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.