Now that I’ve finished writing it, I realize that today’s diary entry is very negative. It isn’t my wish to be unduly negative, but if there’s a more positive way to spin the items today, I can’t think what it is. If I’m overlooking good news that should be shared, please let me know of that too, but I see precious little good news, just occasionally failed attempts at trying to spin bad news in a more positive form.
Things got off to a bad start when I got an email from the local congresswoman this morning touting her contributions to the so-called “Heroes Act” – Congress’ move to spend another $3 trillion dollars under the guise of saving the country from the coronavirus. I instinctively dislike all legislation with fancy names like “Heroes Act” (more often than not, the bills are the exact opposite of what their name implies), so things were off to a bad start.
Without even considering the contents of the bill, there’s a huge fundamental disconnect. Money alone, even in the unthinkable trillions of dollars, will not solve the coronavirus pandemic. The things that will solve the virus are cheap and easy. Social distancing and masks, contact tracking, and testing. Some of the poorest nations in the world are getting this right. We should learn from them.
Sadly, these essential measures received minimal consideration in this stunning display of “how to spend $3 trillion and have nothing to show for it”.
The only outcome we can expect from this $3 trillion expenditure is the need to pony up another $3 trillion in another month, and then again, and again. The last round of three trillions of dollars has done almost nothing for us, and rather than “buying us time” it has wasted our time. We need to spend smarter, not more extravagantly. Other countries around the world are emerging from their virus outbreaks and surging forward once more, but we’re still in the middle of ours, because we’ve not being doing the necessary things to solve the problem.
Notable in the bill is a provision to “invest” (of course, the more accurate word is “spend” or “gift”) nearly $1 trillion in state, local and tribal governments for “the usual suspects” – public health, EMS, firefighters and schools. Have you noticed that whenever any tax is being levied, it is always to support these groups? Whenever any tax-cut is being threatened, it is always these groups that will suffer?
But why does the federal government need to now gift $1 trillion to state, local and tribal governments? As much as we all love firefighters and schools, why do they now need a sudden influx of federal cash? Why is the federal government spending money it doesn’t have on state and local government infrastructure under the justification of “heroically” getting through the virus pandemic? Isn’t it better for the states and local governments to do this, themselves, directly? Does someone in Washington DC know better than your local government representatives about the needs of your community?
I’d be happy to see surplus money redistributed back to the people on just about any sort of basis. But none of this money is spare or surplus. The federal government needs to act the same way we do. When we have a windfall and spare money, maybe we buy our friends a round of expensive drinks in an expensive bar, buy a new luxury car, go on a world cruise, and so on. But if we’re desperately short of money, and with debts galore, we cut back on buying expensive drinks for friends and other unnecessary extravagances, and focus on buying basic food for ourselves only.
Congress still doesn’t realize that the US is no longer a wealthy country. We are currently engaged on a wild spending spree with no thought for where the money is coming from, and with little thought for where the money is going, either.
The coronavirus is being used as an excuse and as a way to rush through an extraordinary amount of spending, much of which would not survive careful line-item scrutiny in normal times. Out of interest, I added up the “headline” disclosed items of expenditure in the first 10 pages of the bill summary, and it came to $1.51 trillion. But this is described as a $3 trillion bill. What is the other $1.5 trillion being spent on? The first ten pages detail expenditures that the bill writers wish to boast about as small as $1 million, so how is it that $1.5 trillion is somehow overlooked and left buried in the fine print?
Among the disclosed items, ignoring the many strange gifts, such as $10 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities (I don’t even know what that lucky organization is) or $14 million for fair housing initiatives, or $15 million for housing for people with AIDS, there were some bigger ticket items that stood out awkwardly. For example, there’s $25 billion being given the Postal Service – the same Postal Service that stubbornly refuses to charge merchants in China as much to mail goods to US addresses as it charges Americans to do the same thing, and now is in financial difficulty because it isn’t generating enough revenue.
We, the American taxpayers, are directly subsidizing extraordinarily profitable Chinese businesses such as Alibaba, and headed by billionaires such as Jack Ma. Not only are we doing that, we’re making it impossible for small US businesses headed by ordinary people like you and me to compete against these Chinese companies and their billionaire owners. You can buy items from China, including shipping, for less than the shipping cost alone on the same items from a US company.
That $25 billion needs its own bill and its own deliberation, not to be hidden as part of a $3 trillion bill allegedly trying to spend our way out of the coronavirus crisis. And let’s require the Post Office to at least charge international mailers at a rate that covers their costs and which is the same or higher than rates for domestic mail service.
But, back to the virus. What Congress needs to be urgently debating and enacting is how to create and put in place the low cost measures that will solve the virus problem, rather than try to salve the pain by extravagant expenditure every which way, while allowing the virus crisis to continue.
I’ve now formalized my definition for major/minor countries. For a country to be considered “major” it must have at least 10 million population. This brings about two immediate changes – Ireland loses its place in the table below, because its population is 4.9 million. And Sweden needs to be added to the top six countries in terms of death rates; I’d overlooked that Sweden has 10.1 million people.
Here are the rankings for the eight states of any size with the highest infection rates. There was no change in rankings today.
- San Marino/653 cases/the equivalent of 19,250 cases per million people
- Vatican City/12 cases/14,981 cases per million (unchanged)
- Andorra/761/9,849 (unchanged)
- Iceland/1,802/5,281 (unchanged)
Here are the top six major countries, showing death rates per million of population in the country. :
- Belgium/9,005 deaths/777 deaths per million
- Spain/27,563 deaths/590 deaths per million
- Italy/31,763 deaths/525
- United Kingdom/34,466/508
To put those numbers into context, the death rates per million in the US/Canada are 272/151. The world average (not a very reliable number) is 40.2.
For major countries and/or outbreaks, and in general :
|US Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million
|UK Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million
|Canada Cases/Deaths/Case rate per million
|Worst affected major country/case rate
|Second worst country affected
I Am Not a Doctor, But….
It frustrates me to see the continued publication of results from trials of hydroxychloroquine that “prove” the drug is not helpful in treating Covid-19.
I’ll start off with an analogy. You are thinking of buying a family car to commute around town. A car publication does a test of half a dozen cars to see which one performs the best – straightline top speed, acceleration, and cornering. The car you are considering comes bottom of all the tests.
But you are not buying a car to race on the track. You are buying a car to drive through suburbia, in dense traffic, at speeds never exceeding 40 mph. The cars that did better in the car magazine testing all cost ten times as much, and are two seaters with no room for your children or your shopping.
The test was useless, because it didn’t test the attributes that were important to you, or the attributes the car model claimed to be good at. You wanted an economical reliable functional car, not a high end luxury sports car.
In the case of hydroxychloroquine, the drug has never been recommended for later stage patients. It may have some use during the very early onset of Covid-19 symptoms. The drug is thought to possibly stop or at least slow down the rate at which the virus multiplies, and to prevent it viably overwhelming your body’s defenses to the point where the secondary symptoms and lung damage start occurring.
In such a case, what sense does it make to test the effect of HCQ on patients who are already at such an advanced state of infection that they need oxygen? It makes no sense whatsoever. No-one has ever suggested HCQ will help at that late stage. The virus has already taken over your lungs.
But trials continue to be done, testing HCQ in this context, and when it is proven to have no measurable effect, either pro or con, the trial is then trumpeted as “proving” that HCQ is useless in all contexts, even though other contexts were not tested at all.
This is such a colossal fail in logic and sense as to be very difficult to accept and excuse as being anything other than a deliberate attempt to unfairly condemn the drug. Here’s the latest such example.
We want to see testing and trialing of HCQ in the area where its supporters say it does work, not in the area where no-one has ever suggested it might work. Why is this not being done?
Timings And Numbers
49 days. That is how long it is said for New Zealand to kill off its virus infestation. It remains to be seen if their removal of most restrictions will allow them to keep the virus at bay now, but whether that is true or not, they certainly deserve congratulations for their swift triumph to date.
Compare the shape of the daily new case count curve in New Zealand to that in the US. New Zealand doesn’t have enough deaths to make a death chart meaningful – it has 21 so far, just over 1% of reported cases (the US is currently at 5.9% of reported cases).
Another country hailed as an example of a success is Iceland. Unlike New Zealand, Iceland didn’t even have a very strict lockdown, but it did have a cooperative population. Here’s their case count.
They also have a similar problem of “not enough” deaths to form a meaningful chart. They have 10, which is just over a 0.5% rate of reported cases – 11 times lower than the US at 5.9%.
Here’s an interesting article, written with the thought of outcomes as a result of the US easing back on restrictions – how long does it take to see a change in case rates after a change in social distancing restrictions?
Like everything to do with the virus and trying to measure/quantify it, the answer is not simple. In theory, if you lifted restrictions on Day 1, then already infected people immediately start infecting more people than they otherwise would, so on about Day 5 or 6, you might start to see a rise in new cases.
But this simple statement is made less exact due to the implications of asymptomatic spreading, and also the changing rates of testing for infections. So after Day 12 or so, you should have the “second generation” of new cases (ie additionally infected people in days 1 – 5 now in turn infecting another round of people) more strongly appearing.
Someone at Johns Hopkins – we don’t know, it could well have been the cleaner – said it might take up to five or six weeks to detect a response. That’s a ridiculous answer. That too is sadly a common occurrence at present – people who apparently are experts making really stupid statements.
Perhaps we should ask someone in Iceland or New Zealand to help, because plainly our experts can’t. It took them only a week or two to change their curves from upwards rising to downwards.
Closings and Openings
Here’s an interesting list of countries that have mandatory quarantines for people arriving into their country. We doubt this is a complete list, and it doesn’t also list countries that have simply banned everyone from arriving, quarantine or not (countries such as New Zealand and Australia).
Iceland has a brilliant idea for how to handle people arriving there. Arriving passengers are given a choice – a virus test to see if they have the virus or not, or a two week quarantine if they’d prefer not to be tested. We don’t know of other countries also offering the same choice, and assuming the testing is accurate, it seems like the ideal approach.
Meanwhile, for the poor old US, Canada now tells us “Keep Out!”. We have to say, we totally understand their point of view.
Logic? What Logic?
The US Navy Hospital Ship Mercy is now leaving Los Angeles. The Director of the California Office of Emergency Services, in a farewell statement, described its presence as having been “critical to our ability to respond in the first stages of the pandemic”.
The 1000 bed hospital ship handled, in total, a mere 77 patients during the 50 days it was in Los Angeles. Yes, that’s an average of 1.5 a day.
Does that really qualify as a critical element of the area’s response? According to the IHME statistics, the state was never short of hospital beds at any time, there always being 5 – 10 times more beds available than needed. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to describe it as a totally unnecessary overreaction?
Here’s an article wailing about how difficult it is to handle a situation when a customer refuses to wear a mask. The only difficulty is in the minds of people unwilling to take assertive actions to save our country and our economy.
Handling such customers is the easiest thing imaginable, if someone would have the willingness to declare martial law and announce fatal consequences for anyone seen in public without a mask, and if some of the $3 trillion “Heroes” spending bill was spent on giving everyone masks and then enforcing martial law.
Which is better – draconian enforcement or watching our country die, both in reality and economically?
Enforcement doesn’t even have to be draconian. It just has to be even-handed, fair, impartial, and consistent. Like for example, what happened to the Prime Minister of New Zealand recently.
As I’ve said before, our problem is not the virus. That is easy to beat. Our problem is ourselves. We’re taking an easy challenge and making it impossibly difficult.
Virus? What Virus?
Happily, not everywhere in the US is being so abjectly dysfunctional. This is an example of how to enforce social distancing, in Hawaii (the state with the second lowest case count per million of anywhere in the country, beaten only by Montana and the lowest death count per million).
We suspect it not altogether a random coincidence that the offender in HI was from NY.
In related HI news, the state has decided to extend its 14 day quarantine requirement for all arriving tourists until 30 June. That’s a costly measure for HI, a state that relies more on tourism than most, but it is clearly proving to be effective.
Here’s an interesting read of what it is like to work in a grocery store in New York at present. I felt myself cringing when reading of some of the appallingly insensitive and inappropriate acts of some of the customers.
It has been a negative diary entry today – if you have suggestions for how to be positive while watching our nation bleed itself to death in a slow-motion suicide, please let me know.
But to try and end on a positive note, we’ve all seen way too many terrible headlines recently. Here are some ones sure to put a smile on your face, instead.
Please stay happy and healthy; all going well, I’ll be back again tomorrow