Wednesday, August 26, 2020
On March 9 Chinese researchers told the world that the Covid-19 virus travels at least 15 feet. New NBC story says 6-foot social distancing was too arbitrary.
The NBC story summarizes "The current guidance for safe social distancing may not be enough to stop the spread of COVID-19, a new analysis suggests."
The South China Morning Post March 9 headline read Coronavirus can travel twice as far as official ‘safe distance’ and stay in air for 30 minutes, Chinese study finds.
The SCMP story told us: "The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 can linger in the air for at least 30 minutes and travel up to 4.5 metres – further than the “safe distance” advised by health authorities around the world, according to a study by a team of Chinese government epidemiologists."
The "4.5 metres" linear distance is approximately 15 feet.
Can the time distance between March 9 and August 26 - 170 days or nearly 6 months - also be measured in unnecessary deaths?
Monday, August 17, 2020
Will the Democrats allow the Koch Brothers machine through Trump finally kill the Post Office
The Post Office is a key community service for rural communities. That is as it was intended to be when in the late 19th Century the United States Post Office Department began Rural Free Delivery (RFD).
Long before that, the postal system was established as explained on this History site:
In 1774, the British fired Franklin from his postmaster job because of his revolutionary activities. However, the following year, he was appointed postmaster general of the United Colonies by the Continental Congress. Franklin held the job until late in 1776, when he was sent to France as a diplomat. He left a vastly improved mail system, with routes from Florida to Maine and regular service between the colonies and Britain. President George Washington appointed Samuel Osgood, a former Massachusetts congressman, as the first postmaster general of the American nation under the new U.S. constitution in 1789. At the time, there were approximately 75 post offices in the country.
Since Franklin's time, private delivery services existed frequently lobbying against the Post Office Department seeking to replace it. However, the system expanded offering parcel service and stimulating the formation of catalog companies in the late 19th Century.
In March 1970, having virtually no plan and no big picture view, union postal workers in New York City - upset over low wages and poor working conditions, and emboldened by the Civil Rights Movement - organized a strike which eventually gained support of over 210,000 United States Post Office Department workers across the nation. This resulted in the Postal Reorganization Act of August 12, 1970, replacing the historical cabinet-level Post Office Department with a new federal agency, the United States Postal Service, that looked and felt more like a private company.
From the 1970's on, conservative organizations pushed hard behind the scenes for privatization of the new Postal Service. As noted in a Christian Science Monitor 1995 article Republicans Eye US Postal Service For Privatization Push during the Clinton Administration privatization even received backhanded support from Postmaster General Marvin Runyon, a former Ford Executive.
Now we are confronted with a stronger move to dismantle the Postal Service as noted in Trump Moves to Gut the Post Office: His war on Amazon expands to include the right wing’s campaign to abolish America’s oldest - and still successful - public service.
The popular press offer stories like Exclusive: UPS, FedEx warn they cannot carry ballots like U.S. Postal Service explaining complexities of the law while only mentioning at the end that costs would skyrocket since delivery firms charge significantly more for deliveries than the price of a 55-cent stamp and international costs would be astronomical.
And therein lies the truth of privatizing the Postal Service, the third largest non-rail logistics company by value in America. It generated $71 billion in annual sales in 2019, slightly less than UPS’s $76 billion and somewhat higher than FedEx’s $69 billion. But it could generate another 20% by substantially raising rates on some classes of mail at the expense of the average American and particularly rural Americans.
Republicans, of course, back privatization while enjoying the support of much of rural America. It's a puzzle. However, the conservative CATO Institute website offers a full explanation on why a Constitutional Amendment would not be necessary to privatize the Postal Service. Founded in 1974 by Ed Crane, Murray Rothbard, and Charles Koch, the Cato Institute has multiple pages on the Postal Service and its woes which accurate reflects Republican Party thinking.
Trump, of course, has taken advantage of the left's mindless labor-oriented attacks on Amazon in order to put the Postal Service in a bad light. It is simply another lie that Amazon doesn't pay enough. The picture below did not come about because the Post Office is cheap:
The issue is relatively simple and has been for 280+ years. Benjamin Franklin and others wished to assure an affordable, timely distribution system for information and goods for all Americans. In theory since the 1930's it should have always been a top Democratic Party issue. But panic over voting is the only thing that has even brought the matter to the forefront since Third Way or New Democrats in the Clinton Administration gained influence.1
While the urban young may think the Post office an antiquated system, it has come to the attention of some that internet technology is not available to a lot of students. Sadly, what has been lost is the 1930-1970 commitment to assure all Americans access to the basic utilities needed to assure everyone a fair, basic opportunity at life.
- New Democrats tend to identify as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. The Post Office is a good example of why that is inherently an untrustworthy combination. There is nothing about the funding of the Post Office that deserves support by a fiscal conservative. But if you care at all about non-wealthy, the Post Office is an essential service.
Thursday, August 13, 2020
California Democrats offer leadership on equity goals and anti-bigotry. As expected the Trump team is attacking Harris by attacking California.
The selection of Kamala Harris as Joe Biden's running mate offers real hope for a return of the Democratic Party to a focus on achieving equity goals through focused legislative and administrative actions.
Because of the domination of political rhetoric by ideologues and populists who like to talk at the expense of achievement, I have no idea what it means to be a "progressive" or a "liberal" in these times.
All I know is that I have always identified as a "California Democrat" with a clear understanding of what that means. It begins with a clear understanding that the endemic racial, ethnic, class, religious, ideological, and nationalist bigotry in the United States must be eliminated as that bigotry interferes with the achievement of equity goals. "Equity goals" were always clear in my lifetime, derived from the Franklin Roosevelt Administration's New Deal as expanded upon by Harry Truman's Administration's "Fair Deal" through Lyndon Johnson's Administration's Great Society:
- to first protect all persons from harm resulting from intentional acts of others;
- to manage and regulate Capitalism and the financial system (the latter including close focus on the banking industry) in order to assure all fair access to pride of ownership;
- to sustain economic growth to keep pace with population growth while assuring all persons access to jobs at fair wages and access to housing at fair rents;
- to share among all the benefits of agricultural abundance in the form of affordable nutritious food;
- to assure universal health care;
- to create access to quality education services for everyone; and
- to assure all persons a minimum income necessary for access to sufficient food, clothing, shelter, and health care.
Harris has been part of the continuing struggle by California Democrats to achieve those goals including eliminating the end of bigotry. Because of what has been achieved in California despite our many failures and restarts, Donald Trump's campaign team has already begun to attack Harris for being a California Democrat. Simply they can attack Harris based on her Senate voting record which reflects her commitment to equity goals.
The chart above reflects the voting records of U.S. Senators during the 2017-2019 session on bills that would result in more economic equity within the United States. Assuming that Bernie Sanders reflects some sort of "gold standard" of "liberalism" As can be seen, three Senators measured more liberal than Sanders and only Elizabeth Warren's voting record was more liberal.
While I would like to say Californian's unequivocally support equity goals and oppose bigotry, that is a false idea. Consider two examples.
Harris has a solid record challenging bigotry even when bigotry was clearly supported by the majority of voters.
In 2000, voters passed ballot initiative Proposition 22 with a margin of 61%, which changed California Family Code to formally define marriage in California between a man and a woman. Proposition 22 was a statutory change via the initiative process, not a constitutional change via the initiative process.
On November 4, 2008, Proposition 8 "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry" was approved by the voters. The measure was challenged in federal court as unconstituional. In 2013 as the measure made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, then California Attorney General Kamala Harris refused to defend the measure stating "It's well within the authority vested in me as the elected attorney general to use the discretion of my office to make decisions about how we will use our resources and what issue we will weigh in on or not."
As you can see from the maps above, California's voters do not have a consistent record regarding equity goals or anti-bigotry. Yet strangely, we keep electing politicians like Harris who methodically lead us towards those objectives. It takes considerable courage to provide that kind of leadership.
This is why as a California Democrat one easily can support the Biden-Harris ticket.
Monday, August 10, 2020
Last week's multitude of confusing statistics help mystify The Great Economic Distortion's impact
Having said innumerable times over the decades "figures don't lie but lairs sure can figure" it seems like reading, seeing, and hearing inane reporting on statistics in the news media should not be bothersome.
After all, clearly embedded in the term is the truth of its history - stat istics - as the term is intimately connected with the development of the modern sovereign state, specifically within European states following the peace of Westphalia (1648).
If you didn't know it, scholars have recognized the Peace of Westphalia as the origin of principles crucial to the concept of the modern self-governing independent nation, including the inviolability of borders and non-interference from outside the borders in the domestic affairs states.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that statistics, a mathematical science grounded in probability theory, became a tool for elected politicians. Statistics can be confusing for we non-statisticians, even those of us who took a statistics course in college.
For instance, last Thursday the U.S. Department of Labor reported 1.186 million new initial unemployment insurance claims for the preceding week. While that is a number that needs no interpretation, we can learn that the normal weekly initial unemployment insurance claims in 2019 was 200,000-250,000. That range extended into early March as can be seen on the chart below (numbers are in thousands, so the first number is 211,000 and themost recent is 1,186,000):
Again, these are just numbers. If you total the numbers shown on the graph, the reported weekly initial unemployment insurance claims during this period is 55,814,000 - yes, 55.8 million!
Again, these are just numbers. But the news media can't just report the numbers - that's just boring news. So on July 16 CNBC reported that the continuing claims as of July 4 were 17.3 million as asserted by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Then on July 24 The New York Times headline was About 30 Million Workers Are Collecting Jobless Benefits explaining that "the Labor Department reported that the total number of people claiming unemployment insurance for the week ending July 4 — without any seasonal adjustments — equaled 31.8 million."
Yeah, ah, there is quite a difference between 17.3 million and 31.8 million continuing claims. If you total the weekly initial unemployment insurance claims on the chart above only through the July 4 period, there were 50.5 million. If the CNBC 17.3 million number were correct it would seem that 65.7% of those that filed between March and July went back to work. If The New York Times 31.8 million number were correct it would seem that 34.3% of those that filed between March and July went back to work.
For this writer, this kind of crap reporting is unacceptable albeit it has been the new normal for decades. Those continuing claims numbers don't seem to be included in news stories about real people nor by this writer's personal knowledge, albeit both are anecdotal. IF we join in these speculative games, even if 20% of those initial claims numbers include errors, false claims, and people who have returned to work, the continuing claims today would be 44.7 million. But I certainly wouldn't pretend to report that to the public as news.
A paranoid political junkie might even suspect that the stat istics might be being used for purposes of the state. And the headline news last Friday would reinforce that view. We were told that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 16.3 million people were unemployed in mid-July making the official unemployment rate for mid-July 10.2% down from its peak in mid-April. The implication is that 68.5% of those that filed between March and July went back to work!
Wow! Things are really looking up! But wait! What is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It even has stat istics in its name.
If one digs down ever so slightly one learns that the headline BLS unemployment rate is the "U-3 rate." It turns out that the BLS has a broader "U-6" measure of unemployment, which includes such people as those working part-time but not of their volition and people who have given up, is at 16.5%. In fact, there are rates labeled U-1 through U-6, all of which are reported in a table (but not in headline news) as follows:
In the 12 months before the pandemic, the BLS household employment survey had a response rate of 83%. The July survey had a response rate of 67% which should make one wonder if they didn't get an adequate response for statistical probability analysis. But these folks are statisticians whose data could be useful for government planning. Unfortunately, it is useful for politicians who over the years have made sure the news media get the statistics.
As noted earlier, the anecdotal information available indicates a whole lot of families (aka households) have seen their wage-earner members lose their jobs. Lo and behold, another federal agency, the Census Bureau, in a Household Pulse Survey found last week that found that 50.8% of adults live in households that "experienced loss of employment income since March 13, 2020 (for self or household member)" and 26.5% of surveyed adults either missed their last rent or mortgage payment or have either slight or no confidence they can pay the next one.
According to the Census Bureau, in collaboration with five federal agencies the Household Pulse Survey was designed to deploy quickly and efficiently, collecting data on a range of ways in which people’s lives have been impacted by the pandemic. Data will be disseminated in near real-time to inform federal and state response and recovery planning. But keep in mind that it is a "survey" which like other "polls" has a limited number of responses (typically 80,000±).
Many news articles now assert we're in a depression. The problem with that is there is no definition of a depression based on statistics. Other articles and government agencies say we are in a recession based on statistics. Unfortunately, they are really asserting that the data indicates a probability of an event something like the recessions since WWII for which they have data. As asserted here in prior posts, that is incorrect. We don't know what's going on and have chosen to call it The Great Economic Distortion of 2020.
So what seems likely about The Great Economic Distortion of 2020? It appears a large number of households have seen a drop in income during the pandemic. That is because since the since April at any one time a significant percentage of Americans of working age who wish to be participating in the work force are unemployed or significantly under-employed.
Keep in mind that the economic impacts of the pandemic began in mid-March and the data is for mid-July, a mere 4 months. At the beginning of The Great Depression, the stock market crash was in October 1929 but unemployment did not hit double digits until the end of 1930.
As noted in a previous post, the effects of a crippling world-wide pandemic have not been experienced since modern economic statistical data, such as unemployment and GDP, began to be systematically compiled on a regular, standardized, though on occasion revised, basis after World War II.
Given that the United States was considered the world's economic leader from 1946 through 2016, it is clear that life for people around the world is about to begin a significant long-term change with no model to emulate.
China's 4000+ years history of empires created its peculiar civil perspective. The traditional Chinese form of national government has been an oligarchy with a touch (sometimes a heavy hand) of autocracy led by an emperor or, since the middle of the 20th Century, a paramount leader. It's culture is built around one ethnic group. Fundamentally the autocratic state controls the economy. It does not offer others an appealing road to follow.
In contrast the United States is a country that has existed less than 250 years. It claims to be a democracy. Two of the last three Presidents lost the popular vote but were appointed to office. The U.S. Senate majority was elected by less than 8% of eligible American voters. Together they have secured control of the Supreme Court. The truth of the matter is the U.S. form of national government has been an oligarchy with a touch of autocracy. Fundamentally, state-favored organized greed controls the economy. Because it's population is ethnically diverse, it has no stable culture. It does not offer others an appealing road to follow.
The most significant challenge facing humanity over the 21st Century is Climate Change. International action is needed to address the multitude of problems. The Great Economic Distortion of 2020 will make it more difficult. It appears that no single influential or powerful leader is likely to step forward.
The future looks...interesting?
Sunday, August 9, 2020
Governor Gavin Newsom's California "don't get no respect" by the news media in the Covid-19 Crisis
This resource will help decompress the health care delivery system to allow the Los Angeles region to ensure that it has the ability to address critical acute care needs, such as heart attacks and strokes or vehicle accidents, in addition to the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. The population density in the Los Angeles Region is similar to New York City, will be disproportionately impacted by the number of COVID-19 cases.
In explaining the high number of case projections, Newsom explained: "The point of the stay-at-home order is to make those numbers moot." He noted: "We are confident that the people of the state of California will abide by it, will do the right thing."
Around the end of May, Newsom began the process of lifting some of the pieces of the stay-at-home rules. As expected, hospitalizations climbed dramatically while state and local government attempted to tweak the lifting of the rules. As can be seen in the chart, by the third week in July, the number of persons infected with Covid-19 in hospitals peaked and is declining almost as dramatically as it climbed.
Notice that at no time did anyone suggest that people would not be infected by the virus, nor did anyone suggest that people would not die because of the virus.
And yet, none of this is discussed in the news media.
What you may see is that California has more cases or increasing daily deaths or such other headlines. California does have more cases than any other state. Of course, California does have about 33% more people than Texas, the next largest state, and double the population of New York. One other way to view the case numbers is to note that California ranks 22 among the 50 states in cases per capita and 28 among the 50 states in deaths per capita.
If the state were divided as suggested, in population Southern California would be the second largest state, Coastal California would be 11th and Northern California would be 19th.
But Coastal California in terms of per capita cases would rank 41 and per capita deaths, 43. Southern California would rank 14 and 19,, Northern California would rank 25 and 32.
What this writer cannot help but note is the while Coastal California would be the 11th largest state, it would rank 41 in per capital cases and 43 in per capital deaths.
I believe that despite the fact that parts of the San Francisco Bay Area have a large highly dense population, the folks in Coastal California have a stronger sense of "social compact" leading them to, as Newsom said, "do the right thing."
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Waves??? Covid-19 and the problem with analogies.
Humans apparently have a desperate need to assign analogies to that which they do not understand. Only a calendar quarter after the Western press started noticing the Covid-19 pandemic, politicians and the press were seriously discussing "waves" of the disease, as in arguing over whether we were in the first wave or second wave. It got so bad that on April 30 Oxford's Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine felt compelled to publish an article that noted in part:
Most of our thinking on second-wave theory arises from the 1918-20 “Spanish Flu” that infected 500 million people worldwide and reportedly killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million. By August of 1918, a deadlier strain of the “Spanish flu” emerged. When reading the “Spanish flu” story we must remember the role of military censorship. The identity of the index case remains a mystery. ...Censorship is also responsible for the sobriquet “Spanish” attached to the pandemic. As Spain was not in the war and had no censorship, all cases appeared to originate from Spain – an example of ascertainment bias.
For influenza, school vacations are thought to be one of the mechanisms for reduced transmission. Contact reductions in the summer vacation of the 2009 outbreak, led to the summer ‘trough; before the infection picked up again – the ‘wave’ – into the winter.
Both the 1918 and 2009 outbreaks are similar in that they started in the ‘spring wave’ and went on into the summer. These spring/ summer delays in the initial numbers infected are thought to have little impact on the overall attack rate.
We do not know for certain whether COVID will recur in phases, or sporadic outbreaks or disappear altogether.
Making absolute statements of certainty about ‘ second waves’ is unwise, given the current substantial uncertainties and novelty of the evidence. As we cannot see the future and our understanding of this new agent is in its infancy we think preparedness planning should be inspired by robust surveillance, the flexibility of response and rigid separation of suspected or confirmed cases. These measures should stand for all serious outbreaks of respiratory illness.
Focusing both on history and science, that article immediately caught the attention of almost nobody, most particularly among politicians and the press. Thus, most folks are sitting around waiting for some kind of break followed by more infections while the press and politicians are assigning "wave" terminology when local stay-at-home orders resulted in downturns followed by opening up followed by expanding infections.
Three months after the April 30 Oxford's Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine's article, on August 3 The Guardian, also from the UK, published this piece We're thinking about Covid-19 the wrong way. It's not a 'wave' – it's a wildfire written by Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, and writer and documentary film-maker Mark Olshaker who were the authors of the 2017 book Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs. You can read the article, but consider this from a review of that book published three years ago:
But his latest book hopes to help in our fight against these epidemics. In Deadliest Enemy, Osterholm lays out a "Battle Plan for Survival" with a nine-point strategy on how we can keep ourselves safer from emerging infectious disease threats. Preventing a global flu pandemic is the top priority of the plan.
"If we know how to greatly reduce the risk of these public health problems and we don't, then we become an accomplice to the morbidity and mortality they cause," he says. "We need a new generation of public health experts who can effectively address these issues in ways we're not addressing them now."
"I have the reputation as 'Bad News Mike,'" said Osterholm. "But it's not just bad news [in the book]. I'm also saying, 'Wake up, there's something you can do about it.' I guess I'm at the age where I'm looking at what kind of world I'm leaving for my kids and grandkids, and I want to make sure we do what we can to stop disease."
Unfortunately for "Bad News Mike" not only did no one do anything based on his book but reporters who daily cover such enlightened folks such as politicians like Donald Trump bought right into the "wave" concept. Of course, for the most part those reporters don't read scholarly books about "killer germs" which leaves us with a press corps equally as informed as Trump.
If we must have an analogy, look at each person's uncovered mouth and nose as potentially emitting over a distance of 16 feet fireworks which may or may not explode. You and all people are made of dry grass and brush. The more people around, the more who are potentially emitting fireworks in a field of dry grass and brush.
That's the analogy to use.
Saturday, August 1, 2020
"Societal Paperlessness" - Could Covid-19 actually cause a major reduction in the use of paper?
In a recent story Wisconsin's paper mills are the latest victim of the pandemic we learn that the Wisconsin Rapids Mill was closing citing figures indicating that the demand for printing paper fell 38 percent year-over-year in April and research indicating an even greater plunge to come.
Paper. Could it become a significant part of the Extended Economic Distortion? From this writer's perspective...an old computer guy...we shouldn't even be here.
In 1975 the head of Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto, CA Research Center George E. Pake noted in a Business Week article that by 1995 the typical business will be paperless and employees will have a TV-display terminal with keyboard sitting on their desks.
He explained: “I’ll be able to call up documents from my files on the screen, or by pressing a button. I can get my mail or any messages. I don’t know how much hard copy I’ll want in this world.”
In 1978, University of Illinois professor Frederick W. Lancaster in Toward Paperless Information Systems reinforced the idea that humans would through technology reduce or eliminate the use of paper.
The chart above based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN indicates just how accurate the forecasts of the 1970's were. Since Pake made his observations the volume of paper used worldwide since 1975 has increased 85%. Of course, on a per capita basis, from 1975 through 2018 the use had dropped, though by a mere ½%.
The graph above indicates that drops in paper production do coincide with recessions. Between 2007 and 2009, production plunged 11%.
But then again, "paper" isn't really a single product. For instant, the Great Economic Lockdown of 2020 resulted in a crash in the sale of commercial toilet paper while people stuck at home vied for a roll of the softer, cushier home-use toilet paper.
During the Covid-19 Crisis service businesses such as salons have eliminated magazines, as have airlines. With their employees working from home, other businesses have stopped ordering copy paper. While there has been some increase in packaging paper sales to online retailers, indications are that many of those catalogues that go directly from our mailbox to our recycling can may not arrive this fall.
This kind of change isn't new to the paper manufacturing industry. In the 1930s Wisconsin Rapids Mill became the sole manufacturer of the stock used to print Life magazine. But things have changed.
While the per capita sales of paper products may have kept pace with population growth, the fact is that much of the growth was outside the U.S., much in third world nations From 1990 to 2003, while its Gross Domestic Product doubled China’s consumption of toilet paper alone increased at an average annual rate of 11%. The market for household papers generally has more than doubled in the past ten years. However, in 2016 China ended requirements for retaining business accounting records in paper form which is also true for the IRS in the U.S.
The fact is most books, magazines, financial transactions, written communications, etc. are in electronic format. Some are also on paper form. But with the broad use of "devices" we can expect to see less use of paper. (At least until the electronic world experiences its own Covid-19 outbreak.)
Many significant changes in day-to-day activities that we cannot predict will come out of the Covid-19 crisis, initially as a part of the Extended Economic Distortion. As noted in the article about the Wisconsin Rapids Mill:
“In Wisconsin, 2.4 million acres of managed forest is owned by counties, and they use the proceeds of the sales to fund their government operations,” Hughes said.
And, of course, that doesn't take into account the local businesses that serve the affected employees and their families.
All because of paper.