The Insightful Troll

Rants and ruminations.

Capitialism or Cronysim

From John Grubber at Daring Fireball:

Take the cruise line industry. They’re getting crushed by this pandemic for obvious reasons, and they very much want to be bailed out by the U.S. government. But why do they deserve it? For tax and regulatory reasons, they don’t even register their ships in the U.S. — Carnival Cruise Lines is incorporated in Panama, Norwegian in Bermuda, and Royal Caribbean in Liberia. Bermuda is not part of Norway and, last I checked, Liberia is not in the Caribbean. Not only do these companies want U.S. funded bailouts, they don’t even want to pay U.S. taxes or comply with U.S. laws during normal times.

The thing to remember is that if allowed to fail, the cruise ships won’t sink to the bottom of the ocean. The jobs won’t disappear. The companies will go into bankruptcy, existing shareholder equity will get wiped out, and new ownership will take over. A bailout won’t rescue the industry or the jobs — it will rescue the shareholders.

Steve Schmidt - Speaking Truth to Power

Steve Schmidt, former Republican strategist, tells MSNBC’s Ari Melber that many avoidable problems in the US response to the coronavirus pandemic revealed Trump’s failures as a president. Historians will look back on this as a time when a reality show star “New York con man” narrowly ended up as President and was simply not prepared.

It is about time that the Republicans standup to Trump’s dangerous ineptitude.

Ultimate Gaslighting

Julio Vincent Gambuto highlights what what the Covid-19 pandemic exposed about our country - that the United States leadership is indifferent to its own people.

Until then, get ready, my friends. What is about to be unleashed on American society will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again. It will come from brands, it will come from government, it will even come from each other, and it will come from the left and from the right. We will do anything, spend anything, believe anything, just so we can take away how horribly uncomfortable all of this feels. And on top of that, just to turn the screw that much more, will be the one effort that’s even greater: the all-out blitz to make you believe you never saw what you saw. The air wasn’t really cleaner; those images were fake. The hospitals weren’t really a war zone; those stories were hyperbole. The numbers were not that high; the press is lying. You didn’t see people in masks standing in the rain risking their lives to vote. Not in America. You didn’t see the leader of the free world push an unproven miracle drug like a late-night infomercial salesman. That was a crisis update. You didn’t see homeless people dead on the street. You didn’t see inequality. You didn’t see indifference. You didn’t see utter failure of leadership and systems.

Corona Virus in Nursing Homes

Ireland, a country with 448 deaths as of today, has successfully contained the Covid-19 in their country. How did they do it?

  • Acted quickly
  • Shut down all public celebrations - they canceled St. Patrick’s day!
  • Mobilized the health care industry through strong federal government management.
  • Test quickly, tracked contacts, and enforced isolation.

This effectively contained them to 448 deaths in all of Ireland. Upon further investigation they noticed that more than half of those deaths were in nursing homes.

The health director of Ireland, having secured the general population, is now directing resources. He is asking all health care workers, firefighters, nursing aids, even caterers to work in nursing homes. Further more, he is guaranteeing that these volunteers will get paid and receive proper protective equipment.

With the US nursing homes under siege, what is our government doing? NOTHING. They are left to fend for themselves.

Coronavirus Vaccine

Derek Lowe on his blog at Science Translational Medicine provides some good news regarding a Covid-19 vaccine. Once a vaccine is developed and approved by the FDA, how quickly will we be able to manufacture and have a large scale application of the vaccine.

Time for another look at the coronavirus vaccine front, since we have several recent news items. Word has come from GSK and Sanofi that they are going to collaborate on vaccine development, which brings together two of the more experienced large organizations in the field. It looks like Sanofi is bringing the spike protein and GSK is bringing the adjuvant (more on what that means below). Their press release says that they plan to go into human patients late this year and to have everything ready for regulatory filing in the second half of 2021. For its part, Pfizer has announced that they’re pushing up their schedule with BioNTech and possibly starting human trials in August, which probably puts them on a similar timeline for eventual filing.

“But that’s next year!” will be the reaction of many who are hoping for a vaccine ASAP, and I can understand why. The thing is, that would be absolutely unprecedented speed, way past the current record set by the Ebola vaccine, which took about five years. More typical development times are ten years or more. But hold that thought while you peruse another news item today from J&J. They have an even more aggressive timeline proposed for their own vaccine work: they have already announced that they have a candidate, and they say that they plan first-in-human trials in September. Data will be available from those in December, and in January 2021 they say that they will have the first batches of vaccine ready for an FDA Emergency Use Authorization. Now that is shooting for the world record on both the scientific and regulatory fronts.

Dare to Be Stupid

Known for more than forty years as America’s premier satirist of popular music and culture, “Weird Al” Yankovic (aka, Alfred Matthew Yankovic ) has had almost as many careers. He has accordingly been a comedian, singer/songwriter, music producer, actor, director, and writer–often all at the same time. Mr. Yankovic has won five Grammy Awards and has sold more comedy recordings than anyone else in history.

Sam Andeson writes on the legend of Weird Al Yankovic :

Weird Al has now been releasing song parodies for seven presidential administrations. He has outlasted two popes and five Supreme Court justices. He is one of only five artists (along with his early muses, Michael Jackson and Madonna) to have had a Top 40 single in each of the last four decades. Yankovic has turned out to be one of America’s great renewable resources. He is a timeless force that expresses itself through hyperspecific cultural moments, the way heat from the center of the earth manifests, on the surface, through the particularity of geysers. In 1996, after Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” became a national earworm, Weird Al took its thumping beat and its heavenly choir and turned it into “Amish Paradise,” a ridiculous banger about rural chores. When Chamillionaire’s “Ridin.” hit No. 1 in 2006, Weird Al took a rap about driving in a car loaded with drugs and translated it into a monologue about the glories of being a nerd. Whatever is popular at the moment, Yankovic can hack into its source code and reprogram it.

His work has inspired waves of creative nerds. Andy Samberg, the actor and a member of the comedy group the Lonely Island, told me that he grew up having Weird Al dance parties with his family. “Each new generation of younger kids is like, ‘Wait, this can exist?’” Samberg said.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Weird Al obsessive, credits Yankovic as an influence on “Hamilton.” Miranda once lip-synced “Taco Grande” (a Mexican-food-themed parody of the 1990 hit “Rico Suave”) in front of his sixth-grade class, He told me that he prefers many Weird Al songs to the originals. “Weird Al is a perfectionist,” Miranda said. “Every bit as much as Michael Jackson or Kurt Cobain or Madonna or any artist he has ever spoofed. So you get the musical power of the original along with this incredible twist of Weird Al’s voice and Weird Al’s brain. The original songs lose none of their power, even when they’re on a polka with burping sound effects in the background. In fact, it accelerates their power. It’s both earnest and a parody.”

Millennials Don’t Stand a Chance

Annie Lowery in The Atlantic:

Put it all together, and the Millennials had no chance to build the kind of nest eggs that older generations did—the financial cushions that help people weather catastrophes, provide support to sick or down-on-their luck relatives, start businesses, invest in real estate, or go back to school. Going into the 2008 financial crisis, Gen Xers had twice the assets that Millennials have today; right now, Gen Xers have four times the assets and double the savings of younger adults.

How are all of these people going to contribute to the US economy when they are struggling to just get by? It’s time to bail out the millennials, not the mega corporations.

Why US Nurses Are Wearing Garbage Bags

For the longest time, US politicians were assuring the US had the best health care system in the world. But the Covid-19 pandemic has shown just how fragile and dangerous our healthcare system is.

With an administration that will not step in to help, it is each man for himself. States are biding against each other and the federal government. Companies such as 3M are selling to the highest bidder - even shipping product to foreign nations instead of meeting the US demand.

Susan B. Glasser for the New York Times:

A few weeks ago, it was already apparent that the federal response to the pandemic was late, disorganized, and putting large numbers of American lives at risk. What is becoming apparent now is something just as unthinkable: Trump’s reluctance to have the federal government play the role for which it was designed in such an emergency. At his press briefing last week, Kushner introduced Polowczyk, the Navy rear admiral, as “the best man we have in the country for logistics and supplies.” This week, a senior Administration official told me that not only have supplies been flowing from the federal government to where they are needed but the worst-case scenarios of hospitals literally running out of ventilators appear to have been averted for now. But Kushner’s public statements, and those of the President over the past couple weeks, griping about various Democratic governors and complaining about their inflated demands on the national stockpile, suggest states and cities are stuck in a Darwinian competition with one another, and with the federal government, for scarce supplies, and there is little transparency in how or why FEMA's decisions are being made.

Americans Need Straight Answers

Michel Martin asks Rep. Porter about Covid-19 testing and about the handling of the government’s handling of the pandemic response - another great interview by Amanpour & Co.

I think Rep. Katie Porter is amazing - another Democratic Representative that Joe Biden should consider as a running mate.

Full Recovery Unlikely

Alec Levenson for the MIT Sloan Management has a bleak pessimistic view on an eventual economic recovery from the Corona virus pandemic.

It takes time for business and society to settle into a new normal following a large-scale economic disruption. Even if the health care challenges from COVID-19 are solved before the end of this year, which seems highly unlikely, businesses will face many more months, and likely years, beyond the anticipated adjustment periods budgeted in their scenario planning and operations.

The shifts in consumer demand will require expansion in some industries and contraction in others. Future growth in consumer spending is likely to be slower than it has been for many years. Increased government regulation of gig and other nonregular work will require adaptation and changes in work practices. The disruptions in face-to-face work will be a drag on economic efficiency, leading to slower growth in revenues, lower profit margins, and reduced cash flow. And reconfiguring business models for greater resiliency will require significant investments of working capital into operations in ways that will not show any ROI until the next pandemic hits.

We will get to the new normal eventually. The corporate leaders who recognize these new challenges now and move quickly to adapt to them will put their companies in the best position to thrive throughout the 2020s.

I’ll take a much more optimistic view. This will force issues such as the need for universal healthcare, workers rights, and corporate regulations to be strengthened and enacted.

While this will take the better part of the decade, we will recover from this.

Bernie Sanders Suspends Campaign

Sydney Ember in the New York Times writes:

Mr. Sanders, 78, leaves the campaign having almost single-handedly moved the Democratic Party to the left. He inspired the modern progressive movement with his expansive policy agenda and his impassioned message that “health care is a human right,” and electrified a legion of loyal supporters who wholeheartedly embraced his promise to lift up those who need it most. He also transformed the way Democratic campaigns raised money, eschewing big fund-raisers and instead relying on an army of small-dollar donors.

Americans know that he is the son and grandson of immigrants, an old-school, Great Society, FDR Democrat who puts workers 1st.

Oil Companies Collapse, Clean Energy Thrives

Ivan Penn in the New York Times writes:

A few years ago, the kind of double-digit drop in oil and gas prices the world is experiencing now because of the coronavirus pandemic might have increased the use of fossil fuels and hurt renewable energy sources like wind and solar farms.

That is not happening.

In fact, renewable energy sources are set to account for nearly 21 percent of the electricity the United States uses for the first time this year, up from about 18 percent last year and 10 percent in 2010, according to one forecast published last week. And while work on some solar and wind projects has been delayed by the outbreak, industry executives and analysts expect the renewable business to continue growing in 2020 and next year even as oil, gas and coal companies struggle financially or seek bankruptcy protection.

While oil and coal will be around for some time to come, they will continue to be a shrinking industry. The switch to clean energy bring be more jobs, cleaner environment, less medical issues, and energy independence. This is even more reason for the US to support clean energy initiatives.

COVID-19 a Geopolitical Game-Changer?

Can the Covid-19 epidemic upturn the global power structure going forward? Michel Duclos at Institut Montaigne makes a good case that it just might:

“Great Power competition” – dominated practically by the rivalry between the United States and China, as well as Russia – has become the dominant factor. International institutions have entered a phase of weakening, due partly to an American withdrawal, and partly to discord among major powers. It follows that the WHO is not playing the central role it should in the Covid-19 crisis. It was informed too late by China, to the detriment of other states' ability to react, and having to comply with Chinese injunctions before declaring a state of pandemic. WHO gives the sense that it is echoing a “Chinese line” on the fight against the virus. China, by the way, is reaping the benefits of the investment it has put in the UN system in recent years. This brings us to our second starting point: the increased space taken by China and Asia in world affairs.

It had been commonplace for years to observe the rise of China and Asia. Covid-19 provides a somewhat negative illustration of this, but one that is immediately clear. Beijing’s initial policy of opacity, as noted above, contributed greatly to the spread of the pandemic. But the most striking element is elsewhere. On the one hand, because of value chains’ structure today, the shutdown of a large part of the Chinese economy has had, and continues to have, major effects on the world economy; unlike 2008, today’s financial crisis is second only to a crisis of supply and demand in the real economy. On the other hand, the “Great Power competition” not only puts international solidarity on the back burner, but above all translates into an astonishing “soft power”competition between China and its main rivals.

From this point of view, we have witnessed an unprecedented demonstration. The People’s Republic of China was in difficulty at the beginning of the crisis, due to its initial attitude of repression of Wuhan’s whistle-blowers; forced closures of its factories; and then appearing to overcome the epidemic thanks to authoritarian quarantine measures, combined with an unprecedented use of artificial intelligence. Finally, China emerged from the ordeal while Europeans, now the main area of infection, were slow to implement drastic measures, while the Trump administration demonstrated its messy incompetence. China today is reviving its economy at a time when stock markets are collapsing in the West. It is fighting against the misplaced xenophobic insinuations of Donald Trump in an absurd battle of disinformation, and above all, it is acting as a lifeline for Italy or Serbia, partly because of the clumsiness of their European partners. In the emerging world, China is certainly appearing as the power that can assist internationally, which was once the United States’ go-to role.

China perhaps has an interest in not pushing this propaganda war too far, as it is not immune to a Covid-19 rebound, or other twists and turns. However, for now at least, the debate between authoritarianism, populism and liberalism is being revived in our democracies. It is too early to know how this debate will turn out. For some, the scale of the crisis can lead to a rehabilitation of expertise, institutions and international cooperation, and devalues the populists' more cookie-cutter approach. Others, on the other hand, inspired by sovereigntist ideas, argue that the European institutions have proved to be irrelevant and had to support and pursue measures to re-establish border controls.

The kind of undeclared Cold War that had been brewing for some time shows its true face under the harsh light of Covid-19.

What we would like to especially note at this point is the conjunction that is taking place before our eyes between geopolitical competition and competing political models, along the lines of lessons that emerged from Institut Montaigne’s study on “neo-authoritarians”. The “Chinese model” emerges in this case as a reference for the global anti-liberal current, while China shamelessly tries to capitalize on the country’s “victory against the virus” to promote its political system. The kind of undeclared Cold War that had been brewing for some time shows its true face under the harsh light of Covid-19.

Republican Mea Culpa?

Stuart Stevens, author of “It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump,” is a well known and highly successful Republican strategist admits that the party is deeply flawed and his role in it. The first step to fixing a problem is to admit there is one. Let us hope more Republican have a similar about face.

Don’t just blame President Trump. Blame me — and all the other Republicans who aided and abetted and, yes, benefited from protecting a political party that has become dangerous to America. Some of us knew better.

But we built this moment. And then we looked the other way.

Many of us heard a warning sound we chose to ignore, like that rattle in your car you hear but figure will go away. Now we’re broken down, with plenty of time to think about what should have been done.

The failures of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis can be traced directly to some of the toxic fantasies now dear to the Republican Party. Here are a few: Government is bad. Establishment experts are overrated or just plain wrong. Science is suspect. And we can go it alone, the world be damned.

All of these are wrong, of course. But we didn’t get here overnight. It took practice.

And here is an excellent interview by Michel Martin at Amanpour & Co. :

Coronavirus Illustration

We have all seen the above image of this silent enemy by now. Here is how Alissa Eckert describes her illustration of the novel Coronavirus:

But for the coronavirus illustration, they went with what professional medical artists call a “beauty shot”: a detailed, solo close-up.

“We just call attention to the one virus,” she said.

The novel coronavirus, like all viruses, is covered with proteins that give it its character and traits. There are the spike proteins, or S-proteins — the red clusters in the image — which allow the virus to attach to human cells. Envelope or E-proteins, represented by yellow crumbs, help it get into those cells. And membrane proteins, or M-proteins, shown in orange, give the virus its form.

The Fox Effect

When asked if Fox coverage will cause people to die, Ashish Jha:

Yes. Some commentators in the right-wing media spread a very specific type of misinformation that I think has been very harmful

The Fox organization is concerned about being sued - good. And I hope they they do. While they are at it, lock up all the anchors too.

USA Is Now a Sh*t Hole Country

As of today (April 4th, 2020) - our current situation:

  • 278,000+ confirmed infected - 2x the number of the next country (Italy)
  • 9,897 confirmed dead
  • projected 20,000,000+ people unemployed
  • projected 60,000,000+ people with no health care
  • Half the country still pretending this is a flu
  • Still do not have wide spread testing
  • Still do not have ventilators to meet the demand
  • We have poor leadership that blames the states and the previous administration for the lack of federal response
  • Complete lack of Federal intervention

The United States of America is now a third world country. Or as our President likes to say - a Shit Hole Country.

Thanks Donald Trump. And thank you Republicans. History will not remember you kindly. But it is us - the American people who are ultimately responsible. We put these people in power.

A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.

George Orwell