Episode #856: Their Dear Leader
First Broadcast: 3/23/20
A tired Chris F. and a slightly less-tired Kim bring you this episode from the newest epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic: New York, New York. To give you an idea how fast this virus has spread, on the day we recorded, March 18, there were 1871 confirmed coronavirus cases in New York City, 2382 cases in New York State, 9259 cases in the United States, and 218,822 cases worldwide. On the day that I'm writing this sentence, March 22, there are now 9654 confirmed cases in New York City, 15,168 cases in New York State, 33,346 cases in the United States, and 336,075 cases worldwide, representing increases of 415%, 536%, 260%, and 53%, respectively. The Dow Jones index has plunged more than 10,000 points since the middle of February, losing over 35% of its value and wiping out all the gains that had been made since Trump's inauguration; New York State is now basically on lockdown in all but name; and Governor Cuomo has shown himself to be much more capable of running government than the doofus who's currently in the White House. What do we do now, in this new world where we all have to stay as socially distant as possible for the immediate future, eliminating almost every activity that people do for work and leisure? Stay home, wash your hands, and flatten the curve, I guess. We'll see how stir crazy this makes us as we go...
Episode #857: Morgue Space
First Broadcast: 3/30/20
By Wednesday, March 25, New York City had at least 17,856 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 199 deaths as a result. So many COVID-19 patients were flooding Elmhurst Hospital in Queens that one doctor described the situation there as "apocalyptic," and so many of those patients were dying that a refrigerated truck was parked outside to store extra corpses when the hospital's morgue ran out of space. A horrific scene by any description, which makes it all the more baffling that President Trump had the nerve to say "It's hard not to be happy with the job we're doing, that I can tell you," at a White House press briefing that same day. This, he says, even though he fired the pandemic response team that President Obama had established at the NSA--and replaced them with no one; even though he cut the CDC staff at their China office, which had been established by the Obama White House to spot epidemics in China before they could reach the U.S.; even though Trump's cabinet ignored a pandemic response manual that had been written by the Obama White House to prevent future administrations from needing to create a strategy from scratch; and even though members of the incoming Trump administration were almost completely disinterested in a pandemic response exercise that their outgoing counterparts in the Obama administration organized so that the new White House would have at least some idea of what a coordinated response to a pandemic would look like. As a result of all the above, the man who, back on January 22 said "We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China," and on February 26 said "When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero," is now President of the nation with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases on Earth, with 141,854 confirmed cases in the United States and counting, including 2,475 deaths. The only bright spot in all of this? The virus doesn't appear to be mutating much, despite its vast reach across the globe, so any vaccine for it might confer lifelong immunity when that finally becomes available. So, remember: young people aren't immune to this; old people might still recover from it; and for the love of god, stop licking toilet seats!
Episode #858: It's Not The Flu
First Broadcast: 4/6/20
By April 1, 2020, there were at least 45,707 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City, and by April 5, that number had increased to 67,551. In the period before that 47% increase, President Trump insulted New York City hospitals by accusing their staff of either stealing or otherwise wasting the personal protective equipment (PPE) masks that doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are relying on to prevent themselves from either being infected by or infecting others with coronavirus. Specifically:
Something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000? And we have that in a lot of different places. So, somebody should probably look into that, because I just donít see, from a practical standpoint, how thatís possible to go from that to that. ... I donít think itís hoarding ... I think maybe itís worse than hoarding.
You'd think someone like Trump, who claims to be some sort of master capitalist, would understand something as simple as supply and demand--such as when a highly contagious respiratory virus to which no one has natural immunity creates an unprecented demand for supplies of equipment that can slow its rate of infection--but that's apparently above his pay grade. It certainly didn't stop him from downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19 right up until a week after the W.H.O. labeled it a pandemic, at which point he then tried to claim that he had known it was a pandemic all along, as if the rest of us don't have access to news articles as old as... (checks notes) ...three months ago. Fox News went along for the ride, downplaying the virus right along with Trump, a strategy of peddling disinformation that--surprise, surprise!--might have opened them up to at least one lawsuit. Ignoring the dangers of COVID-19 seems to be endemic (heh) among the right wing in this country, from David Clarke saying coronavirus is just "the damn flu" (spoiler alert: it isn't), to people in various red states flocking to places like beaches and restaurants and disregarding all forms of social distancing. There are even some particularly vicious people who advocate reopening all forms of business as soon as possible, regardless of whether or not the coronavirus is still being transmitted, because they feel "the economy" is more important than preventing unneccesary deaths. Will this country's famously short attention span be its ultimate doom, or will we be able to stick it out for the long haul until COVID-19 is "under control" somehow? Give us a few more months, and maybe we'll have an answer.
Episode #859: Time Is Broken
First Broadcast: 4/13/20
It takes a lot to overshadow the latest grim coronavirus news, but Bernie Sanders suspending his 2020 Presidential campaign was enough to do that on the day we recorded this episode, and it was like a punch to the gut for many of his supporters, Free New York included. Joe Biden is now the only Democratic candidate left standing, but will he be able to attract any of the voters who were enthusiastic about Sanders (or Elizabeth Warren)? Could Sanders have done better if the Democratic primaries had less wasted votes and used ranked choice voting? Biden wasn't even in my top 3 choices for the nomination--which would have been Sanders, Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand, if you were curious--so, what is it about him that appeals to so many other Democrats? Is it just his close proximity to Barack Obama as Vice President? His theory that Republicans will magically be willing to work with Democrats again if he takes over the office? His vocal opposition to Medicare For All--which should have been the death knell for his campaign a long time ago? What could happen if Sanders wins more primaries between now and the convention--like the New York primary, which has been moved to June 23--since his name will still be on the ballot? Tons of questions! Who knows if we have any answers?
Episode #860: These Things Take Time
First Broadcast: 4/20/20
If you're going outside in public, you have to wear a mask now--so says Governor Cuomo. This latest executive order happened on the day that New York City reached a total of 111,424 confirmed coronavirus cases, a total that's since increased to 134,436 as of April 19. How long will this and other social distancing measures need to remain in place? Until 2022, maybe? Will Trump attempt to shut down Congress in order to stack U.S. courts with even more right-wing judges? Does he think he has that ability from a clause in the Constitution that no President has ever used? Will he keep peddling hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure for coronavirus, even though clinical trials with it only seem to have created irregular heartbeats? Is remdesivir a more likely candidate for coronavirus treatment, until a vaccine is available? Will Trump ever accept how badly he's been managing the federal response to all this? We're all on lockdown, so we've got plenty of time to think about it!
Episode #861: The Monotony
First Broadcast: 5/4/20
If you're still alive, that means you didn't die from injecting disinfectant like President Trump had suggested--"sarcastically," so he says, and he can't imagine why anyone would have tried to follow his suggestion. As the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in this country keep increasing--although the numbers have dropped significantly in New York City--and right-wing cranks keep protesting against all the lockdowns that have been put in place to "flatten the curve" (egged on by Trump), the question still remains: When will all this be over? Remdesivir is a drug that might shorten the duration that a symptomatic COVID-19 sufferer might need to recover from sickness, but it's still not a cure. The best prospect we have might be a vaccine that Oxford developed that has so far kept monkeys from contracting the virus despite heavy exposure, but that won't be available for humans until September at the absolute earliest, no matter how fast Trump's White House might want to speed things along. The best thing we can do until then is to keep up our social distancing, but how long can we--all of us humans--maintain that without cracking up? And can't we let students sleep late while remote learning is going on? Maybe that answer won't be available until September either.
Episode #862: There's Some Dangers
First Broadcast: 5/25/20
It was surprising, to say the least, when President Donald Trump announced on May 18 that he was taking hydroxychloroquine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As he put it:
And a lot of good things have come out about the hydroxy. A lot of good things have come out. And you'd be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the front line workers, before you catch it. The front line workers, many many are taking it. I happen to be taking it. I happen to be taking it. I'm taking it. Hydroxychloroquine. Right now, yeah. Couple of weeks ago. Started taking it. 'Cause I think it's good. I've heard a lot of good stories. And if it's not good, I'll tell you right, I'm not gonna get hurt by it. It's been around for 40 years for malaria, for lupus, for other things, I take it. Front line workers take it. Doctors take it. 'Scuse me. A lot of doctors take it. I take it. Yeah, I hope not to be able to take it soon, because, you know, I hope they come up with some answer, but I think people should be allowed to.
Despite Trump's promotion of hydroxychloroquine for the better part of two months, this revelation was still unexpected in the wake of the FDA's public statement discouraging the use of that medication to prevent or treat COVID-19 on April 24, which contained this warning:
Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause abnormal heart rhythms such as QT interval prolongation and a dangerously rapid heart rate called ventricular tachycardia. These risks may increase when these medicines are combined with other medicines known to prolong the QT interval, including the antibiotic azithromycin, which is also being used in some COVID-19 patients without FDA approval for this condition. Patients who also have other health issues such as heart and kidney disease are likely to be at increased risk of these heart problems when receiving these medicines.
In 2019, the White House physician disclosed that Trump was taking rosuvastatin, a drug that lowers cholesterol, so we can assume that Trump might have some form of heart disease. With that in mind, why would a doctor prescribe hydroxycholoquine to a patient with a heart condition, when one of the potential side effects of that drug is "changes to your heart rhythm"? Why would a doctor prescribe a drug that could cause someone to become "agitated, irritable, or display other abnormal behaviors ... have suicidal thoughts and tendencies, or to become more depressed" to the person who controls the nuclear arsenal of the United States? Why would a doctor prescribe a drug that "can temporarily lower the number of white blood cells in your blood, increasing the chance of getting an infection" during a pandemic? This led to speculation that perhaps Trump wasn't really taking hydroxycholoquine at all, speculation that wasn't dispelled by a public letter from the White House physician which, among other things, did not confirm that Trump was even taking hyrdroxycholoquine in the first place.
And yet, none of this dissuaded Trump fans from supporting his decision to take this drug, and in turn take it themselves. A typical example:
The irony is hydroxychloroquine has been safely prescribed to hundreds of millions for 65+ years.This brings up a good question. How can the same drug simultaneously be considered safe enough to taken by pregnant women, but dangerous enough to potentially cause heart attacks? Perhaps the answer lies in the dosage required for hydroxychloroquine's respective functions. For prophylaxis for malaria, "The weekly dosage for adults is 310mg". The prophylaxis for COVID-19, on the other hand, has been tested at this level:
CDC literally says it can be "safely taken by pregnant women and children".
WHO calls it an essential medicine.
While the media has people all of a sudden thinking its dangerous?
Our aim was to identify possible hydroxychloroquine dosing regimens through simulation in those at high risk of infections by optimizing exposures above the in vitro generated half maximal effective concentration (EC50 ) and to help guide researchers in dose-selection for COVID-19 prophylactic studies. To maintain weekly troughs above EC50 in >50% of subjects at steady state in a pre-exposure prophylaxis setting, an 800 mg loading dose followed by 400 mg twice or three times weekly is required. In an exposure driven post-exposure prophylaxis setting, 800 mg loading dose followed in 6 hours by 600 mg, then 600 mg daily for 4 more days achieved daily troughs above EC50 in >50% subjects. These doses are higher than recommended for malaria chemoprophylaxis, and clinical trials are needed to establish safety and efficacy.To recap: Only 310 mg of hydroxychloroquine per week is recommended to prevent malaria, but between 2400 and 3800 mg per week was being tested to prevent COVID-19--a 1000% increase over the malaria prevention dosage. So, if the 310 mg/week dosage is enough to cause the above side effects, wouldn't a dosage ten times as great increase the chance of the above side effects? Could that be a reason why doctors aren't recommending hydroxychloroquine to people who either haven't been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who might be dying from it? That, and a recent study involving around 96,000 people that showed no evidence that hydroxychloroquine could help COVID-19 patients, and it could very well increase their chances of dying? Does it even matter, now that Trump says he "finished" taking hydroxychloroquine altogether? Perhaps the moral of all this is that you should just stick to wearing a mask to keep yourself and others safe, instead of relying on unproven treatments? It's the least you could do.
Episode #863: It's Sickening, Really
First Broadcast: 6/8/20
George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was murdered by no less than 3 Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020, after they detained him for allegedly spending a counterfeit $20 bill in a convenience store. One officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for almost 9 minutes, which was enough to asphyxiate and kill him. Two other officers, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, held Floyd on the ground while Chauvin slowly killed him, while a fourth officer, Tou Thao, watched Chauvin kill Floyd and did nothing to stop him. The next day, May 26, the Minneapolis P.D. publicly said that Floyd was "resisting arrest" and had "medical distress." That same day, an eyewitness video recording of Floyd's murder was released on multiple Internet sites, and this & other videos contradicted the police department's above assertions. The four above officers were all fired from the police department later that same day. Nevertheless, they were not charged with any crimes that at that time, and people gathered that day in Minneapolis to protest yet another police killing of an unarmed black person with no legal consequences for the police officers involved. As those protests continued into the night, police fired beanbags and "chemical agents" at the protesters. The next night, people in Minneapolis protested again, accompanied by separate instances of destruction, looting, and arson. Over the following few days, people gathered in multiple cities aross the country to form similar protests against George Floyd's murder, police brutality against black people, and police brutality in general, growing in number and participation until protests were happening in all 50 of the United States and the District of Columbia, and internationally on every continent except Antarctica. Almost without exception, police in every city responded with an orgy of violence directed at protesters, journalists, and anyone else unlucky enough to be in their vicinity, coinciding with several instances of looting, various fires, and other kinds of property damage. Some cities, like New York, responded to these events with curfews. Donald Trump blamed all the violence and destruction on "antifa," expressed a desire for looters to be shot (which he backtracked on, of course), and endorsed the view that protesters were "terrorists." By May 29, Derek Chauvin had been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, but the protests continued, growing so boisterous in Washington D.C. that Trump himself took cover in a bunker under the White House, eventually turning off the exterior lights and ordering two extra sets of fences to surround the existing fence around the building. On June 1, a half hour before the curfew in Washington D.C. took effect for that evening, various police and National Guard troops fired tear gas and smoke bombs at protesters and journalists in Lafayette Park, and then proceeded to beat anyone who didn't leave the park fast enough, all while Trump spoke the following words on television:
Today I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the national guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets. Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled. If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.After those police forces had forced people out of Lafayette Park, Trump and an entourage of executive branch officials walked from the White House through the park to St. John's Episcopal Church--where police had also forced a reverend and other people from the property, without permission--where Trump proceeded to pose for the press in front of the church while holding a bible in one hand, without providing any context as to why he was doing this in the first place. By June 3, Keith Ellison, the Attorney General of Minnesota, had taken over prosecution of the Floyd case, upgrading Derek Chauvin's charge to second-degree murder, while also charging former officers Keung, Lane, and Thou with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. The same day, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who had participated in the walk with Trump to St. John's (later saying, "I didn't know where I was going"), publicly stated "I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act" to deploy military forces in American cities to supplement law enforcement. Afterwards, protests continued to occur throughout the nation, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Trump on behalf of the people who were tear-gassed before his photo op, and a majority of the Minneapolis City Council announced their intent to disband the entire Minneapolis Police Department. We certainly haven't reached the end of this series of living history events--in fact, a good chunk of this couldn't even fit into our discussion in this episode--but perhaps we as a nation are finally on a path to genuinely reform how police treat black people and their allies in protest in this country, and prevent more people like George Floyd from being murdered by police in the future.