April 30, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


The Bipartisan Appeal of "Yellow Peril" Politics: The coronavirus pandemic is exactly the excuse Washington has been looking for to start a conflict with China. (ADAM WEINSTEIN, April 29, 2020, New Republic)

Kaiser Wilhelm II did not originate the term "Yellow Peril," but after his "Hun speech" of 1900, he became forever synonymous with it. The German monarch was addressing soldiers who were shipping off to China to help put down the Boxer Rebellion, and what he said was so crass--even for the notoriously half-witted, insecure, and capricious heir--that the Prussian foreign office's official transcript of the speech omitted its most "diplomatically embarrassing" paragraph. "Just as a thousand years ago the Huns under their King Attila made a name for themselves, one that even today makes them seem mighty in history and legend," the kaiser had said, "may the name German be affirmed by you in such a way in China that no Chinese will ever again dare to look cross-eyed at a German."

One hundred and twenty years later, partisans of Donald Trump--like the kaiser, a "bad-tempered, distractable doofus" who inherited an increasingly precipitous empire--are turning to Yellow Peril rhetoric to rally support for their regime as it faces an existential crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has rapidly emerged as the excuse everyone has been looking for to start a conflict with China--a trend that's disturbingly spreading beyond Republican politics.

The strategy, such as it is, began early, with Trump congratulating himself for a late-January ban on travel to the United States from China--long after the virus had already arrived stateside, probably from Europe--and his subsequent insistence on calling the contagion "the Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus," a telling emphasis on the crisis's origins over any White House actions against its spread. But in recent weeks, Republican Party hawks have taken the racist football and run with it.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, another folksy war addict cut from nineteenth-century Prussian cloth, has pivoted from his perennial demands for a U.S.-Iran confrontation to issue new demands for a U.S.-China confrontation, citing what he calls Beijing's "malign, deliberate actions to send the virus around the world." He was referring to the theory, increasingly popular on the right, that a government-run laboratory in Wuhan developed the deadly virus as a biological warfare agent. There is no evidence that the virus was released from a lab there, intentionally or otherwise. But Cotton's rampage continued this week, when he proposed a law to bar Chinese students from obtaining visas to study science in America. "If Chinese students want to come here and study Shakespeare and the Federalist Papers, that's what they need to learn from America," Cotton said Sunday, apparently forgetting that Stratford-upon-Avon is not in the United States. "They don't need to learn quantum computing and artificial intelligence from America."

Cotton has plenty of wingnut company. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, a "post-liberal" whose main achievement thus far has been to reintroduce anti-Semitic coding to mainstream conservative political messaging, is spearheading the party's move to allow Americans impacted by the coronavirus to sue the Chinese Communists "to learn the full extent of the damage the CCP has inflicted on the world." Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who reaches for any fruit that hangs low enough, rolled out a proposal Tuesday to bar the Pentagon from cooperating on productions with Hollywood studios that create edited versions of their films to placate Chinese censors. "The SCRIPT Act will serve as a wake-up call by forcing Hollywood studios to choose between the assistance they need from the American government and the dollars they want from China," Cruz said in a press release that would fill up any right-wing-buzzword bingo card.

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We Aren't Selfish After All: In turbulent times, people go from "me" thinking to "we" thinking. (JIM DAVIES, APRIL 29, 2020, Nautilus)

In the days after the World Trade Center fell, it wasn't just the police, hospitals, and firefighters who came forward to help, it was normal citizens who often put themselves at risk to help other people out. An equities trader named Sandler O'Neill helped rescue a dozen people and then went back to save more. A tour guide at the Pentagon helped victims outside, and then went back in the burning building to help more. We find these kinds of behaviors in every disaster.

During this pandemic, we see the same thing. Some acts are small and thoughtful, such as putting encouraging signs in windows. Others have made games out of window signs, putting up rainbows for children on walks to count. Some show support for health care and other frontline workers, applauding or banging on pots on their balconies and at windows in a nightly ritual. Others are helping in more substantial ways. In the United Kingdom, over half a million people signed up to be a National Health Volunteer, supporting the most vulnerable people, who have to stay home.

John Drury, a professor of social psychology at the University of Sussex, England, who studies people's behavior in disasters, has seen these acts of kindness in his own neighborhood over the past month. He and his neighbors set up a WhatsApp group to help one another with shopping. "I think that translates across the country and probably across the world," Drury says. "People are seeing themselves as an us, a new kind of we, based on the situation that we all find ourselves in. You've got this idea of common fate, which motivates our care and concern for others."

FDR, JFK, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush excelled at summoning us to do big things and be our best selves.  Sadly, we do not have the man to match this moment.  Happily, we've taken it upon ourselves.despite the obstacles.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Paris Has a Plan to Keep Cars Out After Lockdown: As the city prepares to end lockdown, Mayor Anne Hidalgo plans to use bike lanes, buses, and social distancing to keep more cars off the roads and reduce pollution. (FEARGUS O'SULLIVAN APRIL 29, 2020, City Lab)

Returning to a Paris dominated by cars after lockdown ends is "out of the question," according to the city's mayor, Anne Hidalgo. Speaking Tuesday at a special session of the Paris City Council on transitioning after France's national lockdown eases on May 11, Hidalgo was emphatic about maintaining the anti-pollution and anti-congestion measures introduced during her tenure, even as cities rethink transportation policies to avoid Covid-19 transmission.

"I say in all firmness that it is out of the question that we allow ourselves to be invaded by cars, and by pollution," she said. "It will make the health crisis worse. Pollution is already in itself a health crisis and a danger -- and pollution joined up with coronavirus is a particularly dangerous cocktail. So it's out of the question to think that arriving in the heart of the city by car is any sort of solution, when it could actually aggravate the situation."

Now get Parisians to clean up after their dogs.  The place is filthy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


Trump's Immigration Pause Won't Outlast Him (SHIKHA DALMIA | 4.30.2020, reason)

[President Biden] will have to reinstate some kind of legal status for Dreamers--even if the Supreme Court upholds the Trump administration's efforts to scrap DACA (Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals)--if not their parents.

The "Muslim" travel ban will end even if some coronavirus-related travel restrictions remain.

Trump cut America's refugee quota from 110,000 under Obama to 18,000, and he isn't even meeting that number because of the impossible vetting standards he has implemented. Those will end and the program will be restored. Ditto for asylum. Trump's Remain in Mexico policy that pays Mexico to warehouse Central American migrants while their asylum claims are heard in America is a scandal and will end.

Trump's public charge rule will be rolled back. The rule would deny green cards to legal immigrants or in other ways prevent them from upgrading their immigration status if they are below an income threshold and likely to collect public benefits.

With respect to employment-based immigration, it is telling that even in the 60-day immigration pause that Trump imposed in the wake of the pandemic exempted H-2A visas that American agriculture needs to hire migrant workers. Why? Because without this labor the country's food supply chains would come to a grinding halt. And if Trump realizes that America needs these folks, there is no way that Biden won't. This is especially the case if his post-pandemic welfare push creates even greater disincentives for Americans to take on backbreaking, low-paying jobs. So America can't afford to turn away low-skilled workers.

One of the weirdest things about the Trump administration has been its animus against high-skilled H-1B immigrants. Miller has left no stone unturned to assault this program. This is the exact opposite of the consensus in the conservative policy establishment--which generally opposes low-skilled immigration because of its alleged deleterious fiscal impact but supports high-skilled immigration because it helps keep America's global technological edge and has a positive fiscal impact. Given this conservative consensus and the massive demand from Democrats' Silicon Valley backers for foreign techies, there is no way that a Biden presidency does not give high priority to unraveling all the red tape Miller has dispensed.

The key is going to be taking the Senate so we can pass comprehensive amnesty.  But all the above is why Donald can do anything he wants and the bots will defend him.  They'll never get even this little restriction again.

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


Spy Agencies Told White House There's No Evidence to Prove Virus Began in Wuhan Lab (Jamie Ross, Apr. 30, 2020, Daily Beast)

U.S. intelligence agencies are resisting pressure from the Trump administration to blame China for the coronavirus outbreak due to a lack of hard evidence, The New York Times reports. Senior Trump administration officials have reportedly pushed spy agencies to look for evidence to support the dubious theory that the virus outbreak began in a laboratory in the city of Wuhan. But the agencies have reportedly seen no evidence of a link to any lab, and scientists believe it's overwhelmingly likely that that the virus leapt from animal to human in a nonlaboratory setting.

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 AM


Why I'm skeptical about Reade's sexual assault claim against Biden: Ex-prosecutor: If we must blindly accept every allegation of sexual assault, the #MeToo movement is just a hit squad. And it's too important to be no more than that. (Michael J. Stern, 4/29/20, USA Today)

►Missing formal complaint. Reade told The Times she filed a written complaint against Biden with the Senate personnel office. But The Times could not find any complaint. When The Times asked Reade for a copy of the complaint, she said she did not have it. Yet she maintained and provided a copy of her 1993 Senate employment records.

It is odd that Reade kept a copy of her employment records but did not keep a copy of a complaint documenting criminal conduct by a man whose improprieties changed "the trajectory" of her life. It's equally odd The Times was unable to find a copy of the alleged Senate complaint. 

►Memory lapse. Reade has said that she cannot remember the date, time or exact location of the alleged assault, except that it occurred in a "semiprivate" area in corridors connecting Senate buildings. After I left the Justice Department, I was appointed by the federal court in Los Angeles to represent indigent defendants. The first thing that comes to mind from my defense attorney perspective is that Reade's amnesia about specifics makes it impossible for Biden to go through records and prove he could not have committed the assault, because he was somewhere else at the time. 

For instance, if Reade alleged Biden assaulted her on the afternoon of June 3, 1993, Biden might be able to prove he was on the Senate floor or at the dentist. Her memory lapses could easily be perceived as bulletproofing a false allegation.  

►The lie about losing her job. Reade told The Union that Biden wanted her to serve drinks at an event. After she refused, "she felt pushed out and left Biden's employ," the newspaper said last April. But Reade claimed this month in her Times interview that after she filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Senate personnel office, she faced retaliation and was fired by Biden's chief of staff.

Leaving a job after refusing to serve drinks at a Biden fundraiser is vastly different than being fired as retaliation for filing a sexual harassment complaint with the Senate. The disparity raises questions about Reade's credibility and account of events. 

►Compliments for Biden. In the 1990s, Biden worked to pass the Violence Against Women Act. In 2017, on multiple occasions, Reade retweeted or "liked" praise for Biden and his work combating sexual assault. In the same year, Reade tweeted other compliments of Biden, including: "My old boss speaks truth. Listen." It is bizarre that Reade would publicly laud Biden for combating the very thing she would later accuse him of doing to her. 

►Rejecting Biden, embracing Sanders. By this January, Reade was all in for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Her unwavering support was accompanied by an unbridled attack on Biden. In an article on Medium, Reade referred to Biden as "the blue version of Trump." Reade also pushed a Sanders/Elizabeth Warren ticket, while complaining that the Democratic National Committee was trying to "shove" Biden "down Democrat voters throats." 

Despite her effusive 2017 praise for Biden's efforts on behalf of women, after pledging her support to Sanders, Reade turned on Biden and contradicted all she said before. She claimed that her decision to publicly accuse Biden of inappropriately touching her was due to "the hypocrisy that Biden is supposed to be the champion of women's rights."

►Love of Russia and Putin. During 2017 when Reade was praising Biden, she was condemning Russian leader Vladimir Putin's efforts to hijack American democracy in the 2016 election. This changed in November 2018, when Reade trashed the United States as a country of "hypocrisy and imperialism" and "not a democracy at all but a corporate autocracy." 

Reade's distaste for America closely tracked her new infatuation with Russia and Putin. She referred to Putin as a "genius" with an athletic prowess that "is intoxicating to American women." Then there's this gem: "President Putin has an alluring combination of strength with gentleness. His sensuous image projects his love for life, the embodiment of grace while facing adversity."

In March 2019, Reade essentially dismissed the idea of Russian interference in the 2016 American presidential election as hype. She said she loved Russia and her Russian relatives -- and "like most women across the world, I like President Putin ... a lot, his shirt on or shirt off." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Morbid Ideology Behind the Drive to Reopen America (Joe Lowndes, Apr. 30th, 2020, New Republic)

The Covid-19 pandemic amplifies political feelings around healthcare, race, and class that have been growing on the right over the last decade. Recall the Tea Party's origins during the Great Recession. The movement emerged and quickly grew first in response to the election of a black president and then that president's proposed healthcare plan, as protesters mobbed townhalls across the summer of 2009, loudly declaiming against any form of socialized medical coverage. Those two animating features of the movement--antiblack racism and opposition to the Affordable Care Act--defined a movement that in essence chose investments in whiteness over the assurance of at least some semblance of healthcare.

This was followed in the 2016 election by a Republican candidate who surged among voters who had high levels of racial resentment, strong feelings of political powerlessness, and growing economic anxiety (regardless of income level). Donald Trump, who titled his campaign memoir Crippled America, reveled in such terms as "disgust," "weakness," "losing," and "pathetic" to describe the country. He poked at the vulnerability of whites like a finger in a wound all while demonizing Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, black protesters, and foreign rivals. All of this set the stage for how the right would come to respond to the current pandemic.

The rhetorical oppositions of work to welfare, self-reliance to dependence, individual to the state, citizen to foreigner--oppositions animated by race, gender, and class--run deep in American political culture. All are reflected in the politics of the pandemic right now, making for a grim political vision of American freedom.

In a basic way, this vision of freedom is conveyed by the defiance of guidelines to stop the spread of the virus. It isn't just the protesters. The dozen or so Republicans in the House of Representatives refusing to wear masks when called to vote on the latest coronavirus relief bill performed precisely that kind of political theater for their constituents. It is meant as a tough-guy taunt, to show their own robustness and the weakness of their opponents. But it also reveals something more pathological. The risky behavior demonstrates vitality precisely because it tempts fate, suggestive of Freud's death drive, which he described as a force "whose function is to assure that the organism shall follow its own path to death."

There is now a well-documented relationship between whiteness, status, and morbidity. As Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have demonstrated in their research over the last few years, there have been long-term increases in "deaths of despair"--overdoses, suicides, alcohol-related fatalities--among middle-aged whites without college degrees. There is much yet to be understood about reasons for this phenomenon, but a sense of the declining status of whiteness appears tightly connected to collective self-harm. It is difficult not to think about this while watching mostly middle-aged white protesters demand the right to sacrifice their lives instead of joining others to demand greater protections for frontline workers, increased payments to keep workers at home, rent and mortgage moratoria, debt cancellation, federal money for states and municipalities, and more.

No one tough has to engage in theater.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Maj Sjöwall, one of the 'creators of Nordic Noir', dies aged 84 (The Local, 4/30/20)

"They broke with the previous trends in crime fiction," Henning Mankell wrote in an introduction to the 2006 English edition of "Roseanna". His own Inspector Kurt Wallander series would owe much to Beck three decades later.

Sjöwall was "the giant on whose shoulders the titans of modern Scandi crime fiction stand," Britain's Daily Telegraph wrote in 2015, in a story headlined "The couple who invented Nordic Noir".

Both committed Marxists, they went beyond crime fiction, breaking new ground by carrying out a forensic examination of the failings of Swedish society. The modern themes they tackled included paedophilia, serial killers, the sex industry and suicide.

"Through the eyes of Martin Beck and his colleagues, they held a mirror up to Swedish society at a time when the ideals of the welfare state were beginning to buckle under the realities of everyday life," Scottish crime writer Val McDermid wrote in the introduction to the 2006 edition of "The Man Who Went Up In Smoke".

The victim of the mysteries was the New Man.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



The plaintiffs in the case claimed that the "mandatory quarantine," along with interstate travel restrictions listed in an earlier version of the order, violated their rights to both procedural due process and substantive due process.

"But those liberty interests are, and always have been, subject to society's interests--society being our fellow residents," said Court of Claims Judge Christopher M. Murray.

"They--our fellow residents--have an interest to remain unharmed by a highly communicable and deadly virus, and since the state entered the Union in 1837, it has had the broad power to act for the public health of the entire state when faced with a public crisis."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wind energy overtakes gas to be leading source of electricity in Ireland (Joshua S Hill, 30 April 2020, Renew Economy)

For the first time wind energy became Ireland's leading source of electricity for a full quarter, beating out natural gas for the first three months of 2020, when it accounted for 43.8% of demand compared to natural gas's 41.8%.

According to figures published this week by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), the country's wind energy sector generated 3,390GWh of electricity over the first three months of 2020, equivalent to the power demand of 737,000 Irish homes.

April 29, 2020

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Why The U.S. Government Stopped Funding A Research Project On Bats And Coronaviruses (Nurith Aizenman, 4/29/20, NPR)

The project was run by a U.S. nonprofit called EcoHealth Alliance. For more than a decade, the group has been sending teams to China to trap bats, collect samples of their blood, saliva and feces, and then check those samples for new coronaviruses that could spark the next global pandemic. The idea is to identify locations that need to be monitored, come up with strategies to prevent spillover of the virus into human populations and get a jump on creating vaccines and treatments. Already the project has identified hundreds of coronaviruses, including one very similar to the virus behind the current outbreak. [...]

Daszak says the China bat sampling project has already racked up quite a number of successes. The team and its collaborators at the Wuhan Institute of Virology have collected about 15,000 samples from bats. From these they have already identified about 400 wholly new coronaviruses. About 50 of those fall into a category that caused the 2002 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and, now, the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers were also able to demonstrate that at least some of the new bat coronaviruses they have found are capable of infecting a human cell in a petri dish. Then the team sampled the blood of people in China who live near various bat caves. They found evidence that for some time now, these bat coronaviruses have been spilling over into the human population.

"Our work has shown that between 1 [million] and 7 million people a year are exposed in rural China and rural Southeast Asia to these viruses," says Daszak.

"It really gives us a forward look at what could be coming down the pike."

Indeed, once the current pandemic began, the Wuhan Institute researchers on the project were able to consult their library of bat coronaviruses. They found an extremely close match.

All this work makes EcoHealth Alliance a "major player" in the field, says Garry, the microbiologist at Tulane. "These are notable papers that people will be citing going forward."

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


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Larry Hogan and a Post-Trump GOP (MILEAH KROMER, APRIL 27, 2020, Niskanen Center)

The public and media spotlight has therefore fallen on American's state governors. Those who have embraced their roles as crisis managers on the front lines of the pandemic have mostly seen their public approval increase as a result. As chair of the National Governors Association, Larry Hogan has been a prominent voice among the state leaders. In both his words and actions, he has illuminated the sharp contrast between Trump's approach to the pandemic and that of the activist governors, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Above all, Hogan has relied on science and expertise to inform his decision-making.. In the second week of February-when Trump was claiming that there were only a dozen cases of infections in the country and predicted that soon "it miraculously goes away"-a prudent Hogan convened a meeting of two dozen governors with members of the White House coronavirus task force including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield. Hogan returned to Maryland and worked with the Democratic-controlled state legislature to fund emergency preparations for combating the virus, including increased hospital bed capacity. 

In early March, when Trump was telling reporters "Just stay calm, it will go away," Hogan created a state coronavirus response team drawing on epidemiologists and public health doctors from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, and other state institutions. On March 12, when there were still only a handful of recorded cases in the state and no virus-related fatalities, Hogan followed the experts' recommendation and made Maryland the second state in the nation (after Ohio) to close public schools. While Trump has belittled expertise, Hogan has emphasized that "I've been listening to the scientists and the doctors."

At the same time that Trump has used his high-visibility press briefings to air personal grievances, deflect blame, and criticize the media, Hogan has used his platform to advocate for the needs of the revenue-starved states and has effectively communicated the severity of the crisis to the public. While Trump has seized upon the crisis as an opportunity for partisan warfare, Hogan has insisted that "now is not the time for partisan politics" and worked with governors of both parties, cooperated with Democrats in the state legislature, and coordinated a regional response with the Democratic governor of Virginia and mayor of Washington, DC. 

While Trump's response to the pandemic has been chaotic and full of unsupported assertions, Hogan has tried to project steadiness, truthfulness, and informed decision-making.

Having never governed, there was little chance he'd be competent.  President Biden won't be either.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Trump erupts at campaign manager as reelection stress overflows (Jeremy Diamond,  April 29, 2020, CNN)

As he huddled with advisers on Friday evening, President Donald Trump was still fuming over his sliding poll numbers and the onslaught of criticism he was facing for suggesting a day earlier that ingesting disinfectant might prove effective against coronavirus.

Within moments, the President was shouting -- not at the aides in the room, but into the phone -- at his campaign manager Brad Parscale, three people familiar with the matter told CNN. Shifting the blame away from himself, Trump berated Parscale for a recent spate of damaging poll numbers, even at one point threatening to sue Parscale.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


The Blood on de Blasio's Hands (LIEL LEIBOVITZ, 4/29/20, The Tablet)

With 160,499 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 12,000 confirmed deaths, New York City is now the epicenter of the global pandemic. Who's to blame? Let's ask our mayor:

"My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple," Bill de Blasio tweeted late last night. "The time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period."

Ah, so that's the cause of the trouble. It's the nasty Jews! The sweaty hordes threatening their innocent neighbors with their diseased bodies and souls, as they did yesterday for a funeral for which the community coordinated with the NYPD. It's true that throngs crowd Central Park daily, that in Riverside Park it's nearly impossible to avoid maskless joggers panting their spit well within 6 feet of you. It's also true that just yesterday hundreds of New Yorkers stood very closely together to watch the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds perform a flyover tribute to health care workers.

None of these other people are problematic, though--presumably because they aren't a danger to others. The danger to others--the danger that must be broadcast to the mayor's 1.5 million Twitter followers and to 8 million New Yorkers, some of which have spent the past few years growing increasingly and violently anti-Semitic--is the Jews. 

It's gotta be down to Soros....

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM

SMALL "c", BIG "C":

F A HAYEK WAS IN FACT A CONSERVATIVE (Madsen Pirie, 4/29/20, Adam Smith Institute)

I put the case that there is a small "c" conservatism that denotes an aversion to change, and the desire to hold on to familiar things and ways for the comfort and security they bring. There is also a large "C" Conservatism that denotes a political tradition rather than a character trait. 

That political tradition does not oppose all change, but is against attempts to impose deliberate change to remake society into a preconceived order. Instead it wants such change as takes place to be spontaneous and organic, the product of people interacting, and perhaps reacting to changing circumstances. It opposes utopian attempts to make society correspond with one dreamed-up in theory, as opposed to one that develops naturally in practice. 

What the political tradition of Conservatism seeks to conserve is not any given state of society, but rather the process by which society changes. It seeks to conserve a process, not an outcome. Crucially, I pointed out that Conservatives seek not only to preserve that spontaneity, but to restore it if it has been lost. This brings Margaret Thatcher into their ranks. She managed to restore a degree of spontaneity that had been lost by decades of state controls and central direction. 

It is the difference between the Anglosphere (Burke) and the Continent (de Maistre).

Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


Breaking: In Major Decision Rejecting Kris Kobach's Claims of Massive Voter Fraud, Tenth Circuit Unanimously Holds Kansas's Documentary Proof of Citizenship Requirement to Register to Vote Violates Constitution and Federal Law (Rick Hasen, 4/29/20, Election Law Blog)

In a major ruling, a 10th Circuit panel (consisting of 2 judges, as a third judge on the panel had passed away), a Tenth Circuit panel has held that a Kansas anti-voting law championed by former Secretary of State Kris Kobach violated both the Constitution's equal protection clause and was preempted by the federal motor-voter law. The law at issue required those who wished to register to vote in Kansas to provide documentary proof of citizenship--such as a birth certificate or naturalization certificate--in order to register to vote. Until the ACLU secured a preliminary injunction against this law, about 30,000 people had their voter registrations suspended and were not allowed to vote in Kansas elections.

I wrote about the trial in this case (then called Fish v. Kobach and now Fish v. Schwab on appeal) in my book, Election Meltdown. I called the case the most important voting trial of the 21st century so far because it was the chance for those like Kobach who claim that voter fraud is a major problem in the United States to prove that in a court of law under the rules of evidence. As I detail in the book, Kobach's proof was woefully inadequate and his expert witnesses embarassingly bad. Kobach was later sanctioned for how he ran the trial and for misleading the ACLU about the contents of a document he had given to President Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


'My Fellow American': Donald Trump letter to stimulus check recipients raises objections (Michael Collins, 4/29/20, USA TODAY)

Americans who received a stimulus check from the federal government also are getting something else in the mail: a letter from President Donald Trump.

A one-page letter from Trump started arriving over the weekend in the mailboxes of millions of Americans who received stimulus payments of up to $1,200 under a new law designed to help the economy recover from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The awesome thing is that it's not one page; the entire text is also printed in Spanish!

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FBI documents reveal communication between Stone, Assange (ERIC TUCKER, COLLEEN LONG and MICHAEL BALSAMO, 4/29/20, AP)

Weeks after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel in the Russia investigation, Roger Stone, a confidant of President Donald Trump, reassured WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a Twitter message that if prosecutors came after him, "I will bring down the entire house of cards," according to FBI documents made public Tuesday.

The records reveal the extent of communications between Stone and Assange, whose anti-secrecy website published Democratic emails hacked by Russians during the 2016 presidential election, and underscore efforts by Trump allies to gain insight about the release of information they expected would embarrass Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

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The Stories Dan Crenshaw Tells HimselfThe pathos of Trump's most effective defender. (TIM MILLER, APRIL 29, 2020, The Bulwark)

In a new book out this month, a Republican member of Congress offers one of the most brutal and surgical eviscerations of President Trump's leadership style that has been put to print.

"The problem with today's society is that it is swelling with the wrong role models," he writes. "Abandoning traditional heroes for new and exciting villains who represent self-indulgence, loud-mouthed commentary, angry fist-shaking activism, or insulting spitfire politics."

This is, he says, infecting our entire society, which "has grown out of control often at the expense of logic, decency, and virtue." We now "mock virtue without considering how its abandonment accelerates our moral decay" and "don a mantle of fragility, of anger, of childishness, and are utterly shameless in doing so."

"A culture characterized by self-pity, indulgence, outrage, and resentment is a culture that falls apart," he argues.

On Earth 2, this may have been the launching pad for a courageous and ambitious primary campaign that stands up for virtue in the face of our fragile, angry, childish, shameless, self-indulgent, loud-mouthed, insulting, self-pitying, and resentful president.

Here on Earth 1, the book is called Fortitude and its author is Rep. Dan Crenshaw, one of the most visible defenders of Donald Trump.

The Right is the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Music of the North (Joseph Pearce, April 28th, 2020, Imaginative Conservative)

If Finnish composers are doomed to live in the shadow of Sibelius, it would be equally true to say that composers from Estonia can hardly hope to escape living in the shadow of the great Arvo Pärt, whose minimalist masterpieces, such as Spiegel im Spiegel and Cantus in Memorium Benjamin Britten, are among the most popular works of the past half century. And what is true of the fate of contemporary Estonian composers is equally true of those composers who preceded Part's rise to fame. Take, for example, Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962), whose own considerable reputation has been at least partially eclipsed by the waxing of Part's presence on the world stage. The best of his work is still performed regularly, however, not least of which are his settings of the Psalms of David, especially his Onnis on inimene (Blessed is the Man), composed in 1923, which interweaves the traditions of Orthodox chant with suggestive elements of Estonian folk music and Western choral influences.

For our final stop on this musical tour of the lands of the North, we'll wing our way across the Baltic and over Scandinavia, crossing the frozen waters of the Norwegian Sea and following the latitudinal line of the Arctic Circle until we come to Iceland.

Known for its scenic beauty, it would be fair to say that Iceland's cultural impact rests on the lingering legacy of its Bards, especially Snorri Sturluson, and the heroic sagas they wove about the history of the Norsemen. It would also be fair to say that Iceland is not known for its significant contribution to the canon of classical music. This being so, it seems apt that we should end with three Icelandic composers who present three very different views of the cosmos and the meaning of life. Let's begin with the youngest, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, born in 1977 and winner in 2012 of the Nordic Council Music Prize, who wrote Pann Heilaga Kross (On the Holy Cross), a haunting meditation on the Crucifixion which is almost elvish in its etherial sensuality. In stark contrast, Haflidi Hallgrimsson's Veröld fláa sýnir sig (The Deceitful World Shows Itself), composed in 1988, seems almost to be a hymn to despair, or, at the least, a desolate cri de coeur: "The deceitful world shows itself, / foretelling harsh times. / Most of the blades of grass on this / earth, big and small, sting me." And then, finally, we have Jón Nordal's Smávinir fagrir (Beautiful Tiny Friends), as different in mood and spirit from Hallgrimsson's lament as is hope from despair. Written in 1940, when the composer was only sixteen-years-old, it is full of the overflowing spirit of romance which is the domain of youth. Enraptured by the presence of beauty and blissfully oblivious of the far-off echoes of the world war which was raging as he wrote, he thanks the Lord for the beauty of his "tiny friends", the dandelions and the buttercups: "Poor buttercup, do you see me? / Sleep peacefully and cover yourself, / slow comes the rest in the dewy night, / dream of the light, sleep tight!" Aptly enough, the music that the teenager composed to augment these delicate words is a lilting lullaby, as pure as crystal and as diaphanous as silk.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Healing power of outdoors: Alexander Larman reviews The Natural Health Service by Isabel Hardman (Alexander Larman, May 2020, The Critic)

Hardman's account of her partial recovery from her breakdown, is a considerably more interesting and accomplished book than a simple wallow in the details of her ordeal. The title is easily misread. Rather than either a social history of the NHS or an autobiographical account of what befell her, Hardman instead examines the healing powers of nature and the great outdoors, arguing that their therapeutic powers can contribute immeasurably both to our mental and physical health. It is deeply unfortunate timing that the book is being published at a moment when her readers are largely confined to their homes for their own health and safety, but the central message will outlast any pandemic.

Hardman is a precise, lucid writer, never afraid to offer well-argued opinion but always careful to delineate it from factual reporting. She writes, "It is only recently that society, and even the medical establishment, has started to acknowledge that our physical health and our mental health aren't as separate as we assumed." To those who grew up knowing the maxim "mens sana in corpore sano" -- "a healthy mind in a healthy body" -- this may not be the revelation that Hardman presents it as, but at a time when enlightened GPs prescribe birdwatching and long walks alongside pills and psychological treatment, a greater belief in the natural, as well as national, health service will ultimately do Britain a substantial amount of good.

The sainted NHS itself does not emerge from Hardman's book with particular credit, especially when it comes to mental health care, which she regards as underfunded and loaded with stigma. One professor describes a phenomenon known as "diagnosis creep", which can lead to otherwise healthy patients being medicated because they feel justifiable anxiety or depression about a circumstance such as a bereavement, or indeed a national disaster that confines them to their homes for months.

As the NHS's national mental health director puts it, "drugs and therapy alone cannot bring about healing", although one has to hope that we never end up in the absurd situation that some other societies have arrived at, where an ever-growing number of "assistance animals" are said to be invaluable to their owners' mental health, although Hardman makes a convincing case for therapy dogs.

The unwell can be helped in less zoological ways. Hardman was a keen gardener even as a child ("I was unusual in knowing the common and Latin names of most garden plants by sight") and views it as a straightforward way of keeping oneself occupied and happy. She runs long distances and swims in freezing seas and rivers, relishing the necessary endorphin release of the "runner's high". In the case of swimming, "the most powerful antidepressant I have ever encountered", she plunges into water in the depths of winter even as she tacitly acknowledges that there is a masochistic element to how far she pushes herself. Better to cause some physical damage, which will swiftly heal, than endure mental distress, which could last indefinitely.

Natural Health Service is rich in interesting and unusual details. Birdwatching is considered a useful way of distracting oneself; twitching, a more specialised pursuit requiring a near-obsessive interest in the travels of particular birds, is not.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Who's a conservative?A vigorous debate is under way about the future of the right -- and it is a mistake to question its survival (Oliver Wiseman, May 2020, The Critic)

What is left of the American conservatism tradition has, he argues, "acquired a reputation as both noxious and intellectually disreputable". It's hard not to see Bacevich's point. Take a look at the agenda for CPAC, the annual conservative gathering that has become a festival of shockjockerry and Trump worship. Or consider the ideological gymnastics many on the right are willing to perform to keep up with the president's political whims. This is the motley crew from which Bacevich (right) claims to be doing the reclaiming.

Bacevich says American Conservatism is representative of only the "best" conservative writing of the twentieth century according to his own prejudices. Those prejudices include hostility to much of US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Bacevich, who is president of the anti-intervention Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, was even mentioned by Politico as a left-field choice for Secretary of Defense in some (extremely premature) speculation about a Bernie Sanders cabinet.

Hence his otherwise puzzling decision to exclude neoconservatives from the anthology, something he signposts in the introduction, claiming that, while they "for a time made a considerable impact on the national conversation and even arguably on US foreign policy, they were never genuinely conservative".  Confusingly, Bacevich goes on to break his own rule by including an essay by Irving Kristol, the "godfather of neoconservatism".

Elsewhere, he is ecumenical enough to include liberals like New Republic founder Walter Lippmann, free-range libertarians like Murray Rothbard, and writers who eschew easy categorisation like Wendell Berry and Joan Didion. The volume is richer for these contributions, and for casting a net beyond the limits of "movement" conservatism. But the exclusion of neoconservative authors is churlish, and will leave readers with an incomplete picture of conservative thought on the American right.

That the anthology is steered by Bacevich's conservatism, rather than anything more broadly representative, is clear from the first sentence: "The modern American conservative tradition -- roughly dating from the dawn of the twentieth century -- emerged in reaction to modernity itself." The choice of starting point is eccentric given that conservatism as a self-conscious and organised movement in the United States is very much a postwar phenomenon.

Actually, the overlap of Donald and Mr. Bacevich is the most obvious thing about their politics.  Both are essentially isolationist, viewing the West as having no interest in nor obligation to extend democracy to captive peoples.  The quarrel with the neocons is at best just a matter of their desire to go to war with Iran, at worst has whiffs of anti-Semitism.  Of course, the opposition to W's WoT generally is largely Islamophobic, reflecting a belief that Muslims are incapable of or uninterested in democracy.

This sort of isolationism/Realism has always been a part of the right, especially the Continental Right, but since the turn of the 20th Century has been even more marginal than in the past.  After all, Churchill was a leader of WWI, WWII and the Cold War, the last of which was driven by American conservatives, and W began the process of democratizing the Middle East after 9-11. And, nevermind just Conservatives, Donald is the first American president to embrace totalitarianism over democracy promotion since at least late-era Nixon/Kissinger.  

One suspects that Mr. Bacevich's real objection is seeing his reflection in Donald. 

April 28, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Who Defines Evangelicalism? An Interview with Mark Noll (Eric C. Miller | April 28, 2020, Religion & Politics)

R&P: Your co-editor David Bebbington famously defined evangelicalism according to four theological tenets--conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism--that most of the subsequent historical work has responded to in some way, including several chapters in this book. Why has it been so influential?

MN: The "Bebbington Quadrilateral" identifies four characteristics--and I want to emphasize that he is very serious about calling these characteristics rather than pitching them as an a priori definition--that gave structure to his 1989 book, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain. I think the reason why the fourfold characteristics became so important is that there is a considerable body of historical literature and--particularly since the rise of the Christian Right in the United States--a considerable body of media attention that together have called out for a definition that is relatively simple and transportable for different purposes. As someone who appreciates with some dissent the characteristics, that is in part a good thing, but the negative effect may be to over-simplify evangelicalism and to ease out some of the real complexities that come with its study, either historically or in the contemporary world. So, in short, I think Bebbington provided a straightforward, direct, exportable language that could be used in many different discussions--more, I think, than he originally intended in his book.

R&P: One potential critique that arises throughout the text--in Darren Dochuk's essay, for instance--states that evangelicalism is not merely a theological category, but that it is profoundly shaped by the times and places in which it operates. To what extent can we think of evangelicalism as a situated cultural product rather than a precise set of religious beliefs?

MN: That's an excellent question that gets at the nub of the definitional difficulties. I try to explain in the introduction to the book that, considered abstractly as a certain kind of Protestant Christianity, evangelicalism appears relatively simple and makes a lot of sense. Dochuk's observation, however, is that many strange phenomena inhabit the history of evangelical groups. One of these from our own time is that some people who are regarded as evangelicals use that word to describe themselves, and some others don't. Another is that political pundits often use the term in very different ways than religious historians do. Several of our essays point out that, when it comes to affirmations of belief and practice, or to theological orientation, the most evangelical demographic in the United States is African American churchgoers. And, as all political observers know, African American churchgoers have been strongly Democratic in their electoral preferences. That reality makes complete sense if you are trying to label the group based on the characteristics that Bebbington outlined, but it makes no sense if you are trying to label them based on the practical alliances, networks, and grids of communication that link groups together, or how these are discussed in our media. Dochuk's comment is the kind commonly made by an empirical historian--one who is interested in splitting rather than lumping--in reference to -ism terms like evangelicalism.

R&P: While trying to explain evangelical support for Donald Trump, Michael S. Hamilton proposes what he calls the "white evangelical political quadrilateral," comprised of "Christian nationalism, Christian tribalism, political moralism, and antistatism." Has this mix of conservative political priorities displaced theology among self-identified white evangelicals in the United States?

MN: You happen to be calling me one day after Christianity Today published an editorial by its editor saying that the time has come to remove Donald Trump from office. Predictably, there has been a great deal of negative reaction, as well as some positive reaction, to that piece. Both reactions speak to your question because of the way in which the American media have equated "evangelical" with a certain white political constituency. Hamilton's essay is shrewd in tracking what Dochuk would call one of the "networks" that have used the term for themselves and have been so identified by others.

I'm not sure if the question is answerable since those evangelicals who embrace Trump, those who prefer Trump to alternatives, and those who dislike Trump cannot, in any sense, make up a coherent political constituency. From the outside, from the world of political punditry, it seems obvious that evangelical Trump supporters make sense as a demographic, and that they have a certain degree of clout in the contemporary political landscape. But whether that reality says anything about evangelicalism as a whole, or evangelical history, or how evangelicalism operates around the world, I think, is a very different question.

The observation of a political landscape requires identifiable subgroups. It used to be the case that you could identify "labor" as a Democratic constituency, or you would hear about Lutherans in Minnesota and know that those are Republicans. All of that is quite legitimate up to a point. But in the same way that being strongly in support of labor was not the same thing as being simply Democratic, so being strongly in favor of evangelical religion is not the same thing as being an enthusiast for Trump. Perhaps I have been too confused in my own thinking. But the Hamilton analysis does characterize a certain group of Americans who are willing to call themselves evangelicals and are often called evangelicals by outsiders. The difficulty with that ascription is that it reduces the use of the term in a way that is not strongly connected to the diversity of the faith and is only loosely connected to American history.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Analysis: Great Britain hits coal-free electricity record amid coronavirus lockdown (Simon Evans, 28.04.2020, renew Economy)
Great Britain has run for a new record of 18 days, six hours and 15 minutes without burning coal to generate electricity - and counting - as the coronavirus lockdown cuts demand by nearly 20%.

This combination means CO2 emissions from the country's electricity system have been cut by a third during the coal-free stretch relative to the same period last year, Carbon Brief analysis shows.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Why are white supremacists protesting to 'reopen' the US economy? (Shannon Reid &Matthew Valasik, 4/28/20, The Conversation)

[T]here are also far-right conspiracy theorists, white supremacists like Proud Boys and citizens' militia members at these protests. The exact number of each group that attends these protests is unknown, since police have not traditionally monitored these groups, but signs and symbols of far right groups have been seen at many of these protests across the country.

These protests risk spreading the virus and have disrupted traffic, potentially delaying ambulances. But as researchers of street gangs' and far-right groups' violence and recruitment, we believe these protests may become a way right-wingers expand the spread of anti-Semitic rhetoric and militant racism.

Proud Boys, and many other far-right activists, don't typically focus their concern on whether stores and businesses are open. They're usually more concerned about pro-white, pro-male rhetoric. They're attending these rallies as part of their longstanding search for any opportunity to make extremist groups look mainstream - and because they are always looking for potential recruits to further their cause.

While not all far-right groups agree on everything, many of them now subscribe to the idea that Western government is corrupt and its demise needs to be accelerated through a race war.

For far-right groups, almost any interaction is an opportunity to connect with people with social or economic insecurities or their children. [...]

President Donald Trump, a favorite of far-right activists, has tweeted encouragement to the protesters.

Sure, Donald's been a disaster for the movement, but he is their high water mark.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM



While sheltering in our homes, praying for our loved ones and mourning those we've lost, America has embarked upon one of the largest crowdfunding campaigns in online history. Together, while isolated, thousands of citizens have raised approximately $47 million to date for the CDC Foundation's All of Us campaign (www.give4cdcf.org).

The funds are being used to help health care workers on the front lines, serve vulnerable communities and expedite research, as well as meeting many other urgent needs. This is one of the remarkable things about our great nation. In extreme scarcity, Americans have chosen extreme generosity.

While the buoyancy of the campaign has been assisted by some large gifts, the small (yet huge) donors have propelled it. These are the thousands of everyday Americans who couldn't afford to give $10 but gave $1, or who couldn't afford to give $100 but gave $10.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


Poll Finds Russians' Trust In Putin Dips To Lowest Point In 14 Years (Radio Liberty, April 28, 2020)

The poll, taken last month by Russia's Public Opinion Research Center, or VTsIOM, and released on April 27, showed those who chose Putin when asked to name a politician whom they trust, dropped to 28.3 percent in March from 29 percent the previous month and 30.6 percent in January.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Buddha at the Bat: Taiwan to Mudville: Here's Your Predawn Joy (Spike Vrusho, 4/28/20, Splice Today)

It had been a month or so since I heard a droning baseball player interview on my car radio. It's a media ritual that hauls out certain pre- or post-game tropes with aplomb and a reliable repetition almost soothing to the ear. By accident on Saturday, I hit the MLB Radio tab on the satellite radio in my Volkswagen. There was the drone. It was former Detroit Tigers pitcher Ryan Carpenter being questioned by the host. Carpenter was in Taiwan, where the Chinese Professional Baseball League had been playing its opening week of games inside empty stadiums. I was driving to a somewhat distant wine store just for the heck of it, having spent 60 hours a week behind the wheel of a taxi for most of the past decade, and since the taxis have been parked for a month now, I needed to feel some mileage. And there on that radio was the ballplayer drone. And as I gleaned the fact that Carpenter is now a pitcher for the Rakuten Monkeys of the CPBL, I was also pleased to learn that the league's games were being streamed live, online. Suddenly the drone became a call to prayer.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Look What He Makes You GiveThe COVID-19 crisis shows how little elite Republicans got in exchange for the soul they had to give to Donald Trump. (REED GALEN  APRIL 19, 2020, The Bulwark)

Along time ago in a galaxy far, far away Republican elites claimed that they didn't like Donald Trump very much. They didn't support him in the primary. Many said or implied that they wouldn't vote for him in the general election.

But at some point each one of them reasoned that the right thing to do was to don the MAGA hat in order to ensure that Trump made good on the policy priorities they most valued.

They acknowledged the trade-off.  Trump would make them eat some shit sandwiches with the tweets and the corruption and the protectionism and the race baiting. But they'd get theirs. This was the genesis of the "But Gorsuch" meme.

At the time, some of us asked . . . are you sure you know what's in this sandwich?

Today that's now clear.

More than 39,000 Americans are dead from a pandemic that was ignored while the president was vainly consumed with the state of the stock market and keeping the numbers down. We are confronted daily with a president utterly incapable of truthfully explaining the stakes, or calling the nation to shared sacrifice, or even merely striking a tone that allows for communal grieving.

That elite Republicans have endorsed this horrifying display of tragic mismanagement lays bare what Trump has taken from each person who made this deal, how much of their soul he has sucked from their body.

It's striking how little they actually got out of the bargain. 

But what's even more striking is that, instead of being angered at their having been being suckered by Trump, or ashamed of it, Republicans decided to accept--and even to celebrate--the parts of Trumpism that they had once regarded as the regrettable price of the exchange.

Look what he has made them give. 

And the Right, which at least got some racism via Executive Orders, will lose it all on day one of the Biden Administration.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



It's hard to exaggerate how musically isolated Iceland was before the 20th century. While music flourished in mainland Europe, widespread poverty and the sheer difficulty of survival in the remote Danish colony left little time or money for pursuing the arts. While Bach's majestic Toccata and Fugue in D minor made church windows rattle in Germany, it was still one hundred years before the first organ was installed in Iceland. Decades later, as opera singers battled it out in six-part counterpoint in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, Icelanders were singing in unison (occasionally in two parts) in country churches. Still later, while Beethoven premiered his 9th symphony and its famous Ode to Joy with a massive orchestra and choir, Icelandic fishermen were lucky if they had a three-string fiddle (langspil), to while away the evenings in their turf houses.

For hundreds of years, little changed. But in the 19th century, as Iceland's independence movement started gaining momentum, so did its musical potential. In 1874, King Christian IX of Denmark visited the island as it marked the 1,000th anniversary of its settlement. He came with a Danish brass band in his retinue. It's hard to imagine what the locals thought of the sound of the loud, blaring instruments, but perhaps easier to imagine how they saw the musical entourage: as a symbol of the King's status, and of Denmark's nationhood, advancement, and superiority over the little island colony.

The band's performance enthralled two brothers, Jónas and Helgi Helgason, so completely they decided to travel to Denmark to study music the following year. Upon their return, they formed a brass sextet, which held its debut concert in 1876.

It was the first public concert in Iceland - held nearly 50 years after Beethoven's death.

Just like the springs of its climate, Iceland's musical spring started late and warmed up slowly. Around the turn of the century, a handful of Icelanders went abroad to study music, forming small ensembles or teaching others upon their return. Foreign musicians also brought a glimpse of music's possibilities to the island. One of them was Danish violinist Oscar Johansen, who moved to Reykjavík in 1910, where he proceeded to teach violin and perform in Hótel Ísland regularly for years. While Iceland declared its sovereignty in 1918, the occasion was sombre - on the heels of a volcanic eruption and Spanish flu epidemic, most of its population was still thinking of little else than survival.

Yet despite these hardships, or perhaps because of them, the will to assert their nationhood grew stronger among Icelanders. And from these early days, patriotic occasions did not fail to include music. In 1930, when a festival was organised to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Alþingi, it was decided that a musical spectacle would be the main attraction. Original compositions were commissioned for the occasion, both for orchestra and choir. Dr. Franz Mixa, an Austrian conductor, was brought from abroad to prepare the orchestra, and Danish musicians hired to support the ensemble. Composer Páll Ísólfsson, who conducted at the event, described it as "a spring thaw across the country, turning it green." The performance convinced Icelanders that to be a nation, they must have music that befits one.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Americans are choosing to save, not spend, their stimulus checks (Dion Rabouin, 4/28/20, Axios)

What's happening: Despite nearly 20% saying they had been furloughed, laid off or otherwise separated from their job, the most popular answer among survey respondents was to sock their money away, with 38% saying they put it into savings.

Why it matters: Economists have worried that one major effect of the coronavirus pandemic could be that Americans become more conscious of their savings and cut back on spending.

An effect we can enhance with consumption taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Renewable energy can power Britain's post-crisis recovery (Sam Hall, 4/28/20, CapX)

IRENA's renewables outlook analyses the current rate of renewable energy deployment and the rate required to meet global climate goals. If the necessary acceleration of renewables construction happened, the economic gains for the world economy would be vast. IRENA finds that global GDP could grow by 2.4% more by mid-century than under current energy projections. The cumulative economic benefit between now and 2050 would total $98 trillion, far exceeding the initial costs of the investments.

There would be an employment boom too, with 42 million renewables jobs globally by 2050, four times more than today. Energy jobs overall would reach 100 million by 2050, about 40 million more than today, showing there are more jobs in a renewables future than a fossil fuel one. 

The crisis has underscored the importance of resilient supply chains for essential goods, such as food and energy. Fortunately the UK renewables sector has held up remarkably well. Turbine factories in Hull and on the Isle of Wight have adapted their working practices to safely remain open, as has the cable factory in Hartlepool. New wind turbines, enabled by government-backed contracts, continue to be built. And in our electricity grid, renewables have continued to play a key role powering the nation as it works from home, with solar setting a new generation record just last week.

The UK must maintain this momentum through the recovery, as well as making our domestic supply chain even more resilient. In the first instance, we need to ensure a pipeline of new renewables projects. That means proceeding with planned clean energy auctions for offshore wind and the more established technologies, onshore wind and solar. Promising new technologies like floating offshore wind should be eligible to bid for government-backed contracts too, which could bring 'green-collar' jobs to new parts of the UK such as South Wales. These economic wins do not require government support, which is attractive at a time when our fiscal resources are so depleted.

April 27, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 PM


Do You Miss Baseball? Here's How the Pentagon Might Have Predicted the Nationals' World Series Upset  (DAVE MONIZ, 4/27/20, Defense One)

Red teamers would have likely deemed the depth of talent in position players and starting pitchers on both teams as roughly equal, or perhaps given a slight edge to Houston. And in examining the disparity in bullpens - during the regular season, Astros relief pitchers allowed the second-fewest runs in baseball while the Nationals 'pen surrendered a whopping two runs per game more than the Astros - they would have asked several simple questions. The first is, could the Nationals mitigate that vulnerability and, if so, what difference would it make? As it turns out, the answer to that question was hiding in plain sight. During the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Nationals deputized members of their elite starting pitching staff four times, all but eliminating their middle-inning bullpen vulnerabilities.

The second question that red teamers would have likely asked is related to the baseball equivalent of military "readiness." In wargaming, the quality of a potential adversary is judged by many factors, including training and preparedness against a skilled enemy. And this is where things start to get interesting. A close examination of the teams' regular-season schedules reveals a wide disparity. The Astros, who won 107 games, played 99 against teams with losing records and just 63 against teams who won more than they lost. The Nationals played 96 games against teams .500 or better and only 66 against teams with losing records. In short, one team's win total was juiced by the baseball equivalent of facing third-world military forces; the other's was suppressed by routinely competing against well-trained NATO allies.

The Astros won 73 percent of the games they played against losing teams, but just 55 percent against winning teams. The Nationals won 68 percent of their games against losing teams and went 48-48 against teams .500 or better. The Nationals won 93 games during the regular season, but based on the difference between their runs scored and runs allowed, known as their Pythagorean expectation, the Nats should have won 95 games, a more-than-respectable result in the National League East, a far stronger division than the Astros' home in the American League West. The NL East had perhaps the best pitching in baseball last year, headlined by the likes of the Mets' Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, the Phillies' Aaron Nola, and the Braves' Mike Soroka. The Nationals entered the World Series having repeatedly faced some of the best starting pitchers in baseball.

Red teamers would no doubt have looked closely at the skill level of the Astros' opponents and wondered: What if the Nationals had played that same schedule? The answer is revealing. If the Nats had played the same number of games against losing teams as the Astros, based on their season-long performance, their win total would jump from 93 games to 98. And if the Astros had played 96 games against teams .500 or better, as had the Nats, their wins would have dropped from 107 to 100. The difference between the two would have been virtually imperceptible.

Analysts red-teaming the World Series would have noticed something else that could be classified under "readiness." During the regular season, the Astros seldom -- if ever -- faced starting pitchers as good as the Nationals' duo of Strasburg and Scherzer. The baseball analyst Eno Sarris ranks Scherzer as the major leagues' fourth-best starting pitcher, and Strasburg as No. 6. Meanwhile, the best pitcher in the American League West who is not an Astro, according to Sarris's rankings, is Frankie Montas of the Oakland Athletics, judged the 24th-best starting pitcher in MLB and the division's lone top-30 starting pitcher outside Houston. Good pitching stopped good hitting: Washington's aces effectively shut down the powerful Astro offense during the four games the Nationals won in Houston.

Several years ago, Vince Gennaro, the president of the Society for American Baseball Research, introduced the idea that one useful predictor of how batters might fare in postseason play is how they performed against top-flight pitchers during the regular season. During the 2019 regular season, the Astros faced starting pitchers ranked in the top 30 on Sarris's list 19 times, scoring an average of just under four runs per 9 innings. The Nationals faced top 30 pitchers a total of 31 times and scored an average of 4.35 runs per game. Against top-flight pitchers during the season, the Nats offense was more productive, even though they faced elite pitchers far more often -- including eight games in September as they battled for a playoff spot. The Astros faced no top-30 pitchers after Aug. 27.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


A Tale of Two Scandals: Who was more credibly accused, Joe Biden or Brett Kavanaugh? It's complicated (Cathy Young, 4/21/20, Arc Digital)

So all in all, I would say the corroboration issue is a tie. Reade has witnesses who claim more contemporaneous disclosure, but they are either anonymous or not necessarily reliable and with a close personal connection to Reade; Ford has named witnesses claiming disclosure after 30+ years, and while Keyser's statements do not disprove her account, they certainly complicate things.

Here are a few other areas in which the two can be compared.

Plausibility of the alleged offense. Here, I think the Kavanaugh allegation is much more credible. Two very drunk teenage boys jumping a girl at a party in an isolated upstairs room? Quite possible, though not necessarily with the intent Ford has claimed (more on that later). A U.S. Senator sexually assaulting an aide -- pushing her against the wall, putting his hand under her skirt, and pushing his fingers inside her vagina -- in a supposedly secluded area of a public hallway in the Senate office building, steps away from where (according to Reade's account) she had just seen him talking to another person? And all this at a time of heightened attention to sexual harassment, when another Senator, Robert Packwood (R-Oregon) was embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal involving staffers and lobbyists? Much more unlikely.

Accuser's conduct toward the accused, post-alleged incident. Reade has, on at least two occasions, written warmly about Biden (in a 2009 article about being a victim of domestic abuse and in a 2017 tweet) and has retweeted many more favorable tweets about him. This is not a situation in which she may have had to humor an abuser to protect her career or livelihood. Ford, who has never had any personal connection to Kavanaugh after high school, obviously has no such issues. This is not dispositive (while Reade claims that her high opinion of Biden was shattered after the assault, it may be that she struggled to hold on to her prior idealized image of Biden as a champion of women's rights). But it does detract from the plausibility of Reade's account.

Personal record of the accused. Interestingly, both Kavanaugh and Biden have had a very pro-woman image in their public lives. Biden has been a major advocate for laws and policies to protect women from domestic violence and sexual assault (whether those laws and policies were always good is another matter). Kavanaugh is a man with a long reputation of championing women in the legal profession and has often talked about his mother, pioneering female judge Martha Kavanaugh, as his role model. During his confirmation hearing he pledged to hire all-female law clerks (and made good on that pledge, making women the majority of Supreme Court clerks for the first time in history).

Unfortunately, as we know from past experience, advocacy for women's rights is not incompatible with sexual predation. Packwood, a socially progressive Republican, was also known as a supporter of feminist causes.

What about personal background? It seems fairly clear that young Kavanaugh was sometimes a rowdy drunk. However, there is nothing in his known history to suggest a propensity for attempted rape. A former Yale classmate, Deborah Ramirez, has claimed that he exposed himself and encouraged her to touch his penis at a drunken dorm-room party at Yale, letting her believe that she was touching a fake penis. Ramirez's story is an extremely murky one. She came forward in 2018, as The New Yorker reported, after "six days of carefully assessing her memories" until she felt confident enough to name Kavanaugh. Some other classmates vaguely recall hearing about such an incident but not about Kavanaugh as the culprit. Kavanaugh's former roommate Kenneth Appold has said that he distinctly remembers hearing the story from an eyewitness with a mention of Kavanaugh's name; but attempts to get further corroboration have failed, and Appold's story seems to have shifted over time. Ultimately, the Ramirez story has to be judged inconclusive.

Biden has a notorious history of being "handsy": squeezing women's (and girls') shoulders, arms or hands, hugging, kissing foreheads, cheeks and hair, and so on -- captured in dozens of "Creepy Uncle Joe" memes. Last year, eight women, including Reade, came forward to say that he had touched them in ways that made them uncomfortable. None of these incidents were alleged to have a sexual component. (Indeed, some have pointed out that Biden's caught-on-camera handsiness extends to males.) Some of the accusers have explicitly acknowledged that Biden's intent was to make a warm, supportive gesture.

Because of the he-said/she-said nature of the incidents, once can't know definitively what happened in either case.  But because of the specific nature of the incidents, we do know that Mr. Kavanaugh's he-said is compromised by lack of compos mentis. That was always the problem with his flat denial.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 PM


Trump cuts U.S. research on bat-human virus transmission over China ties (SARAH OWERMOHLE, 04/27/2020, Politico)

The National Institutes of Health on Friday told EcoHealth Alliance, the study's sponsor for the past five years, that all future funding was cut. The agency also demanded that the New York-based research nonprofit stop spending the $369,819 remaining from its 2020 grant, according to emails obtained by POLITICO. [...]

Meanwhile, the NIH's strategic plan for studying the novel coronavirus, released Thursday, lays out four key priorities -- including understanding its origin and transmission, in line with the EcoHealth alliance's broader investigation of bat coronaviruses. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll: Six months out, Biden jumps to lead over Trump amid coronavirus concerns  (Susan Page, 4/27/20, USA TODAY)

In a contest without a third-party contender, Biden's margin jumps to 10 points, 50% to 40%.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


New York Democrats cancel 2020 primary, kicking Bernie Sanders off the ballot (The Week, 4/27/20)

New York has delivered a major blow to Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) continued push for Democratic power.

Democrats on the New York state Board of Elections decided Monday to cancel the party's presidential primary, which had already been pushed from April back to June 23 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That leaves Sanders without a chance to grab any delegates in the state, despite his insistence on staying on the ballot to secure more standing within the party.

Sanders suspended his 2020 run last month and endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden, but still wanted his supporters to vote for him so his delegates could "exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions" at the Democratic National Convention. But Doug Kellner, one of the two Democratic commissioners on the elections board in New York, concluded Sanders' suspension "ended the real context for the primary election."

Posted by orrinj at 12:24 PM


The 3D printing revolution is finally here (JOSHUA M. PEARCE, 4/27/20, Co.Exist)

Not so long ago, the prevailing thinking in industry was that the lowest-cost manufacturing was large, mass manufacturing in low-labor-cost countries like China. At the time, in the early 2000s, only Fortune 500 companies and major research universities had access to 3D printers. The machines were massive, expensive tools used to rapidly prototype parts and products.

More than a decade ago, the patents expired on the first type of 3D printing, and a professor in Britain had the intriguing idea of making a 3D printer that could print itself. He started the RepRap project--short for self-replicating rapid prototype--and released the designs with open-source licenses on the web. The designs spread like wildfire and were quickly hacked and improved upon by thousands of engineers and hobbyists all over the world.

Many of these makers started their own companies to produce variants of these 3D printers, and people can now buy a 3D printer for US$250 to $550. Today's 3D printers are full-fledged additive manufacturing robots, which build products one layer at a time. Additive manufacturing is infiltrating many industries.

My colleagues and I have observed clear trends as the technology threatens major disruption to global value chains. In general, companies are moving from using 3D printing for prototyping to adopting it to make products they need internally. They're also using 3D printing to move manufacturing closer to their customers, which reduces the need for inventory and shipping. Some customers have bought 3D printers and are making the products for themselves.

This is not a small trend. Amazon now lists 3D printing filament, the raw material for 3D printers, under 'Amazon Basics' along with batteries and towels. In general, people will save 90% to 99% off the commercial price of a product when they print it at home.

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM



An average of recent national surveys compiled by Real Clear Politics showed Biden, who served as vice president under former President Barack Obama, ahead of Trump by an average of nearly 6 points. Overall, Biden is backed by an average of 48.3 percent of voters while the president is supported by just 42.4 percent.

Meanwhile, Biden also leads Trump in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona. Trump still appears to have a slim advantage in North Carolina, but the most recent poll conducted in the state actually showed Biden ahead by 1 point as well.

TX is the battleground.
Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Supreme Court rules government must pay billions to Obamacare insurers (SUSANNAH LUTHI, 04/27/2020, Politico)

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled the federal government owes health insurers massive payments from an Obamacare program shielding them from financial risks after the companies accused Washington of reneging on its funding promises.

The 8-1 decision could open the floodgates for federal cash to the insurance industry. Insurers who accused the government of a "bait and switch" claimed they're owed $12 billion from the Affordable Care Act program.

The case concerned a temporary fund in the health care law intended as a buffer for health plans who had sicker customers than expected in the newly overhauled insurance marketplaces. Obamacare's drafters hoped the program would be funded by industry, but health plans quickly racked up losses when the marketplaces opened in 2014. The next year, Republican lawmakers approved the first in a series of annual appropriations riders barring HHS from using taxpayer dollars to bankroll the program, known as risk corridors.

The high court agreed with insurers that the congressional spending restrictions didn't release the government from its original promise to fund the Obamacare program. The court said Congress had created "a rare money-mandating obligation" that later appropriations language couldn't repeal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


There's Something About Scooters (BENJAMIN SCHNEIDER, APRIL 27, 2020, Slate)

Atlanta's "Action Plan for Safer Streets" is perhaps the most significant example of the scooter craze actually influencing policy and infrastructure in American cities, but it's not the only one. Scooter companies--buoyed by their fees, data, and millions of new two-wheeled street users--have begun to push cities, especially those that have historically had few cyclists, to rethink their auto-centric street designs. Indianapolis has earmarked the fees it charges scooter companies to build safe "neighborways" for bikes and scooters, and activists in Nashville have used scooter data to make a stronger case for bike lane expansions along popular corridors, to name just two more examples.

Scooter-sharing companies already faced an uncertain future before the coronavirus pandemic, and now that future is in great jeopardy, with most companies suspending service in the U.S.  But no matter what happens going forward, this two-year experiment has clearly demonstrated the demand for micromobility--human-size, often electrically boosted vehicles--in a wide variety of American cities. Scooters have also proven to be a powerful symbol, illustrating the geometry and physics at the root of the nation's transportation problems--for those who are willing to look.

Scooters are a lot of things to a lot of people, but everyone can agree they're popular. In 2018, the first year they were widely available, shared, dockless scooters provided 38.5 million trips in America, more than the nation's much-longer-established docked bike-share systems like CitiBike. All indications suggest that number should be higher for 2019. Atlanta saw more than 3 million rides in the first nine months of 2019. Austin, Texas, saw 5 million rides in a 15-month period between 2018 and 2019. Los Angeles sees about 1 million scooter and dockless bike rides per month. A single company, Lime, which operates fleets of scooters and bikes around the world, announced its 100 millionth ride in September 2019.

All those rides translate to a lot more riders on two wheels--and not only in coastal cities with vibrant cycling cultures. "You have basically double the number of citizens saying, 'Where's my damn bike lane?' " said Regina Clewlow, CEO of Populus, a micromobility data platform, extrapolating from a 2018 report. "I think cities are hearing that." And their constituents might be giving them more leeway to act on road safety improvements that have historically been a hard sell to the car-owning public. Even if only a handful of scooter riders become bike lane advocates, plenty more will at the very least understand their utility firsthand. (It has become commonly accepted that bike lanes are the best place for scooters to ride). Even drivers who might otherwise resent bike lanes are forced to acknowledge that they're actually being used, and are thankful that the pesky scooters are being kept out of their way.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


For White Nationalists, Covid-19 Came Right on TimeCurrent eruptions of anti-Asian harassment and violence may just be the earthquake before the tsunami. (Scot Nakagawa, 4/26/20, The Nation)

Reports of anti-Asian violence and harassment abound, and right-wing websites, subreddits, and message boards are full of conspiracy theories and racist tropes targeting the Chinese. Incidents like those documented here, here, and here, point to a resurgence of "yellow peril" racism and remind us of the peculiar power of Orientalism to make Asians easy targets of racist conspiracy theories by casting us as forever foreign in our tastes, interests, and loyalties. President Trump's insistence on calling Covid-19 "Chinese," whether intended as a deflection or red meat for his base, appears to be playing an important, even definitive role here, legitimating racist right-wing conspiracy theories, and giving white nationalists permission. That permission is amplified by federal government inaction in the face of community demands to address reports of hate crimes. [...]

Steven Gardiner of Political Research Associates, a 40-year-old nonprofit strategy and research center that is monitoring how anti-Chinese resentment is blending with anti-globalism and anti-Semitism, sums up the current situation: "The racist right is both inciting its followers and engaging in a bigoted call-and-response with the Trump administration.... Provocateurs like Anne Coulter are consolidating every Sinophobic slur into Covid-19 currency for right-wing media consumers, while more sober seeming outlets like American Renaissance are waxing nostalgic for the Chinese Exclusion Act with unmasked white nationalism."

This kind of bait-and-switch--in which targets of popular bigotry are used as proxies for less easily assailed scapegoats--is a tried and true tactic of the right. And it's facilitated by a failure of vigilance against racism and other bigotries, both as social ills and as antidemocratic ideologies. Asian Americans and Jews are both easy targets in the contemporary US context, because the racism we are subjected to isn't regarded as important, politically meaningful, or sexy media fodder. We think of racism only in terms of harm to "the most vulnerable." We focus mainly on the most corrosive effects in terms of poverty--shortened life expectancies, mass incarceration, unemployment, etc.--which have the effect of making racism appear to be a "them" issue to mainstream white voters and not an "us" crisis of democracy, eroding our ability to see across traditional divides to our shared interest in supporting an equitable welfare state that provides, among other things, robust public health infrastructure. It is only when racism directed at soft targets like Jews and Asians takes on a certain lurid quality--when it gets exaggerated by racial terrorists--that we consider it important enough for serious consideration by the media and the general public.

Fun watching the Trumpbots switch from quack medicines to hating the Chinese this week.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Calexit' May Be A Long Way Off, But Balkanization Won't Be (DAREL E. PAUL, 4/27/20, American Conservative)

The California roadmap is the latest in a long line of policies practically and symbolically distancing the Golden State from the rest of the country. California has long been the only state granted the right to maintain its own auto emissions standards. Since 2017 it has prevented state employees from traveling on official business to other states that, in the evaluation of its Attorney General, maintain legal "discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression." California is a self-declared "sanctuary state" limiting the degree to which state and local law enforcement may cooperate with federal immigration officials. In 2019 it began covering certain illegal immigrants in its state Medicaid program, and this year created a state-based coronavirus relief fund specifically for residents who are in the country unlawfully.

There is no doubt that California is both very peculiar and very large. Yet neither quality lends it the status of a nation, nor does it make California a state in the international legal sense of the term. Nonetheless one day it could become so, and the coronavirus pandemic is creating novel opportunities for California to travel down just such a path.

The state already has the political infrastructure to begin entertaining independence. In 2015 a set of quixotic activists formed the California National Party dedicated to the proposition that Californians deserve their own country. The next year a parallel organization, Yes California, formed to support an independence referendum for the state. Both the California National Party and Yes California are self-consciously modeled after the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the organization Yes Scotland that spearheaded the campaign for Scottish independence in 2014. 

Like their California emulators, the SNP was once little more than a fringe player in Scottish politics and for decades Scottish independence was considered a crackpot idea. All that changed in the 1980s and 1990s under eighteen consecutive years of Conservative Party rule in the United Kingdom. While England voted for Margaret Thatcher and her successor John Major, Scotland kept voting Labour. The partisan divide between the two countries grew so large that by the end of this long Tory era in 1997, not a single Conservative Member of Parliament remained in Scotland. As SNP members are continually fond of saying--both back then and under David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson―Scotland repeatedly got governments it didn't vote for. In the eyes of Scottish nationalists, the only way out is secession.

Californians can make a similar appeal. The state's Electoral College votes haven't gone to a Republican in over thirty years. Republicans haven't controlled a house of the California state legislature in twenty-four years and there hasn't been a single Republican elected to statewide office in California in ten years. Yet since 2000 Republicans have controlled the Presidency and the U.S. Senate 60 percent of the time and the U.S. House of Representatives 70 percent of the time. For eight of the past twenty years there has even been a Republican trifecta--simultaneous control of the White House and both houses of Congress. While Donald Trump won 46 percent of the national popular vote in 2016, he received a mere 32 percent in California, the third lowest proportion of any state in the country. The day after the election #Calexit became a leading social media hashtag. When campaigning for governor in 2018, Gavin Newsom told voters they were selecting the next "head of the resistance" to the President.

Culture won't be a significant driver when we divide into several nations; it will just be a function of size.  CA by itself vastly exceeds the optimal population of the freest nations. With 330 million people, the US stands out like a sore thumb on such lists.  Devolving into a series of American nations will just allow for more effective governance.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Dangerous Tax Implication of 'Tele-Working' (Andrew Wilford, April 27, 2020, Real Clear Markets)

In late February, Arkansas became the latest state to institute a so-called "convenience of the employer" test. In doing so, it joined states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Nebraska, and New York.

The concept of a "convenience of the employer" test is as elegantly simple as it is insultingly illogical. New York, for example, requires employees whose office is located in New York but who work remotely for any period of time to prove that such remote work could not have been performed in their office. If the remote work could have been done in the employee's New York office, the state treats it as work performed in New York for tax purposes.

Of course, there are very few reasons why a remote worker absolutely has to work remotely. Most do so because of the convenience of spending time with family, to make living situations outside of major urban centers feasible, or to avoid lengthy commutes (such as the notorious one into New York City, for example). Remote work subject to "convenience of the employer" tests, therefore, usually incurs tax liability in the state with the test.

The taxpayer falling afoul of this rule may be surprised to discover that they are liable for income taxes to two states for their period of remote work, as the state where the work was actuallyperformed will claim income taxes as well. As a result, these rules can cause unsuspecting taxpayers to get caught between two aggressive tax departments.

Taxpayers who moved to a state with no income tax to do remote work can also find that income taxes follow them nonetheless. The case that led to Arkansas's adoption of a "convenience of the employer" test involved an employee that worked in Arkansas before moving to Washington State (a state with no income tax) to do the same work remotely. Because of Arkansas's "convenience of the employer" test, this employee found that, despite living on the other side of the country, Arkansas still demanded taxes on their income.

Adding massive gas taxes would help speed the transition to remote work too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New hypothesis argues the universe simulates itself into existence: A physics paper proposes neither you nor the world around you are real. (PAUL RATNER, 26 April, 2020, Big Think)

The physical universe is a "strange loop" says the new paper titled "The Self-Simulation Hypothesis Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics" from the team at the Quantum Gravity Research, a Los Angeles-based theoretical physics institute, founded by the scientist and entrepreneur Klee Irwin. They take Bostrom's simulation hypothesis, which maintains that all of reality is an extremely detailed computer program, and ask - rather than relying on advanced lifeforms to create the amazing technology necessary to compose everything within our world, isn't it more efficient to propose that the universe itself is a "mental self-simulation"? 

Hardly new.

April 26, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM



Cotton railed against Chinese students coming to colleges in the United States to receive an education on Fox News Sunday, arguing that they ultimately return to China and "compete for our jobs" and steal innovative U.S. ideas. He said Chinese students shouldn't be allowed to study sciences in American colleges and universities as punishment...

Super on brand.
Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


America Isn't Actually Doing So Badly Against Coronavirus (Ramesh Ponnuru, April 26, 2020, Bloomberg View)

We don't have enough tests for Covid-19 in the U.S. President Donald Trump spent weeks minimizing the threat and still makes comments that undermine his own administration's public-health efforts. Congress has not supplied sufficient funding for relief efforts, and left town without making provision to vote remotely if needed. Some politicians have shown culpable ignorance about the epidemic, while others have overreacted in self-defeating ways.

Americans have a lot of legitimate complaints about the response to the coronavirus. The complaints are worth voicing. Criticism of mistakes can lead to fixing them, or at least preventing their recurrence. (Granted, an opinion columnist has a vested interest in saying that.)

But our justified discontents should not obscure everything for which we should be grateful. In some quarters, there is a mood of bitter disappointment in America. The journalist Julia Ioffe took it as an indictment of our country when we took the lead in confirmed coronavirus cases. Anne Applebaum drew an unflattering contrast between our shutdown of international flights and China's sending aid to Italy: "Who is the superpower?" George Packer wrote an essay in the Atlantic claiming that the epidemic reveals that the U.S. is "a failed state."

All of this is overwrought. International comparisons of confirmed cases tell us little, considering that they don't account for population size, lying governments or discrepancies in detection. The Chinese regime charged suffering European countries high rates for faulty test kits and protective masks, and it bears a lot of the responsibility for the epidemic's having started in the first place. Its standing in Europe has fallen, not risen. Packer dwells so long on the deficiencies of Trump and the Republican Party as to make it sound as though all it will take for us to stop being a failed state is for a few people in the Midwest to vote differently this fall than they did in 2016.

The truth is that for all our mistakes, we are not handling the epidemic in markedly worse fashion than other developed countries.

As always, one thing that really stands out in the crisis is how conformist our culture of liberty makes us.  Because of the universal nature of the recommended restrictions we accepted them quite eagerly and are making the best of them with an extraordinary level of social solidarity.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Biden should let Trump self-destruct (Julian Zelizer, April 25, 2020, CNN)

Joe Biden seems to be inching closer to the White House by simply sitting at home. Although much of the nation has barely heard from the presumptive Democratic nominee since early March, President Donald Trump is struggling to maintain his legitimacy after asking his aides on Thursday whether zapping people with light or injecting them with disinfectants could cure Covid-19. The comments prompted even Fox News anchors to tell their viewers: don't try this at home.

The situation is bleak for the GOP. Republicans are worried about a devastating election in November that might leave Democrats in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. After a temporary spike in his approval ratings when the crisis started for many Americans, the President's numbers have dropped.

Every day, the nation is exposed to a commander-in-chief who is pressing the gas pedal in a runaway car without control of the wheel.

We ought not see Uncle Joe again until January 19th. Donald is the argument against his own presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


There's a Question My Confederate Ancestors Taught Me To Ask: On the incredibly powerful pull of tribe over truth. (David French, 4/26/20, The Dispatch)

Slavery was a monstrous evil. Yet generations of Americans grew up in communities that accepted it, defended it, and even celebrated it. How many abolitionist arguments did a child of the antebellum South ever hear? If they heard abolitionist arguments, did they hear them portrayed fairly, accurately, and sympathetically? 

Putting aside the power of argument, did the witness of their own eyes and ears--the brutality that was plainly before them--provide them with sufficient cause to say, "No. I shall not defend such evil"? 

Let's put the question differently. Looking realistically at human nature, at the tidal forces of tribe and history, and the immense fallibility of our own hearts, how would each of us answer this question: "If everyone around me is wrong, would I have the wisdom and courage to know and do what's right?"

My Sunday newsletter last week--arguing that Trump-supporting white Evangelicals had abandoned the character test for candidates and were now even abandoning even the expectation of competence--sparked an immense amount of discussion, debate, and even more than a little bit of anger. Some of that anger centered around my repeated use of the term "white Evangelical." Why racialize religious Trump support?

I used the term to be precise and fair. If we want to talk about religious Trump support, we are talking about a distinct American community--not all Evangelicals, but white Evangelicals. I linked to polling showing that most other Evangelicals oppose Trump, even if they have the same theological beliefs as their white brothers and sisters. The disparity is so great, that it raises the question--when speaking of white Evangelical support for Trump, is the truly operative word "white" or "Evangelical"?

I've been thinking a great deal about the incredibly powerful pull of tribe over truth. I just last week finished the final edits of my new book, called Divided We Fall. The theme of the book is simple--our national divisions are growing so great that we cannot take for granted our continued national unity. I spend an extended amount of time talking about a sociological reality that is ripping our nation to shreds--the law of group polarization.

The concept comes from a Cass Sunstein academic paper, published all the way back in 1999. Surveying the relevant social science, Sunstein said, "[I]n a striking empirical regularity, deliberation tends to move groups, and the individuals who compose them, toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by their own predeliberation judgments."

In plain English, this means that when like-minded people gather, their views get more extreme. Our arguments reinforce one another to such an extent that the entire group will sometimes become more extreme than the most extreme person at the start of the deliberation. Think of it like this--when gun rights advocates (or gun control activists) gather, do they tend to leave the meeting doubting their positions or redoubled in their commitment to advocacy? How many people leave a good Bible study loving Jesus less? 

It's a nonpartisan, human phenomenon, and what's so seductive about it is the fact that we can't perceive the sheer tribalism because it's accompanied by deliberation--by discussion and thought. We fool ourselves into believing our ideas or our intellects are in control when it is often our identity or our history. 

There are plenty of warning signs for the GOP about the danger of organizing its national politics around a single tribe--white men.   That this is an eventual demographic dead end is too obvious to require much comment.  Even the way in which the tribalism makes the party to extreme for voters needs little beyond what Mr. French and many others have pointed out--Jonah Goldberg often has guests who discuss this negative polarization.  

No, the underdiscussed problem is that, while Donald has moved the racial concerns of a single extreme cohort of Americans to a central position within the national GOP, the Democrats, who already have the advantage of being a coalitional party, which prevents such extremism, reap the benefits of obtaining moderate whites (suburban, college-educated, married women, etc.) at the same time that the various groups become cemented into their party infrastructure.  Were you to start with a blank slate and have two typical political parties organized around ideas--one more right-leaning and one more left--members of the various tribes would sort themselves along the lines of their beliefs.  The GOP might lose the white working class voters who want a National industrial Policy, Protectionism, and the like, but would pick up socially conservative blacks, Jews, Asians, Latinos, etc., none of whom could maintain self-respect while voting for a party that hates them.  Instead, they are forced to vote Democratic, joined by decent white conservatives, and they create such a counterweight to the ideological roots of the Democrats that the party is rather moderate at  the national level.  The past three Democratic presidents have governed as virtual Republicans and a moderate Joe Biden saw off his Progressive challenger even more handily than Hillary had.  [Note that they are the wife and the vp of quasi-Republican presidents respectively.]

The removal of moderates from the GOP naturally accelerates its group polarization and drives it ever further to the extreme and--as the National Emergency and impeachment votes prove--answers Mr. French's question in the negative: "If everyone around me is wrong, would I have the wisdom and courage to know and do what's right?"  There is one particularly tragic and illustrative example in this regard, Ben Sasse scores Trump endorsement after biting his tongue and keeping his head down (James Hohmann, September 11, 2019, Washington Post)

 Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) voted to uphold President Trump's declaration of a "national emergency" to divert money from the military for a border wall that Congress refused to fund. Doing so ran counter to many of the principles he espoused not long ago as a self-identified "constitutional conservative," specifically his outspoken calls for checking the power of the executive branch. Now, it's paying political dividends.

Sasse refused to vote for Trump in the 2016 general election, comparing him to white supremacist David Duke and announcing that he'd write Mike Pence's name in on his ballot. Now he says he'll support the Republican ticket in 2020 and effusively praises the president's judicial nominations. Last night at 9:23 p.m. Eastern, Trump returned the favor, tweeting that "Ben has my Complete and Total Endorsement!"

"Ben Sasse has done a wonderful job representing the people of Nebraska," the president wrote. "He is great with our Vets, the Military, and your very important Second Amendment. Strong on Crime and the Border..."

For Sasse, the past several months have represented something akin to surrender in the war for the soul of modern conservatism. More significant than his voting record is the evolution in Sasse's tone about Trump and his increasingly long periods of silence. He's gone to apparent pains not to be perceived as a Never Trumper or to become a face of the Republican resistance, mostly by flying below the radar and not speaking out against the president on Fox News. His once prolific personal Twitter account has been dark since May. He rarely engages with reporters seeking comment on the story of the day in the corridors of the Capitol.

During the first year of the Trump presidency, Sasse was often snarky about Trump's apostasies. His office has released fewer such statements to the press over time, increasingly avoiding the president by name unless it's a compliment. Last year, Sasse blasted Trump's tariffs as "dumb." Back home during the August recess, he was quoted by small-town papers speaking in a more cautious and measured way about the trade war. Sasse also didn't speak out after Trump tried to bring the Taliban to Camp David on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, for example, nor as the president fired fellow hawk John Bolton.

Instead of critiquing Trump, Sasse has trained his ire on Nancy Pelosi.

The last line is dispositive, as the Senator has abandoned everything he believes in he can still find comfort in partisanship for its own sake.  Such is the cost of staying in the tribe.  


Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Taliban Constitution Offers Glimpse Into Militant Group's Vision For Afghanistan (Frud Bezhan, 4/26/20, Radio Liberty)

In the document, power was centralized in the hands of an "Amir ul-Momineen," or leader of the faithful. This supreme leader was the head of state and had ultimate authority. This was Mullah Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader and founder.

The constitution did not describe how such a leader would be selected or for how long he could serve. But it said the supreme leader must be male and a Sunni Muslim.

An Islamic council, handpicked by the supreme leader, would serve as the legislature and implement laws and policy. The government, headed by the head of the council of ministers -- a quasi-prime ministerial position -- would report to the Islamic council.

Under the constitution, Sunni Islam was to be the official state religion, even though some 15 percent of the population are Shi'ite Muslims.

The document stated that no law could be contrary to Islamic Shari'a law.

The constitution granted freedom of expression, women's education, and the right of a fair trial, but all within the limits of the Taliban's strict interpretation of Shari'a law.

It is unclear how the document shaped the Taliban's draconian laws and brutal policies during its Islamic Emirate, the official name of the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.

The Taliban banned TV and music, forced men to pray and grow beards, forced women to cover themselves from head to toe, and prevented women and girls from working or going to school. The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engaged in adultery. Executions were common.

Andrew Watkins, a senior analyst for Afghanistan at the International Crisis Group, said the draft constitution reflects the "Taliban's intensely religious roots" and reveals the importance placed on a "centralized authority" for a group that was "founded on a mission of restoring order to the country."

The document was littered with contradictions and was never ratified.[...]

Analysts said the Taliban's great ambiguity on key issues reflects the divisions within the group.

The Taliban's political leadership based in Pakistan is believed to be more open to an accommodation in assuming power under a peace deal.

Meanwhile, hard-line military commanders on the battlefield in Afghanistan are reluctant to budge on their demands for a full restoration of the Islamic Emirate.

"There is a cocktail of views among the Taliban on power and governance," said Javid Ahmad, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

"More than anything, Taliban leaders need an intra-Taliban dialogue to settle their conflicting views about a future Afghan state," Ahmad added.

There are also intense differences among the Afghan political elite.

Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, generally support a centralized state that guarantees their control of the government. But non-Pashtuns, which constitute a majority of the population, believe too much power of the state is left in the hands of one individual, and support decentralization because it would enshrine a more inclusive and equitable distribution of power.

Such a Pashtunistan would be fatally weak for all the same reasons that the Caliphate was.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Trump tweeted that the coronavirus task force briefings are 'not worth the time and effort' (Tom Porter, 4/26/20, Business Insider)

On Saturday the briefing was cancelled, with aides reportedly increasingly concerned about evidence showing his chances of winning the presidential election are narrowing and his appearances at the briefing are a key factor. 

Data in key battleground states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania shows Trump losing ground, reported The New York Times Saturday, and for some senior Republicans his comments on Thursday were a "breaking point."

On Friday, Trump only spoke for 30 minutes at the briefing and took no questions from the media, while on Saturday, the task force met privately and no briefing was held. 

He lacks the discipline and self-awareness to keep his moth shut.  He'll have the revolver back at his temple by Tuesday at the latest.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Did John Bolton Outfox Himself on His Own Tell-All Book? (Jeffrey Toobin, April 26, 2020, The New Yorker)

 Like anyone with access to classified information, he signed a prepublication-review agreement. Each government agency that allowed Bolton access to its information--and, in the case of a national-security adviser, that would have been virtually all of them--has the right to review his manuscript and to excise purportedly improper disclosures. Bolton left the government on bad terms with Trump, and it looks like the Administration may be taking revenge through the review process. Charles Cooper, Bolton's lawyer, has already complained about how the Administration is delaying and revising Bolton's book, and his publication date has already slipped from March to May. But there's no guarantee that the review process will even be finished by May, either. (Cooper and a spokeswoman for Simon & Schuster declined to comment.) [...]

[I]f he had testified, most of his story would already be out in the open, and the Administration would have no grounds to claim that it was still classified since he had already revealed it in testimony to Congress. In other words, by ducking public testimony, Bolton protected the commercial value of his book, but he left himself at the mercy of the prepublication-review process. That may turn out to have been a bad bet.

The Ayatollah smiles.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Hamilton Bohannon, disco and Motown star, dies aged 78 (Ben Beaumont-Thomas, 25 Apr 2020, The Guardian)

He was hired by Stevie Wonder as his live drummer and came into the orbit of Motown Records, who later employed him as a bandleader. His group Bohannon & The Motown Sound backed numerous label stars on tour, including Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, the Temptations, and Diana Ross and the Supremes ("I've never been to heaven, but I bet that's pretty close," Bohannon once said of the latter).

After Motown moved to Los Angeles, he stayed in the label's first home of Detroit and started a solo career, beginning with 1973 album Stop & Go, and eventually released 19 studio albums by the end of the 1980s. He struggled to cross over in the US pop market - only one of his singles reached the Top 100 - but he became a mainstay in the disco boom of the mid-1970s onwards with tracks like Let's Start the Dance.

He had three Top 40 hits in the UK: South African Man, Foot Stompin' Music and Disco Stomp, the latter reaching No 6 in 1975.

He became a cult favourite among his fellow musicians, with Tom Tom Club respectfully chanting his name over and over in their hit Genius of Love; artists including Mary J Blige, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg have all sampled his tracks. He is seen as helping to pioneer the "four-four" beat that powered disco and later house and techno, and the octave-jumping groove of Me and the Gang became the core of Paul Johnson's house hit Get Get Down, a UK No 5 hit in 1999.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


April 25, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM



A newly released poll shows that 69 percent of registered voters support Medicare for All, a plan which would create a national health insurance plan available for all Americans.

The poll also showed 46 percent of Republican voters supporting Medicare for All alongside 88 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Independents.[...]

The coronavirus epidemic has raised awareness about flaws in the American health insurance system as many people who lost their jobs due to stay-at-home and social distancing measures also lost their health insurance. Without insurance, many Americans fear getting sick or injured because of the potentially devastating financial impact it could have.

Tying insurance to employment also burdens businesses with healthcare and insurance administration costs that can be expensive and time-consuming, according to The Wall Street Journal. Employment-based insurance also reduces wages and increases overhead as insurance premiums and deductibles continue to rise, according to the New York Times.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Brazil 'super minister' quit over Bolsonaro's alleged interference in the country's worst crisis yet, sparking chaos (Ricardo Brito, 4/25/20, Reuters) 

Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro suffered the heaviest blow to his presidency so far as his popular justice minister quit on Friday and accused him of potentially criminal meddling in law enforcement, adding to the turmoil of a government struggling to confront a fast-growing coronavirus outbreak.

Sergio Moro, who won broad public support for jailing corrupt politicians and businessmen as a judge, said he was resigning because Bolsonaro fired federal police chief Mauricio Valeixo for personal and political reasons.

The shocking exit and allegations from the so-called 'super minister' were a hammer blow for Bolsonaro, whose popularity had already slumped for downplaying the pandemic that has killed more than 3,600 Brazilians and shows signs of worsening.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Trump-Putin joint statement on Elbe anniversary alarms Russia critics in U.S. (Michael R. Gordon and Gordon Lubold, 4/25/20, MarketWatch)

President Trump issued a symbolic joint statement Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a move that has stirred debate within the Trump administration and spawned concern among some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, according to people familiar with the document.

Thanks to the Deep State, he is at least reduced to symbols.  Although killing Americans certainly suits Vlad too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


April 24, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Reinstate Capt. Crozier to USS Roosevelt, Navy Tells Esper, According to Reports (KATIE BO WILLIAMS, 4/24/20, Defense One)

Senior Navy officials have recommended to Defense Secretary Mark Esper that Capt. Brett Crozier, the commander who was fired after warning that the crew of the coronavirus-stricken USS Theodore Roosevelt was in danger, be restored to command of the aircraft carrier, according to multiple news reports. 

Come January, the piles of corpses will be the only evidence Donald even existed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Trump owes tens of millions to the Bank of China -- and the loan is due soon (MARC CAPUTO, MERIDITH MCGRAW and ANITA KUMAR, 04/24/2020, Politico)

[T]rump himself is tens of millions of dollars in debt to China: In 2012, his real estate partner refinanced one of Trump's most prized New York buildings for almost $1 billion. The debt includes $211 million from the state-owned Bank of China -- its first loan of this kind in the U.S. -- which matures in the middle of what could be Trump's second term, financial records show.

Steps from Trump Tower in Manhattan, the 43-story 1290 Avenue of the Americas skyscraper spans an entire city block. Trump owns a 30 percent stake in the property valued at more than $1 billion, making it one of the priciest addresses in his portfolio, according to his financial disclosures.

Trump's ownership of the building received a smattering of attention before and after his 2016 campaign. But the arrangement with the Bank of China -- and its impending due date in 2022 -- has gone largely unnoticed.

At least he isn't only pro-Xi because of the Muslim oppression.

Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


FDA issues warnings on chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine after 'serious poisoning and death' reported (Berkeley Lovelace Jr., 4/24/20, CNBC)

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers Friday against taking malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 outside a hospital or formal clinical trial setting after "serious" poisoning and deaths were reported. 

The agency said it became aware of reports of "serious heart rhythm problems" in patients with the virus who were treated with the malaria drugs, often in combination with antibiotic azithromycin, commonly known as a Z-Pak. It also warned physicians against prescribing the drugs to treat the coronavirus outside of a hospital.

"Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause abnormal heart rhythms such as QT interval prolongation and a dangerously rapid heart rate called ventricular tachycardia," the agency wrote in the notice. "We will continue to investigate risks associated with the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for COVID-19 and communicate publicly when we have more information.′

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Earth Day at 50: A surprising success story (BJORN LOMBORG,  APRIL 22, 2020, Globe & Mail)

Early environmentalism in the 1970s helped focus societies on priorities such as polluted rivers - the Cuyahoga River in the United States famously caught fire in 1969 - and fouled air, with soot and smog killing millions.

Here, we have made great strides. Most bodies of water in rich countries are much cleaner, since we are prosperous enough to clean up our domestic messes. In the U.S., for instance, a recent comprehensive study showed that "water pollution concentrations have fallen substantially" over the past 50 years. And a stunning 3.8 billion people around the world have gained access to clean drinking water since 1970.

Air pollution, the world's biggest environmental killer, has seen even greater improvements. Outdoor air pollution has declined dramatically in rich countries, due in no small measure to attention from 1970's Earth Day and subsequent actions such as the landmark U.S. Clean Air Act later that year.

For the world's poor, the most deadly air pollution is indoors. Almost three billion of the world's poorest people still cook and keep warm with dirty fuels such as dung, cardboard and wood, and the World Health Organization estimates the effects are equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes each day.

But since 1970, the death risk across the world from indoor air pollution has been cut by more than half.

Despite the amazing progress, both indoor and outdoor air pollution still kill seven million people each year. At least two billion people still use drinking water sources contaminated by feces. So, for the next 50 years, we still have our work cut out for us. Things are far better, but they are still not okay.

...and switch the focus to saving those 7 million a year by eliminating pollution.  Make environmentalism the other pro-life movement.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Herbert Spencer on Equal Liberty and the Free Society (Richard M. Ebeling, April 24, 2020, AIER)

Herbert Spencer's starting premise, as stated time and again in Social Statics, is, "Every man has freedom to do as he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man" (p. 95). He argues that whether the starting point is a belief in God and God's purpose for man, or whether we rely, instead, on our reason and reflection on the nature and desire of any and all men, the conclusion that we can readily reach is that the purpose of all of us is wanting the achievement of happiness. Which one of us as normal human beings do not want to be happy?

But the pursuit of happiness, he says, requires the exercise of our mental and physical faculties, and to do so, each of us must be at liberty to decide upon the ends that may move us closer to that happiness and the best means as we see them to try to approach that end. Only individuals possessing the greatest latitude to act as they peacefully wish can ever have the chance to fulfill some aspect of that element in our human make-up that cries out to be happier than we may be. 

If each of us is to have the freedom to pursue that happiness, this requires seeing a boundary beyond which anyone of us may not go, and that is an abridgement of every other individual's right and liberty to do the same. This demands, as Spencer says, "that each man shall have the greatest freedom compatible with the like freedom of all others" (pp. 75-76). Or as Spencer more clearly explains his view of man in society:

Liberty of action being the first essential to exercise of faculties, and therefore the first essential of happiness; and the liberty of each limited by the like liberty of all being the form which this first essential assumes when applied to many instead of to one, it follows that this liberty of each, limited by the like liberty of all, is the rule of conformity with which society must be organized. Freedom being the prerequisite to normal life for the individual, equal freedom becomes the prerequisite to normal life in society. And . . . this law of equal freedom is the primary law of right relationships between man and man . . .(p.79)

From this starting point, Spencer proceeds to explain the how and the why of each individual's right to his life and personal liberty, to his right to private property peacefully acquired in a setting of respecting each's equal freedom, and how this includes the right of free association and exchange for mutual betterment and pursuit of happiness in a way that violates the equal freedom of none, and improves the chances of each. 

Except, of course, that each of us does not get to decide on our "liberty," that would be mere freedom.  Instead, we decide together how to limit individual freedom, thereby rendering liberty.
Posted by orrinj at 8:52 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Donald Trump, Un-American: Again and again, the president has rejected America's founding principles. (JOHN J. PITNEY, JR.,  APRIL 24, 2020, The Bulwark)

Consider how he describes presidential authority. At a recent press briefing, he suggested that he could order states to reopen businesses. "The federal government has absolute power ... I have the absolute right to do if I want to." He has often made similar claims, including his assertion that he has an "absolute right" to seek foreign investigations of American political figures-an offense that triggered the first article of his impeachment. 

Absolute power was precisely what the Founders sought to avoid. The word "absolute" appears three times in the Declaration, always to proclaim what the patriots were fighting against: "absolute Despotism," "absolute Tyranny," and "absolute rule." 

Trump's threat to adjourn Congress calls to mind the Declaration's charge that George III had "dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people."

To prevent anyone from gaining absolute power, the Constitution included elaborate checks on the government and provided that all officials would be accountable for their actions. Alexander Hamilton wrote that a British monarch "is the absolute master of his own conduct in the exercise of his office," whereas in a republic, "every magistrate ought to be personally responsible for his behavior in office."

Why should the racist fringe support the Founding any more than the Progressive?

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


The Debate Between Liberty-Minded and Common-Good Conservatives Is Nothing New (NATE HOCHMAN, April 24, 2020, National Review)

All the way back in 1968, William F. Buckley Jr. published a little book called Gratitude. Subtitled "Reflections On What We Owe To Our Country," the book was Buckley's attempt to propose a Switzerland-style national-service program for America's youth, born out of his concern that the younger generation lacked responsibility and patriotism. No doubt fully aware of the controversy that his proposal would ignite among many of his fellow travelers on the political right, Buckley wrote:

The conviction of some conservatives that the state can't have a genuine, non-predatory interest in the cultivation of virtue strikes me as an anarchical accretion in modern conservative thought, something that grew from too humorless a reading of such spirited individualists as Albert Jay Nock and H.L. Mencken. . . . National service, if transformed merely into a state bureaucracy with huge powers of intimidation, is not only to be avoided, but to be fought. But we can open our minds to something other than a statist program, or one that lodges in the state the kind of power conservatives have been taught, at great historical expense, to husband for social uses.

So conscious was Buckley of the ire that his argument would provoke from the libertarian faction of the conservative coalition, he wrote an entire chapter entitled "Anticipating the Libertarian Argument." Despite his support for free markets, he begrudgingly acknowledged the limitations of economic liberty. "The deep wellsprings of patriotism are fed by other forces, and these do not leave fingerprints in the market," he wrote. "They must be investigated by the use of entirely different instruments."

This is similar to a view that many of the more market-skeptical Burkean traditionalists have expressed in contemporary intra-conservative debates: the idea that the state has a vested interest in protecting and even proactively nurturing our civic institutions, placing some aspects of our cultural inheritance beyond the reach of the creative destruction that is inherent to any dynamic liberal society. It's a view that stems from a particular concern for what Buckley called "connections between the individual and the community beyond those that relate either to the state or to the marketplace."

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


As the coronavirus interrupts global supply chains, people have an alternative - make it at home (Joshua M. Pearce, 4/24/20, The Conversation)

Not so long ago, the prevailing thinking in industry was that the lowest-cost manufacturing was large, mass manufacturing in low-labor-cost countries like China. At the time, in the early 2000s, only Fortune 500 companies and major research universities had access to 3D printers. The machines were massive, expensive tools used to rapidly prototype parts and products.

More than a decade ago, the patents expired on the first type of 3D printing, and a professor in Britain had the intriguing idea of making a 3D printer that could print itself. He started the RepRap project - short for self-replicating rapid prototyper - and released the designs with open-source licenses on the web. The designs spread like wildfire and were quickly hacked and improved upon by thousands of engineers and hobbyists all over the world.

Many of these makers started their own companies to produce variants of these 3D printers, and people can now buy a 3D printer for US$250 to $550. Today's 3D printers are full-fledged additive manufacturing robots, which build products one layer at a time. Additive manufacturing is infiltrating many industries.

Taxing consumption will drive the transition even more quickly.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


'Reopen' protest movement created, boosted by fake grassroots tactics (Marc Ambinder, 4/24/20, The Conversation)

In mid-April 2020, it appeared, a new movement was rising to express frustration with the restrictions and uncertain endpoint to the pandemic, and the economic toll the lockdown has caused.

In the space of several days, there were protests in a dozen states, ranging from a crowd of more than 2,000 who gathered in Olympia, Washington, to several dozen in Annapolis, Maryland.

The available evidence suggests that the demonstrations were organized by paid political operatives using Facebook and new websites to encourage conservatives to protest in specific places against specific governors who had imposed strong public health restrictions on economic activity. This context indicates that one real intention of the protests was to create the illusion of an organic movement that had arisen to object to the restrictions. Evidence is to the contrary: Polling shows that just 12% of Americans think their local restrictions have gone too far - and 26% think they don't go far enough.

Sparked by citizen inquiries first posted on Reddit, independent investigative reporter Brian Krebs has confirmed that most of the web domains that had been registered around the idea of "reopening" the economy belonged to a very small number of people. He used a cybersecurity search tool to search for "any and all domains registered in the past month that begin with "reopen" and end in ".com." He found that many of them were created on the same day.

He found that many of these websites, whose registration records you can see yourself at Whois.com, were owned by anti-gun-control groups that are run by the same family of brothers that organized the demonstrations through Facebook groups they run.

Several others of the "reopen" websites were registered with addresses or phone numbers used by longstanding conservative enterprises like Freedom Works. A surprising number belonged to an activist who told Mother Jones that he registered the domains to keep conservatives from using them to counter the recommendation of public health officials.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Why Joe Biden's America loves a lockdown: The divide between the professional and servant classes has never been more stark (Daniel McCarthy, April 24, 2020, The Spectator)

​In our nation's capital region, DC and its suburbs, the divide is especially pronounced. Just before DC's mayor and Virginia's governor issued stay-at-home orders, practically all businesses had already shut down voluntarily. But I ventured out to the city one day and was surprised by what I saw: while the professionals had disappeared--the lobbyists and think-tankers and journalists and other non-essential workers--groundskeepers and maintenance staff were out in force, as many of them or even more than usual, tending to decorative greenery and the facades of the professionals' buildings. I took the Metro, the DC subway, back home, and noticed that two things had changed. The trains were less crowded than normal but actually more crowded than they had been a week earlier: this was because the Metro system was running fewer trains, which logically enough meant that people who still had to go to work were packed onto the few that were still running. Those people who still had to go to work, or to use the Metro for other reasons, were not the white professional commuters, but mostly black and Hispanic service workers: maintenance men and others.

​But if COVID-19 is so dangerous that people with six-figure incomes can't go to work, why is it any less dangerous for non-whites who earn less than half as much? Why the hell were ferns still being planted outside ritzy office buildings? These workers were lucky to still have jobs, but their ongoing labor was a sign of just how selectively serious the professional classes really is about the disease. They get angry if anyone from their own class, or anyone in red-state America, doesn't stay home and quiver to the appropriate wavelength of fear. But they evidently don't think anything of people in the classes below them, not only the ones who are out of work but the ones who are still working just to keep up the appearances that are so beloved to the professional class. (God forbid some gray slab of masonry, steel, and glass should lack a fern or two to remind us that we're all truly eco-sensitive.)

​Since the shelter-in-place orders came into effect, I've seen the same thing in the suburbs where I live. Groundskeepers are out with leaf blowers and lawn-mowers, while professionals don't exit their apartments until it's time to take the poodle out for a poop or to go for a jog and spread sweat and heavy breathing around the community. (But that's professional-class sweat, so it's germ-free.) The whole thing is a transparent farce: either progressive professional types don't believe their own hype, and are simply indulging in a bit of harmless (for them) disaster fantasy, or they are morally far worse than the mild skeptics and conservatives who call for more than just the hedge-trimmers to go back to work.

You can either believe that things are safe enough for cautious professionals to work, as well as the groundsmen, or you can believe that things are so dangerous that no lawn-mowing or leaf-blowing should take place.

So close to an insight; what the lock-down demonstrates is how few of these "professional" employees are needed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM

THE TRUMP BRAND (profanity alert):


His comments sparked anger on social media, with Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) tweeting: "Racism is absolutely disqualifying and sends a terrible message. This Trump spokesperson should be fired immediately."

Disqualifying?  Racism is literally the only requirement for Trumpists.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Trump's poor poll numbers trigger GOP alarms over November (ALEX ISENSTADT, 04/24/2020, Politico)

 His campaign's internal polling shows that the president's initial bump in managing the virus has dissipated, according to a person familiar with the results. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released over the weekend revealed that voters thought Biden would do a better job than Trump in managing the virus by a 9-point margin, and new surveys show Trump trailing Biden in Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Alarm about Trump's standing is trickling to down-ballot races. A Fox News poll released earlier this week showed the GOP candidate trailing 13 percentage points in the Michigan Senate race, a contest the party has been targeting aggressively.

"Historically, it is important for the president to be competitive in battleground states not just for his own race, but to enable an environment that is strong enough for statewide and down-ballot candidates to have the footing they need to run successful campaigns," said Nick Everhart, a veteran Republican strategist.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


What's the deal with birds? This magnificent scientific paper examines. ( Kathryn Krawczyk, 

On Tuesday, Dan Baldassarre, an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Oswego, announced that his research paper answering "What's the Deal with Birds?" had been published in the Scientific Journal of Research & Reviews. It breaks down three different types of birds by their weirdness, though its actual purpose isn't really about birds at all.

Right off the bat, Baldassarre's article is a gem. "Birds are very strange," it declares, but "the relative weirdness of birds as opposed to other animals is yet untested." "I looked at three different birds: a woodpecker, a parrot, and a penguin," which were "animals that I knew for sure were birds, and no other things like bugs and bats," Baldassarre explains. The article continues in a similar vein, complete with a weirdness matrix diagram. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Firmness: Lew Archer should be the hero of our time. (Alan Jacobs, 4/15/20, Hedgehog Review)

The strange thing, for me, is that people whose sunk costs are not nearly as great as those of Marian Keech's followers will often exhibit precisely the same tenacity in the face of evidence that questions, or might reasonably cause them to question, their preferred narrative.

I suspect, but do not know, that the informational triage required by our hypersaturated media ecosystem--by the overcrowding of what Matt Crawford has called the "informational commons"--makes us more resistant to changing our minds than our ancestors were. (Despite the popular conception of those who have gone before us as narrow, rigid, stubborn.) In their superb book Intellectual Virtues, Robert Roberts and Jay Wood describe the virtue of intellectual firmness, which lies between the opposed vices of rigidity and flaccidity. I can't imagine a better question for me to ask myself in our strange moment than this: How, in this moment, may I achieve genuine intellectual firmness? 

After some reflection on that question, I have decided to adopt a new hero: Ross Macdonald's fictional detective, Lew Archer. My shelter-in-place reading has shifted from tales of horror to the Library of America's three-volume collection of Macdonald's Archer novels, and reading so many of these novels in sequence has me noting certain themes. (One, unrelated to this essay, is that Archer gets knocked on the head a lot, usually by pistols, sometimes by blackjacks. How he doesn't develop CTE is beyond me.) The chief of these themes is this: At some point in each novel, Archer has acquired sufficient evidence to have a clear, sometimes an utterly compelling, sense of who has committed the crime or crimes he is investigating--and then he doesn't stop looking. That's the key. No matter how compelling the narrative he has developed, no matter how neatly the ducks are lining up in their row, he continues to investigate. And then, detective novels being what they are, at some point he acquires new evidence that sends the ducks scattering. That is to say, Archer holds his narrative firmly but not rigidly; he has the perseverance to acquire new information and the humility and honesty to alter his understanding of events in light of the new information he has acquired. 

Lew Archer, I say, should be the hero of our time. I plead with you: Be like Archer. 

The reason Archer couldn't stop with the killer is because he had to try to comprehend the familial and social milieu that had produced the killing.  in so doing, MacDonald offered a devastating--even apocalyptic--critique of the post-war era.  One of the very best reasons to read him today is to recall how awful the 60s and 70s were and how much better America is today. In that sense, Archer is very much a hero of his time, not ours.
Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Syria's Doomed Struggle for Independence After WWI (Elizabeth F. Thompson, April 24, 2020, LitHub)

It is a commonly held idea that there is but one democracy in the Middle East. Not only is this false, but the ways it is uttered--as if the region has been one long failed blood battle for centuries and centuries--overlooks the fact that democracy was on the verge of flowering at the end of World War I. During the war, the British promised the Arabs an independent state, and in return, leaders of the Arab Revolt joined the Allies in World War I to capture Greater Syria from the Ottoman Turks in 1917-1918.

Prince Faisal, leader of the revolt's Northern Arab Army, proclaimed the end of Turkish tyranny and a new era of constitutional government, where citizens would enjoy equal rights regardless of religion, upon the army's arrival in Damascus in October 1918.

And here began the beginning of a deep and profound betrayal.

Not long after his troops ousted the Ottomans from Damascus, the British informed Prince Faisal that Arabs would not automatically gain independence: they would have to negotiate for it at the Paris Peace Conference. Prince Faisal traveled to Paris, where he won Allied recognition of provisional independence on condition that Syrians accept a temporary period of political tutelage, called a mandate. He then returned to Syria to call for elections of a constituent congress, which presented its resolutions on Syria's political future to a visiting American committee of inquiry sent by President Woodrow Wilson.

The congress called for immediate independence, or at least, a brief and limited American mandate. However, the British and French refused to recognize the congress or its resolution. They had secretly agreed that France should occupy Syria and Lebanon, while Britain occupied Palestine, Transjordan, and Iraq. In the fall of 1919, Britain withdrew its occupying troops from Syria, making space for a French occupation. Popular protests flared across Syria that winter, and the Congress reconvened to declare unilateral independence, without Allied consent, but based on the League's principles of self-determination. [...]

Remarkably, the Arabs in Syria formulated their political demands in alignment with what they understood to be international law. Arabs were not flouting European liberalism, they were universalizing it. 

The Looming Tower is the best book about 9-1-1.  Siege of Mecca the best about how the Wahabbi took over Saudi Islam.  But the best book about the long road there is David Fromkin's Peace to End All Peace.  In betraying our values and betraying the Middle East we unjustifiably pushed back their End of History for a century.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


'It's irresponsible and it's dangerous': Experts lay in to Donald Trump after he suggested injecting disinfectant to treat coronavirus (RYAN FAHE, 4/24/20,  MAILONLINE)

The medical community has slammed  President Donald Trump after he suggested injecting people with disinfectant could treat coronavirus. 

During yesterday's White House press briefing, citing new research delivered by senior Homeland Security science and technology advisor William Bryan, the president said it 'would be interesting' to see if mainlining disinfectant into the lungs could eradicate the pathogen.    

Pulmonologist and disease specialist Dr Vin Gupta warned the public on NBC News that Trump's idea could lead to death. 

'This notion of injecting or ingesting any type of cleansing product into the body is irresponsible and it's dangerous,' he said. 

April 23, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Trump administration health spokesman tweets about Soros and Rothschild family 'control' (JTA, 4/23/20)

The man President Donald Trump just named to speak for the Health Department accused George Soros and the Rothschild family of seeking to exploit the pandemic for control and to advance their agendas. [...]

On March 15, Caputo responded to a far-right figure, Jack Prosobiec, who wondered on Twitter why George Soros, the liberal philanthropist was ready to give to his favored political causes but not to efforts to combat the coronavirus.

"Are you kidding? Soros's political agenda REQUIRES a pandemic," Caputo said. Soros has given tens of millions of dollars to coronavirus relief.

On March 27, Caputo tweeted a photo of Soros captioned "The real virus behind everything," and added skulls and crossbones.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Leaked Study Finds No Benefit from Antiviral Remdesivir in Treating COVID-19 (RONALD BAILEY, 4.23.2020, reason)

In this randomized controlled trial, the researchers recruited 237 hospitalized COVID-19 patients; 158 were treated with remdesivir, and 79 received a placebo. (The study initially aimed to enroll 463 patients, but the researchers could not find enough recruits.) The abstract reports that "remdesivir use was not associated with a difference in time to clinical improvement and mortality at 28 days." In fact, while it's not a statistically significant difference, the mortality rate for patients treated with remdesivir was slightly higher than the rate in the placebo cohort--13.9 percent rather than 12.8 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


The Wisconsin GOP's treasurer asked people attending an anti-lockdown rally to 'please leave Confederate flags' and guns at home  (Sonam Sheth, 4/23/20, BI)

The Wisconsin Republican Party's treasurer asked people organizing and attending a rally in Madison this week not to bring Confederate flags and firearms to the event.

"Ok folks, I implore you, please leave Confederate flags and/or AR15s, AK47s, or any other long guns at home," Brian Westrate posted in a private Facebook group, The New York Times reported. "I well understand that the Confederacy was more about states rights than slavery. But that does not change the truth of how we should try to control the optics during the event."

(The main goal of the Confederacy was to preserve slavery, as Confederate leaders explicitly laid out in their constitution.)

Of course, they have them in their homes in the first place, along with the swastikas.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


Pollutant levels halve in some of London's busiest streets because of lockdown (SAMUEL HORTI, 4/23/20, nEW sTATESMAN)

The halving of traffic in the capital has led to a dramatic increase in air quality, Khan said. Across central London testing sites, levels of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant, were down by an average of a quarter since 17 March, with the figure rising to 40 per cent at roadside testing sites. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Extremists And Grifters Behind Many Of The Anti-Lockdown Protests (Christopher Mathias, 4/23/20, HuffPo)

A rally Monday in Augusta, the state capital of Maine, was organized in part by Larry Lockman, a white nationalist former state lawmaker who in 2017 warned that proposed immigrant welcome centers were tantamount to a "war on whites." 

According to Maine-based journalist Nathan Bernard, Lockman helped coordinate Monday's anti-shutdown event on the "Mainers Against Excessive Quarantine" Facebook page, where he encouraged attendees to show up to the rally wearing MAGA gear. "This is about the loss of our civil rights and its impact on our businesses and religion," he wrote in one post. 

Bernard reported seeing Lockman coordinating a group of unmasked protesters at the rally Monday.

In Columbus, Ohio, two men were photographed at an anti-shutdown protest holding up an anti-Semitic sign depicting Jews as rats, calling them "the real plague." The Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism believes one of the men belongs to the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. 

According to the ADL, this individual was photographed at a 2019 white power rally with Timothy Wilson, who was killed by federal agents last month during an attempted arrest over his alleged plot to bomb a Missouri hospital during the pandemic in order to attract attention to his white supremacist views. 

A "Reopen Florida" protest scheduled for this weekend in Miami was organized by a leader of the neo-fascist street gang The Proud Boys, the Miami New Times reported this week. 

Enrique Tarrio, a longtime Proud Boy, admitted to the New Times that he'd organized the rally, which he's advertised as being "against the Democrat-driven unconstitutional lockdown."

Members of the Proud Boys -- a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group originally founded by bigot Gavin McInnes -- have deep ties to a host of white nationalist and militia groups, and are best known for violently attacking their political opponents. 

Proud Boys have also been spotted at anti-shutdown protests in Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and Michigan. At the rally in Lansing, Michigan, Proud Boys were allegedly among the attendees blocking ambulances from being able to reach a hospital. 

Also in Michigan -- as noted by reporter Jason Wilson in The Guardian -- were members of the Michigan Liberty Militia, whose Facebook page Wilson notes "features pictures of firearms, warnings of civil war, celebrations of Norse paganism and memes ultimately sourced from white nationalist groups like Patriot Front."

Super on brand.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Everyone Is Mad at Elena Kagan (MARK JOSEPH STERN, APRIL 22, 2020, Slate)

Justice Elena Kagan shocked the world on Monday when she joined a dissent by Justice Samuel Alito that would've made Robert Bork proud. In Ramos v. Louisiana, Alito contested the Supreme Court's 6-3 decision striking down split verdicts, which allow conviction by a nonunanimous jury. Kagan, a Barack Obama appointee, typically sides with the court's liberal wing on civil rights and criminal law. Yet here she was, joining a reactionary dissent defending an unjust practice rooted in bigotry. Civil libertarians were understandably disappointed, baffled, angry, skeptical, and saddened.

Kagan's vote in Ramos really shouldn't have come as a surprise: The justice crosses ideological lines in divided decisions more frequently than any of her liberal colleagues do. She's also a pragmatist with a fierce commitment to precedent who will follow her principles even when they lead to an outcome she dislikes. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Florida poll with Biden ahead a warning sign for Trump (Naomi Lim, April 22, 2020, Washington Examiner)

Joe Biden is ahead in another poll surveying Florida voters, a potential problem for President Trump's reelection campaign.

Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, notches up 46% support in Florida to Trump's 42%, according to a Quinnipiac University poll published Wednesday.

Florida's 29 Electoral College votes are critical to Trump's efforts to secure the 270 he needs to reclaim the White House in November.

Yet in Quinnipiac's survey, Biden has an edge over Trump with independents, who could swing the contest. The two-term vice president draws 44% of the group, while the incumbent attracts 37%. Biden also has an advantage on Trump when it comes to voters older than 65, winning the demographic 52% to 42%. In 2016, Trump dominated the age bracket with 57% to then-Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton's 40%.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Democrats' House Polling Lead: Remarkably Steady (Kyle KondikIn, April 23, 2020, Crystal Ball)

President Trump's approval rating is not the only big-picture national indicator that has not changed much over the course of his presidency.

The national House generic ballot has also been very consistent for the three-plus years he's been in the White House.

Democrats have led almost every single one of the nearly 400 House generic ballot national polls released since Trump took office, as compiled in the 2018 and 2020 RealClearPolitics averages.

The lion's share of these polls, about 310, were released during the 2018 cycle, while close to 90 have come out in this cycle. Because the House is less of a focus in this year's presidential election cycle, it's natural that the generic ballot question is being asked less.

The wording from different pollsters varies, but the generic ballot question usually asks whether a respondent plans to vote for a Democrat or a Republican in their local House of Representatives election.

Out of 309 polls included in the 2018 database, 305 showed Democratic leads; three were tied and another showed a Republican lead of one point. Out of 88 polls this cycle, 87 have shown a Democratic lead, and one has shown a tie. The current RealClearPolitics average shows a Democratic lead of 7.4 points, almost exactly the same as its final average in 2018.

According to FiveThirtyEight's averages in both 2018 and 2020, the Democratic lead has been in the mid-to-high single digits for almost all of the last three years (the site's 2018 average dates back to April 2017).

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ignore the Neo-Keynesians, 'Easy Money' and 'Sloppy Loans' Didn't Cause 2008 (John Tamny, February 24, 2020, Real Clear Markets)

One conservative economist blamed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for making it possible for lenders to make "sloppy loans" since they "knew those mortgages could be bundled into securities and sold" to the two quasi-governmental entities. This stance is a popular one among conservatives, but it ignores a rush into housing that was global in nature, and that took place in countries where there was no Fannie or Freddie. After that, it's worth pointing out that housing soared in England even though the mortgage interest deduction was jettisoned there back in the 1980s. Housing boomed in Canada even though it's long been very difficult for borrowers to access home loans there.

Furthermore, the argument ignores the simple truth that a substantial majority of those allegedly "sloppy loans" performed. As Blackstone co-founder Stephen Schwarzman pointed out in his excellent new book, What It Takes, mortgage loan performance was over 90%. That it was is and was a statement of the obvious. Banks, precisely because they're not equity lenders, must issue loans that will be paid back.

They were in trouble not because the loans were generally sloppy, but because even a small percentage of bad loans can render a bank insolvent. Furthermore, it rates stress that even without Fannie and Freddie, demand for bundled mortgages was already extraordinarily high; as in even if Fannie and Freddie hadn't been size buyers of these securities, demand for them well outstripped supply as is. They were seen as safe. Banks and investment banks had lots of exposure to them precisely because they were seen as safe. John Paulson's billions are today evidence of just how safe they were seen to be. It only took a brief change in the perception about loans that largely performed for Paulson to make his fortune. 

April 22, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Trump's Latest Attempt To Limit Immigration Isn't Really About The Coronavirus (Perry Bacon Jr.. 4/22/20, 538)

[T]he simplest explanation for Trump's decision to halt some legal immigration to the U.S. is that it aligns with his long-held ideological beliefs, and the electoral strategies and policy choices that spring out of those. Since well before the coronavirus outbreak, Trump has practiced an identity politics where he often uses people of color and immigrants as foils. Since well before the coronavirus, one of Trump's core policy ideas was limiting immigration however possible. And Trump has campaigned on being tough on immigration since he entered the Republican presidential primary in 2015.

In this light, it's pretty easy to explain Trump's new policy. One likely rationale is simply that Trump is an immigration hawk who has long wanted to essentially "shut down the border," and the virus gave him the pretext for taking one of his more aggressive anti-immigration moves as president. In fact, this new policy might have a limited impact because the administration had already dramatically curtailed immigration since the outbreak of COVID-19.

A second explanation is electoral. Trump is up for reelection in November, and he and his team probably think that the president's anti-immigration stances help him at the ballot box. After all, it's hard to imagine Trump being in the White House without his promises to build a wall on the U.S-Mexico border and ban Muslims from entering the U.S. -- Trump's anti-immigration approach was likely a major factor in his winning the GOP primary in 2016.

Those anti-immigration stances may not actually help Trump in the general election this November -- even if he thinks they will. Polls suggest Americans overall don't hold strongly anti-immigration views. And it's not clear that Trump's immigration stances were particularly helpful electorally to him or Republicans in general in the 2016 general election and the 2018 midterms. In the final weeks before the midterms, for example, Trump talked about immigration nonstop and his party lost badly, including key races in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- all states where Trump won in 2016.

More fundamentally, this new immigration ban fits with Trump's approach to both governing and electoral politics, which relies on a kind of identity politics that casts certain groups, particularly people who are white and Christians, as allies, and casts others, often those who are non-white, as enemies

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



The latest survey from Reuters and Ipsos, which was conducted from April 15 to 21, showed that 47 percent of registered voters backed Biden while just 39 percent said they'd support Trump in the presidential election. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Money Is Losing Its MeaningBy throwing trillions of dollars at the coronavirus problem, governments risk undermining trust in currencies.  (Jared Dillian, April 15, 2020, Bloomberg View)

Doing "whatever it takes" to save the global economy from the coronavirus pandemic is going to cost a lot of money. The U.S. government alone is spending a few trillion dollars, and the Federal Reserve is creating another few trillion dollars to keep the financial system from collapsing. A custom Bloomberg index measuring M2 figures for 12 major economies including the U.S., China, euro zone and Japan shows their aggregate money supply had already more than doubled to $80 trillion from before the 2008-2009 financial crisis. 

These numbers are so large that they no longer have any meaning; they are simply abstractions. It's been some time since people thought about the concept of money and its purpose. The broad idea is that money has value, but that value is not arbitrary. 

Money is worth whatever we think it is.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


South Australia could meet state Liberals' 100 pct renewables target 5 years early (Giles Parkinson, 22 April 2020, Renew Economy)

It would be nice to think that the federal Liberal Party could share a similar vision. But whether clouded by the interests of ideologues or donors, or the fossil fuel industry, the federal Coalition won't contemplate the idea that a renewables based grid could be made to work. Like a petulant child struggling with Lego blocks, it can't imagine what the finished product might be.

South Australia is happy to show them, Having closed down its coal plant in 2016, and supported the introduction of the country's first big battery in 2017, the state has arguably the country's most reliable grid, and in the last six months one of the cheapest on the wholesale market. And it is producing well in excess of 50 per cent of its electricity consumption from wind and solar.

Pretty soon, it might be providing the equivalent of close to 100 per cent of its electricity consumption from variable renewables, even allowing for the times when the wind don't blow and the sun don't shine.

The state Liberal government aims to reach "net 100 per cent renewables" - effectively producing the annual equivalent of its consumption with wind and solar, and using a new link to NSW to help it export the excess, and import when needed - by around 2030.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Senate Intelligence Committee Drops a Bombshell on the Durham Investigation (Nancy LeTourneau, April 22, 2020, Washington Monthly)

In all of Attorney General Barr's statements--both written and verbal--during his release of the Mueller report, he studiously avoided mentioning the fact that Russian interference was designed to support Trump. In addition, both Barr and Trump's enablers in the media have suggested that the assessment was the result of bias against the president and that the Steele dossier was incorporated into its findings. The goal has been to lay all of those failures at the feet of Brennan and claim that his intentions were to take down Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the fourth volume of their bipartisan investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. This one focused on the intelligence community assessment, dropping a bombshell on every one of those accusations. Here are some of the key findings:

* The Committee found the ICA presents a coherent and well-constructed intelligence basis for the case of unprecedented Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

* In all the interviews of those who drafted and prepared the ICA, the Committee heard consistently that analysts were under no politically motivated pressure to reach specific conclusions.

* The Committee found that the ICA provides a proper representation of the intelligence collected by CIA, NSA, and FBI on Russian interference in 2016, and this body of evidence supports the substance and judgments of the ICA.

* The Committee found that the information provided by Christopher Steele to FBI was not used in the body of the ICA or to support any of its analytic judgments. However, a summary of this material was included in Annex A as a compromise to FBI's insistence that the information was responsive to the presidential tasking.

It is hard to imagine a more thorough debunking of the insinuations we've heard from Barr and Trump's media enablers. The Republican Senators who signed on to this report include Richard Burr, James Risch, Marco Rubio, Susan Collins, Roy Blunt, Tom Cotton, John Cornyn, and Ben Sasse, making claims that it was a partisan smear job completely untenable.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



Sundquist's Sports VTS QBSIM is a VR football training prototype that prioritizes quarterback instruction. It builds animated visuals like those used in flight simulators. Strivr, another VR device founded by former Stanford kicker Derek Belch, already counts eight NFL teams -- including the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers -- among its clients. Then there's Catapult Sports, whose technology is used by 30 NFL teams and a few hundred collegiate programs. Strivr and Catapult Sports record practice footage, primarily from the quarterback pocket, that later transports players onto the field in VR. Carson Palmer, Drew Brees, Case Keenum and others have praised VR training.

"The guys who really excel are the guys who develop all facets of the game, including their cognitive abilities and decision-making," says Michael Casale, Strivr's chief science officer. "Most guys just don't show up to the NFL with that ... So who are the guys who are really willing to learn, how quickly will they learn, etc.? ... Those are things we can uniquely measure in VR." [...]

The technology could help teams gain insights they don't currently have about quarterbacks. "This is a way to get all that information," says CBS college football analyst and former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel. "You'd be astounded at how many coaches and players are out there that are still fooling people as to what they really know."

Coaches who taste success usually become fearful of disrupting a winning formula, says Sundquist. Then there's paranoia. Pac-12 and Power 5 college programs didn't embrace Strivr initially, worried the company might leak their playbooks to Stanford, where Strivr started. That changed once quarterbacks spoke out about the benefits of VR. "I am all in on this," Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has said about Strivr.

These VR tools don't tell teams exactly how quarterbacks will react on the field. Catapult Sports realized QBs were reading defenses and moving through progressions more quickly in VR than on the practice field. Eye-tracking software told them why. "In real life, after I look at the linebacker and I look at the safety, I have to look down at the center," says Ted Ellikson, product owner at Catapult. "We realized in VR, nobody had to look down and catch the ball."

Here lies Sports VTS's innovation: It puts the ball in the quarterback's hands and demands they throw it and move their feet. OptiTrack cameras, used recently in Disney's The Lion King, surround the player, following his movements and the flight of the ball in real life.

You can measure against any defense imaginable, to understand a quarterback's true operating system. Can your QB find weaknesses in quarters coverage? What about Cover-2? A partnership with Pro Football Focus allows Sports VTS software to use PFF data from past NFL games. Test your quarterback against the New England Patriots defense in a two-minute drill or face the Seattle Seahawks Legion of Boom. Or insert a player into a scenario designed to confuse him.

"All that's not subjective, it's just data," says Mike Wagle, CEO of Sports VTS.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


She's the ICU nurse who silently stood in protest at the Phoenix rally to reopen Arizona (Richard Ruelas, 4/21/20, Arizona Republic)

It was her scheduled day off from the intensive care unit at a hospital in Phoenix, where she takes care of patients who have contracted COVID-19.

She found out that morning that a rally was planned at the Arizona Capitol building. People weary of schools and businesses across the state being closed because of the new coronavirus were going to call for closures to be lifted and the state to be reopened.

Lauren Leander texted a few nurses she knew, seeing if anyone wanted to join her there.

Leander had seen photos of medical workers at similar rallies in other states, their presence serving as a counterweight to calls to reopen businesses. She was inspired to do the same at the rally in her home state on Monday.

"That was the kind of action we could take against something like this," Leander said.

She would spend the next few hours standing silent, her facial expressions partly hidden behind her medical mask. Her body standing rigid in surgical scrubs.

Leander said she heard a stream of insults from rallygoers. People accused her of being an actor. Or, if a real nurse, one who performed dentistry. Or performed abortions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Italy to legalise 200,000 migrants to tackle labour shortage (MEMO, April 22, 2020)

Faced with a shortage of manpower as a result of the closure of its borders, Italy is looking to legalise the status of 200,000 migrants who live in the country illegally.

The agricultural sector is particularly badly affected by a shortage of labour after 300,000 seasonal workers were stranded outside the country, the majority were due to arrive from Eastern Europe.

Trump's Immigration Ban Is a Self-Defeating Distraction (LINDA CHAVEZ  APRIL 22, 2020, The Bulwark)

Immigrants make up about 17 percent of the U.S. labor force, but they are not evenly distributed across all sectors. They disproportionately work in service jobs - including as health care workers in hospitals and assisted living facilities - as well as construction, agriculture, and meat processing. The jobs they occupy are often low-paid but essential.

Most immigrant workers have legal status, but in some jobs, undocumented workers make up a significant portion of the work force. And in this pandemic, those workers are especially crucial to putting food on our tables, risking their lives in appallingly unsafe conditions so that we can continue to eat. Outbreaks at meat processing plants in Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and elsewhere threaten to disrupt the supply of meat nationwide. Does President Trump seriously believe that Americans will be lining up to take jobs on poultry processing or hog butchering lines, standing shoulder to shoulder with each other on cement floors slick with blood and viscera for 8 to 12 hours a day? When summer comes, will Americans take to the lettuce and tomato fields to bend over, harvesting our vegetables under the 95-degree sun? With unemployment compensation available, would you? [...]

While most immigrants work in the service economy, a 2018 study by the Brookings Institution indicates that nearly a third of our STEM workers and students are also immigrants or the children of immigrants. When researchers find a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, we shouldn't be surprised that an immigrant or first generation American will be on the team, or even leading it.

In the meantime, the orderlies, nurses, and doctors caring for patients in hospitals around the country are increasingly likely to be foreign born, with immigrants accounting for almost a third of physicians and nearly 40 percent of health aid workers, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute. This is no time for President Trump to be riling up his base when immigrants are literally risking their lives to save us all.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



Arizona Republican Representative Shawnna Bolick may be kept off the ballot during the next election because of a lawsuit which claims Bolick listed the address of a UPS Store as her primary residence on her nomination petitions. Because she swore the information was true under penalty of perjury, her address listing on the forms may have made Bolick ineligible to run. [...]

Arizona's Democrats have not had control of the House of Representatives since 1966. That could change if incumbent Bolick is removed from the ballot. Currently, there are 31 Republicans and 29 Democrats in the state House.

If one Democrat wins a seat in the House, that would put the House at an even split between parties. If two Democrats win seats, then the Democrats would gain the majority.

...that switch is probably inevitable anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump blocks stimulus funding for millions of US citizens married to immigrants (ANDREA GERMANOS, APRIL 22, 2020, Common Dreams)

Reporting out Monday shed new light on the fact that millions of U.S. citizens are not eligible to receive coronavirus stimulus checks because of who they married.

This large group, as the Los Angeles Times reported, is made of American citizens who file taxes jointly with a spouse who uses an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number--an identification the IRS issues to workers who don't have a Social Security Number.

Those with ITINs include those who are undocumented and those who may be in the legalization process.

The block means that not only will the adult in the mixed status home not be eligible for their $1,200 check but the household itself will also not receive a $500 per child payment that was part of the CARES Act, bringing further economic woes to taxpayers as the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Only the center can hold: Democracy and the battle of ideas (Yair Lapid, APR 22, 2020, Times of Israel)

Our internal conflict is currently focused on the last bastion of consensus in Israeli society: a Jewish and democratic state. The one constant that used to bring together both sides of the Israeli political map in agreement no longer does. The right and the left in Israel have shifted towards the extremes. The right, led by Netanyahu, is pushing for a Jewish state in which democracy is subservient to nationalism. The left has adopted a progressive belief system that would set us on the path to becoming a bi-national state. Our political system is herding us towards a modern-day Judgment of Solomon. It forces us into a false binary surrounding our identity - are we nationalists or liberals? Jews or democrats? If we answer the questions - if we take one of the sides - we lose our way. Without the backbone of our country, those citizens and their children who serve in the IDF, who work and pay taxes, and whose cultural heritage is Jewish but also liberal, the State of Israel will surrender the social cohesion that underpins our national economy and security. Centrism is the only idea capable of preventing this disintegration.

April 21, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Trump's crisis mismanagement alienating seniors : Older voters have been a pivotal part of the president's base. But they're beginning to turn on him over the coronavirus. (Josh Kraushaar,  April 21, 2020, National Journal)

Typically during a crisis, leaders try to build as much bipartisan goodwill as possible to hedge against the inevitable recriminations to come. Trump, by contrast, relishes in embracing polarizing positions that only divide voters and make his political recovery all the more difficult in the future. By turning the coronavirus crisis into a partisan issue so quickly, Trump ensures that he's on the losing side of the debate.

Just look at the numbers. Even as small protests against stay-at-home orders have percolated in several states, public polling shows minimal opposition to statewide restrictions. A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that just 22 percent of Americans supported the protests, with only 36 percent of Republicans in agreement. Far from agreeing with the president's Twitter demands to "liberate" states with stay-at-home orders, they agree with his administration's more cautious guidance.

This week's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 58 percent of Americans worry that the country will move too quickly to loosen regulations, compared to just 32 percent of those who worry the country will take too long to reopen. Democrats were overwhelmingly worried about the risks of opening too soon, with 77 percent taking the health-first position and only 19 percent expressing more concern about the economy. Republicans were more closely divided, with 48 percent worried more about the economy against 39 percent more worried about the coronavirus. (A sizable majority of independents sided with the Democrats on the issue.)

This isn't polling that would typically lead a president to lean into an antigovernment message that ignores the guidance of White House health experts, as some of his political advisers are reportedly advocating. His mixed messaging is confusing his own supporters. And it's emboldening several red-state governors to reopen their states prematurely, raising the risk of a future outbreak that could set the president's efforts back.

Going against the tide of public opinion carries serious political consequences. This column has pointed out the downward trajectory of Trump's approval ratings as he struggles to demonstrate competence in this crisis while failing to offer clarity about the path forward. But he risks doing greater damage by going against the interests of his own voters.

For a preview on how things could get worse for the president, look at the evolving political views of seniors, one of Trump's most supportive constituencies in the previous election. They are also the most concerned about the coronavirus, given they have a much greater risk of dying if they become infected.

The latest Morning Consult poll found that 65-and-older voters prioritized defeating the coronavirus over healing the economy by nearly a 6-to-1 ratio. And over the past month, they've become the group most disenchanted with Trump's handling of the crisis. In mid-March, seniors were more supportive of Trump than any other age group (plus-19 net approval). Now, their net approval of the president has dropped 20 points and is lower than any age group outside of the youngest Americans.

Dan Patrick on coronavirus: 'More important things than living' (Doha Madani, 4/21/20, NBC)

Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick doubled down on controversial comments he has made about the coronavirus pandemic, telling Fox News on Monday that Americans had to "take some risks" in reopening the economy.

Patrick was heavily criticized last month after he suggested in an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson that he and other senior citizens might be willing to die to save the economy.

Governs like Nixon, runs like McGovern.
Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Study of Trump-Promoted Coronavirus Drug Finds More Deaths, No Benefit (Tracy Connor, Apr. 21, 2020, Daily Beast)

The anti-malaria drug flogged over and over again by President Donald Trump as a coronavirus treatment didn't help veterans who got it, according to a new government-funded study.

The research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed but was backed by the National Institutes of Health and the University of Virginia, is the latest evidence that hydroxychloroquine is not the magic bullet that Trump and his allies suggested it was.

"In this study, we found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with Covid-19," the authors wrote.

In fact, the analysis of data from 368 patients at veterans hospitals found 28 percent of those who got it died--compared to 11 percent who received the standard treatment without the drug. And 22 percent of the patients who got hydroxychloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin died.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


Low trust in Trump mars crisis response (NIALL STANAGE, 04/21/20, The Hill)

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released over the weekend indicated that Trump's statements on the coronavirus were trusted by only 36 percent of voters. This is a full 10 points lower than the share of voters who approve of his job performance overall.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted April 7-12 found 57 percent of Americans saying that Trump had done a "poor" or "only fair" job of giving accurate information on the crisis, while 42 percent said he was doing a "good" or "excellent" job. That was a notch or two worse than his overall approval rating, with 44 percent approving and 53 percent disapproving.

On one hand, the numbers may not be all that surprising. Trump's freewheeling performances at his near-daily press conferences have included hotly disputed claims about everything from the availability of tests to the likely effectiveness of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19.

On Sunday alone, he repeated a previous false claim that he had "inherited" defective tests for the virus -- something that is an impossibility since the disease only emerged in recent months -- and suggested that "nobody ever thought" such a crisis could develop, despite long-standing fears about pandemics among public health officials.

There is also the broader issue of Trump's reputation for exaggeration and untruth. A running tally from The Washington Post asserted that the president had made more than 16,000 false or misleading claims in the three years between his inauguration and this January.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Honesty of Originalism (James R. Rogers, 4/21/20, Law & Liberty)

The real problem for both left- and right-antioriginalists is that the U.S. Constitution is difficult to amend without a fair degree of consensus that it should be changed. So people who want to change the Constitution seek easier routes by which they might change the meaning of the Constitution without wasting their time advocating for a constitutional amendment. [...]

The constitutional amendment process imposes non-trivial transaction costs on purpose. So the temptation exists to take a quicker path and use majoritarian successes to appoint judges who will change the Constitution by misusing the judicial power to interpret legal texts, and passing off their personal political views as binding constitutional and statutory law.

There is a cost, however, in reading texts, particularly legal texts, with intentional dishonesty. Doing so debases the language, it debases our political and legal life, and no matter how well-intended, it debases the reader himself or herself. Passing off a convenient faux-interpretation with a wink and a smirk is a short-term remedy with a long-term cost to political culture. It is ultimately a broad form of political corruption. As Howard Gillman put it, "Non-originalism, or some notion of the 'living Constitution,' encourages judges to keep the Constitution relevant for contemporary concerns and purposes but runs the risk that this will lead them to enforce a version of the fundamental law that was never formally authorized by the people."

...the Republic that the Constitution founded requires our participation in determining the laws we are to be bound by.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


When Dvořák Went to Iowa to Meet God: Music that gives voice to the longing for home (Nathan Beacom, APRIL 15, 2020, Plough)

Dvořák was fascinated by New York, but he found it no place to live, and had some difficulty completing his major projects there. Just when he was getting ready to find some way to return to Europe, his student, Josef Kovařík, convinced him to come for a while to the little town of Spillville, Iowa, instead, promising its woods and people would remind him of home. Dvořák accepted the offer with excitement and soon packed his family onto a train (he loved trains) out west. Within days of arriving in Iowa in 1893, two of his most beautiful works, the American Quartet and Quintet, spilled out of him. It was here also that he refined and titled his freshly completed symphony, From the New World.

For Dvořák, music and home came into the world as twins, and, where one was found, the other was not far behind. He was famous in Europe for writing music evocative of bohemia, but he was not a sentimentalist. His music, especially the music he made in America, dealt with the joy of home, but equally with the universal human feelings of loneliness, estrangement, and longing for a place to fit in. These feelings came especially alive during his summer in the Midwest, and through his journey to Iowa that year, we can learn something about the nature of that fundamental longing and about music's power to console it. Ultimately, for Dvořák, music was a way of knitting our souls back together with the world and the God who first composed it.

One of the first things that struck Dvořák about Iowa was its emptiness. If he had come looking for the cheerfulness of home, what he found was this expanse of prairie, this sea of grass and grain that went on forever. "It is wild here," he said, "and sometimes very sad." In the bigness of it all, he felt further from home than ever, but, when taken with a closer view - when chatting with the people, when playing organ at St. Wenceslaus, when walking in the fields in the early morning - he felt restored by a deep belonging. Iowa had for him that immense nostalgia, sad and hopeful all at once, when the familiar and the alien mingle, as when we revisit the childhood streets where our friends are no more, or when we return all alone to the site of some joyful memory.

But Dvořák quickly made friends here; the town was populated almost entirely by other Czechs, immigrants who came from the "poorest of the poor" in the old country. If he was struck by the lonesomeness of the place, he soon found also the welcome that he had come in search of. He was delighted by Father Bily, the parish priest, and by all the wonderful "granddads and grannies."

When asked about his training in music, Dvořák said that he had studied with the "birds, flowers, myself, and God."

He felt welcomed by the countryside, too. To him, the sounds of nature were God's revelation of himself to man, and, as a composer, his place was to transcribe and transfigure those sounds. Dvořák himself was of poor peasant origins, and when asked about his training in music, he said that he had studied with the "birds, flowers, myself, and God."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wild About Brubeck...But Not This Biography (Bradley Birzer, 4/20/20, American Conservative)

Even now, as I pour through various prog and jazz albums, I'm always on the lookout for Brubeck's influences.  

As a case in point, Pat Metheny's latest, From This Place--arguably this jazz master's best--reflects widely and deeply the compositional structure of Brubeck's best album, 1964's Time Changes. The resemblance is simply too obvious to ignore. Even the theme is critical. Brubeck's album was inspired by a short story involving two cellmates and a crust of bread. The religious essence of the album is blatant, with Brubeck trying to find that which ties all humans together, regardless of ethnicity or race. It is, for all intents and purposes, a meditation on human decency and divine agency. Metheny's latest calls us to be the best we can expect of ourselves as Americans.

In 2012, when Brubeck died around Christmas time of that year, I vowed that I would one day write a biography of him.  Despite preliminary research and reading, I've really not dived into this project, but Brubeck remains a profound part of my life, nonetheless. 

Two stories from Brubeck's own life mean everything to me.

First, at Ronald Reagan's last summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, held in Moscow in 1988, the Reagan administration insisted that Dave Brubeck represent America as her greatest cultural achievement. Brubeck's producer, Russell Gloyd, recognized this grand achievement for what it was. "You have to put this in perspective," he argued. "There was Perestroika, the whole awakening of the Soviet Union, the whole concept of what was taking place at that time in world history. This was the first time there was hope of a real chance for an understanding between the East and the West," he continued. "For Dave to be the representative artist meant everything to everyone who was close to us."

The atmosphere was tense. Reagan was exhausted from his trip, Gorbachev's security was worried about assassination plots, and it was a ridiculously hot and humid day in Moscow. "I walked in thinking that this was the hardest room Dave had ever had to work in his life," claims Gloyd. After a number of lackluster diplomatic niceties in the stuffy room, Brubeck walked up to the piano, sat down, and started playing "Take the 'A' Train."

"It brought down the house," Gloyd reports. "People were up and cheering. I'll never forget Bob Dole--he looked like a little kid. He had his one good hand raised above his head like he was at a football game. He'd turn around, and there was a Soviet general, loaded with medals, doing the same thing! They looked at each other like, 'You like Brubeck? I like Brubeck! We like Brubeck." It was, Gloyd notes, "the greatest single twenty-minute set in his life." The Cold War became much less frigid that day.

Second, though he came from a Presbyterian family, Brubeck converted to Roman Catholicism as an adult. "I never had belonged to any church. I was never baptized before," Brubeck remembered. "I was the only son in the family who wasn't baptized a Presbyterian. It was just an oversight." To be certain, religious music--from the African-American community as well as from the white/European community--had always intrigued and influenced him. He wrote liturgical-jazz pieces about Easter, Christmas, and Martin Luther King. 

Though he had written a number of albums and pieces on religious themes, the greatest expression of his Christianity came when Our Sunday Visitor (headquartered in Huntington, Indiana) commissioned Brubeck to write a Mass. He, in very Brubeck fashion, entitled it, To Hope! A Celebration, and performed it--with Gloyd conducting--at Washington National Cathedral. The premier music review website, Allmusic, writes of it:

This stunning work incorporates jazz interludes into the hypnotic Responsorial "The Peace of Jerusalem" and "Alleluia," a particularly challenging section for the choir. The vocal soloists are impressive; tenor Mark Bleeke's feature "While He Was At Supper" is especially moving. The overall effect of this beautiful work is absolutely stunning; it resists being labeled in any one category, it is simply great music.

Fundamentally optimistic about the human experience, Brubeck had said in a commencement address in 1982: "What is really important in the community, in the worst of times, is often music. It's the cement for the community that holds it together, and the thing that gives it hope."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Trump Defunded the WHO: Surprisingly, it was a premeditated move.  (Luke Allen, 4/21/20, National Interest)

[T]here is evidence that local officials attempted to cover up the early outbreak, and the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has stood by his endorsement of China's heavy-handed tactics. As with decisions to honour Turkey's president, Recep Erdogan, and former Zimbabwean ruler Robert Mugabe, Tedros' stance has been roundly criticised. In his defence, it does seem to stem from a genuine desire to win engagement in order to deliver his mandate of achieving health for all.

Interestingly, President Trump was one of the few world leaders who seemed to agree that China was doing a good job, praising the government's "hard work and transparency" in January and commending Xi Jinping's handling of the mounting pandemic in a string of further comments during February.

Trump had two other aims in mind when he pulled the rug from under the WHO's feet. In the short term, most pundits agree that Trump's main motivation for cutting WHO funding was to deflect blame from his own bungled handling of COVID-19 on home soil. His approval ratings are at an all-time low and the US now has more cases of coronavirus than any other country.

In the longer term, withdrawing from multilateral partnerships aligns with Trump's zero-sum worldview. As with Nato, the World Trade Organization and virtually every other international body, Trump feels that the US is getting a bad deal from its WHO contribution. And he bristles at the thought of foreign nations exploiting American generosity.

Former presidents have worked to develop, maintain and promote an Anglophone, dollar-backed international world order built on American values of capitalism, liberalism, democracy, integration and the transparent rule of law. This has fostered an unprecedented era of peace, stability, international cooperation and integration of markets (as well as massive socioeconomic inequality) - projecting American soft power and allowing national firms to enter formerly closed markets.

In Trump's view, his predecessors were chumps...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Dignity of Work (Francis Lee, April 20th, 2020, Imginative Conservative)

Almost three full weeks have passed since my father received a work call. Every morning he would wake up and do the activities he routinely carried out prior to heading out for work: eating breakfast, reading the newspaper, and smoking an early cigarette in our backyard garden. Once lunchtime rolled around, he would step out of the house in his plain work clothes, with his tools in hand, and stay out until it was time for dinner. It was obvious that no work was required of him but yet he flawlessly conducted himself in this detailed manner every day. I asked myself: why does he maintain this daily habit? Why pretend to work if no work is to be done?

For many individuals, work is merely a means to obtain the necessary funds to pay the mortgage, buy the groceries, and allow one's kids to receive a decent education. Some will find that their earthly vocations give an indescribable sense of purpose and meaning that no leisurely activity could provide. The blood that gushes forth from one's hands by aggressively working a tool, the sweat that seeps from one's body by the intense labor and the outdoor heat, or the salty tears flowing down one's cheek from the pain of the arduous work bring a satisfaction to the human soul unique to our own. In light of my father's habits, I began to question the relationship between man and his labor: does man simply work to provide the means to live for his household or does he engage in work for its own sake?

Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, wrote, "To labor is to exert oneself for the sake of procuring what is necessary for the various purposes of life, and chief of all for self-preservation." He explains that man, as an active agent of the economy, works first and foremost to provide food for his family, a roof over the house, and earn the wages that he is owed to essentially survive as this is "a law of nature, which it is wrong to disobey."

The notion that there is less dignity in building a table for your house or working in your garden than in punching a button for a paycheck is odd.

April 20, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM



Of the 1,000 people surveyed over that three-day period, just 10 percent said they favored an end to social distancing. The vast majority of respondents--86 percent--said the measures in place should remain that way or should be strengthened.

The survey also found that those who are protesting social distancing and stay-at-home orders do not represent the majority of President Trump's supporters, either. Of the respondents who voted for the president in 2016, only 17 percent said the measures should be rolled back.

...who oppose DACA and a Pathway to Citizenship.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Poll: Voters worry Trump has made America less respected (Dave Lawler, 4/20/20, Axios)

A poll designed to test President Trump's vulnerabilities on foreign policy finds that 56% of voters in 12 battleground states believe he has made America less respected in the world, compared to 31% who say America is now more respected.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Suspend the Payroll Tax: Every worker in America would get a substantial pay raise for the remainder of the year, while employer payroll costs fall. (Steve Forbes and Arthur Laffer, April 19, 2020, WSJ)

The best economic idea we've heard in response to the coronavirus crisis is a payroll-tax suspension. President Trump restated his support for it at a recent press briefing, and for good reason: It would reward work and production rather than the growth of government. Republicans should rally around the idea as the centerpiece of their next economic revival plan.

The plan we recommend would cancel all payroll-tax collections from May 1 to the end of the year. This would suspend the Social Security and Medicare tax, known as FICA, which takes 7.65% from a worker's paycheck, with another 7.65% paid by employers, up to $137,700 of income. Self-employed Americans, usually socked with the full 15.3% payroll tax, would also find relief.

Every worker in America would get a substantial pay raise for the remainder of the year, but because the tax is regressive, lowest-wage workers would be helped the most. The majority of low- and middle-income workers pay more payroll tax than income tax. Even minimum-wage workers would see a nice boost in their paychecks while their employers would pay less too.

By reducing employer payroll costs, this plan would encourage firms to start hiring. Several economic studies document what common sense would tell us: Lowering the tax on employment leads to more of it. Because the tax relief would be temporary, businesses would gain an incentive to hurry up and hire right away, or as soon as their work resumes. There is no time to waste: The U.S. needs to put perhaps 20 million people back to work.

This would help firms without picking winners and losers. Unlike almost every other "stimulus" plan--to bail out airlines, banks, Boeing, energy companies and the rest--suspending the payroll tax provides an equal benefit to every company in America.

Also important is its ease of implementation. By simply not taking some $800 billion from the businesses and workers on Main Street, this plan cuts out the bureaucratic middlemen who plague spending programs. 

Why would you ever have a tax that punishes employment.

Posted by orrinj at 11:51 AM


Coronavirus Reverses Brazil's Economic Revolution (Mac Margolis, April 20, 2020, Bloomberg View)

When Paulo Guedes, Brazil's University of Chicago-schooled economy minister arrived at his desk in January of 2019, he came with an aggressive market-friendly vision for re-founding Latin America's biggest economy. His plan, cheered by captains of finance and industry: Slash the federal bureaucracy, hurl down trade barriers, curb the nation's fiscal eating disorder and sell everything. Brazil's state owned companies? "Runaway children who are now addicted to drugs," he quipped. All those public sector employees? "Parasites."

The coronavirus has torn up Guedes's textbook assignment. A rare economic liberal in a hemisphere of dirigistes, he is now the warden of a nearly $100 billion bailout, one of the biggest rescue operations in the emerging markets. The big state is even bigger. Those truant public institutions and their civil servants are all that stands between Brazil and the economic ventilator.

The overgrown government savings bank that Guedes grudgingly spared from the state company auction bloc, Caixa Economica Federal, is rolling out emergency aid to at least 54 million working poor, jobless and underemployed Brazilians. The mission of identifying and parsing eligible recipients and crunching the numbers has fallen to Dataprev, the social security data processing company that Guedes had been grooming for privatization.

Socialized medicine would give any self-respecting capitalist warrior apoplexy. And yet no one needed to tell Guedes that Brazil's best hope for healing the stricken in the accelerating Covid-19 contagion is bolstering the Universal Health System, or SUS, which treats anyone without charge. "Without SUS, we'd be in a ditch. It's a Brazilian benchmark," said Adriana Dupita of Bloomberg Economics. "There's no way you can fight this, no matter what your ideology."

It'll be hard to get back that reform momentum what with Bolsonaro aping Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 11:47 AM


Poll: Michiganians favor Whitmer's COVID-19 handling over Trump's (Beth LeBlanc, 4/20/20, The Detroit News)

A survey of 600 Michiganians found 57% approved of the Democratic governor's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic compared with 37% of respondents who disapproved. The finding came after more than 4,000 protesters descended on Lansing and the Capitol to protect Whitmer's tightened stay-home order that was extended through April 30.

By contrast, 44% of those polled approved of Trump's handling of the COVID-19 crisis while 50% disapproved.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Unusual Supreme Court Lineup Holds that Jury Verdicts in (Most) Criminal Cases Must Be Unanimous (JONATHAN H. ADLER, 4/20/20, THE VOLOKH CONSPIRACY)

Here's how that breaks down: Six justices (Gorsuch, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh, agreed with the Court's bottom line conclusion, but Justice Gorsuch's opinion is only joined in its entirety by three justices (Gorsuch, Ginsburg). Justice Alito's dissent was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan, in part.

Justice Thomas wrote separately because he wanted to "make clear that this right applies against the States through the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, not the Due Process Clause." Historically, the Court has incorporated rights against the states through the Due Process Clause. Many academics think this is an error, and Justice Thomas has long indicated he does as well.

One issue dividing justices in Ramos is the treatment of precedent, as the decision overturned Apodaca v. Oregon, a 1972 decision upholding the constitutionality of nonunanimous criminal convictions in state court. Both Justices Sotomayor and Kavanaugh wrote separately to discuss the reasons for overturning Apodaca. (Sotomayor also wanted to note the "racially biased origins" of laws allowing nonunanimous juries to convict people of criminal offenses.)

Justice Alito's dissent stressed the importance of stare decisis. This issue also likely explains the Court's lineup here, as Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kagan are the Court's most vocal defenders of upholding precedent (though not always in the same cases). Justice Kagan has become particularly vocal in her defense of stare decisis, so it's also no surprise that she does not join the portion of Alito's dissent that explains why, in his view, the argument for overturning Apodaca was not as strong as the argument to overturn precedents in other recent cases.

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


These Far-Right Fringe Conspiracies Are Driving the Anti-Lockdown Protests: This weekend protesters across the country demanded their states reopen. Militias, anti-vaxxers, and QAnon believers were among them. (Tess Owen, Apr 20 2020, Vox)

Fringe right-wingers have also been fear-mongering around impending martial law, or that lockdowns are the first sign of fascist control. The Pentagon has tried to stay ahead of some of these conspiracies. Last month, they set up a dedicated "rumor control" page on the Department of Homeland Security website to debunk or explain conspiracies through answering FAQs like, "Is FEMA deploying the Military?", "Is FEMA seizing medical supplies" or "Is DHS deploying the national guard."

Still, protesters across the country brought out signs that likened lockdown measures to fascism. At the #OperationGridlock protest in Michigan last week, some protesters had signs that compared Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to Adolf Hitler.

Anti-vaxxers have also played a central role drumming up distrust and confusion around coronavirus. Bizarre claims about 5G causing COVID-19, or that evil government forces (or Bill Gates) will use the crisis as an excuse to launch a mass-vaccination campaign, have made their way from the fringes. A pair of anti-vaxxers were also behind the viral #FireFauci hashtag, calling on Trump to get rid of top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and replace him with Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, a conspiracy theorist known for peddling unscientific remedies.

At a protest in Austin, Texas on Saturday, which was organized by Infowars host Owen Shroyer, people chanted "Fire Fauci." One woman held a sign saying "Make Texas great again! Please open everything!" according to the New York Times. Her seven-year-old daughter held a sign saying "Bill gates can keep his poison -- I'm homeschooled! No Mandatory vaccines."

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Chloroquine study in Brazil aborted after deaths (Deutsche-Welle, 4/20/20)
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Democrats' momentum puts Senate majority in play (James Arkin, 4/20/20, Politico)

Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority, and Democrats would need to net three seats to win control of the chamber if they also win the White House -- or four seats if Donald Trump wins reelection. The Senate map this year features far more Republican seats, but the vast majority are in states Trump won easily in 2016. Democrats are only targeting two states he lost four years ago, the same number of Trump-state Democratic incumbents up this year.

The most important states remain Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Maine, four races where Democratic challengers outraised incumbent GOP senators in the first quarter of this year. These contests underscore just how costly the battle for the Senate will be: Super PACs in both parties have already reserved nearly $130 million for TV ads in these states, plus an emerging battleground in Iowa, to lay the foundation for the fall campaign.

Republicans have offensive targets in Alabama and Michigan, two seats that could help them preserve their control of the chamber even if they lose seats elsewhere. But Democrats have also recruited strong challengers in a string of red states that could come into play, including Montana, Kansas and a special election in Georgia, helping them potentially expand their path back to the majority.

The GOP downticket candidates ran well ahead of Donald in '16, carrying him over the line.  But they've chosen to identify the party with him even as he's declined.  Add in that the Democrats won't have the most unpopular nominee ever at the top of their ticket and you've got a recipe for Republican disaster.  One we've earned.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


US oil prices crash to their lowest level in over 20 years as storage runs out (Sam Meredith, 4/20/20, CNBC)

U.S. oil prices tumbled to their lowest level in more than 20 years on Monday, with crude storage facilities filling rapidly as the coronavirus pandemic continues to crush demand.

The next virus bill ought to impose a $3 gallon gas tax and reduce taxes on business profits correspondingly.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


U.S. will let hard-hit firms delay paying import tariffs--but not Trump's taxes on Chinese goods (JENNY LEONARD & DEREK WALLBANK, 4/20/20, BLOOMBERG)

The U.S. will allow companies to defer paying tariffs on many imported goods for 90 days, a move aimed at freeing up cash for pandemic-hit employers while leaving punitive measures against China and other nations intact.

"This will protect American jobs and help these businesses get through this time," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Europe can reach net-zero by 2050 with 100% renewables, study shows (Joshua S Hill, 20 April 2020, Renew Economy)

The modelled 100% renewables scenario would result in lower per unit energy costs which show that achieving climate neutrality by 2050 is more cost-effective compared to lower levels of ambition, with cumulative costs of achieving a 100% renewable energy system by 2050 working out as 6% lower than the cost of inadequate action resulting in only 62% renewable generation.

They'll be there by 2035.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Pandemic Could Be an Opportunity to Remake Cities (Alex Davies, 4/13/20, Wired)

De Blasio and many other civic leaders are trying to enforce the 6-foot line by restricting access to places where people get together: dog parks, basketball courts, playgrounds, beaches, hiking trails, and the like. The problem with curtailing the supply of open space, though, is that it doesn't reduce demand. People still need to go outside, some to work, others to play, all to keep their sanity intact. Now, though, the demand comes chiefly from people on foot, rather than in vehicles.

In that shift, urbanists see a chance to save city dwellers not just from the sweep of a pandemic, but from the auto-centric culture that has dominated urban life for decades. They want to prioritize the movement of people--pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and their ilk--over cars. This isn't just opportunism, a shot at grabbing street space while most cars are parked. A range of tactics long demanded by urbanists can make life outside more pleasant and practical amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. And depending on how much life goes back to "normal" once the pandemic has passed, the moves could change cities for the better, and for the long term.

One easy, obvious option is disabling the buttons that pedestrians use to summon a "Walk" sign to cross the street. Advocates of pedestrian-friendly roads have long lambasted these "beg buttons" for making driving the default mode of transportation: no push, no walk signal. Now, public health officials see the devices as potential conveyors of the coronavirus. Several cities in Australia and New Zealand have rejiggered traffic signal cycles to include walk signals, no push needed. So has Berkeley, California. "That's a good example of an easy and sustainable thing cities can do," says Tabitha Combs, who studies transportation planning and policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. By turning them off, cities are tacitly admitting that the buttons aren't meant to make intersections safer for pedestrians, but to keep cars moving as much as possible. "They've let the cat out of the bag that it's something they can do," Combs says.

The bigger move is closing streets to vehicles, so people have more room to walk around or exercise. Bogota, Colombia; Calgary, Canada; Denver, Colorado; St Paul, Minnesota; Cologne, Germany and other cities have blocked off stretches of road in recent weeks. Friday, Oakland said it will close 10 percent of its street network--74 miles worth--to vehicle traffic. Others, like Vancouver, have booted cars from roads in parks. Closing streets, though, demands resources, including materials to indicate cars are no longer welcome and people to enforce the new regime.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New Data Reveals the Truth About Remote Work and ProductivityRelax managers, it's good news. (Jessica StillmanContributor, 4/20/20, Inc)

The reassuring data comes from RescueTime, a time management tool that monitors how you spend every minute of time on your computer so you can better optimize your day. At least that's what it does in normal times. In the current crisis, the app is all a powerful source of data on exactly what remote workers are doing all day. 

The company recently sifted through this treasure trove of information and delivered happy news about our productivity while working from home. 

Here's the bottom line finding via the company's blog: "According to our data, knowledge workers, software developers, and IT professionals are all more productive when they work from home. This was true both at small and medium businesses and large companies (over 500 employees)."

What exactly does RescueTime mean by more productive? "Remote workers had a four percent increase in average daily time spent on their core work and an 18 percent decrease in time spent on communication," the company reports. Over a year that adds up to 58 more hours spent on core work. 

Add the time saved on communication to time clawed back from commuting, and workers save at least three hours a day when they go remote. That's great news for managers, but employees are probably pretty excited about that shift too (at least if there wasn't a pandemic going on). 

April 19, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Trump administration, congressional leaders near deal on virus aid that includes major boost for small businesses (Erica Werner and  Jeff Stein, April 19, 2020, Washington Post)

The agreement also would include $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing, which have been major Democratic demands. Some of the money in the small business program would be directed specifically to rural and minority businesses, according to people familiar with the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe it.

"We want to make sure that it's reaching all of America's small businesses," Pelosi said on ABC. "And we also want to make sure that it's operating in a community where our police and fire, our health care workers, our doctors, nurses, our teachers, are being compensated for and not fired. And that's why we're asking for the additional funds in the package, as well as for hospitals so that we can do testing, testing, testing."

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Grand Island's rate of COVID-19 cases is higher than Michigan's, close to Louisiana's (Henry J. Cordes and Erin Duffy, 4/17/20,  World-Herald)

The Grand Island area -- by far Nebraska's biggest coronavirus hot spot -- now has rates of illness comparable to some of the hardest-hit states in the country.

Not only does surrounding Hall County now have more cases than any county in Nebraska, its per capita case rate is almost 12 times that of Douglas County and more than 25 times that of Lancaster County, a World-Herald analysis found.

The Hall County rate is also now about equal to that of Louisiana, which ranks among the top states nationally in both cases and deaths. It's also higher than the per capita rate in Michigan, a state that has been in such a significant state-ordered lockdown because of the virus that it has spawned public protests.

And as eye-popping as such numbers are, Grand Island, Nebraska's third-largest metro area, is still likely weeks away from its peak of cases and deaths. The sixth death in the local three-county health district was reported Thursday.

"Our expectation is that every day we will see large numbers of new cases and every day we will see a number of deaths," Central District Health Department Director Teresa Anderson said Thursday. "If we take our lessons from what's been happening in other parts of the country, I'm going to say the writing is on the wall."

Despite such numbers, Gov. Pete Ricketts continued to say Thursday that the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic is working.

Totally not a cult.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Evangelicals Have Abandoned the Character Test. The Competence Test is Next.: Christian political engagement is about more than an issue checklist. (David French, 4/19/20, The Dispatch)

Something else happened on April 15--Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the presumptive next president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a man I respect a great deal--spoke from the midst of a ruined economy, soaring death rates, and presidential blundering and said . . . four more years. He declared not only that he'd support Donald Trump in 2020, but that he'll almost certainly support Republican presidential candidates the rest of his life. Mohler focused on the classic culture war issues--marriage, sexuality, constitutional interpretation, and abortion. He expressed the belief that the "partisan divide had become so great" and Democrats had "swerved so far to the left" on those key issues that he can't imagine ever voting for a Democratic president. He also claimed that Trump has been "more consistent in pro-life decisions" and consistent in the quality of his judicial nominations than "any president of the United States of any party."

As he made clear in the video, Mohler has not always supported Trump. In 2016, he was consistent with his denomination's clear and unequivocal statement about the importance of moral character in public officials. He has now decisively changed course.

In 1998--during Bill Clinton's second term--the Southern Baptist Convention declared that "tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God's judgment" and therefore urged "all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character."

Mohler so clearly recognized the applicability of those words that he said, "If I were to support, much less endorse Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton." I do wonder if Mohler will apologize. He absolutely should.

Look, I know that for now I've lost the character argument. It's well-established that a great number of white Evangelicals didn't truly believe the words they wrote, endorsed, and argued in 1998 and for 18 years until the 2016 election. Oh sure, they thought they believed those words. If someone challenged their convictions with a lie detector test, they would have passed with flying colors. 

(By the way, I use the term "white Evangelicals" because that's Trump's core political constituency. That's the base that gave him 81 percent support in 2016. The rest of the Evangelical community leans Democratic.)

When C.S. Lewis said "courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of very virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality," he was speaking an important truth. We may think we possess an array of virtues and beliefs, but we don't really know who we are or what we believe until those virtues and beliefs are put to the test. There is many a man who goes to war thinking himself brave, until the bullets fly. There is many a man who thinks himself faithful to his wife, until the flirtation starts.

There were many men who thought character counted, until a commitment to character contained a real political cost. But that's the obvious point. I've made it countless times before today. White Evangelicals, however, have shrugged it off. "Binary choice," they say. "Lesser of two evils," they say--even though those concepts appeared nowhere in the grand moral announcements of the past.

Many millions of Trump-supporting white Evangelicals no longer care about character (though a surprising number are still remarkably unaware of his flaws). That much is clear. But the story now grows darker still. As they've abandoned political character tests, they're also rejecting any meaningful concern for presidential competence. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


A bizarre conspiracy theory puts Bill Gates at the center of the coronavirus crisis -- and major conservative pundits are circulating it (Ben Gilbert, 4/19/20, Business Insider)

Mentions of coronavirus-related Bill Gates conspiracy theories have exploded on social media and TV: They were mentioned 1.2 million times in the last two months, according to data provided to the New York Times by the media intelligence firm Zignal Labs.

Those conspiracy theories have spread from fringe right-wing conspiracy theorists, like Alex Jones, to conservative pundits like Fox News host Laura Ingraham. "Digitally tracking Americans' every move has been a dream of the globalists for years," Ingraham tweeted in early April. "This health crisis is the perfect vehicle for them to push this."

The commentary was attached to another tweet, which linked to an article about Bill Gates on a conspiracy theory website that cites an answer Gates gave during a Reddit AMA earlier this year. Gates spoke of a hypothetical "digital certificate" that would certify if people were vaccinated from coronavirus. 

According to the piece, "The inevitable mass vaccination campaign to eradicate COVID-19 would be the perfect opportunity to introduce a worldwide digital ID. This system would store a wealth of information about each individual (including vaccination history) and would be used to grant access to rights and services."

It baselessly claimed that Gates -- alongside other rich and powerful people -- is using the coronavirus pandemic as a means of instilling a worldwide caste system based on a digital ID.

Ingraham's followers understood the message: "I will not take a #BillGatesVaccine," one responded.

Former Trump staffer Roger Stone, who was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison earlier this year, was more direct than Ingraham. "Whether Bill Gates played some role in the creation and spread of this virus is open for vigorous debate," Stone said in a radio interview, according to a New York Post report. "I have conservative friends who say it's ridiculous and others say absolutely."

...a digital ID is a great call, obviating the need to carry a wallet.
Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


COVID-19 will change the entire notion of offices: Companies eye rental savings after working from home (VIVIENNE WALT, April 19, 2020, Fortune)

Even as the U.S. and Europe begin discussing how to reopen businesses, company leaders themselves say the coronavirus has jolted them into thinking about more permanent changes in how we all work--shifts that will last much longer than this crisis and could forever reconfigure the entire notion of offices.

In interviews this week, executives at global companies say COVID-19 has hurled them at warp speed into a future that they had envisioned unfolding slowly over many years. And to their astonishment, their online-only operations have worked well--raising the possibility of continuing much of the lockdown's online-first work that has dominated since early March.

"We're trying things in 24 hours, and then just rolling it out," David Kenny, CEO of the global data analytics company Nielsen, says. "I hate this pandemic. But the velocity of experimenting with new things, I love that. I think some of that will stay."

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Trump and Fox went all-in on a coronavirus silver bullet. But maybe the wrong one. (Philip Bump, April 19, 2020, Washington Post)

There is not, as of writing, any medication which has been shown in controlled trials to significantly hasten recovery from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus that's become a global pandemic. Last week, there were nonetheless some new developments on that front. One drug seems to show signs of promise. Another has seen red flags raised.

The one that's raised hopes isn't the one that President Trump has been hyping.

Again: it is not the case that we have new, incontrovertible proof of a drug's efficacy. But news of a trial demonstrating some benefit for covid-19 patients from the anti-viral drug remdesivir helped push the stock market higher on Friday. A report from the National Institutes of Health further suggested that the drug had halted the progression of covid-19 -- at least in monkeys.

For the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, the news was less positive. There's still no demonstrated evidence that improvements after taking the drug are causal. A number of controlled studies in fact failed to demonstrate evidence that hydroxychloroquine or a related drug, chloroquine, had an effect on the disease. A New York family blames the drug for causing their mother's heart attack -- an unproven claim but one in line with concerns about use of the drug. The CIA even warned its employees about using the drug due to the possibility of "sudden cardiac death."

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Reasons many for fewer NH infections than Mass. (Kevin Landrigan, 4/18/20,  New Hampshire Union Leader )

Dr. Ben Locwin of Portsmouth, an infectious disease expert, said it's population density, rather than raw population numbers, that drives the risk of the virus exploding in any community.

"Just because you have 10 times more people doesn't mean you get 10 times more virus. The population density is driving this inevitability," said Locwin, whose resume includes time as a senior consultant to the Centers for Disease Control. "It's all about so much high-rise living, people stacked up, all sharing volumes of air, touching the same doorknobs.

"There is, generally speaking, a lot more space and air volume in New Hampshire," said Locwin.

That's the first point Sununu and State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan turn to when pressed why they think New Hampshire's incidence of disease has been lower.

"Areas like Boston, you have an apartment building, close confined coffee shops, everyday living and workplace environments that can be very dangerous, and that makes it very difficult to mitigate the spread," Sununu said.

But congestion alone doesn't tell the story.

Boston lies in Suffolk County, which doesn't have the state's most COVID-19 cases, according to its Department of Public Health.

The largest number is in Middlesex County, which includes most of the Merrimack Valley, just south of the New Hampshire border, to Cambridge, just north of Boston.

Essex County, from Lawrence to Gloucester on the coast and north to the state line, and Norfolk County, from Quincy south of Boston to the foot of Cape Cod, each have almost three times as many COVID-19 cases as all of New Hampshire.

State officials said contact by New Hampshire residents working or visiting south and then coming home is a major reason New Hampshire's southeastern border counties, Hillsborough and Rockingham, have 74% of New Hampshire's COVID-19 cases.

Two weeks ago the state installed signs on the interstates telling out-of-state residents who come to stay in New Hampshire that they must quarantine for 14 days before venturing out. "It's not complicated. If you're passing through, fine, but if you intend to stay for a while, we need you to self-quarantine," Sununu said.

It's also why cases from community spread have surpassed travel-related cases and contact with someone infected as the leading cause of COVID-19 in New Hampshire.

"I think we are still seeing a lot of community transmission taking place here in venues like liquor stores, grocery stores and other retail places. People who are asymptomatic, they are going to the liquor, grocery stores, not wearing masks and spreading the virus," said Dr. Rich DiPentima, a 30-year health executive with two stints at the New Hampshire Division of Public Health, including one as chief of communicable disease epidemiology.

Over his long career, DiPentima, 75, helped fight swine flu in the 1970s, AIDS in the 1980s and the SARS outbreak in 2002-04.

"The biggest risk factor for almost any untoward health event is poverty, and we are seeing that nationally as well," DiPentima said.

"If you are poor, you have fewer resources and access to what it takes to remain healthy during an outbreak. It's that simple."

According to 2019 U.S. Census department numbers, Massachusetts had the 25th-lowest poverty rate, at 10.4%.

That same year, New Hampshire's poverty rate was the nation's lowest at 7.7%.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Why Trump's slump is likely to last all year (Josh Kraushaar, April 14, 2020, National Journal: Hotline)

The latest wave of national polling underscores the challenges that the president faces. All the surveys show Trump losing ground from a brief uptick at the beginning of the crisis, with his popularity dipping most noticeably among independents.

The latest Morning Consult tracking poll, conducted between April 10-12, shows Trump's overall approval rating slumping to 43 percent, with 53 percent disapproving. His approval on the coronavirus crisis slipped to 45 percent, down 8 points since it peaked in mid-March. He's now underwater with independents, a reversal from last month.

The new Navigator Research tracking survey, a Democratic polling initiative, found similar findings: Support for Trump's handling of the crisis hit its lowest level since the disease began spreading in the U.S., with 46 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving. Deeper inside the poll lies another cause for alarm for Team Trump: Right now, a majority of Americans still approve of his handling of the economy, including a plurality of independents. But that number probably has nowhere to go but down: If the economic downturn worsens, Americans are likely to take out their dissatisfaction on the president.

And the Republican consulting firm Firehouse Strategies, whose surveys have generally been favorable to the president, had more sober news. Its poll from April 4-10 found Trump trailing Biden by 10 points (53 to 43 percent) among registered voters. All of this month's national polls testing Trump against Biden have found the president stuck between 39 and 44 percent of the vote.

Trump's latest performance in battleground states isn't any better. In traditionally Republican Arizona, a must-win state for Trump, he trails Biden 52 to 43 percent in a new OH/Predictive Insights poll. He's down by 6 points to Biden in Florida, in an April University of North Florida survey, despite his generally sunny track record in the state. Biden led Trump in a trifecta of Michigan polls conducted in March. According to the RealClearPolitics statewide polling averages, Biden is ahead in every swing state.

Even Wisconsin, one of Trump's strongest battlegrounds on the map, isn't looking like a safe bet for Republicans. This week, Jill Karofsky, the liberal candidate for the state Supreme Court, handily defeated conservative justice Dan Kelly by a 10-point margin in a contest that served as a proxy for competing partisan passions. Trump endorsed Kelly, while Republicans opposed delaying the election this month in hopes of capitalizing on lower turnout during the pandemic. Those tactics backfired in a big way.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Illinois' governor organized secret flights to bring masks and gloves from China out of fear Trump would seize them (Michelle Mark, 4/19/20, Business Insider)
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker organized secret flights bringing millions of masks and gloves to the state from China on charter jets in an effort to bypass potential Trump administration efforts to seize the products, The Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Two invoices from the state revealed $888,275 purchases for "aircraft charter flight to Shanghai, China for COVID-19 response," according to the newspaper.

The state has reportedly spent $174 million on coronavirus-related purchases, such as ventilators, personal protective equipment, and hand sanitizer.

The Sun-Times cited a source familiar with the purchases, who said the details were kept secret "because we've heard reports of Trump trying to take PPE in China and when it gets to the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Social distancing harsh on Christians in Easter, too soft on Muslims in Ramadan, says Trump (New Arab, 19 April, 2020)

"I would say that there could be a difference," Trump said during his daily coronavirus press conference. "And we'll have to see what will happen. Because I've seen a great disparity in this country."

"They go after Christian churches but they don't tend to go after mosques," he said.

...who's next Latinos or blacks?

April 18, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


Fox News host defended anti-lockdown protesters who called Michigan's governor a Nazi as they displayed Confederate flags and swastikas (Eliza Relman, 4/18/20, Business Insider)

On Friday, Fox News host Greg Gutfeld argued that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had wrongly tarred protesters who've accused her of being a Nazi by pointing out that they carried signs with swastikas on them during protests in Lansing this week. Gutfeld denied that any of the protesters were Nazis.

Some of the protesters carried signs likening Whitmer to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Others waved Confederate flags, many were armed, and some held Trump 2020 signs. The symbol of the Confederacy, which fought to preserve slavery and white supremacy, is often carried and displayed by today's white supremacists. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


Senior Syrian regime officers killed in Daraa attack amid growing violence (New Arab, 18 April, 2020)

Two senior regime officers were killed in an attack on a military vehicle near the town of Herak in the restive southern Syrian province of Daraa, in the latest in a series of attacks on regime soldiers.

The officers were from the regime's 52nd brigade, and were identified by the "Hauran Independent Media Activists' Group" as Colonel Hamid Makhlouf, the leader of the brigade, and Colonel Mahmoud Habib, the brigade's planning officer.

On Thursday armed men attacked a military vehicle belonging to Assad regime forces on the road between the towns of Izraa and Busra al-Harir, killing three soldiers and injuring a number of others, the Syrian news website Zaman al-Wasl reported.

The militants used light and medium weapons in the attack and escaped afterwards, according to Zaman al-Wasl.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Soros-Funded Muslim Group Associated With Homophobia, Terrorist Defenders Endorses Biden (Joe Schoffstall, APRIL 18, 2020, Washington Examiner)

A George Soros-backed Muslim group, which cohosts a conference that in recent years drew speakers who called homosexuality a "disease" and defended terrorist groups, announced its endorsement of Joe Biden for president.

Emgage, which bills itself as the largest Muslim PAC in the country, on Thursday announced it would switch its endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) to Biden. The group cited Biden's promises to end President Donald Trump's travel bans, increase the refugee admissions cap, and overhaul the immigration system. Biden said he was "honored" to receive the endorsement.

Emgage has collaborated with a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated group on events that in recent years attracted speakers who openly opposed LGBT rights and supported terror groups. Last year, Emgage became an official cohost of Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) conferences. ISNA was previously revealed to be part of the Muslim Brotherhood network--though it claims it is no longer associated with the group.

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


There's No Such Thing As 'Easy Credit.' There's Only Abundant Production (John Tamny, April 15, 2020, Real Clear Markets)

As we all know from the most basic of basic economics, artificially low prices made artificial by government command invariably lead to scarcity. Reducing what's absurd to the absurd, Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti could surely decree Ferraris cheap in Los Angeles, Mayor de Blasio could decree apartment rents cheap in New York, but it's not as though the markets would comply. Assuming the declaration of artificially cheap Ferraris and Manhattan apartments, the lightning quick result would be scarcity of both. That the previous sentence is a statement of the obvious brings new meaning to obvious.

To which some will say central banks just "print money," and they can make the money "easy" by doing so. Yes they can, but the same economic truths apply. Once again no one borrows money; rather they borrow what money can be exchanged for. Implicit in Rivelle's thesis is that market actors aren't just stupid, but they're monumentally so.

Indeed, Rivelle's analysis presumes that those who produce and own real resources (think again computer printers, office buildings, etc.) are just rushing to exchange those resources for paper easily produced by central banks, and loaned out for next to nothing. No. Not very likely. 

Looking at the above in reverse, do those who borrow "money" do so blind to what it can be exchanged for? As in do they aggressively borrow dollars, thus setting themselves up for principal and interest (however low) payments, even though they know the money isn't exchangeable for the real goods, services and labor that are the only reason to borrow?

Back to reality, all money flows are a signal that goods, services and labor are being exchanged. Meaning money is never cheap. No doubt money is periodically devalued by monetary authorities, the U.S. Treasury the miscreant stateside, but this just means the devalued medium is used less to faciliate exchange, or it's used in exchange for exceedingly fewer goods and services. Markets always speak, and they always reject attempts at "easy" anything.

Rivelle notes that interest rates have been low.  Yes, so true.  But not because of the Fed. The central bank is a follower. 

Interest rates for some businesses also haven't been low for decades because the sky is blue, or because financiers have been feeling generous; rather they've been low because production has been abundant.

Consider all of the unsold products that are gathering dust right now, from clothes to cars. Not only will reopening businesses need to clear out half their Winter inventory, but all of their Spring and much of their Summer just to make room for Fall lines.  Automakers will have to dump an entire year's models to get ready for next.  All at a time when much of the population has been on reduced or no wages.  What are prices going to do in, at least the short term, future?  Now factor in: the efficiencies businesses are realizing by getting along with fewer employees; the oil glut; etc.  Realistically, rates ought to be well below zero at this point.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Netanyahu's right-wing bloc starts cracking (Mazal Mualem April 17, 2020, Al Monitor)

"I don't know where you are taking us," hissed Shas Chairman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a harsh conversation they recently conducted.  [...]

 Deri is perhaps Netanyahu's most important ally in forming the right-wing bloc; this platform had fiercely protected Netanyahu in the course of the elections and after them. But this time, to his surprise, Deri found Netanyahu insisting over and over about tightening the coalition agreement even more -- adding more and more conditions -- so that the High Court would be unable to disqualify him from serving as deputy prime minister (in the second period, when Gantz should serve as premier). Even Deri learned that despite his personal closeness to the prime minister, he was unable to bring down Netanyahu's walls of paranoia.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Harvard Researcher Out "10,000 Steps" Goal as a Farce (TANNER GARRITY, APRIL 18, 2020, Inside Hook)

The Spring 2020 issue of Popular Science includes a first-person account from I-Min Lee, an epidemiologist at the Harvard University School of Public Health who published a study last year challenging the oft-repeated 10,000-steps-a-day "rule."

As the story goes, Lee was part of a competition at Harvard a few years back in which various teams tried to accumulate as many steps as possible. Most participants were struggling to hit the 10,000-step benchmark, so, with years of exercise study under her belt, Lee decided to do a little digging. She looked into the etymology of the mandate first, and uncovered that a Japanese watch company called Yamasa Clock had originally disseminated the 10,000-step goal way  back in the late 1960s -- and with dubious reasoning. A section of the Japanese character sequence for "10,000" faintly resembles a guy out for a brisk stroll: 万.

Lee decided to bring some much-needed science to the debate, and commissioned a study assessing step volume and intensity with all-cause mortality in older woman. Her research, which can be accessed here, followed nearly 17,000 women with a mean age of 72, and deduced that women who averaged 4,400 steps a day had lower mortality rates than those who averaged 2,700 steps a day. The main takeaway? A blanket "10,000 steps or bust" approach is counterproductive; based on age, gender and lifestyle, a far smaller number can still have positive impacts on longevity.

Rates and Barrels read a hilarious email yesterday from some guys who did a Pedometer Challenge League: https://theathletic.com/podcast/15-rates-and-barrels/?episode=89

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


A parade that killed thousands? (The Week, April 18, 2020)

In the days before the parade, Philadelphia officials distributed 20,000 flyers urging citizens to cover their mouths when they coughed or sneezed. "If the people are careless," Krusen was quoted as saying in the Phil­a­del­phia Even­ing Bul­le­tin the day of the parade, "thousands of cases may develop and the epidemic may get beyond control." That same article reported that 118 people in the city had been diagnosed with the virus. But still he permitted the parade to proceed. On the 28th, a snaking line of Boy Scouts, marching bands, women's auxiliaries, and troops 2 miles long wound its way up Broad Street. War­planes flew overhead as an enormous, tightly packed crowd of 200,000 cheered. Within three days, every bed in Phil­a­del­phia's 31 hospitals was occupied. Within a week, 45,000 citizens were infected and the entire city had shut down.

It was too late. By the second week in November, 12,000 Phila­del­phians were dead, and the phrase "bodies stacked like cordwood" had become commonplace among the survivors. "It was an apocalyptic scene," said Davis. "In some cases, public-health nurses would be walking into tenements and finding whole families dead." Bodies piled up on sidewalks after the city morgue, capable of holding only 36 people, was overwhelmed. Within six months, 16,000 were dead, and 500,000 Phil­a­del­phians had fallen ill with the flu. Mean­while, unsubstantiated rumors circulated among the frightened populace that the Germans had unleashed the flu on U.S. soil via spies who'd arrived on U-boats.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


During coronavirus, even trusting in science feels like a form of faith: Whether we are religious or investing our hopes in scientific research, for many of us, this period of upheaval is changing our attitude to belief (Eve Willis, April 16, 2020, The Prospect)

We need badly to maintain our trust in the present strategy and coming cure, but terror loosens the senses, and sometimes it feels like we are fruitlessly blundering in the dark, with no end in sight. Our situation, we are told, is "unprecedented." There is no real timeline. Stay inside the house, half-blind, mad with hope.

In these circumstances, there is something seductive about organised religion. ONS statistics show that the overall number of people who identify as religious in the UK is declining, but if you've had a faith-based upbringing--and many have--flirting with the idea can feel reassuringly like a return to something. Those who grow up with faith comment on the ease of slipping back into its rituals, falling prey to its charms - you know the psalms, the songs, even a whiff of incense transports you back to a time when you weren't locked in the house, frantically googling 'what constitutes dry cough?' Now that many places of worship are live-streaming their masses I'm suddenly spoiled for choice, a sort of ecclesiastical Tinder: Durham Cathedral, St Mary of the Angels, maybe even the Papal mass, as a treat. If you are isolated there is something soothing in the notion that you sit and chant and kneel in unison with thousands of others, alone but together, bound by something huge and shared.

One of the biggest challenges people face in quarantine is the lack of structure--the sense that we're all drifting through an endless Wednesday. The devout don't have this problem. Heeding the salat, the five calls to prayer, will certainly break up the day. The shabbat marks the weekend. Regardless of creed, organised religion can provide comfort and structure in a time when people sorely need both. The National Secular Society recently rammed its foot into its mouth complaining that religious staff are recognised as key workers--failing to grasp that religion answers an emotional need, and that in a time of crisis that need will reach a fever pitch. Not to mention the rising demand for their services at lonely, socially distanced funerals, where the family will grieve via Zoom. This is one of the failings of aggressive atheism; in dismissing faith as 'illogical' or trivial, its adherents totally miss the point that everything that makes life living--friends and family, bad contemporary art, pastries, kissing--are all ultimately pointless and irrational but they sustain us, keep us charging forwards.

And it's all ultimately irrational.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Is the Coronavirus Killing Off Cash? (Nancy Scola, 4/17/20, Politico)

Stores are shuttering all over the United States, and many of those still open are balking at cash. Shoppers are switching orders to Amazon and Walmart.com. Many restaurants that have stayed open won't take cash, and operate without any contact at all, requiring customers to pay first online.

What once seemed like the oldest, most reliable way of paying now seems fraught: A physical object changing hands, bringing people closer than 6 feet, covered in who knows what.

"Do I want to grab the thing that you were just holding in your hand? No," says Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff, who has advocated for a less-cash society, and predicts the crisis "is absolutely going to drive people to prefer credit and debit to cash."

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Kimberly Guilfoyle and Lara Trump are being paid $180,000 a year for work on Trump's campaign (KEITH GRIFFITH, 4/17/20, DAILYMAIL.COM)

Kimberly Guilfoyle and Lara Trump will be working for President Donald Trump's reelection campaign, and are reportedly being paid $180,000 a year.

April 17, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 11:42 AM


BOSCH IS BACK--AND HE'S STILL THE PRICKLY BASTARD YOU WANT SHOWING UP AT A CRIME SCENE: Six seasons in, Bosch may just be TV's best police procedural. (KEITH ROYSDON, 4/17/20, Crime Reads)

Nobody will ever accuse Harry Bosch of being a teddy bear. The longtime Los Angeles police detective, central to Michael Connelly's nearly two-dozen crime novels, is kind of a prick. To say he doesn't suffer fools gladly is a ridiculous understatement; he doesn't suffer fools gladly or even grumpily.

Connelly's books are peppered with moments when Bosch barks out a criticism of a police colleague or even superior. Bosch gets away with this because he's usually right. The patrol officer who opened a car's trunk damn well should have been wearing latex gloves. The partner should have been more concerned with a case than his side hustle. The lieutenant should have stood up for his charges.

The relative thorniness of the main character is part of what makes Bosch, the Amazon Prime Video series--the sixth season begins streaming on April 17--kind of fascinating. The show's Bosch is a jerk but agreeably so. He's not effusive even with his daughter, Maddie, or significant others. But he's open and vulnerable to those closest to him, in a Bosch sort of way. He keeps other cops at arm's length, but usually only until he figures out their motives. For god's sake, he rescues and adopts a dog in the fifth season.

Don't mistakenly think Bosch, as played by Deadwood alum Titus Welliver, has gone soft, however. He might call people "brother" but he's still fairly prickly.

Nowhere near as good as the books, but a good watch (other than Season 1).

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


Coronavirus accelerates coal's decline (Amy Harder, 4/17/20, Axios)

Rhodium analyzed hourly electricity data from the Energy Information Administration to conclude that wind and solar generated more electricity than coal for several days over the past week.

"That's never happened before," said Trevor Houser, a partner at the firm.

Flashback: A decade ago, coal powered nearly 50% of America's electricity, by far the largest share.

The one-two punch of cheap, cleaner-burning natural gas and tougher environmental regulations during the Obama administration pushed coal far from its traditional perch as America's top power source.

Two factors are driving coal's relative demise now compared to other power sources.

Existing wind and solar plants have fixed costs and no marginal cost, which means they "generally get priority" when deciding which types of plants to run, Houser said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Cities are starting to report big declines in car crashes, but increases in speeding (Sarah Goodyear, 4/16/20, City Metric)

In cities around the globe, the shutdown has led to a radical downturn in automobile traffic as drivers stay at home. On 10 April in the five counties of New York City, for example, estimated vehicle miles traveled were down between 78% and 92% from January volumes, according to Streetlight, a mobility data company. In Denver, driving is down an estimated 75%. In Houston, 66%. In Miami, 72%. In Chicago, 68%. Several major auto insurance providers have offered discounts to their customers to reflect the reduced risk, with premiums cut by as much as 20%. 

...but it will be interesting to see how many lives are saved by the lockdown, from traffic deaths to crime-related to pollution-related, etc.

N.B. Lyman Stone discussed some of this on The Remnant.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Curb Your Enthusiasm (CHRISTIAN BRITSCHGI,  MAY 2020, reason)

As in seasons past, much of the show's comedy comes from David and his unfortunate interlocutors arguing about what the appropriate standard of behavior is in a given situation: When is it OK to ask someone's weight? Should a pregnant woman jog? Can the same dish be used to feed humans and dogs?

This intense focus on seemingly minor everyday questions of propriety makes the show as insightful as it is funny. David, like the rest of us, has to interact with a world full of people who are often selfish or annoying (or find him so). Making it all work is an informal set of rules that everyone either quietly agrees to follow or flouts at the risk of social stigma.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


BOOK REVIEW: How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs: The Syrian Arab Congress of 1920 and the Destruction of its Historic Liberal-Islamic Alliance by Elizabeth F. Thompson  (Reviewed by Sunil Dasgupta, April 17, 2020, Washington Independent Review of Books)

The Great War may have brought about the end of the imperial era for some, but victory has always been deafening to the victorious. While the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were dismantled in a fervor of nationalism, Britain and France saw opportunities for imperial expansion.

They reneged on promises of freedom made to secure wartime alliances; and from Middle East, historian Elizabeth F. Thompson writes in How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs, they took democracy itself. The liberal-nationalist movement and the constitutional monarchy it supported failed because of that betrayal, and the great hope for Arab democracy remains elusive.

The Ottomans ruled the Middle East for centuries but declined after the Napoleonic Wars. European nations entered the power vacuum: Britain and France wrestled over Egypt. Former vassals also rose up against Istanbul, where a nationalist revolution in the early 20th century promised revival but led to tragedies instead.

Turkey joined the Central Powers in the Great War. The opposing countries, including Britain and France, encouraged Ottoman subjects to rebel against Istanbul. An Arab rebel army joined forces with a British intelligence officer, seeding the story we know as Lawrence of Arabia.

The Arab leader of that rebel army was Prince Faisal, who was sent to the Ottoman court in Istanbul by his father but returned disillusioned by miscarriages of justice, including the genocide of Armenians led by the Turkish government.

In Arab lands, Ottoman mismanagement led to famine and executions of Arab leaders who spoke out against the rulers. Faisal orchestrated a wartime alliance with the British governor of Egypt against the Ottomans, expecting that Britain would support the Arab right to self-rule after the war.

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. 

This is the story David Fromkin tells as well, in his great A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, which I found the most useful text in explaining how we got to 9/11. It's a sickening thought experiment to imagine how much better the 20th Century could have been had Wilson sought to vindicate American values at the Peace Conference--extending democracy universally--instead of trading away human rights for his League.  

April 16, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


The new intellectuals of the American right: In political and media circles, an array of thinkers - national conservatives, integralists, traditionalists, and post-liberals - are crossing ideological boundaries.  (NICK BURNS, 4/16/20, New Statesman)

What is happening on the American intellectual scene? In Washington and New York, it is increasingly common to hear people say they are enemies of neoliberalism. They think liberal democracy is insufficient. They are in favour of government intervention in the economy, sceptical of free-trade deals and long to demolish what they call "zombie Reaganism". 

These people are not Bernie Sanders supporters. In fact, they are not on the left at all. They are Catholic professors, or writers for US conservative magazines. They run tech companies in California or work for Republican senators on Capitol Hill. Meet the new American right. 

If you would like to find yourself a place in the vanguard of American conservatism these days, you can choose from a widening panoply of neologisms to describe yourself: national conservative, integralist, traditionalist, post-liberal, you might even be welcome if you are a Marxist. Anything just so long as you're not a libertarian. 

The once dominant intellectual lodestars of the US right - Friedrich Hayek, John Locke, Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand and Adam Smith - are out. The ideas of Carl Schmitt, James Burnham, Michel Houellebecq and Christopher Lasch are in. Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville are barely clinging on. What happened? 

One explanation for the American right's leftward turn lies with Catholic opinion. Resentment was already building among US Catholic conservatives by the time of Donald Trump's election in 2016. From around 2013, as Pope Francis appeared to be compromising on certain social issues, such as acceptance of homosexuality, Catholics began to suspect the grand bargain of the American conservative movement since the 1950s - free markets combined with social conservatism - was heavily tilted in favour of the former. They saw a Republican Party guided less by religion than by money: money which seemed little disposed to advocate on behalf of their beliefs. They saw themselves as foot-soldiers in a culture war their party seemed content to lose. Even worse: for the privilege of fighting, they had been obliged not to think too hard about what Catholic social teaching might have to say on issues such healthcare, for fear of offending the jealous god of the free market. 

A demonstration of this anger came in 2018, when University of Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen published a provocatively titled book, Why Liberalism Failed. By "liberalism", Deneen did not mean the American progressivism embodied by Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, but the entire liberal project, from the 17th-century philosopher John Locke to the postwar theorist John Rawls. By replacing old commitments to community, religion or tradition with pure self-interest, Deneen said, liberalism atomised citizens, rendering them helpless, nihilistic and alone. 

The book quickly became a touchstone for conservative discussions in the US about liberalism. Instead of a threat to American liberal democracy, perhaps Trump was merely the latest symptom of a defect the liberal project had contracted at birth - the rage emanating from communities hollowed out by a corrosive liberalism. 

As a balm for these social ills, Deneen advocated retreat from national politics into the enclaves of small, rural communities, echoing other writers on the American right, such as Rod Dreher, a senior editor at the American Conservative. But more recently, Deneen has taken an interest in populism, hobnobbing with the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán in November 2019 and proposing a politics of "aristopopulism" - the notion, borrowed from the 16th-century Florentine philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, that friction between the masses and the elite is the best way to ensure that neither class dominates the other, and that material inequality remains at a moderate level. 

Deneenism, however, came up against a fiercer and more eccentric assortment of right-wing monks and bloggers who march under the banner of "integralism". The integralists demand that the constitutional separation between church and state be smashed, so that the state may defer to the church on spiritual matters. The state's reach, argue integralists, should be combined with Catholic teaching on social issues: "Medicare for all, abortion for none."

The high priest of the integralist movement is the 51-year-old Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule. Though Vermeule agrees with Deneen's diagnosis of liberal malady, his proposed remedy is not Benedictine retreat but Constantinian takeover. A leading expert on the American administrative state, he knows it is a staggeringly powerful tool, capable of swaying the actions of millions. He believes it would only take a few loyalists, well enough placed within the national bureaucracy, to steer the whole hulking contraption in the general direction of the summum bonum. 

Haven't read the Deneen book yet, but have heard him on a few podcasts and it made me wonder if I'd misunderstood what liberalism is and even more curious about why these guys all hate John Locke so much (besides his protestantism).  Here's the conclusion of C. B. Macpherson's introduction to the Second Treatise of Government:

As a liberal ideology it has almost everything that could be desired. It starts with free and equal individuals none of whom have any claim of jurisdiction over others: this is a characteristic and essential assumption of the proponents of a liberal as opposed to a feudal or patriarchal or absolutist state.  It acknowledges that these individuals are self-interested and contentious enough to need a powerful state to keep them in order, but it avoids the Hobbesian conclusion that the state must have absolute and irrevocable power: it does this by attributing to men a moral capacity to discover and generally stay within a natural law which forbids harming others: this too is essential to the liberal case, and of course is flattering and agreeable. Moreover, Locke makes a unique and ingenious case for a natural right of unlimited private property, with which society and government are not entitled to interfere: no-one, before or since, has come near his skill in moving from a limited and equal to an unlimited and unequal property right by invoking rationality and consent.

The confluence of his main lines of argument about government and about property right provides an eminently usable ideological underpinning for the modern liberal capitalist state.

And, from the text, here is Locke explaining republican liberty:

THE natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but to have only the law of nature for his rule. The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power, but that established, by consent, in the commonwealth; nor under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it. Freedom then is not what Sir Robert Filmer tells us, Observations, A. 55. a liberty for every one to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws: but freedom of men under government is, to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power erected in it...

In short, liberalism is expressly organized around the idea that, due to unchecked self-interest, man was previously atomised, helpless, nihilistic and alone, and that the remedy is to organize into an anti-individualistic republican society where all are empowered by their participation in law-making and the equal protection/application of said laws.

So the criticism is exactly backwards; what the Right is actually objecting to is that, given our republican liberty, liberal societies have not privileged some groups over others not chosen to adopt the ideas of certain minority cliques.  And, since these groups have failed to convince the electorate that they should do so (nor the legal system that such privileging is consistent with republican liberty), they have no alternative but to turn to ant-democratic/authoritarian means of achieving their ideologies.  Well, that's not quite right.  Alternatively the could move to nations that adhere more closely to the sort of totalitarianism they desire or, like the rest of us, they could live their own lives in the fashion they prefer, to the extent that they transgress our uniform laws and do not interfere with the liberties of others, even though it means that not every member of society will adhere to that same life-style.  

There must be some reason that neither of those alternatives is satisfactory, and for that reason we turn again to Eric Hoffer:

Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect.  The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.  
Their absolutism makes them the nihilists.


Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Ex-Navy secretary may have exaggerated his reasoning for firing an aircraft carrier captain during its coronavirus outbreak (Ryan Pickrell and David Choi, 4/16/20, Business Insider)

Talking to the press at the Pentagon after he announced his decision to relieve Crozier of his command, Modly accused the captain of sending the letter out "over non-secure, unclassified email." He said that the captain should not have sent a "blast-out email to anybody who he knows about the situation."

The former acting Navy secretary added the email was "copied to 20 or 30 other people."

Asked specifically if Crozier was being "relieved because he CC'd too many people," Modly replied, "To me, that demonstrated extremely poor judgment in the middle of a crisis."

But the email, to which the captain's four-page letter was attached, appears to have been sent to only 10 people in total, The Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the email, reported Thursday.

It was sent to Crozier's immediate boss, Rear Adm. Stuart Baker, US Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino, and Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, who oversees all Pacific naval air forces. Crozier, according to The Post, then copied the message to just seven other people, all of whom were fellow US Navy captains.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


New AI improves itself through Darwinian-style evolution: AutoML-Zero is a proof-of-concept project that suggests the future of machine learning may be machine-created algorithms. (STEPHEN JOHNSON, 16 April, 2020, Big Think)

Machine learning has fundamentally changed how we engage with technology. Today, it's able to curate social media feeds, recognize complex images, drive cars down the interstate, and even diagnose medical conditions, to name a few tasks.

But while machine learning technology can do some things automatically, it still requires a lot of input from human engineers to set it up, and point it in the right direction. Inevitably, that means human biases and limitations are baked into the technology.

So, what if scientists could minimize their influence on the process by creating a system that generates its own machine-learning algorithms? Could it discover new solutions that humans never considered?

To answer these questions, a team of computer scientists at Google developed a project called AutoML-Zero, which is described in a preprint paper published on arXiv.

"Human-designed components bias the search results in favor of human-designed algorithms, possibly reducing the innovation potential of AutoML," the paper states. "Innovation is also limited by having fewer options: you cannot discover what you cannot search for."

Automatic machine learning (AutoML) is a fast-growing area of deep learning. In simple terms, AutoML seeks to automate the end-to-end process of applying machine learning to real-world problems. Unlike other machine-learning techniques, AutoML requires relatively little human effort, which means companies might soon be able to utilize it without having to hire a team of data scientists.


Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


The Admiral of the String Theory Wars: After a decade, Peter Woit still thinks string theory is a gory mess. (Bob Henderson, Nautilus)

Watching Peter Woit lecture on quantum mechanics to a class at Columbia University--speaking softly, tapping out equations on a blackboard--it's hard to imagine why a Harvard physicist once publicly compared him to a terrorist and called for his death.

"I was worried," said Woit's longtime girlfriend, Pamela Cruz. "Sleep was lost."

Woit's crime? A blog and a book, both called Not Even Wrong after a famous barb first wielded by physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Woit uses it against string theory, that most famous contender for the holy grail of physics: a "Theory of Everything" that would unite the two theories that physicists currently need to describe the universe.

The first of these is quantum field theory, which covers the subatomic domain, the behavior of elementary particles, and three of the four forces of nature. The second is Einstein's general relativity, which explains the fourth force, gravity, relevant only at much larger scales. Unhappily for physicists, these two theories are logically and mathematically incompatible. String theory proposes to solve this problem by replacing elementary particles with strings as nature's most fundamental objects.

Woit doesn't buy it.

"This is just getting more and more outrageous, this is just getting ridiculous," Woit remembers thinking about string theory in 2004, when he started the blog. "There's this huge public promotion of the theory and there's all this stuff about how wonderful string theory is ..." Woit pauses, shakes his head, and chuckles in disbelief. In 2004 string theory had been a hot research topic for 20 years and "it really wasn't working."

He is called an "incompetent, power-thirsty ... moron" and a "stuttering crackpot-in-chief" guilty of crimes as contemptible as those of Osama bin Laden.

Woit's major complaint about the theory, then and now, is that it fails to make testable predictions, so it can't be checked for errors--in other words, that it's "not even wrong."

...once the Darwinists got away with it others were sure to try.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


Michigan manbaby protest: Wait, we thought conservatives were "rugged individuals": Who'd a thunk it? Right-wingers are a bunch of spoiled brats who start whining over the slightest inconvenience (Amanda Marcotte, April 16, 2020, Salon)

On Wednesday, a crowd of right-wing nuts -- complete with their oversized but underworked utility vehicles, Confederate flags, guns and other such overcompensation accoutrements -- descended on the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, to whine about the temporary pause to dinners at Applebee's and accidental brushfires at gender-reveal parties. The deep fear of emasculation driving the protest was not particularly subtle at this protest, as the crowd chanted "Lock her up" at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who is accused of no other crime other than making deeply insecure men fuss about a woman in power.  

The ostensible purpose of the protests was to pressure Whitmer to relax some of the restrictions on businesses and movement under the coronavirus lockdown. In reality, of course, this is happening because a bunch of Fox News-loving Trump supporters have been poisoned by propaganda that has convinced them the coronavirus is overblown or a hoax, all being spread by the libs to destroy Trump's chances at re-election.

Well, that, and the fact that they're a bunch of sexists who hate having a female governor, which goes a long way toward explaining why the Michigan protest was bigger than others in Ohio or North Carolina, whose governors are male. 

It would be bad enough if it was just that their response to wokeness was to become Identitarian themselves, but their adoption of the emotionalism of the Left is an embarrassment to our gender.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Trump's Coronavirus CEO Death Panel Backfires Hilariously (Jonathan Chait, 4/16/20, New York)

This line from the same report might be one of the most incriminating sentences ever published about this (or any) president: "Trump's advisers are trying to shield the president from political accountability should his move to reopen the economy prove premature and result in lost lives, and so they are trying to mobilize business executives, economists and other prominent figures to buy into the eventual White House plan, so that if it does not work, the blame can be shared broadly, according to two former administration officials familiar with the efforts."

So the plan was to create a national death panel, conscripting corporate America into sharing the guilt in the fairly high likelihood that the plan goes pear-shaped.

Can you see the problem with the plan? Well, yes: Business leaders might not want to be on the Trump death panel. CEOs of large public-facing corporations tend to be cautious types who steer clear of reputational risks, like being implicated in a plan with a high probability of mass death.

By Wednesday, the advisory council had devolved into a Zoom call. Many of the participants still hadn't been informed that they had been selected, and some either had scheduling conflicts or were unable to log in. A White House official explained to the New York Times "that while the administration did not wait to hear back from all 200 people whose names were announced as part of the effort, it had sent an email notification on Tuesday afternoon to all the people involved alerting them that they had been selected." Apparently this is supposed to support the point that the blame for the debacle lies not with the administration but with the corporate executives who didn't respond quickly enough to the "Would you like to join our death panel?" email.

Most comically, most of the business leaders who did make the call used their time (after the prerequisite flattery for Trump, which everybody knows is needed to make the president pay attention to your message) to urge the administration to step up testing nationwide. "There was a wide consensus that more testing was needed before the economy could reopen," reports the Times. Business leaders say "pressure tactics to reopen the economy as fast as possible make no sense if the virus isn't fully under control and consumers and businesses don't feel safe to resume anything close to normal activities," reports Ben White.

In other words, the group that was originally designed to counteract the advice of public-health professionals wound up giving Trump the exact same advice.

Always bet on the Deep State.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


We Can Do Better Than the Framers' Constitution (FH Buckley, 4/08/20, Law & Liberty)

Adrian Vermeule's recent essay in the Atlantic sketches an alternative to originalism, which today is the dominant theory of constitutional interpretation amongst conservatives and the one associated with the Supreme Court justice after whom my law school is named. In its place, Vermeule proposes a "common good" paternalism that candidly enforces conservative principles about hierarchy, solidarity, and personal morality.

As provocative as this is, Vermeule nevertheless pulls his punches. Rather than arguing that conservatives should reject originalism, he might have argued that they must do so if they wish to advance a morally compelling argument. For originalism, after all, is simply another form of legal positivism, the doctrine that places a Chinese Wall between what is and what ought to be the law. Originalists are the children of John Austin (1790-1859), the English legal philosopher who defined the law as the sovereign's command backed by force. As a utilitarian, Austin thought that laws might serve the principle of utility or not, that is, they might be good or bad, but in either case they're still laws if enacted by the King-in-Parliament.

As a form of legal positivism, therefore, it makes no sense to say that courts should follow originalist principles, unless the alternative is expected to make things worse. And that is what originalism comes down to. Its plausibility as a rule that deserves to be followed rests on a rejection of its principal alternative--the left-liberal egalitarianism and libertarianism that informs much of our constitutional law--and an assertion that those are the only choices before us.

As such, originalism is necessarily a political creed that seeks to hide its politics. But as Karl Llewellyn noted, covert tools are never reliable tools. When the hidden motives are exposed, the originalist can be ridiculed as insincere, and that is what liberals have done in exposing his biases.

And who is the sovereign in a system of republican liberty?  We are.  All Americans are.  So if you are Left or Right and the American people remain stubbornly non-ideological, what other option do you have but to hate the Republic. Of course, if you are Nationalist or a Socialist and you would prefer a regime that pursues those ideologies, all you have to do is convince your fellow Americans that they ought to join you.  But neither can.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Pollution Kills Nine Million People a Year. How Is That Okay?Recent studies put the vast human and economic toll of global pollution into sharp relief. Will lawmakers respond? (PRANAV REDDY, 04.16.2020, UnDark)

The astounding impact of pollution on health was confirmed this year by a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that examined particulate air pollution in 652 cities across the globe. It found that particulate pollution was associated with increases in cardiovascular and respiratory mortality and in overall mortality. Other studies have linked pollution to ailments ranging from diabetes to kidney dysfunction. Not only is pollution the leading environmental cause of disease, it is also connected to climate change and the health of the planet. The Lancet Commission estimated that the annual economic costs of pollution are $4.6 trillion globally.

New research also suggests that people living in areas with poorer air quality may be more susceptible to the impacts of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Yet the pollution problem largely remains neglected by policymakers, funding organizations, and the media. Globally, the pollution agenda draws only a fraction of the hundreds of millions of dollars of annual funding that goes towards other public health threats like HIV/AIDS and malaria, pointed out Richard Fuller, a co-author of the Lancet report and president of the pollution-focused nonprofit Pure Earth. Why isn't pollution on our radar?

Part of the answer is that environmental regulations in the U.S. and other wealthy nations have already led to some progress. Following publication of the Lancet report, Philip Landrigan, a co-author and physician-epidemiologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, explained, "I was a medical intern at Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital in the late 1960s. You couldn't see down the length of the corridor from the steel mills' air pollution. You don't see pollution like that in Cleveland anymore. But you see it in New Delhi."

Another factor is that the pollution problem is complicated and insidious. We tend to pay attention to it only in a crisis, such as when drinking water in Flint, Michigan was discovered to be tainted with lead and other pollutants. "The Flint water crisis captured people's attention as something that was important and unacceptable," said Gary Adamkiewicz, an assistant professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "It showed gaps in public policy, revealed which communities had power and a voice, and how these things can go unnoticed without proper testing."

The Lancet Commission estimated that the annual economic costs of pollution are $4.6 trillion globally.

But even when no health emergency dominates local and national headlines, pollution continues to threaten our well-being. Polluted water leads to diarrheal diseases and other infections in the gastrointestinal tract. Soil polluted with toxic chemicals leads to heart disease, stroke, and brain injury in developing children. Polluted air leads not only to asthma, lung cancer, and diabetes, but also to low birthweight in infants. There are even cognitive effects: Recent studies have found that chess players make more mistakes in more polluted environments and that high levels of air pollution are linked to higher rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dementia.

A September 2019 study published in Nature Communications examined the placentas of 28 new mothers and found that soot-like black carbon had accumulated on the fetal side of the placental walls, suggesting that particulate air pollution can directly affect a developing fetus. A recent study of expectant mothers in Boston showed that women exposed to higher levels of air pollution during pregnancy birthed newborns with lower fetal heart rate variability, indicating poorer cardiovascular health.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


In crisis, Trump's most ardent fans find they love him more (Story Hinckley, 4/15/20, CS Monitor)

To many on the left, President Donald Trump has been a manifest disaster in guiding America through the current pandemic.

But Maria Romero most definitely would beg to differ.

"The man is not a magician, but he's doing everything he can. ... He believes in America and he believes in Americans," says Ms. Romero, who lost her job at a car dealership outside of Chicago two weeks ago because of COVID-19.

She tunes into President Trump's coronavirus briefings every evening, saying they make her feel reassured and hopeful.

"I could be bitter, I could say, 'This is President Trump's fault' - but it's not," she says. "Things were wonderful [before COVID-19]. He did it once, he'll do it again. I trust him."

As the United States navigates a spring season like no other, with much of its population sheltering at home and the economy frozen, President Trump's core supporters - call them "superfans" - remain staunchly behind a chief executive they believe was Making America Great Again before a pandemic unexpectedly upset his plans.

...that your emotional need to compromise your values and engage in negative partisanship has led to thousands of deaths.  It's asking too much to expect them to face reality right now.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Inspectors General Drain The Swamp. So Why Is Trump Firing Them? (BARBARA BOLAND, 4/14/20, American Conservative)

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


When SARS EndedThe viral spell broke, and Hong Kong seemed to wake from a fever dream. (Karl Taro Greenfeld, April 16, 2020, The New Yorker)

We didn't know it yet, but that week--the week of Leslie Cheung's death--was the point of maximum hysteria and fear. In early April, while we were betting on the number of new cases and wondering about the extent of the coverup, Hong Kong passed its inflection point, with the number of new infections sinking below that of cleared cases. As April turned to May, and warmer days commenced, we looked around and realized that we were still alive.

What had actually happened? In retrospect, it seems likely that several factors converged. We had all effectively self-quarantined (or, in the case of my wife and daughters, actually departed). Schools had been closed for more than a month. Everyone in the city had been wearing surgical masks, without exception; on television, even government officials appeared in scrubs and full protective gear.

The medical system had adapted, too. Prior to sars, some hospitals had become lax, relying on antibiotics for infection control instead of maintaining disinfection as a steady state. What worked against sars, I wrote later, in my book about the outbreak, "China Syndrome," were "Florence Nightingale-style proscriptions: protective layers of masks, goggles, gloves, galoshes, and gowns. Sealed wards. Quarantine. Ventilation. This was not Nobel Prize-winning medicine. Yet it was effective." Modern hospital systems aren't accustomed to swarms of critical respiratory cases. But Hong Kong's hospitals, after becoming overwhelmed, had adjusted.

At the time, it also seemed to us that the weather played a role. Hong Kong in April has an average temperature in the seventies, and by May it is in the eighties. And yet our containment efforts were so robust that the virus's inflection point came before any seasonal trends, if they existed, could show themselves in full.

The end of sars was accompanied by a curious combination of hope and fatigue. We had been living indoors, secluded, behind masks, for so long that at some point it had become normal--even boring. I can remember the first time I saw someone wearing a mask, at the start of the outbreak: I had been taking my three-year-old daughter for a walk around Victoria Peak, and she had pointed him out. But I can't remember when I first saw someone without one, or when I myself decided to leave mine at home. I suppose that, one day, I must have woken up, got dressed, reached for the N95 as usual, and then thought, Is this really necessary?

The government didn't tell us to go out--and, in any case, it couldn't have legislated away our fear. Instead, some internal calculation seemed to show that the benefits of living our lives newly outweighed the risks of catching sars. I know as I write this that it sounds ridiculous, but it felt as though the virus itself had grown weaker--as though it had been wounded. It seemed like a miasma had lifted from the city.

My family members came back from their exile. Restaurants reopened. The viral spell broke; Hong Kong seemed to wake from a fever dream. There were magical spring days when the sun flooded Victoria Harbor. We talked, in person. The virus had reduced everyone's life to a binary--you either had it or you didn't. Now, there seemed to be seven million different stories.

One day, I found myself sitting in a steamy chicken-and-rice place full of other customers. Oh, I thought. This is what life is.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The very American conflict between liberty and lockdown (Joel Mathis, April 16, 2020, The Week)

The anti-quarantine stance is driven by a powerful American impulse. Our country's story has been told to us primarily in terms of freedom: who has it, who doesn't, how we got it, how some of us had to fight for it for far too long, how some of us are still fighting for it, and even how we define it. Individual liberty isn't just one of our chief national values -- it can sometimes seem like the only principle we collectively share across the political spectrum. It's difficult to think of a song about America that doesn't include the word "freedom."

"Stay at home" orders are rooted in another, somewhat less-lauded virtue: community. We are staying home -- those of us who can -- not just because we don't want to risk contracting the virus, but also because we don't want to risk spreading the virus to others. We're looking out for the collective good. We don't necessarily have training for this. Our national stories and culture don't often highlight the merits of taking care of each other, though E pluribus unum is a notable exception. We fancy ourselves rugged individualists, and some of us even make heroes of fictional characters like John Galt, the Ayn Rand protagonist who went on strike against the very notion of collective obligations.

And yet the collective good exists. Without it, we might not have volunteer fire departments, public hospitals, or even book clubs. We are healthier, safer, and happier when we work together to create things we couldn't on our own. For all our love of rugged individualism, very few of us move to the country to live off-grid. We need freedom, but we also need each other. It isn't always easy to find the right balance, but in some circumstances -- like during a global pandemic -- we have to accept limits on our own lives so that others might benefit.

Liberty is, of course, a matter of ceding individual freedom (natural rights) to mutually agreed upon and universal communal controls--the balancing of freedom and security.  The balance necessarily tips depending on circumstances.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump and Xi Are Both to BlameHow their authoritarian inclinations made the coronavirus pandemic worse. (CHRIS DEATON  APRIL 16, 2020, The Bulwark)

Presenting only one side of an argument "doesn't mean that your premises are false or irrelevant," the philosopher Peter Suber wrote, "only that they are incomplete." By that standard President Trump's defenders--and some of his critics, too--have made only partial attempts to identify culprits for the extent of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Trump's defenders point their fingers at China's dictator, Xi Jinping, whose regime censored information about the virus, including about its transmissibility, thereby immensely worsening the pandemic. Meanwhile, some of Trump's critics single him out for downplaying the pathogen's threat to Americans, even as the consensus of public health experts and the horror stories out of Wuhan and then Lombardy made it untenable to do so.

Both groups are right. Trump's negligence, willful ignorance, and devotion to his public image--recall that he said "I don't take responsibility at all" for the U.S. testing shortage--undoubtedly has cost American lives. So, too, has Xi's drawing of the Chinese Communist Party line and censoring or "disappearing" prominent figures who don't toe it.

The cases against both world leaders are damning--and ultimately not in tension with one another. Rather, they are complementary parts of a lesson: that blame for the U.S. contagion is owed not necessarily to a man but a method. That method is "authoritarianism," a term that may strike American ears as unobjectionable for Xi but exaggerated for Trump, since he isn't peremptorily locking up his political enemies or otherwise curtailing Americans' freedoms. But as the world has witnessed, both pure autocracy and the relatively diluted rule of a strongman--Trump, who called alarm about the coronavirus a "hoax," who continues to bully governors and reporters, and who claimed on Monday that state and local governments "can't do anything without the approval of the president"--result in calamity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Lee Konitz, Prolific And Influential Jazz Saxophonist, Dies At 92 (TOM VITALE, 4/15/20, NPR: Morning Edition)

Lee Konitz was part of one of the most celebrate recordings in jazz history. In 1949 and 1950, he played with the Miles Davis Nonet a trio of sessions that would that would become Davis' 1957 album Birth of the Cool. Konitz was the last surviving musician who played in those sessions.

But 60 years after those historic recordings were made, Konitz sat in his Upper West Side living room and dismissed Birth of the Cool as merely written music, with incidental solos, having little to do with what he saw as the heart of jazz: improvisation.

"'Improvisary' means 'unforheard' -- unforeseen -- I don't know what the Latin word for 'heard' is, but it's something like that," Konitz said. "And that's a question that I ask the so-called improvisers: How much of what you're improvising is really pre-planned? The idea that the music is full of surprises."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


As corona casualties mount, Putin keeps a low profile (MARC BENNETTS, 04/15/2020, Politico)

Less than a month ago, when Russia had suffered just one death from COVID-19, a state television presenter introduced a guest dressed in green and wearing spiky headgear. "So, when did you first arrive in Moscow?" the presenter asked, referring to the actor as the "coronavirus bug."

The broadcast -- a bizarre blend of dark humor and public health information -- aired on March 21 when there were just 253 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections in the country and just days after the Kremlin had assured Russians that the virus was "under control."

A month on, the joking has stopped, and the Kremlin's tone is very different.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why California is a Model of Economic Nationalism (Mimi St Johns, 4/16/20, Stanford Review)

When a state or nation has large agricultural, manufacturing, and tech sectors, as California does, it does not have to rely on foreign entities to save it in times of emergency. This makes the state an outstanding model for a self-sustaining and nationalist economy. The benefits of economic independence are becoming even clearer during this crisis.

California has benefitted from having the greatest manufacturing capacity of any state. Governor Newsom has secured a supply of over two hundred million masks a month, from both non-profits and California-based manufacturer BYD North America. Meanwhile, the federal government is currently working to secure a supply of six hundred million masks for the entire country. A significant amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators come from California, even as California has comparatively fewer cases.

Silicon Valley has also come to the rescue during the crisis. Facebook has built an open-source page for COVID-19 medical supplies, Tesla is using its California factories to build ventilators, and a company has even created rings which monitor medical workers for coronavirus symptoms.

On top of all this, California is the top-producing agricultural state in the nation. Two-thirds of all US fruits and a third of all vegetables come from the state. California ranchers and farmers are not only feeding a majority of their own state but large portions of others as well.

Not coincidentally, 27% of California's population is foreign-born (double the national average); it has the largest number of employees working for foreign-owned businesses; and, it is the number 1 importing and number 2 exporting state in the nation. Its economic strength is based on policies that are the exact opposite of Trumpism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Lindsey Graham outraised by Democrat Jaime Harrison in SC's record-setting Senate race (Jamie Lovegrove, Apr 15, 2020, Post & Courier)

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison outraised the incumbent Republican for the first time in the race over the initial three months of 2020, setting a South Carolina campaign fundraising record in the process.

With neither the Senator nor Donald polling at 50% and Mr. Graham within the margin of error in his race, this is the sort of place where the GOP will be playing defense, rather than trying to win the presidential.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



Montana Chief District Judge Brian Morris ruled Wednesday that the construction permit obtained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) for a section of the Keystone XL Pipeline was invalid on the grounds that allowing the construction could potentially harm the environment.

According to the ruling, the COE failed to properly ascertain the effect of the pipeline on the surrounding areas including waterways, communities and animals in the areas. This decision invalidates Nationwide Permit 12, which allows the COE to build pipelines across waterways nationwide.

President Obama could have scored easy political points by getting out of the way of the project and letting all the legal problems guarantee it would never be built.  

April 15, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


There Have Been 13 Arizona Polls in the last 14 Months and Trump Has Led Only One of Them (Tim Murphy, 4/15/20, Mother Jones)

A new poll released Wednesday by OH Predictive Insights had some very good news for Arizona Democrats: the party's likely senate nominee, former astronaut Mark Kelly, leads Republican Sen. Martha McSally by nine points. And better still, Kelly is over the fifty-percent threshold for the second consecutive poll.

Or maybe it's not exactly news. Kelly has led the last nine polls of the race, according to Real Clear Politics tracker, dating back to last August. If you want to find a survey that showed McSally in the lead, you'd have to go all the way back to last May--when this same pollster had her up by one. The Arizona race is technically a special-election to permanently fill the seat held by the interim Repbulican Sen. Jon Kyl, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by the late Sen. John McCain. (This is confusing, but: McSally lost her 2018 Senate bid to Democratic Kyrsten Sinema in the race to succeed a different retiring Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake, but Republican Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her nonetheless to replace Kyl.) If Democrats are going to take back control of the Senate, they will need to flip at least three Republican seats (four, if you expect Alabama Sen. Doug Jones to lose; five, if they don't win the White House). Right now, Kelly is looking like their safest bet.

But there's another pretty big election in Arizona this fall--the presidential race, where 11 electoral votes are up for grabs. That's one more than Wisconsin. And the news on that front is, if anything, even more encouraging for Democrats. There have been 13 head-to-head polls between Joe Biden and President Donald Trump in Arizona over the last 14 months, and Trump has led just one of them--by two points in December. In the same OH Predictive Insights survey, Biden also led his opponent by nine points, and was likewise above the 50-percent threshold.

Donald could only get to 48% against Hillary, even with John McCain carrying the ticket.  AZ is not in play this cycle; it's Biden's.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Maybe We Never Needed All That Red TapeAmid a pandemic, states are rethinking rules that never protected consumers in the first place. (Paul Sherman, 4/15/20, The Atlantic)

As the nation's economy and health-care system struggle to adjust to the pandemic, more and more states are reexamining some of their oldest occupational and business regulations--rules that, while couched as protecting consumers, do far more to limit competition. And for those of us who have long questioned the supposed benefits of these policies, their erosion is welcome, even if the pandemic that caused it is not.

Right now, of course, much of the attention is correctly focused on barriers to work in the health-care industry. Yet here, where the state's interest in promoting public health and safety is undoubtedly highest, we are seeing some of the most sweeping reforms in decades. While some states have ordered their occupational licensing boards to speed up the licensure of new health-care practitioners, others--such as Indiana--are granting immediate licensing reciprocity to any practitioner licensed in any state. Even Florida, which has long jealously guarded its occupational licensing regime to prevent semi-retired snowbirds from poaching on the locals' turf, has gotten in on the act, allowing out-of-state health-care providers to practice telemedicine in the state without a license.

Besides these major changes, states have also begun enacting more modest, but no less welcome, changes to regulations that needlessly stand between doctors and the patients who might benefit from their services. Illinois has waived licensure fees for retired medical practitioners who wish to resume practice. Oklahoma and Massachusetts have eliminated restrictions that required doctors to have a preexisting doctor-patient relationship before they could offer telemedicine services. And Florida--no doubt recognizing the stress we're all under--has waived the requirement of a physical examination before a doctor may issue a certification for the medical use of marijuana.

But occupational licenses aren't the only long-established healthcare regulations being reconsidered. Also being reexamined are state certificate-of-need, or CON, laws. A product of 1970s-era economic regulation, CON laws require healthcare providers to prove that new services are "needed" before they may purchase certain large equipment, open new or expanded facilities, or--as is critically needed now--offer home health-care services. Often, these laws give an effective veto power to existing medical providers, allowing them to torpedo new competition for their own benefit.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Brazil's Bolsonaro Meets His FauciAcross Latin America, the coronavirus pandemic has raised public trust in health professionals--starting in Brazil. (Mac Margolis, April 14, 2020, Bloomberg)

As recently as 2018, the region's scientists had relatively little cachet. According to the Wellcome Global Monitor, based on a Gallup poll surveying more than 140 countries, a quarter of South Americans said they had little or no trust in doctors and nurses, making them almost as skeptical as respondents from Central Africa, the least trusting region. Fewer than 7 in 10 said they would look to health professionals for medical advice, outdone only by Middle Easterners (65%). No region had less confidence in hospitals and clinics: 37% of those surveyed compared with the world average of 19%.

Fortunately, as the coronavirus sweeps the region, the skepticism appears to be losing traction. To judge by the two-kilometer line of cars stretching before my neighborhood health clinic late last month, even the storied anti-vaccine movement is on the retreat: 8.7.million elderly Brazilians took seasonal flu shots during the opening week of the vaccination drive, double the number of the 20-day 2019 campaign. While a few hardcore science deniers still howl, Rio de Janeiro state authorities and bishops held an Easter light show projecting the city's postcard Christ the Redeemer monument dressed in a lab coat and stethoscope.

Mandetta, a pediatric orthopedist, has seen his approval ratings soar to 76% as he leads Brazil's fight against the outbreak; another survey found that 87% of Brazilians approved of the country's health professionals. Mandetta's daily press briefings alongside the health ministry's top officials have become obligatory national viewing. Not so the public performances by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has seethed as his minister consistently outshone him. (Hence his 42% disapproval rating, compared with 29% in February.) Only a counteroffensive by Bolsonaro's inner circle of military men and level-headed legislators reportedly dissuaded him from sacking Mandetta mid-crisis. For now, at least: A leader who takes his management cues from Donald Trump is unlikely to let some tropical Anthony Fauci keep taking the bows.

The stakes are especially dire for Brazil, where illness is accelerating -- officially, more than 23,700 stricken and 1,355 dead from Covid-19. (Independent studies say the real case load may be 12 times greater.) Although scientists have clawed back credibility from the corona-denialists, those gains will be threatened unless national leaders put more money into public hospitals, scale up mass clinical testing and increase the supply of ventilators and emergency health equipment. Getting Brazil's quack-in-chief to follow that prescription is another matter.

Moreover, Bolsonaro is not the only leader in a bubble. His Mexican counterpart, left-wing populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, blithely ignored the country's epidemiologists until the outbreak started to take off. Now the health minister has taken center stage -- an encouraging if unstated nod to the growing regional consensus that only hard science and proper health protocols can beat the outbreak.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Shakedown Of South Korea Has Failed (DANIEL LARISON, 4/13/20, American Conservative)

The Trump administration's attempt to strongarm South Korea into a large increase in spending on the basing of U.S. troops has failed:

Trump, they say, already rejected what was probably Seoul's best offer ahead of its mid-April parliamentary elections - an increase of at least 13% from the previous accord, two of the officials said.

That offer and decision to reject it by the U.S. president, the details of which have not been previously reported, leaves the United States and South Korea at an impasse, even as outbreaks of the coronavirus threaten to undermine U.S.-South Korean military readiness for any potential conflict with North Korea.

The impasse described in the report is the latest example of how the Trump administration's inflexible maximalism always leads to diplomatic failure.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Moscow will be 'like New York' with covid-19 deaths so far 'the tip of iceberg' (Will Stewart, 15 APR 2020, Daily Mirror)

Moscow is heading for a coronavirus outbreak similar to the one which has devastated New York, a leading Russian virologist has warned.

The worrying prediction comes as pictures emerged of 18 new coronavirus hospitals being built by Russia to cope with the pandemic.

Moscow currently has 11,0513 registered cases out of 21,102 across Russia.

There have been 198 confirmed Covid-19 deaths recorded in Russia, with 88 in Moscow alone.

Beijing has urged Moscow to 'get a grip' on infections since most of China's new cases have been imported from Russia.

Professor Sergei Netesov, of Novosibirsk State University, warned that Moscow is facing a major crisis comparable to that in New York where there have been 10,000 deaths.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What Do Countries With The Best Coronavirus Responses Have In Common? Women Leaders (Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, 4/15/20, Forbes)

Looking for examples of true leadership in a crisis? From Iceland to Taiwan and from Germany to New Zealand, women are stepping up to show the world how to manage a messy patch for our human family. Add in Finland, Iceland and Denmark, and this pandemic is revealing that women have what it takes when the heat rises in our Houses of State. Many will say these are small countries, or islands, or other exceptions. But Germany is large and leading, and the UK is an island with very different outcomes. These leaders are gifting us an attractive alternative way of wielding power.

April 14, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


Trump berates media at jaw-dropping briefing (Jon Sopel, 14 April 2020, BBC)

On Monday morning I had a delivery to my apartment from the nearby off-licence - or liquor store, as they say over here.

And I put a jokey picture on Twitter of a bottle of gin and eight bottles of tonic, with the caption that at least I had the next week sorted.

After leaving the White House Briefing Room on Monday evening following a marathon two-hour 24-minute press conference, I felt I could have knocked off the whole lot in one sitting.

This has been the most dizzying, jaw-dropping, eyeball-popping, head-spinning news conference I have ever attended. And I was at Bill Clinton's news conference in 1998 when he faced the press for the first time over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

I was at this president's first White House gathering when he called me "another beauty". I was in Helsinki when he had his first news conference with Vladimir Putin, and seemed to prefer to believe the Russian leader over his own security and intelligence chiefs on interference in the 2016 election.

I was in Vietnam when Mr Trump gave a news conference after his talks with Kim Jong-un had unceremoniously collapsed. So I've sat in on some corkers.

What made last night's encounter unique was the context. And secondly, this was, if you like, a distillation - all the talk of gin, I think, forced me to use that word - in one news conference of what three and a half years of Donald Trump has been like to cover.

There are more than 23,000 Americans dead because of coronavirus and more than half a million infected - and remember that, in early March, Donald Trump was saying there were a handful of cases, but that would soon be down to zero.

Yet Donald Trump walked into the briefing room with scores to settle with the media. This wasn't about the dead, the desperately sick, the people fearful of catching the virus. This was about him. And more particularly his profound sense of grievance that the media has been critical of his handling of Covid-19.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


What Happens in Wisconsin May Not Stay in WisconsinAre Republicans sick and tired of all the #winning yet? (CHARLES SYKES  APRIL 14, 2020, The Bulwark)

Karma being the bitch Goddess that she is, Republican-backed conservative supreme court justice Dan Kelly was defeated by his liberal challenger in Wisconsin. And it was not even close.

That election was, of course, the reason the state's GOP insisted on holding the election last Tuesday, despite pleas from health officials to postpone the vote or shift to mail-in ballots. The images of long lines of voters in make-shift masks--contrasted with Republican assembly speaker Robin Vos in full PPE insisting that voting was "incredibly safe"--were instantly iconic.

State Republicans wagered that the horrifically bad optics would be worth it, if they could just save Kelly's seat.

They failed in spectacular fashion.

When they finally got around to counting the votes from last week's pandemic election, Kelly's liberal challenger Jill Karofsky beat him by more than 10 percentage points--which translates to more than 120,000 votes. It was a blowout in a state that has become notorious for its close elections. Despite their efforts to make voting as difficult as possible, Republicans were overwhelmed by a tsunami of mail-in votes. [...]

As Reid Epstein noted in the New York Times, "Wisconsin's map on Monday night looked like a dream general election result for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee--stronger than typical for Democrats in the suburbs and a respectable showing among the state's blue-collar white voters in rural counties."

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Putin's Oil Deal Is Humiliating But Unavoidable (Clara Ferreira Marques, April 14, 2020, Bloomberg View)

For Lukoil PJSC's billionaire shareholder, Leonid Fedun, Russia's decision to sign up to the OPEC+ oil deal was akin to its signing of the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which dragged the country out of the First World War. Both were humiliating, but necessary, he implied. The alternative was far worse.

Back in early March, Russia, with its strong foreign currency reserves and low-cost producers, had expected to ride out the misery of tumbling crude prices. Unable to extend an existing output reduction deal with its fellow oil exporters, it spied an opportunity to squeeze out those seen by Moscow as free riders: namely, the U.S. shale producers who benefited from others' production restraint, only to flood the market with supply.

In the end, though, the damage inflicted by the coronavirus lockdowns on oil demand was too great.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The lure of fascism (Jonathan Wolff, 4/14/20, AEON)

The concern for workers' rights is surely the forgotten element in far-Right ideology. In the first instance, far-Right ideas can bloom in those who consider themselves wronged or ignored by their political leaders. Early fascists latched on to low-paid workers, war veterans and others who felt betrayed by a system that gave them nothing in return for their sacrifices. As historian Samuel Moyn writes in Not Enough (2018): 'It is no accident that the inventor of the still most widely used measure of national inequality, Italian statistician Corrado Gini, was a Fascist.'

Gini wasn't just any fascist, either; he was the author of the paper: 'The Scientific Basis of Fascism' (1927). Yet, surely, national inequality is an obsession of the Left rather than the Right? In the end, what is the difference between fascist and Left-wing ideas? According to Oswald Mosley - the leader of the British Union of Fascists from 1932 to 1940 - the British Labour Party was pursuing policies of 'international socialism', while fascism's aim was 'national socialism'.

Mosley might have been wrong to regard mature fascism as a form of socialism. But he was right about its origins. Early Italian fascism broke from socialism only on the grounds of nationalism. The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini proposed giving women the vote, lowering the voting age to 18, introducing an eight-hour workday, worker participation in industrial management, heavy progressive capital tax and the partial confiscation of war profits. Of course, he also advocated extreme nationalism and Italian expansionism, but the pro-worker aspects of his programme are striking.

In Germany, as early as 1920, Hitler set out his 25-point manifesto for the Nazi Party, of which points 11 to 15 concern workers' rights:

11. That all unearned income, and all income that does not arise from work, be abolished.
12. Since every war imposes on the people fearful sacrifices in blood and treasure, all personal profit arising from the war must be regarded as treason to the people. We therefore demand the total confiscation of all war profits.
13. We demand the nationalisation of all trusts.
14. We demand profit-sharing in large industries.
15. We demand a generous increase in old-age pensions.

Connoisseurs will spot the antisemitic notes - 'unearned income' and 'war profits' - but, on the face of it, these points could have been taken from the manifesto of the German communists.

Mosley, who fell out with the socialists over their compromises with big business and what he perceived as the weakening of their principles, quipped: 'The Socialists wore red ties until they faded pink after the last Labour Government.' He added, in terms with which it is hard to quibble: 'Real freedom means good wages, short hours, security in employment, good houses, opportunity for leisure and recreation with family and friends.'

Mussolini and Mosley are a reminder that espousing a concern for workers' rights is not, in itself, a protection against authoritarianism. In the United Kingdom today, there is a growing belief that it was the Labour Party's failure to embrace nationalist policies - thought to be favoured by its traditional voters - that led to its humiliating electoral defeat in 2019. There's also the conviction, shared by some of the less thoughtful activists, that as long as they remain supportive of trade unions and retain pro-poor policies, their Left-wing credentials will remain intact, even if they embrace crude nationalism. But this terrain needs to be navigated very carefully indeed.

In practice, fascism's initial championing of the rights of workers came to little. But, especially in Germany, fascists relentlessly pursued their second goal of creating a racially pure state. The nation, said the Nazis, was being ruined by traitors and parasites, and it was essential that purity be restored by any means necessary. And, of course, the traitors were the communists and the parasites were the Jews.

The idea of the need to restore national purity is common to all fascisms. As the American political scientist and historian Robert Paxton wrote in The Anatomy of Fascism (2004): 'Fascisms seek out in each national culture those themes that are best capable of mobilising a mass movement of regeneration, unification, and purity, directed against liberal individualism and constitutionalism and against Leftist class struggle.' This allows a person 'the gratification of submerging oneself in a wave of shared feelings'.

In fascist literature, we see repeated a language of enemies, traitors, parasites and foreigners, and the dehumanising metaphors of pigs, dogs, rats and cockroaches, accompanied by the readiness for violent action by paramilitary and extrajudicial forces. A mob in coloured shirts exudes an aura of organised - yet brutal - force, even when those assembled have no training and little individual muscle. In the 1930s, nationalist parties around the world dressed not just in black and brown, but also in blue, green, grey, orange, silver and khaki and, not to be forgotten, the more elaborate white outfit of the American white-supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.

As the British philosopher Brian Barry remarked in the 1980s, Anglo-American academia and liberal intellectual circles have had a difficult time with nationalism, regarding it as 'inimical to civilised values'. Yet, this has left a gap that has been exploited by ruthless opportunists, as made evident in the 2016 Brexit vote. The Leave campaign claimed a monopoly on British values. Fringe elements of the campaign were openly racist. Even members of parliament and parts of the press joined in the hostility to immigrants and foreign residents, with all the unpleasant imagery of 'swarms' or 'floods' of refugees and low-paid workers at the UK's doors.

In response, many on the Left have adopted an unashamedly pro-immigrant stance. But some Left-wing and centre-Right politicians have taken a different tack, attempting to capture nationalist sentiment without resorting to discriminatory or racist language, attitudes or policies.

The terms 'progressive patriotism' and 'liberal nationalism' have been used to try to capture this type of view. But what does it stand for? There are a number of ways to explain a distinction between 'bad' and 'good' nationalism. Bad nationalism, in the Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre's words, is 'a mindless loyalty to one's own particular nation'. Good nationalism, or what MacIntyre calls patriotism, is a matter of valuing the achievements and merits of one's country, both because they are achievements and merits, and because they are ours.

And capitalism is the war on costs, like wages.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Poll: Black VP pick could boost Biden (MARC CAPUTO, 04/14/2020, Politico)

Biden is already highly popular with black voters, according to the poll of 800 black voters conducted for BlackPAC, a progressive-leaning advocacy group. But 55 percent of African-American voters said they would be more excited to turn out or vote for Biden if he picked a black woman to join his ticket, the poll showed. Another 27 percent said the pick made no difference because they'd stick with Biden.

Only 7 percent said they would still vote for Donald Trump, who is deeply unpopular with black voters despite the president's outreach to them.

Nothing better reveals the contempt that the Right holds non-whites in than their insistence that blacks and Latinos will vote for an open racist.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden's primary triumph opens Democrats' map against Trump (Neal Rothschild, 4/14/10, Axios)

Joe Biden's resurgence to become the Democrats' presumptive nominee is opening new paths to defeat President Trump, swing-state polls show.

The big picture: If Biden can keep his current leads over Trump in general-election matchups, it could create opportunities for pickups of three big states -- Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.

That's without hurting Dems' chances to take back Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the key wins that sent Trump to the White House in 2016.
The Real Clear Politics national polling average shows that either Biden (+5.9%) or Sanders (+4.2%) would have been positioned to defeat Trump if the election were held today...

Populism isn't popular.

Economic meltdown gives Democrats new hope in Texas (CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO and RENUKA RAYASAM, 04/13/2020, Politico)

Democrats have long hoped to transform the stubbornly red state. Though it was overshadowed by Beto O'Rourke's narrow loss to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz two years ago, Democrats flipped 14 seats combined in the GOP-controlled state House and state Senate, plus two congressional districts.

While the pandemic is exceedingly unlikely to swing the biggest contests in 2020, more than a dozen Texas politicians and strategists told POLITICO that fallout from the virus could hasten the state's drift away from Republicans spurred by demographic shifts in burgeoning areas repelled by President Donald Trump.

The economic impact threatens to hurt down-ticket Republicans, who for decades have hitched their fortunes to a robust economy. Democrats are targeting seven U.S. House seats and defending two, mostly in the suburbs of the largest cities: Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso and Fort Worth. Winning the state House is not out of the question for Democrats. They need to flip nine seats and are targeting districts that O'Rourke carried two years ago to get there.

In an interview, O'Rourke said Republicans' handling of the coronavirus -- and the huge economic and health toll the coronavirus is taking on Texas -- have altered the political dynamics in the state.

"We have yet to feel the full brunt of this pandemic in Texas," O'Rourke said. He rebuked Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for what he described as a feeble confrontation of the virus, praised local Democratic leaders and said the disparity would resonate with Texans in the fall.

"That's really going to affect a lot of what you see in November up the ballot -- we've got 38 Electoral College votes on the line for [Joe] Biden or Trump and down the ballot for these statehouse races. ... People are horrified at Republican leadership right now."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Strokes' new song was inspired by a Mets lossCasablancas called them the "team of my youth!" (Michael Clair, April 13, 2020, MLB)

You can't tell the story of New York rock 'n roll without including The Strokes -- arguably the biggest guitar band of the 21st century. So, it's only natural that they wrote a song about one of New York's baseball teams, too.

During a YouTube listening party where the five band members discussed the new record, "The New Abnormal," frontman Julian Casablancas revealed the story behind the album's closer, "Ode to the Mets."

The singer -- who called the Mets the "team of my youth!" -- admitted that he wrote it while waiting for the subway following a particularly tough loss. (Casablancas said it was perhaps after an NLCS Game 7, but we're guessing it was the 2016 Wild Card Game that saw the Giants shut out New York, 3-0, rather than the Mets' NLCS loss in 2006.) [...]

Drummer Fabrizio Moretti, echoing the kind of self-deprecation Mets fans are famous for, said the song was about "something that you set your heart to and you love unconditionally, but continues to disappoint you."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Liberal challenger Jill Karofsky wins a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court (Li Zhou and Ella Nilsen  Apr 13, 2020, Vox)

Liberal challenger Jill Karofsky has won a 10-year term to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, defeating Trump-backed conservative incumbent Dan Kelly, according to our partners at DecisionDesk. As of Monday evening, Karofsky had raked in roughly 53 percent of the vote to Kelly's 47 percent, when the race was called.

The GOP already knows Donald can't win; the question is how much can they limit the damage.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Scientists set new solar power efficiency record at almost 50 per cent (Michael Mazengarb, 14 April 2020, Renew Economy)

Scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US have set a new world record solar energy conversion efficiency, producing an innovative solar cell that converts light into electricity with almost 50 per cent efficiency. [...]

The researchers believe the new technique could provide a pathway for producing solar cells with even higher efficiencies that are ideally suited for use in concentrated solar power devices.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wounded by media scrutiny, Trump turned a briefing into a presidential tantrum (David Smith,  13 Apr 2020, The Guardian)

A toddler threw a self-pitying tantrum on live television on Monday night. Unfortunately he was 73 years old, wearing a long red tie and running the world's most powerful country.

Donald Trump, starved of campaign rallies, Mar-a-Lago weekends and golf, and goaded by a bombshell newspaper report, couldn't take it any more. Years of accreted grievance and resentment towards the media came gushing out in a torrent. He ranted, he raved, he melted down and he blew up the internet with one of the most jaw-dropping performances of his presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'We have a constitution, we don't have a king': Andrew Cuomo rejects Trump's claim of 'total authority' (LUKE KENTON and GEOFF EARLE, 4/14/20, Daily Mail)

In a heated press conference inside the White House on Monday evening, Trump claimed that his office holds 'absolute power' over the shutdowns prompted by the novel coronavirus outbreak - hours after Cuomo and eight other Democratic governors unveiled a pact to work together to co-ordinate the reopenings of their respective states.

'When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total,' Trump told reporters in response to the announcement, declining to specify where his authority to overrule states resides when pressed by DailyMail.com. Instead, he reiterated: 'The federal government has absolute power.'

But Trump's claims of total authority were quickly refuted by Cuomo, who slammed president for what he perceived to be an 'abrogation of the Constitution'.

'Mr. Trump offered no legal or constitutional basis to back up his claim to exclusive authority to reopen society,' Cuomo told MSNBC. 'Why he [Trump] would even go there, I have no idea.

'The constitution says we don't have a king. To say I have total authority over the country because I'm the president, it's absolute, that is a king. We didn't have a king, we didn't have king George Washington, we had President George Washington.'

More's the pity: a king could dismiss Donald and call elections.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New Trump panel on reopening US economy won't include health officials (JONATHAN LEMIRE, KEVIN FREKING and AAMER MADHANI, 4/14/20, Times of Israel)

April 13, 2020

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Virginia pastor who defiantly held church service dies of coronavirus (Lee Brown, April 13, 2020, NY Post)

In his last known in-person service on March 22, Bishop Gerald O. Glenn got his congregation at Richmond's New Deliverance Evangelistic Church to stand to prove how many were there despite warnings against gatherings of more than 10 people.

"I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus. You can quote me on that," he said, repeating it a second time to claps, saying that "people are healed" in his church.

...that you're afraid to miss a few services?

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Net Approval for Trump's Handling of Coronavirus Dips Underwater (ELI YOKLEY, April 13, 2020, Morning Consult)

An April 10-12 survey of 1,987 registered voters found 49 percent disapprove and 45 percent approve of the president's COVID-19 response, marking a drop of 5 percentage points in his net approval, the share who approve minus those who disapprove, in the course of a week and an 18-point drop since a mid-March peak in evaluations of his handling of the pandemic.

Just 27% of Americans think the US is doing better than other countries at containing the coronavirus (John Haltiwanger, 4/13/20, BI) 

Only 27% of Americans said they think the US is doing a better job at containing coronavirus than other developed countries, a new Insider poll found, and about one in five said the US is "much worse" at containing coronavirus than other developed countries. 

Overall, about 46% of Americans think the US is doing worse than other developed countries in fighting the virus. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM



They aren't worth anything.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Governors on East and West coasts form pacts to decide when to reopen economies (Maeve Reston, Kristina Sgueglia and Cheri Mossburg, 4/13/20, CNN)

States on the country's East and West coasts are forming their own regional pacts to work together on how to reopen from the stay-at-home orders each has issued to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The first such group to be announced came Monday on the East Coast. Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said his state, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts each plan to name a public health and economic official to a regional working group. The chief of staff of the governor of each state also will be a part of the group, which will begin work immediately to design a reopening plan.
Later on Monday, the West Coast states of California, Washington and Oregon also announced they are joining forces in a plan to begin incremental release of stay-at-home orders. Governors of the three states will collaborate on their approach to getting back to business in "in a safe, strategic, responsible way," as announced by California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Dr. Fauci is still the most trusted leader in America on the coronavirus, while President Trump and Jared Kushner are in last place (Jake Lahut, 4/13/20, BI)

Respondents gave Fauci an average score of 3.96 out of 5 for trustworthiness -- up slightly from 3.84 last time in late March. Fully 44% of respondents rated him five-out-of-five, and a further 24% gave him a 4 of 5.

Cuomo received an average score of 3.31 out of 5, also up slightly from the last poll. Just shy of half -- 46% -- gave Cuomo a 4 or 5 on communication. 

Global-health Ambassador Deborah Birx, the response coordinator of the coronavirus task force, got a score of 3.21 out of 5.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom got an average score of 3.15 out of 5.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar was rated 3.03 out of 5

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee, got an average score of 2.69 out of 5, down slightly from March.

Vice President Mike Pence was rated a 2.67 out of 5 on average for trustworthiness. While about a third of respondents gave Pence a 4 or 5, another third gave him a 1 of 5. 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is no longer the lowest score last time, even though his rating of 2.51 out of 5 is down from March by a hair. 

President Donald Trump scored 2.48 out of 5 on average, also down very slightly from March, when he rated 2.56.

The poll's newest entry, White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner, saw the lowest score at 2.35 out of 5.

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM


Why the Fed Was the Part of Government Most Ready for This Crisis (Josh Barro, 4/13/20, New York)

As I look at the uneven response of our government, there's one major agency that stands above the others for its preparedness and swift action. It has tools at hand that match the scope of what's being asked of it, and it deploys them in a timely manner to mitigate the portion of the crisis that it's responsible for managing. I'm talking about the Federal Reserve. And the Fed been performing so strongly in part because it had the benefit of its own dry run in the form of the last financial crisis. In the heat of that crisis and the aftermath, the Fed developed many of the tools it's using now to contain the economic damage from the coronavirus. We'd be even worse off without it.

Of course, this crisis is mostly outside the Fed's zone of responsibility and so its efforts can only go so far. The Fed can't kill the virus. It also can't stop the severe economic disruptions that come from the extensive shutdowns of business and social activity caused by virus-fighting measures. What the Fed can do, and has done, is to prevent the epidemic from causing a financial crisis, which would in turn cause an additional shock to the economy at large. The Fed's role is to stop the economic damage of the virus from spiraling out of control, and so far it has succeeded.

"The Fed learned a lot of lessons from 2008 and 2009, and I know for a fact from the work they've done inside and outside the building, they haven't just spent the last ten years resting on what they did in 2008 and 2009," says Tony Fratto, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies and a former spokesperson on economic policy in the George W. Bush administration. "There was a lot of work in that building about how to prepare for the next crisis and what we might do under various situations."

The Fed directly controls interest rates on short-term government debt, but if banks and other market participants are reluctant to lend because the economic outlook is shaky, lower rates won't necessarily flow through as lower costs or credit availability to borrowers. So after the 2008 crisis, in hopes of finding ways to stop something similar from happening in the future, the Fed developed strategies to push down a broader range of interest rates and support the availability of credit in more sectors of the economy. In the last crisis, the Fed started buying long-term government debt and mortgage bonds. Now, in partnership with the Treasury Department, it buys corporate and municipal debt. These direct interventions in diverse parts of the credit markets give the Fed more control over interest rates in more places and therefore more ability to maintain stable financial conditions that help keep the economy healthy. As a result, the Fed has had more juice than you might expect, given the very low interest rates that we entered this crisis with.

"There was certainly a sense that, for the new reality of low interest rates across Western society, the Fed would have to innovate monetary policy, and you're seeing some of the fruits of that thinking," says Mike Konczal, an economic-policy expert at the progressive Roosevelt Institute think tank.

Just as global trade is the one place where nations need to give up some sovereignty, so too is the Fed the one agency that ought to be undemocratic (although the Legislative and Executive branches jointly out to be able to remove governors)

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


'Now there is nobody': living in a tourist attraction under lockdown  (Ashifa Kassam, 13 Apr 2020, The Guardian)

On a typical day, upwards of 3,000 tourists would stream through her home. But as Spain's near-total lockdown stretches beyond Easter, Ana Viladomiu has found herself weeks into living a near-solitary life in one of Barcelona's top tourist attractions.

For more than 30 years, Viladomiu has lived in La Pedrera, a modernist jewel built more than a century ago by famed architect Antoni Gaudí. The passing decades saw almost all the other tenants move out, supplanted by ever growing throngs of visitors lured by the building's rippling stone facade and knotted balconies.

Tours of the Unesco world heritage site came to a grinding halt last month as Spain began battling one of the world's deadliest coronavirus epidemics. "La Pedrera closed its doors and I stayed inside, like a guardian," said Viladomiu. "All I hear is my footsteps and silence."

Two other tenants remain in another part of the building - separated from Viladomiu with their own elevator and staircase - while a few security guards rotate through their shifts unseen. "So I'm really by myself," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 11:54 AM


Joe Biden steps up attack on Donald Trump over testing failure (NIKKI SCHWAB, 4/13/20, DAILYMAIL.COM)

Joe Biden lashed out at President Trump for 'making excuses' in an op-ed in the New York Times detailing how he would handle the coroanvirus pandemic as president. 

'We are now several months into this crisis, and still this administration has not squarely faced up to the "original sin" in it's failed response - the failure to test,' Biden pointed out in the editorial, which ran Sunday. 

How about, "I have obvious differences with Donald over how he handled this, in particular his failure to follow the roadmap that President Obama and I laid out to prevent deaths.  But there'll be plenty of time for us to discuss my plans after the crisis wanes.  For now, I hope and pray that his worst mistakes are behind him and that there are no more needless deaths." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Constitutional Case Against the Consumer Financial Protection BureauWill the Supreme Court question the underpinnings of the modern administrative state? (DAMON ROOT | FROM THE MAY 2020, reason)

When Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, it created a powerful new federal agency charged with policing the financial sector. A brainchild of then-Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was supposed to safeguard the interests of American consumers by implementing and enforcing a wide array of federal regulations.

The CFPB was also designed to be independent. The agency was placed in the hands of a single director appointed by the president to a five-year term. Despite wielding many executive branch-like powers, the director of the CFPB does not answer to the White House and may only be removed by the president for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance."

In other words, the director may not be fired for purely political reasons. What that means in practice is that if CFPB inventor Elizabeth Warren were elected president while a Donald Trump appointee stands at the agency's helm, Warren would be blocked from naming her own preferred CFPB director until the Trump appointee's term had expired.

That unique organizational structure has raised constitutional questions. How is it consistent with the separation of powers to have a quasi-executive agency run by a lone federal official who is essentially untouchable by the head of the executive branch? Is the CFPB effectively a fourth branch of government unto itself?

The U.S. Supreme Court tackled those very issues in March when it heard oral arguments in Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

As we wrote recently, this is an instance where the Court ought to be able to find common ground against an institution that is anti-republican and anti-democratic. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Absolute Clusterf**k': Inside the Denial and Dysfunction of Trump's Coronavirus Task ForceMissed warnings, conflicting messages, and broken promises -- how the White House fumbled its response to the worst pandemic in a century (ANDY KROLL , 4/13/20, Rolling Stone)

If you were to write a playbook for how not to prevent a public-health crisis, you would study the work of the Trump administration in the first three months of 2020. The Trump White House, through some combination of ignorance, arrogance, and incompetence, failed to heed the warnings of its own experts. It failed to listen to the projections of one of its own economic advisers. It failed to take seriously what has become the worst pandemic since the 1918 flu and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And when the White House finally awoke to the seriousness of COVID-19, the response it mustered managed to contain all the worst traits of this presidency. Trump and his closest aides have ignored scientists, enlisted family members and TV personalities and corporate profiteers for help, and disregarded every protocol for how to communicate during a pandemic while spewing misinformation and lies.

There was confusion in the response from the start. In January, Trump picked HHS Secretary Alex Azar II, the former president of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, to lead his new Coronavirus Task Force. The problem was, there was already a senior official at HHS whose job was coordinating the federal government's response to a nationwide pandemic, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec.

In late February, after it was clear that the virus had spread widely throughout the U.S., Trump reshuffled his task force. He replaced Azar with Vice President Mike Pence as the leader of the task force, and added Dr. Deborah Birx, the State Department's global AIDS director and an infectious-disease expert, who joined Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as the group's scientific experts. But Trump also appointed administration loyalists like right-wing extremist Ken Cuccinelli and Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act.

Like so many things in Trumpland, the work of the task force has gotten mired in petty politics and internal turf wars. A "shadow" task force emerged, led by Jared Kushner. Officially, Kushner's team of McKinsey consultants, financiers, and old buddies from his New York business days was meant to coordinate collaboration between the government and the private sector. But it soon devolved into a typical Trump boondoggle. A company Kushner had once invested in, Oscar Health, was tapped to build a government website that would speed up testing (the site was later scrapped). Kushner turned to his brother Josh's father-in-law, Kurt Kloss, who was a doctor, for recommendations on how to deal with the crisis. That led to Kloss -- the father of supermodel Karlie Kloss, Josh's wife -- posting on a Facebook group for emergency-room doctors that he was looking for smart ideas and had a "direct channel to [the] person now in charge at [the] White House."

Federal agencies that normally play a central role in disaster-response efforts have found themselves left out of the action. Pete Gaynor, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told Congress that his agency wasn't invited to join the president's Coronavirus Task Force until the week of March 16th -- six weeks after the task force was created.

Other federal employees involved in the response effort have had to respond to different and sometimes competing requests and directives from Pence's task force and Kushner's task force. "All of those roles and responsibilities should be relatively well-established," says one public-health official who's dealt with the White House. "I've heard that people in HHS will get direction from Kushner's team that directly contradicts what they're getting from the White House task force, and then trying to deconflict those becomes a huge problem."

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) says he and his staff spent a week trying to understand the Trump administration's strategy for directing the production and distribution of critical medical supplies amidst the crisis; Murphy's conclusion, as he put it in a tweet, was that Trump's plan was "a total, complete, absolute clusterf**k." When Murphy asked the White House for a call with the federal agency leading the effort to get private companies to manufacture and distribute medical supplies, he expected to be connected with FEMA, which typically handles this kind of work in a crisis, or Peter Navarro, the newly appointed national Defense Production Act policy coordinator. Instead, he was told to call the Department of Defense. "I walked away from that conversation scratching my head, like, 'Who's in charge?' " Murphy tells Rolling Stone. "DOD clearly has expertise, but it seems completely unclear whether the White House is in charge, DOD is in charge, FEMA is in charge, or HHS is in charge."

The Trump administration's reflexive bias against science and facts expertise couldn't be more clearer than in the sidelining of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the crown jewel of the country's public-health system. Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC's director, sits on the Coronavirus Task Force and has participated in closed-door meetings, but he has appeared at only a few of the dozens of press briefings held by the task force. Trump trashed the agency on Twitter in mid-March ("inadequate and slow"), and the CDC has since taken a back seat to other federal agencies in communicating with the public.

"I'm worried that the CDC is not front and center now," Dr. Tom Frieden, who served as CDC director from 2009 to 2017, tells Rolling Stone. "In every other public-health emergency in this country since the CDC was founded nearly 75 years ago, it has had a leading role. The CDC is the best source of information on COVID-19." Frieden adds, "Fighting coronavirus without CDC is like fighting with one hand behind your back."

Adding to the confusion, the White House has made crucial pledges and then failed to meet them. In early March, Pence vowed that more than a million tests would be ready within days. Azar followed that up by saying there would be "up to 4 million tests" available by the middle of March. Yet by March 31st, there had been just more than 1 million tests conducted.

Nowhere is the chaos of Trump's coronavirus response more clear than in the White House's bungled efforts to help meet the demand for desperately needed medical supplies. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Israel closes off Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox areas to stem coronavirus spread (MEMO, April 13, 2020)

Israel locked down mainly ultra-Orthodox Jewish areas of Jerusalem on Sunday to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus from the densely populated neighbourhoods where the infection rate is high.

The entry and exit restrictions, enforced by police roadblocks, were imposed on the same day that a government order for the wearing of masks in public went into effect throughout the country.

Residents of the restricted neighbourhoods in Jerusalem can still shop close to home for essentials. Synagogues have been closed to try to stem infections, as they have been across the country.

The neighbourhoods are home to large families living in close quarters. Compliance with social-distancing guidelines has been spotty.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Apple and Google's Covid-19 Tracker Isn't a Privacy Concern, but It Is a Game-ChangerThe two companies are building the only realistic way to get out of this shutdown. (Jason Aten, 4/13/20, Inc.)

Last week, Apple and Google announced an interesting partnership. Both companies will build technology into their mobile operating systems that will allow for large scale contact tracing. It's a pretty big deal for two reasons: The first is that the two companies are fierce rivals, but are working together to solve a problem that affects all of us. Second, it might actually work since the two companies power almost all mobile devices worldwide.

People understandably start to get nervous when they start to hear that their mobile phones could be used for any kind of tracing, especially if you're not sure what that means. The basic concept is that you would be able to download an app that would ping off other mobile phones that you come into proximity with. 

If you were to later test positive for Covid-19, you could indicate as much on the app, which would then notify the owners of the other devices you came in contact with that they were potentially exposed.

Most experts agree that contact-tracing is one of the most important factors to "re-opening" society. That's because it will allow new cases to be isolated while pinpointing others who might have been exposed early enough that the spread can be limited. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Harry Potter And The Politics Of Diversity (Jeroen Bouterse, 4/13/20, 3 Quarks Daily)

The wizarding world in Harry Potter is not a harmonious society invaded by evil from the outside; we soon learn that it is a society already full of injustice. Wizarding rule looks natural to the wizards, but Rowling leaves no doubt that it is not. Wizards forbid non-humans to carry wands, drive Centaurs from their lands, abuse their House-elves, and shun werewolves. Many are suspicious of Muggle-borns.

Of course, the main story is not one of moral ambiguities. Gryffindors know evil when they see it. But the good guys are not completely off the hook here: Sirius is a bully to his House-elf, and the main characters themselves respond differently to oppressive institutions. Ron has himself been raised with some of the ideological biases of the wizarding class - House-elves are natural slaves, and goblins are not to be trusted. Hermione, more woke, explicitly calls him out on these opinions, saying that "it's people like you [...] who prop up rotten and unjust systems" (GoF 106).

Nor is this a mere side-motif or parody. For one, the story time and again invokes the racism of the bad guys as a plot point: crucial blows to the dark side are dealt by creatures they deem beneath their attention. Harry's natural inclusive attitude is a strength closely wound up with the virtues of love and loyalty that he embodies; it is why he can win in spite of Voldemort having more magical knowledge and power.

Second, it is not just Hermione who believes in connections between different forms of oppression. When Voldemort rises to power, all pre-existing fault lines come into sharper view. There is a class that can opt out of the struggle, and it is the class already in power: all wizard-born wizards (except Harry). The death eaters' terror lands on those groups and creatures that had been marginalized and stigmatized before - it just becomes worse:

"'It doesn't matter', said Harry [...] 'This isn't about wizards versus goblins or any other sort of magical creature -'

Griphook gave a nasty laugh.

'But it is, it is about precisely that! As the Dark Lord becomes ever more powerful, your race is set still more firmly above mine! Gringotts falls under wizarding rule, house-elves are slaughtered, and who amongst the wand-carriers protests?'" (DH 395)

Rhetorical strategies wizards use to justify oppression and exclusion often resonate with mechanisms familiar to our own world. The bigots in the book usually spout recognizably right-wing language, glorifying strength and self-interest ('Magic is Might'), or appealing to the natural order. A movie line, where a minister working for Voldemort promises to "restore this temple of tolerance to its former glory", sums up well the political dimension of the final book of the series. The English Wizarding world, Rowling shows, is a society that has not shaken off the darkest pages of its history; whose leaders willfully refuse to believe that the roots of this darkness persist; and which is all the more vulnerable for it. It is ripe for the taking.

I am aware that Harry Potter is not a textbook of political science. I also think, however, that the moves Voldemort happens to make in order to gain power were put there by an author with a good sense of where the vulnerabilities of our own societies lay. I mean playing on the perceived self-interests of a dominant caste that feels it is being unduly restrained in its exploitation of the less powerful. Rowling 'warned' us, in the early 2000s, that a narcissistic, cruel and petty bully could hijack the system by manipulating the resentment of a significant reactionary minority.

But indeed, it is not the main story. The story of Harry and Voldemort is not political, but moral, existential. It is about how self-love and fear of death can shut you off from humanity, and turn you to evil; and how altruism, empathy, self-sacrifice and love can keep you grounded, can attach you to other people and thereby help you to face death.

"Dumbledore says it's our fault"

It is here that we find another, more subtle aspect to the cultural politics of the series. In a gigantic literary parable like this, moral categories easily slide into natural categories. What I mean is this: the Harry Potter series is a story first. The world is malleable to this story, and Rowling is often willing to compromise on the internal logic of the magic system if by doing so she can add a layer of meaning to a character. She does what the story needs. But in order for the story to get off the ground, some things have to be true about the magical world not metaphorically, but literally. Dementors literally feed on happiness. Killing literally rips the soul apart.

In the magical world, virtues and values draw their force not just from human assent, but from objects - mirrors know what your deepest desires are, and hats and swords know whether you are worthy of them. There is a conservative streak to such naturalism: the reification of aspects of our lived experience into magical creatures and objects elevates some social facts to natural facts (-in-the-narrative), and not others. A mother's sacrifice provided real magical protection; a father's sacrifice did not.

Diversity in the wizarding world has an objective element. With the exception of the distinction between wizard- and Muggle-born wizards, which is consistently presented as false and baseless by all reliable characters, stereotypes in the magical world often extend to different species. This means that the magical world presents a much more genuine challenge to political solidarity than does the human world: elves, trolls and giants have intelligence and language, but they also seem different from humans. In some cases, they are less intelligent - if you overload giants with information, they will, as Hagrid puts it, "kill yeh jus' to simplify things" (OP 380). In some cases, as with the centaurs, their classification as creatures with "near-human intelligence"  (OP 665) seems to be another instrument of oppression. The giants' reputation for aggression can be read as a fault of the social system as much as it can be read into their nature:

"They're not made ter live bunched up together like tha'. Dumbledore says it's our fault, it was the wizards who forced 'em to go an' made 'em live a good long way from us an' they had no choice bu' ter stick together fer their own protection." (OP 378)

The politics of diversity in Harry Potter is complicated, and its translation to the real world is problematic. Rowling seems to present a world in which, though many beliefs held by the ruling class are self-serving and based on misinformation, there may also be natural differences between groups. These differences, however, do not determine what the social order ought to look like. Ways of dealing with differences are contested, and even Dumbledore was once tempted by the idea that wizards had a natural right to rule. Harry, on the other hand, does not see werewolves, goblins or elves, but sees every individual as a potential friend. The books present this attitude as the right one, but also as an exceptional one.

But oddly enough, the Sorting Hat can determine your life-long character when you are 11?

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation against Biden got a New York Times investigation (Peter Weber, 4/13/20, The Week)

A former staff assistant to Joe Biden, Tara Reade, has accused the former vice president of sexually assaulting her when she worked in his Senate office from December 1992 to August 1993. Biden's campaign says the allegation is false and a New York Times investigation found no corroboration outside of two friends she told in 1993 and 2008.

The Times spoke with both of Reade's friends, seven other women who accused Biden of inappropriate (but not sexual) touching last year, and several people who worked in Biden's office at the time, including two interns Reade supervised. The newspaper tried and failed to locate a complaint Reade said she had filed with the Senate. "No other allegation about sexual assault surfaced in the course of reporting, nor did any former Biden staff members corroborate any details of Ms. Reade's allegation," reporters Lisa Lerer and Sydney Ember wrote. "The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden."

On the other hand, the change in her story came after she announced she had left Washington because she couldn't stand how her beloved Russia was being treated, more or less soliciting a job offer from Vlad/Donald. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Show me that episode': Trump's trade adviser claimed the coronavirus response was being treated unfairly by the media. CBS News then played back its old footage.
(David Choi, 4/13/20, Business Insider)

Navarro interrupted: "Well, let me push back a little bit."

"If an intelligence agency said 'a global pandemic could happen,' I'm sure they've been saying that for decades," Navarro said. "And nobody took them seriously. Why? Well, black swans are hard to sell. And this was the 500-year flood."

"You can line up every president since then and say, 'Why didn't you think this can happen again?' But that's not productive right now," Navarro added. "Have that episode and I challenge you -- show me the '60 Minutes' episode a year ago, two years ago, or during the Obama administration, during the Bush administration that said 'Hey a global pandemic is coming. You gotta do X, Y, and Z. And by the way, we would shut down the entire global economy to fight it.'"

"Show me that episode, then you'll have some credence in terms of attacking the Trump administration for not being prepared," Navarro said.

"I guarantee you we did," Whitaker responded.

CBS then immediately played numerous clips of their past coverage of deadly diseases in the last 15 years, a segment that also included an appearance of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the current director of the US's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"Right now, if we had an explosion of an H5N1, we would not be prepared for that," Fauci said in 2005, in reference to the avian flu.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


GOP governor says Trump is lying about states not needing aid: "The president was on the call" (BOB BRIGHAM, APRIL 13, 2020, Raw Story)

"We're in great shape with ventilators," Trump said on Friday. "We're in great shape with protective clothing. We have additional plane loads coming in but we're not getting any calls from governors at this moment... We're getting very few calls from governors or anybody else."

Hogan said that Trump's words were "not quite accurate."

"I get calls from governors every single day," Hogan replied. "We've had 12 calls now with every single governor in America, eight of which the president and/or vice president was on the call with us."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


CIA 'warns its workforce of potentially dangerous side-effects' of Malaria drug (JACK ELSOM, 4/14/20,  MAILONLINE)

CIA employees have been privately warned against taking an anti-malaria drug hailed by Donald Trump as a 'game changer' in the war on coronavirus.

Sudden death is one of the suspected side effects of hydroxychloroquine, according to the intelligence agency in a memo to its workforce posted online.

Despite a lack of medical evidence, the President has heavily promoted the drug as a possible treatment for Covid-19, which has killed 23,675 and infected 588,421 in the United States. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Australia renewables hit 50% of main grid's net demand on Easter Saturday (Giles Parkinson, 13 April 2020, Renew Economy)

Renewable energy hit what may be a record level of renewable energy on grid demand in the early afternoon on Easter Saturday, when the combined output of rooftop solar, large scale wind and solar and hydro power accounted for 50.4 per cent of net load.

The 50 per cent share of renewables - which even the federal Coalition government now conceded will be an "annual average" by 2030, rather than a figure reached during a point in time - was attained just after noon on Easter Saturday, traditionally a time of low demand, and perhaps more so given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

April 12, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Trump reportedly squandered 3 crucial weeks to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak after a CDC official's blunt warnings spooked the stock market (Grace Panetta, 4/12/20, BI)

President Donald Trump's administration stalled three key weeks in February that could have been spent enacting mitigatory measures against COVID-19 after Trump was angered by a public health official issuing a dire warning about the virus, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

On Saturday,The Times published a lengthy investigation of all the instances Trump brushed aside warnings of the severity of the coronavirus crisis, failed to act, and was delayed by significant infighting and mixed messages from the White House over what action to take and when. 

The Times wrote: "These final days of February, perhaps more than any other moment during his tenure in the White House, illustrated Mr. Trump's inability or unwillingness to absorb warnings coming at him."

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


President Donald Trump's approval rating drops to six-month low of 43% ( MARLENE LENTHANG, 4/12/20, DAILYMAIL.COM)

President Donald Trump's approval rating has slumped to a six-month low of 43 percent as the coronavirus crisis drags into its third month.

A total of 56 percent of voters disapprove of Trump's job performance in office, according to a Friday Rasmussen Reports poll of 500 likely voters.

Those latest numbers include 30 percent of likely voters who strongly approve of Trump's job in office and 44 percent who strong disapprove, resulting in a presidential approval index rating of -14.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


With Bernie Sanders out, Trump is now the only socialist in the race (TERRY H. SCHWADRON, APRIL 12, 2020, Salon)

Donald Trump's coronavirus wartime orders repeatedly have managed to contradict himself and just about every governor, mayor and medical officer over these long weeks of disease and lockdown. And they have created another conflict front this week: health coverage in a time of emergency for the uninsured.

What the rest of his government and private insurers were preparing was a special enrollment in the Obamacare exchanges to handle the 20 million who have been kicked off the Affordable Care Act and, now, for the millions who are losing their jobs -- and therefore their employer-paid health care.

But doing anything under the name of Obamacare must have been so noxious to Trump that instead he is making this a new direct government payment. In other words, rather than push some of the cost of coronavirus treatments, not tests, to private insurers, he intends to cover the costs under money from the recently passed aid bill as if the uninsured were enrolled fully in state Medicaid programs.

Someone at the White House should call Bernie Sanders. Isn't this Medicare for All? The difference is that it won't use the name Obama anywhere.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Gridlocked Israel nears 4th consecutive election (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 04/12/2020)

 Israel's president on Sunday turned down a request from Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz for a two-week extension to form a new coalition government.

The announcement by President Reuven Rivlin means that Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a midnight deadline on Monday night to reach a power-sharing deal. If they fail, the country could be forced into a fourth consecutive election in just over a year.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM



Across Asia, Africa and Latin America, rice is a staple, both culturally and practically. A Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimate found that more than 16 percent of all the calories consumed in the world come from rice. But it's also deeply susceptible to climate change: Rice doesn't like higher temperatures, and some estimates have found that crop yields could fall 40 percent by 2100 if nothing is done. Plus, rice yields actually need to increase to offset expected population growth and rapid urbanization of the world, which changes global priorities for land use.

Luckily, Jane Langdale is doing something.

Faced with the destruction climate change is certain to wreak on the world, some of us hide under our beds composing poems about the apocalypse. Others try to make sure that, even if the climate does shift, vulnerable people -- and, crucially, their food sources -- are protected.

Langdale, a professor of plant development at Oxford University, is the coordinator for the C4 Rice Project, a global push to make sure rice remains a viable crop through a very specific scientific process. Simply put: Plants absorb carbon dioxide. About 95 percent of plant species, including rice, extract the carbon from those molecules via a process known as C3. But about 3 percent of species, including maize and sorghum, do it through a different process known as C4. Plants that use the C4 process are more resistant to extreme heat and drought. So Langdale's project is attempting to turn rice into one of those plants.

"What we're trying to do, given that crops are going to be growing in the future in conditions with less water and higher temperatures, is to try and convert rice from using the ancestral C3 pathway," she says. Doing that could double the plant's water efficiency and yield.

"The headline is that it should contribute in a big way to food security to many of the most vulnerable people on the planet," explains Julian Hibberd, another scientist working on the C4 rice project.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


The Slur I Never Expected to Hear in 2020: As an Asian-American, I've been conditioned to a certain kind of unspoken racism. This pandemic has unmasked how vicious it really is. (Cathy Park Hong, April 12, 2020, NY Times Magazine)

On March 13, the Centers for Disease Control hadn't yet recommended that everyone wear masks. Most of the people wearing them on the streets -- in Chinatown but also all over the city -- were Asian immigrants, who probably already knew that it was safer to wear a mask because you could be asymptomatic. But from a xenophobe's perspective, the face mask seemed to implicate foreigners as agents of diseases. The masks depersonalized their faces, making the stereotypically "inscrutable" Asian face even more inscrutable, effacing even their age and gender, while also telegraphing that the Asian wearer was mute and therefore incapable of talking back if aggressed. I was afraid for the Chinese immigrants I encountered on the street. I wanted to take them aside and tell them it was safer not to wear one because the equipment that protected them -- and others -- only made them more vulnerable to attack.

I started bookmarking tweets and news reports of racist incidents. [...]

I never would have thought that the word "Chink" would have a resurgence in 2020. The word was supposed to be as outdated as those sinister little Chinamen saltshakers I saw in thrift shops. It still thrived among bottom feeders on the internet, but I hadn't heard it directed at me since I was in my 20s. But now I was encountering that word every time I read about an anti-Asian incident or hearing about its use from friends. I couldn't process the fact that Americans were hurling that slur at us so openly and with such raw hate. In the past, I had a habit of minimizing anti-Asian racism because it had been drilled into me early on that racism against Asians didn't exist. Anytime that I raised concerns about a racial comment, I was told that it wasn't racial. Anytime I brought up an anti-Asian incident, a white person interjected that it was a distraction from the more important issue (and there was always a more important issue). I've been conditioned to think my second-class citizenry was low on the scale of oppression and therefore not worth bringing up even though every single Asian-American I know has stories of being emasculated, fetishized, humiliated, underpaid, fired or demoted because of our racial identities.

After President Trump called Covid-19 the "Chinese virus" in March, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council said more than 650 incidents of discrimination directed against Asian-Americans were reported to a website it helps maintain in one week alone. Even after seeing that number, I wondered if anti-Asian racism would be taken seriously. On Twitter, when the novelist R.O. Kwon talked about the surge, an in-law asked doubtfully, "Is it really happening?" Do the reports have to rise to 1,000 a week? 2,000? How many is enough so that the hate will be seen?

Since the coronavirus, what has been happening is a different strain of anti-Asian racism than the kind to which I'm accustomed. Not the kind in which we are invisible or we're seen as efficient cyborgs. Racism never disappears but adapts to new circumstances when old strains rise from the dark vaults of American history. The recent rise carries the stench of late-19th-century xenophobia. In 1882, the government passed a federal law that banned Chinese laborers from entering the U.S. because of fears they were taking jobs away from whites. They were portrayed as a "degraded" race, a contagion that would stain the morals of white Americans. If black and indigenous people were systematically enslaved, killed and dispossessed of property, the Chinese were excluded from the U.S. altogether, an immigration ban that was essentially a form of global segregation. Chinese immigrants remaining in cities were segregated into squalid quarters. The scholar Joan B. Trauner writes that whites were repulsed by San Francisco's Chinatown with "its foul and disgusting vapors" and health officials blamed the enclave for spreading every epidemic. One physician said at the time: "The Chinese were the focus of Caucasian animosities, and they were made responsible for mishaps in general. A destructive earthquake would probably be charged to their account."

The anti-Chinese campaign was widespread, reaching less densely populated areas as well, where Chinese immigrants were afraid to leave their homes because they would be assaulted, even shot at. In 1885, in what is now Tacoma, Wash., white people terrorized the Chinese community by setting fire to their businesses. The xenophobia culminated in a riot in which a white mob drove 300 Chinese immigrants out of their homes. "Using clubs, poles and pistols," writes the historian Beth Lew-Williams, the mob chased the weeping immigrants out of town in a freezing rain.

"I'm afraid to leave my home not because of coronavirus," my Asian friends say, half in jest, "but because I don't want to be a victim of a hate crime." It doesn't matter if our families hail from Thailand, Burma or the Philippines. Racism is indiscriminate, carpet bombing groups that bear the slightest resemblance to one another. We don't have coronavirus. We are coronavirus.

That was always the intent of calling it the "Chinese virus."

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Criminality and corruption reign in Xi Ping's China: The world would have been better prepared to combat COVID-19 were it not for the Chinese authoritarian regime's systematic sanitizing of its massive domestic repression (IRWIN COTLER and JUDITH ABITAN, 4/12/20, Times of Israel)

There is authoritative and compelling evidence -- including a study from the University of Southampton -- that if interventions in China had been conducted three weeks earlier, transmission of COVID-19 could have been reduced by 95 percent.

For 40 days, President Xi Jinping's CPC concealed, destroyed, falsified, and fabricated information about the rampant spread of COVID-19 through its state-sanctioned massive surveillance and suppression of data; its misrepresentation of information; its silencing and criminalizing of its dissent; and its disappearance of its whistleblowers.

In late December 2019, Dr. Ai Fen, director of the Emergency Department at the Central Hospital of Wuhan -- "The Whistle-Giver" -- disseminated information about COVID-19 to several doctors, one of whom was Dr. Li Wenliang, and eight of whom were later arrested. Dr. Ai has recently disappeared.

Dr. Ai also detailed efforts to silence her in a story titled, "The one who supplied the whistle," published in China's People (Renwu) magazine in March. The article has since been removed.

On January 1, 2020, Dr. Li Wenliang -- the "hero" and "awakener" -- was reprimanded for spreading rumors, and was summoned to sign a statement accusing him of making false statements that disturbed the public order. Seven other people were arrested on similar charges. Their fate is still unknown.

On January 4, 2020, Dr. Ho Pak Leung -- president of the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Infection -- indicated that it was highly probable that COVID-19 spread from human-to-human, and urged the implementation of a strict monitoring system.

For weeks, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission declared that preliminary investigations did not show any clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.

On January 14, 2020, the WHO reaffirmed China's statement, and on January 22, 2020, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised the CPC's handling of the outbreak, commending China's Minister of Health for his cooperation, and President Xi and Premier Li for their invaluable leadership and intervention.

On January 23, 2020, Chinese authorities announced their first steps to quarantine Wuhan. By then, it was too late. Millions of people had already visited Wuhan and left during the Chinese New Year, and a significant number of Chinese citizens had traveled overseas as asymptomatic carriers.

On February 23, 2020, Ren Zhiqiang -- former real estate tycoon and longstanding critic of the CPC -- wrote in an essay that he "saw not an emperor standing there exhibiting his 'new clothes,' but a clown stripped naked who insisted he continue being emperor." He spoke of a "crisis of governance" and the strict limits on free speech, which had magnified the COVID-19 epidemic. He has also gone missing, and it has recently been reported that the CPC has opened an investigation against him.

The world would have been more prepared and able to combat COVID-19 had it not been for President Xi's authoritarian regime's widespread and systematic pattern of sanitizing the massive domestic repression of its people.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


From Paul to Constantine, a modest faith's stunning rise to prominence. : a review of The Triumph of Christianity by Bart D. Ehrman (Reviewed by Bob Duffy, April 12, 2020, Washington Independent Review of Books)

Ehrman, author or editor of 30 books on the religious environment of the period, turns to the historical record, supplemented by modern statistics, to peg the Christian population of the empire at 30 million by 400 CE. This may seem like an astounding advance in numbers, but Ehrman calmly delineates the sound statistical case that Christianity enjoyed a "steady and plausible rate of growth" to embrace half the empire's population.

Still, Rome, in the first four centuries CE, was swarming with religions, including many so-called Mystery cults centered on the worship of gods violently done to death, only to rise again later. (At least one of these, as Apuleius [c.120-170 CE] describes in his picaresque narrative, The Golden Ass, involves a ritual wherein the initiate undergoes a displaced though superficially bloody recreation of the god's death and resurrection.)

So what accounts for Christianity's preeminent success in drawing converts? Ehrman suggests two factors, both related, from this reviewer's perspective, to a convert's need for felt community. In the first place, Roman religions -- whether cults worshipping luminaries from the "classical" pantheon, or regional/local/household gods or figures from the Mysteries -- made no claims on a devotee's select loyalty. He or she could simultaneously worship gods or goddesses of any flavor, from any cult.

Christian practice, on the other hand, was exclusivist: The devotee had to worship only the (tripartite) Christian god and reject all others. (We risk a disorienting leap into the banal by pointing out that modern branding research has demonstrated the appeal of membership in a shared and exclusive community. Know any Apple fans?)

A second, and perhaps more telling, point: The practice of Roman Christianity extended well beyond the "cultic" nature of other religions of the day. When their pagan counterparts took part in rituals, it was one-and-done: this was the extent of their religious exercise (and spiritual obligations).

For their part, Christians prized loving community as lived in a world that was an extension of the ritual space. They gathered in non-ceremonial contexts, shared good fortune, helped indigent members, and perhaps provided rudimentary healthcare.

In short, one could argue (although Ehrman stops short of asserting this) that they walked the talk ascribed to Jesus and promulgated by his most-inspired advance man.

April 11, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


One Thing John Adams Had More of Than Any Other Founding Father: In spite of his cantankerous personality, Adams is unique for the way he defended his values without employing duplicity and deception for personal gain. (Daryl Austin, 4/10/20, National Interest)

Thomas Jefferson, for instance, was "disloyal and duplicitous" and a "supporter (of) the violent newspapers of the time" says Harvard Law professor Ben Heineman. It turns out Jefferson was more orchestrator than supporter. Jefferson's biographer and historian Jon Meacham explains in Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power that Jefferson once recruited editor Philip Freneau to start the newspaper the National Gazette, with the purpose of assailing his political enemies without having to attach his own name to such attacks--a leap beyond the acceptable practice at the time of writing under a pseudonym. What's more, Jefferson used that newspaper to also attack the policies of the very administration he was serving as Washington's Secretary of State. Jefferson even subsidized Freneau's National Gazette salary by hiring him as a translator for the State Department; meaning Washington's administration was paying the salary of the very man attacking them. Meacham notes that Jefferson was "dishonest about his support of Philip Freneau...preferring to mislead Washington rather than force a confrontation over the Republican attacks on the first president." In time Washington grew to loath the National Gazette and referred to its editor as "that rascal Freneau."

James Madison was every bit as guilty of the Freneau subterfuge as was Jefferson. Madison was Jefferson's closest political ally and the two exchanged countless coded letters discussing and plotting against their political rivals. Though Washington had once been very close with Madison, he eventually regarded him "as little more than a pawn of Jefferson," according to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Madison's biographer and Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman says that "Washington believed that Madison had betrayed him" over policy differences concerning a treaty the Washington administration had entered into with Great Britain. As was the case with Jefferson, Madison's betrayal of Washington originally played out behind Washington's back. Feldman notes that despite his close relationship with the president, "Madison declined to tell Washington directly what he thought" about the treaty. Instead, Madison quietly campaigned against the treaty and later excoriated it before the House of Representatives. Soon after, "the relationship between (Washington and Madison) was at an end...all personal contact between the two of them ceased." Feldman adds: "Madison was never invited to Mount Vernon again."

Even the venerable George Washington himself could be two-faced, despite once claiming "that no man should ever charge me justly with deception." Washington's close friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, was an ardent abolitionist and, along with others, frequently lobbied Washington to join their cause. Washington, a slave owner himself, usually told Lafayette what he wanted to hear, at one point even committing: "I shall be happy to join you in so laudable a work" of "the emancipation of the black people of this country from the state of bondage in which they are held." But Washington's actions proved otherwise. Washington biographer and historian Ron Chernow notes in Washington: A Life the measures Washington secretly took to keep his slaves in bondage. For instance, upon learning that a new Pennsylvania statute would automatically free any slaves who resided in the state for six consecutive months, Washington devised a plan to have any slaves staying there with he or Mrs. Washington to cross the state line in time to ensure "the clock was reset, and another six months (would need) to elapse before they could demand their freedom." Chernow explains that "to keep the adult slaves in bondage, Washington resorted to various ruses so they would not know why they were being sent home temporarily." Chernow calls such "scheming" behavior "duplicitous" and "conniving" and notes that "such devious tactics ran counter to Washington's professed abhorrence of slavery, not to mention his storied honesty."

Adams, on the other hand, never behaved that way because he lived according to his convictions. He said what he meant and he meant what he said and his friends and colleagues both loved and hated him for it. Benjamin Franklin once said that Adams was "always an honest man, often a great one, but sometimes absolutely mad."

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


North Korea defector warns that coronavirus toll may rival three million dead in mid-90s famine: Kim Myong dismissed Pyongyang's claims that the nation remains free of Covid-19 (Julian Ryall, 10 April 2020, The Telegraph)

A defector who served as a senior official in the North Korean government has dismissed Pyongyang's claims that the nation remains free of coronavirus, warning that the virus could kill as many people as the four-year famine of the mid-1990s.

In an interview for the US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Kim Myong said around three million people are believed to have died in the "Arduous March" famine, which was a consequence of a series of natural disasters compounded by economic mismanagement and the collapse of the food distribution system. 

decapitating Pyongyang would also create, perhaps insurmountable, pressure on the PRC.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM

"GOOD KNOWIN' HE'S OUT THERE" (profanity alert)

An Esoteric Take on The Big Lebowski (Guido Mina di Sospiro, April 2020, New English Review)
At the very end of the film the narrator, a cowboy with a strong southern drawl played by Sam Elliot, meets the Dude again at the usual bowling alley. The whole adventure, or misadventure, it now seems, has been a case of much ado about nothing, with two major exceptions: Donny's death, tragically, and the news that "there's a little Lebowski on the way." The Dude doesn't even know this, and probably will never be told, nor will he ever inquire: by now, we know the character well enough. But he's back in fine spirits, preparing for the bowling tournament finals, serene and smiling. That is the true nature of the Dude. The narrator says: "Take it easy, Dude--I know that you will." And the Dude replies, "Yeah, man. Well, you know, the Dude abides."
And that is that: the Dude abides. In the face of adversity and the virulence of the whole world the Dude, of all people, is level-headed, tolerant, and consistently non-violent. He never punches back; the concept of revenge doesn't seem to inhabit his mind. What is more, he seems implicitly to make allowances for a lot of overaggressive people, out there, who will act like very hostile lunatics. "It's good knowin' he's out there, the Dude, takin' her easy for all us sinners," finally comments the narrator after the Dude has left.
There are many pacifists in the world--until their patience is severely tested, or their rights blatantly usurped. There are also people persuaded that peace is the natural state for mankind. It's a beautiful idea that unfortunately doesn't correspond to reality. Even Buddhism allows for "the lesser evil" to avert "a greater evil." History reads like a tragic litany of wanton aggression and invasion. Peace seems to be the exception, war the rule. The ancient Roman playwright Plautus summarized human nature with "Homo homini lupus"--man wolf to the man. Too many beings on this planet thrive on the death of others, from microbes to predators. To presume that mankind is a brotherhood of, say, angels, is misguided. Even trees kill one another in a type of chemical warfare called allelopathy. In his youth, the Dude tried to change the world, with a manifesto, no less, occupying Berkley, and so on. Eventually he realized that it was hopeless. But that didn't make him become bitter, or angry, or revengeful. Nor does he lead by example, as the cliché would go. He doesn't do, he is. Even when provoked, he harms no one. He cares little about money and is, in essence, a sensible, honest man with the kind of patience and tolerance that belongs to the spiritually gifted. He doesn't preach; now in the wisdom of his maturity, he never would; he just abides. With more people like him, the world would improve markedly.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Even With No Baseball, Fenway Park Organist Josh Kantor Plays On (EVAN BLEIER / APRIL 11, 2020, inside Hook)

If you grew up in the Boston area, you may have had heard this riddle: Who's the only person in history to play for the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins in the same season?

Answer: 1970s Fenway Park and Boston Garden organist John Kiley.

While Josh Kantor can't make that same claim, the current Fenway Park organist is making a name for himself anyhow by continuing to play on in the midst of the pandemic even though the ballpark is closed. With the baseball season on hold and many people quarantining within their homes, Kantor decided he would try streaming a 30-minute organ concert from behind the Yamaha Electone at his home on Facebook.

Originally intended to be a one-off show, the "7th-Inning Stretch" has become a daily fixture at 3 p.m. with Kantor playing classic tunes as well as requests from viewers which are relayed to him by his wife Mary Eaton. It's a treat for fans to watch the 47-year-old show off the musical chops that have brought him on tours with members of Blondie, the Young Fresh Fellows and R.E.M. as well as led him to be called onstage to play with Wilco.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Hamas: 'We are evaluating the occupation's seriousness about prisoner swap, terms and names already set' (MEMO, April 11, 2020)

Al-Zahar stressed the necessity to work to free the prisoners, noting that Hamas wants a balanced exchange deal that achieves its ultimate goal to release the captured and to prevent the occupation from achieving gains at the expense of the Palestinian prisoners.

He continued: "Now the occupation can find mediators more than before. However, we do not want this file to be used as a bargaining chip by any of the Israeli parties in the course of the formation of the new government at the expense of others, nor manipulated by the occupation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an attempt to rise in popularity at the expense of the prisoners."

Al-Zahar asserted that Hamas is requiring a certain degree of urgency in handling the issue in order to achieve the principle goal of releasing the prisoners, adding: "We aspire for having our prisoners back home, and we are willing to pay the required cost for their return by releasing the Israeli detainees and the soldiers' corpses, or other things at our disposition (at the disposition of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades)."

He continued: "We are waiting for the occupation to take positive steps, and once we make sure that good intentions are being established on the ground, we will announce it."

Al-Zahar indicated: "It is logical to study the occupation's proposal, and whether the Israeli side is serious enough to convince us to engage with this file. On the other hand, we need to examine the general circumstances and the degree of its suitability, and our terms if we decided to proceed with the deal, taking into account the detainees with the utmost priority, including the sick and the elderly, as well as the names and the means at our disposal to conclude the exchange deal."

...they need to liberate Marwan Barghouti so he can be elected the first president of the nation of Palestine.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


Now Is a Good Time to Scrap the Renewable Fuel Standard (Ned Ryun, April 11, 2020, RCP)

[O]ne of the hardest hit sectors in the U.S. is the energy sector as it experiences the double blows of the Chinese coronavirus and the flooding of the oil market by Russia and Saudi Arabia, a move that has driven oil prices down while those nations fight for market share with the United States. So while demand is down, prices are also down.

To add to this problematic situation, small and large U.S. refineries are getting punished under an unrealistic Renewable Fuel Standard mandate. So in the middle of an economic downturn, as our energy sector is under tremendous stress, we are continuing the madness of unnecessary regulations on a key aspect of our economy (one that should also be considered a national security issue). These RFS mandates imposed on this core industry in America impose a heavy cost of RFS compliance credits (RINs) that is then draining cash from American-owned businesses at a time when draining cash can, and actually may, lead to bankruptcy.

How did we even get to this point? The RFS goes back to the 1970s when Americans were worried about running out of gasoline. Mario Loyola wrote in The Atlantic on Nov. 23, 2019, "With experts warning that the world was quickly running out of oil, the shocks of '73 and '79 led President Jimmy Carter to call for wartime-style rationing of fuel and other draconian measures to avoid a 'national catastrophe.'" This fear resulted in a corn subsidy and not much more. Then in 2005, the Energy Policy Act mandated renewable fuels be blended with gasoline.  According to a 2019 report from The Heritage Foundation, "to wean America off of its alleged dependence on foreign oil, President George W. Bush signed" legislation which "mandated that fuel suppliers blend renewable fuels into America's gasoline supply." The law didn't really do that but instead increased the blend of renewable fuels each year and set ridiculous targets.

One of the beauties of consumption taxes is that they allow you to reduce complexity and remove inefficient regulatory schemes and subsidies. Simply impose a $3 gas tax and remove all the mandates.  Then use the revenues to remove taxes on income, earnings, etc. that we want to encourage, not punish.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


'I Think the Protection of Liberty Is a Common Good': The Dispatch's David French on the value of liberalism and the problems with the new nationalist right (STEPHANIE SLADE,  THE MAY 2020, reason)

The thing that has come to exemplify everything that's wrong with modernity for this crowd, as you well know, is Drag Queen Story Hour. Tell us what those words mean and then give me the Frenchian position on it.

Drag Queen Story Hour is a small movement of drag queens and friends of drag queens who will host, in public libraries scattered around this country, small gatherings of people who will listen to a drag queen read a children's book. Children come to Drag Queen Story Hour. They see the drag queens and they interact with the drag queens. It's come to symbolize the advance of the sexual revolution and, particularly, the way that the sexual revolution touches the lives of children. So the argument that was made was that classical liberalism is inadequate to address the threat of Drag Queen Story Hour, and that Drag Queen Story Hour is the product of liberty unrestrained. This is what happens when people are given too much liberty: Drag queens read books to kids.

My argument about this was really pretty simple. I don't like Drag Queen Story Hour. I would not take my children to Drag Queen Story Hour. But I don't have to go to Drag Queen Story Hour, and unless they violate anti-obscenity or indecency statutes or otherwise applicable and constitutionally appropriate laws, they enjoy all the protections of the First Amendment that everybody else enjoys. In fact, that open access to the use of public facilities has been a boon to social conservative groups like Christian organizations. There are thousands of churches that conduct worship services in empty classrooms and gymnasiums and cafeterias across this country, who have access to library facilities and other public buildings. They utilize those to say and preach and teach things that the common good conservatives would very much like and very much endorse. And you cannot have a legal system that allows the government to dictate which preferred viewpoint gets access to its facilities. If you embrace such a system, you're not going to like the outcome.

The idea is that if conservatives can stop Drag Queen Story Hour from happening at the library, then why can't progressives stop--

They can and will stop church services, Bible studies, Tea Party meetings, GOP gatherings. I mean, once you lift the [requirement of] viewpoint neutrality in access to public facilities, you lift it. It's gone. And you better be in charge of everything, or you're going to see your preferred viewpoint locked out of the public square.

Now, that's a pragmatic response. I tend to think that liberty has independent value. A lot of [common good conservatives] think there is no independent value in liberty unless liberty is used for virtue. But I think the protection of liberty is a common good.

It's true, though, that people on the left increasingly are trying to use the power of the state to impose their values on conservatives.

Oh, sure.

So why isn't it true that at some point you have to fight fire with fire?

The fact of the matter is that we have systems in place that protect individual liberty increasingly effectively. This is something a lot of people miss. People who just started following politics recently tend to think that religious liberty is under unprecedented siege, when the reality is religious liberty has more protections right now from government interference than it has had in the last 25 years. People tend to think that free speech is under unprecedented attack, when right now people are more free from the threat of government censorship than they have been perhaps anytime in the whole history of the United States of America. There is an enormous advance of legal protection from censorship from the government over the last 25-30 years that is completely underappreciated.

What we face now isn't so much the government imposing its values but private actors using the power that they have, whether financial or cultural, to try to crowd out competing voices from the public square. That would be, for example, when the Oscars doesn't let Kevin Hart be a host. That's one private entity telling a private citizen he can't host their gathering. I am concerned about the culture of censorship that exists in a lot of these private actions. But it's just a fundamentally different thing from the formal censorship that happens at the point of the government's bayonet.

Mr. French gets at why it is a fact that the Right rejects the Founding altogether and hates America as it is.  The goal of the Constitution is to establish a republic in order to secure liberty; and republican liberty has a certain historical form.  It is essentially the right to be free from arbitrary control by others, a right that requires a participatory government--so that all who are to be bound by laws have a say in them--and completely equal application of the limits (laws) adopted.  

At various times and in various places--which accord almost precisely with which party is in power--folks have objected to all three factors implicated here: that liberty is explicitly not freedom; that lawmaking must be a democratic process; and that laws must be applied equally to all to be legitimate.  

John Jay anticipated the first objection:

"Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers." (Federalist No. 2)

The text anticipated the second, putting the legislative, and most democratic, branch in Article 1. :

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

And while we struggled with the third for quite some time--driven largely by the need to buy-off the slave-holding South--the 14th Amendment made the implicit explicit:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

When you wish to claim a particular freedom, which your fellow citizens overwhelmingly reject, you tend to insist that "natural rights" can not be limited by liberty. 

When you can not get a proposed law passed via the democratic process you tend to claim that the Executive and/or Judicial branch has the power to legislate.

And when you either wish your group to receive special treatment or seek to punish another group, you claim that laws need not be equal.

It is obvious on its face that a private entity like the Academy can ban anyone they want from the Oscars, or Twitter from tweeting, etc., without in any way running afoul of the Republic.  The attempt to impose the structure above to them is simply a non-sequitor. 

But once we introduce public institutions to the equation we do bump up against the framework of republican liberty.  Consider the case of Drag Queen Story Hour.  In the first instance, we must ask whether the library involved is public or private.  Only if public need we go further in examining the activity.  If public, we would next examine whether there is an existing volunteer story hour which welcomes any group that wishes to participate, in which case there is a presumption that all such groups ought be treated equally.   After all, if a library with such a program sought to ban Chinese-Americans from reading we would know something had gone wrong. On the other hand, if a public library has no such program and tells a volunteer group that proposes one that they don't care to institute, there is no equal protection problem.  Finally, it will be appropriate to look at the status of the children being read to: are they required by law or by some public institution to attend? Are they school children in detention?  Or is it a choice by them and their parents to attend said readings?  If attendance is voluntary, it is not apparent that we need even consider the matter at all. Will not just the Right but conservative and religious Americans find the decision of libraries and parents to participate in the program to be troublesome as a moral matter? Undoubtedly.  Does that, therefore, make it a matter where a Common Good jurisprudence dictates the Court intervene?  Only if, as is the case, we now propose that the right adopt exactly the same sort of activist theory of the Judiciary branch that we always, correctly, objected to when the left adopted it.  When the interlocutor above asks if we don't need to fight fire with fire it is the republican Constitutional order that we are talking about burning down.  And while Right and Left have ample reason for such nihilism--since they hate the America we live in--it is no reason for believers in well-ordered liberty and lovers of the American Republic to join in the bonfire.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Trump's obsession with hydroxychloroquine is an encapsulation of his presidency (Neil J. Young, April 11, 2020, the Week)

Health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director and sometime guest expert at Trump's daily pressers, have consistently pointed out that hydroxychloroquine has not been proven to be safe or effective against COVID-19. But that's not stopping Trump -- or the conservative media universe that props up his presidency -- from continuing to push the drug. And while reports this week showed the president has a small financial interest in the medicine, Trump has something even more precious to gain than money by promoting hydroxychloroquine: the puffing up of his power and authority through the continued undermining of expert knowledge and dissenting voices.

No doubt, Trump's financial stake in hydroxychloroquine, however small, has surely played some part in his actions. This is a man, after all, who once stole $7 from his charity to pay for his son's Boy Scouts fee.

In plain daylight, Trump has funneled millions of public dollars to his coffers while president, an ongoing violation of the Constitution and a direct assault on the public trust. As both candidate and president, Trump has regularly used the public limelight to shill everything from his line of steaks and winery to his golf resorts and properties. Rather than a national security hawk who has kept America safe, Trump is a smarmy hawker of shoddy products, some of which may threaten the safety of Americans. From the start, Trump understood that the presidency could be a cash cow for himself, and he'll never let the Constitution -- or American lives -- stand in the way of raking in millions.

Yet Trump also covets power and has an insatiable need for public adoration that has been curtailed by the momentary pause on his public rallies. Clearly out of his depth when it comes to understanding the virus, Trump has latched onto hydroxychloroquine as a way of keeping himself at the center of the story. Like an ignored child who settles for his parents' negative attention by acting out, Trump knows he can keep the spotlight on him by continuing to recklessly promote hydroxychloroquine, something reporters are right to press him on. And all of it has the added benefit of undercutting the actual experts in the room, a move essential to Trump's constant pitch that his gut instinct is superior to expert knowledge.

April 10, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


"It's an invitation to rest and to reflect": Max Richter on his eight-hour work Sleep: This weekend, Richter's "lullaby for a frenetic world" will be simulcast internationally on the radio. Could it bring a physically distanced globe together (EMILY BOOTLE, 4/10/20, New Statesman)

As Saturday turns into Easter Sunday this weekend, there will be music playing. Though that is true of every night, somewhere in the world, on this night it will be special. At 11pm UK time, BBC Radio 3 will commence playing in full Max Richter's Sleep, an eight-hour-long 2015 work intended as a "lullaby for a frenetic world" and a reflection of the state of dreaming. Radio stations across Europe and North America will also play the work in simulcast. Listeners around the globe, most of whom are physically distanced from loved ones during the coronavirus pandemic, will all be listening to the same music.

Richter's Sleep could not be more fitting for this moment. It is profoundly slow and meditative, scored with piano, strings and electronics. It was released in 2015 as an album -- with named tracks that flow into one another continuously -- to both critical acclaim and widespread popularity, reaching No 1 in the US Billboard Classical charts, and garnering attention for its extraordinary length. "The piece has its roots in my sense at the time that we were all getting a little bit data saturated," Richter tells me over the phone from his home in Oxfordshire, where he is self-isolating with his family. "Life was moving very much on to the screen, into the virtual space -- and that space is a 24/7 space. So I wanted to try to make a piece which could function as a holiday from that, a pause."

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Coronavirus: Walking is our only respite (Erling Kagge, April 10, 2020, Macleans)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one can save time travelling only two hours from one point to another using modern technology like trains and planes, instead of spending eight hours walking. While this holds up mathematically, not being allowed to use public transportation reminds me that the opposite is equally true: time passes more slowly when I decrease my speed of travel by walking. Life feels long. 

When you are in a car driving towards a mountain, with small pools, slopes, rocks, moss and trees zooming past on all sides, life is curtailed; it gets shorter. You don't notice the wind, the scents, the weather, or the shifting light. Your feet don't get sore. Everything becomes one big blur.

And it isn't only time that grows smaller as one's pace increases. Your sense of space does too. Suddenly you find yourself at the foot of the mountain. Even your sense of distance has been stunted. Having travelled far, you may be tempted to feel like you've experienced quite a bit. But I doubt that's true.

When you have to walk along the same route, however--spending an entire day instead of a half-hour, breathing more easily, listening, feeling the ground beneath your feet, exerting yourself--the day becomes something else entirely. Little by little, the mountain looms up before you and your surroundings seem to grow larger. Becoming acquainted with these surroundings takes time. It's like building a friendship. The mountain up ahead, which slowly changes as you draw closer, feels like an intimate friend by the time you've arrived. Your eyes, ears, nose, shoulders, stomach and legs speak to the mountain, and the mountain replies. Time stretches out, independent of minutes and hours. 

And this is precisely the secret held by all those who go by foot: life is prolonged when you walk. Walking expands time rather than collapses it.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


A Coronavirus Spread Through U.S. Pigs in 2013. Here's How It Was Stopped: The containment practices of outbreaks past could have lessons for modern epidemics (Katherine J. Wu, 4/10/20, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM)

In the spring of 2013, a deadly coronavirus began to spread across the United States. Within a year it had reached 32 states, sweeping through dense populations that lacked immunity to the new pathogen. Though researchers scrambled to curb the disease, by the following spring, the epidemic claimed some 8 million lives--all of them pigs.

The pathogen responsible, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv), poses no danger to humans. But among its hosts, pigs, the virus ravages their bodies with severe gastrointestinal disease. The 2013 outbreak killed an estimated 10 percent of the nation's pigs in a matter of months. Struggling to make ends meet with limited supplies, pork producers pushed their prices to record highs as farmers nursed the dying and sick--most of which were newborn piglets--by the thousands.

"It was extremely devastating," says Don Davidson, a veterinarian with the Ohio-based food company Cooper Farms. "The losses were huge. Months later ... you could just see there weren't as many pigs in market."

By summer of 2014, the diarrheal disease had mostly petered out, partly because of a combination of increased diagnostic efforts and the growing immunity of the nation's pig population. But perhaps the biggest factor in ending the epidemic was behavioral: a near-universal ramp-up in farms' attention to cleaning, disinfection and isolation, says Michaela Trudeau, an animal coronavirus researcher at the University of Minnesota. These enhanced biosecurity measures "are one set of things we turn to over and over again to keep our pigs safe," she says.

As the world battles another dangerous coronavirus, the human pathogen SARS-CoV-2, similar lessons could prove valuable once again. People aren't pigs, and SARS-CoV-2--a respiratory virus--does not cause the same illness as PEDv. But this new coronavirus is vulnerable to many of the tactics that brought its predecessors to heel. In both cases, "it comes down to cooperation," Trudeau says. "The more people [working to] contain it, the better off we'll be."

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


White House rips U.S.-funded outlet Voice of America in daily newsletter (CAITLIN OPRYSKO, 04/10/2020, Politico)

VOA Director Amanda Bennett offered a full-throated defense of her agency in a lengthy statement issued Friday.

"One of the big differences between publicly-funded independent media, like the Voice of America, and state-controlled media is that we are free to show all sides of an issue and are actually mandated to do so by law as stated in the VOA Charter signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976," Bennett wrote on VOA's website. "We are thoroughly covering China's disinformation and misinformation in English and Mandarin and at the same time reporting factually -- as we always do in all 47 of our broadcast languages -- on other events in China."

Bennett added that VOA has "literally carried hundreds of stories on China's response and narrative," linking to nearly two dozen articles from recent weeks. Moreover, she added, "data from the graphic cited in the White House press release was drawn from Johns Hopkins, which is used throughout the world."

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


The Case Against Wet Markets. (MARTHA CHENG, 4/10/20, The Atlantic)

First, though, a distinction that too many journalists and politicians miss, and which is important to get right as people debate the possible closure of these markets. Wet market is a Singapore and Hong Kong English term that is now being applied to a wide variety of food markets around the developing world, even though many of the markets look like the fresh produce and meat markets in Italy and France. In fact, wet markets tend to fall into three categories: those that carry wildlife, dead or alive; those that carry more common live animals, such as poultry and/or seafood; and those that carry no live animals at all. So calling for a ban on all wet markets based on the Wuhan wet market, which purportedly sold live wildlife, is like banning all pet ownership based on what goes down in Tiger King.

Wet markets overall should not be banned any more than farmers' markets in America. They are more than fresh produce and meat: They are ways for consumers and producers to connect; they are forms of decentralization against governments and large corporations that people grow ever more wary of, whether in China or America. Live wildlife, however, is too risky to remain at wet markets. "The lowest-hanging fruit to lessen the likelihood of future pandemics is to close those markets where we have large congregations of wild species for commercial purposes," Steven Osofsky, a professor of wildlife health and health policy at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, said in an interview for the podcast Excelsior. "When we harvest wild animals from all over the world and bring them into markets, let them all mix together, what we're doing is creating the perfect storm. If you're a virus whose goal is to spread, you couldn't really design a better system to aid and abet a pandemic than these wildlife markets, particularly in urban centers in Asia. You have species that never under natural conditions would run into each other, all packed together, bodily fluids mixing, and then people come into the equation. Pathogens are meeting species that they've never met before. That's when we have these opportunities for viral jumps, including the ones that lead to humans and create the situation we're in now."

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 AM


We knew this would happen. So why weren't we ready?: The government's national security advisers warned of the threat of a pandemic. "I don't know why more wasn't done," said one (Steve Bloomfield, April 7, 2020, The Prospect)

"The risk of human pandemic disease remains one of the highest we face," stated the UK government's 2010 national security strategy. The "possible impacts of a future pandemic," it continued, "could be that up to one half of the UK population becomes infected, resulting in between 50,000 and 750,000 deaths in the UK, with corresponding disruption to everyday life."

According to the government's national risk register, published at the same time, a pandemic would lead to "normal life... likely fac[ing] wide social and economic disruption; significant threats to the continuity of essential services; lower production levels; shortages; and distribution difficulties. Individual organisations may suffer from the pandemic's impact on staff absenteeism therefore reducing the services available."

In short, we knew this would happen. Ten years ago, the government's new national security council, led by its first ever national security adviser, Peter Ricketts, placed the risk of a pandemic higher and greater than a military invasion. Why, then, were we not prepared?

"We put it up in lights," recalled Ricketts, when I spoke to him over the phone last week. "But it never got the resourcing because there was always an immediate crisis." And yet, the 2010 strategy was written in the wake of the swine flu pandemic. "That should have been a wake-up call," said Ricketts. "I don't know why more wasn't done. There was always a higher priority than buying more ventilators."

His successor, Mark Lyall Grant, who authored the follow-up strategy in 2015 that also categorised a pandemic as a "tier one" risk, was even blunter, questioning the role of other government departments. "Getting the Treasury to allocate money for contingencies is extremely difficult," he told me. Furthermore, "I don't recall the Department of Health (DoH) arguing that they needed more money to meet this risk."

One reason the Treasury and the DoH might have been reluctant to spend any extra money on dealing with the possibility of a pandemic is because the government repeatedly insisted there was no extra money for anything. The UK's realisation that pandemics were a major risk coincided with the longest period of austerity since the Second World War.

"Our ability to meet these current and future threats depends crucially on tackling the budget deficit," wrote David Cameron and Nick Clegg in the foreword to the 2010 national security strategy. "An economic deficit is also a security deficit." On budgets, "tough choices" would need to be made, they wrote.

The theoretical concern about deficits is that they force higher interest rates.  In our deflationary epoch, Britain's rate is barely above 0%.  Spend the money that your national security requires.  

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


20 years since Merkel took the helm of Germany's Christian Democrats (Deutsche-Welle, 4/10/20)

Merkel became chancellor just five years later and after Kohl, is the longest-serving chancellor in the postwar era. Her tenure has been marked by both stability and economic prosperity.

But it was also shaped by various global and domestic crises over time, and Merkel managed to maintain her political footing after each one. 

The 2008 global financial crisis and the subsequent euro debt crisis were major early challenges, but Merkel still managed to steer the CDU/CSU union to reelection in 2013, with the bloc nearly winning a historic outright majority.

Even after her controversial decision to let one million migrants into Germany, during the refugee crisis of 2015, Merkel still managed to get her party re-elected in 2017, despite a backlash that led to the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Over time, the party she has led for two decades has weakened electorally and Merkel's long tenure has overseen ever-increasing voter fragmentation, with non-traditional parties like the Greens rising and stalwarts like CDU and center-left SPD falling.

But Merkel herself has managed to stay afloat and ahead of the competition. Though wounded, she remains the most popular politician in the country to this day.

Merkel had pledged that her current chancellorship would be her last. Now, she faces the coronavirus pandemic, which she has referred to as the greatest challenge the country has faced since WWII.

As she crosses the 20-year mark, this could be her biggest test yet. But in this final and critical crisis, Germans are already giving her leadership a boost.  Some 80% of voters were pleased with Merkel's management of the COVID-19 crisis, according to a poll by broadcaster ZDF's Forschungsgruppe Wahlen.

Even her languishing Grand Coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD, which previously had a 28% approval rating, has risen to 37% in the polls. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Barack Obama wins the Democratic primary (RYAN LIZZA, 04/09/2020, Politico)

In the end, the most influential politician of 2020 may be the one who has been the most silent.

With Bernie Sanders exiting the race and Joe Biden taking on the mantle of presumptive nominee, the man who hovered quietly over the race for more than a year, Barack Obama, will soon return to the political fray.

Obama wanted Sanders to have the day to himself and so he refrained from speaking (or tweeting) publicly on Wednesday. But Obama had always said his role in the primaries would be to unite the party when it's over, and he's been in close contact with both campaigns as the pandemic both froze the race without a clear victor and also made it more obvious that Biden would eventually prevail.

"Over the last few weeks, he's had multiple conversations with candidates, including Sen. Sanders, about how to best position the Democratic Party to win in November," said a source familiar with those calls. "While the content of those conversations remain private, there was always agreement that winning in the fall was paramount."

Just as there was a certain unintended genius in luring Russia into the Syria trap to fight ISIS, so too does the UR stand to accidentally/brilliantly transform American politics, without doing much of anything.

The Anglosphere had largely arrived at the End of History by no later than 1776.  That is to say, we settled the fact that the most effective and desirable social arrangement for mankind had to be structured around protestantism, democracy and capitalism. To a really astonishing degree, this settlement has not even been questioned within the English-speaking world, with the sole exception of the American Civil War. The subsequent 250-year Long War has consisted of our inevitably victorious clashes with a series of Utopian isms--Rationalism; Communism; National Socialism; Nationalism; Islamicism; etc.--that imagined alternatives to the End. 

We have periodically liked to pretend that this Long War was existential, but the reality is that the core strength of our system, the inherent weakness of the alternatives and the happy circumstances of geography have meant none were even significant challenges and while crushing them in war has been fun, it was mostly unnecessary.  If this was implicit in the history of two centuries, Francis Fukuyama eventually made it explicit in his essay and book, The End of History.  There have, naturally, been bitter-enders, holding out on tiny islands like forgotten Japanese soldiers, insisting the war isn't over, but the very challenges and challengers they cite are ludicrous and, significantly, always totalitarian/authoritarian, because men would never willingly choose these alternatives.  Consider only the ISIS example and you can see how hysterical it is to think them a threat.  Likewise, while the Left/Right fervently hoped that the Credit Crunch of 2008 signaled irreconcilable flaws within capitalism and, hopefully, another Great Depression to demonstrate neoliberal hubris, we actually resolved the crisis quickly and painlessly by applying capitalist methods on steroids.

In domestic politics this consensus has been particularly bitter medicine for our own holdouts on Left (Socialism true believers) and Right (Nationalism). The winning party in national elections has, since Margaret Thatcher's victory, been the one most closely associated with the End and most willing to compromise by using First Way (capitalist) means to achieve Second Way (socialist) ends.  This politics, which protects republican liberty while allowing for the wider distribution of the wealth that our globalized economies generate, appeals to the great mass of voters for obvious reasons.  Thus, Thatcher would be succeeded by the Third Way Blair, and by the Third Way Cameron and so on and so forth.  Similarly, there were no important overarching differences among presidents from Carter through Barrack Obama, with the winner of every election being the candidate most closely associated with "liberalism," with the result that the party of the national leader has made virtually no difference to the governing of our nations for 45 years. 

Of course, this has always been unsettling for the wings of each party that still believe in their alternative and each has tended to punish its own leadership for left deviation or right. But this extreme reaction tends to get punished at the ballot box, as witness most recently Jeremy Corbyn, who renounced the End in its entirety and was predictably consigned to oblivion. The British people prefer even a Tory party that is a mess to one that is Socialist, anti-Semitic, and anti-democratic.

The glaring exception to all this was the election of Donald Trump, the only avowedly racist leader to be elected in the Anglosphere in quite some time.  His victory in Republican primaries involved some luck--the glowing media coverage he was afforded drowned out all the other candidates--but his ideological appeal should have been more apparent.  He was, after all, presaged by the party's defeat of W's immigration reforms and then by the unhinged reaction to the election of a black president, from birtherism to the Tea Party, whose purpose was to prevent the distribution of welfare money to minorities to preserve same for old white men.  The irony being that the gay Kenyan Muslim, far from imposing the Socialism he was accused of believing in, continued the economics of the Bush/Bernanke bailout and passed the Romney/Heritage Foundation health care reforms.  He proved the ultimate Republican in All But Name.

Unfortunately, while the Right (Old and Alt) is no more than 20% of the American electorate--the number that opposes things like letting Dreamers remain--that makes it a sufficient force with the GOP to tip primary elections, which Donald proceeded to do with historically low winning totals.  Then he got the supreme gift in the general election, running against the least popular major party nominee in modern electoral history. Not only was Hillary widely despised, but James Comey's bungling of the email investigation was catastrophic for her and enough mainstream Republicans were able to convince themselves that she was the worse of two evils that Donald was able to carry the Electoral College despite losing by three million votes and running far behind the rest of the GOP ticket. [*]

But the fond hopes of Republican elites were quickly smashed as Donald proceeded to base his entire presidency around the racism he'd run on, starting with the Muslim Ban, opposing even legal immigration and caging families at the border, celebrating white supremacists, attacking female and black Democrats with particular fervor and all the rest.  Having seen him with the hood on, suburban voters joined Democrats in pummeling the GOP at the Midterm and disapproving of him at levels such that 42% appears to be his ceiling.  

The Midterms were revealing for our tale as Nancy Pelosi and Democratic party powers rejected Progressive candidates in favor of moderates who proceeded to win back the House.  While the success of this strategy should have been apparent to everyone, the activists in the Party still believed they were in a Progressive moment and dreamed of an Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders setting up a true Left vs. Right battle in 2020.  Thus, Bernie, who has always been more of an economic Leftist than anything else, suddenly stopped opposing immigration and became woke, while Ms Warren, who was already awoken, suddenly eschewed the rather Republican economics she'd been associated with and started embracing Big Government programs with no idea how to pay for them.  All of this at a time when an already rather conservative party was benefitting from moderate Republicans leaving the GOP to push the party further towards the center to create a massive appetite for a nominee who could most easily defeat Donald.  Joe Biden is a godawful candidate and will likely be an inept president, but as a central player in the neoliberal consensus for its entirety, the VP to one of its avatars, and no one's idea of a Leftist, proved the ideal vehicle for those electability aspirations.  And with his nomination all of the GOP's hopes of running against Socialism instead of being stuck defending Nationalism are dashed.

In effect, by making the Republican Party (at the presidential level) no place for decent men, Donald has forced all swing voters onto the Democratic side, making their party the more moderate one and the GOP more extreme.  It was already problematic that even conservative minority voters could not accept the idea of being Republicans, but if Donald were to be followed by a Nationalist nominee in 2024 we could lose even married women (historically Republican voters) and suburbanites (often swing voters) for a generation. The reaction to Barrack Obama--without him doing anything untoward--has completely misshapen the right (small "r").

Ultimately, 2020 is lost and that's a good thing.  Not only is Joe Biden pretty much a Republican himself, it affords the GOP an opportunity to disinfect itself and start trying to win back naturally conservative voters who are not racist. Given the tolerance of the rising generations in America, this process can not begin quickly enough.  The alternative--doubling down on the Islamophobia, Nativism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and all the rest of the pathologies of Donald and his base--risks cementing the gains of the Democrats and making the GOP the last holdout of a dying demographic. 

But, as Jonah and his guest, Steven Teles, discussed on the latest Remnant podcast, there is not much evidence that party elites are planning for a GOP future, even after seeing how strong party leadership has enabled the Democrats to promote the kind of moderate candidates who jibe with post-Historical consensus.   To surrender the Party to the wing that refuses to accept the End and looks back to a segregationist past as its ideal would be to make the GOP a deservedly permanent minority party. This is the time for the Party to take back the powers it has ceded and to tighten down the nomination process in particular. As Mr. Teles says, the party system is one of the ways we guard against Populism and the GOP has let the guard rails fall.  Time to restore them lest we ever make this mistake again.

[*] Note that the Party is far healthier at the state level, where the 10 most popular governors in America are all Republicans, many in blue or purple states.

The Country Yearns for a Unifying Voice (Mona Charen, 4/10/20, National Review)

We've focused so much in recent years on the primitive side of our natures -- the part that responds to tribalism and hatred of out groups. But while those traits are real enough, we didn't achieve great civilizations by suspicion alone. Cooperation and, in Queen Elizabeth's phrase, "fellow feeling" are also part of our nature. Without cooperation, we'd still be wandering the savannah in groups of 15 or 20 with spears in one hand and babies on our backs. Humans are cooperative creatures -- even, at times, selfless ones. In wartime, men throw themselves on grenades to save others. In this time of plague, doctors and nurses willingly put their own lives at risk to save people they don't even know.

Americans are already behaving in cooperative and unifying ways. What they lack is a voice. President Trump is utterly incapable of sounding those notes. When he attempts it, as, for example, when an aide draws up some uplifting rhetoric, he seems to be sounding out the words as if reading another language. He is far more comfortable searching out enemies -- the media, his predecessor, the "deep state," under-appreciative governors, General Motors, and so forth.

Joe Biden, by contrast, is well suited to the unifier role. His strength is a sympathetic understanding of others' pain. His instincts are toward conciliation and cooperation, to the point that Democratic partisans were sometimes dismayed when, earlier in this cycle, he reminisced fondly about "getting things done" with Republicans.

Just now, in the midst of the crisis, Biden lacks an opportunity to voice a unifying message. But that time will come soon. He should seize it. It comes naturally to him. It would remind us of our better angels, and the country is yearning for it.

April 9, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:52 PM



President Donald Trump on Thursday said a widespread COVID-19 testing program to assess whether workers can safely return to their workplaces is "never going to happen" in the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Trump Ending Federal Funding for Coronavirus Testing Sites on Friday (PETER WADE, 4/09/20, Rolling Stone)

[D]rexel University epidemiology and biostatistics professor Usama Bilal told the station that the lack of federal funding will hit the state's poor the most.

"Any time a reduction in accessibility in a health resource happens, it is the most vulnerable populations that suffer," Bilal continued. "People with access to more resources (wealthier, more educated, etc.) tend to have the ability to access those resources through other means (in this case, private testing through referral from the doctor they usually see). Low-income people tend to access health care much more often through urgent care (which isn't being used that much these days in cities like Philadelphia, for fear of the epidemic)."

Valerie Arkoosh, chair of Montgomery County Commissioners office, one of the hardest-hit counties in Philadelphia's suburbs where 1,294 have tested positive and 19 have died, expressed concern in a statement because of the expected surge of cases. "While I'm grateful to have had federal and state support for our successful community-based testing site, I am understandably disappointed that the supplies and the federal contract for lab testing are ending just as we are heading into the surge here in southeastern Pennsylvania," Arkoosh said.

According to CNN, Vice President Mike Pence has been touting public-private partnerships that have "laid the foundation," to fill some of the gaps left behind without federal funds, like drive-thru coronavirus testing sites. But so far only five locations from major retailers are currently offering drive-thru testing. And none are open to the general public.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden reacted in astonishment to the story late Thursday, writing on Twitter, "I can't believe I have to say this, but we should be expanding the number of testing sites and surging the number of tests -- not reducing them. Testing is key to finding a way out of this crisis."

How about a news coronavirus package that just gives Donald $200 billion to retire?

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


If Easter Is Only a Symbol, Then to Hell with It (TISH HARRISON WARREN, APRIL 9, 2020, Christianity Today)

For Christians, this is the World Series, the crescendo of the symphony, the climax of the play. This is what we've been sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for all year. But this year: nothing. The game is canceled in its final inning. The horn section left in the middle of the concerto. The theater caught fire in the third act.

As a priest, this feels incredibly unsatisfying. Sure, we'll livestream services. The Word will be proclaimed. But it isn't the same. Something is clearly lost.

And yet, the solid fact remains that Christians do not make Easter through our worship and our calendar. Jesus rose from the dead, and even if it were never acknowledged en masse, it would remain the fixed point around which time itself turns. The truth of the Resurrection is wild and free. It possesses us more than we could ever possess it and rolls on happily with no need of us, never bending to our opinions of it. If the claims of Christianity are true, they are true with or without me. On any given day, my ardent belief or deep skepticism doesn't alter reality one hair's breadth.

Believers and skeptics alike often approach the Christian story as if its chief value is personal, subjective, and self-expressive. We come to faith primarily for how it comforts us or helps us cope or lends a sense of belonging. However subtly, we reduce the Resurrection to a symbol or a metaphor. Easter is merely an inspirational tradition, a celebration of rebirth and new life that calls us to the best version of ourselves and helps give meaning to our lives.

But the actualities that we now face in a global pandemic--the overwhelmed hospitals and morgues, the collapsing global economy, and the terrifying fragility of our lives--ought to put an end to any sentimentality about the Resurrection. To borrow the words of Flannery O'Connor, "If it's a symbol, to hell with it."

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Warrant for journalists from Jerry Falwell Jr. came from Liberty University's own police (Sarah K. Burris, 4/08/20, Raw Story)

A right-wing commentator interviewed Jerry Falwell Jr. during his show Wednesday, where Falwell said that there were two arrest warrants open for reporters who came onto Liberty University's campus.

Upon further examination of the warrant, the police officer who signed the warrant was Detective/Sgt. A.B. Wilkins 206 LUPD. The LUPD is not the Lynchburg Police Department nor is there a Sgt. or Detective A.B. Wilkins. It's the police department under the authority of Liberty University.

The Right's grip on reality is awfully tenuous.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Coronavirus pushes auto dealers to embrace online sales like Tesla, Carvana (Michael Wayland, 4/09/20, CNBC)

While Tesla and Carvana, an online used car sales company, have been selling vehicles online for years, U.S. auto retailers have essentially used the internet as a tool to bring people into the dealership, not to sell vehicles.

Many saw online sales as a threat to their showrooms; however, the coronavirus is changing that. Automakers are rolling out new online sales tools or enhancing current programs for dealers, as they view online sales as one of their last chances for salvation during the pandemic.

Fiat Chrysler, for example, launched a new online sales program this month that allows customers to partially, if not completely, go through the sales process online. As with Carvana and Tesla, the purchased vehicle can be delivered to their home without them ever stepping foot in a dealership.

The pandemic has a chance to make much of the economy more efficient.

It's time to move past employer-based health insurance: The coronavirus shows tying health insurance to jobs is a disaster. Let's fix it.  (Ezra Klein,  Apr 9, 2020, Vox)

Here, as elsewhere, Covid-19 is worsening a policy problem that long predates the virus. Tying health insurance to employment is now, and always has been, a disaster. It gives bosses too much power over workers, reduces entrepreneurship, saddles businesses with health costs they can't control and insurance problems they don't understand, makes the tax structure more regressive, reduces wages, bloats administrative spending, and drives up costs throughout the system.

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM


3D-printed coral better than the real thing - at some things (Cosmos, 4/09/20)

"Corals are one of the most efficient organisms at using, capturing and converting light to generate energy, and they do so in extreme environments, where light is highly fluctuating and there's limited space to grow," says first author Daniel Wangpraseurt, a marine scientist at the University of Cambridge, UK.

"Our goal here was to use corals as inspiration to develop more productive techniques for growing microalgae as a form of sustainable energy."

Wangpraseurt teamed up with nanoengineer Shaochen Chen, whose lab at the University of California San Diego in the US can print structures with the speed needed to work with human, animal or algae cells.

The manufactured "corals" consist of cup-shaped, artificial skeletons that support coral-like tissue and are built to capture and scatter light more efficiently than natural corals.

The skeleton is made of a biocompatible polymer gel, called PEGDA, embedded with cellulose nanocrystals. The coral tissue is a gelatin-based polymer hydrogel, called GelMA, mixed with living algae cells and cellulose nanocrystals.

On the surface are tiny cylindrical structures that act as coral tentacles, which increase the surface area for absorbing light.

The researchers say nanocrystals embedded in the skeleton and coral tissue, along with the cup shape, improve light absorption and enable more light to be focused onto algae cells so that they photosynthesise more efficiently.

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Disease Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment (Alan Z. Rozenshtein, April 7, 2020, Lawfare)

A threshold question in any Fourth Amendment analysis is whether the government activity is a "search." An activity is a search and thus triggers the Fourth Amendment if it infringes on a reasonable expectation of privacy (the Katz test) or it involves a government trespass (the Jones test). Different forms of disease surveillance could trigger the Fourth Amendment under one or both of these tests. For example, any government surveillance program that required individuals to download an app on their phones might constitute a Fourth Amendment search under the trespass test, since it would interfere in individuals' property interests--that is, to control what is on their devices. By contrast, if the government were to track people's movement by directly surveilling cellphones--for example, though IMSI (international mobile subscriber identity) catchers, which mimic cell towers--that might violate a person's reasonable expectation of privacy.

Things become more complex if the government were to compel third parties--cellphone companies, internet platforms, medical-device makers or health care providers--to turn over data. A long-established carve out to the Katz reasonable-expectation-of-privacy test is the "third-party doctrine": People cannot claim a reasonable expectation of privacy in information they have voluntarily handed over to a third party and that the government subsequently acquires.

Happily, not only is location date not a search, but there is no expectation that your location is private.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Publisher of hydroxychloroquine study touted by Trump says the research didn't meet its standards (Elizabeth Cohen and Dr. Minali Nigam,  April 9, 2020, CNN)

[T]he medical society that published that French research has issued a statement saying the study "does not meet the Society's expected standard."

Dr. Kevin Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in New York City, gave an even more pointed assessment of the French research.

"The study was a complete failure," he said.

"It was pathetic," added Art Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


80% of NYC's coronavirus patients who are put on ventilators ultimately die, and some doctors are trying to stop using them (Sinéad Baker, 4/09/20, Business Insider)

Putting a patient on a ventilator is an extreme step saved for the most-affected patients, who typically already have the highest chance of dying from respiratory failure.

The higher death rate could be a direct result of this, as well as the fact that there are so far no drugs that can help fight the coronavirus.

Some doctors are also concerned that ventilators could actually be further harming certain coronavirus patients as the treatment is always hard on lungs, the AP reported.

Dr. Tiffany Osborn, a critical care specialist at Washington University School of Medicine, told NPR on April 1 that ventilators can actually damage patients' lungs.

"The ventilator itself can do damage to the lung tissue based on how much pressure is required to help oxygen get processed by the lungs," she said.

Dr. Negin Hajizadeh, a pulmonary critical care doctor at New York's Hofstra/Northwell School of Medicine, also told NPR that while ventilators work well for people suffering from diseases like pneumonia, they don't necessarily for coronavirus patients.

She said that most coronavirus patients in her hospital system have ultimately not recovered despite being given a ventilator.

She added that the coronavirus does a lot more damage to the lungs than illnesses like the flu, as "there is fluid and other toxic chemical cytokines, we call them, raging throughout the lung tissue."

Dr. Eddy Fan, an expert on respiratory treatment at Toronto General Hospital, told the AP: "We know that mechanical ventilation is not benign."

"One of the most important findings in the last few decades is that medical ventilation can worsen lung injury -- so we have to be careful how we use it."

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Wuhan virus lockdown over, but lingering fears slow recovery (JING XUAN TENG, 4/09/20,  AFP)

Hairstylist "Ah Ping" is back in business now that Wuhan's coronavirus lockdown has been lifted, but his salon has no customers, only empty chairs and lingering fears over a contagion that continues to haunt the city.

Wuhan is waking from its coronavirus nightmare, loosening tight restrictions on movement and business as the global pandemic's launchpad tries to move on.

But full recovery remains hampered by fear of a potential new wave of infections.

Many businesses and all schools are still closed, restaurants aren't allowed dine-in customers, and some neighbourhoods remain sealed off behind barriers.

Residents need to show they have a "healthy" rating on a mandatory phone app to leave their homes, use public transport, or enter most public spaces.

"When people come out, infections will probably rise. I'm really afraid of this," said "Ah Ping", a nickname.

The 43-year-old, who declined to give his full name, also worries about getting his life restarted.

He paid his salon's quarterly rent of 15,000 yuan ($2,100) in full just before Wuhan was locked down on January 23. Now another rental payment is due.

"Isn't that terrible? I paid 15,000 in rent and did no business," he said.

While many other Chinese cities are getting back to near-normal, Wuhan's government has made clear that easing controls poses new perils and that a return to usual life will have to wait.

In some areas, it's been two steps forward, one step back.

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Treat Taiwan Like the Independent Ally It IsThe COVID-19 pandemic is another reminder that the One China Policy is long past its expiration date (SHAY KHATIRI  APRIL 9, 2020, The Bulwark)

[I]f anybody wants to set the Chinese Communist Party's hair on fire, the easiest way to do that is to say something nice thing about Taiwan.

Taiwan's political status has recently been a sticking point for public health officials who wish to ingratiate themselves with China. Just this morning, the government of Taiwan found itself having to respond to a bizarre rant from the head of the World Health Organization (WHO). This comes less than two weeks after a top WHO official found himself in hot water for hanging up a Skype interview upon being asked about Taiwan and then calling Taiwan "China." Even the academics running the widely used Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracking website tied themselves in knots last month over Taiwan. (On the website's "country/region/sovereignty" list, only Taiwan is now stuck with the humiliation of an asterisk.) [...]

Some background: In 1972, as part of President Nixon's warming of relations with China, the United States first acknowledged the One China Policy--which holds that Taiwan is part of China. In 1978, President Carter severed formal U.S. ties with its ally Taiwan. The next year, to save the relationship, Congress passed and Carter signed into law the Taiwan Relations Act, which spelled out in more detail the nature of the U.S. relationship with Taiwan: It wouldn't be considered a fully independent, sovereign state, but the U.S. would still maintain a significant relationship with the "governing authorities on Taiwan." To this day, Taiwan and the United States do not have official embassies in each other's countries. As far as we know, the two countries' heads of states have not talked to each other directly since 1978 (Trump was not yet inaugurated at the time of his phone call with Tsai). [...]

There is a "strategic ambiguity" to the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, which is to say that the United States may or may not defend Taiwan if China invades. China cannot be sure that the United States will stay out of a conflict if it invades Taiwan, while Taiwan does not have a guarantee that the United States would intervene if it declares independence. President George W. Bush briefly ended the policy and gave a verbal commitment to Taiwan's defense in April 2001, but within three years, the ambiguous status quo had been restored.

This status quo must change. Its American supporters used to argue that the people of Taiwan identify themselves as Chinese and prefer the One China Policy and the idea of eventual reunification. This argument no longer holds water: The people of Taiwan increasingly identify themselves as Taiwanese, not Chinese. Less than one in ten of them support reunification now or eventually. Tsai's election in 2016 was a turning point in Asian politics, as she was the first candidate from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party to be elected--although she has moderated her party's stance on the issue.

Alongside Japan, and perhaps even more than Japan, Taiwan has the most pro-U.S. population in Asia. Taiwan's regime is, in fact, the most similar to that of the United States in all of Asia. And Taiwan always scores high marks for freedom and democracy in Freedom House's indexes.

It's a start, but we need to include at least Hong Kong, Tibet, and Uighurstan in the sovereignty recognition process and begin planning to decapitate the regime in Pyongyang. 

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What Does Woody Allen Fail to Get? Let Him Show You (C. T. May, 4/09/20, Splice Today)

"I was still playing chess with Moses and plenty of sports," Woody Allen tells us of Mia Farrow's adopted son. "He had asked me to be his father, and I thought he was a great kid and agreed. I didn't legally adopt him at that point, but as he'll tell you, I was his father in every substantial way." That's from Allen's recently published Apropos of Nothing, a book as chronologically vague as most showbiz memoirs. Going by what's there, Moses was perhaps seven years old, maybe a little older or younger. Soon-Yi had been his big sister for at least five years. Eventually, as we all know from history, Allen put the moves on Soon-Yi. By that point she'd been the boy's older sister for a decade, and Allen had been his father "for years" (Allen's phrase). In short, Woody Allen decided to f[***] his son's sister.

She was also, of course, Mia Farrow's adopted daughter, and Mia was Woody's girlfriend. The girlfriend found out. Soon-Yi and Woody set up housekeeping together, and Woody tried to get custody of Moses. The boy's sister was set to become... his mother? One might ponder the effects of this on a 14-year-old, or anybody. One might, but Woody doesn't. His book says nothing about that angle. It's been 28 years and the thought never crossed his mind.

The conservative commentators trying to rehabilitate this creature just because he was canceled are just as misguided as the Right.

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The 19th Century Roots of Modern Medical DenialismA dubious system of herbal medicine became a blueprint for cranks peddling cures for everything from cancer to Covid-19 (JOHN CHARPENTIER 04.09.2020, Undark)

Portraying himself as an illiterate pig farmer (he was neither), Thomson barnstormed the Northeast telling rapt audiences things they wanted to hear: that "natural" remedies were superior to toxic "chemical" drugs; that all disease had a single cause, despite its many manifestations; that intuition and divine providence had guided him to botanical panaceas; that corrupt medical elites, blinded by class condescension and education, were persecuting him, a humble, ordinary man, because of the threat his ideas and discoveries posed to their profits.

For decades, Thomson peddled his dubious system of alternative medicine to Americans by playing to their cultural, political, and religious identities. Two centuries later, the era of Thomsonian medicine isn't just a historical curiosity; it continues to provide a playbook for grifters and dissembling politicians peddling pseudoscientific solutions to everything from cancer to Covid-19.

An acquisitive paranoiac with the steely-eyed look of a fundamentalist preacher, Thomson lectured on the same circuit as the Second Great Awakening's theatrical revivalists, one of countless unschooled "people's doctors" as the esteemed orthodox physician Daniel Drake called them. In addition to his lectures, Thomson spread his gospel in his mega bestseller, "New Guide to Health," a catalog of herbs accompanied by anecdotes testifying to their medicinal utility. Credulous readers learned that simple preparations of herbs like cayenne pepper or Lobelia inflata -- also known as "puke weed" -- not only relieved minor complaints like headaches and coughs but also rapidly cured progressive, terminal diseases like cancer. In breathless testimonials and self-aggrandizing anecdotes, Thomson and his followers attested to individuals being cured of dysentery, smallpox, and measles using the Thomsonian system. Between sales of the book, which went through 13 editions, and the "family rights " to buy his patented botanical nostrums, Thomson grew fabulously wealthy.

Though he was dismissed at the time as a dangerous fraud by mainstream physicians, Thomson was nevertheless held in high esteem by millions of Americans, who saw him as an avatar of self-reliance and entrepreneurial ambition. His followers wrote songs, poems, and prayers in homage to him. They congregated in "Friendly Botanic Societies" that more closely resembled churches than scientific seminars. His most zealous supporters, including some state legislators, hailed him alternately as the American Hippocrates or Jesus. That Thomson was regularly accused of killing patients and was even tried for murder once in Massachusetts seemed only to burnish the legend of his persecution and martyrdom."

In retrospect it can be hard to see how Thomson garnered so much influence. None of his botanical remedies were new to medicine, nor were they very effective for treating any serious condition. Yet in some states, such as Ohio and Mississippi, between a third and half of residents were said to have eschewed orthodox medicine in favor of Thomson's patented system. What made the Thomsonian sales pitch so successful was not just its blanket condemnation of the medical establishment, but its populist conception of healing itself. Just as Americans were free to be their own governors, lawyers, and priests, Thomson argued, so too should they be free to act as "their own physician and surgeon." In this view, attempts to enforce state licensure laws or raise standards for medical education and practice were merely assaults on therapeutic choice and medical freedom -- as anti-American as government establishment of religion.

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An excellent look at China's failure and the importance of open and accurate information.
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How Hydroxychloroquine Became Conservative Media's Coronavirus Miracle Drug (Alex Shephard, Apr. 8th, 2020, New Republic)

The right's embrace of hydroxychloroquine points to a larger distrust of elite expertise, even in the midst of a crisis. The president, desperate to stem the damage of an outbreak that he personally exacerbated through negligence and denial, is consulting Fox News hosts and hucksters alongside the country's top experts. Conservative media is following his lead, while also assembling a narrative that can be used to defend the president down the line: that the president's opponents are suppressing a miracle drug in order to damage the country economically and the president politically.

The drug's rapid rise, The Guardian's Julia Carrie Wong wrote, is "a distinctly modern tale of misinformation within a global information ecosystem beset by widespread uncertainty, fear, media fragmentation, and hyper-partisanship." Citing a tiny, flawed study in France, the right has touted hydroxychloroquine as a silver bullet. Fox News has claimed that it has a "100 percent cure rate," even though four of the 42 people treated with the drug in France died.

The hydroxychloroquine phenomenon is the result of a perfect symbiosis between the president and his backers in the media. Trump himself is addicted to magical thinking and quick fixes, such as a wall to stop illegal immigration. The right wing, in turn, has long embraced quack medicine. In 2012, historian Rick Perlstein documented a "strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers" that stretches back decades. The mailing lists that kicked off the country's postwar turn to the right were a mix of strident conservatism and direct-marketing schemes. In recent years, Ben Carson has hawked "glyconutrients" while Ben Shapiro talks up brain pills that help you focus for 10 hours "with no jitters or crash." The right-wing media is funded by sketchy cures being touted by sketchy merchants and is thus hard-wired to push dubious medical advice.

The right also has a grudge against the scientific experts in academia and government, who are depicted as being part of a liberal ploy. Anything pushed by experts like Fauci must be cover for some sinister progressive effort to remake society.

The fact that many of these figures--Trump, Hannity, and Ingraham foremost among them--spent months downplaying the virus is also driving them to push this unproven drug. The president's repeated claims that the virus was a "hoax" will be a feature of campaign ads all the way to November. By embracing a fringe "cure," conservatives are trying to outflank their critics and depict themselves as being more serious about treating the coronavirus than people who are urging restraint.

Conservatives reacted with outrage when Twitter deleted tweets from Ingraham, Giuliani, and Charlie Kirk advocating for the use of the drug. Hannity and others on the right have tried to make Cuomo and Fauci into villains for withholding a potential lifesaver. For the president and his allies, the coronavirus is akin to a false flag, a deliberate effort by the left to destroy the economy and sink the president's reelection chances. The country could open for business if only the pesky experts and liberals could stop hating the president for one second.

The Trumpbots' hopes peaked with the economy propping Donald up and Bernie winning NH, despite the fact he remained historically unpopular and lost match-ups to even an avowed Socialist.  So you can understand why they were so resistant to any threat to his future--like a pandemic--and now desperately embrace any quack remedy they can imagine as a way to try to go backwards in time.  Sure, it's irresponsible and dangerous, but you can still pity them.  This was after all the last stand of old white men in America and it's gone about as well as the Confederacy's.

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The latest survey by Quinnipiac University found 81 percent of U.S. adults backed a national stay-at-home order, with 17 percent opposing the idea.

Democratic voters and Independents were more likely to support the issuing of such an order, with 95 percent of Democrats and eight-in-ten Independents approving the idea.

Republicans told pollsters that they backed the idea of a national stay-at-home order, with 68 percent supporting the idea and 31 percent saying they would oppose it.

That 15-20% range number pops up whenever you poll something sufficiently settled in American society--like allowing the Dreamers to stay, background check on guns, white supremacy, etc.--they are Donald's base.

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This Is Trump's FaultThe president is failing, and Americans are paying for his failures. (David Frum, 4/07/20,  The Atlantic)

That the pandemic occurred is not Trump's fault. The utter unpreparedness of the United States for a pandemic is Trump's fault. The loss of stockpiled respirators to breakage because the federal government let maintenance contracts lapse in 2018 is Trump's fault. The failure to store sufficient protective medical gear in the national arsenal is Trump's fault. That states are bidding against other states for equipment, paying many multiples of the precrisis price for ventilators, is Trump's fault. Air travelers summoned home and forced to stand for hours in dense airport crowds alongside infected people? That was Trump's fault too. Ten weeks of insisting that the coronavirus is a harmless flu that would miraculously go away on its own? Trump's fault again. The refusal of red-state governors to act promptly, the failure to close Florida and Gulf Coast beaches until late March? That fault is more widely shared, but again, responsibility rests with Trump: He could have stopped it, and he did not.

The lying about the coronavirus by hosts on Fox News and conservative talk radio is Trump's fault: They did it to protect him. The false hope of instant cures and nonexistent vaccines is Trump's fault, because he told those lies to cover up his failure to act in time. The severity of the economic crisis is Trump's fault; things would have been less bad if he had acted faster instead of sending out his chief economic adviser and his son Eric to assure Americans that the first stock-market dips were buying opportunities. The firing of a Navy captain for speaking truthfully about the virus's threat to his crew? Trump's fault. The fact that so many key government jobs were either empty or filled by mediocrities? Trump's fault. The insertion of Trump's arrogant and incompetent son-in-law as commander in chief of the national medical supply chain? Trump's fault.

For three years, Trump has blathered and bluffed and bullied his way through an office for which he is utterly inadequate. But sooner or later, every president must face a supreme test, a test that cannot be evaded by blather and bluff and bullying. That test has overwhelmed Trump.

Trump failed. He is failing. He will continue to fail. And Americans are paying for his failures.

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Trump babbles an incoherent response after he's cornered by reporter over mail-in voting hypocrisy (ALEX HENDERSON, APRIL 9, 2020, AlterNet)

At his Tuesday circus-like press briefing, ostensibly about the coronavirus crisis, a reporter pressed him on his opposition to voting by mail. While he declared categorically that voting by mail is bad, the reporter pointed out that he, in fact, votes by mail.

Trump had no coherent response.

"I think mail-in voting is horrible. It's corrupt!" he said.

"But you voted by mail in Florida's election last month, didn't you?" a reporter asked.

"Sure! I can vote by mail," Trump said, refusing to recognize his contradiction.

"How do you reconcile that?" the reporter responded.

"Because I'm allowed to!" Trump shot back. 

April 8, 2020

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Why Are Black Conservatives Still Democrats? (Matt Grossman, APRIL 8, 2020, Niskanen Center)

Matt Grossmann: This week on The Science of Politics, why are black conservatives still Democrats? For the Niskanen Center, I'm Matt Grossmann.

Many African Americans see themselves as conservatives and hold conservative policy opinions. So, why do black voters overwhelmingly identify as Democrats and vote for Democratic candidates? Do Republicans have any chance to increase their black voter support? And what can Democrats do to motivate black turnout? [...]

Matt Grossmann: And Philpot says the diversity in black political thought often doesn't show up in voting.

Tasha Philpot: The most important finding is that there's quite a bit of heterogeneity among black voters that often gets masked when we just look at the outcomes of elections. Elections, ultimately, are binary choices for the republican and the democratic party. And so, you really don't get a sense of what the intensity of the choice is, but if you take a step back and look at black public opinion and all of the elements that go into casting a ballot, you then see that there is quite a bit of difference amongst African Americans in their orientation towards politics.

And I look specifically at ideological orientation and even more specifically towards the placement of African Americans on ... Or their self-identification on the liberal/conservative continuum. And what we see is that there's been a growing number of African Americans willing to self-identify as conservative but unlike the relationship between ideology and party identification among whites, you don't see a corresponding increase in the number of African American self-identifying as republican.

I look at why this is the case and I find that African Americans are conservative along a number of dimensions, particularly when it comes to religion. But alternately, their sense of group identity and black consciousness restricts the extent to which that ideological self-identification gets translated into their party identification.

Matt Grossmann: They also agree that African Americans have become less liberal over time. White says they're now more moderate.

Ismail White: Black conservatism has not risen as much as blacks have become much more moderate in their support since the 1960s on all sorts of issues. I think in the 1960s ... In the book, we demonstrate that about 80% of blacks were supporting issues like government redistribution of wealth and policies such as the need to provide specific assistance directed towards African Americans. Both those things, according to the American National Elections Study, has support among black Americans has decreased significantly. Up to today, it's probably much closer to 50%.

Why has black American's support changed over time? I think the simply answer is that the lives have black Americans have changed significantly over that time. Black Americans are, to some extent, more integrated into American society. They're becoming significantly more economically polarized, as you will see in the book as well. And I think those things have created a different set of incentives for many African Americans. And incentives about ... That sort of pushed them towards supporting more of conservative policies. But again, what we show in the book is that despite that support, it hasn't translated like you would expect into the levels of republican party identification that you would observe among white Americans.

Matt Grossmann: And Philpot says black conservative identification is growing, but hasn't translated politically.

Tasha Philpot: I think part of it is the willingness to self-identify as conservative and to allow for that conservative to mean different things among African Americans, specifically as it relates to religion. African Americans are the most religious group in the United States. It's the ability to articulate that when it comes to whether or not they're going to place themselves on the liberal/conservative continuum and identify as conservative. Why is it growing? Again, I think it's the willingness as well as the same things that grow conservatism among whites.

Typically, you see more affluent whites being more conservative. And so, as there's more heterogeneity in the socioeconomic backgrounds of African Americans, you see a similar rise in conservatism. It's still less than half of African Americans that identify as conservative. We're not talking about the overwhelming number of African Americans, nevertheless.

What that means for the Trump administration? Certainly, we see based on presidential approval ratings that it has not translated into support for the republican party. And a lot of it has to do with the heightened racial tension that we've been experiencing over the last four years. You see a lot of racial rhetoric being used, not just among Donald Trump but other republicans. And of course, the rise in white nationalist groups, neo Nazis, the Klan that have endorsed the republican party and have become tightly aligned with the republican party in the eyes of African Americans, which ultimately would prevent blacks from voting republican even if they agree with the republican party on a number of other dimensions.

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Jared Kushner, Peter Navarro, and our epidemic of overconfidence (Zack Beauchamp, Apr 7, 2020, Vox)

On Monday, CNN's John Berman asked Navarro about the confrontation: "What are your qualifications to weigh in on medicine more than Dr. Anthony Fauci?" Navarro's response: "My qualifications, in terms of looking at the science, is that I'm a social scientist."

It's only fitting that there's a concept from social science -- psychology, specifically -- that helps us understand Navarro's bluster. In a now-famous 1999 paper, Cornell University's David Dunning and Justin Kruger found that people who did poorly on tests of abilities like logic and grammar "grossly overestimated" their own talents in those fields relative to peers. Competent people, by contrast, were less likely to overestimate their own talents. It seemed that the incompetent people knew so little that they were unable to adequately assess how little they knew -- and thus were overconfident.

This phenomenon, known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, may explain Navarro's outburst. There are important differences in this case: Navarro has basic knowledge and expertise -- he has a PhD in economics from Harvard, and actually warned Trump early on about the risks from coronavirus. He is not, however, an expert on medicine, and an economics doctorate doesn't qualify him to give medical assessments over Fauci. But not being an expert also means that you're unable to fully appreciate how little you know -- and perhaps might even make you feel comfortable shouting down a preeminent expert in the field on an issue of vital national importance.

It's not just Navarro, though. The entire Trump administration is an exercise in what happens when people without relevant expertise get to run the world's most powerful government. Nothing makes that clear than its response to the coronavirus.

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A 'bridge to a vaccine': The race to roll out antibody-based Covid-19 drugs (Tim McDonnell, 4/08/20, Quartz)

The world is not likely to see a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 until next year, and there's still no drug engineered to fight the virus. Studies of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which has been touted by President Trump, have not conclusively shown an effect against Covid-19. Plasma transfusions, which deliver antibodies from blood donated by recovered Covid-19 patients, are undergoing trials in a few hospitals, but remain in short supply.

In the meantime, a growing number of pharmaceutical companies are scrambling to roll out what will likely be the first generation of drugs specific to Covid-19.

Like plasma transfusions, these drugs are built on antibodies. But they're delivered in a concentration that aims to be more effective, consistent, and able to be mass-produced. Such drugs are commonplace in treating cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, infectious diseases like Ebola, and other conditions, and represent a $50 billion annual market in the US that includes six of the country's top 15 selling drugs. 

Several companies are preparing to start clinical trials with an antibody-based Covid-19 drug, and several project they could be available by the fall.  

"There's definitely a race to do this," said Tom Moran, director of the Center for Therapeutic Antibody Development at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "A lot of people believe that this could be a bridge to a vaccine. And monoclonal antibodies are the number-one grossing drugs on the market today, so it's not far-fetched."

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Charlotte Figi, the girl who spurred a cannabis movement that changed laws across the world, has died from the coronavirus at age 13 (Julia Naftulin, 4/08/20, Business Insider)

Charlotte Figi, the young girl with epilepsy who helped ignite a medical cannabis movement, has died due to coronavirus-related complications, according to a Tuesday Facebook announcement. She was 13 years old and the youngest Colorado resident to die from COVID-19, the Colorado Sun reported.

What are marijuana's effects on lung health? (NIH)

Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke is an irritant to the throat and lungs and can cause a heavy cough during use. It also contains levels of volatile chemicals and tar that are similar to tobacco smoke, raising concerns about risk for cancer and lung disease.

Marijuana smoking is associated with large airway inflammation, increased airway resistance, and lung hyperinflation, and those who smoke marijuana regularly report more symptoms of chronic bronchitis than those who do not smoke. One study found that people who frequently smoke marijuana had more outpatient medical visits for respiratory problems than those who do not smoke. Some case studies have suggested that, because of THC's immune-suppressing effects, smoking marijuana might increase susceptibility to lung infections, such as pneumonia, in people with immune deficiencies; however, a large AIDS cohort study did not confirm such an association. Smoking marijuana may also reduce the respiratory system's immune response, increasing the likelihood of the person acquiring respiratory infections, including pneumonia.

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Hydroxychloroquine Has Some Very Serious Side Effects (Stephen Silver, 4/08/20, National Interest)

"There are side effects to hydroxychloroquine. It causes psychiatric symptoms, cardiac problems & a host of other bad side effects," Dr. Megan L. Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University, told the New York Times this week. "People certainly have something to lose by taking it indiscriminately" Ranney added that while the drug could be effective, added that she had never seen an elected official talk up a specific drug in the way Trump has with Hydroxychloroquine.

Dr. Michael Ackerman, director of the  Mayo Clinic's Windland Smith Rice Genetic Heart Rhythm Clinic, issued guidance at the end of March stating that several antimalarial drugs being used in coronavirus treatment, including hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine and HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, "all carry a known or possible risk of drug-induced ventricular arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death."

Ackerman told NBC News that it's irresponsible for politicians and even doctors and disease specialists to go on television and talk up the drug without even mentioning the side effects, which are rare, but severe.

A hospital in Nice, France, on Wednesday announced that it had stopped an experimental treatment for coronavirus using hydroxychloroquine on some patients due to a "major risk" to cardiac health.

Multiple Swedish hospitals, meanwhile, stopped a treatment involving chloroquine due to such side effects as cramps, loss of peripheral vision and heart-related issues.

Meanwhile, a study published earlier this week by BioRxiv showed that in mice, there was a severe risk of death when chloroquine (CQ) or hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was taken in combination with the anti-diabetic drug metformin.

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A PROMISING COVID-19 TREATMENT GETS FAST-TRACKED (George Spencer, 4/08/20, Johns Hopkins Hub)

Under the leadership of immunologist Arturo Casadevall, Johns Hopkins has spearheaded the use of a convalescent serum therapy, a potential COVID-19 treatment--with an old pedigree. On March 24, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began allowing researchers to request emergency authorization for its use. Within three days hospitals in Houston and New York City started treatments, and now under a FDA "expanded access program" soon "a very large number" of U.S. hospitals will follow suit, according to Tobian.

On Friday, the FDA approved a clinical trial specifically for Johns Hopkins that will allow its researchers to further test the therapy as a means of preventing otherwise healthy people, notably front-line medical staff, from getting sick. FDA approval is pending for a second Hopkins clinical trial on patients who are slightly or moderately ill to see if the serum will keep them out of ICUs and help bring them back to health.

In recent weeks, Casadevall has led a team of physicians and scientists from around the United States to establish a network of at least 40 hospitals and blood banks in 20 states that can begin collecting, isolating, and processing blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors. People who recover from an infection develop antibodies that circulate in the blood and can neutralize the pathogen. Researchers hope to use the technique to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients and boost the immune systems of health care providers and first responders. Currently there are no proven drug therapies or effective vaccines for treating the novel coronavirus.

"At the end of January, I knew this disease was going to get out of China, and I knew there was a huge history of the use of plasma and serum in the 20th century," says Casadevall, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of molecular microbiology and immunology and infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and School of Medicine. "This [medical effort] has become a juggernaut... We're racing to deploy this."

Thousands of survivors might soon line up to donate their antibody-rich plasma, according to physicians. But that's only if early promising studies on the therapy done in China are confirmed by U.S. trials that show "dramatic effects and improvements" in patients, according to Tobian. He is optimistic the therapy will do just that. "I absolutely think this could be the best treatment we have for the next few months."

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The End of Bernie Sanders (DAN MCLAUGHLIN, April 8, 2020, National Review0

Predictions from his high tide in February that Sanders would be the Reagan of the Democrats now look embarrassingly premature. He did not transform his party; it came together with startling speed and cohesiveness to reject him in favor of a man who has been in D.C. for half a century and lives and breathes the old Senate norms of bipartisan centrism and corporate fundraising. Joe Biden is a liberal, not a centrist, in his politics, and he pandered to his party's left wing in a variety of ways during the primaries, but he is anything but a Sanders-style revolutionary. If anything, Biden's primary-season panders were aimed more at the "woke" social-issue left than at Bernie's kind of class warfare.

...it's that the Democratic Party isn't Progressive. And that's not going to change if Nationalism keeps its hold on the GOP, forcing minorities, women and suburbanites to vote Democrat.

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Swedish hospitals abandon trial of promising malaria drug chloroquine (CONNOR BOYD, 8 April 2020, Daily Mail)

Hospitals in Sweden have stopped using the malaria drug chloroquine on coronavirus patients after reports it was causing blinding headaches and vision loss.

Doctors in the Vastra Gotaland region, 200miles west of Stockholm, are no longer administering the medication, touted as a 'miracle drug' by Donald Trump. 

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Hydroxychloroquine: About That 6,000-Doctor Survey... (Stephen Silver, 4/08/20, National Interest)

The Sermo survey, known as Sermo's COVID-19 Real-Time Barometer Study, compiled answers from 6,227 physicians from 30 countries. It's conclusions include that among doctors who have treated coronavirus patients, 33 percent have prescribed Hydroxychloroquine, 41 percent Azithromycin, and 56 percent analgesics. And in the conclusion that has drawn the most media attention, Hydroxychloroquine was rated the "most effective therapy" from a list of 15 options, with 37 percent of COVID-19 treaters choosing it.

The other options listed include anti-HIV drugs, cough medications, "compassionate use of experimental drugs," Vitamin D, zinc tablets and "nothing." Among U.S. doctors, only 23 percent listed "Hydroxychloroquine or Chloroquine" -- and the top answer, with 51 percent, was "nothing."

 So in other words, doctors have tried many different treatments for this new and confounding virus, which is most likely still in its early stages. According to these numbers, just over a third of those doctors worldwide -- and less than a quarter in the U.S. - consider Hydroxychloroquine the best of the available options. American doctors even prefer "nothing" to using it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Did Dogs Choose Us?: Helen Pilcher on the Interspecies Bond That Changed History (Helen Pilcher, April 8, 2020, Lit Hub)

We certainly know that Palaeolithic people wore specialized cold-weather clothing, including a variety of fitted garments made from well-tanned pliable hides. A 24,000-year-old ivory figurine from southern Siberia, for example, depicts what seems to be an individual wearing a carefully tailored all-in-one fur suit. Evidence for a wolf-fur onesie? It's a possibility. Similarly ancient wolf bones have been found with distinctive cut marks, indicating that the animals were probably skinned for their fur.They may also have held symbolic significance. One skull, studied by Mietje, is interesting because it has a bit of mammoth bone wedged between its front teeth. The fragment must have been inserted into the animal's mouth after it died, suggesting human intervention, while other skulls sport conker-sized holes where their brains were removed. There were easier meals to be had than brain, so Mietje thinks these unusual relics are evidence that dogs held special significance. "I'm in favor of the active involvement of the Palaeolithic people," she says. "I think they actively started to collect these animals and then kept them, not just for their fur, but for rituals too."

It is, perhaps, easiest to imagine that humans chose the wolf, and that the wolf had no option but to go along with our plans. As a species, we like to think we are superior and separate from the animal kingdom, when really we're just animals too. Today, if we want a dog, we can just go out and get one, but it would be naive to presume that our ancestors followed the same thought process.

So an alternative theory proposes, not that humans chose wolves, but that wolves chose humans. Leftovers discarded by humans lured the wolves out of the shadows. The animals that were least afraid of us were the ones most likely to enter our campsites. As a result, they were better fed, healthier, and more likely to reproduce than warier pack members. The genes underpinning their more relaxed nature were passed between generations, and over time, the animals became progressively tamer. In this "self-domestication" scenario, humans were stooges. We didn't invite wolves in, but by being messy, we created an ecological niche they were only too happy to fill.

It's a possibility. Modern wolves are adaptable animals. In Canada, there are two types of wolf: "nomadic" wolves that follow the caribou around and "sedentary" wolves that tend to stay in one place. From time to time, their paths cross, but they don't really get on. They're like the Starks and the Lannisters, and will fight each other to protect what they consider to be their caribou. So maybe, 35,000 years ago there were one or more groups of migratory wolves that considered us to be their property. Instead of tracking caribou or reindeer, they followed us around, not because they wanted to eat us but because they benefited from the shared association.

So which was it? Did humans choose wolves or did wolves choose humans? We'll probably never know but the upshot was the same.After contact was made, humans and wolves began to interact and over time, the relationship strengthened. Primitive dogs probably accompanied humans on their hunts and so tipped the odds in favor of a kill--a reciprocal arrangement that benefited both parties. At some point, when we started to physically keep them with us, we would have started engineering which animals got to reproduce. In the early days, it would have been the calmer animals that would have tolerated living in captivity, but in later times we would have selected for other characteristics, like being a good sentry or scaring the neighbors. It was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship, and a defining moment in the story of evolution. Of course, dogs were only the beginning.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Rise of Neo-Feudalism (ROBERT KUTTNER, KATHERINE V. STONE APRIL 8, 2020, American Prospect)

The law became more procedurally transparent as well as more substantively egalitarian. The Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 (APA) created an orderly and transparent process for regulatory agencies to make rules and to ensure greater citizen participation in the rule-making process. The APA also imposed restrictions on ex parte contracts between the regulated entities and the regulators, and prohibited conflicts of interest in many other respects. Thus, the gains for democracy were both procedural and substantive.

The high watermark of the democratized legal and policy regime was the 1960s and 1970s, when numerous consumer and environmental laws were enacted, unions represented almost one worker in three, and courts defended citizen rights.

Beginning in the 1980s, power shifted again. Entire domains were handed back to private entities that were empowered to exercise quasi-state functions and create their own proprietary systems of law.

These developments have been described in mainstream policy discourse as "deregulation" and "privatization," but those terms are misleading. 

The Left is the Right.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


In 2017, a journalist predicted that Trump's Hurricane Katrina would be 'a deadly pandemic.' He tells us why he made that prediction. (Charles Davis, Apr. 8th, 2020, Business Insider)

He wasn't alone, either, as he readily admits: the outgoing administration of former President Barack Obama sought to impress upon its successor the need to prepare for a pandemic.

What is especially interesting about Silberman's unfortunate prescience is that it was his expertise in autism that informed his assessment.

In 2014, the future US president promoted the long-discredited theory that vaccines cause autism. That, Silberman said, led him to question his understanding of science altogether -- and his ability to manage a public health crisis.

"Long before I ever heard the word, 'coronavirus,' I knew that Trump was simply incapable of thinking and working at that level," Silberman said.

He likens Trump's promotion of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a no-lose remedy for the coronavirus to snake oil salesman offering crank "cures" for the neurologically divergent. There is no hard evidence that this drug -- used for malaria, lupus, and arthritis -- works as a COVID-19 treatment, and it can have both short-term side effects in addition to and serious long-term side effects. Misuse of the drug can be lethal.

"He is precisely the wrong man at the wrong time in history," Silberman argued. "And now many Americans will pay the price with their lives."

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Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, told Reuters it was "very unusual" for the CDC to publish advice based on anecdotes.

Over the weekend, Reuters cited two unidentified sources to report that the CDC issued guidance for doctors on prescribing chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine after the president pressured federal health officials to make the drugs available for COVID-19 patients. The document reportedly called "Information for Clinicians on Treatment Options for COVID-19 Patients" presented hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as potential treatments.

The CDC told Reuters at the time that it provided the guidance after a request by the White House coronavirus task force, who asked the agency to look at existing literature and "post the information as quickly as possible."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

THE WORLD MAGGIE MADE (profanity alert):

It's Still Mrs. Thatcher's Britain (James Wood, Dec. 2nd, 2019, The New Yorker)

Her deep understanding of middle- and working-class social aspiration, revolutionary in the placidly entitled world of Conservative Party politics, is what kept her in power for so long, and is also her greatest legacy. She figured out that the labor movement, conservatism's traditional radical foe, had itself become conservative: it wanted too many things to stay the same. Arthur Scargill, the militant leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, said that his members' strike was taken in defense of the right of their sons and grandsons to go down the mine. Almost two decades earlier, Mrs. Thatcher, then a young M.P., had said that if she were "given a choice" she would not send her son down a pit. It was perilous and unhealthy: in 1967, three miners were killed a week. The important word there is "choice," something exercised, in 1993, by the same Arthur Scargill, when he tried to buy a London council flat (the equivalent of public housing), under a right-to-buy policy that Mrs. Thatcher pioneered in the early nineteen-eighties. [...]

The scientist surrounded herself with intelligent men (Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe, Keith Joseph, Douglas Hurd), and approached Britain's manifold woes at the start of the nineteen-eighties with an unsentimental willingness to push experiment to the edge of cruelty. Britain was teetering: the figures still astonish. Interest rates in 1979 reached seventeen per cent and inflation a staggering eighteen per cent. Nationalized industries were sluggish and fabulously costly to the taxpayer. British Leyland, the automotive conglomerate that included Jaguar, Triumph, and Austin Rover, was producing comically dreadful cars and had consumed about two hundred million pounds a year in government subsidies. Many of these companies approached customer satisfaction like the proprietor in the Monty Python cheese-shop sketch: "Normally, sir, yes, but today the van broke down." Moore, in one of his footnotes, remembers trying to get a phone installed in 1981, and being told by British Telecom that it would take six months, owing to a "shortage of numbers." As Howe, Thatcher's first Chancellor of the Exchequer, noted in his budget speech of June, 1979, Britain's share of world trade in 1954 had been equal to that of France and Germany combined. Now the French and German share was three times bigger than Britain's.

Controlling expenditure and the money supply was part hypothesis (Thatcher's fabled monetarism, which she got from Milton Friedman) and part common sense: uncontrolled inflation, like religion, poisons everything. A system that was increasing miners' pay by nearly ten per cent a year was clearly unsustainable. Since many of the major industries (including railways, coal, telecommunications, and a good chunk of automobile production) were nationalized, the government was effectively acting as a giant employer. But since many weren't profitable, it was also acting as a giant bank. The country had apparently wandered into the worst of two worlds: nationalization of the means of production (largely achieved by Clement Attlee's postwar Labour government) could offer no magical respite from the market--which had decided, for instance, that it didn't want badly made British cars--and so it simply insured that capitalism was being done poorly. As a remedy, Thatcher and her ministers embarked on a campaign of privatization, releasing British Gas, British Airways, British Telecom, BP, and British Leyland from government control.

Government subvention had fended off the ravages of capitalism in one important way: it had provided steady employment. Now the country's unemployment rate rose; it hit a high of thirteen per cent in 1984, and was still seven per cent in 1990, the year of Thatcher's ouster. Thatcher's calculation was that widespread unemployment was an unavoidable fact of economic reform, that certain jobs would have to be the mulch that went into the revival of the general economic habitat. Apart from the profound human misery that resulted, there was an enduring political cost--much of Scotland, Wales, and the North of England remains lost to Conservatives. This was the Thatcher who maintained that there was "no such thing as society," only individuals, "and people must look to themselves first," a statement that Moore attempts, with little luck, to wrestle from its infamy. That unequal society tended toward ugly extremes, with great new impoverishment and great new enrichment. Still, the new order created undeniable economic expansion (an average G.D.P. growth rate of 3.2 per cent in the nineteen-eighties), and Thatcher was reëlected in 1983 and 1987, the first Prime Minister after universal suffrage, Moore notes, to win three elections.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


As work from home becomes the norm, companies get more comfortable hiring fully remote employees (ANNE FISHER, April 7, 2020, Fortune)

Working from home for the past few weeks? You might have a serious case of cabin fever by now. Or then again, you may have found you prefer it to your former routine. If you'd rather not go back to the office even after the pandemic is finally over, this might be the moment to start looking for a new job that allows--or requires--you to stay home.

Remote job openings were proliferating well before this crisis, rising 270% since 2017, according to new research by job search engine Adzuna that analyzed 4.5 million U.S. postings. Now, spurred on by COVID-19, it seems even more employers want the chance to recruit from a vast talent pool unrestricted by geographic distance.

"Our data shows a continued increase in work-from-home vacancies," notes Adzuna cofounder Andrew Hunter. Companies that never recruited many (or any) virtual employees before are "embarking on a giant work-from-home experiment," he adds. "The standard office-based job is increasingly a thing of the past."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is humanity having an admirable moral moment? A philosopher's pandemic insights
Moshe Halbertal is heartened by leaders placing the well-being of their elderly above market solutions. But it's all mixed in, 'as usual with humans, with very dark aspects'
(DAVID HOROVITZ , 4/08/20, Times of Israel)

One other thing: There is something admirable about the global reaction [to the crisis]. Really admirable. And that's the prioritizing of life over the economy. Whether the response is right or wrong, even in terms of saving lives, is a different question. We don't know yet. But we do know the numbers, we know the patterns. And resisting leaving the weak and deserting the elderly, the vulnerable, is really an amazing moral moment.

It's all mixed in, as usual with humans, with very dark aspects. But it is really remarkable. In Jewish tradition, but not only Jewish tradition, what is the test of respecting human dignity? It is seeing humans not merely as instruments. That is why the relationship to the elderly is always an interesting, deep test of the respect for human dignity, because they don't have a function in many ways. It's as if they are superfluous.

And here the whole world stops in order to protect what seems to be superfluous, out of a deep, powerful moral standard. It's confronting the evil inclination to say evolution is almost on our side.

That's one of the most remarkable moments of human moral transcendence that is engulfing humanity as a whole now. It's really remarkable when you think about it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


John Prine: this extraordinarily gifted songwriter was the envy of all (Alexis Petridis, 7 Apr 2020, The Guardian)

Almost uniquely among the glut of early 70s singer-songwriters, Prine - who has died aged 73 - seemed untouched by the countercultural events of the preceding years: he seemed to tap into an earlier musical tradition, "an authentic, rather catchy extension of Nashville and Appalachia", as critic Robert Christgau noted of Prine's eponymous 1971 debut album. He was not given to writing starry-eyed paeans to the denizens of the Woodstock festival. His albums never sounded as if they had emerged from the stoned, eucalyptus-scented idyll of Laurel Canyon. There was something tough and austere about them, perhaps because of Prine's voice - a rough, artless, nasal rasp that Dylan suggested sounded as if Prine had swallowed a jew's harp. It got more gravelly as the years progressed and he recovered first from neck, then from lung cancer.

Prine wasn't a musical innovator. He occasionally threw his audience a curveball, not least when he released, in 1979, Pink Cadillac, a rockabilly-infused album filled with slurred vocals and raw-sounding performances - an amplifier fritzing out was audible throughout the track Saigon. But for the most part, his music stayed within a territory bound on one side by country and folk and on the other by old-fashioned rhythm and blues.

Prine was an extraordinarily gifted songwriter. Gruff, funny, empathetic, imaginative, he was a born storyteller. When playing live, his peers might occasionally "rap" with the audience, but Prine seemed as much in his element spinning lengthy yarns between songs as singing them. Devotees of his debut album - or the acclaimed Bruised Orange in 1978, or his 1991 "comeback" album The Missing Years - might disagree, but there is a compelling argument that the best way into his work is his 1988 double album John Prine Live. Recorded when Prine had fallen out of fashion and was back playing clubs, it strips everything back to guitar and vocals. Occasionally, the intros last twice as long as the songs.

He could write apparently straightforward country hits that, on closer inspection, were never quite as straightforward as they seemed. A US Top 10 success in 1975 for David Allan Coe that Prine co-wrote with Steve Goodman, You Never Even Called Me By My Name, was both a livid assault on the country music industry and a parody of the genre's cliches: "I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison and I went to pick her up in the rain / But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck, she got runned over by a damned ol' train". Prine feared it would so offend the Nashville establishment that he asked for his name to be removed from the credits.

April 7, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Why Is Trump Obsessed with Hydroxychloroquine? (TIM MILLER,  APRIL 7, 2020, The Bulwark)

You know the old saying: When you're a con artist who once ran a multi-level-marketing scheme that sold "vitamins," everything looks like a miracle drug.

Speaking of which, the president of the United States has some things to tell you about the medicine hydroxychloroquine, which is used to treat malaria and lupus... [...]

There are many questions surrounding the White House's obsession with hydroxychloroquine. Whether someone has a financial incentive for pushing it. (It's certainly possible, since he has at least some stake.) The extent to which it actually works (Fingers crossed!) Which TV doctor got the president so spun up on it? (Dr. Oz?)

Some of these are unanswerable. The Trump family's finances are still impossibly opaque. I have no relevant expertise in immunosuppressive pharmaceuticals. And performing forensic accounting on Trump's television habits would require access to the meta-data inside his super-DVR remote.

But I do, regrettably, know far too much about the career of Donald Trump. And his weeks long hydroxychloroquine song and dance is simply a redux of the pitch job that has served him so well for four decades: Sell the newest Trump-branded miracle scheme as hard as possible until it becomes completely untenable, the feds show up, or the next one bubbles up from the recesses of his frontal lobe.

You may or may not know about "Ideal Health."

Ideal Health was a multi-level-marketing company--that's the polite term for "pyramid scheme"--founded in the 1990s that sold personalized vitamin supplements based on the results of a urine test.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Trump's new press secretary has a history of defending Islamophobia (Ali Harb,  7 April 2020, Middle East Eye)

At a 2014 Fox Business panel, Kayleigh McEnany was all smiles. Sitting next to her was Gavin McInnes, the co-founder of the white nationalist group Proud Boys. Her smiles persisted even as he said that Muslims are genetically inferior because of "inbreeding". [...]

Siding with a self-avowed white supremacist has not been the only instance that McEnany has made anti-Muslim pronouncements.

To be fair, she's not just a racist and an Islamophobe; she's also a birther and a coronavirus-truther.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Top biologist to Fox News host Dana Perino: Unproven drug treatment hyped by Trump is a "quack cure" (MATTHEW ROZSA, APRIL 7, 2020, Salon)

Dr. William Haseltine, a biologist renowned for his work in confronting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, fighting anthrax and advancing our knowledge of the human genome, told Fox News on Monday that an unproven drug treatment for the new coronavirus hyped by President Donald Trump was a "quack cure."

"It's sad to me that people are promoting that drug. We know already from studies at best it will have a very mild effect -- at very best," Haseltine told Fox News host Dana Perino about hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that Trump has repeatedly promoted against the advice given by Dr. Anthony Fauci. 

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The State of Chinese Commodities Shows Recovery Taking Hold (Dan Murtaugh, Alfred Cang, and Krystal Chia, April 7, 2020, Bloomberg)

From oil to copper to coal, China's gigantic commodities industry is signaling that the first economy to be flattened by the coronavirus is getting closer to a return to normality.

Bloomberg Economics estimates that most of China was 90%-95% back to work at the end of last week, noting pick-ups in the steel market, construction activity and crude processing. Those oil refineries, as well as coal-fired power plants, are nearing last year's operating rates, while metals stockpiles have shrunk from record or near-record levels. It's a three-month cycle of collapse and recovery marked by perhaps the most heartening milestone for those nations still fending off the worst of the virus: China has now reported zero new Covid-19 deaths for the first time since January.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


My 3-D printing company is making thousands of coronavirus test swabs a day -- here's how we did it (Max Lobovsky, 4/07/20, Market Watch)

When we started Formlabs nine years ago, I couldn't have predicted that we'd go from manufacturing 3-D printers and developing resins to producing medical equipment to fight a pandemic. But as we heard about shortages of essential medical devices and products needed to provide lifesaving care in the wake of the novel coronavirus, I realized Formlabs could help.

Hospitals and clinicians were already using Formlabs 3-D printers and resins to create 3-D printed parts such as physical models of patients' anatomies from CT/MRI data and surgical guides for oral surgery. As the need for more medical equipment became clear, we began working with our current medical partners as well as many others across the country to support their needs. Our primary response was focused on test swabs because the demand for the COVID-19 test kit components had far outpaced the supply of the two main factories -- one in hard-hit northern Italy and one in Maine -- that typically produce the swabs.

The development of 3-D printed swabs to test for the coronavirus -- which are now approved to use on patients -- offers a guide on how to produce these supplies quickly, efficiently and with clinical validation.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Thomas Modly Has Failed the Navy He's Supposed to Lead (David Axe, 4/06/20, National Interest)

The Guam speech was the latest in a series of profound missteps by Modly, who has been acting secretary since November 2019, when Trump fired previous Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.

Spencer had resisted Trump's pardoning of a Navy SEAL who was accused of murdering an Islamic State captive and shooting civilians, and who was found guilty of mistreating the corpse of an enemy combatant.

The Trump administration viewed Modly as an administrator who would not oppose Trump's pardons and policies, including the president's diversion of billions of dollars in military funds to the administration's wall on the southern border.

But Modly quickly proved to be a controversial department head even before he alienated the crew of an aircraft carrier.

In particular, Modly has seemed out of touch as the Navy struggles to afford the scores of new ships it needs in the coming years in order to grow the fleet from today's 295 vessels to as many as 355.

Navy admirals have all but admitted that, with annual shipbuilding appropriations recently averaging around $20 billion, the fleet can't afford to grow to 355 front-line ships.

But Modly blithely insisted it should try growing to 435 ships, instead. That bigger fleet would include a staggering 390 manned vessels plus 45 large robotic ships.

Modly has not explained how the Navy would pay for the ships.

Obsequious to an abusive commander-in-chief, apparently ignorant of the basic economics of shipbuilding and unsympathetic to deployed sailors, Modly in just a few months' time has proved to be among the worst Navy secretaries in memory.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump holds "financial interest" in pharmaceutical company that produces hydroxychloroquine: NYT (MATTHEW CHAPMAN, APRIL 7, 2020, Raw Story)

The president himself, according to Peter Baker, Katie Rogers, David Enrich, and Maggie Haberman has a financial interest in Sanofi, the French pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug under the brand Plaquenil.

"Some associates of Mr. Trump's have financial interests in the issue. Sanofi's largest shareholders include Fisher Asset Management, the mutual fund company run by Ken Fisher, a major donor to Republicans, including Mr. Trump," said the report. "Another investor in both Sanofi and Mylan, another pharmaceutical firm, is Invesco, the fund previously run by Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary. As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi."

April 6, 2020

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Acting Navy Secretary Under Fire For Speech Calling Fired Captain 'Stupid' (KATIE BO WILLIAMS, 4/06/20, Defense One)

"If [Crozier] didn't think that this information wasn't going to get out to the public, in this day and information age that we live in then he was either A, too naive or too stupid to be a commanding officer of a ship like this," Modly told the thousands of sailors still on board the COVID-stricken aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, according to audio first obtained by The San Francisco Chronicle and an unofficial partial transcript of the speech first obtained by CNN.

"The alternative is that he did this on purpose," said Modly, who spoke Monday over the ship's 1MC, or public-address system. 

Crozier was relieved of duty on Thursday after sending a March 30 letter to dozens of Pentagon leaders asking for urgent help in finding accommodations on Guam for his crew. The letter was leaked by an anonymous source to the San Francisco Chronicle. Modly said on Thursday that when Crozier sent the letter, the Navy was already helping to evacuate the carrier and that his chief of staff had personally been talking with the captain about what to do next.

Throughout the recording, sailors can be heard in the background pushing back on Modly's remarks defending his decision to dismiss their former CO. A sailor can be heard hollering "What the [****]?" after Modly accused Crozier of being "stupid." When Modly asserted that Crozier's letter was demoralizing to some sailors, someone shouts: "No, we weren't!" At another moment, a sailor can be heard yelling, "He was trying to help us!" 

In 15 minutes of remarks over the ship's PA system, Modly berated Crozier for "a betrayal of trust," defended himself against criticism from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, attacked the media as "having an agenda," and complained about the "hate and pure evil" he has faced since firing Crozier. "There was very little upside in this decision for me," he said.

Modly, a political appointee who has served in an acting capacity since the dismissal of former Secretary Richard Spencer, also echoed a falsehood pushed recently by President Trump. "No one expected this pandemic," he said, despite years of warnings from the U.S. intelligence community, various administration officials, and public-health leaders.

You can never lick enough spittle.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Why We Miss Baseball (ALEXANDRA DESANCTIS, April 6, 2020, National Review)

It is precisely now that the timelessness of a baseball game -- the only game without a clock -- would be a balm and a cure. What on a normal Friday night in June might be background noise would in this period of waiting become a place of absorption where we could focus intently on something other than the terror in the world.

Baseball is an escape, in a sense, but different in every way from the normal things we turn to when we want to numb ourselves. The sportswriter Thomas Boswell makes the case:

In contrast to the unwieldy world which we hold in common, baseball offers a kingdom built to scale. Its problems and questions are exactly our size. Here we may come when we feel a need for a rooted point of reference. In much the same way, we take a long hike or look for hard work when we suspect that what's bothering us is either too foolish or too serious to permit a solution. Baseball isn't necessarily an escape from reality, though it can be; it's merely one of our many refuges within the real where we try to create a sense of order on our own terms.

Reading this essay the other evening, as I prepared for an Opening Day that would pass without a game, it seemed to encapsulate why I, and surely many others, have taken this loss so hard.

Former MLB commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote in his essay "The Green Fields of the Mind," "You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."

Giamatti meant the darkening evenings of late autumn, bleeding into winter. He might as well be talking about today. Though twilight comes later and later, spring doesn't feel quite itself without baseball.

In a line particularly poignant when read today, Boswell writes, "Baseball is always there when we want it -- seven days a week, seven months a year." Surely he never expected that Opening Day someday wouldn't come.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


Biden leads president in Florida as coronavirus turns voters away from Trump (Emily Larsen, April 06, 2020, Washington Examiner)

A University of North Florida poll asked registered Florida voters whether they would vote for Trump or the former vice president in November should Biden be the nominee. Biden earned 46% support, while the president had 40%.

The effort required for the GOP to just defend Texas means this is going to get real ugly. Deservedly.

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM


President Outlines Pandemic Influenza Preparations and Response (William Natcher Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland)

Most Americans are familiar with the influenza or the "flu" as a respiratory illness that makes hundreds of thousands of people sick every year. This fall as the flu season approaches, millions of our fellow citizens are once again visiting their doctors for their annual flu shot. I had mine. For most, it's just simply a precautionary measure to avoid the fever or a sore throat or muscle aches that come with the flu. Seasonal flu is extremely dangerous for some -- people whose immune systems have been weakened by age or illness. But it is not usually life-threatening for most healthy people.

Pandemic flu is another matter. Pandemic flu occurs when a new strain of influenza emerges that can be transmitted easily from person to person -- and for which there is little or no natural immunity. Unlike seasonal flu, most people have not built up resistance to it. And unlike seasonal flu, it can kill those who are young and the healthy as well as those who are frail and sick.

At this moment, there is no pandemic influenza in the United States or the world. But if history is our guide, there is reason to be concerned. In the last century, our country and the world have been hit by three influenza pandemics -- and viruses from birds contributed to all of them. The first, which struck in 1918, killed over half-a-million Americans and more than 20 million people across the globe. One-third of the U.S. population was infected, and life expectancy in our country was reduced by 13 years. The 1918 pandemic was followed by pandemics in 1957 and 1968 which killed tens of thousands of Americans, and millions across the world.

Three years ago, the world had a preview of the disruption an influenza pandemic can cause, when a previously unknown virus called SARS appeared in rural China. When an infected doctor carried the virus out of China, it spread to Vietnam and Singapore and Canada within a month. Before long, the SARS virus had spread to nearly 30 countries on six continents. It infected more than 8,000 people and killed nearly 800. One elderly woman brought the virus from Hong Kong to Toronto, where it quickly spread to her son and then to others. Eventually, four others arrived with the virus and hundreds of Canadians fell ill with SARS, and dozens died.

By one estimate, the SARS outbreak cost the Asian-Pacific region about $40 billion. The airline industry was hit particularly hard, with air travel to Asia dropping 45 percent in the year after the outbreak. All this was caused by a limited outbreak of a virus that infected thousands and lasted about six months. A global influenza pandemic that infects millions and lasts from one to three years could be far worse.

Scientists and doctors cannot tell us where or when the next pandemic will strike, or how severe it will be, but most agree: at some point, we are likely to face another pandemic. And the scientific community is increasingly concerned by a new influenza virus known as H5N1 -- or avian flu -- that is now spreading through bird populations across Asia, and has recently reached Europe.

This new strain of influenza has infected domesticated birds like ducks and chickens, as well as long-range migratory birds. In 1997, the first recorded outbreak among people took place in Hong Kong, when 18 people became infected and six died from the disease. Public health officials in the region took aggressive action and successfully contained the spread of the virus. Avian flu struck again in late 2003, and has infected over 120 people in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia, and killed more than 60 -- that's a fatality rate of about 50 percent.

At this point, we do not have evidence that a pandemic is imminent. Most of the people in Southeast Asia who got sick were handling infected birds. And while the avian flu virus has spread from Asia to Europe, there are no reports of infected birds, animals, or people in the United States. Even if the virus does eventually appear on our shores in birds, that does not mean people in our country will be infected. Avian flu is still primarily an animal disease. And as of now, unless people come into direct, sustained contact with infected birds, it is unlikely they will come down with avian flu.

While avian flu has not yet acquired the ability to spread easily from human to human, there is still cause for vigilance. The virus has developed some characteristics needed to cause a pandemic: It has demonstrated the ability to infect human beings, and it has produced a fatal illness in humans. If the virus were to develop the capacity for sustained human-to-human transmission, it could spread quickly across the globe.

Our country has been given fair warning of this danger to our homeland -- and time to prepare. It's my responsibility as President to take measures now to protect the American people from the possibility that human-to-human transmission may occur. So several months ago, I directed all relevant departments and agencies in the federal government to take steps to address the threat of avian and pandemic flu. Since that time, my administration has developed a comprehensive national strategy, with concrete measures we can take to prepare for an influenza pandemic.

Today, I am announcing key elements of that strategy. Our strategy is designed to meet three critical goals: First, we must detect outbreaks that occur anywhere in the world; second, we must protect the American people by stockpiling vaccines and antiviral drugs, and improve our ability to rapidly produce new vaccines against a pandemic strain; and, third, we must be ready to respond at the federal, state and local levels in the event that a pandemic reaches our shores.

To meet these three goals, our strategy will require the combined efforts of government officials in public health, medical, veterinary and law enforcement communities and the private sector. It will require the active participation of the American people. And it will require the immediate attention of the United States Congress so we can have the resources in place to begin implementing this strategy right away.

The first part of our strategy is to detect outbreaks before they spread across the world. In the fight against avian and pandemic flu, early detection is our first line of defense. A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire: if caught early, it might be extinguished with limited damage; if allowed to smolder undetected, it can grow to an inferno that spreads quickly beyond our ability to control it. So we're taking immediate steps to ensure early warning of an avian or pandemic flu outbreak among animals or humans anywhere in the world.

In September at the United Nations, I announced a new International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza -- a global network of surveillance and preparedness that will help us to detect and respond quickly to any outbreaks of disease. The partnership requires participating countries that face an outbreak to immediately share information and provide samples to the World Health Organization. By requiring transparency, we can respond more rapidly to dangerous outbreaks.

Since we announced this global initiative, the response from across the world has been very positive. Already, 88 countries and nine international organizations have joined the effort. Senior officials from participating governments recently convened the partnership's first meeting here in Washington.

Together, we're working to control and monitor avian flu in Asia, and to ensure that all nations have structures in place to recognize and report outbreaks before they spread beyond human control. I've requested $251 million from Congress to help our foreign partners train local medical personnel, expand their surveillance and testing capacity, draw up preparedness plans, and take other vital actions to detect and contain outbreaks.

A flu pandemic would have global consequences, so no nation can afford to ignore this threat, and every nation has responsibilities to detect and stop its spread.

Here in the United States, we're doing our part. To strengthen domestic surveillance, my administration is launching the National Bio-surveillance Initiative. This initiative will help us rapidly detect, quantify and respond to outbreaks of disease in humans and animals, and deliver information quickly to state, and local, and national and international public health officials. By creating systems that provide continuous situational awareness, we're more likely to be able to stop, slow, or limit the spread of the pandemic and save American lives.

The second part of our strategy is to protect the American people by stockpiling vaccines and antiviral drugs, and accelerating development of new vaccine technologies. One of the challenges presented by a pandemic is that scientists need a sample of the new strain before they can produce a vaccine against it. This means it is difficult to produce a pandemic vaccine before the pandemic actually appears -- and so there may not be a vaccine capable of fully immunizing our citizens from the new influenza virus during the first several months of a pandemic.

To help protect our citizens during these early months when a fully effective vaccine would not be available, we're taking a number of immediate steps. Researchers here at the NIH have developed a vaccine based on the current strain of the avian flu virus; the vaccine is already in clinical trials. And I am asking that the Congress fund $1.2 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to purchase enough doses of this vaccine from manufacturers to vaccinate 20 million people.

This vaccine would not be a perfect match to pandemic flu because the pandemic strain would probably differ somewhat from the avian flu virus it grew from. But a vaccine against the current avian flu virus would likely offer some protection against a pandemic strain, and possibly save many lives in the first critical months of an outbreak.

We're also increasing stockpiles of antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza. Antiviral drugs cannot prevent people from contracting the flu. It can -- but they can reduce the severity of the illness when taken within 48 hours of getting sick. So in addition to vaccines, which are the foundation of our pandemic response, I am asking Congress for a billion dollars to stockpile additional antiviral medications, so that we have enough on hand to help treat first responders and those on the front lines, as well as populations most at risk in the first stages of a pandemic.

To protect the greatest possible number of Americans during a pandemic, the cornerstone of our strategy is to develop new technologies that will allow us to produce new vaccines rapidly. If a pandemic strikes our country -- if a pandemic strikes, our country must have a surge capacity in place that will allow us to bring a new vaccine online quickly and manufacture enough to immunize every American against the pandemic strain.

I recently met with leaders of the vaccine industry. They assured me that they will work with the federal government to expand the vaccine industry, so that our country is better prepared for any pandemic. Today, the NIH is working with vaccine makers to develop new cell-culture techniques that will help us bring a pandemic flu vaccine to the American people faster in the event of an outbreak. Right now, most vaccines are still produced with 1950's technology using chicken eggs that are infected with the influenza virus and then used to develop and produce vaccines. In the event of a pandemic, this antiquated process would take many, many months to produce a vaccine, and it would not allow us to produce enough vaccine for every American in time.

Since American lives depend on rapid advances in vaccine production technology, we must fund a crash program to help our best scientists bring the next generation of technology online rapidly. I'm asking Congress for $2.8 billion to accelerate development of cell-culture technology. By bringing cell-culture technology from the research laboratory into the production line, we should be able to produce enough vaccine for every American within six months of the start of a pandemic.

I'm also asking Congress to remove one of the greatest obstacles to domestic vaccine production: the growing burden of litigation. In the past three decades, the number of vaccine manufacturers in America has plummeted, as the industry has been flooded with lawsuits. Today, there is only one manufacturer in the United States that can produce influenza vaccine. That leaves our nation vulnerable in the event of a pandemic. We must increase the number of vaccine manufacturers in our country, and improve our domestic production capacity. So Congress must pass liability protection for the makers of life-saving vaccines.

By making wise investments in technology and breaking down barriers to vaccine production, we're working toward a clear goal: In the event of a pandemic, we must have enough vaccine for every American.

The third part of our strategy is to ensure that we are ready to respond to a pandemic outbreak. A pandemic is unlike other natural disasters; outbreaks can happen simultaneously in hundreds, or even thousands, of locations at the same time. And unlike storms or floods, which strike in an instant and then recede, a pandemic can continue spreading destruction in repeated waves that can last for a year or more.

To respond to a pandemic, we must have emergency plans in place in all 50 states and every local community. We must ensure that all levels of government are ready to act to contain an outbreak. We must be able to deliver vaccines and other treatments to frontline responders and at-risk populations.

So my administration is working with public health officials in the medical community to develop -- to develop effective pandemic emergency plans. We're working at the federal level. We're looking at ways and options to coordinate our response with state and local leaders. I've asked Mike Leavitt -- Secretary Leavitt -- to bring together state and local public health officials from across the nation to discuss their plans for a pandemic, and to help them improve pandemic planning at the community level. I'm asking Congress to provide $583 million for pandemic preparedness, including $100 million to help states complete and exercise their pandemic plans now, before a pandemic strikes.

If an influenza pandemic strikes, every nation, every state in this Union, and every community in these states, must be ready.

To respond to a pandemic, we need medical personnel and adequate supplies of equipment. In a pandemic, everything from syringes to hospital beds, respirators, masks and protective equipment would be in short supply. So the federal government is stockpiling critical supplies in locations across America as part of the Strategic National Stockpile. The Department of Health and Human Services is helping states create rosters of medical personnel who are willing to help alleviate local shortfalls during a pandemic. And every federal department involved in health care is expanding plans to ensure that all federal medical facilities, personnel, and response capabilities are available to support local communities in the event of a pandemic crisis.

To respond to a pandemic, the American people need to have information to protect themselves and others. In a pandemic, an infection carried by one person can be transmitted to many other people, and so every American must take personal responsibility for stopping the spread of the virus. To provide Americans with more information about pandemics, we're launching a new website, pandemicflu.gov. That ought to be easy for people to remember: pandemicflu.gov. The website will keep our citizens informed about the preparations underway, steps they can take now to prepare for a pandemic, and what every American can do to decrease their risk of contracting and spreading the disease in the event of an outbreak.

To respond to a pandemic, members of the international community will continue to work together. An influenza pandemic would be an event with global consequences, and therefore we're continuing to meet to develop a global response. We've called nations together in the past, and will continue to call nations together to work with public health experts to better coordinate our efforts to deal with a disaster.

Now, all the steps I've outlined today require immediate resources. Because a pandemic could strike at any time, we can't waste time in preparing. So to meet all our goals, I'm requesting a total of $7.1 billion in emergency funding from the United States Congress. By making critical investments today, we'll strengthen our ability to safeguard the American people in the awful event of a devastating global pandemic, and at the same time will bring our nation's public health and medical infrastructure more squarely in the 21st century.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


Carbon Tax - an idea whose time has come (Kingsmill Bond, 06 April 2020, Carbon Tracker)

There are three main ways to tackle an externality - tax, subsidy and regulation. At present we have an incoherent mish-mash of all three, the result of haphazard growth of poorly thought-out environmental initiatives over the years. The solution is the same as everywhere else in life: if you want to reduce usage and maximise the utility of what you have, you put a price on it. The impact of a universal price is to encourage people to cut usage, to drive businesses to find new solutions, and to incentivise entrepreneurs like Elon Musk to come up with low carbon innovations. The IMF calculates that a tax of $75 per tonne on carbon dioxide would save 725,000 premature deaths in 2030 in the G20, curtail emissions by 35%, and be the most effective tool to achieve the goals of the Paris agreement.[11]

The immediate and legitimate concern is that taxing carbon would be a regressive tax and that people will be out on the street to resist it. Critics often invoke the Gilets Jaunes. However, the Gilets Jaunes were protesting against increased taxes on road transport, and road transport, as mentioned above, is already highly taxed.

More importantly, carbon taxation is not about increasing the overall tax burden. It can be done in a broadly revenue-neutral way. One solution which makes this especially clear is the Baker Shultz carbon dividends plan, advanced by Ted Halstead in the US.[12] The idea is simple - you pay the money raised in carbon tax back to everyone as carbon dividends. This encourages societal buy-in, because everyone can see the money as it hits their bank accounts; £90 per quarter cash up-front is a powerful motivator. It is also progressive because the poor emit a lot less carbon than the rich. The US Treasury Department calculates that the biggest beneficiaries would be the lowest decile of earners, with an 8% increase in income. And for the richest decile it would reduce income by around 1%.[13] You may not agree with this particular plan, or its distributional impact. But the point is that it is possible to allay the fears of reasonable critics, who, quite understandably, worry that a carbon tax will be just another way to fleece taxpayers.

The carbon tax should be levied on every area of usage. It makes no sense to tax one area and not another when that distorts the system, sends the wrong message, and fails to provide the right economic incentives. By the same token, once a carbon tax is fully rolled out and set at an appropriate level, many other climate change measures - if not all of them - can be abolished. There is no need to penalise the same activity twice. Once you have paid the full social cost of whatever carbon-emitting activity you enjoy, you should be entitled to enjoy it. A carbon tax would, for example, make the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) superfluous. You either tax carbon, or you make emitters buy a permit, but there is no reason to do both. Subsidies for low-carbon activities could also be phased out.

We'd phase out taxation on income and profits instead, but direct checks might get more initial buy-in.
Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Missing the Point of Plymouth Rock (DAVID RANDALL, April 6, 2020, National Review)

The argument for the importance of Plymouth and liberty was always made by intelligent Americans who were perfectly aware of historical nuance in the story of America's origins. But the perfectly tenable argument, well-supported by facts, would be something like this:

The history of liberty depends upon the slow transformation, and expansion, of a number of discourses and institutions of liberty. The Puritan conception of communal liberty of conscience vis-à-vis royal authority, and the remarkably egalitarian self-rule of the Puritan township, constituted the strongest seed of liberty in all the English colonies on the North American mainland -- and, indeed, a discourse and practice of liberty virtually unparalleled in world history until that point. Plymouth Colony influenced the immediately succeeding Massachusetts Bay settlement, not least by providing a model that shifted it, unexpectedly, from affiliation with the Church of England to independent congregationalism -- thus transforming all of New England's Puritan religion into a model of egalitarian liberty, which would be enormously influential for American politics. The Mayflower Compact likewise set the mold for consensual self-government, as ideal and practice, which would also spread throughout New England.

New England, spared the diseases that killed so many 17th century colonists in the Chesapeake colonies, became the most culturally and political influential of the colonial regions, by dint of an ever-expanding population, a mature commercial class, influential divines such as Jonathan Edwards, and finally the constellation of political thinkers and warriors of the Revolutionary Era. This constellation included notables such as John and Abigail Adams, Samuel Adams, James Otis, Ethan Allen, and the émigré Bostonian Benjamin Franklin. Alongside these leaders, the mass of Massachusetts farmers and Boston workingmen, formed in a culture, society, and government they had inherited from Plymouth, constituted the revolutionary vanguard of the American colonies, and swept their more hesitant peers away from compromise with Britain's Parliament and toward the Declaration of Independence. Revolutionary New England in turn provides the hinge that links the narrower Puritan liberty of Plymouth with the universal American liberty of the future. Revolutionary-era Boston was the home of black Revolutionary martyr Crispus Attucks and pioneering and emancipated black poetess Phyllis Wheatley. Every state in New England abolished slavery between 1777 and 1784.

The world didn't land on Plymouth Rock; Plymouth Rock landed on the world.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


SCV: Gov. Tate Reeves Proclaimed 'Confederate Heritage Month' on April 3 (Donna Ladd, April 5, 2020, Jackson Free Press)

#As coronavirus spiked across the state, the Mississippi Sons of Confederate Veterans posted a copy of an April 3 state proclamation naming this month as "Confederate Heritage Month." Gov. Tate Reeves apparently signed the proclamation two days after he did an about-face and issued a statewide shelter-at-home order due to rising COVID-19 infections in Mississippi.

#"God bless the Confederate Soldier. He shall never be forgotten. Deo Vindice!" the Mississippi SCV's April 3 Facebook post read about the proclamation. "Deo Vindice," Latin for "Under God as our Vindicator," appeared on the official seal of the Confederacy and was the Confederacy's motto.

How about making May Bund month?

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


Trump's Polling Bump Was Easy Come, Easy Go (A.B. Stoddard, April 06, 2020, RCP)

Coronavirus, the worst crisis of Donald Trump's presidency, had given him something he had sought all these years -- more approval of his performance than disapproval. Initial approval of his response to the pandemic brought this most historically unpopular president briefly out from the "underwater" space he's occupied to his first ever net-positive approval rating -- and now it is gone.

In all polls, the number of Americans who have grown more concerned about the virus has risen as their approval of Trump's performance has dropped. Most surveys have shown the partisan divide -- with Democrats being more concerned about the virus and taking greater precautions than Republicans -- is closing as the number of infections and deaths explode. Most voters believe the worst is yet to come. 

The peak in the president's approval, from about two weeks ago, resulted from what pollsters call a "rally around the flag" effect most presidents have experienced in times of grave crisis, from war to natural disasters. Yet Trump's was smaller and has dissipated more rapidly in comparison to his predecessors. 

The Navigators daily tracking poll out Saturday showed Trump voters are disappointed in his response, with 40% of them saying he didn't take the threat seriously enough at first, a number that rose 17 percentage points in less than two weeks. 

Only Donald could get such a small and brief bump in a national crisis, largely because he, correctly, sees himself as the leader of a faction, not the Republic..

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Could the Coronavirus End Jair Bolsonaro's Presidency? (ANDRE PAGLIARINI, April 6, 2020, New Republic)

The most glaring evidence that Bolsonaro's discursive strategy has hit a wall is the fact that governors who until recently were vocal supporters have refused to join his crusade against social distancing. The turning point came last month when the president, despite the risk of contagion, encouraged his supporters to take to the streets to strengthen his hand in ongoing negotiations over a tax reform bill, among other issues. Ronaldo Caiado, the conservative governor of Goiás who ran for president in 1989, turned up at one of these rallies. Caiado began his speech by presenting his anti-left credentials to enthusiastic applause from the crowd. He reiterated his support for the president, garnering even more cheers from the faithful. "But before anything else, I'm a doctor," he declared, the crowd cooling as it became clear where Caiado was headed. In the end, boos rained down on him as he shouted for protestors to go home. By the end of the month, Caiado, an influential voice with deep ties to the powerful agricultural lobby, had broken with the president. The governor of São Paulo, João Doria, who rode the Bolsonaro wave to higher office in 2018, has also turned on him. "It's not rational to make [public] health and peoples' lives political, especially those who are poor and vulnerable," Doria said, criticizing Bolsonaro for politicizing the crisis.

In addition to pushing away allies in crucial state capitals, Bolsonaro has achieved the seemingly impossible as major opposition figures, otherwise riven by deep personal and political tensions, join against him. On March 30, these progressive leaders released a joint statement calling on Bolsonaro to resign, declaring that he "cannot continue governing Brazil...We need unity and understanding to face the pandemic, not a president who contradicts Public Health authorities and subsumes everyone's life to his authoritarian political interests."

Whether that statement is a promising sign of unity among Brazil's splintered opposition or evidence of their flailing irrelevance is debatable but beside the point. What should worry Bolsonaro--if the prospect of thousands of citizens felled by an affliction he refuses to take seriously does not--is that his ouster has suddenly and irrefutably entered into the realm of the possible.

A fascist who chooses not to preserve the lives of the people is a failure.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Houthis: Liberation of Yemen's Marib a matter of time (MEMO, April 6, 2020)

Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti is the Deputy Speaker of the Shura Council and member of the AnsarAllah Political Bureau and stated on his Facebook page that "the liberation of Marib has become a matter of time".

Al-Bukhaiti also discussed allegations of the failed attempts of the Saudis in offering financial incentives in order to win over the tribes of Marib. "We salute Marib tribes for rejecting Saudi financial temptations, confirming that their blood is not for sale," he said.

He also advised people from Marib who have been fighting as mercenaries on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition to align themselves with the Houthi-allied Yemeni military, saying: "Those who polluted themselves with these funds, we call on them to correct their position in coordination with Mujahideen [the army and popular committees]."

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


The Last Train Trip Before Everything Changed: Lauren Markham on Solitude, Snow, and Finding Reasons to Write (Lauren Markham, April 6, 2020, LitHub)

It turned out that a train from Denver would take about 34 hours, dropping me off barely a mile from my house. I'd write the whole time; I could sleep when I got home. I told Ben about the train idea and as it happened, he was traveling to Denver for work in February. The plan was that we'd fly together, spend a few days frolicking in the snow, and while he stayed on to work I'd take the train back home.

It all came true. In Colorado it snowed so hard we could barely see the road we drove upon. The earth fell quiet and we tramped through powdery forests, hearing only our own breaths. On the second day the sun came out and the world around us glinted and gleamed. Tuesday morning we kissed goodbye and I headed for the station.

I asked the conductor taking tickets which side offered the better view. "They're both good, you can't go wrong," he said and shooed me on, which disappointed me, as if he wasn't taking my question seriously.

"You wanna be on this side," a longhaired man in his sixties told me as I lugged my bags up to the passenger car, pointing to the south side of the train. "That's the side you want, trust me." I thanked him profusely and found my spot.

It was snowing again, lightly this time. I thought of Pamuk. "As he watched the snow fall outside his window as slowly and silently as the snow in a dream," he wrote in Snow, "the traveler fell into a long-desired, long-awaited reverie: cleansed by memories of innocence and childhood, he succumbed to optimism and dared to believe himself at home in this world." I settled in, took out my notebook, waited for the urge to write and for the train to rumble on.

The longhaired man was traveling with his brother, who had given him this trip as a birthday present, the brothers traveling by rail from Sacramento to Denver and back again. It was something the elder brother had always wanted to do. They were a sweet pair, one tall and trim and another short and stocky, both appearing as though on break from a 30-year tour with the Grateful Dead. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. Remember handshakes?

Our train slid from Denver and up into the foothills of the Rockies, where the snow had laid a fresh cloak upon the world. It was a comfort that no one in my life knew my precise location--most times I myself only had a vague sense based on what was outside my window and the occasional station call. Glenwood Spring, Grand Junction, Green River, Helper. When we stopped it was barely long enough for my fellow passengers to suck down a cigarette while I looked on with longing.

I always like being anonymous and alone within a crowd. When I needed to stretch my legs I'd go to the observation car where I could overhear people chatting about the view outside or their lives at home or what they might have for dinner in the dining car. I heard no mention of the virus decimating Wuhan at that very moment. I didn't even think of it.

Once upon a time train travel was the epitome of luxury, an invention so monumental it dazzled (as is the case with many dazzles of empire, it was also built thanks to unconscionable labor practices and land theft). Now, though, the train's only real luxury is its slowness. On the train I wrote and wrote. Time opened up, the train worked its magic. For many hours we followed the path of a river, and I watched the places where the water rushed untroubled and the places where it had slackened and cooled toward its final posture of freeze. I had the terribly unoriginal but still comforting thought that no matter where I am or what I'm doing, there is this river here, this hushed snowy mountainside, this cloistered train track. At home in the world. The messy threads of my thoughts untangled. The perfect alchemy for writing.

The analog nature of this self-styled residency offered an opportunity to clear the clamor and connect with some essential and oft-neglected aspect of myself, some essential and oft-neglected aspect of the exquisite world outside my window. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Germany marks first ever quarter with more than 50 pct renewable electricity (Rachel Waldholz, 4/01/20, Clean Energy Wire)

Germany produced nearly 52 percent of its domestic electricity consumption with renewable power in the first three months of 2020, marking the first full quarter in which renewables covered more than half the country's power needs, utilities association BDEW and the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) reported. That's up from about 44 percent in the first quarter of 2019. The numbers were driven by record wind power production in February, unusually high solar production in March, and a dip in overall energy use tied to the coronavirus crisis. Because of those unusual circumstances, BDEW warned it's too soon to project whether the numbers might hold going forward. "The performance of renewables is very encouraging. However, we should always bear in mind that this is only a snapshot and includes many one-off events," BDEW head Kerstin Andreae said in a statement. But BDEW also noted that the numbers reflect several underlying policy shifts, including the shutdown of nuclear and coal power plants that were taken offline in late 2019.

That was easy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Where it all began: Wuhan's virus ground-zero 'wet market' hides in plain sight (HECTOR RETAMAL, 4/06/20, Times of Israel)

A price list issued by one merchant at the sprawling emporium, which circulated on China's internet in January, contained a smorgasbord of exotic wildlife including civets, rats, snakes, giant salamanders and even live wolf pups.

Markets such as this are the final stop in what conservationists say is a brutal trade in wild animals that is fueled in large part by Chinese consumption.

It caters to an enduring demand for wild animals as exotic menu items or for use in traditional medicines whose efficacy is not confirmed by science. [...]
After a more than two-month lockdown to contain the virus, in which citizens of Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province were confined to their homes, life is inching back toward normality.

Border controls are loosening, allowing residents who were stranded outside the province -- as well as foreign journalists -- to begin re-entering in recent days.

But the market's fate seems sealed.

For weeks, crews have carefully disinfected and then removed all of its merchandise and other contents, followed by further rounds of disinfecting the entire site, according to state media reports.

The market is slated for permanent closure, according to the reports, though no plans to demolish the site have been announced.

China has, however, announced plans for a "comprehensive" ban on the wildlife trade that reportedly flourished there.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Denmark's Weapons Against COVID-19: Early Action, High Trust--and a No-Nonsense Queen (Kay Xander Mellish, 4/06/20, Quillette)

[T]here is a certain pleasure in watching the gentle social machinery of the Danish state and people swing into action. At the lakes in downtown Copenhagen--the city's former moat--kindly city employees in safety vests make sure everyone runs or strolls in a clockwise direction, minimizing the chance of close face-to-face encounters.

The Danish police sent a friendly message to every mobile telephone in the country, reminding recipients to practice social distancing as you "enjoy your weekend." And Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen made an appearance on the Instagram account of Denmark's top Gen-Z influencer, Anders Hemmingsen. She empathized with teens' desire to go out and party, but encouraged them to stay home and tolerate their parents for a little longer.

Frederiksen, a 42-year-old divorced mother of two school-aged children, was initially accused of overreacting to the pandemic. As it turned out, she was out ahead of many other countries in Europe, which generally adopted similar measures after delays of days or weeks.

The first confirmed case in Denmark was on February 27th. Within eight days, Frederiksen had restricted all gatherings to a maximum of 1,000 people, which meant cancelling a number of highly anticipated sports and music events. (The 1980s-era band Simple Minds, having sold 1,500 tickets to a 40th anniversary show, split its local crowd in half, and generously played two separate concerts.) On March 11th, the number permitted to gather was cut to 100; and on March 18th, it went down to 10. Libraries, museums, gyms, and state churches were closed. Few cared about the churches, but there was a great deal of anguish about the gyms.

When the borders were closed, the grumbling about overreaction increased, particularly among commuters who live in less-expensive Sweden and travel across the Øresund Bridge for work in higher-salary Denmark. (The bridge is still open to freight and to Danes, but not to most Swedes.) Sweden, which has taken a more laissez-faire approach to coronavirus, harrumphed about the insult to Scandinavian solidarity and European unity; and a top Swedish health official said the border closing "could not be justified from a health perspective." Five days later, Sweden closed its own borders. Although Sweden's closure applied only to visitors from non-EU countries, this was a big step for a country the Danes mock ceaselessly for its preternatural political correctness. [...]

It helps that the Danish society is still characterized by high levels of trust--including trust in their government. It is one of the least corrupt nations on Earth, a fact that helps make citizens more willing to pay their (extremely high) taxes. Denmark also has a strong national identity (where else do people put their country's flag on birthday cakes?) which yields high levels of solidarity and respect for imposed norms.

The expectation of situation-appropriate behavior was the theme conveyed by Denmark's much-loved Queen Margrethe, an 80-year-old chain smoker nicknamed Daisy who still insists on reading her speeches from stapled-together pieces of paper instead of a teleprompter.

Delivering the Danish Royal Family's first non-holiday national address since World War II, Margrethe was tough on anyone who might violate isolation orders for, say, a birthday party. "Det synes jeg ikke, man kan være bekendt," the Queen said, looking right at the camera. It was an old-ladyish admonishment that loosely translates to "It simply isn't done." She added: "It is thoughtless. And it is inconsiderate."

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Liberman: Ultra-Orthodox politicians 'endangering public health' (RAOUL WOOTLIFF, 4/06/20, Times of Israel)

A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized "wild incitement" and President Reuven Rivlin warned of "fake accusations" against Israel's ultra-Orthodox community amid the coronavirus outbreak, Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman slammed the Haredi political leadership, accusing it of "endangering the health of the public."

Liberman, who has often clashed with the ultra-Orthodox over issues of religion and state, rebuked lawmakers and ministers from the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties for calling for limits to the restrictions on ultra-Orthodox towns or pushing to tighten limits on other towns, with lower rates of infection, so that the community wouldn't be singled out.

April 5, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Robotic process automation is disrupting mortgage lending (TIM SANDLE, 4/05/20, Digital Journal)

RPA is a rules-based task automation program. This means the AI can move data from one place to another. However, the program does not so much learn a particular business processes or optimize data, it works according to the rules provided by the developer. RPA is particularly helpful for gathering data on external websites and portals.

As an example, if a mortgage company wanted to collect housing data from a competitor, RPA can be configured to do that. This is helpful for mortgage loan processing because it reduces the time spent inputting data therefore reducing errors.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Exclusive: Pressed by Trump, U.S. pushed unproven coronavirus treatment guidance (Marisa Taylor, Aram Roston, 4/05/20, Reuters) 

In mid-March, President Donald Trump personally pressed federal health officials to make malaria drugs available to treat the novel coronavirus, though they had been untested for COVID-19, two sources told Reuters.

Shortly afterward, the federal government published highly unusual guidance informing doctors they had the option to prescribe the drugs, with key dosing information based on unattributed anecdotes rather than peer-reviewed science.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Navy Captain Removed From Carrier Tests Positive for Covid-19 (John Ismay, April 5, 2020, 1NY Times Magazine)

Capt. Brett E. Crozier, the Navy captain who was removed from command of the coronavirus-stricken aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, has tested positive for Covid-19, according to two Naval Academy classmates of Crozier's who are close to him and his family.

Top US military commanders 'opposed dismissing captain of USS Theodore Roosevelt over coronavirus letter (ARIEL ZILBER, 4/05/20,  DAILYMAIL.COM)

The top US military commander and the most senior naval officer were reportedly against firing the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt over his letter warning of a coronavirus outbreak on board, but they were overruled by the Trump administration.

General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Admiral Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations, believed that the Navy should have allowed an investigation into the letter written by Captain Brett Crozier to run its course.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper initially sided with the officers, according to The Washington Post.

But Esper eventually yielded to Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, who favored immediately dismissing Crozier because he believed that is what President Trump wanted.

Arbitrariness thwarts justice.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


Resilient Cardinals legend Bob Gibson throws cancer a curve (Rick Hummel, 4/05/20, St. Louis Dispatch)

For painfully obvious reasons, the Cardinals didn't open their home schedule Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles. The good news is that Bob Gibson would have been there if there had been no coronavirus pandemic-fueled shutdown of sports.

Diagnosed last summer with pancreatic cancer, Gibson, 84, had no guarantee he would see many, if any, more Cardinals openers. But now his chemotherapy treatments have been moved from once a week to every three weeks and he said he feels no pain.

Gibson is due for a couple of days of tests this week but for now, as he told someone recently, "The reaper came the other day -- and I wouldn't answer the door." [...]

Current Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty, posting one of many "bests" and "Top 10s," that have appeared on Twitter lately, said that he would choose Gibson to start one game he absolutely had to win. Flaherty, incidentally, was wearing a Gibson jersey at the beach the first day he got back to California after spring camps officially were shut down.

"I would have started me, too," Gibson said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


George W. Bush in 2005: 'If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare' (Matthew Mosk, April 5, 2020, ABC News)

In the summer of 2005, President George W. Bush was on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he began flipping through an advanced copy of a new book about the 1918 flu pandemic. He couldn't put it down.

When he returned to Washington, he called his top homeland security adviser into the Oval Office and gave her the galley of historian John M. Barry's "The Great Influenza," which told the chilling tale of the mysterious plague that "would kill more people than the outbreak of any other disease in human history."

"You've got to read this," Fran Townsend remembers the president telling her. "He said, 'Look, this happens every 100 years. We need a national strategy.'" [...]

"My reaction was -- I'm buried. I'm dealing with counterterrorism. Hurricane season. Wildfires. I'm like, 'What?'" Townsend said. "He said to me, 'It may not happen on our watch, but the nation needs the plan.'"

Over the ensuing months, cabinet officials got behind the idea. Most of them had governed through the Sept. 11 terror attacks, so events considered unlikely but highly-impactful had a certain resonance.

"There was a realization that it's no longer fantastical to raise scenarios about planes falling from the sky, or anthrax arriving in the mail," said Tom Bossert, who worked in the Bush White House and went on to serve as Homeland Security secretary in the Trump administration. "It was not a novel. It was the world we were living."

According to Bossert, who is now an ABC News consultant, Bush did not just insist on preparation for a pandemic. He was obsessed with it.

"He was completely taken by the reality that that was going to happen," Bossert said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Isaac Asimov's Comforting Technocratic Fable (JACK BUTLER, April 5, 2020, National Review)

The Foundation series takes place thousands of years in the future. Inspired by Edward Gibbons's The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Asimov, one of the most famous authors of the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction, imagined a universe full of human settlement and dominated by a Galactic Empire centered on Trantor, a high-tech, planet-sized, megacity version of Rome. Despite presiding over billions and incubating technological achievements of which we today can only dream, this empire is about to collapse.

But only one man is confident of this: Hari Seldon. Seldon has invented psychohistory, defined in the first novel as "that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli." Through psychohistory, Seldon can essentially predict the future of mankind; paradoxically, the more variables involved in his analyses, the better. And according to his calculations, it is too late to save the empire, but it is not too late to "shorten the interregnum which will follow," "to reduce the duration of anarchy to a single millennium" instead of the 30,000-year Dark Age that will ensue if he does nothing. To this end, he establishes the eponymous Foundation (actually, two, though one is a secret) on a distant planet full of mankind's best minds, ostensibly to preserve knowledge but actually to direct history toward its own establishment as the germ of a new empire. He does all this shortly before his own death, but after recording a series of messages to this elect for posterity, to be released at precise intervals of crises that he predicted. In these messages, he directs his successors on what to do to confront the difficulties he knows they will face.

Though Asimov wrote more Foundation novels, the first three books won a Hugo Award (an Academy Award equivalent for sci-fi and fantasy) in 1966 for best all-time series. But more than 50 years later, it's hard to see why (especially when it was up against The Lord of the Rings). The novels do not rise above their serialized origins, with the individual parts of each book so distinct from one another as to seem like separate works crudely collated. They burn through a succession of stock characters, only a few of whom register in any meaningful way, and who are easily forgotten once they serve their purpose in advancing the narrative. Ultimately helpless in the face of psychohistory's plan, most of them are rendered passive and interchangeable actors, mostly mere witnesses to the Foundation's triumphs. As Seldon states in one of his pre-recorded messages, he has engineered their fates such that they "will be forced along one, and only one, path."

If this were all that happened in Asimov's Foundation novels, their reputation would be an even greater mystery. But their saving grace is the one plot development most at odds with the thrust of the books themselves: The Mule. 

Selden is just a stand-in for our worst conception of God, the one that gives people--Marxists, Freudians, Trans-Humanists, Nationalists, Sunni Muslims, Fundamentalist Christians, etc.--a false hope of Utopia.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Any American Who Says He Doesn't Love Tiger King Is Lying (ROBERT VERBRUGGEN, April 4, 2020, National Review)

Oh, and there's a botched reality show, arson, a fatal gun accident, a tiger maiming, and a funeral where Exotic sings karaoke. One of the film's sources is a fellow zookeeper who seems to run his business as a harem and is accused of killing tigers when they get too old to do petting events. And don't forget the entire episode focused on the very mysterious disappearance of Baskin's former husband. Or Exotic's run for Oklahoma governor, in which he hired the guy who sold him ammo at Walmart to run his campaign and garnered 19 percent of the vote in the Libertarian primary. (There was a brief panic that he might actually win, for which there was no plan. Where have we heard that before?) One of the subjects does all his interviews shirtless, and amid everything else it didn't strike me how odd that was until the last episode.

For all the violence and tragedy, Tiger King is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. The filmmakers have an impeccable sense of comedic timing that motivates many of their edits, and they have no problem flat-out mocking their subjects. Don't miss the special close-up of one of Exotic's husbands during a discussion of "meth mouth."

A consequence of this, though, is that the serious issues raised here end up sidelined. Everyone seems to think it's a terrible thing that there are more tigers in captivity in the U.S. than there are in the wild, but that reminded me a bit of the tragedy of the commons -- if breeding in captivity is guaranteeing that tigers don't go extinct, is it really so bad? Could we regulate it better, or require those who profit from tigers to support conservation efforts, rather than banning this practice, as Baskin wants? I really wouldn't have minded hearing from some wildlife experts on what tigers need to thrive and what it takes to meet those needs in captivity, if indeed it's possible to. I also wouldn't have minded hearing more from Baskin on why she keeps her rescue tigers in cages and shows them to visitors rather than returning them to the wild.

But this isn't a freaking environmental documentary, you hippie. It's a reality show about a bunch of crazy people and the trouble they get themselves into. And it's perfect to binge-watch during a national lockdown.

The biggest surprise is that Joe isn't the governor of OK.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Rejecting Vermeule's Right-Wing Dworkinian Vision (Lee J. Strang, 4/2/20, Law & Liberty)

There are many potential criticisms of Professor Vermeule's thesis; in this brief essay, I argue that the concept of the common good itself, at least as it has been pursued in the United States, contradicts Professor Vermeule's core claim. In short, the common good of the United States, both as a matter of distributive justice (including what offices have legal authority to implement the Constitution and in what circumstances) and as a matter of the rule of law, requires following the Constitution's original meaning, even when that meaning does not lead to normatively attractive outcomes in some (perhaps many) instances. [...]

Though the distribution of legal authority and the rule of law are necessary components of any plausible conception of the common good, there are a wide variety of reasonable and inconsistent means to secure both. Throughout history, different communities have employed many different forms of legal authority and the rule of law for a variety of reasons, some poor and some sound. The Western legal tradition and the United States are committed to legal systems that employ inanimate, relatively determinate positive law to achieve the common good. This is also the natural law tradition's commitment. The United States does not employ a King Solomon dispensing his Solomonic wisdom to the people; instead, our written Constitution's original meaning (and the Constitution's distribution of subsidiary legal authority, especially via Article I to the federal legislature) creates the conditions needed to secure the nation's common good. The United States was not required by reason to take this route but, by the same token, there is nothing in Professor Vermeule's argument that shows that the United States' approach to the common good is unreasonable.

More importantly, once a society like the United States determines that its approach to pursuing the common good will utilize inanimate justice and the rule of law, members of that society generally, and legal officers in particular, have sound reasons to follow that approach (assuming a basically just legal system), and they therefore act unreasonably--contrary to the common good!--when they follow Professor Vermeule's approach. A Vermeulean federal judge, whose "starting point [is the] substantive moral principles that conduce to the common good," violates distributive justice and the rule of law. This judge harms distributive justice because he has arrogated to himself legal authority that the American legal system allocated to the Constitution (and through it to various officers). The Constitution allocated to federal judges only the authority to "declare the sense of the law," not to articulate substantive moral principles. Similarly, this judge also harms the rule of law by not giving the parties before him judgment according to the pre-existing law, and instead substituting an injudicious decree based on the judge's own, previously-unannounced, substantive moral principles.

Professor Vermeule admits that the common good of the United States might theoretically coincide with originalism but rejects the originalist route because "that approach leaves originalism in ultimate control, hoping that the original understanding will happen to be morally appealing." I've previously argued that this formulation is precisely backwards. Originalism is the most normatively attractive way to interpret the Constitution because it is necessary to enable the Constitution to secure the common good. This does not mean that the Constitution or originalism completely secures the common good, or secures the common good in every instance. Indeed, there are many of its provisions the original meaning of which is imprudent or unjust. But the standard by which to judge a legal system that employs inanimate justice is whether the system as a whole secures the common good reasonably well. By that measure, our written Constitution, through the vehicle of its original meaning, overall and on balance facilitates a reasonably just legal system that secures the common good.

One of the problems with all of the common good analysis is that it's extra-textual, so it has any meaning you care to give it.  What the Constitution explicitly seeks to achieve in founding a republic is to secure "the blessings of liberty." This republican liberty is, of course, the raison d'etre for a republic. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Southern Culture And Politics May Prove Deadly In Pandemic (Cynthia Tucker, April 5, 2020, National Memo)

The Deep South -- the sweep of five states from Louisiana east to South Carolina -- already suffers a series of maladies that create the perfect storm for widespread deaths during a pandemic. This is an impoverished region; it includes four of the 10 poorest states in the nation, according to federal data. (Nine of the 10, including West Virginia, are Southern states.)

Many of its residents are uninsured or underinsured. With so many ultraconservative political leaders, most Southern states have refused to take advantage of a key component of the Affordable Care Act: the expansion of Medicaid. That not only leaves patients without access to health care, but it also leaves many rural hospitals on the brink of financial collapse. Several have already closed.

As if that weren't enough bad news, our impoverished population also has a disproportionate share of the underlying health conditions that portend the worst outcome in cases of coronavirus infection. Obesity, diabetes and hypertension are all commonplace here.

You'd think those conditions would warrant stringent compliance with federal recommendations. Sadly, it ain't so. The New York Times has posted an impressive -- if worrisome -- map that shows how regions of the country have changed their travel habits. The Deep South, which hardly changed at all, stands out as a deep red harbinger of impending doom.

Our failure to comply stems from a confluence of unfortunate habits of mind. We are led by Trump-loving public officials who still believe the coronavirus threat is a plot against him. Our government is further hamstrung by a citizenry that follows every word from the fabulists of Fox News and is mired in a skepticism toward experts, whom George Wallace infamously called "pointy-headed" intellectuals.

Governors here, most of them Republicans, were laggard in issuing stay-at-home orders. By the time Florida's Ron DeSantis finally got around to it, his state was already a hot zone for the novel coronavirus. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp said on Wednesday, incredibly, that he had just learned the virus could be spread by people who are asymptomatic. How is such ignorance possible? I last saw my 93-year-old mother on March 13, my birthday. I told her that my daughter and I wouldn't hug her since the coronavirus can be spread by people showing no symptoms -- as experts have said since February.

Right-Wing Media Again Push To Open Economy Despite Death Toll (Eric Kleefeld, April 5, 2020, MediaMatters.

Between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, there has been an increased wave of right-wing media figures calling for an end to the economic lockdown in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. As they've begun to explain rather openly, the cost for jobs and businesses is just too much for what they deem is a low death figure being reported.

Left out of all these discussions is a key detail: The reason that COVID-19 death predictions have been revised down from over 2 million to a (still horrific) figure of up to 240,000 is precisely because of the social distancing and stay-at-home orders. If that regimen were to simply be lifted, then the projected deaths would rise again -- especially if the health care system were to become overwhelmed.

But as they miss this point, many of these right-wing media figures seem to think even this reduced level of deaths has come with too high an economic cost.

Dying is just the price a Trumpbot has to pay to prove his loyalty to the Race.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


After Oil Crisis, Let's Re-Evaluate Ties to Saudi Arabia (Gil Barndollar & Sam Long, March 30, 2020, Real Clear World)

[F]or three decades, America has repeatedly come to Saudi Arabia's aid. U.S. troops, 700,000 of them, kept Saddam Hussein at bay in 1990 and then crushed Iraq's army in the Gulf War a few months later. In 2015, former U.S. President Barack Obama backed Saudi Arabia's bloody, failed intervention in Yemen, providing vital support to the Saudi military. (Saudi forces have failed to defeat Yemen's Houthi rebels, strengthening Iran's position in the process.) And though President Donald Trump has thus far refused to go to war for Saudi Arabia, he has deployed thousands of U.S. troops to bolster its defenses. It is an open question whether the Saudi monarchy would still be ruling today without U.S. patronage and protection.

Yet the Saudi regime that America protects is now erratic and impetuous -- the worst kind of junior partner. Since the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his ascent five years ago, hubris and recklessness have become the hallmarks of Saudi decision-making, at home and abroad. Imprisoning and shaking down their own princes, kidnapping foreign prime ministers, and finally, in the judgment of the CIA, murdering and dismembering the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

These attacks on individuals, however, paled in comparison to the Kingdom's military misjudgments. The war in Yemen, pushed by Mohammed bin Salman when he became Minister of Defense in 2015, was expected to be a quick triumph. Instead it has become the worst humanitarian disaster on earth. American-made missiles and bombs have killed thousands of civilians due to some combination of Saudi carelessness, incompetence, and malice. The campaign has also been an embarrassment for Saudi Arabia's paper tiger military, outfought by Yemen's Houthi militia and trapped in an unwinnable war -- a war backstopped by the support of both the Obama and Trump administrations.  

These decisions ultimately damage the United States, rightly seen as Saudi Arabia's unblinking protector. Though Congress took belated steps to end the Saudi campaign in Yemen, most Americans could and did ignore Saudi Arabia's recent actions in its own neighborhood. But as job losses mount, ordinary Americans will finally face the consequences of our toxic relationship with the Saudi monarchy.

Gas taxes do not just afford an effective means to reduce consumption, reduce pollution and force energy innovation at home, they will allow us to break the nations that use wealth extracted from resources to avoid extracting wealth from their own people: as the Founders understood, there is no representation without taxation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Transparency In China Could Have Saved Thousands Of People From Coronavirus: Beijing deserves condemnation for its actions. (Patrick Mendis Joey Wang, 4/04/20, National Interest)

The first mistake was shooting the messenger. Dr. Li Wenliang--a young ophthalmologist at the Central Hospital of Wuhan--had first shared his concerns on December 31, 2019, with a group of colleagues on WeChat. At the time, the coronavirus had not yet been identified. Li then warned his co-workers of the SARS-like symptoms that his patients were exhibiting, and encouraged them to adopt stricter measures to prevent contaminations in their hospitals. 

This had all privately been shared to alert his colleagues. However, once screenshots began to circulate, they came to the attention of his superiors at the hospital. Li's reward for this simple act of professional vigilance was an order from the hospital authorities to write a letter of self-criticism. The local police also paid him a visit in the middle of the night, where they accused him of being one of eight people who had been spreading "false information" and who had "gravely disturbed social order."

Finally, Li was forced to respond affirmatively to the questions: "Can you stop your illegal behavior?" and "Do you understand you'll be punished if you don't stop such behavior?" His answers were signed and sealed by affixing his red thumbprint to the police report. With this restraining order, the virus was then allowed to continue spreading unabated for several more weeks. This pointed to the second mistake.

The Mandate of the Party

Setting the stage for the perfect storm, the city of Wuhan had been preparing its annual mass banquet. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary, local organizers had attempted "to break a world record for the largest number of dishes served." The significance of this event cannot be overstated. For at least three weeks prior to the banquet on January 18, 2020, Wuhan authorities had been informed of the virus spreading in the city.

The SARS experience and common sense would have dictated taking immediate measures to protect public health. Instead, Wuhan authorities did the unthinkable: issuing orders to suppress the news and covering-up the gravity of the outbreak. Even after the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared a global health emergency on January 30, media outlets such as Xinhua were instructed to give the news of the coronavirus a positive spin and avoid mentioning the WHO declaration. By this time, the pathogen had already spread well beyond China.

One reason for the suppression of the news--as reported by the Financial Times--was that the mayor of Wuhan had declined the advice of health experts out of concern that measures to contain the disease "may hurt the local economy and social stability." This decision would have two escalatory effects. First, it accelerated the virulence of the virus, given the sheer number of people in close proximity. Second, it facilitated the spread of the virus around the world. The conclusion of the banquet ended with an exodus of some five million people from the city, which helped to transport the virus beyond Hebei province and Chinese national borders.

Stop Shaming New Orleans for Holding Mardi Gras (JORDAN HIRSCH, APRIL 02, 2020, Slate)

The first COVID-19 case in Louisiana was reported on March 9. By March 26 there were 2,305, resulting in 83 deaths. New Orleans now has one of the highest per capita infection rates and COVID-19 death rates in the country. New cases are growing exponentially. As the city faces shortages of ventilators and personal protective equipment in hospitals, Mayor LaToya Cantrell went on CNN last Thursday to rally support for the city. Oddly, Wolf Blitzer spent most of the segment asking her about Mardi Gras--if anyone had advised her to cancel it or if, in hindsight, she wished she had. Cantrell pointed out that federal authorities consulting with the city ahead of its public events hadn't raised any red flags. Her response was criticized on social media, with Lawfare executive editor Susan Hennessey tweeting, "at some point local leadership needs to take responsibility." Criticism in the media hasn't let up since. On Thursday on The View, Meghan McCain told Cantrell she was "surprised the Mardi Gras celebrations continued" in February.

The spectacle of the mayor being made to answer for New Orleans' perceived irresponsibility was one of many echoes of Hurricane Katrina in the current disaster. Fifteen years ago, local officials begged for federal assistance while the world watched New Orleanians wave towels at helicopters from rooftops. The response came slowly and, it seemed, begrudgingly. In the aftermath, some pundits asked why the people gathered outside the Convention Center, most of them black, had depended on the federal government to come to their rescue in the first place. Surely they brought their fate upon themselves by refusing to leave the city before the storm? The answer--that many lacked the resources to follow evacuation orders--didn't stop speculation that New Orleanians were somehow complicit in their fate. (A later analysis would show much of the responsibility lay with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose levee system failed in dozens of places, inundating 80 percent of the city.)

On Sunday, as Louisiana waited to receive any of the 5,000 ventilators requested from the national stockpile, Gov. John Bel Edwards took his case to Face the Nation on CBS. Margaret Brennan took the opportunity to bring up Mardi Gras: "You didn't cancel it. Do you regret not doing so?" She went on to ask if Edwards had been waiting "for the federal government to tell you as a state what to do." The governor noted that no one at any level of government was canceling events at the time--that didn't start until mid-March. During Carnival in February, crowds across the country packed NBA stadiums and political rallies, amusement parks and concerts. Why were leaders from New Orleans and Louisiana being asked to substantiate behavior that went unremarked on everywhere else?

Maybe Mardi Gras is just an easy target. It has an air of transgression, and can be written off as an indulgence. There was a national debate about canceling Carnival six months after Hurricane Katrina too, when swaths of the city still lacked basics like electricity and running water. Some felt, not unreasonably, that resources shouldn't be diverted for nonessentials. Mardi Gras parades had been canceled before, during wars and once for a police strike. After Katrina, the city decided that the chance to demonstrate its viability to the rest of the country was worth the expense. For people like me, home after months in exile, unsure what of our old lives would be recoverable, it was a way to process trauma.

As uninteresting as the NBA is, it sure seems as if the league's decision to cancel games was the single most important point in getting Americans to take the virus seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


THE EVOLUTION--AND THE FUTURE--OF THE PRIVATE EYE (Cheryl A. Head, 3/26/20, Crime Reads)

Charm comes in unique packages, and sometimes that package is lethal. Easy Rawlins' sidekick, Raymond "Mouse" Alexander is one of my favorite characters in crime fiction--right up there with the psychotic Tommy Udo (from a story by Eleazar Lipsky) in the film Kiss of Death. Walter Mosley's Mouse is no Dr. Watson, he's dangerous, amoral and if left to his own devices, kills people. It just happens. 

...than the introduction of the lethal sidekick who will commit the extralegal killings the hero can't, without violating his code, which means he has no code. Robert B. Parker bears most of the blame, for Hawk, but it's marred everyone from Crais to Mosley to Lehane and on down.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Have you ever been to a live poultry market? (Krystal D'Costa, March 13, 2012, Scientific American)

The smell greets you well before you step in the door to the tiny storefront selling chickens, turkeys, ducks, and supposedly, rabbits. It's bearable, you might tell yourself, as you peer a bit anxiously into the dark, feather-strewn interior from which a cacophony of squawks occasionally erupts. Trying not to breathe too deeply, you step inside and join the queue, which moves with the briskness of a well-tuned assembly line. You're going to purchase live poultry--well, it might not be live when you leave with it, but it won't be the frozen variety from your supermarket.

New York City is home to about 80 live poultry markets, which cater to the robust immigrant community for whom live poultry is a tradition rooted in a necessity: in places where people raise their own livestock, refrigerated goods can be difficult to obtain and a needless expense. Live poultry markets have been criticized for the treatment of the animals, however, which are often packed into crates and cages for extended periods and are allegedly left without food or water or clean accommodations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


430,000 people have traveled from China to the US since the COVID-19 outbreak appeared (LAUREN EDMONDS, 4/05/20,  DAILYMAIL.COM)

At least 430,000 people have traveled from China to the United States on direct flights since the COVID-19 disease surfaced last year - with nearly 40,000 arriving in the two months after President Trump imposed travel restrictions.   

Additionally, there were more than 1,300 direct passenger flights and 381,000 travelers arriving to the United States from China in January. Around a quarter were Americans. 

The New York Times reports that thousands of these passengers flew directly from China as US health officials were just beginning to gauge the severity of the outbreak. 

The first reported cases of coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China, at the end of last year. 

The majority of the passengers arrived in January at major airports in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle and Newark. 

Over the past week, flights leaving Beijing continued to land in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, mainly Americans and some others who were exempt from the restriction placed on February 2. 

Since then, 279 flights from China have come to the United States and interviews suggest that coronavirus screenings have been inconsistent. 

April 4, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Wharf's Maine Avenue Fish Market packed on a Saturday, social distancing not being practiced (Nick Boykin, 4/04/20, WUSA9)

The Wharf Fish Market in D.C. looked packed on Saturday, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of social distancing being practiced.  [...]

Places like fish markets, meat markets and other types of food markets can be labeled as essential businesses under the stay-at-home order issued.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Trump says he 'may take' hydroxychloroquine  (Michelle Mark, 4/04/20, Business Insider)

President Donald Trump told reporters on Saturday he "may" take the drug hydroxychloroquine, despite no evidence the drug is effective and safe for preventing or treating the coronavirus.

He also suggested that his doctors have not yet prescribed him the drug, but said he would ask them about it.

"If it were me -- in fact, I might do it anyway. I may take it, okay? I may take it," he said at a press briefing. "And I'll have to ask my doctors about that, but I may take it."

The nation's top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, who is often featured at Trump's daily press briefings, has warned Americans that there is no evidence that the drug is effective in preventing or treating coronavirus.

...and you wanted to manufacture maximum confusion, panic, misinformation, and disinformation in America...

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Keir Starmer's unbearable nothingness (Tom Slater, 4th April 2020, spiked)

Listening to Starmer speak feels like slowly drowning in blancmange. It's not that what he's saying is incoherent, or rambly. Far from it. Everything this former barrister says feels carefully, even overly, considered. It's that what he says is kind of nothingy, replete with platitudes and wispy, high-minded rhetoric that evaporates upon contact with your brain. Pair it with his negative charisma and it's a remarkably numbing combination.

His speech opened on the coronavirus crisis before hammering the message of his campaign - that he will lead Labour into government while not ditching the 'radicalism' of the Corbyn era. It was completely lifeless, ending on the anti-climactic lines: 'I will lead this great party into a new era, with confidence and with hope. So that when the time comes, we can serve our country again in government.' How the earth moved.

There is a point in all this. Namely, that Starmer's politics are as empty as his rhetoric. His campaign, which brought on board people from the right and left of the party, was an exercise in hedging. He paid lip-service to socialism and radicalism, keen to keep the Corbynite membership on side. But he did so in a way that was entirely devoid of substance, reducing socialism in one op-ed to a desire to 'stand up for the powerless against the powerful'.

They need a Tony.
Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Coronavirus Pushes Higher Education to the Brink (Stephen Mihm, April 4, 2020, Bloomberg)

Enrollments have fallen by 11 percent nationally over the past eight years despite significant increases in the number of international students attending American colleges and universities. And that's not even factoring in the coming "baby bust," a demographic dip that will likely intensify this trend over the coming decade.

Taken together, these trends were spelling trouble for higher education before Covid-19. A recent survey of college and university trustees found that more than half were worried about the financial future of their institutions. And then the pandemic hit, along with the worst quarter for the stock market in well over a century. As a consequence, we're looking at a shakeout of epic proportions, particularly for the less selective, tuition-dependent institutions.

Imagine, for a moment, if August rolls around and the pandemic has abated but colleges and universities remain shuttered. This doesn't mean, though, that they can't operate: After all, professors across the country have spent the past few weeks putting classes online, teaching via Zoom, and otherwise adapting to the new normal. In theory, the nation's institutions of higher education can simply do the same come fall. And therein lies a problem.

When students shell out $50,000 a year to attend a school that admits a majority of applicants, they're paying for a lot more than professors. They're paying for the experience of college: dating, dorm life, fraternities and sororities, Frisbee on the quad -- all the stuff that has come to define college for the past century or so. This is one reason, perhaps, that colleges and universities have spent so much money on amenities and extracurricular diversions, rather than actual education, in recent years.

But when education moves online, all of that disappears.

Cut to the exams.  If you can pass them by watching the videos you deserve a degree.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


NYC Mayor Out to Prove That GOP Have Not Cornered the Market on COVID-19 Ignorance (PETER WADE , 4/04/20, Rolling Stone)

Lest you think coronavirus stupidity is solely a Republican problem, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made the same uninformed and incorrect statements that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp made this week. de Blasio also tried to claim that until very recently, scientists were not aware that asymptomatic or presymptomatic people with coronavirus, meaning people who carry the virus but are not showing symptoms, could transmit it to other people.

The remarks were made by the New York mayor when he spoke with WNYC's Brian Lehrer. When Lehrer said that the United States knew "weeks and months ago that asymptomatic people can spread this disease," de Blasio countered and claimed that this was only realized "in the last 48 hours." De Blasio is likely referring to a study out of Singapore published on April 1 that found people could transmit the disease before showing symptoms.

Lehrer asked: "Didn't we know weeks and months ago that asymptomatic people can spread this disease?"

The mayor responded, "No, the fact is I've been at so many press conferences where our top doctors for New York City addressed this and they said 'we just didn't have evidence from all the global medical community that was studying this issue. There was suspicion, but there was not evidence."

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Grassley demands 'explanation' for firing of intel community watchdog (ANDREW DESIDERIO, 04/04/2020, Politico)

President Donald Trump's firing of the intelligence community's top watchdog "demands an explanation," Sen. Chuck Grassley said on Saturday.

He's doing what you told him to do.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


How America's decimated pandemic response capabilities led to one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world (Sonam Sheth, 4/04/20, Business Insider)

In 2018, the newly minted Trump administration was intent on distinguishing itself from its predecessor by trimming bureaucracy and what Trump characterized as "waste, fraud, and abuse" across the government. But some of the agencies that took the biggest hit were those tasked with responding to public health crises. 

In May of that year, the National Security Council's pandemic response team was disbanded amid a reorganization of the NSC under then-national security adviser John Bolton. One month earlier, Bolton forced out Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser who had called for a robust strategy against pandemics and bioweapons attacks.

Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, who would have overseen the US's response to the coronavirus pandemic in his previous role as head of the pandemic response team, also abruptly left the Trump administration after the unit was disbanded. The group, called the Global Health Security and Biodefense unit, was created under the Obama administration in 2015 following the Ebola outbreak.

The Trump administration also eliminated the US government's $30 million Complex Crises Fund, which consisted of emergency response money that the secretary of state could use to deploy disease experts and others in a crisis.

More recently, it ended a pandemic research program aimed at training scientists in China and other countries to detect and prepare for a threat like the coronavirus, the Los Angeles Times reported. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the initiative, called PREDICT, in 2009; it worked with 60 different foreign laboratories, including the lab in Wuhan that identified the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The program shut down in September when it ran out of funding -- about two months before the novel coronavirus began surging through China.

The administration has continued targeting the nation's health and science agencies for budget reductions, even in the face of a rapidly escalating pandemic. According to the 2021 fiscal year budget proposal the White House sent to Congress in February, the administration has requested an almost 10% cut to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a 16% cut to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  [...]

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the Trump administration allowed a contract with a company maintaining the government's stockpile of emergency, life-saving medical devices to expire last summer. A contract dispute meant a new firm didn't begin its work until late January, when the US coronavirus outbreak was well underway.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:39 AM


Telehealth visits are booming as doctors and patients embrace distancing amid the coronavirus crisis (Bertha Coombs, 4/04/20, CNBC)

The adoption of telemedicine shifted into hyper-drive over the past month, with virtual health-care interactions on pace to top 1 billion by year's end, according to analysts at Forrester Research. That would represent a massive expansion from telemedicine usage before the coronavirus pandemic.

"There were three barriers that impacted the lack of adoption, or the slowness of adoption, before the pandemic hit. We saw cost ... availability ... and then we also saw relationships playing a factor," said Forrester analyst Arielle Trzcinski. "If a patient was able to see their existing provider, they were much more likely to use the service."

Those barriers collapsed dramatically last month after President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency after the COVID-19 outbreak hit the U.S. The administration also strongly urged doctors and patients to avoid in-person visits and instead use telehealth visits to help prevent the spread of the virus.

"President Trump talking about the benefits of virtual care, I think, helped reduce one of those barriers that we found in our research of awareness," said Trzcinksi.

One of the understandable obstacles to telehealtth has been fear of fraud by practitioners, but it's hard to believe the savings wouldn't be greater.  It should not just be permitted but required/incentivized.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Inerrant or Oblique?: a review of A History of the Bible: The Book and Its Faiths by John Barton (Robert Alter, Spring 2020, Jewish Review of Books)

 In explaining that the original Hebrew text of the Bible is entirely consonantal (as, of course, is typical modern Hebrew prose, from newspapers to novels), he helpfully remarks that "there is no more difficulty in reading a purely consonantal text than there would be in understanding an English sentence such as 'Hbrw wrtng ds nt hv vwls,' especially when (as here) the context helps us to decipher it."

However, the picture of the Bible that emerges from Barton's scrupulous account may be disquieting to many believers. We think of the Bible as a "book"--as in the proverbial phrase, "the Good Book"--when, in fact, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are what we would now call anthologies, though the two are radically different in nature. The Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, brings together works composed over perhaps seven centuries, nine centuries if one includes the oldest pieces of poetry such as the Song of Deborah. The New Testament, also the product of different writers, was, by contrast, composed over roughly just seven decades. The two anthologies further differ in purpose, character, and intended audience. As Barton incisively puts it, "The Old Testament is the literature of a nation, written over some centuries, and having a certain official character. The New Testament is the literature of a small sect, distributed over the eastern Mediterranean world, and in its origins unofficial, even experimental writing."

This brief formulation handily dismisses supersession, the idea that virtually everything in the Old Testament is a prefiguration of what is grandly fulfilled in the New Testament. The notion has long dominated Christian readings of Hebrew scripture but is now almost universally rejected by scholars, whatever their confessional background. Barton is forthright on this issue. The early Christians, following what they believed Jesus had taught,

proceeded to read the Old Testament as though it already taught these new ideas, and in the process they distorted its natural meaning, because they wanted the two Testaments to hang together as a seamless whole, despite the fact that they tell significantly different stories, and for Christians the New Testament story always trumped the Old one. This was worked out in practice by a creative rereading of the Old Testament as though it spoke in the New Testament's voice.

In this tradition, for example, Second Isaiah's vision of national redemption in imminently unfolding history becomes in the splendid music of Handel's Messiah a rousing evocation of the coming of Christ, something the anonymous Israelite prophet of the Babylonian exile by no means had in mind.

Beyond this disparate character of the two Testaments, one must also say that the texts of both anthologies are, in rather different ways, a mess, a consideration that is bound to be discomfiting to those who seek to regard the Bible as the always reliable source of truth. Barton neatly illustrates the problem by showing how, in Exodus 24, Moses ascends the mountain with Aaron and his sons and the 70 elders--or is it with Joshua while these others stay behind, or does he go up alone? These three accounts from three juxtaposed sources cannot be reconciled. Barton concludes that whoever put them together was not concerned with reconciliation. Rather,

he wanted to ensure that no piece of tradition got lost. He was not writing a coherent story of Moses, like a modern biographer, but collecting pieces of Moses's tradition and working them together to keep them safe. This means that he did not see the finished text as a consistent work, as we do with novels or with historical accounts, but as something more like an archive.

Deliberate inconsistency--the biblical text as an archive--takes us quite far from prevailing conceptions in our general culture and in the Jewish and Christian traditions of what the Bible is. One may add that, beyond this sort of inconsistency, which is especially visible in the first four books of the Torah, there is another kind of contradiction when material is inserted by a later editor, as in the case of the David story, in an effort to pull a resistant inherited narrative into the editor's ideological line. To be sure, some splicing of sources is actually quite purposeful, but the frequent incoherence of the biblical text is undeniable.

The New Testament has its own textual problems, which are somewhat different from those of its Hebrew predecessor. The stylistic and theological gap between John's gospel and the three synoptic gospels has often been observed, but there are many differences and even contradictions among the synoptics as well. The text of the Hebrew Bible was well established by the late years of the pre-Christian era. Barton cites as evidence the Dead Sea Scrolls, which, despite numerous divergences in their biblical texts from the Bible we know, are nevertheless fundamentally the same as what was adopted as the received text. The gospels, on the other hand, are based on varying oral accounts of the life of Jesus passed on during the decades following his death, and their stability as written formulations in different manuscript groups is itself open to question. The Pauline epistles are not much better off. Barton states the issue baldly: "[T]here is not, and can never be, a text of 'the New Testament' as it left the hands of Paul, Luke, or John: we have only variants." In any case, these sundry reports in the gospels give us only a rough idea of the actual words Jesus spoke, if indeed he spoke them, and those, of course, would have been in Aramaic, not in Koine Greek.

All this is bound to confront believers with perplexities, but they are not insuperable. I was recently interviewed by an American evangelical, and, in the course of our conversation, he wanted to know whether English versions of the Bible conveyed the real meaning of its words. I told him that I had made a consistent effort to do that in my own translation but that, unfortunately, it was sometimes impossible to know the meaning with any confidence. There are words that appear only once in the Bible, the meaning of which can merely be guessed based on context or flights of etymological fancy.

Then, there are many places where the text has been scrambled in transmission, and whatever may have been the original is simply not retrievable. "You may believe," I explained to him, "that all of the Bible is inspired by God, but even inspired words have to be copied by scribes passing on their texts to subsequent generations of scribes, and because they are, after all, human, they are prone to error, skipping words or phrases or inadvertently repeating them, replacing unfamiliar terms with familiar ones that don't belong, and, in a variety of related ways, turning an originally coherent text into something incomprehensible." In translating the Hebrew Bible, at a few points that read as gibberish in the original and where no emendation seemed viable, I deliberately reproduced the gibberish in English, explaining in a note that we will never be able to recover whatever had been there to begin with. My evangelical interviewer seemed to understand this, or at least was willing to consider it, which gives me some hope for Barton's attempt to make the inevitability of historical and textual scholarship clear to readers seeking to guide their spiritual lives by the Bible.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Remembering Kryzystof Penderecki 1933-2020 (James Martin, 4/04/20, The Quietus)

When Penderecki finally completed his De natura sonoris trilogy in 2012, it was hard not to feel that "the nature of sounds" was now an historical fable, rather than an achievable insight. Even a sophisticated response to natural law started to look like a Yuan dynasty painting of trees laid out to mirror the Confucian order of society. A spiritual allegory long swallowed up by the materialism of the present. No one wanted it on their living room wall.

So Penderecki bent (rather than broke) his avant-gardism, to escape redundancy in a world that was substituting the dialectic opposition of economic systems for the pragmatics of perestroika. His principles were not abandoned in his later music, but rather 'phased out' to produce a streamlined modernism, one which accounted more for the resistance musical innovators encounter from financially stretched orchestras and artistic institutions than for bourgeois taste as a universal maxim. If his music was to attain popular appeal among audiences who shrank from the New Sound, he needed to express it in more traditional means. 

...no one will listen.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


USS Theodore Roosevelt Commanding Officer Followed the Example of Colonel Roosevelt (Commander Ward Carroll, U.S. Navy (Retired), April 2020,  Proceedings)

In an interesting twist of history, the aircraft carrier's namesake was involved in a similar situation. During the summer of 1898, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. Army, was leading the famed "Rough Riders" in Cuba. The Rough Riders were part of the Army's Fifth Corps garrisoned near Santiago de Cuba. At the time, more than 4,000 of the Fifth Corps' 4,270 soldiers were sick with malaria and yellow fever. Many were on the verge of dying. The eight divisional commanders, including Roosevelt, were convinced that if they remained in Cuba Fifth Corps would be wiped out.

The divisional commanders met with Major General William R. Shafter, Fifth Corps Commander, and requested that Fifth Corps immediately redeploy to the United States. While it is unclear how Shafter responded to the request, he was certainly aware that President McKinley wanted to maintain a military presence in Cuba until the United States was able to finish peace negotiations with Spain. Whatever his reaction, the divisional commanders left the meeting compelled to put their request in writing.

The writing allegedly fell to Colonel Roosevelt, as he was the lowest ranking officer among them and the only volunteer, which meant he had the least to lose, career-wise, in the event the chain of command was to react negatively to the letter. As documented in Roosevelt's book The Rough Riders, published in 1899, the letter, known as the Round-Robin letter and signed by all of them, reads as follows:

MAJOR-GENERAL SHAFTER.   SIR: In a meeting of the general and medical officers called by you at the Palace this morning we were all, as you know, unanimous in our views of what should be done with the army. To keep us here, in the opinion of every officer commanding a division or a brigade, will simply involve the destruction of thousands. There is no possible reason for not shipping practically the entire command North at once. Yellow-fever cases are very few in the cavalry division, where I command one of the two brigades, and not one true case of yellow fever has occurred in this division, except among the men sent to the hospital at Siboney, where they have, I believe, contracted it. But in this division there have been 1,500 cases of malarial fever. Hardly a man has yet died from it, but the whole command is so weakened and shattered as to be ripe for dying like rotten sheep, when a real yellow-fever epidemic instead of a fake epidemic, like the present one, strikes us, as it is bound to do if we stay here at the height of the sickness season, August and the beginning of September. Quarantine against malarial fever is much like quarantining against the toothache.   All of us are certain that as soon as the authorities at Washington fully appreciate the condition of the army, we shall be sent home. If we are kept here it will in all human possibility mean an appalling disaster, for the surgeons here estimate that over half the army, if kept here during the sickly season, will die. This is not only terrible from the stand-point of the individual lives lost, but it means ruin from the stand-point of military efficiency of the flower of the American army, for the great bulk of the regulars are here with you. The sick list, large though it is, exceeding four thousand, affords but a faint index of the debilitation of the army. Not twenty per cent. are fit for active work.   Six weeks on the North Maine coast, for instance, or elsewhere where the yellow-fever germ cannot possibly propagate, would make us all as fit as fighting-cocks, as able as we are eager to take a leading part in the great campaign against Havana in the fall, even if we are not allowed to try Porto Rico.   We can be moved North, if moved at once, with absolute safety to the country, although, of course, it would have been infinitely better if we had been moved North or to Porto Rico two weeks ago. If there were any object in keeping us here, we would face yellow fever with as much indifference as we faced bullets. But there is no object.   The four immune regiments ordered here are sufficient to garrison the city and surrounding towns, and there is absolutely nothing for us to do here, and there has not been since the city surrendered. It is impossible to move into the interior. Every shifting of camp doubles the sick-rate in our present weakened condition, and, anyhow, the interior is rather worse than the coast, as I have found by actual reconnoissance. Our present camps are as healthy as any camps at this end of the island can be.   I write only because I cannot see our men, who have fought so bravely and who have endured extreme hardship and danger so uncomplainingly, go to destruction without striving so far as lies in me to avert a doom as fearful as it is unnecessary and undeserved. Yours respectfully,THEODORE ROOSEVELT, Colonel Commanding Second Cavalry Brigade.

Roosevelt delivered the letter to Shafter, but, presumably not convinced the corps commander would act on it in a timely fashion, also allegedly handed a copy of it to the Associated Press correspondent who was covering the Cuba beat. That correspondent quickly cabled the letter to AP headquarters and it published nationwide the same day.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


How Samuel Pepys really dealt with the plague: Pepys wrestled with some of the same questions confronting us today, but approached daily life in a pandemic rather differently (John Phipps / April 2, 2020, The Prospect)

Pepys's plague came in 1665, a descendant of the Black Death, now known as the "great plague of London." It was the last great British plague epidemic, lasting for over 18 months and killing an estimated 100,000 people. That number feels real again today, as we are warned to expect deaths numbering 20,000 or more.

In September of that year the plague was at its peak. It tore through the country killing more than 5,000 people each week in London alone. But Pepys was thriving like never before. Removed to the safety of the countryside, he was busier than ever: a tailor's son, elevated by a mixture of chance and merit, well on his way to becoming a dignified man of state.

His entry for the 14th of that month shows him caught between moods, weighing personal security and wellbeing against the death that was all around. He had travelled into the city that day, racked with an all-too-recognisable anxiety:

I did endeavour all I could to talk with as few as I could, there being now no observation of shutting up of houses infected, that to be sure we do converse and meet with people that have the plague. 

In London he settled his business with great success, securing his goods and advancing his career again. The day, he wrote, gave him "matter for as much content on one hand and melancholy on another" as any day in his life. In a bravura passage, he went on to describe the effects of the plague in the city. He had seen corpses carried close by him on their way to be buried; he discovered that someone had been dying of the plague at an inn when he was there.

To hear that poor Payne, my waiter, hath buried a child, and is dying himself. To hear that a labourer I sent but the other day to Dagenhams to know how they did there, is dead of the plague; and that one of my own watermen, that carried me daily, fell sick as soon as he had landed me on friday morning past, when I had been all night upon the water [...] and is now dead of the plague.

Here we can see Pepys wrestling with the way epidemics invert our normal intuitions about the opposition between public and private concern. Each victim is to be pitied, but each is also a potential threat. The closer someone is, the more dangerous they become. This can be awkward: before he fled to the countryside, Pepys had found himself among people so anxious about the disease that he had to lie about where he lived. Conversely, many of us are now wrestling with the counter-intuitive notion that the most public-spirited thing to do may be simply looking after ourselves.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


The political lessons of the 1918 pandemic (David Faris, April 4, 2020, The Week)

[P]resident Trump's decision to take counsel from crackpot law professors and his useless son-in-law instead of public health professionals means that many states are only now taking the steps necessary to contain the spread of this awful virus. Despite the brief polling sugar high from a rally-around-the-flag effect, the president and his obeisant red state governors own the response to this crisis. With unemployment headed to levels not seen even in the 1930s, as many as 200,000 Americans condemned to die agonizing deaths in hospital isolation wards and millions trapped in houses away from friends, family, and any source of joy, there will likely be a reckoning in November.

How significant the ruling party's punishment will be depends on a number of factors. Political scientist Alan Abramowitz's "Time For Change" model of post-WWII presidential elections featuring an incumbent shows that two factors -- second quarter economic growth, and the president's net approval rating in June -- are decisive in the incumbent party's fortunes.

Let's say, for example, that President Trump's approval rating eventually floats back down to the net -7.7 mark where it was on Super Tuesday, what we might now think of as the last normal day any of us will experience for months. Let's also say that second quarter economic growth comes in at -5 percent, which is significantly less dire than what economists now think is likely. What currently looks like a best-case scenario in these variables for Trump would yield something in the range of a 388-150 Electoral College landslide for the Democratic nominee in November, according to Abramowitz.

However, these models simply cannot account for the Black Swan nature of this crisis, or whether President Trump's base will ever acknowledge his administration's role in leaving America defenseless to the ravages of COVID-19. It is certainly possible that he will successfully emit some kind of blame miasma at other targets -- Democrats for impeaching him, governors like Andrew Cuomo for not acting quickly enough, Congress for failing to pass a sufficient relief package, the Obama administration for whatever he can -- and get away with it. But that strategy seems likely to run into limitations given the likely scale of human and economic suffering that is in store for this country.

To get a better sense of what awaits the GOP in November, we might also look at how natural disasters effect parties-in-power around the world. Here, the data is mixed. Some studies have shown little effect. And sometimes, as with Hurricane Sandy just before the 2012 election, incumbents seem to benefit. A 2011 paper presented at the International Studies Association conference by Constantine Boussalis, Travis Coan, and Parina Patel looked at the effects of natural disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes on subsequent elections between 1980 and 2007. They found that incumbent parties and leaders are most likely to be punished by voters if a) the state lacks the capacity or wherewithal to respond appropriately and b) enough time -- but not too much time! -- has passed for voters to assign blame to the incumbents.

The United States, the richest and most powerful country in the world, certainly possesses the wherewithal to respond capably to this disaster. But thus far the federal government has failed comprehensively to prevent the spread of the virus, to provide the needed testing, to distribute the necessary protective equipment for health care workers, and to put the kind of cash in people's pockets needed to avoid large-scale economic displacement. It is hard to identify any feature of this crisis that has been competently managed by these White House ineptocrats. [...]

The 1920 election therefore features the convergence of all three variables -- a sharp economic downturn in the second quarter of the election year plus an unpopular incumbent president who presided over the application of difficult and painful measures to fight off an exogenous shock in the form of a flu pandemic. Really, there is absolutely nothing remotely as similar to this year as the 1920 election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Trump fires watchdog who handled Ukraine whistleblower complaint (MARY CLARE JALONICK, 4/04/20, AP)

US President Donald Trump has fired Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community who handled the whistleblower complaint that triggered Trump's impeachment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories an odious symptom of France's virus crisis (CNAAN LIPHSHIZ, 4/04/20, Times of Israel)

"It's deeply saddening and it's revolting, but the coronavirus pandemic is a reminder that Jews will be blamed whenever there's an epidemic, be it today or 1347," said Marc Knobel, a historian who since 2002 has been the head of studies at the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities.

In recent weeks, a caricature of Agnes Buzyn, France's previous health minister who was Jewish, pouring poison into a well -- a depiction of one of the most prevalent theories that led to pogroms during the Black Death plague -- has made the rounds on French social media. It's been shared tens of thousands of times.

Another viral image superimposes Buzyn's face on the "happy merchant" anti-Semitic caricature, which shows a grinning Jewish man rubbing his palms together.

Then there's a widely shared video accusing Buzyn and her husband, Yves Levy, also Jewish, of withholding chloroquine -- an anti-malarial drug being touted as a possible coronavirus antidote by some, including US President Donald Trump, but whose effectivity against the coronavirus is unproven -- from the French public for financial gain. It garnered 170,000 views on YouTube before being deleted.

Ooops, nevermind

April 3, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Top Georgia Republican says mail-in ballots would be 'devastating to Republicans' (GEOFF EARLE, 4/03/20, DAILYMAIL.COM)

The top Republican in the Georgia state House says emergency efforts to send a mail-in ballot to every state voter could cost Republicans control of the state legislature.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston issued the warning as he complained about plans by Secretar of State Brad Raffensperger 'to ensure all Georgians can vote without fear for their health.'

'So, here, you know, the process keeps going up and up and up and so a multitude of reasons why vote by mail in my view is not acceptable," Ralston said, referencing recent comments by Donald Trump. 'The president said it best, this will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia,' he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


The impossible for capitalism is suddenly possible (SEBASTIAN BUCK, 4/03/20, Fast Company)

In the last few years, the political science concept of the Overton Window--the range of ideas seen as politically acceptable--entered the zeitgeist. Both the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are seen as having stretched the Overton Window, bringing ideas into the mainstream that had previously been radical.

Just a few weeks ago, it was radical to think of luxury goods production lines being reoriented to make products of collective necessity or CEOs committing their entire attention to a public health crisis. It would have been radical to think of fine dining restaurants pivoting to serve the food insecure. It would have been radical to think of grounded flights and 50% less pollution in one month. It would have been radical to think of not prioritizing annual growth, year after year after year.

It would have been radical to think of a major company ever saying this, as clothing company Arc'teryx just did: "Pull the emergency handbrake on business as usual and, individually and collectively, accept the choice of hitting one of two buttons: the panic or the pause. Let's embrace the pause."

Now, all of those things have happened in the space of a few days. What was radical is now the norm-- not just accepted, but so strongly required (legally and morally) that companies would be vilified if they did not take these steps.
The idea that companies, markets, the capitalist system could ever stop, change course, and focus on what matters seemed absurd just a few weeks ago. The question for business becomes: What's possible for companies today that was impossible, and what's impossible today that was once possible?

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Russia detains activist doctor trying to help hospital amid virus (DARIA LITVINOVA, 4/03/20,  AP) 

An activist doctor who had criticized Russia's response to the coronavirus outbreak was forcibly detained as she and some of her colleagues tried to deliver protective gear to a hospital in need.

Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva of the Alliance of Doctors union was trying to bring more than 500 masks, sanitizers, hazmat suits, gloves and protective glasses to a hospital in the Novgorod region about 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) northwest of Moscow on Thursday when she and the others were stopped by police on a highway.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Brazil health minister has big job, difficult boss (Jordi MIRO, April 3, 2020, AFP) 

As if leading his country's fight against coronavirus wasn't hard enough, Brazil's health minister has to deal with a boss, President Jair Bolsonaro, who criticizes, undermines and ignores him.

But Luiz Henrique Mandetta takes the far-right leader's snubs in his stride: "I'm working here," he says.

Tension has been brewing for weeks between the president known as the "Trump of the Tropics," who downplays COVID-19 as a "little flu," and the pediatric orthopedist tasked with making sure Brazil's health system doesn't collapse because of it.

The strain burst into the open this week, when Bolsonaro lashed out publicly at Mandetta, a professorial veteran of the public health system who has reacted to the pandemic with urgency and science.

Those are two things notably lacking in the response from the president, who has criticized coronavirus "hysteria" and said Brazilians' immune systems are so strong they can swim in raw sewage and "don't catch a thing."

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


The Trump administration stopped funding a pandemic warning program just a few months before the novel coronavirus outbreak (Kayla Epstein, 4/03/20, Business Insider)
Just months before the novel coronavirus outbreak began, the Trump administration cut funding to a program that helped train scientists to detect and monitor over 1,200 viruses that had the potential to explode into pandemics, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

The program, known as PREDICT, partnered with 60 foreign laboratories, including the lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan that first identified the novel coronavirus, according to the L.A. Times. But funding for the $200 million program ran out in September 2019, and dozens of scientists and analysists were laid off.

The project's fate worried many public health experts, according to an October 2019 report in the New York Times.

The project was founded in 2009 by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of its Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) program.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


AP-NORC poll: Less than half back Trump's pandemic response (JULIE PACE, HANNAH FINGERHUT and WILL WEISSERT, April 1, 2020, AP)

Forty-four percent of Americans support Trump's oversight of the pandemic, in line with his overall 43% approval rating. That's at the high end for the Republican president during his more than three years in office.

Given the low point at which he topped out at even while we all rallied 'round the flag, his low is likely closer to the 20% that oppose immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


The collapse of the US fracking industry, in seven charts (Tim McDonnell, 4/03/20, quartz)

[C]oronavirus and all the associated travel restrictions and social distancing will cause demand for oil to plummet by at least 20 percent this year, according to the International Energy Agency. Yet global producers, particularly Saudi-led OPEC and Russia, still haven't been able to agree on a plan to slow production.   

That's a big problem for fracking companies, almost all of whom require oil prices of at least $30, if not much higher, to turn a profit. Many are also under a lot of debt: The industry as a whole will see $133 billion in debt come due between now and 2026, according to analytics firm Rystad Energy. Meanwhile, the glut in production has been so extreme that the world is quickly running out of places to keep it all, which could drive prices down even further. 

At current prices, not one of the 100 largest fracking operations in the country can turn a profit.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 AM


Bill Withers death: Ain't No Sunshine singer dies aged 81 (Roisin O'Connor, 4/03/20, Independent)

"A solitary man with a heart driven to connect to the world at large, with his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other.

"As private a life as he lived close to intimate family and friends, his music forever belongs to the world. In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones."

Withers' song "Lean On Me" had become a source of comfort for many during the coronavirus pandemic, with care workers, nurses, doctors and fellow artists sharing their own renditions online.

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Trump is meeting with oil company CEOs to raise gas prices he just celebrated as a 'massive tax cut' (Peter Weber, 4/03/20, The Week)

On Tuesday, Trump told the White House press corps that he'll join Russia and the Saudis "at the appropriate time if need be" to work on helping end their price war, explaining, "it's hurtful to one of our biggest industries, the oil industry." In mid-March, meanwhile, Trump said he "would have dreamed about" oil prices this low, adding: "With gasoline prices coming down, that's like a tax cut. Frankly, that's like a big tax cut, not a little tax cut, for the consumer." 

He was hired to save Putin, after all.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


The Trump Virus Is Getting Worse: As COVID-19 gets worse, so does the president. (RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON  APRIL 3, 2020, The Bulwark)

For Trump, America's craving for hope as deaths proliferate bespeaks, instead, its mass adoration for an incurable narcissist who proposes to affix his own signature to the stimulus checks so many desperately need.

So swiftly does his daily deluge of falsehoods, contradictions, and self-exculpation swell that the New York Times sorts them into categories: "Playing down the severity of the pandemic"; "Overstating potential treatments and policies"; "Blaming others"; and "Rewriting history."

Reality vanishes. When a Democratic Super-PAC ran a videotape of Trump's most egregious misstatements, his campaign threatened to sue.

One pronouncement consumes the next: Democrats are overhyping the danger because "this is their new hoax." He may quarantine New York and Connecticut. If you want a test, you can get a test. COVID-19 is just like the "flu."

And all of this as we pay in fatalities for his original sins: ignoring warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies about the outbreak, and failing to prepare the tests and stockpiles needed to combat the virus.

Yet he learns so little. Until Sunday, he meant to celebrate Easter by relaxing social distancing - which, public health experts estimated, would cost between 1.6 and 2.2 million lives. That any imbecile would have known better only intensified the relief when, at last, Trump heeded Drs. Fauci and Birx - and the warnings of campaign advisors that the dead would doom his re-election. By this point, Dr. Birx explained, if Americans at large observe social distancing "perfectly," we may confine our fatalities somewhat in the range of an appalling 100,000 to 200,000 lives.

Another president would have taken his own harrowing history of sustained and fatal misjudgements as a mandate for self-reflection. Trump called into Fox & Friends to congratulate himself...

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


The Rise of Sexless Moralism? (Titus Techera, 3/29/20, University Bookman)

America is now all about the one, not the two, so the most massive corporations lack competition. Marvel, too, is conforming to the rest of Disney and turning to magical fantasy stories, shedding any interest in science fiction. And now our new technology companies have also become entertainment companies, collapsing yet another distinction that must be collapsed in order to achieve oneness, or identity, the highest dream of democracy.

Disney and Amazon are therefore likely to ruin Netflix and drive Warner Bros. (owned by AT&T) into irrelevance. They are far wealthier and more connected to the American home. Meanwhile, Netflix's own attempts at family stories, Stranger Things and Lost in Space, don't seem to have much of a future or any relevance, though the former was much applauded for a few years.

Family values ultimately win in American entertainment, for the most part, and it's worth wondering what shape this entertainment will have. This makes The Mandalorian, a very banal show, quite important. It is a revelation of what is coming in the near future. What we can see already is that characters will be simplistic to the point of caricature, plots will be simple and almost entirely bereft of imagination, and dialogue will be spare and sparse.

The show's success is owed to this lack of complexity more than to anything else--we know immediately who the good guys are and who the bad guys are and in each episode the good guys win. The faceless hero and the cute animal prevail every time and never pay a price for their victory. We win along with them, as does morality. Every week, we can enjoy a bit more certainty about the inevitable victory of good over evil.

Until recently, self-styled sophisticates were telling us that TV has finally become sophisticated, even more so than the movies. Anti-heroes of various kinds dominated TV until recently, so more and more money, talent, and prestige was poured into this form of entertainment. But of course, even anti-heroes depend on exclusivity for their allure, on glamour of a kind TV used to be able to bestow--and so flooding the market cheapens everything.

That short age of seemingly sophisticated storytelling dominating entertainment, epitomized by Game of Thrones, now looks like an accident, a matter of luck. Star Wars above all shows that moral simplicity and bad plots are what the largest audiences pay most for, and since the Internet democratized TV, there is no talking back to success--there are no more oligarchic gatekeepers or success makers who might control what audiences see.

TV was hot precisely because movies had been engineered for global appeal.  Now that popular tv shows are seen globally, they Are just following the same path.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Jared Kushner -- who is operating a 'shadow' coronavirus task force -- appears not to know why federal emergency stockpiles exist (Tom Porter, 4/03/20, Business Insider)

When asked about his work with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure states can obtain vital equipment, he said that state officials should not assume that federal stockpiles of equipment are for state use.

"You also have a situation where in some states, FEMA allocated ventilators to the states and you have instances where in cities they're running out, but the state still has a stockpile and the notion of the federal stockpile was, it's supposed to be our stockpile. It's not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use," Kushner said. [...]

Kushner's remarks seem to contradict the purpose of the Strategic National Stockpile, which is operated by HHS. According to its website, the stockpile is "the nation's largest supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out."

"When state, local, tribal, and territorial responders request federal assistance to support their response efforts, the stockpile ensures that the right medicines and supplies get to those who need them most during an emergency," the website said.

Some critics were baffled at the line Kushner seemed to draw between equipment for federal use, and state use. 

"Dear Jared Kushner of the @realDonaldTrump Administration: We are the UNITED STATES of America. The federal stockpile is reserved for all Americans living in our states, not just federal employees. Get it?" tweeted Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat. 

Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, took issue with Kushner's use of the word "our." 

"Shocking. His use of the word, "our" , is so wrong. Mr. Kushner and the federal government work for US, citizens of the United States, who also happen to live in states. These masks in the stockpile are OUR masks, paid for by OUR money," he tweeted. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


A Tale of Two Nations? Populism, Plutocrats, and the Managerial State : Michael Lind's The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite (WILLIAM HAY, 4/02/20, Public Discourse)

Quoting James Burnham's adage that "only power restrains power," Lind frames present discontents around the tensions that first arose in America in the late nineteenth century out of industrial capitalism. By that time, large enterprises, run by salaried managers rather than owner-operators, had come to dominate manufacturing and related sectors. While Lind does not cite the book, Alfred Chandler's The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business makes a similar point, tracing a story about changes that reached beyond the economy. Industry may have generated work and wealth, along with a wider range of consumer products, but it also concentrated power. In the twentieth century, class conflict, exacerbated by the pressures of two World Wars, divided societies until a settlement rebalanced the equation.

The economic part of the settlement that Lind describes involved "a state-brokered system of bargaining over wages and working conditions, among employers or employer associations and independent trade unions, compatible with representative democracy." Mass-membership parties, with accountability up and down their structures, filled an equivalent political role. American Progressives, Lind notes, held politicians in contempt, while idealizing purportedly nonpartisan civil servants, "who would apply expertise in social science to the making of policy in the public interest." They accordingly treated the public as subjects to be administered rather than as citizens who governed themselves. Politicians, who could not ignore constituents without losing office or the support that gave them influence, put a check on both oligarchs and the administrative state.

Lind also discusses how religious and civic groups, whose leadership came from the communities they served, gave their members a voice in culture and education. The Catholic Legion of Decency imposed a check on Hollywood by rating films; local Protestant groups imposed community standards on schools and libraries. They restrained both mass media that rewarded "sensationalism, obscenity, and violence" to turn a profit, and elites that imposed their own preferences or intellectual fads. Far from seeing these efforts as censorship or small-mindedness, Lind sees them as democratic participation that gave individuals and families more power--more than merely the choice to reject offensive material.

The settlement was dismantled in the later twentieth century by what Lind calls a neoliberal revolution from above. Deregulation removed constraints on business that had benefited workers. The offshoring of production and immigrants' entry into domestic labor pools weakened native workers' position. On matters beyond economics, judicial review "usurped much of the former authority of legislatures," thus curtailing voters' power to check the government through elected representatives. Neoliberals were able to push aggressively a "counter-majoritarian, rights-based liberalism" that became antidemocratic. Elites withdrew from cross-class membership organizations and associated instead with nonprofits, which were themselves staffed by university graduates and funded by wealthy donors. These nonprofits in turn sought no longer to cooperate with a cross-section of fellow citizens, but rather to do things for or to them. The people did not respond with humble gratitude.

Neoliberal elites, Lind argues, pushed their pro-market economic policies and anti-traditionalist social policies against the wishes of the working class. The latter sought, not a more open society, but "a combination of economic and cultural protection" against the changes that had disrupted their lives.

There's an insight here, just not the intended one.  the rise of the Labor movement was indeed an economic/cultural protection racket, engineered by and for white men.  It endured for awhile, largely because the rebuilt economy of the post-War period was so productive that it could withstand employment and salaries disconnected from market economics.  But the Civil Rights era required managers to bring blacks, women, etc. into the workforce too.  And, since unions had already secured job protections, the new employees were simply added to the old--they weren't displacing them--and with union contracts levering salaries ever higher we got the inevitable explosion of inflation.  Then Thatcher, Volcker, & Reagan intervened and accelerated the long decline of manufacturing employment that we're still in, even as we manufacture ever more.

But we are never going back to the world the Populists want, where white men worked in splendid isolation, while their wives tended the home, and minorities were largely unseen. Instead, the markets are coming for the insanely bloated managerial class with computers and robots serving as the new class of workers. the Pandemic should accelerate this process as employers realize just how little work most employees do.

The upside for Mr. Lind's white working class is that once unemployment/underemployment becomes a problem of the elites too, we will take the sorts of social welfare steps that will protect everyone: UBI, lifetime savings accounts, free college, etc.  And his subjects will be reintegrated into America instead of adhering to Nationalism.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Fauci endorses national stay-at-home order (QUINT FORGEY, 04/03/2020, pOLITICO)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggested Thursday that the federal government should impose a nationwide stay-at-home order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

Asked whether all states have to be "on the same page" in terms of issuing those directives, Fauci told CNN, "I don't understand why that's not happening," and acknowledged the Trump administration's hesitance to encroach upon local authorities.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Germany has a low coronavirus mortality rate: Here's why (Holly Ellyatt, 4/03/20, Deutsche Welle)

The low mortality rate in Germany, at just over 1%, is far below its neighboring European countries, and this has been put down to Germany's decision to implement widespread testing of people suspected of having the virus, as opposed to Italy or the U.K.'s decision to only test symptomatic cases.

Karl Lauterbach, a professor of health economics and epidemiology at the University of Cologne, and a politician in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Germany, told CNBC that Germany's less severe experience of the pandemic so far was down to a handful of factors.

"I think so far we've been lucky because we were hit by the wave of new infections later than many other European countries, for example Italy, Spain and France," he told CNBC Thursday.

"So we had a minor but important delay in the wave of infections coming to Germany. Secondly, the first people that got infected in Germany tended to be younger than the average of the population ... so we were hit later and with younger patients initially."

Lauterbach noted that a third factor that helped Germany was a slow increase in the number of infections, allowing those patients to be treated at the country's top medical institutions, including some of the country's best university hospitals (including those in Bonn, Dusseldorf, Aachen and Cologne) in the Heinsberg region where there was a cluster of infections at the start of the outbreak.

"Number four, all things considered, the German health-care system and hospital system has been modernized by the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats over the last 20 years ... this meant we had more hospital beds, more ventilators, more ICU (Intensive Care Units) beds and more hospital doctors, roughly speaking, than any other comparable country in Europe ... So our system is in a reasonable shape for such an epidemic."

While almost all European countries have introduced lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, fatality rates have differed wildly.

The mortality rate in Italy around the end of March stood at 11%, for example. Germany's rate is comparable with South Korea, a country that has also attracted plaudits for its management of the coronavirus crisis with extensive testing, contact tracing and digital surveillance of its citizens. Germany's lockdown, alongside a rigorous testing regime, has also helped, Lauterbach said.

They've also had a prolonged period of serious and competent leadership.
Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Once Upon a Time, the NRA Stood Up to the Gun Industry (Frank Smyth, April 3, 2020, LitHub)

During Roosevelt's second term, a new bill, the Federal Firearms Act, was introduced by Senator Royal Copeland, Democrat from New York. The bill proposed extending the 1934 law to establish a federal licensing regime for firearms dealers and to record their sales while barring sales to "prohibited" individuals including convicted felons.

The NRA supported the legislation, noting that it would "not in any way impinge upon" owners of pistols or revolvers. Additionally, the organization supported legislation to restrict a new, "'freak' class of weapon" called the Magnum revolver. 

The NRA's position was articulated in 1937 by C. B. Lister in the American Rifleman. (The NRA still awards a trophy in his name, honoring him for his leadership in "building the NRA to an organization of national stature.") In his article about the "freak" Magnum revolver, Lister seems to foreshadow the views of many gun reform advocates today: 

In view of the fact that the Magnum is, from the standpoint of the sportsman, definitely in the "freak" class of weapon, and inasmuch as the hunting of big game with a one-hand gun is definitely not within the capabilities of the average shooter, who has difficulty enough aligning his sights and securing hits with the rifle, it seems most probable that Congress will feel that legislation is desirable which will have the practical effect of restricting sale of the Magnum to Police Departments. 

The Magnum, in Lister's opinion, was a "freak" weapon because the charge in the round was more powerful than that used in other handguns. Making an argument that would cause today's NRA leaders to cringe, Lister concluded that such weapons should be restricted not just to the police, but only to those police "especially trained in the use of these weapons."

The American Rifleman ran an unsigned editorial on the page next to Lister's signed article that made the same point: "Inasmuch as the gun performs no practical function for the sportsman which cannot be [performed] as well or better by arms of standard type, it is impossible to defend the Magnum against legislation which would have the practical effect of limiting its sale to agents of the Federal, State, and local police." 

The opposing view is judicial activism at its worst.

April 2, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Navy captain of coronavirus-infected aircraft carrier relieved of command (Joe Garofoli , Tal Kopan and Matthias Gafni, April 2, 2020, SF Chronicle)

The captain of a nuclear aircraft carrier who pleaded with U.S. Navy officials for more resources for 93 sailors aboard his ship who were infected with the coronavirus was relieved of his command Thursday.

He was Li Wenlianged..

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


As some red-state leaders wake up to the dangers of the coronavirus, they reveal either their ignorance or their continued dishonesty in the face of a pandemic (Hillary Hoffower, 4/02/20, Business Insider)

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia has finally caught up to most of America.

In a news conference on Wednesday, he issued a statewide shelter-in-place order to stop the spread of coronavirus -- well after 33 states plus Washington DC had already done so. He said he issued the order due to projections showing that Georgia's hospitals could be at capacity by late April if current social distancing measures remained in place, reported Business Insider's Kayla Epstein.

But he also said that a key part of his decision was that "we didn't know ... until the last 24 hours" that asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus could infect other people, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had just announced that "individuals can be infected and begin to spread coronavirus earlier than previously thought, even if they had no symptoms."

"From a public health standpoint, this is a revelation and a game-changer," Kemp said. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


New research suggests industrial livestock, not wet markets, might be origin of Covid-19 (GRAIN, 30 Mar 2020)

There is a growing body of evidence that points to a different origin story for Covid-19. We now know that none of the animals tested at the Wuhan seafood market tested positive and about a third of the initial set of reported cases in people in Wuhan from early December 2019 had no connection to the seafood market, including the first reported case 3 4 . And we also now know, thanks to the leak of an official Chinese report to the South China Morning Post that the actual first known case of Covid-19 in Hubei was detected in mid-November, weeks before the cluster of cases connected to the Wuhan seafood market were reported5.

Last week, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute published a genomic sequencing analysis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the journal Nature that raises more doubts about the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 having originated at the Wuhan seafood market6.

The scientists conclude that SARS-CoV-2 evolved from natural selection and not genetic engineering in a lab, and they say that this natural selection occurred through two possible scenarios. One is that it evolved into its highly pathogenic form within humans. In this case, a less pathogenic form of the virus would have jumped from an animal to a human host and then would have evolved into its current form through an "extended period" of "undetected human-to-human transmission". Under this scenario, there is no reason to believe that the Wuhan seafood market had anything to do with the evolution of the disease, even if it is quite possible that an infected person at the market could have transmitted it to others.

The second scenario fits with previous coronavirus outbreaks, in which humans contracted deadly coronaviruses after direct exposure to civets, in the case of SARS, and to camels, in the case of MERS. In this scenario, SARS-CoV-2 would have evolved to its present form in an animal host before transfer to humans. Like many other scientists, the Scripps researchers think that it is most likely that the initial transmission would have occurred from bats to an intermediate animal host, where the virus then evolved to its current form.

The Scripps7 researchers go on to say that the particular genetics of SARS-CoV-2 indicate that "an animal host would probably have to have a high population density (to allow natural selection to proceed efficiently) and an ACE2-encoding gene that is similar to the human ortholog," which is what the SARS-CoV-2 virus binds to in humans.

So which animals fit this criteria?

Another recently published study identifies the most likely intermediate animal hosts for SARS-CoV-2, based on their presence in Wuhan and their having a human-like ACE2 that enables the binding of SARS-CoV-2. These are the animals the study identified: civets, pigs, pangolins, cats, cows, buffalos, goats, sheep and pigeons8.

Many of the animals on this list are industrially farmed in China, even wild animals like civets and pangolins are intensively farmed for their use in Chinese medicines. Suspicions that wild animal farms may have been behind the Covid-19 outbreak have already led the Chinese government to shut down 20,000 wild animal farms across the country9.

But hardly any attention has been given to some other animals on this list, which more clearly meet the "high population density" criteria. Pigs would be one obvious candidate from this list, for several reasons.

All that sweet sweet racism wasted....
Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM



Open-source software has an image of radicalism. Yet it's increasingly an ally -- not enemy -- of big tech.

When Vicky Brasseur, known as VM Brasseur online, got into open-source coding more than 30 years ago, the name hadn't even been invented yet. She worked on initiatives like Project Gutenberg as part of what was then called the free culture movement, whose goal was for information to be free, and software democratic.

Today, Brasseur isn't a fringe activist or hacker. She is director of open-source strategy at Juniper Networks, a U.S. corporation with approximately 10,000 employees.

Brasseur personifies the dramatic change in what is now known as the open-source software movement. The words "open source" still call up images of radicals battling faceless corporations, of OpenOffice and Linux offering alternatives to giants like Microsoft. In 2000, Steve Ballmer, then director of Microsoft, even criticized Linux as "communist."

But more and more large corporations are embracing open-source software, which undergirds many of the commercial services we use every day. By 2016, when Microsoft moved part of its database infrastructure to Linux, Ballmer had backed off from his open-source-as-communism stance. Two years later, in 2018, Microsoft bought GitHub, a code-sharing site for open-source projects, for $7.5 billion. MySQL, an open-source system for building databases, is used by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And amid the coronavirus pandemic, pharma giant Pfizer has announced that it is using an open-source platform to share its research findings with other companies to hasten the global race for a vaccine.

"There's hardly any commercial product available today that doesn't use open source," says Karl Popp, an expert on open source at German software corporation SAP. "Most modern software and cloud products are built on top of open source."

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Beyond Originalism: The dominant conservative philosophy for interpreting the Constitution has served its purpose, and scholars ought to develop a more moral framework. (Adrian Vermeule, 3/31/20, The Atlantic)

In recent years, allegiance to the constitutional theory known as originalism has become all but mandatory for American legal conservatives. Every justice and almost every judge nominated by recent Republican administrations has pledged adherence to the faith. At the Federalist Society, the influential association of legal conservatives, speakers talk and think of little else. Even some luminaries of the left-liberal legal academy have moved away from speaking about "living constitutionalism," "fundamental fairness," and "evolving standards of decency," and have instead justified their views in originalist terms. One often hears the catchphrase "We are all originalists now."

Originalism comes in several varieties (baroque debates about key theoretical ideas rage among its proponents), but their common core is the view that constitutional meaning was fixed at the time of the Constitution's enactment. This approach served legal conservatives well in the hostile environment in which originalism was first developed, and for some time afterward.

But originalism has now outlived its utility, and has become an obstacle to the development of a robust, substantively conservative approach to constitutional law and interpretation. Such an approach--one might call it "common-good constitutionalism"--should be based on the principles that government helps direct persons, associations, and society generally toward the common good, and that strong rule in the interest of attaining the common good is entirely legitimate. In this time of global pandemic, the need for such an approach is all the greater, as it has become clear that a just governing order must have ample power to cope with large-scale crises of public health and well-being--reading "health" in many senses, not only literal and physical but also metaphorical and social.

Alternatives to originalism have always existed on the right, loosely defined. One is libertarian (or "classical liberal") constitutionalism, which emphasizes principles of individual freedom that are often in uneasy tension with the Constitution's original meaning and the founding generation's norms. The founding era was hardly libertarian on a number of fronts that loom large today, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion; consider that in 1811, the New York courts, in an opinion written by the influential early jurist Chancellor James Kent, upheld a conviction for blasphemy against Jesus Christ as an offense against the public peace and morals. Another  alternative is Burkean traditionalism, which tries to slow the pace of legal innovation. Here, too, the difference with originalism is clear, because originalism is sometimes revolutionary; consider the Court's originalist opinion declaring a constitutional right to own guns, a startling break with the Court's long-standing precedents.

These alternatives still have scattered adherents, but originalism has prevailed, mainly because it has met the political and rhetorical needs of legal conservatives struggling against an overwhelmingly left-liberal legal culture. The theory of originalism, initially developed in the 1970s and '80s, enjoyed its initial growth because it helped legal conservatives survive and even flourish in a hostile environment, all without fundamentally challenging the premises of the legal liberalism that dominated both the courts and the academy. It enabled conservatives to oppose constitutional innovations by the Warren and Burger Courts, appealing over the heads of the justices to the putative true meaning of the Constitution itself. When, in recent years, legal conservatism has won the upper hand in the Court and then in the judiciary generally, originalism was the natural coordinating point for a creed, something to which potential nominees could pledge fidelity.

There's no such thing as being a revolutionary originalist.  The conservative Court's gun opinions are revolutionary for precisely the same reason the liberal Court's privacy opinions were, because they are untethered from the Constitution. These are cases where the Judicial Branch has usurped the Legislative and Executive powers.  They are destructive of republican liberty and antithetical to the Founding.  The entire point of the Separation of Powers is, of course, to act as an obstacle to any of the branches overstepping its delineated role.  The author deserves credit for being forthright in his disregard for the Republic, but no conservative can follow him. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Trump attacks Fox News reporter for asking about disbanded pandemic team: "Are you working for CNN?" (IGOR DERYSH, APRIL 2, 2020, Salon)

President Donald Trump lashed out at Fox News reporter John Roberts on Wednesday for asking about his administration's decision to disband the National Security Council's pandemic team prior to the coronavirus outbreak. [...]

Roberts called out Trump's false claim, noting that it was his administration which had disbanded the White House pandemic team created under the Obama administration.

"You have talked about the failings of the Obama administration in leaving you with empty shelves and no plans," Roberts said. "They have said you got rid of the pandemic office in the National Security Council-"

"We didn't do that," Trump interjected, pushing another false claim. "That turned out to be a false story."

"What are you, working for CNN?" Trump added.

One can hardly blame Donald for being shocked at a serious question from a captive network.

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


Is Trump killing his supporters? (Thomas Reese, 4/02/20, RNS)

Republicans are inclined to believe and defend anything the president says, while Democrats are skeptical of anything he says. 

This also applies to the coronavirus. According to a poll taken by the Pew Research Center in mid-March, "59% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the outbreak is a major threat to the health of the U.S. population as a whole; only 33% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the same."

The same survey found that 76% of Republicans thought the media exaggerated the risks of the virus, while only 49% of Democrats felt the same way.

It stands to reason that, as a result, Democrats were more likely to take precautions early in the epidemic than Republicans. Democrats' skepticism toward the president may have saved their lives, while Republicans' trust in the president may have endangered theirs.

"About half say Trump has not taken risks from the coronavirus seriously enough; a majority says news media have exaggerated the risks" Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Likewise evangelical Christians. The same Pew survey found that in mid-March, 77% of white evangelicals were confident that Trump was doing a good job responding to the coronavirus outbreak. Other religious groups were more skeptical. Only 52% of Catholics, for example, felt the same. For the unaffiliated, the number was 28%.

When the coronavirus epidemic is over, social scientists are going to have a field day examining the impact of Trump's leadership, or lack of it, on the contagion.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


After coronavirus, we need to rethink densely populated cities (JOEL KOTKIN, April 1, 2020, Fortune)

For the better part of this millennium, the nation's urban planning punditry has predicted that the future lay with its densest, largest, and most cosmopolitan cities. Yet even before the onslaught of COVID-19, demographic and economic forces were pointing in the exact opposite direction, as our biggest cities--New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago--all lost population in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic may be too early to measure, but it's clear that the great preponderance of cases, and deaths, are concentrated--at least as of now--in dense urban centers, most particularly Wuhan, Milan, Seattle, Madrid, and New York City. This crisis is the right moment for the world to reconsider the conventional wisdom that denser cities are better cities.[...]

The threat of pestilence has been prevalent throughout urban history. Cities, noted the historian William McNeil, are inherently "unhealthy places" when faced with fateful encounters with pathogens. Even in ancient Rome, Alexandria, and, later, the great cities of the Renaissance, plagues repeatedly devastated urban populations, particularly those most integrated into global trade.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Carlson: Chinese students studying in US are "children of the people who are trying to displace us" (MATTHEW CHAPMAN, APRIL 2, 2020, Raw Story)

On Fox News Wednesday, Tucker Carlson went well beyond racial dog whistles when he questioned whether we should be allowing Chinese students in U.S. universities -- and warned that the government of China is trying to "displace us."

"We can start by ceasing the subsidizing the education of the children of Chinese elites," said Carlson. "I know this is off-topic but I can't resist. Our colleges and universities -- almost every one of which is supported by taxpayers in the end -- educate, at a net loss, the children of the people who are trying to displace us. 

You'd think FOX's wardrobe department could tie the hood tighter so it doesn't slip so often.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Governors Far Better Than Trump In Pandemic (Dan Desai Martin, April 2, 2020, National Memo)

As the number of infections and deaths from the coronavirus pandemic increases, more than 3 in 5 registered voters (61 percent) said Trump was unprepared to handle the outbreak, while only 32 percent said he was prepared, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released on Wednesday.

The poll showed a much more favorable view of governors, with 47 percent of respondents saying state leaders were prepared and 45 percent saying they were unprepared.

The same poll showed that 62 percent rated governors as doing an excellent or good job, with only 43 percent saying the same of Trump.

Appropriately small and brief.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has brought out the caring side of people across the world with Google searches on how to donate or help different groups of people affected at an all-time high.

According to Google Trends, people are searching for ways to show gratitude toward all those working tirelessly during the pandemic. Americans have been researching how to thank their bus drivers, nurses, healthcare providers, and workers. They have also searched for how to support local and small businesses.

Other high search trends include "how to volunteer," "how to help the community," "how to help the elderly," and "food donation."

To help fulfill these philanthropic wishes, Newsweek has compiled a list of ways people can support, donate, or volunteer during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Funny how folks are always surprised what a decent society it is.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'The Sandbaggers' Is the Best Spy Show Ever MadeThe Sandbaggers, a British spy drama that aired just 20 episodes between 1978 and 1980, is hands-down the best T.V. show ever about espionage. (David Axe, 4/01/20, National Interest)

The Sandbaggers was created and written by Ian Mackintosh, a former Royal Navy officer whose previous drama Warship is also a cult classic. Mackintosh died in a mysterious 1979 plane crash. His spy show died with him, ending on a cliffhanger at the end of its third series.

While The Sandbaggers occasionally indulges the audience by actually showing SIS's agents in action--sneaking across Soviet territory, infiltrating a terrorist camp in Cyprus or thwarting Iraqi hijackers--the real drama takes place almost entirely at the desk of Neil Burnside, SIS's director of operations, played with a deeply-suppressed snarl by Roy Marsden.

Burnside is divorced. He doesn't drink. He briefly dates a girl during The Sandbaggers' first series but it ends, well, badly. His only friend--if that's the right word--is his CIA counterpart Jeff Ross, portrayed by Bob Sherman. But it's hard to tell if Burnside and Ross actually really like each other.

No, they need each other--and are careful to maintain their "special relationship" in pursuit of, as Burnside puts it, "the utter destruction of the KGB." Ross admits that the CIA is "sloppy ... but rich." He needs SIS's expertise. SIS for its part is always starving for funds and relies on the CIA's manpower and technology.

Burnside oversees three "Sandbaggers"--special direct-action operatives. In the pilot episode, a Norwegian spy plane has crashed in Soviet territory and the Norwegians, lacking experienced agents of their own, want the Sandbaggers' help rescuing the crew.

Burnside is reluctant--it's too risky. But for political reasons his superiors order him to send in two agents, including the veteran Sandbagger One, played with quiet confidence by Ray Lonnen. But the Norwegians, piquing at the Brits' recalcitrance, also ask for CIA assistance ... and fail to inform SIS of the duplicative request.

The result is a disastrous special ops collision behind enemy lines that nearly gets Sandbagger One blown up. The CIA team and the Norwegians come to a bad end and the SIS men barely escape. Burnside flies to Oslo for a one-minute meeting with the Norwegian spy chief.

One minute is all he needs to make it very clear how badly the Norwegians have behaved--and what the repercussions could be in the titanic Cold War struggle.

Burnside goes to great lengths to protect his Sandbaggers, but he also doesn't hesitate to risk their lives when the mission is important, the information is good, the access is adequate and, perhaps most importantly, SIS can cover its tracks.

Fundamentally, The Sandbaggers is about the process of weighing outcomes, gathering info, ensuring access, attributing success and denying failure. It is, in other words, about planning.

Looks like you can watch free on Tubi.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A Timeline of Trump's Press Briefing LiesThe president's nightly briefings are about as accurate as his rallies. (TIM MILLER  APRIL 2, 2020, The Bulwark)

After months of ignoring and downplaying the coronavirus crisis, Donald Trump addressed the nation on March 11 from the Oval Office. It was the first in what was to become a series of briefings. These all-consuming almost daily events have been marked by happy talk, exaggeration, misinformation, and outright lies by President Trump.

Trump's lies have ranged far and wide. In part, this pattern is based on his general ignorance and the lack of seriousness with which he approached the crisis during the only period America had to mitigate it.

Other lies are standard Trumpian hyperbole meeting a moment that calls for brutal truth-telling.

Still others are deliberate attempts to hide his failures or to make the American people believe something that is untrue in order to make himself look better.

Daniel Dale at CNN has done yeoman's work cataloguing the lies big and small. What this timeline provides is an overarching look at three weeks worth of public statements to give a sense of the breadth and scope of his mendacity over the course of the crisis and how it has irreparably undermined the public trust.

Fact check: Trump utters series of false and misleading claims at coronavirus briefing (Daniel Dale and Tara Subramaniam, 3/27/20, CNN)

Did China lie about its coronavirus death toll? (The Associated Press, 4/01/20)

Every few days brings another grim milestone in the coronavirus outbreak. First Italy and Spain surpassed China in reported deaths. Then, this week, the U.S. and France did.

But did they really?

Skepticism about China's numbers has swirled throughout the crisis, fueled by official efforts to quash bad news in the early days and a general distrust of the government. Long lines of people waiting to collect the ashes of loved ones at funeral homes last week revived the debate.

There is no smoking gun pointing to a cover-up by China's ruling Communist Party. But intentional or not, there is reason to believe that more people died of COVID-19 than the official tally, which stood at 3,312 at the end of Tuesday. The same applies to the 81,554 confirmed cases, now exceeded by the U.S., Italy and Spain.

The health system in Wuhan, the city where three-fourths of China's victims died, was overwhelmed at the peak of the outbreak. Hospitals overflowed, patients with symptoms were sent home and there weren't enough kits to test everyone.

People are right to be angry about the lies of world leaders. Open-source everything.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It's Not Supposed To (N.T. WRIGHT, MARCH 29, 2020, TIME)

Rationalists (including Christian rationalists) want explanations; Romantics (including Christian romantics) want to be given a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, "Why?" and don't get an answer. It's where we get to when we move beyond our self-centered worry about our sins and failings and look more broadly at the suffering of the world. It's bad enough facing a pandemic in New York City or London. What about a crowded refugee camp on a Greek island? What about Gaza? Or South Sudan?

At this point the Psalms, the Bible's own hymnbook, come back into their own, just when some churches seem to have given them up. "Be gracious to me, Lord," prays the sixth Psalm, "for I am languishing; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror." "Why do you stand far off, O Lord?" asks the 10th Psalm plaintively. "Why do you hide yourself in time of trouble?" And so it goes on: "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?" (Psalm 13). And, all the more terrifying because Jesus himself quoted it in his agony on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22).

Yes, these poems often come out into the light by the end, with a fresh sense of God's presence and hope, not to explain the trouble but to provide reassurance within it. But sometimes they go the other way. Psalm 89 starts off by celebrating God's goodness and promises, and then suddenly switches and declares that it's all gone horribly wrong. And Psalm 88 starts in misery and ends in darkness: "You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness." A word for our self-isolated times.

The point of lament, woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it's an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That's not the picture we get in the Bible.

God was grieved to his heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures. He was devastated when his own bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him. And when God came back to his people in person--the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that's what it's about--he wept at the tomb of his friend. St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit "groaning" within us, as we ourselves groan within the pain of the whole creation. The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to recognize the One God in the tears of Jesus and the anguish of the Spirit.

This is all too terrifying for people; little wonder that they prefer a magic God to the real One.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Energy-harvesting design aims to turn Wi-Fi signals into usable power (JENNIFER CHU, 02 April, 2020, Big Think)

Any device that sends out a Wi-Fi signal also emits terahertz waves -- electromagnetic waves with a frequency somewhere between microwaves and infrared light.
These high-frequency radiation waves, known as "T-rays," are also produced by almost anything that registers a temperature, including our own bodies and the inanimate objects around us.

Terahertz waves are pervasive in our daily lives, and if harnessed, their concentrated power could potentially serve as an alternate energy source. Imagine, for instance, a cellphone add-on that passively soaks up ambient T-rays and uses their energy to charge your phone. However, to date, terahertz waves are wasted energy, as there has been no practical way to capture and convert them into any usable form.

Now physicists at MIT have come up with a blueprint for a device they believe would be able to convert ambient terahertz waves into a direct current, a form of electricity that powers many household electronics.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'It's a place where they try to destroy you': why concentration camps are still with us (Daniel Trilling, 2 Apr 2020, The Guardian)

At the start of the 21st century, the following things did not exist. In the US, a large network of purpose-built immigration prisons, some of which are run for profit. In western China, "political education" camps designed to hold hundreds of thousands of people, supported by a high-tech surveillance system. In Syria, a prison complex dedicated to the torture and mass execution of civilians. In north-east India, a detention centre capable of holding 3,000 people who may have lived in the country for decades but are unable to prove they are citizens. In Myanmar, rural encampments where thousands of people are being forced to live on the basis of their ethnicity. On small islands and in deserts at the edges of wealthy regions - Greece's Aegean islands, the Negev Desert in Israel, the Pacific Ocean near Australia, the southern Mediterranean coastline - various types of large holding centres for would-be migrants.

The scale and purpose of these places vary considerably, as do the political regimes that have created them, but they share certain things in common. Most were established as temporary or "emergency" measures, but have outgrown their original stated purpose and become seemingly permanent. Most exist thanks to a mix of legal ambiguity - detention centres operating outside the regular prison system, for instance - and physical isolation. And most, if not all, have at times been described by their critics as concentration camps.

We tend to associate the idea of concentration camps with their most extreme instances - the Nazi Holocaust, and the Soviet Gulag system; genocide in Cambodia and Bosnia. But the disturbing truth is that concentration camps have been widespread throughout recent history, used to intern civilians that a state considers hostile, to control the movement of people in transit and to extract forced labour. [...]

This innovation haunts the political imagination of liberal democracies. The concentration camp is a symbol of everything such societies are supposed to stand against: the arbitrary use of power and the stripping of people's rights, the systematic removal of liberty; dehumanisation, abuse, torture, murder and genocide. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Dr. Anthony Fauci gets a security detail (JAMES GORDON, 1 April 2020, Daily Mail)

Infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has become the public face of reason during the coronavirus outbreak, is receiving death threats from some unhappy at what they are hearing.  [...]

Fauci is one of few officials who are willing to correct President Trump's misstatements in public.

April 1, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


Trump is worst possible leader to deal with coronavirus outbreak (Joe Biden, 1/27/20, USA Today)

The possibility of a pandemic is a challenge Donald Trump is unqualified to handle as president. I remember how Trump sought to stoke fear and stigma during the 2014 Ebola epidemic. He called President Barack Obama a "dope" and "incompetent" and railed against the evidence-based response our administration put in place -- which quelled the crisis and saved hundreds of thousands of lives -- in favor of reactionary travel bans that would only have made things worse. He advocated abandoning exposed and infected American citizens rather than bringing them home for treatment.

Trump's demonstrated failures of judgment and his repeated rejection of science make him the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health challenge. [...]

Trump has blithely tweeted that "it will all work out well." Yet the steps he has taken as president have only weakened our capacity to respond.

Trump has rolled back much of the progress President Obama and I made to strengthen global health security. He proposed draconian cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for International Development -- the very agencies we need to fight this outbreak and prevent future ones.

He dismissed the top White House official in charge of global health security and dismantled the entire team. And he has treated with utmost contempt institutions that facilitate international cooperation, thus undermining the global efforts that keep us safe from pandemics and biological attacks.

To be blunt, I am concerned that the Trump administration's shortsighted policies have left us unprepared for a dangerous epidemic that will come sooner or later.

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Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Chuck And Nancy Made Moscow Mitch Gag On The Stimulus Bill (Gene Lyons April 1, 2020, National Memo)

With TV news networks and their star performers focusing upon Rose Garden theatrics, they've neglected the story of how Pelosi and Chuck Schumer outwitted and outmaneuvered GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to where he felt compelled to admit that "because the country was desperate for results...I literally told my own Republican colleagues to 'gag and vote for it.'"

The final Senate vote was 96-0. That's a lot of gagging.

Unlike the original Republican bill with its proposed $500 billion in corporate bailouts, the $2.2 trillion Pelosi-Schumer effort--formally known as the "Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act,"--added $150 billion for hard-pressed state and local governments, another $150 billion for hospitals, and $31 billion for schools. That and $25 billion for Food Stamps.

To be sure, there's still plenty of cash for Fortune 500 companies, but oversight has been added to prevent its becoming a political slush fund.

However, the real game-changers for hard-pressed families as well as the potential salvation of the US economy are two features many voters are unaware of: paycheck-protection loans enabling small businesses to retain employees for up to eight weeks, and that needn't be repaid; also greatly expanded unemployment insurance for individuals who lose their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The original McConnell bill called for one-time $1200 checks to be sent to every taxpayer--definitely useful, but hardly a bonanza. To that, Pelosi and Democrats added unemployment insurance providing an additional 13 weeks of cash assistance to state-funded programs. The CARE Act also expands eligibility to include part-time, self-employed and so-called "gig economy" workers such as Uber drivers and food delivery services, providing up to $600 a week income for those practicing social distancing.

Do the arithmetic. That's upwards of $10,000 between now and the end of June. With plenty to worry about, people can at least quit obsessing about money.  They'll have sufficient funds for rent, food, utilities and other necessities. Nobody's got to risk his or her life to keep the children fed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Concealing the truth' Chinese whistleblower speaks out on COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan (CALLUM HOARE, Apr 1, 2020, Daily Express)

Former Tsinghua University politics lecturer, Dr Wu Qiang, told investigators that the Chinese government was concealing the truth, which allowed for the outbreak on such a huge scale.

He said: "I have no doubts that the local government reported the situation to the central government.

"So local government were not accountable to the people at that time.

"But the central government adopted the policy of concealing the truth from the public, starting to control the epidemic internally.

"This contradiction prevented them from properly mobilising to deal with the spread of the epidemic.

"Although internal controls were in place, the information kept from the public's eye caused the outbreak of the disaster and the spread of the disease."

Dr Wu claims he is not alone in the anger towards the government and said there is a growing amount of unrest in the country over the handling.

He added: "More of the 900 million Chinese citizens, who are equipped with smartphones, have become extremely dissatisfied with the virus in the past month or so.

"From my own observation, this level of dissatisfaction is unprecedented in the past 80 years.

"They have been tremendously dissatisfied with the local government's ineffectiveness in epidemic and disaster relief the Wuhan people have seen from the city lockdown, the paralysis of the local medical institutions and the huge risk they face."

On February 11, 34-year-old Dr Wenliang lost his battle with coronavirus, weeks after sounding the alarm over the virus.

Last week, the Wuhan police made an official apology to the family of Dr Li for their "inappropriate handling of the situation" and revoked the letter of reprimand for spreading rumours.

Trump just admitted he downplayed the threat of coronavirus: 'I knew it could be horrible' (John Haltiwanger, 4/01/20, Business Insider)

At Tuesday's White House press briefing, Trump was asked if he lulled Americans into a false sense of security by telling the public that the virus would go away quickly, even as it was clear that the number of cases and death toll were on the rise. 

"I knew everything."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Political Promise of Carbon Taxes: Putting a price on emissions has become a bipartisan issue. Now we just need to do it the right way. (MATT SIMON, 4.01.2020, Wired)

It works like this: A government charges a fee per ton of greenhouse gases emitted. The fee is small at first, rising gradually to give companies a chance to adapt. Individual households don't get taxed directly, but they could take a hit when the big emitters raise their rates in response.

"The beauty of a carbon tax is that everything we want consumers to do gets incentivized to be done," says MIT economist Christopher Knittel. Residents pay more attention to their thermostats. Utilities might invest more in solar or wind farms. Manufacturers could start offering more energy-saving products, such as more efficient cars and heating and air-conditioning systems.

Several countries have implemented some form of carbon pricing--just not the most-offending nations. After Sweden instituted a tax in 1991, its transportation emissions fell an average of 6 percent a year, according to one study. (A separate tax on transport fuels shrank the country's carbon footprint further.) In British Columbia, a carbon tax reduced emissions by up to 15 percent. Last year, after the province's experiment proved successful, Canada expanded carbon pricing nationwide. Researchers at MIT calculated that if the US placed a $50-per-ton tax on carbon and increased the tax 5 percent per year, emissions would drop 63 percent by 2050. If every country adopted a carbon tax with a similar effect, the world might be able to slash its emissions in half by the middle of this century.

The idea that has lately taken off among certain conservatives is one that cuts the sourness of a carbon tax with some sweeteners. US representative Francis Rooney, a Florida Republican, has cosponsored legislation that would impose a fee on metric tons of carbon emitted and then distribute the spoils back to US residents as a monthly "carbon dividend." (You could think of it as a form of basic income, the concept that helped make Andrew Yang one of the biggest gang leaders in America over the past year.) In one proposal, crafted by the bipartisan Climate Leadership Council, a family of four might expect to get $2,000 back in the first year. 

Consumption taxes should instead be used to replace taxes on income and profits. Tax what you don't want, not what you do.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Poll: Trump's coronavirus bounce fizzles (STEVEN SHEPARD, 04/01/2020, Politico)

The survey, conducted immediately before President Donald Trump announced a 30-day extension of his physical and social distancing guidelines "to slow the spread" of Covid-19, shows 47 percent of voters feel the administration isn't doing enough in response to the outbreak, greater than the 40 percent who feel the administration is doing the right amount.

His upper bound is 42%--that rarely wins presidential elections.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Were Jews Blamed for the Black Death? (DAN FREEDMAN, March 31, 2020, Moment)

Bubonic plague--the "Black Death"--killed 25 million in 14 century Europe, roughly 40 percent of the population. Long-distance merchant ships bearing flea-infested rats likely spread the deadly disease-causing bacilli throughout Western Europe. But the scientific understanding of communicable disease was more than five centuries away.

So when the populace searched for answers, the ecclesiastical hierarchy lectured them on how the Black Death was God's retribution for their wicked ways. In Spain, tolerance of the "killers of Christ" was among them. Soon tales of Jews pouring poisonous powder into wells circulated throughout what is now Germany and France. What followed was a massacre of Jews unparalleled in its magnitude and ferocity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Solar inverter trial shows massive $7,000 savings driving on sunshine (Bridie Schmidt, MARCH 31, 2020, The Driven)

A six-month trial using a new two-in-one solar inverter and electric car charger has shown the massive savings to be had from driving on the free energy resource right above our heads - the sun.

Small business owners Garth James had the unique opportunity of trialling the new inverter from SolarEdge, which was first introduced to the Australian market in late 2019, as reported by The Driven.

The vast majority of electric vehicle owners charge their cars at home, much like a mobile phone. While this is often done at night, the new inverter allows EV owners to take advantage of daytime charging.

According to James, who switched from a Mitsubishi Pajero to a Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid, the savings have been substantial.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A private survey shows China's manufacturing activity expanded slightly in March (Huileng Tan, 3/31/20, CNBC)

Results of a private survey released on Wednesday showed China's manufacturing activity expanded slightly in March as factories began to come online amid a coronavirus outbreak.

The Caixin/Markit manufacturing Purchasing Manager's Index for March was 50.1.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the Caixin/Markit PMI to come in at 45.5, compared with February's sharpest contraction on record at 40.3.

PMI readings above 50 indicate expansion, while those below that level signal contraction.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Coal phase-out can provide "cheap" way to reduce emissions, researchers say (Michael Mazengarb, 31 March 2020, Renew Economy)

New research has shown that a global phase out of coal use would deliver net economic benefits in the long term, and would be an affordable way for countries to bridge the gap to limiting average global warming to no more than two degrees.

The analysis has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change, and reaffirms that pushing for a phase out of coal use will lead to net economic benefits in the long term, particularly in countries that are heavy coal users.