Terrifying Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

It’s another terrifying Tuesday in the American apocalypse. During his insane inauguration speech, Trump said he was going to end American carnage. Instead he has brought us to our knees as a country as we endure a pandemic and economic hardship with almost no help from the federal government. Trump has hollowed out or destroyed nearly every important American institution–the State Department, the Justice Department, the CDC, the Supreme Court, the federal court system, the Defense Department leadership, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. And now he’s working on taking control of the intelligence community.

This morning Trump’s insane appointee as Director of National Intelligence,  Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas is testifying in his Senate confirmation hearing.

CNN: Trump’s pick for spy chief testifying before Senate panel.

President Donald Trump’s pick to be director of national intelligence, Rep. John Ratcliffe, pledged to deliver unbiased intelligence to the President and Congress amid questions about the Texas Republican’s loyalty to a President deeply skeptical of the intelligence community.

Ratcliffe is appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee after he was selected by the President a second time to be the nation’s spy chief. Ratcliffe withdrew from consideration when he was first tapped for the role last summer amid concerns from even some Republicans about exaggerations to his national security resume, but Trump picked him again in February for the role.

“Let me be very clear. Regardless of what anyone wants our intelligence to reflect, the intelligence I will provide, if confirmed, will not be impacted or altered as a result of outside influence. Above all, my fidelity and loyalty will always be with the Constitution and the rule of law, and my actions as DNI will reflect that commitment,” Ratcliffe said in his opening statement.

Ratcliffe appears to have the support he needs from Republicans who were skeptical the first time he was picked, but Democrats are sure to press him on his ability to be independent from Trump when the President has expressed an open distrust of the intelligence community and refused to agree with the assessment on Russian election interference.

The hearing comes amid questions about Trump’s claims of intelligence on the origins of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, and the removal of top intelligence officials earlier this year, including former intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson and then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire….

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the committee’s top Democrat, said he has concerns about what he described as Ratcliffe’s “inexperience, partisanship, and past statements that seemed to embellish” his record.

In case you haven’t noticed, Ratcliffe is quite simply nuts. The Daily Beast: Trump’s Pick for Intelligence Chief Follows a Slew of QAnon Accounts.

Ratcliffe’s official, verified campaign Twitter account follows several accounts on the political fringe, including a 9/11 truther account with just one follower besides himself and four promoting the outlandish QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that the world is run by a cabal of Democratic pedophile-cannibals—and has been ruled a potential source of domestic terrorism by the FBI.

The conspiracy theorists followed by Ratcliffe, whose nomination for director of national intelligence goes before the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday morning, cover a bizarre range of beliefs. They posit that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death to help Trump to take down the Deep State. Others claim a Democratic sex dungeon exists in in a Washington pizzeria. But Ratcliffe and the QAnon promoters he follows have one thing in common: utter loyalty to Trump.

Even before Ratcliffe’s QAnon interest was known, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a committee member, told The Daily Beast, “Congressman Ratcliffe is a partisan politician who has spent the last two years promoting conspiracy theories in defense of Donald Trump.” [….]

Veteran intelligence officials expressed alarm that the Senate may soon confirm a Trump loyalist atop the U.S.’s 16 intelligence agencies. “Ratcliffe would be the least qualified person to run the intelligence community, ever, and that includes Ric Grenell,” said former CIA and National Counterterrorism Center analyst Aki Peritz, referring to the acting director of national intelligence. “The hardest job for any intelligence officer is to speak truth to power. Based on Ratcliffe’s past performance, it’s doubtful he can resist the urge to politicize intelligence on behalf of Donald Trump.”

Read more at the Daily Beast link.

Meanwhile, as Trump pushes states to reopen their economies, predictions for the future course of the pandemic are alarming. Yesterday Dakinikat posted about a draft study that predicts we will see 200,000 Covid0-19 cases per day by June 1. That link goes to another story at The Washington Post.

Stephen Collinson at CNN: The price of reopening the economy: tens of thousands of American lives.

(CNN)President Donald Trump now knows the price of the haunting bargain required to reopen the country — tens of thousands more lives in a pandemic that is getting worse not better.

It’s one he now appears ready to pay, if not explain to the American people, at a moment of national trial that his administration has constantly underplayed.

Depressing new death toll projections and infection data on Monday dashed the optimism stirred by more than half the country taking various steps to reopen an economy that is vital to Trump’s reelection hopes and has shed more than 30 million jobs. Stay-at-home orders slowed the virus and flattened the curve in hotspots like New York and California, but they have so far failed to halt its broader advance, leaving the nation stuck on a grim plateau of about 30,000 new cases a day for nearly a month.

Despite those projections, two administration officials told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins the latest numbers are not currently expected to affect the White House’s plans for reopening the country.
New evidence of the likely terrible future toll of Covid-19 came on a day when Trump stayed out of sight — his wild briefings that hurt his political prospects now paused — meaning he could not be questioned on his enthusiasm for state openings in the light of new evidence.

But in an interview published in Tuesday’s edition of the New York Post, Trump said Americans were ready come out of isolation and get back to normal life.

“I think they’re starting to feel good now. The country’s opening again. We saved millions of lives, I think,” Trump said. “You have to be careful, but you have to get back to work,” he said. “People want the country open… I guess we have 38 states that are either opening or are very close.”

Opinion polls don’t support Trump’s claims however. Read more at CNN.

According to Calvin Woodward at the AP, Virus-afflicted 2020 looks like 1918 despite science’s march.

Despite a century’s progress in science, 2020 is looking a lot like 1918.

In the years between two lethal pandemics, one the misnamed Spanish flu, the other COVID-19, the world learned about viruses, cured various diseases, made effective vaccines, developed instant communications and created elaborate public-health networks.

Yet here we are again, face-masked to the max. And still unable to crush an insidious yet avoidable infectious disease before hundreds of thousands die from it.

As in 1918, people are again hearing hollow assurances at odds with the reality of hospitals and morgues filling up and bank accounts draining. The ancient common sense of quarantining is back. So is quackery: Rub raw onions on your chest, they said in 1918. How about disinfectant in your veins now? mused President Donald Trump, drawing gasps instead of laughs over what he weakly tried to pass off as a joke.

In 1918, no one had a vaccine, treatment or cure for the great flu pandemic as it ravaged the world and killed more than 50 million people. No one has any of that for the coronavirus, either.

Modern science quickly identified today’s new coronavirus, mapped its genetic code and developed a diagnostic test, tapping knowledge no one had in 1918. That has given people more of a fighting chance to stay out of harm’s way, at least in countries that deployed tests quickly, which the U.S. didn’t.

But the ways to avoid getting sick and what to do when sick are little changed. The failure of U.S. presidents to take the threat seriously from the start also joins past to present

The New York Times offers another historical comparison: A study by the Fed suggests sickness helped drive extremism in the 20th century.

A jump in flu deaths early in the 20th century may have helped to drive the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, Federal Reserve Bank of New York research showed, in a stark warning that pandemics can drive societal change.

“Influenza deaths of 1918 are correlated with an increase in the share of votes won by right-wing extremists,” Fed economist Kristian Blickle wrote. The finding holds even counting for a city’s ethnic and religious makeup, regional unemployment, past right-wing voting, and other local characteristics.

He points out that local public spending dropped in the wake of the deadly flu, especially on services that benefitted young people, like school. That spending decline itself does not seem to drive the right-wing political extremism that followed, the paper found.

On the other hand, “the correlation between influenza mortality and the vote share won by right-wing extremists is stronger in regions that had historically blamed minorities, particularly Jews, for medieval plagues,” Mr. Blickle wrote. He adds that “the disease may have fostered a hatred of ‘others’, as it was perceived to come from abroad.”

Scientists are learning more about the virus and its effects on the human body. Here are three interesting (and scary) science-based articles to check out.

Raw Story reports on a study that supports something I have suspected–your genes may determine how the virus affects you and how sick you get.

When some people become infected with the coronavirus, they only develop mild or undetectable cases of COVID-19. Others suffer severe symptoms, fighting to breathe on a ventilator for weeks, if they survive at all.

Despite a concerted global scientific effort, doctors still lack a clear picture of why this is.

Could genetic differences explain the differences we see in symptoms and severity of COVID-19?

The article is too dense to summarize in an excerpt, so you’ll need to read the article. But here’s the gist of the findings:

Based on our study, we think variation in HLA genes is part of the explanation for the huge differences in infection severity in many COVID-19 patients. These differences in the HLA genes are probably not the only genetic factor that affects severity of COVID-19, but they may be a significant piece of the puzzle. It is important to further study how HLA types can clinically affect COVID-19 severity and to test these predictions using real cases. Understanding how variation in HLA types may affect the clinical course of COVID-19 could help identify individuals at higher risk from the disease.

The New York Times: 15 Children Are Hospitalized With Mysterious Illness Possibly Tied to Covid-19.

Fifteen children, many of whom had the coronavirus, have recently been hospitalized in New York City with a mysterious syndrome that doctors do not yet fully understand but that has also been reported in several European countries, health officials announced on Monday night.

Many of the children, ages 2 to 15, have shown symptoms associated with toxic shock or Kawasaki disease, a rare illness in children that involves inflammation of the blood vessels, including coronary arteries, the city’s health department said.

None of the New York City patients with the syndrome have died, according to a bulletin from the health department, which describes the illness as a “multisystem inflammatory syndrome potentially associated with Covid-19.” [….]

The syndrome has received growing attention in recent weeks as cases began appearing in European countries hit hard by the coronavirus.

“There are some recent rare descriptions of children in some European countries that have had this inflammatory syndrome, which is similar to the Kawasaki syndrome, but it seems to be very rare,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, a World Health Organization scientist, said at a news briefing last week.

The Los Angeles Times: Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that appears to be more contagious.

Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that has become dominant worldwide and appears to be more contagious than the versions that spread in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The new strain appeared in February in Europe, migrated quickly to the East Coast of the United States and has been the dominant strain across the world since mid-March, the scientists wrote.

In addition to spreading faster, it may make people vulnerable to a second infection after a first bout with the disease, the report warned.

The 33-page report was posted Thursday on BioRxiv, a website that researchers use to share their work before it is peer reviewed, an effort to speed up collaborations with scientists working on COVID-19 vaccines or treatments. That research has been largely based on the genetic sequence of earlier strains and might not be effective against the new one.

That’s it for me. What stories are you following today?