The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

He just can't help it

Today's Covid-19 news roundup highlights how no one in the White House should go anywhere near this crisis response effort:

All of this, and we still have an hour to go before lunch.

There was one bit of good news, though. The National Transportation Safety Board released a report this week that said air-transport fatalities dropped by 75% between the 1983-2000 period and 2001-2017. One expects that Covid-19 will reduce those numbers even further.

The Endorsement

It's official:

I mean, we all knew this was coming, especially after Bernie Sanders endorsed Biden yesterday. Because, I mean, he had to. Lookit:

And finally, despite my grocery bill, I'm going to take a look at these upside-down drink recipes to preserve my liver through the crisis.

The guy who stood up to Trump

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease director Dr Anthony Fauci, while never rude nor inappropriate, nevertheless persists in not letting the president get away with bullshit about Covid-19. James Fallows has some thoughts about why:

Anthony fauci is different from any other prominent official Donald Trump has dealt with in his time as president. The difference is that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is not afraid. To put it in terms Trump might recognize: What the hell does he have to lose?

This reality does not make it possible to predict what Trump will do with Fauci—fire him, ignore him, give him buddylike Hey, we see things differently respect, or something else. Nothing about Trump is predictable, except his reduction of all discourse to the two themes of his own greatness and the unfairness of his critics.

Anyone behaves differently in the presence of any president. People who say that is not true have not had the experience themselves. But Anthony Fauci has dealt with a lot of presidents before Trump.

Fauci is a sophisticated bureaucratic officer, and he knows how to “tell them exactly what’s the truth” as tactfully as he can. In his repeated press-briefing “corrections” of Trump’s fantasies and misstatements, Fauci has made it sound as if he is saying, “Yes, and …” rather than “No, that’s nuts.” His occasional face-palm moments while Trump is riffing are little glimpses of indiscipline while not at the microphone. Onstage he is honest and polite.

Fauci is offering an unusually clear lesson to all others who have submitted to Trump: This is how it looks when you’re not afraid.

Exactly. Intelligence, integrity, and nothing to lose, plus a healthy understanding of how the president has destroyed the reputations (or worse) of everyone who has worked for him, have given Dr Fauci the cojones to let all of Trump's crazy roll off him. I wish more Republicans had those.

What could possibly go wrong?

We all know President Trump's pathologies pretty well by now. Between the malignant narcissism and his natural distrust for anyone who knows more than he does on a particular subject, plus his well-documented habit of believing things he wants to believe instead of the black-and-white reality right in front of him, it doesn't take an Oliver Sacks to guess how he has reacted to everyone telling him he can't simply restart the economy on May 1st. And, sadly, he does not disappoint:

Over the weekend, the president said he would weigh multiple factors to arrive at the "toughest" decision of his administration to date. Trump signaled that he has consulted his top health professionals, business leaders and others whom he described as "smart people" in recent days. The ultimate call "will be based on a lot of facts and instincts," he said. In a Fox News phone interview Saturday, Trump said he would come to a conclusion "fairly soon."

But Trump seemed to telegraph his eagerness to restart much of the U.S. in a tweet Sunday evening, urging governors to perfect their testing abilities and to "be ready, big things are happening. No excuses!"

Trump has said he would like to reopen the country with a "big bang."

The motivation to restart the economy — even piecemeal — sooner rather than later may be based on a political calculation by the president that he needs to demonstrate that things are "on the upswing."

Naturally, Dr Anthony Fauci, who as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become the de facto spokesperson for the government on the realities of the pandemic, has drawn the president's ire, given the inevitability he would have to contradict the most prolific liar in US history. Greg Sargent:

As part of this latest exercise in blame-shifting, Trump has taken his first public shot at Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and his own administration’s leading medical expert. Trump angrily retweeted a call for Fauci’s firing, while again hailing his own early restrictions on travel from China and furiously bashing the media for failing to recognize that decision’s foresight and brilliance.

As for reopening the economy, presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden published his plan yesterday:

First, we have to get the number of new cases of the disease down significantly. That means social distancing has to continue and the people on the front lines have to get the supplies and equipment they need. President Trump needs to use his full powers under the Defense Production Act to fight the disease with every tool at our disposal. He needs to get the federal response organized and stop making excuses. For more Americans to go back to their jobs, the president needs to do better at his job.

Second, there needs to be widespread, easily available and prompt testing — and a contact tracing strategy that protects privacy. A recent report from Mr. Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services made clear that we are far from achieving this goal.

Third, we have to make sure that our hospitals and health care system are ready for flare-ups of the disease that may occur when economic activity expands again. Reopening the right way will still not be completely safe. Public health officials will need to conduct effective disease surveillance. Hospitals need to have the staff and equipment necessary to handle any local outbreaks, and we need an improved federal system to get help to these places as needed.

Imagine if the incumbent president had a plan—any plan—other than "May 1st." Because if we simply go back to pre-pandemic norms then, it will indeed be a May Day situation.

How does this end?

Writing for Vox, Ezra Klein looks at three major plans for re-starting the economy, and how difficult they would actually be to implement:

There’s one from the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, the left-leaning Center for American Progress, Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics, and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer.

In different ways, all these plans say the same thing: Even if you can imagine the herculean political, social, and economic changes necessary to manage our way through this crisis effectively, there is no normal for the foreseeable future. Until there’s a vaccine, the US either needs economically ruinous levels of social distancing, a digital surveillance state of shocking size and scope, or a mass testing apparatus of even more shocking size and intrusiveness.

All of them then imagine a phase two, which relaxes — but does not end — social distancing while implementing testing and surveillance on a mass scale. This is where you must begin imagining the almost unimaginable.

The CAP and Harvard plans both foresee a digital pandemic surveillance state in which virtually every American downloads an app to their phone that geotracks their movements, so if they come into contact with anyone who later is found to have Covid-19, they can be alerted and a period of social quarantine can begin.

The AEI proposal is the closest thing to a middle path between these plans. It’s more testing, but nothing approaching Romer’s hopes. It’s more contact tracing, but it doesn’t envision an IT-driven panopticon. But precisely for that reason, what it’s really describing is a yo-yo between extreme lockdown and lighter forms of social distancing, continuing until a vaccine is reached.

This, too, requires some imagination. Will governors who’ve finally, at great effort, reopened parts of their economies really keep throwing them back into lockdown every time ICUs begin to fill? Will Trump have the stomach to push the country back into quarantine after he’s lifted social distancing guidelines? What if unemployment is 17 percent, and his approval rating is at 38 percent?

For the time being, we'll stay in our homes and away from other people as much as we can. But wow, even for me, an introvert with a dedicated home office, it's very trying.

And how long will it go on? A while. National Geographic says a vaccine may take a lot longer than a year.

17 million unemployment claims in 3 weeks

Unemployment claims jumped another 6.6 million in the US last week bringing the total reported unemployed to 16.8 million, the largest number of unemployment claims since the 1930s. Illinois saw 200,000 new claims, an all-time record, affecting 1 in 12 Illinois workers. And that's just one headline today:

After all of that, why don't you watch this adorable video of skunks chattering away as they investigate a cyclist?

Day 21 of working from home

As we go into the fourth week of mandatory working from home, Chicago may have its warmest weather since October 1st, and I'm on course to finish a two-week sprint at work with a really boring deployment. So what's new and maddening in the world?

And finally, two big gyros manufacturers, Kronos and Grecian Delight, are merging. Kind of like all the lamb and stuff that merges to form gyros.

Enjoy the weather, Chicago. The cold returns Thursday.

Loyalty above all else

The President continues to fire anyone suspected of disloyalty despite the ongoing national emergency:

The president’s under-cover-of-darkness decision late the night before to fire Michael K. Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general who insisted last year on forwarding a whistle-blower complaint to Congress, swept away one more official deemed insufficiently loyal as part of a larger purge that has already rid the administration of many key figures in the impeachment drama.

Mr. Trump made no effort at a news briefing on Saturday to pretend that the dismissal was anything other than retribution for Mr. Atkinson’s action under a law requiring such complaints be disclosed to lawmakers. “I thought he did a terrible job, absolutely terrible,” Mr. Trump said. “He took a fake report and he brought it to Congress.” Capping a long, angry denunciation of the impeachment, he added, “The man is a disgrace to I.G.s. He’s a total disgrace.”

At his briefing on Saturday, Mr. Trump likewise endorsed the firing of Capt. Brett E. Crozier of the Navy, who was removed from command of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt after sending his superiors a letter pleading for help for his virus-stricken crew. “He shouldn’t be talking that way in a letter,” the president said. “I thought it was terrible what he did.”

Note that acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly got his job after former Navy Secretary Richard Spencer got the sack after resisting Trump's interference in the Gallagher case. For more, even though it will make you so angry you might cry, I recommend George Packer's description of how Trump has almost destroyed the civic institutions our country depends on.

Meanwhile, Charlie Warzel makes the case that "what we pretend to know about the coronavirus could kill us."

It's a wonderful time to be alive.

Self-absorption

I suppose, given how long I've lived in the United States, the inability of my fellow Americans to understand anything not happening directly to them should no longer surprise me. And yet it does.

Even as Illinois passes 10,000 known cases of Covid-19 (1,453 new ones just yesterday), with 300,000 cases nationwide, the president cares only about his TV ratings. People in rural areas are dying too, but not yet in the same proportions of population we're seeing in cities.

I had a conversation yesterday with someone who echoed what right-wing propaganda has said for a while. He thinks that we're over-reacting. Essentially, he thinks the damage to the economy from our "medically-induced coma" outweighs the few thousand deaths likely from the coronavirus. To these folks, because no one they know has gotten sick or died, it can't be that bad. Or it's no worse than (pick one) the 34,200 influenza deaths we had in 2019, or the 38,800 deaths from car accidents. Of course, those 72,000 deaths happened a few here and a few there, not all at once, and not all in the same place.

People seem not to understand is how contagion and incubation works. With a 5-to-9 day period between infection and symptoms, a single person could infect dozens of others before coughing even once. Or at all, since we know that this virus sometimes doesn't cause any symptoms at all. We can also demonstrate to some degree how many deaths we have prevented by stopping the economy for a couple of weeks. Had we done nothing, we may have had 2 million deaths. As it looks now, we might get out of this with only 200,000 deaths. And that's only from Covid-19; other diseases are still killing people. Hospitals in some places have maxed out, so many people can't get the medical attention they need.

But yes, in Chicago, with everyone working from home, with the curve flattening (despite the 1,453 new cases yesterday), it looks like the cure is worse than the disease. Just like amputating a gangrenous foot might seem worse than dying of septicemia. ("But I never had septicemia! It was just a gangrenous foot, so why did you cut it off? Now I have no foot!")

Meanwhile, even though the CDC have recommended everyone wear masks outside for a few weeks, President Trump—whose malignant narcissism makes him incapable of understanding anything beyond his own interests—said he won't wear one. Good. Let that go to its logical conclusion.

Today in your ongoing horror story

Oh, where to begin? I'll start with the article of most use to actual people:

Finally, satarist Andy Borowitz this morning jokes that "Fauci urges non-essential worker to go home." Three guesses who that worker is.