April 30, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Authenticity is a sham (Alexander Stern, 4/30/21, Aeon)

Despite its ubiquity, there's nothing necessary about authenticity. First of all, it's a luxury: only those comfortable enough to take the necessities of life for granted can turn their attention to authenticity. Secondly, authenticity has a history. Other cultures and times haven't given the self nearly so much weight, nor have they frowned so much upon conformity. Self-actualisation is often subordinated, if not completely subsumed, by service to the family, to tradition, or to God. Thinking about the history and contingency of authenticity - as with any concept - can help us understand how best to approach it.

Authenticity seems, at least initially, to have had a religious component. Indeed, Western authenticity can't be understood without reference to that peculiar Christian God who decided to become a man. One way to understand authenticity is as the inheritance we're left with after God passes away. In personalising God, Christianity foregrounded the inward struggle of the believer. In the form of Jesus Christ, whom Wilde called 'the first individualist in history', God wasn't just a lord to serve, but 'one of us', a human being with a personal narrative that holds lessons for his humble servants. Jesus' struggle with temptation, his rejection of hypocritical dogma, and his willing self-sacrifice parallels every Christian's own struggle: 'What would Jesus do?'

...in favor of conforming to God's/Christ's command to love each other. Abnegation, not authenticity. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Europe's Recession Contrasts Economic Fortunes of U.S. Expansion (Peter S. Goodman, April 30, 2021, NY Times)

Economic reports released on both sides of the Atlantic this week painted very different pictures of how the United States and Europe are recovering from the pandemic. The lesson: Along with vaccines, it pays to unleash enormous amounts of public money in the face of a livelihood-destroying health crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Teargas, flashbangs: the devastating toll of police tactics on Minnesota children (Lois Beckett, 30 Apr 2021, The Guardian)

Children can be especially vulnerable to teargas, because they have smaller lungs, tend to breathe more rapidly and are closer to the ground, where the irritating particles in teargas eventually settle, medical experts said.

"Teargas should absolutely not be used anywhere near children for any reason," said Irwin Redlener, the director of Columbia University's Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative, and a longtime children's health advocate. "It's completely inappropriate."

A wide range of doctors have condemned the US's use of teargas on children and families, including at the US-Mexico border in 2018. New research from Portland found that hundreds of people people reported serious, lasting health effects from being teargassed, including disruptions to their menstrual cycles, from intense cramps to abnormal bleeding. Because teargas was initially tested on young men in military settings, experts said, the full effects of the chemicals on a more diverse population are unknown. There is also little research on the long-term effects of teargas on children, Redlener said.

Several international treaties have banned the use of teargas during war.

The Minnesota governor, Tim Walz, a Democrat, initially defended the use of teargas in Brooklyn Center, saying it was important to prevent property damage, and that he trusted police to use it appropriately.

Residents of the Sterling Square Apartments, a complex across from the police department, said the reaction of law enforcement and national guard troops to the protests after Wright's death had traumatized their children and left kids and adults coughing and feeling sick from the exposure to teargas.

Ebonie McMillan, 36, who lives with her eight-year-old daughter and two-year old twins in an apartment directly facing the Brooklyn Center police station, said she had seen rubber bullets bouncing off her balcony.

The police think they are an occupying force in enemy territory. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


COVID-19 has prompted a boom in retirement savings (Howard Gold, 4/29/21, Market Watch)

According to Fidelity Investments, the average balance in IRA accounts at the firm rose from $115,400 in the fourth quarter of 2019 to $128,100 in the fourth quarter of 2020, an increase of 11%. With dividends reinvested, the S&P 500 SPX, +0.68% gained nearly 18% during that time, but remember, most IRAs are invested in a mixture of stocks, bonds and cash and few are 100% in equities.

Last year, the number of Fidelity IRA accounts that received a contribution increased by 35% and the average contribution per account rose by 5%. That doesn't sound like much, but it suggests that many people who kept their jobs (about eight million jobs lost last year still haven't returned) decided to step up their retirement savings during the pandemic, along with buying Pelotons PTON, -4.19% and subscribing to Netflix NFLX, +0.49%, HBO Max T, +1.23% and Disney+ DIS, +1.06%.

Furthermore, Fidelity reported, the number of new, traditional, Roth and Roth for Minor IRA accounts increased by 56% from 2019 to 2020. That's in line with data from Charles Schwab SCHW, +2.65%, which reported a 50% increase in IRA openings during the first two months of 2021 over the first two months of 2020, a slightly different time period.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Abu Mazen's epic elections blunder is a gift to Hamas: East Jerusalem riots were just an excuse to cancel voting when it became crystal clear the terror organization would have a giant win (Kobi Michael, APR 30, 2021, Times of Israel)

With Abu Mazen's announcement indefinitely delaying the Palestinian legislative elections, it appears the best days are behind the PA President along with the rest of the veteran Fatah Palestinian national leadership and even the Fatah movement itself. Abu Mazen's irresponsible and predictable decision to call the elections and his decision to cancel them on the pretext that attributes to Israel an inability to hold free elections in East Jerusalem are liable to emerge as one strategic fumble too many, in the wake of which the processes for changing the Palestinian national leadership will accelerate.

The Jerusalem riots resulted from a mix of factors: the Muslim holy month of Ramadan along with shortfalls in Israel Police professionalism and sensitivity surrounding recent events in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, all further clouded by "TikTok Terrorism" and the Lehava organization's displays of hatred and violence. But none of these cut to the heart of the matter.

East Jerusalem was the ladder that enabled a desperate Abu Mazen to climb down from the elections he called, by presidential decree, after reaching understandings with Hamas. In deciding on the elections, Abu Mazen acted with preening irresponsibility, maneuvering himself into a honey trap set for him by Hamas, which agreed -- to his surprise, and contrary to its original position -- to accept all of his terms for holding the elections. Hamas, which had prepared impressively for the elections and anticipated significant gains and perhaps even victory, was unwilling to provide Abu Mazen with the ladder.

Participating in the denial of self-determination to the Palestinian people is an ongoing blight on our own ideals. 

April 29, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Texas enabled the worst carbon monoxide poisoning catastrophe in recent U.S. history (Mike Hixenbaugh, Suzy Khimm, Perla Trevizo, ProPublica/The Texas Tribune, Ren Larson, ProPublica/The Texas Tribune and Lexi Churchill, ProPublica/The Texas Tribune)

After the power flicked off in millions of homes across Texas during the state's historic freeze in mid-February, families like Bekele's faced an impossible choice: risk hypothermia or improvise to keep warm. Many brought charcoal grills inside or ran cars in enclosed spaces, either unaware of the dangers or too cold to think rationally.

In their desperation, thousands of Texans unwittingly unleashed deadly gases into homes and apartments that, in many cases, were not equipped with potentially lifesaving carbon monoxide alarms, resulting in the country's "biggest epidemic of CO poisoning in recent history," according to Dr. Neil Hampson, a retired doctor who has spent more than 30 years researching carbon monoxide poisoning and prevention. Two other experts agreed.

In the aftermath of the unprecedented wave of poisonings two months ago, Texas lawmakers have taken few steps to protect residents from future carbon monoxide catastrophes. That choice caps more than a decade of ignored warnings and inaction that resulted in Texas being one of just six states with no statewide requirement for carbon monoxide alarms in homes, ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and NBC News found.

Instead, Texas has a confusing patchwork of local codes, with uneven protections for residents and limited enforcement, all of which most likely contributes to unnecessary deaths, health policy experts said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Long Before Raiding Rudy Giuliani's Home, Investigators Sought 'Everything' From His Associates (SIMON SHUSTER,  APRIL 29, 2021, TIME)

The investigation of Giuliani grew out of a federal probe into two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were arrested in Oct. 2019 and charged with violating campaign finance law. Both men have denied the charges and are awaiting trial.

Before they were arrested, Parnas and Fruman assisted Giuliani in his quest to connect Biden, then a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, to alleged acts of corruption in Ukraine. Drawing on a cast of oligarchs, former prosecutors and alleged Russian agents in Ukraine, Giuliani and his allies spent more than a year trying to tarnish Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was Vice President.

The pressure campaign to coerce Ukrainian officials into providing damaging material about the Bidens ultimately resulted in Trump's first impeachment by the House of Representatives in Dec. 2019. The impeachment inquiry found that Trump abused his office while assisting Giuliani's mission against Biden. The Republican-controlled Senate later acquitted Trump of these charges.

While the impeachment inquiry was underway that fall, federal investigators began questioning Giuliani's associates about the smear campaign against the Bidens in Ukraine, wanting to know "everything - every meeting, every text," says one of people they spoke to at the time.

What interested investigators most of all was the relationship between Giuliani and the Ukrainian businessman Dmitry Firtash, who is wanted in the U.S. on corruption charges, this witness says. "The main things that interested them was: How would you assess, how would you describe, what do you know about his communication with Ukrainian oligarchs," says this witness, who spoke repeatedly to investigators over the course of more than a year. "Firtash was of course their main focus, without a doubt."

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Ukrainian ex-lawmaker says he spoke to FBI about Giuliani (BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN, 04/29/2021, Politico)

Artemenko had a close-up view of Giuliani's work with Ukrainian officials and operatives -- activity which appears to be a key focus of the FBI investigation into the former mayor. His comments about helping the FBI come as the Bureau has seized materials from Giuliani himself and from another lawyer, Victoria Toensing, who also worked on the Ukraine project.

FBI agents sought permission to search Giuliani's apartment last summer, but officials at DOJ headquarters didn't green-light the move because of rules limiting some steps in the lead-up to elections. On Wednesday, FBI agents raided Giuliani's apartment and, separately, took Toensing's phone.

Artemenko first drew major attention in the U.S. when The New York Times reported he gave Trump's then-lawyer Michael Cohen a draft of a peace plan between Ukraine and Russia. The plan reportedly would have leased Ukraine's Crimean peninsula to Russia for up to 100 years. Ukraine's top prosecutor said the plan appeared to be treasonous, and in 2017, then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stripped Artemenko of his citizenship, as RFE/RL reported.

In the years since then, Artemenko stayed connected to Trump World and went into business with Erik Prince. He also registered as a lobbyist for Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian politician who the U.S. government later sanctioned for election interference. When Artemenko dropped Derkach as a client, he told POLITICO he was "fully cooperating with U.S. law enforcement," but didn't specify on what matters.

Artemenko also featured prominently in a documentary series that Giuliani put together with the pro-Trump TV channel One America News. The network billed Giuliani's documentary as a way to debunk the "impeachment narrative" about Trump and Ukraine. On one episode, Artemenko accused American diplomats in Ukraine of corruption.

"They serve to the Democrats," he said. "They serve to the Mr. Soros."

The FBI's investigation of Giuliani appears to focus on his Ukraine-related work. As personal lawyer to then-President Donald Trump, Giuliani worked to try to find incriminating material about then-candidate Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Neil Gorsuch's Persnickety Libertarianism Gave Immigrants a Win at the Supreme Court (MARK JOSEPH STERN, APRIL 29, 2021, Slate)

Niz-Chavez is a sequel to the Supreme Court's decision in 2018's Pereira v. Sessions. Both cases involve a federal law governing the deportation of immigrants who live in the United States without authorization. The law lets executive branch officials cancel the removal of these immigrants if, among other things, they've resided in the country for 10 years. But there's a catch: If the government sends them "a notice to appear" at a removal proceeding, it stops the clock, for legal purposes, on their time living in the country. So, for instance, if an immigrant gets a removal notice after living in the U.S. for 9 years and 11 months, they can't cancel their deportation even after they cross the 10-year threshold.

In Pereira, the Supreme Court addressed a tactic that immigration officials used to game this rule. These officials would send immigrants a notice of removal that omitted key information, like the time or place of the removal hearing, and claim that this incomplete notice stopped the clock. By an 8-1 vote, the court rejected this ploy, holding that officials must send an immigrant all the information required by statute to stop the clock on an immigrant's presence in the country for legal purposes.

Immigration officials took a slightly different approach when attempting to deport Agusto Niz-Chavez in 2013, when he had lived in the U.S. for eight years. (Niz-Chavez fled his home country of Guatemala after villagers tried to seize his land and threatened to kill his family; if sent back, he fears he will be killed.) First, officials sent an incomplete notice of the charges against him; then, two months later, they provided the date and location of his hearing. Because these two notices, together, provided Niz-Chavez all the required information, the government argued, it could stop the clock and deny him an opportunity to contest his deportation.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected this scheme by a 6-3 vote. Gorsuch's majority opinion zeroed in on the text of a statute--specifically, the words "a notice to appear." To stop the clock, Gorsuch wrote, the government "must serve 'a' notice containing all the information Congress has specified."

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


CNN Poll: GOP Efforts To Discredit Biden Are Failing (Emily Singer, April 29 | 2021, National Memo)

According to the CNN poll, 53 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden has done in his first 100 days in office. That approval rating tracks with Biden's approval rating average from FiveThirtyEight, which has hovered around 53 percent since he was sworn in on January 20 -- a level he has maintained despite GOP criticism.

Other polls show that despite Republicans' attacks on his policies, both the coronavirus relief package and the infrastructure bill are even more popular than Biden is.

A CBS News/YouGov poll taken between April 21 to April 24 found 58 percent of adults in the United States approve of Biden's infrastructure plan, even though Republicans have been attacking it by saying it is not about infrastructure.

And that same poll found that 66 percent of adults believe the coronavirus relief package -- which extended unemployment payments, authorized another round of direct checks, and made a child tax credit more generous to help alleviate childhood poverty -- has been "helpful to the economy."

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


EU Green Deal could phase out European coal by 2030 (Joshua S Hill,  29 April 2021, Renew Economy)

Despite the naysayers, researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research set out to quantify the expected shifts in Europe's electricity system stemming from the new EU climate target.

Key amongst their findings is a guarantee of higher carbon prices which will not only help to cut emissions but will also accelerate the transition to an inexpensive electricity system powered by renewable energy sources.

"Once the EU translates their recently adjusted target of cutting emissions by at least 55% in 2030 in comparison to 1990 into tighter EU ETS caps, the electricity sector will see fundamental changes surprisingly soon," said Robert Pietzcker, one of the lead authors from the Potsdam-Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

"In our computer simulations of the new ambitious targets, this would mean that renewables would contribute almost three fourths of the power generation already in 2030 and we would reach zero emissions in the power sector as soon as by 2040. Once the change is initiated, it can gain speed in an unprecedented way."

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Deporting African Hebrews is a betrayal of Zionism and Jewish values: The Interior Minister has been actively discriminating against this community, and against African American Jews in general (Yirmiyahu Danzig, APR 28, 2021,Times of Israel)

Last Wednesday, 50 members of the African Hebrew community in Dimona received letters ordering their deportation within the next 60 days. This announcement came as a shock to them and the other approximately 85 members of the community whose lack of official status in the country has been under review by the Ministry of Interior over the past year. It came as a shock, not only because of their complete cooperation with the Ministry in an effort to normalize their status as contributing members of Israeli society, but also because after decades (for many after a lifetime) in Israel, they will lose the only home they have ever known. 

Unfortunately, this effort is only the most recent iteration of what appears to be an agenda of active discrimination against members of the African Hebrew community. An animus that has perennially threatened their continued existence in the State of Israel, and has extended its hostility to African- American and Caribbean American Jews attempting to visit or make Aliyah. 

Despite being initially welcomed with open arms and given citizenship in 1969 under the Law of Return, by 1970 the law was changed. The then 400 souls who were previously sent to settle the Negev alongside Moroccan and Indian Jewish new immigrants, were then stripped of their citizenship and exposed to multiple episodes of arrests and deportations in 1973, '85 and '86. 

Seen one Nationalism, you've seen them all.

April 28, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


US eyes major rollback of Iran sanctions to revive nuclear deal (MATTHEW LEE, 29 April 2021, AP)

The Biden administration is considering a near wholesale rollback of some of the most stringent Trump-era sanctions imposed on Iran in a bid to get the Islamic Republic to return to compliance with a landmark 2015 nuclear accord, according to current and former US officials and others familiar with the matter.

Given that it was Donald who violated the agreement, they should hold out for more than the status quo ante.  Most Favored Nation status seems fair. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Brazil Says Russian Covid Vaccine Carried Live Cold Virus (AFP, 4/28/21)

Tainted batches of Russia's Sputnik V Covid vaccine sent to Brazil carried a live version of a common cold-causing virus, the South American country's health regulator reported in a presentation explaining its decision to ban the drug's import.

Top virologist Angela Rasmussen told AFP the finding "raises questions about the integrity of the manufacturing processes" and could be a safety issue for people with weaker immune systems, if the problem was found to be widespread.

Just because they dropped the communism didn't make them any less a clown show. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Study: Air pollution disproportionately kills Americans of color (Ivana Saric, 4/28/21, Axios)

The big picture: The study found that Black, Latino, Asian and Native Americans face higher PM2.5 exposure than white Americans, regardless of income level.

Much of this exposure is due to their proximity to industry and construction sites, gasoline vehicles and diesel vehicles.

"This phenomenon is systemic, holding for nearly all major sectors, as well as across states and urban and rural areas, income levels, and exposure levels." the study states.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Posted by orrinj at 10:35 AM


The racist 'replacement theory' has it all backward (Ronald Brownstein, Apr. 23rd, 2021, CNN)

With or without immigration, the White share of the population will decline in the coming decades, census projections show. But if immigration is reduced or eliminated, America will grow older, with many fewer working-age adults available to support an exploding number of retirees. And that would not only slow overall economic growth, multiple projections have found, but also would increase pressure for cuts in the Social Security and Medicare benefits that provide a lifeline to the older Whites most drawn to the right's anti-immigrant arguments.

"The projections show we are going to be dealing with lower population growth and an aging population, and the only way we are going to be able to keep our labor force growing and vital is through immigration," says William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program. "It's a matter of math. I never understood why people who are anti-immigration can't understand the math of the whole thing, because it's quite simple."

Already, in nearly half the states, the number of working-age adults -- defined as those aged 18 to 64 -- declined from 2010 through 2019, according to a recent analysis by Frey. Without immigration, that squeeze will only tighten in the years ahead, forcing Washington to either cut benefits for retirees or to raise the payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare to an unprecedented level on the shrinking number of workers.

If the nation severely restricts immigration, the fiscal impact would be to "double the load on working-age people of all these seniors," warns Dowell Myers, a demographer at the University of Southern California's Sol Price School of Public Policy.

"Replacement theory," sometimes called the "great replacement," gestated in the swampy waters of far-right White supremacist groups. But in the Donald Trump era it has migrated closer to the GOP mainstream. Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson, who often spreads xenophobic arguments, has ardently embraced the charge that Democrats are "trying to replace the current electorate -- the voters now casting ballots -- with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World." Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, both Republicans, have echoed him in recent public statements. The far-right Republican House members, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who floated plans for a Trump-like "America First Caucus" before scrapping them, declared in a recruiting document disclosed last week by the Punchbowl website that large-scale immigration threatens "the long-term existential future of America as a unique country with a unique culture and a unique identity."

The problem with making a rational argument is that the Trumpists/tea Partiers believe the government will divert their own welfare checks--SS/Medicare--to people of color. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Will Covid Force the U.S. to Re-Examine Itself, Including Its Taxes? (Reuven Brenner, April 28, 2021, Real Clear Markets)

The tax code classifies people as "rich" by looking at their income and their wealth, and subjects them to higher taxes.  The tax code does not distinguish between those who don't spend on anything that would identify them to the outside world as "rich": mansions, art, fashion, jewelry or yachts, say a Warren Buffet, and those indulging themselves in such conspicuous consumption.

The former are workaholics, entrepreneurs, who pour back most of their income into their business, start-ups, venture capital and keep a fraction in savings. Outsiders will not perceive much conspicuous consumption - except, perhaps, having an apartment in Manhattan or Silicon Valley close to workplaces. Is this person "rich'?  Yes. Does he behave as "rich," becoming an eyesore for the envious and those who covet? No.

What happens if you tax away a large fraction of such people's income? They will have less to invest and save, matching talents they select with their capital.Instead the government will do the matching - drawing on politicians and bureaucracies far more limited experience in carrying out such matching in an accountable manner.

If a rich person according to the tax code classification spends money on mansions, vacation homes, cars, private planes, jewellery, art, high-fashion and fancy vacations, society would be better off taxing such consumption, rather than taxing too high the savings and investments of workaholic entrepreneurs and innovators. This argument suggests that a significant part of the tax burden should thus take the shape and form of sales taxes. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


New York Post reporter says she resigned after being "ordered to write" debunked Kamala Harris story (BOB BRIGHAM, APRIL 28, 2021, Salon)

"The New York Post temporarily deleted, and then edited and republished, a debunked article that falsely claimed that copies of Vice President Kamala Harris' book were being included in 'welcome kits' given to migrant children at a shelter in Long Beach, California," CNN fact-check Daniel Dale reported Tuesday. "The Post's major revisions to the article came after the inaccuracies had already spread widely in conservative circles -- and prompted baseless accusations that Harris, whom President Joe Biden has assigned to lead the effort to stem the flow of migrants to the southern border, was personally profiting from the immigration situation."

"The Post's Tuesday changes to the article, which was originally published on Friday, followed a Washington Post fact check in which a Long Beach spokesman explained that a community member had donated a single copy of the Harris children's book, 'Superheroes Are Everywhere,' as part of a book drive -- and that the book would not be handed out in welcome kits," CNN explained.

Yashar Ali of New York Magazine noted that the author of the story has resigned.

"An announcement: Today I handed in my resignation to my editors at the New York Post. The Kamala Harris story -- an incorrect story I was ordered to write and which I failed to push back hard enough against -- was my breaking point," she explained.

April 27, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament? (Dr. Randal Rauser, 4/27/21, Strange Notions)

The heart and foundation of Christianity is belief in a God who is worthy of worship: in the words of Anselm, that being than which none greater can be conceived. And so, when the Bible depicts God as acting in a manner that appears to be less-than-perfect, this creates a challenge for the Christian reader. There is perhaps no more glaring an example of this problem than God's command to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 20:16-17:

"16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17Completely destroy them--the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites--as the Lord your God has commanded you."

The problem, to put it bluntly, is that it looks like God is here commanding genocide. Needless to say, genocide is widely recognized to be an unconscionable evil, a crime against humanity. And no perfect being worthy of worship would command people to carry out an unconscionable evil.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Antifa group allegedly leaks Sons of Confederate Veterans membership database (Travis Gettys, April 27, 2021, Raw Story)

Atlanta Antifascists released the unverified document, which had previously leaked last year, in PDF form, showing one current Georgia state senator and several other lawmakers among the members of the neo-Confederate organization that glorifies the "Lost Cause" myth about the civil war and fights to preserve racist monuments.

"Current Georgia House of Representatives members Tommy Benton (District 31), Terry England (District 116), Alan Powell (District 32) and Rick Williams (District 145) were listed as 'active' SCV members circa 2017," the group said. "Benton is particularly notorious, having publicly argued in 2016 that the Ku Klux Klan 'made a lot of people straighten up.' Georgia House of Representatives member James A. Collins (District 68) also appears in the database but was not listed as an active member. Jeff Mullis, Georgia State Senator for District 53, appears as an 'active' member. Mullis was the driving force behind SB 77, a Georgia bill designed to protect Confederate/white supremacist monuments, signed into law in 2019."

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


America has become significantly more popular among allies since Biden's inauguration, poll finds (The Week, 4/27/21)

The United States' allies seem quite pleased to have President Biden in the White House, or perhaps they're just relieved his predecessor is gone. Either way, the U.S.'s popularity has improved significantly in several countries since Biden's inauguration, a Morning Consult survey released Tuesday found.

The most dramatic swing took place in Germany. Back on Jan. 20, only 24 percent of Germans viewed the U.S. favorably. Two months later, that number is up to 46 percent. Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom all saw double digit jumps, as well, while Mexico registered an 8 percent increase. In fact, among the 14 nations surveyed, only China reported a notable downward trend...

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Deadly Louisville Police Operation Called a 'Power Play' by High-Level Officers: A VICE News Investigation reveals the inside story of how police ended up killing David McAtee (Roberto Ferdman, Belle Cushing, Juanita Ceballos, April 27, 2021, Vice News)

Just after midnight on June 1, 2020, at the height of the protests over the killing of Breonna Taylor, a group of military trucks carrying police officers and National Guard members pulled up to an intersection in West Louisville. They had just received an order to clear the lot of Dino's, a popular corner store where people tended to gather on weekends. 

As law enforcement, many dressed in full riot gear, walked through the lot, one officer crossed the street and began firing pepper balls at a group of people at a barbecue restaurant owned by David McAtee. Minutes later, around 20 bullets had been fired, and McAtee was dead. 

In the 11 months since the incident, the police department has kept most of its investigation from the public and pushed an official narrative: that police went there to disperse the last large crowd of protests, and that officers returned fire after McAtee fired first. But an investigation by VICE News, based on unreleased internal documents, body camera footage, and accounts from multiple inside sources with direct knowledge, shows that the chaotic situation that ended in McAtee's death was created by the police, which fired pepper balls indiscriminately at bystanders on private property. 

In militarizing them we made civilians their enemy. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Human Rights Watch: Israel committing 'apartheid' crimes against Palestinians (Deutsche-Welle, 4/27/21)

In a report published Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Israel of pursuing policies of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians.

Omar Shakir, the watchdog's Israel and Palestine director, said the report was "the starkest finding HRW has reached on Israeli conduct in 30 years."

The 213-page document alleges that Israel is committing the crime of "apartheid" by seeking to maintain Jewish domination over Palestinians and its Arab population.

Israel's Foreign Ministry has rejected the claims as "both preposterous and false."

The reported violations apply to Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the blockaded Gaza Strip and annexed east Jerusalem, as well as of Arab Israelis -- a term referring to Palestinians who stayed on their land following Israel's creation in 1948.

The report drew on years of human rights documentation, analysis of Israeli laws, a review of government planning documents and statements by officials.

It summarized that there was a "present-day reality of a single authority, the Israeli government ... methodologically privileging Jewish Israelis while repressing Palestinians, most severely in the occupied territory."

HRW executive director Ken Roth said "the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution."

Far-right Party Leader Smotrich: 'Arabs Are Citizens of Israel, for Now at Least' (Jonathan Lis, Apr. 26, 2021, Ha'aretz)

"Arabs are citizens of Israel, for now at least, and they have representatives at the Knesset, for now at least," far-right political leader Bezalel Smotrich said on Monday, doubling down on his vehement opposition to a potential government backed by Islamist party United Arab List.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Wind and solar help slash electricity default market offers for 2021-22 (Sophie Vorrath, 27 April 2021, Renew Economy)

Record-breaking investment in large-scale solar and wind energy generation has helped to slash electricity prices for a range of customers in New South Wales, south-east Queensland and South Australia, with a reduction in 2021-22 Default Market Offers set to deliver more than $65 million in bill savings.

In its final determination on DMOs published on Tuesday, the Australian Energy Regulator said electricity costs for the 727,000 customers on so-called standing offers would be cut by up to $116 for households and up to $441 for small business, starting July 01.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


"Coal has become fetishised:" Turnbull slams right-wing media, politicians (Michael Mazengarb 27 April 2021, Renew Economy)

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has hit out at right-wing media outlets and former coalition colleagues for their advocacy for the fossil fuel sector, accusing them of 'fetishising' coal.

"What has happened on the sort of right of politics, coal has become fetishised," Turnbull said during a webinar hosted by The Australia Institute on Tuesday. "Instead of us looking at coal and global warming in an objective way, and treating it as a question of physics ... it's become an issue of ideology and identity".

"That's the fundamental problem. It has fetishised something that should be an objective thing, into a religious thing. It's that horrible, toxic combination of right-wing politics, right-wing media, mostly owned by Murdoch, and the fossil fuel lobby, and they just keep on feeding and supporting each other."

To be fair, it's not as if they can reconcile their bigotries with Christianity, so they need a replacement. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Sex deniers are the new flat earthers: Those who deny biological sex are dangerous and disingenuous; it's time the rest of us stood up to them (Nathan Williams, 27 April, 2021, The Critic)

Pseudoscience has become a serious problem. From Covid conspiracy theories to climate change denialists, the spread of scientific misinformation threatens our health and the health of our planet. Now there's a new pseudoscience as bogus as flat-earthism or creationism. But this time there's something different: those who you might expect to fight against pseudoscience are turning a blind-eye -- or in some cases spreading it. This is the phenomenon of sex denial: the rejection of one of the most basic facts of biology in the name of ideology.

I've spent much of my career fighting against pseudoscience. I worked with the legendary sceptic James Randi to debunk homeopathy; I've also battled climate denialists and anti-vaxxers. I know pseudoscience when I see it. Sex-denial is a classic of the genre, using all the same techniques to sow confusion and misinformation. Their target is the seemingly uncontroversial, indeed obvious, fact that humans can be female or male.

Here's what science says: there are only two human sexes. That's because there are only two types of gamete (the sex cells -- egg and sperm). Humans (like all mammals) can develop along one of two pathways: towards making eggs (female) and towards making sperm (male). If anyone ever finds a third sex it would be a discovery on a par with finding a new continent -- with a guaranteed Nobel prize. Until you see those headlines, you can rest assured there are exactly two sexes.

A small number of people have disorders or variations in their sex development (VSDs) meaning some aspect of their anatomy or genetic makeup may be atypical. But most people with VSDs are still clearly and unambiguously male or female. Indeed, most would consider it offensive to say that just because some part of your body is atypical that you are less of a male or less of a female. In a tiny subset it can be difficult to distinguish whether someone is male or female -- sometimes called intersex conditions -- but these likely account for less than 0.02 per cent of births. So, the overwhelming majority of people are unequivocally female or male, with their sex fixed from before they're born to the moment they die. None of this is remotely new or controversial (at least in science).

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


European Parliament turns page on latest Brexit chapter (ALEX PIGMAN, 4/27/21, AFP)

The European Parliament votes Tuesday to ratify the EU's post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, but not without issuing bitter final warnings that trouble lies ahead in cross-Channel ties.

The 705-member chamber is expected to overwhelmingly back the bare bones trade deal that was sealed on Christmas Eve after nine months of bad-tempered negotiation.

This will officially seal Britain's new relationship with the 27-member union five years after British voters shocked the world by voting to end its 47-year membership.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


India Receives First Shipment of Critical Medical Supplies as COVID Infection Rates Continue to Soar (VOA News, April 27, 202)

The first shipment of critical medical supplies arrived in India Tuesday as the country continues to struggle with a catastrophic second wave of COVID-19 infections, a situation described as "beyond heartbreaking" by the head of the World Health Organization.

A plane from Britain filled with 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators, which collects atmospheric air and converts it into pure oxygen, landed at the airport in Delhi before dawn. The British high commission in India says a total of nine transport planes will deliver nearly 500 oxygen concentrators and 140 ventilators to the South Asian nation this week.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Negro Leagues had their own two-way stars (Anthony Castrovince, 4/26/21, mlb.com)

To draw a direct line from Ruth to Ohtani is to ignore the rich history of Negro Leaguers who were two-way topliners.

"For me, the excitement of Ohtani creates the exact opportunity we have today, to say, 'Nah, it's not just Ruth,'" says Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. "Maybe this will put the spotlight on those legendary players that people did not know."

Major League Baseball is working with the Elias Sports Bureau to determine the best way to blend the available Negro League numbers with the data we've long had on hand from MLB, and that process is not yet finished. But when it is, the official records will be newly replete with players who shined in every facet of the game.

Due to financial limitations, Negro League teams were typically comprised of only 18-20 roster spots, and so it was commonplace for players to both pitch and play the field.

"The Negro Leagues consisted not only of league games but barnstorming games," says official MLB historian John Thorn. "The need to have a reserve team often meant that everybody got to play everything."

For Ted Radcliffe, who played in the Negro Leagues from 1929 to 1946 as a pitcher and catcher, playing both ways was not just a role but a brand. In a 1932 doubleheader between his Pittsburgh Crawfords and the New York Black Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Radcliffe hit a grand slam and caught the great Satchel Paige's shutout in the first game, then threw a shutout of his own in the second. Renowned writer Damon Runyon saw the performance and dubbed him "Double Duty" -- the moniker Radcliffe, one of the Negro Leagues' most lively ambassadors, would proudly wear for the rest of his 103 years.

"Duty was masterful," Kendrick says. "He was a great character, a great promoter and a great storyteller. But sometimes lost in the character is the fact that he was one helluva baseball player."

There were other great Negro League pitchers who could handle a bat, including Hall of Famers Ray Brown and Hilton Smith.

But if the goal is to center on true two-way greatness the likes of which Ruth attained for the Red Sox in 1918-19 and Ohtani is attempting to accomplish today, then three Negro Leaguers stand out among all others. Though they all have a spot in Cooperstown's hallowed Hall, their names are hardly household.

So as we simultaneously celebrate Ohtani and embrace the Negro Leagues as a big league-worthy brand of baseball, let's give these three amazing athletes their due.

April 26, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM


Spy chiefs look to declassify intel after rare plea from 4-star commanders (BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN and BRYAN BENDER, 04/26/2021, Politico)

The memo from nine regional military commanders last year implored spy agencies to give them more evidence they can make public as a way to combat "pernicious conduct."

Only by "waging the truth in the public domain against America's 21st century challengers" can Washington shore up support from American allies, they said. But efforts to compete in the battle of ideas, they added, are hamstrung by overly stringent secrecy practices.

"We request this help to better enable the US, and by extension its allies and partners, to win without fighting, to fight now in so-called gray zones, and to supply ammunition in the ongoing war of narratives," the commanders who oversee U.S. military forces in Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, as well as special operations troops, wrote to then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire last January.

"Unfortunately, we continue to miss opportunities to clarify truth, counter distortions, puncture false narratives, and influence events in time to make a difference," they added.

The memo, which was reviewed by POLITICO and has not been made public, made waves inside the Pentagon, the Intelligence Community, and on Capitol Hill over the past year, where it has come to be known as the "36-star memo." It wasn't a command or an ultimatum; rather, it implored the Intelligence Community to make big changes.

It's particularly useful so that the markets can shred our consistent over-estimations of enemy capacities.

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


Mohammed Javad Zarif Says Russia Wants to Stop U.S., Iran Nuclear Deal in Leaked Interview (GRAHAM MCNALLY, 4/26/21, Newsweek)

"You can definitely never release this part," Mohammad Javad Zarif told an interviewer about Russia's interest in stopping the nuclear deal between Iran and other world powers, including the United States. [...]

"If Iran hadn't become Mr. (Donald) Trump's priority, China and Russia would have become his priority," Zarif said. "If, because of hostility with the West, we always need Russia and China, they don't have to compete with anyone, and also they can always enjoy maximum benefits through us."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Weird (But Hopeful) Politics of a Carbon TaxDemocrats used to like this way of limiting greenhouse emissions. Now Republicans are open to it. Is there a way forward? (Bill Scher, April 26, 2021, Washington Monthly)

The door to a bipartisan solution has opened a crack. The American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of Big Oil, in March formally endorsed a "carbon price policy"which could range "from a cap-and-trade system to a carbon tax." (In exchange, API wants to "minimize the burden of duplicative regulations.")  Senator Mitt Romney told the Washington Examiner that he is "interested" in the climate proposal from the business-environmental coalition, the Climate Leadership Council, which it describes as a "carbon fee." Last year, his fellow Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who represents oil-rich Alaska, said that a "price on carbon ... should be one of the options on the table for discussion."

There's just one problem. Now that Big Oil wants carbon tax, most Democrats don't. 

Used to be that if you want to establish your progressive bona fides on climate change, you supported a carbon tax, as Senator Bernie Sanders did to distinguish himself from Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary. The way it works now, polluters can emit greenhouse gas for free, even though the climate crisis imposes severe costs on all of society. A tax on greenhouse gas emissions would increase the cost of goods that contribute to global warming, incentivizing the purchase of goods that don't.

But over the last five years, progressives have been distancing themselves from a carbon tax. In 2016, a Washington State carbon tax ballot initiative was opposed by some left-wing groups because it was revenue-neutral and didn't raise revenue for robust investments in green jobs and poverty reduction.

Tax what you don't want, not what you do. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Let Them Spend Cash? (Brent Orrell, Apr. 26th, 2021, Law & Liberty)

In 2006, AEI scholar Charles Murray, a libertarian, began to call conservative orthodoxy into question. His book, In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State, argued that the vast superstructure of federal welfare programming was fiscally unsustainable and morally fraught. Murray proposed scrapping most of it and replacing it with a cash payment that was in essence a universal basic income (UBI). He argued that such an approach would restore agency and create a "market" within poor communities that would encourage cooperation between parents, each of whom would have a pretty good idea of the resources available to each other for the maintenance of their children. This might also create an incentive for stable partnerships as these mothers and fathers opted to conserve cash by sharing a place to live. Such domestic partnerships might, in time, bloom into marriages or something akin to them.

At the time of publication, Murray's idea was viewed as unworkable in the political context of the middle George W. Bush years because newly resurgent Democrats would never agree to the elimination of the welfare state they had so lovingly constructed over decades. Without the savings generated by ending those programs, there was no way to finance the replacement benefit. Republicans, still basking in their 1996 success, also had a lingering suspicion of policies that involved creating new cash benefits.

This suspicion of cash was "present at the creation" of the modern welfare state. Robert Caro, the great historian of Lyndon B. Johnson the man and the president, says that when Johnson's advisors proposed the War on Poverty, LBJ's one prohibition was, "No dole." Having lived through the New Deal he was acutely aware of how Republicans--not to mention his own Texas Democrats--would react to anything perceived as a giveaway to those regarded as undeserving. He refused to be blown up by a petard of his own making. [...]

Superficially, then, President Biden's American Rescue Plan (ARP) appears to be a volte-face, a return to the bad, old days of mushrooming, counter-productive federal anti-poverty programs. Mainstream media outlets describe the nearly $2 trillion plan as a major shift toward a more generous safety net, unprecedented in American history. ARP is the new face of a renewed progressivism.

In terms of gross expenditures on poverty programs, there's more than a grain of truth to this understanding. The value of the $16 billion TANF block grant, which was never indexed for inflation, has declined dramatically since 1996 and, as the chart below shows, is increasingly devoted to non-cash benefit activities related to assisting poor families (e.g., work, training, childcare, child welfare, work-related tax credits).

The new child payments will add $110 billion in federal spending by the end of 2022. Should Congress make the program permanent, it will cost close to $1.9 trillion over the next 10 years, and, according to estimates, reduce child poverty by between 30 percent and 50 percent. But, as my AEI colleague Michael Strain has noted, the ARP child payments are poorly targeted as an anti-poverty measure. Most of these resources will not go to the poor but to the middle class making them more like Social Security and Medicare than TANF, in what supporters have acknowledged is an effort to give the broader public a stake in maintaining the new program.

At the same time, the ARP payments look like another step toward seeing the federal government as an income transfer machine rather than an intrusive social engineer, not the nanny state but the auntie state. Seen that way, these payments resemble Charles Murray's 2006 vision far more than LBJ's.

To a significant degree, the ARP child payments are an outgrowth of interest in the idea of UBI programs being experimented with here and abroad. If you want people not to be poor, the argument goes, give them money. The jury is very much still out on whether these types of programs will have their intended effect without setting off a new era of work avoidance and even more, and worse, disrupted family formation.

At the same time, some recent small experiments in other federal programs are contributing to a growing body of knowledge that may confirm the libertarian insight that individuals (and families) are the most important experts in their own lives. Provided with resources and left to their own devices, with mutual support from family and friends, low-income Americans appear to do no worse, and in some cases better, than those who are enrolled in the heavy-handed and intrusive federal nanny-state programs.

Then tax consumption, to encourage investing and saving these cash transfers, and our work here is done.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Birth of Black PowerStokely Carmichael and the speech that changed the course of the civil rights movement (Sally Greene, April 26, 2021, American Scholar)

Carmichael had returned to Greenwood that night in June 1966 to help activist James Meredith send a message about fear in Mississippi. Two years had elapsed since passage of the Civil Rights Act, one year since the Voting Rights Act, and little had changed in the state. On June 5, Meredith had set out on foot from Memphis toward Jackson, with the goal of inspiring Blacks to register to vote and to transform their fears into positive action. When, on June 6, he was ambushed and wounded by shotgun fire, everything changed. Meredith's single-minded "March Against Fear" became a rallying point for the movement. The leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Martin Luther King Jr.), SNCC (Carmichael), and the Congress of Racial Equality (Floyd McKissick) pledged to keep the march alive as Meredith recovered in a hospital.

The marchers arrived in Greenwood on June 16. Carmichael's fiery invocation of Black Power that night was born of frustrations, immediate and long-term. The immediate problem was that local white officials had denied the marchers permission to set up camp on the lawn of a Black elementary school--contradicting the word of local Black leaders. Arrested and jailed for trespassing, Carmichael posted bail just in time to make the rally that evening.

The longer-term, more fundamental concern for Carmichael was that the movement's strategies of nonviolence seemed to have reached some kind of limit. During the previous summer, less than a week after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles erupted. The conflict in Vietnam had divided the nation since the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which resulted in the dramatic escalation of a war that would claim proportionally more Black American lives than white.

A legislative battle was unfolding over equal access to housing--a prospect that threatened the integrity of white neighborhoods and challenged white wealth. This and other demands for reform in such areas as criminal justice and labor were structural, beyond easy concessions like access to lunch counters and even to voting booths. "White America was ready to demand that the Negro should be spared the lash of brutality and coarse degradation," King wrote in what turned out to be his last book, Where Do We Go From Here  (1967), "but it had never been truly committed to helping him out of poverty, exploitation or all forms of discrimination." As this next phase of the civil rights revolution unfolded, nonviolent direct action seemed to belong to a vanishing era.

Far from a spontaneous outburst, Carmichael's speech reflected a shift developing in SNCC's strategic orientation, the merits of which were debated even while the marchers pushed forward. King's reaction to the thunderous reception of Black Power that night in Greenwood was mixed. He conceded its "ready appeal" among "people who had been crushed so long by white power." But he saw that the concept could widen an existing split in the ranks over whether to abandon the commitment to nonviolent direct action. Moreover, as he asserted during five hours of intense discussion the next day, the connotations of Black Power were all wrong. "I mentioned the implications of violence that the press had already attached to the phrase," he recalled. "And I went on to say that some of the rash statements on the part of a few marchers only reinforced this impression."

His worries were not misplaced. After Greenwood, mainstream journalists did sensationalize Black Power, aligning it with militant separatism. Whereas for Black audiences the term was a "righteous exhortation," writes Carmichael's biographer Peniel Joseph, for whites it carried a "violent foreboding," possibly a forecast of "antiwhite violence and reverse racism." Juxtaposed against television images of cities in flames, the term was certain to alarm even liberal whites.

And yet, the constructive elements of Black Power were understood within the circle of activists engaged in the march. Central concepts included self-determination and equitable access to the established levers of power, with the realistic ability to create social, political, and economic change. Whatever his level of discomfort with the phrase itself, King sympathized with Carmichael's motivation in using it. Black Power, he writes,

is a response to the feeling that a real solution is hopelessly distant because of the inconsistencies, resistance, and faintheartedness of those in power. If Stokely Carmichael now says that nonviolence is irrelevant, it is because he, as a dedicated veteran of many battles, has seen with his own eyes the most brutal white violence against Negroes and white civil rights workers, and he has seen it go unpunished.

King locates the roots of Black Power in the elemental workings of slavery. The master's physical power over the Black body was ultimately all--and everything--that slavery depended on, and this singularly white power lingered long after the legal fact of slavery was abolished.

Citing Kenneth Stampp's landmark study The Peculiar Institution (1956), which laid to rest the myth that slavery's foundations were benign, King quotes instruction manuals that circulated among enslavers. "Unconditional submission is the only footing upon which slavery should be placed," wrote a white Virginian. In South Carolina, a slaveowner wrote that "the slave must know that his master is to govern absolutely and he is to obey implicitly, that he is never, for a moment, to exercise either his will or judgment in opposition to a positive order."

This is what Black Power is responding to, King says. The call for Blacks to "cut themselves off from every level of dependence upon whites" is a "react[ion] against the slave pattern of 'perfect dependence' upon the masters." Black Power, King concludes, "is a psychological reaction to the psychological indoctrination that led to the creation of the perfect slave."

The genius of non-violence is also its main problem: in demanding that the majority simply live up to its own ideals it cedes agency to the oppressor.  So we have been able to congratulate ourselves and make the white majority the heroes of the civil rights struggle because we changed our laws and enforcement without violence being required. Ultimately, a resort to violence by black Americans might have forced a greater reckoning on our part and a greater sense of empowerment on theirs. 

April 25, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Farmers say they want renewables to boost income, cut costs (Michael Mazengarb 26 April 2021, Renew Economy)

Conference founder, Karin Stark, said including renewable energy projects on farmland was becoming an increasingly attractive way for farmers to reduce their costs and potentially help diversify income streams.

"Renewable energy is a practical way for farmers to significantly reduce their costs, reduce their exposure to energy price fluctuations and build business resilience," Stark said.

"It's important for farmers to be able to get together and share their stories and also their challenges and mistakes so that others can learn from them."

Stark added that the conference would help break down some of the knowledge barriers when it comes to integrating renewable energy with farming operations.

"The National Renewables in Agriculture Conference is designed to overcoming the barriers to the uptake of renewable energy by farmers. There is a gap in the knowledge and understanding of what renewable energy solutions work for what farming operations plus there is a general lack of trust in solar suppliers, which constrains investment," Stark said.

The addition of renewable energy projects with farming operations can prove to be highly complementary, with access to land with high solar and wind availability, potentially useable for both continued agricultural use while allowing for the generation of zero emissions electricity.

A recent report published by the Clean Energy Council detailed the potential co-benefits of pairing farms with solar projects.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is a quiet revolution edging Wales down the road to independence? (Julian Coman, 25 Apr 2021, The Guardian)

"There was a village choir; there was a folk group with a harp that won prizes; there was a chapel. And all that culture just went under the water. What you see here is the graveyard of a Welsh community." More than half a century on, Elwyn Edwards still feels a sense of outrage as he contemplates the valley of Tryweryn in north-west Wales, where the thriving village of Capel Celyn was deliberately flooded in 1965.

On the orders of Westminster, the picturesque hamlet was sacrificed to create a reservoir supplying water to Liverpool, 43 miles away. Capel Celyn's inhabitants protested, and there was desperate opposition from Welsh MPs in the House of Commons. Edwards, 13 at the time and living a few miles away, went to the demonstrations and remembers the raw anger. After the deed was finally done, he recalls a sepulchral silence, as labourers built the reservoir dam using the bricks of the village and sand and clay from local farmers. "There were no sheep, no noise or life. It made such an impact on me."

The "drowning" of Capel Celyn - and the brutal truths it exposed about where power lay in 1960s Britain - led to the birth of modern Welsh nationalism.

In 1966, Gwynfor Evans became the first Plaid Cymru candidate to be elected to Westminster, winning the seat of Carmarthen. Bilingual signs became part of the landscape. Devolution and the idea of a Welsh assembly gained political currency, becoming a reality in 1999. Edwards eventually became a nationalist Plaid councillor in the nearby town of Bala. But Welsh independence remained for decades a marginal and even eccentric aspiration. Not any more.

The conventional wisdom is always wrong, but it may never have gotten anything more wrong than the notion that transnationalism was the future. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Founders Lost Faith in American Experience: a review of Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America's Founders By Dennis C. Rasmussen (Mark G. Spencer
April 25, 2021, Imaginative Conservative)

Of course, Franklin did not live to see but the first three years of the American experiment, dying in 1790. By the ends of their lives, Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson all feared America's sun was setting. From 1792, Washington despaired that America was hopelessly divided by party. He "recognized that not only Congress, but all the American people had become thoroughly and irretrievably partisan," writes Rasmussen. Hamilton was disillusioned from the outset. He complained that the federal government lacked sufficient "energy." By 1804--on the eve of his fatal duel with Aaron Burr--Hamilton was writing of the "Dismemberment of our Empire." Different phantoms haunted Adams. He feared Americans' lack of virtue would render them unfit for republican government. Meanwhile, Adams's political rival, Jefferson--the most sanguine of the bunch--also lamented the nation's demise. Expanding commercialism was a problem. But slavery? Bondage, Jefferson thought, would be "the death knell of the union."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Newark cops, with reform, didn't fire a single shot in 2020 (Tom Moran, Jan 11, 2021, Star Ledger)

Larry Hamm, the godfather of police protests in Newark as head of the People's Organization for Progress, agreed. "Police brutality is still a problem," he says. "But it's fair to say the consent decree has had a real impact."

The reforms are the results of a federal consent decree, the billy club used by the Department of Justice after a long investigation concluded in 2014 revealed the rot that had infested the department for decades. It found a rogue department that tolerated widespread brutality and racism, with no accountability, and zero training on how to de-escalate confrontations with civilians.

"You had a law enforcement agency with no training about how to enforce the law," says Peter Harvey, the former state attorney general who is overseeing the implementation of the consent decree.

When Paul Fishman, the former U.S. Attorney, began his investigation in 2011, he found the department's culture was broken in almost every way. A reflexive resort to violence. Racial bias in stops and enforcement. And an internal affairs bureau so corrupted that it sustained just one complaint of police brutality over five years.

"The use of force was too high, and the reporting of it was too low," Fishman says.

This is a remarkable success story, all done at a time when serious crime in Newark has dropped by 40 percent in the last five years. Both Harvey and Fishman say the key to that success is that Mayor Ras Baraka and Police Director Anthony Ambrose took the mission to heart.

They hired more Black and brown officers, began training programs based on best-practices, required any officer who uses force in any way to report it in detail, and for the supervisor to review it. The bad cops were suddenly outed.

Former Gov. Christie Whitman fought like a wildcat to keep the DOJ away from the State Police during the racial-profiling scandal, a defensive reaction that is more commonplace. But the DOJ came anyway, and it succeeded.

Baraka welcomed this intervention. He himself was a leading campaigner against police brutality before he became mayor. And Ambrose, who looks like a stereotypical old Italian beat cop, turned out to be a progressive at heart, a guy who took a knee during local demonstrations over the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis.

"I've been around a long time, and that was outright murder," Ambrose says. "Most of the officers and the rank-and-file I speak with say the same thing."

The work to reshape the department's warped culture is painstaking, and even after five years, people like Hamm worry that it could all collapse if the DOJ leaves. Even this success stories is tentative. On Jan. 1, a Newark officer fatally shot Carl Dorsey III, of South Orange, during a confrontation in the South Ward, a case that's being investigated by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who moved investigations of fatal police shootings out of local hands to ensure an impartial investigation.

Grewal calls Newark's progress "nothing short of remarkable" and says his own ambitious statewide police reforms drew partly on that that success, and a similar turnaround in Camden.

The work to fix a dysfunctional department is painstaking. A big part is community outreach, with endless public meetings between police and civilians to work out grievances, engagement of local clergy and neighborhood leaders, and relying on civilian groups to settle differences where possible, rather than police.

During the George Floyd protests, it was the Street Team that saved the day when a group of protesters besieged the city police precinct where the 1967 riots began, throwing bottles and agitating for a clash. The cops stayed inside, and Sherrills' group engaged.

"There were a bunch of folks from outside the city who were determined to create havoc," Sherrills said. "We followed them all day. We saw the kids in back throwing bottles, so folks engaged the community. Folks literally stopped them and said 'Enough of that.'"

Training is critical, too, especially on de-escalating violence. Brian O'Hara, the deputy chief overseeing training, said the old-fashioned version was to show officers how to win a confrontation, when to make the move. "It was a paramilitary kind of training, just focused on stopping the threat," he said.

Now, the model is to calm things down, engage the threatening person, while creating distance or taking cover, and buying time until reinforcements arrive, he says. Newark officers view videos presenting challenging scenarios, offer responses, then discuss it with supervisors.

"It's not about resolving the situation as quickly as you can," O'Hara says. "It's about protecting the sanctity of every life."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New Poll: 'Sizable Majorities' Favor Voting Rights And Oppose GOP Suppression (Emily Singer, Apr. 24th, 2021, National Memo)

The Pew Research Center survey found that "sizable majorities favor several policies aimed at making it easier for citizens to register and vote," with 61 percent of voters supporting automatically registering eligible citizens to vote, 63 percet saying anyone should be able to vote absentee without an excuse, 70 percent supporting giving people their voting rights back after serving their felony sentences, and 78 percent supporting two weeks of in-person early voting.

All of those provisions are within the "For the People Act," which House Democrats passed in March, and Senate Democrats are now rallying behind.

...is the reason the Right opposes voting rights. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Troy Carter wins Louisiana special election in blow to progressives (ALLY MUTNICK, 04/24/2021, Politico)

Progressives suffered a disappointing setback on Saturday, after their favored candidate lost to a more establishment-aligned opponent in a special congressional election in Louisiana.

State Sen. Troy Carter, who was backed by top leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, beat state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson in a runoff to fill a vacant House seat that quickly turned into a turf war for sparring factions of the Democratic party. He overcame more than a million dollars in outside spending backing Peterson to win, 56 percent to 44 percent, when The Associated Press called the race.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Xi Challenges U.S. Global Leadership, Warns Against Decoupling (Bloomberg News, 
Apr. 19th, 2021)

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for greater global economic integration and warned against decoupling while calling on the U.S. and its allies to avoid "bossing others around."

"International affairs should be conducted by way of negotiations and discussions, and the future destiny of the world should be decided by all countries," Xi said on Tuesday at the Boao Forum on Asia, without naming the U.S. specifically. "One or a few countries shouldn't impose their rules on others, and the world shouldn't be led on by the unilateralism of a few countries."

Someone hasn't read Redefining Sovereignty. 

April 24, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Right to Crash Cars Into People (Apr. 24th, 2021, New Republic)

To understand what's really behind the bill, recall that it comes less than four years after a 20-year-old neo-Nazi named James Alex Fields Jr. deliberately drove a Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people counterprotesting the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fields injured scores of people and killed a woman named Heather Heyer. The obvious and immediate response to this intentional attack was nearly universal shock and horror. Fields was charged with murder and convicted. But since just before that attack, and even more so after it, Republican elected officials across the country have been trying to make it easier for certain people to run over certain other people.

Ari Weil, a researcher at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, counted six states that considered laws shielding drivers who attack protesters in 2017, but most of those "hit and kill" bills (as the ACLU refers to them) went nowhere. It took a few more years for the right-wing propaganda apparatus to fully numb conservative consciences, and prepare them to openly endorse an idea as plainly depraved as this one. In the meantime, the car attacks kept coming: In 2020, Weil tracked "72 incidents of cars driving into protesters across 52 different cities," over the span of just over a month. The online far right memed about running over demonstrators regularly, and cops openly encouraged it in social media comments. Cops also, in cities such as New York and Detroit, participated in the practice themselves. In Boston last year, Police Sergeant Clifton McHale was recorded on a police body camera bragging about hitting demonstrators with a police cruiser. His year of unpaid suspension is apparently up, and Eoin Higgins reports that he is back on duty.

Now lawmakers seem to have overcome whatever reticence they may once have felt about formally endorsing automobile attacks. Five states besides Florida introduced similar bills this year, granting some form of immunity to people running into demonstrators. The Iowa measure passed the state House and awaits Senate approval. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt just signed another version into law in his state. This one shields attacking drivers from criminal liability.

The impetus for the Oklahoma bill, according to the Republican lawmaker who authored it, was an incident in which a pickup truck driver drove into a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Tulsa, paralyzing one person. The driver claimed to be scared and, notably, was not charged with a crime. That is to say that it was apparently already legal to drive into protesters in Oklahoma; these politicians merely helped clarify that fact.

A few years ago, most people would have seen "politically motivated vehicle attacks" as a terrorist tactic pioneered by ISIS. Now American police regularly carry out these kinds of attacks, and Republican policymakers have officially endorsed the practice.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Oedipus Rex in a Nutshell (JOSEPH PEARCE, 4/24/21, Crisis)

The moral of the play is framed by the riddle of the Sphynx: What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening? The answer is Man, who crawls as an infant and hobbles with the help of a stick in old age. The riddle serves, therefore, as an aphoristic portrayal of Man himself whose life begins and ends in weakness and utter dependence on others, with an interlude of seeming strength in between. The riddle provides what might be called the ecce homo symbolic epigraph, enabling Sophocles to present the axiomatic truth of Man's pathetic weakness as the core of the tragedy. Behold Man!  

Oedipus is the man who not only answers the riddle but is himself the answer to it. As we discover in the play's denouement, he was utterly helpless as a baby and is left to die by those responsible for caring for him; he comes of age as King of Thebes and then is doomed to being utterly dependent on others following his act of self-mutilation. As the answer to the riddle, he becomes not merely the tragic figure of one man doomed by circumstance but a representative of Everyman who is similarly doomed. In this sense, at least in some sense, Oedipus is us. The lessons he learns are applicable to all of us.  

...outside of Appalachia, Oedipus is precious few of us. It's the core silliness of fretting about a surveillance society: who's going to watch our blessedly boring lives? 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New malaria vaccine first to reach WHO efficacy demand (Deutsche-Welle, 4/24/21)

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. There are five parasite species that cause malaria in humans, and two of these species -- P. falciparum and P. vivax -- pose the biggest threat.

It causes a wide range of symptoms including fever, headache, malaise, gastrointestinal issues, back pain, coughing, and neurologic complaints like dizziness, confusion and coma.

There were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2019, according to the WHO, and a disproportionately large share of the malaria burden falls on Africa, where 94% of malaria cases and deaths occurred in 2019. Children under the age of five account for 67% of all malaria deaths worldwide.

People who live where there is a lot of malaria and get infected repeatedly as they grow up can naturally develop some level of immunity.

"It's not fully protective immunity, it's not that you never catch malaria again, but you don't get as severe symptoms and severe outcomes," Rayner told DW. "That's why the majority of severe cases are in young children because those who have survived long enough and are older have developed that natural immunity."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Aubrey Plaza: the art of making people squirm  (Tara Brady, 4/24/21, Irish Times)

Comedy is a complicated science that has been pondered by everyone from Plato to Freud, without anyone, to date, pinpointing what exactly it requires to make a person laugh. Cringe comedy is even trickier still. Painfully Funny: Cringe Comedy, Benign Masochism, and Not-So-Benign Violations, a 2018 paper by Marc Hye-Knudsen, postulates that contemporary cringe comedies such as The Office and The Inbetweeners "...differ from traditional embarrassment humour by being explicitly aimed at evoking not just the positive emotion of amusement but also the decidedly negative emotion of vicarious embarrassment (ie 'cringe') in their audiences."  

Nobody embodies this theory quite like Aubrey Plaza. From her early awkward TV appearances as "the worst talk show guest ever" and her 2013 attempt to wrestle Will Ferrell's award from his hands at the MTV Movie Awards, Plaza has worked and honed cringe to hilarious effect. That's especially true of the films she has produced and starred in. In Ingrid Goes West, she stalks Elizabeth Olsen's Instagram influencer to eye-wateringly embarrassing effect; in the Decameron-inspired, squirm-making Little Hours, she plays a secretly sadistic medieval nun competing with other novices to seduce a young gardener posing as a deaf-mute.  

"I don't think I consciously seek out scripts that make people really uncomfortable," laughs Plaza. "But I think maybe I do. I'm interested in really complicated behaviours that are just not okay. And those feelings of making someone squirm or feel uncomfortable, for better or worse, you feel more alive. There's nothing more relatable than things that people want to avoid most. There's something gratifying about putting myself in those vulnerable, humiliating positions and situations on camera. It's a way of dealing with my own fears."

April 23, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


A song asks Cubans to drop Castro's chant 'Homeland or Death.' The government is on edge.  (NORA GÁMEZ TORRES, FEBRUARY 23, 2021, Miami Herald)

During Cuba's so-called Special Period, the terrible economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Willy Chirino's song "Ya viene llegando" became a hymn of hope for many Cubans who wanted change on the island.

It was common to walk in Havana and other cities -- there was almost no public transportation -- and hear the words, "It's coming," blaring from homes. At the time, Chirino, a Cuban-born musician based in Miami, hoped that the Fidel Castro government would meet the same fate as other communist regimes after the Berlin Wall fell. That did not happen, and many Cubans who challenged authorities by singing that change was imminent now live in the United States.

Castro never commented on the song. Neither did the official media.

Thirty years later, "Patria y Vida" ("Homeland and Life"), a new song with almost two million views on YouTube and featuring some of the most famous Cuban singers inside and outside the island, is challenging the government, this time by questioning Castro's revolutionary slogan, "Patria o Muerte" ("Homeland or Death").

"It's over. No more lies. My people ask for freedom. No more doctrines. Let's no longer shout Patria o Muerte, but Patria y Vida," reads the chorus of the song that comes in the wake of a nascent social movement led by artists on the island pressing for greater freedoms.

Yotuel Romero, a singer with the band Orishas and the brain behind the project, told the Miami Herald that the song is part of an "awakening of Cuban youth."

"It was important to tell the world that Cubans today, we want life, that the doctrine that came out in '59 belongs to that moment," Romero said in reference to the year Castro took power.

"With COVID, the fear of death has touched us very close," he added. "So the word is obsolete. When you say 'Homeland and Life,' you add, and that's what Cubans feel, that we can have both. The Cuba that 'Patria y Vida' talks about is a Cuba in which we all fit, whatever we think."

This time, the song appears to have made Cuban authorities so nervous that state media have launched a campaign to combat its message and discredit its authors.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Ted Cruz Still Supports Right-Wing Group That 'Understood' El Paso Walmart Massacre (Jennifer Adams,  Apr. 23, 2021, Daily Beast)

Over the years, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has maintained his support for a right-wing group, now known as the "True Texas Project," that's repelled other conservative officials with its nativist rhetoric, The Washington Post reports. Previously known as the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party, the conservative group has advocated for many Trumpian policies, including building a wall along the Mexico border, and has used nativist and extremist rhetoric that has caused some GOP officials to rescind their support.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


60% of Americans want police to be held more accountable for mistreatment of Black people, new poll says (Meera Jagannathan, 4/23/21, Marketwatch)

Sixty percent of Americans -- including 53% of white people, 83% of Black people and 67% of Hispanic people -- say the U.S. should do more to hold police accountable for mistreatment of Black people, the poll found. Studies show Black Americans are more likely on average than white Americans to be killed in police encounters. 

In contrast, 33% of Americans overall say the country is doing too much to interfere in how police officers do their job.

Meanwhile, just 44% of Americans (50% of white people, 20% of Black people and 34% of Hispanic people) say they're either "very" or "somewhat" confident that police in the U.S. are adequately trained to avoid use of excessive force. Overall confidence is down from 47% in polling last July and 54% in late 2014.

Concern that Black people and other minorities don't receive equal treatment to white people in the criminal justice system (a view expressed by 63% of respondents) was at one of its highest points since 1988, surpassed only by the 69% who said the same last July, at the height of racial-injustice protests stemming from 46-year-old George Floyd's death beneath Chauvin's knee.

Asked about President Biden's efforts to try to reform police practices, 42% said he was doing too little, 32% said he was doing the right amount, and 15% said he was doing too much. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Portland pitches in for repairs to businesses damaged during riots, demonstrations (Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, 4/23/21,  The Oregonian/OregonLive)

Wheeler this week singled out the black-clad culprits, calling them a "group of 100 or so largely white, self-described anarchists who engage in the criminal destruction of our economy and our confidence."

"These people are not protesters. They are criminals," the mayor said during a press conference Tuesday. "Their actions harm our workers, their families, all of us. They stand in stark contrast from those who stand for meaningful change and racial justice that is sorely overdue."

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Terrified Fox News viewers sent cops on wild-goose chases against nonexistent antifa threats: report (Travis Gettys, April 23, 2021, Raw Story)

Police chased down ridiculous tips about Antifa and Black Lives Matter called in by panicky conservatives all over the Pacific Northwest. [...]

"When individuals and law enforcement have been whipped into such a paranoid frenzy that they're primed to see 'antifa' or 'BLM' terrorist conspiracies literally in the toilet, the situation is a powder keg," said Ryan Shapiro, executive director of Property of the People. "There's a direct line from this sort of deliberately induced political hysteria to violent, repressive crackdowns on progressive dissent."

"Conservative and law enforcement panic about antifa and BLM hasn't gone anywhere," Shapiro added. "These documents aren't even a year old, and we've had an attempted coup in the interim. It's not like tensions have cooled. We now have tens of millions of people collectively consumed by manufactured paranoia about social justice movements, who also believe the presidential election was stolen with the aid of antifa and BLM. We're likely to see a new round of mass protests against police violence, and I expect the right-wing response will in some ways be even more ferocious than last year."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden's tax-the-rich plans (Hans Nichols, 4/23/21, Axios)

The proposal, to be announced ahead of Biden's address to Congress next Wednesday, is an opening bid for Hill negotiations.

"For New Yorkers, the combined state and federal capital gains rate could be as high as 52.22%. For Californians, it could be 56.7%," Bloomberg News reported.

The Dow closed down more than 300 points after the plans leaked.

Practically and politically, the White House needs buy-in from Congress to pay for social spending in the next phase of his plan to reshape the American economy, the American Families Plan.

Between the lines: Democrats close to the White House believe that the amount of revenue that the IRS can collect on capital gains actually decreases past a certain point, probably in the low 30% range. That means the ultimate capital gains rate could be well below 43.4%

Gains ought not be taxed at all--we want people to invest--tax consumption instead.

April 22, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 PM


Wind and solar could replace fossil fuels 100 times over, says new report (Ketan Joshi, 23 April 2021, Renew Economy)

A new report released by climate and energy think tanks Carbon Tracker and Ember Climate shows that the technical potential of wind and solar to power the world is around 100 times greater than total electricity demand, with rapidly increasing economic and physical capacity to take advantage of sun and wind to fully remove fossil fuels from human society.

The report also finds that the land constraints on renewable energy growth are far less than commonly stated. Harry Benham, report co-author and chairman of thinktank Ember-Climate, said: "The world does not need to exploit its entire renewable resource -- just 1% is enough to replace all fossil fuel usage. Each year we are fuelling the climate crisis by burning three million years of fossilised sunshine in coal, oil and gas while we use just 0.01% of daily sunshine."

Global energy consumption in 2019 was 65 petawatt hours, but the technological potential to capture sunlight and convert it into electricity is 5,800 petawatt hours, "as much power in a single year as could be generated by burning all known fossil fuel reserves"

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Syracuse 'Proud Boy' arrested by FBI for involvement in Capitol riots (CNYCentral, April 21st 2021)

"According to the indictment, Mr. Greene and his co-conspirators intended to stop, delay, or hinder Congress's certification of the Electoral College vote, 'by force if necessary,'" said Special Agent in Charge Thomas Relford from FBI Albany. "His actions were deliberate, dangerous and illegal. Now he must face the consequences."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How the GOP Absorbed Far-Right Extremists (OLIVIA TROYE  APRIL 22, 2021, The Bulwark)

The only material manifestation of the new confederacy of conspiracists was a seven-page manifesto filled entirely with clumsy, gnarly prose (even by government standards), punctuated with clunkers like this: "America was founded on the basis of individual and state sovereignty, to ensure that no free American would be lorded over by a Monarch ever again." Pretty rich from people who took their slogan from a wannabe autocrat who claimed the presidency gave him "total authority" to "do whatever I want."

The document also lambastes the "Theory of Comparative Advantage, which was first proposed by David Richardo [sic] over two centuries ago." Free trade, say the America Firsters, "accomplishes many of the same nefarious economic goals that mass immigration does."

It all comes back to immigration, the issue for which the confederacy of dunces reserves all its fire. America is "more than . . . a series of abstract ideas," they insist. "America is a nation with a border, and a culture, strengthened by a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions." Having failed to correctly spell the name of a famous Briton already, the decision not to try to name any specific Anglo-Saxon political traditions can only be regarded as prudent.

But the creed against immigrants isn't just dim--it's dark. It includes classic xenophobic tropes about "weeding out those who could not or refused to abandon their old loyalties . . . stay[ing] in the country at the expense of the native-born," and calls to "abolish unnaturalized birthright citizenship, which actively encourages hostile interests to undermine the legitimacy of democratic self-governance by engaging in subversive 'birth tourism' and chain migration."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Maddow: Al Qaeda used to instruct terrorists to ram their cars into crowds -- just like GOP bills now legalize (Sarah K. Burris, April 21, 2021, Raw Story)

"One of the things that is, I think so -- that is the most shocking about this bill, and we saw that it made the headline in The New York Times today, is this idea that this Republican bill, and now state law in Florida, singles out people who use their cars to run over protesters for a specially designated form of immunity," she began. "I mean, you know, the freaking Al Qaeda Magazine, when it used to exist, used to advise Al Qaeda adherents that a great way to terrorize lots of Americans is to use a readily available large tool, namely a car or a truck, to run down Americans as a way of committing terrorist attacks in this country. By putting such a spotlight on that and singling it out for immunity, are there concerns this is creating a clear and present current public safety threat around that type of way of hurting people?"

All True Believers are alike. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


After Chauvin Verdict, Greene Stokes Fear Of Black 'Terrorist Threat' (Emily Singer, Apr. 21st, 2021, American Independent

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) called the Black Lives Matter movement a "terrorist threat" in a tweet after the conviction of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin on Tuesday on all three counts in the killing of George Floyd.

"DC is completely dead tonight. People stayed in and were scared to go out because of fear of riots. Police are everywhere and have riot gear. #BLM is the strongest terrorist threat in our county," Greene tweeted, misspelling the word "country."

Reporters who live in Washington said Greene's comments were untrue, adding that residents were in the street in a celebratory mood after Chauvin was convicted on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter in Floyd's death in May 2020, an incident that sparked nationwide and worldwide protests for racial justice and police reform and abolition.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'We did it': Biden celebrates U.S. hitting milestone of 200 million doses in his first 100 days (Shannon Pettypiece and Rebecca Shabad, 4/21/21, NBC News)

He said he is giving serious consideration to sending some of the doses to other countries, including Canada and Central America, once he is confident there is enough supply to meet demand from Americans. He said he spent a half hour talking to the Canadian prime minister Wednesday about sending additional doses there.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


U.S. Senate Committee Advances Bill To Increase Military Support To Ukraine (RFE/RL, 4/20/21)

"As [Russian President Vladimir] Putin continues to escalate the situation along the border with Ukraine, we are speaking with one voice in reaffirming our steadfast support to the people of Ukraine and our commitment to protect our national security interests and our closest partners," Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

"Ukrainians have a right to choose their own future, and this bill contributes to that by supporting Western-style military reforms, lethal and nonlethal military equipment to defend itself from Russia, and U.S. diplomatic support for peace negotiations," Senator Jim Risch, the ranking Republican member of the committee, said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Batteries, solar and wind can easily maintain grid security as coal retires (Dan Cass and Bruce Mountain, 22 April 2021, Renew Economy)

The largest frequency control service in the National Electricity Market (NEM) provides active power to push up frequency for six seconds following a disturbance. In this market, batteries are providing about a third of supply, competing against a coal fleet almost 70 times larger.

Batteries have only been allowed to compete in Frequency Control Ancillary Services markets since 2017. They are already setting the price and eating in to the market share of conventional generators.

A small but growing number of grid-scale batteries are rapidly increasing their share of this NEM frequency control market
A project in northern Queensland changed how the inverters at four large solar farms respond to changes in network voltage and they now provide system strength. The cost of this is was to be around 4% the cost of a conventional synchronous condenser.

Last month the Energy Security Board gave federal and state energy ministers options for redesigning the NEM. Minister Taylor has sat on it since then but is due to be released next week. A critical 'Post-2025' reform is to fix the inertia and system strength rules.

The federal energy minister Angus Taylor can show leadership by calling on the ESB to remove regulatory barriers to batteries, promote innovation and facilitate state energy policies.

The Renewable Energy Zones being built by the states will bring in around 40 GW of generation and many GW of storage. This new energy supply plus a new procurement system for inertia and system strength will allow Australia to rapidly decarbonise our electricity system securely.

The current system misallocates risk to renewable energy projects. The 'do no harm' principle forces them to pay for system strength weakness that they are not responsible for. The 'causer pays' principle penalises them for variability of solar and wind output that they are not responsible for.

Ultimately, inertia and system strength are both public goods and should be procured efficiently on behalf of all consumers.

April 21, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


The Obscure Government Office That Launched Tesla Is Open for Business (Again) (Tina Casey, MAR 30, 2021, Triple Pundit)

The DOE is mainly known as a research organization, with 17 national laboratories and a vast, global network of academic institutions and private sector stakeholders under its belt.

Somewhat lesser known is the agency's role in providing financial assistance to help innovative energy technology cross the "Valley of Death" that separates promising work from the commercial market. When private sector dollars shy away from unproven technology, the DOE can step in with a financial and technical assist.

In support of that mission, the Loan Programs Office was created during the Bush administration through Title XVII, Section 1703 of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. It provides the DOE with broad authority to guarantee loans for innovative projects that serve critical needs, build markets, and create jobs.

As a funder of new technology, the LPO has failure built into its DNA. The program is designed as a balanced portfolio that allows wiggle room for the high risk that comes with high rewards.

On the failure side is the solar manufacturing firm Solyndra. The company was among the very first to apply for a loan in December 2007, just a few months after the loan office released its first round of solicitations. The loan was approved in 2009, under the Obama administration. Unfortunately, Solyndra's plans for opening a U.S. factory fell victim to global manufacturing forces and it went bankrupt in 2011. A 2015 DOE investigation also accused officials in the company of misleading the LPO on key points.

The LPO success stories that nobody talks about

When Solyndra went bankrupt, Republican members of Congress and their allies in the media seized the opportunity to slam the Obama administration's clean energy policies. With the "right wing noise machine" dialed up to an 11, Solyndra became a bleating, blaring symbol of failure and waste that persisted all through the Obama administration and continued into the Trump years.

Somewhat ironically, Republican members of Congress were initially eager to see the loan program in action. The DOE cites Republican U.S. Representatives Hastert, Burr, Barton and Simpson, who went on record in public hearings during the Bush administration in 2007 - and during the Obama administration in 2010 - to complain about the slow pace of loan approvals.

They should have kept cheering, as at least two of today's leading U.S. companies benefited enormously from the LPO.

One is Ford. The company famously refused assistance through the 2009 Recovery Act, but it did win a $5.9 billion loan from LPO that enabled it to upgrade 13 factories in six states.

The other, of course, is Elon Musk's Tesla Motors. Like Solyndra, Tesla was also among the first to benefit from LPO support. It earned a $465 million loan in 2010 on the strength of its electric vehicle (EV) technology. That would seem to be a high-risk proposition, considering GM's short-lived dip into the commercial EV field during the 1990s. Nevertheless, by 2013 Tesla repaid the loan in full. And by 2014, the company employed more workers than any other automaker in its home state of California.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


How Police Compare in Different Democracies (Amelia Cheatham and Lindsay Maizland, November 12, 2020, CFR)

What are police responsible for?

Police perform many duties, sometimes in situations they aren't trained for. In the United States, not only do local officers patrol communities, investigate crimes, make arrests, and issue traffic citations, they also respond to mental health crises, domestic disputes, and noise complaints. Some experts argue that this broad mandate can lead to unnecessary escalation and use of force. Researchers estimate that one in ten police calls in the United States is related to mental health. Approximately 25 percent of people shot and killed by police in 2018 were experiencing mental health crises.

Some countries, as well as several U.S. cities, have sought to address this by creating specialized units to respond to mental health emergencies. In Stockholm, some paramedics drive mental health ambulances. Through a similar program known as CAHOOTS in the Oregon cities of Eugene and Springfield, unarmed medics and crisis workers respond to 911 calls relating to individuals experiencing psychological crises. In 2019, they responded to twenty-four thousand calls, about 20 percent of total 911 dispatches. Other countries rely on unarmed professionals to respond to low-level crimes. In England and Wales, community support officers can fine someone who litters or confiscate alcohol from a minor, but they must ask police officers to make arrests. Experts say these and similar programs have reduced incidents of police violence.

"Just look at what police are doing right now and ask, 'In which of these situations do I need an armed first responder?' If we don't need an armed first responder, why are police doing it in the first place?" says Tracey L. Meares, professor at Yale Law School and founding director of the school's Justice Collaboratory.

What training do police undergo?

The duration and type of training varies widely worldwide. Recruits in the United States spend significantly less time in police academies than those in most European countries. Basic U.S. training programs take twenty-one weeks on average, whereas similar European programs can last more than three years [PDF]. In Finland and Norway, recruits study policing in national colleges, spending part of the time in an internship with local police, and earn degrees in criminal justice or related fields.

With hundreds of police academies, the United States lacks national standards for what recruits should learn. U.S. academies tend to emphasize technical skills rather than communication and restraint. According to a 2013 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report [PDF], academies on average spent the most time--seventy-one hours--on firearm skills, compared with twenty-one hours on de-escalation training (which teaches how to use conversation and other tactics to calm a situation without using force) and crisis-intervention strategies. In Germany, firearms training focuses on how to avoid using force. Japanese officers are trained to use martial arts.

Is police violence against civilians widespread?

Police brutality remains a problem in many advanced democracies. Officers worldwide have used aggressive means, such as rubber bullets and tear gas, to crack down on protesters, including French police during the Yellow Vests protests that began in late 2018. In October 2020, Nigerian security forces reportedly opened fire on protesters calling for police reform, killing twelve people. Police have also used deadly force when enforcing coronavirus restrictions in recent months, including in Kenya.

The United States far surpasses most wealthy democracies in killings by police. U.S. police killed an estimated 7,666 people between 2013 and 2019. By comparison, at least 224 people died in encounters with Canadian police during that period. Some countries, such as Finland and Norway, have gone years without police killings.

The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials [PDF], adopted by the General Assembly in 1979, says officers should only use force as a last resort. U.S. police can legally use deadly force if they reasonably believe they or other people are in danger, but some critics have questioned whether officers can make this judgment call. Canadian law has a similar provision. In contrast, the European Convention on Human Rights, which has been ratified by forty-seven countries, permits force only when "absolutely necessary," and individual countries more strictly regulate its use. For instance, most ban neck restraints, the controversial tactic that resulted in Floyd's death.

In the United States, police are armed, increasingly with military-grade equipment. By contrast, more than a dozen other democracies generally do not arm their police with guns and may instead rely on firearm-equipped teams that can respond to high-risk situations. In Ireland, most police are not even trained to use firearms. UK police, who are usually unarmed, have themselves resisted calls for them to bear arms, in line with their philosophy of policing by consent, which maintains that police legitimacy is contingent on public approval of their actions. New Zealand's unarmed police also follow this approach.

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


The Republican base is 'vanishing': These figures show why the GOP is hell-bent on voter suppression (Alex Henderson, 4/21/21, AlterNet)

TargetSmart, Rubin notes, has "compiled information on more than 98% of those who cast ballots last year." The firm reports that "non-college educated Whites dropped from 53.8% of the electorate in 2016 to 49.2% in 2020" and that "nationally, total turnout increased by 12% relative to 2016, turnout among (Asian-American and Pacific Islander) voters surged by 43%, and Latino turnout increased by almost a third of all votes cast." [...]

"Republicans, in essence, are trying to eke out as many election cycles as they can with its shrinking base," Rubin observes. "Deathly afraid of alienating the most rabid MAGA supporters, they continue to stoke racial resentment, fear of immigrants and bizarro conspiracy theories -- all of which push away non-Whites, women, college-educated voters and younger voters. In sum, Republicans' base is vanishing, and they haven't the slightest idea what to do about it -- other than a possibly self-destructive effort to disenfranchise voters."

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


Officer Brian Sicknick's Accused Assailants Do Not Mention New Autopsy Report in Motion Seeking Their Pre-Trial Release (ADAM KLASFELD, Apr 21st, 2021, Law & Crime)

The day after the D.C. Medical Examiner's office released a ruling finding Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick died of natural causes following the Jan. 6th siege, that officer's accused assailants filed separate motions for pre-trial release. Neither of them mentioned the news of Sicknick's autopsy report finding he died from two strokes, not homicide.

In fact, the two motions by attorneys for George Tanios and Julian Khater--running a combined 48 pages--do not mention Sicknick's name at all.

"It is hard not to think of the events that unfolded on January 6th and not have a visceral reaction - particularly, as rioters entered the Capitol Building by breaking windows and ramming open doors," Khater's lawyer Joseph Tacopina acknowledged in a 28-page brief filed on Tuesday. "But Julian Khater was not one of them. He never entered the Capitol Building, never sought to threaten members of Congress, and never intended to forcibly interfere with the peaceful transfer of power. Instead, the act attributed to him was a limited and isolated one, that never transgressed the barrier that lay directly before him."

That alleged act was spraying a canister of bear spray at Sicknick and two other officers. Prosecutors never alleged Sicknick's assault caused his death.

Khater does not appear to deny the assault outright in his motion for bond...

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


George W. Bush Lends His Voice To Immigrants In 'Out Of Many, One' (Rachel Martin, 4/21/21, NPR: Morning Edition)

On the portrait of Carlos Mendez, a dreamer

So, you know, it's a compelling tale in that his dad comes up here. They're stone broke in Mexico. There are jobs in Dallas area that aren't being filled. He fills it and, admittedly, not here on a on a work visa, which really does explain part of the reform that needs to take place, which is a better work program and more effective work program, both high skilled and lower skilled. And so he comes up here and starts sending money home like many people who are doing jobs that need to be done here in the state of Texas, for example. And the mother and son follow. The kid's ... on an innertube crossing the Rio Grande River and they end up coming. Mom dies, Dad gets injured. They live in east Texas. But the kid's a smart guy and he gets some help along the way by caring citizens. He ends up going to a junior college in East Texas and then Henry Cisneros [former mayor of San Antonio] finds out about him and helps him get a green card. The DACA program, saved him from being kicked out. And now he's an engineer in San Antonio. He's a contributing citizen. This is an issue that can be fixed. And that is -- it makes no sense for our country to take kids who came here as young kids and send them home where there's no home. And so it seems to me Congress, if they're trying to get some reforms done, ought to start here. And most Americans agree that the DACA kids ought to be given permanent status.

On the ongoing effort by Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton to have DACA protections declared unlawful

Well, I think Congress needs to fix it. The whole issue is one of failed government. And the reason why it's failed is because the issue is too political. In other words, people think they can score political points and yet -- hopefully this book will get people looking at the issue in a different way and that, you know, they realize that like, Carlos, I mean, he's making a huge contribution to our country and our will and therefore there's a sobriety in the debate and it's less scoring political points and more fixing a broken system....

On whether he thinks contributions of immigrants have been minimized in the current immigration debate

I think we go through these spasms in our country where there's a nativist sentiment where people don't focus on the positive aspects of immigration and that needs to change. Look, everybody - I shouldn't say everyone, it's a little bit bold of me to say everybody -- a lot of people want to make sure we have border enforcement. But the truth of the matter is, by fixing the broken system, it does make it easier to enforce the border. And right now, the asylum system needs to be fixed. The work permits need to be changed. The DACA kids need to have certainty. And so comprehensive is not going to work during this kind of volatile political period. But I'm confident that if we can get people focused on, like the DACA issue, there's compromise to be made and a problem to be solved.

On his choice to paint many famous immigrants

I think every one of these stories is a story of loneliness, adjustment, doubt as to whether or not they'd make it, no matter if they're famous or not. It's Henry Kissinger. You know, I talked to him about this book and he agreed to let me paint him and tell his story. And, you know, I said, 'What was it like coming from Nazi Germany to New York City?' And he said, 'I wasn't accepted,' which I thought really interesting. He said, 'The first [time] I really felt accepted was when I joined an army unit from people from the Midwest.' And there was a loneliness and a isolation that many immigrants feel and a doubt as to whether or not, in Kissinger's case, there's no doubt they made the right decision to leave Nazi Germany because he's Jewish, of course.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


America's incredibly successful pilot of universal health care (Ryan Cooper, April 21, 2021, The Week)

Last weekend, I finally got my first coronavirus vaccine shot (the Pfizer/BioNTech version), at one of the FEMA sites here in Philly. It was without question the best experience I have ever had with American medicine. The National Guard troops and volunteers had the process down to a science -- along with hundreds of others, I just answered a few quick questions, sat down, got my shot, and then scheduled my second appointment while waiting to make sure I had no allergic reaction. The whole thing took about 20 minutes from start to finish.

I didn't have to get out my insurance card, or fork over any co-pays or co-insurance, or fill out a stack of paperwork, or sit in a waiting room for hours. I didn't get a bill at a 10,000 percent markup, or have to argue with my insurance company about whether FEMA is in-network, or spend weeks fighting some enormous surprise bill afterwards. I just got the care I needed and went on my way.

It's not a coincidence that this is very similar to how Medicare-for-all would work: treatment that is free at the point of service, funded by the government. When we have a truly dire need for medical care, the status quo health care system is simply too complicated and broken to get the job done.

On the other hand, government innovated the mRNA vaccine. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Comparing the actual US grid to the one predicted 15 years ago: Demand and carbon emissions are way down, renewables far more common than expected. (JOHN TIMMER - 4/14/2021, ars Technica)

The foundation for the new work is one of the many editions of the Energy Information Agency's (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook, specifically the one from 2005. These publications take a look at the state of the US energy markets in the most recent year for which there is data and tries to project how those markets will evolve over the coming years. In 2005, that meant that projections went as far as 2025.

You can get a sense of where things were expected to go simply by looking at the cover of the report, which is graced by a picture of an oil well. To an extent, conservative projections are baked into the structure of the report; it assumes that the only policies that influence energy markets are the ones currently on the books. So even though Congress has extended the expiration date on tax credits for renewable power multiple times, the EIA always makes projections that have them expiring as scheduled at the time.

The EIA also tends to assume slow and steady technological progress rather than the sorts of changes that have led solar prices to drop by a factor of five in less than a decade. [...]

One of the biggest factors that has changed what's happened on the grid is a drop in demand compared to expectations. In its 2005 projections, the EIA had expected total demand for electricity to rise by roughly 25 percent. Instead, it stayed essentially flat. None of the main sectors--residential, commercial, or industrial--rose significantly, due to factors like increased efficiency and a shift away from heavy industry. (Remember, products like LED bulbs were expensive rarities 15 years ago.)

This had some significant effects. For example, the EIA projected a large increase in natural gas use by 2020 and got the magnitude nearly right. But in its projections, this expanded generation was expected to feed the rising demand; since that never materialized, gas displaced coal instead.

Coal also took a big hit from the rise in renewables, with wind and solar producing 13 times more than they were expected to back in 2005. Combined with hydropower and other renewable sources, that has boosted the total share of renewable generation to 79 percent higher than the EIA had projected. There are plenty of reasons for this, including the fact that tax breaks for renewables were extended several times. In the absence of a coordinated federal response to climate change, many states have crafted renewable power mandates. Finally, there's that tremendous drop in price noted above, which has made solar and wind the cheapest sources of power in many areas of the country.

Combined, those factors have produced a serious drop in carbon emissions: 40 percent since 2005, or about a third of the way toward a zero-emissions grid. Compared to the 2005 projections for this year, which had pencilled in continued heavy use of coal and rising demand, emissions are down by 52 percent--the "halfway to zero" of the report's title.

In 2005 (and for a number of years afterward), people frequently announced that reducing the carbon emissions of the grid would come at a catastrophic cost. That has turned out to be very wrong. Retail electricity prices (in 2005 constant dollars) went from 10.6 cents/kiloWatt-hour all the way up to... 10.7 cents/kW-hr. The projections had them falling slightly, so we're in worse shape than expected in this sense, but it's anything but a crippling rise in price.

In fact, because there are more customers for a similar amount of power, use per customer has gone down in the last 15 years. That means that, individually, customers' bills are a bit smaller, even if they're paying more.

And that movement has been accompanied by a huge drop in associated costs. Climate damages, estimated using the social cost of carbon, were cut by more than half, from a projected $229 billion down to only $110 billion. But the huge plunge in the use of coal, along with added pollution controls, cut down on numerous additional costs. Health costs from the pollution, expected to total over a half-trillion dollars, instead came in at $34 billion--an astonishing drop. The projected 38,000 annual premature deaths from pollution instead came in at 3,100.

If these costs are counted along with the electrical bills, the total costs of generating power were actually down by 44 percent from 2005 and less than half of what was projected for 2020.

April 20, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Keith Ellison's strategy in the Derek Chauvin trial paid off (Ryan Cooper, 4/20/21, The Week)

This is a huge victory for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who orchestrated the prosecution. He made the unusual decision to add the second-degree murder charge, selected the legal team, and worked on the case personally. Prosecuting police officers is notoriously difficult in the United States, because of the wide deference typically granted to law enforcement in trials. Indeed, this is only the second time in Minnesota history that a police officer has been convicted of murder over an on-duty incident, and the first time for a white officer.

Ellison was previously a prominent progressive member of Congress before he resigned to run for the state attorney general position. Since taking office, he has recommended sweeping reforms to address police brutality, and was under a lot of pressure to deliver a fair prosecution of Chauvin. By all accounts Ellison got the job done. Chauvin had his day in court, with experienced legal representation, and a jury of his peers judged him according to the evidence.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


UK's stunning new climate target adds major pressure on Australia (Ketan Joshi, 21 April 2021, Renew Economy)

The number comes from a major report released last year by the country's "Climate Change Committee (CCC)", an independent government advisory body tasked with guiding the government's trajectory to net zero by 2050. The target is enshrined in legislation, and has been upgraded to include emissions from international aviation and shipping, a significant proportion of the country's emissions.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


The US electric power sector is halfway to zero carbon emissions (Bentham Paulos, Affiliate, Electricity Markets & Policy Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dev Millstein, Research Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Joseph Rand, Senior Scientific Engineering Associate, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Ryan Wiser, Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 4/20/21, The Conversation)

Renewable energy's rapid growth is accelerating a national shift to a carbon-free electric power system.

So far 17 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have adopted laws or executive orders setting goals for reaching 100% clean electricity by 2050 or sooner. And 46 U.S. utilities have pledged to go carbon-free. Now the Biden administration and some members of Congress are proposing to decarbonize the power sector by 2035.

While this much change in 15 years seems ambitious, our new report, "Halfway to Zero," looks back at the past 15 and finds that power sector emissions are half of what they were projected to be.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Last Men and Women: Are some virtues casualties of progress? (George Scialabba, March 25, 2021, Commonweal)

Plenty of others besides Nietzsche have expressed misgivings about the likely character of democratic citizens, and these critics have not all been opponents of democracy. (I'm using "democracy" here to mean the whole Enlightenment program: not just political equality but also feminism, pacifism, human rights, and the welfare state, along with a chastened belief in, and modest hopes for, moral and material progress.) Tocqueville's reservations are well known: "The general character of past society was diversity," he wrote. "Unity and uniformity were nowhere to be met with. In modern society, however, all things threaten to become so much alike that the peculiar characteristics of each individual will be entirely lost in the uniformity of the general aspect." Even John Stuart Mill fretted that "the general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind.... At present individuals are lost in the crowd." Criticisms of mass society and mass man swelled to a roar in the twentieth century: Durkheim, Spengler, Schmitt, Ortega, Lippmann, Heidegger, the Frankfurt School, Foucault, MacIntyre, Bloom, and many, many others.

Most of these criticisms I reject, not for their often-powerful diagnoses but for the illiberal prescriptions that usually accompany them. I agree with Richard Rorty's admirably forthright solution to the supposed dilemma of democratic mediocrity: to wit, "even if the typical character types of liberal democracies are bland, calculating, petty, and unheroic, the prevalence of such people may be a reasonable price to pay for political freedom." We can and should separate the private from the public, self-creation from tolerance, the pursuit of perfection from democratic politics. As Rorty famously elaborated:

From Plato through Kant down to [Habermas and Derrida], most philosophers have tried to fuse sublimity and decency, to fuse social hope with knowledge of something big.... My own hunch is that we have to separate individual and social reassurance, to make sublimity [unlike tolerance] a private, optional matter. That means conceding to Nietzsche that democratic societies have no higher aim than what he called "the last men"--the people who have "their little pleasures for the day and their little pleasures for the night." Maybe we should just make that concession, and also concede that democratic societies do not embody anything, and cannot be reassured by anything, larger than themselves (e.g., by "rationality"). Such societies should not aim at the creation of a new breed of human being, or at anything less banal than evening out people's chances of getting a little pleasure out of their lives. This means that citizens of those societies who have a taste for sublimity will have to pursue it on their own time, and within the limits set by On Liberty. But such opportunities might be quite enough.

That, broadly, is where I also stand--with the Enlightenment and its contemporary heirs, and against Straussians, religious conservatives, national-greatness neoconservatives, Ayn Randian libertarians, and anyone else for whom tolerance, civic equality, international law, and a universal minimum standard of material welfare are less than fundamental commitments. 

There are three obvious problems with the Last Man theory, two of which were always evident and one that has only rounded into clear view in recent decades: 

(1) the notion that changes in the character of society can change the nature of Man.  This is, of course, the dream of all utopians, from Marxists to Islamists to Nazis to Trumpists to Progressives, that if you just give them enough control over the levers of society that they will spit out the new and improved man. But human nature--having been bequeathed by God--is intransient, as even He found to His frustration.

(2) that societies structured along prior lines produced anything more than general "mediocrity."  We celebrate the greatness of a Greece or a Rome because we remember and have access to the works of a few of their poets, playwrights, philosophers, and leaders, conveniently ignoring the fact we've forgotten the great unvariegated mass of their fellow citizens, particularly those who actually labored.  Where is there room in subsistence living for much more than "mediocrity"? Somewhere in Greece there was a particularly adept olive picker.  The greatest picker ever to walk down the street.  No one recalls him.  We recall the men who engaged in no labor.  And we recall the men listed above, who fretted about a rising tide of mediocrity, likewise, because they had the leisure time to do so.  They were not jotting down their thoughts after 16 hours in a coal mine. 

(3) which brings us to the contradiction at the heart of Last Man-ism, so clearly on display in our current age: at the End of History we require so little labor that Man has nothing but time for his enjoying and creating his pleasures.  Consider lockdown: nevermind the sheer volume of excellent culture we all consumed, look at the explosion of hobbies, crafts, etc. that our expanded leisure time triggered. Folks learned to cook, to bake, to woodwork,  to paint, to do puzzles, to cycle, to cross country ski, to garden, to do yoga, to play musical instruments, to brew beer, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.   Given the time to do so, we all created.  

The Last Man turns out not to be much different than the men throughout history who had leisure time or, at least, did not have to labor to sustain themselves.  The End of History does not change human nature: it changes human life. The affluence that liberal society produces affords time, liberty, and opportunity for men to indulge their interests and passions where we had historically been prevented by the time clock, government power, and restrictive social structures from indulging ourselves.  

So is this Utopia?  Does every man seize this moment and improve himself and create worthwhile crafts?  Hardly.  Do plenty of men do nothing with the opportunity and just sit around blinking?  Sure.  Deprived of the gift of having to work so hard you have no opportunity to think, do some now contemplate themselves and find the specter so unsatisfying they turn to drugs and alcohol to escape the self?  You bet. Has human nature changed in some fundamental way that means I am any less mediocre than my liberal ancestors before me? Not a whit.  Is The Wire the equal of Shakespeare? Does a chicken coop cast shade on the pyramids? Is a Tweet as insightful as The Rambler? Does jogging every day rival Pheidippides? Is coaching youth sports the same as tutoring Alexander?  If you can bake a loaf of bread and dry some jerky are you a virtual frontiersman?  Pish posh. But are the lives that include all these endeavors and the consumption of all the culture our society produces unworthy in any meaningful way? Or would they rather be the envy of everyone who came before us, not least of the philosophers who thought themselves "Above Average," almost entirely because of their privileged lifestyles, now become common? if this be mediocrity, give us more, faster. 


Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


The Illiberal Project Will Fail  (Fr James Dominic Rooney, OP, April 10, 2021, Catholic Herald)

Frankly, the strongest case to be made against Roe v. Wade is that it was a highly illiberal decision. The reason for the embittered fights in the US over abortion is precisely because a group imposed, by undemocratic means, a significant culturally-loaded piece of legislation through a court decision and not through liberal democratic processes. John Rawls was in favor of abortion, but not every liberal needs to be.

The crux of Culbreath's argument against liberal democracy is the fact that democratic processes could result in legislation fundamentally at odds with moral norms. Specifically, rights to life, but many other moral norms as well. However, his argument against the good of such processes involves a non-sequitur.

He begins: "There is something fundamentally wrong with a political system in which no institutions exist where the rights of the unborn may find permanent protection." This I grant. There is something unjust about societies that allow abortion, assuming (as I do) that abortion involves the intentional killing of a human being. But then he continues: 'since all the major institutions [in liberal democracies] are subject to the whims of a majority.'

Here, I'm already off the train. Nothing about liberalism requires our institutional arrangements be subject to whims of a majority. In fact, it strikes me as entirely not the aim of the American system that this be the case. Even were abortion legalized in the US by a tyrannical majority, that would only show that majority tyranny is problematic -- not liberalism.

In fact, classical liberals such as Mill were very much concerned about such 'tyranny of the majority' and proposed remedies for it. It is not freely to be granted that liberal institutions are functioning well, then, when they produce illiberal outcomes.

"For the protection of the natural law and the rights of the unborn," Culbreath then suggests, "a constitutional order is required that is in some respects pre-democratic, even 'authoritarian,' which will relentlessly pursue the common good without tolerance for those who would commit radical evil against the most defenseless among us."

What kind of 'authoritarianism' is Culbreath promoting? The claim appears to be that a regime should have political or legal mechanisms that do not allow legislation contrary to the right moral norms. I find this puzzling: while I agree a constitution should not be amended to allow abortions, I don't quite see how we could implement a legal mechanism for making it impossible to do so without seriously bad consequences.

In the United States, no majority of persons voted in favor of abortion laws, and no constitutional referendum was conducted. Yet imagine that we had. If we suggest that the federal government should have stopped this, by disallowing certain kinds of legislation (including constitutional referenda) that conflicts with its governing philosophy, this seems to slide pretty clearly and immediately into straightforward authoritarianism.

It seems to me that Culbreath's suggestion about 'authoritarianism' is left vague because there is no real alternative being advanced. And that's the problem. These kinds of illiberal critiques of democracy and procedural fairness in favor of the 'common good' strike me as ill-thought-out (and often romantic) approaches to government.

The basic sales pitch for the illiberal ideal is simple: as long as our political policies are achieved, we can destroy all the other political institutions and let God sort it out. I know personally many of these zealous young Catholics, like Jonathan, who think illiberalism is going to pay dividends for them and who mean well in wanting to see the 'social reign' of Christ the King.

The naïveté of the approach is staggering. The proponents of this kind of 'common good authoritarianism' just think that their friends will be the ones in charge. That, to put it mildly, is improbable in the extreme.

It is foolish and dangerous to think authoritarianism comes in 'good' varieties. The illiberal programme -- if it can be called that -- will only end in disaster.

April 19, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


Polar bears are mating with grizzlies to become 'Pizzly Bears' (Ben Cost, April 14, 2021, NY Post)

This perhaps marks an evolutionary 180 from when polar bears and grizzlies diverged from a common ancestor hundreds of thousands of years ago, Vital Ground reported.

In other words, they didn't Evolve in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


One-Fifth of QAnon Posts in US Originated in Foreign Countries like China, Russia, Analysis Shows (JON JACKSON,  4/19/21, Newsweek)

A new report claims that foreign-based individuals helped spread conspiracy theories associated with QAnon on Facebook posts. The analysis suggests that the disinformation, mostly concocted by people in China and Russia, further spread the QAnon movement that has become tied to the threat of domestic terrorism.

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


The Public Should Have Access to the Surveillance Court's Opinions (Charlie Hogle and Alex Abdo, April 19, 2021, Just Security)
For decades, a special court--the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or "FISC"--has issued secret legal opinions authorizing the U.S. government to conduct sweeping programs of electronic surveillance. These opinions have had a profound impact on Americans' rights to privacy, free expression, and free association. But many of them are entirely hidden from public view.

Secret law undermines democracy and the legitimacy of the judicial system--especially when the law being withheld from the public affects the rights of millions of people. So today, the ACLU is asking the Supreme Court to order the FISC to publish its secret opinions, redacted only as necessary to prevent genuine harm to national security. The petition--filed by ACLU lawyers, former Solicitor General Ted Olson, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale University--argues that the First Amendment gives the public a presumptive right of access to significant judicial opinions, including those of the FISC.

...Open Source the recordings. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Florida 'Anti-Rioting' Law Will Make It Much Easier to Run Over Protesters With Cars (Tess Owen, April 19, 2021, Vice news)

As of Monday in Florida, a gathering of three or more people can be labelled a "riot"--and if they're blocking the road and you feel frightened, it's generally OK to run them over with a car. Historic monuments, however--Confederate and otherwise--receive special protection under the law. 

These are just some of the stipulations created by Florida's new controversial anti-protest bill, which Gov. Ron DeSantis, flanked by law enforcement officers at the Polk County Sheriff's Office, signed into law on Monday. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


The contraceptive pill is having a PR crisis. Vaccine hysteria has exposed it (EMMA HASLETT, 4/19/21, New Statesman)

The widespread introduction of the contraceptive pill in the late 1960s created the conditions for the summer of love: for the first time in history, women had control over their own bodies. Peace and (lots of) love ensued. 

But in the five decades since, a different conversation about the pill has been underway among its users. For years, women have privately complained about its side effects - bloating, mood swings, in some cases more serious reactions like incessant, heavy bleeding or mental health issues. They've bemoaned the fact that doctors seem quick to prescribe it to manage everything from acne to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), without treating the underlying causes of women's health conditions - and when they question those decisions, their concerns are often dismissed. 

Earlier this month, an offhand comment by Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, inadvertently exposed this quiet controversy. On an episode of Good Morning Britain, Harnden attempted to calm hysteria about the blood clot risk of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, which is thought to be one in 250,000, by comparing it with the blood clot risk of the contraceptive pill, which is between 5 and 12 in 10,000 - over 125 times higher. 

A comparison intended to reassure instead sparked panic and anger among women. Many shared their shock to learn of the risks of a medication they had been taking every day for years - some even complained they were never warned about that particular side effect at all. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Biden's Policy Shift on Yemen Rings Alarm Bells in Riyadh: The shift of US policy vis-à-vis Yemen is placing a heavy burden on Saudi foreign policy. (Corrado Cok • Apr 19, 2021, Fair Observer)

Although largely predicted, Biden's move complicates the already shaky position of Saudi Arabia in the conflict. Riyadh faces multiple hurdles in Yemen while seeking an exit strategy. Over five years, a bombing campaign, a maritime blockade and military support to proxies on the ground, alongside the UAE, have not been sufficient to defeat the Houthi insurgency, while the human cost of this attempt has left indelible scars on Yemen and its people.

After acknowledging the impossibility of victory, Riyadh underwent painful negotiations with the leadership of Ansar Allah in 2019. A mediated solution would allow the Saudis to scale down their costly intervention and spare the Al Saud royal family an outright display of weakness in a region where military prowess is a determinant of political weight. However, last November, Ansar Allah began to intensify its attacks against Saudi targets utilizing Iran-supplied military hardware.

The Houthi campaign exposed the vulnerability of the Saudi strategic infrastructure to asymmetric attacks launched through drones, missiles and explosives-laden boats targeting oil facilities, airports, commercial vessels and ports. As a result, the mediation went awry, and Saudi Arabia scaled up its bombing campaign against Ansar Allah once again.

Moreover, the Saudi intervention in Yemen was confronted with another issue: southern separatism. After Abu Dhabi decided to partially pull out from Yemen in July 2019, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) -- the UAE's main political ally -- cut ties with the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and began to push for the independence of southern Yemen. Since then, STC separatism has forced the Saudis to commit to the maintenance of the anti-Ansar Allah coalition through the Riyadh Agreement between Hadi and the STC, which collapsed in April 2020 and came back into force last December.

Yet all evidence indicates that a power-sharing solution in Aden is far from secured as party-affiliated militias remain outside government control, some STC factions oppose the Riyadh Agreement, and tensions persist inside the coalition between the STC and the Islah party, the Yemeni offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. This indicates that Riyadh cannot disengage from southern Yemen without causing the collapse of the anti-Ansar Allah front.

We are with Iran, not the Sa'uds.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Supreme Court passes on Second Amendment cases challenging lifetime gun ownership ban (John Fritze, 4/19/21, USA TODAY)

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up three challenges to a federal ban on gun ownership for people convicted of nonviolent crimes, surprising Second Amendment advocates who hoped the court would chip away at the restriction.

By not taking the appeals, the nation's highest court let stand a series of lower court rulings that prohibited people convicted of driving under the influence, making false statements on tax returns and selling counterfeit cassette tapes from owning a gun.

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


Inside the GOP's tense fallout with the big business lobby (Michael Warren, Manu Raju and Alex Rogers,  April 19, 2021, CNN)

"The National Chamber of Commerce effectively endorsed Nancy Pelosi for speaker in 2020," a senior House GOP aide said.

The Chamber has hardly abandoned the GOP. Just a few months ago, the organization released a TV ad with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce praising Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler as the two were fighting to win runoff elections and maintain GOP control of the Senate.

But the general sense of alienation reflects the widening gulf between the business community and other parts of the Republican Party's coalition.

In addition to the reaction in corporate America to Georgia's new election law, which saw executives from hundreds of major companies sign a letter denouncing the legislation and several threaten to move business out of the state, there's been skepticism about big tech firms, criticism of the business community's support for more expansive immigration laws -- and a sense that major corporations have "gone woke" on political issues that have become articles of faith among Republicans.

Republican lawmakers have taken notice and staked out positions contrary to the broader business community's goals. This year, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Utah proposed raising the minimum wage, along with mandating that employers enroll in E-Verify to ensure that their workers are legally working. Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Marco Rubio of Florida and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee introduced a bill to remove the antitrust exemption for Major League Baseball. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has attacked Democratic candidates who've accepted corporate PAC money. And last month, Rubio endorsed a push by Amazon workers in Alabama to unionize, citing the online retailer's supposed "war against working-class values."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Post-Merkel Germany May Be Shaded Green (Steven Erlanger, April 17, 2021, NY Times)

With the environment central to their program, the Greens represent the current zeitgeist. Its leaders argue that correct economic policies can produce a Germany that is digital, modern and carbon neutral, no longer so dependent on old-fashioned industrial production, however sophisticated.

They oppose Nord Stream 2, the Russian natural-gas pipeline to Germany that circumvents Ukraine and Poland. They also oppose the European Union's investment deal with China. They are committed to European cooperation, democracy promotion, the defense of human rights, Germany's membership in NATO and its strong alliance with the United States.

While the Greens consider NATO's goal of military spending of 2 percent of gross domestic product to be arbitrary, the party favors more spending to ensure that the woefully weak German military is able to meet its NATO responsibilities.

Even Mr. Röttgen, the Christian Democrat who is chairman of the Bundestag foreign policy committee, said that "however embarrassing for me, the Greens have the clearest stance of all the parties on China and Russia."

They would make "a much more realistic and preferable partner for us on foreign policy," he said.

Wolfgang Streeck, a leftist German economist, once famously called the Greens "the vegetarian section of the Christian Democrats," noted Hans Kundnani of Chatham House, a research organization based in London. In the way the party criticizes Russia and China on the grounds of democracy and human rights, Mr. Kundnani said, it is similar to American neoconservatives.

"The German Greens are now a pragmatist centrist party," said Ulrich Speck of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. "They want to be part of the government and play a big role, with a focus on greening the economy. They think there are enough in business who understand that this is the future."

Foreign policy is secondary, Mr. Speck said. "But the democracy agenda matters, and they position themselves in solidarity with opposition democrats in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and China. And they are very tough on China."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Cancel Rent' Champion Ayanna Pressley Raked in Thousands as Landlord, Records Show (Collin Anderson, 4/19/21, Free Beacon)

The progressive congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.) has called rent cancellation legislation "literally a matter of life and death." At the same time, she has collected from her own rental properties.

Pressley and her husband made as much as $15,000 in rental income in 2019 after purchasing a $658,000 Boston home, according to property records and financial disclosures reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. The income appears to come over the course of four months--the unit was first listed for $2,500 a month in June 2019 and the posting was removed in August.

All comedy is conservative. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Taiwan Beat COVID-19 - New Study Reveals Clues to Its Success (The Conversation, 4/19/21)

Just 11 people have died from COVID-19 in Taiwan since the pandemic began, an impressive feat for a country that never went into lockdown.

At the start of the pandemic, Taiwan was considered a high-risk country for COVID-19 due to its proximity to China and the frequent travel that takes place between the two countries.

With a history of SARS in 2003, which was not considered to be handled particularly well, the Taiwanese government acted quickly to close its borders this time around. It set up a Central Epidemic Command Centre on January 20 2020 to coordinate cooperation across different government ministries and agencies, and between government and businesses.

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has examined further just why Taiwan did so well at conquering COVID-19. The study's authors, from a range of health institutes and hospitals in Taiwan and the US, compared the estimated effectiveness of two types of COVID-19 policy in the early months of the pandemic: case-based and population-based measures.

Case-based measures include the detection of infected people through testing, isolation of positive cases, contact tracing and 14-day quarantining of close contacts. The population-based measures included face mask policies, personal hygiene and social distancing.

All we needed to do was follow the lead of the Asian nations which had dealt with these outbreaks before. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Louisville Officer Punches Black Protester Several Times in Arrest Seen on Video (SCOTT MCDONALD, 4/18/21, Raw Story)

Denorver "Dee" Garrett, a 29-year-old Black man who was protesting police brutality, is seen standing near a street corner with three Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers around him, and then more emerge as they try to handcuff him.

Officers can be seen taking Garrett to the ground, and one officer punched Garrett in the head several times. Bystanders recording the incident can be heard pleading with police to stop hitting the man. The officer threw four punches at Garrett's head, breaking his glasses in the process.

That'll teach him to be black. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

Joe Biden says all adults are eligible for Covid-19 vaccine 'starting tomorrow' (Rachel Brodsky, 4/19/21, Independent)

During his speech, Biden said: "For months I've been telling Americans to get vaccinated when it's your turn. Well, it's your turn now.

"Starting tomorrow," he continued, "all adults are eligible to get their shot. It's free, it's convenient, and it's the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from Covid-19 including the new variants we're seeing. To protect your loved ones, to help our economy recover, and to help things get back to normal."

April 18, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


From MN to Philly, cops, troops flood the zone, violate our rights - and make us less safe: Raising a 'thin blue line' flag, pepper-spraying journalists and blockading a church, Brooklyn Center, MN, is Ground Zero for an American police state. (Will Bunch, 4/18/21, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Boosted by a massive presence of National Guard officers, state troopers and even conservation cops who flooded the zone at the orders of Minnesota's supposedly liberal Democratic governor Tim Walz, soldiers and officers dressed in robocop gear thundered down suburban streets in military cruisers. They set early curfew hours for local residents determined to air their grievances no matter what, then fired tear gas and painful projectiles from behind a chain-link fence at anyone who wouldn't go home. Predictably, the cycle of violence escalated, but the police response soon went far beyond the handful of lawbreakers to assault peaceful protesters -- and those who just got in the way, including the kids in a nearby apartment complex gagging on tear gas.

Their "thin blue line" was especially brutal toward journalists seeking to exercise their 1st Amendment rights and document what police were doing in our name. Even after a federal judge in Minnesota took the extraordinary step of issuing a temporary restraining order telling state troopers (but, weirdly, not local cops or the National Guard) to stop arresting or dispersing working reporters and photographers, officers in Brooklyn Center have been wilding against the media -- epitomized by the pepper spraying of a French journalist in a yellow "PRESS" vest and her heavily equipped photographer.

A video journalist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Mark Vancleave, tweeted that he won't be able to work for weeks after a police rubber bullet shattered his ring finger, requiring surgery. Despite the restraining order, Minnesota state troopers in Brooklyn Center on Friday night rounded up journalists, forced them onto their stomachs, and photographed them and their credentials before letting them go. A attorney hired by news organizations on the ground documented a stunning series of 1st Amendment abuses.

These included the arrest of an Asian-American CNN producer, Carolyn Sung, who despite her press credentials was painfully zip-tied and hauled off to jail, with a cop screaming, "Do you speak English?!" -- her primary language. One New York Times reporter was dragged out of his car after officers pounded it with wooden sticks. Another Times journalist was grabbed by an officer who pulled him behind police lines and took his phone. When he dared to ask why, the officer responded "because that's our strategy now."

Indeed. It was almost like the cops on the ground in Brooklyn Center were engaged in a race to the bottom to see how many constitutional rights they could violate in just one week. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


The Intelligence Community's Deadly Bias Toward Classified Sources (CORTNEY WEINBAUM, APRIL 9, 2021, Defense One)

For years, government officials, commissions, and think tanks have warned that the U.S. intelligence community has blinded itself to enormous sources of intelligence, simply because the information is publicly available. In other words, the intelligence community would prefer to rely on billion-dollar classified satellites and intelligence-collection programs rather than to gather unclassified information on the internet for free. [...]

The new administration and Congress could finally act on years of recommendations based on warnings and intelligence failures. Plans, ideas, and recommendations have been created and published for the types of unclassified intelligence sources that agencies could be ingesting, the programs they could create, and the types of algorithms and automation that could be created to do this at scale. The status quo is proving that inertia alone is not solving this problem.

The U.S. government has an urgent need for intelligence based on open source information to understand and reveal foreign governments' campaigns to harm the U.S.; to identify methods of domestic radicalization and identify the sources of online radicalization campaigns; and even to better understand other countries' strategic goals and intentions.

Even when the relevant data is publicly available, intelligence analysts are not including this data in their analytic products during their routine course of business. Perhaps the most damning reason why is because open source responsibilities are not spread widely across the roles and functions of the intelligence community. Instead, the Open Source Enterprise--the office that would logically have this function--has seen its role, scope, and functions diminished and deprioritized over multiple presidential administrations. 

Open Source everything and subject it to market pressures. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Most Americans want to end lifetime Supreme Court appointments (Chris Kahn, 4/18/21, Reuters)

A majority of Americans want to end lifetime appointments for U.S. Supreme Court justices, according to an Ipsos poll for Reuters, though less than half are in favor of other efforts to reform the judiciary.

The national opinion poll, conducted on Thursday and Friday, found that 63% of adults supported term or age limits for Supreme Court justices. Another 22% said they opposed any limits and the rest did not express an opinion.

The poll also found that only 38% would support expanding the size of the court by adding four more justices. Another 42% said they would oppose doing so and the rest were unsure.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


3 mRNA Vaccines Researchers Are Working on (That Aren't COVID) (Damian Purcell, 4/18/21, National Interest)

1. Flu vaccine

Currently, we need to formulate new versions of the flu vaccine each year to protect us from the strains the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts will be circulating in flu season. This is a constant race to monitor how the virus evolves and how it spreads in real time.

Moderna is already turning its attention to an mRNA vaccine against seasonal influenza. This would target the four seasonal strains of the virus the WHO predicts will be circulating.

But the holy grail is a universal flu vaccine. This would protect against all strains of the virus (not just what the WHO predicts) and so wouldn't need to be updated each year. The same researchers who pioneered mRNA vaccines are also working on a universal flu vaccine.

The researchers used the vast amounts of data on the influenza genome to find the mRNA code for the most "highly conserved" structures of the virus. This is the mRNA least likely to mutate and lead to structural or functional changes in viral proteins.

They then prepared a mixture of mRNAs to express four different viral proteins. These included one on the stalk-like structure on the outside of the flu virus, two on the surface, and one hidden inside the virus particle.

Studies in mice show this experimental vaccine is remarkably potent against diverse and difficult-to-target strains of influenza. This is a strong contender as a universal flu vaccine.

2. Malaria vaccine

Malaria arises through infection with the single-celled parasite Plasmodium falciparum, delivered when mosquitoes bite. There is no vaccine for it.

However, US researchers working with pharmaceutical company GSK have filed a patent for an mRNA vaccine against malaria.

The mRNA in the vaccine codes for a parasite protein called PMIF. By teaching our bodies to target this protein, the aim is to train the immune system to eradicate the parasite.

There have been promising results of the experimental vaccine in mice and early-stage human trials are being planned in the UK.

This malaria mRNA vaccine is an example of a self-amplifying mRNA vaccine. This means very small amounts of mRNA need to be made, packaged and delivered, as the mRNA will make more copies of itself once inside our cells. This is the next generation of mRNA vaccines after the "standard" mRNA vaccines seen so far against COVID-19.

3. Cancer vaccines

We already have vaccines that prevent infection with viruses that cause cancer. For example, hepatitis B vaccine prevents some types of liver cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prevents cervical cancer.

But the flexibility of mRNA vaccines lets us think more broadly about tackling cancers not caused by viruses.

Some types of tumours have antigens or proteins not found in normal cells. If we could train our immune systems to identify these tumour-associated antigens then our immune cells could kill the cancer.

Cancer vaccines can be targeted to specific combinations of these antigens. BioNTech is developing one such mRNA vaccine that shows promise for people with advanced melanoma. CureVac has developed one for a specific type of lung cancer, with results from early clinical trials.

Then there's the promise of personalised anti-cancer mRNA vaccines. If we could design an individualised vaccine specific to each patient's tumour then we could train their immune system to fight their own individual cancer. Several research groups and companies are working on this.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Book Review: A Philosopher's Economist: Hume and the Rise of Capitalism by Margaret Schabas and Carl Wennerlind (Mark G. Spencer, LSE US Centre)

Chapter Four situates Hume's economic thought in the context of his broader concerns with moral improvement. As Hume put it in 'Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences':

Thus industry, knowledge, and humanity, are linked together by an indissoluble chain, and are found, from experience as well as reason, to be peculiar to the more polished, and, what are commonly denominated, the more luxurious ages. (114)

It is in that context that Hume's praise of middling-sort merchants makes sense. And it is why he could write that 'The same age, which produces great philosophers and politicians, renowned generals and poets, usually abounds with skillful weavers, and ship-carpenters' (132). 'We cannot reasonably expect', postulated Hume in another memorable line, 'that a piece of woollen cloth will be wrought to perfection in a nation, which is ignorant of astronomy, or where ethics are neglected'.

Chapters Five and Six present Hume's treatment of money, banking, international trade and public finance. On these topics the man of letters wrote 'theory with concrete policy recommendation in mind' (142), including for Scotland. Hume discovered the 'specie-flow mechanism' (144), building on Thomas Mun and others. He 'was strongly committed to any methods that would promote the "universal diffusion and circulation" of money' (162). And he advocated for low interest rates, while appreciating that money was a 'complex phenomenon'; it had 'a will of its own' (176). Hume thought, as did his American friend Benjamin Franklin, that free commerce between countries -- not a 'jealousy of trade' -- would increase wealth and foster global peace. An unmanageable public debt put all at risk, however.

A concluding, seventh, chapter provides a survey of Hume's 'imprint' on economics in his time and later. Part of Hume's impact was second-hand, through his best friend's book -- Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Hume's influence is traced to nineteenth- and twentieth-century economists as divergent as John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, among many others.

Few readers of this book will challenge that Schabas and Wennerlind 'demonstrate that Hume was engaged in thinking and writing about economics for his entire adult life and that his contributions are extensive and significant'. At the core of the volume's textual evidence are Hume's fifty moral, political and literary essays, including the twelve essays in Political Discourses (1752). But all of Hume's major philosophical and historical writings are referenced. Some scholars may resist the authors' strongest claim: 'An inquiry into the ideal economic conditions to promote political stability and peace more strongly connects Hume's entire corpus of writings, from his Treatise on through to his History of England and posthumous Dialogues, than anything drawn specifically from his epistemology or metaphysics. We do not make this claim lightly' (13). Their book also shows that Hume's histories were central -- more than his abstract philosophy -- to Hume's goals.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Hamas slams Israel arrests of members ahead of elections (New Arab, 18 April, 2021)

Hamas urged that it is committed to the elections "in spite of Israeli threats and harassment." adding it holds Israel "fully responsible for its systematic crimes against the prisoners."

Israel in recent weeks has detained Hamas members in overnight raids in the occupied West Bank running up to the elections.

Hamas members have also been threatened by Israeli intelligence officers with imprisonment if they run in the polls.

Palestinians will head to the polls for the first time in 15 years this summer. The legislative elections are set to take place on 22 May and a presidential vote on 31 July. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Here's What a Civilian Climate Corps Might Look Like: An influential policy group's proposal shows how we could put 1.5 million Americans to work. (ALEXANDER C. KAUFMAN, 4/18/21, MoJo)

It's December 2025, the end of a difficult year. Just a few months earlier, a massive hurricane destroyed dozens of homes in your town, even killed a few of your neighbors. Your house was fine, but you lost power for weeks. The waterfront park where you liked to eat lunch between shifts as a cashier is underwater. Trees are still down, and mudslides cover several roads, making it basically impossible to pick up the extra money you made driving an Uber.  Despair starts to eclipse the guilt you feel for surviving the storm.

Then one day you're scrolling your social media feed and see an update from one of your friends. She's replanting native trees in the park and helping restore the wetland that once absorbed storm surge before developers drained it to build some beachfront McMansions. She's earning a better wage than you are and receiving on-the-job training from a local union. You text her, asking how she got the gig. She sends you a link to the Civilian Climate Corps homepage. 

That federal program does not yet exist. But that's how Becca Ellison, the policy manager at the climate group Evergreen Action, envisions the concept that's quickly gaining traction in Washington, D.C. 

Last month, the Biden administration asked Congress to provide $10 billion as part of its $2 trillion infrastructure package to get a Civilian Climate Corps off the ground. On Wednesday, Evergreen released a 20-page report outlining for the first time how the federal government could feasibly create such a program.

This would be a fine option in a restored regime of universal National Service, along with policing, teaching, health care and the like.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


REVIEW: of How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs by Elizabeth F. Thompson (Sunil Dasgupta, April 18, 2021, Washington Independent Review of Books)

Even before the fighting had ended, however, the Arabs, British, and French, who had established colonial interests along the Mediterranean coast, began to vie over postwar spoils. This is where Thompson begins her story: with Faisal rushing to take control of the strategic and historic city of Damascus, which was the cultural and political heart of the Arab world.

Once Faisal captured the Syrian city, a broad coalition of nationalist and Islamist leaders banded together to support a constitutional monarchy. In March 1920, they formed the Syrian Arab Congress and created a liberal democratic Arab state. The Syrian Arab Congress brought together Shia and Sunni Muslims and conceived of a pan-Arab state that stretched from the Mediterranean coast -- which became Lebanon -- to Damascus and all the way to Baghdad and Persia.

But these valiant efforts failed in the face of British betrayal, French ambition, and American ambivalence. The British did not live up to their wartime promise to support Arab independence, having struck a secret deal with the French in 1916 that divided Middle East lands between them. News of the settlement emerged after World War I as the League of Nations covenant kept this agreement in place, dubbing the European spheres of influence in the Middle East "mandates," a concept suggesting tutelage for nations supposedly unprepared for self-rule.

The efforts of the French colonial lobby were the most forceful. French Premier Georges Clemenceau, normally an anti-imperialist, became embroiled in competition with Britain over oil and influence. The more conservative government that succeeded him launched a brutal military campaign against Faisal's new kingdom. The Syrian Arab Congress blamed Faisal for trusting European powers and for continuing to accommodate imperial demands. As the demands for defense mounted, Faisal dissolved the Congress and went into exile.

The American ambivalence was perhaps most surprising, as President Woodrow Wilson was an advocate of national self-determination and believed in the Arab cause. His position was bolstered by an American court judgment that declared Arabs to be white, an important distinction in Wilson's mind (he saw race as a defining capacity for self-rule).

During the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, Wilson advocated strongly for Arab independence but was outmaneuvered by British Prime Minister Lloyd George and Clemenceau. Wilson's stroke and incapacitation following his return to the United States all but ended American support for the Arab cause.

Thompson argues that the Western betrayal was ultimately rooted in race. Rather than seeing Arabs as free humans, Europeans (and likely many Americans) perceived them as inferior and therefore in need of guidance on the path to self-rule, which covered imperial ambition under the mask of help.

Wilson's willingness to give Europe its colonies in exchange for his League was the most shameful episode in American history that did not involve enslaving or segregating blacks, which he also approved of.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Most charges against George Floyd protesters dropped, analysis shows (Tom Perkins,  17 Apr 2021, The Guardian)

The vast majority of citations and charges against George Floyd protesters were ultimately dropped, dismissed or otherwise not filed, according to a Guardian analysis of law enforcement records and media reports in a dozen jurisdictions around the nation.

But some prosecutors and law enforcement observers charge that departments carried out mass arrests as a crowd control tactic, as a means to silence peaceful protesters, and as a public relations strategy designed to turn the public against demonstrators by making them appear more violent than they were. And what's more - some of the citing officers never witnessed the protests in the first place.

"It sends a message that you might get arrested if you express your views and first amendment rights," said Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU's speech, privacy and technology project. "Police absolutely should not be relying on mass arrests to control a crowd or silence people who they disagree with."

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


German utility drops plans for gas import terminal, to focus on green hydrogen instead (Soren Amelang, 18 April 2021, Renew Economy)

German utility company Uniper has dropped plans for an import terminal for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the German port of Wilhelmshaven and now plans to build a green hydrogen hub at the site.

"A market test to show binding interest proved that there is currently not enough interest in the LNG sector in terms of booking large, long-term capacities for LNG regasification in Germany," the company said in a press release.

It is now working on a feasibility study for a hydrogen hub, including an import terminal for green ammonia and a 410 megawatt electrolysis plant.

In total, the Wilhelmshaven hub "would be capable of supplying around 295,000 metric tons or 10 percent of the demand expected for the whole of Germany in 2030," the company said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Afghanistan pullout - Reassessing how America fights wars (PAUL WALLIS, 4/18/21, Digital Journal)

 The pullout from Afghanistan has required some soul-searching of a rather unambiguous kind. America's record in guerrilla wars is abysmal. Despite military "success" in some ways, strategic aims are routinely not met. [...]

Objectives and results

If you look at the objectives and obvious prerequisites of the war in Afghanistan and the wider regional aspects, what were they?
1. Eliminate Al Qaeda. Done to a reasonable extent. On the global scale, they've been eclipsed.
2. Eliminate Bin Laden. Done after a few years.
3. Eliminate the Taliban. Not done at all thanks to cross-border support.
4. Eliminate the sources of the attacks on America and the West in general. Done to a debatable point.
5. Manage the military and guerrilla warfare environment on the ground in Afghanistan. Not done on a routine basis except locally.
6. Improve the human condition of Afghanistan after a 40-year war. Not done at all. Even the basic issues of north/south and Pashtun interests weren't really considered.
7. "Hearts and minds" operations - These operations never work, and always ignore the brutal coercion of the civil population. This also happened in Vietnam and Iraq. If you simply said, "We're trying to give you back your country", it'd make a lot more sense to people in war zones.
8. Casualties - Too high for too long, and unnecessary, caused mainly by the insistence of "boots on the ground", whether required or not.
9. Boost American credibility in the Middle East and South Asia in a regional Middle Eastern strategy. Not achieved. Thanks to things like Blackwater and other bizarre "accessories", US credibility has been tarnished, badly.
10. Find a solution to this type of warfare. Not done, and repeating many of the mistakes of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

As the removal of the Taliban, Ba'ath and ISIS "governments" demonstrated, we have ample capacity to deny power to anti-liberal regimes. We can afford the peoples who are trapped under their rule with an opportunity to rebuild their nations along more democratic lines.  But we can not do the building for them if they are not bought in and our very presence seems to make them too dependent on us to do the building.  

Meanwhile, what is and always has been the greatest challenge of guerilla warfare? Locating the enemy.  Paradoxically then, the key to defeating these enemies is to trick them into taking power, as Barrack Obama did (intentionally or not) in the "Caliphate."  You can't both exert government-like control over a territory and remain hidden.  All you've really done is made target acquisition easy for us.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Reporter can't lift his camera after being shot with rubber bullet covering Brooklyn Center protests (Bob Brigham, April 17, 2021, Raw Story)

Mark Vancleave, a video journalist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, posted a shocking Twitter detailing the aftermath of being shot by police with less-than-lethal munitions while covering the protests in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

"On Monday night I was shot in the hand by a rubber bullet fired by police in Brooklyn Center while covering a protest. The impact broke my ring finger in two places requiring surgery. I won't be able to pick up my camera again for at least six weeks," Vancleave said.

He posted a gruesome photo of his shattered hand along with x-ray photos.

When you militarize the cops you make the rest of us the enemy.

Police in Minnesota round up journalists covering protest, force them on the ground and take pictures of their faces (Adrianna Rodriguez, 4/17/21, USA TODAY)

Journalists covering a protest in a Minneapolis suburb Friday night were forced on their stomachs by law enforcement, rounded up and were only released after having their face and press credentials photographed.

The incident occurred hours after a judge issued a temporary order barring the Minnesota State Patrol from using physical force or chemical agents against journalists, according to court documents. It also barred police from seizing photographic, audio or video recording equipment, or press passes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Marjorie Taylor Greene forced to abandon America First Caucus after Republican outrage (JON SKOLNIK, APRIL 18, 2021, Salon)

White pride might not remain as alive and well in the Republican Party as it appeared just one day ago, as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., was forced to walk back plans for a new House caucus meant to promote "uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions" after Greene's fellow Republicans hit her with swift criticism. 

On Friday, Greene, along with Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., unveiled a new right-wing caucus called the "American First Caucus," saying the group of legislators intends to "follow in President Trump's footsteps."

According to Greene spokesman Nick Dyer, who blamed "dirty backstabbing swamp creatures'' for leaking the document to Punchbowl News, the first to obtain the caucus' policy platform, the group's final platform is still underway.

One does not expect any historical knowledge from these folks, but to not understand that the Anglo-Saxon tradition's singular achievement is the universal rights of all men rather than White nationalism is spectacular. 

April 17, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Samantha Bee Is Wrong about Comedy (KYLE MANN, April 17, 2021, National Review)

'It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it," wrote G. K. Chesterton. Those who hold their beliefs strongly can laugh at the world, their predicaments, and themselves. Those without confidence in their beliefs cannot laugh at all, for fear the whole thing will come crumbling down. Of course the same applies to political beliefs, too, which are often now a mere stand-in for religious ideas.

Comedian Samantha Bee recently remarked that she can't make fun of Joe Biden in the same way she made fun of Donald Trump, admitting that she pulls her punches when it comes to the 46th president:

You're like, okay, well we could be making jokes about, we could be making jokes about the infrastructure plan, but in general, I'm like, "Wow, this is great. Why would I purposefully undermine something that is, seems to be a great idea, pretty much across the board?" Like, I don't need to make jokes just to make jokes. I like to make really targeted jokes. There are more worthy targets right now, I think.

Bee's comments offer perhaps the best example of what has gone wrong with leftist comedians as of late: They think the point of comedy is to make "really targeted jokes," to "undermine" things, or to "target" things they -- and presumably their audience -- disagree with. Over the last decade, late-night hosts across the board began to lay aside their relatable, everyman's brand of comedy and pivot toward lecturing the crowd on their moral values. They went from chasing laughter -- no matter who the butt of the joke may have been -- to chasing applause. The result has been anything but funny.

Satire surely make a point and even effect change, but comedy at its purest simply asks a question. It does not have an agenda and does not care if it offends anyone -- not even its audience or the person writing the joke.

"Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is Amazon the type of American workplace we want? Is this the future we want for our kids? Of course not. Andy Levin, 4/15/21, USA Today)  

"Pickers" are expected to transfer merchandise from robots to totes that a conveyor belt takes to packing 315 times an hour. Their every movement is monitored. Employees who spend 10 hours on their feet get only two 30-minute breaks a day. Schedules are changed overnight while employees sleep, leading to late arrivals and "time off task," which can lead to firing. "You get treated like a number. You don't get treated like a person. They work you like a robot," warehouse worker and union supporter Darryl Richardson told The Guardian.

Unfortunately for the Rep, the workers like their jobs. 

April 16, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


A Recipe for More Tragedy: The media's rush to judgment on the Adam Toledo shooting will come with a high cost. (Rafael A. Mangual, April 16, 2021, City Journal)

Last night, as I scrolled through my newsfeed on Facebook, I saw multiple posts referring to the shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by Chicago police officer Eric Stillman, video (warning: graphic) of which had just been released by the city's Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

All the posts linked to news stories with headlines emphasizing one detail: at the moment Toledo was struck by the officer's gunfire, his hands were raised and appeared to be empty. A sampling of the news headlines:

Slate: "Video Shows Chicago Police Shoot 13-Year-Old Adam Toledo With His Hands Up"

BuzzFeed News: "Video Shows 13-Year-Old Adam Toledo Had His Hands Up When A Police Officer Fatally Shot Him"

NBC 5 Chicago: "Attorney: Adam Toledo Did Not Have Gun In His Hand When He Was Shot By Chicago Police"

Mic: "13-year-old Adam Toledo put his hands up. Chicago police killed him anyway"

USA Today: "'We failed Adam': Body camera videos show 13-year-old Adam Toledo put hands up before fatal police shooting in Chicago" (the quote belongs to Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot)

The Associated Press: "Video: Chicago boy wasn't holding gun when shot by officer"

The implication from these headlines is clear: the boy was unarmed and raising his hands in surrender when he was shot--ergo, this was a bad shooting.

Those were just the news pieces. The commentary was more explicit. In The Hill, a piece entitled "Lawmakers demand justice for Adam Toledo: 'His hands were up. He was unarmed'" quotes, among many other Democratic lawmakers, California congresswoman Karen Bass, who tweeted, "Adam Toledo was 13 years old. Those responsible for taking the rest of his life away from him must be held accountable." A local community organizer told an audience on Democracy Now! that "There is no other way to describe what we saw in the video, as a cold-blooded murder." During a press conference, the attorney representing Toledo's family said, "If you're shooting an unarmed child with his hands in the air, it is an assassination." The Los Angeles Times quoted "neighbors" in Little Village, where the shooting took place, who referred to the shooting as "an execution."

New York City mayoral hopeful Andrew Yang distilled the relevant facts to just three: "He was 13. He was unarmed. His hands were up." Law professor Paul Butler (with whom I recently debated police reform) asked, on MSNBC, "Where is the bottom?"--suggesting that this shooting was clearly wrong. Butler went on to note that the officer fired his weapon "within 20 seconds of leaving his car." Similarly, MSNBC's Joy Reid said of the police in this case, "They didn't wait ten seconds before opening up on him like it was a drive-by." What Butler and Reid don't seem to understand is that it takes a lot less than ten seconds for an armed suspect to shoot a police officer.

Such inflammatory comments have become par for the course for modern media. A close analysis of the available video evidence also shows just how detached from reality these comments are.

The video is extremely difficult to watch. It is awful to watch the fear set in on Toledo's face as he seemed to realize he would die. Children are not supposed to die--especially not in a dark alley at 2:30 in the morning, with what officers on-scene described as a sucking chest wound.

The video clearly depicts a tragedy--but it is far from clear that it depicts a crime, let alone one motivated by racial animus.

While police bear responsibility for creating the narrative that folks tried fitting this incident into, it's not at all clear from the video that the officer should have done otherwise considering the tools we give them. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


'Broken promise': Biden's backtrack on refugees still slammed by advocates (LAURA BARRÓN-LÓPEZ, 04/16/2021, Politico)

Facing condemnations from within their own party, the Biden administration quickly backtracked Friday on a decision to keep U.S. refugee admissions limited to 15,000 this year.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement issued Friday afternoon that the administration expected to increase the number of refugees allowed into the country for the remainder of the year. But she added that Biden's initial promise of admitting 62,500 refugees "seems unlikely."

Her clarification came hours after the White House said it would maintain the historically low cap first set by the Trump administration -- a statement that broke a pledge Biden made in February to raise the number, and one that Psaki acknowledged caused "confusion."

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 PM


Bush pushes immigration reform as GOP sidesteps a deal on it ( BEN LEONARD, 04/16/2021, Politico)

Former President George W. Bush lamented the polarization of immigration reform in a Washington Post op-ed published Friday, writing that "the issue has been exploited in ways that do little credit to either party."

"Over the years, our instincts have always tended toward fairness and generosity. The reward has been generations of grateful, hard-working, self-reliant, patriotic Americans who came here by choice," Bush wrote. "If we trust those instincts in the current debate, then bipartisan reform is possible. And we will again see immigration for what it is: not a problem and source of discord, but a great and defining asset of the United States."

Omar leads letter calling on Biden to raise refugee cap (BRETT SAMUELS AND MORGAN CHALFANT - 04/16/21, The Hill)

A group of House Democrats, led by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wrote to President Biden on Friday calling for him to formally raise the refugee cap to 62,500 after he has delayed the increase for weeks.

"Having fought for four years against the Trump Administration's full-scale assault on refugee resettlement in the United States, we were relieved to see you commit to increasing our refugee resettlement numbers so early in your Administration. But until the Emergency Presidential Determination is finalized, our refugee policy remains unacceptably draconian and discriminatory," Omar wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Hill and also led by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


More middle-income Americans have built up savings for 6+ months' worth of expenses, says new survey (Megan DeMatteo, 4/14/21, CNBC)

Morning Consult economist John Leer's latest analysis found that one-third (33%) of American consumers with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 have enough savings to cover at least six months' worth of living expenses. Additionally, the gap between high-income savers (those with salaries above $100,000) and middle-income savers narrowed to its lowest level since May 2020, when Morning Consult began tracking.

This news comes in conjunction with the arrival of tax refunds and stimulus checks for upwards of 127 million people. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act also included a variety of additional measures to put more cash in Americans' pockets, including expanded child tax credits and health insurance subsidies. Families that meet the income requirements could be eligible to receive $1,400 per adult and per dependent, so a family of four could receive a total $5,600 just in stimulus payments alone.

Transfer wealth, tax its consumption, means-test benefits. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Little Lady Who Brought Down Alfred Kinsey (AUSTIN RUSE, 4/16/21, Crisis)

He asserted that between 10-37 percent of adults had committed homosexual acts. Fourteen percent performed and 30% received homosexual oral sex with climax at least once. A whopping 94% had committed adultery. Eleven percent of married men had participated in anal sodomy at least once. He reported that 50% of adults responded sexually to, get this, getting bitten. Fifty percent of farm boys had sex with animals. Kinsey wrote, "With most males, animal contacts represent a passing chapter in the sexual history." He says with "most males," this is merely a passing fad.

Kinsey introduced the idea that sexuality is on a continuum. He called it the "Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale." [...]

Kinsey was one of the great gods of the sexual revolution. He set men and women free to rut like dogs with no consequences. He was unassailable. According to the legal database Westlaw, between 1980 and 2000, there were 650 citations of Kinsey's work. Major law journals have cited him. So has the Supreme Court, particularly when they imposed abortion on the country.

All that went along swimmingly until a little woman--no more than 5'2--named Judith Reisman came along and almost singlehandedly took Kinsey down. He has never been the same.  

April 15, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Poland Expels Three Russian Diplomats In 'Solidarity' With U.S. (Radio Liberty, April 15, 2021)

Poland has ordered three Russian diplomats to leave the embassy in Warsaw in what it said was an act of solidarity with the United States.

The Polish Foreign Ministry said April 15 that three staff members at the Russian Embassy were declared personae non gratae for violating their diplomatic status and conducting activities harmful to Poland.

Earlier on April 15, the United States announced broad sanctions on Russia in retaliation for election interference, cyberattacks, and what Washington described as Moscow's other "harmful" foreign activities.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


NH 'Safest COVID State,' Study Says (Andrew Mahaleris, 4/15/21, NH Journal)

The CDC may have mishandled the J & J vaccine issue and Michigan may be on the verge of yet another lockdown, but when it comes to managing the coronavirus pandemic, New Hampshire is America's number one.

A new study from the data analysts at Wallethub ranks the Granite State as the state getting the best results taking on COVID-19. The study uses five metrics to compare the 50 states and Washington, DC: Vaccination rate, hospitalization rate, positive test rate, transmission rate and death rate.

"New Hampshire is currently the safest state during COVID," data analyst Jill Gonzalez told NHJournal. "The state has the highest vaccination rate in the country -- over 65%, and one of the lowest death rates nationwide registered during the week of April 8."

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Giant offshore turbines set to drive plummeting cost of wind power (James Fernyhough, 16 April 2021, Renew Economy)

Offshore wind, which is more expensive and therefore much less common than onshore wind, will see the most dramatic price falls. Much bigger turbines will increase the capacity threefold, creating economies of scale that will drive the cost energy per megawatt hour down.

Floating offshore wind - currently the rarest and most expensive form of wind power - is predicted to become much cheaper, and could make up a quarter of all offshore developments by 2035.

These improving costs could significantly expand the potential sites for economically viable offshore wind farms, as they won't be so constrained to areas where both the wind is suitable and the water is shallow enough to fix them to the ocean floor.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


U.S. says Manafort associate passed sensitive polling data to Russian intelligence (Zachary Basu, 4/15/21, Axios)

The investigation found that on numerous occasions, Manafort sought to pass sensitive internal polling data and campaign strategy to Kilimnik. The committee was unable to determine why or what Kilimnik did with that information, in part due to the pair's use of encrypted messaging apps.

The committee did obtain "some information" suggesting Kilimnik "may have been connected" to Russia's hacking and leaking of Democratic emails. The section detailing these findings is largely redacted, however.

The intrigue: The U.S. government stated for the first time Thursday that Kilimnik provided Russian intelligence "with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy" during the 2016 election -- filling a key link that had been left unanswered by both special counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The Treasury Department also noted that Kilimnik, who is wanted by the FBI on charges of obstruction of justice, sought to promote the false narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


ZOA to stay in Boston Jewish group despite 'elevating white supremacist voices' (ASAF SHALEV, 4/15/21, JTA)

Seven months after being asked to kick out a group over allegations of racism, the board of directors of Boston's leading Jewish coalition has come to a conclusion: Yes, the US group's president "elevated white supremacist voices" -- but it shouldn't be ejected.

That's the recommendation of an internal report issued last month by the leadership of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston, which includes dozens of local groups and community members representing virtually every local Jewish constituency.

In September, the JCRC tasked a committee with evaluating the Zionist Organization of America, whose national leader, prominent right-wing activist Morton Klein, was accused of "vicious attacks" on social media against "minorities, people of color, Palestinians, and fellow Jews."

After scrutinizing Klein's social media record, the committee found that he had amplified white supremacy and sowed distrust about the US election results. 

A race, not a religion?

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Joe Biden Will Support Taiwan Self-Defense: U.S. Delegation (JOHN FENG, 4/15/21, Newsweek)

The group's unofficial visit, which a White House official said was a "personal signal" of Biden's commitment to Taipei, marks 42 years of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA)--the keystone legislation that has guided the U.S.'s informal interactions with the island since Washington normalized diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1979.

"The significance of the TRA becomes even more evident with each passing year. I can say with confidence that the United States' partnership with Taiwan is stronger than ever," Dodd told Tsai after Taiwan's first female leader opened with a welcoming statement inside Taipei's Presidential Office.

"We share deep economic ties, a mutual commitment to democratic values and a critically important security partnership," he said.

Dodd added: "We are here today as a bipartisan delegation ... at the request of my long-standing friend, President Joe Biden, to reaffirm the U.S. commit to this partnership, and to deepening our cooperation on the multitude of interests that we share in common."

Dodd said Taiwan would find the Biden administration to be a "reliable, trusted friend."

"I'm confident this administration will help you expand your international space and support your investments in self-defense," added the former senator, who is a close friend and adviser to Biden.

Armitage and Steinberg, who served during the respective administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, each followed with brief statements.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How to Buy Happiness  (ARTHUR C. BROOKS, 4/15/21, The Atlantic)

In 2010, two Nobel laureates in economics published a paper that created a tidal wave of interest both inside and outside academia. With careful data analysis, the researchers showed that people believe the quality of their lives will increase as they earn more, and their feelings do improve with additional money at low income levels. But the well-being they experience flattens out at around $75,000 in annual income (about $92,000 in today's dollars). The news materially affected people's lives--especially the part about happiness rising up to about $75,000: In the most high-profile example, the CEO of a Seattle-based credit-card-payment company raised his employees' minimum salary to $70,000 (and lowered his own salary to that level) after reading the paper.

This January, another economist published a new paper on the subject that found that even beyond that income level, well-being continues to rise. That's not to imply (as much of the popular press did) that money can buy happiness off into infinity. The new study simply suggests that the drop-off occurs, on average, at higher income levels. I graphed the raw income data from the study and found that happiness flattens significantly after $100,000; at even higher levels there is very little extra well-being to be had with more income.

The lesson remains the same as it was a decade ago: At low levels, money improves well-being. Once you earn a solid living, however, a billionaire is not likely to be any happier than you are. Yet for the most part, this truth remains hard for people to grasp. Americans work and earn and act as if becoming richer will automatically raise our happiness, no matter how rich we might get. When it comes to money and happiness, there is a glitch in our psychological code.

Understanding this can help us build happier lives. Even further, it uncovers strategies for using income at all levels to raise well-being. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Fix the lead pipesKids' brains are infrastructure (Matthew Yglesias, 4/15/21, Slow Boring)

High on this list is a proposed $111 billion injection of funds into projects designed to address the needs of municipal water systems. The most concrete chunk of that is an ambitious $45 billion investment in eliminating lead pipes. But there's also a mix of grants and loans to address other water systems and clean water needs, including a $10 billion program to address something called PFAS.

The case for an infusion of funds into this area strikes me as very compelling. [...

And it seems that people have been broadly aware of the health risks associated with lead for a long time. Here's an article that ran in the British Medical Journal by Alfred Swann back in 1889:

It has fallen to my lot to observe many cases of plumbism, and its relation to sterility and abortion only touches the very fringe of a vast subject. The influence of lead on the nervous, vascular, muscular, lymphatic, and digestive systems merits greater consideration than has hitherto been devoted to it.

To suppose that plumbism means only wrist-drop and paralysis of the extensors of the forearms seems to me to be illogical. I believe that in plumbism, neuritis is not confined to any particular set of nerves. Is not lead colic due to paralysis of the nerves regulating the muscular coats of the intestines? What is the meaning in cases of lead-poisoning of the tense pulse, the liability to epileptiform seizure, to cerebral and other haemorrhages, to gout and uric acid, and to albuminuria and rheumatic pains? Surely these point to both nervous, vascular, and metabolic derangements which open up a wide field of inquiry for those who are interested in our food and water supply, and in public health generally.

Well, we probably should have listened to Alfred Swann! Instead, in the United States, we kept putting lead pipes everywhere for a generation. Starting in the 1920s you had pushback, and its use in water pipes was reduced.

But at the same time, as Beth Gardiner recounts in her excellent book "Choked," the pressure was on to expand the use of lead. One idea was that since it's poisonous, you could use it as a chemical weapon to kill Germans. That didn't work out, so instead they put it in gasoline:

A Yale physiologist named Yandell Henderson had tested tetraethyl lead as a potential nerve agent during World War I, and when GM asked his thoughts on putting it into gasoline [in 1921], he replied with alarm. "Widespread lead poisoning was almost certain to result," he warned. Later he deemed it the "single greatest question in the field of public health that has ever faced the American public."

The science was clear: Lead is a powerful neurotoxin. The threat was vividly demonstrated at a New Jersey refinery whose tetraethyl lead operation was known as "the loony gas building" because of its workers' bizarre behavior -- stumbling, memory loss, explosions of rage. After an accident, dozens collapsed, suffering seizures and hallucinations; more than 30 were hospitalized and 5 died.

The Lead Industries Association was formed in 1928 to push back against state and local bans on lead pipes, advocate for leaded gasoline, and promote the use of lead paint. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The GOP's economic confusion (James Pethokoukis, April 14, 2021, The Week)

But if national Republicans and the broader conservative movement want to support political messaging with policy substance that targets the working class, they have a problem: Fighting for workers will often be in conflict with fighting for the culture, as they see it. In many cases, grievance politics will actually push them to oppose policies that might improve living standards and economic opportunity for those "hardworking, blue-collar men and women."

It's already happening. Take, for example, making housing more affordable by scaling back or eliminating land-use regulations that make it hard to build -- including minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and prohibitions on multifamily housing. It's basic economics: boost supply to meet rising demand. Admittedly, this sounds like some super-wonky local issue. But President Biden wants Washington to do something about it. In the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan, Biden proposes allocating $5 billion to a competitive grant program that would reward cities for reforming these rules.

Now here's what this affordable housing plan sounds like when turned into a right-wing culture war issue by Fox News host Tucker Carlson: "[Biden] also wants to 'eliminate exclusionary zoning' and 'needless barriers to producing affordable housing.' So your neighborhoods may have to make way for 'multi-family dwellings.' You don't want multi-family dwellings in your neighborhood? Doesn't matter. It's equity. Shut up, racist. And there's more where that came from." Similarly, frequent National Review contributor Stanley Kurtz sees the Biden plan as an effort to "kill suburban zoning and force leftist action civics and critical race theory on red-state schools."

Now, the Biden approach may or may not be an effective solution to the problem. But plenty of economists on the left and right agree that restrictions limiting the supply of housing is a big, big problem. For decades, these regulations have made it hard to build new housing, especially in some of the nation's most productive and high-wage job markets. But rapidly rising housing prices due to artificial supply constraints make too many of these cities unaffordable to working-class Americans. And those who do move find that high housing costs significantly eat into their wage gains. "The data show that many people, even those in the middle of the income distribution, have been excluded from these high-wage places because of rising housing prices," writes economist Daniel Shoag.

...defending the racial hygiene of your neighborhood.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Poll: Big Majority Wants Gun Safety Measures Opposed By GOP (Donna Provencher, Apr. 14th, 2021, American Independent)

Polling indicated that 64 percent of registered American voters are in favor of stricter gun control legislation, while only 28 percent actively oppose such legislation.

Eighty-three percent of those polled also said they supported expanded background checks that apply to every single gun sale. Similarly, more than 80 percent supported prohibiting the sale of guns to those medical providers have declared too medically or psychologically unstable for ownership.

Some 73 percent of respondents supported a three-day waiting period for buying a gun, while 70 percent were in favor of implementing a national database to track gun sales. And 76 percent expressed approval for prohibiting individuals on federal watch lists from gun ownership.

Biden recently signed several executive orders directing further gun control measures after a gunman opened fire at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, on March 22, leaving 10 people dead. That attack took place just days after a white gunman killed eight individuals, including six Asian American women, at several Atlanta-area spas on March 16.

Bide placed specific focus on "ghost guns," or guns assembled from kits without serial numbers, and so-called red flag laws, which allow courts to ban firearms for individuals who have demonstrated they may be a danger to themselves or other people.

Biden also urged Congress just after the Atlanta-area shootings to implement an assault weapons ban.

"Gun violence in this country is an epidemic and it is an international embarrassment," Biden said, speaking at the White House on April 8.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden faces tangle of sanctions in talks with Iran (AFP, 4/15/21)

Obama's successor Donald Trump called the JCPOA "the worst deal ever" and withdrew in 2018, saying the accord did not take into account other objectionable activities by Iran.

Trump imposed a unilateral embargo on Iran's key export of oil, punishing any other country that bought it.

Trump went on to impose a number of additional sanctions including declaring Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards to be a terrorist group, the first time such a designation has been given to a state entity.

Openly seeking to tie Biden's hands, the Trump administration in its final months announced a number of duplicative restrictions such as designating Iran's central bank for alleged terrorist financing in addition to previous nuclear sanctions.

A senior US official reiterated after the initial talks in Vienna last week that Biden was ready to lift "all sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA."

"It's not as easy a process as it may sound precisely because the Trump administration went out of its way to make it difficult for a successor administration to rejoin the JCPOA," the official said.

Just announce no sanctions will be enforced against Iran and work out a comprehensive trade deal to revive their economy. 

April 14, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


Solar could deliver 76 per cent of global energy needs, new study says (Joshua S Hill, 15 April 2021, renew Economy)

Solar PV will emerge as the major energy supplier by the middle of the century, generating as much as 76% of global electricity demand which will include the transport and heat sectors, according to a new study.

Researchers at LUT University in Finland have been working on a global energy system transition model which has modelled out 100% renewable electricity futures for large swathes of the planet.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Hispanics are being vaccinated at lower rates nationwide. Nevada is trying to change that. (Nicole Narea,  Apr 14, 2021, Vox)

[D]ata shows clear disparities in vaccination rates between Hispanics and other racial and ethnic groups, both in Nevada and nationwide.

As of April 7, just 15 percent of Hispanics in Nevada have received one dose of the vaccine as compared to 29 percent of non-Hispanic white people, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis of data from 41 states that track the race and ethnicity of people being vaccinated. Nationally, it's 16 percent of Hispanics compared to 29 percent of white people.

"Those are disparities that we've seen since we began tracking the data and they're persisting over time," Samantha Artiga, vice president and director of the racial equity and health policy program at KFF, said.

So what's driving the disparity? The answer, experts say, is twofold: initial vaccine hesitancy and a lack of access.

The reality is that we're distributing vaccines based on age and white folks are simply older. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


'We stand for democracy': Read the statement from top companies and executives opposing voting restrictions (Robert Schroeder, 4/14/21, Market Watch)

Here is the full text of the statement, which ran in the New York Times and other publications.

"We stand for democracy.

A government of the people, by the people.

A beautifully American ideal, but a reality denied to many for much of this nation's history.

As Americans, we know that in our democracy we should not expect to agree on everything.

However, regardless of our political affiliations, we believe the very foundation of our electoral process rests upon the ability of each of us to cast our ballots for the candidates of our choice.

For American democracy to work for any of us, we must ensure the right to vote for all of us.

We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.

Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy and we call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic and fundamental right of all Americans."     

The Times said the statement was led by former Amex AXP, 1.18% Chief Executive Ken Chenault and Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck MRK, -0.29%. The two men coordinated a letter last month that was signed by 72 Black executives and made a similar point, noted the Washington Post.

...they have to answer to share and stake holders. 
Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM

SO MUCH FAILING! (profanity alert):

'A gaslighting chamber of insanity': Moderate Republicans seethe at Biden (RYAN LIZZA, RACHAEL BADE, EUGENE DANIELS and TARA PALMERI,  04/14/2021, Politico)

While these senators mostly despised Trump, they were the engine of policymaking for his final Covid relief bill. While they mostly respect Biden, they have so far been irrelevant to his legislative push despite his inaugural promise of "unity."

It's been a bewildering change for them. And if you want to understand both why Biden is winning and why his so-far successful formula could be in jeopardy, it's worth listening closely to the voices within this frustrated and marginalized group of self-proclaimed dealmakers.

Back to the nightmare. It starts with what they see as some hardwired media narratives they can't shake: that Biden is a reasonable, deal-making moderate and that Republicans talk about compromise but really just want to obstruct. It's a perception that has given the White House all the leverage.

"Biden is a horrible villain for us," said the G-10 staffer, meaning not that he was an actual villain but that he was difficult to villainize. "There are deeply entrenched narratives that have some truth but are no longer totally true. Reporters believe them despite all evidence to the contrary."

They see a White House "constantly rubbing dirt in the face of Republicans" over the party's lack of interest in bipartisanship while "passing as many partisan bills as they possibly can through reconciliation before they lose the House in 2022."

Two episodes stand out to them. The first was when they were invited to the White House to discuss the Covid relief bill in February. It was intoxicating. They finally had both a normal president, one who understood the Senate better than any president since LBJ, and one who recognized the G-10 as the center of power in Congress. The staffer joked that they were so giddy about the meeting that they had to be told to "calm down" and "play it cool."

But the next day, Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER announced the outlines of a plan to pass the bill with just 50 votes. "You do one meeting and 24 hours later they prepare the reconciliation process," another G-10 staffer complained.

The second episode came last week, when Biden said the 10 senators "didn't move an inch" off of their initial proposal during the Covid talks. On the eve of fresh negotiations over infrastructure, the president, in their view, was attacking them disingenuously. In a flurry of phone calls among the senators, they vented their outrage and plotted a response.

It can take days for a group of senators to agree on anything, but the 10 of them put out a statement a few hours later respectfully but firmly correcting Biden. "The Administration roundly dismissed our effort as wholly inadequate in order to justify its go-it-alone strategy," it said in part. It didn't receive much coverage.

Imagine if Joe weren't drooling his oatmeal?

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Does a rebirth of democracy lie ahead? (The Monitor's Editorial Board, 4/12/21, CS Monitor)

In a scenario called "Renaissance of Democracies," NIC analysts foresee that a resurgence of democracies around the world may be led by the U.S. and its like-minded allies. "Open, democratic systems proved better able to foster scientific research and technological innovation, catalyzing an economic boom," the scenario envisions, "improving the quality of life for millions around the globe." 

A crackdown on corruption and increasing transparency helps "restore a sense of civic nationalism." The result: Public discourse improves, creating a "culture of vigorous but civil debate over values, goals, and policies."

And what of China? It's playing a hot hand right now as a rapidly growing economic superpower. It promotes a vision that says democracy isn't needed to provide a better life of material comfort for citizens. In many ways it's backing up its claim, so long as a better life doesn't acknowledge the rights of minorities nor the power of free thought and expression, which can be brutally suppressed. 

In this scenario, China's system falters because it stifles innovation. Its crackdowns on Hong Kong and elsewhere lead to ever-tighter limits on free expression. It struggles with an aging population and an "inefficient state-directed economic model" that blocks "the country's transition to a consumer economy." 

China's failure to allow freedom of thought and innovation works against its own success.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


For generations, a herd of wild horses has made their home on a long barrier island at the southern tip of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Mark Darrough camped among the Shackleford Horses and learned a thing or two about survival (Mark Darrough, April 13, 2021, Bitter Southerner)

Rubenstein explained what first led him to Shackleford as a grad student in 1973, when the field of behavioral ecology -- the study of animals' ability to adapt to ecological pressures such as hurricanes and limited food and water sources on an exposed barrier island -- was in its infancy. 

Because Shackleford horses are protected within a small and isolated environment, they provided Rubenstein "a wonderful laboratory, a lens on animal behavior."

"I was interested in how these horses adapt to a unique, harsh environment. Behavior is a front-line response, is the first response to the problems that animals face, problems posed by nature, right? So, for example, you were hot, you took your shirt off, you got sunburned; that's a behavioral response, probably not too adaptive if you didn't sleep very well. And so if that happened over and over again, you wouldn't be around. ... So your predilection to things is shaped by how well you solve the problems posed by nature."

In the 1970s, the field of behavioral ecology was just beginning, he told me. Instead of simply looking at what animals do as "sort of evolutionary, genetically controlled behavior -- that this group does that and this other group does that," as Austrian zoologist and ethologist Konrad Lorenz viewed animal behavior -- the big question at the time was how genetics affects things such as sociality in animals.

Zoologist Richard D. Alexander, Rubenstein's mentor when he was studying at the University of Michigan, told him there are no automatic benefits for living in groups. But there are automatic costs, such as increased competition for scarce resources and disease transmission, like we saw at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Most social animals attempt to reduce those costs by living with family members.

"What makes horses special is that they're like neolocal modern Western humans: Both sons and daughters leave home to go reproduce. ... As highly social animals, how do they get those benefits [to outweigh] the costs when there's no genetic sharing to reduce those costs? That's what drove me to study the horses," Rubenstein said.

The Banker horses, as these horse populations are called today, adapted to the Outer Banks by learning to dig for springs and find thin layers of fresh water at the surface of saltwater ponds, to graze on marsh and dune grasses, and to retreat to the maritime forest during storms. 

Not all horses survive the fierce hurricanes that thrash the islands most summers. Initial reports presumed the horses of Cedar Island, about 40 miles to the north of Shackleford, survived Hurricane Dorian in 2019, but officials later discovered 28 horses had drowned when a wall of water hit the island. Their bodies washed ashore on nearby beaches while others were lost at sea. Several of the 21 survivors managed to swim to nearby islands.

Other horses across the Outer Banks survived by retreating to dry high ground under sturdy live oak trees, their powerful haunches pointed windward to stabilize against 100-mph gusts. Experts observed groups of horses sensing a change in air pressure and joining other harems -- a rarely observed behavior -- to ride out the coming storm. 

"It is harsh out there. ... If the tide comes up and they're in the wrong place, they can get washed out to sea," Rubenstein said, noting the five wild horses that drowned when Hurricane Isabel swept them off the Rachel Carson Reserve in 2003.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Brooklyn Center police throw flashbangs at kneeling protest crowd an hour before curfew (Sarah K. Burris, April 13, 2021, Raw Story)

The Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police, sheriffs and national guard appear to be pushing back against protesters in the streets angry over another death at the hands of police. The protests have been largely peaceful, other than throwing water bottles at cops. Large fencing being set up and law enforcement, clad in full riot gear, with a police tank at the ready.

They are militarized because they perceive us as the enemy. 

April 13, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 PM

THE TRUMP BRAND (profanity alert):

"I Felt Hate More Than Anything": How an Active Duty Airman Tried to Start a Civil War: Steven Carrillo's path to the Boogaloo Bois shows the hate group is far more organized and dangerous than previously known. (Gisela Pérez de Acha, Kathryn Hurd and Ellie Lightfoot, Berkeley Journalism's Investigative Reporting Program, April 13, 2021, This story is part of a collaboration between ProPublica, Berkeley Journalism's Investigative Reporting Program and FRONTLINE)

It was 2:20 p.m. on June 6, 2020, and Steven Carrillo, a 32-year-old Air Force sergeant who belonged to the anti-government Boogaloo Bois movement, was on the run in the tiny mountain town of Ben Lomond, California.

With deputy sheriffs closing in, Carrillo texted his brother, Evan, asking him to tell his children he loved them and instructing him to give $50,000 to his fiancée. "I love you bro," Carrillo signed off. Thinking the text message was a suicide note from a brother with a history of mental health troubles, Evan Carrillo quickly texted back: "Think about the ones you love."

In fact, Steven Carrillo had a different objective, a goal he had written about on Facebook, discussed with other Boogaloo Bois and even scrawled out in his own blood as he hid from police that day. He wanted to incite a second Civil War in the United States by killing police officers he viewed as enforcers of a corrupt and tyrannical political order -- officers he described as "domestic enemies" of the Constitution he professed to revere.

Now, as he texted with his brother and watched deputies assemble so close to him that he could hear their conversations, Carrillo sent an urgent appeal to his fellow Boogaloo Bois. "Kit up and get here," he wrote in a WhatsApp message that prosecutors say he sent to members of a heavily armed Boogaloo militia faction he had recently joined. The police, he texted, were after him.

"Take them out when theyre coming in," the text read, according to court documents.

Minutes later, prosecutors allege, Carrillo ambushed three deputy sheriffs, opening fire with a silenced automatic rifle and hurling a homemade pipe bomb from a concealed position on a steep embankment some 40 feet from the deputies. One deputy was shot dead, and a second was badly wounded by bomb shrapnel to his face and neck. When two California Highway Patrol officers arrived, Carrillo opened fire on them, too, police say, wounding one.

"The police are the guard dogs, ready to attack whenever the owner says, 'Hey, sic 'em boy,'" Carrillo said in an interview, the first time he has spoken publicly since he was charged with murdering both the deputy sheriff in Ben Lomond and, a week earlier, a federal protective security officer at the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Oakland.

When Carrillo was finally subdued on June 6, cellphone footage captured him shouting at deputies as they led him away, "This is what I came to fight -- I'm sick of these goddamn police."

For Carrillo, that final frenzied expression of rage marked the culmination of a long slide into extremism, a journey that had begun a decade earlier with his embrace of the tea party movement, libertarianism and Second Amendment gun rights, before evolving into an ever-deepening involvement with paramilitary elements of the Boogaloo Bois. The militant group is known for the distinctive Hawaiian shirts its members wear at protests, often while brandishing AR-15s and agitating for the "Boog" -- the group's shorthand for civil war.

Carrillo's arrest was also an omen of something larger and even more ominous: the rise of a violent insurrection movement across America led by increasingly extreme and aggressive militias that seek out opportunities to confront and even attack the government. Examples of this broader insurrection abound, from October's foiled plot to abduct Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to the leading role militia groups such as the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers played in the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Floating solar farms could cool down lakes threatened by climate change (Giles Exley, 4/13/21, The Conversation)

Solar power is now the cheapest source of electricity in history, according to a 2020 report by the International Energy Agency. But there's something holding this clean energy powerhouse back: space. Unlike fossil fuel power stations, solar farms need a lot of room to generate enough electricity to keep up with demand. Most solar farms are composed of ground-mounted panels that take up land that could be used to grow food or provide habitat for wildlife.

Although electricity and water don't usually mix, a growing number of floating solar farms are being deployed worldwide. Floating solar panels on a lake or reservoir might sound like an accident waiting to happen, but recent studies have shown the technology generates more electricity compared with rooftop or ground-mounted solar installations. This is thanks to the cooling effect of the water beneath the panels, which can boost how efficiently these systems generate electricity by as much as 12.5%.

That said, lakes and reservoirs are already very important for people and the planet. While these freshwater bodies cover less than 1% of Earth's surface, they nurture almost 6% of its biodiversity and provide drinking water and crop irrigation that's vital to billions of people. Worryingly, climate change has raised the surface temperatures of lakes globally by an average of 0.34°C per decade since 1985, encouraging toxic algal blooms, lowering water levels and preventing water mixing between the distinct layers which naturally form in larger and deeper lakes, starving the depths of oxygen.

In the rush to decarbonise energy in order to slow global warming, might turning to floating solar farms simply add to the strain on the world's precious freshwater reserves? Remarkably, in new research, we found that carefully designed floating solar farms could actually reduce the threats posed by climate change to lakes and reservoirs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Social Capitalism | by Edoardo Campanella (EDOARDO CAMPANELLA, Apr. 12th, 2021, Project Syndicate)

In the case of the pandemic, social capital provided the first line of defense against the virus when vaccines and effective medical treatments had not yet become available. Here, individuals taking steps to prevent contagion provided a public good. Each conscious act aimed at reducing exposure to the virus lowered the probability of infection for the rest of the community. In the jargon of economists, those who reduced their mobility and social interactions internalized a negative externality that they otherwise would have imposed on society.

A sense of attachment to a larger group induces people to tolerate the high individual costs of cautious behaviors. A large and growing body of academic research has shown that spontaneous social distancing is more likely in places with better-developed civic cultures. For example, a European cross-country comparison found that "a one standard deviation increase in social capital [led] to between 14% and 40% fewer COVID-19 cases per capita accumulated from mid-March until end of June [2020], as well as between 7% and 16% fewer excess deaths."

Moreover, places with high social capital tend to be more economically vibrant and civic-minded than places where people are isolated. Not surprisingly, in the early stages of the pandemic, the virus spread more rapidly in densely populated cities like Paris, New York, London, and Milan, because nobody realized what was coming. But as soon as the need for behavioral changes became apparent, inhabitants in more civic-minded areas adopted social distancing measures even before formal restrictions were imposed, and they were more responsive to subsequent state directives.

Social capital also played a key role in powering economies through months of lockdowns and remote working. While digital technologies helped people to stay connected, it was social capital that kept those connections alive. Employees working from home remained productive because they had built up a sense of reciprocal trust, shared identity, and common purpose with their colleagues. And on that basis, many were able to develop entirely new (digital) working relationships.

In most cases, companies ended up expanding their internal social capital during the pandemic. Having partly lost their ability to control their workers directly, they ended up empowering them. With more flexibility to manage their time and lives outside of work, many employees could take on even more responsibility and deliver higher-quality output. According to a cross-country survey by the Boston Consulting Group, 75% of employees maintained or increased their productivity despite the pandemic restrictions.

In today's hybrid workplace, social capital is clearly one of the most important factors behind such results. Unlike its physical counterpart (factories, equipment, and so on), social capital does not deteriorate with use - just the opposite. But like any other form of capital, it needs to be maintained and upgraded, and this will be especially true in the post-pandemic phase.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Saudi solar plant locks in new record low price for power: 1.04c/kWh (Sophie Vorrath 13 April 2021, Renew Economy)

At the plant's launch, Prince Abdulaziz announced that PPAs for seven other renewable projects across a range of regions had also been signed between the Saudi Power Procurement Company and five investment consortiums made up of 12 unnamed Saudi and international companies.

The new projects, located in Al Madinah, Sudair, Qurayyat, Shuaibah, Jeddah, Rabigh, and Rafha, will take the kingdom's total renewable generation capacity to 3,670MW, alongside Sakaka and the 400MW Doumat Al Jandal wind project.

But one, in particular, the 600MW Shuaibah solar project to be developed by a consortium of ACWA Power, Gulf Investment and Al Babtain Contracting, had achieved a record low cost of electricity at $US10.40 per MWh, Prince Abdulaziz said.

This beats the previous global record low claimed by Portugal in August of last year, when its second solar PV tender included one lot awarded at €11.14/MWh, or around $A18.17/MWh, and 25 per cent below its previous record.

Before that, in July, the Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC) awarded a contract to build the 2GW Al Dhafra Solar PV project in Abu Dhabi at a then record-low tariff for solar power of $US0.0135/kWh ($US13.50/MWh)

"These projects are a practical on-the-ground application of Saudi Vision 2030, that contributes to the optimisation of the energy mix and the transformation of the Kingdom from the use of liquid fuel to gas and renewables, which makes these projects significant landmarks in the journey of the energy sector," the energy minister said, as quoted in the Saudi Gazette.

Completing these projects and connecting them to the national grid, the Prince reportedly said, would help the Kingdom meet its national electricity needs, promote the reliability of its grid, and support its ambition to become a global leader in the export of renewables.

April 12, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


US Corporations: The US's New Principled Liberals? (Stephan Richter and Ryan O'Connell,  Apr. 12th, 2021, The Globalist)

This is a significant development in U.S. politics. Traditionally, U.S. corporations have tended to march in lockstep with the Republican Party.

Corporations have always appreciated the basic deal: Republicans would deliver on low taxes and less regulation. In exchange, corporations basically stayed silent even about egregious political choices made by the Republicans.

That long-term deal may now be weakening. Why? Because the extremism to which Republicans are prepared to go in the pursuit of their political goals apparently knows no boundaries.

Corporate heroes?

The first time in recent memory that U.S. corporations took a principled stance occurred in late January 2021.

Quite a few of them announced that they would stop campaign contributions to any of the Congressional Republicans who had refused to certify the U.S. presidential election.

Trump's dark shadow
The change in corporate attitudes hardened after the Georgia State Legislature passed a law in late March to undermine fair elections by restricting voters' access to the polls and putting partisan officials in charge of the vote counting.

Beyond opening the doors to a grotesque politicization of the vote-counting process, the goal is to keep minorities away from the ballot box. This end is achieved by imposing all sorts of onerous requirements on the right to vote.

The point of it all is to "fix" election results in advance in favor of the Republican Party by weeding out voters from certain ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds as well as those in urban areas, like Atlanta and Savannah, that are likely to vote Democratic.

Corporations: No longer staying out of politics

The stance taken by corporations is an important choice. Until now, most corporations have followed the (internal) rule that they may comment on matters of policy, but not on politics per se.

While voting rights are certainly a policy matter, they are also very directly interwoven with the sphere of politics.

Democracy and corporate brand values

Evidently, these corporations are concerned about the knock-on effects of being associated with a state government or a political party engaged in passing such evidently racist legislation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


The pandemic has spurred many workers to contemplate their futures - and whether they ever want to return to office life. (Rachael A. Woldoff, Professor of Sociology, West Virginia University & Robert Litchfield, Associate Professor of Business, Washington & Jefferson College, 4/12/21, The Conversation)

If one thing is clear about remote work, it's this: Many people prefer it and don't want their bosses to take it away.

When the pandemic forced office employees into lockdown and cut them off from spending in-person time with their colleagues, they almost immediately realized that they favor remote work over their traditional office routines and norms.

As remote workers of all ages contemplate their futures - and as some offices and schools start to reopen - many Americans are asking hard questions about whether they wish to return to their old lives, and what they're willing to sacrifice or endure in the years to come.

Even before the pandemic, there were people asking whether office life jibed with their aspirations.

We spent years studying "digital nomads" - workers who had left behind their homes, cities and most of their possessions to embark on what they call "location independent" lives. Our research taught us several important lessons about the conditions that push workers away from offices and major metropolitan areas, pulling them toward new lifestyles.

Legions of people now have the chance to reinvent their relationship to their work in much the same way.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Mistaking Handguns for Tasers (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, April 12, 2021, National Review)

My reaction to the tragic death of Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb due to excessive police force was pretty much the same as Phil's: A trained police officer's mistaking a handgun for a taser seems inconceivable. It has nevertheless happened a few times.

The instances are statistically negligible: A 2020 analysis claimed there had been 16 such cases (though a couple appear to be dubious) over 20 years, during which there have been millions of taser uses by police officers. A 2015 Christian Science Monitor report related a 2012 study that documented nine such cases at that time, out of over 2.7 million taser uses since 2001.

It is an extraordinarily rare occurrence, and an excruciatingly tragic one when it results in death or severe injury.

Oh, Andy...

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Republicans Are Out of the Mainstream on Race (WILLIAM SALETAN, APRIL 12, 2021, Slate)

Americans are divided in their views on the killing of George Floyd. But the biggest division isn't along racial lines. It's between Republicans and everyone else. This week, in an Economist/YouGov poll, 64 percent of Americans said police were "not justified in the amount of force they used" in Floyd's arrest, but only 41 percent of Republicans agreed. Most Americans said former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin should be convicted of murder, but only 31 percent of Republicans agreed. On both questions, Republicans differed sharply, by margins of about 20 percentage points, from independent voters and from white Americans as a whole. People who don't like integration, or who don't acknowledge discrimination, have consolidated in the Republican Party. And they're losing touch with the rest of America. [...]

In much of white America, Floyd's death provoked reflection about racial inequality. But those discussions don't seem to have permeated the GOP. In a Politico/Morning Consult survey taken a month ago, most voters said "Black Lives Matter protests over the last year" had "brought about meaningful conversations" about race relations. Only 25 percent of Republicans agreed. And there's a sharp discrepancy between the experiences of people of color--as reported in polls by those people--and Republican perceptions of those experiences. In this week's Economist survey, 82 percent of Blacks and 70 percent of Hispanics said relations between minorities and police were bad. But 63 percent of Republicans said relations between minorities and police were good.

Republicans often claim that their hostility to Black Lives Matter, which has an unfavorable rating of roughly 80 percent in the GOP, is about the movement's left-wing ideas. But in a poll taken in January, a plurality of Republicans also spurned the idea that "Martin Luther King's birthday should be a federal holiday." (Only 24 percent of Americans shared that view.) And when Republicans were asked, hypothetically, about a company endorsing "civil rights" in a Super Bowl ad, they were more likely to view the company less favorably than to view it more favorably.

Tucker Carlson's insecurity and the "great replacement" theory (HEATHER DIGBY PARTON, APRIL 12, 2021, salon)

Back in 2019, in the wake of the mass murder of mostly Latinos at an El Paso Walmart by a violent racist who quoted great replacement theories in his manifesto, Carlson declared that "white supremacy" is "a hoax" that is "used to divide the country and keep a hold on power." I wrote then about Carlson's affinity for the belief system that inspired the killing and explained the crude fundamentals of the theory:

[T]he "Great Replacement" theory is a big deal among white nationalists worldwide. Essentially it comes down to two intersecting ideas. They believe that "the west" is threatened by immigrants from non-white countries resulting in white people being "replaced." And the whole thing is part of a secret Jewish conspiracy to rule a one-race world. The Fox News "mainstream" American version doesn't fully embrace the second idea, at least not publicly. But they are all-in on the first one, cleverly couching it in partisan political terms as a Democratic Party strategy to deny Republicans (who are, as we all know, nearly all white) their God-given right to be a majority of this country.

You can see why so many Jewish groups were appalled by Carlson repeating his comments again last week, this time blithely insisting that "left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term 'replacement.'"  Yes, people do get a little bit upset when major TV celebrities use their platform to sell anti-Semitic drivel to their viewers.

The Anti-Defamation League demanded that Carlson be fired, but there is no word yet as to whether any action will be taken. Just because these toxic beliefs have influenced the recent mass murderers at an El Paso Walmart, a Pittsburgh synagogue and a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, along with the Nazi marchers in Charlottesville Virginia who were literally chanting "Jews will not replace us" apparently doesn't mean that Fox News has a responsibility to not spread them further.

It's important to note here that the gunman in El Paso also criticized corporations, which made many observers scratch their heads at the time, but it shouldn't have. White supremacists who believe in the great replacement theory consider corporations enemies, but not for economic populist reasons, as I wrote at the time of the Walmart shooting:

They see anti-corporatism and environmentalism as necessary to save Western civilization, not because corporations are sucking the life from working people and killing the planet but because corporations and climate change are creating conditions that make brown and Black people migrate to countries with predominantly white populations. And among the "ecofascist" alt-right and the neo-Nazis, environmentalism is based upon reverence for "the land of your people" which explains the Charlottesville marchers chanting the Nazi slogan "Blood and Soil." Carlson hasn't gone that far but these people are all walking in the same direction.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Resources Are More Abundant Than Ever, and People Are the Reason (Marian L. Tupy and Gale Pooley • April 21, 2021, cato unbound)

Ehrlich and his group lost because they thought like biologists. In 1971, for example, Ehrlich and Holdren wrote that as "a population of organisms grows in a finite environment, sooner or later it will encounter a resource limit. This phenomenon, described by ecologists as reaching the 'carrying capacity' of the environment, applies to bacteria on a culture dish, to fruit flies in a jar of agar, and to buffalo on a prairie. It must also apply to man on this finite planet."

Simon won because he thought like an economist. He understood the powers of incentives and the price mechanism to overcome resource shortages. Instead of the quantity of resources, he looked at the prices of resources. He saw resource scarcity as a temporary challenge that can be solved through greater efficiency, increased supply, development of substitutes, and so on.

The relationship between prices and innovation, Simon insisted, is dynamic. Relative scarcity leads to higher prices, higher prices create incentives for innovations, and innovations lead to abundance. Scarcity gets converted to abundance through the price system. The price system functions as long as the economy is based on property rights, the rule of law, and freedom of exchange. In relatively free economies, therefore, resources do not get depleted in the way that Ehrlich feared they would. In fact, resources tend to become more abundant.

Simon's victory would have been even more impressive had he used time prices (TP). The TP denotes the amount of time that a buyer needs to work in order to earn enough money to be able to buy something. That is the relevant price from the individual's vantage point. Unlike money prices, which are measured in dollars and cents, TPs are measured in hours and minutes of labor.

The easiest way to calculate TP is to divide the nominal price by the nominal hourly income. If an item costs you $1 and you earn $10 per hour, then that item will cost you 6 minutes of work. If the price of the same item increases to $1.10 and your hourly income increases to $12, then that item will only cost you 5 minutes and 24 seconds of work. The most important thing to remember is that as long as hourly income is increasing faster than the money price, the TP will decrease.

As we already noted, over the course of the Simon-Ehrlich wager, the nominal price of the five-metal basket rose by 0.4 percent. Over the same period, the average global nominal GDP per hour worked increased by about 67 percent. To calculate the TP of the five-metal basket, we divided the nominal prices of the basket by the average global nominal GDP per hour worked. We found that the average TP of the five-metal basket fell by almost 40 percent. Had Simon and Ehrlich used TPs, Ehrlich would have owed Simon $627.57, or 8.93 percent more than he actually paid.

Remember that the bet between Simon and Ehrlich took into account the nominal prices of the five metals on September 29, 1980 and September 29, 1990. However, if we look at the average annual nominal prices of the five metals between 1980 and 1990, the average TP of the five-metal basket declines by 54.8 percent. So, for the same length of work, the average inhabitant of the globe saw his resource abundance increase from 1 basket of the five metals to 2.21 baskets. That amounts to a 121 percent increase in the average personal resource abundance (pRA). The average compound annual growth rate in personal resource abundance (CAGR-pRA) came to 8.27 percent, thus indicating a doubling of the average pRA every 8.7 years.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


John Boehner Shuts Down Meghan McCain's Biden Critique: He's a 'Good Guy' (Matt Wilstein,  Apr. 12, 2021, Daily Beast)

Meghan McCain tried her best to tee up John Boehner for an attack on President Joe Biden on Monday. The former Republican House Speaker refused to take the bait.

"I'm worried we're headed towards the most divided time in our nation," McCain told Boehner, who was on The View to promote his spicy new memoir On the House. "President Biden has promised to usher in a new era of bipartisanship. So far he's issued more than 50 executive orders and chosen to go it alone on issues like the stimulus. You said that President Obama never made reaching across the aisle a priority, is Biden continuing the tradition?"

Instead of playing into that narrative, Boehner immediately shut her down, saying, "Well, listen, Joe Biden's a good guy." He called Biden a "traditional Democrat" who is just trying to "hold his party together" amidst a "skirmish" between progressive and moderate factions.

"He's got a very difficult job in his party these days, he's got a very difficult job as it is being president," Boehner added. "But I'm hopeful that here in the coming weeks we'll see President Biden reaching out. I worked with him for 30 years. I know this guy inside and out. There isn't a thing in the world that Joe Biden and I couldn't work out together. It wouldn't be everything I wanted. It certainly wouldn't be everything he wanted. But we could have found enough common ground to do some good things on behalf of the American people."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What haunts Hunter Biden? (Tanya Gold, Apr. 11th, 2021, Unherd)

Hunter has the misfortune to be surrounded by saints. His father is the anti-Trump. His mother is sanctified by death. His brother Beau was saintly too: he was attorney general of Delaware, scourge of sex offenders, preparing to run for governor in 2016. (If Joe didn't win the presidency, Beau was next in line, his father's choice). But Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 and is likewise beyond reproach.

If you are among saints, and you are not like them, what are you? A sinner, and Hunter couldn't exist without his better half. When Beau dies, he asks himself: "If we weren't the three of us anymore, what were we?" His father, meanwhile, "sat on his porch for hours and took one call after another from current and former leaders from every hemisphere and every country." This repression is the family way. Hunter and Beau never asked each other what they remembered about the accident. And here again, "Dad and I never really sat together to have a heart-to-heart, to talk about what we were going through. Words," he writes, "almost felt risky".

Instead, emboldened by the public response to his eulogy, he asked his wife Kathleen if he should run for office on the wave of grief and sympathy. (It's the other family way). She replied: "Are you serious?" After that, "We didn't say another word to each other for the rest of the ride. Or, really, ever again". Bereft of both Beau and Kathleen, his addiction took flight.

The first part of the book deals with his childhood -- the enforced gratitude for their privileges and the conditional love of the people of Delaware -- and loss of Beau. This part feels stymied. Hunter describes the relationship between the three men like this: "It's a Biden love story, of course, which means it's complicated: tragic, humane, emotional, enduring, widely consequential, and ultimately redemptive." They all talk like this: in broad concepts of love, loss and courage. Do they talk like this in private? They might do. How do they order soup?

There is also a defence of his business dealings in China and Ukraine, which were used to attack his father by his opponents. It's an across-the-board denial of wrong-doing, too comprehensive and outraged in tone to feel true. But if it isn't entirely true, he cannot say otherwise. He is, again, constricted by his father's need for power. (There are no politics in this book at all. It is the most telling blank.)

Only in the second part -- when Hunter details his relapses and half-life inside hotels rooms with criminals -- is the prose alive. For using is his most vivid life, the only place where he is allowed to be angry at the things that are denied him. His writing on this is raging and horrifying. His description of his relationship with Rhea, a street homeless crack addict who moves in with him, is the best thing in the book: a bizarre and functional marriage, with crack as their beloved child.

Hunter is not long sober, if he is at all. He gave a long interview to the New Yorker in 2019 but reveals here that he was high during every interview. (He has been using, with gaps of varying length, since his father became Vice President; since he ascended to the mountain-top). I would not comment on a fellow addict's sobriety, but he is a Biden and therefore public property: I am invited to comment.

Hunter does not sound well. He still hates the drug dealers he was dependent on, though they were as addicted as he, and with none of his privileges. If he had what recovering addicts call emotional sobriety -- or if he were truly a progressive -- he would try to understand their behaviour. He married a second time, to Melissa, who had "the exact same eyes as my brother," after knowing her for a week. He did not thank his first wife Kathleen, who suffered at his hands, in his acknowledgements. His thanks to Melissa, "the love of my life," feel like whiplash.

And he never tells us what I most want to know as he tells of hotel tabs and hangers-on and profligacy: where did he get the money? There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply for his using. Its source is not divulged.

He is honest, though, about his love affair with his brother's wife Hallie after Beau's death. It was a pitiful attempt to reanimate the man they both loved. He wanted, he writes, to be close to Beau's children: "I was seduced by the idea of providing the same kind of extended family that surrounded Beau and me after we lost our mommy and sister". It's a re-imagining of the extended family he was gifted to after the death of his mother, but here it feels explicitly insane.

Joe is the most interesting character in this book, of course, and he is not in this book. He is God on his mountaintop. 

Survivor's guilt is a monstrous thing. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The immense untapped potential of offshore wind (Ryan Cooper, April 12, 2021, The Week)

America does have quite a lot of wind capacity installed already. Thanks to steady reductions in the cost of the resulting power, states across the country have been throwing up wind turbines by the thousands. Last year saw the biggest amount of wind power capacity added in American history, at 14.2 gigawatts (making for a total of 118 gigawatts). Utility-scale wind farms produced 338 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2020, or about 8 percent of the utility-scale total (up from less than 1 percent in 1990). Iowa gets fully 58 percent of its electricity from wind, while Kansas gets 43 percent.

But almost all of those turbines are on land. The U.S. has just two small offshore wind farms, with a piddling 42 megawatts of capacity put together (or about 0.04 percent of the total), though several more are being planned.

This must change. Offshore is an ideal location for wind turbines, for two reasons. First, land is scarce, particularly in and around cities where power is most needed. As the White House plan points out, the proposed New York Bight wind energy area will be quite close to the New York City metro area, the biggest concentration of people in the country. Second, wind tends to blow harder and more steadily offshore (and more so the further one gets from land), which counteracts the biggest weakness of wind -- that it doesn't produce in calm conditions. The land of the Eastern Seaboard is relatively calm, but just offshore wind speeds increase dramatically.

Several European countries have taken advantage of these facts to harvest huge amounts of power from ocean breezes. The U.K. now gets about a quarter of its power from wind, and about 43 percent of that from offshore (making it the biggest offshore wind producer in the world). Germany also gets about a quarter of its power from wind, of which about 20 percent comes from offshore. Denmark gets about half of its power from wind, of which about 27 percent comes from offshore. (Denmark is also planning to build a wind island in the North Sea that will eventually have 10 megawatts of turbines, or almost six times its current offshore capacity.)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Millennials are ready to take over the real estate market (Brianna Crane, 4/12/21, Axios)

The big picture: Millennials are getting older and entering a new stage of life, casting off their long-held moniker as the "renter generation," Realtor.com senior economist George Rati says.

The oldest millennials are turning 40 this year, and they want more space for their growing families.

First-time buyers are also ready to build equity, have more space, and take advantage of low relatively mortgage rates.

The state of play: Homebuyers are entering a competitive market, with inventory down and home prices surging across the board. Low mortgage rates give buyers more power, but there has to be a home to buy to take advantage of current deals.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


First GMO Mosquitoes to Be Released In the Florida Keys (TAYLOR WHITE, 04.12.2021, Undark)

THIS SPRING, the biotechnology company Oxitec plans to release genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. Oxitec says its technology will combat dengue fever, a potentially life-threatening disease, and other mosquito-borne viruses -- such as Zika -- mainly transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

While there have been more than 7,300 dengue cases reported in the United States between 2010 and 2020, a majority are contracted in Asia and the Caribbean, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Florida, however, there were 41 travel-related cases in 2020, compared with 71 cases that were transmitted locally.

Native mosquitoes in Florida are increasingly resistant to the most common form of control -- insecticide -- and scientists say they need new and better techniques to control the insects and the diseases they carry. "There aren't any other tools that we have. Mosquito nets don't work. Vaccines are under development but need to be fully efficacious," says Michael Bonsall, a mathematical biologist at the University of Oxford, who is not affiliated with Oxitec but has collaborated with the company in the past, and who worked with the World Health Organization to produce a GM mosquito-testing framework.

Bonsall and other scientists think a collaboration of current and advanced approaches are essential to reduce the burden of diseases -- and that, maybe, newer ideas like GM mosquitoes should be added to the mix. Oxitec's mosquitoes, for instance, are genetically altered to pass what the company calls "self-limiting" genes to future generations; released GM males breed with wild female mosquitoes and eventually suppress the local population.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The modernist who wanted to be FührerWe should acknowledge the Nazi past of architect Philip Johnson, not erase him (Charles Saumarez Smith, April 12, 2021, The Critic)

The truth is that Johnson was much more than a Nazi sympathiser. He was as close to an active fascist as it was possible to be in America in the 1930s. While he was in Germany in the summer of 1932 with his mother and younger sister studying and photographing the buildings of Ludwig Persius, he attended a Hitler rally in Potsdam. He did not disguise this when his biography came to be written in the 1990s by Franz Schulze. He described how "you simply could not fail to be caught up in the excitement of it, by the marching songs, by the crescendo and climax of the whole thing, as Hitler came on at last to harangue the crowd". He was thrilled by the sight of "all those blond boys in black leather". 

In fact, there is quite a significant chunk in Johnson's biography, only filled in recently, when he was very active in the politics of the far right, leaving his post at MoMA in December 1934 to go and support Huey Long, the aggressively populist and corrupt Governor of Louisiana known as "The Kingfish". 

Encouraged by Johnson, the New York Herald Tribune reported his departure under the headline two forsake art to found a party, quoting Johnson's old schoolfriend, Alan Blackburn, executive director of MoMA, as saying, "We feel that there are 20,000,000 to 25,000,000 people in this country who are suffering at present from the inefficiency of government. We feel that there is too much emphasis on theory and intellectualism. There ought to be more emotionalism in politics" -- in other words, less democracy and more populist demagoguery. They had decided to do "the sort of things that everyone in New York would like to do but never finds time for. We may learn to shoot, fly airplanes and take contemplative walks in the woods." 

According to Ruth Merrill, his PA, when interviewed by the FBI in 1942, Johnson believed "the fate of the country" rested on his shoulders, and that "he wanted to be the 'Hitler' in the United States ... By joining with Huey Long he could eventually depose Huey Long from control of the country and gain control of it for himself." 

Johnson and Blackburn decided to found their own political party, the National Party, or the Young Nationalists, which had its own uniform of grey shirts and a flying wedge insignia, equivalent to a swastika. 

In 1936, Johnson joined up with Father Charles Coughlin, another populist demagogue who was a Catholic priest and denounced Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal for its support for "central bankers, Wall Street financiers, and communists". Johnson designed the white rostrum on which Father Coughlin stood during a big political rally in Chicago in 1936, which was based, like the design of his new political party, on his experience of the Hitler rally that he had attended in Potsdam.

In the summer of 1937, Johnson visited Germany again and, in 1938, made friends with Ulrich von Gienanth, the propaganda attaché at the German Embassy in Washington, who also worked for the SS and arranged for him to visit Germany again in the summer of 1938 under the auspices of the Nazi government, visiting Hitler youth camps and meeting prominent Nazi officials. 

He attended a Nuremberg rally and was apparently "carried away" by Hitler's magnetism. Meanwhile, he was publishing articles on the benefits of eugenics in a fascist journal, The Examiner. He was in Germany again in 1939 and travelled to Poland in the wake of the German blitzkrieg in September 1939 on a press trip organised by the German Propaganda Ministry. He was regarded by William Shirer, a fellow American correspondent, as a Nazi spy and was lucky not to have been put in jail at the beginning of the war, as were many of his political associates.

What are we to think of this? One of America's leading postwar architects, its first and greatest propagandist for modernism, was, for the whole of the second half of the 1930s, if not a paid-up agent of the German government (he did not need the money and, indeed, was giving his own in support of Nazi causes), a very active and public supporter of fascism.

This is the Modernist par excellence

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Mitch McConnell's Threat Backfires As Big Business Meets To Cut Off GOP Cash (JASON EASLEY, 4/11/21, Politics USA)

The Washington Post reported:

The online call between corporate executives on Saturday "shows they are not intimidated by the flak. They are not going to be cowed," Sonnenfeld said. "They felt very strongly that these voting restrictions are based on a flawed premise and are dangerous."


"There was a defiance of the threats that businesses should stay out of politics," Sonnenfeld said. "They were obviously rejecting that even with their presence (on the call). But they were there out of concern about voting restrictions not being in the public interest."

The companies on the call included Delta, American, United, Starbucks, Target, LinkedIn, Levi Strauss and Boston Consulting Group. NFL owner Arthur Blank was also on the call.

Threatening some of the nation's largest companies, because they are opposing the Republican destruction of democracy is one of the most arrogant things that Mitch McConnell has ever done in his political career. It was also one of the stupidest.

These companies aren't going to let up, and for all of the corporations who are speaking publicly, there are exponentially more that feel the same way.
Mitch McConnell's effort to bully corporate America has turned into a complete disaster for the Republican Party.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


the optimistic chart pessimists love to hate (James Pethokoukis, 4/12/21, Faster, Please!)

Another way of looking at this miracle by analyzing the number of deeply poor people today vs. two centuries ago when that great economic upturn began: A new OECD report looks at global poverty in two ways, both the World Bank's $1.90 a day standard and the alternate Basic Needs Poverty line from researcher Robert Allen. Turns out, they tell pretty much the same story.

According to these measures, in 1820 roughly three-quarters of the world population, about 756 million people, could not afford a tiny space to live, food that would not induce malnutrition, and some minimum heating capacity. By 2018, global extreme poverty dropped to 10%.

Rather than celebrate this vast improvement in human welfare, some recoil. Perhaps they worry concession means ignoring the work yet to be done. Or concession means accepting the importance of economic growth at the expense of the environment. Or perhaps concession also means conceding the benefits of market capitalism. Don't like the c-word? Economist Deirdre McCloskey offers alternatives such as "technological and institutional betterment at a frenetic pace, tested by unforced exchange among all the parties involved" or "fantastically successful liberalism, in the old European sense, applied to trade and politics, as it was applied also to science and music and painting in literature" or "trade-tested progress." Or maybe just "innovism," meaning an open society that allows and rewards change, as unpredictable as it might be.

History was over by 1776. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Post-pandemic America: gloomy or boomy? (James Pethokoukis, 4/12/21, Fastrer, Please!)

[A]s it turns out, the pandemic gave productivity growth a big boost last year -- at least as measured by output per hour. It was up 2.5 percent last year, the best performance since 2010. Why? As Moody Analytics economist Mark Zandi explains: "The pandemic crushed lower value-added industries such as brick-and-mortar retail and travel and lifted higher value-added online and technology businesses." Of course, there are probably also instances of companies using the cover of the pandemic to finally adopting labor-saving tech.

Zandi thinks there's more good news on the way that could give productivity growth a sustained boost:

But last year's increase in productivity seems also to reflect a more persistent revival in trend productivity growth. Trend productivity growth was stuck in the post financial crisis expansion at just over 1% per annum, almost a percentage point below the 2% growth experienced in the previous 60 years since World War II. Indeed, we expect trend productivity growth to re-accelerate post-pandemic given the accelerated move online, more judicious business travel, and work-from-anywhere. We are also counting on a more fulsome adoption of promising labor-saving technologies such as machine learning, cloud computing, lidar and drones that have long been percolating. The long-running drag on trend productivity from the aging of the population should soon be easing, and an anticipated large infrastructure program, up next on the Biden administration's economic policy agenda, will also add to productivity.

April 11, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 PM


'White Lives Matter' rallies flop as hardly anyone shows up (Brandy Zadrozny, 4/11/21, NBC)

In semi-private, encrypted chats, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists planned rallies in dozens of cities Sunday to promote their racist movements and spread their ideologies to larger audiences. 

Hyped by organizers as events that would make "the whole world tremble," the rallies ran into a major problem: Hardly anyone showed up. 

The "White Lives Matter" rallies, the first major real-world organizing efforts by white supremacists since 2018, were planned on the encrypted app Telegram after many aligned groups were alleged to have taken part in the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S Capitol.

The poor showing underscores how the country's unpopular and disorganized extremist movements have been driven underground by increased scrutiny from the media, law enforcement agencies and far-left activists who infiltrate their private online spaces and disrupt their attempts to communicate and organize. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Don't Look Now, But Over a Third of People in the US Have Gotten a Coronavirus Shot (Madison Pauley, 4/11/21, MoJo)

At this point, it's kind of hard to absorb good news about the pandemic. But here is some to brighten your weekend: More than one-third of all people in the United States have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine as of Friday, according to CDC data. That's not just one-third of eligible adults. It's one-third of everyone--kids included.

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


Witnesses back woman against IDF claim husband shot dead to prevent car-ramming (Times of Israel, 4/11/21)

The wife of a Palestinian man shot dead by soldiers during what the IDF said was an attempted car-ramming has insisted she and her husband did not accelerate toward troops at a roadblock, and two eyewitnesses have backed up her claim that no soldiers were in front of their car when the shooting started, Haaretz reported Sunday. [...]

Sumaya Mansour told Haaretz that the couple had gone to a clinic in the town of Bir Nabala as she did not feel well. On their way back home, as they drew close to the village of Al Jib, they encountered the roadblock. She said the checkpoint consisted of some military vehicles parked on a traffic island in the middle of the road.

As they approached, the soldiers flashed the lights of one of the vehicles, apparently a jeep, at the approaching car, indicating that they should stop. Sumaya said they stopped the car and turned off the engine, as requested to do by the soldiers.

An eyewitness, who lives in the area and who, according to the report, has no prior acquaintance with the Mansours, told Haaretz that there were several military vehicles in the area and that some of the soldiers were arguing loudly with the driver of the jeep.

After questioning the couple about their movements the soldiers told them to continue on their way, Mansour said. They started the car and drove off, passing the jeep and the soldiers on the right, the correct side of the road for their direction of travel.

They had not traveled more than a few meters before the soldiers opened fire at the rear of the car, the witness said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China admits its vaccines aren't very good (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 04/11/2021 )

In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, the country's top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to get a boost.

Chinese vaccines "don't have very high protection rates," said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

They can assemble stuff we design more cheaply than we're willing to.  Other than that, they're useless. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tucker Carlson sparks controversy with his latest defense of the racist 'white replacement theory' (Meaghan Ellis, 4/11/21, AlterNet)

"The Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World," Carlson said on Fox News Primetime. "If you change the population, you dilute the political power of the people who live there. So every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter."

Given the number of Trump voters willing to accept the absurd notion that the election was stolen, the automaton problem appears to be a function of old white men, not of people we don't allow to vote. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


85% of cars sold in Norway last month were electric (Matthew Beedham, Next Web)

Some 56.3% of new cars sold in Norway last month were battery powered, while 28.6% were plug-in hybrid.

Plug-in car sales are up 10% over the same period last year in the Nordic country.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Grading the Biden Administration's Approach on China So Far (JIM TALENT & LINDSEY NEAS, April 11, 2021, National Review)

The Biden administration has done reasonably well in the opening stages of its approach to China. Within a couple of weeks of taking office, the president went to the Pentagon to announce that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin would conduct a review of China policy, which will be led by Ely Ratner, Austin's well-respected chief adviser on China issues. We can hope that Austin's review will recommend a muscular strategy.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken's first trip was to Asia, where he met with our most important allies. Then, just before the U.S.-China meeting in Alaska last month, the United States announced sanctions on about two dozen high-ranking Chinese Communist Party officials because of their involvement in the destruction of freedom in Hong Kong. In addition, America has joined other countries in protesting the closed trial and lack of due process for two Canadian citizens, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were arrested two years ago on baseless espionage charges. Much like Iran, China is now engaging in a kind of hostage diplomacy.

These were promising initial moves, signaling that the meeting in Alaska was not the prelude to a Munich-like policy of appeasement toward Beijing. That was no doubt one of the reasons for the Chinese foreign minister's 15-minute rant at the American delegation from across the table in Anchorage. The regime was broadcasting its displeasure that the new administration will evidently not kowtow to its demands.

The PRC will never have another president so eager to condone its Nationalism. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Amazon Workers Rejected Unionization (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, April 11, 2021, National Review)

The third-rate plunderers trying to insinuate themselves into Amazon and similar businesses would have you believe that they are the second coming of the Molly Maguires, saving an exploited workforce from Jeff Bezos's sweatshops, where the median pay is . . . between $15 and $20 an hour in the warehouses, with delivery drivers making around $70,000 a year and getting nice benefits. That is not big money compared to what a software developer makes, at Amazon or anywhere else -- but it is pretty good money compared to what workers typically make in warehouse jobs.

And that is always the most important question in these cases: Compared to what? Amazon's people in Alabama seem to have answered that question pretty well for themselves. And there's a reason for that.

Amazon needs people. It has been hiring as fast as it can. With online shopping booming because of the coronavirus, Amazon hired 427,300 new workers in less than a year. At the end of 2020, it was hiring 1,400 workers a day. Sure, companies respond to social pressure, and Amazon is easier to push around than most, but Amazon isn't hiring all those people out of charity: Labor is valuable, and good labor is very valuable. When it comes to raising the price of labor, supply and demand work a lot better than carping and regulation. A thriving Amazon offers its workers a better shot at upward mobility than a stagnant and unionized Amazon would.

The Amazon workers in Alabama decided that it is better to have the market on your side than to have a cartel on your side. Smart call. The rest of the country should take note.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Far-right Israeli ambassador in London causes Liberal Judaism split (MEMO, April 9, 2021)

The open letter to the leadership published in the Jewish Chronicle said: "We are sure that Rabbi Charley will ask challenging and important questions. But no question will negate the fact that Hotovely has been given the honour of the invitation and our community has therefore become that much more tolerant of racism." The group claimed that the event would confer a "symbolic platform and endorsement," referring to the far-right ambassador's comments and views about Palestine and the Palestinians.

In protest, Omar Portillo resigned as chair of Liberal Judaism's Black Jews and Jews of Colour Action Group, which was established last summer when the Black Lives Matter movement assumed new prominence. Explaining his resignation from the action group, Portillo tweeted: "Providing Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely [with] a platform is not consistent with the anti-racist values that I understand Liberal Judaism to hold."

On Wednesday, Liberal Judaism defended its decision to host the former Likud MP while acknowledging that it would continue to speak out when warranted against actions or statements made by the Israeli government or its envoy.

Hotovely was appointed as Israel's ambassador to the UK in June. She used her first speech at an event organised by pro-Israel lobby group the Board of Deputies of British Jews to describe the 1948 Nakba as "a very strong and very popular Arab lie". More than 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes and land when the Zionist state of Israel was created in occupied Palestine.

Sections of the British Jewish community campaigned against her appointment. Nearly 1,500 British Jews signed a petition calling on the Boris Johnson government to reject it. "Hotovely has demonstrated a complete disregard for international law throughout her political career, and has an appalling record of racist and inflammatory behaviour," the petition pointed out.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


UPS Buying Electric Cargo Copters For Speedier, Greener Deliveries (Alan Ohnsman, 4/07/21, Forbes)

UPS plans to buy up to 150 small electric aircraft from startup Beta Technologies that the delivery giant thinks can help get goods to customers in small and midsize markets faster and with fewer carbon emissions.  

Deliveries of the first ten Beta electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (or eVTOL) vehicles begin in 2024, says UPS, which has an option to buy 150. They have a flying range of up to 250 miles per charge and can carry up to 1,400 pounds of cargo. The aircraft will be able to take off and land directly at UPS facilities and can be recharged in about an hour. UPS and Beta both declined to provide financial details of the deal. Beta also has to complete an extensive FAA review process before they can go into service.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Australia's main grid hits record renewables high of 56 per cent on Sunday (Giles Parkinson, 11 April 2021, Renew Economy)

Australia's main grid reached a record level of renewables in its electricity supply, and a record level of wind and solar penetration on Sunday.

The peak renewables share appears to have reached 55.9 per cent at 11.05am on Sunday morning, with wind and solar alone providing 53.4 per cent, according to the OpenNem data page. However, other sources, such as NEMLog, claimed a higher percentage was reached, 56.1 per cent, at 1.15pm.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Boston Police kept secret that cop union chief was alleged child rapist: report (Bob Brigham, April 10, 2021, Raw Story)

"A former head of Boston's largest police union, already charged with sexually assaulting a young girl, was arraigned Tuesday on 16 additional sex offenses related to four new alleged victims, according to prosecutors and court filings," the Boston Globe reported on August 25th. "Patrick M. Rose, 66, was arraigned Tuesday in the West Roxbury division of Boston Municipal Court on 11 counts of rape of a child and five counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, the office of Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement."

On Saturday, the newspaper updated their reporting on Rose with a bombshell new report.

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"A father and his teenage daughter walked into the Hyde Park police station last August and reported a heinous crime. The girl said she had been repeatedly molested from age 7 through 12 by former Boston police union president Patrick M. Rose Sr.," the newspaper reported. "Rose being tagged as a child sexual abuser was news to the city when he was arrested and charged last summer. But it wasn't news to the Boston Police Department where Rose served for two decades as a patrolman."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The scandal that wasn't: Republicans deflated as nation shrugs at Hunter Biden revelations (David Smith, 10 Apr 2021, The Guardian)

Yet Hunter's book has been praised for its searing honesty and literary style and for challenging the stigma of addiction. As Republicans flail to find a line of attack against Biden that will stick, Hunter's self-revelations have been met by a shrug in a nation seemingly inured to scandal by Trump himself.

"It is amazing how many of their hopes and dreams did centre on Hunter Biden's addiction, Hunter Biden's sex life, Hunter Biden's laptop, and interesting for a political party that has based so much on 'nothing matters' to discover to their disappointment that nothing matters," said Charlie Sykes, author of How the Right Lost Its Mind.

"Haven't they sort of established a small universe where nothing matters? You can pay off a porn star and it doesn't make a difference. Did they really think that somehow Hunter Biden was going to make a difference?"

In the memoir, Beautiful Things, Hunter, 51, details a lifelong struggle with drink and drugs. He writes that his "deep descent" into substance addiction followed the 2015 death of his older brother, Beau, who succumbed to brain cancer aged 46.

Hunter admits that "in the last five years alone, my two-decades-long marriage has dissolved, guns have been put in my face, and at one point I dropped clean off the grid, living in $59-a-night Super 8 motels off I-95 while scaring my family even more than myself".

In an interview about the book on CBS, the president's son recalled going 13 days without sleep as he smoked crack and drank vodka. "I spent more time on my hands and knees picking through rugs - smoking anything that even remotely resembled crack cocaine. I probably smoked more Parmesan cheese than anyone that you know."

The Biden family staged an intervention at their home in Delaware in 2019, inviting two counselors from a rehab centre to dinner. Hunter swore and ran from the house but was chased down the driveway by his father, who "grabbed me, swung me around, and hugged me. He held me tight in the dark and cried for the longest time. Everybody was outside now."

It's the opposite of the Trump family: Joe does love him but doesn't employ him.  

April 10, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Massive collapse of Atlantic cod didn't leave evolutionary scars (Erik Stokstad, Apr. 7, 2021 , Science)

Overfishing didn't just shrink cod numbers--it also shrank their size. The animals, which once matured at 80 centimeters in length, began to reproduce at younger ages as fishing intensified. Now, they mature at about 65 centimeters. One reason size matters is that larger, older fish spawn prolifically and make populations more productive and resilient.

Biologists feared the exhausted populations had permanently evolved these new traits, which would complicate restoring population size. The case of cod "gets cited left and right as the classic example of really rapid, modern evolution," says Malin Pinsky, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Lab experiments support that idea, but studies of natural populations--which have looked at just a few genetic markers--are inconclusive.

So in the new study, Pinsky and colleagues at the University of Oslo examined the entire genomes of Atlantic cod. They analyzed DNA from the scales and ear bones of fish from Canada and Norway, taken decades before overfishing started. The team then compared DNA from those samples with that of 46 modern fish from Norway and 24 from Canada.

Pinsky and colleagues found no sign of sweeping changes in the cod genomes, they report this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That suggests evolution probably hasn't removed the genetic diversity the cod need to grow bigger and mature later. "That's really exciting," Pinsky says, because it implies that less fishing can help cod bulk up to their former size.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Biden admin could set emissions limits so low gas cars can't meet them (TIM DE CHANT, 4/7/2021, Ars Technica)

The Environmental Protection Agency will be issuing revised fuel economy standards by the end of July, said new EPA Administrator Michael Regan, rewriting Trump-era limits that dictate emissions limits for cars and light trucks through the 2026 model year. The goal with the revised standards, he added, will be to mitigate certain climate impacts. [...]

While Regan did not mention any specific numbers, he did not rule out emissions limits that would force the phasing out of fossil-fuel vehicles. To achieve that, the number would probably be in the range of 60-70 miles per gallon combined, according to EPA methodology, which is what appears on new cars' Monroney stickers. Today's gas-powered cars struggle to crack 40 mpg combined, and hybrids have trouble getting more than 60 mpg combined. The least-efficient electric vehicle, on the other hand, the Porsche Taycan, gets the equivalent of 69 mpg.

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


This Nuclear Reactor Just Made Fusion Viable by 2030. Seriously  CAROLIN, Popular Mechanics)

TAE's current working reactor is nicknamed Norman, after the scientist who cofounded TAE in 1998. The reactor is 80 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 60,000 pounds. This still makes it far smaller than almost any existing nuclear power plant reactor, on par with something like a small modular reactor.

Today, TAE has announced that Norman has consistently reached the 50 million degrees Celsius required to become a sustaining plasma reactor.

There are two colloquial terms for what fusion net energy requires: "hot enough" and "long enough" to end up fruitfully producing energy. TAE says Norman has been running over 600 experiments each month, which is 20 tests each day or about 30 each weekday--reaching the plasma "ignition," or self sustaining for energy, temperature each time.

This means 6 years after TAE began to reach "long enough," Norman has finally reached "hot enough" frequently enough that it can begin to scale up for commercial power plants. And this is why the company says it feels it can build that kind of power plant by the end of the decade in 2030.

With the central fusion technology well in hand, there's still a lot of work to get a fusion plant off (and on) the ground in reality. Everything about the whole structure must be designed, studied, tested, and regulated by the government. Still, TAE is confident about the 2030 time frame because of the proliferation of tools and knowledge in recent years.

"These tools include expanded scientific knowledge about plasma behavior, artificial intelligence, machine learning, faster electronics, magnets, improved diagnostics, shorter latency feedback loops, materials science, vacuum technology, power electronics--the list goes on," the company says. "TAE expects this timeframe to be by the end of the decade."

That was easy enough. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Mass Vaccination Is a Show of American Might (Anne Applebaum, 4/10/21, The Atlantic)

 During 2020, Donald Trump's chaotic, mendacious response to the pandemic; the wave of COVID-19 denialism that swept across America; and the high U.S. death rates were a shock to anyone, anywhere, who still expected competent American leadership. Clips of Trump's infamous comments about bleach ("And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs?") were replayed all around the world and translated into dozens of languages. The Trump administration's refusal to join any of the international efforts to fight the pandemic left a gaping hole that for many months was filled by Chinese planes delivering face masks and doctors.

The U.S. became an outlier, even among democracies. A clear line emerged between countries that had high levels of social trust and decent public-health systems--Taiwan, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea--and those, including the U.S. and Brazil, that did not. Whereas South Korean public-health officials supplemented the country's contact-tracing system with credit-card and phone-location data to help keep case numbers down, nobody in the United States has enough faith in government contact tracers to make those kinds of data available in the first place. That difference was reflected in domestic registers of satisfaction with government performance. It also contributed to an international perception of American decline.

But if the United States is very, very bad at social trust and public-health systems, it is very, very good at large-scale logistics. And skill at large-scale logistics, far more than social trust, has turned out to be a big advantage in this new stage of the pandemic. Mass production of vaccines, mass distribution of vaccines, "mass vax" centers in stadium parking lots, even string quartets playing for the 10,000 New Yorkers getting their vaccines every day at the Javits Center--all of this we can do, now that we have a president who wants to do it. With zero percent interest rates and the deficit a term belonging to the distant past, Americans can also throw money at problems like nobody else.

Thanks, DARPA!

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Comeback of the Bottom HalfYes, they've got a long way to go to recover lost ground. But the improving financial strength of the less-affuent 50% of U.S. households is still a big deal. ( Justin Fox, April 9, 2021, Bloomberg)

Which part of the U.S. wealth distribution saw its net worth rise the fastest over the past year, five years and decade? No, not the top 1%, according to the distributional financial accounts published last month by the Federal Reserve.

The rich had a great run, but they didn't even come close to the percentage gains in real wealth seen by the bottom 50%. These amounted to 21.9% over the past year, 125.6% over five years and 526.2% over 10 years, compared with the one-percenters' 10.3%, 33.8% and 83.9%.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The wrong war?: a review of Stalin's War: A New History of the Second World War By Sean McMeekin  (Jeremy Black, April 2021, The Critic)

This, however, does not arise from some attempt to praise the Soviet Union as an ally against Germany but, instead, from a determination to present an equivalence between the two in aggression, expansionism, brutality and cynicism. McMeekin does not do this in order to extenuate Germany but rather to throw light on both by means of comparison. In some respects, for example the treatment of their own soldiers, this is very much to the detriment of the Soviets.

Roosevelt is held up as the arch-appeaser of the Soviet Union, while Churchill emerges with considerably more credit. Truman is praised for thwarting the Soviet wish to occupy Hokkaido and it is suggested that Roosevelt would have permitted this.

There is an emphasis on the value of Anglo-American military aid to the Soviet Union and a harsh view of a postwar settlement that left so many slaves in postwar communist regimes. Thus, the Americans are presented as fighting a war "to make much of Europe and Asia safe for communism".

"Stalinophilia" in Washington and London in 1941-45 is in part attributed to Soviet agents of influence, not least in drafting the Morgenthau Plan and weakening Chiang Kai-shek. The former is seen as serving Stalin's purposes by stiffening the German resistance to Britain and the US.

The book is pertinent because of the extent to which modern cultural wars draw on historicised identities and historical controversies. Indeed, the Cold War is in a sense still with us in these culture wars, a conflict that began in 1917 and puts, for example, Vladimir Putin and Jeremy Corbyn on the same side. McMeekin's account provides tough reading for anybody endorsing the Guardian's view of history, including the major historian I heard argue that Stalin was better than Hitler because he wished to kill social categories not ethnic ones.

Better not to have intervened until they'd attrited each other, but, having done so, we ought to have demonstrated the efficacy of nukes on Moscow.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Detroit's Black Wealth TaxTo help close the racial wealth gap, slash Detroit's confiscatory property tax rate.  (Stephen J. K. Walters, April 9, 2021, City Journal)

Vincent Orr is building wealth the old-fashioned way: scrimping, saving, and sweating. A Detroiter and Fiat Chrysler production supervisor, Orr made his first big investment in 2017, when he bought a brick house with a caved-in roof at auction for $2,100. After months of renovations, it was ready for his mother to move in to. In 2019, he paid $1,200 for the place next door for himself and started all over again.

In addition to countless hours of labor, Orr invested $100,000 of his own money for the materials needed to rebuild his little corner of the Motor City. Taking out a loan wasn't really an option. As he told the Wall Street Journal, "cash is king because nobody can deny you. The houses that require a mortgage, a lot of people are reluctant."

It's tempting, therefore, to blame Detroit's disinvestment crisis and long decline on credit markets that have malfunctioned--perhaps due to racial prejudice. But the reality is more complicated. Even if Detroiters had full access to easy, equitable, and abundant credit, the city would still struggle to attract the tsunami of investment it needs to renew and prosper.

To understand why, imagine yourself in Orr's position, with a burning desire to rehab one of Detroit's once-grand properties and the ability to borrow, say, $180,000 (the median home value in Michigan). The good news is that, on a 30-year mortgage at a 3 percent fixed rate (and zero down), your monthly principal and interest payment would total just $758.

But this is Detroit, which has the highest effective property tax rate of any major city in America, at 3.58 percent of market value. If the tax man assesses your house at its full renovation cost, this would add $537 to your monthly mortgage bill, bringing it to $1,295.

Tax consumption, not investment.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Officials Boasted Of Distorting CDC Reports On Pandemic Spread (Mark Sumner, Apr. 9th, 2021, Daily Kos)

In particular, the emails between former Health and Human Services (HHS) Public Affairs Chief Michael Caputo and former Science Adviser Paul Alexander show these officials working to force the CDC to make changes in reports on how COVID-19 spread. Then they celebrated their victory with a "yippee." Alexander also managed to make changes in the "sacrosanct" Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) to tone down the apparent damage done by COVID-19.

Even then, the changes to some reports--in particular one about how the disease was spread among young people--weren't enough to make Alexander and Caputo happy. So they worked with Atlas to create op-eds to "preempt the story" and promote the idea that schools could be opened safely. That included a fishing expedition in which they sought to throw out unfounded numbers about how closing schools was causing more death than it was preventing.

"I know the President wants us to enumerate the economic cost of not reopening," wrote Caputo. "We need solid estimates to be able to say something like: 50,000 more cancer deaths! 40,000 more heart attacks! 25,000 more suicides!"

There does not appear to be any factual basis behind these numbers. Alexander, Caputo, and Atlas understood Trump's goal: He wanted the schools open no matter what, so they created a stream of fear, uncertainty, and doubt for the purposes of justifying that action.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Israeli police beat up and kneel on the face of left-wing Jewish lawmaker (Ofer Cassif, 4/09/21, JTA)

Israeli police beat up a left-wing member of parliament and one officer knelt on his face, drawing outcry from across the political spectrum.

Ofer Cassif, the only Jewish member of the Arab-Israeli Joint List party in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, was at a protest against evictions in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah Friday when he became involved in an altercation with police. The police shoved him to the ground and video from the protest shared on social media shows an officer placing his knee on Cassif's face.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


White nationalists praise Tucker Carlson's full embrace of their "replacement" conspiracy theory (NIKKI MCCANN RAMIREZ, 04/09/21, Media Matters)

On the April 8 broadcast of Fox News Primetime, Tucker Carlson offered perhaps his most explicit justification yet for the core belief of the so-called "great replacement" conspiracy theory, telling viewers that "Third World" invaders are coming to replace them and reshape their environment, and that they should do something about it.

After the Anti-Defamation League called on Fox News to fire Carlson for his remarks, white supremacist and far-right personalities were quick to make their approval known.

Opposition to immigration is just a function of fear.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


For true JCPOA re-entry, Biden must tear down this sanctions wall (Tyler Cullis and Trita Parsi, 4/10/21, New Arab)
The sanctions relief process has from the outset been riddled with problems, though, at least initially, most were unintentionally so. Now, however, Biden faces major sanctions hurdles that are entirely intentional: President Donald Trump, in his last two years in office, meticulously built a "sanctions wall" that explicitly was designed to make any return to the JCPOA by subsequent presidents prohibitive in terms of political cost.

Trump officials told The Wall Street Journal that even if potential new targets are already under existing nuclear sanctions, "blacklisting them again under terror powers makes it more difficult to reverse the action." Advocacy organisations supporting Trump's Iran policy were even more explicit. Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Trump should "build a wall of additional sanctions that a pro-Tehran successor could not easily dismantle."

These sanctions, Dubowitz continued, should "be directed not against the nuclear programme but the regime's role as the leading state sponsor of terrorism," as well as its missile programme and its human rights abuses. The explicit purpose of these sanctions, however, was to prevent a return to the JCPOA.

In due order, Trump imposed sanctions on Iran's central bank, its Ministry of Petroleum, and its state-owned oil company pursuant to terrorism-related authorities. Trump also sanctioned Iran's entire financial sector, as well as virtually all other productive non-oil sectors of Iran's economy on non-nuclear grounds. These so-called "non-nuclear" sanctions impose what is effectively an international boycott on Iran that lacks any modern historical precedent. 

But even if the Trump administration had not been transparent about the intent of these sanctions, reality is that even reimposition of sanctions on genuine non-nuclear grounds would violate the JCPOA. Contrary to popular impressions, the nuclear agreement obligates the United States to "refrain from any policy specifically intended to directly or adversely affect the normalisation of trade and economic relations with Iran inconsistent" with the JCPOA, and to "prevent interference with the realisation of the full benefit by Iran of the [JCPOA's] sanctions lifting."

There is no question that Trump's sanctions violate these basic conditions of the JCPOA.

They should demand more relief than was in the original. 

April 9, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Leaked Chats Show 'White Lives Matter' Movement in Shambles After Antifa Infiltration (Tess Owen, April 9, 2021, Vice News)

Just days before a series of White Lives Matter rallies were to take place in cities across the U.S., the movement has fallen into shambles after antifascists posed as event organizers and lured unsuspecting racists to join several fake Telegram channels. 

On Thursday, the administrators of the "White Lives Matter" channels for Seattle and New Jersey suddenly changed their avatar to an antifa flag and revealed themselves to be a "honeypot," created to draw in extremists and glean information about them. The "NYC White Lives Matter" channel followed suit.

This marks yet another major setback for the White Lives Matter movement, which began organizing "The March for White Lives" on the encrypted messaging platform last month. Since announcing the IRL rallies, the movement has been plagued with paranoia, intrigue, and infighting--as well as a general lack of interest from prospective attendees. What's more, VICE News has obtained leaked chats from a private White Lives Matter admin channel, suggesting that antifa infiltration at the highest levels was even worse than organizers thought.

All comedy is conservative. 
Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Proud Boys Lose by Default in Historic Black Church's Lawsuit Accusing Them of 'Terror' and 'Vandalism' (ADAM KLASFELD, Apr 9th, 2021, Law & Crime)

Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who was arrested on the day Metropolitan A.M.E.'s lawsuit was filed, appeared in court on Friday without a lawyer. Tarrio has until April 30 to respond to the claims filed against him personally. Proud Boys International, LLC did not appear in court and had a default judgment entered against them.

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under, an advocacy group representing the historic Black church, announced both developments following a hearing on Friday morning before D.C. Superior Court Judge Heidi Pasichow, whom the lawyers say issued her ruling of default from the bench.

"Today's ruling was a victory in favor of decency and against violent racism," the committee's acting president and executive director Damon Hewitt wrote in a statement. "The lawsuit was filed with the purpose of holding the Proud Boys and their leadership accountable for their campaign of racist violence, which they perpetrate with impunity. We will continue to move forward with this case to ensure justice is served so that the Proud Boys and similar groups are put on notice that they are not above the law."

Rev. William H. Lamar, IV, the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church's pastor, added that the Proud Boys "share the white supremacist DNA of so many groups that came before them."

And then they wonder why no blacks vote Republican.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM

THE BLUE BRAND (profanity alert):

Cops Caught on Video Holding a Black Army Lieutenant at Gunpoint, then Pepper-Spraying Him (Emma Ockerman, April 9, 2021, vice News)

Caron Nazario was driving his newly-purchased Chevy Tahoe home when two police officers pulled him over in Windsor, Virginia, whipped out their guns, and started barking orders. 

With their weapons raised, the officers demanded that Nazario, a Black and Latino man, get out of the SUV. Nazario, who looked in the mirror and saw he was being held at gunpoint, placed his cellphone on his dashboard to film the December 5 encounter. He repeatedly asked to know what was going on. At one point, he even admitted to being afraid to leave the vehicle.

"Yeah, you should be," one of the officers responded. 

Nazario, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, was coming home from work and in full uniform at the time.

Doing the job the way the Trumpists want it done. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden's innovative idea for tackling skyrocketing housing pricesHousing prices are out of control. Biden's infrastructure bill could be the first step -- of many -- to changing that. (Jerusalem Demsas,  Apr 8, 2021, Vox)

A dozen pages into the fact sheet for President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan, he marks a growing shift in Democratic orthodoxy and a new plan for zoning reform:

Eliminate exclusionary zoning and harmful land use policies. For decades, exclusionary zoning laws -- like minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and prohibitions on multifamily housing -- have inflated housing and construction costs and locked families out of areas with more opportunities. President Biden is calling on Congress to enact an innovative, new competitive grant program that awards flexible and attractive funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate such needless barriers to producing affordable housing.

You'd be forgiven if your eyes glazed over at "minimum lot sizes" and "mandatory parking requirements," but in this paragraph is an acknowledgment that the seemingly mundane local rules that govern what and where houses can be built have had devastating effects on the American people.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China's factories automate as worker shortage looms (Evelyn Cheng, 4/09/21, CNBC)

Factories in China are turning to technology to tackle a pending labor shortage.

Per official figures, the country's working age population has shrunk by more than 5 million people in the last decade as births have dropped - despite a rollback of the controversial one-child policy.

And for the factories that have driven much of modern China's growth, workers are already in short supply, pushing wages up. That's forcing companies to relocate or increase automation, especially as the labor shortage looks like it will only get worse.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Kim Jong Un likens North Korea's economic troubles to catastrophic 1990s famine
(Catherine Garcia, 4/09/21, The Week)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday compared his country's economic struggles to the devastating 1990s famine that left hundreds of thousands of people dead.

The Korean Central News Agency reports that while speaking to lower-level Workers' Party of Korea members, Kim said there are "many obstacles and difficulties ahead of us," and it's up to everyone in the WPK to "wage another ... arduous march in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little." Earlier in the week, he told party members the country is facing its "worst-ever situation."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Whither The Multiracial GOP? : Black voters in Georgia have no reason to take Republican officials at their word. (MATTHEW WALTHER, 4/09/21, American Conservative)

There is no point in dissembling. Republicans in Georgia are responding to the loss of two Senate seats and to the results of the last presidential election by trying to undo the electoral advantages conferred upon their opponents by universal mail-in voting and other changes. Specifically, they are hoping to dismantle the remarkably efficient turnout machine engineered by Stacey Abrams, whom too many of them dismissed as a hapless kook after she insisted that her own defeat in the 2018 gubernatorial election was a result of widespread irregularities.

If 2020 showed us anything, it was that Abrams was not wrong in insisting that Democrats were capable of winning statewide office in Georgia if conditions on the ground were altered. In response to this, Republicans have decided to live up to their established public image by passing legislation that (whatever its proponents say to the contrary) is straightforwardly meant to suppress the African American electorate, which was ultimately responsible for their losses in the fall.

Whether it will succeed is of less importance than what it tells us about the nature and scope of Republican ambitions. Here I should say that I have no naive opinions about the value of the franchise or the metaphysical dignity of participating in what is fondly described as "our democratic process." But it does seem odd to me that after months of talk about Trump's extraordinary gains among black and Hispanic voters, Republicans are effectively dismissing their own advice here.

It is one thing to say that the future of the GOP is a "multiethnic, multiracial, working-class party." It is another to act as if you expected it to happen, and another still to behave in such a way that suggests you wish it to be so. As far as I can tell most Republican elected officials in Georgia haven't got the faintest interest in attracting African American voters who are inclined to agree with them about social issues ranging from abortion to same-sex marriage to gun rights. Rather than try to compete with the new Abrams machine by reaching out to marginalized communities (especially black voters in rural areas) and building the sorts of broadly diverse coalitions that statewide victories require when voter turnout is high, Georgia Republicans would rather lose black votes on their own familiar terms.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Video shows Texas GOP official seeking 'army' of volunteers to monitor polls in mostly Black and Hispanic Houston precincts (Teo Armus, 4/09/21, Washington Post)

In a leaked video of a recent presentation, a man who identifies himself as a GOP official in Harris County, Tex., says the party needs 10,000 Republicans for an "election integrity brigade" in Houston.

Then he pulls up a map of the area's voting precincts and points to Houston's dense, racially diverse urban core, saying the party specifically needed volunteers with "the confidence and courage to come down here," adding, "this is where the fraud is occurring."

April 8, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar slams Biden for continuing 'shameful' Trump Mexico wall, condemns refugee cap (8 April, 2021, New Arab)

"It's shameful and unacceptable for @POTUS to continue the construction of Trump's xenophobic and racist wall," she said in a tweet, before releasing a lengthy statement.

"We cannot and we must not fall victims to politics of fear and hatred that drives the far-right," she said in a statement.

"I am deeply disturbed by reports that the Administration is considering further construction of Trump's wall."

Omar went on to criticise the government leaving Trump era limitations that make it difficult for refugees to enter the country.

"Joe Biden ran on a promise to increase the refugee cap.

"When meeting with the Administration, I have repeatedly urged them to follow through on these promises, yet the Administration has yet to reverse the harsh limitations of refugee admissions set by the previous administration.

"Because of this, hundreds of refugees had their hopes dashed last month as we cancelled flights to the United States. Abandoning those who fled unthinkable atrocities does not align with the promises set by this administration."

Amen, sister.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Time to Take UBI Seriously?: MAmericans have gotten a glimpse of Universal Basic Income programs. They like what they see so far. And we should like its potential to disrupt our stale debates. (MICHAEL J. TOTTEN  APRIL 8, 2021, The Bulwark)

A UBI is hardly a new idea, nor are its advocates confined to the left. Libertarian economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek advocated their own versions of it decades ago. Charles Murray joined them recently with a book and a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Thomas Paine hoped to implement a UBI as far back as the American Revolution. It's one of the few big public policy ideas with champions on the left, on the right, and in the center--amazing, frankly, at a time when our hyperpolarized citizenry can't even count on unanimous support for the earth being a sphere anymore. Polls before the pandemic pegged support at roughly 50-50, with those for and against on both sides of the political spectrum. When it comes to a UBI, the tired debate between big versus limited government has been scrambled.

Progressives like it because it provides a shot in the arm for the working poor, the unemployed, the disabled, the retired, college students, and the struggling middle class generally. Conservatives and libertarians like it because it eschews central planning, the choosing of winners and losers, and the arrogant assumption that a distant bureaucracy knows how to spend money better than individuals do. Centrists have reason to hope that by reducing economic anxiety, populist rage on both the left and the right might at least be mitigated if not eliminated. Small businesses with razor-thin profit margins would benefit from there being less pressure to raise the minimum wage, while employees who earn the minimum wage would get a much-needed cushion.

Yang dismissed concerns that a basic income is socialist: "This is capitalism where income doesn't start at zero." Indeed, it's entirely contrary to a command economy's answer to hunger and privation: a ration card that can redeemed for basic goods at government "stores." In the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Vietnam, virtually everybody, not just the poor, was forced into this kind of imbecilic and tyrannical system. The United States responded by giving struggling people food stamps, the equivalent of a cash payment, that can be spent at the same grocery stores everyone else uses, thus preserving the market economy, leaving the middle class unmolested, and ensuring that nobody starved to death.

Unlike traditional welfare payments, a basic income wouldn't infringe on personal freedom any more than food stamps do. "People who get on welfare lose their human independence," Friedman said. "They become subjects of the dictates and whims of their welfare supervisors who tell them whether they can live here or there and tell them what they can do with their lives. They're treated like children."

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Why Can't Europe Cope With the Coronavirus?: Three factors explain why most European countries have found it difficult to deal with the pandemic: an unsuitable level of integration, an inability to make rapid decisions, and a breakdown of trust between governments and the governed. (Stefan Lehne, 4/08/21, Carnegie Europe)

First, EU states are too integrated to manage the crisis separately and not integrated enough to do so collectively.

Several countries, such as New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan, have performed well in the pandemic because they have solid administrations and full control of their borders. In Europe, giving up control of national borders is part of the essence of integration. Many governments have tried to restrict travel during the pandemic, but in a haphazard fashion that has created disruptions yet hardly impeded the freedom of movement of the virus. The European Commission's efforts at imposing some order have failed, as it has been impossible to reconcile the interests of governments trying to keep their populations at home and those of countries that depend on tourism.

Top-down crisis management from Brussels was never a real option, quite apart from the fact that the legal powers for health policy remain with the member states. Imagine the European Commission issuing a quarantine order in Lombardy or Saxony! Only national leaders have the political authority to persuade their populations to accept infringements of basic rights. This will not change soon. [...]

The second problem is that in a pandemic, it is lack of speed that kills.

In normal times, governing a stable and prosperous Europe is largely a matter of administering the status quo. Legislation and administration work at a leisurely pace. Of course, there have been crises in recent years that required urgent responses. But the 2007-2008 financial crisis was a matter for political leaders and technocrats, and the 2015-2016 migration crisis had few immediate consequences for most people.

A dangerous virus spreading exponentially through the population presents an entirely different challenge. It requires a warlike mobilization with a speed of decisionmaking and administrative action far beyond normal state practice. Several Asian and African countries that had previous experience with MERS, SARS, and Ebola understood that and have coped well with the current pandemic. But despite the repeated warnings of experts, the crisis hit European states unprepared and revealed severe weaknesses in their health systems and public administrations.

Likewise, the EU institutions--specialists in careful and time-consuming consensus building--were overwhelmed by the urgency of this new challenge. By their usual standards, EU officials delivered both an economic response and collective vaccine procurement at great speed, but considering the severity of the situation, it was simply not good enough. Emergencies require risk-taking and radical innovation. Rather than rely on officials, Washington put a general in charge of vaccine procurement, and London a venture capitalist. Considering the results, this might have been the better approach.

Finally, for democracies, trust is key in managing crises, but it is so easy to lose. [...]

As the European public began to lose faith in its leaders, the leaders likewise lost faith in the public's readiness to cooperate. Caught between health experts advising tough restrictions and mounting societal pressure to return to normal life, governments often adopted half-hearted measures that were only partly followed, resulting in yet more infections and more public frustration.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


The Air Force Is Making an App That Basically Does What a General Does: The nascent app aims to generate options, recommendations, and mission orders. (Patrick Tucker, APRIL 7, 2021, Defense One)

Tentatively titled Arachnid, the nascent decision-support tool is a product of DARPA's Adapting Cross-domain Kill-webs program, The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and other service vice chiefs were briefed on the app on Monday as part of a trip by the Pentagon's Joint Requirements Oversight Committee, or JROC.

"You identify a threat and it's supposed to give you multiple options for what effect do you want to achieve on that threat," said Lt. Col. Antony "Bigfoot" Braun, director Of operations at the Western Air Defense Sector of the Washington Air National Guard.  "It says, 'You want to scramble this base over here? You want to scramble this base over there? Here are the pros and cons and pluses and minuses associated with your timelines and all of those things.'" 

"It's trying to automate the decision-making cycle and then, from a machine-to-machine perspective, allow you to press a button and when you press that button it generates all the command messages."

In other words, it's a general in app form.  

UBI for privates is socialism: for officers it's capitalism. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Norway's giant oil fund invests in renewable energy for first time (Ketan Joshi, 8 April 2021, Renew Economy)

In a strategy report also released yesterday, the fund detailed its plans for energy. "We will gradually build up the renewable energy portfolio. We will primarily aim to invest in wind and solar power. We will focus on projects with reduced power price risk, stable cash flow and limited risk to the principal investment", wrote the fund's managers.

Norway's oil fund recently found that much of the cash flowing into the fund from fossil fuels was lost due to subsequent investment in poorly performing oil an gas investments. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


New Poll: Biden Jobs Plan Favored By 73 Percent Of Voters (Josh Israel, April 08 | 2021, American Independent)

The vast majority of Americans back President Joe Biden's American Jobs Plan, according to a new poll from Data for Progress and the pro-infrastructure group Invest in America.

But that has not stopped congressional Republicans and their corporate funders from attacking the infrastructure plan.

The April survey of likely voters found 73 percent support the $2.25 trillion investment plan, compared to just 21 percent who oppose it. Even among Republicans, 57 percent said they back Biden's proposal, while 38 percent oppose it.

The poll also found broad support for the main areas of investment included in the plan -- physical infrastructure (76 percent support), care economy (74 percent), American manufacturing (65 percent), clean energy (64 percent), and housing (61 percent).

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


The 2022 Senate race no one is talking about (Josh Kraushaar,  April 6, 2021, National Journal Hotline)

Recent polling bears out the Republican opportunity in the Granite State. A St. Anselm College survey conducted last month showed Sununu leading Hassan by 6 points in a hypothetical matchup, 47 to 41 percent. The poll showed Sununu receiving a stellar 67 percent job-approval rating as governor, bolstered by his management during the COVID-19 crisis. Hassan's approval stood at a respectable 47 percent, with 44 percent disapproving of her performance.

On the flip side, Sununu's high ratings are reflective of the less-partisan politics that executive leadership provides. In a more ideological battle for Congress, voters typically retreat to their partisan corners. The same poll found Democrats holding an 8-point edge on the generic ballot, 48 to 40 percent. Against Ayotte, whom she narrowly defeated in her first campaign, Hassan led by 5 points, 48 to 43 percent.

Sununu, who boasts one of the highest gubernatorial approval ratings in the country, has been coy about a Senate run, though he hinted at his interest in federal office during an interview with New Hampshire Public Radio last month. "How does my skill set fit the service? And if I can find where there might be a need there, if I can find where my skill set fits, where it might fit my family dynamics and in kind of long-term planning and vision," Sununu said. If he runs, he'd be expected to clear the field of intraparty competition.

New Hampshire has become a shade more Democratic than the national electorate, but it also swings significantly based on the national mood. The state nearly voted for Donald Trump in 2016 (he came fewer than 3,000 votes short) before swinging big towards Biden in last year's election. New Hampshire's 1st District has been a perennial bellwether, swinging back-and-forth between parties in four consecutive elections from 2010 to 2016, while remaining competitive in the previous two cycles. Sununu has won three consecutive elections for governor, in good Republican years and bad (the state has two-year terms). To Hassan's credit, she won reelection as governor in 2014, a tough year for Democrats, and then unseated Ayotte two years later in an otherwise productive year for Republicans.

The final factor making New Hampshire's Senate race so intriguing--beyond the Senate balance of power--is the likelihood of a political grudge match. If Sununu runs, it would give his famous political family an opportunity to make up for his brother John's tough reelection defeat in 2008 against Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. If Ayotte ends up as the nominee, it would be a chance for her to avenge her excruciatingly close defeat against Hassan five years ago. New Hampshire is a small state where all these political rivalries take on outsized significance.

In winning the governorship in '16, Mr. Sununu ran so strongly he nearly carried Donald over the line with him.  Meanwhile, Ms. Hassan seems indistinguishable from Ms. Shaheen to me--successful female ex-governors with identical voting records--but is somehow far less popular.  Her constituent services must be non-existent or something. 

April 7, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


Scotland's renewable record cements its place as UK's onshore wind hub (Ketan Joshi, 8 April 2021, Renew Economy)

New provisional figures released by the Scottish government have shown that Scotland has just scraped under its target to produce the equivalent of 100% of its total demand from renewable energy sources by  the end of 2020, accounting for the export and import of electricity to other regions of the United Kingdom.

In 2020, Scotland's domestic renewable energy sources generated 31.8 terawatt hours, the equivalent of 97.4% of the amount of electricity demanded within the country.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


There's a surprising ending to all the 2020 election conflicts over absentee ballot deadlines (The Conversation, April 07, 2021)

Going into the election, the policy in a majority of states was that ballots had to be received by election night to be valid. Lawsuits seeking an extension of these deadlines were brought around the country for two reasons: First, because of the pandemic, the fall election would see a massive surge in absentee ballots; and second, there were concerns about the competence and integrity of the U.S. Postal Service, particularly after President Trump appointed a major GOP donor as the new postmaster general.

The issue produced the Supreme Court's most controversial decision during the general election, which prohibited federal courts from extending the ballot-receipt deadlines in state election codes. Now that the data are available, a post-election audit provides perspective on what the actual effects of these deadlines turned out to be.

Perhaps surprisingly, the number of ballots that came in too late to be valid was extremely small, regardless of what deadline states used, or how much that deadline shifted back and forth in the months before the election. The numbers were nowhere close to the number of votes that could have changed the outcome of any significant race.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Delaware legislature considers voting reform efforts (WYATT PATTERSON, 3/30/21, The Review)

Delaware Sen. Kyle Evans Gay recently introduced legislation to create an automatic voter registration system at the Delaware Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the latest in a series of voting reforms to be considered by the legislature this year. 

Senate Bill 5 would allow all driver's license applications to also serve as voter registration applications whenever an applicant shows proof of U.S. citizenship. The information collected on those forms would be sent to the Delaware Department of Elections, and the applicant would receive notice in the mail confirming their new voter status and providing an opportunity to affiliate with a political party of their choosing. 

"The first step in exercising your right to vote is getting registered as a voter," Evans Gay said in a statement. "Many Delawareans do that at their local DMV and there are steps we can take to make that process even simpler. It's time we used all the tools at our disposal to make registering to vote as quick, easy and painless as possible."

Rep. David Bentz, the lead sponsor of the legislation in the House, noted that it should be the government's responsibility to make voting as easy and accessible as possible. 

"Delaware already does a great job registering voters but bringing automatic voter registration to our state gives us just one more tool to increase voter participation," Bentz said in a statement. "I look forward to passing this bill through the House once the Senate passes it." 

Bentz was also the primary sponsor of House Bill 75, the second leg of a constitutional amendment that would eliminate limitations to when an individual can vote by absentee ballot. 

"These legislative priorities represent an effort to move Delaware's elections into the 21st century and provide Delawareans with increased access to the polls," Bentz said in a statement. "States across the country have already instituted many of these initiatives, and it's time Delaware take the same steps to modernize its elections and get up to speed with the rest of the country." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Biden to nominate gun control backer David Chipman to head ATF: WH official (Brittany De Lea, 4/07/21, Fox News)

President Biden is expected to nominate David Chipman, an advocate of greater gun control, to serve as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a White House official confirmed to Fox News on Wednesday.

Chipman served as an ATF special agent for 25 years and was named Special Agent in Charge of the bureau's Firearms Program.

Chipman also received an award from the Attorney General's office for his efforts aimed at preventing gun homicides in targeted U.S. cities, according to his bio as a member of the gun safety group started by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Unstoppable: Rooftop solar market notches up new all-time high in March (Sophie Vorrath, 8 April 2021, Renew Economy)

Australia has notched up yet another record for rooftop solar installations, with homes and businesses around the country installing 317MW of systems in March - an all-time high for national monthly installs.

The new monthly record was marked in the latest data from industry statisticians, SunWiz, taking the cumulative total to 13.9GW and keeping the nation on track to install a record-breaking 3.5GW for the year, compared to the Covid-defying 3GW installed in 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Why Kentucky Just Became the Only Red State to Expand Voting Rights (Nick Corasanti, 4/07/21, NY Times)

The law in Kentucky establishes three days of early voting in the state; introduces voting centers that would allow for more in-person balloting options; creates an online portal to register and request ballots; and allows voters to fix problems with absentee ballots, a process known as curing.

The reasons that Kentucky Republicans have diverged on voting rights range from the political to the logistical. For one, they had an easier sell: With sweeping new rules allowing the election to be held safely during the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans in Kentucky had one of their best cycles in years, with both Senator Mitch McConnell and Mr. Trump easily winning in the state.

And expanding voting access in Kentucky was a low bar to clear; the state had some of the tightest voting laws in the country before 2020, with not a single day of early voting, and strict limits on absentee balloting.

The push in Kentucky and other states -- including the Democratic-controlled Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii and Massachusetts -- reflects an odd outcome of the pandemic: The most challenging election in nearly a century brought about expansive changes across the country to ease access to the ballot box.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


They're obsessed with trains. Will Biden bring them Nirvana?: Three rail superfans gathered on Zoom to take in the president's remarks last week. They geeked out quickly. (EUGENE DANIELS, 04/06/2021, Politico)

Dan Cupper owns more than 10,000 train timetables -- little cards and brochures detailing the accommodations, times and appearance of trains; his oldest is from 1858. Ron Goldfeder and his wife collect kerosene lanterns that used to light the way for trains. Larry Shughart owns hundreds of American Flyer model trains. And you're damn right they work.

These men have loved trains for years; and by love, we're not just talking about the type of affection young kids have for toys gifted from their parents; we're talking fanatical obsessions that take up every part of life's free moments and the mind's free space.

On Wednesday, that lifelong love affair hit a remarkable political climax as America's most powerful railfan -- President Joe Biden -- stepped behind a lectern to outline the most ambitious infrastructure plan since Dwight Eisenhower. Moments like these don't come along all that often; for lovers of trains, they are like a Halley's comet. Naturally, the three jumped at the invitation from POLITICO to get on a Zoom call and watch it together. Copper and Goldfeder are old chums but Shughart, who they've not met, fit right in.

For just over 30 minutes, Biden laid out the broad strokes of his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which included investments in things like roads and bridges, electric vehicles, clean energy, affordable housing and public transit. The three men watched it on a shared Zoom screen, taking notes the whole time. Cupper, bespectacled, with white hair, sitting in front of his beloved timetables, Goldfeder, also bespectacled with white hair, in front of dozens of train books and the lanterns, and Shughart, sans spectacles but also with white hair, in his bedroom because the trains have their own space in a barn out back.

They had, by that point, already heard the toplines of the plan. Cupper paraphrased a quote from Daniel Burnham, the architect of D.C.'s Union station, to describe his feelings about it. "He said 'make no little plans, they have no power to stir men's blood.' And certainly what Biden has proposed is not a little plan, it's a visionary plan. And I think that is one of its strengths."

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Quarterly Gap in Party Affiliation Largest Since 2012 (JEFFREY M. JONES, 4/07/21, Gallup)

In Gallup polling throughout the first quarter of 2021, an average of 49% of U.S. adults identified with the Democratic Party or said they are independents who lean toward the Democratic Party. That compares with 40% who identified as Republicans or Republican leaners. The nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage is the largest Gallup has measured since the fourth quarter of 2012. In recent years, Democratic advantages have typically been between four and six percentage points.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Fossil fuels get too many government handouts. Biden wants to cut them off. (Lili Pikelili,   Apr 5, 2021, Vox)

One of the great ironies of climate politics is that America continues to subsidize -- to the tune of billions of dollars a year -- the very industries that are most responsible for the warming of the planet. Biden wants to put an end to that.

His American Jobs Plan, released last week, recognizes that if the US wants to hit decarbonization targets, and get climate change under control, cutting off government support for fossil fuels is a logical first step. The proposal takes aim at tax preferences, loopholes, and laws that allow fossil fuel companies to dodge costs and avoid cleaning up their pollution.

As part of the tax reform section of the plan, removing preferential treatment for oil, gas, and coal corporations would also free up federal dollars to support dozens of other climate initiatives, for which Biden has proposed around $1 trillion in investment.

But let markets choose the alternatives, not subsidies. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Teachers' Union Head Rips Jews in Interview on School Reopening (Free Beacon, 4/07/21)

Union leader Randi Weingarten criticized Jews as "part of the ownership class" dedicated to denying opportunities to others in an interview released on Friday.

Weingarten--who is herself Jewish and draws a six-figure salary as head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)--took aim at American Jews in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. When asked about parents critical of the AFT's resistance to school reopening, Weingarten took aim squarely at Jewish critics.

"American Jews are now part of the ownership class," Weingarten said. "Jews were immigrants from somewhere else. And they needed the right to have public education. And they needed power to have enough income and wealth for their families that they could put their kids through college and their kids could do better than they have done."

"What I hear when I hear that question is that those who are in the ownership class now want to take that ladder of opportunity away from those who do not have it," she said.

Just an FYI: we of the ownership class haven't had much trouble with remote schooling, given our digital infrastructure and ease of providing adult supervision at home.  Those who are starting out on the ladder of opportunity are more likely to lack these advantages. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


A Crazed GOP Wants to Cancel Baseball, Coke and Big Business (Wajahat Ali,  Apr. 07, 2021, Daily Beast)

What's left after the GOP cancels itself? You could get whiplash trying to track conservatives' hypocritical mental gymnastics, but there is a common theme: Conservatives believe in a one-way relationship with America where their terms reign supreme. Our role is to submit or face cancellation.

Incredibly, the party that continually whines about "cancel culture" while at the same time practicing it is now on the verge of self-cancellation after turning on the big business allies it's historically united with to push tax breaks, de-regulation, and the "creative" destruction of the unchecked "free market."

What caused the split was the GOP's latest voter suppression efforts in Georgia, which were so odious that they have done the unthinkable, forcing corporations like Coca-Cola, Delta, and United to publicly condemn them. Even Major League Baseball decided to relocate the All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado. But the big businesses responding to their presumed interests and customers' desires are being condemned by Republicans as supposed agents of a "woke cancel culture," a made-up supervillain used to scare the conservative base. The Republican Party is even suggesting that the American pastime is, actually, part of a communist plot. If baseball and Coke are out, what's next? Apple pie? (Thankfully, we still have freedom fries.)

When everyone hates your racism you can either ditch the racism or try to cancel everyone. 

Why Mitch McConnell is struggling to keep the GOP's central bargain from falling apart (John Stoehr, April 07, 2021, Raw Story)

For the Old Right, national (and then multinational) corporations were not sources of stability, but the opposite. They competed fiercely for customers and they innovated nonstop, creating products and services that destabilized what the Old Right believed was the natural order of things.1 Corporations employed legions, including non-white people, who no longer behaved as they "should," as makers of their own destinies, as rugged entrepreneurs, as independent and free. Instead, the massive working class was beholden to the interests of their employers. As such, they often behaved as social parasites, especially when corporations worked together with the United States government in what I described last week as economics in the national interest.

Worst of all, corporations as the godless, profit-seeking face of modernity always challenged the social control of the white men who constituted this country's petty bourgeoisie. Sam Francis, the Ur-conservative, understood this better than most.

The cosmopolitan elite threatened the traditional values cherished by most Americans: "morality and religion, family, nation, local community, and at times racial integrity and identity." These were sacred principles for members of a new "post-bourgeois proletariat" drawn from the working class and the lower ranks of the middle class. Lacking the skills prized by technocrats, but not far enough down the social ladder to win the attention of reformers, these white voters considered themselves victims of a coalition between the top and bottom against the middle.2

For corporations, and the Wall Street traders who invest in them, the Old Right was a fount of dangerous crankiness. These people were not rational. They were emotional. These people were not forward-thinking. They were backward-looking. These people did not seek wealth through markets. They sought power through division. It took lots of work on the part of people like Bill Buckley and later Irving Kristol to get each side on the same page. Over decades, from the McCarthy era to Reagan's election in 1980, the Old Right bargained with corporate-minded Republicans to forge, later with white evangelical Protestants, what's sometimes called "movement conservatism"--which, as I have said before, was the foundation for what became a bipartisan consensus.

The Old Right's bargain frayed after the Cold War came to an end. It shattered beyond recognition after a Black man was elected president. The "Tea Party movement" as well as Donald Trump's upset victory were not only uprisings against "demographic change." They were uprisings against corporate power's never-ending challenge to the local authority of white men.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Calls Grow to Abandon Regulations Eased Under Covid (Hello, Cocktails to Go): After state and local governments temporarily eased rules over takeout alcohol, telehealth and other services, some want the regulations gone for good (Aaron Zitner and Julie Bykowicz, April 6, 2021, WSJ)

One day early in the coronavirus pandemic, El Arroyo, a Tex-Mex restaurant in Austin, banked just $186 in sales. Owner Ellis Winstanley put a cheeky plea on the marquee: "Now would be a good time to legalize drive-up margaritas."

Days later, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott did just that by issuing temporary approval of alcohol pickup and delivery from licensed bars and restaurants. Mr. Winstanley changed his sign to credit the governor's move with his ability to rehire 40 employees.

Across the country, state and local governments have temporarily eased hundreds of regulations during the pandemic, aiming to help consumers social distance and businesses avoid economic disaster. Now, some want to abandon them for good.

Lawmakers in Texas and at least 19 other states that let bars and restaurants sell to-go cocktails during the pandemic are moving to make those allowances permanent. Many states that made it easier for healthcare providers to work across state lines are considering bills to indefinitely ease interstate licensing rules. Lawmakers in Washington are pushing for Medicare to extend its policy of reimbursing for certain telehealth visits. States also are trying to lock in pandemic rules that spawned new online services, from document notarization to marijuana sales.

Deregulation has long been a central tenet among Republican politicians, but many of the coronavirus-inspired changes have gained bipartisan support.

"I'm a Democrat. I'm not instinctively antiregulation. But I think this pandemic reminds us that some regulations are from a bygone era and make no sense for anyone anymore,'' said Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii), who is leading Senate efforts to permanently expand Medicare coverage for telehealth.

Similarly, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska said in his state of the state speech in January: "If a regulation needs to be suspended during a crisis, we have to ask ourselves, why was it there in the first place, and can we live without it?"

April 6, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


IDS - I nearly walked out on Xi Jinping's address to parliament (Graham Stewart, 4/06/21, The Critic)

But Sir Iain is more hopeful that Boris Johnson's government is shifting away from a policy of appeasement in return for investment and that, in consequence, "at last that alliance is beginning to re-form" with the United States. The Biden administration understands the imperative of creating an alternative investment magnate for China's neighbours who are otherwise being drawn by the pull of Beijing's Belt and Road initiative.

He believes the still embryonic Trans Pacific Partnership "is absolutely determined to have us on board."  And that British membership will help bring the United States into the trade agreement as a counter to Chinese influence in the Pacific. Far from this being a distant prospect, he foresees the process being accelerated and much "can be achieved in the next two years."

If only Democrats were pro-trade instead of just anti-Donald. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Britain's electricity system 'greenest ever' over Easter (BBC, 4/06/21)

Great Britain's electricity system was the greenest it had ever been at lunchtime on Easter Bank Holiday Monday, its operator has said.

Sunny and windy weather, coupled with low demand for power, led to a surge in renewable sources of energy, National Grid Electricity System Operator said.

It meant zero-carbon power sources made up almost 80% of Britain's power.

There was no coal generation on the grid and just 10% of power was from gas plants, the operator added.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Sanctions Threat Pushes Foreign Share of Russian Debt to 6-Year Low (Jake Cordell, 4/06/21, Moscow Times)
Russian markets have been shaken by fears of sanctions following the jailing of Alexei Navalny.Alexander Avilov / Moskva News Agency
Foreign investors' holdings of Russian government debt fell below 20% for the first time in six years at the end of March, official data from Russia's National Settlement Depository shows.

International investors have been selling their holdings in Russia's state debt since the start of the year, fearful of being caught up in a possible hardening of sanctions against Russia in retaliation for the poisoning and jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Why invest in something with no future?

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Why Republicans Can't Seem to Lay a Glove on Biden (The Daily Beast, 4/06/21)

Carville adds, "I think the most significant 24 hours in American politics was from 8 p.m. Eastern on the fifth of January to 8 p.m. Eastern on the sixth. And that time you had the two Georgia wins and you had the insurrection, and those events taken in tandem have been very, very underappreciated by contemporary commentators. They were just a different party on the night of Jan. 6. Everything changed in a 24-hour period. And you know, they're still off-balance."

"And while they are balancing, I think the Biden people are just staying focused and running as much through as they possibly can. But [the Republicans] don't have a coherent pushback. It's all CBS: cancel culture, the border, and senility. That's all they do," Carville adds.

"They just completely reinvented a coalition and their messaging overnight have gone from an Episcopalian, Presbyterian, white party [to] rural and non-college... They don't want to talk about free trade or anything like that," he continues. "And Biden is not this polarizing figure. I mean, you can't gin it up. I mean Obama, for obvious reasons, he could get them all ginned up. They try to get a charge out of Biden, but it just doesn't work that well... They'll get it back. But right now they're having a hard time."

You could gin old white men up against President Obama by pretending he was going to transfer welfare spending from them to younger people of cover.  Not only is Joe not a racial threat but he's giving white folks welfare checks.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


U.S. worker productivity seems to be rising, thanks to the pandemic. Also, workers say the pandemic has sapped their productivity (Peter Weber, 4/06/21, The Week)

"After a decade-long drought, worker productivity might be about to accelerate thanks to pandemic-induced technological adoption, which could lift economic growth and wages in coming years while staving off inflation pressure," The Wall Street Journal reports. Investments in productivity-boosting technology and automation, combined with a shift from bricks-and-mortar retailers to e-commerce and steep losses in lower-paying jobs in less-productive sectors, are "enabling companies to raise productivity, which is defined as output per hour worked," the Journal explains.

U.S. productivity should also be boosted by white-collar workers not having to travel to conferences or even the office, thanks to widespread adoption of teleconferencing and other remote-work software, some experts told the Journal. "Happier workers are more productive people," said Bart van Ark, director of the Productivity Institute in the U.K. "People who have more energy and are less tired are more productive people, as well."

Y2K, likewise, forced massive technology upgrades. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


"Massless" battery breakthrough promises to help electric planes take off (Sophie Vorrath, 6 April 2021, Renew Economy)

Swedish researchers have produced a battery made of ultra-lightweight materials, including carbon fibre that works as an electrode, a conductor, and a load-bearing structure, in a breakthrough that could pave the way for lighter, more efficient electric cars and planes.

The breakthrough in the long-running quest to develop "massless energy storage" was reported late last month, as the result of a collaboration between Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology, both in Sweden.

The technology works using types of carbon fibre which, as well as being stiff and strong, have a good ability to store electrical energy chemically - a discovery that was named by Physics World as one of 2018's ten biggest scientific breakthroughs, according to Science Daily.

"Previous attempts to make structural batteries have resulted in cells with either good mechanical properties, or good electrical properties," said Leif Asp, Professor at Chalmers and leader of the project.

"But here, using carbon fibre, we have succeeded in designing a structural battery with both competitive energy storage capacity and rigidity."

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


After new law, McConnell warns CEOs: 'Stay out of politics' (LISA MASCARO, 4/06/21, AP)

The choice by the GOP leader to dive into voting politics lends heft to efforts nationwide to install strict new voting laws after Donald Trump's false claims of fraud that cost him the election to Biden. The new laws are aimed at scaling back early voting and other options that became wildly popular during the pandemic.

Even more, McConnell's warning to big business not to get involved shows the scramble Republicans face as progressive groups are shining a spotlight on corporate America to live up to its brands and values as Congress takes on voting rights, gun violence and other issues Republicans have resisted.

The Republican leader has been among the most outspoken champions of the role of big money in elections, promoting the free-flow of undisclosed dollars to campaigns as a form of Constitution-protected free speech.

But companies temporarily halted giving to many Republicans after the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol siege, when the former president urged like supporters to fight for him and hundreds stormed the Capitol.

One reform that the two parties could agree on right now is to forbid their creatures--corporations--from contributing to politics via corporations law. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Biden, Garland Taking Quiet But Firm Steps Against White Nationalist Violence (David Neiwert, April 06 | 2021,  Daily Kos)

Quietly and with little fanfare, the Biden administration has been taking all the right steps early in its tenure in confronting the threat of right-wing extremist violence and its spread--a mandate handed to Biden by the insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Rather than take a high-profile approach that might backfire, Biden's Justice Department and FBI, and to a lesser extent the Department of Homeland Security, have wisely taken a low-key route that emphasizes competence and effectiveness, as a New York Times piece explored last weekend.

But make no mistake, the Biden administration is taking the problem seriously. Indictments from the insurrection now number more than 300, prosecutors are establishing evidence of a clear chain of conspiracy leading to the attack focusing on Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, and arrests for criminal behavior by far-right extremists unrelated to the attack are occurring as well. It's a welcome change from the malign neglect of the matter by Donald Trump and his administration.

As we have argued consistently since the insurrection, an effective approach to right-wing domestic terrorism necessarily will eschew the trappings of the post-9/11 "war on terror"--that is, instead of creating new laws and giving law enforcement unneeded new powers, the phenomenon can most effectively be attacked by smartly deploying law enforcement to enforce the many laws already on the books.

According to Shaun Courtney at Bloomberg, that is in fact how the Biden administration has tackled the issue so far. It also appears to be the thinking of key lawmakers in Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Russian state TV is scared of Biden -- and even speculating they might need to go to war: report (Matthew Chapman, April 05, 2021, www.rawstory.com)

On Monday, The Daily Beast reported that Russian state-run media outlets are worried about the impact of Joe Biden's presidency on Russian power -- and are even speculating that war may break out.

"Instead of laughing about Trump's embarrassing subservience to Putin, experts and pundits on state TV are grim-faced as they anticipate harsh measures against the Kremlin by the Biden administration," reported Julia Davis. "Even Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-funded RT and Sputnik, whose bombastic anti-American rhetoric fills the air on multiple state media programs, admitted that Russia is not immune against U.S. sanctions. Appearing on the talk show Our Truth that aired on television channel NTV, controlled by state-owned Gazprom Media, Simonyan conceded: 'There could be sanctions that would cause us to end up living like we're in Iran... We have vulnerabilities, as you know.'"

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


New Revenue Numbers Make NH Tax Relief More Likely, Despite Fed Threats (Andrew Mahaleris, 4/05/21, NH Journal)

Gov. Chris Sununu and his GOP allies in the legislature pledged they could make tax relief part of the new budget, even amid the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the latest numbers from the Department of Revenue Administration are likely to make it easier for them to keep that promise.

The report released Monday was the latest data point showing that predictions of the Granite State's economic demise were greatly exaggerated. Not only have revenues not collapsed, but the state will end the fiscal year in June with a surplus yet again.

In March alone, the state took in $701 million in revenue, 3.6 percent more than projected, which is $24.6 million more than anticipated. Nine months into the fiscal year, New Hampshire is up $181.5 million, or 9.6 percent over the previous fiscal year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


George Floyd Death Leads States to Require Cops to Intervene (Associated Press, April 05, 2021)

When a police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd in Minneapolis, other officers at the scene didn't intervene, even while Floyd said he couldn't breathe and stopped moving. 

That lack of action is leading a growing number of states to compel police to stop misconduct by a fellow officer. 

Since Floyd's death, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, and New Jersey have passed laws requiring police to intervene when they see a fellow officer engaged in misconduct, said Katie Ryan of Campaign Zero, a group that encourages reforms to reduce police violence. 

Previously, many laws were aimed at compelling police to only report misconduct. But activists say Floyd's death makes clear that is not enough. 

"The one essential component is that, in real time, a fellow officer has to intervene when witnessing another officer of any rank using excessive force," Ryan said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Rise of the 'robo-plants', as scientists fuse nature with tech (CATHERINE LAI, 4/06/21, AFP)

Remote-controlled Venus flytrap "robo-plants" and crops that tell farmers when they are hit by disease could become reality after scientists developed a high-tech system for communicating with vegetation.

Researchers in Singapore linked up plants to electrodes capable of monitoring the weak electrical pulses naturally emitted by the greenery.

The scientists used the technology to trigger a Venus flytrap to snap its jaws shut at the push of a button on a smartphone app.

They then attached one of its jaws to a robotic arm and got the contraption to pick up a piece of wire half a millimetre thick, and catch a small falling object.

The technology is in its early stages, but researchers believe it could eventually be used to build advanced "plant-based robots" that can pick up a host of fragile objects which are too delicate for rigid, robotic arms.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


DOD Workers Want to Keep Teleworking, Despite Early Hiccups, Survey Finds (Mila Jasper, 4/06/21, Defense One)

Using unauthorized applications or sharing DOD information over improperly secured devices, even temporarily, increases the risk of exposing sensitive departmental information that could impact national security and DOD missions."

Survey respondents had ideas for how to improve telework, suggesting DOD provide them with more equipment like computers and monitors, and make the network more accessible but also asking for more management support of telework. 

One survey respondent management needs to "rid itself of their self-imposed psychological barriers" around telework and learn how to manage based on outcomes rather than who is coming into the office or not. Another called micromanagement "rampant." On the other side of the coin, managers reported telework has made it harder to ensure employees are doing their jobs.

Respondents also said they need more IT support to teach them how to use collaboration tools. Still, DOD OIG found productivity did not suffer because of connectivity issues, and overall, 80.3% of respondents who provided written comments expressed positive sentiments about telework. 

The survey also gave a peek into what DOD employees want the future of work to look like: for example, respondents said they want to be able to live anywhere and telework permanently. 

"If I can't trust an employee to get quality work done from offsite, then I likely cannot trust them to get quality work done while onsite," one employee wrote. "It seems counter-intuitive to me, and contrary to supporting the need for the most talented and flexible workforce, to restrict telework merely because that is 'how it's always been done.'"

Based on its findings, DOD OIG recommended the assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense and global security update DOD's Implementation Plan for Pandemic Influenza to include the use of telework for essential and non-essential personnel and align the plan with the DOD Telework Policy as well as require DOD components to update their pandemic plans. 

April 5, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang: As mass detentions and surveillance dominate the lives of China's Uyghurs and Kazakhs, a woman struggles to free herself. (Raffi Khatchadourian, April 5, 2021, The New Yorker)

As Sabit was deciding to move to Canada, in 2014, a dark future was being mapped out for Xinjiang in secret meetings in Beijing. Xi Jinping had become President the year before, and he was consolidating power. As he cleared away the obstacles to lifelong rule, he eventually subjected more than a million government officials to punishments that ranged from censure to execution. With China's ethnic minorities, he was no less fixated on control.

Xinjiang's turbulent history made it a particular object of concern. The region had never seemed fully within the Party's grasp: it was a target for external meddling--the Russian tsar had once seized part of it--and a locus of nationalist sentiment, held over from its short-lived independence. Communist theoreticians long debated the role that nationalities should play in the march toward utopia--especially in peripheral societies that were not fully industrialized. The early Soviets took an accommodating approach and worked to build autonomous republics for ethnic groups. The Chinese pursued a more assimilationist policy.

In the fifties, Mao, recognizing that the Party's hold on Xinjiang was weak, mobilized the bingtuan to set up its farms in the region's north--a buffer against potential Soviet incursions. Revolutionaries flooded in, and within decades the population was forty per cent Han. Party officials, hoping to assimilate the indigenous residents, sought to strip away their traditions--their Muslim faith, their schools, even their native languages. The authorities came to regard Uyghur identity as "mistaken": Uyghurs were Chinese.

In the late seventies, Deng Xiaoping took power, and rolled back the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. In Xinjiang, mosques were reopened and local languages were permitted, giving way to a cultural flourishing. But amid the new openness people began to express discontent with what remained a colonial relationship. Adhering to regional traditions, or even maintaining "Xinjiang time"--two hours behind Beijing--became a subtle act of dissent. Some locals staged protests, bearing placards that read "Chinese Out of Xinjiang." A few radicals discussed an insurgency.

In April, 1990, near the city of Kashgar, a conflagration broke out between locals and the authorities--apparently started by an amateurish group of militants and then joined by demonstrators who did not fully grasp what was happening. Police and members of the bingtuan quickly quashed the violence. It had been only a year since the Tiananmen Square protests, and the country's ruling élite had little tolerance for disunity. A year later, when the Soviet Union fell, the Chinese Communist Party--convinced that ethnic nationalism had helped tear the former superpower to pieces--became even more alarmed.

With near-paranoid intensity, the government pursued any perceived sign of "splitism." The Party secretary of Kashgar, Zhu Hailun, was among the most aggressive. Abduweli Ayup, who worked for Zhu as a translator and an aide, recalled that, in March, 1998, cotton farmers protested a ruling that barred them from planting vegetable patches. Zhu railed at them for being separatists, adding, "You're using your mosques as forts!" On another occasion, he derided the Quran, telling an Uyghur audience, "Your God is shit." Zhu ordered Ayup to lead a door-to-door hunt for families harboring nationalist or religious books--telling him that he was not to go home until he succeeded. Ayup worked until dawn, rousing people. But, he said, "I couldn't find any books at all."

Xinjiang's insurgents had proved unable to gather many adherents; locals favored the Sufi tradition of Islam, which emphasizes mysticism, not politics. At the time of the September 11th attacks, there was no terrorist violence to speak of in the region. But Osama bin Laden's operation, planned across the border in Afghanistan, put a new and urgent frame around the old anxieties. Chinese authorities drew up a long list of incidents that they claimed were examples of jihad, and made their case to the U.S. State Department. Many of the incidents were impossible to verify, or to distinguish from nonpolitical violence. In China, mass attacks--with knives, axes, or even improvised explosives--are startlingly common, and often have nothing to do with ethnic unrest. Not long ago, a man walked into a school in Yunnan Province and sprayed fifty-four people with sodium hydroxide, to enact "revenge on society," officials said. Similarly, a paraplegic assailant from eastern China detonated a bomb at one of Beijing's international airports--apparently an act of retaliation for a police beating. The bombing was treated as a one-off incident. An Uyghur, frustrated that this would never be the case in Xinjiang, asked on Twitter, "Why is everything we do terrorism?"

As the 2008 Olympics approached, Chinese authorities became obsessed with the concept of weiwen, or "stability maintenance"--intensifying repression with a ferocity that the Chinese sociologist Sun Liping compared to North Korea's. Sun, who had served on a committee that reviewed Xi Jinping's doctoral dissertation, noted that the Party was a captive of its own delusions: by overestimating the chance of an imminent societal rupture, it had become blind to the root causes of discontent. Reflexive crackdowns designed to eliminate a "phantom of instability," Sun warned, would lead to a downward spiral of repression and unrest, which could bring about the very collapse that had been feared all along.

Nowhere did this seem more apt than in Xinjiang, where China's leaders continually appeared to mistake popular discontent for a growing insurgency. The 2009 protests in Ürümqi--following similar ones in Tibet--caused Party theorists to call for engineering a monocultural society, a single "state-race," to help pave the way for "a new type of superpower." One influential domestic-security official noted, "Stability is about liberating man, standardizing man, developing man."

A new Party secretary in Ürümqi began to pursue such a policy: women were told not to wear veils, Uyghur books and Web sites were banned, historic buildings were demolished. Within a few years, the downward spiral that Sun Liping had warned of began to occur. In the autumn of 2013, an Uyghur man, accompanied by two family members, plowed an S.U.V. into a crowd of tourists in Tiananmen Square--possibly because his local mosque had been damaged during a raid. The S.U.V., filled with homemade incendiary devices, caught fire. The man and his family died, but not before killing two pedestrians and injuring thirty-eight others.

Several months later, in Yunnan Province, a small group of assailants dressed in black stormed a train station and, wielding knives, brutally killed twenty-nine bystanders and injured more than a hundred and forty others. Although no organization claimed responsibility for the incident, an insurgent group based overseas celebrated the attack. The authorities declared that the assailants were Uyghur separatists, and in Beijing the incident was called "China's 9/11." Xi was enraged. "We should unite the people to build a copper and iron wall against terrorism," he told the Politburo. "Make terrorists like rats scurrying across the street, with everybody shouting, 'Beat them!' "

In April, 2014, Xi travelled to Xinjiang. At a police station in Kashgar, he examined weapons on a wall. "The methods that our comrades have at hand are too primitive," he said during the trip. "None of these weapons is any answer for their big machete blades, axe heads, and cold steel weapons." He added, "We must be as harsh as them, and show absolutely no mercy."

On the final day of his visit, two suicide bombers attacked a railway station in Ürümqi, injuring dozens of people and killing one. At a high-level meeting in Beijing, Xi railed against religious extremism. "It's like taking a drug," he said. "You lose your sense, go crazy, and will do anything."

Soon afterward, the Party leadership in Xinjiang announced a "People's War." The focus was on separatism, terrorism, and extremism--the "Three Evil Forces." The region's top official took up the campaign, but Xi grew dissatisfied with him, and two years later appointed a replacement: Chen Quanguo, then the Party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region--a tough-minded apparatchik whose loyalty was beyond question.

Ambitious and regimented, Chen had served in the military and then risen quickly through the political ranks. When he arrived in Tibet, in 2011, monks were immolating themselves--an urgent response to a long-running crackdown, which the Dalai Lama called a "cultural genocide." The crisis was generating international headlines.

In a place where oppression had become the norm, Chen did not stand out for his use of physical violence. Instead, he distinguished himself as a systematizer of authoritarian tactics, ready to target entire groups of people with methods that pervaded daily life.

The vast majority of self-immolations were occurring to the east of the autonomous region, so Chen tightened the borders of his jurisdiction, restricting entry for Tibetans from outside it. In Lhasa, he made it impossible to buy gas without an I.D. He built hundreds of urban police depots, called "convenience stations," which were arranged in close formation--an overwhelming display of force. He dispatched more than twenty thousand Communist Party cadres into villages and rural monasteries, to propagandize and to surveil. Some locals reported that members of volunteer groups called the Red Armband Patrols upended homes to confiscate photos of the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese authorities blamed for the unrest. Detentions appeared to rise. In 2012, when a large number of Tibetans travelled to India to receive a blessing from the Dalai Lama, Chen had them consigned to makeshift reëducation facilities.

The self-immolations continued in neighboring territories, but Chen's jurisdiction recorded only one in the next four years. "We have followed the law in striking out, and relentlessly pounding at illegal organizations and key figures," he declared. He had a flair for cultivating his superiors. In March, 2016, just before his appointment to Xinjiang, delegates from his region arrived at the National People's Congress, in Beijing, wearing pins with Xi's image on them--"a spontaneous act to show gratitude," state media noted. The Party deemed Chen's tactics a success.

In Xinjiang, Chen wore his thin, jet-black hair in a precise coiffure, and travelled with a security detail brought with him from Tibet. Rather than move into the Party secretary's residence, he set himself up in a hotel that was controlled by the government and secured by the People's Liberation Army. The building was in close proximity to facilities that housed police organizations, and Chen had a high-speed data line run from his residence into the region's digital-security infrastructure.

Xi had once compared reform to a meal, noting that after the meat is eaten what's left is hard to chew. Chen made it clear that he came to "gnaw bones." He titled one of his speeches "To Unswervingly Implement the Xinjiang Strategy of the Party Central Committee, with Comrade Xi Jinping at the Core."

His predecessor had borrowed from his Tibet strategy, deploying two hundred thousand Party cadres in Xinjiang. Chen increased their numbers to a million, and urged them to go from house to house, and grow "close to the masses, emotionally." Under a program called Becoming a Family, local Party officials introduced them to indigenous households, declaring, "These are your new relatives." Cadres imposed themselves, stopping by for meals; sometimes they were required to stay overnight. Terrified residents forced smiles, politely served them, engaged their questions, and even offered them their beds.

Assisted by Zhu Hailun, who by then had become the deputy Party leader of Xinjiang, Chen recruited tens of thousands of "assistant police officers," for a force that could implement mass arrests and also quell any unrest that they provoked. He began constructing thousands of "convenience stations," seeking to impose an "iron grid" on urban life. He set out to divide the population into three categories--trusted, average, untrustworthy--and to detain anyone who could not be proved sufficiently loyal.

In early 2017, half a year after Chen arrived, he prepared his leadership for a long, complex, and "very fierce" campaign. "Take this crackdown as the top project," he instructed them, noting that it was necessary "to preëmpt the enemy, to strike at the outset." The mission, he said, was to rip out the separatist problem by its roots. He expressed zero tolerance for any "two-faced" officials who were unwilling to zealously carry out his plan.

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


Report: Suicide Rates Actually Dropped In 2020 (RELEVANT, APRIL 5, 2021)

Suicide was the eleventh highest cause of mortality for Americans in 2020, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) -- dropping by 5.7 percent out of the previous year and out of the top ten causes of death for the first time in years. Suicide claimed the lives of 44,834 Americans last year, slightly lower than 47,511 in 2019, 48,344 in 2018, 47,173 in 2017 and 44,965 in 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Vital Statistics System.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


World's Biggest Wind Farm May Be Answer to Korea's Net-Zero Dream (Heesu Lee & Will Mathis, Mar. 31st, 2021, Bloomberg)

The fishing grounds where Jung Kuenbae and his forbears have caught shrimp, butterfish and croakers for three generations are going to be turned into the world's largest offshore wind farm. He's OK with that.

"I initially opposed the idea when the plan was proposed because it will destroy our livelihood," said Jung, who leads a group of local fishermen in some 200 ships that drop nets in the waters off the southwestern tip of the Korean peninsula. "But I realized the project is part of the country's transition to cleaner energy, which is something we have to come to terms with, rather than fighting against it."

The 48.5 trillion won ($42.8 billion) wind farm, to be built over the next decade off the southwest coast of the country, would generate up to 8.2 gigawatts of power, one of a catalog of grand projects the government wants to roll out with private sector backing to meet its ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why The Recent Violence Against Asian Americans May Solidify Their Support Of Democrats (Michael Tesler, 4/01/21, 538)

Over three-quarters of Asian American and Pacific Islanders voters who thought there was "a great deal" or "a lot" of anti-Asian discrimination in the U.S. supported Joe Biden over Donald Trump in weekly Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape surveys conducted from April to September 2020. But only 37 percent of Asian Americans who didn't think there was any anti-Asian discrimination preferred Biden to Trump in the presidential election.

Political scientists Alexander Kuo, Neil Malhotra and Cecilia Mo have argued that Asian Americans who experience discrimination are more likely to support Democrats because they associate social exclusion based on their ethnic background with the predominantly white Republican Party. Take, for example, what Kuo, Malhotra and Mo found in one experiment. Some participants were randomly subjected to a microaggression from a white lab assistant who questioned their citizenship before having them answer a survey that measured political attitudes. The Asian Americans subjected to the microaggression were 13 percentage points more likely than the control group to view the Democratic Party in a positive light.

This uptick came at the expense, too, of how respondents thought about the Republican Party. That is, the Asian Americans who were subjected to the microaggression were more likely to say that Republicans were close-minded and associate the party with exclusionary treatment. That is something that has been made much more explicit during the pandemic.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Struggle for Empathy Within the Border Patrol's "Culture of Cruelty" (Todd Miller, April 5, 2021, Lit Hub)

During Lenihan's training for the US Border Patrol, a drill sergeant yelled at him for 69 days. In role-playing scenarios, he was assaulted and beaten as part of his training. Police-grade pepper spray was shot into his eyes as he did jumping jacks. He underwent 77 hours of intensive firearms training, often using outlines of human torsos and heads as targets. The lines of good and bad, innocent and evil, legal and illegal were drawn clearly every day.

Yet when Agent Brendan Lenihan clasped Rogelio's callused hands in their common struggle to carry Roberto to safety, for a fleeting moment, the border was gone. With it went his uniform, badge, laws, and gun. In their place was a bridge, across which he could see and feel the world from Rogelio's side--his longing, his love, his family, and his anguish and despair. As the black bile continued to ooze out of the boy's mouth, Rogelio looked at Brendan with a terrified grimace. Then the radio crackled, calling Lenihan back to the US Border Patrol once again. For Roberto, in the agent's arms, the border had never left. It continued to kill him.

The helicopter wouldn't be able to safely land by the car. They landed instead at a nearby clearing. As Brendan snapped back to protocol, the previous moment remained with him--a transformative moment, a bridge to another reality. "I usually have hands-on contact with someone just long enough to put on handcuffs and send them away, and there I was, holding hands with someone I'd usually just arrest."

"As a border patrol agent," Lenihan said, "you have a muted sense of empathy because you see so much all the time that you just don't know how to cope."

Brendan's empathy transcended Border Patrol training and culture. No More Deaths, a humanitarian aid organization that compiled thousands of testimonies of people who were abused during short-term detention, charged the Border Patrol with producing "a culture of cruelty" in a 2011 report. Sean C. Chapman, the lawyer of Agent Matthew Bowen, who in 2019 faced federal charges for hitting a Guatemalan man, Antolín López Aguilar, with his Border Patrol truck, gave a glimpse into this culture during the trial. Chapman was forced to explain the trove of text messages from Bowen uncovered by prosecutors, one of which described migrants as "disgusting subhuman shit unworthy of being kindling for a fire."

Throughout his text conversations, Bowen used the word "tonk"--onomatopoeia for the sound of an agent's flashlight striking a person's head. Chapman made a startling claim, throwing the "bad apple" narrative to the wind: In Bowen's defense, he stated that the denigrating language used by his client was "commonplace throughout the Border Patrol's Tucson sector, and that it is part of the agency's culture." All of this underscores what Greg Grandin wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The End of the Myth: The U.S. Border Patrol has been "a frontline instrument of white supremacist power" since its founding in 1924.

Over the years, I have interviewed many agents in many settings, from government offices to private homes. While these interviews and other reporting confirm the existence of a top-down, violent, and dehumanizing culture among border enforcement personnel, it is much more difficult to generalize about the agents themselves. Talking one on one, I have met agents whose attitudes span a wide spectrum. For example, one agent attempted to justify using snipers to shoot at "aliens" if they were suspected of smuggling. When I asked the agent how he could identify who was a smuggler, he replied that smugglers have phones, and pointed to his hip.

While these interviews and other reporting confirm the existence of a top-down, violent, and dehumanizing culture among border enforcement personnel, it is much more difficult to generalize about the agents themselves.
Another agent I interviewed was an expert marksman in charge of conducting trainings at a shooting range, but admitted that he hated guns. He told me he had vowed to write a scathing account of the Border Patrol when he retired. A former agent was a thoughtful historian who, while working for the Border Patrol, spoke critically about US drug laws and advocated for legalization. His mother was from Chihuahua, Mexico, and he joined the Border Patrol after he lost his job at Circuit City when the company went under in 2007. But the Border Patrol job did not last either. His pride in his Mexican ancestry and his advocacy for marijuana legalization ended up drawing the attention of those in higher command, who fired him. Even though 50 percent of the Border Patrol agents are Latinx, when they show pride in their heritage, if they dare, their loyalty to the United States is questioned.

After a long interview at another agent's house, the man invited me to join him for dinner. His openness and hospitality, as with many of my other interviewees, challenged my preexisting expectations and biases. Becoming sympathetic to Border Patrol agents, even liking some of them, has had an odd effect on me. I began to see that the agents were the most visible elements, yet only a small part of a much bigger system that included paper pushers, policy-makers, politicians, and private corporations that sell bullets and weapons and high-tech cameras for a profit.

Focusing solely on the agents obscures this vast and hidden world of the border-enforcement apparatus--a world funded by everybody in the United States who pays taxes. And through taxes, my own connection to this apparatus is direct. I pay the agents' salaries, I pay for the drones, I pay for the groundsweeping radar systems and aerostats, I pay for the detention centers, I pay the administrators who sign into policy the most heinous treatment of our fellow human beings. I play a part in perpetuating a system that sustains a world of catastrophic inequalities where 2,153 billionaires have more money than 4.6 billion people--60 percent of the world population. Our taxes enforce such hierarchies of inequality and determine who can move across certain lines of division and who cannot, who serves and who is served. Individual agents are cogs in a complex machine made of disposable parts. If they do not sufficiently conform to this system, if they do not conform to the militant enforcement of US borders, they get fired. This grander theater spares no one, including the agents, in its inhumanity. And, as Francisco Cantú writes about in The Line Becomes a River, the theater doesn't spare the agents from the nightmares and the trauma.

Another blockade to empathy fits right into this. According to Krznaric, it is "the human tendency to obey authority." He uses the example of one of the administrators of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann, who claimed no responsibility for his actions during his 1961 trial. Eichmann's defense was that he was simply "doing his job." Part of that job was to abide by the Nazi classifications of people such as Untermenschen--subhumans--the category given to Jews, Roma, Slavs, and people of color. It is also worth remembering that Adolph Hitler praised US immigration law in 1936 by saying that the United States was "making progress toward a healthy racial order."

As political theorist Hannah Arendt famously pointed out, there was nothing psychopathic about Eichmann: He was a fairly typical person who "did his duty" and "not only obeyed orders but obeyed the law." He was, Arendt said, "terribly and terrifyingly normal." The same is true for most of the Border Patrol agents I've met and interviewed. Once, in a weekly birthing class, I was awkwardly paired for weeks with an agent who was also expecting a child. When we shared what we did, he said he worked for the Border Patrol. I said I wrote about the border. And we just left it at that. Most agents want to enjoy their days off with their families and friends. Yet all must obey the top-down command structure. If they do not obey authority, they lose their jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Scientists Need to Admit What They Got Wrong About Covid (C. Brandon Ogbunu, 4/04/21, Wired)

From the beginning of the pandemic, misinformation and disinformation were not mere nuisances, but defining forces in the global response. And their most influential authors were not only renegade "doctors" with YouTube channels, but government officials directly responsible for the pandemic policy.

At the very least, bad information stymied or derailed public conversation about the science of Covid. The truth is more grim: The doubt that was inspired by bad faith actors drove formal public health policies (or non-policies). Skepticism and science denial had stakes far greater than the winner of a Twitter spat. Simple unknowns were weaponized, and many Covid lies were actively orchestrated and propagated in order to sow doubt about the way that science works, sometimes for political gain.

In the face of this, the scientific community's reluctance to come clean about uncertainties and missteps are not only understandable, but even appropriate: There is a time and place to have abstract debates about the true meaning of "efficacy," and a time to act on the information that we have in service of the public good. The pandemic, and the millions of lives (globally) that we lost in its wake, qualify as a large enough emergency that one can forgive a little chest-thumping bravado: We're scientists, we've spent decades studying this stuff, and your bull[****] is harming people. We, experts and the informed citizen-science public, might know that science is a process that cannot exist without accumulating new data and discarding old ideas. But much of the public is unaware of how this process actually works. Our "trust me, I'm a scientist" appeals can be misguided.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Compulsory Vaccination Is American As Apple Pie -- And Old As The Revolution (Mia Brett, Apr. 4th, 2021, National Memo)

Compulsory vaccination policies in this country began during the American Revolution. Smallpox was a huge threat to the Continental Army and word of the disease was actually halting enlistments. In order to protect soldiers and the war effort, General Washington ordered all new recruits receive the "variolation" for smallpox in 1776. The policy was successful at eradicating smallpox among soldiers, which helped the Continental Army defeat the British invasion at Saratoga.

The first law that required the general population get vaccinated was passed in Massachusetts in 1809. The state empowered local boards of health for towns to require free vaccinations of people over 21 if the boards felt it was necessary. If a person refused, they had to pay a $5 fine (about $100 in today's money). States across the country followed with their own compulsory smallpox vaccination laws though the specifics varied widely. Some only required compulsory vaccinations in the midst of an epidemic. Some only required vaccinations for children attending schools.

New York City exercised particularly broad power in allowing health officials to enforce vaccinations or quarantines. As a busy international harbor, the city felt particularly threatened by incoming diseases. As a result, immigrants and ships were often required to quarantine. Unfortunately, these policies often took on a distinctly anti-immigrant and nativist turn. Public health officials often blamed poor immigrants for spreading diseases rather than engaging in education to encourage vaccine compliance.

Common policy in the late 19th century was to place a yellow flag in front of an infected building and not allow anyone in or out. However, there weren't clear guidelines on forcing a person to comply with a vaccination if they didn't want to. As a result, in 1894, Brooklyn's top health official Z. Taylor Emery would often enforce quarantines, to the point of not allowing provisions to be delivered, on those who refused being vaccinated. Emery's arbitrary and coercive policies resulted in backlash but the appeals court supported Emery's rationale of protecting the public.

In 1905, the question of compulsory vaccination laws made it to the United States Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. At the time, Massachusetts was one of 11 states that had compulsory vaccination laws. Jacobson was a Swedish immigrant who had a bad experience with a childhood vaccination. He refused the smallpox vaccination as an adult in Massachusetts. Jacobson was prosecuted and fined for refusing. He challenged the fine, claiming it was an invasion of his liberty. In a 7-2 decision the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory vaccination laws are not arbitrary or oppressive, as long as they don't "go so far beyond what was reasonably required for the safety of the public." Jacobson was affirmed in 1922 in Zucht v. King to support a school district refusing admittance to a student who was not vaccinated. 

April 4, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


The Christian Invention of the Human Person (CAMERON HILDITCH, April 4, 2021, National Review)

The advent of Christianity overturned this old order of the ages, which had reigned more or less unchallenged since the dawn of civilization until the first Easter morning in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. The proclamation of the first Christians -- that God had become man -- obliterated the conception of personhood that predominated in the ancient world. If Jesus is a "persona," as the apostolic and patristic fathers of the Church maintained, and he has died and been raised as a representative of the entire race, then we are all more than society and the state would make of us. A gap opens up between our identity and our social obligations. The individual sets foot on the stage of human history for the first time. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Or, as Siedentop puts it:

For Paul, belief in the Christ makes possible the emergence of a primary role shared equally by all ("the equality of souls"), while conventional social roles -- whether of father, daughter, official, priest or slave -- become secondary in relation to that primary role. To this primary role an indefinite number of social roles may or may not be added as the attributes of a subject, but they no longer define the subject. That is the freedom which Paul's conception of the Christ introduces into human identity.

It's almost impossible for us to get a real sense of just how earth-shattering the millennia-long aftershock of Easter has been on our civilization. We are all in our moral sensibilities and basic worldview creatures of Christianity to such a great extent that we cannot see it from the vantage point of a pre-Christian society without tremendous imaginative effort. We cannot feel in our bones the farcical, blasphemous lunacy of a criminal, a non habens personam, speaking to a powerful ruler the way that Jesus speaks to Pilate near the climax of John's gospel. As for the crucifixion itself, the theologian David Bentley Hart is correct when he writes that,

try though we might, we shall never really be able to see Christ's broken, humiliated, and doomed humanity as something self-evidently contemptible and ridiculous; we are instead, in a very real sense, destined to see it as encompassing the very mystery of our own humanity: a sublime fragility, at once tragic and magnificent, pitiable and wonderful.

The contingency of everything we think decent and valuable about ourselves and our society upon the sorrows and the triumph of this one man, in whose luminous shadow we have all lived for the last 2,000 years, consistently eludes us. We forget that in a historically demonstrable way, we in the West owe our sense of common universal humanity entirely to Jesus of Nazareth and his Church. Even the smallest details of the Easter story, like the tears of St. Peter after his betrayal of Jesus, signal the radical discontinuity of the Christian revolution from what came before to an extent that we're utterly blind to today. As Hart movingly points out:

What is obvious to us -- Peter's wounded soul, the profundity of his devotion to his teacher, the torment of his guilt, the crushing knowledge that Christ's imminent death forever foreclosed the possibility of seeking forgiveness for his betrayal -- is obvious in very large part because we are the heirs of a culture that, in a sense, sprang from Peter's tears. To us, this rather small and ordinary narrative detail is unquestionably an ornament of the story, one that ennobles it, proves its gravity, widens its embrace of our common humanity. In this sense, all of us -- even unbelievers -- are "Christians" in our moral expectations of the world. To the literate classes of late antiquity, however, this tale of Peter weeping would more likely have seemed an aesthetic mistake; for Peter, as a rustic, could not possibly have been a worthy object of a well-bred man's sympathy, nor could his grief possibly have possessed the sort of tragic dignity necessary to make it worthy of anyone's notice. . . . This is not merely a violation of good taste; it is an act of rebellion.

As Siedentop recounts in Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, the intervening centuries between the first Easter and today have seen a long, uneven, and imperfect effort to translate the Christian belief in universal human dignity into social and political realities. Contrary to what the enemies of Christianity allege, the Enlightenment was much less of a break with what preceded it and much more indebted to centuries of Christian moral osmosis: It was not a sudden kickstart of reason after ages of enforced ignorance. The scholar Brian Tierney notes that already by 1300 a number of rights were regularly claimed and defended on the basis of the Christian understanding of personhood: "They would include rights to property, rights of consent to government, rights of self-defence, rights of infidels, marriage rights, procedural rights," and also measures to make these rights enforceable against positive law. To the extent that we see ourselves as rights-bearing individuals with real responsibilities, we are all cultural artifacts of Easter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Police crackdowns on illicit massage businesses pose harms to the women they aim to help (Douglas MacMillan and  Abha Bhattarai, April 3, 2021, Washington Post)

In their efforts to rein in illicit massage businesses across the country, police sometimes rely on sting operations in which undercover officers engage in sex acts with spa workers, according to law enforcement experts and police records reviewed by The Post. While such tactics are generally permitted by law, policymakers are beginning to propose new limits on physical contact by police, which they say serves to dehumanize -- and potentially traumatize -- the very women the raids are purportedly meant to help. The spa owners and operators targeted by law enforcement, experts said, often go unpunished.

The incidents in Coweta County "stand out as both egregious and probably fairly typical," said Erin Albright, an anti-trafficking expert who trains law enforcement agents on how to reform their policies to better support victims.

"I do not believe for a second that whatever the state's interest might be justifies investigators getting naked and having the worker engage in physical contact of any sort," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Netanyahu's far-right allies seethe after Islamist MK's call for cooperation (Times of Israel, 4/04/21)

A primetime speech by Ra'am party chairman Mansour Abbas, in which he called for political cooperation between Jews and Arabs, drew praise from some left-wing and right-wing politicians on Thursday night.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right allies, however, were seething, with Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich reportedly refusing to take the premier's phone calls to discuss the prospect of forming a right-wing government supported by Ra'am. [...]

Ra'am could possibly put either Netanyahu or his opponents over the 61-seat mark, crowning the next premier. But right-wing politicians, both in the pro-Netanyahu bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc, have ruled out basing a coalition on the party's support, due to what they say is an anti-Zionist stance; others have accused Ra'am of supporting terrorists.

Opposition is strongest in the pro-Netanyahu bloc which includes the far-right Religious Zionism party.

Imagine that: a corrupt pol who doesn't actually share the beliefs of the followers he exploits for personal gain? 

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


A Moment Of Unexpected Wisdom From Alaska (Connie Schultz, April 04 | 2021, National Memo)

From Palin's statement to People magazine: "Through it all, I view wearing that cumbersome mask indoors in a crowd as not only allowing the newfound luxury of being incognito, but trust it's better than doing nothing to slow the spread."

COVID-19 can "really knock you down," she added.

As of this week, the virus has killed more than 550,000 people in the U.S. Nevertheless, a recent PBS Newshour/NPR/Marist poll recently reported that 41 percent of Republicans, and 49 percent of Republican men, are not planning to get vaccinated.

And here I am, insisting that I want those Republican men to live.

I am grateful to the former governor of Alaska for speaking out, and I hope her recovery is swift and full. I also hope all those Republican men who admire Sarah Palin will now find the courage to bare their mighty arms for that little needle that is saving lives.

As for the rest of you: Be Sarah, my fellow Americans.

For a little while longer, wear a mask.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Two Korean Americans in Congress pull endorsements of Sery Kim over her comments on Chinese immigrants (Gromer Jeffers Jr., Apr 2, 2021, Dallas Morning News)

California GOP Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel, both of Korean descent, have pulled their endorsements of Sery Kim, a candidate in the race to replace Ron Wright in Texas' 6th Congressional District.

Kim, a Korean immigrant who worked in former President Donald Trump's administration, confirmed Friday that she had lost the backing of the trailblazing Korean members of the U.S. House.

During an Arlington forum Wednesday, Kim had criticized Chinese immigrants.

"I don't want them here at all," she said. "They steal our intellectual property, they give us coronavirus, they don't hold themselves accountable."

She added: "Quite frankly, I can say that because I'm Korean."

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


How China is Responding to Escalating Strategic Competition with the U.S. (Ryan Hass, March 1, 2021, China Leadership Monitor)

China's Evaluation of the United States

There appears to be broad agreement among officials and experts in China that America's power in the international system is declining relative to China's. Many Chinese experts diagnose America's anxiety about its relative decline as driving its reflexive efforts to undermine China's rise.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave expression to this viewpoint, for example, in his end-of-year interview with Xinhua on January 2, 2021. Reflecting on U.S.-China relations over the previous year, Wang concluded:

In recent years, China-US relations have run into unprecedented difficulties. Fundamentally, it comes down to serious misconceptions of U.S. policymakers about China. Some see China as the so-called biggest threat and their China policy based on this misperception is simply wrong. What has happened proves that the U.S. attempt to suppress China and start a new Cold War has not just seriously harmed the interests of the two peoples, but also caused severe disruptions to the world. ...China policy toward the United States is consistent and stable.[3]

In other words, Wang put forward Beijing's boilerplate explanation for the downturn in relations - it's America's fault.

There are a diminishing number of Chinese officials or experts who remain willing, at least visibly, to question this explanation of the downturn in U.S.-China relations. One of the few to do so, albeit subtly, is Wang Jisi, president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University. In a January 2021 op-ed, Wang observed, "Our actions at home and in the world determine to a large extent the attitude of the U.S. toward us. I believe that China, not the United States, can turn the tide of U.S.-China relations at historical junctures, although this position may be debatable." [...]

Will China's Strategy Work?

It remains an open question as to whether China's medium-term strategy will enable China to overcome hurdles that stand in the way of achieving its national ambitions. China's strategic choices are not made in a vacuum. Chinese actions often generate reactions, whether at home or abroad.    

For example, China's tightening grip on the corporate sector appears to elevate control over innovation. This raises a fundamental question about whether a system that presses for conformity and adherence to plans is capable of allowing the unorthodox and boundary-testing thinking that is the lifeblood of next-generation innovations. Such constraints may partly explain why some of China's most creative minds, such as the founders of the video-conferencing service Zoom and chipmaker Nvidia, along with many of the world's leading AI researchers, have chosen to pursue their goals outside of China.

Beneath China's flashy economic growth numbers, there also are flashing warning signs about the long-term health of the economy. One such indicator is the declining growth in productivity - or output per worker and unit of capital. China's economy is only 30 percent as productive as the world's best-performing economies, such as the U.S., Japan, or Germany, according to the IMF.[41] And as China's aging population demands more resources for social services, this will place stress on the government's ability to continue propping up growth with government expenditures and state-sector investments.

China also confronts questions about whether its pursuit of technological self-sufficiency is achievable or practical as a policy goal. Without access to advanced lithography and other critical external inputs for semiconductor manufacturing, it will be very difficult for China to produce cutting-edge chips that are necessary inputs for China to achieve its technological ambitions. The more adversarial Beijing's relationship with other advanced powers becomes, the more longshot will its attempts be to achieve technological self-reliance.  

Similarly, China's domestic policies are failing to win over the Chinese who live along the country's borders. There are growing numbers of examples of ethnic Mongols, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and others chafing at Beijing's intrusive involvement in their lives and its attempts to impose cultural conformity.[42] Ditto for Hong Kong.[43] The tighter Beijing squeezes, the more that negative attitudes toward China appear to be hardening along the country's inner periphery and in many parts of the world.[44] The United States government already has characterized China's conduct in Xinjiang as an act of genocide.[45]

Furthermore, China's stated ambitions and determined efforts to become a world leader in an expanding number of high technology fields, and to push for rules and norms around those technologies that reflect Beijing's illiberal tendencies, have generated unease in many parts of the Western world. In response, London has proposed the establishment of a D-10 of leading powers (G-7+ Australia, South Korea, India) to pool resources and align policies to accelerate development of new technologies in democratic societies.

By a similar token, the more loudly nationalistic China's diplomacy becomes, the more alarmed many Western countries have become about China's domestic and foreign policy trend-lines. China's expanding interests overseas will demand a greater Chinese presence. Already, as the PLA Navy has become more active beyond its immediate periphery, so too has the level of coordination among other powers in response. This trend can be seen in the Indian Ocean, where there have been corresponding increases in Chinese naval activity alongside rising security coordination among like-minded powers (i.e., "The Quad," Australia, India, Japan, the United States).    

Perhaps for some of these reasons, some Chinese experts have been urging sobriety in evaluations of China's position in the international system. For example, Renmin University scholar and government advisor Shi Yinhong recently cautioned:

China's chances of filling the vacuum created by the Trump administration's abandonment of America's original "global leadership role" are limited, and indeed smaller than many at home and abroad predicted. The appeal of China's "soft power" in the world, the resources and experiences available to China, are quite limited, and the domestic and international obstacles China will encounter, including the complexities created by the coronavirus pandemic, are considerable.[46]

Experts such as Shi Yinhong appear to be warning against presupposing that China will continue to ascend on a linear trajectory indefinitely in the direction of its national ambitions.

Having grown old before it grew rich and suffering both the same economic limitations as Japan did and the political deformation that the USSR did, China had an awful lot of eggs in Donald Trump's declinism and approval of their Nationalism.  He's gone.   

April 3, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Derek Chauvin's Lawyer Said "Angry" Bystanders Were A Threat To Cops. Here's What The Videos Actually Show. (Tasneem Nashrulla & Clarissa-Jan Lim, 4/03/21, BuzzFeed News)

Some of the bystanders witnessing George Floyd dying with Derek Chavin's knee on his neck on May 25, 2020.

Four teenagers, a 9-year-old girl, a 61-year-old man, and an off-duty firefighter were among a group of bystanders who witnessed, with growing horror and distress, George Floyd take his last breaths under the weight of Derek Chauvin's knee on May 25, 2020.

They are also the people whom Chauvin's attorney, Eric Nelson, has repeatedly characterized as an "angry" crowd that became a growing "threat" to the four police officers, causing them "to divert their attention from the care" of Floyd. It's a central argument in the former Minneapolis cop's defense.

But hours of surveillance video, body camera footage, and cellphone recordings played in court during the first week of Chauvin's murder trial tell a different story: The crowd wasn't uncontrollable, but they were concerned that Chauvin was killing Floyd before their very eyes.

The witnesses testified this week that they complied with officers' demands while pleading with them to check Floyd's pulse. Many screamed at Chauvin to get off of Floyd. One witness who had a background in mixed martial arts told Chauvin he was cutting off Floyd's oxygen supply and called him "a bum." Another bystander, an off-duty firefighter, was so distressed with what she was seeing, she offered to take Floyd's pulse herself.

Prosecutors argued that none of the bystanders attacked, threatened, or physically engaged with the officers at any point. A senior Minneapolis police official testified that the onlookers were not a threat to the officers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


How Trump Steered Supporters Into Unwitting Donations (Shane Goldmacher, April 3, 2021, NY Times)

Stacy Blatt was in hospice care last September listening to Rush Limbaugh's dire warnings about how badly Donald J. Trump's campaign needed money when he went online and chipped in everything he could: $500.

It was a big sum for a 63-year-old battling cancer and living in Kansas City on less than $1,000 per month. But that single contribution -- federal records show it was his first ever -- quickly multiplied. Another $500 was withdrawn the next day, then $500 the next week and every week through mid-October, without his knowledge -- until Mr. Blatt's bank account had been depleted and frozen. When his utility and rent payments bounced, he called his brother, Russell, for help.

What the Blatts soon discovered was $3,000 in withdrawals by the Trump campaign in less than 30 days. They called their bank and said they thought they were victims of fraud.

"It felt," Russell said, "like it was a scam."

But what the Blatts believed was duplicity was actually an intentional scheme to boost revenues by the Trump campaign and the for-profit company that processed its online donations, WinRed. Facing a cash crunch and getting badly outspent by the Democrats, the campaign had begun last September to set up recurring donations by default for online donors, for every week until the election.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


President Biden: 'Let us recommit ourselves to the lessons of Easter' (Joe Biden, 4/02/21, Religion News Service)

As Easter heralds the return of spring, we see signs of hope all around us. More than 100 million vaccine shots have been administered in fewer than 9 weeks, with more Americans joining the ranks of the vaccinated every day. Families are getting the financial relief they need to take a breath. Businesses are beginning to recover. And more and more of our children's schools are opening up safely once again.

The crisis is not over -- we cannot let our guard down, and we still have work to do -- but there is hope in the darkness.

For Christians, there is no greater symbol of hope and possibility than Easter -- and in this season, it is our responsibility to reflect the light we see by working to ensure a better year ahead. We have a duty to care for all those who are hurting: to provide food to the millions of Americans who are hungry; to keep a roof over the heads of families pushed to the brink; to treat those on the front lines of this crisis with dignity, and to deliver them greater relief and peace of mind.

And we each have a duty -- both spiritual and patriotic -- to get vaccinated when it is our turn, and to encourage our friends and loved ones to do the same so that we can beat this virus and hasten the day when we can celebrate holidays together once again.

As we commemorate this holiest of days, let us recommit ourselves to the lessons of Easter. Let us love and care for our neighbors -- as Jesus did, and as we've seen so many ordinary, extraordinary people do over the course of this difficult year. Let us all do our part to end this pandemic by wearing masks, maintaining a safe distance and getting vaccinated so that we can save countless lives and return fully to our communities, our congregations and the people we love. And let us continue to seek out the light around us and help it grow.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New Report Depicts Trump Voters As 'Angry, Despondent, Powerless' (Alex Henderson, Apr. 3rd, 2021)

In a March 26 report, Democracy Corps explained, "We conducted focus groups in March with Trump loyalists in Georgia and Wisconsin and Trump-aligned, non-Trump conservatives and moderates in suburban and rural Georgia, Ohio and Wisconsin. It took a long time to recruit these groups because Trump voters seemed particularly distrustful of outsiders right now, wary of being victimized, and avoided revealing their true position until in a Zoom room with all Trump voters -- then, they let it all out."

Democracy Corps found that "the Trump loyalists and Trump-aligned were angry, but also, despondent, feeling powerless and uncertain they will become more involved in politics.... The Trump loyalists and the Trump-aligned are animated about government taking away their freedom and a cancel culture that leaves no place for White Americans and the fear they're losing 'their' country to non-Whites."

Democracy Corps also found that "Trump loyalists and the Trump- aligned" were "angered most of all by Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa" and believe those movements "were responsible for a full year of violence in Democratic cities that put White people on the defensive -- and was ignored by the media."

Meanwhile, Democracy Corps found "the non-Trump conservatives and moderates bloc" to be "marginally smaller but vocal in opposition to Trump's direction and animated by his alienation of non-Republicans, the extremism, the 2nd Amendment and guns, and role of government and more."

They can't be Great Replaced fast enough. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


US reaches 100 million with vaccines as Europe faces fresh hurdles (SHAUN TANDON, 4/03/21, Times of Israel)

The United States reaped the fruits Friday of its vaccination campaign against COVID-19 as it became the first nation to reach 100 million inoculated people, but Europe's rollout faced fresh impediments and South America tightened restrictions in the face of Brazil's soaring infections.

The US reported surging job growth and loosened travel curbs as it neared reaching half of its adult population with at least one dose, with President Joe Biden vowing to cover the vast majority within weeks.

Led by a revival in the leisure and hospitality industries, the US economy created a mammoth 916,000 jobs in March, the Labor Department said.

Kamala is going to coast to re-election. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Suspect in US Capitol attack was follower of Farrakhan, raged against government (Times of Israel, 4/02/21)

The suspect in Friday's deadly ramming attack on the US Capitol was a follower of the Black nationalist Nation of Islam movement led by the anti-Semitic minister Louis Farrakhan, according to US media reports. [...]

The Nation of Islam posts discussed the decline of the US, including a Farrakhan speech Green shared on March 17 called "The Divine Destruction of America." On the same day, he posted a photo showing he had made a donation to a Virginia chapter of the Nation of Islam. Green also posted on social media about the "end times" and anti-Christ.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tom Cotton calls out MLB for punishing Georgia over voting law while partnering with communist China (Andrew Mark Miller,  April 02, 2021, Washington Examiner)

"Hey @MLB, how many days of early voting are allowed in China?" the Arkansas Republican tweeted after MLB released a statement slamming the Georgia law and suggesting it would restrict voting access and that it didn't align with the "values" of the league.

Comparing the GOP to the PRC goes well with Donald's support for Uighur genocide and putting down Hon King "riots."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Blinken seeks Israel's 'equal' treatment of Palestinians (Agence France-Presse, April 02, 2021)

In a telephone call with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Blinken "emphasized the administration's belief that Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy equal measures of freedom, security, prosperity and democracy," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

He must mean a different Israel. 

April 2, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The staying power of the stay-at-home economy (Erica Pandey, 4/02/21, Axios)

Remote work has become the ultimate privilege, giving those who can work from home sovereignty over time and place, Reeves says. Going to work every day used to be something of an equalizer. The pandemic dismantled that.

Remote office workers can come and go as they please, spend more time with family, or even work from exotic locations. In-person workers, who tend to be lower-skilled and lower-income, still have to deal with the rigidity of clocking in and clocking out -- and juggling child care, health care and life around it.

For example, the Ford Motor Company recently announced all of its office workers can telework as often as they like. But all of the workers in production don't have that option.

"We're going to keep seeing this growth of home being the epicenter of life," says Zara Ingilizian, an expert on the future of consumption at the World Economic Forum. 

April 1, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


Here's how much money Americans in their 40s have in their 401(k) accounts (Nadine El-Bawab, 4/01/21, CNBC)

To help you know if you're on track, retirement-plan provider Fidelity set benchmarks for how much you should have saved at every age. By 40, Fidelity recommends having three times your salary put away.

If you earn $50,000 a year, you should aim to have $150,000 in retirement savings by the time you are 40. If your annual salary is $100,000 a year, you should aim to have $300,000 saved.

The average 401(k) balance for Americans between the ages of 40 and 49 is $120,800 as of the fourth quarter of 2020, according to data from Fidelity's retirement platform.

Americans in this age group contribute an average of 8.9% of their salaries.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Confirmed! We Live in a Simulation (Fouad Khan, April 1, 2021, Scientific American)

Space is to our universe what numbers are to the simulated reality in any computer. Matter moving through space can simply be seen as operations happening on the variable space. If matter is moving at say 1,000 miles per second, then 1,000 miles worth of space is being transformed by a function, or operated upon every second. If there were some hardware running the simulation called "space" of which matter, energy, you, me, everything is a part, then one telltale sign of the artifact of the hardware within the simulated reality "space" would be a maximum limit on the container size for space on which one operation can be performed. Such a limit would appear in our universe as a maximum speed.

This maximum speed is the speed of light. We don't know what hardware is running the simulation of our universe or what properties it has, but one thing we can say now is that the memory container size for the variable space would be about 300,000 kilometers if the processor performed one operation per second.

This helps us arrive at an interesting observation about the nature of space in our universe. If we are in a simulation, as it appears, then space is an abstract property written in code. It is not real. It is analogous to the numbers seven million and one in our example, just different abstract representations on the same size memory block. Up, down, forward, backward, 10 miles, a million miles, these are just symbols. The speed of anything moving through space (and therefore changing space or performing an operation on space) represents the extent of the causal impact of any operation on the variable "space." This causal impact cannot extend beyond about 300,000 km given the universe computer performs one operation per second.

We can see now that the speed of light meets all the criteria of a hardware artifact identified in our observation of our own computer builds. It remains the same irrespective of observer (simulated) speed, it is observed as a maximum limit, it is unexplainable by the physics of the universe, and it is absolute. The speed of light is a hardware artifact showing we live in a simulated universe.

But this is not the only indication that we live in a simulation. Perhaps the most pertinent indication has been hiding right in front of our eyes. Or rather behind them. To understand what this critical indication is, we need to go back to our empirical study of simulations we know of. Imagine a character in a role-playing game (RPG), say a Sim or the player character in Grand Theft Auto. The algorithm that represents the character and the algorithm that represents the game environment in which the character operates are intertwined at many levels. But even if we assume that the character and the environment are separate, the character does not need a visual projection of its point of view in order to interact with the environment.

The algorithms take into account some of the environmental variables and some of the character's state variables to project and determine the behavior of both the environment and the character. The visual projection or what we see on the screen is for our benefit. It is a subjective projection of some of the variables within the program so that we can experience the sensation of being in the game. The audiovisual projection of the game is an integrated subjective interface for the benefit of us, essentially someone controlling the simulation. The integrated subjective interface has no other reason to exist except to serve us. A similar thought experiment can be run with movies. Movies often go into the point of view of characters and try to show us things from their perspective. Whether or not a particular movie scene does that or not, what's projected on the screen and the speakers--the integrated experience of the film--has no purpose for the characters in the film. It is entirely for our benefit.

Pretty much since the dawn of philosophy we have been asking the question: Why do we need consciousness? What purpose does it serve? Well, the purpose is easy to extrapolate once we concede the simulation hypothesis. Consciousness is an integrated (combining five senses) subjective interface between the self and the rest of the universe. The only reasonable explanation for its existence is that it is there to be an "experience." That's its primary raison d'être. Parts of it may or may not provide any kind of evolutionary advantage or other utility. But the sum total of it exists as an experience and hence must have the primary function of being an experience. An experience by itself as a whole is too energy-expensive and information-restrictive to have evolved as an evolutionary advantage. The simplest explanation for the existence of an experience or qualia is that it exists for the purpose of being an experience.

There is nothing in philosophy or science, no postulates, theories or laws, that would predict the emergence of this experience we call consciousness. Natural laws do not call for its existence, and it certainly does not seem to offer us any evolutionary advantages. There can only be two explanations for its existence. First is that there are evolutionary forces at work that we don't know of or haven't theorized yet that select for the emergence of the experience called consciousness. The second is that the experience is a function we serve, a product that we create, an experience we generate as human beings. Who do we create this product for? How do they receive the output of the qualia generating algorithms that we are? We don't know. But one thing's for sure, we do create it. We know it exists. That's the only thing we can be certain about. And that we don't have a dominant theory to explain why we need it.

So here we are generating this product called consciousness that we apparently don't have a use for, that is an experience and hence must serve as an experience. The only logical next step is to surmise that this product serves someone else.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Erection of a Placebo: When yesterday's placebo is tomorrow's treatment (NeuroskepticMarch 29, 2021, Discover)

MED3000 originated from Futura's efforts to treat ED with glyceryl trinitrate (nitroglycerin). Nitroglycerin is known to affect blood flow. The company created a nitroglycerin gel and called it MED2005, and carried out a randomized controlled trial comparing MED2005 to a placebo gel, which was identical except that it didn't contain any nitroglycerin.

The results of the first nitroglycerin trial were published in 2018. MED2005 performed slightly better than the placebo gel, but the difference was fairly small.

Futura ran a second trial of MED2005 vs. placebo gel. This study has not been published yet as far as I know, but Futura have revealed some of the results.

In the second trial, nitroglycerin MED2005 "did not achieve a difference" compared to placebo on the primary outcome measures. But both groups showed strong improvement in erectile function - even the patients on placebo. Boldly, Futura decided to turn the former placebo gel into a product in its own right, calling it MED3000.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Immigrants do not steal our jobs, they create them in the economy (STEPHEN MOORE AND DAVID SIMON, 03/30/21, The Hill)

Decades of comprehensive economic analyses show that immigrants improve the U.S. economy and raise Americans' incomes. They reduce unemployment and have little to no negative effect on the wages of native-born American workers. Skilled immigrants particularly benefit the U.S. economy; they raise wages for native-born American workers.

Let's not forget that there are today some 6 million jobs unfilled because of a lack of skills or because some service and agriculture jobs have almost always been filled by immigrants. If you don't believe this, go back into the kitchen of any restaurant or see the folks working in the fields picking crops and tending our farms.

On the high end of the skills spectrum, there is almost no debate that immigrant talent contributes to our global leadership. In September 2016, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued a "comprehensive assessment" of the impact of immigrants on the U.S. economy. Its study found that immigrants increase long-term U.S. economic growth. They help the economy avoid the stagnation plaguing many other major economies caused by aging workforces; they boost "innovation, entrepreneurship, and technological change." They increase the number of patents, not just in total but per person. And they raise worker productivity.

This finding is not new. Research in the 1980s and 1990s by the late economist Julian Simon reached the same conclusion: Immigrants benefit the U.S. economy and raise the incomes of native-born Americans. That research confirmed what we can see with our own daily experiences: Immigrants work more, save more and start more businesses per person than native-born Americans.

Some studies even find that immigrants reduce unemployment. In May 2018, economist Madeline Zavodny, formerly of the Federal Reserve and now at the University of North Florida, reported that U.S. states with more immigrants generally have lower -- not higher -- unemployment rates. "Having more immigrants reduces the unemployment rate and raises the labor force participation rate of U.S. natives within the same sex and education group," she said. More immigrants improve local economies, which means more jobs -- and more money -- for native-born American workers.

Hmmmmm...what other reason could old white men have for not wanting immigrants as fellow Americans?