The Death Cab

Yes, there is that alt-rock band Death Cab for Cutie – named for the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s song of the same name – kind of a lighthearted zombie-goth thing. But this is not the time for clever lighthearted death jokes. The thrash-metal band Anthrax considered changing its name after the anthrax attacks in 2001 – but they weren’t sending white powder through the mail so they didn’t. Still, they kept quiet for a bit. Of course this is a young soulful romantic thing. Keats did say that “for many a time” he had “been half in love with easeful death.” He was young. He romanticized death. Rock bands made clever jokes about death. But no one wants to die. This is just posturing. There are no death cults out there.

Ah, but there are Republicans:

Republican governors across the Southeast are teaming up to reopen the region’s economy, even as they lack the testing to know how rapidly the coronavirus is spreading. One health expert called the political decision a “perfect storm” for the virus to reassert itself.

That would kill millions, but this does seem to be a death cult:

The newly formed coalition includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, a part of the country that has underfunded health systems, as well as high rates of obesity, diabetes and other illnesses that amplify the deadliness of the coronavirus.

And unlike their peers in New York, New Jersey and other Northeastern states that have been working cooperatively since last week to restart their economies, the six in the South have lagged on testing and social distancing measures.

“If you put these states together, there is a perfect storm for a massive epidemic peak later on,” said Jill Roberts of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. “The Southeast region is not known for having the best health record. Diabetes and heart disease come to mind. I am very concerned about how our states will do it.”

They may not be able to pull this off. They may not be that organized:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mentioned the move Tuesday on “Fox & Friends,” but there was no formal announcement or much communication from other states involved.

“We have had a meeting with all the Southeastern governors – Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee,” DeSantis said. “And we shared a lot of ideas. I think we will be the same page on some stuff.”

Governors from Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi did not respond to questions.

DeSantis communications director Helen Aguirre Ferré wrote on Twitter that the six states would be “working in a coalition.”

She didn’t say when they would, but at least they’re not like those folks up north:

Even as the Northeast looks to band together, its governors are urging caution.

Southern governors, most of whom have built political careers on small-government conservatism, are driving, by contrast, to restart their economies and get people back to work, even as infections mount.

Southern governors, including DeSantis, point to their slowing rate of increases of positive tests and falling numbers of hospitalizations.

On Tuesday, DeSantis jabbed the media and public health experts for predicting initially that state hospitals would be overwhelmed.

“Our work is succeeding,” DeSantis told reporters. “We flattened the curve.”

How does he know? That’s an issue with this:

Dr. Aileen Marty, a pandemic and infectious disease expert at Florida International University, said gains made through social distancing and other precautions are good signs, but not the signal to loosen efforts that Southern governors think they are.

“They are heavily Republican with social conservatives who are all of a like mind,” Marty said. “They are tempting fate by having the virus out and about among us, but if they don’t do it in a controlled way, we will again be back in situations of overwhelmed hospitals and more people dying.”

But these people don’t like control:

Georgia drew national attention – and some ridicule – after Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday that he would allow bowling alleys, gyms, nail salons and massage therapists to reopen on Friday, and let theaters show movies starting Monday, even as he admits the number of cases is likely to grow.

“This is the right approach at the right time,” Kemp told reporters Monday. “We’re probably going to see our cases continue to go up, but we’re a lot better prepared for that now than we were over a month ago.”

Ah, no, not really:

Roberts, with the University of South Florida, called the move fraught with peril.

“I kind of enjoyed Governor Kemp’s talk about reopening these places with ‘screening.’ He did not say testing. That capacity does not exist,” Roberts said. “My guess is he meant taking temperatures, which as we know is pointless,” because asymptomatic people can carry and spread the coronavirus.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb was equally blunt.

“Gyms, nail salons, bowling alleys, hair salons, tattoo parlors,” he said Tuesday on CNBC. “It feels like they collected a list of the businesses you know that were most risky and decided to open those first.”

This actually had the feel of a bad rock band trashing the room and everything in sight, and Dana Milbank adds this:

Whether you’re going to heaven or hell, as the old joke goes, you’ll have to change planes in Atlanta.

But Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is proposing to offer a new nonstop service to the Great Beyond: He has a bold plan to turn his state into the place to die.

Kemp, a Republican and an ally of President Trump, just called for the reopening within days of his state’s gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body-art studios, barbers, nail salons, cosmetologists, aestheticians, beauty schools, massage therapists, theaters, private social clubs and dine-in restaurants.

He’s doing this even though the state ranks near last in testing, even though it’s not clear that Covid-19 cases are declining there, and even knowing “we’re probably going to have to see our cases continue to go up,” as Kemp himself said.

It may be that Kemp, like Keats, thinks death is kind of cool, or it may be this:

It has been 88 years since Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis developed the idea of states serving as “laboratories of democracy.” But even that great thinker probably couldn’t have imagined states serving as actual laboratories, experimenting with the spread of infectious diseases in their populations. Now several Republican governors, with Trump’s encouragement, are racing to reopen during the pandemic, using their constituents as lab rats to see what happens when you relax virus containment.

It could be no more than that. These governors could be no more that kind of curious about what might happen next, one way or the other. Will shoving a fork in an electrical outlet kill you? There’s only one way to find out. Of course there are many ways to find out, but they’re scientific and a bit boring. So here goes:

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has opened many retail stores and lifted restrictions on beaches. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida will take reopening recommendations from a task force that includes Disney and Universal Studios. Texas, Tennessee and others are joining the race to become death destinations.

But nobody is as far out there as Kemp. Jimmy Carter, who served as Georgia’s governor before becoming president, may have been a peanut farmer. But Kemp is an actual nut. Earlier this month, when he announced one of the last stay-at-home orders in the nation, he stated that he hadn’t known “until the last 24 hours” that asymptomatic people could spread the coronavirus. This had been known for a couple of months to anyone paying attention.

But Kemp is not without guile. As Georgia’s secretary of state, he purged half a million names from voting rolls – then beat his opponent for governor by only 55,000 votes. Now he seems to have embarked on a new purge: inducing his constituents to shuffle off this mortal coil.

That’s absurd. Milbank was making a joke. Oops. Milbank didn’t account for this:

Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick doubled down on controversial comments he has made about the coronavirus pandemic, telling Fox News on Monday that Americans had to “take some risks” in reopening the economy.

Patrick was heavily criticized last month after he suggested in an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that he and other senior citizens might be willing to die to save the economy. He stood by his statements in a new interview with Carlson on Monday night, saying, “We are crushing the economy.”

“And what I said when I was with you that night, there are more important things than living. And that’s saving this country for my children and my grandchildren and saving this country for all of us,” Patrick said Monday night.

This guy is far more than half in love with easeful death. The governor should open the Texas economy right now. Screw the testing. Parents and grandparents should embrace death, to assure a better world for their children and grandchildren, or maybe not:

The Texas Democratic Party said in a statement Tuesday that Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott would put Texans at risk to enrich business interests.

“They would see our family members die to bail out Wall Street,” the statement said. “The lives of our families, our friends, and our communities have no dollar amount. Texas Republicans can no longer claim to be the pro-life party anymore.”

Of course not, but it’s not just Texas:

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., said last week that deaths due to the coronavirus were “the lesser of these two evils” compared to a failing economy.

Economist Stephen Moore, who has served as an adviser to President Donald Trump, told CBS News on Friday that the economy must reopen soon. Moore said the effort to save every life by shutting down business was unwittingly “causing huge hardship for citizens.”

Dr. Mehmet Oz, the celebrity doctor, told Fox News’ Sean Hannity last week that reopening schools would be an “appetizing opportunity” to get the country’s “mojo” back and that it would cost only about 2 percent to 3 percent of lives.

Oz later apologized for the comments. Two to three percent of three hundred ten million Americans are roughly seven million to eleven million newly dead bodies. Oz said he misspoke, but this may be a Texas thing. It’s odd to be in one’s seventies with severe COPD and severe sleep apnea and heart issues and all the rest, but many “boomers” are in the same boat, or the same Death Cab. Shall we just up and die for the shareholders of Carnival Cruise Lines and this president? Are we patriots? Should we do the Texas thing?

There’s some disagreement on that. Josh Kraushaar of National Journal looks into recent polling and sees this:

The latest Morning Consult poll found that 65-and-older voters prioritized defeating the coronavirus over healing the economy by nearly a 6-to-1 ratio. And over the past month, they’ve become the group most disenchanted with Trump’s handling of the crisis. In mid-March, seniors were more supportive of Trump than any other age group (plus-19 net approval). Now, their net approval of the president has dropped 20 points and is lower than any age group outside of the youngest Americans.

And this:

Those findings were matched by a new NBC/WSJ poll, which tested the presidential matchup between Trump and Joe Biden. Among seniors 65 and older, Biden led Trump by 9 points, 52 to 43 percent. That’s a dramatic 16-point swing from Hillary Clinton’s showing in the 2016 election; she lost seniors by 7 points to Trump (52-45 percent).

And this:

They’re counting on the president to protect them at a particularly precarious moment. If Trump’s desire to quickly reopen the economy ends up backfiring, they’ll be the first to abandon him and deal his reelection prospects a crippling blow.

Greg Sargent sees where this is heading:

Trump’s effort to turn the coronavirus into a full blown culture war that divides the country to his benefit appears to suffer from a very serious deficiency that has eluded notice thus far.

On the one hand, Trump is hammering blue state governors for continuing to impose social distancing restrictions to prevent the coronavirus’s spread – never mind that his own administration has endorsed such measures. The obvious idea is to energize the rural voters and working-class whites in his base against elites who are insisting on maintaining restrictions – and as a result keeping the economy on lockdown – mostly to protect voters from higher density areas where the coronavirus has raged out of control.

Ordinarily you’d think the older voters among those constituencies in Trump’s base might be generally receptive to this kind of culture-war-mongering. But in this case, they may not be prime targets for it. Not only are they perhaps not raring to rejoin a reopened economy with the zeal that those in younger age groups are, but also they are at greater risk from the disease itself.

So it seems plausible that anything indicating Trump’s lack of seriousness about the potential consequences of lifting social restrictions too quickly might have the potential to backfire among these voters.

Trump might want to think about that, and about this:

Other demographic groups sympathetic to Trump also do not side with him in this matter. As numbers provided to me from this week’s NBC poll showed, a majority of working-class whites, and a large plurality of rural voters, worry more that we’ll move too quickly in loosening restrictions, costing more deaths, than they worry about moving too slowly, producing an even worse economic disaster.

And the overall polling has been clear – two thirds of the nation does not want things to open this fast and three quarters of the country doesn’t trust a single word Trump says about this stuff. Trump may have lost the argument here:

Perhaps Americans actually do want to prioritize saving lives and healing the country over getting back to commercial activity. Trump obviously thinks this debate provides him with yet another chance to tear the country apart to his benefit, but he may be sorely disappointed in how little damage he can do along those lines.

To be sure, Trump still has other tricks in his culture-war magic chest. His new proposal to temporarily halt all legal immigration — based on the preposterously absurd rationale that this will help combat the spread of the coronavirus and protect U.S. workers – seems designed to further divide the country along these familiar lines of geography, education and age. That may work among some of these constituencies.

But thus far, the real story here may be that the country just isn’t that divided on the social distancing question.

But there are ways for Trump to win here:

Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that the need for strong restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus may be passing and that the Justice Department might consider taking legal action against states that go too far.

“There are very, very burdensome impingements on liberty,” he told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, “and we adopted them for the limited purpose of slowing down the spread. We didn’t adopt them as the comprehensive way of dealing with this disease.”

The idea is that we have a vaccine for this now, or will very soon, or we will have one in no more than eighteen to twenty-four months. And there are now treatments to cure this. Fauci say they don’t work. Trump says they do. If so, it might be time to send some governors to jail for shutting things down for even one more day:

Barr said the restrictions, such as shutting down businesses and requiring people to stay home, are intrusions on civil liberties that may be justified under the broad police powers states have to protect public health. But he said governors may go too far and interfere with interstate commerce, which is the domain of the federal government…

If that happens, “we’ll have to address that,” Barr said, which could take the form of the federal government’s joining in support of lawsuits that challenge state restrictions.

The Justice Department took just such an action just last week, filing a statement in support of a small Mississippi church that sued city officials who tried to shut down a drive-in church service while allowing a local drive-in restaurant to stay open.

He called stay-at-home orders “disturbingly close to house arrest.”

And we now, after all, have a treatment for this, or maybe not:

A malaria drug widely touted by President Donald Trump for treating the new coronavirus showed no benefit in a large analysis of its use in U.S. veterans’ hospitals. There were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care, researchers reported.

The nationwide study was not a rigorous experiment. But with 368 patients, it’s the largest look so far of hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin for COVID-19, which has killed more than 171,000 people as of Tuesday.

The study was posted on an online site for researchers and has not been reviewed by other scientists. Grants from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Virginia paid for the work.

The first results are in. This stuff is great for malaria, and for lupus, but otherwise it’s useless, and it might kill you. Please verify. But some of that has been done:

Earlier this month, scientists in Brazil stopped part of a study testing chloroquine, an older drug similar to hydroxychloroquine, after heart rhythm problems developed in one-quarter of people given the higher of two doses being tested.

On Tuesday, NIH issued new treatment guidelines from a panel of experts, saying there was not enough evidence to recommend for or against chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19. But it also advised against using hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin because of the potential side effects.

Many doctors have been leery of the drug.

At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, “I think we’re all rather underwhelmed” at what’s been seen among the few patients there who’ve tried it, said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control and prevention.

This didn’t help:

President Trump was grilled Tuesday about his flogging of an anti-malaria drug as a coronavirus treatment after a government-funded study showed it didn’t help veterans and was associated with more deaths.

He dodged.

“I don’t know of the report,” he said at the daily briefing by the coronavirus task force. “Obviously there have been some very good reports and perhaps this one’s not a good report – but we’ll be looking at it.”

He’s heard nothing. He knows nothing. He’ll look into it when he has the time. But he knows better now:

Although Trump talked up hydroxychloroquine so often in his briefings that they began to resemble infomercials, in the last week or so he has abandoned his hype, and conservative media is no longer beating the hydroxychloroquine drum.

But at the height of Trump’s hydroxychloroquine fever, the federal government bought millions of doses.

And then it was all over. There’s no miracle cure. A useful vaccine may be almost two years away. And the government may now sue any state that tells its citizens to stay home and wear masks if they go out and wash those hands often and do be careful. Two thirds of the nation is fine with that. One third isn’t. They’re riding that Death Cab for Cutie. But that’s no longer cool, not now.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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