COVID-19 Some Basic Biology

COVID-19 is a new virus to humans. Researchers are busy trying to answer some of the basic questions. Today I offer two links that provide such basic information. The first link is a two part Twitter thread. (I didn’t even know you could do this on Twitter, but a lot of people actually get their information there.) It was written by Professor Palli Thordarson of the School of Chemistry of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. I think he was surprised at the popularity of what he had written. Here’s the link:

https://twitter.com/PalliThordarson/status/1236549305189597189

The German government and health system, unlike our own, were better funded and better led. They got ahead of the curve on the COVID-19 pandemic, chasing down contacts as early as the end of December. I do not have the numbers at my fingertips, but Germany has, so far, done better containment and has a lower death rate than other developed nations. The following article provides some detail on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in the form of a case study of nine people with known exposure whose virus shedding was intensively monitored during their course of Covid-19. (technically, SARS-CoV-2 is the virus, Corvid-19 is the disease the virus produces.) Here’s the link to the story:

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/coronavirus-most-contagious-before-during-first-week-symptoms

Here’s the link to the original research paper:

https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.05.20030502v1

This study is just one of many that will need to be done before this virus and it’s associated disease is better understood. Several take-home points (not hard and fast conclusions, but good information):

1) Patients with clinically very mild disease can shed lot of virus early on when they might have only mild upper respiratory tract symptoms (a “cold”). Hence the rapid spread with severely ill patients popping up unexpectedly.

2) Generally, severely ill patients shed even more virus.

3) All nine patients developed antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 within about a week of the appearance of the first mild symptoms, antibodies that neutralized (i.e. destroyed) the infectivity of the virus particles the patients bodies continued to shed. That’s an important point, because testing for virus particles with the common method, something called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) detects bits of viral RNA, but that RNA may be “dead” from the standpoint of disease spreading capability. It suggests that the current recommendation for isolating an exposed patient for fourteen days may actually be time enough for them to become non-infectious. Moreover, the development of functioning antibodies raises some hope that most patients after mild illness will be immune to this virus for some period of time (as yet to be determined). [In this study infectivity was assessed by “cell culture,” a more expensive and time-consuming method than the PCR method.]

Below I repeat the rational for social distancing–Flatten the Curve–that I shared last Friday. We are all in this boat together.

By the time this is over most of us will have been infected by Covid-19. Some of us will become very ill–and some of us will die (people from almost age groups, but more so among the elderly and among those with pre-existing medical problems). For those who experience severe pneumonia medical help for our breathing will be life-saving. The idea of all this pre-emptive closing of events is to “flatten the curve.” Here that is in graphic form:

I also offered the link below in last Friday’s email.  It is a great animated illustration of COVID-19 epidemiology.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kas0tIxDvrg&feature=emb_logo

Keep to the high ground–and I’ll be back Monday week, i.e. March 23,
Jerry

COVID-19 Thoughts

With quarantines, case changing and pre-emptive closing down of large gatherings we are trying to avoid what happened in China and what is now happening in Italy:

https://www.thelocal.it/20200311/hospitals-are-overwhelmed-italian-doctors-describe-the-struggle-of-fighting-the-coronavirus-outbreak?fbclid=IwAR0G78eRNjcsTbXm_8Hm32pYjxK-eskhcU-_hfs-v3Y-jsR4BHxAlfSb5xs

By the time this is over most of us will have been infected by COVID-19. Some of us will become very ill–and some of us will die (people from almost age groups, but more so among the elderly and among those with pre-existing medical problems). For those who experience severe pneumonia medical help for our breathing will be life-saving. The idea of all this pre-emptive closing of events is to “flatten the curve.” Here that is in graphic form:

If you want to delve more deeply into the epidemiology and mathematics of this here’s the best I’ve seen:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kas0tIxDvrg&feature=emb_logo

Keep to the high ground–and I’ll be back Monday week, i.e. March 23,
Jerry

Subscribe to these Emails–I’m taking a breather

I have to take a breather. Please mark your calendar and look for my MWF email to return at 5AM on Monday, March 23rd. I have had a number of people conclude that I had quit writing when their email application started sending my Indivisible Email to a Junk or Promo. If in doubt, feel free to email me by Replying to any one of my emails. There is much going on in eastern Washington and northern Idaho that I will try to catch up with when I return.

I recommend signing up for and reading Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson and The Weekly Sift written by Doug Muder. Both are excellent. Both are incisive and thoughtful. Both write because they feel compelled by circumstance.

Doug Muder’s The Weekly Sift comes out every Monday morning. He provides a summary and sober analysis of the past week’s news (complete with links) that I am unable to find anywhere else. I look forward to reading this every Monday.

Heather Cox Richardson is a history professor at Boston College with an encyclopedic knowledge of American history and politics. She writes Letters from an American daily. It is the first thing I read in the morning.

Both Muder and Richardson cover mostly national (and some international news). Please visit there websites, read some and then go through the two step process to sign up. Here are the raw links:

https://weeklysift.com/

https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/

Everybody take a deep breath. We need to stick together and involved as we approach this fall’s election. Keep engaged.

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

COVID-19

Be turn in your Washington State Presidential Primary ballot before Tuesday evening at 8PM (or put it in the mail in time to get it postmarked–no stamp needed–before 8PM).

COVID-19:

The U.S. needs a leader whose understanding inspires confidence. Instead, Mr. Trump at his press conference on February 26 offered none. If you missed it, you can watch it here:

https://www.wlns.com/news/michigan/livestreaming-now-pres-trump-holds-coronavirus-news-conference/

He failed to demonstrate a rudimentary understanding of infectious disease, harping on “only fifteen cases” that “are going to get fewer” as proof that his border restrictions are holding the line. He blamed the recent Democratic debate for damaging the stock market. He suggested that all would be well if everyone would just quit talking and worrying about COVID-19, as if he could, by his own power, wish away biological reality. Multiple times he engaged in precisely the politically-based slams of which he was blaming others.

More recently Mr. Trump informed us that he intends to continue holding his political rallies in defiance of public health concerns.

The increasing numbers of patients with COVID-19 since the press conference come as no surprise. When patients  begin to appear with the disease who are in no known way connected to a prior case it implies that the disease is spread by people who do not know they harbor the virus, that is, people who do not feel ill. Unless transmission is slowed we can look forward to a burst of disease activity that could overwhelm.our ability to provide supportive healthcare to those unfortunate patients who develop severe illness.

Measures to reduce the spread of the disease offer worthwhile benefit.

The following two articles would be good for you all to read. This is some of the basic science that our President does not understand.

Cryptic transmission of novel coronavirus revealed by genomic epidemiology” from March 3rdhttps://bedford.io/blog/ncov-cryptic-transmission/?fbclid=IwAR0qDGSu-Alyes4rmO0Xlaait4RaoNgpP-PN0SFbTq3ONsv2aA5COUbBmaQ

and this, from 2008:
Nonpharmaceutical Interventions Implemented by US Cities During the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/208354?fbclid=IwAR2-q39aQ-7xYqaiAcTAlKlWLFLDBwN8JURU3scXuqwqXpBhpJFqWvq0cSE

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

DNC Convention-Nuts and Bolts

Here’s the best explanation I’ve seen about the rule changes in the Democratic National Convention process of nominating the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. It is different than 2016. Firm up this background from Heather Cox Richardson so you have the facts when someone suggests the process is rigged by evil forces.

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

March 4, 2020

Heather Cox Richardson Mar 5

There is a lot of news about both the novel coronavirus and politics tonight, but I’m going to let it rest so I can address the concern that has been popping up in my email and messages all day. People are concerned that there has been some sort of a corrupt bargain between the “Democratic establishment”—possibly even including former President Barack Obama– and retiring presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to throw the Democratic nomination to former Vice President Joe Biden in order to thwart the popular will to nominate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

First of all, the nomination process is not over, and there is not currently a winner. Second, the nomination has not been rigged. This is a deeply problematic construction at a time when our actual elections really ARE in danger; it is also an argument pushed by Russian disinformation to undermine faith in democracy.

Here’s how the Democratic nomination process currently works. (I am not going to talk here about the Republican system—I’ve talked about it before—but it permits less input from voters than the Democratic system.)

First of all, neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party, nor any other party, is a government institution. While they have to abide by our laws, they make their own rules, and a LOT of jockeying goes into the writing of those rules. (FWIW, Sanders is the only candidate running who had a hand in writing the current Democratic National Committee rules. Three of his top advisors were on the commission that wrote the current rules, and he chose four others.)

The process is crazy-complicated, but it makes more sense if you know some of the history behind it. Democratic presidential candidates used to be chosen by party leaders, behind closed doors. That exploded in 1968, when Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination without winning any primaries as a solo act— he had been running as President Lyndon Johnson’s vice president when Johnson abruptly withdrew from the race too late for Humphrey to enter the primaries. Humphrey was associated with the ”establishment” and the war in Vietnam (although he was eager to end it), at a time when leaders were increasingly suspect and 80% of voters in the Democratic primaries had voted for anti-war candidates (including Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was making a strong play for the nomination when he was murdered). So when he won the nomination over anti-war candidates, demonstrators began to protest and the police counter-rioted. The convention turned into violent chaos. And, of course, Humphrey lost the election to Richard M. Nixon, who dramatically escalated the war in Vietnam, (among other things!).

After the 1968 debacle, DNC leaders commissioned a 28-person panel overseen first by South Dakota Senator George McGovern and then, when he resigned to run for president himself, Minnesota Representative Donald M. Fraser, to figure out how to get more people involved in the nomination process. The result was the state primary, which has now replaced caucuses in all but three states (and three territories), by my count. In primaries, voters cast ballots for their choice for the nomination, who then gets allotted delegates to the convention. With luck, there will be a clear winner, but if not, the convention delegates will wheel and deal to decide who should win the nomination. The commission also reduced the roles of party leaders in the nominating process, and required better representation for minorities, women, and young people.

These rules governed the 1972 convention, which gave the presidential nomination to McGovern himself, who was enormously popular with young people and those opposed to Nixon’s escalation of the Vietnam War, but much less so with the traditional Democrats (especially workers) who had lost representation at the convention under the new rules.

McGovern lost to Nixon in a landslide—the Electoral Count was 520 to 17, and McGovern didn’t even carry his home state. Then Democratic President Jimmy Carter lost his reelection bid by a similar landslide (the Electoral College split was 489 to 49). At that point, Democratic leaders decided the nomination process had swung too far away from professional politicians. They thought that primary voters, who tend to be much more extreme than those in the general election, were choosing unelectable candidates.

Another commission, this one of 70 people, met in 1981 and 1982, and added back into the nomination process the voices of state party chairs, the Democratic governors and members of Congress, former presidents and vice presidents, and certain DNC leaders. These are the so-called superdelegates, and they are not pledged to any candidate. The idea is that, having won or run elections, these people will have a sense of who can win at the national level and will provide a counterweight if primary voters choose someone unelectable. Originally, the superdelegates made up about 15% of the delegate count, but before the 2016 election they had crept up to about 20%.

Before the 2016 election, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sanders tussled to win the nomination, the DNC overwhelmingly voted to change the rules to compromise between the two camps. Under those rules, a new commission of 21 people, including 9 nominated by Clinton and 7 by Sanders, met in 2017. They reduced the percentage of superdelegates to about 15% again, and refused to let them vote on a first ballot, bringing them in only if the nomination is contested.

So back to the question of rigging. The Sanders camp wanted to get rid of the superdelegates altogether, believing it would help him win the 2020 nomination. But they had to compromise on keeping the superdelegates from voting on the first ballot, expecting that he could win quickly with a majority if the superdelegates stayed out of it. But now that it looks like he will likely not win outright, he will likely be sunk when the superdelegates are in play on a second ballot. So now he wants the nomination to go to someone with a plurality of delegates—that is, not a clear majority, but more than anyone else—on the first ballot. This would be highly unusual: brokered conventions used to be the norm, and they are a good way to unite the party behind a candidate.

But do members of the Democratic establishment—those who could be superdelegates—want Sanders as the nominee? Almost certainly not. They do not think he is electable. He is not popular with African American voters, who are a key part of the Democratic Party’s base, and he has a history that will play badly with moderate voters.

Are they right that he is unelectable? Before Tuesday, I was not at all certain of that. But Sanders’s big play for the nomination has been that he could bring new voters into the party by attracting young people. He certainly is popular with younger folks, but they did not turn up to vote for him on Tuesday, suggesting his key strength is not as strong as it seemed. Still, political prognostications at this stage of the game are a fool’s game. My opinion and $3 will get you a cup of coffee.

Did Buttigieg or Klobuchar cut a deal with Biden before endorsing him? Almost certainly. But that is not a corrupt deal; it’s how politics works. If they followed the norm, they will have gotten him to promise to make a priority in his administration (if he is elected) something they and their supporters care about. This is key to the other part of the nomination process that is going on now: hashing out the issues (they’re known as “planks”) that will be in the party’s platform, indicating its priorities. The jockeying going on now between voters and candidates and the party’s eventual leader is key to that construction.

This is why we go through this process, and why the president and the platform matters. We often forget that when we show up at the polls every four years to pick a president, we are not simply electing a charismatic leader, we are electing someone who can get legislation we care about passed by nailing together coalitions that will move the country in a direction we like. That is incredibly important, and it’s why working with experienced politicians matters.

But it is also important to put pressure on those leaders to move in directions we want. If your favorite candidate has left the race or looks to be pushed aside, it is more important than ever to continue to advocate for the causes (and people) you believe in, to keep those things front and center. That, too, is part of the political process. Most famously, in 1890, an upstart reform party took America by storm. It organized as the People’s Party in 1891 and demanded a slew of changes to take American finance and politics out of the hands of the very wealthy. The party largely fizzled out when the Democrats absorbed their ideas in 1896. Within twenty years, though, most of their reforms had become law.

——

Notes:

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/time-bernie-sanders-rigged-system-against-himself-n1144361

https://democrats.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/URC_Report_FINAL.pdf

ballots: https://www.salon.com/2020/02/20/every-democratic-candidate-except-bernie-sanders-indicates-support-for-a-contested-convention/

https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/democrats-vs-trump/democrats-strip-super-delegates-power-reform-caucuses-historic-move-n903866

young voters: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/03/04/super-tuesday-bernie-sanders-youth-votes-fell-short-compared-2016/4947795002/

Authoritarianism

The signs are more disturbing each day. Vilification of reporters and the media; manipulation of the Department of Justice; pardons of notorious rule breakers and supporters; summary dismissal of inconvenient facts; purges of those deemed disloyal; efforts to suppress voting. The list grows. The discomfort and angst mount. We search in history and among current events for clues to what dictatorial takeover looks like–and it turns out you can see it in our own country.

The article I’ve pasted below appeared in the New York Times on February 21. It is worth a close read, but first I think it is worth pointing out something I’ve only recently gotten straight in my head: the ideologies and geographic strongholds of the Republican and Democratic Parties have switched. In Mr. Bouie’s writing he takes for granted that the reader understands that the origins of the Republican, the “Party of Lincoln,” were in the northern, anti-slavery states right around the time of the Civil War. The ideology of the current Republican Party stems more from Nixon and Goldwater’s “Southern Strategy” than it does from Lincoln. Lincoln would weep if he listened to current Republicans. Similarly, the Democratic Party was originally the Party of south, including not just the common, rural followers of Andrew Jackson, but slaveholders and white supremacists. In the 1960s a number of southern Democrats, e.g. Strom Thurmond (South Carolina) switched to the Republican Party in response to the Democratic Party’s support for the Civil Rights Act. Keep those switches in mind as you read Jamelle Bouie’s column.

More on the Parties and crises in American governance as seen through the lens of a political historian can be read in Heather Cox Richardson’s February 22 post at Letters from an American.

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry

Where Might Trumpism Take Us?

For analogies that show us where the nation might be headed, look close to home.

Jamelle Bouie

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

  • Feb. 21, 2020

When critics reach for analogies to describe Donald Trump — or look for examples of democratic deterioration — they tend to look abroad. They point to Russia under Vladimir Putin, Hungary under Viktor Orban, or Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump, in this view, is a type — an authoritarian strongman. But it’s a foreign type, and his corrupt administration is seen as alien to the American experience.

This is a little too generous to the United States. It’s not just that we have had moments of authoritarian government — as well as presidents, like John Adams or Woodrow Wilson, with autocratic impulses — but that an entire region of the country was once governed by an actual authoritarian regime. That regime was Jim Crow, a system defined by a one-party rule and violent repression of racial minorities.

The reason this matters is straightforward. Look beyond America’s borders for possible authoritarian futures and you might miss important points of continuity with our own past. Which is to say that if authoritarian government is in our future, there’s no reason to think it won’t look like something we’ve already built, versus something we’ve imported.

Americans don’t usually think of Jim Crow as a kind of authoritarianism, or of the Jim Crow South as a collection of authoritarian states. To the extent that there is one, the general view is that the Jim Crow South was a democracy, albeit racist and exclusionary. People voted in elections, politicians exchanged power and institutions like the press had a prominent place in public life.

By that standard, the Jim Crow South was not democratic. But does that make it authoritarian? A look at the creation of Jim Crow can help us answer the question.

Jim Crow did not emerge immediately after the Compromise of 1877 — in which Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South in return for the presidency — and the end of Reconstruction. It arose, instead, as a response to a unique set of political and economic conditions in the 1890s.

By the start of the decade, the historian C. Vann Woodward argued in his influential 1955 book “The Strange Career of Jim Crow,” opposition to “extreme racism” had relaxed to the point of permissiveness. External restraining forces — “Northern liberal opinion in the press, the courts, and the government” — were more concerned with reconciling the nation than securing Southern democracy. And within the South, conservative political and business elites had abandoned restraint in the face of a radical challenge from an agrarian mass movement.

Democrats, among them large landowners and “New South” industrialists, responded with violence. Democratic paramilitary organizations — called “Red Shirts” — attacked Populist and Republican voters, suppressing the vote throughout the state. In Republican-controlled Wilmington, N.C., writes Mickey, “Democratic notables launched a wave of violence and killings of Republicans and their supporters, black and white, to take back the state’s largest city; hundreds fled for good.”

This basic pattern repeated itself throughout the South for the next decade. Working through the Democratic Party, conservative elites “repressed Populists, seized control of the state apparatus, and effectively ended credible partisan competition.” They rewrote state constitutions to end the vote for blacks as well as substantially restrict it for most whites. They gerrymandered states to secure the political power of large landowners, converted local elective offices into appointed positions controlled at the state level, “and further insulated state judiciaries from popular input.” This could have been stopped, but the North was tired of sectional conflict, and the courts had no interest in the rights of blacks or anyone else under the boot of the Democrats.

The southern Democratic Party didn’t just control all offices and effectively staff the state bureaucracy. It was gatekeeper to all political participation. An aspiring politician could not run for office, much less win and participate in government, without having it behind him. “What is the state?” asked one prominent lawyer during Louisiana’s 1898 Jim Crow constitutional convention, aptly capturing the dynamic at work, “It is the Democratic Party.” Statehood was conflated with party, writes Mickey, “and party disloyalty with state treason.”

Southern conservatives beat back Populism and biracial democracy to build a one-party state and ensure cheap labor, low taxes, white supremacy and a starkly unequal distribution of wealth. It took two decades of disruption — the Great Depression, the Great Migration and the Second World War — to even make change possible, and then another decade of fierce struggle to bring democracy back to the South.

It’s not that we can’t learn from the experiences of other countries, but that our past offers an especially powerful point of comparison. Many of the same elements are in play, from the potent influence of a reactionary business elite to a major political party convinced of its singular legitimacy. A party that has already weakened our democracy to protect its power, and which shows every sign of going further should the need arise. A party that stands beside a lawless president, shielding him from accountability while he makes the government an extension of his personal will.

I’m not saying a new Jim Crow is on the near horizon (or the far one, for that matter). But if we look at the actions of the political party and president now in power, if we think of how they would behave with even more control over the levers of the state, then we might be on a path that ends in something that is familiar from our past — authoritarian government with a democratic facade.

Primary Nuts and Bolts

The date, format, and significance of the Washington State Presidential Primary are new this year. Do you ever experience a twinge of angst when you fill out your ballot? Have ever asked yourself, “What if I make a mistake? Will my ballot get counted or will someone see it to pitch it out? Will they come for me if I do it incorrectly?” Concerns like these probably cause some folks to put off getting it done until it is too late.

With these in mind, some civic-minded folks have put together a youtube video I think is worth watching and sharing. Here’s the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zppZfuUK5mU&feature=youtu.be

People take in information in different ways. We’re visual creatures. A video, especially for someone unfamiliar with a new process, can be very useful.

Three take-aways:

1) Not only do you need to sign the Return Envelope (like you do each time you vote in our State system), but you also need to check mark on that envelope whether you’re casting your vote as a Democrat or a Republican. That’s important. If you don’t choose, your vote won’t count. (No independents or other political parties have filed to run in this Primary.)

2) If you’re voting as a Democrat, consider waiting to mark your ballot until Wednesday, March 4, and checking to make sure your favorite candidate has not dropped out or faired really poorly during the Super Tuesday voting.

3) The due date for ballot turn or postmarking in Washington State is Tuesday, March 10, at 8PM. Be sure to vote!

Share this information. I am consistently amazed by what I don’t know, and, by extension, what a lot of other folks probably don’t know either. Talk it up. Share the video.

Keep to the high ground,
Jerry