problem. Two decades ago, most hospital protective gear was made domestically. But like much of the rest of the apparel and consumer products business, face mask manufacturing has since shifted nearly entirely overseas. “China is a producer of 80 percent of masks worldwide,” Laverdure said.

Hospitals began to run out of masks for the same reason that supermarkets ran out of toilet paper — because their “just-in-time” supply chains, which call for holding as little inventory as possible to meet demand, are built to optimize efficiency, not resiliency.

“You’re talking about a commodity item,” said Michael J. Alkire, president of Premier, a company that purchases medical supplies for hospitals and health systems. In the supply chain, he said, “by definition, there’s not going to be a lot of redundancy, because everyone wants the low cost.”

In January, the brittle supply chain began to crack under pressure. To deal with its own outbreak, China began to restrict exports of protective equipment. Then other countries did as well — Taiwan, Germany, France and India took steps to stop exports of medical equipment. That left American hospitals to seek more and more masks from fewer and fewer producers. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 2:14 pm

Late start, but good shave

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I slept late — restorative sleep is just what I needed — and then after shaving decided to upgrade to Catalina. That took a while, and some things required tweaking (and some just no longer work — goodby, Microsoft Office 2011).

A very fine shave. I haven’t yet unpacked/found my Organism 46-B shaving soap, but I wanted the fragrance, so used that aftershave with a different Phoenix Artisan soap I have whose fragrance is, shall we say, muted insofar as my nose is concerned. But the lather is excellent, helped along by this Rooney Style 3 Size 1.

Three very comfortable passes with my iKon open-comb in stainless, and than at last a splash of the aftershave, whose fragrance is to me quite appealing.

Much cooking of vegetables is now underway.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 1:29 pm

Posted in Shaving

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