Do We Need a Wartime CDC? Prime Badge

I’ve spent the last couple days writing posts I’ve then set aside about what we’ve learned in two years about the CDC and FDA and whether they are, institutionally, up to the challenge of managing the crisis of pandemic response. To paraphrase Sonny Corleone, during a pandemic we need a wartime CDC. And it’s clear we don’t have one. The institutional apparatus designed for managing ‘ordinary’ infectious diseases, researching and improving care for chronic maladies simply isn’t designed for what we’ve confronted in the last two years.

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Harry Reid, Cutting Through Crap Prime Badge

Earlier today, we published a moving tribute to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by his onetime deputy chief of staff, Bill Dauster.

I spoke with another former Reid aide and friend of TPM this afternoon, Jim Manley. A veteran Senate staffer, Manley had worked as a spokesperson and senior communications advisor for Reid while Reid was Senate Majority Leader.

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Why Did The Jan. 6 Organizers Want To Rally Outside SCOTUS? Prime Badge
The Jan. 6 planners had plenty of reason to pressure the Supreme Court.
Where Things Stand: Looking Back On The Dumb Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

We’re ending the year in a befuddling place. The past week I’ve been having déjà vu, rocketing myself back to a simpler, but overall more confusing time — once again rounding out each evening with stupid little Victorian-era strolls around the neighborhood as my one activity for the day, all to maintain my stupid sanity.

The last few weeks have not been promising for the sweetly naive among us who were still holding on to hope for a brighter 2022. And the year as a whole has been a hard one. Kicking off the year with a literal insurrection didn’t do much to forecast optimism. Some of you, understandably, had to step away from the news at points throughout the year. And we don’t blame you! Between the Capitol attack and another impeachment and the GOP embrace of anti-vaxxers and extremists continuing their gradual takeover of Congress and the lingering Big Lie and this deadly COVID spike — it’s all been a lot. (Though, we did have a few bright spots this week!)

But our gallows humor got us through. And if we can’t, at least, release a few dark cackles into the void while the world burns, then we’ve lost our humanity.

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COVID Notes #7 Prime Badge

You’ve likely seen a lot of reports in recent days about the disease severity of the Omicron wave. From some you hear increasing evidence that the Omicron wave is less severe, maybe much less severe, than previous COVID waves. Others claim there’s no solid evidence Omicron causes less severe disease. Who’s right? Some of the disconnect is differing degrees of caution. We’ve only known about Omicron for about six weeks. How much evidence do you need before you’re willing to say something is more mild, less lethal when probably hundreds of millions of people are about to get it and they need guidance about risk? But most of it is not that. Not anymore. Most of the seemingly contradictory claims are about different kinds of evidence and really different questions being asked.

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Crisis of Command Prime Badge

I want to expand on what I mentioned in Morning Memo about some really good work from the Just Security guys on better understanding the delay in the deployment of the National Guard.

From the get-go, TPM’s coverage has been more circumspect about the decision to involve the military in the response to the attack.


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Where Things Stand: Three Pieces Of Good News In An Utterly Trash Time Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

The last few weeks have been abnormally bleak and bizarre, even for pandemic times. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) put a bushel over Democrats’ hopes of legislating this year. Kyle Rittenhouse was celebrated as a hero at a conservative youth conference in Arizona. More and more Democrats are bending to the impending-consequences of partisan gerrymandering and retiring ahead of the Midterms. Omicron is very literally everywhere (including inside this writer’s lungs 😑).

But today we were struck by a smattering of relatively positive (?) news developments. We’ll take what we can get.

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One Shot to Rule Them All Prime Badge

Back on December 9th we discussed the quickening hunt for a Sarbecovirus vaccine. This is basically a vaccine that wouldn’t target this or that variant but the whole class of SARS-related coronaviruses. Basically the idea is you go upstream in the viral family tree to cover the whole class of contagions and potential future ones. Last night Army researchers at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research say they’ve developed just such a vaccine, or at least one that cover all current and potential variants of COVID19.

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Where Things Stand: One Bright Spot For Biden As 2021 Draws To A Grim End Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has effectively doomed President Biden’s hopes of passing his most meaningful legislative package this year. Things aren’t looking any better for Democratic efforts on voting rights (also largely Manchin’s fault). While the administration has made significant advances in getting the country vaccinated this year, Omicron has brought pandemic-ending progress to a standstill for now.

But the Biden administration, with the help of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has quietly made some progress on one major pillar of Biden’s presidency: confirming judges.

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Twilight of Delta Prime Badge

These numbers almost beggar belief. But here they are. According to a Monday CDC report, 73% of COVID infections in the US are now Omicron. Specifically, that was the percentage for the week ending December 18th. The rate of growth of new cases in the New York City metropolitan area has been mind-boggling. So extremely high percentages of Omicron here don’t surprise me at all. (I’ve heard informally that the rates here are roughly 90%.) But nationwide it almost beggars belief, even though we’ve seen comparable trajectories in the UK and Denmark.

Here’s the chart from the CDC …

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Where Things Stand: In Tucker’s World, Insurrectionists Were Just Hanging Out In ‘Their Building’ Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson used his recent appearance at a Turning Point USA event in Phoenix as a barely-veiled soft pitch for his new “documentary” about Jan. 6, a highly produced mashup that nods toward nearly every conspiracy theory about that day festering in the far-right corners of the internet.

Carlson gave a speech at the conservative youth event, regaling the audience with a colorful anecdote about 26th U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt’s proclivity for going out to the White House lawn to speak with American citizens during his presidency … 120 years ago.

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Inside the Manchin Blow Up Prime Badge

We’re getting a bit more sense here of the final blow up that led to the demise of the BBB. Apparently the real blow up was that the White House put out a statement last week in which the President said he believed he was making progress on finalizing a Build Back Better deal with Joe Manchin. The key apparently was that he named Manchin specifically rather than Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema or Manchin and the rest of the caucus or whatever else.

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The Demise of the BBB Prime Badge

There will be various efforts to organize votes on individual parts of the BBB as demonstration votes. Yes, Manchin did say “this” legislation. So there will be various efforts to interpret this as a prelude to other possibilities or just another step in the process. But let’s not. This is no. That means the Build Back Better bill cannot and will not pass. I’ll note that Manchin decided to make this announcement on Fox News. And according to Ryan Lizza, who would know, he didn’t even personally inform the President or Chuck Schumer of what he was about to do. He had an aide make the call. That’s just cowardly, low class.

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COVID Notes #6 Prime Badge

Keep an eye on an emerging discussion about the apparent peak of infections in Gauteng province in South Africa. That is the region where Omicron was first discovered and where its spread first caught fire. (We don’t actually know where it originated.) I don’t want to characterize what this means because I know nothing. But even the people who know a lot don’t appear to have a clear idea what it means. I note it here because even though it’s not clear what it means it does seem to be different enough to what was expected to require some explanation. And that explanation could deepen or change our understanding of what Omicron is.

Professor Shabir Madhi of University of the Witwatersrand notes that Omicron crested after 4 weeks compared to 8 weeks for the earlier two waves. In his thread Madhi provides other tentative but encouraging numbers on disease severity. But it’s the apparent plateau that seems to have people scratching their heads. Others, including Tulio de Oliveira who did the first lab work on Omicron, suggests caution, pointing to population shifts in Gauteng at this time of year.

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COVID Notes #5 (News You Can Use Edition) Prime Badge

Along with vaccines, masking has been one of the most solidaristic parts of the pandemic. If everyone masks up, then everyone’s risk goes down dramatically. That’s true and it should continue to inform our actions. But if you remain risk averse or are from a vulnerable population, you do have options if you live in a community with poor masking or simply want to up your odds. It wasn’t the case early in the pandemic. But today n95 and other related high filtration masks are pretty widely available. Not everyone finds these comfortable. It really depends on the person. I’m used to using them for woodworking and I wear them for long periods of time and don’t give it a second thought. Depends on the person.

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Are We in Omicron? (COVID Notes #4) Prime Badge

Until perhaps as recently as yesterday the assumption was that the current run-up of cases, especially in the Northeast, is actually still Delta. Omicron is still to come. That no longer appears to be the case. We don’t know for certain yet because we don’t have the scope and speed of genomic sequencing that would allow us to know definitively. But the assumption now is that we’re already here, in Omicron. Almost two years into this pandemic we have managed to be at least partly caught off guard by another blowup of the disease.

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Where Things Stand: Jan. 6 Developments Coming Fast And Furious Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

No overarching Jan. 6 news today but a lot of incremental developments over the last 24 hours to catch up on, in no particular order:

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Those Democracy-Saving Laws May Not Help Prime Badge
AUSTIN, TX -  FEBRUARY  19:  Early voting began today across Texas ahead of the presidential primaries taking place on Tuesday, March 4, 2008. (Photo by Ben Sklar/Getty Images)

Here is a topic I don’t see enough discussion of. We hear a lot today (for good reason) that voting rights and the protection of democracy is the issue. Social spending, climate, immigration, infrastructure … they’re all important but they all rest on having a working democracy where voting determines who runs the government. All true. But the laws we’re actually talking about, the ones that are written and ready to pass (if Sinema and Manchin would let them come to a vote) or even in concept don’t actually address the main issue that has everyone’s attention. They’re critical. Don’t get me wrong. But they don’t actually address the catalog of situations in which you hold a vote, count the votes and then simply set the votes aside if you don’t like the result.

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The Expat Perspective Prime Badge
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06:  Protesters gather on the second day of pro-Trump events fueled by President Donald Trump's continued claims of election fraud in an to overturn the results before Congress finalizes them in a joint session of the 117th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

TPM Reader TD fled the country under Trump and isn’t coming back anytime soon:

Hi, Josh. I agree with your post. The country’s in a bad way, and Dems generally and Biden specifically need to find a better way to talk about it. I wanted to add my thoughts about where we are, how we got here, and where we’re going.

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Was BBB Doomed As Soon As BIF Passed? Prime Badge

TPM Reader PT checks in on Manchin, BBB, and the current swoon:

For pretty much the entire time of the Biden Administration legislative activity, I’ve been of the opinion that the whole issue of the BBB was best understood as a kind of culture war. The problem that the Manchin caucus really has with the BBB is that it represents a Democratic Party in which the moderate / conservative / Manchin caucus is not firmly in the driver seat all the time, for all things.

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COVID Notes #3 Prime Badge

I start with the proviso that we are in a radically better position than we were two years ago. Most of the population is vaccinated. We have experience treating COVID. We have effective antivirals coming online. But this morning in New York City has a feeling of déjà vu. My inbox is filled with a rush of cancellations: school holiday events; a journalists’ drinking get-together that had just restarted after a two year hiatus postponed the morning of; lines outside testing centers snake around the block. It all has the feel of Spring of 2020 when everything was normal and then on a dime it wasn’t.

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COVID Notes #2 Prime Badge

Let me share a couple more thoughts on boosters.

The UK is currently in a mad dash to get boosters into the arms of as many people as possible. We’re certainly pushing boosters here too. But it’s a singular focus there in a way that is not the case here. That’s the first, second and third part of their strategy basically. They’re advising work from home and universal masking. But basically it’s to buy time for getting boosters in as many arms as possible over the next two to three weeks. They’re deploying the military to set up pop-up clinics, advising hospitals to suspend routine care to focus on booster administration. They have a goal of getting every adult in the country boosted by the end of the month. So really they’re pulling out all the stops.

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COVID Notes #1 Prime Badge

We have the first study (still un-peer-reviewed) that advances an evidence-based hypothesis for why Omicron COVID may actually produce milder disease. I want to emphasize this is a single study, which has not undergone peer review. The gist is that Omicron was much faster at taking hold in the air passage leading to the lungs but much less efficient in replicating in lung tissue. The surmise is that this makes it much better at jumping from host to host – which is demonstrated by rate of spread in multiple countries – but much less efficient at creating illness once it gets into the lungs.

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Where Things Stand: At What Point Do We Say BBB Is Dead? Prime Badge
This is your TPM evening briefing.

I don’t really know what it means to “punt” BBB until next year. I’m serious.

We’re going to hear that phrase a lot, with a certain baked-in assumption that it means something. But it’s not like the assurance that I’m going to finish my homework tomorrow, or complete my term paper this weekend, or turn in this client project by the end of next week. There’s no certainty that this will ever get done.

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Sussing Out Durham’s Sussmann Case Prime Badge
What's going on in the fifth year of investigating the investigators?
NBC Punks Dems on BBB and Voting Rights Prime Badge

NBC sparked a flurry of discussion a couple hours ago when it reported that Democrats were “shelving” the Build Back Better bill and switching to passing voting rights legislation.

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Among the Feral Trumpers Prime Badge
Mark Aguirre

So many people involved in the “voter fraud” sham are simply stone cold liars or the types who play act believing things with some winks and nods to themselves. But the movement also has lots of people who genuinely believe. And now one of them has been indicted for running a guy off the road and putting a gun to his head back in October 2020.

Mark Aguirre is a former Houston PD captain who was hired by a straight-out-of-central-casting “conservative activist” named Steven Hotze. They were operating as what Aguirre identified to police as the “Liberty Center,” which seems to have been a self-styled private Big Lie-centered investigation. (It’s full legal name is The Liberty Center for God and Country, because of course it is.)

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Notes Prime Badge

I’m sorry I’ve done less posting than usual over the last week or so. I’ve been trying to put together my ideas about the last 5 or 6 years and the way America often today seems embattled and besieged in a global system and media landscape that she herself largely created. How did we get here from the breezy global primary America enjoyed in the 1990s? What broad lessons can we draw or what connections can we make connecting our current moment to the beginning of our era in 1989, 1990 and 1991?

It’s a challenging topic in itself. But it’s also challenging for me because my writing muscles aren’t really trained for writing at length. TPM has given me a lot of practice writing a rapid fire thousand words or even closer to two thousand. I can do it multiple times a day if the need arises. But much over that length is where writing shifts from the dynamics of a sprint to something more like distance or endurance running. There’s more pacing involved, more strategy and organization than just run absolutely as fast as you can until the finish line. Anyway, it’s giving me a chance to flex some of these muscles. So I’ll report back when I can.

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Waiting for Omicron Prime Badge

I want to give you another update on COVID. The outlook … well, it’s not good. Certainly not in the near-term. Here is a good summary of the emerging science of Omicron from Dr. Eric Topol. We now have at least ten lab studies that look at immune response to Omicron, specifically neutralization studies which broadly measure the body’s first line of defense against infection. The more studies we see the more they reinforce each other. Very limited protection against infection with a two dose mRNA regimen, though presumably still substantial protection against severe illness and death. A booster appears to get up towards the level of protection against infection two doses provided against Delta, though not quite as high. Two doses and prior infection also seems to produce fairly effective protection. Three doses and two doses plus infection seem to be in the same ballpark of protection.

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