Thursday, 30 April 2020

Can Nicotine combat COVID-19 induced Cytokine storm?

As we reported yesterday, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) was quick to respond to the story that researchers in France are examine the potential benefits of nicotine to reduce the symptoms of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organisation’s President wasn’t alone as many others are also passing comment.

Oddly, CTFK’s Myers was once a was a cautious advocate of vaping [link]. This appeared to change the second the organisation became a beneficiary of millions of dollars from billionaire Michael Bloomberg – although this is probably just a coincidence.

Harm reduction advocate and all-round expert Clive Bates commented: “In contrast to tentative statements about inconclusive data and hypotheses about a protective effect of nicotine against COVID-19, Tobacco-Free Kids’ Matt Myers is not burdened with doubt. For him, it is clear: nicotine is always and everywhere harmful.”

Bates pointed out that Myers is probably well-versed in the research paper, “Targeting the “Cytokine Storm” for Therapeutic Benefit” by D'Elia, Harrison, Oyston, Lukaszewski, and Clark – scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down [link].

The 2013 study states: “TARGETING THE OVERACTIVE IMMUNE RESPONSE: Once an infection has progressed to a late stage and an individual begins to suffer symptoms of disease (e.g., fever, pyrexia), the immune response generated at this point can be detrimental to the host if cascades are not appropriately controlled. Therefore, balancing the inflammatory network may represent a more effective means of treatment for postsymptomatic infections than stimulating a broad response with proinflammatory cytokines. One cause of death in infectious disease is the collateral damage caused by the immune response as it attempts to clear the pathogen rather than the effect of virulence factors produced by the organism.”

“By controlling the proinflammatory response (e.g., leukocyte recruitment to the site of infection), an immunomodulatory treatment has the potential to reduce this tissue damage by preventing immune ‘overcrowding’. While such an approach may not clear the infection, it can support survival until a successful adaptive immune response is mounted, allowing antimicrobial therapy to be effective.”

“It is clear that for infections with pathogens such as influenza A virus and F. tularensis, where a dysregulated immune response can cause significant damage, one therapeutic strategy would be to bring the inflammatory response back under control.”

“Nicotine is a nonselective agonist of the Ξ±7Ach receptor and is able to suppress the production of proinflammatory cytokines by mimicking the binding of acetylcholine. It has been demonstrated that nicotine can selectively reduce the inflammatory response in a number of infection scenarios, including Legionella pneumophila and Chlamydia pneumoniae infection; however, it is highly unlikely that nicotine will ever be used clinically due to its toxicity, addictive nature, and lack of specificity.”

The final sentence appears to carry the weight of history in it, being influenced more by anti-tobacco rhetoric than current thinking.

The Porton Down paper has also gone over the head of Bloomberg pet journalist Gaspard Sebag, who wrote, “The French scientists’ approach runs counter to mainstream thinking on nicotine” on behalf of his paymaster. In addition, just in case nicotine proves to be efficacious, Sebag went on to mention that “substitutes to nicotine … can be developed in laboratories”. [link]

An indication of an acceptance that nicotine could work? Possibly, but also one clothed in a fear that this would counter the decades of unfounded demonisation that the chemical compound has received from the tobacco control community.

Professor John Britton, the director of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies is quoted by The Independent as saying: “Nicotine could protect you and the trial is really interesting, but the message to smokers should be exactly the same, which is stop.”

Professor Linda Bauld told the newspaper: “If people already have a smoking-related disease, we know they are going to get worse outcomes from Covid-19. There has never been a better time to quit smoking in the face of a respiratory pathogen like Covid-19, but nicotine might be an interesting medicine to investigate to see if it helps amongst other treatments.”

Dr Lion Shahab, University College London, has worked on many studies that support vaping as a tobacco harm reduction tool. He commented: “The low proportion of current smokers might be because people cannot actually smoke when they have the disease.”

It is difficult to see how someone would be classified as an ex-smoker simply because they demonstrated symptoms for a couple of days prior to hospital admission.

Researchers Manni, Tieri, and Soligo (Italian National Research Council, Rome) wrote in a paper published on Qeios: “We strongly support the hypothesis of nicotinic challenge as a proper pharmacological strategy to prevent or dampen the over-inflammation characterizing the second phase of viral infection.”

Then there is Konstantinos Farsalinos, Raymond Niaura, and Konstantinos Poulas, who write: “On 3 April, we were the first to establish the hypothesis that nicotine may be beneficial for COVID-19 patients and should be evaluated in clinical trials due to its anti-inflammatory properties.”

“While in many cases the disease is mild, severe COVID-19 involves a hyper-inflammatory response, commonly called cytokine storm. This is characterized by the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines that can lead to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and death.”

“We propose that nicotine could be used therapeutically and should be urgently evaluated in clinical trials. More details will be presented in an upcoming publication.”

Jason Kidde, a physician assistant at University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City, writing on MedPage Today, adds: “It is only natural that we jumped to what looks like the premature conclusion that smoking would result in increased COVID-19 incidence. The premise makes perfect sense, but we cannot ignore the data and continue to report this as an unfounded risk factor rooted in bias.”

Source: Planetofthevapes News.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

‘Scandalous’: Fury after BBC investigation exposes UK government's failure on pandemic PPE stockpiling despite warnings

A BBC ‘Panorama’ investigation which revealed that the Tories ignored warnings about missing vital equipment – with no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the government’s pandemic stockpile – has provoked a fierce backlash. The shocking revelations uncovered by the program, which aired on Monday night, come as NHS staff say their lives are being put at risk because of a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in their fight against the coronavirus. Over 100 UK health and social care workers are known to have died from Covid-19.

The investigation found that crucial items were left out of the pandemic stockpile when it was set up in 2009. The UK government subsequently ignored warnings from its own advisers to buy missing equipment.

It meant that PM Boris Johnson’s Tory government was woefully ill-prepared for the deadly coronavirus outbreak, its pandemic stockpile lacking essential equipment for frontline staff, such as gowns, visors, swabs and body bags. The items are now in short supply.

Furthermore, it was revealed that the government was counting each PPE glove individually, rather than as a pair, which enabled them to boast about delivering one billion items of protective kit to NHS staff.

The expose has somewhat gone under the radar of many mainstream media outlets, but it has incited anger on social media. Honorary Vice President of the British Medical Association (BMA) Dr Kailash Chand claimed that he had “never been so hurt watching” the findings of the investigation and called for Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s resignation.

Liam Thorp, political editor at the Liverpool Echo, took a swipe at the government’s consistent line that it has always been led by “the science” when it comes to its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Others branded it “scandalous,” and expressed their anger at what they believe were preventable deaths. Gifs were also posted making fun of the government's rather dubious method for counting PPE.

Devastating figures published by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday revealed that England and Wales recorded their highest weekly death total since comparable records began in 1993.

A total of 22,351 people died in the week ending 17 April 2020 – a staggering 11,854 more than the five-year average. This is the largest number of deaths to occur in any week since statisticians began compiling the figures 27 years ago.

The report also revealed that the number of fatalities from Covid-19 in England and Wales was 35 percent higher than suggested by the figures announced by the government.

Source:: UK.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Led Astray: American Jewish institutions speak for a narrow few

THERE IS A DISJUNCTURE at the heart of the American Jewish politics. Most American Jews know very little about the institutions that claim to represent them, and the leaders of these institutions share few of the political and religious commitments held by most American Jews. Such a disconnect between putatively representative organizations and their constituents is hardly a uniquely Jewish phenomenon—indeed, it may be characteristic of the current political crisis more generally. It also is not new. In his 1996 book Jewish Power, former editor of the Forward J. J. Goldberg wrote of the “yawning chasm of ignorance and mutual incomprehension” that divided the “Jewish community’s leaders from their presumed followers,” separating “the activists who conduct the Jewish community’s business and represent its interests to the larger society, and the broader population of American Jews who are almost entirely unaware of the work being done in their name.”

Nonetheless, this chasm has become newly salient in the Trump era. The vast majority of American Jews not only greatly dislike President Trump but also believe he has made them less safe: according to a May 2019 poll, nearly three-quarters of Jewish voters believe American Jews are less secure under Trump than they were before, 71 percent disapprove of Trump’s overall job performance, and nearly 60 percent believe that he bears at least some responsibility for the synagogue shootings carried out by white nationalists in Pittsburgh and Poway. And yet such views put them starkly at odds with much of the Jewish institutional leadership, which has not only found common cause with the Trump administration on issues related to Israel but also lauded Trump for his approach to anti-Semitism. Establishment leaders like Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), have celebrated the Trump administration’s move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and praised measures like Trump’s anti-Semitism executive order, which codifies anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism and designates criticisms of Israel as forms of anti-Jewish discrimination.

The disjuncture between American Jews and the self-appointed Jewish institutional leadership goes beyond perceptions of Trump. While groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have long worked to ensure that there is “no daylight,” as Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer put it at AIPAC’s 2017 conference, between the positions of the U.S. and Israeli governments, the majority of American Jews support the U.S. government publicly stating its disagreements with Israel, according to a 2018 poll. Furthermore, a full 50 percent of American Jews support the U.S. government exerting pressure on the Israeli government, without equal pressure on the Palestinians, to achieve peace. And it is not only that the American Jewish institutions are out of step with the people they claim to represent; most American Jews report having little connection to them at all. According to Pew’s 2013 “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the most recent major survey of American Jewish life, less than a third of Jewish adults say they belong to a synagogue; even fewer (18 percent) say they belong to other kinds of Jewish organizations.

There are, in effect, two distinct American Jewish worlds. There is the institutional Jewish world: an alphabet-soup of acronyms that includes better-known organizations like the ADL, the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), and AIPAC, as well as organizations like the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (CoP). And then there is the world in which most American Jews live, where few could describe or differentiate the roles and mandates of these organizations.

You’d never know this from the press releases of the Jewish establishment organizations, in which they deputize themselves to speak on behalf of all Jews. Nor, for that matter, from mainstream publications like the New York Times, where right-wing columnists Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss reproduce the establishment’s conventional wisdom and are honored for doing so with book deals, awards, and Jewish Community Center speaking events. The persistence of this “yawning chasm”—its preservation, even—between the two Jewish worlds is not an accident, and it is not the product of the Jewish institutional leadership’s ignorance. On the contrary, these leaders know fully well what most American Jews believe: they are, after all, compulsive commissioners of surveys and polls. Rather, the disjuncture remains because the Jewish institutional leadership believes that most American Jews are wrong—about politics, about Israel, and, perhaps most significantly, about what it means to be a Jew.

Bunker Mentality

How, then, did this come to be?

Find out from Joshua Leifer @ The Baffler.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Faux Noise: "You Report, We Deny!"

We scared the hell out of the American people’ over ‘flu,’ says Fox News guest

Former education secretary Bill Bennett has been savaged online for suggesting that the coronavirus is “not a pandemic,” calling for the lifting of lockdown measures, as the debate rages over reopening the shuttered US economy.

More than half a million Americans have caught the coronavirus, with just over 22,000 deaths. While the numbers are dire, the University of Washington’s forecasters revised their total predicted Covid-19 deaths down to 60,000 last week, a number comparable to deaths from influenza in 2017-2018, and significantly lower than the six-figure death toll floated by President Donald Trump’s top medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, last month.

For this, we scared the hell out of the American people, we lost 17 million jobs, we put a major dent in the economy, we closed down the schools... shut down the churches,” Bennett said on Monday’s edition of Fox and Friends. “You know, this was not, and is not a pandemic. But we do have panic and pandemonium as a result of the hype of this.

Click here!

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11 and it has been reported in almost every country around the world. Bennett was flayed online for his “aggressively stupid” statement.

Bill Bennett may be a self-proclaimed ethics expert, but he obviously knows very little about logic and cause-and-effect,” wrote author Ward Carroll.


Source: USA

Thursday, 9 April 2020

J'accuse: Trump and the US Corona Disaster

"I don’t take responsibility at all,” said President Donald Trump in the Rose Garden on March 13. Those words will probably end up as the epitaph of his presidency, the single sentence that sums it all up.

Trump now fancies himself a “wartime president.” How is his war going? By the end of March, the coronavirus had killed more Americans than the 9/11 attacks. By the first weekend in April, the virus had killed more Americans than any single battle of the Civil War. By Easter, it may have killed more Americans than the Korean War. On the present trajectory, it will kill, by late April, more Americans than Vietnam. Having earlier promised that casualties could be held near zero, Trump now claims he will have done a “very good job” if the toll is held below 200,000 dead.

The United States is on trajectory to suffer more sickness, more dying, and more economic harm from this virus than any other comparably developed country.

That the pandemic occurred is not Trump’s fault. The utter unpreparedness of the United States for a pandemic is Trump’s fault. The loss of stockpiled respirators to breakage because the federal government let maintenance contracts lapse in 2018 is Trump’s fault. The failure to store sufficient protective medical gear in the national arsenal is Trump’s fault. That states are bidding against other states for equipment, paying many multiples of the precrisis price for ventilators, is Trump’s fault. Air travelers summoned home and forced to stand for hours in dense airport crowds alongside infected people? That was Trump’s fault too. Ten weeks of insisting that the coronavirus is a harmless flu that would miraculously go away on its own? Trump’s fault again. The refusal of red-state governors to act promptly, the failure to close Florida and Gulf Coast beaches until late March? That fault is more widely shared, but again, responsibility rests with Trump: He could have stopped it, and he did not.

Click here!

The lying about the coronavirus by hosts on Fox News and conservative talk radio is Trump’s fault: They did it to protect him. The false hope of instant cures and nonexistent vaccines is Trump’s fault, because he told those lies to cover up his failure to act in time. The severity of the economic crisis is Trump’s fault; things would have been less bad if he had acted faster instead of sending out his chief economic adviser and his son Eric to assure Americans that the first stock-market dips were buying opportunities. The firing of a Navy captain for speaking truthfully about the virus’s threat to his crew? Trump’s fault. The fact that so many key government jobs were either empty or filled by mediocrities? Trump’s fault. The insertion of Trump’s arrogant and incompetent son-in-law as commander in chief of the national medical supply chain? Trump’s fault.

For three years, Trump has blathered and bluffed and bullied his way through an office for which he is utterly inadequate. But sooner or later, every president must face a supreme test, a test that cannot be evaded by blather and bluff and bullying. That test has overwhelmed Trump.

Trump failed. He is failing. He will continue to fail. And Americans are paying for his failures.

The coronavirus emerged in China in late December. The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak on January 3. The first confirmed case in the United States was diagnosed in mid-January. Financial markets in the United States suffered the first of a sequence of crashes on February 24. The first person known to have succumbed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in the United States died on February 29. The 100th died on March 17. By March 20, New York City alone had confirmed 5,600 cases. Not until March 21—the day the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services placed its first large-scale order for N95 masks—did the White House begin marshaling a national supply chain to meet the threat in earnest. “What they’ve done over the last 13 days has been really extraordinary,” Jared Kushner said on April 3, implicitly acknowledging the waste of weeks between January 3 and March 21.

Those were the weeks when testing hardly happened, because there were no kits. Those were the weeks when tracing hardly happened, because there was little testing. Those were the weeks when isolation did not happen, because the president and his administration insisted that the virus was under control. Those were the weeks when supplies were not ordered, because nobody in the White House was home to order them. Those lost weeks placed the United States on the path to the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in the developed world: one-fourth of all confirmed cases anywhere on Earth.

Those lost weeks also put the United States—and thus the world—on the path to an economic collapse steeper than any in recent memory. Statisticians cannot count fast enough to keep pace with the accelerating economic depression. It’s a good guess that the unemployment rate had reached 13 percent by April 3. It may peak at 20 percent, perhaps even higher, and threatens to stay at Great Depression–like levels at least into 2021, maybe longer.

This country—buffered by oceans from the epicenter of the global outbreak, in East Asia; blessed with the most advanced medical technology on Earth; endowed with agencies and personnel devoted to responding to pandemics—could have and should have suffered less than nations nearer to China. Instead, the United States will suffer more than any peer country.

It didn’t have to be this way. If somebody else had been president of the United States in December 2019—Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Mike Pence, really almost anybody else—the United States would still have been afflicted by the coronavirus. But it would have been better prepared, and better able to respond.Through the early weeks of the pandemic, when so much death and suffering could still have been prevented or mitigated, Trump joined passivity to fantasy. In those crucial early days, Trump made two big wagers. He bet that the virus could somehow be prevented from entering the United States by travel restrictions. And he bet that, to the extent that the virus had already entered the United States, it would burn off as the weather warmed.

At a session with state governors on February 10, Trump predicted that the virus would quickly disappear on its own. “Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do—you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat—as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though. We have 12 cases—11 cases, and many of them are in good shape now.” On February 14, Trump repeated his assurance that the virus would disappear by itself. He tweeted again on February 24 that he had the virus “very much under control in the USA.” On February 27, he said that the virus would disappear “like a miracle.”

More from David Frum.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Never forget: Repugnicans and Corona Virus

“THE STRUGGLE OF man against power,” the Czech writer Milan Kundera famously proclaimed, “is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

Here in the United States, both politicians and the public tend to have the shortest of short memories. There is much collective “forgetting” that goes on in Washington D.C., New York, and beyond.

Consider those politicians and pundits who cheered on the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, while spreading lies about weapons of mass destruction, and continue to hold important and influential positions in politics and in the media; one of them is even on course to be the Democratic presidential nominee in November. Today, however, few mention Iraq in relation to any of these politicians or pundits.

Those bankers and economists who backed the disastrous economic policies that helped cause the financial crash in 2008 continue to lecture the rest of us on how to run the economy. Today, however, few mention the crash in relation to any of these people.

I wonder: Will we make the same mistake after the United States has recovered from the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps the biggest political, economic, and public health crisis in modern American history? Will we forgive those who got it so badly wrong and endangered our lives? Will we forget their dishonest and negligent behavior?

Only, I guess, if we abandon “the struggle of man against power,” to quote Kundera.

There has been much moving of goalposts in recent weeks as countless conservatives try to pretend that they have always taken Covid-19 seriously; there have been repeated and brazen attempts by prominent figures on the right (as well as the Democratic mayor of New York) to make their earlier denialism disappear down the memory hole.

Never forget: The president of the United States claimed to have the coronavirus “totally under control” because it was only “one person coming in from China”; he said it would miraculously “disappear”; he compared it to the flu; he tried to prevent sick Americans on a cruise ship getting off and getting tested because he liked “the numbers being where they are”; and he called concerns over the spread of the virus a Democratic “hoax.” Donald Trump also held daily White House press briefings where he berated the press; told countless lies; denied any “responsibility at all” for the crisis; [...]” As thousands of Americans lost their lives to Covid-19, the president bragged about his TV ratings and his Facebook followers, while also taking Twitter potshots at Hillary Clinton over Benghazi and her emails.

Never forget: Members of this Trump administration suggested that the coronavirus was not just “contained,” but contained “pretty close to airtight.” They compared deaths from Covid-19 to deaths from smoking and opioids; they even fired a Navy captain for daring to sound the alarm about the spread of the virus aboard his aircraft carrier, and he later tested positive for the disease himself. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, declared live on national TV that the Strategic National Stockpile was “supposed to be our stockpile” and not for use by hard-hit states.

Never forget: Republican members of Congress took photos mocking the spread of Covid-19; went swimming in the Senate pool hours after being tested for the disease; insisted on shaking hands with reporters on Capitol Hill; and told their constituents that it was a “great time to just go out, go to a local restaurant” — in clear defiance of scientific advice on social distancing. As millions of Americans were laid off from their jobs, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a long weekend in order to hang out with his buddy, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, back home in Kentucky; the following week, he passed a stimulus bill that did more to help big corporations than ordinary Americans, and he then shut down the Senate for a long recess.

Never forget: GOP governors across the country refused to close beaches, refused to stop going out to crowded public places, and either refused to listen to the scientific advice on social distancing or pretended to be unaware of it. By the start of April, as the death toll mounted, eight governors in the U.S. had “decided against issuing statewide directives urging their residents to stay at home” — and all of them were Republicans.

Never forget: Fox News hosts fell over one another between January and March to dismiss or downplay the threat from the coronavirus, which one described as “yet another attempt to impeach the president”; another said the more they learned about it “the less there is to worry about”; while yet another announced that “it was the safest time to fly.” The biggest name on Fox News, Sean Hannity, not only compared the coronavirus to the seasonal flu, but he also suggested that it might be a “deep-state” plot against Trump while accusing Democrats of “weaponizing an infectious disease” to “bludgeon” the president.

Never forget: the dozens of other right-wing media personalities who misread a graph and claimed that the “coronavirus is LESS dangerous than the seasonal flu” for people under 60; who derided those warning about the dangers of the virus as a “doomsday cult”; who suggested that we might be “better off if we gave [the coronavirus] to everybody” in order to save the stock market; who wondered whether it “might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die.” Glenn Beck, who once accused Barack Obama of trying to kill elderly patients with his “death panels,” insisted that older Americans should ignore the risk of infection and return to work because “even if we all get sick, I would rather die than kill the country.”

Never forget: the numerous far-right Christian evangelical pastors who tried to blame the coronavirus on everything from the “transgendering” of “little children” to “a world that has turned its back on God.” One of them was arrested in Florida, after defying local coronavirus restrictions and holding packed church services. Another claimed to have destroyed the virus by blowing “the wind of God” on it during a sermon.

Never forget what these ridiculous and reckless people on the right said and did, how dangerously and shamefully they behaved, as American jobs were lost in their millions and American lives were lost in their thousands. Never forget — and, most important of all, never listen to any of these people about anything ever again.

Source @TI.

"In the US, there is basically one party - the business party. It has two factions, called Democrats and Republicans, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies. By and large, I am opposed to those policies. As is most of the population."

- Noam Chomsky, 2015

Monday, 6 April 2020

Corona and US Mass Shootings: No Rest for the Wicked

In the US, the immediate impact of Covid-19 seems to be a sharp drop in crime, except for one major category. About twice as many people have died in mass shootings this March as in the same time in previous years.

In March of 2018, there were 10 deaths from mass-shootings. In March of 2019, there were 12 deaths. During this March, under the quarantine conditions of a pandemic, there were 26 mass-shooting fatalities. The number of wounded has also increased this March compared to the last.

The United States has had the most mass shootings of any country, and even in the midst of a pandemic, the rate is not declining.

With Covid-19 impacting social behavior, many forms of crime have ebbed, at least for now. In New York City, the area hardest hit by the outbreak, the number of serious felonies dropped 16.6 percent from March 16 to March 22 compared to the same period in 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal. Burglaries and assaults were each down about 18 percent compared with the previous week.


Friday, 3 April 2020

TDS and the Trumpists trying to talk down COVID-19 death toll

As the death toll from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 soars in the U.S. and statistical models predict more than 100,000 to come, conservative media personalities are pushing the ghoulish argument that the fatality statistics are “inflated” because they count people who died with the disease but also had underlying conditions. This is the next frontier in the right's effort to downplay the effect of the coronavirus in order to defend President Donald Trump.

New York City’s Health Department breaks down its data for COVID-19 deaths by identifying how many of the deceased had underlying conditions, how many did not, and how many for whom that information is currently unknown. Some online conspiracy theorists have argued that only the death toll for the tiny fraction of cases without underlying conditions should be considered, a frame subsequently adopted by some right-wing media figures. But as the Daily Dot noted in demolishing this talking point, a large percentage of Americans have at least one of the listed conditions, which include high blood pressure, asthma, and diabetes.

In fact, COVID-19’s death toll is almost certainly being undercounted. The Wall Street Journal analyzed data from Italy and concluded that as the virus stretched the health care system to its breaking point, “many people who die from the virus don’t make it to the hospital and are never tested,” and thus are not included in the official count. By comparing the number of deaths in particular communities to the same period a year ago, the Journal concluded that the true count is “far higher” than the recorded one. Evidence from Spain and anecdotal reports from the United States suggest that the Italian experience is not an anomaly.

But that hasn’t kept leading right-wing media figures, including people from both Fox News’ “opinion” and “news” sides, from pushing the flawed argument that the count is being exaggerated.

“I cannot find anywhere the definition of what it means to die from this virus,” Fox host Mark Levin noted on his BlazeTV show earlier this week. “In other words,” he continued, “if I go into the hospital and I already have a very, very bad heart, and I’m not given a whole lot of time, and then I get this virus, and it puts me over the edge, is that counted as dying from heart failure, heart disease, a heart attack, if you have one, or the virus?” “I don’t know,” he added.

Rush Limbaugh, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Trump and spent much of last month claiming that coronavirus was no different from the common cold, offered a similar argument today. “It’s admittedly speculation,” he claimed, but “what if we are recording a bunch of deaths to coronavirus which really should not be chalked up to coronavirus?” He continued: “People die on this planet every day from a wide variety of things. But because the coronavirus is out there, got everybody paranoid, governments are eager, almost, to chalk up as many deaths to coronavirus as they can because then it furthers the policies they have put in place by virtue of their models.”

Brit Hume, Fox’s senior political analyst and the former lead anchor of the network’s “news” side, was even more adamant. Hume highlighted what he termed a “very informative thread” on Twitter Wednesday evening and used it to argue that “NY's Covid 19 fatality numbers are inflated” because they don’t “distinguish between those who die with the disease and those who die from it.”

The thread Hume cited was written by someone whose Twitter bio identifies him as an “Investor” and “extreme salesman.” The thread describes the New York City statistics as “cooked” and suggests that efforts to control the spread of the virus in Germany and the United Kingdom are using fascist tactics. The author has previously questioned whether the coronavirus is a “leaked bioweapon.”

This wasn’t the first time Hume has credulously promoted contrarian coronavirus takes from people with no relevant experience. Last month, he shared a “smart analysis” a Silicon Valley technologist had posted on Medium claiming that the virus’s threat was relatively low and did not justify efforts by public health officials to close businesses. Medium took the piece down after experts dissected its shoddy statistical analysis, and Hume shared another Twitter thread debunking it after I called attention to his tweet.

Expect this argument to gain increasing credence on Fox and elsewhere in the right-wing media. In an effort to explain away the president’s failure to contain the coronavirus, Trumpists will absurdly declare that the “real” coronavirus death toll is much lower than it is. They will pretend not to see the refrigerator trucks outside hospitals serving as temporary morgues to hold the excess of bodies, or the mass graves under construction as their final resting place.

We saw something similar after Hurricane Maria triggered a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. When the Puerto Rican government raised the official death toll to 2,975, based on estimates from an independent study it had commissioned, Trump claimed that the updated count was fake and an attempt to attack him politically -- and his devoted right-wing media sycophants rushed to take his side.

After their network spent weeks downplaying the danger posed by the coronavirus, Fox personalities are now angrily denying that ever happened. But grappling with the full horror of what is happening would require them to place some amount of blame on the president, and they are desperately searching for ways to avoid that.


Thursday, 2 April 2020

‘Criminal blockade’: Cuba outraged as delivery of Covid-19 aid from Alibaba chief aborted ‘at the last minute’ due to US sanctions

Cuba has slammed the US’ “criminal blockade” of the country after the embargo stood in the way of the delivery of Covid-19 test kits and ventilators donated by Chinese e-commerce tycoon Jack Ma.

The criminal blockade of the imperial government violates the human rights of the Cuban people,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel tweeted on Wednesday.

Cuba’s envoy to Beijing, Carlos Miguel Pereira, explained that an American firm was hired to deliver medical goods necessary to fight Covid-19, which were donated by a fund run by Jack Ma, Chinese philanthropist and owner of e-commerce giant Alibaba. However, the firm refused to deliver the shipment “at the last minute,” Pereira said.

Click here!

According to the Xinhua News Agency, the company had specifically worried about the possibility of violating the 1995 US Helms-Burton Act, which strengthened sanctions against Cuba.

Cuba has 212 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with six deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Ma announced last month that his foundation would donate emergency medical supplies to Cuba and 23 other Caribbean and South American nations. The donation was said to include 2 million masks, 400,000 test kits, and 104 ventilators.

The US has maintained a trade embargo against Cuba since 1960.


Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Coup plan B! US tells Guaido he may renounce his Venezuela ‘presidency’ claim – but they’ll still support him

US criminal envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams speaks about the new proposal at the State Department, in Washington, March 31, 2020.

The US State Department magnanimously agreed that opposition politician Juan Guaido may not actually be president of Venezuela, but insisted he still has to be part of a transition government if Caracas wants sanctions relief. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put forth a “democratic transition framework” on Tuesday, under which Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro would set up a power-sharing interim government with Guaido, that would arrange for elections in six months to a year.

According to Pompeo, the proposal “protects the interests and equities of all Venezuelan people who desperately seek a resolution to their dire political, economic and humanitarian crisis,” and he urged all sides to “carefully and seriously” consider it.

The US and EU would lift their sanctions against Venezuela – including a ban on oil exports and on Maduro and his colleagues personally – if and when the initiative is “fully implemented,” the State Department said.

Within hours, the government in Caracas rejected the US plan, calling it a “a pseudo-interventionist proposal for a supervised government.

"Venezuela does not accept, nor will it ever accept any tutelage, from any foreign government."
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Washington and a score of its allies have stubbornly maintained since January 2019 that Guaido is the true president of Venezuela. Tuesday’s proposal is a tacit admission that his claim is void – but that does not mean the US is giving up on its dreams of regime change.

We've made clear all along that Nicolas Maduro will never again govern Venezuela,” Pompeo told reporters, adding that the State Department “worked closely” with Guaido when they put together the proposal, and continue to support him.

I think he's the most popular politician in Venezuela. I think if there were an election held today, he could do incredibly well,” Pompeo said, when asked about Guaido.

In reality, the 36-year-old politician repeatedly failed to muster any decisive support for his claim in Venezuela, despite millions of dollars in US funding, and crushing sanctions targeting Maduro’s government as well as the country in general. Less than a hundred troops answered Guaido’s call for an armed uprising at the end of April 2019.

Read more (RT).