November 30, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Fabricator and fraudster (Oz Katerji, December 2020, The Critic)

Robert Fisk, who worked as a foreign correspondent first for The Times and since 1989 for the Independent, had the most influence of any journalist on my career. But it wasn't because of his charismatic speech in 2010, or because of the many articles I had read that had influenced my understanding of the Middle East as a student. 

Fisk did not speak fluent Arabic, not even after living in the Middle East for more than 40 years

It was because learning for myself that Fisk was a fraud, a fabricator and a fantasist was fundamental to my understanding of the very concept of journalism, and the responsibility that this profession is supposed to carry. He was guilty of the same "propaganda campaigns" he accused the Western media of conducting.

The veneration of Fisk, in his obituaries and throughout his career, serve as an indictment of a British foreign press that continued to indulge a man who they knew was violating not just ethical boundaries, but also moral ones. In a way, the glowing obituaries, free from the constraints of the normal journalistic practice of fact-checking and evidence, were a fitting tribute to Fisk. Like him, they preferred to tell a story that was not true, because stories are often far more comforting than the reality. 

So let's separate the myths from the facts. Fisk did not speak fluent Arabic, not even after living in the Middle East for more than 40 years. Leaving aside the testimony of Arabic speakers who worked alongside him, his lack of basic knowledge of the language is contained multiple times within his own work, such as his inability to tell the difference between the words "mother" and "nation" in a well-known Ba'athist slogan.

Fisk's reputation among scholars and journalists in the Middle East was destroyed by years of distortions of the truth in his work on Syria. But even before he started embracing pro-Assad conspiracy theories, Fisk's relationship with the truth was widely scrutinised. It is a monumental absurdity that we have a word, "Fisking", in the Cambridge English Dictionary derived from his surname, without any mention of him. 

The frequency with which falsehoods can be found in Fisk's work wasn't so much an open secret as a widely shared joke

The dictionary defines it as "the act of making an argument seem wrong or stupid by showing the mistakes in each of its points, or an instance of doing this." The frequency with which falsehoods can be found in Fisk's work wasn't so much an open secret as a widely shared joke understood by all who worked in the industry. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Joe Biden Has Problems. The World Has Solutions. (John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, November 29, 2020, Bloomberg)

The history of great empires that have turned inward is not a happy one. The next president always needed to confront this -- but Covid-19 has shown that this insular U.S. has fallen much further behind than even pessimists appreciated. 

The global pandemic has been, among many things, a global test of government capacity. Last week Bloomberg News published its study of "virus resilience." The U.S. came in 18th of 53 nations. It would have been far lower, if not for its private sector's success in producing vaccines. On the basic Hobbesian test of keeping its people alive, the American Leviathan has failed.

The U.S. is closing in on 800 deaths for every million people. That is a slightly better record than Britain and Belgium, but it is far worse than most of its allies. Germany, with 170 deaths per million, has done six times better. But the really shocking comparative numbers come from East Asia, where plenty of governments that a generation ago looked across the Pacific to the U.S. as the great role model have now outperformed their erstwhile exemplar.

Japan has lost fewer than 2,000 people, or a hundredth of the U.S. death toll, despite having an elderly population and a supersized capital city. Taiwan has gone more than 200 days without a domestic case of Covid-19. Singapore is beating itself up because its mortality rate is edging close to five deaths per million.

Perhaps most pointedly of all, China is now almost back to work as normal. Even allowing for Beijing's sluggish start in dealing with the virus, and throwing in some skepticism about its official death toll of just three deaths per million, it has plainly been far better at protecting its people from dying than the U.S. And the rest of the world has seen it. 

There are two lame excuses for this -- both of which Biden should dismiss. The first is that high U.S. mortality rates are part of the price you pay for freedom and democracy. Though China's success certainly has something to do with autocracy, all the other countries at the top of the Covid-19 league tables are also freedom-loving democracies; they're just better-organized freedom-loving democracies than the U.S. For instance, New York City and Seoul are both lively cities with crowded subways and a wild nightlife. But New York has lost more than 22,000 people, while Seoul has lost a few dozen. 

East Asia's supremacy at Covid-19 was not a fluke. Look at the global rankings for high schools and health care: East Asian countries are clustering at the top alongside the Scandinavians. Or look at infrastructure. The gap between Asian airports and New York's La Guardia or JFK are obvious to any traveler, but just as striking is the gap in the underlying wiring: Some three-quarters of the world's "smart cities," which have updated their infrastructure for the internet age, are in Asia. 

For nearly 50 years, Asian countries, led by Singapore, have been quietly building smarter and better governments in the same way that Toyota and Honda once built smarter and better cars. The difference is that, while Detroit and the rest of U.S. industry eventually copied Japan's "lean manufacturing" so they could fight back, Washington's politicians have not copied Singaporean lean government; indeed, they barely know what it is.

The second excuse that Biden should dismiss is that America's failures are all Trump's fault. The outgoing president may have actively obstructed U.S. attempts to deal with Covid-19, but he did not create a health system that was designed to help the old and the rich, not the poor. A pandemic was always bound to expose that. All those people who died in New York City did so under a Democratic mayor and a Democratic governor. 

The same goes for many other things where the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world. Trump said some unhelpful things after George Floyd's death, but he did not invent racist policing -- one of us covered the Rodney King riots nearly three decades ago. Polarized politics? Poor schools? A convoluted tax system? Trump hardly made any of these problems better, but the U.S. public sector started falling behind its peers long before he even became a reality TV star.

With a little reading, the president-elect could discover that other countries are doing plenty of clever things that the U.S. could copy. Formerly socialist Scandinavia is a world leader in contracting out parts of the public sector to the private sector, including in sensitive areas such as health care and education. Germany has an exemplary decentralized health system that covers everyone at a fraction of the cost of the U.S. system.

India has given every citizen -- more than a billion people -- a digital identity that can be used to deliver benefits to a population that has high levels of illiteracy. Tiny Estonia has made it possible to do a host of things online, including voting, filing tax returns, participating in the census and setting up businesses -- enough to save about 2% of gross domestic product through efficiency.  

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


How wind and solar toppled Exxon from its place as America's top energy company (Tim McDonnell, 11/30/20, Quartz)

In early October, the world passed a milestone in the clean energy transition that, until very recently, seemed unthinkable: Exxon was unseated as the most valuable energy company in America. And not by Chevron, its closely-trailing oil and gas competitor. No, Chevron got leapfrogged too--by NextEra Energy, a company that has built the world's largest collection of wind and solar farms. [...]

True to its name, NextEra offers a glimpse into the future: A world in which the climate change economy has anointed a new set of energy titans. Over the last two decades, the company has grown to control about 16 gigawatts of wind and 3 gigawatts of solar nationwide--more capacity than exists in all of Australia, and more than twice the wind and solar capacity of NextEra's nearest competitor, according to Rystad Energy. According to the company's third-quarter call with investors, it has a backlog of contracts for at least that much more.

"No one in any industry has done more than NextEra Energy to address CO2 emissions," the company bragged in a 2019 investor presentation. Whether or not that's true, it's certain that no other company has done more to add zero-carbon electricity to the US grid, which accounts for more than one-quarter of the country's carbon footprint. And it accomplished that feat while churning out cash for investors: Shareholder returns bloomed 530% over the last decade, more than double the S&P 500.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


French Republican hypocrisy and the long slow descent into reaction: Macron's shift to the right appears to have been a long time coming. But recent events show how quickly a slide towards authoritarianism can take place. (Aurelien Mondon, 30 November 2020, openDemocracy)

Sarkozy was elected after a campaign in which he unashamedly hunted on Front National territory, promising that he would go and get Jean-Marie Le Pen's voters "one by one" if necessary. That he did, and the old extreme right leader suffered a severe defeat. However, on the night of the first round, Marine Le Pen, his campaign director, declared that the defeat was irrelevant as the campaign marked the victory of their ideas.

This was prescient and during his reign, Sarkozy not only helped normalise the far right party through his tough discourse on security, but also entrenched a reactionary understanding of a number of key Republican concepts in public discourse. By 2012, it was accepted across the political spectrum that laïcité, which had consecrated the separation of church and state in 1905, was in danger and that stringent laws against certain communities must be passed to prevent its demise and that of the Republic itself. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, Sarkozy and his government diverted attention to Muslim communities and a pseudo national identity crisis, which they believed would be more easily addressed than the economic one.

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, Sarkozy and his government diverted attention to Muslim communities and a pseudo national identity crisis, which they believed would be more easily addressed than the economic one.

This culminated in the 2010 Law banning face coverings in public spaces. It was clear then that the law was not about any and all face coverings, but targeted the burqa, and through it shone the spotlight on racialised Muslim communities who had grown increasingly vilified and demonised in the 2000s. The 2004 law against religious symbols in schools had already demonised young girls and their families by forcing them to remove particular garments, without ever considering these may be a choice and that their forcible removal was indeed a curtailment of both freedom of expression and religion, whilst serving to further isolate those who were forced to wear it, risking them being taken out of schools altogether.

As with the 2004 law, the law of 2010 was pitched as an emancipatory law, with Eric Besson, a former socialist at the head of the Orwellian Minister of Immigration and National Identity, declaring that it would be an opportunity for 'social life and civilization to be explained' to the victims. As always, there was no thought given to the agency of these women, or to the very simple fact that were they forced to wear the burqa, preventing them from wearing it public would most likely mean they would be forced into remaining in the private sphere, further limiting their freedom. Women wearing the burqa (less than 2000 by most counts) were turned into both threats and victims in typically orientalist tropes, and almost never consulted/given voice in discussions on the issue. As is always the case with liberal islamophobia and racism more generally, justifications based on potentially liberal and progressive tropes such as women's rights are only ever truly anchored in the othering and demonising of Muslims. The irony wasn't lost when ten years later face coverings would become compulsory in France... [...]

Since the reshuffle in the summer amidst the Coronavirus crisis, Macron has taken a further shift to the right, as exemplified by the appointment of Jean Castex as Prime Minister and Gérald Darmanin as Minister of the Interior. This ideological positioning appears to have been a long time coming, as exemplified by the interview Macron gave to Valeurs Actuelles, a major far right magazine, in October 2019.

What is currently taking place in France is therefore not something that has emerged out of the blue, whether in terms of Macron's own trajectory or the way in which French politics and public discourse have been skewed to the right since the turn of the century. However, recent events have demonstrated how quickly a slide towards authoritarianism can take place.

Following the Valeurs Actuelles interview, it was hardly surprising to witness the return of a reactionary understanding of laïcité to the forefront of French politics, despite Macron having attempted early on in his presidency to offer a more nuanced approach. In early October, the president, announcing a new action plan on laïcité, declared that 'the country is sick from its communautarisme and from a political Islam that wants to topple the values of the Republic'. As France was mourning tens of thousands of deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic, this diversion was reminiscent of Sarkozy's own shameless diversion on a pseudo national identity crisis as France battled its most severe economic downturn in recent history.

...a racial reaction.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


IRS Says Its Own Error Sent $1,200 Stimulus Checks To Non-Americans Overseas (SACHA PFEIFFER, 11/30/20, Morning Edition)

But many non-Americans who received stimulus money do not file U.S. tax returns. One of them is Susanne Wigforss, a 78-year-old Swedish citizen who lives in Stockholm.

Wigforss was surprised in July to get a $1,200 check in the mail from the U.S. Treasury. It was followed by a letter from the White House signed by President Trump, addressed to "My Fellow American" and informing her that "your economic impact payment has arrived."

"I thought, 'I can't believe it,' " Wigforss recalled. "They're sending it to me. Why? I mean, it's crazy, isn't it?"

Only U.S. citizens and U.S. "resident aliens" are eligible for stimulus money -- "resident alien" is a federal tax classification, and to qualify an individual needs a green card or must have been in the U.S. for a certain amount of time -- and Wigforss is neither.

Asked about this by NPR, the IRS acknowledged it mistakenly sent checks to some noncitizens who receive Social Security and other federal benefits -- such as Wigforss, who receives a small Social Security payment from having worked in California for several years.

"This is so wrong," Wigforss said, "because I saw that a number of people were being evicted every month in Chicago, for instance, and I thought one of those families would have needed this stimulus check. Why should a Swedish citizen living abroad receive $1,200?"

"There's no way I'm going to cash this money -- it doesn't belong to me," she added. "But how much money is bleeding out from the Treasury Department because of these [misdirected] stimulus checks, I wonder?"

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Modern Neoliberals Rediscovered Neoliberalism (Colin Mortimer, May 18, 2020, Exponents)

In the 1930s liberalism was under fire. The world was grappling with the fallout from WWI and the effects of the ongoing Great Depression. Both socialism and fascism were coming to prominence. Understanding that something must be done, intellectuals at the time were individually coming to the conclusion that something must be wrong with the predominant governing ideology of the time: classical liberalism.

Classical liberalism broadly espoused the view that individual rights and liberty were paramount above all else, and that left alone society would naturally organize itself into a utility-maximizing market economy. Alexander Rüstow, a German sociologist, wrote at the time that under classical liberalism, free markets were considered "as natural and divine laws, upon which the same dignity and even the same universality as those of mathematics were conferred."  But following the Great Depression, intellectuals began to question the idea that the market economy captured the "natural order." Instead, they suggested that the classical market economy was the product of man, particularly the legal system. If this was true, then the market economy was not simply the natural order of society. Rather, the free market was the product of an arbitrary legal system opted into by societies. This meant that the free market was unnatural.

As it became clear that the public was not satisfied with classical liberalism, particularly its laissez-faire approach to economic affairs, intellectuals surmised that unless liberalism were reformed to increase state intervention then it would collapse and give rise to totalitarianism. Rüstow was a leader of this movement. A former socialist who had become disillusioned with the ideology after the rise of the Soviet Union, Rüstow wanted to chart a "Third Way" between the laissez-faire approach and socialism.

Rüstow's conception of a third way ideology sounds similar to the same values modern neoliberals uphold. In his speech, Free Economy, Strong State, which would later be regarded as the founding document of neoliberalism, Rüstow decried excessive government intervention in the market but simultaneously called for the state to set and enforce the rules of the economy. He argued that society should seek to maximize freedom, which neither classical liberalism nor socialism was able to do. His prescriptions mirror this attitude. He believed that the state should promote gainful employment. But minimum wages, he argued, interfered with the market too heavily. Instead, he proposed wage subsidies financed through tax revenue, which could provide the same effect as minimum wages without the market-distorting tradeoffs. He called for the government to end "protectionism", "regulatory capture" and "corporate welfare. In later writings, he also proposed several policies that fall well away from neoliberalism's pejorative conception: a ban on advertising because only large companies could afford it, implementing a tax on the size of business to promote competition and nationalization of all utility companies and weapons manufacturers.

Rüstow's neoliberal project was accompanied by the American journalist Walter Lippmann who formalized the growing consensus to reform liberalism in his book The Great Society. In it, he broadly critiqued collectivism, particularly socialism and fascism, but also of laissez-faire economics and the New Deal. Effective freedom in the economic sphere, he wrote, was not possible without government involvement. He proposed the creation of public health authorities, the prohibition of monopolies, increased income taxes, public education, and more.

Lippmann's book became a hit, and in 1938 the Walter Lippmann Colloquium was organized in Paris to discuss his ideas. Twenty-five intellectuals from around the world were in attendance, including Rüstow, August von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Lippmann himself. But the meeting would not merely be a book club. Rather, the theme of the colloquium became the need to put out a positive vision to replace classical liberalism.

By the end, the attendees had come to an agreement on the need to replace classical liberalism with a new form of liberalism. But the agreement was not felt equally by all. The left-liberals, Rüstow and Lippmann in particular, were more enthusiastic about the project than their right-liberal counterparts Hayek and Mises. Rüstow's influence on the colloquium was evident in the name the attendees agreed to call their new project: neoliberalism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'The Arab Spring did not die': A second wave of Mideast protests (HASHEM OSSEIRAN, 11/30/20, AFP)

"The emergence of the 2019 wave of the uprisings in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq showed that the Arab Spring did not die," said Asef Bayat, an expert on revolutions in the Arab world.

"It continued in other countries in the region with somewhat similar repertoires of collective action."

The countries swept up by the latest revolts had initially stood on the sidelines as a contagion of uprisings gripped Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen in 2011.

But in 2019 they led calls for an end to the same regional economic precariousness, corruption, and unresponsive governance that fuelled the Arab protests years earlier.

"The main drivers of the Arab Spring... continue to bubble under the surface of Arab politics," said Arshin Adib-Moghaddam of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

"2011 yielded 2019 and 2019 will merge into a new wave of protests," said the author of the book "On the Arab Revolts and the Iranian Revolution: Power and Resistance Today".

The dream of Bibi, Donald, and the Sa'uds, that Muslims can be permanently denied democracy, is futile. 

November 29, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


From Terre Haute to Tehran to your grandma, Trumpism is revealed as a death cult in the end (Will Bunch, 11/29/20, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The brutal killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is arguably the most cinematic moment in our Trumpian death montage, but it's not the most lethal. At a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., Attorney General William Barr's Justice Department is racing to commit state-sanctioned murder against five more inmates before Trump leaves office -- the first time since 1889 that a lame-duck presidency has carried out any executions at all.

These actions come at the end of a year in which death has covered the United States like a shroud, as a result of our utter failure to contain the coronavirus. In El Paso, Texas -- one of the worst epicenters of COVID-19 -- officials recently brought in 10 refrigerated morgue trucks to deal with an overload of deaths, a scene that a skillful director like a Coppola or a Scorsese would surely edit with interspersed cuts of an uncaring president lining up putts on a golf course.

In the end -- and it is the end, no matter what a deranged team of White House lawyers is still babbling about on Newsmax or Facebook or wherever -- Trumpism and America's hopefully brief experience with neo-fascism has been exposed as a death cult.

The latest bizarre plot twist -- an 11th-hour push by Trump and Barr's Justice Department to allow executions by poison gas, firing squads, or the electric chair if that's what's needed to clear any obstacles to the current mode of lethal injection -- probably would have been rejected in most Hollywood writers' rooms for looking too much like 20th-century totalitarianism.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The vaccine breakthrough (The Week, November 29, 2020)

How do these vaccines work?

Up to now, vaccines have introduced the immune system to a benign version of a virus or bacteria, priming it to recognize and fight the real pathogen if and when it strikes. Vaccines for measles, polio, the flu, and other infectious diseases use parts of or entire viruses that have been weakened or inactivated. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are based on a novel approach. They rely on a snippet of genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA, that is encased in a tiny, protective bubble of fat. Messenger RNA, sometimes called "the software of life," is usually made by DNA to carry instructions to other parts of the cell to make proteins. The vaccine makers constructed this specific form of RNA using the genetic sequence for the coronavirus, which was decoded back in January. That's how they were able to create a viable vaccine with a speed that shattered the previous record of about four years. Moderna went from obtaining the genetic sequence to inoculating the first test subject in just 63 days. [...]

How well do these vaccines work?

Phenomenally well, so far. The benchmark for FDA approval is an efficacy rate of 50 percent, roughly the average of what flu vaccines achieve. Early results for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines show about 95 percent efficacy, including for those over 65 -- a game-changing result. "It makes it now clear that vaccines will be our way out of this pandemic," says Kanta Subbarao, an infectious-disease expert at the University of Melbourne. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Social Security Reform Could Make a Popular Federal Program BetterNow is the time for Congress and the next administration to tackle Social Security's shortfalls and shortcomings by transitioning it to a smaller, better-targeted program.
 (Rachel Greszler Ilana Blumsack, 11/29/20, National Interest)

A new report from The Heritage Foundation shows how the next administration and the 117th Congress could modernize Social Security, increase benefits for lower-income workers, reduce Social Security taxes for everyone, and give individuals and families more control over their incomes and life circumstances. [...]

A logical first step is to increase Social Security's eligibility age and index it for life expectancy, since health improvements and less physically demanding jobs mean individuals can work longer than before.

The other commonsense reform, included in one of President Barack Obama's budget, is to apply a more accurate inflation index--the chained consumer price index--that doesn't inflate benefits over time.

Next are some modernizations to the spousal benefit (after all, Social Security began in an era when married women generally did not work outside the home), and eliminating features such as the retirement earnings test that suppresses work at older ages.

Finally, and most significantly, policymakers should return Social Security to its roots by gradually transitioning toward a flat, anti-poverty benefit structure. That would mean higher benefits for low-income workers, and lower benefits for middle- and upper-income earners.

According to The Heritage Foundation's Social Security model, the benefit of all those reforms would be a roughly 20% reduction in Social Security taxes, returning $1,600 per year to the median household, to save or spend based on their own unique needs.

Adding an option for workers to set aside a portion of their Social Security taxes in a personal savings account that they own, control, and could pass on to their heirs could further empower workers, and even reduce wealth inequality. 

We are all Third Way. One party or the other catches up. 

November 28, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Enter the Parler: Trump fans flock to platform where anti-Semitism has thrived (ALEX NEWHOUSE, 11/28/20, Times of Israel)

Since the 2020 US presidential election, Parler has caught on among right-wing politicians and "influencers" - people with large online followings - as a social media platform where they can share and promote ideas without worrying about the company blocking or flagging their posts for being dangerous or misleading. However, the website has become a haven for far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists who are now interacting with the mainstream conservatives flocking to the platform. [...]

Parler has only two community guidelines: It does not knowingly allow criminal activity, and it does not allow spam or bots on its platform. The lack of guidelines on hate speech has allowed racism and anti-Semitism to flourish on Parler.

My research center has spent several years building an extensive encyclopedia of far-right terminology and slang, covering niche topics from the spectrum of white supremacist, neo-fascist and anti-state movements. We have studied the ways that far-right language evolves alongside content moderation efforts from mainstream platforms, and how slang and memes are often used to evade regulations.

We have monitored far-right communities on Parler since March and have found frequent use of both obvious white supremacist terms and more implicit, evasive memes and slang. For example, among other explicit white supremacist content, Parler allows usernames referencing the Atomwaffen Division's violently anti-Semitic slogan, posts spreading the theory that Jews are descended from Satan, and hashtags such as "HitlerWasRight."

In addition, it is easy to find the implicit bigotry and violence that eventually caused Facebook to ban movements like QAnon. For example, QAnon's version of the "blood libel" theory - the centuries-old conspiracy theory the Jewish people murder Christians and use their blood for rituals - has spread widely on the platform. Thousands of posts also use QAnon hashtags and promote the false claim that global elites are literally eating children.

Among the alternative platforms, Parler stands out because white supremacists, QAnon adherents and mainstream conservatives exist in close proximity.

It should really be called Pallor.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Obama Book Explains How Birtherism Made Trump's Presidency (Murtaza Hussain, November 28 2020, The Intercept)

The overpowering insanity of the past five years has drowned out most memories of the "birther" episode that Obama recounts in his book. Looking back, the conspiracy theory and all that went along with it feels like a disturbing early warning sign of the terrifyingly unstable course that U.S. politics had begun to chart. Beginning around early 2011, Trump began publicly questioning Obama's place of birth, but he also went much further. Trump cast aspersions on Obama's intelligence, suggesting that his grades, concealed in unreleased college transcripts, must have been poor and that the erudite writing of his previous book, "Dreams From My Father," meant that a ghostwriter must have penned it.

This was ugly stuff. It was also popular, building Trump's news media profile and kickstarting his successful political career. The media at the time mostly didn't endorse Trump's theories. Yet, in a pattern that would disastrously repeat during his 2016 election campaign, outlets also couldn't get enough of his wacky sensationalism, providing wall-to-wall national publicity for the future president free of charge.

At the behest of his advisers, Obama writes in his memoir that he tried to downplay potentially divisive racial issues in his rhetoric and focus on unifying messages. As the Trump-orchestrated birther frenzy heated up during Obama's first term, the president reflected on a hostile reaction to his presidency that was no longer merely about politics. In some quarters of the American public, there was an "emotional, almost visceral" feeling, Obama writes, that "the natural order had been disrupted" by the election of a Black man like him to the presidency. [...]

This is a subtext of Obama's memoir: The story of how, starting with the birtherism episode, the embers of an unhinged majoritarian backlash to his presidency fanned into an inferno that consumed the Republican Party along with much of the broader conservative movement. A common undercurrent to conservative arguments about immigrants and minorities is that when they ask for accommodations or special recognition from society, they are inevitably eroding its intellectual and cultural standards. After watching many conservatives spend years defending intellectual train wrecks like Palin and Trump, it's difficult to take such claims seriously. With so many people having been driven out of their minds by a Black president, there is little reason to think that Trump's narrow defeat in the 2020 election is going to improve that condition.

Obama's faults as a president are there for us to criticize. He failed to rein in a rampaging national security state. There were ugly compromises with Wall Street and, more generally, a perceived coziness with a corrupt ruling establishment. In a way that he does not really confront in the book, those failures helped lay the groundwork for a populist backlash now coming from both the right and the left.

There was one thing Obama, to his credit, did understand very well: how a mix of celebrity, xenophobia, and paranoia might prove a winning formula for a hostile takeover of American democracy, perhaps even putting an end to the liberal order of which he himself is a product.

"What I knew was that he was a spectacle, and in the United States of America in 2011, that was a form of power. Trump trafficked in a currency that, however shallow, seemed to gain more purchase with each passing day," Obama writes. "Far from being ostracized for the conspiracies he'd peddled, he in fact had never been bigger."

You really need to go back to at least Ross Perot and his Nativist campaigns and what Donald saw of the success of Pat Buchanan and David Duke with Perot's Reform Party, but the clearest early signal for the UR should have been how the Right turned on W over immigration reform--which Mr. Obama tragically helped kill--and democratizing the Middle East. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Trump's GOP is Increasingly Racist and Authoritarian--and Here to Stay (RICHARD NORTH PATTERSON,  NOVEMBER 24, 2020, The Bulwark)

He comprehends his audience all too well. Take the poll released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) measuring the attitudes of "Fox News Republicans"--the 40 percent of party adherents who trust Fox as their primary source of TV news. The survey found that 91 percent oppose the Black Lives Matter movement; 90 percent believe that police killings of blacks are "isolated incidents"; and 58 think that whites are victimized by racial discrimination, compared to 36 percent who think blacks are.

Their animus toward immigration is equally strong. Substantial majorities believe that immigrants consume a disproportionate amount of governmental services, increase crime in local communities, and threaten our cultural and ethnic character. Support for Trump's wall is nearly unanimous (96 percent); two-thirds (66 percent) favor barring refugees from entering the United States; and a majority (53 percent) support separating children from their parents when a family enters the country without permission.

Another key subgroup of the GOP base, white evangelicals, harbors similar attitudes. The poll found that the majority adamantly disbelieve that the legacy of racial discrimination makes it difficult for African Americans to succeed. The head of the PRRI, Robert P. Jones, concludes that Trump arouses white Christians "not despite, but through appeals to white supremacy" based on evoking "powerful fears about the loss of White Christian dominance."

That sense of racial and cultural besiegement pervades the 73 percent of Fox News Republicans who, the survey found, believe that white Christians suffer from "a lot" of societal discrimination--more than double the number who say that blacks do. This religious persecution complex explains the otherwise mystifying ability of evangelicals to conjure a "war on Christmas" from the greeting "happy holidays"--simply because some Americans choose to acknowledge our divergent beliefs.

In sum, the GOP is now the party of white identity. In 2016, Vox reports, Trump carried whites by 54 to 39 percent; in 2020, by 57 to 42 percent (per the raw exit polls). Whites are the only racial group whose majority supported Trump; in both elections, Trump lost overwhelmingly among nonwhite Americans. It has long been apparent that the party cannot indefinitely survive the changing demographics which are making us a multiracial democracy--and which engender such resentment in its electoral base.

That fear of displacement helps explain the profound emotional connection between Trump and Republican voters. Their loyalty is not to the political philosophy traditionally embraced by the GOP, but a visceral sense of racial, religious, and cultural identity--and the need to preserve it--which is instinctively authoritarian and anti-democratic.

It's still a different party at the state level, where folks want to be well-governed.  But that makes it all the more critical that the 2024 nominee be a governor.

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


Sadr calls on supporters to attain majority in next Iraq parliament (MEMO, November 28, 2020)

The Shia leader expressed: "We are not hungry for power, but we are committed to defending Iraq through a Sadrist majority in parliament, and we are ready to sacrifice for the sake of establishing reforms. We want to win the position of prime minister in order to protect Iraq from corrupt parties."

"We will defend the country peacefully, away from violence and killing, because we are committed to protecting Iraq from corruption, and we are convinced that the reform project is our responsibility," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


What Now for Trump's Border Wall? (ZACHARY EVANS, November 28, 2020, National Review)

The story of the border wall renovation reads rather like Trump's efforts in the 1990s to develop a real-estate tract on Manhattan's Upper West Side. What Trump proposed as "Television City," a gleaming development by the Hudson River that would include residential buildings as well as a massive skyscraper, foundered on bureaucratic inertia, fierce opposition by residents, and Trump's own financial problems. Trump sold the real estate parcel to investors from Hong Kong, and the resulting development, Riverside South, is an unremarkable residential complex.

Similarly, the fantastical visions of a wall running along the entire southern border that Trump sold on the 2016 campaign trail have not come to fruition. 

Just another instance of the Deep State winning. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


US is 'rounding the corner into a calamity,' expert says, with Covid-19 deaths projected to double soon (Christina Maxouris, 11/28/20, CNN)

As Thanksgiving week draws to an end, more experts are warning the Covid-19 pandemic will likely get much worse in the coming weeks before a possible vaccine begins to offer some relief.

More than 205,000 new cases were reported Friday -- which likely consists of both Thursday and Friday reports in some cases, as at least 20 states did not report Covid-19 numbers on Thanksgiving.

The US has now reported more than 100,000 infections every day for 25 consecutive days, with a daily average of more than 166,000 across the last week -- almost 2.5 times higher than the summer's peak counts in July.

The number of Covid-19 patients in US hospitals is just off record levels: more than 89,800 on Friday, only a few hundred lower than the peak set a day earlier, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

And daily Covid-19 deaths in the US have been heading up. The daily average across seven days was 1,477 on Friday. But more than 2,100 deaths were reported on each of the two days prior to Thanksgiving, the first time that level was crossed on consecutive days since late April.

Trumpism isn't done slaughtering our fellow Americans yet...

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


'Republicans Remain Opposed to Any Policies That Would Reduce Fossil-Fuel Use' (Jonathan Chait, 11/28/20, New York)

For more than a decade, the GOP has stood alone among major right-of-center parties in industrialized democracies worldwide in its refusal to endorse climate science. But during the Trump era, the party's rhetorical emphasis shifted. The major Republican point of agreement is now to insist on fossil-fuel use as an inherent good.

The conservative Washington Examiner reported not long ago on what kinds of climate policies, if any, Republicans may support under a Biden administration. Most of the Republicans queried for the story implicitly agree that climate change is a problem but insist that big government is not the solution. Their buzzword is innovation. A spokesperson for Senator John Barrasso, chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, explains, "He believes free-market innovation, not government taxation or regulation, is the best way to address climate change." Representative Tom Reed says, "You lead with innovation." And the Chamber of Commerce likewise asserts, "It's OK to have ambitions, goals, and targets, but our focus is on innovation and technology."

"Innovation" sounds like promising grounds for cooperation. The green-energy sector has seen an explosion of innovation over the past decade, with the price of solar energy, batteries, and other green technology plummeting rapidly.

But what kind of innovation do Republicans want? Halfway through the Examiner story, we arrive at the bottom line: "Republicans remain opposed to any policies that would reduce fossil-fuel use."

This is how negative partisanship works: there is no thought involved (a feature of fanaticism); it's just an emotional reaction to the "others" supporting renewable energy.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Bahrain is yet to normalise ties with its own people  (Omar AhmedOmar AhmedNovember 28, 2020, MEMO)

If the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition's war on Yemen was known as "the forgotten war", the 2011 anti-government protests in Bahrain soon became "the forgotten uprising". [...]

Needless to say, Bahrain's uprising was short-lived due to the military intervention of Saudi forces, who assisted the Bahraini government in brutally cracking down on the popular and peaceful protests.

The mass demonstrations by the largely Shia majority population against the iron rule of the Al-Khalifa family (who are from the archipelago's Sunni minority and have been ruling since the 18th century, with origins said to be from what is today's central Saudi Arabia) were inspired by the events in the region nine years ago. However, they are rooted in the country's referendum ten years prior, whereby citizens voted in favour of the National Action Charter which was supposed to usher in democratic reforms, and did not materialise into any lasting reconciliation between the state and the people.

Instead, human rights abuses and state repression intensified as many dissidents and opposition leaders were imprisoned, executed or faced exile under stringent counterterrorism measures. Blame was directed at Iran for being behind the civil unrest, a charge which Tehran and the local opposition denied. Furthermore, the country's main oppositionist party Al-Wefaq was dissolved in 2016, considered to be one of the biggest setbacks for Bahraini civil society. Alarmingly, hundreds of Bahraini nationals have had their citizenship revoked by the state, rendering most of them stateless.

Normalization is simply an alliance for the suppression of Muslim democracy. 
Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Are you on the list? Biden's democracy summit spurs anxieties -- and skepticism (NAHAL TOOSI, 11/28/2020, Politico)

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to host a gathering of the world's democracies next year, hoping to show that a post-Donald Trump America will be committed to democracy abroad and at home.

Biden's pledge, though, has left many foreign officials pondering a thorny question: Will their country be invited? [...]

An Arab diplomat questioned whether it's a good idea to set the bar for admission too high, especially when the world faces so many transnational challenges.

"Honestly, it depends on the agenda," the diplomat said. "If Covid-19, technology or climate change is on the agenda, how effective will it be if it's a small tent?"

Perhaps the most critical signal the gathering will send is that, under Biden, the U.S. won't shy away from defending democratic norms under attack from rivals like communist-led China and Vladimir Putin's Russia, some foreign policy analysts argued. That will be a welcome change from Trump, who openly curried favor with strongmen, they added.

"The subtext is that there's been competition from the illiberal forces out there in a different direction, and it behooves the United States to get into the contest," said Derek Mitchell, president of the National Democratic Institute, which promotes democratic institutions abroad.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


End Corporate Privilege by Limiting Limited Liability (VIVEK RAMASWAMY,  10/9/20, Newsweek)

"Stakeholder capitalism" takes decisions that should be democratic out of the hands of the people. In order for CEOs to pursue the interests of "stakeholders," they must decide which stakeholders to prioritize over others. Should companies charge consumers higher prices for goods if it helps stave off climate change? Should they infringe on users' expectations of privacy if it pleases the Communist Party of China? Whether to prioritize the interests of employees, the environment, the U.S. government or a foreign government is a normative judgment--one that belongs to America's citizenry at large, not to a small group of unelected corporate elites. I made this argument in February, and subsequently others have made similar points.

This raises the question of how to hold corporate leaders accountable when they take unilateral social action in the name of "stakeholders." No one has yet offered a solution to this dilemma that would be persuasive to liberals and conservatives alike. Here's one that might work.

The best critique of the Friedman doctrine is this: corporations did not exist in the state of nature. The corporation is a creation of state law and confers great benefits to shareholders--including, above all, the gift of limited liability. Limited liability means that the shareholders of a company cannot be sued for the actions of the company. This is the shield that allows the Sackler family to remain multibillionaires while their wholly owned company Purdue Pharma goes bankrupt--a hefty price that society consciously pays to incentivize innovation and the aggregation of capital.

Thoughtful critics of classical shareholder capitalism argue that this great gift of limited shareholder liability is part of an implicit social contract--in return, corporations are obliged to look after not only their shareholders, but society as well. That was the unspoken grand bargain at the birth of the corporation. As BlackRock CEO and stakeholder capitalism enthusiast Larry Fink puts it, "companies need to earn their social license to operate every day."

Friedman glossed over this point in his famous essay ("a corporation is an artificial person and in this sense may have artificial responsibilities"), but did not engage with it. His activist-shareholder and private equity disciples do not engage with it either. Proponents of free-market capitalism have historically rejected the idea of an implicit social contract, but fail to offer an alternate account for the creation of limited liability other than to facilitate investment into corporations.

But corporate law did not codify shareholder primacy simply to protect shareholders from management. It did so to protect American democracy from managers and shareholders alike. The creation of the limited-liability corporation was a potent tool to not only unlock productivity in the private sector, but also to curb corporate power that could influence other spheres of society beyond the market. By limiting the focus of corporate boards to shareholders' financial interests alone, corporate law confines the sphere of influence of corporations.

Which is why, given the Court's campaign finance rulings, limited liability should already be removed for companies that spend money on politicking. The use of imaginary "stakeholders" to circumvent the interest of shareholders should likewise result in the loss of the advantages corporations enjoy. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Major Advantages to Running Ferry on Electricity (Vala Hafstað, 11/29/20, Iceland Monitor)

The Vestmannaeyjar islands ferry Herjólfur runs smoothly on electricity, resulting in major fuel cost savings, Morgunblaðið reports.

The ferry was taken into use in July last year and used electricity as well as fuel to begin with. Since then, electrical towers have been built in Vestmannaeyjar Harbor and Landeyjahöfn harbor, with arms extending to the vessel, vastly increasing the reliance on electricity. [...]

By never using more than 40-80 percent of the batteries' capacity, Hjörtur expects their life can be extended considerably.

In addition to saving fuel costs, the advantages of running the new ferry on electricity include a smaller carbon footprint from the operation, reduced maintenance costs, and a more comfortable ride for the passengers.

November 27, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


US Operation Warp Speed backed vaccines for whole world (IVAN COURONNE, 11/27/20, AFP)

The US can probably afford to go without the AstraZeneca candidate as it awaits new data, as millions of Americans will be vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna shots by December 31 if the FDA gives the green light.

The rest of the world is also banking on the six Warp Speed vaccines, among dozens of other candidates.

The European Union has ordered doses from six manufacturers, five of which are backed by the operation.

"The force of investment has had an extremely important accelerating effect," Loic Chabanier of the consulting firm EY told AFP.

US government money allowed for the financing of clinical trials and the retooling or construction of facilities to churn out vaccines.

"The Americans financed clinical trials for the entire planet," Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told AFP.

The US ordered 100 million doses from the company, with bill payable even if the vaccine had turned out to be a dud.

"I am not Pfizer or AstraZeneca," Bancel said. "I need a lot of cash and do not have it."

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Trump's Pennsylvania Appeal Rejected in Scathing Decision by His Own Appointee (Tracy Connor, Nov. 27, 2020, Daily Beast)

A federal appeals court has shot down the Trump campaign's attempt to overturn the election result in Pennsylvania--with a judge appointed by the president writing the scathing decision.

"Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here," 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Stephanos Bibas wrote in a 21-page opinion issued Friday.

The three-judge panel noted that the campaign's grievances amounted to "nothing more" than allegations that Pennsylvania restricted poll watchers and let voters fix technical defects in their mail-in ballots.

"The Campaign tries to repackage these state-law claims as unconstitutional discrimination. Yet its allegations are vague and conclusory," the opinion says.

"It never alleges that anyone treated the Trump campaign or Trump votes worse than it treated the Biden campaign or Biden votes."

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


Conservatives backed the ideas behind Obamacare, so how did they come to hate it? (Christopher Robertson, November 12, 2020, The Conversation)

[I]n an odd twist of history, it was Newt Gingrich, one of the most conservative speakers of the House, who laid out the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act as early as 1993. In an interview on "Meet the Press," Gingrich argued for individuals' being "required to have health insurance" as a matter of social responsibility.

Over time, he drew on ideas from the conservative Heritage Foundation and Milton Friedman to suggest "that means finding ways through tax credits and through vouchers so that every American can buy insurance, including, I think, a requirement that if you're above a certain level of income, you have to either have insurance or post a bond."

If Gingrich laid the blueprint for the ACA, how did the law become a punching bag for right-wing politicians and their appointees in the courts?

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


Belarus dictator Lukashenko says he'll leave post after new constitution (Dave Lawler, 11/27/20, Axios)

Longtime Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has said he will step down after a new constitution comes into force, according to Belarusian state media.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Blame game erupts over Trump's decline in youth vote (GABBY ORR, 11/27/2020, Politico)

When the data came pouring in after Election Day, campaign aides and Trump allies alike were struck by the president's poor performance with the 18-to-29-year-old crowd -- especially in a cycle with surging youth turnout.

In nearly every Midwestern battleground state that mattered to Trump's reelection, the president performed worse among young voters than in 2016, according to a POLITICO review of state exit polls. Trump ceded ground in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two states he lost. He also regressed in Arizona, another critical state that slipped away.

In several of these states, the erosion was considerable. In Pennsylvania, President-elect Joe Biden won young voters by a 20-point margin, compared to Hillary Clinton's 9-point advantage in 2016. In Wisconsin, Biden won the state's youngest voters by a 16-point margin, a dramatic rise from Clinton's razor-thin edge in 2016 -- and a significant swing in a state Trump only lost by 20,000 votes. Michigan saw a four-point shift from 2016 to 2020.

They aren't old white men.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Progressives praise Yellen but could soon clash with Biden's Treasury pick (VICTORIA GUIDA, 11/27/2020, Politico)

Activist groups are hopeful that their views will get a hearing from Yellen, but there are key areas -- pandemic relief, trade, financial regulations. student loan debt -- where she could quickly disappoint them, based on her record.

While she's a strong advocate for a big new economic relief package, she has also spoken forcefully about the need to get the growth of the federal deficit under control. She is a long-time supporter of free trade, which many progressives consider a threat to American workers.

And while she oversaw the imposition of tough new banking rules as Federal Reserve chair in the Obama era, she played little direct role in shaping them, raising questions about how aggressive she'd be about new financial regulations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


New Wind Turbine Blades Could be Recycled Instead of Landfilled (John Fialka, November 27, 2020, Scientific American)

Researchers have developed a wind turbine blade that costs less and appears to be recyclable, two attributes that could accelerate the rapid growth of both onshore and offshore wind around the world.

The innovation may also reduce rising transportation costs because blades for taller turbines can now be as long as 262 feet, almost the length of a football field.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Biden hasn't even taken office yet but we're already beginning to rid our mouths of the bad taste left by Trump (Lucian K. Truscott IV, 11/27/20, Salon)

You don't have to be overly optimistic about the coming Biden administration to know that we will never see "My Pillow guy" in the White House again. We had to read about the pathetic SOB last week when he and former TV star Ricky Schroeder, of all people, were reported to have put up the $2 million bail to spring teenage Rambo Kyle Rittenhouse from jail, where he was confined after being indicted for homicide in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But I think we can be assured that the Trumpazoid bedding manufacturer has darkened the door of the White House for the last time.

I think we can be assured that we will not see the foreign minister of Russia welcomed into the White House along with the Russian ambassador and given a tour of the Oval Office, along with a smattering of top-secret information that exposes intelligence sources and methods and damages our allies.

If a Saudi prince orders the murder of a Washington Post columnist, the new president of the United States won't be on the phone to him facilitating deals for F-35 fighters and greasing the rails for American companies to get cut-rate oil deals.

The White House press corps, and American journalists in general, will no longer be referred to as "enemies of the state."

President-elect Joe Biden hasn't even taken office and we're already beginning to rid our mouths of the bad taste left by the last four years of Donald Trump's occupation of the White House. He may have been elected in 2016, but he didn't function as a president of the United States as we have long understood the man and the office. He didn't look like a president. He didn't act like a president. He didn't do the job of president. Instead, he frequently spent his mornings in the White House residence calling in to "Fox & Friends" and tweeting out lies about whatever happened to pop into his mind, not bothering to descend to his office in the West Wing until the afternoon. He usually ignored the presidential daily briefing and chose instead to preside over ceremonial occasions like visits by college football champions and impromptu Cabinet meetings, where rather than discussing matters of state, he sat beaming as the members of his Cabinet, a great many of them "acting" secretaries and directors never confirmed by the Senate, fawned over him with obsequious expressions of praise and oaths of fealty.

Did Donald even exist?

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Super Mario, Homer's Odyssey, and the Meaning of Marriage: Nintendo's Mario and Homer's Odysseus have more in common than you might think. (Grant Shreve  December 15, 2017, JStor)

Recently, two titanic cultural forces converged: W. W. Norton & Co. published a new English translation of Homer's Odyssey--the first by a woman--and Nintendo released the latest entry in their long-running Super Mario video game series. They have more in common than you might think. The pixelated plumber's most recent adventure, Super Mario Odyssey, not only nods to Homer in its title but also, like its literary forebear, begins in medias res, breathlessly launching into a detour-filled picaresque through fantastic lands in pursuit of a beloved (Princess Peach instead of Penelope) whose nuptial future is endangered by malicious interlopers (an anthropomorphic turtle and his goons instead of a gaggle of leech-like suitors). Curiously, both of these narratives focus on the same questions of marriage, fidelity, and pursuit.

Admittedly, people don't play Mario games for their stories, threadbare plots solely intended to nudge players to experiment in the game's world. According to Sharon R. Sherman, because these narratives must be "instantly recognized and reinforced" by as many people as possible, they've historically appropriated stereotypes from myth and folklore to fashion quasi-universal quest narratives.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


China is more concerned by Biden than Trump, economist Jim O'Neill says (Silvia Amaro, 11/27/20, CNBC)

"It is my impression that the Chinese are more concerned by a Biden administration than a Trump administration," said O'Neill, a former chief economist at Goldman Sachs and now the chair of U.K. think tank Chatham House, suggesting that the Biden team has "stronger philosophical beliefs" on key issues.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Tasmania declares itself 100 per cent powered by renewable electricity (Michael Mazengarb, 27 November 2020, Renew Economy)

The Tasmania government has declared that it has become the first Australian state, and one of just a handful of jurisdictions worldwide, to be powered entirely by renewable electricity.

In a statement released on Friday, Tasmanian energy minister Guy Barnett said that state had effectively become entirely self-sufficient for supplies of renewable electricity, supplied by the state's wind and hydroelectricity projects. [...]

Barnett said Tasmania had reached the 100 per cent renewable threshold with the commissioning of one of the last wind turbines at the Granville Harbour wind farm being developed on the state's west coast.

"When the final two turbines are commissioned at Granville Harbour, Tasmania will have access to 10,741 GWh of renewable generating capacity - well above our average annual electricity demand of 10,500 GWh," Barnett added.

Granville wind farm project director, Lyndon Frearson, said it was an exciting moment to see the final components of the wind farm come together, and that the project would ultimately play a role in a government aim to reach 200 per cent renewables.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


How I discovered secondhand books: A home with books is a launching pad for a life well lived, says Daniel Johnson (Daniel Johnson, 25 July, 2020, The Critic)

For me, like countless others, a life without books would be a living death. Like relics, books really do work miracles for the children lucky enough to grow up surrounded by them. A home with books is a launching pad for a life well lived.

Though books may be secularised relics, book-lovers are not saints. They possess only one virtue: perseverance. The grander sort of bibliophiles don't necessarily even need that. Most book dealers and collectors would never dream of spending hours rummaging through the bookshelves of bargain basements and charity shops, village fêtes and markets, or even scouring the murkier corners of reputable establishments, from Any Amount of Books in the Charing Cross Road to the Strand Bookstore in Lower Manhattan. Even in the days before bookshops went online and bargains became rareties, they never bothered to get their hands dusty. But I did and I do. 

For me, serendipity and serenity go hand in hand; and the most satisfying objet trouvé is the book. Once found, the sought-after volume creates a kind of aura of tranquillity around itself. There are, of course, gradations of serendipity: a book that must once have given me deep satisfaction now struggles to justify its place alongside rarer or more handsome volumes. But every personal library is a bibliographical palimpsest: its earlier acquisitions are gradually obscured by later ones, until one reaches the point where antiquarianism and sentimentalism can no longer be reconciled. Choices must be made. While old lamps are almost always better than new, with books one sometimes has to choose between the dog-eared paperback, the faithful companion of one's student years, and the irresistible first edition; the latter copy is much older than the former, though much newer to me. 

One is loathe to part with old friends, of course, but nobody has infinite space. Downsizing sounds so sensible and wholesome. It is, however, the euthanasia of the book-lover. I know one writer who has filled several entire houses with his books, quite apart from the one he calls home. His long-suffering spouse has come to terms with her husband's bibliomania. Perhaps she secretly dreads him suffering the fate of Peter Kien, the protagonist of Elias Canetti's Die Blendung (translated as Auto da Fé), whose library destroys his marriage and  ultimately his life. My wife has a simpler solution: one book in, one (or preferably two) out. Thanks to their lower overheads, charity bookshops, especially Oxfam, have driven out the competition on the high street; they are, though, still welcome recyclers of secondhand literature. Unfortunately, whenever I donate a box of books, I end up by buying at least one or two. And every so often review copies arrive in the post. It may happen that one takes it to the book launch and the author signs it, whether in gratitude for a good review or perhaps exasperation, because for some writers no review is ever good enough. The book is thereby given a permanent home: nobody can decently sell or donate a copy signed to oneself, if only for fear that the author will encounter it again. My wife is wise to this ruse: she sighs when I return from a launch brandishing an inscribed copy. The only solution, she says, is a converted barn with mobile bookstacks, like those in academic libraries. Perish the thought!

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Why Aristotle was right about causation: The Michael Dummett vs Antony Flew debate: What comes first, the cause or the effect? (Sean Walsh, 27 November, 2020, The Critic)

There is, on this modern orthodoxy, no more to causation than mechanism. Causal laws describe regularities in nature, and this is where explanation comes to an end. The natural world contains no intrinsic purpose, meaning or value. To use a current cliché: it is what it is. Any appearance of value is a chimera, a sort of projection by our minds onto the world, rather than an objective feature of it. And those same minds are ultimately in themselves no more than brains, susceptible to the very same mechanistic "explanations".

This is a depressingly reductive worldview. It is also a comparatively recent one. Like the teenager who assumes he knows better than his parents, post-Enlightenment science takes it as given that what's new must be better than what came before it, a principle which is neither scientifically testable nor self-evidently true. There is an alternative view of causation, one which is metaphysically richer than the Humean analysis, and which validates our intuition that there is more to the natural order than mere mechanism. This alternative can be traced back to Aristotle, was modified by Aquinas, and is in no way vitiated by its antiquity.

For Aristotle, the mechanistic (or as he put it the "efficient") causation described by Hume presupposes and is dependent on what he calls "final" causality. You strike a match, and it sets light. The efficient cause of the lit match is that it was struck, but there is more to it than that. The match itself has an essential property of being disposed to catch fire when lit. It is this intrinsic potentiality, its "final", directed causality, that makes the efficient causation possible in the first place.

This is not "angels on pinheads stuff". To rehabilitate our conception of causation in a way that takes seriously the possibility of final causality is to acknowledge the intuition that there is an "immanent teleology" to the natural order. The mechanistic worldview of Hume is in stark contrast to the Aristotelian vision of a world rinsed in purpose and value.

And it is the Aristotelian metaphysics which has been gaining in plausibility as science develops, particularly (and pertinently, given the current crisis) in the areas of molecular biology and in our understanding of the galactic complexity of the living cell. It is exceedingly difficult to describe the intricacies of DNA replication without using the language of purpose, a linguistic resource which is not available to defenders of the mechanistic worldview.

Developments in the harder sciences: mathematical physics, cosmology and molecular biology seem to inculcate a reconnection with an Aristotelian conception of causation. Science may progress in utilitarian terms - we can do more with it now than 100 years ago - but it does not follow that its underlying assumptions evolve in the same way. The most prominent philosopher of science at work today, the atheist Thomas Nagel, argued in his book Mind and Cosmos, that it is pretty hard to develop some science-based, plausible worldview which has been voided of teleological explanation. For Nagel, this teleology is a mysterious brute fact, as he is temperamentally and intellectually resistant to draw the obvious theistic conclusions.

November 26, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Most of us are having a more physically constrained holiday than usual, but there's more to be thankful than ever before.  In the first place, we just decisively voted from office our accidental president.  For four years the Deep State kept him from doing any lasting damage and on Election Day kicked him to the curb.  Second, our technologically advanced society was able to develop a vaccine to combat Covid in literally two days. Third, unlike any pandemic in history we've navigated it with minimal economic disruption.  All in all, a day for giving thanks indeed. Hope everyone enjoys the day.  Stay safe; be healthy. 
Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


The Saudi-Israeli alliance looks set to challenge Biden  (MEMO, November 26, 2020)

Traditional Saudi Arabia, represented by King Salman and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, remains committed to the position that the Kingdom has adhered to since the Arab Peace Initiative nearly two decades ago. This means that comprehensive normalisation between Israel and the Arab world would be in exchange for comprehensive peace with the Arabs and the Palestinians.

Parallel Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has abandoned this under its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, and denies Arab and Palestinian rights as it allies itself with Zionism, not simply with Israel the state. Today, that is the "real" Saudi Arabia, for when it participates in putting pressure on Sudan and paying a bribe to the US to make the African state normalise, it goes beyond "normal" relations with the occupation state and becomes a full-blown strategic alliance.

The matter has not stopped with Sudan. The same pressures are being put on Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and many other countries. Basically, Saudi Arabia is operating as a minesweeper for Israel, paving the way for its tanks to cross Muslim lands, and is bearing the cost of doing so with a degree of enthusiasm that borders on ecstasy. The government in Riyadh is behaving like the UAE, which is also implicitly a part of the alliance.

It's pretty simple: Donald favored oppressing Muslims; America favors democracy. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


World's largest offshore wind farm seals financing deal worth $8 billion (Anmar Frangoul, 11/26/20, CNBC)

A major offshore wind farm, set to be the largest on the planet, took another leap forward Thursday with SSE Renewables and Equinor announcing the completion of a deal to finance the project.

Once completed, the Dogger Bank Wind Farm in Britain -- a 50:50 joint venture between the two firms -- will have a total capacity of 3.6 gigawatts (GW). [...]

Phases A and B will use GE's 13 megawatt Haliade-X turbine, while the wind farm as a whole will have the ability to power as many as 4.5 million homes in the U.K. annually. Onshore construction works for the project started earlier this year.

Posted by orrinj at 10:22 AM


Tapping Flournoy as SecDef Would Be a Really Big Deal (Janine Davidson, NOVEMBER 26, 2020, Defense One)

There is simply no one more qualified or more ready to hit the ground running, than Flournoy. Not only is she immensely well-versed on the issues and ready to lead on day-one in "the building," she would also be the first woman to run the American defense department, a milestone we should not dismiss without proper reflection.  Yes, this is a "big deal."  A very big deal.

As a university president, I know how important it is for younger generations to see people who look like themselves in serious leadership roles. When those people are as impressive as Michèle Flournoy, generations of young women and little girls will be able to aspire to heights their mothers were never allowed to contemplate.  And as a woman who has served both in uniform (as the first and only woman pilot in my C-130 squadron) and later as a senior civilian in the Pentagon (with Ms. Flournoy as my boss for three of those six years), I know first-hand how inspiring it is to see a supremely talented woman lead - and how hard it is when such role models are lacking. Michèle Flournoy is not just a role model for having busted this glass ceiling, she is a role model to all military members and defense professionals - men and women - for her level of expertise and for how inclusively and effectively she leads.

Having served in a series of high-level Pentagon positions in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations, Flournoy has developed a masterful knowledge of the Pentagon bureaucracy. Her expertise is unmatched in everything from strategy and budgets to the delicate art of civilian control, interagency coordination, and White House decision-making. Further, she knows all the players, from the admirals and generals she will need to bring along to achieve the administration's goals in securing America's defense, to senators and congresswomen and men (and their staffs) as well as the leaders in the intelligence, homeland security, and diplomatic corps.  From both her time as undersecretary of defense for policy under President Obama and her work starting and leading a think tank, she is well known and well respected among her counterparts around the world.  These deep relationships will be critical to rebuilding damaged American alliances.

And Michèle Flournoy is a leader who has mentored scores of national security professionals, who will be eager to serve again with her as Secretary. This ready-to-roll network will allow her to hit the ground running with a high-functioning team of brilliant professionals across the department. Many of these impressive professionals are women!  Defense experts like Kath Hicks (one of my former bosses), Susanna Blume, Melissa Dalton, Mara Karlin, Julie Smith, Sharon Burke, Loren DeJonge, and more, have all worked in the pentagon and been mentored by Ms. Flournoy for years.

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


In a 5-4 ruling, Supreme Court sides with religious groups in a dispute over Covid-19 restrictions in New York (Ariane de Vogue, 11/26/20, CNN)

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote his own concurrence -- joined by no other justice -- to explain his vote.

He said that other businesses such as bicycle repair shops, did not have similar restrictions.

"So, at least according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine" or "shop for a new bike," Gorsuch wrote.

If churches paid taxes they'd be treated as beneficially as bars and restaurants.  Close them all. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


'Is anybody in there?' Life on the inside as a locked-in patient: Jake Haendel spent months trapped in his body, silent and unmoving but fully conscious. Most people never emerge from 'locked-in syndrome', but as a doctor told him, everything about his case is bizarre (Josh Wilbur, 26 Nov 2020, The Guardian)

He was diagnosed with toxic progressive leukoencephalopathy, also known as "chasing the dragon syndrome", usually caused by inhaling the fumes from heroin heated on aluminium foil. An unknown toxin, probably something in the substance that had been added to the heroin to make it go further, was wreaking havoc in Jake's brain. There was no known cure or treatment, so he was sent home with a store of palliative medications.

Through the summer and autumn, Jake's symptoms worsened. His muscles grew weak and his limbs became contorted. At home, he fell over frequently and had trouble swallowing. He couldn't eat solid food and his speech became increasingly unintelligible.

In November, Jake was admitted to hospital and transferred to the neuroscience intensive care unit, where he was put on a ventilator and feeding tube. He suffered autonomic storms - a frightening constellation of symptoms sometimes seen following brain injuries. During a storm, the nervous system is in an overactive, disturbed state. Blood pressure rises, the body sweats profusely and spasms violently, breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and the heart might beat more than 200 times a minute. Jake would storm for four, eight, 12 hours at a time. "It was agonising to watch," his father, a plainspoken man in his early 60s, told me.

Jake was fighting for his life. He was scared, confused, sometimes hallucinating. Damage to the myelin, the protective sheaths surrounding nerve cells in the brain, progressed until he had no motor control, and could neither speak nor direct his eye movements. For the most part, he understood what was happening, but could not communicate. He could hear comments from nurses and doctors who believed him to be irreversibly brain damaged. Jake recalls an ER doctor observing him like a specimen to be dissected. "Oh, geez, this guy's so contracted," the doctor said, hovering inches above Jake's face. "It put me into more pain just hearing him talk about me like that," Jake told me. "Like I wasn't there."

Eventually, the storms lessened in severity, and he was moved to a nursing home. After a while he was offered palliative care at home, which is generally given to those with terminal illness. His father was told Jake was expected to die within weeks.

To outside observers, Jake exhibited no signs of awareness or cognition. "Is he in there?" his wife and father would ask the doctors. No one knew for sure. An electroencephalogram (EEG) of his brain showed disrupted patterns of neural activity, indicating severe cerebral dysfunction. "Jake was pretty much like a houseplant," his father told me.

They had no way of knowing Jake was conscious. In medical terms, he was "locked in": his senses were intact, but he had no way of communicating.

"I could do nothing except listen and I could only see the direct area in front of me, based on how the staff would position me in bed," Jake later wrote. The disease had attacked the cables carrying information through his brain and into his muscles, but had spared the areas that enable conscious processing, so he was fully alert to the horror of his situation. He struggled to make sense of this new reality, unable to communicate, and terrified at the prospect of this isolation being permanent.

Throughout, Jake maintained a clear sense of himself. He felt every jolt, twinge and spasm of pain. "I couldn't tell anyone if my mouth was dry, if I was hungry, or if I had an itch that needed to be scratched," he wrote later.

He was in constant pain, and was afraid of dying - but, worse than that, he feared being trapped in his body for ever.

For months, there was nothing for Jake to do but listen to himself think. His condition mirrored that of French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby, who published a memoir in 1997 about his experience of locked-in syndrome, written by a transcriber interpreting blinks of Bauby's left eyelid. The title, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, conjures the image of his body as a sinking tomb with an oxygen hookup, his mind a fluttering creature trapped inside. In 2007, the book was made into an award-winning film.

Since that time, medical experts have invented ways of communicating with locked-in patients (including a groundbreaking "brain-reading device"). They've also gained a deeper understanding of locked-in patients' mental states, with studies showing that a surprising number report a positive quality of life. For his part, Bauby struggled to find meaning in such a distressing experience. His memoir is an astonishing portrait of a shipwrecked mind. "Not only was I exiled, paralysed, mute, half deaf, deprived of all pleasures, and reduced to the existence of a jellyfish," Bauby wrote, "but I was also horrible to behold."

"I felt disgusting all the time," Jake told me. He received oxygen and food via tubes, and he was constantly drenched in sweat. His skin, sensitive to minor sensory changes, often burned. The autonomic storms, though less severe, raged on, gripping Jake in distressing spikes of heart rate, high temperatures and feelings of suffocation.

Back at home, Jake's world shrank to the space of his low-ceilinged room. After a few weeks in bed, he hit on a kind of internal back-and-forth, which became key to his survival. "Two voices, both my own," as he later described his often-frenzied inner dialogue.

"How are you doing today, Jake?"

"Oh, not bad, just waiting for my medication."

"Yeah, it's coming soon. Don't freak out. You're OK."

"I know, I'm trying not to freak out. Oh, God, am I freaking out? What's going to happen to me?"

"It's OK, just relax. You're good."

Jake's needs were many and constant. Carers, nurses and Ellen -turned him to avoid painful bedsores, kept him covered with quilts and squeezed pain medication and liquid food through his tube. Though they didn't know it, Jake had numerous "conversations" with them, too.

"I would interject all the time when people were talking around me. If one nurse asked another, 'Can he hear me right now?', I would shout in my head, 'Yes, I can hear you!'" Jake continued: "I loved when anyone would talk to me, even if they didn't truly believe I was 'in there'. One of the aides sang to me. Another said: 'Jake, you look like a Greek god.' I admit I did like that."

More than anyone, Ellen felt certain that he was fully conscious. She had an ability to look into his eyes and understand what he needed. He described her intuitions as "telepathic". According to Steven Laureys, a Belgian neurologist and expert on locked-in syndrome, "It has been shown that more than half of the time it was the family and not the physician who first realised that the patient was aware." Medical professionals, however, do caution that family members "see what they wish to see".

In Jake's case, the majority of his family and friends- were told very little about his health once he was home. Ellen was highly protective of him, isolating him from potential "bad influences" and insisting that he only occasionally receive visitors.

Jake helplessly witnessed heated arguments in the room where he lay. He could only stare straight ahead as bitter rows about his care echoed throughout the house. Today, Jake and his wife are estranged and no longer communicate, but he still credits her as his lifeline while he was locked in.

A psychologist would later tell Jake that his sustained awareness was a "gift and a curse". "I wanted so badly to tell everyone what I was thinking," Jake said. He endured a tremendous amount of guilt that he, a drug addict, had put his family through a nightmarish ordeal, and that the state had to foot an extraordinarily expensive medical bill likely costing millions of dollars.

Besides suffering constant discomfort and shame, his overwhelming sensation was of the hours crawling slowly by. "God dammit, the boredom!" he said. He worked out maths problems in his head and fantasised about being outdoors, playing games, having sex. He counted out 1,000 seconds, over and over again.

In his room at the nursing home, a clock on the wall hung just out of view. "That was like torture," he told me. Television offered solace, not just as entertainment but also as a means of tracking time. Jake figured out what network cable shows appeared on which nights. "I always wanted to know what time it was, what day it was, how long it had been," Jake said.

Then there were the early morning prosperity preachers. Most days, Jake would suffer a cold sweat between 5am and 7am. Televangelists often appeared on the local networks around then, when the time slots were cheap. Jake despised their histrionic ramblings, but had no choice but to hear them. "I would have to listen to a religious nut every morning asking for money," he would later write in a Facebook post. "I felt like I was in hell, like I was already being tortured, and these scam artists were torture on top of torture."

Jake was very down during this time, "thinking lots of depressing thoughts" and ruminating on the past. "There were days when I would think about my funeral for hours."

November 25, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


Burger-printing startup SavorEat holds IPO, becomes first alt-meat firm on TASE (SHOSHANNA SOLOMON, 11/25/20, Times of Israel)

SavorEat uses technology developed at the Faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem by Shoseyov and Braslevsky, which was licensed exclusively from Yissum, the technology transfer arm of the university. The product combines 3D-printing technology, plant based ingredients in cartridges, and a unique, plant-based nano-cellulose fiber developed by the scientists. The cellulose binds the ingredients together, creating a meat-like texture.

The 3-D printer is the height of two microwaves and the length of one. Cartridges are inserted into its with the ingredients -- fat, cellulose, water, and flavors and colorings.

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Trump crams one last racist policy into his final days as president (Hayes Brown, 11/24/20, MSNBC)

President Donald Trump is threatening to veto the annual defense spending bill, which would change the names of U.S. military bases that honor Confederate military leaders. For someone who came into office on a wave of racism and who in one of his first official acts made racism an official policy of the U.S. government, it only makes sense that one of Trump's last would be just as deeply racist.

The most easily analyzed presidency ever.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Biden Promises Bill Providing Pathway to Citizenship for 11 Million Illegal Immigrants in First 100 Days (ZACHARY EVANS, November 25, 2020, National Review)

Joe Biden vowed on Tuesday to send a bill to the Senate that would set up a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants.

The president-elect's team has already indicated that Biden will attempt to overturn much of President Trump's immigration agenda, including reinstating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and rescinding the Remain in Mexico policy.

"I will send an immigration bill to the United States Senate with a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people in America," Biden told NBC's Lester Holt.

Such a bill would likely be dead on arrival if Republicans hold on to their Senate majority. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Biden's 'America is back' is good news for Germany (Holly Ellyatt, 11/25/20, CNBC)

President-elect Joe Biden's signaling of a shift in America's foreign policy objectives is welcome news in Berlin, where German officials have fretted over tariffs for the last four years.

Biden said he will turn away from outgoing President Donald Trump's "America First" strategy to a more outward-looking U.S. that seems eager to lead, and to embrace its global allies once again. [...]

Biden's win has revived hopes of a U.S.-EU trade agreement after a previous attempt to reach such a deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), ended in failure in 2016 after three years of negotiations.

European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen cautioned that a fresh approach was needed on trade, and said the EU should take the initiative to build bridges with the U.S. "We know that we cannot turn the clock back. Not on trade, not on TTIP," von der Leyen said several weeks ago in a speech at the EU ambassadors' conference.

"We cannot go back to the exact same agenda we had five years ago. We should not fall into that trap. We need a fresh approach. Because the world has changed and so have the United States and so has Europe."

Beyer agreed that as "trade is a key issue across the Atlantic, we shouldn't waste time to dream about transatlantic nostalgia, the TTIP times didn't come true or become a reality."

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Health care is going digital and that could make it 'almost free,' says tech investor Tim Draper (Abigail Ng, 11/25/20, CNBC)

In future, artificial intelligence will help to diagnose patients and develop the medicine required at "very low costs," says venture capitalist Tim Draper.

He said medical costs have been "crazy high" for many years. "Finally, we're going to have a way of doing health care a lot cheaper."

Ibrahim Ajami of Mubadala, said the coronavirus has led to "probably the most significant acceleration of technology ... we will witness in our lives" and that the role of technology in health care has changed.

The use of technology is going to make health care "almost free around the world," according to venture capitalist Tim Draper.

"Health care is completely going digital," he told CNBC's Dan Murphy during a panel discussion at FinTech Abu Dhabi, which was held virtually this year.

"That's going to create health care that is almost free around the world," said the founder and managing partner of early-stage venture capital firm, Draper Associates.

Ibrahim Ajami of Mubadala Investment Company, one of Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth funds, said the coronavirus has led to "probably the most significant acceleration of technology ... we will witness in our lives." The role of technology in health care has changed, he said.

"Everything from clinical trials to drug discovery, to the transformation of health care systems and even telemedicine and personalized health -- many of us are going to go through this entire Covid pandemic without ever seeing a doctor physically," said Ajami, who is head of ventures at Mubadala.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Sweden sees no sign of COVID-19 immunity in population exposure, says country's top epidemiologist (RAFAELA LINDEBERG AND BLOOMBERG, November 25, 2020)

There's little evidence that herd immunity is helping Sweden combat the coronavirus, according to the country's top epidemiologist. [...]

In a recent OECD study, Sweden consistently ranked among the hardest hit nations in Europe, as measured by relative Covid mortality and infection rates. It was also the slowest at containing transmission.

Sweden was recently forced to recalibrate its approach against the virus, as the daily case rate topped 7,000. In what Prime Minister Stefan Lofven called an "unprecedented" step earlier this month, Swedes will no longer be free to gather in public in groups larger than eight. The sale of alcohol is now also banned after 10 p.m.

Lofven used a rare televised address on Sunday to plead with his countrymen to do more. "The health and lives of people are still in danger, and the danger is increasing," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


A fanatic heart: On the 50th anniversary of his public suicide, Nigel Jones reflects on the strange life and bizarre death of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima (Nigel Jones, 11/25/20, The Critic)

Fifty years ago, on 25 November 1970, Japan's best-known celebrity, the writer Yukio Mishima, grabbed headlines around the world by the very public yet very traditional manner of his death.

Mishima committed seppuku (Hara-Kiri), the time-honoured way of death of Japan's warrior caste, the Samurai, from whom he was himself a direct blood descendant. He knelt half naked on the office floor of General Mashita, commander of the toothless Japanese army, the Self Defence Forces (SDF), whom he had just taken prisoner, plunged a short sword, the wakizashi, into the left side of his belly and drew it across his abdomen, disembowelling himself.

At this point, Mishima's closest lieutenant (and possible lover) 25-year-old Masakatsu Morita, should have delivered the coup de grace to his master by decapitating him with Mishima's own full-length samurai sword, the katana. But Morita botched the job, failing to hack off the author's head despite three attempts. Another of Mishima's young disciples, Hiroyasu Koga, stepped into the breach, striking off both Mishima's head and then that of Morita. It was a messy end to a ritual that should, according to Samurai lore, have been conducted as carefully and cleanly as a tea ceremony.

Japan's feudalism and reactionary hierarchy were not easily shaken off

Moments before his bizarre and gruesome end, Mishima had been standing on the balcony of the SDF's Tokyo HQ, haranguing a bemused audience of some 1,000 young army officers and cadets. Hands on hips, clad in the camp, tight fitting, and rather Ruritanian uniform he had designed for his own private army, the Totenokai ("Shield Society"), his voice almost drowned out by a helicopter clattering overhead, Mishima called on the SDF to become a real army, repudiate treaties with the US that had reduced Japan to a vassal state, and restore Emperor Hirohito to the divine status that the US had forced him to disavow in 1946.

The reaction of the audience was what he had expected: a derisive chorus of hoots, catcalls and mocking laughter. With a final defiant triple cry of "Banzai! Long live the Emperor!" Mishima and Morita retreated back into Mashita's office to meet their self-induced fate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Democracy in Town: Seeds of democracy--and some analogies to today--can be found in an unlikely place: medieval European towns. (Jørgen Møller, 23 Nov 2020, American Purpose)

On vacation one day in the village of Whitchurch, in Dorset, I was awakened by the bells of the parish church. It is descended from a church founded by Alfred the Great in the 9th century and deeded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror to Benedictine monks. The most famous of the Benedictines--the Cluniacs, named after Cluny Abbey in Saône-et-Loire, France--were founders in more than the architectural sense. Among their other legacies to us is the idea of the self-governing city, a critical foundation of the modern rule of law, representative democracy, and the territorial state.

At least since the posthumous publication of Max Weber's essay "The City" in 1921, urban self-government--that is, government by town councils whose members were chosen by at least a part of the citizenry--has been recognized as critical to the formation of European states. It led to the "free" towns that Weber saw as distinguishing features of Western and Central Europe. These politically autonomous and often wealthy towns, in turn, were a driving force behind the parliaments and other representative institutions that cropped up across medieval and early modern Europe. They were part and parcel of a bottom-up state-building process in which strong social groups--primarily nobles, clergy, and townsmen--could not only balance rulers but often keep them on a tight leash, a development that presaged modern representative democracy and the rule of law. Tocqueville pointed out that the medieval self-governing town was also "transported overseas" as a model for the townships of New England, among the foundations of American democracy. According to Tocqueville, local institutions of self-government are vital for democracy because they create vigilant citizens and local political authorities who mobilize to fend off undemocratic measures taken by the powers-that-be at the national level. We are currently seeing these Tocquevillian dynamics play out as U.S. state-level institutions, including those led by Republicans, vigorously resist the Trump administration's attempt to discredit the outcome of the presidential election in a number of swing states.

This foundational importance explains why, in the current millennium, social scientists have redoubled their attempts to understand the origins of urban self-government, or the medieval "communal revolution."

This scholarship has been dominated by two perspectives. One sees urban self-government as intimately associated with war and taxation. According to this "bellicist" perspective--identified in particular with the work of the late American sociologist Charles Tilly--rulers' need to raise the wherewithal for warfare forced them to bargain with town elites. The results of this bargaining were charters of liberties for medieval towns, often including the right of town councils to govern their own affairs.

The principle of self-government was well-established by the time Magna Carta was acceded to. Institutionalization just took awhile.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


An AI Tool Can Tell a Conspiracy Theory from a True Conspiracy (TIMOTHY R. TANGHERLINI, NOVEMBER 24, 2020, Defense One)

The culture analytics group at the University of California, which I and Vwani Roychowdhury lead, has developed an automated approach to determining when conversations on social media reflect the telltale signs of conspiracy theorizing. We have applied these methods successfully to the study of Pizzagate, the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-vaccination movements. We're currently using these methods to study QAnon. 

Actual conspiracies are deliberately hidden, real-life actions of people working together for their own malign purposes. In contrast, conspiracy theories are collaboratively constructed and develop in the open. 

Conspiracy theories are deliberately complex and reflect an all-encompassing worldview. Instead of trying to explain one thing, a conspiracy theory tries to explain everything, discovering connections across domains of human interaction that are otherwise hidden - mostly because they do not exist. 

While the popular image of the conspiracy theorist is of a lone wolf piecing together puzzling connections with photographs and red string, that image no longer applies in the age of social media. Conspiracy theorizing has moved online and is now the end-product of a collective storytelling. The participants work out the parameters of a narrative framework: the people, places and things of a story and their relationships.

The online nature of conspiracy theorizing provides an opportunity for researchers to trace the development of these theories from their origins as a series of often disjointed rumors and story pieces to a comprehensive narrative. For our work, Pizzagate presented the perfect subject.

Pizzagate began to develop in late October 2016 during the runup to the presidential election. Within a month, it was fully formed, with a complete cast of characters drawn from a series of otherwise unlinked domains: Democratic politics, the private lives of the Podesta brothers, casual family dining and satanic pedophilic trafficking. The connecting narrative thread among these otherwise disparate domains was the fanciful interpretation of the leaked emails of the Democratic National Committee dumped by WikiLeaks in the final week of October 2016.

We developed a model - a set of machine learning tools - that can identify narratives based on sets of people, places and things and their relationships. Machine learning algorithms process large amounts of data to determine the categories of things in the data and then identify which categories particular things belong to.

We analyzed 17,498 posts from April 2016 through February 2018 on the Reddit and 4chan forums where Pizzagate was discussed. The model treats each post as a fragment of a hidden story and sets about to uncover the narrative. The software identifies the people, places and things in the posts and determines which are major elements, which are minor elements and how they're all connected.

The model determines the main layers of the narrative - in the case of Pizzagate, Democratic politics, the Podesta brothers, casual dining, satanism and WikiLeaks - and how the layers come together to form the narrative as a whole.

To ensure that our methods produced accurate output, we compared the narrative framework graph produced by our model with illustrations published in The New York Times. Our graph aligned with those illustrations, and also offered finer levels of detail about the people, places and things and their relationships.

To see if we could distinguish between a conspiracy theory and an actual conspiracy, we examined Bridgegate, a political payback operation launched by staff members of Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. 

As we compared the results of our machine learning system using the two separate collections, two distinguishing features of a conspiracy theory's narrative framework stood out. 

First, while the narrative graph for Bridgegate took from 2013 to 2020 to develop, Pizzagate's graph was fully formed and stable within a month. Second, Bridgegate's graph survived having elements removed, implying that New Jersey politics would continue as a single, connected network even if key figures and relationships from the scandal were deleted. 

The Pizzagate graph, in contrast, was easily fractured into smaller subgraphs. When we removed the people, places, things and relationships that came directly from the interpretations of the WikiLeaks emails, the graph fell apart into what in reality were the unconnected domains of politics, casual dining, the private lives of the Podestas and the odd world of satanism. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Biden makes experience a priority with his Cabinet picks (JONATHAN LEMIRE, 11/25/20, AP) 

Competence is making a comeback.

US President-elect Joe Biden has prized staying power over star power when making his first wave of Cabinet picks and choices for White House staff, with a premium placed on government experience and proficiency as he looks to rebuild a depleted and demoralized federal bureaucracy.

With an eye in part toward making selections who may have to seek approval from a Republican-controlled Senate, Biden has prioritized choosing qualified professionals while eschewing flashy names. Even the most recognizable pick -- John Kerry -- lacks the showmanship that has defined the Trump era.

November 24, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


German wind report shows "repowering" wind turbines could double output by 2030 (Ketan Joshi, 25 November 2020, Renew Economy)

A new report published by German wind energy industry group Bundesverband WindEnergie (BEW) and regional renewable energy group LEE NRW finds that existing German wind power output could double in output by 2030 purely through upgrades to newer models of wind turbines.

The study, first reported on by German outlet Clean Energy Wire on Thursday, finds that total annual output from German wind power could increase to 200 terawatt hours by 2030 through reporting. This could be up to 500 terawatt hours per year by 2030 with a doubling of the current land area devoted to onshore wind power in the country (from 1% of total German surface area to 2%).

"Today, less than one percent of Germany's surface is designated for onshore wind power. This already would allow us to cover nearly 40 percent of power demand by 2030. If the share grew to two percent, we could cover almost 100 percent," said BWE's Wolfram Axthelm. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Biden tells Jordan's king he is eager to 'support a two-state solution' (Times of Israel, 11/24/20)

In his first conversation with an Arab leader since his election earlier this month, US President-elect Joe Biden spoke with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday, telling the monarch that he hopes to cooperate on "supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Jettisoning apartheid in favor of self-determination nearly justifies voting for him by itself.

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


Janet Yellen, Tony Blinken, Ron Klain and the End of Crazy Time (Matthew CooperNovember 24, 2020, Washington Monthly)

What I find interesting is that this is the first Secretary of State as staff. I don't mean that pejoratively but John Kerry, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Cy Vance, Ed Muskie were closer to presidential peers than top aides. Some of that is that age difference; Blinken is 20 years younger than Biden. I haven't done the math, but just eyeballing it, I can't imagine we've had a Secretary of State 20 years younger than the president in this century or ever. Still, at 58 Blinken is older than Condi Rice when she took the job at 55 or Henry Kissinger at 50.

This doesn't mean Biden runs State or Blinken lacks his predecessors' wide command to implement foreign policy. It does mean a healthy, close, and pre-existing relationship between president and secretary. It's probably the closest of any since Rice and George W. Bush and before that James Baker and George H.W. Bush. If Biden and Blinken pursue bad policies, intimacy won't save them, but it is likely to help with unforced errors. No one will doubt Blinken speaks for the president. And, hopefully, it does mean that historical tensions between State and Defense or State and the NSC advisor are likely to be quickly cooled if there are any at all. The other Biden picks all seem super solid, and choosing a Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, who is strongest on the immigration side, was wise. Figuring out DACA, reuniting separated families, preparing for what surely be another wave of immigration from Central America makes more sense than someone whose bent is more like Marine John Kelly's,

An interesting aside. I noted on Twitter that it was an exciting pick for the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Jay Carney. He and Blinken are very close, and Blinken recruited him to be Joe Biden's press secretary in 2009, a job Carney had before he was White House Press Secretary. Biden and Carney are very close. (Disclosure; I know and like Jay. We worked together as colleagues at Time and as competitors covering the White House and other beats before that.) Jay speaks fluent Russian and was a correspondent for Time in Moscow during the tumultuous Gorbachev-Yeltsin years. (His wife, Claire Shipman, the author, covered Moscow for CNN at the time.) Carney really could do the job. Having a Russian ambassador close to the secretary and president would be good. Would Carney want to give up what must be an insanely lucrative perch running public affairs for Amazon? Trading DC and Seattle and money for the gloomy autocracy of Putin may not be tempting. But if the shares have vested, it would be of service to the country. 

Janet Yellen is in a class by herself. She's as ready to be Treasury Secretary as anyone and at 74 will be one of the oldest, older than Lloyd Bentsen (72) or Andrew Mellon (65). She's universally liked and respected which is why even Trump almost kept her at the Fed. Steve Mnuchin has been among the least awful Trump cabinet members but this will feel like a big step up the first time you see her (yes, her!) signature on the currency

It's a couple of days late, but I share in all of the accolades for Ron Klain. His Zelig-like ability to be everywhere is genuinely remarkable. Less remarked upon in his bio than, say, his tenure as Ebola czar is this: In 1993, Klain was asked by his old boss Justice Byron "Whizzer" White to inform the new Clinton White House of his retirement. Since then, he's done everything, including two stints as chief of staff to the Vice President, once for Al Gore and once for Joe Biden. His toughest moment may have been having Kevin Spacey portray him in the HBO film about the Florida recount.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Janet Yellen is a great pick for Treasury secretary (ALAN MURRAY and DAVID MEYER, November 24, 2020, Fortune)

More relevant, of course, was her performance as chair of the Federal Reserve, which won near universal praise, both in the U.S. and abroad. As a professor, she taught that lower unemployment would lead to rising inflation--the fabled Phillips curve. But as head of the Fed, she was willing to abandon theory when the evidence for it collapsed. She cares deeply about the fate of left-behind workers and laid the groundwork for the monetary policies of her successor, Jerome Powell, that helped those workers in the years leading up to the pandemic. At Treasury, she will have a broader range of tools to both keep the economy growing and help those left behind. Teamed with Powell, they should give business and markets confidence that steady hands are on the tiller.

Separately, there's a report out this morning from the McKinsey Global Institute shedding new light on the future of remote work. It finds that 20% of the work force in developed countries can work remotely 3-5 days a week as effectively as if they were working in an office. That suggest three to four times as many people may work from home in the future as did pre-COVID.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump only agreed to unlock Biden's transition when aides told him he didn't have to admit that he lost, report says (Tom Porter, 11/24/20, Business Insider)

President Donald Trump agreed to let the transition to a Biden administration proceed only after being told by advisors that he wouldn't have to say he conceded defeat, reported The New York Times Monday. 

November 23, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Researchers 3D bioprint realistic human heart model for the first time (STEPHEN JOHNSON,  20 November, 2020, Big Think)

A team of engineers has created a new method for 3D bioprinting realistic, full-sized models of the human heart. The development could improve how surgeons train for complex procedures, and it could represent a milestone on the road toward 3D bioprinting functional human organs.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Netanyahu Secretly Flew to Saudi Arabia, Met MBS and Pompeo (Noa Landau, 11/23/20, Ha'aretz)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia and met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israeli sources said Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


These solar panels don't need the sun to produce energy (NATE BERG, 11/23/20, Fast Company)

Though we can't control cloud cover, a new invention has found a way to work around the inconsistency of solar energy by harvesting unseen ultraviolet light that's present no matter the weather. It could soon be turning the windows and walls of buildings into a rich new source of electricity.

November 22, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


How Gödel's Proof Works (Natalie Wolchover, July 14, 2020, Quanta)

In 1931, the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel pulled off arguably one of the most stunning intellectual achievements in history.

Mathematicians of the era sought a solid foundation for mathematics: a set of basic mathematical facts, or axioms, that was both consistent -- never leading to contradictions -- and complete, serving as the building blocks of all mathematical truths.

But Gödel's shocking incompleteness theorems, published when he was just 25, crushed that dream. He proved that any set of axioms you could posit as a possible foundation for math will inevitably be incomplete; there will always be true facts about numbers that cannot be proved by those axioms. He also showed that no candidate set of axioms can ever prove its own consistency.

His incompleteness theorems meant there can be no mathematical theory of everything, no unification of what's provable and what's true. What mathematicians can prove depends on their starting assumptions, not on any fundamental ground truth from which all answers spring.

In the 89 years since Gödel's discovery, mathematicians have stumbled upon just the kinds of unanswerable questions his theorems foretold. For example, Gödel himself helped establish that the continuum hypothesis, which concerns the sizes of infinity, is undecidable, as is the halting problem, which asks whether a computer program fed with a random input will run forever or eventually halt. Undecidable questions have even arisen in physics, suggesting that Gödelian incompleteness afflicts not just math, but -- in some ill-understood way -- reality.

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


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The vaccine breakthroughs at Moderna and Pfizer are the latest examples of how immigrants have been driving billions in American innovation for decades (Marguerite Ward, Nov. 22nd, 2020, Business Insider)

On Monday, Moderna, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, announced that its mRNA-1273 vaccine, developed in partnership with the US government, appeared to be 94.5% effective against the novel coronavirus. 

It was a major breakthrough in modern science. And it was made possible in part because of an immigrant from the Middle East named Noubar Afeyan.  [...]

The impact of immigrants on US innovation can't be overstated, said Giovanni Peri, professor and chair of the department of economics at the University of California, Davis. 

"There is nothing to be surprised about because immigrants and foreign-born scientists and engineers have been driving American innovation and technology for at least the last 30 years," he told Business Insider.  

Top health and science companies like Moderna and Pfizer frequently bring highly skilled immigrants to the US on H-1B visas. 

For example, Moderna received or renewed 27 high-skilled immigrant visa applications in 2019, according to analysis of data from the US Office of Foreign Labor Certification. In 2019, that that number was 100 for Pfizer. 

Entrepreneurship, too, has greatly prospered because of immigrants. Immigrants are twice as likely as US natives to patent, Jennifer Hunt, professor and chair of Rutgers University's department of economics told Business Insider. Immigration increases US productivity and gross domestic product, she said. 

Between 1980 and 2000, nearly 40% of all PhD scientists and engineers employed in the US were foreign born. From 1990 to 2004, over one-third of US scientists who had received Nobel Prizes were immigrants. 

One 2007 study estimated that one in four technology firms created in the US between 1995 and 2005 was founded by at least one foreign-born entrepreneur. Separate research found that in 2006, immigrants made up 25% of new high-tech companies with more than a million dollars in sales. 

According to this data, the US has more immigrant inventors than every other country combined, Quartz reported. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Trouble(s) with 'Sovereignty' (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, November 22, 2020, National Review)

A sovereignty that undermines the ability to achieve U.S. goals is rhetorical sovereignty, not real sovereignty.

The question for the United States -- one question, anyway -- is: How should we go about preserving and expanding our ability to act not only in principle but in fact? This is a very difficult question, and one that American policymakers are in some ways poorly placed to answer owing to the narrowness of contemporary American vision. We are fixated on nation-state competitors such as China and Russia, but competitors to U.S. power and counterforces to U.S. action now include forces that are more powerful and more slippery than traditional political actors. We are reasonably adept at confronting transnational forces (some of them genuinely global) in the form of ideologies such as Communism or quasi-ideologies such as Islamism, but we are less prepared to deal with epidemics magnified by cheap and accessible travel, accelerating economic disruptions from emerging technologies, fast capital, climate change, and other factors that cannot be bribed, bombed, or sanctioned into submission.

Sovereignty or "sovereignty"? It is not entirely clear that Washington knows which it wants, that it can tell the two apart, or that it even understands that there is a difference.

The real problem is that if polities are going to trade amongst themselves--an obvious good--it is useful to have a set of rules and a third-party arbiter when disputes arise.  This makes trade the one area where a surrender of some sliver of sovereignty is appropriate.  Of course, the easy way out of this quandary is to simply trade freely even with protectionist regimes.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Ertugrul resurrected the Muslim imagination: A minor 13th-century character in Turkish history has taken centre stage in Dirilis: Ertugrul and become a cult figure for millions of Muslims around the globe (Azad Essa, 20 November 2020, Middle East Eye)

On 10 December 2014, a new television show, or "dizi" as they are called, aired for the first time in Turkey on TRT 1.

Dirilis: Ertugrul (Resurrection: Ertugrul), created by Mehmet Bozdag, told the story of a young warrior in 13th-century Anatolia who embarks on a mission to find a permanent home for his Turkic tribe, known as the Kayi, who lived as nomads on the steppes of central Asia. There, they seek shelter from the elements, navigate food shortages during harsh winters, and battle marauding Christian Crusaders and Mongols. 

At the time the so-called Islamic world, as it is now, was in disarray, with empires like the Ayyubids and the Seljuks a shadow of their former selves. Ertugrul (played by Engin Altan Duzyatan), son of Suleyman Shah, pursues a dream to unite Muslims and finally secure a home for the Turkmen tribes. 

Ertugrul horse
To achieve this he moves westward towards Anatolia, the large peninsula which now forms the bulk of modern-day Turkey. At this time, the Seljuk empire, considered the hegemon of the wider region between 1037 and 1194, had suffered from in-fighting and infiltration by both Byzantium and the invading Mongols. And it is within the Seljuk sultanate of Rum, which had seceded from the larger Seljuk empire in 1077, where much of the action of Dirilis: Ertugrul takes place.

Ertugrul and his unit of elite warriors, known as alps, battle the Templars, the Crusaders, the Byzantines, and the Mongols, as well as several collaborators within their own camp and traitors within Rum itself, all in a bid to carve out a home in Anatolia.

Soon, Ertugrul emerges as a key commander and begins to consolidate the Turkic tribes as the sun begins to set on the Sultanate of Rum. His exploits, victories and inspiring leadership eventually pave the way for the formation of a new empire. Ertugrul's heir, after all, is Osman - the eventual founder of the Ottoman Empire. 

Dirilus: Ertugul ended in May 2019 after five seasons. Each season comprised 30 two-hour episodes per season - overall, that's about 150 films. On Netflix, where it was released internationally, it has been edited to accommodate around 80 episodes of 40 minutes a piece, per season.

Watching Dirilis: Ertugrul is a marathon effort. Each two-hour instalment carries its own arc: intrigue, moral dilemma, bloody battles and a cliffhanger ending. Despite this, its reputation and popularity continues to grow more than a year after it ended, transcending time, space and TV itself.

Like Lion of the Desert, the show is about Muslim history, Islamic ideals and resisting tyranny. Social codes and values are not just relatable, they are the norm and the standard; a self-contained universe of thought and practices, where Muslims are able to see themselves as heroes, villains, collaborators, and not as caricatures written by outsiders. 

In Dirilis Ertugrul, standing up to injustice or cruelty aren't lofty ideals, they are incumbent on faith. But unlike Lion of the Desert, it is a story beyond resistance. It is about overcoming - and winning.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Take a Lesson from the Persistence of the Founder of Modern Thanksgiving (William Lambers, 11/21/20, HNN)
When you celebrate Thanksgiving, you can thank a writer from a small town in New Hampshire who never gave up on an idea.

Sarah Josepha Hale was born in Newport, New Hampshire in 1788. While home schooled, Sarah developed her writing skills. She would become a poet, and one of the first American women novelists writing about New England and the horror of slavery within the nation. Sarah also became a magazine editor and supported her five children after her husband, David Hale, passed away. 
One of Sarah's great causes was a National Thanksgiving holiday, and she wrote about this frequently in her stories. In her novel Northwood she writes "when Thanksgiving will be celebrated together across the nation it will be a grand spectacle of moral power and human happiness such as the world has never witnessed."
Sarah launched a fifteen year letter writing campaign to elected officials, including the president, to make a national Thanksgiving Day a reality. Persistence was her virtue, which led to the Thanksgiving we now enjoy. 

In 1863 Sarah wrote to Abraham Lincoln "You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution." 

She urged  Lincoln to make it happen "by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured."

November 21, 2020

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Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Representative Ilhan Omar: 'I Hope President Biden Seizes This Opportunity.' (Representative Ilhan Omar, 11/21/20, The Nation)

Trump began his presidency by backing out of the Iran nuclear deal, which had been a major feat in diplomacy with buy-in from all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council--China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States--plus Germany and Iran. The deal was not only notable for the countries that it brought to the table, but for what it prevented: a nuclear-armed Iran that could threaten the United States and risk a global nuclear war.

Nearly every action taken under President Trump has made armed conflict more instead of less likely. Trump imposed crippling sanction after crippling sanction on the Iranian people--depriving them of much-needed medical supplies during a pandemic and further tightening the brutal authoritarian regime's grip on power. He ordered the assassination of an Iranian commander--risking all-out war--earlier this year. As a result of these actions, Iran finally backed out of the nuclear pact that Trump himself had torn up in 2018--and now has 12 times more enriched uranium than would have been permitted under the agreement.

Meanwhile, Trump has cozied up to some of the most notorious human rights abusers in the world, including Saudi Arabia, a regime responsible for some of the worst atrocities of our young century. Under absolute monarch Mohamad bin Salman ("MBS"), Saudi Arabia regularly imprisons, tortures, and kills advocates for human rights and political reform in their own country--especially women's rights advocates. Using US weapons, Saudi Arabia has bombed, blockaded, starved, and slaughtered thousands of Yemeni civilians in its war in Yemen. After resolutions to end US arms sales to Saudi Arabia passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming majorities, Trump vetoed all of them. When MBS was linked to the murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, Trump bragged that he "saved his ass."

But the shameless celebration of human rights abuses didn't end with Saudi Arabia. In the run-up to the election, Trump brokered so-called "peace deals" between the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan, and Israel. Besides the very well-documented war crimes in Yemen, the UAE has also been credibly accused of committing war crimes in Libya. It is also reportedly paying for child soldiers from the same militia that committed the Darfur genocide, badly undercutting the transition to democracy in Sudan. Bahrain is a brutal dictatorship that summarily executes political dissidents and protesters, including religious leaders; routinely uses torture and arbitrary detention; and targets human rights defenders and women.

Are these the regimes we want to be empowering?

In truth, these aren't peace deals as much as they're arms sale deals to human rights abusers. And they're less about normalizing relations with Israel than they are about forming military alliances against Iran. Proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to rage in Yemen, Syria, and, to some extent, Libya. And these alliances only further align the United States and Israel with the Gulf states in these conflicts. Soon after the UAE deal went through, Trump proposed a staggering $23 billion in arms sales to the UAE, which the administration admitted was linked to the deal.

America should always stand with self-determination, certainly not Wahhabism.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Anthony Fauci has had it with people who think COVID-19 is no worse than the flu (Nicole Carroll, 11/20/20, USA TODAY)

Dr. Anthony Fauci has had it with people who think COVID-19 is no worse than the flu, not a big deal. I asked him how he processes that viewpoint as someone who has devoted his life to science.

"You have (over 250,000 COVID-19) deaths, 11 million infections and 70,000 people in the hospital. Flu doesn't even come close," Fauci said Wednesday during our USA TODAY Editorial Board meeting.

"When you ask me about frustration, which borders on pain, it's that either people don't want to look at the data or they look at the data and they say it's fake. No, it isn't fake. ... This is a global issue. I tell the people who deny or think that this is nothing, do you mean that every single country in Europe is doing the same thing, is making things up? They're not. I mean, it's so obvious."

It's unusual, but understandable, to see Fauci so exasperated. He's working around the clock to save lives, but the numbers keep getting worse. Crowds at one of President Donald Trump's campaign rallies chanted for  Fauci to be fired.

He understands the fear out there. He said he doesn't want to shut down the nation. He knows the psychological and economic consequences of that "but we at least have got to be consistent in doing some fundamental things."

Those fundamental things he repeats: Wear masks uniformly; adhere to physical distancing; avoid group settings, particularly indoors; try to do things, as weather allows, outdoors; and wash your hands frequently.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Meatballs and MillionairesDearest AOC, fly with me to Sweden. A lovely place, but you might not want to live there. (Hannes Stein, 20 Nov 2020, American Purpose)

Dear Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, could I persuade you to spare some time from your quarrel with my conservative Never Trump friends at the Lincoln Project and take a trip with me to the Kingdom of Sweden?

I happen to know a little something about Sweden. First and foremost, I would like you to try the Swedish national dish. It is called "köttbullar." Köttbullar are meatballs, usually served with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. Actually, they're Turkish. The story goes as follows: King Charles XII, who ruled Sweden at the beginning of the 18th century, waged war against Russia. The war went badly, and King Charles had to flee to the Ottoman Empire. There, he encountered köttbullar; the Turks call their version köfte. Charles loved them. When he was finally able to return to Sweden, he brought the recipe home with him.

Can you guess what I'm driving at? This was an act of cultural appropriation, just like spaghetti with tomato sauce! Noodles come, via Marco Polo, from China. The tomatl, a distinctly Aztec fruit, was unknown in Italy before the 16th century, when it was imported by the conquistadores from Peru.

Thus, we arrive at Swedish Lesson Number One: no cultural appropriation = no tasty food.

Yes, your sense of cultural appropriation is likely more nuanced than mine, but perhaps we can agree that navel-gazing about cultural intermingling is a distraction from more important topics.

Now that we've eaten, on to some statistics. Sweden has one of the world's highest rates of greedy capitalists per capita--one billionaire per 250,000 inhabitants, to be exact. Together, those billionaires control around a quarter of the country's annual GDP. So, we're not talking economic equality here.

Yet the Heritage Foundation ranks Sweden number twenty-two on its index of economic freedom--slightly lower than the United States, at number seventeen, but much higher than France, number sixty-four. So, what explains Sweden's high grade? For starters, it is relatively easy to found a company in the country, because there's not much red tape and, what with Scandinavian virtue, you don't have to bribe anyone. Furthermore, it's easy to hire and fire people--much easier, say, than in Germany, ranked number twenty-seven. And the Swedes, like their fellow Scandinavians, are committed free marketeers. Any rapacious outsider can buy a Swedish company. Swedish authorities will exercise benign neglect.

Thus, Swedish Lesson Number Two: Your socialist paradise is in fact a highly enthusiastic capitalist country.

What makes all the neoliberalism tolerable, of course, is Sweden's famous welfare state. Swedes don't lose their health insurance when they lose their jobs. They get unemployment benefits (arbetslöshetsersättning, if you're interested) for sixty weeks after they've been fired. The state helps them find a new job.

When a child is born, the state makes it possible for a parent to work from home for up to 480 days. There are lavish housing benefits. There is child support. And who pays for all those beautiful things? Not the billionaires, or not just the billionaires. Anyone earning more than about $42,000 per year will end up paying between 49 and 60 percent of his or her income for these services, through a combination of local and national income taxes.

In addition, I must tell you that Sweden's cost of living is quite high. If we had a bottle of wine with our köttbullar at a restaurant, the tab would be about 270 krona, or more than 30 bucks.

Ah, yes, and another thing: Health care in Sweden is not "Medicare for all." Private health insurance may be rare, but it does exist, as it does in all European countries, including the United Kingdom.

Which brings us to Swedish Lesson Number Three: The Swedish welfare state is by no means Marxist.

The properties have not been expropriated. The banks are still owned by filthy rich capitalists. There are no five-year plans. The manufacturer of Wasabröd crispbread has not been nationalized. The foundation of the Swedish welfare state is a moral and social pact: The loyal subjects of Carl XVI Gustaf (did I mention that Sweden is still a monarchy?) simply choose to sacrifice large chunks of their incomes to help one other.

November 20, 2020

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When states mandate masks, fewer people catch COVID-19 (pOPULAR sCIENCE, 11/20/20)

[R]esearch shows that mask mandates have great returns for public health. A paper published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine last month found within an eight-week period, that states that reopened without a mask policy had 10 times the number of excess COVID-19 cases than states that reopened with one. (Excess values were calculated by taking the observed number of cases among 100,000 residents in each state and subtracting it from the predicted number of cases both before and after reopening.) What's more, the 13 states with mandates tallied 50,000 fewer excess deaths in a six-week span. Another analysis, published in Health Affairs in June, estimates that mask rules in 15 states and Washington D.C. prevented more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases this spring.

The effect of mandates in curbing COVID-19 infections is especially apparent in Kansas, where Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order requiring masks in public in early July--but still gave counties the option to set their own laws. In the 81 counties that chose not to require masks, daily COVID-19 cases showed an increase of 100 percent by mid-August, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the 24 counties that did, daily cases dipped by 6 percent.

If the US enforces universal masking, the country could avert 65,000 deaths by March 1, 2021, as per a model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. The number of new daily infections would almost immediately begin to decline. But to see those benefits, 95 percent of the country's population would have to wear a mask at all times in public. The number is currently closer to 68 percent, IHME states.

"More is better when it comes to mask wearing, but some is better than none," Brewer says. "It's never too late, particularly when things are getting worse."

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Europe averted a Covid-19 collapse -- here's what the US could learn (Ivana Kottasová, 11/19/20, CNN)

Despite the clear evidence from Europe, the White House is still opposing new restrictions. "President Trump wanted me to make it clear that our task force, this administration and our President, does not support another national lockdown. And we do not support closing schools," Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday, at the first White House coronavirus task force briefing since July.

"It's evident that in the US, cases are still rising, or at least they're not going down," said Mike Tildesley, an infectious disease modeling expert at the University Warwick and a UK government scientific adviser.

"They need to look at the European situation, and I mean, by no means what we have done in Europe is perfect, these governments are probably reacting a little bit slowly, but they are at least reacting, they are doing what they can to make sure that health services are not overwhelmed... and I think this is clearly what's needed in the US."

The Czech Republic is a good example. After a very mild spring epidemic, the country relaxed most of its coronavirus restrictions over the summer, ditching compulsory masks and fully reopening the economy.

When cases started rising again in September, the government resisted calls from scientists that tougher measures were needed. By mid-October, the central European country became the world's worst-affected nation, reporting more new Covid-19 cases per million people than any other major country. The government then said it had no other option than to impose a strict mask mandate and shut down, otherwise its hospitals would likely run out of beds.

Four weeks later, the country is seeing dramatically lower numbers of new infections. While the health care system has been stretched well beyond its limits -- the country was forced to deploy teenage nursing students in some hospitals -- there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

But according to official data, around 25% of ICU beds and 45% of ventilators remained available in the Czech Republic, even during the worst of the crisis. Compare that with US states like Oklahoma, where only 6% of ICU beds remain available. The number of cases in the state is rising exponentially -- yet it has put in very few measures to limit the spread of the disease.

Starting Thursday, bars and restaurants across the state must maintain a six-feet distance between tables, but can remain open for in-person services until 11 p.m. -- in much of Europe, indoor dining is completely off the menu.

Research from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked eating at restaurants to higher Covid-19 risk. But when Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer banned indoor dining in an attempt to curb the rising spread of the virus, White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Scott Atlas criticized the move and urged people to "rise up" against the new public health measures.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


Sununu issues statewide mask mandate in effort to slow spread of COVID-19 (Adam Sexton, 11/19/20, WMUR)

Gov. Chris Sununu is imposing a statewide mask mandate, starting Friday, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 in New Hampshire.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Science Has Learned So Much About COVID--and the Trump Administration Hasn't Learned Anything at AllWe've come a long way since March, yet our leaders are giving up. (Kiera Butler, 11/20/20, MoJo)

Back in March, we thought: that the virus was transmitted on surfaces like doorknobs, counters, and food packaging.

Now we know: that while the virus can survive on surfaces, it's mostly transmitted through respiratory droplets from breathing, talking, laughing, singing, coughing, and sneezing.

What that means: Most public health experts still emphasize the importance of hand-washing and regular surface cleaning, but they don't recommend wiping down your groceries.

Back in March, we thought: that masks weren't effective in preventing the spread of the virus.

Now we know: that cloth face coverings can protect both the wearer and those around them. One recent University of Washington study estimated that universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives by February. Masks may even act as a crude vaccine, exposing wearers to just enough virus to trigger an immune response.

What that means: You can feel pretty safe running to the grocery store, the doctor's office, or other public indoor spaces if you and others are wearing masks. You can minimize your risk of transmitting the virus during a holiday gathering if everyone wears masks and stays outside.

Back in March, we thought: that only people who showed symptoms could transmit the coronavirus.

Now we know: that asymptomatic people can and do spread the virus.

What that means: Health care professionals can now tell patients who have been exposed to someone with the virus to isolate right away, even if they don't feel sick, thereby preventing additional infections. 

Back in March, we thought: that we'd never be able to scale up testing enough to make a difference.

Now we know: that while we still have a long way to go, testing is free, quick, and readily available in many places. Just this week, there was more good news on the testing front: The FDA has authorized the first at-home rapid test for the virus.

What that means: We now have the ability to catch cases early, before the infected person has a chance to spread the virus to many others. The key now is convincing people to be tested and investing in systems to warn people who have been in close contact with those who test positive.  

Back in March, we thought: that air filtration systems might not help limit the spread of the virus.

Now we know: that while they're not enough on their own to protect us, when used correctly and in combination with masks, HEPA filters can help.

What that means: Installing filters can offer an additional layer of protection for essential spaces like hospitals and classrooms.  

Back in March, we thought: that schools would be the main way that the coronavirus spreads.

Now we know: that while school outbreaks do occur, indoor spaces where adults congregate are much more likely to lead to outbreaks. A recent study in the journal Nature found that in urban areas, restaurants, gyms, hotels, cafes, and houses of worship were the source of most superspreader events. Schools, meanwhile, have not seen as many outbreaks as experts initially feared, especially at the elementary level.

What that means: We can prioritize reopening schools with appropriate safety measures--and putting more restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and other adult-centered businesses.  

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The Weirdest People in the World review - a theory-of-everything study (Nicholas Guyatt, 20 Nov 2020, The Guardian)

Harvard professor Joseph Henrich is a fan of Diamond but his new book takes a different approach. Henrich was trained as an anthropologist but now describes himself as a "cultural evolutionist". In the same way that Darwin's theory explains how life follows pathways of adaptation via natural selection, cultural evolution proposes that human cultures develop and transmit deep understandings and values across generations. There are many pathways of cultural evolution, Henrich contends, and no single human culture. To better understand the world and Europe's influence on it, we need to recognise that European culture is, in Henrich's key acronym, "weird": western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic.

Henrich insists that "weird" values are culturally determined and specific rather than universal or natural. Specific doesn't mean bad. As the book's subtitle suggests, he credits the "firmware" of "weird" cultural evolution for many of the modern world's core values: meritocracy, representative government, trust, innovation, even patience and restraint. These were the products not simply of Europe's distinctive and highly unusual milieu, but of a narrow force many of us have forgotten: the prescriptions and hangups of the Christian church.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Saudi alliance with Yemen's Islah on the brink over Muslim Brotherhood tensions (Middle East Allies, 20 November 2020)

The unlikely alliance between Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Islah party has come under strain like never before, as fresh moves by Riyadh targeting the Muslim Brotherhood have left its Yemeni affiliate fearful of its status.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have long opposed the Brotherhood, labelling the Islamist group a terrorist organisation in 2014.

Yet the Saudis have for decades found a partner in Islah, whose status as a client of Riyadh only grew following the 2015 Saudi-led intervention into Yemen's war.

As Saudi Arabia provided weapons to Islah fighters battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, and even deployed its troops alongside Islahis, Riyadh refrained from hostile speech and moves against the Brotherhood.

That changed last week, when Saudi Arabia's Council of Senior Scholars issued a statement calling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, which sent Islah officials in the kingdom scrambling. [...]

In response to the Saudi statement, Islah leaders like Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman criticised the kingdom, accusing it and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of suppressing freedoms.

Karman tweeted on 10 November: "To the council of senior hypocrites for bin Salman and his shoe polishers: The Muslim Brotherhood members in Saudi Arabia are struggling for the sake of freedom and bin Salman's regime suppresses freedoms of all sides, either Muslim Brotherhood or others.

"Bin Salman's prisons are full of those who say 'No' and those who are expected to say 'No'," she added. "Saudi Arabia is the mother and father of terrorism."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'The Dumbest Coup' (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, November 19, 2020, National Review)

Donald Trump has always been a conspiracy kook -- vaccines, 9/11, Obama's birth certificate, etc. -- and he came into the presidency retailing a conspiracy theory: Let's not forget that he also claimed that the 2016 election was illegitimate, that he'd actually won the popular vote but that electoral fraud had made it appear otherwise. Trump is a conspiracy kook who surrounded himself with other conspiracy kooks and cultivated kooky impulses in his aides, meaning that he is a kook in himself and the cause of kookery in others. The new Dominion-based conspiracy theory is only a variation on a longstanding theme.

And what we are seeing now, in the twilight of Trump's kookery, is the merger of QAnon, the Republican Party, and the large part of the conservative movement that earns its bread by peddling miracle veggie pills to gullible elderly people on the radio. When I first starting writing about QAnon, some conservatives scoffed that it wasn't a significant phenomenon, that it had no real influence on the Republican Party or conservative politics. That is obviously untrue. Rather than ask whether conspiracy kookery is relevant to Republican politics at this moment, it would be better to ask if there is anything else to Republican politics at this moment. And maybe there is, but not much.

For the past 30-40 years the party most closely aligned with Third Way politics has won the vote throughout the Anglosphere.  The next Republican candidate to outpoll the Democratic nominee will be a George W. clone running against someone who is seen as too Second Way. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Shift to electric vehicles in emerging markets will 'end oil era' (Carbon Tracker, 20 November 2020)

China is leading a switch to electric vehicles (EV) in emerging markets which will save governments $250 billion a year in oil imports and cut expected growth in global oil demand by 70%, finds a new report from the financial think tank Carbon Tracker published on Friday.

It's thought to be the first study to reveal that transport in emerging markets accounts for more than 80% of all expected growth in oil demand up to 2030, based on an analysis of the International Energy Agency's business as usual scenario. Half of the growth is forecast to come from China and India.

But the report notes that these countries are already reducing their dependence on oil and actively supporting EVs as prices fall close to those of petrol and diesel vehicles. China leads the world in the deployment of EV and India is following the same path.

November 19, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


New York investigating Trump's tax write-offs on fees paid to Ivanka as a crime: report (Matthew Chapman , 11/19/20, rAW sTORY)

On Thursday, The New York Times reported that officials in New York State have opened a civil and a criminal fraud investigation into tax write-offs outgoing President Donald Trump took on various consulting fees he paid out, including some to his daughter Ivanka.

"The inquiries -- a criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and a civil one by the state attorney general, Letitia James -- are being conducted independently. But both offices issued subpoenas to the Trump Organization in recent weeks for records related to the fees," reported Danny Hakim, Mike McIntire, William K. Rashbaum and Ben Protess. "The subpoenas were the latest steps in the two investigations of the Trump Organization, and underscore the legal challenges awaiting the president when he leaves office in January. There is no indication that his daughter is a focus of either inquiry, which the Trump Organization has derided as politically motivated."

"Among the revelations was that Mr. Trump reduced his taxable income by deducting about $26 million in fees to unidentified consultants as a business expense on numerous projects between 2010 and 2018," said the report. "Some of those fees appear to have been paid to Ms. Trump, The Times found. On a 2017 disclosure she filed when joining the White House as a presidential adviser, she reported receiving payments from a consulting company she co-owned, totaling $747,622, that exactly matched consulting fees claimed as tax deductions by the Trump Organization for hotel projects in Hawaii and Vancouver, British Columbia."

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The universe works like a huge human brain, discover scientists (PAUL RATNER, 19 November, 2020, Big Think)

Scientists found similarities in the workings of two systems completely different in scale - the network of neuronal cells in the human brain and the cosmic web of galaxies.

Researchers studied the two systems from a variety of angles, looking at structure, morphology, memory capacity, and other properties. Their quantitative analysis revealed that very dissimilar physical processes can create structures sharing levels of complexity and organization, even if they are varied in size by 27 orders of magnitude.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Race Consciousness: Fascism and Frank Herbert's "Dune" (Jordan S. Carroll, NOVEMBER 19, 2020, LA Review of Books)

FASCISTS LOVE Dune: Denis Villeneuve's film adaptation was highly anticipated on white nationalist sites such as Counter-Currents and the Daily Stormer. As soon as the trailer dropped, they began poring over it for signs of deviation from their pet interpretations of Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction novel.

Popular SF narratives like Dune play a central role in white nationalist propaganda. The alt-right now regularly denounces or promotes science fiction films as part of its recruiting strategy: fascist Twitter popularized the "white genocide" hashtag during a boycott campaign against inclusive casting in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But Villeneuve's film seemed to provoke greater outrage than normal because Herbert's book is such a key text for the alt-right.

Dune was initially received as a countercultural parable warning against ecological devastation and autocratic rule, but geek fascists see the novel as a blueprint for the future. Dune is set thousands of years from now in an interstellar neofeudal society that forestalled the rise of dangerous artificial intelligences by banning computers and replacing them with human beings conditioned with parapsychological disciplines that allow them to perform at the same level as thinking machines. Spaceships navigate through space using the superhuman abilities of psychics whose powers are derived from a mind-enhancing drug known as melange, a substance found only on the desert planet of Arrakis.

The narrative follows the rise of Paul Atreides, a prince who reconquers Arrakis, controls the spice, and eventually becomes the messianic emperor of the Known Universe. Dune was first published in serial form in John W. Campbell's Analog Science Fiction and Fact and, like many protagonists in Campbell-edited stories, Paul is a mutant übermensch whose potential sets him apart from everyone else. He turns out to be the product of a eugenics program that imbues him with immense precognitive abilities that allow him to bend the galaxy to his will. Paul's army also turns out to be selected for greatness: the harsh desert environment of Arrakis culls the weak, evolving a race of battle-hardened warriors.

In the fascist reading of the novel, space colonization has scattered the human species, but what Herbert calls a "race consciousness" moves them to unite under Paul, who sweeps away all opposition in a jihad that kills 60,000,000,000. For the alt-right, Paul stands as the ideal of a sovereign ruler who violently overthrows a decadent regime to bring together "Europid" peoples into a single imperium or ethnostate. 

It would be fun to crush that state too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A new #Resistance hero emerges amid the Trump endgame: The dutiful civil servantWe hadn't heard of Brad Raffensperger or Chris Krebs a week ago. Now they're heroes standing tall for democracy (SOPHIA TESFAYE, NOVEMBER 19, 2020, Salon)

The Michigan episode exposes how loyal some Trump supporters are when faced with even the slightest bit of scrutiny. To be sure, it's beyond dismaying to watch one of only two major political parties in the nation use any means necessary to sow doubt about the integrity of our democracy. And while there's no question our political situation has radically shifted for the worse, it's also worth noting that, as damaging as the Trump era has been, the last two weeks have reintroduced the nation to a species many believed to have long gone extinct: Republicans in elected office, and even in the Trump administration, who act with integrity. 

Things would be undoubtedly worse right now if not for a handful of honest Republican election officials and dutiful civil servants. While the Trump campaign has relentlessly attempted to weaponize the government in a bid to stop Biden from receiving 270 certified Electoral College votes, a Republican like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger stands as a lonely voice of integrity among elected leaders in the GOP. 

Raffensperger is being attacked by his own party for the sin of running a clean election. Georgia's two Republican U.S. senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who both facing Jan. 5 runoffs against Democratic challengers, have demanded his resignation. Both Raffensperger and his wife have received death threats. Even after all of that, Raffensperger went public after Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, pressured him to exclude legally cast absentee ballots in the middle of Georgia's recount.

What Graham did would be a felony in Georgia, and likely also a felony under federal law, since it was done through an interstate communication. Yet Graham took to Twitter to laugh about his attempted election interference, admitting that he had also contacted officials in Arizona and Nevada. Arizona's secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, blamed the violent threats she and her family have received on Trump and his allies in the Republican Party. 

The Trump campaign is attempting to throw out ballots cast in at least six states, often in the most populous counties where voters of color comprise the majority. It's a transparent attempt to smear any votes not cast by rural and suburban voters as suspicious. Of course, if the Trump campaign were serious they'd also be seeking recounts in heavily red counties to scrounge up more votes. That suggests this entire charade isn't intended to change the outcome of the election; it is intended to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt about the integrity of our democracy -- and to generate "legal defense fund" donations to line the pockets of the man identified in previous legal cases as "Individual-1." 

Trump has sought to undermine public confidence in the electoral process since 2012, when he baselessly alleged that voting machines changed votes for Mitt Romney to Barack Obama -- a claim he resurfaced on Wednesday. The day before, he unceremoniously fired the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security via tweet. 

That was Chris Krebs, a highly regarded tech expert who had received bipartisan praise for his work in making sure the 2020 election was secure. His "Rumor Control" website meticulously tracked false claims undermining the elections and corrected them, no matter the source. Hours before he was fired, Krebs spread this message on Twitter: "Please don't retweet wild and baseless claims about voting machines, even if they're made by the president." Don't expect the usual suspects who decry "cancel culture" to utter a peep, even as Trump's flunkies spread lies about Krebs' job performance. 

For every loyalist Trump has installed in the government -- like GSA administrator Emily Miller, whose refusal to allow for the formal Biden transition to commence ma cause delays in the next administration's COVID response plan, or Trey Trainor, the Federal Elections Commission chairman who floats baseless election conspiracy theories contrived by a Trump lawyer who thinks the Federal Reserve is deliberately sabotaging the economy to enrich George Soros -- there are noble public servants like Krebs, willing to sacrifice their positions to speak truth to power. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Solar power stations in space could be the answer to our energy needs (Amanda Jane Hughes, Lecturer, Department of Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering, University of Liverpool & Stefania Soldini, Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering, University of Liverpool, 11/19/20, The Conversation)

Renewable energy technologies have developed drastically in recent years, with improved efficiency and lower cost. But one major barrier to their uptake is the fact that they don't provide a constant supply of energy. Wind and solar farms only produce energy when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining - but we need electricity around the clock, every day. Ultimately, we need a way to store energy on a large scale before we can make the switch to renewable sources.

A possible way around this would be to generate solar energy in space. There are many advantages to this. A space-based solar power station could orbit to face the Sun 24 hours a day. The Earth's atmosphere also absorbs and reflects some of the Sun's light, so solar cells above the atmosphere will receive more sunlight and produce more energy.

But one of the key challenges to overcome is how to assemble, launch and deploy such large structures. A single solar power station may have to be as much as 10 kilometres squared in area - equivalent to 1,400 football pitches. Using lightweight materials will also be critical, as the biggest expense will be the cost of launching the station into space on a rocket.

One proposed solution is to develop a swarm of thousands of smaller satellites that will come together and configure to form a single, large solar generator. In 2017, researchers at the California Institute of Technology outlined designs for a modular power station, consisting of thousands of ultralight solar cell tiles. They also demonstrated a prototype tile weighing just 280 grams per square metre, similar to the weight of card.

Recently, developments in manufacturing, such as 3D printing, are also being looked at for this application. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China is Quite Unhappy America Keeps Selling Weapons to Taiwan (Caleb Larson, 11/1/20, National Interest)

Taiwan does already possess a number of missiles that can strike targets deep inside China, but this most recent tranche of American weaponry would provide Taipei with a more robust and survivable equipment suite aimed at deterring a Chinese invasion by increasing the cost in manpower and material to Beijing.

Though Taiwan has been cleared for these three purchases, they are not yet final. Total costs as well as the exact number of equipment pieces could be expected to change. One thing is certain, however--irrespective of the overwhelming military advantage China enjoys over Taiwan, Beijing would prefer that this most recent defense acquisition remain nothing more than on paper.

In a daily press briefing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that they "urge the United States to strictly observe the one-China principle and the three China-U.S. joint communiqués, and stop selling weapons to Taiwan or having any military ties with it. We will continue taking necessary measures to safeguard national sovereignty and security interests."

We hired the PRC to manufacture stuff cheaply, not for their opinions. Back to work...

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The reactionary alliance between Moscow, Abu Dhabi and Cairo (MEMO, November 19, 2020)

Moscow has gone from supporting progressive regimes in the Arab world, most of which were dictatorships -- as was the Soviet Union -- before the regimes lost their progressive character in the 1970s; to supporting reactionary regimes, most of which are permanently authoritarian. The most dangerous result of this political shift in the Arab region is the reactionary alliance between Russia, the UAE and Egypt.

It's why these are the folks terrified of an American/Shi'a rapprochement. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Americans pay more for prescription drugs than anyone else. Can Amazon Pharmacy change that? (Andrew Keshner, and Elisabeth Buchwald, 11/19/20, Market Watch)

"More competition is generally good for consumers. It's probably not great for retail pharmacies. It sort of depends on what Amazon does from here," said Craig Garthwaite, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management who studies drug pricing.

Earlier this week, Amazon AMZN, -0.96%   announced two separate, but related forays into the pharmacy world. There's the establishment of Amazon Pharmacy, which is open to anyone and lets users buy and manage prescriptions. A Prime member also gets unlimited free two-day deliveries coming in "discreet packaging."

Additionally, the company said Prime members can save up to 80% on generic medication, and 40% on brand names when they pay without insurance.

At check out, customers can compare what it will cost if a co-pay applies, what the price is without insurance and what savings are through Prime membership, an Amazon spokeswoman said. "Customers should always consider other factors, such as their deductible," she added.

Prime members paying without insurance can also get the savings at 50,000 pharmacies across the country by presenting their Amazon savings card.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


PODCAST: Authenticity (In Our Time)

In a programme first broadcast in 2019, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what it means to be oneself, a question explored by philosophers from Aristotle to the present day, including St Augustine, Kierkegaard, Heidegger and Sartre. In Hamlet, Polonius said 'To thine own self be true', but what is the self, and what does it mean to be true to it, and why should you be true? To Polonius, if you are true to yourself, 'thou canst not be false to any man' - but with the rise of the individual, authenticity became a goal in itself, regardless of how that affected others. Is authenticity about creating yourself throughout your life, or fulfilling the potential with which you were born, connecting with your inner child, or something else entirely? What are the risks to society if people value authenticity more than morality - that is, if the two are incompatible?

Sillies. The entire point of Creation is to beat down your authentic self until you resemble a decent person.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

ON TO '22:

Senate 2022: An Early LookDemocrats may ultimately have a better shot to win the Senate than the House in two years, although winning either will be challenging (Kyle KondikIn, November 19, 2020, Sabato's Crystal Ball)

PROBABLY COMPETITIVE 3 R, 3 D, 1 undecided

Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin

That leaves seven races where we are assuming a high level of competition, although not all of these races are guaranteed to be close in the end. Democrats are defending three of these states, Republicans are defending three, and one other -- the Georgia special -- will be decided in January. Let's set that one aside and focus on the remaining others.

The six closest states in the presidential election all feature Senate races in 2022: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and they are all included here. The seventh is New Hampshire, a politically fickle state where Joe Biden performed very well in 2020, carrying the state by seven points after Hillary Clinton carried it by less than half a point four years ago. Its inclusion here is predicated on the Republicans producing a strong challenger for Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) -- and they very well may have such a challenger waiting in the wings.

The GOP's top choice to run against Hassan is almost certainly Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH), who just easily won a third, two-year term. Sununu considered running against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in this past election, but ran for reelection instead; immediately following the election, Sununu's campaign manager signaled in a tweet directed to Hassan that Sununu may be closer to taking the plunge this time, and a Hassan-Sununu race would be very expensive and closely contested.

Republicans seem likely to take another shot at Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), who will be back on the ballot in search of a full term in 2022, and Republicans may be able to produce a nominee who performs better than outgoing Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who lost in 2018 and 2020. Term-limited Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) would seem to be the leading potential Republican candidate, although there are plenty of other possibilities.

In Nevada, former Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV) would be a great potential opponent for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), but Sandoval could have run for Senate six years ago and opted not to, and he recently took a job as the president of the University of Nevada-Reno. In all likelihood, Republicans will have to look elsewhere for a challenger to Cortez Masto in an evenly-divided state where Democrats nonetheless appear to retain a narrow statewide organizing edge. In some ways, Nevada is to Republicans what Florida is to Democrats: an elusive and frustrating target.

The three most vulnerable Republican-held seats are in three closely-contested states, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) have already announced their retirements. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) may or may not run again. So these may all be open seats, which would be a change from the 2018 and 2020 cycles, when almost all of the top races on both sides featured incumbents running for reelection.

Current or former House members could be factors in all three races. In the Tar Heel State, outgoing Rep. Mark Walker (R, NC-6) saw his district made much more Democratic in redistricting. He retired but could seek the Senate seat in 2022. Democrats surely would love to see newly-reelected Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) run for the Senate, but they may have to look elsewhere -- and Democrats ended up striking out in North Carolina this year when their lower-tier nominee, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D), blew up his campaign with a late-breaking affair (although Cunningham may very well have lost anyway absent the scandal given Biden's inability to win the state).

Redistricting in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could determine whether members such as Reps. Conor Lamb (D, PA-17) or Ron Kind (D, WI-3) would try to make the statewide jump; meanwhile, a couple of Pennsylvania Republicans who retired in advance of 2018, former Reps. Ryan Costello (R, PA-6) and Charlie Dent (R, PA-15), might make sense as the Senate nominee, although if they ran they might have competition to their right in a primary.

Our assumption is that both parties will be able to produce strong candidates in these three races; of the three, North Carolina is the heaviest lift for the Democrats, but with good candidates and a good environment (two big assumptions), Democrats can credibly compete for all three.

Winning two of the three and holding the line elsewhere would get the Democrats a Senate majority even if they lose both Georgia seats in January.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Zimbabwe's odious debts: At a time when the country is grappling with Covid-19 and acute droughts, can debt cancellation save its economy? (Kudzai Chimhangwa, 11/18/20, openDemocracy)

The debt burden of most African countries to Bretton Woods institutions and the Paris Club has for years continued to limit their capacity to get external development finance. This in turn defeats the idea of market liberalism and export diversification strongly advocated for by these international lenders.

Worse effects of such debts are lower national income, lower national savings and diminished tax revenue. Through commitment to reforms, currently being demanded of Zimbabwe, government would be compelled to spend most collected revenue on servicing national debts. The problem lies in that the country remains in arrears without a solid repayment plan. [...]

Government is currently implementing a transitional stabilization plan (TSP) which is anchored on the IMF's Article IV consultations and technical assistance. Minister Ncube claims the TSP has met most indicators with the fiscal and current account deficits having been eradicated. The issuance of treasury bills is supposedly now on budget while the public sector wage bill is now below 50% of total government revenues from 92% in 2017.

These austerity measures have come at a great cost to citizens. Civil servants are now earning salaries below the poverty datum line, with medical doctors embarking on industrial action and teachers reporting incapacitation to return to work. The Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) recently called for the country's debt cancellation and warned that failure to do so would push more people into extreme poverty.

ZIMCODD notes that the country really needs cancellation at a time when it is grappling with the effects of COVID-19, acute droughts, pervasive corruption, poor governance and the high debt overhang.

The Asian tiger economies have proven that export led growth could pull them out of poverty in less than 50 years. The tiger economies include Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Over the course of years of serious industrialization, coupled with setting up advanced financial and trading centers, the Asian tigers kept budget deficits within financial limits. These measures led to stable macro economies.

Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan never had foreign debt during this boom.

Perhaps, with debt cancellation, these booming economies' growth models could work for countries now stuck in mounting debts.

No nation ought ever honor the debt obligations incurred by an undemocratic regime.

November 18, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Unlocking the potential of vaccines built on messenger RNA: The technology could help to boost immunity against cancer, influenza and much more. (Elie Dolgin, 10/16/19, Nature)

Brad Kremer had waited months to receive an experimental cancer vaccine called BNT122, during which time the melanoma on his skin had spread to his liver and spine. His back pain was getting worse, he was rapidly losing weight and new cancerous lesions kept appearing on his left thigh. "It was very scary," says Kremer, a 52-year-old sales representative from Acton, Massachusetts.

But within weeks of his first injection in March, Kremer could see that the vaccine was working. The coin-sized melanoma spots that popped up from his skin were now flat discolourations measuring millimetres across. "I was actually witnessing the cancer cells shrinking before my eyes," he says. Several doses later, his appetite has returned, his back pain has subsided and scans show that his cancer is continuing to retreat.

Kremer's dramatic response exemplifies the medical potential of vaccines built on messenger RNA. In this method, strings of lab-synthesized nucleotides train the immune system to recognize and destroy disease-causing agents -- be they cancer cells or infectious viruses.

Other ways of making vaccines can achieve the same therapeutic objective. But the potency, versatility, speed of manufacturing and low cost of mRNA make it an attractive platform for the rapid development and large-scale production of new or custom-made vaccines.

Early clinical results have demonstrated the technology's promise. Researchers at BioNTech in Mainz, Germany, the manufacturer of the cancer vaccine that Kremer is receiving, reported in 2017 that all of the first 13 people with advanced-stage melanoma to receive the personalized immunotherapy -- which is tailor-made to match the genetic profile of each person's cancer -- showed elevated immunity against the mutated bits of their tumours. As a result, these patients' risk of developing new metastatic lesions was significantly reduced1. For viral diseases, prophylactic vaccine candidates against rabies2 and pandemic influenza3 have each proved safe and induced protective antibody responses in healthy volunteers. In both cases, however, the antiviral effects waned after less than a year, suggesting that improvements are needed to provide more robust and long-lasting immunity.

"There's a lot of potential here," says John Mascola, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. "It's still early in the development of these vaccines, but the platform has shown proof of concept."

How mRNA vaccines work so brilliantly and why they must be kept so cold (Sanjay Mishra, 11/18/20, The World)

Vaccines train the immune system to recognize the disease-causing part of a virus. Vaccines traditionally contain either weakened viruses or purified signature proteins of the virus.

But an mRNA vaccine is different, because rather than having the viral protein injected, a person receives genetic material -- mRNA -- that encodes the viral protein. When these genetic instructions are injected into the upper arm, the muscle cells translate them to make the viral protein directly in the body.

This approach mimics what the SARS-CoV-2 does in nature -- but the vaccine mRNA codes only for the critical fragment of the viral protein. This gives the immune system a preview of what the real virus looks like without causing disease. This preview gives the immune system time to design powerful antibodies that can neutralize the real virus if the individual is ever infected.

While this synthetic mRNA is genetic material, it cannot be transmitted to the next generation. After an mRNA injection, this molecule guides the protein production inside the muscle cells, which reaches peak levels for 24 to 48 hours and can last for a few more days.

Traditional vaccine development, although well studied, is very time-consuming and cannot respond instantaneously against novel pandemics such as COVID-19.

For example, with seasonal flu, it takes roughly six months from identification of the circulating influenza virus strain to produce a vaccine. The candidate flu vaccine virus is grown for about three weeks to produce a hybrid virus, which is less dangerous and better able to grow in hens' eggs. The hybrid virus is then injected into a lot of fertilized eggs and incubated for several days to make more copies. Then the fluid containing virus is harvested from eggs, the vaccine viruses are killed, and the viral proteins are purified over several days.

The mRNA vaccines can leapfrog the hurdles of developing traditional vaccines, such as producing noninfectious viruses or producing viral proteins at medically demanding levels of purity.

MRNA vaccines eliminate much of the manufacturing process because rather than having viral proteins injected, the human body uses the instructions to manufacture viral proteins itself.

Also, mRNA molecules are far simpler than proteins. For vaccines, mRNA is manufactured by chemical rather than biological synthesis, so it is much quicker than conventional vaccines to be redesigned, scaled up and mass-produced.

In fact, within days of the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 virus becoming available, the mRNA code for a candidate vaccine testing was ready. What's most attractive is that once the mRNA vaccine tools become viable, mRNA can be quickly tailored for other future pandemics.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Netflix struck gold with 'The Queen's Gambit,' and now guess which iPhone app is all the rage (CHRISTOPHER ZARA, 11/18/20, Fast Company)

Downloads for's app have skyrocketed in the United States since the series debuted last month, according to new data from App Annie. Among strategy games on the iPhone, the app has jumped to No. 3 in the United Sates and No. 2 in the U.K., the data shows. Among all games in the United States, the "Chess" app rose 256 spots since the series debuted. It's now No. 62.

It should obviously be 64.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Biden Expected to Reverse Many of Trump's Immigration Policies (Aline Barros, November 18, 2020, VOA News)

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to reverse many of President Donald Trump's landmark immigration policies after he takes office next year. Though untangling some immigration guidelines most likely will take time, Biden has vowed to reverse limits on temporary workers, loosen visa restrictions on international students, halt border wall construction and end private immigration detention centers.

As VOA recently reported, Biden is expected to prioritize restoring DACA -- an Obama-era program that protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation -- rescind travel restrictions on 13 countries and put in place a 100-day freeze on deportations while his administration issues new guidance.

The heir to Reagan/Bush Republicanism.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM

60-40 NATION:

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Biden is already letting us down: He's snubbed Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, walked back promises about student debt, and appointed some disappointing members of staff. The way this is going, the president-elect could end up primaried in 2024 (Carl Gibson, 11/18/20, Independent)

Initially, Biden campaigned on forgiving up to $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower if they work in the public or nonprofit sector. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently suggested that Biden could forgive $50,000 in student loan debt per borrower through executive order, instead of relying on Congress. But seemingly overnight, the president-elect shifted his tone to say he'd only forgive up to $10,000 in privately held debt -- even though 92% of student debt is federal -- and only for "economically distressed" borrowers, which suggests rigid means-testing will stand in the way of the scant few borrowers who may qualify.

Climate change is another top issue for this critical bloc of voters. In September, a poll of voters aged 18-29 conducted by NPR, Marist, and PBS NewsHour ranked climate change as the second biggest motivator for them in 2020 (the economy ranked first). Climate change is such a potent issue for young voters that even 49% of young Republicans told Pew Research this summer that the government should do more to combat its effects.  

But Biden's new climate adviser is Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), who relies heavily on the oil and gas industry for campaign donations. According to OpenSecrets, Richmond ranks 5th among House Democrats in oil and gas contributions, and 22nd out of all members of the House. 

"Cedric Richmond has taken big money from the fossil fuel industry, cozied up with oil and gas, and stayed silent while polluters poisoned his community," tweeted the official account for the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate activist group. "How will young people and frontline communities trust our voices will be heard louder than Big Oil in a Joe Biden administration?"

It also doesn't bode well for progressives that Biden's national security braintrust includes architects of the 20-year-long Afghanistan war. According to The Washington Post's James Hohmann, General Stanley McChrystal was present at a national security briefing for the Biden transition team. As legendary journalist Michael Hastings reported in his devastating 2010 Rolling Stone profile, General McChrystal was responsible for the failed "counterinsurgency" strategy that only served to further destabilize Afghanistan. Biden himself correctly predicted at the time that McChrystal's strategy "would plunge America into a military quagmire without weakening international terrorist networks." So why is the controversial general now failing up to advise the incoming administration on national security?

Perhaps most troubling is that Biden's most senior White House staff includes a venture capitalist (chief of staff Ron Klain) and a former pharmaceutical industry lobbyist (Steve Ricchetti). Additionally, the frontrunners for cabinet positions in Biden's White House are a mishmash of corporate executives from the tech and pharmaceutical industries, along with a few Wall Street bankers. 

If this weren't enough, Biden is simultaneously giving a huge middle finger to the left after it went out of its way to elect him. As The Independent reported last week, progressive icons like Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are expected to be "frozen" out of Biden's cabinet, despite them campaigning for Labor Secretary and Treasury Secretary, respectively. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Trump team looks to box in Biden on foreign policy by lighting too many fires to put out (Nicole Gaouette, Kylie Atwood and Alex Marquardt,  November 17, 2020, CNN)

President Donald Trump's order of a further withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq is the latest foreign policy move on a growing list in his final weeks in office that are meant to limit President-elect Joe Biden's options before he takes office in January.

The White House has directed newly installed acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller to focus his attention in the remaining weeks on cyber and irregular warfare, with a focus on China in particular, an administration official tells CNN. It is contemplating new terrorist designations in Yemen that could complicate efforts to broker peace. And it has rushed through authorization of a massive arms sale that could alter the balance of power in the Middle East.
The Trump team has prepared legally required transition memos describing policy challenges, but there are no discussions about actions they could take or pause. Instead, the White House is barreling ahead. A second official tells CNN their goal is to set so many fires that it will be hard for the Biden administration to put them all out.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Meet New N.H. Lawmakers: Rep. Maria Perez From Milford (RICK GANLEY & MARY MCINTYRE, 11/18/20, NHPR)

NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley is talking with some of the lawmakers who have been newly elected to the New Hampshire Legislature. Maria Perez, a Democrat, will represent Milford in the state House of Representatives.

Rick Ganley: So you emigrated from El Salvador to the U.S. 32 years ago, and you've been living in Milford for about 18 years now?

Maria Perez: Yeah, it's going to be close to 20 years.

Rick Ganley: But what brought you to New Hampshire?

Maria Perez: To be honest, when I moved here, my ex-husband brought me here. He was working in the textile industry and he was living in New Hampshire. So that's why I moved to New Hampshire.

Rick Ganley: And what made you decide to stay?

Maria Perez: New Hampshire is a beautiful place. And then if you want your kids to have a good education, and a quiet life and quality life, New Hampshire to me is one of the best places, you know. That's why I decided to stay in New Hampshire.

Rick Ganley: Yeah. And what about Milford specifically? What is it about Milford that attracted you?

Maria Perez: I love the nature. I love being in a quiet place. I love and enjoy a place that I can, like, have a quiet neighborhood and then Milford has that in the quality of life. I love having my vegetable gardens. In Nashua, you know, I felt like that the houses are too close to each other and I needed to feel like I have more space and like enjoy the life. So I love Milford.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


The Strange and Twisted Tale of Hydroxychloroquine: The much-hyped drug sparked a battle between power and knowledge. Let's not repeat it. (ADAM ROGERS, 11.11.2020, Wired)

THE POSSIBILITIES IN early 2020: Hydroxychloroquine might help. Or it might not. Or it might make people worse. No one knew.

One of the first people to leap into that breach was David Boulware, a diligent infectious disease researcher and professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota. Back in 2015 he'd worked on an Ebola drug trial with the National Institutes of Health, and he quickly raised his hand to work on trials of treatments for the new virus.

In early March, he and his team were supposed to be at an HIV conference in Boston, but by that point nobody was traveling anywhere. "We all had four days free to totally focus on this task," Boulware told me then. His group used the time to put together a plan to study hydroxychloroquine.

Right here--the stage where scientists come up with these "research protocols"--is where how-to-know starts getting complicated. It's a cliché because it's true: The answers you get depend on the questions you ask. In this case, Boulware's team decided not to test the drug on hospitalized patients, when the disease becomes severe. "If it was going to work, you'd have a better chance to alter the disease course early on," Boulware said.

They hoped it worked. But they didn't know. To find out, they proposed a classic structure: A couple hundred people would get the drug; a similar number would get a placebo--an inert fake. The ones getting the placebo would be the "control group," experiencing all the same things except for the drug, to isolate its effects. Neither researchers nor participants would know who got which until the end; that's called a "double-blind" study. And people would be assigned to the groups at random, to avoid even unconscious bias on the part of the researchers and prevent differences between groups of humans--socioeconomic, demographic, and so on--from throwing off the results.

That is, in other words, a large, double-blinded, randomized controlled trial. Boulware's team proposed two. One would look at whether hydroxychloroquine could prevent illness in people with exposure to an infected person--"post-exposure prophylaxis"--and another would see if taking the drug close to the onset of symptoms could keep those symptoms from getting worse. That was "early treatment." On March 13, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the study, a blisteringly fast green light from a typically cautious, plodding agency. The responses of the federal government's scientific policymaking would falter in key ways over the next few months, but this wasn't one of them.

Boulware started enrolling people almost immediately. For statistical validity, they'd need enough people so that some in the experimental groups and some in the controls would get Covid-19. The researchers would run the numbers, ask who got what, and they'd have an answer in weeks. They'd write up the results, publish in a journal, and it would be science.

Except Boulware's reasonable expectation that things would work the way they were supposed to didn't take into account the viral social-media blender that was spinning up its blades--making a viscous gazpacho out of Silicon Valley opportunism and the hottest of hot takes from the president of the United States.

EVEN THE STODGIEST of scientists don't believe that waiting months or years for a formal write-up of an experiment to penetrate a wall of skeptical reviewers, receiving an inscrutable thumbs-up to get published--in ink! on paper! that gets mailed! to libraries!--is an ideal system for disseminating new knowledge today. Yet that's still mostly how things work, despite the existence of the online version of most journals. But the Covid-19 pandemic came at a weird moment in the history of how information spreads. For one thing, that formal system was already in the process of breaking down. Due to the pressures of publication and academic seniority, some of the science that gets into peer-reviewed journals doesn't hold up to scrutiny, and many scientists are internalizing the hard truth of that " reproducibility crisis." Formal peer review and publication doesn't make something true. That's part of the reason the biomedical sciences were embracing a newer approach, one that their colleagues across the quad in the physics and math buildings had arrived at years before: "prepublication" or "prepress" articles that could go online as soon as their authors finished typing them.

That's good; it means faster, freer information and a more egalitarian kind of review. But rethinking the gatekeeping in the ways nominal experts disseminated nominal knowledge opened the door to other people playing the game. Thanks to widespread access to publishing tools and social media, pretty much anyone can marshal the trappings of expertise. The crisis of the global pandemic intersected with a crisis of belief, with opposing scientific ideas somehow getting tethered to political ideologies. With just a bit of Googling, anyone can find things that look like truth, that are what that person was hoping to hear in the first place. If one of those things goes viral, and if the science behind it is difficult or undercooked, pretty soon everyone starts nodding along.

Which is what happened on March 13--the same day the FDA approved Boulware's well-thought-out trial. A physician named James Todaro tweeted that chloroquine could fight Covid-19, and he'd written a paper that proved it. Now, this wasn't a "paper" from a peer-reviewed journal, or even a preprint. It was a Google Doc, coauthored by a lawyer named Gregory Rigano and a biochemist named Thomas Broker, identified as a Stanford PhD. It was a pretty good summary of all the research on chloroquine up to that point. It even cited the work of a French researcher named Didier Raoult, a controversial infectious disease specialist who, a few days later, claimed he had results showing that hydroxychloroquine worked against Covid-19 in human beings.

A steady rain of likes and retweets turned into a viral downpour. The influential Silicon Valley blog Stratechery linked to the Google Doc. Rigano went on Fox News. Elon Musk tweeted about the document with the link. Musk, who said he'd taken chloroquine for malaria, also tweeted a link to a video on hydroxychloroquine and Covid-19 produced by a small medical-education company called MedCram. The company had started doing brisk traffic covering the coronavirus; the hydroxychloroquine episode took off.

The original Google Doc made a good case for chloroquine being of interest--attempted use in prior pandemics, studies in cells and in animals, preliminary results from China. Not proof, to be sure, but tantalizing hints. But, as it turned out, the creators were not all that they appeared.

Rigano had done most of the initial work. According to his LinkedIn bio, Rigano was on leave from a master's program in bioinformatics at Johns Hopkins and was an adviser to a drug development program at Stanford. But the head of the bioinformatics program at Johns Hopkins told me Rigano wasn't really on leave from the program; he had only taken one class. And the codirector of the Stanford program told me that, while he'd met Rigano, he was in no way an "adviser." Todaro, whom Rigano met via Twitter, was a former ophthalmologist turned professional bitcoin investor. And Broker was not, it turned out, a Stanford biochemist. He attended Stanford but now was a retired virologist at the University of Alabama who studied not coronaviruses but an entirely different family of viruses. Broker disavowed any involvement in the paper, and Todaro and Rigano soon removed his name from it.

None of which is to say they were necessarily wrong. But none of which is to say they were necessarily right, either. Yet the idea rippled through Silicon Valley like photons through an optical cable. Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google had sucked up most of the disruption oxygen in tech, and entrepreneurial types were already interested in biotech as a thing to pour money on. And their libertarian bent means they're always looking for an institutional eyeball into which they can shove a venture-capital finger. The medical establishment, with its elitist reliance on the plodding, 20th-century model of clinical trials in the midst of a raging pandemic, seemed like a fat target.

The need for speed was real, and it played into the baser, basic instincts of the Valley. Those hold that all a technologist needs is a dream, a minimum-viable product, and the will to build a company. (A Stanford undergraduate degree doesn't hurt.) If you're trained to see your successes as the result of genius and instinct rather than luck, you might not be able to readily distinguish between the rigors of testing a drug's efficacy and the travails of bringing a product to market. But they are different processes with different goals. In the Valley, whether something works is different from, maybe even disconnected from, whether it sells.

Combine that with the quantified-self, n-of-1 approach to health and wellness that some of the same people also embrace, and you get not science but pseudo-science touted by the four-hour-body crowd that gets rejuvenating transfusions of young people's blood and rebrands nutritional diet shakes as food from a dystopian science fiction movie. "Tech, and especially Silicon Valley, has this belief that all you have to do is disrupt things and try shit and make it stick to the wall, and it will work and change everything," says one investor with a long history in health care. "We've had a tried-and-true method of getting vaccinations and drugs approved in the US that is absolutely antithetical to everything the tech industry believes and has found to be true."

As deaths in the US mounted and the economy went into a lockdown-induced spin, some rich and successful venture capitalists started arguing that the whole system was nonsense. As noted contrarian, investor, and former PayPal, LinkedIn, and Square executive Keith Rabois tweeted, "Randomized controls are horrible ideas. Largest impediment to progress in health spans." (Rabois agreed to consider answering emailed questions but didn't respond to the ones I sent.) Randomized, controlled trials not only take too long, Rabois and his ilk said, but were in this case unnecessary. You could instead use "real-world data," like the experience of the tens of thousands of people who were actually taking hydroxychloroquine, and do some kind of data thing on it.

"We've had a tried-and-true method of getting vaccinations and drugs approved in the US that is absolutely antithetical to everything the tech industry believes."

It's not crazy. Randomized controlled trials are, as the scientists say, the gold standard. But that method isn't the only way to figure out causality, or at least to start to get a sense of it. Sometimes double-blind studies are impractical. Sometimes nature and circumstance offer a great opportunity to see how changes in conditions have different effects. Observational studies, retrospective analyses of existing data, meta-analyses of grouped smaller studies--they're all useful, and certainly better than throwing biotechnological spaghetti against a pandemic to see what sticks. But look what happened months later, after similar hopes for convalescent plasma as a therapy turned into widespread use. After giving it to nearly 100,000 people, plasma appeared to be safe, but there was only limited evidence of its effectiveness.

If it's possible to characterize an entire swath of opinions, though, what the techfluencers seemed to be pitching was not a study where the parameters of observation were defined in advance, but one where all sorts of casually collected data, the flotsam and jetsam of our digital lives, might somehow be tabulated and correlated to whether, when, and how a person got hydroxychloroquine. Quantified self, but applied to everyone--quantified other.

To be fair, the ethics of demanding rigorous, time-consuming tests during a pandemic are worth debating. In a sense, this is about medicine now versus science later. Correctly administered, hydroxychloroquine only rarely has serious side effects; it's a well-understood, mostly safe drug. Why not just give it to everyone and monitor their outcomes? That's a very Silicon Valley approach--intermediate risk, high reward. "I appreciate some of the tech people coming to health care, because I do think we should be thinking about some things differently. Having fresh thinking is great. But fresh thinking is different from illogical thinking or uncaring thinking," the investor tells me. "If you're a tech guy flacking hydroxychloroquine to people who shouldn't use it, what the fuck? People can get really sick."

Even if they don't get sick, that plan still has problems. Giving people a drug that may or may not work is ethically dicey. And who would actually keep track of those outcomes? "Big data" approaches to medicine are susceptible to the distortions and bias of anecdotal evidence and intuition, exactly the mistakes that rigorous, large-scale, randomized controlled trials are designed to avoid. But over decades, those trials have gotten more and more complicated and expensive--just as government funding of them has plateaued. The main consequence has been that pharmaceutical companies fund their own trials, and the companies are highly incentivized to focus on drugs with huge potential markets. That often means more expensive lifestyle drugs and fewer worthy public health solutions or medicines with population-scale benefits--more Viagras, fewer Vancomycins. Little wonder, then, that researchers running trials for the unpatented drug hydroxychloroquine had such trouble gaining traction, while the expensive antiviral remdesivir, with the transnational pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences pushing it, found support for a trial in the NIH and in the White House--and is now standard in US Covid-19 treatment. The foxes all run their own chicken-coop businesses.

THE SAME WEEK the mania for the drug took hold in Silicon Valley, Larry Ellison, the chair of Oracle and the fifth-richest person on earth, started talking with Donald Trump. According to The Washington Post, Ellison wanted to pitch a widespread study of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as a treatment. Ellison proposed that Oracle could develop a website to track people's use of the drug along with their health outcomes, and the data would anticipate whatever a slow, expensive randomized controlled trial might eventually reveal. (Through a spokesperson, Ellison declined to answer my questions about these discussions, as did a White House spokesperson.)

Ellison seemed to make an impression. Shortly after that conversation, the Post reported, Trump met with his senior advisers on the coronavirus pandemic and asked if the government could expedite the approval process for hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, and, for good measure, remdesivir. Emergency use authorizations had been employed during pandemics in the past, to allow treatments with potential to jump the line in times of urgent need. Remdesivir was in the midst of a large-scale randomized trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Hydroxychloroquine didn't have the same backing.

The president's urgency wasn't just a matter of public health. Trump had promised Covid-19 would just disappear, but the US response to the disease was going entirely off the rails. During a disastrous visit to the CDC on March 6, Trump touted his own scientific acumen--"I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it"--but behind the scenes he was obstructing programs to begin widespread testing for the disease. The failure to do those tests meant that as March ticked onward, thousands of Americans were already infected. Trump acknowledged privately to the journalist Bob Woodward that Covid-19 was a dangerous, plague-level disease even as he railed against the press on Twitter and elsewhere, hoping to bolster a plummeting stock market. ("I don't want to create panic," he said in September when asked about why he had downplayed the severity of the pandemic.) And meanwhile every model, every infectious disease researcher, every epidemiologist was looking at case and fatality curves on the cusp of exponentiality, with worst-case fatality estimates in the millions.

A miracle cure must have sounded pretty good.

On March 19, the president conducted a press conference, and it was really weird.

This is where he started pitching hydroxychloroquine. "It's shown very encouraging--very, very encouraging early results. And we're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately," the president said. The FDA was all in too: "They've gone through the approval process; it's been approved."

This was untrue in most respects.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


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Judge rules border agents can't use COVID-19 order to expel migrant kids (CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ, NOVEMBER 18, 2020, CBS NEWS)

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered border authorities to stop expelling migrant children without letting them seek humanitarian refuge, dealing a severe blow to a pandemic-era policy the Trump administration has used to curtail legal protections for minors in U.S. immigration custody.

In a two-page order, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said unaccompanied migrant children who are taken into custody by border officials must be afforded the safeguards Congress established for them and placed in shelters overseen by the government during their immigration proceedings.

"This cruel and unlawful policy, like so many others from the Trump administration, was putting thousands of children in grave danger," Lee Gelernt, the top American Civil Liberties Union lawyer in the case, told CBS News. "Not surprisingly, all three federal judges who have looked at it have concluded it should be halted."

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Pro-mask or anti-mask? Your moral beliefs probably predict your stance (Eugene Y. Chan, 11/16/20, The Conversation)

I surveyed 1,033 Americans during the last week in April 2020, asking them how relevant each moral foundation is to staying at home, wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.

I found that Americans, on the whole, associated all three behaviors with the "caring" and "equality" foundations. Indeed, staying at home when you don't need to go out shows you care about others - I call this the caring foundation. But staying at home helps flatten the curve only if everyone does it - the equality foundation. The same can be said for wearing face masks and social distancing.

But I also found important age differences in two other moral foundations.

Younger adults felt that staying at home and wearing face masks go against their nature - what I call the nature foundation. It would make sense. Younger adults are more likely to crave social interactions, and so staying at home goes against what they perceive to be natural human behavior.

Meanwhile, wearing face masks not only is uncomfortable but hides one's face, which also goes against beliefs about how human beings are supposed to socialize.

Older adults, on the other hand, felt that all three behaviors show a greater value placed on communal goals and public health over personal comfort.

Interestingly, the authority foundation didn't relate to any of the three behaviors, regardless of age.

By understanding which moral foundations are relevant, social marketers, public health officials and policymakers can design more effective appeals to get people to stay at home, wear face masks and stay 6 feet apart.

For example, because Americans see the actions as showing they care, emphasizing how those behaviors show caring will likely increase compliance.

To target younger adults, who see staying at home and wearing face masks as going against the social nature of human beings, messages should suggest how these actions can actually facilitate socialization.

For example: "Wearing a mask lets you stay in touch, safely." Common slogans such as "Staying Apart, Together," while whimsical and a play on words, are unlikely to increase younger adults' uptake, since the "communal" foundation is a less relevant concern for them. Those slogans may be more effective for older adults.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The electric vehicle money surge (Ben Geman, 11/18/20, Axios)

Meanwhile, GM's latest move shows how incumbent automakers are increasingly concluding they need to go big into electric vehicles to position themselves for the future, even though sales of internal-combustion models still dominate the market.
Where it stands: The Arrival deal includes around $400 million in additional funding from investors including Fidelity, Wellington Management, a BNP Paribas energy funds, and BlackRock-managed funds.

This builds on prior funding of $118 million from BlackRock as well as Hyundai and Kia investments.

Arrival says it has $1.2 billion worth of signed contracts with customers, including a UPS order for 10,000 vans, and its first products are slated to go into production in the fourth quarter of 2021.

It comes on the heels of other electric vehicle companies going public (or about to) via reverse mergers including Canoo, Lordstown Motors, Fisker, the charging provider ChargePoint.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


GOP Officials in Michigan Temporarily Block Certification of Election Results (Matt Stieb, 11/17/20, New York)

The Republican chair of the committee, Monica Palmer, explained her rationale for the two nays, claiming the board of canvassers did "not have complete and accurate information on those poll books." Such a statement defied a recent state court rejection of a Republican lawsuit to block the certification of votes in Wayne County because of election fraud-- a ruling in which the judge said that the "plaintiffs' interpretation of events is incorrect and not credible." Nevertheless, the Michigan Republican Party released a statement from chair Laura Cox moments after the canvassers' decision, in which she said she was "proud" that "enough evidence of irregularities and potential voter fraud was uncovered resulting in the Wayne County Board of Canvassers refusing to certify their election results." (Even if there was evidence of irregularities, it would be all but impossible for Trump to win in a recount in a county where Biden won by over 37 points.)

While in the deadlock, Palmer went so far as to make a motion that would "certify the results in the communities other than the city of Detroit," an act that would disenfranchise voters in a city that is almost 79 percent Black. (The other Republican board member appears to have a history of posting racist memes of Obama.)

Ultimately, the pair stepped down from their brinkmanship. After a three-hour public Zoom call in which county residents lambasted the canvassing board -- "You will forever be known in southeast Michigan as two racists who did something so unprecedented that they disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Black voters in the city of Detroit," one local businessman said -- the board came back with a unanimous certification of the county's ballots.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


UK to ban gasoline car sales by 2030 as part of green plan (The Associated Press, November 17, 2020)

Britain will ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars by 2030, a decade earlier than its previous commitment, the prime minister said Tuesday.

Boris Johnson made the pledge as part of plans for a "green industrial revolution" that he claims could create up to 250,000 jobs in energy, transport and technology.

The GND is too conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


FM Zarif says Iran would re-commit to nuclear deal if US returns (New Arab, 18 November, 2020)

FM Zarif said he would welcome the US' return to the nuclear deal.Tags:Iran, Zarif, nuclear deal, Trump, Biden

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Tehran would welcome the US' return to a nuclear deal if president-elect Joe Biden pursues such a move.

"We are ready to discuss how the United States can re-enter the accord," Zarif said, according to Reuters. 

"The situation will improve in the next few months. Biden can lift all sanctions with three executive orders."

They understand us better than we them.

November 17, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Hungary's 'Trump before Trump' PM Orban faces US reset  (AFP, 11/17/20)

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is bracing for tougher treatment from a Joe Biden-led administration in Washington after his all-in bet on a win for President Donald Trump backfired.

Orban's hardline anti-immigration policies, such as building border fences, earned him praise from the President's former advisor Steve Bannon who called him "Trump before Trump".

The only EU leader to endorse Trump's campaign during the 2016 election, Orban praised the President in 2017 for "thinking precisely as we do when he says 'America First'".

"We say the same: 'Hungary first, and then everyone else'," he said in a speech.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Small Cities Are A Big Draw For Remote Workers During The Pandemic (JON MARCUS, 11/16/20, NPR: Morning Edition)

Rising from the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, just south of the Canadian border, this distant city looks like a quaint throwback, with Victorian-era architecture, church steeples and a main shopping street laid with brick.

But over the last few years, Burlington, Vt., has become home to an invisible economy of people who work remotely for the world's most cutting-edge technology businesses -- and the pandemic has only increased the number decamping to this bucolic enclave.

Exactly how many Burlington residents work remotely for companies such as Apple, Google, Twitter and IBM "is hard to gauge because we all are sort of like hermit crabs in our own little shells and under our own little rocks," said Tyler Littwin, art director at the marketing software developer HubSpot. Littwin moved to Vermont from HubSpot's headquarters outside Boston and started telecommuting in 2013.

But there are so many, locals have a name for them. They call them "the remotes."

"Pre-pandemic, on a weekly basis, I'd be talking to somebody at a coffee shop and find out that somebody's husband or wife was also a remote worker," Littwin said.

Since COVID-19 has allowed people to work hundreds or thousands of miles from their company's office, this trend appears to be speeding up dramatically. More young, well-paid and well-educated people are relocating permanently from big metro areas such as Seattle, San Francisco, Boston and New York to small cities such as Burlington, which has a population just under 43,000.

It's a shift that could revitalize these places, change the way many Americans choose where to live and widen the supply of workers for employers struggling to fill jobs in high-demand fields, even during a recession, according to policymakers and economists.

"What COVID has allowed is this whole awakening to remote work," said David Bradbury, president of the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Fewer Americans Call for Tougher Criminal Justice System (MEGAN BRENAN, 11/16/20, Gallup)

Americans' belief that the U.S. criminal justice system is "not tough enough" on crime is now half of what it was in Gallup's initial reading of 83% in 1992. The latest measure, at 41%, is the lowest on record and down slightly from the previous reading in 2016 -- although it remains the view of the plurality. At the same time, there has been a seven-percentage-point uptick among those who say the system is "too tough" (21%) and no change among those who think it is "about right" (35%).

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bosch Is What L.A. NeededA police drama that makes Amazon look good as well. (BRADLEY ANDERSON, November 17, 2020, American Spectator)

Even that name, Hieronymus Bosch, lends an antique tint. Like his Flemish painter namesake, he sees a complex and dangerous world that others don't. Harry Bosch tries to make his peace with the world everyone else sees: working at quitting smoking, listening to his daughter's recommended playlists, and dutifully learning to cope with computerized police-work, even though his heart manifestly isn't in any of it.

Welliver's portrayal of Bosch conveys an understanding that some degree of brokenness is the lot of those who live by an old code in a new world. Over the course of the series, we encounter the detritus of a life lived in single-minded obsession. The first season in particular explores the moral choices that meant the difference between an orphan like Bosch growing up to become a detective obsessed with obtaining justice for murdered victims rather than one of the predators he hunts.

Bosch is an old soul surrounded by a changed Los Angeles, and his every misstep is hounded by Internal Affairs apparatchiks, by reporters rushing half-examined stories online in the hunt for clicks, and by opportunistic lawyers looking to sue the city for alleged police misconduct. Bosch survives, and even thrives in his own way, by doing things the old-fashioned way -- paying attention to details like the scent of gunpowder on the hands of a corpse or noticing a photo that should be there but isn't.

The series gives an obligatory nod to gritty NCIS-style forensic procedurals and gruesome smut in the first season. But as Bosch's character unfolds through story arcs that stretch across multiple seasons, one increasingly sees a version of the Father Brown quality that G. K. Chesterton built into his own corpus of detective stories. Like Father Brown, Bosch's most important tools are moral. The probable identity of a killer is derived from the investigator's ability to discern the moral character of possible suspects, comparing those observations with the crime committed. Sometimes this intuition leads to nailing a slippery suspect, and at other times it means that Bosch refuses to accept too readily even seemingly damning evidence or a plausible confession when it doesn't line up with his moral intuition.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Counted out: Trump's desperate fight to stop the minority voteHow Republicans applied old school racism to new demographics, and lost (Gary Younge, 17 Nov 2020, The Guardian)

Shortly after he won in 2016, the then president-elect thanked African Americans - for not voting in large numbers. "The African American community was great to us," he told a crowd in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "They came through, big league. Big league. And frankly, if they had any doubt, they didn't vote, and that was almost as good, because a lot of people didn't show up, because they felt good about me."

This time around, Trump was not so smug. By the morning after the election, it became clear that the presidency would be decided by the votes still being counted in big cities in key states: Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, Phoenix and Las Vegas. White people are a minority in all of them. In Atlanta and Detroit, African Americans are a majority; in Milwaukee and Philadelphia, they outnumber white people.

State troopers beat civil rights protesters in Selma, Alabama on 7 March 1965.
 State troopers beat civil rights protesters in Selma, Alabama on 7 March 1965. Photograph: Unknown/AP
According to Trump, these votes were illegitimate by dint of where they were cast. "Detroit and Philadelphia are known as two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country - easily," he said. "They cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a presidential race."

This was a new twist in the racial logic of the American right, which has gone from blocking Black people from voting to allowing them to vote as long as their votes don't all get counted.

It is important to remember that the US was a slave state for more than 200 years - and an apartheid state, after the abolition of slavery, for another century. Throughout that time, in certain parts of the country, all Black votes were, by definition, illegal, and conservatives worked hard to keep it that way. It has only been a nonracial democracy for 55 years. And that short reign now hangs in the balance.

In 2013, just a year after turnout rates for Black voters surpassed that for white voters for the first time, the supreme court gutted the Voting Rights Act, which provided some legal protections for Black voters in places where they had once been excluded.

Lewis's home state of Georgia soon got to work thwarting the Black vote with weapons more subtle than teargas and billy clubs. The state cut the number of polling stations by almost 10%, purged tens of thousands of voters from the rolls simply because they had not voted for a while, and suspended the registrations of another 50,000 people - mostly Black - for discrepancies as minor as omitting a hyphen in their name. Those long lines we witnessed around the election were not simply voter enthusiasm - they were also voter suppression.

The trouble is that as white people become a minority in the US, efforts to disfranchise non-white voters necessarily become ever more crude and ever more desperate, but cannot be guaranteed to produce results. The sums just don't add up. The group sought for exclusion is growing at a faster rate than can plausibly be excluded.

November 16, 2020

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According to the Wall Street Journal, Rebekah Mercer is a leading investor in Parler, a social media and microblogging app founded in 2018. Following the Journal report, Rebekah Mercer wrote from her "verified" Parler account that she and CEO John Matze aim "to provide a neutral platform for free speech, as our founders intended," adding, "The ever increasing tyranny and hubris of our tech overlords demands that someone lead the fight against data mining." While Parler fashions itself as pro-free speech, in reality, it is more of a "for us, by us" right-wing alternative to Twitter and Facebook. It's become a de facto safe space for Trump supporters participating in the "Stop the Steal" protest campaign--a group shut down by Facebook--and others perhaps trying to ignore the reality of a race that the Associated Press and major networks, including Fox News, called for Joe Biden on November 7. 

'Mythic Quest's "Dinner Party" Is a Scathing Takedown of the Internet's Nazi Problem (Kayla Cobb, Feb 12, 2020, Decider)

As is always the case with anything relating to Mythic Quest the game, the team becomes aware of its white nationalist problem because of Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao). The implementation of her beloved shovel has given these garbage players a way to carve swastikas into the ground. To make matters worse the video game criticism juggernaut Kotaku has written an article about MQ's rampant hate problem.

The MQ team is forced to go into damage control mode for fear of garnering more bad press. Naturally, each character rises to that challenge in a different and equally terrible way. For Ian (McElhenney) that means adding poorly thought out salutes and SS badges to the game in an attempt to draw all the Nazis out of the shadows to be dealt with at once. For the finance-minded Brad (Danny Pudi) it means delaying any sort of mass ban of paying customers for as long as humanly possible by distracting his team with a bracket of the type of players who deserve to be banned the most. And for Poppy Li it means desperately trying to shoehorn her latest invention, the in-game social function Dinner Party, into the conflict. [...]

Eventually it's Poppy's Dinner Party that "saves" the day. After organizing a peaceful in-game protest through Dinner Party, all of the hate groups emerge from the shadows to kill the protesting players. That move allows Ian and Poppy to learn all of these users' names, thereby banning all the white nationalists to their own server. Mythic Quest's solution to its Nazi problem never feels heroic. It's a well-organized dodge of a much larger problem that allows these paying hateful players to continue spewing hate while also allowing this video game company to profit off of them. Everyone emerges from the episode looking like a worse person, and that's what makes "Dinner Party" so smart

It could only be funnier if the wingnuts had named their site Paler.
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Bolsonaro-backed candidates sink in Brazil's local elections (Agence France-Presse, 11/16/20)

"The pandemic has put the brakes on the trend towards anti-politics and rejection of traditional parties for being corrupt," said Creomar de Souza, head of Brasilia-based consultancy Dharma Political Risk and Strategy.

"Voters understood that the politicians elected with Bolsonaro in 2018 are flawed and they want to see public services improve," he added.

The results are a setback for Bolsonaro and indicate that the wave of anti-establishment sentiment that got him elected in 2018 following the widespread political corruption uncovered by the Car Wash graft investigation may have subsided.

As voters look to traditional parties, like the DEM and the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), which is leading the race for Sao Paulo mayor, Bolsonaro appears vulnerable because he has no party.

Should have chosen Pinochet as his model, not Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Pro-Western Candidate Victorious In Moldovan Presidential Runoff Election (RFE/RL, 11/16/20)

Maia Sandu, a former World Bank economist who favors closer ties with the European Union, is the winner of Moldova's presidential election runoff, preliminary results showed early on November 16.

Sandu captured 57 percent of the vote, giving her a runaway victory over pro-Russian incumbent Igor Dodon, who had 43 percent, with 99 percent of the vote counted, according to preliminary data from the Central Election Commission.

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Muslims are not the problem, and critics are not the enemy: How aggressive secularism is dividing France (Fethi Mansouri and Greg Barton, 16 Nov 2020, Religion & Ethics)

Taking decisive steps to confront individuals and groups involved in the incitement of hatred makes good sense, but dealing with hate speech in a way that avoids conflating it with genuine struggles for social justice and anti-racism is not so simple.

Indeed, when French political leaders, like interior minister Gerald Darmanin, threaten to ban Muslim civil society groups working to address Islamophobia -- such as the Collectif contre l'islamophobie en France (CCIF), an organisation that works against social marginalisation and for social integration -- these bans end up alienating key partners in the effort to countering the appeal of violent, extremist ideologies.

Likewise, by accusing anti-racist and de-colonial activists and academics not only of having suspect loyalty but of supporting violent extremism, the French government threatens to make enemies of the very groups, and communities, that it needs to be working with. This risks the perverse outcome of having racism against minorities protected as "free speech", while anti-racist activism and critical scholarship are presented as violating freedom and protecting terrorist groups.

It is in this context that a recent manifesto, signed by 100 leading French academics and intellectuals, and published in Le Monde on 2 November 2020, signals uncritical and deeply problematic support for minister of education Jean-Michel Blanquer's politically charged statement that "'indigenist, racialist and, and 'decolonial' ideologies" (Les idéologies indigéniste, racialiste et "décoloniale"), imported from North American universities, were responsible for "conditioning" the violent extremist who beheaded Samuel Paty on 16 October 2020. A few days later OpenDemocracy published a response, which claimed that Blanquer's charge was both disingenuous and profoundly dangerous, pointing to a spike in death threats targeting academics. The letter goes on to state:

The manifesto proposes nothing short of a McCarthyist process, to be led by the French Ministry for Higher Education, Research and Innovation to weed out "Islamist currents" within universities, to take a clear position on the "ideologies that underpin them", and to "engage universities in a struggle for secularism and the Republic" by establishing a body responsible for dealing with cases that oppose "Republican principles and academic freedom". The "Islamogauchiste" tag (which conflates the words 'Islam' and 'leftists') is now widely used by conservative members of the government, large sections of the media and hostile academics. It is reminiscent of the antisemitic accusations of "Judeo-Bolshevism" thrown around in the 1930s which blamed the spread of communism on Jews.

France needs to focus on building trust and social cohesion. Not only does it face a very real and immediate threat from extremist groups, it also needs to contend with the incitement to hatred and violence from the far-right. The government's push for a more muscular institutional authoritarianism targeting French Muslims, above all other groups, plays into the hands of the latter while unjustifiably alienating the former.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Campaign Scales Back Pennsylvania Lawsuit After Law Firm Abandoned Ship (ALBERTO LUPERON, Nov 15th, 2020, Law & Crime)

The Trump team scaled back its federal lawsuit over Pennsylvania's vote certification in the 2020 presidential election. An amended complaint was filed Sunday. The move raised eyebrows. After all, this change follows shortly after attorneys from the law firm Porter Wright withdrew from representing the Trump campaign, and electors Lawrence Roberts and David John Henry.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Nationalists Lose Major Cities In Bosnia Vote (RFE/RL, 11/16/20)

Bosnian opposition parties have won local elections in the Balkan country's two largest cities, where they defeated long-ruling nationalists.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina's capital, Sarajevo, the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) of Bakir Izetbegovic conceded defeat late on November 15 after losing mayors in three out of four municipalities that were won by candidates of a coalition of moderate parties.

November 15, 2020

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This phenomena explains what's wrong with Trump's supporters' brains: report (Tom Boggioni, 11/15/20, Raw Story)

"Human beings will do just about anything to resolve contradictions between our deeply held beliefs about the world and the reality of the world itself. Cognitive dissonance is so unpleasant, so disordering and catastrophic for the ego, that no amount of absurd, tortured reasoning is worse than reality contradicting a deeply held belief," he wrote before adding, "All of us try to resolve cognitive dissonance, but the Trump movement has been a years-long exercise in it. Election denial is its latest manifestation. But before that came COVID denial, science denial, climate denial, 'alternative facts,' the inability of Trump's most devoted fans to see him for the obvious con man that he is, and, at the movement's very core, denial of the social and demographic changes that are transforming America." [...]

"Cognitive dissonance is also a primary reason that people resort to conspiracy theories, which Trumpworld increasingly resembles, not only in fringe manifestations like QAnon but in the allegation of widespread fraud in the presidential election, which, of course, has no factual basis whatsoever and is, at this point, simply a conspiracy theory writ large," he explained. "In this light, QAnon isn't some weird, fringe phenomenon with no connection to populist politics. It's a logical extension of the populist worldview. If 'the people' are actually the majority, then a sinister minority--Jews, 'coastal elites', the media, the Satanic pedophiles, whoever--is actually in control."

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How Did Armenia So Badly Miscalculate Its War with Azerbaijan? (Svante E. Cornell, 11/14/20, National Interest)

Armenia seems to have been taken by surprise, something that is particularly puzzling given its increasingly assertive and belligerent rhetoric against Azerbaijan in the past several years. Why did the conflict not play out the way Armenian leaders imagined? The reason lies in a series of grave miscalculations, whereby Armenia's leadership misread almost everything about this conflict: the broader international environment, the Russian response, Turkey's role in the conflict, as well as the domestic dynamics of their adversary, Azerbaijan.

A deep paradox was always built into the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. Armenia has a third of Azerbaijan's population, lacks its natural resources and key geopolitical location. But it won the war in the early 1990s, largely because of two factors: Azerbaijan's internal turmoil and Russian backing for Yerevan. These factors helped Armenia win control over Nagorno-Karabakh as well as much larger territories surrounding that enclave, home to almost 750,000 Azerbaijanis who were forced to flee.

In Armenia, this victory laid the groundwork for a sense of military superiority that lasted until last month. But diplomatically, it soon became clear Armenia had bitten off more than it could chew. In large part because of the nation's tragic history, Armenia had benefited from substantial international goodwill. But Yerevan's territorial advances and ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis in 1993-94 changed that perception. By 1996, resolutions in international organizations like the UN and OSCE had made it clear that every other country in the world endorsed the return of all occupied territories to Azerbaijan and a solution to the conflict that would give the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh self-rule but deny them outright independence.

Meanwhile, the sheer scale of the territories Armenia occupied ensured that neither Azerbaijan's leadership nor its society would come to terms with the situation. Instead, a powerful sense of revanchism built in Azerbaijan, and Baku invested a serious portion of the country's windfall oil revenue into the country's military. The growing disparity between the two countries became increasingly untenable: it was like a string that can only be pulled so far without breaking. Armenia responded by deepening its military dependence on Russia, which it saw as a guarantor of its military advances.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Biden Is Stepping Into a Dream Economic Scenario (Tim Duy, November 11, 2020, Bloomberg)

Third, household balance sheets were not crushed like they were in the last recession. Instead, the opposite occurred. Reduced spending, fiscal stimulus, rising home prices and a buoyant equity market have all helped push household net wealth past its pre-pandemic peak.

Fourth, the demographics are incredibly supportive of growth. During the last recovery, the economy was still adapting to the Baby Boomers aging out of the workforce with a much smaller cohort of Generation X'ers behind them. The larger Millennial generation was just entering college at the time. Now, the Millennials are entering their prime homebuyer years in force and will be moving into their peak earning years. The resulting strength in housing is fueling higher home prices and durable goods spending, and we are just at the beginning of the trend. Housing activity should hold strong for the next four years.

Fifth, household savings have grown by more than a $1 trillion, providing the fuel for a hot economy on the other side of the pandemic. Sooner or later, that money is going to come out of savings and into the economy and I expect it to flow into the sectors like leisure and hospitality where there is considerable pent up demand.

And the Baby Boomers are about to transfer $30 trillion to those successor generations. Just as the Right cost the GOP credit for the post-Cold War boom of the 90s, so too have they handed this one to Joe.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


'Four Seasons Landscape Maintenance' presser scared off lawyers working on Trump's fraud claims: report (Tom Boggioni, 11/14/20, Politico)

"Senior campaign aides scurried to urge organizers to kill the event, infamously staged at the wrong 'Four Seasons' -- a landscaping business adjacent to an adult bookstore and a crematorium. But Giuliani plowed ahead anyway, delivering a conspiracy-filled rant that undercut the legal strategy the president's advisers had meticulously mapped out in the run-up to the election," Politico reports.

According to the report, officials at campaign headquarters called the event -- that was subsequently mocked for days -- a "disaster" and complain it resulted in an exodus of attorneys who had been lined up to press legal challenges on behalf of Donald Trump.

Politico reports Giuliani's event "... scared off many of the lawyers they spent months recruiting, who now no longer wanted to be involved. With the campaign already facing exceedingly long odds in its recount efforts, there are widespread concerns within Trumpworld and GOP circles that Giuliani's antics are thwarting the president's legal machinery from within."

...but given that these law suits are the very definition of frivolous, the lawyers bringing them should face discipline.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


'Administration officials paint a portrait of chaos': Washington Post reports on Trump's 'negligence' (Bob Brigham, 11/14/20, Raw Story)

"Since Election Day and for weeks prior, Trump has all but ceased to actively manage the deadly pandemic, which so far has killed at least 244,000 Americans, infected at least 10.9 million and choked the country's economy. The president has not attended a coronavirus task force meeting in 'at least five months,' said one senior administration official with knowledge of the meetings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid details," correspondents Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Philip Rucker reported.

"Now, as he fights for his political life, falsely claiming the election was somehow rigged against him, Trump has abdicated one of the central duties of the job he claims to want: leading the country through a devastating pandemic as it heads into a grim winter," The Post reported. "This account of Trump's indifference and inaction on the newly surging coronavirus pandemic is based on interviews with more than a dozen administration officials, Trump allies, health advisers and others familiar with the response, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations."

"Trump has increasingly eschewed the advice of even his own public health and medical experts," the newspaper reported. "Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, has suggested several times reducing in-person dining in restaurants and bars, but Trump has dismissed her suggestions, a senior administration official said. He has also ignored the calls by Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for more aggressive messaging on the importance of mask-wearing, officials said."

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Native American Voters Were Crucial To Joe Biden's Victory (Jennifer Bendery, 11/15/20, Huff Post)

A closer look at the data coming out of Navajo precincts in Apache, Navajo and Coconino counties ― all of which overlap with Navajo Nation ― shows a huge spike in voter turnout and massive support for Biden.

As of Friday, Navajo voters in these precincts cast a total of 52,375 votes, which translates to roughly 64% of eligible Navajo voters in these precincts. That's way more than the 41,067 Navajo voters who turned out here in the 2016 election.

In Navajo County alone, nearly 66% of registered voters in Navajo precincts voted, which is a 12.64% increase since the last presidential election. Apache County saw a 9.44% increase in voter turnout in Navajo precincts.

Biden was overwhelmingly the preferred candidate. As of data crunched Thursday, of all ballots cast in Navajo precincts, 42,248 went for Biden and 8,591 went for Trump. That breaks down to about 83.1% of Navajo voters going for Biden versus 16.8% for Trump.

"The power of the Native vote is strong," said Mellor Willie, a political consultant for Diné C.A.R.E., a grassroots Native American organization that led a get-out-the-vote campaign on reservations in Arizona.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Federal judge invalidates DACA suspension (Axios, 11/15/20)
"Wolf was not lawfully serving as Acting Secretary of Homeland Security under the HSA [Homeland Security Act] when he issued the Wolf Memorandum," in July, Judge Nicholas Garaufis wrote in his ruling.

"Based on the plain text of the operative order of succession, neither Mr. [Kevin] McAleenan nor, in turn, Mr. Wolf, possessed authority to serve as Acting Secretary. Therefore, the Wolf Memorandum was not an exercise of legal authority."
Garaufis cited the Government Accountability Office, which said in August that Wolf was named to the post "by reference to an invalid order of succession."

"DHS failed to follow the order of succession as it was lawfully designated. Therefore, the actions taken by purported Acting Secretaries, who were not properly in their roles according to the lawful order of succession, were taken without legal authority," Garaufis said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Huge Asian Trade Pact Signed in Coup for China (VOA News, November 15, 2020)

The deal, which was first proposed in 2012, will lower tariffs on trade among the signatories and opens services trade.

RCEP includes the 10 ASEAN countries plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, but not the United States.

Analysts see the accord as offering huge advantage for China in extending its influence.

...on American business and consumers.

November 14, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Strengthening The American Family After COVID (RACHEL ANDERSON, 11/14/20, American Conservative)

The pandemic may have strengthened family-life in surprising ways. In the 2020 American Family Survey, the majority of Americans in a relationship said they had more appreciation for their partner because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More married Americans felt their marriage was stronger than in years past. Family identity became even more salient. Eighty percent of those who have children saying their identity as a parent was extremely or very important to them, up from 71 percent in the past. A quarter of Americans say they are living with extended family, more than in recent years.

A shift in family practices and routines could help drive these attitude changes. Families are likely to say that they ate dinner on a daily basis--54 percent--than they have in the five years prior. A survey of couples conducted in mid-April found that fathers are doing more childcare and household work. With schools and day care centers closed, millions of parents are engaged in child care, homeschooling, and navigating zoom-school--sometimes simultaneously with paid work.

Young people are one of the beneficiaries of this season of family togetherness. Surveying teens in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade, the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) found that rates of depression and loneliness among teens were lower during 2020's pandemic conditions than they were pre-pandemic in 2018. The authors of the Teens in Quarantine study, Jean Twenge, Sarah Coyne, Brad Wilcox, and Jason Carroll link these improvements in teen mental health to increased sleep and family connection. Significantly more teens report getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night during the pandemic than they did prior to quarantine. Sixty-eight percent of teens said that their families have become closer during the pandemic. Majorities of teens also said they were spending more time talking to parents, that they ate dinner together more often, and felt closer to their family. Those who spent more time with their families and felt their families were closer were less likely to be depressed.

IFS's findings are consistent with many others linking parental involvement to young people's health and development. Early parent-child bonding forms the basis for emotional and cognitive development. Parental involvement with teens boosts academic performance and mental health. The benefits from father-child involvement are well-documented: toddlers whose fathers laughed and praised them are less likely to be distressed by frustrating situations, teens do better in school and are more likely to exhibit greater confidence when engaged with a father who expresses love and acceptance.

UBI is the conservative family values policy.

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How this entrepreneur is working to help Black women build generational wealth through homeownership (Megan DeMatteo, 11/14/20, CNBC)

Generational wealth refers to any kind of asset that families pass down to their children or grandchildren, whether in the form of cash, investment funds, stocks and bonds, properties or even entire companies.

One of the most common ways that people inherit and pass on generational wealth is with real estate, which is what motivated Halstead to start Black Women Build.

"You enter the middle class through homeownership, right? That's the leap. You're able to understand that you're building equity," she says.

And equity makes a difference: When you sell or refinance your home, you can draw on your equity and leverage it to grow your wealth more or improve your life in other ways. This could include moving to a more expensive house, making home improvements, padding your retirement, paying for your child's college tuition or investing in a business venture with the potential to increase your income. This allows for a kind of social mobility and risk taking that people without wealth simply can't afford.

Halstead, who between the age of 30 and 35, bought and rehabbed four homes, also believes that generational wealth comes in the form of education, too. Her parents taught her about budgeting and helped her understand borrowing and credit so she was confident when she set out to build her own wealth through homeownership. She also considers her carpentry skills a form of wealth to pass along to others, as they can save a person thousands in renovation costs and quickly help increase a property's value.

Baby Boomers hold the majority of U.S. wealth, Bloomberg reported in October, citing Federal Reserve data. Their share of the pie equates to $59.6 trillion, or twice Generation X's $28.5 trillion and more than 10 times than millennials.

Millennials, who are the biggest generation in the workforce, control just 5.19% of U.S. wealth and would have to quadruple their wealth in order to match what Baby Boomers had at their age.

In addition to age-based wealth disparities, the racial wealth gap in the U.S. is larger today than it was in 1960 due to the legacy of redlining, a practice in which banks impose obstacles like higher APRs, fewer loan approvals and higher risk profiles for mortgage applicants in historically Black communities.

While homeownership is on the rise among across the board, Black Americans still have the lowest rate of homeownership compared to other racial groups. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, White Americans have a homeownership rate of 76%, Hispanic Americans have a homeownership rate of 51.4% and Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders have a homeownership rate of 61.4%. That's compared to the 46.4% homeownership rate for Black Americans.

One of the early indicators that Trumpism was metastasizing in the GOP was the psychotic resentment concerning sub-prime borrowers buying homes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


South Dakota's failed Swedish-style COVID experiment (Dr Simon Clarke, November 14, 2020, Spectator USA)

When the pandemic first hit the US, the 'Plains States', including South Dakota, escaped relatively lightly. On April 15, coronavirus daily diagnoses in South Dakota peaked at 181. The daily death count topped out on May 6 when five people passed away. This time around, however, South Dakota has not been so fortunate.

Over the last week, South Dakota has recorded stark COVID-19 death rates and its hospitals are rapidly filling up with COVID patients. How did this happen? Because its governor adopted an extreme libertarian approach and resisted imposing any orders for people to stay at home, instead preferring to give residents the freedom to continue their lives as they liked, with no mandate on masks or stay-at-home orders.

Besides shoppers and workers being told to keep their distance from each other, for the most part, South Dakota's governor, Kristi Noem, has refused to place any restrictions on people's lives. In April, she complained that 'so many people [had given] up their liberties for just a little bit of security'. Over the summer, as many as 500,000 people attended a mass motorcycle rally in the state.

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


North Dakota Governor Issues 'Data-Driven' Mask Mandate but Exempts Religious Services (JAMES CROWLEY, 11/14/20, Newsweek)

In a video shared on Friday night, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum announced new state-wide requirements to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The new requirements state that people must wear masks in indoor businesses and in public spaces where social distancing isn't possible. Burgum provided an exemption for religious services, however, despite documented cases across the nation of church gatherings being responsible for COVID-19 outbreaks.

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


North Dakota Governor Issues 'Data-Driven' Mask Mandate but Exempts Religious Services (JAMES CROWLEY, 11/14/20, Newsweek)

In a video shared on Friday night, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum announced new state-wide requirements to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. The new requirements state that people must wear masks in indoor businesses and in public spaces where social distancing isn't possible. Burgum provided an exemption for religious services, however, despite documented cases across the nation of church gatherings being responsible for COVID-19 outbreaks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Purely outlandish stuff': Trump's legal machine grinds to a halt (MARC CAPUTO, 11/13/2020, Politico)

A Michigan lawyer for Donald Trump's campaign filed a case in the wrong court. Lawsuits in Arizona and Nevada were dropped. A Georgia challenge was quickly rejected for lack of evidence. His Pennsylvania legal team just threw in the towel.

The president's legal machine -- the one papering swing states with lawsuits and affidavits in support of Trump's unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud -- is slowly grinding to a halt after suffering a slew of legal defeats and setbacks.

As Benjamin Wittes said on yesterday's Bulwark podcast: Donald has created a world for himself and his acolytes in which reality is not a significant variable. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden Poised to Deep Six Much of Trump Legacy With Executive Orders. (David Kraydenon, November 13, 2020, Human Events)

Biden is also poised to roll back President Trump's travel ban (that stalls the movement of terrorists into the United States), rejoin the job-killing Paris climate accord, reinstate America's membership in the World Health Organization, repeal President Trump's ban on government employees being subject to absurd critical race theory indoctrination, and issue a 100-day ban on the deportation of illegal immigrants. [...]

The woke-geo-politicking doesn't stop there. Ever since President Trump announced our departure, Biden and the Democrats have long been anxious to bring the United States back into the Paris Climate accord that was part of former President Barack Obama's legacy who called it "a turning point for the world." Trump rightly pointed out, however, that the accord was nothing but political hot air, empty rhetoric that did nothing to curb global polluters like China and India, and forced a burden of guilt on American workers. It was not easy for America to extricate itself from this burdensome commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, somewhat ironically, given the timing, after four years of trying, the U.S. only officially left this month. When the decision to leave was first announced, it was applauded by Republican lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who said, "By withdrawing from this unattainable mandate, President Trump has reiterated his commitment to protecting middle class families across the country and workers throughout coal country from higher energy prices and potential job loss."

The ban on critical race theory training came late in Trump's presidency, and was likely prompted by several media reports that exposed how multi-day workshops assaulted federal workers with left-wing doctrines of "white privilege" and demanded they admit to their guilt in oppressing women, gay people, all racial minorities, and the subjects of Michael Moore films. "This is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue. Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish!" President Trump tweeted.

There will be a plethora of such sightings if Biden has his way. What plagues America isn't just the reversals he's promising to enact, however. It's also the new policies the former Vice President is hinting at. His potential to quickly eradicate any semblance of border security, for instance, is another sign of the febrile administration that Americans can see looming on the horizon.

As a Democratic presidential candidate, Biden promised to provide taxpayer-funded health care to illegal immigrants. As the nominee, he pledged to order a 100-day moratorium on the deportation of illegal immigrants. This likely won't be where things stop--can you imagine the uproar from the liberal media and Biden's own Bolshevik squad members if he resumes deportation after 100 days? In truth, Biden is probably also amenable to abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that so many Democratic lawmakers love to hate. Didn't Vice President-Elect (God help us) Kamala Harris once hilariously but absolutely seriously compare ICE to the Ku Klux Klan? Yes, she did.

Former ICE Director Tom Homan said United States sovereignty is at stake as Biden prepares to put a welcome mat at the Mexican border. "It all goes away on day one," Homan told "Fox & Friends." "We lose the border under a Biden administration because he made promises to stop deportations, end ICE detention [and] give free health care."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Vatican to make switch to electric cars (J-P Mauro , 11/14/20, Aleteia)

Vatican officials say they are planning to gradually replace their fleet of service vehicles with low-emission electric models. The move would be the latest in a series of initiatives meant to reduce the Vatican's impact on the environment, following the guidelines set by Pope Francis' encyclical on environmental conservation, "Laudato Si'."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Did People's TV Watching Habits Get Better During the Coronavirus Pandemic? (Catherine Johnson Lauren Dempsey, 11/13/20, National Interest)

When TV viewing went up overall during the spring lockdown, the greatest growth was in streaming services, while increased viewing for live TV was primarily driven by news consumption. After lockdown was relaxed, it was streaming that retained its uplift, while time spent watching broadcast TV gradually declined back to normal levels.

Coronavirus fundamentally changed people's reasons for watching TV. Whereas before it was often associated with distraction and unwinding, the people we spoke to were rife with anxiety and turned to TV to relieve the stress of COVID-19. Television provided a sanctuary during lockdown for those seeking familiar and "safe" content which offered an escape from the worrying realities of the pandemic.

They valued companionship much more than before, regularly viewing at home with other members of their family. TV became more of a talking point - within the household and on social media - allowing a sense of connection with others. Online streaming services were particularly effective at fulfilling these needs - seen as safe spaces with content that everyone could enjoy.

Despite the absence of literal water coolers to gather round, we've revived water cooler shows virtually. 

November 13, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


A Game Designer's Analysis Of QAnon (Rabbit Rabbit, Sep 30, 2020, Medium)

In one of the very first experience fictions (XF) I ever designed, the players had to explore a creepy basement looking for clues. The object they were looking for was barely hidden and the clue was easy. It was Scooby Doo easy. I definitely expected no trouble in this part of the game.

But there was trouble. I didn't know it then, but its name was APOPHENIA.

As the participants started searching for the hidden object, on the dirt floor, were little random scraps of wood.

How could that be a problem!?

It was a problem because three of the pieces made the shape of a perfect arrow pointing right at a blank wall. It was uncanny. It had to be a clue. The investigators stopped and stared at the wall and were determined to figure out what the clue meant and they were not going one step further until they did. The whole game was derailed. Then, it got worse. Since there obviously was no clue there, the group decided the clue they were looking for was IN the wall. The collection of ordinary tools they found conveniently laying around seemed to enforce their conclusion that this was the correct direction. The arrow was pointing to the clue and the tools were how they would get to it. How obvious could it be?

I stared in horror because it all fit so well. It was better and more obvious than the clue I had hidden. I could see it. It was all random chance but I could see the connections that had been made were all completely logical. I had a crude backup plan and I used it quickly before these well-meaning players started tearing apart the basement wall with crowbars looking for clues that did not exist.

These were normal people and their assumptions were normal and logical and completely wrong.

In most ARG-like games apophenia is the plague of designers and players, sometimes leading participants to wander further and further away from the plot and causing designers to scramble to get them back or (better yet) incorporate their ideas. In role-playing games, ARGs, video games, and really anything where the players have agency, apophenia is going to be an issue.

This happens because in real games there are actual solutions to actual puzzles and a real plot created by the designers. It's easy to get off track because there is a track. A great game runner (often called a puppet-master) can use one or two of these speculations to create an even better game, but only as much as the plot can be adjusted for in real time or planned out before-hand. It can create amazing moments in a game, but it's not easy. For instance, I wish I could have instantly entombed something into that wall in the basement because it would have worked so well, but I was out of luck!

If you are a designer, and have puzzles, and have a plot, then apophenia is a wild card you always have to be concerned about.

QAnon is a mirror reflection of this dynamic. Here apophenia is the point of everything. There are no scripted plots. There are no puzzles to solve created by game designers. There are no solutions.

QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe "guided apophenia" is a better phrase.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Woodrow Wilson's segregation policies of 100 years ago decimated the Black middle class for decades (Guo Xu and Abhay Aneja, 11/13/20, Market Watch)

Soon after his inauguration in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson ushered in one of the most far-reaching discrimination policies of that century. Wilson discreetly authorized his Cabinet secretaries to implement a policy of racial segregation across the federal bureaucracy.

A Southerner by heritage, Wilson appointed several Southern Democrats to Cabinet offices, several of whom were sympathetic to the segregationist cause. Wilson's new postmaster general, for example, was "anxious to segregate white and negro employees in all Departments of Government."

Historical accounts suggest that Wilson's order was carried out most aggressively by the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Treasury Department, the latter responsible for revenue generation including taxes and customs duties. Based on the data we collected, the majority of Black civilians worked in these two federal departments before Wilson's arrival. [...]

Our research shows that the damage caused by working under discriminatory conditions persisted well beyond Wilson's presidency. The same Black civil servants victimized by discrimination in federal employment were also less likely to own a home in 1920, 1930 and 1940, almost three decades after Wilson was elected. Moreover, the school-age children of Black civil servants who served in the Wilson administration went on to have poorer-quality lives than their young white counterparts in terms of their overall earnings and quality of employment in adulthood.

This research can help to contribute to the understanding of the roots of economic disparities. A policy of racial discrimination -- even if implemented temporarily -- has lasting negative effects. A clearer understanding of historical discrimination can help to inform the design of policies aimed at remedying the painfully persistent racial inequities we observe today.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Trump Campaign Lawyer Comically Filed Election Lawsuit in Court That Had No Authority to Hear the Case (COLIN KALMBACHER, Nov 13th, 2020, Law & Crime)

One of President Donald Trump's numerous election lawsuits was filed in the wrong federal court. Like, the really wrong court. On Tuesday, a campaign lawyer filed a Michigan-focused federal lawsuit in the Washington, D.C.-based Court of Federal Claims-which has no authority to hear an electoral fraud themed lawsuit whatsoever.

Donald went to  McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak and hired Benny.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


World's Biggest Free-Trade Deal Set to Be Signed This Weekend (Philip Heijmans, Michelle Jamrisko, and Bryce Baschuk, November 11, 2020, Bloomberg)

Fifteen Asia-Pacific nations including China aim to clinch the world's largest free-trade agreement this weekend.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes countries stretching from Japan to Australia and New Zealand, aims to reduce tariffs, strengthen supply chains with common rules of origin, and codify new e-commerce rules. Its passage may disadvantage some U.S. companies and other multinationals outside the zone, particularly after President Donald Trump withdrew from talks on a separate Asia-Pacific trade deal formerly known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


SHORT CONVERSATIONS WITH POETS: CHRISTIAN WIMAN ( Ilya Kaminsky, 11/12/20, McSweeney's Quarterly)

Christian Wiman is a poet who doesn't just write about the spiritual struggles; he embodies them on the page. "Today I woke and believed in nothing," the speaker movingly says in his most recent book, Survival is a Style. Belief and disbelief in this book at times crowd into the same stanza, even the same line. The result is both heart-wrenching and beautiful: this impulse of negative theology is made apparent in the language itself. How? With a blaze of questions ("What did he learn when he learned of his own bad heart? / That scared and sacred are but a beat apart") wherein we see the vivid desire for peace found in the daily: "I want to hum just a little with my own emptiness / at 4 a.m. To have little bells above my door. / To have a door." Toward the end of this searing book, there is a kind of resolution: this isn't a crisis of faith, we realize, crisis is faith. Faith is in the very texture of Wiman's language, the very fusion of his marvelous music and imagery, and that texture is what makes his work memorable to any reader who finds it. [...]


If you ask me (as you do) what poetry can do to reawaken the language of faith, I am skeptical. But if you ask me (as you have) what poetry can do to counter the sense of being destroyed by time, I am quite sure that it can be salvific -- both in the moments of its happening and in what those moments teach about the unity of life and time. More and more, I think of faith as simply a being at ease with time. But you'll notice I began this answer with the verb torn.

And language? Certainly, I have never written a poem that began with an idea -- not a single one. Very occasionally, there is an image or metaphor that takes some deep hold on me, but most often there's a sound in my head that hasn't even found its way to words yet. A rhythm, an ache, a not-quite-cry and not-quite-song, something in the air and in me that wants (needs) the distinction (between the air and me) erased. I have no ambition whatsoever other than keeping this possibility alive and remaining alert to it when it comes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Some Kind of Peace In A Chaotic Word: Ólafur Arnalds On His Most Intimate Album Yet (Jess Distill,  November 13, 2020, Reykjavik Grapevine)

Born from a desire to take himself back to his roots, 'Some Kind Of Peace' strips everything away from the lavish compositions and cinematic sounds that have become synonymous with Ólafur's name, to reveal something a little more raw and vulnerable.

"It's not that my music isn't always personal," he admits. "It's just that I tend to create these big ideas or concepts to put in front of me, and it's easy to hide behind them. I like to swing right in the other direction sometimes. I wanted to go back to before this was my job, before there was any pressure, and remember why I was making music."

Working mostly with friends who had been with him during that time, the relationship between Ólafur and his collaborators was as intimate as the music they created. "We had the opportunity to take a lot of time and really have a dialogue about what the music was about and what feelings we were trying to evoke. We would play it a few times and then listen back to it and ask 'How do we feel right now when we hear this?'" Ólafur says. "We went into that aspect of it in a lot of detail, just listening and talking. Because it was so personal to me, I put even more effort into the tiniest details of performance."

With every listen of 'Some Kind of Peace' something new becomes apparent: a string part you didn't notice before, or a sound effect barely audible in the background, more a feeling than a sound. As though Ólafur is revealing himself little bit by little bit, the listener learns something new every time they play the album. Soundbites from his life, voice clips from the recording process, or samples taken of people and music that inspire him litter the album.

"How do you place a voice in voiceless music? How do you tell a story in instrumental music?" he asks. "I just have to add storytelling elements to it. It can be voices or the way something sounds. That's how I add my own voice, so to speak, without actually singing, and tell my personal story through the album."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Maricopa County Was the Epicenter of the Anti-Immigrant Movement. It Just Handed Arizona to Biden. (Fernanda Echavarri, 11/13/20, MoJo)

For years, the news out of Maricopa County, Arizona, was bleak. It was the site of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's infamous Tent City jail, the epicenter of anti-immigrant and anti-Latinx laws like SB 1070, and the staging ground for vigilante groups like the Minutemen. But after a week of daily vote count updates showed that Joe Biden would defeat Donald Trump there--and at the same time hold onto his statewide lead--it's now clear that Latinx activists and Democratic politicians have scored one of their biggest wins in years in Arizona's largest and most influential county.

As of Thursday, Biden had a roughly 12,000-vote lead in Arizona, thanks in large part to his 45,000-vote advantage in Maricopa County. These margins can largely be attributed to the work of the Latinx organizers I first wrote about in September, who ran countless voter registration events, information campaigns, and GOTV efforts to push for candidates and propositions that support their communities. Leading up to Election Day, a collective of local groups knocked on more than 1 million doors and made almost 8 million phone calls focused on Latino, Black, and Native American voters. The result was high turnout from those communities, with more than 70 percent of Latinos--who make up about a quarter of the total electorate in Arizona--supporting Biden. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Outgoing Syria Envoy Admits Hiding US Troop Numbers (KATIE BO WILLIAMS, NOVEMBER 12, 2020, Defense One)

"We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there," Jeffrey said in an interview. The actual number of troops in northeast Syria is "a lot more than" the two hundred troops Trump agreed to leave there in 2019.

Trump's abruptly-announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria remains perhaps the single-most controversial foreign policy move during his first years in office, and for Jeffrey, "the most controversial thing in my fifty years in government." The order, first handed down in December 2018, led to the resignation of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It catapulted Jeffrey, then Trump's special envoy for Syria, into the role of special envoy in the counter-ISIS fight when it sparked the protest resignation of his predecessor, Brett McGurk.

For Jeffrey, the incident was far less cut-and-dry -- but it is ultimately a success story that ended with U.S. troops still operating in Syria, denying Russian and Syrian territorial gains and preventing ISIS remnants from reconstituting. 

In 2018 and again in October of 2019, when Trump repeated the withdrawal order, the president boasted that ISIS was "defeated." But each time, the president was convinced to leave a residual force in Syria and the fight continued. 

"What Syria withdrawal? There was never a Syria withdrawal," Jeffrey said. "When the situation in northeast Syria had been fairly stable after we defeated ISIS, [Trump] was inclined to pull out. In each case, we then decided to come up with five better arguments for why we needed to stay. And we succeeded both times. That's the story."

He's praising himself.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


True Liberalism Wants to Slay Thomas Hobbes's Monster (Deirdre McCloskey and Art Carden, November 13, 2020, Lit Hub)

In 2005 a coalition of groups organized a campaign to "Make Poverty History." The very idea--making poverty history--startles, considering the grind that was once the life of virtually everyone on the planet, a few nobles and priests excepted. To be quantitative about it, the beginning of scientific wisdom about economic history is to realize that in the year 1800 worldwide, the miserable average of production and consumption per person was about $3 day.

Even in the newly prosperous United States, Holland, and Britain, it was a mere $6. Gak. Those are the figures in terms of roughly present-day prices, understand: no tricks with money involved. Try living in your neighborhood on $3 or $6 a day. And realize by contrast that in the United States it's now about $130 a day, and $33 as a world average, doubling in every long generation.

The poorest have been the biggest beneficiaries. Contrary to what you hear, further, since the mid-20th century, inequality in the world has fallen dramatically. The wretched of the earth are coming to a dignified level of income, and more. Wow.

Our task is to convey the gak and to explain the wow--and to show that the change from gak to wow came from liberty.

The view in 1651 of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes was that without an all-powerful king there must have been once upon a time a "war of all against all." We doubt he was correct about the king or about the once upon a time, in light of modern scholarship in history and anthropology. But his famous vision of the poverty of a society without some sort of discipline, whether a coercive visible hand or a voluntary invisible hand, can serve to characterize the world that the campaign to Make Poverty History wants to escape:

In such condition [as he imagined, "the state of nature," with no discipline] there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain [think: no incentive if the fruit will anyway be stolen]: and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation [think: no caravels of Prince Henry the Navigator exploring the coast of Africa], nor use of commodities that may be imported by sea [think: no pepper from the East]; no commodious building [think: no Amsterdam city hall on the Dam]; no instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force [think: no coaches on the king's highway]; no knowledge of the face of the earth [think: "Don't know much about geography"]; no account of time [no clocks, no history: "Don't know much about the Middle Ages"]; no arts; no letters, no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Double gak. Not nice. People on their own, Hobbes supposed, are cruel and selfish and above all unable to organize themselves voluntarily. To tame them, they need a "leviathan," as he called it in the title of his 1651 work--that is, a great beast of a government.

Only a top-down king, like his beloved if recently beheaded master, Charles I of England, or Charles's son hiding out in France, the future Charles II, would protect peace and civilization. (His is rather similar, we note, to the argument on the left nowadays that a leviathan government, much more powerful than anything Charles I could have imagined, is necessary to protect peace and civilization and the poor.) The choice, he said, was between utter misery without a masterful king or a moderated misery (even) with him.

Many people nowadays, whether on the left or the right of politics, still credit Hobbes's argument for top-down government. They believe, writes the liberal economist Donald Boudreaux, "that we human beings left undirected by a sovereign power are either inert blobs, capable of achieving nothing (thus say the Dems and Labour, and old John Dewey), or unintelligent and brutal barbarians destined only to rob, rape, plunder, and kill each other (thus say the GOP and the Tories, and old Thomas Hobbes) until and unless a sovereign power restrains us and directs economic energies onto more productive avenues.

The people who believe such things are properly called statists, such as in recent politics Elizabeth Warren on the left of the conventional spectrum and Donald Trump on the right. The left or right, or middle, wants very much to coerce the blockheads and the barbarians to get organized. Both the progressives and the conservatives, in other words, view ordinary people as children, ignorant or unruly, unable to take care of themselves, and dangerous to others, to be tightly governed. Terrible twos.

We modern liberals don't. We want to persuade you to join us in liberalism in the old and honorable sense--or, if you insist on the word, to join us in a generous version of libertarianism (a 1950s coinage we would like to retire). You don't really favor pushing people around with a prison-industrial complex, or with regulations preventing people from braiding hair for a living, or with collateral damage from drone strikes, or with a separation of toddlers from their mothers at the southern US border, do you?

We bet not. As one version of the Golden Rule puts it, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With an open mind and a generous heart, dear reader, we believe you will tilt toward a humane true liberalism. Welcome, then, to a society held together by sweet talk among free adults, rather than by the leviathan's coercion applied to slaves and children.

Their dating is obviously several centuries late--given the royal charters in England--but you trace the acceleration to these latter centuries.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Reaching UK net zero target cheaper than we thought, says climate adviser (Fiona Harvey, 12 Nov 2020, The Guardian)

Reaching net zero carbon emissions in the UK is likely to be much easier and cheaper than previously thought, and can be designed in such a way as to quickly improve the lives of millions of people, a senior adviser to the government has said.

Chris Stark, the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, the UK's independent statutory adviser, said costs had come down rapidly in recent years, and past estimates that moving to a low-carbon economy would cut trillions from GDP were wrong.

"Overall, the cost is surprisingly low - it's cheaper than even we thought last year when we made our assessments. Net zero is relatively low-cost across the economy," he said. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Obama: 'Americans spooked by black man in White House' led to Trump presidency (New Arab, 13 November, 2020)

In an excerpt from "A Promised Land," which goes on sale on Tuesday, Obama, America's first Black president, addresses the "birther" lie peddled by Trump that Obama was not born in the United States, according to CNN.

"It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted," Obama writes.

"Which is exactly what Donald Trump understood when he started peddling assertions that I had not been born in the United States and was thus an illegitimate president.

"For millions of Americans spooked by a Black man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Federal Judge Allows E. Jean Carroll's Lawsuit Against Trump to Move Ahead Next Month (DANIEL VILLARREAL, 11/12/20, Newsweek)

On Thursday, a federal judge allowed a defamation lawsuit filed against President Donald Trump by writer E. Jean Carroll to proceed despite attempts by the Trump Administration to have it dismissed.

A telephone conference for the case is scheduled to be held on December 11, according to The Hill.

November 12, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Biden pledges to raise refugee ceiling to 125,000 in address to Jesuit group (Emily McFarlan Miller, Jack Jenkins, 11/12/20, RNS)

President Donald Trump has set the refugee ceiling -- the maximum number of refugees admitted to the U.S. each year -- to a new historic low every year he has been in office.

Trump recently put that number at 15,000 for the current fiscal year, which started in October.

By comparison, former President Barack Obama set that number at 110,000 his last year in office. Faith-based organizations have rallied each year for Trump to return the number to its historic average: 95,000.

HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield said Biden has a record of standing with refugees, noting that as a senator, Biden had co-sponsored the Refugee Act of 1980, which codified the U.S. refugee resettlement program and asylum system.

"The election of Joseph Biden marks a return to (American) values, an acknowledgment that refugees and immigrants have always been a benefit, not a burden to our great country," Hetfield said in a video message.

LIRS President Krish O'Mara Vignarajah said in a written statement that Biden's election is a "new dawn" after a "dark chapter for our immigrant brothers and sisters." She pointed to the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy at the U.S.-Mexico border and his so-called travel ban, which limits travel to the U.S. from a number of mostly Muslim countries.

Biden promised during his campaign he would end the ban, also referred to as a "Muslim ban," on the first day of his presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Biden Wants Another Crack at 'Comprehensive Immigration Reform' But Activists Are Wary of Past Failures (ADRIAN CARRASQUILLO, 11/12/20, Newsweek)

President-elect Joe Biden wants to hit the ground running, undoing President Donald Trump's hardline immigration executive orders on day one, and producing "comprehensive immigration reform" legislation, to be worked on with Congress during his first 100 days.

But while weary and wary immigration activists count down the days until Biden can erase Trump's administrative orders, they do not see a large-scale legislative overhaul contained within one bill as a workable strategy any longer.

Previously the gold standard, a bipartisan comprehensive approach to reforming the nation's immigration laws--essentially one bill to rule them all--has been the Democratic strategy for the better part of the past two decades.

But as Biden again backs trying to negotiate with Republicans, veterans of past immigration battles in the advocacy world said the time has come to move on from a "failed" strategy, they told Newsweek.

He should offer Senate Republicans an opportunity to help craft a comprehensive reform, but make it clear that if they won't, and won't pass the House version either, then he'll issue a blanket pardon for immigration offenses.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


The Rise of "Psychological Man" (CARL R. TRUEMAN, 11/09/20, Public Discourse)

To offer an abbreviated narrative of the intellectual genealogy of psychological selfhood, we can start in the eighteenth century with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He argued that human beings would be at their most authentic if they were not forced to play alien roles imposed on them by the polite conventions of society. In his world, it is society that corrupts, with its demands that we conform to its conventions. Society's ills stemmed from this alienating external environment. In the hypothetical state of nature, human beings would have been free, morality would have rested on a spontaneous empathy, and everyone would have been outwardly that which they felt themselves to be inwardly.

This notion--that culture and civilized society was the problem and that rightly tuned emotions were the answer--was picked up and popularized by the Romantics, whose artistic focus on nature was the means by which they connected their audience with authentic emotions. The accent lay on inner psychology as constitutive of the real person. True selfhood and true happiness were found within.

We can see how influential this development has been by reflecting on the notion of job satisfaction. I recall once asking my grandfather, a lifelong sheet metal worker in a Birmingham factory, if he had found satisfaction in his work. His answer was that he did indeed find his work satisfying because it enabled him to put food on his family's table and shoes on his children's feet. This response is striking precisely because it is so outwardly directed. Any feelings of satisfaction he had were the result of actions he did for others. Ask me the same question and my answer would be that I find my work satisfying because I enjoy teaching. It makes me feel good to stand in front of a class and talk about interesting ideas. To be colloquial, it gives me a buzz. The difference is clear: my notion of satisfaction is an inward-directed one, less to do with my impact on others and more to do with my own immediate feelings than with my impact upon others.

If the turn inward to psychology and emotions is one major element of the development of the modern self, the next is the demolition of the notion of transcendent human nature. The nineteenth century is critical here. Hegel's phenomenology set the historical development of human consciousness at the center of his philosophical inquiries, thus potentially relativizing any specific historical expression of human nature. Marx famously turned him on his head, placing economic relations at the heart of history and thus making human nature itself a function of the changing means of production, thereby arguably intensifying its plasticity. Darwin's theory of evolution undermined notions of human exceptionalism by eliding the difference between human beings and other forms of life. And Nietzsche called the bluff of Kantian philosophy by declaring that neither claims to knowledge nor judgments of right and wrong could have any truly authoritative status in a world where God had been consciously removed from any active role in the picture of the universe with which Enlightenment philosophers operated. At this point, the psychological turn we find in Rousseau and the Romantics loses the stability provided by their confidence that there was such a thing as human nature that we all share. And with that move, all that implicitly remains of human purpose is the attaining of personal psychological happiness in whatever form happens to work for the individual concerned.

There are, however, two more steps in the story that need to be noted before we can address the pathologies of the present day. The first is the role of Sigmund Freud. While many of Freud's specific theories have been roundly rejected in the decades since his death, one basic idea has continued to grip the cultural imagination: human beings are shaped at a very deep level by their sexual desires. Freud's theory of infant sexuality made sexual desire a constant factor in what it meant to be a human being. His notion that the prototype of human happiness is sexual satisfaction had the effect of sexualizing that psychological inner space we find in Rousseau and the Romantics. It thereby made human flourishing in its ideal form identical with sexual satisfaction. It also--and most significantly--made sex a matter of identity and not primarily an activity. After Freud, sex is something you are, not merely something you do.
The second step is the appropriation of Freud by certain Marxist thinkers in the mid-twentieth century. Freud famously argued that civilization or culture was the result of a trade-off between individual sexual desire and the demands of communal living and social preservation. Put simply, human beings curb their darkest instincts in order to be able to live together in relative peace, diverting the energy created by this repression into culture or civilization, embodied in activities such as art, politics, sport, and religion. Civilized people are therefore doomed to be somewhat discontented because civilization represents a level of repression.

In the mid-twentieth century Marxist thinkers such as Herbert Marcuse and Wilhelm Reich seized upon this idea of psychological repression as the key to solving one of the great lacunae in Marxist theory: how to enable the working class to develop a revolutionary self-consciousness. This was a particularly acute issue because of the history of the early twentieth century. Why, for example, did the revolution succeed in 1917 in Russia--a feudal, agrarian society with no developed industrial working class--and yet fail in 1919 in Germany--an industrialized nation whose ruling class had just led the country to ignominious defeat in the First World War? And why did the workers support reactionary movements such as Nazism and Fascism rather than the Communist Party? How could the proletariat be roused from its political slumber?

The answer was the dismantling of traditional sexual codes. Reich and Marcuse saw such codes as effectively enforcing the normative nature of the nuclear family, something that the Marxist Left regarded as the training ground for social conformity and obedience--a factory, if you like, for the production of mindless automata who will accept the bourgeois status quo with blind obedience. As children learn to fear, love, and obey the father, so they are prepared for the obedience demanded by political dictators such as Hitler and Mussolini. Thus, the New Left agreed with Freud that the structure and values of society were the result of sexual repression; but they saw this as a historically contingent thing, an ideological construct, designed to reinforce the authority of the dominant bourgeois class. Revolution must therefore have at its heart the dismantling of the bourgeois sexual morality of lifelong monogamy, normative heterosexuality, and suppression of adolescent sexual activity. The psychological self thus becomes central to the political struggle, as do sex and sexuality.

Never be yourself; be better.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


US right-wing media is in a civil war after Trump's defeat (Adam Epstein, 11/12/20, Quartz)

Even before the election, Newsmax was cozying up to Trump in ways that might make even the president's toadies at Fox News blush. Its CEO and Trump confidant, Christopher Ruddy, has hired a slew of political operatives in Trump's orbit to host shows on the network, including his former press secretary Sean Spicer and his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who in August was indicted for money laundering and wire fraud.

Former US presidential candidate and Trump surrogate Herman Cain was also supposed to host a show on Newsmax, but he died from Covid-19 before it could start airing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Fed is set to take on a new challenge: climate change (Jeff Cox, 11/12/20, CNBC)

The Federal Reserve is going green, and that could mean a substantial change for the way financial institutions have to prepare for the unexpected.

In recent days, several central bank officials have spoken about the importance of taking climate change into effect when considering dangers posed to the system. Along with that, the Fed's financial stability report, which usually talks about how economic and market forces could impact banks, insurance companies and other firms, mentioned climate for the first time. [...]

"Federal Reserve supervisors expect banks to have systems in place that appropriately identify, measure, control, and monitor all of their material risks, which for many banks are likely to extend to climate risks," the financial stability report said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Greece is slashing income taxes to lure remote workers from abroad (Silvia Amaro, 11/12/20, CNBC)

Greece has introduced new tax incentives in an effort to attract those working from home as it looks to rebuild its battered economy.

Anyone moving to Greece in 2021 will not have to pay income tax on half of their salary for the next seven years, whether salaried or self-employed.

Why would you punish income at all?

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

NICE THREADS, EMPEROR (profanity alert):

Trump's National Security Adviser Tells Staff: Don't Even Mention Biden's Name (Erin Banco, Spencer Ackerman, Asawin Suebsaeng, Noah Shachtman, Nov. 12, 2020, Daily Beast)

Other officials familiar with the matter noted that O'Brien has also pushed national security officials to publicly embrace the absurd Trump message that the election has not been certified and that there are still legal battles playing out across the country that could turn in the president's favor.

"If you even mention Biden's name... that's a no-go, you'd be fired," one national security official said. "Everyone is scared of even talking about the chance of working with the [Biden] transition."

Asked if officials in the White House feel comfortable saying Biden's name in the West Wing, one senior White House official said, half-jokingly, "Sure, you can say his name. If you're talking about who lost the election to the president."

Behind closed doors, one official claimed, O'Brien has been much more forthcoming about Trump's loss and the need to prepare for a transition. The problem, the other officials said, is that O'Brien hasn't made that known to the commander in chief.

O'Brien, who stepped into his current position as national security adviser in September of 2019, has deep ties to the Republican Party and was viewed by national security officials upon his arrival in the White House as someone who would be able to keep Trump in check. Since stepping into the position, however, officials who have worked with him say O'Brien has supported the president at every turn. One former senior national security official said he is known among his staff as a yes-man. "He does whatever Trump says," one current national security official said. [...]

"It's like dealing with a lunatic on the subway. Everyone just kind of sits and stares ahead, pretends they can't hear him, and waits for him to eventually get off," a GOP source close to the administration told The Daily Beast.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Republican senator says he will step in if Biden doesn't have access to intelligence briefings by Friday (Alison Main and Caroline Kelly, November 12, 2020, CNN)

Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford said Wednesday that he will intervene if the Trump administration has not allowed President-elect Joe Biden access to presidential daily intelligence briefings by the end of the week, one of the first rights of a presidential candidate after winning the election.

November 11, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


A Moderate's Manifesto: Ideologues get all the love in today's political environment, but moderates have one key thing on them: workability. (Ronald W. Dworkin, 11 Nov 2020, American Purpose)

The moderate carves out a middle position in all this, accepting the state as promoter, regulator, and guarantor, but not as partner. True, different shades of thought are at work here. Some ideologues may reach a conclusion similar to that of the moderate. Yet they generally do so grudgingly, as if they feel guilty for violating some faith. All ideologies come with a body of doctrine, and while the more flexible ideologues recognize doctrine might not apply in all cases, their natural inclination is to deduce from doctrine. Ideological thinking typically extends from the top down, while the moderate mixes experience with observation to build from the ground up. Ideologues and moderates may arrive at similar conclusions, but how they get there makes all the difference in what position is actually arrived at and how things are managed going forward.

Consistent with the state's guarantor duties, bailing out the airlines during the pandemic made sense to the moderate, as these essential companies operated responsibly until a unique blow hit them. So also did the one-time bailout of small business under the CARES Act that enabled employers to meet payroll. But a moderate might oppose the Federal Reserve's recent massive intervention into the credit markets, which threatens to create the kind of "zombie" companies that have dogged Japanese economic growth for decades. This borders on state partnering, as the government rallies around certain businesses the way loyal family members circle the wagons when one of them does something stupid. Some companies took on too much debt over the last decade, while investors who bought their low-rated bonds for yield were equally rash. At some point these companies and investors must be allowed to go under; otherwise, the notion of competition becomes meaningless.

The "competition" aspect of capitalism's definition looms larger for the moderate than its "division between state and economy" aspect. Competition among businesspeople channels capitalism's vital source of energy--the drive to make money--into tasks that society wants done, and at prices that society will pay. It leads to wealth and excellent service.

The state's role as regulator ensures competition, which is why the moderate supports it. At the same time, that regulatory duty can also be used to stifle competition and further the state's partnering activity. The ICC, for example, began by regulating railroad rates and preventing railroad monopolies from abusing customers. By the mid-20thcentury, however, the ICC became the protector (that is, the partner) of the railroads, establishing freight schedules for trucking that prevented this new form of freight handling from threatening the profits of "their" industry. A regulatory agency that had been charged with the suppression of the railroad's abuses had, over time, partnered with the railroads to protect them. This change in purpose has been repeated in other fields, such as banking and pharmaceuticals, and makes supporting the state's regulatory duty and opposing its partnership activity a difficult needle to thread. It is why the moderate prefers regulation by law rather than by bureaucratic rule. A judge applying a law is less likely to go native than is a regulator applying an agency rule that is only partial law, especially when that regulator aspires to work some day in the very industry he or she is regulating.

The confusion surrounding what capitalism is has led to state partnering being called a form of capitalism known as "crony capitalism." Although pejorative, the label misleads people, as they mistakenly view crony capitalism as an anti-competitive variant of capitalism, which it cannot be. Competition is essential to capitalism. When the state partners with a business, it means the game is fixed. There is no competition, and so no capitalism.

Consumers these days keenly feel competition's absence in price, especially in three areas that come up repeatedly in activist politics: health care, higher education, and housing. In 1973, American families put 50 percent of their discretionary income toward these three services; today they put 75 percent. Lack of competition keeps costs high in these fields, as when health insurance companies are barred from selling products across state lines; or when an alliance between higher education and the state hobbles for-profit college competitors, or suppresses national tests of achievement that might let young people bypass college and enter the world of work directly. The moderate opposes these examples of crony capitalism.

The purported connection between corporations and capitalism is equally maddening. The moderate looks favorably upon corporate America as the producer and distributor of great products at low cost. Yet the corporation is not inherent to capitalism. It grew out of government's promotion and regulatory activities during the second half of the 19th century. State legislatures decided to safeguard investors through the concept of limited liability, to keep a company's investors from having to pay out of their personal wealth a business's debts during bankruptcy. Eliminating that risk made the corporation possible, although some critics at the time thought it an unnecessary government intervention.

For the moderate, defending capitalism does not necessarily mean defending corporate America. On the contrary, the new trend toward state partnering demands protection for small business against corporate America, whom state partnering favors. For fifty years, capitalist ideology flowing out of the influential Chicago School of Economics has criticized anti-trust enforcement as unnecessary, arguing that markets self-correct. In the meantime, new business formation has steadily declined. In 1982, young small businesses made up half of all firms and a fifth of total employment. By 2013, they made up a third of all firms and a tenth of total employment.

The moderate sympathizes with progressives and even radicals who decry excessive corporate power and "corporate welfare"--not because corporations block the path to socialism but because they block the path to entrepreneurship. Even Black Lives Matter leader Hawk Newsome, who recently threatened to "burn down" the American system, complained that the system stifles entrepreneurship in both black and white communities. Small businesses cannot thrive when large corporations allied with government rig the system.

For the moderate, the most troubling aspect of the emerging state-corporation partnership is the threat to democracy. Even Marx fretted over how the independent farmer and small businessman, the "basis of America's whole political constitution," were giving way to "giant farms" with employees and large factories with a "mass industrial proletariat." The trend picked up speed over the next 140 years. Today, more Americans work at large or very large companies (2,500 employees or more) than work at small businesses (100 or fewer employees). Although the Constitution protects free speech, the fusion of corporation and state, along with the rise of the dependent employee, gives anti-democratic forces a way to control speech indirectly. Although the state cannot restrict speech, it can use corporations as proxies to do so, both at work and at home (as when companies scrutinize a worker's after-hours social media posts). Many politicized corporations have proven to be eager and willing censors.

The moderate strongly supports laws that prevent corporate America from discriminating against viewpoint. When most Americans were independent owners of some kind, such laws were unnecessary. Today, most Americans are dependent employees, and many are even subject to non-compete clauses, such that when fired for a speech violation they must move to a new city to find work. Democracy demands updated free speech protections.

Capitalist ideology defines capitalism as a series of inviolable laws, including the law of supply and demand. Progressive ideology, on the other hand, refuses to believe that anything about capitalism is hard and fast. Modern monetary theory, for example, argues that a sovereign country can safely print all the money it wants, with higher tax rates used to slow inflation whenever necessary, thereby allowing the state to fund any social program.

The moderate takes a middle position in all this, not to split the difference, but out of intellectual conviction.

In the mid-19th century, around the same time Thackeray used the word "capitalist" in his novel and Marx described capitalism as a system, the philosopher-economist John Stuart Mill published his Principles of Political Economy, in which he argued that rigid laws apply to economic production but not to economic distribution. Although nothing arbitrary exists in capitalism's laws of wealth creation, he wrote, no laws govern how that wealth should be distributed other than the arbitrary laws and customs of society. Rather than straitjacket society, as capitalist ideology does, or destroy the means of wealth creation, as progressive ideology risks, Mills's moderate position preserves capitalism's wealth-creating mechanism while allowing that wealth to be spread around to keep social peace.

An economy exists to generate wealth--which the past several centuries demonstrate is best achieved using capitalism (The First Way). In exchange for affording the freedom that capitalism requires, the citizenry of developed nations expects so level of social security net to guarantee a certain standard of living (The Second Way). The modern insight is that we can use First Way mean--like 401k's, HSA's, home ownership, etc--to fund Second Way ends; thus, the Third Way.  The particular genius here lies not just in placing the financing system on a more effcient footing but in giving even the least wealthy members of society a vested interest in maintaining the regime.   

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Trump inquiries coming, House Democrats warn three years jail if documents destroyed (Paul Bedard, November 10, 2020, Washington Examiner)

In the surest sign that House Democrats plan a wave of investigations into the Trump administration, leading committee chairs have sent a letter to more than 50 agencies warning that all documents and texts, even on private phones, be preserved.

"This preservation request should be construed as an instruction to preserve all documents, communications, and other information, including electronic information and metadata, that is or may be potentially responsive to a congressional inquiry, request, investigation, or subpoena that was initiated, continued, or otherwise undertaken during the 116th Congress," said the 173-page package sent out today.

For good measure, it included a jail threat. "Any employee who conceals, destroys, or attempts to conceal or destroy a federal record may be subject to fine and imprisonment for up to three years," said the letter to 53 agencies.

It is already the law that documents be preserved. White Houses store their documents, texts, and photos, typically in a presidential library.

But the memo is a signal that there are potentially many more investigations coming targeting the Trump administration by House Democrats, and possibly a reinvestigation of past inquires.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Remote education is decreasing anxiety, increasing wellbeing for some students (KEVIN DICKINSON, 11 November, 2020, Big Think)

[A]ccording to a survey performed by the National Institute for Health Research, the kids are doing all right. By some metrics, they've been doing better in our era of lockdowns and remote education.

"The Young People's Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic" report surveyed more than 1,000 Year 9 students (ages 13 to 14) in the United Kingdom. This ongoing study aims to chronicle the relationship between social media use and adolescents' mental health. Because the study participants took the initial survey in October 2019, researchers were able to compare the students' pre-pandemic baseline with their responses several months into lockdown. (Schools closed in the U.K. in mid-March; follow-up surveys were completed in April and May.)

The researchers discovered that mental health among the U.K.'s adolescents has, surprisingly, improved during these trying times. Although 90 percent of students agreed that COVID-19 is a serious issue, their responses indicated an overall decrease in their risk of anxiety, an increase in their well-being, and no major changes to their risk of depression.

The most improvement was seen in students struggling with poor mental health. Students with low well-being scores in October last year showed a 10-point gain on the Warwick-Edinburgh Wellbeing Scale; meanwhile, students with previously average-to-high well-being scores showed no significant change. Students at risk of anxiety and depression also showed small advances in their Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale scores. The only group showing a heightened risk of depression were girls, and the difference was slight.

And no one misses offices.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Egypt assembles bipartisan lobbying team for post-Trump era (Julian Pecquet, 11 November 2020, Middle East Eye)

"They're clearly worried," said Michele Dunne, the director of the Middle East programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and co-chair of the bipartisan Working Group on Egypt.

"When it became clear that Biden would be named the winner, [President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi] sent his congratulations and now you see all of these former foreign ministers and major figures being called out onto the talk shows to reassure government supporters in Egypt that everything's going to be fine with Biden."

Trump, who famously called Sisi "my favorite dictator" at last year's Group of Seven summit in France, largely insulated Cairo from congressional efforts to punish Egypt for its human rights violations, including the death in custody of US citizen Moustafa Kassem earlier this year. [...]

US human rights advocates have also been ramping up their activities.

The Freedom Initiative, the organisation started by US citizen Mohamed Soltan, a former political prisoner in Egypt, hired its first lobbying firm in August to "advocate for political prisoners in MENA".

Meanwhile, the newly launched Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the brainchild of murdered Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, has made Egypt one of its three priority countries, along with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Egyptian opposition groups and advocates also see an opening.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi's government has labeled a terrorist group, has urged Biden to "reconsider previous policies of support for dictatorships around the world", Middle East Eye reported on Tuesday.

"We implore the Biden administration to repudiate the crimes and violations committed by tyrannical regimes against the rights of peoples," the group said in a statement.

"We regard policies that ignore the free choices of people and which foster relations with authoritarian regimes as absolutely inappropriate. They represent a choice to stand on the wrong side of history."

...they're our democratic Brothers.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Trump lost religious voters -- and it cost him in multiple states: analysis (Meaghan Ellis, 11/11/20, AlterNet)

President Donald Trump's overwhelming support from evangelical Christians slipped during the 2020 election as President-elect Joe Biden managed to sway a substantial margin of those voters. Now, Trump's campaign team is searching for someone to blame for its election defeat, according to Politico. [...]

"There is perhaps no better illustration of how the Trump campaign failed to neutralize the threat of Biden's outreach to Christian voters than in Kent County, Mich. An evangelical enclave in the Midwestern battleground state, the county gave Biden 50,000 more votes this cycle than Clinton drew four years earlier, ultimately flipping it from red to blue."

One of Trump's campaign advisors has warned the next Republican presidential nominee not to assume Christian conservatives will automatically back the party in 2024.

"When we look back on this moment from the lens of, 'Here's what the Republican nominee needs to do to win in 2024,' I hope there will be people saying we shouldn't take Christian conservatives for granted," said one adviser to the Trump campaign, who added that future GOP presidential hopefuls "should never again assume white evangelicals can't be persuaded by the right candidate with a D next to his or her name."

Blame? Credit. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


Biden's Popular-Vote Win Is Beginning to Look More Impressive (Ed Kilgore, 11/11/20, New York)

As votes continue to trickle in, Joe Biden's national popular vote lead over Donald Trump, and his percentage of the total vote, is beginning to look pretty impressive despite how close the Electoral College vote has remained, -- and also despite Trump's increasingly empty claims that he somehow actually won. Biden currently leads Trump by over five million votes, or by 3.4 percent of the total. Both numbers are certain to go higher. His popular vote percentage lead is already higher than that of the popular vote winner in 2016, 2004, 2000, 1976, 1968 and 1960. And with the exception of the two earlier Democratic tickets on which Biden appeared (2008 and 2012), the 50.8 percent of the national popular vote the Biden-Harris ticket has won is higher than that of any Democratic ticket since 1964. And that total could soon eclipse the 51.1 percent Obama and Biden received in 2012.

Even House Democrats outpolled Donald by over one million votes.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


Progressives blame 'divide-and-conquer racism' for Democrats' House losses (Kathryn Krawczyk, 11/11/20, The Week)

While the memo did reflect Ocasio-Cortez's plea to stop "placing blame" before a campaign post-mortem was conducted, it did lay out progressive strategies to drive future House gains. Instead of playing into President Trump's "racist appeals against immigrants and Black Lives Matter," Democrats should "take on the Republican party's divide-and-conquer racism head-on," the memo says. Democrats should "invest in organizing the base," "connect economic justice to racial justice," and "drive an economic message that connects with all working people" as well, the memo details. As Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) put it, Democrats need to "really respect every single voice," namely those of marginalized people, instead of "silencing" them like Spanberger suggested.

Part of that economic message is clear in the suggested Biden Cabinet picks the progressive Justice Democrats and Sunrise Movement unveiled Wednesday. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as Labor Secretary and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as Treasury Secretary top their list. Tlaib would be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) would be secretary of state, and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison would be attorney general, among their other choices.

Boy, it's awfully hard to square that memo with Ron Brownstein's analysis of this election, on Kristol Conversations, and how the next few are likely to go.  At a minimum, Democrats need to avoid scaring the children.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Against 'Unity' (DAVID HARSANYI, November 11, 2020, National Review)

Unity is found in comity with your neighbors, in your churches and schools, in your everyday interactions with your community. Politics is not a place for unity. It is a place for airing grievances. And we've got plenty.

From adopting the Left's identitarianism, to its industrial policy, to its protectionism, to its grievance politics, it's been delicious watching the Right become everything conservatives have always opposed.  It's clarifying.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Resisting the Leviathan: The Mayflower Compact (JOSEPH LOCONTE, November 11, 2020, National Review)

The Mayflower Pilgrims, as they came to be called, were committed to "the advancement of the Christian faith" and designed and signed their compact "in the presence of God." But no one seemed to have a theocracy in mind; rather, they sought to form "a civil body politic." Importantly, their new political community would be framed by "just and equal laws" -- laws that would apply without discrimination to all their members. Here, at the very beginning of the American story, one can discern the concepts of equal justice and government by consent of the governed.

We need not romanticize the Pilgrims. These Puritans were seeking religious freedom for themselves, and for themselves alone. Moreover, not everyone signed the compact: Only the adult male passengers, including two indentured servants, were invited. The women, who would do so much to help the company survive, were excluded.

Nevertheless, they all participated in the civic affairs of the colony. After the Mayflower anchored again at Plymouth Rock, the survivors created a largely self-sustaining economy. Their faith gave them a raw determination to succeed, and the political consensus held: Plymouth became the first permanent European settlement in New England. More importantly, the Pilgrims introduced into the West an unprecedented experiment in consensual government, involving not a monarch but individuals acting on their own initiative.

The architects of the problematic 1619 Project have suggested that the year 1619, when enslaved Africans were first brought to America's shores, should be viewed as the authentic date for the American Founding. We should hold fast to 1776. Yet the seeds of that Revolution were indeed planted in 1620: the year when a rugged group of men and women, in a moment of existential crisis, resisted the Leviathan and gambled on self-government.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Sonny Rollins on Jazz as a Music of Freedom (The Quarantine Tapes, November 11, 2020)

Hosted by Paul Holdengräber, The Quarantine Tapes chronicles shifting paradigms in the age of social distancing. Each day, Paul calls a guest for a brief discussion about how they are experiencing the global pandemic.

On Episode 130 of The Quarantine Tapes, Paul Holdengräber is joined by acclaimed jazz musician Sonny Rollins. Sonny and Paul talk about the importance of always continuing to learn. Sonny tells stories from his early days as a musician, from first meeting his influences like Coleman Hawkins and Thelonious Monk to the hours he spent playing music on the Williamsburg Bridge. Sonny says that bravery and freedom have always been inherent elements of jazz that differentiate it from other genres of music. He tells Paul about the spiritual nature of improvisation and how music affects him today in a fascinating conversation that draws from Sonny's decades playing music and learning.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Visits to gyms, restaurants and hotels account for the build of COVID-19 infections, says new study (The New York Post, 10/11/20)

Most COVID-19 cases in large US cities stem from visits to just a few types of places, a new study suggests.

Restaurants, gyms, hotels and houses of worship are among the 10 percent of locations that would appear to account for 80 percent of the infections, according to research published in the journal Nature on Tuesday.

"These are places that are smaller, more crowded, and people dwell there longer," said study co-author and Stanford University Professor Jure Leskovec at a media briefing on the research, CNN reported.

November 10, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


'The ACA is safe': Justice Kavanaugh shocks legal experts by suggesting he will save Obamacare (David Edwards, 11/10/20, Raw Story)

"I tend to agree with you that this is a very straightforward case for severability under our precedents meaning that we would excise the mandate and leave the rest of the act in place," Kavanaugh said.

"That strikes me as the ballgame," Supreme Court expert Ian Millhiser noted on Twitter.

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


UBS increases GM's price target to $50 on 'aggressive' EV plans; stock jumps 6% (Michael Wayland, 11/10/20, CNBC)

UBS analyst Patrick Hummel said GM is "fully back on track and likely enjoys strong momentum well into 2021," including its electric vehicle plans. Investors will start to see GM as more of an "aggressive" electric vehicle company over the next year or two, instead of a slow-growth manufacturer like the rest of the Detroit carmakers, he said.

"With a focus on crystallizing value of its EV strategy ... GM will likely get more credit for being a relative winner in the transition," Hummel wrote in an investor note late-Monday.

While we would have made money off of the GM bailout by holding the stock--not just off of TARP generally--President Obama was too much a capitalist to do so.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


After cosy ties with Trump, Saudi Arabia faces Biden 'pariah' pledge (ANUJ CHOPRA, 11/10/20, AFP) 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose Shakespearean rise to power coincided with the start of Donald Trump's presidency, has largely escaped US censure thanks to his personal ties with the administration.

But Trump's defeat leaves the de facto ruler vulnerable to renewed scrutiny from the kingdom's closest Western ally, which could leave him isolated amid economic challenges that imperil his reform agenda, a griding war in neighbouring Yemen and pockets of opposition to his rule.

While Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner -- who struck up a close rapport with the crown prince -- shielded the heir to the Saudi throne, Biden has vowed to reassess the relationship.

He has slammed what he calls Trump's "dangerous blank check" to the kingdom, pledged justice for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's 2018 murder by Saudi agents and vowed to suspend US arms sales over the catastrophic war in Yemen.

Biden has threatened to make Saudi Arabia "the pariah that they are".

November 9, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Renewable electricity will hit a record this year and knock off coal's 50-year reign by 2025: IEA (Rachel Koning Beals, 11/10/20, Market Watch)

The IEA report published Tuesday said roughly 90% of new electricity generation in 2020 will be renewable, with just 10% powered by gas and coal. The trend puts green electricity on track to become the largest power source in 2025, displacing coal, which has dominated globally for the past 50 years. By 2025, renewables are expected to supply one-third of the world's electricity.

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


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Deceptive Deregulation: The Trump Administration's claims about its deregulatory accomplishments do not withstand scrutiny. (Cary Coglianese, Natasha Sarin, and Stuart Shapiro, 11/02/20, Regulation Review)

President Donald J. Trump and his supporters like to point to the positive economic trends the United States experienced prior to the COVID pandemic. They argue that these positive conditions stemmed from the President's policies, especially his emphasis on deregulation. But what has the Trump Administration really accomplished when it comes to regulation?

The answer is much less than the Administration has claimed--and much less than probably most members of the public would surmise. In a report released today, we attempt to match up the claims the Administration has made about its deregulatory accomplishments with what the evidence actually shows. Drawing in part on new data we compiled from over the last four years, we find that virtually every major claim the Trump Administration has made about deregulation is either wrong or exaggerated. The reality is that the Trump Administration has done less deregulating than regulating, and its deregulatory actions have not achieved any demonstrable boost to the economy.

We can all understand the need of reluctant Trumpers to lie to themselves about the upside of his presidency, but the reality is there was none. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What happens when psychedelics make you see GodDrugs like 'shrooms don't just make people hallucinate. They can also help ease anxiety, depression, and other woes--but the effects may be even better when trips get spiritual. (Sarah Scoles, 11/09/20, Popular Science)

In 2010, almost 20 years into his battle with cancer, Martin read about a strange research program. Participants wouldn't take a magic pill that might shrink their tumors in a novel way. No. They'd be getting drug-drugs: Brain scientists wanted to see how hallucinogens that alter thinking patterns and sensory perceptions might affect afflicted people's mental health. "I had always been interested in psychedelics but never had taken any," says Martin, a retired clinical psychologist. "I was terrified that I would mess up."

With someone else guiding him, though, the experience seemed less risky. Those someones--scientists in the psychiatry department of Johns Hopkins University--are part of the burgeoning field of psychedelic studies. Recently invigorated by a more permissive regulatory environment, the sector investigates if, how, and why reality-bending substances might help human brains. So far, research from all over the world suggests the drugs can break old mental patterns and help fight addiction, alleviate depression, shrink existential fears, and improve relationships.

Additionally, investigators have been surprised by another consistent finding: When people have spiritual experiences while tripping, they're even more likely to kick bad habits and be happier or more satisfied with their lives in the long term. The mysterious encounters take many forms. Sometimes people feel they're in the presence of God, or of a more nebulous entity like Ultimate Reality--a higher power that reveals the truth of the universe--or they just feel a novel connectedness to everything from now back to the big bang and beyond. Because of the link between the mystical and the medical, scientists like those at Johns Hopkins are probing why people have transcendent tendencies at all, how that might help our brains, and what it means for how we perceive the world.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Forget Tesla, Volvo will have electric trucks ready in two years (Matthew Beedham, 11/09/20, Next Web)

As electric passenger cars (EVs) become an increasingly common sight on our roads, there's one classification of vehicle that is still firmly attached to fossil fuels: trucks. I don't mean SUV-type trucks, I mean the real deal: semi-articulated trucks, haulage trucks, 18-wheelers, and so on.

However, that looks like it will start to change for real over the next few years, as companies start to produce electrically powered large-scale commercial vehicles.

Last week, Swedish automaker Volvo Trucks announced that it will start taking orders in Europe for its range of electric heavy-duty work vehicles next year, Business Insider reports. The company says the vehicles will go into production in 2022.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Peter Navarro's No-Good Economic Nationalism Navarro is the missing link between the democratic socialists on the left and the economic nationalists on the right. (ERIC BOEHM, DECEMBER 2020, reason)

By anointing Navarro as, effectively, the czar of a new "economic nationalism" project that disdains free trade and delivers corporate handouts to favored firms, the Trump administration--and, by extension, the GOP--hasn't found a new formula for winning elections or countering China. Instead, Republicans have embraced a warmed-over variant of what they once would have recognized and denounced as the losing economic policies of the political left.

"I don't know why so many people in America hate Hillary Clinton; I found her to be one of the most gracious, intelligent, perceptive, and, yes, classy women I have ever met," wrote Navarro--yes, the same Peter Navarro--in 1999's San Diego Confidential. The book is a thoroughly egotistical exercise: a first-person, beat-by-beat account of Navarro's failed 1996 bid for a seat in Congress. From the perspective of 21 years later, it is also an intriguing historical artifact that is equal parts jarring and illuminating.

That's particularly true whenever the Clintons enter the picture. In the book, Navarro lavishes praise on the then-first lady, who flew to San Diego to host a Navarro rally less than two weeks before the election. He describes the event as "a heavenly experience," even including a copy of the next day's front-page story in The San Diego Union-Tribune, which features a picture of Navarro and Hillary standing side-by-side onstage. When it comes to then-President Bill Clinton, Navarro takes a sharper tone: He criticizes Clinton for working with then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and selling out the left wing of the Democratic Party in the process--a wing with which the Navarro of 1999 clearly identifies.

Indeed, San Diego Confidential is chock full of anecdotes that seem out of place for someone who would eventually rise to power in a Republican White House. Navarro recalls marching in a pride parade in San Diego and makes an appeal for Democrats to recognize gay rights as a political strategy. He describes how excited he was to have Ed Asner--a famously left-wing actor who helped organize a Screen Actors Guild strike in 1980 to protest President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy--record a "powerful and perfect" campaign ad on Navarro's behalf. "I do not trust the Republican Party to do anything but trash the environment under the phony banner of economic progress," he writes.

Joe Matthews, a longtime California political commentator, recently wrote in wonderment that a guy who seemed like "San Diego's Bernie Sanders in the 1990s and 2000s"--though without the electoral success Sanders has enjoyed--could morph into a leading figure in a Republican presidential administration. The explanation, according to Matthews, offers "a lesson about what kinds of people prosper when a nation's civic conversation becomes dominated by anger and accusation."

Navarro was practicing a sort of quasi-populism built around resentment and self-aggrandizement long before Donald Trump appeared on the political scene. As different as the Trump of today and the Navarro of the 1990s might appear at first blush, there is an undeniable similarity that may help explain why the two have been able to work side-by-side for so long in an administration where top advisers have tended to come and go quickly.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Virgin Hyperloop pod transport tests first passenger journey (Zoe Kleinman, 11/09/20, BBC)

In the trial, two passengers - both company staff - travelled the length of a 500m test track in 15 seconds, reaching 107mph (172km/h).

However, this is a fraction of Virgin's ambitions for travel speeds of more than 1,000km/h.

Virgin Hyperloop is not the only firm developing the concept but nobody has carried passengers before.

Sara Luchian, director of customer experience, was one of the two on board and described the experience as "exhilarating both psychologically and physically" to the BBC shortly after the event.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Progressives made Trump's defeat possible -- now it's time to challenge Joe Biden (NORMAN SOLOMON, NOVEMBER 9, 2020, Common Dreams)

The defeat of Donald Trump would not have been possible without the grassroots activism and hard work of countless progressives. Now, on vital issues -- climate, health care, income inequality, militarism, the prison-industrial complex, corporate power and so much more -- it's time to engage with the battle that must happen inside the Democratic Party.

Joe Biden's margin is roughly as wide over Democratic House candidates as it is over Donald.  This election repudiated the Left/Right.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Truth and De-Trumpification (JAN-WERNER MUELLER, 11/05/20, Project Syndicate)

[T]here is no reason, in principle, why a political leader cannot be properly punished for a crime he has committed. Many leaders have been, and some have even returned to political life. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was forced to perform community service following his conviction on charges of tax fraud (his age brought a more lenient sentence). Today, he is sitting in the European Parliament, which makes it hard for anyone to claim that liberal judges simply wanted to silence the Cavaliere. But the point of enforcing the law was to send a clear signal that Berlusconi's strategy of entering politics in order to gain immunity and distract from his shady business dealings would not become a precedent.

Then there is the question of Trump's actual record in office. One can find plenty of deeply objectionable policies, but it would be a mistake to abandon what President Thomas Jefferson, upon succeeding his archrival John Adams in 1801, called "the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it."

The same cannot be said for the corruption and systematic cruelty that the Trump administration has exhibited in its response to the COVID-19 crisis, and in separating children from their parents at the border. As the Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet has suggested, a commission of inquiry should be established to investigate policies and acts that went beyond incompetence into the realm of politically motivated malevolence. It is critical that we establish a proper record of these events, perhaps by offering leniency in exchange for candid accounts. The latter should help thinking about structural reforms, making at least quid pro quo corruption and blatant human-rights abuses less likely. 

Finally, Trump has broken plenty of informal presidential norms, from the relatively trivial - calling people names on Twitter - to the serious: hiding his tax returns. As many US jurists have argued, a prudent response would be to establish a separate commission to study the structural vulnerabilities of the presidency. Such an investigation may find that many informal norms - from financial transparency to relations with the Department of Justice - need to be codified. There would be nothing vengeful about this particular approach. After Watergate, Congress enacted a series of important ethics laws, which both parties tended to accept.

November 8, 2020

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More wind and solar means early closure of coal plants is more likely: We now estimate that Australia's main grid will be around 45% renewable as early as 2025, and that spells bad news for some coal generators. (David Leitch, 8 November 2020, Renew Economy)

The main conclusions are that, rather than slowing down, there has actually been about 3.5GW of utility-scale wind and solar projects getting the final go-ahead so far in 2020. These projects have been driven by the Queensland government, the ACT government, Snowy Hydro and also by large PPAs, typically with US-based technology companies such as Amazon.

Secondly, in total we estimate there is still over 6GW and probably close to 7GW of wind and solar projects that are either in the commissioning, construction or have received go-ahead phases. On top of that, there will be around 6GW of rooftop solar built over the next four years at a capacity factor of, say, 15%, for another 6TWh.

Thirdly, ITK's forecasts allow for even more projects to be announced and come into operation by 2025. This bit of ITK's forecast is entirely speculative and was originally based on nothing more than an assumption that the NEM (National Electricity Market) would reach 50% renewable by 2030 and then back-solving to get to the annual new capacity additions for that target. That number comes to 1.3GW per year, and over 10 years it adds up to 13GW. But so far we are running well ahead of that target.

ITK now estimates that the NEM will be around 45% renewable as early as 2025. Even if you don't believe any new projects will be announced, and why would you believe that, we still estimate 40% (33% wind + solar and 7% hydro).

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Bentley reveals plan to go fully electric by 2030 (BBC, 11/06/20)

Luxury carmaker Bentley has unveiled plans to go fully electric by 2030.

Before then, the brand will be switching its model range to offer only plug-in hybrid or battery electric cars by 2026.

Volkswagen-owned Bentley also aims to be completely carbon neutral across its manufacturing within a decade.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Why the election result is the 'best of both worlds' for stocks, according to JPMorgan's quant guru (Matthew Fox,  Nov. 7, 2020,  Business Insider)

The election of Joe Biden and potential Republican control of the Senate is "likely the best of both worlds for stocks," according to Marko Kolanovic, JPMorgan's global head of macro quantitative and derivatives strategy.

In a note on Friday, Kolanovic said markets should turn the page after Tuesday's election. The election of Joe Biden will help remove a sizable amount of uncertainty from the market, especially if the final results are not contested by President Trump.

Biden as president means investors should expect an easing in America's trade war, which should help boost global growth and corporate earnings, according to the note. Additionally, stock market volatility could be lower under a Biden presidency as there will likely be no market disrupting tweets that catch investors by surprise, Kolanovic said. 

And if Republicans are able to retain control of the Senate, it would ensure that Trump's pro-business policies, like a lower tax rate and de-regulation initiatives, stay intact.

While it's understandable from a psychological perspective, the Republican need to see Donald as ac deregulator flies in the face of his trade, immigration and industrial policies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


He's Fired: Donald Trump has been resoundingly defeated. Enjoy it. (TIM MILLER, NOVEMBER 7, 2020, The Bulwark)

What was overcome.

Donald Trump ran the most cynical and villainous campaign for re-election in modern American history.

He was impeached for extorting an ally into fabricating dirt on his opponent.

He indiscriminately violated the law that forbids presidents from using taxpayer resources to campaign. He even held his party's national political convention on the White House lawn, like a trashy caudillo.

He weaponized the Department of Justice and pressured agencies to favor campaign propaganda over public health.

He smeared his opponent in ways that were grotesque even by the modern standards of electioneering, piling lie upon hideous lie.

He put the lives of untold tens of thousands of Americans at risk to hold the most reckless public gatherings in the entire world amid a global pandemic.

He had at his disposal a massive non-state media operation that echoed his every lie, no matter how preposterous, and ignored every piece of counter-evidence, in order to further his lies.

While Joe Biden hewed to the mores and norms of American politics and basic decency, Donald Trump tried to take every possible advantage, no matter how unethical, untrue, or immoral.

And in the face of all of that, Joe Biden is going to flip 4 or 5 states, end up with a decisive 6+ million margin and earn more votes than any presidential candidate in American history.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


For free marketeers, this was the ideal election result (Matthew Lesh, 11/08/20, CapX)

For economic liberals the usual instinct -- mourning the loss of a Republican presidential ticket -- does not apply to Donald Trump's defeat. He may have cut taxes and red tape, but Trump was a big spending, debt-increasing, trade protectionist who rejected core free market principles.

Americans voted for Joe Biden to get rid of Trump, while thoroughly rejecting the socialist extremes of the Democratic Party. But they have also left Republicans in an unexpectedly strong position.  Trump will be replaced by a moderate centrist. Biden himself is, of course, no free marketeer. He will try to spend even more than Trump, use executive power to strangle businesses with red tape, and is no champion of free trade.

Nevertheless, Biden's victory defenestrates the socialist wing of the Democratic Party, who claimed a moderate would never succeed. can see divided government as a rational choice by voters.

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Iran's Rouhani says Biden win a chance for US to 'compensate for mistakes' (New Arab, 11/08/20)

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday said the next US administration has an opportunity to "compensate for its previous mistakes" following Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election.

"Now there is an opportunity for the future American administration to compensate for its previous mistakes and return to the path of adherence to international commitments," Rouhani said, in a statement on his official website. [...]

This US "administration's harmful and wrong policy for the past three years was not only condemned by people all around the world, but was also opposed by the people of (the US) in the recent election," Rouhani said.

He added that the Iranian people's "heroic resistance against the imposed economic war" by the Trump administration "proved that America's maximum pressure policy is doomed to fail."

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


How 'Obamagate' and Hunter's 'laptop from hell' fizzled (KYLE CHENEY and ANDREW DESIDERIO, 11/08/2020, Politico)

In the end, "the biggest political scandal in the history of our country" and "the second biggest political scandal in our history" turned out to be neither.

President Donald Trump's eleventh-hour efforts to impart a stain of criminality onto President-elect Joe Biden through a series of vague, circuitous and often false allegations, did little but inflame his committed supporters. And the months-long investigations by his Republican allies in the Senate failed to gain traction outside of the Trumpworld echo chamber as Trump hurtled toward an Election Day defeat. Now, Trump is facing his own mounting scandals that are likely to dog him post-presidency.

The Logan Act. Burisma. Tony Bobulinski. John Brennan. Unmasking. The Durham probe. "The laptop from hell." They were all on Trump's last-ditch Bingo card, flummoxing voters who hadn't followed every twist in the tangled narratives. And as Election Day approached, even Trump's Capitol Hill allies who were supporting ongoing congressional investigations into those issues began to back away, warning that the issues weren't connecting with the electorate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Trump now facing reality of 'two avenues' of criminal charges after loss to Joe Biden: CNN (Tom Boggioni, 11/08/20, Raw Story)

One day after Donald Trump learned he won't be serving a second term, CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said the  president needs to prepare himself for the possibility of criminal indictments the moment President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in. [...]

"He loses his protections," he began. "He's avoided trouble by being in the White House -- there are laws and policies, especially in the Justice Department, that protect a sitting president. He will not be the sitting president at 12:01 on January 20th."

"He's got potential exposure from the federal government, from the Department of Justice, and potentially from the Manhattan prosecutors -- they are focusing on the Manhattan state prosecutors, the D.A's office are focusing on various financial fraud," he added. "In some ways that's easier to prove and easier to prosecute than some of the things that might be federal; for example obstruction of justice. But he's looking at at least two different avenues of potential criminal exposure once he gets out of office."

President Biden's instinct will be to pardon Donald, but it's important to put down a marker that crimes like his will be punished.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Biden vows immediate, science-based action on virus (AFP, 11/08/20, Digital Journal)

"On Monday I will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisors to help take the Biden-Harris plan and convert it into an actual blueprint that will start on January 20, 2021," Biden told supporters.

Earlier in the day, he had emphasised the urgency he placed on beating the pandemic.

"I want everyone, everyone, to know on day one we're going to put our plan to control this virus into action," Biden said before he had been declared the winner.

Unlike Biden, Trump held massive campaign rallies ahead of the November 3 vote, insisting the US was "rounding the turn" despite the virus surges.

Trump campaigned after contracting the virus himself.

Senior members of his administration have also contracted the virus recently. Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was the latest to test positive, media said late Friday.

November 7, 2020

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Biden will stop the border wall and loosen immigration again (REBECCA RAINEY and BRYAN BENDER, 11/07/2020, Politico)

"There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration, No. 1," Biden told National Public Radio earlier this year. "I'm going to make sure that we have border protection, but it's going to be based on making sure that we use high-tech capacity to deal with it."

That could also mean withdrawing National Guard troops Trump sent to the border to support the Department of Homeland Security, a deployment extended through this year.

Beyond the wall, the president-elect's broader immigration plans represent a complete reversal of the Trump administration's policies over the past several years -- and he can accomplish much of it fairly easily.

Biden wants to expand opportunities for legal immigration, including family and work-based visas as well as access to humanitarian visa programs. Biden's immediate moves would largely entail rescinding various actions initiated under Trump that barred immigrants from certain countries and curtailed legal immigration, including new restrictions on asylum and rules making it harder for poor immigrants to obtain legal status.

Biden also has vowed to prioritize the reunification of any families still separated under the Trump administration's now-defunct "zero-tolerance" policy -- which led to the separation and detention of more than 2,800 migrant families and children in 2018.

And, with that, it's as if Donald never existed.

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Biden Wins -- Pretty Convincingly In The End (Nate Silver, 11/07/20, 538)

It's not a landslide, by any means, but this is a map that almost any Democrat would have been thrilled about if you'd shown it to them a year ago. Biden looks to have reclaimed the three "blue wall" states -- Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin (ABC News has announced that Biden is the "apparent winner" in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin1) -- that were central to Hillary Clinton's loss. He may also win Arizona (he would become the first Democrat to do so since 1996) and, in the opposite corner of the country, Georgia (the first Democratic winner there since 1992). Additionally, Biden easily won Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, which could be a thorn in the side of Republicans going forward. He also ran far ahead of Clinton in rural northern states such as Maine, Minnesota and New Hampshire.

Extrapolating out from current vote totals, I project Biden winning the popular vote by 4.3 percentage points and getting 81.8 million votes to President Trump's 74.9 million, with a turnout of around 160 million. This is significant because no candidate has ever received 70 million votes in an election -- former President Barack Obama came the closest in 2008, with 69.5 million votes -- let alone 80 million. That may also be a slightly conservative projection, given the blue shift we've seen so far and the fact that late-counted votes such as provisional ballots often lean Democratic. I'd probably bet on Biden's popular vote margin winding up at closer to 5 points than to 4, and 6 points isn't entirely out of the question either.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Emmanuel Macron's Trumpian transformation (John Keiger, November 7, 2020, The Spectator)

He started as a globalist, a multilateralist, a Europeanist, who scorned those, like Trump or Brexiteers, who sought to defend their nation's sovereignty and interests. But progressively his discourse and his policies -- while wearing the clothes of multilateralism - have in practice promoted the nation state, partly as a result of COVID, partly financial necessity, partly Islamist terrorism. The turn began a year -- and-a-half ago, when in a speech to French ambassadors he acknowledged a certain debt to Brexiteers for highlighting the term 'Take back control'. He badged it as a way forward for Europe against globalism. Now it has ratcheted down a notch to the nation state.

Macron's retreat into the Trumpian promotion of the nation state continues unabated. Whether it be PPE, repatriating French overseas industry, buying French products, taking French holidays and, little by little, curbing immigration, the nation state and national sovereignty loom ever larger in Macron's policies. Given that the last two terror attacks were by recent migrants from Chechnya and Tunisia, only yesterday he was at the Franco-Spanish border town of Le Perthus explaining in Schengen shredding mode that France's borders would be reinforced against illegal immigration and terrorism by doubling border guard numbers to 4,800. How much he must regret the new EU policy requiring member states to take a proportionate share of all immigrants who enter Europe, forcing France to take far more than hitherto.

They particularly share the Islamophobia of the secularist.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


'Radical left?' Try again. On Israel, VP-elect Harris may be to right of Biden (JACOB MAGID , 11/07/20, Times of Israel)

From the moment Kamala Harris was introduced as the vice presidential nominee for the Democratic Party in August, US President Donald Trump and the Republican Party launched a campaign attempting to brand her as a "radical" politician who would pull Joe Biden to the far left. [...]

In fact, the vice president elect's record on the Jewish state indicates that she may be even more hawkish than Biden, who has sought throughout the campaign to differentiate himself from the progressive wing of the Democratic party.

Harris has only been on the national stage since 2017, but the stances she has taken in her three years as Senator place her rather squarely in the traditional pro-Israel camp of her party.

The first resolution she co-sponsored as a senator was one effectively condemning the Obama-Biden administration's decision to abstain on a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Harris highlighted the co-sponsorship in a 2017 speech at AIPAC's policy policy conference, saying it would help "combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations and reaffirm that the United States seeks a just, secure and sustainable two-state solution."

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


The 2020 Election Has Brought Progressives to the Brink of Catastrophe (Eric Levitz, 11/07/20, New York)

This state of affairs makes it exceedingly difficult for the Democratic Party to win control of the Senate, while remaining faithful to the aspirations of its predominantly urban base. In the view of Democratic data scientist David Shor, 2020 was the party's last, best chance to win a Senate majority for the foreseeable future: Red-state incumbents Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, and Sherrod Brown held onto their seats in 2018 - with the help of a historically Democratic national environment - but are unlikely to be so lucky when they are on the ballot again in 2024. Thus, the party's best hope was to eke out a majority in 2020, while it still had votes in unlikely places - and then, to use that majority to award statehood to Democratic leaning territories like D.C., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, thereby mitigating the coalition's structural disadvantage.

On Tuesday, Democrats likely missed their shot. To win a Senate majority (after Doug Jones's inevitable loss to a non-child molester Republican in Alabama), Democrats needed to flip four Republican seats without losing any more of their own. Their most plausible path for hitting that mark was to win races in Maine, Colorado, Arizona, and North Carolina. But Susan Collins won handily in Maine, and Thom Tillis appears to have bested Cal Cunningham in the Tar Heel State. That leaves Democrats two seats short of a bare majority.

The party still retains an outside shot at capturing those two seats: It looks like both of Georgia's Senate races are headed for January run-off elections between the top two finishers, with Republican Kelly Loefller facing off against Democratic pastor Raphael Warnock, and Republican David Perdue taking on former Barack Obama impersonator Jon Ossoff. The odds of Democrats sweeping these races aren't great. Generally speaking, in special elections held right after presidential ones, the party that's just lost the White House tends to enjoy a turnout advantage, as winners get complacent while losers thirst for vengeance. Further, if Ossoff forces Perdue into a run-off, he will do so only barely: Perdue needed 50 percent plus a single vote to win reelection Tuesday; he appears likely to finish with something in the neighborhood of 49.9 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, anyone with remotely progressive political commitments should contribute anything they can to winning these two races.

If Democrats fail to pull off an improbable triumph in the Peach State, then the Biden presidency will be doomed to failure before it starts. With Mitch McConnell in control of the Senate, Biden will not be allowed to appoint a Supreme Court justice, or appoint liberals to major cabinet positions, or sign his name to a major piece of progressive legislation; and that may very well mean that the U.S. government will not pass any significant climate legislation, or expansion of public health insurance, or immigration reform, or gun safety law this decade.

With Biden in the White House, there is a good chance that Republicans will grow their majority in 2022, as the GOP will enjoy the turnout advantage that almost always accrues to the president's opposition in midterms. Two years later, Democrats are more likely than not to lose their aforementioned red-state incumbents. Extrapolate from current demographic trends, and Democrats don't take the Senate again until 2028 or later. [...]

The bad news for Democrats extends to the one site of federal power where they had appeared to be building strength, if not a structural advantage: The House of Representatives. As the borders of blue America extended farther into the suburbs, it was possible to imagine that Republicans would eventually see their base of support become more geographically concentrated in rural areas than the Democratic Party's base was in cities, leading the GOP to "waste" more votes by running up the score in exurban districts. But, contrary to expectations, Democrats did not fortify and expand their caucus Tuesday night; rather they surrendered recently won suburban districts on their way to a significant loss of seats.

Making matters worse, as of this writing, Democrats have failed to flip control of any state legislative chambers ahead of next year's House redistricting. To the contrary, Democrats lost control of the New Hampshire state Senate and Alaska state House. Now, the GOP boasts full control of state government (and thus, of redistricting) in 22 states, while Democrats control only nine. This will enable Republicans to produce a new and improved gerrymandered House and state legislative maps for the next decade of elections (gerrymanders that may be further enhanced by a shoddy Census that undercounts Democratic constituencies).

President Jeb would have won in a walkover.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Ja'Ron Smith, Trump's highest-ranking Black aide, is leaving the White House (Connor Perrett , 11/07/20, Business Insider)

"When joining the Trump Administration, I set out to achieve the empty promises of the past, and I am proud to say promises made, promises kept," Smith said in a Friday statement posted to Twitter, confirming his departure.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tony Blinken Will Get a Top Job in Biden Admin, Sources Say (Hanna Trudo, Erin Banco & Spencer Ackerman, Nov. 06, 2020, Daily Beast)

Blinken has been a central fixture in Bidenworld for decades. He was Biden's chief foreign policy adviser on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where his geopolitical convictions--and profile as a negotiator--were honed. He then followed Biden to the White House in Obama's first term, serving as the vice president's national security adviser. As deputy secretary of state, Blinken was a key figure in selling Congress on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

While secretary of state remains perhaps the most sought-after prize for which Blinken is a top contender, two sources familiar told The Daily Beast that he is also being reviewed for national security adviser and that Biden's decision would depend on whether he wants to keep one of his closest political hands nearby in the White House.

"Because he's so close to Biden and has been for years, that kind of relationship usually leads first to national security adviser, then maybe you move over to State," the source familiar said. "The logic seems pretty strong."

Blinken was the Biden campaign's premiere foreign policy surrogate and spokesperson during the general election, presenting a Biden agenda as a return to traditionalist multilateralism, particularly on a restoration of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate-change accords. Biden himself has embraced that posture on the trail.

"Not a single one of the big challenges we face, whether it's climate change or mass migration or technological disruption or pandemic disease, can be met by any one country acting alone, even one as powerful as our own," Blinken told the "Intelligence Matters" podcast last month, echoing a line from Biden's July 2019 foreign policy speech.

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Free Markets Are Ruthless Regulators (James R. Rogers, 11/05/20, Law & Liberty)

Socialism--social ownership of the means of production--is a well-known alternative to markets. Less known, however, is that, decades ago, socialist economists conceded that an efficient socialist economy would replicate market outcomes. To be sure, the likelihood that a system of centralized planning could replicate market outcomes is another question entirely. The debate is lengthy and is well-known; there's little need to rehash it here.

While there are indeed examples of socialism in the United States, that is, where the government owns the means of production (public schools, roads, some hospitals, and, until 2001, a cement plant in South Dakota), what today's American "socialists" mainly advocate is enhanced social insurance and, for businesses, some form of cartelism or enhanced regulation that would have the same effect.

Government-run "cartels" exist when business ownership remains in private hands, but production and pricing decisions are made by government-created planning boards. Cartelization was the centerpiece of the economic program of FDR's National Industrial Recovery Act during the Great Depression. Yet even today, government organized cartels continue in some markets in the U.S., particularly in agriculture, and there is increasing interest in adopting some form of "managed agricultural supply," as in Canada. There are some calls to have the government expand cartels broadly throughout the economy. In his book, The New Class War, Michael Lind expressly advocates New Deal-like cartels as a part of the solution to America's current economic problems. 

The point of government-run cartels is precisely to mute the prisoner's-dilemma aspect of markets as deleterious to the common good. The irony of cartelization, however, is that, by design, it distributes benefits less broadly than markets do, and cartels impose "deadweight" losses on society relative to markets. 

First, the crazy genius of markets is that they democratize, or socialize, the benefits of production rather than socialize the means of production. It's easiest to see this with price competition, but it occurs with quality competition also. The prisoner's-dilemma incentive structure created by markets induces business owners to dissipate their profits (beyond those minimally needed to stay in business) through lower prices. Everybody throughout society has access to these lower prices. Further, as profits are democratized through the market in the form of lowers prices, everybody's dollar goes further. The same nominal wage for a worker will purchase more goods and services as these profits are dissipated through price competition. Living standards go up even though nominal wages may not.

The economic case for cartels typically revolves around protecting businesses from "ruinous competition" (that is, the market's prisoner's dilemma) for the stated purpose of providing higher wages to workers. (While the stated goal is usually to increase wages, truth be told, cartels rarely hurt owner profits as well.) Yet these gains--while they can be real for the workers in the cartelized industry --are distributed far less democratically than the market distributes those same gains. The gains are limited to the workers in the cartelized market rather than distributed to everyone in society.

Like other regulatory tools, markets are not always optimal, just as taxes, or subsidies, or civil or criminal penalties are not always the right regulatory tool for every situation.

The impact of cartelization is not simply a matter of redistributing gains from everyone throughout society to a privileged set of owners and workers in cartelized industries. Added to the redistribution of gains from all to some, cartels also shrink the size of the economic pie that gets distributed.

The problem with cartelization relative to the regulatory effects of market competition is that cartels raise prices and reduce supply. The supply reduction and increased prices, which is the very purpose of cartels, creates a deadweight loss that market pricing does not create. Essentially, the economic pie is smaller with cartels than with markets because cartels stymie the prisoner's-dilemma aspect of markets. Basically, the democratic pricing systems generated by the regulation of market competition provide more benefits for people than prices under a cartel system.

Once we have the wealth we can determine how to share it politically.

November 6, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Biden Had One Job and He Did It (Ed Kilgore, 11/07/20, New York)

[T]he president's job-approval rating was the lowest this year in January, before the pandemic began, and reached its highest point in March, when the first big wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths had already hit. Trump's reelection bid made the voting inevitably a referendum on his presidency, and the negative judgment Americans rendered on his performance never varied enough to matter for the ultimate outcome. His strategy of polarizing the electorate, energizing his base, and demonizing the opposition never varied, either; those waiting for a Trump "pivot" to a positive case for his record or a clear-cut presentation of his agenda waited in vain.

If Trump relied excessively on painting a caricature of the "Democrat" party and its "socialist" plans and love for looters and terrorists and open borders, then by nominating Joe Biden, the Democrats made that caricature even more incredible than it might have otherwise been. In the end, it was all but impossible for persuadable voters to imagine Uncle Joe in a Che Guevara T-shirt, lustily closing churches and partying with antifa "thugs." And Trump's alternative efforts to suggest Biden is the senile stooge of "the Squad" or the "communist" and "monster" Kamala Harris didn't fare much better, since she regularly outclassed him in coherence and self-discipline. We'll never know how Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg or Harris herself might have fared as a presidential nominee against Trump. But the two abiding things about the 45th president have been his unpopularity and his inability to disguise or even distract from the aspects of his personality that made nearly half the electorate rule out even the possibility of voting for him. The fact that he outperformed his poll numbers doesn't change any of that, as will become clearer as the final votes are counted and Biden's popular-vote and electoral-vote margins swell.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


The Batteries of the Future Are Weightless and Invisible  (DANIEL OBERHAUS, 11.06.2020, Wired)

Today, batteries account for a substantial portion of the size and weight of most electronics. A smartphone is mostly a lithium-ion cell with some processors stuffed around it. Drones are limited in size by the batteries they can carry. And about a third of the weight of an electric vehicle is its battery pack. One way to address this issue is by building conventional batteries into the structure of the car itself, as Tesla plans to do. Rather than using the floor of the car to support the battery pack, the battery pack becomes the floor.

But for Greenhalgh and his collaborators, the more promising approach is to scrap the battery pack and use the vehicle's body for energy storage instead. Unlike a conventional battery pack embedded in the chassis, these structural batteries are invisible. The electrical storage happens in the thin layers of composite materials that make up the car's frame. In a sense, they're weightless because the car is the battery. "It's making the material do two things simultaneously," says Greenhalgh. This new way of thinking about EV design can provide huge performance gains and improve safety because there won't be thousands of energy-dense, flammable cells packed into the car.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Racial Tolerance Was on the Ballot--and Won (Matt Ford, 11/06/20, New Republic)

In Alabama, roughly two-thirds of voters supported Amendment 4, which will rewrite the state's constitution to excise racist and obsolete language. As a product of the Jim Crow era, Alabama's 1901 constitution includes a number of provisions that no longer carry legal force but remain on the books. Section 256, for example, says that "no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race." Section 102 forbids the state legislature from passing laws that "authorize or legalize any marriage between any white person and a negro, or descendant of a negro." Alabama won't rewrite the constitution from whole cloth, but the state will now "recompile" it without the bigoted provisions.

Next door in Mississippi, voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of a new state flag to replace the one discarded by state lawmakers earlier this year. Mississippi's previous state flag was the last in the Union to feature the Confederate battle emblem, a highly visible reminder of the state's segregationist past. The new flag, which was designed by a commission chosen by state leaders that include tribal leaders, features a magnolia blossom (the state flower) as well as a five-point star that symbolizes the state's indigenous communities. It sailed to victory with more than 70 percent of the vote. (Had it lost, the state would've simply chosen a new design instead of returning to the old one.) [...]

Utahns approved two constitutional amendments that also carried symbolic weight. Amendment A will revise the state's constitution to replace terms like "husband" or "wife" or gendered pronouns with gender-neutral language. Amendment C tightens Utah's state constitutional ban on slavery by forbidding it as a punishment for a crime. While the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude at the federal level in 1865, it included an exception "as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." The proposed amendment from Utah lawmakers removes the exception from its similarly worded state-level ban. Voters in Nebraska also approved a similar anti-slavery amendment this week.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Republicans' silver lining in Pennsylvania (Brandon McGinley, November 6, 2020, The week)

That is, however, one of the only successes for Pennsylvania Democrats in this election. In the state House, state Senate, and even the row offices the party has held cycle after cycle, Democratic candidates fared poorly. While everyone rightly focuses on the White House, the down-ballot success of Republicans may prove an even more important development for our politics in the long term. [...]

Pennsylvania voters trust Democrats with their row offices, especially treasurer and auditor general (the law-and-order nature of the attorney general's office seems to attract more votes to Republican candidates). Since 1961, two Republicans have held either office: Barbara Hafer held both but switched parties in 2003, and R. Budd Dwyer famously ended his second term as treasurer in January, 1987, by shooting himself on live television. This year, pending the final mail-in tally, Republicans are poised to win at least auditor general and possibly treasurer. Importantly, both candidates are outperforming Donald Trump.

The row office elections tell us a lot about the true party affiliation of the electorate. Unless a candidate is otherwise famous or infamous, few voters are knowledgeable about the races: They vote on vague impressions from anodyne advertisements, the names of the candidates, and, most of all, which party they trust with boring government work. In 2020, despite the president's (apparent) narrow loss, the Pennsylvania electorate delivered a vote of confidence in the Republican Party that it has not received here in generations.

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Trump, the Pathetic Loser: On the edge of defeat, the president clings to his lies. (AMANDA CARPENTER  NOVEMBER 5, 2020, The Bulwark)

On Thursday night, staring down the abyss of defeat, President Trump marched into the White House briefing room and did what he has always done when backed into a corner. He unfurled lies. He claimed everything is "rigged" against him. He inflated his accomplishments to vertiginous heights.

All while the votes against him in decisive battleground states ticked higher and higher, a silent metronome in the background relentlessly counting toward his political demise.

While Trump's bluster might have been enthralling in the past--or at least hard to look away from, like a car accident--this time, the television lights made his typical bronze glow look like mortuary makeup. He was a political dead man walking. Everyone knew it. Even him. His tone was grave, which only made his lies all the more loathsome.

The amount of ticket-splitting required to achieve these results makes this election simply a repudiation of Donald and of Trumpism.

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It might not feel like it, but the election is workingNothing about 2020 is normal, but the elections are proceeding as expected--despite claims otherwise. (Patrick Howell O'Neill, November 5, 2020, MIT Technology Review)

The fact that the vote count is slower than usual is unavoidably stressful--but it's also exactly what officials and experts have said for months would happen as every vote is counted. 

"I think how the election process has played out has been remarkable," says David Levine, the elections integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy. "I think the entire country owes a tremendous gratitude to state and local election officials and those that have worked closely with them against the backdrop of foreign interference, coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest, and frankly inadequate support from the federal government. We have an election that has gone reasonably well." 

By any measure, the 2020 election scores better than any in recent history on security, integrity, and turnout. Election infrastructure is more secure: the Department of Homeland Security installed Albert sensors in election systems, which warn officials of intrusion by hackers, and the National Security Agency has been aggressively hunting hacking groups and handing intelligence to officials around the country. Election officials have invested in paper backup systems so they can more easily recover from technical problems.

There are still weak points, especially with the electronic poll books used to sign voters in and with verifying results when a candidate demands a recount. But more states now have paper records as a backup to electronic voting, and more audits will take place this year than in any previous American election.

The pandemic itself is one reason for these improvements. The increase in mail-in and early voting meant that ballots were cast over a month-long period. That helps security because activity isn't all focused on a single day, said a CISA official in a press briefing. It gives election officials more time to deal with both normal mistakes and malicious attacks, and any problems that do arise affect fewer voters. And more Americans will want to vote this way in the future, said Benjamin Hovland, the top federal elections official and a Trump appointee.

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Trump aides reportedly had to explain to the president that his demand to 'STOP THE COUNT' would actually guarantee his loss (Bill Bostock, 11/06/20, Business Insider)

After that tweet, Trump aides scrambled to reel in the president, telling him that calling for all counts to be stopped was extremely unwise as it would hand Biden victory, multiple reports said.

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Russia Denies Putin 'Stepping Down as Leader Due to Parkinson's Disease' (ZOE DREWETT, 11/6/20, Newsweek)

The Kremlin has denied reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to step down due to health problems, the Russian state-owned TASS news agency reports.

November 5, 2020

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After Big Wins Down Ballot, One-Party Rule To Return To N.H. State House (RICK GANLEY & MARY MCINTYRE, 11/05/20, NHPR)

Rick Ganley: Well, I want to ask you about your first term as governor. You had the GOP controlling the legislature, your second term, Democrats holding majorities. Now, in both cases, it wasn't always smooth sailing. I mean, you are known for a record number of vetoes. What have you learned about working with lawmakers and how have those relationships evolved over time?

Chris Sununu: You know, as many vetoes as we had, and yes there are obviously bumpy times in every State House. But you always find a way to work through it. For the most part, you really do. There's a lot of things I vetoed that I think we could come back to. For example, the dental bill. We want to include dental for Medicaid, for folks that have Medicaid. The price is just way, way too high. I think there's a good middle ground, but let's get back to that. And so there's a lot of those bipartisan initiatives that I think we can.

But everyone has their own working style. And having 400 representatives, it's a lot, right? And so I can't meet with every single one of them. I'll be trying to meet with them in committee form or whatever it might be. But you kind of have to learn people's working styles. And I think that helps you, you know, understand what their priorities are. Republican, Democrat, it doesn't matter. Everyone just wants the best for their community. And when you go in with that mindset, that look, you might disagree on process, you might disagree on policy, but everyone is coming from the right place, I think that kind of gives a kind of an empathetic connection across that party line to get stuff done.

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Thousands of Omaha-area voters backed Democrat Biden, Republican Bacon (Joseph Morton, Henry Cordes, Nov 5, 2020, Omaha Herald)

Jay C. Jackson describes himself as a pro-life Republican whose Papillion yard sported campaign signs this cycle for Rep. Don Bacon and Sen. Ben Sasse.

Next to that pair of Nebraska Republicans, however, was another sign featuring Abraham Lincoln in Aviator sunglasses and the slogan "Ridin' with Biden."

"My wife and I have always felt there are bigger things than policies that are involved in this election and that President Trump was not somebody that we could vote for," Jackson said.

Jackson was one of many "Biden-Bacon" voters in Nebraska's Omaha-based 2nd District who decided to split their 2020 tickets. That group was key to Bacon defeating his Democratic challenger, Kara Eastman, by several percentage points and securing a third term in Congress even as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden won the district and its lone Electoral College vote.

In all, Eastman underperformed Biden's numbers by nearly 20,000 votes. She was able to stick close with the former vice president in heavily Democratic areas such as North Omaha. But she received about 4,000 fewer votes than Biden did in Sarpy County, a Republican-heavy area where voters such as Jackson live, and even in many precincts where both Biden and Eastman prevailed, her vote totals lagged his.

In Douglas County, Biden and Eastman both easily carried a precinct just north of Memorial Park, for example, but Eastman failed to run up the score there as much as Biden did. Instead she fell short of Biden's performance by about 10 percentage points. A precinct that includes much of the Candlewood neighborhood in west Omaha also showed the difference. Trump edged out Biden, who got about 48% of the vote. But Eastman fared much worse, receiving only 38%.

Jackson said he has moderate views on certain issues but generally favors traditional Republican platform positions such as smaller government and religious freedom -- making it easy to back Bacon and Sasse.

The five most popular governors in America are Republicans and Donald got annihilated in four of their states.

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The Xenobot Future Is Coming--Start Planning Now: We're on the cusp of being able to program biological systems like we program computers. That raises some thorny questions. (AMY WEBB, 11.04.2020, wired)

Crispr routinely makes headlines. To the degree that people are even aware that life can be edited, it's this technique they tend to reference. But Crispr, while powerful, is problematic: Scientists can't directly see the changes they're making to a molecule. What if I told you that soon we'll have not only read and edit access to genetic material, but write access too? Meaning that, in the not-too-distant future, we will program living, biological structures as though they are tiny computers.

A new field of science called "synthetic biology" aims to do just this by digitizing genetic manipulation. Sequences are loaded into software tools--like a word processor, but for DNA code--and are eventually printed using something akin to a 3D printer. Rather than editing genetic material in or out of DNA, synthetic biology gives scientists the ability to write entirely new organisms that have never existed. Imagine a synthetic biology app store, where you could download and add new capabilities into any cell, microbe, plant, or animal. If that sounds implausible, consider this: Last year, UK researchers synthesized the world's first living organism--E. coli--that contained DNA created by humans rather than nature. Earlier this year, a group of researchers started with a cluster of stem cells from an African clawed frog as a base, and then used a supercomputer, a virtual environment, and evolutionary algorithms to create 100 generations of prototypes to build. The result: a tiny blob of programmable tissue called a xenobot. These living robots can undulate, swim, and walk. They work collaboratively and can even self-heal. They're tiny enough to be injected into human bodies, travel around, and--maybe someday--deliver targeted medicines.

These little blobs are an example of write-access to life--a relatively new field of science. This umbrella term refers to the many different areas of research, tools, and systems aiming to remix, redesign, and optimize the living world. And the types of conversations we're having today about artificial intelligence--misplaced fear and optimism, irrational excitement about market potential, statements of willful ignorance made by our elected officials--will mirror the conversations we will soon be having about synthetic biology.

"synthetic biology" is redundant.

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The stock market's best returns have occurred under Democratic presidents with a split Congress (Yun Li, Nov. 5th, 2020, CNBC)

Vote counting continued Thursday in the tight presidential race, but odds of a Joe Biden win and a split Congress have increased. If that's the final outcome, history shows that this type of gridlock in Washington has been quite market-friendly for stocks.

The stock market has enjoyed the best returns under a Democratic presidency and a split Congress, according to Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research, who analyzed data going back to the end of 1944. The S&P 500 has rallied 13.6% on average during a calendar year with such a political makeup, the data showed.

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Win or lose, results suggest Trump was a liability for Republicans (Haviv Rettig Gur, 11/05/20, Times of Israel)

The US presidential race isn't over. It seems to be leaning heavily toward Democratic former vice president Joe Biden. But even if Donald Trump defies the odds and manages to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, mounting evidence from Tuesday's results suggests he may have hurt the GOP's prospects at the ballot box. [...]

[T]rump did worse than Republican House and Senate candidates in the key battleground states, caused measurable disquiet among voters who lined up to vote for him, and was named by almost half of Biden's voters as a key reason they had come out to vote.

It isn't just that a July Pew study found one-quarter of Trump voters were uncomfortable with his "temperament." On Tuesday, Republican House candidates generally did better than their party leader, while a Washington Post examination of Senate races in nine battleground states found that in seven of them Trump did worse than the Republican Senate candidate.

In Maine, for example, Biden won the state, while Republican incumbent Senator Susan Collins defied months of bad poll numbers to emerge the winner. It's a similar story in Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina.

While both sides saw a run on the polls this time around, Republicans have only won the popular vote once in the past 28 years (George W. Bush's second-term win in 2004). This time was no different; and, indeed, and under Trump's leadership, the popular vote gap has only grown. According to the Federal Elections Commission's final tally of the 2016 popular vote, Clinton led Trump by 2.87 million votes. As of Thursday afternoon, with hundreds of thousands of votes still unannounced, Biden leads by a larger 3.7 million margin, a lead expected to grow as more mail-in ballots are counted.

The popular vote doesn't decide an American election, of course, but it's a bellwether that over the long term Republicans can't afford to ignore.

Trump also slipped among many vital constituencies. According to an ABC News analysis of exit polls collected by national media outlets, Biden won suburban voters by three points; Trump had won them by four points in 2016. Trump's lead shrank among longstanding Republican-leaning constituencies, including white voters, Evangelicals, and military voters (where a 24-point lead dropped to seven). Biden won independents by 14 points, a 20-point swing from Trump's six-point lead in 2016. First-time voters favored Biden by a 34-point margin, up from Hillary Clinton's 20-point lead in 2016.

Again, none of these details in and of themselves define the race. But taken together, it's fair to suggest that even at a time of soaring turnout -- the highest since 1900 -- Republicans fell further behind this year even among their core voters.

He's not a Republican.

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Anthony Scaramucci says markets like the idea that there may not be a 'blue wave' (Abigail Ng, 11/05/20, CNBC)

Investors appear happy that there may not be a "blue wave" outcome in the U.S. elections, as seen in the rally in world markets, said Anthony Scaramucci, a hedge fund investor and former White House communications director.

U.S. stock futures rose on Thursday following a positive session on Wednesday. Asian markets rallied in Thursday trade, while European markets also climbed higher.

"I think the markets do like the notion that there wasn't a 'blue wave,'" Scaramucci, founder and co-managing partner of Skybridge Capital, told CNBC's Hadley Gamble and Matthew Taylor on Thursday.

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Higher Arab American turnout in 2020 could have helped Biden win Michigan, while Black voters and other young voters of color led the way in the battleground state (Azmi Haroun, 11/05/20, Business Insider)

Initial reports point to Arab American and Black voters as crucial to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's win in the battleground state of Michigan. 

Early polling and initial exit polling from the Arab American Institute and CAIR suggest that Arab American and Muslim voters voted in higher numbers this year than in 2016, and overwhelmingly for Biden. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said that Michigan had broken its record for turnout in a presidential election.

Late results on Wednesday from several counties in Michigan ended up throwing the race in Biden's favor. Wayne and Oakland Counties, which have high percentages of Black, Latino, Asian, and Arab residents, proved crucial in the final counts.

Wayne County is home to Detroit and Dearborn, where the Arab American Institute estimates that over 200,000 Arab Americans live. According to Muslim advocacy group Emgage, in 2020, over 81,000 Muslims came out to vote in early and absentee voting alone in Michigan.

Early voting lines appear to mirror the full results in Wayne County with Biden winning about 70% of the eligible Arab American vote.

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Saint Patrick, Ireland's original Protestant? (Deirdre Nuttall, 11/05/20, Irish Times)

What Irish Protestants of all social backgrounds often share is a sort of ambivalence about their cultural or ethnic identity and the desire to assert themselves as truly Irish while at the same time recognising that history and their cultural experiences are "different" in various ways.

One of the most intriguing cultural manifestations of this ambivalence and assertion of Irishness is found in the view of St Patrick as Ireland's original Protestant. Given that Patrick was engaged in missionary work in Ireland long before the Reformation, it is interesting to explore this point of view, which developed as an important origin story of the Protestants of Ireland, helping them to assert the essential Irishness of their faith while also making a firm statement about identity.

James Ussher 1580-1656, Archbishop of Armagh, originally introduced the idea that the Anglican Church of Ireland is the true Celtic religion of Ireland, founded by St Patrick in the fifth century. Photograph: Universal History Archive/Getty Images
The idea that the Anglican Church of Ireland is the true Celtic religion of Ireland, founded by St Patrick in the fifth century, crystallised in the 18th century (having been originally introduced by Archbishop Ussher in the 17th century) in the context of a surge of intellectual interest in Gaelic culture. Later, during the Gaelic revival and intense interest in Ireland's Celtic past, various Protestant intellectuals and churchmen studied Irish as part of their quest to prove that St Patrick was a Protestant. They maintained Catholicism entered Ireland only in the 12th century, under Henry II, ushering in a dark period that ended when the Protestant faith reintroduced 'true' Christianity to the island.

This belief came to be very important to the self-image of the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian church in particular. In 1885 a group of clergymen anonymously published a Historical Catechism, on the title page of which the words Erin Go Bragh appear, in which they discuss their belief that Patrick introduced Protestantism to Ireland. They also claim numerous other Irish saints for the Church of Ireland, including Columba, Columbanus and Aidan, and claim that the arrival of Catholicism in 1172 forced "a series of calamities hardly to be equalled in the world" on Ireland, from which the Irish could only be saved by a return to the "ancient [Protestant] faith".

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland also claimed St Patrick. A history of Presbyterianism published in 1959 affirms that his teachings "are in harmony with evangelical Christianity", and that Patrick's form of Christianity, interpreted as being close to Presbyterianism, was not subjected to "Roman practice" until after the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century.

These ideas - deeply irritating, for obvious reasons, to the Catholic clergy and to many politicians in a new, and deeply religious, Catholic state - persisted.

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NH Republicans regaining control in Concord (TIM CAMERATO, 11/04/20, Valley News)

Former Vice President Joe Biden won 52.73% of the New Hampshire vote Tuesday, leading President Donald Trump by just over seven percentage points. Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Papas, all Democrats, won reelection.

"People differentiated between the federal and the state races," said Moore, whose group spent more than $829,612 to aid conservative candidates this year. "It's clear that they measured the federal races via one yardstick and looked at the state races via another."

Dean Spiliotes, a political analyst and professor at Southern New Hampshire University, also said the coattail effect might have played a role in New Hampshire's legislative results.

"Certainly, at some level, Sununu's victory is probably helping him picking up seats in the Legislature and potentially flipping the Executive Council as well," he said.

But, Spiliotes added, it's interesting that Biden's "comfortable" win didn't negate the governor's popularity. It's as though voters have "partitioned" off federal and local concerns, he said.

"They sort of had one set of concerns in thinking about the governor and the functioning of the state Legislature and a separate set of concerns about how things are going congressionally," Spiliotes said.

While Republicans made gains throughout the state, they also picked up seats in the largely left-leaning Upper Valley.

November 4, 2020

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Election Proves a Mixed Bag for Parties in New Hampshire (GARRY RAYNO, 11/04/20,

Democrats held their grip on the four of five top-of-ticket positions they currently hold, while Republican Gov. Chris Sununu scored a resounding victory over Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes while setting a record for votes for governor.

In New Hampshire, Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden easily defeated incumbent President Donald Trump, unlike four years ago when Hillary Clinton eked out a slim victory.

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France should grow up and apply liberté, égalité, fraternité to all of its citizens (Yvonne Ridley, 11/01/20, MEMO)

There seems to be an agenda at play in France, and it is targeting Islam and Muslims per se, not only the extremists, the likes of which can be found in all faith groups. In September, Macron launched a war on Islam in his country by unveiling plans which included granting local authorities the power to dissolve Islamic organisations without any due legal process. He also plans to tax French Muslim pilgrims who go to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj in order to raise funds for anti-radicalisation schemes. Religious organisations will be banned from arranging any non-religious activities.

All Islamic organisations, plans Macron, will be monitored through security, tax and legal means. Those which do not support the government may be closed, and those which highlight Islamophobia will, amazingly, be criminalised.

As I write, more than 50 Muslim-run charities are being investigated and threatened with closure; at least 70 schools and Muslim-owned companies have already been closed. Dozens of Muslims have had their homes raided, which the French Interior Minister has admitted is nothing to do with Paty's murder. It is simply to "send a message" to France's six million Muslim citizens.

In arguably the most sinister move approved by the French president, two organisations involved in monitoring human rights abuses have been labelled as "enemies of the Republic". The Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) records such abuses, and BarakaCity is a major humanitarian charity.

CCIF has special status with the UN and is a key NGO within the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Widely respected by all of its partners across Europe, it helps thousands of victims of racism every year.

BarakaCity has helped millions of men, women and children around the world who are trapped in a cycle of poverty; for many this simply means providing them with clean water. The NGO has been closed down by Macron's government despite having no links to any of the terror attacks in France.

Idriss Sihamedi, the head of BarakaCity, has asked Turkey publicly for asylum for himself and his organisation, following the French government's crackdown. His home was raided by anti-terror police three weeks ago over allegations of harassment and extremism.

Sihamedi tagged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Twitter and said: "Following the lies of the [French] government... and the closure of the humanitarian and human rights NGO, I officially request political asylum for BarakaCity." That asylum, he wrote, should be granted also to "my team and myself, who are under threat of death."

Macron claimed that "Islam is in crisis", but the truth is that French Muslims are in crisis because of his racist policies. If he is genuinely sorry he will seek to right all of the many wrongs which affect so many of his own citizens, starting by establishing a special advisory group of French Muslims. He needs to understand that insulting anyone -- in this case Muslims -- simply because you can is not an acceptable way for the president of a democracy to behave.

As he sits down and considers this, perhaps it would also be a good time for France to make its peace with the people of Algeria by acknowledging, apologising and compensating Algerians for the barbaric crimes committed during 130 years of brutal French occupation of the North African country. Algerian men, women and children were slaughtered -- many of them beheaded with their heads taken as "trophies" -- for daring to demand the sort of freedom and liberty that Macron and his predecessors have all boasted about. Liberté, égalité, fraternité must apply to everyone, regardless of their faith, race or political affiliations, otherwise it is a meaningless slogan used to oppress rather than free the people. It is time that France grew up and started to understand and implement that very basic principle of democracy.

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REVIEW: of Revolution and Its Discontents: Political Thought and Reform in Iran by Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi (Usman Butt, tNovember 2, 2020, MEMO)

Sadeghi-Boroujerdi argues that Iran was not immune from such a debate and a group of liberal Islamist intellectuals began to re-examine the Islamic Republic through this lens. Many of these intellectuals would go on to form the reformist camp in Iranian politics with President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) being the first Iranian leader to come out of this group. While the movement is broad, a number of characteristics can be attributed to reformist thought including anti-clericalism, a suspicion of state authority, an emphasis on inward piety, an expansion of rights and expressions, limiting state interventions in public and economic life, a move away from "ideology" towards technocratic governance and, for some, the "Protestantisation" of Shia Islam.

The author opens with the example of Professor Seyyed Hashem Aqajari, a reformist intellectual and former member of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who gave a famous lecture on his issues with the Islamic Republic. During a talk on Ali Shari'ati and his project of Islamic Protestantism, Dr Aqajari was scathing about the state: "Despite some 100 years having elapsed since the publication of the Qajar-era diplomat and author Mirza Yusef Khan Mostashar al-Dowleh's Yek Kalameh (1870), and post-revolutionary reformist politicians' regular demands calling for 'the rule of law', 'law has still not come to rule'... whatever its author's [al-Dowleh's] original intentions, it had come to signify the struggle for the rule of law and the constraint of arbitrary power."

To accuse the Islamic Republic of giving way to the unconstrained and arbitrary power of a handful of clergymen is a common theme in reformist thought. Aqajari, though, went further, writes Sadeghi-Boroujerdi: "For Aqajari, 'Islamic Protestantism' and 'Islamic humanism' went hand in hand and ultimately entailed the clergy's obsolescence. He attributed to [Martin] Luther the credo that every man can act as his own priest." This claim led to Aqajari to be imprisoned for his activism.

...was not embracing Khatami when he sued for peace.

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Trump says he's 'claiming' Pennsylvania and Michigan in Twitter rant as electoral prospects fade (Matthew Chapman , 11/04/20, Raw Story)

On Wednesday, as mail-in votes continued to be counted in the Midwest, President Donald Trump tweeted that he is "claiming" the states of Pennsylvania and Michigan "for Electoral Vote purposes" -- as his prospects of making it to 270 grow slimmer.

Michigan is projected as a victory for Joe Biden, with nearly all of the votes in and Biden holding a small but stable lead with mainly ballots from Democratic areas left to count.

Pennsylvania, meanwhile, is still reporting a Trump lead, but it is progressively shrinking as hundreds of thousands of remaining ballots are processed -- and Trump has dispatched Rudy Giuliani to try to block the count from continuing. exchange for watching him twist in the wind.

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Sorry James Joyce, the People Buying Ulysses Don't Actually Read It (ETHAN WOLFF-MANN JUNE 16, 2016, Money)

James Latham, editor of the University of Tulsa-based James Joyce Quarterly, recently described Ulysses as probably "the most purchased and least read book in the world," according to the Tulsa World.

Just how accurate is that description? We wanted to find out, if for no other reason than to ease the sheepishness some of us feel for not having read Ulysses. (I have only read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and "The Dead.")

You may have always suspected that your friend with the full collection of Penguin Classics was using those books primarily as interior decoration. This is fine, of course: The publishing industry needs all the help it can get--and Umberto Eco says a library filled with unread books is far more valuable.

Data suggests that many people indeed buy the works of Joyce and other high-brow literary authors for largely the same reason that Hansel from "Zoolander" admires Sting:

Sting would be another person who's a hero. The music he's created over the years, I don't really listen to it, but the fact that he's making it, I respect that.

Since detailed data and metrics have supplanting sales and subscriptions in publishing, the world of media has changed significantly to focus on what people read. As Vox's Todd VanDerWerff put it last year, "Newspapers could suspect nobody was reading the city council report or the dance review; with the internet, we know nobody is."

For books, however, data has been less forthcoming since most people cling to their metric-proof bits of wood pulp, thread, and glue. But not completely. Thanks to the Kindle and other e-readers, there is some data showing who has actually been reading. Amazon's devices communicate and sync with each other, through the company, revealing how many people downloaded a book, whether they read it, and how long it took.

Unfortunately, Amazon rarely (like never) shares its data. But there are other ways of telling whether your pedantic friend has actually made it through the Great Slogs--and I say this with love to the great books, many of which I have read. (Or have I?)

In 2014, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Jordan Ellenberg invented the so-called "Hawking Index," which uses Amazon e-book highlights data as a proxy for where people stop reading the books they've purchased. Some people use the highlight function on the devices and apps, and the unscientific-but-workable "Hawking Index" uses the assumption that if the most-highlighted passages are clustered at the beginning of the book, the book is more likely to have been abandoned. (The name refers to Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which is ranked up with Ulysses for the dubious title of "most unread book of all time.") On the other side, books with popular passages marked all the way to the end mean lots of people made it through the entire story.

So on this Bloomsday where does Ulysses truly stack up? Here's a list of famous books and their scores on the Hawking Index, ranked from most-likely abandoned to most likely-finished.

Book Author HI Score
Ulysses James Joyce 1.7%

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What you need to know about the undecided swing states (ZACH MONTELLARO, HOLLY OTTERBEIN and NATASHA KORECKI, 11/04/2020, Politico)

The three Rust Belt states that unexpectedly vaulted Donald Trump into the White House in 2016 -- Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- now represent the difference between his reelection and a one-term presidency.

Together, they represent 46 electoral votes. If they were to fall in line for Joe Biden -- as the trio did for the Democratic presidential nominee in seven consecutive elections before 2016 -- they would make him the 46th president. [...]

With six states still to be called, here is the state of play of the outstanding votes in each of them.

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You Are Better Prepared for Retirement Than You Think (ALLISON SCHRAGER, November 4, 2020, National Review)

We tend to romanticize the past; in particular, the days of defined-benefit pension plans, when employers offered a secure income for the duration of retirement. But at the peak of their popularity in 1973, defined-benefit pensions were available to only 39 percent of U.S. employees. That's because offering these pensions, and assuming so much risk, was very expensive for employers. Once the government beefed up regulations and demanded that employers fully account for the cost of pensions, defined-benefit plans mostly disappeared from the private sector. Even if you were lucky enough to have a generous plan, it only became valuable after many years of tenure at one job, an increasingly uncommon practice. Tying yourself to a single organization can mean forgoing better job opportunities and higher pay.

Defined-contribution plans, like 401(k)s, are cheaper to offer because the employee bears some risk. That is also one reason why they are more popular: More than half of American households today have a retirement plan, most of them defined-contribution plans.

This broader access to retirement plans is a major reason why the average American has more retirement income than in the past. In a recent report, economists measured retirement income from 2000 to 2011. This time period is significant because defined-contribution plans became more popular in the 1980s, so 2010s retirees were the first to retire after utilizing them for most of their career.

The authors estimate that 70-year-olds in 2011 had more income than they did in 2000, no matter their income bracket. From 2000 to 2011, the median 70-year-old's income increased from $30,710 to $33,908, while those at the 25th percentile saw an increase from $15,341 to $17,225, and those at the 75th percentile saw an increase from $51,360 to $56,522. Odds are if earlier retirees had enough money in retirement, current ones will too.

More workplace benefits and an expansion of the safety net left even the lowest-income retirees better off. During the 1970s poverty rates among Americans older than 65 hovered around 30 percent. In 2018, the elderly had the lowest poverty rate: 9.7 percent. There are many vulnerable Americans who do need support, but retirees aren't among them. Having the government provide enough risk-free income to finance most Americans' entire retirement is expensive, unnecessary, and implausible in the current fiscal environment. With limited resources, there are better uses of tax revenue.

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Take a deep breath and go to sleep, America, because a presidential winner won't be declared tonight (John Haltiwanger, 11/04/20, Business Insider)

[W]ith an unprecedented number of Americans voting by mail in the 2020 election, it was always unlikely that a winner would be declared on election night. 

There are never full results on the day of elections, even when news outlets are able to declare a winner based on available tallies.

Though President Donald Trump has repeatedly stated that there should be a full result on the day of the election, that's not how it works. It always takes time to process and count votes, and it's a normal part of the electoral process. 

The sheer volume of mail-in votes in 2020 guaranteed that this process would be complicated and take longer than usual -- particularly in states where officials are limited in their capacity to process and count ballots prior to Election Day. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan -- three states that were crucial to President Donald Trump's 2016 electoral college victory -- qualify in this regard. 

At roughly 12 am ET on Wednesday, huge portions of the vote in those states remained outstanding, according to Insider and Decision Desk HQ. Officials in these states had warned ahead of Election Day that it could take days to count all of the ballots. 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson late on Tuesday said that the state would count all mail-in ballots within 24 hours.

Similarly, Meagan Wolfe, Wisconsin's chief election official, on Tuesday night said that some larger jurisdictions in the state would be counting ballots into Wednesday morning. 

And more than 40% of the vote was still unreported Pennsylvania a little after midnight on Wednesday, per Decision Desk HQ's estimations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Even lockdown averse Sweden is tightening restrictions, as government warns of rising COVID-19 cases (NICLAS ROLANDER, 11/04/20, BLOOMBERG)

Swedes face a new wave of restrictions after daily coronavirus cases hit a record, with the government warning of a grim winter ahead.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said his country is now facing a "very serious situation" that requires tougher measures if the virus is to be fought back.

The resurgence of Covid-19 across Europe has caught the region off guard after a summer that left many countries assuming they'd brought the virus under control. But as citizens grew complacent and temperatures dropped, the pandemic has returned with a vengeance.

Lofven warned that the latest development is putting Sweden's health-care system under pressure, as more intensive care beds get filled.

"The brief respite that we got during the summer is over," he said. "How we act now will determine what kind of Christmas we will be able to celebrate, and who will be able to take part."

November 3, 2020

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Tesla Model 3 leads Europe EV sales as electric and hybrid cars overtake diesel (Bridie Schmidt, 4 November 2020, The Driven

Tesla, Volkswagen and Renault led a landmark moment in the auto industry in Europe in September, when more electrified vehicles were sold than diesel-fuelled cars.

More than 300,000 auto sales in September were electrified, accounting for 25% of sales for the first time ever as diesel sales fell to 24.8%, down from half of all sales in 2010.

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60-40 NATION:

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Biden will keep up the pressure on Syria's Assad, adviser says (New Arab, 3 November, 2020)

Presidential candidate Joe Biden will demand hard political reforms from Bashar Al-Assad's regime and Russia if Syria is to receive US reconstruction funding, according to Arabic-language media.

An adviser for Biden, the Democrats candidate for president, told a group of Syrians that if elected he will not soften US policy towards the Assad regime, according to Alsharq Alawsat, which is responsible for the majority of the 500,000 deaths during the war.

The regime must ease its hold on power, address the refugee issue, and release detainees if reconstruction money is to be unlocked, the report said.

"[A Biden administration] will make clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that there can be no American, or European, support for the reconstruction of Syria unless political reform takes place, and that reform must be meaningful," the report read.

"Additionally, the main humanitarian issues must be addressed, and presidential accountability must take place. Biden stressed the need to release prisoners, while keeping the US sanctions on the Syrian regime and the entities that deal with it in place, including Russia."

The newspaper, which had spoken to leading Syrian-Americans, said a Biden administration would reassert US authority and stand up to Russia, a key backer of the Assad regime.

This will include maintaining the US' military footprint in northern Syria, which President Donald Trump has threatened to scale down to zero.

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The Stakes of the Coming ElectionDonald Trump would see his re-election, however slight the margin of victory, as a mandate to continue down the destructive path he has already blazed (Francis Fukuyama, 13 Oct 2020, American Purpose)

There is one policy area, however, in which President Trump's actions have been absolutely indefensible: his incompetent handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. He saw the disease as a threat not to the nation but to his personal interests. He downplayed it in the first two months of 2020, allowing cases to grow exponentially. When he finally admitted that Covid represented a serious crisis, he pivoted to a rapid reopening of the country, which led to another huge rise in infections and deaths during the summer. Over the past two weeks, Trump's insouciant attitude has led to the White House becoming a virus hotspot, with more infections--including that of the president himself--than in the entire country of Taiwan. In short, the Trump administration's Covid response has been a policy failure of huge proportions, one that reflects basic incompetence in governing capacity and will be studied as such for decades to come.


The second and much more significant disruption involves basic American institutions and the way in which Donald Trump has weakened them. American constitutional government is built around a system of checks and balances in which an elected leader of the executive branch is constrained by a host of other branches and bodies. When Trump and other conservatives today bemoan the breakdown of the rule of law, they are referring to violations of the law by protesters and violent rioters. No one should tolerate violent protest, but the deepest meaning of the rule of law is not that ordinary people should obey the law. China, North Korea, and Cuba do not permit violent protest, but they are not rule-of-law states. The rule of law means that the king himself should be under the law--that is, law should apply to the most powerful political actors in the system.

This is something that Donald Trump has never understood. In a pattern that began long before he was elected president, Trump sees the law as an instrument of his self-interest: He will use it to sue competitors or bludgeon political opponents like Hillary Clinton but ignore it when it touches upon his family's own interests. His 2016 campaign was clearly guilty of accepting help from Russia, and he sought to use congressionally appropriated funds to extort help from Ukraine to further his re-election. In all these cases he has waged a scorched-earth campaign to discredit any institution or individual that sought to apply the law against him: the U.S. intelligence community, the FBI, the special prosecutor, his own attorney general, judges and courts, and the mainstream media outlets that he has called "the enemy of the American People." He has acted like a Mafia boss, imposing a code of omerta on his Republican followers in the Senate so that they were unwilling even to hear testimony from witnesses who might have challenged the president's storyline during the impeachment hearings. Trump has been doing his utmost to undermine Americans' confidence in the legitimacy of the November election, apparently believing that it will go against him. As he has sunk steadily in the polls, he has gotten more desperate, calling on his attorney general to open criminal investigations against his rival Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama. This is the behavior of an authoritarian ruler.


The third disruption lies in American society's normative health. Leadership is more than the aggregation of policies and decisions that leaders make; it is also made up of the moral tone that these leaders set for the society as a whole. It is for this reason that conservatives habitually argued in decades past that presidential character matters. Yet is it hard to imagine an individual with worse character than Donald Trump. He is a habitual liar who lies about big matters and inconsequential ones. He is uninformed about the issues he must deal with and sees no need to seek better information. Over the years of his presidency, his tendency to promote crackpot conspiracy theories has only gotten worse. Trump sees everything through the lens of personal self-interest and is vindictive towards friends and foes alike. And he has seen his self-interest as lying in a widening of the huge partisan division that has gravely weakened the United States.

Strange how so many of our brethren on the right give Donald a pass on things like taxes and regulation despite all his actions restricting trade and immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


To My Fellow George W. Bush SupportersIf you believed what George W. Bush said, then you cannot support Donald Trump. (STUART STEVENS,  NOVEMBER 2, 2020, The Bulwark)

In his acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention, Bush said, "I will not attack a part of this country because I want to lead the whole of it." Donald Trump openly sees himself as president of only the states went for him in 2016.

In the same speech, Bush declared, "We must give our children a spirit of moral courage because their character is our destiny." Trump asked his oldest son to write a hush money check to the porn star he had sex with ten days after his youngest son was born.

Bush said of the Founding Fathers, "Their highest hope, as Robert Frost described it, was to occupy the land with character? And that, 13 generations later, is still our goal, to occupy the land with character." Who was right? The Founding Fathers, Robert Frost, and George W. Bush? Or the guy who denied he raped a woman by explaining "She wasn't my type."
How does this work? How could someone explain to their grandchildren that they passionately believed George Bush when he pledged "to restore honor and dignity to the White House" and also that they supported the man who bragged about grabbing women by their genitals?

Did these people believe it was a mistake for George W. Bush to give a speech at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. after September 11? Did they disagree with him when he told America:

These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it's important for my fellow Americans to understand that.

Were Bush supporters secretly ashamed when he said,

America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.

Were they secretly longing for a president who instead would call for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States"?

It's no secret. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


LA's Resident Mountain Lion is a Lonely Hunter (Simon Stephenson, November 3, 2020, Lit Hub)

But if a mountain lion is a real lion, P22's chosen home of Griffith Park is not a real park. It is far more than that: an eight square-mile urban wilderness of hills and canyons that also encompasses an observatory and a zoo. It is not a park but a kingdom, and P22 holds dominion over every inch of it.

At Cahuenga Peak, Griffith Park's highest point, he can look down over the Hollywood sign to the lights of Los Angeles and out to the pacific ocean; turn to the east and there is Burbank and the Disney campus, birthplace of that other young lion who came to rule a kingdom.

Yet for all its vistas, P22's own kingdom is an island nation, hemmed in on three sides by freeways and on the fourth by the city itself. P22's parents roamed the rural Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu to the far west, and to reach Griffith Park our princeling must have somehow crossed both the Hollywood and San Diego Freeways. Understandably, he seems unwilling to risk ever doing so again.

To begin with, P22's journey was indisputably worth it. Mountain lions are fiercely territorial and with its shade, water and all-you-can-eat mule deer buffet, Griffith Park was the perfect place for a young male to grow without challenge. Unlike in the Pride Lands or the rural Santa Monica mountains, here there were no nepoticidal uncles; here the worst it seemed could happen was for P22 to be tranquilized and radio-collared by the park rangers.

To be forever alone in your own kingdom seems a unique kind of heartbreak, and I wish P22 knew how beloved he is.
Once we knew he was up there, his new neighbors quickly fell in love with P22. The LA Times obtained the data from his radio collar and ran a feature entitled "A week in the life of P22." Our lion king began his week on the park's northern edge at Forest Lawn, the classier of Hollywood's two celebrity cemeteries. But P22 had not gone there to pay his respects to Carrie Fisher or Bette Davis: the mule deer visit the cemetery to eat the flowers left by grieving fans, and P22 goes to eat the mule deer.

Over the next seven days, the LA Times reported, P22 prowled the entirety of Griffith Park, up to Cahuenga Peak and the Hollywood sign, before descending at dawn to drink from the cool waters of the Lake Hollywood reservoir. Just as they do with a Brad or a Leo, the newspaper respectfully kept back any information that might lead over-enthusiastic fans to P22's resting places or secret haunts.  Here in Los Angeles, everybody understands that even the biggest celebrities need their privacy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The man who would be president (PETER BROWNE, 3 NOVEMBER 2020, Inside Story)

Running through Osnos's vivid and compelling account of the candidate's career is a sense of Biden's seemingly indomitable drive, and the torrent of words that has accompanied it. It's not so much that he seems incapable of reflecting on his shifts in position -- he has talked about his greatest regrets, including his support for Clinton's disastrous repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which laid the groundwork for the global financial crisis -- it's more that his momentum happens fortuitously to have taken him on a journey roughly in tune with shifts in mainstream sentiment, which increasingly sees the American Dream as a chimera. African Americans might be troubled by his support for the crime bill, says the former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Cornell William Brooks, but they "measure him as a historical whole, and by the stature of his sincerity."

Osnos shows how Biden's forward momentum has been fuelled by a series of immense personal challenges: his childhood stammer; the deaths of his young wife, their baby daughter and, much later, his eldest son; the near-fatal cranial aneurysm after abandoning his first bid for the presidency; his surviving son's drug and alcohol addictions. It's little wonder that he seems to keep running simply to stay still.

But his longwindedness and shifting positions can lead people to underestimate him. When Barack Obama first heard Biden speaking at length during a Senate committee hearing in 2005, writes Osnos, the future president "passed an aide a three-word note: 'Shoot. Me. Now.'" Not a propitious start to a relationship, you might think, yet a decade later Obama was telling aides and audiences that "naming Biden vice-president was the best political decision he had made":

"I think Biden gets a lot of lessons from Obama's discipline, and that's instructive at times, even though it annoys him," a former Biden aide said. "And I think Obama learns from Joe's warmth. When they're in a meeting together, the foreigners will tilt toward Biden more than Obama." The aide added, "Each one feels like he is the mentor." When Biden entered the job, he had told [Obama strategist] David Axelrod he still thought "I'd be the best president." But, after a year of observing Obama, Biden told Axelrod that he had been mistaken: "The right guy won, and I'm just really proud to be associated with him."

Now, thirty-two years after his first bid, it looks like being the other guy's turn.

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This Is Joe Biden When No One Is WatchingWhen my son was diagnosed with leukemia in 2016, Biden didn't have to call. But he did, three times, because he is everything he says he is.  (Ryan D'Agostino, Nov 2, 2020, Esquire)

A couple of months later, I got another call: The vice president was going to be in New York, and wanted to know whether it would be convenient for my wife and me to see him. Our son had been transferred to Memorial Sloan-Kettering for treatment, and one or both of us was with him day and night. But the nurses said they would look after him for an hour while we went across town to see Joe Biden.

We found ourselves in a small room off a ballroom at a hotel where he had just given a speech. There was no one in there, really--a couple of Secret Service agents, his scheduling person, a few others. He saw us, strode over, and the first thing he did was just hug us. Both of us at once, his long arms around us, tight, three people standing there as one for a good minute.

Our arms loosened, we stood back. His suit jacket was a little rumpled.

We waited for him to talk first. His eyes were wet, and he said, "How's your boy?" Joe Biden was crying for us, because he knew how it was when the pain feels like it will never end.

There were no cameras. There was no one filming. He wasn't running for anything. He was just doing what you do, as a human, even when no one's watching.

November 2, 2020

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The Nationalism-ists: review of  War for Eternity: Inside Bannon's Far-Right Circle of Global Power Brokers, by Benjamin R. Teitelbaum (BRIAN DOHERTY, DECEMBER 2020, reason)

In War for Eternity, Benjamin R. Teitelbaum situates Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former campaign CEO and White House chief strategist, in a context likely unknown to 99.9 percent of the voters Bannon helped steer toward Trump: Traditionalism, with a capital T.

This Traditionalism is distinct from its common colloquial meaning of "advocating older ways of life." It draws inspiration from such obscure figures as René Guénon, a French esotericist who moved from Catholicism through theosophy to Sufi Islam while calling for an elite aristocratic order and denouncing the materialism of industrial civilization, and Julius Evola, an Italian occultist and fascist fellow traveler who thought that "bourgeois civilization and society" are anathema to a noble and heroic man.

What inspires a true Traditionalist? As Bannon tells Teitelbaum, it's "the rejection of modernity, the rejection of the Enlightenment, the rejection of materialism." Traditionalists believe in a prehistoric ur-religion, hints of whose deep cosmic truths can be glimpsed occluded in modern faiths from Catholicism to Hinduism. History to a Traditionalist runs through repeating cycles, with similar ages rising and tumbling down in unavoidable succession.

Traditionalists think human culture is now staggering through a dark cycle, the "Kali Yuga." They believe human beings should be shoved into rigid castes, and they see each age dominated by a distinct type, from priest to warrior to merchant to slave (sliding down what they see as the ladder of spiritual merit).

Few voters have pondered any of that, but Teitelbaum thinks the Traditionalists, by allying themselves with far-right authoritarian nationalism, might be developing the muscle to bring the Kali Yuga to a swift end.

Teitelbaum, an ethnomusicologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, considers Traditionalism the "most transformative political movement of the early 21st century." Acolytes associated with this way of thinking have their claws deep in the leadership of at least three powerful nations, he argues: Russia via Aleksandr Dugin; Brazil via Olavo de Carvalho; and the United States via Bannon.

Dugin is a fervent, violent Russian nationalist who in 1993 launched the National Bolshevik Party. The name, Teitelbaum writes, "was a tribute to Nazism and communism," since each "once served as counterweights to American expansion." Dugin's book Foundations of Geopolitics, which pushed the idea that the U.S. must be counteracted on the global stage, became "standard assigned reading into the twenty-first century at the General Staff Academy" for Russian military leaders. He went on to become a Putin adviser without portfolio, with Putin said to echo "sometimes in a matter of hours...expressions Dugin was using in media broadcasts."

Olavo, as he's known, spent years as an initiate in Traditionalist communal cult groups; he ended up in rural Virginia as a buddy to Bannon and one of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's top advisers.

The three men share a deep contempt for modern institutions, such as universities and the media, that they accuse of promoting decadent modern liberalism. And it certainly is interesting to contemplate their eccentric beliefs and lives in this well-reported book.

The Right, as the Left, hates our institutions.  Conservatism is the great defender of them. We can't help but be enemies.

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The eugenic roots of abortion in BritainA recent book about a legal battle in 1920s Britain reveals one of the most ignominious, but little-known, movements in British history. A centenary in 2021 will show whether the movement will be acknowledged or continue to be ignored by historians. (Mark Sutherland, Nov 2, 2020, Mercator Net)

The opening of the Mothers' Clinic was the first step of an attempt to impose eugenic breeding in Britain. As the manifesto of the clinic's support organisation, The Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress ("CBC") put it:

"AS REGARDS THE POPULATION AT PRESENT. We say that there are unfortunately many men and women who should be prevented from procreating children at all, because of their individual ill-health, or the diseased and degenerate nature of the offspring that they may be expected to produce. These considerations would not apply to a better and healthier world."

While the in-house "Prorace" (and later "Racial") brand devices were dispensed to the poor women who attended the Mothers' Clinic, Stopes campaigned for laws to compulsorily sterilise those who did not. For all the talk of giving women "choice", had the laws for compulsory sterilisation that Stopes advocated been passed, that choice would have been made by the state.

In the absence of such laws, Stopes advocated the use of the Gold Pin, an experimental and dangerous device which was, she wrote:

"... the one and only method (apart from actual sterilisation) which is applicable, and of real help to the lowest and most negligent strata of society. It is therefore a method of the greatest possible racial and social value, and should become widely known and practised."

During the trial, physicians on both sides differed as to the impact that the Gold Pin would have. Some said it would enhance conception, others that it would prevent conception, and yet others that it was an abortifacient. A leading birth controller, Dr Norman Haire, testified that if conception did take place, the presence of the Gold Pin would lead to a dangerous septic abortion. Another doctor described it as "a barbarous instrument".

The CBC was supported by some of the most eminent Britons of that era. They included: John Maynard Keynes, the Lady Constance Lytton, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. One of them, Sir James Barr, an eminent physician and ex-president of the British Medical Association, congratulated Stopes on her achievement:

"You and your husband have inaugurated a great movement which I hope will eventually get rid of our C3 [defective] population and exterminate poverty. The only way to raise an A1 [superior] population is to breed them."

Like other eugenicists, Stopes and Roe had worried about the "differential birth rate". While Britain's overall birth rate had been falling since 1876, the reduction was not evenly spread across all social classes and the poorest people in Britain were the most prolific. As one historian put it:

"... [one-] half of each succeeding generation was produced by no more than a quarter of its married predecessor, and that the prolific quarter was disproportionately located among the dregs of society."

Eugenicists spoke of "degeneration", "national deterioration" and even "race suicide".

Dr Stopes had alerted the readers of the Daily Mail to the problem in a column a few years earlier:

"Are these puny-faced, gaunt, blotchy, ill-balanced, feeble, ungainly, withered children the young of an imperial race? Why has Mrs Jones had nine children six died, one defective? Nor it is for Mrs Jones to take the initiative, Isn't it for the leisured, the wise, to go to her and tell her what are the facts of life, the meaning of what she is doing, and what she ought to do? ... Mrs Jones is destroying the race!"

Testifying on the second day of the High Court trial in 1923, Stopes confirmed that she had opened the clinic:

"... to counteract the steady evil which has been growing for a good many years of the reduction of the birth rate just on the part of the thrifty, wise, well-contented, and the generally sound members of our community, and the reckless breeding from the C3 end, and the semi-feebleminded, the careless, who are proportionately increasing in our community because of the slowing of the birth rate at the other end of the social scale. Statistics show that every year the birth rate from the worst end of our community is increasing in proportion to the birth rate at the better end, and it was in order to try to right that grave social danger that I embarked upon this work."

Stopes was a doctor of science, but her scientific credentials were in sharp contrast to the vituperative (and unscientific) language she used to describe those to be sterilised and their offspring: "hopelessly bad cases, bad through inherent disease, or drunkenness or character" "wastrels, the diseased... the miserable [and] the criminal" the "degenerate, feeble minded and unbalanced", "parasites", "hordes of defectives" and "the spawn of drunkards". Such language led Guardian columnist Zoe Williams -- a journalist not known to be unsympathetic to contraception and feminism -- to remark that "her eugenics programme was actually slightly to the right of Hitler's just because her definition of defective is so broad."

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Biden looks to restore, expand Obama administration policies (The Associated Press, November 2, 2020)

Stop and reverse. Restore and expand.

Joe Biden is promising to take the country on a very different path from what it has seen over the past four years under President Donald Trump, on issues ranging from the coronavirus and health care to the environment, education and more.

The Democratic presidential nominee is promising to reverse Trump policy moves on things such as withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement and weakening protections against environmental pollution.

While Trump wants to kill the Affordable Care Act, Biden is proposing to expand "Obamacare" by adding a public option to cover more Americans. [...]

Biden also frames immigration as an economic matter. He wants to expand legal immigration slots and offer a citizenship path for about 11 million people who are in the country illegally but who, Biden notes, are already economic contributors as workers and consumers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Pro-Trump caravans are crowding freeways, sometimes forcing gridlock (The Week, 11/02/20)

Before the 2018 midterm elections, President Trump warned of caravans of migrants coming up via Mexico. With just a few days until the 2020 election, Trump supporters are the ones forming caravans, taking to highways and freeways in large numbers to demonstrate their support for the president or make some other statement.

In some cases, like when a Trump caravans waited on I-35 in Texas to "ambush" a Joe Biden campaign bus, things turned a little sinister. The FBI is investigating that incident, though Trump tweeted that in his opinion, they should let it go. In other cases, the rallies just caused traffic jams. Around Denver on Sunday, the gridlock appears to have been an incidental byproduct of the "MAGA Drag The Interstate" rally. In other places, such as New York and New Jersey, the goal appears to have been to shut down traffic.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Scaffolding Holding American Flag at Trump North Carolina Rally Collapses (SCOTT MCDONALD, 11/1/20, Newsweek)

While President Donald Trump spoke at one of his five rallies on Sunday, one of the two scaffoldings that held a giant American flag collapsed. 

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After Fauci Praises Biden, Trump Touts Firing Top Health Official (DARRAGH ROCHE, 11/2/20, Newsweek)

He gave an interview to The Washington Post on Friday where he praised Biden's approach to the virus, saying the Democrat "is taking it seriously from a public health perspective" while Trump is "looking at it from a different perspective."

Fauci said Trump's perspective was "the economy and reopening the country."

Republican Congressman Andy Biggs of Arizona welcomed the president's remarks and called on him to act. Biggs has been critical of Fauci for months and previously called for his removal.

"Can't come soon enough. Please add Deborah Birx and Robert Redfield to that list, President @realDonaldTrump," Biggs tweeted on Sunday. "The Fauci-Birx doctrine of destruction is coming to a merciful end."

Dr. Deborah Birx is Coronavirus Response Coordinator and another prominent member of the task force. Dr. Robert Redfield is director of the CDC. He was appointed to that position by the president in 2018.

Trump's suggestion that he could fire Fauci comes after White House COVID adviser Dr. Scott Atlas claimed lockdowns are "killing" Americans during an appearance on Kremlin-backed RT, formerly known as Russia Today. Atlas later apologized for the interview, saying he was "taken advantage of" by the registered foreign agent.

November 1, 2020

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Corporate America Against Trump (Future of Capitalism, 11/01/20) Goldman executive Jake Siewert interviewing author, historian, and columnist Anne Applebaum about the evidence that "democracy is in danger" from the "radical far right." Does that get disclosed as a campaign expenditure for Biden? Nope. But it sure helps him.

Second, this Gap ad, which I saw watching the Patriots football game. There's no explict "vote for Joe Biden," 

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


The Trump Era: Four Wasted, Empty Years: A presidential term of office bereft of any lasting meaning, importance, or permanence, except a legacy of mismanagement and criminality (Paul D. Miller, Oct 30, 2020, Arc Digital)

The past four years exist as the Titanic exists for ocean liners: a cautionary tale about catastrophic blindness and hubris-- nothing more.

You might think the lesson to be learned is that the political right should not nominate or elect a conman, a criminal, a demagogue, or a nationalist. You would be wrong. That is not a lesson we need to learn because it is something we already knew, but which a plurality of the electorate flouted.

Or perhaps you think we should take more seriously the electoral importance of working-class whites; that we should mind the dangers of rapid cultural change, economic insecurity, and status anxiety.

This is wrong for two reasons.

First, Trump did not expand the party's base by running on these issues: he shrunk it. His appeals to working-class whites sounded too much to other Americans like racist demagoguery and angry populism and drove them away. Whether you agree with this characterization of Trump's rhetoric is irrelevant -- what matters is how it was perceived. If you want to win elections -- not just one in an erratic year but build a durable political regime -- saying things that sound like racist demagoguery to a majority of voters is imprudent.

Second, while every voter deserves to be taken seriously and policy should address real grievances, arguing that we should pay attention to working-class whites because we're afraid of the damage they'll do otherwise is tantamount to giving them a heckler's veto on the right's agenda. The right will be forever captive to the politics of fear and resentment if it makes "coddling working-class white anxiety" its central organizing concept. If the right continues down the path of becoming the party of white identity politics, they will deserve to lose. The right should address working-class whites with real policy solutions, not treat them like a convenient pool of roiling anger to leverage against the left.

Perhaps your gloss on the Trump era is that the right has become too beholden to corporate interests and tax cuts, that we should re-center the right's agenda on being pro-family, pro-community, and pro-patriotism. I agree -- but again I ask, what part of this is new?

These aren't lessons of the past four years: they are the talking points of the social conservative right for the past four decades. The right has been proclaiming itself pro-family for 40 years; it has been wrapping itself in the flag against the left's supposed anti-Americanism since Vietnam. Nothing in the past four years makes this agenda new, fresh, or timely.

The past four years do not teach anything because nothing profound happened.

They were wasted, empty years that left nothing of lasting meaning, importance, or permanence, except a legacy of mismanagement and criminality. The 2016 election was a statistical fluke, not a realignment. The ensuing presidency was a rolling mess of infighting, shortsightedness, and scandal, not a transformational engine of generational change.

The thing is, it was obvious this would be the case all along.  He was the only Republican who could have lost to Hillary by three million votes, so there was never any threat he'd accomplish anything other than make his ideas more unpopular.  Mission Accomplished.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


GM's revival of the Hummer as an all-electric halo car is a stroke of marketing genius (Matthew DeBord, 11/01/20, Business Insider)

Such is the power of the Hummer nameplate. What was a stand-alone GM division in 2008, the result of GM buying the moniker from AM General Corp. in 1999 (AM General had created the US military's HUMVEE), is now a sub-brand of GMC, akin to the luxurious Denali and off-road AT4 designations.

The move was brilliant. Hummer had a basically terrible reputation among the environmentally-conscious crowd, and that was more than a decade before the Green New Deal and Tesla's takeover of the EV market.

The reputation wasn't entirely deserved. Yes, the Hummer was a rolling ad for American exceptionalism and chugged fuel like a thirsty bull in the desert. But in its more hardcore trim levels, it was an absurdly robust and well-built vehicle.

One could buy an H1 as a zombie-apocalypse conveyance and feel pretty confident that the money was well spent. A Hummer was possibly the last vehicle anyone would have to buy: Amortize the environmental impact over a few decades, maybe a century, and you could come out way ahead of a Prius. [...]

The rumors about an electric Hummer only started percolating about a year ago, but once the mill started churning, it started to look very good for Hummer 2.0. Why? Because GM had an utterly unique opportunity: revive a great brand that people were still interested in, but without the baggage of macho preening and sordid plumes of tailpipe emissions.

It worked like a charm. As soon as the GMC Hummer was teased, enthusiasm exploded. It helped that GM also saw the brand as a way to support, in dramatic fashion, the Ultium battery technology is unveiled in early 2020, not to mention beat the Tesla Cybertruck to market by years. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Joe Biden Bet It All on Nostalgia and Sanity....It Just Might Work (Hanna Trudo & Sam Stein, Nov. 01, 2020, Daily Beast)

Biden's team eventually reversed course. But even so, they continued to argue that their caution around COVID-19 would be rewarded by voters; not just out of personal appreciation for the public health steps taken, but because it fit within the larger framework of Biden's candidacy. It was thoughtful and reasoned and, above all, respectful of the public's fears. The idea, as one campaign official put it, was not to be "a Democratic version of Trump" but, rather, his "polar opposite."

Looking back, Democrats marvel now at how consistent the strategy has been, especially coming from a candidate with a well-telegraphed proclivity for going off-script. It certainly was evident in the three major speeches that, aides say, served as the cornerstone of his campaign.

Biden called himself "an ally of the light, not the darkness," at his convention address. He spoke of ending an "era of division" and "hate and the fear" while at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Most recently, in Warm Springs, Georgia, he pledged to usher in "a time to heal."

These were not the words of a progressive upstart or of revolutionary change. They were a bet that, at the core, people wanted to bring back decency, compassion, and competence.

"You can push him and say 'Look this is outdated' or 'We need to update this policy, this just doesn't make sense anymore' ... but fundamentally he's pretty grounded in his beliefs," a Biden adviser familiar with his thinking said. "And I think that comes through. Especially when you're running against Donald Trump."

Joe is running Bob Dole's 1996 campaign--a bridge to our past values--but he gets to run it against Donald--and without a 3rd party candidate--so it's a walkover.

Text of Robert Dole's Speech To The Republican National Convention (August 15, 1996)

I do not need the presidency to make or refresh my soul. That false hope I will gladly leave to others. For greatness lies not in what office you hold, but on how honest you are in how you face adversity and in your willingness to stand fast in hard places. [...]

Let me be the bridge to an America than only the unknowing call myth. Let me be the bridge to a time of tranquility, faith and confidence in action.

And to those who say it was never so, that America's not been better, I say you're wrong. And I know because I was there. And I have seen it. And I remember.

And our nation, though wounded and scathed, has outlasted revolutions, civil war, world war, racial oppression and economic catastrophe. We have fought and prevailed on almost every continent. And in almost every sea.

We have even lost. But we have lasted, and we have always come through.

And what enabled us to accomplish this has little to do with the values of the present. After decades of assault upon what made America great, upon supposedly obsolete values, what have we reaped? What have we created? What do we have?

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


With 1M global charge points, what's next for EV charging? (Michael Coates, 11/01/20,  Clean Fleet Report)

Last month the world hit a new milestone as the number of public electric vehicle charging stations reached the one million mark. While that number has grown exponentially recently and promises to continue, it's also worth noting that there are approximately one-and-half billion cars in the world and only a small percentage of them need to plug in.

Even with the impact of COVID-19, industry analysts are predicting 2020 worldwide sales of plug-in vehicles at 2.9 million, resulting a total population of 10.5 million. While there are arguments that a 1:1 ratio of public plugs to vehicles is not necessary, the EV industry's growth mode augurs that more stations are better. They address range anxiety, still the number one concern of potential EV buyers. Having readily available public charging to supplement home and work charging is a way to reassure new electric car owners that, as they've experienced for decades with their internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, refueling will be fast and easy out on the road.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Now That More Americans Can Work From Anywhere, Many Are Planning To Move Away (ADEDAYO AKALA, 10/30/20, NPR)

As coronavirus cases continue to spike and working from home seems permanent, many Americans are planning to set off to live in new places.

An astonishing 14 million to 23 million Americans intend to relocate to a different city or region as a result of telework, according to a new study released by Upwork, a freelancing platform. The survey was conducted Oct. 1 to 15 among 20,490 Americans 18 and over,

The large migration is motivated by people no longer confined to the city where their job is located. The pandemic has shifted many companies' view on working from home. Facebook announced plans for half of its employees to work from home permanently. The company even hired a director of remote work in September to ease the transition.

"As our survey shows, many people see remote work as an opportunity to relocate to where they want and where they can afford to live," says Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork. "This is an early indicator of the much larger impacts that remote work could have in increasing economic efficiency and spreading opportunity."

Big cities will see the largest outmigration, according to the survey. About 20% of respondents planning to move live in a major city. Because many expect remote work to continue long term, more than half aim to relocate over two hours away or even farther from their current home.

We're going to need to import an awful lot of construction workers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM