November 4, 2020

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Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Election Proves a Mixed Bag for Parties in New Hampshire (GARRY RAYNO, 11/04/20,

Democrats held their grip on the four of five top-of-ticket positions they currently hold, while Republican Gov. Chris Sununu scored a resounding victory over Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes while setting a record for votes for governor.

In New Hampshire, Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden easily defeated incumbent President Donald Trump, unlike four years ago when Hillary Clinton eked out a slim victory.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


France should grow up and apply liberté, égalité, fraternité to all of its citizens (Yvonne Ridley, 11/01/20, MEMO)

There seems to be an agenda at play in France, and it is targeting Islam and Muslims per se, not only the extremists, the likes of which can be found in all faith groups. In September, Macron launched a war on Islam in his country by unveiling plans which included granting local authorities the power to dissolve Islamic organisations without any due legal process. He also plans to tax French Muslim pilgrims who go to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj in order to raise funds for anti-radicalisation schemes. Religious organisations will be banned from arranging any non-religious activities.

All Islamic organisations, plans Macron, will be monitored through security, tax and legal means. Those which do not support the government may be closed, and those which highlight Islamophobia will, amazingly, be criminalised.

As I write, more than 50 Muslim-run charities are being investigated and threatened with closure; at least 70 schools and Muslim-owned companies have already been closed. Dozens of Muslims have had their homes raided, which the French Interior Minister has admitted is nothing to do with Paty's murder. It is simply to "send a message" to France's six million Muslim citizens.

In arguably the most sinister move approved by the French president, two organisations involved in monitoring human rights abuses have been labelled as "enemies of the Republic". The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) records such abuses, and BarakaCity is a major humanitarian charity.

CCIF has special status with the UN and is a key NGO within the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Widely respected by all of its partners across Europe, it helps thousands of victims of racism every year.

BarakaCity has helped millions of men, women and children around the world who are trapped in a cycle of poverty; for many this simply means providing them with clean water. The NGO has been closed down by Macron's government despite having no links to any of the terror attacks in France.

Idriss Sihamedi, the head of BarakaCity, has asked Turkey publicly for asylum for himself and his organisation, following the French government's crackdown. His home was raided by anti-terror police three weeks ago over allegations of harassment and extremism.

Sihamedi tagged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Twitter and said: "Following the lies of the [French] government... and the closure of the humanitarian and human rights NGO, I officially request political asylum for BarakaCity." That asylum, he wrote, should be granted also to "my team and myself, who are under threat of death."

Macron claimed that "Islam is in crisis", but the truth is that French Muslims are in crisis because of his racist policies. If he is genuinely sorry he will seek to right all of the many wrongs which affect so many of his own citizens, starting by establishing a special advisory group of French Muslims. He needs to understand that insulting anyone -- in this case Muslims -- simply because you can is not an acceptable way for the president of a democracy to behave.

As he sits down and considers this, perhaps it would also be a good time for France to make its peace with the people of Algeria by acknowledging, apologising and compensating Algerians for the barbaric crimes committed during 130 years of brutal French occupation of the North African country. Algerian men, women and children were slaughtered -- many of them beheaded with their heads taken as "trophies" -- for daring to demand the sort of freedom and liberty that Macron and his predecessors have all boasted about. Liberté, égalité, fraternité must apply to everyone, regardless of their faith, race or political affiliations, otherwise it is a meaningless slogan used to oppress rather than free the people. It is time that France grew up and started to understand and implement that very basic principle of democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


REVIEW: of Revolution and Its Discontents: Political Thought and Reform in Iran by Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi (Usman Butt, tNovember 2, 2020, MEMO)

Sadeghi-Boroujerdi argues that Iran was not immune from such a debate and a group of liberal Islamist intellectuals began to re-examine the Islamic Republic through this lens. Many of these intellectuals would go on to form the reformist camp in Iranian politics with President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) being the first Iranian leader to come out of this group. While the movement is broad, a number of characteristics can be attributed to reformist thought including anti-clericalism, a suspicion of state authority, an emphasis on inward piety, an expansion of rights and expressions, limiting state interventions in public and economic life, a move away from "ideology" towards technocratic governance and, for some, the "Protestantisation" of Shia Islam.

The author opens with the example of Professor Seyyed Hashem Aqajari, a reformist intellectual and former member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who gave a famous lecture on his issues with the Islamic Republic. During a talk on Ali Shari'ati and his project of Islamic Protestantism, Dr Aqajari was scathing about the state: "Despite some 100 years having elapsed since the publication of the Qajar-era diplomat and author Mirza Yusef Khan Mostashar al-Dowleh's Yek Kalameh (1870), and post-revolutionary reformist politicians' regular demands calling for 'the rule of law', 'law has still not come to rule'... whatever its author's [al-Dowleh's] original intentions, it had come to signify the struggle for the rule of law and the constraint of arbitrary power."

To accuse the Islamic Republic of giving way to the unconstrained and arbitrary power of a handful of clergymen is a common theme in reformist thought. Aqajari, though, went further, writes Sadeghi-Boroujerdi: "For Aqajari, 'Islamic Protestantism' and 'Islamic humanism' went hand in hand and ultimately entailed the clergy's obsolescence. He attributed to [Martin] Luther the credo that every man can act as his own priest." This claim led to Aqajari to be imprisoned for his activism.

...was not embracing Khatami when he sued for peace.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Trump says he's 'claiming' Pennsylvania and Michigan in Twitter rant as electoral prospects fade (Matthew Chapman , 11/04/20, Raw Story)

On Wednesday, as mail-in votes continued to be counted in the Midwest, President Donald Trump tweeted that he is "claiming" the states of Pennsylvania and Michigan "for Electoral Vote purposes" -- as his prospects of making it to 270 grow slimmer.

Michigan is projected as a victory for Joe Biden, with nearly all of the votes in and Biden holding a small but stable lead with mainly ballots from Democratic areas left to count.

Pennsylvania, meanwhile, is still reporting a Trump lead, but it is progressively shrinking as hundreds of thousands of remaining ballots are processed -- and Trump has dispatched Rudy Giuliani to try to block the count from continuing. exchange for watching him twist in the wind.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Sorry James Joyce, the People Buying Ulysses Don't Actually Read It (ETHAN WOLFF-MANN JUNE 16, 2016, Money)

James Latham, editor of the University of Tulsa-based James Joyce Quarterly, recently described Ulysses as probably "the most purchased and least read book in the world," according to the Tulsa World.

Just how accurate is that description? We wanted to find out, if for no other reason than to ease the sheepishness some of us feel for not having read Ulysses. (I have only read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and "The Dead.")

You may have always suspected that your friend with the full collection of Penguin Classics was using those books primarily as interior decoration. This is fine, of course: The publishing industry needs all the help it can get--and Umberto Eco says a library filled with unread books is far more valuable.

Data suggests that many people indeed buy the works of Joyce and other high-brow literary authors for largely the same reason that Hansel from "Zoolander" admires Sting:

Sting would be another person who's a hero. The music he's created over the years, I don't really listen to it, but the fact that he's making it, I respect that.

Since detailed data and metrics have supplanting sales and subscriptions in publishing, the world of media has changed significantly to focus on what people read. As Vox's Todd VanDerWerff put it last year, "Newspapers could suspect nobody was reading the city council report or the dance review; with the internet, we know nobody is."

For books, however, data has been less forthcoming since most people cling to their metric-proof bits of wood pulp, thread, and glue. But not completely. Thanks to the Kindle and other e-readers, there is some data showing who has actually been reading. Amazon's devices communicate and sync with each other, through the company, revealing how many people downloaded a book, whether they read it, and how long it took.

Unfortunately, Amazon rarely (like never) shares its data. But there are other ways of telling whether your pedantic friend has actually made it through the Great Slogs--and I say this with love to the great books, many of which I have read. (Or have I?)

In 2014, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Jordan Ellenberg invented the so-called "Hawking Index," which uses Amazon e-book highlights data as a proxy for where people stop reading the books they've purchased. Some people use the highlight function on the devices and apps, and the unscientific-but-workable "Hawking Index" uses the assumption that if the most-highlighted passages are clustered at the beginning of the book, the book is more likely to have been abandoned. (The name refers to Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which is ranked up with Ulysses for the dubious title of "most unread book of all time.") On the other side, books with popular passages marked all the way to the end mean lots of people made it through the entire story.

So on this Bloomsday where does Ulysses truly stack up? Here's a list of famous books and their scores on the Hawking Index, ranked from most-likely abandoned to most likely-finished.

Book Author HI Score
Ulysses James Joyce 1.7%

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What you need to know about the undecided swing states (ZACH MONTELLARO, HOLLY OTTERBEIN and NATASHA KORECKI, 11/04/2020, Politico)

The three Rust Belt states that unexpectedly vaulted Donald Trump into the White House in 2016 -- Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- now represent the difference between his reelection and a one-term presidency.

Together, they represent 46 electoral votes. If they were to fall in line for Joe Biden -- as the trio did for the Democratic presidential nominee in seven consecutive elections before 2016 -- they would make him the 46th president. [...]

With six states still to be called, here is the state of play of the outstanding votes in each of them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


You Are Better Prepared for Retirement Than You Think (ALLISON SCHRAGER, November 4, 2020, National Review)

We tend to romanticize the past; in particular, the days of defined-benefit pension plans, when employers offered a secure income for the duration of retirement. But at the peak of their popularity in 1973, defined-benefit pensions were available to only 39 percent of U.S. employees. That's because offering these pensions, and assuming so much risk, was very expensive for employers. Once the government beefed up regulations and demanded that employers fully account for the cost of pensions, defined-benefit plans mostly disappeared from the private sector. Even if you were lucky enough to have a generous plan, it only became valuable after many years of tenure at one job, an increasingly uncommon practice. Tying yourself to a single organization can mean forgoing better job opportunities and higher pay.

Defined-contribution plans, like 401(k)s, are cheaper to offer because the employee bears some risk. That is also one reason why they are more popular: More than half of American households today have a retirement plan, most of them defined-contribution plans.

This broader access to retirement plans is a major reason why the average American has more retirement income than in the past. In a recent report, economists measured retirement income from 2000 to 2011. This time period is significant because defined-contribution plans became more popular in the 1980s, so 2010s retirees were the first to retire after utilizing them for most of their career.

The authors estimate that 70-year-olds in 2011 had more income than they did in 2000, no matter their income bracket. From 2000 to 2011, the median 70-year-old's income increased from $30,710 to $33,908, while those at the 25th percentile saw an increase from $15,341 to $17,225, and those at the 75th percentile saw an increase from $51,360 to $56,522. Odds are if earlier retirees had enough money in retirement, current ones will too.

More workplace benefits and an expansion of the safety net left even the lowest-income retirees better off. During the 1970s poverty rates among Americans older than 65 hovered around 30 percent. In 2018, the elderly had the lowest poverty rate: 9.7 percent. There are many vulnerable Americans who do need support, but retirees aren't among them. Having the government provide enough risk-free income to finance most Americans' entire retirement is expensive, unnecessary, and implausible in the current fiscal environment. With limited resources, there are better uses of tax revenue.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Take a deep breath and go to sleep, America, because a presidential winner won't be declared tonight (John Haltiwanger, 11/04/20, Business Insider)

[W]ith an unprecedented number of Americans voting by mail in the 2020 election, it was always unlikely that a winner would be declared on election night. 

There are never full results on the day of elections, even when news outlets are able to declare a winner based on available tallies.

Though President Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that there should be a full result on the day of the election, that's not how it works. It always takes time to process and count votes, and it's a normal part of the electoral process. 

The sheer volume of mail-in votes in 2020 guaranteed that this process would be complicated and take longer than usual -- particularly in states where officials are limited in their capacity to process and count ballots prior to Election Day. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan -- three states that were crucial to President Donald Trump's 2016 electoral college victory -- qualify in this regard. 

At roughly 12 am ET on Wednesday, huge portions of the vote in those states remained outstanding, according to Insider and Decision Desk HQ. Officials in these states had warned ahead of Election Day that it could take days to count all of the ballots. 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson late on Tuesday said that the state would count all mail-in ballots within 24 hours.

Similarly, Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin's chief election official, on Tuesday night said that some larger jurisdictions in the state would be counting ballots into Wednesday morning. 

And more than 40% of the vote was still unreported Pennsylvania a little after midnight on Wednesday, per Decision Desk HQ's estimations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Even lockdown averse Sweden is tightening restrictions, as government warns of rising COVID-19 cases (NICLAS ROLANDER, 11/04/20, BLOOMBERG)

Swedes face a new wave of restrictions after daily coronavirus cases hit a record, with the government warning of a grim winter ahead.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said his country is now facing a "very serious situation" that requires tougher measures if the virus is to be fought back.

The resurgence of Covid-19 across Europe has caught the region off guard after a summer that left many countries assuming they'd brought the virus under control. But as citizens grew complacent and temperatures dropped, the pandemic has returned with a vengeance.

Lofven warned that the latest development is putting Sweden's health-care system under pressure, as more intensive care beds get filled.

"The brief respite that we got during the summer is over," he said. "How we act now will determine what kind of Christmas we will be able to celebrate, and who will be able to take part."