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Marine General James Mattis Denounces Trump

No sorry here, I refuse to call Trump President. It is time for this bum to leave.

Breaking his silence  .   .   .

General Mattis denounces the president for dividing the nation, and accused him of ordering the U.S. military to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens.

General Mattis: “I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand – one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values – our values as people and our values as a nation.  We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.’”

James Mattis Denounces President Trump, Describes Him as a Threat to the Constitution The Atlantic

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen (Chairman Joint Chief of Staff).

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Conspiracy Theories: How to Pick Out the Plausible Ones

Conspiracy Theories: How to Pick Out the Plausible Ones

This is an age of rampant conspiratorialism.  Bill Gates is behind the pandemic because he wants to shoot you full of vaccines.  No wait, it’s all those 5G cell towers.  Or maybe it’s bioterrorism from China.  Or just a hoax perpetrated by international capital to undermine Donald Trump, the people’s tribune.  The right wing disinformation machine cranks out this stuff constantly, but paranoid fantasies also emanate from the left/alternative world.

So to counter the conspiracy pandemic, mainstream experts have come forward to advise us on how to detect and puncture unfounded rumors.  The problem I see is that sometimes there really are conspiracies, and it isn’t immediately obvious how to separate the ones that might be true from the purely crazy.

In the public interest, I offer the following rule of thumb.  A conspiracy, of course, is an agreement by a group of insiders to keep something important secret from the public.  If the group is tightly organized, motivated and able to operate separately from those on the outside, it is capable of waging a conspiracy.  If you relax these assumptions, however, you need additional groups to hide the initial conspiracy—in other words, secondary conspiracies.  And if the secondary conspirators aren’t tight enough a third ring of conspiracies is required.  As soon as you find yourself imagining lots of interlocking conspiracies to keep the central one secret you’ve wandered over the line.

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I know, I should probably not waste everybody’s time commenting on this nonsense, but the push on it has been massive, with it seeming to influence a lot of people it should not, so I have decided some push back is called for, even if those who should see it do not.   I am partly triggered in this by getting defriended on Facebook yesterday by a generally intelligent libertarian academic economist I know who started massively linking to every crackpot pushing this nonsense, and when I pointed out some serious problems with all of it and declared the whole thing to be “insane,” I was told that my “TDS was showing” and was defriended.  As far as I am concerned, TDS is people who believe lunatic lies by Trump, showing as a result their own derangement.

As part of all this the Trump media push on this is massive. I am not sure it held for the whole Sunday-Saturday week, but  reportedly for at least a substantial portion of last week Fox News was spending more time on this story than on the pandemic, no distraction with this, of course.  And  this was not as in there might be two sides to it, at least not on Hannity where I have kept an eye on it.  He has been for quite some time pushing for investigations of how the Russia investigation started with a demand that people go to jail for it for a long time.  So he has been all u-rah-rah to Trump coming on to Fox News on Thursday morning with his completely off the wall claim that “This is the greatest political scandal in US history,” repeated several times, along with his demand that Senate committees drag lots of people in and that Obama, Biden (of course), Comey, and Brennan should all go to jail for 50 years, although he has not mentioned any actual crimes for which they should go to serve these long sentences that would effectively put them away for life. Both Sens. Grassley and Graham have jumped sort of to attention to promise hearings on all this, although the generally odious Graham did show some streak of sanity by saying he would not call Obama before his committee, perhaps aware that the guy is the most popular political figure in the country, warning “Be careful what you wish for,” although I did not see him ruling out dragging Biden in.

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Coronavirus dashboard: updating the 52 Petri Dishes of democracy

Coronavirus dashboard: updating the 52 Petri Dishes of democracy

[Note: There is no significant economic data today (Dan here…May 13)  Thursday we’ll get initial claims, and on Friday retail sales and industrial production for April, both of which will be important]

Here is the update through yesterday (May 12).

I will restart giving the daily increase in infections if States that have “reopened” start to increase significantly again. The preliminary evidence is that customers are largely staying away from reopened businesses in those States.

Number of new and total reported Infections (from Johns Hopkins via and  

  • Number: 22,080, total 1,370,016 (vs. day/day high of +36,161 on April 24)

There has been a 1/3 decrease in the number of new cases in the US from peak. The US nevertheless has the worst record in the world, by far.

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The Amateur Epidemiologist

I frequently read a debate about whether, when assessing anti covid 19 performance, one should look at deaths per capita or deaths on days since 1000 deaths. Like everything involving Americans, this has become a pro v contra Trump debate — clearly he wants deaths per capita (and the absolute number of tests performed).

The arguments are as follows. for number of deaths on time since a certain number was reached, it is argued that all countries are at the negligible fraction of people are resistant (naturally exponential growth) stage, so the relevant variable is rate of growth of cases (or deaths). So cases now divided by cases a week ago and not by population.

The counterargument is that, come on it’s obvious.

I think that it is natural to expect a transition from roughly the same growth (no matter what population is) to cases (very roughly) proportional to population. All of this is during the neglible fraction resistant phase.

I am going to set up a straw man and knock him down with a silly super super simple model. So the straw man is that it is reasonable to assume that if two countries have the same number of cases at time t, then they will have similar numbers later. The silly model is that people live on a giant chess board (1000 squares on a side) and infect people who share an edge. This gives R_0 between 2 and 3. So say start with two cases, one in each country. Straw man says there should be the same number of cases in each country in each subsequent period.

OK now country one is the upper right quadrant and country two is the rest of the board. Strra man predicts the same number of cases. Or what if all is the same but I draw the border so country 2 is the lower left quadrant and country 1 is the rest. Again the same number.

So straw man concludes that there are never any cases in the lower right or upper left. This can’t be right.

Now I will discuss a model which is slightly less silly. Assume most transmission is local so the infected and the infector are in the same country. Assume people are infectious for one period and that, during tht time, each infected person infects n nearby people. Also assume lower rate of distant infection, so an infected person infects someone chosen at random in the whole world with probability m less than 1 less than n.

This distant infection seeds a new outbreak with a new patient 1.

Assume that at t=1, each country has the same number of infected people.

There are countries indexed by i and caseload x_it.
x_(it+1) = n x_(it) + (sum_j x_j)m(population_i/ (sum_j population_j))

If m is much less than n, then, at first the rate of growth in all countries is roughly n. But eventually x_(it) becomes proportional to population_i .

The reason is that, in each country, there is the same number of people infected in the outbreaks that had already started at time 1. However, the number of new outbreaks is proportionatl to population (from someone chosen at random in the whole world). So the (expected) number of people infected in outbreaks which started after t=1 is proportional to population.

As t goes to infinity, the fraction of infected people infected in the outbreaks which had already started at t=1 goes to zero. So in the medium run (after a lot of long distance transmission but before there is a significant fraction of resistant people) the infection rates per capita converge.

OK the bit about initial growth is similar conditional on similar numbers infected at t=1 sure fits the data (where t=1 is t when the number of infections passes say 1000). Thus people could talk about “days behind Italy” and accurately predict the number of cases (and not change how many days behind different countries are).

But on the other hand, after a while, similar countries have rates roughly proportional to population. So, for example, the number of cases in the USA is similar to the number of cases in Europe.

The alternative is to claim this figure illustrates a pure coincidence.

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The widely followed IHME model of coronavirus cases has been much too optimistic

The widely followed IHME model of coronavirus cases has been much too optimistic


The IHME model by the University of Washington has gotten a lot of attention in the past month, most likely because it has always forecast a much lower number of total deaths caused by coronavirus than, for example the Imperial College of London’s model, that forecast over 1 million US deaths if no quarantine measures were put in place.

But that model has come in for a lot of criticism, and I have come to distrust it. Its main feature – and biggest shortcoming in my opinion – is that it assumes that the US path will follow that of China and South Korea, where after the peak is reached, the disease ramps down just as quickly as it ramped up.

Here is what the model predicts today: a quick ramp-down in new deaths to below 500/day no later than the 3rd week of May (and most likely before May 10), and virtually no deaths at all after June 1:

Figure 1

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Starve the Beast

It should be worth noting that the federal deficit under Trump is already at 5% of GDP even before the Coronavirus stimulus begins.

Figure 1

Interestingly, if you look at the long term record the only policy or strategy that fits the data is the Republican policy of starve the beast. That policy is to enlarge the  federal deficit so much when they control the purse strings that democrats will be unable to enact policies increasing spending that benefits the lower and middle classes.  That is why you repeatedly see a pattern of republicans presidents leaving office with a much larger deficit than they inherited while democratic presidents reduce the deficit..  With US savings rates so low this forces the US to borrow abroad to finance the savings-investment gap. We lucked out that in the 1980s OPEC and Japan had  savings surpluses that they used to finance the US deficits.  Under Bush it was the Chinese that had a savings surplus to invest in the US.  But OPEC and Japan no longer have surpluses to finance the US deficit and the Chinese have started to draw down their savings as they shift to consumption led growth.  Because the Japanese and Chinese had large surpluses to invest the  long feared crowding out worked through the dollar and large trade deficit rather than higher interest rates and weakness in the credit sensitive economic sectors. The hollowing out of US manufacturing was a direct consequence of the republican tax cuts.

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Does Google’s Search Algorithm Protect the New York Times?

Does Google’s Search Algorithm Protect the New York Times?

Yesterday morning, after reading the Sunday New York Times, I posted two pieces on EconoSpeak within a few minutes of each other.  One was a short, cute little item (a visual grab from the paper) entitled “The Art of Juxtaposition”; the other was a longer, more substantial takedown of a deficit hysteria “analysis” I called “The Usual Deficit Blather from the New York Times”.

As usual, I monitored the posts through the day to see if they were being picked up anywhere.  This has become largely an exercise in nostalgia, since with the fading of the economics blogosphere there isn’t much to track.  What happened next was interesting, however.

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What is the Real Prevalence of Coronavirus Across States?

Reposted from Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality:

What is the Real Prevalence of Coronavirus Across States?

Click on the image to enlarge

Tests per million times cases per test gives you confirmed cases per million. But we want true cases per million.

Tests per million are different across states because (a) the states are undertaking testing with different levels of effort and (b) the prevalence of the virus is different in different states.

Confirmed cases per million are different across states because (c) states are testing at different rates and (b) the prevalence of the virus is different in different states.

Cases per test are different across states because (d) some states are not testing much and hence are still picking (relatively, for their state) low hanging fruit and (b) the prevalence of the virus is different in different states.

We have data on confirmed cases and tests across states. How do we use that to get real as opposed to fake estimates of where the virus is in the different states?

And then there is the lag: how do we do the nowcast, taking proper account of acceleration and deceleration in the progress of the disease?

Georgia, for example, is fifth in cases per test, at 0.24. Georgia is also fortysixth in tests per million, at 6598. And so Georgia is thirteenth in cases per million, at 1590.

If Georgia were testing at the same rate as New York—30000 per million—how many cases would it be reporting, and what would its confirmed caseload be? Its cases per test is presumably elevated because it is not testing very many people, so simply multiplying by 4.5 is not right. What is right?

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Does It Ever Cease . . .

the total nonsense coming out of Washington D.C.?

When I wake up in the morning, I retreat down stairs to the kitchen, turn the coffee pot on, and grab an oat, oat bran, and grd flax seed muffin loaded with fiber. I make these for myself (although my wife of 49 years grabs one on occasion) to combat cholesterol and add fiber to my daily diet for other purposes. In combination with extended  walks outside or on a treadmill, I maintain.

Bears eat a lot of food before they hibernate and come out in Spring lean. For humans and when we go into Winter, we are much leaner than when we reappear outside in Spring. Hopes it warms up some more so I can get outside and enjoy.

At my computer this morning, as I normally am, and reading the news  like I normally do. It is a ritual,  along with the  cup of grd chicory root and grd coffee brew, and the healthy muffin . It tastes pretty good to me as opposed to straight coffee. It is a ritual which I engage in besides letting the dog out for his daily ritual.

I am reading such topics as:

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