uncertainty & risks for our
hyperconnected world



Feb. 28: California, Oregon

New cases in the SF Bay area not connected to travel to other countries. And today, Feb. 28, the Governor of Oregon held a press conference to announced a case who worked for the Lake Oswego elementary school, a suburb of Portland. The school is now closed at least through Wednesday for deep cleaning.

Japan just announced closure of ALL of their schools, elementary level through college.

I've some groceries, some peanut butter, to last a couple days.
- Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime"

Earlier this week, a Senate hearing had one of the most shocking public conversations ever. Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana (no relation to JFK either by family relation or political conviction) quizzed the new "acting" Homeland Security director about the federal response, or lack thereof. Sen. Kennedy voted to acquit Trump, and has been a loyal ally of the administration, but he was shocked at the criminal negligence of this flunky who is supposedly in charge of keeping the country safe. See transcript in the "experts" tab (click above).

One of the hidden aspects to the Department of Homeland Security is a key motive for its creation was the result of pandemic response exercises done before 9/11. One of these, codenamed "Dark Winter," was held in June 2001. Participants in this "tabletop" exercise predicted that a pandemic could quickly shutdown the country. This exercise modeled smallpox, which is far more lethal than covid-19, but the lessons learned from that prediction apply to the current situation.

Homeland has had two decades to get ready for a pandemic, and for the current "acting" director not to be able to answer the most elementary questions in a Senate hearing is disturbing beyond words.

As the number of cases increase, distrust in the administration will also increase. This is not a partisan concern. While Trump is a pathological serial liar by any rational account, the problem of the country realizing en masse that an incompetent liar is threatening public health on an unprecedented scale may accelerate social collapse. Public health requires public trust, and it's hard to imagine anyone less qualified to manage a crisis than Trump and his vice president.

Again, this site is not attempting to keep current on the crisis, it's is hard enough for billion dollar media companies to keep current ... personal / family preparations are critical to complete. Changing habits about effective sanitation are good to practice. Local and state governments have control over local public health more than federal governments, hopefuly some of them will respond better than the political appointees of the Trump regime. Brace for impact and help your neighbors.


Feb. 25: Iran, Italy, Tenerife ...

"This briefing, which was classified, should be made available to the American people because there would be an outcry and an uproar if the American people heard what we have been told. And I believe the administration has a real obligation to tell the American people what it is telling us behind closed doors….I can give you my impressions but I can't tell you what I was told which is really abhorant…I think this classifying is inexplicable and unacceptable".
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
response to a secret briefing by the Trump Administration

A made-in-Canada solution to the coronavirus outbreak?

The best hope for an antiviral drug may come from Michel Chrétien's Montreal lab
by Nick Taylor-Vaisey Feb 24, 2020

15 FEBRUARY 2020
More than 80 clinical trials launch to test coronavirus treatments
As HIV drugs, stem cells and traditional Chinese medicines vie for a chance to prove their worth, the World Health Organization attempts to bring order to the search.


Feb. 20, 2020: The odds of the Tokyo Olympics happening as scheduled probably just lowered substantially. Prime Minister Abe just made an enormous screw up with the cruise ship situation, letting probably infected people off the ship to return to their home towns. The US, Australia and Canada, now repatriating their citizens, are requiring 14 days upon re-entry. Japan isn't.

for comic relief - Apocalypse Meow
The Simpsons: "house cat flu"

3 short interviews of doctors
PBS news hour
Amna Nawaz reports and talks to Vanderbilt University's Dr. William Schaffner for insight.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb (immediate past commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration): Japan appears to be on the cusp of a large coronavirus outbreak
Dr. Syra Madad, senior director of New York City's System-wide Special Pathogens Program, joins "Squawk Box" to discuss the coronavirus outbreak and how health officials are working to prevent spread of the illness.


February 2, 2020. "Groundhog Day" here in the USA is a custom of using a groundhog to pretend to predict weather patterns for the remaining six weeks of winter. What will the next six weeks mean for the spread of Wuhan novel corona virus 2019-NCoV? How far will it spread? How many will get sick, die, recover? What disruptions will the diease cause to the global economy? What steps can be taken to protect one's family, community, country, civilization?

The story is changing rapidly and this site does not have unique access to information. However, here are a few perspectives that may (or may not) be useful.

Like with many other crises, figuring out the most likely of a range of scenarios can be elusive. Climate change. Peak Everything. Unstable economies. Overpopulation. Militarization. Surveillance societies. Other emerging diseases. Toxic and nuclear waste. Deforestation. Depletion of natural resources faster than they regenerate. Water shortages.

To compound these problems are interconnections and feedback loops.

One of the top feedback loops in our world is how Climate Chaos and Peak Everything worsen each other. Conventional oil and nat. gas depletion led to fracking and tar sands mining, which worsen pollution problems. Climate concerns isolated from recognizing limits to growth led to greenwashing and unrealistic assumptions of how much "renewables" can substitute for concentrated fossil finite carbon, which fuels backlash against climate mitigation. But systemic thinking is discouraged in favor of soundbite politics, which makes nuance difficult to understand and polarizes public opinion into divergent partisan camps where both sides can be wrong (although for different reasons).

It has long been understood there are risks from emerging diseases to the continuity of civilization. Governments around the world, including the US, have quietly wargamed scenarios about contagions. The restrictions on movements in China are likely to spread further, but how effective they are and will be is yet to be understood.

Coronavirus crisis scenarios range from a major problem that is being addressed to a full blown globalized pandemic. The admitted figures of patients have increased tremendously, but it is impossible to automatically trust any statistics about its spread throughout China. Official censorship blocked early information about the disease, and China is notoriously opaque about embarrassing problems. Some information is being released, because it's impossible not to, but it's likely the full scale is beyond what their government is willing to admit.

When the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns started in 2011, the Japanese government considered contingency plans to evacuate Tokyo if radiation releases reached a worst case scenario of irradiated fuel pool fires. These considerations happened in secret, and fortunately that scenario was narrowly averted. The long run impacts of the meltdowns may ultimately be almost as severe, but for now, the damage has been smothered under happy talk that the problem is supposedly under control. The fallout from Fukushima has had no impact on planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but now with the onset of corona virus, the games might be disrupted anyway. The Olympics have been a wandering economic disaster for local communities forced to subsidize the spectacles, but hopefuly COVID-19 will have subsided by this summer (due to public health measures, vaccines or effective drugs) and the games can be staged without major concerns for disease. Voluntary curtailment of The Spectacle seems impossible, unfortunately.

Even the best case scenario for the outbreak is likely to have major economic reverberations from temporary closures of the global just-in-time factory focused in China. Much of the US pharmaceutical industry uses ingredients made in China. Most electronics include components from China, whether for computers, cars, airplanes, diagnostic machines of all kinds, to name a few products.

In the now moribund Peak Oil movement of the early 2000s, the threat to globalized production from energy depletion was cited as a key reason to relocalize production of everything - especially food and other basic necessities. Solar panels are great but they're not going to replace the energy density of fossil fuels - and a lot of solar panel manufacturing is now located in China, a reason why panel prices have dropped in recent years (it is not only the increased volume of production). Relocalization is not rooted in racism, but a recognition that moving stuff across time zones is unsustainable and therefore cannot continue indefinitely. There is a popular slogan "think globally, act locally." Perhaps flipping this slogan around is more appropriate for our interconnected global civilization as we enter the downslope of concentrated resources: think locally, act globally. If there are effective treatments, cures, vaccines developed for COVID-19 corona virus, our communication networks will be crucial to spread this understanding, virally (if I can use that word). Global public health cooperation is a greater challenge than preparing to wage world war. I'm not a fan of the philosopher Nietzche, but I like the quote attributed to him that which does not kill you can make you stronger. Whether this is literally true or not, it is a consideration as the world responds to this challenge.


So far this new virus does not seem super lethal (like Ebola) but it is contagious in the air, possibly transmissible by infected people who do not yet have observable symptoms.  The elderly have been the greatest percentage of victims but healthy young adults have also succumbed.  

It will be a test of our public health systems.   Hopefully all of the attention, isolation efforts, etc. will be effective control rods in the chain reaction of exponential growth.


In June 2001, the US government conducted a biological warfare exercise called Dark Winter. It was a "tabletop" exercise -- participants were in a conference room, not moving people in public. The scenario modeled release of ultra-infectious smallpox in public places and estimated how fast it could spread. The exercise concluded that within two weeks it would become an unstoppable epidemic across the country, and beyond.

The Department of Homeland Security, created shortly after 9/11, was not only focused on preventing terrorist attacks but also how to cope with biological outbreaks (whether intentional or not).

One aspect to the anticipated spread was the role of aviation in carrying the contagion across the country. With coronavirus, aviation is the key amplifier, turning a local and regional problem potentially into a global pandemic.

The Northern Command, also created after 9/11, is likely to be a primary part of the US response if the disease accelerates in the "homeland." Northcom's first commander was the general who oversaw the "stand down" of the Air Force during 9/11, and now it is essentially the US planing for partial martial law during a crisis. The link below is a Northcom document about planning for a pandemic in the US. Released under the Freedom of Information Act, much of it is blacked out, censored - but some of the assumptions about disruption are readable.

United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM)
Concept of Operations Plan (CONPLAN) 3551-09,
Concept Plan to Synchronize DOD Pandemic Influenza Planning,
13 Aug 2009


History is full of examples where pandemics have devastated societies. Three of the best examples are the plague in Medieval Europe, smallpox attacking Native nations in the Americas, and the so-called Spanish Flu in 1918.

Part of our social evolution has been development of public health efforts that reduce risks, with sanitation at the top of the list.

cholera and pump handle in London ...

nutrition ...

understanding of disease and wellness ...


In the 1960s, as medicine reached new levels of expertise and detente between the "superpowers" increased, the Soviet Union proposed a global campaign to eradicate the scourge of smallpox. This challenge was accepted by the United States and other countries, and was ultimately successful. The last refuges of the disease were stamped out through a coordinated vaccination campaign, primarily in Africa and Asia. (see tab above "biological warfare" for summaries about how this effort wiped out smallpox in the wild).

Smallpox eradication cost less than one B1 bomber. It is one of the best examples of shifting from warfare preparation to public health. Unfortunately, Cold War paranoia in the 1980s resulted in the Soviet Union covertly making an estimated 20 tons of smallpox in their secret biological warfare program. It is also likely other countries have dabbled in making this disease. In some ways this is at least as much of a threat as nuclear armed missiles, but the potential for an attack to boomerang back on a society that used smallpox as an offensive weapon may have created an uneasy stalemate, a biological version of "mutual assured destruction" that has so far kept nuclear weapons from being launched.


It is possible corona virus will have different impacts according to how prepared various societies are.

The US has some protection being separated from other continents by oceans, although aviation allows infections to leap across distance. While the US lacks health care for all, it has some of the best medical expertise on the planet -- an infrastructure that may get unprecedented testing in the coming days. Our public health infrastructure is excellent but not perfect. If one has insurance and money, one can get as good care as anywhere in the world. The phenomenon of "medical tourism" - US citizens traveling to poorer countries to get cheaper treatments - also works the other way, with wealthy people in countries without excellent care traveling to the US (or Europe) for their treatments.

Many poorer people in America are unable to share in the medical expertise that is available. Lacking quality health care coverage discourages prevention. Will people living paycheck to paycheck choose to stay home if they feel mildly sick, an initial stage of the disease? Will they seek treatment before their disease becomes severe, or will concerns about the cost of treatment deter them from going to the hospital? How will homeless populations cope with potential spread of corona virus? These are among factors likely to make the transmission worse.

Even if we had a Canadia style single payer health care system there are other factors that are needed. There is little emphasis on disease prevention; not only avoiding smoking, getting enough exercise and rest, but also our country lacks a culture of taking responsibility for nutrition. McDonalds is more popular than permaculture gardens. Junk food, frozen dinners, the culture of eating prepared food instead of preparing whole foods from scratch -- these and other problems with the food supply fueled the obesity epidemic. No previous society ever had so little awareness of where their food came from. (A friend suggests the average American understands where food comes from as well as the average American dog or cat knows about pet food factories.) Shipping a huge part of the food supply across time zones and international borders is extremely unsustainable. It can be a treat to eat tropical fruit in temperate climates in the winter, but it requires energy intensive transportation that depends on cheap fossil fuels. Eating foods in season is a practice that has been mostly forgotten.

One example of this brittle infrastructure was highlighted by the 2010 eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, which disrupted aviation in Europe, including freight deliveries of fresh food into Britain from Kenya.

Even without the new threat of corona virus quarantines, our food distribution systems are dependent on external inputs (petroleum) that are in decline. It is not a question of whether we should shift to relocalized production, but how to do this. There are increasing efforts around the country for farmer markets, community supported agriculture, home gardens -- but at the rate these are growing the oil will be gone before we shift completely.


Perhaps the biggest risk with corona virus is the potential disasters for crowded "third world" megacities that have poor sanitation and health care systems. Dhaka, Bangladesh. Karachi, Pakistan. Cairo, Egypt. Lagos, Nigeria. Even wealthier places with good public health may be severely stressed, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong in China. Singapore. Seoul, South Korea. Tokyo, Japan.

There have been countless warnings for decades that preparations for pandemics are inadequate everywhere. Now we may be shifting from anticipation to response.




overpopulation ....

limits to growth

climate not only about sea level rise, but food disruptions, disease, ecological breakdowns

climate and peak



resources for global war - for global peace ....

not world war ii as the model, but global cooperation

JFK at UN - convert moon race to a cooperative effort, offers for transformation


meat ....

"wet market" - live wild animals for sale, unhygenic, will this outbreak be enough to end this?

factory farms in US - antibiotic overuse

meat based diets


exponential growth ...

virus spread

nuclear reactor chain reaction (and control rods)

fiat money / compound interest / debt - works as long as economy keeps growing, but we've reached physical limits - desperate acts (fracking, tar sands, etc) to sustain the unsustainable

are we smarter than yeast? Al Bartlett and Chris Martenson's comments

Corona Virus is likely to be THE media story of 2020.


Tuesday, Feb. 25 - Senator

The coronavirus disease that was first diagnosed in China's Hubei province has now spread to at least 47 countries and every continent except Antarctica. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak an international health emergency. President Trump sought to play down the threat from coronavirus and announced Vice President Mike Pence would be his point person to coordinate government efforts to prevent a widespread outbreak. As Trump spoke, a new milestone in the novel coronavirus outbreak was reported, in a possible example of community spread: A person was diagnosed with the virus in Northern California who had not traveled to any of the affected regions of the world, nor had known contact with anyone else who did. We speak with Laurie Garrett, former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer. She is the author of several books, including "Ebola: Story of an Outbreak," "The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance" and "Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The coronavirus disease that was first diagnosed in China's Hubei province has now spread to at least 47 countries and every continent except Antarctica. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak an international health emergency. Nearly 3,000 people have died so far. More than 81,000 have now been infected with the virus, that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. To contain the spread of the coronavirus in Japan, where the number of cases has reached 200, today the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for schools to close.

PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE: [translated] I request all elementary, middle and high schools and special needs schools to be temporarily closed from March 2nd until spring vacation.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Japan says the 2020 Summer Olympics are still scheduled to take place in the capital Tokyo. In South Korea, the number of coronavirus cases has passed 1,700, making it the largest outbreak outside of China. At least one U.S. soldier stationed at a base in the area has tested positive for the virus, and the U.S. and South Korea have called off joint military exercises. This comes as the government of Iran says at least 245 people have been infected and 26 have died, but experts say the toll is likely much higher. Meanwhile, officials in Kuwait reported 43 new cases, and Saudi Arabia has taken the unprecedented step of barring Muslim pilgrims from entering the country to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Here in the United States, President Trump downplayed the threat from coronavirus and announced Vice President Mike Pence would be his point person to coordinate government efforts to prevent a widespread outbreak.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low. We have the greatest experts in the world, really in the world, right here. … We're ready to adapt, and we're ready to do whatever we have to, as the disease spreads, if it spreads.

AMY GOODMAN: As Trump spoke at his White House news conference, a new milestone in the coronavirus outbreak was reported. In a possible example of community spread, a person was diagnosed with the virus in Northern California who had not traveled to any of the affected regions of the world, nor had known contact with anyone else who did. Officials say they don't know how the person was exposed and have begun tracing the person's contacts in order to determine how they got sick. On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted, quote, "Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!" President Trump tweeted, misspelling the word "coronavirus."

This is Democratic Congressmember Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts questioning Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar Wednesday.

REP. JOE KENNEDY: Mr. Secretary, I don't want to panic over this, either. The stock market's crashing. He's trying to stop a stock market. He's not trying — he's outright contradicting everything that you all have just said. Outright contradiction.

HHS SECRETARY ALEX AZAR: I think he's expressing confidence in —

REP. JOE KENNEDY: With no medical basis for it. That's what you've just explained to us. Come on, sir.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar: No, there's — he's expressing that there — he's expressing that the American people need to take a breath here, that there's no change to anyone's daily life from this, that the country has a plan. We have pandemic plans.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is warning the true number of U.S. coronavirus cases might be higher than reported because test kits sent out nationwide earlier this month included a faulty component.

To break down the news on the outbreak worldwide and here in this country, we're joined here in New York by Laurie Garrett, former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer, author of several books, including Ebola: Story of an OutbreakThe Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health. In a recent piece for Foreign Policy, she wrote, "Trump Has Sabotaged America's Coronavirus Response." And she has another piece, "How China's Incompetence Endangered the World."

Laurie, welcome back to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us.

LAURIE GARRETT: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the first news conference President Trump has held at the White House as he appointed — he wouldn't call him the czar, but as he appointed the vice president, Pence, as the person, the point person, on dealing with the coronavirus.

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, obviously Pence needed some job besides Space Force, so now he has something to do in the White House. But all joking aside, Pence is not a medical expert, and he certainly is not someone who's demonstrated particularly great amount of respect for science. When he was governor of the state of Indiana, the opioid crisis started in southern Indiana. And suddenly people were injecting opioids. He went to his god and came back and told the Legislature that he did not believe that any human being should receive sterile syringes to assist them in being a drug addict. His own Legislature countered him; he vetoed. Countered, vetoed. Meanwhile, according to a study published by Yale University, at least 250 people got infected with HIV as a result of this crazy policy.

AMY GOODMAN: And he also, of course, defunded Planned Parenthood, leading the movement in Congress. And they had the one HIV testing site in the area. And it was the Indiana model that President Trump cited in saying that he was qualified to lead this effort.


AMY GOODMAN: Now, let's talk about what's happening here. While it is said that the U.S. has far fewer cases of coronavirus than anywhere else, in fact, there is almost no testing that's being done.

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, you know, we can't say that we don't have a lot of cases. And the last time I looked at the count, we had tested 456 people in the entire United States. To put that in comparison, in Seoul, South Korea, alone, they've tested 35,000. Now, you're not going to find cases if you're testing 456 people out of 260 million Americans. You're going to miss quite a number.

What we should be doing right at this moment — the most urgent thing we should be doing — is testing every single pneumonia patient that is hospitalized, because if there's likely to be a sneak-through of this epidemic, it's going to come through as a pneumonia patient. It's going to be diagnosed as flu or some other cause. And it's actually going to be this coronavirus, and COVID-19 will break out in the hospital ward. This is what we've seen all over the world so far, is these outbreaks really explode when they hit one of two things: a religious site, where you have large concentrations of people coming in for a religious festival of some sort, or a hospital. And if the index of suspicion isn't very, very high among the healthcare workers —

AMY GOODMAN: Or a cruise ship.

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, a cruise ship, that's a whole — that's just a Petri dish. But if the rate is — if the healthcare workers aren't really on their toes, really alert, thinking "what if," and they don't have the right protective gear, then as they examine that patient, they become infected. And so, this is our problem right now.

Now, this particular case in Northern California is very worrying, because the individual lived in a rural area, was not a traveler, didn't know any travelers, was a local worker of some sort — we don't know a lot of details — 61-year-old male, and was in various health facilities getting misdiagnosed. And it was the health providers themselves who were saying to the Public Health of California, which was in turn saying it to CDC in Atlanta, "We want this person tested for the coronavirus. We think that's what this is." And the CDC said, "No, it doesn't look like it," and didn't do a test.

AMY GOODMAN: On Capitol Hill, lawmakers grilled senior administration officials over their response to the crisis. This is Louisiana Republican Senator John Kennedy, who on Tuesday blasted the acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf for struggling to produce basic facts about the coronavirus outbreak.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: You're supposed to keep us safe.

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: My budget supports the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: You're the secretary of homeland security.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: And you can't tell me if we have enough respirators.

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: What I would tell you is that the budget, my budget, our operations are focused not only on the men and women of DHS, making sure they're protected to do their jobs, to screen individuals coming in. We're working with HHS, CDC —

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: You don't know.

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: — and their budgets —

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: You don't know the answer, do you?

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: — to ensure that they have enough medical equipment.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: Do we have enough face masks?

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: We — for the Department of Homeland Security, we do.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: I'm asking for the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: Are you looking —

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: I'm asking for the American people.

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: For the — for the entire American public?


DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: No. I would say probably not.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: OK. How short are we?

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: I don't have that number offhand, Senator. I will get that for you.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: OK. But I want to be sure I understand. Somebody — 


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: — is doing modeling —


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: — on how many cases we're anticipating.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: You're just not aware of —

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: You're asking me a number of medical questions —

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: I'm asking you questions —

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: — that CDC and HHS are focusing on.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: — because you're secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and you're supposed to keep us safe.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: And you need to know the answers to these questions.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: How far away are we from getting a vaccine?

DHS SECRETARY CHAD WOLF: And — several months.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: Well, that's not what we just heard testimony about.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: Who's on first here?

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was the Republican Louisiana Senator John Kennedy questioning the head of homeland security, Chad Wolf. Laurie Garrett?

LAURIE GARRETT: Pretty abysmal situation. Where we are right now is that everybody is recognizing, oops, it was a big mistake by the Trump administration to obliterate the entire infrastructure of pandemic response that the Obama administration had created. Why did he do it? Well, it certainly wasn't about the money, because it wasn't a heavily funded program. It was certainly because it was Obama's program.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain. You're talking about the unit within the Centers for Disease Control.

LAURIE GARRETT: No, we're talking about something much vaster than that. It was a special division inside the National Security Council, a special division inside of the Department of Homeland Security — that bozo was talking from — and collaborating centers in HHS, headquarters in Washington, the Office of Global Health Affairs, and the Commerce Department, Treasury Department. But what Obama understood, dealing with Ebola in 2014, is that any American response had to be an all-of-government response, that there were so many agencies overlapping, and they all had a little piece of the puzzle in the case of a pandemic.

Just do this mental exercise with me, Amy. If we get to the situation where we're anything like what's going on in China right now, then our Department of Commerce, our Department of Transportation and our department of USDA would have to collaborate to get food deliveries all over America so that parts of America don't starve. And you could see in China convoys, hundreds of 18-wheeler vehicles completely full of food, coming into Wuhan every single day. Do we have the capacity to coordinate that?

What the Obama administration realized was that you can't corral multiple agencies and things from private sector as well as public sector to come to the aid of America, unless you have some one person in charge who's really the manager of it all. And in his case, it was Ron Klain, who had worked under Vice President Biden. And he was designated, with an office inside the White House, to give orders and coordinate all these various things.

Well, that was all eliminated. It's gone. And now they're hastily trying to recreate something. And last night there were many names tossed around about who he was going to appoint as head of the response. He had previously gone on the record, President Trump, saying, "I have great faith in Secretary Azar, and my HHS secretary will be in charge." And we're told, from multiple sources, that right up until they got on stage for that press briefing, Azar thought he was in charge. And then the president says, "And here's my good friend Mike Pence, and he's taking charge."

AMY GOODMAN: Well, there are reports that Trump was very angry that Azar had even raised the concerns he did publicly, because Trump was majorly concerned about the markets, and that he had brought people into the United States from the cruise ship.


AMY GOODMAN: They were Americans. And they were, as you were saying, sitting in a Petri dish, that cruise ship of thousands. Hundreds of people got infected, even when they were in lockdown, which —

LAURIE GARRETT: We're approaching a thousand. It may very well end up that half of the crew and passengers will be infected before that story finishes playing out.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to President Trump addressing reporters Wednesday night at the White House press briefing room. One of the reporters questioned Trump on his comments about how former President Obama handled the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

REPORTER: I want to talk to you about 2014. During the Ebola crisis, you said you wanted a, quote-unquote, "full travel ban." You said Obama was a, quote-unquote, "stubborn dope" not for doing it. You said, "Just stop the flights dummies!" You also said it was a, quote-unquote, "TOTAL JOKE" to appoint someone to lead the Ebola response with, quote, "zero experience in the medical field." Now you've appointed Mike Pence.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They listened to a lot of what I had to say.



REPORTER: So, how does that square with what you're doing now?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They listened to a lot — well, because this is a much different problem than Ebola. Ebola, you disintegrated, especially at the beginning. They've made a lot of progress now on Ebola. But with Ebola — we were talking about it before — you disintegrated. You got Ebola, that was it. This one is different, much different. This is a flu. This is like a flu. And this is a much different situation than Ebola. But — and we're working on Ebola right now, by the way. We're working on certain areas of the Congo. The Congo has Ebola, and caused largely by the fact that they have war and people can't get there. We can now treat Ebola. In that — at that time, it was infectious, and you couldn't treat it. Nobody knew anything about it. Nobody had ever heard of anything like this. So it's a much different situation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was President Trump. Laurie Garrett, you wrote a book about Ebola. You wrote Ebola: The Story of an Outbreak. But also now they're trying to take money from the Ebola budget, dealing with Ebola, not to mention slash the CDC budget. His latest budget that went to Congress was cutting health services in this country.

LAURIE GARRETT: Yeah. Well, you know, we've gotten used to Trump being a pile of contradictions and misstatements. But in the case of an epidemic, this is incredibly dangerous. I think part of what Donald Trump's been doing is he's been playing to Rush Limbaugh and the far right, because they have started a narrative that says — well, they have two narratives. One is there isn't any epidemic, this is all fake news, exaggerating everything to undermine Trump's bid for reelection. There's a lot of that going on. Rush Limbaugh is leading that charge. Another narrative out there coming from the right is this was all made in a laboratory in China, and this is an evil bioterrorism something or other. And our president has to show strength at this time. Both are lies. And both — people who play around a lot on social media, regardless of their political stance, are absorbing them, because they don't understand where it's coming from.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a CNN reporter, Marshall Cohen, tweeting, quote, "Rush Limbaugh and right-wing fringe sites are attacking Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top CDCofficial handling the coronavirus response, because she is Rod Rosenstein's sister. They're spreading the lie that she's part of the deep state and trying to tank the markets to weaken Trump," unquote. This is a clip of Dr. Messonnier discussing the coronavirus crisis.

DR. NANCY MESSONNIER: Some community-level interventions that may be most effective in reducing the spread of a new virus, like school closures, are also the most likely to be associated with unwanted consequences and further disruptions. Secondary consequences of some of these measures might include missed work and loss of income. I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe, but these are things that people need to start thinking about now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Dr. Nancy Messonier. Laurie Garrett?

LAURIE GARRETT: Yeah. Well, she's right. And we all need to be getting ready. I mean, we don't need to be distracted by this insane political situation. We need to be focused on what we're going to do when this virus sweeps across America. And it's no longer a, you know, distant, crazy idea, the kind of things I receive death threats. Every time I'm on your show, somebody calls and tries to kill me. And every time I'm on your show, I get loonies telling me they know of a secret cure. You know, it's this stuff you rub off a tree, or it's this thing you put under your pillow or whatever. And if I don't show positive response and say, Oh, yay! I'm going to tell America to use that junk you scraped off a tree," then they threaten me. And, you know, it's — there are people who want any epidemic situation to be something they can exploit for a set of principles they have, or ideas. But this is not the moment for that. We have a very narrow window, America, to get our act together. And getting our act together means at an individual level, at a community level, at a business level, at a school level. And there —

AMY GOODMAN: It even seems that President Trump doesn't understand the deadly nature of this. He was being questioned by Sanjay Gupta of CNN at that news conference, and he did not seem to understand that the coronavirus is, what, 20 times more deadly than the flu.

LAURIE GARRETT: No, more like 2,000 times. No, he completely got his numbers wrong, although numbers probably are not his forte to begin with. He said — well, let's say it correctly rather than misinform. The coronavirus mortality rate is running somewhere between 2 to 4%, and depending where you look and which population groups you're in. The 1918 flu, which was the most devastating influenza in the history of our species, was less than 2%. So, this is already more lethal than the pandemic of 1918. Garden-variety, everyday flu, it's about 0.1 to 0.01% fatal.

AMY GOODMAN: Final comments, as we look at what's happening in the world, every continent but Antarctica? What does it mean to have a unified response?

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, we won't have a unified response. We don't. It's fragmented. It's fragmented within countries, and it's fragmented among countries. Already everybody is sealing their borders. Everybody starts saying, "No, you can't fly here. You can't." Well, we're going to see, and what's unfolding now, and the reason that the smart guys on the stock market are getting upset, is that the whole globalization system, the chain of supply and shipping, is fragmenting. And it's fragmenting amid fear and amid the false idea that in the age of air travel you could somehow stop a virus by just saying, "No, no, no, you're not allowed to land at that airport." Well, how did this fellow way up in Northern California in a rural area get infected? You know, we've been screening at the San Francisco airport since day one of this mess.

So, I think that the problem is we don't have a solidified response. And what you're going to see, and it's already playing out, is this NIMBY attitude. You know, we already have states saying, "We're not going to allow you to put quarantined people in our state. Ship them to another state," and "Oh, my state has plenty of masks on supply. We're not sharing them with the bozos next door." In every tabletop exercise I've ever been in for the last 30 years role-playing what would happen in an outbreak, the solidarity between the states of the United States completely breaks down. States put borders. They won't let you come on a highway. And they block goods from leaving the state: "No, that may be destined for Illinois, but we in Indiana want those supplies. You can't take them to Illinois."

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to leave it there now, but of course we'll continue to cover this. Laurie Garrett, the former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer. Among her books, Ebola: Story of an OutbreakThe Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health. When we come back, is there a connection between the coronavirus and climate change? Stay with us.



The White House Shouldn't Downplay the Coronavirus
02/26/2020 09:17 PM EST

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review and a contributing editor with Politico Magazine.

The White House has been walking into a coronavirus trap.
By pooh-poohing worries about the virus and saying everything is under control, it set itself up for the charge, if things get even a little bit bad, that it was self-deluding and overly complacent. It would be accused of making mission-accomplished statements before the mission truly began.
The administration is already getting attacked for its cuts to the epidemic teams at the National Security Council and Department of Homeland Security. If the virus spreads significantly in the U.S., it will be attributed entirely to these moves, fairly or not.

'Don't You Think You Ought to Check?': Sen. Kennedy Demands DHS Chief Provide 'Straight Answers' on Coronavirus Spread
February 25, 2020 11:57 AM

Senator John Kennedy on Tuesday demanded answers from acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf regarding the likely extent of the domestic coronavirus outbreak, saying the American people deserve "straight answers" about the deadly virus.
During a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Kennedy asked Wolf how many cases of people infected with the coronavirus the U.S. anticipates having.
"You're head of Homeland Security, and your job is to keep us safe. Do you know today how many the experts are predicting?" the Louisiana Democrat-turned-Republican said
"We only know that, again, we anticipate those numbers to grow in the U.S.," Wolf responded, saying that he cannot provide an "exact number."
"Don't you think you ought to check on that?" Kennedy asked. "You're the secretary. I think you ought to know that answer."
Kennedy also asked Wolf for answers on the mortality rate of the coronavirus, whether the U.S. has enough respirators, and when a vaccine is expected.
"You're the secretary of Homeland Security and you can't tell me if we have enough respirators?" Kennedy said, adding that lawmakers previously heard separate testimony that the U.S. does not have enough respirators.
Kennedy also pointed out that the DHS chief's testimony does not match up with information put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Your numbers aren't the same as CDC's. Don't you think you ought to contact them and find our whether you're right or they're right?" Kennedy said. "The American people deserve some straight answers on the coronavirus and I'm not getting them from you.
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen afterwards urged Wolf to hold "open briefings" about the situation surrounding the coronavirus, adding, "I didn't hear anything this morning that I haven't read in the newspaper."

Political affiliation at this stage is mostly irrelevant. Pandemic spread of disease doesn't care about anyone's philosophy.


succinct summary:


10 Responses to "Air Travel and Disease"

Sarah McGuire says:

Hi Patrick, I really appreciate your blog and it has helped me to (partly) get over my fear of flying, at least enough to resume flying.

So I'm all about a rational response to threats and I appreciate a logical approach.

No, COVID-19 isn't the zombie flu or anything. But it is a new illness that overwhelms medical systems by using up available resources (beds, equipment, people) and by infecting medical workers. Moreover, there is an unknown but apparently high rate of "severe" illness with COVID-19. I'm talking about people needing ventilators and other intensive care, not someone feeling lousy at home for a week. Without advanced care, most of those people would die. And any possible long-term effects are a complete unknown.

This has some predictable effects. Break your arm? have chest pain? need chemo? good luck and get in line, and also you are at high risk of getting infected in a hospital. Does your country not have enough ventilators/beds/doctors? that is very bad, because now there are none for you.

So no, we shouldn't panic or freak out. And heavens no, we should not engage in conspiracy theorizing or racial profiling or any other stupidity. But it is actually a serious threat to world health, and we should all be preparing at every level, just the way we should all pay attention to preparing for other realistic potential threats like earthquake, hurricane, or tornado.

Senate Homeland Security Pandemic Preparedness Round Table

Streamed live on Feb 12, 2020

Hearing featuring past directors of FDA and CDC plus other public health experts.

Unfortunately, the youtube channel hosting this video is Breitbart (among my least favorite sources), but the video is just the hearing itself, no Breitbart politics included.

Top CDC official says US should prepare for coronavirus 'to take a foothold'

PUBLISHED WED, FEB 12 2020 11:44 AM EST UPDATED WED, FEB 12 2020 7:40 PM EST
Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

The coronavirus produces mild cold symptoms in about 80% of patients, Dr. Sylvie Briand, head of WHO's Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness division, told reporters on Monday. About 15% of the people who contract the virus have ended up with pneumonia, with 3% to 5% of all patients needing intensive care, she said.

This week in Virology - podcast


The coronavirus gives Trump his biggest outbreak emergency yet — and experts are worried


JANUARY 28, 2020

Lawrence Gostin, a senior professor at Georgetown University and an expert in global health law who has advised several administrations

"In many ways I am actually delighted that our political leaders are too busy to interfere in this," he said. "I mean that seriously, because first of all the administration doesn't have seasoned, experienced people in global health in the White House. It's not like under the Obama administration, where there were really experienced people who were advising the president."

Gostin added: "All things being equal, I would rather see CDC and the Health and Human Services Department handle this from a public health perspective, a scientific perspective, rather than mucking it up with politics," Gostin said.

"The CDC are highly competent and I think they have done exactly the right thing."

from a doctor I know and trust:

I am far from being very knowledgeable--never mind expert. I suspect China's keeping this quiet until it was impossible not to has made things worse in terms of spread.  That said, we got through SARS following CDC and NIH input and good public health principles.  So, I would suggest moderate concern...the news media tends to shout, but it probably is good to be alert.  I would not visit China at all right now. 

Two people I trust:  MDs  Anthony Fauci and Peter Hotez--both infectious disease experts....they are careful thinkers, understand how viruses work, as well as the public health principles.  Follow their precaution suggestions good for any potential respiratory infection: avoid close contact w folks who are ill, cover mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, wash hands frequently, get a flu shot, seek care if you are ill....etc. Not every upper respiratory infection is flu or the new virus.

This is early and Trump so far has not broken the backbone of our effective public health system.  We were spared earlier potential disasters (e.g., SARS).The system has geared up. Research is already underway to produce a vaccine.  There will be illness here, but I am optimistic that it will be contained.

And as the news sources say, this is a breaking story.  Stay tuned for updates.

Anthony Fauci interview

Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Anthony Fauci discusses the latest developments in the global 2019-nCoV outbreak with JAMA Editor Howard Bauchner. Originally broadcast on Thursday, February 6 at 09:30 CST. Keep up to date at the JAMA Network Coronavirus Resource Center

Read Dr Fauci's article here:

Topics discussed in this interview:

0:58 Background on several coronavirus papers being published in JAMA

2:51 What is the latest information about the infections in China?

6:04 What is R0?

7:55 How does R0 relate to the case fatality rate?

9:44 Where are we at with cases in the United States?

13:30 Asymptomatic transmission and incubation period

18:13 Signs and symptoms

18:57 Is transmission only through respiratory droplets?

20:18 Anything emerging other than symptomatic treatment?

24:11 Are the cases in Wuhan worse than the cases in the rest of the China and the world?

25:58 What do we know about 2019-nCoV and children?

27:45 Any concerns about maternal fetal transmission?

29:50 Do we need to be concerned about transmission through blood transfusions?

31:26 Any more information about where 2019-nCoV came from?

33:15 What will the next 2 weeks look like in China and around the world?

MedCram Course Contents:

  • Coronavirus outbreak, transmission, & pathophysiology
  • Symptoms, treatment, & vaccine status
  • Update 3: spread, quarantine, projections, vaccine developments
  • How Coronavirus kills: Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) & treatment
  • Update 5: Current numbers & mortality rate vs SARS / Influenza
  • Update 6: Asymptomatic Transmission & Incubation Period
  • Update 7: Global Health Emergency Declared, Viral Shedding, Germany Case
  • Update 8: Travel ban, first death outside of China, quarantine, opportunistic infections 
  • Update 9: Fecal-oral transmission, recovery vs death rate
  • Update 10: New studies, transmission, spread, prevention 
  • Update 11: Antiviral medications, treatment trials (Remdesivir, Chloroquine)
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 12: Unsupported Theories, Pneumonia, ACE2 & nCoV
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 13: Li Wenliang, nCoV vs Influenza, Dip in Daily Cases, Spread to Canada
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 14: Hospital spread of infection, WHO allowed in China, N-95 masks
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 15: Underreporting, Prevention, 24 Day Incubation? (COVID19)
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 16: Strengthening Your Immune Response to Viral Infections (COVID-19)
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 17: Spike in Confirmed Cases, Fighting Infections with Sleep (COVID-19)
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 18: Cellphone Tracking, Increase in Hospitalizations, More Sleep Tips
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 19: Treatment and Medication Clinical Trials
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 20: Misinformation Spread, Infection Severity, Cruise Ship, Origins
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 21: Antibodies, Case Fatality, Clinical Recommendations, 2nd Infections?
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 22: Spread Without Symptoms, Cruise Quarantine, Asymptomatic Testing
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 23: Infections in Kids & Pregnancy, South Korea, Spillover From Bats
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 24: Infections in Italy, Transmissibility, COVID-19 Symptoms
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 25: Vaccine Developments, Italy's Response, and Mortality Rate Trends
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 26: Treatment Updates, Stock Markets, Germany & San Francisco, Pandemic?
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 27: Testing accuracy for COVID-19 (CT Scan vs. RT-PCR), California Cases
  • Coronavirus Epidemic Update 28: Practical Prevention Strategies, Patient Age vs. Case Fatality Rate

Laurie Garrett: expert reporting and advice

we're joined by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett, author of several books, including Ebola: Story of an Outbreak and The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health. Her latest piece for Foreign Policy is headlined "Trump Has Sabotaged America's Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic."

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Laurie. It's great to have you with us. Explain what you found.

LAURIE GARRETT: Well, the Trump administration, from the moment it came in, wanted to disband programs that were signature programs of the Obama administration. One of them had to do with global health security in response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, which, as you know, was a very deadly outcome and involved three countries. The United States played a big role, including having our military on site in Liberia in support. And the Trump administration pretty much disbanded the entire program, got rid of the National Security Council's special pandemic response unit, got rid of the equivalent in the Department of Homeland Security, cut the budget of the Centers for Disease Control, and, you know, we can go down a huge list. Even a program that is specifically aiming at protecting you and me, citizens inside the country, by beefing up the hospital capacities and training of local healthcare workers and public health leaders is running out of money and will be officially shut down in May, unless something happens. And Congress has refused to even look at it. McConnell has never allowed it to even come up for a vote. So, we're in a situation now where we're flying on fumes, with people in charge who have never really been in the middle of epidemics, haven't listened to those who really understand how to stop an epidemic.

And then, on top of it all, Pompeo, the secretary of state, seems to be — to have carte blanche to do whatever he wants. He's not consulting other agencies before acting. And so he has basically banned, not only a travel ban on people coming from China to the United States, but he's conflated our immigration policy with a travel issue, so that if you're a Chinese citizen now, you can't come to the United States. Most Americans don't realize they've essentially used this epidemic to stop all travel and movement. And one of the outcomes of that, which is just incredibly nuts, is that almost all of the active pharmaceutical ingredients used in the formulation of medicines in America — frankly, for the whole world — come from China. And so, we will soon run out of drugs for everything. Has nothing to do with the epidemic. We're going to run out of diabetes drugs and heart disease drugs and cancer drugs and all of that, many of which were already in short supply, because the ingredients our pharmaceutical industry uses all come from China.

... we now know this virus can spread before you have any symptoms at all. And so the person carrying the virus might not have a fever. So we're setting up a whole false sense of defense.

Trump Has Sabotaged America's Coronavirus Response

As it improvises its way through a public health crisis, the United States has never been less prepared for a pandemic.

 | JANUARY 31, 2020, 11:07 AM

... In the spring of 2018, the White House pushed Congress to cut funding for Obama-era disease security programs, proposing to eliminate $252 million in previously committed resources for rebuilding health systems in Ebola-ravaged Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Under fire from both sides of the aisle, President Donald Trump dropped the proposal to eliminate Ebola funds a month later. But other White House efforts included reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, NSC, DHS, and HHS. And the government's $30 million Complex Crises Fund was eliminated.

In May 2018, Trump ordered the NSC's entire global health security unit shut down, calling for reassignment of Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer and dissolution of his team inside the agency. The month before, then-White House National Security Advisor John Bolton pressured Ziemer's DHS counterpart, Tom Bossert, to resign along with his team. Neither the NSC nor DHS epidemic teams have been replaced. The global health section of the CDC was so drastically cut in 2018 that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries it was working in was reduced from 49 to merely 10. Meanwhile, throughout 2018, the U.S. Agency for International Development and its director, Mark Green, came repeatedly under fire from both the White House and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And though Congress has so far managed to block Trump administration plans to cut the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps by 40 percent, the disease-fighting cadres have steadily eroded as retiring officers go unreplaced.

Public health advocates have been ringing alarm bells to no avail. Klain has been warning for two years that the United States was in grave danger should a pandemic emerge. In 2017 and 2018, the philanthropist billionaire Bill Gates met repeatedly with Bolton and his predecessor, H.R. McMaster, warning that ongoing cuts to the global health disease infrastructure would render the United States vulnerable to, as he put it, the "significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes." And an independent, bipartisan panel formed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies concludedthat lack of preparedness was so acute in the Trump administration that the "United States must either pay now and gain protection and security or wait for the next epidemic and pay a much greater price in human and economic costs."

The next epidemic is now here; we'll soon know the costs imposed by the Trump administration's early negligence and present panic. 

Nassim Taleb: the "black swan" of corona virus

Chris Martenson, Peak Prosperity

His "Crash Course" is an excellent introduction to exponential growth, the math behind compound interest of debt based fiat currency and also of resource consumption, particularly concentrated fossil fuels. Martenson has been publishing daily videos on the corona virus crisis with clear explanations of exponential growth of infections.

from his site: Chris Martenson, PhD (Duke), MBA (Cornell) is an economic researcher and futurist specializing in energy and resource depletion, and co-founder of (along with Adam Taggart). As one of the early econobloggers who forecasted the housing market collapse and stock market correction years in advance, Chris rose to prominence with the launch of his seminal video seminar: The Crash Course which has also been published in book form (Wiley, March 2011). It's a popular and extremely well-regarded distillation of the interconnected forces in the Economy, Energy and the Environment (the "Three Es" as Chris calls them) that are shaping the future, one that will be defined by increasing challenges to growth as we have known it. 

Chris Martenson, Peak Prosperity, February 6, 2020

from Peak Prosperity

  • Sharon Astyk on this Virus - Part 1: Preparations

    For those, like me, who have been looking at resource depletion, peak oil, income inequality and off grid living for a long while, the name Sharon Astyk will be familiar. For those that don't know her, here is a brief bio:

    Someone sent me what she posted on FB recently about this crisis, and I thought people here would be interested. It was in two parts, the first on her suggestions for preparations. (Which I will post to this comment).

    The second part is her estimate of how the crisis will affect the American national election. She's clearly a Democratic supporter, and gets a ding or two in on Trump, but I did find her thoughts on the various effects to a line closely with what I think may happen.

    Sharon Astyk
    February 12 – On Preparations:

    Not looking to freak people out, but since preparedness is what I do (or used to, anyhow) I did want to talk about the ways that Coronavirus could alter things if it is NOT effectively contained in China.

    At this moment, honestly, China's level of containment is pretty impressive, and it is important. While I am certain the Chinese state is engaging in all sorts of human rights violations, in a sense the rest of the world is complicit in them – very few states are authoritarian enough to be able to shut down a virus rapidly at this stage. The fact that almost all cases are in China, and contained mostly to limited areas is hella impressive, even as it is also often appalling.

    If and when coronavirus begins to spread substantively (something we probably won't know for weeks, there's a substantial lag time in the models) it is very UNLIKELY that the US, for example, would be able to contain it. Enacting the kind of travel and personal activity restrictions that China has would be much more difficult here. Independence and personal rights are the way to go most of the time, but they are a two-edged sword in a situation like this.

    It is worth noting that you don't need a lot of cases of coronavirus to effectively shut things down. Vietnam closed its schools with fewer than a dozen cases. Hong Kong has cases in the double digits still, but shortages and bare supermarket shelves are already a problem. The actuality of the situation and the anxiety level are only tangentially related. And it works the other way around – the Chinese central government announced that it was expecting workers in other cities to return to work. Economic pressures can reduce other precautions as authorities weigh costs and benefits.

    If I were a betting woman, my guess is that the global spread would really take off from Singapore, which yesterday announced its first "untraceable" case – ie, someone who go the disease ambiently, rather than by travelling to China or close contact with any known carrier. That's just a guess, but there are no travel restrictions from Singapore, and it is central hub.

    A lot of people are circulating various pieces of internet wisdom designed to remind them that for most of the world Flu is a bigger risk than coronavirus at this point, and that's absolutely true, but a little misleading. Yes, you should worry more about flu than coronavirus for today. Yes you should get a flu shot. But it is a an apples and oranges comparison too. This year's flus have been circulating since October, the first cases of Coronavirus emerged in early-to-mid-December. A flu carrier on average will transmit flu to 2 other people, while coronavirus seems to be more like 4 – which is very high.

    Annual influenza has a death rate of 0.1-0.2 % of infected individuals. Coronavirus has a death rate of about 2-3 % of infected individuals. Moreover, the death rate is higher in cities with very high rates of infection, suggesting that when the medical system is overwhelmed the rate could be greater. Another concern is that a recent study suggested that it is very hard to keep the disease from spreading within hospitals in ways we don't entirely understand – which is concerning for two reasons. First, if medical personnel are sickened, that affects the capacity of the system to care for everyone. Second, it means that people dealing with other medical concerns need to worry about transmission, and may delay or avoid medical treatment which ups the overall risks.

    My guess is we'll know whether coronavirus is going to circulate globally by mid-April, but if it starts soon, it could be widespread before that. Or, it could end up being contained. No one is sure. Even if it does become endemic, it isn't likely to be an endless thing – most coronaviruses don't like warm humid weather. SARS and other similar viruses mostly petered out in early summer. The odds are good that we are talking about a limited period of time for this outbreak.

    So what should you do? Well, not panic is the first thing. It isn't time to panic. Trust me, I'll tell you ;-). I can't give medical advice, but I can tell you what I think and what my family will do.

    1. If you have medical care you've been putting off, get it done soon if you can. If you can't or don't want to, ask if you can wait a while, maybe to summer. Don't actually risk harm to yourself by doing this, though. Be smart.

    2. I would recommend people give up optional international travel at this point. Stay off cruise ships and out of Disney and water parks in case of fecal-oral transmission (likely but not confirmed.) No one needs to go on a cruise. Plan local vacations and buy trip insurance.

    3. Get a flu shot if you haven't, take a multivitamin, get some exercise and generally take care of your health. Wash hands a lot. It may not prevent coronavirus (except for the hand washing) but you'll be a lot happier if you aren't weakened by flu or other winter illness first.

    4. Don't buy all the fucking masks. Seriously, the masks don't work that well anyway, even the good ones. They are best for people who are sick and don't want to transmit things to others. The masks lose efficacy quickly, and there's a shortage. So if you do buy some, buy only enough for you to wear in places where there's a real risk of exposure. Save them for others – no hoarding.

    5. If coronavirus starts to spread and you have the option STAY HOME. Especially keep kids, who may be asymptomatic carriers home from venues with lots of older people. Visit the grandparents for passover and easter by skype, not in person. Not everyone can stay home, but if you can, help out by not putting others at risk.

    6. If you have any power in this system, use it to help reduce transmission. If you are the boss, give your employees sick time and close down when it seems prudent. Pay them and help them out. If you are in charge of an organization, find ways to reduce social crowds while still keeping connected – teach your classes over the internet, let people call in to meetings, help people engaged in religious and community support from a distance. If you provide support for those who struggle, find ways to continue that support without risk – organize food pantry drop offs, or meal drop offs in safe ways. Leaders, teachers and community organizers should be planning NOW.

    7. Support healthcare professionals in your community who will bear a heavy burden in a crisis. They may need meals, childcare, transportation, someone to give a hand if they are sleeping at the hospital or working double and triple shifts. Be a friend and bring coffee. Help them do their jobs.

    8. If you have extra money, do some preparing – have extra food and supplies in case you are quarantined. But don't just buy for yourself – if you are fortunate enough to have extra, plan to share. Up your donations to local community organizations that serve the vulnerable so they have extra to give. Organize with your nieghbors now to plan for mutual support and to make sure everyone has what they need. Know your neighbors and be there for each other.

    9. If you end up quarantined, life is likely to be more boring than scary. Make some plans for what to do. Learn a new thing. read a new book. Have some fun stuff to do with kids. Make sure you get outside for a bit every day.

    10. Do not obsessively read all the news and work yourself into a total frenzy. It won't help. Trust me ;-). Honestly, we will probably all mostly die of something much more boring anyway, hopefully MUCH MUCH LATER ;-).

    I'll have some more thoughts on planning later, but for the moment the main rule is use your brain, not your adrenal glands to prepare.

    Sharon Astyk on this Virus - Part 2: The American Election

    Sharon Astyk
    February 12 at 9:48 AM ·

    One thing I should have included in my "guidelines for responding to coronavirus" is "don't be a racist asshole." If you are pulling your kids away when Asian kids come near them, avoiding sitting near Asian folks, bad mouthing Asian cultures, cuisines, and making jokes and stereotypical assumptions about China and this disease you are not making yourself or anyone else safer, but you are showing us you are a moron. And if fear makes you racist, you always were and deserve what you get.

    So last time I wrote about Coronavirus it was about how to prepare personally. Today I want to think about how, if it is not stopped, Coronavirus might affect the US Presidential elections, because I think that's a really interesting topic. I will add my usual caveat to any predictions I might make here which is "I do not believe everything I pull out of my ass is the divine truth, so neither should you. This is speculation and hopefully worth a little more than the nothing you are paying for it, but don't go overboard."

    It is worth noting that at the moment, new cases are declining day over day in China, although deaths are at their highest rate. This, of course, makes sense, because most people that die from the disease would do so two to three weeks after contracting the illness.

    It is possible that this is a sign it will be successfully contained in China. It is also possible that this is a sign China is running out of testing supplies or manpower to to identify new mild cases. We shall see. Even if it is contained within China, it is also possible that new clusters in Hong Kong and Singapore will result in substantive global spread. As WHO officials have announced several times, if it gets loose in a country without the capacity to deal with it, it could spread for a very long time. It seems not implausible that there are countries already having outbreaks that we just don't know about – or we could get lucky. We just don't know. I am not speaking today about how likely I find this particular outcome, just exploring how it might play out if it did happen.

    So let us skip over the likelihood issue and ask what would happen if a significant outbreak occurred in the US, similar to what is happening now in a number of countries. And more specifically, what would happen POLITICALLY in a highly contested election year.

    Remember, up to 40% of people infected with coronavirus have no or minimal symptoms. A woman interviewed from a hospital in Japan who tested positive noted that she had fewer symptoms than with the last cold she'd had. Almost no children have tested positive for this disease – which suggests either that children are unlikely to be infected, or that they are likely to have few or no symptoms and thus only be tested after someone else in the family shows symptoms.

    A significant outbreak in the US is likely to begin with only a few cases, but with people who have travelled internationally returning home and interacting in the community for some time before the first cases emerge. This is, for example, how the British man who attended a conference in Singapore unintentionally infected 10 people and three countries.

    The first effect of a substantive outbreak in the US when detected is likely to be panic and anxiety, and a lot of economic disruption. Areas where cases are active will close schools and workplaces. America lacks strong social supports and strong pressures on employers to keep checks coming, so a great deal of economic hardship is likely to hit.

    Trump's basic isolationism is likely to get played up here, as he closes down flights from one country after another. But this will be a "shutting the barn door after the horses are out" thing most likely, and is going to be challenging if the world is dealing with outbreaks in a large number of places at once. But while Trump will be good at political gestures like blaming non-white people for spreading disease and shutting down flights, he's also going to be engaging in a very delicate balancing act, since he's essentially running for re-election on the economy – shutdowns in China are already having effects on businesses and supply chains. The economy could easily stop being an asset for Trump.

    I think it is a safe bet that Trump will respond by running up racist rhetoric and attacking non-white people and countries that he doesn't depend on economically. And I think it is a safe bet that when people are frightened, that kind of rhetoric will gain some real traction. I expect us to see some serious discrimination, and could certainly imagine the King of "kids in cages" ordering all members of particular national groups out of public schools or public discourse (even if he can't enact it). If coronavirus begins to spread in the US I would expect our already extremist and nasty public discourse to get a lot nastier.

    I would also expect, if the US is not successful in containing an outbreak (which I think we will find very difficult given the high spread rate of the disease) that Trump would find his overall position weakened by this. He is, after all, where the buck stops, and his political choices not to fill or actively strip agencies that would work to control the disease are likely to come back to bite him. Moreover, unless the disease is contained, an economic slowdown and high costs to quarantined populations seems all but inevitable. Coronavirus is not a good thing for Trump.

    This will affect the Democratic Primary as well, but how and how much depends heavily on timing. If coronavirus hits the US fairly soon, I could imagine it substantively affecting the delegate count.

    All Democrats will be racing to answer questions and formulate a better plan than Trump's for handling a pandemic. My money is on Elizabeth Warren (who is not currently doing all that well) to have formulated a coherent and practical plan and list of actions ready to go, and I think the contrast might serve her well if things happened early. I also see Bernie, the health care maven doing well with this, and probably Mayor Pete whose team is very good at leveraging technology compensating well for reductions in in-person events, as well. Basically any Democratic candidate is going to have a better plan than Trump because a. they don't actually have to enact it, just describe it and b. they mostly aren't fools.

    I would expect some bickering over whose plan is better, but mostly solidarity among the candidates, because a pandemic outbreak will be an actual national emergency. Where this gets complicated is in the timing and the actual practical realities of life in a an outbreak. First thing to be cancelled will be handshaking events, arm in arm selfies and rallies. The Democrats may have to shift to mostly campaigning by media, often to people trapped at home with plenty of time to watch things. This favors the candidates with the largest war chests – Bloomberg and Sanders and possibly Steyer if he's still around.

    It will depend on when this happens. I doubt an outbreak could reach critical mass in the US before early March at this point, which means we will probably be after super Tuesday. If someone, probably front-runner Sanders gets a decisive number of delegates in that election, it might not matter hugely – his momentum and money would carry him through, especially if he gets the endorsement of Yang and Warren. If Biden tanks in SC or on Super Tuesday, Biden has been making noises that he'd rather support Bernie than Pete. That might be decisive. If, however, the outbreak waits until April or May it may not matter much

    On the other hand, If no one seems in line to to get a delegate majority, that's a different story and it certainly gives other candidates openings. I'd say that in the net, an outbreak is good for Bloomberg and Warren, neutral to good for Sanders (who could be outspent by Bloomberg) and bad for everyone else unless Klobuchar knocks Pete out content and gains Biden's southern support- which I find unlikely.

    The economic effects of quarantine and a global outbreak are likely to be good for the left-wing of the party. They are the ones focused on ensuring health care to everyone. They are the ones who want to be sure everyone eats and no one gets kicked out because they can't pay rent. In a crisis, Democratic socialism and its near neighbor Warrenism are likely to look extremely good. The moderates will be arguing that only they can get the economy back on track afterwards, but most people will care more about now. Moreover the mild strain of isolationism of the "we're all in this together and let's prioritize American needs" that underlies Sanders and Warren's rhetoric is likely to play well whether it should or not when anxieties about the contaminated "other" are a factor.

    But there's another issue here besides the political implications in general. And that's the actual disease. All politicians spend their time shaking hands and getting close to people. They spend their time and energy at large public gatherings doing precisely the things that are most likely to get someone infected. The disease can float around with minimal evidence for a while, so the other question of how this could affect things is by actual candidates becoming ill and either unable to campaign or incapacitated.

    Any candidate will have to suspend campaigning for several weeks if they get sick. That could be critical in March and April depending on delegate counts. Any candidate is vulnerable as long as they are actively campaigning. Moreover, Biden, Bloomberg, Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar (ok, she's 59, but close enough) are all in the age range of over-60 folks who have a much higher risk of a severe or critical or even fatal case, and at a minimum, longer recovery times. Only Mayor Pete, of the major candidates is young enough that the odds are in his favor of shaking it off (and we should remember that the disease has been critical in some younger people, this is just about odds.)

    If coronavirus is widespread and candidates get sick, this could literally shake things up. All the older candidates are going to want to select a much-younger VP and early on. Sanders and Biden are probably the most at-risk (although Warren isn't that much younger the critical cases are disproportionately male.) It is also worth noting that Trump and Pence are both in the critical age range, but they simply do a lot less hand shaking. Still a lot of things could happen if a candidate gets sick, and all of them have a higher than average risk. This is a wild-card.

    It should be obvious that no one wants to see coronavirus widespread in the US. It should also be obvious that it is a hard disease to contain. My guess is that an outbreak will ultimately make it more likely that a Democratic candidate will win, but also make it much harder to have a conventional election. I would watch for a lot of spoilers and some new precedents to be set. I will go out on a limb here and say that if a significant outbreak happened soon, I could imagine it revitalizing Warren's campaign. Sick people want a Mom to take care of them, and Warren is both practical and motherly in that respect.(I should say this is not a partisan statement, I currently think there's little hope for Warren.) At a minimum, we will be living in interesting times.

James Howard Kunstler

February 24, 2020

Guess We Didn't See That Coming

... Bernie's timing on free this-and-that couldn't be worse from the vantage of history. Government health care and tuition-free college worked in some nations in the decades after the Second World War because of a steadily rising global GDP, which itself was pegged to a reliable and affordable fossil fuel supply. That's over. The shale oil "miracle" has bamboozled the public for ten years. It was a great stunt, but that's all it was, and it's going to wither now for a lack of available capital, and there isn't any combo of alt energy thingies to take its place. Neither the Woke half of America nor the MAGA half groks this situation. The money's not there. And a lot of things that pretend to be money are figments of the banking-and-finance industry, soon to melt away.

And now the Corona virus steps onstage to ramify that situation, beginning with a virtual shut-down of the excessively complex, over-engineered, just-in-time global economy. Things are not being produced and supply lines are shutting down. Car-makers outside China have a couple of weeks before their production lines halt for a lack of parts. But, of course, every other industry will have similar problems and stoppages. Many working Americans are barely getting by from one paycheck to the next. How many missed paychecks will it take for genuine hunger to kick in and desperation with it? We don't know because the US news media has been busy conjuring the many loves of Vlad Putin.

This is getting serious now. Some of you may have noticed this morning that the stock indexes are heading into the worst open in years. Today, Mr. Market woke up, like Rip Van Winkle, and discovered that the world changed while he was sleeping. There's a fair chance that the conditions of daily life in America will deteriorate sharply in the months ahead. We've been remote-viewing the empty streets of Wuhan and other Chinese cities since January, thinking it was like one of our cable-network horror shows. It's not inconceivable that an American city, or more than one, will be subject to quarantine, or that a whole lot of people just won't leave their houses for a period of time. Will the truckers still truck things that people need? We don't know. How do you hold a political convention in a situation like that, or even an election?

February 3, 2020

... The horses are out of the barn on the Wuhan Coronavirus. Air travel was curtailed too late in the game — and still only partially — with asymptomatic-but-infectious human carriers winging to every corner of the world and probably contaminating airports all along the way. There's plenty of thought and counter-thought on what exactly is going on behind the scenes in China. The ruling party has knocked itself out demonstrating its earnestness in the crisis, performing great feats like the construction of a one-thousand-bed hospital in ten days, shutting down the lunar new year festivities (like cancelling Christmas here), and locking down a hundred million citizens in quarantine. Pretty impressive.

But there's also a theory that the Coronavirus affords a cover for cascading failures in China's corrupt and shifty banking system. The country had already stepped across some frontiers in demographics, energy consumption, and industrial growth that were shoving it toward contraction for the first time in two generations. Coronavirus has shut down a lot of production in big things like cars and big-little things like cell phones, and supply lines are shutting down to world markets. This amounts to the first big test of the integrated global economy, as well as the world's debt-saturated business model.

Charles Hugh Smith

Brace for Impact: Global Pandemic Already Baked In

February 3, 2020

If we accept what is known about the virus, then logic, science and probabilities all suggest we brace for impact.

... To stop the spread of the virus, every community, village, town and city in the entire nation would have to be locked down. 

The horse already left the barn a month ago, and so closing the barn door now has little effect. Five million people already left Wuhan and tens of thousands have already traveled to dozens of other countries. The virus can no longer be contained with half-measures. Yet half-measures are all the authorities are willing to impose.

Nassim Taleb co-authored a paper (download available on his site) that explained why the only way to limit the spread of the virus is to severely limit connectivity of people and transport: the more connections exist, the greater the number of avenues for the virus to spread.

If China reduced connections with the rest of the world to zero, even for a month, the financial impact would trigger a global recession due to the fragility of the global economy and its dependence on China. Since authorities are unwilling to risk a global depression, they pursue half-measures which insure that multiple pathways for the pathogen to spread remain open.

10. The general assumption in the U.S. is that this will all blow over and the virus will burn itself out as a result of the Chinese quarantines and U.S. travel restrictions. This is akin to passengers on the Titanic looking around 10 minutes after the minor collision with the iceberg and seeing zero evidence the ship was in danger of sinking. Yet the ship's sinking was already inevitable despite the lack of visible evidence.

For the virus to burn itself out, all of these conditions must hold: only a handful of the tens of thousands of people who've landed in the U.S. from China over the past month are infected with the virus, and virtually every one of the infected people, despite having no symptoms, will rigorously self-quarantine themselves for 14 days to insure they won't infect anyone else.

Furthermore, these carriers can't have transmitted the virus to others on their airline flight, in the airport, in baggage claim, in Immigration Control, in the subway, etc. before they started their rigorous 14-day self-quarantine. In other words, not one person exposed to the virus caught it.

In addition, those expecting the virus to burn itself shortly must assume that no one slipping through the exceedingly porous restrictions will be an asymptomatic carrier, and that any asymptomatic carriers that do slip through will not have any close contact with other people.

Lastly, those expecting the virus to burn itself shortly must assume that the virus will not mutate into a more contagious or deadly form, even though viruses mutate at very high rates: the more people carry the virus, the greater the opportunities for a mutation to occur that can be spread to other hosts. 

None of these assumptions are even remotely realistic.

Neither is the expectation that an effective vaccine will be ready for mass inoculations in a month or two. Realistic timelines for an effective vaccine are four to six months for development of a vaccine, then additional months to test its safety and effectiveness and more months if all goes well to produce hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine, and then more time to distribute the vaccines.

It's natural to grasp at straws in crisis, and natural to take every false dawn for sunrise. Announcements that the rate of infection is slowing will be taken as evidence the virus will soon be completely under control, when a decline from RO 4 to RO 3 or RO 2 doesn't mean the virus is about to disappear; all it means is the rate of expansion has declined. Premature announcements of a cure will encourage a complacent expectation of a quick return to "normal life" that will be severely challenged by the "Wave Two" global expansion of the virus.

The economic, political and social consequences of the extreme measures required to control the spread of the virus (total lockdown of an entire country's transportation systems)--or the failure to pursue such extreme measures, enabling the spread of the virus--are the second-order effects I've been exploring in recent blog posts: consequences have their own consequences.

If we accept what is known about the virus, then logic, science and probabilities all suggest we brace for impact.

personal and family protection

It is impossible to completely prepare for this crisis, but the CDC publication linked below is a good guide.

The obvious technologies of masks, eye goggles, disposable gloves are starts, although in some cases they may become increasingly difficult to obtain.

Good hygiene is a key part of the response. Wash your hands. WASH YOUR HANDS. Really. That isn't enough, but it is a key component.

This disease seems to impact people with diminished immune systems most. The elderly. Stressed. Otherwise compromised. There are also suggestions that overreactions by the immune system can be part of the danger of this disease. This is also a threat to overworked health care professionals (especially in Wuhan, China) who are overwhelmed by their responsibilities and presumably not getting enough rest.

Good nutrition is always a good idea: fresh fruits and vegetables, a whole food diet, avoiding processed junk food and toxic additives, live foods (fermented foods, raw foods, etc). Vitamin supplements. Medicinal mushrooms ( is a good place to start). No guarantees that these or related approaches guarantee anything.

None of this is medical advice, merely reiterating obvious suggestions. An enormous amount of expertise is focused on mitigation and understanding is likely to evolve in the coming days.

Perhaps psychological health is at least as important as physical health, a balance between being blase and panic. Perhaps the disease's spread can be checked by quarantines, border restrictions, medical advances, drug treatments, potential development of vaccines. Perhaps it will spread to most countries and most of us will experience this, with mortality hopefully kept as low as possible.

COVI-19 corona virus is a wake up call for our hyper-connected world in terms of travel, economic interdependencies and the need to focus on cooperation instead of militarized competition.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Preparation and Prevention
139,046 views•Feb 29, 2020

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), caused by SARS-CoV-2, is spreading quickly across several continents. In this video, I discuss what we can do to minimize the spread of disease, and minimize the chances of becoming infected.


COVID-19 corona virus is not flu (pandemic or not), but sanitation and other precautions are similar for both


Center for Disease Control and Prevention

"Get Your Household Ready for Pandemic Flu"

April 2017

Audience: Household members responsible for planning for a flu pandemic.

Purpose: This guide provides information about nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) and their use during a flu pandemic. NPIs are actions, apart from getting vaccinated and taking antiviral medications, that people and communities can take to help slow the spread of respiratory illnesses like pandemic flu. Use this guide to develop an emergency plan that reflects considerations specific to you and your household.


Keep Yourself and Members of Your Household Healthy by Planning for Pandemic Flu

Pandemic flu is not seasonal flu

NPIs can help slow the spread of flu

Personal, community, and environmental NPIs

Take Action to Help Slow the Spread of Flu and Illness

Everyday preventive actions

NPIs reserved for a flu pandemic

Symptoms of flu and when to seek emergency care

Before a Flu Pandemic Occurs: Plan

Create an emergency plan of action for pandemic flu

Practice good personal health habits and plan for home-based actions to prevent spreading flu

Be prepared for your child's school or child care facility to be temporarily dismissed

Plans for changes at your workplace

During a Flu Pandemic: Take Action

Put your emergency plan into action

Inform your workplace about changes in your schedule

Manage your children's activities during a pandemic

Make smart decisions about attending large events

After a Flu Pandemic Has Ended: Follow Up

Evaluate the effectiveness of your emergency plan of action

Readiness Resources

Pandemic flu planning resource

Seasonal flu planning resources

The Wuhan Virus: How to Stay Safe

As China's epidemic continues to spread, things may seem scary. Here are 10 simple precautions that can protect you from contracting the coronavirus.

BY   JANUARY 25, 2020, 2:47 PM

... The epidemic could have been controlled fairly easilythree weeks ago had there been more openness, swift action, and no attempted cover-up. But now it's too late, and this virus is spreading globally. Because there is no vaccine or treatment for nCoV2019—the Wuhan pneumonia—and infection has spread throughout China, the government is forced to turn to its 2003 SARS playbook. And that means entire cities must be cut off, and the population of the nation must be restricted in its movements and potential disease-spreading behavior. It is not surprising then that travel out of Beijing may be forbidden; the entire mainland could go on lockdown soon.

I know people are very frightened. And I expect panic will rise in the coming days. But very simple measures can protect you.

During the SARS epidemic, I traveled all over China and Hong Kong, interviewed people infected with the virus, doctors and nurses treating the disease, government officials, police—everybody. I was never concerned that I would become infected, despite being in the room with sick individuals. And that's because I knew what precautions to take. Here are the most important ones to know:

1. When you leave your home, wear gloves—winter mittens or outdoor gloves—and keep them on in subways, buses, and public spaces.

2. If you are in a social situation where you should remove your gloves, perhaps to shake hands or dine, do not touch your face or eyes, no matter how much something itches. Keep your hands away from contact with your face. And before you put your gloves back on, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, scrubbing the fingers. Put your gloves on.

3. Change gloves daily, washing them thoroughly, and avoid wearing damp gloves.

4. Masks are useless when worn outdoors and may not be very helpful even indoors. Most masks deteriorate after one or two wearings. Using the same mask day after day is worse than useless—it's disgusting, as the contents of your mouth and nose eventually coat the inside of the mask with a smelly veneer that is attractive to bacteria. I rarely wear a face mask in an epidemic, and I have been in more than 30 outbreaks. Instead, I stay away from crowds, and I keep my distance from individual people—a half meter, about 1.5 feet, is a good standard. If someone is coughing or sneezing, I ask them to put on a mask—to protect me from their potentially contaminated fluids. If they decline, I step a meter (about 3 feet) away from them, or I leave. Don't shake hands or hug people—politely beg off, saying it's better for both of you not to come in close contact during an epidemic.

5. Inside your household, remove all of the towels from your bathrooms and kitchen immediately, and replace them with clean towels that have the names of each family member on them. Instruct everybody in your home to only use their own towels and never touch another family member's. Wash all towels twice a week. Damp towels provide terrific homes for viruses, like common colds, flus, and, yes, coronaviruses.

6. Be careful with doorknobs. If it's possible to open and close doors using your elbows or shoulders, do so. Wear gloves to turn a doorknob—or wash your hands after touching it. If anybody in your home takes sick, wash your doorknobs regularly. Similarly, be cautious with stairway banisters, desktops, cell phones, toys, laptops—any objects that are hand-held. As long as you handle only your own personal objects, you will be ok—but if you need to pick up someone else's cell phone or cooking tools or use someone else's computer keyboard, be mindful of not touching your face and wash your hands immediately after touching the object.

7. If you share meals, do not use your personal chopsticks and utensils to remove food from a serving bowl or plate and, of course, tell your children to never drink out of anybody else's cups or from a container of shared fluid. It is customary in China to prepare several dishes for a meal and then allow everybody at the table to use their personal chopsticks to pull food from the common dishes: Don't do this until the epidemic is over. Place serving spoons in each dish and instruct everybody at the table to scoop what they want from the serving dishes onto their personal plates or bowls, return the serving spoon to the main dish, and then use their personal chopsticks only to pick food from their personal plate or bowl into their mouth. Wash all food and kitchenware thoroughly between meals and avoid restaurants that have poor hygiene practices.

8. Absolutely do not buy, slaughter, or consume any live animal or fish until it is known what species was the source of the virus.

9. When the weather allows, open your windows at home or work, letting your space air out. The virus cannot linger in a well-ventilated space. But of course, if it is cold or the weather is inclement, keep warm and close those windows.

10. Finally, if you are caring for a friend or family member who is running a fever, always wear a tight-fitting mask when you are near them, and place one on the ailing person (unless they are nauseated). When you replace an old, dirty mask from the face of your friend or loved one be very, very careful—assume, for the sake of your protection, that it is covered in viruses, and handle it while wearing latex gloves, place it inside of a disposable container, seal it, and then put it in the trash. While wearing those latex gloves, gently wash the patient's face with warm soap and water, using a disposable paper towel or cotton swab, and seal it after use in a container or plastic bag before placing it in your household trash. Wear long-sleeved shirts and clothing that covers your body when you are caring for your ailing friend or relative. Clean everything your patient wears or touches very thoroughly in hot soapy water, including sheets, towels, and utensils. If you have space, isolate the sick person in your household in a room, or a corner of a room, where they are comfortable, but separated from the rest of the household. If the weather is tolerable, open a window that is on the opposite side of the room, so that air gently blows past the patient's face and then outdoors. Of course, don't do this if it is very cold, as your friend or loved one will be made sicker if uncomfortably cold.

The Chinese government will take very drastic actions over the next few weeks, and this will be a time of hardship for the Chinese people. As the virus spreads in other countries, similarly draconian measures may be invoked to slow the epidemic. But with these simple precautions, if taken by everybody in your household, building, office, and school, you will dramatically reduce the spread of the virus and bring the outbreak to its knees.

Be safe. Do not panic. Take commonsense precautions. As frightening as this time is, you will get through it.

Laurie Garrett is a former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer.

biological warfare: public health in reverse

"Just because someone says the government is lying does not mean they are telling the truth."
-- John Judge
, Coalition on Political Assassinations (1947-2014)

In late January (2020), a search found a website (Turner radio) claiming 90 thousand have already died from the outbreak. While the official figures are unlikely to be true, it is also unlikely that substantially higher figures are true. The website making this claim - of 90,000 dead - has a history of promoting hoaxes. I first came across that site after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans: it promoted the story that the US military had supposedly blown up the levees and divers had found traces of explosives in the rubble. I immediately suspected this was a hoax and it didn't take long to find that the proprietor of the site was promoting extreme racism and calls for violence. Later, hackers released emails between the author of the site and the FBI suggesting he was an asset of the government. In other words, a disinformer sowing fear and nonsense to muddy the waters. Things are bad enough without having to make up fantasies.

There have been real efforts in many countries to create biological weapons, but that does not mean that this particular outbreak has been deliberately engineered. The "Rice Farmer" news conglomeration site has this comment, worth considering:

Why would someone go to all the trouble of creating a bioweapon which is on par with the flu, and doesn't even have the transmissibility of measles? To be highly useful, one would expect a bioweapon to be extremely infective and much more deadly (fatality rate of 90% or more). At the same time, in today's highly mobile and grossly overpopulated world, bioweapons are assured to boomerang (and if they are viruses, to quickly mutate). -- RF


And a profile of hoaxes about corona virus:

The Wuhan Virus Is Not a Lab-Made Bioweapon

Conspiracy theories are spreading faster than the coronavirus itself.


 | JANUARY 29, 2020, 11:27 AM


It is interesting that China's "level 4" biological research center is located in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. There have been speculations that this virus was accidentally released from the lab, with the citizens of Wuhan the initial victims of this mistake. Perhaps in time this will be proved correct (instead of the theory that the origin was the Huanan seafood market, where wild animals of various species were sold in unsanitary conditions).

But even if the disease was accidentally released - or worse, deliberately created - what matters now is how to control, contain, cure the crisis. It can be tempting for fearful populations to seek a scapegoat, whether in Medieval Europe where minorities (Jews and others) were blamed for the plague, the "Black Death," or in today's "modern" societies where xenophobia (fear of others) simmers subcutaneously. We are all in this together, whether we want to admit it or not.


Biological warfare research has a gruesome history.

During World War II, the Japanese military's "Unit 731" tested various diseases on Chinese prisoners and engaged in biological warfare attacks. After the war, the US military occupation of Japan immunized the perpetrators from prosecution in exchange for sharing their research. The US military had research efforts underway at Fort Detrick, Maryland and in Utah, among other places. Supposedly the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention shut down all offensive research in the US and many other countries, but it is difficult to believe all of it was stopped.

The Soviet Union, China, United States and other major military powers have all conducted biological warfare research. Some may have deployed diseases. Claims are sometimes vague, sometimes with detailed documentation.

In October, 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, anthrax spores were sent to leading Democrats in the US Senate and to media figures. The packaging of the anthrax attacks was made to seem like it was a follow up attack from al-Qaeda, but the variety of anthrax used was traced back to the US Army's biological research center at Fort Detrick. Two different scientists were accused of being the perpetrator. The first was eventually exonerated. A second subsequently accused committed suicide, but his funeral was well attended by his colleagues, which suggests the accusation was not believed by them.

In 2000, a report co-signed by leading "neo-conservatives" who became top officials in the Bush Cheney administration, suggested political usefulness for biological warfare.

"While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein ...
"the process of [military] transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor ...
"... advanced forms of biological warfare that can "target" specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool."
-- Rebuilding America’s Defenses, September 2000, Project for a New American Century
signed by Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, Richard Perle, Scooter Libby, et al.

The anthrax attacks on the US Senate's and the media amplified public fear in the wake of 9/11. It also resulted in major increases in federal funding for biological warfare defense work (protecting against attack is permitted by the biological warfare treaty, only offensive research is banned). Perhaps this increased effort was a positive, perhaps planned, consequence of the anthrax attacks. Not only are numerous countries covertly studying how to wage biowar, but there are many ways that new diseases can emerge to threaten civilization, without malicious intent.

Here are some quality resources about these problems.

Biological warfare and bioterrorism: a historical review

Stefan Riedel, MD, PhD

. 2004 Oct; 17(4): 400–406.


Richard Preston

The New Yorker, July 12, 1999, pp. 44-61.


How smallpox, a disease of officially eradicated twenty years ago, 
became the biggest bioterrorist threat we now face. 



... Most people today have no immunity to smallpox. The vaccine begins to wear off in many people after ten years. Mass vaccination for smallpox came to a worldwide halt around twenty-five years ago. There is now very little smallpox vaccine on hand in the United States or anywhere else in the world. The World Health Organization once had ten million doses of the vaccine in storage in Geneva, Switzerland, but in 1990 an advisory committee recommended that most of it be destroyed, feeling that smallpox was longer a threat. Nine and a half million doses are assumed to have been cooked in an oven, leaving the W.H.O. with a total supply of half a million doses -- one dose of smallpox vaccine for every twelve thousand people on earth. A recent survey by the W.H.O. revealed that there is only one factory in the world that has recently made even a small quantity of the vaccine, and there may be no factory capable of making sizable amounts. The vaccine was discovered in the age of Thomas Jefferson, and making a lot of it would seem simple, but so far the United States government has been unable to get any made at all. Variola virus is now classified as a Biosafety Level 4 hot agent -- the most dangerous kind of virus -- because it is lethal, airborne, and highly contagious, and is now exotic to the human species, and there is not enough vaccine to stop an outbreak. Experts feel that the appearance of a single case of smallpox anywhere on earth would be a global medical emergency.

At the present time, smallpox lives officially in only two repositories on the planet. One repository is in the United States, in a freezer at the headquarters of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta -- the C.D.C. The other official smallpox repository is in a freezer at a Russian virology institute called Vector, also known as the State Research Institute of Virology and Biotechnology, which is situated outside the city of Novosibirsk, in Siberia. Vector is a huge, financially troubled former virus-weapons-development facility -- a kind of decayed Los Alamos of viruses -- which is trying to convert to peaceful enterprises.

There is a growing suspicion among experts that the smallpox virus may also live unofficially in clandestine biowarfare laboratories in a number of countries around the world, including labs on military bases in Russia that are closed to outside observers. The Central Intelligence Agency has become deeply alarmed about smallpox. Since 1995, a number of leading American biologists and public-health doctors have been given classified national-security briefings on smallpox. They have been shown classified evidence that as recently as 1992 Russia had the apparent capability of launching strategic-weapons-grade smallpox in special biological warheads on giant SS-18 intercontinental missiles that were targeted on the major cities of the United States. In the summer of last year, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan in a test, and the missile fell into the sea. Some knowledgeable observers thought that the missile could have been designed to carry a biologic warhead. If it had carried smallpox and landed in Japan, it could have devastated Japan's population: Japan has almost no smallpox vaccine on hand and its government seems to have no ability to deal with a biological attack. The United States government keeps a list of nations and groups that it suspects either have clandestine stocks of smallpox or seem to be trying to buy or steal the virus. The list is classified, but it is said to include Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Cuba, and Serbia. The list may also include the terrorist organization of Osama bin Laden and, possibly, the Aum Shinrikyo sect of Japan -- a quasi-religious group that had Ph.D. biologists as members and a belief that an apocalyptic war will bring them worldwide power. Aum members released nerve gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995, and, as the year 2000 approaches, the group is still active in Japan and in Russia. In any case, the idea that smallpox lives in only two freezers was never anything more than a comfortable fiction. No one knows exactly who has smallpox today, or where they keep the virus, or what they intend to do with it.


[regarding a 1972 outbreak of smallpox in Yugoslavia]

.... Meanwhile, the Pilgrim's smallpox travelled in waves through Yugoslavia. A rising tide of smallpox typically comes in fourteen-day waves -- a wave of cases, a lull down to zero, and then a much bigger wave, another lull down to zero, then a huge and terrifying wave. The waves reflect the incubation periods, or generations, of the virus. Each wave or generation is anywhere from ten to twenty times as large as the last, so the virus grows exponentially and explosively, gathering strength like some kind of biological tsunami. This is because each infected person infects an average of ten to twenty more people. By the end of March, 1972, more than a hundred and fifty cases had occurred.

The Pilgrim had long since recovered. He didn't even know that he had started the outbreak. By then, however, Yugoslav doctors knew that they were dealing with smallpox, and they sent an urgent cable to the World Health Organization, asking for help.

Luckily, Yugoslavia had an authoritarian Communist government, under Josip Broz Tito, and he exercised full emergency powers. His government mobilized the Army and imposed strong measures to stop people from travelling and spreading the virus. Villages were closed by the Army, roadblocks were thrown up, public meetings were prohibited, and hotels and apartment buildings were made into quarantine wards to hold people who had had contact with smallpox cases. Ten thousand people were locked up in these buildings by the Yugoslav military. The daily life of the country came to a shocked halt. At the same time, all the countries surrounding Yugoslavia closed their borders with it, to prevent any travellers from coming out. Yugoslavia was cut off from the world. There were twenty-five foci of smallpox in the country. The virus had leapfrogged from town to town, even though the population had been heavily vaccinated. The Yugoslav authorities, helped by the W.H.O., began a massive campaign to revaccinate every person in Yugoslavia against smallpox; the population was twenty-one million. "They gave eighteen million doses in ten days," D. A. Henderson said. A person's immunity begins to grow immediately after the vaccination; it takes full effect within a week.

At the beginning of April, Henderson flew to Belgrade, where he found government officials in a state of deep alarm. The officials expected to see thousands of blistered, dying, contagious people streaming into hospitals any day. Henderson sat down with the Minister of Health and examined the statistics. He plotted the cases on a time line, and now he could see the generations of smallpox -- one, two, three waves, each far larger than the previous one. Henderson had seen such waves appear many times before as smallpox rippled and amplified through human populations. Reading the viral surf with a practiced eye, he could see the start of the fourth wave. It was not climbing as steeply as he had expected. This meant that the waves had peaked. The outbreak was declining. Because of the military roadblocks, people weren't travelling, and the government was vaccinating everyone as fast as possible. "The outbreak is near an end," he declared to the Minister of Health. "I don't think you'll have more than ten additional cases." There were about a dozen: Henderson was right -- the fourth wave never really materialized. The outbreak had been started by one man with the shivers. It was ended by a military crackdown and vaccination for every citizen. 

.... Henderson's voice came out of the gloom. He didn't bother to get up and turn on the lights. He said, "The way air travel is now, about six weeks would be enough time to seed cases around the world. Dropping an atomic bomb could cause casualties in a specific area, but dropping smallpox could engulf the world."

.... Viruses have an ability to move from one type of host to another in what is known as a trans-species jump. The virus changes during the course of a jump, adapting to its new host. The trans-species jump is the virus's most important means of long-term survival. Species go extinct; viruses move on. There is something impressive in the trans-species jump of a virus, like an unfurling of wings or a flash of stripes when a predator makes a rush. Some fifty years ago, in central Africa, the AIDS virus apparently moved out of chimpanzees into people. Chimpanzees are now endangered, while the AIDS virus is booming.

For most of human prehistory, people lived in small groups of hunter-gatherers. The poxviruses did not deign to notice Homo sapiens as long as the species consisted of scattered groups; there was no percentage in it for a pox. With the growth of agriculture, the human population of the earth swelled and became more tightly packed. Villages became towns and cities, and people were crowded together in river valleys.

Epidemiologists have done some mathematics on the spread of smallpox, and they find that the virus needs a population of about two hundred thousand people living within a fourteen-day travel time from one another or the virus can't keep its life cycle going, and it dies out. Those conditions didn't occur in history until the appearance of settled agricultural areas and cities. At that point -- roughly seven thousand years ago -- the human species became an accident with a poxvirus waiting to happen.

Smallpox could be described as the first urban virus.

.... While I was sitting with D. A. Henderson in his house, I mentioned what seemed to me the great and tragic paradox of his life's work. The eradication caused the human species to lose its immunity to smallpox, and that was what made it possible for the Soviets to turn smallpox into a weapon rivalling the hydrogen bomb.

Henderson responded with silence, and then he said, thoughtfully, "I feel very sad about this. The eradication never would have succeeded without the Russians. Viktor Zhdanov started it, and they did so much. They were extremely proud of what they had done. I felt the virus was in good hands with the Russians. I never would have suspected. They made twenty tons -- twenty tons -- of smallpox. For us to have come so far with the disease, and now to have to deal with this human creation, when there are so many other problems in the world . . ." He was quiet again. "It's a great letdown," he said.

For years, the scientific community generally thought that biological weapons weren't effective as weapons, especially because it was thought that they're difficult to disperse in the air. This view persists, and one reason is that biologists know little or nothing about aerosol-particle technology. The silicon-chip industry is full of machines that can spread particles in the air. To learn more, I called a leading epidemiologist and bioterrorism expert, Michael Osterholm, who has been poking around companies and labs where these devices are invented. "I have a device the size of a credit card sitting on my desk," he said. "It makes an invisible mist of particles in the one-to-five-micron size range -- that size hangs in the air for hours, and gets into the lungs. You can run it on a camcorder battery. If you load it with two tablespoons of infectious fluid, it could fill a whole airport terminal with particles." Osterholm speculated that the device could create thousands of smallpox cases in the first wave. He feels that D. A. Henderson's estimate of how fast smallpox could balloon nationally is conservative. "D.A. is looking at Yugoslavia, where the population in 1972 had a lot of protective immunity," he said. "Those immune people are like control rods in a nuclear reactor. The American population has little immunity, so it's a reactor with no control rods. We could have an uncontrolled smallpox chain reaction." This would be something that terrorism experts refer to as a "soft kill" of the United States of America.

The New Yorker, March 9, 1998, pp. 52-65


In the last few years, Russian scientists have invented the world's deadliest 
plagues. Have we learned about this too late to stop it? 

By Richard Preston

NameBase book reviews: biological warfare

Alibek, Ken with Handelman, Stephen. Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World -- Told from the Inside by the Man Who Ran It. New York: Delta (Random House), 2000. 319 pages.

In 1992, Kanatjan Alibekov defected to the U.S. and changed his name to Ken Alibek. He had been a biowarfare scientist in the Soviet Union for seventeen years. Between 1988 and 1992, he was first deputy chief of Biopreparat, the state agency whose primary function was to "develop and produce weapons made from the most dangerous viruses, toxins, and bacteria known to man." U.S. intelligence basically had no idea that this was going on until the Cold War was over. The first revelations came from Vladimir Pasechnik's defection to Britain in 1989 -- but as a civilian scientist, Pasechnik had no direct access to military secrets. Alibek, on the other hand, was an army colonel. He said the Soviets had 52 different biological agents that could be used as weapons. They even had new germs unknown in the West, all tested and battle-hardened, with delivery systems ready to go.

Soviet stockpiles have reportedly been mostly destroyed, but detailed recipes for making these weapons still exist. During the early 1990s there were secret agreements between Russia and the U.S. that allowed inspections of facilities. A few years later the truth about the Soviet program started leaking out in books and articles.

Endicott, Stephen and Hagerman, Edward. The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999. 275 pages.

This book presents a massive amount of evidence that the U.S. used biological warfare during the Korean War. What's stunning about this is that so many Western scholars have dismissed such accusations for the last fifty years, following the lead of the U.S., which has consistently lied to Congress and the public on this issue. Despite an International Scientific Commission that interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and concluded in 1952 that the charges were credible beyond a reasonable doubt, Western scholars have always insisted that this Commission was a front for Red propaganda.

With newly declassified documents from the U.S., Canada, and Britain, and after interviewing key people in China who were on the scene in North Korea in 1950-1951, and with the cooperation of the Chinese Central Archives, the authors make a very persuasive case. They show that the U.S. program in germ warfare began when Japan's records of experimentation on prisoners were appropriated after World War II. By the time Korea started, the U.S. had an offensive capability. The effort in Korea was more experimental than strategic, but it was definitely offensive rather than defensive, and was part of an ongoing development program within the bowels of the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence establishments.

Harris, Robert and Paxman, Jeremy. A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and Biological Warfare. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982. 306 pages.

With this book, BBC reporters Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman have put together the best history of CBW available. Other books in this field tend to concentrate exclusively on CBW research in the U.S., or the use of chemicals in Vietnam. By contrast, this book begins with the first World War and includes the Japanese in the 1930s, the Nazi research program, and British secret experiments with anthrax in the 1940s. Churchill wanted to gas Germany during the war, and Britain actually produced five million anthrax cakes at Porton Down, designed to be dropped on Germany to infect the food chain. This may have been the world's first mass-produced biological weapon. Today germ warfare is outlawed, but chemical weapons are still a matter of international concern.

Using previously-classified documents and interviews with scientists and soldiers in Britain, Europe, America and Russia, the authors continue this history with chapter titles such as "The Search for the Patriotic Germ" (post-war biological weapons research), "The Rise and Rise of Chemical Weapons" (Vietnam), and "The Tools of Spies." In the epilogue, the authors warn that genetic manipulation and synthetic viruses have opened new prospects for biological warfare, and could someday remove concepts such as ethnic and cross-generational warfare from the exclusive domain of science fiction.

Hersh, Seymour M. Against All Enemies: Gulf War Syndrome -- The War Between America's Ailing Veterans and Their Government. New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1998. 103 pages.

The videos from nose-cone cameras in laser-guided smart bombs were certainly impressive, and since the Pentagon censored reporting from the front, there wasn't much else to watch. The Gulf War, with 147 deaths out of 600,000 mobilized, marked the end of that accursed "Vietnam Syndrome."

Over the next seven years, the myths crumbled one by one. The smart- bomb accuracy was about the same as conventional bombing, according to the GAO, and by 1998 some 90,000 veterans complained of symptoms that became known as "Gulf War Syndrome." The Pentagon insisted for years that it was simply stress-related, but by now there are three strong candidates for other causes: 1) low-level chemical exposure (including nerve and other gases), either from destruction of Iraqi arms depots by uninformed U.S. forces, or by (unconfirmed) Iraqi use in offensive warheads or shells; 2) the 630,000 pounds of depleted uranium shells that U.S. and British forces fired at Iraqi tanks (troops were not advised about DU hazard control or decontamination); and 3) the untested PB pills (pyridostigmine bromide) that GIs were required to take (this was an antidote against soman, one of several types of nerve gas believed to be in the Iraqi arsenal, and some GIs got sick after taking them). Perhaps there's no such thing as an easy war.

Hersh, Seymour M. Chemical and Biological Warfare: America's Hidden Arsenal. Garden City NY: Anchor Books, 1969. 307 pages.

Just as he began a stint as Eugene McCarthy's press secretary, this ace investigative reporter finished his first book. It remains his most obscure work, but that's only because Seymour Hersh is by now a household word in Washington. This is an excellent and thorough treatment of what was then a $300-million-a-year CBW weapons program. Included are chapters on chemical agents, biological agents, secret bases, CBW in Vietnam, the university-corporate research nexus, and policy and disarmament issues.

Hersh has over a dozen journalism prizes and numerous scoops to his credit: the My Lai massacre (1969), the secret bombing of Cambodia (1973), CIA domestic spying (1974), Edwin Wilson and Libya (1981), and Manuel Noriega (1986). In 1972 he began working for the New York Times from Washington. On rare occasions his byline still appears on their front page or in their Sunday magazine, but these days he mostly free-lances.


note from Mark:  Hersh's books have been a mix.  These books were good, but his "Camelot" book attacking the Kennedy administration contained disinformation, and his "Samson Option" book about Israel's nuclear weapons was a mix of disclosure and misdirection (particularly the claim that the "Numec" company in Pennsylvania was supposedly innocent of accusations they shipped "special nuclear material" to Israel in the 1960s).

Miller, Judith; Engelberg, Stephen; and Broad, William. Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone Edition), 2002. 407 pages.

This scare book is by New York Times reporters. Miller is a senior reporter specializing in anti-Arab stories, Engelberg covered intelligence for the NYT during Iran-contra and deftly sidestepped all the big stories, and Broad doesn't do spin because he's a science reporter. Mix and shake, and you get a book that is one-third technically interesting and two-thirds hysteria. In fact, just as this book was hitting the bestseller lists, Miller was pumping out anxious reports on Iraq's (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction, based on rumors from Iraqi exiles and defectors.

The best part of this book is the description of Soviet biowarfare research, which was revealed gradually during the 1990s as Cold War secrecy crumbled further. There are also fascinating portraits of two cults, one in the U.S. and another in Japan, that used germ attacks. The worst part of this book is the assumption that U.S. biowarriors all have white hats, and everyone else in the world wears black hats. For example, a book of this scope should have covered the U.S. biowarfare program during the Korean War, which has been so well documented by Canadians Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman. But alas, you lose spin control if you practice objectivity, and New York Times reporters never lose control.

Mangold, Tom and Goldberg, Jeff. Plague Wars: The Terrifying Reality of Biological Warfare. New York: St.Martin's Press, 2000. 477 pages.

This book is probably the most comprehensive account to date of incidents, issues, and defensive efforts concerning biological warfare from the 1930s to 1999. Most of the material is from the last twenty years. Although the U.S. printing of this book got little attention, it is more interesting and more detailed than "Germs" by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad, which appeared two years later.

Two topics are covered especially well in this book. One is the nature and extent of the Soviet program in biological warfare. Ken Alibek (a.k.a. Kanatjan Alibekov), who had a high position in the Soviet program, defected in 1992. Also, there have been official inspections of biological facilities by U.S. experts since the end of the Cold War. All of this is recounted in great detail. The other topic is the secret South African program in biological warfare during the 1980s, which involved one Dr. Wouter Basson. In recent years the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has brought much of this story to light, and we now know that the apartheid security services actively used biological warfare against their enemies around the world. Other chapters concern the UNSCOM weapons inspection programs in Iraq, the situation in North Korea, and the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan. These chapters are much less detailed and seem somewhat alarmist.