Monday, May 25, 2020

Death and Meaning

Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them.

- Archibald MacLeish, "The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak"

There are no featured posts this week.

This week everybody was talking about Memorial Day

It takes on a somewhat different meaning this year, as the official total of coronavirus deaths approaches 100,000 Americans. (The actual total is almost certainly much higher.) The New York Times created a haunting graphic in an attempt to capture the scope of the loss.

Traditionally, Memorial Day honors those who have died serving our country in the military. (And the NYT's Elliot Ackerman reminds us of the number of veterans dying from the coronavirus.) But the current crisis reminds us that the military is not the only place where people risk their lives to defend the rest of us. Right now, healthcare workers are on the front lines, but I can't find any up-to-date estimate of the number who have died. Business Insider profiled six of them a few weeks ago.

To a lesser extent, many hundreds of thousands of people are taking on risk for the rest of us. As a 60-something whose 60-something wife has multiple risk factors, I try to remain aware of all the people I send into the world in my place: the InstaCart shopper who gets my groceries; the Amazon workers who make packages appear on my porch; the meat packers, field workers, truck drivers, and others up and down the supply chain. Our system makes most of these people invisible to us, but we should never forget them. If they get sick, it is not just their problem; we bear responsibility also.

Like soldiers, some of those risk-bearing people have intentionally sought out the mission of defending us, while others faced a situation with no other acceptable options. The pandemic has highlighted a division in our society that we usually ignore: Some of us can choose to stay safe, while others don't have those choices.

Memorial Day is also the traditional beginning of summer. Beaches are open in most states that have them. And it should be relatively safe to use them, as long as you can keep your distance from other people. Two problems to watch out for: choke points leaving the parking lot and public restrooms.

Restrooms are going to be a problem in a lot of back-to-normal plans.

and the virus

Nationwide, the numbers continue to improve. As I write this, the US death total is 99,396, up from around 91K last week. That increase of 8K or so is lower than the increases of 10K and 13K the previous two weeks. The deaths-per-day graph the Washington Post updates shows US deaths peaking in mid-April at over 2,000 per day, then trending downward to about 1,200 a day now.

But those national numbers hide an evolving story of how the epidemic is shifting. The big drops are happening in the previous hotspots around New York City, while totals are rising in many other parts of the country. Like the latest fashions or slang, coronavirus is showing up late in rural America, but it's getting there. TPM describes the case numbers for the non-New-York states as a plateau.

Imperial College of London reports on the state-by-state outlook for the virus. The key variable the report considers is the "reproduction number". In other words: On average, how many new people does each infected person infect? Since all cases eventually resolve (via recovery or death), a reproduction number of less than 1 indicates that the number of infections will decline, but greater than one predicts growth.

Our results suggest that while the US has substantially reduced its reproduction numbers in all states, there is little evidence that the epidemic is under control in the majority of states. Without changes in behaviour that result in reduced transmission, or interventions such as increased testing that limit transmission, new infections of COVID-19 are likely to persist, and, in the majority of states, grow

The report shows an epidemic in transition. Most of the states with the highest number of cases and deaths (New York, for example) have gotten the reproduction number below 1. Meanwhile, states not hit as hard so far (like Texas) have the highest reproduction numbers.

New York, New Jersey, and the other hard-hit states got their reproduction number down via "changes in behaviour": hand-washing, wearing masks, and staying indoors. But the states where the virus is growing are also relaxing their behavioral restrictions. The next few weeks will answer a key question: Will the virus "run its course" in Texas the same way it did in New York? Or will it keep spreading until Texas implements the same kind of measures New York did?

One result of Trump's divisive manipulations is that mask-wearing has become a political issue rather than a non-partisan matter of public health. Refusal to wear a mask has become an act of "vice signaling" in right-wing circles.

these people are proud to say that their passing discomfort is more important than the lives of others, or of others’ loved ones. They are vice-signaling to get accolades from their conservative peers, who think that it is the height of morality not to care about other people at all.

North Dakota's Republican Governor Doug Burgum could barely get his words out as he pleaded with Dakotans to

just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, where they're creating a divide, whether it's ideological or political or something around mask versus no-mask. ... I would ask people to try to dial up their empathy and understanding. If someone is wearing a mask, they're not doing it to represent what political party they're in or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they've got a five-year-old child who's been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their lives.

... I would love to see our state, as part of being North Dakota smart, also be North Dakota kind.

Apparently, some Republicans still think of "North Dakota nice" as a a virtue, and believe that virtue isn't just for losers. In my opinion, they need to realize that their style of Republicanism has lost out, and they're now in the wrong party.

and its effect on the economy

Georgia was the first state to start reopening its non-essential businesses, beginning on April 24. Observers on one side predicted a spike in infections and deaths, while those on the other pictured a quick economic recovery. So far, reality is not working out in either of those ways. Imperial College's estimates of Georgia virus-reproduction rate look like this:

Both the 50% and the 95% confidence intervals stretch across the R=1 line, so the virus might be either spreading or retreating. There might be a slight upward trend since April 24, but it's not clear.

Similarly, the Georgia economy is not showing a rapid recovery. To start with, Georgians are still spending a lot of time at home. The amount of time outside the home has increased somewhat since April 24, but it's nowhere near its pre-pandemic levels.

Steve Rattner writes:

Consumer spending in Georgia has tracked the national average even more closely. It fell sharply from mid-March until it hit bottom about a month later, at more than 30% below early January levels. Coincidentally or not, the nadir of spending coincided almost exactly with the first of the $1,200 stimulus checks going out. From there, spending has been slowly recovering but is still down about 15% in both Georgia and the country as a whole. Other, even more recent data (like OpenTable restaurant reservations) show a similar picture. ... Notwithstanding its short shutdown and early reopening, the falloff in job listings in Georgia has been identical to the national decline, down more than 36%. Other statistics, like new claims for unemployment insurance, paint an even grimmer picture of the employment situation in Georgia.

The gist is that while Georgia has relaxed its restrictions on business, it still hasn't convinced consumers that it's safe to come out. That's keeping both infection rates and job growth in check.

The Payroll Protection Plan passed by Congress at the beginning of the lockdown may not keep about half the nation's small businesses from closing. The PPP was

tailored to what the crisis looked liked when shutdowns first took place in the olden times of March 2020, when it seemed that business closures would be a short-term blip and everyone might be able to get back to normal by summer. ... For loans made under the program to be fully forgiven, an employer must maintain pre-crisis employment levels. Now it’s clear many businesses will permanently shift to smaller staffing levels to remain viable, such as restaurants operating at partial capacity.

The biggest reopening question is still one of the most uncertain: Will schools open in the fall? And if so, how will they adjust to the infection risk?

Colleges and universities are a bit ahead of K-12 schools in announcing decisions, but many of them are still on the fence as well.  Here's a rundown of what we know so far.

and churches

I wonder if other people are having the same response I'm having to a lot of what Trump says these days: His pronouncements are becoming so divorced from reality that they're not even worth getting upset over.

That was how I felt Friday about his insistence that houses of worship are "essential", and his threat to "override" state orders that don't allow them to open "right now this weekend". Trump has no authority to override state orders, and in fact the weekend passed without any action on his part. (In his defense, the criticism Trump took for going golfing Sunday morning was unfair. The President practices the same faith as Snow White's stepmother, and attended services in front of his favorite mirror before teeing off.)

But anyway, ignoring Trump's role in the discussion, is opening churches a good idea? No.

Church services commonly share a number of factors that make them dangerous during an epidemic: large numbers of people indoors for an extended period, the temptation to touch other people or stand close to them, and singing, which projects virus-laden particles much further than ordinary breathing. (Six feet is not nearly enough social distance if people are singing.) A number of local outbreaks have been traced to Sunday services, funerals, and even choir practices.

Massachusetts started allowing churches to reopen (at 40% capacity) last Monday, but my Unitarian Universalist church in Bedford has no plans to do so anytime soon. (UUs don't believe that our religion exempts us from epidemiology.) Social-media chatter among my fellow parishioners was universally negative about Governor Baker's decision. Holding services over Zoom may be a poor substitute for being together, but if staying apart is how we can best take care of each other, that's what we should do.

I wouldn't want to belong to a church where people didn't feel that way.

Trump and Attorney General Barr have made a lot of noise about First Amendment issues. (Now they believe in separation of church and state.) But constitutional issues only arise if churches are treated differently from other organizations that pose a comparable risk to public health. Church buildings have long been subject to zoning rules, building codes, and maximum occupancy limits. Quarantine rules should be no different.

Trump cited the injustice of liquor stores being open when churches are not, but that's just silly. When hundreds of people start singing together in liquor stores, his argument will begin to make sense. (If you know of such a liquor store, please leave a comment. Testify!)

and Mike Pompeo

In any other administration, he'd have resigned or been fired by now.

In this administration, the inspector general investigating him got fired at his request. It's hard to say exactly why he was fired, because three different Pompeo scandals were brewing on three different scales: one is personal, one is related to abusing his office for political gain, and one involves abuse of emergency powers to circumvent the will of Congress.

Walk the dog. The simplest scandal is the personal one. Pompeo reportedly used a State Department staffer to "walk his dog, pick up his dry cleaning and make dinner reservations for Pompeo and his wife, among other personal errands".

This kind of abuse has become just the way things work in the Trump administration. Trump himself doesn't even pretend to be upset by it.

I have you telling me about dog walking, washing dishes and you know what, I’d rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes because maybe his wife isn’t there or his kids aren’t

This gets back to a basic failure in Trump's thinking: He has never understood the difference between himself and his office. He thinks the powers and perks of his office belong to him as a person, and there makes no separation between their legitimate and illegitimate use. Here, he has extended that vision to Pompeo: If you work for the Secretary of State, you work for Mike Pompeo personally. There's no distinction.

BTW: It shouldn't matter, but the dog is adorable.

Madison dinners. Since taking over the State Department in 2018, Pompeo and his wife have hosted about two dozen "Madison Dinners" on the taxpayers' dime, to the tune of "several hundred dollars per plate". NBC News estimates the total cost of the dinners running "into the six figures".

State Department officials involved in the dinners said they had raised concerns internally that the events were essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo's political ambitions — complete with extensive contact information that gets sent back to Susan Pompeo's personal email address.

Guests include billionaire conservative donors, media figures (skewed "heavily toward conservative TV personalities, with 39 percent of them from Fox News"), members of Congress (all Republicans), lobbyists, and celebrities like country singer Reba McEntire and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Pompeo has also been criticized for his frequent trips back to Kansas paid for by the State Department. Kansas is not noted for its extensive foreign policy significance, but Mitch McConnell wants Pompeo to run for the Senate there.

Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration has long faced bipartisan pushback in Congress against its pro-Saudi positions. One way this manifested was in congressional resistance to selling arms for the Saudis to use in their bloody war in Yemen. Almost exactly a year ago, Trump pushed an arms sale through by declaring an emergency. This exploited a loophole in the Arms Control Act.

"President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale," Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said in a statement. "There is no new 'emergency' reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there. This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress."

It was particularly odd that the entire $8 billion sale was considered an emergency, including weapons that were not even built yet. Pompeo went against the advice he had been getting from career State Department diplomats, but

"They seemed to have a game plan and it had to be justified," said a State Department official who told CNN they had communicated what happened to the State Department's Office of the Inspector General during an interview late last year, as part of the watchdog's investigation into Pompeo's move to fast track the sale.

"The attitude was very Trumpian," the official added.

Pompeo's demand meant State Department officials had to reverse engineer the situation to provide the justification for a decision which was made in an aggressive and unconventional manner, the sources said.

The fired inspector general was known to be looking into this sale. Pompeo had refused to meet with the IG for an interview, but agreed to answer written questions.

Wired spells out just how completely Pompeo has changed his tune since leaving Congress to take over the CIA and then the State Department. In Congress, he believed that Congress had a responsibility to watchdog the Obama administration. But now he thwarts congressional oversight at every turn.

and Hong Kong

The coronavirus pandemic interrupted a series of confrontations between Hong Kong democracy protesters and the Beijing-supported government. In April, several leaders of the democracy movement were arrested.

The Chinese National People's Congress began meeting on Friday.

Beijing's 3,000-member rubber-stamp legislature is poised to usher in controversial "national security" legislation that would ban treason, secession, sedition and subversion in the former British colony.

There's mounting fear that Beijing would use the new laws to subvert semi-autonomous Hong Kong's remaining rights, which include freedom of speech and assembly, and the city's independent judiciary. If that happens, it would be a death knell for the "One Country, Two Systems" policy that officially guarantees Hong Kong's semi-autonomy until 2047.

The Trump administration "strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal", but Trump's record supporting Hong Kong has been spotty. (He once described the democracy protests as "riots", echoing Chinese government propaganda.)

The administration's China policy has been all over the map. Trump has alternately flattered President Xi and talked about getting tough with China. It's never been clear whether he was taking national-security issues with China seriously, or just using them for leverage in a trade deal. Recently he's been attacking China to divert attention from his own failure to respond to the coronavirus crisis, and trying to tie presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden to China.

Whatever he ends up doing or saying about Hong Kong will probably have more to do with those factors than with Hong Kong itself. Xi will undoubtedly read it that way and respond accordingly.

and Joe Biden

Joe Biden appeared on CNBC Friday morning and answered questions from their hosts. You might think that being a sister of MSNBC would prejudice them in Biden's favor, but CNBC is the business network in the NBC stable, so its programming is pitched towards investors who lean more conservative. It's more of a Tory conservatism than Tea Party conservatism, a little like "The Economist".

So it was a polite interview (the hosts were never aggressive or hostile with him) but also a challenging one. Biden was asked difficult questions (with occasional follow-ups) about taxes, China, healthcare, energy, re-opening the economy, and what kind of further stimulus or support the economy might need. (He wasn't asked about issues unrelated to investments, like the Tara Reade accusation or who his running mate will be.)

Nothing in the interview surprised me from a policy standpoint. For example, he repeated the healthcare position he has held for some while: He doesn't support Medicare for All, but he does want to expand ObamaCare and give it a Medicare-like public option. He thinks the government's fiscal response to the current economic crisis should be aimed at Main Street rather than Wall Street.

Realizing I wasn't going to hear policy changes, I started trying to evaluate Biden's mental processes, since Trump wants to make that an issue. The main thing I noticed was that Biden's mind -- unlike Trump's -- seems flexible. He can shift contexts and subjects when necessary, but he can also stay on a subject when that's appropriate. He doesn't blather -- as Trump often does -- to hide the fact that he can't place what the questioner is asking. (This is speculation, but I believe that a lot of Trump's insults happen when he has talked himself into a corner and doesn't know how to finish whatever he started to say. Insulting the questioner interrupts the conversation and sets it on a new path.)

Late in the interview Biden starts to miss words, creating sentences that look bad in the transcript. (At one point he talks about "a system nationwide that can transmit coal and wind across the country", which doesn't make sense. I suspect he's talking about long-distance load-balancing on the electrical grid, to compensate for the unpredictability of wind and solar production. But the subject goes by too fast to be sure.)

This is a kind of mental glitch I'm familiar with, because my father had fairly severe aphasia as he got older: He didn't have any trouble thinking, but it became increasingly difficult for him to find the right words to express his thoughts. (One telling example: Dad needed to buy something to complete a household project, but he couldn't tell me the name of the store he wanted to go to or what street it was on. So we just started driving, and he told me to turn here and turn there. He guided me straight to a paint store, got the thing he wanted, and went home to finish the project. His mind was perfectly clear and never wandered; he just couldn't communicate what he was thinking.)

Biden's word-loss problems aren't nearly as bad as Dad's were, but they seem similar. To me, it sounds like he quickly revises sentences in his head when he realizes he's not coming up with a word he wants. As a result, he often interrupts himself, and occasionally the sentence he says is some unfortunate combination of the original and the revised sentence.

What I don't see is any evidence of an impairment in his thinking process. To the extent that there's a problem at all, it's in his words, not in his thoughts.

Biden also did a long interview with Stephen Colbert.

I suppose I have to mention Biden's flip comment on the Breakfast Club radio show that "if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black."

I think the best take on that statement came from The Root's Michael Harriot: Biden proved once again that he's a white man in America. The facial expression I read into Harriot's article is an eye-roll, not shock or horror.

Like most Biden "gaffes", it's clear what he meant, and there's an accurate thought back there that he should have expressed better: He doesn't understand why a black voter should have trouble picking between Barack Obama's vice president and a guy who thinks white supremacists are "very fine people". Neither do I.

CNN's Chris Cillizza put Biden's statement into perspective by pointing out that Trump says or tweets something that bad or worse literally every day, and supported his claim by finding eight more outrageous Trump comments from the previous 48 hours.

and you also might be interested in ...

Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker writes an NYT op-ed "Don't Bail Out the States".

Workers and small businesses need help more than government bureaucracies.

In Walker's universe, people who get their paychecks from governments -- i.e.,  teachers, firemen, police, EMTs, and the people who fill potholes and keep the traffic lights working -- they're not "workers", they're "bureaucrats". All the scrambling the governors have been doing to get masks for nurses and ventilators for critical patients in the ICU -- that's "bureaucracy".

And here's an interesting retelling of history:

federal funding is likely to diminish over time, creating further holes in state budgets. Shortfalls created by the disappearance of federal stimulus funds was a primary reason for the budget crisis that many state governments faced after the last recession.

That was kind of the point: delaying state budget crises until after the recession, rather than forcing states to lay off thousands and thousands of workers (yes, they are workers) at the same time everybody else was laying off workers.

And if the pandemic has shown anything, it's that when a deadly crisis hits, somebody has to be able to do what needs doing without checking with the accountants first. At the moment, the only entity that has that power is the federal government; states eventually have to balance their budgets. But Walker recommends we give that option up too.

Even without bailing out state governments, federal spending levels are unsustainable. It is exactly why we need a balanced-budget amendment to force politicians in Washington — in both parties — to get serious about balancing the federal budget.

If Walker worries about the deficit, he must have been really horrified when the Trump tax cut was passed, blowing $1.9 trillion hole in the country's 10-year budget projection. Well, no. He liked that. Running a deficit to support executive bonuses and stock buy-backs -- that's just great. It's only running a deficit to save lives that bothers him.

You can expect to see lots more of this deficit hypocrisy after Biden takes office in January.

Finally, Walker never answers the question his proposals raise: Who should we let die of the virus rather than borrow money to treat them? Who should we let go without food or shelter, so that they can die in our streets?

The Trump administration has used the coronavirus emergency to make its border policies even more cruel than they already were.

Historically, young migrants who showed up at the border without adult guardians were provided with shelter, education, medical care and a lengthy administrative process that allowed them to make a case for staying in the United States. Those who were eventually deported were sent home only after arrangements had been made to assure they had a safe place to return to.

That process appears to have been abruptly thrown out under President Trump’s latest border decrees. Some young migrants have been deported within hours of setting foot on American soil. Others have been rousted from their beds in the middle of the night in U.S. government shelters and put on planes out of the country without any notification to their families.

Grist looks at how much the lockdown has decreased carbon emissions, both worldwide and in the US. The drop is significant, but maybe not as large as you might have hoped.

A new analysis in the science journal Nature Climate Change ... found that the world is on track for the biggest emissions drop since World War II, or maybe even the biggest drop in history, depending on how long global lockdowns stay in place. (The study estimates that by the end of the year emissions could decline anywhere between 2 to 13 percent overall, depending on the nature and duration of governments’ lockdown policies.) During the peak of global lockdowns in early April, average daily emissions decreased by 17 percent compared to the 2019 average, hitting their lowest point since 2006. Nearly half of those emissions were from “surface transport,” like car rides.

In a 2018 report, the IPCC called for much steeper reductions by 2030 and 2050.

The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.

The lesson I draw from this is that we can't get there just by cutting back. We need big changes to how major systems work, not just restraint in how much we use them.

Binyamin Appelbaum wrote an article on homelessness whose title says it all: "America's Cities Could House Everyone If They Chose To".

Homelessness is often blamed on mental illness or drug addiction or some other individual failing. But while those problems might be contributing causes in specific cases, the main cause of homelessness is lack of affordable housing.

 According to one analysis, a $100 increase in the average monthly rent in a large metro area is associated with a 15 percent increase in homelessness. Consider a simple comparison: In 2018, eight out of every 10,000 Michigan residents were homeless. In California, it was 33 per 10,000. In New York, it was 46 per 10,000.

Other countries do better with a different approach.

Countries confronting homelessness with greater success than the United States, including Finland and Japan, begin by treating housing as a human right. In the United States, by contrast, politicians decry the problem but aim for more modest goals. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to New York last December “to end long-term street homelessness as we know it” is a classic of the genre; most homeless people in the city live in shelters, not on the street.

Rather than blaming homelessness on psychological or substance-abuse problems, we should begin treating the other problems by getting people off the streets. Other countries do this, as do some veterans programs here.

This is cheaper than leaving people to remain homeless and then intervening intermittently. One study found that in the two years after a person entered supportive housing in New York, he or she spent on average 83 fewer days in shelters, 28 fewer days in psychiatric hospitals and four fewer days in prison.

"The first painting I ever loved was probably a cliche. Now I understand why it moved me so." This beautiful piece of introspection and reminiscence by Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott doesn't connect to any current news story, but read it anyway. At the time -- when he was 10 or 12 -- he didn't care who painted the scene of an old French town or when it was painted. In adulthood he can't find his old poster or identify the painting. And if he did, what then?

I want to see it as I was then, not as I am now. I want to see it with the eyes that needed it.

This is one of the lessons grief teaches us, the futility of that desire to possess the world as it once was, even if art keeps trying to tell us the opposite: that the old place is just there, round the bend in the road, and it’s always waiting for you.

and let's close with some stress reduction ... maybe

With so much stress in our lives these days, we could all use some relief. Though, this Dalek relaxation tape is maybe not the way to get there.

You might have better luck with a different mantra.

Monday, May 4, 2020

The Least You Can Do

If you expect elementary school children to endure the trauma of active shooter drills for your freedoms, you can wear a mask to Costco.

- Heidi Freymiller (5-1-2020)

This week's featured post is "Things We're Finding Out About the Pandemic".

This week everybody was talking about states reopening

On Tuesday, NBC News made the same claim I've been making here:

no state that has opted to reopen has come close to the federally recommended decline in cases over a 14-day period.

This Fox News clip where Chris Wallace interviews Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves is illuminating. Wallace posts the last week of new-case numbers from Mississippi, noting that Friday was a new high of 397 (compared to 281 the previous Friday, and higher than anything in between) and asks "Why are you reopening Mississippi at all when you haven't met the White House guideline of a steady downward trajectory for two straight weeks?" Governor Reeves replies:

You have to understand that Mississippi is different than New York and Mississippi is different than New Jersey. ... They had a huge spike of cases in a very short period of time. But Mississippi is not like that. What we have seen is for the last 35 or 40 days, we've been between 200 and 300 cases without a spike. Our hospital system is not stressed. We have less than 100 people in our state on ventilators. ... Sometimes the models are different for different states. ... We believe that particular gating criteria just doesn't work in states like ours, who have never had more than 300 cases in any one day, with the exception of Friday.

If you look at their daily death totals, Mississippi has been losing about 10-12 people a day since mid-April, with extremes of 2 (April 27) and 20 (May 1). Reeves is saying, essentially, "We're OK with more deaths than that." He's also ignoring how infectious disease work: New York had 2 deaths on March 18 and 4 on March 19. Mississippians have no special immunity.

This is an example of the peculiar myopia that makes conservatives such poor guardians of public health. Public health is necessarily social, and conservatives see only individuals. (As Maggie Thatcher put it: "There's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.") It may be true that an individual Mississippian going to a bar or restaurant right now faces a much different risk than a New Yorker. But that doesn't mean Mississippi isn't at risk.

and the meat-packing order

It's easy to get overcome by righteous anger at workers being ordered to risk their lives. But at the same time it's hard to figure out what is actually real in this story.

Start with this: Meat-packing plants have been the sources of several of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in the country, especially among those in rural areas or small towns. Several of them have had to close down, at least temporarily. Management has promised that workers will all be tested, but a lot of them actually haven't been. Mother Jones reports about a JBS plant in Greeley, Colorado:

Those who have returned talk about improved conditions, including temperature monitoring before each shift and staggered lunch breaks, but there’s a looming fear that the virus is still spreading silently among the workforce. The company still hasn’t implemented all-employee testing and contact tracing or provided sequestration housing for sick workers, two strategies that the health department deemed necessary before the plant should reopen. Yet the Republican-controlled board of Weld County Commissioners is not only allowing JBS to remain open but encouraging all businesses in Greeley to reopen this week.

Into the middle of this, the White House says that Trump is ordering all meat-packing plants to stay open. Except, that's not quite what the executive order says. The order isn't addressed to the meat-packers, or anybody other than the Secretary of Agriculture. The order delegates to the Ag-Sec the president's power to invoke the Defense Production Act "to ensure the continued supply of meat and poultry, consistent with the guidance for the operations of meat and poultry processing facilities jointly issued by the CDC and OSHA." Whatever that means.

The meat-packing plants have not all reopened yet, though Secretary Perdue (no relation to Perdue Chicken) expects them to in "days, not weeks". Whether he has actually invoked the DPA is unclear. Exactly what has been done to make the workers safer is iffy. Whether the workers will show up when the plants reopen is also unclear.

"I don't see it having much effect," said Stephen Meyer, an economist at Kerns & Associates working with the pork industry. "You can tell anybody to open up a plant, but if the workers don't show up, it doesn't work."

"It's nice of the President to think we're important and everything, but I don't think it's going to cause very many plants to open," he added.

So, Trump got his on-camera moment looking all decisive and presidential, but it's not clear what he actually accomplished for good or ill.

BTW: As I revealed last week, I owned Tyson stock for a few weeks, but sold it when I noticed the infection stories.

and Joe Biden

This week Biden released a statement and took questions about the Tara Reade accusation that he sexually assaulted her when she was a staffer in his Senate office in 1993. He made a full denial: "This never happened."

Democrats and other liberals have been having a fairly calm and sensitive discussion of the issue, especially compared to the foaming at the mouth we saw from conservatives during the Kavanaugh hearings. There's a general consensus that Reade's story needs to be heard and examined, but also that we shouldn't automatically assume it's true.

Reade was one of several women who came forward last year to talk about how Biden touched them in ways they found inappropriate, or stood too close to them, or otherwise made them feel uncomfortable. She told The Union, a California newspaper:

“He used to put his hand on my shoulder and run his finger up my neck,” Reade said. “I would just kind of freeze and wait for him to stop doing that.”

None of the accusations against Biden at that time were overtly sexual; Biden sounded like a lot of guys of his generation who hadn't gotten the memo about how to treat women in the workplace in this era. If you wanted to be generous to him, you could assume no bad intent on his part.

But in March, after Biden had all but clinched the Democratic nomination for president, Reade began to tell a more damaging story: Biden pushed her against a wall, put his hand up her skirt and pushed a finger into her vagina.

Like most stories of this type, there are no uninvolved witnesses to the act itself. Reade's brother and a neighbor say she told them about the assault soon afterward. Reade claims she complained to her supervisors at the time, but they say she didn't.

Reade now says she made claims of sexual harassment, but not assault, to her supervisors in Biden’s office; they vehemently deny hearing any such complaint. She says she was told to find a new job by a supervisor, but she has also changed her recollection of which supervisor it was when speaking to reporters in recent weeks (all of the people she named deny it). The AP contacted 21 former Biden staffers, none of whom remember any Reade complaint against their boss. Reade also claims she complained to the Senate personnel office; there is no record of it.

Biden has asked the National Archives to look for Reade's complaint.

My point of view on this is skewed by a prior prediction. (I'm not sure whether I made it on this blog or just in social media.) Early in the primary campaign I argued that the Democrats should nominate a woman (I ultimately endorsed Elizabeth Warren), and one of my reasons was that after the Kavanaugh battle, Republicans would find an accuser for any man the Democrats nominated. (BTW: I still believe that is true, and that abandoning Biden won't fix it. If he's replaced by Cuomo or any of the other men whose names have been floated, an accusation against the new candidate will surface as well.)

I'm not saying Reade was put up to this by the Republicans. But if Reade didn't exist, she would have to be invented. I have no special reason not to believe her account, but I was anticipating somebody's accusation and prepared not to believe it.

Several Obama staffers have made the same point: We investigated Biden pretty thoroughly back in 2008, and we didn't find any trace of this.

Biden's request to the National Archives has gotten subsumed by the idea that he should open the collection of his Senate papers that he gave to the University of Delaware, on the condition that they not be available to scholars until after he had left public life. Biden has refused this, claiming that (1) records about Reade or her complaint wouldn't be in there anyway; and (2) the collection contains a lot internal office memos and things that would be embarrassing to numerous people, not just him.

The what-should-Biden-reveal issue is a separate thing from the Reade accusation itself. Heather Cox Richardson wrote about it at length on Saturday, and I think she nailed it: This is Hillary's emails all over again.

Trump and his GOP enablers are controlling today’s political narrative, just as they did before the 2016 election.

... The files will contain the sausage making of various political issues that can be cherrypicked to destroy careers (not just Biden’s). Of course Trump people want to expose everything Biden did as a senator. Media outlets are salivating to get into the papers for their own reasons: can you imagine the stories detailing rivalries from the thirty years Biden was in the Senate? It would rival the hay made off the stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 which, after all, revealed nothing illegal, but embarrassed Hillary Clinton and the DNC.

The pressure on Biden to release his papers strikes me as the bad faith use of an important political conversation to score political points. It is vital to uncover the truth of what happened between Biden and Reade, but that’s not what’s going on here. Observers are demanding the release of material that has been donated in good faith for future researchers, to uncover information that we know full well would not be stored there. But it would certainly weaken Biden as a candidate.

At the same time, Trump simply refuses to show anyone anything. Once again, the media is dancing to his tune, making Biden’s reluctance to open his Senate records look nefarious while giving Trump a pass

Whatever Biden reveals, it will not be enough. And meanwhile, Trump will have revealed nothing. Still no tax returns. Nothing about his Russian investors. All conversations related to his obstruction of justice or his Ukraine extortion remain privileged.

and Trump's brownshirts

I know they're not calling themselves brownshirts -- and Trump is calling them "very good people", similar to his characterization of the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville as "very fine people" -- but when you "protest" with an AR-15, you're not protesting, you're trying to intimidate and terrorize.

A person carrying a gun to go hunting or target shooting is transporting the weapon to use for its lawful and intended purpose. Whether armed protesters admit it or not, gun-carrying to a political rally serves a different, disturbing and unnecessary purpose: intimidation. It is inherent in the act, putting it squarely at odds with vigorous, open and lawful political dissent.

This woman at an Illinois rally gives the game away with her "Arbeit Macht Frei" message to Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker. The slogan "Work Makes Free" comes from the Nazi concentration camps. Pritzker is Jewish.

It's important not to tar everyone with the same brush. I'm sure a lot of people who protest the lockdowns just want to go to the beach. But white supremacist or neo-fascist groups like the Proud Boys are at the core of these protests, and are using them to recruit.

Rule of thumb: If you're at a protest and the people around you have AR-15s or are quoting Nazis, go home.

So many people have made this point already that I won't belabor it, but only white men could do this. Black or brown people who tried to enter a state capitol with military-style weapons would be ordered to the ground, and if they didn't comply fast enough they'd be killed. It's that simple.

When the Black Panthers took guns to the California state capitol in 1967, they were disarmed, despite the fact that they were breaking no laws. California subsequently passed a gun control law, with the support of the NRA. The Second Amendment isn't an issue when black people are being disarmed.

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It looks like North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un is fine. There's no official explanation of why he didn't appear in public for about three weeks, but maybe it had something to do with coronavirus.

George W. Bush released a three-minute video to encourage the nation in this time of crisis. In it, he strikingly demonstrates the human qualities that Trump lacks.

Let us remember how small our differences are in the face of this shared threat. In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants. We are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together, and we are determined to rise.

Bush was never known as Mr. Empathy, but nothing about being a Republican forces a person to be callous and self-centered. Trump is doing that on his own.

Naturally, Trump viewed this example of leadership as an attack, and struck back.

@PeteHegseth “Oh bye the way, I appreciate the message from former President Bush, but where was he during Impeachment calling for putting partisanship aside.” @foxandfriends He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!

Actually, Trump should be thanking Bush for staying silent during impeachment. The ex-president could have been pointing out the obvious fact that Trump was guilty. If partisanship had been put aside, and if Congress had responded only to the facts, Trump would have been removed from office.

Last Monday I wrote about "Why the Country isn't Rallying Around Trump's Flag". Thursday, Vox' Roge Karma took on the exact same topic, but added an international angle: "Many world leaders have seen double-digit polling surges amid coronavirus. Trump isn’t one of them."

Like me, Karma observes that Americans are rallying around their governors, many of whom have seen large increases in their approval ratings. But his data about other world leaders is also illuminating.

But ultimately he came to the same conclusion I did: Unity is just not what Trump does.

There’s been a lot of focus on how the Trump administration was technically and strategically unprepared for this crisis — and that’s true. But there’s also a way in which Trump himself was not temperamentally or ideologically prepared for it either. Trump built his political career atop fracture, conflict, and polarization. But he’s just collided with a crisis that demands solidarity, unity, and mutuality.

James Hamblin wonders:

I’m curious how psychiatrists diagnose people with depression now. Usually if people come in saying they’ve stopped leaving home, feel like every day is the same, are constantly overwhelmed by the plight of humanity, stopped getting dressed, stopped showering ... typically a yes.

Now that's all normal behavior.

I try to minimize the these-people-are-assholes anecdotes, because I could fill the whole Sift with them every week. I'm not sure who would benefit from reading them.

But the Mike-Pence-face-mask thing stands out, though, because it's got all the elements: (1) the original assholery: Pence toured Mayo Clinic and ignored their regulations about wearing a face mask. He even let himself be photographed barefaced. (2) the lie: After a bunch of bogus excuses didn't impress anybody, his people lied: They said Pence didn't know about the rule. Also, Pence is apparently too dense to look around, see that everyone else is wearing a mask, and ask a question. (3) claiming victimhood: When a reporter caught them in the lie -- pointing out that Pence's staff had told reporters planning to go on the trip that they'd need to bring masks -- Pence's people called a foul on the reporter: That pre-trip notification was off the record, so the reporter owed Pence an apology.

and let's close with nine good minutes

Just because school is out and they're scattered to the winds, that doesn't mean that over 100 Julliard musicians and dancers couldn't work together on this amazing performance of Bolero. Be sure to check out the making-of article.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Speculation and Circumstance

Due to recent speculation and social media activity, RB (the makers of Lysol and Dettol) has been asked whether internal administration of disinfectants may be appropriate for investigation or use as a treatment for coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).

-- The Reckitt Benckiser Group

This week's featured posts are "Why the Country Isn't Rallying Around Trump's Flag" and "Trump is Still Eating Souls".

This week everybody was talking about states reopening

As I pointed out last week, no state truly fulfilled the criteria that the federal guidelines set out for beginning to roll back stay-at-home orders or other lockdown provisions. But Georgia allowed a variety of non-essential businesses, like barbers and nail salons, to open on Friday. Some of them did, but others decided not to. Restaurants and movie theaters will be allowed to open today.

A few other states are reopening a few types of businesses, and most states have announced a planning process that will lead to reopening at some undetermined future date.

Even if government allows it, reopening is a complex decision for a business to make. Of course you want to get your revenue stream started again. But are you telling your workers and your customers that you don't care about their health? And if social distancing requires a restaurant to reduce its number of tables or a theater to reduce its seating, does its business model still work?

Everybody wants life to go back to normal, when you could go out to the mall without worrying about dying on a ventilator. But "back to normal" requires more than just unlocking the mall.

Also last week: I predicted that Trump would throw Republican governors under the bus. Thursday, a headline in the WaPo read: "Donald Trump Just Threw Georgia's Governor Directly Under the Bus on Coronavirus".

A reopen-the-economy protest in Arizona backfired when ICU nurse Lauren Leander showed up and silently observed. She was one of four healthcare workers at the rally. Healthcare workers have shown up at similar rallies around the country.

That poor guy with the flag, unable to intimidate one skinny little female. He'll have to go home and order a big new gun to restore his manhood.

Congress passed another half-trillion in money for small businesses and hospitals. The one saving grace of Trump's presidency is that deficits only matter when a Democrat is in office.

and the death totals rising

Friday, the United States recorded its 50,000th coronavirus death. This morning, we're up to 990K cases and 55,506 deaths. That's up from 40K deaths last Monday and 22K the week before. So the new deaths this week were slightly down, from 18K to 15K. Unless the trends slow down a lot faster, we'll pass 60,000 deaths before the next Weekly Sift comes out on May 4.

If you remember, 60K has been tossed around as the likely total number of American deaths from this entire pandemic. That we're sailing past it with considerable momentum should make everyone stop and think.

The IHME, [IHME Director Christopher Murray] said, will update its estimates next week to reflect a gloomier future amid indications that states like Georgia will begin to reopen — and boost the odds of a prolonged pandemic.

“We had presumed, perhaps naively, that given the magnitude of the epidemic, most states would stick to their social distancing until the end of May,” Murray said. “That is not happening.”

Another milestone likely to be passed in the next few days: 58,209, the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War. We passed the Korean War total of 36,516 a week or so ago without much fanfare.

Confession time: I have been an economic pessimist for at least a year, so I happened to be in a relatively good position when the stock market collapsed. I lost money, of course, but I also had some cash to reinvest at the new low prices. I went looking for companies that would still be able to sell their products, and one I picked was Tyson Foods, the meat company. I was still buying chicken, so I figured everybody else must be also.

A couple weeks ago, when stories of the virus outbreaks at meat-packing plants started to surface, I realized that I had inadvertently joined the ranks of the villains: People were dying to make me money. Meat-packing plants are set up to crowd workers together, so if one of them gets sick, it spreads quickly.

So I sold the stock (at a profit, which feels weird). Anyway, yesterday Tyson took out full-page ads in major newspapers to emphasize how important it is to keep their plants open. They're vital to the nation's food supply and so on (which is true, but is only part of the picture). The letter from their chairman is very precisely worded, so he at least appears to care about the health and safety of his workers. But it's hard not to be skeptical of lines like: "The government bodies at the national, state, and city levels must unite in a comprehensive, thoughtful, and productive way to allow our team members to work in safety without fear, panic, or worry."

It kind of sounds like, "If we only kill a few workers, regulators should let us get away with it."

From an editorial in National Catholic Reporter:

The question for the church in the United States is whether we will come out of this austere moment able to admit the role Catholics and their leaders played in electing and enabling a man who, far from being pro-life, has proven himself a distinct danger to life on several levels. ...

This awful moment has laid bare the high cost to the U.S. church of 30 years or more of accommodation to a culture of political expediency and an attempt to diminish the community of faith's responsibility to the common good. Single-issue voting relieved too many of us of the responsibility to engage deeper political and historical realities. The questions we're left with are urgent.

The reckoning is upon us.

Dr. Fauci gets his wish: Brad Pitt plays him on SNL.

and injecting disinfectant

which you SHOULDN'T DO, under any circumstances. (Not that you ever would.)

In "Trump is Still Eating Souls", I talked about the Thursday briefing where Trump suggested this, focusing not on why he said such a stupid thing (I think we all know the answer to that) but why none of the medical people corrected him before any damage was done.

If Republicans want to do some whataboutism here, they can point to stupid things Joe Biden has said, of which there are many (though I don't remember any quite this bad). Words tend to pile up in Biden's head, and sometimes they come out in an order that doesn't make sense. Even Barack Obama, who generally thinks clearly on his feet and speaks off-the-cuff in well constructed paragraphs, once flubbed by saying he had visited "57 states".

The difference is that Biden and Obama have enough strength of character to own up to their mistakes and laugh at themselves. (So could both Presidents Bush. It's a character thing, not a red/blue thing.) So no Obama apologist had to argue that there really are 57 states, or deny what the tape clearly recorded, or insist that the President had intentionally exaggerated for effect. Instead, Obama confessed, "I understand I said there were 57 states today. It's a sign that my numeracy is getting a little ..." at which point an aide interrupted and ushered journalists out of the room.

But Thursday-into-Friday the White House and the entire Trump propaganda machine had to turn itself inside-out denying the obvious fact that the President had said something asinine and harmful. At first, Fox News just didn't comment on it. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted that the media was to blame for taking Trump's comments "out of context". (They hadn't.) Then Friday, Trump gaslighted the country: His suggestion was "sarcastic", a sarcasm so subtle that no one -- not Birx, not Bryan, not McEnany, not Sean Hannity or Laura Ingraham -- had recognized it up to that very moment.

But now that's the official explanation, so all those whose souls Trump has eaten have to parrot it. If anybody says anything else, they are the ones who are being absurd. "How can any adult believe, seriously believe, that he was saying, 'Hey, people should inject Clorox into their body'?" Fox News host Greg Gutfeld asked incredulously.

That's how gaslighting works: How can any loyal subject truly believe that the Emperor is walking down the street naked? That's just crazy.

If Trump's "sarcasm" didn't appeal to your sense of humor, try Randy Rainbow's "A Spoonful of Clorox". What have you got to lose?

And while we're singing, here's "The Liar Tweets Tonight" by Roy Zimmerman and The ReZisters, featuring Sandy Riccardi, in collaboration with the Raging Grannies of Mendocino.

and the immigration ban

A new executive order shuts down the green-card process for 60 days. Ostensibly this has something to do with the pandemic, but that explanation isn't credible. Really it's Trump using the virus as cover for something he wanted to do anyway.

and this just in: Russia helped Trump win

One casualty of the Trump-era news cycle is that by the time evidence comes in and reasonable people have a chance to weigh it, the whole subject feels like ancient history.

Case in point: The Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that all Trump's talk about a "hoax" or "coup" or whatever is baseless. The intelligence community's assessment of the Trump/Russia thing was right. Russia did intervene in the 2016 election, and did it for the purpose of making Trump president.

For years, President Trump has derided the assessment by American intelligence officials that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to assist his candidacy, dismissing it without evidence as the work of a “deep state” out to undermine his victory.

But on Tuesday, a long-awaited Senate review led by members of Mr. Trump’s own party effectively undercut those allegations. A three-year review by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously found that the intelligence community assessment, pinning blame on Russia and outlining its goals to undercut American democracy, was fundamentally sound and untainted by politics.

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This week I learned: The word quarantine comes from the Italian word for forty. During the Black Death in the 1300s, thirty days was the accepted standard period to isolate a ship from a plague-infested area. If that had held up, we'd be having trentines. But sometime during the 1400s, another ten days got tacked on for reasons no one remembers.

Nobody really knows what's going on in North Korea. Maybe there's some problem with Kim Jong Un's health, or maybe he's dead. But maybe he's fine.

Crisis has a way of hastening along trends that were happening anyway. Wednesday, the NYT raised the possible end of the big department store. The decline has been going on for a while; Sears, K-Mart, and Penney's had already closed large numbers of stores before the virus hit. For years, the growth in retail has been online, and even the top-line department stores were struggling to remake themselves. Now their time may be up.

The NYT article says:

The entire executive team at Lord & Taylor was let go this month. Nordstrom has canceled orders and put off paying its vendors. The Neiman Marcus Group, the most glittering of the American department store chains, is expected to declare bankruptcy in the coming days, the first major retailer felled during the current crisis.

The whole industry is eating its seed corn.

At a time when retailers should be putting in orders for the all-important holiday shopping season, stores are furloughing tens of thousands of corporate and store employees, hoarding cash and desperately planning how to survive this crisis.... The resort season has been canceled entirely, and fall orders have been put on hold, raising questions about what inventory will be left if and when shops reopen and consumers return to stores.

Department stores are typically the anchors of big malls; you want to look for something in Macy's, and since you're there you window-shop at Yankee Candle and get lunch at the Panda Express in the food court -- neither of which would have been worth the trip otherwise.

“The nature of the mall is if you lose a big anchor like a Macy’s, you have co-tenancy issues and you have more pressure on the mall traffic, which was already a big issue,” said Oliver Chen, an analyst at Cowen. Co-tenancy clauses typically allow other tenants to demand rent reductions if certain key chains depart. Mr. Chen said that could accelerate the ongoing divide between top-tier malls and the second- or third-choice malls in certain areas.

Shares in the biggest mall-owner, Simon, have fallen from a high of $180 to $53. The shares currently yield 15%, a number indicating that the market believes a large dividend cut is coming.

In related news, private equity firm Sycamore Partners is trying to wriggle out of its poorly timed acquisition of Victoria's Secret.

and let's close with something inspiring

Voices Rock Canada offers a choir of women physicians singing "Rise Again".

Monday, April 20, 2020

Off the Table

You don't want to think, "If I go to the movies, I might die."
We've got to take dying off the table.

- Jim Cramer, CNBC analyst (4-16-2020),
commenting on reopening the economy

This week's featured post is "Trump's Guidelines Aren't What He Says They Are".

This week everybody was talking about the lockdown protests

I say a little more about this is the featured post, which includes that photo from Columbus that looks like something out of The Walking Dead. But here's a meme that makes a more explicit connection with the zombie mythos.

One thing to remember about these demonstrators: They may not represent anyone but themselves.

Americans overwhelmingly support continued social distancing measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic despite the impact on the U.S. economy, a new poll finds.

In the Politico/Morning Consult poll released Wednesday, 81 percent of respondents say Americans should “continue to social distance for as long as is needed to curb the spread of coronavirus, even if it means continued damage to the economy.”

The virus is highlighting the difference between symbolism and reality, which ripples through America in so many places.

One thing no end-the-lockdown protest can do without is the American flag. These Tea Partiers see themselves as patriots, because they identify with the symbols of patriotism. They wave their flags, put flag decals on their bumpers, and tell anybody who will listen how proud they are to be Americans.

But they aren't patriots at all in any real sense. If you ask them to do anything for the common good -- stay home, do without a haircut, wear a mask in public, pay taxes -- it's too much. Their vision of America is that the government builds us roads, delivers our mail, protects us from criminals, educates our children, and sends helicopters to pluck us off the roof when the flood comes, but in return we wave flags and otherwise don't have to do anything we don't want to do. JFK's idea that we should ask what we can do for our country -- that's tyranny. All that "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship" crap -- we don't do that any more.

I can barely imagine how World War II would have played out if my parents' generation had felt that way about the government rationing food and gas, or forcing Ford to build tanks and planes rather than new cars. There would have been riots, and probably America would have lost the war. History played out differently because the men and women of the GI generation were patriots in their actions, not just in their symbols and self-identifications.

Something similar is happening within Christianity. If Christianity is fundamentally an identity to you, then absolutely you had to symbolize your identity by going to church on Easter, and any government order trying to stop you was tyranny. The more obstacles public health officials put in the way of gathering together with hundreds or thousands of your fellow Christians, the more determined you are to do it.

On the other hand, if your Christianity is about following the teachings of Jesus, then the thought that you would make a big show of your Christian identity even if it costs your neighbor his or her life -- that's absolutely abhorrent.

and whether the virus is peaking

As of this morning, the US has reported 40,620 deaths from Covid-19. The number of deaths per day seems to leveling off at about 2,000. So if we're going to achieve those "optimistic" predictions of "only" 60,000 deaths, the per-day totals have to start dropping significantly and soon.

The good news from New York is that the number cases in the state definitely looks to be past its peak. However, the peak of the graph looks rounded rather than spiky. If that's the case nationwide, there's a lot of death yet to come.

Something we have to bear in mind is that the virus is on a different track in different parts of the country, and that the models assume continued social distancing. If states start allowing people to congregate again, the graphs could go to a new peak.

One thing that's driving me nuts about the discussion from the states that don't have a large number of cases yet: If a state like New York or New Jersey had it to do over again, they'd lock down sooner, before the caseload took off. States like Wyoming and Idaho still have the chance to do that, but are acting like biology works differently for them.

CNN points to four good examples: Taiwan, Iceland, South Korea, and Germany.

But we're also seeing examples that the virus can rise again if social-distancing restrictions are relaxed.

In Singapore, which is battling a resurgence of cases, the country reported 728 new cases today, a record daily high, according to the health ministry. None of the country's cases since Apr 9 have been imported

China is also seeing a new wave of infections -- not anywhere near its old peak, but the worst in five weeks.

The question of immunity remains open. It stands to reason that a person who beat the virus once, and who retains at least a few antibodies tuned to it, has a good shot at beating it again. But whether that person has a genuine immunity, such that the virus can't even get a foothold that allows it to infect someone else, that's still unknown. And if there is immunity, is it for life or just for some period of time? Since no one had this virus before December or so, the sell-by date of whatever immunity anyone has is a mystery.

Keep that in mind when open-the-economy folks start talking about antibody tests that "certify" someone's immunity to the disease and make it "safe" for them to go back to whatever work they were doing. That might be true, or it might not.

and electoral politics

Hard to believe that a week ago, we still didn't know who had won in Wisconsin: Biden won the presidential primary, but the big news was that the Republican voter-suppression effort failed. Wisconsinites turned out to vote in record numbers, and the incumbent conservative supreme court justice lost. Hats off to all the voters who either got their absentee ballots in on time or braved the virus threat to go out and vote in person.

Last week we knew that Bernie Sanders was withdrawing, leaving the nomination to Joe Biden. This week the Democratic Party began to close ranks around Biden. He was endorsed by Sanders, by Elizabeth Warren, and by Barack Obama.

All three endorsements demonstrated how different politics is during the lockdown. In a typical year, each would have been the occasion for a major rally: Biden and the endorser standing together with hands raised in front of a cheering crowd. This year, each happened via video messages.

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Karleigh Frisbie Brogan is a grocery worker writing in The Atlantic. She appreciates all the attention she and her colleagues are getting during the coronavirus crisis, but the "hero" talk doesn't sit well with her.

Unlike medical personnel and emergency responders, we didn’t sign up for potentially life-threatening work. We can’t check the temperature of people entering our store or maintain a safe distance from one another.

... Cashiers and shelf-stockers and delivery-truck drivers aren’t heroes. They’re victims. To call them heroes is to justify their exploitation. By praising the blue-collar worker’s public service, the progressive consumer is assuaged of her cognitive dissonance. When the world isn’t falling apart, we know the view of us is usually as faceless, throwaway citizens. The wealthy CEO telling his thousands of employees that they are vital, brave, and noble is a manipulative strategy to keep them churning out profits.

I have immense gratitude for my job. I love my co-workers like family. I respect the company that has employed me and given me excellent health-insurance benefits for more than 16 years. The anger I have is not toward my boss, or my boss’s boss, or even that guy’s boss. It’s toward an unfair system that will never change if we workers don’t question the motivations behind such mythmaking.

In spite of the we're-all-in-this-together rhetoric, we're actually not. Some of us can work at home, or are securely retired and can continue our normal activities (like writing this blog) with a few restrictions. For us, a trip the grocery store is like a mission behind enemy lines. We gear up and make plans for as efficient a strike as possible.

But people in other parts of the economy, typically working class and less well paid, enter that danger zone (or one like it) every day because they have little choice. If they're heroes, it's in the same way that drafted soldiers can be heroes, even the ones who wouldn't have volunteered and would go home if they could. They're carrying on, and doing what they have to do. The other workers we now recognize as "essential" -- all the people who make Amazon packages magically appear on your doorstep, for example -- are doing the same.

The one useful interpretation of the hero rhetoric is that it's a promissory note we need to honor when this is all over. I don't want to hear protests that workers don't deserve a $15 minimum wage or health insurance or a chance to go to college. The drafted heroes of World War II got a GI Bill of Rights when the war ended. These heroes deserve something similar.

If you think Trump's afternoon briefings are bizarre to watch, imagine what it's like to participate in one. Brian Karem reports on Tuesday's, where Trump responded to his question by threatening to walk out of his own briefing.

It was probably the most surreal thing I’ve seen in close to 35 years of attending White House news conferences. ... The president of the United States was playing victim to a reporter he knows from past exchanges is going to ask him a tough question and not back down even if the president tries to bully him. Suddenly I had the power to make him leave? Please. It’s part of the Trump plan. He has turned the daily briefings into mini Trump rallies, complete with a propaganda video in Monday’s episode. Demeaning the media is a recurring theme, as is blaming everyone else for his problems. Trump may claim to have total authority, but in truth he loves to play the total victim.

Some have suggested that reporters should modify their behavior to keep Donald Trump from getting angry. I firmly disagree. As Helen Thomas told me when I was younger, “Just ask the question.” We are not responsible for the reaction our question elicits; we are merely responsible for the questions we ask. Trump’s behavior is on him and no one else. He is petulant, angry and dismissive because that is who he is, not because he’s the victim of some rude reporter asking him pointed questions.

Whether the Post Office is forced into bankruptcy or privatization by the current crisis is still up in the air. Bizarrely, it has turned into a partisan issue, with Democrats wanting to save the Post Office and Republicans willing to let it collapse. Trump reportedly threatened to veto the first stimulus bill if it included a post office bailout.

With local businesses shut down, the Post Office has lost some of its most lucrative business -- delivering fliers for local stores and restaurants. It's estimated to be losing $2 billion a month, and is projected to be insolvent by the end of September.

What's weirdest about how the politics play out is that the parts of the country that will be most damaged by a collapse of the Post Office are the conservative rural areas.

Businesses like FedEx and UPS don’t build offices in remote rural areas, like deep in Wyoming or in the mountains of Colorado, because it’s simply not profitable. They often rely on the Post Office for last-mile delivery; the agency delivers mail for them from major transportation hubs to the final delivery destination, often in secluded areas.

This ultimately means that without the USPS, FedEx and UPS won’t have the resources to deliver to remote rural areas, nor will they likely make investments to do so since they’ll lose money in the process. Instead, people will have to bear the burden of traveling to the companies’ offices in larger towns to meet their mailing needs. For Mary Meyer, who lives in Bucyrus, Ohio — a town with a population of about 11,000 — the closest UPS customer center is 16 miles away in Marion.

and let's close with an expression of values

This "Emptying Sacred Spaces" video was made in a variety of houses of worship in Maryland, and includes statements from leaders of many different sects. The mood is sad and somber, while at the same time hopeful and meaningful. A religious community may make its home in a particular place, but it is so much more than that place.