Patterico's Pontifications


Trump Reportedly Enthusiastic About Plant Extract As Cure For Covid-19 (UPDATE ADDED)

Filed under: General — Dana @ 12:12 pm

[guest post by Dana]

It would not be surprising in the least to see Dr. Trump once again latching onto an unproven cure for Covid-19:

To the alarm of some government health officials, President Trump has expressed enthusiasm for the Food and Drug Administration to permit an extract from the oleander plant to be marketed as a dietary supplement or, alternatively, approved as a drug to cure COVID-19, despite lack of proof that it works.

…The experimental botanical extract, oleandrin, was promoted to Trump during an Oval Office meeting in July.

It’s part of a pattern in which entrepreneurs, often without rigorous vetting, push unproven products to Trump — knowing their sales pitches might catch his eye. Trump will then urge FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to “look at” or speed up approval.

Here’s where this gets even more troubling:

It’s embraced by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and MyPillow founder and CEO Mike Lindell, a big Trump backer, who recently took a financial stake in the company that develops the product.

Lindell told Axios that in the meeting, Trump “basically said: …’The FDA should be approving it.'”

MyPillow CEO Lindell, who is a major advertiser on Fox News and a personal friend of Carson and Trump, helped Whitney get an Oval Office meeting with the president in July to discuss oleandrin as a potential COVID-19 cure…

Lindell said that he, Carson, at least one lawyer and, briefly, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, joined Trump and Whitney for the meeting. Notably absent was Hahn, the head of the agency that studies and approves medical treatments.

Asked why the HUD secretary was promoting an unproven botanical extract to cure COVID-19, a Carson spokesperson emailed the following statement to Axios: “Secretary Carson is a member of the Coronavirus Task Force, he has been directly involved with the Administration’s response to this disease from the very beginning.”

Jim Geraghty reminds us that Ben Carson’s connection to companies marketing health supplements has been problematic in the past. This is Carson in 2016 promoting a medical-supplement maker accused of false advertising:

The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel. And that fuel was the right kind of healthy food. You know we live in a society that is very sophisticated, and sometimes we’re not able to achieve the original diet. And we have to alter our diet to fit our lifestyle. Many of the natural things are not included in our diet. Basically what the company is doing is trying to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health.

Here is more detail:

Carson’s interactions with Mannatech, a nutritional-supplement company based in suburban Dallas, date back to 2004, when he was a speaker at the company’s annual conferences, MannaFest and MannaQuest. He also spoke at Mannatech conferences in 2011 and 2013, and spoke about “glyconutrients” in a PBS special as recently as last year.

Mannatech has a long, checkered past, stretching back to its founding more than a decade before Carson began touting the company’s supplements. It was started by businessman Samuel L. Caster in late 1993, mere “months,” the Wall Street Journal later noted, before Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which greatly loosened restrictions on how supplement makers could market their products. Within a few years of its inception, the company was marketing a wide variety of “glyconutrient” products using many of the same tactics previously described in lawsuits against Eagle Shield, Caster’s first company.

Concerns about this new alleged “cure” for Covid-19 are manifold – including a lack of public data confirming that oleandrin has been tested in humans, specifically regarding to Covid-19:

Senior administration officials familiar with the internal conversations around oleandrin have raised concerns about the way this botanical extract — pushed by Andrew Whitney of Phoenix Biotechnology — is being promoted at the highest levels of the Trump administration.

There is no public data showing oleandrin has ever been tested in animals or humans for its efficacy against COVID-19, but the extract has shown some evidence of inhibiting the virus in a non-peer reviewed laboratory study.

In an interview on Saturday, Whitney told Axios that oleandrin has been tested on humans for its efficacy against COVID-19 but said the study has not been published yet. He also said the lab study is in the process of being peer reviewed.The first path is as a COVID-19 drug, which would involve a rigorous process that includes clinical trials.

But to hedge his bets, Whitney said he is also pushing the FDA to allow oleandrin to be sold off the shelf as a dietary supplement — a move that could be made immediately, Whitney has told administration officials.

Whitney has claimed to administration officials that oleandrin cures COVID-19 in two days, according to a source familiar with his private comments.

But if the FDA allows oleandrin to be sold as a dietary supplement, the company would not be allowed to make medical claims about its ability to treat or cure COVID-19.

Asked about this claim about oleandrin being a “cure” for COVID-19, Whitney said he stands by it “100%.”

Whitney says that he has provided the White House with evidence to support his claims and that the FDA is “dragging its feet” about approval:

“The process is too slow. … We ought to be given an opportunity to test this. Call my bluff!”

UPDATE: Reporters asked Trump about the unproven coronavirus therapeutic today at the White House South Lawn. It sounded like he was testing the waters:

Trump confirmed he’s “heard about” oleandrin when asked Monday on the White House South Lawn, but still seemed to be in an information-gathering phase.

“Is it something people are talking about very strongly?” he asked the reporter.

“We’ll look at it, we’ll look at it, we’re looking at a lot of different things. I will say the FDA has been great. They are very close. We’re very close to a vaccine. Very close to a therapeutic. I have heard that name mentioned, we’ll find out,” the President said.


As The Gap Between Biden and Trump Narrows, Will The “Hidden Trump Voters” Close It Even More?

Filed under: General — Dana @ 8:37 am

[guest post by Dana]

CNN is reporting that a new poll shows Trump closing the gap against Biden’s lead among registered voters:

Overall, 50% of registered voters back the Biden-Harris ticket, while 46% say they support Trump and Pence, right at the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Among the 72% of voters who say they are either extremely or very enthusiastic about voting this fall, Biden’s advantage over Trump widens to 53% to 46%. It is narrower, however, among those voters who live in the states that will have the most impact on the electoral college this fall.

Across 15 battleground states, the survey finds Biden has the backing of 49% of registered voters, while Trump lands at 48%.

The pool of battleground states in this poll includes more that Trump carried in 2016 (10) than were won by Hillary Clinton (5), reflecting the reality that the President’s campaign is more on defense than offense across the states. Taken together, though, they represent a more Republican-leaning playing field than the nation as a whole.

The movement in the poll among voters nationwide since June is concentrated among men (they split about evenly in June, but now 56% back Trump, 40% Biden), those between the ages of 35 and 64 (they tilt toward Trump now, but were Biden-leaning in June) and independents (in June, Biden held a 52% to 41% lead, but now it’s a near even 46% Biden to 45% Trump divide).

Trump has also solidified his partisans since June. While 8% of Republicans or Republican-leaning independents in June said they would back Biden, that figure now stands at just 4%. And the President has boosted his backing among conservatives from 76% to 85%.

The poll also reveals that among those questioned, more Trump voters say they may change their minds before November than Biden voters.

While the President’s approval ratings are historically low at 54% (disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job) and 42% approve, that is still an improvement over previous job approval ratings.

With that, Nate Silver is estimating that Trump has a 27% chance of winning the election based on FiveThirtyEight’s average of national polls. However, that estimate comes with a caveat:

Silver said “uncertainties related to COVID-19,” like what the economy will look like in November, make the election especially unpredictable.

“It’s simply too soon for a model or for anybody else to be all that confident about what is going to happen,” Silver said.

Silver’s bottom line: “Yes, Trump definitely still has a shot at re-election.”

Meanwhile, a report came out this weekend, discussing the “hidden” Trump voters. If they do exist, will they number enough to bring Trump a victory?

The belief that Americans aren’t getting the real story about Mr. Trump’s chances for re-election has taken hold among many of his supporters. For Trump loyalists, it is an appealing story, and one with some validity: The news media, which largely failed to anticipate Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016, are undercounting his voters, many of whom are even more reluctant today than they were four years ago to declare themselves in his camp.

Mr. Trump makes this argument often; on Saturday evening, he told reporters that “we have a silent majority the likes of which nobody has seen.” One of his pollsters, John McLaughlin, has even put a name to this supposed flaw in the data, predicting that the “hidden Trump voter” will prove the news media wrong.

But the idea that there are substantial numbers of Trump voters who will emerge from hiding on Election Day, large enough to sway the outcome, is not supported by the latest public opinion research — or by a proper understanding of what happened in past elections where the voter surveys were off, said pollsters who work for Republican and Democratic candidates.

Pointing out the obvious: If there were substantial “hidden Trump voters,” would they really be willing to respond to public opinion research questions or polling? Would they want to reveal their preferences to pollsters? It doesn’t seem likely to me.


“There are many people who are voting for Trump who are in environments where it’s politically untenable to admit it because he’s become so toxic,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. “But I’m still not convinced that not telling your business associate or the people in your Rotary Club or the people in your country club is the same thing as not telling a pollster.”

The possibility that Americans are hiding their true intentions from pollsters has provided an irresistible sense of intrigue to presidential elections before, even though there are few confirmed examples where it made a difference…

Four years ago, some suggested there might be a similar phenomenon at work with Trump supporters who were too embarrassed to reveal themselves. And when Mr. Trump won by squeaking out victories in a few battleground states, his backers argued that shy voters were a reason the polls missed his strength in those places.

“The idea that people lie, it’s an interesting theory, and it’s not like it’s completely off-the-wall,” said David Winston, a pollster who works with congressional Republicans. “But it’s obviously a very complicated thing to try to prove because what do you do? Ask them, ‘Are you lying?’”

If voters were indeed afraid of voicing their support for the president, Mr. Winston said, other numbers in the poll would reflect that, like seeing an uptick in the percentage of undecided voters rather than a rise in support for Mr. Biden. “It would not be people saying they are voting for Biden,” he said, “but that they’re undecided.”

While the effects of a hidden Trump vote are certainly overstated by the president’s allies, that does not mean that no evidence exists that polls are missing some of his voters. A small percentage of his support is probably being undercounted, and has been in the past, public opinion experts said. And in states like North Carolina, where the margin of victory could be narrow, the undercount could make a difference between a poll being right or wrong.

A small percentage of his support is probably being undercounted, and has been in the past, public opinion experts said. And in states like North Carolina, where the margin of victory could be narrow, the undercount could make a difference between a poll being right or wrong.

“We assume the race will tighten, and as that happens, the size of the shy Trump vote could very easily come into play,” said Neil Newhouse, a Republican who led Mitt Romney’s polling in 2012.

In 2016, Mr. Newhouse said that Mr. Trump tended to score 2 or 3 points higher in phone surveys when respondents were asked to press a button to record their preferences rather than talk to a live person. In postelection polling, when he asked people if they had ever been unwilling to talk about their vote, 35 percent of Trump voters said yes. And they tended to be women from Democratic-leaning counties.

Mr. Newhouse has picked up further evidence of such reluctance recently. In polls he conducted late last month in North Carolina and Iowa, he found that one-quarter to one-third of voters answered “yes” when asked if they knew someone who is voting for Mr. Trump but would not say so to anyone but their closest friends.

“This totally confirms the notion of ‘shy Trump voters,’” Mr. Newhouse said. But, he added, if polls are undercounting some Trump voters — a group that tends to be uniquely expressive and adamant about their support for the president — no one can say by how much.

It’s hard to say what the numbers might actually be. And just as America was shocked by Trump’s win in 2016, that scenario might very well repeat itself in November if those hidden voters materialize in large numbers. But I agree with Silver that his identified factors could certainly shift the polling between now and November, even substantially so in either direction. I’ll add that, in my view, as far as sheer enthusiasm goes, Trump supporters take the cake. I just don’t see the same level of excitement about Biden from his supporters. However, the selection of Kamala Harris certainly perked up the enthusiasm meter on the Democratic side. Whether that will translate into enough votes for a win, is anybody’s guess.

Oh, and as a reminder: the Democratic National Convention begins tonight.


The Post Office Controversy: Analyzing the Defenses That Say There’s No Need to Panic

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:29 am

A controversy over the Postal Service is raging on the Internets and across the nation, and social media is as usual bringing out the worst in everyone. Resistance Lefties are posting pictures of locked mailboxes without checking to see if mail can be delivered on the other side of the box through a slit (it can). Righties are treating it all like a big joke, posting GIFs of people in tin foil hats in response to anyone who dares raise questions about whether Trump could ever manipulate areas of government under his control for his personal benefit instead of the country’s benefit. One wag observed that the term “going postal” has a new meaning now:

Because the facts have been murky, I have been reluctant to weigh in. But yesterday, Jay Caruso, someone I respect, linked a Medium article by a supply chain expert that purports to debunk the conspiracy theories over USPS, and Jay has followed up today with his own piece. The articles appear reliable and credible and chock full of facts, so I urge you to read both, but in this post I want to focus on what I perceive to be two major holes in the defenses, as a way of moving the conversation forward.

The first has to do with the removal of mailboxes. Jay says:

It’s another routine procedure the postal service carries out, utilizing data to move underused mailboxes to areas with more volume. That doesn’t matter as photos of flatbed trucks, loaded up with mailboxes have gone viral, providing more “proof” of the sabotage. What also does not make sense for any conspiracy to take place is the photos of mailboxes getting removed hail from states such as California, Oregon, and New Jersey — states Hillary won in 2016 by a collective 55 points. The USPS said they’d stop in the face of the panic, and that’s ridiculous because it lends credibility to the panic.

This is largely the defense to other areas of concern, by the way, such as the removal of mail sorting machines: it’s routine and it’s a plan that has been in motion for a while, so relax! it’s not a conspiracy! But Jay acknowledges elsewhere, quite rightly, that Trump does not deserve the benefit of the doubt: “Trump doesn’t make it easy to dismiss concerns. . . . Now, with all of the said, is there a reason for concern? Yes. Absolutely. Trump has not earned the benefit of the doubt with him openly claiming mail-in voting is not possible with the $25 billion.” (Jay says that’s not true but the point is that Trump linked the two. As we will see below, through, I think there is some evidence that funding is indeed linked to whether mail-in voting can work properly.)

So the real question in each case, whether it’s removing mailboxes or sorting machines, is this: is this truly a routine efficiency measure, or is that explanation a cover for something more sinister?

The Medium article begins the mailbox removal analysis by raising the same argument that this is a routine efficiency measure that removes low-traffic boxes:

[T]here are costs associated with a low-use collect box, and there may come a time when the collection box become too much of a cost burden. It costs money to travel to and check a collection box that sits empty or collects very few envelopes. And collection boxes are moved all the time to adjust to the ebb and flow of mail volume. Given USPS’s financial crisis, it seems reasonable to believe that these changes were to increase efficiency.

Except that the article then cites evidence that this is excuse is not true:

However, a local news station in Montana checked on what collection boxes had been removed. Despite the justification that these mail collection boxes were rarely used, the boxes were in high traffic areas: outside a grocery story, next to a University, in downtown Missoula, etc.

So there’s still reason to doubt the official explanation. Please note that the removal of mailboxes has halted now that all of this public attention is focused on the policy. That’s great. Even if this was a crooked policy rather than a routine one (and the local station in Montana suggests it may have been) I believe in giving bad actors bonus points for stopping once they’re caught. It’s better than continuing.

Anyway, what all of this means for whether USPS is ready for the election onslaught, I’m not sure — although as we will see below, there is (I think) still great cause for concern. On one hand, the New York Times amasses anecdotal evidence of mail slowdowns as of late:

[I]nterviews with mail customers, election officials and postal workers in six battleground states show that mail delays — and 2020 worries — are widespread.

In Ohio, where mail voting is likely to double, piles of undelivered mail are sitting in a Cleveland distribution center. In rural Michigan, diabetes medicine that used to arrive in three days now takes almost two weeks. In the Milwaukee area, dozens of trailers filled with packages are left behind every day. In New Glarus, Wis., the owners of the Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus are worried their cheese will go bad now that deliveries that used to take two to three days are taking twice that.

But the same article acknowledges that the rush at election time is nothing compared to Christmas, and we should be just fine … well, as long as the operational changes don’t affect that ability:

Experts agree that the Postal Service has the raw capacity to absorb additional ballots, even if 150 million people decided to vote by mail. In the month before Christmas every year, carriers deliver billions of pieces of mail and packages.

“When you think about it from the standpoint of how much mail they handle, even in their currently diminished state, if every registered voter in the entire country voted by mail, that would be something they could still easily handle,” said Arthur Sackler, who runs the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, a lobbying group representing bulk mailers. “The question is whether these operational changes will have any impact on their ability to do so.”

This leads me to what is by far my biggest concern. Washington Post:

Anticipating an avalanche of absentee ballots, the U.S. Postal Service recently sent detailed letters to 46 states and D.C. warning that it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted — adding another layer of uncertainty ahead of the high-stakes presidential contest.

The letters sketch a grim possibility for the tens of millions of Americans eligible for a mail-in ballot this fall: Even if people follow all of their state’s election rules, the pace of Postal Service delivery may disqualify their votes.

That is flatly unacceptable — and as we will see, it appears to be a situation tied to levels of funding.

Jay’s defense here is that it’s a good thing that USPS is warning people about this change:

The letters were sent out, not because the USPS was concerned about their operations, but the laws governing mail-in ballots in states where they’ve expanded it this year. From the same article:

But the Postal Service gave 40 others — including the key battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida — more-serious warnings that their long-standing deadlines for requesting, returning or counting ballots were “incongruous” with mail service and that voters who send ballots in close to those deadlines may become disenfranchised.

Emphasis again is mine. Pennsylvania, for example, has a deadline of October 27th to request a ballot. That’s one week before the election, and the deadline for the ballot to get counted is November 3rd. Note, that is when the county election office must receive the ballot. A postmark will not suffice.

The other point to consider is this: If DeJoy wanted to sabotage the post office to favor Trump, why on earth would the USPS warn states about their laws governing mail-in ballots?

My problem is not with the warning, but with the changes that USPS has made that make the warning necessary. I turn again to the Medium piece that Jay was linking on Twitter yesterday, which says this:

When local election officials distribute pre-paid postage envelopes with absentee ballots, they have two options: use First Class Mail or use Marketing Mail. First Class Mail is more expensive but faster (2–5), whereas Marketing Mail is cheaper but slower (3–10 days).

Apparently, USPS has informally treated both types of election mail the same, expediting both whenever possible. So local election officials have been opting for Marketing Mail in order to save on costs. (Side bar: elections are funded at the local level and chronically underfunded.)

But USPS cannot do that anymore, because it’s costly. And therefore, election mail will be treated as its paid category. This means some election officials may be advising voters to return ballots on timelines that wouldn’t actually meet the state law’s deadlines.

The bolded language, to me, sure looks like a claim that USPS has made a change to the way it has traditionally handled election mail. In the past, they have prioritized election mail, whether designated First Class or not. Now, they won’t be doing that any longer, and untold numbers of voters could have their votes invalidated as a result. They are evidently citing the fact that it’s “costly” to treat election mail as First Class when it’s not being paid for. Well, if cost concerns are the issue, then they need money.

The problem is, Trump started much of this brouhaha by saying he opposed extra money for USPS, saying that because if USPS doesn’t get the money, you can’t do mail-in voting — and he’s against mail-in voting.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he opposes much-needed funding for the United States Postal Service because he doesn’t want to see it used for mail-in voting this November.

. . . .

“They want three and a half billion dollars for something that’ll turn out to be fraudulent, that’s election money basically. They want three and a half billion dollars for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said, repeating his false claims that mail-in voting would be “fraudulent.”

“But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because you they’re not equipped to have it,” Trump added.

Trump has since walked that back, sort of, saying that he will sign a bill for extra funding if Democrats give him other concessions. That is meaningless talk, as he can always say they didn’t give enough. If he’s not made to sign the bill through public pressure, he can always justify refusing to give USPS the money it needs to treat all election mail as First Class, so that people who follow the rules don’t have their ballots disqualified.

This, to me, is a genuine emergency. We are in the middle of a pandemic, in case you have forgotten. (Hey Siri insert smiley face emoji.) Mail-in voting has real problems, but for a lot of people, it’s going to be the only option — or at least, many people will sincerely believe that. If people follow the rules, their vote must count, and USPS cannot cite cost concerns as a reason to change their procedures for handling election mail under these circumstances. It’s unforgivable at best, and given Trump’s stated preference and his history of manipulating government for personal benefit, it’s a conspiracy to steal the election at worst. But we don’t have to leap to the latter conclusion to say it’s unacceptable in any event.

Yes, maybe USPS is whining for more money like every bureaucracy does. Maybe the evil unions are behind their position. I don’t care. Give them the pittance they say they need, but tell them they are jolly well handling every piece of election mail as if it’s the top priority. Nothing else is acceptable.

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