1st Digital War stalls

Living with Coronavirus
Sunday March 20th, 2022
08:00 AM

The first digital war is illuminating the changes to our global society, now gone digital.  Most of the globe now has a computer in their pocket; we call them phones.  As a result of this change the war has been livestreamed to millions of people.  War is ugly, gruesome, and vile; it is simply put, legalized murder, and always has been. 

All soldiers know this and all veterans cannot forget it. Few would wish it upon others.  Nonetheless we shall always have soldiers who will answer the call to war, to defend those who are less able to cope with those grim realities.  The families and children of warzones always pay the highest price, and many soldiers would rather face rockets themselves than to have to watch families face them, no matter whose family it is.

As a boy Vietnam was my childhood.  It was on the news every night with the body count.  My sisters’ husbands served, as did my brother and my uncles.  My younger sister, still 7 years older than I, became a hippie to protest the war and its effects on everyone’s family.  The news and the draft showed the horrors of war over there, and the draft spread the pain around.  When that pain was every third house, the anti-war movement exploded, and in response the draft was ended. 

That ground level awareness of the vileness of war came to be common knowledge in a tactile sense toward the end of Vietnam, as it had been after WW2, but to a new generation.  The end of the draft changed that. 1% of Americans are now veterans, unlike the generations before them. As such the burden of war, the emotional and very personal cost to families has been restricted to families of our now volunteer armed forces. Our most recent conflicts have not been felt by all Americans equally, but primarily by those families who have, or had, members in uniform.

Over time this allowed the terrible cost of war to be removed from most American families. It created a disconnect of most Americans from the bloody cost of war. I think this awareness may be rising again, but on a global scale.  People are streaming the war out of Ukraine, and others are sharing it.  This has already created a groundswell of support from average people all over the globe. Unlike most previous wars, those average people from all over are attempting, as individuals to affect the war.

Americans have done gun collections, asking other gun owners, “Can you spare a rifle for Ukraine?”; many can, and did.  One store owner sent all his stock of AR’s to Ukraine.  A kid, made net-famous by tracking billionaires’ planes, changed tack and has spent his time tracking Russian oligarchs Yachts and Jets instead.  Nations all over have been siezing them. Squatters took over an oligarch’s mansion in Briton for a time. Individuals all over America and the world have bought supplies and shipped them to refugee centers in Poland and elsewhere.  The hacker collective called anonymous declared a cyber war on Russia, and has undertaken as much.

The creativity amongst us in doing these things is admirable.  Someone thought about Ukrainian tourism, then thought “why don’t we rent B&B’s and hotel rooms we never intend to use, and let them keep the money?” in order to send direct help to Ukrainians.  Of course, that notion was shared on social media, and others joined right in.

I was a cold war soldier.  The Soviets were the enemy, and Putin was not just Soviet, he was KGB.  A Captain of the Soviet version of our CIA, a spymaster.  A duplicitous, deceptive by nature, hard core Soviet whose motto was “escalate to eliminate”.  If the war does not fare well, drop more and bigger bombs and artillery until the whole place is rubble.  Citizens were to submit to Soviet authority or be seen as a willful combatant, technically submit or die.

After the Berlin wall came down, the world started in with the rhetoric “the cold war is over”.  To which I oft commented, “Is it really though?  How many nukes do we have pointed at Moscow right now, and how many have they pointed at us?”  The cold war had the policy of MAD, mutually assured destruction.  If they launch, we launch, automatically, and the world dies.  Much of the new generation has just come to the realization I grew up with, that human annihilation is just a click away. That we all live under the insane umbrella of human annihilation.

Putin is using nuclear extortion in his rhetoric, even as Trump did with his “Fire and Fury”, except Putin has a tell in his military history.  Putin has always used a KGB tactic of accusing the other side of X, as he undertakes X.  You accuse them of chem weapons factories, and then Chem attack them and say you blew up their factory, when you really chem attacked a civilian population.  Russia under Putin has had this accusation made against it in several conflicts going back 20 years.

In response much of the world is on edge.  Putin is using nuclear rhetoric even as he claims the United States has clandestine biological laboratories in Ukraine.  Ukraine, like every nation of the planet able to do so, has(had) labs working on the pandemic and various other diseases.  That is not a bio-weapons lab, but it does meet that precursor claim so common with the Soviets and KGB especially.  A false claim to justify and cover up a war crime.

Just yesterday a news report stated that thousands of Ukrainian civilians had been rounded up out of a city and shipped to Russia.  Rounded up and shipped out on trucks and trains, hmm, now what is that reminiscent of?

All of this in a pandemic.  A Pandemic still spreading and shifting in real time, variant to variant.   The newest and fastest spreading is Ba2 ”stealth”.  Nicknamed because it evades some antibodies and is highly asymptomatic.  At first glance that looks bright, like, perhaps the virus is becoming less lethal? Perhaps, but it is also highly mutagenic, we have faced multiple variants in 2 years. 

Being highly asymptomatic makes it a ninja virus.  We do not know we have it, we do not feel ill at all, or in so minor a way we overlook it entirely.   Our test numbers would start to improve, as we would have less people even seeking tests, so infection rates would plummet, even though it could be all over.  We would not know.  If it then mutated again in some bad way, it would have the ability to take us by surprise, again.  It can hide in multiple animal populations, and then reemerge with a 3.0 or 4.0 version for which we have no vaccines. Covid is not done with humanity just yet.

Stealth becoming so stealthy makes the science a lot harder.  You cannot test what you cannot see, and if it is mild enough, we won’t know to be tested.  The upside of that is huge though, it would so mild for the majority that sociologically we feel like we could go back to “normal”, treat covid as the common cold.  We cannot though, because Covid is only so mild among those vaccinated.  So vaccines will need to be twice a year, and I would expect changes to the vaccines based upon what strain is dominant, like the flu.

Meanwhile the numbers look good, bear in mind what I just said about infection rates.  If the virus becomes ninja-like, you would see number plumet even as they actually rose, because we the hosts would not know we were hosts.  We would show little or no symptoms, so we would have no reason to be tested.  The only way to track a “Ninja virus” is by universally testing, which is possible in a lab, but not in a nation, or the globe.  It is only feasible to track those viruses which cause us to become ill or die.  If Covid “Stealth” goes fully asymptomatic tracking it would become impossible.  The more asymptomatic a virus becomes the harder it is to track.

How does this all shake out?  The world will return to normal, more or less.  For the vast majority it will mean ignoring the virus and living your life.  For the elderly, the infirm, the immunosuppressed, it will remain a threat.  However, it remains like a shark lurking off the coast, able to mutate and reemerge in some new fashion.  In truth, as an asymptomatic illness, it is a shark swimming among us looking for the vulnerable.

Global Infected      456,956,790                                   469,825,152                                                       
Increase             12,868,362
7-day average        1,838,337 infections diagnosed daily –Up

Global Dead          6,042,210                                          6,075,493
Increase             33,283
7-day average        4,754 deaths daily –Down

USA Infected         79,517,492                                       79,728,172
Increase             210,680
7-day average        35,948 infections diagnosed daily –Down

USA C-19 deaths      967,552                                                         971,087
Increase             3,535
7-day average        505 deaths daily –Down

Maine Infected       232,293                                                           233,696
Increase             1,403
7-day average         200 infections diagnosed daily –Down

Maine deaths         2,145                                                                2,182
Increase             37
7-day average        5.2857 deaths daily –Down

The Daily Beast–“China appears to be losing the battle to contain COVID-19, but it’s not yet ready to admit defeat.

Facing the worst national outbreak since the first wave of the pandemic, authorities have introduced lockdown restrictions in cities across the country, with production lines falling idle in the tech hub of Shenzhen and offices shuttered in the financial capital Shanghai.

Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has stuck to a strict zero-COVID policy since the virus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, locking down entire cities whenever cases emerge and using mass testing and strict quarantining to bring local outbreaks under control.

But Chinese virologists say the arrival of the Omicron variant and its new “stealth” subvariant—both of which appear to evade China’s Sinovac vaccine—could leave that policy in tatters. For those in the Americas or Europe, the case numbers reported from China still seem pretty small: authorities confirmed 1,337 new locally transmitted cases in mainland China on Monday. By contrast, the U.K. is currently seeing more than 200,000 cases a day, according to the main COVID tracker.

But the example of Hong Kong, the former British colony that is officially semi-autonomous, is worrying. Omicron appears to be running virtually unchecked through the population of the island territory, which has registered an average of 40,000 cases a day over the past week despite widespread vaccination.

Worst-hit on the mainland is the northeastern province of Jilin, bordering North Korea, where many residents are restricted to their homes except for grocery shopping trips every other day. Jilin has recorded more than 4,000 cases in the past fortnight.

But multiple smaller outbreaks have also been recorded. Shenzhen, a city of 17.5 million people bordering Hong Kong, registered 66 new cases on Saturday, prompting authorities to suspend public transport, close factories—among them the huge Foxconn plant that produces the Apple iPhone. Residents have been told to stay home for the next week except when they are called for three rounds of compulsory testing.

A prominent infectious disease expert from Shanghai, Zhang Wenhong, said in an article for the Chinese business outlet Caixin that the outbreak was being driven by the Omicron BA.2 “stealth” subvariant, the most infectious lineage yet of the SARS-Cov-2 virus.

Dr Zhang, whose plain-spoken appeals for people to put up with lockdown restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic made him a prominent figure, said that the case numbers suggested the beginning of an “exponential rise”—but China had no option but to try to contain the virus.

“If our country opens up quickly now, it will cause a large number of infections in people in a short period of time,” Zhang wrote, according to a translation carried by the Associated Press. “No matter how low the death rate is, it will still cause a run on medical resources and a short-term shock to social life, causing irreparable harm to families and society.”

(Bloomberg) — Germany’s coronavirus infection rate hit a record for the third straight day on Monday, with the renewed surge prompting the country’s top health official to issue a grim warning.  Covid-19 cases climbed to 1,543 per 100,000 people over seven days, continuing its steady rise since the beginning of March, according to data from the RKI public-health institute.  The outbreak shows signs of worsening and causing “many deaths,” Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said Sunday in a tweet. He urged vaccine holdouts to urgently get their Covid shots.

Europe’s biggest economy started to unwind pandemic-related restrictions in mid-February after the previous peak, and most remaining curbs are set to expire on Sunday. The country hasn’t seen the precipitous drop in transmission that has occurred in other countries, such as the U.K. and the U.S. and daily deaths from the virus are still around 250 to 300 people.

The rising infection numbers are due in part to the spread of the even more infectious BA.2 subvariant of the omicron strain, which now accounts for about half the Covid cases in Germany, according to the RKI. Some 2.7 million Germans aged 60 and older haven’t been vaccinated, leaving them at greater risk of becoming severely ill.

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine has distracted public attention from the pandemic, and contagion rates have again been rising across Europe. The incidence rate climbed to almost 2,770 in the Netherlands and Austria and more than 2,000 in Switzerland. In the U.K., the rate is just below 580, while in France it’s at 616 and in Italy 505.

Lauterbach has said Germany is facing a critical situation even as many appear to believe that the pandemic is effectively over and are eschewing measures like social distancing and mask wearing in public places. Despite the surge in infections, the number of Covid cases in intensive care units are at less than half the peak set last year.”

Marketwatch–“Fully vaccinated people will need a fourth shot later in 2022, according to the head of Pfizer Inc., who said that COVID-19 is not going to just go away in the coming years.  Albert Bourla told CBS News reporter Margaret Brennan on “Face the Nation” that people are going to have to learn to live with the virus.

He said a fourth dose — a second booster — is necessary “right now.”

“The protection that you are getting from the third, it is good enough, actually quite good for hospitalizations and deaths,” he said, according to a CBS News transcript. “It’s not that good against infections, but doesn’t last very long.” A second booster has already been approved for some immunocompromised people.

Bourla said he expects the COVID booster to become an annual occurrence, much like the flu shot, and added that Pfizer is working on a vaccine that offers even better protection.  Pfizer is currently working to make a vaccine that will protect against all variants, including omicron, “but also something that can protect for at least a year. And if we be able to achieve that, then I think it is very easy to follow and remember so that we can go back to really the way used to live,” he said.

Bourla is expecting data from trials of the vaccine in children below the age of 5 to be ready in April. If those prove successful and are authorized, the first shots in that age group could come in May.

U.S. COVID numbers continue to decline, and the nation is now averaging 34,232 new cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, down 48% from two weeks ago.  The average daily number of hospitalizations stands at 29,688, down 42% from two weeks ago. Deaths are averaging 1,291 a day, down 31% from two weeks ago, but still an undesirably high number.

A new COVID variant, that is being called deltacron for now as it combines elements of the delta and omicron variants, has been detected in several European countries, but it’s too early to say whether it’s more transmissible or more lethal than other ones.

“We have not seen any change in the epidemiology with this recombinant. We haven’t seen any change in severity. But there are many studies that are under way,” World Health Organization COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove, Ph.D., said at a news conference.

The new variant is expected to spread, however, she added, cautioning that again, “the pandemic is far from over.”

CNBC—”I get that we’d all rather talk about anything than Covid at this point, but it’s still surprising how little coverage the spike in cases in Asia is getting at the moment.  China right now is experiencing its worst outbreak since March of 2020. And unlike the U.S., which has more or less adopted a “coexistence” strategy, China is still pursuing a “zero-Covid” approach that requires lockdowns wherever the virus is spreading. Which is to say that the economic ramifications of Covid spreading in China–the world’s manufacturing hub and second-biggest economy–are far bigger than elsewhere.

To highlight the point, Apple’s key supplier, Foxconn, was forced to suspend production at its headquarters (although not its major production center) last night after its host city, Shenzhen, imposed a week-long work stoppage for non-essential businesses. It’s not that surprising that Shenzhen would be impacted, given its close proximity to Hong Kong, which currently has the world’s highest death rate from Covid. But it shows how difficult it might be for China to avoid a larger outbreak this time given just how contagious the Omicron variant has proven to be. 

It’s already foiled other previous Covid containment zones like Hong Kong, South Korea, and New Zealand. South Korea has the world’s highest case count over the past month, at 5.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins. New Zealand has spiked from basically zero to more than 20,000 new cases a day in recent weeks. And in Hong Kong–whose relatively high death rate is attributed to its surprisingly low vaccination rate–as Omicron has surged, the stock market has slumped to its lowest level since 2016. 

China’s market has overall held up a little better so far–the Shanghai Composite is down 11% this year, versus 17% for the Hang Seng. But Chinese stocks just had a terrible week after the SEC called out five companies for failing to meet audit requirements, which could result in their future delisting. I asked Brendan Ahern, who runs the “KWEB” China internet ETF for KraneShares, about this on Friday. But this has been a known risk for some time, as he said; it smells to me like something else is going on.

That “something else” may simply be the larger anxiety about the Chinese economy right now. You’ve got Covid spreading, the Chinese trying to walk a fine line between Russia and the West amid the Ukraine attacks, and the aftermath of the country’s major tech crackdown over the past year. Shares of a favorite target, Didi, are trading at a $1.85 this morning after going public in the U.S. at $14 last summer.

The KWEB ETF, which listed in 2013, is down another 11% today, to an all-time low of just over $21 a share. Last February, it was trading over $102. Higher interest rates, which have collapsed valuations in  high-multiple internet stocks globally, also haven’t helped. 

“Due to rising geopolitical and macro risks, we believe a large number of global investors are in the process of reducing exposure to the China internet sector,” wrote J.P. Morgan analysts this morning as they downgraded shares of Alibaba to underweight (you don’t say!). “We’re also turning more cautious on the company’s near-to-mid-term business outlook, given hiking inflation and the weakening consumption confidence caused by the Covid resurgence in China.”

They slashed their price target to $65 from $180; Alibaba shares are trading around $81 this morning, down from over $300 at their highs eighteen months ago. The firm also downgraded JD.com, cutting their price target to $35 from $100, and Pinduoduo, cutting it to $23 from $105. 

One bright spot, if you could call it that, is that oil prices are also slumping back towards $100 a barrel this morning as it suddenly looks like global demand may come off the boil a bit. “With a good part of China being shut due to Covid, the demand for oil is down,” wrote Natalliance’s Andy Brenner this morning. But, he warned, “while this may look good on the surface [for relief on oil prices], the shutdown in China exacerbates the supply chain issues.”

And that may be why interest rates aren’t behaving exactly as you might expect right now. They’re up this morning, not down. The 10-year Treasury yield just popped above 2.1%, as investors brace for the Fed’s meeting this week where they’re expected to raise rates for the first time since the pandemic hit. Supply chain issues are the kind of thing that could keep inflation higher than normal for longer now–the very issue the war on Ukraine has also caused. 

The severity of lost demand from China obviously depends on the severity of its Covid outbreaks. If authorities can keep Covid from spreading, the world should be able to enjoy a little more growth and a little less inflation this year. If not, expect to hear more and more about that dreaded word, “stagflation.””

Buisness insider—”About a dozen European countries are seeing spikes in coronavirus infections due to an Omicron subvariant, and some public health experts in the US are expecting to see a similar wave hit the states in the coming weeks, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Cases per million people are on the rise throughout much of Europe, with some of the highest recent infection rates coming from Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany. Over the weekend, Eric Topol, MD, tweeted “The next wave in Europe has begun,” he wrote Saturday.  Experts told the Post that the BA.2 subvariant — essentially the original Omicron variant’s more contagious cousin — has fueled the recent surge in cases and hospitalizations in Europe.

In a separate tweet, Topol wrote that the rollback of pandemic restrictions, along with a natural waning of the immunity afforded by vaccines, both have enabled the new subvariant to spread widely.

Although the BA.2 subvariant appears to be more than 1.5 times more infectious than the previous iteration of the Omicron variant, according to early data, there’s no evidence indicating the new version causes more severe disease than its predecessors.  Some reports have described BA.2 as harder to track compared to BA.1. Scientists tracked the spread of the original Omicron variant by looking for a specific genetic mutation, which BA.2 lacks.

The subvariant will still cause someone to test postive for COVID-19 on a PCR test, but it’ll take extra genetic analysis for researchers to connect new cases to the Omicron lineage. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking the spread of BA.2 compared to other Omicron subvariants, but the agency has not sounded the alarm yet.

Overall, the number of new COVID cases and hospitalizations in the US has declined in recent weeks, and the proportion of cases attributed to BA.2 is on the rise. As of March 12, the CDC estimated that BA.2 caused almost a quarter of new COVID cases in the US.

However, the subvariant is already more prevalent in certain regions of the country, specifically the Northeast. New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are seeing 39% of total cases attributed to BA.2, and New England isn’t far behind, Reuters reported. The US also has a lower overall vaccination rate than most of the European countries currently seeing spikes in cases, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center. About 66% of the US population is fully vaccinated, while Germany and the UK have vaccination rates of approximately 76% and 74%, respectively.

“Any place you have relatively lower vaccination rates, especially among the elderly, is where you’re going to see a bump in hospitalizations and deaths from this,” Celine Gounder, an infectious diseases physician and editor at large for public health at Kaiser Health News, told the Post.

As it stands, most US counties have a low enough level of COVID-19 cases that they can relax mask recommendations, according to the CDC’s latest guidelines. The agency has made an explicit effort to “give people a break” from wearing masks indoors in recent weeks as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID have declined. That break could be short-lived if the US sees a similar outbreak to what’s currently happening in Europe, as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has said she’ll reinstate national mask guidelines if COVID levels worsen again.

Some experts told the Washington Post they have already opted to keep their masks despite the CDC’s changing guidelines, considering the rise of a new variant on the rise at home and abroad.

“Why wouldn’t it come here? Are we vaccinated enough? I don’t know,” Kimberly Prather, an aerosol transmission expert at the University of California at San Diego, told the Post. “So I’m wearing my mask still … I am the only person indoors and people look at me funny and I don’t care.””

Washington Post—”New research linking Christian nationalism with a desire to limit voting. People citing their faith as the reason they support trucker convoys that shut down the border over covid protections. And the fact that Jesus’ name appeared all over the place during the Jan. 6, 2021 U.S. Capitol insurrection.

The Thursday evening briefing, called “God is On Our Side:

White Christian Nationalism and the Capitol Insurrection,” was hosted by the Congressional Freethought Caucus . . .The Freethought Caucus was launched in 2018 to “protect the secular character of our government” and has 16 members.

The virtual briefing, which was not open to the public and included more than 50 members, staff and experts, focused on a new, 66-page report about the role of Christian nationalism in the Capitol attack, and on its “implications for the future of Democracy,” an announcement for the event read. Its goal was to bring awareness to Americans about what the caucus sees as the threats of Christian nationalism, organizers told The Washington Post.

The report was released Feb. 9 and is a project of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). It chronicles in exhaustive detail the art, signs, flags, jewelry, spoken words and even a gallows that protesters brought Jan. 6 that cited Christ and Christianity. It also talks about various nonprofit groups, lawmakers and clergy who worked together to adorn Jan. 6 and Donald Trump’s effort to overturn his electoral loss with theological fervor. It talks about the important role of race.

Andrew Seidel, one of the authors of the report and a spokesman for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said he believes Jan. 6 was “the culmination but not the end. … Insurrectionists were given moral license for the attack, and since then a growing slice of Americans are justifying it.”

“I look at what’s happening now, the rhetoric leading up to the midterms, and am more worried, not less,” he told The Post before the Freethought event. “We have more brazen nationalism. The Republican Party saying that day was ‘legitimate discourse.’ We are going to see something like this again.”

U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, (D-Calif.), a founder of the caucus, said the group has grown steadily in number since it was founded and he wanted to hold the event because White Christian nationalism “is the most important piece of this insurrection people don’t yet understand fully.”

“A lot of Americans look at that day and think: ‘A lot of crazy people acted out.’ But it was far more organized, and it wasn’t just the Trump political organization,” he said. What tied many unconnected people and groups together was a shared worldview that Christianity should be fused with civic life and that true Americans are White, culturally conservative and natural born citizens.

Seidel and other experts involved in the event said they fear Americans don’t appreciate the role of White Christian nationalism in the insurrection and in current anti-democratic efforts. “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature,” he said. “These folks are embedded in state legislatures, in the truck convoy spectacle. We haven’t heard the last of them.””

As I worked on this another 33,283 of my fellow humans lost their lives to Covid, of those 3,535 were my fellow Americans and 37 were my fellow Mainers.

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