Saturday, May 2, 2009

At Nuremberg they hanged the lawyers

The members of the Bush Crime Family (BCF) have been pushing the notion in the media that they had no idea what torture really was and these memos authorizing their war crimes were just a mistake. The problem with this notion is that in order to write Justice Dept. memos authorizing torture they would have had to do a basic search of the case law. Even if the convictions of the war criminals who used water boarding weren’t available to the researchers at the DOJ, they did have a domestic case of a Sheriff in Texas (of course) who was convicted of water boarding prisoners and the case was appealed so it certainly would show up in any search.

Then there is small matter of the BCF muzzling anybody in Government who pointed out that water boarding was a crime. This in itself is proof that they knew what they were doing was a crime. The precedent was established at Nuremberg that lawyers who created such fiction to make people think such crimes were legal should face the full penalty for these crimes. As much as those who ordered the crimes and even more than those who carried out the orders.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Still a Dismal economy but we may be safe from the flu for now

Weekly unemployment claims were down slightly but with continuing claims setting a new record yet again; there are few if any signs of recovery. Unemployment has passed 10% for 109 US cities, reflecting the continuing collapse of the manufacturing sector.

While there is talk in the media that the decline is flattening out based on polls of managers and other indicators, this kind of forecasting is little better than reading tea leaves. The real numbers are still in decline with a more than 1% drop in manufacturing output for April, and with the first quarter down 20% on an annual basis. This was the 5th straight quarter of contraction. In addition, factory shipments were down in April for the eighth month in a row, setting a new record.

The Euro has been advancing against the Dollar as China reports increased manufacturing output and US output continues trending downward with no policies in place that could change the outlook. Obama may save the US car assembly plants but the real manufacturing of things like Chevy engine blocks is being done in China. The shifting of these jobs to China has accelerated with the sagging economy and the lack of credit in the US. It is no problem for China’s companies to obtain credit from the Chinese banks and well they should, since their future is secure because they are protected by their government.

The only good news at the end of this week is that analysis of the NAFTA SWINE FLU virus showed that it lacks a single protein found in the 1918 strain that is needed to make it reproduce easily in humans. Of course this virus has now spread to humans even if it is not that potent. As long as the virus is in circulation there is the very real possibility that it could acquire this missing trait and the pandemic begin in earnest.

It looks like we still have time to stockpile canned goods. Don’t forget to get a new bucket to wear on your head just in case.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Did we dodge the bullet?

They are starting to talk about the dollar cost of a major Flu Pandemic. Actually they are recirculating the numbers the Congressial Budget Office (CBO) created in response to the Bird Flu scare a couple of years ago. In a severe outbreak with 75 million sickened and 2 million dead in the US they estimate the cost at about 700 billion of GDP. Worldwide the cost would be 4 trillion of GDP. The CBO estimated that would push us into a major recession. Unfortunately we are already experiencing this level of decline and this would not just be added on but tend to multiply the declining numbers.

The CBO is also using pretty low infection numbers. If this really is a 1918 event; the infection rate would be twice as high and the death rate could be much higher. Then there are other factors they did not address. The tendency of this kind of virus is to strike down people in their prime rather than the elderly and the very young who are passed over. It could create as many orphans as there are dead which would further strain resources. They did not factor in the permanent loss of productivity from the loss of this many workers in their prime.

The consequences of the breakdown of essential services during the pandemic are not included in the estimates. For example: firefighters, police and medical workers are in the likely affected group. People confined in institutions, prisons and nursing homes would be at risk of neglect or abandonment. A breakdown of society from widespread panic could far outstrip the direct costs and lead to other disease outbreaks and on and on. And let’s not even get into the potential effects on military.

There is corporate pressure being put on the media to stop calling it Swine Flu, it’s bad for business. The corporation responsible for this outbreak has nearly a million hogs confined in its operation in Mexico and would rather you didn’t associate all the deaths with them. The good news is that so far nobody infected outside of Mexico has died (the child in Texas came from Mexico). It is possible that the version of this strain of SWINE FLU that is spreading human to human is not as virulent as the hog to human version. We’ll know in a few days if we really dodged the bullet. If we dodged the bullet... this time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wear a bucket on your head

The US GDP continued to decline at a more than 6% rate for the first quarter; surprising yet again the clueless economists who predicted a much better number. This seems to be the hook used on every story about new economic numbers. The numbers were either better than expected or they were much worse than expected; unfortunately they are almost always worse.

The WHO is warning the world’s governments to expect a Flu pandemic and that they should be prepared for a prolonged health crisis. Economists have not put out any estimates on what the Pandemic will do to the world economy. Assuming a workable vaccine is possible, it will be 2010 before any meaningful number of people can be treated even in the developed countries. At the rate this outbreak is progressing it probably won’t matter much by then. State labs across the country are referring probable cases to the CDC; look for tomorrow’s headlines to be much more dramatic than today’s.

Obama has suggested that parents should make contingency plans for when the schools are closed. I hope he is making contingency plans for when large swaths of the country are closed. I’m sure the economists will be surprised at the numbers.

On the effectiveness of masks: surgical masks are intended to protect the patient and do almost nothing to protect the wearer; tight fitting masks work but only as long as they stay dry (for about 2 hours) and should not be reused. A respirator style mask would be better if you have the right filters but those only have a limited life as well. The only practical measures are to keep people at a distance and never, ever touch your nose or eyes with your hands. Maybe wear a bucket on your head.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bank savings interest rates are lower than a conservative's belly

You would think that with the banks unable to lend much money because of liquidity problems that they would want to attract deposits. For every dollar a bank has on deposit the Federal Reserve will print up ten dollars to lend the bank at interest rate that is today about zero. Instead the banks are paying as little as .05% on savings accounts; effectively a zero return.

This should have the Obama Adm. concerned. One of the reasons we got into this mess was that people couldn’t get a decent return on savings and went looking for other things to invest in. Things that turned out to just be a series of big bubbles that inflated the economy. This hid the fact that we didn’t make anything anymore. This also gave the Chinese the illusion that we could somehow pay for all the stuff we were buying from them.

Of course we are still buying a whole lot of stuff from China and we still have no way to pay for it. Maybe Obama thinks another bubble would be OK or maybe he has a plan or maybe he is too busy with other things. Did that pig just sneeze?

Things that don't work

World markets slumped today as fears increased about the spread of Pandemic Flu. The World Health Organization issued a statement saying that travel bans don’t work. Also from the list of things that don’t work. Anti-viral drugs turned out to be totally useless against the Asian Bird Flu that is very similar to the current strain. Since the reports appeared in the media immediately that it does work against this strain and such information could not possibly be available from Mexico; you should assume it to be no more than corporate hype.

There is also a problem with counting on a vaccine; there was an in depth study published in the British Medical Journal Lancet that called into question the effectiveness of Flu vaccines. It seems no study that these researchers would characterize as scientifically sound has ever been done on Flu vaccine and the death rate each year moves up and down completely independent of the number of people vaccinated. The Bush Crime Family response to the study was to authorize vaccine for younger patients and boost the PR budget. No new studies were funded. Not all viruses respond to vaccination. While it sounds like it should work; why have they never done a study to prove it?

Mexico City is considering a total shut down in order to keep the outbreak from mushrooming beyond their ability to deal with it. This may be the only effective course of action but this requires a level of control that would be nearly impossible to maintain. There are stories from 1918 about towns that attempted to shut themselves off from outside contact and were defeated by things like the mailman coming in. The Flu virus is capable of living 72 hours on a dry surface in cool weather. It would probably take a total quarantine of three weeks and most people don’t have the canned goods to last that long not to mention the problems with services. Proper planning and preparedness would have made this possible but after eight years of the Bush Crime Family we are screwed.

Monday, April 27, 2009

20 million dead might not be the bad news

Republicans have been holding up the confirmation of the Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius putting a big hole in the Health Crisis team in for the United States. Not only are they holding up her nomination but the other senior positions in the Dept. as well, including the Director of the CDC. Their rationale is that the nominees are not "pro-life" enough.

Mexico appears to be experiencing a 7% death rate from the new Super Swine Flu. If true, this is three times the death rate experienced during the 1918 Flu Pandemic in the US and 70 times the typical 0.1% death rate most years. Typically the Flu kills 30,000 Americans each year. If this does to come to pass you could be looking at between 10 and 20 million US deaths assuming the mortality rate does not exceed past experience here. There were areas in 1918 that experienced a 20% death rate and some towns that were virtually wiped out.

This is not the really bad news; normally the Flu kills mostly the very weak; people near the end of life either from age or other illness. This type of Flu kills almost exclusively people under 60 with half being between 20 and 40 since it is an allergic-like overactive immune response that causes pneumonia killing the victim.

Not only have the Republicans held up the Obama Adm. from filling critical health jobs but they capped off their death wish for America by stripping out funding for Pandemic Readiness from the Stimulus Bill. They ridiculed the connection between preparing for a major health crisis and the health of the economy. If the worst happens and 20 million healthy Americans die in the prime of life as this plays out over the next two years you can forget about the health of the economy.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Death from Corporate Farming, even if you don't eat what they sell

Remember when the BCF was trying to scare everybody with the Bird Flu? There was really no chance of Bird Flu ever developing into a human pandemic. Virus can’t easily jump from species to species since they are such a simple organism that they cannot digest common sugars and are dependent on predigested sugars found in the bloodstream. These sugars are very different in any species' that aren’t closely related. Swine Flu versions have a much easier time making the jump to humans and if it does this enough times the chances of virulent strain (one that is completely adapted to human blood sugar) developing is fairly high.

This is an H1N1 Flu, the same type as the deadly 1918 or Spanish Flu that killed about 50 million with about a 2.5% death rate although some put the actual death toll higher than that. The Mexican outbreak appears so far to have a death toll of as high as 7% but this number could be reduced if total number of unreported "mild" cases turns out to be higher. This strain appears to have originated at a Smithfield factory hog farm in Mexico where the shear number of hogs in one place was able to produce a blended virus containing North American human, swine, avian flu components and swine flu components from Asia. Previously this has only been know to occur in South China where millions of pigs, ducks and people live in close quarters with no proper sanitation.

The reason these H1N1 strains are so dangerous compared to the other types of Flu that go around all the time is that they tend to trigger an allergy like immune response that causes the lungs to fill with fluid. That is what kills you and not the virus. Ironically the more young and healthy you are; the more at risk you are for sudden death. The 1918 strain was capable of killing in a few hours.

The government of Mexico’s response of closing all public places including churches is the only effective course of action. In 1918 people would flock to all day prayer services that promised sanctuary from the evil flu. Many people died in their seats and then all the rest being infected would spread the disease far and wide.

Influenza is characterized as a very "sloppy" virus, it tears itself apart into eight pieces every time it reproduces by division then reassembles. This means trillions times trillions of chances to mutate plus it tends to pick up scraps of DNA from its host as it does this. This is why the US strain is probably milder than the Mexico City Strain that is killing people. If the deadly version can be contained while the milder version of this strain continues to spread; enough people will be naturally immunized to stop the Killer Pandemic in its tracks. Hopefully.