Tuesday, March 31, 2020

America's Cocktail. Equal Parts of Denial and Death.

Paul Krugman writes that his fellow countrymen don't realize that America is on the "worst trajectory" of any developed nation wrestling with the coronavirus and that includes Italy.
I’m not sure that people understand, even now, what that kind of exponential growth implies. But if cases kept growing at their current rate for a month, they would increase by a factor of a thousand, and almost half of Americans would be infected. 
We hope that won’t happen. Many although not all states have gone into lockdown, and both epidemiological models and some early evidence suggest that this will “flatten the curve,” that is, substantially slow the virus’s spread. But as we wait to see just how bad our national nightmare will get, it’s worth stepping back for a few minutes to ask why America has handled this crisis so badly.
...Among advanced countries, the United States has long stood out as the land of denial and death. It’s just that we’re now seeing these national character flaws play out at a vastly accelerated rate. 
About denial: Epidemiologists trying to get a handle on the coronavirus threat appear to have been caught off guard by the immediate politicization of their work, the claims that they were perpetrating a hoax designed to hurt Trump, or promote socialism, or something. But they should have expected that reaction, since climate scientists have faced the same accusations for years. 
And while climate-change denial is a worldwide phenomenon, its epicenter is clearly here in America: Republicans are the world’s only major climate-denialist party.
...decades of science denial on multiple fronts set the stage for the virus denial that paralyzed U.S. policy during the crucial early weeks of the current pandemic.

About death: I still sometimes encounter people convinced that America has the world’s highest life expectancy. After all, aren’t we the world’s greatest nation? In fact, we have the lowest life expectancy among advanced countries, and the gap has been steadily widening for decades. 
This widening gap, in turn, surely reflects both America’s unique lack of universal health insurance and its equally unique surge in “deaths of despair” — deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide — among working-class whites who have seen economic opportunities disappear. 
Is there a link between the hundreds of thousands of excess deaths we suffer every year compared with other rich countries and the tens of thousands of additional excess deaths we’re about to suffer from the coronavirus? The answer is surely yes.
...while America is a great nation with a glorious history and much to be proud of — I consider myself very much a patriot — the rise of the hard right has, as I said, also turned it into a land of denial and death. This transformation has been taking place gradually over the past few decades; it’s just that now we’re watching the consequences on fast forward.

Has the Pentagon Met Its Match?

The pride of the US Navy are its fleet carriers - massive, nuclear powered, nuclear armed aircraft carriers that have for decades been a critical asset for "force projection" around the world. They have been a powerful instrument for imposing America's will on problem states.

One of these supercarriers, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, is now sitting at the dock in Guam as the Covid-19 virus spreads through the crew of 4,000.
In a four-page letter, first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle Tuesday, Capt. Brett E. Crozier of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt laid out the dire situation unfolding aboard the warship, with more than 4,000 crew members, and what he said were the Navy’s failures to provide him with the proper resources to combat the virus by moving sailors off the vessel. 
“We are not at war,” Captain Crozier wrote. “Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our sailors.”
The problem is that Guam lacks the facilities and resources to quarantine 4,000 sailors nor the equipment and personnel to board the Roosevelt and disinfect the ship's spaces.

And what of the rest of America's armed forces?
The crisis aboard the Roosevelt played out like a slow-moving disaster and highlights the dangers to the Pentagon if the coronavirus manages to infiltrate some of its most important assets, such as bomber fleets, elite Special Operations units and the talisman of American military power, aircraft carriers.

At its core, the issue on the Roosevelt, and other warships, stems from the near impossibility of putting adequate social distance between people to stop the spread of the illness. Living quarters, hallways and doorways are cramped. Bathrooms and cafeterias are shared areas. 
In his letter, Captain Crozier clearly outlined the challenge. “None of the berthing aboard a warship is appropriate for quarantine or isolation,” he wrote.
Military bases, by their very nature, are incompatible with social distancing or isolation. Barracks are not designed with distancing in mind. People cluster together whether in mess halls and hangars or in tanks or at sea.  Their proximity and mobility are  essential to their effectiveness.

Decades ago the most feared contagion was meningitis. Now, it seems, there's a new contagion.

Today in the Land of Crazy

I heard something curious on NPR radio this morning. It was Donald Trump announcing that America would be sending no longer needed medical equipment and supplies to Italy and Spain and France to help them fight the coronavirus.

He was talking about equipment that doesn't exist and an urgent domestic need that's a long way from being met.

Trump was, as Barack Obama said when he sized him up, just bullshitting.

Yesterday or the day before I heard Trump boast that, if America could keep its pandemic deaths to one or two hundred thousand, that would be a great victory for his administration. Hey, if you're facing an outright colossal failure, move the bar and call it a "victory." Then say you're doing so well, so perfectly well, that you're already preparing to box up all that non-existent equipment to ship it to Europe for those second-rate countries.

Trump doesn't care that it's bullshit. He's got the Gullibillies and, if he can hold out long enough and do everything in his power to skew the next election, and those Gullibillies are stupid enough to return him to office, he's home free - he won't even need the dumbass class.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Francis Fukuyama - On Paper, America Has What It Takes. Except For One Thing.

Political historian Francis Fukuyama writes that America has what it takes to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Except for one critical factor that it cannot succeed without - trust.

A democracy delegates emergency powers to its executive to deal with fast-moving threats. But willingness to delegate power and its effective use depend on one thing above all, which is trust that the executive will use those powers wisely and effectively. And this is where the U.S. has a big problem right now
Trust is built on two foundations. First, citizens must believe that their government has the expertise, technical knowledge, capacity, and impartiality to make the best available judgments. Capacity simply has to do with the government having an adequate number of people with the right training and skills to carry out the tasks they are assigned, from local firemen, policemen, and health workers to the government executives making higher-level decisions about issues such as quarantines and bailouts. Trust is something the U.S. Federal Reserve had in spades in 2008: Its chairman, Ben Bernanke, was a former academic who had studied the Great Depression in depth; the Fed is staffed with professional economists rather than political appointees likely to favor friends and cronies.
The second foundation is trust in the top end of the hierarchy, which means, in the U.S. system, the president. Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt enjoyed high levels of trust during their respective crises. As wartime presidents, this trio succeeded in symbolizing, in their own persons, the national struggle. George W. Bush did initially after September 11, but as his invasion of Iraq soured, citizens began questioning the delegations of authority they had made to him via legislation like the Patriot Act. 
The United States today faces a crisis of political trust. Trump’s base—the 35–40 percent of the population that will support him no matter what—has been fed a diet of conspiracy stories for the past four years concerning the “deep state,” and taught to distrust expertise that does not actively support the president.
President Trump continues to denigrate and undermine agencies he feels are hostile: the intelligence community, the Justice Department, the State Department, the National Security Council, even the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Many administrative agencies have seen a steady depletion of career civil servants in recent years, with positions of high responsibility going either to acting agency and bureau heads, or else to political friends of the president such as Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell. With a 29-year-old partisan conducting a purge of federal agencies, the administration has placed personal loyalty far above competence. Trump appears to be well on his way to sidelining the highly trusted Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for disagreeing with him publicly.
All of which highlights the extent of the challenge to the second foundation: trust in the president and his immediate circle. Donald Trump has never, during his three and a half years as president, sought to reach out to the more than half of the country that didn’t vote for him. He has not taken any of the simple steps he could have to build trust. When recently asked by a journalist what he would say to fearful Americans—a softball question any other leader would have hit out of the park—he instead went on a tirade against the question and the journalist. 
Because of Trump’s hesitancy to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, many conservatives have come to deny that we are in a crisis at all, and insist that the panic surrounding the virus is the result of a Democratic plot to take down the Trump presidency. Trump himself, after briefly pivoting to portray himself as a “wartime” president, declared that he wanted to reopen the country by Easter. He has admitted that this date was chosen not on any epidemiological grounds, but because it would be a “beautiful” date for churches to be full. Perhaps he is thinking of the national spectacle of thanksgiving he could stage around his reopened rallies, and how that would affect his reelection chances.
The intense distrust that Trump and his administration have aroused, and the distrust of government that they have instilled in their supporters, will have terrible consequences for policy.
I don’t believe that we will be able to reach broad conclusions about whether dictatorships or democracies are better able to survive a pandemic. Democracies such as South Korea and Germany have been relatively successful so far in dealing with the crisis, even if the U.S. is doing less well. What matters in the end is not regime type, but whether citizens trust their leaders, and whether those leaders preside over a competent and effective state. And on this score, America’s deepening tribalism leaves few reasons for optimism.

Why America's Healthcare System is Structurally Incapable of Handling Covid-19

The problem certainly isn't lack of money. Americans already spend far more per capita than people in other developed countries on healthcare. Robert Reich says America's healthcare system can't respond to the Covid-19 pandemic because of critical flaws in the way it's structured.

Dr. Anthony S Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and just about the only official in the Trump administration trusted to tell the truth about the coronavirus, said last Thursday: “The system does not, is not really geared to what we need right now … It is a failing, let’s admit it.” 
While we’re at it, let’s admit something more basic. The system would be failing even under a halfway competent president. The dirty little secret, which will soon become apparent to all, is that there is no real public health system in the United States.
Instead of a public health system, we have a private for-profit system for individuals lucky enough to afford it and a rickety social insurance system for people fortunate enough to have a full-time job. 
At their best, both systems respond to the needs of individuals rather than the needs of the public as a whole. In America, the word “public” – as in public health, public education or public welfare – means a sum total of individual needs, not the common good.
Even if a test for the Covid-19 virus had been developed and approved in time, no institutions are in place to administer it to tens of millions of Americans free of charge. Local and state health departments are already barebones, having lost nearly a quarter of their workforce since 2008, according to the National Association of County and City Health Officials. 
Healthcare in America is delivered mainly by private for-profit corporations which, unlike financial institutions, are not required to maintain reserve capacity. As a result, the nation’s supply of ventilators isn’t nearly large enough to care for projected numbers of critically ill coronavirus victims unable to breathe for themselves. Its 45,000 intensive care unit beds fall woefully short of the 2.9 million that are likely to be needed. 
The Fed can close banks to quarantine financial crises but the US can’t close workplaces because the nation’s social insurance system depends on people going to work.
Almost 30% of American workers have no paid sick leave from their employers, including 70% of low-income workers earning less than $10.49 an hour. Vast numbers of self-employed workers cannot afford sick leave. Friday’s deal between House Democrats and the White House won’t have much effect because it exempts large employers and offers waivers to smaller ones. 
Most jobless Americans don’t qualify for unemployment insurance because they haven’t worked long enough in a steady job, and the ad-hoc deal doesn’t alter this. Meanwhile, more than 30 million Americans have no health insurance. Eligibility for Medicaid, food stamps and other public assistance is now linked to having or actively looking for work. 
It’s hard to close public schools because most working parents cannot afford childcare. Many poor children rely on school lunches for their only square meal a day. In Los Angeles, about 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches and just under 20,000 are homeless at some point during the school year. 
There is no public health system in the US, in short, because the richest nation in the world has no capacity to protect the public as a whole, apart from national defense. Ad-hoc remedies such as House Democrats and the White House fashioned on Friday are better than nothing, but they don’t come close to filling this void.

Food Security. It's Now a Thing. Finally.

A few years ago I did a spate of online courses on topics ranging from climate change to warfare in the 21st century to global food security. Of them all, food security seemed to be the most mundane.

One course looked at how Britain's food industry kept fresh strawberries on Sainsbury's shelves year round. It was a matter of "chasing the sun" by growing strawberries wherever the climate was suitable at any given time across both the northern and southern hemispheres. Something didn't seem right about the whole thing so I did a bit of digging into these satellite operations.

"Chasing the sun" involved Third World operations in countries that were already food insecure, nations that experienced periodic famine requiring developed countries to begrudgingly send food aid to avert mass starvation.  A lot of their prime farmland had been bought out by these foreign companies to meet demand in markets thousands of miles distant.

One thing led to another. I came across studies by renowned agronomists on the unmentioned global crisis in soils degradation. The main scourge was industrial agriculture that was destroying what had been for centuries, millennia, good and productive farmland. Intensive (excessive) agriculture produced bountiful crops thanks to the rapacious consumption of limited groundwater resources and the application of increasing quantities of agricultural chemicals - fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. What these several agronomists reported was that this Green Revolution was stripping soil carbon and other nutrients without which the soil was turning to barren sand.

Finally, in 2014, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization acted on these agronomists' reports and issued a statement warning that our farmland would support a mere 60 more harvests. That was a somewhat confusing statement but it did convey the message that we were already experiencing a loss in soil fertility.

That's a terrible development for the people of the Third World but today's editorial in The Guardian reveals that those of us in affluent nations are also facing our own forms of food insecurity evidenced by empty shelves in our grocery stores.

The underlying problem is that just-in-time supply chains can struggle to cope with even relatively small shifts, and that a handful of retailers dominate the market. The top eight account for more than 90% of all grocery sales in Britain, with Tesco alone accounting for 27%. The efficiencies that have kept food prices low, and the long and complex global chains that bring us such variety, come at a price. 
Border closures due to the virus as well as sickness could yet hit agriculture and delivery. Farmers say they face huge labour shortages, though Britain, France and others are discussing new “land armies” to bring in crops normally harvested by migrant workers. Some countries are imposing limits on exports of staples to ensure they can feed their own populations. Only half the food we consume in Britain is produced here. 
The hardest hit will be those who suffer at the best of times. Food charities have warned that millions will need food aid in the coming days. The government says military planners are organising a food delivery system for the 1.5 million people most vulnerable to coronavirus, and is developing a scheme to support the 1.6 million children who rely on free school meals – probably in the form of supermarket vouchers.
One of the many things our governments need to do is thoroughly examine our food chains. They need to identify our vulnerabilities and what we must do about them. Perhaps we should be de-industrializing our agricultural economy with less emphasis on massive exports and more focus on our own self-sufficiency. A return to smallholder farming and local distribution. Yes it might mean paying more for our food but bolstering food security is well worth the premium.

Now We Have to Look at Ourselves In the Mirror. It's Not Very Pleasant.

One of the traits neoliberalism has instilled in us is a near-bulletproof ability to look the other way.

Terrestrial life (non-human) declines by half in forty years. Marine life declines by half in forty years. Not my problem. Biodiversity loss, especially the loss of pollinators, spreads across the planet. Meh. Stocks of farmland degraded by excessive, intensive agriculture and agricultural chemicals. Somebody ought to do something about... what was that? Severe weather events of increasing frequency, duration and severity. Well my, my. Global warming. Sure, yeah, bad.  We'll get someone on those things, eventually. They'll think of something.

Then a pernicious little virus sets in. Oh well, a few weeks of self-isolation and social distancing should do the trick and then we'll be back to normal, right as rain. Only we're not so sure of that as we were just a few months ago. We've started to look in the mirror.

Some of us are finally coming to realize that all of those annoying dire warnings thrown at us over the last 15 to 20-years were true. They weren't "alarmist," the excuse we often used to justify ignoring them.  Have we really been living in a Potemkin culture?

The Guardian's enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, wrote an op-ed last week that went largely unnoticed as all eyes were riveted on the coronavirus.  He questioned whether Covid-19 will awaken us from our stupor.
The temptation, when this pandemic has passed, will be to find another bubble. We cannot afford to succumb to it. From now on, we should expose our minds to the painful realities we have denied for too long. 
The planet has multiple morbidities, some of which will make this coronavirus look, by comparison, easy to treat. One above all others has come to obsess me in recent years: how will we feed ourselves? Fights over toilet paper are ugly enough: I hope we never have to witness fights over food. But it’s becoming difficult to see how we will avoid them. 
In combination with a rising human population, and the loss of irrigation water, soil and pollinators, this could push the world into structural famine. Even today, when the world has a total food surplus, hundreds of millions are malnourished as a result of the unequal distribution of wealth and power. A food deficit could result in billions starving. 
But this is just one of our impending crises. Antibiotic resistance is, potentially, as deadly as any new disease. One of the causes is the astonishingly profligate way in which these precious medicines are used on many livestock farms.

In the US, where 27 million people have no medical cover, some people are now treating themselves with veterinary antibiotics, including those sold, without prescription, to medicate pet fish. Pharmaceutical companies are failing to invest sufficiently in the search for new drugs. If antibiotics cease to be effective, surgery becomes almost impossible. Childbirth becomes a mortal hazard once more. Chemotherapy can no longer be safely practised. Infectious diseases we have comfortably forgotten become deadly threats. We should discuss this issue as often as we talk about football. But again, it scarcely registers.
Monbiot observes that the spread of virulent epidemics, antibiotic resistance, climate breakdown, and the spreading reality of food insecurity are just some of the civilizational-scale threats we're facing. If we treat Covid-19 as some "one off" event, we're setting ourselves up for even greater catastrophes that won't be waiting for future generations. They're getting an early start and we're all in their crosshairs.
There are two ways this could go. We could, as some people have done, double down on denial. Some of those who have dismissed other threats, such as climate breakdown, also seek to downplay the threat of Covid-19. Witness the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, who claims that the coronavirus is nothing more than “a little flu”. The media and opposition politicians who have called for lockdown are, apparently, part of a conspiracy against him. 
Or this could be the moment when we begin to see ourselves, once more, as governed by biology and physics, and dependent on a habitable planet. Never again should we listen to the liars and the deniers. Never again should we allow a comforting falsehood to trounce a painful truth. No longer can we afford to be dominated by those who put money ahead of life. This coronavirus reminds us that we belong to the material world.

Is This An Oil War or the Death Throes of a Petro-Economy?

There was a story on CBC radio this morning about Alberta oil producers running out of places to store their petro-production. No mention in the report that it's a problem that's happening world wide.

There's a severe oil tanker shortage. Producers and investors are now using them as floating tank farms to store oil until "better times" return. These supertankers aren't delivering oil. To where?

There is an oil production/price war underway pitting Saudi Arabia against Russia. When Russia refused to slash output the Saudis retaliated by ramping up production to insane levels given the collapsing markets.

Now the Saudis have announced yet another increase in crude oil exports to start in May. Another 600 thousand barrels a day.

The Saudis, who launched an all-out price war for market share with Russia after Moscow refused to back deeper cuts, will not only boost April exports from the current 7 million bpd, but it will also grow exports in May by another 250,000 bpd from April. Now supply is expected at 10.6 million bpd starting in May, as per the latest Saudi statement. 
According to analysts, no deal can save the market right now as demand destruction could reach 20 million bpd or more in the coming weeks.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Is This a Re-Run of the High Middle Ages?

An historian of the Middle Ages, Patrick Wyman, sees eerie parallels between European history leading up to the Black Death and the post-WWII era leading up to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Black Death came at the end of a long period of economic contraction that had begun way back in toward the end of the 1200s. Before that, there had been this long period of economic efflorescence in high medieval Europe of “the commercial revolution,” where long-distance trade spread rapidly, lots more money was in circulation, the economy grew. But it was built on demographic growth; some populations doubled or even tripled throughout a lot of Europe.
Many countries today, including China and India, have seen their populations triple since the end of WWII. Over that same interval, the US population has more than doubled.
And that meant that by the end of the 13th century (1200s) practically all of the arable land was under cultivation. Even a lot of marginal, mucky, hilly, swampy land was in use. But the effect of having all of these people was that wages were extremely low. There were a lot of people living on the edge of subsistence without land of their own. These were the material conditions that underpinned the peak of the serfdom system, a labor arrangement in which people owed unpaid service to the lord in return for the use of his land. 
There’s a climate element, too. Part of the reason for this long economic efflorescence was that it was a period of really good, warm, stable weather. It’s less important for farmers that the weather be good than that it be predictable, because what you need to know is when to sow your crops and when to harvest them. But over the late [1200s] and into the [1300s], the weather gets much worse. It’s much less predictable — it’s wetter, colder. And that reaches a particularly bad point in what’s known as the “Great Famine,” which spikes between about 1315 and 1322. A lot of people died: Hundreds of thousands or millions of people starved to death across Western Europe. So that’s a sign that there is something systemically wrong. And that continued up through the Black Death.
There were also a whole bunch of bankruptcies of very large businesses — unprecedentedly large businesses that in the historiography are called “the Super-Companies” — that were invested all over Europe. They went bust in the middle of the 1340s, before the Black Death. They went under for a lot of reasons, but one of them was because of how overexposed they were and how teetering the economy was. 
So you have tight money. You have high population, low wages, high land costs … that’s a recipe for a really bad series of outcomes.
What goes up inevitably comes down. That's true for dominant countries that rise to form empires m- Dutch, French, Spanish, British - or quasi-empires such as the United States.
The end of the Roman Empire did not make life worse for everybody, and I think that’s an important point. Life does not have to get worse because of the end of a large-scale political entity. There’s some desperate inequality in the Roman Empire. A lot of groups of people are systemically treated terribly in the Roman system. For most people, there is no baseline assumption that their life has any real value. So the standard of living probably rose for a lot of people in the post-Roman world, population health was probably better, and diets were probably better in large swaths of the world
That said, life often can get worse because of the end of a political system. There are things that large-scale states do that make life better or are quite useful in a lot of ways. There’s some evidence that, after Rome, people lived in a more violent world. The simple fact was that people — and there were a lot fewer people in general — lived in much more local worlds. Their worlds were much less urbanized and less connected over long distances. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on how there was a lot less long-distance communication in the post-Roman world. 
For our grandkids, I worry a lot about the climate, about a time when you just can’t really go outside in the summer, when you can’t grow certain crops because it’s too hot. I think we could be in a similar situation as post-Roman Europe, in which — if the climate stuff keeps going the way it’s going — we have a more violent world and a more disordered world. It’s not necessarily worse, but we could definitely be telling them about a much, much different world.
To meet the challenges of the 21st century we will need new, highly capable leadership. The era of the feeble technocrat, the administrator, the petit fonctionnaire, must end.
But as we’re looking to solve our current problems, we need people who have the right skill sets. We need people who know how to pull the levers of the political system to direct state resources toward the massive glaring problems that we are facing. We need people who can see a shortage of protective equipment in hospitals and find ways to ensure we are producing and distributing that equipment. If we need to test people for the coronavirus, we need people in positions of power who can guarantee that we are producing, distributing, and utilizing coronavirus test kits. That’s what the situation demands. 
And at moments like this, we have the opportunity to evaluate what is and isn’t working, and you have the opportunity to make change. Yeah, this crisis is ongoing, but when the dust eventually settles, we will be able to look at the wide and broad strokes and see things that desperately need changing. And hopefully we can use this as an opportunity to build more resilient systems as we move forward. 
This won’t be the last shock. We’ve been very lucky that we haven’t had one for a long time. But we’ll have another one.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Rolling Stones - "Ventilator Blues"

When your spine is cracking and your hands, they shake
Heart is bursting and your butt's gonna break
Woman's cussing, you can hear her scream
Feel like murder in the first degree
Ain't nobody slowing down no way
Everybody's stepping on their accelerator
Don't matter where you are
Everybody's gonna need a ventilator
When you're trapped and circled with no second chances
Code of living is your gun in hand
Can't be browed by beating, can't be cowed by words
Messed by cheating, ain't gonna ever learn
Everybody walking 'round
Everybody trying to step on their Creator
Don't matter where you are, everybody, everybody gonna
Need some kind of ventilator, some kind of ventilator
Come down and get it
Source: LyricFind

Ventilators were used as a last ditch treatment for acute drug overdose, as in heroin overdose.

While They're All Distracted By that Virus, Let's Gut the EPA

Figuring that a public worried about a viral pandemic and their next pay cheque, Team Trump figures this is the perfect time to pull a fast one - or two - or maybe more.

Where better to begin than the EPA, America's already beleaguered Environmental Protection Agency?
The Environmental Protection Agency, headed by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, announced on Thursday a sweeping and indefinite suspension of environmental rules amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic, a move green groups warned gives the fossil fuel industry a "green light to pollute with impunity." 
Under the new policy (pdf), which the EPA insisted is temporary while providing no timeframe, big polluters will effectively be trusted to regulate themselves and will not be punished for failing to comply with reporting rules and other requirements. The order—applied retroactively beginning March 13, 2020—requests that companies "act responsibly" to avoid violations.

Wheeler said in a statement. "This temporary policy is designed to provide enforcement discretion under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment." 
Critics, such as youth climate leader Greta Thunberg, accused the Trump administration of exploiting the coronavirus crisis to advance its longstanding goal of drastically rolling back environmental protections. 
"The EPA uses this global pandemic to create loopholes for destroying the environment," tweeted Thunberg. "This is a schoolbook example for what we need to start looking out for." 
Cynthia Giles, former head of the EPA's Office of Enforcement under the Obama administration, told The Hill that the new policy is "essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future."

Friday, March 27, 2020

How Will the Corona Virus End? - The Atlantic

The Atlantic looks at how the Covid-19 contagion will end for the United States. It won't be pretty.

Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche. 
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
...the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed and distributed a faulty test in February. Independent labs created alternatives, but were mired in bureaucracy from the FDA. In a crucial month when the American caseload shot into the tens of thousands, only hundreds of people were tested. That a biomedical powerhouse like the U.S. should so thoroughly fail to create a very simple diagnostic test was, quite literally, unimaginable. “I’m not aware of any simulations that I or others have run where we [considered] a failure of testing,” says Alexandra Phelan of Georgetown University, who works on legal and policy issues related to infectious diseases.
The testing fiasco was the original sin of America’s pandemic failure, the single flaw that undermined every other countermeasure. If the country could have accurately tracked the spread of the virus, hospitals could have executed their pandemic plans, girding themselves by allocating treatment rooms, ordering extra supplies, tagging in personnel, or assigning specific facilities to deal with COVID-19 cases. None of that happened. Instead, a health-care system that already runs close to full capacity, and that was already challenged by a severe flu season, was suddenly faced with a virus that had been left to spread, untracked, through communities around the country. Overstretched hospitals became overwhelmed. Basic protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves, began to run out. Beds will soon follow, as will the ventilators that provide oxygen to patients whose lungs are besieged by the virus.
America’s health-care system operates on the assumption that unaffected states can help beleaguered ones in an emergency. That ethic works for localized disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires, but not for a pandemic that is now in all 50 states. Cooperation has given way to competition; some worried hospitals have bought out large quantities of supplies, in the way that panicked consumers have bought out toilet paper. 
Partly, that’s because the White House is a ghost town of scientific expertise. A pandemic-preparedness office that was part of the National Security Council was dissolved in 2018. On January 28, Luciana Borio, who was part of that team, urged the government to “act now to prevent an American epidemic,” and specifically to work with the private sector to develop fast, easy diagnostic tests. But with the office shuttered, those warnings were published in The Wall Street Journal, rather than spoken into the president’s ear. Instead of springing into action, America sat idle.
People who were infected several days ago will only start showing symptoms now, even if they isolated themselves in the meantime. Some of those people will enter intensive-care units in early April. As of last weekend, the nation had 17,000 confirmed cases, but the actual number was probably somewhere between 60,000 and 245,000. Numbers are now starting to rise exponentially: As of Wednesday morning, the official case count was 54,000 (82,000 today, one day later), and the actual case count is unknown. Health-care workers are already seeing worrying signs: dwindling equipment, growing numbers of patients, and doctors and nurses who are themselves becoming infected.
The U.S. has fewer hospital beds per capita than Italy. A study released by a team at Imperial College London concluded that if the pandemic is left unchecked, those beds will all be full by late April. By the end of June, for every available critical-care bed, there will be roughly 15 COVID-19 patients in need of one. By the end of the summer, the pandemic will have directly killed 2.2 million Americans, notwithstanding those who will indirectly die as hospitals are unable to care for the usual slew of heart attacks, strokes, and car accidents. This is the worst-case scenario.
In the U.S., the Strategic National Stockpile—a national larder of medical equipment—is already being deployed, especially to the hardest-hit states. The stockpile is not inexhaustible, but it can buy some time. Donald Trump could use that time to invoke the Defense Production Act, launching a wartime effort in which American manufacturers switch to making medical equipment. But after invoking the act last Wednesday, Trump has failed to actually use it, reportedly due to lobbying from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and heads of major corporations.

...the pandemic will either accelerate beyond the capacity of the health system or slow to containable levels. Its course—and the nation’s fate—now depends on the third need, which is social distancing. Think of it this way: There are now only two groups of Americans. Group A includes everyone involved in the medical response, whether that’s treating patients, running tests, or manufacturing supplies. Group B includes everyone else, and their job is to buy Group A more time. Group B must now “flatten the curve” by physically isolating themselves from other people to cut off chains of transmission. Given the slow fuse of COVID-19, to forestall the future collapse of the health-care system, these seemingly drastic steps must be taken immediately, before they feel proportionate, and they must continue for several weeks.
The importance of social distancing must be impressed upon a public who must also be reassured and informed. Instead, Trump has repeatedly played down the problem, telling America that “we have it very well under control” when we do not, and that cases were “going to be down to close to zero” when they were rising. In some cases, as with his claims about ubiquitous testing, his misleading gaffes have deepened the crisis. He has even touted unproven medications.
Trump already seems to be wavering. In recent days, he has signaled that he is prepared to backtrack on social-distancing policies in a bid to protect the economy. Pundits and business leaders have used similar rhetoric, arguing that high-risk people, such as the elderly, could be protected while lower-risk people are allowed to go back to work. Such thinking is seductive, but flawed. It overestimates our ability to assess a person’s risk, and to somehow wall off the ‘high-risk’ people from the rest of society. It underestimates how badly the virus can hit ‘low-risk’ groups, and how thoroughly hospitals will be overwhelmed if even just younger demographics are falling sick.
A recent analysis from the University of Pennsylvania estimated that even if social-distancing measures can reduce infection rates by 95 percent, 960,000 Americans will still need intensive care. There are only about 180,000 ventilators in the U.S. and, more pertinently, only enough respiratory therapists and critical-care staff to safely look after 100,000 ventilated patients. Abandoning social distancing would be foolish. Abandoning it now, when tests and protective equipment are still scarce, would be catastrophic.

It’s likely, then, that the new coronavirus will be a lingering part of American life for at least a year, if not much longer. If the current round of social-distancing measures works, the pandemic may ebb enough for things to return to a semblance of normalcy. Offices could fill and bars could bustle. Schools could reopen and friends could reunite. But as the status quo returns, so too will the virus. This doesn’t mean that society must be on continuous lockdown until 2022. But “we need to be prepared to do multiple periods of social distancing,” says Stephen Kissler of Harvard.
The aftermath or the legacy of Covid-19
One could easily conceive of a world in which most of the nation believes that America defeated COVID-19. Despite his many lapses, Trump’s approval rating has surged. Imagine that he succeeds in diverting blame for the crisis to China, casting it as the villain and America as the resilient hero. During the second term of his presidency, the U.S. turns further inward and pulls out of NATO and other international alliances, builds actual and figurative walls, and disinvests in other nations. As Gen C grows up, foreign plagues replace communists and terrorists as the new generational threat. 
One could also envisage a future in which America learns a different lesson. A communal spirit, ironically born through social distancing, causes people to turn outward, to neighbors both foreign and domestic. The election of November 2020 becomes a repudiation of “America first” politics. The nation pivots, as it did after World War II, from isolationism to international cooperation. Buoyed by steady investments and an influx of the brightest minds, the health-care workforce surges. Gen C kids write school essays about growing up to be epidemiologists. Public health becomes the centerpiece of foreign policy. The U.S. leads a new global partnership focused on solving challenges like pandemics and climate change. 
In 2030, SARS-CoV-3 emerges from nowhere, and is brought to heel within a month.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

They've Been Right All Along. America is No.1

They had a lot of catching up to do but, boy, have they made up for lost time.

The United States has now logged more Covid-19 cases than either China or Italy.

The US has topped China in coronavirus cases, with more than 82,000 people now infected in the US according to tracking numbers from John Hopkins University. China's coronavirus case count is sitting at around 81,700, while Italy is around 80,500.

There have been over 1,100 COVID-19 deaths in the US. By comparison, however, there have been around 8,200 fatalities in Italy, 4,100 in Spain, 3,300 in China, 2,200 in Iran and 1,700 in France. 
During a White House coronavirus task force briefing Thursday afternoon, US President Donald Trump said the jump in cases is "a tribute to our testing." 
"We're doing tremendous testing," Trump said. 
Trump argued it's uncertain what the numbers are in China, and that he's speaking with Chinese President Xi Jinping at 9:00 p.m. ET tonight. 
Globally, coronavirus cases sit at 526,000 as of 3:00 p.m. PT on March 26, with deaths reaching 23,700.
Canada's death toll, as of two hours ago, stood at 39.

Brace Yourself. Trump's Approval Ratings Hit All-Time High

The coronavirus has been great for the Mango Mussolini, America's Bungler in Chief.

It is unclear how long Trump's polling bump will last. Polls tend to be lagging indicators, meaning they reflect events from the recent past rather than the present. 
Many of the polls were conducted last week, when Trump adopted a noticeably more serious tone when discussing the pandemic. This week he has again reverted to minimising the virus and has flagged a return to normal life by Easter, an idea vigorously opposed by public health experts
Rather than being surprised by Trump's popularity boost, some long-time poll watchers say it should be even bigger. In times of national emergency, citizens tend to support their leaders - a phenomenon known as the "rally around the flag" effect.

We Knew. We've Known for Years. We Just Ignored the Warnings. That Must Stop - Now.

When we think of climate science we think of what are sometimes called "earth sciences." Stuff like physics, chemistry, atmospherics, geology, hydrology, glaciology - the droughts, floods and severe weather events sciences.  Much less known are the related medical sciences, specifically epidemiology. And yet that community of doctors and scientists has been warning us for a long time that pandemics were in our future. Author and journalist Bryan Walsh explains that now is the time to begin preparing for the next pandemic.  A lot of lives will be lost paying for the mistakes we're still making.
The novel coronavirus pandemic, known as Covid-19, could not have been more predictable. From my own reporting, I knew this first-hand. In October 2019, I attended a simulation involving a fictional pandemic, caused by a novel coronavirus, that killed 65 million people, and in the spring of 2017 I wrote a feature story for TIME magazine on the subject. The magazine cover read: “Warning: the world is not ready for another pandemic”. 
There was little special about my insight. Over the past 15 years, there has been no shortage of articles and white papers issuing dire warnings that a global pandemic involving a new respiratory disease was only a matter of time. On BBC Future in 2018, we reported that experts believed a flu pandemic was only a matter of time and that there could be millions of undiscovered viruses in the world, with one expert telling us, “I think the chances that the next pandemic will be caused by a novel virus are quite good.” In 2019, US President Donald Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services carried out a pandemic exercise named “Crimson Contagion”, which imagined a flu pandemic starting in China and spreading around the world. The simulation predicted that 586,000 people would die in the US alone. If the most pessimistic estimates about Covid-19 come true, the far better named “Crimson Contagion” will seem like a day in the park.
Mankind has seen it all before.
Covid-19 marks the return of a very old – and familiar – enemy. Throughout history, nothing has killed more human beings than the viruses, bacteria and parasites that cause disease. Not natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanoes. Not war – not even close.

The plague of Justinian struck in the 6th Century and killed as many as 50 million people, perhaps half the global population at the time. The Black Death of the 14th Century – likely caused by the same pathogen – may have killed up to 200 million people. Smallpox may have killed as many as 300 million people in the 20th Century alone, even though an effective vaccine – the world’s first – had been available since 1796.
How we dropped the ball on Covid-19.
Covid-19 is very much a disease of the moment, emerging in a crowded city in a newly prosperous and connected China before spreading to the rest of the world in a matter of months. But our response to it has been both hyper-modern – and practically medieval. Scientists around the world are using cutting-edge tools to rapidly sequence the genome of the coronavirus, pass along information about its virulence, and collaborate on possible countermeasures and vaccines, all far quicker than could have been done before. 
But when the virus arrived among us, our only effective response was to shut down society and turn off the assembly line of global capitalism. Minus the text alerts, the videoconferencing and the Netflix, what we were doing wasn’t that different from what our ancestors might have tried to halt an outbreak of the plague. The result has been chemotherapy for the global economy
Just as the eventual emergence of something like Covid-19 was easily predictable, so too are the actions we should have taken to shore ourselves against its coming.
Learn from this pandemic and be ready for the next.
We need to strengthen the antennae of global health, to ensure that when the next virus emerges — which it will — we’ll catch it faster, perhaps even snuff it out. The budget of the WHO, the agency ostensibly charged with safeguarding the health of the world’s 7.8 billion citizens, is somehow no more than that of a large urban hospital in the U.S. 
We need to double down on the development of vaccines, which will include assuring large pharma companies that their investments won’t be wasted should an outbreak end before one is ready.
We need to build more slack into our public health systems. Just as the US military is designed — and funded — to fight a war on two fronts, so our health care systems should have the surge capacity to meet the next pandemic. 
One ongoing challenge in pandemic preparation is what experts call shock and forgetting. Too often politicians make funding promises in the immediate aftermath of a crisis like Sars or Ebola, only to let those pledges lapse as the memory of the outbreak fades
Somehow, I expect that won’t be the case with Covid-19. We need to do all we can to not just survive this pandemic, but to ensure it remains a throwback from the past, not a sign of things to come.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

An E.R. Doctor Slams Oil and Gas Bailout.

Dr. Courtney Howard, is an emergency physician. She's also president of the Canadian Association of Physicians. Not surprisingly she's been run off her feet trying to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. She doesn't think much of the Trudeau government's bailout of the fossil energy sector.
When I first read about the possibility of a multibillion-dollar bailout of the oil and gas sector by the federal and Alberta governments, I was exhausted. 
I was exhausted from days of ER work, personal protective equipment drills, obsessive counting of ventilators and considering how to encourage Canadians to have courageous conversations around end-of-life care. I was too exhausted to even think about responding. 
That was precisely the point. Oil and gas companies, lobbyists and the decision makers they have formed relationships with are counting on Canadians being too occupied coping with an ongoing health crisis to register that our country is considering a massive transfer of public funds to support the very industry most likely to cause the next health crisis. And the health crisis after that. And the health crisis after that.
Howard sees a Canada that is failing our future generations.
UNICEF, the WHO and the Lancet created an index of “child flourishing,” where Canada ranked 21st out of 180 countries in support for present-day child health, but 170th in terms of sustainability, making us one of the wealthy countries that “threaten every child’s future through climate change.” 
Our current crisis highlights the need to take planetary health, defined by the Lancet as the “health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems upon which it depends,” into account. The virus of zoonotic origin currently bringing the globe to a near-standstill transferred into humans due to a lack of care at the interface between humanity and the rest of the natural world. 
Pre-COVID-19, the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risks Report emphasized that the majority of major risks facing the world in terms of both impact and probability have to do with this intersection — they were right. 
The only possible positive outcome of this tragedy is a generational pivot: For us to rise to the COVID-19 challenge with courage and unity, learn all we can and surge into a post-pandemic world committed to preventing further crises and bolstering resilience to any that may occur. Knowing that only about 20 per cent of overall health status is determined by health care, this means pushing for measures that make life outside of the hospital stable, clean and equitable.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

How Do You Lock Down India?

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has imposed a three week lockdown on the nation of 1.3 billion people, telling them to "forget what going out means."
“From 12 midnight today, the entire country will go under a complete lockdown to save India and for every Indian, there will be a total ban on venturing out of your homes. Therefore, I request you to remain wherever you are in this country.”
“If we are not able to manage this pandemic in the next 21 days, the country and your family will be set back by 21 years. If we are not able to manage the next 21 days, then many families will be destroyed forever.”
So far India has had a relatively low number of coronavirus cases, with 469 infections and 10 deaths so far, and the government had already introduced stringent measures to try to halt local transmission in a country where millions live in densely populated conditions with terrible sanitation and limited healthcare access. 
There are currently only 40,000 ventilators in India, one isolation bed per 84,000 people and one doctor per 11,600 Indians. More than 1.8 million people across the country are being monitored because they have shown symptoms of the illness, travelled from abroad or been exposed to confirmed cases.

A Show of Hands, Please

Everyone in favour of the federal government taking on a nine to twelve billion dollar pipeline expansion when bitumen is now plainly a "stranded asset," please raise your hands.

Nobody? Sure? Nobody, really?

Since this government foolishly put out nearly five billion to buy the pipeline route from the guys who were going to shut it down and couldn't find anyone in the private sector to buy them out, the pipeline has languished in litigation and indecision.

At the same time we discover it's going to cost billions more to complete than we were first told.

Now the government is scrambling to scrape up an additional and unforeseen tens of billions  of dollars for stimulus spending to blunt the damage and loss caused by the coronavirus, spending of a magnitude far greater than what Harper had to spend on the 2008-2009 Great Recession.

Meanwhile world oil prices are cratering, some oil types predict they're not coming back to the days where bitumen was economically viable. In other words the pipeline has "no visible means of support" just like a lot of streetwalkers.

Could this be a good time to cut our losses on that damned pipeline? Show of hands?

Everybody? Really?

This Will Be Weird to Watch

As provincial governments trying to avert the worst of the Covin-19 pandemic order stores to close for the duration, does that mean they might bring back prohibition?

I don't think there's one premier who has the guts for cutting off the booze, do you?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Brookings Institute - A Mortality Perspective on Covid-19

I'm posting this because, a), it's the Brookings Institution and it is highly credible, and, b), it offers an up to date discussion about the issue of coronavirus mortality. I think it's an important paper that should  help everyone keep this pandemic in perspective.

Here's the link.

It's not overly-technical, laden with medical jargon. Anyway, take a read and see if you don't agree.

Boris Puts UK on Lockdown

Effective this evening which on the far side of the Atlantic is just about now, Brits are confined to quarters.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the decision on Monday evening after a surge in coronavirus cases suggested that the UK is just two weeks behind the level of outbreak currently being seen in Italy.
"From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction - you must stay at home," Johnson said in a televised statement from his Downing Street residence. 
The prime minister announced that from Monday evening the British people would only be allowed to leave home for the following "very limited purposes": 
Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible 
One form of exercise a day - for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household; 
Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

Well, That Was Quick. What's Increasing Faster Than Covid-19 in America?

When I called it a day yesterday, the Americans (or so I thought) were churning through proposals for a trillion dollar stimulus spending initiative.

That was soooo yesterday.

In this morning's New York Times that stimulus proposal is now at $1.8 trillion.
Senators and senior Trump administration officials were scrambling on Monday to strike a deal on a $1.8 trillion measure to bolster the economy, after Democrats blocked action on the package on Sunday, demanding stronger protections for workers and restrictions for bailed-out businesses.
To put that in perspective, Obama's Great Recession stimulus programme came in at $831 billion and that ran from 2009 to 2019. 

Remember, this 1.8 trillion relief package comes atop a trillion dollar operating deficit run up by Trump and Congress.

Elizabeth May - How Covid-19 Could Change Us - If We're Lucky.

Former Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, has penned an op-ed for the National Observer. She concludes that there might be a silver-lining to the pandemic if we're lucky and we're smart enough to grab for it.

Will this bring about long-term change? The climate emergency remains a much larger public-health threat than COVID-19. We have been told for decades that societies cannot turn on a dime to embrace a new climate reality. Does that feel true anymore? Does it seem possible to insist that humans will not accept rapid transformational change after watching people all around the world accept that they now work from home? 
We now find ways to help each other. We band together in the hope of saving lives. Is this not a moment to proclaim that is what we must continue to do? 
In a recent opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-coronavirus-is-a-collective-problem-that-requires-global/ Thomas Homer Dixon wrote: 
“Today’s emerging pandemic could help catalyze an urgently needed tipping event in humanity’s collective moral values, priorities and sense of self and community. It could remind us of our common fate on a small, crowded planet with dwindling resources and fraying natural systems. 
“We won’t address this challenge effectively if we retreat into our tribal identities and try to wall ourselves off from each other. COVID-19 is a collective problem that requires global collective action — just like climate change.” 
Pandemics cause long-term change. What will the legacy of this one be? It is too soon to know, but it is not too soon to hope.

“This is Operation Desert Storm, Enron, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina/Rita, Lehman Bros, combined.”

Energy analysts are struggling to predict where world oil prices could bottom out in the months ahead. Energy consultant Stephen Shorck told Bloomberg, “This is Operation Desert Storm, Enron, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina/Rita, Lehman Bros, combined.”

Citigroup has a downside scenario that should send Jason Kenney reeling.
Citigroup laid out a pessimistic scenario in which WTI falls to $5 per barrel. Energy Aspects said Brent could fall to $10. Mizuho Securities said some oil could even fall into negative territory absent shale shut-ins.
How could oil prices go negative?
Various reports hit the news feeds today quoting a deliberately headline-grabbing statement by Paul Sankey, managing director at Mizuho Securities, in which he is reported as saying, “Oil prices can go negative.” That is, they could as a combination of Saudi Arabia (and Russia) flooding the market with increased oil and the market running headlong into COVID-19-induced curtailment of activity that is suppressing consumption, which combined will create the perfect storm of excess supply. 
In reality, inventory levels are already rising. 
CNN quotes Sankey, who said global oil demand is only around 100 million barrels per day. 
However, the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could crash demand by up to 20 percent. 
This would create a 20 million barrel-per-day surplus of oil in the market that would rapidly exceed storage capacity, forcing oil producers to pay customers to buy the commodity – hence, in effect, negative oil prices.
Francisco Blanch, a commodity strategist at Bank of America, warns in a Fox Business report that the demand destruction caused by the COVID-19 virus and the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia could cause inventories to swell by 900 million barrels in the second quarter alone. He estimates the world currently has about 1.5 billion barrels of available storage.

China continues to build storage capacity, having traditionally been short of space, but is now in a better position to take advantage of ultra-low prices
“In a severe scenario, if the market struggles to find a home for surplus barrels, then oil prices might have to trade down into the teens,” Blanch suggests. That would leave U.S. and Canadian producers deeply in the red when hedges run out. Weaker OPEC countries, like Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, and Nigeria, could see their economies collapse, while all offshore production would be loss-making if oil prices remain suppressed into the teens over the long term.
What then for Trudeau's Folly, the 16-19 billion dollar Trans Mountain pipeline? How does a government scrambling to get its hands on 25 billion for stimulus relief deal with a pipeline commitment to transport a stranded asset, bitumen?

Sunday, March 22, 2020

FBI Warns White Supremacists Want to Weaponize Covid-19 to Attack Jews, Police.

America's radical rightwing hopes to weaponize the coronavirus.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York office recently sent out an alert to local authorities warning of extremist groups it said are encouraging their members to spread the novel coronavirus to police and Jewish people, ABC News reported
According to the news agency, the alert, which was reportedly issued on Thursday, said that “members of extremist groups are encouraging one another to spread the virus, if contracted, through bodily fluids and personal interactions.” 
The alert reportedly warned that the racist groups were urging their members to go to places where Jewish people “may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship.” 
The alert also reportedly said some white supremacists and neo-Nazis were also urging members who contract the virus to spread the disease to cops by using spray bottles.

The report comes as the Anti-Defamation League reports some extremists have been pushing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories online that blame Jewish people for the spread of the virus.

What's Next? Since You Asked. Covid-19 And the Flood Risk.

It was just a few months ago that we were told to prepare to respond to major calamities, two, perhaps three at a time.

Covid-19 certainly qualifies as one. We don't know how long it will last. We don't know how many lives it will claim. The best we can do is hunker down in isolation to avoid contracting the virus until new anti-virals or, ideally, an effective vaccine can become available.

This isolation/quarantine business isn't easy. That's especially true for those who normally need some measure of assistance who live alone. There are times when they'll have to pop out of the trenches and run the gauntlet.

Now it seems our isolation/quarantine efforts may be compounded by spring flooding.
There is a risk of spring flooding in central Canada this year, according to two separate water monitoring bodies. 
It’s a serious problem that could complicate the drastic measures Canada is taking to fight the coronavirus pandemic. 
Community sandbagging will be more difficult when everyone is practicing social distancing and people are in self-isolation. The economic damage being caused by the virus has also destabilized people’s jobs and financial welfare, limiting their ability to absorb unexpected costs from flooding. 
As just one example of how the virus is already impacting local flood preparedness activities, the community centre near Ottawa that became a staging ground for the regional flood response last year, and was toured by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, closed on March 16 due to COVID-19. A flood preparedness meeting scheduled for April 4 had to be moved online
Quebec's public security minister has also warned that the risk of contamination from the virus means the province can’t open emergency shelters ​​​​​​for people who are forced out of their flooded homes, as it did in 2019. 
People are going to take action to respond to rising waters, even if it means breaking quarantine, said Daniel Henstra, associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo and a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation who studies climate change adaptation and flood risk. 
This is an emergency manager's nightmare scenario: two potentially serious emergencies happening at once,” he said in an interview. “The stage is set for what could be one of the most challenging flood seasons we have seen in a while."

This One Could Stretch Our Attention Span

One thing you'll find on this blog a handful of times every year are posts that discuss some major ecological calamity that conclude that the whole business will be down the Memory Hole in a matter of days and forgotten, erased. And that prediction is always proven true.

Only this time, it's different. This time isn't about our kids, it isn't about our grandkids. NO, Dammit! This is about us. Right here, right now. This matters.

No, this time it's got us, got us good, and we're not getting out until it lets us out - unless it takes us out first.

That same Memory Hole we once used to flush this looming catastrophe, climate change in all its permutations, free of our collective conscience, has stopped flushing. Now we're getting waist deep in it. Next week or the week after we should be chin deep in it.

What we're seeing now, inescapably, is just the first of what could be a succession of pandemics that climate scientists (the discipline includes epidemiology) have been warning us about for many years. The only reason our governments were caught flat-footed on Covid-19 is that they chose to ignore those warnings in yet another example where "the economy" defeated reason.

This is where neoliberalism has taken us. This time it's coming for us. We were told this was probably going to happen. We were warned.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Hepa Hype

My gaze fell on my air purifier this morning, the unit I bought to keep seasonal wildfire smoke under control in my house. It's the same model as the one in the photo. It uses three filters, one of which is the Hepa type.

That got me wondering whether these appliances were of any use in the Covid-19 contagion. Before you go in search of a purifier, it probably won't do you much good. The Hepa filter is effective against the virus particles.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is approximately 0.125 micron (125 nanometers) in diameter. It falls squarely within the particle-size range that HEPA filters capture with extraordinary efficiency: 0.01 micron (10 nanometers) and above.
That doesn't mean it will keep you safe and secure.
But that doesn’t mean an air purifier can protect you. While scientists are still researching how the new coronavirus spreads, the current consensus is that it is not an airborne virus, and that’s the position of both the CDC and other global health agencies. Rather, experts believe that the coronavirus is transmitted by person-to-person contact and by contact with virus-laden droplets expelled by an infected person’s coughing and sneezing. Coughs and sneezes certainly suggest “airborne” to most people, but such droplets travel only about 6 feet before falling out of the air and settling on surfaces. This is one reason health agencies worldwide are recommending 6-foot (2-meter) “social distancing” and related efforts like frequent handwashing and disinfection of surfaces as the primary means of protecting yourself.
In other words the Covid-19 infection probably won't happen in your own home. It's an "outside" thing.

Just thought you might want to know.

Joe Biden's Shoestring Budget Victory

It wasn't money that fueled Joe Biden's come-from-behind victory in the Democratic primaries. Of the final seven candidates, Biden's spending was dead last.
Outgunned on the airwaves and out-organized on the ground, Mr. Biden’s campaign succeeded in large part because of the overwhelming focus of Democratic voters on beating President Trump and the firm belief among many that Mr. Biden would be the party’s strongest challenger.

For months, Biden advisers had said they just needed enough cash to compete, and all the way through the end of February, Mr. Biden was racing to conserve that cash. 
He spent only $13.1 million last month — less than the billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg was spending on average per day. During the same period, Mr. Sanders spent more than twice as much on digital and television ads alone as Mr. Biden spent on his entire campaign operation — his payroll, his ads, his consultants, his events.
In the Democratic race, Mr. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, had spent the most, a record-setting $907 million, including accrued bills. Mr. Bloomberg’s sum — in only 100 days — is more than what President Barack Obama spent on his entire 2012 re-election campaign. 
Mr. Bloomberg spent more than double the billionaire Tom Steyer ($338 million), who spent more than double Mr. Sanders ($163 million), who spent more than double Mr. Biden ($76 million).

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts ($111 million) and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. ($91 million), also both had spent more than Mr. Biden by the end of February, records show.