February 28, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


America's Last Machine Boss Goes Down (Austin Berg, Feb. 28th, 2021, National Review)

His father, Mike Sr., a foot soldier of then-mayor Richard J. Daley, got his son a job on the back of a city dump truck. Daley controlled more than 40,000 such patronage jobs at the time. And Madigan would have seen many of the others lucky enough to receive one on his route, whisking waste away from construction sites.

Cermak and others had built the Chicago Democratic machine by, among other things, distributing power across white ethnic groups and making deals with organized crime. But Daley's specialty was creating patronage armies through federal grants. That money often funded "slum clearance," the building of new highways and public housing, and other construction projects, all of which in turn helped cement the foundation of a hyper-segregated city.

After his stint on the truck and a job in the city's law department -- another gift from Daley -- Madigan was elected to a coveted local ward-committeeman position in 1969.

"I mean, everybody wanted to be a ward committeeman. They knew the power of the patronage system," Madigan said in an interview granted as part of an oral history of the Daley years. "They wanted a job in the patronage system. . . . I would tell them, 'Yes, we can put you in a job. But you're going to work for the Democratic Party.'"

Newly minted as a committeeman, Madigan was sent to the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention as a delegate representing Daley's interests. He voted for the most constricting "pension protection" clause in the nation, which guaranteed government-employee unions benefits the government couldn't afford in exchange for their backing of the Democratic machine, tying the state to an anchor of massive debt in perpetuity. He also voted for changes in the property-tax system that would later make him a millionaire through his law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, which specialized in appealing the tax assessments of the most valuable real estate in the Midwest and skimming off the reductions granted by political allies who heard the firm's appeals.

Later that year, Madigan was elected state representative for the 22nd House District of Illinois. He would go on to be reelected 25 times, eventually being elevated to House speaker after he was made gerrymanderer-in-chief following the 1980 Census. The redistricting process had been expected to hurt Democrats badly, but Madigan's cartographical cunning staved off a political bloodbath and earned him the title of "political wizard" from the Chicago Tribune. Many representatives now owed their seats to his pen, and they elected him speaker in 1983.

For all but two of the next 38 years, he would hold the speaker's gavel, wielding parliamentary rules that gave him more power than any other legislative leader in the country. His one-man rule was finally merged with the party power structure in 1998, when he became chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. This made him a one-stop shop for special interests looking to pass or kill legislation. Commonwealth Edison, the state's largest utility provider, last year was forced to pay a $200 million fine for attempting to bribe Madigan by providing no-work contracts and other perks to the speaker's inner circle. Though he denied wrongdoing, the scandal ultimately hastened his downfall.

The wreckage of Madigan's decades-long reign is obvious. When he became speaker in 1983, Illinois had a perfect credit rating. Since 2013, it's had the worst credit rating in the nation, just one notch above junk. The reason is that while Daley built his political army with federal money, Madigan built his with state money, specifically state debt. Political foot soldiers owed generous pensions, early retirements, and other perks to the speaker's protection. His fingerprints are on nearly every bill that enhanced state pension benefits, borrowed money to cover their costs, or shorted contributions to the systems to avoid difficult choices over the course of his 50 years in power.

The result of all those unsustainable promises is the most severe public-pension crisis in U.S. history, one with far-reaching implications for Illinois government. Since 2000, the state has cut spending on child welfare and other programs that help those in need by one-third after adjusting for inflation. Over the same time, spending on pensions and pension debt has increased 501 percent. The same story plays out at the local level, as Illinoisans are saddled with property-tax bills on par with their mortgages -- bills that sap home equity out of once-prosperous Black communities, particularly -- in exchange for sub-par services that get worse each year.

That, more than anything else, is Madigan's legacy: state and local governments that are pension-management systems with incidental service arms. The work of outside experts such as J.P. Morgan's Michael Cembalest has clearly shown that there's no feasible way to adequately fund the system through tax hikes. Short of a constitutional amendment allowing for changes to benefits, the only option is insolvency.

When outsiders think of corruption in Illinois, they probably imagine Rod Blagojevich attempting to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate. And indeed, that sort of naked abuse of power is rampant: The state has experienced an average of more than one public-corruption conviction per week since Madigan took the speakership. But the larger problem is a system in which politicians use taxpayer resources solely as a means to reinforce their own power, and it's no coincidence that Madigan fell only after Illinoisans started to catch on to his game.

As recently as 2012, a plurality of Illinoisans had no opinion on Madigan or didn't know who he was. Seven years later, after reporters and researchers had worked to reveal the Madigan machine's malfeasance, more than 70 percent of Illinois voters viewed the speaker unfavorably. As a result, Democrats in the state House finally turned on him out of fear of further angering their constituents.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Warmer temperatures are associated with lower worker productivity. Climate change could make things worse. (Theo Wayt, February 26, 2021, Academoic Times)

Warmer temperatures are associated with significant drops in worker productivity, with a more than 2% drop in annualized output for each 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature, according to a new paper using data from manufacturers in India. 

The findings, forthcoming in the Journal of Political Economy, have serious implications for developing and manufacturing-oriented economies like India, which in recent years has suffered from deadly heat waves that scientists say were exacerbated by climate change. 

"Reduced labor productivity due to heat is a big deal, perhaps more so than we previously thought," said co-author Anant Sudarshan, an energy and environmental economist at the University of Chicago, in an interview. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


First vaccine to fully immunize against malaria builds on pandemic-driven RNA tech
(Monisha Ravisetti, February 25, 2021, Academic Times)

Making a vaccine for malaria is challenging because its associated parasite, Plasmodium, contains a protein that inhibits production of memory T-cells, which protect against previously encountered pathogens. If the body can't generate these cells, a vaccine is ineffective. But scientists recently tried a new approach using an RNA-based platform.  [...]

The team's breakthrough could save hundreds of thousands of lives, particularly in developing nations. In 2019 alone, there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria and 409,000 deaths worldwide. Of those deaths, 94% were in Africa, with children being the most vulnerable.

"It affects societies and populations that have the least amount of resources and expertise to manage these infections well," Bucala told The Academic Times. "We need new vaccines, and we need more tools."

Novartis Pharmaceuticals and the National Institutes of Health funded the work. [...]

[R]ather than an mRNA platform, Bucala and Geall use a self-amplifying saRNA platform. The key benefit of the latter is that it is effective at much lower doses because it can rapidly produce copies of itself inside the cell. 

"For saRNA, one can potentially make a million doses of vaccine with a couple liters of synthetic production," Bucala said. "It's much more efficient than the base-protected mRNA vaccines."

The proposed saRNA vaccine tells the body to create the troublesome PMIF protein, generates antibodies against it and naturally produces the necessary memory T-cells, as Bucala had hoped.

"We thought we could combine RTS,S with a PMIF vaccine, but the mouse studies seem to suggest that just immunizing with PMIF is sufficient," Bucala highlighted. "That's how striking the results were."

Bucala and Geall have placed their vaccine in the hands of the Oxford University institution that facilitated the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. It is one of the only places in the world that is doing phase 1 studies in malaria, meaning researchers infect human volunteers with the disease after immunizing them.

"This is not in humans yet," Bucala noted, "but they are the group that can put it into humans, I think, best. We are doing those studies this year."

Beyond the saRNA technology's use for the malaria vaccine, Bucala believes it is an ideal method for immunization design in the future, including for COVID-19 prevention, because of its dual low cost and high yield. He says it could reach far and wide. 

"The current mRNA approach is an important step in that direction," he said. "But we are going to, I believe, need to do better. I hope that the saRNA opens that platform."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress (Axios, 2/28/21)

Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.

"Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances," Kaine said Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Second woman accuses Cuomo of harassment (BILL MAHONEY, 02/27/2021, Politico)

A second former staffer has accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment.

Charlotte Bennett, who began working for the state last March, told The New York Times that the governor had repeatedly asked her intimate personal questions, which felt like "something out of a horror movie." They included questions about her romantic life and whether Bennett, 25, "had ever been with an older man."

Bennett said Cuomo never touched her. But, she told the Times, "I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared. And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job."

So maybe not preferable to Joe? 

February 27, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Why Israeli Democracy Is Unstable and Corrupt (Akiva Malamet,·January 13, 2021, Liberal Currents)

To understand why current Israeli politics is in disarray, it is important to put it in the context of Israeli history and culture. Since its founding, Israel has put national defense and military issues at the forefront of priorities. Israel has been involved in many wars, and has been in a state of conflict with both the Palestinians and various regional neighbours  through to the present (recent Trump peace deals notwithstanding). As a result of these conflicts, Israel maintains an extremely large defense budget and requires military conscription or national service for a majority of the population.

As a result, most Israelis are socialized into a culture which prizes authority and dedication to the collective as one's primary duty. Israelis are raised in a society which teaches them to obey the state and other major figures of authority for the good of their group and the nation overall.  This is illustrated by the practice of putting political figures on the walls of Israeli classrooms as figures to be revered. Authority-oriented collectivism is also reinforced by nationalist youth movements such as Bnei Akiva, Beitar, and HaShomer HaTza'ir. Throughout their upbringing, Israelis are socialized to valorize sacrifices made on behalf of the nation-state, and are prepared to enter the military and be willing to perform similar sacrifices on behalf of the collective. 

Collectivism is also reinforced by Israeli political culture, which is divided between two major camps. These are nationalist, and socialist. Unlike in many Western countries, the Israeli right is not "conservative", but nationalist. To be on "the right" in Israel is to be in favour of a militaristic, expansionist Zionism and the growth of state sovereignty and power. Despite Netanyahu's enactment of major market reforms as Finance Minister and later Prime Minister, ideas about free markets, individual rights, and limited constitutional government (in the vocabulary of many Western conservatives up until recently), are largely non-existent in rightwing discourse. They remain so despite the valiant efforts of liberal-minded Likudniks. Ideologically, the non-religious Israeli right originates from the thought of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Revisionist Zionism. While Jabotinsky and other Revisionists referenced liberalism, their ideas owe far more to nationalist and even fascist thought. [...]

Thus, Israeli politics and culture are largely lacking much resembling a serious liberal strain, either of the left-liberal/liberal egalitarian or classical liberal/libertarian variety. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


NBA veteran Jeremy Lin says he's been called 'coronavirus' on the court (Nicole Chavez, February 26, 2021, CNN)

As the number of violent attacks against Asian Americans escalates, former NBA star Jeremy Lin said he has experienced racism while playing basketball.

"Being a 9 year NBA veteran doesn't protect me from being called 'coronavirus' on the court," the former New York Knicks star wrote on Facebook.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Reimagining Public Safety (Isa Muhammad,·February 25, 2021, Liberal Currents)

Public wellbeing is being reimagined before our eyes. In Minneapolis, the city committee has chosen to end its police department. A growing number of urban areas, including Los Angeles and New York City, have focused on defunding its police departments and reinvesting the cash in less developed communities. Additionally, regions across the country are choosing to remove police from schools in order to really establish safe learning environments. 

New Jersey has a long history of police savagery and violence. The endeavors of neighborhood and state pioneers, including Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, have come up short and assured a continuation of police brutality that will disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities. The best way to ensure that an episode of police violence doesn't occur is to entirely avoid an encounter to begin with. 

Grewal's new policy includes: Prohibition against any use of physical force against a civilian except as a last resort; a bar on deadly force against civilians, including chokeholds and strikes to the head and neck, except as a last resort; a halt on firing at moving vehicles or during high-speed chases, except in narrow instances. The new policy also requires New Jersey's 38,000 officers to undergo a two-day training on de-escalation and other tactics aimed at limiting the use of force.

The reforms followed after a state trooper killed Maurice Gordon, a Black man, on the Garden State Parkway in June and the protests against police brutality around the country. The Attorney General has favored the police association in Newark and impeded reforms that are not even groundbreaking, like regular citizen review boards with discipline and subpoena power. 

The police reform era commenced over 100 years ago, after training, demonstrable skill and preparations were outlined as an answer for the issues of policing. This pattern has continued to the present and it incorporates the changes proposed by the principal legal officer and state lawmakers. Minneapolis implemented these reforms: body cameras; implicit bias, verifiable predisposition, and mindfulness training; reconciliatory endeavors with communities of color; use of force standards; necessities that police intercede in offense; and local area policing. The division was held up as a model for progressive police reforms, yet George Floyd still lost his life. 

Lessening contact with police and redirecting resources into local area institutions, such as mental health crisis centers, will ensure police brutality doesn't happen and further decrease violence and strife within communities. It is relevant to recollect that police brutality and killings are not the only types of police violence. 

So obvious, so hard to process: one easy way to reduce the violence police perpetrate against the public is to reduce their contact with the citizenry.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


The French Inquisition: French leaders blame universities for spreading ideals of fraternity and equality (Rafia Zakaria,  February 26, 2021, The Baffler)

I HAVE NEVER FELT WELCOME in France. From the sneer on the face of the immigration officer stamping my passport, to the in-your-face staring of black-clad middle-aged women on the metro, to the standoffish workers in Parisian bakeries--it all adds up to a collective face-palm. They're forced to let me into the country because of my magical American passport, but that doesn't mean they have to be nice about it.

I know the reason; traveling to France and being treated well is yet another exercise of white privilege, one open to all the fresh-faced English and French majors at American universities, and all the social-climbing women hoping to live some version of the I-found-a-French-lover/bakery/apartment-that-I-cannot-live-without. It's not easy to explain to these uncritical consumers of a Fantasy France that the country is a racist and bigoted hell for those born sans white privilege. Americans have invested a great deal in anointing the trip to Paris as a ritual that endows the taker with the chic they so desire.

In the past several decades, but particularly in the past few months, France's two-faced truths have been exposed in all their grimace-inducing reality. On February 16, the French National Assembly passed a bill, originally termed the "anti-separatism" law, that would allow the state to intervene and shut down any religious or community organization that it found wanting in its commitment to French secularism. The legislation, which is now under consideration in the Senate, mandates further scrutiny of homeschooling--a method many French Muslims have resorted to so as to educate girls who are not permitted to attend regular school because they wear the headscarf. The legislation will bolster the French state's ability to impose its version of secularism--what they call laïcité--on everyone they dislike. France's Muslims, who make up about 8 percent of the population and are widely stigmatized as being potential terrorists, are the targets. Absent entirely are any plans for the French state to confront how racism contributes to religious violence in France.

Going after Muslims, however, is no longer enough. Last October, the French minister of education accused universities of being the place where "Islamo-leftism" (Islamo-guachisme) is spreading, a comment described as "abhorrent" by French legal scholar Rim-Sarah Alouane. At the time the statement was made, many university presidents were upset about the minister's remarks but the ministry did not seem to think a response was even necessary. The French left also stayed silent, giving tacit approval to the idea that a dreadful combination of leftism and Islamism was not only ascendant in French institutions of higher learning, but that it required rooting out by the French state.

Here is where the American twist comes in. As news of France's war not simply on militant jihadism of old but rather on a chimeric "Islamo-leftism" spread, it was found that it was not Islamic ideology but rather the import of American ideas that had so spooked a France deeply committed to racial and religious discrimination.

They are, of course, correct that America, like Islam and like liberalism generally, is the enemy. We are universalist; they are Identitarian. And while the End of History forced them to adopt the Anglospheric system they despise the values it entails. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Sasse marches to own tune as GOP implodes around him (BURGESS EVERETT, 02/27/2021, Politico)

"I care about a lot of the people, but I don't really care about the censure," he said ahead of the expected condemnation from his state's Republican Party. "There are a lot of really good people involved in party activism. But I don't think they're at all representative of regular Nebraskans ... Nebraska is a lot Trumpier than I am. But I got a lot more votes than he did."

Sasse just won a race down-ballot from Trump and is as relaxed as one can be about his political situation. He's facing no internal pressure in the Senate for his vote to convict Trump of incitement of insurrection. A previous censure in 2016 did not rattle his views. If there's a model for how to successfully build a conservative GOP out of Trump's shadow, it might as well be him.

But Sasse can't quite be replicated. He's a bit of a loner in the Senate, both in style and substance, someone who can't comprehend how cable news hits, partisan congressional speeches and the culture wars have come to dominate politics.

That's not to say Sasse isn't bothered by Nebraskans spending their Saturday targeting Sasse's vote to convict Trump. In fact, he's perplexed that Republicans in his state even worked on Super Bowl Sunday to censure him.

"You want to go to some hotel, strip mall conference room and scream about a politician who tried to tell you: 'I would oppose somebody in my own party who violated their oath?'" he marveled. "That's not healthy."

Strong opinions came to Sasse easily during a 30-minute interview in his Capitol hideaway. Of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), he says: "That guy is not an adult." President Joe Biden's White House is "cowering" to the opinions of people like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.). Sasse sees Congress itself as little but "a bunch of yokels screaming."

Sasse, 49, has a youthful energy, a rapid speaking pace and an everyman's appeal. When he cracks open his mini-fridge, a hefty selection of Bud Light cans reveals itself. He has a dry sense of humor, deadpanning of his beloved Cornhuskers' recent struggles: "Half of all presidential impeachments in U.S. history happened before Nebraska won another Big 10 game."

He is not an especially active participant on either the Senate floor nor within the GOP's party meetings. He devotes much of his time to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which he finds most fulfilling among his assignments. And like most younger, rising players in either party, Sasse sidesteps the question of whether he's preparing to run for president.

Still has a lot of clean-up to do for not opposing Trumpism with his Senate votes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


The Online Quest for Community (Adam Gurri,·February 15, 2021, Liberal Currents)

"Community" is a word that carries much baggage but little specificity. Referencing a summary of the literature on this, Chandran Kukathas discussed three traditional models. The first is Tönnies's, which rests on "geographical locality" and "some common origin" such as "ties of blood and kinship, as well as shared habitats, attitudes, and experiences" all of which are "organic" as opposed to contractual or otherwise voluntarily chosen. The second is exemplified by Rober MacIver who envisioned community as fundamentally being about shared interests. "A community, for MacIver, can be the product of the will of its members; but it also had to be a will for the good or interests the members had in common. Like Tönnies, he sees a shared locality as a necessary condition of community, but his model differs from the first insofar as historical ties or associations are not essential" The last model, which Kukathas does not attribute to any one thinker, removes even the need for shared locality or a strong commitment to the good of the group, bringing "trade unions and professional organizations" and even groups with "relatively weak bonds of commitment" to fall under this definition. Kukathas himself considers community any "collectivity of individuals who share an understanding of what is public and what is private within that collectivity."

I am not going to insist on any of these definitions. Indeed, it seems to me that the stakes of defining the word "community" do not rise above the level of clarifying the specific concepts that a specific person, such as Kukathas, will be discussing. When García Martínez says that online communities are not real communities, he is not suggesting that Tufekci needs to consult a dictionary. He is suggesting that they do not matter, that they fall short of some moral standard by being too frivolous, too loosely bound together, too lacking in depth or wisdom or merit. Take your pick.

But the range of ways of being together are vast and that the ways in which they can be meaningful and important in people's lives equally so. Too many people imbibe deeply from Romantic currents and end up blind to the many possibilities that exist. Let us try to correct this tendency without becoming blind ourselves to the legitimate sources of the Romantic's concerns.

At a high level, there are two basic considerations when thinking about togetherness: association and commonality. Association is the active component of being together, and should be understood expansively to include anything which involves two or more people engaging in something jointly. A conversation held one time between two people who never meet or speak again is an association, albeit a very transient one, and so is the Catholic Church.

Commonality is simply some shared characteristic, including shared interests. It can be a basis of association, but does not need to be. People can agree to associate for an enormous variety of reasons. One can join an activist organization, for example, because one wants to change the world, or because one is lonely, or simply because a job offer is extended and found to be adequate. Three individuals with one of these motives each might have very little commonality other than the fact of their being a part of the same organization. And the basis of their association, in this case, would not be commonality at all.

Commonality can also be a source of something people call "community" even when there's no specific association they have in mind. People who happen to enjoy a particular music subgenre may not have thought of themselves as belonging to a community at all, until someone invoked a phrase such as "the punk community" or "the hip hop community." These phrases may encourage people to self-consciously identify as members of these imagined communities, and perhaps take measures to associate with others who feel the same way--but it also may not. Simply having something in common does not imply association, nor need association imply much in common beyond the association itself.

Romantics and communitarians in the tradition of Tönnies are dismissive of forms of togetherness except where there is a very strong, historically rooted association with a very high degree of commonality among its membership. Against this, I want to insist that even a single conversation between two people can have a lasting impact and be deeply meaningful for both of them. And online forms of association tend to be venues for conversation between individuals and in groups.

Heck, it's not a terribly healthy example, but look at how Q provides community for people whose lives are otherwise empty. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Why is atheism no longer cool?: How the New Atheists failed to make God go away (Rev Steve Morris, 27 February, 2021, The Crisis)

Throughout 2006-7 the New Atheism, as coined by Gary Wolf in Wired Magazine, began to ruffle feathers. The ideas of New Atheists weren't really that new, but what they had was a tetchy, rude and frankly insulting way of attacking the enemy. Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens made a boisterous case that believing in God was irrational, and because it was irrational it led people to do irrational things - like fly aeroplanes into skyscrapers.

Some of the points the New Atheists made were well made. For instance, Sam Harris argued that theists don't understand probability - that they attribute things to God that were likely to happen anyway. It is a good point, isn't it? God doesn't need magical thinking on our part. As an ex-atheist, I have a lot of respect for those who still think as I thought. I think that the pungent criticisms of the New Atheists were right to be aired - even if the style of it was rather childish.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as they called themselves, didn't play fair - but that was the point. McGrath told me, "Looking back at that time and that talk I gave I still feel annoyed by the way Dawkins and others pitched their argument. They basically said that there was no scientific proof for belief in God and that no sensible person could disagree. But they never subjected their own beliefs to the same criteria."

Of course, the argument goes both ways - we too need to interrogate the basis of our faith, to ask difficult questions and perhaps be prepared to change our worldview every time we sincerely debate with someone of no faith.

what was fatal is that the criteria they could not withstand applied only to them, undermining their beliefs in their entirety. 

February 26, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


The Ghoulish, Bipartisan Tradition of Death at the Southern Border: Biden has an opportunity to break the cycle of deadly border militarization embraced by his predecessors of both parties. Will he take it? (Hilary Beaumont/February 26, 2021, New Republic)

We can't understand U.S. border enforcement without understanding the history of the border. For more than 10,000 years, Indigenous communities lived in what are now called the borderlands. Stone tools found in Arizona date back 12,000 years. O'odham traditional territory spanned an area that includes parts of modern-day Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.

When the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, the U.S. acquired most of the land that is now the southern U.S. The 1854 Gadsden Purchase marked the current U.S.-Mexico border, slicing through the middle of traditional O'odham territories. The border was drawn at a time when the U.S. was expanding west, forcibly removing Indigenous people from their land. O'odham people were not consulted and did not consent to the establishment of the border, according to former Tohono O'odham tribal leader David Garcia.

O'odham members could cross the border freely until the 1990s, when Clinton's militarization policies began. Following a 1993 study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy that found the southwest border was "being overrun" and the new Nafta trade deal that encouraged Mexican agricultural workers to head north, the Clinton administration approved the Border Patrol plan of prevention through deterrence--enforcing the border with personnel, infrastructure, and tech to make it more like a fortress to drive migration routes into less hospitable areas. Doris Meissner, commissioner of the agency that oversaw Border Patrol at the time, said of the policy in 2000: "We did believe that geography would be an ally to us.... It was our sense that the number of people crossing the border through Arizona would go down to a trickle, once people realized what it's like."

At 34, Amber Lee Ortega, a Tohono O'odham tribal member and Hia C-ed O'odham descendent, is part of the last generation that can remember a demilitarized border. She recalls moving freely across the border during tribal pilgrimages. "Now I can't go 100 feet without a helicopter or Border Patrol arriving," she said over the phone.

Today the Tohono O'odham reservation shares 62 miles of border with Mexico. It is also one of the most deadly places for migration across the border, with 1,400 deaths recorded since 2000.

As a child, Ortega's parents taught her migration was natural. When people traveled through the reservation, her family helped them by offering water and food. "It wasn't even a hesitation, it was part of our himadag," or way of life, she said.

That changed as she grew up. Historically, migrants crossed the border at major cities like San Diego and El Paso, but prevention through deterrence beefed up patrol in cities, so people turned toward open land, including the Tohono O'odham reservation. Ortega remembers Border Patrol harassing her dad on his way to work; signs he posted on their property didn't deter Border Patrol from crossing onto their land. In the 1990s, Mexican cartels began using the reservation as a smuggling corridor. Her family only received one TV channel, and it broadcast news stories about violence and drug-running on a loop. From the news and Border Patrol, Ortega said her family got the message: "If you offer water or food, you are considered a terrorist." They stopped offering assistance, she said, "due to the harassment of Border Patrol." When she was nine, someone broke into her family's home and stole blankets and bikes. "We went from feeling cheerful and helpful to fearing anyone knocking on the door." Ortega has had to unlearn this fear.

What Ortega experienced in her backyard was being designed thousands of miles away. From 2000 to 2010, primarily under George W. Bush, Border Patrol's budget more than tripled. After the 9/11 terror attacks, Border Patrol turned its focus toward terrorism and smuggling, doubling down on deterrence and surveilling the border. From 1997 to 2009, the mortality rate per 10,000 apprehensions shot up from 1.6 deaths to 7.6 deaths, showing how even as unauthorized migration decreased during this time, crossing the border became more dangerous. In 2003, Border Patrol launched a search and rescue team and placed 20 rescue beacons in the desert, but these measures proved ineffective. Border control continued under Obama; in 2010 he signed a $600 million border security bill and increased deportations. The primary reason, according to ProPublica, was to gain credibility with Republicans in order to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The secret sauce for such a bill was tightened border security plus legalizing undocumented people. The bill ultimately failed.

Although apprehensions of unauthorized migrants at the southern border were down from a peak in 2000, Trump followed through on his campaign promise to crack down on "illegal" immigration. Deterrence took on a new meaning; Trump took headline-grabbing action to show migrants that they should not come to the U.S. through, among other measures, continuing mass deportations, funding border wall construction, implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols that forced tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico, separating families at the border as part of his "zero tolerance" policy, and moving the border further south by pressuring Mexico and other Central American nations to halt migration north.

Migrants aren't the only casualties of border militarization; the construction of new border wall under the Trump administration has limited O'odham people's ability to practice ceremonies and pilgrimages, destroyed archaeological sites and ancient graves, and ruined the sacred sites of Quitobaquito Springs and Monument Hill. Ortega, who was arrested in September for temporarily halting its construction, said: "The border wall has not just limited our way of being, our culture, our spiritual practices--it has felt like an intentional severing of who we are."

Today, when crossing the border, Garcia said O'odham people must identify themselves with a tribal ID card. Border agents have the power to deny entry and can confiscate these cards, he said. The militarized border has made it harder for tribal members on the southern side of the border to travel to the tribal hospital in the U.S. without an appointment. "They're all being scrutinized," he said. "There's been several of our tribal members, including relatives of mine, who have been deported." He said his southern relatives "are now categorized as migrants."

All of this is Biden's inheritance.

When migrating people become lost, there is no U.S. agency with the primary mandate to save them. Border Patrol resources are first directed toward deterring and detaining migrants; the 911 system is not designed to respond to these emergencies, either. If a lost migrant or their family calls 911 in Texas, police cannot obtain a warrant quickly enough to search private ranches, according to Sanchez-Cristobal.

According to a new report by the Arizona-based humanitarian group No More Deaths, if a person is lost in the borderlands and calls 911, the emergency response is segregated based on perceived citizenship; 911 calls are automatically diverted to Border Patrol if the missing person is perceived to be a migrant. The group analyzed thousands of calls to a crisis line for missing migrants and found that in 63 percent of emergency requests to Border Patrol, the agency did not conduct a confirmed search; if a migrant becomes lost in the borderlands, there is a one in three chance the agency will search for them.

No More Deaths also found that Border Patrol caused people to go missing by chasing and scattering groups of migrants, and documented cases of the agency interfering with family efforts to search for loved ones. "Far from constituting an accidental tragedy, we find that Border Patrol's practice of abandoning people to die in U.S. territory lies at the heart of contemporary border enforcement strategy," the report concludes. The organization calls people missing in the borderlands "disappeared"--a term that denotes the state's role in their deaths.

Whereas previous administrations have inflamed these patterns, No More Deaths can imagine a border policy that, if Democrats and the Biden administration embraced it, breaks the pattern of balancing border security with amnesty.

Restrictions on immigration are literally anti-American. 
Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Black Americans have disproportionately suffered from pollution. It's time for a new policy. (Rachel Ramirez  Feb 26, 2021, Vox)

Formosa's vast 2,400-acre site, currently marked off with fences, sits on two former 19th-century sugarcane plantations and a burial ground for the enslaved, which the company failed to disclose until RISE St. James filed a public records request. Still, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality approved permits last year for Formosa to build the complex of 14 plastics plants, despite the company's own models revealing that it could more than double the amount of toxic pollutants in the area and emit more of the carcinogenic chemical ethylene oxide than almost any other facility in the country.

The predominantly Black communities of St. James Parish and the rest of Louisiana's Cancer Alley are not alone in this problem. According to the National Black Environmental Justice Network, Black Americans in 19 states are 79 percent more likely to live with industrial pollution than white people. Researchers also found that Black people breathe 56 percent more pollution than they cause, whereas white people breathe 17 percent less pollution than they generate.

Lavigne said industries "come to Black communities because they think no one's going to say anything. They think no one is going to fight."

Environmental groups like RISE St. James usually have one ally in their corner when fighting industrial polluters: the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a bedrock law that requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of proposed infrastructure such as the construction of major highways, prison complexes, airports, pipelines, landfills, and refineries. Passed by Congress in 1969, NEPA, followed by the Clean Air and Water Acts, was part of a broader plan to protect the environment from any point source of pollution or contamination.

The law is not perfect, though. Since the link between racism and the environment didn't click for many in the late 1960s and '70s, when these environmental laws were created, NEPA's lack of civil rights protections resulted in the further oppression and exclusion of Black communities across the country. Polluting industries would set up shop in marginalized neighborhoods with no regard to the systemic injustice baked into the fabric of the community, and there was little recourse to stop these polluters from doing so.

But with the rise of the environmental justice movement in the late 1970s, Black environmentalists and policy experts began floating the idea of stronger environmental policies that draw from the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The idea was to protect historically disadvantaged neighborhoods from racist policies that could exacerbate a community's social and environmental burdens.

"People often forget the legacies of slavery, of Jim Crow segregation and out of that chain, laws that were deeply entrenched within the social structure of the Southern environment that worsened our quality of life," said Beverly Wright, the founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, who has advised President Joe Biden on environmental justice policies. "That legacy resulted in communities that had been inundated with toxic facilities, impacting our health, the value of the homes where people live, causing them to have higher cancer rates, and to eventually be relocated from within the midst of these facilities."

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Texas natural gas production fell by almost half during recent cold snap (USEIA, 2/25/21)

The decline in natural gas production was mostly a result of freeze-offs, which occur when water and other liquids in the raw natural gas stream freeze at the wellhead or in natural gas gathering lines near production activities. Unlike the relatively winterized natural gas production infrastructure in northern areas of the country, natural gas production infrastructure, such as wellheads, gathering lines, and processing facilities, in Texas are more susceptible to the effects of extremely cold weather.

February 25, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


A Happy Contrarian: 'Conversations With René Girard,' 'Evolution of Desire' (Costica Bradatan, February 25, 2021, Commonweal)

Something that many of his academic colleagues could not forgive Girard for was his religion. While he started from a purely secular position ("I am rooted in the avant-garde and revolutionary tradition"), Girard adopted Christianity for philosophical reasons. His theory led him to think that the Passion of Christ (as recorded in the Gospels) was a turning point in history because it put an end to an uninterrupted line of violent scapegoating by exposing the scapegoat mechanism for what it was. As Haven shows in Evolution of Desire, Girard's was primarily an "intellectual" conversion. He needed to believe in order to make better sense of the world--as he observed, "conversion is a form of intelligence."

Yet many could not comprehend how such a brilliant and sophisticated man (and a Frenchman to boot) could go so medieval. Conversions were not exactly in intellectual fashion in American academia. When "theory," the latest French import, was Gospel truth in the humanities, Girard would never cease to poke savage fun at it. "If a Rabelais shows up at the right time," he said in 1993, "he will do hilarious things with our current scholasticism and in particular with our use of the word 'theory.'" Girard grew up and was educated in France, and could see right through the whole thing. In the United States, "theory" was a fad that would soon die out, as fads always do:

The next generation will wonder what impulse could so move so many people that go on endlessly writing the most convoluted prose in a complete void of their own making, disconnected not only from the reality of their world but from the great literary texts, of which recent theory has been making a shamelessly parasitic use.

Prophetic though Girard was in other respects, he was dead wrong here. The next generation of literary scholars may have abandoned "theory," but only to venture into new voids.

What depressed Girard most about academia (even though it was yet another confirmation of his theory) was the combination of ferocity and nihilism he observed among his colleagues. They were the representatives of a most peculiar brand of fanaticism: fanatics who don't believe in anything. They could wage the nastiest of intellectual wars, hurt and humiliate others, even destroy careers, in the name of absolutely nothing:

Whenever people really believe in some truth larger than the academic world, they do not dedicate themselves to the pursuit of academic success with as much ferocity as the people who believe absolutely nothing.... far from making people more relaxed and generous, the current nihilism has made academic life harsher and less compassionate than before.

This pushed Girard into an increasingly isolated position within American academia. Not that he disliked being in such a situation--if anything, he may have found it exhilarating. The more his colleagues shunned him, the more he mentioned the emperor's nakedness; the deeper their silence, the sharper his criticism. The contrarian's role seemed to suit him well. While most of his peers were advertising their disdain for religion, Girard was praising the virtues of true faith: "If we had more genuine religion, we would have less violence." Nothing too scandalous here, certainly. However, right after this, he adds a coda. "This is what most ordinary people still believe," he said, "and, as a rule, when the ordinary people and the intellectuals do not agree, it is safer to go with ordinary people." One can get away with saying many things in today's university, but not this. The theorist of scapegoating was courting trouble.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Solar panels capture more sunlight with capsaicin - the chemical that makes chili peppers spicy (Jon Major, 1/13/21, The Conversation)

Here's some news hot off the press. Researchers have found a secret ingredient for making solar panels that absorb the sun's energy more efficiently. Depending on what you like to eat, there's a good chance you can find it at home. Capsaicin, the chemical that gives chili peppers their spicy sting, also improves perovskite solar cells - the devices that make up solar panels.

Adding capsaicin expands the grains which make up the active material of the solar cell, allowing it to more effectively transport electricity. More importantly, the material goes from having a deficit of electrons to having an excess, changing how the cell operates and allowing more sunlight to be converted to electricity. In essence, adding capsaicin adds electrons, which may or may not be the same effect you experience on your tongue after a particularly spicy biryani.

The capsaicin-laced cells are among some of the most efficient that have been reported. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Americans are struggling, but you'd never know it from their credit scores (Jessica Dickler, 2/25/21, CNBC)

Despite widespread job losses and financial uncertainty, Americans are faring well by most measures during the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal relief, such as stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits and an extended pause in loan repayments, have even given some a boost.

Consumers are paying down debt and saving more than they have in decades. Many are leveraging low interest rates to refinance and lower their monthly bills or catch up on past-due payments.

As a result, credit scores, a general measure of credit worthiness, have improved across the board. In July, the average national credit score hit a record 711, according to FICO, the developer of one of the most commonly used scores by lenders.

Now tax consumption instead of income. 
Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Biden Revokes Trump Ban on Many Green Card Applicants (Reuters, February 24, 2021)

President Joe Biden on Wednesday revoked a proclamation from his predecessor that blocked many green card applicants from entering the United States.

Former President Donald Trump issued the ban last year, saying it was needed to protect U.S. workers amid high unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden rejected that reasoning in a proclamation on Wednesday rescinding the visa ban. The Democratic president said it had prevented families from reuniting in the United States and had harmed U.S. businesses.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


It's Time to Start Being Optimistic: Vaccinations are up, cases are down, and the economy is primed to boom. (Scott Lincicome, 2/25/21, tHE dISPATCH)

The mRNA (BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna) vaccines and the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab have been in use for almost three months now, and the real-world results are nothing short of miraculous. Israel's world-beating vaccination drive, for example, has substantially reduced the number of critically ill older patients and infected young people:

Outside of Israel (which is using only the Pfizer vaccine), other results are trickling in and are similarly positive. For example, the BBC reported on Monday that the U.K.'s vaccination program reduced hospitalizations in Scotland by 85 percent (Pfizer) and 94 percent (AstraZeneca) at only four weeks after the first dose. In particular, Public Health Scotland's review of 1.14 million vaccinations between December 8 and February 15 found that "there were just over 8,000 people who ended up in hospital, but only 58 were among the vaccinated group after the four-week mark." In the United States, which is using both mRNA vaccines, there are numerous state-level reports of COVID-19 cases plummeting in long-term care facilities, and nationwide hospitalizations have collapsed (more on that in a sec)--trends that are both due, at least in part, to these amazing vaccines.

There is also increasing evidence that the vaccines are effective at stopping most people from not only getting seriously ill, but also infecting others. As numerous medical experts have noted over the last few months (and as trials have indicated but did not definitively prove), it was always highly likely that the vaccines would greatly reduce virus transmission. However, the mere possibility they might not has been a constant note of caution regarding the vaccines and our broader return to normalcy (e.g., wearing masks, social distancing, and reopening schools or local businesses). Now, we finally have some supporting data from the field, and the results are uniformly great. First, researchers from the Mayo Clinic examined 62,138 individuals in Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, and Wisconsin between December 1 and February 8, and found that "[a]dministration of two COVID-19 vaccine doses [both mRNA types] was 88.7% effective in preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection ... with onset at least 36 days after the first dose." Second, a new study out of Israel found a similar level of efficacy for only the BioNTech/Pfizer shot: a 89.4 percent reduction in transmission (expert review here). Third, a U.K. study of health care workers in England found that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine led to an 86 percent reduction in infection a week after the second dose. The authors' conclusion: "Our study demonstrates that the BNT162b2 vaccine effectively prevents both symptomatic and asymptomatic infection in working age adults."

All three studies are preliminary, but they remain a big and wonderful deal, especially since (1) they all say the same basic thing; (2) they basically confirm what medical experts have long suspected (while convincing others to jump on the bandwagon); and (3) even critics note that, while the exact efficacy figures may be off, the overall conclusion (a significant reduction in transmission) is very likely correct. Very exciting stuff.

Even more good news came last week with respect to the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. First, multiple studies showed that a single dose is highly effective (more than 80 percent) in preventing symptomatic disease a few weeks after it's administered. Second, following successful internal testing, Pfizer and BioNTech asked U.S. regulators to allow their vaccine to be stored and transported at standard freezing temperatures (-4 F / -20 C) instead of the super cold temps that are currently required. This would greatly expand the number of places in the United States and elsewhere that could store and administer the vaccine, and it comes at the perfect time for the many states that have teamed up with local pharmacies (including Walmart) to ramp up vaccine distribution in the coming weeks. 

As George Mason University's Alex Tabarrok (who's been a true champ on vaccine issues) adds, the single dose data might unfortunately be wasted on the United States, which appears wedded to the original two-dose approach, but it and the storage development could be a very big deal for developing countries that are just getting started. They also show why we shouldn't blindly and permanently adhere to the companies' initial clinical trial data, which were "designed at speed with the sole purpose of getting the vaccines approved" not "to discover the optimal regimen for public health." We can, and should, keep adapting as the evidence warrants.

Should have impeached Donald last January, eh?

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Michael Che's ham-fisted joke aside, what's the deal with Israel, Palestinians and the vaccine? (Arno Rosenfeld, Feb. 24th, 2021, The Forward)

OK. But why would Israel be expected to vaccinate Palestinians?

An occupying power is required to provide medical care for the people living under its control, according to the Geneva Convention. Liberal Jewish groups like T'ruah and IfNotNow, and Palestinian and human rights advocates, say that because Israel is occupying the West Bank and Gaza it is required to provide vaccines to everyone living there -- not just to the Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, as it has done. [...]

OK. Well in any case shouldn't we be going off of Oslo? The two sides agreed to it and, unlike the Geneva Convention, it was actually tailored to the situation in Israel and Palestine.

That's one way to look at it. But while it doesn't have an expiration date, Oslo wasn't really meant to govern the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians for decades. It was originally intended to be replaced with a final status peace agreement within five years, and with negotiations stalled it hasn't always been adhered to by the Israelis. The Israeli army violated Palestinian autonomy during the Second Intifada to conduct security operations in West Bank cities, and it has failed to allow the Palestinian Authority to run its own population registry and restricts trade, contrary to what some say was provided for in the agreement.

Diana Buttu, a former advisor to the Palestinian Authority, said that Israel is selectively reading Oslo to shirk its responsibility to provide help during the pandemic.

"The Israelis are saying, 'You're good enough to be a state to handle your own vaccines but then you're not really a state when it comes to everything else,'" Buttu said.

No one wants to reckon with the reality the single state solution imposes. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Biden, Nord Stream 2 and EU Energy Security (Dr Alan Riley, 11/26/20, ICDS)

The prospects of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline being able to flow gas into the EU as Gazprom intended now look extremely perilous. US sanctions legislation adopted in December 2019 stopped the construction of the pipeline by extending sanctions to pipelaying vessels. Nord Stream 2's expert contractor All Seas immediately stopped its vessels from laying pipes. Today approximately 160km of the route remains unlaid. Nord Stream 2 has sought to find alternative pipelaying vessels and hopes to begin pipelaying shortly with the much slower and less technically advanced Akademik Cherskiy pipelaying vessel. However, on the 20th October the State Department issued a clarification on the scope of the existing sanctions creating further difficulties for suppliers to the project. And at the beginning of November the House and Senate came to an agreement on a further round of sanctions which hit the pipeline's insurers and undermine the capacity of the pipeline to obtain technical certification. These additional sanctions will be enacted by the end of the year as part of the annual National Defence Authorisation Act.

Overlooked as a result of the controversy over US sanctions, the European Union itself has also taken measures which will undermine the operation of Nord Stream 2. In May 2019 the EU enacted an extension to the Gas Directive 2009 which formally extended the pipeline to import pipelines such as Nord Stream 2. The full application of the Gas Directive creates a number of problems for the pipeline, notably  Article 11.  It provides that with any non-EU owner the Member State regulatory agency must assess whether such an owner will pose a risk to the supply security of the Member State or the European Union. Given the extensive catalogue of Gazprom's threats and actual cut off of supplies over the last two decades surviving any such regulatory assessment would be problematic. And any attempt by a Member State agency which sought to grant clearance to Nord Stream 2  by arguing that there was no risk to supply security would face a barrage of litigation in national and EU courts.

Nord Stream 2 is therefore faced with a formidable barrier of existing and incoming US sanctions and a thicket of almost impenetrable EU law requirements which make it extremely unlikely that the pipeline will survive-at least in the form of and for the purpose that Gazprom intended.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


If Aliens Exist, Here's How We'll Find Them: Two esteemed astrophysicists peer into the future of space exploration. (MARTIN REES & MARIO LIVIO, FEBRUARY 24, 2021, Nautilus)

Pioneer explorers will be ill-adapted to their new habitat, so they will have a compelling incentive to re-design themselves. They'll harness the super-powerful genetic and cyborg technologies that will be developed in coming decades. This might be the first step toward divergence into a new species.

Organic creatures need a planetary surface environment on which life could emerge and evolve. But if post-humans make the transition to fully inorganic intelligence, they won't need an atmosphere. They may even prefer zero-gravity, especially for constructing massive artifacts. It's in deep space that non-biological brains may develop powers that humans can't even imagine.

There are chemical and metabolic limits to the size and processing power of organic brains. Maybe we are close to these limits already. But no such limits apply to or constrain electronic computers (still less, perhaps, quantum computers). So, by any definition of "thinking," the amount and intensity that can be achieved by organic human-type brains will be swamped by the cerebrations of AI.

We are perhaps near the end of Darwinian evolution, but technological evolution of intelligent beings is only just beginning.

Which conceit is more hilarious: that we are the end product of Darwinism or that it's up to us to find aliens? 

February 24, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


NY Prosecutors Are Looking at Don Jr. in Trump Biz Probe (Asawin Suebsaeng & Lachlan Cartwright,  Feb. 23, 2021, Daily Beast)

For months, some of Donald Trump's top advisers have assured him that he has virtually nothing to fear from the Manhattan district attorney's tax investigation, which they view as merely "fishing" for information. But investigators with the D.A.'s office have been expanding their criminal probe into Trump's business empire, asking questions and grilling witnesses--as recently as in the past few days--not only about Trump but particularly about his eldest son, Don Jr., and Allen Weisselberg, one of the former president's most trusted officers, The Daily Beast has learned.

This latest round of interest in Trump Jr. and Weisselberg's activities, as well as other new developments, underscore the resources and the gravity that New York prosecutors are devoting to the investigation, just as Trump continues to publicly decry the probe as another example of Democrats picking on him. [...]

Trump Jr.'s prominent role in the Trump Organization has attracted interest from another jurisdiction, as well. Early last year, the Washington, D.C., attorney general sued the Trump inaugural committee, as well as the Trump Organization, charging that they had misused over $1 million in fundraising when the committee "grossly overpay[ed]" in booking part of the Trump International Hotel in D.C. during inauguration festivities in 2017. Last month, the D.C attorney general's spokesperson said that the office had alerted Trump Jr. that it sought to interview him as part of the ongoing investigation.

"He's asked about it a few times [in recent weeks], and I have told him, as I think he already believes, that it's a lot of political grandstanding."
And in their separate inquiry into Trump and his company, Manhattan prosecutors have also broadened the range of investigation into the Trump family's assets, and have recruited some extra manpower. On Thursday, The New York Times reported that the Manhattan district attorney's office had brought on Mark Pomerantz, a well-known former federal prosecutor, to aid in its investigation of Trump and his real-estate company. According to The Wall Street Journal, prosecutors are now taking a look at loans that Trump had taken out on multiple buildings, including the marquee title of the ex-president and former reality-TV star's brand name, Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Steve Bannon investigation gains steam as Manhattan prosecutors subpoena financial records (Kara Scannell, 2/24/21, CNN)

The Manhattan district attorney's office has subpoenaed financial records related to Steve Bannon's crowd-funding border-wall effort, signaling that its criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump's chief strategist is advancing, according to people familiar with the matter.

Prosecutors sent the subpoenas after Trump pardoned Bannon in late January for federal conspiracy crimes tied to the southern border-wall project, making Bannon among the Trump world figures -- including the former president -- subjects of criminal investigations by Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance.

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


A solar panel in space is collecting energy that could one day be beamed to anywhere on Earth (Nick Paton Walsh, February 23, 2021, CNN)

Scientists working for the Pentagon have successfully tested a solar panel the size of a pizza box in space, designed as a prototype for a future system to send electricity from space back to any point on Earth.

The panel -- known as a Photovoltaic Radiofrequency Antenna Module (PRAM) -- was first launched in May 2020, attached to the Pentagon's X-37B unmanned drone, to harness light from the sun to convert to electricity. The drone is looping Earth every 90 minutes.

Aren't there some beautiful national parks we could despoil for carbons instead?

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


CIA nominee calls China an 'authoritarian adversary,' vows to intensify competition with Beijing (Amanda Macias, 2/24/21, CNBC)

President Joe Biden's nominee to run the CIA told lawmakers Wednesday that if confirmed he would intensify America's national security approach to counter China.

"Out-competing China will be key to our national security in the days ahead," Will Burns said in his opening remarks to the Senate Intelligence Committee. "That will require a long-term, clear-eyed, bipartisan strategy, underpinned by domestic renewal and solid intelligence," the former career diplomat added.

Burns, 64, who worked under both Republican and Democratic presidents, described Xi Jinping's China as "a formidable, authoritarian adversary."

Xi's Nationalist pal is really gone.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Pro-Trump Black group that solicited foreign investors is now under FBI investigation (Roger Sollenberger, , 2/24/21, Salon)
The FBI has opened an investigation into the activities of a pro-Trump group that appears to have engaged in an off-the-books foreign influence campaign and violated IRS rules regulating the political activity of nonprofit organizations, Salon has learned.

The probe's scope includes two officials affiliated with the Urban Revitalization Coalition, a now-defunct organization which made headlines last year with suspicious cash giveaways to Black voters and subsequently lost its tax-exempt charity status, a person familiar with the investigation told Salon. The two men -- Kareem Lanier and Darrell Scott, a Cleveland-area pastor and former Trump campaign official -- also used the URC as a vehicle to "solicit donations" from foreign nationals, including influential Turkish businessmen, while they worked with Trump administration officials to attract new investment in "Opportunity Zones," economically disadvantaged areas targeted for new incentives under the former president's 2017 tax bill.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


France's Fight Against Islamism Becomes Another Cynical Crackdown (BILL WIRTZ, 2/24/21, American Conservative)

In a recent TV debate on France's public broadcaster France2, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin accused Marine Le Pen of being too soft on Islam. "You'll need to take some vitamins, I don't find you tough enough on these issues," Macron's minister said. He continued: "If I understand this correctly, you are not even ready to legislate on religion, and seem to believe that Islam is not a problem. This will disappoint many of your voters. ...Madame Le Pen says it's not a problem of religion, it's a problem of ideology." The National Rally (formerly the National Front) leader appeared stunned: "I am not going to attack Islam," she said, "it's a religion like any other. I am fundamentally attached to our French values, so I will completely defend their right to organize and to practice their religion. That's my opinion."

Following the broadcast, both the prime minister's office and the Elysée Palace were forced to backpedal the minister's statements, but it's become very clear that Macron is not confident about his chances of reelection next year. That is, unless he convinces France's nationalist voters that they don't need to worry about his management of security issues. Darmanin in particular has become a hardliner on the question of religion, creating ambiguity about what exactly France's relationship with secularism is. 

The interpretation of "laïcité" (secularism) has been a pervasive problem in France. In an effort to fight extremism, the right wing has for many years used it as a premise to demand the absence of religion, as opposed to the separation of church and state. Mayors in the south of France have long attempted to ban the so-called "burkini" (a female swimsuit that covers the whole body, in accordance with the desire to not be revealing). In primary and secondary schools, the use of the headscarf is against the law. Emmanuel Macron is now joining this tradition.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Big Lie Is Trump's Litmus Test for 2022 (A.B. StoddardFebruary 23, 2021, RCP)

The lie is laughable -- that a deep state of all Democrats, every member of the media, every judge that weighed against his election challenges in court (including the ones he appointed), former AG Bill Barr, makers of voting machines and Republicans throughout the country who certified the results in their states for Biden collaborated on the biggest conspiracy ever. Romney described The Big Lie as "a massive conspiracy, more secret and widespread than any in human history, so brilliant in execution that no evidence can be found of it and no observer among the tens of thousands in our intelligence agencies will speak of it." And Fox News host Tucker Carlson asked, in November, why Trump team lawyer Sidney Powell had not presented any evidence of machines switching votes with helpful planning from dead Venezuelans for a plot that -- if proven -- "would amount to the single greatest crime in American history." (Powell never presented the evidence, by the way.)   

Trump couldn't get his lawyers to touch The Big Lie in the impeachment trial; there were limits to how much they wanted to soil their reputations. The final team representing him at the trial, indeed, took the case after several other lawyers told Trump they refused to claim widespread voter fraud that stole an election  

One of Trump's top Big Lie proliferators, the CEO of the MyPillow company, is now the target of a $1.3 billion defamation suit from Dominion Voting Systems for lying about their voting machines. The complaint against Mike Lindell states: "He is well aware of the independent audits and paper ballot recounts conclusively disproving the Big Lie. But Lindell ... sells the lie to this day because the lie sells pillows."  

In addition to pillow sales, The Big Lie soothes Trump's ego, and has helped him raise hundreds of millions of dollars. Trump even used the occasion of Rush Limbaugh's death last week to sell the lie once again. "The election was stolen," he said on OANN. "We were robbed. It was a rigged election." On Newsmax he said: "We did win the election, as far as I'm concerned. It was disgraceful what happened." And on Fox News Channel he said, "You would have had riots going all over the place if that happened to a Democrat." The Trump-friendly anchors at all three networks refused to push back; they just let him lie.   

This will be a central theme later this week when Trump takes center stage at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) where 2020 election truthers will be peddling doubt at no fewer than seven panel discussions. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Vehement opposition to Deb Haaland 'motivated by something other than her record' (Mark Udall and Tom Udall, 2/23/21, USA Today)

A number of Republican senators, including some we have worked alongside, have raised questions about Haaland's experience and the positions she has taken -- from her support of conservation solutions and climate action to her work with communities to elevate the voices of those impacted by unnecessary and damaging pipelines. It is every senator's responsibility to represent their constituents. We both did this in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico on Aug. 20, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
That said, it is hard not to notice that Rep. Haaland is being called out as "radical" for taking these positions. Were either of us the nominee to lead the Interior Department, we doubt that anyone would be threatening to hold up the nomination or wage a scorched earth campaign warning about "radical" ideas. 

Rep. Haaland's nomination is both historic and long overdue. If confirmed, she would be the first Native American Cabinet member. Her record is in line with mainstream conservation priorities. Thus, the exceptional criticism of Rep. Haaland and the threatened holds on her nomination must be motivated by something other than her record.

February 23, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Mounting confirmation battle sends warning sign to Biden (Stephen Collinson, 2/23/21, CNN)

Confirmation duels over Joe Biden's Cabinet picks have suddenly turned nasty, ringing alarm bells about the cliffhanger nature of a 50-50 Senate and bitter fights to come over the President's ambitious agenda.

Growing intrigue over a trio of controversial presidential picks is also underscoring the power of individual senators such as Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, when the partisan balance is so evenly divided.

The fact that he doesn't have 50 reliable votes in the Senate is why he should have compromised the ten Republicans offering a Covid deal by compromising with them. They'd be dead on the Right but dealmakers in the press and more likely to work with him on other issues.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Texas electricity crisis and the energy transition (Alex Gilbert and Morgan Bazilian, Feb. 19, 2021, Utility Dive)

As the storm hit, electric demand soared and many power plants suffered outages. Texas' grid operator, ERCOT, initiated load shedding to preserve the grid from complete collapse. Although these were called rolling outages, the normal response to tight grid conditions, the reality is that the forced generation outages were so severe that operators had shut off power for many customers for 24 hours or more. As critical infrastructure like hospitals are often in wealthier communities, it appears many poor and minority areas suffered a disproportionate share of the outages.

For much of the crisis, load shed was around 15-20 GW, roughly the average electricity demand for New England. Nationally, the storm led to a loss of power for more than 4.5 million customers, the vast majority of them in Texas.

As many households do not have sufficient insulation, millions of people have suffered near freezing, life-threatening indoor conditions. With many roads impassable and what few heating centers that existed presenting COVID-19 exposure risks, most were forced to wait it out. Cases of hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning rose rapidly with people using desperate methods to heat themselves. This was made considerably worse by impacts to the water system. As the water system relies on electricity to be delivered, it was severely impacted. This was further compounded by frozen and broken pipes.

Power plants in particular failed to perform at the level expected by grid planners. Both electric demand and forced outages greatly exceeded ERCOT's pre-winter resource assessment. Almost 30 GW of natural gas, coal, and nuclear generators (roughly half of what was expected to be online) were already on outage or suffered from a forced outage. Natural gas is the primary electricity source in the state, and was expected to provide as much as two thirds of electric capacity in such conditions. As much as 40% of natural gas capacity was not available.

While the precise reasons are yet to be revealed, these outages are likely due to a mix of plant-level issues and gas pipeline delivery issues. The interdependence between the gas and power sectors has been clearly illuminated. Frozen oil and gas wells cut production and there may be insufficient pipeline capacity. In one of the oil and gas capitals of the world, power plants could not get natural gas to operate. Even one of the state's four nuclear reactors, usually most resilient to weather-related disruptions, suffered an outage due to a sensor issue. Meanwhile, some wind turbines suffered from icing, with renewable energy capacity -- compared to grid planning criteria -- either overperforming or underperforming depending on the day.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New York City Police Need to Be Held Accountable for Rising Crime, Andrew Yang Says (JASON LEMON, 2/23/21, Newsweek)

The former Democratic presidential candidate said that the city needs to be "mindful" of the need to "bring down the rates of violent crime that are rising." He said this is "not mutually exclusive" from addressing concerns about systematic racism and the sometimes violent actions of police.

"They actually should go hand in hand. You need to improve police culture while also holding police accountable to bring their resolution rates for violent crime up. Unfortunately, they are going down right now," Yang said. "That is another form of police accountability--if you have higher rates of unsolved crimes, that is not a trend that you want to continue."

"There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

60-40 NATION:

Axios-Ipsos poll: Biden's window of opportunity on COVID (David Nather, 2/23/21, Axios)

By the numbers: 63% of respondents in this week's poll said they're very or somewhat confident in the new administration's ability to make the vaccines widely available, with 36% saying they're not very confident or not confident at all.

58% said they're confident that the administration can distribute the vaccines quickly, while 41% said they're not confident.

And 56% said they're confident in the administration's ability to get K-12 students back to school in person, while 43% say they're not confident.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Muslim Brotherhood, exiled opposition form united front (Al Monitor, Feb 23, 2021)

Egyptian opposition groups  announced Feb. 11 during a press conference held in Istanbul the formation of a unified political front for coordination between opposition forces abroad to work toward change in Egypt and to topple President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's regime.

The timing of the launch may be sparked by hopes that the Biden administraton will emphasize human rights in its dealings with Egypt, and put more pressure on Sisi to accommodate political dissent.

The front, named the Union of Egyptian National Forces, announced the formation of a presidential council, a council of elders and a higher committee comprising 100 members, including Egyptian prominent figures, national forces, political parties and independent figures based abroad mainly in Europe, the United States, Turkey, Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia and South Korea, as well as several Arab countries. Membership is open to any Egyptian who wants to join the union.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Most Ambitious Effort Yet to Reform Policing May Be Happening In Ithaca, New York (WESLEY LOWERY, February 22, 2021, GQ)

In a nearly 100-page report obtained by GQ, Mayor Svante Myrick will propose replacing the city's current 63-officer, $12.5 million a year department with a "Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety" which would include armed "public safety workers" and unarmed "community solution workers," all of whom will report to a civilian director of public safety instead of a police chief. Under the proposal, all current officers would have to re-apply for a position with the new department.

"IPD currently spends one third of its time responding to calls for service that essentially never lead to arrests," Myrick writes in the report's introduction. "Those calls, as well as a majority of patrol activity, can and should be handled by unarmed Community Solution Workers well trained in de-escalation and service delivery. This will allow our new Public Safety Workers to focus on preventing, interrupting and solving serious crime."

If the proposal is approved, calls for service will be evaluated to determine whether an armed or unarmed respondent is necessary, or another public agency altogether would be best to respond. Mental health calls would be outsourced to a standalone unit of social workers based on the CAHOOTS program pioneered in Eugene, Oregon. The goal, ultimately, is to have far fewer encounters between citizens and armed government agents.

"Everyone wants the police to perform better when they show up, everybody wants that. What this plan is saying is that we also want the police to show up less--and that's a radical thing for a city and a mayor to do." Myrick, 33, told me in an interview Sunday. While it may have been possible to push for similar reforms within the current department, Myrick said the entrenched culture would make them impossible to fully implement. In recent years, the city has battled with the police union over discipline for problem officers, including one officer who was caught on body camera bragging about dragging a handcuffed suspect down a set of stairs and another who was found to have inadequately investigated hundreds of crimes assigned to her over the course of a decade.

"This is my 10th year overseeing this department. And at times I feel like I'm managing a fish tank that somebody dumped a bunch of red dye in," he said. "When that happens, you have to scoop a gallon of water out, and put fresh water in, and the tank becomes a little less red with each gallon. This is a way of starting over with a fresh tank."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Hawaii Electric blows past 2020 target on road to 100% renewable energy (Joshua S Hill, 23 February 2021, Renew Economy)

Hawaii's largest utility, Hawaiian Electric, says it has blown past its mandated 2020 renewable energy target, reporting that 34.5% of its electricity generation mix was made up of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

In 2015 the State of Hawaii passed legislation requiring all electric utilities to achieve a 100% renewable energy portfolio standard by 2045, with interim goals of 30% by 2020, 40% by 2030, and 70% by 2040.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Blinken speaks to Ashkenazi, touts Biden support for 2-state solution (JACOB MAGID, 2/22/21, Times of Israel)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, reiterating the Biden administration's belief that a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians is the only way to maintain both Israel's Jewish and democratic character.

The conversation was the third between the two top diplomats in under a month.
"The Secretary also emphasized the Biden administration's belief that the two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state," State Department Ned Price said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Startup survey shows hybrid office/remote work model set to continue (SHOSHANNA SOLOMON , 2/22/21, Times of Israel)

Even as COVID-19 vaccinations are being rolled out globally and in Israel, only 14.3% of the surveyed portfolio companies see their employees working solely in the workplace by July 1, 2021. The vast majority, 85.7%, predict a hybrid of in-office and remote work.

February 22, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


How Biden Will End the Trump Sugar High for Israel and Saudi Arabia (AARON DAVID MILLER and RICHARD SOKOLSKY, 02/22/2021, Politico)

It's still stunning to reflect on the fact that Trump's initial stops on his first foreign trip as president in May 2017 were to Saudi Arabia and Israel. From that point on, Trump's presidency was a gift that just kept on giving. Never in the history of U.S. relations with either country has so much been given with so little asked for in return--and with so much bad behavior swept under the rug.

Without making Israel earn U.S. favors with any concessions of its own, the Trump administration orchestrated a campaign of maximum pressure on Iran; declared Jerusalem Israel's capital and opened an embassy there; turned a blind eye to Israel's settlement expansion; recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; promulgated a peace plan that all but conceded 30 percent of the West Bank to Israel before negotiations with Palestinians had even begun; downgraded U.S. diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority; drastically curtailed U.S. assistance to the Palestinian people; and perhaps most significantly, made a major effort to facilitate normalization between Israel, the Gulf states and other Arab countries.

The Saudis also got in on the action. The Trump administration gave a blank check to Riyadh to pursue its disastrous military campaign in Yemen and aided and abetted it with U.S. military assistance for Saudi operations; acquiesced in MBS's repression at home and covered up his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; and lavished arms sales on the Saudis over Congress' objections.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Hope for Yemen (Regina Munch, February 22, 2021, Commonweal)

The change in American posture and policy is long overdue, and welcome. Yet it's still unclear just what it will amount to. For one thing, though the administration has promised to end "offensive operations," the United States will continue to give Saudi Arabia defensive support. From the outset, Saudi Arabia has claimed that all its interventions in Yemen are defensive in nature; indeed, this was the grounds on which the Obama administration became involved in the first place. Also unclear is what qualifies as "relevant" arms sales. The vagueness of these terms suggests the administration is leaving itself room to maintain U.S. involvement in the war, perhaps in more or less the same manner as its predecessors.

That would be a mistake. Ending the catastrophe in Yemen means ending all military cooperation with the Saudis in Yemen and cutting off arms sales to the pro-government coalition. Now that the Houthis' terrorist designation has been revoked, the United States can and should support humanitarian-relief efforts--not only in the desperately impoverished north, but throughout the country. Biden must also commit to negotiating a ceasefire and, through the new envoy, work to broker a peace deal between the Yemeni government and the Houthis. The suffering in Yemen has gone on for far too long. That the United States has helped cause so much of it should be a source of lasting shame. The Biden administration has the opportunity, and the obligation, to correct course.

Posted by orrinj at 11:24 AM


Review: The 2021 XC40 Recharge Is Volvo's First All-Electric SUV, And It's a Contender (BENJAMIN HUNTING, 2/22/21, iNSIDE hOOK)

Dubbed the Volvo XC40 Recharge, it's a bold step that undercuts traditional German luxury on price without asking buyers to make a compromise on power.

The XC40 Recharge's party piece is its dual electric motor setup. With each axle driven by a 201 horsepower unit, both harnessed to a 78 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, Volvo's sport-utility parses its 402 ponies and 486 lb-ft of torque through a traction-grabbing all-wheel drive system.

Four-wheel propulsion isn't just there for dealing with snowy roads or slippery pavement, either. Mashing the XC40 Recharge's accelerator is enough to introduce the back of your skull to the leather-lined headrest, and it would certainly twist the steering wheel out of your hands were all of that torque shuttled exclusively to the front axle. In a straight line the Volvo will shame many a sport sedan with a 60-mph sprint that takes less than five seconds, and unlike some electric vehicles, it doesn't run out of breath when asked to overtake at highway speeds, either.

Another intriguing factor of the Volvo's EV character is the ultra-aggressive one-pedal driving mode baked into its regenerative braking system. Designed to fill the battery with recaptured momentum at every stop or slow-down, it's possible to pilot the XC40 Recharge without ever having to tap the brake, as simply lifting off of the go-pedal will bring the vehicle to a halt within a few seconds. It's not difficult to master, although there is a learning curve, and it can be switched off for a more traditional driving experience.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


Israeli forces arrest Hamas members in West Bank ahead of Palestinian elections (New Arab, 22 February, 202)

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has earlier warned of Israeli plans to carry out mass arrests ahead of planned Palestinian elections later this year, according to local reports.

Last month, senior Hamas members Hatem Naji Amr and Omar Barghouthi (not the detained Palestinian activist of the same name) told Anadolu Agency that they were threatened by the Israeli intelligence of imprisonment if they run in the upcoming elections. 

"Israeli forces are targeting Hamas members through individual arrests," activist Faoud Al-Kuffash told The New Arab's Arabic language site.

"Previously, the occupation forces would carry out campaigns of mass arrests against the political group, but they do not want to provoke public outrage ahead of the upcoming May elections.

"This is a clear message from Israel, that it does not want to see members of the Hamas party re-elected."

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


QAnon Is So Big in France That Even the Government Is Worried (David Gilbert, February 22, 2021, Vice News)

It's easy to believe that QAnon is a uniquely American problem. QAnon followers played a central role in the Capitol riots last month, and the movement is obsessed with former President Donald Trump and other U.S. political figures. But the news from France highlights that despite its U.S.-centric mythology, QAnon has morphed into a catch-all conspiracy theory that has obsessed people in dozens of countries around the globe.

That's because the core mythos of QAnon -- that a group of elites is running a secret child sex trafficking ring -- is a decades-old conspiracy belief that has been rehashed and promoted multiple times in different countries.

It also comes at a time in France when the majority of people believe their political system is entirely or partially broken. That disillusionment presents a huge opportunity for conspiracy theories to fill the void left by trust in government. During the pandemic anti-vaxx conspiracies surged in popularity, and those pushing QAnon quickly attached themsevlves to those groups.

QAnon first made its way to France through French-speaking Canada, according to Chine Labbe, the Europe editor of News Guard, a service that rates the reliability of news websites, which published a report on the rise of QAnon in Europe.

A fitting Frenchness. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


What makes your dog, a dog? Ask a dingo: A new Penn State study looks at the evolutionary step in between dogs and wolves (ARIANNE COHEN, 2/22/21, fAST cOMPANY)

If you want to truly understand your dog, look no further than dingoes, the whip-smart wild canines that live in the Australian outback.

Dingoes are, broadly speaking, a sort of genetic and behavioral midpoint between the wolf and dog. Dingoes understand what human pointing means, yet hunt and live independently, sometimes alone, and can sometimes outsmart dogs. "Part of the reason I'm so fascinated with dingoes is that if you see a dingo through American eyes you say, 'that's a dog,'" notes Pat Shipman, an anthropologist at Penn State, who just published an extensive study of dingoes. But they're not dogs, Shipman notes: "A dingo is a wolf on its way to becoming a dog, that never got there. In evolutionary terms, dingoes give us a glimpse of what started the domestication process."

They are dogs

Posted by orrinj at 10:52 AM

TRUMPISM IS RACISM (profanity alert):

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Mount Washington in winter, 150 years ago (Tom Eastman Feb 19, 2021, Conway Daily Sun)

Dartmouth College forester Bob Monahan and Appalachian Mountain Club hutmaster Joe Dodge co-founded the Observatory in 1932. But as Dr. Peter Crane, curator of the Obs' Gladys Brooks Memorial Library, will tell you, they weren't the first group to occupy the summit in winter.

In a detailed Zoom presentation -- part of the Obs' "Science in the Mountains" series -- Crane, 67, recently related the fascinating tale of the Huntington-Hitchcock winter occupation of 1870-71.

"Breaking the Ice: The First Winter Scientific Expedition to Mount Washington," which Crane presented Feb. 9, tells the remarkable story of five hardy souls who thought it would greatly aid science to spend the winter at the top of the Rockpile.

According to Crane, the idea was hatched on a summer's day on Lake Champlain in 1858 by Joshua H. Huntington, a young biologist doing field work for the Vermont Geological Survey under the direction of Charles H. Hitchcock.

Huntington had previously visited the White Mountains on two occasions; Hitchcock never, according to Crane. And only sketchy reports of a winter climb or two of the Northeast's highest peak existed at that time.

What fueled their dreams may never be known, yet the thought of a bold mountain expedition took root. "It would be more than a decade before this plan could be realized, but its impact remains with us a century and a half later," said Crane.

They weren't your average mountain climbers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Washington's Rules for Rebellion (Richard Samuelson, 2/22/21, Law & Liberty)

If words and the threat of bringing in troops is insufficient to stop the violence, then it is time to bring troops in. And in late September 1794, Washington officially Proclaimed that the Counties of Western Pennsylvania were in open rebellion and he determined to use troops to end the uprising. At the start, Washington explains his thinking. "I thought it sufficient, in the first instance, rather to take measures for calling forth the Militia, than immediately to embody them." Yet that proved to be insufficient. Hence, he notes, that " the moment is now come, when the overtures of forgiveness with no other condition, than a submission to law, have been only partially accepted--when every form of conciliation, not inconsistent with the being of Government, has been adopted without effect." Note again the public reason. Washington is explaining that these attacks cannot be reconciled with the very "being of Government." That is why a military response is necessary. It was necessary to defend the republican experiment, "as the people of the United States have been permitted under the divine favor, in perfect freedom, after solemn deliberation, and in an enlightened age, to elect their own Government; so will their gratitude for this inestimable blessing be best distinguished by firm exertions to maintain the Constitution and the Laws."

When one does use force against one's own citizens, one has to be smart about it. That entails selecting the target well, and using the right amount of force.

To state the obvious, no one likes to be attacked, and no one likes to see their neighbors attacked. In our day, images of police or National Guard attacking citizens are often used by clever organizers as recruitment tools. And it is often a tactic of radicals to undertake attacks that seem, to the uninitiated, to be minimally provocative, but which, in fact, need a strong response (think of using fireworks, which can spark larger fires, and laser pointers, which can cause permanent blindness, in Portland. Ditto "doxing" police officers who work to stop riots.  To prevent that, governments send in officers in unmarked cars, and officers with no name tags). What's the goal? To make recruits by convincing people who might be somewhat sympathetic but disinclined to radicalism that the government is run by thugs who cannot be trusted. Hence sending in a small force, which is likely to result in pitched battles, is not usually a good idea. It is as likely to increase alienation from government as it is to restore lawful order. Curfews keeping everyone off the streets after dark seem to have worked much better this past summer.

Washington knew what he was doing. He gathered an overwhelming force of nearly 13,000 militia from New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Moreover, Washington selected his target well. Anger at the Whiskey Tax, and resistance against it, was pervasive in the backcountry. Yet Washington focused on the part of the rebellion that took place in Pennsylvania. That was, perhaps, the best place for the strategy to work.  One has to be careful with such a strategy. It can backfire. The British had tried to focus on the rebellion in Boston after the Tea Party with the Coercive Acts of 1774. Rather than subduing Boston, the acts united the backcountry of Massachusetts with Boston, and the other colonies with Massachusetts.

The Whiskey Rebels felt that they were not being represented. They sometimes pointed back to the resistance to the Stamp Tax. There was, of course, one significant difference: they were, in fact, represented.

Washington himself rode to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, demonstrating that he was in charge. Given Washington's fame, and the love so many Americans had for him, reviewing the troops was also a way to provide an additional shot of confidence that these measures were necessary. Washington's presence in Carlisle also allowed him to manage the troops himself, minimizing the chance that they would be zealous and abusive in their efforts to stop the rebels.  The troops went into the countryside, and the rebellion dispersed. It was ended more than it was actively put down. And that was a very important part of the success of Washington's strategy. No martyrs were made, and minimal actual attacks by the militia on civilians. Hamilton wanted to make an example of some of the men who were caught in the end, to try them and execute them. Washington, almost certainly correctly, realized that that was a bad idea. He pardoned those who had been sentenced to death for their part in the insurrection. They would not become fallen heroes for the next wave of rebels to honor. By singling out the part of the Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania, Washington had, in fact, made an example of one group of rebels, even if he had also minimized actual violence. This was an important step. The U.S. was a new country. The nations of Europe were waiting for the republic to fail and/ or for the Union to break up. By ending the rebellion, Washington demonstrated that the government was capable of being a functioning government.

Step 4: Restoration

The problem was not yet solved. If people are disinclined to rebel in large numbers unless there are genuine injustices going on, one must address the underlying problems, even if one cannot be perceived to be doing so under duress. Aspirin alleviates fever, but does not end it until the disease has passed. Similarly, if a critical mass of people is angry enough to take up arms, they can, temporarily, be convinced to go back home.  But if the deeper problems that spurred the uprising remain, then it's just a matter of time till clever, ambitious, and designing men gin up another rebellion. It is, in other words, a bad idea not to remove the factors that made the region a tinderbox in the first place.

In some ways this is the most difficult step. Why? Partly due to our emotions. After a battle we are angry at the other side. Magnanimity after victory is difficult. And there are always men, like Hamilton, who are eager to punish those they blame for the rebellion. They cannot see past their anger at the attacks on the laws, and perhaps on members of their political tribe to see what is truly best for the republic. It's easy to dismiss their desires as wicked or misguided. Yet all governments rest on public opinion, a democratic republic more than any other. Public opinion is a political fact; it must be accommodated if there is to be no spiraling cycle of violence.

But the proximate cause of the rebellion and the deeper causes of the discontent are not always the same. To be sure, taxing whiskey was hard on people in the West because whiskey sometimes served as a medium of exchange in a region where coin was scarce. But there were deeper problems, and they could be addressed, and Washington ensured that they were addressed.

The Whiskey Rebels felt that they were not being represented. They sometimes pointed back to the resistance to the Stamp Tax. There was, of course, one significant difference: they were, in fact, represented.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Merrick Garland Can Fix DOJ's Special Counsel Problem (Neil Kinopf, February 22, 2021, Washington Monthly)

The independent counsel experiment failed because of the way the position was structured. In particular, the independent counsel was an independent contractor, hired to pursue a single matter, unconnected to the work of the Justice Department generally or to the work of any other independent counsel specifically. Is it any wonder that such a figure would pursue the object of their inquiry relentlessly?

No other prosecutor in the federal government has such a single-minded focus. In addition to this narrow targeting, the independent counsel has no other official priorities. That's important because, generally, prosecutor's zeal can be tempered by limited resources. Ordinary departmental prosecutions must decide whether to spend funds on one prosecution that will then be unavailable for other probes. They have to decide whether to spend time pursuing a given prosecution and, consequently, whether to divert time from others. Moreover, they have to consider whether pursuing a specific legal argument that might be helpful in securing a conviction in this case will undermine the interests of prosecutors in other cases. Or whether relentlessly pursuing a particular prosecution will make the department look overzealous and so harm the image of the department and its prosecutors in other cases. None of these institutional influences was brought to bear to temper the zeal of independent counsels, which almost inevitably led to Ken Starr's turn as Captain Ahab.

The path to reform, then, seems clear. The department should institutionalize the independent counsel approach. Instead of unleashing an unaccountable independent contractor (whether called an independent counsel or a special counsel), the department should establish a new section within the Criminal Division called the Rule of Law Section. The attorney general should appoint to head the section someone of unimpeachable integrity, respected by figures across the political aisle, with a lengthy record as a career prosecutor. The head of this new section would be independent from the attorney general's immediate supervision and control in the manner of the independent counsel (with this independence confirmed by a provision establishing that the section head could be removed only for cause). The section would have a permanent staff of career (that is, civil service) investigators and prosecutors. The section would be funded within the overall Department of Justice budget and its operations would be subject to DOJ regulations and the guidelines found in the U.S. Attorneys' Manual.

While the entirety of President Trump's term demonstrated the need for such an institution, the final days really clinch the case. A bipartisan supermajority of the Senate concluded, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, that President Trump was "morally and practically responsible for" provoking the Capitol insurrection on January 6. Indeed, McConnell was at pains to emphasize that Trump has not gotten away with anything "yet" because, as a private citizen, he remains subject to criminal prosecution. But this puts the Justice Department in an exceedingly difficult spot: How can the Biden Administration credibly investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute the former president?

To embark on such an investigation is to establish an uncomfortable precedent. No administration has ever conducted a criminal investigation of its predecessor. Once such a precedent is established, it opens a road that is frequently traveled in dysfunctional republics and autocracies. A Rule of Law Section, structured as I have outlined, provides the best resolution to this problem. The best way to maintain public confidence in an investigation of a predecessor administration is to vest the authority to initiate and conduct the matter in a section of the Justice Department that has independence and integrity built into its very structure.

The Republic still depends on not electing a president who is corrupt.  We're pretty good at it.  You don't blow up the place because we got one so very wrong. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Capitol Rioters Are Starting To Face Much More Serious Charges For The InsurrectionProsecutors are ramping up charges against people accused of carrying weapons, assaulting police, and conspiring with others. (Zoe Tillman, 2/19/21, BuzzFeed News)

Cua is one of a growing number of defendants charged in the insurrection seeing their felony counts -- and potential prison time -- stack up as the investigation presses on. Other defendants only charged with misdemeanors when they were arrested are now facing felonies post-indictment. Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin in Washington had told reporters one week after the assault on the Capitol that the early rounds of arrests on misdemeanor charges were "only the beginning," and promised more "significant charges" once prosecutors took these cases before a grand jury. New court documents in cases such as Cua's show how that's taking shape.

Of the more than 230 people charged to date, at least 70 are now facing a minimum of one felony count -- the most common is obstruction of Congress, which has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. More than 30 are charged with assaulting or interfering with law enforcement officers, and at least 14 are charged with carrying or using a weapon that day. Weapons identified in the government's court filings so far have included knives, Tasers, a hockey stick, a large metal pipe, baseball bats, fire extinguishers, and batons.

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Many more new cases are expected. Sherwin last month told reporters that federal law enforcement had opened up more than 400 subject case files -- a term that broadly refers to identifying people of interest -- in connection with the investigation. A Justice Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News this week that the number of subject files was up to approximately 540.

Sherwin also previously announced that the Justice Department had formed special task forces focused on building cases that involved more serious felony crimes, including assaulting law enforcement, conspiracy against the United States and sedition, and attacks on the media. No one has been charged yet with seditious conspiracy, a rarely invoked felony that also has a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, or with assaulting members of the press.

Prosecutors have brought four conspiracy cases, alleging small groups of defendants acted in concert and in some cases preplanned the attack; they've left the door open to adding more alleged coconspirators in the future. Three of these cases involve defendants who prosecutors say are affiliated with the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group connected to violent incidents in the past, and the fourth involves alleged members of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia organization that recruits primarily from current and former members of the military and law enforcement.

Prosecutors expanded the Oath Keepers conspiracy case this week, from three defendants to nine. The Justice Department announced on Friday that a grand jury had returned a new indictment adding six more people, including Kelly Meggs, the self-described leader of an Oath Keepers chapter in Florida, and a retired couple from Ohio, Bennie and Sandra Parker. The Parkers allegedly coordinated with a woman charged in the original Oath Keepers indictment, Jessica Watkins. Prosecutors quoted text messages that Watkins exchanged with Bennie Parker leading up to Jan. 6 where the two discussed the Parkers joining the Oath Keepers, planning to travel to Washington, and whether to bring guns. The Parkers' charging papers also included images from surveillance footage inside the Capitol that prosecutors said showed Sandra Parker in a line, or "stack," with Watkins and other Oath Keepers.

After the insurrection, Watkins and Bennie Parker exchanged texts where they predicted they wouldn't be arrested, according to charging papers.

February 21, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Hezbollah Amid Lebanese Collapse (Bilal Saab, February 21, 2021,  lawFare)

It is a truism that militant substate actors thrive under conditions of state weakness. But what's less clear is whether such actors, at least the larger and more ambitious types, are able to survive and achieve their goals under conditions of prolonged public governance failure and economic implosion. This is a question that currently applies to Hezbollah, the armed Lebanese political party with allegiances to Iran. 

Since its inception in the early 1980s, Hezbollah has been a thorn in the side of the United States, constantly undermining its interests in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region in coordination with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It is also suspected of perpetrating terrorist attacks against U.S. forces and personnel in the region, including the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks at the Lebanese international airport and two attacks targeting the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and 1984.

Washington has tried a range of policy options to weaken the group over the years. It has pressured Hezbollah diplomatically by labeling it in 1997 as a terrorist organization. It has sought to obstruct Hezbollah's fundraising activities worldwide and particularly in the United States and Latin America. It has tried to challenge Hezbollah's rationale for maintaining an autonomous military--which the group justifies as a means of deterring Israel--by strengthening the Lebanese army. And it has applied economic sanctions, enabled Israeli military action through the provision of arms and diplomatic support, and pursued covert operations of its own against the group.

But nothing seems to have succeeded in limiting Hezbollah's tremendous influence over Lebanese politics, reducing its military capabilities, or containing its regional clout in places like Syria, Iraq and Yemen. For many years, Hezbollah has acted as a kingmaker with so-called veto power over how Lebanese cabinets are formed and who becomes Lebanese president, and its sway at home and abroad has continued to grow.

Lebanon is now reeling financially and teetering on the edge of collapse because of the endemic corruption of its ruling elites and their persistent failure to implement political and economic reforms.

Recognize the Shi'a South as an independent nation, thereby imposing all responsibility for governing on Hezbollah. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


Michael Flynn's Wild Ride Into The Heart Of QAnon: In the weeks before the Capitol siege, Trump's former national security adviser went on a far-right media blitz to promote wild conspiracy theories. (Nick Robins-Early, 2/21/21, HuffPo)

Michael Flynn stood in front of a cheering crowd of QAnon believers, far-right extremists and other Trump supporters, and told them he was absolutely certain Donald Trump would remain the president. It was Dec. 12 and Trump had already lost the election, but at a "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington, D.C., Flynn proclaimed "a spiritual battle for the heart and soul of this country" that would end with Trump's victory.

As three of his siblings applauded behind him, Flynn vowed that the election was not over and that "courts aren't gonna decide who the next president of the United States is gonna be." Flynn said Trump trusted his supporters to "not allow what's happening to happen in our country" and called on them to "fight back" against an alleged plot involving groundless conspiracy theories of election fraud and rigged voting machines.

"Why not look inside these machines? Why? Why not? What are they afraid of? What are they hiding from? They are hiding from something!" Flynn told the crowd.

The December event foreshadowed Trump's Jan. 6 rally, which led to a far-right mob storming the U.S. Capitol, and many of the same groups were involved, including dark-money nonprofit Women for America First. Violence also followed the first event, with Proud Boys gang members involved in brawls and stabbings that resulted in 33 arrests. The December rally was part of a string of speeches and media appearances, leading up to the January insurrection, in which Flynn lent his voice to the authoritarian movement to keep Trump in office. [...]

In early 2017, Flynn was one of the most powerful men in the world. After decades in military intelligence, the former three-star lieutenant general had landed the role of Trump's national security adviser. Four years later, he would appear on conspiracy theorist podcasts with hosts who claim vaccines contain Communist microchips and who interview men that say they've had sex with space aliens. In that world, Flynn is something between a saint and a folk hero ― a key figure in the QAnon movement, which believes a secret cabal of international pedophiles controls the country and an anonymous insider known as "Q" is sending out secret instructions to bring the cabal down. 

QAnon believers and far-right militias came to believe that Flynn would help them take control. Days after the Dec. 12 rally, the Three Percenters militia threatened action to overturn the election results. "We are ready to enter into battle with General Flynn leading the charge," one of the largest Three Percenters groups said in a statement on Dec. 16. Multiple Three Percenters would later be charged in connection with the Capitol riot, including a 48-year-old man who allegedly threatened to kill his family if they contacted law enforcement.

Even as Flynn became a symbolic military leader for these extremists, he retained close ties to the president. After his brief stint as national security adviser ended in disgrace, Trump reportedly floated naming him chief of staff or FBI director and hosted him in the Oval Office. 

And when Trump pardoned Flynn late last year, he set the former general loose to indulge in QAnon fanfare and promote the same falsehoods that insurrectionists took to the Capitol building.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The boom in 'green' energy (The Week, February 21, 2021)

Can renewables replace fossil fuels?

Renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectricity are already overtaking fossil fuels as the dominant means of power generation in some parts of the developed world. In 2019, 72 percent of power plant additions utilized renewables, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). For the first time, the European Union generated more electricity (38 percent) from renewables in 2020 than from fossil fuels (37 percent). The U.S. still relies heavily upon oil (37 percent), natural gas (32 percent), and coal (11 percent), but the country is on pace this year to generate more energy from renewables than from coal. Overall, renewables now account for roughly 11 percent of U.S. energy production -- with about a quarter of that derived from wind power, two-fifths from biofuels and hydroelectricity, and a 10th from solar. Rapid growth in renewables is underway: In 2020, electricity producers installed 37 gigawatts of new solar and wind capacity, shattering the record of 17 GWs from 2016. "The grid is changing so much faster than anyone expected," said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University.

What's driving the transformation?

Cost-effectiveness. Solar panel producers have steadily achieved greater efficiencies in manufacturing and in generating more power from each individual solar cell. This has led to vast reductions in price, so that solar and wind power now have surpassed coal -- and even natural gas -- as the cheapest forms of power generation. While the price of coal power largely remained the same from 2009 to 2019, the price of solar power fell by 89 percent and onshore wind power by 70 percent, according to Lazard. The U.K., Norway, and other countries now generate a large share of their electricity from offshore wind farms, and that potential also exists for the U.S., with seven states now studying how to set up arrays. "Right now, the economics of burning coal just don't make sense," said Joe Daniel, who monitors the power sector for the Union of Concerned Scientists. The boom in renewables has another economic benefit: It has created hundreds of thousands of jobs: About 446,000 Americans worked in the solar and wind industries as of 2019 -- more than double the 211,000 in coal mining and other methods of fossil-fuel extraction.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Malcolm X is still misunderstood - and misusedFifty-five years after his assassination at the Audubon Ballroom in New York, we still get much wrong about Malcolm X. (Omar Suleiman, 2/21/21, Al Jazeera)

Malcolm was never violent, not as a member of the Nation of Islam, nor as a Sunni Muslim. But Malcolm did find it hypocritical to demand that black people in the United States commit to non-violence when they were perpetually on the receiving end of state violence. He believed that black people in the US had a right to defend themselves, and charged that the US was inconsistent in referencing its founding fathers' defence of liberty for everyone but them.

Malcolm knew that his insistence on this principle would cause him to be demonised even further and ultimately benefit the movement of Dr King, which is exactly what he had intended. Just weeks before his assassination, he went to Selma to support Dr King and willingly embraced his role as the scary alternative. In every interview, in his meeting with Dr Coretta Scott King, and elsewhere, he vocalised that the US would do well to give the good reverend what he was asking for, or else.

But he never actually said what the "or else" was, placing a greater urgency on America to cede to King's demands. Malcolm had no problem playing the villain, so long as it led to his people no longer being treated like animals. And while King may have been steadfast in his commitment to non-violence, the thrust of Malcolm fully served its purpose.

As Colin Morris, the author of Unyoung, Uncolored, Unpoor wrote, "I am not denying passive resistance its due place in the freedom struggle, or belittling the contribution to it of men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Both have a secure place in history. I merely want to show that however much the disciples of passive resistance detest violence, they are politically impotent without it. American Negroes needed both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X ..."

But it was not just that Malcolm and Martin had complementary strategies to achieve black freedom, they also spoke to different realities. Malcolm spoke more to the Northern reality of black Americans who were only superficially integrated, whereas Martin spoke to the Southern reality where even that was not possible.

Malcolm also spoke to the internalised racism of black people that was essential to overcome for true liberation. As the late James Cone states, "King was a political revolutionary. Malcolm was a cultural revolutionary. Malcolm changed how black people thought about themselves. Before Malcolm came along, we were all Negroes. After Malcolm, he helped us become black."

In the long run, we might well have been better served by more violence, so we couldn't be so self-congratulatory about ceding basic rights. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden's sturdy resistance to China (George Will, 2/21/21, Albany Herald)

These should begin with an immediate announcement of a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, whose current viciousness is comparable to that of Germany at the time of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. And there should be at least public shaming of U.S. corporations which, while ostentatiously woke at home, seem not to think that Uighur lives matter. Let us identify corporations that import goods made with forced Uighur labor or export to China goods (e.g., surveillance technologies) that could facilitate Beijing's genocide.

Twenty percent of the world's cotton comes from Xinjiang, the region of the genocide: How many U.S. clothing brands are using products of forced labor? The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which last year had 87 co-sponsors in the House and 33 in the Senate, would create a statutory presumption that products from Xinjiang are produced by forced labor. Which U.S. corporations will lobby against this bill?

While China screws down the lid of tyranny on Hong Kong -- making schools instruments of political indoctrination; removing library books that "endanger national security" -- Beijing continues to add to the (at least) 380 Uighur "re-education" camps. If U.S. transactions -- diplomatic and commercial -- with China are unaffected by the finding of genocide, this will, in the words of Eugene Kontorovich of George Mason University's Scalia Law School, "make a joke out of genocide."

Primo Levi, an Auschwitz survivor, said: "It happened, therefore it can happen again." U.S. policy now insists that genocide is happening in a nation tightly woven into the fabric of world commerce. China is crucial to globalization's supply chains, but these chains are also crucial to China. They can be instruments of political leverage for the United States and other signatories to the aforementioned convention who are committed to take measures to "prevent and to punish" genocide.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Merrick Garland's long wait is over but his problems are just starting (David Smith, 21 Feb 2021, The Guardian)

Garland will inherit a justice department battered by Trump, who undermined its independence, weakened its civil rights enforcement and repeatedly accused employees of working for the "deep state". The political moderate will also walk into the crossfire of hyper-partisan Washington.

Fallone added: "He's going to inherit a demoralised justice department in terms of staff. He's going to have to try to get the career people back on track. It's also a staff that's been hit very hard by departures so he's going to have to ramp up the hiring and bring on good people.

"He's the best attorney general Republicans could hope for in terms of potential nominees because of his reputation for integrity and fairness but he'll never satisfy them. And he's never going to satisfy the progressive wing of the Democratic party in particular on issues relating to police misconduct and voting rights. They're going to want a much more muscular attorney general than I think is in Merrick Garland's DNA."

Merrick Garland's 'flawless' work in Oklahoma City crucial in white supremacy fight (Tom McCarthy, 1 Feb 2021, The Guardian)

Now, after 23 years as one of the country's top appeals court judges, Garland, 68, is once again returning to a lead prosecutor role, tapped by Joe Biden to run the justice department as attorney general - with the threat from anti-government extremists again on the agenda.

"We had tremendous confidence in him, and I think his handling of that very challenging situation was flawless," said Jamie Gorelick, Garland's boss at the time of the Oklahoma City attack and one of the country's longest-serving deputy attorneys general. "If you look at his background, he was very well suited for working both with the FBI and the other investigative agencies, and well-regarded by all of them, and he had a wonderful way of bringing people together on the ground."

Stewing in pernicious lies about election fraud spread by Donald Trump, the United States is once again facing a rising threat of violence from anti-Washington extremists and white supremacists, according to a rare bulletin warning issued last week by the Department of Homeland Security - and the Oklahoma City attack is riding high in some minds.

"The Oklahoma City bombing and its legacy are critical to understanding the domestic extremist movements of today," the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a report last year.

In spite of his being the target of an infamous Republican stunt four years ago that blocked his nomination to the US supreme court, Garland is expected to be confirmed by the US Senate as attorney general in the coming weeks.

People who know Garland from his work in Oklahoma believe that the country could have no better ally in the fight against homegrown extremism, a broad job whose challenges include not only prosecuting the recent insurrectionists but also preventing the next attack, disrupting extremist groups on social media, rooting out white supremacists from police forces and the military, and restoring public trust in the rule of law.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


AOC raises over $3M for Texas relief, heads to Houston after blasting Cruz for Mexico trip (Elizabeth Janowski, 2/19/21, NBC News)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., raised $3.2 million for relief efforts in Texas as of Friday night before visiting Houston to help in the recovery effort.

"I think this shows that New York stands with you, but the whole country stands with you," Ocasio-Cortez said in a press conference outside a food bank, where she spent the morning volunteering.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, who represents the Houston area and joined Ocasio-Cortez Saturday, praised the congresswoman for her efforts. "That's, that's pretty big even for Texas sizes," Garcia said of the $3.2 million raised.

The funds raised by the progressive lawmaker will go toward 12 food banks and relief organizations, including the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, Ending Community Homelessness Coalition, Family Eldercare, Feeding Texas and the Houston Food Bank, according to the donations page.

"Charity isn't always a replacement for good governance, but we won't turn away from helping people in need when things hit the fan," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wuhan Lab Kept NIH Funding Despite Trump Crackdown (Yuichiro Kakutani, FEBRUARY 21, 2021, Free Beacon)

Federal records show the U.S. government is partnering with the Wuhan Institute of Virology even though the Trump administration pledged to ban funding for the Chinese laboratory located at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

President Donald Trump promised that he would "end" public funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology during an April 17 press conference. Despite his promise, the National Institutes of Health has left untouched a 2019 neuroscience research grant that disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Chinese laboratory, according to a federal expenditure database. The NIH earmarked most of the $4.3 million grant to U.C. Irvine, which the California public university used to funnel $216,108 in taxpayer money to a Wuhan Institute of Virology researcher as a "sub-grant."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Oversimplifying the Yemen War Teaches the Wrong Lessons (Ari Heistein, 2/21/21, National Interest)

It is worth considering two possible scenarios. First, it is conceivable that the launch of the Saudi campaign and Riyadh's subsequent desire to extricate itself from the quagmire would lead the Houthis to agree to integrate into a unified national Yemeni government in which they would presumably be the prime powerbrokers of a dysfunctional political system, a la Hezbollah in Lebanon. But such a settlement appears unlikely as it would encounter the same issue that the article claims currently drives Houthi intransigence--"Houthi ascendance." In 2014-2015, the group's rise from a small, disorganized group in a Yemeni backwater to conquering Yemen's two largest cities would not incline them toward compromise; all the more so when they are being targeted by an ineffective and inexperienced Saudi adversary that has been separated from its American security guarantor. The second and more likely scenario is that the Saudi-led coalition carries out an even more ham-fisted military campaign that is unable to dislodge the Houthis from significant territories in Yemen and so the Iran-backed group remains in control of the vast majority of the country.

Third option: recognize the historic Houthi territory in Northern Yemen as an independent nation.  Dun the Sa'uds for the cost of rebuilding the Southern Sunni nation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Much of a Threat is Espionage from Chinese Immigrants?Native-born Americans who are ethnically Chinese are less likely to be spies than their proportion of the population would suggest. (Alex Nowrasteh, 2/21/21, National Interest)

A new paper published by the Cato Institute fills this gap. My research identifies 1,485 people convicted of espionage and espionage-related offenses on American soil between 1990 and 2019. This doesn't count people who hacked computers from abroad, just those who were caught engaged in any espionage or espionage related activity in the United States.

During that thirty-year period, about 1 in 6.5 million people per year in the United States committed espionage or an espionage related crime. A total of 583 of these spies were native-born Americans while the rest were foreign-born or had unknown origins. Only 184 of them were from China.

The annual chance that somebody born in China would commit espionage was about 1 in 404,000 per year during that time. But Chinese-born spies aren't the only threat. Of the 1,485 identified, 276 spied for China. Of those, 171 or 62 percent, were born in China. Twenty-four percent were American born, 7 percent were born in Taiwan, and the rest come from many different countries. And in only a third of the cases against Chinese-born spies was the U.S. government the target of the espionage.

This means that, ultimately, native-born Americans who are ethnically Chinese are less likely to be spies than their proportion of the population would suggest.

While rare, the most memorable recent instance of a Chinese national attempting to target American officials, which became known after my paper was finished, was of Christine Fang. She tried to "influence" many minor American politicians like Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Mike Honda (D-CA) in unspecified ways and to no apparent effect, other than possibly embarrassing her targets. Despite her apparent efforts, however, she wasn't charged with espionage.

When it comes to those actually prosecuted, in two-thirds of instances Chinese-born spies stole economic secrets or intellectual property that were rarely related to national security. Xiaorong You, a Chinese immigrant, was indicted for stealing a formula for a new coating on the inside of Coca-Cola cans. Chinese-born Xudong "William" Yao was convicted of stealing secrets related to operating train locomotives. James Patrick Lewis, a native-born American professor at West Virginia University, was convicted of fraud because he lied about his involvement with a Chinese program that may be tied to economic espionage. Li Chen and Yu Zhou, the husband and wife team mentioned above, conspired to steal trade secrets related to breakthroughs in pediatric cancer research--not national security secrets.

Those cases of economic espionage and theft of trade secrets simply do not rise to the level of an "economic blitzkrieg," in the words of former attorney general Bill Barr.

Open source it all. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Poll shows large swaths of Israeli youth hate Arabs, back revoking citizenship (Times of Israel, 19 February 2021))

In a poll published this week, nearly half of ultra-Orthodox and national religious Israeli youth expressed hatred toward Arabs and noted support for stripping them of their citizenship, a sentiment shared by 23 percent of secular youth.

The Thursday poll from the Hebrew University's aChord Center was conducted among 1,100 respondents between the ages of 16 and 18.

Of those polled, 66% of Haredim, 42% of religious nationalists and 24% of secular Israelis expressed feelings of fear and hatred toward Arabs, which make up some 20% of the population.

Which is why they say Donald was pro-Israel--that's what he wanted too. 

February 20, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Did Coronavirus Wipe Out the Flu Season?: Because of anti-coronavirus measures, flu cases were down worldwide. (Stephen Silver, 2/20/21, National Interest)

The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) said last week that, as of the end of January, there were 1,316 positive flu cases since September. That's compared to 129,997 positive cases of the flu the year before. 

What's the difference? The coronavirus, obviously. 

According to Vox, there are a few different reasons for the low number of flu cases. Obviously, fewer people are out and about than usual. Most years, almost no one wears masks or socially distances, while this year, many people do. And the flu is clearly less contagious than coronavirus is. 

And also, when some people may have gone to work or kept previous social engagements while sick with the flu, the experience of coronavirus has likely encouraged people to have the possibility of transmission at the top of their mind. Moreover, the flu is often passed by children to each other, but because of the coronaviru in most of the country schools are either closed or subject to social distancing measures. 

FiveThirtyEight also recently looked at the lack of flu this year, and it noted that the lack of flu transmission this year is a worldwide phenomenon. 

"We don't track the flu the way we track COVID-19," that report said."The average seasonal flu exists in a weird liminal space, serious enough to keep an eye on, but also not so serious that we are literally trying to count every single case. After all, most people who get sick with the flu won't even bother to go get tested for it. They'll have a couple bad days in bed (if they're able to take off work) and otherwise go about life basically unchanged."

Last fall, there was frequent worry that once the winter hit, it would lead to an especially terrible few months as coronavirus and flu struck at the same time. But the flu side of that never quite materialized. 

When the Trumpists were complaining that we never masked to prevent our 50k flu deaths a year they accidentally had a point. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Biden's Dreampolitik at Home and Abroad (Bruno Maçães, February 2021, American Affairs)

In a timely new book reflecting on the inner springs of Joe Biden's biography and personality, New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos notes a central contradiction that has long animated the new president. During the campaign, Donald Trump and most Republicans tried to associate Biden with a malevolent plan to smuggle socialism into the United States. As an electoral strategy, it was unconvincing, flying in the face of a long and distinguished career marked by the kind of relaxed centrism which has now become unfashionable. Biden has been careful to stress those moderate inclinations even after the election, as he prepared to assume office, but the concern goes back to the very beginning of his Senate career. In 1974, having supported civil rights and opposed the war in Vietnam, Biden received a high rating from a progressive group and immediately complained about it. Those ratings, he thought, could get him in trouble.

And yet there was another strain to his victorious 2020 campaign, and it had nothing to do with coaxing the Republican Party into its recent excesses. Running at a time when a record number of Democrats are happy to self-describe as socialists, and when the embers of street protest are still glowing across the land, Biden had to avoid appearing too picayune and narrow-minded. And he understood this. "He is very much a weathervane for what the center of the left is," a senior Obama administration official told Osnos. As he puts it, "by the time Biden effectively clinched the nomination, in March, he had begun to describe his candidacy as a bid for systemic change on the scale of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal." Franklin Foer in the Atlan­tic argued that Biden has inverted the historical template of every Democratic nominee. Biden's politics only began to flirt with revolutionary romance after he won the nomination.

The evolution confounded critics. Consider Osnos once again: "Biden was simultaneously accused of being a socialist puppet and a neoliberal shill." It was a productive contradiction. The problem now is how to continue exploiting it. Just as Trump--often with undeniable success--attempted to convince his supporters that they already lived in a nationalist utopia, Biden will have to convince Americans that they already live in the America promised by progressives. They are like Frenchmen of the Belle Époque, the trials of the Revolution long forgotten. If the country is already united around ideals of social and racial justice--if every cabinet secretary provides evidence that sexual and racial minorities have genuinely overcome their past op­pression--President Biden could be a centrist and a progressive at the same time. Progressive ideals would be realized with no need for the struggle and conflict of the progressive movement. After the events on Capitol Hill in early January, Biden confidently affirmed that "this is not who we are." As some commentators noted, the sentence would be much more convincing had he said "this is not who we should be." But on this question Biden will brook no compromise. It reminded me of the main element of his campaign during the prima­ries: Trump did not reveal anything about contemporary America and Trumpism would disappear once Trump had lost the election.

Like other presidents, Biden has of course presented his cabinet choices as symbolic proof that America has come a long way since its darkest days. What stood out was the methodical and perfectionist character of the current iteration of identity politics. At some point, it began to look like the president-elect was trying to solve an especially complex puzzle, a Rubik's cube of many colors and genders. When Biden nominated the first black man to run the Pentagon, women cried foul. Asian American activists became increasingly concerned that their minority groups would not be sufficiently represented in the top tier of the Biden administration. Sexual minorities expressed their disappointment that Biden had not yet named a prominent member of their community to his cabinet, something he proceeded to correct. It then became apparent than he had not awarded a sufficient number of key jobs in his cabinet to black women. In principle there should be at least five Latinos in the cabinet, including of course Latinas. And so on. The need to ensure ethnic, gender, and sexual orientation diversity has meant hammering some square pegs into round holes, while allowing for many degrees of freedom in selecting political insiders from each lane of the diversity pool.

As Nesrine Malik wrote, the exercise was revealing because it showed how committed Biden is to Dreampolitik--in this case, the promise of diversity as cosmetic change without deeper transformation. Selecting the cabinet was not a means to address the structural inequalities that produce the marginalization of minority groups in the first place, but an exercise in "mission accomplished," a kind of "end of history" for those who no longer believe in history and, in their quiet moments, may even disbelieve in progress. Kamala Harris explains: "When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America--that reflects the very best of our nation. That is what we have done."

The example is, I think, reflective of a broader strategy. Forced to bring together very different sensibilities within the Democratic Party, Biden has found a way to reconcile political opposites. He can prom­ise the progressive and more radical wing a final victory over the forces of evil, while reassuring the centrists that he has no interest in the struggle, the fight to realize that victory. It is the fight, after all, rather than the final victory, which leads one into political danger.

F Troop back to normal. 
Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


One Biden doctrine emerges - always work with allies (Agence France-Presse, February 20, 2021)

After one month in the White House, it may be too soon to speak of a "Biden doctrine" but he has quickly carried out a sharp reversal of the brash "America First" philosophy of his predecessor Donald Trump, who delighted in needling friendly leaders.

In his first international address, Biden vowed Friday before the virtual Munich Security Conference that he will be "in lockstep with our allies and partners."

"Let me erase any lingering doubt: The United States will work closely with our European Union partners and the capitals across the continent -- from Rome to Riga -- to meet the range of shared challenges we face," he said.

Biden has already rejoined the Paris climate accord and stopped the US exit from the World Health Organization, seeing global cooperation as crucial to his top priorities of fighting Covid-19 and climate change.

For his administration's long-awaited first move to jumpstart diplomacy with Iran, the State Department worked off a proposal by the European Union which offered to convene an informal meeting on a 2015 nuclear accord that is on the brink of collapse after Trump's withdrawal.

After Myanmar's coup, Secretary of State Antony Blinken similarly sought a joint front with partners, India and Japan, that have better relationships with the nation the United States wants to persuade.

Biden has also dumped Trump's plan to pull troops out of ally Germany, moved to resolve a payment rift with South Korea over US base support and opened joint consultations with Japan and South Korea, allies with tensions between them, to chart the way forward on North Korea.

On confronting a rising China and Venezuela's leftist leader Nicolas Maduro, the Biden policy is less a change from Trump than a promise to secure more international support.

"President Biden's major criticism of the Trump strategy here was not that he wasn't getting tough on China on trade but that he was doing so alone, while also fighting our allies and partners," one senior US official said after Biden spoke by phone with President Xi Jinping.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


What Amanda Gorman Teaches Us About Our Shared America (Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2/12/21, TIME)

If I had known when I tweeted that Dr. Jill Biden had invited her to write the inaugural poem, I would have added that community colleges also make America great, given Dr. Biden's teaching career at Northern Virginia Community College. While I teach at a private research university, I still take classes at my local community college, and what community colleges share with public libraries and poetry of a certain kind is nothing less than the democratic spirit, the same spirit that Gorman defended and celebrated in her poem. Was it democracy or an assault on democracy when a mob attacked and ransacked the Capitol on January 6 even as she was still writing her poem? In response, Gorman says

Somehow we've weathered and witnessed

a nation that isn't broken

but simply unfinished

The poem itself doubles as a political speech, a move which both enhances the accessibility of the poem and raises the bar for political speeches, many of which would benefit from a dose of poetry. Gesturing towards reconciliation and peace, Gorman echoes and amplifies President Biden's rhetorical themes:

We lay down our arms

so we can reach out our arms

to one another

We seek harm to none and harmony for all

The democratic spirit that animates this poem and this poet is cultivated in public places much more so than in private ones, in the open air of an inaugural platform versus a smoke-filled room or a chummy club. I appreciate the hushed luxury of the libraries in private research universities, but the price of entry, to be a professor or a student, is high. In contrast, the public libraries of Los Angeles, from the magnificent Central Public Library to the many small local ones, bring together broad swathes of the city. From toddlers to retirees, from students to teachers, from the well-heeled to the homeless, all can be found in these libraries, paid for by our taxes and free for all.

Benjamin Franklin opened the first lending library in 1731, the predecessor to the free public library. He was not fond of immigrants, Asians, Black people, or indeed certain categories of Europeans now considered white, like Spaniards and Italians. But the library he founded has expanded beyond his own prejudices, his ideas transcending his limitations. Now, nearly three centuries later, American libraries can include

a skinny Black

girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother

As well as myself, a refugee from Vietnam, or, in Franklin's words, a "tawny" person coming to an America that would be better off "excluding Blacks and Tawneys." "I am partial to the Complexion of my Country," Franklin wrote, "for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind."

If this is natural, is there also a countervailing natural impulse in us, as people and as Americans, to expand into impartiality rather than stay stuck in partiality? Should we not seek to cultivate such an impulse? This embrace of expansiveness against the confinement of prejudice is Gorman's project:

And every known nook of our nation and every corner called our

country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered

and beautiful.

The public spaces of our country are too often battered and beautiful, underfunded and overused. And yet they manage to bring forth talent like Gorman, who went to Harvard and whose admission must have been boosted by being a poet laureate. We must get beyond the easy idea that it is only the STEM students and the "practical" majors who will help our society and advance our country. What is more practical than poetry, which can illuminate the feelings we all share, the beauty we all need, the grief we all experience? Support poetry and support the places where poetry grows best, which is where poetry is free, as in libraries.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Feds now say right-wing extremists responsible for majority of deadly terrorist attacks last year (Jana Winter, February 19, 2021, Yahoo News)

A review of last year's domestic terrorist incidents by a DHS fusion center -- which shares threat-related information between federal, state and local partners -- found that although civil unrest and antigovernment violence were associated with "non-affiliated, right-wing and left-wing actors, right-wing [domestic violent extremists] were responsible for the majority of fatal attacks in the Homeland in 2020."

The report, produced by the Joint Regional Intelligence Center, a DHS-funded fusion center, was sent out to police and law enforcement agencies nationwide as part of an intelligence-sharing system created after the 9/11 attacks.

While independent think tanks and outside groups have been pointing to the rise in ring-wing violence for some time, this appears to be the first known instance of an official government or law enforcement agency clearly acknowledging the trend, though senior officials have noted the rise in white supremacist attacks. The report also comes not long after the end of the Trump administration, which was criticized for downplaying right-wing violence.

Former President Donald Trump, in particular, frequently referred to the threat from antifa, a loose movement of left-wing activists.

"The government has not said this publicly, law enforcement has not said this publicly," said Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. "This is new."

The findings about right-wing extremism are "consistent with every single assessment of data I've seen, not just in 2020 but in 2019," Jones said after reviewing the fusion center report.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


China's booming GDP masks millennial 'despair' over personal prospects (Xi Xican, Feb. 13th, 2021, SCMP)

With few other outlets to express opinions, social media platforms like Bilibili have become important online gathering places for young Chinese. And while they can be home to dizzying displays of nationalism, they also provide brief windows into what some political analysts say is the "serious divergence" between China's booming economy and the personal prospects of ordinary people.

"I believe young people's confidence in the macroeconomy comes from the bottom of their hearts, because they look at it from the perspective of the central government," said Xi Xican, an assistant professor at the School of Economics at Fudan University.

"However, when they shift roles and go back to their own life, the distress is all too real." [...]

Wu Qiang, a political observer and an independent scholar based in Beijing, said the optimism about China's economy on social media was mostly "Communist Party propaganda", with many other topics out of bounds due to the nation's vast online censorship system.

"The nationalism on Chinese media is a nihilistic statism, which is to conceal inequality through empty slogans without giving real equality and political rights to the people. This is reflected in the suffering people feel in their lives," he said.

He said China's strong growth under state capitalism was a "paradox" for many young people, who lacked comprehensive labour rights and work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.

China's relatively low household incomes and the small share of employment in the services sector also hint at the divergence between the nation's booming economy and the life satisfaction of the average worker.

GDP per capita in China was around US$10,200 in 2019, compared to US$63,200 in the United States, according to the most recent World Bank data.

In 2019, China's private consumption accounted for about 39 per cent of GDP, which was about 30 percentage points lower than the US and Europe, according to data from CEIC. It was also about 20 percentage points lower than developing countries such as India and Brazil.

"This means although China produces a large number of goods and services every year, the share actually consumed by its own residents is much lower than in other countries," said professor Xi, from Fudan University.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Biden Builds Out China Team With Staff Who Reflect Tougher Tone (Nicholas Wadhams and Jenny Leonard, Feb. 16th, 2021, Bloomberg News)

President Joe Biden is filling out his China policy team with staff whose past writing and speeches align with the tough tone toward Beijing that emerged under his predecessor Donald Trump, adding to evidence that the new administration won't revert to an earlier era of conciliation.

Among the new hires is Melanie Hart, a former Center for American Progress senior fellow, who will help oversee a review of Trump administration policies including its "Clean Network" initiative, which pressed countries to bar Huawei Technologies Co. from their fifth-generation telecommunications networks. In October, she co-wrote a report that highlighted the state subsidies fueling Huawei's rise and advocated countervailing support to vendors from the U.S. and allied nations.

relates to Biden Builds Out China Team With Staff Who Reflect Tougher Tone
The China team also includes Ely Ratner at the Pentagon and Elizabeth Rosenberg at the Treasury Department. Both were previously at the Center for a New American Security. In a report co-authored with colleagues there -- including three others who have joined the Biden administration -- Ratner and Rosenberg called for an "international consortium" with Japan and the Netherlands to build semiconductors and diversify the supply chain.

"The China challenge -- too often described as a problem for the future -- is here and now," the group wrote in the congressionally mandated report. In a separate report, Rosenberg and Peter Harrell, who is joining the National Security Council, called for the U.S. to authorize funding to compensate targets of "Chinese coercive measures" and for the U.S. to make itself irreplaceable in the supply chains of the future.

February 19, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 PM


Israel reportedly expands Dimona nuclear complex (Times of Israel, 2/19/21)

Israel's top-secret nuclear research facility near the southern city of Dimona is undergoing a major expansion, according to a Thursday report.

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


Indiana Republican lawmakers shout down, boo Black colleagues speaking about discrimination (Arika Herron & Kaitlin Lange, 2/19/21, Indianapolis Star)

 Tensions flared at the Indiana Statehouse Thursday when Republican lawmakers shouted down and booed Black lawmakers during floor debate on a bill that some see as discriminatory. 

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, walked off the House floor after several Republican lawmakers loudly objected to his warnings of discrimination in House Bill 1367. Porter, a member of the Black caucus, said the bill would allow students in a St. Joseph County township to leave the South Bend Community Schools, which are racially diverse, to join a nearby school district that's smaller, more rural and made up primarily of white students.

For the Right, the whole point of school choice is escaping from black students, not helping them get better educations. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Iran Offers to Reverse Its Nuclear Deal Violations if Sanctions Are Lifted (VOA News, February 19, 2021)
"U.S. unconditionally & effectively lift all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labeled by Trump," Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's declared in a tweet. "We will then immediately reverse all remedial measures. Simple:#CommitActMeet."

Given that reimposing sanctions resulted in as many as 15k excess deaths from Covid, they ought not let America off the hook so easily.  At a minimum, they should insist on a free trade and travel deal. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


Americans Remain Largely Dissatisfied With U.S. Gun Laws (MEGAN BRENAN, 2/19/21, Gallup)

As Biden calls for stricter gun laws, 41% of the public is dissatisfied with current gun laws and wants them made stricter; 8% are dissatisfied and want them to be made less strict; and 7% are dissatisfied but want them to remain the same.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


US pushes China over Uyghur Muslim rights with new trade bill (MEMO, February 19, 2021)

"We have watched in horror as the Chinese government first created, and then expanded a system of extrajudicial mass internment camps targeting Uyghurs and Muslim minorities," said Democrat Representative Jim McGovern when reintroducing the bill.

Meanwhile, according to a report published by the Heritage Foundation, between 1.8 million and 3 million Uyghurs have been collectivised and interned in political re-education camps in China since 2018.

Trump told China's president that building concentration camps for millions of Uighur Muslims was 'exactly the right thing to do,' former adviser says (David Choi and Sonam Sheth Jun 17, 2020, Business Insider)

Xi "explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang," Bolton wrote, citing the interpreter's account. The interpreter added that "Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do," according to the book.

Bolton also wrote in the book that Matthew Pottinger, a retired US Marine and the current deputy national security adviser, "told me that Trump said something very similar during his November 2017 trip to China."

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


U.S. businesses have strongest expansion in almost six years in February, Markit PMI data show (Greg Robb, 2/19/21, MarketWatch)

The numbers: The flash reading of the IHS Markit U.S. composite purchasing managers index rose to 58.8 in February from 58.7 in the prior month. Any reading over 50 indicates improving conditions. It is the strongest reading in almost six years.

...and the seas have stopped rising...

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Trump's former fixer Cohen interviewed by Manhattan DA's office and newly hired litigator (Jason Szep and Peter Eisler, 2/19/21, Reuters) 

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office and a newly hired high-profile litigator interviewed Donald Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, on Thursday, as part of a criminal probe of the former president's business dealings, said two people familiar with the investigation.

The interview came after Mark Pomerantz, who has extensive experience in white-collar and organized crime cases, joined District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s team investigating the Trump family business. Pomerantz started on Feb. 2 as special assistant district attorney, said Danny Frost, a spokesman for Vance.

Pomerantz's hiring is part of a flurry of recent activity in Vance's investigation, including the issuance in recent days of roughly a dozen new subpoenas, according to the sources. One of those went to Ladder Capital Finance LLC, a major creditor used by Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, to finance the former president's commercial real estate holdings, the sources said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Navigating the first 100 days (Navigator, 2/18/21)

There is vast and resilient support for Biden's American Rescue Plan, but most are not hearing much about it in the news.

Biden and Democrats in Congress are more trusted than Republicans to handle coronavirus relief.

Three in five feel Biden's pandemic response favors the middle and working class, while a majority say Republicans in Congress's response favors the wealthy and big corporations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


QAnon Hardliners Are Doubling Down on Theory Donald Trump Will Be Reinstated on March 4 (EWAN PALMER, 2/19/21 , Newsweek)

Experts have warned the potential for further humiliation next month after another one of their predictions fails to come to pass will not damage the QAnon movement and they will continue to pose an extremist threat.

Followers of the radical movement, listed as a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI, have penciled in March 4 as the next significant date in their calendar, believing this will be the day Donald Trump is reinstated as president.

The latest theory, following on from the failed prediction that Trump would order the mass arrest and executions of satanic pedophiles during Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20, uses arcane reasoning heavily lifted from the beliefs of the sovereign citizen movement.

According to QAnon followers, a secret law was passed in 1871 which turned the U.S. into a corporation. As a result of this, all other presidents after Ulysses S. Grant have been illegitimate, meaning Trump will become the 19th president during a new inauguration on March 4.

The reason behind the March 4 date is that this is when presidential inauguration ceremonies used to take place before it was moved to January 20 in 1933. That year is significant to sovereign citizens as it was when the U.S. went off the gold standard, which they take to mean the country had become bankrupt.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


The Prius of airplanes (Joann Muller, 2/19/21, Axios)

 Fully electric planes, while promising, are limited by available battery technology.

Batteries cost less and pack more energy into a smaller package than they did a decade ago, but they're still too heavy to allow planes to fly long distances or carry heavy loads.

They do work, however, in low-flying air taxis for short runs across a city or to the airport.

These new electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft are getting a lot of attention on Wall Street, but they won't be widely available until around 2035, according to a Deloitte analysis.

Yes, but: For medium distances of 50 to 500 miles -- the city-hopping routes ignored by hub-and-spoke airlines -- hybrids offer a practical solution that can be ready in just a few years.

UBS, the Swiss investment bank, forecasts a $178 billion market for hybrid-electric aircraft.

Driving the news: Surf Air Mobility, a regional air travel service, said this week it would acquire Ampaire, a developer of hybrid electric powertrains for aviation.

Surf Air co-founder and CEO Sudhin Shahani called Ampaire's technology a step toward "the next great shift in air travel: sustainable aviation that's accessible to everyone."

For now, the company's plan is to upgrade existing turboprop aircraft with Ampaire's hybrid technology on short, regional routes while the industry works toward fully electric aviation for all trips.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Biden's farm problem: Booming sales raise questions about bailout money (RYAN MCCRIMMON, 02/18/2021, Politico)

President Joe Biden and Congress are facing an unfamiliar sight as they craft another round of pandemic relief programs: a farm economy that's rapidly heating up after years of decline.

Fueled by surprisingly strong exports to China, shrinking supplies of crops and some of the highest commodity prices in seven years, many farmers are anticipating a highly profitable 2021 harvest.

The upbeat forecast is raising questions about whether Washington should start peeling back the extensive subsidies that have kept producers afloat for years long before the coronavirus pandemic devastated the U.S. economy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


America's Hidden Gulag: The nationwide federal detention of immigrants in county jails perpetuates a profit-driven system of mass incarceration. (Jacob Kang-Brown and Jack Norton, February 19, 2021, NY Review of Books)

In the summer of 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents brought hundreds of people--flown thousands of miles from the Mexico-US border--to the Albany County Jail in upstate New York. With the Trump administration's immigration policies in full force that summer, ICE and Border Patrol agents were tearing families apart, putting children in cages at the southern border, and moving their parents to private detention centers, state prisons, and local county jails all over the country. By July, 330 of these migrants detained by ICE were being held at the Albany County Jail.

Albany County has a 1,040-bed jail across from the Albany Airport. Originally constructed in 1931, the jail was rebuilt and expanded in the 1980s at a cost of $30 million, with renovations and further additions in the years following. Over the last four decades, numerous other counties--both across New York and nationwide--have been building new and bigger jails at enormous cost. Altogether, these developments amount to a vast expansion of carceral capacity, much of it in rural counties and regional cities like Albany. Incarceration rates have been rising in much of the country, even as incarceration rates in large metropolitan areas have fallen. The jail boom in rural America, fueled in part by federal policies, is being used by federal agencies like ICE and the US Marshals Service (USMS).

There are over 3,000 counties in the United States, and almost every one has a jail, usually run by the local sheriff's department. ICE and the USMS use space in many county jails to detain immigrants, people seeking asylum, and those in pre-trial custody on federal charges. Federal detention in county jails is an often-overlooked facet of mass incarceration in the US. During the past four decades, this relationship between federal agencies and county jails has encouraged jail expansion, and has, in many cases, rewarded anti-immigrant policy among sheriffs and county administrators. At the same time, increased jail capacity nationwide has provided ICE with more sites for detention, forcing advocates and organizers to find new approaches to combat the arbitrary and capricious ways that federal agencies can transport people to jails and detention centers all over the country.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


China Blocked Clubhouse App Fearing Uncontrolled Public Discourse (Jin Zhe, February 18, 2021, VOA)

 For a brief time before Beijing banned the audio chat app Clubhouse, tech-savvy Chinese joined global discussions on taboo topics -- Beijing's placement of Uighurs in concentration camps in Xinjiang, Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests -- absorbing perspectives and information far outside the lines drawn by the Communist Party.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Biden Withdraws Trump's Restoration of UN Sanctions on Iran (Associated Press, February 19, 2021)

The Biden administration on Thursday rescinded former President Donald Trump's restoration of U.N. sanctions on Iran, an announcement that could help Washington move toward rejoining the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at reining in the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.

Help ameliorate the violence done by sanctions with a trade deal.

February 18, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 11:47 AM


An Art That Offers Choices : Video games are an art form, and cultural critics on the right ought to take note of this powerful medium. (Spencer Klavan, 2/17/21, Law & Liberty)

I will fully concede: video games are highly structured. They can be repetitive, and this is one of the challenges against which designers have to work if they want to tell a fluid, organic story. Slashing down your 100th minotaur in God of War (2005) does not teach you anything about your character or his journey that you didn't already know from slashing down the first one. Games also tend to have recurring structural features like levels, bosses, puzzles, and powerups. Fire up a new platformer, even a highly innovative one, and you are likely to recognize its basic elements from any number of similar titles.

But the conventionality of games isn't in itself a strike against them. In fact, it's what makes them stand out from older forms of art, which have become dissipate and amorphous in the wake of modernity. We are long past the days when it was shocking for James Joyce to write a "sentence" of 3,687 words or for Mark Rothko to bathe a canvas in pure color. The traditional rules and limits of the literary and visual arts have been so thoroughly exploded that innovation in them has no meaning any longer.

By contrast, gamers were riveted in 2005 by Indigo Prophecy (AKA Fahrenheit), whose storyline depended on players' choices to a greater degree than had ever been tried. Each decision in the game led to outcomes and consequences, just like in real life. Those consequences determined how the narrative developed and concluded. There were kinks still to be worked out, but the medium was clearly advancing to new levels. "Despite its flaws, Indigo Prophecy is the definitive interactive story," wrote one critic. "Not only does it perfect the genre, it redefines it."

You can only "redefine" a "genre" if there are typical patterns it tends to follow--if its forms and conventions are understood and agreed upon by a community of artists and audience members. Virgil,  Dante, and Apollonius of Rhodes are significant epicists because of how they modify, subvert, and repurpose the tropes of Homer's masterworks. William Turner's glowing landscapes are thrilling in part because of how they deviate from the sharp precision of masters like Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. When the free-form narrative techniques of Indigo Prophecy caught on in more polished games like Assassin's Creed (2016), everyone could see that a new kind of storytelling was being born against the backdrop of an established tradition.

A persistent misapprehension of our era is that rules stifle creativity and betoken a lack of imagination. A highly stylized form like the sonnet seems intolerably artificial to us, as if imposed from the top down by fusty ideologues. In fact, though, sonneteers like Giacomo da Lentini and Francesco Petrarch chiseled the form out of ballads and folk songs, honing rhythms and rhyme structures which were already common practice. Contrary to the going assumption, structure often emerges organically in art out of popular demand.

People love rules and the cogency they enable. They are part of how we express the rational order we perceive in creation. And yes, of course those rules can gradually become calcified and oppressive--witness for example the stultifying rigor of late French Baroque drama. But without any conventions at all we become unintelligible to each other, which is how you end up with a $120,000 banana duct taped to a wall (Maurizio Cattelan's Comedian, which inspired ridicule and incomprehension among all but the elect few who "got it").

This dysfunction--the total breakdown of structure and the reduction of high culture to absurdity--now plagues almost every kind of art, from painting to poetry to music. For that matter, it plagues our politics and our communal life: we no longer agree on the meaning of America, the conventions of marriage and gender, or the importance and role of religion. This leaves us completely at sea and makes us look either ridiculous or evil to one another: we caricature each other as "blue-haired libs" or "white supremacist rubes" because we do not share even the most basic premises about who we are or what the rules should be.

Video games do not suffer from this problem. They are a creative form with rules and constraints. This makes both community and meaning possible. Gamers can team up across the globe, can celebrate the triumphs of their form, can experience the heights of elation and wonder that living art so often inspires, because they are working within a recognizable medium upon whose conventions they can build. The lyrical fairytale of Ico (2001), the melancholy parable of Braid (2008), the tense and fluid drama of Inside (2016): these achievements were hailed by gamers because they used the rules--and broke them judiciously--to convey moving and truthful accounts of the human experience.

There is a word for something which uses color, light, sound, and language to convey what it is like to live a human life: we call that art. It is a structured creation that expresses emotions and experiences which cannot be expressed in any other way. "The objects of imitation are men in action," wrote Aristotle in his Poetics: events and the people who make them happen are the great subject of that elaborately symbolic communication called mimēsis.

This communication is what video games accomplish. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


Paul's Letter to a Prejudiced Church: How the apostle's instructions on the Lord's Supper speak to multiethnic congregations today. (MICHAEL J. RHODES, FEBRUARY 16, 2021, Christianity Today)

The apostle Paul writes to a multiracial, multiclass church made up of Jews and Gentiles, enslaved people and free people (12:13). This made their congregation far more diverse than the typical North American church today, which, according to Edwards, lacks even a single member from another ethnic group.

Paul nevertheless tells the Corinthians that their gatherings "do more harm than good" (11:17-22). The reason? The way they came to the Lord's Supper reinforced socioeconomic divisions among them. Some had too much to eat. Others had nothing at all.

To understand Paul's critique, we need to understand the way that meals worked within Corinthian society. Corinth had a clear hierarchy, an obvious social and economic ladder. Where you stood on that ladder depended on whether you had enough social capital to be considered "wise," "influential," and "of noble birth" (1:26).

This social hierarchy could be a matter of life or death. Earning one of these labels meant that you were more likely to get the economic opportunities and social network on which your survival might depend.

In Corinth, communal meals provided a primary way for individuals to claim their spot on the ladder or even move up a rung. Like middle-school cafeterias today, where you sat at the meal said a lot about where you stood in the social pecking order. Bringing more food or claiming a more honorable seat, for example, were strategies for trying to climb the ladder.

This was all just business as usual in Corinth, but Paul declares that such behavior has no place in church. Because of the way this multiethnic, multiclass congregation humiliated the have-nots, they couldn't call what they were doing the Lord's Supper at all. They were acting more Corinthian than Christian.

By mirroring oppressive Corinthian hierarchies in the way that they gathered, the Corinthian believers "despise[d] the church" and sinned against the very body and blood of the Lord himself (11:22, 27).

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Marwan Barghouti insists on running for president in Palestinian elections (Daoud Kuttab, 2/17/21, al Monitor)

The biggest problem facing the Fatah leadership has been the popular and imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who insists on running for president. A visit by Hussein al-Sheikh, the minister of civilian affairs and a member of Fatah's Central Committee, to the Israeli prison where Barghouti is held Feb. 11 did little to change his insistence. Barghouti was reportedly offered to head the Fatah list for the Palestinian Legislative Council elections and to name 10 members of the list.

According to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Barghouti told Sheikh during his visit to prison that he welcomes the "historic decision to hold the elections" and the success of the dialogue between the main Palestinian factions held Feb. 7-9 in Cairo. According to Sheikh, Barghouti "called for the widest possible turnout to polling centers during the upcoming elections," which he reportedly said was the main pathway toward ending Palestinian division and restoring national unity. [...]

Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in Israeli prisons over his alleged involvement in multiple Israeli deaths during the second intifada, has been in jail for 19 years and has regularly polled better than Abbas. The latest poll conducted in December 2020 by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed Barghouti as having a much higher percentage of support in head-to-head competition with Hamas' Ismael Haniyeh (head of the movement's politburo), with Barghouti polling at 61% and Haniyeh at 37%, while Abbas, in a head-to-head with Haniyeh, polled at 43% to the Hamas leader's 50%. 

Palestinians ought to elect the leader they prefer. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Yogi (Alex Belth, September 23, 2015, Sports Illustrated)

Of all the elite catchers in the game's history, Bill James wrote in 100 Years: The Yankee Retrospective, "Berra was the only one who played every day, batted cleanup, did the job defensively, and never had a bad season ... Roy Campanella was as good as Berra was in his best seasons, maybe better, and so was Johnny Bench and maybe Mickey Cochrane, too. Put all three together, and they had about as many great seasons combined as Yogi did by himself."

When Yogi's second manager, Casey Stengel was asked to identify the secret of his success, he said "I never play a game without my man," by which he meant Berra.

The Yankees' catcher amassed 358 home runs and 1,430 RBIs and struck out only 414 times, feasting on the kinds of pitches that other hitters disdained. "If you'd bounce the ball to the plate, throw it over his head or throw it at him, he'd hit it solidly," said Eddie Joost, a Philadelphia Athletics infielder. And yet Berra gained just as much fame for saying things like, "90% of the game is half-mental," "You can observe a lot by watching," and "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

He wasn't trying to be funny; he was just Yogi. It was the guys behind the typewriter who did the rest and largely created his persona. "The media was good with him," wrote David Halberstam in October 1964, "inventing a cuddly, wise, witty figure who did not, in fact, exist." Even Yogi admitted, "I really didn't say everything I said."

Behind this image, though, he was a tough, prideful man and a fierce competitor. Berra had a flair for business and was a formidable contract negotiator at a time when players, particularly the Yankees, were at the mercy of remorseless team executives. Shrewd enough to realize that he could capitalize on his image, Yogi became one of the most successful celebrity pitchmen, a lucrative sideline that lasted 50 years, surfacing in ads that sold everything from Yoo-Hoo to the Aflac duck.

"They say he's funny," said Stengel. "Well, he has a lovely wife and family, a beautiful home, money in the bank, and he plays golf with millionaires. What's funny about that?"

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


The Chinese 'Debt Trap' Is a Myth: The narrative wrongfully portrays both Beijing and the developing countries it deals with. (DEBORAH BRAUTIGAM AND MEG RITHMIRE, FEBRUARY 6, 2021, The Atlantic)

China, we are told, inveigles poorer countries into taking out loan after loan to build expensive infrastructure that they can't afford and that will yield few benefits, all with the end goal of Beijing eventually taking control of these assets from its struggling borrowers. As states around the world pile on debt to combat the coronavirus pandemic and bolster flagging economies, fears of such possible seizures have only amplified.

Seen this way, China's internationalization--as laid out in programs such as the Belt and Road Initiative--is not simply a pursuit of geopolitical influence but also, in some tellings, a weapon. Once a country is weighed down by Chinese loans, like a hapless gambler who borrows from the Mafia, it is Beijing's puppet and in danger of losing a limb.

The prime example of this is the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota. As the story goes, Beijing pushed Sri Lanka into borrowing money from Chinese banks to pay for the project, which had no prospect of commercial success. Onerous terms and feeble revenues eventually pushed Sri Lanka into default, at which point Beijing demanded the port as collateral, forcing the Sri Lankan government to surrender control to a Chinese firm.

The Trump administration pointed to Hambantota to warn of China's strategic use of debt: In 2018, former Vice President Mike Pence called it "debt-trap diplomacy"--a phrase he used through the last days of the administration--and evidence of China's military ambitions. Last year, erstwhile Attorney General William Barr raised the case to argue that Beijing is "loading poor countries up with debt, refusing to renegotiate terms, and then taking control of the infrastructure itself."

As Michael Ondaatje, one of Sri Lanka's greatest chroniclers, once said, "In Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts." And the debt-trap narrative is just that: a lie, and a powerful one.

Our research shows that Chinese banks are willing to restructure the terms of existing loans and have never actually seized an asset from any country, much less the port of Hambantota. A Chinese company's acquisition of a majority stake in the port was a cautionary tale, but it's not the one we've often heard. With a new administration in Washington, the truth about the widely, perhaps willfully, misunderstood case of Hambantota Port is long overdue.

The PRC is trapped. 

February 17, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is the Office Dead Forever? Studies Suggest Working From Home Is the Way of the Future: In one recent survey, 80% of U.S. workers said they're just as productive or more productive working from home (MARCEL SCHWANTES, 2/17/21, Inc.)

[A]ccording to Thomas Moran, chief strategy officer at Prodoscore, which provides employee visibility and productivity intelligence software, year-over-year surveys demonstrate that working from home is not only sustainable, it also delivers increased productivity.

"We analyzed over 105 million data points collected from 30,000 U.S.-based Prodoscore users, revealing a 5% increase in productivity year over year, challenging the assumption by business leaders that employees working from home are less productive than when working on-site in an office," said Moran.

Adrian Reece, Principal Statistical Consultant at Salesforce added that workers in 2021 are looking to improve on their work autonomy and not have their freedoms regressed back into an office. "Research prior to the pandemic demonstrates the positive impact working from home has on an employee's job satisfaction; research during the pandemic has shown people are more productive at home than they were in the office. Hybrid in-person/telecommuting models are here to stay and represent the new frontier in work engagement and performance management research," said Reece.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Despite Appearances, Myanmar's Military Power is Waning  (Abdullah Yusuf, 2/17/21, National Interest)

With the Tatmadaw's ability to reassert its control freely without concern about external pressures from the likes of the UN, the question is why has the military orchestrated this coup now?

The reasons appear linked to the perceived erosion of the military's indirect rule. This erosion has been prompted by several events, such as the banning in 2018 of military commander Min Aung Hlaing and 18 other officials from using social media after they incited ethnic and religious hatred against minority groups such as the Rohingya.

This was followed by a UN investigation that confirmed Min Aung Hlaing would be investigated and prosecuted for genocide over a crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.

These factors, as well as the NLD's landslide win and the fact that Min Aung Hlaing will this year reach retirement age, put him in a vulnerable position. Given his lack of public support at home and his lack of popularity abroad (the US banned him in 2019), and with no guarantee of immunity from prosecution once he retires, this coup would appear to be the last desperate act of his dying career.

At a time when the country needs unity, peace and stability in the face of a pandemic, the military has instead sown mistrust, fear and chaos. Even at the height of its power - and with the support of the people - it proved incapable of bringing stability or prosperity to Myanmar during its 50-year rule, eventually leading to the popular uprisings of 1988 and 2008. So it is unlikely that the military will prove any better equipped to provide for the country's needs in its current form.

Given Aung San Suu Kyi's proven support, evidenced by the overwhelming mandate she received in the most recent two elections, the military might be unable to contain mass protests and maintain control. [...]

The military's support appears to be waning. In the past its powers survived because the rank and file within the Tatmadaw didn't rebel. But this is a new dynamic. A popular leader who won two consecutive elections by overwhelming majority has been thrown into jail. Meanwhile the country's coronavirus response is dwindling, and civil disobedience and mass protests are brewing.

If this prompts defection of the Tatmadaw's rank and file then the world may witness a profound tectonic shift in Myanmar's political landscape, opening the door to the prospect of long-term freedoms, justice and democracy.

February 16, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Gulf states' quest to find 'new oil' turns to hydrogen (Sebastian Castelier, Feb 16, 2021, Al Monitor)

Green hydrogen, a climate-friendly energy carrier obtained by splitting water molecules using electrolysis powered by renewables, is emerging as a clean fuel of the future to power transportation and energy-intensive industries such as steel manufacturing.

For the Arab Gulf states, which have some of the highest solar exposures in the world, the prospect of exporting large volumes of renewable electricity in the form of hydrogen is a timely opportunity as they attempt to diversify away from oil and gas revenues. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), three state-run entities formed the Abu Dhabi Hydrogen Alliance to position the fossil fuel-rich emirate as a major exporter of blue and green hydrogen.

"The expansion of the hydrogen market is part of a very large, deep, gigantic movement to transform the world's energy systems toward green energy sources," Mestrallet told Al-Monitor. Although estimates vary widely, a European Union report said analysts predict clean hydrogen could meet 24% of world energy demand by 2050.

Yet green hydrogen remains a lot more expensive than other fuels, and S&P Global Ratings estimated that the climate-friendly energy carrier's production costs would need to "fall by over 50% to $2.0-$2.5/kg" to become a "viable alternative to conventional fuels."

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Texas power outages: How the largest energy-producing state in the US failed in freezing temperatures (Jason Whitely,  February 15, 2021, WFAA)

Electric generating plants did not properly winterize their equipment, said Dr. David Tuttle in the latest episode of the Y'all-itics political podcast. Tuttle is a research associate with the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

"There are things that can be done, but it will cost some money," he added. "About every decade we have these long-sustained periods. And then, you know weatherization is supposed to happen, and then, it doesn't because it costs money." [...]

This isn't the first time that weatherization has been an issue with equipment failure and rotating outages in Texas.

In August 2011, six months after an ice storm crippled much of the state and resulted in rotating outages, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation issued a report with recommendations.

"Generators and natural gas producers suffered severe losses of capacity despite having received accurate forecasts of the storm," the report states. "Entities in both categories report having winterization procedures in place. However, the poor performance of many of these generating units and wells suggests that these procedures were either inadequate or were not adequately followed."

That investigation revealed what happened in 2011, also happened in 1989, which is the first time ERCOT ever implemented rotating outages.

"The experiences of 1989 are instructive, particularly on the electric side. In that year, as in 2011, cold weather caused many generators to trip, derate, or fail to start. The [Public Utility Commission of Texas] investigated the occurrence and issued a number of recommendations aimed at improving winterization on the part of the generators.

These recommendations were not mandatory, and over the course of time implementation lapsed. Many of the generators that experienced outages in 1989 failed again in 2011," the investigation discovered.

Fast forward a decade and here we are again.

Winterizing equipment - making sure it can sustain extended periods of below-freezing temperatures - has never been a requirement in Texas like other states.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Pentagon report reveals inroads white supremacists have made in military (John M. Donnelly. February 16, 2021, Roll Call)

A soldier in the Florida National Guard who co-founded a murderous fascist group was chatting with a fellow white supremacist in the extremist "Iron March" online forum in 2016, when the guard member made a remarkable statement.

The guard member said he felt free to be a neo-Nazi in the U.S. Army.

"Are you worried at all about being found by your mates or someone, now being in the U.S. military?" he was asked. "You'll be straight f---ed surely."

To that, the soldier replied: "I was 100% open about everything with the friends I made at training. They know about it all. They love me too cause I'm a funny guy."

A large database containing this and many other Iron March chats was published in 2019 on the Ars Technica news site. A screenshot of the neo-Nazi guardsman's exchange is spotlighted in a previously unpublicized October 2020 Pentagon report to Congress that details the military's efforts to keep extremists, particularly fascists, out of the military.

The report, obtained by CQ Roll Call, paints a stark picture of white supremacist inroads in the U.S. military. And it reveals several steps the Pentagon is now reviewing to kick such people out and help keep them out -- from accessing an FBI database of extremist tattoos to improving security clearance questions.

It's time to restore universal national service. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Leading House Democrat sues Donald Trump under a post-Civil War law for conspiracy to incite US Capitol riot (Jessica Schneider,  February 16, 2021, CNN)

Former President Donald Trump and attorney Rudy Giuliani are being accused of conspiring with the far-right groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers to incite the January 6 insurrection in a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court by the Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee that cites a post-Civil War law designed to combat violence and intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan.

The lawsuit, filed by Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson in his personal capacity, is the first civil action filed against the former President related to the attack at the US Capitol and comes days after the Senate acquitted Trump in his impeachment trial.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What went wrong with the Texas power grid? (Marcy de Luna & Amanda Drane, 2/15/21, Houston Chronicle)

Ed Hirs, an energy fellow in the Department of Economics at the University of Houston, blamed the failures on the state's deregulated power system, which doesn't provide power generators with the returns needed to invest in maintaining and improving power plants.

"The ERCOT grid has collapsed in exactly the same manner as the old Soviet Union," said Hirs. "It limped along on underinvestment and neglect until it finally broke under predictable circumstances.

"For more than a decade, generators have not been able to charge what it costs them to produce electricity," said Hirs. "If you don't make a return on your money, how can you keep it up? It's like not taking care of your car. If you don't change the oil and tires, you can't expect your car to be ready to evacuate, let alone get you to work."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The United States Should Give Fleeing Uighurs a Home (Feb. 12th, 2021, Foreign Policy)

Now, the most tangible thing the U.S. government can do to support Uighurs is to fully use its refugee admissions program, which has long been a practical way to alleviate suffering for those in crisis, by making Uighurs a priority group for resettlement in the United States.

In particular, the United States should grant Uighurs "Priority 2" or "P-2" status in its refugee program by naming them a group "of special humanitarian concern." P-2 status enables candidates to bypass referral from other entities like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an embassy, or a nongovernmental organization, and to apply directly to U.S. authorities for resettlement, whether they're currently inside or outside their country of origin.

Washington has a track record of success with P-2. This special status has been extended to help, for example, refugees from Myanmar in Thailand, religious minorities in the Middle East, and individuals who helped the U.S. government in Iraq. Other groups whom Washington is currently considering for P-2 status include survivors of Islamic State genocide in Syria and Iraq and citizens of Hong Kong.

The special status could provide an important lifeline for those Uighurs who have already fled China yet continue to face persecution. For instance, in Thailand, Uighurs face extrajudicial imprisonment. In Turkey, since the government is under significant pressure from Beijing, it continues to deport Uighurs back to China--even those to whom it has already granted asylum. The good news is that a bill offering the Uighurs P-2 status could be introduced later this month.

For Uighurs whose cases are currently languishing in the U.S. asylum system, there is no shortage of financial and emotional hardship. Hamut's daughter is about to graduate high school. Since her status as an asylee is unresolved, her family will have to pay high international tuition rates for her to attend college, which may prevent her from pursuing higher education. Both Hamut and his daughter said they live in constant fear that their case will be rejected and that they will be sent back to Xinjiang, where they would almost certainly face imprisonment.

Because they are already in the United States, P-2 status will not resolve these challenges for Hamut and his family. But it will speed up the vetting and resettlement of other Uighurs from the countries they've fled to and ensure that these new arrivals do not face similar hardships. For cases like Hamut's, Washington should work to ensure that pending asylum cases are resolved in a timely and thorough manner.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government should press other countries to offer safe haven to Uighurs. The United States should prioritize diplomacy with key countries hosting Uighurs, including Turkey, Malaysia, Thailand, and Kazakhstan. These countries all face significant pressure from China to deport Uighurs back to Xinjiang. Washington can send a clear message of support by stepping up and offering P-2 status to Uighurs, which will hopefully strengthen those countries' willingness to accept Uighur refugees within their own borders.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Putin's Corrupt Pipeline Is on Life Support (RYAN TULLY, February 16, 2021, National Review)

The new Biden team has struck the right rhetorical note, arguing that NS2 is "a bad deal for Europe" and promising that the U.S. will not "roll over" for Russia. Since Navalny's arrest and sentencing, key European figures have stepped up their rhetoric as well. Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.K.'s House of Commons, has on multiple occasions advocated for NS2 to be killed. By an overwhelming 581-50 margin, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on the EU to "immediately" halt work on NS2. Even the French, who up until recently backed Germany in support of the project, have changed their tune. When asked earlier this month if France was in favor of abandoning the project, Secretary of State for European Affairs Clément Beaune confirmed that it was. [...]

The easier path forward would be for the Germans to pull the plug, unilaterally ending the pipeline. If it were done in a coherent fashion, and timed to coincide with statements of support from across Europe, this would send a powerful message that Putin's way of doing business will no longer be tolerated in Europe.

The other path forward would be for the United States to kill the pipeline. Contrary to statements from the Kremlin, the bipartisan enactment of sanctions via the 2019 Protecting Europe's Energy Security Act (PEESA) in December 2019 and the 2021 PEESA Clarification Act (PEESCA) has left NS2 on life support. The sanctions have forced the NS2 consortium into delay after delay, which has in turn likely resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns. They've also led company after company to abandon the project, leaving the consortium with an ever-shrinking pool of firms from which to obtain critical services and technical expertise. Moscow and Berlin have responded by claiming that completion of the pipeline is inevitable and can be accomplished in the near term, in a desperate bid to save the project. But that simply isn't the case. Left to do their work, the PEESA/PEESCA sanctions will kill NS2 sooner rather than later.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


EV charging to solar panels: How connected tech is changing the homes we live in (Anmar Frangoul, 2/16/21, CNBC)

Thanks to the proliferation of hardware and software within the home, this trend shows no sign of letting up and comes in many different forms, from indoor air quality monitors to "smart" doorbells which provide us with visual, real-time notifications when someone is attempting to access our property.

Residential renewable electricity generation is also starting to gain traction, with a growing number of people installing solar panels in the hope of reducing bills and their environmental footprint.

In the U.S. alone, the residential solar market installed 738 megawatts of capacity in the third quarter of 2020, a 14% jump compared to the second quarter, according to a recent report from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie.

Earlier this month, California-headquartered SunPower -- which specializes in the design, production and delivery of solar panels and systems -- announced it was rolling out an app which will enable homeowners to assess and manage their energy generation, usage and battery storage settings with their mobile.

The service will be available to customers using its SunPower Eqiunox system and represents yet another instance of how connected technologies can provide us with valuable information about how buildings operate.

Similar offerings in this increasingly crowded marketplace include so-called "smart" meters, which allow consumers to see how much energy they are using and money they are spending in real time.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Corporate America's earnings have already surpassed pre-pandemic levels, Goldman Sachs finds (Steve Goldstein, 2/16/21, Market Watch)

The U.S. is still in the middle of a pandemic, with many schools shut and the daily toll of new COVID-19 cases only recently falling back to five digits. But for Corporate America, the worst may already be in the rearview mirror.

According to Goldman Sachs, earnings per share for S&P 500 companies have actually climbed in the fourth quarter. Granted, it isn't by much -- just 2% year-over-year -- but that compares to expectations they would fall by 11%.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The needless clash between teachers' unions and science is harming America's kids
 The evidence is clear: We can open schools safely now. (Benjamin P. Linas  Feb 15, 2021, Vox)

Millions of students across America have now been stuck in remote learning for nearly a year. This situation, which has hurt learning and widened gaping disparities, is in large part because many teachers fear returning to the classroom in person. But in this past year, we have also learned how we can keep schools open safely.

Educators' anxiety is based on reasonable concerns. Covid-19 is a serious illness. And schools are an indoor group setting with the potential to spread infection. But schools, it turns out, with a few basic safety measures, including masks and reasonable distancing, are not a high-risk venue for Covid-19 transmission. In fact, they appear to have far lower rates of the virus than their surrounding communities. Still, some education union leaders are beginning to lay the foundation for schools remaining shuttered into the 2021-22 school year.

...just jump teachers to the head of the vaccine line, even if it's unnecessary. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ends to a MeansWhy weren't Haredi Jews troubled by Trump's conspiracy-mongering? (SHAUL MAGID, FEBRUARY 16, 2021, The Tablet)

For many of its early architects, Zionism was "messianic" in the naturalized sense. At the time, Jews were often deemed "abnormal" because were a people without a land, and Zionism sought to reestablish Jewish sovereignty in a homeland as part of a process of normalization. While that project had enormous success, apocalyptic tendencies in the tradition very quickly began to rise to the surface, especially in times of turmoil and change, yielding the expectation that the secular state would soon reveal the divine hand that will yield a messianic age. Or that God used sinners (secular Zionists) to do God's redemptive work. This thinking was informed by the Jewish mystical tradition, which is driven by a transformative theology that often feeds apocalyptic thinking. Things are not what they seem.

And of course this apocalypticism is seen in dispensationalist Christianity as well, which is why the symmetry between Jewish Zionist messianism and Christian Zionist dispensationalism is a natural fit. It is no accident that evangelical John Hagee gave the invocation at the U.S. Embassy's move to Jerusalem. As Trump said afterward, "I did this for the evangelicals." On one (Zionist) Christian reading, the Jews may think they are exercising their right of self-determination, but they are really pawns, paving the way for the return of Christ (including the predicted end-time destruction of those Jews who refuse to accept Christ). But (Jewish) Zionists don't care, because for them it is the Christians who are the pawns in the story of their own heroic redemption. Each is conspiratorial in its own way. And they can do business together.

Haredim may not all be Zionists--most are not--but they are increasingly pro-Israel, and they view Israel as an important part of their religious identity, for complex reasons. But setting aside the Israel question, Haredi support for Trump retains some of that underlying feeling of an unseen plan unfolding in unconventional ways. False messianism has plagued Judaism for its entire history. And each time, the rising messianic figure was never a conventional righteous person, but always someone who seemed the opposite. The 17th-century false messiah Sabbatai Zevi was not a righteous scholar but a largely unknown, strange, and psychologically troubled figure of questionable learning and pedigree--whose audacious claim of messianic prophecy stirred almost an entire Jewish population. In the very time between his first messianic proclamation in 1648 and his abrupt conversion to Islam in 1666, much of the Jewish world believed him to be the messiah and prepared for a collective return to Palestine. After his conversion to Islam, many were traumatized, and a smaller group of followers developed an ideology whereby his conversion was part of his messianic vocation. He seemed like he was now a Muslim, but the conversion was, well, "fake news." Some converted with him; others remained Jewish but became clandestine Sabbatean followers (they called themselves "the believers," maminim); and some radical circles determined the time was ripe for sinning as a final act of redemptive behavior. What looked like a sin was really a mitzvah. Many returned to their traditional lives. And yet movements like Hasidism, now a part of normative Judaism and a foundation of Haredi Judaism, emerged in part through Sabbatean influence.

Meanwhile, for QAnon Trump is a kind of messianic savior who will cleanse the country from the evil of the deep state; for some of his followers, he is better understood as a pre-messianic leader who will usher in the return of Christ. Signs at the siege upon the Capitol read "Jesus is my savior," "Trump is my resident." The juxtaposition was not accidental. I have been told by Haredim that Trump is like Cyrus the Great or the conqueror Alexander. In Jewish lore, Cyrus liberated the Jews from the Babylonian exile and facilitated the rebuilding of the Second Jerusalem Temple. He was viewed as a great gentile leader who helped Jews fulfill their covenantal destiny. Why Trump is viewed by some Haredi Trumpists as a modern-day Cyrus is not wholly clear. Moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is hardly Cyrus-like in scope. Nevertheless, Haredim have come to believe that Trump is a transitional gentile leader who will change the course of the country in their favor and will alter Jewish history.

Conspiratorial rhetoric may have moved many Haredim from transactional political actors to citizens who viewed Trump as a kind of Cyrus figure. Reagan was arguably better for the Haredim than Trump, but he never inspired the same kind of enthusiasm. The support for Reagan never reached that level; his support stayed largely in the realm of the transactional.

This is not false messianism. But I am suggesting that there is good reason why this conspiratorial thinking has not been as dissonant for Haredim as it is for many other Jews. Trump's use of conspiratorial thinking has become absorbed in some way in the Haredi world even though most Haredim don't know, or care to know, anything about Q. The more traditional Jewish belief structure comprises elements that, while not conspiratorial per se, function under similar assumptions: reality is not what it seems; things could change very quickly; a sovereign (God) is running the world; there is a plan which is often unseen; a savior will arise to lead the battle against evil. And conspiracy theories, like religions, are not falsifiable.

Donald is "special" because he's the one who shared their desire to deny Palestinians self-determination. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Huge Electric Leadership of a Small California Town (JOE MATHEWS, FEBRUARY 16, 2021, Zocalo Public Square)

Longtime readers of this column will not be surprised to learn that the town in question is Gonzales, the California municipal version of the Little Engine That Could. Its small, working-class population of just 9,000, many of them farmworkers, has ingeniously solved tricky local government problems, from universal broadband to health care access, and from economic planning to child development.

Now Gonzales is tackling one of our state's most stubborn challenges: how to develop local sources of cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable power as our state's aging energy grid falters.

Tiny Gonzales's solution? Creating the largest multi-customer microgrid in California. In essence, Gonzales is building its own electricity island among the vegetable fields of the Central Coast to guarantee uninterrupted power, from mostly renewable sources, for the agricultural and industrial businesses that provide the tax base to support its ambitious local programs.

The idea of microgrids--local power grids that can be separate or connected to the larger grid--is not new. In California, they are seen as tools to make electricity service more resilient and to better integrate renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, with the power grid. But efforts to establish microgrids face complex obstacles, from scarce financing, to regulatory barriers that prevent utility customers from sharing power across different grids, to opposition from established utilities.

What distinguishes Gonzales is how the town is bringing together different entities--a savvy start-up applying advanced technology and financing power to microgrids, big energy customers in agriculture and food processing, a new municipal energy authority, and a method for selling power capacity back into the state grid--to surmount those obstacles.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


In Texas Storm Disaster, Biden Acts As President For All Americans (Laura Clawson, Feb. 15th, 2021, National Memo)

Texas is being battered by a winter storm, causing rolling electrical blackouts while unplowed streets have people trapped at home without heat or water. At least 2.5 million people don't have power in the state, several times the number that lost power during Hurricane Harvey, with record winter demand in the cold weather and turbines and other equipment freezing.

In response, President Biden has approved an emergency declaration, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency "to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures," with 75 percent federal funding.

Oh. So this is what it's like to have a president who considers himself responsible for the whole country, not just the states that voted for him.

By contrast, Donald Trump repeatedly delayed disaster aid to parts of the country he didn't think were sufficiently pro-Trump. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


This technology could transform renewable energy. BP and Chevron just invested (Jack Denton, 2/16/21, Market Watch)

BP and Chevron have made a landmark expansion into geothermal energy on Tuesday, betting on a new technology that could prove to be the world's first scalable clean energy derived from a constant source: the natural heat of the earth, 

The two major oil companies have headlined a $40 million funding round into a Canadian geothermal energy firm called Eavor. Based in Calgary, Eavor has pioneered a new form of technology that could feasibly be deployed in many places around the world.

February 15, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Ireland Turned Around One of the Biggest COVID Spikes in the World (Luke O'Neill, 2/15/21, National Interest)

On December 24, nationwide restrictions were reimposed, and by January 6, Ireland was back into one of the most stringent lockdowns in Europe. The party was well and truly over. Schools and construction sites were closed, click-and-collect for non-essential retail was banned.

On January 26, the government extended the lockdown until March 5 at the earliest. Four days later, it was announced that Ireland had more cases in January than throughout all of 2020.

The total number of COVID-related deaths on December 3 was 2,080. It rose to 3,621 on February 5. This means that almost as many people have died of COVID-19 in the weeks since early December than in the entire time up to that point since the pandemic began. The price of Christmas.

The restrictions worked. On January 11, Ireland had a seven-day moving average of 6,363 cases. And from that peak, it has fallen steadily. On February 6, this had hit 1,035 cases - a decline that is among the fastest in the world. The lack of contact between people is the reason for this.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Pelosi announces plans for 9/11-style commission to examine Capitol riot (Joanna Walters, 15 Feb 2021, The Guardian)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Monday that the US Congress will establish an outside, independent commission to review the "facts and causes" related to the deadly 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump in the waning days of his presidency.

Pelosi said in a letter to members of Congress that the commission would be modeled on a similar one convened after the 11 September 2001, terrorist attack on Washington and New York.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Pro-Life but Anti-Morality (Kimberly Ross, Feb. 15th, 2021, Arc Digital)

While I appreciate the party's longstanding commitment to protecting the unborn, too often they erroneously convey that this exhausts what it means to be a morally conscientious person -- as if being anti-abortion is all they need to achieve the mantle of The Party of Morality. They are dead wrong about this.

Instead of a starting point for decency, the party seems to use their pro-life messaging and status as a technique to get away with deeply immoral behavior, as a way to excuse and overlook other major ethical deficits. At times, the Republican Party has embodied the most jarring of contradictions: a fervency for protecting the unborn with a willful dismissal of the importance of character, charity, and morality itself.

This is what the last five years have shown us -- from the time Donald Trump outmaneuvered other, far more decent people for the Republican nomination in 2015-16, to the January 6, 2021 episode in which a mob stormed the Capitol building during the Electoral College vote certification and proceeded to trespass, destroy property, and threaten lawmakers who were just doing their sworn duty.

When then-candidate Donald Trump emerged on the scene in June 2015, both Democrats and Republicans alike, including and especially those in mainstream spaces, were certain he would not become the nominee for president. Some even encouraged him, certain that a Trump candidacy would spell certain doom for the Republican Party. Once he emerged from the crucible of the 2016 primaries, people on the right fell in line -- previously critical conservatives all of a sudden pledged to support him through thick and thin. A major reason why was abortion.

Most observers knew anywhere from one to three Supreme Court justices were in play across the next four to eight years. This had potentially dramatic ramifications for the pro-life cause. But this also began to give people wide psychological latitude to make peace with the least morally scrupulous presidential candidate in the history of American politics.

For these conservatives, what mattered was (a) Trump would likely nominate better federal judges than Hillary would on the issue of abortion and (b) Trump was very rhetorically aggressive against the Democrats. That's what mattered.

But how many moral issues can you spot there? I count only one: abortion. It seems as if, for many people, the fact that Trump could probably be counted on to be more anti-abortion than his opponent covered a multitude of his sins. Describe Mexicans as rapists? Not to worry, he'll protect the unborn. Viciously mock a disabled reporter? Here's the thing, he's going to nominate someone like Gorsuch. So don't let that stop you from showing enthusiasm for him.

Indeed, for these people, the question of abortion seemed to be exhaustive of morality itself.

...while Donald doesn't oppose abortion at all, the Trumpbots who do would certainly allow it for racial minorities only if they could.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


House Bill Calls for United States to Boycott Beijing Olympics (Adam Kredo - FEBRUARY 15, 2021, Free Beacon)

Rep. Michael Waltz (R., Fla.) introduced a measure on Monday that calls on the United States to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics if they are not moved out of Beijing, China, citing the Communist government's human rights abuses and failure to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Waltz, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a war veteran, said the United States should boycott the games if they are held in China. The resolution calls on the U.S. Olympic Committee to propose a new site outside of China for the 2022 games. If that location is rejected, the "United States Olympic Committee and the Olympic Committees of other countries should withdraw from the 2022 Olympic Games," the resolution says.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Does anybody practice what they preach?What Joss Whedon's downfall tells us about the application of morality (Ben Sixsmith, February 15, 2021, The Spectator)

For conservatives, and people who just hate Whedon's work, there is an element of schadenfreude in the unraveling of his reputation. Whedon, more than anyone, contributed to the popular conception of a 'male feminist' as someone who self-consciously defends women in public while mistreating them in private.

Still, the left have similar archetypes: the priest or evangelical with an unwholesome private life, and the staunch defender of small government who somehow profits from the public purse. I am not just here to aim a kick at Whedon, then, or male feminists in general, but to talk about the difference between having 'good' opinions and being a good person.

It is tempting to assume that if someone advocates your values -- say, order, prudence and tradition if you are on the right, or equality and diversity if you are on the left -- they also put those values into practice in their lives. Perhaps they do. Perhaps they don't. It is also tempting to assume that if our favorite artists create characters we love and work that makes us feel ennobled they must be lovable and noble themselves. Perhaps they are. Perhaps they aren't.

The opinions we express in public, or the values we portray, need not cohere with our private behavior. Graham Greene's Catholic literature, for example, coexisted with prolific womanizing and voracious brothel-hopping. Elton John famously changed the lyrics of the bearded shopaholic John Lennon's 'Imagine' to, 'Imagine six apartments, it isn't hard to do, one is full of fur coats, another's full of shoes.'

In some cases, people defend values they do not practice with the dishonesty of a mountebank who sells a cure he knows is fraudulent. You hope such occurrences are rare. But if people can sell a phony cancer treatment they can sell a phony worldview.

Still, people can really believe something without acting upon it. Human beings are very talented rationalizers. We can excuse our own misbehavior to ourselves. We think, for example, that an immoral act is so ubiquitous -- from sexual impropriety to the wasting of resources -- that our individual behavior makes no difference.

We strain our mental sinews to convince ourselves that our actions are qualitatively different from those we condemn. You bully, I banter. You are dishonest, I spare people's feelings. You are a thief and I am taking what I deserve. More than this, though, I think we tell us ourselves that saying good things makes up for not doing good things -- as if our words, in all their minimal consequentiality, have the power of absolution.

There is no link between insight and virtue. A man's immoral behavior does not invalidate his work. Very bad people can have very good ideas and very good people can have very bad ideas. Very bad people can make very good art and very good people can make very bad art, as there is no necessary link between talent and righteousness. Benvenuto Cellini was a great sculptor in between killing and allegedly raping men. (I am not attempting to equate Whedon and Cellini here. Whedon is obviously not such an evil man, nor such a talented artist.)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Puerto Rico governor expects movement on statehood next month (Alexi McCammond, 2/15/21, Axios)

While the vote for statehood was a narrow one (52% support to 47% against), the governor told "Axios on HBO" it's the best way for Puerto Ricans to receive equal treatment as Americans citizens.

"We need a game changer in Puerto Rico. And one game changer would be that we get equal treatment in key federal programs," Pierluisi said, citing programs like Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit, which aren't available to those living in the U.S. territory.

People who live in Puerto Rico don't have representatives in Congress with full voting power, and they cannot vote for the U.S. president.

"Statehood is not a panacea," Pierluisi said. "Of course we have to do better. But there's no question that having two senators and four representatives in Congress batting for us when needed would make a difference."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden calls on Congress to 'enact commonsense gun law reforms' on third anniversary of Parkland shooting (Nikki Carvajal, Devan Cole and Ali Zaslav, 2/14/21, CNN)

President Joe Biden on Sunday called on Congress to institute "commonsense gun law reforms," including widespread firearm sales background checks and a ban on assault weapons -- highlighting an "epidemic of gun violence" in the US on the third anniversary of the deadly Parkland school shooting.

"Today, I am calling on Congress to enact commonsense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets," Biden said in a statement.

"This administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call," the statement reads. "We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer."

Picking the low fruit--popular measures--is fine for a start.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Progressive And Conservatives Can Back Romney's Child Bill (Mona Charen, Feb. 14th, 2021, National Memo)

Part of the reason our kids are struggling is due to changes in family structure. Though the marriage norm has declined nearly everywhere, the U.S. holds the dubious distinction of leading the developed world in unstable adult relationships. Child Trends reports that the 2017 poverty rate for children in married couple families was 8.4%. For kids in single mother homes, the poverty rate was 40.7%.

Clearly, a return to the two-parent norm (updated to include same-sex marriages) would be ideal. But that is a complicated cultural matter that governments have limited capacity to affect -- except, as the Romney Family Plan envisions, we can at least stop doing the things that penalize marriage. Our system of getting aid to children is convoluted. Because we Americans love to disguise spending as "tax policy," we offer a "child care tax credit" along with a child allowance included in the Earned Income Tax Credit. The poorest families receive TANF. The way the EITC is structured, an analysis for the Niskanen Center demonstrates, can cost couples between 15% and 25% of income if they marry. Also, the child care tax credit, which the Biden administration's proposal would expand, serves as a pass-through to increase prices for providers without helping the average family choose the kind of relative-provided or local child care arrangements that most families prefer. It also preferences paid day care over parental care.

The Romney proposal would sweep away TANF, the tax credits and the rest in favor of a simplified and more generous child allowance of $4,200 per year for children up to age 6, and $3,000 per year for children ages 6-17.

Conservatives worry about the disincentive to work inherent in traditional welfare programs, which reasonable. But part of the old "poverty trap" was not the child allowance per se but the implicit high marginal tax on earnings as parents reentered the workforce. Niskanen points to Canada's experience with a direct child allowance, finding that labor force participation actually increased after their child allowance was increased in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


This Republican Prosecutor Stood Up For Black Lives Matter Protests. Haters Ran Him Out of Office. (Kate Briquelet, Feb. 14, 2021, Daily Beast)

When Arian Noma ran for prosecutor in a rural Washington county in 2018, he was a newcomer who vowed to stop the over-prosecution of crimes and seek bail only when necessary. Standing inside the wood-paneled Okanogan Grange, Noma gripped a microphone and told the crowd, "If you want to make change, I'm your candidate. If you want things to remain the same, I think you know who to vote for."

"As we continue to make regulations and over-regulate our citizens nationwide, over-criminalize everything ... before you know it, we all have badges of conviction," Noma said. "And if you don't have a family member or you yourself or a friend that's been through the system ... you have no idea how difficult it is to function and reintegrate into society."

The 44-year-old Republican wanted to create a reentry support group for people released from incarceration and had other grand ideas, too, which he said would ultimately save taxpayers money. "My office will not only work with law enforcement regarding cases, we will offer trainings, discussions, and other opportunities to cooperate to solve cases together," Noma, a former prosecutor in Maryland, told the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune before winning nearly 60 percent of the vote in Okanogan County. "Rapport and comradery are essential to forging relationships."

But halfway through his four-year term, Noma resigned. In a letter to voters, he cited a "woefully deficient" budget and case backlog as reasons for his departure. One of his deputies was forced to handle more than 200 criminal cases at a time, while another was grappling with 140 cases. Noma described his predicament as fighting "tanks and guns with bows and rocks."

The final straw, Noma continued, was a series of "racially motivated attacks."

Speaking publicly for the first time since his resignation, Noma--whose ancestry includes Black, Native American and Filipino heritage--told The Daily Beast that he believes the online harassment campaign had help from law enforcement and county colleagues, including people within his own office.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Separatists Grow Majority in Spain's Catalonia Despite Socialist Win (Associated Press, February 14, 2021)

The pro-union Socialist Party appeared set to claim a narrow win in regional elections in Catalonia late Sunday, but the bloc of parties supporting secession by Spain's northeastern corner were widening their control of the regional parliament.

With 95% of the votes counted, the three main parties pledging to carve out an independent Catalan state were likely to increase their number of seats in the regional parliament to 74. In 2017, those same parties won 70 seats of the 135-seat chamber, just two above the majority.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The 12 Best Cities for Remote WorkersBlazing fast internet? Low cost of living? High quality of life? These under-the-radar cities have it all. (JESSICA STILLMAN, 2/15/21, INC.)

Just about everyone can agree that freelancers and employees newly liberated from cramped, expensive coastal cities by widespread remote work are relocating in droves. What's less clear is where they're going. 

Buzzy cities such as Austin and Miami are monopolizing the media's attention (including reports from those who made the move to these hot spots and regretted it). But recent data actually paints a different picture. While high profile-cities are certainly welcoming new residents, the places that seem to be attracting the most coastal refugees are actually less glamorous metros like Cleveland and Hartford, Connecticut.  

This suggests there's a healthy appetite out there for lower cost, under-the-radar relocation options that offer affordable housing, lifestyle perks, and remote worker-friendly amenities. PC Mag wants to help you find these undersung remote work cities. 

Most expensive cities hardest hit.

February 14, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


New Machine Learning Theory Raises Questions About the Very Nature of Science (PRINCETON PLASMA PHYSICS LABORATORY, FEBRUARY 12, 2021)

The process also appears in philosophical thought experiments like John Searle's Chinese Room. In that scenario, a person who did not know Chinese could nevertheless "translate" a Chinese sentence into English or any other language by using a set of instructions, or rules, that would substitute for understanding. The thought experiment raises questions about what, at root, it means to understand anything at all, and whether understanding implies that something else is happening in the mind besides following rules.

Qin was inspired in part by Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom's philosophical thought experiment that the universe is a computer simulation. If that were true, then fundamental physical laws should reveal that the universe consists of individual chunks of space-time, like pixels in a video game. "If we live in a simulation, our world has to be discrete," Qin said. The black box technique Qin devised does not require that physicists believe the simulation conjecture literally, though it builds on this idea to create a program that makes accurate physical predictions.

The resulting pixelated view of the world, akin to what is portrayed in the movie The Matrix, is known as a discrete field theory, which views the universe as composed of individual bits and differs from the theories that people normally create. While scientists typically devise overarching concepts of how the physical world behaves, computers just assemble a collection of data points. 

Qin and Eric Palmerduca, a graduate student in the Princeton University Program in Plasma Physics, are now developing ways to use discrete field theories to predict the behavior of particles of plasma in fusion experiments conducted by scientists around the world. The most widely used fusion facilities are doughnut-shaped tokamaks that confine the plasma in powerful magnetic fields.

Fusion, the power that drives the sun and stars, combines light elements in the form of plasma -- the hot, charged state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei that represents 99% of the visible universe -- to generate massive amounts of energy. Scientists are seeking to replicate fusion on Earth for a virtually inexhaustible supply of power to generate electricity.

"In a magnetic fusion device, the dynamics of plasmas are complex and multi-scale, and the effective governing laws or computational models for a particular physical process that we are interested in are not always clear," Qin said. "In these scenarios, we can apply the machine learning technique that I developed to create a discrete field theory and then apply this discrete field theory to understand and predict new experimental observations."

This process opens up questions about the nature of science itself. Don't scientists want to develop physics theories that explain the world, instead of simply amassing data? Aren't theories fundamental to physics and necessary to explain and understand phenomena?

Science is technique, not theory. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


The role of officer race and gender in police-civilian interactions in Chicago (Bocar A. Ba, Dean Knox, Jonathan Mummolo, Roman Rivera, 12 Feb 2021, Science)

In the wake of high-profile police shootings of Black Americans, it is important to know whether the race and gender of officers and civilians affect their interactions. Ba et al. overcame previous data constraints and found that Hispanic and Black officers make far fewer stops and arrests and use force less than white officers, especially against Black civilians. These differences are largest in majority-Black neighborhoods in the city of Chicago (see the Perspective by Goff). Female officers also use less force than male officers. These effects are supportive of the efficacy of increasing diversity in police forces.

More policing, just not by the police. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


This is Trump's heaping list of legal problems post-impeachment (Kara Scannell, Sonia Moghe and Jason Morris, February 14, 2021, CNN)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander review - clear-eyed and distressing  (Colin Grant, 23 Jul 2019, The Guardian)

In 2008, months before his election as president, Barack Obama assailed feckless black fathers who had reneged on responsibilities that ought not "to end at conception". Where had all the black fathers gone, Obama wondered. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander has a simple answer to their whereabouts: they've gone to jail.

Her clear-eyed assessment, published in the UK almost a decade after it first stunned America, is an indictment of a society that, since the 1980s, has been complicit in the explosion of its prison population from around 300,000 to more than 2 million. Drug convictions have largely fuelled the increase, and an extraordinary number of those new felons have been black. This is not coincidental. The Reagan administration's "war on drugs" shifted the legal goalposts, Alexander asserts, so that mass incarceration "emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-designed system of racialised social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow".

In the years following the civil war southern legislators designed "Jim Crow" laws to thwart the newly emancipated black population, notably curbing voting rights. Under the laws, black people also, increasingly, found themselves "relegated to convict leasing camps that were, in many ways, worse than slavery". If Jim Crow was an effective means of controlling the black population, then modern mass incarceration, Alexander argues, is its successor.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Democratic values compete with Buddhist ones in Myanmar (Mark Silk, Feb. 13th, 2021, RNS)

Briefly, Burmese Buddhism understands political legitimacy as derived from a species of spiritual potency called hpoun. The source of hpoun is the monastic order, or Sangha, which acquires it by renouncing power and forswearing worldly things.

Political leaders, like everyone else outside the Sangha, obtain hpoun through their support of the Sangha, emblemized by placing of food in the monks' begging bowls. In this system of what Jordt calls "karmic kingship" (the title of her forthcoming book), hpoun is what differentiates a good (legitimate) ruler from a bad (illegitimate) one. 

Although monks are required to be apolitical, they do have the right to act in order to protect the teachings of the Buddha. They do this by refusing accept food donations from those they believe have violated those teachings. By "turning over the bowl," they withhold hpoun.

That is just what happened in 2007, during public protests over an unannounced removal of fuel subsidies by the military government.

After a brutal crackdown on several hundred monks who had joined the protests in the name of relieving human suffering (a core Buddhist teaching), tens of thousands of monks protested this assault on religion by marching through the streets holding their bowls upside down. In the end, junta leader Than Shwe earned the title "Monk Killer," lost his legitimacy, and in 2011 resigned the position of head of state he had held since 1992.

Not surprisingly, the military was anything but happy with this development. So they did what Burmese leaders in similar situations had always done: denounced those who denied them hpoun as false monks and found monks who would support them.

The campaign against the Rohingya was spearheaded by one of the latter, who sold the campaign to the Burmese public as all about preserving Buddhism against alien religious power and influence.

None of this is to say that Western ideas of democracy and human rights have been absent in Myanmar. In 2007, some younger Burmans, including monks, embraced them -- but their standard-bearer, Aung San Suu Kyi, only up to a point.

The daughter of the martyred independence leader Aung San, Suu Kyi spent 15 years in house detention as head of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party whose landslide electoral victory in 1990 the generals refused to accept. Despite the name, the party has been less pro-democracy than anti-dictator -- in traditional Burmese terms, opposed to illegitimate kingship.

According to Jordt, the arrangement of shared civilian-military rule that has just been overthrown was a diarchy, an awkward shared rule that pitted Senior General Min Aung Hlaing against civilian leader Suu Kyi. The coup led by Min Aung Hlaing was grounded in his hope that, at age 75, her power was on the wane.

His own current effort has been to build up his hpoun by donating to monks and important pagodas, and consulting with the monastic leadership. He is seeking to demonstrate that the entire country, supernatural as well as natural, is with him and that he is the legitimate ruler in the traditional way. It remains to be seen whether he can bring the Sangha with him. 

This time around, however, exposure to social media has made the Burmese people far more aware and supportive of democracy as such. Gen Z has been at the forefront of a civil disobedience movement far more inclusive than anything that occurred in the past.

As Ike put it: 

And this is how they [the Founding Fathers in 1776] explained those: 'we hold that all men are endowed by their Creator...' not by the accident of their birth, not by the color of their skins or by anything else, but 'all men are endowed by their Creator'. In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don't care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men are created equal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ben Sasse's Conviction: Trump's Lies Caused This (CHARLES C. W. COOKE, February 13, 2021, National Review)

What happened on January 6 of this year, Senator Ben Sasse told me on Monday night, represented "one of the most egregious Article II attacks on Article I in all of U.S. history."

For Sasse, who was one of only six Republican senators to argue that the impeachment was constitutionally sound, at stake in the trial was nothing less than the integrity of the Constitution itself.

"This is not," he told me, "really about Donald Trump. It is really about a signal to future office holders about what kind of behavior is appropriate." After all: "The old meaning -- the nonpolitical meaning -- of the word impeach, to impeach someone's character, is to decry certain kinds of behavior."

Sasse, the junior senator from Nebraska, was among the seven GOP senators who voted to convict Trump on "incitement of insurrection" Saturday. In a series of interviews with National Review over several days leading up to that vote, Sasse sought to explain his thinking. The question at hand, he contended on day one of the impeachment trial, should be seen as "chiefly an Article I vs. Article II conflict, not chiefly as a partisan tribal conflict.

"The president is supposed to be not the just barely-smaller-than-King executive figure in the American system," Sasse told me. "It's supposed to be an administrative job where you faithfully execute the laws. When you're affirming the peaceful transition of power and the Article II branch tries to stir people up by sowing more distrust in that, I have a really hard historical time coming up with anything analogous in terms of an Article II attack on the constitutional order. That is an unbelievably egregious attack on a constitutional system."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden Is Already Uniting America -- His Agenda Is Wildly Popular (Eric Boehlert, Feb. 13th, 2021, National Memo)

He began his presidency 25 points more popular than Trump, and then began signing a flurry of executive orders designed to eradicate his predecessor's most divisive policies. While Republicans whined about the moves not "uniting" the country, polling show that many of Biden's executive orders enjoy overwhelming public support. They include banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation (83 percent support), requiring masks be worn on federal property (75 percent), overturning the ban on transgender people being able to serve in the military (71 percent), restarting the federal DACA program to protect undocumented "Dreamer" children (65 percent), rejoining the World Health Organization (62 percent), and rejoining the Paris climate according (59 percent).

The list goes on and on as Biden forges a path with policy markers that unify the country.

That includes the proposed Covid relief bill. Depicted in the press as being a deeply partisan and divisive issue, simply because the Republican Party stands opposed to the Democratic legislation, the bill enjoys sweeping support nationwide. Nearly 80 percent of Americans support sending $1,400 checks, 79 percent support federal assistance for state and local governments, and 73 percent are in favor of extending unemployment benefits.

There's a reason Donald lost twice by a total of 13 million votes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


FBI Informant Panic Is Ruining Friendships All Over the Far Right (Will Sommer, Kelly Weill, Feb. 13th, 2021, Daily Beast)

In the Trumpist "America First" movement and the far-right paramilitary group the Proud Boys, alliances are fracturing as extremists brand each other as potential informants. Now racist live-streamers are accusing their former comrades of attempting to turn over followers to law enforcement, while Proud Boys chapters are splintering from the national organization over similar fears. [...]

[T]he federal heat is on after Fuentes received roughly $250,000 in a much-scrutinized bitcoin transfer, then appeared outside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot. The FBI is reportedly investigating the bitcoin transfer, though Fuentes has not faced charges over the money or the riot.

On Thursday, Casey distanced himself from Fuentes and America First in a live-streamed video, slamming Fuentes' decision to gather his followers in Orlando later this month for a conference right as other America First supporters face charges over the riot.

"Some people who were at the Capitol are going to flip," Casey said in his video.

Declaring the aftermath of the Capitol riot "a million times worse" for the far right than the crackdown that followed the fatal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, Casey claimed, without offering evidence, that Fuentes' bank accounts have been frozen by federal authorities. He also accused Fuentes of planning to drive cross-country, rather than fly, to the Florida conference because he suspected he was on the federal no-fly list, then concealing that possibility from his followers.

Worst of all, Casey argued, Fuentes planned to gather all of his supporters in Orlando, where they could be easily recorded by federal investigators or informants. He went on to suggest America First's members would see the conference for what he thinks it could be: an FBI trap.

"He wants you to give him your real name, to show up to his event where your face will be visible, where your cellphone data will be in close proximity to his," Casey said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Vermont study finds traffic stops of Black drivers outpace Black population in Upper Valley towns (ANNA MERRIMAN, 2/13/21, Valley News)

Police in Hartford, Woodstock and Royalton stopped Black drivers at rates that rival the statewide average of the percentage of Black drivers who are pulled over, according to a study released last month by the University of Vermont.

Still, stops by Hartford and Woodstock police significantly exceeded the rate that would ordinarily be expected given the number of Black people living in the two towns.

February 13, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 10:52 AM


Senate votes to hear witnesses in 55-45 vote -- with 5 GOP senators siding with Democrats (Matthew Chapman, February 13, 2021, Raw Story)

In a fast-moving vote, GOP Senators Murkowski, Romney, Collins, Sasse and Graham voted with a bloc of Democratic Party senators to enable House Impeachment Managers to call witnesses at the second Senate Impeachment trial of former President Donald John Trump

PRESS RELEASES: Herrera Beutler Again Confirms Conversation with McCarthy Regarding January 6 U.S. Capitol Attack (Washington, February 12, 2021)

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03) today released the following statement confirming again a conversation with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy regarding the January 6 U.S. Capitol attack:

"In my January 12 statement in support of the article of impeachment, I referenced a conversation House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy relayed to me that he'd had with President Trump while the January 6 attack was ongoing. Here are the details:

"When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the president initially repeated the falsehood that it was antifa that had breached the Capitol. McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That's when, according to McCarthy, the president said: 'Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.'

"Since I publicly announced my decision to vote for impeachment, I have shared these details in countless conversations with constituents and colleagues, and multiple times through the media and other public forums.

"I told it to the Daily News of Longview on January 17. I've shared it with local county Republican executive board members, as well as other constituents who ask me to explain my vote. I shared it with thousands of residents on my telephone town hall on February 8.

"To the patriots who were standing next to the former president as these conversations were happening, or even to the former vice president: if you have something to add here, now would be the time."

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM



We're obviously in favour of such Smithian solutions, even as we'd note that it's really Arthur C Pigou under discussion.  Stick the one crowbar into the price system and we're done. As to what the price should be:

The Stern-Stiglitz High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices three years ago opted for a range of $40 to $80, rising to $50 to $100 by 2030. That is the global gold standard. But facts on the ground have already run ahead. 

"We think $50 will do the job," said Kingsmill Bond from Carbon Tracker. "Large numbers are a pipedream that makes it less likely to happen. All you need is a realistic signal and markets will come forward with technologies nobody has even thought of."

Quite so. Bill Nordhaus got the Nobel for suggesting one variant of this, Nick Stern his peerage for another. The revenue neutral carbon tax is the solution to the problem as described.

The thing to really note though is how cheap this is. UK emissions are around the 500 million tonnes a year level. $50 a tonne means $25 billion, or between friends, let us call that £20 billion. Or about 3 or 4% of our current total tax take.

Note that we do not need to charge that much more in tax - revenue neutral is the point here. Instead we just need to shift what we tax.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


'We've always talked about the big one': Riot squad cops open up about disastrous response to Capitol insurrection (Pro Publica, February 13, 2021)

Over the last several weeks, ProPublica has interviewed 19 current and former U.S. Capitol Police officers about the assault on the Capitol. Following on the dramatic video of officers defending the building that House lawmakers showed during the first day of the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, the interviews provide the most detailed account to date of a most extraordinary battle.

The enemies on Jan. 6 were Americans: thousands of people from across the country who had descended on the Capitol, intent on stopping Congress from certifying an election they believed was stolen from Trump. They had been urged to attend by Trump himself, with extremist right-wing and militia leaders calling for violence.

Many of the officers were speaking to reporters for the first time about the day's events, almost all anonymously for fear of retribution. That they spoke at all is an indication of the depth of their frustration over the botched response. ProPublica also obtained confidential intelligence bulletins and previously unreported planning documents.

Combined, the information makes clear how failures of leadership, communication and tactics put the lives of hundreds of officers at risk and allowed rioters to come dangerously close to realizing their threats against members of Congress.

In response to questions for this story, the Capitol Police sent a one-sentence email: "There is a multi-jurisdictional investigation underway and in order to protect that process, we are unfortunately unable to provide any comment at this time."

The interviews also revealed officers' concerns about disparities in the way the force prepared for Black Lives Matter demonstrations versus the pro-Trump protests on Jan. 6. Officers said the Capitol Police force usually plans intensively for protests, even if they are deemed unlikely to grow violent. Officers said they spent weeks working 12- or 16-hour days, poised to fight off a riot, after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police -- even though intelligence suggested there was not much danger from protesters.

"We had intel that nothing was going to happen -- literally nothing," said one former official with direct knowledge of planning for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. "The response was, 'We don't trust the intel.'"

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Trump's COVID response was deadly -- but decades of dreadful, racist policy set up the catastrophe (IGOR DERYSH, FEBRUARY 13, 2021, Salon)

Months into Trump's presidency, dozens of medical experts formed a commission to study the health impacts of his policies for The Lancet, a highly-respected British medical journal.  The Lancet Commission on Public Policy and Health in the Trump Era found that roughly 40% of coronavirus deaths in the United States could have been prevented if the average death rate matched that of other wealthy nations.

"We became concerned that even within a few weeks of him coming into office he had started to implement policies which we thought would be deadly," Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a health policy expert at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College and co-chair of the commission, said in an interview with Salon. "And now that we're in 2021, we have actual data and, in fact, his policy has been very deadly."

Instead of galvanizing the public to fight the pandemic, the report said, Trump "publicly dismissed its threat (despite privately acknowledging it), discouraged action as infection spread, and eschewed international cooperation."

"His refusal to develop a national strategy worsened shortages of personal protective equipment and diagnostic tests," the researchers added. "President Trump politicized mask-wearing and school re-openings and convened indoor events attended by thousands, where masks were discouraged and physical distancing was impossible."

But the commission went further, finding that life expectancy in the U.S. has diverged from other major industrial nations since the 1980s, despite continuous economic growth. As a result, the country sees more unnecessary deaths each year than all the 2020 coronavirus deaths combined.

"In 2018, 461,000 Americans died who would still be alive if our life expectancy were as long as in other wealthy nations," Woolhandler said. "So COVID killed about 400,000 people in 2020, which was horrible. But every single year, the United States was losing that many people relative to other developed nations, because our policymakers had failed to create the conditions for health."

There's little doubt that the coronavirus pandemic and Trump's mismanagement has significantly worsened that trend, particularly in communities of color. The pandemic has increased the life expectancy gap between Black and white people by more than 50%, the report said. The average Latino life expectancy in the U.S. has fallen by 3.5 years since the start of the pandemic.

"Overall, in the USA, Black and Latinx people have incurred more total years of potential life lost than white people because of COVID-19, although the white population is three to four times larger," the researchers wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


UAE ambassador to Washington 'yelled' at US representative opposing Yemen war (New Arab, 13 February, 2021)

Ro Khanna was a leading sponsor of the war powers resolution aimed at ending Washington's support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE's war efforts in war-torn Yemen.Tags:Yousef al Otaiba, UAE, US, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, yell, yelling, diplomacy, human rights, Yemen war,

UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba shouted at Democrat representative Ro Khanna during a meeting, expressing his anger towards Khanna's push to end US military backing for the destructive war in Yemen.
Khanna was a leading sponsor of the war powers resolution aimed at ending Washington's support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE's war efforts in war-torn Yemen.

"I've never had an ambassador of another country come to my office and literally yell at me, but that's what I had with the ambassador to UAE," the California representative said in an interview with The Intercept's podcast Deconstructed, referring to Otaiba.

"I was just taken away," Khanna said. "It led me to think that there's a real arrogance, a real sense of entitlement, a sense that he thought himself so powerful that he could act that way. And I've never really seen that before."

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Kahanism is now Israel's mainstream (Asa Winstanley, February 13, 2021, Middle East Monitor)

Rabbi Meir Kahane is considered something of a prophet by the Israeli right-wing.

He openly advocated expelling all Palestinians from historic Palestine between the river and the sea - what he called "the Land of Israel".

"The Jews and Arabs of the Land of Israel ultimately cannot coexist," he wrote in his 1981 manifesto, They Must Go. "There is only one path for us to take: the immediate transfer of Arabs from Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel."

Although liberal Israeli elites still view Kahane as a fanatic extremist, the reality is that Kahanism has today gone mainstream in Israel.

The latest sign of that came last week, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brokered a merger agreement between two far-right parties in next month's general election, to form the "Religious Zionism" list.

Former Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich united with fanatical Kahanist settler and lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir of the "Jewish Power" party. In return, Netanyahu offered Smotrich a vote-sharing agreement and chairs on the judicial appointments committee. Netanyahu wanted to avoid the right-wing vote being split too much, which would have damaged his chances of forming a ruling coalition.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Senator Graham's Call with State Official Part of Election Probe, Report Says (Reuters, February 13, 2021)

 A prosecutor from the southern U.S. state of Georgia plans to examine a phone call between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Georgia's secretary of state as part of a criminal investigation into whether former President Donald Trump or his allies broke state law in trying to influence the results of the election, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will look into the call Graham made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger 10 days after the Nov. 3 election, the Post reported, citing an unnamed person familiar with the probe.

February 12, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Free trade and free labor markets (Scott Sumner, Feb. 12th, 2021, econ Lib)

Economists typically evaluate issues from both an equity and efficiency perspective.  Many economists favor policies that maximize efficiency (making the pie as large as possible), combined with some redistribution to compensate the losers.  Thus they favor free trade, combined with a program to help workers that lose their jobs due to import competition.

Oddly, Peter Coy seems to think this analogy points in the direction of boosting the minimum wage.  Exactly the opposite is true.  If we wanted to match the standard economic approach to international trade, we'd abolish the minimum wage and replace it with some sort of subsidy for low wage workers.  Even if that were politically impossible, you would definitely not want a $15 minimum wage.  A much superior policy would be a $10 minimum wage combined with a $5/hour wage subsidy, where the subsidy phases out at the rate of 50 cents/hour for each $1/hour pay raise, ending entirely when pay reaches $20/hour. 

...its distribution is a political question. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Kyrsten Sinema Joins Joe Manchin in Rebuking $15 Minimum Wage  (NATALIE COLAROSSI, 2/12/21, Newsweek)

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat, has rejected inclusion of a $15 minimum wage in President Joe Biden's coronavirus stimulus package, dashing hopes for progressive lawmakers who are pushing for the raise.

Sinema joined Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a fellow moderate from West Virginia, in publicly rebuking the idea that raising the minimum wage is appropriate amid the ongoing stimulus bill negotiations.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Here's Biden's plan to reboot climate innovation: It includes developing cheaper and better ways to capture carbon emissions or draw them out of the atmosphere. (James Temple, February 11, 2021, MIT Technology Review)

The Biden administration announced its third major climate effort on Thursday, February 11, rolling out initiatives to accelerate innovation in clean energy and climate technology.

The White House has formed a working group to help set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C), which Biden pledged to create during the campaign. Its mission will be to accelerate progress in tough technical areas, likely including technologies that can capture, remove, and store carbon dioxide as well as heating and cooling products that don't rely on highly potent greenhouse gases.

In addition, the Department of Energy plans to provide $100 million in funding for low-carbon energy projects through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a group funded in the first Obama administration to support clean energy technologies that aren't far enough along to form businesses or attract traditional venture capital.

The move could help revitalize a favorite target of the Trump administration, which repeatedly tried to eliminate ARPA-E's budget during the last four years. Congress, however, consistently maintained or even slightly raised its funding.

How the U.S. government bolstered Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine candidate (Brian Buntz | November 23, 2020, DDD)

The race to develop COVID vaccines has roots stretching back to the terrorist attacks on September 11 and the anthrax attacks that followed in the subsequent weeks. The events led the National Academy of Sciences to convene a set of committees to examine the twin threats of terrorism and pandemics. The committees "concluded that we were enormously vulnerable and we had to do a lot of different things [to] protect the country," said Bloom, who co-chaired a bioterrorism panel for the National Academy of Sciences at the time.

In 2002, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) first appeared in China and took hold internationally within months. Effective public health interventions prevented SARS from becoming a pandemic.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) established the National Pandemic Influenza Plan to provide a blueprint for pandemic response. "At some point in our nation's future, another virus will emerge with the potential to create a global disease outbreak," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt at the time.

The pandemic plan stressed the importance of antiviral drugs and vaccines. "It is a wonderful plan," Bloom noted. But before COVID-19 hit, the report had "disappeared in a drawer somewhere in Washington," he added.

But the U.S. government's focus on vaccines to combat pandemics likely played a role in spurring further research into novel vaccine platforms.

Government agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) would play a role in vaccine development. DARPA "invests in very long term science and technology [projects] that will pay off in 20 years," Bloom said.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) developed a stabilized SARS-CoV-2 spike immunogen (S-2P) that Moderna would later use in its messenger RNA platform.

DARPA was instrumental in the development of RNA vaccines and provided $25 million in financial support to Moderna in 2013 to pursue messenger RNA-based antibody drugs and vaccines. DARPA announced it was committing up to $56 million in additional funding to Moderna this October.

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Gina Carano and the hypocrisy of Hollywood: Why should a film star be sacked over her political opinions, however dumb or insensitive? (Tom Slater, 2/12/21, Spectator)

In the since-deleted post, she said:

Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbours... even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don't realise that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews.

She rounded off her little history lesson with a warning for today:

How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?

Given Carano is a conservative, who has previously echoed Trumpist views about voter fraud and mocked mask-wearing, it has understandably been interpreted as her comparing the plight of right-wingers to that of 1930s German Jews.

That this was not a good look is putting it lightly. Using the greatest crime in history to score points against one's political opponents is grotesque. It risks diluting the unique horror of the Holocaust. US liberals hardly hold the moral high ground on this point; they've been shouting 'Trump is Hitler' for years now. But that doesn't make what Carano said any less stupid.

But why should a film star be sacked over her political opinions, even if some of those opinions are dumb and insensitively expressed? 

Why should a company be required to employ someone whose values are antithetical to theirs and who is damaging to the brand? 

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Nikki Haley's Time for Choosing: The 2024 hopeful can't decide who she wants to be--the leader of a post-Trump GOP or a "friend" to the president who tried to sabotage democracy. (TIM ALBERTA, 2/12/21, Politico)

Walking out of the White House in the fall of 2018, Haley thought the worst was behind her.

No more briefings on presidential tweets. No more knife-fighting with administration officials. No more worrying that Trump would torpedo her career. Settling back into her beloved South Carolina after a 22-month stint in New York, equipped with a big boat and a luxury home and $200,000 speaking gigs galore, Haley counted her winnings. Joining the Trump administration had been a massive gamble, and she hit the jackpot--not merely emerging unscathed from a gauntlet that maimed many of her contemporaries, but looking all the smarter and sturdier for it. She had gained rare foreign policy experience, nailed the role of adult in the room and raised her visibility in front of donors and voters alike. Her political future wasn't just intact; it was brighter than ever before.

But there is no expiration date on a Faustian bargain. Haley knew from the moment she agreed to work for Trump, a man whose character she had lampooned mercilessly during his run for president, that she would never be rid of him. She knew that the scars of her own life story--from watching her immigrant family ridiculed, to being called a "raghead" by a fellow state lawmaker, to burying nine Black parishioners who were slaughtered by a white supremacist inside their Charleston church--were perpetually at risk of being ripped open by the president she allied herself with.

"Haley is in the same position as all these other Republicans who jumped on the Trump Train," said Chip Felkel, a longtime South Carolina GOP strategist. "Some of this s[***], you can never get clean from it. People will remember."

Since last fall, I've spent nearly six hours talking with Haley on-the-record. I've also spoken with nearly 70 people who know her: friends, associates, donors, staffers, former colleagues. From those conversations, two things are clear. First, Nikki Haley is going to run for president in 2024. Second, she doesn't know which Nikki Haley will be on the ballot. Will it be the Haley who has proven so adaptive and so canny that she might accommodate herself to the dark realities of a Trump-dominated party? Will it be the Haley who is combative and confrontational and had a history of giving no quarter to xenophobes? Or will it be the Haley who refuses to choose between these characters, believing she can be everything to everyone?

Every effective president has run because they wanted to do something, not just because they wanted to be president. It's why there have been so few and why Joe's presidency is nearly over. 

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Stimulus checks are so 19th Century: Give Americans automatic, electronic cash (Mark Blyth, 2/12/21, MarketWatch)

First, checks. Really? Practically every American has a smartphone. There are tons of banking apps from Paypal to Zelle to Venmo. The U.S. Treasury has a website called Treasury Direct that allows anyone to set up an account to buy Treasury bills and bonds. The government could simply reverse the direction of those transactions and send cash from the Treasury to those account holders. No holdups in the mail. No missing addresses. Best of all, we could make it recurring. 

We have all heard about the "K-shaped" economic recovery that the U.S. is experiencing. The top 20% of U.S. society commands 80% of the wealth. Whenever that is threatened by a market crash or a pandemic, the Fed swings into action to provide "support" for those markets. What that really means is buying lots of bonds and flooding banks and businesses with cash to stabilize them. The Fed can even promise to buy certain types of assets, such as corporate bonds, to stabilize their price.

The Fed is able to do this because its "pipes" flow from the Fed to the big banks and then out to big firms. The Treasury, what the rest of us rely on, has no pipes, hence the checks. This is not only unfair -- boosting the price of assets held by society's richest citizens while telling the vast majority to wait for a check is a first-rate inequality booster. It's also harmful and needlessly expensive. Recognizing this, we should rethink our financial plumbing and the purpose of our pandemic response. Not just for this crisis, but for the future.  [...]

Second, rather than pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking and corporate sectors, somehow hoping that this will impact employment, let's make these insurance payments electronic, automatic and targeted at families up to the 60th percentile of the income distribution.

Congress can set an employment target such that when U.S. unemployment reaches a certain level the Treasury automatically sends out checks. When the target goes back to its pre-recession peak, the checks automatically stop. This would impact families directly, and given that they will spend what they receive it will not all end up pumping up an asset bubble and ever greater inequality with it. This would be far cheaper than what we currently do and far more effective. It would give the Fed less to do and target Treasury resources far more effectively. Worried about cost or even future inflation? Easy. Once we return to the target, raise taxes. Both problems are solved. 

Direct payments to families are effective. The first check issued in the spring of 2020 was a primary reason that U.S. poverty fell at the start of the recession. 

And use the electronic system for voting, taxes, etc. 

How Estonia became an e-government powerhouse (Nick Heath, February 19, 2019, CXO)

The European country of Estonia is steeped in history--it's home to the best-preserved medieval capital in Northern Europe. But in the 21st century, Estonia is perhaps most famous for looking to the future, thanks to building an impressive system of e-government.

Estonia is among the elite group of countries in the highest echelons of the UN's E-Government Development Index (EDGI), with its citizens and public servants able to access a wide range of services online using secure digital IDs, including making payments, accessing full health records, and internet voting.

Estonia has been building out its e-government since the mid-90s, not long after declaring independence from the Soviet Union. The program continues to make headlines with bold new digital initiatives, such as its e-residency program, which gives anyone living anywhere in the world the ability to receive a government-issued digital ID and full access to Estonia's public e-services.

Today, 99% of the public services are available online 24/7, 30% of Estonians use i-Voting, and the country estimates the reduced bureaucracy has saved 800 years of working time.

February 11, 2021

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Portland police not meeting federal requirements on use of force, training, Justice Department finds (Maxine Bernstein , 2/11/21, The Oregonian)

U.S. Department of Justice lawyers say Portland police no longer meet four key reforms required under a settlement agreement adopted seven years ago after federal investigators found officers used excessive force against people with mental illness.

They cited inappropriate use and management of force during protests last year, inadequate training, subpar police oversight and a failure to adequately share an annual Police Bureau report with the public as required.

Police used force during last year's mass protests that violated bureau policy, with officers conflating active versus passive resistance as the basis for firing rubber bullets and other less-lethal impact munitions, according to a new Justice Department review filed in federal court Wednesday.

Supervisors frequently failed to investigate or analyze their officers' use of force, gave blanket approval of force with no real analysis and often "cut-and-paste" identical or similar language into their reviews, the report said.

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Biden: 'China Going to Eat Our Lunch' Unless US Moves on Infrastructure (Steve Herman, February 11, 2021, VOA News)

During his four years in office, President Donald Trump and his Republican administration repeatedly highlighted so-called "infrastructure weeks" that ultimately resulted in few big projects moving down the line.

On Thursday, Trump's successor, Democrat Joe Biden, hosted his first infrastructure event, inviting a bipartisan group of senators to the Oval Office to "try to see if we come to some kind of generic consensus about how to begin."

Biden, who said he spoke Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping for two hours, made note during his Thursday meeting with the four senators of China's massive infrastructure investments.

"If we don't get moving, they're going to eat our lunch," said Biden of the Chinese. "They have major, major new initiatives on rail. And they already have rail that goes 225 miles an hour with ease.  ... They're working very hard to do what I think we're going to have to do."

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


From Israeli prison, Barghouti mulls presidency bid, turning up heat on Abbas (AARON BOXERMAN, 2/11/21, Times of Israel)

Security prisoner Marwan Barghouti, widely seen as a rival to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, is considering running in the scheduled Palestinian presidential elections, a close associate of his confirmed Thursday.

"Our comrade Marwan is considering the possibility, but he has not yet made a decision either way," former Palestinian legislator Qaddura Fares said in a phone call.

Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for his role planning deadly terror attacks against Israelis in the Second Intifada, is popular among Palestinians and is widely seen as a possible successor to Abbas.

According to opinion polling, the aging PA leader -- who is his Fatah movement's presumptive nominee -- would likely lose to Barghouti in a faceoff.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


Biden Is Planning To Bring Back Immigrants Who Were Forced To Wait In Dangerous Mexican Border Towns (Hamed Aleaziz, 2/11/21, BuzzFeed News)

Immigrants who were forced by former president Donald Trump to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexico while they tried to gain asylum will soon start being allowed to enter the US at certain ports as the Biden administration attempts to wind down the controversial policy, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The unprecedented effort, which is expected to be rolled out within the next two weeks, is the beginning of President Joe Biden's promise to end the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" policy -- formally known as the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP). The policy led to tens of thousands of asylum-seekers being forced to stay in Mexico as they waited for their day in a US court. Often left with nowhere to go but squalid camps in Mexican border towns, human rights advocates reported cases of the immigrants being kidnapped, raped, and tortured.

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Harvard researchers have calculated how many unnecessary deaths the Trump administration left behind ( ARIANNE COHEN, 2/11/21, Fast Company)

The Trump administration leaves a devastating health legacy far beyond COVID-19, according to a new study in The Lancet by 33 researchers, led by professors at Harvard Medical School and the University of California at San Francisco.

The report finds that the Trump administration's health policies resulted in 461,000 unnecessary U.S. deaths annually--in addition to 40% of America's COVID-19 deaths thus far, plus 22,000 avoidable deaths annually from environmental policies.

The authors paint a damning picture of Trump politics, concluding that he purposely sought struggling white voters, and then backed policies that threatened their health: He earned his largest 2016 electoral margins in counties with the county's worst mortality statistics, with life expectancies averaging 2 years shorter than in counties where he lost. His policies overwhelmingly favored corporations and wealthy Americans.

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Why you shouldn't eat out for Valentine's Day: An epidemiologist explains a few facts of life (Ryan Malosh, 2/11/21, The Conversation)

Why can't I eat out for Valentine's Day if I socially distance?

Restrictions on indoor dining are some of the hardest to swallow. We all have our favorite restaurants, and the experience of eating out is a big part of feeling normal. In addition, many restaurants are cornerstones of our communities, and owners and staff have struggled throughout the pandemic.

But dining indoors remains a high-risk activity. The most effective prevention strategies - ventilation, physical distancing and wearing masks - are challenging in this setting. Even when physical distancing is possible, scientists have found that long-range transmission can occur. Restaurants are trying to innovate ways to determine how safe their spaces are - including using CO2 monitors to gauge ventilation - but these technologies are far from guarantees of safety.

One recent study suggested that policies such as indoor dining restrictions may have saved nearly 2,000 lives in Michigan in the past few months. Takeout and delivery are much safer options (and, I think, more romantic).

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DID AMERICA HAVE A FOUNDING? (Jeff Polet, 2/08/21, Modern Age)

Russell Kirk's The Roots of American Order traced the influence of four cities--Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, and London--on the formation of the American republic. He demonstrated that America's order did not arise de novo but emerged from a patrimony of thought and the lessons of experience. Political ideas, he argued, are carriers of historical experience and judgments, the residue of hard-won truths gained in the crucible of trial and error. Kirk believed that the unique historical experiences of these four cities created paradigmatic understandings of order that Americans wove together into their constitutional fabric.

His book was written in 1974 in anticipation of the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence and amid serious political scandal. It's not a stretch to see the book as motivated by the problem of corruption: not only personal corruption but the corruption of a regime--that is, its systemic decay. How America could avoid the fate of the republics of the past was the central question to which thinkers put their minds during the framing of the Constitution, and Kirk raised that question anew in the shadow of Watergate and Vietnam.

Note the title: The Roots of American Order. Kirk does not evoke some variation of "the American founding," which, in contrast to the organic metaphor implied in the word Roots, would make America seem more an artifice than an historical development. Kirk wanted to emphasize continuity rather than discontinuity in American history.

His book includes as an appendix a chronology that begins in 2850 BC and ends in 1866 with the publication of The American Republic by Orestes Brownson. One is tempted to see the twelve-page chronology as idiosyncratic--and it is--but its unifying theme is that history is full of contingencies that require sensitive thinkers and "great men" somehow to turn the apparent randomness of circumstance into meaningful action. Kirk draws attention to efforts to snatch back immortality from time's all-thieving hands. Overseeing all such human efforts, driven as they are by pride and marked by tragedy and irony, stands the watchful eye of Providence, a God who "intervenes" in human affairs and who in the process generates both resentment at his interference with our freedom and rage at not having such interferences result in perfection.

Kirk's chronology is not intended to be Whiggish, a simple timeline of progress that somehow culminates in American greatness. It is fitful and haphazard, telling a story of achievement and failure, of greatness and meanness, of rise and fall, of things divine tasted partially and things Satanic swallowed wholly, of a Providence whose mysterious workings the finite human mind can grasp only by faith. As Kirk liked to say, paraphrasing T. S. Eliot: there are no lost causes because there are no gained ones.

And that is why the chronology ends with Brownson, a defender of "the permanent things" who understood that no regime or governing authority can sustain itself without some sort of religious sanction. Every living nation, Brownson argued, "has an idea given it by Providence to realize," which is that nation's "special work, mission, or destiny." "The American republic," he observed, "has been instituted by Providence to realize the freedom of each with advantage to the other."

Brownson explicitly defended the idea of the nation as "an organism, not a mere organization--to combine men in one living body, and to strengthen all with the strength of each, and each with the strength of all--to develop, strengthen, and sustain individual liberty, and to utilize and direct it to the promotion of the common weal." In doing so, "the social providence" imitates divine Providence, a continuing act of creation by which all that is human returns to its origin and end.

In this sense, America's roots grow not into a founding but into a constituting. The term founding carries within it not only the idea of establishing but of manufacturing something, in the sense of casting metal: that is, something bound to endure, a metal that doesn't rust. The great "founders" of political society "founded" in both senses: they laid social life on new and solid foundations, and they also mixed the unformed elements available to them to recast political life into something new and enduring. It was Machiavelli who saw the Prince as operating on the raw materials of political life and forming them, through an act of creative will, into something new.

All Americans wanted was their rights as Englishmen, a regime that had been founded no later than the 17th century: representation in the legislative body.  Parliament refusing to acquiesce to this demand, the king should have told us to constitute a separate legislature for an independent nation he would be monarch of, with similar limitations to those operative in Britain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Rage Against Reason: What Seneca could teach us about our inflamed passions (John T. Scott and Robert Zaretsky | January 21, 2021, American Scholar)

More than any other passion, anger challenged the practice of Stoicism. A school of philosophy that viewed the passions as unnatural obstacles to right-thinking and right-acting, Stoicism provided precepts or exercises that helped purge the passions and permitted reason to rule. Other philosophers, notably Aristotle, had argued that the passions--including anger--were natural and, if properly ordered, were the partners of reason, anger the helpmate of justice. Seneca asked: Is anger natural? Could the passion be put into the service sovereign reason? Is it necessary to prevent and punish injustice?

For Seneca, the answer was no thrice over. Unnatural, irrational, vicious, odious, and insane were just some of the ways he characterized the passion. Anger was by far the most corrosive and corrupting of all our emotions. Whereas most passions have at least an element of quiet, anger is "entirely violent and exists in a rush of pain, raging in an almost inhuman desire for weapons, blood and punishment." Gladiatorial games, Rome's favorite spectator sport, drew Seneca's censure for exhibiting--and exciting--the bestial in us. We ought never to act from anger, he believed, much less indulge or cultivate it.

This was especially true when anger was joined to justice. Punishment must always be spurred and steered by cool reason. When ire is indulged, especially by those wielding great power, cruelty rather than righteousness is the result. Yet Seneca also warns that anger employed with the best of intentions is the path to madness because of our very desire to see justice done. "If you want the wise man to be as angry as the atrocity of men's crimes requires," he wrote, "he must not merely be angry, but must go mad with rage."

Here is where Stoicism steps in. "Anger is put to flight by teachings," Seneca wrote, "for it is a voluntary vice of the mind." If it is voluntary, it is a vice that can be mastered by reason. Indeed, master is a misleading verb. For the Stoic sage, the aim is less to control the passions than to eradicate them in order to achieve apatheia--the state of being without passions. In "On Anger," as elsewhere, Seneca offers exhortations and examples intended to inculcate in his reader a therapy of desire.

Seneca soon had the opportunity to practice what he preached when Agrippina tapped him to be the tutor to her son Nero. Following the suspicious death of his stepfather Claudius, the teenaged Nero claimed the imperial title. The novice ruler's maiden speech to the Senate, written by Seneca himself, promised to chart a new path from that of his predecessors. As in "On Anger," Caligula served in the speech as a cautionary example.

No doubt Seneca congratulated himself for being the grownup in the room as he became Nero's principal advisor. But the honeymoon was brief. Nero soon found his footing as emperor, but those feet were steeped in the blood he shed. Scores were evened, rivals exiled or assassinated, culminating in the emperor's order for the murder of his overbearing mother. (A grotesquely farcical affair, it involved a ship with a lead ceiling meant to collapse and crush the empress, who managed to swim safely to shore, only to be stabbed to death by assassins sent by her son to finish the job.)

As Nero spiraled downward, Seneca stayed on. Perhaps he told himself he could restrain the emperor's worst impulses; perhaps he told himself that if he resigned, others less able would make the situation worse; perhaps, though a Stoic, he was simply frightened. 

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The right's hatred of AOC isn't just racism and sexism: It sums up the entire toxic Trump era (CHAUNCEY DEVEGA, FEBRUARY 11, 2021, Salon)

In total, the ugliness directed at one congresswoman offers insight into how Trumpist Republicans and their neofascist followers and believers see the world, as well as the type of world they want to force into existence in the near future.

Here are some of their values and beliefs.

Malignant reality. The Republican Party and the right wing more generally live in an alternative conspiracy-theory universe of their own creation. Facts do not matter. The "big lie" (and the many small lies that sustain it) are all that matter.

Support for the violent coup and its underlying ideology. The threats and violent speech by the white right are not "hyperbole." Republicans and other members of the right really do wish harm on Democrats, liberals, progressives, nonwhite people, Muslims and others who they have identified as an enemy Other in American society.

Victimology. Despite all available evidence to the contrary, Republicans and other members of the right wing actually believe that they are the "real" victims in America. They imagine themselves to be persecuted and oppressed by "political correctness." They believe Democrats and liberals are destroying their "traditional" America. They believe that "minorities" and immigrants are "taking their jobs."

Republican leaders have played a key role in the victimology fantasy by telling their followers lies about "cancel culture" and spreading paranoid fictions about "the left," antifa and Black Lives Matter.

Moreover, public opinion and other research has repeatedly shown that even though white people retain control of the country's political, social and economic institutions, a significant percentage of white Americans (including most Trump voters) believe that they, rather than nonwhite people, are the true victims of racism in America.

The eroticization of women's pain and fear. Fascism is a masculine political imaginary that emphasizes violence, "virility" and dominance. This is true of authoritarianism more generally as well. While many men (and women) on the right find Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's intelligence, personal strength, skin color and cultural background threatening (if not repulsive), they are also titillated and excited by her fear because in their minds it reaffirms (white) male dominance and power. This is almost the dynamic of the slasher film as applied to politics.

Victims are responsible for their own suffering. Conservative authoritarians are more likely to believe that people who are victims of assault, abuse or violence somehow deserve their own suffering. If Ocasio-Cortez or other Democrats (or disloyal Republicans) had been injured or killed in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, far too many Republicans would have convinced themselves, consciously or otherwise, that somehow "they had it coming."

Hostile sexism and racism. Social scientists have shown that "hostile sexism" helps to explain Donald Trump's appeal for his voters and followers. White supremacy, racism and racial authoritarianism also strongly predict support for Trump and his movement (as well as for Republicans more generally). By speaking out forcefully about her experiences during the Jan. 6 attack, Ocasio-Cortez violated the norm that women, especially nonwhite women, must be silent in the face of white male authority.

Ms Omar adds the religion and race they hate most. Of course, she needed to marry a Jewish Asian to be the perfect nemesis. 

February 10, 2021

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Really?: a review of The Non-Existence of the Real World By Jan Westerhoff (David Voron, FEBRUARY 10, 2021, LA Review of Books)

WHAT DOES "REAL" MEAN? To be real is to objectively exist -- to not be hypothetical, imaginary, or illusory. How could anyone possibly make the outlandish and incredible assertion, as Oxford philosopher Jan Westerhoff does in his 2020 book, The Non-Existence of the Real World, that the real world does not actually exist?

UC Irvine cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman recently explored this issue in his discussion of his 2019 book, The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. Hoffman explains that, contrary to popular belief, perceiving the world accurately does not give organisms a survival advantage. It seems intuitively obvious that animals who see reality as it is would be better at finding food, avoiding predators, and seeking mates -- but what really matters is adaptive behavior tuned to fitness payoffs. Hoffman and his mathematician colleague, Chetan Prakash, have constructed a "Fitness-Beats-Truth Theorem" that they have tested and confirmed in multiple computer simulations. Their research has been peer-reviewed and published in academic journals. Hoffman and Prakash stress that the structures of fitness payoffs differ from the structures of objective reality. As Hoffman says, "What we normally take to be reality is, in fact, a simplified virtual reality, shaped by natural selection to guide adaptive action." According to his interface theory of perception, each perceptual system is a user interface analogous to the desktop screen of a laptop. The icons on the desktop hide reality but deliver functionality.

Hoffman claims that evolution hid the truth from us. Westerhoff goes one step further and makes the more radical assertion that the real world does not even exist. Westerhoff's important qualification, however, is that, by "real," he means independent of human "cognitive activities." Since everything we believe and experience can be considered a product of cognitive activity, mind-independent reality is unknowable, and Westerhoff's claim appears more plausible. He acknowledges that the brain creates a representation of external objects, but "nevertheless, this representation does not have any implications for existence beyond the representational framework." This represented world is "built around a conceptual scaffold of notions like causation, time, space, logical implication, physical, mental, abstract, concrete, and so forth." The point is that the representation and that which it represents are two different things. For example, the objects in a dream do not have an existence outside the dream. In a dream, the brain can generate our experience of an object (presumably via a storage retrieval process) without the presence of the object. We create the representation, but we do not have direct contact with the thing represented. Ordinary daytime experiences can be thought of as dreams constrained by sensory data. In both the dreaming and waking states, our brains create a virtual reality so automatically and so perfectly that we take it to be the real thing. We are totally unaware of this ongoing reality-construction process, which is invisible to us.

The universe is homocentric. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


Romney's 'Family Security Act' Is Pro-Marriage: What the Numbers Tell Us (Lyman Stone, 2/10/21, IFS)

The child allowance would amount to $4,200 per year for kids under 6, and $3,000 per year for kids 6 and over. Families would get a monthly check beginning in the third trimester of pregnancy. This minor policy tweak would almost certainly reduce the abortion rate, as it did when Spain adopted a similar policy.

Currently, the Federal government provides a $2,000 Child Tax Credit (CTC) per child. The CTC is a complicated animal. People with less than $2,500 in income can't receive it at all, and the credit "phases in" at a rate of 15 cents on the dollar. Part of the credit is refundable, which can lead to a "negative income tax," but not the whole thing. The result of this approach is that 1) families receive the benefit associated with their kid retroactively, or after they might have used money on that child, 2) families get the benefit in a lump sum, and 3) many families never "receive" the CTC at all because it only reduces their taxes owed, never landing in their bank account. Furthermore, the way the phase-in works, many low-income people are excluded from the CTC. On the other hand, because the CTC phases in, it encourages people to work: a person in the CTC phase-in income range (generally less than $30,000 in income, depending on the number of children) might get $15 extra from the CTC for every $100 extra they earn, giving them extra incentive to get a job.

In sum, the CTC is a very complicated, indirect way of supporting families. Most families will never think very much about how it's calculated. But those who do may notice a pro-work element to the CTC that is only for people with kids.

The EITC is even more complicated. Right now, there are eight different EITC benefit calculations, depending on marital status and number of children. But the simple version is, the EITC gives extra money to people who are employed and working, but whose incomes are still low. It's a way the government encourages work and helps people make ends meet even if wages are very low. The EITC gives you a lot of money (up to over $6,000 per year) if you 1) have kids, 2) work about 30 hours a week at minimum wage, 3) stay unmarried. The current EITC is less generous for married people, and the generosity rises with each kid. Academic research suggests the EITC as it currently exists discourages childbearing on net.

The EITC does a lot to encourage work among the people for whom it is most generous. That is, among single moms, the EITC boosts employment. If you are poor, unmarried, and have custody of 2 or 3 kids, the EITC will do a lot for you. But if you get married, you'll lose a lot of your benefits. If you're childless, the EITC does very little. The EITC is a weird policy where we basically pay single moms to stay single, take a low-wage job, and then put them in a situation where they may need free help with caring for or raising their kids because the low wages do not really yield enough income to pay for day care while they are at work. To make things worse, the EITC is so complicated to file that a quarter of eligible people miss out on it, and a third of payments made are to people who weren't really eligible.

Romney's plan tackles this tangled mess of a program head on. It simplifies the 8 credit rates down to 4, it removes the favorable treatment of single parents, and it also provides more aid to childless people. This is all as it should be: punishing poor people for getting married creates a poverty trap. While we don't want to encourage people to marry just for taxes, Romney's plan doesn't create a huge marriage benefit, it just removes a currently large marriage penalty.

The larger benefit for childless people may sound odd, but it makes a lot of sense. Childless people have fewer responsibilities at home. If they are out of work and school, the odds are that their use of time isn't extremely socially valuable, so it's important to provide some work incentive there. But for parents, this calculation is more ambiguous: a parent who isn't employed may be doing the socially valuable work of raising their children. There's no reason why the government should want people with kids to be employed more than it wants childless people to be employed. 

Indeed, we should prefer that they parent and pay them to do so.

Posted by orrinj at 10:36 AM


Schultz, Conservatism, and Carbon Pricing (JOSEPH MAJKUT, FEBRUARY 10, 2021, Niskanen Center)

Behind his great success, Shultz was a pragmatist; he knew how government and politics work. He knew that if conservatives don't have a climate solution that matches the scale of the threat, they will lose to progressives on politics, and the U.S. will lose on policy. His preferred approach, a carbon tax, would use market mechanisms favored by conservatives of the Friedman era to achieve the low-carbon economy promised by the left-which is also highly popular with the American public. 

Schultz argued that such a tax should be matched with dividends given back to American households, keeping government budgets from growing and reducing the net tax burden felt by most American families.

Rather than a dividend, reduce taxes on profits, saving, work.

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


How James Thomas "Cool Papa" Bell Became a Negro League Superstar (Lonnie Wheeler, February 10, 2021, LitHub)

Bell was the same player he'd been in St. Louis, but he was more secure in his station and dusted now with Crawford glitter. In Pittsburgh, Gus Greenlee's team was followed on both the sports and society pages, and there was plenty to write about. The entertainment for Paige's wedding at the Crawford Grill was provided by his best man, Mr. Bojangles Bill Robinson. At Greenlee Field, a nattily dressed patron might find himself sitting next to Joe Louis. When the ball game ended, Lena Horne was liable to croon on the grass. After dinner at the club, Duke Ellington just might strike up the band.

Meanwhile, at .364 (the best of his reported batting averages) or whatever it might have actually been, Cool Papa would significantly outhit Oscar Charleston, Josh Gibson, and Judy Johnson, the other three Hall of Famers in the Crawfords' lineup (when Paige wasn't pitching) for 1934. When William Nunn of the Pittsburgh Courier discussed the apparent inevitability that black players would soon integrate the major leagues--a movement championed by Heywood Broun and Jimmy Powers of the New York Daily News--he put the Pittsburgh center fielder on the short list of likely candidates.

Cool Papa's stardom was not design but residue, a natural by-product of his speed and grace.
"The phantom wall of race prejudice," wrote Nunn, "which for years has kept Negro players out of big-time diamond competition, is under a bombardment from which it cannot hope to stand...And now, look at the cream of the crop...men of the type of Willie Wells, whom westerners referred to as the 'Colored Hans Wagner'; Dick Lundy, one of the admittedly great shortstops; 'Cool Papa' James Bell, who can trail a ball farther than any man in baseball."

Those were words that resonated with Bell. Integration, rather than adoration, was the shape that his ambition assumed. The gentleman from Mississippi had played too successfully, against too many white opponents, to settle for less. He was interested, also, in the comparative windfall that his talents would rightly command if he wore a major-league uniform, increasing his salary by a multiple of five to ten--there was, after all, Clara Belle to support, the monthly contribution to send his mother, a certain vesture to maintain, and, most of all, the pursuit of justness--but such considerations as celebrity and station were lower priorities. Cool Papa's stardom was not design but residue, a natural by-product of his speed and grace.

"When Cool and I played together in Pittsburgh, he was the most popular player on the team both among his teammates and the fans," Judy Johnson recalled to James Bankes in The Pittsburgh Crawfords. "All you had to do was walk down the street with him and you knew why. He was a beautiful dresser. Absolutely immaculate. He had perfect manners and you never heard him say even a hell or a damn. He had time for everybody. Signed autographs, talked to people, gave advice on baseball, anything they wanted. All the time showin' his big beautiful smile."

The front office, however, had a different perspective on Cool Papa's popularity. He was a bargain at $220 a month, and any heightening of his stature--any renown or publicity that might escalate his price--was a threat to that economy. For Bell, the harsh reality hit home on a road trip early in 1934 when his torrid batting began to overtake Josh Gibson's and he was instructed not to send back any out-of-town newspaper clippings in which his exploits were featured.

The Crawfords had decided that their rainmakers were Gibson, who was local as well as Olympian--his showstopping home runs could actually be measured--and of course Paige, the lanky force of nature to whom the game was equal parts sport and theater. The club's traveling secretary, wishing only to spread the word about good baseball being played, was fined for stating his intention to dispense unspun information about who on the club was doing what. "The self-effacing Bell," wrote Bankes, "as sweet a human being as was ever elected into the Hall of Fame, found himself in the shadows, both in fame and finances, of the two glamorous stars."

Cool Papa was kindly disposed toward the pair at the top of the bill and would begrudge neither his glory. He was not so forgiving, though, concerning the Crawfords' calculated denial of his own contributions. Wise to suppression from Southern custom and mainstream baseball, he hadn't counted on more from his own team.

"When I went to the Crawfords," Bell said to John Holway in Voices from the Great Black Baseball Leagues, "they had Charleston, Gibson, Paige. They weren't going to build anyone over them. They never did advertise you over those guys. The Crawfords advertised Satchel. They just kept dramatizing and dramatizing him, but we had guys who would win more games than him. Now, when we played in California, they would bill Satchel, and he would get 15 percent. When they billed me, they had those wagons all going around saying, 'Bell's going to be here tonight.' But I didn't ask for anything. I only got a cut like the rest of the ballplayers got. I'm not the guy wants to be praised too much. I never wanted to be a big shot."

Even so, there he was again at the festive East-West affair in late August, leading off for the East and coming to the plate in the eighth inning of a scoreless duel. He'd played a part in the scorelessness, having hit his relay man, Dick Lundy, with a throw from deep center field, whereupon Lundy pegged out a runner at home plate. But the run prevention accrued mostly to the dazzling pitchers.

The starters were Cool's old teammate, Ted Trent, for the West, and a 21-year-old rookie sensation named Slim Jones, a long left-hander who'd been turning heads all season for the Philadelphia Stars. For the East side, Jones was followed by Tin Can Kincannon and then Paige, who'd known better than to spurn the all-star invitation a second time. Big Florida's successors were Chet Brewer and now Willie Foster, who made the mistake of walking the fastest man in the sport to start the eighth.

Integration, rather than adoration, was the shape that his ambition assumed.
Bell, as expected, stole second base, and he was still there with two outs when Boojum Wilson broke his bat on a flare to short center, which Willie Wells retrieved from his shortstop position but not in time to keep Cool Papa from scoring the only run of the game. Satchel did the rest, with no sign of his hesitation pitch but liberal use of the double windup.

Paige and Bell would reunite later that year on a talented team put together by Tom Wilson for the California Winter League. Luminaries trailing Cool in the Elite Giants' lineup included Wells, Stearnes, Suttles, Wild Bill Wright, catcher Larry Brown, third baseman Felton "Drifty" Snow, and second baseman Sammy T. Hughes. Paige was joined on the pitching staff by able starters Pullman Porter and Cannonball Willis.

The CWL's inclusive posture was reflected by supportive Californians and the Los Angeles press, which took the maverick attitude that good baseball is good baseball. The winter season opened with a parade long enough that three bands could play simultaneously, and the Los Angeles Times described the Elite Giants as "a colored baseball club which is so good it ain't nothin' else but... "

The Giants were so good, in fact, that five of them--Paige, Bell, Wells, Stearnes, and Suttles, in chronological order--would end up in the Hall of Fame. At the time, of course, that was a preposterous notion. For one thing, Cooperstown's maiden class wouldn't be announced for more than a year. And it would be 37 before Paige became the Hall's first black member.

Immortality, however, visited two of those five well ahead of schedule. It happened after the mischievous Paige began telling folks about the mind-boggling speed of his outfielder friend. Satchel's words may have deviated from time to time, and decades of approximated accounts, oral and published, have assumed various forms, but the basics were always the same.

"Cool Papa Bell," he said, "is so fast that, when he goes to bed, he can turn out the light and be under the covers before it's dark."

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


A rebel physicist has an elegant solution to a quantum mystery ( BENJAMIN SKUSE, 3 February 2021, Wired)

In essence, Dragan had shown that in a world ruled by special relativity, counterintuitive quantum effects don't have to be accepted as fundamental. In other words, by including the wacky 'unphysical' parts of special relativity's equations, patently random and distinctly quantum-like phenomena emerge naturally.

A few months later, realising the enormity of what he had discovered, Dragan got these thoughts and calculations down on paper and submitted the work to a scientific journal. But the manuscript was rejected, twice. "I got completely disappointed by this," he says. "I just thought, 'I'm not gonna bother anymore, I'm going to leave it behind'."

Dragan moved on from his disappointment and was happily working in a branch of quantum computing called relativistic quantum information. Then, in 2010, he received an email from Artur Ekert that would bring him right back to his musings on relativity and quantum mechanics. Ekert was and is a leading figure in quantum information and pioneer of quantum cryptography, who has dual Polish-British nationality and holds dual professorships at the University of Oxford and National University of Singapore. The email invited Dragan to Singapore to discuss links between their respective research.

Immediately realising an intellectual affinity, over the course of several visits Ekert and Dragan developed a friendship, becoming as comfortable talking about quantum algorithms as they were teasing each other with mathematical puzzles.

When Dragan finally shared his ideas on how quantum randomness might emerge from special relativity, Ekert was keen to get involved. "I thought it was beautiful," he says. Up to then, Dragan had only explored his ideas in a toy world with one space dimension and time. Ekert encouraged and assisted Dragan to go further, and see if it still worked in the real world of four-dimensional spacetime.

"Like two jazz players meeting every now and then and having a gig together," Ekert says of the pair's meetings in Singapore. Over the summer of 2019, Dragan and Ekert wrote up a paper summarising their new theory.

With memories of rejection swirling around his mind, before submitting it to New Journal of Physics, Dragan gave Ekert one final opportunity to back out before publishing their results: "Are you not afraid to endanger your reputation?" asked Dragan. Ekert was blunt in his response: "Screw reputation."

Unlike Dragan's previous solo attempts, the paper passed through its first test with the journal's academic reviewers unscathed. And though it went viral upon publication in 2020 and has amassed over 30,000 downloads and counting - by far the most out of all the papers published last year in the journal - the duo had (and still have) a fight on their hands to be taken seriously by the court of scientific opinion.

One physicist who was immediately attracted to Dragan and Ekert's ideas is quantum information scientist Vlatko Vedral. After reading the article, Vedral -- whose unofficial PhD mentor was Ekert in the past -- invited Dragan to present a virtual talk to his group at the University of Oxford. "It generated a lot of excitement," he says. "What I like about the approach is that frequently we think about imposing quantum mechanics on everything else; how do we make relativity comply with quantum mechanics? But they are trying to twist this around."

Yet for every Vedral open to hearing out unorthodox ideas, there are many others who are suspicious of any approach that doesn't place quantum physics front and centre. Not only are crackpots with wild unphysical concepts rife in this area of physics, but deeply rooted in the community is the idea that the mind-bending elements in quantum physics simply cannot be explained any further. They just are.

Critics from this camp question both the assumptions and methods used by the Polish pair to come to their conclusions. For instance, when Dragan discussed these ideas with one of the founding fathers of string theory, Holger Nielsen, the Danish physicist's main criticism was that faster-than-light matter would be unstable and therefore unphysical. Another theoretical physicist, who asked to remain anonymous, thought that the pair had used mathematics that changes the vantage point from which you observe the physics in order to change the actual underlying physics itself, which it should never do.

Often though, these criticisms boil down to two points: that no one has ever detected anything racing beyond light speed, and that if anything did travel that fast, time travel is possible. Time travel leads to what is known as causal paradoxes. The most famous of these is the grandfather paradox -- the idea that if you travel back in time and kill your grandfather, your own birth will be impossible.

Dragan and Ekert argue that these critics miss the point. "We're not saying there are any objects that travel faster than light; there might be, but that doesn't enter our arguments," Ekert says. "What we are saying is that you can look on the world from a perspective that is beyond light speed."

From this faster-than-light vantage point, you can swap the order of cause and effect. This is a key result because the underlying physics must remain the same regardless of whether you're watching events unfold above or below the cosmic speed limit. And if this is true, the pair argue that the order of events no longer plays a fundamental role in the theory.

Einstein was not the observer.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


Disturbing Details Emerge About Backgrounds Of Capitol Rioters --Including Ex-FBI Employee (David Neiwert, February 10 | 2021, National Memo)

The data already shows that the demographic profile of arrestees is mainly one of older, upper-middle-class whites: business owners, white-collar workers, doctors, and lawyers. More disturbingly, military veterans and law enforcement officers, many of them currently active and some with security clearances, are being arrested. One arrested Virginia man connected to the Oath Keepers reportedly had served in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

That man -- 64-year-old Thomas E. Caldwell of Berryville, Virginia -- was arrested Jan. 19 and charged with conspiracy and multiple other counts related to the insurrection. As The Washington Post's Katie Shepherd reports, Caldwell's attorneys filed a rejoinder this week noting that Caldwell was a decorated Navy veteran with a top secret security clearance, and after leaving the armed forces in 2009 he had served as a section chief for the FBI.

Caldwell is only one of a number of the insurrectionists who have military and police connections; six Seattle police officers are currently under investigation for having been present in Washington, D.C. that day, as are a number of others from jurisdictions around the nation. In the meantime, the Pentagon has ordered a military-wide pause across all services as commanding officers try to assess the levels of far-right extremism within their own ranks, spurred by the high numbers of military veterans engaged in the Capitol takeover.

"The presence of law enforcement officers in the riot reinforces and substantiates the greatest fears many in the public had in the nature of law enforcement in the United States," Michael German, a former FBI special agent and fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty and National Security Program, told Shepherd.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


One big reason the market is still rallying: Companies are slashing costs (Bob Pisani, 2/10/21, CNBC)

Corporations try hard to control costs, and the Covid epidemic has forced companies to aggressively reduce those costs.

Costs fall into two broad buckets: fixed, such as insurance, rent and interest payments, and variable, like energy, materials, and labor.

Fixed costs don't change, but variable costs do. If you can control variable costs, or turn them into fixed costs, you can usually take in more on the bottom line.

Labor is the largest single cost a company has. Labor is variable. There's many pay grades, people come and go, the workforce fluctuates depending on demand.

If you can replace your workers using technology -- robots, or better software -- you can substitute a variable cost (labor) for a fixed cost (technology).

Voila. Higher profits, particularly once revenues pick up. That's operating leverage.

Of course, there are other way to reduce costs, including cutting real estate and travel costs, or reducing debt.

If you're looking for an example of how reducing expenses can help a company's bottom line, look at the energy companies, which have been aggressively reducing staff and cutting costs.

Kinder Morgan, for example, operates oil and natural gas pipelines and terminals. The company saw year-over-year revenues decline by 7.1%, but earnings per share increased by 3.8%. How did they do that? They cut operating expenses by 44.8%.

Kinder Morgan isn't alone. Many companies hit hard by Covid have restructured -- cutting jobs and other expenses -- and are now anticipating higher profits and higher margins in 2021.

These include casinos, railroads, oil services, restaurants, and retail. "These business have reorganized substantially in 2020 so investors will probably see surprises to the upside," Nick Mazing, head of research at Sentieo, told me.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Local schools persist with outdoor classrooms, even through the cold winter months (TIM GOODWIN, 2/08/21, Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

Morgan Cooper, a fourth/fifth grade teacher at Jaffrey Grade School, thought a lot about how the return to school was going to go throughout last summer - and how it could be done safely.

As an outdoors person, she wanted to incorporate time during the day outside to give the kids a break and she found it was exactly what her students needed.

Katherine Nickel, who is in her first year teaching sixth grade at Pine Hill at High Mowing School in Wilton, said she loves the outdoors and was excited about the opportunity to be in nature every day. She said many children in this generation don't spend enough time outside, and offering them the chance to learn in the elements has afforded her to use the world around her to educate.

"If you're out here regularly, something starts to happen," Nickel said. She said the students have been relaxed and less stressed, something she's found to be the case spending time outside. "One of the best ways to get rid of fear is to take yourself into the outdoor."

Jenn Wilenta, a first year kindergarten teacher at Pine Hill, is also an outdoors person and said the being immersed in nature year-round has a beauty to it.

"It's really special and unique," Wilenta said. "It's a new space for me as well so it's an amazing adventure."

Marisa Gurses, the wellness/Spanish teacher at Mountain Shadows School in Dublin, said this year has been incredibly beneficial for the students.

"This year has been one of wonderful adventure," she said. "And it's all an experiment."

Cooper found a spot behind the United Church of Jaffrey, where there is a ravine, some water and plenty to explore. It takes less than 10 minutes to walk to and is perfect.

"I happened upon it and I claimed it quickly," she said. "That was my goal from day one, to find a space."

Cooper secured some screen houses and a canopy for the fall and two tents that are used now during the colder months, which the church has offered to keep in their shed. The amount of time spent outside has varied since they returned to school last month, but within the next two weeks Cooper said the plan would be to spend an hour and a half in the morning and another hour in the afternoon.

They have grain bags to sit on, which double as sleds they use to go down the plowed snow banks from the church parking lot, and took some bigger logs in the area and made a circle for them to be together and off the ground.

"They have been very creative in building their classroom," she said.

Gurses said they have carport tents and wooden platforms setup on campus that keep students off the snowy ground and protected from the elements. There are four tents for the eight grades and no more than eight people in a tent at one time. As you could imagine, the scheduling is a daily task.

"We just need to go one day at a time," she said.

There are two fire pits and given the amount the kids are moving around "pretty much anywhere you go there's a place to warm up," she said.

For Wilenta and Nickel the school day begins the same way each morning. They arrive at their outdoor classrooms at Pine Hill and get the fire started so their students have a place to warm up throughout the day.

It's just what needs to be done to get the day going, as the students in kindergarten through eighth grade are outside for the entire day except for a few rare instances.

The decision was made for Pine Hill students to return to school full-time for the 2020-21 school year, with one caveat - classes would be outside, all day. Tents were built using trees harvested from the school's land, fire pits were created for each classroom and plans put in place on how to deal with all the elements.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Immigrants and Their Children Shift Toward Center-Right in Germany (Bojan Pancevski, Feb. 9, 2021, WSJ)

Germans with foreign roots are increasingly voting for the center-right, providing a new pool of voters for the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel as the country's social fabric becomes increasingly diverse and traditional political allegiances dissolve with integration.

This could have significant political implications for the country, which was home to the largest group of migrants in the world--13 million--in 2019, just behind the U.S., according to the United Nations. It also shows how decades of immigration into Europe has transformed the continent's demographics and is reshaping politics in unexpected ways.

The finding, in a new study by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a think tank linked to Ms. Merkel's Christian Democratic Union shows a majority of people of migrant origin in the country favor conservative, free-market or even far-right parties.

"We are seeing a process of normalization," said Viola Neu, the author of the study. As migrants become economically and culturally more integrated, get naturalized and gain the right to vote, they tend to shift support from the center-left to the center-right, she said.

"People with immigrant backgrounds now vote like the majority does--not as a group tied to their origin, but according to their values and personal preferences," she added.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


REASONS FOR OPTIMISM - ENERGY (Madsen Pirie, 2/10/21, Adam Smith Instiute)

The quite rapid drop in the price of non-fossil-fuel energy sources such as photovoltaic solar and wind energy has made them viable competitors in an increasing number of instances. This has combined with governmental decisions to phase out pollution- and carbon-emitting fuels in favour of electric power derived from renewables as far as possible. Natural gas is the temporary bridge during the switchover. Although a fossil fuel, it is far less polluting than coal, and less so than oil. This enables the UK government to commit to targets for reduced emissions more ambitious than would otherwise have been possible. 

Energy will be cleaner and more abundant in future, and it will be cheaper. Newer and more efficient photovoltaic panels produce more energy for a given area than their predecessors did, and they are falling in price at a steep rate. The world has almost certainly already passed "peak oil," but not because we reached the limit of future supplies of it. The limit was reached in the form of declining demand. It was headed that way before the pandemic caused dramatic reductions in travel and the demand for fuel.  

There will be abundant energy in future, but very little of it will be derived from coal or oil. In several months now in the UK, the percentage of electric power produced from coal is zero. Three principal sources, solar, wind and nuclear will produce the vast bulk of UK energy needs. The outlook is indeed optimistic. It is that there will be enough clean, cheap energy to meet our needs. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Republicans' Five Bad Excuses for Not Convicting Trump (Ramesh Ponnuru, Feb. 9th, 2021, Bloomberg)

It's unconstitutional to convict a former president. Neither the text of the Constitution nor the founding-era debates over it speak specifically to a scenario in which a president commits serious misconduct just before leaving office. It doesn't seem to have been on anyone's mind in the 1780s. But several features of the text suggest that it allows for the conviction of a president after leaving office. It provides, for example, that the Senate has the power "to try all Impeachments."

Both the text and the debate indicate that impeachment had several purposes, some of which would be furthered by allowing it to apply to former federal officials. Alexander Hamilton called impeachment "a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men," for example. The Senate has repeatedly taken up impeachment cases of former officials, and even when it has declined to do so has sometimes noted that it had the power to do it.

Considerations like these have led most scholars to conclude that the Senate can convict former officials -- a consensus reached long before Trump became president. Brian Kalt, a scholar whom Trump's own legal defense has cited multiple times, has defended this view for decades.

It would set a bad precedent. If the Senate convicts Trump, runs the argument, it would be possible to impeach and convict former Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter, too. That's true, theoretically. But public opinion and the two-thirds threshold for conviction are sufficient checks against the frivolous use of impeachment. Congress unquestionably had the power to impeach Obama and Carter while they were in office, and didn't; the House has impeached presidents only four times in history.

Failing even to try Trump would set a worse precedent. It would mean that a president who has been given the boot by voters could scheme to stay in office anyway. If he fails, there won't be any time for Congress to do anything about it before he departs. If the view that ex-presidents cannot be subject to impeachment trials prevails, presidents will have a stronger incentive to try to retain power by illicit means.

Trump isn't guilty of inciting violence, and the First Amendment protects him. The fallacy here is the assumption that the Senate can convict Trump only for committing a statutory crime. Both Hamilton and James Madison spoke more broadly of impeachable offenses as violations of the public trust. Congress could rightly oust a president for inciting violence even if no court of law would ever send him to jail for it -- which is only fitting, since being deprived of office is a smaller imposition than being imprisoned. It's a mistake, in any case, to view Trump's Jan. 6 speech in isolation: It was part of a course of conduct designed to pressure state and federal officials to break the law to let him keep office.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Our Illiberal Moment (CHARLES C. W. COOKE, National Review)

The New York Times is, of course, within its legal and institutional rights to issue craven apologies for the crime of having irritated its readers' sensibilities, just as the paper's staff is within its rights to pretend that a given column has meaningfully put them in "danger." But it matters when it happens. Behavior breeds behavior, and every time the employees of Politico revolt because Ben Shapiro edited Playbook for a day, or the crew at New York magazine decides that it "can't even" with Andrew Sullivan, or the team at The Atlantic insists that the appearance of Kevin Williamson's byline represents a mortal threat, or CNN's Oliver Darcy proposes that the competitors to the cable network for which he works should be shut down, our hard-won customs are damaged a little more. Read a piece about a contretemps at a major American press outlet and you will invariably learn of a split between the "old guard," which is committed to free speech and pluralism, and the "woke young," which is not. That old guard was a young guard once, though. And, one day, the woke young will be the woke old.

Our political antennae are trained to look for individuals with too much power, which, given the history of the 20th century, is no bad thing. And yet our current predicament is the product of a somewhat different phenomenon: the inward-facing mob. Why did the New York Times become an unbearable workplace for someone as moderate and open-minded as Bari Weiss? Because its staff, complaining and haranguing and egging each other on in Slack, put pressure on their bosses and all but took over the joint. Why did Twitter choose to delete President Trump's account, and Amazon Web Services choose to delete Parler? Because the lower-downs pushed and pushed and pushed until the companies did "the right thing." Why are due process and open debate recast as "apologism" on college campuses when the defendant or the speaker is disliked? Because administrators who should know better fear that their offices will be filled with protesters or that they themselves will be targeted. Much of the criticism of our new American illiberalism focuses in on the ideologies that inform it. Not enough of that criticism, however, is engaged in analyzing the motive. It is undoubtedly the case that a good number of Americans have swallowed whole the idea that classical liberalism is a smokescreen for all sorts of insidious isms. But an even bigger number, one suspects, are simply using the weapons they've been handed. One need not be an incisive student of history to understand that when a man is told that he can silence his critics by merely claiming to feel "unsafe," he will quickly claim to feel unsafe. 

As for those of us who have no interest in silencing anyone? Well, we face the age-old liberal problem of being obliged to advance our arguments in defense of someone -- or something -- that is unpopular. When, in 1978, the American Civil Liberties Union defended the right of Holocaust-denying neo-Nazis to march through a Chicago suburb with a sizeable Jewish population, its leadership was asked why it was spending its time and resources in the service of such a repugnant endeavor. 

As on so many issues, Robert Bork offers the better guidance on such issues.  As a simple matter of textual construction it is not possible to square the stated purpose of the Constitution-- in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America--with the bizarre notion that we can take no action against those who seek to violently overthrow the republic it establishes.  It's like claiming that the contract we made for you to sell me a car allows you to destroy it too.  It defies the internal logic of the text.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


She was a Jewish QAnon supporter. And she thinks it could happen to you. (Molly Boigon, February 10, 2021, The Forward)

One Saturday morning, Rein Lively discovered her mother dead in the bathroom, having overdosed on alcohol and pills. Told the news as he returned home from the deli, her father passed out in the driveway. Rein Lively said she remembered seeing bagels fall from her father's arms and roll into the gutter.

In the following months, Rein Lively's grades tanked. Her father and a new girlfriend sent her to a now-shuttered and chronically underregulated behavioral-modification school in Montana called Spring Creek Lodge Academy. There, Rein Lively said, she was subjected to a rigid system of discipline that kept participants in military-style lines when walking around the compound; allocated food like butter and sugar based on a system of points; and relied on an autodidact system for which students had to teach themselves using subject-matter textbooks.

Rein Lively also described "development seminars" meant to "brainwash" participants.

"They scream at you, break you down, talk about things that would humiliate you and incriminate you in front of a group of people," she said. [...]

Rein Lively said her entry points to QAnon were through interests in wellness and in spirituality -- both heightened by the pandemic. She said she was introduced to the movement through content on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and on blogs.

At first, the stuff she was seeing was optimistic and uplifting. She liked being told that the patriots within the government would save the public from danger. Later, she tapped into a darker stream of QAnon content about the coming of the second Holocaust.

"Looking back at it now and just how perfectly it fit into my interests, my curiosities, my fears -- I feel like I was almost typecast for the type of person who would become immersed in this," she said.

Rein Lively said she was never exposed to outright antisemitic content in QAnon forums. But she also said that, while part of the movement, she was convinced that Soros, a Hungarian philanthropist who escaped the German occupation, was secretly a Nazi.

"When you start looking at it, it's just so shocking and upsetting," she said of the claims she was reading. "They don't call it a rabbit hole for nothing."

Rein Lively said she was "isolated" within the movement and was not engaging much with other adherents, and did not knowingly encounter other Jews in online forums.

But she is not entirely alone. In one online forum for Q supporters, a user who identified as Jewish asked fellow members of the movement on Jan. 28 to lighten up on antisemitic comments.

"I have seen some broad language against all Jewish people which is grossly unfair," he said in the post.

One commenter responded:

"I am more than disgusted to share my DNA with many evil subhuman forms, and I also suggested not to use the wide paint brush against us all," he said of fellow Jews. "Trump has a few on his team, for a reason: we are well aware of communist hell and we are more than loyal."

Rein Lively said Jews may be more vulnerable to this type of messaging than most people think.

"I think people have this idea of these QAnon people being weirdo neo-Nazis in a basement somewhere," she said. "I know other people feel this way, especially other Jews that have kind of joined -- not even necessarily QAnon but even the Patriot movement -- and there's more and more right-wing Jews."

On Monday, after Rein Lively likened QAnon to a cult [in an interview with CNN's Alisyn Camerota](https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2021/02/08/qanon-cult-former-believer-melissa-lively-newday-vpx.cnn), some Twitter commenters were deeply skeptical.

They accused her of trying to do a "rebrand," and the various news outlets where she has been featured as being "hoodwinked." A VICE video about her was deemed "embarrassing."

Rein Lively is undeterred. She sent along, via text, a sampling of the hateful voicemails she said she receives on a daily basis.

"I've experienced that snap judgment already," she said. "There's nothing I can really say to that, except my story has been incredibly challenging and I know that by sharing it, it's helping other people."

After the Target meltdown, the police took Rein Lively to a facility for a psychiatric evaluation, and she stayed more than a week. Her husband had filed for divorce and kicked her out of the house after her tirades went viral, so she crashed at a friend's second home, and continued therapy. Eventually, she appealed to her husband, a real estate broker, for a second chance, moved back home and has begun to rebuild her life.

Always fun when the Trumpists pretend that getting 6% of the black vote means they can't be racist. 

February 9, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 PM


Exclusive: Ukraine Releases 'Shock' Call With Giuliani As Trump's Second Impeachment Trial Begins (SIMON SHUSTER , FEBRUARY 9, 2021, TIME)

"Let these investigations go forward," Rudy Giuliani told the presidential headquarters in Kyiv, Ukraine, his voice turning impatient. "Get someone to investigate this." On the other end of the line, hunched over a speakerphone, two Ukrainian officials listened in disbelief as Giuliani demanded probes that could help his client, then-President Donald Trump, win another term in office.

The 40-minute call, a transcript of which was obtained by TIME, provides the clearest picture yet of Giuliani's attempts to pressure the Ukrainians on Trump's behalf. The President's personal lawyer toggled between veiled threats--"Be careful," he warned repeatedly--and promises to help improve Ukraine's relations with Trump. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Deaths from fossil fuel emissions higher than previously thought (Leah Burrows, February 9, 2021, Harvard School of Engineering)

More than 8 million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution, significantly higher than previous research suggested, according to new research from Harvard University, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, the University of Leicester and University College London. Researchers estimated that exposure to particulate matter from fossil fuel emissions accounted for 18 percent of total global deaths in 2018  -- a little less than 1 out of 5.

Regions with the highest concentrations of fossil fuel-related air pollution -- including Eastern North America, Europe, and South-East Asia -- have the highest rates of mortality, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Research.


Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Bruce Castor: The Disaster Artist (TIM MILLER  FEBRUARY 9, 2021, The Bulwark)

Castor's argumentation was so indolent that it made Sleepy Joe Biden look like the Energizer Bunny on meth.

His substance was not much better, which Castor seemed to acknowledge in this admission against interest at the end of his statement:

"We changed what we were going to do on account that we thought the House impeachment managers' presentation was well done and I wanted you to know that we have responses to those things," he said.

Maybe he should have stuck with the original, because it is hard to summarize what exactly Castor's argument in defense of Trump was.

Don't take my word for it. Trump supplicant Alan Dershowitz literally told the gentle viewers of Newsmax, "There is no argument. I have no idea what he is doing." Newsmax cut away from the proceedings to spare their audience.

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 PM


U.S. Attorney Overseeing Hunter Biden Probe Asked to Stay On: Report (BRITTANY BERNSTEIN, February 9, 2021, National Review)

U.S. Attorney David Weiss of Delaware, who is handling the investigation into the president's son, will stay on in his role, according to Fox News. It is standard practice for a new administration to request the resignation of all U.S. attorneys upon entering office.

John Durham, the U.S. district attorney in Connecticut who was appointed as special counsel to probe the FBI's Trump-Russia investigation, will resign from his post but remain on as special counsel.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


WHO's Covid mission in China gives first report (Patrick Smith, 2/09/21, NBC News)

The World Health Organization on Tuesday was providing the first details of its fact-finding mission to the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first coronavirus cases were identified.

A member of the WHO expert team said the Chinese side granted full access to all sites and personnel they requested -- a level of openness that even he hadn't expected, the Associated Press reported.

Peter Daszak said team members had submitted a deeply considered list of places and people to include in their investigation and that no objections were raised.

"We were asked where we wanted to go. We gave our hosts a list ... and you can see from where we've been, we've been to all the key places," Daszak said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Axios-Ipsos poll: No shared path back to normal (Margaret Talev, 2/09/21, Axios)

Perhaps the most important measure of when people anticipate they can return to normal is on the question of resuming in-person gatherings with family and friends outside the home.

28% of overall respondents said they already have. That share surges for Republicans (42%), while it's dramatically less for Democrats (10%) and people 65 and older (15%).

22% of overall respondents say they're waiting for themselves and their family and friends to get the vaccine.

Getting everyone vaccinated is most important in the minds of respondents who had a bachelor's degree or higher (34%) and for seniors (29%).

It was least important as a cue among those with a high school degree or less (14%).

Given the health gains we're experiencing, why would we "return to normal," rather than maintaining sensible protective measures?

How COVID-19 is changing the cold and flu seasonMeasures meant to tame the coronavirus pandemic are quashing influenza and most other respiratory diseases, which could have wide-ranging implications. (Nicola Jones, 2/08/21, Nature)

In the Southern Hemisphere -- now past its winter -- seasonal influenza hardly struck at all. That looks as though it might happen in the north, too. Conversely, some common-cold viruses have thrived, and tantalizing evidence suggests that they might, in some cases, protect against COVID-19. [,,,]

In May, at the tail end of the first wave of COVID-19 deaths in many nations, and when some of the strictest lockdowns were in place, health workers noted an abrupt and early halt to the 2019-20 flu season in the Northern Hemisphere.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Palestinian elections and the West (Dr Youssef RizqaFebruary 9, 2021, MEMO)

The 2006 elections in Palestine were a difficult test for Hamas on the one hand, and for the EU and US on the other. Hamas entered the elections based on its programme of resistance, rejection of the Oslo Accords, and no recognition of Israel. The US and the West, including the EU, expected a victory for Fatah which would rein in Hamas and force it to accept negotiations and recognise Israel. The results were not what was expected, and Hamas won by a comfortable majority.

Israel, the US, and the West refused to recognise the Hamas government's legitimacy... [...]

Some European sources indicate that the EU has shifted from its previous position, with the exception of one of its member countries governed by an extreme right-wing party, as the majority intend to deal with Hamas in a different way than in 2006. This is especially if Hamas wins the elections and shows some flexibility towards accepting a two-state solution. The bloc would also be willing to deal with Hamas if it is in partnership with Fatah in the Palestinian Legislative Council and government, and if the government accepts the two-state solution.

The bottom line is that the EU countries are no longer adhering to the four conditions in their entirety, especially after last year's Arab normalisation deals, and the threats posed by the "deal of the century" against European intentions. This will also be the case given Hamas's experience in its de facto government and if the people re-elect it.

It can be said that Hamas's steadfastness and commitment to its position, as well as its defence of the Palestinian constants, have impressed some key people in the EU. This takes into account the fact that it had to govern the Gaza Strip despite a 15-year blockade. In doing so, it demonstrated its administrative capacity with relatively little, if any, corruption, and with a good degree of democratic practice. This has persuaded the EU to review its old positions and take a stance that allows it to deal with Hamas if it wins the elections or partners with Fatah in government. This not only suggests that Hamas serves the people well and that the Palestinian voters are highly appreciated, but also that the people are the decision-makers, inside Palestine as well as on the level of international relations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Lost in the 'Gamestonks' mania - What is GameStop actually worth? (David Randall, 2/09/21, Reuters)

Analysts who cover GameStock see it worth on average $13.44 per share, a 78% drop from its current trading price, highlighting the wide gulf between how Wall Street and amateur investors view a stock that has become a symbol of the growing power of retail investors.

"I've worked on Wall Street for over 20 years and what is happening with GameStop is the most nonsensical, insane thing I've ever seen in my entire career," said Anthony Chukumba, a managing director at Loop Capital who covered the company for more than 10 years but recently dropped his coverage due to a lack of interest by institutional investors.

"GameStop at most is worth $10 a share," Chukumba said, given its declining market share. "We've seen short squeezes happen all the time but we've never seen a stock become so disconnected from the fundamentals."

February 8, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


How the pandemic has affected mental health internet searches (JAIMEE BELL, 08 February, 2021, Big Think)

In this study, limited social contact had people searching terms such as "isolation" and "worry."

Findings from this study indicated that social limits (on restaurants and bars, for example) and stay-at-home orders correlated with immediate increases in searches for the terms "isolation" and "worry" - but the effects within a few weeks.

The beginning of the pandemic showed significant spikes in mental health symptom searches.

"At the outset of the pandemic, consistent with prior research, social distancing policies correlated with a spike in searches about how to deal with isolation and worry, which shouldn't be surprising," said co-author Dolores Albarracín, Ph.D. "Generally speaking, if you have a pandemic or an economic shock, that's going to produce its own level of anxiety, depression, and negative feelings, and we had both with COVID-19."

Within two to four weeks of peaking, however, such searches tapered off, the study showed.

Why would mental health-related searches taper off when the pandemic was still raging on? This study found that more time spent with family (or working from home, taking up new hobbies due to isolation) because of the stay-at-home orders could have lead to improvements in health and may counteract any potential negative health effect of the isolation policies.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Forget the Gym: Walking Is the Superior Form of Exercise (Will Self, Jan. 22nd, 2021, Men's Health)

The great virtue of walking as a serious pursuit is that it requires nothing by way of equipment or specialist kit except the comfortable and hard-wearing shoes you already possess. There are no joining fees to walk, and you certainly won't feel body-shamed by your fellow pedestrians, many of whom will be pensioners on their way to the shops. Walking is also by its nature spontaneous: you do it all the time, anyway, so why not simply increase the amount you do? The pensioners are strolling to the shops. So can you. And you can do it even if the shops are a lot further off. Which brings me to my main selling point for new-entrant walkers: its immediacy is what makes walking so appealing. There's no need to locate a venue; you simply get up and walk out whichever door is nearest. I'm fairly rigorous about this aspect of walking, and I think it's key to the success of the entire enterprise. Indeed, while I can just about accept driving to take a walk in a particularly beautiful or interesting place, for me, the really life-sustaining walks are the ones I take from wherever I happen to be.

If I'm in the country, I walk in that countryside. If I'm in the city, I walk in that built environment. And if I'm in Selly Oak on a wet Sunday afternoon in January, then I take a walk in Selly Oak. Walking is the way I bring my mind and body together through being actively in the place I am, rather than trying to avoid it by travelling somewhere else, or blot it out by filling one or other of my senses with quite other environments.

The most conspicuous example of this is music, via headphones or car stereo, so as to make a soundtrack for the film of your life - which is really, when you think about it, creating a giant, imaginary screen around your experience of the world. I know, you're thinking, "But Selly Oak (or Southampton, or Selhurst, for that matter) is pretty boring on a wet Sunday afternoon in January." To which I can only reply with one of those exquisitely annoying parental formulations: if you're bored, it's because you're boring. And by "boring", I mean unwilling to take an interest in anything that doesn't immediately appeal to you.

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Let me reinforce this with an anecdote. I once went to Easter Island, the most remote inhabited island in the world and one of the most exotic and extraordinary places to boot. The friend I went with was not a walker - though he did have other virtues - but gamely agreed, in principle, to join me for some hikes. The first attempt I made to hold him to his promise was also the last. We had driven to the north end of the island, where there's an extinct volcano, Poike. It's an extraordinary sight: an eminence of some 370m, entirely covered in grass, but with two quartz-glinting granitic outcrops on its shoulder, like epaulettes on a military officer's tunic. We parked our hire car and began walking towards it - the giant, bright-green knoll, outlined by the deep ultramarine of the mid-Pacific Ocean. After no longer than five minutes, my companion - a famous artist - groaned: "I'm bored." And I struggled hard not to pick up one of the chunks of quartz lying in the grass and use it to bash his brains in.

Which is all by way of illustrating this point: you cannot come to walking expecting some sort of quick fix. This is the ultimate slow activity. Yet once you've attuned yourself to the leisurely progress you're making, you start to appreciate the extraordinary benefits. For one, as you're not on an A-to-B journey with a specific aim in mind, you really can forget about any reward associated with arrival - such as the endorphin hit beloved of our running brethren - and instead abandon yourself to the pleasures of transit itself. In a car, or even on a bike, the world's contours are ironed out for you, but on foot there's a direct correlation between your muscle movements and your senses. The play of the breeze, the sunshine (and, naturally, the rain) on your face and any exposed flesh; the swish of grasses and other herbage against your legs; the smells and the sights - the walker is constantly surveying the territory he moves through with a full 360° panoramic viewing.

Moreover, unlike anyone using mechanised transport, he also has - returned to him, as it were - the foreground, which for most, most of the time, is reduced to a blur. The walker, if he consents not to be bored, has returned to him those vestigial senses of exteroception (the dispensation of objects in the vicinity), proprioception (awareness of the dispensation of his own body), and even interoception - that hearkening to the movements of our internal organs that, for the most part, we repress.

Furthermore, the car driver, the train and plane passenger - they all see the world around them as a series of detached views, but the walker is resolutely rooted in that world, his calves aching as he ascends a hill, his knees taking up the strain as he descends.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Married couples have weathered Covid storm well, study finds (Christianity Today,  08 February 2021)

The number of couples considering divorce dropped by two-thirds during the pandemic, according to a new study. 

Between 2017-19, an average of 2.5 per cent of married dads and 5.6 per cent of married mums said they were considering divorce. 

But by June 2020, three months after the start of the first UK lockdown, this had fallen to 0.6 per cent of married dads and 1.1 per cent of married mums.

No one will miss workplaces.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


British Euroscepticism: a brief history (Toby Helm, 2/06/16,  Observer)

Margaret Thatcher had campaigned to stay in the EEC in 1975, four years before becoming prime minister, and signed the Single European Act in 1986. But she came to despair of the European project. Her Bruges speech of 1988 became a template for a new generation of Tory sceptics. It was not given to put the country on course for an exit, but to limit Europe's ambitions. "To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging and would jeopardise the objectives we seek to achieve," Thatcher said. Tory Eurosceptics were inspired. Increasingly, they believed the original vision of a trading area had been supplanted by Franco-German ambitions for political and economic union. As the centre of gravity shifted in both main parties, Labour under Neil Kinnock embraced a social Europe, albeit with resistance from unions and the left. Thatcher's increasingly strident scepticism put her at odds with key members of her cabinet, including Michael Heseltine, and hastened her downfall.

The free flow of goods and people is the only area where nations need to surrender some sovereignty.  
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


South Korea unveils $43 billion plan for world's largest offshore wind farm (Hyonhee Shin, 2/08/21, Reuters) 

South Korea unveiled a 48.5 trillion won ($43.2 billion) plan to build the world's largest wind power plant by 2030 as part of efforts to foster an environmentally-friendly recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project is a major component of President Moon Jae-in's Green New Deal, initiated last year to curb reliance on fossil fuels in Asia's fourth-largest economy and make it carbon neutral by 2050. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Conservative Virtues Of Romney's Child Allowance (Steve Chapman, Feb. 7th, 2021, National Memo)

He has unveiled a major proposal to provide $350 per month ($4,200 per year) to every child in America up to the age of 6, as well as $250 per month ($3,000 per year) to every child age 6 to 17. Each family would be limited to a maximum of $1,250 per month ($15,000 per year). The program would be a model of simplicity, with the Social Security Administration mailing out checks every month. That's a big difference from the Earned Income Tax Credit, which typically provides cash only in one lump sum after the tax year ends.

"This plan," Romney says, "would immediately lift nearly three million children out of poverty, while providing a bridge to the middle class." There is also an unexpected bonus: Because it would trim other programs and repeal the federal deduction for state and local taxes, it would have a net budgetary cost of zero.

To hardline conservatives, this proposal may sound like a left-wing dream, vastly expanding dependence on federal handouts. But to anyone who thinks we have a collective responsibility to prevent serious hardship among innocent people, particularly those too young to fend for themselves, it represents a giant step toward a more humane social welfare system that also advances sound conservative principles.

The idea of fighting poverty with direct cash has an intellectual pedigree that notably includes Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, who advised Republican presidents and was revered on the right. He proposed payments through a "negative income tax," which he argued was a more effective, efficient remedy for poverty than a hodgepodge of programs that somehow spent far more money than the supposed beneficiaries ever got.

Romney's plan has the same virtue. It mirrors a proposal by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Sherrod Brown of Ohio thiat enjoys broad support among congressional Democrats. A report from the centrist Niskanen Center in Washington, "The Conservative Case for a Child Allowance," concluded that Romney's plan would reduce child poverty by one-third. Ernie Tedeschi, a Treasury economist in the Obama administration, told The Washington Post it would be "among the most pro-family, anti-poverty policies in a generation."

Equally exciting is the Democrats adopting means-testing. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are at odds (Josh Kraushaar, Feb. 7, 2021, National Journal)

The two leaders' contradictory approaches to managing a volatile caucus stem from another election when the party was forced to deal with a grassroots rebellion in an opposing president's first two years in office--the 2010 midterms. At the time, Republicans were benefiting from the energy of the tea-party movement, which helped them win 63 House seats and control of the chamber. McCarthy, then on the fast track within leadership, branded himself (along with Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan) as part of a new generation of conservative leadership, the "Young Guns."

The wave election brought a bunch of right-wing, antiestablishment figures into the party. That freshman class included: Allen West, now a Texas GOP chairman supporting his state's secession from the country; Paul Gosar, one of the most right-wing members of Congress, who reportedly helped plan the Jan. 6 rally; Michael Grimm, who threatened to "break in half" a reporter for asking a question; and Blake Farenthold, a radio DJ who later used public funds to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit. At the same time, the freshman class also included a future secretary of State (Mike Pompeo), future senators (Cory Gardner, Tim Scott, Todd Young, James Lankford) and rising mainstream leaders within the caucus (Adam Kinzinger, Steve Stivers, Jaime Herrera Beutler). Despite those divisions, Republicans held their House majority for the next eight years.

For McConnell, the 2010 results were bittersweet. His party gained back six Senate seats--an impressive total--but fell short in several winnable races in which exotic GOP candidates were nominated. A candidate who once dabbled in witchcraft defeated a respected longtime GOP congressman in Biden's home state of Delaware. A radical state lawmaker in Nevada, who in her campaign warned about the threat of Sharia law, ended up being the party's embarrassing standard bearer in Nevada. Now-Rep. Ken Buck, the tea-party-aligned candidate in Colorado, upset the establishment favorite before losing to Democratic Sen Michael Bennet. It took McConnell four more years, after he finally decided to aggressively oppose unelectable candidates in primaries, to become majority leader.

In Senate races, the quality of candidates matters a lot more than in House races, where voters tend to cast predictable party-line votes.

February 7, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Keeping Poets Alive: Why You Should Know About Jack Clemo (LUCY, JUNE 4, 2014, Tolstoy Therapy)

When first exploring Clemo's work, you'll notice that the rugged Cornish landscape is often at its forefront. Clemo's father was a clay-kiln worker, and his scenes of the Clay Country frequently symbolise mystical and religious experiences (a factor no doubt influenced by his religious upbringing). We witness scenes of the expanding clay industry overcoming nature, yet, Clemo reminds us, surely nature will eventually fight back.

These white crags
Cup waves that rub more greedily
Now half-way up the chasm; you see
Doomed foliage hang like rags;
The whole clay-belly sags.
- The Flooded Clay-Pit

One of the poems which stood out to me, largely for its intertextuality, is "William Blake Notes a Demonstration". Putting a frightening spin on Blake's "Jerusalum", and slightly mirroring modern apocalyptic fears, Clemo illustrates Blake as witness of a hellish 20th century London:

Where's my Jerusalem? That future London
I see in visions now I am near death,
Is not the Holy city: harlots abound
In street, school and pulpit,And the winding-sheet seems made of protest banners.

In the poem, these "protest banners" are held by anti-nuclear demonstrators, which prompts Blake - as speaker - to build on what Heather R. Martin calls Clemo's "raw and unapologetically religious" writing (109):

If men can't die praising God
They're not ripe for life, not fit
To protest against the means of exit.

After reading this, you may well see how Clemo's Evangelical non-conformist views placed him at the margins, away from Britain's general readership.

Rick Stein discusses him on his latest series.

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Strict COVID Orders Effective in Driving Down Cases: Analysis (EMILY CZACHOR, 2/7/21, Newsweek)

Last week's Free Press report indicated that Michigan saw fewer COVID-19 cases per capita than adjacent states--including Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana--at the height of the winter's outbreak resurgence, and connected this pattern to Whitmer's mitigation mandates.

More recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which tracks COVID-19 trends by state, showed that Michigan recorded 15.6 new infections per 100,000 residents between January 30 and February 6. Meanwhile, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois recorded rates between 23.3 and 31.7 new infections per 100,000 people over the same time period.

Additional figures published by Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center showed Michigan's test-positivity ratio was lower than those four states on Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden Administration Suspends Trump Asylum Deals with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras (Reuters, February 07, 2021)

The Biden administration said on Saturday it was immediately suspending Trump-era asylum agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, part of a bid to undo his Republican predecessor's hard-line immigration policies.

In a statement, State Department Secretary Antony Blinken said the United States had "suspended and initiated the process to terminate the Asylum Cooperative Agreements with the Governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as the first concrete steps on the path to greater partnership and collaboration in the region laid out by President Biden."

February 6, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


In the first six months of health care professionals replacing police officers, no one they encountered was arrested: DPD Chief Pazen, who is fond of the STAR program, says it frees up officers to do their jobs: fight crime. (David Sachs, Feb. 02, 2021, dENVERITE)

A young program that puts troubled nonviolent people in the hands of health care workers instead of police officers has proven successful in its first six months, according to a progress report.

Since June 1, 2020, a mental health clinician and a paramedic have traveled around the city in a white van handling low-level incidents, like trespassing and mental health episodes, that would have otherwise fallen to patrol officers with badges and guns. In its first six months, the Support Team Assisted Response program, or STAR, has responded to 748 incidents. None required police or led to arrests or jail time.

The civilian team handled close to six incidents a day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, in high-demand neighborhoods. STAR does not yet have enough people or vans to respond to every nonviolent incident, but about 3 percent of calls for DPD service, or over 2,500 incidents, were worthy of the alternative approach, according to the report.

STAR represents a more empathetic approach to policing that keeps people out of an often-cyclical criminal justice system by connecting people with services like shelter, food aid, counseling, and medication. The program also deliberately cuts down on encounters between uniformed officers and civilians.

"This is good stuff, it's a great program, and basically, the report tells us what we believed," said Chief of Police Paul Pazen. Pazen added that he doesn't want to sound flippant, but the approach was somewhat of a known quantity because he's been talking about it with advocates for mental health and criminal justice reform for years. Denver just so happened to launch the program in the middle of a movement against police violence.

Pazen's goal is to fill out the alternative program so that every neighborhood can use its services at all hours, instead of just weekdays during normal business hours. Nearly $3 million for more social workers and more vans should help Denver move toward that "North Star" this year, Pazen said. The money is expected to come from the city budget and a grant from Denver's sales-tax-funded mental health fund.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Cuba authorizes private activity in majority of sectors (AFP, 2/06/21)

Cuba announced Saturday that private activity will be authorized in most sectors, a major reform in the communist country where the state and its companies dominate economic activity.

The measure, which was unveiled last August by Labor Minister Marta Elena Feito, was approved Friday during a meeting of the Council of Ministers, according to the daily Granma, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party.

Until now, private activity -- which has been authorized in Cuba since 2010 but whose real boom dates back to the historic warming of ties between Cuba and the United States, initiated at the end of 2014 under Barack Obama -- was limited to a list of sectors set by the state.

Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


Why Opening Restaurants Is Exactly What the Coronavirus Wants Us to Do (Caroline Chen Feb. 6, 2021, ProPublica)

On Jan. 29, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was promoting "marital bliss" at a coronavirus news conference.

Announcing that indoor dining would reopen at 25% capacity in New York City on Valentine's Day, and wedding receptions could also resume with up to 150 people a month after, Cuomo suggested: "You propose on Valentine's Day and then you can have the wedding ceremony March 15, up to 150 people. People will actually come to your wedding because you can tell them, with the testing, it will be safe. ... No pressure, but it's just an idea."

Cuomo isn't alone in taking measures to loosen pandemic-related restrictions. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer allowed indoor dining to resume at 25% capacity starting Feb. 1. Idaho Gov. Brad Little increased limits on indoor gatherings from 10 to 50 people. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is raising business capacity from 25% to 40%, including at restaurants and gyms. California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted stay-at-home orders on Jan. 25.

To justify their reopening decisions, governors point to falling case counts. "We make decisions based on facts," Cuomo said. "New York City numbers are down."

But epidemiologists and public health experts say a crucial factor is missing from these calculations: the threat of new viral variants. One coronavirus variant, which originated in the United Kingdom and is now spreading in the U.S., is believed to be 50% more transmissible. The more cases there are, the faster new variants can spread. Because the baseline of case counts in the U.S. is already so high -- we're still averaging about 130,000 new cases a day -- and because the spread of the virus grows exponentially, cases could easily climb past the 300,000-per-day peak we reached in early January if we underestimate the variants, experts said.

Furthermore, study after study has identified indoor spaces -- particularly restaurants, where consistent masking is not possible -- as some of the highest-risk locations for transmission to occur. Even with distanced tables, case studies have shown that droplets can travel long distances within dining establishments, sometimes helped along by air conditioning.

90% of restaurants fail within their first year, yet we have an awful lot to choose from.  Keep them shuttered and we'll get new ones after the pandemic. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


Biden's dream of reviving America's labor force faces a mounting threat: automation: Forty-three percent of businesses anticipate reducing their workforce due to an integration of technology. (ELEANOR MUELLER, 02/05/2021, Politico)

The mass disruption of the workplace because of the pandemic is accelerating employers' move toward job-displacing automation, and neither the government nor the American labor force is prepared for the sweeping fallout.

The hemorrhaging of jobs is refueling a national debate over how to give workers the skills to survive the brutal market and fill the millions of positions that automation will inevitably also create -- albeit at a far slower pace than positions are being shed. Lawmakers, labor unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are all calling for more spending on workforce training. The employment and training programs now available -- there are no fewer than 43 spread across the government -- are inadequate, uncoordinated and underfunded, they say.

"We've fast-forwarded 10 years of change in the space of less than 10 months," said Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of the National Skills Coalition, a policy research group that promotes workforce training.

Posted by orrinj at 11:00 AM


Tree of Knowledge (Rick Lewis, February 2021, Philosophy Now)

Some people say that the central strand in the history of philosophy is the search for truth. Conversely a tendency in philosophy for thousands of years has been scepticism - philosophical doubt about our ability to know particular things, such as the existence of the external world, or of other minds, or of moral certainty, or of the existence of God. Radical scepticism is doubting our ability to know anything at all. Descartes started with that position. Surrounded by sceptics on all sides, he wanted to find certainty. So he went one better than them by doubting everything. In a famous thought experiment he imagines an evil demon "of the utmost power and cunning" deliberately setting out to deceive him about everything. And then he thought, is there anything I could still know in such a situation? And he answered himself - yes. Even if he was being deceived about everything, then his thoughts while erroneous would still be thoughts. So he knew one thing: "I think" And from that he knew a second: "Therefore I exist."

David Hume at 300 (Howard Darmstadter, February 2021, Philosophy Now)

To see the emphasis Hume placed on our thought processes, consider a familiar philosophical problem. Seeing an external object - a tree, for example - involves a process that begins with the tree and flows, via reflected light, to our eyes, and then up our optic nerve to our brain, to produce a mental image of the tree, which is our experience of the tree. The tree is at one end of this chain of events, our mental image of the tree at the other. So how can we be sure that our mental image of the tree is like the tree itself? Descartes had a classic formulation of this problem: Could there be an evil demon who systematically gives us experiences (mental images) that are different from their causes? A modern version of this problem is, How do you know that you're not just a brain in a vat, fed electrical impulses by a mad scientist, so that while you think you have a body and participate in a real world of people and objects, you are in reality only a player in a kind of cosmic video game? (You've seen the movie.)

But Hume does not attempt to answer Descartes' problem. Hume's vantage-point is always that of a psychologist attempting to explain human behavior. The psychologist accepts that he and his subjects inhabit a common world of people and material objects. It is from within this common world that the psychologist attempts to discover the laws of thought. We can speculate as to whether this common world really (ie observer-independently) exists as we imagine it, but for Hume such speculations are idle. People always assume that such a world exists, and the psychological imperative to make this assumption settles the question for Hume. As he says in the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, skeptical principles "may flourish and triumph in the schools, where it is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to refute them. But as soon as they leave the shade, and by the presence of the real objects, which actuate our passions and sentiments, are put in opposition to the more powerful principles of our nature, they vanish like smoke, and leave the most determined skeptic in the same condition as other mortals" (from Part II of Section XII).

The Humanist

Just as our reasonings concerning matters of fact rest on a principle of association of ideas, so there can be no 'ultimate' justification for our moral beliefs, beyond psychological laws. This is summarised in Hume's infamous law that 'you can't get an ought from an is' [See Hume on Is and Ought in this issue - Ed].

Hume's attempt to base morality on psychological principles begins with a conventional premise: humans are motivated by pains and pleasures. But Hume insists that humans are innately social: we take pleasure in the pleasure of others, and feel pain at others' pain. This 'principle of humanity' is the foundation of Hume's ethical theory. It is his gravitational principle. It's our motivation for what we might call our 'moral behavior'. Hume supports it with numerous examples drawn from everyday life, but disdains any attempt to explain it.

Hume never doubts that all people are united in possessing the same psychology, in particular, the principle of humanity. Our fellow-feeling can be extended to anyone with whom we have contact: "An Englishman in Italy is a friend, a European in China, and perhaps a man would be beloved as such were we to meet him in the moon." Of course, the empathy shown in the principle of humanity does not extend to humankind generally, but only to people with whom we have contact: most strongly to family members and close friends, less to acquaintances, still less to those with whom contact is intermittent, and hardly at all to strangers. Hume's principle thus fails to explain how people can live at peace in complex societies where they must interact with and depend upon relative strangers. Instead, since large societies are necessary to maximize human pleasure - a basic human motivation to Hume - in this case people use their reasoning ability to invent systems of legal rules and institutions:

"Two neighbors may agree to drain a meadow, which they possess in common, because 'tis easy for them to know each others mind; and each must perceive that the immediate consequence of his failing in his part is the abandoning of the whole project. But 'tis very difficult, and indeed impossible, that a thousand persons should agree in any such action... Political society easily remedies ... these inconveniences. Thus bridges are built; harbors opened; ramparts raised; canals formed; fleets equipped; and armies disciplined everywhere by the care of government, which, though composed of men subject to all human infirmities, becomes, by one of the finest and most subtle inventions imaginable, a composition which is, in some measure, exempted from all these infirmities."

Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part II, section vii.

Yet while reason finds the means for individuals to achieve their ends, those ends are not set by reason, but by irresistible mental tendencies which Hume calls 'sentiments' or 'passions'. "Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them" Hume claimed.

Is Skepticism Ridiculous? (Michael Philips, February 2021, Philosophy Now)

David Hume (1711-76), perhaps the greatest skeptic of them all, struggled valiantly with this conflict. According to Hume, we face a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, we must respect philosophical reasoning (or, as he calls it, "refin'd reflection"). It is our only defense against ignorance, superstition, and other beliefs governing daily life which, one and all, originate in 'illusions of the imagination'. On the other hand, we can't run our lives on the conclusions of refin'd reflection since

"...the understanding, when it acts alone, and according to its most general principles, entirely subverts itself, and leaves not the lowest degree of evidence in any proposition, either in philosophy or common life." [This and the following Hume quotes are from A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part IV, section VII].

Midway through his discussion, Hume asserts that there is no rational solution to this problem, but that we don't need one. Although reason makes no headway here, 'nature' seems to solves the problem in favor of 'common life.' One can only entertain skeptical conclusions for so long before

"...[nature] cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation and lively impression of my senses, which obliterates all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of back-gammon, and I am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find it in my heart to enter into them any farther."

At such times Hume finds himself "absolutely and necessarily determin'd to live, and talk, and act like other people in the common affairs of life." Thus reduced to this "indolent belief in the general maxims of the world" he is ready to throw "all my books and papers into the fire, and resolve never more to renounce the pleasures of life for the sake of reasoning and philosophy."

Reason is not rational--so what?

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


How evangelicals' fundraising by demonization fed Capitol violence (Rob Schenckm 2/03/21, Religion News Service)

While evangelical participation in and support for the Jan. 6 event profoundly saddens me, I'm not shocked by it either. Big-name preachers, ministry celebrities and political figures have stoked fear, resentment and affront among my fellow believers for nearly half a century.

Because giant fundraising operations routinely trade, rent and sell "cause-oriented" donor records, tens of millions of digital and paper appeals are sent to evangelical households repeating the same often manufactured outrage under different signatures. 

During my now regrettable 30 years as an activist on the religious right, I aided and abetted the poisoning of evangelical culture by engaging in alarmist rhetoric from the pulpit. I denounced the "abortionists," the "homosexual lobby," "godless atheists" in academia and "Demoncrats" in Congress and the White House. More than 50,000 financial contributors rewarded me for doing all that. [...]

Berating those outside our community is always easier than taking ourselves and our own to task. Fellow evangelicals, it's time we take a dose of our own medicine. This time it's not someone else's religion or culture that poses a real threat -- it's ours. 

....demonizing everything has made the morally serious opposition to abortion seem as trivial as the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


US calls out human rights abuses in China (Deutsche-Welle, 2/06/21)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed for accountability on human rights abuses, particularly in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong while talking to senior Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi.

"I made clear the US will defend our national interests, stand for our democratic values and hold Beijing accountable for its abuses of the international system," said Blinken.

Beijing will be held "accountable for its efforts to threaten stability in the Indo-Pacific, including across the Taiwan strait and its undermining of the rules-based international system," he added.

Whereas Donald told Xi to put Muslims in cages and to put down the "riots" in Hong Kong. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Reframing Mideast, Biden seems to signal new distance from allies Israel, Saudis (SHAUN TANDON, 2/06/21, AFP) 

US President Joe Biden is quickly if subtly rebalancing US priorities in the Middle East, walking back his predecessor's all-encompassing embrace of Saudi Arabia and Israel while seeking diplomacy with Iran.

Two weeks into his presidency, Biden on Thursday announced an end to US support for the Saudi military campaign in Yemen which he said has "created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe."
Equally noticed was what went unsaid in his first major speech on foreign policy. Biden did not mention Israel when saying he was revitalizing alliances with other leaders -- a reflection of how he has not yet spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The Fossil Fuel Debate's Most Bizarre Byproduct: "Petro-Masculinity" (ALEXANDER C. KAUFMAN, 2/06/21, Mother Jones)

"It turns out President Biden may be the most left-wing president we've ever seen," Kudlow said. "His actions on spending and taxing and regulating, on immigration and fossil fuels and other cultural issues... he may be the most left-wing." [...]

What, then, explains the political power of fossil fuels? Hefty political donations and the long-term need for some supply of the fuels, albeit paired with some kind of technology to capture emissions, only tell part of the story. The industry, especially in the U.S., also serves as an avatar for a certain kind of cultural worldview, one that resonates with tough-guy masculinity and patriarchal families.

In 2011, a study in the peer-reviewed journal Global Environmental Change found that white males were overrepresented among people who denied the reality of climate change. Researchers attributed the phenomenon to a desire to "protect their cultural identity."

"Perhaps white males see less risk in the world because they create, manage, control, and benefit from so much of it," the study's authors wrote. "Perhaps women and nonwhite men see the world as more dangerous because in many ways they are more vulnerable, because they benefit less from many of its technologies and institutions, and because they have less power and control."

In 2014, researchers in Sweden found that climate denial was "intertwined with a masculinity of industrial modernity that is on decline." Those who defended the industries destabilizing the planet were trying "to save an industrial society" that men like them had built and dominated, argued the researchers, whose work appeared in Norma: International Journal for Masculinity Studies.

In 2018, Virginia Tech political scientist Cara Daggett gave the concept a name: petro-masculinity.

"The concept of petro-masculinity suggests that fossil fuels mean more than profit," Daggett wrote in the international studies journal Millennium. "Fossil fuels also contribute to making identities, which poses risks for post-carbon energy politics."

These guys are so terrified about their own masculinity it makes them unbalanced. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Víkingur Ólafsson, Bergen Philharmonic/ Gardner review - immense, unshowy charm (Fiona Maddocks, 6 Feb 2021, The Guardian)

The Icelandic pianist shot to fame with recordings of Philip Glass and Bach, often providing his own arrangements. Matching muscularity with sensitivity, he is intrigued by the connections rather than the boundaries between musical styles, as serious about the overshadowed glories of Rameau as about the pétillant pleasures of his fellow countryman Daniel Bjarnason, whose piano concerto Ólafsson plays in one of Wintermezzo's recorded concerts. The author Karl Ove Knausgaard chose the pianist as one of his cultural picks in On my radar in these pages last month. His description of Ólafsson's playing - in this case, of Glass - nails it: "precise, clear... mathematical but also very soulful". There's also, evident in every note, an immense, unshowy charm.

In this livestreamed concert, constructed around the keys of C minor and F minor, Ólafsson was soloist in Bach's Concerto No 5, in his own arrangement of the beautiful Adagio from Bach's Violin Sonata No 5, and in Mozart's grandest of piano concertos, No 24, K491. Written just before The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, this magnificent work makes huge demands on the woodwind. The Bergen players, in all sections, sparkled.

LIVESTREAM: Wintermezzo: Vikingur Ólafsson plays Grieg

February 5, 2021

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Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Denmark to build 'first energy island' in North Sea (BBC, 2/05/21)

A project to build a giant island providing enough energy for three million households has been given the green light by Denmark's politicians.

The world's first energy island will be as big as 18 football pitches (120,000sq m), but there are hopes to make it three times that size.

It will serve as a hub for 200 giant offshore wind turbines.

It is the biggest construction project in Danish history, costing an estimated 210bn kroner (£24bn; €28bn: $34bn).

Situated 80km (50 miles) out to sea, the artificial island would be at least half-owned by the state but partly by the private sector.

It will not just supply electricity for Danes but for other, neighbouring countries' electricity grids too. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


One solution to pandemic unemployment? Working less (Samanth Subramanian, 2/05/21, Quartz)

Economists and activists had already been pushing for a shorter work week in Europe even before the coronavirus hit, but the pandemic's effects make the idea even more worthwhile, said Aidan Harper, a member of the 4 Day Week Campaign in the UK. "The idea is that you reduce the working week to distribute work more fairly across the economy, and so reduce unemployment," he says. "People staying in work and having money in their pockets--that's essential for an economic recovery. They spend locally, they employ more people, the money circulates. It's essential that people spend during a downturn."

Last August, the think tank Autonomy published research showing that, if the public sector switched to a 32-hour week, it would create between 300,000 and 500,000 new full-time jobs, at a maximum cost of £9 billion--6% of the current spend on public sector wages.

For a brief period, it looked as if the UK might move in the opposite direction. In mid-January, the government prepared to review its adherence to the European Union's Working Time Directive--which the UK is no longer compelled to follow, post-Brexit. The directive gives people the right to work no more than 48 hours a week, although people who have second jobs or take on unpaid work frequently overshoot that limit. After opposition from the leftwing Labour Party and unions, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said last week that the review wouldn't take place: "We will not row back on the 48-hour weekly working limit."

Activists like Harper offer plenty of proof that people are as productive--if not more--in shorter working weeks as in full-length ones.

In an 8-Hour Day, the Average Worker Is Productive for This Many Hours (MELANIE CURTIN, Inc.)

Research suggests that in an eight-hour day, the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes.

That's right--you're probably only productive for around three hours a day.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.8 hours every day. Yet a study of nearly 2,000 full-time office workers revealed that most people aren't working for most of the time they're at work.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


GameStop's meteoric gains have almost entirely disappeared -- here's advice for those who didn't get out in time (Steve Goldstein, 2/05/21, Market Watch)

The author of the Cracked Market blog, Jani Ziedins, last week warned the traders piling into the videogames retailer GameStop not to get greedy -- or more specifically, not to be a pig. [...]

Here's Ziedins' advice now. "For those that still have money left in the market, there is no reason to ride this all the way into the dirt. Cash in what you have left, learn from this lesson, and come back to the market better prepared next time," says the Cracked Market blogger.

Dump your Bitcoin too. 

February 4, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM

IT'S A 60-40 NATION:

David French on Christian nationalism and evangelicals' existential angst: The conservative writer said Christian believers need to be reminded of the toxic effects of fear (Yonat Shimron, 2/03/21, RNS)

Religion News Service caught up with French to ask his unblinking perspective on the dangers of Christian nationalism, so prominent in the Capitol attack, and how the nation might begin to heal. The Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

You're an evangelical Christian. When did you begin to depart from the mainstream in your perspective?

I haven't changed my perspective on things like being pro-life or believing in strong religious freedom protections. But I stopped being a Republican after (Donald) Trump's victory in the 2016 primary.

In 2007, much to my embarrassment today, I was speaking to a very conservative convention and someone asked why I was volunteering to go to Iraq and I said the two greatest threats to America were far-left radicals at home and jihadists abroad.

Then I went to Iraq and I saw the difference between an opponent and an enemy. I had lived in deep blue places in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in Ithaca, New York, with people on the far left of the political aisle, and I had a good life in both of those places. I could not have had a good life in Iraq under the control of the Islamic State. And I thought, "We are superheating our political rhetoric at home out of proportion to the stakes of our political controversies. And that's dangerous."

What do you see as the country's greatest threats today?

Today, the greatest threat we have is polarization itself --this commitment we have to view fellow citizens as enemies and the incredible animosity existing across American communities that would lead people to feel so desperate about the state of the Union they would literally storm the Capitol to stop the democratic process.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


We Need a Memorably Forgettable President (Greg Weiner, 2/04/21, The Constitutionalist)

In 1969, Daniel Patrick Moynihan delivered a commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. The times paralleled our own: alienation that fed on itself and fueled chaos. Moynihan noted that he had spent a career trying to make government bigger, but that doing so effectively required recognizing what government could not do well. "What is it that government cannot provide?" he asked. "It cannot provide values to persons who have none, or who have lost those they had. It cannot provide a meaning to life. It cannot provide inner peace."

Trumpism was less a policy agenda than an attempt to supply those things to disaffected people, not by means of government, nor even through the White House, but rather through the personality of its occupant. He validated their lives and rhetorically vanquished their perceived foes. January 6 differs from Shay's Rebellion of 1786 and 1787 and the Whiskey Rebellion of the early 1790s. Those were indefensible and seditious. They also entailed people's livelihoods. The insurrection of January 6 pertained to its participants' apparently precarious self-respect.

If elections are meant to provide our sense of purpose and worth, their results are fated to be explosive. Moreover, if politics is the vehicle for all meaning, we should expect it to infiltrate every aspect of our lives and, in so doing, lose any sense of moderation or perspective. Moynihan's words on that topic at Notre Dame apply to the Trump right as much as they did, in 1969, to the radical left: "We are not especially well equipped in conceptual terms to ride out the storm ahead, but there are things we know without fully understanding, and one of these is the ultimate value of privacy, and the final ruin when all things have become political."

Of course, people do need outlets for values. Sources of meaning are important. But we should find them in concrete forms close to home, not abstractions like the personality of or opposition to the president. The insurrection exposed a profound civic pathology whose chief symptom is obsession with politics and whose etiology is the collapse of community. This form of politics replaces the tangible relationships and corresponding bonds of dependence and obligation that constitute authentic communities with shallow, anonymous attachments to politicians.

Cults of personality are seductive, partly because face-to-face relationships, which require us to confront each other in all our irritating imperfection, are difficult. They require real sacrifice and actual work. Hero worship exacts no costs in exchange for the moral exhilaration it provides.

For all the anti-government rhetoric of the Trump movement, it subsisted on the illusion of relationships of personal caretaking between individuals and the president. The conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet explained totalitarianism in terms of this ardent affection for politicians. The human need for community remains when traditional social bonds collapse, he wrote, so people seek it in the superficial realm of the state instead.

The service Biden can most do the nation is to decline heroic status.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


How to be 'liberal', according to the ancients (Peter jones, 2/04/21, The Spectator)

[I]n his dialogue On Duties the statesman Cicero linked lîberalitas with justice. His reasoning was that 'we are not born for ourselves alone... but as humans we are born for the sake of humans, to contribute to the general good by common acts of kindness, and by our skill, industry and talents to cement human society more closely together'.

For this to work, Cicero continued, 'truth and fidelity to promises and agreements' were necessary, which he summarized in two words: 'good faith'. An essential aspect of 'good faith' was its commitment to reciprocal obligations, and a certain style of behavior 'as far removed from the rest of animal creation as possible'. Here he identified lîberalitas with giving ('the greatest privilege of wealth is the opportunity it affords for doing good'), temperance, self-control and behavior in business that was fair and reasonable, avoiding litigation. Not pushing one's own 'rights' too far was the mark of the liberalis. Lîber also generated lîbertas, 'freedom' -- a condition of sovereignty, personal independence and frankness, easily exploited for corrupt ends. A lîberalis would have nothing to do with that.

This mutual obligation is the source of republican liberty which controls freedom/rights by the simple expedient of allowing the populace to place limits on human behavior so long as they apply universally. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


An 18th-Century Revolution, With Current Examples (Pierre Lemieux, 2/03/21, Econ Lib)

One of the greatest discoveries of the 18th century did not come from physics or astronomy but from the nascent science of economics. It is the theory that if individuals independently and freely pursue their ordinary self-interest, the resulting social order will be efficient, that is, will allow virtually all these individuals--or at least their vast majority, given their starting points in life--to better satisfy their own preferences.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


New study: Social media's alleged anti-conservative bias is 'disinformation' (Mark Sullivan, 2/03/21, Fast Company)

Many Republicans routinely complain that the big social networks systematically suppress right-wing viewpoints, but they've produced little real evidence of it. A new study from New York University finds that there is no evidence of it, and in fact finds the opposite--that social media has spread right-wing viewpoints to wider audiences than ever before.

"[T]he claim of anti-conservative animus is itself a form of disinformation: a falsehood with no reliable evidence to support it," the report states. "No trustworthy large-scale studies have determined that conservative content is being removed for ideological reasons or that searches are being manipulated to favor liberal interests." [...]

Quite the contrary, actually. Barrett found evidence that the content-serving algorithms used by the leading social media platforms have amplified right-wing voices to reach audiences of unprecedented size. That may be a nice way of saying that the social networks have taken advantage of fringy, factually questionable right-wing content to entice users to share more content and spend more time on their sites.

"The social media companies have a mercenary outlook," Barrett says. "They want to increase user engagement, and they'll use whatever kind of content users are engaging with. If that's with a sensitive piece of political content, or if it's something cultural like kittens and puppies, it's all good."

If you've spent any time tracking the most viral news-link posts on Facebook, as New York Times columnist Kevin Roose has, you'll see that it's usually not kittens and puppies. It's highly partisan political posts from Fox News, Breitbart, and Ben Shapiro's The Daily Wire.

Right-wing politicians routinely use their social media persecution tale to lead up to calls for the removal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides legal protections for the tech companies that operate social networks. Section 230 shields tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter from being sued either for harmful user content posted at their sites, or for decisions they've made to remove harmful content. Actually, even Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, who cowrote Section 230 back in the 1990s, says that Facebook and others may have used the law's legal shield as a substitute for rigorous content moderation. But a full repeal of Section 230 would likely be more punitive than corrective.

February 3, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM

IT'S A 60/40 NATION:

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Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


GOP lawmakers seek to remove Omar from committees as Dems press to drop Taylor Greene from panel (Thomas Barrabi, 2/03/21, Fox News)

The Hill columnist Joe Concha says a Republican lawmaker in a similar situation would receive more coverage from mainstream media outlets.

House GOP lawmakers are seeking this week to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from her committee assignments as Democrats push for similar action against embattled Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Fox News has learned.

...so too are the Democrats defined by a female black refugee. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Police Violence and COVID Spurred 30% Spike in U.S. Homicides in 2020 (NICOLE FALLERT, 2/3/21, Newsweek)

The authors compared their findings with increases in violence following the August 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Homicides in large cities rose by nearly 22 percent from 2015 to 2016, and analysts attributed the increase to what is called a "Ferguson Effect."

The two-part "Ferguson Effect" provides a potential explanation for the increase in homicides last year. First is "de-policing," or law enforcement stepping back in "fear they will be unfairly scrutinized" and potentially lose their jobs. The effect's second part maintains "de-legitimizing," or that "breached trust" and lack of confidence urged communities to pull back from relying on the police. The latter makes criminal investigations and resolutions more difficult, according to the study.

"There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time."

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


PDF: THE FACE OF AMERICAN INSURRECTION:  Right-Wing Organizations Evolving into a Violent Mass Movement (DR. ROBERT A. PAPE (PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR)

Wealthy old white men.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


GameStop Isn't a Popular UprisingAn exclusive look at the data indicates that big players are driving the price, not the little guy trading "stonks." (Robert J. Shapiro, February 3, 2021, Washington Monthly)

The nearly five-fold jump in GameStop's average trading volume from July to December signaled that large institutional investors were buying the stock. SEC filings show that they bought 40.8 million shares in 2020 and another 18.2 million shares in January of this year. These are banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, and mutual funds that manage large holdings on behalf of sovereign wealth funds, "high net worth" individuals, pension plans, 401(k) plans, and endowments.

There are hundreds of institutional investors, but 38 major ones each manage financial assets of more than $500 billion, totaling $37.8 trillion in assets among them. They trade stocks in blocks of 10,000 shares, and their trades accounted for an estimated 90 percent of all daily U.S. trading activity in 2019. By some accounts, their sway has ebbed to 75 percent of all trading since the pandemic began. Still, either way, decisions by some 20 or 30 investment committees of the biggest players typically determine whether most stocks rise or fall on a given day.

Their dominance is the rule because money talks in stock markets. By these measures, "retail" investors -- the rest of us -- are just along for the ride. On occasion, small investors move as a herd into or out of a particular stock, purportedly the current story of the Reddit crew and GameStop. The truth is, in most cases, the herd follows a big price increase or decline from the big players buying or selling large blocks of shares.

Based on the data, that is what happened when GameStop's share price and trading volume took off. Big players were driving the price up (and sometimes down), not the rascally Reddit crowd. On January 13, the stock's trading volume ballooned to 145 million shares, and its price jumped from $19.95 to $31.00. In one day, the total shares held by all investors (46.9 million) turned over more than three times - and that was only an overture. By Friday, January 22, GameStop's share price reached $56.04 on volume of 197 million shares, and the following Monday, it jumped to $76.79 per-share on trading of 178 million shares. Over the rest of last week (January 26-January 29), GameStop's share prices gyrated from $148 to $347 to $194 to $325 on average trading volume of 126 million shares per day.

Unless most of the Reddit bunch have assets in the top one-tenth of one percent of Americans, they were mere bystanders to last week's trading of 682 million shares at an average price of $218.20 - purchases totaling nearly $150 billion in a wildly volatile market. Only institutional investors have such resources to trade stocks, not self-styled populists with Robinhood on their iPhones. Since most big players are regulated public corporations with fiduciary responsibilities to avoid the enormous risks involved in this high-stakes game of chicken, the GameStop players almost certainly are all lightly regulated hedge funds.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why countries with 'loose', rule-breaking cultures have been hit harder by Covid (Michele Gelfand, Feb. 1st, 2021, The Guardian)

It turns out Covid's deadliness depends on something simpler and more profound: cultural differences in our willingness to follow rules.

All cultures have social norms, or unwritten rules for social behaviour. We adhere to standards of dress, discipline our kids, and don't elbow our way through crowded subways not because these are legislative codes but because they help our society function. Psychologists have shown that some cultures abide by social norms quite strictly; they're tight. Others are loose - with a more relaxed attitude toward rule-breakers.

This distinction, first noticed by Herodotus, is in modern times capable of being quantified by psychologists and anthropologists. Relative to the US, the UK, Israel, Spain and Italy, countries like Singapore, Japan, China and Austria have been shown to be much tighter. These differences aren't random. Research in both nation-states and small-scale societies has shown that communities with histories of chronic threat - whether natural disasters, infectious diseases, famines or invasions - develop stricter rules that ensure order and cohesion. It makes good evolutionary sense: following rules helps us survive chaos and crisis. On the flipside, looser groups that have faced fewer threats can afford to be more permissive.

Neither type is better or worse - until a global pandemic hits. Back in March, I started to worry that loose cultures, with their rule-breaking spirit, would take longer to abide by public health measures, with potentially tragic consequences. I was hopeful that they would eventually tighten. All of our computer models prior to Covid suggested they would.

But they didn't. In research that tracked more than 50 countries, published this week in the Lancet Planetary Health, my team and I show that, taking into account other factors, loose cultures had five times the number of cases that tight cultures did, and more than eight times as many deaths.

Of course, the flip-side is that the tight nations can never really be our economic peers because they aren't innovative. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Growing pains: Biden slowed by early stumbles in first two weeks (Naomi Lim, February 02, 2021, Washington Examiner)

Biden hosted a Monday evening Oval Office meeting with Senate Republicans, for example, after complaints he hadn't adequately consulted them and their colleagues regarding a coronavirus relief package. That's despite Biden repeatedly saying that he would prefer to broker a bipartisan deal rather than resorting to a budgetary procedure called reconciliation to ram his $1.9 trillion "American Rescue Plan" through the Senate with only Democratic support.

Political analyst Dan Schnur, a Republican-turned-independent now at the University of Southern California, said Biden should be more concerned about challenges from his own party than across the political aisle.

"Biden wants to be a bipartisan president, but he doesn't seem to want to push back at congressional Democrats," Schnur told the Washington Examiner. "There might still be a sweet spot that allows him to do both of those things. But right now, he might be the only one in Washington who can see it."

Reconciliation requires a simple majority instead of a 60-vote, filibuster-proof margin in the Senate. But rather than trying to earn Republican support, the administration seems nervous that it won't even be able to muster all 48 Democrats and the two independents who caucus with them behind the package after what was widely regarded as a ham-handed attempt to pressure centrist Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

There was never a realistic chance he'd be good at this, but making exactly the same mistakes as the UR is pretty bad.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Hanover votes to join municipal energy coalition to cut electricity costs; Lebanon may follow suit (Tim Camerato, Feb. 2nd, 2021, Valley News)

By offering up thousands of customers, he said, the coalition could attract offers from electric suppliers at competitive rates. Towns also would get to decide where the energy comes from, allowing them to set and meet greater sustainability goals, added Kreis, a state official who represents the interests of residential ratepayers before the Public Utilities Commission.

"That would make them a formidable presence in the wholesale market," he said.

Lebanon Assistant Mayor Clifton Below said the coalition is based on similar groups in Massachusetts, Vermont and California that allow municipalities to procure electricity for residents and businesses through the open market.

Below, a former public utilities commissioner, worked over the last 18 months with consultants and officials from neighboring towns to get the coalition started, following on the heels of a 2019 state law that opened the door to municipal aggregation.

Community power, he said, could lead to several cost-saving initiatives. For instance, the city could choose to buy from a supplier offering lower prices, or it could implement newer, more dynamic ways of calculating bills, such as "real time" pricing that would offer lower rates for running a dishwasher overnight, when the demand for power is less.

Below also said the program could offer options for people to get a larger share of their energy through renewable sources, such as solar and wind.

"To keep customers around, we want to create options where people can see savings compared to utility default service," he said.

February 2, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Lindsey Graham warns he'll "call in the FBI" if one witness is questioned in Trump impeachment trial (JON SKOLNIK, FEBRUARY 2, 2021, Salon)

In a Fox News interview on Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, cautioned Democrats against calling witnesses to the stand in Donald Trump's upcoming impeachment trial, warning that the GOP will retaliate by calling in the FBI for further testimony. 

Graham said in an interview, "If you open that can of worms, we'll want the FBI to come in and tell us about how people pre-planned this attack and what happened with the security footprint at the Capitol," adding, "You open up Pandora's Box if you call one witness."

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Economy Improving Faster Than Expected, Says CBO--What Does That Mean for Biden's Stimulus? (ALEXANDRA HUTZLER, 2/2/21, Newsweek)

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) upgraded its U.S. economic outlook on Monday, saying that the economy will return to its pre-pandemic size by the middle of this year--even if there is not another federal relief package.

The nonpartisan agency projects economic growth of 4.6 percent in 2021, compared with a 3.5 percent contraction in 2020. Real gross domestic product is expected to grow 3.7 percent in 2021 and average 2.6 percent growth over the next five years.

"CBO currently projects a stronger economy than it did in July 2020, in large part because the downturn was not as severe as expected and because the first stage of the recovery took place sooner and was stronger than expected," the report said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Joe Manchin Deals Blow to Democrats' Stimulus Plan, Won't Support It Without Bipartisan Agreement (MATTHEW IMPELLI,  2/2/21, Newsweek)

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said Tuesday he is opposed to passing an economic relief bill without bipartisan agreement.

Asked by reporters if he would support a budget resolution to pass the legislation, Manchin said, "I will only support moving in a bipartisan way." He added, "That means an open process. I've been very clear about that."

There are not 50 reliably Democratic votes in the Senate.  He'll need those breakaway Republicans and by working with them he makes them toxic on the Right. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:39 AM


Yahoo News/YouGov poll: More than two-thirds of Americans side with Biden on COVID relief -- and most support the rest of his agenda (Andrew Romano, February 1, 2021, Yahoo News)

[D]espite the distance between politicians on Capitol Hill, the Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that ordinary Americans overwhelmingly favor most of Biden's agenda -- particularly his plan to end a pandemic that has killed more than 440,000.

Of all 20 policies covered by the poll, the two most popular were the ones at the center of Biden's current COVID proposal: $2,000 relief checks (74 percent favor vs. 13 percent oppose) and increased federal funding for vaccination (69 percent favor vs. 17 percent oppose). A full 58 percent of Americans also support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, another key element of Biden's COVID-19 rescue package. That's almost twice the share of Americans (31 percent) who oppose a wage hike. Nearly identical numbers favor (57 percent) and oppose (32 percent) a national mask mandate. [...]

After calling in his inaugural address for an end to America's "uncivil war," Biden also appears to be finding common ground with his constituents on the economy, health care, climate change, immigration and criminal justice. Two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) favor "more federal funding for research and development to assist domestic manufacturing" and "investing in renewable energy infrastructure," the core planks of Biden's separate COVID-19 recovery package, which he hopes to advance later this year. Opposition is negligible, at 13 percent and 17 percent, respectively.

More than 60 percent of Americans -- the equivalent of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate -- also support "stopping family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border" (64 percent to 20 percent); "creating a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children" (61 percent to 23 percent); and "enacting comprehensive criminal-justice reform" (63 percent to 12 percent).

And half or more Americans favor "cutting carbon emissions to zero by the year 2050" (54 percent to. 23 percent); "rejoining the World Health Organization" (57 percent to 28 percent); "giving all Americans the option of buying Medicare-like public health insurance" (57 percent to 22 percent); and "providing more federal funding for community policing measures" (51 percent to 21 percent); and "reversing the recent tax cuts for Americans making more than $400,000" (50 percent to 30 percent).

Meanwhile, opposition to most of the rest of Biden's agenda stalls out below 35 percent, including "rejoining the Paris Climate Accords" (48 percent to 30 percent); "reversing the recent tax cut for corporations" (45 percent to 32 percent); and "eliminating tuition at public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000" (47 percent to 33 percent).

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


5 reasons to be optimistic about clean energy in 2021 (Marcel Alers, 1/20/21, WEF)

1) Clean energy is a smart investment

Fossil fuels used to be less expensive than cleaner energy, but this is changing. Renewables are becoming more affordable every year, and some options are now cheaper than fossil fuels. The price of solar has decreased by 89 percent since 2010. It is now cheaper to go solar than to build new coal power plants in most countries, and solar is now the cheapest electricity in history. Amid an exceptionally challenging year, and despite suffering setbacks, the renewables sector has shown some resilience.

This fall in price, coupled with technological progress and the introduction of innovative business models, means we are now at a tipping point. Energy efficiency technologies can also deliver climate benefits. The right efficiency policies could enable the world to achieve more than 40 percent of the emissions cuts needed to even without new technology.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


JOHAN NORBERG AND OPEN SOCIETIES: a review of Open - The Story of Human Progress (Madsen Pirie, 2/02/21, Adam Smith Institute)

The book is an instant classic, a complex and wide-ranging series of insights into what has led some societies to succeed and some to fail. "Succeed" here means giving their citizens the chance to lead decent and improving lives. Trade, Norberg shows, has been a key factor. Merchants take back and forth not only goods but ideas and innovations that can be copied. Open, trading societies learn from each other, whereas societies that close their borders to foreign goods in order to protect their own producers are denying their citizens access not only to goods from outside, but also to ideas that can improve their lives. 

Open societies that allowed movement of goods, people and ideas have prospered. Their openness has bred tolerance and welcomed diversity. Ancient open cultures have progressed in arts and science, in manufactures, agriculture and in ideas, as well as in wealth. People copy successful innovation.

Open societies are ones that do not require adherence to one set of beliefs and practices, but which allow different groups within them to follow differing values. They tolerate nonconformity, and are prepare to see new ideas develop and spread. All previous open societies have reverted to authority and imposed conformity. Some, Norberg points out, have succumbed to external shock such as conquest or plague. Others have seen innovation and tolerance repressed as traditional ruling élites and those benefitting from established powers have fought back to restore their advantage. 

There has been one exception - the one that fostered the Industrial Revolution in Britain and which has provided an economic template as the source of the modern world. It survived, Norberg suggests, because no-one had the power to shut it down as they had done elsewhere. Power in Britain was dispersed and multi-faceted, and neither crown, aristocracy, church or guilds had enough power to impose their will to silence the ideas or to stop the innovations. Norberg lists the Glorious Revolution of 1689 as a pivotal event in this, channeling monarchical power into constitutional government.

capitalism, democracy and protestantism.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


From CPTPP to welcoming the Hongkongers, Global Britain is taking shape (Matt Kilcoyne, 2/02/21, CapX)

Global Britain became very real this weekend. As the EU threatened to seize vaccines and impose a hard border on the isle of Ireland, the noises out of our own sceptred isle could hardly have been more different. With the vaccine programme going strong, ministers have started to sound off about handing surplus stock to friends and neighbours -- the hint being that Ireland will be given some extra doses, possibly along with the CANZUK states left hanging by the EU's export ban plan.

Beyond the vaccine drama, though, were two more important moves that set the scene for our post-Brexit foreign policy. Yesterday the Government righted an historic wrong, and granted all Hong Kong-born residents of the territory the right to a British National (Overseas) passport, with new residency and work rights here in the UK. Hong Kong Brits now have a home in Blighty and the cold, calllous grasp of the Chinese Communist Party is today a little looser. Nothing our government has done in recent years has made me prouder than the recognition that Britons can be found right around the world.

And it's a path strongly supported by the British people. Ministers were up front about the numbers involved in the British National's residency and work right offer. 350,000 BNO passport holders had the immediate right and up to 3.7m could claim a passport and move if they wanted to. That honesty was rewarded, with 64% of voters in favour of the plan and just 22% against. The public overwhelmingly see the British Hong Kongers as equal to those born in the UK, just as they see Falkland islanders or Gibraltarians as British. We're all British wherever we may be, irrespective of creed or skin colour.

Now ink a free trade and travel deal with NAFTA.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


At New York City's biggest power plant, a switch to clean energy will help a neighborhood breathe easier: Aging, pollution-spilling equipment clocks its final days at the Ravenswood Generating Station (Andrew Blum, 2/02/21, Popular Science)

When COVID-19 swept through New York City in the Spring of 2020, it did so unevenly. Hardest hit by far were communities of color, where the death rate was roughly double that of white neighborhoods. Overlapping constellations of reasons drove this--such areas house more essential workers, living in more crowded homes, with less access to health care--but among the more insidious was chronic exposure to air pollution. A nationwide study from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health found that COVID deaths increased by 8 percent with each additional microgram per cubic meter of fine particulate matter, the contaminant most closely linked to highways, truck traffic, and power plants. Given that the dirtiest and cleanest neighborhoods in New York City have an annual difference of about 4 micrograms per cubic meter, areas near heavy industries net a lot more deadly infections.

The residents of the Queensbridge Houses, the nation's largest public housing project, worry this puts them at greater risk. "I've heard the conversation in the park over the last three months more than in the last five years," says Suga Ray, a neighborhood activist and community builder. "People are talking about the plants over there," he says of the Ravenswood Generating Station, whose iconic red-and-white-tipped smokestacks create an omnipresent frame for the skyline.

Queensbridge consists of 26 Y-shaped buildings in the shadow of the bridge that connects midtown Manhattan with the borough of Queens. Forty percent of its approximately 7,000 occupants live below the poverty line; 96 percent are nonwhite. Ravenswood, which can supply up to 20 percent of the city's peak electricity needs, sits kitty-corner to these projects, and started generating power in 1963. The Queensbridge Houses opened in 1939. "That's how you know it's systemic," Ray says. "They could have put it anywhere else. We create these structures in communities dominated by Black people." [...]

In their place, Ravenswood's owner--private equity firm LS Power--has received approval from New York state to build 316 megawatts of battery storage on-site, which will be among the largest such installations in the United States. The cells will physically and functionally take the place of the aging peakers, ultimately charging up with renewable energy from the grid and then dispatching it on the high-demand days. "The goal is to be able to maintain the same level of reliability that we have currently but with a lower level of emissions," says Clint Plummer, CEO of Rise Light & Power, a new entity created to operate Ravenswood Generating Station as well as future projects. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden turns the page on Trump in push to streamline US immigration process (CHARLOTTE PLANTIVE, 2/02/21, AFP) 

US President Joe Biden will call Tuesday for his administration to streamline the naturalization of nine million migrants, senior officials said, as part of a raft of steps aimed at rolling back the "failed" policies of his hardline Republican predecessor.

The Democratic president will sign a series of executive orders overhauling the US immigration process Tuesday, officials said, signaling a return to a more inclusive policy.

Biden is also set to order a review of all legal obstacles to immigration and integration that were put in place under Donald Trump.

"The review will likely lead to dramatic changes in policies," according to a senior government official, saying the goal is "to restore faith in our legal immigration system, and promote integration of Americans."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Auto Industry Accelerates Toward A Clean Energy Future (Froma Harrop, Feb. 1st, 2021, National Memo)

Oh, and while Washington was trying to hold domestic carmakers back, China was building dominance. China leads the world in making battery packs for electric vehicles, by far. It's grabbed control of much of Earth's raw materials needed for electric cars. And it is offering princely subsidies for the vehicles' purchase.

Biden wants to extend the $7,500 tax incentive to buy EVs and says he will build 500,000 charging stations coast to coast. Both moves would further boost domestic demand for electric vehicles. That would lower the automakers' per-vehicle costs in a global market, raising the companies' profits.

But how strong is current domestic demand for electric vehicles? Let's put it this way: One day after GM started taking orders for a zero-emission Hummer, the first year's production was sold out.

Back in the days of oil supremacy, the Hummer had become the epitome of polluting excess. Some owners seemed to like it for that reason. But power is no longer the province of fossil fuels. The electric Hummer has 1,000 horsepower and can go zero to 60 miles per hour in three seconds.

Meanwhile, the Ford Mustang Mach-E sport utility vehicle was a star at the recent Beijing Auto Show. The Mach-E is a complicated concept. Not your pony car of yore, it is an electrified SUV cosmetically altered to look a bit Mustang-like. It has four doors! Whatever. Edmunds just made this car its top-rated luxury EV, beating out Audi, Porsche, Jaguar, Polestar, and Tesla.

Funny to read that Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat and former GM executive, said she told carmakers: "When Joe Biden gets elected, your world will turn upside down. You've got to be at the table or else this thing gets jammed down your throat."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New York City council proposes sweeping NYPD reforms (Pro Publica, February 02, 2021)
The New York City Council has announced an ambitious slate of legislation to reshape the NYPD and increase accountability at the nation's largest police force. Among the proposed changes, the police commissioner would be stripped of final say over disciplining officers.

In an ongoing investigation, ProPublica has detailed how NYPD officers who've mistreated civilians have escaped significant punishment and even been promoted to top positions, while commissioners have often dismissed proposed penalties for officers.

The proposed reforms, unveiled on Friday, are laid out in 11 bills and one resolution sponsored by several City Council members, including Speaker Corey Johnson, Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo and Public Safety Committee Chair Adrienne Adams.

City Council member Stephen Levin, who also helped craft the legislation, drew a "direct line" from ProPublica's coverage to the proposed changes on discipline.

Another bill in the package would remove NYPD officers as the default responders to emergency calls related to mental health. As ProPublica recently detailed, the NYPD has killed at least 16 civilians in crisis over the past few years, including 32-year-old Kawaski Trawick, who was shot just 112 seconds after officers arrived at his apartment.

February 1, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


Trump's trade war on China was a failure in every possible way (Dion Rabouin, 2/01/21, Axios)

 "The trade war with China hurt the US economy and failed to achieve major policy goals," a recent study commissioned by the U.S.-China Business Council argues, finding that the trade war reduced economic growth and cost the U.S. 245,000 jobs.

Last year, the U.S. trade deficit widened to its largest on record. In the fourth quarter, the U.S. goods trade deficit hit its highest share of GDP since 2012 and the U.S. current account deficit jumped to its highest level in more than 12 years in the third quarter.

Foreign direct investment to the U.S. fell 49% in 2020 -- outpacing the overall global decrease of 42%.

These trends had all been moving in this direction since 2017, and were accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic as Trump refused to remove tariffs despite their strain on businesses.

The big picture: "The tariffs forced American companies to accept lower profit margins, cut wages and jobs for U.S. workers, defer potential wage hikes or expansions, and raise prices for American consumers or companies," analysts at Brookings noted in August.

The other side: China's trade surplus last year hit a record $535 billion, up 27% from 2019. Exports rose 21.1% in dollar terms in November year over year and 18.1% in December from a year earlier, touching an all-time high.

For the full year, the trade surplus with the U.S. was $317 billion, 7% higher than in 2019.

Foreign direct investment to China rose 4% to $163 billion.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Merrick Garland's 'flawless' work in Oklahoma City crucial in white supremacy fightThose who know the attorney general nominee from the 1995 case say the US could have no better ally in the battle against extremism (Tom McCarthy, 1 Feb 2021, The Guardian)

The message was a stark one. "America is in serious decline," the person wrote. "Is a civil war imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn't come to that! But it might."

It reads like an entry on a message board popular with the insurrectionists who broke into the US Capitol on 6 January - expressing a sentiment at once shocking and shockingly routine in 2021 America.

But the words are from 1992 America, written in a letter to a newspaper by Timothy McVeigh, who three years later would carry out the Oklahoma City bombing, the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism in US history. An anti-government, white supremacist army veteran, McVeigh set off a truck bomb underneath a day care facility in a federal building, killing 168 people including 19 children.

The attack spawned the largest criminal case in US history. With conspiracy theories threatening the public trust even in those relatively innocent times for the truth, and the contemporaneous murder trial of OJ Simpson having fed widespread disillusionment with the American justice system, federal prosecutors knew that they would be working under a microscope.

But the lead prosecutor dispatched by Washington to Oklahoma a day after the bombing, Merrick Garland, demonstrated a particularly honed sense for what the investigation required and how to deliver it, according to former colleagues.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The State of Myanmar (Ben Jones, May 2020, History Today)

When independence came in 1947, the Burmese inherited a military state and the legacy of authoritarianism has persisted. In 2018, two journalists, who had reported on the extra-juridical execution of ten Rohingya men by the Tatmadaw and Arakan villagers, were sentenced to prison under the Official Secrets Act, a law dating from the British era. 

By the 1960s, as democracy collapsed into dictatorship, the concept of the taingyintha, or 'national races', became central to political discourse. The idea of taingyintha was a blatant attempt at nation-building, pushing the idea that the country's many ethnic groups were a unitary whole. The word appeared in books, speeches and the 1974 constitution, yet its efficacy has been debatable. Since the end of the Second World War, the country had been carved up into multiple arenas of civil war, mainly along ethnic lines. That these wars persist highlights that the unity in diversity rhetoric failed to win hearts and minds. Despite the multicultural rhetoric, Burma was a state virtually monopolised by the majority Bamar ethnic group, whose language, Burmese, was, and is, the official language. Both military leaders such as General Ne Win and pro-democracy leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi called for integration, but spoke from a position within the dominant culture and were thus unable to recognise what other ethnicities were calling for, such as the right to teach in their own languages.

Where the military is the exclusive Deep State, the democrats who take over have to crush that military immediately.

Sadly, the generals are just aping Donald, claiming the election was fixed. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Trump White House was behind the decision to have a march to the Capitol: NYTimes report (Sarah K. Burris, Jan. 31st, 2021, Raw Story)

Among the revelations in the bombshell New York Times report about the final 77 days of Donald Trump's presidency was that MAGA organizers for the Jan. 6 rally never intended to march to the U.S. Capitol.

While the president tweeted that the Jan. 6 event would be "wild," organizers saw their efforts overpowered by Trump's insiders.

"The rally had taken on new branding, the March to Save America, and other groups were joining in, among them the Republican Attorneys General Association," The Times reported. "Its policy wing, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, promoted the event in a robocall that said, 'We will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,' according to a recording obtained by the progressive investigative group Documented."

Allies of Steve Bannon, Jennifer Lawrence and Dustin Stockton were working with Women for America First, founded by Amy Kremer and run by her daughter Kylie Jane Kremer.

"Mr. Stockton said he was surprised to learn on the day of the rally that it would now include a march from the Ellipse to the Capitol," said The Times. "Before the White House became involved, he said, the plan had been to stay at the Ellipse until the counting of state electoral slates was completed."