No End in Sight

If you are holding out hope for a permanent COVID-19 vaccine, please read this. We already know that the body does not develop permanent resistance to coronavirus. This means that we will need to get a vaccination every nine months or so. Unless something innovative happens in vaccine development, “herd immunity” will never develop, and our social adaptations may last for years.

Therapeutics also require some major advancements. Remdesivir, the highly touted antiviral, has not been shown effective in reducing mortality – it only reduces hospital stays for those that will recover. Some effective therapeutics require a drip feed – they cannot be administered by injection.

Box Score: Money 2, Value 1

Coming of age in the Reagan era, I failed to understand what I was witnessing. America abandoned manufacturing for services and ended up in a time warp.

As a corporate-level software consultant, my father Karl saw elements of this up close. Invited as a fellow traveler by the president of Wiley & Sons (the journal publisher), Karl sat in on the annual shareholder meeting. A careful investment plan charted growth in assets and employment. During the discussion, the CFO queried, “And what is the annualized rate of return on your plan?” With the follow-on to the response, “I can take that same money and make three times as much in the stock market.”

In that era, the stock market still reflected an investment in other people’s ingenuity. This year, as we approached the election, one Trumpie threatened, “Well, if Biden wins, you can be sure the stock market is going to tank!” The inescapable corollary is that the stock market is no longer an economic bell-weather but an instrument of political influence.

That influence is maintained through the ties between the Federal Reserve and the large banks. We are in the mind-numbing reality that the people that take care of our money no longer profit from making it grow, they profit by making it move. That may seem impossible, but the volume of real estate, trade, and government debt is so enormous that simply the placement fees run into the tens of billions of dollars annually.

The bind for the public is that the money center banks hold no interest in seeing the debt reduced. In fact, the Dow weathered recent financial crises because the Federal Reserve issued borrowing authority that the banks loaned to corporations to buy back stock. The value of stock is now linked to corporate debt.

And in the chaos only the financial system has a guaranteed benefit.

Was this intentional? Hardly, but it was inevitable. This is trumpeted by the liberal economists, but they misdiagnose the problem. I hope with this post to steer them in the right direction.

The liberal economists blame “capitalism.” Capitalism, coined by Adam Smith, is a recent innovation, seeing an effective implementation only in the industrialization of the Western world in the late 1800’s. Capitalism was actually a liberalizing social contract. It held that money and labor could collaborate to improve productivity. Higher productivity meant more money for investors and lower costs for labor. It was a win-win scenario.

Capitalism disproved the precepts of Malthus, who held that population growth would always overwhelm the benefits of productivity gains. In part, however, Malthus was proven right because political power was held by the moneyed noble class. Market control was awarded by royal writ, and once secured ensured resistance to innovation that might lead to diversification of supply. Stability of prices was also important to the nobility and their retinues, often sustained by stipends.

The crack in this hermetic system was warfare, and it was to finance their conflicts that the nobility turned to the banking system, leading to the coupling of political and financial interests that suppressed the development of liberal societies.

So the “Box Score” reads as it is because capitalism is now revealed as a brief interlude in the narrow marriage of politics and finance. It was an interlude during which finance married itself to the production of value and the growth of liberal societies.

Regardless of the outcome, the 2020 election proves at least one thing: that Donald Trump is a symptom, rather than a cause. The disease that created him is a return to the festering myopia of political and financial calculations freed from a concern for value or sustainability. Trump is used as a tool by that system to distract attention from the wizards behind the curtain. He is a live facsimile of the special effects in the Wizard of Oz.

How does this manifest in practical terms? Consider real estate. I was told recently that I had to get in the market, because prices would only go up. Looking over the finance package, I noted with surprise that is allocated 50% of my income to real estate costs, rather than the 30% typical of my youth. So the reason that real estate prices are going up is because the Federal Reserve, through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is issuing loans that allocate more of our income to the payment of interest. The increase in home prices has nothing to do with value – it follows from a systematic manipulation of political and financial levers to ensure that we are indebted.

But the fault is not with capitalism. Capitalism was a God-send. The fault is with something I would call “monetarism” – the pursuit of wealth in the absence of any concern for value.

The economic historian should recognize this plague. What should give pause to the rest of us is the proof, in the results of the 2020 election, that the disease is worse that an out-of-control pandemic that has the potential to kill millions of Americans.

I hope that our democracy survives while our liberalizing politicians adapt to that lesson.

COVID Symptoms Explained

Scientists have compared 17,000 patient outcomes to their genes, and it appears that COVID attacks the body’s ability to maintain low blood pressure. A failure to regulate bradykinin, a protein, is specifically harmful. The blood-brain barrier fails, causing mental failure. The lungs produce a water-absorbing chemical that swells (somewhat like Jello), preventing gas from being exchanged.

Poor regulation of bradykinin is a common cause of high blood pressure, and existing drugs can be used to help COVID-19 patients. But Vitamin D is also helpful, as I promoted back in April. The report states that 20% of all Americans have a vitamin D deficiency. See your doctor or functional medicine specialist for recommendations on supplementation.

A Hill of Beans to Die On?

Just finished listening to Maddow’s interview of Mary Trump.

I find the juxtaposition with Trump’s promotion of Goya beans to be unnerving. Hayes profiled the polling that shows that while Trump is heading for a disastrous loss in November, the majority of self-identifying Republicans consider their loyalty to be to Trump rather than the GoP. Trump’s falling poll numbers are thus an indication that those loyal to the GoP are exiting the party.

In this context, the only rational goal of the man who promised to “run the nation like a business” is to seek to cash in on his position. Investigative reporting shows that Trump is laundering money of uncertain origin through his golf courses. Given the misappropriation of inaugural funds, I would not be at all surprised to learn that Trump is siphoning money from his re-election campaign into his private accounts.

The promotion of Goya beans from the Oval Office is of a piece with this hypothesis. How much has Goya contributed to the Trump campaign?

I suggested here that bookies would find it profitable to run a lottery on Trump’s state of refuge following his departure from the White House. His lack of attention to the COVID crisis may reflect his acceptance of the fact that his loss is inevitable, a vicious punishment for the electorate that is betraying him. I think that following his loss, his only interest, between November and January, is going to be arranging his flight to a state that will guarantee him non-extradition.

Vitamin D and Immune Response

This post is not intended to be medical advice. Please consult with your provider if you have symptoms of COVID-19.

Vitamin D has long been recognized as critical to bone health. This is the primary focus of a recent double blind study called VALID. It is also why Vitamin D supplementation is restricted in medical warnings: too much Vitamin D can result in a condition called hypercalcemia.

A clinical nutritionist in my BNI (Business Networking International) team touts the use of Vitamin D for immune efficacy against influenza and viral infections. Noticing that immune efficacy wasn’t part of the VALID study, I did some research on the biochemistry of Vitamin D.

There has been some direct study of the role of Vitamin D in viral infections, but the rate of infection was only marginally lower. Still, we know of winter as “cold and flu season.” There’s no good reason why that should be: unlike bacteria, viruses don’t care about the weather. So there must be some weather-related effect, and a significant one is that we spend more time during Spring and Summer outside in the sun. That promotes production of Vitamin D.

Some researchers have looked for Vitamin D receptors on immune cells, and have linked them to two systems. The first promotes antimicrobial response (the body’s ability to kill BACTERIA, which doesn’t help in viral infections). The second – AND THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT – suppresses cytokine production that causes inflammation in association with an immune response.

So Vitamin D doesn’t help prevent infection but seems to suppress inflammation. This explains why we have “cold and flu” season during winter. The lack of sun suppresses natural production of Vitamin D, so we have strong inflammation when we get sick. This causes us to feel achy. The body is trying to keep us from going out into the cold. We still get the virus in other times of the year – it’s just that we don’t feel so miserable.

Preventing inflammation is critical in fighting pneumonia. It is the swelling that causes lungs to fill with fluid and reduces oxygen intake.

Recognizing this, the Chinese developed an aggressive protocol that suppresses the immune system to reduce inflammation when the patient is close to death from COVID-19.

Apparently the same might be possible with Vitamin D supplementation.

Note that at may elder care facilities, residents are less likely to spent time outdoors. This will cause Vitamin D deficiency and thus inflammation. Caregivers in those facilities might beneficially administer Vitamin D supplements to their residents.

Indentured to Incompetence

When the Clinton Administration briefed the incoming Bush team, they emphasized the importance of sending a clear response to the bombing of the USS Cole. The Bush foreign policy team sneered, proclaiming the Cole a “Clinton failure,” and went merrily about strong-arming Russia and China to modify nuclear weapons treaties to allow the design, test, and deployment of a nuclear missile shield. Remembering the inanity of the designs promoted during the Reagan and Bush era, I shook my head. Some in positions of influence tried to trumpet warnings: Tom Daschle, Democratic head of the Senate majority, stood on the Capital steps late in the summer of 2001 to voice his concern that the Bush team was baiting the wrong bear.

Daschle’s priority was international Islamic terrorism. It took only a month for his fears to be realized, horrifically, with the event known now simply as “9/11.”

The cost multiplier for inaction was astonishing, and certainly enormously satisfying to bin Ladin and those inspired by his an example. A meaningful response to the Cole would have cost perhaps $10 million. The response to the coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Congress – involving two wars, time-consuming and costly restrictions on travel, and interruption of international commerce – mounted into the trillions of dollars. For every dollar not spent on prudent prevention, we spent nearly a million dollars.

Swallowing their criticism, the rational party accepted the outcome of the Bush Administrations incompetence as “the new normal.”

Today, with the nation’s economy smothered by pandemic, the apologists for the Trump Administration insist that this is “the new normal.” But step back into the last Democratic executive, a man excoriated by Trump’s “Birther” movement, and we see that this is nothing normal at all. The Zika and H1N1 threats were effectively neutered by the Obama Administration. The total number of lives lost was in the low thousands, with no significant impact on the economy.

The lessons learned from those efforts were institutionalized in protocols for international cooperation led by a team directly in the White House itself.

While I respect the Office of the Presidency, my scorn for Trump is complete due to his utter contempt for the office itself. The Presidency is not a man, it is an institutional process for coordinated decision-making and action. Information is fed into the White House and plans flow out. Trump has not only besmirched the office, he has decimated the processes built over two hundred years to empower presidents to accomplish the nation’s goals. The motivation for those willful acts is Trump’s record of corrupt business dealings, evidenced even during his campaign as he attempted to wield his political prominence to influence civil cases already in progress. Once in office, he systematically bent the powers of his office toward destruction of the institutions assigned to prosecute his corruption.

While the politicization of the security and foreign policy services may be the longest-lasting of those institutional rapes, in real time we are finding ourselves again indentured to incompetence in the Executive Branch. Elimination of Obama’s pandemic action team left the world without a leader in the reaction to COVID-19. The early response to the disease has already cost trillions of dollars, and we can expect the death toll to rise toward 100,000 American lives. Millions of jobs have been lost under the weight of business failures. The obligations of missed payments and unfulfilled contracts will take years to unravel in the court system.

And Trump’s supporters shrug their shoulders and mourn “This is the new normal.” No it’s not. It’s the old abnormal. Wake up, and if you’re unwilling to vote for a Democrat, at least stay home until your party can prop up a candidate with at least minimal competence. I, for one, am tired of being indentured to your blind loyalty.

Pandemic and Prosocial Strategies

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley published an interview with Paul Atkins on principles of prosocial action that will help us to maintain community during the pandemic. The principles and prescriptions are sound. I had a few points to make regarding historical interpretation.


Adam Smith wrote on the tragedy of the commons in “The Wealth of Nations.” His prescription was that government must ensure the well-being of specialized workers made unnecessary by changes in technology. This is an aspect of his humane judgment omitted by the neo-conservative economists that coined the phrase “greed is good” in the ’80s. As Smith was the authority they cited, I think that it is important to honor his opinions.

What is cited as Asian “collectivism” is typical of all agricultural societies. It is evaporating under the opportunities for rapacity allowed by rapid industrialization and centralized political control.

Both phenomena are supported by the original form of “social distancing”: the creation of gated communes for the wealthy that enable them to avoid confrontation with those suffering the consequences of their narcissism. The COVID-19 pandemic is a great leveler of those privileges, as will be the consequences of global climate change. Their preserves, often sited in the most desirable of environments, will suffer the greatest disruption.

“We Will Get Through This”

No we won’t, Donald. Hundreds of thousands of us will get sick, perhaps 100,000 will be unable to resume their previous life because of lung damage, tens of thousands will die.

All because you did not act when the Democratic caucus advised you on February 5th that you needed funding to plan for the outbreak. All because you downplayed the danger and allowed people to continue to congregate. All because you did not act to ensure supplies and equipment were in place.

You can “play by instinct” and do your word salad and monitor your Tweet likes to find out what plays well with your base. You may escape blame. But the hospitals and governors will assemble the numbers and you will be called to account in the next election.

You said we’d “win so much you’ll get tired of winning.” Well we’re dying instead, and even Twitter won’t save you from that contrast when November comes around.

Corona Choke-Hold

Well, I don’t know how many Chinese readers I have, but for God’s sake, people. You can’t claim that your authoritarian “brook-no-nonsense” system is responsible for preventing any new local infections today, when:

The reason the virus got out in the first place is because the Chinese state’s choke-hold on the news media prevented the world from knowing that it was loose.

Burn in hell, assholes!

WTFU

I’ll re-iterate yesterday’s point in secular terms. Prior administrations, recognizing the disastrous costs of a future pandemic, established an office directly within the White House to ensure international coordination when new diseases are detected. This reflected recognition that the primary spawning ground is currently Southeast Asia. It is in tracking Asian outbreaks of influenza that we build our current flu vaccines.

Prior administrations used the White House office to prevent the spread of MERS and SARS and Ebola. The Trump Administration, in some kind of “Make America Great Again” isolationist pique, dismantled that office. Thus when COVID-19 reared its ugly head, there was no one to lead the response. Worse, the President downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak, and deflected blame to others when it began to make inroads in American communities.

The end result of this strategy was visible in yesterday’s CDC press release. In the most ridiculous display of sycophancy imaginable, the CDC head spoke fawningly of Trump’s initiative in helping to “flatten the curve” of infection. What this means, people, is that they recognize that the disease is out of control. 60-70% of Americans will be infected, with fatalities up in the high hundreds of thousands or low millions. Their only goal is to slow the rate of infection to avoid saturating the American health care system. If that happens, fatalities could reach into tens of millions.

To characterize this as a laudable outcome is simply absurd. That it is being touted in press conferences is tantamount to admission that Trump behind the scenes is threatening to fire anyone who does not flatter his leadership. He is holding the American public hostage to his ego. Obviously the President does not recognize that he abdicates leadership with statements that he’s “not responsible for anything.” Followed by “someone in my Administration did it,” it’s clear that his paranoia has grown from the “Deep State” to blanket his own people.

Those in the Republican Party who projected this faker into the Oval Office have much to answer for. You should have helped the Democrats throw him out on his ear.