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An attempted coup by protestors in the capital of Washington DC is in progress right now on television. I know whose fault it is: the current president.

2021-01-06

I am watching on television an out-of-control crowd of protestors that has breached the Capitol building and has been walking through Statuary Hall. Tear gas has been released on the Capitol steps. The current vice president, who is serving as President of Congress during the Congressional certification of the completed Electoral Count, has been ushered off the floor by the Secret Service.

Apparently the current president went before the protestors at noon local time or before to egg them on and they have responded by pushing into the Capitol building to interrupt the procedure of certifying the election.

Narrators on the news station don’t know what is going on; they are showing pool cameras from the outside and inside of the Capitol without being able to clearly describe events.

The cameras have shown protestors on the steps of the building and on the balcony at the top of the stairs. Now a cloud of vapor has appeared on the front of the building.

There is a protestor on the dais of the Senate, shouting “[redacted] won the election!” The National Guard has been formally requested to come to the Capitol building to clear out protestors.

This is clearly an attempted coup by the grass-roots of the Proud Boys and other far-right demonstrators.

Mitt Romney told a reporter for the New York Times that what is going on is an “insurrection.”

(picture by Open Clip Art Vectors courtesy of pixabay.com)

Paradox: Emergency Medicine Residents are having a hard time finding jobs when they graduate. Never were they needed more, nor less wanted.

2021-01-06

The Washington Post has a new article, dated January 4, 2021, titled “Young ER doctors risk their lives on the pandemic’s front lines. But they struggle to find jobs.” It is about emergency medicine residents and their job prospects during the pandemic.

The gist of the article is that ER doctors are having a hard time finding jobs, at a time when you would think they are in great demand. The root cause of this paradox is that the doctors are employed by outside agencies, not the hospitals nor the federal government. The employers are experiencing lower profits due to a reduced number of paying patients– despite the greatly increased proportion of patients and the record numbers with COVID-19 and respiratory distress– and therefore are reducing hours and number of employees.

This paradox is due to the perverse economics of medicine in this country. Medicine is not supported by the demand of patients for necessary services– instead it is paid for by people who demand services for which they are well able to pay (either by cash or through insurance.) People who demand services are not the same as those who need services to save their lives or relieve their suffering. Instead, they are the people who have money and want medical services that make them more satisfied with their lives.

The fact that people suffer and need medical help for survival does not support medicine in this country. Insurance companies and investment groups support medicine. This situation is different from that in most other countries, in which government officers organize and pay for medical practice based on their assessments of what services are needed by the most people for the good of the general populace.

In this pandemic, the greatest number of sick people and the greatest suffering is being experienced by disadvantaged people with the fewest resources. Money and insurance is concentrated among those least affected by the virus. Thus there is a basic imbalance between resources and need.

Government supported medicine, at least theoretically, is based upon the strategy that overall life expectancy is the primary goal. The development and provision of vaccines is the ultimate expression of this strategy. Capital-supported medicine instead pays for what the people with the most money demand, regardless of their actual needs. At the top, the “warp-speed” vaccine program serves this strategy, but the abdication of responsibility by the federal government in favor of states contradicts it.

Thus the paradoxical situation in the US: emergency room doctors are not in demand by the organizations that pay for the provision of medical care. Vaccines that have been distributed to states are not being administered because the states do not have sufficient resources. This is why life expectancy in the US lags behind that in most other well-developed nations.

(photo by pedro wroclaw via pixabay.com)

Comments of the Day: long COVID and the US Health Care System

2020-12-30

Hey Now

This is what’s so horrifying: there’s still so much we do not understand about this virus. Even with a successful vaccine, so many people have been infected already and we just cannot say for sure what the long-term impact might be.

I had covid eight months ago; no lung issues, but many other nasty symptoms such as awful nausea, loss of smell, and severe anxiety. My stomach has been off for the last couple of months; is this related to covid? Last month I felt anxiety on a very high level not experienced since eight months ago.

Covid related? How would we even know? And I’m even more worried for my young child who tested positive for antibodies. He’s complained of stomach pains for quite some time now, but no obvious explanations. It’s hard to stay positive when there are so many unknowns. And that’s coming from someone who has not experienced the worst that covid has to offer.

Miriam S. (in response to Hey Now)

@Hey Now Why is it that we spend more per person on health care in the US but rank around 25 in the world for health outcomes? Would any reasonable person spend more to get less? How does that make any sense? In our US healthcare system, doctors are often forced to make decisions not in the best interest of the patient because healthcare insurance calls the shots.

I went through this personally. My doctor wanted me in the hospital, the insurance carrier did not. And let’s be realistic, doctors, nurses and hospitals all need to get paid. I would wager most of us wouldn’t work for free.

Regarding personal freedoms during this pandemic, if someone chooses to not wear a mask right now and/or go to a big indoor gathering and gets sick, do they have the right to now risk our front line heroes working tirelessly in every community and in our hospitals? Does their right to “freedom” give them the right to risk other people’s health that do follow the guidelines about distancing and wearing a face mask?

I doubt any of the people who wrote the constitution would agree that was the intent. If we all follow the rules, fewer people will get sick. Fewer people will have these devastating long-term complications. We can keep our hospitals from having to turn people away.

We can get through this pandemic as Americans. But if we continue to politicize our health and healthcare in the US, we all are losers. We can and must do better. We owe it to the next generation.

Ed (in response to Miriam S.)

@Miriam S. Your comment is right on in tone and conclusions, but too flattering to the US on data: “around 25th” on health outcomes obscures reality. Life expectancy is the metric that can’t be gamed or manipulated to falsely flatter results.

Developed countries, with a combined population over 700 million, all have a life expectancy of over 80. The US life expectancy is 78 — peer with Cuba, Panama and Poland. The poor die earlier in the US. Health care access is an issue.

US life expectancy will never catch up to developed countries while the US health insurance system leaves a third of the population uninsured or under insured. Does the US want to join the civilized world?

(comments are from a New York Times article on people repeatedly hospitalized with long COVID)

(photo by Sathish Kumar Periyasamy via pixabay.com)

Universal Masking Reduces Severity of Infection by reducing inoculum: masks really work.

2020-12-30

This article appeared in the Journal of General Internal Medicine online July 31, 2020: “Masks Do More Than Protect Others During COVID-19: Reducing the Inoculum of SARS-CoV-2 to Protect the Wearer.” As promised by the title, it details the concept of reducing exposure to the virus by wearing a mask. It explains that a lower dose of infectious virus will lead to a milder infection. This phenomenon was shown by a natural experiment, conducted on two separate cruise ships infiltrated by the virus early in the pandemic:

Closed settings, such as cruise ships, can be particularly illustrative when examining phenotypes associated with SARS-CoV-2. For example, one of the earliest estimates of the rate of asymptomatic infection due to SARS-CoV-2 was in the 20% range from a report of a COVID-19 outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.37 In a more recent report from a different cruise ship outbreak, all passengers were issued surgical masks and all staff provided N95 masks after the initial case of COVID-19 on the ship was detected.38 In this closed setting with masking, where 128 of 217 passengers and staff eventually tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 via RT-PCR, the majority of infected patients on the ship (81%) remained asymptomatic,38 compared with 18% in the cruise ship outbreak without masking.37

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7393808/

The article goes on to cite the examples of Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and other countries that have embraced universal mask-wearing and have fared relatively much better in case and fatality rates than countries like the United States, where mask-wearing has been inconsistent and politically polarized.

Finally, this is the lede to a Wall Street Journal article dated December 30, 2020:

NEW DELHI—In September, India was reporting almost 100,000 Covid-19 cases a day, with many predicting it would soon pass the U.S. in overall cases. Instead, its infections dropped and are now at one-fourth that level.

India has brought down its virus numbers, despite often being too crowded for social distancing, having too many cases for effective contact tracing and an economy that isn’t well equipped to weather long lockdowns.

One of the main reasons, Indian health officials say, is that the country has managed to encourage and enforce almost universal acceptance of masks without much debate.

From the moment the pandemic landed in this South Asian nation, politicians and health experts have been united about the importance of masks, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

(from Wall Street Journal “teaser page” for article)

Need I say more? Even the Wall Street Journal agrees that masks work. I plead with you to wear a mask in public, even after vaccines become available, regardless of your political affiliation.

(SARS-COV-2 Electron Micrograph: photo courtesy NIAID)

“The Dream (Sueno) of Reason Begets Monsters”– Francisco Goya, 1796-99: the pandemic year 2020

2020-12-30

Usually known as “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”, an acquatint done by Francisco Goya, number 43 of 80 (called “Los Caprichos”) produced between 1796 and 1799. The title is a translation from the Spanish and is not strictly accurate. The word usually translated as “sleep” is “sueno” which is more accurately translated as “dream.”

The work is possibly a reaction to the Spanish Inquisition, which was still in full swing in Spain at the time the work was produced. Los Caprichos were primarily satirical in tone.

The work was accompanied by an inscription, which, translated, reads as “Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with her, she is the mother of the arts and source of their wonders.”

According to Wikipedia, “Implied in Goya’s preparatory inscription, the artist’s nightmare reflects his view of Spanish society, which he portrayed in the Caprichos as demented, corrupt, and ripe for ridicule.”

This art is emblematic of the pandemic year 2020: we dream of monsters and awaken to horrors.

Wikipedia: Francisco de Goya

(Wikipedia: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters)

Update on new SARS-COV-2 virus variant from England: up to 70% more contagious. Vaccine makers think their products will still work against it.

2020-12-22

Reuters has an update on the new variant SARS-COV-2 recently discovered in Kent and other parts of southern England which appears to be sweeping the country and may have already spread to other countries.

The Reuters article states that the new mutation (actually a combination of from 9 to 17 to 23 mutations) may be up to 70% more contagious than previously known versions of the virus. The new version has been dubbed “B.1.1.7” or “N501Y” as well as “VUI-202012/01”– all names for the same set of mutations and a deletion. The first known isolation was from a specimen taken September 20, 2020 in Kent. Some 1600 separate samples show the same mutations as of December 15.

The spokespeople for Moderna and Pfizer say they are confident that their vaccines will be effective against the new variant, but it will take about two more weeks of testing to be sure. One said that an advantage of the new vaccines, based on mRNA technology, is that a new vaccine could be developed within six weeks tailored to the new type of virus– although it might take much longer to get FDA approval for the new vaccine.

The blog(?) Virological.org has an article on the new virus variant which describes the mutations in detail. Previously known mutations include the N501Y change, which in the “receptor-binding domain” and increases the affinity of the spike for the ACE2 receptor. A spike deletion “69-70del” was described in connection to “evasion to the human immune system” and has also been described in other mutations. Another mutation, “P681H” is next to the “furin cleavage site” and could be significant for other reasons.

The article hypothesizes that this variant, which has a dramatic number of mutations that seem to have suddenly appeared, may have come from chronic infection in an immunocompromised patient who may have received several infusions of convalescent plasma. Large viral loads and changes in selection pressure may occur during chronic infections, and the virus may have adapted to the use of convalescent plasma in an unusual way.

A patient with deficient or suppressed immunity may have persistent infection for 2-4 months and may be treated with multiple courses of convalescent plasma as well as remdesivir. Under these circumstances, it has previously been noted that the virus will show an unusually large number of mutations.

A Washington Post article on December 22 gives additional details. It states that Public Health England indicated there was no evidence that the new variant is “more likely to cause severe disease or mortality.” The article also states that the variant has been found in Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia.

A Sciencemag article from December 20 points out that eight of the mutations are on the spike protein, potentially causing changes in how the virus attaches to the human cell and increasing transmission rates. One of the mutations, a deletion called “69-70del” may render the virus more resistant to treatment with convalescent serum or make it more dangerous for immunosuppressed patients.

The article also provides a significant detail that explains how the variant was quickly detected in England: the PCR test used widely there shows different results with the variant virus. Normally, the PCR test keys to three different viral genes, but the variant only shows positive results for two of them, making it stick out as different from the usual isolates.

This is a rapidly evolving story and further information will be available within the next couple of weeks, especially about the ability of the new vaccines to stop the new variant virus.

(SARS-COV-2 Electron micrograph: photo courtesy NIAID)

Pandemic gets worse, vaccines finally come on line: but you already know that. I tell everyone I know to wear a mask, but no-one listens anyway.

2020-12-20

In the earlier stages of this pandemic, I posted frequently and even repetitively about the coronavirus, when information was new and fresh and I thought someone might be listening. “It’s highly contagious, spread by aerosols and droplets; wear a mask, isolate yourself from everyone, wash your hands frequently.”

The people who have to go out, can’t isolate themselves, or live in a big household with little space to isolate themselves– they can’t help but be exposed. They’ve already gotten sick and died, or got over it (mostly.)

I have discovered, finally, that no-one is really listening anymore, and there is little new information to be had. Most of the scientific work on coronavirus has been done, at least that which could be done quickly. Now the research is taking longer and people are becoming more and more burned out. This coincides with a worsening spread of the virus, with worrisome new mutations that enhance contagiousness, and hardening of attitudes.

We could have controlled it better if we were following the rules and sequencing every infection that we could to help with contact tracing. We could have done better if we had done sewage monitoring to detect the spread of virus early on. We could have done a lot of things. Now it’s nearly too late. At least 50 million– maybe 75 million– people have been infected already. It’s the leading cause of death throughout the US.

A large proportion– fortunately less than half– of the American population has completely blocked out the information which was readily available about how to protect yourself and how to support the needy. The Senate has failed to even consider stimulus measures that the economy desperately needs and that have been enacted in other advanced countries.

The rich are getting richer quickly and the poor are either dying or becoming homeless.

China appears to have gotten away with harsh measures to stop the spread of the virus within its own boundaries (or else they’ve managed to censor it to death.) A few other countries, mostly isolated ones like New Zealand and Taiwan, have escaped with few infections. Some countries with strong social bonds and powerfully controlling governments have also gotten away with it, like perhaps Vietnam (although we have heard very little about them recently.)

What we do know is that the situation is getting worse and worse right here in the US. Over three thousand people a day are dying and well over 200,000 people a day are reporting new infections. How many people are really succumbing is unknown, and I suspect that things are even worse than they appear to be. How many people are dying at home, with no access to medical care, alone?

The Intensive Care Units are full, including those in rural counties like San Joaquin, CA (where I happen to be), meaning that people with severe disease are going to die for lack of intubation or even just lack of 100% oxygen at 15 liters a minute.

This is the end stage. From here on in, if things continue to get worse (as they surely must) people will start dying of treatable disease. There is no monoclonal antibody for the people who need it; only a hundred thousand doses were on hand– they take a long time to make and are very expensive. People need monoclonal antibody at the earliest possible moment during the infection– and they are waiting until they get so sick that they can’t hold out any longer, when it is too lack for the monoclonal antibody to do any good. The only thing that helps at that stage is dexamethasone or some other immune inhibitor (that’s too expensive anyway.)

Poor people are going to die, and the man “in charge” for the next 31 days couldn’t care less.

(EM of coronavirus courtesy of NIAID)

Vladimir Putin and the price of oil– did he conspire with the Arabs to jack up crude oil prices from 2000-2008?

2020-12-20

As I noted in my previous post, the rise of Vladimir Putin to Russia’s presidency was followed by dramatic increases in the price of crude oil– increases that benefitted Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and helped raise many Russians from the countrywide depression after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR.)

Putin’s presidency coincided with a dramatic rise in the price of crude oil.

There is no definite evidence that links Putin’s presidency to rises in the price of crude oil. The fact that the price of crude oil did increase from a nadir of $11.22 a barrel (for West Texas Intermediate, as an average quality of oil) in November 1998 to $25.74 in April 2000. Putin was elected president in March 2000. The price steadily increased for eight years, peaking at $140 in June 2008. After collapsing by half in the Great Recession of 2008, the price recovered to nearly $100 a barrel for several years.

After Russia took over Crimea and invaded Ukraine in 2014, US and European allies of Ukraine sanctioned the Russian government. The price of crude oil collapsed again, eventually falling to $33.62 in January 2016. Once again, the price recovered to $74.15 by June 2018. The pandemic caused another collapse, bottoming out at $18.84 in April 2020. The price has now recovered to $45 as of November 2020.

Ancient History (the Soviet Union, Egypt, and Syria)

The Soviets were allied to the Arabs throughout the long conflict between the Arab states and Israel. USSR did recognize Israel immediately when it was established, but soon became disillusioned with the Israelis because of their embrace of capitalism and the United States. When Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in October 1973 (the Yom Kippur war), the Organization of Arabian Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) started a boycott cutting off the flow of crude oil to the United States and other Israeli allies. The price of oil quadrupled in a few months, from roughly $3 a barrel to $12.

The Americans provided military supplies to Israel to replace materiel that had been lost in combat and the Soviets began to send military supplies to Syria and Egypt. OPEC (the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries) instituted a cut in production, initially 5%, then increasing to 25% after the war ended. This caused a global recession and tension between the US and its European allies.

The oil embargo lasted from October 1973 to March 1974. It failed to force the Israelis to withdraw to their 1949 borders, but the embargo, price increase, and production decrease induced a dramatic shift in economic factors and was associated with severe inflation in the United States. According to Wikipedia, “Over the long term, the oil embargo changed the nature of policy in the West towards increased exploration, alternative energy research, energy conservation and more restrictive monetary policy to better fight inflation.”

Modern History– the fall of the Soviet Union and the chaos of early “Republican” Russia.

On June 12, 1990, the Congress of People’s Deputies adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty that essentially dissolved the USSR and re-established the Federation of Russian Socialist Republics. A coup de-etat against Gorbachev followed in August 1991, which failed to re-established Soviet control. The heads of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus signed the Belevezha Accords on December 8, 1991, which agreed to dissolve the USSR and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States.

On December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union and general secretary of the Communist Party, and on December 26, the Soviet red flag was lowered over the Kremlin Senate. On the same day, the Soviet of the Republics formally dissolved the Soviet Union.

The Constitution of the Russian Federation was revised repeatedly over the next three years to reflect a transition to “democracy, private property, and market economy” (Wikipedia.) In 1993, turmoil and riots erupted as the parliament and Boris Yeltsin struggled to control the country and referenda were held. Open combat between pro-Yeltsin and anti-Yeltsin forces at the parliament broke out in the fall. Yeltsin eventually won out and retained the presidency until December 31, 1999.

The gross domestic product (GDP) dropped precipitously, and average Russian personal income dropped as well. In 1992-94, the GDP fell 14.5%, 8.7%, and 12.7%. Overall, the Russian GDP fell about 40% in the years 1990-2000.

President George HW Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev met at the Malta summit and on December 3, 1989, President Bush declared the Cold War to be over.

During the 1990’s Russia’s state assets were sold off to private parties, often for pennies on the dollar. These sales resulted in the rise of people known as “oligarchs”, who had suddenly become rich in part through the control of formerly Soviet factory, real estate, and other fixed assets. The appearance of open wealth in Russia contrasted with the impoverishment of many and the loss of Soviet state support for the people.

For example, health services for the public lost most of their funding and private medical facilities that claimed to provide better care became prominent. The mortality rate rose dramatically, and life expectancy dropped. Diseases related to alcoholism increased from an already high rate in the Soviet Union. As president, Putin attempted to reverse the loss of public health funding, with much success until 2014.

Vladimir Putin and foreign relations between Russia and the US, as well as Ukraine

Relations between Russia and the US remained warm after Gorbachev and through the Yeltsin presidency. The Russians became suspicious of US intentions because of the US support of NATO’s eastward movements in the late 1990s. Putin’s rise to power coincided with resumption of Russian espionage work against the US. Tensions resurfaced when NATO, led by the US, took military action against Serbia and Montenegro over the independence of Kosovo in March 1999. In September of the same year, Russia invaded Chechnya, starting the second Chechen war and provoking US condemnation.

Putin took a more assertive stance in foreign relations, starting with the attack on Chechnya. The Russians correctly blamed US actors for supporting the “color revolutions” (the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine  in 2004) which were felt to be interference in Russian affairs (Georgia and Ukraine had been part of the Soviet Union until 1991.)

Putin’s revanchist attitude eventually resulted in direct interference in Ukraine. A pro-Russian government, led by Dmitri Yanukovitch, took power in Ukraine in 2004 in rigged elections. The opposition, led by Victor Yuschchenko and Yulia Timoshenko, took power in the Orange Revolution but Mr. Yanukovitch remained in opposition. Mr. Yuschchenko was poisoned with dioxin (TCDD) and became gravely ill. He eventually recovered; the prevalence of attempted assassinations and poisonings perpetrated on Kremlin opponents (like Alexei Navalny, as well as those who were in the way, like Yassir Arafat) has been noted before.

Mr. Yanukovitch eventually regained power in 2010, with the help of an American political consultant, Paul Manafort, who was paid millions of dollars for his assistance. Mr. Manafort was later employed in the 2016 presidential election in the US, but was forced to step down after his involvement in Ukraine was publicized.

Why all this irrelevant history about Putin and Russia? What about the price of oil?

There is no direct evidence linking the presidency of Vladimir Putin and the rise in crude oil prices from 1999 through 2008– or later. We can only say that it was fortunate for Russia that prices did go up, and that Putin was in a position to find a way to raise oil prices through his control of the Russian government.

Putin’s government includes the foreign intelligence services (SVR) and the main intelligence directorate (GRU), which not only gather intelligence but employ “active measures” to obtain results which enhance Russian national interests. Spreading disinformation, assassinations, and blackmail are only a few of the “active measures” they have employed in the past. They would have a clear motivation to obtain higher prices and they probably spent some time thinking on how to bring this about through covert means.

There is no reason to suppose that, if the Russians saw a way to raise oil prices, that they would shrink from doing it, regardless of ethical or moral reservations. We need to imagine how such a result would be accomplished, as no obvious evidence is at hand to explain it. This is not a conspiracy theory, but a conspiracy hypothesis in search of evidence. If further information comes to hand, we will surely lay it out for our dear readers.

(photo by omni matryx courtesy of pixabay.com)

New strain of SARS-COV-2 identified in England associated with mutations in spike protein– called N501Y or ‘VUI – 202012/01’– that may evade vaccines.

2020-12-17

Public Health England (PHE) announced, on December 14, 2020, the isolation of a new strain of SARS-COV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) found in over a thousand cases in southern England. The strain actually has about 17 mutations, mainly in the spike protein. There is no indication as yet whether this new strain affects contagiousness, disease severity, or other factors in the illness. There is also no sign that the mutations will affect the ability of vaccines (which use the spike protein to key the immune system in to resistance to infection) to provide immunity to COVID-19.

The new strain, named ‘VUI-202012/01’ or N501Y, was detected in areas where there is a high incidence of novel coronavirus infection, particularly the Kent area. PHE stated that the best way to protect against the new strain is to use the old methods: wear a mask whenever around others, wash hands frequently, and try to stay at least six feet away from others (those not in your “pod”)– the same methods that prevent all infections.

New mutations and new strains of SARS-COV-2 appear all the time, sometimes even in the same person if the infection is prolonged. Transmission of the virus from person to person can be tracked by gene sequencing of each infection. Closely related strains are likely to be transmitted to sequentially infected people, allowing contact tracers to find links in transmission that may be missed if attempts at interviewing infected people fail.

Unfortunately, genetic sequencing has not been done frequently enough in the US, although in England and other countries sequencing is done more often. Repeated sequencing is relatively easy to do and not too expensive with modern sequencing machines. The only impediment to frequent sequencing is the will of those who conduct the swabbing of infected patients. Thousands upon thousands of sequences have already been run in many countries, revealing chains of transmission otherwise not found.

For example, genetic sequencing allowed scientists to infer contacts between infected people in the White House outbreaks– where contact tracing was not done thoroughly if at all. Sequencing has shown that the public events at the White House related to the nomination of the newest Supreme Court Justice were likely to have been “super-spreader” events at which dozens of White House employees and members of Congress were infected.

Details on the new strain of coronavirus were given in a document from the COVID-29 Genetics Consortium UK (COG-UK) published on December 14, 2020. They state that about 4000 mutations have already been identified in the spike protein, which is the most significant part of the virus genome for human infections.

Reuters reported on the new strain’s revelation on December 15. The Washington Post also reported on the new strain on December 15. The Post included a statement from Jeremy Farrar, the head of the Wellcome Trust (a biomedical research foundation):

“The pressure on the virus to evolve is increased by the fact that so many millions of people have now been infected. Most of the mutations will not be significant or cause for concern, but some may give the virus an evolutionary advantage, which may lead to higher transmission or mean it is more harmful,” Farrar said.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/british-officials-warn-of-possible-coronavirus-mutation-but-evidence-is-sketchy/2020/12/15/e543b658-3ef1-11eb-9453-fc36ba051781_story.html

Reports published on MedRxiv included this one on December 11, which stated that a mutation was discovered in an immunocompromised patient who eventually died of COVID-19. Repeated virus isolations showed no significant changes over 65 days, until the patient was given a transfusion of convalescent plasma. At that time, mutations called “Spike mutations D796H and �H69/�V70” appeared, waned, then reappeared after another infusion of convascelent plasma. The plasma infusions appeared to cause strong selection pressure for the virus population to produce antibody-resistant mutations.

Another paper on BioRxiv from December 15 reported that “immune selection pressure” appears to be causing mutations changing the spike protein to forms that are more infectious. These revelations show that the novel coronavirus continues to mutate, especially with the massive increase in human infections, and may eventually evade our ability to provide immunity through vaccination.

This is a frightening possibility: that massive numbers of infected people may cause a moving target of virus to evolve that we are unable to suppress, even with vaccines. New vaccines may be needed on a yearly basis to gain control over the novel coronavirus.

(photo: sars-cov-2 virions by electron microscopy from National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Vladimir Putin’s presidency and the rise in world oil prices– coincidence or not?

2020-12-16

Vladimir Putin came to world attention when he was selected by Boris Yeltsin to be his prime minister in August 1999. At that time, Russia’s economy had cratered– the GDP had fallen 40% since the USSR became Russia ten years earlier. Putin was a relative unknown to his own countrymen– just 2% of Russians wanted him to become president at the next election. Elections for president were due to be held in June 2000.

In our last post on this subject, we discussed the Russian apartment bombings, which the Russian government blamed on Chechen terrorists. Shortly after the terror bombings, the Russian military started an air campaign against Chechnya and Russian troops crossed the border into Chechnya.

Putin’s popularity rose meteorically until, by December 1999, he had the support of 55 percent of the Russian public. Yeltsin resigned the president as of December 31, making Putin acting president and pushing forward the elections from June to March 2000. Putin also received heavy monetary support from Russian business interests. With this support, and as the incumbent, Putin won the elections with 53 percent of the vote.

After Putin became president, the world price of crude oil began to rise. For the past ten years, OPEC’s crude oil price had been relatively stable: in 1990, it was $22.26, and in 1999, it was $17.44, up from $12.28 in 1998. Russia’s economy was and still is heavily dependent on the price of oil.

In 2000, the OPEC price was $27.60, before dropping to $23.12 in 2001. Over the next eight years, the price went up every year until it was $94.10 in 2008. In 2009, the price dropped to $60.86, before rising again to peak at $109.45 in 2012. The price dove for four years, bottoming out at $40.76 in 2016.

The price of oil is dependent on many factors, rising with economic expansion and falling with recessions. Other factors include political issues, especially Arab-Israeli conflict, and anything else that affects demand and supply.

Coincidental to the rise of Vladimir Putin to presidential power in March 2000, the political situation in the Middle East became much more unstable. In 2000, the Israelis and Palestinians came close to a peace treaty which might have settled a war which began with the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948.

Open warfare in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the surrounding countries coincided with dramatic jumps in oil prices. The most famous of these was the oil embargo of 1973, when the price of crude oil increased from $2.70 a barrel to $11.

A similar rise from roughly $12 in 1978 to $35 in 1980 was associated with renewed conflict despite the September 1978 Camp David accords between Egypt’s Sadat and Israel’s Begin. Peace talks and stabilization coincided until the price of crude oil fell to roughly $12 a barrel in 1998.

In 1999, President Clinton of the US began to sponsor peace talks between Arafat of Palestine and Barak of Israel, culminating in talks at Camp David in the US. These talks collapsed on July 25 2000; Clinton blamed Arafat for this failure (others blamed the Israelis or the Americans.) The collapse was followed by the “second Intifada (uprising)” in which the Palestinians openly fought the Israelis until late 2005.

The talks had included an offer by the Israelis to give the Palestinians control of a small part of Jerusalem; Arafat’s refusal of this offer and failure to make a counter-offer led to the collapse of negotiations.

Since that time, Israeli negotiators have not made an offer that included even a part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians. Some would say that Arafat’s failure to continue negotiations with the basis of accepting a small part of Jerusalem was a strategic disaster. The question is why Arafat walked away from this opportunity.

The aftermath of this interruption in negotiations was the persistent rise in oil prices to over a hundred dollars a barrel. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but the effect on Russia’s economy was highly stimulatory.

We know that the US supported the Israelis and the USSR supported the Palestinians. We know that oil prices stabilized or dropped after the Oslo accords, first in 1993 and then in 1995. We know that the Russians began to actively support anti-Israeli guerillas and to directly support Hamas in Lebanon in 2005.

The death of Yassir Arafat in November 2004 only adds more confusion to this picture. Arafat died after a sudden onset of symptoms of gastroenteritis: vomiting and diarrhea. He had improved after the initial illness but then developed low levels of blood platelets– a condition consistent either with cirrhosis of the liver or poisoning with a radioactive element such as polonium.

Eight years later, an allegation was made that Arafat had been poisoned with polonium, and that the culprit was Israel. This allegation was never established one way or the other, even after he had been exhumed and his body examined. Of course, searching for polonium (which has a half-life of 138 days) after a delay of eight years would be difficult at best. As we mentioned in our last post, a Russian agent, Alexander Litvinenko, was poisoned by the Russians with polonium in 2006. Furthermore, a Russian dissident, Alexei Navalny, was poisoned with polonium by the Russian government this year, but survived.

We cannot conclude anything with certainty, but we can say that it was quite convenient for Vladimir Putin that the price of oil rose dramatically after he became president of Russia– helping the Russian economy. There is also the faint possibility that Russia had something to do with the death of the Palestinian Yassir Arafat in 2004– causing the price of oil to go up further.

Is that too far-fetched? Probably. But maybe not. It’s certainly a welcome distraction from the fact that over 300,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 in the last ten months and that another 150,000 are likely to die in the next few months. The virus is the number one cause of death now– but let’s talk about election fraud instead.

Next time: a new mutation of the novel coronavirus has been identified in over a thousand cases in England recently.

(photo by omni matryx via pixabay.com)