Category Archives: Jenkins

How about covid explained using all the data?

WSJ 10/6/2020.   By Holman W J

When the vice-presidential candidates meet in Wednesday night’s debate, Subject One will be the coronavirus. President Trump tested positive and was hospitalized. Vice President Mike Pence has, since Feb. 26, chaired an administration task force. Here’s my wish. Let this be an opportunity for the country to remove its blinders.

Some 7.4 million Americans have been infected with the virus. Or is it 74 million? According to Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the agency that the country relies on for such data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our testing as of late June was picking up perhaps 10% of cases. When we say 40,000 new infections are occurring daily, we might really mean 400,000 infections. When we imply that 2.2% of Americans have been infected, we may really mean 22%.

Astonishingly, the American people are inundated daily with a perspective on the virus that may be off by an order of magnitude. In January, when the Wuhan clampdown was just beginning, we could assert, without qualification or fear of contradiction, that the observed fatality rate was dramatically overstated. The Chinese were missing many mild cases; the disease is more widespread than we realize. Even then we recognized asymptomatic spread. It’s now believed that 40% of carriers are asymptomatic. This alone guarantees a large amount of undetected spread, which, if ignored, completely distorts our understanding of the challenge and how it should be faced.

The Economist magazine addressed exactly this question in a recent issue. Germany, a country celebrated for its testing regime, may be missing 82% of cases. The British, one of the first top-tier nations to face an outbreak, are identifying perhaps 1 infection in 12. Globally, the ratio of undetected to detected cases, says the Economist, may be around 20 to 1.

In my emails from readers, in Bob Woodward’s book, in the general perceptions of Americans, the effects are becoming bizarre from not leveling with ourselves about the disease’s true spread. When the president comes down with the virus, it is deeply concerning but not deeply shocking. We’re talking about a disease that has likely spread through 710 million people, nearly one-tenth of mankind, in nine months.

If we are missing 90% of cases in the U.S. and 95% in the world, this has obvious implications for the death risk from Covid—it is flu-like. And yet responsible news organizations and institutions like Johns Hopkins continue to invite their audiences to compare Covid’s death tally against a “confirmed” case count devoid of systematic meaning. This is the statistical equivalent of sampling subjects at the morgue and in kindergartens to estimate the fatality rate of people involved in car accidents. You will certainly find individuals who survived and didn’t survive car accidents, but your computed rate will be nonsense. I have news for Americans: All of our data about the prevalence and deadliness of the flu are estimates, except for pediatric deaths, which are actually counted. If, as we do with Covid, we relied on “confirmed” flu tests for how many are infected and what percentage die, we would be wildly and catastrophically misinformed about the flu’s real prevalence and its real deadliness.

Our country would have been better off if the reality principle had been drummed into its head from the start. An easily transmitted respiratory disease, with a longish incubation period and symptomless spread, is exceedingly likely to go world-wide before we even know it exists. That’s been the case with Covid. Of course politics makes it mandatory and unavoidable for politicians to be seen waving their arms to protect us from such a disease, but most of what they do will be ancillary in effect. The informed actions we take as individuals are the overwhelming factor in how rapidly the disease spreads, and whether the most vulnerable are shielded, buying time for vaccine makers and treatment developers.

At the same time—fasten your seat belts, media people, because we are introducing a second consideration—it would be irresponsible to subordinate all other human values and needs to avoiding Covid.

Dumping on Mr. Pence for a societal preference for denial and tomfoolery would not be fair. Still, I come back to a symbolically pivotal moment when, on March 27, he presented himself on CNBC, a news network where intelligent questions are asked. When the CDC was frankly but too quietly guiding the American people that most of us could expect to encounter the virus, when Angela Merkel was saying 70% of Germans could be infected, when New Jersey’s health commissioner was telling residents that she expected to be infected and so should they, Mr. Pence ducked a simple and straightforward question: Should most Americans expect to get the disease? That was a missed chance to start the country down the road to realism about the new coronavirus.


Sweeping Restrictions need Accountability

“Our country and our Constitution are finished, however, if the most sweeping, authoritarian and undemocratic restrictions on individual liberty ever contemplated are not subjected to legal challenge and accountability.”


WSJ  –  5/13/20  by. Holman W Jenkins, Jr.

A CEO has obligations to share-h olders, among them not to let anybody take anything of value from the company that the taker has no right to take.
That Elon Musk’s resistance of California’s pandemic shutdown may well be due to fear that his company cannot survive if it doesn’t continue pulling in cash from delivering cars merely gives him a material and compelling justification for his defiance. He should protect his company’s right to do business and survive against what he considers unlawful and unjustified prohibitions. He would be derelict not to do so.

From the start of the crisis, the American Civil Liberties Union has advertised on its website: “The ACLU will be watching closely to make sure the government’s response is scientifically justified and no more intrusive on civil liberties than absolutely necessary.”

Its definition of scientifically justified appears to be about as rigorous as the media’s, which means anything the hive mind has somehow decided requires fashionable conformity. The irony is that the science has been speaking clearly and consistently, but the public and a virtue-signaling media haven’t wanted to hear it.

For weeks, a CDC web page, which remains widely quoted by other government and health-care websites, advised, “In the coming months, most of the U.S. population will be exposed to this virus.”

When the lockdowns started, I could write without qualification: “Experts now agree the virus’s spread can be slowed but not contained. It will take its place among mostly seasonal respiratory infections.”  Our flatten-the-curve strategy, likewise, was premised scientifically on slowing the virus’s spread in line with local hospital capacity. Unthinkable would have been sweeping and indiscriminate bans on economic activity in places not yet touched or barely touched by the virus.

A writer in the Atlantic suggests conservatives favor opening the economy and want the old and ill to take one for the team. My own email indicates dissent from the lockdowns has nothing to do with being a conservative and a lot to do with being a physician or immunologist. By focusing protection on the elderly and vulnerable, we bring closer the day when the elderly and vulnerable won’t need protecting because the epidemic has run out of a critical mass of people to infect.

An unusually sensible writer in the New York Times points out that pandemics in the past have ended not with the virus going away—the 1918, 1957 and 1968 strains are still with us. They ended when people decided to accept and adapt to the virus’s existence.

Which brings us to Mr. Musk. He is not the only business operator, but perhaps the only one running a public company, who has decided to resist his livelihood being destroyed by infringements on the most basic rights of U.S. citizens: to leave their homes, to engage in trade, to work and receive pay.  We expect Mr. Musk to be grandiose: Let me be the first to be arrested, he tweeted, Patrick Henry-like.

We expect legal plaintiffs of every description to be self-interested—his defiance has clearly been accentuated by Michigan’s decision to let his competitors reopen their auto plants. These infringements, it is vaguely but confidently asserted by politicians and their press cheerleaders, are justified by the science. Well, let’s test this idea in court.

You will be hard-pressed to find a scientist anywhere who maintains we don’t need to learn to live with the virus. Our incoherent lockdowns plainly lacked a scientific rationale for how to reopen when most of the public remains uninfected. An MIT group calculates that the desired benefits in terms of hospitals and the elderly could have been achieved far more cheaply by isolating the vulnerable rather than everybody, and with far less damage to civil liberties.

For some families, sheltering in place now appears to have increased their risk rather than reduced it. For most individuals, the danger was flu-like, which never before led to them being stripped of basic rights. Banning outdoor activities appears to have been absurd overkill. The notion that a vast testing and contact-tracing scheme is plausible and could halt the epidemic, much less is a requisite condition to resume most of our economic freedoms, would likely fall to sixth-grade math. Start with the challenge of identifying millions of asymptomatic carriers among millions of others whose symptoms are due to the common cold or flu.

That politicians took steps out of panic is understandable. That these steps were unjustified by the science that existed then much less now doesn’t mean their motives were bad. We can accept, especially in a panic, that the media will eschew complexity in favor of a story of an enemy who must be vanquished.

Our country and our Constitution are finished, however, if the most sweeping, authoritarian and undemocratic restrictions on individual liberty ever contemplated are not subjected to legal challenge and accountability.

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

Source: The Wall Street Journal


No Tears for “The Media”

The fact that the left continues to listen to and support the media should be enough evidence that the left really has no scruples.


WSJ. 5/6/2020. Holman W Jenkins, Jr.

I finally read the lengthy transcript of President Trump’s April 23 press conference but it turned out to be unnecessary. Under the heading of “If your time is short,” the Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact website kindly summarized: “The briefing transcript shows that Trump did not say people should inject themselves with bleach or alcohol to treat the coronavirus. He was asking officials on the White House coronavirus task force whether they could be used in potential cures.”

It was a reporter in the audience who asked an accompanying official: “The President mentioned the idea of cleaners, like bleach and isopropyl alcohol you mentioned. There’s no scenario that that could be injected into a person, is there?”
No, was the answer, but the question was apparently enough for a few dozen common- run-of-humanity journalists to create a 99% fake story, and it’s not hard to guess why: clicks and page views; cable channels whose business model depends on a steady flow of contempt for Mr. Trump and his voters.

A New York Daily News story pointed to a spike in callers to the city’s poison control hotline “over fears that they had ingested bleach or other household cleaners in the 18 hours that followed President Trump’s bogus claim that injecting such products could cure coronavirus.”

Notice both the untruthfulness and absurdity of this sentence. The callers “feared” that Mr. Trump’s words somehow prompted household cleaners to jump down their throats? What the city dubbed its “case management” actually meant responding to callers saying, “Yuck, yuck, I drank Lysol because Trump suggested it.” Not only were there no poisoning cases. Pranksters didn’t get the idea from Mr. Trump but from the press’s version of what Mr. Trump said.

Which should remind us that Jussie Smollett-style fake stories happen (and happen, and happen) partly because of the media’s own complicity.
The Washington Post, which would later flog the Lysol story, didn’t mention the subject in its “3 takeaways from Thursday’s White House coronavirus briefing” published soon after the event. A writer at the Atlantic complained that the episode had made America an overseas “laughingstock.” She might have noticed that foreigners weren’t judging for themselves. They were imbibing, unvetted, the attitudes of the U.S. media.

Abraham Lincoln waved off impromptu speaking invitations, saying a president couldn’t afford to appear foolish. That’s not Donald Trump but reporters have had four years to get used to his blurting out offhand, half-formed thoughts that even his fans don’t take seriously.

Good journalism does not consist of lying. It does not consist of competitive adventurism in twisting these episodes to make them better stories than they are.
Donald Trump’s ‘Lysol’ moment says more about the media than it does him.

I knew something was up when, during the 2016 Democratic convention, the progressive journalist Cenk Uygur on ABC News accused Mr. Trump of comments that took a “fallen U.S. soldier and puts him in the same camp as radical Islamic terrorists.”
What Mr. Trump said about Capt. Humayun Khan, a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, was foolish, but it wasn’t that. I knew then we were off to the races if the media decided it could put words in a public figure’s mouth with impunity.

After this year’s State of the Union, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand declared the president a “liar” for saying prescription drug prices had fallen. How did she know? Because, she explained to National Public Radio’s Brian Lehrer, an unidentified voter at some unspecified moment in Ms. Gillibrand’s past had complained about high drug prices. That was the entirety of her reasoning.

In fact, the usual fact-checking sites found Mr. Trump’s statement to be accurate. What was peculiarly demoralizing for the media was Mr. Lehrer’s failure as a reporter to let his audience know that Ms. Gillibrand’s argument was completely non-pertinent to her claim.

It’s not that objective inquiry into the facts and logic of events is even difficult. It just has become irrelevant to journalists thriving in today’s professional milieu. We’ve become more Trumplike than we care to admit, panting for the spotlight, desperate to say something colorful. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say Mr. Trump modeled his own intellectual sloppiness on the cable TV that he consumes in such large doses. Nowadays an insidious rationale has intruded: Reporters are actually praised for “advancing the narrative”—i.e., finding “facts” to support a desired story line.

If this is what our industry really is coming to, we deserve everything the internet and cord-cutting have done to us. By the way, an intelligent public (whatever portion of the public that description might represent) does not suffer under the exchange: If anything, they are oversupplied with interesting, original thought and knowledge, often supplied at the provider’s own expense, by dozens of high-quality volunteers on blogs and social media, easily found amid the dreck. We only succeed in increasing their relevancy as we decrease our own.

By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.

Source: The Wall Street Journal



WSJ 5/11/2020 by Homan W Jenkins, Jr.

Sound bite purveyors will do their best to portray Gen. Mike Flynn as a hardened criminal whom the Justice Department just let go as a favor to Donald Trump. The case unraveled because there was no case, as was revealed partly by an FBI memo asking if Mr. Flynn was being targeted for political reasons. Both Mr. Flynn’s interrogator (Peter Strzok) and FBI chief James Comey never thought he lied about his conversation with the Russian ambassador. The FBI never recommended criminal charges. It was the Robert Mueller task force that ginned up a case and used threats against Mr. Flynn’s son to extort Mr. Flynn’s guilty plea. Why?

As I’ve pointed out, the massive U.S. intelligence establishment had looked and found no evidence of Russia collusion by the time Mr. Mueller was named special counsel. He knew there was nothing there (and laughable was the idea that Mr. Trump could have eluded our professionals).

The Steele dossier was known to consist of silly inventions and scrapings from the internet, likely tainted by Kremlin disinformation. Charges leveled at Trump associates would be limited to lying about noncrimes—no collusion was alleged against anybody.

Then there is the intrigue that hasn’t been aired or disclosed, which remains hidden in a classified report by the Justice Department inspector general. This concerns the alleged Russian intelligence that FBI Director Comey used to justify his unprecedented, improper and insubordinate interventions in the Hillary Clinton email case.

I cannot stress too much the dereliction of the press since the flurry of disclosures in May 2017 by the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN that Mr. Comey’s doings were triggered by a Russian intercept that his FBI colleagues believed to be false and possibly a plant.

This intelligence appeared to reveal named Democrats and Obama officials discussing a conspiracy to bury the Clinton investigation. Either Mr. Comey ignored this evidence and implicitly became party to the conspiracy’s alleged goal of liberating Mrs. Clinton from her email travails, or he exploited fabricated Russian intelligence to facilitate the same end.

Then, when the Anthony Weiner laptop surfaced, he tried to finesse a new dilemma by reopening the Clinton case in a way that (to Mr. Comey’s later professed nausea) may well have shifted the election to Mr. Trump.

The press and the American public may continue to ignore these events, but it would not have been lost on Mr. Mueller that the FBI’s galumphing actions were likely to become the story of the decade once the Trump collusion story fell apart as Mr. Mueller knew it would.

Rate the travesties as you will: the FBI’s role in promoting Mr. Trump’s victory or its role in promoting the subsequent Russia collusion canard. It’s hard to see Mr. Mueller’s forceful pursuit of guilty pleas from Gen. Flynn and others over trivial matters as anything but an attempt to weave a distracting patina of legitimacy around the FBI’s election-year actions.

Even so, it’s hard to imagine future historians ignoring the truth. Our hugely expensive intelligence establishment made a fool out of itself and our democracy over two likely low-budget Russian intelligence pranks: the Steele dossier and the fake information that sparked Mr. Comey’s Hillary interventions.

Unlike previous disclosures of intelligence- agency skulduggery, these episodes do not emit any faint air of competence or zealousness in the national interest. They involve the FBI messing with the most sacrosanct of our democratic rituals, the selection of a national leader, and so clumsily that it produced the opposite of its intended result.

I have speculated that some patriotic desire to protect America’s faith in its government may be behind the resulting coverup, or simply a desire to protect the FBI, an agency Mr. Mueller once headed. But I doubt our press has any such higher purpose. It has become so besotted with availability bias—a social science term for the need to conform to accepted tropes—that it no longer has a nose for a real story. Instead it relies on leaks, and even whole “narratives,” dropped in its lap by manipulators who assure reporters they are on the side of the angels. This is what accomplished leakers like Mr. Comey have done for years but the William Barr Justice Department apparently won’t. It waits for a supposedly independent press to show up with intelligent questions that never come.

Source: The Wall Street Journal