Friday, April 17, 2020

Bernie Sanders is done, but his ideas live on in an ideologically bankrupt party

Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign may have just ended, but his movement lives on. The Democratic National Committee should be worried.

Even in Joe Biden’s hastily made basement command center, Sanders’s ideas are still winning. Nearly all of today’s Democratic Party’s new proposals have their roots in the Sanders camp. "Medicare for all," free college, free childcare, higher taxes, some incarnation of a "Green New Deal" — all have pushed the Democratic Party to the far left. The Democratic agenda is essentially Sanders-lite, and even the DNC’s heir apparent, Biden, has tailored his message to emphasize the expansion of the failure that is Obamacare and a ban on fossil fuels.

Compare this with what Biden ran on during his first failed attempt at the presidency in 1988. For years, Biden was known as a deficit hawk and even proposed caps on entitlement spending. Yet his 2020 campaign website includes nothing on our burgeoning national debt. Even Sanders understands that his proposals are expensive, but Biden, the former deficit hawk, does not even pay lip service to the looming fiscal crisis.

Biden also was once a proponent of reforming Social Security to balance the budget. But when pressed by Sanders in a recent debate, he claimed his past comments were “taken out of context.” Biden used to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now he says he’s not sure he’d join it under the current rules. Sanders is a staunch advocate of protectionism and an enemy of free trade.

Clearly, Biden has flip-flopped on his positions, rarely for the better, as is the case with criminal justice reform. But like Biden, the Democratic Party as a whole has moved to embrace the regulatory and administrative state to fix our problems.

It’s often been said these past few years, but the Democratic Party of today is a far cry from John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.'' The Sanders-esque Democratic Party is concerned with handouts, at the price of the free market.

Truth be told, much of Sanders’s base could be described as selfish political actors who maintain a thousand-foot view of how the world ought to work — from their perspective, of course. Sanders’s camp is centered on grievances that they believe a central government must fix. Nevermind that the same government has helped create and inflame such societal divisions as wealth inequality, Sanders’s camp believes that a one-size-fits-all approach will somehow save the world. This view is sophomoric at best and malevolent at worst.

No wonder Sanders is wildly popular with younger voters. But as usual, that level of enthusiasm doesn’t translate into success at the polls. Young people remain one of the least politically active demographics in the country. Unfortunately for Sanders, his younger base seemed more concerned with ranting about the senator’s ideological purity on social media than actually getting folks to turn out at the polls. Nevertheless, Sanders’s brand of socialism has a lock on the next generation of Democratic voters — that is, if they remain with Democrats. I’m confident they will.

After all, parties in our political culture are surprisingly resilient. Both of the major parties have undergone new twists and turns, and I believe we are in the midst of another such realignment right now. The Democratic Party is here to stay, but with socialism’s “red” taking over the blue.

Either way, gone for good are the days of the so-called moderate Democrats, those who understood and respected the value of free enterprise and limited government. Prepare now for a wave of would-be successors to Sanders, each of them striving to take up his mantle by moving further and further to the left. Progressive ideological purity might sound good to the far-left Democratic base, but it is assuredly a death sentence for down-ballot races in tough districts across the country.

Big government socialism has found a new home with the Democratic Party. Even in defeat, Bernie Sanders has helped remake the Democratic Party in his image.



We Have Become A Police State, And None Of Us Should Be Okay With That

On Saturday, police in Kansas City “intervened” to shut down a parade of elementary school teachers. The staff of John Fiske Elementary School decided to organize the parade as a way to boost the morale of their students and encourage them in their new distance learning adventure. All of the teachers and administrators were in their own cars. There was literally no chance whatsoever of any virus being transmitted from car to car. But a spokeswoman for the police later explained, after the elicit gathering was descended upon by law enforcement, that the celebration of learning was not “necessary” or “essential.”

Two days before the Kansas City community was saved from the threat of cheerful elementary school teachers waving to children from their sedans, police in Malibu arrested a man who was caught paddle boarding in the ocean. Two boats and three additional deputies in vehicles were called to the scene of the non-essential joyride. How could a man out by himself in the Pacific possibly contract or spread the coronavirus? Nobody knows. But orders are orders, after all. And so the man was pulled out of the ocean and hauled away in handcuffs.

Not far from this harrowing scene, the San Diego sheriff’s department was giving out citations to people who’d committed the nefarious crime of “watching the sunset” on the beach. At around the same time, over on the east coast, Pennsylvania state police were pulling over and ticketing a woman who, according to the citation, was “going for a drive.” You may think that going for a drive when you’ve been locked in your home for three weeks is indeed a rather essential activity. And you may also think that there is essentially zero risk of contracting or transmitting the virus while you drive along a country road in the rural county of York, Pennsylvania. But none of that matters. The politicians have spoken. You may leave your home only for the reasons they decree.

A woman in Minnesota was recently pulled over and ticketed for two offenses: First, driving with a canceled license, which seems fair. But second, for violating her state’s stay-at-home order. She said she’d gone to Taco Bell and before that had visited her storage unit. Why should one be essential and not the other? Who knows. That is up for the politicians to decide. The point is that you can’t just go out and move around as you please. What do you think this is? A free country?

Officials in other parts of the nation have banned essential retailers from selling non-essential items like mosquito repellent. I suppose the prevention of West Nile and malaria are no longer considered essential. The mayor of Port Isabel, Texas, has decided, for whatever reason, that residents may not travel with more than two people in their vehicles. What if you’re a single parent with two kids? Well, sorry, one of your kids is out of luck. It’s not clear how this rule will be enforced, but some states have made that easier on themselves by setting up checkpoints to stop and question every car that passes through. A driver from New York who gets caught in Florida might face 60 days in jail. I should stop here to remind you that Florida and New York are places in the United States of America, not Soviet Russia.

Meanwhile, protestors outside of abortion clinics in California and North Carolina have been arrested for violating their state’s stay-at-home orders, despite the fact that they were following the protocols of social distancing, not to mention that obscure legal artifact known as the First Amendment. But the First Amendment has officially been neutralized, as the multiple pastors arrested for holding worship services have found out. All of this may seem quite oppressive and gestapo-ish, but a police chief in Colorado put those worries aside by explaining that the act of leaving your house and going outside is not a right but a “privilege” that can be revoked if it is “misused.” A prosecutor in Ohio, exploding in a fit of rage during a radio interview, said that those who defy his state’s stay-at-home order are committing “felonious assault” and if you’re guilty of that, you can “sit your butt in jail, sit there and kill yourself.”

Again, I remind you: this is the United States of America. Or at least it used to be.

Apologists for our newly established police state will tell me that states and localities have the authority to impose restrictions in an emergency. That is true, but the question of how far their authority actually goes is complicated, and in this case made even more complicated by the fact that these stay-at-home orders, in many cases, are based not on a current medical emergency in the respective state, but on models that forecast the possibility of an emergency in the future. For example, Minnesota is under a stay-at-home order despite having only 29 coronavirus deaths among a population of over 5 million. Perhaps the situation will get worse. Perhaps not. The point is that there is no current emergency in Minnesota or many of the other states currently under lockdown. There is, rather, a model that projects an emergency. And if projected emergencies can justify the effective nullification of the Bill of Rights, where is the limit? Haven’t we now granted the government the power to seize near-total control on the basis of any real or phantom threat?

And there are other problems. We don’t know that these lockdowns will actually have the effect of saving lives. It’s possible, as Dr. Fauci has admitted himself, that the virus could come roaring back to life whenever we emerge from our homes. It’s also possible that the illness came to America in November, December, or January, aboard any of the hundreds of thousands of travelers from China who poured into our country during that span. If that’s the case, then the viral horse has long since left the barn, and the lockdowns are obliterating our national economy and driving millions into ruin for minimal preventative gain. So we have, then, a series of indefinite stay-at-home orders based on dubious models, and dubious projections, with a dubious chance of success, and which often outlaw behavior that could not even plausibly put anyone at risk from the disease that may or may not, or maybe already has, become epidemic in the states where these laws have been enacted. Is that good enough to justify treating Americans like subjects in a communist dictatorship?

I would argue that nothing could ever justify such a thing. Indeed, the First and Fourth Amendments — the provisions of the Bill of Rights that seem to be having the worst time of it, recently — serve no purpose and have no reason to exist if they can be canceled or overridden whenever the government might have a specially compelling reason to do so. It is only when the government has a specially compelling reason to violate the amendments that the amendments have any function. After all, we really don’t need them during the times that the government has no interest in infringing on them. It seems that if we toss aside our right to assembly, our right to practice our religion, our right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, etc., whenever the government insists that such protections are hazardous to our health, then we might as well not have the rights in the first place. It’s like locking a criminal in a cell but giving him the key to open it along with a stern warning to only use the key if he has a very good reason. Doesn’t the key make the cell a rather pointless accessory? Sure he might remain in it sometimes, but only when he wants to. And it’s precisely when he wants to be behind bars that you don’t need the bars at all.

I’m not suggesting that state governments should do nothing in response to the coronavirus. I am suggesting that they shouldn’t have the power to do whatever the hell they want, for whatever reason they want, to whatever extent they want, for however long they want, with whatever penalty they want. Which is what is happening now all across the country. Governments can and should act justly and prudently to respond to threats that endanger their citizens lives. But there is little in the way of justice and prudence in these measures.




"We've got to get our country open": New White House panel to explore path to reopening the economy (AP)

Ten U.S. governors on the east and west coasts banded together on Monday in two regional pacts to coordinate gradual economic reopenings as the coronavirus crisis finally appeared to be ebbing (Reuters)

Trump administration to unveil $15.5 billion in first phase of farm aid (Reuters)

Due to pandemic, a reluctant Supreme Court will allow live audio broadcast for first time (Los Angeles Times)

Democrat-backed candidate Jill Karofsky wins race for Wisconsin Supreme Court, which greenlighted the much-maligned April 7 primary (The Hill)

Leftmedia personified: New York Times editor admits editing article on Biden sexual-assault allegation after campaign complained (The Washington Free Beacon)

Chinese aircraft carrier sails past Taiwan as U.S. Navy struggles with coronavirus and Capt. Brett Crozier's public memo (Fox News)

Expanded early voting, voter ID repeal, and Election Day holiday: Virginia is reborn as a leftist enclave following governor's weekend bill signing (

Michigan bans "all public and private gatherings" but still allows lottery sales (Reason)

Meanwhile, petition to recall Michigan Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer passes 150,000 signatures (

Christian baker Jack Phillips sued again by relentless Rainbow Mafia, this time over transgender cake (The Daily Wire)

Policy: Is higher education COVID-19's next victim? (Issues & Insights)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Thursday, April 16, 2020

The American Left is as authoritarian as ever

The great slogan of the Nazis and most of the early 20th century German Left was "Alles muss anders sein" (Everything must be different).  That attitude lives on the the current American Left.

How can any politically person be unaware of Obama's endorsement of that idea when he said (in 2008) that he wanted to "fundamentally transform" America?

Now in a recent dialog between Sanders and Biden we read that: "Biden concluded by promising that if he beats Donald Trump, he would "transform this nation" as much as Franklin Delano Roosevelt"

And Biden is the presumptive Presidential candidate of the Democratic party.  He speaks for it.

The impertinence of the Leftist program for change is breathtaking.  There's nothing voluntary about it.  They intend to upend many people's lives by sweeping legislation.  The great inert bloc of Congress prevented Obama for doing much but his many regulatory initiatives showed he had no respect for the importance of consent  He had no compunction at all about pushing around large numbers of people.  His policies have their clearest 20th century precursors in the policies of Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator.

What gives the Left this authority to make sweeping changes in our society?  They don't even ask that.  If they want to do it, that is enough.  Might is right is their only authority.  What could make them more authoritarian than that?


White House adviser Peter Navarro says medical experts are 'tone deaf' over coronavirus lockdown and warns extended economic closure could cause 'very significant losses of life'

President Trump's trade adviser has described medical experts as 'tone deaf' for pushing for extending the coronavirus lockdown and warned the economic fallout could cost even more lives.

Peter Navarro accused health advisers of ignoring the potential long-term consequences for the public's health by extending the national shutdown.

Navarro was one of the first of Trump's advisers to warn about the economic cost of efforts to slow the spread of the virus by imposing restrictions on mass gatherings and shuttering non-essential businesses.

He has clashed with Dr Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious disease expert, who has warned against easing the lockdowns too soon and causing a second wave of the virus.

Last week it emerged Navarro privately warned that a pandemic could cost hundreds of thousands of American lives and wipe trillions of dollars off the economy while at the same time telling the public that it had 'nothing to worry about'.

He wrote two memos in late January and late February to his White House colleagues expressing alarm over the prospect of a pandemic.

These memos came at a time when Trump was actively playing down the threat of the coronavirus.

White House economic advisers have clashed in recent weeks with health experts over how to balance containing the virus without crashing the economy.

Navarro has now warned of 'very significant losses of life' if there were extended economic shutdowns.

He told The New York Times on Monday: 'It's disappointing that so many of the medical experts and pundits pontificating in the press appear tone deaf to the very significant losses of life and blows to American families that may result from an extended economic shutdown.

'Instead, they piously preen on their soap boxes speaking only half of the medical truth without reference or regard for the other half of the equation, which is the very real mortal dangers associated with the closure of the economy for an extended period.'

Navarro, who is known to a trade protectionist, made headlines last week when it was revealed by the Times he wrote a memo to the White House warning the coronavirus could become a 'full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans'.

The memo came at a time when Trump was actively playing down the threat of the coronavirus.

The January memo marks the earliest known high-alert to circulate within the West Wing as officials planned their first substantive steps to confront the disease that had already spiraled out of control in China.

The second memo, dated February 23, was much more dire. It warned that up to 2 million Americans could die and trillions of dollars would be lost because of the virus.

Navarro also warned the US economy faced a 'China shock' worse than at the start of the century when the Communist regime joined the World Trade Organization and a link was made between a rise in Chinese exports and decreasing American manufacturing jobs.

He told the Times: 'The unfair China trade shock that hit so many of America's communities in the 2000s not only destroyed over five million manufacturing jobs and 70,000 factories; it killed tens of thousands of Americans.

'As numerous academic studies have documented, economic shocks like China's trade shock can increase mortality rates associated with suicide, drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, liver disease, lung cancer, poor diet and cigarettes...while destroying families through higher rates of single-parent households, child poverty, and divorce and lower rates of fertility and marriage.'

Many medical experts in the government, including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, have cautioned that easing up on social distancing too soon could lead a new wave of the disease that would require shuttering the economy again, with disastrous results.

A team, expected to be formally announced as early as Tuesday, has already begun meeting behind closed doors in the West Wing to tackle how to begin reopening the American economy.

The council, which is not expected to include health officials, could bring to the forefront the push-pull tensions within the White House between economists and public health officials over how quickly to reopen the economy vs. proceeding cautiously to ensure the virus doesn't spike again.

With the country barreling toward a likely recession ahead of November's election, Trump is eager to spur an economic revival, hoping to steady financial markets and restore some of the 16 million jobs already lost due to the pandemic.

He originally hoped to have the country stirring again by Easter but now wants at least a partial reopening by the end of the month.

Governors on both coasts of the US announced on Monday that they would join forces to come up with a coordinated reopening at some point, setting the stage for a potential conflict with Trump, who asserted that he is the ultimate decision-maker for determining how and when to reopen.

In the US, about half of the more than 22,000 deaths reported are in the New York metropolitan area.

Among those expected to be part of the new team: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and White House economic advisers, past and present, Kevin Hassett and Larry Kudlow. New White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is expected to chair the effort.



Trump Derangement Syndrome Becomes a Threat to Public Health

Trump derangement syndrome—a well-documented illness that predominantly afflicts coastal elites and congressional Democrats—has turned into a political pandemic.

It is the reflexive refusal to agree with any position that President Donald Trump takes, regardless of merit. In a time of national emergency, this contagion is particularly dangerous.

Take hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, two drugs that doctors historically have used to treat or prevent malaria. When the president suggested that hydroxychloroquine could be helpful in treating COVID-19, sufferers from TDS immediately set out to prove him wrong.

CNN published an “analysis” titled: “Trump peddles unsubstantiated hope in dark times,” and The Washington Post proclaimed: “Trump is giving people false hope of coronavirus cures. It’s all snake oil.”

But several medical studies have suggested that these drugs have promise.

Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University expert on infectious diseases, cited an independent study from Chinese doctors that discovered a group of moderately ill COVID-19 patients improved when given hydroxychloroquine. The patients who received the drug saw their coughing and fever ease a day or so earlier than did patients in the control group who didn’t receive the drug.

Another study published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents found that a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin could be especially effective in treating COVID-19.

None of this is conclusive, of course. Trump has acknowledged that although hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine may not “go as planned,” the drugs have tremendous promise if they end up being safe and effective to treat COVID-19.

Most neutral observers would conclude that the president’s invocation of those drugs is a way of demonstrating hope that our medical community will come up with drugs to treat COVID-19.

But TDS sufferers, obsessed with finding ill intent in every one of the president’s actions, chose to pick nits instead of check facts.

A key talking point, repeated endlessly on cable news, is that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are not “FDA-approved” for treating COVID-19. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration did issue an emergency use authorization for the drugs March 28, again demonstrating the potential upside of the drugs.

Formal FDA approval takes years to obtain, but the hundreds of thousands of Americans afflicted with COVID-19 don’t have years to wait. In the meantime, it is perfectly legal and appropriate for doctors to prescribe the drugs “off-label” for COVID-19.

Contrary to the TDS narrative, off-label uses often are the standard of care and vital to patients. For example, doctors routinely use off-label drugs to treat cancer. Unfortunately, there’s no cure, off-label or otherwise, for Trump derangement syndrome.

The elite media and liberals also profess alarm that the president is encouraging a run on scarce hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine supplies.

But this isn’t a product that you can buy off the shelf at your local pharmacy. This is a prescription drug, and you can’t get it unless a doctor, in his or her medical judgment, decides you need it.

The president has done nothing to force doctors to prescribe the drug against their own better judgment. Nor did he force Italy and France to give the green light for doctors to prescribe hydroxychloroquine. He didn’t require South Korean and Indian doctors to begin prescribing the drug.

It’s clear, though, that these countries see the same potential benefits of hydroxychloroquine that our president does.

Let’s talk about the facts.

The president and his coronavirus task force have worked around the clock to monitor and prevent the spread of the virus. In January, he proactively enacted travel restrictions on flights from China. In March, he implemented further travel restrictions on parts of Europe.

Trump signed the CARES Act into law, providing sweeping relief to workers and small businesses; declared a national emergency, freeing up states, territories, and tribes to access billions in existing funding; signed legislation securing $8.3 billion for an initial coronavirus response; created a task force; and instructed the FDA to cut red tape that was preventing the rollout of tests.

Despite facing vicious attacks from sufferers of Trump derangement syndrome, the president has done everything he can to protect our country during this once-in-a-century global pandemic. He is going to keep projecting strength and hope during this crisis.

Too bad there’s no hope for the TDS folks, who are left only with their blind hatred of the president.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

What Would Hayek Do? Knowledge and Vaccines

Bloomberg opines the key to a lasting solution to the coronavirus pandemic is a vaccine. The most common projection is that it will take a minimum or one year to accomplish. Cooperation and innovation made possible by  open markets may provide the strongest measures yet to solve COVID-19. Do we have reason to optimistically question the current vaccine timeline assumption?

Perhaps the hesitation in making public projections is the number of unknowns and the fear of being wrong, as I heard from one top tier consulting firm hesitant to go public. But fearlessly making these qualified projections and sharing data is vital in the process of knowledge building. Hayek told us the use of knowledge held by dispersed individuals is essential for progress, now so more than ever. Widespread testing (combined with the right isolating behaviour) and finding a vaccine are widely seen as the key to getting the pandemic under control.

The application of knowledge is all too often hindered by regulation: In the instance of testing, Jeffrey Tucker points out the Centers for Disease Control had “previously nationalized all disease testing”. Writing at the American Institute for Economic Research, he says the group had just days earlier  “explained how a private researcher, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was forcibly prevented from producing and distributing a valid test”.

At the President’s request, “by Friday America’s robust private sector, including Walmart, Walgreens,  CVS, Roche Laboratories, and LabCorp, came up with a solution for mass testing, noted Robert Luddy in the American Spectator mere days later. A multitude of sources have concluded “quick, easy testing was the key to South Korea’s success”.

On the timeline for a vaccine, “European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen surprised the world this week, suggesting that the regulatory process for vaccines could be sped up and that a coronavirus shot could be on the market within six months,” reported ABC News Australia. Her comment is at odds with the World Health Organisation (WHO), “which does not expect a fully-tested and approved vaccine to be ready to reach the market before the middle of 2021”.

CureVac, a German biotech company working on a coronavirus vaccine, was the inspiration for her public comments. It is not the only company making swift progress. A range of discoveries and trials in the testing phases are documented, taking place at lightening speed as new standards are set for responding to a pandemic. In the interim, modest improvements in treatment well-underway are poised to make a significant difference. Peter Diamandis is keeping a tally on some of the major milestones already achieved early this month, with a list that is by no means exhaustive.

As of March 21, there are 48 vaccine candidates in pre-clinical evaluation, and two in clinical evaluation, according to the World Health Organization.

Studies are happening at lightning speed which help inform vaccine development, potentially affecting timelines: “The good news is two independent studies by teams of infectious diseases scientists helping Italy’s fight against coronavirus have reported they found the fast-proliferating pathogen to be reasonably stable,” reports Mark Blunden in the UK: “The findings will add to a better understanding of the virus and how it spreads — and raise hopes that a future vaccine could have a higher rate of effectiveness against the strain.”. On currently available prospective treatments, here at EconLog David Henderson argues safe drugs should not be kept of the market today.

William Yeatman, a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies, argues COVID-19 has spurred the suspension of regulations that were never needed in the first places so address the situation: The emergency Declaration under Title 42 gives health agencies greater flexibility to suspend regulations that get in the way of responding, with many suspensions recognising the effectiveness of private supply chains in responding.

The Intercept reports Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recognizes the speed of delivering the manufacturing of a vaccine will come down to the private sector. “The federal government is not going to be able to make hundreds of millions of doses,” he said.

At the state level and federal level, a number of regulations have been eased or temporarily suspended. A number have been on the wish list for elimination during ordinary times, as pointed out during an interview with Yeatman.

Yeatman draws attention to the now well-known “fiasco in Seattle, where private parties had developed fairly effective tests for COVID and used it in violation of the law and FDA” as an example of rigidity that existed, citing New York Times coverage of the story. By going ahead before the regulatory roll-back, private players “arguably saved a lot of lives”.

Loosening of licensing regulations for nurses is another tangible, where previous measures had precluded a number of well-qualified and well-meaning people from getting behind the response.

Constitutional research fellows and economists don’t carry scientific credentials but may have a key role in crisis: to demonstrate the necessary conditions for the maximum application of scientific knowledge in an enabling environment, one that is conducive to the capital and collaboration necessary to fight COVID-19 or any future pandemic – and come out stronger, even if such a prospect seems distant in these tough times.

Hayek once noted “the range and variety of government action that is, at least in principle, reconcilable with a free system is (…) considerable”. Those actions include rolling back barriers to finding a solution in addition to new measures underway.



Could a 100-year-old vaccine protect against COVID-19?

Scientists around the world are racing to find ways out of the new coronavirus pandemic. Some are working to develop new drugs and vaccines, while others are looking to see whether therapies we already have may help against COVID-19.

In the latter category, researchers have dusted off one intriguing compound in our collective medicine cabinet — a century-old vaccine to fight tuberculosis, a bacterial disease that affects the lungs. A couple of early analyses, which have yet to be peer-reviewed, have found that countries that require this vaccine, called Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG), seemed to have been hit less severely, in terms of both number and severity, by the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.

Could this vaccine be protecting people from COVID-19? The short answer is: We don't know. But several clinical trials around the world are now examining whether this vaccine could protect against this new foe.

"I was originally quite skeptical" that the studies could tease apart all of the other factors that could be causing some countries to be hit harder with COVID-19 than others,” said Paula Cannon, a distinguished professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, who is not a part of any of these studies. Among those factors are the quality of the healthcare system, measures put in place to fight the disease and testing capacity.  Still, it is a "provocative idea" and the "data is tantalizing," Cannon said.

Dozens of countries, including Japan and China, require children — typically newborns — to receive the BCG vaccine as protection against tuberculosis, an infection that is typically more common in lower-income countries. Other countries, such as Spain, France and Switzerland, used to require the vaccine but stopped because the risk of catching the disease in those countries lessened, according to one of the preprint studies published in medRxiv on March 28. Other countries, such as the U.S., Italy and the Netherlands never had such a universal vaccine policy for the BCG vaccine.

But scientists have long known that "almost by lucky accident," the BCG vaccine doesn't just protect against tuberculosis, it also helps fight other viruses, respiratory infections in particular, Cannon said. The vaccine, "in some sort of unexpected and magical way, is like a broad immune booster," she said.

For example, one study conducted in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa found that children who were vaccinated with BCG had about a 50% reduction in overall mortality, largely because the vaccine reduced respiratory infections and sepsis, or blood poisoning, according to the medRxiv study. Other studies, mostly conducted in animals, have found similar broad-spectrum protections from the BCG vaccine.

Weakened, live bacteria vaccine

The BCG vaccine is made up of weakened forms of live Mycobacterium bovis, closely related to the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. It was first developed in the 1920s in Paris and later shipped all over the world.

Now, countries from Japan to Denmark have their own BCG vaccines, made using different formulations of live bacteria — and each one has varying degrees of immune boosting ability, said Dr. Ofer Levy, the director of the precision vaccines program at Boston Children's hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Typically, live vaccines provide a "strong and long-lasting immune response" and sometimes even "lifelong protection" against the germ, whereas inactivated forms of vaccines, such as those in flu shots don't provide immunity that's "as strong," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While most vaccines prompt one arm of the immune system — the adaptive immune system — to create antibodies that target very specific pathogens, the BCG vaccine taps into the other arm, the innate immune system. This system doesn't discriminate against pathogens and releases immune cells rather quickly  to fight any foreign substance. The BCG vaccine thus boosts the body's  production of non-specific immune cells.

The medRxiv study and another preliminary study recently published in Research Gate came to similar conclusions: there seemed to be a correlation between countries that require BCG vaccines and a reduced spread and severity of COVID-19 cases. For example, Portugal — which has required BCG vaccines for infants —  has over 16,000 cases of COVID-19  but only 535 deaths whereas neighboring Spain has over 169,000 cases and over 17,000 deaths.

Similarly, Ireland, with 9,655 cases and only 334 deaths, requires the BCG vaccination, whereas the U.K. with 89,554 cases and 11,346 deaths no longer does. Based on these numbers, Ireland has a fatality rate 3.5% whereas the U.K. has a fatality rate of 12.7%. Of course, there are big population number differences across these countries, along with other variables that could affect death and infection rates.

These preliminary studies are "very flawed," because many factors  such as differences in wealth and testing ability, can affect the outcomes Levy told Live Science. But the authors are "doing the best they can in a very difficult situation."  While there's no direct evidence that BCG vaccines will reduce people's risk of developing COVID-19, "I'm enthusiastic about the hypotheses," Levy said.

It's difficult to draw firm conclusions, but there's enough scientific evidence to prompt clinical trials, and his team is looking into starting one in the U.S, he said. Clinical trials analyzing the protective effects of the vaccine against COVID-19 are already underway in other countries, including Australia and the Netherlands.

Vaccination or revaccination?

"I'm kind of puzzled," by the implication that the BCG vaccine might be able to protect for such a long period of time once someone has received it as a baby, Cannon said. Indeed, it's not clear how long the BCG vaccine effects can last.

The second study, which also has not been peer-reviewed, analyzed how countries with re-vaccination policies — or booster shots — fared in the COVID-19 pandemic. That study found that countries without re-vaccination policies had a 5.2% case fatality rate, versus a0.6% case fatality rate in countries that required re-vaccination.

"The big kind of asterisk, if you like, against all of these studies, is that they are really dealing with massively incomplete information," Cannon said. "We're all guessing what the true infection rates and the case fatality rates are because there isn't widespread uniform testing in every country."

Still, "I applaud the authors for at least, you know, doing what they could with the available data and providing some very provocative hypotheses," she said. "The good news is they're very testable."

In another world, we would be doing animal experiments to test this hypothesis. In this world, amid the coronavirus pandemic, we don't have time for that, she said. But the BCG vaccine has a "very safe track record," and likely can be tried in those who aren't old and who don't have weakened immune systems (since this is a live vaccine, it can potentially cause more side effects for older people or those with weakened immune systems), she added.

The human immune system is like an orchestra, "it's massively interconnected and what the BCG vaccine seems to do is maybe it gives like a little bit of extra control to the conductor," Cannon said. "So in the symphony of immune attack against respiratory viruses, the orchestra is able to go full blast, straightaway, all together, in sync, rather than kind of playing catch up."



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Mass.: The only way this ends is through herd immunity

It has a bad rap, but in the long run it’s our best hope

Last week Governor Charlie Baker released projections of how many Massachusetts residents were likely to contract the coronavirus. By this reckoning, Baker said, the state would experience “somewhere between 47,000 and 172,000 cases during the course of the pandemic.” This represents between 0.7 and 2.5 percent of the state’s population.

These are daunting numbers. Unfortunately, they are not nearly daunting enough. Because while there is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, including exactly how many people are or have been infected, epidemiologists believe that this virus won’t begin to disappear until a far higher percentage of the population — at least 60 percent — develops immunity. If that doesn’t happen with a vaccine, it has to happen through exposure.



No, the United States Does Not Lead the World in Coronavirus Cases or Deaths

Last month, the media jumped on the news that the United States had more confirmed cases of the coronavirus than any other nation. That was bogus on two fronts. First, U.S. intelligence agencies believe that China is lying about its true numbers, and reports from inside the country tell of crematoriums working around the clock and people being paid off to keep quiet.

Second, the United States does not lead the world in coronavirus cases per capita—which is the best way to compare how the pandemic is being contained in each country. For much of the pandemic, Italy has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus, but Italy has fewer cases and deaths than the United States. The United States has nearly six times the population of Italy, and when you measure cases and deaths per capita it’s easy to see why Italy was overwhelmed and the United States is not.

Here are the top six countries by confirmed cases (based on the case numbers from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University as of 9:00 am ET April 12) in descending order (excluding China because their numbers are bogus):

USA (530,006)
Spain (166,019)
Italy (152,271)
France 130,730
Germany (125,452)
The United Kingdom (79,885)

Now, here are the top six countries by confirmed cases per million people (based on population numbers from the CIA World Fact Book) in descending order:

Spain (3319.33)
Italy (2440.14)
France (1926.80)
USA (1593.34)
Germany (1565.03)
United Kingdom (1214.78)

See? When looking at the number of confirmed cases compared to the population, the United States is not number one.

Just like with confirmed cases, when the United States’ whole number of coronavirus deaths passed 20,000, the media rushed in to say that the United States “now leads the world in deaths.” But does it really? Let’s look at the data.

Here are the total confirmed deaths of the top six hit countries in descending order.

USA (20,608)
Italy (19,468)
Spain (16,972)
France (13,851)
The United Kingdom (9,892)
Iran (4,474)

The United States has passed Italy for confirmed coronavirus deaths, that must mean we’re doing worse than they are, right? Wrong. Here are the top six countries for deaths per million people.

Spain (339.33)
Italy (311.97)
France (204.15)
The United Kingdom (150.42)
USA (61.95)
Iran (52.68)

Obviously, the media wants the public to believe that the situation in the United States is worse than anywhere else because that makes Trump look bad. Last month, when President Trump said the United States had done more coronavirus tests than South Korea, the media pounced on the claim and pointed out that the United States’ population is more than six times that of South Korea, and when you looked at testing per capita, the United States was still behind South Korea.

And through it all, the country that seems to avoid criticism from the media is China. They covered up the virus, even led the world to believe that it couldn’t be transmitted human-to-human for weeks. They’re even covering up the true extent of the spread of the disease in their country. Instead, the media chooses to push the narrative that things in the United States are worse than they really are because they hope it will result in Trump’s defeat in November. So, when the media tells you that the United States leads the world in coronavirus cases and deaths, they are wrong. The United States is a very big country, and when you measure coronavirus cases and deaths per capita, we don't "lead the world" at all.



'Some people have gone crazy': Eccentric French doctor trialing experimental coronavirus treatment championed by Trump hits back at experts who say it has fatal side effects and claims to get astonishing results

An eccentric French doctor has become a YouTube sensation and been approached by the French president for advice after he claims he has gotten astonishing results using Trump's favorite coronavirus treatment on sick patients.

Didier Raoult, a 68-year-old French infectious-disease specialist, has been using controversial antimalarial drug hydroxycholoroquine to treat COVID-19 patients.

The doctor has a history of defying conventional medicine practices, including blaming the pharmaceutical industry for the state of research, dismissing climate change predictions as 'absurd' and, more baffling still, touting the growing fears in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic 'crazy'.

But Raoult has now become an unlikely hero amid the pandemic, after he said he has given the experimental drug to more than 2,400 patients, with highly positive results.

His stance has divided opinion in France and overseas after many conservative medics warned of the dangers of using the drug to treat the virus, typically used to treat malaria and some autoimmune diseases, due to a lack of evidence over its effectiveness. 

But panicked members of the public view him as a hero in the pandemic, with his each of his YouTube videos getting at least one million views and people urging their doctors to let them try the medication.   

Raoult is not the most conventional of doctors, often sporting a long white beard and a skull ring on his finger in his online videos and being known for challenging conventional medicine throughout his career.

The doctor has spoken out on Twitter and YouTube urging healthcare professionals and governments to not delay their use of hydroxychloroquine until after clinical trials.

Trials could take several months by which point thousands more lives could be lost to the killer virus. 

'Some people have gone crazy with methodology,' Raoult argues in a video posted this week. 'Our objective as doctors is to make people better.'

Emmanuel Macron met Raoult this week at his research institute in Marseille, where the doctor presented his research on coronavirus to the French President. 

French authorities have now permitted the drug to be used in 'the most severe cases.' 

However, Raoult's approach has come under fire from many in the medical world. Several experts have argued that further clinical trials are needed to determine its effectiveness in treating coronavirus.

Concerns have also been raised that it can have fatal side effects, especially in people with pre-existing heart conditions. 

More than 50 cases have been reported where coronavirus patients have developed serious heart problems after taking hydroxychloroquine, according to a doctor at France's drug-safety monitoring center.

Raoult said that 10 of the 2,400 patients he has treated using the drug have died, and recommends it be administered at an early stage of the virus.

Jean-Paul Stahl, a French doctor of infectious diseases, told the Wall Street Journal that he was turning patients away after they have seen Raoult's campaign and are now asking for the drug. 'We have to say no,' Stahl said. 'It's a matter of patient safety.'   

The controversial drug is a favorite of Donald Trump's. During his daily coronavirus press briefings, the president has repeatedly plugged the use of hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure for the deadly virus. He has even said he'd consider taking hydroxychloroquine himself.

The president announced Sunday the government has purchased and stockpiled 29 million doses of the hydroxychloroquine to send to hot spot areas of the country battling the virus.

'I want people to live and I'm seeing people dying,' he explained Sunday about why he continually touts the drug, which scientists say has not gone under enough testing in regards to the coronavirus.

Chloroquine – sold under the brand name Arlan – kills malaria parasites in the blood, stopping the tropical disease in its tracks.

But tests of the drug – which has been used for 70 years – on COVID-19 patients in China show it has potential in fighting the life-threatening virus. Chinese officials claimed the drug 'demonstrated efficacy and acceptable safety in treating COVID-19 associated pneumonia'.

South Korea and China both say the drug is an 'effective' antiviral treatment against the disease, according to a report by US virologists.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology – in the city where the crisis began – claimed the drug was 'highly effective' in petri dish tests. Tests by those researchers, as well as others, showed it has the power to stop the virus replicating in cells, and taking hold in the body.

Twenty-three clinical trials on the drug are already underway on patients in China, and one is planned in the US and another in South Korea.

Professor Robin May, an infectious disease specialist at Birmingham University, said the safety profile of the drug is 'well-established'.

He added: 'It is cheap and relatively easy to manufacture, so it would be fairly easy to accelerate into clinical trials and, if successful, eventually into treatment.'

Professor May suggested chloroquine may work by altering the acidity of the area of cells that it attacks, making it harder for the virus to replicate.

Chinese scientists investigating hydroxychloroquine penned a letter to a prestigious journal saying the 'less toxic' derivative may also help'.

'I've seen people that are going to die without it, and you know the expression, when that's happening, they should do it. What really do we have to lose? We also have this medicine's been tested for many years for malaria and for lupus, so it's been out there. It is a very strong powerful medicine, but it doesn't kill people,' the president said.

'But what do I know? I’m not a doctor,' Trump conceded.  'I'm not acting as a doctor. I'm saying, do what you want.'

The president has also argued there isn't time to conduct in-depth studies on hydroxychloroquine's effect on the coronavirus.

'I would love to go to a laboratory and spend a couple of years testing something. We don't have time. We don't have two hours because there are people dying right now,' he said.

But his claims have often contradicted his own advisers, who say studies of its effectiveness are still too small to prove it is safe.

Dr Tony Fauci has previously warned against seeing the malaria medication as a wonder drug, saying Americans should not consider it a 'knock out' drug when it comes to treating the coronavirus. 

'We’ve got to be careful that we don’t make that majestic leap to assume that this is a knockout drug. We still need to do the kinds of studies that definitely prove whether any intervention is truly safe and effective,' he told 'Fox & Friends' last week.

Some doctors in the US have already started treating patients with the drug but there have been reports of at least one death connected to the medication.

Lack of availability is also sparking a worrying trend for people self-medicating with hydroxychloroquine.

Demand for a cure is ramping up as the US death toll topped 20,000.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Monday, April 13, 2020

Cure for coronavirus? The antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ)

Worried Medicaid patients in an urban emergency room are reportedly asking doctors for “dat Klorokine pill.” Meanwhile, highly educated persons are quoting media reports that HCQ is very dangerous because it can trigger fatal heart rhythms.

Governors and state medical and pharmacy boards are threatening physicians who prescribe and pharmacists who dispense HCQ for COVID-19. One rationale is that lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients might not be able to get their prescriptions filled from the millions of doses drug manufacturers are now cranking out. Apparently, HCQ is not too dangerous for them.

Evidence is pouring in from around the world, including Los Angeles, where very ill patients were symptom-free within 12 hours after receiving HCQ combined with zinc.

In Brazil, HCQ plus azithromycin is being sent to patients’ homes based on a telemedicine consultation, and patients are reportedly cured at home. Virologist Paolo Zanotto of the University of São Paulo states that the drug should be given before day 5 to prevent lung damage. He believes opposition to the drug is political: President Trump and Brazilian President Bolsonaro have recommended it.

“If the people were not saying that this is ‘Bolsonaro’s remedy’ or ‘Trump's remedy,’ it would be different. If it were ‘Doria’s drug’ or ‘Lula’s drug,’ I guarantee it would be a success. There is a lot of ideology involved in the problem. For some, if the death of millions is needed to take Trump and Bolsonaro out, so be it.”

Can HCQ cause heart rhythm disturbances? Yes, but rarely. These have occurred in ICU patients who had heart damage from the coronavirus. Can it kill you? Very rarely—everybody has heard about the man who drank aquarium cleaner containing ten times the recommended dose of chloroquine.

Are there controlled, peer-reviewed studies? No. These take years; this novel coronavirus has been known for about 4 months.

Are Americans willing to learn from patients and Brazilians? Will American doctors be allowed to try promising drugs before millions are denied “unproved” remedies?



Haywire Immune Reaction Linked to Most Severe Cases

An immune system gone haywire may be doing more damage than the coronavirus itself in patients with the severest forms of Covid-19, doctors and scientists say, a growing theory that could point the way to potential treatments.

Much remains unknown about the path the virus takes in the sickest patients, but an increasing number of experts believe a hyperactive immune response, rather than the virus, is what ultimately kills many Covid-19 patients.

The out-of-control immune response eventually causes the patients’ lungs to stop delivering oxygen to the rest of organs, leading to respiratory failure and in some cases death, the experts said. The malfunctioning immune system might be driving the rapid decline in lung function experienced by some patients, including younger and relatively healthy ones, after the initial onset of symptoms, doctors said.

As scientists race to better understand the phenomena, pharmaceutical companies including Roche Holding AG are partnering with hospitals to explore whether drugs proven to tamp down an out-of-control immune response could help the sickest Covid-19 patients.

Some doctors are already administering the drugs to patients who are unable to breathe without the support of ventilators, or to prevent deterioration of patients who appear ready to slip into respiratory failure.

“You remove one piece of the storm, and it can quiet the whole thing,” said Kevin Tracey, president of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health, which is testing Kevzara, an anti-inflammatory drug from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Doctors have used the term “cytokine storm” to describe an overactive immune response triggered by external pathogens such as bacterial and viral infections. Proteins called cytokines are part of the immune system’s arsenal for fighting disease.

When too many are released into the bloodstream too quickly, however, it can have disastrous results, including organ failure and death.

As with other diseases, it is a mystery why cytokine storms are experienced by some but not all Covid-19 patients, doctors said. Genetics may be a factor.

In the most severe coronavirus patients, the disease appears to have two stages, doctors and researchers said. First the immune system fails to respond quickly or effectively enough to the virus. Then the immune response becomes too aggressive and floods the body with cytokines.

The surge of cytokines damages blood vessels and allows fluids to seep into the lungs, filling them up like water balloons, doctors say.

“The virus initiated it,” said Ya-Chi Ho, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine who studies infectious diseases. “The second problem is our immune system handled it wrongly, and induces this cytokine storm and clogs our lungs. That’s why patients die.”

Drugs called corticosteroids can be used to treat patients with cytokine storms, but studies are mixed on their effectiveness, with some studies indicating that Covid-19 patients might be at a higher risk of death when treated with steroids. Some doctors are reluctant to use steroids because they broadly damp the immune response, which is risky in patients fighting infections.

Drugs targeting specific cytokines rather than the entire immune system may be more effective, doctors said.

Among the most promising targeted treatments, doctors said, is Roche’s rheumatoid-arthritis drug tocilizumab, which is marketed under the brand name Actemra. The drug was approved in 2017 to treat cytokine storms caused by cancer treatments known as CART cell therapies.

On Tuesday, a federal agency that supports health research said it is committing $25 million to accelerate a late-stage study of Actemra in Covid-19 patients.

Last month, doctors from Seattle’s Swedish Health Services used Actemra to treat a 45-year-old emergency-room physician who was infected while caring for patients from a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash.

The man was transferred to Swedish and put on life support after his lungs and kidneys began to fail, said Samuel J. Youssef, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Swedish. Lab tests showed the man’s inflammation levels were 200 times greater than the normal range, indicating he might be suffering from a cytokine storm.

The doctors at Swedish decided to administer Actemra after discussing a small Chinese study that had shown that 21 Covid-19 patients with high levels of inflammation had been successfully treated with the drug. Over the next two days, the patient’s inflammation levels began to decline and his blood-oxygen levels increased, Dr. Youssef said. After a week, he was well enough to be taken off life support on March 23, and was released from the hospital on Sunday.

“All we did was quiet the storm and support his body— his kidneys, his lungs, his heart—to give him the time to fight the virus,” said Dr. Youssef, who attributes the recovery both to Actemra as well as other interventions like being put on life support.



Are we all authoritarians now?

‘China bans 23million from buying travel tickets as part of “social credit” system’, said one outraged headline in the Guardian, just one year ago. The Chinese social-credit scheme set out to penalise citizens for their errant behaviour while rewarding others for good behaviour. The State Council, China’s chief administrative authority, said the scheme’s purpose is to ‘allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step’.

Such an insidious assault on civil liberties by the Chinese state, under the guise of protecting social stability, was roundly and rightly condemned in the UK as authoritarian, illiberal and staunchly un-British. Britain firmly believes in the autonomy of the individual and the right to free movement, it was said. The Chinese Communist Party’s dictatorial actions were held up as exemplary evidence of the differences between our two countries and our two systems.

One year later, the Sun newspaper reports that British Transport Police have been ‘deployed… to enforce a ban on unnecessary travel’. The Guardian dutifully announces that ‘Dominic Raab advises UK public to avoid all non-essential travel’. The BBC unquestioningly reports the London mayor proclaiming that key workers and ‘nobody else’ should be using public transport. The freedom of movement ideal was ditched rather quickly. Suddenly, the British government has restricted travel for almost 60million citizens – the same number of people quarantined in China’s Hubei province – but this was hardly questioned in the media.

The West has also long criticised the covert monitoring of citizens carried out by China’s ruling Communist Party. The government stalks the public’s social-media activities to find details of illicit online behaviour. It films people secretly using CCTV and drones. Ordinary people are encouraged to send in their own footage to the authorities to ensure that the state doesn’t miss anyone in its official trawl. Last year, the Wall Street Journal compared China’s attempts to enrol the public to snitch on miscreants to the East German Stasi. Fast forward six months and the same paper reports casually on Western internet users ‘naming and shaming people they believe have flouted lockdown orders, travelled or socialised recklessly’, without making any moral judgement on the shamers.

How have we lost our moral compass in such a short space of time? The medical basis for state-enforced isolation is still debatable. But even if it is a fundamental necessity to protect lives, should we be welcoming confinement so eagerly? Should we really be asking for ever-more state powers to enforce lockdowns? Shouldn’t we be defending liberty, free movement and assembly rather than accepting restraint at the behest of the political and medical establishment?

I am not suggesting that we all rush out and hug each other, but it seems that Western values can be usurped and abandoned much more easily than we ever imagined. That ought to be a cause for concern, and maybe something worthy of national debate. Instead, those advocating for the liberal rights that have upheld the cause of Western societies for centuries are frequently shouted down and branded ‘irresponsible’ or ‘dangerous’. In the words of the Chinese state, penalties will be enforced in order to ensure a harmonious society. Responsible citizens and trustworthy actions are rewarded; dissenters are blacklisted.

One Chinese dissident warned that China’s social-credit system would give ‘officials unparalleled scrutiny over every minute of everyone’s life’. So what are we to make of Google’s announcement last week – made without permission from any of us – that it will release all of our location data to the authorities? It seems that the footnote ‘in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus’ is all that is needed to justify such a monstrous breach of privacy. Facebook is also in talks with the US government about the possibility of sharing our location data. After months of alarmist criticism of Huawei’s potential to reveal users’ data to the Chinese state, few in the media or Twittersphere are raising critical concerns about the same thing happening in the West. Some are raising their glasses. After all, it might save lives, so it’s all right, apparently.

The media seem to have forgotten the maxim of ‘holding truth to power’ and are perhaps intent on simply holding power. During China’s Cultural Revolution, intellectuals were forced to participate in ‘struggle sessions’ – a vicious form of public humiliation. There were echoes of this at the weekend when Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, was forced to make a grovelling televised appearance to beg for the nation’s forgiveness. She had ‘made a mistake and let people down’. ‘I cannot justify it’, she said. ‘I did not follow the advice I am giving to others, and I am truly sorry for that… What I did was wrong.’ The media were delighted with the scalp. Her crime? She had driven to her second home in a car.

Actually, there is one good lesson to learn from China, and that is the proud – and often unsung – tradition of rebellion. China has had a couple of revolutions, after all. In recent weeks, thousands of migrant workers and working-class protesters from Hubei province have revolted, overturning police cars and fighting with state forces who refused to allow them to cross over into the neighbouring Jianxi province. These desperate people have been locked down for months. They have no work and no money, even though they are healthy. But the neighbouring provincial authorities were worried about the risk of the second wave of the virus.

In these topsy-turvy times, the best lesson to take from China is how, even in the most dire circumstances, ordinary people can still keep the spirit of free movement, critical engagement and non-complicity alive.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Sunday, April 12, 2020

No lockdown in Sweden

by Jeff Jacoby

DID SWEDEN BLUNDER? Or did everyone else?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the world's governments have gone to unheard-of lengths to keep people apart and try to slow the spread of the virus. Schools and businesses have been shuttered, public gatherings banned, construction projects halted, restaurants darkened, air travel grounded, borders locked. Tens of millions of "nonessential" workers have been furloughed or laid off. In some jurisdictions, people are forbidden to leave their homes except for food or essentials. Leaders worldwide have made the wrenching decision to incur a devastating economic recession in order to prevent a devastating death toll.

But not in Sweden.

In Scandinavia's most populous nation, life has continued more or less normally. Public gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned. Grade schools and day care are still open. So are parks, restaurants, stores. Streets are still full of people. Swedish health officials have advised residents older than 70 to stay home and emphasized the importance of hand washing. But unlike elsewhere, their public messaging has not reflected frantic desperation.

Why has Sweden adopted an approach so different from other nations'? Not because the country has been untouched by COVID-19. Far from it: As of Tuesday, it had recorded 7,693 confirmed cases and 591 deaths. Sweden's coronavirus death rate (fatalities per million residents) is 59 — markedly higher than that in the other Scandinavian countries, all of which are enforcing stiff social-distancing restrictions. Then again, Sweden's infection and death rates are far lower than in Switzerland, a country of comparable population. Switzerland is in lockdown. Yet three times as many infections have been confirmed, and the death rate is 94.

Such widely divergent results help explain why Sweden's health authorities, led by state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, have charted a different course. Their goal has been to keep sickness rates low enough that hospitals aren't overrun, without taking a sledgehammer to the economy and throwing vast numbers of people out of work — because unemployment, too, correlates with increased mortality.

Like epidemiologists everywhere, Tegnell is operating in uncharted territory and making projections on the basis of mathematical models. But scientists are using different models and coming to conflicting conclusions. In Britain, researchers at Imperial College London calculated last month that without draconian social distancing measures, as many as 250,000 UK residents might die. A few days later, scientists at Oxford, working from a different model, reported that more than two-thirds of the British population might already have been infected without knowing it — implying that widespread resistance to the virus was already accumulating through "herd immunity."

No one knows yet which conclusion will turn out to be right. Most governments have opted for extreme restrictions, and the severe economic pain they entail, in hopes of keeping deaths from spiking uncontrollably. Sweden's health officials, who are granted considerable autonomy under Swedish law, have so far resisted that approach. Tegnell isn't dogmatic about his position — in a BBC interview, he acknowledged "self-doubt" and said he is "more than prepared" to switch gears if developments warrant.

Swedish culture is highly trusting, but Swedes aren't being asked to take their government's policy on faith. "Hospital data is published all the time, so Sweden's 'experiment' is being conducted in the open," writes Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph. "Every time a patient is admitted, the data is updated on a COVID-19 live website. . . . If Tegnell's analysis proves wrong, the public will be able to see it unravel on his dashboard."

Critics of the strategy haven't been shy. One Swedish epidemiologist called it "a huge experiment" that could "crazily" wrong. An immunologist at the prestigious Karolinska Institute warned that the policy "is leading us to disaster." Some lawmakers are proposing tighter coronavirus restrictions. At the same time, other Swedes have strongly defended the non-lockdown policy — including Johan Giesecke, another Karolinska scientist and author of a textbook on infectious disease epidemiology.

So did Sweden blunder? Or did everyone else?

All we can say at this point is that it's too soon to be sure. But by marching to the beat of its own drummer, Sweden is making it possible for scientists to evaluate competing strategies in real time. However the experiment turns out, we'll all have a clearer idea about the best way to fight pandemics in the future. Sweden's anomalous approach may succeed or it may fail. Either way, mankind stands to gain.



Projected death toll dramatically lowered after anti-malaria drug approved

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning today issued the following statement reacting to the IHME’s death toll projections being lowered to 60,415 from 81,766:

“Projections on the number of cases of COVID-19 are far less important than the actual deaths from the China-originated virus.  Now, the most influential projection of future deaths from the disease has lowered that guess again. Just one week ago on April 1, the death projection was 93,651, it was lowered on April 4 to 81,766 and just one week into April the projection is now at 60,415.

“While the public health care bureaucrats will attribute the precipitous drop in the all-important death projections to social distancing, the model assumed that social distancing would be implemented in its projections.

“What has significantly changed in the past week was President Trump’s successfully convincing the Food and Drug Administration to allow the anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine  and other antivirals to be prescribed to treat the disease on March 31.  While correlation does not necessarily mean causation, it is significant that doctors across the nation have been given the go-ahead to use this treatment and many are reporting success that should not be discounted.  Those governors who are restricting the use of this medicine need to reevaluate that political decision in order to help save as many of the lives of their constituents as possible.

“President Trump has put the health of Americans first and has risked his economic legacy to protect American lives. Now, as the death projections continue to collapse, Americans for Limited Government urge the country to come behind President Trump as he looks toward restarting the economy. The great news that we are winning the war against the COVID-19 virus will hopefully lead to our economy re-opening around the country not suffering as a hot spot by May 1.”



'Social Justice' in a Pandemic

America is in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic meltdown caused by shutting everything down. It’s affecting every American in some way, and we’ll need to unite to get through it. The worst may be yet to come.

“This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome Adams over the weekend. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment. Only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country.”

Unfortunately, unity is not exactly this nation’s strong suit in recent years. Some are trying to fit the round peg of COVID-19 into the square hole of social justice.

“COVID deaths are disproportionately spiking in Black + Brown communities,” complained Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “Why? Because the chronic toll of redlining, environmental racism, wealth gap, etc. ARE underlying health conditions. Inequality is a comorbidity. COVID relief should be drafted with a lens of reparations.”

This is, of course, in line with the Democrats’ view that the current crisis is a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” But it’s also an extension of their view that America is such a racist backwater that even equal-opportunity viruses actually target minorities.

It does seem to be true that, at least in some areas, blacks are contracting and dying of COVID-19 at a higher rate. According to ProPublica, “As of Friday morning, African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% black. Milwaukee is one of the few places in the United States that is tracking the racial breakdown of people who have been infected by the novel coronavirus, offering a glimpse at the disproportionate destruction it is inflicting on black communities nationwide.”

But the numbers don’t tell the whole tale. In fact, ProPublica’s story inadvertently draws attention to something that might be a bigger factor than race. “Louisiana has not published case breakdowns by race, but 40% of the state’s deaths have happened in Orleans Parish, where the majority of residents are black.”

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, residents of New Orleans declined to observe evacuation orders, evidently believing that, no matter what transpired, government would come to their aid — as it does on a daily basis. The resulting death toll there was terrible.

Could it be that the inner-city communities around the country — where populations disproportionately depend on government checks, government food stamps, and government housing — are simply not complying with warnings or protocols regarding the current pandemic? In other words, rather than a failure of social justice, is it a failure to abide by social distancing?

It’s beyond troubling that when so many Americans of every color are legitimately suffering, Democrats are so focused on scoring cheap political points by dividing us.



Japan too wants to bring back some manufacturing from China

Coronavirus is causing Japan to reconsider depending on China for its supply and manufacturing base, reports the Japan Times.

Japan has earmarked ¥243.5 billion of its record economic support package to help manufacturers shift production out of China as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts supply chains between the major trading partners.
The extra budget, compiled to offset the devastating effects of the pandemic, includes ¥220 billion for companies shifting production back to Japan and ¥23.5 billion for those seeking to move production to other countries, according to details posted online.

It's not a huge amount of money yet but the trend it bucks is important. Japan's relationship with China has gotten complicated over the past few years. They're longtime rivals but China has made itself Japan's top trade partner while, at the same time, threatening Japan's sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands just this week. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has sought warmer relations with China despite this. But the pandemic is forcing his hand. It's unwise for any nation to depend on communist China too much for anything, given its habit of lying about important things.

Abe could have reacted to the pandemic a bit quicker.

[M]any in Japan are inclined to blame China for mishandling the early stages of the outbreak and Abe for not blocking visitors from all of China sooner. Until last month, only visitors from Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, and one other province had been banned.
Advantage...Trump. Who, by the way, wanted U.S. firms to start leaving China well before the COVID outbreak. Countries that can afford to leave China, will.

Captain Obvious prediction: Taiwan will end up benefiting from some of the coming avalanche of divestment from the mainland. Taiwan is free and transparent, its legal system is predictable, and it has handled the COVID pandemic very well. Because of this, its economy may rebound ahead of others. It also enjoys a defense pact with the United States, which has a decades-long defense pact with Japan.




Drill, baby, drill: Trump signs executive order encouraging mining for minerals on the moon (Washington Examiner)

Coronavirus was spreading in New York City weeks before first case, compounding the mayor's lackluster response (New York Post)

Kansas legislature cites constitutional rights in rescinding governor's limit on religious gatherings (Washington Examiner)

"We want to have some common approach to this across the state": Arkansas blocks mayors from implementing stay-at-home orders (The Daily Wire)

Nothing to see here... Official Chinese newspaper reports chance of 10,000-20,000 new cases in Wuhan. It's quickly deleted. (The Daily Wire)

Taiwan shows up China, sending hard-hit countries lifesaving coronavirus supplies (Fox News)

Tone-deaf celebrities organize major benefit for China-complicit WHO (The Federalist)

Policy: How Woodrow Wilson let flu deaths go viral in the Great War (RealClearInvestigations)


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