New York: Why Has America’s Vaccination Drive Suddenly Stalled?

Operation Warp Speed stood as the Trump administration’s one gold-plated achievement, but now it’s looking more like a chintzy bronze façade. Having been denied access to federal vaccine-distribution plans during the transition, President Joe Biden’s incoming staffers said they were chagrined to find upon taking office that there were none. “We are going to have to build everything from scratch,” one source told CNN. Simultaneously, vaccine supplies unexpectedly dried up across the country, forcing New York City and other localities to suspend inoculations. “We’ve had to tell 23,000 New Yorkers who had an appointment this week that they will not be able to get that appointment for lack of supply,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference Wednesday.

The first intimations of trouble came last week. “We usually hear what we’re going to get for the following week no later than Wednesday night,” says Andrew Rubin, vice-president for clinical affairs and ambulatory care at NYU Langone Health. “This particular Wednesday, we didn’t hear anything. That, of course, made us anxious. So we started talking to the state more emotionally aggressively on Thursday: Where’s the vaccine? Where’s the vaccine? And, quite frankly, nobody really knew where it was.”

By last Friday, NYU Langone Health had decided not to schedule any appointments for the week ahead. The Mount Sinai Health System began canceling appointments that had already been made. Only on Sunday did it receive confirmation that its allotment would fall short. “They didn’t have the supply to give us,” says Sue Mashni, Mount Sinai’s chief pharmacy officer. Continue reading New York: Why Has America’s Vaccination Drive Suddenly Stalled?

New York: Two-Mile Nosedive by a Boeing 737 in Indonesia As Yet Unexplained

Authorities have located the black boxes for Sriwijaya Air Flight 182, the Boeing 737 that crashed Saturday in Indonesian waters after it plunged suddenly and precipitously four minutes after takeoff. The data they contain should clarify why the plane dove 10,000 feet nearly vertically in just 15 seconds and struck the Java Sea at nearly 500 miles per hour, instantly killing the 62 people aboard.

The speed of the descent implies that the plane remained substantially intact, with the engines generating power right until the end. No mayday call was transmitted, nor did the emergency beacon transmit after impact. The speed of the impact likely shredded all but the rearmost portions of the aircraft.

Sriwijaya Air, Indonesia’s third largest airline, was founded in 2003. Before Saturday it had lost three 737s in bad landings but these accidents had not killed any passengers or crew. In 2019, half of its aircraft were temporarily grounded by regulators for safety reasons. Indonesian airlines overall have a notoriously poor safety record. In the past decade, nearly 700 people have died in air crashes in the country. Continue reading New York: Two-Mile Nosedive by a Boeing 737 in Indonesia As Yet Unexplained

New York: The Vaccine Arsenal That Will Win the War on COVID

COVID’s endgame has begun. Vaccinations for the coronavirus got underway in the U.S. on Monday, using a vaccine produced by Pfizer, and approval is expected soon for another shot by Moderna. Both vaccines appear to be about 95 percent effective at preventing illness from COVID-19. The federal government expects to have enough of both vaccines to protect 150 million Americans by the end of June.

We’ve been remarkably lucky with vaccine development. Back in the spring, experts were cautioning that vaccines typically take decades to gain approval and that the mRNA technology used by Pfizer and Moderna had never before been approved for human use. These vaccines deliver packages of genetic material inside tiny capsules that infiltrate a patient’s cells and cause them to churn out one of the proteins that make up SARS-Cov-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). The immune system learns to recognize this protein and thereby the entire living virus. Virologists expected that the technique would likely only be marginally effective, but the reality has turned out to be dramatically better than that. “Ninety-five percent effective — you couldn’t ask for higher efficacy,” says Rachel Roper, an immunologist at East Carolina University.

But there’s the problem of quantity. Vaccines for 150 million Americans leaves 100 million adults unprotected. For the rest, hope for a jab by the start of summer depends on the next round of vaccines to come through. Here, the road ahead is murkier, as there’s a lot of uncertainty about how effective the candidates will prove to be. Of the four currently undergoing testing as part of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s effort to fast-track production of vaccines, two have recently suffered stumbles. Continue reading New York: The Vaccine Arsenal That Will Win the War on COVID

New York: Michael Cohen on How ‘Monster’ Trump Will Undermine Biden

Back in February 2019, President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen declared at a House Oversight Committee hearing that if Trump were to lose the 2020 election, “there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” Years of service as Trump’s bagman and consigliere — including participation in crimes that landed Cohen in prison with a three-year sentence — had provided him unique insight into the thoughts of the man he once called the Boss. With that in mind, New York asked Cohen to interpret Trump’s ongoing election meltdown.

Is there a strategy behind the tantrum Trump has been throwing since November 3? 
It’s all a shameless con job. He sees his claims of fraud as driving up donations — there’s nothing behind it beyond greed. Trump is using the moment to raise money. The number is actually shockingly large, over $150 million, a majority of it from small-dollar donations. This money is not going to his Election Defense Fund; it’s to keep him relevant in the GOP and launch his media brand. It’s all about money and power, and you need one to get the other.

Does he really believe massive election fraud took place?
There is that part of him that cannot accept losing. In his mind, the only way Biden could have won is through fraud. He has convinced himself of a narrative and is being fed back what he wants to hear from sycophants. The only one of these scumbags who truly believes this crap is Sidney Powell, but she is legitimately insane. Continue reading New York: Michael Cohen on How ‘Monster’ Trump Will Undermine Biden

New York: For Trump, the Most Dangerous Covid Phase Lies Ahead

Having first exhibited COVID-19 symptoms last Wednesday or Thursday, President Trump left Walter Reed medical center just as he was entering the disease’s danger zone. While he may seem outwardly fine, the complex interaction between the virus and his immune system taking place inside his body could quickly spiral out of control, according to experts.

The timing of the coronavirus’s peak danger is a function of how the virus attacks the body. During the early phase, the coronavirus multiplies inside the host’s cells and triggers the immune system response. It’s during this period that the first symptoms can manifest. The critical phase doesn’t come until seven to 10 days after the onset of symptoms, when the immune system can lurch dangerously into overdrive as it tries to beat back the infection.

It’s during this time that patients risk undergoing what’s called “decompensation” — a process in which the disease abruptly becomes life threatening, which can unfold over the course of hours. “People can be percolating along and doing fairly well, and then all of a sudden without warning, inexplicably just crash,” says Daniel Sterman, the director of pulmonary medicine, critical care, and sleep medicine at NYU Langone Health.

Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, calls it “falling off a cliff.” Continue reading New York: For Trump, the Most Dangerous Covid Phase Lies Ahead

New York: Trump’s COVID Case Could Be Mild or Fatal. Here Are Signs to Watch For.

Dr. Scott Atlas, a special adviser on coronavirus to President Trump, told Fox News that he expected the president and First Lady to make a “complete, full, and rapid recovery” following their coronavirus diagnosis. “I anticipate that he will be back on the road in full swing.”

That’s entirely possible. “Patients might have symptoms for only one or two days,” says Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute in the Icahn School of Medicine. But he cautions that the disease strikes with a wide range of severity, and even mild cases can last a week or more. And if Trump’s condition worsens, he could easily be out of commission until after the election.

The progression of the disease is usually charted from when a patient starts to manifest symptoms. At first — no matter what the eventual course the infection migt follow — it starts out gently, with symptoms that often include a low fever, cough, fatigue, muscle ache, and nausea. The White House reported today that Trump has “mild symptoms,” and Melania tweeted that she had “mild symptoms but feeling good.” Questions about the severity of the president’s condition were triggered, however, when Trump failed to take part in a call with state governors scheduled for 12:15 p.m. and was replaced without notice by Vice-President Pence.

The White House has announced that President Trump will be hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center, suggesting that his condition is on the moderate to severe end of things. It also said that he was given a dose of experimental Regeneron monoclonal antibody therapy, a treatment that has not been approved for use by the FDA. “He may be sicker that they let on,” says John Emy, a physician at New York University Langone Medical Center, while conceding that “he isn’t an average citizen, so they may be acting extremely conservatively.”

What to expect if Trump’s case is mild or moderate

According to CDC guidance, if the disease remains mild or moderate, patients will start to feel better after ten to 14 days, with a cough lasting an average of 19 days. But that does not mean that they will necessarily feel totally back to normal. A New York-area physician who came down with what she considers a moderate case had a fever for 14 straight days. “But it was a full month until I really felt back to normal,” said Peggy E. (who asked that her last name not be used). “A colleague who got sick at the same time still has periodic shortness of breath,” she said.

After patients recover, the CDC recommends that they remain isolated for at least ten days after the appearance of symptoms or three days after recovery — whichever comes later. In the scenario, the odds are small that Trump will be able to meet Joe Biden for their second debate on October 15.

What to expect if Trump’s case is severe

If Trump’s condition instead worsens and the infection rages, the critical turn for the worse would typically come around the end of the first week. The CDC reports that the time from onset of symptoms to acute-respiratory-distress syndrome — the buildup of fluid in the lungs that puts people in the ICU — is usually around eight to 15 days.

Atlas told Fox that Trump “is a very, very healthy guy and the overwhelming majority of people even at his age do fine with this. He is very healthy and so I anticipate the same for him.”

In reality, Trump suffers from three risk factors: In addition to being elderly, he is male and he is obese. While overall only 12.2 percent of people between 65 and 74 who come down with COVID-19 will wind up being hospitalized, men have twice the risk of women. Beyond that, obese people are 113 percent more likely to be hospitalized than those of normal weight.

There is little hospitals can do to cure the disease; drugs like remdesivir only offer a moderate reduction in recovery time. What medicine can do is mitigate the effects of complications like pneumonia, septic shock, heart arrhythmia, and secondary infections as the immune system fights the virus.

Take, for example, British prime minister Boris Johnson, who came down with COVID-19 on March 27. Like Trump, it started with a persistent cough and a fever. Ten days later, Johnson was hospitalized, and two days after that, moved to intensive care. In all, he spent seven nights in the hospital, followed by two weeks recovering at home, not working. If Trump follows a similar trajectory, he will be back on his feet around November 2.

But if his symptoms are severe, he could be in recovery for months. And for every thousand people in their mid-70s or older who get COVID-19, 116 will die.

New York: Times’ Trump Tax Scoop Doesn’t Prove Criminality. But Does it Point the Way?

The New York Times’ blockbuster unveiling of President Trump’s tax returns features a wealth of unsavory revelations, including the fact that he used aggressive accounting to avoid paying taxes on hundreds of millions of dollars of income. But while the scoop may yield political fallout, there’s little in this phase of the Times’ reporting that in itself suggests criminal exposure for the president in the form of tax-fraud charges. “What you have,” says former IRS criminal investigator Martin Sheil, “is a pattern of constantly pushing the envelope, exploiting every tax advantage that the Internal Revenue Code legitimately provides.”

The president was able to pull this off because of decades of political pressure from the wealthy to recast the tax system in their favor, Shein says: “There are so many legal deductions that businesses — such as real-estate moguls — have lobbied for and obtained and that Mr. Trump is now exploiting.”

Even if Trump is eventually found to have gone beyond the bounds of the law — if, for instance, IRS auditors ultimately reject the $70,000 that Trump deducted in hair-styling expenses — that would only be a civil matter, resulting in the imposition of a monetary penalty.

Trump’s tax filings could put him in danger, Sheil says, is if they are contradicted by other financial filings that indicate the president knowingly misrepresented his finances on one or more of them. As I recently reported for New York about Trump’s criminal exposure, falsifying business records can be charged as a felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison if it is committed in the furtherance of another crime, such as tax fraud.

One place to look for inconsistencies, Sheil says, is in the tax forms’ depreciation schedules. “It sounds pretty arcane,” he says, “but it might be important, because when you depreciate an asset you have have to show the cost basis of that asset on the tax return. It should be the same amount that you use in loan applications to banks when you use it as collateral to purchase additional commercial property or golf courses or whatever. If you are enhancing these assets’ value falsely — putting down a different number on your financial statements than what’s on your tax returns — how do you explain that? You’re boxed in.” Likewise, any inconsistency between property-tax filings or insurance applications could also suggest fraud.

The Times’ revelations come as Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. seemed poised to win a yearlong subpoena battle against Trump to obtain financial documents from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars. If Vance’s bid is successful, he could obtain not only Trump’s tax returns but other financial filings and correspondence with his accountants that could reveal discrepancies and demonstrate an awareness on Trump’s part that he was engaging in criminal conduct — a prerequisite for felony fraud charges. Last week, in a court filing with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Vance’s office indicated publicly for the first time that it was weighing tax-fraud charges against Trump.

The origin of Vance’s case was the discovery by Mueller investigators that Trump had directed Michael Cohen to make hush-money payments to a former lover, the porn star Stormy Daniels, and then falsely claimed the expenditure as legal expenses. “It raises the question in my mind of why a guy who is so privileged, has access to the best lawyers and accountants and can take every advantage of the tax code—why would someone like that have to go even further and commit tax fraud? What kind of person does that?” asks Sheil. “It’s not too hard for a jury, once they’re informed as to the pattern of illegitimate financial conduct by a person, to understand his state of mind. I think that Mr Trump has created a real problem for himself if these things turn out to be true.”

This story originally ran in New York magazine on September 28, 2020.

New York: The People v. Donald J. Trump

The defendant looked uncomfortable as he stood to testify in the shabby courtroom. Dressed in a dark suit and somber tie, he seemed aged, dimmed, his posture noticeably stooped. The past year had been a massive comedown for the 76-year-old former world leader. For decades, the bombastic onetime showman had danced his way past scores of lawsuits and blustered through a sprawl of scandals. Then he left office and was indicted for tax fraud. As a packed courtroom looked on, he read from a curled sheaf of papers. It seemed as though the once inconceivable was on the verge of coming to pass: The country’s former leader would be convicted and sent to a concrete cell.

The date was October 19, 2012. The man was Silvio Berlusconi, the longtime prime minister of Italy.

Here in the United States, we have never yet witnessed such an event. No commander-in-chief has been charged with a criminal offense, let alone faced prison time. But if Donald Trump loses the election in November, he will forfeit not only a sitting president’s presumptive immunity from prosecution but also the levers of power he has aggressively co-opted for his own protection. Considering the number of crimes he has committed, the time span over which he has committed them, and the range of jurisdictions in which his crimes have taken place, his potential legal exposure is breathtaking. More than a dozen investigations are already under way against him and his associates. Even if only one or two of them result in criminal charges, the proceedings that follow will make the O. J. Simpson trial look like an afternoon in traffic court.

It may seem unlikely that Trump will ever wind up in a criminal court. His entire life, after all, is one long testament to the power of getting away with things, a master class in criminality without consequences, even before he added presidentiality and all its privileges to his arsenal of defenses. As he himself once said, “When you’re a star, they let you do it.” But for all his advantages and all his enablers, including loyalists in the Justice Department and the federal judiciary, Trump now faces a level of legal risk unlike anything in his notoriously checkered past — and well beyond anything faced by any previous president leaving office. Continue reading New York: The People v. Donald J. Trump

GQ: What It Will Take to Get to a Vaccine

The first volunteers are already waiting when Rosa G. gets to the lab. She’s worked as a technician on human trials before but never seen people so eager to be injected with an experimental vaccine. She meets the first subject, a young woman in a mauve tank top, in an examination room. She has her sit, then draws a few milliliters of clear fluid from a clear vial.

“Ready?” Rosa asks.

“Yup,” the woman answers.

Rosa jabs the sharp end of the needle into the soft flesh of her tricep and presses the plunger. The woman looks exactly as she did a moment before, but in an instant her body has become something profoundly different: a new front line in the battle between mankind and the novel coronavirus. Hundreds of thousands have died of COVID-19, and more than seven billion immunologically defenseless bodies await like dry chaparral at the height of fire season.

Rosa has dosed the volunteer with an experimental vaccine made up of a mishmash of microscopic particles of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that have been chemically chopped up and rendered harmless, like a pistol run over by a steamroller. Though incapable of causing infection, to the immune system they are antigens: foreign particles that are unfamiliar and presumed dangerous. In response to their presence, the body learns to create antibodies that will circulate and latch onto any identical antigens they may encounter in the future. In swarming an antigen, antibodies prevent it from carrying out infection, and they also mark it for destruction by hunter-killer cells.

The idea behind this kind of vaccine, called “whole killed” or “inactivated,” has been successfully used many times in the past, from the Salk polio vaccine to annual flu shots. But will this formulation stimulate the body’s immune defenses enough? Or, conversely, will it trigger dangerous adverse reactions, like the 1976 swine flu vaccine that left 450 with a crippling neurological disease? Continue reading GQ: What It Will Take to Get to a Vaccine