Thursday, April 30, 2020

Conquistador

Loved this back in the 60s.  Released on Procol Harum's debut album in the fall of 1967, we played Conquistador in our band.  Our keyboardist went wild on his Farfisa in the closing section.  The song remained almost unknown, despite our efforts, until Procol Harum released a version with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in 1972 which became a Top Ten hit.  I prefer the original.  Featuring one of Gary Brooker's trademark vocals and evocative lyrics.



Conquistador your stallion stands
In need of company
And like some angel's haloed brow
You reek of purity
I see your armour-plated breast
Has long since lost it's sheen
And in your death mask face
There are no signs which can be seen
And though I hoped for something to find
I could see no maze to unwind

Conquistador a vulture sits
Upon your silver shield
And in your rusty scabbard now
The sand has taken seed
And though your jewel-encrusted blade
Has not been plundered still
The sea has washed across your face
And taken of it's fill
And though I hoped for something to find
I could see no maze to unwind

Conquistador there is no time
I must pay my respect
And though I came to jeer at you
I leave now with regret
And as the gloom begins to fall
I see there is no, only all
And though you came with sword held high
You did not conquer, only die
And though I hoped for something to find
I could see no maze to unwind

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Show Me The Money

Silver penny minted around 660AD

The 5th century collapse of the Roman Empire in western Europe began a slow decline in the monetary economy.  During Roman times the western provinces had a robust money-based economy with the regular introduction of gold, silver and bronze coins from various mints.  Much of the circulation was prompted by payments to soldiers, factories supplying the legions, and the massive bureaucracy created by 4th century emperors.

For more on the end of the Western empire read Belisarius Enters Rome, and the Life of St Severinus.

With the empire gone, most mints closed, payments to soldiers ceased, the bureaucracy gone, and trade declined.  Bartering and payments in kind became more common.  Gold coins still circulated and indeed into the early 7th century the Frankish kings received subsidies in the form of gold coins from the Byzantine empire.  However, with the great Persian War (602-628) rapidly followed in the 630s and 640s by the Muslim conquest of the most prosperous Byzantine provinces, the Frankish subsidies ceased.  For more on the travails of the Eastern Empire read A Great War.

It has been known for some time that silver coins began to appear to replace the more scarce gold coins.  Their lesser value and more availability allowed for more use in commerce and helped the slow revival of Western Europe's economy.  What remained unknown was the source of the silver.  Scholars speculated that much of it came from Roman bullion that had been melted down and recast or imported from the Mediterranean.  A 2018 paper, published in the journal Antiquity, may provide an answer.

Using lead analysis of ice cores, the authors pinpointed a mining complex, located at Melle (near the modern town of Deux-Sevres), in Western France, as the source of the silver, beginning in the period between 640 and 670. Lead levels are key because silver is derived from lead ores.  We've already learned much about the lead industry during Roman times as elevated levels of lead have been found in ice cores dating back to the early centuries AD in ice sheets in Greenland and the Alps. Lead levels collapsed with the end of the Western Empire, taking centuries to rise again to similar levels.  However, even during the gap centuries, lead levels varied and scientists using analytical tools and prevailing winds have been able to identify specific lead sources, including the Melle mines.

The authors were able establish the mid-7th century dating from the Alpine ice cores by calibrating the cores with three other known events - the total collapse in lead pollution at the time of the Blakc Death from 1349-53, the increase in bismuth levels with the gigantic series of eruptions from an Icelandic volcano between 934 and 939, and the identifiable markers from the great eruption of 536 (for more on the last event read The Big Sleepy Chill).

The existence of the Melle mines have been known for some time and during the 9th and 10th centuries they provided large amounts of coins to the Frankish kingdom during the time of Charlemagne and his immediate successors.  The 2018 paper establishes they were the original source for the transition from gold to silver, enabling Frankish mints to initially produce gold coins  alloyed with silver and subsequently switching to all silver coins within a quarter century.

And now we understand event in the revival of the West.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Tilted Playing Field

I'm so old, I remember when having a political campaign working hand in glove with high tech companies to elect a President was considered the coolest thing!

For a reminder of those golden days way back in 2012 when scraping data from Facebook to manipulate voters was considered the height of sophistication, read this article from The Guardian:
Barack Obama's re-election team are building a vast digital data operation that for the first time combines a unified database on millions of Americans with the power of Facebook to target individual voters to a degree never achieved before.

Digital analysts predict this will be the first election cycle in which Facebook could become a dominant political force. The social media giant has grown exponentially since the last presidential election, rendering it for the first time a major campaigning tool that has the potential to transform friendship into a political weapon.

Facebook is also being seen as a source of invaluable data on voters. The re-election team, Obama for America, will be inviting its supporters to log on to the campaign website via Facebook, thus allowing the campaign to access their personal data and add it to the central data store – the largest, most detailed and potentially most powerful in the history of political campaigns. If 2008 was all about social media, 2012 is destined to become the "data election".

For the past nine months a crack team of some of America's top data wonks has occupied an entire floor of the Prudential building in Chicago devising a digital campaign from the bottom up. The team draws much of its style and inspiration from the corporate sector, with its driving ambition to create a vote-garnering machine that is smooth, unobtrusive and ruthlessly efficient.

Already more than 100 geeks, some recruited at top-flight university job fairs including Stanford, are assembled in the Prudential drawn from an array of disciplines: statisticians, predictive modellers, data mining experts, mathematicians, software engineers, bloggers, internet advertising experts and online organisers.

At the core is a single beating heart – a unified computer database that gathers and refines information on millions of committed and potential Obama voters. The database will allow staff and volunteers at all levels of the campaign – from the top strategists answering directly to Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina to the lowliest canvasser on the doorsteps of Ohio – to unlock knowledge about individual voters and use it to target personalised messages that they hope will mobilise voters where it counts most.
And Time Magazine added a very interesting wrinkle to the project:
That’s because the more than 1 million Obama backers who signed up for the app gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists. In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85% of those without a listed phone number could be found in the uploaded friend lists. What’s more, Facebook offered an ideal way to reach them. “People don’t trust campaigns. They don’t even trust media organizations,” says Goff. “Who do they trust? Their friends.”
And it wasn't just the Obama campaign neutrally making use of data.  Facebook was happy to cooperate according to this article, according to former Obama campaign staffer Carol Davidsen:
She also said that Facebook officials came to the campaign offices after the election recruiting Obama's tech team, and that "they were very candid that they allowed us to do things they wouldn't have allowed someone else to do because they were on our side."

This wasn't entirely new news, by the way. The New York Times reported in 2013, in another glowing piece on Obama's tech team, how "The campaign's exhaustive use of Facebook triggered the site's internal safeguards." Facebook's response, according to one campaign official: "They'd sigh and say, 'You can do this as long as you stop doing it on Nov. 7.'"
Facebook wasn't the only tech company playing a key role in the Obama campaign.  Google's Board Chairman Eric Schmidt was providing hands-on assistance.  As reported in this article
Schmidt was intimately involved in building Obama’s voter-targeting operation in 2012, recruiting digital talent, choosing technology and coaching campaign manager Jim Messina on campaign infrastructure. The system was credited with helping Obama achieve his unexpectedly large margin of victory.

On election night in 2012, Schmidt was in Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters “boiler room” alongside the team charged with maximizing voter turnout.
It was a good deal for Google, as during the Obama Administration you could not tell where Google ended and the White House began.  They even got the White House to push "net neutrality" which was a business push to advantage large internet platforms over the actual investors and owners who had provided internet access.  With the help of the White House, credulous Progressives believed that the lives of millions were at stake because of "net neutrality" rather than it being merely an effort to make Google even more profitable.  Thankfully, the Trump Administration reversed the handout to Google.  As far as I know, millions have not died.

Of course, when the 2016 election did not turn out as planned, clever use of Facebook and other social media by people the high-tech crowd and media did not approve of became "manipulation" and "election tampering''.  Both the co-founder and the CEO of Google vowed to shocked employees they would do everything possible to make sure the 2020 election turned out "the right way".  I am sure they will.

The best way to understand the situation in 2020 is to understand that while both Progressives and non-Progressives have complaints about high tech companies and social media, their viewpoints are fundamentally different.  For non-Progressives it is, "we'd like our voices to be heard along with everyone else", for Progressives it is, "we demand you shut down the voices who disagree with us".  It's why the Progressive tactic is to get the tech companies to use actual hate groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which defines as a "hate group" any organization that is not Progressive, to determine what type of speech should be censured.  And it is the inherent Progressive leanings of the tech companies that make non-Progressives very suspicious of where this is all headed.  It's why 21st century Progressive thought is an authoritarian cult.

Villa Cimbrone

One of our favorite spots in the world, beautiful and peaceful, particularly if you can avoid the height of tourist season and visit in during the morning.  The views, the gardens, and the joy of just sitting quietly.  The entire town of Ravello is worth a couple of days visit.

We had planned to return this fall.  Hope to make it next year.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Waiting With Vladimir And Estragon

And we are still waiting for Godot.  Now more than ever.  Samuel Beckett's masterpiece.  This is from the 1961 TV broadcast, starring Burgess Meredith and Zero Mostel.  Waiting For Godot inspired many famous pairings in the two lead roles.  The Broadway premiere in 1956 featured Bert Lahr and EG Marshall.  Geoffrey Rush and Mel Gibson performed the roles in a 1979 Australian production, while Robin Williams and Steve Martin headlined a 1988 Broadway revival.  2009 saw a London production with Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart while Nathan Lane and John Goodman starred in yet another Broadway revival.

And here is THC's own take on the play.


Time Counts And Keeps Counting

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Apples To Apples

How do you figure out how bad COVID-19 is compared to the flu?  It's harder than it looks and not just because we are right in the middle of a pandemic.

Like many, I've spent much time looking at COVID-19 statistics and medical literature trying to get a handle on what is going on.  One common topic has been determining the Cumulative Fatality Rate (CFR) for the illness, a rate derived from the ratio of deaths attributed to COVID-19 over the number of individual infected by the virus.  The flu season CFR, as calculated by the CDC, is used as a reference point to determine relative severity of the COVID pandemic.

Let's start with some basic information from the CDC website regarding the flu seasons from 2010-11 through 2018-19.  The CDC provides information on numbers of flu cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for each season.  2013-14 with an estimated 29.7 million cases and 38,000 deaths yields a calculated CFR of 0.128.  The worst year in terms of CFR is 2014-15 with a rate of 0.169, and the highest fatality total was in 2017-18 (when I had the flu for the first time in decades) with 61,000 deaths and CFR of 0.136, very close to the overall average for all nine years.

Now let's look at the current COVID-19 data for the United States, courtesy of worldometer.  We have 819,146 total cases and 45,340 deaths for a current CFR of about 5.50 or nearly 40 times the average flu season.  So, we're done, right?  Uh, no.

First, we have the temporal issue.  We are in the middle of the pandemic and don't know what final numbers may look like.  Another temporal issue is also significant.  Flu season runs for six months and the average number of deaths over the past nine seasons is 38,000.  We've had 45,000 COVID-19 deaths in a month.

But there's another, much bigger, problem.  Everyone acknowledges that the total case amount for COVID is an underestimate.  In many parts of the U.S., people with COVID symptoms, but not in obvious distress, are being turned away without testing because of a lack of capacity.  Further, we've become aware that a large percentage of COVID infections, particularly among younger people, are asymptomatic; either no symptoms or mild symptoms they mistake for allergies or a cold.  So how do we figure out a denominator?  We don't know at this point and it's led to a lot of discussion and argument.  Everyone seems to agree that 5.5 is not a realistic CFR and many experts think it is 1.0 or less.  A recent study done by Stanford scientists in Santa Clara County claims that the infection rate (symptomatic and asymptomatic) is 50 to 85 times higher than shown by current testing.  If you extrapolate the 85X estimate to the United States you have 68 million cases and a CFR of 0.067, well below the CFR for the mildest flu season.  Today it was announced that in New York City 21% of the population may have been infected.  So, now we're done, right? Uh, no.

The Stanford study, released in the past week, is controversial and a lot of people who know more than I about the study say there are significant defects in it, and we have yet to hear what types of critiques will be made of the New York data.

And in looking at this issue a couple of days ago, I also came to the realization we have not been talking about an apples to apples comparison.  The focus with COVID-19 has been on trying to measure all cases, symptomatic and asymptomatic as in the Santa Clara and New York studies, and, for some, to compare them to flu cases.  I've seen some arguing that since they believe there are a huge number of these undetected cases out there the CFR for COVID-19 is no worse than a bad flu season.

In researching this question, I was looking at the CDC website and realized the CDC does not include asymptomatic flu cases in its case estimates (read the How Many People Get Sick With The Flu Every Year? section).  Therefore attempts to compare all COVID cases to flu cases is not an apples to apples comparison.  Further, I was surprised to learn that a large percentage of flu cases are asymptomatic, though there is a wide range of estimates in the medical literature.  As best I could determine the CDC estimates that perhaps 50% of flu cases are asymptomatic, though there are also peer reviewed studies putting the percentage as high as 77%.  Here's the specific language from the CDC study:
Because of its greater clinical relevance, we studied symptomatic influenza infection. Estimates of the percentage of influenza infections that are asymptomatic include a common approximation of 50% [33], 33% in 1 review [34] and 4%–28%, 0–100%, and 65%–85% in another review [35]. Both asymptomatic and symptomatic infections are captured in serological studies. The commonly cited “5%–20%” figure came from a serological study [5], and so represents both symptomatic and asymptomatic disease among a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons. If 50% of influenza were symptomatic, this would correspond to “2.5%–10%” with symptomatic disease, which is very similar to the range that we report.
If you re-examine the CDC data on flu seasons from 2010-11 to 2018-19 in light of this information, and including asymptomatic and symptomatic cases using the 50% assumption, the CFR for the worst flu season drops from 0.169 to 0.085, for the average season from 0.135 to 0.068, and for the mildest from 0.096 to 0.048.

[For purposes of analysis I am setting aside that the CDC methodology for determining the number of flu cases and deaths is primarily based upon modeling assumptions, not test data, whereas a substantial portion of the COVID-19 death data is based upon actual test results and direct clinical observation of symptoms.  So while there is a range of uncertainty regarding the actual COVID-19 death count, the range is much more uncertain for the flu.]

And where does that leave us with COVID-19?  It remains unknowable what the final death count will be; we don't even know if there will be further waves after this one subsides, as there was with the Asian Flu, which begin in the summer of 1957 and finished with a last wave in the spring of 1958. But what looks likely is COVID-19 is going to be substantially more deadly.

Why?

We are still in the peak period (I hope it gets no worse) for deaths, averaging 2,000 a day since April 7.  In the fewer than 48 hours since I began writing this post and used the U.S. data in the 4th paragraph, total cases have increased by by 57,028 to 876,174 and deaths by 4,311 to 49,651.  We've had 49,471 deaths in the past month.  Flu season lasts six months and the highest total is 61,000.

Based on what we are seeing in European countries once the peak has passed there remains a long, slow decline in deaths.  It is likely the United States will see 75,000 to 80,000 deaths in this wave.

If you go back to the top range 85X estimate from the Santa Clara study and estimate 75,000 deaths you would have a 0.087 CFR for COVID, about that of the most deadly flu season in the past decade.  However, the 85X estimate and the CFR are unlikely to stand up.  Even since I began writing this post, additional criticisms of its methodology and statistical analysis have been mounting.  Moreover, the 85X estimate is contradicted by the real life experiment running in New York City.

From March 11 through April 22 the NYC Department of Health reports 10,290 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 5,121 probable deaths.  The population of New York City is about 8.4 million.  Even if there were no additional deaths in the city, the CFR, using the entire population infected and non-infected, and based on confirmed cases is 0.133 or 1.5x the worst flu season or, if probable cases are included it rises to 0.188 or more than 2x the worst flu season.

Moreover, NYC now has 144,555 confirmed cases.  If the infected rate was actually 85x higher that would mean more than 12 million cases or 3+ million more than the population of the city.  Even at 50% there would be nearly 7.3 million cases meaning a nearly 90% infection rate, which no one thinks likely.

If the 21% estimate unveiled today proves to be accurate, it translates to about 1.79 million COVID infections in the city and a current CFR, depending upon whether you include probable cases, of 0.58 to 0.86 or 7x to 10x the worst flu season.

The NYC data also helps refute another myth that has arisen, that somehow overall total deaths are not higher even with COVID.  The linked page above shows 15,411 confirmed or probable COVID deaths along with 10,326 other deaths during the same time period or 25,737 in total.

The latest annual mortality data in NYC shows about 57,000 deaths a year.  For purposes of this analysis let's round that up to 60,000.  The time period for the city's data covers 43 days or 11.8% of the year.  Let's round that up to 12%.  If deaths were normally evenly distributed during the year our expectation would be about 7,200 deaths.  But maybe they are not so evenly distributed, so let's add 20% to the total to make it 8,640.  Even with that adjustment the actual number of deaths in NYC are 3 times normal. 

And all this doesn't even get into evaluating how much the steps taken by people and government to avoid getting infected have reduced cases and deaths compared to the flu, or that for the flu we have an annual vaccine that, to some extent depending on the year, also reduces the number of flu cases.

We don't know how much more deadly than the flu COVID-19 will ultimately be, but we are not in usual times, and COVID-19 is not the flu.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Election Tampering

I'm not talking about Donald Trump in 2016, I'm referring to Trump's opponents in 2016 and 2018
(you can find all of my posts on Russia collusion here)
The most startling, and most under reported (in the media of both Left and Right) revelation in the Mueller report, was James Comey's account of his private dinner with Donald Trump the evening of January 27, 2017, of which I wrote about on April 19 of last year.  According to the report, which is based upon Comey's contemporaneous memo:
The President brought up the Steele report that Comey had raised in the January 6, 2017 briefing and stated that he was thinking about ordering the FBI to investigate the allegations to prove they were false. Comey responded that the President should think carefully about issuing such an order because it could create a narrative that the FBI was investigating him personally, which was incorrect.
Why would the Director of the FBI go out of his way to persuade the President not to investigate the Steele report, which had dominated news coverage during the prior two weeks?  I speculated at the time:
Most importantly, it demonstrates it was very likely Comey knew the Steele Dossier allegations (and about its origins) were false way back in January 2017. 
And now with the December 2019 release of the Inspector General's report on DOJ & FBI actions in obtaining the FISA warrants allowing the agency to spy on Carter Page, the Trump campaign and later, the Trump Administration, as well as the release in the past two weeks of previously redacted footnotes from that report, my speculation of last April is proven correct, though it turns out the truth is even more damning for James Comey, his accomplices at the FBI, DOJ, and CIA, and the witless stenographers of the Washington Post and New York Times.

[For those who have not read my prior posts, I will restate that in 2016 and into early 2017 I thought there might be something to the collusion allegations because of Donald Trump's reckless and repulsive statements about Russia during the campaign and many of his dubious associates.  I made a decision at the time not to rely further upon media reports because of their unreliability and politically motivated coverage (the New York Times and Washington Post on the left being as bad as Breitbart and Gateway Pundit on the right), instead focusing on original documents which meant reading thousands of pages of court filings, transcripts, Congressional testimony, texts, and reports, including most recently the 400+ pages of the Mueller report, the 480 pages of the December 2019 IG report, and the 171 page transcript of George Papadopolous's recorded conversation with a FBI Confidential Human Source.  Applying the lessons learned from conducting numerous internal investigations during my corporate career I followed the evidence where ever it took me and during that process kept asking myself the obvious questions arising in the course of any investigation.  What I discovered was much worse than I ever expected.]

What we suspected, but could not prove, at the time of the Mueller report (precisely because the report, written by Democratic partisan hack Andrew Weissman, was intended to obscure the truth) is even as Comey was persuading the President not to order him to investigate the Steele Dossier, he knew several things the President did not know:
1.  The allegations contained in the Steele Dossier had been the key element in persuading the FISA Court to allow the wiretapping and seizure of communications of Carter Page, the application for which had been reviewed and signed by Comey, and approved by the Court on October 21, 2016.  The President was unaware of the FISA warrant and the role of the Steele Dossier.

2.  Since then, the FBI had been desperately attempting to confirm the allegations in the Dossier and been unable to do so.  According to the IG report, not only had the FBI been unable to confirm the allegations, it had unearthed information damaging to the credibility of the dossier allegations and of Christopher Steele, information that the agency withheld from the FISA Court when it submitted the three renewal applications for the warrant.

3.  On January 12, 2017, Comey reviewed and signed a renewal of the FISA warrant regarding Page which contained, according to the IG Report, false statements and material omissions.

4.  Although Comey told the President it would not be a good idea to order the investigation since it would create a narrative the FBI was investigating him, Comey knew the FBI was investigating the President, and he was personally participating in said investigation.
The IG Report confirmed this to be true as well as the FBI's knowledge the Clinton campaign had compiled a dossier with information damaging to Donald Trump obtained from sources including individuals linked to Russian intelligence. (1)

The President did know that on January 6, Comey had briefed him on specific allegations from the dossier regarding his alleged romp in Moscow with prostitutes, including asking them to pee on the hotel room bed.  He also knew that within 72 hours of that briefing, major news outlets were reporting for the first time the allegations and existence of the dossier, using as the news hook that the President-elect had just been briefed on it.

What President Trump did not know was that on January 5, Comey met at the White House with President Obama, VP Biden, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, John Brennan (CIA) and Clapper (DNI) to discuss the release the next day of the intelligence community assessment regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election and to consider how to handle the scheduled briefing of the President-elect on that topic.  It was decided that Brennan, Clapper, and Comey would brief Trump on the intelligence community assessment but then Brennan and Clapper would leave the room, leaving Comey to inform Trump of the allegations regarding the prostitutes.  It was agreed that Comey would closely watch the President-elect for his reactions, which Comey would immediately thereafter record in order to aid the investigation.

Trump was incredulous about the allegations and denied them.  What he knew then, and the rest of us realized only later, is that the allegations in the dossier were Fake News.

According to the IG Report, at that January 6 meeting Comey told the President-elect "that the FBI did not know whether the allegations were true or false and that the FBI was not investigating them".  This was a dual lie by the FBI Director who knew the FBI was investigating the allegations and he had signed a FISA warrant application which expressed confidence in the truth of the allegations.  Lisa Page, an FBI attorney, later told the Inspector General that Comey asked that a memo he wrote after his briefing to Trump should be included in the Russia investigation case file because it was “central to investigative activity.


If one is looking for the key event demonstrating the existence of a conspiracy to destroy the incoming President it can be found in Comey's own account of his private dinner with the President.  There is simply no legitimate reason for an FBI Director, acting in good faith, to have tried to persuade the president not to investigate the dossier.  As I suspected last year, Comey did not want to have the President issue the order because it would expose the plot to remove Donald Trump as well as the rotting platform on which the conspirators built their case. (2)

According to the IG Report, the FBI continued to try, and fail, to confirm the Steele dossier allegations into March and the bureau had given up on its efforts by the time Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel in May.  It's why Peter Strozek, the main day to day FBI figure in the probe, when offered a job by Mueller, hesitated because, as he texted his lover Lisa Page, he knew "there's no big there there". (2A)

By May 2017 the Page surveillance had turned up nothing, the allegations in the Steele Dossier could not be verified nor its claimed sources confirmed as genuine, and all other leads on Russia collusion (Papadopoulos, Manafort etc) had come up empty.  There never was any "there there" for the Mueller investigation.  Nonetheless the path had been cleared.  Michael Flynn, the only senior Trump advisor who understood the machinations of the intelligence community had been removed, and the bureaucratically unsophisticated and prototypical "honorable Republican" Jeff Sessions had been manipulated into recusing himself leaving the naive and blundering President at the mercy of his enemies at Justice and the FBI.  The time was ripe for the executioner to arrive.  Enter Robert Mueller.  The purpose of the Mueller investigation was purely political:
Try to entrap the President into an obstruction of justice case. (2B)

Cripple the ability of the administration to govern.

Provide occasional irrelevent indictments that would generate news hooks for the Trump-hating media.(3)

Provide copious leaks to the friendly news media to create the illusion that the investigation was so very, very close to cracking the case against these horrible people, all to provide a continuing stream of stories helpful to the Democrats leading up to the 2018 mid-terms.
And keep it going as long as possible.  If Bob Barr had not become Attorney General and called a halt to the farce the "investigation" would still be continuing and the New York Times breathlessly reporting the leaks from the Mueller gang.

In sum, we had a conspiracy (3A) involving the national security establishment (which objected to Trump on both policy and style), embedded Democrats in the government, the Democratic political establishment, and the national press (4) to keep alive a phony story in order to gain electoral success.  And it worked. (5)

This is the biggest domestic political scandal of my lifetime (5A).  The seizure of the House by the Democrats in 2018 was illegitimate.  Nancy Pelosi should not be recognized or normalized as Speaker.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Revelations during the past six weeks include:
the release of footnotes from the IG Report which had been redacted in its initial release in December 2019;

the transcript of George Papadopolous' discussion with an FBI Confidential Human Source (CHS) in the fall of 2016;

a July 2018 letter from the FBI to the FISA Court containing damaging admissions of errors while, at the same time, continuing to mislead the Court;

information from Court filings that on January 30, 2017 the FBI concluded that Michael Flynn had not engaged in collusion with Russia;

the revelation that within days of the Mueller team learning of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting it had confirmation that the recounting of that meeting by Trump officials, including Jared Kushner, was complete and accurate, yet it continued to feed stories to the New York Times and other outlets indicating the contrary;

the collapse of the Mueller team's prosecution of Russian companies alleged to have interfered in the 2016 election.  
Let's discuss these in more detail:

First, a quick look back at the IG Report which told a tale of FBI ineptness, deception, and incompetence from the start of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation through the initial and three renewals of the Carter Page FISA Warrant, documenting a pattern of deliberation omissions of relevant exculpatory material and failure to report its complete inability to verify the Steele Dossier, without which the initial warrant application would not have been approved.  Steele's main source claimed all he was doing was passing on rumours and he himself did not claim to know whether they were true, a fact of which he said he apprised Steele. (6)

The release earlier this month of several previously redacted footnotes from the IG Report revealed something many of us had only surmised previously, that the FBI was well aware that the Steele Dossier possibly contained disinformation from Russian intelligence but studiously ignored such evidence and failed to inform the FISA Court of during its renewal applications for the warrant. (7)  This letter of April 20, 2020 from Senator Lindsay Graham to AG Barr provides additional details.


The FBI claims George Papadopoulos was the key figure behind its initiation of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation in late July 2016 (for more on the background see Footnote 2).  In September 2016, the FBI used a Confidential Human Source (CHS), Stefan Halper, a long time asset of the intelligence community, to engage Papa and try to get him to make admissions damaging to the Trump campaign. Papa strongly denied any knowledge of the Wikileaks release of emails or of any Trump campaign involvement.  The FBI agent preparing the Carter Page warrant application believed this to be a canned response and did not mention it in the application, which the IG found clearly violated agency guidelines.

Just after the initial Carter Page warrant was approved, the FBI sent a second CHS, wired for sound, to meet with Papa.  The identity of the CHS is still unknown, but the 171 page transcript of their meeting was released earlier this month. It is evident that the CHS was a long-time acquaintance of Papa with whom he had grown up, though they had not seen each other for some time.  They spent the day together having lunch, going to a casino, and then dinner, talking about many things, a good deal of it having to do with women and their sex lives.  Papa was very relaxed, at ease, and gives no indication of suspicion regarding the CHS.  There is only limited talk about politics but reading the transcript you can see the CHS cautiously trying to draw Papa out.  In the one direct conversation on the topic, Papa says he doesn't have any idea who hacked the DNC and that no one from the Trump campaign had hacked Hillary's emails because:
"No one would fucking put their life at risk of going to jail for the next 50 years to hack some bullshit that may mean nothing."
Papa summed up all the speculation with, "It's all, it's like conspiracy theory".  He didn't know how right he was!  He also mentioned that he thought Stefan Halper would probably report his earlier conversation to the CIA (he was wrong, Halper reported it to the FBI) indicating he did not suspect his old friend was working for the same agency.

This second conversation and denial, which confirmed and circumstantially was much stronger than the first denial, was not mentioned in the subsequent renewal applications for the Page warrants even though it was, as the IG determined, material.

The newly released 2018 letter from the FBI and DOJ to the FISA Court made some limited admissions of errors in the Page warrant applications but continued to maintain it believed the Primary Subsource for the Steele Dossier was "truthful and cooperative" even though its own investigation had found otherwise and IG investigation found no one in the agencies who would support that claim.

I failed to understand in early 2017 that the alleged misdeeds of newly appointed National Security Advisor Michael Flynn were really a cover story by the outgoing Obama Administration and senior intelligence community officials to take out Flynn, who supported Trump, understood the bureaucracy, knew the players, had publicly announced his intent to reform the intelligence community, and was therefore a threat.  (7+) Flynn was also an adverse witness in a pending sexual discrimination case against Andrew McCabe, the FBI official supervising the Flynn investigation.  Although he initially entered a false statement plea after his son was threatened with prosecution, Flynn has now filed a request with the Federal Court to withdraw the plea as contemporaneous notes show the FBI agents who interviewed him did not think he was lying.  In the midst of these filings it was also revealed that by the end of January 2017 the FBI concluded Flynn had nothing to do with any alleged Russian collusion, despite continuing claims in the media to the contrary.  [Update: The U.S. Attorney asked by AG Barr to independently review the matter has just submitted under seal to the District Court exculpatory evidence that was improperly withheld by the Justice Department and FBI.]

[Further update:  We've just learned, based on documents previously withheld by the FBI and DOJ  that the FBI's Washington Field Office concluded on January 4, 2017 that there was no basis for suspecting Flynn of collusion with the Russians and was going to close its investigation.  Later that day, Peter Strozek ordered the office to keep the investigation open.  I believe this is so that the following day, when President Obama was briefed, the FBI could claim the Flynn investigation was ongoing and justify not informing the incoming National Security Advisor of the full extent of the Russian interference investigation.]

[Further, further update:  The implications of Strozek's actions of January 4 are enormous.  His justification for keeping the investigation open was a possible Logan Act violation, a statute dating back to the days of the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1799, which had never resulted in a conviction in the ensuing 217 years, is routinely violated in practice, and, in the opinion of many, is unconstitutional!  But keeping the investigation alive allowed the continuation of the plot to get Flynn out of his NSA role.  If the investigation had been dropped, the FBI would be legally required to brief him after January 20 on all counter-intelligence operations, including the one involving the Trump campaign and with it, the Carter Page FISA warrant.  This had to be avoided at all costs. The intelligence community had multiple reasons to get Flynn.] (7A)

The Trump Tower meeting took place on June 9, 2016 when Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr, and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton (as I've written elsewhere, the more sophisticated Clinton campaign contacted the Russians using cutouts for deniability).  When it became clear the lawyer represented a Putin-associated oligarch and was there to talk about repealing American sanctions on her client, the meeting quickly ended.  No information regarding Hillary Clinton was discussed.  It turns out the same Russian oligarch had hired Fusion GPS (the same firm that hired Christopher Steele on behalf of the Clinton campaign) to lobby for repeal of the sanctions and the Russian lawyer met with Glenn Simpson, head of Fusion GPS, both before and after the Trump Tower meeting.

In July 2017 the New York Times broke the story about the Trump Tower meeting, presenting it in a lurid light as more proof of Russian collusion.  It was only in March 2020 that we learned the Mueller team interviewed the interpreter used during the meeting only four days after the Times article appeared.  The interpreter, Anatoli Samchornov, a Russian born American citizen, had worked as a translator for the State Department for a decade and been hired by the Russian lawyer for this specific meeting.  Samchornov told the FBI that Hillary Clinton was never mentioned during the meeting and the FBI notes, released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit state:
“Samochornov was not particularly fond of Donald Trump Jr., but stated Donald Trump Jr’s account of the meeting with Veselnitskaya, as portrayed in recent media reports, was accurate. Samochornov concurred with Donald Trump Jr.’s accounts of the meeting. He added, ‘they’ were telling the truth. Samochornov told the interviewing agents that he would have contacted the FBI if he thought the meeting was nefarious.” 
The Mueller report spends 14 pages on the Trump Tower meeting and though the Samochornov interview is referenced in the footnotes, the text does not mention his statement nor that he supported the accuracy of Donald Trump Jr's statement.  Instead, through the skillful use of adjectives and adverbs, Mueller's team works hard to imply something sinister had happened though there is no evidence it did.  I wonder why they did that?  The Mueller report also contained no mention of the connection of the Russian oligarch and lawyer with Fusion GPS because that would have entailed mentioning the Steele Dossier and Mueller needed to pretend it never existed.

In 2018, to great media fanfare, the Mueller team announced an indictment of several Russian companies and individuals alleging interference with the 2016 elections.  All of the usual media suspects greeting it with delight, with this headline from The Atlantic typical, "Mueller's Indictment Puts Details Behind Claims Of Russian Interference".  However, even at the time, it was evident to more neutral observers this was just another gamesmanship move by Mueller to generate headlines from favorable media and keep alive the illusion of a Russian conspiracy with the Trump campaign (though the indictment did not allege collusion), evident because Mueller was using a unique legal theory of liability (7B) and, more importantly, the defendants were all located in Russia, not subject to U.S. jurisdiction and therefore, the Mueller team calculated, no chance the case would ever come to trial and they be forced to proved their allegations, fulfilling their objection of generating press coverage without ever being put to the test.

Well, that's how they thought it would work, but were surprised when one of the Russian companies, Concord Management and Consulting, hired a U.S. law firm which challenged the indictment and immediately ensnared the Mueller team in an embarrassing situation because it could not provide the defendant with legally required discovery materials and was not prepared to actually prove its allegations.  It proved to be a complete fiasco for the prosecution.  In 2019 the Federal District Court judge presiding over the case admonished the Mueller team for making false statements improperly alleging some of the defendants were Russian government tools.  Increasingly tied up in knots by the defendant, unable and unwilling to go to trial, the remaining Muller prosecutor moved to dismiss the case, a dismissal granted by the court on March 16, 2020 "with prejudice", meaning it cannot be refiled in the future.

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There was never a shred of evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with the Kremlin.  Not to commit espionage.  Not to violate any law.  Zip, zero, nada.

Andrew McCarthy
For background and context, Andrew McCarthy’s Ball of Collusion is the essential reading to understand the background of the Russia Collusion Hoax, which in reality was a joint effort by the Obama Administration, the Clinton campaign, and our NATO allies to prevent the election of Donald Trump by any means necessary.  That was the real collusion in 2016, the real interference with an American election.  And it would have escaped notice but for the unexpected victory of the Orange Man. (8)

Along the way, McCarthy emphasizes the linkage (one I’ve also pointed out in prior posts) between the need to clear Hillary Clinton in the email investigation while ensuring the defeat of Donald Trump, with many of the same individuals at FBI and DOJ involved in both efforts.

And in 2019 we had the same crowd making yet another run at Trump, involving yet again the Ukraine (which played a significant role in the earlier hoax (9)) in which reality is once again reversed - those most involved in shady activities accuse Trump of the very offenses they committed!

Here’s McCarthy’s more erudite summary:
The FBI and the intelligence agencies had no indicia of conspiracy.  They had indicia of contacts - of associations.  That is day and night different.  Everyone had Russia contacts.  The Clinton campaign had not just Russia contacts; it had Bill Clinton meeting with Putin and taking a huge payment while Russia had important business before the State Department run by his wife; it had Hillary Clinton, for all her tough-on-the-Kremlin bravado, running the State Department in a manner that aligned with Russia’s interests; it had Russia money pouring into the Clinton Foundation; its chairman, John Podesta, sat on the board of Joule Energy, a Massachusetts company into which Putin’s venture capital firm, Rusnano, invested $35 million.

The Obama administration, notoriously political in its intelligence assessments and law-enforcement actions, used Trump contacts with Russia as a rationalization for a counterintelligence investigation because it saw Trump as a Neanderthal degenerate.  The Obama administration simultaneously ignored Clinton contacts with Russia, or assumed they simply must have been good-faith contacts, because it saw the Clintons as bien pensant transnational-progressives.  The Obama administration bent over backward not to make a criminal case on Hillary Clinton - the candidate Obama heartily endorsed - despite a mountain of incriminating evidence.  The Obama administration exploited every tool in its arsenal (surveillance, informants, foreign-intelligence agencies, moribund and constitutionally untenable criminal statutes) to try to make a criminal case on Trump - the candidate Obama deeply opposed - despite the absence of incriminating evidence.
McCarthy actually understates the Clinton-Putin connections; to understand why, read my post Why Wasn't The Clinton Campaign Investigated in 2016?

This was all about converting a dispute about policy into an attempt to swing the election and then into a criminal conspiracy to hamper, politically damage, and hopefully remove, the legitimately elected President of the United States.

McCarthy’s indictment of those behind what is nothing short of a disaster for America is particularly interesting, given his perspective,  A former senior Department of Justice attorney responsible for leading the prosecution of the Blind Sheikh and the conspirators behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, in recent years he’s been an author and commentator, most frequently writing for the conservative publication National Review.  He was strongly anti-Trump during the Republican primaries and has remained a frequent critic of the President since his election.  Appalled by Trump’s statements on Russia and Putin during the campaign, McCarthy has little use for Trump campaign figures caught up in the mess like Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and George Papadopoulos.

When the collusion narrative began he was supportive of the investigation, vouching for Robert Mueller's bona fides when he was appointed Special Counsel, as well as those of his Justice Department colleagues, though he was troubled by the lack of adherence to DOJ guidelines for naming such counsel.

However, as time passed and more documentation and information became available, McCarthy moved from conditional acceptance of the investigation and openness to the possibility the allegations might be true, to increasing skepticism and then outrage over what has transpired at the hands of Mueller, DOJ, the intelligence community and the Democratic Party who together, have given Vladimir Putin what he most desires, chaos in the American government and a divided American public (and the same crew now seem eager to become Xi Jinping's lackeys if it enables them to beat Trump in 2020).  You can read this prescient article from June 2017, "The ‘Trump Dossier,’ or How Russia Helped America Break Itself", What The Heck Were The Russians Doing On Social Media, and my post from February 2018, What Was Putin Up To In 2016? for more on the Kremlin's game during the election campaign.

Given McCarthy’s professional path and his personal acquaintance with, and initial respect for, James Comey, Robert Mueller, and Rod Rosenstein, it’s been fascinating to see this transformation playing out in real time via his National Review columns.  He is shocked by what happened and his institutional confidence in the FBI and DOJ shaken to its core.

I have always been critical of Donald Trump's gullibility and his susceptibility to conspiracy theories.  The most charitable interpretation of the actions of Comey, Brennan, and Clapper is that they were as gullible and conspiratorial minded as Trump, and these were the senior leaders of our intelligence community during the Obama administration!  It is as, or more, likely their behavior was not just misguided but actually unethical, if not criminal, and undermined the Constitutional processes of this country.  On top of that, they actually managed to create a real conspiracy in order to torment Donald Trump.

Here's the situation Americans have been reduced to.  In 2016 we had the appalling spectacle of having to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  In 2020 we will repeat that circus with Trump and Joe Biden.  Yet if Donald Trump is not re-elected this scandal will disappear like it never happened.  The Democratic Party, the DC bureaucracy, the media, academia and the high-tech oligarchs will see to it and, to that end, they are sticking with their cover story: (10) (11)
Image result for nothing to see here gif
 
But America needs something better and more just.  We trust AG Barr will deliver:

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NOTES:

1.  Don't be fooled by the New York Times story of April 19 which is simply a Nixonian-type "modified limited hang out" to try to wriggle out of the jam it created for itself with its coverage since 2016.  The new story is meant to excuse the Times reporters and their allies in government as being the innocent victims of Russian disinformation.  They weren't victims, they were determined to use whatever was at hand to get Donald Trump and deliberately ignored any evidence that failed to support this effort.

2. While the Comey-Trump dinner conversation provides the key to the conspiracy by showing the motivation behind it, we still don't know essential facts about the alleged start of the investigation - the late July 2016 report from Australian authorities to the FBI about a May 2016 conversation between George Papadopoulos and Alexander Downer, a senior Australian diplomat regarding a conversation Papa had with Josef Mifsud in April 2016.  Specifically:

Who was Josef Mifsud working for?  We know it was not the FBI or the Russians.  Was it a friendly foreign intelligence service (Mifsud had documented contacts with many of them, with the British foremost, closely linked with Claire Smith, a member of the UK Joint Intelligence Committee under David Cameron)?  He also taught at Link Campus University in Rome, whose lecturers and professors include senior Western diplomats and intelligence officials from a number of NATO countries, especially Italy and the United Kingdom and where the CIA and FBI have participated and sponsored events, at the University of Stirling in Scotland, and the London Academy of Diplomacy, which trained diplomats and government officials, some of them sponsored by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Council, or by their own governments.

Was it an American intelligence service?  Was Mifsud freelancing?  And what, specifically, was said in that conversation?  Mifsud was apparently well known enough and on good terms to be invited to speak at a State Department sponsored conference in Washington DC on February 8, 2017! 


The FBI questioned Mifsud when he visited DC in February 2017 and, according to the Mueller report, Mifsud:
“denied that he had advance knowledge that Russia was in possession of emails damaging to candidate Clinton, stating that he and Papadopoulos had discussed cybersecurity and hacking as a larger issue and that Papadopoulos must have misunderstood their conversation.”
Mifsud was not detained, never reinterviewed, and never charged with anything.  He is living in Italy.  Curious.

As to Downer; why did a senior Australian diplomat, with intelligence service experience and links to the Clinton Foundation, seek out a junior Trump staffer for a conversation?  Was it on his own initiative or at the request of others? Was the conversation, as Papa believes, recorded by Downer?  What was said in that conversation?  Did it match up with what Australian officials later reported to the FBI?

Having been right so far I'll speculate further.  Josef Mifsud was tasked by a friendly foreign intelligence service and/or American intelligence service to feed Papa the information regarding the Russians having damaging information on Clinton with the belief he would feed that to the Trump campaign (which he did not).  Downer was tasked with extracting that information from Papa in the hope that he would reveal he fed it to the Trump campaign, but when that failed he held the alleged discussion for future use.  When Brennan and/or Clapper and/or a friendly intelligence service believed the time was right to spur the FBI into an investigation, Downer revealed his information in July 2016.  And, as we know now, there was nothing of substance to it but it was enough to give the FBI a predicate.

As far as Papadopolous, who comes across as a young, ambitious, and not very bright man, I see him this way:

2A. The texts come from when Strozek and Page were working for the FBI.  They were issued new phones in later in May 2017 but before those phones were turned over to the DOJ Inspector General, the Mueller team made sure to wipe them clean and reset to factory settings, destroying the evidence.  If you were someone the Mueller team wanted to get, that action would constitute a crime and you would be charged.

2B.  Even with the collapse of the collusion allegation, there were some who persisted in believing in the viability of an obstruction of justice case.  That's nonsense, please read my post Obstruction? as well as Jacob Sullum on how Trump's public hotheadedness saved him.  Moreover there is a more important issue proponents of obstruction charges ignore.  Unlike Hillary's criminal act involving a strict liability statute for which intent is not a required element (though Director Comey invented such a requirement to justify his decision not to charge Hillary), obstruction of justice is an intent crime.  The prosecution has the burden of proof and the defense will have wide latitude in presenting evidence.  In the case of the Mueller prosecution, Donald Trump waived potential executive privilege claims to an unprecedented extent, allowing production of 1.4 million documents and interviews of many White House staff, including the president's own counsel, two chiefs of staff and his press secretary (all of whom are frequently referenced as sources in the Mueller Report).  Trump would have been able to show his outbursts, none of which resulted in actions to thwart the investigation, were the understandable reaction of a man falsely accused.  He would be able to demonstrate the allegations against him and his campaign were false.  A trial would also allow the President to put James Comey, Andrew McCabe and members of the Mueller team on the stand and use the parade of lies they told the President, the courts, and the public to destroy their credibility.

3. By irrelevant, but achieving the desired media coverage, I am referring to the multiple prosecutions which had nothing to do with any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  George Papadopolous prosecution for false statements to the FBI about the date of his meeting with Josef Mifsud (note that neither Papdopolous or Mifsud was charged with making false statements about the content of their discussions).  Paul Manafort, indicted and convicted of various financial misdeeds before he became associated with the Trump campaign.  Michael Flynn, who I believe will be allowed to change his plea in light of demonstrated FBI tampering regarding his alleged statements which, once again, had nothing to do with collusion, and most embarrassing of all for the Mueller squad, the collapse and dismissal of the Russian troll factory case.

3A.  When referring to the "conspiracy" I do not mean all the participants got together and planned out precisely their roles.

4.  Bureaucrats want to preserve their nests, politicians do politics, but the role of the national media, in particular the New York Times and the Washington Post is shameful, removing the last shred of remaining credibility as self-appointed watchdogs on behalf of honest government.  To its credit, the Post has allowed an opinion series on how the rest of the media (not the Post of course!) went wrong in covering the Steele Dossier.  To its eternal discredit, The Times has resolutely ignored the debacle it played such a key role in creating.  The Times should be stripped of the Pulitzer won for its stories on the Russia hoax and the failure of its "reporters" to ask the most basic questions of their sources is why I refer to them as stenographers taking dictation and not journalists.   For instance, if Putin was so intent on Trump winning in 2016 why were Russian intelligence sources providing information damaging to Donald Trump to Christopher Steele who had been hired by the Clinton campaign?  It was no big secret, the Steele Dossier itself claimed it was using such sources.  This lengthy article by a former New York Times editor goes into more detail on the disgraceful role of the paper in perpetuating the hoax.

And now, both papers are continuing to work with the national security apparatchiks and Democratic leaders in preparing fall back positions as their neatly woven fantasy falls apart.  You can see it developing - blame mid-level folks at the FBI for everything and say it's a large systems problem (which is true), not political bias at play (which is false).

The number of false reports issued by the anti-Trump media regarding Russia has been staggering.  Perhaps the peak was a week in early December 2017 with three breathless reports, all of which proved false:
ABC reported Michael Flynn was going to testify that, while a candidate, Trump ordered him to contact the Russians.

Bloomberg and Reuters reported Robert Mueller subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for two decades of Trump financial records.

CNN reported Donald Trump Jr was granted the ability to access Wikileaks files nine days before they were publicly released.
5.  The Democrats took the House in the 2018 mid-terms.  The continuing success of the Fake News campaign can be seen in the results of a April 2020 Harvard-Harris Poll which found 53% of respondents still believe the Steele dossier, "was real in its findings of Trump colluding with the Russians".

5A.  A significant difference between the former heavyweight political scandal titleholder, Watergate, and the new champ is the role of the New York Times and Washington Post.  During Watergate both papers were in the forefront of those trying to bring the scandal to light, while in the case of Russia Collusion they've both collaborated with those at the heart of the scandal to suppress public understanding of basic facts and to propagate a false narrative.

6.  If you relied upon the Times, Post, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New Yorker, Atlantic or the networks to understand the findings of the IG Report you may be puzzled by my characterization.  The party line adopted by the press, no doubt vetted in advance with its agency collaborators, was the IG Report, while identifying a few errors in the process, validated the Russia investigation because it found there was a proper predicate for launching Crossfire Hurricane and no political bias was involved.  The goal was to allow readers and viewers to quickly adopt the correct view of the report and to discourage them from actually reading it.

Having read the terms of reference in the report, a finding of political bias would only have been made if direct testimonial or documentary evidence was discovered (as in a document that said "I hate Trump, I know this is illegal, but will do anything to defeat him").  In his Congressional testimony IG Horowitz consistently stated his report did not rule out bias, and the only explanations for the FBI/DOJ behavior were incompetence, gross negligence, and/or intentionality (bias) and he was not in a position to decide among the contenders.

The text of the report is even more damning.  At several points the explanations by FBI personnel for errors in the FISA process are described as not credible.  It also provides a long and detailed list of all the errors and omissions in the FISA process, including those related to the inability of the agency to validate the Steele Dossier and its failure to inform the FISA Court of same.  And, as the IG Report documents, all of the errors and omissions were in the direction of supporting the case for issuing the Carter Page warrant and its renewals.  It is a prima facie case of political bias.

As for properly predicated, it appears it was, which as you delve into the details illustrates how frighteningly little evidence is needed for the FBI to launch an investigation against an American citizen.

The IG Report also proved Rep Devin Nunes (R) was telling the truth about the Steele Dossier being the basis for the warrants and everything Rep Adam Schiff (D) said on the subject was a lie.

And it turns out Carter Page is the most innocent man in America!  In the fall of 2016, after public allegations appeared about his alleged sinister role in masterminding the Trump campaign collusion with Russia, he wrote Director Comey offering to be interviewed by the FBI.  Comey, of course, ignored the offer, not wanting to have to deal with an information that might derail his investigation.  Later, in 2017, Page's offer was accepted by the FBI and the Mueller team and he submitted to several rounds of questioning, without having a lawyer present (I thought he was crazy at the time).  He came through it all, the wiretapping, the seizure of his communications, questioning, unscathed with no charges filed.

7.  Some details from the unredacted footnotes, all of which go to the credibility of the Steele Dossier, its use of Russian intelligence sources and the potential for disinformation, and the failure of the FBI and DOJ to inform the FISA Court during the renewals of the Carter Page warrant:

Footnote 302 - The FISA Court application did not reveal that Steele's primary subsource was the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence operation, had historical contact with Russian intelligence, and was rumoured to be a Russian intelligence officer!  And the IG Report also stated the application did not reveal Carter Page was an active FBI source regarding communications with the Russians!!

Footnote 339 - The sub-source who provided information (that proved false) on Carter Page's meeting with a Russian official had connections with Russian intelligence.

Footnote 342 - "Two persons affiliated with [Russian intelligence] were aware of Steele's election investigation in early July 2016".  The FBI received evidence in early 2017 that Russian operatives may have fed disinformation into the dossier.

Footnote 347 - In June 2017 the FBI learned of "personal and business ties" between Steele's "primary sub-source" and another "sub-subsource", and that person had contacts with "an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016; [redacted] and the sub-subsource voiced strong support for Candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections".

Footnote 350 - The FBI received reports in 2017, "indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele's election reporting" and "Assessed that the referenced subsource was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations".

This is all in the context of a few other things we already knew from the IG Report.  The FBI had concerns about Steele's relationships with Russian oligarchs friendly with Putin as far back for 2015.  For instance, Steele worked for Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch close to Putin, who had hired FusionGPS, the same firm that hired Steele for the Clinton campaign, to lobby for repeal of U.S. sanctions.  Moreover, Assistant Attorney General Bruce Ohr warned the FBI that Steele, "was desperate" Trump "not get elected".

I will ask the same question I've asked before - how did a Dossier containing allegations claimed to have been sourced from Russian intelligence, damaging to Donald Trump, and given to an operative working for the Clinton campaign, somehow become converted into evidence of collusion between Trump and the Kremlin and the basis for a government investigation of the Trump campaign?

7+.  I'm adding this footnote after posting with a link to this article, "Michael Flynn's Vindication Doesn't Fix His Bad Judgment", which captures the reasons why I thought Flynn was a bad appointment.  I still have the same reservations but now wonder if Trump would have been better off without Flynn resigning.  Also, while we still have never seen the transcript of Flynn's call with Ambassador Kisylak, this is the summary of it from the Mueller report which put things like this in the most damaging way it could:
"With respect to sanctions, Flynn requested that Russia not escalate the situation, not get into a 'tit for tat', and only respond to the sanctions in a reciprocal manner."
7A.  The Flynn gambit is instructive.  General Flynn left the Obama administration after disagreements on policy and the organization of the intelligence community.  President Obama cautioned President-elect Trump against appointing Flynn to a position.  Once Flynn's appointment was announced the priority became maneuvering him out of his position.  In early January 2017, Senator Schumer warned the President, "Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you."  Next, someone in the intelligence community leaked the transcript of Flynn's late December call with Russian Ambassador Kisylak to David Ignatius of the Washington Post, a leak that, because it was classified material, is a felony, though one the Democratic run Justice Department had no interest in investigating until the arrival of AG Barr.  As Comey later admitted, he took advantage of the disorganization of the White House in those early days to bypass standard protocol and conduct the entrapment interview with Flynn.  Once it was brought to the attention of the President, Flynn resigned and it was mission accomplished for the intelligence community.  As far as the FBI was concerned Flynn had not lied during his interview as Comey later testified.  But once Mueller was on the scene the next step, prosecution was necessary in order to create the illusion for the press and public that there was something to Russia collusion and, who knows, they might get Flynn to flip and testify to something they could use against Trump.

7B.  Oddly, the indictment did not charge any of the defendants with spending money to influence US elections or, as agents of foreign countries, engaging in political activities without registering, even though both those actions are against US law (though it didn't stop the news media for reporting that is what the defedants were indicted for).  Instead, the defendants were charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, a charge never before filed in such circumstances, and usually utilized when, for instance, someone defrauds Medicare.  The likely reason the Mueller team did not file the obvious charges against the defendants in this case was because Christopher Steele, FusionGPS, and the Clinton campaign could have been indicted on the same basis.

8.  Trump's unexpected win provided another unexpected bonus - the birth of the #MeToo movement.  It would never have occurred if Hillary Clinton won, since the crucial moment in the birth of the movement was the expose of Harvey Weinstein, published in the New Yorker by Ronan Farrow.  Weinstein was a very prominent supporter and funder of Clinton and, as Farrow later recounted, representatives of the Clinton campaign contacted him asking he not proceed with the story.  With Hillary as President, who for 25 years took a flamethrower to the reputation of any woman posing a political risk to the plans of the Clintons, and Bill as First Hubby it is unthinkable a partisan political rag like The New Yorker would have touched the story (oh how Tina Brown and David Remnick have destroyed what was once one of America's finest publications!).  What Brown and Remnick accomplished brings to mind David Burge's classic tweet:



9.  One of the finest parts of McCarthy's book is the in depth discussion of the swamp of Ukrainian politics which compromised a collection of Democratic and Republican political consultants who saw lots of money and opportunity in that country's politics.  It was a much more complex situation than presented in most of the press.

10.  Thirty five years ago the company I worked for was investigated by Robert Mueller, then Acting U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts.  Initially, a number of individuals, including me, were being looked at because of an alleged conspiracy to conceal information from the government.  That portion of the investigation was dropped (because it was ridiculous) but the company was eventually indicted for making a false statement in a document filed before I started working for it.  The indictment did not allege any individual knowingly lied, instead proceeding on the theory that the company collectively had enough knowledge through its employees and documents to have had the correct information and was thus guilty of a crime (even though the company had subsequently identified the mistakes, notified the government, and fully cooperated in investigating the underlying matter).  Throughout his career, Robert Mueller stretched the law and the investigative process as far as he could in pursuit of those he considered the bad guys.  And throughout his career, Robert Mueller resisted any efforts to hold his beloved FBI and DOJ to the same standards he demanded of others.

If the culpable agencies and those at the FBI and elsewhere in the government are not held accountable and responsible, it will reinforce the growing lack of respect and the mounting distrust of the federal government by tens of millions of Americans.

11.  Adding this last footnote because of a New York Times article that went up a few hours after my post which provides a perfect example of misdirection and misinformation by the Democrat allied media.  It purports to tell us that a Republican-led Senate panel, "undercuts claims by President Trump and his allies that Obama-era officials sought to undermine his candidacy by investigating Russia’s 2016 election meddling."  As Andrew McCarthy points out, the heavily-redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report (will the Times be calling for an unredacted version? I bet not) merely restates the obvious, Russia tried messing with the 2016 election, a conclusion I reached many, many posts ago, and which, as the January 2017 intelligence report documented had been a continuing pattern since the days of the Soviet Union (not to mention the Kremlin openly supporting the candidacy of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012).  The Committee said absolutely nothing about collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, the allegation that the Times and others stirred the country about for three years.  The real questions not answered by the report were, as McCarthy writes:
". . . whether the Obama administration and its officials held over by the new administration fabricated a tale about the Trump campaign’s complicity in Russia’s hacking. Did they peddle that tale to the FISA court while willfully concealing key exculpatory evidence? Did they continue the investigation under the guise of counterintelligence after Trump was elected, in the hope of finding a crime over which he could be impeached? Did they consciously mislead an American president about whether he was under investigation? Did they purposefully suggest in public testimony that the president was a criminal suspect, while privately assuring him that he was not one? And finally, when the Trump-Russia collusion nonsense was collapsing in a heap, did they open a criminal obstruction case — based on an untenable legal theory and facilitated by a leak of investigative information that was orchestrated by the just-fired FBI director — in order to justify continuing the probe under the auspices of a special counsel?"
While Senator Burr sat inert for three years as chairman of the committee, letting his minority ranking member, Senator Mark Warner, effectively run the show, it was his counterpart in the House, Rep Devin Nunes, who took on the difficult job of unraveling the shroud of silence surrounding the plot to impact the 2016 election and then disrupt the Trump presidency.   Burr didn't even get upset when he learned Sen Warner was texting with the lobbyist for Oleg Deripaska (the Putin-connected oligarch who retained FusionGPS on getting sanctions removed and whose lawyer met with Kushner and Trump Jr at the Trump Tower) in order to get private access to Christopher Steele.  In the exchange, Warner texted the lobbyist he would "rather not have a paper trail". The incident, which took place in the spring of 2017 was only revealed when the lobbyist was subpoenaed several months later by another Congressional committee and forced to turn over the text messages.

The Times report does not mention that when the House Intelligence Committee questioned the National Intelligence Officers (NIOs) who worked on the assessment report released in January 2017 whether they had any evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, the NIO for Russia and Eurasia responded, "it did not come up . . . We didn't have any evidence for that."

What is intriguing about the new Senate report is it provides additional evidence of criminal activity by the FBI in obtaining the Carter Page FISA warrant.  The report notes that James Comey pushed for inclusion of the Steele Dossier in the January 2017 assessment and it was referenced in an annex but, at the same time, "the FBI did not want to stand behind" the allegations in the Dossier (a claim repeated by senior FBI official Bill Priestap in testimony to Congress on April 13, 2017, even as the FBI was submitting yet another FISA renewal citing the dossier), yet in its initial warrant application and the three renewals supported its credibility.  What was included in the assessment was a two page summary of the dossier that was presented to President Obama and President-elect Trump.  We would very much like to see that declassified.

For my take at the time on the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment read this.

Another example of how the paper of record deliberately misleads the casual reader.  The number of times the media has mixed up the "did the Russians attempt to interfere with the election?" with "did the Trump campaign collude with the Russian?" is too many to be accidental.  The same thing happened with the "Russians have damaging info on Hillary" from the Mifsud-Papadopolous conversation in the spring of 2016 which anyone at the time would take as a reference to Hillary's missing emails, assumed to be in the hands of the Russians and/or Chinese, but three months later was transformed in Downer's report to the FBI into a reference to the Wikileaks hack of the DNC emails which only became public a few days before.  Both the media and FBI deliberately confused two different matters in order to support their preferred narrative.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Somebody To Love

Grace Slick, isolated vocal from the Jefferson Airplane's big hit during 1967's Summer of Love.  Grace had remarkable vocal power.  On a completely different plane is Jim Carrey's weird rendition of the same song in the creepy film The Cable Guy.  Harmonies from Marty Balin and Paul Kantner.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Yer Blues

A Lennon-McCartney tune from the White Album but this is a unique version from the Rolling Stone's Rock n Roll Circus in 1968.  John Lennon on guitar and vocals, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Keith Richards on bass, and Mitch Mitchell (of the Jimi Hendrix Experience) on drums.   Heck of a pick up band.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

I Don't Know And You Don't Either

In the midst of this pandemic there are many things we don't know, a great number of which are simply unanswerable as the coronavirus marches through the world.  Yet many people, both experts and others, act like there is much more certainty about the coronavirus and COVID-19 than actually exists, and therefore the correct courses of action blindingly obvious.  We see too many people, who should know better, trying to use geometric logic to prove who stole the strawberries when we don't know if there were twenty or a million strawberries and or even if blueberries were somehow involved.

As individuals and through various layers of government we need to make decisions nonetheless.  I would be happier if we just acknowledged what we don't know and made our best judgments.  Those judgments inevitably will contain an element of the values we bring to our decisions (1).  So be it.  We may be right, we may be wrong but we must make decisions and live with the consequences.

As is often the case, Winston Churchill provides us with good advice:
It is not given to human beings, happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions.(2)
Among the unknowables while the pandemic, or at least this phase, is ongoing:

Will the Swedish approach work?  For those opposing lockdowns, Sweden has become a beacon of hope.  Yet the data at this point is ambiguous as to whether the strategy is succeeding.  We don't know now and won't know until this is over.

How effective are social distancing and lockdown strategies?  While I think they are to some degree  because there is a plausible underlying mechanism to explain effectiveness, there is some contradictory data out there (3).  It is possible there are some inherent population density or cultural factors at work or something about the specific structure and actions of this virus that might make distancing less effective. 

Will any or some of the therapeutic treatments being discussed prove effective?  With both clinical trials and on the front lines where ER and ICU doctors are using anything available to try to save patients the evidence so far is unclear whether any of the many therapeutics proposed for treatment are truly effective.  Unfortunately, the Hydroxychlorquine War has diverted public attention from the other promising therapies, though I guess it makes Trump haters, Trump lovers and Trump himself happy since it makes the discussion about Trump, which is all any of them care about.

Will there be second, third or fourth wave?  Will this stick around for years like other coronaviruses?  We simply do not know, yet the success or failure of decisions we must make now depend on the answers to those questions.

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(1)  On this point, I disagree with Governor Cuomo when he announced yesterday the regional re-opening plan and stated as a general principle:
Any plan to reopen society MUST be driven by data and experts, not opinion and politics.
We won't have the data we would like.  Available data and expert advice is helpful but the final decisions will, and should, depend on the judgment and values of politicians who, among other things, will gauge public opinion.  The truth is Governor Cuomo actually knows this but it sounds better to pretend otherwise.

(2)  From Churchill's eulogy for Neville Chamberlain, November 1940.  A rhetorical masterpiece and demonstration of Churchill's characteristic magnaminity towards a man who had treated him, both politically and personally, very shabbily.

(3)  Though some of the specific lockdown requirements make no sense to me and we need to find a way to start lifting them as soon as possible.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Night Music Of The Streets Of Madrid

Perfect for a Sunday morning.

From the closing scene of a wonderful movie and perhaps the most accurate historical film ever made, Master and Commander.  Written by Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) and titled, Musica Notturna Della Strade di Madrid.

The players are Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his friend and ship's surgeon, Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany).  Based on the finest historical novels I've read, the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Regarding Mr C

Since we are in the middle of the crisis, facts and events may radically change by the time we find our way out, but thought I'd set out my current thinking on COVID-19 in a structured manner.

In late February I contacted a former colleague, who lives in Hong Kong with her family, asking what it was like to live in a place under siege by a pandemic.  She replied it was "like living in slow motion".  We now know how that feels.  I wrote some initial reflections on COVID on March 8  and added some more comments on March 20 both of which feel like months ago.  While the world around us is hurtling even faster, our day to day lives have slowed down, spending most of our time in or around the house.

ROOT CAUSES

Having done many accident/incident investigations during my career, it is important to separate proximate causes (the close in time actions that triggered the specific event) from root causes, the embedded people/process/system issues that most often initiate the train of events.

With the COVID-19 pandemic the proximate cause was the mishandling of the outbreak in Wuhan by the Chinese city, provincial and national governments which started in December 2019, a mishandling that included suppression of evidence and misleading of the world about what was going on.  In turn, that caused delays in the response by other countries contributing to the spread of the virus.  And, as we've more recently learned, it was even worse.  Even as the Chinese government kept maintaining into the 3rd week of January there was not human-to-human viral transmission (a message reinforced by its stooge, the World Health Organization (WHO)) it was frantically urging Chinese owned companies in the West to scour markets for personal protective equipment (PPE) which was shipped back to China. (1)

To this day, we cannot have any confidence in numbers of cases and deaths China has reported, just as we cannot have any confidence in the quality of the masks and other equipment it has more recently sent to impacted countries.

The root cause of the pandemic was China's failure to close its wildlife farms and wet markets, which its government has told us was the source of the virus.  With the emergence of SARS in 2003, the world awakened to the threat of coronaviruses created in wet markets.  Traveling in China after SARS I was told that the markets would not be shuttered because the government feared the social disruption that would ensue.  This even though health experts around the world predicted future pandemics caused by the markets. (2)

The government of China bears direct responsibility for what has happened.  We must not forget and the world must insist these markets be closed.  The next pandemic could be even worse. (3)

Whatever else you think about the U.S. response, or domestic politics, do not forget the root cause.

PANDEMIC PREPAREDNESS

The U.S. has had a flu season preparedness program for many years.  In fact, our budget has a specific line item for purchasing enough eggs with which to culture the vaccine.  As I understand it, more specific pandemic planning began with legislation passed in 2003 (and amended in 2007 and 2013), enacted in the wake of 9-11 and fears about bioterrorism attacks (and, as I've more recently learned, an intense personal interest of President Bush after reading about the Spanish flu pandemic). Over the years billions were spent on federal planning and stockpiles, while grants were made that should have helped states and healthcare providers plan and prepare for a pandemic.  What happened?

One would have expected a great deal of planning based upon evaluation of different pandemic scenarios and with drills to test assumptions.  Much of the medical equipment and supplies needed to deal with a pandemic are similar regardless of type.  And the scale of some of the anticipated pandemics is much greater than the worst case with COVID-19.  With almost any situation we would not have been fully prepared but should have had enough supplies to hold the fort until the cavalry arrived with more supplies.  To that end, were logistics experts and project managers in place who knew all the major manufacturers of equipment and their capacities and capabilities?  Had they thought through global supply chain issues in a world that looks much different today than it did in 2005?

The federal government does have a pandemic response plan geared to an influenza epidemic which you can find her.  However, many of the response actions required would also be needed in the event of a coronavirus threat.  The initial plan was issued in 2006 and updated in January 2009.  It was not updated during the Obama Administration, with the next version not issued until June 2017 after the Trump administration took office.  My quick reading of it gives the impression that it consists mostly of bureaucratic goobledygook and more aspirational than concrete.  What I would like know is what, if any, actions were taken, based upon its recommendations over the past 2 1/2 years.

UPDATE: As I trawled through the internet I came upon several federal government pandemic emergency plans and found the relationship between them confusing.  According to this article, published after I originally posted, my confusion was understandable since there is a plethora of such plans and a lack of coordination between them.  We have a government so big and so complex it is impossible to understand, let alone manage.  We also have mission drift for our agencies like the CDC.  Some of it is inherent to bureaucratic modes of operating but another big contributor is Congress which likes to add missions to federal agencies.  It's an easy way for elected officials to demonstrate they are "doing something" but they don't have the responsibility of actually executing which is left to the agency.  I'd prefer a government with fewer agencies focused on a few key tasks.  We'd all be better off.  Fat chance of that happening.

I've been unable to find any history regarding numbers and timing on specific equipment except for N95 masks.  In 2006, the Bush Administration began stockpiling N95s.  That stockpile was drawn down during the H1N1 flu in 2009 when the country used 104 million masks.  The information I've seen is that 3/4 of our stockpile was used at the time and it was never replenished, leaving the U.S. stockpile with about 12 million N95s early in 2020.  Those facts raise a series of questions to which I've been unable to find the answers; did the Obama and/or Trump administrations submit budget requests to rebuild the stockpile?; if such requests were made, how did Congress respond?; were the funds made available but not spent?  According to this USA Today story, the Obama Administration had depleted the stockpile in 2009 and it, and later the Trump Administration, took no steps to replenish it.

Beyond the supplies issue were capacity - both equipment and people.  How many hospital beds and ICUs would be needed in an emergency?  Ventilators?  And even if the equipment were available would we have the trained people to operate them in the case of ICUs and ventilators?  New York Governor Cuomo and a state task force were faced with this issue in 2015.  The task force report concluded that in the event of a major pandemic the state would need an additional 16,000 ventilators but since there were not enough trained personnel to operate them, a different solution would be needed.  Instead the task force issued guidelines for hospitals to use during a pandemic to decide which patients would get access to ventilators.  Although the task force did not answer the question of whether an additional 1,000 or 2,000 ventilators could have been staffed, it should not have been a surprise to the governor when, in the current crisis, though one of less scale than a major pandemic, that New York hospitals had a ventilator shortage. 

According to the New York Times, the federal stockpile at the beginning of the year consisted of 12,700 ventilators which has now increased to 16,600.  In addition, in December 2019, the Trump administration ordered an additional 10,000 ventilators from Philips with delivery scheduled in mid-2020.   The Times article states that a 70,000 ventilators would be needed in the event of a "moderate influenza epidemic" and for a while we had press reports on the need for a million ventilators (for how that story got started read this).  However in the case of COVID-19 the most detailed projections on hospital bed, ICU, and ventilator needs I've seen is the model done by the University of Washington Medical School which predicts a peak demand of 26,381 ventilators (most recently reduced to 15,414) during the current epidemic.  If the 10,000 recently ordered ventilators were available now the stockpile would match demand, and that does not take into account the 62,000 ventilators already available in hospitals and state stockpiles.  All of which brings us back to the issue addressed in the New York report - does the U.S. have the available trained personnel to operate all the needed ventilators (though, as reported below, the need for ventilators in this crisis may have been substantially overestimated a month ago)?

It looks like we had failures all down the line, from the federal and state governments to individual hospitals.  Maybe the planning and the operational structure that should have been ready to go when the word came did exist, but I've seen little evidence of it so far.

Having discussed some federal shortcomings above, here is just one state example to fill in the picture.  In 2006, California Governor Schwarznegger announced a program to provide emergency response in the event of disasters, including pandemics.  The state established three 200-bed mobile unit hospitals and purchased protective equipment, including 50 million N95 masks, and stockpiled enough supplies to set up 21,000 additional hospital beds.  In 2001, Governor Jerry Brown cut the program for the mobile hospitals and for restocking the equipment.  Over the years, the existing masks were used, many became unusable, and now the state faces significant shortfalls (for more detail, read here).

In an ideal world, after this crisis passes, we would have a learned inquiry into the state, federal and local response that could identify the shortcomings in planning and preparedness and make concrete recommendations so we are better prepared in the future.  Perhaps an independent agency with a strong reputation for integrity, like the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (which investigates industrial chemical accidents), to conduct the inquiry.

In the real world I fear we will end up with a Congressional inquiry and despair at the inevitable descent into partisan warfare with no productive end, just another example of our dysfunctional 21st century federal government. (4)

THE U.S. RESPONSE

Two observations before getting to the American reaction going back to January of this year.

1. Even a well-designed preparedness plan never operates flawlessly.  You need a strong operational team, capable of quick response, to adapt, modify, and act in real time.

2. A look at what has happened globally provides very few examples of timely responses to control this pandemic.  Europe provides no positive examples that can be used by the U.S. (5); the only question is whether we can avoid the worst that has happened there.  For much of the rest of the world where there are still relatively low case counts - Latin America, Africa, some Asian countries - it may be an artifact of lack of testing, lack of time for the virus to take root, or specific geographical considerations.  However, in East Asia there are three relevant examples to look at; Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan (I exclude Hong Kong and Singapore from this analysis because of geographical size and population).

Taiwan has been the most successful country in controlling the virus.  As of April 10 it has 382 cases and 6 deaths among its 24 million people.  How has a country with so much direct contact with China done it?   After SARS in 2003, Taiwan set up a specific command center to monitor and track potential outbreaks in China.  In December, the command center became aware of the Wuhan outbreak and starting on December 31, Taiwanese officials boarded all incoming flights from Wuhan to check passengers from symptoms and travel to and from China was halted at the end of January.  Widespread testing, tracking of cases with quarantine and isolation became common in early February.  You can find a more complete list of actions here.

South Korea got off to a rockier start and, for a brief time, it looked like the virus would explode in its population, before a quick and firm response allowed for the regaining of control.  As of April 10, the country (population 51 million) has 10,450 cases and 208 deaths, with the increase in new cases declining for the past month.  The country had the advantage of the initial outbreak being confined to one city and the Christian group which was the source having a very young profile.  However, like Taiwan, South Korea put in place widespread testing, case identification, quarantine and isolation for not just confirmed cases but for anyone in contact with infected people.

The tools both countries are using to track, quarantine and isolate affected individuals are beyond those that are legal or even publicly acceptable in the United States. [UPDATE: Doing further research after this was posted I learned that when S Korea and Taiwan do isolation it means taking any positive individual (whether or not they have symptoms) and removing them from their home and family.  It also appears that, to some extent, this is being done with individual who've had contact with infected individuals, regardless of whether they test positive.

Japan is harder to explain, and I have my own suspicions about the data based on my personal experience with the opaque nature of Japanese society to outsiders.  As of April 10, Japan (population 126 million) has 5,530 cases and 99 deaths.  However, unlike Taiwan and South Korea, Japan is doing very little testing and the country's schools, mass transit, and businesses had continued operating.  However, three days ago Japan's prime minister declared a state of emergency requesting people to stay at home and businesses to close, indicating all is not well (the government lacks the legal authority to impose the restrictions).

One thing all three countries had in common before COVID-19 was the widespread practice of wearing surgical masks when an individual was sick and the mass wearing in the midst of influenza epidemics.  Although Americans were told, and continue to be told by the CDC and public health experts that the wearing of masks by the public is not protective, I believe the real reason for this messaging was the fear that Americans would buy masks, creating a supply problem for healthcare personnel (which goes back to the stockpile failure).  I am confident American health experts have seen the same studies I have documenting the effectiveness of mass wearing of surgical masks in East Asian countries to curtail influenza epidemics.

The history of CDC guidance on masks is interesting.  In 2007 the CDC issued guidance on using facemasks and respirators in public settings during a flu epidemic:
If people are not able to avoid crowded places, large gatherings or are caring for people who are ill, using a facemask or a respirator correctly and consistently could help protect people and reduce the spread of pandemic influenza.
Two years later the CDC changed its recommendation during the H1N1 epidemic:
In community and home settings, the use of facemasks and respirators generally are not recommended.  
It is this guidance that remained in place until last week.

Having said all that, "being no worse than most of our peer countries" is not what I expect from us.  I'm a fan of American exceptionalism, but we can't just get by on reputation.


Looking back at an alternative path here are several actions that might have prevented COVID-19 from spreading in the United States to the extent it has.

1.  At some point between January 15 and February 15 impose a ban on travel into and out of the United States and keep it in place until the pandemic was controlled elsewhere in the world. And probably suspend domestic air travel as well.

2.  Have available. as of the first half of February, the ability for widespread testing for the coronavirus, with the ability to ensure quarantine for both impacted cases and those with direct contact. 

3.  As of mid-February end all major sporting events, concerts, shows etc, adopt social distancing and wearing of masks (not N95s) by the general public.

4.  As of the beginning of February to have in place project managers and logistics experts to begin identifying existing stocks of PPE and other essential equipment, manufacturing capabilities of domestic suppliers, and distribution chains, in advance of anticipated needs, and ban export of any such equipment.

Let's look at the chances of those events occurring in the real world.  I will try as much as possible not to make this about President Trump, the Trump haters, and his fervent admirers, the latter two of which have tied themselves into knots over the past three months trying to follow Trump's twists and turns in order to make sure they fanatically oppose or fanatically support whatever the President says at any particular moment.  Otherwise this all becomes just about Trump, which the President, his opponents and supporters would be all be happy with. (6)

The importance of the travel ban was that we now know from genomics research, that the initial virus source on the West Coast entered the country in mid-January via Seattle while the seeds for the New York metro area outbreak were planted by travelers from Europe and Iran who arrived in February.

The President did impose a travel ban with China on January 31.  This was not done with the support of public health experts.  According to a recent New York Times article it was Trump's trade advisor, Peter Navarro, who pushed for it over the objections of the President's public health advisors.  We also saw at the time, several statements and published articles by public health experts who, while declaring the virus posed a danger, dismissed the value of travel bans as a tool.  If you read those articles what you observe is ideologically based reasoning in which the value of "open societies" is rated more highly than travel bans, which are therefore summarily dismissed.  And, of course, many of his political opponents denounced the ban as racist and xenophobic.  We saw this in New York, where both the governor and mayor made it a point of political pride to reinforce the openness of New York to visitors, in supposed contrast to the President, throughout February and into the beginning of March.  For a general discussion of media coverage, as well as expert advice, during this period read this article from Vox.

The President had the authority to stop all international travel and given his noted germaphobia I thought he might.  Again, his public health experts were not advising such a move and it would have been attacked as just another erratic and xenophobic act by his political opponents, particularly when it would have had to be at a time when there were virtually no COVID-19 cases yet in the U.S. (we did not have our 20th identified case until March 1- the first reported deaths were the day before -  as of April 10 it's 502,049 cases and 18,719 deaths).  I am not sure whether the President has the authority to shut down domestic air travel but it would have been good to do so in order to halt the spread of the virus.  You may remember that President Bush shut down air traffic on 9-11 but he had the authority to do so in his role as Commander in Chief with the nation under attack.

Early, and widespread, availability of coronavirus testing could have been used to monitor entry points in the U.S., perform random testing across the country, and then isolate any affected people and their recent contacts.  The only chance of this happening was if someone on the President's political team was astute enough to quickly override the public health experts who bungled this, both at the CDC, which insisted that it was the only institution capable of developing a test and refused to give exemptions to allow private labs to develop tests, and at the FDA which actively throttled attempts in places like Washington to develop innovative testing schemes.

Whether such political intervention could have been effective quickly enough to fix the problem remains unknown but it would have been good to see an attempt made.  The reality is such an effort would also have prompted a response by the bureaucrats, triggering a deluge of protests by Democratic politicians and massive negative coverage by its media allies, alleging that the safety of the American public was being placed at risk by illegal actions by the President who was overriding public health experts and existing government regulations and guidelines.  Much also would have been made of the fact that allowing more freedom by the states and private labs would also have probably resulted in a significant number of false positives and false negatives in the testing process.  In a situation like this it would still have been the best course of action to seek more information, more quickly, even with that risk.

But that is only the first part.  You then need people and resources to follow up on the data and isolate and quarantine.  The Federal CDC and Public Health Service are not set up to do that on a nationwide scale, so the next step would be up to states and local officials, and I am not sure we had the infrastructure in place to carry out that mission.  If the people, resources, and cooperation were available in the states it would have been our best chance to slow the spread down since the cases entering the country would have been few at that point. (7)

As to stopping major events, sports, social distancing, and mask wearing, the Federal government does not have the ability to impose that, although it can make recommendations.  I would have liked to see the President urging all of these actions much earlier than he did, as I wrote in a previous post.  It might have had some positive impact on the public as well as on some governors and would have been important at a time when each day counted.

The professional sports leagues eventually halted their own seasons on March 11 through 13, once Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was diagnosed with COVID-19 (thank goodness this happened and started the ball rolling, as I think the sports league decisions along with the new Tom Hanks was infected brought home the reality of the situation to many people).  It would have been even better if it had happened weeks before.  But in the real world, President Trump would have been ridiculed for doing so in mid-February.  The same holds true for other mass attended events.  Nonetheless, I think the path was clear as of the week of March 10 for the President to urge such actions by the states and use the bully pulpit to put pressure on private entities, as well as announcing he was cancelling all of his political rallies and urging other politicians to do the same.  This topic is one where no one, neither the experts nor the politicians, showed their best.  The mayor of New Orleans went ahead with the Mardi Gras celebration, the mayor of New York urged the public to go out to bars and restaurants even in early March, and the governor of Florida left the beaches open for Spring Break.

While we know from the East Asian studies that public mask wearing, if done by the majority of the public, can be effective, once again public health experts warned against this strategy, and the President would have been cast in opposition to his experts to have urged otherwise.

As to the last item, having in place the proper logistical and project management team to implement a response program, perhaps I'm wrong but my impression is the team has been cobbled together in recent weeks, rather than pre-existing.  

Would any of this have significantly changed the trajectory of COVID-19 in the U.S? I'm not sure that even if those steps had been taken it would have based on the experience of most other countries (You can read about the difficulties even when the original source of the Seattle outbreak had been identified - contact tracing is extremely difficult).  What I am convinced of is that there is no practical realistic scenario under which would could have taken these actions in time, given the lack of preparedness and the likely lack of needed public support though, as mentioned above, the use of the bully pulpit by the president may have accelerated things by a few days (though there is a counterargument that his political opponents would have been prompted to therefore resist him and since the major outbreaks have been in Democratic cities and metro areas it might not have done much good).  No one comes out of this looking good whether it be politicians, media or the experts.  For some reflective musings on this topic read this.

We also need to remember that although everyone in hindsight remembers they predicted all this in January and February the story is different.  Remember that through January, China and WHO were denying there was evidence of human-to-human transmission, many of our media outlets were running stories downplaying the threat, saying we should be more concerned with the flu, attacking Senator Tom Cotton as a crazy man for talking up the threat, and even Dr Fauci, for whom I have great respect, stated on January 21 regarding COVID-19 that "we need to take it seriously . . . but this is not a major threat to the people of the United States."  I think this all fed into the President's inclination and hope, abetted by his lack of focus, that this would not turn out to be serious.

It's difficult to look at this as alternative history, but what is the likelihood any President would have taken the four steps discussed above in a timely manner, given the initial lack of planning and preparedness, the lack of U.S. cases in February, the extensive reliance on action by the states on critical points, the advice of public health experts at the time, and the drastic and economy crippling measures needed?  While critical of the President, very irritated by many of his mannerisms, and his lack of self-discipline and control, I am not sure whether, on substance and given where the major outbreaks have occurred to date, the path of the virus would have been substantially different.

From my perspective there was one event in early February that alerted me that this was not just another of the many scares we've had about pandemics and other supposed world-shaking events.  It was the Chinese government taking steps to quarantine sixty million people and effectively hobble its own economy.  I don't trust what the Chinese government says but it's actions are important to watch.  This is a regime that historically has done no more than the minimum necessary on the health side to keep its population working.  Economic growth has been prized above all else.  For the government to have taken these drastic steps signaled to me that this was not just a flu epidemic.  Beijing saw something that truly scared it and was willing to pay a high price in response.  I can't pretend I saw its ultimate impact on the rest of the world but knew what was happening in China was way out of the ordinary.

And even with that I waited a while before realizing how serious this might get and taking personal action.  At the beginning of March I mentioned to my wife that we should begin stockpiling supplies in the event we were confined to the house or got sick but I didn't attend my last spring training game until March 6.  I had lunch with a friend on March 9, though we went early and sat in an uncrowded part of the restaurant.  I even hesitated later that day before recommending to other members of our Board that we cancel our Civil War Roundtable Meeting scheduled for March 17.  On March 13 we had one last restaurant lunch with a friend.  Decisive action is not easy.

WHAT WE KNOW AND WHAT WE DON'T KNOW
We all sound wise in hindsight.  We are less skilled in the moment and predicting the future and that should instill some humbleness in all of us.  A few examples.

Estimates.  On March 20 FiveThirtyEight published an article titled, "Infectious Disease Experts Don't Know How Bad the Coronavirus is Going To Get, Either", reporting on a survey of experts in the field and their lack of consensus about how many deaths the U.S. would see in 2020 from COVID-19.  The estimates ranged from 4,000 to over a million with a most likely in the range of 200,000.  A cautionary note as we try to assess how much any of us know. (8)

Ventilators.  For several weeks the availability of this piece of medical equipment, about which most of us knew very little until recently. dominated the news.  It was going to be critical in battling COVID-19.  Ventilators have played an important role but as emergency medicine and ICU doctors are gaining experience they are learning that COVID-19 doesn't act like the flu or the pneumonia they are used to and the immediate resort to ventilators may be having some adverse impacts.  For more read this article summing up current thought.  One by-product is that the ventilator mega-crisis we feared may not happen.

Cause And Effect.  The four most populous states are California, Texas, Florida and New York (and the gap between the New York and #5, Pennsylvania, is bigger than the gap between #5 and #23).  New York is at the epicenter of the nation's worst outbreak of COVID-19, yet the other three are relatively untouched despite also being destinations for international travel.  All the three followed very different strategies in fighting the virus.  California early on imposed massive statewide restrictions.  It seems to have worked so far with the state having on a per capita basis only 6% of the cases and 3.5% of the deaths of NY.  Texas was slower moving and less restrictive, leaving much of the decision-making to its counties and cities and has also been successful with 5% of the cases and 2% of the deaths per capita compared to NY.  Florida was the slowest moving of all, late to restrictions, letting Spring Break proceed, a large and vulnerable elderly population, and a popular destination for those in the New York metro area.  Many, including me, thought it would be the place where the next big outbreak would occur.  Yet, to date, it has only 10% of the cases and 5% of the deaths per capita compared to NY and its recent rate of increase has been fairly low.

Could weather be playing a part?  Could it be, as some have speculated, that the virus does not do well in warm and humid weather?  Are there other explanations for the disparity?  Or, have we just not waited long enough in one or more of these states for the curve to increase? We simply do not know at this point clearly have a lot to learn about this coronavirus.

Timing.  We are making decision based upon imperfect knowledge in the midst of an evolving situation.  Who would have predicted on March 1 the massive outbreak in the New York area?  On the same day, the Seattle area looked like a disaster but within two weeks it was under control.  How many of us thought by now we would have seen a similar outbreak in Florida?  But what the numbers tell us now may not be what happens two weeks from now.  There are probably some states and cities which are doing well now but could quickly move in the wrong direction.  For a while those in America who objected to the lockdown strategy pointed to Sweden which took the opposite approach and where cases and deaths were low nonetheless but over the past week the situation in that country has deteriorated and now the government is seeking emergency powers.  Be cautious on making judgments on the data you have right now.

How To Get Out Of This.  We are in a devastating economic situation.  Figuring out how to only have a recession, not a depression is a major challenge.  The long-term destruction of lives and livelihoods from economic turmoil could be much greater than the havoc wreaked by COVID-19.  We have to emerge from the lockdowns soon, even if it entails risk.  The question is, what are the precautions and conditions under which we do so?

Will There Be A Second Wave?  If we control the current outbreak over the next month it also means we probably will not have achieved enough general immunity to forestall future outbreaks (unless antibody tests show that the asymptomatic penetration of the virus is much higher than currently thought).  When we stop the lockdowns do we see a resurgence?  Or do things stay quiet until the fall when COVID-19 returns?  What do we do then?  Which brings us to the next issue.

Testing And Therapeutics.  The answers to the proceeding two topics in part depends on this subject.  Can we get into place readily available coronavirus testing as well as coronavirus antibody testing?   Will any of the treatments currently being tried prove effective, even in part, or in combination with other treatments in alleviating the symptoms of COVID-19 and saving lives?  Assuming this current wave recedes by June can they be deployed this summer in the event we face a second wave in the fall?


PREDICTIONS

As of yesterday, the countries we are most like from a per capita basis on cases and deaths are Portugal, Ireland, and Denmark.  Excluding the NY metro area, the rest of the U.S. is slightly worse than Canada and somewhat similar to Norway. What path we and those other countries will follow is unknowable, though Ireland just reported a one day increase of 25% in detected cases!

Countries I suggest keeping an eye on going forward are Mexico, Ecuador, and Peru.  In addition, Brazil and India have done virtually no testing to date so something big could be brewing there. As to the U.S., though the worst of the outbreak is mostly confined to a few metro areas right now, I suspect we will see some further surprise outbreaks, not just in other metro regions but in some more rural areas, before this phase is over.

I have no idea what may happen next.  My instinct is to discount some of the more extreme estimates in either direction.  We've already learned the ones that posit a 60-80% infection rate and high mortality fail to take into account the intervention and social distancing measures that are actually being taken, while many of the analyses predicting very low naturally-occurring infection and mortality rates ignore that fact that these very same interventions are actively underway (for instance they often try to draw parallels to the South Korea experience with the U.S. predicted path, without acknowledging that Korea achieved that path by aggressively taking actions early that are no longer available to us).

Let's hope, but not plan for, one of the drug combinations being tried in New York or elsewhere prove effective or that the heat of summer makes a difference. I will be pleasantly surprised if a vaccine becomes available before the fall of 2021.

And we need to take the opportunity to learn some lessons from this on the planning, execution, and quick reaction fronts.  It would also be particularly useful if we can ultimately better understand how the outbreaks in New York, Detroit, and New Orleans started, why they got out of control, and why we have not seen, at least as of now, some of the predicted outbreaks in other locations.

Next:  The longer-term geopolitical and economic implications of the pandemic.


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FOOTNOTES

1.  The role of the WHO in this matter is a disgrace. This is yet another corrupt UN organization, in this case run by a non-doctor and political hack whose appointment was engineered by China.  Ironically, it is the United States that provides the most funding for WHO with China paying very little, yet WHO has taken on the role of China's defender and apologist.  While WHO and China were denying human-to-human transmission in January, Taiwan provided information to WHO that it had evidence such transmission was occurring.  To be more accurate, Taiwan attempted to provide information to WHO which refused to recognize it, because at China's insistence, WHO has refused to let Taiwan join or participate in any form in the organization.

I will save my larger rant on the moral stain on America due to its continuing membership in the U.N, an immoral and corrupt organization run by authoritarian states, for another time.

2.  There is also a possibility that the virus may have originated via an accidental release from a Wuhan BioLab located near the wet market.  See this article from the Washington Post (which was late to acknowledge the possibility).  Turns out Senator Tom Cotton who raised this possibility in late January and also tried to get the Trump Administration to take quicker action to prevent the pandemic was timely in retrospect.  At the time he took a lot of abuse from the Post and other media outlets who deliberately misconstrued what he was saying into an allegation of a deliberate release from a China lab.  For more background read this.

3.  Wet markets are a potential source of coronaviruses but health officials have been even more worried about a flu pandemic.  Most of these also originate in East Asia, often because of farming practices, but are much harder to control.

4.  The 9-11 Commission is a prime example of this dysfunction.  While the Commission's report was decent, it remains mostly unread on bookshelves, its primary shortcoming the games played by the intelligence community and the Bush Administration to keep certain information from its investigators, including the long-redacted 28 pages on Saudi involvement also kept out of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report.  In 2016 the Obama Administration made the correct decision and dropped its objections to publishing the redacted pages. You  can read more about them here and here.

When I refer to dysfunction and partisanship regarding 9-11 I mean the hearings that drew the public and media attention.  From the start, the Democrats knew the hearings were really about politics and the 2004 election, making sure to strategically place two members on the Commission.  The first, Jamie "Mistress of Disaster" Gorelick, had been the Assistant Attorney General who, during the Clinton Administration, put the "wall of separation" in place between foreign and domestic intelligence that hampered our ability to track foreign terrorists once they entered the U.S.  Gorelick earned her nickname because her public service consisted of a string of unmitigated disasters.  But don't feel bad for her, after leaving government she joined one of the nation's preeminent law firms, WilmerHale (also home to Robert Mueller) where she's made millions and maintains her sterling reputation among Washington insiders.

The other was Richard Ben Veniste, former Watergate prosecutor, and longtime Democratic political hack and attack dog.  Gorelick was appointed for defensive purposes, to prevent inquiry into some of the embarrassments of the Clinton Administration.  It worked because the Bush administration stupidly appointed a bunch of GOP "moderates" to the panel who wanted to be nonpartisan.  Because Gorelick was a fellow panel member they politely pushed aside any serious inquiry into the "wall of separation" memo and its impacts.  Ben Veniste was there to play offense, while no one on the Republican side had the necessary temperament to play that role.

The highlight of the public hearings and the part that received the most media attention was the testimony of Richard Clarke who worked on counterterrorism in both the Clinton and Bush White Houses.  Clarke's testimony, helped along by Ben Veniste, focused on his claims that the Bush administration ignores his warnings of an impending attack by Al Qaeda, while soft pedaling the actions of the Clinton White House.  John Lehman, one of the GOP appointees, at one point remarked how Clarke's testimony was quite different from what he'd told the committee privately.  It was, but it created the overriding impression that the Bush administration was solely at fault for what happened, when the truth is both administrations made some bad mistakes.

The truth was more complicated as Clarke's own book, Against All Enemies, made clear.  In that book (which is quite good) he forcefully criticized shortcomings of both the Clinton and Bush administration when it came to taking Osama bin Laden seriously, yet for political reasons his testimony deliberately left a different impression.  One interesting tidbit I learned from the book is that, contrary to what I was being told by the media, the godfather of American rendition policy (the turning over of terrorists to security police in their country of origin) was Al Gore!  In the book, Clarke, who advocated the policy writes of a critical meeting at the White House on the proposal and how he contacted Gore, who was on a trip to South Africa, to urgently return to counter the arguments of White House Counsel that the policy was illegal.  Gore cut short his trip, returned and carried the day with President Clinton who approved the policy.

The determination by the Democratic Party to rewrite the history of 9/11 was further demonstrated in the response to the two-part Disney/ABC series, The Path to 9/11, which aired in 2006.   The series made the terrible miscalculation of portraying mistakes by both the Clinton and Bush administrations leading up to 9/11 which was not the narrative Democrats wanted going into the 2006 election.  This prompted an unprecedented letter from 19 Democratic senators, including Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer with this threat:
Presenting such deeply flawed and factually inaccurate misinformation to the American public and to children would be a gross miscarriage of your corporate and civic responsibility to the law, to your shareholders, and to the nation. The Communications Act of 1934 provides your network with a free broadcast license predicated on the fundamental understanding of your principle obligation to act as a trustee of the public airwaves in serving the public interest. Nowhere is this public interest obligation more apparent than in the duty of broadcasters to serve the civic needs of a democracy by promoting an open and accurate discussion of political ideas and events.
In other words, "nice little network you have there, shame if something happened to it" once we control the Executive Branch again.

Disney got the message.  The Path to 9/11 was never rebroadcast, and never released on DVD or in any other format.  It is like it never existed.  When Democrats wail about censorship, repression, and authoritarianism it is because they project their own desires on to others about how they would govern, and will govern, when they have the chance.

5.  Until recently, some observers had called out Sweden as a good role model, based upon its restrained response with few legal requirements related to lock down.  However, in the last week Swedish cases and deaths have surged past its Scandanavian neighbors and the government is seeking emergency powers which would allow it to impose restrictions.  A relatively bright spot in Europe is the Czech Republic which very quickly instituted travel bans and required wearing of masks in public.  For more on the Swedish approach read this.

6.  It's all very tiresome and leaves us less well-informed and even more agitated than we would be in any event.  As mentioned in one of my earlier posts on this topic I am tired of the President's bragging, boasting about his TV ratings, his lack of attention to details and accuracy, engaging in stupid back and forth with idiot journalists, and talking too much (I realize Trump thinks by talking aloud and tweeting which works sometimes, but not in these circumstances - musing aloud about possibly quarrantining the New York metro area is not good - in a crisis like this he looks like a person who cannot control himself which is not reassuring).

I'm tired of the Trump acolytes justifying his every move, even if it is completely different from his position the day before.  I'm tired of the Hydroxychlorquine Wars and hearing that it is a completely proven therapeutic that needs to be given to everyone NOW, all because Trump supports it.  And no, there is not a conspiracy to overcount COVID-19 deaths.

On the other hand:

Yes, these press conferences would go much smoother if Obama were still President:
Jim Acosta (CNN): Mr President, what has most enchanted you about being able to demonstrate your leadership during this national crisis?

President:  Well, Jim . . .
And imagine the coverage in the Times, Post, CNN, MSNBC, NPR if the epicenter of the outbreak was not New York, but Montgomery, Alabama or Boise, Idaho.

I'm tired of the Hydroxychlorquine Wars and hearing that it is a bogus, completely ineffective, and dangerous medication that should not be given to anyone EVER, all because Trump supports it.

And it would help if at least half of what I see flooding the media about outrageous Trump statements were not deliberate mischaracterizations of what he actually said (see, for instance, the "coronavirus hoax" and the "you are on your own" stories.)

Between press bias and the innumeracy of most reporters we've had some awful reporting about basic facts.

This, from Brit Hume, gets it about right, though I think, as stated above, some of the President's actions should have been taken more quickly:
President Trump's Covid 19 actions have been sensible and in some cases bold.  His WH virus task force briefings have been extensive, credible and informative.  His own statements have been rambling, boastful, vague and imprecise  They do not inspire confidence.
7.  That a federal system need not be a bar to effective implementation of testing and tracking is shown by the example of Germany.  When it comes to pandemics it does not have the equivalent of a CDC or FDA with legal enforcement powers.  It has a public health organization which can make recommendations, but not require anything of the German states.  Furthermore, unlike the American government which requires its permission before private or state labs can develop tests, in Germany the states can do so on their own without federal permission.  In this case, a German research institute quickly developed a test which the individual states then quickly deployed, making Germany the most aggressive European state in testing and case identification.   There is a further irony here in that the fanatically anti-Trump New Yorker published an article claiming it was Germany's universal healthcare system that made the difference, when it was actually Germany's decentralized system that made its quick response possible.  As to the benefits of universal healthcare systems in Europe, please take a look at the COVID-19 statistics in Spain, Italy, France, UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands and get back to me.

8.  I haven't spent much time on the controversial models developed to track and predict the course of the epidemic.  That's because theories and models while, at their best and used properly, can help us think through problems more clearly, do not represent reality, whether developed by epidemiologists or economists (I exclude the hard sciences from this since I don't know enough to characterize them).  Reality is messy.  Life is hard.  The social sciences aren't sciences.  Political Science should be called Political Arts, because politics, practiced well, is an art.  The problem with theories and models is too many in the audience think they do represent reality and often their own developers fall into the same trap.

Get used to the real world.  Don't believe me?  Sorry, but welcome to the party, pal!