Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19’

They say Covid-19 is here to stay

June 11, 2021

The economic incentive of the drug companies is to reduce Covid-19 to a continuing low level threat, both in the USA and abroad, and to have a monopoly on the means of controlling it.

The model is the Great Influenza of 1918.  The ‘flu never went away, it just became something we learned to live with, and people like me get a ‘flu shot every year.

The drug companies seem to be getting their wish.  But their problem is that they do not have a monopoly on Covid-19 treatments.

There is ivermectin. There are other treatments.  There are the vaccines developed by Russia and China.

The U.S. government claims the Russian and Chinese vaccines are ineffective.  Maybe they are, I can’t judge, but an imperfect cure that is available and affordable is better than a perfect cure that you can’t get or can’t afford.

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The pushback against ivermectin for covid

June 9, 2021

Ivermectin is a well-known anti-parasite drug, cheap to make and proven to be safe, that a lot of physicians think is effective against Covid-19.

Several states in India tried it out.  New Covid-19 cases dropped dramatically.

Ivermectin results in three Indian states, vs. one where it was banned

The reaction of India’s public health agency?  Astonishingly, following the guidance of the World Health Organization, they dropped invermectin from a list of recommended treatments.

Physicians in India are still free to prescribe invermectin, but the only treatments with the official seal of approval are the expensive vaccines made by major drug companies, all still in short supply in India. 

I don’t see how this decision benefits anyone except the drug companies themselves.

Nick Corbishley, posting on the Naked Capitalism blog, tells the story:

India’s Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has executed a policy reversal that could have massive implications for the battle against covid-19, not only in India but around the world. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives, are at providing stake.

Providing no explanation whatsoever, the DGHS has overhauled its COVID-19 treatment guidelines and removed almost all of the repurposed medicines it had previously recommended for treating asymptomatic and mild cases.

They include the antibiotic doxycycline, hydroxychloroquine zinc, ivermectin and even multivitamins. The only medicines that are still recommended for early treatment are cold medicines, antipyretics such as paracetamol and inhaled budesonide.

“No other covid-specific medication [is] required,” say the new guidelines, which also discourage practitioners from prescribing unnecessary tests such as CT scans.  [snip]

The decision to remove ivermectin, multivitamins and zinc from the treatment guidelines is hard to comprehend given the current state of play in India — unless one assumes foul play.

After suffering one of the worst covid-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, India is not just flattening the curve, it is crushing it.

And the widespread use of ivermectin, a potent anti-viral and anti-inflammatory with an excellent safety profile, appears to have played an instrumental role.  [snip]

Other countries in the region have already taken notice. Indonesia just approved the use of ivermectin in Kudus, a local contagion hotspot.

This is the last thing the World Health Organization (WHO) and the pharmaceutical companies whose interests it broadly represents want.

As such, it was no surprise that WHO was delighted with the DGHS’ policy reversal. “Evidence based guidelines from @mohfw DGHS – simple, rational and clear guidance for physicians,” tweeted WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, of Indian descent. “Should be translated and disseminated in all Indian languages.”  [snip]

It’s worth noting that while India’s DGHS has dumped most cheap off-patent treatment options against Covid, including even multivitamins, more expensive patented medicines continue to get the green light.

They include Gilead’s prohibitively expensive antiviral Remdesivir, which DGHS continues to recommend for “select moderate/ severe hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” even though “it is only an experimental drug with potential to harm.” It has also authoriszed the use of the anti-inflammatory medicine tocilizumab, which costs hundreds of dollars a dose.

Source: Naked Capitalism.

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COVID and “the crime of the century”

June 4, 2021

In this eye-opening video, Dr. Brett Weinstein, a biologist, interviews Dr. Pierre Kory, a physician, about the pandemic, the care of Covid-19 patients and the amazing recent of Ivermectin, for his Dark Horse podcast.

Ivermectin has been shown to be effective in both preventing and treating Covid-19, and also in treating the inflammation caused by the immune system’s response to the virus. 

It is cheap to make, and not restricted by anybody’s patent.  It has been in use for more than 30 years as a treatment for bacterial parasites, and is proven safe—unlike the new vaccines, whose long-term effects are unknown. 

Yet its use is being suppressed here in the United States.  Physicians are discouraged from even talking about it, and the record of Kory’s testimony before Congress was banned from YouTube. 

There is a race on to immunize the world’s population before the coronavirus mutates into a form that can resist both vaccines and Ivermectin.

There aren’t enough available vaccines to immunize the world’s population within the next year or two.  Preventing the use of Ivermectin could cost hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe millions.  Many lives have already been needlessly lost.

That’s why Weinstein calls suppression of ivermectin “the crime of the century.”

Kory is a member of the FLCCC—the Front-Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance.  This is a group of physicians who joined together to do what the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health should have been doing, which was to investigate ways to better treat the virus.

The video runs for two and a half hours, which is a long time to watch something on a computer screen.  Unfortunately, no transcript is available, so I’ll hit highlights.

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Ivermectin, an ignored Covid miracle drug

May 24, 2021

Invermectin is an anti-viral, anti-inflammatory drug that is cheap, effective against COVID-19 and already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

It has been approved for use in 20 countries, including India, Brazil and Mexico.

Yet the World Health Organization and U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not recommend it.  Many American physicians refuse to prescribe it, including some cases in which patients are dying.

News about it has been suppressed.  Even announcements by health ministries of Brazil and Slovakia have been canceled by social media, as has a YouTube video of testimony of Dr. Pierre Kory, a leading Ivermectin expert, before a congressional committee.

I learned about Ivermectin’s through a link on the Naked Capitalism web log to an article by a journalist named Michael Capuzzo.

I’m not a physician or medical expert, but the evidence presented by Capuzzo in his article, by Dr. Kory in his testimony, and by a team of physicians in a peer-reviewed article is so strong I can’t see how it can be refuted.

Why the opposition to use of this drug?   Nick Corbishley, writing for Naked Capitalism, suggested three possible reasons.

# As a generic, ivermectin is cheap and widely available, which means there would be a lot less money to be made by Big Pharma if it became the go-to medicine against covid.

# Other pharmaceutical companies are developing their own novel treatments for Covid-19 which would have to compete directly with ivermectin. They include ivermectin’s original manufacturer, Merck, which has an antiviral compound, molnupiravir, in Phase 3 clinical trials for COVID-19.  That might explain the company’s recent statement claiming that there is “no scientific basis whatsoever for a potential therapeutic effect of ivermectin against COVID-19.”  The company also flagged up “a concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies.”  Despite its obvious conflict of interest, Merck’s objections were recently cited by WHO in a statement aimed at browbeating India’s government into withdrawing its approval of ivermectin.

# If approved as a covid-19 treatment, ivermectin could even threaten the emergency use authorization granted to covid-19 vaccines. One of the basic conditions for the emergency use authorization granted to the vaccines currently being used against covid is that there are no alternative treatments available for the disease. As such, if ivermectin or some other promising medicine such as fluvoxamine were approved as an effective early treatment for Covid-19, the vaccines could be stripped of authorization.

Source: naked capitalism

I can think of an additional reason: the tribal nature of politics these days.  President Donald Trump criticized the WHO and CDC and speculated about unconventional therapies for COVID-19.  So anybody who is skeptical about WHO and CDC recommendations supposedly is an ignoramus who doesn’t “believe the science.”

LINKS

‘I Don’t Know of a Bigger Story in the World’ Right Now Than Ivermectin by Nick Corbishley for Naked Capitalism.

The Drug That Cracked Covid by Michael Capuzzo for Mountain Home.  It’s a real commentary on things that this article was published in a obscure regional magazine rather than the New York Times or The Atlantic.

Testimony of Pierre Kory, M.D., on Dec. 8, 2020, before the Homeland Security Committee on early treatment of COVID-19.

Review of the Emerging Evidence Demonstrating the Efficacy of Ivermectin in the Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19 by Drs. Paul Marik, Pierre Kory, Joseph Varon, Gianfranco Umberto Meduri, Jose Iglesias and five others for the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance.  These guys are heroes.

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COVID-19 links and comments: May 8, 2021

May 8, 2021

Click to enlarge. Source: ScienceDirect

Why DId It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid? by Zeynep Tufekci for The New York Times.  The importance of airborne transmission of the virus, rather than droplets, has been known for many months, but the WHO and CDC have been slow to admit it.

If the importance of aerosol transmission had been accepted early, we would have been told from the beginning that it was much safer outdoors, where these small particles disperse more easily, as long as you avoid close, prolonged contact with others.  We would have tried to make sure indoor spaces were well ventilated, with air filtered as necessary.  Instead of blanket rules on gatherings, we would have targeted conditions that can produce superspreading events: people in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, especially if engaged over time in activities that increase aerosol production, like shouting and singing.  We would have started using masks more quickly, and we would have paid more attention to their fit, too.  And we would have been less obsessed with cleaning surfaces. 

Our mitigations would have been much more effective, sparing us a great deal of suffering and anxiety.

The difference between droplets and aerosols is like the difference between raindrops and fog.  Droplets fall to the ground and sick to surfaces.  Aerosols float in the air indefinitely. 

If you’re out of doors, and not in a tightly-packed crowd, you’re not in much danger from aerosols.  But if you’re in a poorly ventilated space for a long period of time, you’re going to breathe the same air as other people in that space, no matter how far apart you are.

This makes a big difference in how you protect yourself from the virus.  For example, masks are important indoors.  Outdoors, not so much.

To see this misunderstanding in action, look at what’s still happening throughout the world. In India, where hospitals have run out of supplemental oxygen and people are dying in the streets, money is being spent on fleets of drones to spray anti-coronavirus disinfectant in outdoor spaces.  Parks, beaches and outdoor areas keep getting closed around the world.  This year and last, organizers canceled outdoor events for the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.  Cambodian customs officials advised spraying disinfectant outside vehicles imported from India.  The examples are many.

Meanwhile, many countries allowed their indoor workplaces to open but with inadequate aerosol protections.  There was no attention to ventilation, installing air filters as necessary or even opening windows when possible, more to having people just distancing three or six feet, sometimes not requiring masks beyond that distance, or spending money on hard plastic barriers, which may be useless at best.  (Just this week, President Biden visited a school where students were sitting behind plastic shields.) 

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Success and failure in fighting the pandemic

May 6, 2021

Eric Berne, a famous psychiatrist, wrote that there is a psychological difference between winners and losers.  The winner’s goal is victory, and the winner hopes and expects to win despite any temporary defeats.  The loser’s goal is to avoid defeat, and the loser fears and expects to lose despite any temporary victories.

It seems to me that there is a similar sorting of winners and losers among countries in regard to the pandemic.  There were some nations who sought to eradicate the virus, and largely succeeded.  There are others who sought to bring down the rate of infection to something they could live with, like polio before the Salk vaccine.

A few countries, mainly in the Far East, including China, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea [1] and Japan, had a goal of eradicating the disease, and largely succeeded. 

Their lockdowns, if they had any. were short and sharp.  Their governments by and large used the lockdowns to track down and quarantine persons who were infected before the disease took hold and there were too many to trace.  Many cut off air travel to countries that were centers of the disease.

Here in the USA, the initial reaction was to dismiss COVID-19 as just a more severe version of the ‘flu.  Michael Lewis has a new book coming out, The Premonition, about how Americans in authority failed to react.

In January and February of 2020, hundreds of Americans in Wuhan, China, were flown back to the U.S. Considering how many people had died of COVID-19 in China at that point,  it would have made sense to test those Americans who were coming back.  But according to Lewis and his sources, then-CDC Director Robert Redfield refused to test them, saying it would amount to doing research on imprisoned persons.  [snip]

According to Lewis’ reporting, the CDC basically had two positions on the pandemic early on.  Early on it was that there was nothing to see here — that this is not a big deal.  It’s being overblown.  And then there was this very quick pivot when it started spreading in the U.S. and the position became it’s too late and there’s nothing we can do.

Source: NPR

The United States had partial lockdowns.  Some Americans were able to work from home or, like me, had sufficient retirement income to stay at home.  Some lost their livelihoods and were forced into poverty.  Some had no choice but to continue working, many under extremely unsafe conditions.

The center of infection in the USA was New York City, and the source of the infection was passengers arriving by air from virus hot spots in Europe.  This was known at the time.

It should have been possible to take the temperatures of incoming passengers, given COVID tests for those running a fever and quarantined or sent back those who tested positive. 

But neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio did this.  They would have been severely criticized if they had, because the seriousness of the problem would not have been obvious.  Instead they waited until the problem did become obvious.

At first we were told that the virus spreads in droplets, and we needed to be careful to keep our distance even out of doors, and to avoid touching surfaces including touching our faces. 

Now we know that the virus spreads as a kind of mist, and you are at risk anytime you are indoors for a long time in a space without good ventilation, even if you are six feet from anybody else.  But we still act as if the problem was droplets.

The good thing is that vaccines were developed faster than many people expected, but many of us Americans don’t want to get vaccinated.  The idea of getting to “herd immunity” has been quietly dropped.

Sadly, the USA is not an outlier.  The virus is hanging on in other countries, including rich countries, just as much as here, while it is spreading to India and other poor countries.

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Covid-19 deniers who have Covid-19

April 25, 2021

Bertrand Russell once wrote, “Most people would sooner die than think; in fact they do so.”

I thought of that when I read this Reddit thread of stories by physicians, nurses and other medical workers about treating (or trying to treat) Covid-19 patients who think Covid-19 in a hoax.

Doctors of Reddit: What happened when you diagnosed a Covid-19 denier with Covid-19?

Human nature can be unbelievably perverse and irrational.  Also, very noble.  My hat goes off to  medical practitioners who risk their own lives and health to treat people who think they are their enemies.

The passing scene: March 22, 2021

March 22, 2021

Here are some articles I think are interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

Steve Donziger Ecuador Case: Q&A With Human Rights Lawyer Under House Arrest by Jack Holmes for Esquire.  This lawyer won a lawsuit against Texaco (since acquired by Chevron), which lasted from 1993 to 2011, on behalf of farmers and indigenous people who lived in the Amazon rain forest, who accused the company of dumping cancer-causing toxic waste where they lived.  THey won a $9.8 billion award.  Chevron refused to pay and counter-sued their lawyer. Awaiting a verdict, he has been under house arrest for more than 580 days for refusing to hand over his computer and phone with confidential lawyer-client information on them.  Incredible!

How the West Lost COVID by David Wallace-West for New York magazine.  “How did so many rich countries get it so wrong?  How did others get it so right?”  This is the best article I’ve read on this particular topic.

Your Face Is Not Your Own by Kashmir Hill for the New York Times. “When a secretive start-up scraped the Internet to build a facial-recognition tool, it tested a legal and ethical limit—and blew the future of privacy in America wide open.”  (Hat tip to O.)

Nina Turner: “Good ideas are not enough.  We need to marry our ideas to power”, an interview for Jacobin magazine.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

New study shows microplastics turn into ‘hubs’ for pathogens, antibiotic-resistant bacteria by Jesse Jenkins of New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The Crow Whisperer by Lauren Markham for Harper’s magazine.  “What happens when we talk to animals?” 

The Global South resists the COVID virus

March 11, 2021

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me this chart and a link to a New York Times article indicating that death toll from the coronavirus has been a lot less in poor nations in Asia and Africa than in rich nations in Europe and North America.

The writer, David Leonhardt, isn’t sure why.  It’s not that the African and Asia nations fail to record the COVID-19 deaths, he wrote.  Record-keeping is pretty good in the cities, where you’d expect the disease to be at its worst.

Some possibilities:

  • Young people resist the disease better than older people, and African and Asian populations are on average younger than European and North American popultions.
  • People in Africa and Asia on average care for their elderly relatives at home rather than putting them in nursing homes, and a large proportion of COVID-19 deaths have been in nursing homes.
  • People in poor African and Asian countries on average are more exposed to infectious disease, and may be developed more of an overall resistance to infection.
  • Homes and places of business in tropical countries are better ventilated than in more northerly climes.

Ventilation is an important aspect of controlling an airborne, respiratory disease.  It hasn’t received near the attention it should in the USA.

I’d add another point.

Air travel is an important vector for the spread of the disease.  Infected passengers in the enclosed space of a plane spread the virus to others, and they all become potential speaders in the places where they land.

The spread wouldn’t have been nearly as bad as it was in, for example, New York City if incoming passengers from Europe had been screened for the virus.

Poor countries in Africa and Asia get less air traffic to begin with, and my impression is that countries that have been most successful in fighting the virus have restricted incoming air travel.

Or maybe the explanation is just that many poor countries simply did a better job of combating the virus than rich countries.

∞∞

The overall coronavirus situation is better than I expected it to be this time last year.  Drug companies developed vaccines in less than a year, and vaccinations are proceeding with all deliberate speed, especially here in the USA.

I think President Trump, for all the harm he did in discouraging masking, made the right choice in Operation Warp Speed, which was simply to give large amounts of money to drug researchers in the hope that a few of them would come up with something good.

In the present vaccine rollout, I don’t think the people who need the vaccine the most are not being prioritized as they should.  But maybe that’s less important than simply immunizing as many people as possible as quickly as possible.  If President BIden’s vaccination goal is achieved by May, that will be have been great achievement.

The anti-virus struggle isn’t over.  The new mutant strains are worrisome.  But things are better than they might have been.

LINKS

A cornonavirus whodunnit? by David Leonhardt for the New York Times.

How Europe and the United States Lost COVID-19 by David Wallace-Wells for New York magazine.  [Added 3/15/2021]

Covid conundrum: Pandemic is hitting rich countries harder than poor ones by Yen Makabenta for the Manila Times.

Why Does the Pandemic Seem to Be Hitting Some Countries Harder Than Others? by Siddhartha Mukherjee for The New Yorker

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‘Economies of fail’ and the vaccine rollout

January 27, 2021

How Monopolists Slowed the Vaccine Rollout, and Small Business Speeded It Up by Matt Stoller for BIG.  “CVS and Walgreens Didn’t Deliver.  Small pharmacies did.”

Winners and losers in the coronavirus war

January 1, 2021

Click to enlarge.  Figures in right-hand column are the important ones.

The response to the coronavirus pandemic is an objective test as to which of the world’s governments are able to perform their functions and which aren’t.

A blogger named Anatoly Karlin recently posted the most comprehensive review I’ve seen of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and government efforts to deal with it.

Karlin graded the test results.  The governments of eastern Asia, including Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Japan and China got high marks.  The European Union countries did less well, and the USA, Russia and Latin America even worse.

In east Asia, governments acted quickly before the virus established itself.  They implemented (1) universal mask wearing, (2) centralized quarantine, (3) travel restrictions and (4) mass testing.  Only China had a lockdown, and this was in effect only a relatively short time.

The USA did none of these things.  I’m not sure whether the U.S. government had the capacity to carry out such policies even if it had wanted to. 

Although President Donald Trump did and said harmful things, especially his disparagement of mask wearing, it is unfair to attribute all the U.S. COVID-19 deaths to him personally.  The failure was the failure of a system, not just of a single individual.

The bright spot, according to Karlin, was the unexpected speed with which new vaccines were developed.  Informed estimates at the start of the year were that it would take up to two years to develop a vaccine, and useful vaccines were produced in less than a year after China disclosed the molecular structure of the virus. 

So the ineffective governments of the USA, Russia and other countries may be saved by the triumph of science.  This will depend on them being effective in distributing and applying the vaccine, which is not a foregone conclusion.

The publication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome structure was essential to vaccine development.  I had thought the Chinese government did this as a matter of official policy.

It turns out that this wasn’t so.  It was the decision of an individual Chinese scientist, Dr. Zhang Yong-Zhen, and he got into trouble for doing it.

A favorite theme of science fiction is the nations of the world uniting in the face of an alien invasion.  But SARS-CoV-2 is as alien and deadly as any extraterrestrial life form. 

Where is the human solidarity in the fact of this threat?  I see many brave and dedicated individuals, but governments and institutions scrambling to capture scarce resources for themselves instead of working together for the common good.

∞∞

Update 1/2/2021In response to Bill Harvey’s comment and video link on poor countries being left behind, here’s a chart on the likely pace of the vaccine rollout.

Click to enlarge.

I predict Chinese COVID-19 vaccines will be widely available in poor countries before US and European vaccines are.

LINKS

The Year of Corona: Ten Megadeaths and the Crash of Western Supremacism by Anatoly Karlin for the Unz Review.  If you read the whole long article, you will be well-informed..

A pandemic atlas: How COVID-19 took over the world in 2020 by the Associated Press.  A nation-by-nation report.

The Pandemic Heroes Who Gave Us the Gift of Time and the Gift of Information by Zeynep Tufekci on Substack.

The Mutated Coronavirus Is a Ticking Time Bomb by Zeynap Tufekci for The Atlantic

Russia admits COVID death toll third-worst in the world by Al Jazeera.

Corona’s Toll in the Ex-USSR by Anatoly Karlin for the Unz Review.

Financial Times Coronavirus Tracker.

Who did Trump infect with COVID-19?

October 2, 2020

It is possible to ignore reality, but it is not possible to ignore the consequences of ignoring reality. [Attributed to Ayn Rand]

“Lambert Strether” on Naked Capitalism had some good questions.

On the case of COVID-19 that POTUS and FLOTUS both have, outcomes range from the entire political class being infected to Trump emerging from a mild case, victorious and indestructible, after having dominated the news cycle for two weeks without saying anything (unless he tweets his way through, like AOC).

What we need is some good, old-fashioned epidemiological contact tracing of Trump’s circle from public sources, with a handy map (i.e., with what we know now, it’s easy but wrong to say Hope Hicks gave it to Trump, since both could have gotten it from a common third party).

It would be ideal to know if there are any superspreaders involved. Mere timelines are insufficient.

On whether Trump gave Covid to Biden at the debate through aerosol transmission by talking or shouting, I would very much like to know about the HVAC system in the auditorium and potential circulation patterns, since, with aerosols, social-distancing the podia would not be sufficient for safety.

I would want to know if outside air is circulated, and (speculating, here) I would like to know if TV lighting has any effects. I would also want to know who, if anybody, on the various staffs involved checked all this out.

Presumably some news-gathering organization, if any such still exist, has devoted some real resources to answering questions like these.

Source: Naked Capitalism.

Kevin Drum noted:

At Trump events, it’s considered de rigueur to go maskless. Don’t want to upset Donald, after all. So naturally everyone was maskless at Trump’s announcement event for Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

The result so far? Sen. Mike Lee is now positive for coronavirus. Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins is positive for coronavirus. RNC chair Ronna McDaniel wasn’t there, but she’s around the president and his staff all the time. Now they all have COVID-19 and more are sure to follow.

Source: Kevin Drum – Mother Jones

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Snapshots of the global pandemic

September 18, 2020

Anders Tagnell

Anders Tagnell and the Swedish Covid experiment by Richard Milne for the Financial Times.

Coronavirus: What explains Pakistan doing so much better than India? by Shoiab Daniele for Scroll.in.

Brazil surpasses 4 million Covid-19 cases amid tentative signs of virus easing by France24.

Europe overtakes U.S. as coronavirus hotspot by Thomas Mulier for Fortune.

The virus and the world food supply chain

September 2, 2020

The fight against the coronavirus has resulted in collateral damage to world food supplies.  Or rather it has revealed underlying weaknesses in the world economic system.

The world produces enough food that no-one need go hungry.  An expert quoted by National Public Radio said average world food prices are lower than they were a century ago, despite the huge increase in world population.

The question is how to get the food to those who need it and who pays for it.  There is nothing in the nature of things that makes this impossible, but only the structure of the world economy.

LINKS

‘Instead of Coronoavirus, the Hunger Will Kill Us’; A Global Food Crisis Looms by Abdi Latif Dahir for the New York Times.

COVID-19 pandemic leads to huge spike in world hunger by Kevin Martinez for thr World Socialist Web Site.

COVID-19 risks to global food security by David Laborde, Will Martin, Johan Swinnen and Rob Vos for Science magazine.

A coronavirus near-death experience

August 30, 2020

A 29-Year-Old’s Strange, Unforgettable Trip Into a Covid Coma and Back by Luke Mullins for The Washingtonian.

A Canadian on the end of the American era

August 12, 2020

Ford’s WIllow Run plant during World War Two

When people are faced with external threats, they need to pull together.   A Canadian anthropologist named Wade Davis pointed out that this once was true of the United States.

In 1940, with Europe already ablaze, the United States had a smaller army than either Portugal or Bulgaria.

Within four years, 18 million men and women would serve in uniform, with millions more working double shifts in mines and factories that made America, as President Roosevelt promised, the arsenal of democracy.

When the Japanese within six weeks of Pearl Harbor took control of 90 percent of the world’s rubber supply, the U.S. dropped the speed limit to 35 mph to protect tires, and then, in three years, invented from scratch a synthetic-rubber industry that allowed Allied armies to roll over the Nazis.

At its peak, Henry Ford’s Willow Run Plant produced a B-24 Liberator every two hours, around the clock.

Shipyards in Long Beach and Sausalito spat out Liberty ships at a rate of two a day for four years; the record was a ship built in four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes.

A single American factory, Chrysler’s Detroit Arsenal, built more tanks than the whole of the Third Reich.

That was then.  This is now.

COVID-19 didn’t lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken.

As the crisis unfolded, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease.

The nation that defeated smallpox and polio, and led the world for generations in medical innovation and discovery, was reduced to a laughing stock as a buffoon of a president advocated the use of household disinfectants as a treatment for a disease that intellectually he could not begin to understand.

As a number of countries moved expeditiously to contain the virus, the United States stumbled along in denial, as if willfully blind.

With less than four percent of the global population, the U.S. soon accounted for more than a fifth of COVID deaths.

The percentage of American victims of the disease who died was six times the global average. Achieving the world’s highest rate of morbidity and mortality provoked not shame, but only further lies, scapegoating, and boasts of miracle cures as dubious as the claims of a carnival barker, a grifter on the make.

Some of these statements need asterisks.  Latin America has overtaken North America as the center of the coronavirus infection, and several advanced countries have higher coronavirus-related deaths per million people than the USA does, at least so far.

Davis, like many Canadian critics of the USA, is somewhat blind to the problems of his own country.  An American who has lived in Davis’s Vancouver pointed out that it is far from being the semi-utopia he claims it is.

But none of this disproves Davis’s general point.  U.S. industrial and governmental capacity has been unraveling for a long time.  This process won’t reverse by itself.  The first steps in change are for us Americans to understand our situation, pull together and stop accepting excuses for failure from our supposed leaders.

LINKS

How Covid-19 Signals the End of the American Era by Wade Davis for Rolling Stone.

The Unraveling of “The Unraveling of America” by Deanna Kreisel for Medium.

COVID’s Gettysburg moment

July 23, 2020

My friend Michael J. Brown, who teaches history at Rochester Institute of Technology, wrote a good article in the Rochester Beacon about the struggle against the coronavirus.

He compared it to the struggle to save the Union during the Civil War.  That may seem like a far-fetched comparison, but the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918 took more American lives than all of the wars of the 20th century.   The current pandemic could be just as deadly, and hundreds have already given their lives.

In the Civil War, as Brown pointed out, President Lincoln had a choice—to try to put things back the way they were before the war, or to remove the cause of the war—human slavery.  In his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln resolved that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom” so that “these dead shall not have died in vain.”  Brown asked—

Has this coronavirus calamity simply been an ordeal to endure, or does all the suffering and loss have some galvanizing purpose?  

Will it result in a new birth of freedom for our time—a period of reconstruction and reform addressing the myriad inadequacies and deep racial inequities that COVID has laid bare—or will a return to “normalcy” leave these problems untouched?

Reckoning with COVID, we might reevaluate the disparity between the significant health risks of “essential” work and its comparatively meager economic rewards. 

Michael J. Brown

We might ask why in a “booming” economy so many Americans were one paycheck away from miles-long lines at food banks.

The pandemic could prompt us to rebuild our Union better than it was, or its legacy could be limited to “We’re all in this together” commercials, in which “this” is the reassuring glow of national brands.

The difference between these outcomes is a function not only of what we here highly resolve, but whether we resolve anything at all.

At Gettysburg, Lincoln gestured beyond the Civil War to a better nation.  But he also spoke of prosecuting that war until Union victory—for which so many had already given “the last full measure of devotion”—was achieved.

Our battle against COVID is today very much in doubt.  More than 800 front-line health care workers have given their lives in the struggle.

While Lincoln resolved to finish his fight, “America is giving up on the pandemic,” according to the Atlantic.

“The coronavirus may not be done with the nation, but the nation’s capital appears to be done with the coronavirus,” reported the New York Times.  “As the pandemic’s grim numbers continue to climb … Mr. Trump and lawmakers in both parties are exhibiting a short attention span.”

Just as it was in the mid-1860s, the outcome today is uncertain. Just as then, it will have to be determined by countless people—from elected officials to everyday citizens.

This is COVID’s Gettysburg moment. Will we meet it?

LINKS

‘These dead shall not have died in vain’: COVID’s Gettysburg Moment by Michael J. Brown for the Rochester Beacon.  The whole thing is well worth reading.

In the Flower City, Take Root by Michael J. Brown for Dissent magazine (2010).  An earlier article by Michael.

XKCD’s COVID-19 risks in perspective

July 18, 2020

Source: XKCD

A time-lapse map of known COVID-19 deaths

July 10, 2020

The test of reality

June 23, 2020

For decades, the USA and other rich nations have had the luxury of dealing with self-created problems.’

Some were self-created (deregulation of finance, foreign intervention), some symbolic (the border wall, Confederate statues) and some imaginary (the Russiagate plot).

Now, however, we’re up against real things.  Pandemics don’t care about public opinion polls.  Climate change doesn’t care about the limits of the politically possible.

Some nations are demonstrating the resiliency needed to rise to these challenges.  Some aren’t.  In a few years, we’ll have the results of real-life experiments as to what works and what doesn’t.

My hope is that we Americans will learn from experience.  My fear is that we will be unable to endure the pain of facing reality and the consequences of what we have allowed our rulers to do.

COVID-19 is the quiz, climate change is the final exam by Jeff Masters for Yale Climate Connections.

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Muslims in India scapegoated for the pandemic

June 21, 2020

Muslims in India are being accused of deliberately spreading the coronavirus.  By stirring up prejudice against India’s largest religious minority, Prime Minister Narendra Modi solidifies his own political power and escapes blame for the spread of the disease.

The treatment of Muslims in India is a major human rights crisis.  Modi advocates an Indian nationalism based on the Hindu religion.  He says Muslims cannot be patriotic because their holy places are located outside India.

Nationalism based on religion is dangerous because it tells people that they should regard themselves, collectively, as sacred.  They are asked to, in effect, worship themselves.  They are asked to give the nation the kind of unconditional loyalty that would be due to a superhumanly wise and good infinite being, and to exclude those not part of the nation from human sympathy.

Modi’s government has drawn up a new refugee law that admits fast-tracks admission Christians, Buddhists and other types of believes, but excludes Muslims. It has suspended self-government in Kashmir, the only majority-Muslim state under Indian rule.

It also is drawing up a new citizenship list, and asking Indians to provide proof of citizenship—a big hardship for poor people.  Muslims fear it may be aimed at them.  There have been a number of lynchings of Muslims, mainly on suspicion of having eaten beef.

Modi was chief minister of Gujarat state in 2002 during a three-day anti-Muslim riot.  By some estimates, as many as 2,000 were killed.  Mobs engaged in vandalism, looting and rape, 230 mosques and 274 Muslim shrines were destroyed and thousands were made homeless.

Modi was barred from entering the United States in 2005 under the International Religious Freedom Act, which denies visas to officials guilty of “severe violations of religious freedom.”  He is reportedly the only foreigner barred under this law.

Since being elected Prime Minister of India in 2014, he was welcomed by both President Obama and President Trump.

The U.S. government is trying to form an anti-Chinese alliance, with India, Japan and Australia the key members.

Because of this, we Americans are likely to hear a lot about the persecuted Muslim Uighurs in China’s far west Xinjiang province and very little about Muslims in India.

The Uighurs, like the Tibetans, are being forcibly assimilated into the Chinese culture by brutal means.  But in Modi’s India, the Muslims will never be assimilated.  They will be forever outcasts and targets of persecution, like Jews in Tsarist Russia, African-Americans in the USA during the Jim Crow era or Central Asian migrants in the Russia of today.

LINKS

The Rise of Narendra Modi by Zahir Mohammad for Boston Review (2013)

Inside Delhi: beaten, lynched and burned alive by Hannah Ellis-Petersen for The Guardian.

How Indian Muslims are being scapegoated for the coronavirus by Namrata Kolachalam for Slate.

India’s treatment of Muslims and migrants puts lives at risk during COVID-19 by Jay Ramasubramanyan for The Conversation.

Unsafe mass protests can spread the virus

June 7, 2020

[Update 6/21/2020] Evidently outdoor protests were not as dangerous as feared.

It Doesn’t Look As If the George Floyd Protests Are Causing a Coronavirus Spike by Fred Kaplan for Slate.

Of course outdoor gatherings of people wearing masks are different from indoor gatherings of people unmasked.

Nicholas A. Christakis, a Yale professor whose specialty is how human biology and health are affected by social networks, wrote a Twitter thread about how mass protests can promote the spread of the coronavirus.

While protestors have the right to risk their own lives, they are likely to spread the disease into their own communities if infected.

He said it is possible to mitigate risk by means of masks and social distancing.  He also called upon police to avoid the use of tear case and to not throw protesters together in crowded cells.

Certain fundamental Protestant and Pentecostal churches have held services in defiance of social distancing rules.  Some members have become infected and some have died.

People who gather in mass protests risk the same fate.  The virus is a blind force of nature.  It doesn’t care if your religion is true or your cause is just.  It will spread just the same to you and, through you, to the people you care about.

During the urban riots in late 1960s and early 1970s, we US Americans talked about “long, hot summers.”  Now we’re looking forward to a summer of public unrest and mass protests against the backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis and a bitterly-contested presidential election.  Interesting times!

LINKS

Suddenly Public Health Officials Say Social Justice Matters More Than Social Distance by Dan Diamond for POLITICO.

Nicholas A. Christakis Thread: “I want to go on record with obvious point…”

Nicholas A. Christakis Thread Reader.  A copy.

The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic.

A World Historical Tragedy by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Greta Thunberg urges climate protests to move online because of coronavirus outbreaks by Justine Caima for The Verge.  [Added Later]

As the coronavirus lockdown ends (for now) …

May 21, 2020

Click to enlarge

The chart above, via Kevin Drum, shows that the United States has gotten off fairly lightly during the coronavirus pandemic, compared to other Western countries.

The USA has the most total deaths because it has the largest population, but the death rate is the key measure.  The USA is a big country.  Some parts of it are relatively safe and some aren’t, but overall things aren’t as bad as they might be—at least not yet.

 

Click to enlarge

The chart above, also by Kevin Drum, shows that the number of new deaths from the coronavirus is tapering off in Western countries.

As the lockdowns end, the death rates will probably rise again—hopefully not to their previous peak.  If they don’t rise, a lot of what epidemiologists have been telling us about contagion is wrong.  I expect we’ll learn the epidemiologists were right.

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The irrelevance of old-time Keynesianism

May 12, 2020

John Maynard Keynes was one of the great economists of the 20th century,  Maybe he was the greatest.  He is the father of the idea of economic stimulus.

His insight was that, in a capitalist free-enterprise economy, economic growth depends on a growing mass consumer market, which depends on masses of the public having money in their pockets.

So when the economy stalls and people are out of work, the best way to stimulate the economy is to give the people more purchasing power.

J.M. Keynes

Once they started buying things, businesses would hire more people, and there would be a multiplier effect that spread through the entire economy.

The important thing, according to Keynes, was to get people back to work and earning money—no matter how.  He famously said that hiring workers to dig holes and fill them up again would be better than nothing.

In the pandemic lockdown, governments are doing exactly the opposite of what Keynes recommended.  The government is actively trying to prevent millions of Americans from going to work.  By staying at home, they help limit the spread of the virus.

Congress recently voted an economic bailout that was called a “stimulus” bill.   But economic stimulus was not, and is not, needed.  What is needed is an economic sedative, combined with an economic life support system.

We do not need employment for the sake of employment.  We need to have virtually necessary jobs get done, less necessary jobs put on hold and useless jobs not to be done at all.  We Americans as a nation have not yet figured out how to do this.

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Where are you most at risk of the virus?

May 10, 2020

The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them by Erin S. Bromage, associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

COVID-19 Superspreader Events in 28 Countries: Critical Patterns and Lessons by Jonathan Kay for Quillette.