Welcome to the shit-show — Like Armageddon, except Jesus is the clown from “It”

Welcome to the shit-show

Like Armageddon, except Jesus is the clown from “It”

March 24th 2020

Trump wants to end the coronavirus crisis by Easter. That’s always a nice time of year here in the northern latitudes—spring is finally really asserting itself over winter, all the trees are budding, grass is greening, daffodils are waiting to be crushed by the rogue April snow storm. Christians liked it so much they made it the most important day on their calendar.

Now, it’s one thing to offer hope in a time of crisis. Just this morning I told the fellow down at my local grocery story that I thought we might get a half-season of baseball this year, with opening day on the Fourth of July. I don’t have a shred of evidence to support that, aside from a historical tendency of plagues to fade out after about six months, and we’re now in month three. But it cheered the guy up a bit (being a store clerk right now isn’t much fun) and what the hell—I felt a little bit better by saying it, too.

But here’s the thing; I don’t have the power to order baseball to reopen on a specific date, and I wouldn’t even if I had that power. And if an epidemiologist heard me talking to the clerk, he might suggest that I was being a tad optimistic and suggest that baseball wait until summer solstice before making that sort of decision.

If I said baseball should open up for the season on April 12th, he would tell me I would get thousands of people killed, and I was being reckless even suggesting it.

There isn’t an epidemiologist in the country that thinks dropping social distancing and resuming business as usual in just 18 days would be anything short of catastrophic. If the United States is very, very lucky, we might be showing signs of flattening the curve by then. On our present course, which is still accelerating, by April 12th we may have 1.2 million cases, and between 10 and 20 thousand dead. Sorry to scare anyone, but those are the numbers. It’s bad, it’s going to get a lot worse.

That’s even if Americans do batten down and avoid social contact as much as possible from now on. Between lack of test to get an idea of where the disease is or how far it’s spread, and the deliberate refusal by Trumpkins to observe such precautions (many of them still believe it’s all a liberal Democratic plot to hurt Trump) those are the optimistic numbers, the ones that assume everyone will exercise caution and common sense, and in two weeks the curve may begin to flatten.

What I expect to see by April 12th is that things will be at the point where nearly everyone in the country at least knows someone who has caught the disease, and a significant number know someone who is dead or in a weeks-long struggle to live from the disease. By then, even some of the Trumpkins will realize that going back to work is tantamount to a death sentence, and that the only reason Trump is trying to order them back is because some of his billionaire friends are in danger of becoming millionaires. Not all of them—Trump worship is a cult, in its worst form as bad as Jonestown, and we all remember what happened there. Some Trumpkins will die for Trump, because it will SO annoy the libruls. There was even an image of two MAGAts licking a New York Subway turnstile, which they put on line as a way of “sticking it to the libs”.

Unfortunately, it’s a part of human nature. Today’s Gallup poll showed Trump’s approval rating at 49%, and his disapproval rating at 42%–the first time since he took office that his approval rating wasn’t underwater. When people are frightened, they flock to the safety of an authority figure. They want Big Daddy to save them from the vicious noseeums that are so threatening. This is well known, not just to elderly curmudgeons such as myself, but to any competent social psychologist.

Trump is what is known as a Charismatic Authority. Until now, he wasn’t a very good one, only able to command a relatively small fraction of the population through propaganda that he, and they, were targeted and victimized by others, such as liberals, blacks, Mexicans and Moslems. His crises had been all invented, and rather transparently so. Now that a real crisis has arisen, his power to manipulate has grown exponentially.

Charismatic authorities have always come out during crises: some, such as Winston Churchill or FDR, were benign. Others, such as Stalin, Mao, and Hitler, were not.

While Trump is not an intelligent or empathetic man, that does not mean he is not a crafty predator, and he has realized this crisis will work to his advantage. Charismatic authorities feed off crises. He’s already pressed during this one to have Congress give him a half a trillion dollars to spend as he sees fit, without having to account to anyone or even explain where the money went.

Oh, I’m sure he’ll donate it all to charity. That’s just the type of guy he is, right?

No, more than likely that money would make the Trump family an unmovable and insurmountable dictatorship that would afflict Americans for generations to come.

Crises are essential. Hitler, Mao and Stalin not only arose in times of crisis, but maintained states of crises throughout their bloody reigns. Hitler’s proved so catastrophic to his followers that his public adulation only began to fade in early 1945, when it was obvious that Germany was to be destroyed. Stalin and Mao had policies that killed millions, but upon their deaths, the unfeigned mourning and bereavement their respective lands was immense. Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, then serving a ten year term for Anti-Soviet Agitation, wrote of the utter tearful loss and desolation amongst the prisoners, many of whom were as capriciously imprisoned as he, upon the death of “Uncle Joe.” Charismatic leaders create crises upon which they thrive.

This may explain why Trump wants to reopen the country April 12th. Not just to support his business buddies, but to maximize the crisis. As long as he has scapegoats to shift blame for, he can cause the deaths of tens of millions of Americans—and it will work to his advantage.

Just as Pennywise benefited from the fear caused in Derry by missing children, Trump benefits from a plague that he didn’t cause and need only pretend to be fighting. It’s in his best interest for the disease to keep expanding.

A Plague On the Land — Not COVID-19; this is something worse

March 13th 2020

After Trump had his presser in the Rose Garden today, praising big companies and claiming all the massive screwups over the past month never happened (cheering nobody but Wall Street), Pelosi announced that she and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s surrogate, had reached an accord on the “Families First” legislation. The bill offers two weeks’ paid sick leave and up to three months family leave, allocating funds for SNAP, Meals on Wheels and other programs designed to keep people from starving so they can deal with the plague, and a temporary broadening of Medicare to care for everyone who needs care during the course of the pandemic.

Now normally that would be good news. The two sides coming together to face a shared threat to the people of their country.

But Trump has a long and inglorious history of reneging on agreements he or his surrogates have made, and Mitch McConnell feels that after five years of doing nothing, the Senate deserves a break, and they are skipping out on recess, and will deal with the survivors later.

Trump could have contained the threat two months ago when it was clear to any sane person that coronavirus was going to be a threat. But instead, he classified information relating to the disease, and said such things to the public as, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine!” (Jan 22nd) and “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” (Feb 2nd( and “A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in.” (Feb 10th).

It’s impossible to tell if Trump ever, at any point, gave a rat’s ass about the harm it was doing people around the country. But the markets started to tank as traders realized the implications of a pandemic, and since then have lost nearly a third of their value. That carnage isn’t over yet, either.

Trump’s reactions have been characteristically grotesque. Instead of reassuring the people and promising swift, decisive response to contain the threat and assist those affect by this disease, he told blatant and stupid lies, and if he was sincere about anything, it was his promised efforts to stabilize the markets. He encouraged the Fed to act, and they did, as best they could. They dropped interest rates, already artificially low because the economic pump needs constant priming to overcome insane Republican policies and misadventures, and the market promptly dropped 500 points. The Fed since has infused $1.5 trillion in quantitative easing, the practice of taking the national wealth and using it to prevent billionaires from becoming millionaires at our expense. That stopped the plunge temporarily, but Wall Street is just now realizing that without workers and consumers, you don’t have an economy.

Trump’s only response to ease the panic has been to suggest that payroll taxes be suspended for a couple of months. Those are the deductions on your paycheck for Unemployment Insurance, Social Security, and Medicare. For people still working, it’s a minor increase in pay, not nearly enough to cover the prospect of being out sick for six weeks, or having to care for sick family members. And of course, if you aren’t getting a paycheck, those deductions are of zero benefit to you. But it does promote the long-held Republican dream of destroying the social safety net, thus keeping Americans utterly dependent on their employers for everything, docile and frightened the way good Americans ought to be.

But Trump isn’t the problem; he’s a symptom. Republican response has been equally bad. A bill that Pelosi rammed through to allocate $8.3 billion for testing kits and first response (“Far more than I wanted”, Trump grumbled) was held up briefly in the Senate when members of the Blob Squad (the “pro-lifers”) threatened to hold up the legislation until some Hyde Amendment language further curtailing abortion rights. That quickly collapsed when word got out and the outrage was instantaneous. People, it seemed, weren’t amused at the idea that thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of lives should be put at unnecessary risk just because some demented bible floggers think every sperm is sacred and want to impose that on everyone, no matter how many developed zygotes like us die in the process.

Pelosi had to deal with the reptilian Steve Mnuchin because Trump, butt-hurt over their previous encounters, was afraid to deal with her again. True to type, he wanted to know why the taxpayers should have to subsidize free testing, and felt that if people really cared about their families and friends, they would be happy to shell out $600 for a test. Of course, the tests barely exist, even now, six weeks after they should have appeared in the millions. A Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma, has pledged to donate 500,000 coronavirus test kits and 1 million face masks to the United States. Yes, under Republican rule, the US has become an object of pity and concern in the rest of the world. In California, America would be declared 5150—a potential danger to itself and others. It’s not clear if the US, desperately flailing, will accept the aid, since Trump has been loudly blatting that China “inflicted the coronavirus on America.” Tom Cotton (R-Pencil Necked Geeks) wants to attack China for that ‘infliction.” Responsible, more mature nations, Mexico and Canada in particular, wait to see if their screaming neighbor with all the guns settles down and goes back inside to beat the wife and kids.

America has a massive problem and it’s not just Trump: he’s just a symptom. The country suffers from a vicious alliance of capitalistic fascists, petit authoritarians (most of which were on display in Trump’s last presser, where they all effusively praised the Glorious Leader for his wisdom and competence, a grotesque example of petit authoritarians ability to strut and snivel at the same time) and a sad parade of religious nut jobs.

That is the greater plague afflicting America. All coronavirus did was put it on display.

Covid-19 — Exploits both medical and political vulnerabilities


Exploits medical and political vulnerabilities

February 28th 2020

I want to talk about the coronavirus, and why while it is more serious than your typical flu outbreak, it’s cause for concern, rather than alarm. So to do that, I’m going to have to throw some numbers at you. They’re pretty important numbers, and while some of them are alarming, others are reassuring, and you need them to make a balanced and informed response.

There are far worse possible pandemics waiting out there, such as ebola, smallpox, the plague and measles. Possibly even worse are the ones that don’t exist yet, or are lurking in the thawing grounds in the far north. Compared to those, coronavirus might be considered a warning shot, since even the worst case scenarios have it killing perhaps one percent of the population. That’s a lot of people—seventy million worldwide, but we have a lot of population.

This specific version of coronavirus (there are many) broke out in China late last year and infected much of the city of Wuhan before it was identified and the seriousness of the problem established.

In some ways we’re still in early days, and so the numbers, like the virus itself, will fluctuate and mutate as we go along. Numbers that are accurate today may not be so a month from now. I’ll go with what we have.

The estimated death rate from covid-19 is about 2%. So if you catch it, there’s a one-in-fifty chance you’ll die from it. That’s about 10 to 15 times the death rate from the various forms of flu that come around every winter.

That said, that’s two percent of known cases. Epidemiologists estimate that only one in five cases is severe enough to require hospitalization, usually because pneumonia has set in. Of the other 80% of cases, most are mild enough that people don’t seek medical attention, and thus go unreported. We don’t know how many cases there actually are, and that affects all the numbers. It’s a complete guess how many people are infected by the virus and show no symptoms at all.

That’s the unknown element that skews all the other forecasts about this disease. A lot of unreported cases would suggest a higher communicability factor (ability to spread from one person to others) but with less consequence.

So put it this way: if it hits you hard enough that you notice you aren’t feeling well, there’s a better than 4-in-5 chance you’ll be fine in a week or so. Even if hospitalized, you might be in a regular room rather than in ICU on a vent—only seven percent of all known cases are critical. And a two percent chance your relatives will be engraving “Better him than me” on your tombstone.

So wash your hands frequently, and if it invades your area (and it looks like it will) then avoid public gatherings and public transportation, especially planes, get some good masks, and if you must work with the public, get some latex gloves as well. Better not to catch the disease in the first place, right? If you don’t get it, than two to three other people who otherwise might have caught it from you will be spared.

If it does become a pandemic, then don’t assume as the cases die down and things start returning to normal, that it’s over. Such pandemics tend to ripple around the world in decreasing waves, (in some historical instances, the second wave was actually worse than the first). And in the case of covid-19, there is evidence that it can reinfect, in the first known case less than a month after the original infection and illness had passed. While that case could be a fluke, it suggests the unsettling possibility of a very high mutation rate, which not only means various forms of this sickness sweeping the global at the same time, but would make developing an effective vaccine nearly impossible. Let’s…just hope that doesn’t happen, OK? If does, we’re screwed, pure and simple.

Americans are more vulnerable than most people in the developed world, partly because of the twenty seven million people who are uninsured, along with a vicious corporate attitude that punishes employees for calling in sick. Other Americans are looking at sizable copays, and aren’t going to live on Ramen for six months so they can see the doctors for a case of the sniffles. You are at the mercy of these people if you are lucky enough not to be amongst them already.

A fellow named Anand Giridharadas @AnandWrites tweeted: “Coronavirus makes clear what has been true all along. Your health is as safe as that of the worst-insured, worst-cared-for person in your society. It will be decided by the height of the floor, not the ceiling.”

And we have a nightmare administration to deal with this. Putting the psychotically god-struck Mike Pence in charge is like taking the homeless guy with the filthy rag and the bottle of glass cleaner who stands on a busy street corner and rants about the reptilian people and putting him in charge of the military.

Actually, looking at who IS in change of the military, we already have that. Donald Trump gave a presser that had some of the least convincing lies ever told, even by him (such as there’s only 15 cases and it will be over in two weeks because April come she will) and is more furious at the world markets for panicking then he is worried about containing the virus.

It is fair to blame Trump and the Republicans for our lack of preparedness: they deliberately and systematically dismantled the government pandemic response organization because it was set up by Obama, and they are deliberately destroying anything Obama did. Historians will never understand why this administration is so viciously, self-defeatingly stupid, because minds like Trump’s are so far outside our normal experience.

And they’ve already ordered the remaining public officials to have any and all public pronouncements screened through the administration. So ideology will trump medical necessity, and expect to hear many unconvincing lies from that crowd, that being their only way of dealing with it.

Contamination and training processes were totally blown off when the administration decided to evacuate Americans from the stricken Chinese city of Wuhan. They flew the people, both infected and uninfected on the same plane to Travis AFB. There, untrained government reps interviewed and processed the returnees without benefit of protective gear or even basic sterilization procedures. Then the asymptomatic people, and the people who dealt with them, were free to go their own way. At least one took a commercial flight to Boston. Not surprisingly, a woman in nearby Vacaville developed the disease several days later who had no known contact with Travis or the alleged contagion teams. And as of a few minutes ago, this popped up: The Washington Post quoted Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins centre for health security, as saying:

“I think there’s a strong possibility that there’s local transmission going in California. In other words, the virus is spreading within California, and I think there’s a possibility other states are in the same boat. They just haven’t recognised it yet.” That’s a couple of hundred miles from me, but I’m not worried. After all, Donald’s going to protect me, right?

Don’t trust the government on this, but don’t panic, either. The known numbers suggest that while you are likely to catch it, you’re more likely to get over it in a few weeks. And you can greatly improve your odds of not catching it by washing your hands frequently, and if you must be in close contact with the public, wear a mask and gloves and don’t let your hands (or anyone else’s) anywhere near your face.

We’ve already survived Trump and the Republicans thus far. We can survive this, too.


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