Why are so many people Dying?

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

At my work, I routinely get emails with the latest data on the spread of COVID-19  for the state of Wisconsin.  Most come from the state itself. (COVID-19: Wisconsin Summary Data | Wisconsin Department of Health Services) There is a lot of good data on the disease.  As of March 5,  we have had 556,158 confirmed cases, 552,311 who have recovered, and 6477 who have died. This is a 1.1% death rate.  92% of the deaths were 60 or older. Only 1% were below the ages of 40.  These figures do not include antigen or antibody tests, nor do they account for the unknown number of people who had COVID but never had any symptoms or whose symptoms were so mild they did not realize they had it.

Looking over the recent report, overall, the things looks encouraging. Active cases have dropped drastically from a high of 75,922 on November 21 to 7,211 in the latest report.  Hospitalizations and ICU patients have also declined.  New cases per day have also dropped from a high of 7,989 in on November 18 to 350 on March 5.  Meanwhile,  vaccinations are rolling out with increasing speed, with 59.8% of those 65 and older having already received at least one dose. What was puzzling was the number of death per week.

Not surprisingly, the number of deaths per week peaked along with the number of active cases in November at 381.  While the number of active cases has been cut by a factor of 10, the number of deaths was only reduced by less than a factor of 5 to 78.  I wondered if this was some lagging indicator, so I compared this with earlier data.  Around four weeks ago, we dropped below 10,000 cases per day, which was the peak for the cases in the summer. During the summer, Hospitalization and ICU patients were a little higher, but that is expected. Over the intervening months, doctors have become better at treating COVID. 

What was really puzzling is that during the summer, deaths per week peaked at 56.  With fewer active cases, we now have 40% more deaths, even if you account for the lag. That is the best case.  I wondered if this were due to the currently active cases being among the older, most vulnerable age groups, but that does not appear to be the case. 83% of the new cases are those younger than 60%. Out of the 26,387 people who have even been hospitalized for COVID in Wisconsin,  65% were over 60. Yet, currently, they represent only 48% of those in the hospital.

Thus the puzzle?  Why is it that we have fewer active cases, lower hospital and ICU stays, better treatments, and yet 40% more deaths, probably more?  Someone with better access to the data will have to answer that.

Mar 6th, 2021
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Christian Idealism

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

I recently read an article by Eric Scot English, asking, “Do Evangelicals Really Believe in God?”  English agued evangelicals have an Idealistic faith.  “Idealistic faith is more about the ability to construct an idealized ‘truth’ about God rather than an actual truth. It’s a faith that has more to do with us than God.” (emp. in original).   While true of all, progressives, according to English, move past this taking a “leap of faith” to Christian realism. “Realism allows for the demonstration of a faith that is authentically ‘real’ instead of idealized.”

There is a lot of truth in the first part of his argument. English draws upon Kierkegaard’s beliefs, for which there is a lot to be said.  Christianity is more about transformational experience than rational disputes over doctrine. Still, even though I agree with Kierkegaard on this, I do not follow him into his rejection of reason.  

As such, I find English’s second part artificial, if not a little self-serving. I think it can safely be said that no one understands God. As I write in my forthcoming book, Faith and Reason,

In one respect, there is only one correct answer to the question, what do you believe about God? Not enough. After all, God is infinite; we are finite. How could we ever hope to have a complete understanding of God? Thus, a common experience when learning about God is realizing how much you do not know. Put another way, how much there is still left to know?

This is not a question of realism vs. idealism. We all know too little, and we all tend to fill in the gaps in ways that best fit us and our existing beliefs. This tendency is why prayer and Bible study are so important. Done correctly, these challenge us; they change us.

I would agree that far too often, we project our faith on others. As I write, “A quick way to end up in trouble is to see the Bible as mainly discussing what others should be doing.  Sadly, this has been demonstrated far too often in history.”  Still, I do not see this as an issue of realism vs. idealism, or even progressive vs. evangelicalism, but as a universal problem.

The solution? To realize there is God, and there is also the Body of Christ.  I do not assume everything I believe is correct or that everyone who disagrees is wrong.

We are all fallen and fallible, prone to mistakes and errors. This is where others come in. We all make mistakes, but we do not make the same mistakes. Discussing with others is the best way to discover your mistakes while helping others discover theirs.

Rather than labeling each other, we should spend more time talking to each other. This is talking to, not talking at. We may not agree; in fact, we probably won’t. Hopefully, we will come to a better understanding of each other, our views, and why we hold them.  We can break down the stereotypes that exist on both sides.  In this way, we can get past our idealized views of why the other side is wrong and come to a better understanding of the real reasons they hold their beliefs.  Maybe even what we can learn from them.

Feb 16th, 2021
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Impeachment – Again

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

The Impeachment Trial starts today, and with it, we begin the era of political show trials. Impeachment exists because of the separation of powers. It allows officers of the Executive and Judiciary to be removed from office.  It makes no sense to put a former official on trial, nor is there any need.  It is generally believed that a sitting President cannot be indicted, and thus there is a need for impeachment. Once out of office, the limitation is gone, and they can be charged with a crime. When Clinton left office, he reached an agreement to settle his case before leaving. 

If Trump is really guilty of the crimes charged in the impeachment, then charge him in a regular court.  The problem is that even immediately following the events, it was clear that Trump’s comments did not constitute incitement under the law.  Since January 6th, it has been increasingly clear that a small group had planned this well in advance and independent of Trump’s speech.  

In addition, it appears that Trump offered additional National Guard troops to enhance security, but the offer was rejected.  There were many failures that day, and many people committed crimes and deserve to be charged.  Sadly for Trump’s opponents, he was not one of them.

This is not to say that there was nothing wrong with Trump’s behavoir that day.  Our behavior falls on a spectrum with noble at one end and evil at the other.  Not every bad action deserves to be charged with a crime.  To be charged with a crime, you must violate the law.  So far, I have seen no evidence that Trump did this.

Though given the lack of any actual investigation, that lack of evidence should not be surprising.  The House Impeached Trump, not on evidence, but emotion.  For a large majority, that emotion was hatred.  This was not the rule of law but the heat of passion about which the founders warned so frequently.

As it looks now, those who hate Trump will brag that he was the only President to be impeached twice. They neglect to realize it appears likely he will also be the only President to be acquitted twice.  As time passes and emotions cool, this is likely to work in his favor.

Historians in the future will look back and see a black mark. It will not be a black mark on Trump for being Impeached, but a black mark on the House for abandoning the rule of law and letting their hatred for Trump rule their actions.

Feb 9th, 2021
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Biden—Looking Forward

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

We are a few weeks into the Biden Presidency. With any new Presidency, there is always a question as to what they will actually do. Sure there are all the campaign promises. Still, for many, if not most politicians, there frequently is a marked difference between how they run as a candidate and how they govern once in office.  If nothing else, normally, there is the question about which candidate will be sworn in, the one that appealed to the more hardcore members of their party in the primaries or the one who moved towards the center in the general elections.   Thus, there is always some uncertainty about what they will actually do. 

This situation is exacerbated with Biden.  In the primary and the general, Biden’s campaign was more about who he was not than about who he was and what he would do. In the primary, Biden was not Bernie Sanders. Sanders looked destined to win the nomination until the party’s leaders stepped in to secure Biden’s nomination.  In the general, Biden was not Trump, and he only made occasional token appearances for proof of life.  In fact, at one point, when asked if voters had a right to know where he stood on an issue, he said, no, as that would only distract from Trump.

The lack of any clear, coherent campaign would be enough to cast doubt on this question. Still, there is a further consideration with Biden.  Is he really running things? The presidency is a difficult job. It is very common for people to comment on the toll it takes on the president.  Biden does not appear up to the job. It is not just a question of numerical age.  You do not have to see much of Biden today, to realize that something is missing. He is not the same Biden from just a few years ago.

Thus the serious question is that while Biden has the title, is he really up to the job?  Is he really a strong leader in charge of the situation, or an old man who is just reading what is on the teleprompter or signing whatever they put in front of him. If the latter, who really is in control?  Given how his staff and press project him, we may not know until well after his presidency.

It is clear there is already a growing gap between Biden’s rhetoric at his inaugural address and how he is ruling.  The main theme of his address was unity and bringing the country together. It was a good message, even if it was not convincingly presented. A true call for unity requires a challenge to both sides.  It was very easy to see Biden’s call for unity as a call for his opponent to stop fighting him.

These doubts have only been reinforced in the early days of the administration, marked by an unprecedently avalanche of Executive Orders.  Despite all the complaints about executive orders, Biden has issued more Executive Orders at this point in his presidency than all recent presidents had combined.

Many of these are on controversial issues, such as allowing biological boys to compete in girls’ sports, and thus show little if any concern for unity.  Halting the Keystone pipeline has not only cost jobs but angered our allies to the north. Nor does it make much sense.  It will not stop the oil from flowing; it just means that the oil will continue to be transported by more costly and dangerous means.  Costing jobs, angering allies, increasing environmental risks, and driving up costs is a pretty high price for the political theater of canceling a pipeline project that was well underway to being finished. But at the moment, that seems to be the focus of the Biden Administration.  Using Executive Orders to signal to the far left of his party, he is with them. 

On a more encouraging note, some of the key appointments have been pretty good, or at least not as bad as they could have been.  Antony Blinken at State, Janet Yellen at Treasury, and Merrick Garland as Attorney General signal a more traditional Democratic administration.  In his confirmation hearing, Blinken indicated that Trump’s basic policy direction in China and the Middle East would continue. That is a good sign. Still, Biden seems to want to restart the JCPOA, and his review of the sale of F-35 fighters to the UAE raises concern for the future of the Abraham accords and Middle East Peace.

So at this point, the Biden Administration remains a question mark. Will it go hard left as indicated by his executive orders? Will it be more traditional, as indicated by his key appointments? Will it be incoherent, as Biden is pulled back and forth between the competing forces within his party.  Frankly, it is an open question, given his noticeable decline, whether he can even last four years.

What is clear is that he missed a golden opportunity to unite the country and move it forward.  While he said some of the right words, none of his actions have been unifying, and his party seems out for revenge.  Just after taking office, Trump was pushed by the more radical forces in his party to go after the Clintons.  He said, no, we are not going to do that. In this, Trump was more presidential than Biden has been.

Biden and the Democrats would do well to remember that while they barely won the Presidency and control of the Senate, they came close to losing the House. Meanwhile, Republicans had a good year at the state level.   Still, if history is any guide, Democrats will quickly overreach. Come 2022; they will lose the House and possibly the Senate.  Time will tell.

Feb 4th, 2021
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Trump – Looking Back

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

Now that Trump has gone, or at least is no longer President, the question becomes, what to make of his Presidency.  It was certainly unique. Whether you supported Trump or despised him, Trump was one of the most impactful presidents in American history.  He was President at a time went the country was polarized more than at any time since the Civil War. His critics blame him. Still, while he is certainly far from blameless, any fair-minded person would point out that the division which now split the country has been growing for decades.  Rather than causing the polarization, Trump’s Presidency is more likely a result.

How would I grade the Trump Presidency? Mixed.  His Presidency falls into two distinct categories,  personality and policy. In terms of personality, Trump’s Presidency is hard to evaluate because his greatest strength was also his greatest weakness.  All the Republican presidents and candidates for President in my lifetime have been savaged. This is to be expected from the Democrats, but the news media have also savaged them.  More importantly, this has gotten worse over the years.  McCain was a darling of the press until he became the nominee.  Romney was arguably the nicest person ever to run for office and yet was portrayed as a callous man who let his employees die. For decades Republicans have been routinely called racists, greedy, and wanting to kill people. In one commercial, House Speaker Paul Ryan was depicted as pushing a grandmother over a cliff.

A common attitude among Republicans in 2016 was that we had tried candidates who were nice; we need a fighter. Republicans wanted a candidate who would not cower under the pressure of such attacks.  One thing you can say about Trump is that he did not cower. He fought back.  This was his greatest strength, an ego so large there was no room for self-doubt.  It was also his greatest weakness. Everything was about him, and everything he did was the biggest, the best, the greatest, the largest.

This boosting immediately ran into trouble with a hostile press looking to find even the slightest flaw. Trump soon became fact-checked like no other politician ever had been, which continued a negative spiral with the press all too willing to distort, misrepresent and at times even lie.  

Worse of all, Trump’s ego often got in the way of what he was doing.  Often good news of his administration’s accomplishments was stepped on, not by Democrats trying to divert attention, but by Trump himself as he felt compelled to respond to some perceived slight. In this respect, Trump was often his own worse enemy.

On a side note here, this was one of the reasons I always thought the charge that Trump was racist, or a white supremacist, to be absurd.  For Trump, only one thing matters, Trump.  For him, the world is divided into those who support him and those who don’t.  Nothing else really matters.

The other aspect of Trump’s Presidency is policy, what he did and got accomplished.  His policies are much easier to judge.  His list of accomplishments and success is easily one of the best of any President.  A list of over a hundred Trump accomplishments was fact-checked in the New York Times, mostly true.  Then there were the tax cuts leading to the economy under Trump being one of the best, if not the best, on record.

In area after area, Trump was able to accomplish what others had only promised but failed to deliver. One area where I disagreed with Trump was in the area of free trade.  However, Trump achieved trade deals I did not think were possible. He started rebuilding the military, creating Space Force.  Despite the Democrats and the media’s false rhetoric, his foreign policy accomplishments were many, culminating in the impossible, 4 Middle East peace agreements. These agreements would not have happened without Trump’s leadership, as many Democrats denounced his efforts as destructive and doomed to fail. 

Even with COVID, Trump’s leadership was strong. While the Democrats were busy with the first impeachment, Trump formed a task force on the virus.   Biden called him xenophobic when he shut down flights from China to slow the spread of the virus.  Other Democrats said there was nothing to worry about.  When in March the danger became apparent to all, Democratic governors in California and New York praised Trump’s efforts to help deal with the crisis. 

Early on, the Trump administration stated Operation Warp-Speed to accelerate the development and distribution of a vaccine.  It is a testament to the power of the Democrats and their media allies that as the election grew closer, they were able to ignore all this.  They started to claim Trump did not have a plan. If that was not enough, they said he was responsible for every death. When the history of this period is written, Trump will have a lot to answer for. Still, the naked politicization of the COVID virus by the Democrats and their media allies will be their shame.

How do I grade all this?  The policy is easy. Booming economy before Covid; rebuilt the military, historic trade deals, Middle East peace, and operation Warp-Speed, to name but a few. He gets a solid A.  When grading his personality, one could look at the pros and cons and give him a C. I don’t because, with the policy record Trump accomplished, he should have been unbeatable. Yes, the ruling elites were all against him, but he could have overcome all that.  A major reason his record was not better known was that he kept stepping on his own story. Even in the election campaign, there was too much about Trump and not enough about his accomplishments.  Sure his followers knew what he did.  But not enough voters did.

In any election as close as 2020, there is no single reason why one candidate won or lost.  Any number of things could have changed the outcome. However, Trump’s personality is in his control or at least should be.  His inability to let the story be about his administration’s accomplishments rather than about him cost him the election.  For this, I give him a grade of D. 

Feb 2nd, 2021
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