Journaling the Coronavirus, Tuesday April 13th: leaders are readers; Fauci not fired; Saul Goodman, plenary entertainment
Our dog is puzzled but happy the pack is all together. His usual workday spot is at my husband’s feet beneath his desk but now with everyone home, he rotates among the three of us. He’s been pretty good about the new routines except for wanting to go for more walks than usual, sometimes rousing us in the middle of the night. During last night’s outing, the h caught a man breaking into our 4Runner, strewing its contents around the sidewalk as he rummaged for something worthwhile to steal. It’s the fifth car break-in we’ve had in this neighborhood so if you’re looking for things unchanged by the pandemic, there you go. Our cars are both 20+ years old and I think I’m going to put a sign in the window that reads “Hey fucker the newer cars have nicer stuff, try one of them for a change.” Which is a different kind of mean but I’m not in the mood to be sorry for wishing someone who could afford it got the inconvenience of getting their window smashed out. At the sound of the front door slamming the thief took off at a walk that might seem inconspicuous during the day but at 3:00 a.m not so much. The h was able to easily keep pace, pursuing him as he dialed 911. The dog did not bark until the police arrived; then, he decided he did not like their masks and barked every time they spoke to let them know whose side he was on. He loves the h like nothing you’ve ever seen.
So now we have another damn broken window to get fixed/pay for, which I’ll get around to as soon as I get a new job or get my pandemic payment. Welcome to Tuesday.
The US pandemic death toll passed 24,000, a total that continues to increase by about 2,000 per day. It’s hard for me to understand numbers without a visual I can relate to. The number of dead from this virus could fill Arthur Ashe stadium in Flushing NY, where they play the US Open (which has been postponed ’til September).
In case we were in danger of forgetting that there continues to be non-virus things to fear, more than 80 tornadoes with winds of 45 mph ripped across the south, killing dozens and destroying homes and leaving behind a ravaged landscape with the strange anomalies that tornadoes always leave behind: a house ripped off its foundations and leaving only a concrete safe room where a family of four sheltered unscathed; a house with only one wall left standing, all of the pictures still hanging from their nails; a kitchen island standing amidst the rubble, a cake stand with a freshly baked cake (see picture) sitting untouched on the granite counter. I can’t imagine what these poor people are going through, sheltering in place and having their shelter destroyed right over their heads. Fear of tornadoes is one of the reasons I was glad to move to California; earthquakes are scary too, but at least they isn’t an annual season of them. Also I’d like to see a picture of that cake being eaten, a celebration of life amid all that loss.
The White House coronavirus task force presser yesterday was almost as chaotic and destructive, featuring a president unhinged with rage at media criticism of his non-performance during the COVID crisis. I can’t agree with Fox’s Michael Knowles, who calls these daily ‘briefings’ really excellent TV; for my money, the Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul has a similar cast of characters and is much much better TV, but I digress.
National Defense Production Act policy coordinator Pete Navarro was on 60 Minutes defending President Trump’s “no one knew, who could have known, this was so unexpected” position, saying we haven’t had a pandemic since 1917 which is not very informed for a trade adviser, a person in a position to know the history of the MERS and H1N1 and SARS and Ebola outbreaks of the recent past. For someone so uninformed he’s also quite recalcitrant, snarling “Show me your episode for predicting it and then you’ll have some credence.” Reader, they did – there were several, actually. Normally when you issue a challenge like that you’ve done the research so that you know they can’t meet the challenge, but it appears Navarro was just hoping he’d be right and is also too lazy to just Google it. Doesn’t he have staff for that? (Relatedly: Who lets their boss go into a meeting so unprepared? People who are either too incompetent for the big leagues, or people who don’t like their boss, that’s who). Hoisted by his own petard, Navarro then pivoted his argument, telling us the Trump team’s response is the best Americans could hope for. Who could’ve done better on this? he asks, which if funny because if Trump had paid attention to Navarro’s own memo of February warning of the pandemic, the answer to that question is, Team Trump could have done better by listening to TeamTrump…except when questioned about the memo Trump said he didn’t remember it and “it wouldn’t have changed my response.”
Writing that last bit produced the exact same feeling as spinning around really fast for a couple of minutes and then stopping, while world just keeps spinning crazily. Sorry, reader. At least he didn’t launch into the tired old string of “here’s everything we ever did in reaction to our unpreparedness” spiel, which the AP has summed up nicely for you so I never have to do it again:
“They talk numbers. Bewildering numbers about masks on the way. About tests being taken. About ships sailing to the rescue, breathing machines being built and shipped, field hospitals popping up, aircraft laden with supplies from abroad, dollars flowing to crippled businesses.”
~The Associated Press
Have you gotten a check yet? I don’t know anyone who has. Every state, every bank has a different procedure so it’s hard to know what is really happening with aid to individuals and small businesses. I read a story about a furloughed healthcare worker in Portland, Maine trying to get their unemployment and I thought, OK here is a profession that will act as a bellwether for the rest of us, but in his case anyway the news isn’t good, he had to call on a certain day for people whose names start with A through H and even with all of that filtering to manage call volume he was forced to give up after 291 calls, which is about 288 calls more than I would have made.
In other news, the CDC has discovered that shoes are effective carriers of the virus which makes me wonder if taking your shoes off in the house is destined to become a widespread American custom as it is elsewhere in the world.
At Monday’s presser the president looked angry and restless, and we didn’t have to wait long to find out why – the press reports of the lack of readiness by this administration, visible to anyone with eyes watching doctors and nurses in videos wearing garbage bags for PPE, are making him really mad. The presser felt like one long defense of the last six weeks: “Everything we did was right,” he says, even as I am looking at a videotape on my picture-in-picture screen of him saying “It’s a democratic hoax, believe me” at a January rally where thousands cheer in total belief. I wonder how many of those cheering that statement are sick or dead now.
The presser started with what can only be described as a campaign video with low production values, a minutes-long defense of the Trump administration’s COVID non-response. Who produced that video? asked a reporter, and Trump told him, oh, people in the office, they have hundreds more clips, we pieced this together in the last 2 hours. It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry – cry, because this is not a good use of taxpayer money during a pandemic and laugh because even when they think they are doing something really important the quality control of this administration is frankly shite.
Why did you feel the need to do that? asked a reporter. The answer made it clear what the theme of this presser is going to be:
We’re getting fake news and I wanted to correct that.
So it was produced by government employees? prodded the reporter, to which the president surprisingly replied with the truth: “Yes! To keep you honest.”
I was almost mad at the press myself for publishing criticism of the President, in the same way I’d be mad at kids for poking a bear in a cage with a stick – once the ire of the president is aroused we have to sit through his stream of consciousness. The fact that we’ve heard most of it before doesn’t make it less boring to hear all over again, although I admit to a kind of amazement that the president creates and exploits so many opportunities to needle Governor Cuomo. That the needling is the result of the president not understanding the difference between model projections and the reality of data matters not one jot.
“Ventilators – they didn’t have a problem! Beds were going to be a problem. I mean I’m happy about it but the Javitz Center is empty! And we brought in the Comfort. And they called and said could we have it. Could you get the medical personnel to run the Javitz and the ship? The level of genius and bravery… the military are great people and it took less than 2 hours… and they didn’t need it! We did all this work but when you read the phony stories no one acknowledges this. You take a look at what’s happening. Nobody’s asking for beds or ventilators!”
“With all of that being said, I think I’ve educated a lot of people as to the press, I would love to say we have a very honest press but we don’t.”
Fauci not fired
So many people called the White House asking if Dr. Fauci has been fired that they had to issue a statement on Monday saying that the president had no intention of firing him.
“I retweeted somebody, it said #FireFauci, I was called about it, I said no, I like him, I think he’s terrific, not everyone’s happy with Anthony, not everyone’s happy with everyone,” he asserts, as if Dr. Fauci’s 7% disapproval rating puts him more or less in the same camp with the president’s own 51% disapproval rating.
Dr. Fauci takes the podium to re-explain the remarks that got him into hot water. A reporter asks if his remarks are voluntary and he says they are and please don’t imply that and while I can see why he’d rather not be asked that, it must be pointed out, no one has to ask what he means. I find that I’m shocked at the question, at the necessity of knowing the answer, though I’m not sure what good it did to ask it aloud except to give Dr. Fauci a way to look loyal to the president. That’s good for the rest of us certainly; that means we get to keep hearing from him. Dr. Fauci is the single best decision that President Trump has made/allowed, something he’d boast about more except that he knows, and we know, that Dr. Fauci is his own man, a doctor first. We can only hope that the president’s envy of Dr. Fauci achieving the beloved status and endless good press he himself craves will be balanced by his knowledge that to fire him would be the single most damaging action to his re-election chances.
Although President Trump often says how much he loves “Tony”, he says it in the same way a kid says they love their chocolate Easter Bunny. It’s a love that doesn’t exclude devouring the object of affection.
The President is asymmetrically sparring with Governor Cuomo about who gets to open what, when. Mayor Bill de Blasio has already experienced the “not so fast” wrath of Cuomo when he tried to say prematurely that schools were shut for the rest of the year. President Trump threw kerosene on the fire when he insisted that he and he alone had absolute authority to reopen the country thus negating the stay-at-home orders of governors. “When someone is president of the United States, the authority is total,” he said strongly, but no matter how strongly he said it, it doesn’t make it true. When a reporter tried multiple times to get him to say how that works, he snapped Enough and moved to the question of another, less fake news reporter. OAN seems to be the most liked news organization in these pressers, probably because the reporters tee up questions like “The governor of Michigan signed an an order banning the sale of nonessential goods which seems draconian and unconstitutional, if other states follow, will you intervene?” I’m only surprised that they didn’t say “that woman from Michigan”.
Mike Pence takes the podium and says soothingly that “The authority of the president of the USA is plenary” which for those of you following at home means “absolute”, before reassuring us that “We’re going to produce new guidelines for every state and territory…we’ll continue to respect the leadership of every governor in America.”
There is talk of a recent governor’s call which the president says the Vice President has rated a “10” and it sounds so much like a previous presser describing a governor’s call that I have to check the date to make sure I”m not accidentally watching an old presser. The Vice President calls it “A productive call and reflective of President Trump’s ongoing directive to make sure we work closely with the states to make sure states impacted by the coronavirus to have what they need, when they need it.” If you skip these daily pressers, you can just say that last sentence out loud in a monotone and you’ll get a pretty good feeling for the briefings.
The president chimes in, lest anyone get the wrong idea with all of the happy talk that there aren’t governor scapegoats still to be found. “They can’t find anything to complain about, and honestly many of them didn’t do their jobs, I can tell you which ones are good and some who don’t know what they are doing. They should ave had their own stockpiles.”
The Bobbsey Twins at the World Trade Organization
The hammer has not yet fallen on the WHO but it’s coming, the president reminds us. ” I’m not happy, and I’m getting a full report. We’ve been ripped off by everybody – by the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization, I call ’em the Bobbsey twins, for years and years we’ve had people who did nothing about it so we’ll have a report, we’ve made a lot of progress. At the end of the week I’ll be deciding.”
He doesn’t say what he’s deciding, but I find I’m too distracted by his invoking the Bobbsey twins, a mythical family that contained two sets of pre-in vitro twins, Freddie and Flossie (the blonde twins) and Nan and Bert (the dark-haired twins). Someone, somewhere read those books to a young Donald Trump, who would grow up to apply the lessons in those stories to promote health, keep the world safe and define rules of global trade. It really is true, leaders are readers!
A reporter tries to lob Trump a softball question that lets him rant about China (“Why are there no consequences for China’s initial misinformation about the virus?) but he bats it away, angry at the implication that he is not appropriately punitive. HOW DO YOU KNOW? He snarls with disdain. The reporter tries to reword it to ask him what the consequences have been but he is having none of her fake questions. “YOU’LL PROBABLY BE THE LAST PEROSN ON EARTH I’D TELL,” he informs her venomously. It would scare me badly to have someone shout at me like that with such disdain in a professional setting in front of my peers; I need to find out who that toughie asking the questions is.
While Governor Cuomo emphasized in his presser that we’re testing more but not nearly enough, the Vice President sticks with enumerating contextless big numbers, telling us 2.5 or even 3 million tests have been performed. No other information, just those numbers. We hear more about the 15 minute test that they are working closely with others to rapidly increase the availability of cartridges. There is no visual aid so that people know what the cartridge business is all about and what it has to do with the test but hey at least we know Abbot is shipping 50,000 of them somewhere, sometime, soon.
We also hear about a new antibody test that ‘may be approved in a matter of days’ but the fact that it is not yet a thing does not deter the Vice President from telling us that soon they will be producing 20,000 of these as-yet-nonexistent tests a month, in case you too are putting the scalability cart before the approval horse.
We’ve been hearing about the Roche N2000s that are just lying around not being used – remember when Dr. Birx put out an open call for hospitals and laboratories to find them? The Vice President tells us that he’s told the governors that 70% of that lab capacity is not being used, and is confident he “sent a clear message to the governors to identify hospitals and labs that can activate these.” I can’t speak for the other 48 states, but I’ve been listening to New York and California’s pressers on the regular and have yet to hear Roche or these N2000s and their capabilities mentioned, but I hope someone is taking notes because as Mike Pence tells us “If they would simply activate the machines that are already there we can literally double the amount of testing over night.” (And: this question feels so obvious, but…why all this “open call” and “clear messages” stuff, doesn’t Roche just have a list of who bought the machines? ) He assures us they are deploying a team to find those machines, and I guess by “deploy” he doesn’t mean putting people on airplanes, I guess he means people will make some calls, but hey at least he’s using the active tense. I don’t know about you but I am starting to think of them as Schrödinger’s N2000s.
“Interestingly everything we did was right.”
Did you make any mistakes? asks a reporter. No, the president says, then explains how everyone else made a lot of mistakes that the Trump administration had to correct, for example “Governors needed ventilators but chose not to get them and we got them for them.” He points at the campaign video as proof: “Those are just four or five clips I played for you, I could have given you hundreds!” There is a long rambling stream-of-consciousness that finishes with a curiously honest assessment of why he’s innocent of non-action: “I’m supposed to close up the United States of America when I have no cases and no deaths?” he asks incredulously. His incredulity is real, not feigned. The thing is, the answer that no one gave is actually yes, the goal in a pandemic – which seems to be eluding the president – is to actually try to save all possible lives using science as the justification, not save some lives using lost lives as the justification.
“Some people say I should have rode it out, if I would have done that, it would have been catastrophic, 1.6 to 2.2 million people would have died. I saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”
When a reporter asks, but what did your administration do during the whole month of February? The president snaps A LOT, we’ll give you a list so reader stay tuned.
For (and on) the record, it was not until mid-March that the government placed bulk orders for N95 masks and other basic necessities of medical care. Most of the supplies that are endlessly re-catalogued for us verbally by the President and the Vice President will arrive on the down slope of the pandemic, too late to remove the risk for LPNs using garbage bags instead of gowns and the nurses using the same masks for a whole shift. The good news is, if we re-open the country too soon and ignite another storm of infection and death, the US will at least be well-prepared by then. This is a real threat: Japan is right now experiencing its second wave of COVID with several prefectures opening schools and allowing public gatherings but then closing up again after nearly a week of double-digit increases in cases. The renewed lockdown will last til May 6th.
Some epidemiologists say that if we open the US at the beginning of May, we’ll have the same rate of infection and death in late July that we’re experiencing now. That’s super scary to contemplate.
“Look, look, you know you’re a fake, the whole network the way you cover it is a fake,” the president says, with his lip curled at the reporter. “That’s why you have a lower approval rating than me. We’ve really really done this right but the press gets it wrong.” For the president, this is the crux of the pandemic.
The president finishes his presser with a few words about the death from COVID of friend and donor Stanley Chera who Trump must see as a doppleganger of sorts: similar age, similar weight, started out working for dad, ended up in real estate. I want to feel sorry for the president for losing a friend, but he cuts off his comments with a brisk “To me it’s a very sad thing. Thank you all very much.” and leaves the room before reporters can get around to observing the similarities between them, which must be unnerving.
Good News: Last month was the first March since 2002 without a US school shooting. So now we know a more drastic way to accomplish this than common sense gun control.
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