Lazy Caturday Reads: Winter Is Coming

Good Afternoon!!

Scholastica-Full-Moon-spooky-forest-with-black-cats-woodcut-1931-M.-C.-Escher-2

M.C. Escher woodcut, 1931

The coronavirus pandemic is getting worse as colder weather and the holidays approach. Here in Massachusetts, we are seeing more new cases every day, after months of holding steady against the virus. In many states, cases and deaths are rising at an even more alarming pace.

Meanwhile, Trump happily makes things even worse with  his daily superspreader rallies. If we can’t get rid of this horrible man, he is going to kill millions of Americans and reduce our country to rubble.

I just finished reading a fascinating book about Trump’s rallies, Liar’s Circus: A Strange and Terrifying Journey Into the Upside-Down World of Trump’s MAGA Rallies, by Carl Hoffman. It’s sort of a sociological/anthropological investigation into the phenomenon. I want to quote a paragraph from the last chapter:

…what was occurring at Trump’s rallies showed Trump’s narcissism and his urgent need to rule, which ultimately differed little from any other autocrat who’d risen to power. He had to win, had to have complete loyalty. He had no choice but to kill everyone else and survive over a battlefield of the dead and all of those sycophants on the stage [Republican political leaders] were letting him. They had submitted and kept on submitting, and if nothing got in his way, he would keep winning, winning, winning, until the whole system, the whole structure of American law and culture and politics was his to wield, his to control. It couldn’t be any other way. There was no other option. Trump didn’t believe in moral goodness or a higher God or the Constitution or democracy. If he wasn’t kept in check, Trump would destroy American because he couldn’t stop himself.

Hoffman argues that the rise of Trump is proof once and for all that “American exceptionalism” is a myth. We are just as vulnerable to authoritarian takeover as any other country. We have just 10 days left to stop Trump. But even if he loses the election, he will still have until January 20 to damage our government and aid and abet the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans from a virus that he chose not to deal with. I don’t know what is going to happen; I only hope we can begin stop him with our votes on November 3.

The Latest on the Pandemic:

The Washington Post: America hits highest daily number of coronavirus cases since pandemic began.

America on Friday hit its highest daily number of coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, recording at least 82,600 new infections and surpassing the previous record set during the summertime surge of cases across the Sun Belt.

Katzen-Jankel-Adler-1927

Katzen, by Jankel Adler, 1937

The rising numbers put the nation on the precipice of what could be its worst stretch to date in the pandemic with some hospitals in the West and Midwest already overwhelmed and death counts beginning to rise.

The current surge is considerably more widespread than the waves from last summer and spring. The unprecedented geographic spread of the current surge makes it more dangerous, with experts warning it could lead to dire shortages of medical staff and supplies. Already, hospitals are reporting shortfalls of basic drugs needed to treat covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

And it’s not simply a matter of increased testing identifying more cases. Covid-19 hospitalizations increased in 38 states over the past week. The number of deaths nationally has crested above 1,000 in recent days.

The last time the country hit a new daily record for coronavirus cases — 76,533 on July 17 — just four states accounted for more than 40,000 of those cases: Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, according to a Washington Post analysis.

On Friday, 11 states accounted for that same lion’s share of cases. And in the past two weeks, 24 states have broken their records for single-day highs of cases.

More than 170 counties across 36 states were designated rapidly rising hotspots, according to an internal federal report produced Thursday for officials at the Department of Health and Human Services and obtained by The Post.

The New York Times: Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count.

Jankel Adler, woman and two cats

Jankel Adler, woman and two cats

At least 925 new coronavirus deaths and 85,085 new cases were reported in the United States on Oct. 23. Over the past week, there have been an average of 64,257 cases per day, an increase of 34 percent from the average two weeks earlier.

As of Saturday morning, more than 8,540,300 people in the United States have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 223,900 have died, according to a New York Times database.

Case numbers in the United States are rising rapidly as states in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains struggle to control major outbreaks, and as new hotspots emerge elsewhere in the country.

The national trajectory is only worsening. Wisconsin has opened a field hospital. North Dakota, which not long ago had relatively few cases, now has the most per capita in the country. And across the rural West, states like Alaska, Wyoming and Montana that had long escaped the worst of the pandemic have seen case numbers soar to alarming new records.

Deaths, though still well below their peak spring levels, averaged around 700 per day by mid October, far more than were reported in early July.

There’s lots of good information and maps at the NYT link.

Reuters: U.S. faces half a million COVID-19 deaths by end-February, study finds.

 More than a half million people in the United States could die from COVID-19 by the end of February, but around 130,000 of those lives could be saved if everybody were to wear masks, according to estimates from a modelling study on Friday.

The estimates by researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showed that with few effective COVID-19 treatment options and no vaccines yet available, the United States faces “a continued COVID-19 public health challenge through the winter.”

“We are heading into a very substantial fall/winter surge,” said IHME Director Chris Murray, who co-led the research.

He said the projections, as well as currently rising infection rates and deaths, showed there is no basis to “the idea that the pandemic is going away,” adding: “We do not believe that is true.”

Odysseus-and-Calypso-Max-Beckmann-1943

Odysseus and Calypso, Max-Beckmann, 1943

USA Today: Trump’s campaign made stops nationwide. Coronavirus cases surged in his wake in at least five places.

The president has participated in nearly three dozen rallies since mid-August, all but two at airport hangars. A USA TODAY analysis shows COVID-19 cases grew at a faster rate than before after at least five of those rallies in the following counties: Blue Earth, Minnesota; Lackawanna, Pennsylvania; Marathon, Wisconsin; Dauphin, Pennsylvania; and Beltrami, Minnesota.

Together, those counties saw 1,500 more new cases in the two weeks following Trump’s rallies than the two weeks before – 9,647 cases, up from 8,069. 

Although there’s no way to determine definitively if cases originated at Trump’s rallies, public health experts say the gatherings fly in the face of all recommendations to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

USA TODAY reviewed coronavirus case counts in the counties where Trump attended rallies starting from mid-August through mid-October. The news organization examined the rate of increase in virus cases for the two weeks before and after campaign events. For rallies occurring within the past two weeks, not enough time has passed to draw conclusions.

Public health officials additionally have linked 16 cases, including two hospitalizations, with the rally in Beltrami County, Minnesota, and one case with the rally in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Outside of the counties identified by USA TODAY with a greater case increase after rallies, officials identified four cases linked to Trump rallies. 

Presidential Campaign Reads:

Philip Bump at The Washington Post: The electoral map is very weird right now.

Max Beckmann, Self portrait with cat and lamp

Max Beckmann, Self portrait with cat and lamp

You will be unsurprised to learn that, according to a poll released on Friday by the New York Times and Siena College, President Trump leads former vice president Joe Biden in Montana. Montana is almost definitionally red, part of the phalanx of Republican states that’s draped over the western Plains and Rocky Mountains.

You might be surprised, though, to learn the margin of Trump’s lead. It’s only seven points, which, if that margin were to hold until Election Day, would represent a 13-point swing away from Trump relative to his 2016 support.

More remarkably, that’s as narrow a race as the pollsters measured in both Michigan and Wisconsin, states Trump won by tiny margins four years ago. In Michigan, the Times-Siena poll had Biden up eight points; in Wisconsin, he was up 10….

The state that’s closest at the moment is — Texas. If Joe Biden wins Texas, it’s over.

But it doesn’t get less weird. Georgia, Iowa and Ohio — which Trump won in 2016 by five, nine and eight points, respectively — are the next three closest states. What’s more, Biden leads in the first two.

Read the whole thing at the WaPo.

Politico: Paranoia and finger-pointing in Trumpworld as election approaches.

President Donald Trump’s top advisers have plunged into a bitter round of finger-pointing and blame-shifting ahead of an increasingly likely defeat.

Cats on the Veranda, Pierre Bonnard

Cats on the Veranda, Pierre Bonnard

Accusations are flying in all directions and about all manner of topics — from allegedly questionable spending decisions by former campaign manager Brad Parscale, to how White House chief of staff Mark Meadows handled Trump’s hospitalization for Covid-19, to skepticism that TV ads have broken through. Interviews with nearly a dozen Trump aides, campaign advisers and Republican officials also surfaced accusations that the president didn’t take fundraising seriously enough and that the campaign undermined its effort to win over seniors by casting Democrat Joe Biden as senile.

Finger-pointing is a common feature of campaigns that think they’re losing, but it’s happening at an uncommon level in this campaign. Shifting responsibility has been a staple of the Trump presidency — and his lieutenants are now following suit.

Tim Alberta at Politico Magazine: The Unspectacular Excellence of Joe Biden’s Slow and Steady Campaign.

The reasons I expected Biden to get mauled by the likes of Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are exactly the reasons he outlasted them all.

The reasons I wondered how he would fare against Donald Trump are exactly the reasons he outperformed the president in each of their two debates.

Biden is slow. He is steady. He is unspectacular. In other words, he is what much of the electorate seems to want.

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The Poet or Half Past Three, Marc Chagall

On Thursday night, two years after he stepped to that lectern in Lansing, Biden climbed down tiredly from the stage in Nashville. Over the previous 90 minutes, he had put the finishing touches on a campaign that was crafted in defiance of every expectation placed upon him and his party since Trump took office. I would call Biden’s performance in the final debate an exclamation mark—except there is nothing exclamatory about his candidacy. He has run, objectively speaking, one of the most monotonous and predictable and uneventful campaigns for president in recent memory. And it has been nothing short of superb. Now, with Biden on the brink of a historic victory, it’s worth understanding what has been right about his campaign—not simply what has been wrong with Trump’s.

The Democratic nominee was at it again Thursday night, plodding along at a comfortable pace, reciting methodically rehearsed responses, never losing his composure or abandoning his message. It was telling that the lone error Biden supposedly committed—pledging to transition the country away from reliance on oil—is something he has discussed regularly over the past 18 months.

Read the rest at Politico.

Sarah Jones at New York Magazine: Focus Group Slams Trump for No Empathy in Final Presidential Debate.

Analysts and pundits are praising President Trump for turning in a more “restrained” performance at this year’s final presidential debate. Though it’s true the president presented a calmer façade, at least in comparison to his last, fractious appearance next to Joe Biden, that’s likely the result of the threat of a muted mic and skillful moderation from NBC’s Kristen Welker. The president may have shouted less, but when he spoke, he was exactly the same person he’s always been: self-focused and callous, obsessed with conspiracy theories and prone to lie. Do voters really want four more years of Trump’s act? We won’t know for a little while longer, but public opinion doesn’t favor him.

Three-Cats-with-Bowls-of-Milk-Gertrude-Abercrombie

Three Cats with Bowls of Milk, Gertrude Abercrombie

A focus group convened by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg showed a decisive edge for Biden in the debate, who was rewarded for his empathy compared to Trump. Greenberg surveyed 150 voters from diverse backgrounds for live dial tests commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers. As usual, Greenberg and his team measured the attitudes of a diverse focus group before, during, and after the debate. “Looking at the pre- and post-results, I think that was actually a disastrous debate for Trump,” he told Intelligencer on Wednesday morning. Over 60 percent of his focus group gave Biden an A or B rating; Trump languished far behind, with the percentage of voters giving him the same A or B rating staying firmly in the 30s. Biden also increased his favorability rating twice as much as Trump did, Greenberg added.

Biden performed particularly well on measures testing his appeal to the middle class. “We have an eight point increase on improving things for the middle class,” Greenberg said, a result that builds on Biden’s previous strong postdebate performance on the same question. On the subject of health care, Biden gained five points on Trump, evidence that the president’s doom-mongering over “socialized medicine” didn’t persuade anyone who wasn’t already a Trump loyalist. To Greenberg, Biden’s strength on health care shows that “people are actually looking for change, help.”

Have a great weekend, and I hope you’ll check in with us if you have the time an inclination.