Thursday, March 12, 2020

REALITY ON THE CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS - You can crawl back out of your cave!

Which Virus Is More Dangerous?

Hint: it's not the one the media is hyping.
Bruce Thornton
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The two big stories these days are the COVID-19 outbreak and the Democrat presidential primaries. The former is filled with the media’s apocalyptic hysteria about a disease that for now is less deadly than the yearly flu. The latter’s drama comes from the DNC’s and Democrat big donors’ success in neutralizing Bernie Sanders’ candidacy and all but ensuring that an addled mediocrity ends up being the Dems’ presidential candidate in November.
The Democrat primaries, however, are in large part a manifestation of the political virus that has infected the body politic for over three years, and that in the long run is more dangerous than the coronavirus: COVEFE-16, popularly known as Trump Derangement Syndrome. The coronavirus will eventually be contained, as previous viral outbreaks have been over the last few decades. TDS, on the other hand, may pave the way for the Dems’ control of the government come November. Such an outcome will mark a quantitative leap in the century-long dismantling of the Constitutional order that defends our political freedom.
The two diseases have converged in the NeverTrumpers’ attempts to blame the coronavirus on President Trump. A Politico headline sums it up: “Trump’s Mismanagement Helped Fuel Coronavirus Crisis.” A common sense response like barring travelers from China, ground zero of the outbreak, is called “xenophobia” and “racism.” Delays in getting test-kits available are laid at Trump’s feet, as though he directly manages their manufacture and distribution. Trump’s efforts to tamp down the panic are called callous indifference, though we all know if he’d been more urgent about the dangers, the media would have faulted him for stoking a panic.
As usual, all these criticisms never address the important caveat: Compared to what?
How about considering Barack Obama’s response to the 2009 swine flu outbreak? Journalist James Lileks has done so on his blog The Bleat. One critical difference is how long it took each president to declare the outbreak a national emergency: Trump a month after the outbreak was announced, Obama after four months, when the toll in the U.S. had reached 1000 dead (32 have died in the U.S. of the coronavirus, the vast majority over 70 years old). Most important, the media coverage of the swine flu––even though it was more deadly and half its victims, unlike the coronavirus, were healthy and young––was nowhere near the breathless hysteria or extent of the coverage today.
We know the explanation for the disparity. Barack Obama enjoyed eight years of the media’s “slobbering love affair,” as Bernie Goldberg called it, filled with uncritical, laudatory, and selective coverage from the mainstream media, whereas Trump has been incessantly attacked with slanted or outright mendacious stories based on tendentious analysis and anonymous leaks. Examples abound. Barack Obama is caught on a hot mic promising Putin’s flunkey “flexibility” on missile-defense after his reelection, and the media yawn. Trump urges the president of Ukraine to investigate his country’s meddling in the 2016 election and, its notorious corruption that involves a U.S. Vice President’s son, and he’s impeached on the made-up charge of “abusing his authority.” This is just one example from a lengthy catalogue of journalistic morale idiocy and professional malfeasance.
The cause, of course, is TDS. The bipartisan technocratic, globalist elite, a product of progressivism’s success in undermining the Constitution, has been infuriated by Trump’s penchant for breaking every rule of the techno-political guild. Their gatekeeping and paradigm-protecting notions of “decorum” and “democratic norms” were shattered, their serial failures both at home and abroad exposed, and their illiberal, politically correct manners mocked and ridiculed. But worse than those offenses was Trump’s success in unleashing the economy from Obama’s shackles, and taking the kick-me sign our foreign-policy mavens had hung on America’s back for decades. Particularly galling to them was Trump’s abandonment of the appeasing and dangerous Iran nuclear deal, and the economically suicidal and useless Paris Climate Accords. These two moves starkly exposed the folly of the “rules-based international order” that the globalist elites used to camouflage and justify their failures.
So no surprise that the progressives and their Republican NeverTrump collaborators have been seeking to undermine and terminate Trump’s presidency from its beginning. With supreme hypocrisy the Dems, who pioneered the “politics of personal destruction” starting with Nixon’s presidency, whine about his vulgar and insulting tweets. And NeverTrump Republicans go along, invoking lofty standards of “decorum” that they serially violate with their obsession over Trump’s blunt personality and lack of verbal sophistication and “nuance,” more often than not a device for disguising a failure of conviction and nerve.
Finally, the TDS virus if unchecked in November will further the destruction of the Constitutional order. The Founders created a limited central government whose primary aims were the protection of political freedom and the diversity of America’s peoples and states against the excess of majority or minority rule. The progressives’ vision is quite different: the concentration and expansion of federal power through government agencies and bureaus staffed with “experts” beyond accountability to the people. They sought to redefine the American peoples and their regional and cultural diversity into an abstract, homogeneous mass with uniform interests better served by a powerful central government.
For over a century we have been transforming into just that intrusive and redistributionist federal Leviathan, one nourished by politicians from both parties. Donald Trump, though he has been loath to attack the mechanism of redistribution through wealth transfers, has dismantled some of its infrastructure, most importantly the overweening, bloated federal agencies and their myriad regulations that erode the autonomy and freedom of individuals, civil society, and the states. He has discredited and humiliated the political correctness that the “managerial elite,” as James Burnham called it, has relied on to demonize and censor dissent, restoring the diversity of opinion and thought upon which our political freedom relies. His outsider status and blunt manner, shared with millions of Americans who do not live in the Acela Corridor and bicoastal technocratic cocoons, has discredited the elites’ pretension to superiority if only by inciting their hysterical, mendacious, and excessive attacks on him.
So no wonder the bipartisan NeverTrumpers are desperate, so much so that they have embraced socialist policies that are destructive to the public fisc and personal freedom, and have settled on two candidates that perhaps are the worst presidential aspirants at least since World War II. One is a cranky village explainer whose ignorance and rationalization of simple math and socialism’s blood-stained record are literally sophomoric; the other a corrupt career pol of limited achievement and intelligence now obviously worsened by cognitive dysfunctions.
By any sane calculation, neither of these incompetent buffoons should become president. But we don’t live in sane times. Our country’s major institutions in media, education, politics, and popular culture are dominated by bad ideas and utopian policies an illiterate peasant in 1800 would know are dangerous fantasies. Unforeseen events like the coronavirus, or an extended economic downturn could cause disruptions that make such bad ideas attractive come November.
The coronavirus should peak by May, and the news-cycle will turn to the next shiny object. But the NeverTrump virus is a political bubonic plague that if unchecked will bring a halt to the last four years of resistance against the technocratic “soft” tyranny. That virus is the one that should concern us, for it is vastly more dangerous and lethal.
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Coronavirus by the numbers

I have always been fascinated by numbers, so looking at data on the virus spread and its lethality is revealing, and also raises lots of questions I cannot answer, since I am not a virologist, nor am I on top of what each country is doing to contain the spread of the virus. There are several very good sources of information on the numbers if this interests you.
A 17-year-old prodigy from Seattle has created an excellent database, which updates every minute.  Here is an article on the young software designer.  Johns Hopkins University, recipient of the largest gift ever made by one person to a university (Michael Bloomberg’s gift of $1.8 billion) also has good data.
The country by country information, especially when examined over time, suggests that there are some disparities. First: the incidence rate, that is, the number of cases compared to a country’s population. This virus began in China, and grew rapidly there, particularly in one area of the country, but case volume now has leveled off with very small growth in the caseload, and well over half recovered. This is encouraging, or should be; it suggests containment is possible.
Now, of course, an authoritarian country has tools at its disposal democracies do not. In any case, China has a total caseload of 80,000 that has been quite steady for a few weeks. China has a population of 1.4 billion. In other words, 1 in every 17,000 Chinese have come down with the disease. Obviously, the incidence rate in the Wuhan area is higher than the national incidence rate in China -- maybe more than 25 times higher. This is also the area where the disease spread rapidly since almost nobody early on knew what they were dealing with.  
Yesterday, Germany’s Angela Merkel predicted that 60-70% of that country's population of roughly 85 million would come down with the virus. Really? Based on what?  1 in 17,000 in China but 7 in 10 in Germany?
In the United States, the caseload has grown tenfold in little over a week. That is a very high growth rate. We now have just over 1,000 identified cases (the number infected is undoubtedly considerably higher since few people have been tested). The US population is close to 330 million, meaning our incidence rate so far is 1 in 330,000, about 1/20th of China’s rate. In other words, if our incidence rate grew to match China’s before leveling off, we would get to about 20,000 cases. If our rate grew to match that of the Wuhan area, it might be 500,000 cases. Why the US incidence rate should grow to match the Wuhan area rate is not at all clear to me. Some of the data in the country tables seems suspect. Why would Russia have only 15 cases? The world’s highest incidence rate could be in Iran, if the official numbers represent just a small fraction of the actual caseload as some non-government sources in the country suggest. Iranian leadership has been decimated by the virus, which has not occurred anywhere else.
This year’s "regular" flu season has been a busy one. This is from yesterday’s New York Times, which makes clear that what we are now seeing with the coronavirus is not a repeat of the 1918 “Spanish Flu” nor as prevalent as a regular seasonal flu.
"But so far this year, the annual epidemic of seasonal flu in the United States is proving much more devastating than the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there have been at least 34 million infected with flu this season, 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths. So far, coronavirus has killed 27 people in the United States."
So, as many people have died from the seasonal flu in the United States, as would be affected by the coronavirus, if the incidence rate were 20 times higher than it is so far.
Several countries are experiencing higher incidence rates than China.  Among them are South Korea, Italy, Iran. These countries are also experiencing highly differentiated death rates from the disease. The head of the WHO stated the other day that the death rate is 3.4% worldwide. I think he is wrong, and the real death rate is likely lower. 
In China, the death rate was near 5% in Hubei Province, which includes Wuhan. But in other areas of the country, the death rate has been 1%.  South Korea, which has tested a large number of people, has a high incidence rate, but a death rate of only 0.75%, less than 1%. Italy has a similar caseload as South Korea, but a death rate nearly ten times higher. Both are developed countries, with similar populations and population density. I won’t even try to explain this wide gap. I can’t. There are apparently different strains of the virus, with different degrees of lethality. Cultural differences and differing government policies on quarantining, testing, and treating victims could all be contributors.  
In the cases around the world, the death rate is far higher for those 70 and older, than for those under that age who contract the disease. It is even higher among those 80 and older and highest among those 90 and older. Young children do not seem to catch the virus. Most of the deaths in the United States so far have been associated with one nursing home in a Seattle suburb. The typical nursing home population has a median age in the mid 80s. 
You will note that I have left politics completely out of this analysis, which is where I think they belong.  Our own government should become as familiar as it can with what other countries have done to contain the virus, especially if they have had some success doing so.  Taiwan has had a particularly positive experience:
Singapore had an initial burst of cases, which has not grown much. They early on issued some directives, which as this article suggests might be difficult to replicate in most places.
News coverage of stories like this are similar to stories concerning natural disasters. The media flood the zone with nonstop coverage. For this virus, the coverage undoubtedly has increased fears among many people. The stock market collapse and concern about an economic decline are also worrisome. If you work in the travel sector, the energy business, or the restaurant industry, things have gotten tough very quickly. 
It is troubling for a respected national leader like Merkel to make the comments she did. Best I know she is an economist, not a scientist nor a virologist. I cannot predict how many people in the US or anywhere else will be impacted by this. Here are a few things to consider: every day in the United States, 6,000-7,000 people die (over 2 million a year). In China, about 25,000 die every day (9 million a year). The great majority of those who die every year in both countries are older people. The virus added about 50 deaths per day in China for two months. Italy has just over 1,000 deaths a day from all causes. In the past few weeks, that number has grown by close to 50 per day from the virus. In other words, the Wuhan area of China experienced the same supplemental death toll from the virus for about 60 days that Italy has now experienced for close to two weeks. It is understandable why Italy has chosen a quarantine type approach for the entire country, as case volumes grow, and the death toll climbs.
In short, the world is not showing signs that the end is near (though it may be for some of us). The virus is a scary thing for many people for good reasons, and precaution is a good thing, as are active measures to deal with the economic fallout as well as testing, and treatment and speedier than normal adoption of any vaccines which prove effective. I do not have the scientific background to know whether warmer months will slow the growth of the virus, as some have argued.
Image credit: Annie Pilon

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