Are gasoline prices too high? (Part 1)

Oh no, this question again. It is very convenient to blame the current administration. Or Opec.

Sometimes in polite company, it is bad to know too much. “I paid $40 to fill up my tank, so don’t you think it’s too much?” Ok, the correct answer is “yes, you poor dear,.” even though I know better. People compare what it cost to fill up a gas tank now verses a week ago. No one compares what it cost to fill up a tank now compared to 2013 or 2014. Or the price of gasoline in 1981.

A recent Facebook post compared economic measures from October 2020 to October 2021, and showed almost everything improving, such as higher salaries, lower unemployment, and higher stock market prices which for many Americans mean their retirement plans are gaining value.

No question about it- the price of gas at the pump has risen significantly from October 2020 to today. In October 2020, gasoline on average was $2.248/gallon and in October 2021, the cost was $3.384/gallon, a gain of 51%.

A 50% change in gasoline prices isn’t that unusual. Gas prices dropped in half during the economic crisis which began in 2008. What really drove the economic crisis was new forms of lending, which allowed people to buy homes, without adequate income or assets. Gasoline prices dropped nearly in half from around 2014 to 2016 as offshore drilling and fracking became commercially viable. Improved drilling technology allowed offshore gas and oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico to be drilled in much deeper water, and highly deviated or horizontal wells became common. Subsea completions allowed for more rapid development, and reduced the front end expense.

It took just 3 years following the 2008 housing crash for gasoline prices to get in the $3.80 to $4.00/gallon. The declining prices from 2012 to 2016 were due to increased oil prices due to fracking and deep water drilling Fracking really dried up in 2016 due to low oil prices. The companies involved in fracking can postpone the completion of wells to cut costs. This is a desperate measure because they don’t get the benefit of new production. Offshore developments are on a much longer timeframe, from discovery to initial production from 5 years or more, so they do not react as quickly to lower oil prices.

These boom to bust and back to boom cycles will continue. Nobody in 2016 was complaining that oil prices had dipped below $2.00/gallon except the oil industry, which needed to make large investments to maintain their supply of oil. It was the cheapest oil had been in 8 years, during a couple of months at the worst moments of the housing crash. Or the lowest gas had been since 2005.

We haven’t defeated Covid but travel and businesses are returning to normal. If I remove the 2007 to 2008 housing bubble, the 2008 to 2009 housing crash/recession, and the Covid-19 economic crash and early recovery, the trend become a bit clearer.

So, the first upward trendline goes from 2002 when gas cost about $1.20/gallon to 2014, when it hit about $4.00/gallon. From 2014 to 2016, technology increased production and the oil glut simply reset the trendline back to $2.00/gallon by 2016, then we were back on the same trendline.

In fact, it is very rational to believe oil prices should go up with time over the long run, because the worldwide supply of oil is limited. It is increasingly more expensive to find more oil. Economic turmoil seems to temporarily reverse the upward trend. I know world leaders are gathered in Glasgow to cut fossil fuels consumption. So, should alternative fuels become more popular, then oil prices should go down. At present, the electric vehicles account for 1.7% of all cars sold, so we have a long ways to go.

Oil prices will be influenced by many factors including the policies of OPEC and the global economy. It seems anything above about $60/barrel for crude oil, results in increased fracking for oil and gas. We are now around $83/barrel.

So, I understand the higher prices are painful. But, longer term prices will result in more production, and people choosing either buying EV’s or fuel efficient cars. This can, in the long term, reverse the trend.

The graph above starts at 1993. If I go back to 1981, gasoline cost $3.88/gallon after adjusting for inflation. So are gasoline prices too high? They are really pretty much on the same trend as pre-Covid. Will we hit a peak, then a decline as more production comes on line? Maybe not. Added production may lower the slope of the trendline, or in other words, slow the pace of increases.

In general, gasoline prices increase when oil prices go up, but it is not always in synch. I will discuss oil prices and production in the next blog.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

EIA US Historical Gasoline Prices

Social Media Immunity – Section 230

“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider” Section 230.

I began my last blog with a quote from Donald Trump on how the 1996 Communications Decency Act gave rights to social media companies, which are not enjoyed by others in the electronic communications business, such as television and radio. It was a recognition of the immense difficulty these companies have in monitoring content. I added the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as I felt it provided a simple explanation of why the social media platforms are protected by Section 230.

I wanted to make it clear that when Republicans go after Section 230 of this act, they are attacking the foundations of Donald Trump’s new foray into social media, by making his website vulnerable to legal action. There is an enormous list of websites, which depend on Section 230 protection, including Youtube, Vimeo, Amazon, Yelp, craigslist and WordPress. Yes, WordPress which hosts this website.

My prior post was not particularly kind to our former president. I want to make it clear that Facebook and Twitter are also a platform hosting a ton of political propaganda garbage. I don’t look for news/commentary on Facebook or any other social media site. I consider these sites to cluttered with personal attacks and often void of any real news.

If someone posts information on how to fix my bicycle or dishwasher, that’s great. I guess I too much of a news snob to look for news commentary on Facebook. Still, if they provide bad information a bicycle, there’s Section 230 immunity. Plus, it’s likely they did not provide this bad information intentionally.

A public forum is any place open to the general public where ideas can be freely exchanged. We have evolved from people making public speeches in the town square and newspapers to radio, television, cable and satellite networks, and now to worldwide internet social networks. Our First Amendment right to freedom of speech and press, came about before radio was invented. It is not an absolute right to expression. Disrobing in public can still get you arrested on indecent exposure charges.

How far does one go in protecting the free exchange of ideas or expression? Go too far, and you will likely get sued. Lou Dobbs comes to mind right away. He was a master at righteous indignation, with comments like “What are they thinking?” in referring to various policies on immigration, climate change, China policy (yes, he supported bombing China), etc. His show ended when Smartmatic sued him for defamation of their voting machines. Alex Jones is another case, as he was sued based on commentary on the Sandy Hook shootings. It happened nine years ago, and hopefully next year, he’ll have to pay up.

So, Lou Dobbs or Alex Jones won’t be posting on Facebook anytime soon. Telling people that Covid vaccines will alter your DNA so in two years you will die, is exactly what will get you censored and ultimately thrown off of Facebook. You will be thrown off because you violated the terms of posting to the site. Well, you are in violation in the opinion of the site’s owners. But will Trump’s site allow them to spread their garbage propaganda. I’m afraid of this. Asks National Enquirer, garbage sells. And Section 230 will protect them. In fact, both the First Amendment and Section 230 makes it very difficult to censor someone because there is always some place on social media which will allow outrageous ideas to be broadcasted.

The real power of social media is targeted marketing. Quite apparent, where you go on the internet, as indicated by the searches you do, can define you to others. So, in the old days, you could glance at a newspaper, and decide if the headline story interests you before buying the paper. Now, with social media, the news/commentary often piled high with falsehoods, will find you. So, if you want to believe that Biden is plotting to take away your guns, you will get “breaking news” sent to your cell phone in agreement with your beliefs.

There’s a certain appeal with the claim, that “only here can you find the real truth” of what is going on. It is particularly appealing to conspiracy prone folks, who believe big government and business are hiding the real news.

How to fix things? I don’t see this as a problem with the system (freedoms, privileges, the internet), or “them” (big government, big tech). The problem is with us and our own laziness to get the facts straight. I’m hoping the next generation understands that honesty counts.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Wikipedia: Lou Dobbs

Cornell Law, Section 230

Supreme Court on Section 230 (Thomas’ opinion mischaracterized. No justice joined with Thomas. I consider his comments “pure dictum.” Trump won the right to block followers on Twitter, limiting what could be discussed.)

The Odd Couple – Donald T. and Mark Z.

Also, get rid of Section 230 – Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough!” he wrote in last week in office (while he was president). See link.

Trump’s message hasn’t changed. Big Tech are destroyers of free speech. Jack Dorsey (Twitter CEO) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook CEO) were convenient targets of Republicans.

Trump has always had a problem with the truth. The Washington Post identified 30,000 lies in the four years while he was president. Since he lost the election, and was thrown off of Facebook and Twitter, he’s been looking for ways to keep his millions of followers with him. He can hop from state to state, delivering his message at rallies, with the expectation that at least Fox and OAN networks will cover them. But that is expensive, and tiring.

What suddenly changed was Donald Trump found a way back into the social media business – big time. He needs protection from lawsuits. So does Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey (Twitter). Nothing like a common business interest for opponents to crawl into the same bed.

Legal immunity for content posted on social media platforms is provided under Section 230 (see links below). As president, Trump could threaten Twitter and Facebook, that he would strip these websites of the immunity from lawsuits based on content that others had posted. Now, Trump absolutely needs Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This was passed in 1996, by the Clinton administration when social media was really in its infancy and initially thought to be a blow against free speech.

To go big into social media, you need this legal protection. Donald Trump’s TRUTH Social website is going to spread malicious misinformation 24/7. And definitely the Trump organization could get sued for defamation and libel. But this stuff will be posted by others, so his organization will have Section 230 immunity. They will censor content which doesn’t fit the gospel according to Trump. It’s their platform, and they can chose the people allowed to post commentary.

Trump also will pay big bucks for big tech to deliver his message. Yes, to Google and Facebook, to selectively find likely followers. It’s targeted marketing and everyone does it. And his message will continue to be anti-government (as long as Biden is in charge), anti-big tech and anti-Section 230 immunity.

And lastly the cash vehicle, DWAC, a stock symbol for Digital World Acquisition Corporation, which last week was a sleepy $10/share stock to $175/shr then dropped to $94/shr, all in 3 days. A stock that’s up 900% is known as a 9-bagger. Yes, other stocks have increased 9 fold, but in the course of 3 days, that’s crazy.

The creed of investors, is to focus on the opportunity to make money, and as long as the company is likely to grow, nothing else really matters. Of course Trump’s site is appropriately named GARBAGE Social, The way to the capital markets used to be IPO’s or initial public offerings. But, Special Purpose Acquisition Corporations are now the super fast lane onto a public listing without any real income or governmental scrutiny. The new corporation is called Trump Media and Technology Group.

There is a large part of our population which have steadfastly clings to the latest conspiracy theories on the “radical left movement” in cahoots with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, which by the way, are no longer among us. There’s the big lie, that Trump actually won the election, and all the little lies, some really pretty crazy, i.e. “Ivanka Trump has done a fantastic job for women and also for jobs. Thirteen million additional jobs.” Sept 27, 2019. Somehow, the claim and reality have taken two divergent paths.

I don’t get my news from Facebook or Twitter. Donald Trump’s foray into social media on the new large scale, will give him his own platform for misinformation. While Mark Zuckerberg is trying to keep misleading information off his platform, this is exactly what Trump wants on his. Garbage propaganda is a pretty polite way of putting it. See links.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Some of these links from the news media may not be active in a few months.

Washington Post: Trump’s Lies While President. .

Truth Social Website

Anthony Scaramucci says the Trump media SPAC is ‘garbage propaganda,’ but if it does well enough it could keep the former president out of politics

Scaramucci was Trump’s communication director for 11 days.

Some of these links from the news media may not be active in a few months.

Trump media SPAC stock doubles, bringing 2-day gains to 800% in retail-trading frenzy

Section 230 Explained

Truth Social: Trump’s new social network will benefit from the very law he tried to destroy

How Portugal is winning the war against Covid

In my last blog, I discussed the how the US stacks up against other developed nations. We are #37 in the world. We could be doing a lot better. So, I wanted to take a closer look at those who are doing better and why.

Of all developed and populous nations, Portugal is #1 in terms of vaccinations. at 85.2% of the country vaccinated. Covid is not gone from Portugal. It exists and new cases are discovered every day. As shown in the graph above, there were 637 new cases as of October 18, 2021 according to the 7-day average. This is the appropriate statistic to judge the trend as it smooths out the noise in the daily data. So, with a population of 10.8 million people, there are about 60 new cases per 1 million residents. In

In Portugal, Covid-19 new cases plunged from around 13,000 (7 day average) in February 2021 to just 637 cases in October. The July upsurge in Covid-19 is clear as the Delta variant spread like wildfire. The big story is that from August to October, the vaccinations and other measures has countered Delta attack, with a 500% decline in new cases.

I was in Portugal in September of this year, and saw the other measures being employed. I was asked for proof of full vaccination when checking into a hotel. One person in our group had not taken a second shot, so within 10 minutes in the hotel, she was tested for Covid-19 with the rapid antigen test. So there is still a choice. Get vaccinated or get tested. Of course, testing is good only for 72 hours. Some restaurants asked for proof of vaccination.

The war against Covid-19 is far from over in any country. In Portugal, tourists crowd into bars and restaurants in the beach resorts along the Algarve from all over the world. So, the presence of Covid-19 will likely be around for a very long time. What is more satisfying is that since May, the death toll due to Covid has been very low, even during the Delta attack.

This is consistent with what the medical professionals are saying. With the vaccines, you may get a break-through infection, but the other dire consequences (hospitalization and death) are likely to be avoided.

The October 1, 2021 New York Times had a picture of a vaccination clinic in Lisbon, with just empty chairs., with the headline,”In Portugal, There Is Virtually No One Left to Vaccinate.” I believe there are more to come, particularly as they are showing that vaccines are safe for children.

The Time’s article goes on to say, “Vice Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo, who led the campaign, said there was a key to his success: Keep politics out of it.”

“The first thing is to make this thing a war,” Admiral Gouveia e Melo said in an interview, recalling how he approached the job. “I use not only the language of war, but military language.” The country had a national vaccination program already in place. But, Portugal’s decision to bring in the military to help administer vaccines gave additional emphasis to how critical the fight against Covid-19 was. Admiral Melo would make public appearances in his combat uniform.

Prior to leading the vaccination task force, Admiral Melo was a submarine squadron commander, which might seem odd to some. However, vaccinations require clear communication and a great distribution plan, and by all accounts he excelled in these areas.

The US is unlikely to duplicate Portugal’s success. We are at 57% fully vaccinated, and each month, there are about 3% more people vaccinated. So, if we keep up at the same rate, in another 5 to 6 months, we could be at the same level as Portugal is now. We might go a bit higher than 3% per month with the mandates, or lower as people dig in on the anti-vaxxer rhetoric, and makes it some big rights issue. My prediction is about 64% fully vaccinated by years end. We could also be under 1,000 deaths per day by year’s end. These are pretty grim statistics.

It is still the pandemic of the unvaccinated. It doesn’t matter if it is China, Russia, Portugal or the US. We need more shots in the arm.

Stay tuned,

Dave

NYT: : In Portugal, There Is Virtually No One Left to Vaccinate

Covid-19 Vaccinations: The US and the rest of the world

We are at 56% vaccinated. Progress in getting the other 44% of our population vaccinated is difficult. Also, we are doing worse than many other developed countries. We are a long distance from the getting to the “herd immunity” target of 70 to 85% fully vaccinated. The country has spent billions of dollars buying up a large supply of vaccines. There has been a huge effort put into an effective distribution system. Free transportation has been offered to the elderly. So, the US has not excuse.

Time for the numbers. I just report the percent fully vaccinated in other countries, with sizeable populations, who have administered at least 5 million doses. There are 14 countries who have between 70 to 85% of their population vaccinated: There are in order of highest to lowest, Portugal (85%), Singapore, Spain, UAE, France, Denmark, China, Italy, Ireland, Chile, Belgium, Uruguay, Canada and Cambodia (70%).

Next up is the 60 to 70% vaccinated group and 12 countries are included. The countries are, listed from highest to lowest are: Norway, UK, Netherlands, Malaysia, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Israel, Austria, Panama and Switzerland.

The European Union is 65.8% vaccinated with 575 million vaccines administered. Now, the 18 developed nations, with 50 to 60% vaccinated are: South Korea, Greece, Hungary, Ecuador, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Czech Republic, US (56.4%), Turkey, Turkmenistan, Oman, Cuba, Argentina, Poland and Slovenia.

I note that even though the European Union has a higher rate of vaccinations, their citizens are not yet permitted to travel as tourists to the US. It is highly likely that this will change in early November.

As I rank the developed countries from high to low in terms of being fully vaccinated, the US is ranked #37. We were getting our vaccines ahead of many countries. How did we fall so far behind?

There are certainly worse countries, who haven’t achieved 50%. Large countries with low vaccination rates are: Brazil (47%), Mexico (38%), Thailand (33%), Russia (31%), India (20%) and Pakistan (17%). Africa and the Middle East are in terrible shape. After Morroco (56%), South Africa has just 17% vaccinated, and the other 49 countries in Africa are all lower!

This is being correctly called the pandemic of the unvaccinated. Epidemiologists knows, “What goes around, comes around.” For those who have had Covid, a negative Covid test, doesn’t mean your back to normal. It just means that you will not be spreading the disease. I know of one case of “Long Covid” and it is really sad. After being release from the hospital, he has to be hooked up to an oxygen tank to breath. Long Covid is a grouping of common and long lasting post-Covid symptoms, which include:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain or tightness
  • Problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
  • Changes to taste and smell
  • Joint pain

It is not known if these symptoms will be permanent. I want to enjoy life, and that includes travel, eating out and visiting with friends. The news on long Covid is real, and it should be a strong incentive for everyone to get vaccinated. It is far better to strengthen your immune system to keep Covid from reproducing, instead of doing battle with it once it begins the infection process and overwhelms your defenses. It is a war, and you want to keep your enemy out of the trenches. I don’t know how else to explain it. It is a choice of being pro-active, instead of re-active.

As far as mandatory vaccination policies, I certainly can see the rationale for it, particularly for people in close contact with many people during the day. Companies have tried to make the office environment safe, but you can go around disinfecting every surface that someone has touched. A lot of work can not be effectively done over Zoom. I’m not going into to the legal aspects.

We can and have to be doing better. It took me less than an hour to get each of my shots, and that includes the drive to the clinic, paperwork, and the shot. I am looking forward to getting a booster soon. I think it was truly a miracle to have highly effective vaccines available in under a year.

Today, we are 56% vaccinated. Can we catch up to Portugal? China? The EU? I never think of a goal to achieve herd immunity, The goal should be 100% vaccinated. This is the point of unconditionally surrender for this terrible disease.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

BBC: Long Covid

GOP gubernatorial candidate Allen West released from hospital after Covid-19 diagnosis

Bloomberg: Vaccine Tracker

Debt Crisis – What’s not True

“The past debt ceiling paid for everything in the Trump administration, plus seven months of this Biden administration.”

— House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in an interview on Fox News, Sept. 21

The Washington Post call McCarthy’s statement “highly misleading.” Debt accumulates when the government spends more than it takes in. However, the cause of this debt can occur much earlier, when the legislature authorizes spending and changes to tax laws.

So, Trump’s 2017 tax cuts for the wealthy and business owners have contributed to increased debt since the debt ceiling was suspended in 2019. The CARES act, was a 2.2 trillion dollar program, signed into law by President Trump in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Democrats and Republicans supported the suspension or increases in the debt ceiling three times under President Trump.

Republicans and Kevin McCarthy are real hypocrites, because the debt ceiling must be increased as a result of spending bills and tax cuts they supported during the Trump administration.

Republican refused to approve increases or suspension of the debt ceiling in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 while Obama was president until we were at the brink of exhausting all extraordinary measures to keep from defaulting on our debt. Then suddenly raising the debt ceiling was ok, under the Trump administration.

The US credit rating fell after the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, which increases the interest we pay on our debt obligations, even though in the end, the debt ceiling was raised.

Honestly, the debt ceiling should not exist. Per Wikipedia: In January 2013, a survey of 38 highly regarded economists found that 84% agreed that, since Congress already approves spending and taxation, “a separate debt ceiling that has to be increased periodically creates unneeded uncertainty and can potentially lead to worse fiscal outcomes.” Only one member of the panel, Luigi Zingales, disagreed with the statement. Rating agency Moody’s has stated that “the debt limit creates a high level of uncertainty”and that the government should change “its framework for managing government debt to lessen or eliminate that uncertainty”.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Washington Post, White House rules out concessions over debt ceiling while GOP refuses to help avert crisis

Washington Post: McCarthy’s misleading claim that 2019 debt-ceiling hike paid for all of Trump’s policies

Congress Must Suspend or Raise the Debt Limit

Wikipedia: Debt Ceiling

Wikipedia: History of Debt Ceiling

Politifact Kevin McCarthy’s Honesty

Mostly “Pants on Fire” or “False” statements.

Debt Ceiling Crisis 2021

It’s one of the most reckless, one of the most irresponsible votes I’ve seen taken in the Senate, and it should send a signal to every family, small business, market watcher, about who in this chamber is in favor of endangering the economic stability of our country,” said Schumer on the Senate floor, following the vote.

Schumer is right. A procedural vote in the Senate failed by a vote of 50 to 48. It solved two critical problems: (1) Extension of short term funding for the government and (2) Raising the debt ceiling limit. We’ve experienced the consequences of a lack of funding, as we’ve had partial shutdowns in the past. It is bad, but nothing in comparison to a failure to raise the debt ceiling. That is catastrophic.

My credit card has a limit. The debt ceiling is NOT analogous to the credit card limit. The reason is, the debt ceiling does not limit government’s ability to spend money. Congress separately authorizes the expenditure of money. The debt ceiling allows government to borrow more money it needs to pay for ALREADY approved expenses including pay for the military salaries and social security.

From the Washington Post, “Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said earlier this week that such a default would be unprecedented in U.S. history. Moody’s “best estimate” is that this date is Oct. 20, although Treasury has not given a more precise day.

At that point, Treasury officials would face excruciating choices, such as whether to fail to pay $20 billion owed to seniors on Social Security, or to fail to pay bondholders of U.S. debt — a decision that could undermine faith in U.S. credit and permanently drive federal borrowing costs higher.

Failure to raise the debt limit would have catastrophic impacts on global financial markets. Interest rates would spike as investors demand a higher rate of return for the risk of taking on U.S. debt given uncertainty about repayment. An increase in interest rates would ripple through the economy, raising costs not only for taxpayers but also for consumers and other borrowers. The value of the U.S. dollar would also decline long term as investors questioned the security of purchasing U.S. treasuries. The cost of auto and home loans would rise.”

I’ve written on this topic before. I suggested instead of calling it an increase in the debt ceiling, just refer to it as allowing the government to pay it’s bills when they come due.

Every single recent president has required Congress to increase the debt limit (see links). A new twist is simply to suspend the debt limit temporarily, allowing Republicans a way out of actually voting for a debt increase. It is a way to kick the can down the road.

It is estimated that the 2011 debt ceiling crisis cost the government 18.9 billion dollars in increase interest and credit downgrade which followed, resulted in the Dow Industrial Average dropping 2,000 points.

Yes, all Presidents including Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama and Trump, who proudly proclaim they were more fiscally responsible than Democrats (Bush GW was famous for “Read my lips, no new taxes”) all needed the debt ceiling raised to keep borrowing money. In fact, the one president who had to go to Congress the most, was Reagan.

My credit card has a payment date, and failure to make a minimum payment on that date, will affect my credit. That is the appropriate analogy. Failure to make payment of money the country owes on time will affect the faith and credit in the US government, something that can not be risked.

The political deadlocks on raising the debt ceiling are occurring more frequently, and it is very scary situation. I have no problem with Republicans who state that we should spend less on various programs, but this is all about money we have to pay. Full stop.

Moody’s Analytic report concludes, “The U.S. and global economies, which still have a long way to go to recover from the recession caused by the pandemic, will descend back into recession. In times past, lawmakers have taken strident warnings like these to heart, and acted. Let us hope they do so again. Soon.”

Put simply, we are making great progress recovering from the pandemic, despite some distractions from anti-vaxxers and it is a lousy time to shoot ourselves in the foot. It is pretty simple. We have no time for grandstanding or brinkmanship.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

History of Debt Limit Crises

U.S. default this fall would cost 6 million jobs, wipe out $15 trillion in wealth, study says

Senate Republicans block bill to avert government shutdown and extend debt limit

Jair Bolsonaro – frightening statements

Jair Bolsonaro is President of Brazil, a country with 211 million residents. He is up for re-election in 2022. He is a right-wing populist, and in many ways similar to Donald Trump.

The norms of a working democracy are that the candidate enters an election to win the approval of the people and a willingness to accept the results, if he loses. Trump’s approach was that if he won, it showed he was the better candidate and if he lost, the election was rigged against him. Thus, he solidified his base against Democrats and the new president and in doing so, undermined the election in general. It is sadly all about fund raising, to maintain the base.

Similar to Trump, Bolsonaro claimed the electronic voting machines can’t be trusted. It’s all sounds very familiar. In the US, the lawyers who made the claims for Trump, namely Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, are facing serious civil lawsuits from the voting machine companies. Sidney Powell may be face disbarment in the states where these claims and others were made, and lacking any evidence.

These lies had consequences. Five people died on January 6, 2021 as the Capitol in Washington was taken over by rioters. It was a very sad day in our history. Since the day it was clear Trump had lost the election, he was making wild claims that the election was stolen, so storming the capitol was a normal reaction of a citizenry who thought their rights to free election was being taken from them. “Stop the Steal” wasn’t just political rhetoric, it was the prelude to a violent attack on our legislators and the vice president of the United States.


Bolsonaro is following closely in Trump’s footsteps. He stated there were only 3 outcomes of the election: He would be re-elected, arrested or killed. (see link below). Another words, if he loses the election, it is because the electoral system failed, and now his enemies would come after him.

“As president, Bolsonaro is allowed and expected to take part in public discussions,” Corbo said. “What he cannot do — and has been doing — is systematically attack the electoral system by which he was elected.” Dr. Corbo is a constitutional law professor in Brazil.

Sadly, I’ve seen this before, way before Trump. Angola’s very first election in 1992, was between the current President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and UNITA’s leader, Jonas Savimbi. The election was to be a triumph of democratic process, ending a decades long civil war, which killed 300,000 Angolans. To this day, I can recall the words of Savimbi’s press secretary, in a shrill voice, calling the election a total fraud and totally lacking in credibility. So, for those that believed the party’s lie, Dos Santos was not the elected candidate, he was not their president, and no one bore any allegiance to him. The election had not been rigged. The UN had monitored the election. Savimbi had enough military equipment and soldiers to re-ignite the civil war, and violence broke out in Luanda, the capital of Angola. The war ended in 2002 with the death of Savimbi.

What Trump was looking for, was a way to legitimize his claims, through Congress, the Justice Department and each state where the Democrats won by a narrow margin (Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan, to name a few) that the election results were false and he had won.

I am hoping that Brazilians deny Bolsonaro a second term, and are smart enough to see through his lies. If he’s the Brazilian Trump, then the next step will be to take whatever measures he can, to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election. I’m afraid the increase rhetoric can turn to violence as it did in the US. Or worse Angola.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

CNN: Bolsonaro says he will either be arrested, killed or win Brazil’s next election

https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/06/americas/bolsonaro-brazil-elections-intl-latam/index.html

Covid-19 and Understanding its spread

The diagram above is called the disease triangle. For Covid-19, the pathogen is the virus, and the host is humans or the body’s organs susceptible to the disease. We know now it is not strictly a respiratory problem. Environment can be considered the conditions by which transmission is possible or likely. When Covid began, there was an immediate need to know how Covid invades the body and replicates. Thus, the Host – Pathogen axis was critical. Equally important was knowledge of under what conditions the disease could spread, thus Pathogen – Environment axis became important. Large gatherings of people in airports, bus and train stations, and for events, such as sporting or musical events were obvious venues for disease dispersion.

Many would include a fourth element, which would be “Human Response.” I think the fourth vertex is critical in Covid. The medical response is to find ways to interfere with a disease’s growth and spread, through effective treatments and vaccines. The Covid susceptibility is much lower in countries where there is a high level of vaccination. I believe easy access to testing and rapid results allows individuals to self quarantine and seek medical assistance.

The pathogen is not constant. The delta variant spread globally with lightening speed, and the downward trend in new cases has been reversed, with increases in many countries including the US. The understanding of the infection process is still evolving with the long term damage, termed “long Covid.”

There is a commonality in the global deadly viruses, which is asymptomatic characteristic of the disease and ease of transmission. A healthy person can be a carrier of the Covid even though there are no obvious symptoms. They are unlikely to be tested in this early phase of the disease. Covid can be transmitted either directly from someone else or from touching surfaces.

The human response has a sociality aspect as mass vaccinations need cooperation. The negative aspect is clear: vaccination hesitancy, resistance and ignorance. Misinformation via social media and politics are playing negative roles. The Trump and Biden administrations are to be commended for an incredibly rapid and effective roll out of vaccines. See former Secretary of HHS, Alex Azar comments on vaccines in links.

The human response should mean we act together in accepting restrictions, including indoor mask wearing, as it is now both a necessity and temporary. Further, we need to recognize this as a pandemic and help countries which can not afford vaccines for their populations. Otherwise, the disease will continue to re-appear in the US. We don’t know how long the immunizations will last for or what new variants might appear in the future. So, we can’t accept just reducing the new cases to a low level in the US.

We have to accept the new medical information, which is the Delta variant is spreading and new cases are on the rise. It is not as dramatic, but the cases of people in the US dying of Covid have also been rising in the last 30 days.

Stay tuned,

Dave

I Was the Architect of Operation Warp Speed. I Have a Message for All Americans. by Alex Azar

Covid-19 and the Delta variant

On July 31, 2021 there were 78,433 new Covid-19 cases based on the 7-day average. I use the 7 day average because it tends to smooth out the data. Presumably, for some states, when the daily data hasn’t been completely tallied, the state simply doesn’t report the daily data until the next day. On June 24, 2021, things look good with 11,662 new cases using 7 day averaging. A six fold increase in about 40 days. What happened? The delta variant for one. A slowing vaccination rate for another.

More opening up, relaxed masking regulations, and just people getting out and around for another. I was in a very crowded Miami airport. Although I was wearing a mask. I took it off to get a snack. Masks don’t really offer much protection to oneself as much as to cut down the chance of transmission to others. This is the logic of requiring everyone to wear a mask indoors.

As a country, I don’t think our goal should be some arbitrary value of % vaccinated, like 70 to 80%. It should be zero new cases, and we will see zero hospitalizations and zero deaths. That’s the long term goal, because the rest of the world is far behind in getting vaccinated.

It is well documented that the Delta variant is much more contagious. Fully vaccinated people can be infected with this variant, but getting vaccinated is still incredibly important, as it reduces the chance of hospitalization and improves the chance of recovery.

Nobody ever claimed that vaccines were perfect. The take away message from the surge in new cases is everyone should get vaccinate. There is a small group of people who have allergic reactions to vaccines. They need to consult their doctors prior to being vaccinated.

I live in Florida, and the trend on new cases is definitely bad. The more reliable values are the 7 day average which show 15,818 new cases. I suspect the daily number is really two days of data. The lowest was June 18 with 1499 new cases (7-day avg), so an astounding 10 times increase in around 43 days.

I’ve seen similar increases in many other states including Missouri, Louisiana and Arkansas. I have not seen dramatic increases in Covid deaths, but usually these increases show up weeks after the new cases spike.

What to do? Get vaccinated for one. Accept for now tighter regulations regarding masking. Avoid large indoor gatherings where some may be unvaccinated.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Gore and Obama: Amazing insights on Global Warming

May 24, 2006 marks the release of the documentary film, Inconvenient Truth. The film documented Al Gore’s decades long campaign to increase awareness on global warming. It was appropriately titled. Climate change or global warming wasn’t the headline news at least in 2006. See link below on the film.

Al Gore is an unabashed environmental activist since he was elected to Congress at the age of 28. At age 73, Gore is still hard at work raising awareness and pro-actively supporting cooperation. Being pro-active, meaning heeding clear warning signs of impending disasters and taking appropriate actions. Some should take note of the recent Surfside condominium collapse of a good example of the cost of inaction until disaster comes.

“No challenge  poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change” is from Obama’s State of the Union address in 2015. The statement was immediately ridiculed on Fox News. CNN reported, “His statement was met with scattered, muted applause.” President Barack Obama described as the greatest threat to future generations was neither terrorism nor ISIS. It wasn’t nuclear weapons in rogue states either.

Nobody needs to convince the residents of California or Oregon that climate change effects can be life threatening as temperatures soared above 100 degrees. Bloomberg reports: “In the past week alone, 380,000 people have been evacuated due to floods in China’s Henan province, 30 villages in Uganda were affected as rivers overflowed and 25 people died in landslides after Mumbai was hit by big storms that also inundated regions surrounding the megacity. Temperatures in Turkey and North Africa approached 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), while South Africa and Brazil froze. Siberia is battling wildfires again.”

“The global climate is out of balance” as stated in the Bloomberg link below. It will take enormous international cooperation to bring down global carbon emissions. We have finally a president who will work with world leaders on cutting emissions. But unfortunately, Congress is less committed, and they hold the purse strings.

Even worse, is the defiant President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who seems in locked in the mentality of last century, where there was zero appreciation of the impact of carbon emissions our climate, and complete deference to industrial development. See the last link of this blog, where the federal government is accelerating the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, for profit.

Yes, Gore got it right from the get go, so did Obama. Biden is on the right track. China. India and the EU will work with the international groups. Brazil? Some really get it.

See links below.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Wikipedia: Al Gore

Environmental Activism of Al Gore

Obama: No greater threat to future than climate change

Why the weather is so weird (Bloomberg Green)

(Note the events cited are just in the last week)

The Amazon Is Fast Approaching a Point of No Return
Brazil’s rainforest is being stolen and cleared at an accelerating pace, and the Bolsonaro government is fanning the flames.

Bloomberg Green

No 6-3 decisions – Update

Perhaps I spoke to soon. Two important cases were just decided with all six conservatives in the majority as follows:

Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta

The Court struck down California’s requirement that charities and nonprofits operating in the state provide the state attorney general’s office with the names and addresses of their largest donors. (From Scotusblog.com)

Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee

By a vote of 6-3, the justices upheld two Arizona voting provisions that Democrats and civil rights groups challenged as disproportionately burdening minority voters. In an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, the majority outlined what it described as “guideposts” for future challenges to voting laws under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans racial discrimination in election practices. The court’s three liberal justices dissented, with Justice Elena Kagan complaining that Thursday’s decision “undermines Section 2 and the right it provides.” (From Scotusblog.com)

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Scotusblog.com

No 6-3 Supreme Court Decisions?

Justices Thomas and Breyer

“When you live in a polarized political environment, people tend to see everything in those terms. That’s not how we at the court function and the results in our cases do not suggest otherwise,” said Roberts before hundreds in attendance at the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center in Manhattan.

Chief Justice John Roberts, Sept 2019.

There are 3 liberal Supreme Court justices: Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer. As shown above, Justice Breyer is seated to the right of Justice Thomas. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is a long standing conservative justice. Other conservatives on the bench are: Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Roberts. So, the balance of the court is 6-3, in favor of conservatives.

However, the idea that conservatives now control the court has no legs to stand on in the 2020 term. As the Economist article states, as of June 23, of the 50 cases decided in the current term, there have been only four cases of a 6-3 decisions split over ideological lines. There were 24 unanimous decisions.

The 2020 term is coming to an end. I believe there are just 5 more decisions before the court takes their summer break. The more contentious case often come at the end of the term. The HollyFrontier Cheyenne Refining case was decided on June 26, and it clearly supports what Roberts said, that the justices will decide based on the law and precedent, and not which political party supported their nomination. The case was decided 6-3 but the majority opinion was written by Justice Gorsuch, a conservative, and the dissent was written by Justice Barrett, another conservative. Joining Justice Gorsuch was Justice Breyer, a rock solid liberal on the court. Joining Justice Barrett, were liberal judges, Sotomayor and Kagan.

A New Yorker article entitled, “The Supreme Court surprising term” as published yesterday, states, “the Justices repeatedly defied expectations, with conservatives and liberals together forming majorities in high-profile cases in order to avoid or defer the fighting of deeper wars.” I’m not so sure that was the motivation. They recognize the immediate impact their decisions have on every court in the country and this supersedes politics.

The conservatives and liberals have different philosophies on interpreting the law. I don’t think any of the justices has really altered their general philosophy. Conservatives adhere more to the Constitution as written, and are less willing to take an expansive interpretation of the constitution. They can still arrive at the outcome, but with different reasoning. Judgement and and dissents of the court are much more powerful, when supported by both conservatives and liberals.

So, ironically, as our political parties seem to become more polarized, with opposing views on just about every issue, the Supreme Court is finding common ground and this is good. Yes, Republicans nominate conservatives and Democrats nominate liberals. The very good aspect of the approval process, is that we have a Supreme Court, with some of the top legal minds in the country, through their education and experience.

Conservatives and liberal justices joined in the denial of the challenge to Obamacare, probably the case with the greatest immediate impact and highly controversial between Republicans and Democrats. The majority ruled the merits of the case should not be considered, because there was lack of standing, based on no showing of real harm to the States. Justice Alito wrote a strong dissent to the majority.

What keeps the Court out of politics? The Court has nine independent justices, and each gets one vote, including the Chief Justice. In the case of eight justices, the Chief Justice does not break the tie. A tie means the lower court decision holds. So, I believe giving the Chief Justice no special privileges has been one way the court has kept out of partisan politics. The President might call up the Speaker of the House, when the Republicans were in the majority and say he wants certain legislation passed. Doesn’t work at the Supreme Court. Our founding fathers wrote in the Constitution that the Supreme Court judges would have lifetime appointments, so this keeps them out of the political fray.

I think it is also a tribute to John Roberts and other members that has resulted in conservatives agreeing with liberals and vice-versa. Yes, conservatives tend to agree more often with each other than with liberal members. But, this agreement isn’t consistent enough to predict cases.

Which justices cross over and join with the other side? I think this term, the answer is pretty clear. Every single one of them! Breyer joining with Barrett on one case, Sotomayor and Kagan joining with a dissent written by Thomas in another case (TransUnion Credit Case). How nice!

Links:

Economist: The 3-3-3 court: America’s Supreme Court is less one-sided than liberals feared

The Supreme Court’s Surprising Term

Scotus Blog

Brazil firm to produce Covid-19 vaccine for export

Hospitals in Brazil and India are filled to capacity. In Brazil, the number of new cases is about 61,000 (7-day rolling average). It is the last place you would expect vaccines to be produced for export to other countries. So, I would say the Covid-19 crisis in Brazil is terrible and a bit bizarre.

Brazil’s Anvisa agency rejected the Sputnik V vaccine developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute. Anvisa in Brazil is like the FDA in the US, as it must approve all vaccines. Brazil was expected to receive 30 million doses.

Yahoo news reports, “União Quimica’s facility in São Paulo has been certified by Anvisa for good production practices and the Gamaleya vaccine will be made for export to countries that have approved it, said CEO and founder Fernando Marques.” I suspect the vaccine will be shipped to Mexico and Argentina. It is approved in India, and I’m sure they can’t wait to receive additional shipments.

The vaccine is claimed to be 91% effective. The Russian vaccine has been approved in 62 countries. The vaccine was really the first one to be approved, in August 2020, beating out Moderna and Pfizer. Russia was criticized for giving approval without sufficient Phase III trials, where the effectiveness could be reviewed by scientists around the world.

The European Medicines Agency is currently inspecting the manufacture of the Russian vaccine in Europe. I believe the Agency will give approval shortly, and this will make it easy for all European countries to approve.

The Russian vaccine is an Adenovirus vector vaccine, as are other approved vaccines: J&J, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Cansino. In the manufacture of the vaccine, the DNA of another virus (not Covid) so it can not replicate, but is capable of eliciting an immune response. The link below describes the vaccine as containing viral particles, which invades the cells and passes on specific instructions to the cells to build spike proteins. So these cells have enough in common with Covid, to get the immune system to defend against Covid. Very clever these scientists.

Anvisa rejection seems based more on the manufacturing of the vaccine, rather the science behind it. They claim that the batches of vaccine they examined contained replication-competent adenovirus. I’m stopping right here, because the scientists can battle this one out. It may be that some people getting the vaccine will have a mild cold, but they will nevertheless be protected from Covid.

The proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. In Latin America, Mexico and Argentina have administered about 7 million doses, while over 12 million people in Russia have received the shot (see link from Wall Street Journal).

Anvisa was forced by a Supreme Court decision to rule on the requests of 10 states in Brazil for the vaccine. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the right wing politics of President Bolsonaro is a real element with this regulatory agency. They have no problem with approving toxic agricultural chemicals, which are banned in Europe.

Bolsonaro claims to be doing everything in his power to combat Covid-19. The solution is not with hydroxychloroquine or even worse ivermectin, but effective vaccines.

It is an appalling contradiction when millions of doses of Gameleya’s vaccine are made in the populous city of São Paulo (11 million residents) and shipped to other countries, when there is a dire need for more vaccines at home. The question remains- has Anvisa dug themselves a hole too deep for themselves get out of? I hope not.

This is a continuing story and I’ll update it as information is available.

Stay tuned,

Dave

,

Links:

Yahoo News: European Medicines Agency experts beginning Sputnik V manufacturing inspections: Official

Science Magazine Blog: Brazil Rejects the Gamaleya Vaccine

Wall Street Journal: Brazil Defends Decision to Reject Russia’s Covid-19 Vaccine, Citing Safety and Efficacy

Brasilwire: With 400,000 Dead, Brazil Regulator Slammed For “Political” Veto Of Russian Vaccine

Bolsonaro advocates freedom (forget lockdowns and social distancing- and still promotes hydroxychloroquine!)

Why You Should Not Use Ivermectin to Treat or Prevent COVID-19 from US FDA.

Tucker Suckers

Tucker Carlson, Fox News Commentator

We are in a global war against the Covid-19 Pandemic. The safety and effectiveness of the vaccines at this point has been clearly been proven. It is a fact that those countries who have be able to acquire and distribute the vaccines to a high percentage of their populations are seeing the new incidences go dramatically down. It is also a fact that there have been extremely few severe reactions, on the order of one in a million. Over a billion vaccines have been administered worldwide. Medical workers and doctors got first in line with when the shots were available. Every living current and past president have been vaccinated.

Tucker Carlson. with Fox News, is not a journalist. He is a showman. Tucker Carlson promotes doubt rather than fact. This lets Fox News make more money. When he raises a long series of questions, it’s like a cliff hanger- tune in tomorrow as only Tucker can dig down and finally uncover the truth. It’s show biz!

He went way too far with several broadcasts on the vaccines in support those hesitant to be vaccinate. He claimed many more people are have severe reactions or die after taking the vaccine than reported in the mainstream media. Actually, as pointed out by the excellent reporting in the Washington Post, his statistics are just plain wrong because he is using a database, where anyone can report adverse reactions, and the connection to the vaccine is not verified.

This should not be political. Operation Warp Speed was responsible for the rapid development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines under the Trump administration. Two Covid-19 vaccines were approved for Emergency Use by the FDA under the Trump administration. Trump and his family were vaccinated in January 2021, soon after the vaccines were approved.

Carlson speaks with great conviction. His facts are wrong. And those who watch and believe him, and don’t get vaccinated, may help in the continued spread of the disease. This followers should know better. I call them Tucker suckers, but perhaps Tucker victims is a better term, as some will get Covid-19, end up in the hospital, with very dire consequences, including death.

I know commentators want to impress their audience with “Breaking News,” not heard on other cable news stations. Well there is a reason in this case. Tucker facts are misleading or wrong. Others including commentators on Fox News, have recognized how extreme and reckless his broadcasts have become.

See further support in the links below. I know links from Washington Post may require a subscription, but they frequently allow some free views. CNN response is excellent.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Washington Post More than 3,283,000 people have died from the coronavirus worldwide

Washington Post, Tucker Carlson’s worst vaccine segment yet

CNN, Tucker Carlson’s Fox News colleagues call out his dangerous anti-vaccination rhetoric

John Oliver on HBO, Humorous as always, but I think he’s right on the mark May 3, 2021, but didn’t stop Tucker Carlson, with more broadcasts.

May 3 broadcast