Jun 29 2020
04:47 pm

James Fallows in the Atlantic - The 3 Weeks That Changed Everything

If Trump let this pandemic ride out because he thought he could use it to lean on China to manipulate the soy-bean market to help him win re-election it's in the OMFG territory of epic, unimaginable scandals. What appears to have happened with our monitoring on COVID is the equivalent of flying into a storm with multiple radar pings of deadly, devastating turbulence everywhere only to turn the radar off, lock the cockpit, strap on some parachutes and jump while looking back at the plane and its passengers as it flew away, moving blindly ahead into the darkness.

The trick was seeing whether crucial information could spark interest among others on the staff and eventually drift its way to Trump. “Does he just willfully ignore all outside information?” Paul Triolo asked. “I don’t think he ever saw or read any of the intel reports. He does listen to Navarro”—Peter Navarro, the former labor economist who had become a leading hawk on trade policy toward China. On January 29—after the trade deal Navarro championed had been signed—Navarro sent Trump a memo warning of the pandemic threat spreading from China. Navarro had no public-health background, and the people I spoke with viewed the memo mainly as an extension of his overall perspective on China. Whatever its merits, there is no evidence that Trump read or absorbed this memo or any other written documents.

Once, Obama wore a tan jacket.

Celestial Dung's picture

Just read the article. I

Just read the article. I think some of it has been obvious and reported for a long time, but this is the clearest written piece so far.

Years ago when Clinton was President I remember asking on the old WBS chat "If their were two people running for president and one of them held your beliefs but was stupid, while the other one did not hold your beliefs but was intelligent who would you vote for." I don't remember all the responses but I keep going back to what one chatter wrote "I would vote for the stupid one and pray for the best."

At the time I thought it was a pretty clever thought experiment.

traveler's picture

I initially followed the

I initially followed the epidemic's spread avidly, downloading the data in real-time, calculating the rates-of-increase, crunching spreadsheets, capturing a number of snapshots as the Wuhan virus spread, then also back-tracking through the news and internet archives to put together who did what, when, etc.

I found that the United States had (at least then) the virus earlier, but had much lower infection rates and deaths than Europe.

(I used's data because it was easily piped into my spreadsheets.)

One snapshot well into the pandemic:

As of 4/1/2020,

Europe: 470,388 cases, 32,636 deaths, infection rate = 1,385 per million pop.
E.U.: 399,188 cases, 29,132 deaths, infection rate = 1,176 ppm
USA: 200,289 cases, 4,394 deaths, infection rate = 605 ppm

That is, to the extent response matters, the United States' early response was better, faster, and more effective than Europe's.

When the U.S. imposed travel restrictions to China on Jan. 31st, the United States had seven known cases, all in nursing homes if I recall correctly, under quarantine, and not expected to present a danger. Europe didn't restrict travel until considerably later, and they paid the price.

In America the big spread took root in New York, later, after some incredibly irresponsible behaviors and recommendations by public officials, then was spread by fleeing New Yorkers to neighboring states and Florida.

And from there it was off to the races...

AC's picture

Who is this bold traveler who

Who is this bold traveler who feels the need to hide behind a mask while twisting things to fit his preferred narrative?

traveler's picture

Rather than instant ad

Rather than instant ad hominem, why not address the objective facts?

I'm addressing what I perceive to be a false narrative--contrary to that popular false narrative, our early response was timely, and effective. I explained why I concluded that, and presented data supporting.

If you think I've twisted something, say what and explain how it's wrong.

fischbobber's picture

As Mike said,

You didn't read the article, did you?

traveler's picture

I did. It's a nearly

I did. It's a nearly ten-thousand word story, an attempt at literature, not a rigorous presentation of objective fact.

It was full of tedious irrelevancies, such as

"For me, as an amateur pilot, the most gripping moments in the Tom Hanks movie Sully come immediately after the bird strike. The film recreates Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s feat of safely gliding a fully loaded US Airways plane to a landing in the Hudson River, after it flew through a flock of Canada geese and lost power in both of its engines. Obviously the moment of touchdown brings drama. But what I found most remarkable was the calm with which the captain and his first officer systematically worked through their cockpit emergency checklist, looking for every possibility to regain power as the plane headed down."

He's story-telling, treating his readers like rapt children.

I object to his premise--I don't need, want, or expect the president of the United States to be my airline captain, calming me, consoling me, or telling me how not to catch a cold.

AC's picture

I haven't actually read the

I haven't actually read the article yet, so I don't have an opinion about that. I have however, due to both the necessity of my business and that I have close friends and relatives who have been on the front lines (some in the medical profession) of this in Europe and the USA, been following the developments closely from the beginning.

I really don't care to spend my time discussing - much less arguing - "facts' with someone who feels the necessity of hiding their identity rather than standing up with integrity and owning their opinion and point of view. Context is meaningful in most discussions as well as when evaluating "facts" - and the perception of "facts" - especially in a situation such as this where facts change as more is learned and evaluated.

traveler's picture

In other words it's not

In other words it's not what's said that matters, but who said it.

Which can only mean that you're finding truth by faith in figureheads rather than reason, in which case discussion is pointless anyhow, isn't it?

I don't know who you are. It's not important. I'm only interested in your ideas, whether they make sense, and whether we each have something can learn from one another.

R. Neal's picture



jmcnair's picture

Good riddance.

Good riddance.

fischbobber's picture


And I was fixing to spend an hour coming up with a response to your blatent misrepresentation of the 2nd amendment.

traveler's picture

I spent a couple hours

I spent a couple hours responding to your notions about the second amendment, fishing out and thumbing through The Federalist Papers, if that's any consolation.

I'm as boggled by your conclusions as you seem to be by mine.

The difference, so far, is that I can cite factual support for mine, whereas you can only express your astonishment someone might not agree with reasoning you are not able to explain.

Mike Knapp's picture

Did you read the article


traveler's picture

I did. I found the piloting

I did. I found the piloting metaphor defective, tedious and patronizing. I found unwarranted assumptions, errors of fact, critical omissions, and errors of logic.

But I thought rather than addressing a writer's ode to anonymous scientists, donning a patina of presumed authority for his lay conclusions, it made more sense to present the objective scientific data itself, for direct consideration.

The data don't support the premise that our early response was worse than other countries. Europe had later onset, more warning, better information, yet faster spread and more deaths.

R. Neal's picture

Europe also had a mutated,

Europe also had a mutated, more contagious iteration of the virus, which eventually spread here.

traveler's picture

That could be, I have no data

That could be, I have no data one way or the other on that.

It's not surprising the virus is highly infectious--we were funding the Wuhan lab to conduct Gain of Function research, selectively breeding hyper-infectious coronaviruses. Fauci fought for and defended that research, as a valuable scientific inquest into viral transmission (and eventually, pandemic defense).

I don't believe the Chinese released this virus intentionally. But when all's said and done I suspect we'll find Frankenstein was born of legitimate research in that lab, then escaped when someone left the barn doors open.

fischbobber's picture

"Objective scientific data" points of graphing

It's hard to take someone seriously who, six months into a disease that will likely take years to manifest itself to studies justifying any conclusion of the scope of yours, decides to present a narrative that fits none of the data, or at best, cherry picked data (or out of context quotes, as you presented previously, if indeed it is even a quote) to form a conclusion that is clearly out of touch with reality.

You argument is a bit like claiming someone is a better parent based on whose child pooped first coming out of the womb.

traveler's picture

And there's your

And there's your difficulty--you're looking for who to believe, rather than looking at the actual data and concluding for yourself.

I also disagree that we need "years" to decide whether the U.S. or Europe had greater initial spread and deaths. That's silly. We have the data.

The popular press arguments cherry-picked European countries to compare against the whole United States, conveniently ignoring the European disasters, and eliding over the fact that the U.S. problem was then not national, it was highly centralized to New York and a couple other disaster states. We could cherry-pick states and make our continent look great, too.

(I'm never sure if the popular press is doing that intentionally, or if they're simply oblivious.)

fischbobber's picture

You are correct

We have the data. We know that the New York outbreak came from Europe, not China. We know that Trumps selective travel ban was all frosting, very little cake. We have back traced over six hundred different origins based on the genetics used in back tracing. We know, based on studying methodologies of response that masks work. We know, that despite working for decades on them, that we still have no vaccines for corona viruses in humans, and the that long term effectiveness if we do get one, is questionable just based on what we know from what we've discovered about the human antibody actions once they are introduced.

Nobody is ignoring European disasters, quite the opposite. The Swedish protocol was amongst the worst in the world and Martin Daniel and Glenn Jacobs have essentially adopted it for Knox County as our protocol. I'm sorry you missed it, but you can't force people that are determined to push an agenda to educate themselves. And worldwide we have an incomplete view of what the first wave of this pandemic will look like. Based on the charting I've seen, one can make an argument that there are regions that have moved past their first wave. The US is not one of those regions. We don't know what our initial spread and death statistics are going to be yet, because we haven't made it past our first wave yet. We don't even know if we have sufficient PPE for the spread that's currently happening in Knoxville. Sure hope we do. Texas seems to be struggling.

What we know is that masks work, essentially providing the herd immunity that will likely never occur naturally because the nature of this virus suggests that it will return every 6-8 months regardless of what percentage of people have had it, simply because the antibodies don't last that long. But, we don't know that for sure either because the only place right now that could research that claim is China because they're the only ones 6-8 months removed from their first ouytbreak and the news from China is that they are working on containing their second.

In short, we have no where near a complete data picture. We don't even have very clear data points from which to draw broad conclusions. We're not even sure why masks work, we just have educated guesses and strong data showing that's the best course of action.

traveler's picture

You're conflating issues. We

You're conflating issues.

We do have the data on the extent of the early COVID-carnage, and that can be reasonably assessed. That's the topic at hand. I posted data that contradict the premise that the United States' early response was deficient. The data show that our infection and death rates well into the crisis were considerably better than Europe's.

We don't know what the future holds; those data are not available except to time machines and crystal balls.

fischbobber's picture


America went to shelter in place. Quarantines. You know, stay home.

It worked where the virus hadn't already over run the population.

Masks work.

The problem at hand is whether or not Jacobs gets on board, or sabotages this proper response like he did the first proper response in order to feed his ego and motivate his mob once more.

We are two months behind Europe. If you want to know where our response is now, look to theirs two months ago.

We know where our present numbers are, and we know where those numbers take us.

Mike Knapp's picture

Response and preparation comparisons

Does this fact speak for itself -
May 2018 - Trump admin disbanded the global health security team and removed the top official responsible for pandemic response.

Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, removed Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council and disbands Ziemer’s unit, the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense.

Did any European countries conduct themselves similarly?

traveler's picture

That's a strawman. First,

That's a strawman. First, those claims have been refuted--the capability was reorganized, not compromised, not disbanded.

Second, that doesn't rescue the narrative (that the United States' response was defective).

Whatever we did and whoever did or didn't do it--whatever we did, for many, many weeks, resulted in much lower infection rates and fewer deaths than Europe.

So that simply does not support the narrative that the U.S.' early response was defective.

Subsequently, the virus has continued to spread, as viruses do. I consider that obvious and inevitable. I personally expect, when all's said and done, the infection rates will roughly equalize the world over.

fischbobber's picture


The facts speak for themselves. That capability was orphaned and abandoned. Do your homework.

traveler's picture

It's an irrelevant issue.

It's an irrelevant issue. But since you press it,

"No, the White House didn’t ‘dissolve’ its pandemic response office. I was there."

R. Neal's picture

(link...) (link...)

Mike Knapp's picture


fischbobber's picture

Shrodingers data

The facts are all in! my interpretation trumps that of the collective wisdom of the world's experts!

"I personally expect, when all's said and done, the infection rates will roughly equalize the world over."- The facts aren't in, but when they are my interpretation will trump the collective wisdom of all the world's experts!

Roger Fleenor's picture

To the mysterious stranger

Europe has a much denser population for it's land mass, and much more connected population, perhaps? The WHO provided testing materials more quickly and broadly to Europe skewing numbers in comparison to the US?
There are other differences between the US and European responses you are overlooking. You do have the talent to state your deeply flawed thesis with absolute confidence and air of scientific rigor. You should consider a career in Talk Radio.

Roger Fleenor's picture

That could be, I have no data???

"Traveler" is forsaking faux objectivity to recycle MAGA conspiracy theories. Didn't take him (or her) long to go there

traveler's picture

That's a conspiracy theory of

That's a conspiracy theory of your own. It's tedious.

I'm trying to be concise and clear. Would a 10,000 word screed full of awkward metaphors reach you more effectively?

Roger Fleenor's picture

You're flailing..

I was being concise and clear in my observation of your posts here. Once you venture away from your MAGA narrative (and the Wuhan/ Fauci conspiracy theory) you are only left with the tone of one who has a deluded belief in their higher value in interpreting the significance of events happening in the world around them.
I hear most of your opinions echoed on the factory floor around me after returning to work from furlough two weeks ago. So I am not impressed by your counter arguments to knapp and fischbobber. You're tedious and a plagiarist offered recycled narratives as you own objective truths.

traveler's picture

You're not observing, you're

You're not observing, you're imputing, and attributing motivations without evidence.

What you call "conspiracy theor[ies]" is a matter of public record. Fauci advocated "Gain of Function" research, investigating the development of hyper-transmissible coronaviruses at the Wuhan lab--go search the Washington Post.

On second thought rather than leave it to you, here, I've done it for you--

But just last year, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the organization led by Dr. Fauci, funded scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other institutions for work on gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses.


Do I need to explain that or highlight the salient points? I'd be glad to if needed.

R. Neal's picture

Traveler, you might do better

Traveler, you might do better peddling your talking points on facebook.

Otherwise, please socially distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands. Be safe, and keep others safe.

barker's picture

To Traveler

If you believe the initial U.S. response was timely and effective, then you have to admit that the nation's response since then has been an abysmal, deadly failure.

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