Sunday, April 12, 2020

Last Call For The China Syndrome

If Donald Trump is able to convince voters that China is somehow responsible for Trump's dismal performance directing the "federal response" to COVID-19 and connect Joe Biden to it, he wins reelection running away.

President Donald Trump and his allies are leaning heavily into a new 2020 strategy tying Democrats and their presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden not just to China but to its role in spreading the coronavirus.

Democrats are increasingly worried that the strategy will work.

The Trump re-election campaign released a new ad this week going after Biden over his opposition to restrictions on travel from China designed to control the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. That was followed with a fundraising solicitation on Saturday that hammered home the point: “I am TOUGH ON CHINA and Sleepy Joe Biden is WEAK ON CHINA,” it declared.

Inside the campaign, the strategy is simple: make China the villain of a global pandemic that has complicated well-laid electoral plans and sparked growing criticism of the president.

“[China’s] among many weaknesses, but when people learn about Biden’s attack on the president’s China travel ban, his other weak positions on China, and his conflict with Hunter Biden’s business deal with China, voters are horrified,” John McLaughlin, a Trump pollster, told The Daily Beast on Friday. Other Trump 2020 officials said that the campaign had always intended to hammer Biden on China until the election in November, and the coronavirus “angle” was merely another way to go after the Bidens and China simultaneously.

In one sense it’s simply an extension of Team Trump’s months-long strategy to tie Biden to a country increasingly viewed with suspicion by American voters. The campaign and the Republican National Committee have been hammering Biden for months over his youngest son Hunter’s past business dealings in China.

But the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has made the country a far more potent political villain. And the massive disruptions in daily life caused by the virus virtually guarantee that China will remain in the headlines—and on the minds of American voters—for months as election day approaches. Polls already indicate that Americans of both parties overwhelmingly blame China for the virus’ initial spread.

For a Trump campaign that’s a potential political goldmine. “China was an effective wedge issue for Trump in 2016,” said one Republican strategist close to the campaign. “Now that it’s at the top of everyone’s mind, and Biden has a long record of being weak on China, just imagine how much more effective it will be in 2020.”

It definitely worked in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Democrats need to be smashing this noise and quickly.   The problem is I'd normally say Joe Biden's Rust Belt retail politics would go a long way, but that's impossible now.  Trump gets 6-12 hours of primetime coverage every week with his "task force briefings" and there no oxygen in the room for Biden or Democratic surrogates.

The question becomes how Biden can compete, and unless Dems come up with an answer soon, Trump is going to get away with this, blame China, and win by 200 electoral votes.

The key here may very well be Biden's old boss.

Red Dawn, Orange Idiot

E-mail exchanges obtained by the NY Times of some of the nation's top infection disease experts show that the experts absolutely knew COVID-19 was going to be a disaster in the hands of Donald Trump, and he proved them right at every turn.

As the coronavirus emerged and headed toward the United States, an extraordinary conversation was hatched among an elite group of infectious disease doctors and medical experts in the federal government and academic institutions around the nation.

Red Dawn — a nod to the 1984 film with Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen — was the nickname for the email chain they built. Different threads in the chain were named Red Dawn Breaking, Red Dawn Rising, Red Dawn Breaking Bad and, as the situation grew more dire, Red Dawn Raging. It was hosted by the chief medical officer at the Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Duane C. Caneva, starting in January with a small core of medical experts and friends that gradually grew to dozens.

The “Red Dawn String,” Dr. Caneva said, was intended “to provide thoughts, concerns, raise issues, share information across various colleagues responding to Covid-19,” including medical experts and doctors from the Health and Human Services Department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Homeland Security Department, the Veterans Affairs Department, the Pentagon and other federal agencies tracking the historic health emergency.

Here are key exchanges from the emails, with context and analysis, that show the experts’ rising sense of frustration and then anger as their advice seemingly failed to break through to the administration, raising the odds that more people would likely die.

As the US now tops half million COVID-19 cases and 20,000 deaths, the toll is only growing.

One of the most active participants in the group was Dr. Carter E. Mecher, a senior medical adviser at the Veterans Affairs Department who helped write a key Bush-era pandemic plan. That document focused in particular on what to do if the government was unable to contain a contagious disease and there was no available vaccine, like with the coronavirus.
The next step is called mitigation, and it relies on unsophisticated steps such as closing schools, businesses, shutting down sporting events or large public gatherings, to try to slow the spread by keeping people away from one another. As of late January, Dr. Mecher was already discussing the likelihood that the United States would soon need to turn to mitigation efforts, including perhaps to “close the colleges and universities.”

Dr. James Lawler, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Nebraska who served in the White House under President George W. Bush and as an adviser to President Barack Obama, was also a regular participant in the email chain. He stayed in regular communication with federal officials as the United States attempted to figure out how to respond to the virus. From the beginning he predicted this would be a major public health event.

Convincing governors and mayors to intentionally cause economic harm by ordering or promoting mitigation efforts — such as closing businesses — is always a difficult task. That is why it is so important, these medical experts said, for the federal government to take the lead, providing cover for the local officials to kick off the so-called Nonpharmaceutical Interventions, such as school and business closures. Again, this group of doctors and medical experts recognized from early on that this step was all but inevitable, even if the administration was slow to recognize the need.
Strong evidence was emerging as of mid-February — with the first cases of Covid-19 already in the United States — that the nation was about to be hit hard. These doctors and medical experts researched how quickly the virus spread on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in the port of Yokohama, Japan, on Feb. 3 before hundreds of United States citizens on the ship returned home.

Dr. Eva Lee, a researcher at Georgia Institute of Technology who has frequently worked with the federal government to create infectious disease projections, helped the Red Dawn group do modeling, based on the virus spread on the cruise ship. (Dr. Lee is facing sentencing on federal charges that she improperly applied for a federal grant for unrelated research.)

The concern these medical experts had been raising in late January and early February turned to alarm by the third week in February. That was when they effectively concluded that the United States had already lost the fight to contain the virus, and that it needed to switch to mitigation. One critical element in that shift was the realization that many people in the country were likely already infected and capable of spreading the virus, but not showing any symptoms. Here Dr. Lee discusses this conclusion with Dr. Robert Kadlec, the head of the virus response effort at the Department of Health and Human Services and a key White House adviser.

Dr. Kadlec and other administration officials decided the next day to recommend to Mr. Trump that he publicly support the start of these mitigation efforts, such as school closings. But before they could discuss it with the president, who was returning from India, another official went public with a warning, sending the stock market down sharply and angering Mr. Trump. The meeting to brief him on the recommendation was canceled and it was three weeks before Mr. Trump would reluctantly come around to the need for mitigation.

This slow pace of action was confusing to the medical experts on the Red Dawn email chain, who were increasingly alarmed that cities and states that were getting hit hard by the virus needed to move faster to take aggressive steps.

Report after report, story after story, they all say the same thing: the largest impediment to dealing with COVID-19 in America is Donald Trump.

Sunday Long Read: On A Mission From God

This week's Sunday Long Read is Ariel Levy's spectacular read in the New Yorker about Renee Bach, the woman accused of mass murder in Uganda with her church-funded medical clinic. Hundreds of sick children died in her care, because she had no medical training whatsoever and instead felt she was chosen by God to "help".

In the summer of 2013, Ziria Namutamba heard that there was a missionary health facility a few hours from her village, in southeastern Uganda, where a white doctor was treating children. She decided to go there with her grandson Twalali Kifabi, who was unwell. At three, he weighed as much as an average four-month-old. His head looked massive above his emaciated limbs; his abdomen and feet were swollen like water balloons. All over his tiny body, patches of darkened skin were peeling off. At a rural clinic six months earlier, he had been diagnosed as having malnutrition, but the family couldn’t afford the foods that were recommended. Twalali was his mother’s sixth child, and she was pregnant again—too far along to accompany him to the missionary facility, which was called Serving His Children.

“We were received by a white woman, later known to me as ‘aunt Renee,’ ” Namutamba attested in an affidavit, which she signed with her thumbprint, in 2019. At Serving His Children, Namutamba “saw the same woman inject something on the late Twalali’s head, she connected tubes and wires from baby Twalali to a machine.” Days later, while Namutamba was doing laundry in the clinic’s courtyard, she overheard another woman saying, “What a pity her child has died.” Soon, the person called Aunt Renée “came downstairs holding Twalali’s lifeless body, wrapped in white clothes.”

Twalali was one of more than a hundred babies who died at Serving His Children between 2010 and 2015. The facility began not as a registered health clinic but as the home of Renée Bach—who was not a doctor but a homeschooled missionary, and who had arrived in Uganda at the age of nineteen and started an N.G.O. with money raised through her church in Bedford, Virginia. She’d felt called to Africa to help the needy, and she believed that it was Jesus’ will for her to treat malnourished children. Bach told their stories on a blog that she started. “I hooked the baby up to oxygen and got to work,” she wrote in 2011. “I took her temperature, started an IV, checked her blood sugar, tested for malaria, and looked at her HB count.”

In January, 2019, that blog post was submitted as evidence in a lawsuit filed against Bach and Serving His Children in Ugandan civil court. The suit, led by a newly founded legal nonprofit called the Women’s Probono Initiative, lists the mothers of Twalali and another baby as plaintiffs, and includes affidavits from former employees of S.H.C. A gardener who worked there for three years asserts that Bach posed as a doctor: “She dressed in a clinical coat, often had a stethoscope around her neck, and on a daily basis I would see her medicating children.” An American nurse who volunteered at S.H.C. states that Bach “felt God would tell her what to do for a child.” A Ugandan driver says that, for eight years, “on average I would drive at least seven to ten dead bodies of children back to their villages each week.”

The story became an international sensation. “How could a young American with no medical training even contemplate caring for critically ill children in a foreign country?” NPR asked last August. The Guardian pointed to a “growing unease about the behavior of so-called ‘white saviors’ in Africa.” A headline in the Atlanta Black Star charged Bach with “ ‘Playing Doctor’ for Years in Uganda.” The local news in Virginia reported that Bach was accused of actions “leading to the deaths of hundreds of children.”

Bach made only one televised appearance in response, on Fox News. Wearing a puffy cream-colored blouse, with her blond hair half up, she was pictured on a split screen with her attorney David Gibbs, who previously led the effort to keep Terri Schiavo on life support, and now runs the National Center for Life and Liberty, a “legal ministry” that advocates for Christian causes. Over the years, Bach said, she had assisted Ugandan doctors and nurses employed by her organization in “emergency settings and in crisis situations,” but had never practiced medicine or “represented myself as a medical professional.” Bach sounded nervous, but she firmly denied the “tough allegation” against her. She had used the first person on her blog as an act of creative license, because a simple narrative appealed to donors; in fact, she’d had a Ugandan medical team by her side at all times. “I was a young American woman boarding a plane to Africa,” she said—inexperienced and idealistic, working on an intractable problem. “My desire to go to Uganda was to help people and to serve.” 

Bach blames the Ugandan medical team for the deaths.  They blame her.  And the story behind it all is both heartbreaking and informative.  I'm fond of saying "There's a lesson here for those who choose to learn it" but that's never been more applicable to our current situation in this era of global pandemic: the people who think they know better than the medical experts kill when they are wrong.

Separation Of Church And Virus, Con't

Kansas's Democratic governor, Laura Kelly, is one of several governors to ban gatherings of people, including church services, in the era of COVID-19.  Republicans in the state sued to overrule the order and they found a state judge willing to go along.  Gov. Kelly appealed to the state Supreme Court, and yesterday -- in a bizarre tableau of a social distance internet meeting -- the court sided unanimously with Gov. Kelly, but the fight is far from over.

The unanimous decision means Kelly’s order limiting religious gatherings to no more than 10 individuals will be in effect for Easter Sunday services. The court didn’t consider whether Kelly’s order infringes on religious freedom. 
Instead, justices focused on the language of a hastily drafted resolution passed by the Legislature shortly before adjourning in March. 
The resolution granted the governor emergency powers for responding to COVID-19 through May 1 and allows the State Finance Council to extend the emergency by 30 days. If extended, the resolution gives the Legislative Coordinating Council authority to reverse any executive order issued by the governor. 
Justices determined the LCC doesn’t currently have that authority, based on the timetable outlined in the resolution. They declined to consider, as the governor argued, whether the Legislature can delegate such authority to the LCC in the first place. 
Their decision, announced late Saturday, followed arguments held hours earlier, entirely by video conference for the first time in the court’s history, and capped four days of high-stakes political posturing. 
The governor moved to limit church crowds in response to outbreaks of the coronavirus that were connected to church events in Kansas. Across the state, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused 55 deaths and 1,268 infections. 

State Republicans vow to fight the ruling somehow, but Gov. Kelly is correct here.

Kelly said her top priority is the safety and well-being of Kansans. 
“Today’s ruling does not change my commitment to maintaining open lines of communication and collaboration with the Legislature,” Kelly said. “The only way to get through this is by working with, not against, each other in a bipartisan fashion.” 

But as I said, as with churches today all over the country, many people will still attend Easter Sunday services anyway.  And some will get sick.  A few will be hospitalized, and die.

Pastor Aaron Harris, of Calvary Baptist Church in Junction City, said the high court’s decision doesn’t “validate the governor’s order,” which carries the full force of law. 
“The legislative council may not have had legal authority to revoke it, but it is still unconstitutional,” Harris said. “We’ll be having services tomorrow. I hope and pray that our local LE will respect the constitution.

Again, we remain firmly in uncharted territory here.  Social distancing is only going to be feasible as long as people can meet basic needs like food, shelter, and water.  If that starts breaking down, then civil disobedience will turn uncivil, very very quickly.

History says this all ends extremely badly.

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