Is it venal treason for Trump’s personal profit? Or sheer stupidity? You decide

Short version of the story:

Putin goon squad promises and delivers bonus payments to Afghan Taliban to kill American, Allied, and government soldiers, according to American intelligence. The latter informs the US National Security Council, which includes, by law, Cheeto45, VP Pence, heads of Cabinet, some important Congressmen and Senators, big brass from the Pentagon, and others. They know about all this. They are on record as discussing this. Trump decides to not only do nothing, but to continue to encourage Putin.

Some of the frustrated members of the NSC leak the information, finally, to WaPo and NYT. We know that Trump has personal financial interests with Russian oligarchs and mobsters.

This example of either complete cluelessness and idiocy by #45, or else out-and-out treason for his own personal benefit, comes on top of all the hundreds of misdeeds committed by those tiny, fat hands and the thousands of lies that have spewed out of his fat, heavily made-up mouth. And on his deadly mishandling of coronavirus, police brutality, racism, and health care.

This maneuver was obviously clever on Putin’s part. However: for Trump and his gang to have full knowledge of this apparently successful scheme to promote the death of American service members and their allies, and then to decide not only to do nothing about it but to then improve ties with Putin, either sounds like treason for the personal profit of Cheeto45, or else they are ALL completely stupid at realpolitik. Not sure which. But to his now-shrinking base, MangoMussolini and his entire corrupt coven of billionaire swamp spawn can do no wrong.

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June 26, 2020 (Friday)Today the United States registered 44,702 new coronavirus cases, a single-day record. Six states– Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Idaho, and Utah– also set new single-day highs. In an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, officials in Florida and Texas, where governors have been aggressive about reopening, have both reversed course, announcing that bars must close immediately.Incredibly, that’s not the day’s biggest story. This evening, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both broke extraordinary news. Months ago, American intelligence officials concluded that during peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, a Russian military intelligence group offered to Taliban-linked fighters bounties for killing American troops. They paid up, too, although it is unclear which of the twenty U.S. deaths happened under the deal. The military intelligence unit officials judge to be behind this program, the G.R.U., is the same one that is engaged in a so-called “hybrid war” against America and other western countries, destabilizing them through disinformation, cyberattacks, and covert military operations and assassinations. Urging deadly attacks on American and other NATO troops is a significant escalation of that hostility. New York Times reporter Michael Schwirtz tweeted “it’s hard to overstate what a major escalation this is from Russia. Election meddling and the occasional poisoning are one thing. Paying the Taliban to kill American troops, that’s something entirely new.”

According to the New York Times, the National Security Council discussed the intelligence finding in late March and came up with a range of responses, none of which has been deployed. The NSC can include a number of different officials, but by law it includes the president, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. It usually also includes Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, and Director of National Intelligence, who in March was acting DNI Richard Grenell (it is now John Ratcliffe).

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) took to Twitter to note that Congress had not been informed of the information. “Congress should have been told,” he said. “And not just leadership or the Intel Committee.”

Instead of addressing this extraordinary intelligence, Trump strengthened U.S. ties to Russia, which have been rocky since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. In response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions on the country. After Russia attacked the 2016 U.S. election, the U.S. government expanded those sanctions. The eagerness of Russian leaders, especially President Vladimir Putin, to have the sanctions lifted was key to Russian support for Trump in the 2016 election.Just after the NSC discussed the intelligence findings, on April 1, a Russian plane brought ventilators and other medical supplies to the United States. The shipment was such a propaganda coup for Russia that the state television channel RT carried the plane’s arrival in New York live. Not only was it a show of strength for Russia to provide aid to the U.S., but also the equipment Russia sent was produced by a state-run company that is under U.S. sanctions. This was evidently intended to be a demonstration that sanctions did not mix well with a global pandemic. Just days before, Putin had publicly called for ending sanctions to enable the world to combat the coronavirus more effectively. On April 25, 2020, Trump raised eyebrows by issuing a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin commemorating the 75th anniversary of the historic meeting between American and Soviet troops on the bridge of the Elbe River in Germany that signaled the final defeat of the Nazis. Their statement said “The “Spirit of the Elbe” is an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause.” On May 3, Trump called Putin and talked for an hour and a half, a discussion Trump called “very positive.” He tweeted: “Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia. As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone else is a good thing, not a bad thing.”On May 21, the U.S. sent a humanitarian aid package worth $5.6 million to Moscow to help fight coronavirus there. The shipment included 50 ventilators, with another 150 promised for the next week. On June 1, Trump called Putin and talked about including Russia in the G7, the international organization of seven major countries with the largest advanced economies in the world. Russia had become part of the organization in 1998 despite its smaller economy– making the group the G8– but was expelled in 2014 after it invaded Ukraine. Trump told reporters Russia should be in the group “because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia,” and the old organization was “outdated” and doesn’t represent “what’s going on in the world.” On June 15, news broke that Trump has ordered the removal of 9,500 troops from Germany, where they support NATO against Russian aggression. The removal leaves 25,000 troops there. All of these friendly overtures to Russia were alarming enough when all we knew was that Russia attacked the 2016 U.S. election and is doing so again in 2020. But it is far worse that those overtures took place when the administration knew that Russia had actively targeted American soldiers. This news is bad, bad enough that it apparently prompted worried intelligence officials to give up their hope that the administration would respond to the crisis, and instead to leak the story to two major newspapers.

The best way to re-open the economy is to defeat the virus. Not by yelling slogans.

By Alex Tabarrok and Puja Ahluwalia Ohlhaver in the Washington Post

May 15, 2020 at 10:06 a.m. EDT

With the unemployment rate at its highest level since the Great Depression — 14.7 percent and climbing — many Americans are clamoring to reopen the economy, even if it means that thousands of daily covid-19 deaths become part of the backdrop to life. It’s time to move on as “warriors,” President Trump has said, because “we can’t keep our country closed down for years.” We, too, favor markets and share the president’s eagerness to stop economically ruinous shutdowns. But the choice between saving lives and saving the economy, the latter of which Trump has endorsed implicitly, is a false one.

In fact, framing the issue that way could kill many Americans and kill the economy.

The dangers of reopening without disease control — or a coronavirus vaccine or therapeutic breakthrough — are illustrated by events at the Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. Smithfield offered workers a bonus if they showed up every day in April. Normally, bonus pay would increase attendance. But in a pandemic, encouraging the sick to haul themselves into work can be disastrous. The plan backfired. Hundreds of Smithfield employees were infected, forcing the plant to shut down for more than three weeks. If we stay the current course, we risk repeating the same mistake across the whole economy.

The economy consists of people who have hopes and fears. As long as they are afraid of a lethal virus, they will avoid restaurants, travel and workplaces. (According to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll last week, only 25 percent of all Americans want to “open businesses and get the economy going again, even if that means more people will get the coronavirus.”) The only way to restore the economy is to earn the confidence of both vulnerable industries and vulnerable people through testing, contact tracing and isolation.

As covid-19 spreads through Nebraska meat plants, workers feel helpless and afraid

There is already a bipartisan plan to achieve this; we helped write it. The plan relies on frequent testing followed by tracing the contacts of people who test positive (and their contacts) until no new positive cases are found. It also encourages voluntary isolation, at home or in hotel rooms, to prevent further disease spread. Isolated patients would receive a federal stipend, like jurors, to discourage them from returning to workplaces too soon.

But our plan also recognizes that rural towns in Montana should not necessarily have to shut down the way New York City has. To pull off this balancing act, the country should be divided into red, yellow and green zones. The goal is to be a green zone, where fewer than one resident per 36,000 is infected. Here, large gatherings are allowed, and masks aren’t required for those who don’t interact with the elderly or other vulnerable populations. Green zones require a minimum of one test per day for every 10,000 people and a five-person contact tracing team for every 100,000 people. (These are the levels currently maintained in South Korea, which has suppressed covid-19.) Two weeks ago, a modest 1,900 tests a day could have kept 19 million Americans safely in green zones. Today, there are no green zones in the United States.

 

What antibody tests can teach us about potential coronavirus immunity

Most Americans — about 298 million — live in yellow zones, where disease prevalence is between .002 percent and 1 percent. But even in yellow zones, the economy could safely reopen with aggressive testing and tracing, coupled with safety measures including mandatory masks. In South Korea, during the peak of its outbreak, it took 25 tests to detect one positive case, and the case fatality rate was 1 percent. Following this model, yellow zones would require 2,500 tests for every daily death. To contain spread, yellow zones also would ramp up contact tracing until a team is available for every new daily coronavirus case. After one tracer conducts an interview, the team would spend 12 hours identifying all those at risk. Speed matters, because the virus spreads quickly; three days is useless for tracing. (Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., are all yellow zones.)

 

A disease prevalence greater than 1 percent defines red zones. Today, 30 million Americans live in such hot spots — which include Detroit, New Jersey, New Orleans and New York City. In addition to the yellow-zone interventions, these places require stay-at-home orders. But by strictly following guidelines for testing and tracing, red zones could turn yellow within four weeks, moving steadfastly from lockdown to liberty.

 

Getting to green nationwide is possible by the end of the summer, but it requires ramping up testing radically. The United States now administers more than 300,000 tests a day, but according to our guidelines, 5 million a day are needed (for two to three months). It’s an achievable goal. Researchers estimate that the current system has a latent capacity to produce 2 million tests a day, and a surge in federal funding would spur companies to increase capacity. The key is to do it now, before manageable yellow zones deteriorate to economically ruinous red zones.

 

States can administer these “test, trace and supported isolation” programs — but Congress would need to fund them. The total cost, we estimate, is $74 billion, to be spent over 12 to 18 months. That sum would cover wages and training for contract tracers, the cost of building voluntary self-isolation facilities, stipends for those in isolation and subsidies to manufacture tests.

 

That amount is a lot, but not compared to the cost of a crippled economy. In Congress’s latest relief package, $75 billion went to struggling hospitals alone, $380 billion to help small businesses and $25 billion toward testing. But hospitals and businesses will continue to hemorrhage money and seek bailouts as long as they can’t open safely. Not spending on disease control means new waves of infection followed by chaotic spikes in disease and death, followed by more ruinous cycles of economic openings and closures. Economists talk about “multipliers” — an injection of spending that causes even larger increases in gross domestic product. Spending on testing, tracing and paid isolation would produce an indisputable and massive multiplier effect.

 

States have strong economic incentives to become — and remain — green zones. Nations that have invested the most in disease control have suffered the least economic hardship: Taiwan grew 1.5 percent in the first quarter, whereas the United States’ gross domestic product contracted by 4.8 percent, at an annual adjusted rate. (Taiwan was fortunate to have its vice president, Chen Chien-Jen, a U.S.-trained epidemiologist; under his guidance, the island acted quickly with masks, temperature checks, testing and tracing.) The second quarter will be worse: The projected decline for U.S. GDP, at an annualized rate, is an alarming 40 percent.

 

Looking forward, we will see stark economic contrasts across states, depending on their investment in disease control. With $74 billion, Congress could close the gap between states and relieve pressure on state budgets hamstrung by collapsing revenues. In the spirit of federalism, states would then become laboratories for discovering the best ways to implement testing, tracing and isolation. States might choose to form interstate compacts that pool and move testing resources across state lines as the disease travels and surges; county health officials might tap firefighters or other municipal workers to build regional contact-tracing workforces (as is happening in Tyler, Tex.). When local and state governments become accountable for adopting strategies that work, we can expect more innovation.

 

How do we know that testing, tracing and supported isolation would work? It already has worked in New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan — where there have been few to no new daily cases recently. Taiwan never had to shut down its economy, while New Zealand and South Korea are returning to normal. It would work here, too. Since March, Congress has passed relief bills totaling $3.6 trillion to support an economy devastated by a virus — and $3 trillion more is on the table. We should attack the disease directly so we can stop spending to alleviate symptoms. Following this road map, we can defeat the coronavirus and be celebrating life, liberty and livelihood by the Fourth of July.

Slight Downward Trend in Daily US Covid-19 Deaths After More Than 90 Thousand Die

This graph shows the daily reported number of deaths from COVID-19 in the US since March 10. As you can see, the daily reported death numbers fluctuate rather wildly from day to day, but that’s probably because of the bureaucratic hurdles involved in reporting a death (and many offices are closed on weekends, so it’s probably not because fewer people die on Sundays and Mondays).

But overall there seems to be a slight downward trend since a high point near April 15. Most of that longed-for reduction seems to be from massive numbers of people practicing self-isolation, washing hands, wearing masks, and so forth, rather than because of a vaccine (none yet) or highly effective drugs that aid in recovery (only in experimental phases so far), or because of any skilled, consistent, and scientific help from the lying megalomaniac currently residing in the White House. (Nobody has seen any skills, consistency, or knowledge of science emanating from Mango Mussolini, except for his breathtaking abilities to swindle and fool a large subset of the American voting public.)

daily COVID deaths, USA, from ECDC

This second graph shows the cumulative numbers of Americans who have died from this pandemic. It is clearly not an example of exponential growth, but it also has clearly not leveled off.

total covid deaths to date

I got this data from the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which has a website with both daily Covid-19 cases and Covid-19 deaths for just about every country in the world. You can find it here.

 

The shutdown, while painful, appears to have saved a LOT of lives so far

If you recall, the growth of the new corona virus disease in the US (and many other countries) at first looked to be exponential, meaning that the number of cases (and deaths) were rising at an alarming, fixed percent each and every single day.

Even if you slept through your high school or middle school math lessons on exponential growth, the story of the Shah and the chessboard filled with rice may have told you that the equation 2^x gets very, very hairy after a while. Pyramid schemes eventually run out of suckers people. Or perhaps you have seen a relatively modest credit-card bill get way out of hand as the bank applies 8 percent interest PER MONTH, which ends up multiplying your debt by a factor of 6 after just 2 years!

(If the total number of deaths were still increasing by 25 percent per day, as they were during the middle of March, and if that trend somehow continued without slowing down, then every single person residing inside America’s borders would be dead before the end of May. Not kidding! But it’s also not happening.)

However, judging by numbers released by the CDC and reported by my former colleague Ron Jenkins, I am quite confident that THE NUMBER OF CASES AND DEATHS FROM COVID-19 ARE NO LONGER following a fixed exponential curve. Or at least, the daily rate of increase has been going down. Which is good. But it’s still not zero.

Let me show you the data and fitted curves in a number of graphs, which often make complex things easier to visualize and understand.

My first graph is the total reported number of deaths so far in the US, compared to a best-fit exponential graph:

Deaths in US are not growing exponentially

During the first part of this pandemic, during the first 40 or so days, the data actually fit an exponential graph pretty well – that is, the red dotted line (the exponential curve of best fit) fit the actual cumulative number of deaths (in blue). And that’s not good. However, since about day 50 (last week) the data is WAY UNDER the red dots. To give you an idea of how much of a victory that is: find day 70, which is May 9, and follow the vertical line up until it meets the red dotted line. I’ll wait.

Did you find it? If this pandemic were still following exponential growth, now and into the future, at the same rate, we would have roughly a MILLION PEOPLE DEAD BY JUNE 9 in just the US, just from this disease, and 2 million the week after that, and 4 million the next week, then 8 million, then 16 million, and so on.

THAT AIN’T HAPPENIN’! YAY! HUZZAH!

As you can see — the blue and red graphs have diverged. Ignore the relatively high correlation value of 0.935 – it just ain’t so.

But what IS the curve of best fit? I don’t know, so I’ll let you look for yourself.

Is it linear?

Deaths in US are not growing in a linear fashion

This particular line of best doesn’t fit the data very well; however, if we start at day 36 or thereabouts, we could get a line that fits the data from there on pretty well, like so:

maybe this purple line

 

The purple line fits the blue dots quite well after about day 37 (about April 6), and the statistics algorithms quite agree. However, it still calls for over 80,000 Americans dead by May 8. I do not want the slope of that line to be positive! I want it to turn to the right and remain horizontal – meaning NOBODY ELSE DIES ANY MORE FROM THIS DISEASE.

Perhaps it’s not linear? Perhaps it’s one of those other types of equations you might remember from some algebra class, like a parabola, a cubic, or a quartic? Let’s take a look:

Deaths might be growing at a 2nd degree polynomial rate - still not good

This is a parabolic function, or a quadratic. The red dots do fit the data pretty well. Unfortunately, we want the blue dots NOT to fit that graph, because that would, once again, mean about a hundred thousand people dead by May 8. That’s better than a million, but I want the deaths to stop increasing at all. Like this piecewise function (which some of you studied). Note that the purple line cannot go back downwards, because generally speaking, dead people cannot be brought back to life.

maybe this purple line - nah, prefer horizontal

Well, does the data fit a cubic?

deaths fit a cubic very well

Unfortunately, this also fits pretty well. If it continues, we would still have about a hundred thousand dead by May 8, and the number would increase without limit (which, fortunately, is impossible).

How about a quartic (fourth-degree polynomial)? Let’s see:

4th degree polynomial is impossible - people do NOT come back to life

I admit that the actual data, in blue, fit the red calculated quartic red curve quite well, in fact, the best so far, and the number of deaths by Day 70 is the lowest so far. But it’s impossible: for the curve to go downwards like that would mean that you had ten thousand people who died, and who later came back to life. Nah, not happening.

What about logarithmic growth? That would actually be sweet – it’s a situation where a number rises quickly at first, but over time rises more and more slowly. Like this, in red:

logarithmic growth

I wish this described the real situation, but clearly, it does not.

One last option – a ‘power law’ where there is some fixed power of the date (in this case, the computer calculated it to be the date raised to the 5.377 power) which explains all of the deaths, like so:

no sign of a power law

I don’t think this fits the data very well, either. Fortunately. It’s too low from about day 38 to day 29, and is much too high from day 50 onwards. Otherwise we would be looking at about 230,000 dead by day 70 (May 8).

But saying that the entire number of deaths in the US is no longer following a single exponential curve doesn’t quite do the subject justice. Exponential growth (or decay) simply means that in any given time period, the quantity you are measuring is increasing (or decreasing) by a fixed percentage (or fraction). That’s all. And, as you can see, for the past week, the daily percentage of increase in the total number of deaths has been in the range of three to seven percent. However, during the first part of March, the rate of increase in deaths was enormous: 20 to 40 percent PER DAY. And the daily percent of increase in the number of cases was at times over A HUNDRED PERCENT!!! – which is off the chart below.

daily percentages of increases in covid 19 cases and deaths, USA, thru April 25

The situation is still not good! If we are stuck at a daily increase in the number of deaths as low as a 3%/day increase, then we are all dead within a year. Obviously, and fortunately, that’s probably not going to happen, but it’s a bit difficult to believe that the math works out that way.

But it does. Let me show you, using logs.

For simple round numbers, let’s say we have 50,000 poor souls who have died so far from this coronavirus in the USA right now, and that number of deaths is increasing at a rate of 3 percent per day. Let’s also say that the US has a population of about 330 million. The question is, when will we all be dead if that exponential growth keeps going on somehow? (Fortunately, it won’t.*) Here is the first equation, and then the steps I went through. Keep in mind that a growth of 3% per day means that you can multiply any day’s value by 1.03, or 103%, to get the next day’s value. Here goes:

in 10 months we are all dead

Sound unbelievable? To check that, let us take almost any calculator and try raising the expression 1.03 to the 300th power. I think you’ll get about 7098. Now take that and multiply it by the approximate number of people dead so far in the US, namely 50,000. You’ll get about 355,000,000 – well more than the total number of Americans.

So we still need to get that rate of increase in fatalities down, to basically zero. We are not there yet. With our current highly-incompetent national leadership, we might not.

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* what happens in cases like this is you get sort of an s-shaped curve, called the Logistic or logit curve, in which the total number levels off after a while. That’s shown below. Still not pleasant.

I have no idea how to model this sort of problem with a logistic curve; for one thing, one would need to know what the total ‘carrying capacity’ – or total number of dead — would be if current trends continue and we are unsuccessful at stopping this virus. The epidemiologists and statisticians who make models for this sort of thing know a lot more math, stats, biology, and so on than I do, but even they are working with a whole lot of unknowns, including the rate of infectiousness, what fraction of the people feel really sick, what fraction die, whether you get immunity if you are exposed, what is the effect of different viral loads, and much more. This virus has only been out for a few months…

logistic curve again

 

What’s the best approach – should we lock down harder, or let people start to go back to work? Some countries have had lockdowns, others have not. How will the future play out? I don’t know. I do know that before we can decide, we need to have fast, plentiful, and accurate tests, so we can quarantine just the people who are infected or are carriers, and let everybody else get back on with their lives. We are doing this lockdown simply because we have no other choice.

How do we fix the CV19 testing problem? By re-testing everybody who tested positive!

I guess I’ve re-discovered a form of Bayes’ Theorem  regarding the problem that is posed by the high numbers of false negatives and false positives when testing for the feared coronavirus.  What I found is that it doesn’t really even matter whether our tests are super-accurate or not. The solution is to assume that all those who test negative, really are negative, and then to give a second test to all those who tested positive the first time. Out of this group, a larger fraction will test positive. You can again forget about those who test negative. But re-test again, and if you like, test again. By the end of this process, where each time you are testing fewer people, then you will be over 99% certain that all those who test positive, really have been exposed.

Let me show you why.

Have no fear, what I’m gonna do is just spreadsheets. No fancy math, just percents. And it won’t really matter what the starting assumptions are! The results converge to almost perfect accuracy, if repeated!

To start my explanation, let’s start by assuming that 3% of a population (say of the US) has antibodies to CV19, which means that they have definitely been exposed. How they got exposed is not important for this discussion. Whether they felt anything from their exposure or not is not important in this discussion. Whether they got sick and died or recovered, is not going to be covered here. I will also assume that this test has a 7% false positive rate and a 10% false negative rate, and I’m going to assume that we give tests AT RANDOM to a hundred thousand people (not people who we already think are sick!) I’m also assuming that once you have the antibodies, you keep them for the duration.

This table represents that situation:

math of CV19 testing

If you do the simple arithmetic, using those assumptions, then of the 100,000 people we tested, 3%, or three thousand, actually do have those antibodies, but 97%, or ninety-seven thousand, do not (white boxes, first column with data in it).

Of the 3,000 folks who really do have the antibodies – first line of data – we have a false  negative rate of 10%, so three hundred of these poor folks are given the false good tidings that they have never been exposed (that’s the upper orange box). The other 90% of them, or two thousand seven hundred, are told, correctly, that they have been exposed (that’s the upper green box).

Now of the 97,000 people who really do NOT have any antibodies – the second line of data – we have a false positive rate of 7%, so you multiply 0.07 times 97000 to get six thousand, seven hundred ninety of them who would be told, incorrectly, that they DID test positive for Covid-19 – in the lower orange box. (Remember, positive is bad here, and negative is good.) However, 90,210 would be told, correctly, that they did not have those antibodies. (That’s in the lower green box.)

Now let’s add up the folks who got the positive test results, which is the third data column. We had 2,700 who correctly tested positive and 6,790 who wrongly tested positive. That’s a total of 9,490 people with a positive CV19 antibody test, which means that of that group of people, only 28.5% were correctly so informed!! That’s between a third and a fourth! Unacceptable!

However, if we look at the last column, notice that almost every single person who was told that they were negative, really was negative. (Donno about you, but I think that 99.7% accuracy is pretty darned good!)

However, that 28.5% accuracy among the ‘positives’ (in the left-hand blue box) is really worrisome. What to do?

Simple! Test those folks again! Right away! Let’s do it, and then let’s look at the results:

math of CV19 testing - round 2

Wowser! We took the 9490 people who tested positive and gave them another round of tests, using the exact same equipment and protocols and error rates as the first one. The spreadsheet is set up the same; the only thing I changed is the bottom two numbers in the first data column. I’m not going to go through all the steps, but feel free to check my arithmetic. Actually, check my logic. Excel doesn’t really make arithmetic errors, but if I set up the spreadsheet incorrectly, it will spit out incorrect results.

Notice that our error rate (in blue) is much lower in terms of those who tested positive. In fact, of those who test positive, 83.7% really ARE positive this time around, and of those who test negative, 95.9% really ARE negative.

But 84% isn’t accurate enough for me (it’s either a B or a C in most American schools). So what do we do? Test again – all of the nearly three thousand who tested positive the first time. Ignore the rest.

Let’s do it:

math of CV19 testing - round 3

At this point, we have much higher confidence, 98.5% (in blue), that the people who tested ‘positive’, really are ‘positive’. Unfortunately, at this point, of the people who tested negative, only about 64% of the time is that correct. 243 people who really have the antibodies tested negative. So perhaps one should test that subgroup again.

The beautiful thing about this method is that it doesn’t even require a terribly exact test! But it does require that you do it repeatedly, and quickly.

Let me assure you that the exact level of accuracy, and the exact number of exposed people, doesn’t matter: If you test and re-test, you can find those who are infected with almost 100% accuracy. With that information you can then discover what the best approaches are to solving this pandemic, what the morbidity and mortality rates are, and eventually to stop it completely.

Why we don’t have enough tests to do this quickly and accurately and repeatedly is a question that I will leave to my readers.

Addendum:

Note that I made some starting assumptions. Let us change them and see what happens. Let’s suppose that the correct percentage of people with COVID-19 antibodies is not 3%, but 8%. Or maybe only 1%. Let’s also assume a 7% false positive and a 10% false negative rate. How would these results change? With a spreadsheet, that’s easy. First, let me start with an 8% infection rate and keep testing repeatedly. Here are the final results:

Round Positive accuracy rating Negative accuracy rating
1 52.8% 99.1%
2 93.5% 89.3%
3 99.5% 39.3%

So after 3 rounds, we have 99.5% accuracy.

Let’s start over with a population where only 1% has the antibodies, and the false positive rate is 7% and the false negative rate is 10%.

Round Positive accuracy rating Negative accuracy rating
1 11.5% 99.9%
2 62.6% 98.6%
3 95.6% 84.7%
4 99.6% 30.0%

This time, it took four rounds, but we still got to over 99.6% accuracy at distinguishing those who really had been exposed to this virus. Yes, towards the end our false negative rate rises, but I submit that doesn’t matter that much.

So Parson Tommy Bayes was right.

COVID-19 Numbers in the US do not seem to be growing exponentially

Looking at the past month of CDC-reported infections and deaths from the new corona virus, I conclude that there has been some good news: the total number of infections and deaths are no longer following an exponential growth curve.

The numbers are indeed growing, by either a quadratic (that is, x^2) or a quartic (x^4) curve, which is not good, and there is no sign of numbers decreasing.

BUT it looks as though the physical-social distancing and self-quarantining that I see going on around me is actually having an effect.

Yippee!

Here is my evidence: the actual numbers of infected people are in blue, and the best-fit exponential-growth equation is in red. You can see that they do not match well at all. 

total cases US not looking exponential

If they did match, and if this were in fact exponential growth, we would have just about the entire US population infected by the end of just this month of April – over 300 million! That no longer seems likely. Take a look at the next graph instead, which uses the same data, but polynomial growth:

total cases US looking second power

Just by eyeballing this, you can see that the red dots and blue dots match really, really well. When I extend the graph until the end of April, I get a predicted number of ‘only’ 1.5 million infected. Not good, but a whole lot better than the entire US population!

Also, let’s look at total cumulative reported deaths so far. Here are the CDC-reported numbers plotted against a best-fit exponential curve:

deaths do not seem to be exponential

Up until just a few days ago, this graph was conforming pretty well to exponential growth. However, since about April 8, that seems to be no longer the case. If the total numbers of deaths were in fact growing at the same percentage rate each day, which is the definition of exponential growth, then by the end of April we would have 1.5 million DEAD. That’s THIS MONTH. Continued exponential growth would have 1.2 BILLION dead in this country alone by the end of May.

Fortunately, that is of course impossible.

Unfortunately all that means is that the virus would run out of people to infect and kill, and we would get logistic growth (which is the very last graph, at the bottom).

death seem to be 4th power polynomial

This fourth-degree mathematical model seems to me to work much better at describing the numbers of deaths so far, and has a fairly good chance of predicting what may be coming up in the near future. It’s still not a good situation, but it shows to me that the social and physical distancing we are doing is having a positive effect.

But let’s not get complacent: if this model correctly predicts the next month or two, then by the end of April, we would have about 60 thousand dead, and by the end of May we would have 180 thousand dead.

But both of those grim numbers are much, much lower than we would have if we were not doing this self-isolation, and if the numbers continued to grow exponentially.

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FYI, a logistic curve is shown below. Bacteria or fungi growing in a broth will grow exponentially at first, but after a while, they not only run out of fresh broth to eat, but they also start fouling their own environment with their own wastes. WE DO NOT WANT THIS SITUATION TO HAPPEN WITH US, NAMELY, THAT WE ALL GET INFECTED!!!

logistic curve again

People are Not Cattle!

This apparently did not occur to William Sanders.

He thought that statistical methods that are useful with farm animals could also be used to measure effectiveness of teachers.

I grew up on a farm, and as both a kid and a young man I had considerable experience handling cows, chickens, and sheep. (These are generic critter photos, not the actual animals we had.)

I also taught math and some science to kids like the ones shown below for over 30 years.

guy teaching  deal students

Caring for farm animals and teaching young people are not the same thing.

(Duh.)

As the saying goes: “Teaching isn’t rocket science. It’s much harder.”

I am quite sure that with careful measurements of different types of feed, medications, pasturage, and bedding, it is quite possible to figure out which mix of those elements might help or hinder the production of milk and cream from dairy cows. That’s because dairy or meat cattle (or chickens, or sheep, or pigs) are pretty simple creatures: all a farmer wants is for them to produce lots of high-quality milk, meat, wool, or eggs for the least cost to the farmer, and without getting in trouble.

William Sanders was well-known for his statistical work with dairy cows. His step into hubris and nuttiness was to translate this sort of mathematics to little humans. From Wikipedia:

“The model has prompted numerous federal lawsuits charging that the evaluation system, which is now tied to teacher pay and tenure in Tennessee, doesn’t take into account student-level variables such as growing up in poverty. In 2014, the American Statistical Association called its validity into question, and other critics have said TVAAS should not be the sole tool used to judge teachers.”

But there are several problems with this.

  • We  don’t have an easily-defined and nationally-agreed upon goal for education that we can actually measure. If you don’t believe this, try asking a random set of people what they think should be primary the goal of education, and listen to all the different ideas!
  • It’s certainly not just ‘higher test scores’ — the math whizzes who brought us “collateralization of debt-swap obligations in leveraged financings” surely had exceedingly high math test scores, but I submit that their character education (as in, ‘not defrauding the public’) was lacking. In their selfishness and hubris, they have succeeded in nearly bankrupting the world economy while buying themselves multiple mansions and yachts, yet causing misery to billions living in slums around the world and millions here in the US who lost their homes and are now sleeping in their cars.
  • Is our goal also to ‘educate’ our future generations for the lowest cost? Given the prices for the best private schools and private tutors, it is clear that the wealthy believe that THEIR children should be afforded excellent educations that include very small classes, sports, drama, music, free play and exploration, foreign languages, writing, literature, a deep understanding and competency in mathematics & all of the sciences, as well as a solid grounding in the social sciences (including history, civics, and character education). Those parents realize that a good education is expensive, so they ‘throw money at the problem’. Unfortunately, the wealthy don’t want to do the same for the children of the poor.
  • Reducing the goals of education to just a student’s scores on secretive tests in just two subjects, and claiming that it’s possible to tease out the effectiveness of ANY teacher, even those who teach neither English/Language Arts or Math, is madness.
  • Why? Study after study (not by Sanders, of course) has shown that the actual influence of any given teacher on a student is only from 1% of 14% of test scores. By far the greatest influence is from the student’s own family background, not the ability of a single teacher to raise test scores in April. (An effect which I have shown is chimerical — the effect one year is mostly likely completely different the next year!)
  • By comparison, a cow’s life is pretty simple. They eat whatever they are given (be that straw, shredded newspaper, cotton seeds, chicken poop mixed with sawdust, or even the dregs from squeezing out orange juice [no, I’m not making that up.]. Cows also poop, drink, pee, chew their cud, and sometimes they try to bully each other. If it’s a dairy cow, it gets milked twice a day, every day, at set times. If it’s a steer, he/it mostly sits around and eats (and poops and pees) until it’s time to send  them off to the slaughterhouse. That’s pretty much it.
  • Gary Rubinstein and I have dissected the value-added scores for New York City public school teachers that were computed and released by the New York Times. We both found that for any given teacher who taught the same subject matter and grade level in the very same school over the period of the NYT data, there was almost NO CORRELATION between their scores for one year to the next.
  • We also showed that teachers who were given scores in both math and reading (say, elementary teachers), there was almost no correlation between their scores in math and in reading.
  • Furthermore, with teachers who were given scores in a single subject (say, math) but at different grade levels (say, 6th and 7th grade math), you guessed it: extremely low correlation.
  • In other words, it seemed to act like a very, very expensive and complicated random-number generator.
  • People have much, much more complicated inputs, and much more complicated outputs. Someone should have written on William Sanders’ tombstone the phrase “People are not cattle.”

Interesting fact: Jason Kamras was considered to be the architect of Value-Added measurement for teachers in Washington, DC, implemented under the notorious and now-disgraced Michelle Rhee. However, when he left DC to become head of Richmond VA public schools, he did not bring it with him.

 

“Slaying Goliath” by Diane Ravitch

I wish I could write half as well as, or as much as, Diane Ravitch manages to do, every single day. I also admire her dedication to fighting the billionaires who have been dictating education policy in the USA for quite some time.

If you are reading this post, you are no doubt aware that only ten years ago, Ravitch did a 180-degree turn on major education issues, admitted she had been wrong on a number of points, and became one of the major forces fighting against the disruptive education-privatization agenda of the billionaires.

Since that time, she has been documenting on her blog, several times a day, nearly every day, the utter failures of the extremely wealthy amateurs who have been claiming to ‘reform’ education, but who have instead merely been disrupting it and failing to achieve any of the goals that they confidently predicted would be won, even using their own yard-sticks.

IMG_6217

I found DR’s most recent book (pictured above) to be an excellent history of the past 37 years wherein certain billionaires, and their well-paid acolytes, have claimed that the American public school system is a total failure and needed to be torn down and rebuilt through these steps:

  1. Pretending that American students were at one point the highest-scoring ones on the planet (which has NEVER been true) and that the fact that they currently score at middling levels on international tests like PISA is a cause for national alarm;
  2. Claiming that student family poverty does not cause lower student achievement (however measured), but the reverse: that the schools that have students from poor and non-white populations are the CAUSE of that poverty and low achievement;
  3. Fraudulently assuming that huge fractions of teachers are not only incompetent but actively oppress their students (particularly the poor, the brown, and the black) and need to be fired en masse (as they were in New Orleans, Rhode Island, and Washington, DC);
  4. Micromanaging teachers in various ways, including by forcing all states to adopt a never-tested and largely incomprehensible ‘Common Core’ curriculum and demanding that all teachers follow scripted lessons in lockstep;
  5. ‘Measuring’ the productivity of teachers through arcane and impenetrable ‘Value-Added’ schemes that were devised for dairy cows;
  6. Mass firings of certified teachers, particularly African-American ones (see #2) and replacing them either with untrained, mostly-white newbies from Teach for America or with computers;
  7. Requiring public and charter schools (but not vouchers) to spend ever-larger fractions of their classroom time on test prep instead of real learning;
  8. Turning billions of public funds over to wealthy amateurs (and con artists) with no educational experience to set up charter schools and voucher schools with no real accountability — the very worst ones being the online charter schools.

One great aspect of this book is that Ravitch points out how

  1. All of those claims and ‘solutions’ have failed (for example, a study in Texas showed charter schools had no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings (p. 82);
  2. Teachers, parents, students, and ordinary community members have had a good deal of success in fighting back.

I will conclude with a number of quotes from the book in random colors.

“How many more billions will be required to lift charter school enrollment to 10 percent? [It’s now about 5 percent] And why is it worth the investment, given that charter schools, unless they cherry-pick their students, are no more successful than public schools are and often far worse? Why should the federal government spend nearly half a billion dollars on charter schools that may never open when there are so many desperately underfunded public schools?” (p. 276-277)

“Any movement controlled by billionaires is guaranteed […] to preserve the status quo while offering nothing more than the illusion of change.” (p. 281)

“There is no “Reform movement.” The Disrupters never tried to reform public schools. They wanted to disrupt and privatize the public schools that Americans have relied on for generations. They wanted to put public school funding in private hands. They wanted to short-circuit democracy. They wanted to cripple, not improve, the public schools. They wanted to replace a public service with a free market.” (p. 277)

“Our current education policy is madness. It is madness to destroy public education in pursuit of zany libertarian goals. It is madness to use public funds to put young children into religious schools where they will learn religious doctrine instead of science. It is madness to hand public money over to unaccountable entrepreneurs who want to open a school but refuse to be held to high ethical standards or to be held accountable for its finances and its performance. It is madness to ignore nepotism, self-dealing, and conflicts of interest. We sacrifice our future as a nation if we continue on this path of de-professionalizing our schools and turning them over to businessmen, corporate chains, grifters, and well-meaning amateurs. We sacrifice our children and our grandchildren if we continue to allow them to be guinea pigs in experiments whose negative results are clear.” (p. 281)

Ravitch proposes a number of things that billionaires could do that would be more helpful than what they are currently doing. She suggests [I’m quoting but shortening her list, found on page 280] that the billionaires could …

  • pay their share of taxes to support well-resourced public schools.
  • open health clinics to serve needy communities and make sure that all families and children have regular medical checkups.
  • underwrite programs to ensure that all pregnant women have medical care and that all children have nutritious meals each day.
  • subsidize after-school programs where children get exercise, play, dramatics, and tutoring.
  • rebuild the dramatics programs and performance spaces in every school.
  • lobby their state legislatures to fund schools fairly, to reduce class sizes, and to enable every school to have the teachers, teaching assistants, social services, librarians, nurses, counselors, books, and supplies it needs.
  • create mental health clinics and treatment centers for those addicted to drugs.
  • underwrite programs based on “the Kalamazoo Promise.”
  • They could emulate the innovative public school that basketball star leBron James subsidized in Akron, Ohio.

She also quotes Paymon Rouhanifard, who was a “prominent member of the Disruption establishment [who] denounced standardized testing when he stepped down as superintendent of the Camden, New Jersey, public schools […]. He had served as a high-level official on Joel Klein’s team in New York City […] Upon his arrival of the impoverished Camden district [….] he developed school report cards to rank every school mainly by test scores. But before he left, he abolished the school report cards.” She quotes him directly: “[…] most everybody in this room wouldn’t tolerate what I described for their own children’s school. Mostly affluent, mostly white schools shy away from heavy testing, and as a result, they are literally receiving an extra month of instruction […] The basic rule, what we would want for our own children, should apply to all kids.” (p.271)

“Disrupters have used standardized testing to identify and take over or close schools with low scores, but they disregard standardized testing when it reveals the failure of charters and vouchers. Disrupters no longer claim that charter schools and inexperienced recruits from Teach for America will miraculously raise test scores. After three decades of trying, they have not been successful.

“Nothing that the Disrupters have championed has succeeded unless one counts as ‘success’ closing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of community public schools in low-income neighborhoods. Ths Disrupters have succeeded in demoralizing teachers and reducing the number of people entering the teaching profession. They have enriched entrepreneurs who have opened charter schools or developed shoddy new products and services to sell to schools. They have enhanced the bottom line of large testing corporations. Their fling with the Common Core cost states billions of dollars to implement but had no effect on national or international test scores and outraged many parents, child advocates, lovers of literature, and teachers. “

Fortunately, the resistance to this has been having a fair amount of success, including the massive teacher strikes in state after state. As Ravitch writes (p. 266):

“The teachers taught the nation a lesson.

“But more than that, they taught themselves a lesson. They united, they demanded to be heard, and they got respect. That was something that the Disrupters had denied them for almost twenty years. Teachers learned that in unity there is strength.”

 

 

What will happen to Trump’s collaborators?

I found this extremely well-written piece, by a well-known NYT writer who also happened to be in my junior high school homeroom here in DC, in the Daily Intelligencer. I certainly hope he is right that they will land in the cesspool of history. But in actual fact, many criminals do get away with virtually everything, and no, I did not ask Frank’s permission permission before reprinting this.

==================

What Will Happen to The Trump Toadies?

Look to Nixon’s defenders, and the Vichy collaborators, for clues.

By Frank Rich  ( @frankrichny )

Irony, declared dead after 9/11, is alive and kicking in Trump’s America. It’s the concepts of truth and shame that are on life support. The definition of “facts” has been so thoroughly vandalized that Americans can no longer agree on what one is, and our president has barreled through so many crimes and misdemeanors with so few consequences that it’s impossible to gainsay his claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Donald Trump proves daily that there is no longer any penalty for doing wrong as long as you deny everything, never say you’re sorry, and have co-conspirators stashed in powerful places to put the fix in.

No wonder so many fear that Trump will escape his current predicament scot-free, with a foregone acquittal at his impeachment trial in the GOP-controlled Senate and a pull-from-behind victory in November, buoyed by a booming economy, fractious Democrats, and a stacked Electoral College. The enablers and apologists who have facilitated his triumph over the rule of law happily agree. John Kennedy, the Louisiana senator who parrots Vladimir Putin’s talking points in his supine defense of Trump, acts as if there will never be a reckoning. While he has no relation to the president whose name he incongruously bears, his every craven statement bespeaks a confidence that history will count him among the knights of the buffet table in the gilded Mar-a-Lago renovation of Camelot. He is far from alone.

If we can extricate ourselves even briefly from our fatalistic fog, however, we might give some credence to a wider view. For all the damage inflicted since Inauguration Day 2017, America is still standing, a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump, and the laws of gravity, if not those of the nation, remain in full force. Moral gravity may well reassert its pull, too, with time. Rather than being the end of American history as we know it, the Trump presidency may prove merely a notorious chapter in that history. Heedless lapdogs like Kennedy, Devin Nunes, and Lindsey Graham are acting now as if there is no tomorrow, but tomorrow will come eventually, whatever happens in the near future, and Judgment Day could arrive sooner than they think. That judgment will be rendered by an ever-more demographically diverse America unlikely to be magnanimous toward cynical politicians who prioritized pandering to Trump’s dwindling all-white base over the common good.

All cults come to an end, often abruptly, and Trump’s Republican Party is nothing if not a cult. While cult leaders are generally incapable of remorse — whether they be totalitarian rulers, sexual Svengalis, or the self-declared messiahs of crackpot religions — their followers almost always pay a human and reputational price once the leader is toppled. We don’t know how and when Donald Trump will exit, but under any scenario it won’t be later than January 20, 2025. Even were he to be gone tomorrow, the legacy of his most powerful and servile collaborators is already indelibly bound to his.

Whether these enablers joined his administration in earnest, or aided and abetted it from elite perches in politics, Congress, the media, or the private sector, they will be remembered for cheering on a leader whose record in government (thus far) includes splitting up immigrant families and incarcerating their children in cages; encouraging a spike in racist, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic vigilantes; leveraging American power to promote ethnic cleansing abroad and punish political opponents at home; actively inciting climate change and environmental wreckage; and surrendering America’s national security to an international rogue’s gallery of despots.

That selective short list doesn’t take into account any new White House felonies still to come, any future repercussions here and abroad of Trump’s actions to date, or any previous foul deeds that have so far eluded public exposure. For all the technological quickening of the media pulse in this century, Trump’s collaborators will one day be viewed through the long lens of history like Nixon’s collaborators before them and the various fools, opportunists, and cowards who tried to appease Hitler in America, England, and France before that. Once Trump has vacated the Oval Office, and possibly for decades thereafter, his government, like any other deposed strongman’s, will be subjected to a forensic colonoscopy to root out buried crimes, whether against humanity or the rule of law or both. With time, everything will come out — it always does. With time, the ultimate fates of those brutalized immigrant and refugee families will emerge in full. And Trump’s collaborators, our Vichy Republicans, will own all of it — whether they were active participants in the wrongdoing like Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, Kirstjen Nielsen, Mike Pompeo, and William Barr, or the so-called adults in the room who stood idly by rather than sound public alarms for the good of the Republic (e.g., Gary Cohn, John Kelly, Rex Tillerson), or those elite allies beyond the White House gates who pretended not to notice administration criminality and moral atrocities in exchange for favors like tax cuts and judicial appointments (from Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr.).

Such Trump collaborators are kidding themselves if they think that post-Trump image-laundering through “good works” or sheer historical amnesia will cleanse their names of the Trump taint as easily as his residential complexes in Manhattan have shed their Trump signage. A century of history — and not just American history — says otherwise.

To take two examples from the Nixon era, the White House criminals Charles Colson and Jeb Stuart Magruder both found God and dedicated themselves to ministries after doing time for Watergate-related crimes. (They were among 69 charged and 25 imprisoned.) But you won’t find their ostentatious efforts at spiritual redemption at the top of their Wikipedia entries or referenced more than fleetingly in the vast Nixon-Watergate literature. Nixon lackeys who did nothing illegal generally fared no better: The New Jersey congressman Charles Sandman, a House Judiciary Committee impeachment holdout until a few days before Nixon’s resignation, lost a seat he had held since 1966 in the subsequent 1974 midterms (48 other GOP members of Congress were wiped out as well) and would wind up the decade dishing out steamed crabs at a joint on the Jersey shore and losing a jury trial on the charge of slandering a police officer. When a Senate counterpart, Ed Gurney of Florida, a vocal Nixon defender on Sam Ervin’s Watergate Committee, died in 1996, his family tried to keep his death a secret, presumably to avoid renewed attention to his past.

Some Nixon loyalists on Capitol Hill escaped oblivion — most notably the Mississippi congressman Trent Lott, from a district that had voted 87 percent for Nixon in 1972 (Nixon’s strongest in the nation). So did some White House flacks well removed from Watergate like Pat Buchanan and Diane Sawyer. Others, prefiguring Sean Spicer’s debasement on Dancing With the Stars, landed B-list (and lower) media gigs: The Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy appeared on television’s Miami Vice and MacGyver, and a ditzy Jesuit speechwriter prominent in the White House spin offensive, John McLaughlin, found a secular throne for himself at an odious Beltway chatfest, The McLaughlin Group, after abandoning the priesthood. Like their Trump counterparts, countless Watergate principals wrote tell-all books, many of them best sellers, running the gamut from H. R. Haldeman’s The Ends of Power to John Ehrlichman’s Witness to Power.

But there aren’t any die-hard Nixon supporters in either chamber of Congress who are now remembered as patriots, no matter what else they did with their careers before, during, or after his presidency. The figures who live on are those like Ervin and Judge Sirica, who brought Nixon to justice, and, as the historian David Greenberg has noted, “those loyalists who abandoned Nixon early, when it mattered.”

HuffPost reported in 2017 that the Trump Justice Department took down the portrait of one of the few heroes who stood up to Nixon’s abuses of power from within his administration, Attorney General Elliot Richardson. Whether Richardson’s deaccession was an act of denial, gallows humor, or a conscious or subconscious admission of guilt, it was an impotent gesture — not least because Watergate has with time proved an inadequate analogy for Trump’s metastasizing scandals. The stench of disrepute that will cling to Trump’s collaborators is likely to exceed the posthumous punishment of Nixon’s dead-enders for the simple reason that Nixon’s White House horrors weren’t in the same league.

You don’t have to be a card-carrying fascist to collaborate; you just have to be morally bankrupt and self-serving.

In both cases, impeachment was driven by the revelations of illegal efforts to sabotage a rival presidential candidate and the ensuing cover-ups. But the gravity of the specifics differ by several orders of magnitude. The cash that Nixon & Co. tapped to fund the break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters (and the subsequent hush money to the burglars) came from his own donors; Trump, by contrast, sought to bankroll his effort to dig up dirt on the Bidens by appropriating nearly $400 million in Congress-mandated foreign aid paid for by taxpayers. And while the Nixon White House hired freelance bumblers to spy on the Democrats, Trump commandeered a cabal of Cabinet officers, diplomats, and Rudy Giuliani–recruited thugs to try to muscle the head of state of a foreign ally into doing his bidding.

The disproportionality between Trump’s history and Nixon’s hardly ends there. Trump is not Hitler, but some of his actions, starting with his repeated, barely coded endorsements of white supremacists, suggest it’s not for want of trying. Nixon and his vice-president, Spiro Agnew, exploited racial resentments and backlash to the civil-rights movement to attract bigots to the GOP through a new “southern strategy.” Ugly as that was (and is), it pales next to Trump and his campaign’s explicit alignment with those “fine people” who stir hate, bullying, and incendiary alt-right conspiracy theories into an inflammatory dark-web brew. However much Trump’s courtiers try to compartmentalize, they can’t separate themselves from his flirtations with neo-Nazis.

Nor can Trump’s enablers escape the stain of his alliances with murderous neo-Hitlers and neo-Stalins in Russia, Syria, Turkey, Hungary, Brazil, and North Korea. Whatever else is to be said about Nixon, not for a second would he have favored the worldview and national interests of a strongman like Putin over that of America and its allies, or taken Putin’s word as a former KGB agent over that of America’s own intelligence agencies. It’s this aspect of Trumpian rule that sinks to depths previously unfathomable for an American president and makes Trump’s collaborators look less like the corrupt government bureaucrats and hacks of All the President’s Men and more like the traitorous elites who wittingly or idiotically enabled Hitler in the 1930s.

The notion of Vichy Republicans is hardly hyperbole. Christopher R. Browning, an American historian of the Holocaust and World War II–era Europe, wrote in the New York Review of Books in 2018 that those who rationalized their original support for Trump on the grounds of “Better Trump than Hillary” — and are now reupping for 2020 — are channeling those on the right who proclaimed “Better Hitler than Blum” in France in the 1930s. Such Frenchmen, Browning writes, went so far as to empower their country’s “traditional national enemy across the Rhine” and its Nazi dictator rather than reelect the sitting prime minister, Léon Blum, a Jewish socialist who would have preserved French democracy. (In defeat, Blum would become an opponent of Vichy and end up in Buchenwald.)

Make no mistake: The current “Better Trump than Warren” (or Sanders) crowd is repeating this history. Their credo might as well be “Better Putin, Erdogan, and Assad than Warren,” for Trump is serving as an unabashed proxy for our present-day mini-Hitlers while simultaneously trying to transform American democracy into an Ultimate Fighting Championship ring of chaos, corruption, and dysfunction. Prominent Trump supporters like Kennedy, of course, fiercely deny that they are pro-Putin (even though the president himself never has), but that doesn’t vitiate the real-world consequence that by standing with Trump, they are advancing the interests of Russia even as it conducts cyberwar against their own country and threatens some of the same American allies Hitler did.

You don’t have to be a card-carrying fascist to collaborate with fascists and help them seize power; you just have to be morally bankrupt and self-serving. As the authoritative American historian of Vichy France, Robert O. Paxton, has pointed out, it was only “a rather small minority” of France’s wartime collaborators who were motivated by an actual “ideological sympathy with Nazism and Fascism” to go along with the Nazi puppet regime fronted by Marshal Philippe Pétain in Vichy. A more widespread incentive was “personal gain.” Others rationalized their complicity by persuading themselves they were acting in the “national interest.” It would be no surprise if that distribution of motivations persists among Trump collaborators today. Such backers as the financier Stephen Schwarzman and New York real-estate titans like Stephen Ross of Hudson Yards no doubt congratulate themselves on acting in the “national interest” while pocketing personal gains measured in either political influence or on a profit-and-loss statement.

In France, such ostensible moral distinctions among collaborators were rendered moot in the long-delayed and gruesome postwar reckoning. All roads led to the same destination: Starting in 1942, Vichy shipped some 76,000 Jews in mass deportations to their doom. The exiled were mostly foreign refugees, Paxton writes, who had previously “relied upon traditional French hospitality.” Their blood was on every collaborator’s hands. The collaborators’ common postwar defense — that things would have been far worse if they had not been working on the inside — was repurposed by the Trump official responsible for the brutal treatment of immigrants who had relied upon traditional American humanity. “John F. Kelly Says His Tenure As Trump’s Chief of Staff Is Best Measured by What the President Did Not Do” read the headline of the exit interview he gave the Los Angeles Times. Good luck with that in the long-term court of public opinion. France wrestled with Vichy’s legacy for decades before 1995, when the French president Jacques Chirac abjured denial and officially confirmed his nation’s complicity in the wholesale deportation of Jews.

If you look back at the elite figures who lent their clout and prestige to clearing Hitler’s path before or during World War II, it’s striking how such folly and inhumanity remains immutable across national boundaries and centuries. The amalgam of nationalism, isolationism, and nativism embraced by Trump shares its DNA not just with the Pétainists of France but Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement cohort in England and America First, the movement whose name Trump appropriated without (of course) knowing what it was. America First, though originating as a campus-centric peace campaign, was hijacked by a rancid mob of Hitler acolytes and peace-at-any-price dupes that included, most famously, Charles Lindbergh. Many of these Hitler enablers had elaborate rationalizations for their actions that mirror those of Trump’s highest-profile shills today. Robert Taft, the hard-right isolationist senator from Ohio, wrote the script for Better Trump than Hillary–ism nearly a century ago: America should not go to war with Germany, he argued, because “there is a good deal more danger of the infiltration of totalitarian ideas from the New Deal circles in Washington than there will ever be from the activities of the … Nazis.”

Another parallel is exemplified by the Trump collaborator and donor Gordon Sondland, even now, somehow, still the ambassador to the European Union. He’s a zhlubby discount-rack answer to Joseph Kennedy, a far more successful and clever mogul who served as Franklin Roosevelt’s ambassador to the U.K. from 1937 to 1940. Until FDR shut him down, Kennedy tried to conduct a rogue foreign policy to advance Chamberlain’s appeasement efforts to the point of counseling the Nazis that they could get away with brutalizing Jews if they would just do so with less “loud clamor.” Much as Sondland, Trump, and Giuliani thought nothing of leaving Ukraine vulnerable to Putin’s aggression by holding back military aid, so Kennedy thought that Hitler should be free to conquer expendable smaller countries in Eastern Europe. “I can’t for the life of me understand why anybody would want to go to war to save the Czechs,” he wrote in a draft of a speech before the White House nixed it. As went the Czechs then, so have gone the Ukrainians and Kurds today.

The antecedents for Trumpist enablers from the tycoon sector both within and outside the White House — Cohn, Schwarzman, Steven Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, et al. — can be found in those now-vilified captains of 1930s American industry who were prime movers in various back-channel schemes to appease Hitler. The America First Committee’s members included Henry Ford, an unabashed anti-Semite who was name-checked admiringly in Mein Kampf, and Avery Brundage, an Illinois construction magnate and president of the U.S. Olympic Committee who bent to Hitler’s will by yanking the only two Jewish competitors on an American team in the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. James Mooney, the General Motors overseas president in charge of its European operations and another America First committeeman, took it upon himself to do his own Giuliani-Sondland-like shadow diplomacy by securing face-to-face meetings with Hermann Göring as well as Hitler. He claimed to be seeking peace, but had he succeeded, he would have facilitated Germany’s conquest of Europe much as Trump and his supplicants have been green-lighting the imperial designs of Russia and Turkey.

These businessmen’s machinations did not bring about peace in their time but did bring financial quid pro quos that fattened their bottom lines. Hitler’s regime gave Brundage’s company the commission to build its new embassy in Washington. More than a half-century after V-E Day, researchers confirmed that Ford and GM’s German operations had manufactured armaments for the Nazi war machine, sometimes with slave labor. Alfred P. Sloan, the longtime GM chairman, explained his philosophy: “An international business operating throughout the world should conduct its operations in strictly business terms, without regard to the political beliefs of its management, or the political beliefs of the countries in which it is operating.” Surely Jared Kushner, Mnuchin, and Schwarzman couldn’t have put it any better as they cavorted with Mohammed bin Salman at his investment conference in Riyadh in October, a year after the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi. As with Ford, Brundage, Mooney, and the rest, any loot they accrued in exchange for their pact with the Devil will be unearthed in good time.

While some Hitler appeasers faced swift retribution — FDR shut down Joseph Kennedy’s personal political ambitions for good — others would get their due later. In 1998, nearly four decades after his death, Mooney would at last face an accounting: Newly discovered documents, triggered in part by litigation on behalf of Holocaust survivors, would show, as the Washington Post put it, that in consultation with Göring, “he was involved in the partial conversion of the principal GM automobile plant at Rüsselsheim to production of engines and other parts for the Junker ‘Wunderbomber,’ a key weapon in the German air force.”

One imagines that high-toned Trump collaborators deplore Khashoggi’s murder (though not when in Saudi Arabia). And they may (privately) roll their eyes at Trump’s palling around with bigots. For heaven’s sake, some of them are Jewish themselves, and so is the First Daughter! But America First also claimed to be foursquare against anti-Semitism, despite the fact that Lindbergh, Ford, and Mooney all received medals of appreciation from the Third Reich before the war. Like the Trump White House, the America First Committee deployed token Jews to try to deflect critics, including Florence Kahn, a former Republican congresswoman from California; it even hired a Jew as the first publicity director of its New York chapter. But such disingenuous stunts, like Trump’s soporific teleprompter-scripted condemnation of “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” after mass shootings, didn’t deter American Nazi wannabes from flocking to the organization’s ranks, among them the followers of the unabashedly anti-Semitic radio priest Father Coughlin. Ivanka Trump’s observance of the Sabbath has not stopped her father from retweeting anti-Semitic memes or prevented “Jews Will Not Replace Us” thugs from rallying around #MAGA.

In Hitler in Los Angeles, his groundbreaking recent history of wartime Nazism in California, Steven J. Ross might as well have been writing about Charlottesville when he observes that “America First enabled previously disreputable hate groups to move from the margins to the mainstream of American life and politics.” The anti-Semitic dog whistles of Lindbergh and his prominent peers gave a pass to violent extremist groups of that time like the American Rangers and the Royal Order of American Defenders. The Trump GOP has revived the tradition: Not only did House members meet with Chuck Johnson, a Holocaust denier who raises money for the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, but Florida’s irrepressible freshman congressman Matt Gaetz invited him to cheer Trump at the 2018 State of the Union.

No one can predict posterity’s judgments, but if the past is any guide at all, this is not going to end well for Trump’s collaborators. The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Unification Church cult leader who was welcomed into the Oval Office by Nixon and whose brainwashed “Moonies” gathered en masse on the Capitol steps to pray and fast for three days during impeachment, may have found his farcical descendants in Trump’s Christian stooges. Witness the offspring of Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell — the Donald Trump Jr.’s, if you will, of America’s pagan Evangelical racket. Franklin Graham has preached an Old Testament parallel between Trump and David, while Jerry Jr. is now fending off inquiries into his and his wife’s antics, business or otherwise, with a pool boy they befriended at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. (For his part, Moon was eventually engulfed by repeated post-Watergate scandals, including a conviction for tax fraud and obstruction of justice that sent him to prison in 1982.) The rhetoric of Nixon’s and Trump’s mad-dog defenders can be interchangeable, too. There’s more than a little of the degraded Lindsey Graham in the legendary Today show appearance by Earl Landgrebe, a die-hard anti-impeachment vote on the House Judiciary Committee, the day before Nixon resigned in August 1974. “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind,” he said. “I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.” (The voters shot him soon enough; he received only 39 percent of the vote in his safe Indiana district three months later.)

But such similarities understate the case. The stakes are much higher when an American president is putting the nation, and its Constitution, in jeopardy by abusing his power to aid America’s foreign foes. Someone like Graham is less likely to be remembered as another Landgrebe than as another Burton Wheeler, a senator from Montana who began his career as a conventional New Deal Democrat and morphed into an America First Nazi appeaser. As Graham countenanced Trump’s empowering of Putin and his assault on Ukraine, so Wheeler opposed aid to England and other American allies when war broke out in Europe. He is best known now — and may be in perpetuity — as the fascist vice-president to Lindbergh’s president in Philip Roth’s World War II counter-history, The Plot Against America. (David Simon is soon to bring out a television version.)

Mitch McConnell has led another, even graver reenactment of the Hitler-appeasers’ playbook by slow-walking or ignoring intelligence-agency alarms about Russian interference in our elections past, present, and future. His congressional antecedents did the same when Germany tried to sabotage the election of 1940. As the story is told by Susan Dunn, a historian at Williams College, in her 2013 book 1940, the chargé d’affaires at the German Embassy in Washington, Hans Thomsen, wielded “money, a cohort of isolationist congressmen, senators, and authors, and a bag of dirty tricks,” hoping to realize goals tantamount to Putin’s ambitions: “to convince Americans that fascist aggression posed no danger to them, to discourage them from pouring billions of dollars into national defense and military aid for the Allies, and, finally, to engineer Roosevelt’s defeat in 1940.”

Even without social media in his arsenal, Thomsen’s dirty tricks uncannily anticipated Russia’s 21st-century disinformation tactics. He funneled financial aid to an isolationist “Make Europe Pay War Debts” Committee to rile up Americans against European allies, lent aid to ostensibly grassroots organizations with names like “Paul Revere’s Sentinels” rallying against American entry into war with Germany, and clandestinely underwrote newspaper ads lobbying for the same. With a secret subsidy, he paid an isolationist congressman, Hamilton Fish of New York, to corral anti-interventionist colleagues before a GOP convention platform committee to push a resolution “unequivocally opposing any American involvement in the war in Europe.” Thomsen even helped engineer a fake news stunt worthy of Russia’s propaganda schemes on Facebook by using the isolationist Montana representative Jacob Thorkelson to slip a counterfeit Hitler interview into the Congressional Record. It had “Hitler telling a reporter that American fears of him were ‘flattering but grotesque’ and calling the idea of a German invasion of the United States ‘stupid and fantastic.’ ”

Any historical parallels, alas, end there. Germany’s attempted election sabotage failed in 1940. The Republicans nominated Wendell Willkie, an interventionist, as their presidential candidate, rather than an isolationist favored by the Nazis, and the reelected FDR led America to war. By contrast, Russia may have succeeded in moving the electoral needle in 2016, and may again in 2020, with the blessings of the Putin-admiring American president and his quisling of a secretary of State Pompeo, not to mention the pliant Moscow Mitch, the double-dealing Barr, and the rest of their collaborators in the executive branch and Congress.

Those who continue with Trump on this path, if they have any shred of conscience or patriotism left, would be advised to look at their historical predecessors of the appeasement era, not the more forgiving template of Watergate, if they wish to game out their future and that of family members who bear their names. They might recall that Lindbergh was among the most popular figures, if not the most popular, in the nation before lending his voice to America First. He had won the cheers of the world after piloting the first nonstop solo flight over the Atlantic and then its sympathy after his 20-month-old son was murdered in a sensational kidnapping case. More than a decade after V-E Day, when Hollywood decided it was at last safe to profitably resurrect that heroic young Lindbergh in an adulatory 1957 biopic, The Spirit of St. Louis, some theaters refused to book it despite the added halo of the most unimpeachable all-American star, Jimmy Stewart of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Jack Warner reputedly called it “the most disastrous failure” in the history of Warner Bros. In the following decade, Lindbergh inched back into the spotlight as a philanthropist campaigning for the World Wildlife Fund. “I don’t want history to record my generation as being responsible for the extermination of any form of life,” he declared, prompting the popular syndicated columnist Max Lerner to respond, “Where the hell was he when Hitler was trying to exterminate an entire race of human beings?”

Some of Lindbergh’s fellow isolationists sought to reclaim their reputations after the war, too, but as the historian Geoffrey Perret wrote, they “would generally be regarded for years to come as stupid, vicious, pro-Nazi reactionaries, or at least as people blind to the realities of a new day and a menace to their country’s safety.” Taft, the rigidly isolationist senator who bore a White House lineage (William Howard Taft was his father), failed in two subsequent presidential runs after his first attempt imploded as France fell to the Germans in 1940. Once known as the towering “Mr. Republican,” he now is barely remembered even by Republicans.

A comparable figure in England was Lord Londonderry, né Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, a former Tory British air minister whose entanglement with Nazi leaders and push for Anglo-German friendship in the 1930s mirrors Trump, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and their posse’s infatuated courtship of Putin’s Russia. As the English Hitler biographer Ian Kershaw writes in Making Friends With Hitler, Londonderry “spent his later years in a relentless, but fruitless, campaign” for vindication. “Was he, as his detractors claimed, a genuine Nazi sympathizer — ‘a Nazi Englishman’ as he was dubbed? Or was he merely a gullible, naïve and misguided ‘fellow-traveler of the Right’?” Though Londonderry “had no truck with the fanatical fascists, or the wide-eyed cranks and mystics who fell for Hitler lock, stock and barrel,” Kershaw concludes, in the end it didn’t matter.

His actions worked to Hitler’s advantage, and his “reputation was ruined.” His fitting permanent memorial is Lord Darlington, the fictional English aristocrat whose outreach to the Nazis and ensuing downfall are observed with a certain sorrow and pity by his butler, Stevens, in Kazuo Ishiguro’s classic novel The Remains of the Day.

No less a sage than Ted Cruz told friends while preparing his 2016 convention speech that “history isn’t kind to the man who holds Mussolini’s jacket,” according to the Politico journalist Tim Alberta’s account in American Carnage. But so harsh was the base’s blowback after he refused to endorse Trump in that address that he has been holding Mussolini’s jacket ever since.

What are Cruz and all his peers afraid of? “Every member of the French Resistance faced the strong possibility of torture, deportation, and death,” wrote Charles Kaiser, whose book The Cost of Courage tells of one Resistance family during Vichy. “The most a Republican senator risks from opposing a corrupt and racist president is a loss at the polls.” And even at that, there can be rewards down the road. Larry Hogan, the current Republican governor of Maryland, recently reminisced to the New York Times about his father, Lawrence Hogan, who was the first Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to come out in favor of impeaching Nixon in 1974. “He lost friends in Congress,” the younger Hogan recalled. “He lost the support of his constituents and he angered the White House. But history was kind to him. He was known as a courageous guy. I think it’s the thing he is most remembered for and the thing I’m most proud of him for.”

Trump’s enablers and collaborators are more Londonderry than Hogan. It is too late for them to save their reputations. We must hope that it is not too late to save the country they have betrayed.

 

On the malign influence of Eli Broad in education

This is a good summary by Wendy Lecker on the results of billionaire Eli Broad’s strenuous efforts to reshape American education. Even though Broad’s rhetoric is a lot more progressive than that of the Koch brothers, Broad’s results have not been good at all – not only in human terms, but even on his own terms and using his own benchmarks. I might add that in terms of Broad’s failures, Lecker could have included the Broad-financed reform effort under Michelle Rhee here in Washington DC had a 98% failure rate in reaching its own goals. (See here for a link to my analysis thereof.)

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Putting a price tag on public schools

By Wendy Lecker|January 5, 2020

When it comes to using one’s fortune to influence American policy, billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch stand out.

The Kochs have spent a fortune pushing American politics and policy to the right. Their secretive organization, Americans for Prosperity, is a major player in anti-labor activities, such as Wisconsin’s slashing of union rights, and fighting minimum wage increases nationwide. The Kochs poured money into the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”) a stealth lobby organization that writes bills that advance Koch industries’ interests specifically and the Koch’s extreme free market ideology in general, and then gets legislators all over the country to introduce them.

They have also donated millions of dollars to establish research centers at universities to push their brand of unregulated capitalism. They impose conditions and performance obligations on the donations, interfere in hiring decisions, and make curriculum and programming decisions. The Kochs often demand pre-approval of any public statements and include anti-transparency provisions in donor agreements. This research is then cited as the scholarly basis for Congressional decisions favoring the Kochs’ interests. The Kochs are proud of their integrated strategy to build a pipeline of influence. The president of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation boasted that “(n)o one else has this infrastructure.”

Eli Broad, a billionaire who made his fortune through real estate and insurance, seeks to build a Koch-style infrastructure to push his education reform ideology. Broad recently announced that, with a $100 million donation, he is bringing his Broad Center to Yale’s School of Management (“SOM”).

The Broad Center trains school district leaders and those who seek to influence education policy. The center emphasizes applying business principles to running school districts and de-emphasizes education. In seeking candidates, the Broad Center prioritizes “a strong and direct alignment with specific (Broad Center) reform priorities” — which include school privatization and weakening labor protections. The Center openly aims to reshape American public education according to Broad’s ideology.

Eli Broad is a major player in some of the most aggressive — and controversial- education reform policies in America. Like the Kochs, Broad employs an integrated strategy of influence. For example, he bankrolled the education reform slate in the Los Angeles 2018 school board election. His star beneficiary, charter operator Ref Rodriguez, later resigned from the board and pled guilty to felony election fraud conspiracy. Broad also poured millions into Broad alumnus and charter operator Marshall Tuck’s 2018 unsuccessful campaign for California State Superintendent.

Broad used his money and influence to push the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) to run Detroit’s public schools. He provided significant funding and even summoned Broad alumnus and then Kansas City superintendent, John Covington, to be its first chancellor. Covington had wreaked havoc on Kansas City, firing hundreds of teachers and replacing them with inexperienced Teach for America members, and imposing other disruptive reforms. After his chaotic departure, Kansas City’s school district lost its accreditation. It then abandoned Covington’s reforms to regain its footing.

Covington left the EAA abruptly after charges of questionable spending, and the Broad Center hired him. The EAA was a devastating failure, plagued by financial mismanagement and abysmal academic failures.

A succession of Broad alumni ran Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District, which was also plagued by financial mismanagement and poor student achievement — worse than in schools under local district control.

Broad alumni were forced out of Seattle and Los Angeles amid financial impropriety, and Barbara Byrd Bennett, a Broad executive coach, is in federal prison after pleading guilty to a bribery scandal in which she engaged while head of Chicago Public Schools.

These scandals reflect poorly on Broad’s emphasis on applying business practices to school districts.

Much like the Koch’s foray into higher education, Broad’s move to SOM seems like an effort to profit from Yale’s name and perhaps sanitize the questionable track record of Broad alumni. Since Yale has no school of education — unlike other universities in New Haven — Broad’s interest is not to bolster any knowledge of how children can learn successfully.

In an effort to discern how much of the Koch playbook Broad is employing at Yale, I asked SOM about Broad’s involvement in the governance, curriculum, programming and hiring at SOM’s new center. After first indicating they would run these questions by SOM’s dean, SOM now fails to respond, despite my request for follow-up. Apparently, SOM’s Broad Center is adopting the Koch’s lack of transparency.

It is disturbing that a major university is helping enlarge the Broad pipeline, which has funneled scandal and upheaval across American public schools.

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Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center

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