May 31, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Biden's in one of the best positions for any challenger since scientific polling began (Harry Enten, 5/30/20, CNN)

[C]ontext continues to show Biden's in one of the best positions for any challenger since scientific polling began in the 1930s.

There were more than 40 national public polls taken at least partially in the month of May that asked about the Biden-Trump matchup. Biden led in every single one of them. He's the first challenger to be ahead of the incumbent in every May poll since Jimmy Carter did so in 1976. Carter, of course, won the 1976 election. Biden's the only challenger to have the advantage in every May poll over an elected incumbent in the polling era.

Biden remains the lone challenger to be up in the average of polls in every single month of the election year. His average lead in a monthly average of polls has never dipped below 4 points and has usually been above it.
View 2020 presidential election polling

Biden hasn't trailed Trump this entire year in a single telephone poll in which at least some voters were reached via their cell phones -- historically the most accurate. The ABC News/Washington Post poll is the latest example of these polls. In fact, Biden's never been behind in any of these polls since at least January 2019. No other challenger has come close to that mark.

Indeed, the stability of Biden's edge has been what is most impressive. The May polls had Biden up by 6 points on average. That is right where the average of polls taken since the beginning of this year has been. It's where the average of polls conducted since the beginning of 2019 has been as well.

If we limit ourselves to just the telephone polls that call cell phones, Biden's edge might even be slightly larger. This month those polls have Biden up 7 points on average. Estimating Biden's advantage from state polls of this type shows a similar lead for Biden.

A look at the fundamentals shows why Trump continues to trail. Simply put, he remains unpopular.

Americans hate racism.
Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


The Lectio Divina of the Murder Monks (Brendan Patrick Purdy, 5/26/20, Law & Liberty)

It is striking that among the handful of soundless or near-soundless moments in the season are when Bosch is ruminating over a murder investigation at the Hollywood Division. Bosch approaches the Murder Book the way a monk will approach Sacred Scripture through Lectio Divina, viz. meditation, silence, and contemplation. Bosch's seemingly only interest outside the job is jazz (which he listens to at home on vinyl) and he doesn't even let jazz intrude as he silently prays the Lectio Divina on Daisy's Murder Book.

Bosch's reading of the Murder Book is interrupted; there is the "fresh" murder of Dr. Stanley Kent (a medical physicist) that sets the season's central plot into motion. As Bosch approaches the body of Kent, first by car and then by foot, the imposing block letters of the Hollywood Sign loom above. And again, the Sign is there when Bosch meets the FBI agents that are involved in the case due to the fact Kent stole radioactive material (cesium) from his work in exchange for his wife's life. The murderers are unknown and the cesium is lost. The law enforcement bureaucracies agree that the LAPD will investigate the murder of Kent, and the FBI will focus on finding the cesium before it is turned into a dirty bomb that could turn the City of Angels into a City of Ashes. This armistice between the LAPD and the Feds is not without its conflicts, for example, when a Special Agent tells Bosch to stay in his lane and not to interfere with the anti-terrorism investigation into the missing cesium. Bosch's laconic response to the agent, which exemplifies who he is qua detective: "And my lane has no lines." For Bosch, then, a murder investigation is the highest calling for a law enforcement officer, and thus there are no lines when one is pursuing justice for the murdered. [...]

Twice in the season, Edgar refers to Bosch as a monk, both times the latter responds with jokes. Being jovial is rare for Bosch and he only seems to make them when someone close to him such as Edgar or Maddie say something that hits home. Otherwise, he remains in monkish silence; he turns the other cheek, for example, when Bosch is told that he doesn't understand what it is like in the foster care system, even though he is a product of it himself. But Edgar is right about Bosch being a monastic. Other than Bosch's touching and centering relationship with Maddie, all Bosch has is what he calls "my murders." Both his waking and sleeping moments are haunted by the victims whose murders have not been solved. Bosch is Gatsby reaching for that green light, but even if he solves one murder and grasps the light, there will be another; and so Bosch and the other detectives beat on, against the current, to give some sort of justice to those that have been murdered under the unwavering gaze of the Hollywood Sign.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Racism Is the Biggest Reason the U.S. Safety Net Is So Weak (Noah Smith, 30 May 2020, Bloomberg Opinion)

One of the big questions Alesina tackled was why the U.S. doesn't have the generous welfare benefits of advanced countries in Europe. His answer, along with co-authors Edward Glaeser and Bruce Sacerdote, was twofold. First, U.S. institutions -- the Senate, the electoral system, the legal system -- were designed much earlier than their modern European equivalents, and are thus more oriented toward protecting private property above all else. But in addition, the economists found evidence that racial animosity was a source of American exceptionalism:

Opponents of redistribution in the United States have regularly used race-based rhetoric to resist left-wing policies...Within the United States, race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare. America's troubled race relations are clearly a major reason for the absence of an American welfare state.

Listening to conservative talk-show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, who derided Obamacare and other Obama administration social programs as "reparations," it's hard to argue with Alesina's conclusion.

Alesina also believed that racial and ethnic divisions could inhibit a country's economic growth. With co-authors Reza Baqir and William Easterly, he found that U.S. cities with more ethnic fragmentation were less effective at building roads, picking up trash and spending money on education -- all things that contribute to economic growth. And with Easterly and Janina Matuszeski, he found that post-colonial states with boundaries that cut across ethnic groups tended to do worse economically than those with more natural borders like rivers and mountains.

To some, this might seem like a confirmation of right-wing ideas that diversity is bad for a country. But although it might help explain the success of homogenous countries such as Sweden and South Korea, Alesina's theory is much more subtle than it might appear. As he explained in a 2003 paper, the key isn't how similar the inhabitants of a country might appear on paper, but how much they see themselves as one people; fractionalization is in the mind, rather than in the genes. That implies that the way forward for the U.S. and other diverse countries, to become more equal and prosperous, is to de-emphasize racial and ethnic divisions and promote a shared identity.

It's why America/conservatism depends on men like W, who deny it, and opposes men like Donald, who celebrate it.  Either all men are Created equal or we may as well give the joint back to the natives.

Mr. Alesina's work on optimal nation size is also highly recommended.

May 30, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Far-Right Infiltrators and Agitators in George Floyd Protests: Indicators of White Supremacists (Mia Bloom, May 30, 2020, Just Security)

The demographics of a largely white, young, and destructive group fit more with a movement known as accelerationists than Black Lives Matter.

The accelerationists, if you have never heard the term, are an extreme subset of white nationalism whose goal is to bring about chaos and destruction. The basic tenet of accelerationism argues that since Western governments are inherently corrupt, the best (and only) thing supremacists can do is to accelerate the end of society by sowing chaos and aggravating political tensions. "Accelerationist ideas have been cited in mass shooters' manifestos -- explicitly, in the case of the New Zealand killer -- and are frequently referenced in white supremacist web forums and chat rooms," Zack Beauchamp explained.

White Supremacists pretending to host a protest to honor Floyd George on Facebook to whip up violence in San Diego were posted on the BLMSD social media warning people not to go and that it was a white supremacist organized rally. People attending demonstrations remarked on the fact that the demographics were wrong, in places like Oakland where the majority of the destruction was perpetrated by young Caucasian men has inspired not just people on social media but reporting in the mainstream media to properly question whether this is a form of infiltration by outside extremist elements.

A report by Vice News about right-wing infiltrators in the protests notes "hardcore 'accelerationists' ... are encouraging their neo-Nazi followers to go to the protests and carry out acts of violence against black people."

Accelerationists follow the blueprint laid out by neo-Nazi James Mason in The Siege (not the film with Denzel Washington) whose writing inspired Charles Manson's killing spree. Mason, living in obscurity in Denver until he was brought out of retirement by Atomwaffen, a right wing Neo Nazi group.  The goal of accelerationism is to burn everything down and to use violence both to target enemies and instigate an overt and extreme response from the government. Their strategy echoes Gustavo Gorriti's writings about the Shining Path terrorist group that the movement's "goal was to provoke blind, excessive reactions from the state... Blows laid on indiscriminately would also provoke among those unjustly or disproportionately affected an intense resentment of the government."

Similarly accelerationists hope to "demolish the state apparatus that stands between them and a white-dominated future." And the White Supremacists here could be of a different orientation too - organized to discredit the protestors with no clear or deliberate vision for greater political change in mind.

Bellingcat has documented the involvement in the protests of a largely white, and far-right movement called the Boogaloo, whose leaders "expect, even hope, that the warmer weather will bring armed confrontations with law enforcement, and will build momentum towards a new civil war in the United States."  "As protests over the death of George Floyd heated up in Minneapolis on May 26th, members of Boogaloo groups across Facebook considered it a call to arms," wrote Bellingcat's Robert Evans.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Paper-thin gallium oxide transistor handles more than 8,000 volts (Science Daily, May 29, 2020)

Electrical engineers created a gallium oxide-based transistor that can handle more than 8,000 volts. The transistor could lead to smaller and more efficient electronic systems that control and convert electric power -- a field of study known as power electronics -- in electric cars, locomotives and airplanes. In turn, this could help improve how far these vehicles can travel.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


By undoing Obama's nursing home regulations, Trump opened the door for the deaths we're seeing: It is no accident that an explosion of COVID-19 deaths have happened in for-profit senior care facilities (BOB HENNELLY, MAY 30, 2020, Salon)

As part of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration aimed to use the leverage of billions of dollars paid out through Medicare and Medicaid to these facility operators to get them to be more accountable and, in the process, reduce the costs incurred from unnecessary recurring hospitalizations from avoidable infections.

It was long overdue.

In December of 2017, the Los Angeles Times published an eye- opening investigative report by Jordan Rau with Kaiser Health News that told us all we would have needed to know about just how vulnerable these facilities would be to COVID-19 in 2020.

"Basic steps to prevent infections -- such as washing hands, isolating contagious patients and keeping ill nurses and aides from coming to work -- are routinely ignored in the nation's nursing homes, endangering residents and spreading hazardous germs," Rau wrote in 2017. "A Kaiser Health News analysis of four years of federal inspection records shows 74% of nursing homes have been cited for lapses in infection control -- more than for any other type of health violation."

And while citations were common, "disciplinary action such as fines is rare: Nationwide, only 1 of 75 homes found deficient in those four years has received a high-level citation that can result in a financial penalty," according to the Kaiser study.

Rau quoted Michael Connors of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, a nonprofit in San Francisco, who said the industry was "getting the message that they don't have to do anything" because they are only getting "low-level warnings year after year after year and the facilities have learned to ignore them."

But even as Kaiser Health News was shining a national spotlight on the lack of infection control in facilities where an increasing number of Americans will spend their last days, the Trump administration was busy doing all it could to roll back the Obama administration's effort to improve infection control in these places.

As the New York Times reported on March 14, the "federal regulator overseeing nursing homes proposed the rule changes last summer, before the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of nursing homes to fast-spreading diseases. The push followed a spate of lobbying and campaign contributions by people in the nursing-home industry, according to public records and interviews."

Posted by orrinj at 10:35 AM


Understanding the Michael Flynn Case: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff, and the Proper from the Improper (Marty Lederman, May 29, 2020, Just Security)

As part of the larger "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation into Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible involvement by persons in the Trump campaign (see pages 50-59 of Inspector General Horowitz's Report for a detailed account of the basis for "Crossfire Hurricane"), the FBI opened a specific counterintelligence investigation concerning Flynn ("Crossfire Razor") on August 16, 2016.  The Flynn investigation was based upon "an articulable factual basis that [he] may wittingly or unwittingly be involved in activity on behalf of the Russian Federation which may constitute a federal crime or threat to the national security."  That, in turn, was predicated upon an assessment of "reliable" lead information, including that Flynn had been a foreign policy adviser to Trump since February 2016; that he "had ties to various state-affiliated entities of the Russian Federation"; that he traveled to Russia in December 2015; and that he had an active TS/SCI security clearance.

There was nothing suspect or unreasonable about opening this counterintelligence investigation of Flynn.  And as the DOJ Inspector General later concluded, the FBI's "predication" to open that investigation was more than sufficient to satisfy the modest threshold prescribed by DOJ and FBI policies. [...]

The second series of calls between Flynn and Kislyak commenced less than one week later, on December 29, just hours after the United States had imposed sanctions on nine Russian individuals and entities, expelled 35 Russian government officials, and closed two Russian government-owned compounds in the United States, all in response to Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.  President-Elect Trump expressed a lack of concern about Russia's election interference.  When asked about the sanctions, he responded:  "I think we ought to get on with our lives."

After discussing the matter with members of the transition team, including Michael Ledeen and K.T. McFarland, Flynn called Kislyak to urge Russia not to escalate the situation in the manner the U.S. expected it to do.  Flynn at the very least implied to Kislyak that the Trump Administration would be more conciliatory to Russia, notwithstanding its election interference, and he may even have suggested that Trump might alleviate the sanctions Obama had imposed that very morning.  [UPDATE:  Flynn implored Kislyak to convey to Moscow that it should "not allow this [Obama] administration to box us in right now."  Flynn also said to Kislyak, "Let's keep this at a level that uh is, is even-keeled, okay? ls even-keeled. And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where ... we're gonna go ... regarding our relationship."  He also criticized the Obama administration's "position on the Middle East," saying that it "doesn't do anybody any good."] Unlike with respect to the first call (about the UNSC resolution), in this case Russia did as Flynn asked:  Vladimir Putin decided not to escalate the conflict, presumably assured that Trump would ease up on the U.S.'s objections to Russia's election interference.  [On December 31, Kislyak conveyed the news to Flynn, adding that "We are hoping within two weeks we will be able to start working in [a] more constructive way."]

To hear DOJ now tell it, those late-December calls were of no moment, and shouldn't have affected the FBI's decision to close the Flynn investigation.  The most alarming and revealing passage in the DOJ motion to dismiss the charge against Flynn is this one--in particular the bolded sentence:

With its counterintelligence investigation no longer justifiably predicated, the  communications between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak--the FBI's sole basis for resurrecting the investigation on January 4, 2017--did not warrant either continuing that existing investigation or opening a new criminal investigation.  The calls were entirely appropriate on their face. . . .  Mr. Flynn, as the incumbent [sic] National Security Advisor and senior member of the transition team, was reaching out to the Russian ambassador in that capacity.  In the words of one senior DOJ official [Mary McCord]:  "It seemed logical . . . that there may be some communications between an incoming administration and their foreign partners."   Such calls are not uncommon when incumbent [sic] public officials preparing for their oncoming duties seek to begin and build relationships with soon-to-be counterparts.

This is absurd--akin to Trump's assertions in 2019 that his communications with the Ukraine, urging officials of that nation to announce an investigation of Hunter and Joe Biden, were "pitch perfect."  It's shocking the Executive branch would write such a thing in a brief to a court.  The Flynn/Kislyak calls were the furthest thing from "appropriate."

For one thing, the apparent substance of the call on December 29 was, at a minimum, deeply disturbing.  Flynn apparently was signaling to Kislyak that the Trump Administration would be more conciliatory to Russia, notwithstanding its election interference, than the Obama Administration had been--up to and including an implication that Trump might well alleviate the sanctions Obama had imposed that very morning.  (Putin presumably wouldn't have done if he didn't have reason to believe the Trump Administration would be more conciliatory with respect to the election interference matter.)

The question of why Trump, Flynn, et al., were--and continue to be--so in thrall to Vladimir Putin, or at the very least indifferent to Russia's threat to our electoral system, continues to be perhaps the most consequential question of the Trump Presidency.

Even apart from the merits of what Flynn said, however--that is to say, even if you happen to agree with Trump's views on Russian sanctions and/or on the U.N. vote regarding Israeli settlements--it's inappropriate for a member of a presidential transition team to communicate with foreign officials secretly about current U.S. national security or foreign policy matters (i.e., without the knowledge of the State Department or some other process for informing the current Administration), and far worse still to do so in an effort to undermine the national security or foreign policy objectives of the United States as determined by the President then in office.

According to the New York Times, the Obama Administration had made a "pointed request" to the Trump transition team to avoid sending conflicting signals to foreign officials before the inauguration and to include State Department personnel when contacting such officials.  That's fairly standard-issue stuff, as reflected in the Partnership for Public Service's widely consulted Presidential Transition Guide.  It was wrong for Flynn to disregard the administration's request and the longstanding norm--and particularly to do so in the way he did here.  Contrary to the two Freudian slips in the DOJ brief, Flynn was not the "incumbent National Security Advisor" at the time--Susan Rice was.  DOJ is right that incoming officers commonly communicate during the presidential transition with their future foreign partners so that they can "begin and build relationships with soon-to-be counterparts."  Friendly congratulatory calls and innocuous, generic "I look forward to working together" communications are commonplace.  It's another thing entirely, however, to signal a subversion of the sitting President's foreign policy objectives--let alone to do so secretly, so that the U.S. government is unaware of what's being said and done.  (To be sure, the government in this case eventually discovered what Flynn and Kislyak discussed, but not for several days, during which time the State Department and other agencies were in the dark about what Putin was up to and why.)

Moreover, this wasn't just any foreign counterpart or an ordinary transition context--Flynn was speaking to a representative of the nation that had just hacked the American election campaign in an effort to have Trump elected, and doing so mere hours after the President of the United States had responded decisively.  As Director of National Intelligence James Clapper saw it, Flynn had "essentially neuter[ed]" the just-imposed sanctions.*

Indeed, the wrongfulness of Flynn's actions was so manifest that when word of the conversation with Kislyak became public (see Point 8, below), it infuriated President-Elect Trump, who instructed Reince Priebus to direct Flynn that he had to "kill the story."  Flynn then told K.T. McFarland that "I want to kill the story," and asked her to call the Washington Post and deny that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.  As the Mueller Report recounts, "McFarland made the call as Flynn had requested although she knew she was providing false information, and the Washington Post updated the column to reflect that a 'Trump official' had denied that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions."  As noted in Point 7, below, Flynn himself made the same denials to Priebus, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, and incoming press secretary Sean Spicer.  (Flynn also omitted the discussion of sanctions from his written documentation of the December 29 Kislyak call, later acknowledging to Robert Mueller's Office that he did so "because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration's foreign policy."  (The quotation is the Mueller Report's characterization of what Flynn told the Mueller investigators.))  [...]

[UPDATE:  The reactions of many Trump/Barr/Flynn defenders to the transcripts of the December 29 call-in effect, that Barr's right that it's a big nothingburger at worst, if not "laudable" (see below)-prompts me to add the following about the heart of the huge disconnect respecting the Flyyn/Kislyak call:

We know now that Trump (at best) didn't care about Russia's election interference-he's said so daily for three-plus years.  And if that's your baseline understanding-that of course Trump wasn't troubled by the cyber-operations and therefore would naturally have been trying to stymie the effects of Obama's sanctions-then the reaction to the Kislyak call is:  "Duh!"

But on December 29 2016, the idea that the incoming President of the United States and/or his National Security Advisor would be so nonchalant about Russia's interference-in secret, with the Russian Ambassador!-was virtually unthinkable, shocking, and alarming, easily justifying DOJ's and the FBI's concerns.  And then things only got more troubling when the Vice-President-Elect offered a false public account.

Or, as David Corn writes, think about when this call was occurring and what the incoming National Security Advisor failed to say to the Russian Ambassador:

At no point does Flynn castigate Kislyak for Russia's intervention in the 2016 election.  He does not confront the Russian ambassador for Putin's covert operation to subvert American democracy.  He does not tell Kislyak that Moscow will have to pay a price for hacking the Democrats and using the stolen information to influence the election for Trump's benefit.  Flynn, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, does not warn Kislyak against any further Russian information warfare targeting the United States.  As the Obama administration was trying to impose a punishment on Putin for that attack, Flynn, on behalf of the Trump gang, was sending an utterly different message:  We don't care about that.

Think about this perverse set of interactions: the incoming national security adviser was essentially telling a foreign adversary that the new president wasn't concerned about an attack on the United States and, moreover, indicating that Trump didn't intend to do anything about it.  In fact, Flynn was signaling to Putin that once Trump took office, Trump wouldn't be pursuing the matter and, instead, would be reaching out to Russia as a partner.  (A few months later, Trump, in the Oval Office, would tell Kislyak that directly.) . . .

He was dealing with the Russians as if there had been no attack.] that you share Vlad/Donald's opposition to the Republic.

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


Breaking the Renaissance myth: Culture and the universal genius were not the only things to thrive in this supposed golden age - so too did slavery and warfare. (Rowan williams,may 2020, New statesman)

We still use the word "medieval" as a term of opprobrium: all sorts of things, from Islamist terrorism to faulty plumbing, are described as such when we want to signal a range of negative aspects. Something "medieval" is archaic, life-denying, sub-rational, obstinately ill-informed or incompetent, and so on. And by contrast, "renaissance" is usually a sunnier word. It evokes exuberance and creativity, intellectual freshness. A "renaissance man" (and it usually is a man) is someone endowed with an almost superhuman galaxy of qualities and skills.

As many scholars have pointed out, this odd bit of chronological snobbery is largely a 19th-century creation, from the days when the Renaissance was seen as the precursor of the Age of Reason, the moment somewhere around the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th century which saw the beginnings of Western civilisation's liberation from dogma and bigotry. It is not news for historians that the story is more complex than this - or that it was also a period (particularly in Italy) of ceaseless and destructive warfare. [...]

If we demythologise the Renaissance a little, we may learn to do more justice to what preceded it. Professor Fletcher has a brief discussion of scientific advances in the mid 16th century, especially in anatomy, navigational skills and botany - the latter two spurred on by the fresh stimulus of colonial travel and discovery. But the fact that this treatment is relatively brief and relates to a period rather later than the "high Renaissance" should give us pause if we are inclined to think of this as an epoch of spectacular scientific progress.

Many scholars have pointed out that the 15th and early 16th centuries are a rather stagnant period in many areas of natural science compared with some parts of the Middle Ages, when astronomy, mechanics and logic made substantial advances. The great 16th-century exception, Copernicus's treatise of 1543 on the circulation of planets around the sun, was not a dramatic and total rejection of earlier astronomical method based on new scientific evidence, but a refinement designed to clear up the mathematics of charting the heavenly bodies. It was received with interest and some enthusiasm at the time, but was clearly not seen as a radical departure from the principles of Aristotle. Only with slightly later figures like Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) and Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) did actual observation of the heavens play a decisive part in the argument.

The uncomfortable truth is that the age of the Renaissance contributed very little to innovation in science. This was largely because the revival of classical learning and languages concentrated attention on what was called humanitas - literary and rhetorical accomplishment (hence our designation of some academic subjects as "humanities") - rather than on empirical observation or technical skill in logic and mathematics.

Later medieval philosophy had become achingly technical, and the recovery of classical literature offered a welcome relief. The writings of the medievals were mocked for their stylistic awfulness; and the exhilaration and enthusiasm for the Platonic tradition that arose in the later 15th century was, as much as anything, an enthusiasm for a philosophy that more obviously promised moral and spiritual insight, rather than the virtuoso analysis of concepts. So might a 20th-century student have felt on reading Jean-Paul Sartre after an unbroken diet of logical positivism in undergraduate philosophy.

For good and ill, the Renaissance as an intellectual phenomenon was not a revolt in the name of "reason" or "liberty" or any such Enlightenment motive. It was an excited recovery of the ideals of formal elegance and proportion in writing and building. It was also the flowering of a sort of New Age fascination with ancient and hidden wisdom. The great strength of Professor Fletcher's book is that it helps us keep the Renaissance in proportion, rather than seeing it as either the decisive foundation for Western modernity (it was in many ways backward-looking, its energy linked to models of revival and recovery rather than advance), or a melodrama of Olympian geniuses and (literally) Machiavellian villains.

...having seen the extension of Christianity throughout Northern Europe in particular.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


This Philosopher Is Challenging All of Evolutionary Psychology (Ryan F. Mandelbaum, 5/12/20, Gizmodo)

It's not often that a paper attempts to take down an entire field. Yet, this past January, that's precisely what University of New Hampshire assistant philosophy professor Subrena Smith's paper tried to do. "Is Evolutionary Psychology Possible?" describes a major issue with evolutionary psychology, called the matching problem. [...]

Gizmodo: Your paper's main refutation of the field is something called the matching problem. Can you explain what that is?  

Subrena Smith: Evolutionary psychologists' thought is that, for at least some of our behaviors, they believe that we have--dare I use this term--hard-wired cognitive structures that are operating in all of us contemporary human beings the same way they did for our ancestors on the savannas. The idea is that, in the modern world, we have sort of modern skulls, but the wiring--the cognitive structure of the brain itself--is not being modified, because enough evolutionary time hasn't passed. This goes for evolutionary functions like mate selection, parental care, predator avoidance--that our brains were pretty much in the same state as our ancestors' brains. The sameness in how our brains work is on account of genetic selection for particular modules that are still functional in our environment today. [Editor's note: These "modules" refer to the idea that the brain can be divided up into discrete structures with specific functions.]

The matching problem is really the core issue that evolutionary psychologists have to show that they can meet: that there is really a match between our modules and the modules of the prehistoric ancestors; that they're working the same way then as now; and that these modules are working the same way because they are descended from the same functional lineage or causal lineage. But I don't see any way that these charges can be answered. [...]

Gizmodo: Can you give some examples of scenarios of the matching problem in action?

Smith: Here's the problem. With respect to human beings, we don't have the relevant evidence about how our ancestors behaved to make any substantiative claims. We can only use evidence of our behavior and evidence of the likely kinds of behaviors that they would have exhibited in the past. We know that ancient humans avoided predation, for instance. What exactly they did is something evolutionary psychologists have to show. Did our ancestors avoid predation because they were good at hiding in bushes or because they were running? Evolutionary psychologists would say that the better explanation is that they were running. But the fact that they ran to avoid predation and the fact that we have the disposition to run when we're endangered still does not establish that there's a singular module doing both of those jobs.

So surprising that Darwin times Freud yields nonsense....

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Does Finland show the way to universal basic income? (Deutsche-Welle, 5/30/20)

A "basic income guinea pig" -- that's how Tuomas Muraja describes himself in the title of his book about the two years he received €560 ($616) a month from Finland's government. For four years the journalist had been looking for permanent work, attending job center classes and receiving state benefits alongside the odd freelance job, before he found out he had been selected for the country's universal basic income experiment, which began in 2017.

Muraja fondly remembers being a guinea pig. "It was a great relief because I got rid of all the bureaucracy," he recalls. "I didn't need to fill in any forms or attend any classes where they teach you how to make a CV and these kinds of things. I could concentrate myself on my work, which is writing books and stories."

He certainly did. In those two years he published two books, wrote numerous articles and applied for 80 positions. Others he spoke to for Basic Income Guinea Pig had positive experiences too. One lady set up her own café, knowing she had guaranteed income. A university graduate could take low-paid internships to gain experience without having to worry. [...]

Where there was a significant statistical difference, however, was in how happy each of the two groups felt. The people who received €560 a month reported much lower levels of insecurity and stress.

"The wellbeing was at a higher level than in the control group, and it really was a significant increase in most dimensions of wellbeing," reports Ylikanno.

For Tuomas, this should be the point people concentrate on most when examining the study. "The main important thing is that those who received the basic income felt better, mentally. When you are secure and free, you feel better."

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Democracies Must Not Fail Hong Kong Migrants: These communities deliver as many benefits to their host countries as they gain from being there. (David Fickling, May 30, 2020, Bloomberg)

About 1.4 million Hong Kongers were born since the 1997 handover. The democracy activists most at risk of reprisals in any crackdown are over-represented among that generation, who'd by virtue of their age be ineligible for BN(O) status. That's where Taiwan, the U.S., Canada and Australia -- the other democracies that have spoken up in support of the rights of Hong Kongers this week -- need to back up their words with actions. 

President Donald Trump was vague on details of action his administration may take over Hong Kong in a speech Friday --  but as my colleague Eli Lake has argued, America should open its doors to Hong Kongers as a matter of principle. There's little to welcome about the Cold War brewing between Washington and Beijing, but one small virtue of the previous conflict with the Soviet Union was the way America welcomed refugees from Communist countries in a way that would be unthinkable in our current nativist moment. Taiwan, which has justified fears of becoming the next target of Beijing's irredentist nationalism, is in the same geopolitical boat.

Canada and Australia have even more to gain. Each has a proportionately larger Hong Kong diaspora than any other English-speaking country, with about one in every 200 residents born in the city, and larger numbers of second- and third-generation migrants. Canada's trade minister, Mary Ng, is Hong-Kong born, as is Gladys Liu, who holds one of the most marginal seats on behalf of Australia's ruling coalition.

We ought to do everything we can to make as many of them as possible choose America.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Jason Isbell's Alt-Alt-Country Masterpiece (DECLAN LEARY, May 30, 2020, National Review)

 Isbell is, by any artistic standard, a genius -- a once-in-a-generation talent, or more. The son of a house painter and grandson of a Pentecostal preacher, he burst onto the scene in 2001, joining Drive-by Truckers, primarily as a guitarist, at the ripe age of 22. Any word about his instrumental skill would be an understatement. Let this suffice: He can play the guitar almost as well as Amanda Shires (his wife and frequent collaborator) can play the fiddle. Hell, if Joseph Stalin could pick a guitar the way Isbell can, I'd pay to see his show. I did see Isbell live in Boston three years back; his technical virtuosity together with a voice perfectly suited to this kind of music make him one of the best performers at work today.

That gift comes across just as clearly on record. The sound of Reunions is spectacular. Isbell's own skill, the diverse talents of his band (The 400 Unit, including Shires), and the masterful production of Dave Cobb coalesce into a wonder of an album, sonically speaking. The style is fresh and creative too: a new, lively blend of the blues, folk, and rock influences that have informed Isbell's craft for years. This certainly helps to set Reunions apart from the activist albums that have become the norm of late -- none of which, with the exception of a few decent tracks off of The Unraveling, have been particularly good music. [...]

Isbell's gift for not just lyricism but storytelling and character-building is on full display in this album, and it makes for a stark contrast with the genre's other recent offerings. Take, for example, one of the most divisive political topics of the Trump years: the separation of families by various migrant and refugee crises. Drive-by Truckers attempted to tackle the subject in the track "Babies in Cages." It's exactly as subtle and nuanced as the title (which is also its three-word chorus) suggests. It is catharsis aping dialectic and failing in the end to achieve either one.

Isbell, meanwhile, addresses the same hot-button material in "Overseas," with dramatically different results. The opening lines are pure Southern Gothic poetry: "This used to be a ghost town, but even the ghosts got out and the sound of the highway died. There's ashes in the swimming pool." What follows is a poignant monologue on the pain of a person torn by rival loves: for a place, a partner, a parent, a child. It is beautiful and heartbreaking, but it is also intensely relatable for the overwhelming majority of us who have never had to see ashes in our swimming pools.

It is not so much above politics as it is below them. It casts in a distinctly human light what has elsewhere been reduced to rhetoric, dialectic, and argument. There is a balance, too, that helps with the delivery of controversial subjects driven so forcefully by other artists. "Overseas" is just one track among many -- some with political bents, some without. It sits among songs about growing up in a broken American family, about becoming a father (Mercy Isbell is 4 years old now), about getting sober. Reunions is a set of human stories, not of talking points. And Isbell recognizes that the story of a family fractured by an ocean is a human story not much different from his own. Such an understanding produces a spectacular performance that cannot be reduced to mere politics. It may also inspire politics that cannot be reduced to mere performance.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Trump in Trouble (MATTHEW CONTINETTI, May 30, 2020 , National Review)

The 2020 election looks more and more like a contest between luck and precedent. On one side is President Trump's incredible run of good fortune. On the other side is the weight of history. Consider: Every president reelected since Mr. Gallup's first poll in 1935 enjoyed at least one day, and often several, when his approval rating was above 50 percent. That is something President Trump has not experienced.

Not since 1940 has a president been reelected with a double-digit unemployment rate. Nor has a president been reelected with an unemployment rate two or more points higher than when he entered office. Unemployment was 15 percent in April 2020, and is expected to rise for at least a while longer. It was 5 percent in January 2017. The recovery will need to have the trajectory of an Elon Musk rocket for unemployment to fall to less than 7 percent by November 3.

That is when America will hold its 59th presidential election. In all but five of the previous 58 contests, the same man won both the popular and electoral votes. The fact that two of the exceptions occurred in the past 20 years has distorted our perspective. We begin to consider it not only possible but probable that President Trump could win reelection without winning the popular vote.

History suggests that what is possible is also unlikely. Reelection was a prize awarded to just one of the four men before Trump who entered office on the basis of the Electoral College alone. John Quincy Adams lost to Andrew Jackson in the rematch of 1828. Rutherford B. Hayes did not run for a second term in 1880. Benjamin Harrison lost to Grover Cleveland in the rematch of 1892. The exception was George W. Bush, who defeated John Kerry in both the popular and electoral votes in 2004.

Bush, like Trump, faced an unexpected crisis in his first term. His decisive and compassionate leadership during the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath was an important factor in his reelection. Voters for whom terrorism was the most important issue backed Bush by a 72-point margin, according to the exit poll, and at that time majorities approved of the war in Iraq (51 percent) and considered it part of the war on terrorism (55 percent). Bush's approval rating in the exit poll was 53 percent.

In the May 27 Reuters-Ipsos poll, the public disapproved of President Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, while backing him on the economy and jobs. His job approval was 41 percent. In the May 21 Fox poll, it was 44 percent. Nowhere close to where it has to be to win a second term.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Science without Validation in a World without Meaning (Edward R. Dougherty, May 2020, American Affairs)

Physicist Richard Feynman had the following advice for those interested in science: "So I hope you can accept Nature as She is--absurd."1 Here Feynman captures in stark terms the most basic insight of modern science: nature is not understandable in terms of ordinary physical concepts and is, therefore, absurd.

The unintelligibility of nature has huge consequences when it comes to determining the validity of a scientific theory. On this question, Feynman also had a concise answer: "It is whether or not the theory gives predictions that agree with experiment. It is not a question of whether a theory is philosophically delightful, or easy to understand, or perfectly reasonable from the point of view of common sense."2 So put reasonableness and common sense aside when judging a scientific theory. Put your conceptual models and visualizations away. They might help you formulate a theory, or they might not. They might help to explain a theory, or they might obfuscate it. But they cannot validate it, nor can they give it meaning.

Erwin Schrödinger made a similar critique of the simplified models widely used to explain scientific concepts in terms of everyday experience, such as those used to illustrate atomic theory:

A completely satisfactory model of this type is not only practically inaccessible, but not even thinkable. Or, to be more precise, we can, of course, think it, but however we think it, it is wrong; not perhaps quite as meaningless as a "triangular circle," but much more so than a "winged lion."3

"Do the electrons really exist on these orbits within the atom?" Schrödinger asks rhetorically. His answer: "A decisive No, unless we prefer to say that the putting of the question itself has absolutely no meaning."4

Feynman and Schrödinger were concerned about the extremely small scale, but what about the extremely large scale? A single human cell has more than twenty thousand genes. Therefore, assuming one protein per gene, the number of different non-modified proteins exceeds twenty thousand. Add to that the many more different proteins resulting from alternative splicing, single nucleotide polymorphisms, and posttranslational modification. No conceptual model is conceivable for the interactions among all of these genes and proteins, or for even a tiny portion of them, when one considers the complex biochemistry involved in regulation. What is the meaning of the intricate and massive pathway models generated by computer algorithms? Is this even a meaningful question to ask? And the human body contains on average an estimated thirty-seven trillion cells!

Yet science has had great success dealing with the unthinkable and inconceivable. Hannah Arendt puts the matter succinctly: "Man can do, and successfully do, what he cannot comprehend and cannot express in everyday human language."5 We have mathematically sophisticated scientific theories and daily operate with advanced engineering systems that are physically incomprehensible and whose principles cannot be communicated in everyday language. In Kantian terms, we are not limited by human categories of understanding.

This radical disconnect between scientific theory and everyday human understanding became impossible to ignore in the twentieth century. During that time, grappling with the issue of internal model randomness, as exemplified by quantum theory in physics, brought this problem to the fore.

Today, scientists are grappling with the problem of model uncertainty, as seen in areas like climate and medicine. These questions are increasingly challenging the basis of modern scientific knowledge itself, which is defined by a combination of mathematics and observation. Modern scientific knowledge, while rejecting commonsense conceptual models, has always depended upon mathematically expressed theories that could be validated by prediction and observation. But this approach is now under pressure from multiple sides, suggesting a deep crisis of scientific epistemology that has not been fully confronted. At the same time, political leaders find themselves increasingly impotent when faced with scientific issues. As we move further into the twenty-first century, humankind is presented with an existential paradox: man's destiny is irrevocably tied to science, and yet knowledge of nature increasingly lies not only outside ordinary language but also outside the foundational epistemology of science itself.

The entire Anglospheric advantage lies in the fact that we rejected Reason from the beginning, recognizing that all is faith in our Homocentric Universe.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Rethinking Easter Island's Historic 'Collapse': Controversial new archaeological research casts doubt on a classic theory of this famous island's societal collapse (Tom Garlinghouse, Sapiens on May 30, 2020, Scientific American)

Rapa Nui is often seen as a cautionary example of societal collapse. In this story, made popular by geographer Jared Diamond's bestselling book Collapse, the Indigenous people of the island, the Rapanui, so destroyed their environment that, by around 1600, their society fell into a downward spiral of warfare, cannibalism, and population decline. These catastrophes, the collapse narrative explains, resulted in the destruction of the social and political structures that were in place during precolonial times, though the people of Rapa Nui survive and persist on the island to the present day.

In recent years, researchers working on the island have questioned this long-accepted story. For example, anthropologist Terry Hunt and archaeologist Carl Lipo, who have studied the island's archaeology and cultural history for many years, have suggested an alternative hypothesis that the Rapanui did not succumb to a downward spiral of self-destruction but instead practiced resiliency, cooperation, and perhaps even a degree of environmental stewardship.

Now new evidence from Hunt, Lipo, and their colleagues, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, lends credence to their ideas. This evidence suggests that the people of the island continued to thrive, as indicated by the continued construction of the stone platforms, called ahu, on which the iconic statues stand, even after the 1600s.

"Our research shows that statue platform construction and use did not end prior to European arrival in 1722," says Robert DiNapoli, a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Oregon, who led the study.

This finding, drawing on new statistical methods and excavation work, suggests that the Rapanui were not destitute when the first Europeans arrived. It's therefore possible that it was the newcomers from Europe who contributed to the island's societal collapse in the years to come.

Not as hilarious as Mr. Diamond's insistence that only those animals could be domesticated that we domesticated, but pretty funny.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Japan Doesn't Want to Become Another Casualty of English (ERIC MARGOLIS, MAY 26, 2020, Foreign Policy)

Today, Japanese are caught between a belief in the importance of Japanese language and culture and the need to exist in a globalized world in which English carries economic privileges and status associations. A plummeting population and an inevitable future influx of foreign workers collide with a proud national identity, structural and cultural obstacles to English learning, and enough economic independence to resist what might otherwise seem an inevitable future: an English-speaking Japan.

For years, multinational companies have been mandating English as the common corporate language. "In East Asia, many parents, professionals, and students themselves see English as a prerequisite for attaining the best jobs on the market," said Minh Tran, the executive director of academic affairs at Education First, a Swiss language-education company that offers classes in Japan.

Yet the spread of English has left behind a "trail of dead": mangled languages, literatures, and identities. As countries around the world scramble for widespread English, there's a fear of losing their own traditions, cultures, and even names.

The extent of their success as a modern nation is the extent of the culture we forced on them at the expense of their traditions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


This Is What America Looks Like review: Ilhan Omar inspires - and stays fired up (Charles Kaiser, 30 May 2020, The Guardian)

They fled to Kenya, where they faced malaria, dysentery and near starvation. The family survived in a refugee camp for 334,000 people, bartering kidney beans for kerosene and batteries for a radio. When she needed entertainment, Omar snuck under the barbed wire to walk to a nearby village, where an enterprising Kenyan charged a few shillings to watch movies on his TV. When six children who were distant relatives lost both their parents, Omar's family looked after them, Ilhan paying special attention to the baby, Umi.

Her father discovered that they could apply through the United Nations to go to Norway, Canada or Sweden. But the US was his first choice.

"Only in America you ultimately become an American," he said. "Everywhere else we will always feel like a guest."

Miraculously, a year after their first interview they were allowed to apply for America. Ilhan was upset, partly because the orphans couldn't come with them, but the rest of her book is the astonishing story of a voyage from Nairobi to New York to Minnesota, then barely 20 years later to Congress.

The family's first stop was Arlington, Virginia, where the combative Ilhan spent most of her time in detention. But then she decided, she writes, "that my education was the one element of my life I had full control over, and given the long hours of studying in detention", by the time they moved on to Minnesota she "had become a very good student".

At her new school, "Africans fought African Americans over who was blacker. Muslim kids and white kids fought over US policy in the Middle East. Latinos against African Americans, Africans against Native Americans."

But Ilhan began to display her talents as a community organizer. She joined a group of students determined to "improve racial and cultural relations" by founding Unity in Diversity, "essentially a training program around diverse leadership".

Her next stop was North Dakota State University, after a friend told her it was searching for students, offering scholarships and a "very low cost of living". Back in Minneapolis after graduation, she immersed herself in the Democratic Farmer-Labor party, first working to defeat ballot initiatives to require photo IDs for voters and to outlaw gay marriage. 

She figured out a winning narrative: both were threats to freedom and civil liberties, a message that worked with communities of color and white rural Minnesotans. No anti-marriage equality initiative had ever been beaten until then - the same year Barack Obama was elected president.

Omar was elected to the state legislature in 2016, then to the US Congress in 2018, as one of the first two Muslim women in the House. She feared she would be banned from the House floor by an ancient rule barring hats, which would have prevented her wearing her hijab. Nancy Pelosi fixed the rule.

...African, Muslim, female.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


China's 'Nervous' Xi Risks New Cold War, Last Hong Kong Governor Says (Reuters, May 30, 2020)

 Chinese President Xi Jinping is so nervous about the position of the Communist Party that he is risking a new Cold War and imperiling Hong Kong's position as Asia's preeminent financial hub, the last British governor of the territory told Reuters.

Chris Patten said Xi's "thuggish" crackdown in Hong Kong could trigger an outflow of capital and people from the city which funnels the bulk of foreign direct investment into mainland China.

"What does it mean? It means serious question marks not just about Hong Kong's future as a free society but also about Hong Kong's ability to continue as probably the premier international financial hub in Asia," Patten said in an interview.

"A lot of people will try to leave Hong Kong," Patten said, adding that he feared capital would also flow out of the territory which Britain handed back to China in 1997.

The Hong Kongese should be made the new Cuban refugees, only with us transporting them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Israel sees further steep jump of 121 virus cases; drive-through testing reopens (Times of Israel, 5/30/20)

Israel on Saturday was set to reopen four drive-through testing stations across the country as the Health Ministry announced a further sharp increase of 121 new coronavirus infections overnight Friday.

With schools appearing to be at the epicenter of the outbreaks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the nation on Saturday evening after meeting with officials and ministers on possible closures within the education system. [...]

Channel 12 news said Friday that 78 of the cases in the past two days came from a single school, the Gymnasia Rehavia, in Jerusalem, including 64 students and 14 staff.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday that the Paula Ben Gurion elementary school in the city will remain closed for two days due to the large number of students who have siblings at the Gymnasia Rehavia.

Lake of the Ozarks pool partier tests positive for coronavirus (Gregory J. Holman, Springfield News-Leader)

A week after images of Memorial Day weekend revelers jammed into a Lake of the Ozarks pool party at Backwater Jack's Bar & Grill in Osage Beach made international headlines, the Camden County Health Department announced that a Boone County resident tested positive for the novel coronavirus after visiting the Lake of the Ozarks area over the holiday weekend.

The Boone County subject arrived at the lake on Saturday, May 23, and "developed illness" on Sunday, according to a news release obtained by, which like the News-Leader is part of the USA TODAY Network.

The infected person "was likely incubating illness and possibly infectious at the time of the visit," the health department said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


US Supreme Court rejects challenge to lockdown rules on religious services (MARK SHERMAN, 5/30/20, Times of Israel)

Roberts wrote in a brief opinion that the restriction allowing churches to reopen at 25% of their capacity, with no more than 100 worshipers at a time, "appear consistent" with the First Amendment. Roberts said similar or more severe limits apply to concerts, movies and sporting events "where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time."

The Chief wrote for the Originalists.
Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Turns Out, You Can't Blame Your Personality on Birth Order -- Unless You're a Twin (Amy PaturelMay 29, 2020, Discover)

Scientists and parents have believed birth order shapes personality since the late 1800s. Psychological giants like Francis Galton, Alfred Adler and, more recently, Frank Sulloway suggested that firstborn children received special treatment and had greater power than their later-born siblings. As a mom of boys born one minute apart, I've often wondered whether the "firstborn effect" applied to twins.

"The idea that birth order affects personality has profoundly penetrated the parental consciousness," says Brent Roberts, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Parents across the globe say their oldest takes the lead, the middle child plays the role of mediator and the baby grabs attention at every opportunity.

But a spate of studies in recent years, including one co-authored by Roberts, has debunked the idea that birth order has any impact on personality. In 2015, a landmark study with more than 20,000 individuals from three different countries showed that where a child falls in the lineup makes no difference in terms of the Big 5 personality traits: extraversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness and imagination. Similarly, a 2019 study published in Personality and Individual Differences reported no evidence of a link between birth order and personality.

In an ironic twist, research suggests twins' personalities may develop, in part, based on who is larger and healthier at birth. As it happens, the firstborn twin usually snags those defining characteristics. [...]

Scientists have long viewed twin studies as the gold standard for exploring genetic and environmental influences on self-esteem and personality. But no household offers identical experiences and exposure for a set of twins. "The same family environment doesn't exist, even among twins raised in the same family," says Rodica Damian, assistant professor of social psychology at the University of Houston.

May 29, 2020

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Flynn urged Russian ambassador to take 'reciprocal' actions, transcripts show (BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN and KYLE CHENEY, 05/29/2020, Politico)

During the Dec. 29 call with Kislyak, the pair discussed sanctions at length, despite Flynn's denials later.

"[T]he idea is, be -- if you -- if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of an even basis," Flynn said later in the call. "Then that, then that is a good message and we'll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we're not going to escalate this thing, where we -- where because if we put out -- if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a -- let's, let's keep this at a level that uh is, is even-keeled, okay?"

The transcripts also predate the 2016 election, briefly describing a call Flynn made to Kislyak on January 5, 2016, to express his condolences to Kislyak about the death of Igor Sergun. Sergun was the director of Russia's military intelligence service, the GRU.

It's helpful that the Trumpbots don't even see anything wrong with co-ordinating with the enemy to thwart America.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Liberalism Was Born and Grew During Centuries of Pandemics (Jon Murphy, May 26, 2020, AIER)

With the near-century of relative peace and prosperity, brought on largely by the spread of liberal ideas, the critics of liberalism claim that those ideas must then rely on a peaceful world. That those liberal ideas cannot answer for political turmoil and epidemics. But that is confusing cause and effect. 

Liberalism, as we know it today, was formed not in recent times of peace and prosperity, but in the crucible of the 1600s and 1700s. Indeed, some authors trace liberalism's roots all the way back to the fall of the Roman Empire (see Inventing the Individual by Larry Siedentop). The 1600s witnessed some of the most horrific religious wars the world has ever seen; it was a dangerous time, far in contrast to the relatively peaceful world we have now: the Thirty-Years War, repeated invasions by the Ottoman Empire, the Defenestration of Prague, the Bohemian Revolt, the English Civil War and English Restoration, just to name a few. Not to mention disasters like the Plague of Seville (about 25% of the population died) or the Great London Fire. 

During these momentous events, Hugo Grotius was writing his treatise The Rights of War and Peace, one of the first great liberal works of political philosophy. John Locke was writing his Treatises. Samuel Pufendorf was working on his various jurisprudence treatises. The foundations and arguments for liberalism were being laid in response to the turbulent times as a means of considering peaceful coexistence. 

The 1700s were much of the same. There were the Jacobite uprisings and the political turmoil of England that concerned Adam Smith and David Hume very much. There was the American Revolution and French Revolution, which spawned much liberal writing and discourse, especially between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine. The leading liberals of the time were actively engaging in the turmoil of their day, not hiding away from it. As deadly plagues swept through major cities, these thinkers continued to think and spread liberal ideas. And their ideas did spread as well.

The 1800s saw some of the most devastating plagues mankind has ever seen as cholera gripped much of the world. But that did not stop liberalism; instead, it strengthened it. As cholera ripped through SoHo in London in 1854, Richard Cobden was advocating for free trade to alleviate the poor. As governments rose and fell in France (some lasting just a few months), Frederic Bastiat was agitating for a more liberal and cosmopolitan France. The ideas and efforts of these two men would ultimately form one of the modern world's first free trade agreements between England and France and lay the groundwork for these two age-old enemies to become staunch allies in the coming century. 

As disease spread through the faulty sewers of London, AV Dicey was working on his Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, which would become the handbook for liberal rule of law study for centuries to come. Dicey, Cobden, and Bastiat all wrote, not in ignorance of the events surrounding them, but actively engaging in them.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


U.S. savings rate hits record 33% as coronavirus causes Americans to stockpile cash, curb spending (Maggie Fitzgerald, 5/29/20, CNBC)

The personal savings rate hit a historic 33% in April, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis said Friday. This rate -- how much people save as a percentage of their disposable income -- is by far the highest since the department started tracking in the 1960′s, and surpasses consumer savings during the Global Financial Crisis. April's print is up from 12.7% in March.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


The dark past of 'when the looting starts, the shooting starts' (EMILY GOODIN, 5/29/20, DAILYMAIL.COM)

The words echoed the ones used by late Miami police chief Walter Headley, who issued a 'get tough' policy on black protesters during race riots in the city in the 1960s. 

'We haven't had any serious problems with civil uprising and looting,' Headley said at a December 1967 news conference The New York Times reported at the time, 'because I've let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts.'

'We don't mind being accused of police brutality,' Headley noted. 'They haven't seen anything yet.'

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


Antibody Tests Point To Lower Death Rate For The Coronavirus Than First Thought  (Jon Hamilton, 5/28/20, NPR)

The evidence comes from tests that detect antibodies to the coronavirus in a person's blood rather than the virus itself.

The tests are finding large numbers of people in the U.S. who were infected but never became seriously ill. And when these mild infections are included in coronavirus statistics, the virus appears less dangerous.

"The current best estimates for the infection fatality risk are between 0.5% and 1%," says Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

That's in contrast with death rates of 5% or more based on calculations that included only people who got sick enough to be diagnosed with tests that detect the presence of virus in a person's body.

And the revised estimates support an early prediction by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force. In an editorial published in late March in The New England Journal of Medicine, Fauci and colleagues wrote that the case fatality rate for COVID-19 "may be considerably less than 1%."

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Donald Trump unmasked: Culture-war nihilism is his last line of defense (HEATHER DIGBY PARTON, MAY 29, 2020, Salon)

Perhaps it's because Trump was a celebrity with a TV show long before he entered politics that makes his fans love him so unconditionally. Whatever it is, Trump and his supporters have an unusually personal and almost intimate bond. It's clear after three and a half tumultuous years that they will follow his lead no matter what.

The political implications of this are profound. This weird relationship between president and base now completely dominates the Republican Party, apparently making it impossible for any prominent national figure in the party to allow even the smallest daylight between himself or herself and Trump. (Frankly, very few even seem to be trying.) 

The red MAGA hat serves as an official symbol of Trump loyalty, and there is a certain part of his following that uses it as a tool of intimidation. Even more disturbing, there has been a spate of mass shootings and other acts of violence by people who have named Trump or his ideas as motivation.

In order to maintain his supporters' devotion, Trump has stoked the culture wars at every turn, ruthlessly dividing the country in order to keep his fans engaged. They receive such hypocritical gestures of solidarity as his newfound "pro-life" zealotry with enthusiastic gratitude -- but what they really love are his brutal assaults on those they consider their political and cultural enemies. In that, Trump and his base are one.

So it should come as no surprise that when Trump faced the first crisis of his presidency that was not of his own making --- and failed to meet the challenge --- he would reflexively fall back on culture-war tactics to reinforce his base. His response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been abysmal, with the death toll now over 100,000 and the economy in dire straits. After bungling the response so badly that it will be studied by historians for centuries as an example of poor leadership, Trump is returning to his original instinct, which was simply to deny that the whole thing mattered, or was even happening.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we take the infamous Flight 93 essay seriously for a minute and grant that it delineates the mission Donald and the Trumpbots are embarked on: they are so alarmed by our Republic's destination that they prefer to try and seize control and crash it in the ground.  This sort of pure nihilism is easy enough to scoff at, because we think of death cults as utterly fringy.  But polling consistently indicates that about 18-20% of Americans are on board with every last bit of it.  The basis for this despair is clearest in the most extreme manifestos: whites are being "replaced" demographically; white men can't dominate in free employment markets; women find these true believers unlovable; etc.  The Trumpists, therefore, want to just destroy the entire liberal order because they can not compete in it.  

Let us return now to the Flight 93 analogy: a group of men are trying to hijack control and destroy the Republic.  What is the proper response?

Maybe this?: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Governors who took swift and decisive action are now polling through the roof.  (Paul Constant, 5/29/20, Business Insider)

Governors made a terrible showing in the Democratic presidential primaries this year. Montana Governor Steve Bullock quietly slipped into and out of the race without making much of an impression at all. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper followed the same course. And while the governor of my home state of Washington, Jay Inslee, managed to make climate change a major issue in the race, he too dropped out of the race long before a single ballot had been cast. At the time, pundits leveraged the failure of those campaigns into columns wondering if governors had lost all clout in national politics. 

Then came coronavirus, and governors who took swift and decisive action to lessen the impact of the pandemic on their states -- Republican and Democratic alike -- are now polling in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Even their worst partisan critics are largely praising governors for leading the way at a time when the federal response has been at best muddled and at worst actively harmful to the public health.

The lesson to be taken from this? People like it when their leaders lead. They want their leaders to explain and identify the problem, and then take decisive action to solve the problem. At a time when trust in federal government institutions are polling at all-time lows, it seems that the real frustration voters are expressing is not so much an ideological protest as it is an exasperation at the lack of leadership they've seen from Washington, D.C.

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If all cars were electric, UK carbon emissions would drop by 12% (George Milev & Amin Al-Habaibeh, 5/29/20, The Conversation)

What if all cars switched to electric overnight? We recently published a peer-reviewed conference paper looking at the emissions impact for such a switch in Scotland alone, and have now extended our analysis to the whole of the UK for a forthcoming publication. We found that if the UK's cars went entirely electric its total carbon emissions would be cut by almost 12%.

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A Copy of "The Power Broker" Is the Must-Have Quarantine Accessory for Media Elite (KAYLA KIBBE, MAY 29, 2020, Inside Hook)

We've all developed our share of collective quarantine quirks over the past few months. Among a certain circle of media types, the latest COVID-era trend appears to be owning a giant book.

The New York Times' Dana Rubinstein highlighted the trend involving Robert Caro's 1,246-page biography The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, which has been popping up in the background of TV interviews with journalists and politicians working from home amid the pandemic. "The ultimate signifier of New York political sophistication," as Rubinstein put it, a copy of the book has become a must-have accessory for quarantine TV appearances.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Trump loyalist Lindsey Graham locked in dead heat with Democratic challenger in red South Carolina (ROGER SOLLENBERGER, MAY 29, 2020, Salon)

Graham, who has represented South Carolina in Congress since 1995 and held his Senate seat since 2003, has in recent months faced mounting pressure from Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison. A new Civiqs poll released this week finds the two rivals tied at 42%. 

A deeper dive into the poll reveals more possibly unnerving developments for Graham. Fifty-six percent of South Carolina voters have an unfavorable view of the senator, while only 35% have a positive view of him. 

Harrison, a Yale and Georgetown Law graduate who rose to become the first black chairman of the state's Democratic Party, has claimed an 18% lead among independent voters -- 46% to 28% -- though GOP voters still dominate the state.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Where Is Russia's Strongman in the Coronavirus Crisis? (Alexander Baunov, May 27, 2020, Foreign Affairs)

Putin might have taken the occasion of the crisis to display some strong personal leadership to the public. Instead, his interventions have come across as belated and confusing. He gave his first speech about the pandemic only on March 25, three days after Moscow's mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, announced restrictive measures to control the virus's spread. From that point, information and even leadership seemed to emanate from Moscow rather than from the central government. Putin never declared a state of emergency and seemed to follow behind events rather than anticipating them.

Perhaps most remarkably, Putin's public reticence has carried over to his behavior behind the scenes. A leader whom one might have expected to consolidate power in a crisis has instead returned a lot of decision-making powers to regional governors. The move is particularly curious because for nearly two decades, Putin has consistently worked to strip power from local strongmen and vest it in his own hands. Now, when the news is grim and the policies restrictive, Putin has chosen the local governors to play the bad guys responsible for the health-care failures and personal constraints. For himself he has chosen the role of benefactor, bestowing gifts in the form of nonworking days and financial assistance. 

The trick hasn't worked as planned. Putin's approval rating has fallen to a historic low of 56 percent from a peak of 86 percent. Russian citizens--accustomed to news of Russia's strong macroeconomic performance, triple surplus, and solid reserves--had imagined that in the event of a disaster, a powerful and generous Putin would take full control, overcome the crisis, and help the people. That vision has turned out to be far removed from reality. The president and his central government loosened the reins in the midst of the crisis rather than tightening them. Putin receded into the background, allowing others to take responsibility for tackling the epidemic and issuing less financial assistance than people expected. He has left his supporters unnerved and embarrassed.

Opponents of liberalism like to misunderstand the End of History and pretend that Vlad and the PRC represent challenges to it.  But the point is that they are only interested in retaining power to themselves, not in doing anything with it.  they have no alternative ideas to offer or implement. It's what makes them harmless in historical context.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Philosophy in Troublous Times: a review of This Life by Martin Hägglund  (Knox Peden, September 2019, Sydney Review of Books)

 As with many publishing coups, the ebullient response to This Life makes manifest a desire it seems to have met. Not coincidentally, correctly identifying desires in order to think about the ways they might be met is central to the book's vision.

Literally central. Midway through This Life, in a chapter devoted to the difference between natural and spiritual freedom, Hägglund is emphatic that the question, what should I do with my time, is 'the question that underlies all normative considerations.'

For any norm to matter to me, it has to matter to me what I do with my time. Furthermore, what I do with my time can matter to me only because I grasp my life as finite. If I believed that I had an infinite time to live, the urgency of doing anything would be unintelligible and no normative obligation could have any grip on me.

A number of philosophical theses are compressed in these assertions. Likewise, a number of surprising judgments follow, some of which are expressed elsewhere in the book. For example, early Christian martyrs ought not to be thought of as martyrs exactly, since they believed that they were living on past the destruction of their mortal bodies. And if they believed that they were going to live on, should we really revere them or fear them (whatever response seems appropriate) for their actions? True martyrdom is when someone gives their life for a cause and truly gives it - ends it, terminated. Anything else is delusional or bad faith.

'Bad faith' is a notion associated with Jean-Paul Sartre but also implicit in Martin Heidegger's existentialism, one of the pillars of Hägglund's effort. It names instances of inauthenticity in life, those moments when you disavow your choices as choices, treating them instead as consequences of necessities beyond your control. In Sartre's hands, sincerity as a social grace becomes one of his key examples of acting in bad faith. For there is nothing less authentically sincere than desiring to be sincere; if you were actually sincere you wouldn't have to try. The paradox of bad faith in this case is that, to avoid it, you have to affirm that the run of events could be otherwise, while at the same time denying that you yourself could do anything differently. The moral of the existentialist tradition to which This Life belongs is that one ought to avoid doing anything in bad faith. [...]

There is a lot of talk in This Life about what matters, but there's no account of what mattering means, a subject dear to contemporary consequentialism. Still, what Hägglund shares with this body of work is the notion that reason is the arbiter of what matters. One might think this is simply the definition of the philosopher - one for whom reason decides, and in the case of the moral philosopher, decides which desires are to be permitted and possibly fulfilled. But there are various pictures of this idea, and Hägglund's portrait is one in which reason does a fair bit of boundary work. The only potentially viable justification one can offer for one's acts is one that provides reasons that would be universally recognised as reasons, reasons that partake in Reason. This is why justifications that involve appeals to divine authority (such as those based on the sanctity of life) are inadmissible on their own terms. And if they are admitted, it's only so they can be re-described in such a way as to disclose their truth content in rationalist terms. Reason has its rules, and those rules are constitutively common. Reason is what's given, what is to be accessed and expressed by all. 

Pretty much the entirety of moral wisdom is that we ought not be authentic, precisely because it consists of nothing but indulging one's desires. It is selfishness dressed up as a virtue. This self-indulgence is what joins the transsexual and Donald Trump, unconstrained id.  The claim of authenticity is always and only an excuse for morally repellent actions and beliefs.  Thus the typical formulation, "I disagree with him/her about that but at least he/she is authentic!"

On the other hand, to behave gracefully, in this context, is indeed to act in "bad" faith: it is the submission of individual desire to objective moral constraint.

Masculinity As Radical Selfishness: Rebecca Solnit on the Maskless Men of the Pandemic (Rebecca Solnit, May 29, 202, LitHub)

I grew up with the old axiom "my right to swing my arm ends where your nose begins," which is about balancing personal freedom with the rights of others and one's own obligation to watch out for those rights. The maliciously gendered rhetoric of the National Rifle Association, the incels and pick-up artist subcultures, Trumpism, and a lot else have proposed, in recent years, that actually their right to swing their arms doesn't end and my nose and your nose are not their problem or are just in the way and need to move. Wearing masks, it turns out, is not manly, when the definition of manly is not having to do f[***]-all out of concern for others.

There are a lot of other things that turn out not to be manly, including caring about climate change and environmental problems, and even according to some studies recycling (and others, handwashing). Taking care of things is not manly. Four of the worst-hit countries in this pandemic are also afflicted with heads of state preoccupied with meeting the terms of machismo--Bolsanaro, Putin, Boris J., Trump--in ways that conflict with recognizing the gravity of the Covid-19 crisis and responding adequately.

This is a definition of masculinity as radical selfishness, and just as it's taken a huge toll in American lives by demanding and utilizing deregulation of access to semiautomatic weapons and other implements of mass death, so it's taken a huge toll by insisting that we don't have to respond to the pandemic because the "we" that is not responding imagines itself as invulnerable and full of unlimited arm-swinging rights. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


In the US, Camera Phones Increasingly Expose Racism (AFP, May 28, 2020)

It was a member of the public who filmed George Floyd grasping for breath as a white Minneapolis policeman pressed his knee on Floyd's neck for at least five minutes on Monday.

Floyd went still and was later declared dead in hospital. Four police officers were fired from their jobs but remain free and the city has had three nights of angry protests.

"If we did not have a video, would the officers have been fired as quickly?" Ibram Kendi, director of the American University's anti-racism research center, asked in an interview with Democracy Now! "Would they have believed all of those witnesses who were looking at what was happening and who was the asking officers to stop?"

In the second incident, a white woman falsely reported Christian Cooper, an avid birdwatcher, to police after he requested that she leash her dog in a wooded area of New York's Central Park.

"I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life," she told Cooper as he filmed her dial 911 in a video that has been viewed over 43 million times on Twitter.

In February, Ahmaud Arbery -- also African American -- was shot and killed by two white residents while jogging in their neighborhood in Georgia.

A third man, who was later also charged over Arbery's death, filmed the murder, with the cellphone video sparking outrage when it was leaked onto social media earlier this month.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Twitter red flags shocking Donald Trump tweet about 'looting and shooting' for 'glorifying violence' (FRANCES MULRANEY and GEOFF EARLE, DEPUTY U.S. POLITICAL EDITOR and TIM STICKINGS, 29 May 2020, Daily Mail)

Trump's statement that 'when the looting starts, the shooting starts' is now hidden by a warning that it violated Twitter's rules - but the message can be bypassed and the tweet remains live. 

The president had used Twitter to intervene in the riots which erupted for a third night running following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who had gasped for breath as a police officer knelt on his head. 

Trump's 1am tweet described the looters as 'thugs' and warned that the federal government would 'assume control' with 'shooting' if necessary after protesters set fire to a police precinct. 

But Twitter put a warning on the tweet less than three hours later, saying it had 'taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts'. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was informed in advance.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Questioning Chesterton's Own Judgment of "The Man Who Was Thursday" (Joseph Pearce, May 28th, 2020, Imaginative Conservative)

The aging Chesterton, recalling Thursday in the light of the darkness of his youth across the span of forty years, makes the perilous mistake of seeing the dragon of decadence and not the knight in shining orthodoxy who slays it. Thus in his autobiography he writes that "the monstrous pantomime ogre who was called Sunday in the story... is not so much God... but rather Nature as it appears to the pantheist, whose pantheism is struggling out of pessimism," whereas, in fact, as the text testifies explicitly, Sunday refers to himself within the context of the Book of Genesis and the Days of Creation as "the Sabbath" and "the peace of God," and, as if to hammer the point home, his final words are those of Christ Himself, asking his interlocutors, "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?" Pace Chesterton, whose myopic memory misreads his own novel, Sunday reveals himself as being much more than mere Nature, much more than a mere god, but the Christian God whose presence makes sense of the nightmare nonsense that His perceived absence presents.

Seeing Thursday in the contemporaneous light of Orthodoxy and its "ethics of elfland," we can see that it encapsulates the paradox, embodied in the character of Chesterton's delightful priest detective Father Brown, that wisdom can only be found in innocence. This is nothing less than the truth that Christ teaches. We will not be with Him in heaven unless we become as little children.

The paradoxical heart of The Man Who Was Thursday is the tension that exists between the childlikeness demanded by Christ and the childishness that St. Paul tells us to avoid. We have to remain child-like by ceasing to be childish. The first is the wisdom of innocence, or the sanity of sanctity, whereby we see the miracle of life with eyes full of wonder; the second is the self-centredness of one who refuses the challenge of growing-up. Chesterton's Man Who Was Thursday is essentially about childish detectives attaining childlike wisdom, just as his later novel, Manalive, illustrates how the pure childlikeness of the aptly-named Innocent Smith is misunderstood by the childish world in which he finds himself.

The Man Who Was Thursday shows us the paradoxical truth that it takes a big man to know how small he is. It shows us that thinking we are big is childish whilst knowing that we are small is childlike. Thinking we are big, the sin of pride, turns our world into a living nightmare. Knowing we are small wakes us up. In a world that is somnambulating deeper and deeper into the living nightmare it has made for itself, we are in more need than ever of the wide-awake awareness of G.K. Chesterton, a visionary who was larger than life because he spent his life on his knees.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Ozone Layer Erosion 360 Million Years Ago Responsible for Mass Extinction Event (Ethen Kim Lieser, 5/28/20, National Interest)

The team discovered evidence that high levels of ultraviolet radiation devastated the ancient forest ecosystem, which was largely driven by changes in the Earth's temperatures and climate cycles, leading to the erosion of the ozone layer.

The study's lead researcher John Marshall, who is a professor at the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science, said the ozone layer likely vanished for a short period, and that deadly event occurred at a time when the planet was warming.

"Our ozone shield vanished for a short time in this ancient period, coinciding with a brief and quick warming of the Earth," he said in a release. "Our ozone layer is naturally in a state of flux--constantly being created and lost--and we have shown this happened in the past, too, without a catalyst such as a continental scale volcanic eruption."

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Rental cars may be about to flood the used car market as companies like Hertz go bankrupt.  (Kristen Lee, 5/28/20, Business Insider)

Now that rental car giant Hertz has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company's next steps aren't clear. But if a whole slew of used rental cars suddenly hits the market, don't immediately shy away from them. Picking up a used rental car isn't always as bad as you'd think.

Car sales have been in terrible shape this year, mostly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's currently a buyer's market for sure, so if you're thinking about picking up something new for yourself, now might be the time to do it. 

Hertz has no intention of buying any more cars for its fleets this year. In fact, Hertz and other suffering rental car companies are likely to sell off a big chunk of their fleets instead. Industry experts expect the companies to unload 1.5 million cars from their US fleets in the coming weeks and months, according to CNN Business. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Trump's Social-Media Order Is a Gift to Disinformation Bots, Experts Say (PATRICK TUCKER, 5/28/20, Defense One)

Tech policy experts who spoke to Defense One said that the order would limit the ability of social media networks to block efforts to use their platforms for manipulation and disinformation, since the companies would need to give each disinformation-spreading bot a sort of hearing before it purges them. 

Daphne Keller, a fellow at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society, said, "If the [executive order] had legal effect, it would certainly make it much, much harder to police disinformation online." But she said much of the order is of dubious legality, and has produced a color-coded version showing how and why. 

Alex Howard, Director of the Digital Democracy Project at the left-leaning Demand Progress, said that the order "further abuses the powers of the presidency to advance a conspiracy about ideologically motivated censorship on social media without evidence, intimidating private companies from taking even small steps to accurately inform the public about elections, health and other issues by labeling provably false content, much less removing it from the platform if [those companies] decide it violates their policy." 

"This executive order and accompanying messaging appear designed to intimidate the tech companies from taking more aggressive steps to combat disinformation, particularly Twitter," Howard said.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and has made disinformation and online platforms a legislative focus, said that the order is an "effort to cow platforms into allowing Trump, dark money groups, and right-wing militias to continue to exploit their tools to sow disinformation, engage in targeted harassment, and suppress voter participation." He described the order as a "distraction from the legitimate efforts to establish common sense regulations for dominant social media platforms."

It's not the first time Trump has tried to regulate social media companies. Last August, the administration drafted a similar executive order that would allow the FTC and FCC to police social media companies for perceived bias. But officials at the FTC and FCC pushed back against the order on constitutional grounds. 

Trump issued the new order after Twitter on Tuesday labeled a provably false tweet about mail-in ballots with a "fact check" link. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


All the things George W. Bush said we should do to prepare for a pandemic that Donald Trump ignored (Paul Biasco, 5/28/20, Business Insider)

2. Establish a global response

"To respond to a pandemic, members of the international community will continue to work together," Bush said. "An influenza pandemic would be an event with global consequences, and therefore we're continuing to meet to develop a global response."

Bush requested $251 million from Congress to help foreign nations train local medical personnel, expand their surveillance and testing capabilities, and detect and contain outbreaks.

In September 2019, the Trump administration stopped funding PREDICT, an initiative under the US Agency for International Development (USAID) that worked with dozens of foreign laboratories -- including the one in Wuhan, China, that identified the novel coronavirus.

The program also trained thousands of people in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to detect new viruses, according to the Los Angeles Times.

PREDICT was resurrected in April with $2.26 million in emergency USAID funding. But that same month, Trump ordered the US to stop funding the World Health Organization, claiming the organization allowed China to conceal the extent of the contagion.

The US has also pulled back from collaborating on international efforts to combat the pandemic: It didn't send a representative to the Coronavirus Global Response, a virtual summit that raised more than $8 billion for a vaccine, The Guardian reported.

And it has not said if it will attend the Global Vaccine Summit in London on June 4.

"What the United States has chosen in these recent meetings - not to attend, and not to participate - it has chosen instead to begin talking about a sort of go-it-alone approach," Stephen Morrison, director of the Center on Global Health Policy, told the Guardian.

That approach, he added, "fractures the international efforts and creates tensions and uncertainties and insecurities."

3. Strengthen domestic surveillance

"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," Bush said in his pandemic address.

His administration launched the National Bio-surveillance Initiative in 2005, which increased the government's ability to rapidly detect, quantify, and respond to outbreaks in both humans and animals.

It also set up systems to quickly share data between local, state, national, and international public health officials.

In 2018, Trump's National Security Adviser, John Bolton, disbanded the National Security Council's Global Health Security and Biodefense unit, set up by the Obama administration to handle pandemic preparedness.

Bolton tweeted that it was a "streamlining" of NSC structures.

Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, the top official responsible for overseeing our pandemic response, left the administration shortly thereafter.

The White House also eliminated the $30 million Complex Crises Fund, which the secretary of state can access to deploy disease experts.

Trump's budget proposals have consistently called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's budget to be slashed by millions of dollars, though Congress has declined those provisions.

4. Stockpile vaccines, antiviral drugs, and medical supplies

Bush warned that, in a pandemic, "everything from syringes to hospital beds, respirators, masks, and protective equipment would be in short supply."

In 2003, the Bush administration placed the country's reserve of vaccines and antitoxins under the control of the Department of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security.

It also expanded the reserve to include medical equipment, like ventilators and personal protective equipment, and renamed it the Strategic National Stockpile.

In his address, Bush asked for $1.2 billion for enough avian flu vaccine to inoculate 20 million Americans and $1 billion to stockpile antivirals like Tamiflu.

The Obama administration utilized the stockpile during the 2009 H1N1 and 2016 Zika outbreaks but did not replenish it. The Trump administration also failed to replace those items despite warnings the stockpile was not prepared for a pandemic, according to NBC.

In February, HHS requested $2 billion to replenish the stockpile, but was rebuffed by the Office of Management and Budget, the Washington Post reported, resulting in a screaming match in the Situation Room between Azar and an OMB official.

The White House ultimately trimmed Azar's request down to $500 million when it was brought to Congress.

Once the virus came to the US, hospitals and state officials sounded the alarm about a lack of protective gear, but Trump called PPE shortages "fake news."

May 28, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


The Chinese CDC now says the coronavirus didn't jump to people at the Wuhan wet market -- instead, it was the site of a super-spreader event (Aylin Woodward, 5/28/20, Business Insider)

Wuhan authorities first informed the World Health Organization (WHO) about the unknown, pneumonialike illness that would later be identified as the new coronavirus on December 31.

A majority of the initial 41 cases were linked to the wet market, which was shut down on January 1. Given that the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003 started at a similar venue in Guangdong, China, the wet market seemed like a logical origin. (The SARS coronavirus jumped from bats to civet cats to people.)

But none of the animals at the market tested positive for the virus, Colin Carlson, a zoologist at Georgetown University told Live Science. If they were never infected, they couldn't have been the intermediary host that facilitated the spillover. 

A growing body of research supports the Chinese CDC's conclusion that the outbreak's origins were unrelated to the market. The virus seems to have been circulating in Wuhan before those 41 cases were reported: Research published in January showed that the first person to test positive for the coronavirus was likely exposed to it on December 1, then showed symptoms on December 8. The researchers behind the study also found that 13 of the 41 original cases showed no link to the wet market.

Similarly, an April study suggested that the coronavirus had already established itself and begun spreading in the Wuhan community by early January.

The identity of "patient zero" hasn't been confirmed, but it may have been a 55-year-old man from China's Hubei province who was infected on November 17, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), which reviewed government documents.

Carlson told Live Science that the Wuhan wet market may simply have been the a site of an early super-spreader event -- an instance in which one sick person infects an atypically large number of others.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Trump readies executive order targeting Facebook, Google and Twitter, sparking widespread criticism about threats to free speech (Tony Romm, May 28, 2020, Washington Post)

Trump's order essentially would pave the way for U.S. agencies to revisit and potentially undo long-standing legal protections known as Section 230, which spares tech giants from being held liable for the content they allow online and their own moderation decisions, according to two people familiar with the document, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it has not been finalized. The Post also obtained an undated draft copy of the order, which sources cautioned could still change before the president signs it.

The directive specifically could pave the way for federal officials to seek a new rulemaking proceeding at the Federal Communications Commission to rethink the scope of the law, the people familiar with the document said. A change could have dramatic free-speech implications and wide-ranging consequences for a broad swath of companies reliant on doing business on the Internet.

The order also would seek to channel complaints about political bias to the Federal Trade Commission, which would be encouraged to probe whether tech companies' content-moderation policies are in keeping with their pledges of neutrality. It would further create a council along with state attorneys general to probe allegations of political bias, while tasking federal agencies with reviewing their spending on social media advertising, according to the people familiar with the White House's thinking.

"In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to handpick the speech that Americans may access and convey online," according to an undated draft version of the executive order obtained by The Post late Wednesday.

The order could mark the White House's most significant salvo against Silicon Valley after years of verbal broadsides and regulatory threats from Trump and his top deputies. It also may raise fresh, thorny questions about the First Amendment, the future of expression online and the extent to which the White House can properly -- and legally -- influence the decisions that private companies make about their apps, sites and services.

It is not clear, however, if the FTC and FCC plan to take the actions sought by the president. The agencies are independent, operating separately of Trump's Cabinet, leaving enforcement to their discretion. The FCC declined to comment, and the FTC did not immediately respond.

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic FCC commissioner, blasted the draft order Thursday as unworkable. "Social media can be frustrating," she said in a statement. "But an executive order that would turn the Federal Communications Commission into the president's speech police is not the answer."

Others fretted the proposal Trump is considering threatens to circumvent Congress. "The idea you could have an executive order that reinterprets a clear statute that Congress passed, that has been interpreted by the courts for over 20-plus years, as recently as yesterday ... is just nonsense," said Jesse Blumenthal, who leads tech policy work for Stand Together, an organization backed by industrialist Charles Koch.

So if the executive orders a use of administrative law to punish specific foes does that implicate bill of attainder questions?

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Poll: Donald Trump leads Biden by just 3 points in Utah (Bryan Schott, 26 May 2020, Utah Policy)

The last time Utah voted for a Democrat for president was Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964. The Beehive State's 56-year streak of voting for Republicans for president may be in real danger according to a new poll. 

The 2 News survey conducted by Y2 Analytics finds Republican Donald Trump leading presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by just 3 points, 44-41 percent. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Right-Wing Legal Network Is Now Openly Pushing Conspiracy Theories (DAHLIA LITHWICK and RICHARD L. HASEN, MAY 27, 2020, Slate)

According to new reporting from The Guardian and Open Secrets, Leo, Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network, and their dark-money backers are promoting the Orwellian-named "Honest Elections Project" to pressure elections administrators to limit access to the ballot and to undermine trust in elections. The messaging echoes Trump's baseless claims that various states' efforts to let people vote by mail are fraudulent--and turns these lies into policy. "The project announced it was spending $250,000 in advertisements in April, warning against voting by mail and accusing Democrats of cheating," the Guardian explained. "It facilitated letters to election officials in Colorado, Florida and Michigan, using misleading data to accuse jurisdictions of having bloated voter rolls and threatening legal action. Calling voter suppression a 'myth', it has also been extremely active in the courts, filing briefs in favor of voting restrictions in Nevada, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota, among other places, at times represented by lawyers from the same firm that represents Trump."

"Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket."

― Eric Hoffer, The Temper of Our Time

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Reminder: Trump Signed into Law the Warrantless FISA Surveillance That He's Railing Against (COLIN KALMBACHER, May 27th, 2020, Law & Crime)

In an all-caps declaration of opposition to the renewal bill, Trump tweeted that "WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE OF AMERICANS IS WRONG!"

Studious critics pointed out that Trump himself signed into law the long-contentious spying authority he recently began railing against.

"He literally signed warrantless surveillance of Americans into law on January 19, 2018, with the reauthorization of FISA 702," observed former Republican Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.).

As Reuters noted at the time:

The law renews for six years and with minimal changes the National Security Agency (NSA) program, which gathers information from foreigners overseas but incidentally collects an unknown amount of communications belonging to Americans.

The anti-Trump attorney husband of a certain White House official used the opportunity to make yet another personal attack against the president.

"I'm sure you don't remember this, didn't really understand it when you did it, don't understand it now, and lack the intellectual capacity ever to understand it, but you signed into law Public Law No. 115-118, the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017," post-2016 Election Trump critic George Conway noted via Twitter.

Killing reauthorization of the regime that limits intelligence gathering abroad is a near ideal solution.  Credit when due: good going, Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Here's Why Amy Cooper Would Likely Lose a Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Against Franklin Templeton (AARON KELLER, May 27th, 2020, Law & Crime)

"Private employers have pretty broad latitude to terminate you for out-of-work conduct -- it's usually perfectly legal," said Virginia attorney Tom Spiggle. Spiggle appears from time to time as a guest to discuss employment law matters on the Law&Crime Network.

"These issues, understandably, are confusing to people," Spiggle said, given that most people would likely assume conduct which happens outside of work would not result in their termination. However, for at-will employees, it can, and rather easily. Spiggle added that viral cases which showcase employee conduct such as that portrayed in the Cooper video present a "tough spot" for employers; "most don't want to be caught up in" or suffer any residual ill will which may come from the employee's continued presence.

The analysis changes slightly when employees work for the government. There, generally, employees can be fired for out-of-work conduct, Spiggle said. However, public employers must abide by the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause. Government employees "can't say whatever they want, but there are some protections," he explained, noting possible -- but certainly neither simple nor easy -- First Amendment and § 1983 claims for alleged depravations of civil rights.

An employee who is is covered by an employment contract may enjoy greater protection based on the language of his or her individual contract. Many contracts, Spiggle warns, simply allow termination "for cause," and the courts of some states, such as Virginia, interpret that language very broadly in favor of the employer.  "It's [oftentimes] whatever the employer says it is," Spiggle explained, as to what "for cause" termination could entail. Yet other contracts are more precise.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump planning new arms sale to Saudi Arabia, says senator (New Arab, 28 May, 2020)

President Donald Trump's administration wants to sell arms to Saudi Arabia again, one year after pushing through a controversial $8.1 billion contract despite congressional opposition, an influential US senator revealed on Wednesday.

"The administration is currently trying to sell thousands more precision-guided bombs to the President's 'friend,' Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman," New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez said in an op-ed published online by CNN.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Great Britain's power grid emissions hit record lows as renewables hit new highs (Joshua S Hill, 28 May 2020, Renew Economy)

Carbon emissions from Great Britain's power grid have hit their lowest ever levels this past weekend, thanks to a decrease in demand and a big increase in renewable energy output, and as wholesale power prices also dropped into negative territory. [...]

Unsurprisingly, as carbon emissions and intensity plummeted, renewable energy supply soared, and at its height hit 65% of the country's total demand.

Coal is a fetish.

May 27, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Leaked documents show what Goldman Sachs really thinks of Bitcoin (JEFF JOHN ROBERTS, May 27, 2020, Fortune)

One slide offered the withering perspective that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not even an asset class in the first place, and that they offer neither cash flow nor a hedge against inflation.

"We believe that a security whose appreciation is primarily dependent on whether someone else is willing to pay a higher price for it is not a suitable investment for our clients," the slide concluded.

That wasn't the worst of it. A follow-up slide suggested the other most notable feature of cryptocurrency is as a "conduit for illegal activity," including Ponzi schemes and ransomware, while another invoked the Dutch tulip mania. Ouch.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Trump's Favorite Pollster Shows His Disapproval Rating At 57 Percent (Josh Israel, May 27 | 2020, National Memo)

The poll was sponsored by pro-Trump activist Jack Posobiec of the far-right One American News Network.

Trump has frequently praised Rasmussen's polls, calling the company "one of the most accurate in predicting the 2016 Election" and lauding the company for its "honest polling." As recently as February 25, he tweeted that he had reached "52% in the new Rasmussen Poll."

Rasmussen itself has a distinct pro-GOP bias. After the 2016 elections, polling analyst Nate Silver noted that "the Republican lean in its polls ran pretty much wire to wire."

"It had a significant Republican house effect early in the election cycle and a significant Republican house effect late in the election, and it would up turning into a significant Republican bias on Election Day," he wrote.

In September 2018, Ipsos Public Affairs research director Mallory Newall told Hill.TV that Rasmussen's adjustment of data based on party identification tends "to be more along the partisan angle, leaning toward the Republicans."

Rasmussen has consistently shown better numbers for Trump and his allies than other major polling firms. CNN analyst Harry Enten noted after the 2018 midterms that Rasmussen's polling had been the least accurate of any firm, actually showing Republicans ahead nationally by one point before the blue wave. "The midterm elections prove that at least for now Rasmussen is dead wrong and traditional pollsters are correct," he argued.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Man who hanged effigy of Kentucky governor fired from job (The Associated Press, May 27, 2020)

A protester who participated in hanging an effigy of Kentucky's governor at an armed rally on the State Capitol grounds has been fired from his job at an auto dealer.

Neil Huffman Auto Group said it terminated the unidentified employee after an internal review, saying it "does not condone threats of violence in any form."

"There is no place for hate or intolerance at any of our dealerships," Shannon Huffman, the auto dealer's human resources manager, said on social media Tuesday evening.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Poll: Despite Trump's endorsement, few voters support use of hydroxycholoroquine (CAITLIN OPRYSKO, 05/26/2020, Politico)

In the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, out Tuesday, only 23 percent of registered voters said they support using hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus, down from 29 percent who supported the therapy in April. And only 11 percent said they are likely to take the drug themselves. whenever you boil these asinine opinions down to the hardcore you get the percentage of people who oppose the Dreamers too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

XPC (profanity alert):

Is the Spell of Political Correctness Breaking?Maybe we're finally getting ready to concede that we can't win a real war if we decide that every last hill of insensitivity is worth dying on. (GREGG HURWITZ, MAY 27, 2020, The Bulwark)

The African-American community has bailed out the Democratic party again and again at the voting booths. So the surprise wasn't that key voices in the community from Symone Sanders to Reggie Hudlin seemed largely willing to contextualize the remark, accept the apology, and move on. The surprise was that many white allies generally intent on chest-beating and virtue signaling were willing to listen.

Absolutism apparently no longer holds water.

Not when the temporary occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue waxes poetic about Henry Ford's "good bloodlines." Not when African-Americans and Hispanics wait nearly twice as long to vote because thousands of polling stations in minority communities have been closed since the Supreme Court weakened voting discrimination laws in 2013. Not when nearly 100,000 Americans have died from a mismanaged crisis and (according to the Guardian) 1 out of every 2,000 African-Americans in the entire country has already died of COVID-19.

Maybe now, with Americans perishing, unemployment skyrocketing, our economy shut down, and our Democratic institutions under assault from an administration and attorney general sworn to protect them, it seems we might be--might be--waking up to the fact that we can no longer brandish our political positions with religious fanaticism. We have to look at a dangerous world as it is, not as we wish it could be, and make complex, nuanced, and--gasp--adult decisions.

The Tara Reade debacle also illustrates the need for nuance. One of the rallying cries of #MeToo has been "Believe all women." But all women are not to be believed any more than all men are. To suggest that females are magical truth-telling creatures isn't just insulting; it's objectifying.

And of course the leaders of #MeToo knew that.

Trumpbot hysteria over Joe Biden's comment is identical to The Left's insistence on the use of Latinx.  Both represent being offended on behalf of people who are not, merely reflecting how little you understand them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ohio Republican governor says wearing a mask is 'about loving your fellow human being' (Paul LeBlanc, May 27, 2020, CNN)

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday evening that wearing a mask to protect against coronavirus is "about loving your fellow human being," saying he tells Ohioans to wear the face coverings even as they have become a political flashpoint amid the pandemic.

"This is an instruction as old as the Bible. You are supposed to love your fellow man and woman, and that is what we are doing," DeWine told CNN's Anderson Cooper on "AC360."

"I think that's the message. You are not wearing it so much for yourself as you are wearing it for that person that you will come in contact with."

Conservatism is just that simple--our obligations to each other outweigh our claims personal to freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Kevin McCarthy asks Dems to pull FISA bill (MELANIE ZANONA, HEATHER CAYGLE and JOHN BRESNAHAN, 05/26/2020, Politico)

The abrupt collapse of FISA talks was exacerbated by a late-developing rift among Democrats as well. The House reached an apparent breakthrough last week when Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) secured a vote on an amendment intended to ban the government from accessing the web browsing history of Ameircans using a provision of FISA. Lofgren's amendment, introduced with Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), closely mirrored language that failed by a single vote in the Senate earlier this month, offered by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

But a change negotiated by Lofgren and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff appeared to rankle Wyden. Just hours after he praised the apparent agreement in the House, Wyden lashed out at Schiff in a statement, accusing him of undermining the original language of his proposal and calling on lawmakers to reject it -- as well as the entire FISA reauthorization. It's unclear why Wyden viewed Schiff's changes as a non-starter.

"It is now clear that there is no agreement with the House Intelligence Committee to enact true protections for Americans' rights against dragnet collection of online activity," Wyden said in a statement.

Schiff indicated in an earlier statement that his talks with Lofgren produced "an agreement on modifications" to the Wyden proposal, which was also bipartisan. The language limited Wyden's proposed protections to "U.S. persons," which aides indicated would ensure the FBI could continue to collect web browsing information from foreign targets, such as terrorists or intelligence agents.

The FISA debate has also created a rift in the GOP conference -- and those divisions were on full display during a private call between Republican leaders and ranking committee members on Tuesday.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who helped negotiate the initial FISA deal, voiced his support for the bill and pointed out that the president wants reforms, according to sources on the call. Trump and his allies allege that the FBI used the law to improperly monitor figures in his campaign amid an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) pushed back, saying she disagreed with Jordan, and outlined her reasons why. She argued that the amended bill would undermine national security, create red tape at the FISA courts and wouldn't have protected the president.

There ought be no restrictions on such intelligence collection abroad.  It implicates no constitutional principle.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Monterey County DA to investigate if Biden accuser Tara Reade gave 'false testimony under oath' about expert witness credentials (Lauren Frias, 5/27/20, Business Insider)

"We are investigating whether Ms. McCabe gave false testimony under oath," Berkley Brannon, chief assistant district attorney, told POLITICO. Brannon added that it is not immediately clear how many court cases Reade testified as an expert.

"We have no database or search engine to use to determine in how many cases she testified," Brannon told Politico. "However, that effort is ongoing."

Reade claimed she had earned her bachelor's degree from Antioch University in Seattle under a "protected program." But university officials told Politico that Reade only attended for three academic quarters and did not graduate, and denied that she had a special arrangement to earn her degree.

"Alexandra McCabe attended but did not graduate from Antioch University," Karen Hamilton, an Antioch University spokesperson told CNN. "She was never a faculty member. She did provide several hours of administrative work."

Reade went on to Seattle University Law School, where officials confirmed she earned her law degree. However, she would not have been able to earn her law degree without a valid undergraduate degree, per the school's admission standards. Officials refused to confirm the validity of her degree under the circumstances, Politico reported.

A professional liar is about par for the Trump course.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Democracies Do Better at Surviving Pandemics (Robin Niblett & Dr Leslie Vinjamuri, 5/26/20, Chatham House)

Democracies might be among the worst performers in the COVID-19 crisis, but they are also among the best, especially when they are led not by populist leaders, but by those who can draw on a high level of public trust. This has been the case with Germany, Taiwan, Finland, Norway, New Zealand and South Korea - the first five of which are led by women, whose leadership style tends to be inclusive rather than top-down.

Democracies have also revealed their innate resilience and adaptability. Centralized systems like that of Britain have had to cede more political control to the regional governments; Taiwan is showing how its commitment to protecting individual democratic rights can be applied successfully to voluntary health surveillance; and Germany has drawn on the strength of its federal governance system. Even the more politically divided democracies, such as U.S. and Britain, have rapidly rolled out massive macroeconomic stimulus packages with bipartisan support.

At the same time, democracies have shown the power and value of their diverse and independent civil societies, which have the freedom to mobilize to confront a crisis of this sort. Corporations, universities, foundations and nonprofit organizations are cooperating and innovating with local authorities and internationally, whether to deliver medical relief and social support or to secure a vaccine.

In contrast, authoritarian states look brittle. When there is only one, permanent leader - party or individual - failure cannot be admitted, and mistakes must be concealed. This was clearly the dynamic in China, where the Communist Party in Wuhan sought to hide the extent of the virus's outbreak from December 2019 into early January. Sensing the risk to its reputation, the Chinese leadership has since moved into over-drive to try to control the narrative on the outbreak, creating greater international distrust of China in the process.

Other authoritarian states are faring worse. Russia is now coping with its own full-blown COVID crisis, while Iran has nearly 130,000 confirmed infections and a high death rate. President Putin's focus on recovering Russia's position as a great power has been at the expense of socio-economic investment, leaving the country's health system struggling to manage the crisis. His popularity has fallen to the lowest level since he first became president in 2000.

The Iranian regime's efforts to underplay the risks of the virus have backfired, leaving it vulnerable to a resumption of the violent popular protests that rocked the country following the government's cover-up of its downing of a Ukrainian airliner on January 8.

The fact is that authoritarian leaders can cope relatively well with geopolitical instability and opportunity, as Russia and Iran have demonstrated in the Middle East. Similarly, they can launch large-scale investment projects with geo-economic goals, as China has done with its Belt and Road Initiative, with little concern about their long-term sustainability.

But in the face of an amorphous, cross-border virus that cannot be deterred, coerced or denied, authoritarian leadership reveals the shallowness of its power, as well as the bluff and bluster of its imitators, from Turkey to Brazil. By suppressing the power of civil society and independent media, these governments hear bad news late and must then rely on rigid bureaucracies to deliver complex responses.

May 26, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Vladimir Putin's Increasingly Precarious Future (Herman Pirchner Jr., 5/26/20, National Interest)

[I]t is not hard to understand why some Russian citizens do not like Putin or approve of his rule. Real incomes in Russia have fallen in five of the last six years. That statistic points to a protracted stagnation. Indeed, since 2014 the average growth rate of the Russian economy has been 0.6%, a fifth of the global average. It should hardly be a surprise that more than half (53%) of 18-24-year-olds now want to leave the country.

Putin hoped to shore up his domestic support through propaganda based upon the 75th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany - propaganda that was designed to enhance the patriotism and pride of Russians, and remind them of their need for a strong leader. The onset of the current pandemic not only removed this option, but continues to erode Putin's strength - and to lessen his elite's perception of it.

As the coronavirus, and the deaths associated with it, continue to spread, the Russian masses - previously rendered passive though propaganda - will understand that Putin lied to them about Russia's preparedness. The public has become acutely aware of the Kremlin's subpar federal response to the pandemic, embodied in "videos showing ambulances lined up for miles waiting to deposit patients in overcrowded Moscow hospitals." They also understand that their country's health system (primitive by Western standards) is failing them, and that their living standards are dropping while Putin's crowd steals and spends money in places such as Syria and Ukraine--but not at home.

Levada Center Deputy Director Denis Volkov sees this as Putin's biggest problem. As he put it earlier this month, "People are afraid of wage cuts, and they expect a fall in living standards. These fears are now the most important. In effect the government has a few months to try to normalize the situation before the discontent becomes serious."

Signs of discontent were already visible before the onset of the virus. In 2019 alone, hundreds of mass rallies, flash mobs and other demonstrations took place throughout the country. These gatherings focused on issues as diverse as trash sites, minority language rights, election falsification, Putin's political appointments in the regions, and assorted government decisions. But this dissatisfaction, and the intensity of longstanding grievances, is only likely to increase in the wake of the current crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Sens. Van Hollen and Toomey Propose Targeting Chinese Banks Over Hong Kong Rights (Matthew Petti, 5/26/20, National Interest)

Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) are pushing for a new bill that targets Chinese officials and banks in retaliation for Chinese moves against Hong Kong's autonomy.

The Chinese government had promised Hong Kong the ability to rule itself under the "one country, two systems" policy when Britain handed the former colony back to China in 1997, but Beijing is now proposing a national security law as part of a crackdown on Hongkongers protesting for more autonomy.

The move could trigger sanctions under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, passed by U.S. Congress last year. Van Hollen and Toomey are proposing a bill to go even further, by targeting banks that do business with Chinese officials with economic sanctions.

"This is legislation we've been working on as we've watched China crack down on the autonomy of Hong Kong," Van Hollen said on a Tuesday conference call. "This is designed to hit the Chinese Communist Party and the individuals involved in these decisions where it hurts."

A real reason to sanction them.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Iraqi Shia militias call for terror attacks in Saudi Arabia (MEMO, May 26, 2020)

Two Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq have called for terrorist attacks to be conducted in Saudi Arabia, raising concerns about the increased targeting of Saudi government, civilian and industrial facilities.

The spokesmen for the Kata'ib Hezbollah and Al-Nujaba Movement militias released statements on Saturday urging "Jihadi operations" within the Kingdom. Kata'ib Hezbollah spokesman Abu Ali Al-Askari said that, "You won't be safe from the cells of the treachery and the hypocrisy of 'the rest of the malicious tree' unless Jihadi operations are transferred to Saudi Arabia."

Both groups fall under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), an Iranian-backed assortment of mainly Shia militias which supplement and effectively fight alongside the Iraqi armed forces.

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


Changing Southwest may bring Democrats a milestone win (Ronald Brownstein,  May 26, 2020, CNN)

In a critical mark of the shifting political landscape, Democrats in November could secure a clean sweep of the Senate seats from the four key Southwestern states -- a milestone the party hasn't reached in nearly 80 years.

Democrats today are strongly positioned to oust Republican Sens. Martha McSally in Arizona and Cory Gardner in Colorado and hold their own open seat in New Mexico. If the party wins those three races, as most analysts today agree they are favored but not assured to do, it will control all eight Senate seats from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada for the first time since 1941, according to Senate records.

Pete Wilson could have told them this is how Nativism plays out.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Live free and die: Sweden's coronavirus experience (Sam Bowman and Pedro Serodio, 26 May, 2020, The Critic)

First, serology tests have shown that only fairly small numbers of people in Europe and the US have had Covid-19 (and nearly everyone who has had the virus seems to get antibodies against it). 

In the UK, a study reported by the Health Secretary indicated that about 5% of the population nationwide has had it, and about 17% of Londoners. A large serology study in Spain found antibodies in around 5% of the population, a study in Milan found antibodies in 4.4-10.8% of the population, and a recent Bayesian estimation of the IFR for US states using data from European countries found about 4% nationwide prevalence, and around 16.6% prevalence in New York.

Second, the number of deaths combined with those antibody test results are consistent with an infection fatality rate (IFR) in the order of 0.49-1.01%. This may be a conservative estimate, since not all deaths caused by Covid have been confirmed as such (for example, in the UK's care homes, which have had a hugely elevated death rate during the past few months).

Third, Covid-19 appears to kill people who still have a long life ahead of them. One study suggests that on average, men who die of Covid would have had another 13 years to live, and women another 11 years to live. These figures are already adjusted for comorbidities that would shorten their lives.

Attempts to downplay the severity of Covid-19 usually ignore or obfuscate one or more of the above factors. Some, even from experts, are just innumerate. The disease simply cannot have an infection fatality rate of one in ten thousand with at least 36,000 deaths in a population of 66 million, for example, despite the claims of one Oxford epidemiologist. 

All of these appear to weigh in favour of the lockdown having been the correct course of action, and against a rapid end to the lockdown -- until we have appropriate measures in place to ensure we do not get a second uncontrollable outbreak of the disease.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The office is obsolete. And that's a good thingA world where the office is obsolete is more positive, more communal and more productive (Brianne Kimmel, 26 May 2020, The Guardian)

The table stakes for any conversation around removing the office start with the average commute of an American, which last year hit over 27 minutes. I haven't met many people with a commute under 45 minutes, and a recent report said that commuters wait an average of 54 hours a year stalled in traffic. An estimated 128 million of the 150 million working Americans commute to work in a car, the rest predominantly using a lackluster public transport system. Intelligence firm Inrix showed a 30% or so drop in cars on the road in America from Covid-19 - with Italy showing a stunning 65% drop in traffic. This significant drop in transportation will likely have a part to play in the fight against global warming, and we now have a rare chance to take significant numbers of cars off the road by seeing the office for what it is - a paper tiger with assumed importance and effect on productivity.

The concept of face time is used to keep us in the office, with managers believing remote work dilutes people's work to numbers and documents - a sanitized and creativity-free wasteland. Ironically, that same appearance at the office is often used to evaluate people based on whether they're "nice" or "productive", which usually means someone looks busy or stressed out. An excellent piece by Michelle Ruiz of Vogue referred to Bill Gates's creation of the obsession around face time, citing a survey where employees at large American companies spent 54% of their time on email, meetings, administrative tasks and "interruptions". She calls face time "a mirage, the symbolic appearance of working (going to meetings, chatting with co-workers) but not actually getting much done".

reducing the number of hours we pretend to work will not decrease output at all.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Kentucky governor hung in effigy during gun rights rally (The Week, 5/26/20)

Local media reports that about 100 people attended a gun rights rally at the capitol that also turned into a protest against coronavirus restrictions enacted by Beshear. Video posted online shows a man stringing up a doll with a picture of Beshear's face on it and a noose around the neck, with others then posing for photos in front of the effigy as "God Bless the U.S.A." plays in the background.

May 25, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM

AMERICANS VS TRUMPIST (profanity alert):

New York Shoppers Hound Customer Out of Grocery Store For Not Wearing Mask in Viral Video (JADE BREMNER, 5/25/20, Newsweek)

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


The best books on The Middle Ages recommended by Hannah Skoda: Oxford medieval historian Hannah Skoda chooses her top five books on the Middle Ages, explaining why she finds the whole idea of their 'middleness' problematic and how a more global approach tends to shatter many long-held assumptions about the period. (Interview by Benedict King, Five Books)

Let's move on to the last of your books on the Middle Ages, Medieval Market Morality by James Davis. What story does this book tell?

This is the only book from the period that I actually work on. I chose this one because the 14th century is an absolutely intriguing time of cataclysmic change. By picking the topic of market morality, James Davis gives us something which engages all those really huge shifts, but gives us a very different perspective on them, and one which shows the ways in which contemporaries weren't only subject to these shifts, but how they engaged their own subjectivity. They're constantly reflecting on the implications of commercialization and rapidly shifting social structures for themselves as moral beings and for their own sense of what it might mean to be a member of a community.

The story of the book quite simply is that it's period when things are changing very dramatically, and he's interested in thinking about the ways in which moral systems were developed to deal with economic changes.

Are we talking about things like the difficulty of running an international commercial system without charging interest on loans, that sort of thing? Is it about the tension between the religious prohibitions on some sorts of activity and practical requirements to breach those requirements in order to make these new emerging systems work?

That's the backstory, or the broader canvas of what he's doing. But his focus is at a more local level. It's about England, and he looks more at humbler kinds of trade. He's interested in bakers, butchers and brewsters and the kinds of trade that went on in local markets. But the conceptual backdrop for that is the broader canvas of theological anxiety about price and lending at interest that you mentioned.

Talking about 'market morality' suggests a morality rooted in the process of the exchange of goods and services. Is he making the point that the morality was changing as a result of the way that commerce was changing? Or is it more about the imposition of things like the 'just price', in other words trying to control the market and fit the exchange of goods and services into a pre-existing moral structure that governs how we should interact with each other?

It's probably a bit of both, probably slightly more the latter. Chronologically, he's doing two things. On the one hand, there's a sense that markets are developing so rapidly that moral, theological and legal ways of thinking about them need to catch up, with a real acknowledgement that the market economy is crucial to the common good more generally. And on the other hand, there is indeed a sense that theological moral thinking about concepts like just price rendered commerce really problematic. What concerns them most, though, is trickery and deception.

Does it tell a story about the relationship between government and commerce as well?

It does, and part of the story is about the relationship between legal regulation and moralizing ways of thinking about it. He finds interesting disjunctions between the two, or at least a sort of slight lag between the two. For example, the assizes are a set of legal regulations about quality and quantity and this sort of thing, but very often, in practice, they seem to be used effectively as a kind of licensing system for brewers and bakers. Whereas the moral standards that might be applied tended to produce much more stringent ways of thinking about the limits to which people should be exploiting what they get up to.

Fundamentally, the point is that over the course the 14th century, there's a real growing awareness that markets are a good thing. At least that's what they reckon. But, at the same time, there's a great deal of anxiety that it can so easily go wrong and that there are moral theological tensions there. So, the book's about the working out of that lapse between the two.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


What the Polls Say About Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden in Key 2020 Swing States (JASON LEMON, 5/24/20, Newsweek)

Recent polling in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida--states that former President Barack Obama carried in 2008 and 2012, but Trump won in 2016--showed Biden several points ahead of the incumbent president. Meanwhile, the traditionally Republican stronghold of Arizona appears to be shifting blue, although the state has only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once in the past five decades.

Texas is the battleground.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Donald Trump, the Most Unmanly President: Why don't the president's supporters hold him to their own standard of masculinity? (Tom Nichols, 5/25/20, The Atlantic)

[S]ince his first day as a presidential candidate, I have been baffled by one mystery in particular: Why do working-class white men--the most reliable component of Donald Trump's base--support someone who is, by their own standards, the least masculine man ever to hold the modern presidency? The question is not whether Trump fails to meet some archaic or idealized version of masculinity. The president's inability to measure up to Marcus Aurelius or Omar Bradley is not the issue. Rather, the question is why so many of Trump's working-class white male voters refuse to hold Trump to their own standards of masculinity--why they support a man who behaves more like a little boy.

I am a son of the working class, and I know these cultural standards. The men I grew up with think of themselves as pretty tough guys, and most of them are. They are not the products of elite universities and cosmopolitan living. These are men whose fathers and grandfathers came from a culture that looks down upon lying, cheating, and bragging, especially about sex or courage. (My father's best friend got the Silver Star for wiping out a German machine-gun nest in Europe, and I never heard a word about it until after the man's funeral.) They admire and value the understated swagger, the rock-solid confidence, and the quiet reserve of such cultural heroes as John Wayne's Green Beret Colonel Mike Kirby and Sylvester Stallone's John Rambo (also, as it turns out, a former Green Beret.)

They are, as an American Psychological Association feature describes them, men who adhere to norms such as "toughness, dominance, self-reliance, heterosexual behaviors, restriction of emotional expression and the avoidance of traditionally feminine attitudes and behaviors." But I didn't need an expert study to tell me this; they are men like my late father and his friends, who understood that a man's word is his bond and that a handshake means something. They are men who still believe in a day's work for a day's wages. They feel that you should never thank another man when he hands you a paycheck that you earned. They shoulder most burdens in silence--perhaps to an unhealthy degree--and know that there is honor in making an honest living and raising a family.

Not every working-class male voted for Trump, and not all of them have these traits, of course. And I do not present these beliefs and attitudes as uniformly virtuous in themselves. Some of these traditional masculine virtues have a dark side: Toughness and dominance become bullying and abuse; self-reliance becomes isolation; silence becomes internalized rage. Rather, I am noting that courage, honesty, respect, an economy of words, a bit of modesty, and a willingness to take responsibility are all virtues prized by the self-identified class of hard-working men, the stand-up guys, among whom I was raised.

And yet, many of these same men expect none of those characteristics from Trump, who is a vain, cowardly, lying, vulgar, jabbering blowhard. Put another way, as a question I have asked many of the men I know: Is Trump a man your father and grandfather would have respected?

...if you support him are you the sort of man your grandfather would have respected? 

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Liberty And Disunion (Michael Liss, 5/25/20, 3 Quarks Daily) 

Nullification was a challenging concept, but Calhoun was an extraordinarily gifted thinker.  Even skipping some of the intricacies of his arguments, the underpinnings remain resonant, at a time when so many of us are questioning the exercise of government power. Calhoun worried about majority domination in a republican form of government. Invariably, in Calhoun's thinking, once a group (or aligned groups) gained power, they would exploit their position to reward themselves at the expense of the minority.  Obviously, Calhoun wasn't the first to recognize this; the Founders themselves had concerns. But experience had told him that the aspirational virtue expressed in Madison's Federalist 10--a conviction that diversity of interests and opinions would create a dynamic that would foster compromise--had not been achieved. 

The answer to Majority Tyranny was either nullification or what Calhoun called a "concurrent majority," requiring each interest (each state) to consent to legislation. To modern eyes, it seems wildly impractical,  but, at a time when the world was far less complex, and many people thought of themselves as state citizens as well, it had some appeal.   

Yet, there was a core incongruity in Calhoun's argument, which even he tacitly acknowledged: If you considered the Constitution a contract (as many citizens did, in the Lockean sense of the word), didn't the states (including South Carolina, the eighth state to ratify) agree on behalf of themselves and their citizens to be bound by laws that were passed by Congress and signed by the President? The Tariff might very well be abominable, but it's a law, and if you don't like the law, use the mechanisms in place (such as Amendment or Supreme Court review) to change it.

Calhoun had an exquisitely wrought answer for this: That wasn't the nature of the contract. The Constitution did not give final "sovereign" authority to determine what was Constitutional to any branch or branches of government, including the Supreme Court. Final authority would have had to have been specifically expressed as such in the document, and it was not. In the absence of an enumerated power, the authority remained with the states, and not as a majority of states, but each individual one. Calhoun considered several approaches, but settled on an elegant one: It is the people--the governed-who are the supreme arbiters over that to which they have given their consent. Consent once given is not consent for all time. The governed may withhold their consent and seek to change the terms of the contract (or any piece of legislation) when they wish, through the mechanism of a state convention. This was the way citizens preserved their rights.

Calhoun was somewhat clairvoyant in his concerns. He grasped that the power to determine, with finality, whether a law is Constitutional, was also a power to shape the law itself. Even the Supreme Court could be controlled by a malevolent majority. This is why, from his perspective, ultimate sovereignty must reside with the governed.

What Calhoun did not address adequately was the practical effect of Nullification. The power to say no turned majoritarianism on its head--to maintain a Union, the many must always yield to the few. While Calhoun professed to be a Nationalist (whether for political reasons or out of belief is not clear) he was, in fact, advocating for a policy that made it impossible for a union of states to be anything more than a casual confederation.  

As radical as this idea seems, it first gave strength to the Unionists in South Carolina by supplying them with an intellectual construct for their position. That allowed them to beat back the radicals who wanted more aggressive action (like secession). But it also contained the seeds of its own destruction because of its inherent instability. Nullification wasn't reform; it was, in practice, a call for revolution from 50 years of government under the Constitution. Even those sympathetic to South Carolina on the specific issue of Tariffs (or, both tacitly and explicitly, slavery) recognized that there was no national consensus for it. 

Discussion in Congress was heated, and, in late December 1829, Senator Samuel Foot (CT) lit a match by introducing a resolution calling for an inquiry into limiting the sale of public lands in what was then the Southwest. Over the course of the next few months, nearly half the Senators weighed in, several multiple times, and on many more issues than land. The speeches became public spectacles; the galleries were filled; and, as an added touch of drama, Calhoun attended in his (then) role as Vice President and President of the Senate. The emotional climax was the debate between Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina and Webster. Hayne gave a good account of himself but stumbled a bit on nullification when he declared that the state legislature, rather than a state convention, could nullify a Federal law.  Webster pounced. On January 26, 1830, he rose and, over two days, carefully dissected the internal inconsistencies of Haynes's argument. Then Daniel Webster did a Daniel Webster:

When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union...Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured...but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land...Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!

The gallery, the entire Chamber, stayed silent as Webster resumed his seat. He had accomplished an extraordinary feat. With one burst of eloquence, he had yanked the discussion from Calhoun's astringent intellectualism into something deeper and more emotional, a pride of place and country. Nullification was a coldblooded political tactic. Webster drew people to a higher calling. 

Republican liberty is, of course, "tyranny" of the majority.  But the point is that the "tyranny" applies to the majority.  Once you allow states or individuals to exempt themselves from laws you no longer have either liberty nor a republic.

May 24, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


Exclusive: Husband of Reopen NC leader 'willing to kill people' in resistance to emergency orders (Jordan Green, 5/24/20,Raw Story

The husband of the woman who leads the Reopen NC movement says people should be willing to kill, if necessary, to resist the "New World Order" and emergency orders imposed by state government to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Geez, the Trumpbots seem so well-ordered otherwise....
Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


In Oklahoma Pork-Packing Town, COVID-19 Stirs Fear, Faith and Sorrow (Reuters, May 24, 2020)

As in many meatpacking towns around the country, local leaders and residents are torn about how to address the new threat, which pits the economic needs of employees and local businesses against rapidly growing health risks to everyone in the community.

The Seaboard plant, where wages start at $16 per hour, is by far the largest employer in the city of fewer than 11,300 people. The plant is both a linchpin of the local economy and a hot spot in the nation's battle against the new coronavirus.

Opinions about the dangers of the virus do not necessarily fall along neat or predictable lines, interviews with about two dozen local residents show. Although the population is small, Guymon and Texas County are demographically and politically complex.

The county, where about 70 percent of plant workers live, is a Republican stronghold in the heart of the U.S. Bible Belt, and it overwhelmingly supported President Donald Trump in 2016. Yet residents have diverse backgrounds: Plant workers come from North America, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Some 41 percent of households in the county speak languages other than English at home, according to the most recent U.S. Census figures.

The city of Guymon, which was majority white at the turn of the century, is now more than half Hispanic or Latino. The plant dominates the economy, but many agricultural businesses operate around it, mostly owned by whites.

As different as residents are, their lives intersect. The city's many businesses rely on the immigrants as customers and workers, and some local businesses are owned by minorities and immigrants. Nearly everyone seems to either work at the plant or know someone who does.

Support for the company seems to run hot and cold depending on feedback from a friend or a brother-in-law. Several workers expressed fear of going to work but fear, in equal measure, of losing their jobs if they complained.

The main point of contention appears to be how seriously to take the threat of the coronavirus.

For now, Seaboard confirmed, its employees appear to account for roughly half of Texas County's COVID-19 cases. The numbers are in flux: Not every employee has been tested and the county's confirmed caseload is steadily rising with expanded testing.

What's certain is that the virus respects no boundaries, said Dr. Martin Bautista, who already is working with other physicians to contain infections at Guymon's nursing home, where he said one patient has died.

"It's a virus. It doesn't recognize the color of your skin, socioeconomic status, nothing."

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Fact and Fiction About Racism and the Rise of the Religious Right: No, Evangelical activism isn't built on a lie. (David French, 5/24/20, The Dispatch)

IRS actions against Christian schools enraged Jerry Falwell (he operated Lynchburg Christian School) and racially discriminatory Bob Jones University. Evangelicals sent 125,000 letters of protest to the IRS objecting to proposed regulations that would require segregation academies to admit a certain number of minority students. 

Make no mistake, this is a deeply troubling narrative. But let's keep going. It turns out that while the attack on segregation academies undeniably motivated some people, it could not transform American politics. Not even close. 

Ballmer clearly notes that outright racism could not, in fact, create a mass movement. In his words, he says that Falwell and Weyrich were "savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would be a challenge."

So what was the issue that could mobilize the masses? I'll give you a hint--it wasn't defending segregation academies. It was abortion. Again, here's Ballmer:

By the late 1970s, many Americans--not just Roman Catholics--were beginning to feel uneasy about the spike in legal abortions following the 1973 Roe decision. The 1978 Senate races demonstrated to Weyrich and others that abortion might motivate conservatives where it hadn't in the past. 

In short, the times were changing. Arguments that didn't work in the past were working now. Ballmer smartly points to a key film series from Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop called Whatever Happened to the Human Race? It was produced in 1979, but it circulated in Evangelical America for years afterward. I saw it in Sunday school during high school, and it made a profound impact on me.

A young conservative Christian growing up in 1980s America heard nothing about segregation academies. Indeed, when the Reagan administration ultimately led the final legal charge to strip tax exemptions from Bob Jones University--culminating in an 8-1 Supreme Court decision in 1983 holding that the Free Exercise Clause could not protect the university from IRS action against race discrimination--the decision barely raised an eyebrow. The defense of segregation academies ended not with a bang, but a whimper. The defense of life, however, roared on. 

Moreover, let's take a second look at the Baptist flip-flop on abortion. It's critical to note that the 1960s and 1970s were a time of enormous confusion, upheaval, and anguish in American Protestant Christianity. The largest denominations were liberalizing theologically at an astonishing rate--and the liberalizing leaders turned out to be dramatically out of step with the masses of men and women in the pews. 

The Protestant Mainline, once the dominant Protestant faction of Christian America, has been bleeding members since the early 1970s at a startling rate. By some measures, the rate of decline is so great that membership could reach near-zero within the next quarter-century:

But which denomination zigged conservative while its Mainline brothers zagged progressive? The Southern Baptist Convention. Books have been written about the "conservative takeover" of the SBC, but it's clear that the Roe-era SBC underwent a fundamental transformation. 

While the Mainline denominations shrank, the SBC enjoyed a period of remarkable growth--from roughly 11 million members in the mid-1960s, to a peaking above 16 million in the mid-2000s. Membership has since declined to slightly less than 15 million presently, but these numbers indicate rapid seismic shifts in American religious membership and belief. In short, a lot more was going on between 1970 and 1980 than a sudden interest in preserving southern segregation academies. Millions of Christians were leaving their traditional spiritual homes in search of new churches. At the same time, abortion was on the rise. If you think that the "spike" in legal abortions wasn't that dramatic--look at the raw numbers, from the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute:

So, no, the pro-life movement wasn't "built on a lie." It's not the mighty political oak born from a racist acorn. It's ultimately the product of the combination of seismic religious and cultural changes and patient religious and political argument. 

To make this claim about pro-life activism isn't to absolve white American Evangelicalism of any racist taint. But the sins of the past don't center around abortion. They don't even center around religious liberty (despite the defense of segregation academies in the 1970s.)  

Ultimately, the great sin of white southern Evangelicalism is that for generations its faith did not transcend and displace its culture. Instead, all too often that faith was placed in service of the very culture it should have transformed. For more than 100 years, if you were going to draw a Venn diagram of white Southern supporters of Jim Crow and white southern fundamentalists and Evangelicals, you would see an extraordinarily high degree of overlap. 

...Eugenics/Racism was a likely key to the initial indifference towards abortion as it had been to Segregation. 

How the Evangelical Church Awoke to the Abortion Issue: The Convergent Labors of Harold O. J. Brown, Francis Schaeffer, and C. Everett Koop (Matthew Miller, March 4, 2013, Reformation21)

A renowned pediatric surgeon in Philadelphia, Koop, who had recently come to Christ under the preaching of Donald Grey Barnhouse at Tenth Presbyterian, treated  the Schaeffer's daughter, Priscilla, in 1948. Upon learning that they were to leave as missionaries for Switzerland in a few short months, Koop opened up about his own newfound faith, and a friendship was formed that would remain through the years.

Early on, Koop was convinced that "abortion amounted to taking a sacrosanct human life" (which explains his teaming up with Brown in 1975 to found The Christian Action Council). (6)

But on one Saturday in 1976, after spending the entire day operating successfully on three newborn babies that otherwise would have died, he sat in the hospital cafeteria with two of his colleagues and said: "You know, we have given over two hundred years of life to three individuals who together barely weighed ten pounds" to which one of his residents answered: "And while we were doing that, right next door in the university hospital they were cutting up perfect formed babies of the same size just because their mothers didn't want them."(7)

Koop says he knew then and there that, as a surgeon, he had to speak up more forcefully for the unborn. So he rose early the next morning and began to write, and by evening the next day had completed his 120-page treatise entitled The Right to Live; the Right to Die: Famous Pediatric Surgeon Speaks Out on Abortion and Mercy Killing. "I aimed the book primarily at Christian readers," he recalls, "as I sought to awaken the evangelical community to a vital moral issue they were choosing to ignore."(8)

Koop evidently kept Brown's articles close at hand as he put his own thoughts to paper. He quotes from Brown more than from any other source (other than the Bible), often whole paragraphs at a time. Koop's The Right to Live; the Right to Die would sell over 100,000 copies in the first year alone, and another 100,000 in the years that followed. 

After writing the book, Koop reconnected with the Schaeffers (father and son) to produce Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Released in 1979, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? did what no effort over the previous six years had succeeded in doing: it broke through. 

Dr. Jean Garton, reviewing Whatever Happened to the Human Race? on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Roe, remembers, "As a result, there was a dramatic change in the abortion landscape. The powerful message of both the screen and printed versions of Whatever Happened to the Human Race? educated and energized an up-till-then largely uninvolved constituency-the Evangelicals."(9)  Brown himself remembered with great appreciation the impact of Schaeffer's and Koop's joint efforts: "Shown in churches, schools, and homes around the country, [the film] so thoroughly aroused viewers that the term evangelical has come to be synonymous with anti-abortion."(10)

In the years that followed, a 'second generation' would take the helm of pro-life advocacy, and we are familiar with their names: Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, and a host of others. And after their few years of potent convergence, Schaeffer, Brown, and Koop faced futures as different as their pasts. Schaeffer would die in 1982. Brown's Christian Action Council, of which he remained chairman, would shift its primary focus to founding Gospel-centered crisis pregnancy care centers with remarkable results (the organization is now known as CareNet).(11) Upon his death in 2007, Brown was remembered in Christianity Today as one whose "most prominent work was helping form and intellectually arm the pro-life movement."(12) As a reward for his pro-life efforts, Koop would be appointed by Reagan to be his Surgeon General in 1981, but pro-abortion advocates made Koop's confirmation hearings so tortuous that he emerged less interested in being a figurehead for the pro-life movement, choosing instead to make campaigns against smoking and AIDS the hallmarks of his appointment. He is widely remembered as the most famous Surgeon General in modern memory.

Perhaps it is because none of these three carried the mantle of the pro-life movement in the 1980s and 1990s that we hear relatively little of them as pro-life champions today - except recently, when the last of them has departed from us. But it is reasonable to suppose that without Brown, Schaeffer, and Koop, there may not have been a pro-life movement in the 1980s at all, nor in the years that followed

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Trump retweets Hillary Clinton is a 'sk***' message and spreads sexist insults about other prominent female Democrats (Tom Porter, 5/24/20, Business Insider)

President Donald Trump on Saturday shared a series of messages containing sexist taunts and personal insults against prominent female Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

In one message shared by the president, John Stahl, a conservative who gathered only 3% of the vote in his bid for election to California's 52nd House district in 2012, called former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton a "skank." 

Misogyny is central to Trumpism.

May 23, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Barack Obama poised to add his star appeal to Joe Biden's campaign (Daniel Strauss, 23 May 2020, The Guardian)

Former president Barack Obama has dipped his toes into the 2020 presidential campaign recently and is positioned to do more in the coming months as Joe Biden's effort to defeat Donald Trump gathers steam.

Interviews with about a dozen Democratic strategists, party officials and people close to Obama want the popular former president utilizing his powerful online presence and focusing on rallying key Democrat constituencies that are critical to a Biden victory.

Obama is regarded as one of the most popular politicians in American politics and a huge asset within the Democratic party. He left the White House with a near-60% approval rating. His endorsement for any candidate is the political campaign equivalent of an oilman and hitting a gusher.

Obama would be most effective, interviewees said, in highlighting his former vice-president's résumé, rallying key Democratic voting groups like African American women, and pushing voters to register.

Not only do you exploit the competence divide between the two presidencies, but you provoke the Right's racism, which is what is driving Republicans out of the party.
Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


What's driving Biden's strength with seniors (Alexi McCammond, Margaret Talev, 5/23/20, Axios)

The seeds were planted years ago. Biden has led Trump with seniors in theoretical matchups dating back to 2015. Trump's prospects with seniors have depended to a large degree on the alternative.

The 65+ vote helped put Trump over the top in 2016. Those voters made up more than a fourth of the electorate and went for Trump over Hillary Clinton, 53% to 44%, the Pew Research Center found.

Biden has a +12-point favorability standing among seniors; at the same point in the cycle four years ago, Clinton's favorability with seniors was running a deficit of -13, per Quinnipiac.

A Monmouth University poll out last week shows another strength Biden has over Clinton: He's winning voters who don't like either of the major party nominees by more than 40 percentage points. In 2016, Clinton lost them to Trump by 17 percentage points.

Republicans have won seniors by 5-12 percentage points since the 2000 election, but Trump's margin of victory with them in '16 was roughly half of what Romney earned the cycle before -- and the lowest for any GOP nominee in nearly two decades.

But the coronavirus does look to be hurting Trump with seniors. A recent Morning Consult poll showed Trump dropped 20 percentage points in a month in how seniors view his handling of the crisis.

Obviously a bigger deal than only getting 3% of the black vote.
Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


The narcissism of apocalyptic thinking: A hilarious new book shows how the expectation of catastrophe is as much fantasy as fear (SAM LEITH, April 14, 2020, Unherd)

The fine, well-written, and fiercely entertaining book in which he explores his interest in all things apocalyptic is in some ways, as that little exchange suggests, a nonfiction novel in which O'Connell appears as an essentially comic protagonist.

But it's also a serious, or semi-serious, piece of reportage -- in which O'Connell variously meets the vendors of mid-range apocalypse real-estate (a guy selling decommissioned concrete weapons bunkers in a vast ranch in South Dakota); investigates the tech billionaires planning, when the Big One arrives, to do a bunk to New Zealand to set up an Ayn-Rand-style post-democratic society; meets the Elon Musk fanboys (they are usually boys) who think the human race's best chance of survival is colonising Mars; spends 24 hours communing with nature among pessimistic ecologists in the Scottish highlands; and takes a package tour of Chernobyl.

And it's an essay, in which he investigates his own phobias and Left-liberal anxieties, and his sense of complicity and hypocrisy. He brings the findings of his reporting and reading -- everyone from Hannah Arendt and Schopenhauer to Dr Seuss (there's a fine and feeling mini-essay on The Lorax) -- to interrogate the meaning of the apocalypse.

As he argues early on -- contemplating the culture of "preppers" who fantasise about taking to the woods with a "bug-out bag" when SHTF (s[***] hits the fan) -- the expectation of catastrophe is as much fantasy as fear. And it is ideological: fantasies of self-reliance after the breakdown of society play as much into myths of the American past as visions of its future. Preppers fetishise a notion of frontier masculinity in which the white prepper, a Mad Max Davy Crockett, is freed from the reciprocal obligations of "civilisation" to fend for himself.

...the greater one's insistence that their time is unique, rather than mundane. Thus both Replacement theory and Climate hysteria.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


The First Conservative (DONALD W. LIVINGSTON, 8/10/11, The American Conservative)

Hume forged a distinction in his first work, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40), between "true" and "false" philosophy.  The philosophical act of thought has three constituents. First, it is inquiry that seeks an unconditioned grasp of the nature of reality. The philosophical question takes the form: "What ultimately is X?" Second, in answering such questions the philosopher is only guided by his autonomous reason. He cannot begin by assuming the truth of what the poets, priests, or founders of states have said. To do so would be to make philosophy the handmaiden of religion, politics, or tradition. Third, philosophical inquiry, aiming to grasp the ultimate nature of things and guided by autonomous reason, has a title to dominion. As Plato famously said, philosophers should be kings.

Yet Hume discovered that the principles of ultimacy, autonomy, and dominion, though essential to the philosophical act, are incoherent with human nature and cannot constitute an inquiry of any kind.  If consistently pursued, they entail total skepticism and nihilism. Philosophers do not end in total skepticism, but only because they unknowingly smuggle in their favorite beliefs from the prejudices of custom, passing them off as the work of a pure, neutral reason. Hume calls this "false philosophy" because the end of philosophy is self-knowledge, not self-deception.

The "true philosopher" is one who consistently follows the traditional conception of philosophy to the bitter end and experiences the dark night of utter nihilism. In this condition all argument and theory is reduced to silence. Through this existential silence and despair the philosopher can notice for the first time that radiant world of pre-reflectively received common life which he had known all along through participation, but which was willfully ignored by the hubris of philosophical reflection.

It is to this formerly disowned part of experience that he now seeks to return. Yet he also recognizes that it was the philosophic act that brought him to this awareness, so he cannot abandon inquiry into ultimate reality, as the ancient Pyrrhonian skeptics and their postmodern progeny try to do. Rather he reforms it in the light of this painfully acquired new knowledge.

What must be given up is the autonomy principle. Whereas the false philosopher had considered the totality of pre-reflectively received common life to be false unless certified by the philosopher's autonomous reason, the true philosopher now presumes the totality of common life to be true. Inquiry thus takes on a different task. Any belief within the inherited order of common life can be criticized in the light of other more deeply established beliefs. These in turn can be criticized in the same way. And so Hume defines "true philosophy" as "reflections on common life methodized and corrected."

By common life Hume does not mean what Thomas Paine or Thomas Reid meant by "common sense," namely a privileged access to knowledge independent of critical reflection; this would be just another form of "false philosophy." "Common life" refers to the totality of beliefs and practices acquired not by self-conscious reflection, propositions, argument, or theories but through pre-reflective  participation in custom and tradition. We learn to speak English by simply speaking it under the guidance of social authorities. After acquiring sufficient skill, we can abstract and reflect on the rules of syntax, semantics, and grammar that are internal to it and form judgments as to excellence in spoken and written English.  But we do not first learn these rules and then apply them as a condition of speaking the language. Knowledge by participation, custom, tradition, habit, and prejudice is primordial and is presupposed by knowledge gained from reflection.

The error of philosophy, as traditionally conceived--and especially modern philosophy--is to think that abstract rules or ideals gained from reflection are by themselves sufficient to guide conduct and belief.

The entirety of the Long War is just a matter of the English-Speaking world forcing the rest of the world to accept the central insight of the End of History: Reason is not autonomous but subjective.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Be Pilgrims, Not Romantics (Jessica Hooten Wilson, 5/18/20, Law & Liberty)

Remember you are a pilgrim on this road. You are not meant to be a final product, so focus on your verbs more than your nouns: you write, you make, you teach, you serve. This will help you avoid chasing the title and the conversation-piece job, staying true to what you enjoy doing and what you excel at being. Know that once you climb one mountain, there is a higher one above you. Never cease to keep looking out and up, beyond yourself to all the people and places to whom you belong. For belonging is the most beautiful part of the journey, and they lie who tell you that you are your own. If I could rewrite Oh the Places You'll Go, I'd draw that little tyke with a handful of loved ones around him on his way. Chaucer and Dante told truer tales of pilgrimage. I'd also forego many of Theodor Geisel's words in favor of those T.S. Eliot wrote: "We shall not cease from exploration/ and the end of all our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/ and know the place for the first time."

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


The story of cheaper batteries, from smartphones to Teslas: The economics of cheaper batteries--and why they're good news for the planet. (TIMOTHY B. LEE - 5/22/2020, Ars Technica)

In 2010, a lithium-ion battery pack with 1 kWh of capacity--enough to power an electric car for three or four miles--cost more than $1,000. By 2019, the figure had fallen to $156, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF. That's a massive drop, and experts expect continued--though perhaps not as rapid--progress in the coming decade. Several forecasters project the average cost of a kilowatt-hour of lithium-ion battery capacity to fall below $100 by the mid-2020s.

That's the result of a virtuous circle where better, cheaper batteries expand the market, which in turn drives investments that produce further improvements in cost and performance. The trend is hugely significant because cheap batteries will be essential to shifting the world economy away from carbon-intensive energy sources like coal and gasoline.

Batteries and electric motors have emerged as the most promising technology for replacing cars powered by internal combustion engines. The high cost of batteries has historically made electric cars much more expensive than conventional cars. But once battery packs get cheap enough--again, experts estimate around $100 per kWh for non-luxury vehicles--electric cars should actually become cheaper than equivalent gas-powered cars. The cost advantage will be even bigger once you factor in the low cost of charging an electric car, so we can expect falling battery costs to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

One of the fun ways in which ideology warps thought is evident when either wing insists a technology will fail because they are emotionally wedded to the existing one. Petrophilia has made the Right look even sillier than usual.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


The "future of work" is here, thanks to Covid-19 (Jason Wingard, 5/22/20, Quartz)

Though I never would've wished for a pandemic to be the catalyst, I do believe our suddenly new ways of working are here to stay. As leaders adjust to this, here are four future-of-work pillars to which I hope they'll be paying special attention.

Pillar 1: Flexible hours

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, our definition of the word "office" has changed dramatically. It has expanded beyond cubicles and co-working spaces to include kitchen tables, couches, and even bathrooms.

The definition of the "workday" has changed, as well; it is no longer limited to a certain subset of hours that all employees share. For parents especially, the workday has become whatever they can fit in, whenever the fewest people are vying for their attention.

Without the boundaries of a physical office space or strict working hours, employees have been forced to set--and communicate--their own availability, based upon their personal schedules and productivity levels. This shift would've eventually occurred with the future of work, as well.

While some leaders might be nervous this flexibility will lead to reduced productivity, I have the opposite fear: that, without a delineation between office and home life, employees may work too much. In one survey of more than 4,500 developers and tech workers, for example, 66% of remote employees reported feeling burnt out. The reason? More than half cited longer work hours.

With that in mind, leaders should fight the urge to micromanage their teams and instead act as advocates for their newly remote employees, encouraging them to set clear boundaries and to protect themselves from work-from-home exhaustion.

Pillar 2: Data-based employee metrics

In a more flexible environment, leaders don't need to stop evaluating employee performance--far from it. They'll simply need to create new metrics of success, as they will no longer be able to judge employee effectiveness (foolishly, it might be argued) based on hours spent in the office.

At Automattic, the tech company that created WordPress, all 1,180 employees are remote. To measure individual success, CEO Matt Mullenweg has said the company focuses on outputs rather than inputs. Instead of assessing an employee's hours or availability, Mullenweg asks: "What do you actually produce?"

To be well-positioned for continued remote work during and after the pandemic, leaders will need to emulate Mullenweg, and develop new, measurable metrics of success for each employee. For a salesperson, perhaps it's the number of phone calls they make. For a human resources professional, perhaps it's the employee turnover rate. Because these metrics are so vertical-specific, leaders shouldn't hesitate to co-create them with their teams.

Then, once the metrics are set, leaders must make their new expectations crystal clear. Line managers and supervisors should schedule meetings with team members to answer questions and eliminate roadblocks. They should also determine a regular cadence for subsequent one-on-ones, as workers generally desire a higher degree of feedback when they are remote.

As anyone will tell you, however, the most important key to managing remote employees is trust. Leaders must simply trust that they hired good people, and that those good people will continue to do the work for which they are being compensated. That trust will allow leaders to foster a successful remote culture both during the pandemic and beyond.

the upsetting thing for employers (and economists) is going to be how few hours it actually takes to produce a week's work. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Republican corruption and carelessness led to devastation in Michigan: Does Trump care?: What happened in Michigan this week was no "mistake." Infrastructure was privatized for profit, and it's crumbling (SOPHIA TESFAYE, MAY 23, 2020, Salon)

Like many disasters, the beginnings of the Michigan dam failures are far removed in time from the actual even, but this event can hardly be described as a mistake. All indications are that this week's historic flooding was caused by years of neglect and mismanagement of a public good that was co-opted for private profit. It doesn't help that the headquarters of Dow Chemical, including a Superfund site with known cancer-causing chemicals, is directly downstream of all this floodwater. 

The owner of the breached dams, Lee Mueller, who heads a company called Boyce Hydro, has been cited numerous times in recent years. State regulators had even revoked one of the company's four dam operating license in 2018 over an inability to handle a major flood. At least two of Boyce Hydro's dams were identified as being "high hazard," meaning that according to the National Dam Safety Program and FEMA, loss of life would likely result if they failed or were incorrectly operated. 

 The potential failure of the Edenville Dam, wrote federal regulators, "would pose a very substantial risk to life and property, and Boyce has repeatedly failed to comply with the orders of the Regional Engineer and other Commission staff or to work with Commission staff to resolve these instances of noncompliance, notwithstanding being given many opportunities to do so." The dam was flagged as unable to handle heavy rainfall as long ago as the 1990s. But Mueller, a Trump supporter who publicly backed the president against impeachment in a Reuters article last year, didn't want to pay to repair them. After years of delay, Boyce Hydro finally agreed to sell the dams to a task force of residents from four neighboring counties who hoped to implement overdue repairs. This is yet another example of the wealthy privatizing their profits and socializing the losses. 

The Army Corps of Engineers says more than half of the nation's 91,458 dams are privately owned, and according to E&E News, a majority of them are more than 50 years old. Jokes about Trump's always-impending and never-arriving "Infrastructure Week" have long gone stale, but it's worth remembering that increased infrastructure spending, like the kind needed to upgrade the nation's aging water infrastructure, was one of Trump's biggest campaign promises. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


(Re)Introducing R. A. Lafferty, a "Master" for the past, present, and future (Andrew Ferguson, 11/13/19, Library of America)

Well then, if Past Master is impossible to introduce, R. A. Lafferty is somewhat less so; let us start there. Lafferty's was a remarkably unremarkable life. Vacations and military service aside, he spent almost all his days in Tulsa, Oklahoma, working more or less the same job at the same store counter, selling parts to electrical engineers and contractors. He never married, never had kids, never earned a college degree. During the Second World War, he saw action in the South Pacific, but apart from a few oblique references in obscure stories, he left no record of those years. Every day he went to mass, took a walk round his neighborhood, and settled in to read, watch TV, or work a little bit on his foremost hobby, the learning of languages. And then he also wrote some of the wildest, funniest, most outlandish stories ever seen in science fiction, fantasy, or whatever other genre category you're brave enough to place him in. (Far better writers than I have thrown up their hands at this task: Theodore Sturgeon once imagined that future literary historians would simply label his works "lafferties.")

Though Lafferty is best known today--when he is known at all--as an author of science fiction, this was as much historical accident as purposeful career choice. When he picked up writing as a hobby in the late 1950s, ostensibly as a way to fill the hours while "cutting down on drinking and fooling around," he experimented with a variety of genres then popular on newsstands: hard-boiled detective fiction, men's own adventures, slice-of-life domestic tales. Though he placed a handful with small-circulation literary magazines--starting with "The Wagons" in the New Mexico Quarterly--they sold poorly enough that he shelved most of them to concentrate on the one area in which he had more consistent success: science fiction. Perhaps if that field hadn't been on the verge of its own stylistic revolution--the "New Wave," as it was called largely in retrospect, borrowing not just the name but also the attitude, the techniques, and a host of preoccupations from French cinema--then Lafferty would have struck out there as well. But he met science fiction at a time when it was desperate for new voices and new directions, and his style--equal parts carnival barker, bar-stool raconteur, and apocalyptic prophet--was met with an eager embrace.

By the time he began publishing in SF, he was already in his mid-forties, unusual in a field where many writers cut their teeth in their teens. His tales, by turns philosophical and playful, humorous and horrific, often all within the same piece, sold steadily: he featured in many of the best outlets in science fiction, including Frederik Pohl's (and later Ejler Jakobsson's) Galaxy, Robert Silverberg's New Dimensions, Terry Carr's Universe, Damon Knight's Orbit, and of course Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions. At one time or another he counted among his admirers Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel Delany, Roger Zelazny, Judith Merril, and Gene Wolfe. Lafferty's stories won him, in addition to an audience, the 1973 Hugo Award for Best Short Story; many of his best were collected in the volumes Nine Hundred Grandmothers, Strange Doings, Does Anybody Else Have Something Further to Add?, and others that may be found in this book's biographical note (they will, however, be much tougher to find on the shelves of your local bookstore). A rather easier-to-find volume, the thick Best of compilation published in early 2019 by Gollancz, offers twenty selections handpicked by authors who love them; the complete stories are being gathered for collectors by Centipede Press with an eye toward wider distribution down the line. While far from common commodities, Lafferty's stories do still circulate, likely more today than over the past few decades. To read any of them is to at least consider the possibility that he did become, as he once asserted, "the best short story writer in the world" (in Patti Perret, The Faces of Science Fiction, 1978).

The novels are a rather different matter. Although several of them were also nominated for genre awards, they have always appealed to an even more niche audience, a niche within a niche. If the stories break many of the "rules" of writing--and they do, departing sharply at times from conventions of characterization, pacing, and plot--then they do so at a manageable length. The novels tend to sprawl, binding together episodes less through elegant plot mechanics than via other logics that are not always immediately evident. But though the novels ask much more of a reader, the rewards are consequently greater: a series of windows opened on one of the most idiosyncratic imaginations American fiction has ever seen.

Any science fiction that ceases to speak to the present moment, no matter the year of its publication, is already on the way to becoming the province of genre hounds and antiquarians. Past Master is unavoidably a product and reflection of its times: a response to what Lafferty perceives--likely in the wake of LBJ's Great Society initiatives--as renewed support in society and popular culture for the idea of Utopia; this he considered as bad as dystopia, if it were possible even to tell the two apart. Lafferty's Thomas More is wise to this fact, which is why his Utopia can only be construed as searing satire: an image of a world pleasant enough on its surface, but hellish to endure even if (perhaps especially if) one is a member of the privileged class with the full rights of citizenship, rather than one of the numerous slaves or nearby foreigners whose lives the Utopians "improve" by force.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


The National-Security Fraud (Pierre Lemieux, 5/23/20, EconLib)

I think it should not surprise anybody familiar with the economic analysis of politics that our own states--in the "free" countries--also use national security to increase their own power, albeit not as uncontrollably as the Chinese government does. Think about the Trump administration imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from allied countries in the name of national security and threatening to do the same on automobile imports from Europe.

A few days ago, on May 19, the same administration did something similar, even if it is not as immediately obvious how it harms Americans (while it clearly hurts poor people who are legitimately looking for asylum in America), and even if national security took a public-health face. The Wall Street Journal explains ("Trump Administration Extends Order Blocking Migrants at Border," May 19, 2020):

The Trump administration extended a public-health order allowing it to reject migrants crossing U.S. borders without giving them access to the asylum system until the government determines the new coronavirus no longer poses a danger to the public.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the indefinite extension on Tuesday. The order was introduced in March for a duration of 30 days and extended in April for another 30 days.

The public-health order allows the government to turn back any migrants it encounters crossing the border--including unaccompanied children and anyone asking for humanitarian protection--without taking them into custody or allowing them to file asylum claims.

What's nice of Mr. Trump is that, with his limited understanding of the world, he often reveals his ulterior motives as a badge of honor--in this case, that the extension of the public-health order has little to do public health. The Wall Street Journal quotes him:

Every week, our border agents encounter thousands of unscreened, unvetted and unauthorized entries from dozens of countries. And we've had this problem for decades. With the national emergencies and all of the other things that we've declared, we can actually do something about it.

This looks pretty close to what Rahm Emmanuel (pardon me but I am tempted to write, borrowing from Mr. Trump's invectives, the radical left, do-nothing Democrat Rahm Emmanuel, or the Democrat Savage Rahm Emmanuel) said in 2012:

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. What I mean by this is, it's an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.

Both President Donald Trump and Chairman Xi Jinping invoke nationalism to excite their respective political bases and reinforce their power.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Sage coronavirus expert: We've had an epidemic that to some degree could have been avoided: Jeremy Farrar explains why humanity may simply have to learn to live with Covid-19, why he wishes there were *more* government advisers in scientific meetings--and why he thinks it is still too early to reopen schools (Alan Rusbridger, May 20, 2020, Prospect)

AR: It feels as though there was an argument at some point in late January, early February, in which the phrase "herd immunity" was on the table. Is that right?

JF: Herd immunity is not a scientific strategy that has merit. Patrick Vallance is the chair of Sage--I know he's been quoted in the newsreel about how he talked about herd immunity. I am not aware... and I certainly never would have argued for a concept of herd immunity, which would mean naturally letting what is a very nasty virus pass through a population and accepting that there would be a very high amount of illness and people dying, in order to protect the rest of the population. To me, that's an unacceptable way to think about public health. I'm not aware that that concept was ever discussed at Sage in my presence.

AR: Is this virus something that you think as a species we're just going to have to live with for years?

JF: Yeah, what we've witnessed over the last three or four months is the emergence of a true, brand new novel human infection, which is now endemic in the human population, and it's not going to disappear. This will now be part of the infectious cycle that humanity has to live with.

And [potentially] we're... going to have to completely change the way we live, with some degree of physical distancing forever. But that's a plaster over a problem, because as soon as you lift those restrictions, things will bounce back. And I can't think of any biological or social reason why we won't face rebounds and second waves of this infection. So the only exit from this is the production of interventions that totally reduce the risk of that. And ultimately, that means diagnostics and treatment and vaccines.

I think that a vaccine has a very good chance of working, but there's a glass shortage in the world at the moment, there isn't enough glass to put a vaccine into glass vials. There's a syringe shortage, so if we had to inject the vaccine, we wouldn't have enough syringes in the world. And then finally, you've got a horrible geopolitical structure at the moment, which means you're in grave danger of going into something akin to vaccine nationalism, where each country will have to look after itself in national stupidity, really, without thinking of the need to take a global perspective.

May 22, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Beijing Moves to Control Hong Kong (MICHAEL AUSLIN, May 22, 2020, National Review)

Under cover of the global coronavirus crisis, China is moving to rewrite Asia's geopolitical map. Beijing has announced it will essentially take control of Hong Kong by directly imposing a sweeping national-security law, bypassing the territory's elected Legislative Council. Despite repeated assurances by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that it would abide by the 1984 agreement with Great Britain to allow Hong Kong to maintain a loose independence under the so-called "one-country, two-systems" framework for 50 years after the 1997 turnover, the past decade has seen a steady erosion of Hong Kong's freedoms, culminating in the massive million-person-plus demonstrations throughout 2019. Now, those last freedoms face extinction.

The new national-security law will criminalize "foreign interference," secession activities, and subversion of state power. Moreover, the CCP appears ready to alter Hong Kong's Basic Law, essentially its constitution. Moreover, China's security services will be able to operate openly in Hong Kong, further reducing Hong Kong's sovereignty.

Start by joining TPP and signing a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan...

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Behind Trump's demand to reopen churches: Slipping poll numbers and alarm inside his campaign (GABBY ORR, 05/22/2020, Politico)

A sudden shift in support for Donald Trump among religious conservatives is triggering alarm bells inside his reelection campaign, where top aides have long banked on expanding the president's evangelical base as a key part of their strategy for victory this November.

The anxiety over Trump's standing with the Christian right surfaced after a pair of surveys by reputable outfits earlier this month found waning confidence in the administration's coronavirus response among key religious groups, with a staggering decline in the president's favorability among white evangelicals and white Catholics. Both are crucial constituencies that supported Trump by wide margins in 2016 and could sink his reelection prospects if their turnout shrinks this fall.

The polls paint a bleak picture for Trump, who has counted on broadening his religious support by at least a few percentage points to compensate for weakened appeal with women and suburban populations. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Trump Needs to Win Michigan. So Why Is He Dumping on the State?: Pushing unpopular responses to COVID-19 and threatening federal aid isn't exactly a winning strategy. (Martin Longman, May 22, 2020, Washington Monthly)

The polls out of Michigan haven't looked very good recently for Donald Trump or really any members of the Republican Party. This is a problem for both Mitch McConnell and the president. For McConnell, Michigan is probably his second-best chance to knock off an incumbent Democrat after Alabama, as he tries to protect his party's slim Senate majority. But Sen. Gary Peters is leading in every survey taken this year, often by double digits. For Trump, it's a cause for anxiety because he probably needs to carry Michigan if he wants to be reelected, and over the last couple of months he's been down six to nine points.

To demonstrate what I mean, if we were to spot Trump every swing state but Michigan and Pennsylvania, and give Trump one Electoral college vote from Maine for good measure, he would lose 271-267. If we were to give Trump Pennsylvania but take away Arizona and Wisconsin, he'd lose 272-266. If Trump loses both Michigan and Florida, he could carry Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia and still lose 270-268.

By November he'll be curled in a ball on the floor of the bunker shrieking that we never deserved him.

Posted by orrinj at 12:46 PM


One reason why coronavirus is hitting black Americans the hardest (Ranjani Chakraborty  May 22, 2020, Vox)

Across the US, black people are dying from Covid-19 at disproportionately high rates. While there are many different factors at play behind the stark racial disparities -- there's one possible reason that's been lurking in the air for decades: pollution.

Decades of segregation and housing discrimination have put black Americans at greater risk of living near chemical plants, factories and highways, exposing them to higher levels of air pollutants. These pollutants have had a chronically negative impact on health, leading to conditions like hypertension and asthma. Now, those same diseases are associated with more severe cases of Covid-19.

According to Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, the combination of racist policies, pollution, and coronavirus, is a lethal mix. "All these things converge, and then you get this pandemic, you get this heat-seeking missile that is targeting, that is zeroing in on the most vulnerable community. And when it targets that community, what we end up with is a death bomb."

Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


Biden: 'If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black' (QUINT FORGEY, 05/22/2020, Politico)

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday emphatically defended his ties to the African American community -- telling a popular black radio personality that he "ain't black" if he was still weighing whether to support Biden or President Donald Trump in November's general election.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


Hydroxychloroquine shows no coronavirus benefit, raises death risk: study (PATRICK GALEY, 5/22/20, AFP) 

A study of nearly 100,000 coronavirus patients has shown no benefit in treating them with anti-viral drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and even increased the likelihood of them dying in hospital.

Hydroxychloroquine is normally used to treat arthritis but pronouncement from public figures including US President Donald Trump -- who announced this week he is taking the drug -- has prompted governments to bulk buy the medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


For at-Risk GOP Senate, Trump Is an Albatross (A.B. StoddardMay 22, 2020, Real Clear Politics)

If things looked bad for Senate Republicans two months ago, the scenario now is much worse.  As Republicans defend 23 seats, and Democrats just 12, forecasters now say the battle for control of the chamber is a 50-50 tossup. 

McConnell doesn't like answering questions about Trump pushing unpopular "oversight" pursuits on his fragile Senate majority, but he has bluntly characterized the Senate campaign as "a dogfight." Last week he added: "We have a lot of exposure." 

Republicans are now focused on more than eight seats that are competitive and several more that will drain resources, like Texas, where Biden is close or tied in polling with Trump. Should Republicans lose four of the 53 seats they have, under President Joe Biden they would lose their majority. If Trump is reelected they will need to hold their losses to three. Trump himself is behind Biden in every national poll, by 5.5 percentage points in our RCP average, and behind him in averages of battleground states Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump is ahead in Ohio and North Carolina in RCP's averages by less than the margin of error. 

The most imperiled Senate incumbents remain Martha McSally in Arizona, Cory Gardner in Colorado,  Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Collins in Maine. Yet polls have now tightened for Joni Ernst in Iowa, David Perdue in Georgia, and Steve Daines in Montana, with some showing the incumbents behind their challengers. Kelly Loeffler, appointed to fill former Sen. Johnny Isakson's Georgia seat in January, is way behind and could lose to Republican Rep. Doug Collins, though if none of the 14 contenders in the open "jungle" election Nov. 3 garners 50%, a run-off will take place in January. Republicans will have to spend handsomely to defend two seats in Georgia, where Peach State Republicans say Democrats are highly competitive up and down the ballot.

In Kansas, McConnell has just days left to convince Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to change his mind and file for the GOP primary race there after all, or Kris Kobach is likely to prevail, giving Democrats a chance at retiring GOP Sen. Pat Roberts' seat. Kobach, a controversial politician, lost his bid for governor in 2018 to Democrat Laura Kelly. Republicans' only likely pickup this cycle is the seat of Doug Jones in Alabama, but they also have a challenger in Michigan with a chance of winning the only other pickup opportunity, making Trump's broadside against Michigan on Wednesday -- a state he won in 2016 and should also want to win in 2020 -- particularly strange. 

Republicans care more about holding their Senate majority than keeping the presidency, but Trump either doesn't know this or he doesn't care. While he has repelled many of the independent and former Republican voters that GOP senators need to win, Trump has the potential to hold on with his own voters who aren't necessarily Republicans and may only vote for the top of the ticket. But his standing with voters outside his base would have to improve, and thus far he has chosen mobilizing and alienating over persuasion. Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report recently wrote there is a more than one in three chance the Democrats will win a "trifecta" to control the White House, Senate and House of Representatives come January. There are no electoral analyses showing control of the House in play for Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


The coronavirus invades Trump country (Caitlin Owens, 5/22/20, Axios)

 For the last four weeks, counties newly designated as having a high prevalence of coronavirus cases -- meaning at least 100 cases per 100,000 people -- were more likely to have voted for President Trump than Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to a recent analysis by the Brookings Institution.

The most recently identified counties tend to be in the South and the Midwest.

Between March 29 and May 17, the portion of Americans living in high-prevalence counties rose from 8% to 79%.

Quaint how the Right believed the virus was going to be confined to cities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


McConnell Says 'High Likelihood' Next Coronavirus Relief Bill Will Come Soon Amid Growing GOP Calls for Further Relief (AILA SLISCO, 5/21/20, Newsweek)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that new legislation to counter the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is "not too far off" as calls for another relief package have been met with increasingly bipartisan support.

The country is governed from the House.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Brazilian President Bolsonaro's response mirrors the Trump playbook from praising protesters to touting unproven remedies -- and the death toll is mounting (Sarah Al-Arshani, 5/22/20, Business Insider)

Brazil has emerged as a coronavirus hotspot, and President Jair Bolsonaro seems to be taking a page out of US President's Donald Trump's playbook to tackle the growing number of cases.

Over the past several days the country's daily spikes of cases have grown. On Tuesday, the country recorded 1,179 fatalities. On Wednesday, Brazil has the largest spike of cases in 24 hours with close to 20,000 cases, about a fifth of the overall record 106,000 new global cases the World Health Organization recorded. 

The country holds the third-highest number of cases behind the US and Russia, with over 310,000 infections and more than 20,000 deaths. 

Thankfully, we have the republican Deep State that Brazil lacks.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Cranks of the world unite for Plandemic's crazed Covid conspiracies (Oliver Kamm, 5/22/20, CapX)

The coronavirus crisis is a conspiracy. It's the latest scheme concocted by Big Pharma in alliance with the Gates Foundation and the World Health Organisation to make money. This "circular cabal" are pushing vaccines on consumers, which damage health by weakening their immune systems. So far from shielding you, wearing a face mask "literally activates your own virus".

I've just summarised the argument of a purported documentary film titled Plandemic that went viral on YouTube last week. The film is irrationalist piffle from beginning to end. It's the work of a disgraced former research scientist in the United States called Judy Mikovits, who has form for bogus claims. In 2009 she co-authored a paper linking the medical condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome to a retrovirus from mice. Other researchers were unable to replicate Mikovits's results and her paper was subsequently retracted by the journal in which it appeared.

Heck, scientists can't even demonstrate that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome exists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Court cases where Biden accuser Tara Reade served as an expert witness are under scrutiny amid concerns that she misrepresented her educational credentials (Sarah Al-Arshani, 5/22/20, Business Insider)

Court cases where Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer who accused former Vice President Joe Biden of sexual assault, was an expert witness are being reviewed by several California defense lawyers over concerns that Reade "misrepresented her educational credentials in court," The New York Times wrote.

According to The Times, Reade who was then known as Alexandra McCabe described herself "as an expert in the dynamics of domestic violence who had counseled hundreds of victims," when she testified as a government witness in Monterey County for almost a decade. 

CNN previously reported that while Reade had claimed to graduate from Antioch University under a "protected program," officials from the university claimed she never graduated. 

"Alexandra McCabe attended but did not graduate from Antioch University. She was never a faculty member. She did provide several hours of administrative work," Karen Hamilton, an Antioch University spokesperson told CNN. 

An Antioch University official also told CNN that the "protected program," that Reade spoke of did not and still does not exist. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


May 21, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Is QAnon the newest American religion? (Bonnie Kristian, May 21, 2020, The Week)

The QAnon movement started on 4chan, an anonymous message board influential in online culture but generally considered outside the bounds of the respectable internet, not least because it has repeatedly made the news in connection to child pornography. That makes the site an odd first home for QAnon, whose narrative centers on a cabal of powerful figures in government, business, academia, and media who make time for child sex trafficking and satanic sacrifice in their busy schedule of world domination. Q is the movement's anonymous digital prophet whose forum posts ("Q drops," now migrated from 4chan to a similar site called 8kun) reveal both the nature of the cabal and Trump's heroic plan to defeat it. QAnon's most fervent followers reach a point of obsession, clinging to it even at cost of total estrangement from their bewildered families.

An in-depth report on QAnon in The Atlantic's June issue closes with the suggestion that QAnon could become the latest in a series of "thriving religious movements indigenous to America." But research from a Concordia University doctoral student, Marc-André Argentino, shows the church of QAnon already exists and seems poised to spread. Argentino attended an online QAnon church where, he reports, two-hour Sunday services with several hundred attendees consist of prayer, communion, and interpretation of the Bible in light of Q drops and vice versa. The leaders' goal, Argentino says, "is to train congregants to form their own home congregations in the future and grow the movement." they have to have a different religion.

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Just 7.3% of Stockholm had Covid-19 antibodies by end of April, study shows (Jon Henley,  21 May 2020, The Guardian)

Just 7.3% of Stockholm's inhabitants had developed Covid-19 antibodies by the end of April, according to a study, raising concerns that the country's light-touch approach to the coronavirus may not be helping it build up broad immunity.

The research by Sweden's public health agency comes as Finland warned it would be risky to welcome Swedish tourists after figures suggested the country's death rate per capita was the highest in Europe over the seven days to 19 May.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


Biden Leaked Ukraine Calls Were Released As Part of a Russian 'Special Operation,' Ex-President Claims (DAVID BRENNAN, 5/21/20, Newsweek)

Poroshenko said Wednesday on Facebook that the audio was "fabricated" and claimed the leak was the work of the "fifth column of the Kremlin," which he said "has launched a full-fledged special operation against Ukraine. By means of pulling Ukraine into the electoral struggle in the U.S. they are trying to undermine the U.S. bipartisan support of Ukraine."

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You Will Never Be #MAGA EnoughFox News Channel has been cancelled. (ROBERT TRACINSKI  MAY 21, 2020, The Bulwark)

The parallel to "wokeness" is exact. The left's standard for politically correct thinking is a series of artificial tests that are so arbitrary and unpredictable that one cannot always figure out ahead of time how to respond to them. Say a female artist creates a shirt adorned with busty female sci-fi warrior women. Is this an exercise in "female empowerment" or a perpetuation of the patriarchy? I'm afraid you can't know the answer until the woke Twitter mob decides.

The #MAGA mob has its own groupthink, but unlike the woke set, it has a single final arbiter: Donald Trump.

The artificial test, in this case, is hydroxychloroquine, a repurposed malaria drug that Trump has fixated on as a miracle cure for COVID-19. Whether HCQ is a safe and effective treatment for coronavirus is an open question that is in the process of being settled by clinical trials and scientific evidence.

But it has also been seized upon as a test of one's #MAGAness.

At least one Fox News host failed that test. When President Trump announced that he is taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventative--there is no evidence that it prevents infection--Fox's Neil Cavuto felt the need to add a strong disclaimer, warning viewers that there's a possibility the drug could kill you.

The weaker the mind the more rigidly you have to mouth the party line.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Michigan Voters Back Gov. Whitmer's Handling of COVID-19 Over Donald Trump's: Poll (JACOB JARVIS, 5/21/20, Newsweek)

Of 600 people surveyed, 63.7 percent approved of her handling of the situation, compared to 42.8 percent who felt the same way about the president's actions.

Around a third, 32.8 percent, disapproved of Whitmer's approach, while approximately half, 50.4 percent, were against Trump's.

She really needs some angry white guys to set her straight....
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Rage Is Brewing': Navalny Warns Of Public Anger Over Russia's COVID-19 Response (RFE/RL's Russian Service, 5/21/20)

Russian citizens are expressing greater protest sentiment as the spread of the coronavirus and the state's fight against it has left many people dissatisfied, including doctors and small-business owners, said one of the nation's most influential opposition activists.

"Right now the degree of protest activity among citizens is probably one of the highest in recent times," Aleksei Navalny, the founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, said in a video interview with RFE/RL from his Moscow home on May 20.

"Such rage is brewing now among those that earlier were not visible in protest activity or direct politics. These are doctors, representatives of small business, and ordinary people that are now without an income," he said.

Russia has been hit hard by the coronavirus, with more than 300,000 registered cases, the second-highest globally after the United States. The virus has put huge pressure on the nation's underfunded health-care system, with dozens of doctors dying from COVID-19 and some taking their own lives.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Americans Have Rediscovered Self-RelianceThe lockdowns are prompting Americans to relearn skills and revive almost-forgotten habits. (J.D. TUCCILLE | 5.20.2020, reason)

By preference and by necessity, people are rediscovering that they can do many things for themselves that they'd grown accustomed to outsourcing. They've acquired or honed skills that they may have never before thought they'd need, but are required in a world where conveniences disappeared overnight and creatively making-do is--as for past generations--how you live from day to day.

Whether Americans want to continue doing for themselves after the lockdowns ease and life returns to some form of normal depends on how much they enjoy the experience; many will pick a life of convenience if that's back on the menu. But harsh reality may dictate an extension of the DIY experiment for some time to come.

"The mean perceived probability of losing one's job in the next 12 months increased 2.4 percentage points to 20.9% in April," the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported last week. Voluntary social distancing efforts and mandatory lockdown orders alike have taken a brutal toll on the economy. Tens of millions of Americans are out of work--the official April unemployment rate was 14.7 percent, with worse to come.

Uncertain about the future, Americans are holding on to money rather than spending. The personal savings rate is now 13.1 percent, the highest level since 1981.

Worried about the future and stashing cash as a hedge against risk, many--not all, but certainly a good number--of Americans will continue cooking, baking, brewing, gardening, and repairing. They'll do so if only because it provides them what they want at lower cost than paying others to do it for them. They'll do it, too, because, having acquired the requisite skills, they no longer have to wait on somebody else's availability or permission. They can make or build what they want--within limits, of course, but much broader ones than before--without depending on the pleasure of others.

And when the pandemic and lockdown restrictions finally pass, something important will be left behind. Remaining in the wake of the crisis will be hard-learned skills and the confidence and sense of self-reliance for using them. We might wish these lessons had come more easily, but learn them we did, and they will help shape the world to come.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


About 83% of US coronavirus deaths could have been avoided if lockdowns were imposed March 1, researchers estimate (Lauren Frias, 5/21/20, Business Insider)

Researchers estimate that if nationwide lockdowns were imposed just two weeks earlier, on March 1, a vast majority of coronavirus deaths in the United States -- about 83% -- could have been avoided, The New York Times reported.

State-wide lockdowns were imposed in mid- to late-March as cases began to rise in the US. At the start of March, there were around 20 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Florida Health Department manager told to delete coronavirus data is fired (Langston Taylor, 5/20/20, Tampa Times)

One day before a top Florida Department of Health data manager lost her role maintaining the state's COVID-19 data, she objected to the removal of records showing people had symptoms or positive tests before the cases were announced, according to internal emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ron DeSantis said she had been fired.

According to the emails, department staff gave the order shortly after reporters requested the same data from the agency on May 5. The data manager, Rebekah Jones, complied with the order, but not before she told her supervisors it was the "wrong call."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Neofeudalism and its new legitimisersToday's oligarchs depend on a modern, overwhelmingly liberal clerisy for legitimacy (Joel Kotkin, 21 May, 2020, The Critic)

Half a century ago, Daniel Bell recognised an emerging "knowledge class," composed of people whose status rested on educational attainment and access to knowledge in a postindustrial society. Theoretically it represented a meritocracy, but this class has become mostly hereditary, as well-educated people, particularly from elite colleges, marry each other and aim to perpetuate their status. Between 1960 and 2005, the share of men with university degrees who married women with university degrees nearly doubled, from 25 percent to 48 percent. As Bell observed, parents of high status in a meritocracy will use their advantages to improve their children's prospects, and in this way, "after one generation a meritocracy simply becomes an enclaved class."

Michael Lind uses "professional and graduate degrees" as a way of measuring what he calls the "managerial overclass," which includes "private and public bureaucrats who run large national and global corporations" as well as directors of nonprofits and university professors. He estimates the "overclass" to be some 15 percent of the American population. Charles Murray defines a "new upper class" more narrowly, as the most successful 5 percent in managerial positions, the professions, and the media, and he estimates it at roughly 2.4 million people out of a country of over 320 million. (By comparison, the First Estate in France was around 1 percent of the population on the eve of the revolution.) In France today, Christophe Guilluy identifies a "privileged stratum" of people who gain from globalisation, or at least are not harmed by it, and who operate from an assumption of "moral superiority" that justifies their privilege.

What I designate as the clerisy is a group far larger and broader than the oligarchy. It spans a growing section of the workforce that is mostly employed outside of material production -- as teachers, consultants, lawyers, government workers, and medical providers. These professions are largely insulated from the risks of the marketplace. They also make up an increasing proportion of the workforce in the high-income countries: many of the fastest-growing occupations since 2010 have been in the arts, personal care, and health care, usually tied to nonprofits or the state. Meanwhile, those in private-sector middle-class jobs -- small-business owners, workers in basic industries and construction -- have seen their share of the job market shrink.

The picture is similar in Europe. In France, well over a million lower-skilled industry jobs have disappeared in the past quarter century, while the numbers of technical jobs have increased markedly in both the public and private realms. Those who work for state industries, universities, and other clerisy-oriented sectors enjoy far better benefits, notably pen- sions, than those working in the purely private sector.

Many of the people in these growing sectors are well positioned to exert a disproportionate influence on public attitudes, and on policy as well--that is, to act as cultural "legitimisers."

...besides peace, freedom, leisure and wealth?  Mr. Kotkin is undeniably correct about the connection between "neofeudalism" and high -income countries.  Indeed, the point of capitalism is to generate greater wealth. 

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Convicted 9/11 Terrorist Renounces al-Qaida, bin Laden (VOA News, May 20, 2020)

The only person convicted in a U.S. court in the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States claims he is renouncing terrorism, al-Qaida and its dead leader, Osama bin Laden.

"I denounce, repudiate Osama bin Laden as a useful idiot of the CIA/Saudi. I also proclaim unequivocally my opposition to any terrorist action, attack, propaganda against the U.S," Zacarias Moussaoui wrote in a note to a federal court in Virginia last month.

He also said he wants to "warn young Muslim against the deception and the manipulation of these fake Jihadis."

Loosen the restrictions and utilize him.

May 20, 2020

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Hamiltonian Means, Jeffersonian Ends (Samuel Hammond, May 20, 2020, American Compass)

My American Compass co-blogger, Michael Lind, likes to portray America's development as a tug of war between the ideals of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson -- nation builders and industrialists on the one hand, and laissez-faire localists on the other. 

noun [ U ]
US  /ˌleɪ.seɪˈfer/ UK  /ˌleɪ.seɪˈfeər/
unwillingness to get involved in or influence other people's activities:

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GOP House candidate demeans Muslims and compares Dreamers to pedophiles (ALLY MUTNICK, 05/20/2020, Politico)

Republican congressional candidate Ted Howze said earlier this month he had nothing to do with social media posts from his personal accounts that demeaned Muslims, accused prominent Democrats of murder and mocked a survivor of the Parkland school shooting. [...]

At least a dozen additional posts from Howze's account over a two-year period espouse conspiracy theories, suggest Hillary Clinton and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) are responsible for murder, or denigrate Dreamers, Islam and the Black Lives Matter movement. As of Tuesday afternoon, they were accessible on his personal Facebook account.

Howze, his party's nominee in a competitive central California district, is endorsed by the National Republican Congressional Committee and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.

Why do those who oppose Donald always bring up race?  It's a mystery...

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Warner asks intel chief to fork over underlying 'unmasking' intel on Michael Flynn (NATASHA BERTRAND, 05/20/2020, Politico)

[T]he declassified list, which was provided by the National Security Agency, appears to have nothing to do with the Flynn-Kislyak calls, which were discovered by the FBI. According to the Washington Post, Flynn's name was not masked -- or "minimized," in FBI parlance -- in those records.

National security experts and former officials have also noted that the "unmaskers" wouldn't have known who they were trying to get more information about--and that the frequency with which Flynn's name showed up in intercepted calls with foreign officials before entering the administration, and the corresponding swell of unmasking requests, is evidence only that the Obama administration was alarmed by the content of the conversations and sought to find out more.

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At least 85 percent of Latinos believe all immigrants should be covered by any new stimulus package, including undocumented immigrants who pay taxes and U.S. citizen children who have undocumented parents, a new poll showed.

The SOMOS US, UnidosUS and MoveOn poll conducted by Latino Decisions also found that 88 percent of Latinos believe a second stimulus check should be authorized by Congress in coming weeks. About 31 percent of U.S. born Hispanics and 45 percent of immigrants saying they did not receive the first stimulus check.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM



After mounting frustration, Moscow finally seems to be growing weary of its Syrian burden. Last month a prominent retired Russian diplomat wrote on an influential website that Syria was a "humanitarian disaster." A "new military reality cannot be sustained without economic reconstruction and development of a political system that will truly rest on an inclusive approach and international consent."

The Kremlin may be running out of patience with Assad, but is unlikely to abandon the regime. Syria is Russia's only major Mideast ally. Russia's outsized role there is key to its wider great power aims.

Moscow has shown some interest in a political solution. In 2016, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry announced several ceasefires, but they were violated and fell apart. Lavrov said Syria was a "quagmire" and the "time is ripe for compromise."

It required a profound misunderstanding of both Syria and Russia to think this intervention was anything but disastrous for Vlad. 

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Who Was Jesus of Nazareth? (CHILTON WILLIAMSON, JR., 5/20/20, The Crisis)

It is reasonable to think that on so essential a matter as religion human neutrality is a psychological impossibility, as it is equally reasonable believe that no human being is really asexual. In fact, experience and evidence abound to support the conclusion that no writer, no thinker--in fact, no person alive--is wholly free of bias on any subject of importance, or even of no importance at all. Persons in search of the historical Jesus err solely in supposing that only those who believe that He was who He claimed to be and worship Him as such are incapable of intellectual honesty, and that consequently whatever they have said and written for two thousand years about Him is suspect from the outset. Their rule of thumb is that Christians should never be allowed the benefit of the doubt on the matter, in short, that they should be presumed to be liars until they have proven themselves to be otherwise.

Scholars and others laboring in the vineyard of Historical Jesus Studies will be satisfied, one way or another, only when they think they have discovered incontrovertible historical proof that Christ was not who He said He was--that He was not the Divine Son of the Living God. Since they are engaged in the practice of historical research and deduction, they must be assumed to be looking for the kind of evidence that professional historians look to uncover and interpret: spoken and written testimony by eye-witnesses; accounts at secondhand and reliable contemporary hearsay; documents, including official reports, memoranda, and letters; historical accounts by contemporaries; the results of archival research by later historians belonging to subsequent historical periods; artifacts exhumed by archaeological investigations; and so forth.

In the case of Jesus of Nazareth, we begin with four separate accounts written by four men whom we believe to have been His disciples, having accompanied Him for three years and witnessed His arrest, trial, execution, Resurrection from the dead, and ascent into Heaven. These accounts, as I say, are scrupulously detailed though not documented, and they amplify rather than contradict each other. They are obviously the work of literate and highly intelligent men, owing to hitherto undemonstrated native talent or else to divine inspiration. Save for one thing--the supernatural element that is inseparable from the beginning of the story to its finish--the Gospels would have been accepted as histories, good or bad, shortly after they began to circulate among the public. Were the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the Gospels According to Thomas Jefferson, few people over the last two millennia would have tried to discredit them, or had reason to believe.

Materialists, for whom history is a series of natural events unfolding within the world of time and space, naturally resist the intrusion of the supernatural world upon it. Were they open to doing so, they would recognize the impossibility of searching for natural explanations in supernatural events. It is this supernatural breakthrough that chiefly offends the non-Christian mind. Mohammed claimed to be a messenger of God and God's Prophet. He did not, however, claim to be divine himself. Consequently, no search has been made by Kafiri writers for the "historical Mohammed," though no secularist believes that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mohammed in his cave and ordered him, "Recite!" For him, Islam is another elaborate system of superstitious belief cherished by ignorant and gullible people, but it is only that. Only two decades after the attacks of September 2001, he does not view it as a dangerous and threatening religion--unlike Christianity, its sinister rival--and self-righteously rebukes anyone who does.

Actually, the case for the historical Muhammad is pretty weak and much written about. If anything, early Islam appears to have just been a run-of-the-mill Christian heresy.

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Is Holocaust Denial Conservative Now?Trump's no-enemies-to-the-right mentality has made it impossible for the right to police itself. (MONA CHAREN  MAY 20, 2020, The Bulwark)

The woman Trump thanked is a columnist and social media entrepreneur who was a respected member of the conservative commentariat - emphasis on the past tense. Her books were published by Regnery, she was a featured speaker for the Young America's Foundation and at CPAC, she was a regular on Fox & Friends - the full fandango. In the past two years though, she has been pretty well shunned by respectable conservative outlets, or what passes for such nowadays. She is no longer welcome at CPAC. The Young America's Foundation has dropped her, and the Daily Wire and National Review discontinued her syndicated column.

The occasion for the deplatforming was Malkin's swan dive into the right-wing fever swamps. Who can say whether the rise of Trump emboldened her to consort with racists and Holocaust deniers? Something like those tendencies were in evidence long ago. In 2004, she published a book titled In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and The War on Terror.  That was a tell, but the real nutbaggery didn't set in until about 2017, when she endorsedalt-right candidate Paul Nehlen ("Paul Nehlen slams . . . corporate open-borders elites!"), and contributed to the VDARE website which frequently hosts white nationalists, racists, and anti-Semites.

Her most grotesque relationship though, and the one that got her booted from the Young America's Foundation, was with a group calling themselves "groypers," led by a 22-year-old YouTube host named Nick Fuentes. To get a sense of just how loathsome this figure is, have a look at this video in which he wonders, grinning, about whether 6 million "cookies" could really be baked in ovens and how the "math doesn't add up."

Holocaust jokes. How droll.

Fuentes, you will not be shocked to learn, is one of the "very fine people" who marched with neo-Nazis at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Remember Pepe the Frog? He's their mascot. He described the mass murder in an El Paso Walmart as an "act of desperation." Turning Point USA is too tame for his tastes, and his group has lately been heckling speakers like Ben Shapiro, Dan Crenshaw, and even Donald Trump, Jr.

In other words, if anything is beyond the pale for a civilized country, the "groypers" are it. Yet Michelle Malkin has declared herself the "mother of groypers" and called them "good kids." When she was rebuked by mainstream conservatives, she declared her allegiances proudly:

They want me to disavow Nick Fuentes and VDARE and Peter Brimelow and Faith Goldy and Gavin McInnes and the Proud Boys and Steve King and Laura Loomer and on and on. They want to do to me what they've done to brilliant academics who've told the truth -- Amy Wax at the University of Pennsylvania and Darren Beattie and Jason Richwine and Steve Sailer.

"They" did want that, or at least some mainstream conservatives were willing to draw a line (the grosser MAGA-types like Mike Cernovich and Jim Hoft were not). But now Trump has vitiated that work by praising Malkin.

Scratch a Trumpbot....

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Susan Rice Email Debunks the "Obamagate" Conspiracy Theory: But of course Trump World is pretending otherwise. (TIM MILLER  MAY 20, 2020, The Bulwark)

Well, I guess we can close the file on that one.

Yesterday the Keystone Spooks leading the Trump intelligence regime fully declassified the "mysterious" Susan Rice email that was at the heart of their absurd conspiracy to charge former president Obama and Vice President Biden with espionage. The email had been written by Rice to herself to memorialize a meeting with President Obama's national security team about Gen. Michael Flynn's contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. [...]

So . . . the note that had been used to advance the idea that Obama was hiding info from--and even spying on!--Flynn has a line in it that indicates specifically that the president did not want to change how his administration shared classified information with the incoming administration unless something were to change, at which point he would want another briefing. And there is no evidence that another such briefing took place.

In summary here is what we know about Obama's actions:

He had a meeting with his intelligence team where he was briefed about Gen. Flynn's back-channel conversations with a country that had committed an attack on our elections during his watch.

At the meeting he is told that some of Flynn's conversations with Russia are unusual, but none of them include the sharing of any classified intelligence.

Obama says that the investigation should be done "by the book" unless new information comes to light at which point he should be briefed again.

President Obama privately warns President-elect Trump about Flynn in one of their only conversations.

What we have here my friends is By-The-Book-Gate!

There are still a couple pieces of intelligence that it would be particularly useful to release--although everything really out to be: (1) transcripts of all the discussions between the Russians and Team Trump; and, (2) the identity of all the individuals Donald has unmasked.  Because, whereas no one questions whether the unmaskings in the prior administration were proper, the 75% increase under Donald and the volume of his personal corruption, and of those serving him,  is troublesome.

May 19, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Trump administration declassifies full Susan Rice email sent on Inauguration Day (BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN,,05/19/2020, Politico)

"Director Comey affirmed that he is proceeding 'by the book' as it relates to law enforcement," Rice wrote. "From a national security perspective, Comey said he does have some concerns that incoming NSA Flynn is speaking frequently with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. Comey said that could be an issue as it relates to sharing sensitive information. President Obama asked if Comey was saying that the NSC should not pass sensitive information related to Russia to Flynn. Comey replied 'potentially.' He added that he has no indication thus far that Flynn has passed classified information to Kislyak, but he noted that 'the level of communication is unusual.' The President asked Comey to inform him if anything changes in the next few weeks that should affect how we share classified information with the incoming team. Comey said that he would."

That even Donald had to fire him for lying demonstrates the Director's wisdom.

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The Case for Capitalism (Lee Edwards, 5/19/20, Law & Liberty)

They are right about one thing: the rich are becoming richer. There are now nearly 19 million millionaires in America, two-fifths of all the millionaires in the world. We have 621 billionaires, one-fourth of all the billionaires globally. They are rich because the United States rewards the entrepreneurial spirit. American capitalism has also produced the largest and most affluent middle class in the world, with a per capita GDP of more than $65,000. By contrast, Communist China's per capita GDP is an estimated $10,900, one-sixth of ours.

But it is also true that the poor are getting richer. Measured by consumption, according to economist Bruce Meyer of the University of Notre Dame, the percentage of the poor fell from 13 percent in 1980 to 2.9 percent in 2018, while the official poverty rate fell by only 1.2 percentage points to 12.3 percent. A major reason for the discrepancy is that the official poverty measure is based on cash income only, which fails to include all the resources available to a family including tax credits and in-kind transfers. The reality is that the average "poor" American owns a car, enjoys air conditioning, has access to the Internet, and has at least one TV. The official poverty line for a family of four is $25,465.

Capitalism benefits all, as seen by the lessening of historical racial and gender disparities. From 2013-2018, the five metropolitan areas with the largest black population -- New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. -- saw black median household income increase significantly from rates of 7 percent in Washington, D.C., to 21 percent in Atlanta. In 2019, blacks maintained their lowest unemployment rate ever of 5.5 percent. The jobless rate for Hispanics hit a record low of 3.9 percent. The 11.6 million women-owned firms in America represent 39 percent of all private businesses. No other nation comes close to matching this level of female entrepreneurship.

Adam Smith's "invisible hand" is everywhere. Capitalism, not socialism, is responsible for a global economic miracle: The number of people living in poverty around the world has declined every year since 1990 while the global population has risen. Free-market capitalism, in the words of the Pew Research Center, has for the first time "allowed [billions of] people to decide for themselves what they value and what type of life they wish to pursue."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


"Immune to Evidence": How Dangerous Coronavirus Conspiracies SpreadConspiratorial videos and websites about COVID-19 are going viral. Here's how one of the authors of "The Conspiracy Theory Handbook" says you can fight back. One big takeaway: Focus your efforts on people who can hear evidence and think rationally. (Marshall Allen, 5/18/20, ProPublica)

Conspiracy theories related to the COVID-19 pandemic seem to be proliferating, and some may even be taking root. So I asked Lewandowsky to share how he identifies and understands them, and what we can do to sort through the confusion. The interview has been condensed for clarity and length.

What's the difference between a real conspiracy and a conspiracy theory?

A real conspiracy actually exists, and it is usually uncovered by journalists, whistleblowers, document dumps from a corporation or government, or it's discovered by a government agency. The Volkswagen emissions scandal, for example, was discovered by conventional ways when some engineers discovered an anomaly in a report. It was all mundane -- normal people having normal observations based on data. They said, "Hang on, something's funny here," and then it unraveled. The same is true for the Iran-contra scandal. That broke via a newspaper in Lebanon. True conspiracies are often uncovered through the media. In Watergate, it was journalists not taking "no" for an answer.

A conspiracy theory, on the other hand, is discussed at length on the internet by people who are not bona fide journalists or government officials or whistleblowers in an organization or investigative committees of regulators. They're completely independent sources, individuals who self-nominate and put themselves forward as being in possession of the truth. In principle, that could be true. But then if you look at the way these people think and talk and communicate, you discover their cognition is different from what I would call conventional cognition.

What are some differences between conventional and conspiratorial thinking?

You can start with healthy skepticism vs. overriding suspicion. As a scientist, I'm obviously skeptical. I'm questioning anything people say. I look at my own data and other people's data with a skeptical eye. But after skeptics have been skeptical, they are quite capable of accepting evidence. Once something has withstood scrutiny, you accept it. Otherwise you're in a state of complete nihilism and you can't believe anything.

That crucial second step of acceptance is absent in conspiracy theorists. That is where conspiracy theorists are different. Their skepticism is a bottomless, never-ending pit of skepticism about anything related to the official account. And that skepticism is accompanied by extreme gullibility to anything related to the conspiracy. It's an imbalance between skepticism for anything an official may say and complete gullibility for something some random dude on the internet will tweet out. It's that imbalance that differentiates conspiracy thinking from standard cognition.

Conspiracy thinking is immune to evidence. In the "Plandemic" video, the absence of evidence is twisted to be seen to be as evidence for the theory. They say the cover-up is so perfect that you will never find out about it. That's the opposite of rational thinking. Usually when you think of a hypothesis, you think of the evidence. And if there's zero evidence, you give it up or say there is no evidence for it.

Conspiracy theorists may also simultaneously believe things that are contradictory. In the "Plandemic" video, for example, they say COVID-19 both came from a Wuhan lab and that we're all infected with the disease from vaccinations. They're making both claims, and they don't hang together.

More generally, conspiracy theorists show this contradictory thinking by presenting themselves as both victims and heroes. They see themselves as these heroes in possession of the truth. But they also see themselves as victims. They feel they are being persecuted by this evil establishment or the deep state or whatever it is.

The fact that evidence of reality only makes them cling all the tighter to their unreality is the most important take away for the well-balanced.  

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Sorry, Donald Trump: Media-Bias Claims May be Overblown (Hans J. G. Hassell John Holbein Kevin Reuning Matthew R. Miles, 5/19/20, National Interest)

In our research, conducted in 2017 and 2018, we examined media bias two different ways.

First, we studied whether the media displays bias by the stories they choose to cover. For example, a media outlet might cover a politician's initial failure to respond to COVID-19 while another outlet chooses to bypass that story. This is what we call gatekeeping bias. What journalists cover, or their agenda setting, has a powerful effect on the issues people care about. Media bias, in other words, can occur if journalists ignore stories not aligned with their ideological preferences.

Second, we studied whether the media discussed stories differently - if they used a different tone or perspective to cover the same story. Two news outlets, for example, might cover a politician's press conference very differently. News framing, studies show, has an effect on public opinion, though it's often short-lived.

In the summer of 2017, we visited the website or Facebook page of every newspaper in the United States to gather email addresses of political journalists and editors. We collected email addresses for over 13,000 political journalists. We surveyed those journalists and combined what we learned with a separate analysis of newspaper content.

We found no evidence of the first form of bias - gatekeeping.

Although there is bias in how newspapers cover politics - the second kind of bias - the effects were largely limited to small shifts in tone. Moreover, our research shows that most newspapers are politically moderate, further reducing the impact of bias.

...then all reporting looks like bias.

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Donald Trump believes Fox News is "no longer the same" after host Neil Cavuto urged caution over the use of hydroxychloroquine, which the president is taking as a preventative against COVID-19.

The president criticized the network and said he is "looking for a new outlet" after Cavuto's message, in which he warned of potential risks of taking the drug for vulnerable groups.

The Trumpist must wear kneepads.

May 18, 2020

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Trump's Weekend of Scandal Was Hiding in Plain SightIt's going on right now and no one can see it because of the chaff. (TIM MILLER  MAY 18, 2020, The Bulwark)

(1) The president of the United States quote-tweeted an avowed alt-right account that flirts with Holocaust denial,

(2) The president also texted supporters false allegations that he had been illegally spied on by the previous vice president.

(3) The president also fired another independent inspector general without providing cause.

(4) The official American death toll from COVID-19 inched close to 90,000 souls while the president spent his time live tweeting cable TV.

(5) One of the president's large adult sons grotesquely suggested that Joe Biden is a "pedopile."

(6) Another of his large adult sons claimed that the virus was a hoax perpetrated by the left and the media and that it will disappear after the election.

(7) The President sent a tweet encouraging protesters who aggressively shouted down and chased after a random local news reporter with calls of "you are the virus," "traitor," and "enemy of the people." (Note: This was entry number seven because I even forgot about it until after writing the article because Trump does so much insane stuff every day)

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To start with, the Trumpian attacks on Sullivan are themselves entirely baseless. Sullivan's appointment of retired U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson, a widely respected former federal prosecutor, as well as a distinguished former federal trial judge, was well within his Article III powers. Courts routinely appoint "friends of the court," designated amici curiae, to brief and argue positions otherwise unrepresented in the proceedings but intrinsic to their proper resolution.

The amicus has become a "standard feature of litigation." Around once per term, the Supreme Court invites an amicus to argue a position that one party (typically the government) has conceded on appeal. The court does so, in its own words, "to decide the case satisfied that the relevant issues have been fully aired." Attorney Bill Coleman, to give but one important example, was appointed to defend the IRS's policy of not giving tax exemptions to racially discriminatory organizations when the Nixon administration refused to defend that policy. Importantly, this practice supplements but doesn't substitute for the equally standard practice of courts considering the arguments made in amicus briefs filed both on behalf of interested individuals and organizations (over 100 were filed in Obergefell) or on behalf of experts with relevant perspectives to present.

That is exactly what has happened here. When the Department of Justice made the "virtually unheard-of" decision to dismiss two already vetted and accepted guilty pleas on the eve of sentencing, Sullivan rightly suspected that the relevant issues would not be fully aired without the arguments of an amicus. Moreover, Flynn has now arguably told the court things inconsistent with what he had said under oath when pleading guilty, opening himself up to perjury charges--an argument that neither Flynn nor Barr could be expected to make. Nothing about that move ought to be controversial. As Professor Randall D. Eliason notes, once a judge has accepted a guilty plea from a defendant, the ball is squarely in the judge's court to determine sentencing. And at the very least, it is reasonable for Sullivan to seek outside counsel on how to understand such a peculiar move from Barr.

From a separation of powers perspective, there is nothing untoward here. The executive prosecuted its case and won a guilty plea from the defendant. The judiciary must now exercise its independent judgment about how to sentence him. And judges may not bury their heads in the sand when the Department of Justice inexplicably unwinds a guilty plea it had painstakingly developed. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote just last term in the administrative law context, courts are "not required to exhibit a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free." So too here. Sullivan is not required to pretend he was born yesterday. The department's move is so unprecedented, so flagrantly indicative of abuse and so downright bizarre that any rational judge would want further briefing before deciding how to proceed. Sullivan has wisely chosen to protect his judicial role by seeking that further briefing, and the law gives him that right.

The Trumpists attacks on the Judge for violating precedent are particularly hilarious because they reflect complete ignorance of the cited case...or just duplicity.

Flynn's New Argument Is Constitutional NonsenseThe integrity of prosecution is an executive concern, but it's a judicial one too. (Peter M. Shane, 5/18/20, The Atlantic)

Predictably, the lawyers for Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, are unhappy about the refusal of U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan to immediately green-light dropping his prosecution. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure permit the Justice Department to withdraw the Flynn indictment only "with leave of court." In considering such leave, Sullivan has decided to allow independent groups and legal experts to submit briefs on the issue. Presumably yet more upsetting to Flynn and his counsel, Sullivan has appointed a former federal judge, John Gleeson, to oppose the Justice Department's request and to examine whether Flynn may have committed perjury.

In a court filing from before the Gleeson appointment, Flynn's lawyers assert that the intervention of third parties would be unconstitutional. They write: "A criminal case is a dispute between the United States and a criminal defendant ... For the Court to allow another to stand in the place of the government would be a violation of the separation of powers."

This is constitutional nonsense. Neither the parties filing briefs, nor the retired judge advising Sullivan, are "stand[ing] in the place of the government." They are, rather, providing information and counsel. But there is more here at stake: In monitoring the integrity of Flynn's prosecution, Sullivan is also working to preserve the integrity of the court system he represents. In doing so, Sullivan's effort to protect the integrity of the prosecution is an important reminder that prosecution is an executive function, but it's a judicial one too.

The idea that federal prosecution is exclusively an executive-branch concern is not accurate. 

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Democrats feel tide turning their way in battle to flip US Senate (Joan E Greve, 18 May 2020, The Guardian)

Democrats have managed to expand the map, in part thanks to Biden clearing the presidential primary field, which seems to have improved the party's prospects in states Trump carried in 2016, such as North Carolina and Georgia.

"A lot of Democrats were rightly worried that if you had a more progressive nominee, an avowed Democratic socialist on the ticket like Bernie Sanders, flipping a state like North Carolina ... would have been much harder," said Jessica Taylor, Senate and governors editor for the Cook Political Report.

Republicans are on defense in states they previously thought safe, most notably Montana. The state's Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, launched his Senate campaign in March. A recent poll showed him leading the Republican incumbent, Steve Daines, by seven points, even though Trump carried Montana by 20 in 2016.

"I think the Democrats have done a better job of putting more races in play than the Republicans have," Kondik said, "although Republicans are just defending many more seats."

Democratic candidates have seen better fundraising numbers, which party strategists say is a reflection of grassroots energy. For example, in Maine, in the first quarter of this year, Sara Gideon raised nearly three times as much money as the Republican senator Susan Collins.

...which is nothing less than we deserve for enabling racism.

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Progressives thought they'd overtaken the Democratic Party. Now they're in despair.A string of losses this spring, highlighted by Bernie Sanders, has left the movement reeling. (ALEX THOMPSON, 05/18/2020, Politico)

On the eve of the Nevada caucuses in February, Bernie Sanders and his supporters were feeling invincible.

"I've got news for the Democratic establishment," he declared on Twitter on Feb. 21, the day before he went on to a landslide win in the Nevada caucuses. "They can't stop us."

Since then, not only did the "establishment" stop Sanders -- it stamped out the candidacies of a string of left-wing insurgents, leaving the progressive movement reeling and in a state of despair.

Three highly-touted liberal House candidates -- Jessica Cisneros in Texas, Robert Emmons in Illinois, and Morgan Harper in Ohio -- lost their primary races against more moderate members of Congress. They are now playing defense as Rep. Rashida Tlaib, one of the four members of the "squad," faces a stiff primary challenge in Michigan. And Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass), who's managed a late-career makeover into a left-wing darling, with endorsements from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other progressive groups, is consistently outpolled by primary challenger, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.).

The movement has also had limited influence on the proposals House Democrats have put forward to address the coronavirus, with leadership rejecting its most ambitious ideas.

The abrupt reversal of fortune has prompted introspection among many left-wing activists, who only three months ago were confident that the future of the Democratic Party was theirs.

And it will only become more conservative as the suburbs, minorities, the young, and married women flee Trumpism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The future of solar power: From unbelievably cheap to insanely cheap (Giles Parkinson & Sophie Vorrath, 18 May 2020, Renew Economy)

Solar is now half the price he predicted nearly a decade ago, and already at a price that established institutions like the International Energy Agency thought wouldn't be possible for a century to come. That's how dramatic the cost of the technology has fallen. And it's going to get cheaper.

"Solar has plunged in price faster than anyone - including me - predicted. And modeling of that price decline leads me to forecast that solar will continue to drop in price faster than I've previously expected, and will ultimately reach prices lower than virtually anyone expects. Prices that are, by any stretch of the measure, insanely, world-changingly cheap."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Fox News host attacks Barack Obama as "not all that articulate" (DAVID EDWARDS, MAY 18, 2020, Raw Story)

Co-host Pete Hegseth went on to gripe that Obama is not as "articulate" as many people think.

May 17, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 2:46 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Democrats' stand on annexation poses a dilemma for Israel: Not only because Joe Biden may soon sit in the White House, but because his party's opposition to a unilateral move is rooted in bipartisan support for Israel (Daniel B. Shapiro, MAY 17, 2020, Times of Israel)

On the one hand, Netanyahu promised during the last election campaign that he would annex the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements. He relies on the Trump Administration, which indicated support for such a move when it announced its Israeli-Palestinian "Peace to Prosperity" plan in January. The two countries appointed a joint committee to determine the precise areas to be annexed (up to 30 percent of the West Bank) and recognized as sovereign Israeli territory by the United States.

On the other hand, Israel faces an unusual situation in its relationship with the United States, which it has always sought to sustain on a bipartisan basis. Virtually all elected US Democrats, and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, oppose unilateral annexation. In a video at the AIPAC Policy Conference in March, Biden said: "Israel, I think, has to stop the threats of annexation and settlement activity."

So the dilemma for Israel's government is whether to pursue a favored policy that is supported by the incumbent US president, but which is openly opposed by the challenger and opposition party, including many of its members with strong records of supporting Israel. [...]

[T]he heart of Democrats' argument is on how the strategic US interest in sustaining the close US-Israel relationship as a values-based partnership would be undermined if Israel's Jewish or democratic character were compromised. "To be frank," Biden continued in his video at AIPAC, threats of annexation "are taking Israel further from its democratic values, undermining support for Israel... especially among young people in both political parties." A Pew poll from April 2019 backs up his argument, with younger Democrats and Republicans both holding starkly lower favorable views of the Israeli government than of the Israeli people.

Some Israelis may argue that the Democratic Party is no longer sufficiently supportive of Israel to be a factor in Israeli decision making. According to this theory, disagreements between Israel and the Obama Administration over the Iran nuclear deal and UN Security Council Resolution 2334 marked a fundamental shift. The harsh criticism of Israel by two freshman Members of Congress, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and the strong run by Sen. Bernie Sanders in his presidential campaign are taken as further confirmation of the change. Allegedly, a Biden administration would necessarily be captive to these forces in the party, and therefore, Israel must proceed with annexation immediately.

That is nonsense. Biden's primary victory, indeed, proves the opposite. Whereas some voices more critical of Israel have been heard in the Democratic party, Biden won the nomination while expressing his deep personal bonds with Israel and pledging to keep backing its security and defend it from any form of delegitimization, including the BDS movement. Democratic primary voters chose the candidate who called placing conditions on US assistance to Israel "outrageous" and "a gigantic mistake." Why, one might ask, would Israel take an action that hurts the credibility of those Democrats committed to sustaining their party's traditional support for Israel?

The harsh reality is that Israel's natural allies are not the multi-confessional Western democracies but the Nationalistic Eastern autocracies, like Saudi Arabia, China and Russia.  

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM


Putin's Russia is handling the COVID-19 outbreak much like Trump's America -- badly (MATTHEW ROZSA, MAY 17, 2020, salon)

[T]here are many ways in which Russia's response to the coronavirus crisis mirrors our own nation's response. And understanding both countries' public health crises reveals some harsh truths about how similar the two nations are -- both culturally and in terms of governance.  [...]

Before March was over, however, Russian coronavirus cases exploded: confirmed cases in the country rose exponentially, jumping from 495 on March 24 to 10,131 as of April 7. As of Friday morning on May 15, there are more than 262,000 confirmed cases in Russia -- the country lags only the United States in terms of total number of infected -- and at least 2,400 fatalities. A disproportionate amount of patients are in Moscow.

Still, not everyone thinks Russia's pandemic accounting is reliable.

"I think those statistics were just absolutely untrue," Bill Browder, a British financier and political activist who became one of Putin's most prominent enemies after he blew the whistle on alleged corruption in that country, told Salon earlier this week. "You basically can't trust anything that the Russian government says. And they're always looking for an angle. It wasn't clear what they were trying to achieve by saying it wasn't hitting them. Now they seem to be presenting an accurate number of cases, but they're still wildly undercounting the number of deaths."

Curiously, this mirrors much of the coronavirus reporting in the United States. As Bob Hennelly reported in Salon, first responders in New York reported seeing a tenfold increase in cardiac arrest deaths amid the pandemic -- almost certainly caused by the coronavirus, but not reported as such in official statistics. Likewise, the state of Virginia has been miscounting cases, with the Virginia Department of Health facing criticism for aggregating diagnostic and antibody tests into the same data pool, thereby providing unreliable information about the coronavirus pandemic in the state.

Jonathan Katz, a senior fellow at The German Marshall Fund who directs the Frontlines of Democracy Initiative, told Salon that Putin's response to the crisis has been sub-par, to say the least.

"What we're seeing is that Putin is a tactician," Katz told Salon. "He is not a manager of good governance. And his approach to the coronavirus has been first to deny that it was there, and that it was as widespread, and that continues today."

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


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Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Capitalism or the Climate? (Saul Zimet, 5/17/20, Quillette)

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, author of the 2019 Green New Deal resolution and surrogate to Bernie Sanders in the 2020 democratic primary, told a 2019 SXSW audience, "Capitalism, to me, is an ideology of capital. The most important thing is the concentration of capital, and it means that we seek and prioritize profit and the accumulation of money above all else, and we seek it at any human and environmental cost. That is what that means. And to me, that ideology is not sustainable and cannot be redeemed." [...]

Throughout nearly all of human history, widespread economic growth per capita did not exist. Productivity per capita was ubiquitously stagnant; generation after generation, millennium after millennium, extreme poverty remained nearly universal and large-scale economic progress was not even imaginable. Virtually everyone lived on less than $3.50 per day in today's dollars according to research from University of Oxford economist Max Roser, and the average person lived on much less. That's even worse than it sounds, because (among other reasons) most of the things we can buy today had yet to be invented, and people didn't have access to most of the information that informs our purchases in the 21st century.

Then, starting in Western Europe in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, an unprecedented breadth of optimism emerged and turned wealth (resources hoarded away in vaults and mattresses) into capital (resources invested in future production and discovery). Thus, capitalism was born, and with it, exponential economic growth began to spread across most of the Earth (a process that continues to this day). As a result, both the rich and the poor are consistently getting rapidly richer for the first time in human history. Whereas 94 percent of the population was in extreme poverty as recently as 1820, in 1990 the number was down to 36 percent, and in 2015 the number was less than 10 percent. And as the world gets wealthier, countless important things proliferate, such as access to nutrition, freedom from violence, improvements in life expectancy, and of course, the access to and production of scientific and technological knowledge.

Knowledge is produced and spread in many ways. Education is one crucial variable, for the purpose of having both an educated population of innovators and a thriving research community. According to research from the Brookings Institute, educational opportunities and outcomes for the affluent radically exceed those for the poor--not just between countries, or within them, but everywhere. This is to be expected. Whether funded by individuals or government programs, it costs a lot of resources to build strong educational institutions and invest in educating generations of students. Poor populations who can barely afford shelter, clean water, food, and medicine don't have much left over to invest in less immediate necessities such as education. And of course, this creates a feedback loop with causation running in both directions--if a population is uneducated, escaping poverty is much more difficult; if a population is poor, investing in education is much more difficult.

Another foundational tool for knowledge production is innovation, which capital and profit motive facilitate. A large amount of innovation comes from excess capital being invested in new research and development. Poorer populations, whether subnational, national, or global, have less to invest in prospective new inventions and processes of which the details are unpredictable in advance. No system incentivizes useful investments and disincentivizes wasteful investments better than the capitalist system, in which the investor's own capital is on the line. Incentives and wealth are two main reasons why all of the most innovative nations, such as the top 10 on the 2020 Bloomberg Innovation Index, are capitalist countries. The sociologist Susan Cozzens at the Georgia Institute of Technology offers a succinct description of the process:

In the classic literature of the economics of innovation, private firms are the driving force. They seek competitive advantage in the market by introducing new products that give them a temporary monopoly. By charging high prices during the period of temporary monopoly, the firm makes profits and grows. Introducing new processes can result in competitive advantage if that step reduces costs or increases productivity. In this view, firms drive innovation in order to survive and win in the marketplace.

Indeed, no serious critics of capitalism argue that any other system produces greater material wealth and innovation. Even Marxists, capitalism's most vehement antagonists, generally acknowledge that no system has ever produced more innovation and abundance. In The Communist Manifesto in 1848, Marx and Engels wrote this:

The bourgeoisie [capitalist class], during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature's forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground--what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?

If only Marx and Engels could see how drastically the affluence of the proletariat has grown under global capitalism since then.

Capitalism, contra the Congresswoman,, is dependent on the dispersal of wealth, not the concentration.  Wealth was and is concentrated in pre-capitalist economies, mostly in the form of land, which the mass of the population was forced to farm for subsistence.  The basic form of economic transaction was extremely straightforward; you work my land and, in exchange, you get to keep enough of the crop to feed yourself and your family...maybe. But farming inefficiencies that lasted for centuries set an artificial cap on just how much wealth the land produced. Lord and serfs were "sharing" a rather beggarly portion. The sharecroppers thus had to do as much as they could for themselves, from candle-making to sewing to hunting for meat and so on, because they lacked the excess capital to exchange for goods and services.

There were, of course, some skilled laborers who were not dependent on the lords who owned the land; they tended to protect the knowledge required for their jobs via things like guilds (just as unions long sought to bar access to jobs).  It was better to be a blacksmith or a blacksmith's son than a peasant farmer, but it's not as if all the peasants around you had horses for you to shoe. Your income was, likewise, limited by how little wealth the prevailing system produced.  

Not much of an economy, eh?  But, if the point of an economy is to provide jobs and roughly equal subsistence, it was actually a decent model.

Then there arose merchants, who traded one good for another or even exchanged money for goods.  They were what the Left/Right would call unproductive.  Like the hated bankers/investors/traders of today, they made their money on the margins of transactions involving wealth they had not generated by their own hands and might never actually handle or even see.  And what does this sort of economic model require? The generation of wealth, which can be exchanged for more than just the food to fill your own belly. And do you want that wealth concentrated in just a few hands so that your market is minimal? Of course not; you want as many potential consumers of your goods as possible and them with ass much wealth for such consumption as possible.  And, with these new possibilities for consumption, is it any longer sufficient to just skim off the top of the minimal wealth your peons produce? Of course not; you want to maximize the yields on your land so that you can exchange excess crops--that are not needed to feed you and your tenants--for goods you do not generate yourself, even luxury goods, be they silks or spices or books or what have you. And once you have access to goods to buy with your wealth and you seek to maximize the profits from your land, the old inefficiencies, like manual labor, become intolerable and innovation becomes a premium.  The point of owning land is no longer to be a landowner but to generate wealth.  And while labor-saving innovations are displacing the peasants' jobs are being created manufacturing the new tools for the new economy and working on transporting goods and building new infrastructure and so on and so forth.  And this new class of industrial laborers no longer produces that which it subsists on but has to purchase it, expanding markets and increasing transactions and on and on.  

This is capitalism: the economics of generating ever-greater capital. No one intended it, but it turned out to be the ultimate virtuous circle. It is the economics that destroyed centralized capital and spread it widely, lifting the masses out of grinding poverty, creating a culture that is consumerist precisely because everyone has the wealth necessary to consume things, creating a near-universal tax base that made possible the rise of powerful states but states bound to provide representation to taxpayers, generating technology that allowed every member of society to participate in the production of wealth, making them taxpayers, making them citizens due a say in governance.  

It is not a revolution that always proceeded smoothly nor as quickly as we might have wished, but proceed it did and does.  If the word still had content rather than being a mere rubric, Progressive would be associated with Capitalism, not it's obverse. 

Titular Progressives, like AOC, were they able to accept all this, would have an important role to play today as we transition to an economy where the universal employment that once automatically redistributed wealth and granted political participation does look unsustainable.  That role though involves embracing an economy that maximizes capitalism, as the uniquely efficient generator of wealth, but stops looking at it as the primary means of wealth distribution and turns instead to political forms of distribution.  As the labor input required to generate wealth trends towards zero our society will grow ever richer but employment can no longer be counted on to spread capital.  Something like a Universal Basic Income will have to replace jobs, as the current economic crisis has demonstrated.  The "Progressive" alternative, a universal employment scheme, preserves the notion of work, appealing to our Puritan natures, but it will only make the economy less efficient--less good at generating the wealth we desire--and, because the jobs will be just make-work, is actually dishonest in a way that should appall us, as we would be rewarded for an illusion while pretending to return value.

An important corollary to this decline in employment is that our system of taxation must change.  Replacing income taxes--since we are not earning--with consumption taxes--since we'll still be consuming to some greater or lesser degree--will preserve the principle that has driven the Anglosphere for near a millenia-"No Representation without Taxation." Not only will this preserve the required skin-in-the-game, but by encouraging us to save and invest will promote the universal accrual of capital.  Even a responsible "Progressivism" ends up being capitalist.  The virtuous circle just keeps on rolling...

May 16, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 PM


'It eats him alive inside': Trump's latest attack shows endless obsession with Obama (David Smith, May. 16th, 2020, The Guardian)

President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump once sat together in the Oval Office. "I was immediately struck by Trump's body language," wrote journalist Jon Karl in his memoir Front Row at The Trump Show. "I was seeing a side of him I had never seen. He seemed, believe it or not, humbled."

It was November 2016 and, just for once, Trump was not in charge of the room, Karl recalls. Obama was still president, directing the action and setting the tone. His successor "seemed a little dazed" and "a little freaked out". What the two men discussed in their meeting that day, only they know.

But what became clear in the next three and a half years is that Obama remains something of an obsession for Trump; the subject of a political and personal inferiority complex.

Observers point to a mix of anti-intellectualism, racism, vengeance and primitive envy over everything from Obama's Nobel peace prize to the scale of his inauguration crowd and social media following.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 PM


Mike Pompeo recommended Trump firing of State Department inspector general, White House says (Spencer Kimball, 5/16/20, CNBC)

"Secretary Pompeo recommended the move, and President Trump agreed," a White House official said. [...]

A Democratic aide told NBC News that Linick was scrutinizing Pompeo's alleged misuse of a political appointee to perform person tasks for himself and his wife, Susan. 

The firing of Linick was also met with skepticism by some Republican lawmakers. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Trump must provide details to Congress about why Linick was removed. 

Attorney General is going to be the most sought after job in the Biden Administration; Kamala needs to stake her claim now.

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


Georgia candidates embrace group with extremist ties (Chris JoynerTia Mitchell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The photo shows Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, with Chester Doles, a Georgia man with longstanding ties to numerous white supremacist organizations, including the National Alliance and Hammerskins, a racist skinhead gang. It was taken earlier this year at a meeting of American Patriots USA, a group founded by Doles last year in an attempt to appeal to more mainstream conservatives in the region. Other candidates for office in Georgia also appeared in the photograph with Doles, though none as high profile as Gurtler.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM

GOLD COAST (profanity alert):

Two Coasts. One Virus. How New York Suffered Nearly 10 Times the Number of Deaths as California.: California's governor and San Francisco's mayor worked together to act early in confronting the COVID threat. For Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio, it was a different story, and 27,000 New Yorkers have died so far. (Joe Sexton and Joaquin Sapien May 16, 2020, ProPublica)

In San Francisco, Breed cleaned up her language in a text to California Gov. Gavin Newsom. But she was no less emphatic: The city needed to be closed. Newsom had once been San Francisco's mayor, and he had appointed Breed to lead the city's Fire Commission in 2010.

Newsom responded immediately, saying she should coordinate with the counties surrounding San Francisco as they too were moving toward a shutdown. Breed said she spoke to representatives of those counties on March 15 and their public health officials were prepared to make the announcement on their own. On March 16, with just under 40 cases of COVID-19 in San Francisco and no deaths, Breed issued the order banning all but essential movement and interaction.

"I really feel like we didn't have a lot of good options," Breed said.

In an interview, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said it was critical to allow Northern California counties to rely on their own experts, act with a degree of autonomy and thus perhaps pave the way for the state to expand on what they had done. And three days after San Francisco and its neighboring counties were closed, Newsom, on March 19, imposed the same restrictions on the rest of California.

Breed, it turns out, had sent de Blasio a copy of her detailed shelter-in-place order. She thought New York might benefit from it.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, reacted to de Blasio's idea for closing down New York City with derision. It was dangerous, he said, and served only to scare people. Language mattered, Cuomo said, and "shelter-in-place" sounded like it was a response to a nuclear apocalypse.

Moreover, Cuomo said, he alone had the power to order such a measure.

For years, Cuomo and de Blasio, each of whom has harbored national political ambitions, had engaged in a kind of intrastate cold war, a rivalry that to many often felt childish and counterproductive. When de Blasio finally decided to close the city's schools, it was Cuomo who rushed to make the public announcement, claiming it as his decision.

"No city in the state can quarantine itself without state approval," Cuomo said of de Blasio's call for a shelter-in-place order. "I have no plan whatsoever to quarantine any city."

Cuomo's conviction didn't last. On March 22, he, too, shuttered his state. The action came six days after San Francisco had shut down, five days after de Blasio suggested doing similarly and three days after all of California had been closed by Newsom. By then, New York faced a raging epidemic, with the number of confirmed cases at 15,000 doubling every three or four days.

Health officials well understood the grim mathematics. One New York City official said of those critical days in March: "We had been pretty clear with the state about the implications of every day, every hour, every minute."

As of May 15, there were nearly 350,000 COVID-19 cases in New York and more than 27,500 deaths, nearly a third of the nation's total. The corresponding numbers in California: just under 75,000 cases and slightly more than 3,000 deaths. In New York City, the country's most populous and densest, there had been just under 20,000 deaths; in San Francisco, the country's second densest and 13th most populous, there had been 35.

The differing outcomes will be studied for years, as more is learned about the virus, its unique qualities, its varying strains, its specific impact on certain populations, and the role of factors like poverty, pre-existing health problems and public transportation in its spread and lethality.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


The radical wrongness of Bernard Mandeville: the free marketeer whose bee analogy came back to sting him: His cherished text "The Fable of the Bees" is undermined by the fate of our modern pollinators (Julian Baggini, May 10, 2020, The Prospect)

Like its 18th-century predecessor, this 21st-century bee story is a fable with wider resonance. To understand this we have to see how the attraction of Mandeville's original metaphor rested in large part on the naturalness of the hive. Proponents of free markets ever since have played the same card, most obviously when appealing to a Darwinian survival of the fittest to justify the "creative destruction" in free markets.

Coupled with this appeal to the glory of mother nature was a dim view of human nature. This view has been celebrated and defended as robust realism. As Mandeville said in his discussion of his fable, "Most writers are always teaching men what they should be, and hardly ever trouble their heads with telling them What they really are."

But Mandeville's logic contained two fatal flaws. In the fable, main character Jove becomes so indignant at the vice of the bees that he "in anger swore, he'd rid The bawling hive of fraud." The result was calamity. The economy collapses and everything runs to ruin. In case the reader is too dim to understand the message, Mandeville ends the poem with "the moral," namely

Fools only strive
To make a Great an Honest Hive. [...]
Fraud, Luxury and Pride must live,
While we the Benefits receive:
Hunger's a dreadful Plague, no doubt,
Yet who digests or thrives without?

Mandeville gives private vice all the credit for creating general prosperity and portrays private virtue as wholly harmful. Half a century later, Adam Smith saw through this caricature of human nature. Smith is often is presented as endorsing Mandevellian cynicism. Out of context, one of his most famous passages does indeed sound like something from The Fable of the Bees:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

But Smith explicitly condemned "the system of Dr Mandeville" saying that it is "wholly pernicious." Smith's attack on Mandeville came in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) in which he argued that "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it."

Not only did Smith believe that human motivation cannot be reduced to pure egotistical drives, he also saw that whatever the natural benefits of markets it took artifice to preserve them. In The Wealth of Nations (1766) he argued that without regulation, monopolists would artificially restrict production and raise prices. A beehive many not need regulating but the human hive most certainly does. If the "invisible hand" is attached to a corrupt, unchecked body, it will wreak havoc.

The plight of present-day pollinators alerts us to a deeper problem with both Mandeville's logic and the cruder applications of Smith's. Both appeal to the "naturalness" of market mechanisms and human avarice. But human civilisation is not a hive and human beings not wholly bad. What's more, bees never alter nature, human beings often do. In doing so, we can undermine precisely what makes nature work.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Trump to restore partial WHO funding after halt over pandemic handling - report (Times of Israel, 5/16/20)

The US was the biggest funder of the WHO, providing it $400 million last year -- Fox News said that if the plan goes ahead, the US funding level of the WHO would be around one-tenth of that sum. just one example of how much he loathes America. Imagine RWR or W saying we want to be the equal of the PRC.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


May 15, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Former federal judge who brought down the 'Teflon Don' steps into Flynn case (Erica Orden, Kara Scannell and David Shortell,  May 15, 2020, CNN)

An esteemed former federal judge himself, Gleeson, 66, entered the discourse around the Flynn case on Monday, when he and two other former Justice Department officials wrote in The Washington Post that among the steps US District Judge Emmet Sullivan could take would be to "appoint an independent attorney to act as a 'friend of the court,' ensuring a full, adversarial inquiry."

Saying the case "reeks of improper political influence," they wrote that "if prosecutors attempt to dismiss a well-founded prosecution for impermissible or corrupt reasons, the people would be ill-served if a court blindly approved their dismissal request. The independence of the court protects us all when executive-branch decisions smack of impropriety; it also protects the judiciary itself from becoming a party to corruption."

Now, according to Sullivan's order, Gleeson will articulate an argument against the Department of Justice's effort to end the prosecution and will weigh whether Flynn should face a perjury charge for contradictory statements he has given the court.

Former colleagues, contemporaries and friends of Gleeson's -- even some who have expressed sympathy for Flynn's position -- said they expect Gleeson's rigor, intellect and experience to be a welcome counterweight to the tumult of the case so far.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Jazz history lost: How a string of deaths from Covid-19 has left the jazz community in a state of shock (Kevin Le Gendre, 5/15/20, TLS)

It is hard, therefore, to convey the state of shock in which the jazz community now exists. The past month has seen a dramatic toppling of icons set off by the spread of Covid-19. The pianist Ellis Marsalis, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, saxophonists Manu Dibango and Lee Konitz, bassist Henry Grimes and trumpeter Wallace Roney all died in quick succession. This grim toll follows the passing of the pianist McCoy Tyner in March. That was an ominous start to the year but few could have imagined that by spring so many tall trees on the landscape of improvised music would have been so tragically felled.

Between them, these musicians were involved in landmark chapters in the epic story of jazz, with its deep roots in black America and growth the world over. Tyner was the last surviving member of the John Coltrane quartet, a mesmerizing group that brought a profoundly spiritual dimension to the sub-genre of "modal jazz" in the 1950s and 60s, while Konitz helped to usher in the urbane "cool school" with the likes of Miles Davis, Coltrane's one-time boss. Grimes played a notable role in the transition from "bebop" to "avant-garde", backing such legends as Thelonious Monk and Albert Ayler. Dibango was a pioneer of "Afro-jazz", fusing the rhythms and vocals of his native Cameroon with a love of American soloists in the 70s. As for Roney, he was one of the great virtuoso players of the 80s, 90s and twenty-first century, who performed brilliantly in both acoustic and electric settings.

Each time a death was announced, an important piece of living history disappeared.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


The Moral Order of the World Points to God: The so-called "moral argument" gives evidence of God's existence. But it also points to his goodness and grace. (INTERVIEW BY CHRISTOPHER REESE, MARCH 17, 2020, Christianity Today)

As far back as the Apostle Paul's famous speech on Mars Hill, Christian thinkers have been contending for the credibility of the faith. Among contemporary evangelicals, the so-called "moral argument" for God's existence is one of the most popular. Although the argument comes in a variety of forms, it draws on one central idea: If you're a moral realist (rather than a moral relativist) who believes in objective good and evil, then philosophically speaking, those ethical standards have to be anchored in a divine source. In other words, moral order doesn't make sense without God.

In their new book, The Moral Argument: A History (Oxford University Press), David Baggett, professor of philosophy at Liberty University, and Jerry L. Walls, professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University, trace the history of these arguments from their ancient roots to contemporary proponents like CS Lewis, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Tim Keller, and many others.

"The world has moral features to it that are best accounted for by theism," says Baggett. "What gives moral duties their authority? What gives human beings their essential dignity and inherent worth?" We can only answer these questions, argues Baggett, with direct reference to God's morally perfect nature and commands.

Christopher Reese spoke with Baggett about the influence of the moral argument and its relevance for both believers and nonbelievers today. [...]

As a scholar and teacher, how do you see students and others engage with the moral argument?

It's probably been most gratifying to see my doctoral students learn to think about the moral argument in both academically rigorous and eminently practical ways. Many of them are pastors, so they bring a practitioner's heart to their academic pursuits, and many of them have come to see the power of the moral argument in a number of fresh directions.

We often discuss the story of blogger Leah Libresco, who was an atheist until she eventually underwent a radical change of mind and became convinced that God exists. In her case, she came to think that it was her naturalistic assumptions that simply didn't cohere with the rest of her beliefs, including her strong convictions about virtue ethics. In other words, it was the moral argument that persuaded her.

In your opinion, how persuasive is the moral argument relative to other arguments for God's existence?

William Lane Craig has said that when he goes to colleges for debates, the moral argument is the one that tends to be the most persuasive among the audience. Similarly, when asked which argument from natural theology is the strongest, Alvin Plantinga says the moral argument.

Nothing much rides on which theistic argument is the most persuasive. The important thing is to see that the moral argument is an important apologetic resource and one that works best, I think, in tandem with other pieces of natural theology and special revelation. A number of factors likely contribute to the persuasive power of the moral argument. It has a disarming simplicity that appeals to the young, potential rigor that can appeal to the seasoned philosopher, and the resources to speak to everyone in between. Of course, no single argument in this arena reasonably can or should be expected to persuade everyone.

...while trying to arrive at the identical morality but absent any authority.  Authority being necessary or else each is entitled to his own.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


'Manipulative, deceitful, user': Tara Reade left a trail of aggrieved acquaintances: A number of those who crossed paths with Biden's accuser say they remember two things: She spoke favorably about her time working for Biden, and she left them feeling duped. (NATASHA KORECKI, 05/15/2020, Politico)

Harriet Wrye did a double take the first time she saw Tara Reade on television lodging sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden.

"Jim, that's Tara," the 79-year-old author and psychologist called out to her husband, "but she has a different name."

Wrye and her husband knew Reade as Tara McCabe, the woman who had rented a yurt on their 12-acre California property and tended to the couple's horses -- and her own -- for about 10 months beginning in 2017. They were well-acquainted with their former tenant, who frequently knocked on the door of their home seeking emotional support, asking for financial help or forgiveness for late rent payments, which they granted.

"I would sit down and talk to her and try to be encouraging and supportive," said Wrye, who noted Reade "had heart and some good qualities."

"This lack of money was hugely problematic for her, she was always on the ropes in that way."

Reade had spoken highly of Biden, the former boss who employed her as a staff assistant from late 1992 to August 1993, and never mentioned assault or harassment, Wrye recalls. But what Wrye remembers most is that by the time Reade left their property and moved on, Wrye felt burned.

After her husband suffered a brain injury that forced the couple to sell the property, Wrye said, Reade turned on them.

"She became really difficult," Wrye said. "She said, 'You're going to have to pay me to get me to leave.'"

"She was manipulative," said Wrye, a self-described feminist and social activist. "She was always saying she was going to get it together, but she couldn't. And 'could you help her'?"

Wrye's distressing experience with Reade wasn't an isolated case. Over the past decade, Reade has left a trail of aggrieved acquaintances in California's Central Coast region who say they remember two things about her -- she spoke favorably about her time working for Biden, and she left them feeling duped.

Welcome to Trumpdom...
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Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


Ahmaud Arberry Holds Us Accountable: Nobody belonged to the salt marshes of coastal Georgia more than Ahmaud Arbery. His family's roots there run more than 200 years deep. A native of those same marshes writes about who Ahmaud was, how well he was loved, and what his community must reckon with in the wake of his murder. (Jim Barger, Jr., May 2020, Bitter Southerner)

On Sunday morning February 23, 2020, I walked into darkness to the creek behind my home to watch the daybreak, new in all its glory. It's a habit of mine. The sun rose in streaks of color over the vast spartina marshes somewhere beyond the distant waves, lapping the shores of this barrier island deep in the recess of the Georgia bight where I was raised, where my wife was raised, where her people have been raised for generations as far back as folks can remember -- where together we are raising our two young sons. The tide was coming in at that golden hour, creeping across the fecund mud flats, sending fiddler crabs scurrying for cover. By the time Ahmaud Arbery had been murdered on a mainland street that afternoon at the southern end of our county, the tide had fallen again. Our dramatic tidal changes are shocking to those who aren't accustomed to them. The murky saline water ebbs and flows, rising and falling, pulsing with the ancient rhythms of the moon.

Ahmaud Arbery was from here. He descended from one of the oldest families in coastal Georgia, one of the oldest families in America for that matter. I know his relatives, personally, and I know their history. As we say in the South, "I know his people."  

As a young graduate student, before attending law school, I studied and documented African American folkways, specifically the 20th century folkways of the Georgia Sea Islands. For almost two years, I walked freely in all-black neighborhoods, knocking on doors, peeking into backyards and empty buildings, introducing myself, generally making a nuisance of myself -- and yet, I was always welcomed with a hospitality the likes of which I have not known since. For months at a time, I lived in an electric blue, single-wide trailer on an isolated island in the front yard of one of the families who supported my research and treated me like a son. Together we fished, hunted, and combed the beaches for conchs. We foraged for clams, saltwort, bay leaf, sassafras, wild grapes, wild herbs, and traditional medicines. They taught me sweetgrass basket-making and how to knit cast nets -- skills I never quite perfected. 

We worshipped and prayed together, ate smoked mullet and deviled crab together, drank cold beer and moonshine together, danced, laughed, and cried together. Mine was a strange white face intruding into their intensely private community, and yet not once did anyone demand me to explain what I was doing there or threaten my life because I was different or because they thought I didn't belong there. They treated me like a neighbor. Because of the friendship, love, and nurture they gave to me, I know exactly who Ahmaud Arbery's people are.

We can accurately trace Ahmaud's roots in the United States directly to the late 1700s when plantation owner Thomas Spalding, purchased captive Africans for forced labor on his rice and cotton plantation on Sapelo Island, the northernmost of the now loosely defined "Golden Isles" of the Georgia Sea Islands, which variously include St. Simons, Sea Island, Jekyll, Cumberland, and the mainland towns of Brunswick and Darien. The community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo is one of the few places left where direct descendants of enslaved people fastidiously preserve many of their West African words, syntax, roots, music, crafts, mythology, and traditions in a distinct Creole culture known as Geechee -- a word etymologists believe derives from the Kissi (pronounced Geezee) ethnic group of what today is known as coastal Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. 

During the War of 1812, Ahmaud's Geechee ancestors from Sapelo fought for the United States, even as we alienated all of the unalienable rights endowed upon them by their Creator and so extolled in our country's founding documents. After the Civil War, Ahmaud's ancestors bought their lands here as freedmen and paddled from the islands to the mainland in hand-hewn bateaus once every year to dutifully pay their taxes. Despite relentless attempts to steal their land, beat them down, and drive them out, Geechees like Ahmaud's ancestors thrived and settled throughout the Golden Isles and the mainland, living in harmony with this delicate estuarine ecosystem -- fishing, hunting, clamming, crabbing, oystering, and farming -- for more than a century before the first industrialists showed up to poison our waters with chemical plants and long before the first snowbirds arrived to convert our community into a sun-soaked playground for the rich and the retired. 

Ahmaud's birthright to this particular place is strong. His people's fight to maintain their ownership of this particular place is resolute. The dignity and kindness and richness of culture that they have imprinted on this place is indelible. And while that doesn't give him any greater right to life and justice than any other human anywhere, it does highlight the depravity of any argument that white men had a right to confront him with guns and end his life simply because he was a black man who stood his ground in their neighborhood, because he didn't explain and supplicate himself to them. 

But nobody belonged to this particular place more than Ahmaud Arbery. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM



Former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa posits that to the contrary of the Trumpian line, the volume of unmasking requests related to Flynn's behavior, is a bad look for him--not the Obama administration. "This does not help Flynn," she told me. "This is a long list of names of people across disparate areas of government who independently felt that the intelligence reports they were reading were so alarming that they needed to know--without knowing, by the way, who it was beforehand--[who] the person was that was engaging in that communication or activity." Driving this point home, Rangappa asked of Grenell, "Why not go ahead and disclose the underlying intelligence report?" In other words, if the Trumpian line of attack is that these Obama officials were acting inappropriately and without cause, make that case. Of course, conspiracy theories don't thrive in context. And transparency has never been the currency of Trumpworld; details be damned.

The guilt is why the Trump DOJ refused a court order to release the transcripts.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM



The number of coronavirus cases in Michigan increased by over 1,000 on the day of an armed anti-lockdown protest that demanded an immediate reopening of the state.

According to Michigan's Department of Health, at least 1,191 newly confirmed cases were reported on Thursday, as well as at least 73 deaths. It was a significant increase from the past few days, with at least 370 cases reported on Wednesday, 469 on Tuesday and 370 on Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


US Senate approves bill calling for tougher response to China's crackdown on Uighur Muslims (New Arab, 15 May, 2020)

The United States Senate unanimously approved legislation on Thursday calling on the White House to increase its pressure on China over its treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority.

The bipartisan bill urges President Donald Trump to toughen his response to China's crackdown and calls for sanctions against those responsible, Reuters reported.

Every regime that denies Muslims their right to self-determination should be treated similarly.

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Sweden's per capita coronavirus death toll is among the highest in the world -- a sign its decision to avoid a lockdown may not be working (Holly Secon and Ruobing Su, 5/14/20, BI)
At least 45 countries issued lockdowns to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in March and April. Sweden was not one of them.

Instead, the "Swedish model" encourages residents to voluntarily maintain social distance and allows businesses, restaurants, bars, and schools to remain open.

Data suggests the country may be paying a worrisome price, though: Sweden has a higher number of deaths per capita than many other countries with large outbreaks.

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


'I wouldn't vote for me if I believed Tara Reade': Biden says about sexual harassment allegations (Mike Memoli, 5/15/20, NBC News)

Former Vice President Joe Biden, after again emphatically denying the claim of a former staffer that he sexually assaulted her nearly three decades ago, acknowledged for the first time Thursday the dilemma now facing some potential supporters in November, saying: "They should vote with their heart."

"If they believe Tara Reade, they probably shouldn't vote for me. I wouldn't vote for me if I believed Tara Reade," Biden told Lawrence O'Donnell during an extended interview Thursday on MSNBC.

...and the Trumpbots say it's specifically why they support him.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


What 74 former Biden staffers think about Tara Reade's allegations (Daniel Bush & Lisa Dejardins, May 15, 2020, PBS News Hour)

Over his decades-long career in the Senate, former Vice President Joe Biden was known as a demanding but fair and family-oriented boss, devoted to his home life in Delaware and committed to gender equality in his office.

He was not on a list of "creepy" male senators that female staffers told each other to avoid in the elevators on Capitol Hill.

Yet Biden, now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was also a toucher, seemingly oblivious to whether physical contact made some women uncomfortable. That behavior has persisted in recent years. Biden is now facing fresh scrutiny after a former aide in March charged that he sexually assaulted her when she worked in his Senate office in the early 1990s, an allegation Biden has categorically denied.

The PBS NewsHour spoke with 74 former Biden staffers, of whom 62 were women, in order to get a broader picture of his behavior toward women over the course of his career, how they see the new allegation, and whether there was evidence of a larger pattern.

None of the people interviewed said that they had experienced sexual harassment, assault or misconduct by Biden. All said they never heard any rumors or allegations of Biden engaging in sexual misconduct, until the recent assault allegation made by Tara Reade. Former staffers said they believed Reade should be heard, and acknowledged that their experiences do not disprove her accusation. [...]

The interviews revealed previously unreported details about the Biden office when Reade worked there, such as an account that she lost her job because of her poor performance, not as retaliation for lodging complaints about sexual harassment, as Reade has said.

Other recollections from former staffers corroborated things she has described publicly, such as Biden's use of the Senate gym and a supervisor admonishing her for dressing inappropriately.

Overall, the people who spoke to the NewsHour described largely positive and gratifying experiences working for Biden, painting a portrait of someone who was ahead of his time in empowering women in the workplace.

"The one thing about Joe Biden is, he is a man of the highest character and that's why these accusations are so surreal and just can't comport with the man I worked with," said Marcia Lee Taylor, a senior policy advisor on the Judiciary Committee, where women held leading roles when Biden served as chairman.

But he had blindspots, which Biden himself has publicly acknowledged, when it came to how his interactions with women in public could make them uncomfortable.

One of the more delicious bits of gossip on the Hill these days is how oddly hot Brett Kavanaugh's clerks tend to be.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Study: Medieval arrows were as damaging as gunshots (PAUL RATNER, 15 May, 2020, Big Think)

A recent study found that one of the most powerful medieval weapons, the English longbow, was so forceful it could create wounds as bad as from modern gunshots. The bows, revealed a team of archaeologists from the University of Exeter in the U.K., could break long bones and were key to military victories like the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

This news looks to settle the long-standing debate about the impact of these weapons. 

David always beats Goliath.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Trump Now Rewriting History to Deny Russia Wanted Him to Win (Jonathan Chait, 5/14/20, New York)

Three years ago, American intelligence unanimously concluded that Russia's interference in the 2016 election had been designed, in part, to damage Hillary Clinton. But Trump has never accepted this finding, as it is woven into the narrative of his corrupt (if not provably criminal) relationship with Moscow. In 2018, a report by Devin Nunes's House Intelligence Committee ludicrously disputed the conclusion Russia even intervened on Trump's side at all.

Trump is not clever enough to realize that "I'm the toughest president on Russia, just ask Putin" is an obviously self-refuting defense.

In any case, you don't need to rely on the conclusions of intelligence officials to see that Russia developed a strong anti-Clinton, pro-Trump preference in the 2016 election. You don't even need to consider any of the surrounding facts that make this preference obvious, like Trump's financial ties with Moscow, or the icy hostility that grew out of Clinton's tenure as secretary of State. A handful of very well-known data points include:

1. Both Russia's domestic and international-facing propaganda organs openly touted Trump and attacked Clinton throughout the campaign.

2. Russian hackers stole Democratic Party emails and attempted to steal Clinton's immediately after Trump asked them to do so on national television.

3. A Russian agent held a meeting with top Trump campaign officials in 2016 to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton that was advertised in an email to Donald Trump Jr. as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


If Not 10,000, How Many Steps Should We Be Walking Each Day? (TANNER GARRITY,  MAY 15, 2020, Inside Hook)

Some 40 years later, an epidemiologist named I-Min Lee was in a friendly contest with her colleagues at the Harvard University School of Public Health to see which team could score the most overall steps per day. As the competition wore on and participants struggled to meet the daily goal of 10,000 steps, Lee did a little digging on the number and discovered the Yamasa backstory. And then, because this is Harvard we're talking about, she used her background in exercise study to launch a full research study, relating step volume with all-cause mortality in older women.

The number 10,000 didn't come up in her research, but the numbers 2,700 and 4,400 did. Over several years, she followed 17,000 women with a mean age of 72, and ultimately deduced that women who averaged 4,400 steps a day had lower mortality rates than those who averaged 2,700 steps a day. Her team's research suggested that 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. This was reinforced in another study published in March of this year, which found lower all-cause mortality for a sample size including a range of middle-aged men and women, 36% of whom were obese. Those who walked closer to 8,000 steps a day (as opposed to 4,000) were considered healthier. [...]

Interestingly, that system also puts brisk walkers at a disadvantage in the daily race to 10,000. Which is a bit of a shame -- fast walking is one of the healthiest daily habits available to us. A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in June 2019 found that people who routinely walk at least 100 steps a minute can expect to live 15-20 years longer. Not too shabby. The head researcher on the project, Dr. Francesco Zaccardi, a clinical epidemiologist at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, reported that longer life expectancies were evident across a massive variance of participating body mass indexes, from 20 all the way up to 40 (which is characterized as obese).

That's because motoring down the sidewalk isn't just a gimmicky advertisement for suburban living. Brisk walking is a legitimate form of low-intensity cardio. Performed every single day, quicker strides serve to strengthen the heart, and are likely to lessen risk of a cardiovascular disease later in life (which everyone is at risk for -- CVDs, remember, account for over 30% of global deaths each year). This isn't exactly groundbreaking stuff; there were studies on the importance of "stride rate" back in 2014. In one study, participants who reached at least 5,000 steps a day while mixing in aerobic steps (periods of walking 60 steps per minute) scored more desirable readings for body fat percentage, waist circumference and systolic blood pressure than those who reached 5,000 steps a day without any aerobic steps.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


I was a conspiracy theorist, too: I know why people turn to conspiracy theories in uncertain times. I did the same when my husband had a brain tumor. (Dannagal G. Young,  May 15, 2020, Vox)

I started searching for information to account for the causes of his brain tumor, which eventually led me down a dark internet rabbit hole. Perhaps there were chemicals at his job that caused the tumor, I thought. One of his 30-year-old coworkers had died of cancer several years prior. That seemed weird, didn't it? And now Mike with this brain tumor? When I mentioned this to his doctors, they pointed out that for a company of more than 300 employees, these numbers were far below average.

What about environmental carcinogens, then? I thought. We had recently moved to a new neighborhood near the site of an old diaper company that was in need of environmental remediation for spilled "chlorinated solvents and heating oil" from the 1970s and '80s. That seemed bad and probably had adverse effects, I thought. But Mike had started showing symptoms of the tumor just three weeks after we moved in, and the doctors explained that craniopharyngiomas don't appear that fast. It had likely been present in Mike's brain for years, maybe decades.

Each time I landed on a possible culprit, my anger reenergized me. Instead of making me feel hopeless, it gave me a target and suggested there might be some action I could take. If it were from his work or from an old factory site, maybe I could file a lawsuit. Maybe I could launch an investigation or trigger some media exposé. If I could just find the right person or thing to blame, I could get some justice. Or vengeance. Or ... maybe just a sense of control.

In 2001, social psychologists Jennifer Lerner and Dacher Keltner studied how anger and fear have very different effects on how we think about ourselves and our world. Their research found that feelings of anger (compared to fear) are associated with increased feelings of certainty, control, and optimism. Especially when people contemplate "ambiguous events" -- such as having a heart attack at a young age or being unable to find a job -- anger translates into higher perceptions of control. Once anger triggers feelings of control, feelings of optimism follow.

This is why identifying someone to blame for Mike's tumor gave me the focus and will to stop crying and get out of bed. Instead of wallowing in grief, I became a warrior furiously charging in a precise direction. My anger invigorated me; it lifted me up out of the sea of muck we were stuck in.

Under conditions of uncertainty, information that helps direct our negative emotions toward a target is psychologically comforting. When we feel powerless in a situation that is both complex and overwhelming, the identification of people and institutions to "blame" feels good to us.

This explains not only families lashing out when their loved ones are ill, but also the appeal of conspiracy theories more broadly. Especially in the context of ambiguous and terrible events like 9/11 or the Sandy Hook shooting, conspiracy theories increase perceptions of control. Such narratives typically point to the existence of secret plots by powerful actors working behind the scenes, either to cause the horrible chaos or to fabricate it. The anger we then feel toward these "powerful actors" is accompanied by a feeling of efficacy (confidence in one's ability to effectively navigate the world), hence increasing the likelihood that we will take action -- by engaging in political participation, protest, or, in the case of a loved one's medical situation, maybe filing a lawsuit.

For Hoffer's hero is 'the autonomous man,' the content man at peace with himself, engaged in the present.  In Hoffer's book, this hero, nourished by free societies, is set off against 'the true believer,' who begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and self-disgust to bury his own identity in a cause oriented to some future goal.
            -Editor's Preface to the Time-Life Books edition of The True Believer

How Conspiracies Became Trump's Governing Ideology (Alex Henderson, May 15 | 2020. National Memo)

On the far right, the racist conspiracy theory known as birtherism has faded into the background. The reactionary movement has moved on to new nefarious myths, including the QAnon miasma and claims that Dr. Anthony Fauci is using the coronavirus pandemic to undermine Donald Trump's presidency.

But journalist Adam Serwer, in a piece for The Atlantic this week, stresses that the importance of birtherism to the right wing goes way beyond their disdain for Obama -- it is part of a broader ideology of white nationalism and white supremacy. And the prominence of conspiracy theories features in other articles published this week by the Atlantic, including one by Jefferey Goldberg and another by Adrienne LaFrance.

"Birtherism is the baseless conjecture that the 44th president of the United States not only was born abroad and was therefore, ineligible for the presidency, but also, was a secret Muslim planning to undermine America from within," Serwer explains. "It is the combination of these two elements that transformed birtherism from mere false speculation about Obama's birth to a statement of values about who belongs in America and who does not."

According to Serwer, it is a mistake to think that birtherism was strictly about Obama. It was a celebration of white supremacist and white nationalist ideology in general, and Trump continued to embrace birtherism even when he quit questioning the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate.

"Birtherism was a statement of values, a way to express allegiance to a particular notion of American identity -- one that became the central theme of the Trump campaign itself: to Make America Great Again, to turn back the clock to an era where white political and cultural hegemony was unthreatened by black people, by immigrants, by people of a different faith," Serwer writes. "By people like Barack Obama. The calls to disavow birtherism missed the point: Trump's entire campaign was birtherism."

Trump, according to Serwer, doesn't have to talk about Obama's birth certificate in order to promote birtherism in 2020 -- his whole presidency has been one big assertion of birtherism.

What could more clrearly represent a loss of control for older white men than the election of a black president.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Musings on Neoliberalism (David Azerrad, May 14, 2020, American Compass)

Neoliberalism also seems too elastic a concept to be meaningful. [...]

In spite of these reservations, I have since come around, in part because I could not find a better alternative, but also because everyone else uses it and language is about common usage (English, in particular, is quite Hayekian in its embrace of a decentralized marketplace of words, unlike, say, the French with their Académie Française).

What exactly, then, is neoliberalism? This new liberalism, as Friedman explains, is an attempt to correct the "basic error" of nineteenth-century classical liberalism by its twentieth-century sympathizers. Classical liberalism failed to recognize that the state would need to do more than merely maintain order and enforce contracts. According to Friedman, it would also have to preserve competitive markets, ensure a stable monetary supply and alleviate misery.

For our purposes, the particulars of Friedman's account matter less than the fact that neoliberalism came to mean private property and free markets--i.e. no centrally planned economy in which the state owns the means of production--plus some additional state functions. Friedman limited himself to three, but the neoliberal framework could readily accommodate others, like environmental, health, and safety regulations, or entitlements.

In the broadest sense then, anyone who advocates neither pure laissez-faire nor full-blown collectivism could be described as a neoliberal. Thus understood, the term is essentially useless as it applies to anyone to the right of Marx and to the left of von Mises (who, in 1947, famously stormed out of the first meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society, which had been convened by Hayek, shouting "You're all a bunch of socialists!").

If neoliberalism is to have any meaning, we should instead identify its characteristic features, including the most capacious ones that account for the term's elasticity. Neoliberalism, as the term is used today (and it should be noted that it is almost always used pejoratively), appears to have four salient characteristics:

It is friendly to markets and business
It tends towards open borders on trade and immigration
It generally favors lower taxes and lighter regulation
It accepts the need for a welfare state and redistribution

This is, not coincidentally, the American consensus that the Right and Left rage against.  Their decompensation is perfectly understandable because this bargain represents a rejection of each of their projects. The Right imagined itself able to defend a capitalism without any wealth redistribution; the Left a system of wealth redistribution without any capitalism. Instead, experience taught us that redistribution only made capitalism more productive and only capitalism produced ever greater wealth for us to redistribute.  Globalization, being the universal spread of this reality--along with the other two planks of the End of History; democracy and capitalism--the resistance is as natural as it is futile.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Neofeudalism: The End of Capitalism? (Jodi Dean, 5/12/20, LA Review of Books)

Over the past decade, "neofeudalism" has emerged to name tendencies associated with extreme inequality, generalized precarity, monopoly power, and changes at the level of the state. Drawing from libertarian economist Tyler Cowen's emphasis on the permanence of extreme inequality in the global, automated economy, the conservative geographer Joel Kotkin envisions the US future as mass serfdom. A property-less underclass will survive by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, et cetera. The only way to avoid this neofeudal nightmare is by subsidizing and deregulating the high-employment industries that make the American lifestyle of suburban home ownership and the open road possible -- construction and real estate; oil, gas, and automobiles; and corporate agribusiness. Unlike the specter of serfdom haunting Friedrich Hayek's attack on socialism, Kotkin locates the adversary within capitalism. High tech, finance, and globalization are creating "a new social order that in some ways more closely resembles feudal structure -- with its often unassailable barriers to mobility -- than the chaotic emergence of industrial capitalism." In this libertarian/conservative imaginary, feudalism occupies the place of the enemy formerly held by communism. The threat of centralization and the threat to private property are the ideological elements that remain the same.

A number of technology commentators share the libertarian/conservative critique of technology's role in contemporary feudalization even as they don't embrace fossil fuels and suburbia. Already in 2010, in his influential book, You Are Not a Gadget, tech guru Jaron Lanier observed the emergence of peasants and lords of the internet. This theme has increased in prominence as a handful of tech companies have become ever richer and more extractive, turning their owners into billionaires on the basis of the cheap labor of their workers, the free labor of their users, and the tax breaks bestowed on them by cities desperate to attract jobs. Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet (the parent company name for Google) together are worth more than most every country in the world (except the United States, China, Germany, and Japan). The economic scale and impact of these tech super giants, or, overlords, is greater than that of most so-called sovereign states. Evgeny Morozov describes their dominance as a "hyper-modern form of feudalism."

You can see the problem with this analysis pretty easily: (1) those companies provide their services for free; (2) the current crisis demonstrates our willingness, even eagerness, to transfer wealth to folks who aren't doing any jobs at all.  The "lords" effectively provide for the "peasants" now.  It's why folks feel so guilty about enjoying the lockdown.  It's fun.

Universal basic income seems to improve employment and well-being (Donna Lu,  6 May 2020, New Scientist)

The world's most robust study of universal basic income has concluded that it boosts recipients' mental and financial well-being, as well as modestly improving employment.

Finland ran a two-year universal basic income study in 2017 and 2018, during which the government gave 2000 unemployed people aged between 25 and 58 monthly payments with no strings attached.

The payments of €560 per month weren't means tested and were unconditional, so they weren't reduced if an individual got a job or later had a pay rise. The study was nationwide and selected recipients weren't able to opt out, because the test was written into legislation.

Minna Ylikännö at the Social Insurance Institution of Finland announced the findings in Helsinki today via livestream.

The study compared the employment and well-being of basic income recipients against a control group of 173,000 people who were on unemployment benefits.

Between November 2017 and October 2018, people on basic income worked an average of 78 days, which was six days more than those on unemployment benefits.

There was a greater increase in employment for people in families with children, as well as those whose first language wasn't Finnish or Swedish - but the researchers aren't yet sure why.

When surveyed, people who received universal basic income instead of regular unemployment benefits reported better financial well-being, mental health and cognitive functioning, as well as higher levels of confidence in the future.

Money for nothing?: A universal basic income is not as costly as it sounds - and Scotland should be allowed to try it (Tom Miers, 14 May, 2020, The Critic)

In fact it's something of a mystery why it has never been tried properly, despite being suggested by everyone from Thomas More to Milton Friedman. For while the headline cost is astronomical, the net cost is zero. That's because those who are out of work at the moment are already receiving benefits, and those in work would, on aggregate, get back the extra that they paid in tax. If I'm paying £5,000 more in tax I'm not going to mind if I'm getting £5,000 back in UBI (perhaps even on the same payslip).

So in the age of the welfare state, where state support for the poorest is a given, the main attraction of UBI should be for the right, not the left. A universal payment eradicates the poverty traps created when people move off benefits and into work. If benefits are 'targeted' at the unemployed, as they are now, you sometimes barely gain when you get a job, so a lot of people prefer to stay on benefits. Paying everyone a minimum, whether in work or not, provides a powerful incentive to work.

All things considered, then, UBI should actually cost less than the current welfare state because you'd get more people in employment, allowing lower rates of tax/benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Working from home during coronavirus is going so well that this Fortune 100 company is going to keep doing it--permanently (LEE CLIFFORD, May 11, 2020, Fortune)

Most CEOs are anxiously counting the days until the coronavirus pandemic recedes, and employees can get back to the office. But Nationwide's CEO Kirt Walker has a slightly different take on working from home: It's working.

The company's pandemic experiment has gone so well that they've decided to make the arrangement permanent for many of the company's employees.

The shift took place fast--in early March, the privately held insurer (#75 on the 2019 Fortune 500) moved 98%+ of its 27,000 employees to working from home over five business days. "The first thing we wanted to do was keep our associates safe, stay connected to our members, and do our part for America to flatten the curve," says Walker.

But overall, once the tech issues were ironed out, there was a surprising finding: "We've tracked all of our key performance indicators, and there has been no change," says Walker, who joined as CEO in 2019. "We keep hearing from members, 'if you hadn't announced you were all working from home, we never would have known.'"

Just ending commuter culture will transform our lives.

May 14, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Michael Flynn's Fired Lawyers Just Filed Court Papers to Reappear in His Case (JERRY LAMBE, May 14th, 2020, Law & Crime)

The federal judge overseeing Michael Flynn's criminal prosecution has directed the law firm that Flynn fired to reappear as an interested party in the controversial proceeding. On Thursday, that firm complied by filing a notice of appearance.

When Donald and the Trumpbots fire lawyers it is always and only because the firms refuse to abet dishonest/illegal activity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Roger Stone Judge Orders White House to Turn Over Ukraine Emails Being Withheld from the Public (JERRY LAMBE, MAY 13, 2020, Law & Crime)

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. has ordered the White House to turn over 20 emails directly relating to President Donald Trump's decision to withhold congressionally appropriated military aid from Ukraine. The administration has refused to produce the communications thus far, claiming the documents are protected from public release by executive privilege.

The order, issued by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, stems from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the New York Times which sought communications between Michael Duffey, Principal Associate Director for National Security Programs at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Robert Blair, a senior advisor to then-Acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney.

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


The Secrets Flynn Was Desperate to Conceal (David Frum, 5/08/20, The Atlantic)

During the 2016 election, the Obama administration declined to hold Russia to account for its intervention. That's a story in itself. On December 29, 2016, however, the Obama administration did at last announce punitive sanctions on Russia.

The imminence of these sanctions triggered a flurry of communications between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. The Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, reached out to Flynn on December 28. Flynn was vacationing in the Dominican Republic, but on December 29, he spoke multiple times with Kislyak.

On December 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would not respond to the sanctions. That same day, Trump tweeted his thanks: "Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!" Another round of calls followed between Flynn and Kislyak.

What exactly happened here? At first, Trump's team denied that anything untoward had occurred. On January 15, 2017, Vice President-elect Mike Pence appeared on CBS's Face the Nation to assure the country that Flynn and Kislyak had not discussed the Obama sanctions. "He had sent a text to the Russian ambassador to express not only Christmas wishes but sympathy for the loss of life in the airplane crash that took place," Pence said, referring to a December 25, 2016, accident that had killed 92 people. "It was strictly coincidental that they had a conversation. They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia."

Pence's statement was not true. Flynn lied to the FBI about the calls. Back in 2017, Pence insisted that Flynn had lied to him too.

Flynn's lies mattered not because of some technicality about the Logan Act, the ancient and much-disregarded law forbidding private diplomacy. Flynn's lies mattered because they may have concealed a deal between Trump and Russia over sanctions.

The Flynn-Kislyak call was recorded by U.S. intelligence agencies. The judge in Flynn's case ordered that the call be released. The Department of Justice successfully resisted the order by arguing that the recording was irrelevant to Flynn's conviction and sentencing.

And so Congress and the public remain unaware of what exactly was said to dissuade the Russians from retaliating in December 2016, and what--if anything--the Russians asked for in return. Congress and the public remain ignorant about whether Flynn acted on his own or was directed by President-elect Trump. Congress and the public remain uncertain whether Pence had himself been deceived when he delivered a false reassurance on CBS in January 2017--or whether he was part of the deceit.

Flynn's lies protected Trump and the Trump administration.

As important as it was to know who in the Obama Administration was actually doing their job and unmasking the evildoers, it's even more important that we see the transcript of the Russian communications with the Trump campaign and transition team.  Release everything unless you're hiding something.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


Appeals court greenlights emoluments suit against Trump (JOSH GERSTEIN, 05/14/2020, Politico)

A lawsuit accusing President Donald Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting foreign government money through his luxury Washington hotel can proceed to fact-gathering about Trump's profits, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals voted, 9-6, to reject Trump's bid to shut down the lawsuit the governments of Maryland and the District of Columbia brought alleging violations of the Constitution's emoluments clauses.

Trump, who has vigorously fought a series of similar lawsuits for years, will now need relief from the Supreme Court if he wants to block Maryland and D.C. from pressing demands for his business records as his re-election campaign gets into full swing.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Coronavirus Is Mutating. That's Not Necessarily Good or Bad.: Notions that the novel coronavirus is evolving into a more threatening or benign form prey on our ignorance and fear. (JEREMY DRAGHI & C. BRANDON OGBUNU 05.14.2020, Undark)

For the most part, respected evolutionary biologists have chosen to avoid weighing in on these controversies, opting instead to remain above the fray. This is surprising considering that evolutionary biologists are accustomed to debating creationists, and to the art of public discourse around contentious ideas. Their relative silence leaves a gap that less restrained commenters have rushed to fill: Seemingly every mutation in the novel coronavirus has been spun as a sign that the virus is either adapting to better reproduce and spread in its environment or becoming less harmful.

While genomic differences between different strains of the novel coronavirus are stark facts, our interpretation of those differences can be a wellspring of controversy. And right now, the media coverage of SARS-CoV-2 suggests that the American public fundamentally misunderstands how evolution works -- and how to distinguish between two of its key driving forces, adaptation and genetic drift. The latter represents a gradual accumulation of chance events that have no true consequences for how a virus behaves. And when a particular genetic strain appears to make great leaps in its ability to thrive and proliferate, it's often genetic drift, not adaptation, that's at play.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow drove this point home with a letter and formal critique of the National Science Review study on L and S type viruses. The Glasgow researchers argued that among the study's many technical faults was a fundamental one: The study had failed to test whether the overabundance of the L type could have occurred without changes in the virus' infectiousness. In other words, the researchers had failed to consider a null model -- a model that would have tested whether the patterns they saw in the data could have been caused by random chance.

In casinos, null models give the lie to the notion of "lucky days," showing us that each play is independent of the others: A slot machine is just a machine, and contains about as much magic as the flip of a coin. In science, null models can be used to discipline inferential leaps. They are a reminder that, in most cases, the headline-grabbing explanations are less likely to bear out than the boring ones.

Null models are especially critical for making sense of the mounds of genetic information being collected about SARS-CoV-2 evolution. Evolutionary biologists use the term "genetic drift" to capture the roles of chance and luck in an organism's survival and reproduction, and any good null model must account for these effects of chance. While random, the accumulation of genetic drift across generations can have some surprising consequences; one string of evolutionary luck can cause a biologically insignificant, or neutral, mutation to become predominant in a population. The revelation that most genetic differences among species are neutral was controversial for decades but has now become conventional wisdom. The lesson it offers for the present moment is that most commonly encountered mutations of the novel coronavirus will have absolutely no bearing on the pathogen's ability to infect or sicken humans.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


REVEALED: The secret US-Iran deal that installed Kadhimi in Baghdad (David Hearst, 14 May 2020, Middle East Eye)

The nomination of Mustafa al-Kadhimi as Iraqi prime minister was the result of a horse trade between the US and Iran in which Tehran agreed to back the former intelligence chief in return for an unfreezing of some of its assets targeted by sanctions, senior Iraqi political sources have told Middle East Eye.

The US policy of exerting "maximum pressure" on Iran will not change, but the US agreed to de-escalate militarily in the Gulf and to "look the other way" if a third-party country in Europe released some of the Iranian money frozen when sanctions were applied, the Iraqi sources said.

All of our interests in the Middle East are mutual.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump, GOP launch broad attack on Russia probe foundations (ERIC TUCKER and JONATHAN LEMIRE, 5/14/20, AP) 

Names of Americans are routinely hidden, or minimized, in intelligence reports that describe routine, legal surveillance of foreign targets. U.S. officials may make a specific request if they want to know the person's identity, or "unmask" them.

Biden and the other officials had full authority to seek the name of the unidentified American in the reports -- it turned out to be Flynn -- and did so through proper channels, according to Trump administration documents. Rather than reveal any actual wrongdoing, the release of the information by the president's allies seems designed to create suspicion around Biden and other senior Democrats as the November election approaches.

Open Source everything.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Inside Trump's coronavirus meltdown: What went wrong in the president's first real crisis -- and what does it mean for the US? (Edward Luce, 5/14/20, Financial Times)

In hindsight, Trump's claim to global leadership leaps out. History will mark Covid-19 as the first time that ceased to be true. US airlifts have been missing in action. America cannot even supply itself.

South Korea, which has a population density nearly 15 times greater and is next door to China, has lost a total of 259 lives to the disease. There have been days when America has lost 10 times that number. The US death toll is now approaching 90,000.

What has gone wrong? I interviewed dozens of people, including outsiders who Trump consults regularly, former senior advisers, World Health Organization officials, leading scientists and diplomats, and figures inside the White House. Some spoke off the record.

Again and again, the story that emerged is of a president who ignored increasingly urgent intelligence warnings from January, dismisses anyone who claims to know more than him and trusts no one outside a tiny coterie, led by his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner - the property developer who Trump has empowered to sideline the best-funded disaster response bureaucracy in the world.

People often observed during Trump's first three years that he had yet to be tested in a true crisis. Covid-19 is way bigger than that. "Trump's handling of the pandemic at home and abroad has exposed more painfully than anything since he took office the meaning of America First," says William Burns, who was the most senior US diplomat, and is now head of the Carnegie Endowment.

"America is first in the world in deaths, first in the world in infections and we stand out as an emblem of global incompetence. The damage to America's influence and reputation will be very hard to undo."

The psychology behind Trump's inaction on Covid-19 was on display that afternoon at the CDC. The unemployment number had come out that morning. The US had added 273,000 jobs in February, bringing the jobless rate down to a near record low of 3.5 per cent. Trump's re-election chances were looking 50:50 or better. The previous Saturday, Joe Biden had won the South Carolina primary. But the Democratic contest still seemed to have miles to go. Nothing could be allowed to frighten the Dow Jones.

Any signal that the US was bracing for a pandemic - including taking actual steps to prepare for it - was discouraged.

"Jared [Kushner] had been arguing that testing too many people, or ordering too many ventilators, would spook the markets and so we just shouldn't do it," says a Trump confidant who speaks to the president frequently. "That advice worked far more powerfully on him than what the scientists were saying. He thinks they always exaggerate."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ex-FBI official reportedly undercut DOJ's argument for dropping the Flynn case, and nobody's informed the judge (The Week, 5/14/20)

Justice Department officials involved in the Flynn case interviewed Priestap last week, two days before Shea signed the extraordinary motion to dismiss the case, The New York Times reports. Priestap said their interpretation of his memo -- and the one pushed by Flynn's lawyers and Fox News personalities -- was wrong. "He said that FBI officials were trying to do the right thing in questioning Mr. Flynn and that he knew of no effort to set him up," the Times reports.

Priestap's memo reflected his own thoughts on the FBI'S internal debate about inteviewing Flynn. "What's our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?" Priestap wrote, adding: "Protect our institution by not playing games." His notes also show the FBI "softened its interview strategy" with Flynn, giving him hints to refresh his memory of his conversations, the Times reports. Nevertheless, Flynn "lied repeatedly, and prosecutors have said that agents gave him 'multiple opportunities to correct his false statements by revisiting key questions.'"

Justice Department officials "did not tell Judge Sullivan about Mr. Priestap's interview," though an official said they will submit a report on the interview soon, the Times reports. That may not sit well with Sullivan, who has already expressed skepticism over the DOJ's motion to dismiss the case.

No one takes the motion seriously as a matter of law; it's just service to a corrupt master.  Judges don't love that.

May 13, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Federal judge mulls contempt charge against Michael Flynn (JOSH GERSTEIN and KYLE CHENEY, 05/13/2020, Politico)

Sullivan said he's also asking the retired judge, John Gleeson, to recommend whether Flynn should face a criminal contempt charge for perjury--apparently for declaring under oath at two different court proceedings that he was guilty of lying to the FBI, before he reversed course an January and claimed he had never lied.


There's probably a very good reason why the original unmasking doesn't show up on this list, which reflects only NSA products and only finished intelligence reports. According to Jim Comey's testimony, the FBI found the Kislyak-Flynn calls, not the NSA.

And so the last couple days of December and the first couple days of January, all the Intelligence Community was trying to figure out, so what is going on here? Why is this -- why have the Russians reacted the way they did, which confused us? And so we were all tasked to find out, do you have anything [redacted] that might reflect on this? That turned up these calls at the end of December, beginning of January. And then I briefed it to the Director of National Intelligence, and Director Clapper asked me for copies [redacted], which I shared with him.

That's consistent with Mary McCord's testimony, which made it clear no one had to refer this transcript to the FBI, because it was the FBI's.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


The Strange Origins Of Trump's Hydroxychloroquine Obsession: How a "philosopher" who tweets anti-Semitism, two bitcoin bros and right-wing media helped put an idea in the president's head ( Nick Robins-Early, 5/13/20, HuffPo)

President Donald Trump's obsession with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus may have started in part because of a self-described philosopher in China who is a fan of white nationalists, tweets anti-Semitic rhetoric and calls chloroquine "a Nazi drug that is here to teach a lesson to leftists about bias." 

Weeks before Trump first promoted the drug, a Twitter conversation about hydroxychloroquine between "philosopher" Adrian Bye and two cryptocurrency investors set off a chain of events that would bring the unproven drug to the attention of Elon Musk, Fox News pundits and Trump. 

Trump has touted hydroxychloroquine as potentially "one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine" and repeatedly promoted its use on the coronavirus. He has asked about it both in public and privately, until recently mentioning it on a nearly daily basis, and the Trump administration has allegedly pressured health officials to distribute it despite their concerns about its safety. The drug's bizarre path to Trump's embrace highlights a dangerous information pipeline from questionable sources in right-wing media to the president.

On March 11, cryptocurrency investors Gregory Rigano and James Todaro mused about coronavirus treatments and potential death tolls on Twitter to their then-small number of followers. Bye, who says he has been living in the Wudang Mountains in central China for the past few years and formerly interviewed tech "thought leaders" for his startup, responded to one of Todaro's tweets about the virus. 

"Chloroquine will keep most people out of hospital. The US hasn't learned about that yet," Bye replied to Todaro. [...]
Bye, Rigano and Todaro are questionable sources for medical advice on coronavirus treatment and public health. Neither Bye nor Rigano is a doctor ― Bye has openly stated he's not qualified to talk about medicine  ― and Todaro is a medical school graduate who became a tech entrepreneur. 

In addition to his lack of medical expertise, Bye also appears to repeatedly engage with bigoted ideology and far-right extremists. Bye has repeatedly tweeted anti-Semitic ramblings, has replied to white nationalists such as Richard Spencer and once tweeted a link to an Australian website that has promoted Holocaust denial. In one thread, he complained about Jews taking over "major power centers" and speculated about "Jewish verbal IQ" while asking if another user had "even read Mein Kampf?" He has stated "my hobby is researching Jews. It is very enjoyable."

It's the Trumpbot wheelhouse.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Someone at the CDC Leaked Another Pandemic Plan the White House Doesn't Want You to See (Paul Blest, May 13 2020, Vice)

The White House is dealing with a second major leak from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in less than a week, which again shows the agency offering more detailed and restrictive guidance on reopening the country.

Last month, the CDC developed a 63-page guide called the "Guidance for Opening Up America Again Framework" for stopping the spread of the coronavirus. The plan offers more details than both the previously leaked CDC guide, and the plan released by the White House in April, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

The guide was leaked by an anonymous source, who the AP said was "not authorized to share the document with the press."

But the second leak reflects growing dissent inside the agency on how the federal government is handling the pandemic. CDC officials were reportedly "uncomfortable" tying their guidance on mitigation to reopening the country and voiced their objections to the White House, according to the AP.

Samantha Power must have leaked it...

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Court in Devin Nunes Libel Lawsuit: "The Tedious and Laborious Exercise ...  (EUGENE VOLOKH, 5/13/20, THE VOLOKH CONSPIRACY)

From Judge C.J. Williams' decision yesterday in NuStar Farms, LLC v. Lizza (N.D. Iowa): [...]

The tedious and laborious exercise of dissecting each of the sixteen bullet points illustrates the deficiency of plaintiffs' complaint. The complaint is not at all clear as to which facts asserted in these bullet points plaintiffs allege are actually false. Knowing which assertions plaintiffs allege are false is necessary for defendants to be able to answer the complaint and assert a defense. As the Court pointed out as it addressed each bullet point, some of the alleged facts may be defended as opinions or conclusions, others may be defended as not concerning plaintiffs, and still others may be defended as being true. Without knowing which of the facts plaintiffs allege are actually false, defendants are left not knowing how to answer the complaint.

The exercise also shows that the complaint fails to allege facts which, if proven, would show that any of the alleged facts are false. In short, the Court finds this is one of the rare instances when a more definite statement is required under Rule 12(e). Although defendants have urged the Court to dismiss the complaint outright under Rule 12(b)(6), to do so here would require the Court to guess as to what exactly plaintiffs are claiming are the false statements. Even if the Court granted such a motion at this stage, it would be a dismissal without prejudice allowing plaintiffs leave to file an amended complaint to allege facts that would state a claim. Without knowing precisely what plaintiffs are claiming, the Court cannot say that plaintiffs are incapable of alleging facts which, if proven, would state a defamation claim against defendants.

The Court fully understands that in determining whether a publication is defamatory, the Court must view the publication as a whole. The Court also understands that plaintiffs are proceeding at least in part on a theory of implied defamation by juxtaposition.  Yet, for defendants to be able to answer the complaint, or for this Court   to analyze whether the complaint is subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) because it fails to state a claim, it is first necessary that the complaint itself be intelligible.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Why the Flynn Interview Was Predicated (Barbara McQuade, May 13, 2020, lawfare)

The Justice Department's motion to dismiss the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is flawed in many ways, but one of its weakest arguments is that the investigation of Flynn was not properly "predicated." This argument not only lacks merit--it also opens the door to the same frivolous argument from future defendants in other criminal cases. And it creates a dangerous incentive that could dissuade the FBI from fulfilling its duty to fully investigate criminal and national security threats. [...]

According to the Justice Department inspector general, the Flynn investigation was properly predicated as a full investigation. In his report on the FBI's conduct in the Russia investigation, the inspector general stated, "[T]he quantum of information articulated by the FBI to open these individual investigations [that is, the investigations into Flynn as well as Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort] was sufficient to satisfy the low threshold established by Department and FBI predication policy, particularly in the context of the FBI's separate and ongoing investigative efforts to address Russian interference in 2016 U.S. elections."

Key to the Justice Department's argument in its motion to dismiss is the fact that, after four months of investigation without finding any derogatory information, the FBI was prepared to close its case on Flynn. A draft internal FBI document dated Jan. 4, 2017, shows that the bureau had sketched out a memo closing the probe, though the document includes the usual caveat that if new information were identified, the FBI would consider reopening the investigation.

But before the case was actually closed, the FBI learned that Flynn had spoken to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016. According to the Justice Department's motion, the FBI had transcripts of the relevant calls, likely obtained through surveillance of Kislyak authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. By this time, Flynn had been named as Trump's national security adviser.

In those calls, Flynn had asked Russia not to retaliate for sanctions imposed by the Obama administration as punishment for election interference. Flynn had also asked Russia to vote against a United Nations resolution regarding Israeli settlements. On their face, these calls potentially undermined the foreign policy of the United States. What's more, on Jan. 15, 2017, Mike Pence, then the vice president-elect, made public statements that contradicted the transcripts of Flynn's calls-- a fact that, as documented in the Mueller report, "alarmed senior DOJ [Department of Justice] officials." And so, the FBI decided to keep the investigation open. FBI agents interviewed Flynn on Jan. 24, four days after Trump took office. During that interview, Flynn falsely denied his statements regarding sanctions and the U.N. vote. He later pleaded guilty to one count of false statements for telling these lies.

The Justice Department now insists that the Kislyak call did not establish adequate predication for the FBI to conduct this interview. But there was no need for new predication for the interview--because predication had already been established. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


It feels like 2008 all over againThe odds of a big blue wave sweeping Democrats to power are growing, with even red-state Republicans growing nervous about their political position. (Josh Kraushaar, May 12, 2020, Hotline)

Republicans are growing increasingly worried that President Trump's shaky political position will not just cost them the presidency, but also sweep in a Democratic Senate majority and further diminish their House minority. The latest round of polling shows the president losing to Joe Biden, as well as Democrats gaining ground in red-state Senate seats that once looked like long shots, from Georgia to Montana to Kansas. There's a growing chance that Democrats may capture control of the Senate with a seat or two to spare.

The current political environment is reminiscent of 2008, two years after Democrats swept control of the House and Senate under President George W. Bush. It's mostly remembered for Barack Obama's historic election, but the Democrats' downballot dominance was just as remarkable. Riding deep dissatisfaction with GOP leadership, Democrats expanded their Senate majority to a near filibuster-proof margin and won House seats in some of the most reliably conservative territory in the country.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New York City breaks record: 58 straight days with no pedestrian deaths (Jon Haworth, May 13, 2020, ABC News)

New York City Department of Transportation Polly Trottenberg revealed in testimony before the City Council Transportation Committee on Tuesday that it has now been 58 consecutive days since a pedestrian has been fatally struck and killed in the city.

This marks the longest stretch since the city began tracking pedestrian fatalities in 1983, according to ABC News' New York City station WABC.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

PANIC IN BAGEL PARK (self-reference alert):

Americans Have Baked All the Flour AwayThe pandemic is reintroducing the nation to its kitchens. (AMANDA MULL, MAY 12, 2020, The Atlantic)

Over the past few months, the best place to trace America's deepening pandemic anxieties has been the shelves of grocery and big-box stores. The first common household goods to disappear were disinfectants: hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, Lysol. Bottled water and toilet paper were snatched up once companies started advising workers to stay home. Next up were rice and dried pasta, followed by video-game consoles, microphones used to record podcasts, and at-home pedicure supplies.

Amid these disappearances, one of the most persistent has been that of an extremely common, shelf-stable product that has no obvious link to cleanliness or quarantine at all: flour. At first, flour hung around on shelves while people bought up dried beans and canned tomatoes. Then, several weeks ago, while America watched as unsold vegetables were plowed back into the soil and fretted over the earliest outbreaks among midwestern meatpackers, one flour company quietly saw its sales skyrocket 2,000 percent. Flour was nowhere to be found in stores, and it soon disappeared from the internet. Quickly, evidence that a person had bought and used flour became proof of her irredeemable profligacy to people who love to get mad online, who grew frustrated by the baking projects of those who had found flour when they hadn't. Home bakers were accused of flour privilege. Never had emotions run so high about milled wheat.

For most other products vaporized by pandemic demand, supplies are bouncing back. Manufacturers are catching up, or the spike is subsiding. But scooping up a bag of flour still often depends on dumb luck, even as packaged bread and other flour-based processed foods remain abundant. It doesn't take much detective work to figure out where it's all going: Facebook has been flooded with photos of homemade focaccias, pancakes, and banana breads. On Twitter, people are on their third or fourth wave of backlash to sourdough as a concept. Americans are baking a ton, and the nation's flour supply has fallen victim to our newfound hobby.

The story of the missing flour seems to be different from reports of hoarding, black markets, or panic buying that have caused other persistent shortages during the pandemic. Faced with the quick collapse of the country's robust convenience economy, which has adapted to feeding people millions of sandwich-bread slices, burger buns, croissants, and pizza crusts every day, Americans have been forced to confront a fundamental bargain that the food system had made on their behalf: The broad availability of prepared and processed foods means that a lot of people have no idea what they're doing in the kitchen. Now millions of people are hurtling backward into an existence where frequent breadmaking feels like an elemental part of American life.

For flour manufacturers, the deluge has come in two separate waves. In mid-March, flour shelves thinned out, but mostly didn't empty, as people were stocking up on all kinds of staples they'd need to stay home for a few weeks of regular cooking. "It was very similar to what you'd see during a hurricane, except it was happening all over the United States," says Brent Minner, a marketing director for Hometown Food Company, which owns the White Lily, Pillsbury, Arrowhead Mills, and Martha White brands of flour. The real flour rush began in late March, as it became clear that states' initial stay-at-home orders would likely be extended. Minner says market-wide demand shot up more than 160 percent, with no signs of abating: "We are making the flour as fast as we possibly can and shipping it to our customers, and it's flying off the shelves as soon as it gets there."

I sometimes feel like Superfly, with folks asking me if I can hook them up with some of the white stuff.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Coronavirus Proved the Value of Migrant Workers to Canada (Bethany Hastie, 5/11/20, National Interest)

In the current pandemic, the essential nature of the work done by temporary migrants has been brought into sharp focus. Concerns about how current border closures and travel restrictions would impact the migrant workforce in the agriculture industry were raised by farmers across the country.

They feared the collapse of their crop, their business and their own livelihood if migrant workers were not permitted to come to Canada this season. Currently, temporary workers are being allowed to continue travelling to Canada but there have been delays.

For some products, such as honey, the specialized skills and knowledge of migrant workers was further highlighted as essential, given the length of time that would be required to train a new workforce in that industry.

Now that migrant workers have been spotlighted, as well as the true value of the work they do in Canada and for Canadians, it's time Canada dramatically improved their working conditions, their pay, their legal rights and their opportunity to immigrate to Canada.

Although migrant workers are not paid less than Canadian counterparts, one of the hallmarks of the Canadian jobs they fill is low wages. This is especially so in industries that are predominantly made up of migrant workers, like agriculture and in-home caregiving. [...]

As the current pandemic has demonstrated, migrant workers in low-wage occupations are just as vital to the Canadian economy as skilled workers, and should similarly be given the opportunity to permanently immigrate.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump is getting trounced among a crucial constituency: The haters (DAVID SIDERS, 05/12/2020, Politico)

Of the nearly 20 percent of voters who disliked both Clinton and Trump in 2016, Trump outperformed Clinton by about 17 percentage points, according to exit polls.

Four years later, that same group -- including a mix of Bernie Sanders supporters, other Democrats, disaffected Republicans and independents -- strongly prefers Biden, the polling shows. The former vice president leads Trump by more than 40 percentage points among that group, which accounts for nearly a quarter of registered voters, according to a Monmouth University poll last week.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



A Republican state representative has rejected racism allegations after sharing a meme he created showing a group of black children along with the caption: "We gon' get free money!"

Jim Lucas, a GOP member of the Indiana House of Representatives, was criticized after sharing the image on his Facebook page, which came as Democrats prepared to propose a further coronavirus aid package.

The lawmaker has previously courted controversy with his actions on social media, having last year commented a picture of gallows underneath a news story about a black man who had pleaded guilty to rape.

No one hates just Mexicans.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



A large majority of Americans have seen either no change to their household income or an improvement to it since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, according to a new survey commissioned by

The poll, conducted by YouGov, found that 58 percent of adult Americans had no change to their income since the crisis started and a further 12 percent reported an increase, even as the economy has crashed into what looks like a deep recession.

Add in the deflation and one starts to feel guilty, even before considering time to spend with family, work on projects, etc. Hasten the robot overlord takeover.

May 12, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


Trump approval dips amid mounting coronavirus death toll, trails Biden by 8 points: Reuters/Ipsos poll (Chris Kahn, 5/12/20, Reuters)

The poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday showed that 41% of U.S. adults approved of Trump's performance in office, which is down 4 points from a similar poll that ran in mid-April. Fifty-six percent disapprove of Trump, up by 5 points in the same span.

It also found that 46% of registered voters said they would back Biden in the Nov. 3 presidential election, while 38% would vote for Trump. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM



Amy McGrath is hedging her entire campaign against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on lightning striking twice in Kentucky--that is, a Democrat going up against a deeply unpopular Republican incumbent and winning.

The 44-year-old former Marine is counting on McConnell's unpopularity--polls show he's one of the single least-liked lawmakers in the country--to turn his seat blue this November. After all, deep dissatisfaction with Republican Governor Matt Bevin was enough to get him ousted from office in 2019.

"People in Kentucky know that he doesn't care about them and they want him gone. They're tired of him," McGrath said about McConnell during an interview with Newsweek.

"I think against an unpopular incumbent, a Democrat can win here. That's what the governor's race showed. And Mitch McConnell is not well-liked here."

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Acting intelligence chief has declassified names of Obama officials who 'unmasked' Flynn (Zachary Cohen, Alex Marquardt, Evan Perez and Chandelis Duster, 5/12/20, CNN)

Many of the documents illustrate the alarm among US national security officials in 2016 about Russians' election interference, and the effort by US officials to figure out why the Russians were seeking to aid Trump's election, and why Trump and people associated with his campaign seemed to be openly and discreetly encouraging such help. [...]

And while Grenell has insisted that the declassification is about increased transparency, the material notably does not include a transcript of Flynn's calls with former Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, during the Trump transition in 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


George Soros: Trump's self-destruction 'exceeded my wildest expectations' (Caitlin Yilek, May 11, 2020, Washington Examiner)

Soros told the Independent he has rooted for Trump's downfall, and the president is succeeding in granting him his wish.

"I have put my faith in Trump to destroy himself, and he has exceeded my wildest expectations," Soros said in the interview published Monday.

In response to the interviewer's remark about Trump not representing the "values of an open and free society," Soros said it's a "weakness that I hope will not last very long."

"Donald Trump would like to be a dictator. But he cannot be one because there is a constitution in the United States that people still respect. And it will prevent him from doing certain things. That does not mean that he will not try, because he is literally fighting for his life," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


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Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Reddit's QAnon Casualties is a home for survivors of the conspiracy (Mike Rothschild, 5/12/20, Daily Dot)

There are now so many people who have lost someone they care about to the Tom Clancy-meets-Dan Brown militia fantasy of QAnon that they've formed their own community on Reddit: r/QAnonCasualties. 

And their stories are heartbreaking tales of husbands and wives who no longer speak, destroyed friendships, siblings who chose QAnon over their family, parents who don't speak to their children anymore. There's is the misery of people who have had their loved ones taken in by a joyless, violent cult that promises "pain" to the enemies of freedom, but, in reality, only delivers it to the people who love those ones who believe in it. 

R/QAnonCasualties was created in July by Reddit user Squawkomodile, who introduced the sub with a long post about their relationship with their mother was decaying as she sank deeper and deeper into QAnon.

"My mom has been into QAnon since it got started," the first post begins. "The ignorance, bigotry, and refusal to question "the plan" have only gotten worse over time. I'm always torn between stopping communication with her because it only seems to make me feel terrible, and feeling like it's my responsibility to try to lead her back to reality. We barely talk anymore, but when we did, she used nearly every conversation as an 'in' to bring up Q."

"Having a loved one involved in QAnon is an exhausting, sad, scary, demoralizing experience," it continues.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Fauci's Senate testimony debunked a number of Trump's favorite coronavirus lies (Aaron Rupar, May 12, 2020, Vox)

Trump, for instance, has repeatedly insisted that the coronavirus "is going to disappear," including as recently as last week. But in response to a question from Sanders, Fauci made clear that is not going to happen.

"When you talk about 'will this virus just disappear' -- and I've said publicly many times, that is just not gonna happen because it's such a highly transmissible virus," he said. "And even if we get better control over several months, it is likely that there will be virus someone on this planet that will eventually get back to us."

Fauci also agreed with a question Sanders asked him about whether he concurs with experts who have concluded the US coronavirus death toll, which has reached more than 80,000, represents an undercount -- comments undercutting arguments Trump and his advisers have reportedly embraced in private about official death numbers being inflated.

"Most of us feel that the number of deaths are likely higher than that number, because given the situation particularly in New York City when they were really strapped with a very serious challenge to their health care system, that there may have been people who died at home who did have Covid who were not counting as Covid, because they never really got to the hospital," Fauci said.

When Trump hasn't been engaged in wishful thinking or denialism, he's tried to shift blame for the US's coronavirus woes, going as far as to absurdly attack former President Barack Obama for not developing tests for a virus that didn't even exist at the time he was president.

During Tuesday's hearing, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) asked Fauci if Obama did anything that "made the likelihood of creating a vaccine less likely." Fauci quickly dismissed the question -- and, by implication, Trump's talking point.

"No, senator, not at all," Fauci said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


The Early Days of the Coronavirus Outbreak in Wuhan (Bernhard Zand und Veronika Hackenbroch, 12.05.2020, Der Spiegel)

More than four months after fish monger Chen became one of the very first people to come down with the respiratory illness later named COVID-19, there are a number of theories and opinions in circulation about the origins and spread of the illness. DER SPIEGEL has reconstructed events in Wuhan in an effort to learn how the outbreak could have happened and what took place in the early days in the city's hospitals and health agencies. And to learn whether the global pandemic could have been prevented if officials, doctors and politicians had behaved differently. In short, to learn who might share the blame for this pandemic.

This reconstruction is based on numerous discussions and meetings, on reporting in Wuhan itself but also on reporting by Chinese journalists. A complete picture can only be provided by an in-depth international investigation of the kind being demanded by experts and politicians around the world - an investigation that Beijing has thus far resisted. But it can already be said with certainty that mistakes were made in Wuhan - and that the global spread of the disease could, at the very least, have been slowed.

It isn't known when and where the first person became infected with SARS-CoV-2. But it is considered extremely likely that the precursor to the pathogen comes from bats - and based on genetic analysis, it is believed that the virus jumped to humans only one single time, at some point in fall 2019.

That is rather unusual. It is generally the case that a longer process of genetic adaptation is necessary before a virus that originates in animals can be passed from human to human. Generally, humans repeatedly become infected by animals before a pathogen mutates such that it can be passed from person to person. But SARS-CoV-2 followed a different path. Researchers believe that a specific genetic sequence is responsible, one that joined the genome that produced SARS-CoV-2 predecessor completely by chance. It is that sequence that has made it so easy for the virus to spread.

Researchers have two hypotheses for the beginning of the pandemic: Either this genetic sequence was added to the virus when it was still reproducing in its animal host - whether it be bats, pangolins or raccoon dogs - so that the first person who became infected was immediately able to pass it along. Or a precursor was circulating unnoticed for months, but wasn't particularly contagious before the new sequence was added.

Either way, close contact between humans and animals provide ideal conditions for viruses to jump to humans. And those conditions were present at a wildlife market in Wuhan.

On Dec. 26, the day when the fish monger Chen Qingbo checked into the Central Hospital of Wuhan, the pulmonologist Zhang Jixian, 54, had her first encounter with the virus at a different clinic in Wuhan. An elderly patient was suffering from a fever, a cough and breathing difficulties and tests for influenza and other, similar illnesses had all come back negative. Dr. Zhang ordered a CT scan of the patient's lungs and found that she was suffering from a severe and unusual form of pneumonia.

One day later, the neurological department asked Zhang for assistance with an elderly patient experiencing similar symptoms. His CT scan had also revealed severe pneumonia. The doctors soon figured out that the male patient and the female patient were married. "I realized that something wasn't right," Zhang would later tell the state-run news agency Xinhua.

The doctor learned that the son of the two patients had brought them to the hospital and she convinced him to submit to a CT scan of his own lungs. "He resisted initially," according to Zhang. "He had no symptoms and thought we wanted to get him to undergo an expensive procedure."

Once the scan was performed, though, it revealed the same lesions on the lungs that his parents had. For Zhang, it all pointed to a "contagious disease," and after a few more tests, she was convinced. "It wasn't a normal illness." That same day, she reported her findings to the authorities.

People suffering from the same symptoms were showing up at other hospitals in the city as well. Most had one thing in common: Like Chen Qingbo, they had been traders, suppliers or customers of the Huanan market.

Before it was closed down, the market consisted of two large halls separated by a broad road. Each hall contained dozens of stands and Chen's stand was in the eastern part of the market, where primarily fish and shellfish were on offer. In one corner of the larger, western half of the market, there were several stands that offered exotic wares like snake, fox and salamander meat along with scorpions, crocodiles, live hedgehogs (for the equivalent of 4.50 euros per kilogram), living wolf pups (3 euros) and civets (32 euros). Civets are thought to be the transmitter of the SARS coronavirus that began spreading in southern China in 2002.

In such markets, animals are crammed into cages in horrific conditions, and images taken from this part of the market in Wuhan before it was shuttered on Jan. 1 show dismal-looking stands with dire hygienic conditions. Even today, more than four months later, you can still smell the rotten stench if you approach the site, which has been completely cordoned off.

"They allegedly also sold pangolins there," says Chen Qingbo. "But I never saw them. I never went over to those stands. I find wild animals to be dirty and I'm afraid of them." The eastern part of the market, by contrast, was a completely normal Chinese market, says Qingbo. "Even the restrooms were OK. They were cleaned every day."

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


Gov. Brian Kemp's approval rating stands at 39% weeks after he reopened Georgia (Jake Lahut, 5/12/20, BI)

Kemp, a 57-year-old Republican, made headlines in mid-April when he became the first governor to announce a large scale reopening initiative, with sectors from hair salons to bowling alleys opening their doors despite the Peach State not meeting the CDC's recommendations for a requisite decline in cases and other factors.

In the poll, Republican and Democratic governors who have overseen more stringent stay-at-home measures saw high approval ratings, such as Ohio's Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who has 86% approval.

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM


Trump promotes conspiracy theory accusing MSNBC's Joe Scarborough of murder (QUINT FORGEY, 05/12/2020, Politico)

Following a segment on the network's "Morning Joe" talk show that featured discussion of upcoming Senate testimony by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, as well as critical comments from Scarborough regarding the White House's coronavirus response, Trump lashed out in a tweet posted just before 7 a.m.

"When will they open a Cold Case on the Psycho Joe Scarborough matter in Florida. Did he get away with murder? Some people think so," Trump wrote. "Why did he leave Congress so quietly and quickly? Isn't it obvious? What's happening now? A total nut job!"

Trump was apparently referring to the 2001 death of Lori Klausutis, who worked as a staffer in Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach, Fla., office when he served as a Republican House lawmaker from the state's 1st Congressional District.

Klausutis' autopsy revealed she had an undiagnosed heart condition, and a coroner concluded she died after passing out and hitting her head in a fall, according to The Associated Press. She was not struck by another person, the coroner said, and Scarborough was in Washington at the time of her death.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Thanks to Climate Divestment, Big Oil Finally Runs Out of Gas (Bill McKibben, 5/12/20, NY REview of Books)

Meanwhile, the oil industry faced a second challenge: solar and wind engineers were relentlessly dropping the price of their technology, to the point where it was both cleaner and cheaper than digging stuff up and burning it--in Abu Dhabi last week, the low bid for what will be the world's largest solar array promised power at little more than a penny per kilowatt hour (the average electricity price in the US is about 13 cents per kWh).

As a result of these twin pressures, the fossil-fuel industry has been the laggard in the last decade of economic expansion, underperforming every other sector of our economy. Exxon, in that span, went from being, in the words of a recent Bloomberg Businessweek report, "once the undisputed king of Wall Street," the most powerful corporation on the planet, to a "mediocre company," worth less than Home Depot Inc.

And Exxon wasn't alone. As energy finance campaigner Clara Vondrich has pointed out, one oil major after another has begun to cut the dividends that were stockholders' only reward for putting up with lagging returns. Warren Buffett last week apologized to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders for having made a $10 billion bet on oil last spring. "If you're a shareholder... in any oil-producing company," he admitted, "you join me in having made a mistake."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Heavy is the Universe? Conflicting Answers Hint at New PhysicsThe discrepancy could be a statistical fluke--or a sign that physicists will need to revise the standard model of cosmology (Anil Ananthaswamy, May 12, 2020, Scientific American)

Two entirely different ways of "weighing" the cosmos are producing disparate results. If more precise measurements fail to resolve the discrepancy, physicists may have to revise the standard model of cosmology, our best description of the universe.

"If this really is a glimpse of the standard model breaking down, that would be potentially revolutionary," says astronomer Hendrik Hildebrandt of the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

Similar concerns over the correctness of the standard model have been raised over the past few years by two independent calculations of the so-called Hubble constant, or the rate at which the universe is expanding today. Those two measurements also disagreed, creating what has been called the Hubble tension.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Leaked data from the White House task force shows virus cases are spiking in clusters across the US (Tom Porter, 5/12/20, Business Insider')

Data from the White House coronavirus task force obtained by NBC News shows the number of coronavirus cases sharply increasing in several areas of the US, contradicting Trump's claim on Monday that the number of cases is declining "all throughout the country." 

The chart was produced for the task force of top public health experts and administration officials on May 7 and not publicly released.

An image published by NBC shows the information marked "for official use only," which means the information is not meant to be public, but is also not formally classified.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

MORE THAN A FEELING (profanity alert):

"Trump's Feeling Is, 'Why Are We Losing Everywhere?'" (GABRIEL SHERMAN, MAY 11, 2020, Vanity Fair)

With the coronavirus death toll surpassing 80,000 and the unemployment rate at Great Depression-era levels, there is a growing consensus among senior Republicans that Donald Trump's reelection is slipping away. Recent internal polls show Trump trailing Joe Biden in six swing states, a data point that augurs a landslide loss in November. "The swing state polls are horrific," a prominent Republican briefed on the numbers told me. The White House's COVID-19 outbreak is only the latest headline that reinforces the narrative that Trump can't get control of the pandemic. "This is what should worry the campaign: Biden is in his basement and he's beating Trump," a former West Wing staffer told me. "If I were Biden, the lesson I would learn is: Shut the [***] up and let Trump go out there and destroy himself." [...]

On top of everything, there is also fear in Trumpworld that Senate Republicans might finally break from him if the polls get bad enough. "The numbers are [****]ing terrible," another former West Wing official said. "There's massive anxiety in the GOP that he's gonna take them all down with him."

It's nothing less than our party deserves for truckling with him.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Taking #Obamagate SeriouslyPresident Trump's bonkers theory, explained. (TIM MILLER  MAY 12, 2020, The Bulwark)

On the surface, Trump's deranged Mother's Day tweetstorm and the halfhearted trolling of his predecessor at his Monday press conference seem like just a couple more examples of the mad king feeding his fans a juicy porterhouse--in this case, a theory about President Obama's supposed crimes that is so stupid that even the president himself can't answer the most basic question about it.

But underneath the palpable jealousy and the desperate attempt to change the subject to something, anything besides the slow-motion pandemic-management disaster that he is overseeing, is a very real effort by President Trump and his enablers to undermine the rule of law, rewrite the history of the 2016 election, and give a hall pass to a hostile foreign power for its interference in our election. Trump's allies in the conservative media and the Justice Department are taking #Obamagate very seriously. This conspiracy theory is informing our foreign policy, millions in tax dollars are being spent in an effort that is going "full throttle" to prove that it is correct, and countless Americans are being fed a faux history involving a crime that supposedly "makes Watergate look small time."

In that context, "President Fabricates Crimes By His Predecessor" should be front-page news, an unprecedented assault on the office of the president and our system of justice. An action that under any previous president would have sparked a massive backlash from within his own party among institutionalists concerned about both their short-term political interests and the broader historic implications.

Part of the reason that it isn't happening is, again, the that's-just-Trump-being-Trump impulse: His awful absurdity and absurd awfulness have dulled the senses to such a degree that the journalists who are accused of peddling "fake news" attacks on him don't take him seriously, and even people who are well attuned to politics don't understand what he's talking about and believe that his #Obamagate spiel is some throwaway nonsense. I'm confident that Joe Republican Senator could not begin to describe to you with any specificity the contours of the purported Obamagate scandal. Hell, the president himself couldn't even describe it during his press conference.

But his comic incompetence does not make such a matter less serious, it makes it more serious.

So for those who have dismissed this as another passing fancy, here is a breakdown of what exactly #Obamagate is and why it matters.

No matter how highly you regard President Obama, you have to give pride of place to the genius with which he got Flynn to lie to Mike Pence, Donald to fire him for it, and the Trump WH to refer the case to DOJ,

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Divine Mandate for FreedomAnd restraint -- as the holiday of Lag B'Omer reminds us. (SHMUEL KLATZKIN, May 12, 2020, American Spectator)

As is common in times of great oppression, there was continual disagreement among the Jews as to the best way to relate to Rome. No one could claim success, so the arguments were not settled. Some advocated accommodation and pointed out the positive side of Rome -- the roadways, the aqueducts, the baths, the plumbing, the orderliness brought to commerce and travel on an immense scale. Rabbi Shimon, however, thought these improvements meant nothing if freedom was denied. Rome eventually put a price on his head, and he had to flee for his life.

The story passed down through the generation by the Talmud is that he and his grown son hid in a cave for 12 years. He lived on the most meager of rations; he was sustained by his constant review of the Oral Law, of which he was a master, and by his deep mystical insight, for he was deeply spiritual and meditative as well as being a master of law.

The Talmud tells a tale of what occurred when he and his son finally emerged. His ardor for freedom was undimmed, and having put all at stake for his God and country, he was violently dismayed by seeing life going on around him as if all were normal. How could anyone not devote themselves completely to God and give up everything for the cause? As the text describes it, fire shot out from him and consumed the people who were acting as if all they had to do was to plow their fields, nothing more.

In response to this came a heavenly voice that said, "Is this what you will do with My world? Go back to your cave!"

The text tells us that he and his son went back to the cave for another year. When they emerged this time, Rabbi Shimon's son still would burn people up with his anger, but Rabbi Shimon would immediately heal them.

The central message of this story is that no matter how holy and completely dedicated people are, they are not empowered to hold the entire world to their level of behavior. The world is a divine creation, even if it does not fully reflect that. In particular, people do not see and respond in the same way, even to the greatest issues, and their lives must be respected nonetheless. We must accept these differences, not merely as regrettable allowance to a bad reality but also as something that represents God's overriding will.

The message then is that the need to allow freedom is not a human conceit pressed at the expense of true loyalty and dedication to the highest of causes. Human difference is part of the supreme design; we each have a voice and a role in the discussion and in the determination of our common affairs.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Where Black Nationalism Meets White SupremacyAs Louis Farrakhan turns 87 today, his influence across the spectrum of hate remains strong (JACK R. FISCHEL, MAY 11, 2020, The Tablet)

Not since the 1930s has anti-Semitism been so threatening to the American Jewish community. Incidents, such as the shooting at Pittsburg's Tree of Life synagogue and the Chabad in Poway, California, have made Jews vulnerable to attacks by white extremists, while attacks in Monsey and Jersey City have highlighted the danger posed by the inflammatory language of black nationalist anti-Semitism. In a survey taken by the American Jewish Committee in October 2019, 31% of Jewish respondents reported having taken steps to hide their Jewish identity in public, and 25% stated that they avoided Jewish sites. The AJC survey was taken before the attacks in Jersey City and Monsey. [...]

Perhaps the most potent link between white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and black nationalists can be found in the person of Farrakhan, the charismatic 86-year-old head of the Nation of Islam (NOI). In the three decades since he succeeded the late Elijah Muhammad as the leader of the black nationalist sect, Farrakhan has become a powerful force in the African American community by way of his speeches, rallies, and social networking, where he reaches a wide audience even among the black middle and upper class. Farrakhan is regularly pictured with prominent African American entertainers and has his own place of honor in the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Washington Mall. He is also perhaps the most dangerous anti-Semite in America since Father Charles Coughlin who has consistently attacked Jews as the "children of the devil," "bloodsuckers," and assorted other vile and disparaging descriptions.

Farrakhan has accused Jews of spreading marijuana into black communities so as to feminize the black man, and worshipping in the synagogue of Satan. He often refers to the Jews as "lying, murderous Zionists," whom he accuses of being behind the Sept. 11 attacks. Farrakhan's messages of hate directed toward Jews and Israel reaches large number of his followers on his websites, and through the NOI Press, which publishes the libelous Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well as the The Secret History Between Blacks and Jews, which falsely asserts that Jews dominated the slave trade. In fact, the role of Jews in the Atlantic slave trade, according to scholars, was minimal. Yet Farrakhan remains one of the most important leaders of black America in the 21st century. Despite his ongoing anti-Semitic rhetoric, oddly enough, few black mainstream leaders openly challenge Farrakhan's bigotry.

The NOI is not the only black nationalist group that promotes the language of conspiratorial anti-Semitism. The Black Hebrew Israelites claim that they are the descendants of the Israelites of the Old Testament and are the true Jewish people. Founded in 1886, the movement over time splintered into factions which included a form of black nationalism that promoted its message through street preachers, who often employ provocation as a strategy to advance its doctrine that black people are the real "chosen people."

The Black Hebrew Israelites depict Jews as usurpers of God's will, a "devilish people" who have prevented the black man from realizing his true destiny. Although not a sect that engages directly in mass violence, its promotion of confrontation toward law enforcement, Jews, and white people in general, has resonated among segments of black America. In the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket shooting that ended in the death of six people, including a police officer, law enforcement found that the two suspects, David N. Anderson and Francine Graham, appeared to have been connected to the Black Hebrew Israelites. Subsequently the police found that Anderson had posted anti-Semitic and anti-police messages on internet forums. A New York Times investigation into the two shooters cited a neighbor who related hearing Anderson shouting that his religion was the only true religion, and that Catholicism and Judaism were false religions. The Southern Poverty Law Center has stated that, in 2019, "144 Black Hebrew Israelite organizations were listed as hate groups because of their anti-Semitic and anti-white beliefs."

The New Black Panther Party (NBPP), another leading fount of black nationalist anti-Semitism, is not the successor to the original Black Panther Party. Nevertheless, the NBPP owes much of its anti-Semitic beliefs to the original Black Panthers, and to the Nation of Islam. The NBPP contends that the primary perpetrators responsible forthe exploitation of black people is the white race, and that Jews, in particular, wield a disproportionate amount of power over political and economic affairs--as well as over law enforcement, which consistently engages in acts of violence against the black community. The NBPP has also promoted The Synagogue of Satan, a book written by an editor of the NOI's Final Call, a publication that includes Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories, alleging that the world is being manipulated and corrupted by satanic powers led by Jewish elites.

The NBPP shares the same message of hatred toward Israel as does the NOI, accusing "Zionist leaders" of "robbing the gold mines of Africa" and having the "blood of Palestinians on their hands." In a 2002 rally in front of the B'nai Brith building in Washington, D.C., spokesmen for the party led chants of "death to Israel," and "kill every goddam Zionist in Israel." Elsewhere, the vituperative language of the Panther party, in calling for the destruction of Israel, declares that the "State of Israel has no right to exist." The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has labeled the NBPP the most extreme organized racist and anti-Semitic group in the United States.

Only the "nation" they belong to differs, but the idea of "nations" is mutually supporting.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



A billboard in New York's Times Square that displays a number its maker says reflects the fatalities caused by a delayed U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, has hit over 48,000 as of Tuesday.

Put in the heart of the city last week, the "Trump Death Clock" was the idea of filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, and is a nod to the billboard-sized National Debt Clock, which is also in New York.

All comedy is conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Merkel urges prudence as Germany's infection rate remains critical (Michael Nienaber, Thomas Escritt, 5/11/20, Reuters)

Germany is being closely watched worldwide as the most successful large European country in curbing the spread of the virus, partly thanks to massive testing, which has prompted a partial reopening of the economy. Merkel has frequently said the reproduction rate of the new coronavirus must be held below 1 to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.

But the Robert Koch Institute for public health said the rate hovered above this critical threshold for the third consecutive day with an estimated value of 1.07 on Monday, after 1.13 on Sunday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump administration as a source of misinformation on the coronavirus (Sarah Al-Arshani, 5/12/20, Business Insider)

Trump's administration was the second most cited source of misinformation behind social media. However, while only 15% of respondents said social media was the main source of misinformation, 47% said Trump's administration was the main source of misinformation. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Fox News White House reporter John Roberts slams 'petty' ABC News colleague (ARIEL ZILBER, EMILY GOODIN, GEOFF EARLE, 5/11/20, DAILYMAIL.COM)

'Almost everybody in the Rose Garden is wearing a mask - almost everybody,' the ABC News journalist tweeted on Monday.

Karl then posted four pictures showing journalists and White House aides wearing face coverings both before and during the news conference.

Roberts, however, was conspicuously without one as he sat and looked over his notes before the president took questions.

The Fox News correspondent than tweeted a response to Karl, writing: 'What, exactly is the basis for this petty effort at shaming???'

It's a Puritan Nation, not a FOX one.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Any Obama officials involved in Flynn 'unmasking' declassified: Source (Martha Raddatz, May 11, 2020, ABC News)

While the law requires that identifying information of U.S. persons picked up during foreign surveillance be "masked," high-ranking intelligence officials can request the identities be revealed if they feel the information is necessary to further understand the intercepts.

As always, keeping the identities secret did more harm than good.  The American voter was entitled to know that the Trump campaign was working with the Russians and Wikileaks.  Open source everything.

May 11, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 PM


Unreleased White House report shows coronavirus rates spiking in heartland communities (Jonathan Allen, Phil McCausland and Cyrus Farivar, 5/11/20, NBC)

The top 10 areas saw surges of 72.4 percent or greater over a seven-day period compared to the prior week, according to a set of tables produced for the task force by its Data and Analytics unit. They include Nashville, Tennessee; Des Moines, Iowa; Amarillo, Texas; and -- atop the list with a 650 percent increase -- Central City, Kentucky.

On a separate list of "locations to watch," which didn't meet the precise criteria for the first set: Charlotte, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Montgomery, Alabama; Columbus, Ohio; and Phoenix, Arizona. The rate of new cases in Charlotte and Kansas City represented an increase of more than 200 percent over the prior week, and other tables included in the data show clusters in neighboring counties that don't form a geographic area on their own, like Wisconsin's Kenosha and Racine counties, which neighbor each other between Chicago and Milwaukee.

So far, more than 80,000 people in the U.S. have died because of the coronavirus, and the rate of new cases overall has not yet subsided.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


White House Counsel Knew in January Flynn Probably Violated the Law (MURRAY WAAS, DECEMBER 20, 2017,Foreign Policy)

The White House turned over records this fall to special counsel Robert Mueller revealing that in the very first days of the Trump presidency, Don McGahn researched federal law dealing both with lying to federal investigators and with violations of the Logan Act, a centuries-old federal law that prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, according to three people with direct knowledge of the confidential government documents.

The records reflected concerns that McGahn, the White House counsel, had that Michael Flynn, then the president's national security advisor, had possibly violated either one or both laws at the time, according to two of the sources. The disclosure that these records exist and that they are in the possession of the special counsel could bolster any potential obstruction of justice case against President Donald Trump.

The records that McGahn turned over to the special counsel, portions of which were read to this reporter, indicate he researched both statutes and warned Trump about Flynn's possible violations.

McGahn conducted the analysis shortly after learning that Flynn, on Dec. 29, 2016 -- while Barack Obama was still president -- had counseled the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey Kislyak, not to retaliate against U.S. economic sanctions imposed against Russia by the outgoing administration.[...]

Despite McGahn's concerns that Flynn violated one or both of these laws, Trump allowed Flynn to continue in his job and only fired him after the Washington Post reported that Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence and other senior administration officials about his contacts with Kislyak. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


It took one question for a reporter to expose Trump's latest baseless Obama conspiracy theory: Monday's news conference ended with Trump melting down in response to questions from female reporters. (Aaron Rupar@atrupar  May 11, 2020, Vox)

"In one of your Mother's Day tweets, you appeared to accuse President Obama of 'the biggest political crime in American history, by far' -- those were your words. What crime exactly are you accusing President Obama of committing, and do you believe the Justice Department should prosecute him?" Rucker asked, during a news conference that was ostensibly about the coronavirus.

Trump had nothing.

"Uh, Obamagate. It's been going on for a long time," he began. "It's been going on from before I even got elected, and it's a disgrace that it happened, and if you look at what's gone on, and if you look at now, all this information that's being released -- and from what I understand, that's only the beginning -- some terrible things happened, and it should never be allowed to happen in our country again."

Of course, "Obamagate" does not involve a crime, and there's no evidence that Obama or his top officials conspired against Trump -- quite the opposite. So when Rucker pressed the point by asking what exactly the ostensible crime was, Trump resorted to smears.

"You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers, except yours."

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


One of Lindsey Graham's biggest backers explains why he gave up on the GOP senator (Sky Palma, 5/11/20, Raw Story)

In an op-ed published in the Greenville News this Sunday, a former backer of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) explained why he no longer supports Graham and has instead endorsed his opponent for the U.S. Senate.

"I supported Lindsey Graham until 2017," ex-Michelin North America chairman Richard Wilkerson writes. "I saw him as a moderate Republican who could work across the aisle to get positive change made. But I started having real misgivings about him when he failed to mount any significant defense when Donald Trump attacked his best friend, the late Sen. John McCain."

"What is the character of a man who will not defend his best friend? If he won't defend John McCain, why would I expect him to defend any of us in South Carolina?" Wilkerson asked himself.  The only conclusion he could come to was that Graham was more interested in "currying favor than in honoring the memory of a true American hero whom he had described as his best friend."

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Newly Released Transcript Shows Jared Kushner Misled Congress About a Contact Involving Russia: Kushner downplayed ties to a friend acting as a backchannel to Russia in House testimony. (Dan Friedman, 5/11/20, MoJo)

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.
While President Trump uses Attorney General William Barr to try to erase the story of his 2016 campaign's contacts with Russia, information showing that Trump insiders stonewalled or misled investigators probing the Trump-Russia scandal continues to emerge.

Last week, the House Intelligence Committee released a transcript of a once behind-closed-doors interview with Jared Kushner in which Trump's son-in-law evaded a question about his relationship with Rick Gerson, a New York hedge-fund manager and a longtime friend of Kushner. In a curious move, Kushner downplayed his link to Gerson, who in late 2016 and early 2017, due to his connection to Kushner, was mixed up in secretive contacts between the incoming Trump administration, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia--a weird series of actions that were investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Hydroxychloroquine shows no benefit against coronavirus in New York study (SARAH OWERMOHLE, 05/11/2020, Politico)

A decades-old malaria medicine touted by the president as a coronavirus treatment showed no benefit for thousands of patients hospitalized in New York. [...]

Previous trials had suggested the drug can cause serious heart problems, especially when paired with azithromycin, and the latest study backed up those findings. Researchers said that patients receiving both drugs together were more likely to experience cardiac arrest than those who received one or neither of the therapies.

The FDA authorized emergency use of the drug against the coronavirus in March, despite sparse evidence that it could work.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


As Trump urges reopening, White House battles own virus outbreak (JEROME CARTILLIER, 5/11/20, AFP) 

White House to require West Wing staff to wear face masks (Ursula Perano, 5/11/20)

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Majority of Republicans oppose protests against stay-home orders (Josh Israel, May 11, 2020, American Independent)

By a majority of 55% to 31%, most Americans disapprove of protests around the country demanding an end to social distancing rules. Republicans oppose them 51% to 32%.

The findings were part of an AP-NORC poll released Monday. Among Democrats, 67% oppose the protests and 25% support them.

The same survey found that 71% of Americans support requiring people to stay at home in most cases to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic -- with 57% support among Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General: 'Never Seen Anything Like' Ex-DOJ Lawyers' Public Backlash Against Barr (Jerry Lambe, May 11th, 2020. Law & Crime)

A former acting U.S. Solicitor General said the backlash against Attorney General William Barr over the Justice Department's decision to drop the criminal case against Trump's former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was unlike anything he had ever encountered.

Neal Katyal on Monday pointed to three op-eds penned by former high-ranking DOJ officials, all of which condemned the department's decision in no uncertain terms.

"The combo of these 3 pieces about DOJ dropping the Flynn charges is astounding," the Supreme Court litigator wrote, adding, "I've never seen anything like it."

Posted by orrinj at 12:27 PM


Roger Stone prosecutor unloads on Bill Barr accusing AG of doing favors for Donald Trump's friends and attacking career officials knowing they cannot respond (NIKKI SCHWAB, 5/11/20, DAILYMAIL.COM)

A former federal prosecutor who worked on Roger Stone's case unloaded on Attorney General Bill Barr for doing favors for Donald Trump's friends in light of the Department of Justice dropping its case against Michael Flynn. 

The prosecutor, Jonathan Kravis, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post Monday that accused Barr's DOJ of 'put[ting] political patronage ahead of its commitment to the rule of law.' 

'I feel compelled to write because I believe the the department's handling of these matters is profoundly misguided, because my colleagues who still serve the department are duty-bound to remain silent and because I am convinced that the department's conduct in the Stone and Flynn cases will do lasting damage to the institution,' Kravis wrote.  

Kravis said that he resigned from the Department of Justice after a decade-long stint over the Stone case. 

'At the time, I thought that the handling of the Stone case, with senior officials intervening to recommend a lower sentence for a longtime ally of President Trump, was a disastrous mistake that the department would not make again,' Kravis wrote. 

'I was wrong,' he added.  

Kravis then detailed his own experience with the Stone case, reminding readers that four prosecutors on the case recommended the former Trump political adviser receive seven to nine years in prison for obstruction of Congress, false statements and witness tampering. 

But the president tweeted, the next morning, that the sentencing recommendation was a 'miscarriage of justice.' 

The Justice Department then revoked the original sentencing recommendation and swapped it out for one giving Stone a lighter sentence. 

'All four career prosecutors who had tried Stone withdrew from the case. I resigned because I was not willing to serve a department that would so easily abdicate its responsibility to dispence impartial justice,' Kravis said. 

Kravis accused the department of engaging in an 'equally appalling chapter' with its back-pedaling on Flynn, the president's original national security adviser. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


Being Donald Trump: Inside the World Where Conspiracies Are Reality: What reality looks like from inside Trump World. (TIM MILLER  OCTOBER 4, 2019, The Bulwark)

Instead, consider the possibility that the U.S. intelligence community--desperate to prevent Trump from ascending to the presidency--worked with the Clinton campaign, Democratic National Committee insiders, intelligence agents in multiple foreign countries, and Ukrainian oligarchs in order to fabricate evidence of Russian interference and cover-up what was an inside job all along. And that they used former British spy (and dossier author) Christopher Steele as their vehicle.

That's what the president and his team seem to believe.

Their theory is . . . complicated. It took several days for me to unpack it and even still there are a few remaining holes that need filling. So for anyone having trouble grasping its full majesty, I'll take each claim separately, so you can see how the structure of this belief was assembled piece by piece and what is left to be uncovered.

At the center of the case is the U.S. intelligence community. We already know through private communications that FBI employees Peter Strzok, Andrew McCabe, and Lisa Page wanted to "protect the country on many levels" from the possibility of a President Trump. They even texted on government phones about a "secret society" they had created. Also, since the election the heads of the FBI and CIA--James Comey and John O Brennan--have become #Resistance warriors. So Trump World assumes that they must have shared the views of the "secret society." It is the belief of Trump World that these individuals and/or their associates masterminded the entire plot--with Brennan as the ringleader.

Trump World believes that this conspiracy's first step was to fabricate a basis for an investigation into Trump some time during the Spring of 2016, just as he was sealing the GOP nomination. It was then that the intelligence chiefs worked with their partners in the Clinton campaign to hire Steele, who would serve either as their ally in fabrication or an unwitting dupe to be used as part of their efforts to launch the investigation.

Next they brought friends from the international intelligence community into the conspiracy. Using a shadowy Italian agent named Joseph Mifsud--who has Russian ties, making him an excellent head fake--and Australian ambassador Alexander Downer, they entrapped low-level Trump staffer George Papadopoulos in a brilliant scheme where Mifsud offered phony Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton. He did this knowing that Papadopoulos would brag about this highly secretive and illegal offer in a meeting with Downer a month later. Downer then relayed the "intelligence" (wink wink) back to the Americans who had positioned it there in the first place.

Like a skilled LAPD officer/Fox News analyst, the intel agencies had successfully planted the evidence they needed to begin the greatest witch hunt ever conducted outside of Salem. But, despite having this information in May, the investigation of Donald Trump couldn't start until something happened to precipitate it. So the intelligence community sat on their evidence for two months, patiently waiting for the moment to strike.

That opportunity came in July, when Wikileaks began releasing highly damaging information about Hillary Clinton--the candidate the intelligence community was ostensibly trying to help.

Wait, what?

This is one piece of the theory I haven't been able to puzzle out. When the intelligence community was planning this brilliant trap to frame Trump, how did they know that the Wikileaks emails would be coming a few months later and could be used as a pretext to spring the trap?

I suppose it's possible that they had a counter-intel informant in Russia. But that doesn't make much sense, because Trump World keeps saying that Russia wasn't involved in any of this. Plus--as we'll see shortly--having a source in Russia would have negated the need for the Crowdstrike cover-up.

Trump World has its own theory...


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 PM


DOJ Alumni Statement on Flynn Case (May 11, 2020)

Make no mistake: The Department's action is extraordinarily rare, if not unprecedented. If any of us, or anyone reading this statement who is not a friend of the President, were to lie to federal investigators in the course of a properly predicated counterintelligence investigation, and admit we did so under oath, we would be prosecuted for it.

We thus unequivocally support the decision of the career prosecutor who withdrew from the Flynn case, just as we supported the prosecutors who withdrew from the Stone case. They are upholding the oath that we all took, and we call on their colleagues to continue to follow their example. President Trump accused the career investigators and prosecutors involved in the Flynn case of "treason" and threatened that they should pay "a big price." It is incumbent upon the other branches of government to protect from retaliation these public servants and any others who are targeted for seeking to uphold their oaths of office and pursue justice.

It is now up to the district court to consider the government's motion to dismiss the Flynn indictment. We urge Judge Sullivan to closely examine the Department's stated rationale for dismissing the charges -- including holding an evidentiary hearing with witnesses -- and to deny the motion and proceed with sentencing if appropriate. While it is rare for a court to deny the Department's request to dismiss an indictment, if ever there were a case where the public interest counseled the court to take a long, hard look at the government's explanation and the evidence, it is this one. Attorney General Barr's repeated actions to use the Department as a tool to further President Trump's personal and political interests have undermined any claim to the deference that courts usually apply to the Department's decisions about whether or not to prosecute a case.

Finally, in our previous statement, we called on Attorney General Barr to resign, although we recognized then that there was little chance that he would do so. We continue to believe that it would be best for the integrity of the Justice Department and for our democracy for Attorney General Barr to step aside. In the meantime, we call on Congress to hold the Attorney General accountable. In the midst of the greatest public health crisis our nation has faced in over a century, we would all prefer it if Congress could focus on the health and prosperity of Americans, not threats to the health of our democracy. Yet Attorney General Barr has left Congress with no choice. Attorney General Barr was previously set to give testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on March 31, but the hearing was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge the Committee to reschedule Attorney General Barr's testimony as soon as safely possible and demand that he answer for his abuses of power. We also call upon Congress to formally censure Attorney General Barr for his repeated assaults on the rule of law in doing the President's personal bidding rather than acting in the public interest. Our democracy depends on a Department of Justice that acts as an independent arbiter of equal justice, not as an arm of the president's political apparatus.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Whistleblower: Trump officials ignored company's offer to make 7 million masks a month (JULIA CONLEY, MAY 11, 2020, Salon)

The head of the Fort Worth-based company, Michael Bowen, wrote to HHS on Jan. 23, two days after the U.S. confirmed its first case of COVID-19. 

Bowen offered to use four dormant production lines to produce as many as seven million N95 masks per month, but was told by Laura Wolf, director of the Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection at HHS, "I don't believe we as a government are anywhere near answering those questions for you yet."

"We are the last major domestic mask company," replied Bowen, who at the time was fulfilling orders for masks from all over the world. "My phones are ringing now, so I don't 'need' government business. I'm just letting you know that I can help you preserve our infrastructure if things ever get really bad."

In Bright's whistleblower complaint, he described how he tried to direct Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec's attention to Bowen's offer in late January. Bowen wrote to Bright in late January following his communications with Wolf that "U.S. mask supply is at imminent risk," adding a blunt warning, "Rick, I think we're in deep shit."

Bright demanded to know from Kadlec why Bowen's offer had fallen "on deaf ears."

"We have been watching and receiving warnings on this for over a week," the scientist wrote. 

The agency's refusal to take Bowen up on his offer early on helped lead to a crisis weeks later, as health care workers across the country reported severe shortages of N95 masks as well as other personal protective equipment needed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in health care settings. As the Trump administration denied several times that it was responsible for making sure states had the supplies they needed, states were forced into bidding wars with one another over equipment orders that they placed directly with manufacturers. 

There was no grift for Donald to skim off.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


COVID-19 Conspiracists and Their Discontents (Michael Shermer, 5/11/20, Quillette)

Perhaps the most Jason Bourne-ish conspiracy theory is that COVID-19 did not really involve any kind of wet market in Wuhan, but is actually a "bioweapon." The germ of truth here is that many nations really have been researching bioweapons for generations, including research on such scourges as Ebola, Smallpox, and Anthrax. In 2001, a handful of Americans were killed by Anthrax delivered through the mail. And in 1979, anthrax spores were accidentally leaked from a Soviet military research lab near the Russian city of Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), leading to an estimated 100 deaths (although precise details were subject to the usual Soviet obfuscation, including the claim the deaths were caused by tainted meat). China's autocratic form of government, press censorship, occasionally aggressive foreign policy, and repression of whistleblowers all make the idea that the virus was created by artificial means--instead of ordinary natural selection among animal-borne pathogens--seem like it could be credible, even if there is no real evidence for it.

In fact, the evidence points in the opposite direction. According to a genetic analysis of the virus published on March 17th in the journal NatureMedicine, "if genetic manipulation had been performed, one of the several reverse-genetic systems available for betacoronaviruses would probably have been used. However, the genetic data irrefutably show that SARS-CoV-2 is not derived from any previously used virus backbone." The scientists noted the similarity of SARS-CoV-2 to bat SARS-CoV-like coronaviruses, concluding "it is likely that bats serve as reservoir hosts for its progenitor," with the transmission to humans most likely occurring in late November to early December 2019. The fact that bats are mammals living in massive colonies numbering in the millions, and are regularly infected with virus-based respiratory diseases, makes the link to humans all the more credible.

These are just a few of the many conspiracy theories ricocheting around the Internet. A full catalog would be almost impossible to create, and would quickly become obsolete as old conspiracy-theory strains mutated into new species (much as with actual pathogens). This conspiracism will likely continue so long as people experience COVID-19-related fear and anxiety--emotions that always have been linked to conspiracist movements throughout history.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


South Korea's new outbreak should be a warning (Sam Baker, 5/11/20, Axios)

South Korea -- a model for how to handle the coronavirus well -- has had to re-tighten some of its commercial restrictions as on Sunday it reported the biggest-single day increase in cases it has seen in over a month with 34 new cases.

Why it matters: The U.S., by contrast, is seeing roughly 25,000 new cases per day -- a discrepancy that far outstrips the differences in population between the two countries.

What happened in South Korea is pretty much what you'd expect: An infected person went to several clubs in one night. He is believed to have infected 43 fellow clubgoers, who in turn infected another 11 people, per NPR.

We will almost certainly see much bigger subsequent waves of infection here in the U.S., where the focus is on reopening -- even in nursing homes. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Florida slowed coronavirus: Everyone stayed home before they were told to (Adam Playford, Kathleen McGrory, Steve Contorno, Caitlin Johnston and Zachary T. Sampson, 5/10/20, Tampa Bay Times)

Tampa Bay Times reporters reviewed the methodology behind several prominent models and studied data tracing the virus' spread into every corner of the state.

Then the Times analyzed cell phone tracking data collected by three companies that paints a vivid picture of how Floridians reacted during the outbreak's early days. Fifteen experts reviewed the work and shared their observations.

The analysis indicates that while Florida's politicians debated beach closings and stay-at-home orders, residents took matters into their own hands.

By the time each county shut down, there had been large reductions in activity, the cell phone data shows. People in the worst-hit counties were overwhelmingly staying home weeks before DeSantis' order went out -- and even before the much-earlier orders issued by local governments.

At the time Floridians stopped venturing out, the virus most likely had spread to fewer individuals compared to the places that became national hotspots, according to epidemiologists who reviewed the Times' analysis. But in the late days of March, this was masked by a severe lack of testing across the country, which made it impossible to tell.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Switching to renewables could cut industry energy costs by almost a quarter (Michael Mazengarb, 8 May 2020, Renew Economy)

Australia's major industrial energy users could cut their energy costs by almost a quarter by switching to renewable supplies and could be key to an Australian manufacturing revival, a new research report has shown.

The total savings that could be achieved by a wide-scale shift to supplies of wind and solar would amount to as much as $1.6 billion per year, representing a 23 per cent cut to energy expenses, the report by the Australia Institute's Centre for Future Work finds.

According to the research, these savings grow over time, and by 2050, a shift to powering manufacturing with 100 per cent renewable could cut energy costs by as much as 33 per cent, saving large-users an estimated $2.2 billion annually by 2050.

It's simple economics, not ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Right-wing smear artist Jacob Wohl has a long, dubious history. Will he finally go to prison? (ROGER SOLLENBERGER, MAY 11, 2020, Salon)

Last month, right-wing provocateurs Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman called another in a series of hapless press conferences designed to impugn their political enemies. This time they claimed to bring forward a woman to accuse Dr. Anthony Fauci, the 79-year-old head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, of sexually assaulting her at a Four Seasons hotel in 2014.

The woman later contacted a journalist at Reason to 'fess up: She said she was Wohl's ex-girlfriend and the duo had paid her thousands of dollars to make the false accusation under a fake name. What's more, she had the tapes to prove it. 

"The reality is that I've known Jacob since 2018 and that he charmed me into taking money to do this," she wrote, pointing to a photo of her sitting on Wohl's lap, which he had posted to Instagram months prior.

The smears -- which have also targeted Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, attorney Michael Avenatti and former special counsel Robert Mueller -- have successfully raised Wohl's national profile. They have also raised significant questions about his possible liability for slander, libel, bribery, extortion and fraud.

Wohl, who lives in Corona, California, was recently arraigned along with a former business partner for selling unregistered securities. (The Daily Beast first reported those charges in September of 2019.) This February, Wohl and his former partner pleaded not guilty to two counts of securities fraud before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Gail O'Rane. Their April 21 felony settlement hearing was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Such industrialized disinformation is the Right's main business nowadays.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Saudi triples VAT, suspends handouts in virus-led austerity drive (ANUJ CHOPRA, 5/11/20, AFP)

Saudi Arabia unveiled plans Monday to triple its Value Added Tax (VAT) and halt monthly handouts to citizens as part of a series of austerity measures amid record low oil prices and a coronavirus-led economic slump.

The measures, which state media said would boost state coffers by 100 billion riyals ($26.6 billion), come as the government steps up emergency plans to slash spending to deal with the twin economic blow.

There is no representation without taxation.

May 10, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Ex-DOJ official claims Barr "twisted" her words in motion to dismiss Flynn case (Zachary Basu, 5/10/20, Axios)

 "In short, the report of my interview does not anywhere suggest that the FBI's interview of Mr. Flynn was unconstitutional, unlawful or not "tethered" to any legitimate counterintelligence purpose," McCord concludes.


Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


An Ugly Day for the Justice Department (Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, Benjamin Wittes , May 7, 2020, Lawfare)

It is exceptionally rare for the U.S. Department of Justice to move in court to dismiss a case in which a defendant has--ably assisted by first-class lawyers--entered into a plea agreement to spare himself prosecution on more serious felony charges. It is rarer still for the government to do so without acknowledging that it violated any law or that the defendant's rights were somehow infringed. And it is still rarer yet for the government to take such a move without a single career prosecutor being willing to sign onto the brief seeking dismissal. [...]

The government's 20-page brief is not an honest document--perhaps the reason that it is signed only by Timothy Shea, the interim U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia--and not a single one of the career prosecutors who worked on the case. That may also be the reason why Brandon Van Grack, the prosecutor who has worked the case from the beginning, moved to withdraw from the case entirely just hours before the Justice Department filed its motion.

Donald has always had one requirement of the lawyers he hires, that they behave like Roy Cohn and Michael Cohen.  Barr and Shea will; the professionals won't.
Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Biden's lead is the steadiest on record (Harry Enten, May 10, 2020, CNN)

A new Monmouth University poll finds that former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump 50% to 41%. When Rep. Justin Amash is included as the Libertarian Party candidate, it's Biden 47%, Trump 40% and Amash 5%.

The poll is largely in line with the average poll since April that puts Biden 6 points ahead of Trump nationally.

What's the point: Biden's lead is about as steady as it can possibly be. Not only is he up 6 points over the last month or so, but the average of polls since the beginning of the year has him ahead by 6 points. Moreover, all the polls taken since the beginning of 2019 have him up 6 points.

The steadiness in the polls is record breaking. Biden's advantage is the steadiest in a race with an incumbent running since at least 1944. 

Texas is the only drama.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Steve Dalkowski (Ron Shelton, 1990, Cult Baseball Players)

Summer nights in Bakersfield he can still be found, standing in the oven heat down the right-field line near the bullpen, watching the minor leaguer pitchers loosen up. Every few years a sportswriter from the East flies in to do a piece about him for a big magazine, but the little guy never shows up for the interview. Except for that, and the cops and the groundskeepers, nobody knows who he is.

To the ballplayers in the bullpen he's just another drunk. It matters not that he used to pitch in that very ballpark, that he used to be the greatest pitching prospect of all time. From a prospect to a suspect, they used to say. And if you don't believe the groundskeepers and the cops, ask the veterans.

The fastest pitcher I ever saw? Easy. Dalkowski. Dalko, we used to call him. Little guy, glasses. Drank like a fish. Had unbelievable heat. Blew it by Ted Williams in spring training. "Fastest ever," Ted said. "I never want to face him again." Harry "The Cat" Brecheen called it "the best arm in the history of baseball." Cal Ripken Sr., his catcher in the minors said, "Nobody else was close." And the stories are endless.

In the days before radar guns, the Baltimore organization sent him out to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds the night after throwing a complete game. They set up a tube-like device on a tripod above home plate that could measure the speed of an object in flight. The problem was, of course, Dalko couldn't hit the damn thing. He threw for forty minutes before sneaking a fastball down the tube: 98.6 miles an hour--without a mound. A fresh, sober Bob Feller threw 5 miles an hour slower through the same machine. Some say Dalko would've stopped a radar gun at 120 mph.

In Wilson, North Carolina, he threw a wild pitch through the welded mesh screen sixty feet behind the catcher. Thirty years later the hole in the screen is still there.

He stood in front of the center-field clubhouse in Stockton, 430 feet from home plate, watching his teammates place bets to see if any of them could throw a ball to home plate on a single bounce. One of them did. His curiosity aroused, Dalko picked up a ball. Without warming up, still in street clothes, he threw it over home plate. Over the backstop. It landed in the press box somewhere.

There was the time his catcher couldn't get the glove up fast enough and a rising fastball hit the umpire in the mask, shattering it in three places. The ump got off easy, people say, compared to the guy who had his ear ripped off by one of Dalk's 0-and-2 pitches. It was a clean tear, they said. Sewed back on real easy.

They sent him to Florida to play under the steady influence of a veteran manager and just maybe, shake his love of drinking and partying. They wanted to him to mature. Instead, he became pals with Bo Belinksy. The manager had a heart attack.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM

BEFORE THE BEATLES DEAD END (profanity alert):

Little Richard, Founding Father of Rock Who Broke Musical Barriers, Dead at 87: Pianist-singer behind "Tutti Frutti," "Good Golly Miss Molly," and "Long Tall Sally" set the template that a generation of musicians would follow (DAVID BROWNE, 5/09/20, Rolling Stone)

Although he never hit the Top 10 again after 1958, Little Richard's influence was massive. The Beatles recorded several of his songs, including "Long Tall Sally," and Paul McCartney's singing on those tracks - and the Beatles' own "I'm Down" - paid tribute to Little Richard's shredded-throat style. His songs became part of the rock & roll canon, covered over the decades by everyone from the Everly Brothers, the Kinks, and Creedence Clearwater Revival to Elvis Costello and the Scorpions. "Elvis popularized [rock & roll]," Steven Van Zandt tweeted after the news broke. "Chuck Berry was the storyteller. Richard was the archetype."

Little Richard's stage persona - his pompadours, androgynous makeup, and glass-bead shirts -- also set the standard for rock & roll showmanship; Prince, to cite one obvious example, owed a sizable debt to the musician. [...]

Born Richard Wayne Penniman on December 5th, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, he was one of 12 children and grew up around uncles who were preachers. "I was born in the slums. My daddy sold whiskey, bootleg whiskey," he told Rolling Stone in 1970. Although he sang in a nearby church, his father Bud wasn't supportive of his son's music and accused him of being gay, resulting in Penniman leaving home at 13 and moving in with a white family in Macon. But music stayed with him: One of his boyhood friends was Otis Redding, and Penniman heard R&B, blues, and country while working at a concession stand at the Macon City Auditorium.

After performing at the Tick Tock Club in Macon and winning a local talent show, Penniman landed his first record deal, with RCA, in 1951. (He became "Little Richard" when he about 15 years old, when the R&B and blues worlds were filled with acts like Little Esther and Little Milton; he had also grown tired with people mispronouncing his last name as "Penny-man.") He learned his distinctive piano style from Esquerita, a South Carolina singer and pianist who also wore his hair in a high black pompadour.

For the next five years, Little Richard's career advanced only fitfully; fairly tame, conventional singles he cut for RCA and other labels didn't chart. "When I first came along, I never heard any rock & roll," he told Rolling Stone in 1990. "When I started singing [rock & roll], I sang it a long time before I presented it to the public because I was afraid they wouldn't like it. I never heard nobody do it, and I was scared."

By 1956, he was washing dishes at the Greyhound bus station in Macon (a job he had first taken a few years earlier, after his father was murdered and Little Richard had to support his family). By then, only one track he'd cut, "Little Richard's Boogie," hinted at the musical tornado to come. "I put that little thing in it," he told Rolling Stone in 1970 of the way he tweaked with his gospel roots. "I always did have that thing, but I didn't know what to do with the thing I had."

During this low point, he sent a tape with a rough version of a bawdy novelty song called "Tutti Frutti" to Specialty Records in Chicago. He came up with the song's famed chorus -- "a wop bob alu bob a wop bam boom" -- while bored washing dishes. (He also co-wrote "Long Tall Sally" while working that same job.) 

By coincidence, label owner and producer Art Rupe was in search of a lead singer for some tracks he wanted to cut in New Orleans, and Penniman's howling delivery fit the bill. In September 1955, the musician cut a lyrically cleaned-up version of "Tutti Frutti," which became his first hit, peaking at 17 on the pop chart. "'Tutti Frutti really started the races being together," he told Rolling Stone in 1990. "From the git-go, my music was accepted by whites."

Sadly, it took nearly 15 years to get rock back on track after the originators were displaced by the boy band music of the Beatles.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Why Russia Struggles to Feed Its Great-Power Addiction (William Courtney, 5/10/20, National Interest)
The puzzling thing about Russia is how it is determined to remain a great power but inattention to some of the means required to sustain a great-power status. For over a decade its economy has been stagnant, yet the Kremlin avoids reforms that could unleash the private sector. Each year Russia loses a million people, yet it invests too little in health care, especially in its rural areas. The flight of money to the West continues, yet improved business conditions could diminish it. The country's military adventures⁠  in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Syria, and Ukraine are all a net drain on the economy. The recent oil price drop and the coronavirus pandemic may lead to a further weakening.

The puzzling thing is that Westerners go along with the charade and pretend it is a great power. It's useful for things like fighting ISIS and as a cheap oil source until we transition, but otherwise insignificant. They can't even defeat Ukraine, which is one of the most corrupt regimes in the world.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Who Killed Consensus? (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, May 10, 2020, National Review)

Without consensus, there is no consent -- that's almost a redundancy: The two words come from the same Latin root meaning "agree," but each has its own special role in the political lexicon. We speak of "consensus" as a generally agreed-upon fact or set of facts, often with the qualifier "expert" or the mock-qualifier "elite," but we consent to a course of action, a regime, or a state, which can deploy force legitimately only with "the consent of the governed." That's Liberal Democracy 101.

When you lose the ability to forge consensus, you begin to forfeit consent, and effective governance becomes difficult if not impossible -- as we are seeing right now in the coronavirus response.

Mr. Williamson is unfortunate enough to work in a milieu that is particularly infested with those few who oppose the American consensus.  That does not mean there isn't one, Americans more worried about reopening too quickly than not opening quickly enough, survey says (Rebecca Morin, 5/08/20, USA TODAY)

Nearly three out of four Americans -- 71% -- say they are more concerned by the government lifting social distancing restrictions too quickly, according to a survey from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project. That's more than double the 29% who say they are worried restrictions are not being lifted quickly enough.

Of course, his publication is even further afoul of the American consensus on other questions: 9 in 10 of us want DACA recipients to stay; Obamacare is 60-40;  gun controls measures, from assault weapons bans to licensing are supported by anywhere from 60 to 80% of Americans; the transition to solar and other renewables is wildly popular; free trade has never been more popular; only a quarter of Americans support Donald's family separations; etc. 

The fact is, the governed consent to things the Right opposes and opposes the stuff the Right wants.  Consensus is alive; Trumpism is dead.

May 9, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Filing error adds to twists of Flynn case reversal (Katelyn Polantz, 5/09/20, CNN)

Shea's filing on Thursday -- undoing more than two years of work from special counsel Robert Mueller's team and his own office's work on the case -- shocked lawyers across the country, who alleged the undermining of the rule of law for President Donald Trump's political gain. Shea's signature on the document already raised questions about who within the Justice Department prepared it, why other prosecutors didn't sign the filing, and why the lead prosecutor on the case withdrew from it an hour before its submission.

A Justice Department official told CNN on Saturday that the ID number under Shea's name was a clerical oversight. The official said it was the mistake of a staffer who submitted the filing to the court on Shea's behalf -- but who didn't sign it herself. The official said Shea was part of a team who wrote the document, and declined to explain why the career prosecutor, Jocelyn Ballantine, who signed several other recent filings in the Flynn case, didn't sign it.

People close to the DC US attorney's office said the mistake isn't one trial lawyers in that office would likely make. And they pointed to the fact that no other lawyer in that office signed the dismissal request as a possible indicator the document was prepared elsewhere, perhaps at the Justice Department headquarters, where Attorney General William Barr was closely managing the Flynn review.

Shea has been previously criticized for doing Barr and Trump's bidding to go easy on associates of the President, first in the case of convicted Trump friend Roger Stone, where Barr directed Shea to override the sentencing recommendations of career prosecutors in Shea's office. The four prosecutors refused to sign Barr's sentencing revision. Now with Flynn, no career prosecutor stepped up to sign the document dropping the case.

Hire a hack, get hackwork.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Court Records: Biden Accuser Tara Reade was Charged with Check Fraud Days Before Leaving His Senate Office (Guy Benson,  May 09, 2020, Townhall)

According to California court records, Tara Reade -- the woman who has accused former Vice President Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her 27 years ago -- was charged with misdemeanor check fraud just days before she left the then-Senator's office in the summer of 1993.  The charge in question was filed on August 2, 1993, according to emails from an official working at the San Louis Obispo County court, obtained by Townhall (see updates).  A document posted publicly by Ms. Reade indicates that she departed Biden's office four days later. [...]

As a Kavanaugh defender, I shared information about the sordid legal history of Julie Swetnick, who falsely accused Kavanaugh of participating in a gang rape ring, prompting Senate Democrats to demand his withdrawal.  

If Swetnick's record was relevant to her credibility in my mind under those circumstances, fairness requires me to weigh Reade's apparent legal record under the present circumstances. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:51 AM


Trump Met With GOP Lawmakers For An Hour. Nobody Wore A Mask Or Stayed Apart. (Jennifer Bendery, 5/09/20, HuffPo)

President Donald Trump hosted nearly 20 House Republicans at the White House on Friday to talk about rebuilding the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic ― and not one of them wore a mask or practiced social distancing.

Photos from the meeting show lawmakers casually mingling and talking in close range in the State Dining Room without masks on before the president arrives, also without a mask. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


How the Mountain Goats Accidentally Made the Ultimate Social-Isolation Album: When he wrote lyrics about "bucking the curve," John Darnielle was thinking only of ancient history. (SPENCER KORNHABER, May 2020, The Atlantic)

Many of his songs have depicted reclusiveness as a survival technique, in terms sometimes romanticized and sometimes nightmarish. On 2004's "Dance Music," he tenderly reminisced about using the radio in childhood to drown out his abusive stepfather's eruptions. On 2008's scorching "Lovecraft in Brooklyn," he voiced a mentally unstable person's revulsion at the sight of humans congregating on the streets. Now Pierre Chuvin conjures communities of late antiquity attempting to thrive in hiding. On the rollicking "Until Olympius Returns," pagans forced into servitude reassure themselves, "This is just a momentary ripple in the stream." On "January 31, 438," whose title refers to the date when the Eastern Roman empire outlawed Jews and Samaritans from public office, he delivers this vision of lonesome rebellion:

I dance in the dark, all alone
I dance for the God on the throne
If they come catch me and arrest me, mid step
Let me go down dancing, let me be the last one left

If the listener hears the album's tyrants, seeking and destroying pockets of huddled human warmth, as akin to a deadly virus, that's okay with Darnielle. The pandemic may well have subconsciously shaped his work. "In group therapy, people will say something, and then you notice they were actually saying something else," he said. "Then you say, 'It seemed like this thing you said was actually coming from another place.' You gain insight into your behavior that way, right?  For me, I tell stories, and then I go, Why is that your take on the story?"

But he rejects the notion that these songs were written as allegory. "A good story is so useful and so polydisseminative that you can apply it to your own situation," he said with a chuckle at his own use of academic terminology. "That's the poet's ideal ... When I'm writing about the fall of a civilization, well, especially given our present political moment, there's a 50/50 chance on any given day that it's going to sound like I'm writing about the present. I notice all of those things in the writing, and if I see one that feels cool, then I leave it in. I'm singing songs about doomed people, and that was what I was already doing."

Darnielle is not only describing his songwriting ethos--he's describing a process of connection-making that occurs within his own lyrics and in the reception to them. On 2005's "This Year," his most widely beloved single, Darnielle blended his own troubled teenage memories with imagery of a feast in Jerusalem. That song's chorus, "I am going to make it through this year if it kills me!," has been a mantra for many during the coronavirus pandemic; the Mountain Goats retweeted an image of those words posted outside a closed concert venue. Of having coined such an enduring slogan, he said, "I imagine it's what it must feel like to have come up with a really great recipe. Food is nourishing, so if you write a recipe and people are serving it to their families, then you've done a great thing. You don't get to take that much credit. The people who are doing the cooking are the ones who get the lion's share."

Personal fav:
Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


A Vigilante Killing in Georgia: The right to make a 'citizen's arrest' isn't a license to kill. (David French, 5/07/20, The Dispatch)

Georgia law does indeed permit a person to execute a citizen's arrest--in very narrow circumstances. The relevant false arrest statute holds that a "private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion."

Once the citizen's arrest is properly made, Georgia law requires the citizen to take the suspect before a judicial officer or peace officer "without any unnecessary delay." 

It's also true, however, that an unlawful attempt to take and hold a person is itself a crime--false imprisonment. Under Georgia law, a person commits the crime of false imprisonment "when, in violation of the personal liberty of another, he arrests, confines, or detains such person without legal authority."

Moreover, according to Georgia case law, one cannot use the citizen's arrest statute "to question" a suspect. In fact, stating an intention to question a suspect can be evidence that the individual claiming a right to make a citizen's arrest is "uncertain and did not have immediate knowledge" that the victim had been the perpetrator of the alleged crime. 

Now, let's apply the law to the facts. On the day Arbery died, a 911 caller said a man matching Arbery's description was walking inside a vacant construction site. Another caller said, "There's a black male running down the street." Gregory McMichael claimed he recognized Arbery from "surveillance video" after "several break-ins in the neighborhood." 

The only "offense" committed in anyone's presence is the report of a person walking into a construction site. If that merits mounting up an armed three-person, two-vehicle posse to chase a man in broad daylight and menace him with weapons, then many of us are lucky to be alive and free. Just last week I walked into a house under construction in my neighborhood to check out the new floor plans. I didn't even think to check for an armed gang charging down the street.

You aren't black.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Document reveals Secret Service has 11 current virus cases, as concerns about Trump's staff grow (Jana Winter and Hunter Walker, 5/08/20, Yahoo News)

Multiple members of the U.S. Secret Service have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to Department of Homeland Security documents reviewed by Yahoo News. 

In March, the Secret Service, which is responsible for the protection of President Trump and other leaders, acknowledged that a single employee tested positive in March. However the problem is currently far more widespread, with 11 active cases at the agency as of Thursday evening, according to a daily report compiled by the DHS. 

This report comes as a pair of cases among White House staffers close to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have put the West Wing's coronavirus security procedures in the spotlight.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Woman who accused Fauci of sex assault now says Trump supporters paid her to lie (Travis Gettys, 5/07/20, Raw Story)

A woman who had accused Dr. Anthony Fauci of sexual assault now claims she was paid to lie about the public health expert by a pair of President Donald Trump's supporters.

The woman says right-wing provocateur Jacob Wohl and his frequent accomplice Jack Burkman persuaded her to cast Fauci as the assailant using details from an actual sexual assault she survived just after high school, and they paid her to do it, reported Reason.

"The reality is that I've known Jacob since 2018 and that he charmed me into taking money to do this (see attached picture of us together)," said Diana Andrade in an email to the website. "[They also] had me do something like this...back in January."

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


The one Republican Senate candidate willing to call out Donald Trump  (ALEX ISENSTADT, 05/09/2020, Politico)

During a video conference with black community leaders last week, James was asked whether he disagreed with Trump on anything given the president's support of his candidacy.

"Plenty, plenty of issues," James responded. "Everything from cutting Great Lakes funding to 'shithole countries' to speaking ill of the dead," apparently referring to Trump's disparagement of the late Sen. John McCain. "I mean, where do you want to start?"

"And so yes, there's gonna be places that I disagree with the president and those are just a couple," he added.

James, a 38-year-old Iraq War veteran, also pushed back against what he described as a Democratic talking point that he was bankrolled by the president and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who hails from one of the state's wealthiest political families.

"I haven't gotten any money from Donald Trump. I haven't gotten any money from Betsy DeVos. I haven't gotten any money -- that's political talking points. Very little of that is true," James said during the appearance, a video of which was obtained by POLITICO.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


James Monroe review: a timely reminder of the Era of Good Feelings: A life of the fifth president makes interesting reading, not least for his warnings about foreign influence in the White House (John S Gardner, 9 May 2020, The Guardian)

McGrath writes of the "calling of honorable public service that echoes throughout Monroe's life". He ran against his friend Madison for Congress to reaffirm a principle, "a heartfelt belief that a new American government was not American without safeguarding the rights of its citizens. Politicians rarely think this way now or in 1788, but Monroe did." [...]

Monroe's deliberative decision-making led to many wise actions, particularly in foreign policy. In partnership with his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, he was able to forge a pact with Britain against the slave trade, resolve a boundary issue with Russia, negotiate a treaty with Spain that put the United States on the Pacific coast, and begin recognizing the Latin American republics that had revolted from Spanish rule.

Monroe's famous doctrine, designed to forestall any attempt by European powers to re-establish colonies in South America, declared the era of colonization in the western hemisphere over and declared that an attack on the new republics would be considered "as an attack on ourselves".

Dorothy Day review: biography of a radical rebel is the masterpiece she deserves
 Read more
It was armed neutrality and protection rather than collective defence, but it has endured for two centuries as a bedrock principle of US foreign policy. The doctrine was fiercely opposed by, among others, Metternich, who called it "no less dangerous" than the American Revolution. It was - to monarchies, exactly as Monroe intended.

Like Harry Truman, another quintessentially American president beset by money and farming troubles throughout his life, Monroe was not immune from the temptations of partisanship but sought to rise above it and to serve honorably, doing the right thing for the country by his lights. As with Truman, a surprising amount of his work endures.

Before Monroe left for France to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson and Madison gave him a dinner. After a hearty meal and "some tolerable Singing", Monroe made a toast to "the union of the United States - may political discussion only tend to cement it".

May 8, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


AP Exclusive: Top White House officials buried CDC report (JASON DEAREN, 5/08/20, AP)

The decision to shelve detailed advice from the nation's top disease control experts for reopening communities during the coronavirus pandemic came from the highest levels of the White House, according to internal government emails obtained by The Associated Press.

The files also show that after the AP reported Thursday that the guidance document had been buried, the Trump administration ordered key parts of it to be fast-tracked for approval.

The trove of emails show the nation's top public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spending weeks working on guidance to help the country deal with a public health emergency, only to see their work quashed by political appointees with little explanation.

The document, titled "Guidance for Implementing the Opening Up America Again Framework," was researched and written to help faith leaders, business owners, educators and state and local officials as they begin to reopen. It included detailed "decision trees," or flow charts aimed at helping local leaders navigate the difficult decision of whether to reopen or remain closed.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that the documents had not been approved by CDC Director Robert Redfield. The new emails, however, show that Redfield cleared the guidance.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM



Despite recently reopening businesses amid an impressive decline in new coronavirus case, the South Korean government has issued a nationwide health advisory for bars and nightclubs to close down for 30 more days after health officials tracked 13 new cases to a single person who attended five nightclubs and bars in the country's capital city of Seoul. [...]

Officials think he may have come in contact with over 1,500 people during his night out. City officials are now using CCTV and credit card records to help identify visitors and are encouraging them to self-isolate and immediately report any coronavirus symptoms to local hospitals.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM



Approximately 15 white men, including an individual who appeared to be an officer, gathered on the front porch of a home belonging to a black family in Rocky Point, North Carolina on Sunday night demanding entrance. At least two of the men were allegedly armed.

The group was operating under the belief that an individual named Josiah, a student at Topsail High School in Pender County, was a resident at the home. Allegedly, the men wanted to speak to Josiah concerning the whereabouts of a girl that had gone missing that evening. Among the members of the alleged group were the girl's father and an off-duty bailiff for the New Hanover County Sheriff's Department.

Just bustin up a chiffarobe.
Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Robert Caro writes, and waits, during the COVID-19 outbreak (HILLEL ITALIE, 5/08/20, AP)

The historian had been hoping to visit Vietnam in March as part of his research for his Johnson book, but postponed the trip. He needs to looks through some papers in the Johnson presidential library in Austin, Texas, but is resigned to waiting indefinitely. "That's a great frustration," he acknowledged.

Meanwhile, he is so immersed in one section of the last Johnson volume, set during 1967, that he is not leaving for his more rural and presumably safer home on Long Island until he's done. The section, he says, "is as long as many books," a description his many readers would find easy to believe.

Caro began the Johnson books in the mid-1970s, around the time he turned 40. He has completed four volumes, totaling more than 3,000 pages, and has outlived many of his key sources. He was loathed by some Johnson loyalists for his second book in the series, "Means of Ascent," which presented Johnson as a boorish man and a singularly ruthless and unprincipled politician. But the mood shifted after Vol. III, "Master of the Senate," published in 2002 and a defining chronicle of Johnson's legislative genius that politicians today still study.

His most recent book, "The Passage of Power," came out eight years ago this month. Its story ended in mid-1964, with Johnson on the verge of passing an extraordinary run of legislation that had many celebrating him as a fulfiller -- and even exceeder -- of the hopes and vision of the assassinated John F. Kennedy.

But by 1967, when Joan Didion wrote "the center was not holding," the country and Johnson's presidency were unraveling. Riots devastated Detroit and Newark, New Jersey, among other cities; hundreds of thousands of troops were in Vietnam; inflation was taking hold and Congress was resisting continued funding for his Great Society domestic programs.

"He's in a moment of crisis," Caro says. "I'm trying to show in this section of this book what it's like to be president of the United States when everything is going wrong." [...]

"Bob has an unusually devoted following among readers because he has a powerful narrative voice that lends high drama to everything that he describes," fellow historian Ron Chernow wrote in an email to the AP. "Those who don't read biography imagine that great length is a deterrent. But genuine readers of biography crave stories on an epic scale and that Bob always delivers reliably and brilliantly."

In the new book, Caro plans a takeout on what it was like to be elderly before the passage, in 1965, of Medicare. Talking about his section on 1967, he explains that Johnson had once been confident that the country could fight wars both home and abroad -- defeat the North Vietnamese overseas and conquer poverty in the United States.

By 1967, "he's found out that he's wrong, although he doesn't admit that he's wrong," Caro said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Could Hitler Have Invaded America? Not Without Alien or Divine Intervention (Peter Suciu, 5/08/20, nATIONAL iNTEREST)
Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


New polling data show Trump faltering in key swing states--here's why (William A. Galston, May 8, 2020, Brookings)

Some portions of this coalition--white evangelical Protestants and white men with less than a college education--are rock-solid. But there is evidence that other groups are beginning to waver. For example, President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton among voters 65 and older by 7 points, 52-45 percent, in 2016. In the latest NBC/WSJ poll, by contrast, Biden led Trump by 9 points, 52-43. Because seniors vote at a higher rate than any other age cohort, the shift in this group alone could be enough to sink the president's prospects in closely contested states.

As Trump pushes to reopen the economy, seniors, who overwhelmingly give priority to defeating the coronavirus over getting back to work, are registering their disapproval. As commentators have noted, the pandemic has driven a wedge between retirees and less educated middle-age workers, who cannot work remotely and depend on a regular paycheck. The president needs to retain the support of both these groups, but he is finding it hard to please one without antagonizing the other.

Trump's troubles do not end here. Continuing a trend first evident in the 2018 midterm elections, he is losing ground among white working-class women, who supported him by a 27-point margin in 2016. Because opinion among college-educated voters has hardened against the president since he took office, he needs strong majority support among the entire white working class to prevail. Working-class men will not be enough; he must get the votes of their spouses and daughters as well.

Although it is impossible to know for sure why white working-class women are deserting President Trump, some hypotheses are consistent with the evidence. Women attach a higher priority to health issues than do men and may be disappointed that the president does not seem to care as much about these issues as they would like. Women are more likely than men to believe that the economy is reopening too quickly and that the president's public statements during the crisis have been inconsistent and even harmful.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


It Only Took 36 Hours Before State Investigators Knew They Had to Arrest Ahmaud Arbery's Killers (Trone Dowd, May 8 2020, Vice)

"I can't answer what another agency did or didn't see," Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said during a press conference Friday morning. "Considering the fact that we hit the ground running Wednesday morning, and within 36 hours we had secured warrants for two individuals for felony murder, I think that speaks volumes for itself and that the probable cause was clear to our agents pretty quickly."

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM

THE TRUMP BRAND (profanity alert)

The 'Boogaloo Bois' Are Bringing Their AR-15s and Civil War Ideology to the Lockdown Protests (Tess Owen, May 8 2020, Vice)

A report by the Tech Transparency Project last month identified 125 Facebook groups that were dedicated to "boogaloo," and more than 60% of those had been created between February and April. On those pages, shitposting, racism and anti-government memes intermingle. That's typical for Boogaloo pages, according to a February report by the National Contagion Research Institute (NCRI), which tracks how hate moves from the internet into the real world.

"While many still use the boogaloo meme jokingly, an increasing number of people employ the phrase to incite an apocalyptic confrontation with law enforcement and government officials or to provoke ethnic warfare," NCRI wrote.

The incident in West Odessa, Texas, was just the latest example of extremists, including boogaloo bois, taking up arms in response to lockdown orders.

On Thursday, Colorado police said they were investigating threats of civil war made against health centers. "We the people' are DONE with this [*******]," one person wrote in an email, according to local news outlets, "and you're about to start a hot-shooting no [*****] civil war."

And last Friday, federal agents arrested Bradley Bunn, a 53-year-old man in Loveland, Colorado, for possession of pipe bombs, which he said he'd planned to use against law enforcement if they raided his property in the middle of the night (a possible reference to Lemp). Local news outlets identified him as a member of a militia, and reported that he'd planned to attend an armed lockdown protest.

Following Bunn's arrest, according to the Site Intelligence Group, which tracks extremist activity, misinformation about an impending FBI raid on armed protesters began circulating on 4chan and far-right Telegram channels -- with some users encouraging armed resistance.

Also last week, heavily armed men with long guns stormed Michigan's capitol, joining hundreds of conservative protesters who were demanding an end to stay-at-home orders. Some state lawmakers had shown up to work that day with bulletproof vests on in anticipation of violence.

On May 1, armed militia men also showed up to protest lockdown orders in Richmond, Virginia. The same day, armed men promoting boogaloo protested in Raleigh, North Carolina. They had responded to a "call to arms" issued by a Facebook group called "Blue Igloo" (a homophone for boogaloo). "They're called guns," one person wrote in response to the event page, the Triad-City-Beat reported. "Show up ready to use them. I'm tired of this [****]. I'm not going to any more protests unless serious men come and are ready to defend our lives and liberties."

And earlier in April, police in Texas arrested Aaron Swenson, a self-proclaimed "boogaloo boi" who was Facebook live-streaming his search for a police officer to "ambush and execute." He, too, was upset about Duncan Lemp's death.

The day after Lemp was killed, Swenson changed his Facebook profile picture to a photo of himself in a Hawaiian shirt, and an armored vest, and the hashtag #HisNameWasDuncan, according to a Buzzfeed report.

They should be taken at their word and crushed.
Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Poll: Majority of Israelis oppose West Bank, Jordan Valley annexation plans (Middle East Monitor, May 8, 2020)

According to the poll results, more than 40 per cent of the respondents opposed the annexation plan and preferred a permanent two-state solution with the Palestinians, while only 26 per cent supported it.

The poll results showed that 22 per cent favour unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians, while only 36 per cent of the Likud Party supporters supported the annexation plan.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


The agonizing story of Tara Reade: I started reporting on Tara Reade's story a year ago. Here's what I found, and where I'm stuck. (Laura McGann,  May 7, 2020, Vox)

Reade told me that a senior aide told her Biden liked her legs and that he wanted her to serve cocktails at a fundraiser for him, a request she found demeaning and declined. When she later complained to others in the office that Biden would put his hands on her shoulder, neck, and hair during meetings in ways that made her uncomfortable, she says she was blamed and told to dress more conservatively. Within a few months, she said, her responsibilities had been stripped and she felt she was being pushed out of the job. She went back home to California deflated. [...]

Last year, Reade encouraged me to speak with a friend of hers who counseled her through her time in Biden's office in 1992 and 1993. The friend was clear about what had happened, and what hadn't.

"On the scale of other things we heard, and I feel ashamed, but it wasn't that bad. [Biden] never tried to kiss her directly. He never went for one of those touches. It was one of those, 'sorry you took it that way.' I know that is very hard to explain," the friend told me. She went on: "What was creepy was that it was always in front of people."

I wanted to break this story. Badly. About half a dozen women had stepped forward around the time I spoke with Reade to say they were bothered by how Biden had touched them at events. I wrote a column praising them for staring down the political media that had given him a pass for all those years. Reade's story took these complaints further -- showing how even lower-grade inappropriate conduct can have real consequences for a woman's career, an important subject that we still don't talk about nearly enough.

I knew I wasn't the only reporter Reade was talking to. The New York Times had three reporters on the story, she told me. On April 3, the day after we first spoke, she texted me four times. She wanted to know when I planned to publish, and she warned me that other outlets were getting ready to do so.

That day, the Union published an article with her story. This happens sometimes. It's happened to me, many times. You fight for a story that would be explosive if you could prove it, but you can't. I continued reporting on her story for a few more weeks after the story broke, but I didn't get enough. Vox did not publish anything about Reade in 2019. Neither did the major outlets that I know were pursuing the story, including the Times, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press.

In March 2020, Reade resurfaced with a new allegation, which she told on The Katie Halper Show. In addition to her account of her experience with office staff, Reade said that in 1993, Biden forced an unwanted sexual encounter on her. She said Biden pushed her against a wall on the Capitol grounds, kissed her, and then digitally penetrated her -- all against her will.

Biden's campaign did not respond publicly to Reade's claims in 2019. On May 1, Biden answered questions about the allegations for the first time on MSNBC's Morning Joe. He denied all of Reade's claims and underscored his denial of the sexual assault allegation. "I'm saying unequivocally, it never, never happened," he told host Mika Brzezinski.

Three aides whom Reade said she approached about her complaints in 1993 told the New York Times that they also dispute her account. "I never once witnessed, or heard of, or received, any reports of inappropriate conduct, period -- not from Ms. Reade, not from anyone," said Marianne Baker, Biden's longtime executive assistant. "I have absolutely no knowledge or memory of Ms. Reade's accounting of events, which would have left a searing impression on me as a woman professional, and as a manager."

When Reade's story reemerged in a new form, I went through my reporting notes and interview transcripts from a year ago. [...]

Reade's latest allegation is far more serious and comes in a far more fraught political context. The story that both she and her corroborating witnesses are telling has changed dramatically. This leaves me -- all of us -- in an agonizing place. I've written many articles through the Me Too era. It's unrealistic to demand "perfect" victims. And, like most who come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct or assault, Reade has suffered for speaking out. In several exchanges this year and last year, she's shown me disturbing messages she's received online.

As my colleague Anna North writes, there has long been an ambiguity in the Me Too movement. The rallying cry has been to "believe women." But the acts of journalism that have driven the movement forward have been built on extraordinary amounts of evidence: They usually include not just consistent corroboration but oftentimes multiple stories, stacked on top of each other. Taking on powerful men over these issues was unthinkable just a few years ago. It's required herculean effort.

Reporters who've succeeded in forcing powerful men to be held to account relied on an incredible amount of reporting to do it.

For example, Irin Carmon, who, along with Amy Brittain exposed Charlie Rose for an alleged decades-long pattern of sexual harassment, had pursued the story for years. When their exposé appeared in the Washington Post, it was built on accusations from eight women, three on the record. Carmon and Brittain found consistency across the women's stories and strong corroboration of each account:

There are striking commonalities in the accounts of the women, each of whom described their interactions with Rose in multiple interviews with The Post. For all of the women, reporters interviewed friends, colleagues or family members who said the women had confided in them about aspects of the incidents.

Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein fell in 2017 after Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times published the accounts of dozens of women who said Weinstein had assaulted or harassed them over the previous 30 years. Ronan Farrow published another story shortly after in the New Yorker, an account that included 13 accusations of sexual assault, three of them rape. All three reporters have gone on to write books about the incredible lengths they went to in order to get the story.

Eight women have now said they've been made uncomfortable by Biden in public settings. Reade is the lone woman to accuse him of sexual assault. This is a situation out of her control, but it means that reporters can't build a story about Biden around a pattern of behavior, where multiple accusers boost one another's story. Instead, reporters are looking at Reade's account in isolation -- and that account has changed.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


Death of the office: As the pandemic leaves offices around the world empty, (Catherine Nixey, JUNE/JULY 2020, The Economist)
In the spring of 1822 an employee in one of the world's first offices - that of the East India Company in London - sat down to write a letter to a friend. If the man was excited to be working in a building that was revolutionary, or thrilled to be part of a novel institution which would transform the world in the centuries that followed, he showed little sign of it. "You don't know how wearisome it is", wrote Charles Lamb, "to breathe the air of four pent walls, without relief, day after day, all the golden hours of the day between ten and four." His letter grew ever-less enthusiastic, as he wished for "a few years between the grave and the desk". No matter, he concluded, "they are the same."

The world that Lamb wrote from is now long gone. The infamous East India Company collapsed in ignominy in the 1850s. Its most famous legacy, British colonial rule in India, disintegrated a century later. But his letter resonates today, because, while other empires have fallen, the empire of the office has triumphed over modern professional life.

The dimensions of this empire are awesome. Its population runs into hundreds of millions, drawn from every nation on Earth. It dominates the skylines of our cities - their tallest buildings are no longer cathedrals or temples but multi-storey vats filled with workers. It delineates much of our lives. If you are a hardworking citizen of this empire you will spend more waking hours with the irritating colleague to your left whose spare shoes invade your footwell than with your husband or wife, lover or children.

Or rather you used to. This spring, almost overnight, the world's offices emptied. In New York and Paris, in Madrid and Milan, they ready themselves for commuters who never come. Empty lifts slide up and down announcing floor numbers to empty vestibules; water coolers hum and gurgle, cooling water that no one will drink. For the moment, office life is over.

Even before coronavirus struck, the reign of the office had started to look a little shaky. A combination of rising rents, the digital revolution and increased demands for flexible working meant its population was slowly emigrating to different milieux. More than half of the Ameri­can workforce already worked remotely, at least some of the time. Across the world, home working had been rising steadily for a decade. Pundits predicted that it would increase further. No one imagined that a dramatic spike would come so soon.

It's too early to say whether the office is done for. As with any sudden loss, many of us find our judgment blurred by conflicting emotions. Relief at freedom from the daily commute and pleasure at turning one's back on what Philip Larkin called "the toad work" are tinged with regret and nostalgia, as we prepare for another shapeless day of WFH in jogging bottoms.

But we shouldn't let sentimentality cloud us. Offices have always been profoundly flawed spaces. Those of the East India Company, among the world's first, were built more for bombast than bureaucracy. They were sermons in stone, and the solidity of every marble step, the elegance of every Palladian pillar, were intended to speak volumes about the profitability and smooth functioning within. This was nonsense, of course. Created to ensure efficiency, offices immediately institutionalised idleness. A genteel arms race arose as managers tried to make their minions work, and the minions tried their damnedest to avoid it. East India House, in which Lamb worked, could give call centres a run for their money in the art of micro-managing. At the start of the 19th century, the company introduced an attendance book for employees to sign when they arrived, when they left and every 15 minutes in between. Not that it proved much use. "It annoys Dodwell amazingly," wrote Lamb. "He sometimes has to sign six or seven times while he is reading the newspaper."

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Actually, the Orange Man Is Bad: And that's kind of the point. (TIM MILLER  MAY 8, 2020, The Bulwark)

We sit at the most consequential moment in a generation and it is now clear that it is not the case that President Trump doesn't want to change his behavior. It's that he is congenitally incapable to moderate it even for a single day.

The malignant self-obsession and childish vitriol only scratches the surface of the man's flaws. His compulsions aren't hidden or covered up. They are broadcast for the entire country to see, for hours on end, every day, late into the night.

Here is where the final corruption takes place. Trump's behavior is so far outside the realm of acceptable that even his supporters have been forced to concede it.

And so, because they are unwilling to abandon Trump, they have chosen to embrace his vile abnormality and wear it as a badge of honor, turning it into a rallying cry to attack anyone who is bothered by the behavior.

"Orange Man Bad," they say.

As if, by taking ownership of this fact, it somehow invalidates it.

To these Trump supporters, and cos-play non-supporters, it is only the simpleminded folk who cling to the superstitious belief that a bad man having the most important job in the world is a serious concern. Those of us who are bothered by the insane ravings of a narcissistic imbecile aren't able to see the big picture.

The view of these sophisticates is that yes this man is bad, but also maybe having him in charge can be . . . not bad. Maybe even good. For as bad as President Orange Man is, there are more pressing matters that serious people must consider.

For instance: What if a daytime CNN anchor uses hyperbole?

Or a Washington Post columnist publishes a tweet that contradicts a tweet she tweeted three years ago?

What if, somewhere in the universe, there is a liberal who needs to be owned?

Are Republicans and conservatives--and even conscientious non-Trump supporters--supposed to obsess over every little thing the leader of the free world says and does and ignore the bigger game that's afoot?

Just because 2,000 Americans are dying from a pandemic every day?

Get real, bro.

This conceit is endlessly fascinating to me. It's the old debate trick of performatively conceding the lesser point in order to win the broader point--but in reverse. Trump's people concede the most significant matter just so that they can argue the ephemera.

So they employ the MAGAfied "Orange Man Bad" retort on social media as a way of stepping over his badness to address something else, rather than engage with it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Why Trump Reaches for Nativism to Fight a Virus--and How to Respond (Rachel Kleinfeld, MAY 08, 2020, Carnegie Endowment)

On April 20, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter a plan to "suspend immigration" in light of the coronavirus pandemic, setting off a policy scramble that resembled the 2017 effort to carry out his campaign calls for a "shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." By the time he sent that tweet, his administration had already spent weeks trying to rename the new coronavirus the "Chinese virus"--despite the fact that implicitly blaming Asians and Asian Americans for the spread of the virus has led to a dramatic increase in violent hate crimes.

Given Trump's track record, some Americans rightly feared that he would use the pandemic to rationalize discriminatory policies and fuel nativist rhetoric. Trump's insistence on labeling the coronavirus as foreign echoes past nativist moments when diseases such as cholera, polio, and smallpox were linked to immigrants. So what can we learn from this, and how can Americans respond? In "Resisting the Call of Nativism," we assess democracies' experiences with nativism to offer advice--and warnings--for dealing with politicians who suggest some citizens are less equal than others.

Nativists are not simply voters who favor reducing immigration or desire an official national language; those are legitimate questions on which well-meaning people might disagree. Rather, nativists believe nationality is inherently based on race, ethnicity, or religion. This understanding of who counts as a "real" citizen leads them to propose second-class citizenship for some groups and to try to keep members of those groups out of the country. Nativists reject the full democratic participation of groups they deem undesirable, treating their policy preferences and beliefs as illegitimate. For example, Trump's July 2019 tweets telling four Congresswomen to "go back [to the...] places from which they came" made a direct appeal to nativism, suggesting the Congresswomen are not real Americans because they are not white.

Of the group of primary voters who propelled Trump to the Republican nomination, 77 percent thought one must be Christian to be "truly American" and 47 percent believed one must be of European descent.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


The Enduring Romance of the Night Train: The beguilements of the sleeper car have never seemed sharper than on the eve of a global lockdown. (Anthony Lane, May 4, 2020, The New Yorker)

But why take a night train at all? Why not fly, drive, or apply to your nearest genie for a magic-carpet ride, preferably with a seat on the aisle? The best reason was supplied by my godfather, who was a military attaché in Moscow during the nineteen-eighties. If he wished to go to Leningrad by train, tickets would be issued to him only for travel at night. Daylight, which might have afforded a view of sensitive installations, was off limits.

Lesser mortals, with duller jobs, have three reasons to choose a sleeper train. The first of these is logistical. Say you work at the Stock Exchange in Milan. You have a meeting booked for Tuesday, September 8th, this year, in central Paris, at noon. (Because you are an optimist and a tough guy, and because you are currently hiding in your apartment, subsisting on macaroni from your pantry, and no longer able to take your shirts across town to be laundered by your ninety-year-old mother, you expect to remain virus-free.) You have a choice: air or rail? Air means an early start, with a taxi to Milan's Linate Airport, and the 08:25 Alitalia flight on Tuesday morning. Eighty-five dollars in coach, but, hey, someone else is paying, and the idea of being divided from the proletariat by a nylon curtain still gives you a weird kick, so a business seat it is. Three hundred and fifty bucks.

To go by rail, by contrast, involves dining at home, then catching the ten-past-eleven on Monday night, from Milan's central station. Again, your own space, with a sleeping compartment to yourself, will be expensive, at two hundred and seventy dollars. If you don't mind sharing with another man, however, the price plummets to ninety-three dollars. A steal. Unfortunately, you do mind, since that other man, in your shuddering imagination, is sure to be a catarrhal insomniac with complex gastric issues and featherlight fingers. A stealer.

So, in terms of cost, the plane and the train match up. The same goes for arrival times: 09:50 at Orly Airport, or thirteen minutes earlier at the Gare de Lyon, not far from the Place de la Bastille. And there's the rub. Most night trains insert you into the core of a city, whereas planes deposit you, at best, on the outer rind. A cab into Paris from Orly (or, more irritating still, from Charles de Gaulle Airport), at rush hour, is the antithesis of fun, and you may not fancy the schlep by public transport. Alight from the night train, though, and you will find le Tout-Paris, ready to greet you. Being in no hurry, you amble along the platform to breakfast in a restaurant so royally gilded, on the walls and ceilings, that the yolk of your poached egg will shine like the sun.

The second reason to travel by night train is flygskam. The word means "flight shame" in Swedish, and denotes the guilt that gnaws--or should rightfully gnaw--at your vitals when you realize that, by nipping from Berlin to Ibiza on EasyJet, say, for a skull-jolting weekend on the dance floor, you will, however indirectly, hasten the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. If you can spread the shame, forcing celebrities to charter their own yachts in a fit of conscience, so much the better. The vice of flying, thus exposed, has spawned a reciprocal virtue: tågskryt, or "train brag," as practiced by those who not only swap the skies for the railroad but, having made the sacrifice, go on Instagram and tell their friends about it.

The science is solid. If our Milanese broker flies to Paris (a distance of around four hundred miles), he will--not personally, of course, unless he asked for a second helping of osso buco the night before--release one hundred kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That's not counting the taxi rides to Linate Airport at one end and from Orly at the other, probably in a fuming snarl of traffic. Should he go overnight by train, the journey will be more circuitous, and maybe thirty miles longer, but the CO2 output will be under four kilos. That's quite a difference, and it's genuinely hard to spot a downside, unless it's the annoying halo of ethical self-satisfaction atop our traveller's head.

Will flygskam have any lasting effect on commercial enterprise? The signs are (or were, before the advent of covid-19) distinctly promising. A new Nightjet train from Vienna to Brussels, established by Austrian Federal Railways, or Ö.B.B., and lauded by its C.E.O., Andreas Matthä, as "an eco-friendly travel option to the E.U. capital," had its inaugural run on January 19th. A serious journey, at just over fourteen hours. Ö.B.B. estimates that the rest of its night network has already saved the world twelve thousand short-haul flights a year: a delicious irony, given how greedily the budget airlines have eaten into train travel in recent decades. Further resurrections lie ahead, not least new sleeper services from Vienna and Munich to Amsterdam, slated for December of this year. One can but hope that such enviable schemes, intended to address the climate crisis, will not be stopped in their tracks by the rival plight through which we currently sweat.

The third reason to choose a sleeper train--and the most compelling--is no more practical than the taste of a peach. At stake, you might say, is a sense of latent adventure. Although it is unlikely, as you clatter through the night, that anything of note will befall you, the prospect that it could feels ever present, just out of sight beyond the next curve of the track. To remain awake to that possibility, even as we're meant to be sleeping, is the privilege that beckons some of us back, year after year, to this awkward and beguiling locomotion.

No wonder trains and movies make such cozy bedfellows--so cozy that a train zipping through the darkness, with windows illuminated, actually looks like a strip of film. Plots, laid down on rails, dash ever onward; anticipation rises like steam. Consider Claudette Colbert, in "The Palm Beach Story," who falls in with the rowdy millionaires of the Ale and Quail Club. Sweeping her up as a mascot, and boarding the 11:58 from Penn Station with a pack of hounds, they think nothing of firing their shotguns at crackers, tossed up by a bar steward like clay pigeons. As for Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes," the lady in question is a grandmotherly secret agent, who, before she disappears, daubs her name on the misted window of the dining car. A ridiculous method, in any other time and place, of leaving your mark; on a night train, though, it seems only right and proper.

If you don't believe me, you have to believe Cary Grant. In "North by Northwest" (more Hitchcock), he boards the Twentieth Century, from New York to Chicago, without a ticket. By chance--or so he thinks--he meets Eva Marie Saint, first in the corridor and then in the dining car, where he orders a Gibson and, on her recommendation, the brook trout. The two of them return to her compartment, where, during a police inspection, she conceals Grant in the foldaway top bunk. Later, as daylight fails, they lean against the wall of the compartment and kiss, over and over, her hands caressing the back of his neck. "Beats flying, doesn't it?" he says to her. Sure does.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Classical Liberals vs. National Conservatives in the Age of Coronavirus (JOSEPH LOCONTE, May 8, 2020, National Review)

Despite their differences, liberalism's right-wing critics are united in their fierce antagonism to John Locke, whose doctrine of government-by-consent inspired the American Revolution and informed the Founding. According to Yoram Hazony, the Jewish philosopher and author of The Virtue of Nationalism, Locke's account of human nature amounts to "a far-reaching depreciation of the most basic bonds that hold society together." Similarly, Patrick Deneen, a Catholic political scientist and author of Why Liberalism Failed, denounces Locke's theory of consent as "one of liberalism's most damaging fictions," a solvent of community, morality, and religious belief. [...]

Locke's critics, who often appear not to have read his actual works, see only mindless and clawing consumption at the root of his worldview. But the Second Treatise leaves no doubt about the divine prerogative and the moral obligations that flow from it: Our equality "by Nature" forms "the foundation" of "that obligation to mutual love amongst men" and "the duties they owe one another," namely, "the great maxims of justice and charity." Locke then cites the golden rule to insist upon "a natural duty" to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In a slap at political absolutism, he invokes the authority of the God of the Bible: "For men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker . . . sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not another's pleasure." Locke's conception of human flourishing ultimately depends upon his belief that every person is endowed by God with creative powers and is called -- in freedom -- to engage in meaningful, honorable, productive work.

The fact that Locke grounds rights in Christianity makes the attacks bizarre enough, but even more demented is treating him as the originator.  After all, even Magna Carta, which requires the participation of the taxed in decisions about taxation, states that it is just recognizing ancient liberties. But, the fatal hammer blow is that the Founders hadn't read nevermind depended on Locke's Second Treatise.  Indeed, when they cited him at all it was for his essay on human understanding.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


'Stunning efficiency': For certain corners of Wall Street, dealmaking is happening faster than ever. That could mean a permanent lifestyle change for some investment bankers. (Alex Morrell, May. 8th, 2020, BI)

Far from gumming up business, the shift to remote work, a notion that many bank execs would've scoffed at pre-crisis, has actually facilitated greater productivity. In the age of the coronavirus, Wall Street bankers -- already notorious for long hours spent curating a white-glove experience for clients -- are finding they can provide even closer attention and care from afar. 

It turns out, when you take away the time spent at airports and restaurants, and when Zoom calls can be arranged in minutes, investment banking moves at a lightning-quick pace.

"We're able to get calls and work done extremely quickly because, as I said, nobody is at their kid's ballgame or out for dinner or on an airplane or at a board meeting," Ken Moelis, founder and CEO of Moelis & Co., said on the firm's first-quarter earnings call, according to a transcript from financial-data platform Sentieo. "When we've gotten calls to come up with ideas and help people, we had everybody on the phone just 5 or 10 minutes later. It's a stunning efficiency." 

The story is the same at PJT Partners, according to founder and CEO Paul Taubman, who said the absence of distractions like traveling and coordinating meetings has meant they're working harder and spending more time with clients than before. 

"We're not traveling, we're not spending all the time coordinating meetings. We're just getting on phone calls, video conferences, exchanging messages with clients," Taubman said. "And I think we're able to spend a lot more time for every minute of every hour, and every hour of every day, engaging with clients without any wasted time. So I think it's also enabled us to be far more intense and far more efficient."

The dynamic has played out in capital markets practices as well. For bankers tasked with sourcing and advising clients on debt deals, the shift to remote work has been fairly seamless -- especially since most of the action thus far has been dominated by sophisticated companies that frequently travel the bond markets. 

"The fact that you can't travel and you're sitting home in front of your screen with video-conference capability, with the ability to get on phone calls, it's incredibly, incredibly efficient with frequent issuers and sophisticated issuers," Richard Zogheb, global head of debt capital markets at Citigroup, told Business Insider.

Capitalism only cares about the ever more efficient creation of wealth.  Travel is an inefficiency, whether to work or to a client's workplace.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Trump blocks national testing program -- why? Because tests make us "look bad" (DAN FROOMKIN, MAY 8, 2020, Press Watch)

On Wednesday, Trump explained himself with an extraordinarily revealing quote -- one that included both a lie and a confession.

"In a way, by doing all this testing we make ourselves look bad," Trump told reporters on Wednesday,

It was a lie because the number of tests administered in the U.S. -- currently about 7 million -- is tiny compared to the actual need.

It was a confession because Trump was acknowledging what many of us have perceived all along: He sees testing as a matter of his own political health rather than an urgent question of public health.

The context of his comment was also revealing, because he was speaking entirely about the public perception of the problem rather than the problem itself -- and he started off, as usual, by ascribing ill intent to the media for accurately reporting its extent.

Increased testing would demonstrate how many more of us have been infected than we now know, showing how much less deadly the virus is than feared.  As a political matter, it would help speed reopening if we could send folks back to work who already have antibodies.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Coronavirus originated in bats, WHO says, but scientists also see link to cats, ferrets and pangolins (JANICE KEW, JOHN LAUERMAN, AND BLOOMBERG, 5/08/20, Fortune)

The virus probably arrived in humans through contact with animals raised to supply food, though scientists have yet to determine which species, he said. Studies have shown that cats and ferrets are susceptible to Covid-19, and dogs to a lesser extent, he said, adding that it's important to find out which animals can get infected to avoid creating a "reservoir" in another species.

Questions about the origin of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that has caused the pandemic, have burned hotter since U.S. President Donald Trump suggested that it came from a lab in China. Scientists who have studied the issue maintain that the virus originated in an animal, and probably entered the human population in November.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


The 'Hard Hat Riot' of 1970 Pitted Construction Workers Against Anti-War Protestors (Angela Serratore, 5/08/20, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM)

In the days after May 4, 1970, the date the Ohio National Guard killed four unarmed Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War, anti-war activists were galvanized. In demonstrations held across the country, the protestors mourned the deaths of their compatriots but also felt emboldened to continue the fight to end a war that had no end in sight. They sought to show the rest of the world (and themselves) that they weren't alone--that millions of people agreed the war must end, and that the administration of President Richard Nixon be held accountable.

The next day, college students in New York City gathered with nearly 1,000 demonstrators to protest at the United Nations. In the wake of the massacre rapidly becoming a national flashpoint, Mayor John Lindsay, who had spoken against the war at the 1968 Republican National Convention, ordered the flag at City Hall flown at half-mast in the Kent State students' memory. The backlash began soon after.

On May 6, protesting students at City College met resistance from a small group of construction workers, some of whom self-identified themselves as Vietnam veterans, a preview of what would come later that week. Two days later, hundreds of local students gathered in the morning for a memorial demonstration in Lower Manhattan, eventually moving towards Federal Hall, the historic site where George Washington first took the oath of office as President. At this spot, in front of a statue of Washington, the protestors reiterated their commitment to ending the war. Then, chaos descended on the peaceful scene, as nearly 200 construction workers arrived at the protest bearing patriotic signs and, according to a New York Times report on the incident, chants of "All The Way, U.S.A." and "Love It or Leave It."

The workers quickly pushed through a line of mostly indifferent police officers to get to the protestors, charging at, according to the Times, students who closely resembled the stereotypical longhaired hippie that had come to symbolize opposition to the war. About 70 people were injured in the scuffle. The construction workers marched on through the narrow streets of the Financial District towards City Hall, where they sang the Star-Spangled Banner and demanded that Mayor Lindsay raise the flags to full-mast; they eventually got their way.

It's natural for the left to misread Kent State,, which simply demonstrated how sick Americans were of the activists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Would You Let The Government Track Your Smartphone If It Meant We Could Reopen Sooner? (DAVID H. FREEDMAN, 05/08/20, Newsweek)

 To avoid more emergency-room disasters like the one that overwhelmed New York City in April, public-health officials must act aggressively to stop small outbreaks before they develop into big ones. The key, experts say, is contact tracing. For each new COVID-19 case, health care workers would develop a list of people the patient might have interacted with before symptoms developed. Then they would contact each one and recommend self-quarantine.

Contact tracing was used effectively during previous outbreaks, notably HIV/AIDS. With COVID-19, inquiries wouldn't be as intrusive as questions about sexual partners, of course, but they would reach many more people--in a country where citizens take to the streets over such assaults against their liberty as the closing of hair salons and gyms. With the coronavirus infecting tens of thousands of people each day, tracking down all those contacts would take an army of health care workers: about 100,000, says the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Technology, the thinking goes, might help automate the process. It's worked in South Korea, which achieved COVID-19 numbers that are the envy of much of the world: as of early May, it logged fewer than 11,000 cases, in a population of 50 million, and just over 250 deaths--or 1/16th the U.S. per capita case rate, and 1/300th the death rate. More than 20 countries, including most of Asia, have already been enlisting cellphones to help identify those who might have been exposed to the infection, so those people can self-isolate or get cleared by a test. America, with its vaunted technology industry, is a laggard.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


The Blacklist and the Making of High Noon (Loren Kantor, 5/07/20, splice today)

In 1946, when screenwriter Carl Foreman began outlining his new script for a revisionist Western, the Allies had just won the war and the United Nations was a new entity. Foreman wanted to write an allegory about the need for world unity to defeat unchecked aggression and uphold democracy. The story would be about a lawman recruiting local townspeople to help fight a gang of violent outlaws.  [...]

As Foreman toiled on the High Noon screenplay, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) held public hearings into communist infiltration of Hollywood. HUAC ignored Foreman in their first round of hearings in 1947. "I was a very unimportant little fellow," Foreman said. But as his career grew in prominence, HUAC took notice. In 1951, Foreman received a pink letter in the mail. It was a subpoena commanding him to appear before the committee. Foreman had two choices: confess his communist past and provide names of fellow travelers or plead the Fifth and refuse to answer questions. Option one meant humiliation; option two was career suicide.

As he contemplated, his High Noon screenplay took a new direction. It became an allegory about the blacklist. Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper) was Carl Foreman. The outlaws gunning for the Marshall were the HUAC members threatening Foreman's livelihood. The cowardly citizens of the small town were Foreman's Hollywood peers who refused to protest the blacklist. "As I was writing the screenplay, it became insane," Foreman said. "Life was mirroring art and art was mirroring life... I became the Gary Cooper character."

The Cold War gained momentum and national sentiment turned against the so-called "reds in Hollywood." Ten prominent filmmakers (the Hollywood Ten) were convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in prison. Stanley Kramer, the producer of High Noon, had a difficult decision. He'd started his own production company and was on the verge of a distribution deal with Columbia. He knew if he publicly supported Foreman, he'd his risk his studio deal.

Foreman tried to convince Kramer to resist the committee. Kramer urged Foreman not to plead the Fifth as if he had something to hide. Kramer felt this would cast shade on everyone involved with High Noon. The two old friends became enemies. By the second week of production, Kramer told Foreman to hand in his resignation and sell his stock options in the film. Foreman refused. He wanted to see the film through to the end. He also didn't want to testify before HUAC as someone who'd lost the support of his peers.

Foreman was fired. But Fred Zinnemann, the film's director, and Gary Cooper, the star, objected. In addition, Kramer learned that Foreman never signed a contract deferring his film salary. This meant Bank of America, who was financing the film, could cut off the funding needed to complete production. Kramer had no choice but to rehire Foreman as writer and associate producer. According to Foreman, Kramer told him, "Well, you've won." They met for several hours but their friendship ended that day.

On September 24, 1951, Foreman drove to the Los Angeles Federal Building to testify in front of HUAC. When asked if he was a communist, he said he'd signed a loyalty oath for the Screen Writers Guild stating he was not a communist party member. "That statement was true at the time and is true today," he said. Committee members asked if he'd been a communist prior to 1950. He invoked the Fifth and refused to answer. He also refused to supply names of other communists.

The Communists were, of course, the violent outlaws who aggressively opposed democracy and the closest thing to a Will Kane character from the era is Whittaker Chambers.   

There was another example of this phenomenon on this week's Rewatchables about Groundhog Day, which discussed the "surprising" fact that the film's afterlife is driven by its conservatism/religiosity as much as by the humor (but I reiterate).  

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Why Michael Flynn Is Walking Free (DAVID A. GRAHAM, 5/07/20, THE ATLANTIC)

When Flynn, the newly minted national security adviser, got in trouble with the law, he quickly took up the standard playbook of white-collar criminals in pre-Trump America. When the FBI caught him lying, Flynn copped a plea and agreed to cooperate with the government in exchange for a lesser sentence.

Only after that December 2017 plea deal did Flynn grasp the new reality: Cooperating with authorities might get you off easy, but staying loyal to the president will get you off entirely. So even though he'd already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, Flynn changed his mind, tried to withdraw his plea, and began fighting the prosecutors he'd promised to help tooth and nail.

It was a bold move, the sort of unorthodox strategy for which he'd become famous as an intelligence officer. And today it paid off, as the government moved to drop all charges against Flynn. The reversal, from confessed felon to scot-free, is a microcosm of how dramatically the rule of law has weakened during the Trump administration.

...General Harris gets to prosecute him now.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany called Trump an 'inauthentic Republican' and slammed his comments on Mexican immigrants as 'racist', 'hateful' and 'not the American way' back in 2015 (MARLENE LENTHANG, 5/07/20,  DAILYMAIL.COM)

She gave a scathing criticism in response to Trump's controversial statement that Mexico was sending 'rapists' to the US and immigrants were bringing drugs and crime to the country.

'To me, a racist statement is a racist statement."

May 7, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Hydroxychloroquine fails to help hospitalized coronavirus patients in US funded study (Berkeley Lovelace Jr., 5/07/20, CNBC)

Hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump, didn't appear to help hospitalized patients with Covid-19, according to a new observational study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and conducted by researchers at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, looked at 1,376 consecutive patients who showed up at the emergency room with symptoms of coronavirus.

Nearly 60%, or 811 of the patients, received the drug within 48 hours and were found, on average, to be more severely ill than those who didn't receive the drug, the researchers said.

The wingnuts can never win their war on science.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Beauty of Bankruptcy (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, May 7, 2020, National Review)

Because bankruptcy is associated with something that we are deeply uncomfortable talking about -- business failure and personal financial distress -- our bankruptcy procedures remain among the great unsung achievements of American life. We have retained the Victorian terror of bankruptcy, both the thought and the word itself -- recall Donald Trump's avoidance of the word "bankruptcy" when talking about being forced to take one of his struggling businesses and "throw it into a chapter," his favorite evasive euphemism for bankruptcy. But bankruptcy in our time is not a disaster on par with dying in a cholera epidemic. Though it may be embarrassing and painful, our bankruptcy process performs the invaluable service of codifying the terms of failure. And failure is essential to the success of a free and dynamic economy -- a world without it is a world without innovation and growth.

Failure is one of the main ways we adapt our economic arrangements to new conditions. Sometimes, those new conditions emerge slowly, as with the death by inches of many American newspaper publishers; sometimes, those conditions change almost overnight, as with the coronavirus.

It is famously the case that most new businesses fail. And that is especially true of small businesses, though it is good to keep in mind that many of today's corporate behemoths (Microsoft, Facebook, Apple) were once small businesses, too. Among new small businesses, one in five fail in their first year, and half fail by their fifth year. One wonders why entrepreneurs bother with the risks and demands of starting something new when many of them, being capable and energetic, might find comfortable salaried employment at a well-established firm. The answer has to do with risk and reward. Successful entrepreneurship is generally much more lucrative than is a successful career managing someone else's business: There are not very many billionaires who made their money on salary, but even at the less rarefied levels of business life, an entrepreneur who starts a successful dry cleaner or a prospering coffee shop will generally earn much more than someone who manages a dry cleaner or a coffee shop started by someone else. The upside is great -- and, equally important, the downside is not as grim as it could be.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Lynching Then and Lynching Now: Racial Justice as Christian Imperative (Malcolm Foley, May 7, 2020, Mere Orthodoxy)

The United States has a long history of racial terror lynchings. Particularly from the Civil War until this day, thousands of Black men, women and children have been indiscriminately killed for a myriad of reasons. When that killing took place at the hands of 3 or more, it was called a lynching. In attempts to address the phenomenon legally, the definition of the term has been restricted, particularly by the NAACP, to be a killing in which the killers acted under the pretext of justice, their race, or tradition.

If this is in fact the definition of lynching, Ahmaud Arbery was undeniably lynched.

But Black communities (and anyone familiar with this history) do not need that definition to see the resonance and to feel the terror that comes with reading such a story.

The same feeling wracked communities in Montgomery, Alabama on July 25, 1917 when Will and Jesse Powell were lynched to a tree for brushing against a farmer's horse.

That same feeling wracked communities in Missouri and Arkansas in June, 1926, when Albert Blades, 22, was hanged and burned for attacking a small white girl. Evidence actually suggests, however, that he was merely present at a picnic grounds where this girl was playing with her friend and she was startled by his presence.

That same feeling wracked communities in Texas and around the country when Botham Jean was murdered in his own apartment.

The message was the same then as it is now: if you "fit the description", you are not safe to walk. You are not safe to sit in your own apartment. You are not safe to run outside. Such is the purpose of racial terror lynchings, both now and historically.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Islam in America (Jeffrey Bristol, 5/07/20, Law & Liberty)

The difference in political imagination between disestablishment and Laïcité is a primary driver of this divergence. As Manent observes, Laïcité is structured on the division between public and private spheres. It assumes a neat distribution of social activities along this dichotomy. Social phenomena, however, are not so discretely categorizable. For example, it is unclear whether a student wearing a veil in school adorns her body, a private act, or promotes her religion in a government facility, a public one. Given this ambiguity, Laïcité creates line-drawing controversies where conflict becomes inevitable, especially when a minority group is more religious than the whole.

The relationship between religion, government, and civil society is different in the United States. Rather than controlling or containing religion, American political thought holds religion as a positive public good, one the government should allow to flourish. Thus, American disestablishment does not seek to purge religion from public space. Instead, it allows religion to thrive, promoting the free intercourse of peoples from all faiths. Disestablishment thus avoids Laïcité's line-drawing problems and its subsequent discriminatory laws.

Despite many Americans' discomfort with new religions, American civil and political society's embrace of religion allows religious minorities and newcomers to adapt readily to their new context, not only strengthening the minority's position within American society but also reinforcing liberal American civic traditions.

For several years, I have conducted research on Sharia's role in America's Islamic communities. What has impressed me most is  American Muslims' dedication to the principles of constitutional liberty. They understand the secret that has long guaranteed our freedom and rights: only mutual respect and self-organization under the law ensures that individuals enjoy liberty. They also know the best way to realize these goals is by building civil society.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Another Scandal. Another Whistleblower. Another Impeachment? (KIM WEHLE  MAY 7, 2020, The Bulwark)

[B]right is an expert in the development and production of vaccines to combat menaces like the coronavirus. He has a track record of success. America is drowning in the coronavirus crisis. Why, in the midst of the pandemic, would the Trump administration toss aside one of the leading figures in government with expertise and experience?

According to Dr. Bright, he was sidelined for voicing concerns "about the pressure that . . . government officials were exerting on BARDA to invest in drugs, vaccines, and other technologies without proper scientific vetting or that lacked scientific merit." He objected to the administration's award of contracts to companies with political connections rather than "exclusively on scientific merit." Bright insisted "that BARDA would only invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic in safe and scientifically vetted solutions and it would not succumb to the pressure of politics or cronyism." He paid a political price for his integrity as a scientist, physician, and steward of taxpayer dollars.

Dr. Bright was particularly troubled by Trump's reckless promotion of the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, as well as the administration's plan to source these products from uninspected labs in Pakistan and India. In touting the drugs, Trump promised on March 19: "The nice part is, it's been around for a long time, so we know that if it--if things don't go as planned, it's not going to kill anybody." After hydroxychloroquine became a conservative cause célèbre for a few weeks, as the Trump administration's reflexive defenders tripped over one another to praise the president and the drug, the interest petered out--because it became clear that it is not at all the magic bullet they thought it was.

The fight over chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine finally drove a frustrated Bright to go to the press, on the rationale "that Americans needed to have this critical information available to them to better inform them of the risks before taking the medicine." He claims he "felt that he had exhausted all avenues to alert government officials, who refused to listen or take appropriate action to accurately inform the public."

Shortly thereafter, he was removed as BARDA director, allegedly in retaliation for his whistleblowing activity under 5 U.S.C. § 2302(b)(8)(A), which protects employees who disclose information that reveals "any violation of any law, rule, or regulation," or "gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Outrage Mounts After Cell Phone Footage Surfaces of Ahmaud Arbery's Fatal Shooting in Georgia  (MAHITA GAJANAN, MAY 6, 2020, TIME)

Video footage captured by an unidentified witness in a vehicle being driven behind Arbery shows him as he jogs along a two-lane road on Feb. 23. Ahead, a white pickup truck is parked, with one man standing in the truck bed and another standing by the driver's side.

Arbery is seen running toward the truck's right side and he then veers in and out of the camera's frame. A gunshot rings out. Arbery is then seen entering into a struggle with one man, who appears to hold a long gun. Another shot then rings out; Arbery was shot at least twice before he fell to the pavement. [...]

Gregory McMichael said he saw Arbery run by his front yard and alerted his son, according to the police report -- he says they thought he resembled a suspect behind recent break-ins in the neighborhood. Both men then grabbed weapons and attempted to follow Arbery in their pickup truck. After a chase, the men pulled up beside Arbery and shouted at him to stop, McMichael claimed, and Travis McMichael got out of the vehicle with a shotgun. Gregory McMichael alleged that Arbery then attacked Travis and that the men began fighting over the weapon before any shots were fired-- an assertion which appears to contradict the footage appearing to show Arbery only began grappling with a man after the first shot.

They get to relive the joy of murdering Trayvon all over again.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Shocking social media posts yanked by Republican House candidate (ALLY MUTNICK, 05/06/2020, Politico)

One post described the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a rapist and a pedophile. Another mocked a survivor of the Parkland high school shooting. A third accused Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) of "hitting the crack pipe too hard."

The commentary was among now-deleted social media posts and retweets from the accounts of Ted Howze, a Republican challenging Democratic Rep. Josh Harder in a battleground district in California. Others described Islam as "a death cult" and suggested Hillary Clinton and her 2016 campaign chairman, John Podesta, were responsible for the murder of Seth Rich, a former Democratic National Committee staffer.

Who exactly is shocked?  This is Donald's platform.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Researcher testifies to Congress that not a single state meets Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security criteria to reopen safely (Rosie Perper, 5/07/20, BI)

Last month, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security created guidance for governors looking to reopen their states, outlining four criteria for phased reopenings. According to the center, states should consider reopening when: 

1. "The number of new cases has declined for at least 14 days;

2. "Rapid diagnostic testing capacity is sufficient to test, at minimum, all people with COVID-19 symptoms, including mild cases, as well as close contacts and those in essential roles;

3. "The healthcare system is able to safely care for all patients, including providing appropriate personal protective equipment for healthcare workers;

4. "There is sufficient public health capacity to conduct contact tracing for all new cases and their close contacts."

Caitlin Rivers, a researcher from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who co-authored the document, spoke about safely reopening during a hearing with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday and said that, while her comments were her own and did not reflect the university, there are no states that currently meet all of these criteria.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


States so far ahead of Australia government, it's as if they are in a different industrial era (Giles Parkinson7 May 2020, Renew Economy)

What was abundantly clear was that their individual and combined ambition - and this from a tri-partisan mix of Liberal, Labor and Greens ministers - is that the states and territories are so far ahead of the federal Coalition government on climate and energy, it is almost as though they are in a different industrial era.

South Australia's van Holst Pellekaan wants to fast track his state's target of "net 100 per cent" renewables to be reached "by" 2030, rather than "in" the 2030s. That shouldn't be much of a problem, given the Australian Energy Market Operator reckons the state will be at 87 per cent within four years.

Victoria's D'Ambrosio has a legislated target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030, and will have to reach 100 per cent renewables well before 2050 if she isn't to break the climate law she designed and legislated for the state to reach zero emissions by that date.

The ACT's Rattenbury has already reached the territory's target of delivering the equivalent of 100 per cent renewables through a series of contracts with wind and solar farms in S.A., Victoria, NSW and the ACT, and is now plotting more such contracts to ensure that the electrification of transport and buildings (heat and gas) can follow a similar path. The results of a new 200MW renewable energy tender plus storage are before cabinet and should be announced soon. will be antiquated.

May 6, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Technology leaps driving cost of solar PV electricity in Australia to just A$30/MWh (Andrew Blakers And Matthew Stocks, 7 May 2020, renew Economy)

The cost of solar photovoltaics (PV) electricity in Australia in 2030 is on track to be about A$30 per megawatt-hour (MWh). This conclusion arises from current trends in PV module efficiency and cost.

Importantly, $30/MWh is below the operational cost of most coal and gas fired power stations. Continued installs of rooftop and utility scale solar will likely lead to a wave of retirements of existing coal fired power stations during the 2020s. This price is also competitive with industrial gas heating.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Warren is a bad fit as Biden's running mate (Josh Kraushaar, May 5, 2020, National Journal)

[I]f Biden is concerned about improving his political standing and helping the Democratic Party compete for the future, picking Warren would backfire. For a campaign that's centered its pitch on a return to normalcy, choosing an outspoken progressive would be a risky move--especially at a time when Biden is leading President Trump in national and battleground-state polls.

Here are the main reasons why Biden is likely to go in a different direction,,,

One of the reasons W was a model president is because his VP and several cabinet members were qualified to be president, having governed states (Ashcroft, Thompson,  Whitman) or even the country (Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld) before.  His immediate predecessor and successor had decidedly weak cabinets and modern presidents have generally selected legislators as their VP's, who are ill-suited to the task of governing. [Donald's cabinet was weak but he did, at least, choose a VP more qualified than himself.]

Uncle Joe, particularly given his age, ought to choose one of the women governors--Michelle Lujan Grisham ticks a lot of boxes--rather than a senator.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New polling shows warning signs for GOP-held Senate seats (Neal Rothschild, Alexi McCammon, 5/06/20, Axios)

Polls released Tuesday show Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) leading incumbent Sen. Steve Daines (R) by 7 points (sample size: 738) and North Carolina Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham beating Republican Sen. Thom Tillis by 9 points (sample size: 1,362).

Other recent numbers show an upward trend for Democrats:

Arizona: Democratic frontrunner Mark Kelly leads Republican Sen. Martha McSally by 8 points in the Real Clear Politics polling average.

Kansas: Democratic frontrunner Barbara Bollier led possible Republican nominee Kris Kobach by 2 points in a recent Public Policy Polling survey.

Maine: Sara Gideon (D) has a 2.5-point lead over Republican Sen. Susan Collins in the Real Clear Politics average.

Iowa: Sen. Joni Ernst (R) leads possible challenger Theresa Greenfield (D) by a point in a new Public Policy Polling survey.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Donald Trump Jr. investing in far-right OANN, "aiming to take down Fox": report (ROGER SOLLENBERGER, MAY 6, 2020, Salon)

The Journal reported that Hicks Equity Partners, a firm belonging to the family of Tommy Hicks Jr., the RNC co-chair, was negotiating a $250 million deal with Herring Networks, the parent company of OANN, a low-impact far-right network that offers a home to the likes of Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec and has defended Roy Moore and endorsed Russian propaganda.

When The Federalist, Twitchy and Fox aren't sycophantic enough....

May 5, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Both conservatives and liberals want a green energy future, but for different reasons (Deidra Miniard, Joe Kantenbacher, Shahzeen Attari, 5/05/20, The Conversation)

When we asked participants to indicate the amount of each energy source they hoped the U.S. would use in 2050, the broad consensus favored a future in which the nation primarily relied on renewable energy and used much less fossil fuel. Conservatives, moderates and liberals shared this outlook.

Particular preferences for a lower-carbon future varied somewhat by political ideology, but on average all groups supported an energy mix in which at least 77% of overall energy use came from low-carbon energy sources, including renewable fuels and nuclear power. [...]

Recent research has shown that both Democrats and Republicans strongly support renewable energy development, but do so for different reasons. Democrats prioritize curbing climate change, while Republicans are more motivated by reducing energy costs. We see these motivations playing out in the real world, where conservative oil-producing states like Texas are experiencing huge booms in renewable energy generation, driven primarily by the improving economics of renewable energy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


"Political Connections and Cronyism": In Blistering Whistleblower Complaint, Rick Bright Blasts Team Trump's Pandemic Response (KATHERINE EBAN, MAY 5, 2020, Vanity Fair)

He was pressured to invest in drugs and vaccines that lacked scientific merit, because the people selling them had friends in the Trump administration, up to and including the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. He was forced to transfer funds to acquire drugs for the Strategic National Stockpile, America's most important reserve of lifesaving medications, based not on health needs but on "political connections and cronyism." He was instructed to use his department's budget to purchase flu medications of questionable efficacy. And when the COVID-19 crisis erupted, he was pressured to approve a plan that would "flood" cities with unproven and untested doses of chloroquine drugs, from uninspected manufacturing plants in Asia. When his efforts to work through the system failed, he decided he had a "moral obligation to the American public" to ring the alarm about the plan, "which he believed constituted a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety." In retaliation, he was "smeared," with officials unfairly accusing him of dropping the ball on vaccine development and PPE preparation.

These are just some of the allegations contained in a blistering, 63-page complaint that Dr. Rick Bright, former head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), filed today with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


54% of adults want to work remotely most of the time after the pandemic, according to a new study from IBM (Jessica Snouwaert, 5/05/20, BI)

Millions of workers have transitioned their job operations to work remotely in the wake of the coronavirus, and as these workers settle into their home-based routines, many are finding they want to continue working from home after the pandemic, as it lends itself to flexibility and productivity.

IBM polled more than 25,000 US adults during April to figure out how COVID-19 has altered their perspectives on a range of topics including working from home.

Of those surveyed, 75% said they would like to continue to work from home in at least a partial capacity, while 40% of respondents said they feel strongly that their employer should give employees the choice to opt-in to remote work.

Working from home is not only popular but other studies have shown that those who work from home full-time reported being happy in their job 22% more than their counterparts who spent no time working from home. 

Working remotely is also an attractive option because it can help employees save on housing. When workers don't have to report to an office, they have more flexibility to work from home in more rural or suburban settings.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


MSU Poll: Bullock leads Daines in Senate contest (Mike Dennison, May 05, 2020, KTVH)

A new poll from Montana State University shows Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock leading Republican Sen. Steve Daines by seven percentage points in Montana's high-profile 2020 U.S. Senate contest. consoled yourselves with a few judges and all it cost was your soul, all three branches of government and this four year dumpster fire.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


One Damn Thing After Another (Jan-Werner Müller, 5/05/20, The Nation)

One potential misunderstanding involves our very notion of liberal democracy. Berman argues that this seemingly self-evident compound combines two concepts potentially in tension with each other. With its collective empowerment of citizens through elections, democracy is not the same as liberalism, which, she holds, is best understood as respect for the rule of law and minorities' rights as well as a commitment to treat all members of the polity as equals. 

That is the essence of republican liberty.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


On the Road to EmancipationThe making of the Radical Republicans. (Eric Foner, 5/05/20, The Nation)

LeeAnna Keith's new book, When It Was Grand, also returns to the mid-19th century, this time to consider the history of Radical Republicanism. In doing so, it adds to our understanding of how a rising tide of violence in the 1850s served as a harbinger of the Civil War, a conflict that culminated in the most radical act in American history: the uncompensated abolition of slavery. The author of The Colfax Massacre, a highly praised study of the bloodiest act of carnage against African Americans during Reconstruction, Keith makes an important contribution by placing Radicals at the center of these transformative events.

Contemporaries regularly referred to the Radical Republicans as a distinct group in the spectrum of Civil War-era politics. While by the 1850s most Northerners opposed the westward expansion of slavery, the Radicals went further, insisting that antislavery action should take precedence over all other political questions and vehemently opposing any talk of compromise with the South. When the Civil War began, they proclaimed that the Union would not emerge victorious without emancipating and arming the slaves. By the time it ended, they helped put equal civil and political rights for black Americans on the national agenda and then took the lead in enshrining them in laws and the Constitution during Reconstruction.

Scholarly assessments of the Radicals have changed over time, reflecting the evolution of historical interpretation of their era and the changing face of American politics and race relations. Repelled by the mass slaughter of World War I and invested in reconciliation between white Northerners and Southerners, many historians in the 1920s and '30s blamed the Radicals--sometimes called the Jacobins or Vindictives--for whipping up the sectional hostility that produced a "needless" conflict and for foisting black suffrage on the South during Reconstruction, supposedly leading to an orgy of corruption and misgovernment. To the followers of Charles Beard, who taught that political ideologies serve as masks for the interests of powerful economic groups, the Radicals were the shock troops of a new industrial order. In his influential 1941 book Lincoln and the Radicals, the historian T. Harry Williams wrote that "they loved the Negro less for himself than as an instrument with which they might fasten Republican political and economic control upon the South." In Williams's view, Abraham Lincoln was a well-meaning but ineffectual leader, outmaneuvered time and again by scheming Radicals.

By the middle of the 20th century, as the modern civil rights revolution swept across the country, historians began to upend this interpretation and take the Radicals' advocacy of abolition and racial equality at face value. The Radicals, they insisted, were idealists in the best 19th century reform tradition. In The Radical Republicans (1969), the first book-length study of the group, Hans L. Trefousse hailed them as "Lincoln's Vanguard for Racial Justice." In her more recent and authoritative history of abolitionism, The Slave's Cause, Manisha Sinha goes further. Abolitionists and Radicals Republicans were not simply adjuncts of the Great Emancipator, she argues; they were an independent force whose lofty ideals helped shape the era's history.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM



Renewable sources including solar, wind and hydropower generated more electricity than coal-based plants every single day in April, a new report says.

Analysis shared by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEFA), based on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), said the finding marks a major "milestone" in an energy transition that is now underway.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The dark side of environmentalism (Sam Allen, May. 5th, 2020, spiked)

One of the most vocal prophets of ecological doom at this time was Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford professor and author of The Population Bomb (1968). He warned that between 1970 and 1990, billions would starve to death due to population growth exceeding levels of food production. Additionally, he argued that the earth's natural resources would be depleted, leading to an energy crisis and major world conflicts. Like Malthus, his predictions were apocalyptically bleak. And like Malthus he was completely, undeniably wrong.

The problem with the overpopulation thesis is not simply that it is wrong - it is that it has resulted in the proposal of sinister, draconian solutions. Ehrlich and others, for instance, recommended spiking food and water supplies with sterilising drugs; keeping blacklists of organisations and individuals who were seen to hinder population-control efforts; and gradually changing the culture to vilify couples with more than two children.

Ehrlich also said that governments should resort to 'compulsion' if people failed to change their procreative habits voluntarily. And what does such compulsion look like? Well, it looks a lot like communist China's one-child policy, complete with mandatory sterilisations and forced abortions. Even less authoritarian regimes imposed similarly brutal policies in the name of tackling overpopulation. The Indian government, for instance, carried out millions of often coerced sterilisations during the 1970s.

What's even more troubling about the deeply misanthropic worldview of a significant part of the green movement is its proximity to what is known as eco-fascism. That may sound like an oxymoron, given the misperception of environmentalism as left-wing, but there are indeed fanatical environmentalists within the far right, obsessed as it is with eugenics, racial purity and the alleged 'natural order'. Indeed, the manifestos of several recent mass shooters, who identified themselves as far-right white nationalists, have lamented the destruction of the environment and criticised the corporate plunder of the earth's resources.

The proximity of environmentalism to the far right is actually long-standing. Eugenics and scientific racism had a significant influence on the environmentalist movement in the early 20th century. Take Madison Grant. He was an American writer and lawyer, best known for The Passing of the Great Race, a work admired by Adolf Hitler. It detailed how the supposed supremacy of the Nordic people was being undermined by 'lesser' races. Grant was not just a white supremacist. He was also recognised as one of America's most prolific conservationists and he was the architect of the American National Park service. As Grant saw it, the preservation of the American natural landscape preserved a 'master race' of species of trees and animals. His ecological beliefs, therefore, grew out of his ideas on racial supremacy.

This dark past of environmentalism has largely been quietly ignored in modern times. But lately, with the rise of the loosely defined alt-right movement, the proximity of far-right views to certain environmentalist ones has become clear once again.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Fauci: No scientific evidence the coronavirus was made in a Chinese lab (Victoria Jaggard,  MAY 4, 2020, National Geographic)

ANTHONY "TONY" FAUCI has become the scientific face of America's COVID-19 response, and he says the best evidence shows the virus behind the pandemic was not made in a lab in China.

Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shot down the discussion that has been raging among politicians and pundits, calling it "a circular argument" in a conversation Monday with National Geographic.

"If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what's out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated ... Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species," Fauci says. Based on the scientific evidence, he also doesn't entertain an alternate theory--that someone found the coronavirus in the wild, brought it to a lab, and then it accidentally escaped.

Intel shared among US allies indicates virus outbreak more likely came from market, not a Chinese lab (Alex Marquardt, Kylie Atwood and Zachary Cohen, 5/04/20, CNN)

Intelligence shared among Five Eyes nations indicates it is "highly unlikely" that the coronavirus outbreak was spread as a result of an accident in a laboratory but rather originated in a Chinese market, according to two Western officials who cited an intelligence assessment that appears to contradict claims by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

"We think it's highly unlikely it was an accident," a Western diplomatic official with knowledge of the intelligence said. "It is highly likely it was naturally occurring and that the human infection was from natural human and animal interaction." The countries in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing coalition are coalescing around this assessment, the official said, and a second official, from a Five Eyes country, concurred with it. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Did Gladiator really deserve the best picture Oscar? (Scott Tobias, 5 May 2020, The Guardian)

Twenty years later, perhaps it's time to take Gladiator back to its original framing, not as the spoiler to Steven Soderbergh's unlikely coronation as a Hollywood director - his Erin Brockovich and Traffic were best picture nominees, and he won best director for the latter - but as a classed-up underdog sports movie, like a middle-period Rocky sequel in sandals and tunics. The palace intrigue that follows the death of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius may give the film a certain amount of sophistication, as do the performances by Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix and Connie Nielsen, who all make excellent and multi-layered contributions. Yet this is essentially about an undersized warrior gutting his way to a title bout - all else seems like window-dressing by comparison.

The competitive arc of Gladiator is Rocky III leading into Rocky IV. It's about our hero first belting his way through a colorful array of opponents - barrel-chested goons, armor-plated archers on chariots, man-eating tigers emerging from the arena floor - before finally battling the villain on hostile turf and turning the home crowd to his favor, against the will of a brutal authoritarian government. Again, this is not a mark against the film, because it's mostly rousing on these terms, boosted by a Roman succession plot that plays one man's epic revenge quest to the highest of stakes. But the argument that the film is any deeper than the red-meat savagery it delivers doesn't hold up under scrutiny. It's a terrific summer movie, and one of the new century's least deserving best picture winners.

A classic illustration of our rule: not only is the notion of the best soldier in the most advanced army on Earth being the underdog silly in itself, but, the victory of republicanism over dictatorship is inevitable (if speeded up in the film).

May 4, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Why Scientists Think The Novel Coronavirus Developed Naturally -- Not In A Chinese Lab (Philip Kiefer, 5/04/20, 538)

Robert Garry, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Tulane University School of Medicine, said this dynamic is familiar. "Every time there's an outbreak, people say, oh, there's a lab close by." He should know: In 2014, during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, conspiracy theorists alleged his team's lab in Sierra Leone, not far from the origin of the outbreak, was a George Soros-funded bioweapons site.

According to a growing body of research, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is almost certainly a naturally occurring virus that initially circulated in bats then spilled into humans. But that hasn't stopped some from trying to find a more sinister origin. "It seems like such an extreme event that people are looking for an extraordinary explanation for it," said Stephen Goldstein, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah who studies coronaviruses. No single piece of evidence has yet confirmed the virus' origin. But according to scientists, the evidence that does exist paints a consistent picture of a wild virus, not one that sprang from a lab.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Bush-Era Actions Have Boosted Coronavirus Response Efforts (Brian Finch Lora Ries, 5/04/20, National Interest)

The coronavirus pandemic is straining most federal and state emergency resources. But the strain--and the government's response--would have been far worse, if legislation enacted in the previous decade had not laid a solid foundation of expanded homeland security and emergency medical preparedness.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks--but that wasn't the only impetus. Another significant motivating factor was the 2001 anthrax attacks.

The latter attacks revealed serious weaknesses in America's preparedness for withstanding biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This sparked several initiatives to provide surge capabilities in the event of a regional or national medical disaster. 

In creating the DHS, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 transferred a number of biodefense capabilities from other cabinet agencies into the new department. For example, it folded a number of biological, chemical, nuclear, and other WMD prevention and response operations, such as the Defense Department's National Bio-Weapons Defense Analysis Center into the Science & Technology Directorate at DHS.

It also transferred the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile (now the Strategic National Stockpile) into the new department. Clearly, responding to major medical events, including biological threats, has always been a core component of the DHS mission.

Once the new department was up and running, Congress gave it legal authorities to supercharge pandemic and WMD preparedness efforts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Ilhan Omar signs onto AIPAC letter siding with Trump on Iran (Bryant Harris, 5/04/20, Al-Monitor)

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Trump's Pick for Intelligence Chief Follows a Slew of QAnon Accounts (Spencer Ackerman & Will Sommer, May. 04, 2020, Daily Beast)

Ratcliffe's official, verified campaign Twitter account follows several accounts on the political fringe, including a 9/11 Truther account with just one follower besides himself and four promoting the outlandish QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that the world is run by a cabal of Democratic pedophile-cannibals -- and has been ruled a potential source of domestic terrorism by the FBI. 

The conspiracy theorists followed by Ratcliffe, whose nomination for director of national intelligence goes before the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday morning, cover a bizarre range of beliefs. They posit that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his death to help Trump to take down the Deep State. Others claim a Democratic sex dungeon exists in in a Washington pizzeria. But Ratcliffe and the QAnon promoters he follows have one thing in common: utter loyalty to Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Poll: Ernst lead evaporates in Iowa Senate race (MAX GREENWOOD, 05/04/20, The Hill)

The survey from the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows Ernst leading Greenfield, 43 percent to 42 percent. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:55 AM


Canada succeeded on coronavirus where America failed. Why? (Zack Beauchamp, May 4, 2020, Vox)

To explain this divergence, I spent the last week speaking with Canadian public health experts who had been following the situation in the two countries closely. These experts varied in their take on their own country's performance during the pandemic, assessments ranging from middle of the pack by global standards to one of the very best in the world.

But they all shared the same view of the difference between the United States and Canada: the Canadian policy response has been orders of magnitude better than the American equivalent.

"We have a federal government that is supporting provinces' responses," says David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto. "You have a chief executive who is directly undermining the public health response."

There are a number of factors that have enabled Canada to perform at a higher level than the United States, including more consistent pre-virus funding for public health agencies and a universal health care system. But one of the most important seems to have been a difference in political leadership.

The American response has become infected by partisan politics and shot through with federal incompetence. Meanwhile, Canada's policies have been efficiently implemented with support from leaders across the political spectrum. The comparison is a case study in how a dysfunctional political system can quite literally cost lives.

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM



Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What the Happiest Countries in the World Have in Common (Maura Fox, May 3, 2020, Outside)

In late March, the United Nations published the 2020 World Happiness Report, a comprehensive look at what makes the most contented countries work so well. For the seventh year in a row, the Nordic nations of Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden dominated the top ten. While rankings are based on several factors, including political rights and economic equality, these countries have a few key metrics in common: low corruption rates, universal public services, and great access to the outdoors. 

For many of these countries, not only is nature within easy reach, but it's an important part of their cultures. For the Scandinavian nations that take up six of the top-ten spots, the term friluftsliv, which literally translates to "open-air living," denotes "a philosophical lifestyle based on experiences of the freedom in nature and the spiritual connectedness with the landscape," according to "Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life," an article in The Canadian Journal of Environmental Education. 

Sweden, which ranked seventh on the list, found that nearly one-third of all residents participate in outdoor recreation at least once a week and, in a country that strives for economic equality, nearly 50 percent of the population has access to a summer home. Denmark, ranked second, has forest schools for children to encourage learning in the outdoors at a young age, and one Danish study from 2019 found that children from greener neighborhoods were less likely to develop mental illness. The country is also home to the world's most bike-friendly city, Copenhagen (though it's not alone: many of the happiest countries have ideal cities for cyclists). And Finland, which topped the list, boasts 188,000 inland lakes and forests that cover 75 percent of the country.

Finland, Norway, and Sweden also have "freedom to roam" policies, or "everyman's rights," which allow residents and visitors alike to hike or camp nearly anywhere, including on private land. It's also part of the region's approach to work-life balance: many businesses in Scandinavian countries encourage employees to go outside each day, even implementing policies that set aside time in the workday for fresh air. The most important part of their outdoor philosophy, though, is how they embrace the cold, dark winter months, as is expressed in the popular saying of Norwegian origin that's now used throughout the region: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." Parents in Scandinavia are known to let their babies nap outside in freezing temperatures to help them sleep better and longer, Finns embrace harsh conditions with their sauna culture, and when the Danes and Swedes aren't skiing, sledding, or to tobogganing, they're practicing hygge, which loosely translates to being cozy.

The other countries that rounded out the top ten--Switzerland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Austria, and Luxembourg--are also well-known adventure hubs. With its iconic snowcapped peaks, Switzerland is one of Europe's most popular ski and hiking destinations. New Zealand has a system of ten Great Walks that allow even relatively inexperienced backcountry hikers to experience some of the country's most beautiful landscapes for days and weeks at a time. The Netherlands is an established haven for cyclists, with residents making more than 25 percent of their daily trips via bike. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Coronavirus lockdown: Can nature help improve our mood? (Emily Kasriel, 5/03/20, BBC News)

While the impact of experiencing nature on our physical health is less well documented, a wealth of studies have demonstrated the positive effects of the natural world on our mental health.

Even a brief nature fix - 10 minutes of wind brushing across our cheek, or the sun on our skin - can lower stress, explains Dr Mathew White, from the University of Exeter.

If we immerse ourselves in beautiful landscapes, like a rich coastline or a wild forest teeming with an array of species, we feel more intense emotions, he adds.

Connecting with nature can help us feel happier and more energised, with an increased sense of meaning and purpose, as well as making tasks seem more manageable.

Dr Gretchen C Daily from Stanford University, in the US, uses this evidence to help the World Bank and city governments around the world develop policies to integrate the natural environment into our urban landscapes.

Nature-based activities, such as gardening and farming, have been used as part of mental health treatments around the world for centuries.

GPs in London, Liverpool and Dorset have been prescribing nature experiences for patients with depression and anxiety. These include a healthy walk or planting mint to nurture and grow.

Evidence indicates you can also benefit from "bathing" yourself in nature remotely. One experiment installed large plasma displays of real-time natural scenes outside an office, resulting in people's connection to their wider social community and the natural world increasing.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


In Defense of Bread (RACHEL HOOVER, 5/04/20, Crisis)

I never understood leaven until I began to bake sourdough bread, and now a multitude of biblical analogies are laid open to my understanding. Leaven in ancient times was not a packet of Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast; it was what we now call a sourdough starter. It was essentially a moist sludge of flour and water that had fermented long enough to produce bubbles that would cause the entire dough to rise. You can grow a sourdough starter from scratch easily, or you can get a bit of a starter from someone who has already cultivated one so that you don't have to begin from nothing. Feed your starter regularly, and you will soon have a hearty community of wild yeasts able to leaven many loaves. Each time you bake, you'll use some starter, but you'll reserve a bit of the fermented ooze and continue feeding it for next time. This is how humans have leavened bread for centuries. I have heard it said that there are women in the Holy Land today using yeast of this kind that has been passed down in an endless chain since the time of Jesus. Did St. Anne give Our Lady a bit of starter in a clay jar when she went to live with St. Joseph? Did Mary salvage some yeast from her last loaf for St. John and give it to a neighbor?

Baking bread, therefore, is inherently traditional, unless we choose to remove the tradition for the sake of speed and efficiency. What got me started on bread was the Netflix series Cooked based on Michael Pollan's book of the same name. In the book, Pollan discusses the four classical elements and how each has helped humans to transform the things around them into palatable foodstuffs. In the section on air, he discusses bread and the seemingly miraculous way that air causes dough to expand. The elasticity of gluten, a combination of two proteins found in wheat and certain other grains, allows for pockets of carbon dioxide to form as the microscopic creatures busily consume the sugars in the flour and give off the gas. The beautiful result of this unromantic activity is a lofty, mouthwatering loaf, and, as Pollan points out, the air pockets are part of what gives bread its delightful, comforting flavor, as well as its texture. Gluten-free bread is a possibility, but it is difficult to make and, honestly, never quite the same.

Pollan notes, too, that commercial yeast--the Active Dry packets--is a new invention that cuts out the slowness and unpredictability of traditional fermentation. Every sourdough starter is a little different, and even my own loaves proofed and baked in the same house with the same materials tend to turn out a little differently every time. Like Pollan, I embrace the unpredictability and learn to use sight, smell, and taste to understand what my dough is doing. But that is no way to mass-produce long, white, pre-sliced loaves to be shipped in plastic bags around the country, so commercial yeast was invented to puff up dough quickly and consistently.

The main downside of modern yeast that Pollan notes is the loss of nutritional value from removing the fermentation process, which helps to break down the wheat and make it easier to digest. We lose some important religious symbolism, too. As a child, when I heard that the Hebrews fled Egypt with their dough in their bosoms and ate unleavened bread, I imagined that somehow they just couldn't find a way to bring the powdery yeast (picture Fleischmann's again) with them, and so they ate something like a pita pocket that evening instead of a sandwich loaf. Now, I understand that unleavened bread meant haste. With no time to allow the mixture of flour and water to bubble and rise, when baked, the limp batter would produce something truly penitential.

My starter recently developed a black mold that ran too deep to simply scrape off, so I had to throw it out and begin a new one. This reminded me that St. Paul refers to leaven in the Old Testament as a symbol of sin, pointing to the instruction to throw out all the old leaven and eat unleavened bread for seven days at Passover. This symbolism seems forced unless we recall that the leaven has been sitting in a corner of one's kitchen for months, eating scoops of flour, bubbling weirdly, and perhaps smelling a bit odd and turning unpalatable colors if neglected for too many days. A fresh start--with a fresh starter--feels good once in a while and clean, like our souls after baptism, with nothing moldy or questionable to be seen. From this instruction to eat unleavened bread at Passover, stemming ultimately from that penitential meal eaten by the Hebrews as they left Egypt, we receive our tradition of consecrating only unleavened bread for the Holy Sacrifice.

On the other hand, Christ instructs His disciples to be a leaven in society--to be the quiet, patient, living thing that rises up, expands, and makes bountiful and beautiful the otherwise heavy, sludgy mass. When you are placed in the fire, expand even more with your love, and give your tormentors the odor of sanctity, the heavenly smell of baking bread when it has just reached the stage of cracking open at the top to let out some of the warm, wheaty steam. Be multiplied five thousand times, fill the hunger of your neighbor, sustain life.

Bread is good.

The Culture Wars are a rout.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Case for Deeply Negative Interest Rates (KENNETH ROGOFF, 5/04/20, Project Syndicate)

Now, imagine that, rather than shoring up markets solely via guarantees, the Fed could push most short-term interest rates across the economy to near or below zero. Europe and Japan already have tiptoed into negative rate territory. Suppose central banks pushed back against today's flight into government debt by going further, cutting short-term policy rates to, say, -3% or lower.

For starters, just like cuts in the good old days of positive interest rates, negative rates would lift many firms, states, and cities from default. If done correctly - and recent empirical evidence increasingly supports this - negative rates would operate similarly to normal monetary policy, boosting aggregate demand and raising employment. So, before carrying out debt-restructuring surgery on everything, wouldn't it better to try a dose of normal monetary stimulus?

Kind of a pointless discussion without reference to deflation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Report: Russia, Turkey, Iran agree to remove Syria's Assad (Middle East Monitor,  May 4, 2020 )

The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) expects that Russia, Turkey and Iran will reach a consensus to remove the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar Al-Assad, and establish a ceasefire in exchange for forming a transitional government that includes the opposition, members of the regime and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The RIAC, which is known to be close to the decision-makers in the Russian government, said in a report that a Russian organisation named the Foundation for the Protection of National Values, affiliated with the security services and the office of President Vladimir Putin, has been conducting an opinion poll in Syria.

This would send a very clear political message, conveying that the Syrian people do not want Al-Assad to remain president.

May 3, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Democrats are slight favorites for Senate control (Harry Enten, 4/02/20, CNN)

To gain Senate control from Republicans in November's elections, Democrats will need a net gain of three seats (if former Vice President Joe Biden holds onto his lead over President Donald Trump and claims victory) or four seats (if Trump wins).

An early look at the data finds that Democrats are the slightest of favorites to take back the Senate. The chance Democrats net gain at least 3 seats is about 3-in-5 (60%), while the chance they net gain at least 4 seats is about 1-in-2 (50%).

There is still a lot of uncertainty. Democrats could realistically end up anywhere from a net loss of 4 seats to a net gain of 11 seats, though a few more times than not, they'll end up in the majority.

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


Constitutional Stupidity, Constitutional Tragedy (GEORGE THOMAS,  MAY 3, 2020, The Bulwark0

While insisting on a broad understanding of "the liberty of the individual protected by the Fourteenth Amendment," the Lochner Court nevertheless recognized that liberty was subject to regulation for legitimate public purposes.

Under what have been termed the police powers, the states have wide latitude to regulate for the "safety, health, morals, and general welfare of the public."

The Court acknowledged, as it did long before and has long after, that the police powers are somewhat vaguely defined. But even from an expansive understanding of liberty, the key question is whether the law or regulation at issue is plainly adapted to a legitimate public purpose. In Lochner, the Court was skeptical that regulating "the hours of labor in the occupation of a baker," and treating bakers in a manner different from the printer, carpenter, or clerk, was plainly adapted to legitimate concerns of safety, health, morals, or public welfare.

Why bakers? What is the connection between the hours the baker works and "the healthful quality of the bread" he makes? Justice John Marshall Harlan, the great dissenter from Plessy v. Ferguson, also dissented in Lochner, urging that the regulation could be upheld "to protect the physical well-being of those who work in bakery and confectionery establishments."

Just two months before Lochner was handed down, Justice Harlan wrote an opinion in Jacobson v. Massachusetts that upheld a state law allowing local authorities to require vaccinations. Against an outbreak of smallpox, the city of Cambridge required such vaccinations. The Court, recognizing "liberty itself" as "the greatest of all rights," nevertheless insisted that it does not include "an absolute right in each person" to be "wholly freed from restraint." The "safety of the general public" may demand regulations of liberty with regard to public health. All the more so "against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members." Indeed, an epidemic might justify regulations we would not ordinarily tolerate if the public health and safety required it.

The problem with Lochner--that it applies only to a discrete profession--is not present in Jacobson, which applied universally.  Liberty is not, by definition, individual.

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Anti-quarantine protesters are being kicked off Facebook and quickly finding refuge on a site loved by conspiracy theorists (Paige Leskin, 5/03/20, Business Insider) 

Facebook now requires all events to explicitly tell attendees to adhere to social distancing guidelines, and has banned groups that encourage users to break state mandates. There are no similar guidelines on MeWe.

More than 20 MeWe groups against state shelter-in-place orders have popped in the last week, Business Insider has found. Inside these groups, members rail against Facebook for censoring their movement and mock the state governors and health experts who talk about the dangers of re-opening the economy too quickly. [...]

MeWe's founder, Mark Weinstein, has said he started the site as a protection against what he calls Facebook's overreach on privacy and user rights, and that his site protects the privacy and rights of its users better.

But MeWe's hands-off approach has attracted those who have been kicked off of Facebook and Twitter for violating their policies. While many of MeWe's groups are home to innocuous discussions of conservative values, some of MeWe's most popular groups revolve around extremist rhetoric.

A group called "Stop Mandatory Vaccination Official" that has more than 13,000 members spreads dangerous falsehoods about vaccines. Another called "Wake the f--- up" prompts interested members to answer the prompt, "Who was really responsible for 9/11?" A group called "HERBAL SURVIVAL AND HOMESTEADING" falsely promotes plants as cures for coronavirus.

In 2019, Rolling Stone discovered a number of groups on MeWe catering to conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, anti-vaxxers, and flat-Earthers. The report also found several examples of content violating MeWe's own community guidelines, which includes a ban on "unlawful, harmful, obscene, or pornographic content."

This is almost exactly the plot of Episode 3 of Mythic Quest, where they trick the Nazis into chasing themselves around on an isolated server, so they can't bother decent people.

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


What Might Be Speeding Up the Universe's Expansion? (Thomas Lewton, April 27, 2020, Quanta)

The discrepancy between how fast the universe seems to be expanding and how fast we expect it to expand is one of cosmology's most stubbornly persistent anomalies.

Cosmologists base their expectation of the expansion rate -- a rate known as the Hubble constant -- on measurements of radiation emitted shortly after the Big Bang. This radiation reveals the precise ingredients of the early universe. Cosmologists plug the ingredients into their model of cosmic evolution and run the model forward to see how quickly space should be expanding today.

Yet the prediction falls short: When cosmologists observe astronomical objects such as pulsating stars and exploding supernovas, they see a universe that's expanding faster, with a larger Hubble constant.

The discrepancy, known as the Hubble tension, has persisted even as all the measurements have grown more precise. Some astrophysicists continue to debate whether the tension might be nothing more than a measurement error. But if the discrepancy is real, it means something is missing from cosmologists' model of the universe.

You call them anomalies...

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Endangered Republicans keeping distance from Trump (Josh Kraushaar, 5/03/20, National Journal)

Here's what I'm hearing from smart GOP strategists now: Republicans should be talking about their work to help their communities in the wake of the pandemic, and avoid referencing Trump's role in managing the crisis. To win battleground Senate seats that are looking more tenuous, it will be crucial to maintain support from some Trump-skeptical independents. If Trump's political condition doesn't improve by the fall, prepare to talk about keeping the Senate as a check against Democratic power, even if it means acknowledging the presidency is likely lost.

"The Republican argument could pivot: If you don't like Trump, you also don't want to give Democrats the keys to the kingdom. You've got to put a check on Biden," said former Republican congressman Tom Davis. "You can't let them control everything. That's a tenable argument for independent voters."

Driving this subdued pragmatism are Trump's sliding poll numbers across the country, particularly in GOP-leaning states that once looked safely in the president's column. Trump, who is planning to visit Arizona and Ohio as part of his first trip outside Washington since the pandemic hit, is now playing political defense in states he comfortably carried in 2016. Trump won Ohio by eight points in 2016, and the state wasn't considered a leading battleground for 2020. Both parties view Arizona as highly competitive, but the state hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996.

A new slate of reputable red-state polls released this week will raise further alarm at the White House, where the president has already been fuming over his declining numbers. A survey commissioned by Georgia House Republicans painted a grim picture across the state for the entire party. Trump only led Biden by one point in the survey, 45 to 44 percent, well within the margin of error. Biden leads Trump by 15 points among independent voters in the state, and by a whopping 43 points among moderates.

Equally worrisome for Republicans are signs that Trump's problems are affecting downballot GOP candidates. Sen. David Perdue only polled at 45 percent in the Georgia survey, leading Democrat Jon Ossoff by a mere six points. Perdue's race has been seen as an afterthought, compared to the state's higher-profile Senate special election in November. In the special election, appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler holds a dismal 20-47 favorability rating, and is at risk of not making the expected runoff. (The silver lining for Republicans: GOP Rep. Doug Collins is viewed much more favorably, and would start out as the favorite in a runoff.)

In Texas, a state that the president should have locked down, a recent poll conducted for the Texas Tribune shows a surprisingly competitive race. Trump leads Biden by five points, 49 to 44 percent, holding a mere 49 percent job approval rating in a reliably Republican bastion. Trump's saving grace is that Biden looks even less popular in the red state, with a net -16 favorability rating (35-51).

And in North Carolina, poll after poll paints a challenging picture for Republicans. Four separate statewide polls conducted in the last two weeks all show Biden holding leads ranging from three to seven points. This state is the most consequential of all the battlegrounds, since it features a bellwether Senate race that's likely to determine which party controls the upper chamber. Republican strategists tracking the race believe that Trump needs to carry the state for Sen. Thom Tillis to win; they're skeptical that the freshman senator can run ahead of the president.

The question of whether most Republican candidates are capable of running ahead of Trump will soon become more urgent--especially if the president's popularity continues to sag.

In 2016, Republicans downticket ran well ahead of Donald, far enough to carry him into office despite his losing to the historically unpopular Hillary by three million votes.  Suburbanites, moderates, the college-educated, etc. could convince ourselves that our own guys would hold Donald in check or maybe even tame him.  Now, not only has he been worse than advertised, but the Congressional GOP has capitulated to him or, in too many cases, joined him.

Not only is he running against a normal opponent but he's lost the support from below that was propping him up.  And, where in 2016 he could contest Purple and even some Blue states, now he's going to have to fight a rearguard action just to hold the Red.  we're just quibbling over the size of the debacle from here on out.

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


The Auschwitz slogan 'Work sets you free' seen at the Re-Open Illinois protest aimed at governor, JB Pritzker, who is of Jewish descent (Sophia Ankel, 5/02/20, Business Insider0

The Auschwitz Memorial in Poland has condemned a photo of a sign from an anti-lockdown protest in Chicago that bore the Nazi slogan: "Arbeit Macht Frei, JB."

The sign, which was held by an unidentified woman attending the "Re-Open Illinois" protest on May 1, is referring to Illinois governor JB Pritzker, who is of Jewish descent. 

"Arbeit macht frei" is a German phrase which means "Work sets you free", and was placed above the gates of Auschwitz --  the largest Nazi extermination camp during the Holocaust, where at least 1.1 million people died.

The font of the letter "B" used on the sign also bore a strong resemblance to that used in the sign above the gates of Auschwitz.

Funny how these volk--who are totally not a racist cult!--always seem to have Confederate and Nazi memorabilia handy.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


'A phantom plague': America's Bible Belt played down the pandemic and even cashed in. Now dozens of pastors are dead (Alex Woodward, 24 April 2020, The Independent)

Dozens of pastors across the Bible Belt have succumbed to coronavirus after churches and televangelists played down the pandemic and actively encouraged churchgoers to flout self-distancing guidelines.

As many as 30 church leaders from the nation's largest African American Pentecostal denomination have now been confirmed to have died in the outbreak, as members defied public health warnings to avoid large gatherings to prevent transmitting the virus.

Deaths across the US in areas where the Church of God in Christ has a presence have reportedly stemmed from funerals and other meetings among clergy and other church staff held during the pandemic.

The tragedy among one of the largest black Pentecostal groups follows a message of defiance from many American churches, particularly conservative Christian groups, to ignore state and local government mandates against group gatherings, with police increasingly called in to enforce the bans and hold preachers accountable.

The virus has had a wildly disproportionate impact among black congregations, many of which have relied on group worship.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Is a Progressive Reading of the Constitution Possible?: a review of We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century, by Erwin Chemerinsky (CHARLES BARZUN, 8/21/19, The New Rambler)

A better approach to interpreting the Constitution would thus look not to constitutional meaning, as originalists do, but rather to constitutional values (p. 49). "We must develop and defend an alternative progressive vision for the Constitution," Chemerinsky insists (p. xvi). Part II sketches out such a constitutional vision--one that Chemerinsky calls the "progressive reading" of the Constitution. The progressive reading is both more honest about the role values play in constitutional adjudication and more consistent with the Constitution's own values.  

What are those values, and how do we know them? According to Chemerinsky, they can be found primarily in the preamble to the Constitution, which reads: 

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (emphasis added) 

In these fifty-two words, Chemerinsky finds explicit recognition of four constitutional values and implicit recognition of a fifth: democracy, effective governance, justice, and liberty are stated outright (see italics). And although equality is not mentioned explicitly, it is implicit in a proper understanding of liberty and anyhow is explicitly recognized in the Fourteenth Amendment (p. 74).  

Each of the remaining chapters (4-8) are devoted to explaining how these values have been understood (or misunderstood) in the past and what their application entails in particular areas of constitutional controversy today. Protecting democracy, for instance, requires that it recognize that the electoral college violates the Fifth Amendment (p. 87), that the Court strike down efforts of political gerrymandering (p. 90), and that it enforce the Voting Rights Act to guard against racially discriminatory policies (contra Shelby County v. Holder (2013)) (p. 97). Providing effective governance means that the Court should aim to "empower government at all levels to deal with social problems" (contra US v. Lopez (1995) and US v. Morrison (2000)) (p. 123) but that it should enforce the system of checks and balances to constrain the increasingly powerful office of president. "Establishing justice" requires that the Court relax or abandon completely its absolute and qualified immunity doctrines (contra Van de Camp v. Goldstein (1982) and Plumhoff v. Rickard (2014)), which frustrate efforts to hold police officers accountable when they violate people's rights, especially those of racial minorities (p. 132). It also means treating problems of excessive punishments, including the death penalty, as violations of the Eighth Amendment's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" (contra Lockyer v. Andrade (2003) and Glossip v. Gross (2015)) (p.158).  

When it comes to "securing liberty," Chemerinsky focuses primarily on various rights to privacy and on religious liberty. He argues that privacy rights deserve fierce protection, particularly in the abortion context, where the state has an obligation to remain "neutral" on the issue, leaving the decision of whether to abort a fetus mainly to the woman and her doctor (p. 187), as Roe v. Wade (1973) held. Religious liberty, however, must not be used so as to inflict harm on others. Yet that is precisely what the Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2013) authorized companies to do by holding that the First Amendment protects a company's right not to provide its employees with health-insurance coverage for birth control even though a federal statute mandated such coverage. 

Chemerinksy's most ambitious interpretive proposals come when filling out what "achieving equality" requires today. There he not only defends the constitutionality and wisdom of affirmative-action programs but also argues for abandoning the requirement, entrenched in the Court's equal protection doctrine since the 1970s, that racial or gender-based discrimination must be intentional to qualify for constitutional protection (pp. 202-20). More ambitiously, he argues that a progressive reading of the Fourteenth Amendment would read it to include a right to "minimum entitlements, including education and food and shelter and medical care" (p. 201). Although that idea now seems "unthinkable," he suggests that, had Hubert Humphrey won the presidency in 1968, rather than Richard Nixon, such rights would have become part of our constitutional law (pp. 221-22). 

Mr. Cherminsky is obviously not wrong that, as a simple matter of textual construction, primacy needs to be given to the Preamble, which describes the purposes of the entire document and actions that transgress those purposes are prima facie not protected by it. But, while those are the Ends, the rest of the Constitution describes the Means we have chosen to realize them and there he seems to have no regard for the actual text. Indeed, he reflects the inevitable hostility to the constitutional order that we always find in those who desire results that republic liberty and the Separation of Powers will not render.

Several of his objections are easily dispensed with; the Electoral College and gerrymandering (drawing unequal legislative districts for nakedly political purposes--like two Senators per state) are explicit in the Constitution, so arguing that they are inconsistent with the purposes of the document is simply bizarre.  The giveaway is that he has ditched the wording of the Preamble in favor of "democracy" which a republic is explicitly not.  Of course, the Amendment process affords us a means of changing these anti-democratic provisions--as we disastrously did with the appointment of Senators--but, thus far, we have not chosen to do so.

And, while we have properly chosen to reduce use of the death penalty or even ban it on state levels, the argument that it is inconsistent with the Constitution can not get around the fact that it was not considered so by the authors.  the proper remedy for those who consider it cruel and unusual is legislative, not interpretive.

Meanwhile, he has clearly lost the plot when he insists on some panoply of privacy rights, a concept nowhere mentioned in the Preamble nor the rest of the text.  On the other hand, free exercise of religion is mentioned and, therefore, protected, so he needs some other way to achieve his results.  The simplest in the specific circumstance he raises would be to differentiate between employers.  Thus, a businessman who owns his own company or a religious organization could not be bound to provide abortion coverage, but a corporation or 501c3 could, not being either persons or religious institutions.

But the most troubling part of his whole program and the point where it most clearly departs from the text is in his notion that the Executive and Judiciary branches should exercise the Legislative function (the Court should aim to "empower government at all levels to deal with social problems").   Given that republican liberty requires not only that we all be bound equally by every law but that we be allowed to participate in the deliberations over and process of adopting such laws, the idea that unelected officials should be able to effectively write laws on their own is antithetical to our Republic.  (Neil Gorsuch's book is good on some of this.)

ultimately, the answer to the question the review raises--is a Progressive reading of the Constitution possible?--is the same as the answer to the question of whether a Regressive reading (as the Right prefers) is possible: No. The Left and Right do not have an argument with how to read the text but with the purposes of the text.  It is the Republic they want to get rid of.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


The Book of the Dead: review of The Cold War's Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace, by Paul Thomas Chamberlin (JOHN MCCALLUM, 2/12/20, The New Rambler)

Paul Thomas Chamberlin's new history of the Cold War puts this killing in a different light. Ambassador Dubs was a casualty of war--if not in a formal or legal sense, then as a matter of geopolitical reality. Rather than an aberration, his shooting affords an all too typical glimpse of a ghastly half-century of combat along the Asian frontier between liberal capitalism and revolutionary communism. In the forty-five years after the termination of World War II, twenty million people died in violent international conflicts and civil wars (19). Most of them were civilians, and their deaths followed a well-defined geography. The killing happened in wars with a close nexus to Cold War competition, and took place in an interconnected set of "bloodlands" that sprawled from Beirut in the west to Seoul and Pyongyang in the east, running through Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. What the historian John Lewis Gaddis famously called the "long peace" between the Soviet Union and the United States was, from the perspective of Asia's southern tier, as bloody as the First World War.   [...]

The methodology of following the bodies yields two basic insights into the architecture of Cold War violence. First, it had a distinct shape. Mass death was heavily concentrated along the fluid, postcolonial contact zone between the capitalist world and the two major Communist states, China and the Soviet Union. This physical expanse had been identified as a coherent territory in the middle of World War II by the director of the Yale Institute of International Studies, Nicholas Spykman, who called it "the rimland," and described it as "a vast buffer zone of conflict between sea power and land power" (44).  

In Spykman's estimate, control over these territories by a sea power--like the United States or Britain--would permit that power to encircle and dominate the "heartlands" of Russia and Eastern Europe. Spykman's rimland included much of the European subcontinent, but in Europe the heavily militarized and precisely demarcated national frontiers froze the superpower confrontation into a tense, but stable, standoff. Between Turkey and the eastern reaches of Asia, however, the collapse of formal and informal imperial power structures left room for open competition. And the paranoid, zero-sum logic that descended on the world capitals between 1945 and the start of the Korean War in 1950 militarized that competition, while also detaching it from any reasonably limited strategic aims. Vietnam or Afghanistan, if viewed through this lens, could take on almost incalculable significance, despite never having previously figured into the thinking of American diplomats. As Chamberlin puts it, "The horrors of the Second World War were over, but the wars of containment were just beginning" (46).  

The second, and perhaps the more interesting, feature of Chamberlin's analysis is that Cold War killing had a temporal structure of its own, marked by three major "waves" of violence that do not perfectly correspond to existing narratives of the wider conflict. Chamberlin lets these waves shape his chronology, decisively downplaying some of the major episodes of superpower tensions (his index does not mention détente or the Bay of Pigs, for example) in order to pivot around successive bloodlettings between 1949-51, the early 1970s, and the mid-1980s. These waves began in northern China, swept south and west through Indonesia and South Asia, and culminated with an effort to instrumentalize Islam as a weapon of superpower struggle in a set of interconnected conflicts in the greater Middle East. As these waves crested and broke, the prospects of secular revolution rose and fell, and utopian socialism gave way to ethno-religious mobilizations.  

Mao Zedong's Communist Party was in the cockpit of the first spike in violence, which Chamberlin calls the "East Asian Offensive." Beginning with the Chinese Civil War and extending to Korea and Indochina, this offensive blended revolutionary socialist aspirations with the contested establishment of sovereign nations out of the Japanese and French empires. In 1945 and 1946 it seemed just barely possible that the long-simmering war between Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists and Mao's Chinese Communist Party could be papered over with some kind of political resolution. But what looked to Moscow and Washington like political differences were profound social ruptures, and civil war embroiled the Chinese countryside almost from the start. The violence was staggering. In 1949, Mao gave Stalin a progress report: "In three years of fighting, he boasted, the PLA had killed '5 million 590 thousand people.' Mao estimated that no more than 500,000 GMD forces remained" (98). In the most populous nation in the world, a revolutionary party had wrested the initiative from both Moscow and Washington, and won a transformative victory. 

The Chinese Communist Party's takeover demonstrated the potential of revolutionary violence to reshape Asia. Mao's example electrified left-wing movements across the region, terrified Washington, and gave Moscow a partner and competitor. With Korean and Indochinese revolutions perched on the edge of reproducing Mao's triumph, the Truman administration militarized its commitment to containment, propping up the French war in the south and pouring the full weight of American conventional arms into the Korean peninsula. Containment had been transformed from a watchful presence in Germany to the routine use of high-altitude strategic bombers against Korean cities. By 1954, millions had been killed to secure uneasy stalemates. One offensive was over, and its close brought a real and massive reduction in the scale of warfare. But the peace would not last long. By the early 1960s, a new wave of violence was cresting as communist revolution slipped further out of the control of either Moscow or Beijing.  

What Chamberlin labels the "Indo-Asian Bloodbaths of the Middle Cold War" (179) were far more complex and heterogeneous than the surge of revolution after 1945. This second wave of violence included the American phase of the war in Vietnam; the entanglement of Laos and Cambodia in that conflict, culminating in the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime; the decimation of the Indonesian left-wing in a wave of political massacres in 1965; and Bangladesh's secession from Pakistan in 1971. The period began with the loftiest aspirations for revolution and ended in a morass of sectarian and ethnic violence that "killed more than six million people" and "demolished global Communist solidarity" (356).  

In its place, there arose a third wave of killing, the "Great Sectarian Revolts of the Late Cold War" (362). These conflicts arose from the direct repudiation of the futures promised by capitalist and socialist modernization. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, the Lebanese Civil War, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan produced the most prolonged peak in the series of post-1945 conflicts; a grinding series of battles that lasted the entire decade of the 1980s and planted the immediate seeds of post-1990 conflict. While the ideological oppositions of the 1950s collapsed in exhaustion, the strategies of containment and revolution lumbered on, fueling a final desultory round of proxy warfare that turned the lands from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan into a seedbed of future crises.  

The cost in lives of not using nukes to decapitate regimes, starting with not dropping the second one on Moscow, is incalculable.  But we, understandably, like to pretend to ourselves that it was humane and good.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM



The survey of 1,183 randomly-selected registered voters conducted by the University of Texas at Tyler for the Dallas Morning News revealed Republican incumbent Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden would both take 43 percent of the vote across the state. [...]

The results mirrored those of aIBD/TIPP poll carried out between April 26 and 29 involving 948 registered voters, which again put both Trump and Biden at 43 percent. Overall, however, Biden was leading Trump in most national polls last week.

Donald and the GOP will have to spend so much money and effort just trying to hold TX that you can kiss every Purple state goodbye, nevermind the Blue.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


The Long-lasting Effects of Living under Communism on Attitudes towards Financial Markets (Christine Laudenbach, Ulrike Malmendier, Alexandra Niessen-Ruenzi, March 2020, NBER Working Paper No. 26818)

We analyze the long-term effects of living under communism and its anticapitalist doctrine on households' financial investment decisions and attitudes towards financial markets. Utilizing comprehensive German brokerage data and bank data, we show that, decades after Reunification, East Germans still invest significantly less in the stock market than West Germans. Consistent with communist friends-and-foes propaganda, East Germans are more likely to hold stocks of companies from communist countries (China, Russia, Vietnam) and of state-owned companies, and are unlikely to invest in American companies and the financial industry. Effects are stronger for individuals exposed to positive "emotional tagging," e.g., those living in celebrated showcase cities. Effects reverse for individuals with negative experiences, e.g., environmental pollution, religious oppression, or lack of (Western) TV entertainment. Election years trigger further divergence of East and West Germans. We provide evidence of negative welfare consequences due to less diversified portfolios, higher-fee products, and lower risk-adjusted returns.

Just because you reach the End of History doesn't make your society healthy.  There's plenty of heavy lifting ahead.

May 2, 2020

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Tara Reade says the words 'assault' or 'harassment' won't be found in her 1993 complaint against Biden (Connor Perrett, 5/02/20, Business Insider)

Tara Reade, the former staffer of former Vice President Joe Biden who alleged Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993, said the complaint she filed with the Senate personnel office in the 90s does not contain the words "assault" or "harassment." 

"I remember talking about him wanting me to serve drinks because he liked my legs and thought I was pretty and it made me uncomfortable," Reade told the Associated Press on Friday.

When I was a body man, the cop on our security detail and I used to get sent for food and drinks all the time.  At a meeting of county chairmen, we were sent for pizzas and told to get one of them uncut.  The 500-pound mayor of West New York folded it in half and ate it like a taco.  To be fair, I do have better legs than her, so didn't feel awkward.

AP Exclusive: Harassment, assault absent in Biden complaint (ALEXANDRA JAFFE, DON THOMPSON and STEPHEN BRAUN, 5/02/20, AP)

[R]eade is suggesting that even if the report surfaces, it would not corroborate her assault allegations because she chose not to detail them at the time. [...]

She said of Biden: "I wasn't scared of him, that he was going to take me in a room or anything. It wasn't that kind of vibe."

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


Every Good Show Needs a Good Stand-alone Episode (Kathryn VanArendonk, 2/21/20, Vulture)

High Fidelity's "Simon's Top Five" and Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet's "A Dark Quiet Death" take a break from the shows' main protagonists to tell stories about someone else entirely. Photo-Illustration: Vulture, Hulu and Apple TV+
One of the fundamental truths of great TV storytelling is that all shows should have at least one stand-alone episode, and that has never been more clear than for two of February's most interesting new shows. On Apple TV+, there's Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet, a workplace sitcom from the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia team about video-game developers that's easily 50 percent better than its title makes it sound. On Hulu, there's High Fidelity, a TV adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel and John Cusack movie about an obsessive record-store owner who reconnects with exes. Each show has a solid set of protagonists, a well-established rhythm for how its episodes tend to work, and plenty of compelling story for its main set of characters. And each show is better because for one episode in the season, it abandons those things to tell a story about someone else entirely.

There are lots of variations of the stand-alone episode: bottle episodes, musical episodes, silent episodes, episodes that use a different genre or style, live episodes, episodes that tell a self-contained plot within a bigger serial arc. Most stand-alone episodes fall somewhere between good and amazing (except for live episodes, which almost universally suck), but one version that works particularly well is the character-based stand-alone, the episode that takes a break from the show's usual protagonist(s) and tells a story from the perspective of someone else entirely. That's the format for the stand-alones in both High Fidelity and Mythic Quest. In each case, midway through the season, one episode tells a story from the viewpoint of characters who, until then, haven't been central to the story. Both episodes initially seem like a departure from the real center of the show, but in each case, they become emblems of the series' core ideas. [...]

Mythic Quest's character-based stand-alone works differently. It's a workplace sitcom with several central characters rather than High Fidelity's single protagonist, and in episode five, "A Dark Quiet Death," Mythic Quest ditches all of them. Rather than the "minor character becomes main" strategy, Mythic Quest tells a story about video-game developers in the '90s whose work is the precursor to everything happening in the main story line. Although references to their games appear elsewhere in Mythic Quest, Doc and Beans (played by Jake Johnson and Cristin Milioti, respectively) only show up in episode five, which sketches a long, time-jumping arc of how they developed a popular game franchise.

There are risks to this version of the stand-alone. In one case, as TV critic Alan Sepinwall suggested, you fall in love with the stand-alone's new characters and wish the whole series were about them. The other risk goes in the opposite direction: A viewer who likes the characters in the main body of the series gets frustrated by needing to hang out with these new people.

In spite of the risk, "A Dark Quiet Death" does justify its existence. It's a more serious version of the themes other Mythic Quest episodes tackle in goofier, lighter ways. Doc and Beans wrestle with whether to appease a wider audience of players or to stick to the original creative vision. It's about a familiar and constant friction between money and art.

Mythic Quest's title seems almost designed to limit viewership, which is tragic, because it is an archetype of the triumph of conservatism in the popular culture.  For one thing, it's a workplace comedy, so--like Parks & Rec; 30 Rock; and The Office--it's inevitably conservative.  The episode where Nazis invade the game and the company forms an ethics committee to discuss banning players with repellent beliefs stands on its own as well.  But it really is Episode 5 that delivers the gut punch.  While it is ostensibly about what happens when you compromise your art to make money, it is really about what people who love one another do to themselves when they won't compromise.  It's a prolonged depiction of the selfishness of divorce and it's devastating. How one wishes friend Peter Augustine Lawler were here to write about it. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


Exodus: Vaera (Len Gutkin, 4/30/20, Jewish Currents: Slow Burn: Quarantine Edition here.

AS THE HISTORIAN Sacvan Bercovitch famously argued, the Puritans spun the fantasy of chosenness they drew from their fascination with the ancient Jews into the "exceptionalism" that would come to occupy the center of American ideology. "As Israel redivivus," Bercovitch writes in his 1978 study The American Jeremiad, New Englanders "could claim all the ancient prerogatives" of the biblical Jews, including a divinely authorized state. For these settlers, Bercovitch explained, the wilds of New England took on "the double significance of secular and sacred place." In other words, the forests of Massachusetts had as central a role to play in God's unfolding plan as the deserts of Sinai. 

Among the 17th-century North American Puritans, only the renegade minister Roger Williams rejected this Judaizing vision. He believed that the divinely authorized state of the ancient Jews had become, after Christ, an illegitimate aspiration--a conviction that made him one of the earliest theorists of the separation of church and state. For Williams, the wilderness through which Moses led the Jews was, for Christians, a kind of supercharged holy metaphor for the path toward grace. No real forest or desert was required. Williams was also a skeptic of what Bercovitch called the "genetics of salvation," the notion that God's favor could be inherited. After all, the New Englanders could trace their descent to many peoples: "the Britons, Picts, Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans," as he wrote in one of his polemical tracts. In other words, if they were chosen, their chosenness could not be, as it was for the ancient Jews, a question of bloodline. Williams, as Bercovitch's predecessor Perry Miller put it, "would be a Christian, but not a Christianized Jew." He was accordingly exiled to Rhode Island.  [...]

We cannot expect religious myths to pay scrupulous attention to logical connections. Otherwise the feeling of the people might have taken exception--justifiably so--to the behavior of a deity who makes a covenant with his patriarchs containing mutual obligations, and then ignores his human partners for centuries until it suddenly occurs to him to reveal himself again to their descendants. Still more astonishing is the conception of a god suddenly "choosing" a people, making it "his" people and himself its own god. . . . [In other religious traditions,] the people and their god belong inseparably together; they are one from the beginning. Sometimes, it is true, we hear of a people adopting another god, but never of a god choosing a new people. 

For Freud, this anomalous act of choosing makes sense only if we understand Moses to have been an Egyptian monotheist who selected the Jews to carry on his new religion. "Moses had stooped to the Jews, had made them his people; they were his 'chosen people,'" Freud writes. In Moses and Monotheism, then, Freud exorcised what he saw as his own irrational identification with Jewishness by demystifying it. "To deny a people the man whom it praises as the greatest of its sons is not a deed to be under-taken lightheartedly--especially by one belonging to that people," he says at the start of the book, with that slightly theatrical bombast that is one of his most endearing traits as a writer. "No consideration, however, will move me to set aside truth in favor of supposed national interests." In the ultimate iconoclastic gesture, Freud makes Moses himself a non-Jew and Jewish law an edifice stained with blood.

As long as the fantasy of chosenness offered by Exodus retains its archetypal power, we will need to reckon with its force and its strangeness. In contemporary American life, the fundamentalist Christian preoccupation with the return of the Jews to Israel is one distressing culmination of the "excited exchange of millennial speculations among Jewish and Christian scholars" that Bercovitch traces back to the 17th century. Meanwhile, liberal Jews skeptical of the notion of chosenness find themselves confronting it anew each Passover, when awkward claims of divine selection can feel like an ethnic variation on the crudest patriotic propaganda of the larger culture: America First. The ameliorative ritual whereby the seder's ethnonationalism is acknowledged and rejected--good politics, bad exegesis, as Dan says--will be familiar to many. Is the disarmament successful? Freud's ironic anthropology suggests, perhaps, a nobler way of managing the burdens of this inheritance: submitting to the truth that even the most powerful sources of identity are also delusions.

There's no such thing as identity, only beliefs; that's the beating heart of the End of History:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are the big losers from this pandemic (PHILIP STEPHENS, 5/02/20, Financial Times)

Mr Xi is often styled the most powerful Chinese leader since chairman Mao. Instead, the early response to the pandemic spoke to the brittleness of his power. The fate of many Chinese emperors through the centuries shows their authority to have been absolute until the moment of their fall.

Beyond Asia, coronavirus has also crystallised a shift that has left Beijing almost friendless in the west. There is no need to swallow the myriad conspiracy theories promoted by US President Donald Trump's supporters to consider that China's first response to the virus was concealment. Its subsequent threatening diplomacy, aimed at absolving the regime of all responsibility, serves only to reinforce talk of a cover-up. Australia, at the head of calls for an international inquiry, accuses China of "economic coercion".

The suspicions run with the grain. Predatory investment and trade policies and military operations in the South China Sea have transformed European attitudes. In the words of one senior EU diplomat, the starting point for European policy towards China was, until quite recently, an eagerness to engage. Now it begins with pushing back.

No more so than in Britain. David Cameron's government lauded a new "golden era" in Sino-British relations. Now, Boris Johnson faces a backlash within his ruling Conservative party against China's investment in communications and energy infrastructure.

Mr Xi's ally Vladimir Putin is a still bigger loser. The revanchist Russian president had marked out 2020 to solidify his own position and Russia's great power status. A plan to extend his presidency for another dozen years beyond 2024 would win ringing endorsement in a national plebiscite. Moscow would host a summit of world leaders. Coronavirus has forced the cancellation of both events.

A failed price war with Saudi Arabia has seen a collapse in the oil price to levels far below the $40 a barrel assumed by the Russian government in setting its annual budget. The result, as the Kremlin admits, is an economic crisis worse than that of 2009. Russia's military entanglements in Syria and Ukraine now look very expensive.

All the while, China's supposedly equal alliance with Moscow looks more like strategic encirclement. The Belt and Road Initiative has underscored Beijing's claim on central Asia. Mr Xi's long-term ambition to make China the pre-eminent Eurasian power would supplant Russia in Europe. How long, one wonders, will Mr Putin be content to be so obviously the junior partner in such a relationship of unequals? He cannot expect any help from his admiring imitator Mr Orban. Hungary is a shrinking state, advancing under Mr Orban's leadership towards inexorable demographic decline.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


Flynn Redux: What Those FBI Documents Really Show (Quinta Jurecic, Benjamin Wittes Friday, May 1, 2020, LawFare)

So what's actually in all of this released material? The material Powell has released from Covington consists of two emails, both largely redacted.

The first, from Flynn's Covington attorney Robert Kelner to his co-counsel Stephen Anthony, dates to March 18, 2018 and shows Kelner writing to Anthony, "We have a lawyers' unofficial agreement that they are unlikely to charge Junior in light of the Cooperation Agreement." The second, dated March 18, 2018, is from Anthony to Kelner and two Covington colleagues. The only unredacted text in the email reads, "The only exception is the reference to Michael Jr. The government took pains not to give a promise to MTF [presumably referencing Flynn] regarding Michael Jr., so as to limit how much of a 'benefit' it would have to disclose as part of its Giglio disclosures to any defendant against whom MTF may one day testify." (Under Giglio v. United States, the government must inform defendants of information concerning immunity deals that might impeach a witness's credibility.)

Flynn's current lawyers try to cast this as evidence of prosecutorial misconduct--a gross effort to threaten Flynn with the prosecution of his son combined with an effort to cover it up. In fact, if prosecutors did use Flynn's son as leverage, this is within the range of normal prosecutorial hardball. Flynn's consulting group, with which his son was employed, engaged in practices that raised legal questions under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, exposing both father and son to potential criminal liability. (And that's before we get to the reported involvement by both Flynns in a possible plot to kidnap cleric Fethullah Gulen on behalf of the Turkish government.) Prosecutors were apparently willing to forego other charges against Flynn in exchange for his cooperation and plea to the single felony. According to the Covington emails, the prosecutors apparently would not promise to forego further charges against Flynn's son, although they signaled that they were "unlikely" to move forward against him if they received satisfactory cooperation from his father.

Leaning on a potential defendant for cooperation using the criminal liability of family members as leverage is not unheard of. This does not mean the practice is beyond criticism--but the handling of Flynn's case is not some kind of aberration, let alone the sort of conscience-shocking thing that might justify a dismissal.

And to the extent any nod-and-a-wink arrangement on Flynn Jr. would raise any kind of Giglio issue, it certainly does not with respect to Flynn, who was obviously aware of the predicament his son faced and any role of his plea in alleviating it. That issue would only arise, as the Covington email reflects, if Flynn's testimony were used against someone else and any arrangement with respect to his son were not disclosed.

The first batch of documents provided by Jensen and released on April 29 contains two email chains within the FBI from Jan. 23 and 24, 2017--the day before the FBI spoke with Flynn in the interview for which he was later charged with lying, and the day of the interview, respectively--along with a page of handwritten notes, partially redacted and dated Jan. 24. The documents appear to show conversations within the bureau regarding how to handle the interview and Flynn's case.

One email chain shows an exchange between FBI lawyer Lisa Page (who was then working in the office of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) and FBI official Peter Strzok (who was working on the Russia investigation), as well as an unidentified individual in the FBI's Office of General Counsel. This chain shows Page and the Office of General Counsel official discussing if and when it was appropriate or necessary to notify an interviewee that lying to a federal official is a criminal offense under 18 USC § 1001, the statute under which Flynn pled. Page writes asking whether "the admonition re 1001 could be given at the beginning of the interview" or whether it has "to come following a statement which agents believe to be false"; the other correspondent writes that, "if I recall correctly, you can say it at any time," and indicates that he or she will double-check.

The next email, sent early in the morning of Jan. 24, is from Strzok to a redacted email address; then-FBI General Counsel James Baker is copied on the email, along with another redacted address. Strzok's note contains a list of questions for McCabe to consider how he might want to answer in advance of a phone call with Flynn--that is, questions Flynn might ask him about the ongoing FBI investigation. From the Mueller report and other internal FBI documents released by Powell during the Flynn litigation, we know that McCabe spoke with Flynn by phone around noon on Jan. 24 and informed him that the FBI wanted to interview him about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak; Flynn agreed, and Strzok and another agent interviewed him at around 2:15pm that same day. With that in mind, the Jan. 24 email appears to show the bureau preparing McCabe for how to discuss his request for an interview with Flynn.

The last document in this tranche is a page of handwritten notes, with some redactions, dated Jan. 24; it is not clear whether the notes were written before the Flynn interview was conducted or after it. The writer seems to be sketching out thoughts--it is not clear whose--on how the bureau should navigate the politically tricky investigation, particularly regarding whether or not the FBI should allow Flynn to lie or confront him with evidence of his falsehood. The notes appear to show the writer moving toward the argument that the bureau should take the latter path. "What's urgent?" the writer asks. "Truth/Admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?" The notes go on:

We regularly show subjects evidence with the goal of getting them to admit their wrongdoing

I don't see how getting someone to admit their wrongdoing is going easy on him

If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give this to DOJ and have them decide

Or, if he initially lies, then we present him [redacted] and he admits it, document for DOJ, and let them decide how to address it

If we're seen as playing games, WH [White House] will be furious

Protect our institution by not playing games

Flynn's new lawyers cite these notes, which were presumably written by then-FBI counterintelligence chief Bill Priestap, as supposed smoking gun evidence that the FBI was seeking to entrap Flynn in a lie. The trouble with that argument is that absolutely nothing forced Flynn not to tell the truth in that interview. And while FBI officials appear to have discussed the strategic purpose of the interview, there's nothing whatsoever wrong with that. To be sure, a possible criminal prosecution based on the Logan Act case was weak leverage, given that the statute has virtually no history of enforcement, but agents hold relatively weak leverage over witnesses all the time. And yes, it's wrong for the bureau to set up an interview in the absence of a viable case in order to induce a witness to lie for purposes of prosecution, but there's no evidence that is what happened--merely evidence that the possibility was on a list of possible strategic goals for the interview. And yes, the bureau will sometimes confront a witness with a lie and specifically warn the person about lying being a felony, but that is not a legal requirement.

In fact, the Flynn interview gave Flynn every opportunity to tell the truth. As the FBI's partially-redacted memo documenting Flynn's interview reflects, the questions were careful. They were specific. The agents, as Strzok later recalled in a formal FBI interview of his own, planned to try to jog Flynn's memory if he said he could not remember a detail by using the exact words they knew he had used in his conversation with Kislyak. And Flynn, as he admitted in open court--twice--did not tell the truth. That is not entrapment or a set-up, and it is very far indeed from outrageous government conduct. It's conducting an interview--and a witness at the highest levels of government lying in it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


The Hype Cycle for Chloroquine Is Eerily Familiar (KEITH KLOOR, 05.02.2020, Wired))

In hindsight, it's easy--and correct, no doubt--to blame these influential boosters for generating that groundswell of unwarranted attention. But it's important that we recognize the pattern underneath: Bad ideas like this one often grow their roots in solid-seeming science (not just Reddit or Youtube conspiracy channels), then attach themselves to pollinators within the media or political landscape, who continue to spread them even after the underlying claims have been debunked.

We've seen the same life cycle of medical disinformation play out many times before. Exhibit A is the false vaccines/autism narrative. Yes, that claim had (and still has) its famous instigators and evangelists: Jenny McCarthy, Robert Kennedy Jr., Del Bigtree, and so on. But would they have become the faces of a movement absent the idea's crucial, embryonic publication in a top-tier medical journal? And would that movement have grown so large if not for its nurturing by journalists?

Like other pseudoscience, the modern antivaccine narrative started with the imprimatur of respectable, peer-reviewed research. In 1998, The Lancet published a tiny study (only 11 children were involved) that seemed to show a connection between the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine and autism. Scholars have linked sensationalist and skewed British media coverage of the study to a subsequent decline in UK immunization rates, which didn't rebound until the mid-2000s. By then, the study had been declared "entirely flawed" by the editor of The Lancet (although it wouldn't be fully retracted until 2012). Of course, by then, the seed had sprouted.

The same template can be applied to the belief that exposure to radiation from cell phones or Wi-Fi gives you cancer. Once again, it's tempting to apply the not-great-man theory of history and lay the fear of "electromagnetic fields" at the feet of its most avid and visible proponent, New Yorker writer Paul Brodeur.

As I wrote some years ago at Discover, this strain of fear can be traced, in part, to a series of articles Brodeur published under The New Yorker's "Annals of Radiation" rubric in the 1980s and early 1990s. He'd already been on this beat for some time, with similarly themed work that turned into a book titled The Zapping of America: Microwaves, Their Deadly Risk and the Cover-Up. (Fans of the movie American Hustle might recall Brodeur's name being mentioned during the "science oven" scene.)

Given Brodeur's lofty, influential perch, it's natural to single him out for turbocharging the great overhead powerline panic. After all, he did also write a book called Currents of Death: The Great Power Line Cover-Up. But Brodeur was hardly the only one in mainstream media trumpeting the notion that high-voltage power lines were causing an epidemic of brain tumors and leukemia. The narrative was everywhere back then, from ABC's Nightline and The Washington Post to Frontline at PBS ("Currents of Fear.")

This publicity--which triggered a wave of lawsuits against utility companies--was as much a product of the published scientific literature as of anything that showed up in The New Yorker, though. You could point your finger, in particular, at a 1979 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which found that children in Denver who developed leukemia were more likely than their peers to live near "high-current configurations" of denser, thicker power lines. That study had serious methodological flaws (are you seeing a pattern here?), but it gave rise to a new field of international research that sought to trace the details of this supposed correlation. Eventually the World Health Organization and other scientific bodies undertook their own, massive investigations, finding no evident link between overhead power lines and human cancer. As the National Academy of Sciences concluded in its 1997 assessment: "No clear, convincing evidence exists to show that residential exposures to electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are a threat to human health."

This enormous expenditure of time and resources is similar to the one we've seen since the early 2000s on the issue of vaccine safety. Multiple large-scale studies have now looked for any possible connection between autism and childhood immunizations. The latest effort, like all the previous ones, found no link.

Worth listening to the recent EconTalk on the hype surrounding the "War on Cancer": Vinay Prasad on Cancer Drugs, Medical Ethics, and Malignant

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


A US researcher who worked with a Wuhan virology lab gives 4 reasons why a coronavirus leak would be extremely unlikely (Aylin Woodward, 5/02/20, Business Insider)

Matthew Pottinger, Trump's deputy national security adviser, asked intelligence agencies in January to look into the idea of a Wuhan lab leak, The New York Times reported. But CIA officers didn't find any evidence. 

There's a reason for that, according to Jonna Mazet, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Davis, who has worked with and trained WIV researchers in the past.

"I know that we worked together to develop very stringent safety protocol, and it's highly unlikely this was a lab accident," she told Business Insider. Here are four reasons why.

Reason 1: The lab's samples don't match the new coronavirus

The WIV houses China's only Biosafety-level-4 laboratory, which is one of only a dozen in the world. Scientists study the most dangerous and infectious microbes known to humankind in these types of facilities. Some of the institute's researchers, including virologist Shi Zhengli, have collected, sampled, and studied coronaviruses that circulate Chinese bats. In 2013, Shi and her collaborators pinpointed the bat population most likely responsible for spreading SARS, in the Shitou Cave near Kunming.

After her team sequenced the COVID-19 virus, Shi told Scientific American that she quickly checked her laboratory's record from the past few years to check for accidents, especially during disposal. Then she cross-referenced the new coronavirus' genome with the genetic information of other bat coronaviruses her team had collected. They didn't match.

"That really took a load off my mind," Shi said told Scientific American, adding, "I had not slept a wink for days."

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


The coronavirus is causing Trump's supporters to abandon him: Trump's incompetence managing coronavirus may be the "final straw" for his supporters (MATTHEW CHAPMAN, MAY 2, 2020, Raw Story)

 "Two months ago, Trump was an incumbent president riding a strong economy and a massive cash advantage; today, he looks like an underdog in November. The RealClearPolitics polling average has former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, leading Trump 48.3% to 42% nationally. Trump's prospects aren't any brighter right now when broken down by states that were key to his 2016 victory. According to Real Clear Politics polling averages, Biden leads Trump by 6.7 points in Pennsylvania, 5.5 in Michigan, and 2.7 points in Wisconsin. Biden is also leading Trump narrowly in Florida and Arizona."

Among the Trump voters whose vote he has lost are Heidi and Dennis Hodges of Erie, Pennsylvania. "I liked his tough stance. I liked that he wasn't a politician," Dennis told TIME. But after seeing the pandemic ravage the nation, and his wife's father spend weeks on a ventilator in a medically induced coma, while Trump spent weeks downplaying its severity, Dennis had enough. "Before the pandemic, Trump would have gotten my vote again," he said. But not now.

Jessica Lavine Freeman of Georgia agreed, saying "If we had sat down and had this conversation in August of last year, I probably would have voted for Trump again," but that Trump's incompetence managing coronavirus was the "final straw" and she would instead vote for former Vice President Joe Biden.

He was supposed to take their anger out on them, not us.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


In tortured logic, Trump begs for a do-over on the Iran nuclear deal (Tyler Cullis & Trita Parsi, 5/01/20, rESPONSIBLE sTATECRAFT)

Even the Trump administration seems to grudgingly have concluded that breaching the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) was a mistake. More than two years after the U.S. exit, the deal still stands while the Trump administration is running out of options to force a re-negotiation. It is now so desperate it is seeking to convince the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that it never quit the deal in the first place. The lesson to the U.S. is clear: Diplomatic vandalism carries costs -- even for a superpower. The lesson to a prospective President Joe Biden is more specific: Rejoin the nuclear deal, don't try to renegotiate it.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims that UNSC Resolution 2231 defines the term "JCPOA participant" to be inclusive of the United States, and nothing the United States could do or has done can change this supposed legal fact.  According to Pompeo, even though the Trump administration repeatedly referred to its "withdrawal" from the JCPOA as a "cessation of its participation" in the agreement, UNSCR 2231 continues to define the United States as a "JCPOA participant" that can invoke the resolution's sanctions snapback mechanism. 

The snapback permits a "JCPOA participant" to provide notification to the Security Council of a case of significant non-performance by a party to the agreement, triggering the automatic re-institution of former Security Council sanctions resolutions targeting Iran. No Russian or Chinese veto can prevent the reimposition of the sanctions contained in those resolutions. Only a resolution agreed to within 30 days that would undo the snapback -- but the U.S. has the ability to veto such a resolution.

This is why the Obama administration cherished the snapback -- if Iran were to renege on its nuclear commitments, the reimposition of sanctions would be swift and automatic. 

But this leverage was lost when Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 (the Presidential memoranda announcing the decision was even titled "Ceasing U.S. Participation in the JCPOA"). A senior Iranian diplomat told us at the time that Tehran was shocked that Trump would forgo this advantage. 

Now Trump is begging for a do-over.

The next president will cut them a better deal--with make-up sanctions relief--and it will be like Donald never existed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Attacked by Trump, underfunded by the world: Can the WHO survive the coronavirus?: Covid-19 will not be beaten without international co-operation. But with insular nationalism on the rise, where does the organisation go from here? (Ngaire Woods, May 1, 2020, The Prospect)

The WHO simply has to be trusted by governments to be effective. If a government hides information or refuses to take its advice, the WHO cannot send in an enforcement army. "Cosiness" with its member governments is not an optional indulgence, but hard-wired into the structure.

Consider why a government would notify the WHO of any outbreak of disease in the first place, knowing it could face costly and immediate cut-off from other countries, affecting travel and trade. This is why the WHO promises to oppose knee-jerk travel and trade restrictions against a country reporting disease, something it has been attacked for in the coronavirus context. But to do otherwise would be to encourage countries not to report, choking off the stream of information on which all hopes of a rational, cross-border approach to public health depend.

Things could have been far worse if China had regarded the WHO as hostile. As it was, Beijing first reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan on 31st December 2019. (Incidentally, and inconveniently for those who want to blame the coronavirus crisis on a WHO/Beijing stitch-up against the world, the Chinese government has since disciplined local officials for hiding the scale of infection prior to this.) The WHO was then quick to act. The next day, on 1st January 2020, as the head of China's centre for disease control briefed his counterpart in the United States, the WHO set up an Incident Management Support Team, putting its organisation on emergency footing.

After the initial reporting is out of the way, the WHO also needs the trust of governments so that countries share virus information. In February 2007, the world saw what happens when that trust wasn't there. During an international outbreak of swine flu, Indonesia stopped sharing H5N1 samples with the WHO, claiming--incorrectly--that the organisation was passing them on to pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines for which Indonesia would then have to pay very high prices. Without such samples, the WHO was hamstrung in what it could do for the immediately affected country--and the world beyond.

By contrast, in the current crisis, on 9th January the Chinese health authorities and the WHO announced the discovery of a novel coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, and over the weekend of 11th-12th January, the Chinese authorities shared the full sequence of the coronavirus genome. Consequently, by 16th January German researchers in Berlin had already developed a new lab test for the virus, soon followed by companies in South Korea. In both nations, preparations for rolling out large-scale testing for the virus began immediately, permitting these countries to follow WHO advice which was to prioritise testing in order to "intensify case finding, contact tracing, monitoring, quarantine of contact, and isolation of cases."

Other countries did not follow the WHO advice, and there was little the organisation could do. In the UK and the US, weeks went by without the adequate development and rollout of testing. Both were forced to limit testing severely as the virus spread. In the US, by 12th February the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention had to admit that its tests were not only inadequate in supply but defective. Even in late March, Public Health England was struggling to deliver enough tests, leaving thousands of health workers untested.

If the WHO were in the business of criticising governments it would have no shortage of governments to choose from. But it would not enhance global co-operation by playing "critic-in-chief." It can only function by understanding its role, which is to be entrusted by governments with the role of "adviser-in-chief"--a status that necessarily constrains the way it works.

Critics argue that the WHO was too slow to sound the full alarm bell on coronavirus. But the bitter experience of the WHO highlights how fraught that call can be. In 2010, the organisation was castigated for labelling swine flu a pandemic. That virus turned out not to be as dangerous as it feared. Five years later it was much more careful when Ebola broke out, and this time it was pilloried for not calling an international emergency faster.

As we are witnessing with the Sars-CoV2 virus, scientists do not quickly form a consensus on the epidemiology or likely trajectory of a virus. Debates are now raging about whether Covid-19 will die out or mutate into a more (or less) lethal form, about whether human beings will develop immunity to it, and if so, for how long.

Even where a sufficient weight of expertise settles into a consensus, the WHO is not automatically free to act on it. It cannot declare a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" (PHEIC) without convening an Emergency Committee of experts to review the evidence and make a call, a restriction governments have imposed. The WHO convened such a committee on 22nd-23rd January and it failed to reach a consensus. Fortunately, it did not let matters rest. Instead, it despatched a senior delegation to China to gather more data and to call a second meeting of the Emergency Committee at which the experts gave approval to declare a PHEIC on 30th January.

The declaration of a PHEIC signals to the world that there is an ongoing epidemic or disease outbreak that is a serious risk to several countries, demanding a concerted response. It gives the WHO a mandate to act. The next step is for the WHO to escalate and declare a pandemic--which triggers direct action by individual governments. For an organisation that relies on goodwill and contributions from its members to be able to do anything effective, this can be a fraught call. If it calls a pandemic too early, it can lead to countries automatically triggering their pandemic preparedness plans. If the WHO turns out to have been wrong, governments may have committed to unnecessary expenditure. Worse, if there is a rushed recourse to off-the-shelf plans, they may not be appropriate to the specific virus, and especially where that virus is new, as with Sars-CoV2. that we react seriously and maturely to all threats, even if some of them fall short of the current outbreak. 

May 1, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 PM


The Great American Baking Boom shakes the Upper Valley (ALEX HANSON, 5/01/20, Valley News)

For many, the order to stay home has engendered a quest for one of home's great comforts, a loaf of bread, a pie or a batch of cookies, still warm from the oven and spreading their perfume beyond the kitchen. These are boom times for baking.

Historically, King Arthur Flour, the Norwich-based center of its own doughy galaxy, has seen increases in baking when people are at home, said Bill Tine, King Arthur's vice president for marketing. Even during previous recessions, baking has surged as a pastime.

But what's happening now is "at this scale, without precedent," Tine said. March sales of King Arthur all-purpose flour were 285% higher than March 2019. Store shelves have often been as bare of flour as of toilet paper, though only about a quarter of sales has been attributed to stockpiling, Tine said.

While some stores struggle to keep flour in stock, Tine stressed that there is no shortage of flour. Any delays have more to do with packaging capacity, he said. The same is true for yeast, which also has been selling out, even at King Arthur's store and website.

King Arthur has managed its increase in sales while retooling. The company added shifts and changed its workstations to accommodate social distancing requirements. It moved some shipments from rail to truck freight, which is more flexible. And it expanded the capacity of its recently redeveloped website to handle more orders.

In addition, the closure of the company's baking schools in Norwich and near Seattle meant it moved baking instructors into social media roles and to help with calls to the company's baker's hotline. King Arthur is posting videos to social media and seeing huge volumes of calls and written inquiries.

"If you're just starting to get into sourdough baking, you have a lot of questions," Tine said.

Indeed, bread, and sourdough in particular, are leading the baking boom. Because it relies on a well-tended starter, rather than commercial yeast, for fermentation, sourdough is something many bakers want to try, but don't feel they have the time. It's also a more self-sustaining way to make bread.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


IRS mistakenly sends stimulus checks to foreign workers (IAN KULLGREN, 05/01/2020, Politico)

Thousands of foreign workers, many living overseas, are receiving stimulus checks designated for U.S. residents due to an unforeseen glitch that funneled taxpayer dollars to other countries, according to tax consultants and the recipients themselves.

College-age workers who spent time in the U.S. in the last two years -- some of whom returned home long before the coronavirus pandemic -- have been surprised to find $1,200 checks deposited into their bank accounts. And with no clear guidance on how to return it, they're holding onto the money or racing to spend it before the Internal Revenue Service realizes the mistake.

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


THE "IF IT SAVES JUST ONE LIFE" FALLACY (Antony Davies & James R. Harrigan, 4/29/20, ISI)

In January 2013, President Barack Obama said, "If there's even one thing we can do to reduce this [gun] violence, if there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try." A month later he tweeted, "If we save even one life from gun violence, it's worth it." His Vice President, Joe Biden, backed up Obama, saying, "As the President said, if your actions result in only saving one life, they're worth taking."

Politicians use such lines because they stir emotions. An argument intended to manipulate can stand on emotion. But an argument intended to persuade must stand on fact and reason. And politicians typically argue from emotion when facts and reason don't cooperate.

When we turn our attention to deaths by a range of causes, the emptiness of the "if it saves just one life" argument becomes very clear very quickly. Consider the "senseless violence" that occurs on American roads every year. We should do whatever we can if it saves just one life, no?

Let's see.

In late July 2012, a pickup truck packed with twenty-three people veered off a Texas highway and crashed into two trees.

Nine people were injured in the crash, but they were the lucky ones. The other fourteen occupants of the truck were killed. In the aftermath, bodies lay everywhere. Among the dead were two children. Alcohol was not involved, and there was no evidence of another vehicle at the scene. The weather at the time of the crash was dry and clear.

So why was the call for legislation not swift and immediate after such a terrible event? Because people knew that these sorts of things happen from time to time, and there is little, if anything, that legislation can do to change that.

But that's not exactly true, is it? We could address automotive deaths at any time if we were truly committed to doing so. One piece of legislation could virtually guarantee that no one would ever die on American roads again. All we would have to do is to reduce the speed limit on every road in the country to five miles per hour. That would save more than just one life.

The lethality of drivers is one of the major reason we'll displace them with automation as quickly as possible, but we've already adopted licensing, speed limits, seat belts, airbags, crash tests, child safety seats, etc. to try and save those lives at the margin. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM



All stars emit varying amounts of light over time--and the sun is no exception. Such changes in starlight can help us understand how habitable any planets around other stars are--a very active star may bombard its planets with harmful radiation. Now a new study, published in Science, shows that the sun is significantly less active than other, similar stars.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Human Fallibility and the Case for Robot Baseball Umpires (Keith Law, 5/01/20, Wired)

In a paper published in 2016, Daniel Chen, Tobias Moskowitz, and Kelly Shue report their findings in a study of all pitches tracked by Major League Baseball's Pitch f/x system, which tracked every pitch thrown in every game and recorded data like pitch location, vertical or horizontal movement, and release point, from 2008 to 2012. They looked at consecutive pitches that were "called" by the umpire--that is, not hit into play, hit foul, swung at and missed, or otherwise not adjudicated by the umpire--and found 900,000 such pairs. They also categorized all called pitches as obvious (that the pitch's status as a ball or strike was clear) or ambiguous (pitches on or near the edges of the strike zone). They report that 99 percent of "obvious" pitches were called correctly, while only 60 percent of "ambiguous" pitches were.

They began with the specific question of whether an umpire was more likely to call pitch 2 a ball if they had called pitch 1 a strike--that is, whether the call on the previous pitch biased their call on the next one. They found a small but significant effect on all pitches, where umpires were 0.9 percent more likely to call pitch 2 a ball if they'd called the previous pitch a strike, and the effect rose to 1.3 percent if the previous two pitches were called strikes. The effect was more blatant when the next pitch was "ambiguous," with biasing effects 10 to 15 times larger than those on "obvious" pitches.

The authors categorize this as a manifestation of the "gambler's fallacy," the errant belief that random or even semi-random outcomes will always even out in a finite sample. For example, gamblers may claim that a roulette wheel that has come up black five times in a row is more likely to come up red on the next spin because the wheel is "due"--which, by the way, you'll hear quite often about hitters who are having a cold streak at the plate, and which is equally absurd. They also cite the possibility of self-imposed quotas, where umpires might feel that they have to call a certain number or percentage of strikes in each game.

Anchoring effect, a different cognitive bias, provides us with a simpler explanation. Some previous piece of information independent of the next decision still affects that next decision by changing the mind's estimate of the probabilities of certain outcomes. The umpire's call on the previous pitch should have no impact on their call on the next pitch, or on their probability of getting the call right on the next pitch, but it does because the umpire's mind does not treat these two events as independent, even though the umpire may not be aware of this biasing. It could be a matter of an internal quota: "I called that last pitch a strike, so I should try to even things out." It could be a subconscious expectation:

"The last pitch was a strike, and the pitcher isn't that likely to throw two strikes in a row, so this pitch is more likely to be a ball." Whatever the cause is, the simplest explanation is that the umpire's mind is anchored on that last called pitch, and therefore the umpire's internal calibration is thrown off for the next pitch. That means they're less likely to get the next call right--and that's another point in favor of giving the job of calling balls and strikes to machines, not humans.

The anchoring effect was first proposed by Tversky and Kahneman back in 1974, in a landmark paper modestly titled "Judgment Under Uncertainty." The section title "Adjustment and Anchoring" begins with a statement that sounds obvious but contains multitudes: "In many situations, people make estimates by starting from an initial value that is adjusted to yield the final answer."

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Capitalism at Dusk: Hegel and the irrationality of modern economy (Robert Pippin, 4/15/20, The Point)

Hegel's most important book on these issues, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1821), is certainly a defense of the rationality of an interconnected web of modern institutions, including private property and wage labor. These institutions had either already appeared by the beginning decades of the nineteenth century--some in Germany, and many in England--or were, as he saw it, inexorably emerging. Two things, at least, are distinctive about his approach to thinking about them. First, by rationality, Hegel does not mean what any suitably informed ideal contractor would choose to commit to, either for strategic or ethical reasons. He has instead a substantive and not a formal theory of rationality. Human beings are essentially historically developing, socially dependent, self-aware, deliberative, free beings, and if they come to live in a way that, as he would put it, does not agree with this concept, then that way is irrational. This means for him, given the enormous significance of his claim about our social dependence, that a human being can only be what it is, a free being, by participating in social institutions, including an economic system. As he put it, a person can only be "fully" free as a citizen in the modern republican state. He did not merely mean that a state indifferent or hostile to the freedom of its citizens is unjust, or that one cannot act as the free agent one is in such an irrational state (although he certainly did want to make both claims), but rather that one is not yet a fully free agent in such an irrational situation. However much the capacity of freedom (as Hegel understands it) is a potentiality characteristic of every member of the human species, the state of being free is an achievement of a distinct sort. That achievement relies on the right sort of social bonds in the family, as fellow workers, and as citizens of a representative state. Absent that achievement, freedom is unrealized.

There's no such thing as individual liberty.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Is this the end of Jair Bolsonaro?: Rather than control the public health crisis in Brazil, the president is focusing instead on fighting his own cabinet. (NICK BURNS, 5/01/20, New Statesman)

First came a series of clashes with his health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, over lockdown measures. After coronavirus was first detected in Brazil in late February, Mandetta implored Brazilians to follow World Health Organisation quarantine guidelines, while Bolsonaro dismissed the severity of the virus, appearing on national television on 24 March to attack state governors who took it upon themselves to institute lockdowns.

Mandetta drew comparisons to Anthony Fauci, Donald Trump's prominent public health adviser, infectious disease specialist and head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But unlike Fauci, Mandetta is a politician and if his support for stricter measures was a genuine attempt to slow contagion, he also seemed to be thinking of his own political career. His dismissal, which finally came in mid-April, could not have come as an unwelcome surprise, nor was he a key figure in the cabinet before the outbreak.

Much more serious for Bolsonaro was the loss of Sérgio Moro, his celebrity "super-minister" of justice. Moro was, and remains, a hero to conservative Brazilians for his hard-line approach in leading a series of corruption investigations in 2014 that brought down former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of the left-wing Workers' Party. His appointment to Bolsonaro's cabinet was a key moment: it secured Bolsonaro's anti-corruption, anti-left-wing base, and also shored up establishment support for what had begun as a fringe candidacy.

But on 24 April, the justice minister quit in protest against Bolsonaro's decision to swap out the director of Brazil's federal police Maurício Valeixo with a loyalist, Alexandre Ramagem. Moro claimed that Bolsonaro wanted the change in order to halt investigations that might hurt his political allies and in order to protect his family from scandal: Bolsonaro's son Carlos is the subject of an ongoing federal police investigation into a criminal "fake news" dissemination scheme that has targeted members of the supreme court.

That same evening, Bolsonaro went on national television, standing in front a bewildered-looking line-up of cabinet members - including economy minister Paulo Guedes, the only one wearing a mask, and apparently shoeless - to rebut Moro's accusations and complain that his ex-minister's loyalty lay "with his ego, and not with Brazil".

The loss of his star minister in such a fashion has many wondering whether Bolsonaro's luck has finally run out.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Congressional Democrats are governing from the minority (Ezra Klein, May 1, 2020, vox)

[T]his is an unusual bargaining dynamic: Democrats are acting as the governing party even though they're in the minority. They're fighting for the baseline policies that any normal administration, Republican or Democrat, would be begging for right now.

"From the very beginning, this administration made the decision that there was no legitimate role for the federal government to play in responding to this crisis," says Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). "It wasn't an accident they didn't request any money in the early days. They really believed, as they believe today, that this is a problem states and local governments should confront."

This is an inversion of the traditional relationship between the White House and the opposition party. Typically, in a crisis, the administration would be pushing to do more, do it faster, and the minority party would be deciding whether to block those efforts or attach their own ideological priorities onto them. That's because the administration knows it will be blamed for failure. But the Trump administration has refused responsibility for this crisis, and it has repeatedly wanted both less funding and less authority than congressional Democrats want to give it.

"It's the executive branch who normally takes control in a situation like this, and they haven't," says Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI). "As a result, Democrats have stepped into the breach to minimize suffering. There are a lot of keyboard pundits who view this as a forfeiture of leverage, and I understand what they're saying. But we have to be very clear: They're talking about using suffering as leverage. That is what the Republicans do, not what we do."

Hating America, the Right would prefer the government fail to deal with crises effectively.  Fortunately, the Deep State won't let it fail.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Biden denies sexual assault allegation, calls for release of any records (Ali Vitali and Mike Memoli, 5/01/20, NBC)

"There is only one place a complaint of this kind could be -- the National Archives. The National Archives is where the records are kept at what was then called the Office of Fair Employment Practices. I am requesting that the Secretary of the Senate ask the Archives to identify any record of the complaint she alleges she filed and make available to the press any such document. If there was ever any such complaint, the record will be there."

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Inside the Early Days of China's Coronavirus Coverup: The dawn of a pandemic--as seen through the news and social media posts that vanished from China's internet. (Shawn Yuan, 5/01/20, Wired)

Unable to contain her anger, Yue took a screenshot of Xiao's post and immediately posted it on her WeChat Moments. "Look what is happening in Wuhan!" she wrote. Then she finally drifted off.

The next morning, when she opened WeChat, a single message appeared: Her account had been suspended for having "spread malicious rumors" and she would not be able to unblock it. She knew at once that her late-night post had stepped on a censorship landmine.

What she couldn't have realized, though, was that she had posted her screenshot at what seems to have been a turning point in China's handling of the epidemic: Over the previous two weeks, the government had allowed what felt like an uncharacteristic degree of openness in the flow of information out of Wuhan. But now the state was embarking on a campaign of censorship and suppression that would be remarkable even by the standards of the Chinese Communist Party.

OVER THE PAST several weeks, as the number of new cases in China has tapered off and lockdowns have lifted, China has been positioning itself as a global leader in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. It has vigorously promoted the narrative that its unprecedented quarantine measures bought time for the world--and that much of the world then botched and squandered that head start. Now, the story goes, China has again come to the rescue as it shares its expertise, experience, and equipment.

To be sure, China did eventually take extraordinary and painful steps to quell its domestic outbreak. But it has also taken extreme measures to curate the information that has emerged from ground zero of the pandemic.

Over the last month or so, China's openness with the rest of the world--or lack thereof--in the early days of the pandemic has become the subject of intense geopolitical debate. "The reality is that we could've been better off if China had been more forthcoming," Vice President Mike Pence told CNN in early April, when asked why the Trump administration had gotten off to such a late start in taking the virus seriously. The debate has become a strange and strained one, given that whatever China did or did not cover up, the US still squandered its chance to prepare for the inevitable even after Beijing's warnings had become loud and clear.

Moreover, it wasn't the rest of the world that Beijing was most intent on keeping in the dark. Nowhere has China been more aggressive in its war for control of the coronavirus narrative than it has been at home. A vivid and human picture of that information war emerges if you examine all the stories and posts that have been wiped off of the Chinese internet since the outbreak began--which is exactly what I've been trying to do for the past few months.

Seasoned journalists in China often say "Cover China as if you were covering Snapchat"--in other words, screenshot everything, under the assumption that any given story could be deleted soon. For the past two and half months, I've been trying to screenshot every news article, social media post, and blog post that seems relevant to the coronavirus. In total, I've collected nearly 100 censored online posts: 40 published by major news organizations, and close to 60 by ordinary social media users like Yue. In total, the number of Weibo posts censored and WeChat accounts suspended would be virtually uncountable. (Despite numerous attempts, Weibo and WeChat could not be reached for comment.)

Taken together, these deleted posts offer a submerged account of the early days of a global pandemic, and they indicate the contours of what Beijing didn't want Chinese people to hear or see. Two main kinds of content were targeted for deletion by censors: Journalistic investigations of how the epidemic first started and was kept under wraps in late 2019 and live accounts of the mayhem and suffering inside Wuhan in the early days of the city's lockdown, as its medical system buckled under the world's first hammerstrike of patients.

It's not hard to see how these censored posts contradicted the state's preferred narrative. Judging from these vanished accounts, the regime's coverup of the initial outbreak certainly did not help buy the world time, but instead apparently incubated what some have described as a humanitarian disaster in Wuhan and Hubei Province, which in turn may have set the stage for the global spread of the virus. And the state's apparent reluctance to show scenes of mass suffering and disorder cruelly starved Chinese citizens of vital information when it mattered most.

Open source everything that goes on there.
Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Exclusive: Trump pollster finds strong demand for expanded absentee voting (Alayna Treene, Margaret Talev, 5/01/20, Axios)

New survey research by one of President Trump's campaign pollsters shows broad support for more absentee voting and elections spending amid the pandemic -- and an openness to other vote-by-mail efforts that Trump has criticized. [...]

By the numbers: Three-fourths of the respondents said they favor states keeping polling locations open (so long as they meet health guidelines), but also giving all voters the option to vote absentee.

82% of Democrats, 76% of independents and 70% of Republicans supported that dual option -- and it was most popular with voters 65 and older.

64% also said yes when the pollsters asked whether respondents favor sending every voter an absentee ballot application. Nearly half of Republicans support this idea, though Democrats are nearly twice as likely to, with independents somewhere in the middle.

About three in four also favor pre-paid postage for absentee voting; counting absentee ballots postmarked by election day; establishing secure, monitored drop-box locations for absentee ballots; and letting voters ask for absentee ballots through a website.

Two-thirds want local election officials to notify voters if they forget to sign their absentee ballot envelope and to allow them to correct their mistake.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Working from home, even when the coronavirus crisis has passed (Deutsche-Welle, 5/01/20)

Industrial facilities and commercial buildings are in different stages of emerging from shutdown around the world. This is inevitable. But is it inevitable that we all, one day, return to our offices?

In 2018, a team including Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability scientist at the University of Lund, surveyed studies of behaviors where emissions reductions could be measured -- such as meat consumption and household energy use -- and found that working from home reduced the most emissions of all interventions studied.

"Working from home as opposed to driving into work substantially reduces pollution. And that's both climate pollution -- greenhouse gases, and particle pollution," she told DW. "Greenhouse gases last thousands of years, essentially forever, in our atmosphere. In contrast, the particle pollution that affects our health most immediately and directly is shorter acting. We do see an immediate effect from less driving and less burning of less gasoline on air quality."

In other words: Any driving you eliminate adds up to a big difference.

We'll be at least somewhat desperate to "return to normal" once this is over, but we've had a wide range of proofs of concept that should drive the future in the following ways:

-Car-free cities

-Reducing business travel (especially air travel)

-Distance learning

-Working from home

-Increased use of robots/machines

-Universal basic income

-Online shopping

-Removal of licensing requirements

-Regional coalitions of states

-Home making

-Extending families

-Open-sourcing meetings, classes, lectures, performances, social events, games, etc.

Unimaginable good is coming of this awful situation.

Fitbit data shows we're sleeping better during the COVID-19 lockdown ( MARK SULLIVAN, 5/01/20, fast Company)

Americans don't typically sleep well. One large survey showed that people get a full, uninterrupted night of sleep on only about one out of four nights. During this anxious time, you might think the problem would get worse. But data from sleep-tracking apps and wearables suggests something different. Many people are actually getting more, better-quality sleep during our new stay-at-home lives.

At Fast Company's request, Fitbit pulled data from its wearable devices in use in six U.S. cities--San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, New York, and Phoenix--and compared how people have slept before and after we began sheltering in place. While Fitbit wearers don't represent the full U.S. population, the company did find a surprising trend among users: they're getting 17 minutes more sleep per night in April than they were in January. Thirty-six percent of those people are getting an additional 30 minutes of sleep or more now, as compared to life before lockdown.

Fitbit says the quality of the sleep has improved too. Using the company's scale from one to 100 that's based on sleep duration and restorative value, people's scores have improved by 1.8 points during the crisis. Fitbit users typically score between 72 and 83. Fitbit says the score increases are mainly due to the increased duration of sleep, but increases in REM sleep and Deep Sleep have also helped. The company's researchers add that people are going to bed an average of 16 minutes later than they did pre-coronavirus.


Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


A Cloud Gazer's Guide to Every Fluffy Thing in the Sky: Clouds are "a wilderness within everybody's grasp." (JESSICA LEIGH HESTER, APRIL 30, 2020, Atlas Obscura)

If you have been hunkered down at home for several weeks, you may miss the sight of crashing waves, the smell of a damp forest or spring flowers, the happy ache in your legs as you tromp up a steep trail, or the sound of voices drifting across picnic blankets in a crowded park. If you wear a mask when you venture out, you might even miss something as simple as the feeling of the wind on your cheeks. There are still ways to stay tethered to the natural world in the time of social distancing, but it's not quite the same as being out there.

But wherever you are, you can still look out the window and up at clouds. They're always up there, from Mongolia to Manhattan. The sky "is a wilderness within everybody's grasp," says Gavin Pretor-Pinney, founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society. "It's the part of nature that comes to us." Here are a few ways to marvel at and identify the meteorological mainstays and what they mean--anytime, anywhere.

There are two main ways to approach cloud-watching, Pretor-Pinney says. One is "dreamy" and the other is "the more geeky way of doing it." He recommends trying both.

It's a free hobby that takes you out of yourself.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Liberty, or Liberties, or Leviathan?: a review of The Lives of the Constitution: Ten Exceptional Minds that Shaped America's Supreme Law by Joseph Tartakovsky. (Jeffrey J. Folks, 4/19/20, University Bookman)

Another thoughtful section is devoted to Justice Robert H. Jackson, whose opinions, Tartakovsky maintains, offered "two enduring lessons": first, "that no right is absolute and so we must always discriminate between justified and unjustified exercises of a 'right,'" and second, "that there is in fact no such thing as 'liberty,' but only liberties, ever jostling against one another." In Jackson, Tartakovsky finds a representative of pragmatism and "good sense," one who brought humility and humanity to the task of judging the law. The preeminent example of such a justice in our time is, of course, Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia's "mission," as Tartakovsky sees it, "was to alert Americans that their Supreme Court, with 'almost Czarist arrogance,' is slowly usurping their democratic powers." Indeed, with his much-touted philosophy of constitutional originalism, Justice Scalia consistently opposed the expansion of judicial power, just as he opposed legislative and executive overreach.

Tartakovsky's analysis is, at many points, highly perceptive, and one will be richly rewarded in reading this intelligent and well-written book. Among the many suggestive ideas in Lives of the Constitution is Tartakovsky's conception of the evolving sense of our founding documents as the product of shifting popular opinion percolating up to legislators and justices. By its very nature, Tartakovsky's approach challenges the idea that America has succeeded in an exceptional manner due to the strength of a stable consensus ideology, and that such an ideology is encoded in the Declaration and Constitution in a manner designed to regulate popular opinion and not to be easily altered by it. Traditionalists might wish for more emphasis on those elements of the Constitution that have restrained, or were intended to restrain, rapid change in the idea of America.

Another provocative argument in this book is the repeated assertion that liberties granted to some inherently diminish the liberties of others. The author's discussion of free speech is a case in point. Certainly, the defense of pornography as "free speech," while granting rights to some, by its very nature detracts from the freedom of others who wish to live in communities free of pornographic "art," but this oft-cited example presents a false dichotomy: free speech, in its true sense, involves the far weightier matters of what does the Constitution, and our society, think free speech is for. No one's liberty is diminished when authentic free speech and other fundamental liberties are freely practiced. The only entity that is truly "harmed" is a government that demands endless concessions on the part of its people, including judges who develop constitutional theories at odds not only with the text but the settled practices and expectations around the text. Justice Scalia understood the fundamental and unqualifiable nature of human liberty. As Tartakovsky rightly points out, Scalia's appeal to "'the constraint of the text'" and "'the constraint of historical practice'" was meant to curtail what he saw as a dangerous assault on liberty by unelected courts and bureaucracies. Thoughtful persons know that the same liberties are granted to all in our democracy, and they are so because they are grounded in fundamental truths of human nature.

Actually, thoughtful persons know that something approaching the opposite is true.  Hamilton gave us a strong republic rather than a weak democracy precisely to secure liberty, instead of mere freedom, because the fundamental truth of human nature is the Fall..