Tuesday, March 31

"New data shows social distancing may be working:"

From the Boston Globe: "New data shows that social distancing restrictions could be helping, with fewer fevers being recorded across the country."


I don't know why

Years ago I featured this old 3-1/2 minute music video from the great Malian Wassoulou singer Oumou Sangaré and suddenly it popped into my mind. What do the lyrics mean? Who knows?  I just know it makes me smile to listen and watch. 

Wait -- now I remember; someone at YouTube wrote that she's saying, "Oh my love the importance of immigration is going back to be with your family and share the happiness, love, build a house and make all good things for them." 

Well, those were the days, probably the 1990s, when globalization held nothing but promise. But if that truly is the meaning of the lyrics, then from the expression on her face and gestures in several parts of the song, it seems Oumou had reservations about all the rushing to and fro around the world to earn.  It seems she was wondering what that did to a person's sense of identity.   Something like that. 

Monday, March 30

An Italian and his Chihuahua doing Yoga in a time of quarantines

Now just see how this virus is bringing families together. The dog has been taught to be serious about Yoga. not like those Yoga Studio dogs who roll around and look cute for the human practitioners. 

The video of the Yoga session is posted at Twitter.  And yes, "Amanda in Atlanta," thank you for this.


U.S. "Counties without coronavirus are mostly rural, poor"

The Associated Press, Morgan Lee and Nicky Forster, March 30, 2020:
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — As the coronavirus rages across the United States, mainly in large urban areas, more than a third of U.S. counties have yet to report a single positive test result for COVID-19 infections, an analysis by The Associated Press shows.
Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows that 1,297 counties have no confirmed cases of COVID-19 out of 3,142 counties nationwide. The number of counties without a positive coronavirus case has declined rapidly, dropping from over half as the AP was preparing to publish.
Of the counties without positive tests, 85% are in rural areas — from predominantly white communities in Appalachia and the Great Plains to majority Hispanic and Native American stretches of the American Southwest — that generally have less everyday contact between people that can help transmit the virus.
At the same time, counties with zero positive tests for COVID-19 have a higher median age and higher proportion of people older than 60 — the most vulnerable to severe effects of the virus — and far fewer intensive care beds should they fall sick. Median household income is lower, too, potentially limiting health care options.
Lots more in the report.


Sunday, March 29

US COVID19 death toll leaps to over 2,000 as fatalities double in 2 days

The headline is from a March, 28, RT report

It's getting hard to keep up with all the news about the virus. Sputnik is now featuring live updates. And the Drudge Report is now working overtime in the attempt to list links to breaking news stories about the virus/pandemic. 


American foreign policy is already unhinged

"Not happy with only messing up the Middle East, the State Department also renewed its assault on Venezuela. ... The U.S. blew it by accusing the one [Venezuelan] who was willing to help its chosen clown and by not informing him before the indictment came out. That man then freaked out and blew the whistle. This is now threatening the whole opposition plan the U.S. concocted with Guaidó and the men behind him."

Bernhard bats it out of the park with the following analysis, although I think he's being too polite when he states the policy is "becoming" unhinged.  But certain factions in the U.S. defense/foreign policy establishments seem to be taking advantage of the fact that the American public is greatly distracted by the threat from the pandemic.   

I have one caveat. Bernhard ends his discussion of American foreign/defense policies by drawing a comparison between the American and Chinese response to dealing with the virus. He writes, "China on the other hand defeated the epidemic at home and now helps defeating it wherever it can. This is going to be its century."  There are wildly conflicting reports about the situation in Wuhan/Hubei Province with regard to the virus.  I think the best any onlooker can do right now is try to keep an open mind. As to whether this will be China's century -- even six weeks ago I would've agreed with him; today, I don't know. It may not be China's half century.    

See also TTG's report for Sic Semper Tyrannis, Pushing for a Third Iraq War, March 28. ("Just what we and everyone in the region needs -- another Iraq war. ...")

March 28, 2020
Bernhard/Moon of Alabama

The Trump administration is reacting to the pandemic stress by lashing out at perceived internal and external enemies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is leading the external onslaught.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for an "immediate global ceasefire" to focus on fighting Covid-19. He has appealed for the "waiving of sanctions that can undermine countries' capacity to respond to the pandemic."

But Washington is not listening.

Requests from Venezuela and Iran for emergency IMF loans to buy medical supplies were blocked by U.S. interventions.

Just a month ago Pompeo announced an increase of sanctions against Iran. The sanctions block money transfers. They make it impossible for Iran to import the medical equipment it urgently needs to counter the epidemic.

While the U.S. renewed the sanction waiver which allows Iraq to import electricity and gas from Iran the waiver is now limited to only 30 days. One third of Iraq's electricity depends on those imports from Iran and, if the waiver is not renewed, its hospitals will go dark just when the epidemic will reach its zenith.

Parts of the Trump administration are even pressing for a wider war against alleged Iranian proxy forces in Iraq:
The Pentagon has ordered military commanders to plan for an escalation of American combat in Iraq, issuing a directive last week to prepare a campaign to destroy an Iranian-backed militia group that has threatened more attacks against American troops.But the United States’ top commander in Iraq has warned that such a campaign could be bloody and counterproductive and risks war with Iran.
Some top officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, have been pushing for aggressive new action against Iran and its proxy forces — and see an opportunity to try to destroy Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq as leaders in Iran are distracted by the pandemic crisis in their country.
Military leaders, including Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been wary of a sharp military escalation, warning it could further destabilize the Middle East at a time when President Trump has said he hopes to reduce the number of American troops in the region.
The plan is lunatic. One cannot 'destroy' Kataib Hezbollah and other Iraqi Shia groups which Iran helped to build during the war against ISIS. These groups are part of political parties with deep roots in the Iraqi society.

France, Italy and the Czech Republic have started to withdraw from Iraq. Denmark is also leaving and the UK is removing 50% of its force. There are less then 5,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and a war on Kataib Hezbollah could mobilized hundreds of thousands Iraqis to fight against the U.S. occupation. Such a war would also involve Iran and the U.S. would certainly lose it.

The U.S. has currently two aircraft carrier groups in the Arab sea to threaten Iran. But those ships are of no use right now. They are 'cruise ships with guns'. Nuclear powered five billion dollar petri dishes for novel coronavirus outbreaks. Two U.S. carrier groups in the Pacific are already out of action because they have large [virus] outbreaks on board. It is only a question of time until the other carriers follow.

It is not only Iraq and Iran the U.S. is aiming at. The U.S. State Department cut its contributions to health care in Yemen just at the time of the highest need:
Officials with the United States Agency for International Development said the decision to halt funding, reported earlier by The Washington Post, included exceptions for “critical, lifesaving activities, including treatment of malnutrition as well as water, sanitation and hygiene programs aimed at keeping people healthy and staving off disease.”
But humanitarian officials said the agency’s exceptions did not provide for continued funding of basic health care programs, which are heavily reliant on foreign aid, and did not seem to take into account what might occur when the coronavirus begins to spread.
Not happy with only messing up the Middle East, the State Department also renewed its assault on Venezuela. On Thursday the Justice Department announced charges of 'Narco-Terrorism, Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Crimes' against President Nicolas Maduro and 14 former or current officials. It put up a $15 million reward for Maduro's arrest.

It alleges that Maduro worked with Columbian cartels to smuggle cocaine through Venezuela.

But here is a map of smuggling routes from U.S. ally Columbia where most of the cocaine is produced. It was shown during a congressional hearing. Whatever is smuggled through Venezuela is a tiny share compared to the huge stream that comes through the Pacific.


Whoever wrote and signed off on the indictment also made a huge mistake. The charges included Clíver Antonio Alcalá Cordones, a former General in the Venezuelan armed forces, and put a $10 million reward on his head.

Alcalá Cordones is no friend of Maduro. He retired in 2013 when Maduro was elected after Hugo Chávez had died. Alcalá Cordones fled to Colombia from where he supported the U.S. chosen clown Juan Guaidó as self proclaimed president of Venezuela.

After the Justice Department indictment against him he came out and revealed that he was involved in coup plans in support of Juan Guaidó:
Alcalá is implicated in a recent plot to attack the Maduro government. On March 24, Colombian authorities seized a truck full of weapons and military equipment, including 26 assault rifles, worth $500,000. Venezuelan intelligence services linked the weapons to three camps in Colombia where paramilitary groups of Venezuelan deserters and U.S. mercenaries are training to carry out attacks against Venezuela. According to Venezuela’s Communication Minister Jorge Rodríguez, these groups were planning to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to attack military units and plant bombs.
He also linked the groups to Alcalá.
These allegations proved to be correct, as Alcalá, in a video he posted online hours after the indictments, admitted that the weapons were under his command. He further admitted that the weapons were purchased with funds given to him by Juan Guaidó, with whom he allegedly signed a contract.
Additionally, Alcala claimed that the operation was planned by U.S. advisors, with whom he supposedly met at least seven times. Aclalá also alleged that Leopoldo López, the founder of Guaidó’s party Voluntad Popular who was sprung from house arrest during Guaidó’s April 30 attempted insurrection, had full knowledge of the terror plot.
As a result of these videos, Venezuela’s Attorney General has opened an investigation into Juan Guaidó for an attempted coup.
The U.S. blew it by accusing the one man who was willing to help its chosen clown and by not informing him before the indictment came out. That man then freaked out and blew the whistle. This is now threatening the whole opposition plan the U.S. concocted with Guaidó and the men behind him.

On Friday Alcalá Cordones decided it was unsafe for him to stay in Colombia. He 'called up' the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and gave himself up. He was extradited to New York and will now become a 'witness' against Maduro who he has publicly opposed in the first place. 

This chaos was certainly created by Elliott Abrams, the neoconservative U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela. Abrams has a talent for messing things up.

U.S. foreign policy during the crisis has been abysmal. The U.S. angered China, the biggest producer of urgently needed masks and drugs, by calling the virus "Wuhan virus" or "Chinese virus", a practice that stopped only after a phone call between Trump and Xi Jinping. 

It angered Germany when it tried to buy exclusive rights for a potential vaccine that is being developed there. Requests for support by multiple European allies were left unanswered while China and Russia mobilized to help over 80 countries. Meanwhile Pompeo chastised Italy for accepting Cuban drugs and doctors.

There will be a large cost to pay for this when the pandemic is over. The U.S. has exposed itself as an unreliable ally, a war mongering moron even at the worst time and incapable of helping its own citizens.

China on the other hand defeated the epidemic at home and now helps defeating it wherever it can. This is going to be its century. 



In Italy 889 COVID19 deaths in one day, death rate nearing 11 percent.

These are recorded deaths since the government began keeping records. So as to the actual total, who knows. See also Italian PM Conte Implements New Measures to Support Economy Amid COVID-19 Crisis; March 29, Sputnik

Italy Covid-19 death toll passes 10,000 as 889 die from virus in one day
28 Mar, 2020 17:36 / Updated 12 hours ago

Italian officials have confirmed that at least 10,023 people died in the sweeping coronavirus pandemic, with the number of infected now standing at over 92,000 and the death rate creeping towards 11 percent.

Another night of grim casualty numbers has added 889 deaths in Italy on Saturday, the country’s Civil Protection Agency said. On Friday, Italy recorded its largest daily death toll since the outbreak began, as 919 people died.

The virus-stricken country accounts for more than a quarter of all Covid-19 fatalities worldwide.

Nearly twice as many people have died in Italy as in Spain, which has the world’s second-highest number of Covid-19 deaths. Worldwide, more than 645,000 people have been infected by the deadly virus, with just under 30,000 dying.

As casualties mount, the Italian government is reportedly considering an extension to the nationwide lockdown measures currently in place. Newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that the government is planning on extending the lockdown for two weeks beyond its original end date of April 3. While the country’s northern regions are the worst-hit, Michele Emiliano, governor of the southern region of Puglia, told Reuters that his region may remain locked down until mid-May.

In the north, Russian military medics have been deployed to assist local authorities in getting the virus under control. A contingent of 100 Russian personnel touched down near Rome last weekend, and were quickly sent north to Bergamo, where they have established field hospitals and disinfection units, as well as mobile testing laboratories.



China death toll number: Mortuaries tell a different story than the government

Urns in Wuhan far exceed death toll, raising more questions about China’s tally
A single mortuary has had 5,000 urns delivered over the past two days, double the city's reported coronavirus death toll
by Alex Linder
March 27, 2020
in News

[This investigative report features several photographs.]

 The reliability of China’s coronavirus numbers is under question once again in view of the staggering amount of urns being distributed out in Wuhan.

According to official Chinese government data, 50,006 people were infected with the Covid-19 virus in Wuhan with 2,535 dying from the disease.
However, Chinese investigative outlet Caixin reports that when mortuaries opened back up this week in the Hubei capital, people had to wait in line for as long as five hours to receive the remains of their loved ones lost during the epidemic.
One photo published by Caixin shows a truck loaded with 2,500 urns arriving at the Hankou Mortuary. The driver said that he had delivered the same amount to the mortuary the day before.
Another photo shows stacks of urns inside the mortuary. There were seven stacks with 500 urns in each stack, adding up to 3,500 urns.
Taken together with the new shipment, the number of urns on hand at the mortuary looks to be more than double Wuhan’s death toll.
Urns are reportedly being distributed at a rate of 500 a day at the mortuary until the Tomb Sweeping Day holiday, which falls on April 4 this year.
Wuhan has seven other mortuaries. If they are all sticking to the same schedule, this adds up to more than 40,000 urns being distributed in the city over the next 10 days.
When reporters at Bloomberg made calls to the funeral homes to check on the number of urns waiting to be collected, the mortuaries said that they either did not have that data or were not authorized to disclose it.
s the outbreak was ongoing, many viewed China’s official numbers with skepticism amid multiple revisions to the way in which cases were counted, accusing Chinese authorities of attempting to downplay the already extreme severity of the epidemic.
Considering what has happened in other countries around the world, in retrospect, China’s numbers now look even more suspect. The United States has recently surpassed China in number of reported coronavirus cases while both Italy and Spain have reported more deaths.
For its part, China has touted its aggressive quarantine measures, community action, and medical resources to explain how it managed to weather the coronavirus storm. Life is now starting to return back to normal in the country.

"Confirmed Coronavirus Cases Is an ‘Almost Meaningless’ Metric"

Faye Flam, Bloomberg, March 28 via Yahoo! Finance:

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- It doesn’t matter that the United States surpassed China this week in reported Covid-19 cases because those numbers (83,507 and 81,782 respectively as of March 26) don’t tell us how many people actually became infected in either country. Nor do they tell us how fast the disease is spreading, since only a tiny portion of the population in the United States has been tested.
“The numbers are almost meaningless,” says Steve Goodman, a professor of epidemiology at Stanford University. There’s a huge reservoir of people who have mild cases, and would not likely seek testing, he says. The rate of increase in positive results reflect a mixed-up combination of increased testing rates and spread of the virus.
We will need more complete data, smarter data and more coordinated data to communicate something meaningful about the extent of Covid-19 in the United States, how many people are likely to die, which hospitals are likely to be swamped and whether drastic changes in the way Americans live will start to slow down the spread of the virus.
With a population of 1.5 billion people, China’s some 80,000 cases look like a rounding error, says Nigam Shah, an assistant professor of biomedical statistics at Stanford. And India’s claim of some 754 cases probably reflects a severe lack of tests — not that the disease there is still so rare. The positive tests say little about how many people are dying or will die, since most cases are mild.
What should we be watching instead? One possibility is hospitalizations. That idea was put forward by statisticians Jacob Steinhardt, an assistant professor from UC Berkeley, and Steve Yadlowsky, a graduate student at Stanford who specializes in analyzing health care data. They argue that rate of increase in hospitalizations could reflect the growth of the disease without being distorted by changes in the testing rate.
Measuring death rates can eventually track the speed with which Covid-19 is spreading — as deaths represent a fraction of cases. But there’s a lag of some three weeks between infection and death. Hospitalizations give an intermediate point, as Steinhardt and Yadlowsky explain: They estimate that it takes between 11 and 14 days for someone to get sick enough to show up at the hospital. Rates of increase in Covid-19 patients admitted to the ICU can provide additional useful data.
These numbers might not accurately reflect the growth of the disease, however, if the hospitals or their ICUs become overwhelmed, start turning people away or raise the threshold for how sick you have to be to be admitted.
But collecting this kind of data can help prevent that from happening, said Stanford’s Shah.
If we all behave responsibly, he says, then we can turn what would have been a hospital capacity problem into a logistics problem. Once you have a handle on the rate of new Covid-19 patients admitted to hospitals and ICUs, you can start to forecast how many more will arrive in coming days.
Stanford’s Goodman said that he’s confident scientists will eventually collect the data we need to understand this pandemic and how it’s playing out in the United States. “Right now we are floundering in a sea of ignorance about who is infected and the fate of people who are infected,” he says.
Though death rate figures of around 1% have been tossed around, Goodman says he’s skeptical that anyone knows the death rate of this disease since we don’t know the true rates of infection.
And we can’t identify the most vulnerable groups. “There’s this delusion being disseminated that it’s all about age,” he says. He thinks that since 95% of deaths to date in New York City were of people who had pre-existing conditions, this is the bigger risk factor. But since age is a risk factor for many of those conditions, the two are correlated.
He could figure it out if he could get data on preexisting conditions broken down by age, but says the New York health department won’t release that data. It matters a lot, he says, since we’re shaping policies around who is most vulnerable. We should find out who they are. They should know who they are.
Some other useful data could easily be collected at testing sites. As doctors Farzad Mostashari and Ezekiel Emanuel pointed out last week in STATnews, health departments should tally not just positives but total tests, and record demographic and symptom information on all the test takers. Much of that isn’t collected or coordinated.
Random sampling would help too, agree both Shah and Goodman, to estimate the number of mild or asymptomatic cases and get at the true total. And then there’s the promise of widespread antibody testing, which could reveal how many people in a given sample had been infected in the past.
With attention to the right kinds of data, scientists can soon assess whether lockdowns and social distancing efforts are slowing the rate of spread in the United States. Any dent we’ve made in new infections should start to show up in data on hospital admissions in a week or two.
Trump promised Americans we could ease up on restrictions by Easter, while most scientists would like to wait until they can base such changes on evidence. Goodman says at this point, figuring out what to do next is like building an airplane in the air. In a later phase of the pandemic, we might be able to focus more on mass testing and quarantining people known to be sick or exposed. We probably can’t responsibly stop lockdowns by Easter, but we may know enough by then to start to think about the timing and nature of an exit strategy.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Faye Flam is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. She has written for the Economist, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Psychology Today, Science and other publications. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology.


Saturday, March 28

Tom Coburn. a great man, a great American, died today

Tragically, Thomas Allen Coburn was also an extraordinary Member of Congress -- tragically because so few American politicians display his moral courage. Most are easily bought -- easily swayed by special interest lobbies, their own ambitions, and fear of losing.   

The Washington Times tribute today to Dr Coburn, who died at 72 of cancer, is a good introduction to his accomplishments (I've changed "Mr" to "Dr" in the report because he remained a practicing physician throughout his terms in political office):


With a single amendment to a bill in 2010, he saved the government [American taxpayers] $262 billion, and counting. He made a cottage industry out of spotting ridiculous-sounding spending items, such as the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere” project in Alaska. His investigative work brought down the largest Social Security disability fraud ring in history.


Former colleagues remarked on Dr Coburn’s religious faith, and his dedication to his priorities.


“Dr. Coburn will be remembered by many around the country for his work in Congress, but in Oklahoma, he will be remembered as a physician, a Sunday School teacher, and a mentor. He delivered over 4,000 babies and cared for thousands of moms in Muskogee,” said Sen. James Lankford, who succeeded Dr. Coburn in the Senate.


One of Dr. Coburn’s principles drilled into staff was that they shouldn’t be afraid to fight and lose. Sometimes you won the war by losing a few choice battles.

But they were also drilled to always treat legislative opponents with respect, to try to find common ground, and to outwork everyone else.

His staff figures it wrote more than 1,000 amendments to cut spending during his 10 years in the Senate.

Most of them were easily defeated or, more often, never even got a vote.

One of those failures was the Bridge to Nowhere, a span that was to be built to reach Gravina Island, with a permanent population of perhaps 50. Alaska’s congressional delegation inserted an “earmark” into a bill directing $223 million in federal money to project, saying the bridge was needed to replace a less reliable ferry service.

After Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, Dr. Coburn called on Congress to cut the bridge money and use it to rebuild a bridge in Louisiana. His amendment was crushed, 82-15.

But the bridge was never built. He had made it too toxic, and several years later then-Gov. Sarah Palin canceled the project, saying the money would be used elsewhere.

Earmarks would also never recover from the bad press, and by 2011 they were eliminated with the arrival of a new GOP majority in the House.

Top wastewatcher

Dr. Coburn made “shrimp on a treadmill” famous when he highlighted a federally funded science research project that involved running shrimp on a specially-built treadmill designed to test how shrimp absorbed oxygen under stress.

When a video of the shrimp surfaced, Dr. Coburn pounced, dubbing it a waste of taxpayer money.


He made a three-term pledge when he first ran for the House in 1994, and stuck to it, leaving the chamber after the 2000 election.

When he ran for the Senate he imposed a two-term pledge on himself. He would end up staying just 10 years, leaving early because of his health.

While in the capital he took pains to keep his ties to home — including continuing to deliver babies in his doctor’s practice. That sparked another of his fights against the D.C. establishment, after the Senate ethics committee ruled he was violating conflict-of-interest rules by holding an outside job.

He then stopped taking payment, saying he would do it pro bono — but the committee rejected that plan, saying the hospital he worked at was for-profit, so it was still a conflict of interest.

He ignored the committee and continued.


Many members of Congress, when they come to Washington, go through a transformation. For the first few years, when they talk about “We,” they usually mean their constituents back home. Eventually, when they say “We” they mean themselves and other members of Congress.

Dr. Coburn didn’t succumb to that.


John Batchelor discovers Turkey's ruler is being cruel to Syrians

Does this mean John has removed his Made in Israel blinders regarding Syria? Or the Israeli military has suddenly grown a brain? Anyhow John is upset that Erdogan has shut off water to 400,000 people in Turkish-occupied Syria, which he considers "especially" cruel when the country is facing the threat from the COVID19 virus. But this is not the first time in recent years Erdogan has shut off water to Syrians.   

At least John with the help of FDD's Aykan Erdemir does a good job of alerting his large radio audience and outlining the situation. Here's the podcast of their discussion, which is based on a report from The Jerusalem Post. 

I don't see the link for the report and won't take time to search for it although I came across this hilarious December 2019 report from the Post headlined, Turkey is trying to take over the Mediterranean, through LibyaThe Post doesn't think it's funny but the hilarity is that it took them until the end of last year to figure that out. Wonder how long before they realize the stupidest move Israel's government made this century was doing Saudi Arabia's bidding in Syria. 

Someone who has grown a brain about Syria is MbZ. I mentioned last year that he's already done outreach to Assad but now it's formal. From The Associated Press, March 27, via 660 News; emphasis mine:
DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria’s president and one of the United Arab Emirates’ most powerful leaders spoke on the phone on Friday — signalling a major thaw in Damascus’ troubled relations with Arab countries, which had mostly boycotted President Bashar Assad and backed his opposition.
The official Emirati news agency said Assad and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan discussed efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak and reviewed preventive measures to fight it.
Sheikh Mohammed, believed to be the Emirates’ day-to-day ruler, said Syria and the UAE need to “place the humanitarian solidarity over political issues during this common challenge ‘we are all facing’,” according to the report. The crown prince of the oil-rich Abu Dhabi affirmed that Syria “will not be left alone during these delicate and critical circumstances.”
Syria’s health system and infrastructure have been decimated by years of conflict. Although Damascus has recorded only five cases of infection with coronavirus, there are concerns the fast-spreading virus may prove a major test for the government.
The UAE had been a supporter of the Syrian opposition during the early years of the war, now in its tenth year. But as the war wound down and with the Syrian army capturing most of the territory that was once lost to the opposition, the UAE and a few Arab countries made limited and usually indirect openings toward Assad’s government.
In late 2018, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus, for the first time since an organized Arab diplomatic boycott soon after the Syrian war erupted in 2011. The embassy representation is at a charge d’affairs level but its very reopening was a sign that more rapprochement [was] likely to follow.
Friday’s phone call, however, is the first publicized contact between an Arab leader and Assad.
The Syrian opposition, which controls one overpopulated stretch of territory in northwestern Syria, is now mainly supported by Turkey, which the UAE and other Arab countries view with suspicion because of its embrace of regional Islamists.
Syria’s official presidency Twitter account said the crown prince stressed that the UAE will support the “Syrian people during these exceptional times.”
The so-called opposition, consisting mostly of mercenaries,  is also supported by Americans and the British, who've also given a great deal of support to Turkey, as have other NATO countries.  

The good news -- what passes for good news about Syria -- is that recently a big fistfight broke out in Turkey's Parliament between Turks who don't support Erdogan's Syria policies and those who do.


Thursday, March 26

Chaos at the CDC slowed an early response to a virus. This is news?

ProPublica is doing a great job at digging but they need to examine the CDC response to Swine Flu in 2009 to understand that the problems at the organization are systemic, and have been for a long time.  Part of the reason is that the CDC confused scientific research with public health. Another part is that they began hiring according to political correctness -- more females, more People of Color, etc. -- rather than relevant experience and proven competence.  Another part, horrifically evident during the Swine Flu, is that they bank too much on vaccines despite the massive amount of red tape for vaccine development in Western countries. But this is a long story. For now:

March 26, 12:18 p.m. EDT

The CDC fumbled its communication with public health officials and underestimated the threat of the coronavirus even as it gained a foothold in the United States, according to hundreds of pages of documents ProPublica obtained.



Trump harangues NATO European governments during a pandemic

"The same pattern of a spike in military spending is seen for other European states – all in response to Trump’s boorish demands for these nations to increase “NATO commitments”, which is a euphemism for subsidizing America’s military-industrial complex."
But why now? Whatever possessed Trump to shoot off his mouth at this time? 

I think Finian Cunningham goes over the top sometimes in his criticism of the American government, but in today's op-ed for Sputnik he hits the mark. My take is that if President Trump has this many complaints about European governments in NATO, the U.S. should leave NATO.  Of course this won't happen -- not as long as Washington can continue extracting billions of dollars for military equipment from the European NATO members.    

Virus Price for NATO Racket
By Finian Cunningham
March 26, 2020

In a White House briefing this week on the coronavirus pandemic, President Trump went off script – as usual – to rant about NATO allies “not spending enough” on military budgets and “playing games” with the US over defence.
Trump complained: “They’re all playing games against us. They've been playing games against us for years.”
It’s hard to know what prompted Trump to dredge up this bugbear. It appears to be related to his questionable notion that European countries are not buying more medical equipment from the US. Trump routinely complains that the European Union is taking advantage of the US in matters of trade, or by being overly reliant on America for military defence.
However, just why Trump should go on a rant about NATO at this precise moment seems decidedly insensitive. Europe has become the global epicentre for the coronavirus pandemic. Italy and Spain have the highest death tolls worldwide, with nearly 7,000 and 3,500 fatalities, respectively.
There are genuine fears that the death rates across Europe will accelerate in the coming weeks and months due to public health services being overwhelmed.
The spectre of the deadly virus is haunting the US too. World Health Organization officials predict that America will become the new epicentre following Europe’s outbreak. Potentially, the death toll in the US could run into the millions.
Trump’s insensitive comments about NATO allies show a lamentable lack of international solidarity. They also betray a damning indictment of this president’s role in boosting military spending by European NATO members – an expenditure that is not only wasteful but which has left these countries vulnerable to the present public health crisis.
What the coronavirus and its Covid-19 disease have exposed is the reprehensible underfunding of public health services by Western states. The lack of hospital equipment such as ventilators and protective gear for medical workers is greatly exacerbating the spread of the disease and the death toll.
Spain is reportedly now spending €430 million ($470m) to obtain medical equipment from China in a desperate attempt to contain a runaway epidemic. Many other countries are in the same predicament. Trying to hastily increase medical facilities and personnel levels which have been let deteriorate over years from chronic underfunding.
(The US is no better, if not in a worse state of public health service neglect. New York City needs 30,000 ventilators to treat virus patients but only has 7,000 machines.)
In this context, it’s far from tangential to point out that Spain, Italy and other European countries have been splurging billions of dollars more every year on military procurement in recent times. That is because of Trump’s hectoring of America’s allies to spend more on NATO. A lot of that extra money actually ends up propping up the US military-industrial complex in the form of purchases of warplanes and missile systems.
Trump wants – and boasts about it too – European NATO members to spend an extra $400 billion on the military by the year 2024. His regular shaming of them for allegedly “taking advantage” of the US for defence is part of this extortionate shakedown.
Spain and Italy, for example, increased their military budgets by 13.7 and 5.1 per cent from 2017 to 2018. That works out at a total spend by Spain of $18.25 billion on its military in 2018. For Italy, the figure was $27.8bn.
The same pattern of a spike in military spending is seen for other European states – all in response to Trump’s boorish demands for these nations to increase “NATO commitments”, which is a euphemism for subsidizing America’s military-industrial complex.
The fact that European nations have meekly acquiesced to Trump’s bullying speaks of the servile nature of their governments towards Washington.
Just think: if Spain, Italy or any other European nation had invested the billions of dollars they wasted on the military to rather instead improve their public health services then the current coronavirus crisis would in all probability not be a crisis. It would be contained by a capacious and well-funded public health system.
That is why Trump’s bilious attacks on European so-called allies is so sickening. He is not only kicking them when they are down. They are down in large measure because of Trump’s bullying and racketeering over obscenely wasteful military spending on NATO. How bitterly ironic too. Spending excess billions on security and defence has left Europe (and America) completely wide open to attack and disaster.