June 23, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Countries where everyone wore masks saw COVID death rates 100 times lower than projected (ADELE PETERS, 6/23/20, Co.Exist)

When COVID-19 started to spread from China to other countries in late January, it seemed like Thailand--a popular destination for Chinese tourists, including thousands who had traveled from Wuhan that month--might be hit hard. But as of early June, the country has had only a little more than 3,000 confirmed cases and 58 deaths. In the U.S., the death rate per capita is more than 450 times greater.

Several factors likely slowed the spread of the virus in Thailand, including partial lockdowns, contact tracing, and community health volunteers who helped track the disease throughout the country. But one seemingly key factor was the use of masks, which became prevalent there even as the World Health Organization was saying that they weren't needed (the WHO has since reversed course). Even now, with only a handful of new cases being reported, 95% of Thailand's residents report wearing masks when they're in public. A new study that looked at global data found that countries that required masks early in the outbreak, or where people quickly adopted them, as in Thailand, have had death rates 100 times lower than projected.

"We looked at the data from 198 countries around the world, and we looked at mortality from coronavirus," says lead author Christopher Leffler, a physician and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. "What we found is that the countries that introduced masks quickly--that is, before the outbreak had much of a chance to spread within their country--had a much lower mortality."

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Trump is increasingly relying on white supremacist ploys to fire up his base as he panics over his re-election chances (John Haltiwanger, 6/23/20, Business Insider)

In 2016, Trump also employed a white supremacist playbook, stoking people's fears and biases in an effort to rally them behind his campaign. Trump began his campaign by referring to Mexican immigrants as rapists, drug dealers, and criminals. Among other blatantly racist and xenophobic moments along the campaign trail, Trump would go on to call for a ban on Muslims entering the US as he simultaneously depicted refugees as terrorists, which he continued to do as president.

Fast-forward to 2020, and Trump is rapidly leaning into a near-identical approach. 

During his Tulsa rally, Trump referred to COVID-19 as the "kung flu," which is part of the president's racist effort to blame the pandemic on China in order to distract from his own failings in responding to the virus. The president has ignored recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid rhetoric that stigmatizes certain groups, often referring to COVID-19 as the "Chinese virus" or the "plague from China."

In January, February, and even as late as March, the president was actually praising the Chinese government over its handling of the virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Trump's tone only shifted after cases began to spread at scale in the US, and it became increasingly clear that his administration had failed to adequately prepare for the outbreak. Polling has repeatedly shown that Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump's handling of the virus. 

As Trump has often done in the process of seeking to avoid responsibility, the president found a scapegoat and portrayed COVID-19 as a "foreign virus" that invaded the US from China.

Meanwhile, Asian-Americans have faced discrimination due in part to the Trump's racist accusations. 

It's always fun when The Base objects to the assumption that they are racist when it is the explicit means their leader uses to appeal to them.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Criticizing Israel with anguish and loveAn unprecedented letter from US Reps Ted Deutch and Brad Schneider opposing unilateral annexation is a model of healthy Jewish discourse (Yossi Klein Halevi, JUN 23, 2020, Times of Israel)

This may well be an unprecedented moment in the history of the Israeli-Diaspora relationship. The possible annexation of parts of the territories have forced some of Israel's most passionate supporters to speak up, some for the first time, against an Israeli government decision on a matter it defines as essential for Israeli security. With anguish and love, they are modeling a healthy Jewish discourse, teaching us how to be responsible critics. 

I am thinking in particular of Ted Deutch and Brad Schneider, two of Israel's most devoted friends in Congress. I know both men from numerous AIPAC events over the years, including congressional missions to Israel which they helped lead. During the bitter debate over the Iran nuclear deal, the two Democratic congressmen broke ranks with the Obama administration to oppose it. They have led the fight in Congress against BDS. If anyone defines the centrist pro-Israel American Jewish mainstream, it's Ted Deutch and Brad Schneider. 

Last week, they did something they've never done in their long career of working to strengthen the Israeli-American relationship: They circulated a letter among their fellow Democratic members of Congress, urging the Israeli government to refrain from unilateral annexation.

Turns out, when you green light everything you have trouble red lighting anything.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why did Heidegger emerge as the central philosopher of the far right?Heidegger's philosophy has legitimised the far right's regional environmentalism, populism and cultural racism. (Julian Göpffarth, 23 June 2020, openDemocracy)

In Germany, Heidegger's popularity in the far right is linked to the ways his philosophy legitimises the far right's regional environmentalism, populism and cultural racism. His vision of a national Dasein, a particular collective being based on a shared spirit, tradition and local embeddedness, provides the contemporary German far right with the vision for a white identity uniting 'the people' and 'the elites' on the basis of an attachment to the local, the 'common folk' and its glorification via the racialisation of an inferior cultural and religious 'Other'.

First, drawing on Heidegger allows the movement to intellectually embed its vision of a meaningful environmental protection movement as part of defending the homeland, or Heimat, as a union of local nature, culture and heritage against globalisation. This is shown by the above-mentioned magazine Die Kehre. Here, Heidegger's spiritually founded opposition against rationalism and technocracy as well as his notion of a locally rooted thinking underpins the far right's attempt to claim environmentalism.

A central part of this strategy is to label the Green party and leftist environmental protection movements as technocrats driven by a narrow scientific rationalism that focusses on climate change. Drawing on a long tradition of tradition of Heimat protection, the far right aims to counter this by portraying itself as the defender not of the environment, but nature as a meaningful part of local traditions, heritage and essential part of a white national identity. Global environmental protection movements are here portrayed as the expression of what Heidegger called the Gestell - a purely rationalistic reading of nature and the world as something transformable by humans.

Secondly, drawing on Heidegger allows far right intellectuals to embrace populism and develop the ideal of a populist intellectual: an ideal type of an intellectual who is rooted in 'the people' and, by being in touch with 'the common folk', closer to an authentic philosophy of being that Heidegger sees necessary to overcome modernity's nihilistic rationalism. Heidegger here provides a philosophy of populism that attempts to overcome the antagonism between 'the people' and 'the elites' and that reflects how, against much of what the literature on far right populism suggests, educated bourgeois intellectualism and populism in the far right are deeply intertwined.

Finally, and most importantly, in a context where racism in Germany is still largely equated with Nazism and biological racism, Heidegger's philosophy of an essentialised collective being 'rooted' in history provides the movement with a philosophy of cultural racism that claims to have overcome biological racism. Thus, Heidegger's notion of Dasein is used to reformulate an exclusive, essentialised idea of white nationhood in the context of a liberal democratic political language in which closeness to national socialism, racist nationalism and anti-Semitism is socially questionable and legally banned.

is always an attempt to disguise racism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Father of Capitalism and the Abolition of Slavery (Matthew Lesh, 6/22/20, Quillette)

Adam Smith argued not only that slavery was morally reprehensible, but that it causes economic self-harm. He provided economic and moral ammunition for the abolitionist movement that came to fruition after his death in 1790. Smith was pessimistic about the potential for full abolition, but he was on the side of the angels.

Smith's The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, contains perhaps the best known economic critique of slavery. Smith argued that free individuals work harder and invest in the improvement of land, motivated by their interest in earning a higher income, than slaves. Smith refers to ancient Italy, where the cultivation of corn degraded under slavery. The cost of slavery is "in the end the dearest of any," Smith writes.

His thinking about slavery can be traced further back. In the Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue and Arms, delivered in 1763 long before Britain's abolitionist movement was formalised, Smith writes:

Slaves cultivate only for themselves; the surplus goes to the master, and therefore they are careless about cultivating the ground to the best advantage. A free man keeps as his own whatever is above his rent, and therefore has a motive to industry.

Smith describes how serfs in Western Europe--in feudal relationships with lords--were progressively transformed into free tenants as they acquired cattle and tools. Harvests were more evenly divided between landlord and tenant to encourage better use of land, and tenants eventually progressed to simply giving the landlord a sum for lease. As government became more established, the influence of lords over the lives of tenants was also loosened.

Capitalism was, as Marx described, the next stage in human development after feudal slave relations. Smith's commercial society is in direct opposition to a slave society. Smith, at his core, is an advocate for individuals being free to specialize and trade, including to trade their labor. Everyone acting with regard to their "own interest," not because of coercion, creates general prosperity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump says Obama may have committed treason (MORGAN CHALFANT, 06/22/20, The Hill)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Conservatives Should Feel No Investment in Confederate Monuments (RICH LOWRY, June 19, 2020, National Review)

The Richmond statue of Lee, which Virginia governor Ralph Northam has said is coming down, has long been a point of contention. Its 1890 unveiling was a key moment in the creation of a cult of Lee as a man of "moral strength and moral beauty," as a speaker put it that day.

Frederick Douglass appropriately scorned this movement. "It would seem," he wrote sarcastically, "that the soldier who kills the most men in battle, even in a bad cause, is the greatest Christian, and entitled to the highest place in heaven."

The apotheosis of Lee was an element of a Lost Cause mythology that maintained that the Civil War wasn't truly about slavery, only Southern states defending their legitimate prerogatives.

Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, would have scoffed at this. In his notorious Cornerstone Speech in 1861, he said the new government was built on "the great truth" of slavery.

The theory of states' rights that the Confederacy used to justify secession wasn't meant to preserve our constitutional scheme, but to demolish it. The idea had been developed by former vice president John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who believed the country had set off on an erroneous, nationalist path from the very beginning.

Besides, the South supported states' rights only to the extent that they were useful in protecting slavery. It insisted, after all, on a federal Fugitive Slave Act.

There begins the analysis of the Right's motive.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Hunger, executions, escape to Hong Kong: a Chinese childhood : a review of  One Bright Moon by Andrew Kwong (South China Morning Post, Jun. 23rd, 2020)

Readers who grew up in Hong Kong will feel a pang of nostalgia as he describes, with wide-eyed wonder, life in the then-British colony: the sight of great trading ships in the harbour, the sounds of the foreign tongue called English, the taste of hot chocolate and buttered rolls.

But the boy, stricken with homesickness and brain­washing, threatens to kill himself if he is not allowed to return. "I belonged in communist China, not dirty capitalist Hong Kong," he thinks at the time. So, in a decision that would turn out to be disastrous, he goes back over the border to the mainland just as the (1958-1962) was starting.

His life becomes a series of nightmares that leave him traumatised. The night after he returns, he witnesses his first execution. "I shook and gasped, and frantically looked for bullet holes on my body; I had to stop the bleeding," he remembers. He watches as his father is arrested by a pimply-faced, obscenity-spewing Red Guard who storms into the family home.

Kwong learns to be suspicious of everyone and to censor his writing. One wrong word in a letter to his father, sen­tenced to 15 years of labour in Heilongjiang province, could get the family in more trouble. At the same time, the boy yearns for the trappings other children have, like the red scarves that would identify him as a true and loyal Chinese.

There are rays of sunlight in this otherwise dark narrative, such as when Kwong remembers flying kites, playing with his friends and watching ducks. He rejoices when his grandmother makes the rare trip to see him, bringing imported luxuries like Spam, condensed milk, arrowroot biscuits and bricks of brown sugar.

By the 60s, however, "famine had well and truly set in". Kwong documents the physical horrors of starvation that he saw as a child: faces turned yellow, bellies swollen with gas, legs shrunk into sticks and oozing liquid.

"In the dark, people tripped over bodies and let out screams," he writes of the corpses left in the streets. "We all kept our eyes wide open as we walked holding hands." All anyone could think or dream about was making money and buying food.

Even the book's rather poetic-sounding title has a cynical meaning. It comes from a quote from Kwong's mother: "A bright moon will shine again one day, after the clouds disperse." But she says these words just as she's bribing a government official with cigarettes, in a desperate bid to find favour for her family.