Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Does The Latest OIG Rip On The FBI's FISA Problems Matter?

Michael Horowitz's OIG has done a progress report on their findings thus far in their ongoing review of whether the FBI bothers to follow its own policy procedures with regard to FISA applications for electronic surveillance. What's he talking about? This.

Basically, every FISA application makes assertions of fact, which are presented to the FISA court, the FISC, in support of the application. Naturally, those assertions of fact are supposed to be supported by, well, evidence that can be confirmed. Horowitz says:

As a result of our audit work to date and as described below, we do not have confidence that the FBI has executed its Woods Procedures in compliance with FBI policy. Specifically, the Woods Procedures mandate compiling supporting documentation for each fact in the FISA application. Adherence to the Woods Procedures should result in such documentation as a means toward achievement of the FBI’s policy that FISA applications be “scrupulously accurate.” 

OK, fair enough. The FBI hasn't been "scrupulously accurate." Mistakes were made. But that doesn't mean that jobs will be lost, or anything drastic like that. Scrupulosity is for small minded people, anyway. The FBI maintains that the mistakes weren't "material", and maybe that's the point. Under the FISA regime, mistakes are mostly administrative miscues. That's the beauty of FISA: no real accountability for the bureaucrats. Isn't that the ultimate bureaucratic dream?

Covid Update 3/31/20

There's some interesting news today, basically encouraging. The news appears to be especially encouraging for California--a matter Bebe and Ray SoCal have raised. In essence, it confirms my cautiously optimistic view--for the West Coast. On the West Coast, at least, Covid has been more of a localized thing, not a community spread thing. That's what I theorized early on--Covid was a bit of a late arrival in the US, compared to the rest of the world, and might be containable with aggressive action. That's not so much the case on the East Coast (NY), where it seems to be more on the loose in the community. And we don't really know about other hot spots like Michigan and Illinois. Here's what I'm talking about.

USAToday has an article--8 strains of the coronavirus are circling the globe. Here's what clues they're giving scientists--that explains what scientists have been able to learn through genomic sequencing. I won't attempt to explain that process, because I'd probably get it wrong, but here are the important points that have been learned. I'll leave out the ellipses, but you can go to the original for more:

The Modern Coup D’état

Today at Real Clear Politics there's a reprint of Dorothy Thompson's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 31, 1937. The famous journalist's testimony was in opposition to Franklin Roosevelt's famous court packing scheme. RCP provides some interesting background to testimony before presenting the transcript:

Thompson’s experiences [in Weimar Germany] had provided the inspiration for her husband Sinclair Lewis’ satirical novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” which is about a fascist demagogue who whips up popular resentment and takes over the United States. As she testified before senators on this date 83 years ago, a “modern coup d’état” was not just a dystopian conceit, it was her warning that it can happen here.

Thompson's full testimony is far too long to reproduce here. On the other hand, the relevance to present day politics of her reflections on the Dem court packing scheme should be immediately apparent. In fact, her testimony could be regarded as setting a sort of baseline for conservatism. While I would be the first to add that far more in the nature of philosophical substance is required to support and maintain such a baseline, Thompson's testimony is a useful reminder of the dangers that always face constitutional government such as ours, and rarely more so than today. It's notable that a consistent underlying theme of the Trump administration has been a return to constitutional rule. This is especially clear in Trump's handling of federal - state relations during this Covid19 pandemic.

I'll offer an excerpt that I hope will capture the spirit of the full testimony. Food for thought:

The #PresidentCuomo fantasy

That's the title of a nice article by Byron York, today, in which he explains why the boomlet in Candidate Cuomo speculation--to replace Clueless Joe--is almost certainly pure fantasy. The notion that the ueber-wealthy proprietors of the Dem Party--having pushed a madman to the side in favor of a candidate who is very obviously in the early stages of dementia--can now pull a switcheroo is a bridge too far in American politics. The Dems are well and truly stuck with Biden.

York organizes the fairly obvious reasons behind this with a bit of flair. It all started with Cuomo's newfound national prominence, thanks to Covid19--a deadly disease that could be used as a metaphor for Liberalism, just as Biden's dementia is a metaphor for the Dem party:

It did not take long for the hashtag #PresidentCuomo to appear on Twitter. And from there came the dream that perhaps Cuomo might somehow become the Democratic standard-bearer. 
But how? ... 
At this point, does someone — Party elders? The chairman of the Democratic National Committee? — tell the 10,118,114 people who voted for Biden: "Never mind. Governor Cuomo will be your candidate now." Or does someone tell the 7,665,794 who voted for Sanders: "Sorry, Biden won't be the candidate, but neither will the second-place finisher." 
Remember the big deal some Democratic leaders and commentators made of the fact that the party's African American voters had chosen Biden? Would that be thrown out, too?

Monday, March 30, 2020

Game Changer?

The new Abbott Labs test for Covid19 is looking like a game changer in the fight against the pandemic--for a number of reasons.

One reason the test could be a game changer is that it takes only about five minutes to get the results. That could allow doctors to get quick, early diagnoses, and then refer those who test positive for chloroquine+ therapy--hydroxychloroquine + azythromyacin. That therapy is said to work best and fastest on early stage cases of Covid19.

Playing into this scenario is the fact that the new test is run on Abbott Labs' ID NOW platform. This is a device that weighs 6.6 lbs. and is the size of a toaster. Most importantly of all, there are already 18,000 ID NOW devices in place in the U.S. As Abbott Labs pointed out, this is the most widely available molecular point-of-care testing platform in the nation, and is already in use to test for other diseases like influenza. There are no modifications to be made. The test is in the form of a cartridge that is inserted into the ID NOW device.

Put it all together and you have the possibility to do more tests faster and start chloroquine+ therapy at the earliest possible stage of the disease.

It doesn't take much imagination to envision this strategy drastically slashing mortality rates almost overnight. Donald J. Trump, Savior of the Nation? The mind boggles!

Here is an excerpt from an article in USAToday:

The Most Important Thing You Can Do To Fight Covid19

Dr. David Nieman, a professor at Appalachian State, is director of the Human Performance Lab at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis and has researched exercise immunology for more than 30 years. He’s a proponent for maintaining outdoor exercise, with safeguards, during the pandemic, saying 30 to 60 minutes a day can develop a stronger immune system that can help offset the effects of the coronavirus and its respiratory ills. 
“The most important thing people can do right now other than follow all the hygiene rules is to get out and engage in regular physical activities,” Nieman said in an interview Friday. “If you’re a golfer, I would highly recommend that you follow the hygiene rules while you golf and get out and engage in that activity.  
“Exercise will recruit important immune cells from peripheral tissues like your spleen, your sinus, your lymph nodes where the immune cells kind of live. During exercise they get recruited into the bloodstream and circulate through the body like Army Rangers on a mission, where they can better detect and ultimately destroy viruses and bacteria. It’s called improved immune surveillance.”

Apples, Oranges, And Powerline

The Powerline Blog is operated by highly credentialed persons--experts, you might say. Pertintently, three of the four regulars are attorneys, trained--one supposes--in evaluating the relevance of facts to whatever position is being advanced. It was with some dismay, therefore that I read a rather silly post at Powerline yesterday: An Optimistic Projection of COVID-19 Deaths [with comment by Paul].

Here is the portion that I found most disturbing:

According to the CDC, these are the principal causes of death in the U.S.:

As you can see, at 81,000 COVID-19 is nowhere near the top of the list. It represents an increase in the “Influenza and Pneumonia” category, I think. But these other diseases take their toll year after year, while COVID-19 will soon fade from the scene. Maybe in a year or two, sheepishness over the current overreaction to COVID-19 will translate into a more appropriate focus on these more important killers.

A quick glance through the list of "killers" shows that apples are being compared to oranges. Consider:

1. Covid19, from onset to death (since we're dealing with "killers") runs a course ranging up to around 2 weeks--give or take a bit. 
2. Except for suicide, most of the listed diseases result from living one's life. Which is to say that to a very great extent they result from lifestyle choices--poor diet over a lifetime and, especially, smoking, etc. As such, to one degree or another most of these diseases can be prevented or delayed. Accidental death can be another exception, although contributory negligence is often a factor. 
3. More often than not these days death from any of these diseases comes after a prolonged interval--years, even decades. One does not contract heart disease one day and die the next week. Heart attacks and strokes are sudden, but are usually the result of prolonged illness--even if undiagnosed. Again, suicide and accident do lead to sudden death. Determined people will kill themselves. 
4. While it's true that outcomes of Covid19 are worsened by the same poor lifestyle choices--poor diet and smoking--those choices are not causitive. Nor is Covid19 a personal choice, like suicide or accidental death (to some degree) when contributory negligence is a factor.

As for the alleged "overreaction" to Covid19, I won't go into the reasons why I maintain that President Trump had good reasons to act as he has--could hardly have acted otherwise. I've covered those issues at great length. However, I recently read a news item that sheds some light on that issue from a logical, if unexpected angle. Apparently, the CDC has documented that flu deaths in the US have plummeted since the onset of "social distancing." This morning I found a graph that, yes, graphically illustrates the effectiveness of social distancing at drastically shortening the flu season as well as lowering the mortality rate and the overall death toll--the squib line at the bottom is this year:

Patriot Act Expansion Of FISA Lapses

For the time being. Emailer Jim sent me a link to the NYT article that explains that the House recessed without addressing the Senate bill that would have renewed the Patriot Act's expansion of FISA in the fields of counterterrorism and espionage investigations. The title and sub-head say it all:

House Departs Without Vote to Extend Expired F.B.I. Spy Tools 
The operational effect may be limited because the surveillance laws remain in effect for existing investigations.

As we explained earlier, of the three provisions in question,

(1) the “business records” provision;
(2) the “roving wiretap” provision; and
(3) the “lone wolf” amendment to the FISA definition of “agent of a foreign power”.

only #1, regarding "business records" was really controversial. This was the provision that allowed NSA to scoop up all metadata. Later developments led to the FBI grossly abuse their ability to search NSA databases in order to try to prevent Donald Trump's election--and when that failed to lead an Intel Community coup against the president.

Even this temporary lapse of these provisions is unlikely to have much effect, as the NYT explains:

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Recommended Reads: The Corona Crisis--China, New York, And The World

Two highly recommended articles today.

The first is by Italian journalist Giulio Meotti, who writes for the "centrist" Il FoglioThe West Needs to Wake Up to China's Duplicity. It's fairly long but, IMO, very good. What I'll provide here is the summary at the beginning:

* In an article in Xinhua, one of the Chinese Communist Party's mouthpieces, Beijing threatened to halt pharmaceutical exports, after which America would be "plunged into the mighty sea of coronavirus... — Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health, Council on Foreign Relations, Twitter, March 4, 2020. 
* China's leaders are probably hoping that you cannot challenge a powerhouse that is selling you most of your vital medications. 
* "Hidden behind declarations of solidarity, China plans to buy out our troubled companies and infrastructure" — Bild, March 19, 2020. 
* Italy, a country hit hard by China's coronavirus pandemic, is now at the center of a strategic Chinese propaganda campaign. Beijing has sent doctors and supplies to Italy and is doing the same all over Europe. In Italy you can see posters saying, "Go, China!" China is trying to buy our silence and complicity. Sadly, that is already taking place. 
* China is not helping at this point out of "solidarity". The Chinese regime is now seeking to portray itself as the world's savior. Beijing, at the beginning of the pandemic, did not care about the lives of even its own people: it was busy censoring the news. 
* "The West is so tolerant, passive, accommodating and naive towards Beijing. Westerners... are seduced like an old man in front of a young girl.... Europe shows all its weakness. It does not realize that the Chinese offensive threatens its freedom and values". — Liao Yiwu, Chinese writer exiled in Berlin, Le Point International, April 6, 2019.

Here's a nice item that's related. In addition to all the placebo testing kits China has sent to Europe, Netherlands recalls 'defective' masks bought from China:

Join Me At Mass

For context on why I worship the way I do, you'll need to read all my original blogging before the Russia Hoax. :-)

Today is Passion Sunday. You can follow along here with facing English/Latin: Dominica I Passionis. Normally Father Tom has a wonderful organist and choir, as well as acolytes:

COVID19: Ranking The States

This morning I have a table to summarize some of the COVID19 stats for the US as a whole. It's a bit rough and ready, as you can see, but I hope it may allow us to clarify a few things--including expectations for next week. Let me explain what we have here, first.

I've basically taken the Worldometer summary table. The states (and DC) are ranked by total cases, but in parentheses I've added the rank of each state by population. (If you notice a ranking discrepancy, it's because I deleted PR, without changing the numbered ranking.) Then I added a far right hand column with total tests performed. (H/T Ray So-Cal).

A perusal of the ranking by Covid10 compared to population ranking provides a rough and ready idea of where the states stand--at the present time--on a per capita basis. Keep in mind something rather important in this regard. The main ports of entry into the US from foreign countries that might import Covid19 prominently include these:

NY, LA, SF, Seattle, Chicago, DC, Miami, Dallas, Houston, Boston, Detroit.

You'd expect the states that contain those cities to rank high up on the total cases. You might also want to add in neighboring states in some cases--NJ, next to NY, for example.

Next you'll want to compare total testing with population ranking. That will tell you which states are more or less on the ball with their testing programs (we're all behind and playing catch up) and which states have dropped the ball.

If a state ranks pretty high on total cases but has done little testing as compared to its population ranking you could probably expect--if you're a betting type of person--that in the coming week or two as lots more testing gets done those states are gonna get hammered.

For example.

Michigan and California rank near the top of the table, but are way, way, behind other states in terms of testing if you compare them to their population ranking. Both states--but especially California--are top destinations for foreign travelers from China. Texas (2) is more down toward the middle of the chart and is home to two top ports of entry, but has been slow to get testing going--when you consider its population. Louisiana (25) has been hard hit. On the other hand, it has been doing a fair amount of testing on a per capita basis. Georgia (8) is also behind on its testing. These are the states I'll be watching for dramatic developments, although the entire top third of the table bears watching. IL and FL have top ports of entry, for example. They've been testing, doing a better job than CA and MI, but it's still relatively early days.

Maybe some other aspects of these stats will jump out at you. The stats aren't totally up to date, but they mostly reflect yesterday and won't be much off on a comparative basis.