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It’s NOT the Economy, Stupid!

Trump’s Former Chief of Staff Speaks Out

By Shlomo Maital    

Mick Mulvaney, former Trump Chief of Staff

“It’s the economy, stupid” is a phrase coined by James Carville in 1992. Carville was a strategist in Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign against George H. W. Bush. His phrase was aimed at campaign workers. Carville wanted it to be one of three messages for them to focus on. The other two were boring and not worth mentioning.

     Clinton used the 1991/2 recession in the United States to successfully defeat George H. W. Bush.

     Fast forward. President Trump pushes prematurely to open schools and get the economy restarted. A massive second wave of coronavirus occurs. And his former Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, speaks out against him, in a CNBC Op-Ed. Here is what Mulvaney, until very recently privy to the innermost circles of the Trump administration, said today:

   “….lawmakers still see the need to run the [money] presses, they need to realize that the current economic crisis is public-health driven. As such, using ordinary fiscal tools might not be particularly efficacious. Put another way, the fact that people aren’t going on vacation probably has more to do with fear of getting sick than it does with their economic condition. Giving people a check, or some financial incentive to travel, won’t solve their problem. Make people feel safe to go back on an airplane or cruise ship, and they will of their own accord.   Any stimulus should be directed at the root cause of our recession: dealing with Covid. I know it isn’t popular to talk about in some Republican circles, but we still have a testing problem in this country.”

     Yes, you got it. It is NOT the economy, Stupid. (Mulvaney did not say ‘stupid’). If you don’t gain control of the pandemic, you will not be able to restart the economy, schools or no schools. It’s that simple. It is the VIRUS, Stupid!   People won’t spend until you get control of it. And personal consumption is 70% of GDP, or $13 trillion, in 2019 (pre-pandemic).  

     Government programs can spill massive amounts of money into the economy, including IRS checks sent to dead people. But they can’t come close to what people spend, when and if they are comfortable, confident and reassured. So, it is NOT the economy, it is the public health crisis. Tackle that first!  

     It’s that simple. Trump’s inability to understand that will cost him a heavy defeat on Nov. 3 – but it will cost the American people far more, until Biden is inaugurated on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. That’s 190 days away! More than half a year. A lot of people are going to get sick, and some will die, during those six months.

 Very very sad. Very very troubling. Very very angering.

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Who’s In Charge? Hey – I am!!!

What We in the West Can Learn from the East

By Shlomo Maital

   Why is Asia, in general, doing so much better than the US and South America, in battling the pandemic? I found a possible answer in an old American Psychologist article, published 36 years ago. *

     In times of enormous uncertainty, as today, people grasp at straws. They try to re-establish control of their lives, when they feel it has slipped away.

       According to Weisz et al., there are “two general paths to a feeling of control”: Primary control, and secondary control.

   * Primary control:   “individuals enhance their rewards by influencing existing realities (i.e. other people, circumstances, symptoms, or behavior problems).” In the US South and West (Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Arizona), people take control by saying, who are you, Governor, Mayor, to tell me to lock down, stay inside, wear a mask??!! Nuts to that. I’ll do what I wish. I am a free person. I have First Amendment rights. Who’s in charge here? I am!!!

     This is primary control. And – it leads to disaster, as we are seeing now. Because it focuses on the wellbeing of me, the individual, and the hell with everyone else. And it denies reality, even when spoken by those who know.

   * Secondary control: “Individuals enhance their rewards by accommodating to existing realities and maximizing satisfaction or goodness of fit with things as they are”.

     Primary control is highly valued in the US, for example. Secondary control is far more highly valued in Japan – and other Asian nations. China, for instance, has a 5,000-year-old tradition of “the greater good”. This is the basis of ‘secondary control’. Accommodating to existing realities.

   Primary control people seem to deny the pandemic; there have been COVID-19 parties in the US — where a person with novel coronavirus is invited to a party, as a sign of defiance, a belief it’s all a hoax. Recently, according to news reports, “a 30-year-old dies after attending ‘Covid party’ in Texas. Patient said: ‘I think I made a mistake, I thought this was a hoax, but it’s not’. He paid a heavy price.

     I believe that in general, if you drew a color map of the world – color countries with “primary control” red, color countries with “secondary control” green – you will get a fairly close match with the coronavirus hotspot countries today, with a few exceptions.

     It sounds very extreme but – I believe we are seeing a global drama of social evolution. A black-swan pandemic event occurs that kills people. Nations try to adapt. Some have cultures that kill many people, rather than save them. Other nations have cultures that save people’s lives rather than kill them. And out of this mess, emerge nations whose culture is better adapted to the environment, stronger and fitter.  

   It’s not too late. We in the West can learn from the nations in the East. After decades of arrogance and alleged superiority, it is now time to become very very humble. The East knows something. We can learn from them, before it’s too late.

* “Standing Out and Standing In: the Psychology of Control in America and Japan.” John R. Weisz et al.   American Psychologist, September 1984. Pp 955-969.

       

     

Blah Blah Blah Blog Blog Blog

How to Know What You’re Thinking By Reading What You Write

by Shlomo Maital

     On April 20, 2008, some 12 years ago, I wrote my first blog. Its title was . Innovation in the Black Inkiness of Solitary Confinement: How Bernie Mathews Survived for Two Years. It was about an Australian convict, kept in solitary confinement for a very long time, who preserved his sanity by inventing a game with a pebble.

     Since that first blog, I’ve written and posted 1,723 more blogs. The latest was posted yesterday — about how poor African nations figured out how to do COVID-19 testing efficiently, to save money.   I’ve written a blog, nearly every day, rising early at 5 am, and spilling out ideas that brewed at night, mostly, I think, in my subconscious.

       Some people read my blog – but not that many. So – what’s the point? What has kept me at this blah-blah-blah for 12 years – and probably, for another 12, or until I cash in my chips for good?

       Here is what I figured out.

      Let’s start with a question: what is thought?

       Here is how psychologists define thought:   “Thought (also called thinking) – the mental process in which beings form psychological associations and models of the world. … Thought, the act of thinking, produces thoughts. A thought may be an idea, an image, a sound or even an emotional feeling that arises from the brain.”

     In other words, thoughts are generally pretty fuzzy – even an “emotional feeling”.

     So, how do you know what you are thinking?

       Dumb question. Of course you know what you are thinking. Because, well – you are thinking it.

       But, let’s dig deeper. Thoughts are usually quite blurry, amorphous. Images, sounds, scraps of ideas. I believe that our thoughts are not truly real, until we capture them in words.   If you want your thoughts to create value in the world, to inspire or inform or amuse other people, you need to capture them in words, because that is how we communicate, with words.

       So, while it took me years to understand this – I now know why I write blogs. I write them, in order to answer a question. The question is: What am I thinking? Because – I won’t know what I am thinking, really, until I read what I write.

       That that seems to be the real reason why I have written 1,723 blogs.  

       But there is another reason.  Habit.

       Do something constructive, something good, one time, that’s nice. Do it again and again, that’s much better. Make it into a habit – and you do it regularly, nearly without thinking.

       I have a habit of writing a blog almost daily. That means, my brain is constantly on alert. Find me ideas that excite me, interest me, amaze me. So my brain has become a scanner, permanently, even when I am not consciously aware of it.   I have scissors at hand, and clip articles from newspapers, probably annoying my wife, who wonders what in the world was in that hole in the New York Times? Lately, I’ve cured that bad habit and simply look up the article in question online.

       And, one more reason for writing blogs. I often write about subjects that I have no clue about. Mostly from science and technology. As a retired economics professor, this borders on (or crosses the border into – charlatanism. How can I write about CRISP-R technology in gene splicing, without a biology Ph.D.?   Well, I can. So — I write about things in order to understand them. Because if I cannot write about them clearly, then I do not understand them. So, converting thinking into words is an exercise in learning new things constantly.   I’m 77 years old, soon to be 78.   I’m keenly aware that human brains are ‘neuroplastic’ (I’ve written blogs about that too), they are amazingly flexible, but – brains do grow old, and I think it is important to keep exercising my brain, just as I exercise my legs and biceps and tummy muscles. Some people do sudoku. Others do crossword puzzles. I write blogs. To each his own.

     So – what will I write this morning? I guess – this can become a blog, about why I write blogs. I wonder if anybody will find it of interest. But the truth is – it doesn’t really matter. Because – I am writing it to read and understand why I write blogs. And I think I know now.

Pooled Testing for COVID-19: Africa Leads!

By Shlomo Maital

One of my favorite quotes is by former Curitiba, Brazil mayor Jaime Levin: “if you want real creativity, known a few zero’s off your budget”.

   COVID-19 testing is very expensive, and African countries have very limited budgets. Solution? Pooling. Pool the samples, say 10 at a time. See if the coronavirus is present. If so, go back and check which sample was positive.   The logic: Infection rates are, say, 1%, 3%, 5% …and in very very hot spots, 25-30%. At worst, 1 in 3. So, in low-infection-rate countries, checking every sample means searching for a 1-in-100 needle in the haystack. Time consuming (and time is of the essence), and very expensive.

     This idea — pooling —  is currently NOT widely used in the US. Even though the top expert, Dr. Fauci, now advocates it, and as US numbers reach record levels, 60,000 cases a day, and as tests are again becoming in short supply:

   “Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently announced that health officials are considering pooled testing for COVID-19 in response to the recent surge.”

   Dr. Fauci:   Ghana is way ahead of you. America can learn from Ghana:

   “When the first batch of specimens came for testing, in early March, the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) was the only facility capable of testing for COVID-19 in Ghana. Moreover, it had a very limited supply of test kits.   Faced with the harsh reality, scientists decided to exploit a standard testing methodology in which individual specimens are combined into pools and tested. When a pool tests positive, then each individual specimen of that particular pool is tested. The NMIMR started with a pool size of fives, which was later increased to ten as the testing needs and the understanding of test sensitivity parameters improved.”

   So let’s be clear. Ghana has been doing pooling of tests since early March.  Rwanda, too.  The US is now considering it.

   America – open your windows. There are very clever people, outside your borders.  Maybe, the Trump administration should stop trying to keep foreigners out, or kick them out if they’re in, and listen to their ideas…..  and President Trump?  What was that profanity you used, to describe African nations?  Shxxxholes? 

“Robert Mueller: Roger Stone remains a convicted felon, and rightly so”

By Shlomo Maital

Roger Stone and friend

  Many of us have been upset and disturbed by the continued silence of Robert Mueller, despite relentless daily attacks by President Trump, and his Republican acolytes who want to investigate the investigation.

At last, with Trump’s award of clemency to Roger Stone, Mueller speaks out. Here is what he wrote, in part, in today’s Washington Post: * Please, read this excerpt, 500 words:

* Washington Post, July 12. “Robert Mueller: Roger Stone remains a convicted felon, and rightly so”:

     Mueller: “The work of the special counsel’s office — its report, indictments, guilty pleas and convictions — should speak for itself. But I feel compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office. The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so. ….

   “We now have a detailed picture of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel’s office identified two principal operations directed at our election: hacking and dumping Clinton campaign emails, and an online social media campaign to disparage the Democratic candidate. We also identified numerous links between the Russian government and Trump campaign personnel — Stone among them. We did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its activities. The investigation did, however, establish that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome. It also established that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.

   ”Uncovering and tracing Russian outreach and interference activities was a complex task. The investigation to understand these activities took two years and substantial effort. Based on our work, eight individuals pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, and more than two dozen Russian individuals and entities, including senior Russian intelligence officers, were charged with federal crimes.

     “Congress also investigated and sought information from Stone. A jury later determined he lied repeatedly to members of Congress. He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases. He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress.

     “The jury ultimately convicted Stone of obstruction of a congressional investigation, five counts of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness. Because his sentence has been commuted, he will not go to prison. But his conviction stands.

     “Russian efforts to interfere in our political system, and the essential question of whether those efforts involved the Trump campaign, required investigation. In that investigation, it was critical for us (and, before us, the FBI) to obtain full and accurate information. Likewise, it was critical for Congress to obtain accurate information from its witnesses. When a subject lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s efforts to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. It may ultimately impede those efforts.

   “We made every decision in Stone’s case, as in all our cases, based solely on the facts and the law and in accordance with the rule of law. The women and men who conducted these investigations and prosecutions acted with the highest integrity. Claims to the contrary are false.”

How Chinese Kids Return to School

By Shlomo Maital

US President Donald J. Trump wants American schools to open – now! He rejects the CDC guidelines to schools as expensive and burdensome. (For once, CDC refused to rewrite them, as he ordered). He offers no aid to schools, already facing huge deficits, for the costs of safely opening.

   It is unthinkable for the US to learn from other countries – how can the greatest nation in the world learn anything from, say, Canada, Finland, Taiwan, Singapore, and, heaven forbid, China?!   But in the unlikely event anyone in the US is listening – here is how the Chinese re-open their schools: *   And keep in mind:  China’s GDP per capita is $10,000,  one-sixth that of the US ($62,000).

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=3654737014543735&id=1381450335205759

  • Children enter the school one by one. Their hands are disinfected; their bodies; and the soles of their shoes.
  • They have partitions between each desk. They practice social distancing.
  • And they wear masks. Including small children.
  •    They disinfect again when they leave school – completely.    Let’s face it. China is a rule-making society.   Long before the Communist Party, China’s culture focused on ‘the greater good’ — collective responsibility. My friends in Asia simply cannot understand why Americans rebel against wearing masks, as an invasion of freedom.      Schools    should be re-opened. Kids need the social contact, more even than the knowledge. But it has to be done right. Israel did it – wrong. And we are now third in the world for new cases (as % of population).
  •      There is a simple point to be understood. You cannot save jobs, save the economy, restart the economy, while the novel coronavirus is raging. This will kill people. You have to support those who have lost all their income, restart very very cautiously, phase by phase, and first largely conquer the virus before you declare the economy open. IF you don’t, you get a second, third, fourth wave… and if we have a new wave on top of the Fall flu, which in Israel floods hospitals and puts people on beds in corridors – the bad news we have today will seem like a picnic in September. If you open schools stupidly, you will pay a very heavy price.  We in Israel already are.

 

  •    America is a rule-breaking society. Proof? The gun laws, which allow automatic weapons.   This has proved to be literally fatal, during the pandemic, when one rule-breaker can be a super-spreader. And basically, the POTUS, President of the United States, is metaphorically a super-spreader, denigrating masks, and spreading false optimism.                                            Burdensome? Impractical?   What in the world is so difficult, about making many thousands of plexiglass partitions, between school desks? Burger chain Shake Shack got $10 million in US emergency aid – the furor that resulted made them give it back, because, they did not need it in the least. Why can’t schools get the same deal that Shake Shack gets?

Sherlock Holmes: On the Trail of Coronavirus

By Shlomo Maital

   Why didn’t we think of it sooner? Let’s enlist the famous detective Sherlock Holmes to track down the coronavirus. I know – he’s a fictional character, invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But wait – Sherlock is real!

   Not exactly the London sleuth. But Sherlock Biosciences, the hi-tech company specializing in CRISP-R technology in diagnostics. Sherlock Biosciences has a test for COVID-19 that is fast, accurate – and may be a game-changer.

The Sherlock™ CRISPR SARS-CoV-2 kit  is the first US FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) CRISPR-based diagnostic test intended for the qualitative detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2.

   So – first, what is CRISP-R? It’s a technique for editing genes – using an amazing enzyme, CRISP-R snips a specific gene out of DNA – in order to study it, or replace it or repair it or detect it.

     Sherlock’s founders gathered their team together, early in the pandemic, and told them, Pivot! (change direction). Can we use our technology, used to diagnose a variety of afflictions, to test for COVID-19?   And literally, physically, the scientists pivoted – swiveled their chairs, turned to their computers – and went to work.

   And they succeeded!

   Here is how it works. CRISP-R snips out a piece of the Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) from the coronavirus swab, if that RNA exists. The technology then identifies the presence of that RNA and signals that the test is positive – yes, the patient does have the coronavirus. It first multiplies the snippet of RNA, so there is a lot of it – and then tests for its nature.

   There is a huge problem with current COVID-19 tests. They take a very very long time to produce the results, as labs are over-burdened, and many have excessively large false positive and false negative. False positive is unpleasant – false negative is downright dangerous, leaving people to walk around and spread the virus, unwittingly.

     Sherlock is a Cambridge MA based bioscience company, linked to MIT. I hope they will willingly and rapidly share their technology widely, so that the world – waiting for a vaccine – will at least be able to test instantly and accurately whether people are ill..

Famine After Virus

By Shlomo Maital

   The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are figures in Christian faith, appearing in the New Testament’s final book, Revelation, an apocalypse written by John of Patmos, as well as in the Old Testament’s prophetic Book of Zechariah, and in the Book of Ezekiel, where they are named as punishments from God. They are Pestilence, Famine, War and Death.

   We are currently confronting Pestilence. And that’s bad enough, right? But now, Oxfam, the global organization that confronts hunger, warns that Famine is on the way and it may be worse.

   Here is the Oxfam report, issued today.

     “More people could die from hunger linked to coronavirus than from the respiratory disease itself, Oxfam has warned.   In a report, entitled The Hunger Virus, the charity cautions an estimated 122 million more people could be pushed to the brink of starvation this year as a result of the social and economic fallout from the pandemic including through mass unemployment, disruption to food production and supplies, and declining aid.   This equates to as many as 12,000 people dying every day, Oxfam warned, 2,000 extra fatalities per day than when the virus was at its peak in April 2020.”

   And shockingly, while this is ongoing, capitalism is pouring fuel on the famine fire:

   “The report also said that eight of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies, including Coca Cola, Unilever and Nestle paid out £14.3 billion ($18 billion) to shareholders as new global epicentres of hunger emerge. The pay-outs by the companies are 10 times more than what was requested in the UN’s Covid-19 appeal to stop people from going hungry, Oxfam said.”

   There HAS to be a plan to confront famine and hunger, at the same time we are working to confront the novel coronavirus. The Oxfam numbers, even if exaggerated, are terrible, and I do not believe they are exaggerated.

   Is anyone listening?

Four Facts You Should Know about COVID-19

By Shlomo Maital

   (based on The Daily, a New York Times podcast, by a respected science writer).

  1. COVID-19 is not a kind of respiratory flu attacking mainly the lungs. Ordinary flu attaches to the receptors in the lung, so we cough and feel heavy chests. But COVID-19 is a vascular disease – it attacks the small blood vessels everywhere, in the lungs, in the kidneys, intestines, even in the brain. This is why there are so many and varied symptoms. True, it does severely attack the lungs – but this is because it destroys the blood vessels in the lungs that carry oxygen to the rest of the body. And because it attacks the blood vessels, it quickly spreads throughout the body, and wreaks havoc in a wide variety of ways. Perhaps this is why those on ventilators do not have a high survival rate….because it is not just the lungs that are damaged.
  2. Mutation: COVID-19 has mutated. The original Wuhan, China, strain spread, and then at some point, probably in Italy, it mutated. And spread abroad. How? It became less virulent, less fatal, but more transmissible. The novel coronavirus mutates a lot, like all viruses…but most mutations are not viable. But this mutation, in Italy, was highly successful. Why? It killed fewer people – but that meant more people lived, to pass on the virus. Which is what the virus wants. It wants to spread.   So we are dealing with a less deadly, but more virulent, virus, that spreads more easily. In part this explains why fewer are dying, but more people are being infected, in the US, Brazil and elsewhere… where many people don’t wear masks or practice social distancing. Both SARS and MERS viruses were lethal, killing 50% of more.   That’s bad news. The ‘good’ news: It meant that they both spread far far less quickly and easily than COVID-19. Same for the 1918-19 pandemic. The initial flu killed a lot of people. It stopped, paused, mutated – and then came back a year later as a new version, less lethal but far far more transmissible, in the second wave.
  3. Outdoors/indoors:   COVID-19 does not spread well outdoors. Even small amounts of wind disperse the aerosol, tiny drops, that contain tiny bits of the virus, when we breathe, shout, sing, or cough. This is in part why the massive outdoor social protests that sprang up, across the US, did not seem to directly cause massive hotspot outbreaks of virus. In contrast, the virus spreads far more easily indoors….
  4. Schools: Young children are less affected by it, though not all, and they are less dangerous in spreading the virus. Children seem to have smaller ‘loads’ of virus, and the smaller the load, the less likely it is to spread to someone else. When considering whether to open schools, this should be taken into account.  

Learning from Angela Merkel

By Shlomo Maital

It was all over for Angela Merkel. She announced her retirement as head of the Christian Democrats, in Germany, and more or less disappeared as Chancellor.

   And then – came the pandemic.   Writing in the New York Times, Anna Sauerbrey * explains how Merkel is hugely popular, her party leads by far in the polls – and Germany has weathered the pandemic far better than the US, for instance, where President Trump, a born misogynist, persistently mocks “Angela”. [The New Yorker reported: The first Trump-Merkel encounter in the Oval Office began with almost comically awful optics: Merkel offered a ceremonial handshake for the cameras, which Trump seemed to rebuff. After the photographers left the room, Trump reportedly announced, “Angela, you owe me one trillion dollars.”].”.

Here is a selection from Sauerbrey’s piece: “Now, in early July 2020, Ms. Merkel is riding high. The country, with a notably low fatality rate and a high-functioning test and trace system, has contained the pandemic — a success many attribute to the chancellor. In a recent poll, 82 percent of Germans said that Ms. Merkel was doing her job “rather well.” And the Christian Democratic Union is once again far ahead of its challengers.”

   Please recall that Merkel is a highly trained scientist – a quantum chemist, someone who understands deeply both physics and chemistry. A perfect person to lead a nation through a crisis that demands deep scientific understanding.  

       Now, let’s assume that the United States has a President who is wise, open-minded, modest, humble, intelligent, and desperate to lead his country through the crisis in an admirable fashion.   The US and Germany have much in common. Both have a federal structure – the 50 states in the US, and the German federal states.   Both in Germany and the US, the state governments have major powers. The wise US President says, let’s find out why and how Germany is doing so well, and adapt its policies.

     Here, the similarity ends. In the US, Republican ‘red’ states [Florida, Arizona, Alabama, etc.] have opened prematurely, triggering a disastrous wave of new infections.  In Germany, Merkel’s knowledge and background gave her credibility, and she deftly coordinated policy, so that the German states followed her guidance carefully. No “Florida’s” or “Arizona’s” in Germany.

     The federal government in Germany manages and directs the test and trace system, with massive resources and trained personnel. A model of excellence.

     Not so in the US. And the US President? His shocking, racist speech at Mt. Rushmore barely mentioned the pandemic. Maybe, he thinks, if I ignore it – it will just go away.

     The people of Germany are fortunate to have Merkel in a strong leadership position during the pandemic.

     The hapless people of the United States are desperately unlucky to have Trump leading them, even though three million more people voted for his rival.  

* How Germany Fell Back in Love With Angela Merkel. New York Times, July 8, 2020.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

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