Sunday, December 27, 2020

Testing The Integrity Of America

                                                                                             written 20 December 2020

                                                                                         published 27 December 2020



            According to, the US added one million new Covid cases in 25 days in September, 19 days in October, 5.8 days in November as the winter surge built, and just 4.4 days last week.  This rate is expected to shrink further as the holiday season becomes a super spreader event.

            Mortality rate has averaged 1.8 percent.  About 12 percent of those infected need hospitalization, with one in five requiring intensive care.  At least 20 percent of those infected have lingering medical effects, ranging from simple extended hospitalization to scarred lungs, damaged hearts and other major organs, amputations due to blood clots, diminished brain functioning called "brain fog", and detectable dementia.

            Since numbers can be numbing, I will use the population of Ukiah (16,000) as a unit.  New cases in the US last week were 100 Ukiahs and almost 2 Ukiahs will die.  Of those infected, 20 Ukiahs will suffer some form of lingering health damage.  12 Ukiahs will require hospitalization, of which almost 2.5 Ukiahs will require intensive care.  Since there are less than 5 Ukiahs of intensive care beds in the entire US, half of which are currently used for "normal" health emergencies, medical professionals are concerned.  Southern California has already hit their ICU capacity.

            All in one week.  

            Next week is likely to be worse.

            ICU infrastructure can be expanded, but finding more trained staff is problematic.  Previously, when the infection was more localized, trained staff was shifted from other parts of the country.  Covid is now everywhere, leaving no surplus to share.  When ICU capacity is exceeded, some people who would get better will die instead.  As general hospital capacity is overwhelmed, even people not normally requiring intensive care will die, as will some folks with medical emergencies other than Covid.

            Other nations, with competent national leadership, created a coordinated health and economic relief plan.  To squash infection rates, coherent public health guidelines were distributed, business and social activities were curtailed, and strategic economic relief allowed people to survive the shutdown without going bankrupt.  Some nations effectively eliminated further transmission.  But the coming of winter has seen the virus surge, even in some nations that had coordinated plans.  America has the worst Covid infection on the planet because Trump, supported by Republican "leaders", lied about the virus, refused to create a coordinated health plan, and continues to resist effective economic relief.  The result is an out of control infection combined with increasing economic devastation.  

            Two vaccines have been approved for emergency use, but available doses are currently limited.  Several months ago, Trump passed on the opportunity to reserve an additional 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.  Further, as much as 40 percent of what is on hand is not being shipped to the states.  Trump blames production problems, but Pfizer says nothing has changed on their end, claiming lack of shipping instructions from the federal government.  Perhaps Trump wants to kill more of his "enemies", or is saving those doses for his "special" friends, or plans to sell them at profit, or maybe his administration is just incompetent.

            Trump's inability to acknowledge any mistake means that he and his administration are still pushing the conflicting narratives that the virus is a hoax, that the virus is not "that bad", and that everyone should go out and get infected as soon as possible, while being first in line for the vaccine and taking credit for its development.  Having swallowed the lie that Covid is a hoax, his supporters justify all manner of insanity, ranging from the recent UDJ letter blaming school closures on the greedy teacher's union, to armed intimidation of public health officials trying to stem the tide of the pandemic. 

            America is proud of its rugged individualism, which values self-respect, self-reliance, and self-confidence.  But absolute self-sufficiency is an illusion.  The individual is always in context with, and dependent upon, their environment and their society. Public health during a pandemic is a test of our integrity and unity as a nation.  Under Trump, that integrity has been polarized and weaponized for his short term political gain, creating a sick and bankrupt nation.  This period in American history is forcing everyone to examine who we are, and what we believe.  United we stand, divided we fall.



Sunday, December 20, 2020

We Can Do Better

                                                                                             written 13 December 2020

                                                                                         published 20 December 2020



            Sedition, a federal felony, is defined as "inciting revolt or violence against a lawful authority with the goal of destroying or overthrowing it."  Members of the Executive, Senate, and the House swear an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

            Deranged want-to-be-king Donald has cheated and lied his entire life, made over 20,000 documented lies as president, never admitted making a mistake, never taken responsibility for his actions, and always insisted he is a winner.  Understandably, he has difficulty facing he lost.  He is within his rights to request recounts, but each recount confirmed he lost.  He is within his rights to make his case to court, but he has lost 56 of the 57 cases so far.  His complaints are so completely without merit, legal standing, or facts that his team has been admonished even by Trump appointed judges.

            His lawyers claim fraud in public, but in court admit there was no fraud.  Even Attorney General Barr has declared there was no fraud.  But Trump persists in claiming the election was a massive fraud and he actually won. Trump's actions edged toward sedition when he invited state officials to the White House, unsuccessfully pressuring them to throw out their state's election results.  

            Republican "leaders" collude in this sedition lie.  Despite election certification in all 50 states, only 27 of the 249 Republicans in the House and Senate acknowledge that Biden won.  This denial has convinced half the Republican voters that Trump won, and their response is increasingly belligerent. 

            Although state's rights used to be a Republican principle, Texas attorney general Paxton brought a Supreme Court case, joined by 17 other Republican states, to overthrow the election results.  126 members of the House joined this attempted sedition and should be held accountable.  The Supreme Court rejected the case unanimously.  In perfect irony, Paxton is under investigation by the FBI for securities fraud and misuse of his office for personal gain.  

            Through corruption and sedition, Republicans show their contempt for the idea that we all have a right to vote.  Americans are better than that.

            The progressive newsletter Hightower Lowdown usually discusses corporate capitalist corruption and the greed of the 0.1%, but the recent issue focused on what is good about Americans.

            "Most people are fundamentally fair minded, kind, and generous.  Decades of behavioral studies, recurring surveys, in depth conversations, cultural histories, and real life experiences, have by and large produced the same findings: the great majority of people are guided in their daily actions and relations by deep values of fairness and sharing.  The established order assumes people are at heart wicked beasts who must be constantly constrained, least we return society to kill-or-be-killed barbarity.  In fact, it turns out that humankind is overwhelmingly kind."

            "One of the most trying tests of civility is driving in heavy traffic.  Only 1 in 10 American drivers is oblivious, demented, incontinent with rage or obsessed with never being passed.  When faced with irritating, unexpected lane closures, the great majority of drivers slow, yielding peacefully to one another so they all get past the blockage in a timely fashion."

            "In an exercise to find out how people envision a "just society", participants were asked to draw up their ideal society, focusing on principles and structures that best served their own interests.  However, they were not to know who they would be in the society they designed.  Over and over, participants from every social status and ideology designed worlds with deep, broad egalitarian structures to ensure that the least well-off, most marginalized person would be treated justly.  After all, they might be that person."

            "Trump was raised to see only killers and losers, but the animal kingdom suggests a better route to winning is cooperation.  Some of the most successful species are not the strongest, but rather the ones that work together in a sharing society, building family and group homes, nurture and teach their young, share the available food, and mourn their lost ones."

            Last week the rains returned, the FDA approved the vaccine, the Supreme Court stopped Trump, and the Electoral College certified Biden as president.  Next week we celebrate the Winter Solstice and Christmas.  Here's to a joyous future.



Sunday, December 13, 2020

A Modern Miracle

                                                                                               written 6 December 2020

                                                                                         published 13 December 2020



            The first case of Covid-19 was recorded in China on November 17th, 2019.  Despite initial attempts at secrecy by local authorities, the Chinese national government announced the problem to the world on December 31st.  Samples were shared globally, and within weeks the entire genetic sequence was determined. 

            Research labs around the world began designing vaccines, and multiple companies went into production.  Phase 1 trials started in mid-March, with a few dozen participants in each, testing for safety, dosage levels, and confirmation of immune system activation.  Phase 2 trials began the first week of May, using hundreds of participants with diverse health characteristics, as an expanded safety trial.  Phase 3 trials began in late July, involving tens of thousands of people.  The first preliminary results were announced in mid-November, and compete data from several different vaccines was released a few weeks later.  England has already approved a vaccine for distribution, and US FDA approval should be granted about the time this article is published, however, mass production and vaccination of the entire population will take many more months.

            Our bodies have two immune systems, the innate, with which we are born, and the adaptive, which develops over time in response to changing conditions.  The adaptive system, comprised of specialized lymphocyte cells designated B and T, is always searching for foreign cellular material.  When B cells encounter something, they create antibodies, which biochemically match, and lock onto, part of the target cell.  This effectively attaches a flag to the disease cell, telling the T cells to kill it and take out the trash.  Our bodies remember antibody patterns, but it takes time for production to ramp up, delaying protection against infection.  

            Vaccines use safe examples of a disease, usually weakened or dead cells, to teach our body about a germ, allowing antibody production to get ahead of the curve.  Historically, vaccines production has taken years because manufacture required cultivation in horse blood serum or egg yolks.  To speed production, these new vaccines use advance biochemical techniques to synthetically manufacture the piece of RNA genetic code which directs construction of the protein forming the spikes on the surface of the Covid virus.  

            Billions of this piece of code, each protected in a small globe of fat, are injected into the muscles of a patient, which then move to the interior of their cells.  Once inside, cell biochemistry reads the RNA and produces the spike proteins.  These proteins then trigger antibody creation, preparing the body to fend off invasion of the actual Covid viruses.  In regular vaccines, a protection rate of better than 50 percent is considered a success.  These synthetic RNA vaccines seem to provide better than 90 percent protection.

            The modern miracle of complete genetic sequencing, rapid vaccine production, with the projected protection levels, couldn't have been accomplished even a decade ago.  This resulted from constantly evolving medical science, the very science that a large portion of our Trump believing population has denied and belittled.  It is sadly amusing to see how Trump took credit for pushing the "warp speed" program that helped produce these vaccines, and was upset that it didn't arrive in time to help get him re-elected, yet still denies the seriousness of the pandemic, and belittles the scientific medical community that produced this miracle.   

            The conspiracy addicted portion of our society is already building resistance to vaccination.  They distrust all science and medicine, while expecting the benefits of living in the modern world.  This will make dealing with Covid more difficult.  Estimates are that at least 70 percent of the population should be vaccinated to make sure community spread is eliminated.  Without that, hospitals will continue to be assaulted, and perhaps collapse, and real economic recovery will be delayed.  

            There are still difficult times ahead.  The surge in the US, already the worst it has been, is growing larger daily. The logistics of rapidly vaccinating everyone has never before been attempted.  These vaccines need to be kept unusually cold or they become ineffective.  So far, there has been no mention of cost, and big pharma has a history of price gouging.  The test trails are small compared to the entire population, so there could be unknown side effects.  But with all that, this is still a time for hope. 


Sunday, December 6, 2020

Republicans Lied And Americans Died!

                                                                                               written 29 November 2020

                                                                                              published 6 December 2020


            President Eisenhower said, "if a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power."  The Covid-19 pandemic has tested the country, and Republicans have failed Eisenhower's challenge.  

            Trump, who takes credit for everything, and responsibility for nothing, shrewdly knew that the virus would be a problem for him.  His first response was to ignore it, then he minimized it, declaring it a hoax perpetrated by fake news and the whole world, just to make him look bad.

            Travelers brought the first confirmed cases to the US in late January.  By late February, community spread was confirmed, growing from 30 cases by the first of March to almost 200,000 cases by the first of April.  With no federal leadership, the states were forced to deal with this on their own, leading to a variety of responses, from total lock down to business as usual.  The economic dislocation was widespread, the stock market dropped 37 percent, and a $2 trillion CARES economic relief act was passed in late March.

            By May first the case load was 1,091,038 (, with an average daily increase of 29,459, and 68,326 dead Americans.  At that point Trump realized that the economic collapse threatened his re-election, and began insisting that businesses and schools open up, getting "back to normal", contrary to advice from medical experts. Trump's denial of reality is understandable, given his brittle fragile ego, and his niece's report he has always lied for sport.  

            But Republican "leaders" supported his lies.  Perhaps they naively believed their religion would protect them from infection.  Perhaps they cynically believed the virus was only an urban blue state problem.  Perhaps they feared the vengeful wrath of an emotionally unstable president.  The result was an abdication of responsibility in a craven pursuit of power, fulfilling Eisenhower's description of a conspiracy.  

            With Republicans urging people to ignore the virus and get back to business, America experienced case load surges after the holidays in July and September.  The center of infection shifted from the northeast to the south, and then diffused across the entire country, hitting the upper mid-west hard.  Not wearing a mask, and denying the validity of the virus, became tests of Republican loyalty.  As the election neared, Trump predicted that after election day nobody would talk about Covid again, and Texas Senator Cruz claimed that all the Democratic states that were restricting business would immediately open up again in November, implying Covid was just a political ploy.  Rank and file Republicans still believe their "leaders", even screaming "Covid is a hoax" as they gasp for breath, while being intubated to save their life.  

            But Covid is real and didn't "go away like magic".  Colder weather is forcing people inside and for the third time, cases are surging exponentially, straining health care capacity, so even red state governors are now ordering restrictions.  On November 28th, US cases hit 13,525,501, with a one day increase of 241,718, and 271,628 Americans dead.  It took 10 weeks for the first million cases, and 6 days for the most recent million cases.  The holiday season will only accelerate this pace.

            To add to this insanity, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court overturned New York State's limit on the size of religious gatherings during the pandemic.  The founding fathers were ignorant of the germ theory of disease, let alone RNA viruses, but these Constitutional originalists, four Catholics and an Episcopalian, put religious practice above public health.  Given that the core of Christ's teachings, the Golden Rule, directs the individual to act with regard for our fellow man, this ruling is disingenuous.  This is the result of Republicans choosing to pack the court rather than pass further pandemic economic relief.

            Society is a balance between individual rights and collective responsibility.  Trump is a poster boy for the disaster of an unfettered ego.  Democracy is an attempt to moderate those excesses, and public health is an extreme need for social restraint on individual action.  Republicans demonstrate by their words and actions that they are just a conspiracy for power, uninterested in the welfare of even their own supporters.