The Premonition: a Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis is a must read

“You cannot wait for the smoke to clear: once you can see things clearly it is already too late. You can’t outrun an epidemic: by the time you start to run it is already upon you. Identify what is important and drop everything that is not. Figure out the equivalent of an escape fire.” 

“James,” she asked, “who exactly is in charge of this pandemic?” “Nobody,” he replied. “But, if you want to know who is sort of in charge, it’s sort of us.” from a conversation between two members of an informal cadre of doctors trying to get to the bottom of things that had no orders to do so from their bosses.

These quotes are from Michael Lewis excellent book on the COVID-19 pandemic called “The Premonition: a Pandemic Story.” Lewis has written another well-researched book breaking down complex topics into a story the reader can understand. He has written about the housing financial crisis in “The Big Short,” baseball’s embracing of data to change the paradigm in “Moneyball,’ how we make decisions in “The Undoing Project,” and how unprepared we were during the Trump presidency in “The Fifth Risk,” among others.

From the inside flap to the book, “For those who could read between the lines, the censored news out of China was terrifying. But, the president insisted there was nothing to worry about. Fortunately, we are still a nation of skeptics. Fortunately, there are those among us who study pandemics and are willing to look unflinchingly at worst case scenarios. Michael Lewis’ taut and brilliant nonfiction thriller pits a band of medical visionaries against the wall of ignorance that was the official response of the Trump administration to the outbreak of COVID-19.”

The book highlights an informal cadre of doctors, data scientists, and epidemiologists who dig deeper into news and data to realize we have an exponentially growing pandemic which is akin to a wildfire. If you do not act early and with strong interventions, it is hard to contain. These folks are acting without permission from their various jobs in governmental health care positions, but share communications regularly even when those communications could get them fired for going against stated public stances.

Several in the group came together at the behest of President George W. Bush after he read a book about the risks of a pandemic to a country like the United States. He formed a pandemic planning team that pulled together resources who had a reputation for solving problems in health care, breaking down preconceived notions. And, they wrote a pandemic response plan after doing much research about the failures and successes in fighting the Spanish Flu outbreak. They actually used data to turn that story on its ear.

While a few stayed around in the administration during the Obama years and were of benefit during other pandemics, they were long gone during the Trump administration who felt the greater risk was from a military or terrorist action. So, they went back to their health care related jobs. That was until they started to see reports out of China and dug deeper.

They saw global exposure and used previous exponential pandemic growth to ascertain that we could be looking at 350,000 US deaths. The key is they made this observation in mid-January, 2020. What they learned later is the exponential growth factor from COVID-19 was higher than that of other diseases. Carter Mecher, the informal head of this group who called themselves “The Wolverines” after a Patrick Swayze movie called “Red Dawn,” noted by the time the president closed incoming travel from China, it was too late as the pandemic had already reached our shores. By the time the US had its first reported death on February 26, it was masking the fact 200 others were already dying.

Acting quickly without all of the data is key as per the quote above. A key data driven lesson from the Spanish Flu response is social distancing, especially with children, is essential. The first thing they would have done is shut the schools down. Why? Kids average a distance apart of only three feet, while adults have wider distance. Kids will transmit any disease faster than adults. This practice was done in some cities during the Spanish Flu outbreak and the data showed it worked, whereas other cities who did not act like this, had worse pandemic responses.

This cadre started getting attention of others beneath the president and in governor’s offices, including Dr. Tony Fauci. So, their informal calls and email chains kept growing. They were the only folks who seemed to know what they were talking about. We also learned the CDC is not the best agency to manage a pandemic, as it is more of a research and report writing entity, not a nimble management group. One of the members of the informal team worked for the CDC and her bosses did not know she did, e.g. Yet, the CDC and White House administration staff would not go against the public positions of the president. Perception mattered more than fixing the problem, so needed change and actions could not get done. In fact, some of these officials encouraged them to keep going, even though they knew the president was not the kind of person who they could contradict without repercussions.

So, at a time when we needed to move quickly, people in positions of authority stood in the way of those who were begging with them to act quickly. A good example is in a public health official named Charity Dean in California, who was used to acting quickly when she saw potential outbreaks, often risking her job in so doing. Her boss came from the CDC and was towing that party line, yet Dean had been drafted into this informal group “The Wolverines.” While her boss disinvited her from internal pandemic meetings, she kept learning and sharing information with the group. Eventually, her boss could not make a press conference with Governor Newsom, and Dean spoke for 45 minutes of her concerns answering many questions. The press said this is the first time they have heard this. The governor acted quickly.

The book is a must read, in my view. It shows how important leadership is in welcoming information from reliable sources to make their decisions. It also shows how important courage is to tell leaders what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. As I read this book, I kept thinking how the former president craves being seen as a good leader, but at the time when we needed him to be one, he whiffed at the ball on the tee. A key to pandemic responses is to tell people the truth – only then will they act. When the so-called leader is telling them it will all go away soon on the same day the first US death is reported or that this is a Democrat hoax, then people hear that and act accordingly. The problem is those statements were far from the truth.

Republican Leader of National Governors Association says ‘Trump should not lead country again’

While it has been like watching a ship turn in a harbor, the Republican admonitions of the candidacy of the latest former president are slowly piling up. Since Donald Trump’s efforts to incite, invite and inspire the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol last January 6 to secure his status as president, I have long felt he was done as a political candidate. I still do.

Yet, after initial backlash against him by Republicans, too many have backslid and have tried to whitewash what happened in an Oz-like fashion. Now, there is more than a trickle occurring where admonishing the former president’s candidacy is not the kiss of death in Republican worlds as it once was. The other day, I posted a well-articulated letter to the editor from a woman who called herself a “sane conservative” who said she has no candidate, the former president lost the election and referenced the GOP as not living up to its ideals.

In an article called “Donald Trump should not lead the country again, says the Republican leader of the National Governors Association” by Nicole Gaudiano of Business Insider, the following negative endorsement is revealed.

“The Republican chairman of the National Governors Association said on Saturday that Donald Trump should not lead Republicans or the country again.

‘I do not believe Trump is the one to lead our party and our country again, as president,’ Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told Insider on the sidelines of the NGA Winter Meeting in Washington, DC.

Insider asked Hutchinson whether he wants Trump to run following a video that recently surfaced in which Trump declares on the golf course that he is ‘the 45th and the 47th’ president.

Asked who should lead instead, Hutchinson said ‘that’s what the election is all about.’

The reason I am highlighting these negative endorsements of Trump is the wrong question is being asked by Republicans. It should not be whether Trump could win again? The question is how can someone vote for a president who not only consistently lies to and bullies people, but has betrayed his country and was so incompetent and controlling in his pandemic response, doctors, epidemiologists and data scientists in and out of government had to be secretive as they bandied together to get information out about the disease?

Taking the former president at his word is not only a fool’s errand, it is dangerous to the lives of people.

Democrats keep missing a key message

As an Independent and former Republican and Democrat voter, I wish I could have the opportunity to have detailed conversations with MAGA folks. Whether folks like Bernie or not, he is going to take his message to the MAGA world. Some may not like progressive policies, but Bernie tends to speak the truth. To me Democrats have tended to be lousy marketers missing out on a key, data centric message.

Since 1921, there have been thirteen Republican White Houses and going on thirteen Democrat White Houses. Under which White Houses have the most jobs been created? The answer is the Democrat White Houses and it is not even close. I recognize presidents get too much credit and too much blame for the economy, but the data reveals over 2x the number of jobs created in those periods under Democrats. Other measures show the economy and capital markets do better under Democrat White Houses as well.

What is interesting is my anecdotal evidence shows even Democrats think it is the opposite. Democrats should be more aggressive with that message. The former president inherited an economy that was 91 months into consecutive growth with 2 million plus jobs added for six straight years. To the former president’s credit it continued, got a little better for a little while with the sugar rush of the tax cut and then returned to pre-tax cut levels, before the botched handling of COVID-19 by the former president sank it

What still amazes me about the incompetent COVID-19 handling, is the ball was sitting on the tee for the former president to do what he craves, be presidential. But, he whiffed. He proceeded to play up a hoax, endangered his own MAGA followers by holding public events, and then continued to naysay it where many of his followers refuse to consider masks or vaccines. All occurring after he confided in Bob Woodward that he knew of the dangers. And, this is the person some want to return to the White House?

So, Democrats need to seize the message. They are the party of jobs and here is the data. If they don’t, Republicans will paint them with whatever message sells. And, if Democrats don’t believe me, in 2012 Republicans were told in memo form to use the term “failed stimulus” when speaking of Obama’s stimulus package. Even Democrats believed this, but what is funny, the stimulus did not fail. Per six econometric firms included the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus package was accretive to the economy.

When a known untruthful person endorses a message, what does that mean?

Sometimes the TV campaign commercials slip through the mute button. Usually it occurs when my wife or I leave the den and the remote is on the other end table. So, we get to hear the spiel from various Trump commercials, whether we want to or not.

Yet, when I hear him say at the end “I am Donald Trump and I endorse this message,” what does that mean? Trump is well-documented to be the most deceitful president in my lifetime. Plus, he laps the field of other politicians on lying, as his nature is to embellish every favorable truth and lie about the many unfavorable truths.

So, if Trump supports or endorses a commercial, that does not enhance its veracity. To me, it means it is likely very untrue or largely so. Just to state a few obvious points.

1.We have not turned the corner on COVID-19, it is getting worse. The president has not made it better; any achievements have largely been in spite of his mishandling.

2. Trump did not create the economy before the pandemic pushed us into a recession; he inherited the third longest growth economy in our country’s history.

3. Our economy before the recession was not the best ever, it is not even close. It was the longest growth period in US history, but 91 months of the growth occurred under Obama, with only 36 under Trump. But, the rate of growth was just pretty good.

4. He is not tough on China, he just appears to be such. I would argue with the ill-fated tariffs, pulling out of the TPP and the Iran nuclear deal, and picking on our EU allies, he has made China’s ascendency to the number one economy easier, not harder.

5. Biden’s healthcare plan will not close hospitals. He is talking about adding a public option to the ACA; that is not national health coverage; it is like Medicare. Hospitals will like getting paid. By the way, it is a fact the GOP led states that did not expand Medicaid under the ACA saw some rural hospitals close.

6. Biden is not a socialist, nor is Harris. They are both moderates and have the endorsement of several Republican groups. Biden will have a diverse cabinet, that will include all types of people – he even said he would include a few Republicans.

A final point that needs to be said. It is highly offensive and bothersome that the president of the United States is sowing seeds of racial unrest, division, conspiracies and doubt on the election process. Call me crazy, but the president is supposed to make things better, not worse. Donald Trump is making things worse with his rhetoric.

In a land not so far away, in a time not so long ago

January 25, 2020 – from the Oval Office of the White House

My fellow Americans. Today, our country faces a pandemic risk, that only has begun to hit our shores. I have been briefed on multiple occasions by the Directors of Intelligence, Defense and CDC regarding the coronavirus risk to our country. The virus appears to easily spread and can be deadly to some who have other medical issues they are dealing with.

Since, mission #1 in a pandemic is to tell the truth, I want to shoot straight with you. If this hits our shores like anticipated, then we need to be prepared to act. I have been told masks are important, and we may have a shortage.

In fact, Mike Bowen, owner of the largest surgical face mask producer in the US — Prestige Ameritech in Texas — contacted our officials in the Department of Health and Human Services on January 22, the day after the first US coronavirus cases were identified. He asked the US government to provide the funds needed to dust off four dormant manufacturing lines, and his firm would produce 1.7 million N95 masks every week. I have authorized emergency funds to Prestige Ameritech to start these dormant lines effective immediately.

Masks will only get us so far, but are a key part of the plan. So, I am asking the Vice President to head a task force to work with the CDC, both chambers of Congress, governors, major health care systems and facilities, and supply manufacturers to identify concerns, needs and develop a national and state level plans.

I have learned a new term called social distancing, which suggest people to remain six feet or more away from each other. I am told washing hands after some contact would also be wise. So, I would suggest people to start doing more of these things until we know more.

Since the coronavirus appears to have originated in China, I want this task force to advise me by the end of the month on whether travel restrictions to and from China, and other areas of Asia and around the world, are needed. In the interim, I would ask business leaders to reduce the amount of travel in their companies until we determine next steps. Private citizens should do the same. People returning to our country should self-quarantine for at least a week, I am told, but that time may need to be longer.

There is obviously a lot we don’t know about the coronavirus. As we learn more and develop plans and suggestions, we will conduct briefing sessions led by the Vice President and head of the CDC and other important scientific voices. I ask that you be diligent and do what is needed to protect yourself, families and friends.

Let me emphasize. This is not a hoax and it is not something we can just blow past. We need a concerted effort and take this seriously. There may be a time when we need to make more than suggestions requiring certain behaviors. Let’s hope it does not come to that. But, if it does, we will need your help to comply.

Thank you all and may God bless America, as well as our friends around the globe.

The President of the United States

Note: This speech did not occur. However, Prestige Ameritech offered twice to the White House to restart the idled lines in January. Because of the mask shortage, the initial emphasis was on masks for medical practitioners, which increased risk to other citizens. The US president did enact a travel ban to and from China on January 31, but would have been better served with more staging (and less blaming) beforehand about the risk. Democrats (and others) who were critical of the travel ban due to how it was communicated, should have been more supportive. Frustratingly, the president’s references to the virus being a hoax and downplaying the impact occurred throughout February at major pep rallies, placing many folks in attendance at risk. The misinformation continues until this day, which is amazing in its own right.

Threat to our own country – short letter to the editor

I sent this in to my local paper. If you like this, please feel free to adapt and use. Fingers crossed on whether they print it.

As an Independent and former GOP voter, the untruthful and bullying bents of the president are bothersome. His mishandling of COVID-19 which continues has harmed Americans. But, seeing a US president make several efforts to derail confidence in the voting process and endorse white supremacists are beyond the pale. The FBI arrested thirteen people plotting to kidnap the Michigan governor and these groups are emboldened by this president’s lack of criticism and tongue-in-cheek support. I truly never thought I would see a US president be a threat to our own country. Taking this president at his word is not only a fool’s errand, it is dangerous.

PS – Different subject, which I covered recently. This morning’s opening remarks by Senator Lindsey Graham to discredit the ACA made me ill they were so misleading. In short, he said the ACA is not working for South Carolinians as more money goes to three states. He did not say SC did NOT expand Medicaid, so that money goes elsewhere. And, he did NOT say, that more premiums subsidies go to three states as they have larger populations and, of course, get more subsidies. They also pay more taxes. This is an example of misleading people and why folks like Graham and Trump need to be voted out.

Here is a link to piece I wrote two weeks ago.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2020/10/03/just-a-quick-refresher-on-the-aca-animosity-in-the-republican-party/

Two articles speak volumes

Two articles are worth noting as we head into the election. The first is “Trump’s handling of coronavirus pandemic hits record low approval: Reuters/Ipsos poll’ by John Whitesides of Reuters. Here are a few paragraphs.

“Americans are steadily losing confidence in President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with his net approval on the issue that has dominated the U.S. election hitting a record low in a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.

The poll taken Tuesday through Thursday, after Trump’s COVID-19 infection and weekend hospitalization, found 37% of American adults approved of the president’s handling of the pandemic and 59% disapproved.

The net approval rating of negative 22 percentage points is the lowest in the poll dating back to March 2 and has steadily declined over the last 10 days, as Trump’s illness and his return to work in the White House dominated news headlines.”

The second article was reported by Randy Tucker in the Cincinnati Enquirer is called “Mitch McConnell says White House’s lax COVID rules are why he hasn’t visited since August.”

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday said he hasn’t visited the White House in two months because of what he saw as lax coronavirus practices. “‘ haven’t actually been to the White House since Aug. 6 because my impression was their approach to how to handle this (pandemic) was different from mine and what I insisted we do in the Senate, which was to wear a mask and practice social distancing,” McConnell said during an appearance in Northern Kentucky.

These excerpts and articles speak for themselves. To be frank, while bad, I am surprised the disapproval rating of Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 response is not higher. We are just shy of 218,000 deaths in America, yet that does not seem to be a problem or a debate question worth answering. It just shows how little news actually gets to people that need to see it. That is what this independent voter thinks.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/trump-s-handling-of-coronavirus-pandemic-hits-record-low-approval-reuters-ipsos-poll/ar-BB19Q8zM?ocid=msedgdhp

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/mitch-mcconnell-i-havent-visited-white-house-recently-because-of-lax-covid-rules/ar-BB19PyTp?ocid=uxbndlbing

Social distancing and masking up are musts, even for presidents

With US approaching 210,000 COVID-19 deaths, we learned the president and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19. I wish them well in their recovery. Their testing positive follows a day after Hope Hicks, a key White House staff member who traveled with the president tested positive.

Today, more announcements of public figures testing positive occurred. Republican Senators Mike Lee from Utah, Thom Tillis from North Carolina and Ron Johnson from Wisconsin all tested positive. Also testing positive are former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former White House staff member Kellyanne Conway, Republican Party chair Ronna McDaniel, campaign manager Bill Stepien, the president of the University of Notre Dame, and three White House reporters.

In terms of tracing, I heard the tail end of a report that some of these folks may have all been together at the announcement of SCOTUS candidate Amy Coney Barrett. The NPR report noted there was a White House lawn ceremony followed by an event indoors, neither of which followed all of the protocols needed.

This may or may not be the link, but it reminds us that we must be careful. We must avoid large gatherings, especially indoor ones, and follow social distancing and mask wearing protocols. Also, hand washing is essential.

While I am saddened that public people or any one, for that matter, gets COVID-19, what is happening to the president and people who have been near him is not a surprise. Flouting all of the requirements and choosing to not only not wear mask, but being flippant with those who do, is not conducive to cautious behavior.

To be frank, pandemics are not to be trifled with. While those who have to work in jobs that cannot be done from home are most at risk, pandemics truly know no zip code or income status. And, those who are the most fragile have the greater risk, if tested positive.

Let’s wish everyone, including the president and first lady well, but let’s also be smart and following social distancing and mask wearing protocols. Maybe, those who have not, will start to take notice. If we do not have universal compliance, the risk remains, especially as the colder weather force us more indoors.

Bob Woodward – a few tidbits from “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday

For some reason, the president of the United States agreed to be interviewed by Bob Woodward, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and author. This is a writer who, with Carl Bernstein, helped uncover the truth behind the corruption and deceit of Richard Nixon leading up to and following the Watergate break-in. So, the most untruthful and corrupt president, in my lifetime, including the aforementioned Nixon, sat down for recorded interviews with Woodward.

Relating to the “60 Minutes” interview between Woodward and Scott Pelley, I found the three paragraphs from a news summary by Ted Johnson called, “Bob Woodward Tells ’60 Minutes’ Why He Made A Judgment Call That Donald Trump Was The ‘Wrong Man For The Job: ‘It’s A Conclusion Based On Evidence'” revealing

“In his last interview with Trump in August, Woodward said, the topic again was on the coronavirus, as the pandemic continued to spread throughout the country. Trump insisted during the interview that ‘nothing more could have been done’ to curb the virus.

‘Nothing more could have been done. Does he remember what he told me, back in February, about it’s more deadly than the flu?’ Woodward told Pelley. ‘I mean it almost took my breath away, that there was such certainty, when he was absolutely wrong about the issue that defines the position of this country right now.’

Meanwhile, Trump continues to downplay the potential for the virus to spread, as he has mocked his rival Joe Biden for wearing a mask. His campaign continues to hold rallies in which supporters are tightly packed together and many not wearing masks. In fact, just as the 60 Minutes interview was airing, the Trump campaign was getting ready to hold its first indoor rally in three months, an event scheduled Sunday evening in Henderson, NV. Masks are recommended but not required.”

What troubles me about the last paragraph is even after the beans were spilled that Trump knew of the danger and lied about it, he still continues to hold rallies. It is akin to inviting people to a party where you know some of the food has spoiled. Trump has called Woodward a “wack job” and his book as “fake,” but most of the trouble from Woodward comes from Trump’s own words. His followers might want to listen to what Trump said.

Five minutes of your time – listen to candid wisdom on COVID-19 mishandling

If people want to get a sense of the failure of the president to lead us during the COVID-19 pandemic, following his admission and confirmation he lied to the American people (and continued to do so) about the risk of COVID-19, please click on Scottie’s post which has a five minute commentary by a very smart man who goes by the name Beau of the Fifth Column. Even a few minutes of the commentary will give you the gist.

The fact the president misled Americans on the dangers of COVID-19 is not news. The fact he admitted he knew and lied is. What the president fails to realize then, during his misleading press conferences and tweets, and even today, is too many people believe his BS. And, too many sycophants furthered his lies and downplayed the danger.

Too many Americans have died and more will. Too many Americans have gotten sick and more will. And, putting this in terms the president might understand, dying and sickness is not good for the economy. When people get sick when we reopen stores, schools, rallies, etc. without seriousness of purpose, it is predicted and predictable people will get infected.

I will say this bluntly. This calls for the resignation of the president.

Let’s talk about Trump, Woodward, and bad days….