Dakota Digital Review

Dune or Done? COVID’s Avoidable Catastrophe

Premier Issue

Patrick J. McCloskey

Opinion

Above image: Left to right, Timothée Chalamet, who plays Paul Atreides, and Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Lady Jessica, his mother, in “Dune.”

Imagine someone growing up in a vast desert. One day, this young man or woman leaves home and eventually comes to a river for the first time. Down this person sits and decides to wait until the river runs by. We can chuckle at the quaint absurdity, but this is exactly what Warner Bros. is asking theatre owners across the country to do.

On December 3, Warner Bros. announced that the entire 2021 movie calendar will stream on HBO Max (which its parent company, AT&T, owns) simultaneously with releases in brick-and- mortar theaters. This calendar includes “The Little Things” starring Denzel Washington, as well as sci-fi blockbusters such as “Dune.”

Traditionally, theaters are given about 90 days of exclusive playing rights before movies are available via online streaming platforms. However, Warner Bros. expects that, even with COVID-19 vaccines, moviegoing won’t recover until next fall at the earliest.

Meanwhile, AMC Theatres, the largest movie theater owner, has been watching its river of cash flow by. AMC had to shut down more than 1,000 movie theaters nationwide in March, shedding thousands of jobs.i The company posted a $2.4 billion loss in 2020’s first quarter and warned that its cash flow would run out by the end of the year.ii

However, most businesses, especially small ones (including independent theater owners), didn’t have a river of cash to sustain them for months of lockdown, full and partial. According to a database run by Harvard and Brown Universities, 44 percent of small businesses nationwide were shuttered as lockdowns took effect in the spring in response to COVID.iii A third of small businesses remained closed, including 22 percent in South Dakota and 29.6 percent in North Dakota (partly due to the simultaneous crash in oil and gas prices).

More than 110,000 restaurants and bars—17 percent of the total nationwide—have closed and 37 percent more expect to shut down within six months.iv Millions of jobs have been lost, and hardest hit are low-income, immigrant and minority populations.

The small business carnage is actually much worse, since many owners simply walk away without declaring bankruptcy, so their closures aren’t tracked.v Small businesses account for 44 percent of economic activity and employ half of America’s workers.vi The small business sector is also the incubator for large businesses and multi-national corporations, which don’t spring into existence fully formed.

Add to this ongoing economic disaster, the federal government is adding trillions of dollars to the national debt, which will further burden our children and grandchildren.

China Syndrome

Clearly officials knew little about COVID as it arrived from China. When computer modeling predicted two million deaths, politicians were justifiable afraid—even though they should have questioned the accuracy. Modeling has often proven wildly inaccurate as polling in the recent election cycle and climate warming predictions have shown.

In response, the World Health Organization (WHO) strongly recommended global adoption of the Chinese model—lockdowns—taking at face value the Chinese claim that lockdowns had proved successful. But the Chinese government’s acquaintance with truth is purely accidental. Lockdowns were guaranteed to cause massive damage to the West and further China’s political and economic ascendance.

While the first weeks of lockdown were prudent, it became clear that, although highly contagious, the disease isn’t very deadly. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the mortality rate by age group is 0.00003 percent (0-19 years), 0.0002 percent (20-49 years), 0.005 percent (50-69 years), and 0.054 percent (70+ years).vii Mortality is almost entirely limited to identifiable groups: the elderly and those suffering from comorbid conditions. Of the 332,246 deaths the CDC attributes to COVID (December 29),viii more than a third occurred in nursing homes.

With all the data and research tools available via the internet and high-speed computing, it’s astounding that a more wholistic approach hasn’t been implemented. Surely strategies to protect the elderly and otherwise vulnerable would prove far less costly in monetary and human terms.

Lockdowns are causing enormous social harm, “including plummeting childhood vaccination rates, worse cardiovascular disease outcomes, less cancer screening and deteriorating mental health, to name a few. The social isolation induced by lockdown has led to a sharp rise in opioid and drug-related overdoses … . For children, the cessation of in-person schooling since the spring has led to ‘catastrophic’ learning losses, with severe projected adverse consequences for affected students’ lifespans. According to a CDC estimate, one in four young adults seriously considered suicide this past June.”ix

Even though children are more likely to die from the annual influenza,x schools have been shut, reopened and shut again in many areas. Also, there are mandatory quarantines from 10 to 14 days for any student potentially exposed to COVID. Research shows that transmissions in school are very low (0.22 percent) and more than 25 percent lower than in students’ communities.xi

Even so, mayors and governors keep returning to partial lockdowns and threaten full ones, as first-time unemployment benefits filings soar.xii Large school districts, such as New York and San Francisco, have recently shelved plans to reopen schools.

Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University, organized a team of data scientist to keep track of COVID in schools nationwide. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, she concluded that leaders often overreact when only a handful of cases are reported.xiii

Why do political leaders and government agency authorities resort to top-down decisions and management regardless of consequence? Obviously, there are times when top-down decisions work best. On February 2, a complete ban on travel from mainland China took effect, which saved many American lives. At the time, President Donald Trump’s opponents criticized the order and then later blamed him for not imposing the ban sooner. This underscores the difficulty in determining when to resort to top-down mandates, which by their nature are draconian. But as the epidemic spread here, it became clear that the cure (lockdowns) was worse than the disease.

Top-Down Default

In the current COVID era, digital technologies have enabled companies, educational institutions, governments to continue operating via the internet. Meetings are now held via Zoom or Microsoft Teams; employees share documents through email or Slack; agencies communicate with the public via email, texts, websites. These are technological wonders to celebrate with gratitude.

If the pandemic had hit even 10 years ago, this would not have been possible at today’s scale. Today, 37 percent of jobs can be performed wholly online, and these tend to be at the high end of technological acuity and compensation.xiv

Although digitization enabled lockdowns, technology did not cause them. Part of the problem is that the governing class gets paid full salaries with benefits and so doesn’t feel the squeeze, which has become crushing.

However, the dominant issue is—as economists Dierdre McCloskey (no relation to the author of this article) and Art Carden explain in their book,  Leave Me Alone and I’ll Make You Rich—what they term the “Bureaucratic Deal.” In short, this means rule by credentialed technocrats or “betterment by permission,” which is expressed in top-down plans and mandates.

In health care, this involves banning or discouraging the use of medicine that the FDA hasn’t approved, for example. Ironically, this was exactly the gigantic obstacle that Operation Warp Speed was designed to circumvent—a decision from the very top crafted to avoid typical bureaucratic delays. Otherwise, years would pass before any vaccine could be dispensed.

The alternative model that McCloskey and Carden propose is the “Bourgeois Deal,” in which a free-market approach or “permissionless betterment” dominates.

Nordic Trust

When the pandemic began, Sweden took a deliberate non-bureaucratic approach. Instead of hard lockdown, Swedish officials informed the public and encouraged them to act responsibly. This worked, except for the elderly. Then COVID’s second wave hit and Sweden’s death rate rose to 716 per million.xv After the release of a government commission report, critics called the Swedish approach a failure, as does the nation’s king.xvi

But what the Swedish government botched was specific: failure to protect the elderly. This is the crux of the challenge worldwide and was botched ubiquitously. For nursing home residents and other vulnerable people who can’t take care of themselves, government intervention is warranted.

In response to the COVID report, the Swedish government announced steps to protect the elderly, along with minimal restrictions, such as no groups larger than four in restaurants, and recommendations, including masks on public transportation during rush hour.

It should be noted that many other countries that mandated lockdowns have higher mortality rates, for example, Spain at 1,000 and the United States at 884. Clearly, the virus doesn’t care whether lockdowns are in place.

Norway and Finland have much lower mortality rates at 68 and 78, respectively. According to an Oxford University research team, these countries have instituted fewer restrictions than Sweden.xvii

Lockdowns have such a miserable record the WHO now advises against them. Trust in the responsible ingenuity of the people works better than a “bureaucratic deal” and avoids economic and social disasters, which will be worse in the long run. And yes, top-down policies specifically protecting the vulnerable, who aren’t self-sufficient, are warranted.

Paul Atreides

Consider, for example, Pierre Kory, MD, MPA, a modern-day Paul Atreides (the lead character in “Dune”) battling enemies who want control over drugs (“spice” in “Dune”) that benefit humanity. Dr. Kory is an Associate Professor of Medicine at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His medical specialty is pulmonary and critical care.

Dr. Kory cofounded the Front-Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliancexviii with several top critical care experts. On December 8, Dr. Kory testified before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on “Early Outpatient Treatment: An Essential Part of a COVID-19 Solution, Part II.”xix

“Our group” Dr. Kory testified, “developed a highly effective protocol for preventing and early treatment of COVID-19. In the last three to four months, emerging publications provide conclusive data on the profound efficacy of the anti-parasite, anti-viral drug, anti-inflammatory agent called ivermectin in all stages of the disease.”

For nine months after the onset of the pandemic, Dr. Kory and other Alliance members (his group)—in utter “permissionless,” unbureaucratic mode—researched medical literature, while treating COVID patients in intensive care units. This led to the development of their successful MATH+ Hospital Treatment Protocol.

Ivermectin is safe and available at low cost. The 2015 Nobel Prize was awarded to William C. Campbell, PhD, for discovering the drug. Ivermectin has since been used to eradicate parasitic diseases worldwide. Now, more than 20 clinical studies on treating COVID with the drug have shown, “large magnitude and statistically significant benefits in decreasing transmission rates, shortening recovery times, decreasing hospitalizations, or large reductions in deaths,” Dr. Kory said. “These data show that ivermectin is effectively a ‘miracle drug’ against COVID-19.”

This is astoundingly positive news. It will take many months for everyone to be vaccinated. Also, as the virus mutates, the vaccine might prove less effective. Nor is there any certainty about how long the vaccine will provide protection.

Pulitzer Prize

The problem is, it’s not major news at all. Dr. Kory recounted “the censorship of all of our attempts at disseminating critical scientific information on Facebook and other social media with our pages repeatedly being blocked.” He added that no national media venue nor American health care agency has even inquired about their work. (Dr. Kory was featured in a New York Times article in August, but no mention was made of ivermectin.)xx

Why?

“[T]he only research and treatment focus that we have observed on a national scale,” Dr. Kory related, “is with novel or high-cost pharmaceutically engineered products.”

Dr. Kory presented graphs showing that mass distribution of ivermectin occurred throughout Peru and in one Mexican state at the time of peak deaths, “followed by rapid and sustained reduction in both case counts and death rates in patients over 60 years old.”xxi Since his testimony before the Homeland Security committee, which could not be censored, several YouTube videos have been posted and remain available.

Dr. Kory and his group just published a peer-reviewed paper about the MATH+ protocol in the Journal of Critical Care Medicine.xxii Additional supporting material is available at covid19criticalcare.com and at EvolveToEcology.org.xxiiGoogle Scholar lists hundreds of journal articles by doctors around the globe reporting on ivermectin and COVID patients.

Imagine if the Math+ protocol with ivermectin had been implemented nationwide beginning in May, as the drug was dispensed in Peru. Disastrous lockdowns and restrictions could have been lifted and tens of thousands of lives saved. Nor would the health care system be overburdened with COVID patients.

But then there is suppression and censorship by the media and Big Tech. The Associated Press (AP) published an article in December stating categorically that, “There’s no evidence ivermectin has been proven a safe or effective treatment against COVID-19.”xxiii At the bottom of the page is this note: “This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.”

Perhaps AP will win a Pulitzer for speaking power to truth.

Dune or Done?

Regardless of whether Warner Bros. retracts its plan to stream new releases with theater premiers, “Dune” is scheduled for release on October 1, 2021. How many theaters will still be in business? It seems that most of them—along with restaurants, shops and other small businesses—will display signs reading, in effect, “Done.”

Will global elites and Big Tech make trillions of dollars from expensive drugs and the ongoing transfer of wealth from faltering small businesses? Large profits are necessary and laudable, but as G.K. Chesterton put it, “Too much capitalism doesn’t mean too many capitalists, but too few.”

Shockingly, 27 of the nation’s top 50 firms—90 percent of which posted profits this year—laid off more than 100,000 workers.xxiv Could they have picked a worse time to betray their employees and demonstrate their lack of connection to the country that enabled their success?

Or will the “permissionless”—such as Dr. Kory armed with data, experience and integrity—ultimately prevail and restore the local self-governing character that founded this republic? Will lockdown-prone leaders take notice and trust the combined—and much greater—wisdom of the little guys (a.k.a. voters)? Please report any Atreides sightings, by carrier pigeon if necessary … .

Patrick J. McCloskey is the Director of the Social and Ethical Implications of Cyber Sciences at the North Dakota University System and serves as the editor-in-chief of Dakota Digital Review. Previously, he served as the Director of Research and Publications at the University of Mary and editor-in-chief of 360 Review Magazine. He earned an MS in Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. McCloskey has written for many publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Post and City Journal. His books include Open Secrets of Success: The Gary Tharaldson Story; Frank’s Extra Mile: A Gentleman’s Story; and The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem, published by the University of California Press.

i “AMC Theatres, Largest Owner of Movie Theaters, has ‘Substantial Doubt’ It Can Remain in Business,” June 3, 2020, https://bit.ly/3hi6don.

ii Pollatta, Frank, “AMC Theatres Could Run Out of Money By the End of the Year,” October 13, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/13/media/amc-theatres-money-movies/index.html

ii Economic Tracker, Opportunity Insights, https://tracktherecovery.org/.

iv Haddon, Heather and Wernau, Julie, “Restaurant Safety Net Frays as Covid-19 Pandemic Progresses to Winter,” The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2020.

v Ngo, Madeleine, “Small Businesses are Dying by the Thousands—And No One is Tracking the Carnage,” Bloomberg, August 11, 2020.

vi Ibid.

vii Stewart, Steve, CDC Releases Updated COVID-19 Fatality Rate Data, Tallahassee Reports, September 26, 2020.

viii CDC COVID Data Tracker, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data- tracker/#cases_casesper100klast7days.

ix Bhattacharya, Jay, Gupta, Sunetra and Kulldorff, Martin, “Focused Protection: The Middle Ground Between Lockdowns and ‘Let It Rip,’” November 25, 2020, https://gbdeclaration.org/focused-protection/.

x CDC (2020) Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths in the United States — 2019-2020 influenza season.

xi https://bit.ly/38Ec17w.

xii Henney, Megan, “Number of Americans filing for unemployment aid hits highest level since September,” Yahoo!, December 17, 2020.

xii Whelen, Robbie, “Schools Rethink Covid Rules. ‘We’re Over- Quarantining Kids Like Crazy,’” The Wall Street Journal, December 24, 2020.

xiv Dingel, JI and Neiman, B., “How Many Jobs Can Be Done at Home?” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper #26948. April 2020.

xvCOVID-19 Pandemic by Country and Territory,” Wikipedia.

xvi Milne, Richard, “Sweden Announces Toughest Covid Measures Yet,” Financial Times, December 18, 2020.

xvii Our World in Data, Oxford University.

xviii Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance: covid19criticalcare.com.

xix Testimony of Dr. Pierre Kory, December 8, 2020.

xx Dominus, Susan, “The Covid Drug Wars That Pitted Doctor vs. Doctor,” New York Times, August 5, 2020.

xxi Kory, Pierre, MD, MPA, et al, “Clinical and Scientific Rationale for the ‘MATH+’ Hospital Treatment Protocol for COVID-19,” Journal of Intensive Care Medicine 1-22 XX(X).

xxiiDr. Kory Recommends Ivermectin, a Powerful Anti-Viral for Early Treatment for COVID Patients,” Evolve to Ecology .

xxiii Dupuy, Beatrice, “No Evidence Ivermectin is a Miracle Drug Against COVID-19,” AP News, December 11, 2020.

xxiv MacMillan, Douglas, Whoriskey, Peter and O’Connell, Jonathan, “America’s Biggest Companies are Flourishing During the Pandmemic and Putting Thousands of People out of Work,” Washington Post, December 16, 2020.

Welcome to Our Premiere Issue

Covering the cyber sciences as well as related legal, political, regulatory, social and ethical issues, and digitization’s impact on the arts. The review is written and edited for the general educated reader. It is vitally important that residents throughout the region—whether working in government or business, or who are retired—become fluent and engaged in cyber sciences and their ramifications. Articles are written mostly by faculty and students but not to promote their universities. Instead, higher education’s intellectual resources are being mobilized statewide to serve the public beyond the campus. Dakota Digital Review, along with public talks and forums, will help elevate discussions and debates about digitization, facilitating far better preparation of government and business and of voters to make crucial decisions about our future.

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