Quick hits

Ummmm, so, if you are not interested in Covid-19 and the political responses, this post just may not be for you.

1) Pretty much every “how we get back to some semblance of normal” relies on very extensive testing.  Alas, this Op-Ed by a respected infectious disease expert throws sand in the gears by saying we’re simply not going to have the amount of necessary reagents to pull that off.  Yet none of the other stuff I read seems to acknowledge this problem.  Don’t know what to think.

2) So, this article on Covid and food safety, by a chef, is honestly pretty much the best thing I’ve read on the disease, period.  Covers food safety wonderfully, but so much more.

3) Wired, “It’s Time to Face Facts, America: Masks Work”

4) And this is one of the best articles I’ve read on disease transmission because it looks at studies of how diseases survive out there in the real world, not the lab.

5) Really loved this from Francis Fukuyama on how democracies versus autocracies and trust in the system and response to pandemic.

In the end, I don’t believe that we will be able to reach broad conclusions about whether dictatorships or democracies are better able to survive a pandemic. Democracies such as South Korea and Germany have been relatively successful so far in dealing with the crisis, even if the U.S. is doing less well. What matters in the end is not regime type, but whether citizens trust their leaders, and whether those leaders preside over a competent and effective state. And on this score, America’s deepening tribalism leaves few reasons for optimism.

6) Enough with his “narrow path.”  Bernie still campaigning is not what America needs right now.  Time to face reality, end his campaign, and focus all his energy on helping the fight to get Trump out of office.

7) Meanwhile, the EU and NATO both absolutely, positively need to kick Hungary out.  And, of course, it is absolutely shameful, not surprisingly, that there’s been no condemnation from the Trump administration (surely, Trump is jealous of Orban).

8) I’ve made a few really good investments this year.  A new router, a mesh network extender for said router, and a soundbar for my TV.  And damn I should have done that sooner.

9) Great Wired article on the tremendous progress of Solar power.  We can do this!

GOOD NEWS HAS been rare this past decade, so here’s some: Since 2010, the cost of generating solar electric power has dropped by 80 percent, and gigantic photovoltaic plants, some spanning thousands of acres, are transforming the economics of green energy. “Even from five years ago, it’s a really different story than today,” says Gregory Nemet, an academic who last year published a book called How Solar Energy Became Cheap. “This isn’t just cheap. It’s dirt cheap. In sunny places, it’s the cheapest way humans have ever invented to make electricity.”

If this cost collapse had occurred in a single year, it might have been hailed as the breakthrough of the century. But it happened gradually, and incremental improvements in crystalline silicon manufacturing don’t generate buzz. At the beginning of the 2010s, solar was a science project, accounting for less than 1 percent of the world’s installed power capacity. Now that number is 9 percent and growing fast. More than $1 trillion has been invested in new solar installations in that time. Solar power routinely wins competitive power auctions, with bids as low as 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. At that price, a solar plant isn’t just cheaper than a coal plant; it’s cheaper than coal itself. “We’re reaching a phase where it’s cheaper to build a new solar power plant than it is to operate an existing coal one,” says energy investor Ramez Naam.

10) Interactive charts so you can see how your country or state (pretty good, NC) are doing on their Covid curves.

11) I don’t know about only in America under Trump, but, damn if this isn’t just sadly, sadly typical, “Taxpayers Paid Millions to Design a Low-Cost Ventilator for a Pandemic. Instead, the Company Is Selling Versions of It Overseas.”

12) This Ed Yong piece about just how much scientific uncertainty there is on many aspects of Covid transmission is a must-must-read, “Everyone Thinks They’re Right About Masks: How the coronavirus travels through the air has become one of the most divisive debates in this pandemic.”

13) Meanwhile, largely due to the evidence for asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission, I’m very inclined to agree with this Op-Ed, “Wearing Masks Must Be a National Policy.”  Also, we need a rapid cultural shift to make that happen.  Scientists at Trump news conferences wearing masks.  PSA’s on proper mask use.  This cannot happen without the proper signals. .

14) Since they are all out, Vox on how to make your own.  And I loved this analysis on which materials make the best homemade masks not just for stopping germs, but for actually letting you breathe while you’re at it.  And Stanford’s mask material analysis if you are into this (obviously, I am).

15) Jamelle Bouie, “The Coronavirus Test Is Too Hard for Trump: The president joins Herbert Hoover and James Buchanan as a leader who failed when it mattered most.”

The list of presidential failures is long and varied. But when it comes to failure in the face of an external force — a natural disaster or an economic meltdown — it is difficult to find anything as catastrophic as President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, even at this early stage of the crisis.

There are moments that come close. There was President James Buchanan’s indifference to the secession crisis of 1860. Other than to give a speech — clarifying his view that secession was an extra-constitutional action — the outgoing president did little but watch as most of the South left the Union in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election.

There was President Herbert Hoover’s response to the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression. He urged calm — “The fundamental business of the country, that is production and distribution of commodities is on a sound and prosperous basis” — encouraged volunteer action and pressured employers to keep wages up. But he wasn’t intellectually or politically equipped to go further — “We cannot legislate ourselves out of a world economic depression, we can and will work ourselves out” — and the country suffered as a result.

I would also include President George W. Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina and his handling of the subsequent crisis in New Orleans. His management of the situation — from his initial lack of interest to the abject failure of his disaster response team — produced devastation for thousands of people and marked the effective end of his presidency.

Trump hasn’t just failed to anticipate the way Buchanan did or failed to respond like Hoover or failed to prepare like Bush — he’s done all three. He inherited everything he needed to respond to a pandemic: explicit guidance from the previous administration and a team of experienced experts and intelligence agencies attuned to the threat posed by the quick spread of deadly disease. He even had some sensible advisers who, far from ignoring or making light of the virus, urged him to take it seriously.

The federal government may not have been able to stop coronavirus from reaching the United States — that was impossible to avoid in a globalized, highly-mobile world — but it was well equipped to deal with the problem once it reached our shores.

But as the world knows, Trump ignored, downplayed and dismissed the problem until it became one of the worst crises in our nation’s history.[emphasis mine]

16) Navy Seal convicted of war crimes?  Trump pardons.  Navy captain speaks up to get urgently needed medical care for his crew?  Relieved of command.  Just another day in Trump’s America.

On Monday, Capt. Brett Crozier, the commander of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, sent a letter to the Navy pleading for permission to unload his crew, including scores of sailors sickened with Covid-19, in Guam, where it was docked. The Pentagon had been dragging its feet, and the situation on the ship was growing dire.

“We are not at war,” he wrote. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”

After the letter was leaked to The San Francisco Chronicle, the Navy relented. But on Thursday, it relieved Captain Crozier of his command.

Captain Crozier joins a growing list of heroic men and women who have risked their careers over the last few weeks to speak out about life-threatening failures to treat the victims of this terrible pandemic. Many of them are doctors and nurses, and many of them, like Captain Crozier, have been punished. All of them deserve our deepest gratitude.

17) CAP with a Covid plan.  This sounds sensible and doable:

Using the Susceptible, Exposed, Infected and Resistant model developed by the University of Toronto, it is possible to project the impact of physical distancing on transmission. If restrictions are lifted on April 30, as proposed by President Trump, the model projects that 41.1 million Americans would become infected by late October, with 4.9 million infected at the peak in mid-July. An estimated 334,500 people would die. It is important to note that this projection assumes aggressive physical distancing—closure of businesses and transportation—which has not been implemented throughout the United States to date.

In order to break transmission through October—new cases would still occur, but at a flat rate—aggressive physical distancing would need to be in place for 45 days starting April 5, according to the model. In this scenario, the model projects that 15.7 million Americans would become infected by late October, with 5.2 million infected at the peak in mid-April. An estimated 139,600 people would die. After the peak in April, the number of new cases would decline and stabilize this summer. In October, transmission would begin to slowly grow again, absent other measures. According to the model, aggressive physical distancing for 60 days would almost completely suppress transmission through November.

18) Putting Jared Kushner in charge of Covid response is just an amazing case of adding insult to injury in Trump’s gross mishandling of everything Covid.  Instead of pouring salt in wounds, it’s like chopping off your leg and throwing it in a salt flat.  Michelle Goldberg:

According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. “I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo’s estimate.)

Even now, it’s hard to believe that someone with as little expertise as Kushner could be so arrogant, but he said something similar on Thursday, when he made his debut at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing: “People who have requests for different products and supplies, a lot of them are doing it based on projections which are not the realistic projections.”

Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.

And Paul Waldman, “Trump’s ignorant son-in-law is running the coronavirus response. That’s unacceptable.”

So many awful things have happened over the past three years that we’ve become almost numb to them. But this a moment when our voices should be rising in anger. As if it weren’t bad enough that the president is messing this up so badly himself, he has outsourced management of one of the most deadly challenges the United States has ever faced to his ignorant son-in-law.

Perhaps there is an individual somewhere who is so brilliant, so deeply informed, so experienced, so persuasive, and possessed of such remarkable judgment that he or she would have been capable of solving all those problems Kushner has been assigned. Perhaps there is someone who with zero knowledge of public health or pandemics or government logistics could swoop in and successfully manage this kind of crisis.

It’s at least possible that such a person exists. But Kushner is not that person.

In fact, just like his father-in-law, Kushner is a walking case study in the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which people of low ability drastically overestimate their own abilities, in large part because they are incapable of understanding what they don’t know.

Join that with a lifetime of unearned wealth and privilege (Kushner, a mediocre high school student, was accepted to Harvard after his father pledged to the university a well-timed $2.5 million donation), and you wind up with someone who is supremely and unjustifiably confident, moving through a world in which nobody ever tells them how badly they’ve messed up or how incompetent they are.

19) Nancy LeTourneau asks, “Is It Possible to Overstate Trump’s Depravity?”  Obviously, you know the answer to that.

It is infuriating to watch political reporters get sucked into the nonsense delivered by this president over and over again. But David Roberts recently described why that happens.

Ask someone who’s been in an abusive relationship with a malignant narcissist. One reason they’re able to maintain appearances/jobs/etc. is that they are relatively rare & unusual & the normal people around them simply can’t absorb that they are what they are…They try again and again, thinking there must be normal human intentions & emotions in there somewhere. It’s just remarkable how far someone w/out shame or conscience can get by exploiting this cognitive/emotional blindspot.

When Roberts writes about how we keep trying to see normal human intentions and emotions in someone who has never exhibited them before, it is because projection isn’t merely a matter of assuming that others are capable of our worst instincts. In general, we tend to project all of our responses onto others in an attempt to understand their actions. Since most of us aren’t malignant narcissists, it is difficult for us to grasp the levels of depravity exhibited by those who are. Normalizing Trump’s behavior is simply another form of projection.

Over the last three years I have consistently questioned whether I have gone overboard in assuming the worst about Donald Trump. But while it is never a good idea to lock oneself into any line of thinking, I doubt that it is possible to overstate this president’s depravity.

20) New Yorker’s Susan Glasser with a great take:

When you are done being angry about all the crazy, nasty, inconsistent, and untrue things that Donald Trump says each day about the coronavirus and other matters, remember that the flood of words is cover for an Administration that in some ways barely exists relative to its predecessors, especially when it comes to crucial areas of domestic, economic, and international security—or even straightforward crisis management. Turnover at the upper levels of Trump’s White House stands at eighty-three per cent, according to a Brookings Institution tracker. In his Cabinet, Trump has had far more turnover than Presidents Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and both George Bushes. The capacity of the federal government to respond to this catastrophe—even if Trump had been so inclined—has never been weaker. The virus was not of Trump’s making, but his government’s incoherent, disorganized response to it was utterly predictable.

On March 6th, Trump fired his acting White House chief of staff. Amid the extraordinary headlines of the world’s largest economy shutting down and the mass closure of U.S. schools and businesses, little attention was paid to the ouster of Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s appointment of a combative North Carolina congressman, the Republican Mark Meadows, as his successor. Even more remarkably, it was only this week, nearly a month later, that Meadows officially resigned from Congress and started in the White House, which he was required to do in order to avoid the constitutional prohibition on serving simultaneously in the executive and legislative branches. Trump, facing the gravest test a President can face, was literally without anyone to run his perpetually dysfunctional and faction-ridden White House.

Meadows is just the sort of political opportunist and cable-TV talking head to have been pulled into the President’s gravitational orbit—a former small-time real-estate developer in North Carolina’s Highlands with none of the executive experience or leadership credentials needed in this sort of crisis…

This is the case across the government. Amid the pandemic upending the world, Trump has no Senate-confirmed director of National Intelligence, having pushed aside both the director and the subsequent acting director for perceived disloyalty. After the captain of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, sent a memo pleading for relief for the hundreds of sailors facing a spreading covid-19 outbreak on his ship, he was relieved of his command by the acting secretary of the Navy. The previous Navy secretary had been pushed out by Trump in November, after he objected when the President intervened in a war-crimes case involving a Navy seal and two other service members. Elsewhere at the Pentagon, the undersecretary in charge of policy planning for the military was recently fired, with no replacement in sight—a key vacancy at a moment when the global health crisis seems to suggest an urgent rethinking of America’s entire national-security strategy.

As far as the White House staff, much has already been made of Trump’s downgrading of the pandemic-response team at the National Security Council. But even where positions are filled, as in many of the top government jobs related to health, the problem is not so much endemic vacancy but “feebleness, cluelessness, disempowerment,” as Stephen Morrison, the head of global health programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, put it to me.

If you had literally created a plan to hollow out government so that it would fail us in a crisis, you could hardly have done much better than Trump.  And thousands and thousands and thousands of Americans will die and suffer in many, many other ways because Americans elected this grossly incompetent, malignant narcissist.  And because the Republican party failed to stand up to him and remove him for the obvious good of the country when they had the chance.  

Okay, on that happy note…

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

6 Responses to Quick hits

  1. Jason says:

    Thanks for keeping the blog going while under lockdown! You’re a national treasure. Living in Louisiana can be one challenge after another, but I am thankful that we managed to re-elect a competent, Democratic governor or the situation here would be even worse.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Well, thanks. Positive feedback is my blogging fuel source. And, yes, thank God for Democratic governors (and the occasional Republican governor who believes in science).

  2. Mika says:

    Almost nobody in Finland uses any kind of mask. The authorities haven’t promoted it. Their line has been that you should use a mask if
    1) you feel sick
    2) you take care of covid-19 infected persons.

    Social distancing and other stuff have worked so well that our “CDC”, THL (https://thl.fi/en/web/thlfi-en ), has started to talk about easing some of the measures. We’ve done great.

    • Steve Greene says:

      Effective testing and contact tracing, I presume. And, you know… overall competent governance.

      • Mika says:

        I don’t know about testing and tracing. There’s been lots of talk by laymen that we aren’t doing enough of those. The health authorities then again… I’ve no idea what they are saying 🙂 They used to say that we do enough tests but there isn’t capacity to do more tests and anyway the tests aren’t very necessary if y’all just stay at home and wash hands 🙂

        Well our Prime Minister is my neighbor so she’d better be competent or else! 🙂 Ok, she and her family has moved to Helsinki so. One thing that might have helped us is that our biggest opposition parties haven’t been against government’s actions. In fact they have advocated for more strict measures, they haven’t played down the threat caused by covid-19. So there’s no political incentive to not take this thing seriously.

  3. Mika says:

    #bragforFinland https://t.co/K8QrJD1Zrb?amp=1 See the cracks in the base of the statue? Russian bombs, spring (?) 1944.

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