May 2, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


Tara Reade says the words 'assault' or 'harassment' won't be found in her 1993 complaint against Biden (Connor Perrett, 5/02/20, Business Insider)

Tara Reade, the former staffer of former Vice President Joe Biden who alleged Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993, said the complaint she filed with the Senate personnel office in the 90s does not contain the words "assault" or "harassment." 

"I remember talking about him wanting me to serve drinks because he liked my legs and thought I was pretty and it made me uncomfortable," Reade told the Associated Press on Friday.

When I was a body man, the cop on our security detail and I used to get sent for food and drinks all the time.  At a meeting of county chairmen, we were sent for pizzas and told to get one of them uncut.  The 500-pound mayor of West New York folded it in half and ate it like a taco.  To be fair, I do have better legs than her, so didn't feel awkward.

AP Exclusive: Harassment, assault absent in Biden complaint (ALEXANDRA JAFFE, DON THOMPSON and STEPHEN BRAUN, 5/02/20, AP)

[R]eade is suggesting that even if the report surfaces, it would not corroborate her assault allegations because she chose not to detail them at the time. [...]

She said of Biden: "I wasn't scared of him, that he was going to take me in a room or anything. It wasn't that kind of vibe."

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


Every Good Show Needs a Good Stand-alone Episode (Kathryn VanArendonk, 2/21/20, Vulture)

High Fidelity's "Simon's Top Five" and Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet's "A Dark Quiet Death" take a break from the shows' main protagonists to tell stories about someone else entirely. Photo-Illustration: Vulture, Hulu and Apple TV+
One of the fundamental truths of great TV storytelling is that all shows should have at least one stand-alone episode, and that has never been more clear than for two of February's most interesting new shows. On Apple TV+, there's Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet, a workplace sitcom from the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia team about video-game developers that's easily 50 percent better than its title makes it sound. On Hulu, there's High Fidelity, a TV adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel and John Cusack movie about an obsessive record-store owner who reconnects with exes. Each show has a solid set of protagonists, a well-established rhythm for how its episodes tend to work, and plenty of compelling story for its main set of characters. And each show is better because for one episode in the season, it abandons those things to tell a story about someone else entirely.

There are lots of variations of the stand-alone episode: bottle episodes, musical episodes, silent episodes, episodes that use a different genre or style, live episodes, episodes that tell a self-contained plot within a bigger serial arc. Most stand-alone episodes fall somewhere between good and amazing (except for live episodes, which almost universally suck), but one version that works particularly well is the character-based stand-alone, the episode that takes a break from the show's usual protagonist(s) and tells a story from the perspective of someone else entirely. That's the format for the stand-alones in both High Fidelity and Mythic Quest. In each case, midway through the season, one episode tells a story from the viewpoint of characters who, until then, haven't been central to the story. Both episodes initially seem like a departure from the real center of the show, but in each case, they become emblems of the series' core ideas. [...]

Mythic Quest's character-based stand-alone works differently. It's a workplace sitcom with several central characters rather than High Fidelity's single protagonist, and in episode five, "A Dark Quiet Death," Mythic Quest ditches all of them. Rather than the "minor character becomes main" strategy, Mythic Quest tells a story about video-game developers in the '90s whose work is the precursor to everything happening in the main story line. Although references to their games appear elsewhere in Mythic Quest, Doc and Beans (played by Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti, respectively) only show up in episode five, which sketches a long, time-jumping arc of how they developed a popular game franchise.

There are risks to this version of the stand-alone. In one case, as TV critic Alan Sepinwall suggested, you fall in love with the stand-alone's new characters and wish the whole series were about them. The other risk goes in the opposite direction: A viewer who likes the characters in the main body of the series gets frustrated by needing to hang out with these new people.

In spite of the risk, "A Dark Quiet Death" does justify its existence. It's a more serious version of the themes other Mythic Quest episodes tackle in goofier, lighter ways. Doc and Beans wrestle with whether to appease a wider audience of players or to stick to the original creative vision. It's about a familiar and constant friction between money and art.

Mythic Quest's title seems almost designed to limit viewership, which is tragic, because it is an archetype of the triumph of conservatism in the popular culture.  For one thing, it's a workplace comedy, so--like Parks & Rec; 30 Rock; and The Office--it's inevitably conservative.  The episode where Nazis invade the game and the company forms an ethics committee to discuss banning players with repellent beliefs stands on its own as well.  But it really is Episode 5 that delivers the gut punch.  While it is ostensibly about what happens when you compromise your art to make money, it is really about what people who love one another do to themselves when they won't compromise.  It's a prolonged depiction of the selfishness of divorce and it's devastating. How one wishes friend Peter Augustine Lawler were here to write about it. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


Exodus: Vaera (Len Gutkin, 4/30/20, Jewish Currents: Slow Burn: Quarantine Edition here.

AS THE HISTORIAN Sacvan Bercovitch famously argued, the Puritans spun the fantasy of chosenness they drew from their fascination with the ancient Jews into the "exceptionalism" that would come to occupy the center of American ideology. "As Israel redivivus," Bercovitch writes in his 1978 study The American Jeremiad, New Englanders "could claim all the ancient prerogatives" of the biblical Jews, including a divinely authorized state. For these settlers, Bercovitch explained, the wilds of New England took on "the double significance of secular and sacred place." In other words, the forests of Massachusetts had as central a role to play in God's unfolding plan as the deserts of Sinai. 

Among the 17th-century North American Puritans, only the renegade minister Roger Williams rejected this Judaizing vision. He believed that the divinely authorized state of the ancient Jews had become, after Christ, an illegitimate aspiration--a conviction that made him one of the earliest theorists of the separation of church and state. For Williams, the wilderness through which Moses led the Jews was, for Christians, a kind of supercharged holy metaphor for the path toward grace. No real forest or desert was required. Williams was also a skeptic of what Bercovitch called the "genetics of salvation," the notion that God's favor could be inherited. After all, the New Englanders could trace their descent to many peoples: "the Britons, Picts, Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans," as he wrote in one of his polemical tracts. In other words, if they were chosen, their chosenness could not be, as it was for the ancient Jews, a question of bloodline. Williams, as Bercovitch's predecessor Perry Miller put it, "would be a Christian, but not a Christianized Jew." He was accordingly exiled to Rhode Island.  [...]

We cannot expect religious myths to pay scrupulous attention to logical connections. Otherwise the feeling of the people might have taken exception--justifiably so--to the behavior of a deity who makes a covenant with his patriarchs containing mutual obligations, and then ignores his human partners for centuries until it suddenly occurs to him to reveal himself again to their descendants. Still more astonishing is the conception of a god suddenly "choosing" a people, making it "his" people and himself its own god. . . . [In other religious traditions,] the people and their god belong inseparably together; they are one from the beginning. Sometimes, it is true, we hear of a people adopting another god, but never of a god choosing a new people. 

For Freud, this anomalous act of choosing makes sense only if we understand Moses to have been an Egyptian monotheist who selected the Jews to carry on his new religion. "Moses had stooped to the Jews, had made them his people; they were his 'chosen people,'" Freud writes. In Moses and Monotheism, then, Freud exorcised what he saw as his own irrational identification with Jewishness by demystifying it. "To deny a people the man whom it praises as the greatest of its sons is not a deed to be under-taken lightheartedly--especially by one belonging to that people," he says at the start of the book, with that slightly theatrical bombast that is one of his most endearing traits as a writer. "No consideration, however, will move me to set aside truth in favor of supposed national interests." In the ultimate iconoclastic gesture, Freud makes Moses himself a non-Jew and Jewish law an edifice stained with blood.

As long as the fantasy of chosenness offered by Exodus retains its archetypal power, we will need to reckon with its force and its strangeness. In contemporary American life, the fundamentalist Christian preoccupation with the return of the Jews to Israel is one distressing culmination of the "excited exchange of millennial speculations among Jewish and Christian scholars" that Bercovitch traces back to the 17th century. Meanwhile, liberal Jews skeptical of the notion of chosenness find themselves confronting it anew each Passover, when awkward claims of divine selection can feel like an ethnic variation on the crudest patriotic propaganda of the larger culture: America First. The ameliorative ritual whereby the seder's ethnonationalism is acknowledged and rejected--good politics, bad exegesis, as Dan says--will be familiar to many. Is the disarmament successful? Freud's ironic anthropology suggests, perhaps, a nobler way of managing the burdens of this inheritance: submitting to the truth that even the most powerful sources of identity are also delusions.

There's no such thing as identity, only beliefs; that's the beating heart of the End of History:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are the big losers from this pandemic (PHILIP STEPHENS, 5/02/20, Financial Times)

Mr Xi is often styled the most powerful Chinese leader since chairman Mao. Instead, the early response to the pandemic spoke to the brittleness of his power. The fate of many Chinese emperors through the centuries shows their authority to have been absolute until the moment of their fall.

Beyond Asia, coronavirus has also crystallised a shift that has left Beijing almost friendless in the west. There is no need to swallow the myriad conspiracy theories promoted by US President Donald Trump's supporters to consider that China's first response to the virus was concealment. Its subsequent threatening diplomacy, aimed at absolving the regime of all responsibility, serves only to reinforce talk of a cover-up. Australia, at the head of calls for an international inquiry, accuses China of "economic coercion".

The suspicions run with the grain. Predatory investment and trade policies and military operations in the South China Sea have transformed European attitudes. In the words of one senior EU diplomat, the starting point for European policy towards China was, until quite recently, an eagerness to engage. Now it begins with pushing back.

No more so than in Britain. David Cameron's government lauded a new "golden era" in Sino-British relations. Now, Boris Johnson faces a backlash within his ruling Conservative party against China's investment in communications and energy infrastructure.

Mr Xi's ally Vladimir Putin is a still bigger loser. The revanchist Russian president had marked out 2020 to solidify his own position and Russia's great power status. A plan to extend his presidency for another dozen years beyond 2024 would win ringing endorsement in a national plebiscite. Moscow would host a summit of world leaders. Coronavirus has forced the cancellation of both events.

A failed price war with Saudi Arabia has seen a collapse in the oil price to levels far below the $40 a barrel assumed by the Russian government in setting its annual budget. The result, as the Kremlin admits, is an economic crisis worse than that of 2009. Russia's military entanglements in Syria and Ukraine now look very expensive.

All the while, China's supposedly equal alliance with Moscow looks more like strategic encirclement. The Belt and Road Initiative has underscored Beijing's claim on central Asia. Mr Xi's long-term ambition to make China the pre-eminent Eurasian power would supplant Russia in Europe. How long, one wonders, will Mr Putin be content to be so obviously the junior partner in such a relationship of unequals? He cannot expect any help from his admiring imitator Mr Orban. Hungary is a shrinking state, advancing under Mr Orban's leadership towards inexorable demographic decline.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


Flynn Redux: What Those FBI Documents Really Show (Quinta Jurecic, Benjamin Wittes Friday, May 1, 2020, LawFare)

So what's actually in all of this released material? The material Powell has released from Covington consists of two emails, both largely redacted.

The first, from Flynn's Covington attorney Robert Kelner to his co-counsel Stephen Anthony, dates to March 18, 2018 and shows Kelner writing to Anthony, "We have a lawyers' unofficial agreement that they are unlikely to charge Junior in light of the Cooperation Agreement." The second, dated March 18, 2018, is from Anthony to Kelner and two Covington colleagues. The only unredacted text in the email reads, "The only exception is the reference to Michael Jr. The government took pains not to give a promise to MTF [presumably referencing Flynn] regarding Michael Jr., so as to limit how much of a 'benefit' it would have to disclose as part of its Giglio disclosures to any defendant against whom MTF may one day testify." (Under Giglio v. United States, the government must inform defendants of information concerning immunity deals that might impeach a witness's credibility.)

Flynn's current lawyers try to cast this as evidence of prosecutorial misconduct--a gross effort to threaten Flynn with the prosecution of his son combined with an effort to cover it up. In fact, if prosecutors did use Flynn's son as leverage, this is within the range of normal prosecutorial hardball. Flynn's consulting group, with which his son was employed, engaged in practices that raised legal questions under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, exposing both father and son to potential criminal liability. (And that's before we get to the reported involvement by both Flynns in a possible plot to kidnap cleric Fethullah Gulen on behalf of the Turkish government.) Prosecutors were apparently willing to forego other charges against Flynn in exchange for his cooperation and plea to the single felony. According to the Covington emails, the prosecutors apparently would not promise to forego further charges against Flynn's son, although they signaled that they were "unlikely" to move forward against him if they received satisfactory cooperation from his father.

Leaning on a potential defendant for cooperation using the criminal liability of family members as leverage is not unheard of. This does not mean the practice is beyond criticism--but the handling of Flynn's case is not some kind of aberration, let alone the sort of conscience-shocking thing that might justify a dismissal.

And to the extent any nod-and-a-wink arrangement on Flynn Jr. would raise any kind of Giglio issue, it certainly does not with respect to Flynn, who was obviously aware of the predicament his son faced and any role of his plea in alleviating it. That issue would only arise, as the Covington email reflects, if Flynn's testimony were used against someone else and any arrangement with respect to his son were not disclosed.

The first batch of documents provided by Jensen and released on April 29 contains two email chains within the FBI from Jan. 23 and 24, 2017--the day before the FBI spoke with Flynn in the interview for which he was later charged with lying, and the day of the interview, respectively--along with a page of handwritten notes, partially redacted and dated Jan. 24. The documents appear to show conversations within the bureau regarding how to handle the interview and Flynn's case.

One email chain shows an exchange between FBI lawyer Lisa Page (who was then working in the office of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) and FBI official Peter Strzok (who was working on the Russia investigation), as well as an unidentified individual in the FBI's Office of General Counsel. This chain shows Page and the Office of General Counsel official discussing if and when it was appropriate or necessary to notify an interviewee that lying to a federal official is a criminal offense under 18 USC ยง 1001, the statute under which Flynn pled. Page writes asking whether "the admonition re 1001 could be given at the beginning of the interview" or whether it has "to come following a statement which agents believe to be false"; the other correspondent writes that, "if I recall correctly, you can say it at any time," and indicates that he or she will double-check.

The next email, sent early in the morning of Jan. 24, is from Strzok to a redacted email address; then-FBI General Counsel James Baker is copied on the email, along with another redacted address. Strzok's note contains a list of questions for McCabe to consider how he might want to answer in advance of a phone call with Flynn--that is, questions Flynn might ask him about the ongoing FBI investigation. From the Mueller report and other internal FBI documents released by Powell during the Flynn litigation, we know that McCabe spoke with Flynn by phone around noon on Jan. 24 and informed him that the FBI wanted to interview him about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak; Flynn agreed, and Strzok and another agent interviewed him at around 2:15pm that same day. With that in mind, the Jan. 24 email appears to show the bureau preparing McCabe for how to discuss his request for an interview with Flynn.

The last document in this tranche is a page of handwritten notes, with some redactions, dated Jan. 24; it is not clear whether the notes were written before the Flynn interview was conducted or after it. The writer seems to be sketching out thoughts--it is not clear whose--on how the bureau should navigate the politically tricky investigation, particularly regarding whether or not the FBI should allow Flynn to lie or confront him with evidence of his falsehood. The notes appear to show the writer moving toward the argument that the bureau should take the latter path. "What's urgent?" the writer asks. "Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?" The notes go on:

We regularly show subjects evidence with the goal of getting them to admit their wrongdoing

I don't see how getting someone to admit their wrongdoing is going easy on him

If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give this to DOJ and have them decide

Or, if he initially lies, then we present him [redacted] and he admits it, document for DOJ, and let them decide how to address it

If we're seen as playing games, WH [White House] will be furious

Protect our institution by not playing games

Flynn's new lawyers cite these notes, which were presumably written by then-FBI counterintelligence chief Bill Priestap, as supposed smoking gun evidence that the FBI was seeking to entrap Flynn in a lie. The trouble with that argument is that absolutely nothing forced Flynn not to tell the truth in that interview. And while FBI officials appear to have discussed the strategic purpose of the interview, there's nothing whatsoever wrong with that. To be sure, a possible criminal prosecution based on the Logan Act case was weak leverage, given that the statute has virtually no history of enforcement, but agents hold relatively weak leverage over witnesses all the time. And yes, it's wrong for the bureau to set up an interview in the absence of a viable case in order to induce a witness to lie for purposes of prosecution, but there's no evidence that is what happened--merely evidence that the possibility was on a list of possible strategic goals for the interview. And yes, the bureau will sometimes confront a witness with a lie and specifically warn the person about lying being a felony, but that is not a legal requirement.

In fact, the Flynn interview gave Flynn every opportunity to tell the truth. As the FBI's partially-redacted memo documenting Flynn's interview reflects, the questions were careful. They were specific. The agents, as Strzok later recalled in a formal FBI interview of his own, planned to try to jog Flynn's memory if he said he could not remember a detail by using the exact words they knew he had used in his conversation with Kislyak. And Flynn, as he admitted in open court--twice--did not tell the truth. That is not entrapment or a set-up, and it is very far indeed from outrageous government conduct. It's conducting an interview--and a witness at the highest levels of government lying in it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


The Hype Cycle for Chloroquine Is Eerily Familiar (KEITH KLOOR, 05.02.2020, Wired))

In hindsight, it's easy--and correct, no doubt--to blame these influential boosters for generating that groundswell of unwarranted attention. But it's important that we recognize the pattern underneath: Bad ideas like this one often grow their roots in solid-seeming science (not just Reddit or Youtube conspiracy channels), then attach themselves to pollinators within the media or political landscape, who continue to spread them even after the underlying claims have been debunked.

We've seen the same life cycle of medical disinformation play out many times before. Exhibit A is the false vaccines/autism narrative. Yes, that claim had (and still has) its famous instigators and evangelists: Jenny McCarthy, Robert Kennedy Jr., Del Bigtree, and so on. But would they have become the faces of a movement absent the idea's crucial, embryonic publication in a top-tier medical journal? And would that movement have grown so large if not for its nurturing by journalists?

Like other pseudoscience, the modern antivaccine narrative started with the imprimatur of respectable, peer-reviewed research. In 1998, The Lancet published a tiny study (only 11 children were involved) that seemed to show a connection between the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine and autism. Scholars have linked sensationalist and skewed British media coverage of the study to a subsequent decline in UK immunization rates, which didn't rebound until the mid-2000s. By then, the study had been declared "entirely flawed" by the editor of The Lancet (although it wouldn't be fully retracted until 2012). Of course, by then, the seed had sprouted.

The same template can be applied to the belief that exposure to radiation from cell phones or Wi-Fi gives you cancer. Once again, it's tempting to apply the not-great-man theory of history and lay the fear of "electromagnetic fields" at the feet of its most avid and visible proponent, New Yorker writer Paul Brodeur.

As I wrote some years ago at Discover, this strain of fear can be traced, in part, to a series of articles Brodeur published under The New Yorker's "Annals of Radiation" rubric in the 1980s and early 1990s. He'd already been on this beat for some time, with similarly themed work that turned into a book titled The Zapping of America: Microwaves, Their Deadly Risk and the Cover-Up. (Fans of the movie American Hustle might recall Brodeur's name being mentioned during the "science oven" scene.)

Given Brodeur's lofty, influential perch, it's natural to single him out for turbocharging the great overhead powerline panic. After all, he did also write a book called Currents of Death: The Great Power Line Cover-Up. But Brodeur was hardly the only one in mainstream media trumpeting the notion that high-voltage power lines were causing an epidemic of brain tumors and leukemia. The narrative was everywhere back then, from ABC's Nightline and The Washington Post to Frontline at PBS ("Currents of Fear.")

This publicity--which triggered a wave of lawsuits against utility companies--was as much a product of the published scientific literature as of anything that showed up in The New Yorker, though. You could point your finger, in particular, at a 1979 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which found that children in Denver who developed leukemia were more likely than their peers to live near "high-current configurations" of denser, thicker power lines. That study had serious methodological flaws (are you seeing a pattern here?), but it gave rise to a new field of international research that sought to trace the details of this supposed correlation. Eventually the World Health Organization and other scientific bodies undertook their own, massive investigations, finding no evident link between overhead power lines and human cancer. As the National Academy of Sciences concluded in its 1997 assessment: "No clear, convincing evidence exists to show that residential exposures to electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are a threat to human health."

This enormous expenditure of time and resources is similar to the one we've seen since the early 2000s on the issue of vaccine safety. Multiple large-scale studies have now looked for any possible connection between autism and childhood immunizations. The latest effort, like all the previous ones, found no link.

Worth listening to the recent EconTalk on the hype surrounding the "War on Cancer": Vinay Prasad on Cancer Drugs, Medical Ethics, and Malignant

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


A US researcher who worked with a Wuhan virology lab gives 4 reasons why a coronavirus leak would be extremely unlikely (Aylin Woodward, 5/02/20, Business Insider)

Matthew Pottinger, Trump's deputy national security adviser, asked intelligence agencies in January to look into the idea of a Wuhan lab leak, The New York Times reported. But CIA officers didn't find any evidence. 

There's a reason for that, according to Jonna Mazet, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Davis, who has worked with and trained WIV researchers in the past.

"I know that we worked together to develop very stringent safety protocol, and it's highly unlikely this was a lab accident," she told Business Insider. Here are four reasons why.

Reason 1: The lab's samples don't match the new coronavirus

The WIV houses China's only Biosafety-level-4 laboratory, which is one of only a dozen in the world. Scientists study the most dangerous and infectious microbes known to humankind in these types of facilities. Some of the institute's researchers, including virologist Shi Zhengli, have collected, sampled, and studied coronaviruses that circulate Chinese bats. In 2013, Shi and her collaborators pinpointed the bat population most likely responsible for spreading SARS, in the Shitou Cave near Kunming.

After her team sequenced the COVID-19 virus, Shi told Scientific American that she quickly checked her laboratory's record from the past few years to check for accidents, especially during disposal. Then she cross-referenced the new coronavirus' genome with the genetic information of other bat coronaviruses her team had collected. They didn't match.

"That really took a load off my mind," Shi said told Scientific American, adding, "I had not slept a wink for days."

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


The coronavirus is causing Trump's supporters to abandon him: Trump's incompetence managing coronavirus may be the "final straw" for his supporters (MATTHEW CHAPMAN, MAY 2, 2020, Raw Story)

 "Two months ago, Trump was an incumbent president riding a strong economy and a massive cash advantage; today, he looks like an underdog in November. The RealClearPolitics polling average has former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, leading Trump 48.3% to 42% nationally. Trump's prospects aren't any brighter right now when broken down by states that were key to his 2016 victory. According to Real Clear Politics polling averages, Biden leads Trump by 6.7 points in Pennsylvania, 5.5 in Michigan, and 2.7 points in Wisconsin. Biden is also leading Trump narrowly in Florida and Arizona."

Among the Trump voters whose vote he has lost are Heidi and Dennis Hodges of Erie, Pennsylvania. "I liked his tough stance. I liked that he wasn't a politician," Dennis told TIME. But after seeing the pandemic ravage the nation, and his wife's father spend weeks on a ventilator in a medically induced coma, while Trump spent weeks downplaying its severity, Dennis had enough. "Before the pandemic, Trump would have gotten my vote again," he said. But not now.

Jessica Lavine Freeman of Georgia agreed, saying "If we had sat down and had this conversation in August of last year, I probably would have voted for Trump again," but that Trump's incompetence managing coronavirus was the "final straw" and she would instead vote for former Vice President Joe Biden.

He was supposed to take their anger out on them, not us.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


In tortured logic, Trump begs for a do-over on the Iran nuclear deal (Tyler Cullis & Trita Parsi, 5/01/20, rESPONSIBLE sTATECRAFT)

Even the Trump administration seems to grudgingly have concluded that breaching the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) was a mistake. More than two years after the U.S. exit, the deal still stands while the Trump administration is running out of options to force a re-negotiation. It is now so desperate it is seeking to convince the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that it never quit the deal in the first place. The lesson to the U.S. is clear: Diplomatic vandalism carries costs -- even for a superpower. The lesson to a prospective President Joe Biden is more specific: Rejoin the nuclear deal, don't try to renegotiate it.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims that UNSC Resolution 2231 defines the term "JCPOA participant" to be inclusive of the United States, and nothing the United States could do or has done can change this supposed legal fact.  According to Pompeo, even though the Trump administration repeatedly referred to its "withdrawal" from the JCPOA as a "cessation of its participation" in the agreement, UNSCR 2231 continues to define the United States as a "JCPOA participant" that can invoke the resolution's sanctions snapback mechanism. 

The snapback permits a "JCPOA participant" to provide notification to the Security Council of a case of significant non-performance by a party to the agreement, triggering the automatic re-institution of former Security Council sanctions resolutions targeting Iran. No Russian or Chinese veto can prevent the reimposition of the sanctions contained in those resolutions. Only a resolution agreed to within 30 days that would undo the snapback -- but the U.S. has the ability to veto such a resolution.

This is why the Obama administration cherished the snapback -- if Iran were to renege on its nuclear commitments, the reimposition of sanctions would be swift and automatic. 

But this leverage was lost when Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 (the Presidential memoranda announcing the decision was even titled "Ceasing U.S. Participation in the JCPOA"). A senior Iranian diplomat told us at the time that Tehran was shocked that Trump would forgo this advantage. 

Now Trump is begging for a do-over.

The next president will cut them a better deal--with make-up sanctions relief--and it will be like Donald never existed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Attacked by Trump, underfunded by the world: Can the WHO survive the coronavirus?: Covid-19 will not be beaten without international co-operation. But with insular nationalism on the rise, where does the organisation go from here? (Ngaire Woods, May 1, 2020, The Prospect)

The WHO simply has to be trusted by governments to be effective. If a government hides information or refuses to take its advice, the WHO cannot send in an enforcement army. "Cosiness" with its member governments is not an optional indulgence, but hard-wired into the structure.

Consider why a government would notify the WHO of any outbreak of disease in the first place, knowing it could face costly and immediate cut-off from other countries, affecting travel and trade. This is why the WHO promises to oppose knee-jerk travel and trade restrictions against a country reporting disease, something it has been attacked for in the coronavirus context. But to do otherwise would be to encourage countries not to report, choking off the stream of information on which all hopes of a rational, cross-border approach to public health depend.

Things could have been far worse if China had regarded the WHO as hostile. As it was, Beijing first reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan on 31st December 2019. (Incidentally, and inconveniently for those who want to blame the coronavirus crisis on a WHO/Beijing stitch-up against the world, the Chinese government has since disciplined local officials for hiding the scale of infection prior to this.) The WHO was then quick to act. The next day, on 1st January 2020, as the head of China's centre for disease control briefed his counterpart in the United States, the WHO set up an Incident Management Support Team, putting its organisation on emergency footing.

After the initial reporting is out of the way, the WHO also needs the trust of governments so that countries share virus information. In February 2007, the world saw what happens when that trust wasn't there. During an international outbreak of swine flu, Indonesia stopped sharing H5N1 samples with the WHO, claiming--incorrectly--that the organisation was passing them on to pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines for which Indonesia would then have to pay very high prices. Without such samples, the WHO was hamstrung in what it could do for the immediately affected country--and the world beyond.

By contrast, in the current crisis, on 9th January the Chinese health authorities and the WHO announced the discovery of a novel coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, and over the weekend of 11th-12th January, the Chinese authorities shared the full sequence of the coronavirus genome. Consequently, by 16th January German researchers in Berlin had already developed a new lab test for the virus, soon followed by companies in South Korea. In both nations, preparations for rolling out large-scale testing for the virus began immediately, permitting these countries to follow WHO advice which was to prioritise testing in order to "intensify case finding, contact tracing, monitoring, quarantine of contact, and isolation of cases."

Other countries did not follow the WHO advice, and there was little the organisation could do. In the UK and the US, weeks went by without the adequate development and rollout of testing. Both were forced to limit testing severely as the virus spread. In the US, by 12th February the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention had to admit that its tests were not only inadequate in supply but defective. Even in late March, Public Health England was struggling to deliver enough tests, leaving thousands of health workers untested.

If the WHO were in the business of criticising governments it would have no shortage of governments to choose from. But it would not enhance global co-operation by playing "critic-in-chief." It can only function by understanding its role, which is to be entrusted by governments with the role of "adviser-in-chief"--a status that necessarily constrains the way it works.

Critics argue that the WHO was too slow to sound the full alarm bell on coronavirus. But the bitter experience of the WHO highlights how fraught that call can be. In 2010, the organisation was castigated for labelling swine flu a pandemic. That virus turned out not to be as dangerous as it feared. Five years later it was much more careful when Ebola broke out, and this time it was pilloried for not calling an international emergency faster.

As we are witnessing with the Sars-CoV2 virus, scientists do not quickly form a consensus on the epidemiology or likely trajectory of a virus. Debates are now raging about whether Covid-19 will die out or mutate into a more (or less) lethal form, about whether human beings will develop immunity to it, and if so, for how long.

Even where a sufficient weight of expertise settles into a consensus, the WHO is not automatically free to act on it. It cannot declare a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" (PHEIC) without convening an Emergency Committee of experts to review the evidence and make a call, a restriction governments have imposed. The WHO convened such a committee on 22nd-23rd January and it failed to reach a consensus. Fortunately, it did not let matters rest. Instead, it despatched a senior delegation to China to gather more data and to call a second meeting of the Emergency Committee at which the experts gave approval to declare a PHEIC on 30th January.

The declaration of a PHEIC signals to the world that there is an ongoing epidemic or disease outbreak that is a serious risk to several countries, demanding a concerted response. It gives the WHO a mandate to act. The next step is for the WHO to escalate and declare a pandemic--which triggers direct action by individual governments. For an organisation that relies on goodwill and contributions from its members to be able to do anything effective, this can be a fraught call. If it calls a pandemic too early, it can lead to countries automatically triggering their pandemic preparedness plans. If the WHO turns out to have been wrong, governments may have committed to unnecessary expenditure. Worse, if there is a rushed recourse to off-the-shelf plans, they may not be appropriate to the specific virus, and especially where that virus is new, as with Sars-CoV2. that we react seriously and maturely to all threats, even if some of them fall short of the current outbreak.