By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
The Covid Crisis Group (CCG), chaired, or as we say these days, “led,” by former 9/11 Executive Director Philip Zelikow, is launching their book, Lessons from a Covid War (LCW), tomorrow. I will, of course, buy the book and review it at some point in the near future, but in the meantime, the CCG has undertaken a PR blitz, and I thought a little prophylaxis would be in order.
The CCG is an assemblage of the great and the good. From LCW’s publisher, Hachette:
The Covid Crisis Group combines 35 deeply experienced practitioners and scholars who have worked on every aspect of the Covid war, in America and around the world. They have treated patients in emergency rooms, examined the virus on the lab bench, run public health systems and large agencies, studied infectious disease and epidemiology, developed products in industry, organized programs in nonprofits and government, and given voice to those who have suffered.
The CCG hoped to turn into a sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the Covid debacle — if debacle it was — but, well, that just didn’t pan out. From a press release issued by Johns Hopkins:
The goal of the [Covid Crisis Group] was to lay the groundwork for a National Covid Commission, thinking that the U.S. government would soon establish a formal commission to study the biggest global crisis of the twenty-first century. So far, it has not.
In the face of this faltering political momentum—a void where there should be an agenda for change [note lack of agency]—the group decided to speak out for the first time. On Tuesday, April 25, they will publish Lessons from the Covid War (PublicAffairs [a Hachette imprint]), the first book to distill the entire Covid story from ‘origins’ to ‘Warp Speed’ [and not onward to the Biden Administration?] With the U.S. ending its formal declaration of a public health emergency earlier this month, this investigative report reveals what just happened to us, and why. Plain-spoken and clear-sighted, Lessons from the Covid War cuts through the enormous jumble of information to make some sense of it all.
Well, perhaps. We’ll have to read LCW to find out. As for the PR blitz, here are some live streams: Live Streams: National Academy of Medicine (April 24, 11:45am–5:15pm ET); WaPo (April 25, 1:00 p.m. ET); The Commonwealth Club of California (April 26, 6:00–7:00p.m. PDT); University of Virginia (April 28, 11:00 am–12:00 pm); and Dartmouth (May 9, 4:30pm–6:00pm ET). A complete listing of events appears on the CCG site. Perhaps some kind readers have time to attend one or more of these meetings virtually, and report back.
In the meantime, chair or rather leader Zelikow seems to have taken point for the blitz. I will present extracts of the high points of his interview with STAT and his article in Time. I will then look briefly at the last Commission Zelikow led, the 9/11 commission, and conclude.
Here are what I regard as the high points of Zelikow’s interview with STAT, “Q&A: Chronicling the failures of the U.S. response to Covid.” The interviewer is Helen Branswell. A second interviewee is Carter Mecher, a former senior medical adviser in the Department of Veterans Affairs who served as director of medical preparedness policy in the George W. Bush administration. On the Biden Administration:
Your group expected there to be a 9/11-style commission set up to study the nation’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was never established. Do you understand why?
ZELIKOW: Not for sure but I have some sense. The Congress side of the story I do know a little bit about. And that was that the partisans in Congress already had their stories. And to put it in shorthand, the Republicans blame China and [former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony] Fauci, and the Democrats blamed [former President Donald] Trump.
But the big reason, the deeper reason is because the Biden administration decided it didn’t want a commission. There were some very senior officials who were supportive. I think the view that carried the day could be summarized as: more trouble than it’s worth. … What’s our political interest in this?
They didn’t really know what they wanted to do. They didn’t have an agenda in mind. They could not articulate even to themselves internally as to how the system should change.
Or perhaps they could not or did not articulate this to the CCG? Frankly, Zelikow seems more than a little credulous here.
Some of the problems it identifies don’t seem like they can be fixed. The disconnect between chronically under-funded public health operations and private health care delivery. The country’s data collection quagmire. Do you see reason for hope that there’s a commitment to try to learn from the mistakes of the Covid response?
ZELIKOW: It’s funny you have that reaction. I was talking with a member of our group last week and she said that she was re-reading the report, and she said she found that really encouraging and empowering. She said: “It’s impossible to read the report and not see all this stuff we could do.”
Let’s take the data problem, for instance. A lot of the data we need actually is already being collected. The private health care system actually has really first-class data systems that are proprietary data.
Yes, data is being collected. For billing purposes, because the purpose of our “health” “care” system is rental extraction, ideally with upcoding using that same data. Data that is actually useful for medical purposes has to be reverse engineered out of the data we have.
So what we propose, for example, is you create an intermediary that then pools all this data and then in turn helps provide inputs for a network that we think probably the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should run.
I wouldn’t trust the CDC to run a toffee shop, nor would anybody who observed their performance in any detail.
How do you feel about the way the non-pharmaceutical interventions — things like school closures, masking, and social distance — were used?
MECHER: The whole purpose behind NPIs is to try to slow community transmission. And if you’re going to try to slow community transmission, what you want to do is identify those people who are infected and infectious, and you want to prevent them from infecting people who aren’t. And so the key is testing. And if you can’t test, and if you can’t distinguish between who’s infected, and who’s not infected, the only choice you have is to use a sledgehammer. You pretty much assume everyone is potentially infected.
Yes, you do. And?
We really were hamstrung at the very beginning in terms of how we could selectively implement the NPIs, and I think we didn’t really have much of a choice at that point. If you wanted to slow it down, you were now backed into a corner of really using the most blunt instruments.
First, it’s not at all clear to me why — in the midst of a ginormous pandemic — NPIs need to be “selectively applied.” Why is that a given? Treating masking immediately as a cultural norm would have saved a lot of trouble later. And real lockdowns immediately, instead of the half-assed and pissant lockdowns there’s been so much whinging about, would, as brain trust member GM has vociferously and correctly advocated, would have stopped transmission cold. (Although I’m too lazy to find the link, even Andy Slavitt admitted this; 30 days, I think it was. Maybe 60. And we would have saved a million lives!) Second, despite the fact that #CovidIsAirborne, there’s no mention of air quality-centric NPIs like, as I keep repeating, Corsi boxes, HEPA filters, HVAC, CO2 meters, outdoor air, or even Far UV. I’m a little shocked that these NPIs seem not to have come to consciousness of the CCG. Let’s hope the book is not so negligent.
And now for Zelikow’s article in Time, “How America Lost the COVID-19 War“. On competence:
The members of our group are angry. They are angry because they feel that good Americans, all over the country, were let down by ineffective institutions, a slow and uneven initial response, shoddy defenses, and inadequate leadership. We came away from many of our discussions consistently impressed with the ingenuity and dedication of people all over the country. That is why so many of us are so frustrated. Americans improvised to fight this war, usually doing the best they could. They had to struggle with systems that made success hard and failure easy.
I don’t want to be overly cranky about this, but one of the most prevalent ways that “good” Americans “improvised” came from the understanding that #CovidIsAirborne (including lots of collective work on how to wear masks properly). Nothing of these improvisations is mentioned by Zelikow here or in Stat. On scientific communication:
The COVID war shows how our wondrous scientific knowledge has run far, far ahead of the organized human ability to apply that knowledge in practice. If we want to avoid a repetition of the catastrophe of 2020-22, we cannot ignore that the COVID war revealed .
There is a common view that politics—a ‘Red response’ and a ‘Blue response’—were the main obstacle to protecting citizens, not competence and policy failures. It was more the other way around. Incompetence and policy failures, including the failure of federal executive leadership, produced bad outcomes, flying blind, and resorting to blunt instruments.
Those failures and tensions fed the toxic politics that further divided the country in a crisis rather than bringing it together. Poor communication aggravated the breakdown of public trust and confidence and undermined efforts to combat misinformation.
On, well, Trump:
The one great policy success, Operation Warp Speed, is not well understood. It didn’t score its main success in high science, in vaccine research and development. Pfizer’s R&D, for example, did not need or use Operation Warp Speed. A belated initiative improvised by career bureaucrats, outside experts, and administration gadflies, Operation Warp Speed was successful by managing biopharma acquisition like a national security enterprise, with advance purchase of promising vaccines and by managing manufacturing and distribution.
I rather think that OWS wasn’t so much “managed” “like a national security enterprise” as that, rather like the KGB in the last days of the USSR, the national security establishment was the only functional State organ remaining. (The CCG might wish to look into this.)
Confronting bad governance with fatalistic apathy would be un-American. And it dishonors the memory of what and who we have lost—and are still losing. There will be other pandemics and other crises, possibly sooner than we can imagine. At present, the U.S. is no better prepared for those crises than it was in early 2020. The public emergency may be over. Its causes remain.
“Public” in “public emergency” is doing a lot of work. If the baseline for Covid deaths remains where it is (we call this “living with Covid”), America’s political economy will have added another tranche of lethality to any already thick and sickening pile including deaths of despair. I think that’s bad, though opinions differ.
From Zelikow’s PR blitz, let’s take a very brief look at his work on the 9/11 Commission (and please keep any commentary on that topic closely focused on Zelikow’s role, or the moderators will whack you). From the Intercept in 2021, “9/11 and the Saudi Connection“:
[T]he possible Saudi connections had generated intense scrutiny from investigators at the 9/11 Commission and debate over the final conclusions. Staffers believed that they had found a close Saudi connection to the hijackers in San Diego, but Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the commission, and Dieter Snell, a top aide, had doubts and rewrote that section of the final report before it went to the printers, removing the most damning material against the Saudis, according to “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Commission,” a 2008 book by Philip Shenon, who covered the commission for the New York Times.
So, in essence, Zelikow put a lid on the Saudi problem. I would sure hate to find out that Zelikow also “removed the most damning material” against, say, Pfizer, before the LCW manuscript went to press.
As I’ve said many times, “Democidal elites is a parsimonious explanation” for the Covid debacle (which, if you regard falling life expectancy as a policy goal, democidal elites would regard as a feature, not a bug). Zelikow and the CCG seem to inhabit a lovely, technocratic world where repairing failures in competence, communication, and governance are central to mission. However, it’s very hard to look at hospital administrators gleefully unmasking their institutions — cheered on by Brownnose Institute shills and goons — without concluding that malevolence is part of our world as well. If so, CCG is not, perhaps, as “clear-sighted” as Johns Hopkins says they are. It may be that LCW is the best we are going to get. But will it be good enough?
 “A light lunch will be served.” Presumably unmasked?
 Of course we lost the war. We don’t win wars. We’ve lost every war we fought since World War II, except maybe our invasions of Panama and Grenada, big whoop, and that includes metaphorical wars like our wars on poverty, drugs, and cancer. (Actually, that’s not quite fair. Trump’s CARES Act was certainly winning the war on poverty there for awhile, but the Democrats ended it. Naturally).
Wowsers. Zelikow’s editorial hand in the 9/11 report is enough to undermine the conclusions of this book.
Believe me, Lambert’s example is just one of many. Shenon’s book is pretty critical of Zelikow’s heavy hand and partisan connections to the Bush administration. But I consider it way too mild – a typical establishment “critique” by a long-time NY Times reporter which, therefore, can only go so far without crossing the boundaries of acceptable mainstream inquiry. I guess that’s about as far as I can go in my comment as well. But I will say that as soon as I saw that Zelikow was going to head this COVID group, I just laughed – bitterly, as usual these days.
“without concluding that malevolence is part of our world as well”
I’m kind of out of the good and evil business (see Tao te Ching #2), but that speech of Tucker Carlson’s at the Heritage Foundation on Saturday was all about evil infecting our society. Now, being Tucker speaking where he had his first job LOL, he finds most of that evil in pronouns, but he also mentions Ukraine several times along with the prosecution of the African Peoples’ Socialist Party at some length, so that’s good.
The good and evil thing make it awfully hard for people to change or at least hear what you’re saying. As things get worse from our standpoint, with the very planet seemingly arrayed against us, it can lead to madness.
I think this is the correct link to Carlson’s speech:
Sorry, that was an edited link. Here’s the full speech. ~37:00
LOL. Both of those links black out Carlson’s phrase guardedly approving of “Black Nationalist Socialists”. (The second case, link above, appearing more complete by including the introductory remarks of the Chairman of the Heritage Foundation, blocks out somewhat more.)
RealClearPolitics has what appears to be the entire speech here (~27:00) :
As Henry MP says above, it’s mostly red meat thrown to Carlson’s donors, but there are a couple moments of dignity.
I’m happy to throw eugenics and social murder into the evil bucket. YMMV.
I agree, Lambert. And at some point, incompetence is no longer a plausible explanation and one has to consider malice.
Then there is the situation where “malice” encourages and enables “incompetence.’ A form of ‘plausible deniability.’
True enough, but Tucker can’t see that. What was fascinating to me was what he connected with “the good.” Order at the top of the list and love nowhere to be found. I’ve seen Tucker say in a interview with Will Cain at Fox that it’s the incompetence and idiocy of our elites that drove him crazy. It’s gotten so bad that Tucker’s “order” is violated.
Along the lines of Carlson’s rant against the herd and the way that people he respected had “sold out” in the last three years, Napolitano’s weekly colloquy with Ray McGovern, the former CIA man, talking about why 51 national security big shots would all sign on to such an obvious fraud, lamented that people will sell out to continue to be invited to lunch with Condi Rice.
My mileage has to vary or I’d have no reason to live. In my more optimistic moments I choose to believe that our elite are not intentionally murderous. I think that they really believe that everyone can achieve what they’ve achieved. Are they extraordinarily incorrect? Of course they are. But I just can’t call them murderous and continue to be OK mentally. I can certainly see that the results of their actions are not good for most of the population or the planet – I really do believe they can’t see it, and no doubt the same as if they were acting intentionally. We see incompetence where they are simply doing what everyone else in their bubble is doing. I recently had an investment advisor tell me that the kids are fine because the 20 somethings she knows (mostly business school grads) are all making just under or over $100K annually! When I suggested that I knew of many 20 somethings still living at home and struggling with part-time jobs she looked at me as though I had suddenly started speaking Mandarin. They don’t see it, they don’t get it. “people will sell out to continue to be invited to lunch with Condi Rice.”, as HMP put it in his response – they really aren’t thinking about the fact that many more people are worried about food and shelter rather than being seen in the right places. The priorities of the PMC and the billionaires are so messed up that they really do not know what they are doing. All that said, even if I believed in a god, I wouldn’t say ‘forgive them for they know not what they do’… They do deserve to be damned for not being able to remove their blinkers and burst the bubble in which they are so safely (for the moment) ensconced but intentionally murderous is too far for me.
>>>When I suggested that I knew of many 20 somethings still living at home and struggling with part-time jobs she looked at me as though I had suddenly started speaking Mandarin. They don’t see it, they don’t get it.
CanCyn, even after reading the rest of your very good comment, as well as partially accepting Lambert Strether’s explanation of democidal elites and stochastical eugenics, I still feel that there is a mental illness, a madness of denying what is there for anyone at all to see, if they but try even a little, teeny-tiny bit. The economic sacrifice (really Dead Zones) areas have metastasized and are spreading everywhere. Just walk down Market Street or near city hall in San Francisco, or Skid Row in Los Angeles, or lines at the food pantry, or the empty store fronts even in cities like San Francisco, and ruins of factories across the country.
The seem to be trying really hard to ignore that elephant in the living room, the one starting to trumpet. What gives?
It’s not denial, it’s feeling that people in the food lines or living on skid row deserve it. They’re where they’re at because of deficiencies of some sort on their part.
I’m not sure that I will ever understand the phenomenon that allows the 1 percenters and their PMC supporters to so successfully ignore the consequences of their behaviours for the rest of us. If I chose to believe as Lambert and so many do that it is deliberate evildoing, I would have to then believe that our only actions is to fight them. And I do mean fight, not protest, but take violent actions against them and the things they hold so dear. In the meantime, I think people like our own Amfortas have the right idea, become as independent of neoliberal systems and structures as you can and prepare for the worst.
I saw the name Phillip Zelikow and scrolled immediately to this Comments section. The master myth-maker has been tasked again. He turns my stomach.
Can’t really say that I know his name but I note that he had an extremely rapid rise after joining the US State Department-
The words ‘selected’ and ‘groomed’ come to mind. Colour me cynical.
I’m sure this will be referred to as an inspirational book that credits those who have done so much for the American Public during the critical period of the Pandemic.
I do wonder how many of the newly immunocompromised will die from what would otherwise be a very bad ‘Flu?
!5MM and counting with long Covid, could we lose 1/3 of them in one bad ‘Flu season?
While good for GDP in the short term a die off like that might have political consequences…
There we have it.
The goal of proper public health practice is to STOP transmission, not to merely “slow it down”. With that attitude firmly entrenched, imagine what the response to the next novel pathogen will be…
Slowing it down but not stopping it gets us to the same catastrophic outcome, just more slowly and in a way that the gravity of the situation can be concealed from the masses.
In retrospect they told us what they were going to do from the start with “flatten the curve”. But nobody protested the way they should have at the time.
> But nobody protested the way they should have at the time.
The protests I recall were that the measures required to ‘flatten the curve’ would damage the economy and delay ‘herd immunity.’
The point of ‘flattening the curve’ was very explicitly to keep the medical burden of the epidemic below the capacity of the health care system. That worked, sort of, but the cost of not actually stopping transmission was progressive damage to the health care system. I don’t have statistics at hand, but I have the impression from the news flow that the capacity of the system is diminished due to attrition in the work force.
And perhaps we will face a surge of new medical problems from the various manifestations of Long COVID, that will further burden the diminished capacity of the system.
The capacity of the system is overrated. Flatten the curve meant to not overrun private hospitals which intentionally keep capacity limited for their own economic benefit. As far as public hospitals, clinics, and local departments, their capacity was almost non-existent. Remember those dreadful photos from New York with wards and beds separated by plastic sheets and tape? That was the situtation in public, not private, hospitals. To my knowledge, nothing has changed in that regard.
Where are Frank Church and Otis Pike when we really need them?
What about the Pecora Commission?
Another new book drawing conclusions from events of the past few years is
Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak: A Guide to Planning from the Schoolhouse to the White House
by David C. Pate and Ted Epperly | published Apr 18, 2023
Pate is the recently retired head of a major health care system in Idaho. I was impressed with advice he gave, in his twitter account, to health care workers about masking when dealing with patients who are masked themselves.
Dr. David Pate
Free advice for health care workers: when your patient and their family members are wearing masks, it is most likely that they are trying to avoid getting infected, or perhaps are worried that they may be infected and trying to protect others. In either case, the courteous thing to do is simply put on a mask. Don’t ask patients if they want you to mask. Patients already get that you don’t want to or you would be wearing one. They already feel vulnerable. Don’t put them on the spot. They are likely to say no, it’s okay, even though they really wish you would mask, because they don’t want to risk upsetting or angering the person they feel dependent upon.
My, my. Cats. Fourteen questions come to mind for differential diagnosis that your healthcare has considered without a doubt. Depending on the level of interaction you personally wish to have, asking a bunch of questions can help pass the time and keep you informed at the same time! CBC? Which WBC was high: neutrophils (bacteria) or leukocytes (virus)? What does Pathology say? Can’t ask too many things. Best wishes for a quick recovery…
It really is a fatal sign to the Republic when the government declines a formal investigation on the Covid disaster. If they sweep this under the rug, what else are they capable of?
If a million is a statistic, then directly murdering thousands in violence is well within their reach.
Same way the 2 parties collude to drive down wages, refuse to stop the railroads from crashing trains for profit, gin up war against China/Russia, etc. The Covid thing is just another arrow in the quiver. What Republic?
I’m currently on episode 22 of Revolutions, the podcast recommended by I believe Lambert, but for sure I got the link here at NC. There is a quote from one of the royalist supporters right after the King tried to flee, and right before they all started to get gee-o-tined. “What is a Republic?”, the point being nobody knew back then what that meant. I’m not sure I do either.
I gather the Republic is gone. It’s an oligarchy now, and a Covid brain-damaged one, at that. Sigh.
Ben Franklin did warn ‘If you can keep it.’ And 240 years is not a bad run.
Quite so, and beyond the USA 20+ million worldwide. It is, of course, a deliberate mass killing, given that we knew the techniques required to prevent this from happening not just in 2020 but well before (a pernicious myth has grown that SARS1 in 02-03 “ran out of steam” and magically went away; in fact, it was controlled by correct implementation of appropriate public health techniques). Many countries, admittedly more civically competent and less hopelessly politically fractious than the United States, achieved this as well with SARS2 and, temporarily, their populations reaped the benefits until they were told to get with the programme (incidentally, it’s been clear to me for a while that if the world is ever going to get out from under this problem in the future, the USA and not China will have to effectively be made into a pariah state, which is a shame but I see no alternative as long as institutions like AIER have undue political influence, and attendant success in their deliberate dividing and conquering of the public.)
The layer of abstraction between the state in its current – thoroughly neoliberal – iteration, and those millions of deaths in the form of the virus itself means that people don’t really draw the connection between the two in the same way that people do when, say, cops murder civilians, and instead boil it down to “oh well, shit happens, that’s just nature’s way, nothing to be done” (despite the real world evidence to the contrary)
Incidentally, from what I gather, the experience of dying from acute Covid, especially with the pre-Omicron variants, is not that dissimilar from the sensations one might experience when a cop kneels on your throat until you die. African Americans have, of course, been disproportionately impacted by this disease. The same totally justifiable anger is not there though. In part, that’s due to that
layer of abstraction I mentioned: the state, its corruption and the belief systems it operates under didn’t kill all these people; the virus did.
It’s also due to some masterful propaganda (which user GM frames, I think correctly, as a good cop/bad cop routine – the AIER’s/GBD’s “muh freedums”, we must not give money and good health to the poor at all costs, herd immunity will be our salvation bullshit vs the smiling face of “flatten the curve” and “vaccines will end the pandemic”, both lead to the same failure point that we have ultimately arrived at.
There‘s also the complementary role of not just the mainstream media but most of the altstream media, who are apparently completely unable to process a physical problem and its ramifications through their politics-addled online brains. They have played their own part in this sweeping-under-the-rug phenomenon of obfuscation that you describe. They have allowed themselves essentially to be played for fools in the most embarrassing way, directing most of their anger at the meagre attempts to slow down the slaughter rather than the slaughter itself (“if liberals think that vaguely slowing down mass death is kinda good, then gosh, it must be bad! And now here’s Martin Kulldorf to talk about herd immunity and Sweden”). These are the dangers of reflexive but vacuous and substance-free contrarianism, which then see you having to propagate lies about eg natural immunity, “it’s just a cold” etc to rationalise your completely wrong and, in fact, sociopathic (again, in a quite mainstream way) initial position. A disappointing but frankly useful consequence is that much of the alternative media has shown itself to be every bit as worthless and worthy of contempt as its mainstream counterparts, in fairly similar ways (intellectually lazy or just plainly stupid if not deliberately misleading, audience capture rather than corporate etc. capture compromising their independence). Makes it easy to remove such low-nutrition crap from one’s informational diet, to use a slightly cringe metaphor.
> It may be that LCW is the best we are going to get. But will it be good enough?
My inner cynic (or is that my inner realist) tells me that the answer is “No; if it were ‘good enough’, we wouldn’t be allowed to get it.”
Hope I’m mistaken. I console myself with the thought that, at the very least, the future won’t be boring.