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Biden Memorializes 1 Million COVID Dead

We've been keeping an eye on the various trackers, because we did not want to let 1 million COVID deaths pass without notice. Last week, we thought the trackers had reached a consensus, and so we wrote that long-planned item. And then we discovered, too late, that we had misread Johns Hopkins' site, where the tally still hadn't quite crossed 1 million.

Now, we have a chance to revisit the subject and to get it right. That is because yesterday, Joe Biden delivered remarks eulogizing the million Americans dead from COVID-19, and urging Congress to step up and allocate more money to fight the pandemic. It is worth noting that Johns Hopkins still has the tally below 1 million (999,128 as of this writing). However, Biden jumped the gun a little bit because the White House is hosting a COVID-19 summit right now, and because he undoubtedly doesn't want his remarks to get buried if he waits until Saturday/Sunday, when the number will hit 1 million.

We had actually hoped to do a little better job of giving readers some ways to contextualize that number, since the human mind isn't great at processing the distinction between, say, 10,000 and 1 million. Time did not allow last week, but now that we're revisiting, we can do a better job. So, to start, here's the chart we put together and that we've run several times:

Event Date U.S. 
Fatalities Notes; Las Vegas shooting 2017 58 Worst mass shooting in U.S. history; Oklahoma City bombing
1995 168 Deadliest domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history; Sinking of the Titanic 1912 238 Overall death toll
(including non-Americans) estimated at 1,635; Hurricane Katrina 2005 1,836 Estimated; Johnstown Flood 1889 2,209 Worst
man-made disaster of the 19th century; estimated; Bombing of Pearl Harbor 1941 2,467 Deadliest military strike on U.S.
soil; 9/11 attacks 2001 2,997 Deadliest terrorist attack in world history; San Francisco earthquake 1906 3,000
Estimated; Hurricane Maria 2017 3,059 Estimated; Battle of Antietam 1862 3,675 Deadliest one-day battle in U.S. history;
Battle of Gettysburg 1863 7,058 Deadliest battle in U.S. history; Galveston hurricane 1900 12,000 Worst natural disaster
in U.S. history; estimated; H1N1 2009 12,469 Swine flu; COVID-19, Trump projection 2020 20,000 Feb. 28; Revolutionary
War 1776-83 25,000 Military deaths only; estimated; Normandy campaign 1944 29,204 Deadliest military campaign in U.S.
history; Korean War 1951-53 36,516 Military deaths only; Vietnam War 1964-71 58,209 Military deaths only; COVID-19,
Trump projection 2020 60,000 Apr. 21; COVID-19, Trump projection 2020 100,000 May 4; World War I 1917-18 116,516
Military deaths only; Annual deaths from stroke 2021 165,202 #5 cause of death in the U.S. in 2021; per CDC; Annual
deaths from unintentional injuries 2021 200,955 #4 cause of death in the U.S. in 2021; per CDC; COVID-19 tally, day of
first U.S. vaccination 2020 292,398 December 14; per CDC; COVID-19, unnecessary deaths 2020-22 500,000 Estimated; would
have been prevented with universal vaccination; COVID-19 tally, Inauguration Day 2021 396,837 January 20; per CDC;
Annual deaths from COVID-19 2021 415,399 #3 cause of death in the U.S. in 2021; per CDC; World War II 1941-45 405,399
Military deaths only; Annual deaths from cancer 2021 598,932 #2 cause of death in the U.S. in 2021; per CDC; Annual
deaths from heart disease 2021 659,041 #1 cause of death in the U.S. in 2021; per CDC; Spanish Flu 1918-19 675,000
Estimated; Civil War 1861-65 800,000 Military deaths only; estimated; COVID-19 tally, total to date 2022 999,128 May 12;
per JHU

We've updated it with the latest figures, of course. As always, the chart includes only American deaths.

And now, here are 10 other ways one might conceptualize the appalling extent of the damage:

  1. In terms of U.S. cities, 1 million is about the population of San Jose (1,003,120), which is the 11th-largest city in the country. It's also about equal to the combined population of #36 Atlanta and #41 Miami (1,016,090), or the combined population of #54 Cleveland, #57 Honolulu, and #68 Pittsburgh (1,013,249).

  2. In terms of world cities, 1 million is about the population of Amsterdam, Netherlands (1,021,254); Bamako, Mali (1,016,296); Donetsk, Ukraine (991,310) or Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (979,780). These figures are for the metros, in each case (so, city plus suburbs).

  3. In terms of historical cities, 1 million is greater than the entire population of Egypt at the time the pyramids were built. It's also the estimated population of Rome at the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, of the Chinese capital of Chang'an during the reign of Wu Zetian (690-705), of Baghdad during the "Golden Age of Islam" (900-1000), of Constantinople at the height of the Ottoman Empire (1400s-1500s), and of London at the outset of the British empire (early 1800s).

  4. Speaking of history, 1 million is roughly the number of American soliders killed in combat in all conflicts prior to World War II.

  5. At risk of being macabre, studies have shown that people are better at wrapping their minds around distances than they are around raw numbers. Assuming average height for an American (5'6½"), 1 million dead would have a combined total of about 1,049 miles in height. That's roughly the distance from New York City to Orlando, FL. To walk that distance at normal human walking speed would take about 12½ days if you did not stop for breaks.

  6. If you were to compile a bibliographic encyclopedia of all the deceased, and to give each a 1,000 word entry to document their life stories, the encyclopedia would be about 650,000 pages, would fill over 1,500 volumes, and would weigh about 3 tons.

  7. A total of 3,458,697 Americans died in 2021; 415,399 of them from COVID. That means for about 1 in 8 Americans who perished last year, COVID was the primary cause. It's also a major contributing cause for about half of the victims of the other three non-accidental main causes of death, meaning that COVID was either the primary cause of death or a significant contributing factor for about 1 in 3 Americans who died last year.

  8. Since the first documented case of COVID in the United States, on January 21, 2020, one American has died from the disease about every 72 seconds, on average.

  9. If you want a picture of what 1 million people looks like, here is one from the first Obama inauguration that shows about that many:

    The people are so small
they are indistinguishable from trees and bushes

    Alternatively, here is a collage of the second day of Woodstock, Donald Trump's inauguration, the March on Washington, and a full house at Michigan Stadium (the largest in the U.S.). The crowds in these shots add up to just a bit more than 1 million people:

    Same problem as before; 
you just can't see individuals at that level

  10. It's estimated that COVID has cost Americans about 14.5 million years of life they would otherwise have had.

So there you have it. Hopefully a couple of these will be a bit instructive, perspective-wise. (Z)

Powell Will Serve Another Term

The economy is in the midst of a wild ride right now, and it would seem that the Senate has decided not to change horses mid-ride. And so, Jerome Powell was confirmed for a second term as chair of the Federal Reserve yesterday by a vote of 80-19.

It is curious the way that politics works when it comes to the economy. Powell was first tapped by Donald Trump, and was approved by the Senate on that occasion by a similar margin, 84-13. Since the chair of the Fed has more power to influence the economy than any other person, it would seem that any ups or any downs are something of a team accomplishment, and can be laid at the feet of the Chairman, the Democratic and Republican senators who approved him, and the Democratic and Republican president who each nominated him. And yet, it's Joe Biden who gets 100% of the blame when anything goes wrong these days.

Similarly, it sure seems like any time any specific issue emerges, people are wondering why the Biden administration isn't doing anything and, in fact, why it didn't solve the problem 3 weeks ago. For example, as anyone who follows financial news at all knows, Bitcoin is in freefall right now. Is it just one of those inevitable ebbs that happens with any investment instrument? Or is it more like the foundation of the pyramid is starting to crumble? Who knows? Either way, it seems to us that anyone who invested in Bitcoin should have known they were placing a high-stakes bet, and should have been prepared for any outcome. And yet, there is enormous pressure right now on the administration and on Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen to fix things.

Perhaps our memory is fuzzy, but we rarely recall media outlets, right or left, wondering what exactly Donald Trump was doing to fix [problem X]. Sure, it happened with the obvious things, like hurricanes and the COVID pandemic, but that was very infrequent. Is our memory wrong? Or, if it's not, was that because the media was too busy covering his latest outrageous tweet? Or was it because the baseline level of competence in the Trump administration was so low, the answer to what was being done to fix [problem X] was always obvious (i.e., "nothing")? We just don't know. (Z)

The 1/6 Committee Throws Down the Gauntlet

When it comes to the 1/6 insurrection, and the investigation therein, there is little question that several Republican members of the House are—to use the police term—"parties of interest." Several Republican members of the Senate, as well, but those folks are a little beyond the reach of the 1/6 Committee.

Anyhow, if the Committee is going to do a proper investigation, it needs to talk to those parties of interest. And those folks aren't going to talk voluntarily (the Committee already tried that). So, the question was: Would the members of the Committee be willing to subpoena their fellow House members? Yesterday, we got the answer to that question: Yes, yes they are willing. In fact, they sent "invites" to five House Republicans: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Scott Perry (R-PA), Andy Biggs (R-AZ) and Mo Brooks (R-AL). How Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) avoided summonses, we do not know.

Targeting actual members of Congress opens up several cans of worms that don't apply to other potential witnesses. On one hand, members of Congress cannot be sued for actions undertaken in the performance of their jobs, and so the five subpoena-ees (subpoenants? subpoenacipients?) are likely to try to tie this up in court for as long as necessary. On the other hand, the House Sergeant-at-Arms can't exactly grab Steve Bannon by the collar and perp walk him into the hearing room. That is at least theoretically possible, however, with sitting members of Congress. Also, if this ends up in the Department of Justice's hands, then it no longer matters if the 1/6 Committee has been dissolved or not. And we doubt that McCarthy wants to risk jail time, even a little bit, since by the rules of the House he would have to give up his leadership role (which, by then, could be the Speakership).

Maybe the parties will work out a compromise. For example, the members could show up and then answer every question with: "Based on my Fifth Amendment rights, I refuse to answer that question." None of these folks are going to rat on Trump unless the Supreme Court orders them to do so sometime in 2027, and probably not even then. (Z)

Ukraine Money Delayed By One Senator

When you see the phrase "delayed by one senator," there's about a 98% chance that the guilty party is one of three members of the upper chamber, all of them red-staters with presidential ambitions. And in this particular case, well, you were smart if you played the odds. But for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the $40 billion in Ukraine aid would already be approved and would be sitting on Joe Biden's desk waiting for his signature. Instead, it will have to wait another week or two.

Paul's specific issue is that he wants to add language appointing an inspector general to oversee the spending of the money and to make sure it doesn't go to waste. Seems reasonable enough, except that the Kentucky Senator doesn't want to subject his proposal to the usual amendment process, or to wait for a standalone vote to create a similar oversight position, per a bill sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA). In other words, Paul's ends are reasonable and are agreeable to his colleagues, but he's decided he wants to throw a temper tantrum and to use parliamentary maneuvering in order to squeeze out a little extra leverage.

Unlike Ted Cruz, whose positions on issues are governed entirely by polling, Paul is a true believer. On the other hand, very much like Cruz, Paul loves attention and is willing to do almost anything to get it. These things mean you can never be sure, in any particular situation, what is motivating the Kentuckian. In any event, the current Ukraine allocation runs out in roughly a week, so hopefully Paul's posturing doesn't cost any Ukrainians their lives. This is also a reminder that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is currently furious with his junior colleague, has his own equivalents to Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to deal with, which is why the Senate did not exactly pass copious amounts of legislation even when the turtle was running the show. (Z)

What's Going On... in Ukraine, Part V: Military Sources

Today, we wrap this series up with sources for information about the War in Ukraine that are written by people with military expertise:

  1. Speak the Truth: This is a YouTube channel. Reader S.C. in Boise, ID, writes: "The host is an ex-sniper who uses social media, regular media, and other contacts to do a very detailed 20+ minute daily report. He covers the current hotspots, troop movements, and what he thinks each side should do in his analysis. I've only been watching him for the last couple weeks, but I don't think the guy sleeps with the amount of information each episode contains."

  2. Bellingcat: Several readers recommended this one, including G.B. in Canberra, ACT, Australia, who explains "Bellingcat has been a highly regarded source for some years. They first came to my attention when they were able to prove Russian involvement in the downing of MH17. They were also able to identify three suspects in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal."

  3. Jomini of the West: What better than a Twitter account named for a Swiss military theorist? The pseudonymous author, who is presumably not the real Jomini, since he's been dead for 150 years, promises "discussions on waging peace, surviving war, and the fate of Humankind." There's also a companion podcast.

  4. Michael Kofman: Kofman is a foremost expert on the Russian military machine, and uses his Twitter account to share daily insights.

  5. Ministry of Defence: The British government may know a thing or two about waging war, and their military experts post thoughts on the Ministry's official Twitter account. Not to be confused with former Packer and Eagle Reggie White; he was the Minister of Defense, not the Ministry.

  6. Mick Ryan, Nathan Ruser, Henry Schlottman, and Mark Hertling: All are ex-military, and share the benefit of their expertise on Twitter.

  7. The War in Ukraine: If you want maps, this is the place to go. Reader A.H. in Helsinki, Finland, says: "The site was created by some Finnish reserve intelligence officers. It does not necessarily show the latest location of the Ukrainian troops for obvious reasons.The information has been gathered from every possible source available online, using satellite pictures, street views, Telegram, traffic cameras, shadows in the pictures etc. As you can see, the notes on the map are also in English and you can toggle between for example a street map and a satellite view. The latest changes in the Kiev region have been dramatic."

  8. The Warzone: This is a site written by and for people in the defense industry.

Here's the list of the other entries, all in one place:

We would like to thank all the readers who sent in suggestions! And we hope that original questioner B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, and other readers, found at least one or two things of interest.

Also, we had to prioritize the SCOTUS news, and then we felt we needed to get to this, but now we can get back to the brackets and finish that up. So, look for that next week. (Z)

This Week in Judicial Activism

The idea has certainly taken hold, among those on the right, that social media companies discriminate against conservatives (not true, but why should someone care about facts when they can invent their own "alternative facts"?). And in a world where certain Republican politicians, particularly at the state level, are willing to do literally anything to make things "the way they ought to be," this is definitely a problem worth tackling.

And so it is that various red-state legislatures have come up with bills that would make it illegal for social media platforms to "censor" conservatives. The Ohio legislature is working on a bill like that at this very moment, and the Texas legislature already passed one. The Texas law, adopted last year, decrees that platforms with more than 50 million users (Parler and Gab are thus conveniently excluded) cannot censor, label, or otherwise manage content based on "viewpoint." The theoretical argument here is that social media platforms are in the "telecommunications" industry, and since phone companies don't selectively block or label phone calls, social media companies shouldn't either. Of course, phone companies do block some phone calls (robocalls, for example), but again, who needs facts?

Anyhow, when legislators try to tackle this particular problem, it's actually pretty tricky to do. On one hand, they want conservatives to be able to say whatever thing that comes into their heads. On the other hand, if it's laissez faire, then the platforms will be flooded with spam, hateful content, threats, terrorists making plans, and other bad stuff that will drive users away. On the third hand, conservatives are among those who post the spam, hateful content, etc., so tamping down on that stuff too much is no bueno.

In an effort to thread this needle, the Texas bill makes it possible, but very hard, for social media companies to remove some content. If the companies want to do so, they have to undertake a rigorous review process, followed by an appeal process, for each item they remove. They have 14 days to complete this process, and they also have to provide detailed annual reports on their decisions. Given that, say, Facebook removes billions of posts per year, this process is utterly onerous and unworkable. Oh, and there's also the small matter of the First Amendment, which forbids the government from getting involved in people's exercise of free speech. Remember, substantially thanks to Republican lawmakers, corporations are people, too.

The Texas bill is so obviously shoddy that it was quickly stayed by Judge Robert Pitman of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. The problem is that decisions from Pitman's court are appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which has become a bastion of right-wing judicial activism. And yesterday, two of the circuit's most... recognizable judges (Edith Jones and Andrew Oldham) lifted the stay.

We are not clever enough to reconcile the Republican Party's longstanding commitment to corporate deregulation with a law like this. We are similarly not clever enough to understand how the Texas law can be reconciled with the First Amendment or with other relevant case law. Fortunately, answering questions like that is exactly what judges are supposed to do. So, all we have to do is read their decision in order to understand their reasoning. There's only one small problem with that plan: There is no decision. The judges were so eager to let the Texas law take effect that they lifted the stay without explaining themselves. They promise that a written decision is coming, though... eventually.

Obviously, this is going to be promptly appealed. And one has to assume that the social media platforms will win, since the law is overwhelmingly on their side. Although these days, you never know, since the law doesn't seem to be all that important to a lot of federal judges. Meanwhile, it grows harder and harder to identify consistent principles that define the modern Republican Party, other than "owning the libs." (Z)

This Week in Schadenfreude

Remember how, when kids said naughty things, they had to wash their mouths out with soap? That was pretty fucked up.

We would submit to you that, this week, the (dying?) network OAN had to do the cable television equivalent. Recall that the network's on-air "talent" was rather careless about accusing individuals, including private citizens, of committing voter fraud—well into defamation territory. Two Georgia poll workers, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea "Shaye" Moss, filed suit. The suit was settled a few weeks ago.

As is generally the case with these things, the details of the settlement were undisclosed. However, in a "remarkable" coincidence, the channel aired this announcement this week:

Georgia officials have concluded that there was no widespread voter fraud by election workers who counted ballots at the State Farm Arena in November 2020. The results of this investigation indicate that Ruby Freeman and Wandrea "Shaye" Moss did not engage in ballot fraud or criminal misconduct while working at State Farm Arena on election night. A legal matter with this network and the two election workers has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties through a fair and reasonable settlement.

Hmmmmm, do you think that making that announcement might just have been one of the terms of that "fair and reasonable settlement"?

When a jerk-laden cable network, whose hosts care nothing for the harm they do to their country or their fellow citizens, is forced to eat soap? Definite time for schadenfreude. (Z)

NB: Yes, we normally censor four-letter words, but we do make occasional exceptions for various reasons, and in this case the line doesn't work if it's censored.

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