January 31, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Why Biden has a rare opportunity for early success (John Harwood, January 31, 2021, CNN)

Over five decades in Washington, President Joe Biden has watched seven newly-elected presidents get started. Improbably, he has the chance for a stronger opening act than any of them.

Just 12 days into Biden's presidency, the emerging alignment of forces holds the promise of two giant early legislative breakthroughs. The potential for rapid payoffs in public health and economic recovery exceeds anything recent predecessors managed to find. [...]

[T]he size of Biden's opportunity reflects the unique circumstances of early 2021: a deadly pandemic that could subside with an effective vaccination push, a battered economy poised to rebound when it does, the unfinished business of a disgraced predecessor, and the determination of fellow Democrats to overcome obstruction by increasingly-radicalized Republican adversaries.

All that raises confidence among White House officials that their bare majorities in Congress can unite to enact a Covid-19 relief package close to the $1.9 trillion version Biden has requested. Right after that, Democrats intend to do it again for an even costlier infrastructure plan.

"He's facing the deepest problems but the biggest opportunities of any president probably since FDR," observes Biden adviser Anita Dunn, who opened her career as an intern in the Carter White House. "Even with narrow majorities in Congress, he has the opportunity to build broad bipartisan support for his program -- not necessarily in Congress but with the American people."

But his presidency is done. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What Ulysses Grant Can Teach Joe Biden About Putting Down Violent InsurrectionsOverwhelming force was needed to end racist terrorism throughout the South. But a failure to keep up the pressure meant the victory was short-lived. (CASEY MICHEL, 01/30/2021, Politico)

[T]he echoes of that Reconstruction-era violence -- led by both white marauders (cloaked as the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups) and white supremacist Democratic officials bent on reclaiming power from Republicans -- were impossible to escape in Washington in early January when the rioters paraded Confederate flags through the halls of the Capitol and chanted threats to hang the vice president. Though largely overlooked in mainstream American history, these insurrections -- in Louisiana, in South Carolina, in Mississippi, in North Carolina -- attempted to install terrorist-backed regimes in multiple post-Confederacy states. Their longevity was echoed as well in the warning last week from the Department of Homeland Security, which said for the first time publicly that the country faced a rising threat from "violent domestic extremists" who sympathized with the Capitol attack and the false narrative, stoked by former President Donald Trump, that the election was rigged.

"We have to realize that this is a powerful strand in the American experience. It's always been here, the resistance to actual democracy," Eric Foner, a historian at Columbia University who specializes on Reconstruction, told me. "We pride ourselves on being a democracy, but there's actually a long tradition of people who don't think that, who are unwilling to accept the rights of African-Americans to be citizens, the right of elections to overturn governments in power. In other words, we should realize the fragility of democratic culture."

While that fragility was on full display in the aftermath of the Civil War (as well as during the siege on the Capitol), those Reconstruction-era insurrectionists contended with a force they consistently underestimated: Ulysses S. Grant, who served as president from 1868-76. Rising to the presidency as the heroic general of the Civil War, Grant entered the White House amidst violent white extremists continuing to roil American politics -- and following the failed presidency of a one-term impeached president, who had only added fuel to the post-war inferno.

Time and again, Grant battled back, sometimes almost single-handedly, against rising insurrections bursting across the South. Time and again, he appeared to succeed -- only to eventually watch the entire edifice of Reconstruction crumble under Supreme Court decisions, wilting willingness among Northern whites to win the peace, and, most especially, a Compromise of 1877 that cemented the beginnings of the Jim Crow era to come.

Grant's approach relied on a combination of brute military force and a drastic curtailment of civil liberties, yet it nevertheless has relevance for the current moment and contains lessons for lawmakers who fear that January 6 might have been only the first of widespread attacks on the government and elected officials at all levels, across large swaths of the nation. Officials in our current era have many more legal tools at their disposal to combat such terrorism. But as Grant's experience shows, it's not just the tools that count; rather, it's the willingness to persist in the fight that will likely decide whether these counter-terrorism efforts actually succeed.

January 30, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Focus on Families, Not on Wages (Tyler Cowen|Jan. 29th, 2021, Bloomberg)

[C]onsider Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. She supports the proposed hike, as she noted in her confirmation hearing last week, yet in 2014 she endorsed the view that a minimum wage hike would lead to significant job loss. Maybe now she knows better, but if the 2014 Janet Yellen could have been so fooled, then perhaps this debate is not so settled.

Why then push so hard for a policy with such murky outcomes? It would raise the wages of many workers, destroy the jobs of some low-skilled workers, and perhaps lower the hours and thus pay of many other workers.

The burden of the minimum wage is unclear as well. Perhaps it leads to higher retail prices, although many proponents suggest it comes largely out of business profits. This too is unclear, and again raises questions about the wisdom of pushing so hard for such a non-transparent set of reallocations and transfers.

In contrast, consider the plan for cash grants to families with children. Under one proposed plan, these grants would be between $3,000 and $3,600 a year, depending on the age of the child.

The benefits here are obvious and transparent, namely that families are better off when they have more money. Perhaps some families would use that money in self-destructive ways, but this basic view -- that more money increases the chance for better outcomes -- is not really contested.

There is a second obvious and non-contestable benefit: namely, that these cash transfers will make it easier to raise children and thus, over some longer run, lead to more children. (If you are not convinced that is a real gain, I would refer you to Matt Yglesias's most recent book.) I, for one, am very glad my parents decided to bring me into the world, and it is harder to think of a more transparent gain than that.

The economy exists to create wealth, so let it do so as efficiently as possible.  Subsequent distribution of that wealth is a political question. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


No, WallStreetBets isn't robbing Wall Street to help the little guy (TIMOTHY B. LEE, 1/29/2021, Ars Technica)

There's just one problem: the billions of dollars in new "wealth" people have supposedly gained is mostly in the form of inflated GameStop stock. Before they can actually use that wealth, they need to convert it to cash. And if a lot of people start selling their shares, the stock will crash. Most of that GameStop "wealth" will evaporate, with many shareholders getting a fraction of the value they expected.

Meanwhile, if GameStop's stock price starts to fall, short sellers will start to make money. Any short sellers who maintained their short positions through the bubble will make back most of what they lost.

Sooner or later, GameStop's stock is going to return to normal levels. And when it does, we are likely to find that little wealth was actually transferred from wealthy hedge fund investors to the general public. Short losses as the stock appreciated will be largely balanced out by short gains as the stock falls. The gains of GameStop shareholders as the stock appreciates will be balanced by losses as the stock declines.

But while there won't be a big transfer between short sellers as a group to shareholders as a group, there will be big wealth transfers within these groups. People who bought GameStop early and who had the good sense to sell near the top of the bubble will make a lot of money. People who buy into GameStop near the top and don't sell until after the stock starts to fall will lose money.

In other words, the GameStop bubble will have the same practical effect as any other pump-and-dump scheme: transferring wealth from those who got into the scheme late to those who got into it early. The fact that there are short-sellers on the other side of some of these trades doesn't change the analysis.

January 29, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


'Trump just used us and our fear': Ex-QAnon supporter explains why she stopped believing (Brad Reed, January 29, 2021, Raw Story)

A former believer in the thoroughly discredited QAnon conspiracy theory has given a lengthy interview with the New York Times explaining how she deprogrammed herself and started living in reality again.

Michigan resident Lenka Perron tells that Times that she was a Bernie Sanders supporter who grew disillusioned with the party after WikiLeaks released internal Democratic National Committee emails showing that the party establishment clearly preferred that Hillary Clinton win the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

It didn't take long for her disgust with the Democratic establishment to take her into the realm of conspiracy theories, especially the QAnon conspiracy theory that claimed Hillary Clinton is involved in a global pedophilia wing.

Her obsession with QAnon deeply damaged relationships between friends and family members, as she would frequently stay up late into the night reading about former President Donald Trump's plan to take down the Satanist pedophiles who were his sworn enemies.

Along the way, however, Perron noticed that Q's predictions about mass arrests of Trump opponents were not coming true.

True Belief is a function of the believer, not the ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Robert Mueller spinoff: Man's arrest on 2016 election charges suggests Russia probe may have survived Bill Barr (Roger Sollenberger, January 29, 2021, Raw Story)

According to the complaint, Mackey's Twitter account had nearly 60,000 followers, and in February 2016 the MIT Media Lab ranked him 107th in its list of the most influential personalities ahead of the election, higher than NBC News and Stephen Colbert. Prosecutors say that in the months before the election, Mackey collaborated with unnamed co-conspirators to encourage Hillary Clinton supporters to cast votes via text messages or social media -- which are not viable or legal voting methods in any state.

The conspiracy charge against Mackey, who was arrested in West Palm Beach, could indicate that the Justice Department has been probing a broader network. Three of his co-conspirators were identified by HuffPost reporter Luke O'Brien, who wrote an in-depth 2018 profile of Mackey: white nationalist financier Jeff Giesea; conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, who has ties to onetime national security adviser turned QAnon hero Michael Flynn; and Jack Posobiec, a far-right provocateur with ties to neo-Nazi groups and longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone. The pro-Trump group, who called themselves "MAGA3X," fueled the Pizzagate social media campaign that smeared Hillary Clinton and other Democratic leaders in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


'The perfect target': Russia cultivated Trump as asset for 40 years - ex-KGB spy (David Smith, 29 Jan 2021, The Guardian)

Donald Trump was cultivated as a Russian asset over 40 years and proved so willing to parrot anti-western propaganda that there were celebrations in Moscow, a former KGB spy has told the Guardian.

Yuri Shvets, posted to Washington by the Soviet Union in the 1980s, compares the former US president to "the Cambridge five", the British spy ring that passed secrets to Moscow during the second world war and early cold war.

Now 67, Shvets is a key source for American Kompromat, a new book by journalist Craig Unger, whose previous works include House of Trump, House of Putin. The book also explores the former president's relationship with the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

No wonder the Cold War was a walk-over.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Are men losing the chance to love other men?: The modern trend to write off male camaraderie as "bromance" is doing great harm to young men (James Jeffrey, 29 January, 2021, The Critic)

All this was brought to mind while recently watching the 2003 period war-drama film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World with an old friend who joined the British Army around the same time as me and whom I recently reconnected with at the end of my Camino pilgrimage through Portugal. His wife had left us to it following dinner, retreating to bed while rolling her eyes as my friend and I sang the praises, as we are prone to do, of Patrick O'Brian's series of 20 sea novels--the first of which is Master and Commander--set during the Napoleonic Wars and focussing on the adventures of captain Jack Aubrey and his best friend and ship's surgeon-cum-government spy Stephen Maturin, on which the film is based.

In our defence, both O'Brian's novels and the film directed by Peter Weir--who also directed the prescient genre bending comedy film The Truman Show--are exemplars of their crafts. O'Brian was described in a Times Literary Supplement article last year as writing in the genre of C. S. Forester but with the elegance of Jane Austen, all the while weaving plots with the sophistication of John le Carré, populated by characters that had the depth of Tolstoy and sustained by an imagination with the immersive qualities of Proust and Joyce. The film garnered 10 Oscar nominations and was recently described by Russell Crowe, who impeccably portrayed the essence of Jack Aubrey in the film, as "brilliant ... an exacting, detail oriented, epic tale of fidelity to Empire and service, regardless of the cost." [...]

In addition to the sweeping cinematography, the stunning level of detail, the rollickingly engaging plot: what the film also captures so well--especially given its two-hour limited capacity--from the books is the intense camaraderie and sense of philia that exists between the two main protagonists and among the other seamen, which my friend and I knew too well from our time in the British military. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Did Biden Just Make Everything Normal Again? (Susan B. Glasser, January 28, 2021, The New Yorker)

At the moment, the former President's hold over the G.O.P. remains the major obstacle to Joe Biden achieving any return to the status quo ante-Donald.Photograph by Doug Mills / Getty
Eight days into his tenure, President Joe Biden has not occupied my every waking thought--nor, I suspect, yours. He has not insulted anyone, as far as I'm aware. He has not played golf instead of working, or held late-night counselling sessions with cable-television anchors, or caused a rupture in our relationship with Australia. He had a friendly call with Angela Merkel, and a stern one with Vladimir Putin. He went to church on Sunday, and stopped for bagels in Georgetown. His tweets have been sparse and so anodyne that a writer for the Washington Post compared them to the sayings that come inside fortune cookies. He has returned policy wonks and message discipline to the White House. Technocrats are in; Rudy Giuliani is out.

In some ways, Biden has already fulfilled his first, and arguably most compelling, campaign promise: being the un-Trump.

Declare victory and go take a nap.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


George Saunders: 'Monty Python taught me that comedy and truth are the same thing' (George Saunders, 29 Jan 2021, The Guardian)

The book that had the greatest influence on my writing [...]

I'd also be lying if I didn't mention, in this context, the collected works of Monty Python - watching them was the first time I felt that comedy and truth were one and the same thing, and that truth didn't have to be expressed in traditional or linear or quotidian ways and, in fact, the great truths can't be.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Between the Protests, the Quiet Community Work of BLM (Voice of America, 1/29/21) 

"We started a coalition called People's Budget Birmingham," Milton told VOA, explaining that similar coalitions had been started by local BLM chapters around the United States.

The coalition held multiple in-depth conversations with members of the community before presenting to the local government collective opinions on how money should be allocated to police departments, libraries and other institutions.

Milton said the coalition was a "good way of making sure our message was heard."

Grassroots activists and organizers are mounting similar efforts around the country, seeking to maintain the momentum and heightened awareness of racial injustice that followed the death in police custody of George Floyd.

In St. Louis, Missouri, one such coalition -- the People's Plan -- was built years ago.

"We have a chance to reshape public policy, allowing us to shift outcomes and build a new vision for our city that is truly equitable, sustainable and inclusive. The People's Plan will allow us to do just that," the plan's website explains.

Aaron Rogers, a faith leader and activist in the St. Louis area, told VOA that through community efforts such as these, his city has seen significant systemic changes.

"We've seen radical movements for turning over incumbent power and putting young people into those positions. Cori Bush is one of the prime examples of that," Rogers said, referring to the social justice activist and nurse now serving as the district's congresswoman in Washington.

Rogers said changing the elected officials in his community has led to changing some policies.

In August of last year, after months of campaigning from local activists, a medium-security prison known as the "Workhouse," notorious for its poor living conditions, was closed.

January 28, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Finally Ending The Despicable U.S.-Saudi Alliance (DOUG BANDOW, 1/28/21, American Conservative)

The crown prince has become the fount of regime criminality. The royal family dictatorship was generally moderate in its repression and collegial in its corruption until King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud took over in January 2015. He put his favorite son, MbS, in charge. The latter loosened cultural strictures while tightening political control.

According to the slightly sanitized State Department human rights report, Riyadh is responsible for:

unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced disappearances; torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and movement; severe restrictions of religious freedom; citizens' lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official discrimination against women, although new women's rights initiatives were implemented; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual activity; and prohibition of trade unions. In several cases the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity.

Saudis affirm that the situation is worse than ever. MbS has an almost pathological determination to punish any Saudi who criticizes his rule. According to the Financial Times: "Waves of crackdowns have continued. Hundreds of activists remain in prison, according to human rights groups. One veteran activist died in custody this year and another writer died shortly after he was released."

Torture is routine. Bloggers and writers even have been arrested for what they did not say--failing to sing the regime's praises after it unveiled its blockade against Qatar, for example. The red lines were erased as the Kingdom moved into a 1984 kind of world. Said one Saudi, "retroactive arrests are made for things now deemed unacceptable." Even senior members of the royal family, once immune from harm, are treated like any other Saudi--detained, imprisoned, kidnapped, disappeared, fleeced, and even killed. The regime is far worse than its great regional rival Iran.

Riyadh targets foreigners as well. MbS's greatest single crime was the invasion, in partnership with the United Arab Emirates, of Yemen in March 2015. He expected a few weeks of combat to restore the previous puppet regime, but more than five years later the conflict still rages. The Saudis and Emiratis are responsible for tens of thousands of civilian deaths. Yet Riyadh continues to employ U.S.-supplied and -serviced planes dropping U.S.-provided munitions. Other examples of MbS's reckless international behavior include kidnapping the prime minister of Lebanon, supporting combatants in the Libyan civil war, and blockading Qatar. He continued earlier policies of underwriting jihadist insurgents in Syria and tyrannical regimes in Bahrain and Egypt. The most infamous Saudi crime occurred two years ago when a special death squad turned the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, into an abattoir, where Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered.

Through it all Trump and the congressional GOP shielded the Kingdom from accountability.

For so long as the Arab regime suppresses Muslim democracy it is a natural ally of the Bibi's and Donald's of the world.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


I called Arizona for Biden on Fox News. Here's what I learned (Chris Stirewalt, Jan. 28th, 2021, LA Times)

The rebellion on the populist right against the results of the 2020 election was partly a cynical, knowing effort by political operators and their hype men in the media to steal an election or at least get rich trying. But it was also the tragic consequence of the informational malnourishment so badly afflicting the nation.

When I defended the call for Biden in the Arizona election, I became a target of murderous rage from consumers who were furious at not having their views confirmed.

Having been cosseted by self-validating coverage for so long, many Americans now consider any news that might suggest that they are in error or that their side has been defeated as an attack on them personally. The lie that Trump won the 2020 election wasn't nearly as much aimed at the opposing party as it was at the news outlets that stated the obvious, incontrovertible fact.

While there is still a lucrative market for a balanced offering of news and opinion at high-end outlets, much of the mainstream is increasingly bent toward flattery and fluff. Most stories are morally complicated and don't have white hats and black hats. Defeats have many causes and victories are never complete. Reporting these stories requires skill and dispassion. But hearing them requires something of consumers, too: Enough humility to be open to learning something new.

I remain confident that the current depredations of the digital revolution will pass, just as those of the telegraph, radio and broadcast television did. Americans grew into those media and providers learned to meet the demands of a more sophisticated marketplace. That's the work that I've always aimed to do and hope to be part of for many years to come.

What tugs at my mind after seeing a mob of enthusiastic ignoramuses sack the Capitol, though, is whether that sophistication will come quickly enough when outlets have the means to cater to every unhealthy craving of their consumers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Biden will direct billions in federal spending power to climate change (James Temple, January 27, 2021, MIT Technology Review)

President Joe Biden continues to make good on his campaign pledge to accelerate progress on climate change, rapidly working down the list of what he can accomplish on his own in his early days in office.

On Wednesday, January 27, he will sign a second set of executive orders and memorandums on climate change that promise to bring about major changes in US energy policies and priorities: directing federal agencies to purchase US-made, zero-emissions vehicles and carbon-free electricity, halting nearly all new oil and gas leases on public lands, and eliminating most fossil-fuel subsidies.

Biden also placed climate change at the center of national security planning, requiring federal agencies to evaluate how increasingly severe heat waves, fires, floods, and famines could inflame global conflicts. The actions will also begin the process of creating bolder emissions reductions targets for the US under the Paris climate agreement.

The latest directives follow Biden's climate actions on his first day in office, which included kick-starting the process of rejoining the Paris agreement and establishing new regulations on methane emissions, vehicle fuel economy standards, and much more.

The orders will provide a major boost to the domestic market for renewables like wind, solar and geothermal plants, as well as electric or hydrogen vehicles. They will direct billions of federals dollars to these industries while creating regulatory certainty that will make it easier to finance new projects and factories, says Josh Freed, who leads the climate and energy program at Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington, DC.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


"World first": South Australia achieves 100pct solar, and lowest prices in Australia (Giles Parkinson, 29 January 2021, renew Economy)

South Australia - maligned by conservatives over the world-leading share of wind and solar in its grid - now boasts the cheapest wholesale electricity prices in the country, even as it reaches "world first" levels of 100 per cent solar power. [...]

AEMO says this is a world-first in a grid of this size, and occurred in a December quarter when South Australia posted the lowest wholesale electricity prices in the country - thanks to the growing share of wind and solar and the increase in rooftop solar PV which is reducing grid demand.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


What Neoliberals Believe (Colin Mortimer, 1/28/21, Exponents)

Neoliberals believe in core liberal values. Principles like democratic representation, equality before the law, the open society, and the freedoms of speech, association, and the press are core elements of the political philosophy of neoliberalism.

We believe the core liberal values must be embedded and sustained in liberal institutions. Institutions define the norms and rules that constrain and motivate our public behavior. Positive societal outcomes require strong institutions. Neoliberals believe in the value of preserving and improving our existing institutions.

We believe in the value of social liberalism. Social liberalism is valuable in and of itself. We should strive for a society that is inclusive regardless of race, sex, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Beyond that, creating inclusive institutions also makes our society more resilient and our economy stronger.  

We believe in free markets and a strong social state. As Sam Bowman put it in 2016, free markets are astonishingly good at creating wealth but less good at distributing it equally. The foundation of neoliberalism's economic beliefs is a system that promotes growth and nurtures entrepreneurship, while also providing a safety net that shares those gains with everyone. [...]

We believe in more people. Societies prosper when an increased number of people live within them. Neoliberals want there to be more people, whether that is through immigration or policies that promote more children.

We believe in free trade. Free trade has been a net positive for the world by lifting billions across the world out of poverty through higher wages and cheaper goods. Neoliberals believe in the further proliferation of free trade across the world while acknowledging that the strong social state should be employed to help those left behind by it.  

Neoliberalism is what we got to after most of us First Way folks accepted that the citizenry of every developed nation demands a social welfare net and Second Way folks recognized that the way to fund it was via capitalism. Every leader elected in the Anglosphere and Scandinavia for decades now has been the candidate most closely associated with these Third Way ideas. This is the politics of the Deep State. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


New Poll: Most Americans Support Abortion Restrictions (Alexandra DeSanctis, Jan. 27th, 2021, National Review)

While Americans who call themselves pro-choice (53 percent) outnumber those who describe themselves as pro-life (43 percent), most Americans believe that abortion should be limited to the first three months of pregnancy, if it's permitted at all. A slim majority of respondents said abortion either shouldn't be permitted at all or should be legal only in cases where a mother's life is in danger or when she has been the victim of rape or incest.

Just 15 percent of Americans say they support keeping abortion available to women at any point during pregnancy, and less than one-third of pro-choice Americans say the same. In fact, a majority of pro-choice respondents said they would limit abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, the so-called hard cases, or not at all.

Though supporters of unlimited legal abortion often claim that an overwhelming majority of Americans supports the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the Marist poll results suggest otherwise. Almost two-thirds of respondents said that if the Court reconsiders Roe, it should either make abortion illegal or allow restrictions on abortions as determined by each state. Less than one-third said the Court should maintain the position that abortion should be legal without any restrictions.

Interestingly, 20 percent of Democrats who were surveyed described themselves as pro-life, despite the fact that the Democratic Party has become increasingly in favor of permissive abortion laws.

Nearly six in ten Americans say they oppose using taxpayer money to underwrite abortion procedures, and more than one-third of pro-choice respondents agreed. Thirty-one percent of Democrats said they oppose federal funding of abortion, even as Democrats in Congress and President Joe Biden have pledged to eliminate the Hyde amendment, which prevents the government from using entitlement spending to directly reimburse providers for abortion procedures.

Meanwhile, more than three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) are opposed to using U.S. aid money to fund abortions overseas. Under past Republican presidents, the Mexico City policy has prohibited federal aid from going to groups that provide or promote abortions around the globe. Biden has promised to undo that policy and is reported to be planning an executive order to do so in coming days.

But according to this survey, a majority of Americans in Biden's own party disagree with him. A slight majority (55 percent) of Democrats said they do not want the U.S. to fund abortion globally, and nearly two-thirds of pro-choice Americans agreed. Independent voters feel even more strongly: Eighty-five percent said they oppose U.S. funding of overseas abortions.

Finally, the poll suggests that most Americans, including those who are generally supportive of legal abortion, tend to oppose abortions chosen after an unborn child is diagnosed with Down syndrome. Seventy percent of respondents said they oppose such abortions, and a majority of pro-choice respondents and Democrats agreed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Iran offers US 'reality check' on insistence it comply first with nuclear deal (Times of Israel, 1/28/21)

"Reality check for Blinken. The US violated JCPOA, blocked food/medicine to Iranians, punished adherence to UNSCR 2231," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. "Throughout that sordid mess, Iran abided by JCPOA, only took foreseen remedial measures. Now, who should take 1st step? Never forget Trump's maximum failure."

Iran should demand further economic relief before allowing the US to rejoin.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Why Rob Roper Won't Stop Talking About Voter Fraud in Vermont  (DAVE GRAM, 1/28/21,  Seven Days)

Vermont and other states pushed hard for mail-in voting to reduce or eliminate Election Day exposure to the coronavirus. In Vermont's general election, Republicans picked up three seats in the House and one in the Senate, and Republican Gov. Phil Scott coasted to reelection over Progressive/Democrat David Zuckerman. [...]

When town and city clerks in Vermont detect any evidence of fraud, they alert the Secretary of State's Office, which investigates to see whether it can be chalked up to administrative error, voter confusion or some other non-sinister cause. If it still looks suspicious, the Secretary of State's Office sends the matter across the street to the state's top prosecutor.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan told Fair Game he got the handoff in seven cases connected with the November election, and exactly one was found "actionable," meaning worthy of prosecution. Donovan wouldn't provide details, saying the case is nearing resolution but isn't there yet. He described the perpetrator as a "provocateur" who was "trying to test the system" of mail-in voting -- and got caught.

So there you have it: one case of attempted, but thwarted, election fraud out of a highest-ever total of about 374,000 ballots cast.

January 27, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Biden's Initial Batch Of Executive Actions Is Popular (Perry Bacon Jr., 1/27/21, 538)

Most of Biden's executive actions are popular

Share of all respondents and Republican voters who support or oppose 14 of Biden's executive actions during his first week in office

Prohibiting workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity†83%64%16%34%
Committing to a government-wide focus on racial equity†77522145
Requiring masks on federal property75541935
Continuing suspension of federal student loan repayments‡68461938
Continuing a ban on evictions‡66491731
Restarting DACA program†65333366
Rejoining the World Health Organization62293061
Recommitting to the Paris climate agreement61273163
Reexamining Trump policies on public health and the environment‡57242856
Allowing noncitizens to be counted in the U.S. Census†56174281
Ending new wall construction at the U.S.-Mexico border53144080
Ending the ban on travel to the U.S. from some primarily Muslim/African nations52164075
Enacting a moratorium on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge‡49212753
Revoking the permit for the Keystone pipeline‡43153260

†Polled only by Ipsos.

‡Polled only by Morning Consult.

Policies polled by both Ipsos and Morning Consult show the average.


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


This new coalition of heavy industry companies is collaborating on net-zero tech ( ADELE PETERS. 1/27/21, Co.Exist)

A new coalition called the Mission Possible Partnership, with backing from Jeff Bezos's Earth Fund and the Bill Gates-founded VC fund Breakthrough Energy, is now bringing together partners in seven industries--shipping, aviation, trucking, chemicals, steel, aluminum, and cement--to accelerate their path to net zero. [...]

"These seven sectors are particularly ill-suited to being driven by a system that is kind of rigidly organized around national targets," says Paul Bodnar, managing director at the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, which is running the new partnership along with the Energy Transitions Commission, the We Mean Business coalition, and the World Economic Forum. "They're organized around global supply chains, global markets, global investor groups, shared technology pathways. They're organized horizontally rather than vertically, which is the orientation of the Paris Agreement." (Bodnar, who previously served in the Obama administration, worked closely on the 2015 Paris Agreement.)

The seven industries are responsible for around 30% of global emissions now, and could run through the world's entire carbon budget by 2030 if they don't change. The organizations behind the program saw a clear need for new systems to help make the transition happen quickly. "If you want to decarbonize global industries, you've got to think and act like global industries," Bodnar says. "We're trying to create what we think is the most important missing piece of architecture in the global climate action space, which is one that's organized around the way these sectors actually work."

The new partnership brings companies, their suppliers, their customers, their regulators, and their funders into a conversation about how to get to net zero so that they can make concrete plans. "You've seen a dramatic increase in the last couple of years in the interest in and commitment to net zero, but none of them can actually execute those commitments unless they come together in a particular configuration where they're doing things together," Bodnar says. The shipping industry is further ahead because it has a global regulator, but other industries need to organize in a similar way.

January 26, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:42 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


Physicists Study How Universes Might Bubble Up and Collide (Charlie Wood, January 25, 2021, Quanta)

What lies beyond all we can see? The question may seem unanswerable. Nevertheless, some cosmologists have a response: Our universe is a swelling bubble. Outside it, more bubble universes exist, all immersed in an eternally expanding and energized sea -- the multiverse.

The idea is polarizing. Some physicists embrace the multiverse to explain why our bubble looks so special (only certain bubbles can host life), while others reject the theory for making no testable predictions (since it predicts all conceivable universes). But some researchers expect that they just haven't been clever enough to work out the precise consequences of the theory yet.

Now, various teams are developing new ways to infer exactly how the multiverse bubbles and what happens when those bubble universes collide.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wind and solar lead charge as renewables overtake fossil fuels in Europe (Ketan Joshi, 26 January 2021, Renew Economy)

A clear picture of 2020 is emerging, in the context of climate and energy - it has far exceeded expectations for the growth of zero carbon energy and the decline in fossil fuels. A new report from European energy analytics firms Ember Climate and AgoraEnegiewende confirm that, for Europe, renewable energy has risen to 38% of the region's total electricity (compares to 34.6% in 2019).

Of this 38%, 20% was wind and solar, 13% was hydro and 6% was bioenergy. These forms of zero carbon energy generated more than fossil fuels for all of Europe for the first time in 2020, and that same milestone was hit for Germany, Spain and the UK for the first time too.

All these plans should target 2030, not 2050.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Joe Biden Should Talk To Cuba Again (JACK ERICKSON, 1/26/21, American Conservative)

A United Nations report from 2018 estimates the total cost of the embargo on Cuba to be $130 billion since its imposition. Sanctions have served to scare away a number of potential Western investors and have damaged Cuba's energy sector, causing repeated blackouts. Moreover, a study by the American Journal of Public Health found that "the embargo is shown to make the supply of essential goods more costly, more difficult, and more time consuming to procure and maintain." Both an ongoing economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic make the procurement of goods such as food, fuel, and medicine all the more challenging. Additionally, recent sanctions by the Trump administration have cut off Havana's third largest source of hard currency by prohibiting most remittances from Cubans residing overseas. While this damages Gaesa, a Cuban military/regime-controlled conglomerate, it also hurts elderly citizens and deprives the state of revenue necessary to import food and medicine.

If, however, economic restrictions were to be rolled back (as the Biden administration has promised) and ties with Havana normalized, it would lead to mutual benefit. A 2017 report on the embargo by the Engage Cuba advocacy group concluded the total loss in annual export revenue by U.S. firms to be $5.9 billion. Thousands of potential American jobs, including in manufacturing, have been lost due to the embargo. Moreover, at a time when American farmers are suffering, Cuba could become an over $1 billion export market for the U.S. agricultural sector. The island imports much of its food and constantly faces shortages. With the island reliant on food imports from faraway countries, the proximity of the United States puts American farmers in an excellent position to profit from reduced trade restrictions. Congress could pass legislation such as the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, which would eliminate barriers to U.S. agricultural export financing. Increased trade would also benefit private Cuban farmers, who constitute a major segment of Cuba's entrepreneurial class.

Furthermore, engagement between Washington and Havana would help to alleviate Cuba's humanitarian crises. As illustrated above, America's sanctions regime has obstructed medical supplies from reaching the island, including during the coronavirus pandemic. Cuba's foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, has stated that the embargo is "the main obstacle to purchase the medicines, equipment and material required to confront the pandemic." A similar sentiment was expressed in a UN condemnation of the embargo, claiming that U.S. restrictions "[prevent] financing the purchase of medicine, medical equipment, food and other essential goods." The Biden administration could not only reverse these restrictions, allowing much needed medical supplies to be imported, but could also end restrictions on travel and tourism, which prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the island.

You don't even need to engage; just lift all our sanctions and tariffs unilaterally and allow free movement of goods and people. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


To Understand Bitcoin, Just Think of It as a Faith-Based Asset (Joe Weisenthal, Jan. 21st, 2021, Bloomberg Business)

Bitcoin was developed by a mystical figure, with no known corporeal presence, called Satoshi Nakamoto. His true name is unknown. At some point, Nakamoto stopped posting online altogether, departing the earthly plane. He's never once sold a coin, either, creating this thing of massive value with no clear indication of having cashed in. A selfless figure.

Nakamoto's writings are sacred texts. There's the Bitcoin white paper and his early message board postings at Bitcointalk.com, where he corresponded with fellow cypherpunks interested in creating digital money. Those early correspondees are the Bitcoin saints. One is Hal Finney, the first known recipient of a Bitcoin transaction.

Finney died in 2014, but one day he might come back to life. He was cryogenically frozen at a facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., in the hopes of someday waking up to a rejuvenated body. All religions have metaphysics and implicit promises of eternal life. As Finn Brunton lays out in his book Digital Cash: The Unknown History of the Anarchists, Utopians, and Technologists Who Created Cryptocurrency, the prehistory of Bitcoin had a high overlap with the Extropian movement, which believed in eternal life through technology.

Bitcoin's worldview has other religious features. There are devils (bankers and central bankers), implicit promises of riches for the true believers who HODL (hold without selling), and damnation for the no-coiners who reject the way ("Have fun staying poor" is a popular Bitcoin incantation).

There's a Bitcoin diet (carnivory). There are holidays, such as Bitcoin Pizza Day, and the Halving, which occurs every four years, when the pace of new Bitcoin issuance is cut in half. And there are sects and schisms. In 2017 a group that had a different vision for scaling Bitcoin forked off Bitcoin Cash. Then within that community, another group forked off and created Bitcoin SV (for Satoshi's Vision).

January 25, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Nigerians Laud Biden Reversal of Trump's Travel Ban on Muslim, African Countries (Timothy Obiezu, January 25, 2021, Voice of America)

Abuja resident Joseph Abba wished to honeymoon with his wife in the United States after their wedding in 2018.

He readied their documents and applied for a visa but says his visa was denied, even though he met the basic requirements.

"As an applicant, the pain of being refused, even when you know you're qualified, is something else," Abba said. "Having known the already concluded decisions even before going for the interview, it's a discouragement on the applicant."

Nigeria was one of several African nations included in the travel bans imposed by former U.S. president Donald Trump. As a result, travel between Nigeria and the U.S. became almost impossible. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


How Germany's far-right party is luring Jewish voters in this year's election (Haaretz, January 25, 2021)

Officially, the Jewish branch of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party has just 24 members. Its co-chair, Artur Abramovych, has a surprising message for Haaretz, though: "You have to know that there are many Jews who vote for the AfD." [...]

Why would a party that has been widely criticized for frequent antisemitic messaging appeal to Jewish voters? Well, its decision to brand itself as a staunch pro-Israel supporter has attracted some unlikely supporters - seemingly including Yair Netanyahu, the son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Amsterdam Is Embracing a Radical New Economic Theory to Help Save the Environment. Could It Also Replace Capitalism? (CIARA NUGENT, JANUARY 22, 2021, TIME)

One evening in December, after a long day working from home, Jennifer Drouin, 30, headed out to buy groceries in central Amsterdam. Once inside, she noticed new price tags. The label by the zucchini said they cost a little more than normal: 6¢ extra per kilo for their carbon footprint, 5¢ for the toll the farming takes on the land, and 4¢ to fairly pay workers. "There are all these extra costs to our daily life that normally no one would pay for, or even be aware of," she says.

The so-called true-price initiative, operating in the store since late 2020, is one of dozens of schemes that Amsterdammers have introduced in recent months as they reassess the impact of the existing economic system. By some accounts, that system, capitalism, has its origins just a mile from the grocery store. In 1602, in a house on a narrow alley, a merchant began selling shares in the nascent Dutch East India Company. In doing so, he paved the way for the creation of the first stock exchange--and the capitalist global economy that has transformed life on earth. "Now I think we're one of the first cities in a while to start questioning this system," Drouin says. "Is it actually making us healthy and happy? What do we want? Is it really just economic growth?"

In April 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19, Amsterdam's city government announced it would recover from the crisis, and avoid future ones, by embracing the theory of "doughnut economics." Laid out by British economist Kate Raworth in a 2017 book, the theory argues that 20th century economic thinking is not equipped to deal with the 21st century reality of a planet teetering on the edge of climate breakdown. Instead of equating a growing GDP with a successful society, our goal should be to fit all of human life into what Raworth calls the "sweet spot" between the "social foundation," where everyone has what they need to live a good life, and the "environmental ceiling." By and large, people in rich countries are living above the environmental ceiling. Those in poorer countries often fall below the social foundation. The space in between: that's the doughnut. [...]

In 1990, Raworth, now 50, arrived at Oxford University to study economics. She quickly became frustrated by the content of the lectures, she recalls over Zoom from her home office in Oxford, where she now teaches. She was learning about ideas from decades and sometimes centuries ago: supply and demand, efficiency, rationality and economic growth as the ultimate goal. "The concepts of the 20th century emerged from an era in which humanity saw itself as separated from the web of life," Raworth says. In this worldview, she adds, environmental issues are relegated to what economists call "externalities." "It's just an ultimate absurdity that in the 21st century, when we know we are witnessing the death of the living world unless we utterly transform the way we live, that death of the living world is called 'an environmental externality.'"

It's basically W's Neoconomics

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Are We Screening Too Much for Skin Cancer? It's Complicated (TERESA CARR, 01.25.2021, UnDark)

ABOUT A DECADE AGO, when he was a first-year dermatology resident, Adewole Adamson learned that "exploding" rates of melanoma were a pressing problem. That was -- and still is -- the official position of the American Academy of Dermatology. Since the mid-1970s, the incidence rate of melanoma, a potentially deadly cancer, has skyrocketed sixfold; once relatively rare, melanoma is now one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.

A few years later during a research fellowship, Adamson dug into what was behind the epidemic. He was surprised to find that diagnosing more cancers wasn't saving more lives. Mortality remained "stone-cold flat" for decades, said Adamson, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin's Dell Medical School. Only recently have melanoma deaths declined, thanks to new treatments for advanced cases. Furthermore, evidence suggested that the culprit most commonly blamed for skin cancer -- exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds -- couldn't account for the dramatic rise in melanoma diagnoses.

Adamson and collaborator H. Gilbert Welch, a senior investigator in the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, tried for a year without success to publish a paper showing that UV exposure wasn't the primary driver of the epidemic. Reviewers didn't dispute the science, but they expressed concern that the findings might deter people from protecting themselves against the sun.

To overcome deeply ingrained notions about UV exposure and melanoma, Adamson said they needed to tell a fuller story. If not UV, then what is responsible for pushing melanoma rates ever higher? In an analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month, Adamson, Welch, and Benjamin Mazer, a pathologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, make the case that medical care is to blame. By screening more people, doing more biopsies, and classifying more ambiguous lesions as cancer, health care providers have been "overdiagnosing" melanoma, flagging too many harmless skin spots that would have never proved harmful.

Overdiagnosis is a well-established -- and many would say unavoidable -- consequence of screening the general population for disease. The problem is particularly pronounced with cancer, where increased surveillance and new diagnostic tools allow physicians to detect small irregularities that might not be destined to spread. In a 2019 analysis of four decades' worth of cancer statistics, Welch laid out how, for certain cancers, screening has driven up case numbers without reducing deaths. As with melanoma, for example, diagnoses of thyroid and kidney cancer have risen dramatically, while people are dying of those diseases at much the same rate as in 1975.

The pandemic pressed pause on many health screenings, providing an opportunity, I noted in a recent column, to look more closely at when routine checks help and when they are more likely to lead to unnecessary follow-up tests and treatments.

Yeah, but we "cure" so many!

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Christopher Nolan's Tenet Tackles a Christian Mystery (Jan. 25th, 2021, National Review)

[A] bad scifi movie can also be a great philosophical drama, and the message at the heart of Nolan's puzzle-film is extravagantly life-affirming. Tenet successfully portrays a resolution to a thorny theological riddle: How do we reconcile God's predestination of events with genuine human free will?

As a theological problem, this one has nearly broken the Church. The attempt by Protestant reformer John Calvin to vindicate God's sovereignty ultimately forced him to abjure any meaningful belief in human free will, leaving us as either tools in the hands of our Maker or utter slaves to sin. For the rest of Christianity, the mystery of how to reconcile the seemingly unreconcilable is beyond the human ability to reason.

But it's not above Nolan's capacity to dramatize. Spoilers to follow.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden's latest executive order: Buy American (Hans Nichols, 1/25/21, Axios)

The executive action is yet another attempt by Biden to accomplish goals administratively without waiting for the backing of Congress. The new order echoes Biden's $400 billion campaign pledge to increase government purchases of American goods.

The Left is the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden signals his goal of eradicating every trace of the Trump era from U.S. memory (Michael Hiltzik, Jan. 21, 2021, LA Times)

In the very first executive orders of his presidency, Biden has signaled that he intends to do more than merely repeal and reverse Trump's policies. His plan is to eradicate any trace of Trumpism from American government.

Implicit in Biden's first orders is the notion that his effort will be easier than it seems on the surface. For one thing, it will have been aided by Trump, whose slipshod approach to governing produced a roll of regulations that were born legally impaired.

As we've reported, scores, if not hundreds, of Trump environmental and healthcare rules have been blocked by federal judges for violating the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires rule making to be based on solid technical foundations and subjected to public comment. (The usual judicial boilerplate for kicking the rules out was that they were "arbitrary and capricious.")

That's true of Biden efforts to undo some Trump policies. But Biden isn't likely to make the same mistake Trump's vandals made, because Biden's team is composed of adult professionals who know how to do government.

January 24, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Electric car uptake reaches tipping point in China and Europe (Bridie Schmidt,  25 January 2021, Renew Economy)

Across the Western European market, plug-in electric car sales rose to 12.3% of car sales in 2020, according to auto analyst Matthias Schmidt, while the broader market fell 25% during the pandemic to 1985 levels of just 10.8 million.

In China, meanwhile, EV sales reached 5.4% of the broader market in 2020. Energy economist Gregor McDonald notes this indicates both markets have reached the critical 5% level that is pinned by growth research as a take-off point for new technology.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


Vaccine Distribution Plan 'Did Not Really Exist' Under Trump, Says Biden Chief of Staff (JASON LEMON, 1/24/21, Newsweek)

President Joe Biden's Chief of Staff Ron Klain lamented on Sunday that former President Donald Trump's administration did not have a solid vaccine distribution plan in place when leaving office.

Trump consistently downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and readily criticized lockdown measures implemented by governors across the country, while disputing the scientific consensus that masks curb the spread of the novel virus. However, the former president put significant government resources behind the so-called Operation Warp Speed initiative to produce and distribute vaccines for the novel virus in record-breaking time. While the U.S. approved two vaccines in December--an unprecedented achievement--the rollout has been slower than promised by Trump administration officials.

"The process to distribute the vaccine, particularly outside of nursing homes and hospitals out into the community as a whole, did not really exist when we came into the White House. As every American has seen, the way in which people get vaccines is chaotic, it's very limited," Klain said during an interview with NBC News' Meet the Press.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


San Francisco is one of California's most conservative cities -- when it comes to housing (Heather Knight Jan. 23, 2021, SF Chronicle)

A major Northern California city took a big step last week toward addressing the devastating housing crisis that's exacerbating inequality, worsening climate change and hurting families throughout our state. In a move that's both practical and visionary, it plans to allows people to build up to four units of housing on any piece of land now slated for one house.

The majority of people speaking in public comment and writing letters about the plan were not cranky NIMBYs, but those who supported building more affordable housing near their own homes. The city council approved it unanimously. The mayor rejoiced, saying the move would foster equity and inclusion.

Was this progressive city San Francisco? Of course not. When it comes to housing, San Francisco isn't progressive at all.

This truly progressive city was Sacramento -- a city that's preparing for an influx of residents and businesses by, get this, building more housing. So people of all socioeconomic backgrounds can live there. Shocking, I know.

"Sacramento is a rapidly changing city, and we're shedding our old image as just a government town," Mayor Darrell Steinberg told me. "We are diversifying our economy where we're attracting a lot of tech and life sciences and innovation and broadening our economic base.

"But it is not enough to just grow a modern economy," he continued. "That growth needs to be coupled with an absolute commitment to inclusion. People should not only have the ability to play in Land Park, which is the crown jewel in our regional parks system, they should have the opportunity to live there as well."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


For Electric Car Makers, This Battery Breakthrough Could Change Everything A full charge in five minutes? Goodbye range anxiety. (DAMIAN CARRINGTON, 1/24/21, The Guardian)

Batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes have been produced in a factory for the first time, marking a significant step towards electric cars becoming as fast to charge as filling up petrol or diesel vehicles.

Electric vehicles are a vital part of action to tackle the climate crisis but running out of charge during a journey is a worry for drivers. The new lithium-ion batteries were developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China on standard production lines.

StoreDot has already demonstrated its "extreme fast-charging" battery in phones, drones and scooters and the 1,000 batteries it has now produced are to showcase its technology to carmakers and other companies. Daimler, BP, Samsung and TDK have all invested in StoreDot, which has raised $130m to date and was named a Bloomberg New Energy Finance Pioneer in 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Disenchanted Conservatives are Voting for Democrats  (Leon Hadar, 1/24/21, National Interest)

Pelosi wants to make sure that conservative voters who turned their backs on the Trumpist Republican Party are not going to have second thoughts. For example, there's the distinct possibility that some of them will be repelled by the thought that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the other Democrats who share her extreme leftist views will have an impact on the Biden administration. Those voters will be repulsed by the way that politically correct culture and identity politics is taking hold over the Democratic Party.

Pelosi hopes that the upcoming Senate impeachment trial, which will showcase Trump's controversial behavior and conduct in office will be examined and re-examined by conservative voters 24/7. Perhaps they will not like everything the Democrats say and do though. Perhaps they will return to their old political home, especially if Biden moves in a centrist direction and their fellow Republicans continue to cling to the ghost of Trump.

In a way, Pelosi's strategy also applies pressure on McConnell and other Republican leaders who may be forced to choose between maintaining the support of Trump's electoral base, which consists of conspiracy theorists who engaged in an orgy of violence and destruction in America's citadel of democracy, and trying to rebuild the party as a big political tent that old Reaganites could call their home.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


As Global Fascist Networks Grew, Trump Appointees Resisted International Cooperation Against Them (Sebastion Rotella, Jan. 23rd, 2021, ProPublica

During the past two years, U.S. counterterrorism officials held meetings with their European counterparts to discuss an emerging threat: right-wing terror groups becoming increasingly global in their reach.

American neo-Nazis were traveling to train and fight with militias in the Ukraine. There were suspected links between U.S. extremists and the Russian Imperial Movement, a white supremacist group that was training foreigners in its St. Petersburg compounds. A gunman accused of killing 23 people at an El Paso Walmart in 2019 had denounced a "Hispanic invasion" and praised a white supremacist who killed 51 people at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and who had been inspired by violent American and Italian racists.

But the efforts to improve transatlantic cooperation against the threat ran into a recurring obstacle. During talks and communications, senior Trump administration officials steadfastly refused to use the term "right-wing terrorism," causing disputes and confusion with the Europeans, who routinely use the phrase, current and former European and U.S. officials told ProPublica. Instead, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security referred to "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism," while the State Department chose "racially or ethnically motivated terrorism."

"We did have problems with the Europeans," one national security official said. "They call it right-wing terrorism and they were angry that we didn't. There was a real aversion to using that term on the U.S. side. The aversion came from political appointees in the Trump administration. We very quickly realized that if people talked about right-wing terrorism, it was a nonstarter with them."

January 23, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


TV: Mossad chief to meet Biden, set out terms for overhaul of Iran nuclear deal (Times of Israel, 1/23/21)

Prime Minister Netanyahu is to dispatch Mossad chief Yossi Cohen to Washington shortly to lay out Israel's demands of the Biden Administration for any new version of the Iran nuclear deal, Channel 12 news reported Saturday night.

...which are targeted at Iran and an America/Iranian free trade deal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Waiting For Our Salazar: review of Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die, by Tom Gallagher (MICHAEL WARREN DAVIS, 1/23/21, American Conservative)

Nobody wants to talk about António de Oliveira Salazar. The left resent him because he doesn't fit their profile of a right-wing dictator. He despised fascism, which he dismissed as "pagan Caesarism." Likewise, he said Hitler's racism was "essentially pagan, incompatible with the character of our Christian civilization."

Salazar rarely used his secret police to suppress political dissent. When he did, it was limited to the militant communists who tried to blow him up in 1937 as he made his way to church. After the bomb went off, shattering the windows of his car, he dusted himself off and said to his entourage, "Everything is over now. Let's go in for Mass."

Dr. Salazar opposed the Axis Powers' expansionism, beginning with Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. During World War II, he helped victims of the Third Reich escape Nazi-occupied Europe; Casablanca got that much right. He lent material support to the Allies during World War II, and he would have gladly joined the war on their side. Salazar remained neutral only for fear of driving his neighbor, Francisco Franco, into Hitler's arms.

The right, meanwhile, doesn't like to talk about him for fear of being called fascists ourselves. 

Crushing Communism until the threat passed left places like Chile, Portugal and Spain with regimes that easily reverted to democracy with elevated standards of living. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Trump mulled replacing attorney general over election results: US media (AFP, 1/22/21)

Donald Trump considered replacing then-acting US attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen with a Justice Department lawyer who would help him force Georgia officials to overturn the state's election result, US media reported late Friday.

The New York Times said Trump only decided against the move when told that all remaining top officials at the Justice Department would resign en masse if the plan went ahead. [...]

The reports describe Trump's increasing frustration with Rosen's refusal to wield the power of the Justice Department to interfere in the count.

He and Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department lawyer who supported Trump's assertions that the election was stolen, allegedly came up with a plan to replace Rosen with Clark.

But at a three-hour showdown involving the three men, which officials cited in the New York Times compared to an episode of Trump's reality show "The Apprentice," the then-president backed down after being told the move would prompt mass resignations.

He couldn't even manage a Saturday Night Massacre.  Nixon really doesn't deserve Donald comparisons.

January 22, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Biden Gave Trump's Union Busters a Taste of Their Own Medicine (MARK JOSEPH STERN, JAN 22, 2021, Slate)

Twenty-three minutes after assuming the presidency, Joe Biden demanded the resignation of Peter Robb, the notoriously anti-union general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board appointed by Donald Trump. Robb refused to resign, so Biden fired him. Alice Stock, another anti-union Trump appointee, then assumed the role of acting general counsel--and Biden demanded her resignation the next day. Stock also refused to resign, so Biden fired her, too.

Both Robb and Stock, who relentlessly undermined unions' ability to organize and bargain, are now complaining that Biden fired them without just cause. Stock went so far as to suggest that Robb's firing was illegal. She is wrong. Robb and Stock were at-will employees of the executive. Like the countless American workers whom they prevented from unionizing, they had no guarantee against termination without just cause. Biden did not violate any laws. He simply gave the nation's chief union busters a taste of their own medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


Hydrogen is going to take 25% of all oil demand by 2050, Bank of America analyst says (Anmar Frangoul, 1/22/21, CNBC)

Israel listed several factors which would affect oil and gas going forward, including cheaper renewable energy, regulation and the electrification of cars.

"We believe that hydrogen is going to take 25% of all oil demand by 2050," he went on to state, adding that oil was "facing headwinds left and right. Yes, we'll still need it, yes, it's still going to be around, but the market share of oil is going to plummet."

As noted by the U.S. Department of Energy, hydrogen "is an energy carrier, not an energy source," meaning it's a secondary energy source like electricity. The DOE adds that hydrogen "can deliver or store a tremendous amount of energy" and "can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity, or power and heat."

Hating environmentalists won't save fossil fuels.

January 21, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Covid-19 Has Nearly Wiped Out the Flu--How Do We Keep It From Coming Back? (Miho Inada,  Jan. 21, 2021, WSJ)

It is a small bright spot amid Covid-19, although the number of people saved from a flu death pales next to the number dying from the new pandemic. It also presents questions that doctors around the globe will likely be wrestling with for years: If flu can be nearly wiped out this season, why not every season? [...]

"In a normal year, there are 50 to 100 flu patients every day around this time of the year," said Sho Naito, who runs five clinics in the Tokyo metropolitan area. "But we recently have only two to three a week" at each site, he said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Our Jacobin Moment: The best historical analogy for the GOP's ongoing radicalization doesn't come from the 20th century--or even the 19th. It comes from late 18th-century France. (Sean C. Goodlett, 1/21/21, Arc Digital)

Any number of revolutionary uprisings -- or journées-- bear a similarity to what we've just gone through. On September 5, 1793, for instance, thousands of Parisians, goaded by the journalist Jacques-René Hébert and enraged by sharp rises in grain prices, stormed the Republic's legislative chambers.

Inside the halls of the Convention, they made demands to turn the revolutionary army against grain hoarders in the countryside and "unpatriotic" enemies throughout the nation.
Ominously, the mob pressed the assembled deputies to "make terror the order of the day."

The most radicalized deputies responded with enthusiasm, while their more moderate colleagues cowered in fear. In the proceedings that followed, extremist deputies were appointed to the infamous Committee of Public Safety, a quasi-executive body. Maximilien Robespierre had joined in late July. Now, in September, with the addition of men like Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne and Jean Marie Collot d'Herbois, the Committee would become, in the formulation of R. R. Palmer, a dictatorship of "Twelve Who Ruled."

The principal beneficiaries and, soon enough, the victims of this journée were the Jacobins, self-described "friends of the constitution" and erstwhile moderates.
Jacobinism was not merely an ideology, nor was the Jacobin Club simply a proto-political party. In the short-lived First Republic, Jacobinism was a process, with a logic driven by the necessity of ever-increasing radicalism.

Earlier in the spring of 1793, the mob had been the blunt instrument of Jacobin deputies. After repeated instigations by Jean Paul Marat and others, enraged Parisians had overthrown the defenses of the city. Two days later, on June 2, tens of thousands surrounded the Convention and demanded the expulsion of the Jacobins' political rivals, the so-called Girondins. The charge, when boiled down, was treason. Twenty-two deputies were arrested.

Once deprived of more moderate or even just temporizing voices, the Convention hurtled toward the extremism of September.
Image for post

Throughout the First Republic, the process of radicalization was fostered by the 18th-century equivalent of our partisan media ecosystems.

The Jacobins were initially loath to sponsor their own newspaper. Instead, they offered support to journalists like Choderlos de Laclos and allowed non-affiliated papers such as the Courrier extraordinaire to report from within the Club.

But in June, 1793, following the expulsion of the Girondins, the Jacobins created the short-lived Journal de la Montagne, an official mouthpiece that exposed the fractious nature of Jacobinism.
More extreme revolutionary papers, meanwhile, enflamed the populace.

Throughout the spring and early summer of 1793, Marat's L'Ami du peuple had decried Girondin policies while pressing fantastical conspiracies. In September, Hébert was the leader of an army of sans culottes, because his Père Duchêne spewed bloodthirsty bile. By the fall, Père Duchêne and its imitators were among the most vociferous proponents of violent purges and terrorism.

Journalists like Marat and Hébert spoke to and for "the people," and they created an atmosphere of fear inside the Convention. In the mix, deputies found themselves preening before a vast public that they could barely control.

It is eerie to see the parallels with today, a time in which any number of elected Republicans stoke the rage of voters, often by advancing baseless conspiracies that then get repeated in partisan media and reposted endlessly in the echo chambers of social media.

In the weeks before January 6, for instance, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz emerged as the leaders of a dozen U.S. Senators -- a latter-day "twelve who would rule" -- by spreading the fiction that president-elect Joe Biden's victory was the product of fraud. This despite the certification of the election results as valid, free, and fair in all 50 states.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


NY AG is closing in on Trump -- and his tax lawyers just quit: report (Bob Brigham, January 21, 2021, Raw Story)

"The law firm that handled the tax affairs of Donald Trump and his company during his presidency said it would stop representing him and his business," The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. "The firm, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, is currently wrangling with the New York attorney general's office over documents related to its work for the former president's business, the Trump Organization. Led by Democratic Attorney General Letitia James, the office is conducting a civil-fraud probe into Mr. Trump's financial dealings."

"Morgan Lewis joins other firms that have distanced themselves from Mr. Trump in recent days. After the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Seyfarth Shaw LLP said it had notified the Trump Organization it would no longer represent the company," the newspaper reported.

Posted by orrinj at 11:27 AM


What Cheaper Solar Power Means for Low-Income Families: Thanks to these price and growth trends, an increasing number of state and local governments, utilities and businesses want to help lower-income customers go solar. They believe solar will cut energy bills, reduce money spent on bill payment programs, avoid pollution and create green jobs ( Galen Barbose Eric O'Shaughnessy Ryan Wiser, 1/21/21, National Interest)

In our study we evaluated five policies and business models to see which ones helped low- and moderate-income households go solar:

Financial incentives targeted at low- and moderate-income households, usually rebates or other incentives to reduce upfront costs.

Leasing rooftop solar systems, which reduces upfront costs.

Property Assessed Clean Energy financing, or PACE, which allows customers to finance energy improvements through their property tax payments. Currently, residential PACE is available only in California, Florida and Missouri.

Financial incentives such as rebates offered to customers of any income level.

"Solarize" campaigns, in which customers band together in a group purchase to get a good price.

The study includes data on more than 1 million residential rooftop photovoltaic systems installed on single-family homes in 18 states from 2010 to 2018. We compared modeled household-level income estimates for solar adopters with area median household incomes from U.S. Census data.

We found that three of the interventions - targeted incentives, leasing and PACE - effectively increased adoption equity. These approaches are boosting sales to low-income customers in existing markets and helping solar companies move into new markets, such as low-income areas where solar sales have been weak or absent.

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


It's time to fully embrace telehealth--for the COVID-19 crisis and beyond (CRAIG SETTLES, 1/21/21, Fast Company)

Interestingly enough, COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders have led to a serious reduction in Emergency Room bed use, with a 42% reduction in ER visits last April compared to 2020. The CDC considers this a double-edged sword. It's good that there are less non-critical emergency visits, but bad if people who really need the ER are avoiding it because of fear of the virus.

Telehealth kiosks might be the answer to this concern. Often low-income African Americans, other people of color, and immigrants use the ER as primary care. Kiosks can reduce ER overcrowding, provide emergency and general care, and save healthcare facilities money. Patients can go to a kiosk that enables two-way communication and feedback from healthcare professionals who can visually examine patients.

Counties and cities are placing modified kiosks in homeless shelters and food banks. It's not just about putting hardware in the right places, though:  "This strategy requires patient education and engagement to improve health literacy, plus staff training on the kiosk technology to address certain health issues and conditions," says Caplan.

"Food banks are an ideal spot to address the needs of the most vulnerable among us whether telehealth is delivering mental health or physical health," adds Emily Fisher, a telehealth doctoral candidate.  "The kiosk could be its own 'health system.' Different providers can be available during certain hours the kiosk is in use. The health records can be kept in a digital or cloud-based platform. Patients could view their medical records online. Our group uses a palm scanner to create an image that links to the medical record of the patient. Patients don't need to remember numbers, carry paperwork, or access identification procedures."

The bottom line is, that the right kiosk can save a lot of time and hassle for people who otherwise would go to an ER or an urgent-care facility. In 2019, USA Today reported that the average cost of an ER visit was $1,389 in 2017.  Saving money by deploying kiosks is a given, particularly for public hospitals.

There is no salutary economic trend that Covid has not accelerated.


Other changes are more directly related to the immediate ways daily life has been shaken up by the safety protocols the pandemic has necessitated. "The biggest change we've seen come into play is this split between customers who are coming into the store and the customers who are just there for a pickup," Price says, adding that the trend has led to a bifurcation of stores. "We're starting to see stores where there's an in-store shopping experience entry, where people walk in through the entry, there's produce, there's the frozen stuff, it's all the usual, and then there's this other side where you enter and it's more about getting in and out," he says. Many stores already had two separate entrances, so this change has been relatively easy to make.

Stores are also using their ample parking lots to create loading areas where customers can pick up orders placed online without having to go into the store at all. This approach, Price notes, has some downsides, as workers are left to weave through rows of cars to find the correct recipient. A more orderly system is the fast-food-style drive-through, which Price says is beginning to be implemented at some Safeway locations and could be a permanent feature. "That will almost certainly over time start to change the way site organization and site entry works."

The safety protocols of the pandemic will likely also lead to bigger changes inside stores, according to Price. For example, the days of the salad bar are over. Food and health safety concerns are leading to the elimination of the kind of self-serve and hot-food bars that were once a customer-centric feature of many grocery stores. Price says this may lead more stores to shift these types of food services to the back of the house and use the former self-serve space for prepackaged meals and snacks. And with the rise of grocery delivery services, some stores are even designating specific staging areas where their grocery pickers can prepare customer orders.

Health concerns may also end up affecting a part of the grocery shopping experience that's been in the midst of its own evolution: the checkout line. In recent years some stores have shifted from the old model of several lines leading to several checkout counters to a centralized approach where there's one single line, and maybe an express line, and customers all wait for the next available checker. But this may be a short-lived experiment.

"It creates a backup that snakes through the store, creates obstruction, creates customer conflict, and creates congestion challenges with these six-foot distancing rules that are currently in place," Price says. With the pandemic's duration far from certain, the added spatial requirements could make the snaking-line approach a thing of the past. And, with emerging "no-checkout" technology being developed by Amazon, the front of the grocery store may be seeing an even more dramatic transformation in the near future.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


'The nuke we survived': American Muslims breathe sigh of relief as Biden reverses travel ban (Aysha Khan, 1/21/21, RNS)

Over the last four years, more than 41,000 visa requests have been denied due to the ban. The policy also prevented life-saving surgeries for individuals from banned countries, while also limiting America's own health care workforce amid a pandemic.

Still, the rollback marks "an unprecedented victory for Muslims and allies, who flocked to airports to protest this ban and never stopped fighting and organizing to bring it to an end," said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates. 

The order also instructs the State Department to restart visa processing for these countries and calls for a review of the Trump administration's "extreme vetting" practices and a plan to "restore fairness and remedy the harms caused by the ban."

The policy, the culmination of Trump's 2015 campaign call for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims' entry, initially banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. But amid legal challenges, the order went through several iterations before a narrower version was upheld by the Supreme Court. The court's 2018 ruling required that applicants apply for waivers in a process some lawmakers and immigration rights advocates later described as a "sham." 

Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-San Francisco Bay Area, said Biden's move would "correct the course" of disrupted lives.

"Tens of thousands of impacted individuals will now have the chance to be with their families during cherished and challenging times," she said. "While we know our work is far from over, today we celebrate the heroic efforts undertaken by so many over the last several years in our effort to repeal the Muslim and African Bans."

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Israel Democracy Institute uncovers shocking racism in 'apartheid state' (MEMO, January 18, 2021)

A report by the Israel Democracy Institute has uncovered shocking levels of racism among the country's Jewish citizens. Dubbed the Democracy Index, the think tank's 2020 report has been released after a leading human rights group branded Israel an apartheid state. The institute found that nearly half of the country's Jewish population support the idea of having ethnically separate communities.

The report, which has been published annually for the past 18 years and was presented to President Reuven Rivlin, found that only 54 per cent of Jews reject the idea that Arabs and Jews in Israel should live in separate communities in order to preserve their respective national identities. In contrast, 77 per cent of Arab Israeli citizens -- who make up 20 per cent of the total population -- are opposed to having racially segregated communities.

More entrenched racist attitudes were highlighted by the respondents' answer to a question about working in different communities. While 93 per cent of the country's Palestinian population said that they were willing to work in Jewish communities, only 41 per cent of Jews said that they were willing to do the reverse.

Similarly, two-thirds of Jewish respondents (67 per cent) said that they are willing to work under an Arab supervisor, while a huge majority of Palestinian respondents (92 per cent) are willing to work for a Jewish supervisor. "There is a segment of the Jewish public in Israel that is interested in integration with the Arab public, and another segment that seeks separation," the report concluded.

Racist attitudes were also expressed over political decision making. Three-quarters of Jewish Israelis believe that crucial decisions on matters of peace and security should entail a Jewish majority. This figure is more striking when broken down into political groups. As many as 87 per cent of the Israeli right, which has won every Israeli election since 2009, want the country's Jewish population to maintain its monopoly over such decisions.

On questions regarding social integration, a large majority (81 per cent) of Palestinian citizens of Israel and a small majority (57 per cent) of Jews believe that the non-Jewish citizens want to be an integral part of Israeli society.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


The Conservative Roots of Carbon Pricing (Spencer Banzhaf, Fall 2020, National Affairs)

Of course, nobody likes taxes. Taxpayers dislike them because they reduce income and revenues. Economists dislike them because they distort the economy: They make businesses less productive and give consumers less for their dollar.

Yet taxes are a necessary evil. Fortunately, the math behind them is simple: Taxing items or activities produces fewer of those items or activities. It is thus better to tax what we want less of, like pollution, than what we want more of, like income or sales. A tax on carbon of the scale suggested here would raise about $250 billion annually in revenue -- enough to not only substantially reduce the debt over time, but also lessen our reliance on other kinds of taxes.

Some on the political right may balk at such a suggestion. After all, isn't the carbon tax -- or indeed, any pollution tax -- an inherently progressive idea rooted in misguided beliefs that government bureaucrats and other "experts" can manage the economy better than the market can?

Actually, the opposite is true. Various proposals to tax or price pollution have, from their beginnings, been championed by conservatives and their libertarian allies, including such right-of-center folk heroes as William F. Buckley, Jr., and Milton Friedman. In their time, pollution-tax proponents could be found on both sides of the political aisle, but the early history of practical proposals can be traced almost exclusively through Republican administrations.

Indeed, a look at the historical conservative and libertarian champions of a pollution tax shows that they viewed such proposals through a right-of-center philosophical lens. That is, while analysts across the political spectrum have agreed that pollution taxation can be useful policy, conservatives and libertarians of the last century emphasized reasons for favoring such policies that differ from the ones those on the left embrace.

...taxing carbon became anathema for ideologues of the Right once anyone outside their cult endorsed it, turning a victory into a defeat. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Rage Against Reason: What Seneca could teach us about our inflamed passions (John T. Scott and Robert Zaretsky, January 21, 2021, American Scholar)

The Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca grappled with the relationship between anger and justice in both his thought and his life. A native of a far-flung province (modern-day Córdoba), Lucius Annaeus Seneca gained renown in Rome as an orator as well as a teacher of Stoicism. His eloquence and intelligence not only carried him to the highest ranks of imperial government, but also caught the attention of the empress Agrippina, who was particularly impressed by his essay "On Anger."

Although Agrippina was probably seduced by the essay's style, the substance is what counts. It is one of Seneca's longest writings--and for good reason. More than any other passion, anger challenged the practice of Stoicism. A school of philosophy that viewed the passions as unnatural obstacles to right-thinking and right-acting, Stoicism provided precepts or exercises that helped purge the passions and permitted reason to rule. Other philosophers, notably Aristotle, had argued that the passions--including anger--were natural and, if properly ordered, were the partners of reason, anger the helpmate of justice. Seneca asked: Is anger natural? Could the passion be put into the service sovereign reason? Is it necessary to prevent and punish injustice?

For Seneca, the answer was no thrice over. Unnatural, irrational, vicious, odious, and insane were just some of the ways he characterized the passion. Anger was by far the most corrosive and corrupting of all our emotions. Whereas most passions have at least an element of quiet, anger is "entirely violent and exists in a rush of pain, raging in an almost inhuman desire for weapons, blood and punishment." Gladiatorial games, Rome's favorite spectator sport, drew Seneca's censure for exhibiting--and exciting--the bestial in us. We ought never to act from anger, he believed, much less indulge or cultivate it.

This was especially true when anger was joined to justice. Punishment must always be spurred and steered by cool reason. When ire is indulged, especially by those wielding great power, cruelty rather than righteousness is the result. Yet Seneca also warns that anger employed with the best of intentions is the path to madness because of our very desire to see justice done. "If you want the wise man to be as angry as the atrocity of men's crimes requires," he wrote, "he must not merely be angry, but must go mad with rage."

Here is where Stoicism steps in. "Anger is put to flight by teachings," Seneca wrote, "for it is a voluntary vice of the mind." If it is voluntary, it is a vice that can be mastered by reason. Indeed, master is a misleading verb. For the Stoic sage, the aim is less to control the passions than to eradicate them in order to achieve apatheia--the state of being without passions. In "On Anger," as elsewhere, Seneca offers exhortations and examples intended to inculcate in his reader a therapy of desire.

Seneca soon had the opportunity to practice what he preached when Agrippina tapped him to be the tutor to her son Nero. Following the suspicious death of his stepfather Claudius, the teenaged Nero claimed the imperial title. The novice ruler's maiden speech to the Senate, written by Seneca himself, promised to chart a new path from that of his predecessors. As in "On Anger," Caligula served in the speech as a cautionary example.

No doubt Seneca congratulated himself for being the grownup in the room as he became Nero's principal advisor. But the honeymoon was brief. Nero soon found his footing as emperor, but those feet were steeped in the blood he shed. Scores were evened, rivals exiled or assassinated, culminating in the emperor's order for the murder of his overbearing mother. (A grotesquely farcical affair, it involved a ship with a lead ceiling meant to collapse and crush the empress, who managed to swim safely to shore, only to be stabbed to death by assassins sent by her son to finish the job.)

As Nero spiraled downward, Seneca stayed on. Perhaps he told himself he could restrain the emperor's worst impulses; perhaps he told himself that if he resigned, others less able would make the situation worse; perhaps, though a Stoic, he was simply frightened. 

That's a defense that we haven't heard from the House GOP yet, that they're just following Seneca when they grovel to Donald's cult.
Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Have We Already Been Visited by Aliens?: An eminent astrophysicist argues that signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life have appeared in our skies. What's the evidence for his extraordinary claim? (Elizabeth Kolbert, January 18, 2021, The New Yorker)

In "Extraterrestrial," Loeb lays out his reasoning as follows. The only way to make sense of 'Oumuamua's strange acceleration, without resorting to some sort of undetectable outgassing, is to assume that the object was propelled by solar radiation--essentially, photons bouncing off its surface. And the only way the object could be propelled by solar radiation is if it were extremely thin--no thicker than a millimetre--with a very low density and a comparatively large surface area. Such an object would function as a sail--one powered by light, rather than by wind. The natural world doesn't produce sails; people do. Thus, Loeb writes, " 'Oumuamua must have been designed, built, and launched by an extraterrestrial intelligence."

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Iran's Zarif: Trump administration 'relegated to the dustbin of history' (AFP and TOI, 1/21/21)

"Trump, [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo & Co. are relegated to the dustbin of history in disgrace," Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet after US President Joe Biden was sworn in. [...]

Zarif also retweeted Soleimani's daughter Zeinab, who said that Trump had ordered the killing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general "with the perverse hope that you will be seen as some sort of hero."

"But instead you are defeated, isolated & broken - viewed not as a hero, but one who lives in fear of foes. The irony," Soleimani wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


For Swiss preschoolers, democracy is child's play (NINA LARSON, 1/21/21, AFP)

Rather than playing house or building blocks, a few dozen Swiss preschoolers line up to cast their ballots in a vote that will shape lives in the make-believe village where they call the shots.

A "citizenship project" created by three private preschools in the western city of Lausanne aims to prepare children from a young age for participation in Switzerland's famed direct democracy featuring referendums on a wide range of issues every few months.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


China doubles new renewable capacity in 2020; still builds thermal plants (Muyu Xu and David Stanway, 1/21/21,  Reuters) 

China more than doubled its construction of new wind and solar power plants in 2020 from a year earlier, government data showed, reflecting Beijing's pledge to cut fossil fuel dependence and bring carbon emissions to a peak within a decade.

China, the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, added 71.67 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity last year, the most ever and nearly triple 2019's levels, according to data released by the National Energy Administration (NEA) late Wednesday.

China's 2020 figure is ahead of the 60.4 GW of new wind capacity added globally in 2019, according to data from the Global Wind Energy Council.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Jen Psaki's first White House press briefing heralds return to normality (David Smith,  21 Jan 2021, The Guardian)

At the end of Sean Spicer's debut press briefing at the dawn of the Donald Trump presidency, a journalist remarked to me: "I feel like I'm back at school." I replied: "I feel like I'm back in Zimbabwe," alluding to my days as an Africa correspondent reporting on the autocratic Robert Mugabe.

Four years on, Jen Psaki delivered the first briefing of Joe Biden's administration from the same lectern in the same room. Spicer redux it was not.

Just compare their remarks about the press. "Some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting," Spicer scowled in reference to Trump's inauguration, adding darkly: "We're going to hold the press accountable."

Psaki, by contrast, began the new era with a smile: "It's an honour to be here with all of you. When the president asked me to serve in this role, we talked about the importance of bringing truth and transparency back to the briefing room."

Later she added: "I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy."

The 42-year-old's maiden briefing on Wednesday was radical in its normality and startling in its civility. 

January 20, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Witless Ape Rides Helicopter: Goodbye to Donald J. Trump, the man who wanted to be Conrad Hilton but turned out to be Paris Hilton. (Kevin D. Williamson, January 20, 2021, National Review)

Well, that sucked.

Memo to MAGA and all its myriad fellow-travelers: Maybe Death of a Salesman as presented by Leni Riefenstahl just wasn't the show Americans were dying to tune into this season.

And, while we're at it, maybe turning your party over to Generalissimo Walter Mitty, his hideous scheming spawn, and the studio audience from Hee-Haw was not just absolutely aces as a political strategy.

Think on it, Cletus. I know this whole thing still sounds like your idea of a good time -- how's that working out for you?

Let me refresh your memory: On the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Republicans controlled not only the White House but both houses of Congress. They were in a historically strong position elsewhere as well, controlling both legislative chambers in 32 states. They pissed that away like they were midnight drunks karaoke-warbling that old Chumbawumba song: In 2021, they control approximately squat. The House is run by Nancy Pelosi. The Senate is run, as a practical matter, by Kamala Harris. And Joe Biden won the presidency, notwithstanding whatever the nut-cutlet guest-hosting for Dennis Prager this week has to say about it.

Donald Trump is, in fact, the first president since Herbert Hoover to lead his party to losing the presidency, the House, and the Senate all in a single term. Along with being the first president to be impeached twice and the first game-show host elected to the office, that's Trump's claim to the history books. Well, that and 400,000 dead Americans and the failed coup d'état business.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Major Q Figure Urges Followers to Go Back to Their Real Lives ( Anna Merlan, January 20, 2021, Vice)

Amidst an already dispiriting Inauguration Day for Trump fans across the conspiracy-verse, another blow has quietly fallen: Ron Watkins, a former administrator of the sites 8chan and 8kun, appears to be bowing out of the Q business. In a message posted to Telegram, Watkins urged his followers to "respect the Constitution," writing, "Now we need to keep our chins up and go back to our lives as best we are able." 

8kun, a successor to 8chan, has been the main home for posts from "Q," the mysterious account claiming to have unique insight into the secret workings of the government and the Satanic cabals running it. Watkins and his father Jim, who owns 8kun, have been widely accused of being Q themselves--an accusation they have denied.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Joe Biden is ending Trump's travel ban (Nicole Narea, Jan 20, 2021, Vox)

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden is beginning the immense task of dismantling former President Donald Trump's nativist legacy on immigration, issuing an executive order to end Trump's controversial travel ban on noncitizens from 13 countries.

The policy, colloquially known as the "Muslim ban," first went into effect in January 2017 and became one of Trump's signature immigration policies. The ban has slowed or altogether halted legal immigration from certain countries that the former administration deemed to be security threats, keeping families apart and even stymieing refugee resettlement.

The travel ban was Trump's first major action on immigration policy, setting the tone for the chaotic four years that followed for immigrants while galvanizing public opposition.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


George W. Bush called Clyburn the country's 'savior' for his role in helping Biden defeat Trump: report (Matthew Chapman, January 20, 2021, Raw Story)

On Wednesday, Associated Press reporter Meg Kinnard reported that former President George W. Bush privately told House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) that he is "the savior" because of his kingmaker role in the Democratic primary that cemented the nomination for President Joe Biden.

"You know, you're the savior, because if you had not nominated Joe Biden, we would not be having this transfer of power today," Bush reportedly told Clyburn, adding that Biden was "the only one who could have defeated the incumbent president."

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


Biden Changes U.S. Ambassador to Israel Twitter Name to Include West Bank and Gaza (Adam Kredo, JANUARY 20, 2021, Free Beacon)

The Biden administration on Wednesday changed the U.S. ambassador to Israel's Twitter account name to read, "the official Twitter account of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza," walking back the Trump administration's pro-Israel policies.

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM


Donald Trump left a letter for Joe Biden (David McBrayer, January 20, 2021, Raw Story)

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Evolutionary Origins of Friendship (Debra Lieberman,  January 20, 2021, Scientific American)

The evolution of friendships relied on the ability to recognize the unique benefits other people have on offer. Benefits can include the usual suspects of prestige, status and attractiveness, but there are myriad reasons why you might value another person: they are of the same political party, they like the same kinds of foods, they like to golf, surf or play chess, or they enjoy talking endlessly about Star Wars. Friendships tend to begin when one individual perceives value in another and performs a beneficent act: "You can borrow my phone if you need to make a call"; "Can I help you carry that?" These actions serve as a fishing line, cast out to see if the target individual might be in the market for a new friend. Signals of their gratitude are promising indicators of a bite; anger and annoyance are indicators of a lost lure.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden Announces 'Immediate' End to Trump's Beloved Border Wall Project (Jamie Ross, Jan. 20, 2021, Daily Beast)

The list also says that Biden will immediately reverse three flagship Trump policies: His withdrawal from the World Health Organization, his "Muslim travel ban," and his exit from the Paris Climate Agreement. Biden will also revoke the permit Trump granted to the Keystone XL oil pipeline, according to the full list published by his team.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Iran's Rouhani says "ball in U.S. court" over nuclear dispute (Parisa Hafezi, 1/20/21, Reuters)

"The ball is in the U.S. court now. If Washington returns to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal, we will also fully respect our commitments under the pact," Rouhani said in a televised cabinet meeting.

"Today, we expect the incoming U.S. administration to return to the rule of law and commit themselves, and if they can, in the next four years, to remove all the black spots of the previous four years," he said.

Tensions have grown between Tehran and Washington since 2018, when Trump quit the deal between Iran and six world powers that sought to limit Tehran's nuclear programme and to prevent it developing atomic weapons. Washington reimposed sanctions that have badly hit Iran's economy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Coal is Passé in Much of China, and That's Problem for Australia (Hao Tan Elizabeth Thurbon John Mathews Sung-Young Kim, 1/20/21, National Interest)

Experience suggests trade tensions between Australia and China will eventually ease. But in the long run, there is a more fundamental threat to Australian coal exports to China.

Data from monitoring group Global Coal Tracker shows between 2015 and 2019, China closed 291 coal-fired power generation units in power plants of 30 megawatts (MW) or larger, totalling 37 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. For context, Australia decommissioned 5.5 GW of coal-fired power generation units between 2010 and 2017, and currently has 21 GW of coal-fired power stations.

The closures were driven by factors such as climate change and air pollution concern, excess coal power capacity, and China's move away from some energy-intensive industries.

Our recently published paper revealed other distinctive features of the coal power station closures.

First, China's regions are reducing coal power capacity at different rates and scales. In the nation's eastern provinces, the closures are substantial. But elsewhere, and particularly in the western provinces, new coal plants are being built.

In fact, China's coal power capacity increased by about 18% between 2015 and 2019. It currently has more than 1,000 GW of coal generation capacity - the largest in the world.

Second, we found retired coal power stations in China had much shorter lives than the international average. Guangdong, an economically developed region of comparable economic size to Canada, illustrates the point. According to our calculation, the stations in that region had a median age of 15 years at closure. In contrast, coal plants that closed in Australia between 2010 and 2017 had a median age of 43 years.

This suggests coal power stations in China are usually retired not because they've reached the end of their productive lives, but rather to achieve a particular purpose.

Third, our study showed decisions to decommission coal power stations in China were largely driven by government, especially local governments. This is in contrast to Australia, where the decision to close a plant is usually made by the company that owns it. And this decomissioning in China is usually driven by a development logic.

Coal plant closures there have been faster and bigger than elsewhere in the country, as governments replace energy- and pollution-intensive industries with advanced manufacturing and services.

And as these regions become richer, the value of land occupied by coal power plants and transmission facilities grows. This gives governments a strong incentive to close the plants and redevelop the sites.

In coming years, southeast China will increasingly shift to renewable-based electricity and electric power transmitted from western provinces.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Biden post-election market surge is the best for a new president in modern history (Paul R. La Monica, CNN Business)

Stocks have gained about 13% since Election Day as of Tuesday, a day before Joe Biden's inauguration -- marking the the best post-election market performance for a new president in modern history, according to CFRA Research.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Rise of Contactless Payments Will Pay Long-Term Dividends (Jeff TasseyJanuary 20, 2021, Real Clear Markets)

For example, at the end of December, the New York City Metro Transit Authority (MTA) announced that it had completed the implementation of its contactless payments system. Now, every MTA subway station and bus in all five boroughs will sport a One Metro New York (OMNY) "Tap and Go" system. These systems eliminate burdensome turnstile and ticket booth lines, cut costs associated with printing tickets, while reducing the cost of fare collection by an estimated 30%.

While it is important for any mass transit system to accept multiple forms of payment, cash acceptance poses significant challenges. A Boston Federal Reserve study found that the cost of handling cash totaled approximately 22.9% of operating expenses for transit systems, while credit and debit card acceptance cost a mere 3.5%. Card acceptance significantly reduces costs associated with counting, storing, safeguarding, and transporting cash and limiting losses from mislaid or stolen cash. Furthermore, research conducted by Xerox outlined in a survey that approximately 65% of travelers worry about not having enough money to pay with cash-based systems, and another 43% find ticketing machines difficult to use.

For years, the payments industry has added value to both consumers and businesses through its investment in enhanced security technology such as EMV chip technology, contactless cards, and biometric authorization that has allowed different sectors to engage in crucial innovation. The new trends in payments accelerated by COVID-19 will have a lasting benefit to consumers in the conduct of their everyday lives. In an era where consumer satisfaction is essential, a system of contactless payments that is faster, safer and more efficient guarantees progress for all parties involved. 

The minimum wage hike will help drive the process.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Joe Biden's family Bible anchors faith-infused inaugural events (Adelle M. Banks, 1/20/21, RNS)

President-elect Joe Biden plans to be sworn in with his hefty family Bible when he becomes the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday (Jan. 20).

It's one of many ways religion will be a facet of the inaugural activities surrounding the country's second Catholic president.

"it's just been a family heirloom on the Biden side of the family and every important date is in there," Biden said in a December appearance on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." "Every time I've been sworn in for anything, the date has been on that and it's inscribed in the Bible."

The Bible is so big -- with a leather cover, metal clasps and 5 inches of thickness -- his wife, Jill Biden, held it with two hands when he was sworn in as President Barack Obama's vice president.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris plans to use two Bibles, one used by Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court justice, and the other by family friend Regina Shelton, said a spokesperson for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Harris put her hand on the friend's Bible during her swearing-in ceremonies as U.S. senator and California attorney general.

In a salute to its graduate, Howard University's Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel plans to ring its bell 49 times in honor of Kamala Harris, the 49th vice president, on Inauguration Day, the spokesperson said.

January 19, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Renewables growth blows past expectations in EU, but future must me managed (Ketan Joshi, 20 January 2021, Renew Economy)

Renewable energy growth has reduced greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and delivered a range of other co-benefits since 2005, according to a new briefing document released by the European Union's (EU) European Environment Agency (EEA) on Monday.

Renewables, which include biomass in this report, have risen to 34% of all electricity generation, doubling since 2005, but fossil fuels still produce the largest share, at 38% of total generation in 2019. One quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions come from the electricity sector in the EU.

The briefing cites a detailed life-cycle analysis of renewable energy conducted by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), published in late December 2020.

The research compares the impacts of renewable energy, both positive and negative, to a counterfactual scenario in which no new renewables were built. Emissions, air pollution, acidification and eutrophication (in which bodies of water become excessively oxygenated, damaging ecosystems) were all improved by renewable energy growth.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Sensing a shifting tide with Biden tackling climate change, this major business lobby gets on board (Rachel Koning Beals, 1/19/21, Market Watch)

The nation's arguably leading pro-business lobby sees the incoming Biden administration's pledge for climate-change action -- including rejoining the Paris Accord that President Trump abandoned -- as a can't-miss chance to influence "market-based" policy on greenhouse gas emissions and more.

Congress should set meaningful climate-change legislation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Tuesday, amping up the trade group's established climate and energy policy with a call for lawmakers to act and limit the uncertainties for its members. Biden and the Democrats have a narrow advantage in the new Congress, which means Republican and industry support is still needed for meaningful legislative action; past attempts including a "Green New Deal" never saw the light of day in a GOP-led Senate.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


McConnell: Trump "provoked" Capitol mob (Ursula Perano, 1/19/21, Axios)

"The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding ... which they did not like," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

"But we pressed on, we stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation."

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Covid Response Was a Global Series of Failures, W.H.O.-Established Panel Says (Selam Gebrekidan and Matt Apuzzo, Jan. 18th, 2021, NY Times)

The report describes one failure leading to another, from the "slow, cumbersome and indecisive" pandemic alert system, to the years of preparedness plans that failed to deliver, to the disjointed and even obstructive responses of national governments.

Public health officials stumbled, too. Investigators said they could not understand why a World Health Organization committee waited until Jan. 30 to declare an international health emergency. (The Chinese government had lobbied other governments against declaring such an emergency).

And despite the decades of predictions that a viral pandemic was inevitable, and years of committees, task forces and high-level panels aimed at preparing the W.H.O. for that emergency, reforms were slow to come. "The failure to enact fundamental change despite the warnings issued has left the world dangerously exposed, as the Covid-19 pandemic proves," the report says.

But the W.H.O.'s stumbles did not excuse the repeated failing of world leaders. For even after health officials gave a clear warning signal, the report notes, "In far too many countries, this signal was ignored."

The report also faults public health leaders for responding slowly to early evidence that people without symptoms could spread the new coronavirus. Early reports out of China, and one in Germany, documented this phenomenon. But leading health agencies, including the World Health Organization, provided contradictory and sometimes misleading advice, a New York Times investigation previously found. [...]

Details in the 34-page report are thin, but it says that China had genome sequencing evidence that a novel virus was circulating in Wuhan in December 2019. Health authorities there could have moved more quickly and decisively to contain the outbreak, the report says, yet country after country repeated many of the same mistakes.

"There were lost opportunities to apply basic public health measures," the report reads.

Instead of rallying behind proven health responses, governments and their citizens were fractured. Mask-wearing and social distancing became political statements. Conspiracy theories spread wildly. And governments failed to conduct the routine testing and contact-tracing needed to control the disease.

Too often, investigators found, national leaders made health decisions with an eye on keeping their economies afloat, though they did not single out many nations for criticism. That proved to be a false choice. The panel found that countries that responded forcefully and effectively to the outbreak also fared better economically even as the global economy lost more than $7 trillion.

"This is clearly a case where billions can save trillions," the report says.

That conclusion is an implicit rebuke of countries like the United States, where President Trump demanded that the country stay open for business. "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself," he said in late March, when 30,000 Americans had tested positive.

That figure is now over 23 million, and the country leads the world with nearly 400,000 deaths.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden to Tap Seasoned Former Diplomat to Oversee Southern Border Policy (ROBBIE GRAMER, JANUARY 18, 2021, Foreign Policy)

[Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, ] will also help manage Washington's relations with Mexico and other Central American countries that experts said have frayed during the past four years amid the Trump administration's harsh crackdown on immigration and unsuccessful efforts to build a wall along the full length of the U.S-Mexico border.

Under Trump, "there have been a lot of ups and downs with the U.S.-Mexico relationship," said Mari Carmen Aponte, a former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador and acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under President Barack Obama. "From my point of view, the downs have been a lot, and very dramatic and politically difficult. And the ups? I think both sides wish that there would have been many more than there were."

Biden's incoming administration plans to address the root causes of migration; expand legal pathways to immigrating, including through refugee resettlement and employment programs; and explore ways to reform the asylum process, according to a Biden transition spokesperson.

Biden Eyes 8-Year Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Migrants, No New Border Security Plans (DANIEL VILLARREAL, 1/18/21, Newsweek)

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to unveil a massive immigration bill on the first day of his presidency which would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. However, the bill reportedly won't increase fortifications at the southern U.S. border beyond their current level.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China knocking on CPTPP trade pact's door (FRANK CHEN, JANUARY 18, 2021, Asia Times)

The CPTPP, originally known as TPP, was designed by the Barack Obama administration specifically to exclude China from a new Asian-oriented free-trade agreement. The current agreement was created in 2018 after Trump pulled the US out in one of his first acts in office.

The TPP also sought to promote universal values such as democracy, freedom and human rights in the form of labor rights and environmental protection. 

A report by the Chinese State Council's Development Research Center noted this week that China must keep modernizing its economy and particularly its state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to better align itself with global trade and commerce standards.

"China must forestall [US President-elect] Joe Biden's bid to reunite allies to close ranks against us and the CPTPP presents a good opportunity for China to pre-empt," said a report examining the pros and cons of China's membership syndicated by China News Service. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


These electric trucks could be exactly what the EV market needs (Andrew Ganz, 1/19/21, Market Watch)

A new study conducted by Cox Automotive suggests that the electric vehicle market is about to get the kick the pants it might need now that four automakers -- Ford, F, -3.34% General Motors, Tesla, TSLA, -2.23% and Rivian -- all plan to have electric pickups in their showrooms and on the road within the next few years. Cox found that three in five respondents to a survey indicated that the main reason they would be in the market for an electric vehicle would be if it was a pickup truck, a body style that has never been offered with full electrification from a mainstream automaker. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

IT'S NOT A PROGRESSIVE PARTY (profanity alert):

Who is Victoria Nuland? A really bad idea as a key player in Biden's foreign policy team

Who is Victoria Nuland? Most Americans have never heard of her, because the U.S. corporate media's foreign policy coverage is a wasteland. Most Americans have no idea that President-elect Biden's pick for deputy secretary of state for political affairs is stuck in the quicksand of 1950s U.S.-Russia Cold War politics and dreams of continued NATO expansion, an arms race on steroids and further encirclement of Russia. 

Nor do they know that from 2003 to 2005, during the hostile U.S. military occupation of Iraq, Nuland was a foreign policy advisor to Dick Cheney, the Darth Vader of the Bush administration.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New wind projects power local budgets in Wyoming: As the pandemic hit the fossil fuel industry, renewable energy projects filled community coffers. (Jane C. Hu, Jan. 11, 2021, High Country News)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Robin Lockman feared the worst for her town of Cheyenne, Wyoming. As the city's treasurer, she estimated that it might lose up to 25% of its budget as tax revenues stalled and the prices of oil, gas and coal tanked, eliminating money the city typically receives from the state as royalties from the extractive energy industry.

So the city did the hard work of laying off 18 employees and cutting funds for travel and training. And then a surprising thing happened: The huge deficit never arrived. In fact, over the summer, the city brought in more tax revenue than the year before.

Between July and September, Cheyenne saw a 20.5% increase in tax revenue compared to 2019. In September alone, the increase was a staggering 83%, or $1.4 million. "I was in shock when I saw it," said Lockman. She feared the good news was a mistake, so she called the Wyoming Department of Revenue to confirm the numbers. "The tax reported was legitimate, and was due to the Roundhouse Wind Project," said Lockman, referring to an energy development west of the city.

Throughout Wyoming, counties typically depend on industries like coal, oil and gas drilling, mining or tourism and recreation to bring in the taxes necessary to pay for education, community programs and infrastructure. Overall economic activity is down -- statewide, sales and use taxes shrunk 6% over the last year -- but revenues from mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction are down nearly twice that. Meanwhile, profits from wind energy developments, like the Roundhouse Wind Project, are booming. Now, residents and officials are asking whether wind energy can help the state survive the economic storm of the pandemic -- and become a reliable revenue stream for the future as fossil fuel income dries up.

January 18, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


Hitler And Stalin: The Utopian Dreams That United The Dictators: Laurence Rees argues that, despite their many differences, the leaders of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were united by a common passion: to create their own warped version of a paradise on Earth  (Laurence Rees, 1/18/21, History Extra)

But while there were many differences between Hitler and Stalin, they shared one vital quality: they actually believed in something outside themselves and sought to create a new world. They weren't even similar to the religiously driven European monarchs of the past who had faith in a Christian god. On the contrary, both of the dictators abhorred Christianity. In private, Hitler remarked that "Christianity is an invention of sick brains" - though, for pragmatic reasons, he largely concealed his true opinion on the subject from the German public.

They were both profoundly post-Enlightenment figures. They believed not only that God was dead, but that he had now been replaced by a fresh, coherent ideology. And millions of those who followed the two dictators also subscribed to this new reality.

Hitler and Stalin, of course, believed in different things. The belief that Hitler proselytised was most certainly not the same as the one Stalin lived by. Equally, neither originated the ideologies that they thought revealed the truth about the nature of life; both adapted them from the work of others.

For Hitler, the starting point was to recognise the crucial importance of "race", an idea he developed from a whole series of writers who had gone before him. The core of his belief system was the assertion that the way to assess people's value was by examining their "racial heritage". And it was this conviction that helped fuel his murderous anti-Semitism. For there was to be no place in Hitler's utopia for a whole host of people whom he considered to be "racially undesirable" - the Jews in particular.

In keeping with his belief that his racial hatred was based on modern thinking, Hitler often expressed his prejudice using pseudo-scientific terms. "The Jew," Hitler wrote in his autobiography Mein Kampf in the early 1920s, "remains the typical parasite, a sponger who like a noxious bacillus keeps spreading as soon as a favourable medium invites him."

Like Hitler, Stalin had also been convinced by the work of others. The most influential was Karl Marx. It was primarily Marx's teachings that had drawn him into the world of revolution. According to Marx, working people - whom he called the "proletariat" - were alienated from productive life. Instead of work being, as it should be, a way for people to feel fulfilled, life in the grim factories of the 19th century was destructive to the human spirit.

The trouble was that, while Marx was brilliant at analysing the problem, the solution he proposed was not necessarily so convincing. One difficulty was that he asserted that history was destined to move through certain phases. For instance, there was an imperial phase, a feudal phase, a capitalist phase, a socialist phase and a communist phase. But this formulaic approach could prove problematic when applied to a wide variety of different countries and cultures.

Arguments raged among followers of Marx about exactly what the great man had meant by certain theories, and what was the best way of implementing them. Marxist followers denounced each other for corrupting Marxist teachings, much as medieval Christians had attacked each other for heresy.

There was thus an obvious gulf between Hitler and Stalin in the way that each viewed the world. One was a devout racist, the other a man who thought the environment primarily shaped individuals. One was a believer in the laws of "Nature", the other a dedicated follower of Karl Marx. What was more, they each passionately hated the other's belief system. Hitler feared and despised Bolshevism, and Stalin detested Nazism.

Similarly, there was a chasm between the two dictators in terms of their ultimate goals, with the communist aim of a stateless society presenting a sharp contrast to Hitler's idea of a giant empire based on violent racism. This clear distinction informs how the two ideologies are perceived today. The type of racial hatred that was at the core of Hitler's thinking is rightly condemned - indeed, expressing such beliefs is illegal in many countries - whereas there are still a number of people who proudly proclaim they are Marxists. But, in the context of Stalin's leadership, there is a problem with this analysis, because the harmonious goal of the Bolsheviks - of a state in which government "withered away" - was not realistically achievable under Stalin. And even Stalin came close to admitting as much.

In his address to the 18th Congress of the Communist party in March 1939, Stalin confessed that Marx and his collaborator, Friedrich Engels, had not always been right. Specifically, when Engels had said that once "there is nothing more to be repressed" then the state "withers away", he had failed to mention the "international factor". The problem, said Stalin, was that because other countries were not on the road to communism, the Soviet Union needed "at its disposal a well-trained army, well-organised punitive organs, and a strong intelligence service" to defend itself. In other words, expect the "well-organised punitive organs" to stay put, because there was no prospect of them leaving unless the whole world went communist, and who seriously thought that would happen in the foreseeable future?

Nonetheless, both Hitler and Stalin offered a vision of a future utopia. They were different utopias, of course, but utopias nonetheless. The road to get there would be hard - even, as Stalin admitted in 1939, taking longer than people could possibly imagine - but a wonderful goal lay ahead regardless. Both of these utopian visions offered a purpose in life, in a world that could seem meaningless without religious belief.

Because we know the truth--that Man is imperfectible--we are immune to such violent attempts to remake our society and ourselves. Because we know that all men are Created equal, we recognize that progress is worthwhile although it will always yield imperfection. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Impeachment After Leaving Office (James R. Rogers, 1/18/21, Law & Liberty)

Confounding this understanding of impeachment, however, two early state constitutions actually limited impeachments to the time after the chief executive's term had ended; these states did not permit impeachment of a sitting governor. Additionally, a decision by the Texas Supreme Court in a case of a gubernatorial impeachment provides a practical reason why impeachments cannot be limited to sitting executives.

Consider first the impeachment of Texas Governor James E. Ferguson in 1917. Ferguson resigned the governorship prior to his conviction by the Senate, so he was not a sitting governor when the Texas Senate convicted him in its impeachment trial. He subsequently sought to run again for governor in 1924. The Texas Supreme Court held that Ferguson's impeachment actually occurred despite the fact that Ferguson had resigned his office prior to his conviction by the Senate.

The Texas Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, does not limit the judgment from an impeachment to removal from office. Section IV of Article XV of the Texas Constitutions provides that "Judgment in cases of impeachment shall extend only to removal from office, and disqualification from holding any office of honor, trust or profit under this State." This language almost exactly parallels the language of Article 1, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution. Both constitutions allow a future disability, disqualification to hold office in the future, as part of the outcome of an impeachment.

Despite the Senate's conviction, Ferguson sought to run for governor again in 1924. Against a lawsuit filed to prevent the Texas Democratic Party from listing him on the primary ballot, Ferguson argued that his impeachment trial ended without a conviction or judgment because he resigned his office before the Senate decided the case.

In its decision in Ferguson v. Maddox, the Texas Supreme Court gave short shrift to Ferguson's argument:

If the Senate only had power to remove from office, it might be said, with some show of reason, that it should not have proceeded further when the Governor, by anticipation performed, as it were, its impending judgment. But under the Constitution the Senate may not only remove the offending official, -- it may disqualify him from holding further office, and with relation to this latter matter, his resignation is wholly immaterial. For their protection the people should have the right to remove from public office an unfaithful official. It is equally necessary for their protection that the offender should be denied an opportunity to sin against them a second time. The purpose of the constitutional provision may not be thwarted by an eleventh hour resignation.

The reasoning applies to impeachments under the U.S. Constitution. 

Dang case law!
Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


Immigration Reform Can Help Revive Democracy: Welcoming immigrants isn't just about the economy. It's about what America stands for--and what it stands against. (ALI NOORANI,   JANUARY 18, 2021, The Bulwark)

As Eric Kaufmann wrote in his 2017 bookWhiteshift, "I cannot stress enough that national perceptions are far more important in shaping people's views on immigration than local experiences." I would take it a step further. American's understanding of immigration in their community is linked to their perception of global migration. What people believe is happening in the world overshadows what they actually experience in their own neighborhoods, much less the numbers of immigrants who actually enter the country. When it comes to immigration, perception is reality for many.

Well-funded and powerful opponents of immigration understand this. So, as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and various immigration processes restart, anti-immigrant forces will use the playbook of years past. They will want the American public to think global migration is out of control, and that the Biden administration's immigration policies take away freedom and opportunity.

For them, an inclusive nation with people from different ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds is a threat to their way of life. In this way, the opponents of immigration become opponents of democracy as well. They will use immigration to turn cities against suburbs, rural against urban.

But those divisions may not be as deep or wide as they expect. Seared into the mind of voters who elected Joe Biden, from progressive activists to conservative suburban parents, were the travel ban, the slashing of refugee resettlement, the separation of children, the deep cuts to legal immigration, the cruel treatment of Dreamers. This broad coalition that supports Biden seeks a different path on immigration.

Herein lies the opportunity. Reforming our immigration system is much greater than the needs of Latino and Asian voters, and much more consequential than our economic competitiveness.

After the incidents of January 6, reforming our nation's immigration system is about America's leadership role in the world, the strength of our democracy, and our belief in freedom and opportunity. Offering refuge to victims of persecution, while marginalizing their persecutors on the world stage, is the historic and proper role of the U.S. Creating equal and legal immigration pathways for workers and families serves the interests of the American worker and their family. Creating an opportunity for the millions of undocumented immigrants toiling in the shadows of our economy to earn citizenship sends a clear message that work is valued.

This modernized immigration system tells the autocrats, and the people living under their rule, that the United States may not be aperfect country, but, at our best, we share a deep belief in the idea that all people have--and should be treated with--dignity.

Just as budget deficits are an aesthetic problem rather than an economic one, so too is the fact of illegality the problem with immigration, not any effect of it. 

Immigration reform ought to create the illusion of a "path to citizenship," which is effectively just legalization and a return to the Ellis Island model: let everyone come and then process them at entry points so they are documented.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


This attorney is about to make Donald Trump's life a living hell (Tom Boggioni, January 18, 2021, Raw Story)

"She is in many ways the ideal legal adversary to take on Trump," the report states. "Kaplan is a brash and original strategist, with neither a gift for patience nor silence, a crusader for underdogs who has won almost every legal accolade imaginable. Kaplan, says New York Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in an email, 'has been indispensable in the fight against the cancer of hate and division that Trump spent four years exacerbating.'"

In an interview, Kaplan stated, "My maternal grandmother always hated a bully. One really good job for going after bullies is to be a lawyer."

According to Stanford University law professor Pamela Karlan, Trump may meet his match in Kaplan.

"Robbie's not calling about feelings. She wants to fix it first. She's the least diffident person I've ever met. Plenty of smart people worry about failing. They worry about every little thing. Robbie doesn't worry about that. In a really disarming way, she doesn't care if people view her as hyperaggressive.," Karlan explained.

"In the Carroll case, Kaplan believes that Trump's proclivity for false and misleading statements, with more than 30,000 of them during his White House term, according to The Post, will be tested when he is under oath," the report states. " During a 2007 Trump deposition, lawyers caught him making exaggerated claims 30 times, according to a 2016 Post investigation.

"When we depose you, you're not going to get away with that," Kaplan explained. "He had the mantle of the presidency, and that's now gone."

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


A Poignant Anniversary (THOMAS SOWELL, August 27, 2013, National Review)

Many hopes were disappointed because those were unrealistic hopes to begin with. Economic and other disparities between groups have been common for centuries, in countries around the world -- and many of those disparities have been, and still are, larger than the disparities between blacks and whites in America. Even when those who lagged behind have advanced, they have not always caught up, even after centuries, because others were advancing at the same time. 

Which is why there is a moral obligation to catch them up. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


THE ROAD TO REVOLUTION (Stanley G. Payne, January 2021, First Things)

Spain provides the only example of a full-scale, mass, violent collectivist revolution developing out of a modern Western liberal democratic polity. The Second Spanish ­Republic of 1931-39 had created the first liberal democratic system in the country's history, with, at first, impartial elections based on universal suffrage and broad constitutional guarantees of civil rights. This achievement did not prevent revolution and civil war.

Spain was unique as well in the absence of the ­variable that had enabled revolution elsewhere in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century: defeat in a major war, which sometimes ended in foreign occupation. Defeat in war, more than the strength of revolutionaries, was what had destabilized or destroyed the established order in other European countries. Spain, by contrast, had been Europe's leading neutral during World War I and had suffered no direct international pressures during the war or after. Even the Great Depression was proportionately less severe for Spain, given its modest export economy. There was no overwhelming military or economic cause of radicalization. The Spanish brought the revolutionary process on themselves: No country was less a victim of external circumstances.

Spain's revolutionary process began in April 1931, with the almost bloodless overthrow of the monarchy of Alfonso XIII. Alfonso's fall was partly a consequence of the dynamic 1920s, which had produced the most rapid social and economic transformation in the country's long history. For those in the burgeoning socialist and anarcho-syndicalist movements, regime change promised not so much democratization as further rapid transformation, which soon would verge on the millenarian. Meeting no organized opposition, a self-constituted "Revolutionary Committee" formed the first government of Spain's Second Republic as a multi-party coalition. But the various factions making up this coalition--moderate centrist democrats, leftist republicans, and the rapidly growing socialist movement--had conflicting agendas.

Javier Tusell memorably described the Republic as a "not very democratic democracy." There was disagreement about respecting the rules of the game, which were fully accepted only by the center and a reorganized moderate right. All the leftist groups insisted on a regime that was either exclusively leftist or (in the case of socialists) evolving rapidly toward revolution, while a tiny extreme right had its own goals. The early republican government ruled repressively in 1931-32, refusing to allow monarchists to participate on an equal ­footing in the first parliamentary elections and for some time prohibiting most public meetings by forces to the right of center. Though the new constitution was a genuinely democratic document, it rarely was fully respected, and complete civil liberties were upheld on fewer than half the days of the brief life of the Republic.

No policy was more controversial than the left's determination to restrict the role of the Church. The Constitution of 1931 curtailed religious freedom, outraging many Catholics. The Republic's new president, Niceto Alcalá Zamora, warned that it was "a constitution made for a civil war." Spanish society soon became so divided and so politically mobilized that the possibility of peaceful coexistence slipped from view.

Disagreements between the socialists and the moderate left led to the breakup of the original governing coalition and new elections in 1933. These elections, in which women voted for the first time, were the first fully free and democratic contest in Spanish history. Popular reaction against heavy-handed leftist policies resulted in victory for the democratic center and moderate right.

A new Catholic coalition, the Spanish Confederation of Autonomous Rights (CEDA), emerged suddenly as the largest single force. This development astounded the left, which sought four times to convince Alcalá Zamora to cancel the election results, but he held firm. Though the moderate right scrupulously adhered to legalities, from that time forward the left labeled all right-of-center elements "fascist." Despite its own divisions, the Spanish left remained convinced that the Republic must be an exclusively progressivist regime, no matter the outcome of elections. Votes for the right were regarded as illegitimate.

In the 1930s, the dominant leftist model of revolution was still the Leninist tactic of direct insurrection. That was the goal of Spain's most extreme movement, the mass anarcho-syndicalist Iberian Anarchist Federation-National Confederation of Labour (FAI-CNT), and Europe's prime example of the seeming oxymoron "organized anarchism." The FAI-CNT never pretended to respect elections and launched three different poorly coordinated revolutionary insurrections between January 1932 and December 1933. But anarchist violence was not a true threat to the system. It constituted what some of its adepts called "revolutionary gymnastics," trial runs against a lenient liberalism. Even less significant was a prominent general's forlorn attempt to moderate the regime through an abortive military ­pronunciamiento in August 1932. That cost ten lives, the anarchist mini-insurrections several hundred.

A threshold was crossed at the beginning of October 1934, when the centrist minority government broadened to include four moderate ministers from the Catholic CEDA, establishing rule by a parliamentary majority and respecting civil guarantees. The socialists responded by launching a revolutionary insurrection in fifteen of the fifty provinces of Spain.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


God's Transcendence as an Antidote to Polarization in America (Mark L. Haas, January 18, 2021, Providence)

When identity-based polarization occurs, issues take a back seat. In fact, leaders of a party can repudiate long-standing beliefs and goals and still receive voters' support. The success of one's party and the defeat of the other are what matter; the issues are secondary.

Why does this shift from issue-based to identity-based polarization matter?

It is a well-established social-psychological phenomenon that the division of the world into identity-based in-groups and out-groups instinctively results in the triggering of both positive feelings for members of one's own group and highly negative feelings for members of opposing groups. Purity tests and moral condemnation of political rivals define parties at these times. Moreover, everything becomes politicized--weather, science, which countries are enemies and which are allies--and votes will be almost entirely along partisan lines.

These developments are what we see in American politics in recent years. Americans not only disagree with people in the other party (this would be issue-based polarization), but increasingly dislike and distrust them. In fact, hostility to the opposite party--what political scientists call negative polarization--is the most important determinant of the fracturing of US politics today. Increased attachment to one's party in recent years has not increased primarily because people like their party more, but because they are more opposed to the other party.

This negative polarization is happening among both Democrats and Republicans:

A 2018 poll found that 61 percent of Democrats thought Republicans were racist, sexist, or bigoted. About half of Republicans thought Democrats were ignorant or spiteful.
Members of both parties dehumanize the other. In a 2019 survey, 20 percent of Republicans and Democrats agreed with the statement that their political adversaries "lack the traits to be considered fully human--they behave like animals."
Twenty percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans have thought or think that the country would be better off if large numbers of the opposition died.
Perhaps most alarming, another 2019 survey found that just over 42 percent of the people in both parties view the opposition as "downright evil."

The stakes this negative polarization creates are extremely high.

In order for constitutional democracy to survive, members of each party have to respect the legitimacy or the other's right to rule. This condition is necessary for political compromise, for the peaceful transition of power from one party to another, and the preservation of the rules that allow for free and fair elections.

I am less and less confident that this condition of viewing the other party as legitimate either is or will be met:

In the lead-up to the 2020 election, many leaders and members of both parties view the other as fundamentally illegitimate and only capable of winning by fraud or dirty tricks.
Both sides view the election in apocalyptic terms that will define the success or failure of the United States. A good number of partisans believe the election will either result in the rise of fascism on the one hand or the rise of leftist radicalism and anarchy on the other.
Both sides believe that if the other comes to power, the winning party will change the rules of politics that will prevent the true will of the American people in future elections.
Both sides view the other as hostile to bedrock American principles, making the other un-American.

When the hostility between contending parties is so widespread and the stakes involved with winning or losing so high, key preconditions for constitutional democracy no longer exist, and violence becomes easy to justify.

As Abraham Lincoln, quoting scripture, famously put it in 1858, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." So what can be done about the situation?

I believe our faith can provide a powerful antidote to the perils of political polarization. Specifically, I believe that focusing on thetranscendent nature of Godcan help foster reconciliation among contending groups.

Transcendence is one of the most important concepts in the Bible. It refers to the idea that God and His law are forever and always above the capacity of humans to perfectly understand and to fully realize. Indeed, original sin was based on the idea that God's knowledge is beyond humans and we delude ourselves into thinking we can possess it. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord" in Isaiah.

If we take transcendence seriously, it means that all of our goals, values, beliefs, and institutions fall short of the glory of God. All we do and achieve is corrupted to some degree by self-interest and biases of time and place. The very best we can say about our political positions is that they are partial approximations of the truth. To deny the partiality and contingency of our thought is the very definition of sin.

Focusing on the transcendence of God and his law has profound implications. Most importantly from my perspective, transcendence shatters self-delusion and pride at both the individual and group levels. Here's how the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr explained things:

A religion of revelation [meaning a transcendent religion] is grounded in the faith that God speaks to man from beyond the highest pinnacle of the human spirit; and that this voice of God will discover man's highest not only to be short of the highest but involved in the dishonesty of claiming that it is the highest.

Niebuhr is saying that whenever we think we have the answers, look up at the skies and stars and contemplate the vastness of creation that is beyond our ability to know, and then repent for being convinced of the surety of our wisdom.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Right Fragility (John McWhorter, Jan. 18th, 2021,  The Atlantic)

The right often accuses the left of exaggerating victimhood, turning a blind eye to reality, and distorting language to do so. The left, it's often said, harbors "snowflakes" and the like who are beset by a victim complex. Lately, however, this frame of mind knows no party or political affiliation. Especially since the Capitol riot, assorted conservative figures have embodied a fragility of the right. [...]

Fox's Jeanine Pirro, for instance, compared the act of tech companies de-platforming Parler for harboring unfiltered right-wing terrorist propaganda to "Kristallnacht." Jews tormented on Kristallnacht would have interesting words for Pirro's view, especially since her ideological compatriots had just stormed the Capitol and left five people dead.

Fox's Tucker Carlson is also pushing right-wing victimization. He claimed that the insurrection was rooted in something as blunt as "the population" asking, "Listen to us!" with their leaders merely yelling, "Shut up and do as you're told." He ignored the clear-cut denialism about the vote count, and the fact that leaders are listening to that denialism and encouraging it. The notion that the insurrections represent the neglected and unheard is especially odd since the mob at the Capitol was not comprised entirely of impecunious people worried about their bank accounts, but included a great many financially stable, educated people.

Another exemplar of right fragility is Senator Josh Hawley, who recruited the term Orwellian to describe the cancellation of the publication of his upcoming critique of Big Tech. George Orwell's 1984 described a dystopia where the state refashioned language to make it impossible to harbor unwelcome thoughts. Simon & Schuster (a private company) canceled Hawley's book in a world where views of Hawley's kind are and will continue to be widely disseminated.


Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Make America California Again? That's Biden's plan (EVAN HALPER, JAN. 17, 2021, LA Times)

The incoming administration is embracing some of California's most pioneering initiatives, such as programs for rapidly decarbonizing the electricity grid and tuition-free college, as well as more obscure, incremental policies. Also on the new White House agenda will be measures to ban mandatory arbitration clauses in employee contracts and a revival of a "Cash for Clunkers" program aimed at providing incentives to get polluting cars off the road -- signature California policies.

Even some ideas that haven't worked out so well in California are on the national agenda now. Biden is a fierce proponent of high-speed rail, as well as new protections for gig economy workers that California voters diluted in November.

"California has this mantle of leadership, but along with that can come the stumbles of being the first adopter," said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael). "It's an innovative and imaginative place that tends to set trends and blaze trails. It's too big and too influential not to inform our country's policy direction going forward."

California's influence will be felt in how Americans power their homes and cars, and even in how they save for retirement.

"California is not just about pushing the envelope, it is about tearing it apart," said former state Senate leader Kevin de León, who helped the state implement some of the innovative ideas the incoming administration wants to pursue. "The state is full of disruptors and malcontents who are impatient and have no problem challenging the status quo."

De León worked for years to enroll all California workers in an "auto-IRA" program that would automatically direct a small share of their earnings to a 401(k)-style savings account. He was motivated by the experience of his aunt, a housekeeper and one of the millions of Californians who was toiling in a low-wage job without any retirement safety net beyond Social Security.

"This was a woman, salt of the earth, who always worked fingers to bone," De León said. "Yet I am her IRA, I am her pension plan. Her story is not unique. You have millions of Californians and tens of millions of Americans who are retiring into poverty." The CalSavers program that De León was able to help create in California is a template for Biden's agenda on retirement security.

California's plan to remove carbon-emitting power sources from its electricity grid entirely by 2045 also inspired the incoming administration. Biden is proposing an even more aggressive timeline, looking to move the grid to zero emissions nationwide by 2035.

The state's plan was the most ambitious of its kind when it was approved in 2018, a snub at Trump's unrelenting push to revive demand for fossil fuels. It moved several other states to push up their decarbonization timelines. "My thinking was we had to be a beacon of hope and opportunity while Trump was trying to undo all of our policies at the national level," De León said.

When Trump moved to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, California committed to meeting its objectives regardless, and launched a successful crusade to persuade 23 other states to do the same. Biden is now preparing to reenter the accord. California's landmark tailpipe emissions standards that the Trump administration worked furiously to erode are again central to that effort, helping to push the nation's vehicle fleet toward electrification.

A good test for Republicans is whether they help pass, or even expand, a universal 401k plan.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Not 'Apartheid in the West Bank.' Apartheid (gIDEON lEVY, 1/16/21, hA'ARETZ)

All the nonsense about "Bibi is destroying democracy" ignores this eternal fact: Only for six months did the state treat all the people under its rule in a democratic way, at least for the sake of appearances. Throughout all its decades of existence, Israel has treated part of its subjects tyrannically. That's why it has no connection at all with democracy.

On October 21, 1948, Israel put its Arab citizens under a military government. On December 1, 1966, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol lifted this disgrace. Six months later, in June 1967, military tyranny returned to define Israel when its newly occupied territories were placed under military rule.

This situation has continued to this day and its end is nowhere in sight. All that remains is the costume. Now, that too is beginning to be torn away; a long process. The roots of the lie of democracy are deep.

The rights group B'Tselem published a revolutionary position paper last week, crossing the Rubicon by saying that the Jewish supremacy regime exists not just in the occupied territories, where B'Tselem has been documenting crimes since the group's founding, but in all the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

A few days earlier, the American writer Nathan Thrall, who lives in Jerusalem, published an eye-opening and mind-expanding piece in The London Review of Books entitled "The Separate Regimes Delusion." Thrall doesn't hesitate to criticize the supposedly liberal-Zionist and leftist organizations, from Meretz and Peace Now to Yesh Din and Haaretz. All of them believe that Israel is a democracy and oppose annexation because it could undermine their false belief that the occupation is happening somewhere else, outside of Israel, and is only temporary. The separation between the occupation and Israel is still valid in their eyes, so they're leading people astray.

The conclusion from the two documents is one and the same: It's impossible to speak any longer about "apartheid in the territories." It's impossible to separate the territories and Israel, and it's impossible to consider the occupation temporary. The conclusion: Israel is an apartheid state. Just as in South Africa it was ludicrous to talk about democracy, even though elections were held, it's ridiculous to view Israel as a democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


In challenge to Tesla, Chinese electric carmaker Xpeng releases autonomous features for highway driving (Arjun Kharpal, 1/18/21, CNBC)

 Chinese electric carmaker Xpeng Motors has announced a new autonomous driving feature designed to work on highways, as it ramps up its challenge to domestic rivals as well as Tesla.

The feature -- called Navigation Guided Pilot or NGP -- will allow the company's flagship P7 sedan to automatically change lanes, speed up or slow down, or overtake cars and enter and exit highways.

It is part of the next generation of Xpeng's XPILOT 3.0 so-called advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) which the company expects to launch in the first quarter of this year. ADAS refers to a system with some autonomous features but where a driver is still required.

January 17, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


The crash landing of 'Operation Warp Speed' (DAN DIAMOND, 01/17/2021, Politico)

Now, in the final days of the Trump administration, their "MP2" -- later redubbed "Operation Warp Speed" -- occupies a peculiar place in the annals of the administration's ill-fated response to Covid-19: In many ways, it was successful, living up to the highest expectations of its architects. The Trump administration did help deliver a pair of working vaccines in 2020, with more shots on the way. But the officials who expected to be taking a victory lap on distributing tens of millions of vaccine doses are instead being pressed to explain why the initiative appears to be limping to the finish.

Governors say the Warp Speed effort has made promises it didn't keep, with deliveries of doses falling short and reserve supplies exhausted. Physicians and logistics experts have critiqued the disorderly rollout, arguing that the Trump team should have done a better job of coordinating the nation's mass vaccination effort. The incoming Biden administration on Friday morning announced they'd even do away with the initiative's branding, which President Donald Trump has touted for months.

Operation Warp Speed "is the Trump team's name for their program. We are phasing in a new structure," tweeted incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki, adding there's an "urgent need to address failures of the Trump team approach to vaccine distribution."

It's a deflating end for the Trump officials who conceived of Operation Warp Speed last spring, hanging themed posters inside the health department that boast the slogan "Because Winning Matters!"

POLITICO spoke with 11 officials closely involved in the conception of the vaccine project, in addition to other government officials and outside advisers, about how that optimistic vision of "MP2" became "Operation Warp Speed" -- and where the rollout went astray in recent weeks. Many expressed frustration and disappointment, but also a faith that the long arc of history will prove they succeeded -- pointing to data that roughly 1 million Americans per day are now getting vaccinated under Trump's watch, ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's own vow to accomplish the same.

The recent news about distribution problems "just sucks," said one health official. "This time it was supposed to be different... it still can be."

To be fair, it's not as if Warp Speed had anything to do with the vaccines either: DARPA's gambles might have created the best hopes for stopping COVID-19 (STEVE USDIN, MAR 25, 2020, BioCentury)

A U.S. defense agency that specializes in turning science fantasies into realities jump-started technologies and nurtured companies that are now at the forefront of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Defense Research Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) has taken risks where others wouldn't. Its pursuit of high-risk, high-reward technologies, combined with its mission-driven approach to managing projects is promising to pay off in the fight against COVID-19.

DARPA was behind the creation of DNA and RNA vaccines, funding early R&D by Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ:MRNA) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ:INO) at a time when the technologies were considered speculative by many scientists and investors.

The military R&D agency believed nucleic acid-base vaccines could be developed much faster than conventional technologies. Its funding, project management and vote of confidence helped de-risk the science and attract investments and partnerships.

NIH selected Moderna as its partner for COVID-19 vaccine development. This week, an RNA vaccine produced by Moderna became the first COVID-19 candidate vaccine to be administered in a Phase I trial.][...]
DARPA deserves at least part of the credit for the fact that it's no longer an extraordinary idea to encode an antigen in DNA or RNA so the human body can create the protein, rather than injecting the antigen as part of a conventional vaccine.

When DARPA began pursuing nucleic acid vaccines in 2011, it was far from clear that they would work.

"A lot of people said that would be great if it works, but we don't think it could work, there are too many things that can go wrong," Amy Jenkins, a program manager in DARPA's Biological Technologies Office, told BioCentury. She said DARPA scientists concluded "there are scientific reasons why it may not work, but there are also scientific reasons why it may work, and that's absolutely the right place for DARPA to be investing."

Jenkins highlighted DARPA's high tolerance for risk. "It was something that was much too risky for groups like the NIH to fund."

In addition to a high risk tolerance, DARPA operates on a very different model than NIH. Instead of giving multi-year grants that require only periodic progress reports, it awards milestone-based contracts.

DARPA project managers like Jenkins speak with the groups they fund "once a month, sometimes even once every other week, and during something like the coronavirus [outbreak], almost once a day," she said.

Another difference from NIH is that DARPA is highly focused on achieving its goals, not on advancing science. "We monitor progress closely, but we don't necessarily chase science where it wants to take us. We stay laser-focused on building the capability we need to build. If the path we were taking to getting that capability is not working for scientific reasons, we divert and we take a new path to that same capability."

CureVac AG became one of the first RNA vaccine companies, in part because of DARPA funding; it was one of the agency's early bets on the technology. CureVac was also one of the first companies to begin work on a COVID-19 vaccine.

In November 2011, DARPA awarded a $33.1 million contract to a collaboration among CureVac, the Sanofi Pasteur unit of Sanofi (Euronext:SAN; NASDAQ:SNY) and In-Cell-Art S.A.S. to advance CureVac's RNActive technology platform and evaluate vaccine candidates.

CureVac demonstrated proof-of-principle in a Phase I trial launched in 2013, when its mRNA-based rabies vaccine induced antibodies when delivered with a needle-free device. The study was reported in the Lancet.

CureVac was founded in 2000 and had raised about $84 million at time DARPA selected it to lead the consortium.

DARPA also played an important role in helping Moderna establish its mRNA platform, awarding the biotech a contract for up to $25 million in October 2013. In addition to a vote of confidence for an edgy technology, the DARPA award added non-dilutive funding to the 2012 $40 million venture funding from Flagship Pioneering.

Moderna raised over $600 million in a 2018 IPO and has a market cap of $11.6 billion.

DARPA's funding was directed towards Moderna's development of RNA vaccines against the chikungunya and Zika viruses.

Moderna's Phase I trial of a chikungunya vaccine, completed in September 2019, was an important inflection point for the platform and for RNA vaccine technology. It was, the company reported, the "first systemic mRNA therapeutic to show production of a secreted protein in humans."

"The researchers have demonstrated that it is feasible to use mRNA sequences to produce and scale a highly potent antibody response against an infectious disease target," said DARPA's Jenkins in a statement released in September 2019.

Jenkins added that Moderna's chikungunya vaccine results were encouraging validation of the "prospects of creating a new, platform-based prophylactic and therapeutic approach that might better protect civilians and service members alike against the relentless threat of pandemic disease."

In addition to RNA vaccines, DARPA helped advance DNA vaccines from concept to reality.

In 2015, the agency allocated $45 million to a project led by Inovio to develop a vaccine and therapies for Ebola. The program funded development of a DNA-based mAb, a conventional protein-based mAb and a DNA-based vaccine.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Protesters Who Fled Hong Kong Arrive in U.S., Seeking Asylum (Michael Forsythe, Jan. 16th, 2021, NY Times)

The Trump administration's move, in its final days, to grant entry to the men on humanitarian grounds stands in contrast to its dramatic curtailing of refugee quotas over the past four years. In December, legislation in Congress that would have made it easier for Hong Kong residents to gain refugee status was blocked by Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican.

Trumpism is over.

Biden national security advisor calls for Russia to immediately release detained Putin critic (Amanda Macias, 1/17/21, CNBC)

President-elect Joe Biden's national security advisor Jake Sullivan called for the immediate release of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was detained Sunday upon arrival at an airport in Moscow.

Earlier on Sunday, Navalny flew to Russia from Berlin, Germany where he had spent nearly half a year recovering since he was poisoned last summer. He was arrested at passport control.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Where Does the South End and Christianity Begin?Understanding the role of shame/honor culture in the roots of Christian rage. (David French, 1/17/21, French Press)

I'm going to talk about something that's crucial to understanding race in the South but also transcends race. That "something" is southern shame/honor culture. And I submit that what we're watching right now in much of our nation's Christian politics is an explosion not of godly Christian passion, but rather of ancient southern shame/honor rage.

There's an enormous amount of literature describing shame/honor culture in the South and shame/honor culture generally, but I like this succinct description from David Brooks:

In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. In a guilt culture people sometimes feel they do bad things; in a shame culture social exclusion makes people feel they are bad.

Shame/honor cultures are very focused on group reputation and group identity. Again, here's Brooks:

People are extremely anxious that their group might be condemned or denigrated. They demand instant respect and recognition for their group. They feel some moral wrong has been perpetrated when their group has been disrespected, and react with the most violent intensity.

Brooks was writing about the general growth of shame culture in America, including in left-wing circles on campus. But doesn't this sound familiar on the right? Have you noticed how much of the GOP, the party of white Evangelicals, is often positively obsessed with grievance, how it marinates in anger at the insults of the "elite" or the "ruling class"?

We experience this reality constantly. It sometimes appears as if the bulk of the conservative media economy is built around finding and highlighting leftist insults, leftist disrespect, and leftist contempt. And yes, it exists, but there is a difference between highlighting a problem and marinating in grievance over the rejection of the left.

This has old, old roots. In his book Desire, Violence, and Divinity in Modern Southern Fiction, Kent State professor Gary Ciuba writes that "honor meant that southerners beheld themselves as others beheld them," and that meant that "their self-worth lived in the look of the other."

I found that quote in an illuminating essay by Jody Howard, writing in Covenant. Howard amplifies Ciuba's point:

In the honor-shame culture of the South, allowing a perceived inferior to best or embarrass you was to experience more than personal insult. It was to witness a hole punched in the myth that undergirded antebellum and segregationist society. Maintenance of the myth was paramount: face had to be saved and respect salvaged through the use of violence and intimidation, or else one risked becoming the subject of societal violence in turn, as neighbors sought to reestablish the equilibrium, to save the myth.

This approach represents a dramatic contrast with biblical commands to "turn the other cheek" or to "bless those who persecute." Instead, the shame/honor imperative is to punch back, hard. Any other approach isn't just weakness. It risks the well-being of the community.

Make no mistake: The South is better than it was on this score. But the influence remains. For example, in a famous 1996 examination of honor in the South, researchers Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen found that southern male students experienced higher levels of testosterone and cortisol when "bumped into or sworn at in a hallway." It's a small data point, but it's interesting when connected both with history and with contrasting contemporary cultures in North and South.

So, why is all this so relevant to the present day? And what does it have to do with Christianity? Because when we talk about American Evangelicalism in a secularizing world, we're increasingly talking about southern Evangelicalism.

I'm reading Steven Levingston's excellent Kennedy and King and two striking things are just how much more anti-American and violent the Right was then than now and how they were a problem for Democrats then but for us now.  Supporting Civil Rights did, indeed, cost the Democrats the Solid South.  They also held the US House until 1994. Republicans ought not fear losing the racists among us. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Trump Impeachment Is Deeply Flawed, but He Deserves Conviction (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, January 17, 2021, National Review)

Insurrection cannot be a politicized concept, such that whether it's been committed or not depends on whether the violent mob includes Trump supporters whom Democrats despise or "racial-justice protesters" whom they lionize. Impeachment is about more than the president; it is about social cohesion. Condemning Trump after months of turning a blind eye to rampant insurrectionist violence -- during which Democrats and the Left explicitly objected to invocation of the Insurrection Act to restore order -- is going to make a lot of the country very angry. 

The predictable whataboutism requires that Mr. McCarthy be unable to differentiate between blacks demanding equal treatment by law enforcement and whites trying to overturn an election result they didn't like. 

Insurrection is literally politics.  The important question is always whether it is justified by the quality of the regime.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A Republic, Not a Democracy (THOMAS KOENIG, January 16, 2021, National Review)

Madison and his fellow Founders gifted us this republic, but we will fail to heed Ben Franklin's charge to "keep it" if our representatives persist in treating it like a pure democracy. Those entrusted with great political power cannot act as mere vessels of public opinion; they are tasked with leadership, with refining the views of their constituents.

Voters have lives to lead, jobs to keep, and families to feed. They are not meant to live and breathe politics. So it makes sense that their opinions on public affairs -- while often quite reasonable at heart -- may be rather rough around the edges and misguided in certain important respects. The role of the elected representative is to harmonize the interests and passions of his constituents with the dictates of reason and the common good. This requires a certain independence of mind and spirit, as well as a hefty dose of prudence. In the famous words of Edmund Burke: "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."

A republic cannot persist if our elected representatives fail to summon the requisite reason and courage to exercise judgment. The violence at the Capitol was a wake-up call: It's time we stopped forsaking the virtues of republicanism for the vices of direct democracy.

The two parties need to exert more power, particularly over the nominating process, both to improve the quality of the candidates they run and to help protect worthy incumbents from challenges.  Getting rid of open primaries would be helpful along with requiring more than a mere declaration of party affiliation. 

January 16, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Biden plans dozens of executive orders for early days of presidency (TYLER PAGER, 01/16/2021, Politico)
Joe Biden is planning to sign dozens of executive orders in his first days in office, as he aims to roll back some of President Donald Trump's signature policies on immigration and climate change while taking early action to address the coronavirus crisis.

After being sworn in on Wednesday, Biden will rescind the travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries, rejoin the Paris climate accords, extend limits on student loan payments and evictions instituted during the pandemic and issue a mask mandate on federal properties and for interstate travel.

The Muslim ban was a particular stain on America, but easily removed.

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


Omar and Ocasio-Cortez tell Josh Hawley to resign -- poll shows most Missouri voters agree (KENNY STANCIL, JANUARY 16, 2021, Salon)

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


A Reaganesque Scheme for a GOP Reboot: If the party is going to survive Trump, it needs to cut the extremists loose and craft a broader message. Here's how that succeeded before. (MONICA PRASAD, 01/16/2021, Politico)

There are three paths for the Republican Party, but only one path forward.

One option is to double down on xenophobia and protectionism, recruiting more Marjorie Taylor Greenes, hoping to increase the base by ramping up the rhetoric. But there seems to be a built-in ceiling to this strategy: It gets you passionate supporters but turns off many others. Even at his most popular, Trump's approval ratings never cracked 50 percent, and mostly hovered in the low 40s. He's on track to leave office as one of the most unpopular presidents on record.

The second path is the one the party is on now, and the one it will stay on if it does nothing to distance itself from Trump. This is the path of a split within the GOP, and this option is actually in Trump's interest--maybe even more than path No. 1. [...]

There is a third path. All Republicans have to do is imitate Ronald Reagan.

To explain how the party can move forward, we have to back up and understand how Republicans got here, how the party of Lincoln has come to rely more on nationalistic and racist sloganeering to unify its members than on the limited government, free-market principles many Republicans have long believed are the party's core ideals.

The basic problem the Republican Party has faced over the past century is that Americans actually love big government. They say they don't, but if you ask them what spending they want to cut, they want to cut none of it. Social Security and Medicare, the largest parts of the budget? Off limits. Education, roads, research and development? Of course not. Even aid to the poor is popular as long as it's not called "welfare." Republicans have never managed to roll back government to where things stood before the Progressive Era, or before the New Deal, or even to before Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. And they have more or less given up the attempt to do so, because they know they can't.

So how do you rule, and how do you run, as the party of small government in a nation that loves big government? For much of the 20th century, Republicans completely failed at answering this question, and the Democrats controlled Congress for four decades after Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

The problem with this third option is pretty obvious; Reagan was the last New Dealer.  One of the signal achievements of his presidency was the rescue of the Second Way social programs he worked out with his fellow retrograde figure, Tip O'Neill.  

Accept that Americans--like the citizens of every developed democracy--want a thorough social safety net and the task for conservatives is how to make it work more efficiently.  The most effective advocate for this Third Way was W.  While fellow Republicans refused to help him create the private SS accounts he won on twice, he did revolutionize health coverage by putting HSAs in the prescription drugs law, included school vouchers in No Child Left Behind, made buying a home easier, and revolutionized homeless policy, among other achievements.  Along with these policies he was the most forceful advocate for the free movement of goods and peoples ever to serve as president. 

Even at the time he was forging this new path for the GOP though, the Trumpish wing of the party rebelled.  The two great goals of his second term were SS and immigration reform which Congressional Republicans rejected and we haven't outpolled the Democratic nominee in a national election since.  As Ms Prasad points out, that wing of the party--older white men--really made its love of Second Way welfare programs clear when the Tea Party raged against the imagined threat to their checks posed by a black President who they were terrified would give "their money" to the minorities.  Rhetorically fiscal conservatives, they opposed any changes to SS and Medicare which is where savings would have to come from.  Then we were treated to the spectacle of Republicans raging against the very health care plan the party had developed--via Newt, Heritage and Mitt--because it was adopted by that black president.  And what did they offer in its place?  "crickets"  Finally, given a choice to either return to Bushism or double down on Nativism/racism the party rejected Jeb in favor of Donald, leading to the current wreckage.

The path back to being the majority party is plain enough.  It starts with a return to being pro-trade and pro-immigration.  It follows with using Third Way reforms to reduce the costs of the social welfare state.  This is as simple as exploiting the genius of compound interest, creating individual accounts for all Americans in which indexed stock funds grow wealth across a lifetime so it is available when needed.  For instance, if you borrow an idea from W's Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neill, and just put $10k in such an account at birth, even if we never put another dollar in, it will be well over a million dollars at age 70.  Make and/or require consistent contributions and then means test traditional programs against the accounts and you effectively end SS. Universalize HSAs and make and/or require contributions to them and you effectively end Medicare, other than for those with such expensive chronic conditions that providing some kind of national health service makes sense. Make all such accounts heritable so that the wealthy dying can transfer to the accounts of the young. Convert housing assistance into mortgage payments and give the poorest among us ownership interest in the properties they live in, equity in which can again be transferred to the young at death.  Add community college to the current free K-12 public education scheme. Meanwhile, switch to a Neoconomic tax structure that taxes consumption instead of work, savings, and investment.  We want people to earn wealth and maintain it, so advantage those choices. 

It is not unlikely that such generous treatment of the many Americans who the Trumpists despise would drive them out of the party.  But it would attract the vast majority of Democrats who have no interest in their own party's Identitarian Left.   Most importantly, it would work better than our antiquated Second Way system.  Across the Anglosphere and Scandinavia it is these sorts of Third Way programs that are being adopted because the big government we all desire has to be funded and this is the most efficient way to do so--money upfront, that can grow over time, instead of on the back end in absolute dollars 

We all know that we have to head in this direction, no matter how much Grandpa objects, the party that gets there first, or the coalition across the two parties that ignores the two wings, stands to dominate national politics for a generation as Democrats did after pioneering the Second Way 90 years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Israel settlers call for demolition of Dome of the Rock, official says (MEMO, January 16, 2021)

Israeli occupation authorities have taken the measurements of the Dome of the Rock while Israeli settlers are calling for its demolition, Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani announced on Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


The Bitcoin Dream Is Dead: Bitcoin's recent 25% plunge illustrates why it will never be a true currency (James Surowiecki, 1/13/20, Medium)

On May 22, 2010, a Bitcoin developer named Laszlo Hanyecz bought what may have been the most expensive meal in human history when he paid someone 10,000 Bitcoins to pick up and deliver him two pizzas from Papa John's. Given that one Bitcoin is now worth more than $30,000, those pizzas cost, in retrospect, somewhere north of $300 million.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


The curious case of Senator Lankford: Who deserves to live in ignominy and who deserves a path back? (Oliver Wiseman, 16 January, 2021, The Critic)

According to the local newspaper, Tulsa World, Lankford has been "arguably more involved with Black Tulsans, and particularly the historic Greenwood District, than any statewide Republican officeholder in decades." In Congress, he is one of the few Republicans who has worked with Democratic colleagues on voting rights reform. Last year, Lankford, a Baptist minister, was critical of Trump after he cleared protesters to hold a bible up outside St John's Church, near the White House. He was one of the architects of last summer's Republican police reform bill. Immediately after the election, when the president was making unfounded claims about a rigged result, Langford said he would intervene to make sure Biden received intelligence briefings but then quickly changed his tune.

All of this made Lankford one of the more surprising names on the list of senators who initially objected to the certification of Biden's win. (The fact that Lankford faces re-election in a deepest red state in two years' time is perhaps the best, though not exculpatory, explanation.) It also makes the central claim of his apology -- that he had a "blind spot" when it comes to the racial baggage associated with claims of election fraud -- hard to believe, leading many to question his sincerity. And even if we take Senator Lankford at his word, "too little, too late" would be a perfectly reasonable objection. A more charitable response might at least give Lankford credit for at least engaging with his part in it all when many Republicans have just decided to change the subject.

But this complicated cocktail -- complicity, an underwhelming apology and a Congressional track record that points at more than just mindless partisanship -- makes Lankford an interesting test case for how the Republican Party proceeds after Trump and after last Wednesday.

The path to a healthier democracy and a sane GOP surely involves offering the likes of Lankford an off-ramp from the Trumpian madness without downplaying the seriousness of their willingness to indulge the stolen election lie. In other words, who deserves to live in political ignominy and who deserves a way back?

This is the difficult question that those interested in building a better Republicanism after Trump must grapple with. I suspect that toughness towards the President himself and the uber-MAGA contingent -- starting with a vote to convict Trump in the upcoming impeachment trial -- needs to be mixed with a more forgiving approach to the likes of Lankford. For without the Lankfords of this world, the anti-Trump contingent will have little hope of building a coalition large enough to win the battle for the future of the right that awaits.

But elected officials will need to put their votes where their mouths are and help oppose Trumpism.
Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Five Hong Kong democracy protesters seek asylum in the US (AFP, 1/16/21)

Five Hong Kong democracy protesters who reportedly fled to Taiwan have arrived in the United States intending to seek asylum, an activist group said on Saturday.

Their escape follows the mass arrest of democracy figures in Hong Kong under a new national security law that is part of a mounting crackdown by China on the financial hub.

The Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC), a US-based group, said it had welcomed a group of young activists to America this week and their journey had been "arduous and perilous".

January 15, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Abbas Decrees First Palestinian Elections in 15 Years (Associated Press, January 15, 2021)

The 2006 election victory by Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel and Western countries, led to heavy international pressure being placed on the Palestinian Authority. Clashes between Fatah and Hamas raged for more than a year, culminating in Hamas' 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip, which it still controls despite a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade and three wars with Israel. 

Abbas' Palestinian Authority is confined to the occupied West Bank, where it administers major population centers according to agreements with Israel. Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. 

The decree sets a timeline in which legislative elections would be held on May 22, followed by presidential elections on July 31 -- the first since Abbas was elected to a four-year term in 2005. Elections for the National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents the Palestinian cause internationally, would be held August 31.

Marwan Barghouti is the natural choice for Palestine's first president given his acceptance by both Hamas and Fatah. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Trump's Final Attempt to Sabotage the Census Has Officially Failed (MARK JOSEPH STERN, JAN 15, 2021, Slate)

The Trump administration's final attempt to sabotage the census is dead. On Friday, the Justice Department told a federal judge that the Census Bureau would not release data on the number of undocumented immigrants living in each state before Jan. 20. 

Always bet on the Deep State.
Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


PODCAST: Living in Truth - Vaclav Havel on Existential Dissent & the Re-discovery of Conscience (Michael Matheson Miller, The Moral Imagination)

In this episode I speak with Flagg Taylor about the Czech playwright, dissident, and political figure Vaclav Havel.   

We discuss his idea of dissent as living in truth. For Havel, dissent is not primarily a political act, but  an existential one--it is a dissent from ideology, from the politicization of life, from false narratives, political fashion, and consumerism.

We discuss a number of his essays, including a letter to Dr. Husack, his very famous essay, Power of the Powerless,  Stories and Totalitarianism, and we talk about some of his plays including The Audience.  We also discuss Havel's life  and some key events like Charter 77, and his shift from a writer to a political figure. 

Though many of his plays and essays were written in the 1970s and 80s under Czechoslovakian communism, I think they are very  relevant to our time.  Havel stresses the importance of self-awareness and how to avoid thinking only in ideological categories that we see all over the left and right.  We discuss the idea of dissent and theatre and culture, and how dissent is sometimes as simple as sitting down with one's family and reading together, playing music together, doing theatre, and so on.  The family of Vaclav Benda did just this--part of their dissent from communist rule was Mrs. Benda simply reading the Lord of the Rings to their 6 children each night. 

Nice to hear an intelligent discussion between two conservatives who survived the Trump years undemented.  Their discussion provoked one particular insight though not the direct subject they were addressing. The totalitarianisms of the 20th century necessarily tried to create a New Man, one who fit their ideologies.  This required a denial of the whole human who actually exists.  The impossibility of the task and the inevitable disproof of the ideology then leads to a regime that has to rely on lies. Later they talk about the prevalence of belief in conspiracies.  

This all ties into the current cancer of Nationalisms as well, particularly in the American context. Our regime proceeds from self-evident truth that all men are Created equal.  Trumpism instead imagines that one race (and gender) is supreme. Yet, no matter how firm their faith in the ideology, reality refutes it.  So their leader has to lie to them and create a web of fantasy to maintain the illusion that the ideology is sound.  The nervous breakdown we've seen on the Right is a function of those lies falling apart as their avatar is booted from office in a victory for everything(one) they hate; blacks, women, Latinos, Muslims, etc.  The triviality of whiteness and maleness are being rubbed in their face. This is their moment of Glasnost, when the curtain came down and the people of the Communist world were confronted with the reality of how backwards their nations were, how catastrophically ideology had failed them.  And for those on the Right who bitterly cling to the White Supremacist ideology, how do you explain that the "superior" men are failing?  Why, naturally, it must be due to conspiracies!

Not only is the pod worthwhile in itself, the frissons of recognition it sets off make it thoroughly topical.     

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Trump's Financial Troubles May Be Just Beginning (John Cassidy, January 15, 2021, The New yorker)

In Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises," someone asks Mike Campbell, the troubled Scottish war veteran who is engaged to Lady Brett Ashley, how he ended up bankrupt. "Two ways," Campbell replies. "Gradually, and then suddenly." Campbell's interlocutor goes on to ask what brought about his collapse. "Friends," Campbell says. "I had a lot of friends. False friends. Then I had creditors, too. Probably had more creditors than anybody in England."

It's too early to determine whether Donald Trump might be headed for the same fate as the wretched Campbell, but there are intriguing parallels. Not so long ago, Trump also had lots of friends and creditors. Many of these friends held powerful positions in the worlds of business and politics. His most important creditor was Deutsche Bank, which, during the past decade, had defied internal dissension and extended hundreds of millions of dollars of loans to him. On top of these invaluable relationships, Trump had nearly ninety million Twitter followers, a vast audience that appeared to provide lucrative possibilities for monetization after he left office.

But, in the week since Trump incited a mob of his supporters to attack the Capitol, he and his businesses have suffered a series of blows. Key corporate partners have abandoned him; some of his fellow-billionaires have spoken out against his sedition; Deutsche Bank has let it be known that it doesn't want anything more to do with him; and Twitter stripped him of his following. When Trump leaves the White House, next week, he may have his eyes on planning a return to the political stage, but surely his first priority will be stabilizing his business empire--if he can manage it.

If the corporate shunning of Trump persists and expands to other businesses owned by him, it could do immense damage. Trump's hotels and resorts, such as the Trump National Doral, in Miami, depend on big businesses to fill their ballrooms and function spaces. They also rely on wealthy individuals to book the tee times, hotel rooms, and weddings that provide daily revenues. His condo developments cater to wealthy buyers. Other Trump ventures, particularly his licensing deals around the world, are even more dependent on the enduring appeal of the Trump brand, which is now in question. 

At least Fred can bail him out again...oh, wait, nevermind...

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


Don't fear the Reaper: We have become reluctant to accept death as an integral part of life. Perhaps coronavirus will give us a more realistic attitude to mortality (Andrew Doyle, 23 December, 2020, Standpoint)

It is a truism that the vanity of the modern age has engendered a reluctance to accept death as an integral part of life. People go to all kinds of lengths to extend their lives or ward off the signs of ageing, and wealthy entrepreneurs are pouring millions into research on "transhumanism", a new field of study whose ultimate goal appears to be finding a cure for death. I remain unconvinced that immortality is necessarily an enviable condition. I've seen The Lord of the Rings, and those elves always look miserable.

Besides, what would a life be with no prospect of cessation? Saul Bellow wrote that death is "the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are to see anything". This concept reminds me of the playwright Dennis Potter's final interview in March 1994, less than three months before he succumbed to the cancer that was ravaging his body. Describing his writing process in those final days to Melvyn Bragg, Potter noted that he would look out of his bedroom window to the plum tree below. "It looks like apple blossom but it's white," he said, "and looking at it, instead of saying 'Oh that's nice blossom' . . . I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be. And I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn't seem to matter."

What Potter called "the nowness of everything" is not, he claimed, a revelation that one can appreciate without direct experience. But if proximity to death enhances the value of life, so too might a healthy recognition of its necessity. A number of years ago I happened upon a fascinating little ring in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, dating from the 16th century. The ring was enamelled with a skull, and bore the legend "behold the ende" on a hexagonal bezel, with the inscription "rather death than fals faith" around the edge. The "true lovers" knot and inscription strongly suggested that this memento mori had been made to commemorate a betrothal or a wedding. Even on the happiest day of their lives, this couple wanted to be reminded that their time on earth was finite.

Today, our relationship with death is not so immediate. In an age of medical innovation and vaccines that seem to be conjured overnight, it is little wonder that death acquires a sense of unreality. I cannot help but think that the intermittent panic around the coronavirus, a disease with a relatively low mortality rate, is partly down to our reluctance to reckon with a difficult truth. The black death, which peaked in Europe in the mid-14th century and carried away more than half the population, meant that people had to quickly learn how to live in a state of continual bereavement. Death became a part of the culture as much as a metaphysical consideration. It is this period which gave us the tradition of the Danse Macabre: pictorial cycles in which the living are seen either dancing or processing towards the grave, accompanied by skeletons. Often the figures are arranged in order of social ranking, with ecclesiastical and political figures at the head. I think it was Madonna who sagely observed that death (in the guise of coronavirus) is the "great equaliser". If I remember rightly, she was immersed in a marble bathtub strewn with rose petals at the time.

Just as the bubonic plague led to a newfound fixation on death in art and literature, the horrors of the Second World War gave rise to the philosophy of existentialism. In his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus", Albert Camus argued that suicide is the "one truly serious philosophical problem". That is to say, the fact that we haven't killed ourselves is a proclamation of our investment in the condition of existence. There is something darkly comical about this viewpoint, yet perhaps there is some consolation to be found in contemplating the sheer absurdity of being alive. 

To find humour in death isn't to degrade or deny the sanctity of human life, but rather to grapple with its finite nature. 

TOLKIEN AND THE GIFT OF MORTALITY (Anna Mathie, November 2003, First Things)

The wise and good Arwen, who has given up her elvish immortality to be the mortal Aragorn's queen, is overcome at his deathbed and pleads for him to stay with her longer. He refuses, saying that it is right for him to go with good grace and before he grows feeble. Then he tells her:

I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world. The uttermost choice is before you: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall there be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men.

Arwen replies that she has no choice:

I must indeed abide the Doom of Men whether I will or nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Numenoreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Elves say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive.

In this new and bitter knowledge, she goes away alone after Aragorn's death, "the light of her eyes . . . quenched . . . cold and gray as nightfall that comes without a star." She dies alone in the dead land of Lorien, where deathless Elves once lived.

For Arwen, otherwise infinitely wiser than we, death is the one unknown, a new and unexpected discovery. Aragorn knows better; he knows, as all mortals should, that comfort is impossible and even unworthy in the face of death. Yet he still holds fast to what Arwen has only known as an abstract theological tenet: that death is truly God's gift.

I cry whenever I reread this passage; it haunts me like no other, though it's hard to explain why. At the heart of it is the phrase "the gift of the One to Men." Tolkien looks unblinkingly at "the loss and the silence" of death, but remains steadfast: Death is our curse, but also our blessing.

He has hidden this particular tale away in an appendix, but the same idea of mortality permeates the whole book. The plot centers on a ring that gives immortality and corrupts its bearer. Much of the book's character interest arises from the interactions between mortal and immortal races, who both mystify and fascinate each other. The structure of the work also echoes mortality itself. I have heard friends criticize the long and leisurely denouement (over a hundred pages), but I've never understood such complaints. Myself, I was grateful for every page, always vividly aware that they would run out all too soon. Those closing chapters are a portrait of mortality: However happily a story ends, it must end, and that itself is our great sorrow. All that is beautiful and beloved dies. The Fellowship of the Ring accomplishes its quest, but with the end of its troubles comes the separation of its members. Gandalf and the High Elves win the war, but their own victory banishes them from Middle Earth. With them "many fair things will fade and be forgotten." Frodo has saved the world but now longs to leave it. This has to be one of literature's saddest happy endings. Tolkien makes us savor the bittersweet, for he knows (like Gandalf) that "not all tears are an evil."

Clearly, mortality is at the heart of this story. The subject has become a hot topic today, with Leon Kass and other "mortalists" arguing against a research culture that sees death and aging merely as foes to be overcome. If medicine succeeds in making man immortal, or even much longer-lived, the mortalists argue, much that makes human life worthwhile will be lost. Kass has used the wisdom of such ancient authors as Homer to illustrate his vision of mortality's benefits. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien makes a Christian case for the same claim. In Tolkien's world, immortality and long life lead even the noblest creatures to a spiritual dead end, or to outright corruption.

The virtues of mortality are most obvious in the great paradox of the book: that the very mortal Hobbits are the only ones who can resist the Ring's seduction and destroy it. Seemingly the most insignificant and lowliest race of all, they spend their (relatively) short lives in small pursuits. They have little use for lofty "elvish" ideas. As most characters in The Lord of the Rings remark, they are unlikely saviors of the world. In fact, their lowly mortality may be their greatest asset.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Is the Schrödinger Equation True?: Just because a mathematical formula works does not mean it reflects reality (John Horgan, January 7, 2021, Scientific American)

Physicists' theories work. They predict the arc of planets and the flutter of electrons, and they have spawned smartphones, H-bombs and--well, what more do we need? But scientists, and especially physicists, aren't just seeking practical advances. They're after Truth. They want to believe that their theories are correct--exclusively correct--representations of nature. Physicists share this craving with religious folk, who need to believe that their path to salvation is the One True Path.

But can you call a theory true if no one understands it? A century after inventing quantum mechanics, physicists still squabble over what, exactly, it tells us about reality. Consider the Schrödinger equation, which allows you to compute the "wave function" of an electron. The wave function, in turn, yields a "probability amplitude," which, when squared, yields the likelihood that you'll find the electron in a certain spot.

The wave function has embedded within it an imaginary number. That's an appropriate label, because an imaginary number consists of the square root of a negative number, which by definition does not exist. Although it gives you the answer you want, the wave function doesn't correspond to anything in the real world. It works, but no one knows why. The same can be said of the Schrödinger equation.

Maybe we should look at the Schrödinger equation not as a discovery but as an invention, an arbitrary, contingent, historical accident, as much so as the Greek and Arabic symbols with which we represent functions and numbers. After all, physicists arrived at the Schrödinger equation and other canonical quantum formulas only haltingly, after many false steps.

Imagine you are the Great Geek God, looking down on the sprawling landscape of all possible mathematical ways of representing the microrealm. Would you say, "Yup, those clever humans found it, the best possible set of solutions." Or would you exclaim, "Oh, if only they had taken a different path at this moment, they might have found these equations over here, which would work much better!"

Moreover, the Schrödinger equation is far from all-powerful. Although it does a great job modeling a hydrogen atom, the Schrödinger equation can't yield an exact description of a helium atom! Helium, which consists of a positively charged nucleus and two electrons, is an example of a three-body problem, which can be solved, if at all, only through extra mathematical sleights of hand.

And three-body problems are just a subset of the vastly larger set of N-body problems, which riddle classical as well as quantum physics. Physicists exalt the beauty and elegance of Newton's law of gravitational attraction and of the Schrödinger equation. But the formulas match experimental data only with the help of hideously complex patches and approximations.

When I contemplate quantum mechanics, with all its hedges and qualifications, I keep thinking of poor old Ptolemy. We look back at his geocentric model of the solar system, with its baroque circles within circles within circles, as hopelessly kludgy and ad hoc. But Ptolemy's geocentric model worked. It accurately predicted the motions of planets and solar and lunar eclipses.

Quantum mechanics also works, better, arguably, than any other scientific theory. But perhaps its relationship to reality--to what's really out there--is as tenuous as Ptolemy's geocentric model. Perhaps our descendants will look back on quantum mechanics a century from now and think, "Those old physicists didn't have a clue."

The paradigm always shifts because it represents a functional consensus, not reality. It's a statement of faith. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:39 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


In LA, ambulances circle for hours and ICUs are full. Is this what Covid-19 has in store for the rest of the country? (USHA LEE MCFARLING, JANUARY 15, 2021, STAT news)

The city's early success may be one reason things are so bad right now. "What happened in New York is that people got very scared and they behaved," said Karin Michels, who chairs the department of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. "We did so well, people started to relax, and they stopped following the rules."

Many also hoped spread in LA would be buffered by year-round warm weather that allows activities to continue more safely outdoors. But winter has come to Los Angeles too, and while it may not be freezing here, the early darkness forces many indoors. [...]

Early on, many experts thought LA's notorious sprawl might be protective. They were wrong. LA doesn't have a majority of residents living in and sharing elevators in dense high-rises like New York. But what the county has may be worse: a large population, a high rate of poverty, and, in some neighborhoods, the nation's highest rate of severe overcrowding. [...]

The virus has laid bare many of the city's vulnerabilities, and also its shocking inequalities. While the stereotype of LA is celebrity mansions on hillsides, its reality is overcrowded neighborhoods where entire families may squeeze into one-bedroom apartments or converted garages, settings where essential workers often live with older relatives, and social distancing is impossible. [...]

Bibbins-Domingo's city, San Francisco, has seen far lower case and death rates, something many attribute to the city's better adherence to masking, strong public health infrastructure, and extensive network of social supports. While San Francisco has developed innovative programs to place those infected with the virus into hotel rooms to help stop spread within households, LA's Project Roomkey, an attempt to use hotels to shelter the unhoused and prevent the spread of Covid-19, has seen less than 2,000 of its promised 15,000 rooms occupied.

But epidemiologists note that San Francisco County is also wealthier than LA County, and much smaller. While LA's high case and death rate -- 281 deaths were reported Wednesday -- can seem shocking, it's important to measure that against the county's large population, Beletsky said. "Just the sheer number of people here makes our numbers look dire," he said. "That said," he added, "things are really bad." Though there are counties in Texas, Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, and North Carolina with higher daily case rates, LA's is about twice the U.S. average.

Depopulating cities is an urgent reform for everything from health to education to crime to poverty. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Impeachment-backing Republican makes her case for why Trump should be removed (Brad Reed, January 15, 2021, Raw Story)

"He led Americans to believe that Mike Pence could overturn the Electoral College results, even though the VP does not have that power," [Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)] writes. "On Jan. 5 he tweeted, 'The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.' He told supporters at Georgia rally that day, 'I hope Mike Pence comes through for us, I have to tell you.'"

Then, during the January 6th rally, Trump told supporters that "when you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules" while warning them that "you'll never take our country back with weakness."

And to top it all off, writes Beutler, Trump continued lying about Pence's ability to overturn the election even after the Capitol building came under attack from his supporters.

"While the riot was in full swing and a mob was in the Capitol hunting Mike Pence, the president tweeted: 'Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,'" she writes.

Shortly after this, the Trump supporters in the Capitol began chanting, "Hang Mike Pence."

How would they ever even have heard of him otherwise?

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


The Rise of the Religious Left (Madeleine Kearns, Jan. 15th, 2021, National Review)

Religious or not, social justice is a hot commodity in the current climate. And Warnock could not have better credentials. He is the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., the former congregation of Martin Luther King Jr. As for his personal story, he grew up in a housing project in Savannah and his mother worked as cotton picker. Of course, he believes "unequivocally in a woman's right to choose," and is "a proud ally of LGBTQ+ rights." But while these positions might ordinarily be off-putting to Christian voters, he has a useful decoy, handed to him on a silver platter by the Republican Party -- self-identified Christian nationalists.

In his first sermon upon being elected senator, Warnock spoke of "the ugly side" of the "great and grand American story," and recalled how the "crude and the angry and the disrespectful and the violent break their way into the People's House, some carrying Confederate flags, signs and symbols of an old world order passing away." Continuing the Biblical imagery, he said: "You cut the head off a snake, it shakes and moves violently, not because it is living but because it is dying."

It would be easy to dismiss this hyperbolic oratory as mere political theater, but consider the numbers. Warnock won Georgia; so did Biden. What does that say? On the 2020 presidential election, Politico's Gabby Orr reported that

between 47 percent and 50 percent of Catholic voters support Trump -- a small decline from 2016, but enough to cost him the Rust Belt states that mattered most to his path to victory. Nationally, the president carried white Catholics by a 15-point margin, according to AP/VoteCast data, marking a significant decline from his 33-point margin over Hillary Clinton four years ago.

Trump's slippage with white evangelicals was less pronounced -- surveys showed him carrying 76 percent to 78 percent of the white, born-again Christian vote -- a slight decrease from 2016, when he won support from about 8 in 10 white evangelicals. But it had far-reaching implications for the president in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia, where current vote totals show him losing by less than 1 percent.

Speaking broadly and in terms of general political perception, the "Christian Right" has compromised itself by making a fundamentally Faustian bargain with the 45th president. Biden effectively seized on this, and successfully framed his campaign as the battle for the "soul" of the nation. To attack Biden's wishy-washy, feel-good Christianity -- or the gospel of social justice -- requires a credible and functioning alternative. To attack his sincerity is a strategic mistake. Let he who is without hypocrisy cast the first stone. The religious Left is here to stay. If Republicans want to understand why, they might start by looking in the mirror.

Offered a Christ of love or of hate, which do you expect Americans to choose? A successful GOP will embrace W's faith.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Flu cases have been shockingly low during the pandemic. (Sara Kiley Watson, 1/15/21, Popular Science)

Despite the pandemic's impact on all of us, sick and healthy, we've actually seen a record-breaking low amount of another icky, highly-contagious respiratory virus--the flu. Just to put it in perspective, from late September to late December in 2019, we faced over 65,000 cases of the flu. In that same chunk of time in 2020, only a smidge over 1,000 cases were reported. [...]

In addition to vaccination, the precautions the country is taking as a whole to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as staying home, wearing masks, frequent hand washing, and limiting social contact, are also helping us to not catch and spread the flu says Elizabeth Lee, an epidemiologist specializing in infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health. Normally in the fall and winter, we start heading back to school and shifting our social activities indoors, but not this year.

"Since that isn't happening, there's definitely a trickle-down effect to other respiratory viruses circulating at this time," Lee says. Following hygiene rules and not breathing on each other is a surefire way to avoid catching contagious respiratory diseases, no matter if it's a common cold or a new strain of COVID-19.

we knew this was coming because it occurred in the Southern Hemisphere during their Winter. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Francis Galton pioneered scientific advances in many fields - but also founded the racist pseudoscience of eugenics (Richard Gunderman, 1/15/21, The Conversation)

A popular pseudoscience was leaving its mark on American culture a century ago in everything from massive reductions in quotas for immigration to the U.S., to thousands of "fitter family" contests at county fairs, to a growing acceptance of birth control by those who thought it could curtail the fertility of "undesirables."

These are just a few examples of the influence of eugenics in the early 20th century. The idea of scientist Francis Galton, eugenics suggested that negative traits could be bred out of the human species by discouraging reproduction by those considered inferior. It laid the groundwork for forced sterilization laws in the U.S. and Nazi "racial hygiene" programs and the Holocaust. [...]

Galton credited reading his cousin Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" (1859) about the theory of natural selection with initiating him into "an entirely new province of knowledge," paving the way for his studies of inheritance.

There's a reason only former colonial powers believe in it. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


That time private US media companies stepped in to silence the falsehoods and incitements of a major public figure ... in 1938 (William (Bill) Kovarik, 1/15/21, The Conversation)

Coughlin's Detroit ministry had grown up with radio, and, as his sermons grew more political, he began calling President Franklin D. Roosevelt a liar, a betrayer and a double-crosser. His fierce rhetoric fueled rallies and letter-writing campaigns for a dozen right-wing causes, from banking policy to opposing Russian communism. At the height of his popularity, an estimated 30 million Americans listened to his Sunday sermons.

How The Conversation is different: We explain without oversimplifying.
Then, in 1938, one Sunday sermon crossed the line. On Nov. 20, he spoke to listeners on the subject of the recent anti-Semitic Nazi rampage in Germany known as Kristallnacht - during which mobs of Nazis burned down 267 synagogues, destroyed 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses and arrested 30,000 Jews. Worldwide condemnation quickly followed. An editorial in the St. Louis Globe, for example, stated: "We stand in horror at this outbreak of savagery."

Coughlin saw things differently. He blamed Jews for their own persecution and claimed in the sermon that the Nazis had actually been lenient. Only a few synagogues were burned, he lied, adding: "German citizen Jews were not molested officially in the conduct of their business." And communists, not Jews, were the real targets of the Nazi mobs, according to Coughlin.

In the wake of these obvious lies, a New York radio station decided to break with Coughlin. "Your broadcast last Sunday was calculated to incite religious and racial strife in America," said a letter from WMCA radio. "When this was called to your attention in advance of your broadcast, you agreed to delete those misrepresentations which undeniably had this effect. You did not do so."

Other radio stations in major cities like Chicago and Philadelphia also canceled Coughlin's broadcasts. Neville Miller, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters backed them up, saying that radio could not tolerate the abuse of freedom of speech.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


A textual analysis of Trump's language shows shifts in the weeks leading up to the Capitol riot (Roger J. Kreuz & Leah Cathryn Windsor, 1/15/21, The Conversation)

Contrary to popular thinking, Trump does not universally use inflammatory rhetoric. While he is well known for his unique speaking style and his once-frequent social media posts, in official settings his language has been quite similar to that of other presidents.

Researchers have noted how people routinely alter their speaking and writing depending on whether a setting is formal or informal. In formal venues, like the State of the Union speeches, textual analysis has found Trump to use language in ways that echo his predecessors.

In addition, a recent study analyzed 10,000 words from Trump's and President-elect Joe Biden's campaign speeches. It concluded - perhaps surprisingly - that Trump and Biden's language was similar.

Both men used ample emotional language - the kind that aims to persuade people to vote - at roughly the same rates. They also used comparable rates of positive language, as well as language related to trust, anticipation and surprise. One possible reason for this could be the audience, and the persuasive and evocative nature of campaign speeches themselves, rather than individual differences between speakers.

Of course, Trump has, at times, used overtly dire and violent language.

After studying Trump's speeches before the storming of the Capitol building, we found some underlying patterns. If it seemed there was a growing sense of momentum and action in his speeches, it's because there was.

From early December to early January, there was an increase in the use of words that convey movement and motion - terms like "change," "follow" and "lead."

This is important, because it signals that the undertone of the speeches, beyond the overt directives, was goading his supporters to take action. By contrast, passive voice is often used to distance oneself from something or someone. In addition, research on linguistic indicators of deception has found that people who are lying often use more motion words.

Linguistic analysis, likewise, traced the Talking Points Memo to Bill Clinton (Bruce Lindsey), not Monica

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


The Covid-19 Death Toll Is Even Worse Than It Looks: World-wide deaths are running far beyond what would have been expected without the pandemic (Paul Overberg, Jon Kamp and Daniel Michaels | Graphics by Lindsay HuthJan. 14, 2021, WSJ)

The recorded death count from the Covid-19 pandemic as of Thursday is nearing 2 million. The true extent is far worse.

More than 2.8 million people have lost their lives due to the pandemic, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from 59 countries and jurisdictions. This tally offers the most comprehensive view yet of the pandemic's global impact. Deaths in these places last year surged more than 12% above average levels.

Less than two-thirds of that surge has been attributed directly to Covid-19. Public-health experts believe that many, if not most, of the additional deaths were directly linked to the disease, particularly early in the pandemic when testing was sparse. Some of those excess deaths came from indirect fallout, from health-care disruptions, people avoiding the hospital and other issues.

To better understand the pandemic's global toll, the Journal compiled the most recent available data on deaths from all causes from countries with available records. These countries together account for roughly one-quarter of the world's population but about three-quarters of all reported deaths from Covid-19 through late last year.

The tally found more than 821,000 additional deaths that aren't accounted for in governments' official Covid-19 death counts.

Only about one in four countries world-wide track deaths on a running basis--and few of those have data more recent than November. The countries in the Journal's tally would likely have counted about 15 million deaths through late fall without the pandemic, based on prior-year trends. Instead, they reported nearly 17 million deaths through that time period. The difference equals roughly the population of Nebraska.

Tracking all of these deaths, and doing it quickly, is vital to help understand the breadth of the crisis, public-health experts say.

"Measuring total deaths gives you a readout if things are getting better or worse," said Colin Mathers, a retired coordinator of the World Health Organization's Mortality and Health Analysis Unit. "If you see a sudden rise in heart disease, it may be linked to Covid-19, but if there's a rise in cancer it may be because of people fearing to go to the hospital."

Some countries, including New Zealand and Norway, are actually showing lower-than-expected deaths. This may be the effect of controlling the virus through behavior changes that tamp down other causes of death, such as increased hygiene and reduced social interactions that spread other diseases, researchers say.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


GOP Senator James Lankford Apologizes to Black Constituents for Opposing Election Results (DARRAGH ROCHE ON 1/15/21, Newsweek)

Lankford had planned to object to President-elect Joe Biden's win but changed his mind following the riot at the Capitol that left five people dead. He sent a letter to "My friends in North Tulsa" on Thursday.

The letter said the senator's actions "caused a firestorm of suspicion among many of my friends, particularly in Black communities around the state. I was completely blindsided, but I also found a blind spot."

"What I did not realize was all of the national conversation about states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, was seen as casting doubt on the validity of votes coming out of predominantly Black communities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit," Lankford's letter went on.

"After decades of fighting for voting rights, many Black friends in Oklahoma saw this as a direct attack on their right to vote, for their vote to matter, and even a belief that their votes made an election in our country illegitimate."

January 14, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Mayor Lori Lightfoot Wants To Reopen Restaurants And Bars 'As Quickly As Possible' To Reduce Risk Of Underground Parties (Todd Feurer, January 14, 2021, CBS)

 Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday said Chicago restaurants and bars need to be allowed to reopen "as quickly as possible" not just to help those businesses survive, but to cut down on instances of private parties where people don't take proper precautions against COVID-19.

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


GM stock tops $50 on its way to another record (Claudia Assis, 1/14/21, Market Watch)

General Motors Co. shares were poised to hit a record close Thursday, stretching their winning run to a fourth session and topping $50 on optimism about the company's electric-vehicle push.

...had we held our stock, but it was worth selling at a loss for capitalist reasons.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 PM


Why it's important to know where coronavirus came from (Deutsche-Welle, 1/14/21)

While much of the evidence so far points to horseshoe bats in China, ongoing research - such as a recent study suggesting coronavirus was circulating in Italy as early as November 2019 - are a reminder that infectious disease outbreaks are often more complicated than they seem. 

If we want to better understand how and when people get infected in the first place, for both now and future outbreaks, experts say it's important to trace the virus back to its starting point. 

In the beginning of an outbreak, this can help slow the spread of a disease before it spirals out of control. If every case can be identified, every contact traced and every potential carrier quarantined, pathogens can be halted. 

But even after that initial containment period is lost, as in the case with SARS-CoV-2, finding the origin of a disease can give us useful insights, says Naomi Forrester-Soto, a virologist studying vector-borne diseases at Keele University in the UK.  

"The more we understand about how diseases emerge, the better we can predict and control them," Forrester-Soto told DW.

That does not necessarily mean identifying coronavirus "patient zero," which many experts, such as Forrester-Soto, no longer think is possible. 

Rather, it's about finding out in which species this virus is most likely to have emerged and in what circumstance it crossed over from animals to humans. This may help inform how we change our behavior toward certain animals - both wild and farmed, says the virologist.

In the aftermath of the first Ebola epidemic in west Africa, which killed more than 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016, experts tracked the chain of disease back to the first victim: a two-year-old called Emile Ouamouno, who died in a remote part of Guinea in December 2013. 

One of those researchers, wildlife veterinarian and microbiologist Fabian Leendertz, who helped trace the initial Ebola infection back to bats that lived in a hollow tree where children played, joins the WHO team on its mission in China.

Leendertz's research helped experts understand how the disease had spread and the risk posed by close contact with these animals. 

While identifying that first case was important in curbing Ebola, the detective work was made much easier because of how lethal and unique Ebola is, says Martin Beer, a professor of virology at the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health in Germany. 

It's possible the first people infected with coronavirus showed no symptoms at all. That, says Beer, has made piecing together the coronavirus puzzle, "very, very difficult."

"With respiratory diseases it is nearly impossible -- it could be influenza or any other cold. [Coronavirus] patient zero themself probably does not know that they were, in fact, infected," Beer told DW. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


Orbán and Macron, Europe's new power couple (Fredrik Erixon, 1/14/21, The Spectator)

Both leaders' battles with Islam illustrate the way in which they want to increase their control. Orbán is a coarse opportunist. He rails against 'Muslim invaders' to appeal to the more base instincts of voters, but tones this down in other speeches. He has praised Muslims and their contribution to the world in culture, mathematics and medicine but has made it clear he thinks the best place for these Muslims is somewhere other than Europe. His belief in religious freedom seems to be limited to that of Christianity.

In a way, Macron could not be more different: he is a typical advocate of French secularism. But Macron too is uneasy with Islam and has set out a route to make Muslim practice a matter for state regulation. He has asked Muslim leaders to agree to a 'charter of republican values' as part of a broad clampdown on radical Islam. But the charter vilifies Muslims who live by traditionalist values and have nothing to do with the country's terrorists, who become radicalized outside France's Muslim community. Restricting the freedom of faith of some Muslims on the grounds that they don't preach sexual freedom and gender equality is illiberal: it's the government taking charge of people's souls.

Posted by orrinj at 11:51 AM


'Soul' and the Purpose-Driven Generation: Disney Pixar's latest film reminds us that life is meaningful beyond achieving our goals or saving the world. (TIMOTHY THOMAS, JANUARY 15, 2021, Christianity Today)

Joe Gardner has always felt like he was "born to play" jazz piano. When he fulfills his dream of playing with famous saxophonist Dorothea Williams, he asks her, "So, what happens next?" She responds: "We come back tomorrow night and do it all again." Despondently, Joe confesses, "I've been waiting on this day for my entire life. I thought I'd feel different."

Disney Pixar's Soul offers a surprisingly heady philosophical message to a distressed generation that is trying to find purpose through meaningful work. The film's main insight is something Christians already know: There's more to life than our accomplishments. In fact, this realization is what inspired the film's concept, according to director Pete Docter. After completing the popular Pixar film Inside Out, he was left wondering what was next. "I realized that as wonderful as these projects are, there's more to living than a singular passion," Docter said. "Sometimes the small insignificant things are what it's really about."

No one will miss work. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds says Trump could be criminally prosecuted for his role in the 'insurrection' (Christopher Vondracek, Jan 13th 2021, InForum)

"In my opinion, what we had was an insurrection," said Rounds. "We had violence. We had people killed. We had a mob that ignored direct commands. They attacked law enforcement officers. They damaged federal property. They clearly intended to stop us from performing our duties in the recognition of the electoral vote count."

Rounds cited Section 2383 of Title 18 of the U.S. code, "Rebellion or insurrection," as the law that prosecutors could use against Trump.

"If there are (impeachment) proceedings brought against him (Trump)," said Rounds, "and even if the article of impeachment is not followed through in the Senate, if the article of impeachment to incitement of a riot or incitement of an insurrection are followed through in a criminal proceeding, that by itself would ... stop him (Trump) for running for election to a public office again."

Rounds, who won a second six-year term in November, voted Jan. 6 to certify the election results. He deflected calls from Trump -- and many in his own state's Legislature -- to overturn the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. But the 66-year-old former governor stressed many of the president's followers had been misled by baseless claims of election fraud.

Every Republican without a 2022 primary can do the right thing. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Why the Republic Can Hold (Richard M. Reinsch, II, Winter 2021, National Affairs)

Perhaps no thinker better understood the barriers that a sober liberal-constitutional model can pose to political dominance, if not oppression, than the 18th-century French republican theorist Montesquieu. His dynamic understanding of power heavily influenced the framers of our Constitution -- it was the "celebrated Montesquieu" they turned to in order to understand the need for the separation of powers as a barrier to tyranny.

In The Spirit of Laws, Montesquieu describes the dual-layered structure of separation and representation that prevents parties within a republican regime from dominating one another. The first layer incorporates the separation of powers, as embodied in the distinct branches of government. These branches -- the executive and legislative branches in particular -- have more or less equal power, and they frequently divide opposing partisans who compete for control of government. Once a party assumes control of a branch, partisans of that party attempt to wield their power in a given direction, while partisans of the other party in a separate branch push in the opposite direction. The separation of power among the branches thus prevents partisans from dominating one another to achieve their goals.

The second layer of this structure comes from our representative form of government. Society, like government, is itself divided among partisans who seek out and wield political power in service of their preferred ends. Yet their efforts to reach the objects of their desires through the representative branches of government tend, after a time, to be hindered by other partisans' essentially equal and opposite efforts within those same branches. Under such a system, citizens are forever scheming but ultimately unable to harm each other.

Why was Montesquieu confident that citizens under constitutional liberalism will divide into two almost equal opposing parties in this way over time? Pierre Manent provides an enlightening answer in his Intellectual History of Liberalism, where he identifies an additional layer of separation among the citizenry. The key to this separation lies in the fact that citizens are both partisans of government power and independent members of civil society.

In Manent's telling, as partisans of one party assume power, they will attempt to exercise that power to achieve their ends at the expense of the opposing party. Yet if they do so too forcefully, the more lukewarm partisans of the party -- being not only government actors, but members of civil society -- will begin to feel threatened. They'll wonder, if such power is left unchecked, what will prevent the more radical partisans from turning against them to further bolster their power. That worry will lead erstwhile partisans of one party to protect their own interests by lending their strength to the opposing party.

In sum, citizens have a two-fold interest: that the power of government serve their interest, and that it not weigh too heavily on society. They also have a two-fold sentiment: that the party they favor represent them, but that it also remain distinct from them, since the power of government could betray its partisans. The interplay of these two inseparable interests and sentiments guarantees that a portion of the citizenry will almost spontaneously help the weaker power in society. In other words, the people in a constitutional republic tend to react negatively to overreach and to punish the party that overreaches by withdrawing power from it. This kinetic model of politics ensures that, as the desire for political identification grows, alienation will occur in tandem, leading some citizens to grow suspicious of their fellow partisans and decide to form new allegiances and memberships on the opposite side of the aisle.

Manent argues that this regime produces a double impotence as well. First, the division of power between the branches leaves citizens generally incapable of doing much to injure or impair each other's liberties. Second, citizens can and will easily render a given party powerless by shifting their allegiances. Their old enemies can become their friends, at least temporarily, as they react against threats to their independence. This dynamic conditions citizens' political interactions with one another, upholding compromise as the essential driving force of republican constitutionalism.

For Montesquieu, this double impotence is the essence of liberty. It isn't the most beautiful ideal, but it's a durable one, and probably the best we can hope for in the modern republican state.

The particular genius of republicanism that Mr. Reinsch is pointing to hear is classical liberty.  The fact that in our system the laws apply universally, means that we all have a natural resistance to extremist ideologies.  This is why we reject Identitarianism--of Left and Right--in particular.  No matter how much you want to advantage your Identity, the fact that other Identities will be aided as well reins in the wings, while the possibility that one Identity will not apply republican liberty should it gain power engenders a healthy opposition throughout the citizenry.  

The appeal to liberty is, likewise, the secret to the success of every human rights movement in America.  The Trumpists, who advocate white supremacy, try to contrast themselves to BLM and the attempted insurrection to the Summer's street protests.  But, the difference is that rather than pleading for any special treatment based on race, BLM demands that blacks be treated by police just like the rest of us.  It is, in essence, the denial of Identity. And if the Right didn't hate them enough just for being black, it is this attack on Identitarianism that really makes BLM anathema.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Worst Revolution Ever (Caitlin Flanagan, 1/10/21, The Atlantic)

Here they were, a coalition of the willing: deadbeat dads, YouPorn enthusiasts, slow students, and MMA fans. They had heard the rebel yell, packed up their Confederate flags and Trump banners, and GPS-ed their way to Washington. After a few wrong turns, they had pulled into the swamp with bellies full of beer and Sausage McMuffins, maybe a little high on Adderall, ready to get it done. Like Rush Limbaugh before them, they were in search of their own Presidential Medals of Freedom, and like Donald Trump himself, they were ready to relieve themselves on the withering soul of the nation and the marble floors of the Capitol building. Out of darkness we were born and into darkness we were returning.

If they were animated by any idea, it was that America had somehow gone off track. It had something to do with feminism. It had something to do with Obama-ism. It had something to do with "globalism" and "Marxism." In other words: It's the Jews again. Didn't Trump walk through a cloud of tear gas to hold up a Bible when it was all going down in Washington? Wasn't he the only one holding the line against the Jews and the Blacks and the satanic pedophiles trying to take over the country?

Fired up by the Great Orator, they charged their way into the Capitol building, which turned out to be as heavily fortified as a slice of angel food cake. The proximate aim of the action was to get inside and stop the certification of the Electoral College vote so that Trump could win.* In one widely circulated video, police with riot shields tried to block the entry of one group of rioters, who yelled at them, "Pussies! Pussies!" And that was the first sign of some possible incoherence at the heart of the revolution. What was the cops' manly option? Shooting the rioters? And more important: Isn't this the pro-cop group, the party of law and order?

Once inside, they were bent on proving themselves fierce and intimidating--and they were those things. But when they got to the National Statuary Hall, on the second floor, where velvet ropes indicate the path that tourists must take, they immediately sorted themselves into a line and walked through it. In other words, they were biddable. They were men (and, yes, some women) lost in a modern world that no longer assumed they come first. They were looking for someone to tell them what to do. 

...you might want to present something worthy of consideration.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


What's on the GMO menu: fast-growing salmon and slow-swimming tuna: A Massachusetts-based biotech company says its transgenic salmon are almost ready for market. (Antonio Regalado, December 11, 2020, MIT Technology Review)

A genetically modified salmon will become the first GM food animal to go on sale in the US, according to its maker, AquaBounty, possibly launching an era of steaks and chops from creatures with modified DNA.

In the US, a number of genetically modified animals have been approved or cleared for sale. There's the neon GloFish with added fluorescence, which you can find at a pet store. And there are a handful of goats, rabbits, and chickens engineered to manufacture drugs in their milk or eggs.

But so far, only one genetically engineered animal has been approved in the US as food. That animal, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow faster on fish farms, took 20 years to win a nod from regulators, and then got held up for four more years over a labeling dispute. AquaBounty predicted that it would be ready to sell salmon to distributors in the US by this month. 

Aquabounty's long (and expensive) trip to the marketplace has been discouraging. Who wants their product to be denounced as a frankenfish by environmental campaigners or be prominently labeled as "bioengineered"? Yet now that the fish has won approval, it may be a "wildly important" signal to others working on genetically engineered animals, says Jack Bobo, a former board member at the company. "All GMO research on animals basically stopped for 20 years," he says. "There was no reason to do it until something got approved." 

The Aquabounty salmon is transgenic--it has a gene from a different species (a Chinook salmon) pasted in. Now, though, with new gene-editing tools, researchers have better ways to introduce gene changes and a wider menu of possible enhancements. Already, gene editing has led to experimental pigs that resist viral infections and dairy cattle whose spots have been changed from black to gray, to thrive in hot climates.

If the Beagle caught an Aquabounty salmon, Darwin would explain to us that it had adapted to grow faster. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


History as Partisan Cudgel: Hofstadter was too much a partisan to notice his own blinders, and too little a philosopher to see the permanent things.  (Scott Yenor, Law & Liberty)

 Hofstadter puts forth no definition of intellectual or anti-intellectual. Instead, he shows how the use of reason, differently understood, has competed with the demands of practice in American religion, politics, business and education. We know intellectuals when we see them! In politics, for Hofstadter, the United States was "founded by intellectuals" (i.e., smart, public-spirited men), though such intellectuals disappeared until the Progressive Era reformers and New Dealers arose. Anti-intellectuals like Andrew Jackson, in contrast, were hostile to "political specialization" or "trained leadership." Anti-intellectuals used "inborn, intuitive, folkish wisdom" or "native practical sense."

Intellectuals were internationalist and "cosmopolitan," while anti-intellectuals connected themselves to soil and blood or at least to what they took to be the special mission of the country. Intellectuals were believers in "genteel reform" such as civil service reform or regulating monopolies or income tax or the National Recovery Act, while anti-intellectuals liked the horse and buggy. At stake in this debate, for Hofstadter, was "the place of mind in American politics," not a conflict of two intelligent visions.

A couple of examples where intellectuals battled anti-intellectuals will reveal Hofstadter's method and what he ignores. Civil service reform may have been needed in the 1870s and 1880s, but what was at stake in it? Call me an anti-intellectual, but the issue might be this: a national executive cannot change out all federal personnel intelligently without it soaking up all the president's energy. Yet sparing his energy comes with a risk. Civil service reform could set up a caste within our government with an interest different from the rest of the people. For Hofstadter, in contrast, civil service reform was simply a battle between those who favored "competence, efficiency and economy in public service, open competition for jobs on the basis of merit, and security of tenure" against those who favored folk wisdom, party rotation, and witchcraft. It's an honest debate where both sides are sincere: some like sound science; others prefer reading the entrails of chickens.

This tension between the anti-intellectual public and the experts "seemed to be disappearing" in the progressive era; after a hiatus for a generation, "the rapprochement between intellectuals and the public was restored" during the New Deal. The intellectuals including reformist presidents like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and writers like Herbert Croly and John Dewey merely wanted to "humanize and moralize" great corporate power with expert administrative agencies, while anti-intellectuals invoked the good old days. Tensions between intellectuals and anti-intellectuals rose after World War I when "the public turned on the intellectuals as the prophets of false and needless reforms" while the intellectuals turned on the public as "boobs, Babbitts, and fanatics." The same pattern emerges from the New Deal.

The idea that anti-intellectuals outside the academy or the administrative state are deplorables, clinging to God and guns, is the central trope of Anti-Intellectualism.

The great irony of Hofstadter's work is that America rejects Trumpism precisely because it is an ideology, dependent on ideas rather than realities, in opposition to the existing order.  Intellectualism is, by Hofstadter's definition, anti-American, be it of the Left or the Right. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


The Common Ground of Human Dignity (Brent Orrell, Jan. 14th, 2021, Law & Liberty)

 The post-2016 conservative awakening to the problems of poverty and the notion that there are, perhaps, some structural factors that go beyond personal responsibility contributing to economic and social collapse has left many long-time researchers and advocates with their mouths agape. During the 1980s and 1990s, scholars like William Julius Wilson persistently argued that the problems of Black unemployment, family dissolution, social disorganization, and chronic poverty had their roots in the transformation of the U.S. economy. As jobs shifted away from urban-based manufacturing to information and services work, Wilson said, family-supporting employment moved out of reach both geographically and in terms of education and skills. It was this labor market transformation and the relentless escalation in demand for higher levels of education and skill rather than a "culture of poverty" that detached Black men from the workforce and helped to generate rising levels of social dysfunction in the nation's urban neighborhoods. The comparison between conservative attitudes toward Black poverty then and white poverty now ought to induce much more introspection among conservatives than it does.

In progressive, psycho-social stinginess toward white poverty and the great awakening to the structural underpinnings of poverty among conservatives, we may be able to see the reverse image of an important national consensus where ideologies on both sides bend toward a new, shared reality. For instance, being poor can be hard on your character, leading to all sorts of negative behaviors and outcomes, and it can also be strongly influenced by factors over which an individual little or no control, ranging from the conditions of birth to the strictures of an impoverished childhood, to the outsourcing and offshoring of jobs.

A clear-thinking progressive can affirm that a young person from Appalachia speaking in a distinctive twang and dialect may indeed face discrimination in educational and employment opportunities in the same way a young Black person experiences such discrimination for their own patterns of speech or comportment. A conservative newly appreciative of the social disorganization and fragmentation that occurs when a major employer closes taking secure jobs with them should, in principle be able to extend concern and sympathy to a Black or Hispanic teenager whose family and community has been worn down by joblessness and poverty over decades as family-supporting jobs fled the cities for the suburbs. With sympathy comes understanding, and with understanding a step toward one another in a social détente that enables a renewed pursuit of the common good.

The Common Ground of Human Dignity

With social and political tensions at a recent historical peak, where could such a dialogue start? It would be foolish and premature to leap immediately to policy and programs on which little or no consensus exists and where gridlock is the order of the day. Legislation is an endpoint to a much longer, more important process of developing awareness of a shared humanity and social and economic destiny. I would therefore focus on fostering a national conversation that would help resurface an instinct that progressive and conservatives share, namely the dignity of the human person and the role that human dignity plays in ordering our public life. Here's why.

To thrive, democratic societies require a vision for the purpose of our shared life. The answer for those of us in the West is that human dignity and flourishing--personal, social, cultural, and economic--has been the central purpose of human community and its political order. The bias toward human flourishing is so deeply embedded in our beliefs, behaviors, and social and political organization that it often goes unnoticed, like the air we breathe. In our imperfect pursuit of this aspiration, human dignity has been violated and abused in many contexts, but the arc of Western societies has been toward a gradual expansion of the definition of who is human, who deserves the protection of the law, and who has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The American story in particular has been one of a gradual expansion of principles and laws that protect the dignity and rights of the person including the elimination of slavery, abolishment of Jim Crow legal codes, expansions of suffrage, and outlawing of discrimination against, women, the elderly, children, the disabled, sexual minorities, and, increasingly, the unborn.

Of course, the ultimate foundations of human dignity are much in dispute. Religious traditions, particularly Judaism and Christianity, root human dignity in the concept of the imago Dei, while thinkers like Adam Smith and much of modern neurobiology rely principally on human nature and its evolution to form and sustain a concept of human dignity that is driven by social reciprocity. The clash between these perspectives is often intense, part of the long and ultimately unresolvable division between theists and secularists both of whom suspect that, if it's opposite ever achieves dominance, it will endanger the freedom of those who anchor their views the other perspective.

What's lost in this "violent agreement" is that we are actually joined by our differences, commanded or driven, depending on your commitments and perspectives, to love others as ourselves. Our deepest instincts tell us this truth is unavoidable if we are to survive and flourish and that the effort to "get behind" that instinct, to establish a final, shared epistemological basis might require an illiberal surrender of prior beliefs under a coercion that would actually be the opposite of the commandments or instincts from which it arises. From the standpoint of our public engagements, our differences over the source of human dignity ought not to divide but to point us toward one another and serve as a shared basis for exploring how to secure human dignity and make human lives as fruitful as possible.

This shared, underlying agreement about the dignity of the person is the gravitational center around which our polity and politics orbit. It is the truth that illuminates all the other questions we grapple with, from national defense to welfare policy.

...we can break those cultures by moving them to healthy communities.

January 13, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Kamala Harris Previewed Joe Biden's Next Moves on Immigration--and Advocates Paid Close Attention (Fernanda Echavarri, 1/13/21, Mother Jones)

In an interview with Univision on Tuesday night, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris teased a few details of the Biden administration's immigration plans, which, with Democrats now in control of Congress, will be proposed "as our first order of business." 

Harris told anchor Ilia Calderón that the plan will include "creating a pathway for people to earn citizenship," though she didn't specify how. She said that part of their approach will be to shorten the amount of time it takes to obtain green cards and citizenship. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Mitch McConnell Says He's Open to Convicting Trump in a Senate Impeachment Trial (Greg Walters, January 13, 2021, Vice News)

According to several media outlets, McConnell sent a note to his GOP colleagues that said "while the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate."

McConnell's words carry enormous weight in the Senate. Although the wily GOP leader was explicitly non-committal, the prospect of McConnell rallying Republican Senators against Trump opens up the possibility that the president could eventually be barred from holding office ever again. If Trump is convicted in a Senate impeachment trial, Senators could tack on a measure that bars him for life.  [...]

This time, if McConnell decides to go after Trump, all bets are off. Several GOP sources told CNN that if McConnell supports conviction, then Trump would almost certainly get the 67 votes necessary to convict him. 

Other Republicans have already declared themselves outraged at Trump, and sound like they're ready to vote to convict. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


GOP Rep. Upton: 'I will vote to impeach' (Melissa Nann Burke, 1/13, 21, The Detroit News)

Upton, who is Michigan's most senior Republican in Congress, said lawmakers must hold Trump accountable and send a message that the nation will not tolerate "any effort by any president to impede the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next."

"Today the president characterized his inflammatory rhetoric at last Wednesday's rally as 'totally appropriate,' and he expressed no regrets for last week's violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol," Upton said in a statement. 

"This sends exactly the wrong signal to those of us who support the very core of our democratic principles and took a solemn oath to the Constitution," Upton continued. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Professor enumerates problems in Islamic world but promises bright future (Javad Heirannia, January 11, 2021, Tehran Times)

 Q: So then, what is the crisis with Muslims and in Muslim countries? 

A: Muslims have been indoctrinated to memorize the Qur'an and follow all the outward rituals of Islam. While these are good things to do, they are not a substitute for living the kind of life that is at the core of Islam, such as standing up for justice and causes that are just, living a modest life and helping those in need, alleviating poverty, supporting good governance and fighting against corruption, and commanding the good and forbidding evil. Practicing these values not just towards other Muslims but it must be done towards all humanity because as Islam preaches we are all one. Muslims have not studied and debated what their religion preaches for their everyday lives. In many countries, Muslims have been spoon-fed an Islam that is difficult to reconcile with the Qur'an (see IslamicityIndices.org). 

As a result, when you look at many Muslim countries today, what do you see? A few living in grotesque luxury while the vast majority live in poverty, under suppression, and with little hope for a better future. In many of these countries, prosperity comes from depleting oil and natural gas assets, which in Islam belong to all current and future generations, yet some rulers behave as if it it's theirs and use it for their own for a lifestyle that is condemned in Islam while others are suffering in need.  

"The weakness of Muslims and Muslim countries is manifested in their fragmentation."There is pervasive injustice. Rampant corruption and poverty. Ineffective governance. Limited opportunities and freedom. And still today in the 21st century, some Muslim rulers obey the commands of their colonial masters and don't support the welfare of their people. They collaborate with their foreign benefactors at the expense of their own people.

The weakness of Muslims and Muslim countries is manifested in their fragmentation. Muslim countries do not support Muslims across the world because rulers are beholden to foreign powers for support to stay in power. Muslims are openly incarcerated and mistreated in India, Myanmar, and China and discriminated against in Israel and across North America and Europe, yet many Muslim rulers look the other way. Less than a handful of Muslim countries push back on China, India, and Israel. Muslim leaders have the power to demand justice but they are afraid because they are insecure in their rule and are not united across national borders; the talk of Muslim brotherhood is just talk and nothing more. Israel assassinates Iranian scientists, the United States assassinates an Iranian general and an Iraqi militia leader and Trump pardons four murders of Iraqi men, women, and children, and Muslims around the world and in particular Muslim rulers say little or nothing. Most egregiously, in the face of these unfolding events and the continued subjugation of Palestinians, some Arab rulers in the Persian Gulf even embrace Israel openly and others do the same behind the scenes. Sadly, what they don't realize is that their colonial masters know one lesson well--divide and conquer. Having divided Muslims, these colonialists will more easily discard any ruler when they have no more use for him. Beware of thine masters!

Let me also say a few words that apply largely to the crisis in the Middle East (West Asia). The whole region is divided over Israel, nuclear arms, and sectarian rivalries. Some Arab countries have forgotten the plight of the Palestinians under Israeli subjugation and decided to embrace Israel while demanding nothing for Palestinian rights and statehood. Trump has twisted arms and intervened where he does not belong, such as recognizing Moroccan territorial claims if they recognize Israel. This kind of pressure further emboldens Israel's oppression of Palestinians as they feel Arabs talk but will do nothing to oppose the subjugation of their fellow Arabs.  But Israeli policies will in time backfire on Israel. Ordinary Arabs will not take this lying down. 

With the implicit support of the United States, Israel is hell-bent on regime change in Iran. Israel has an arsenal of over 230 nuclear warheads that threaten the region and dictates that no other country in the region can acquire such weapons and all the while is unwilling to embrace the only sensible solution--a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East (West Asia)--supported by Iran and Arabs. 

"Muslim countries do not support Muslims across the world because rulers are beholden to foreign powers for support to stay in power."Some Arab rulers, insecure in their illegitimate rule, stoke the fires of sectarianism--Sunni versus Shia--in order to further divide Muslims and to perpetuate an 'us against them' syndrome in order to shore up their regime. 

All the while if one criticizes Israel's cruel policies that are akin to apartheid one is called anti-Semitic in the West. It is truly sad that Jews who suffered so under Nazi Germany are indifferent to the suffering of Palestinians. More bombs and U.S. support will not be a long-run substitute for a just peace for everyone in the region, including for Israel.

Muslims must oppose oppression and injustice wherever and against whomever it occurs, as must Christians, Jews, and all other persons of faith. If some Muslims oppress Christians, Jews or any human being, all Muslims must stand up in opposition. The same is the moral duty of Christians and Jews and every human being. Humanity is one and evil must be opposed wherever it occurs. 

For so long as the Sunni dictatorships in the Middle East share Israel's desire to oppress Muslims they aren't going to insist on Palestinian self-determination.  
Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


'What the hell happened?' Congressman introduces COUP Act to investigate pro-Trump mob's Capitol attack (Common Dreams, 1/13/21)

Rep. Jamaal Bowman on Tuesday introduced a bill that seeks to establish a commission to investigate last week's violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by an insurrectionary pro-Trump mob.

On Sunday night, Bowman, a freshman Democrat from New York, posed a series of questions on social media: "What the hell happened on January 6th? Why were terrorists able to get into the Capitol? Why were they able to walk out free? Why wasn't Congress more prepared for this attack?"

"We need answers," Bowman said, adding that he would soon be introducing a bill to "demand a 9/11-style commission to investigate." [...]

The introduction of Bowman's bill coincides with the emergence of several troubling details surrounding last week's attack on the Capitol. As the Tuesday afternoon edition of the Capitol Hill newsletter Punchbowl News reported: "It's clear that the people paid to protect the legislative branch and its workers failed. The U.S. Capitol Police either ignored or were unprepared for the intensity of the attack. And law enforcement agencies are not providing the public with any information."

The Washington Post, which obtained and reviewed an internal document, reported Tuesday that "a day before rioters stormed Congress, an FBI office in Virginia issued an explicit internal warning that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and 'war,'" a revelation that "contradicts a senior official's declaration the bureau had no intelligence indicating anyone at last week's pro-Trump protest planned to do harm."

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


'Top Republicans want Trump done forever': CNN political analyst (Brad Reed, 1/13/21. Raw Story)

Among other things, [CNN political analyst Margaret Talev]  said GOP lawmakers may have been shaken after receiving some closed-door briefings from law enforcement officials detailing just how much worse the Trump-incited attack on the Capitol building could have been.

She also said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is "seeing how much better his life is" with Trump permanently booted off Twitter, which gives him the space to make political decisions without fear of immediate backlash from the White House and Trump supporters.

"If this happens, it could put President Trump off the grid for 2024, allow him to reset control of the party, and allow him to deal with Joe Biden without President Trump being a voice that guides and essentially controls the Republican Party," she explained.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Biden to nominate Samantha Power to lead foreign aid agency (Andrea Mitchell, 1/13/20, NBC)

[P]ower will have a great deal of rebuilding to do. Under President Donald Trump, the agency's budget has been slashed and career development experts have been replaced by political appointees with little experience in the field.

In the administration's proposed budget last year, foreign aid and USAID funds were cut by 22 percent. Trump officials defended the cuts, saying they were looking to other countries to step up to global needs.

Trump's budget also cut other State Department accounts for refugees, global health in the midst of a pandemic and other humanitarian programs, even though foreign aid totals less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Republicans and Democrats in Congress ended up rejecting the proposal, but development experts said the signal sent to the poorest countries had already left its mark.

The administration has also been widely criticized for filling key slots at USAID with political appointees. The Friday after the 2020 election, the White House abruptly fired Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick, who had been confirmed by the Senate, telling her she had until the end of the day to clear out of her office.

Officials offered no explanation of the firing to reporters, but had she not left, she would have automatically taken over from the Trump administration's acting administrator of the agency, John Barsa, a political appointee, whose tenure as acting administrator was set to expire at midnight the same day under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

More recently, The Washington Post reported that USAID employees were left out when the federal government dispensed the first round of coronavirus vaccinations to the State Department last month. Although vaccine doses went to 1,100 State Department employees, none went to USAID until last week.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Why did the efficacy of China's top vaccine drop from 78% to 50%? (GRADY MCGREGOR, January 13, 2021, Fortune)

Nearly one week ago, Brazilian officials sounded triumphant in announcing that the vaccine from Chinese drugmaker Sinovac was 78% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections.

"Today is the day of hope, the day of life," João Doria, governor of Brazil's São Paulo state, said at a press conference on Jan. 7.

But at a press conference on Tuesday, officials delivered a more sobering follow-up: Sinovac's vaccine was, in fact, only 50.4% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. The officials said that the lowered figure accounted for "very light" cases of COVID-19 among participants in the country's phase III trial of the vaccine that had been omitted in the earlier analysis.

Silly PRC: China only exists to manufacture stuff we innovate.  

January 12, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Rights group B'Tselem says Israel is an apartheid state (Jan 12, 2021, Al Monitor)

One of Israel's leading human rights organizations has labeled the country an "apartheid state" in an extraordinary step that is bound to draw backlash among conservative segments of Israeli society and from members of the government.

In a report entitled "This is Apartheid," B'Tselem said Israel has become a "regime of Jewish supremacy" with different rules for the Jewish Israeli and Palestinian populations in the territories under its control.

The analogy to white-ruled South Africa gained traction in the 1990s among dedicated advocates of the Palestinian cause for self-determination. The term has been used to challenge claims that Israel is a democratic state with a separate and temporary military occupation of Palestinian territories.

That distinction "has grown divorced from reality," B'Tselem's report alleged Tuesday.

"Most importantly, the distinction obfuscates the fact that the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group -- Jews -- over another -- Palestinians," it read.

...and Muslim democracies the enemy.
Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney Says She Will Vote to Impeach Trump Over Capitol Riot (Blake Montgomery, Jan. 12, 2021, Daily Beast)

"What we know now is enough. The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing," Cheney wrote in a statement. "There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution. I will vote to impeach the President."

Cheney is the second House Republican to vow to follow Democrats in impeaching Trump after Rep. John Katko (R-NY) said he would earlier Tuesday. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) has said he supports impeachment but has not clarified if he will vote for it. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Freshman GOP Reps. Peter Meijer and Nancy Mace emerge as Trump critics (Emily Brooks, January 11, 2021, Washington Examiner)

Rep. Peter Meijer, 32, of Michigan, made his displeasure of the president's role in the intrusion known in an op-ed for the Detroit News.

"While the Capitol was being assaulted by his supporters who were duped into believing the election was in fact a landslide victory and the true results could be overturned, Trump egged on these violent delusions," Meijer wrote. "If the Republican party ever hopes to regain the public's trust and lead the country forward after this heinous assault, it must first be honest with itself."

Rep. Nancy Mace, 43, of South Carolina, also expressed her frustration soon after the insurrection.

"Everything that he's worked for ... all of that, his entire legacy, was wiped out yesterday," Mace told Politico the morning after the siege. "We've got to start over."

Coming out against Trump and his supporters could put Mace and Meijer under scrutiny by members of their own party.

"They're going get some blowback from some of their voters. No doubt about it," said biographer and presidential historian Craig Shirley.

But in a party enraged over the Capitol breach and divided about the way the party moves forward in the future, they might not experience the same blowback from Republican leadership. Internal division, after all, has been a frequent feature of the party's politics.

"There will be more tolerance for more viewpoints right now than there has been in the last four years," Shirley said. "You might sum it up as Trumpism versus Reaganism over what is the future of the Republican Party."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


JCB unleashes world's first pothole killer (Morgan Meaker, 1/12/21, The Telegraph)

Britain's pothole crisis has been branded a national scandal by MPs and prompted residents to resort to graffiti in a bid to make councils fix craters plaguing local roads. 

But JCB has come up with a solution: a three-in-one pothole-repairing machine that promises to fix decaying roads in record time.

The PotholePro is a new digger-like device that the company said can fix a pothole in less than eight minutes - four times faster than existing methods and at half the cost. At that pace 700 potholes a month could be plugged.

January 11, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Longtime Illinois speaker suspends campaign for the gavel (SHIA KAPOS, 01/11/2021, pOLITICO)

The speaker's decision to pull back on his campaign signals a huge revolt from the machine-style politics that have governed nearly every aspect of the state, where Madigan also serves as the head of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Illinois Democrats, including Sen. Dick Durbin, have been agitating to challenge Madigan's hold on power since he was drawn into an influence peddling scandal last year involving a local electric utility company. Madigan hasn't been charged, but federal documents identify "Public Official A" as the state's House speaker and Republicans have latched onto the connections.

Amazing the damage one guy has done.

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Evolution's engineers: Organisms do not evolve blindly under forces beyond their control, but shape and influence the evolutionary environment itself (Lynn Chiu, 1/11/21, Aeon)

Humans are shaping the evolutionary future of life on Earth. We're not only causing mass extinctions, we're also forcing animals, plants and fungi to adapt to our manufactured world: city birds, for instance, are now singing higher notes, since the pitch seems to help their song carry over the sound of traffic. But while cultural knowledge and engineering have upgraded the human capacity to catalyse environmental change, the proclivity is common to all species. Scatter a few bacteria in a Petri dish and they will produce nutrient-rich byproducts that new bacteria strains can exploit, rapidly causing a multitude of diverse microbial populations to evolve. Beavers create ponds that are used as breeding grounds for ducks; web spiders make retreats that are exploited as hibernation sites by earthbound insects; plants modify soils through substances secreted from their roots. The way these organisms change their environment in turn changes the evolutionary pressures that they and others face as they struggle to survive and reproduce. Their actions, in other words, bias what is selected for. This process is known as 'niche construction' and all species do it, even if their effects are sometimes more modest and localised than ours.

Yet the theory of niche construction is controversial among evolutionary biologists, partly because natural selection is traditionally believed to work 'blindly': it is thought to sculpt organisms over millennia to become adapted to their ecological niches, with no steer from the goals or purposes of organisms.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Batteries Power You Car. Now How About Your City?Grid-scale plants can now store enough renewable energy for hundreds of thousands of homes. (CHERYL KATZ, 1/11/21, Mother Jones)

The twin smokestacks of the Moss Landing Power Plant tower over Monterey Bay. Visible for miles along this picturesque stretch of the Northern California coast, the 500-foot-tall pillars crown what was once California's largest electric power station--a behemoth natural gas-fired generator. Today, as California steadily moves to decarbonize its economy, those stacks are idle and the plant is largely mothballed. Instead, the site is about to begin a new life as the world's largest battery, storing excess energy when solar panels and wind farms are producing electricity and feeding it back into the grid when they're not.

Inside a cavernous turbine building, a 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery is currently being readied for operation, with another 100-megawatt battery to come online in 2021. Together, they will be able to discharge enough electricity to power roughly 300,000 California homes for four hours during evenings, heatwaves, and other times when energy demand outstrips supply, according to project developer Vistra Energy.

These aren't the only super-sized batteries that will soon be operating at the Moss Landing plant. An additional 182.5 megawatts produced by 256 Tesla megapack batteries are scheduled to begin feeding into California's electric grid in mid-2021, with plans to eventually add enough capacity at the site to power every home in nearby San Francisco for six hours, according to the Bay Area utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, which will own and operate the system. Elsewhere in California, a 250-megawatt storage project went online this year in San Diego, construction has begun on a 150-megawatt system near San Francisco, a 100-megawatt battery project is nearing completion in Long Beach, and a number of others are in various stages of development around the state.

Driven by steeply falling prices and technological progress that allows batteries to store ever-larger amounts of energy, grid-scale systems are seeing record growth in the U.S. and around the world. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Growing GOP problem: Powerlessness (Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei, 1/11/21, Axios)

Conservatives long ago lost so many key institutions that define the national conversation, including culture, media and higher education.

But since 1980, the party had political power and policy-making capability.
Now, President Trump has cost Republicans those tools, and the party will have to rebuild around new people and ideas.

Principled Conservative opposition to Identitarianism has been based for decades on the universality of the Founding and the faith that society is and should be color blind.  This is the mainstream American culture that we sat so comfortably in.

Trumpism is, of course, an Identitarian response not just to Left Identitarianism but thereby to American culture itself.  One can hardly be surprised that the culture rejects this counter-culture ideology.

And, as Andrew Breitbart said, "Politics is downstream from Culture." 

To precisely the extent that conservatism and the GOP are identified as hostile to traditional American culture we will quite properly be excluded from both. 


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The History of Placebos & Why Doctors Should Use Them More Often (Jeremy Howick, Jan. 11th, 2021, National Interest)

Recently, placebo-controlled surgery trials have been used. In perhaps the most famous of these, American surgeon Bruce Moseley found 180 patients who had such severe knee pain that even the best drugs had failed to work. He gave half of them real arthroscopy and the other half placebo arthroscopy.

Patients in the placebo arthroscopy group were given anaesthetics and a small incision was made in their knees, but there was no arthroscope, no repairing of damaged cartilage, and no cleaning out of loose fragments of bone.

To keep the patients ignorant about which group they were in, the doctors and nurses talked through a real procedure even if they were performing the placebo procedure.

The fake surgery worked as well as the "real" surgery. A review of over 50 placebo-controlled surgery trials found that placebo surgery was as good as the real surgery in more than half the trials.

Honest placebos

A placebo can work even if a patient does not believe it is a "real" treatment.

In the first of the studies of open-label placebos (placebos that patients know are placebos) I know of, two Baltimore doctors by the names of Lee Park and Uno Covi gave open-label placebos to 15 neurotic patients. They presented the placebo pills to the patients and said: "Many people with your kind of condition have been helped by what are sometimes called sugar pills and we feel that a so-called sugar pill may help you, too."

The patients took the placebos, and many of them got better after having the placebo - even though they knew it was a placebo. However, the patients were neurotic and a bit paranoid so they didn't believe the doctors. After the placebo made them better, they thought the doctors had lied and actually given them the real drug.

More recently, several higher-quality studies confirm that open-label placebos can work. These "honest" placebos may work because patients have a conditioned response to an encounter with their doctor. Just like an arachnophobe's body can react negatively to a spider even if they know it's not poisonous, someone can react positively to treatment from a doctor even if they know the doctor is giving them a sugar pill.

The history of learning how placebos work

An early study investigating the inner pharmacology of placebo mechanisms is Jon Levine and Newton Gordon's 1978 study of 51 patients who had impacted molars extracted. All 51 patients had received a painkiller called mepivacaine for the surgical procedure. Then, at three and four hours after the surgery, the patients were given either morphine, a placebo or naloxone. The patients didn't know which one they had received.

Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it stops drugs such as morphine and endorphins from producing their effects. It literally blocks the cell receptors, so it stops morphine (or endorphins) from docking onto those receptors. It's used to treat morphine overdose.

The researchers found that naloxone blocked the painkilling effect of placebos. This shows that placebos cause the release of painkilling endorphins. Since then, many experiments have confirmed these results. Hundreds of others have shown that placebo treatments affect the brain and body in several ways.

The main mechanisms by which placebos are believed to work are expectancy and conditioning.

In a comprehensive study published in 1999 of conditioning and expectancy mechanisms, Martina Amanzio and Fabrizio Benedetti divided 229 participants into 12 groups. The groups were given a variety of drugs, were conditioned in a number of ways and were given different messages (to induce high or low expectancy). The study found that placebo effects were caused by both expectancy and conditioning.

Despite the progress, some researchers argue - and I agree - that there is something mysterious about how placebos work. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rooftop solar market ends tricky 2020 by smashing records, surpassing 13GW total capacity (Michael Mazengarb, 11 January 2021, Renew Economy)

Australia's rooftop solar market has defied a challenging 2020 to set a number of new installation records, with the market overcoming disruptions to grow by a massive 39 per cent year-on-year, new analysis from consultancy SunWiz has detailed.

In its latest annual assessment of the rooftop solar market, SunWiz found that the industry had overcome disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and some tricky government policy settings, to record almost 3,000MW of new installations throughout 2020, with installation rates increasing as the year progressed.

According to data collected on system registrations, 2020 ended the year with its strongest ever rate of new rooftop solar installations, with virtually every Australian state and territory recording the highest level of new small-scale solar installations in the month of December.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Defying humanitarian warnings, Pompeo brands Yemen's Houthis as 'terrorists' (New Arab, 11 January, 2021)

The US moved to designate Yemen's Houthis as a terror organisation on Sunday, in a last minute Trump administration move that will only be solidified if Congress fail to object.Tags:Yemen, Houthis, US, Terror, Saudi Arabia, Saudi-led coalition,
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has moved to brand Yemen's Iranian-linked Houthi rebels as terrorists, a last-minute move in defiance of aid groups who fear it will worsen a humanitarian crisis.

Unless Congress blocks the decision, the Houthis will be blacklisted on January 19 - one day before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, whose aides had hoped to mount a fresh push to end Yemen's devastating six-year-old war.

One of the most consistent policies of Trumpism is opposition to Muslim democracy and self-determination everywhere.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Stop Wasting Your Money on Bourbon That's Too OldDistillers and whiskey experts generally agree that bourbon doesn't need to be aged for decades. So where did the myth of older whiskey is better come from? (Lew Bryson, Jan. 11, 2021, Daily Beast)

After intensive lobbying, the bonding period was extended to 20 years in 1958, giving the industry more time to sell the whiskey before the tax was due. ("It also allows you to just let it evaporate out of existence so you never get taxed on it," Mitenbuler shrewdly noted.)

That's when age became a selling point for bourbon. "A lot of industries are moving to luxury at this point," said Mitenbuler. "How can we improve the image and get more money for it? Age. Scotch sells on 'older is better,' and so does wine." That's when you started seeing premium bourbons at 10 and 12 years old. The image of bourbon changed from a Southern guzzle to America's spirit, a noble drink. Everything was looking great for American whiskey.

January 10, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Our Improbable Existence Is No Evidence for a Multiverse: Experts in probability have spotted a logical flaw in theorists' reasoning (Philip Goff on January 10, 2021, Scientific American)

We exist, and we are living creatures. It follows that the universe we live in must be compatible with the existence of life. However, as scientists have studied the fundamental principles that govern our universe, they have discovered that the odds of a universe like ours being compatible with life are astronomically low. We can model what the universe would have looked like if its constants--the strength of gravity, the mass of an electron, the cosmological constant--had been slightly different. What has become clear is that, across a huge range of these constants, they had to have pretty much exactly the values they had in order for life to be possible. The physicist Lee Smolin has calculated that the odds of life-compatible numbers coming up by chance is 1 in 10229.

Physicists refer to this discovery as the "fine-tuning" of physics for life. What should we make of it? Some take this to be evidence of nothing other than our good fortune. But many prominent scientists--Martin Rees, Alan Guth, Max Tegmark--have taken it to be evidence that we live in a multiverse: that our universe is just one of a huge, perhaps infinite, ensemble of worlds. The hope is that this allows us to give a "monkeys on typewriters" explanation of the fine-tuning. If you have enough monkeys randomly jabbing away on typewriters, it becomes not so improbable that one will happen to write a bit of English. By analogy, if there are enough universes, with enough variation in the numbers in their physics, then it becomes statistically likely that one will happen to have the right numbers for life.

This explanation makes intuitive sense. However, experts in the mathematics of probability have identified the inference from the fine-tuning to the multiverse as an instance of fallacious reasoning. Specifically, multiverse theorists commit the inverse gambler's fallacy, which is a slight twist on the regular gambler's fallacy. In the regular gambler's fallacy, the gambler has been at the casino all night and has had a terrible run of bad luck. She thinks to herself, "My next roll of the dice is bound to be a good one, as it's unlikely I'd roll badly all night!" This is a fallacy, because for any particular roll, the odds of, say, getting a double six are the same: 1/36. How many times the gambler has rolled that night has no bearing on whether the next roll will be a double six.

In the inverse gambler's fallacy, a visitor walks into a casino and the first thing she sees is someone rolling a double six. She thinks "Wow, that person must've been playing for a long time, as it's unlikely they'd have such good luck just from one roll." This is fallacious for the same reason. The casino- visitor has only observed one roll of the dice, and the odds of that one roll coming good is the same as any other roll: 1/36. How long the player has been rolling prior to this moment has no bearing on the odds of the one roll the visitor observed being a double six.

Philosopher Ian Hacking was the first to connect the inverse gambler's fallacy to arguments for the multiverse, focusing on physicist John Wheeler's oscillating universe theory, which held that our universe is the latest of a long temporal sequence of universes. Just as the casino-visitor says "Wow, that person must've been playing for a long time, as it's unlikely they'd have such good luck just from one roll," so the multiverse theorist says "Wow, there must be many other universes before this one, as it's unlikely the right numbers would have come up if there'd only been one."

Other theorists later realized that the charge applies quite generally to every attempt to derive a multiverse from fine-tuning.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Capitol insurrection should spark end to America's warped, white supremacist way of policing (Will Bunch, Jan. 10th, 2021, Philadelphia Inquirer)

With the trashed Capitol still reeking of tear gas and lit up by flash-bang grenades, a Chicago police union leader said the quiet part out loud. John Catanzara, FOP chief in the nation's third-largest city, defended the insurrectionists as just "a bunch of pissed-off people that feel an election was stolen, somehow, some way." That more than a dozen of his fellow members of the "thin blue line" had been injured, and that one lay dying, didn't compute for the police union boss (who, of course, backtracked after Sicknick's death). For many white police unionists who've fervently backed Trump since 2016, "Blue lives" may matter but Trump's shared love of white supremacy and his opposition to social protest movements such as Black Lives Matter matters much, much more.

The most powerful testimony about what really happened with policing in Washington on this infamous Wednesday came from two Black officers in the Capitol Police who spoke -- anonymously, which is more than understandable under the heated circumstances -- with BuzzFeed News about what they witnessed. They said their supervisors had failed to speak in advance of the potential danger -- even though insurrectionists had been planning openly on social media for weeks -- and failed to issue vital equipment like gas masks. During the afternoon, they said they were violently assaulted by rioters -- some of whom carried "Blue Lives Matter" flags -- and repeatedly called the N-word, and that several rioters flashed law-enforcement badges at them. "[One guy] pulled out his badge and he said, 'We're doing this for you,'" a Black officer told BuzzFeed. That, and knowing that so many of their white Capitol Police colleagues voted for Trump and the chaos he unleashed, was clearly painful to the officers.

"If you're going to treat a group of demonstrators for Black Lives Matters one way, then you should treat this group the same goddamn way," the second officer told BuzzFeed's Emmanuel Felton. "With this group you were being kind and nice and letting them walk back out."

Clearly, there need to be aggressive investigations both into any actual lawbreaking by police officers on Wednesday but also into the sweeping systemic failures that allowed the previously unthinkable to happen -- a preventable riot which delayed but thankfully did not deter the certification of our presidential election. The biggest unanswered questions:

Were the massive command failures -- the lack of a protective wall around the Capitol like those erected for less volatile situations, the sheer lack of officers, even with so many different units that were nearby and could have assisted, the absence of riot gear that was so prevalent at Black Lives Matter and other social-justice protests -- simply the result of incompetence, or were these inexplicable leadership actions more willful or even diabolical?

It's deeply troubling yet also not surprising that the Pentagon -- loaded with Trump lackeys for the president's final days -- either ignored or slow-walked requests for military aid. Less clear, though, is why the Capitol Police at first turned down outside offers of help. Clearly there was a deep, systemic failure that led top brass not to see often-armed white supremacists as a threat in the way that Black marchers have historically provoked red alerts. The ousting of the sergeants-at-arms for the House and Senate and speedy resignation of the head of the Capitol Police is just the tip of this iceberg.

How many of the insurrectionists were off-duty current or recent law-enforcement officers who felt the need to undemocratically install Trump as a protector of police impunity and against a true racial reckoning in America, trumped their sworn oaths to uphold the rule of law. In a stunning report on Sunday, the Washington Post said there's evidence that Wednesday's crowd included two police officers from Seattle -- who posted on social media from inside the Capitol -- as well as one from Zelienople, Pa., near Pittsburgh; the police chief of Troy, N.H., and a sheriff's deputy from Texas ... so far.

Were any Capitol Police actively engaged in helping Wednesday's rioters, and did any of those actions rise to the level of a crime? "The lack of security at the Capitol is not an accident," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat, said in the aftermath. "It is very clear to me that there were breaches of our law enforcement agencies. The fact that there were no barriers, that they were essentially allowed in. And again, the discrepancy of what would have happened if these had been peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters. ... Believe me, they would not have been anywhere near that building. And there would have been a lot of arrests."

She's not kidding. Mother Jones documented some 35 times during the Trump years when more demonstrators were arrested than the paltry 13 rioters taken into custody by Capitol Police while the actual insurrection was underway -- disability activists literally dragged from their wheelchairs, Jewish rabbis and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who last week became the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from the Deep South, even Ben and Jerry. The bulk of these arrested were supporting progressive social-justice causes antithetical to the white supremacy that corrupts American policing.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Georgia unveils the first EV-charging 'solar roadway' in the US (Sarah Wray, 1/10/21, Cities Today)

The City of Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett County, Georgia has launched a new solar roadway system that produces energy for an electric vehicle (EV) charging station at city hall.

Separately, the city has also revealed a new EV fast-charging plaza for up to 16 vehicles. The plaza is the inaugural project in Peachtree Corners' new EV strategy, which could serve as a model for other cities.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Donald Trump's second impeachment could be advanced by Monday: Democrat (Deutsche-Welle, 1/10/21)

"All of us, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will prefer that Donald Trump simply do the right thing and resign, or that Vice President Mike Pence actually shows some spine, at least for himself and his own family and invoke the 25th amendment," the Democrat told CNN.

The 25th amendment can be enacted if the US president is unable to execute the duties of his office.

"If none of that happens, then on Monday, we will introduce the article of impeachment, which is incitement to insurrection, and we do expect a floor vote this coming week," Lieu added.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Confederate flag tied to door of Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City (Emily Shapiro and Aaron Katersky, January 8, 2021, ABC News)

A Confederate flag tied to the front of the Museum of Jewish Heritage -- A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in lower Manhattan, was discovered Friday morning, according to New York City police.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump tapped into white victimhood -- leaving fertile ground for white supremacists
Whiteness is an identity built upon advantages over others, so any gesture towards equality is a perceived threat (LEE BEBOUT, JANUARY 10, 2021, Salon)

It was there from the beginning. When Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower to announce his presidential campaign in 2015, he stoked fears of Mexican rapists and drug traffickers attacking U.S. citizens.

The claims of victimhood ran throughout his presidency. He played on U.S. fears of being attacked by foreign terrorists to enact the travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority countries.

When protesters called for the removal of Confederate monuments, Trump claimed that they wanted to make people ashamed of American history. As COVID-19 spread across the U.S., Trump dubbed it the "China virus" and contended that China would pay for what it had done.

Journalists and commentators also turned to a sense of aggrievement to explain the popular support Trump received. A narrative emerged: White, working-class voters from rural and Rust Belt communities felt abandoned by the political establishment. Decades of free trade, automation and cuts to the social safety net turned these voters against the mainstreams of both political parties.

It's wokeness for white men. But Identity is unAmerican. 

January 9, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


Hydrogen fuel cell train planned for Scotland (TIM SANDLE, 1/09/21, Digital Journal)

A greener transport solution could becoming to the UK. A Scottish project plans to have a train powered using a hydrogen fuel cell operational by the end of this year.

The new project is being led by Arcola Energy. The company is collaborating with a consortium of train operators and the UK state-owned rail network on a hydrogen fuel cell train. The aim is to have a fully-working demonstration model operating by November 2021. Also involved in the project are Scottish Enterprise, Transport Scotland and the Hydrogen Accelerator (which is a start-up company based at the University of St Andrews). The Scottish government is seeking the complete decarbonization of its train fleet by 2035.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Good News: Trump's ANWR Oil-Lease Sale Was a Failure (Wes Siler, Jan 8, 2021, Outside)

On Wednesday, while a mob of domestic terrorists stormed the U.S. Capitol, something else undemocratic was going on: the Trump administration was holding the first-ever sale for oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). And, like the attempted coup, it was a complete failure--one that's likely to lead to permanent protections for the country's last unspoiled wilderness. 

"Today's sale reflects the brutal economic realities the oil and gas industry continues to face after the unprecedented events of 2020, coupled with ongoing regulatory uncertainty," said Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, an industry advocacy group, in an emailed statement. 

They'll drive to their next putsch in Volts.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


SOME ECONOMICS OF THE MIDDLE CLASS (Timothy Taylor07/01/2021, BBN Times)

In the first essay, Bruce Sacerdote asks, "Is the Decline of the Middle Class Greatly Exaggerated?" [...]

For a flavor of Sacerdote's argument, define the middle class as those with between 75% and 200% of the median income. Then over time, the share of household incomes going to this group does decline. However, a closer look shows that the reason for the decline in the share of household incomes in the "middle class" category is not because the share in the below-75-percent-of-median group has rise, but rather because the share going to the above-200-percent-of-median group has risen.

In an arithmetic sense, this is a decline of the middle class. But it is not a shift to a bimodal or two-humped income distribution with both poor and rich rising. Instead, the middle class still has the largest share of income overall and is declining only because more households are moving up to the higher category. [...]

Sacerdote also refers back to the findings of an OECD study in 2019, which argued that "middle class" is associated in people's minds with certain kinds of consumption: in particular, it's associated with a certain level of housing, with relatively easy access to health insurance and health care, and with access to higher education. In the US and around the world, prices for housing, health care, and higher education have risen faster than average incomes. As he points out, one can "ask whether homeownership or college attendance for children in the family has risen or fallen for people in the middle quintiles of the income distribution. I find that since the 1980s, homeownership, square footage of housing consumed, number of automobiles owned, and college attendance have all been rising. The one exception is the modest dip in homeownership that occurred immediately after the financial crisis of 2008."

My sense is that rising inequality has meant that our market-oriented economy will tend to focus more on what it can sell to the rising share of households with higher incomes than on the falling share of househoods with middle-class incomes. But again, the stress of the middle-class looking at this shift, or the stress of those have crossed over into the upper income class only to find that their housing, higher education, and health care expenses still look pretty high, is quite different from arguing that the middle-class are objectively worse off.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The broken circle (Daniel Johnson, Jan. 9th, 2021, The Critic)

Above all, philosophy was materialist -- though not materialistic. Medieval philosophy had been the handmaiden of theology; in the twentieth century, it was to perform the same service for science. Mach's remarkable book Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwicklung (The Science of Mechanics) exercised a decisive influence on Einstein by denying Newton's notion of absolute time and space, so paving the way for relativity. The introduction to the first edition of Die Mechanik in 1883 describes its tendency as "an enlightening one or, to put it more clearly, an anti-metaphysical one". That was also the motto of the Vienna Circle.

A key aspect of Mach's philosophy was his deconstruction of the unity of the self. In his major work, Die Analyse der Empfindungen (The Analysis of the Sensations, first published in 1885), Mach declared: "Das Ich ist unrettbar." ("The self is beyond saving.") Following the ideas of Hume, underpinned by experimental evidence, Mach's materialism depicted man as a bundle of sense data. Not only did the self have to go, but the soul and anything beyond the senses with it.

Some reacted to this bleak but bracing vision with despair. Vienna's leading poet, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, wrote a key Modernist text, The Lord Chandos Letter, incorporating Mach's ideas in a self-portrait of an Elizabethan nobleman whose personality is disintegrating. Lenin was so appalled that he wrote an entire book, Materialism and Empirio-criticism, to refute "Machist gentlemen" like Hofmannsthal. Lenin's book later became the bible of Soviet philosophers -- so much so that when, decades later, the FBI visited Philipp Frank, one of the Vienna Circle, in his Harvard exile to ask about his alleged communist connections, he was able to show the two detectives a passage in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism in which Frank was denounced by Lenin as a Machist. The FBI men "practically saluted him, and left speedily and satisfied".

As Mach's successor, Schlick was the natural leader of what, in the mid-1920s, had become known as the Wiener Kreis, the Vienna Circle: a motley gathering of thinkers from various fields, united by their commitment to a wissenschaftliche Weltauffassung, or "scientific world conception", which Edmonds, following academic usage, calls logical empiricism, but is better known as "logical positivism". Their public face was the Ernst Mach Society, which held open meetings and lectures, but the Circle was by invitation only. And the invitation had to come from Schlick. He saw their common goal of ushering in a new Enlightenment as a blessing for humanity, not least by countering the rising irrationalism of the day, but he was resolutely apolitical.

Schlick followed the gospel according to Wittgenstein. It was an ascetic aestheticism, given physical embodiment in the Palais Stonborough, the house he built for his sister Margaret on the Kindmanngasse. Austere beauty of the Modernist kind does not always make for comfort. Though the mysterious, wandering scholar never actually attended the Circle or any of the international conferences organised in its name, his early philosophy was embodied in the only book he ever allowed to be published, written during the war: the Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, later translated as Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In this austere, introspective world of pure logic, there could be no place for systems of philosophy, let alone for politics. "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

For Schlick, the Tractatus had the status of holy writ; accordingly, the Circle treated it as such. In his own remarkable little book, Problems of Ethics (published in the Circle series Schriften zur wissenschaftlichen Weltauffassung in 1930), Schlick bases his ethics not on the Kantian foundation of absolute duty -- then fashionable in Austro-German culture -- but on probability: "Moral rules, too, must refer to the average."

As Hume said, no one can actually live that way.

January 8, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


Daimler's Mercedes-Benz triples its electric car sales as CEO predicts a 'transformative' decade (Anmar Frangoul, 1/08/21, CNBC)

The CEO of Daimler emphasized the importance of low-emission technologies and innovation on Friday, telling CNBC that the automotive industry was "in the middle of a transformation."

"Next to the things that we know well -- to build, frankly, the world's most desirable cars -- there are two technological trends that we're doubling down on: electrification and digitization," Ola Källenius told CNBC's Annette Weisbach.

The Stuttgart-headquartered firm was "pouring billions into these new technologies," he added, stating they would "drive our path towards CO2 free driving." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Science's Demons, from Descartes to Darwin and BeyondHow supernatural conceptions have advanced our understanding of the natural universe. (Casey Cep, January 8, 2021, The New Yorker)

"Bedeviled: A Shadow History of Demons in Science" (Princeton University Press) is not a survey of Baal, Stolas, Volac, and their kin. Instead, Canales has gathered together in one book demons with very different origins and responsibilities--among them the scientist James Clerk Maxwell's demon, the physicist David Bohm's demon, the philosopher John Searle's demon, and the naturalist Charles Darwin's demon. These demons came into being at some of the world's leading universities and were promulgated in the pages of Science and Nature. They are not supernatural creatures; rather, they are particular kinds of thought experiments, placeholders of sorts for laws or theories or concepts not yet understood. Like the demon Jesus met, though, these are legion; at the very same time that science was said to be demystifying the world, Canales shows us, scientists were populating it all over again with the demonic.

According to Canales, a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, modern demonology began with René Descartes, who imagined a demon into being in his "Meditations on First Philosophy," from 1641. The French philosopher was positing a thought experiment most often described today as the brain in a vat: however, instead of wondering if he was just a disembodied brain experiencing a simulated reality, Descartes proposed that "some malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me." Said demon could alter our senses and convince us of falsehoods, so that what we see, hear, or feel might not be real. Because anything might be a deception, we must assume everything is, and only through extreme skepticism can we distinguish the real from the unreal.

Descartes's demon was not immediately followed by others, but, in 1773, the French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace proposed a thought experiment of his own. He imagined a mysterious entity "who, for a given instant, embraces all the relationships of the beings of this universe." With that single instant of complete knowledge, Laplace wrote in an article on calculus, this entity "could determine for any time taken in the past or in the future the respective position, the movements, and generally the attachments of all these beings." Because Laplace's demon knew the present location of every single thing in the universe and all the forces acting on them, it could infer everything that had already happened and everything that would happen in the future.

Several decades before, John Locke had posited that, other than God, only angels and spirits might have such total knowledge. But Laplace argued that the universe was stable and predictable--this was why Edmond Halley could determine the regular arrival of a comet--and that, as a result, mathematical analysis could help us understand the universe in its entirety. It was therefore perfectly reasonable, even for those of us who don't possess infinite information and limitless cognitive power, to use what information we do have and what cognition we can summon to make sense of the world. Laplace's faith in scientific determinism helped inspire the creation of machines that could do the kinds of computations he attributed to his demon. Charles Babbage read Laplace's work, and cited it in accounts of his "Difference Engine" and "Analytical Engine," machines designed to perform calculations; Babbage's friend Ada Lovelace, who was tutored by Laplace's English translator, grasped the implications of Babbage's engines, and encouraged him to find additional applications for what are now considered some of the earliest computers.

Darwin knew Babbage, too, and talk of demons and determinism might well have helped shape his account of evolution. Darwin's notes on the subject originally included "a being infinitely more sagacious than man," one "with penetration sufficient to perceive differences in the outer and innermost organization quite imperceptible to man, and with forethought extending over future centuries to watch with unerring care and select for any object the offspring of an organism produced under the foregoing circumstances." 

Empiricism is a hoax.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Baidu scares auto sector with new smart EVs initiative (PAUL WALLIS, 1/08/21, Digital Journal)

This is the death sentence for the obsolescence-obsessed auto sector. Geely is already well set up to make smart EVs. Baidu has been developing autonomous vehicle tech for some time now, and the two companies are an obviously good fit. The market already likes it.

Baidu stock jumped 4% on the NASDAQ. (NASDAQ:BIDU) As Reuters reports in murderous detail, Baidu isn't the only Chinese company moving in this direction. This is no longer about basic auto manufacturing and design trivia. This is a whole new class of vehicle with a lot to recommend it. It comes as a new generation of long-range, high power EVs hit the market.

The mainstream market will be as dead as the internal combustion engine (effectively extinct) if it doesn't pay attention. This is all existing newish tech, to a very large extent. There's nothing too hard in this approach.

Mainstream manufacturers have one option - Stay in the pre-Cambrian era of car technologies or join the new streams. The other option is to go broke.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Taiwan population fell for first time in 2020 (AFP, 1/08/21)

Taiwan's population shrank for the first time ever in 2020, government data showed Friday, as the island faces a burgeoning demographic crisis similar to those affecting South Korea and Japan.

Births last year plunged to 165,000, down seven percent from 2019. Deaths also overtook births for the first time, pushing the island's overall population down 0.2 percent to 23.56 million, the interior ministry said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Alibaba Founder Jack Ma Has Fallen Off The Radar. Here Are Some Clues Why (STEVE INSKEEP, 1/08/21, Morning Edition)

Duncan Clark, an investor and adviser on China's tech sector who knows Ma's business empire, has some ideas.

Clark says that while Amazon and Alibaba have some similarities, Alibaba is in some ways more powerful because of its financial reach.

Alibaba created a service called Alipay, a system for making payments by phone, using QR codes. It's now used for billions of transactions and is making cash nearly obsolete in China.

"Imagine if half of the transactions you do in your day in the U.S. were also controlled by the same company," Clark says.

Alipay was spun off into a company called Ant Financial. Last fall, Ant Financial was on the verge of an initial public offering of stock -- potentially the largest in history.

And that's when things started to go wrong. Regulators abruptly suspended the IPO, the Chinese government opened an investigation into Alibaba, and Ma has been largely out of public view after he criticized regulators.

Clark, who wrote the book Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built, has known Ma for decades.

"Jack Ma is an unusual tech entrepreneur in that he's not a tech guy at all," Clark tells NPR's Morning Edition in an interview. A former English teacher who turned into a successful entrepreneur, Ma "doesn't come from wealth or connections," Clark says. "He's an amazing communicator, which is odd because the reason we're talking about him is that he gave a terrible speech ... much like a bit that didn't go well at all."

What did he say in October?

He was speaking at something called the Bund Finance Summit in Shanghai. He was not the most important person in the room, if you think in terms of the government regulators who were there. And he proceeded to basically tell them that they were, you know, anachronistic -- that you cannot, for example, run an airport like the way you run a train station.

And then he ... not only he initially launched into an attack on the global financial regulatory system of banking, but then he kind of moved his topic to China and said ... that he thought they were out of touch and that, you know, there was a new revolution coming. It was actually almost a call for revolution in terms of the finance sector.

The PRC is properly terrified of the future.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Iran in no rush to see US return to nuclear deal: Khamenei (New Arab, 8 January, 2021)

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said it was not a question of "whether the United States returns or not", it was a matter of it lifting its unilateral sanctions.

"We are in no rush and we are not insisting on their return. Our demand... is the lifting of sanctions," which outgoing US President Donald Trump reimposed after quitting the deal in 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A SHORT HISTORY OF CLASSIC TV'S MOST UNUSUAL INVESTIGATORSIn the late Sixties everyone wanted to create a TV detective. But how to make your fictional sleuth stand apart? (KEITH ROYSDON, 1/08/21, Crime Reads)

'The Immortal' was ... not

The premise of the 1970 TV series "The Immortal" sounds like a comic-book plot in some ways: A racecar test driver donates a pint of blood to his billionaire boss and the rich man discovers the blood is a miracle drug that, with repeated transfusions, can convey immortality on whoever receives it.

Star Christopher George's character--named Ben Richards, perhaps after two of the "Fantastic Four?"--won't age and won't die, unless he is killed. Richards must go on the run to stay out of the clutches of a series of billionaires, who hire bounty hunters to find him and bring him back for an endless series of blood transfusions.

In the meantime, Richards looks for his estranged brother, to warn him that his blood might make him a target as well.

The Fugitive/Lassie/Incredible Hulk trope is in full effect here, as Richards, sometimes hitchhiking and carrying a small duffle bag, walks around the southwest, interacting with strangers and affecting their lives.

Ben Richards might have been immortal but, no, his series was not. It was canceled in January 1971 after only the pilot and 15 episodes. [...]

'Barnaby Jones' and the Case of the You Kids Get Off My Lawn

When "Barnaby Jones" debuted on CBS in 1973, Buddy Ebsen was 64 years old. It  says something about TV's youth orientation that the selling point of the show was that Ebson was so old! He was the first elderly TV detective!

The Associated Press referred to the detective as--gulp--a foxy grandpa!

Newspaper coverage of the series' debut also noted that this was a chance for Ebsen, a Hollywood staple since the 1930s, to shake the image of Jed Clampett from "The Beverly Hillbillies." Ebsen must have done that, because "Barnaby Jones" ran until 1980.

The premise of the series: Jones came out of retirement and went back into the private investigation business after his son was killed. He teamed up with his daughter-in-law, former big-screen Catwoman Lee Meriwether, to take on bad guys. Mark Shera played a younger member of the family who joined up a few seasons in to perform more of the most physical stuff.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Sununu Urges Fellow Citizens To Look Out for One Another (GARRY RAYNO, 1/08/21,  InDepthNH.org)

"2021 will not be better simply because we want it to be. 2021 will not be better only because we wish it to be," Sununu said.  "2021 will only be better if we are willing to look in the mirror and first initiate that change within ourselves."

He said people often become entrenched in their own political beliefs and use those beliefs to divide instead of remembering they are elected to serve the citizens.

"I believe we sometimes become so preoccupied in winning an argument that we are driven to the false security of political validation via our political party or elected leaders," Sununu said. "And we use those entities as our line in the sand. There is a tendency to show too much deference and wrongly believe those individuals are infallible...Let's remember we are elected to serve those we represent, not the other way around."

He spoke of the pro-Trump mob that violently overran the nation's Capitol Building the day before and urged everyone to turn down the rhetoric to find common ground instead of differences.

He said the growing tensions throughout American culture now is nothing new, separating rich from poor, or different faiths or Democrats and Republicans.

He turned to the state's motto as if addressing the people in and out of state government who refuse to wear masks as the pandemic worsens - including about 90 members of the House who on Organization Day in December when Dick Hinch was elected House Speaker only to die a week later from COVID-19. At least three other House members, a state senator and legislative and Sununu staff members have recently had the disease.

"Some hide behind our Live Free or Die motto to justify actions and promote an agenda of discord. They use it to defend their unwillingness to make sacrifices for the good of our communities. That is not what General John Stark envisioned when he spoke those perpetual words...Live Free or Die might take on a subtly different meaning for all of us, but in general I believe many agree that it ties New Hampshire to the fundamentals of low taxes, limited government and local control," Sununu said. "Yes, we treasure our Live Free or Die culture, but not at the expense of being a good and responsible neighbor. Even though it is not written on a license plate, the New Hampshire I grew up in always put others first."

He said the pandemic has produced many heroes from doctors and nurses, to first responders and family members.

He cited two people who went above and beyond and said that is what is needed from everyone as the state continues to face very significant challenges from the pandemic.

"It is the New Hampshire way to join together within our communities and not let politics or prejudice divide us," Sununu said. "It is in that effort that we as citizens can become more reliant on one another for solutions and less on the often inefficient approach of government."

The state's motto comes with the obligation to put politics and prejudices aside to ensure family and neighbors are supported. "When our side doesn't win, it doesn't mean there's a conspiracy or the world is out to get us.... And we mustn't let COVID or politics rob us of our passion for neighborliness," he said. "The consistent cynical belief in an overwhelming public corruption at every turn results in a lasting damage to the public conscience as a whole. It tears at the fabric of the Live Free or Die spirit. 2020 has unfortunately shown that there are individuals that take a bit of pride out of such cynicism."

Sununu quoted from Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address saying "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

"It is well within our ability to live to those standards.  They aren't lofty or unreasonable.  They're human," he said. "It only takes the will of our hearts to make it happen."

January 7, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


We Must Impeach Donald Trump Again (DAVID FRENCH, JANUARY 6, 2021, TIME)

Donald Trump sowed the seeds for the riot of January 6th from the moment he entered the race in 2015, when he made it plain that he welcomed violence to silence protesters at his rallies, when he broadcast that any election defeat - even then - would not be legitimate. He kept sowing when he refused to promise that he'd support the peaceful transition of power. He sowed the seeds when he famously told the Proud Boys - a far-right street militia - to "stand back and stand by." And he sowed still more when he raged, day by day, that he'd suffered a great injustice on November 3rd.

And now, as the nation's capital reaps what he sowed, he can't stop stoking the flames. In a video message ostensibly designed to quell the violence, he repeated his election lies. And he told members of the insurrection, "I know how you feel." He told the rioters, "We love you."

Yes, Donald Trump loves his violent mob.

The American system is under great strain - greater strain than I've ever seen in my entire adult life. But the system is strong. It contains the means of dealing with a deranged president. Even now, mere days before the still-certain inauguration of Joe Biden, the House can impeach Trump. The Senate can convict Trump. Together they can banish Trump from public office.

In addition, Article I, Section 5, Clause 2 of the Constitution grants each house of Congress the ability to expel a member on a 2/3 vote. The House and Senate should give those members who objected to the counting of the electoral votes - and who stoked the fear and paranoia of the mob - an opportunity to withdraw their baseless objections. If they refuse, they should be expelled.

There is a deep sickness in the United States of America. Trump is not its sole cause, but he and his devoted allies are making that sickness worse. There is a long road to a cure, but it can begin by purging a seditious president from the Oval Office, removing seditious members from Congress, and firmly declaring to a nation that is reeling from the shock of the worst breach of Capitol security since British Regulars burned it to a husk in the War of 1812 that this republic has the will to defend itself from hate, from the mob, and from the man who would rather destroy a nation than lose his throne.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Unbearable Whiteness of Storming the Capitol (Jimmie Briggs, 1/07/21, Vanity Fair)

To be clear, when I refer to whiteness, I mean the privileges, expectations, and elevated humanity afforded those in American society whose skin happens to be white; who exist daily in varying degrees of proximity to white people; who actively seek the affirmation of and their raison d'être from white people--and/or those whose aspirations for themselves, their families, and their communities are modeled on some kind of reflection of whiteness.

Today, this theme struck me with massive force. Televised scenes showed thousands of Donald Trump-supporting rioters and criminals, largely white and typically mask-less, descending on the nation's largely Black capital. They held alternate-reality rallies. They heard speeches intended to recklessly inflame emotions and not-so-subtly encourage violent confrontation. For weeks, reports on various media platforms, across the political spectrum, have discussed January 6, 2021, as a day when groups ranging from the Justice Department-targeted Proud Boys to Women for America First were expected to parachute into Washington, D.C., to try and defy Congress's certification of Joe Biden's election as the 46th president of this country. 

Nevertheless, despite the mobsters' extraordinary disregard for the rule of law, for agents of law enforcement, and for social norms regarding government, government property, and government processes, a near-mythical graciousness was shown to the insurrectionists. They were allowed in after the fences were breached. And they were free to wantonly roam the United States House and Senate hallways, entering offices, intimidating elected officials and their staffers, and taking a selfie on a cell phone, at times with willing Capitol Police. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


White House officials resign, others consider quitting after assault on Capitol (Times of Israel, 1/07/21)

In a sign of growing frustration in the hours following a riot at the US Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump on Wednesday, a number of White House aides were discussing a potential mass resignation, according to people familiar with the conversation.

However, some harbored concerns about what Trump might do in his final two weeks in office if they were not there to serve as guardrails when so few remain.

Stephanie Grisham, the first lady's chief of staff and a former White House press secretary, submitted her resignation Wednesday, but declined to say what prompted her move.

Deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, White House social secretary Rickie Niceta and deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews also resigned, according to officials.

Too little, too late.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Antisemitic conspiracies flew before extremists breached U.S. Capitol (Arno Rosenfeld, January 6, 2021, The Forward)

"We are standing up against the evil globalists such as George Soros, who thinks he owns our politicians, who thinks he owns Chief Justice John Roberts on the Supreme Court," former Breitbart reporter Jennifer Lawrence told a crowd at a "Stop the Steal" rally Tuesday.

Shortly before the violent breach, Rep. Mary Miller, R-IL, praised Nazi leader Adolph Hitler in a speech outside the Capitol.

"Hitler was right on one thing: he said whoever has the youth, has the future," Miller told a crowd waving Trump flags.

And those who made it inside the Capitol building included notorious white supremacists and others donning overtly antisemitic imagery. One man in the crowd wore a "Camp Auschwitz" sweatshirt while others waved the Confederate flag and a banner modeled after a Nazi flag.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Right-wing media offers sympathy and excuses for Congress mob (THOMAS URBAIN , 1/08/21, AFP)

The demonstrators "pushed and shoved but for the most part, that was about it," said Kevin Corke, a Fox News reporter.

"Most of what we saw was beautiful today," said Ben Bergquam, a reporter for the small online channel Real America's Voice, on Wednesday.

Outlets including Real America's Voice, Newsmax and the One America News Network (OAN) -- which Trump has recommended several times in recent weeks -- claimed without any evidence that the crowd had been infiltrated by small ultra-left groups.

"I think they were undercover Antifa," Gina Loudon, presenter for Real America's Voice, said of the rioters she encountered Wednesday in the corridors of the Capitol. [...]

Many right-wing US media commentators denounced the reaction of the 
Pat Fallon, a Republican in the House of Representatives, told Newsmax "we don't even know who was on the other side of those doors" among the rioters.

While denouncing the violence committed in the precincts of Congress, Greg Kelly, of Newsmax, said it nonetheless followed a certain logic.

"If you steal an election," he explained, echoing Trump's discredited accusations, "there are going to be a lot of angry people."

"There's a reason this is happening," said Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson. "It is happening because the people with all the power have decided to clamp down so harshly on the population that things explode at a certain point."

For Eric Greitens of Real America's Voice, the forced interruption to debates in Congress Wednesday "gives the president a few more days to demonstrate that there has been fraud."

January 6, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Biden to tap Merrick Garland for attorney general (TYLER PAGER, JOSH GERSTEIN and KYLE CHENEY, 01/06/2021, Politico)

Next, Clarence's seat.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Black Violin: Give Thanks (Bob Fish, 1/06/21, spectrum)

Comprising a space incorporating both classical music and hip hop, Black Violin never thought it would take a pandemic to create Give Thanks, but that's what happens when you tour 150 days a year and suddenly find yourselves under quarantine. Despite the circumstances, this collection is unlike virtually any other holiday music you've heard, with violin and viola being the key instruments throughout.

Kev Marcus and Wil Baptiste have been playing together for quite a while. For Marcus playing the violin created a certain perception, "I'm a big black dude: six foot two, always been heavyset, and early on I realized that when I would tell people that I play the violin, the perception of who I am, the possibility of what I could be, was altered to them."

When approaching Give Thanks, they reached a decision that the music should be half covers and half originals, with the common element being their violin playing. Yet there is very little traditional about what they have created. "Give Thanks," a traditional-sounding number except for the electronic beats and vocals repeating the song's title, sets the tone and establishes the way Black Violin looks at music. They find a way to blend two divergent musical worlds, allowing them to go back and forth opening the doors between formats that usually tend to exclude rather than being inclusive.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Can Free Community College Unite a Divided U.S.?: The incoming Biden-Harris administration wants to launch a new era in higher education that will make it open to everyone (David Noonan, January 6, 2021, Scientific American)

Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, who has studied and written about the U.S.'s community colleges, spoke with Scientific American about the prospects for a new era in the nation's higher education.

Why do you think the Biden-Harris administration has made community college central to its education plans?

If you look at the Biden platform for changing America, healing America, community colleges line up for a whole variety of reasons. They really are our quintessential institutions for social mobility. They take students from all backgrounds. If you run as Joe Biden did, on a platform of unifying the country, community colleges are an appropriate focus. They appeal to people of all political stripes, I think, because they do play this social mobility role, whereas the elite four-year colleges are seen as kind of gated communities. Community colleges are found in every congressional district, so they're unifying. And Jill Biden has taught in community colleges for years, often teaching remedial classes, so she knows firsthand what community colleges can do.

You've written that community college should be free for all, including those who can afford to pay for it. Why is that important?

As community colleges have increasingly become institutions for less advantaged students, they have become economically segregated and separate from institutions that serve more affluent students. We know that economic segregation in K-12 education is disastrous, and it is also troubling in higher education. You want institutions to educate students from all backgrounds together, in part, because when you have separate institutions for the poor, they tend to be underfunded. And those students are cut off from important networks that are critical to getting jobs. It's important who your classmates are. More than half of all jobs are filled through some sort of a connection. If community colleges are free to everyone, that can provide an incentive for upper-middle-class students to attend, which will enrich the experience for everyone, including low-income and working-class students.

As the Founders said: Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Cities want to tear down these urban highways--and Biden can help (ADELE PETERS, 1/06/21, Co.Exist)

When a new elevated highway was built in New Orleans in the 1960s, like other "urban renewal" projects in the U.S., it ripped through a predominantly Black neighborhood that had been thriving. Hundreds of homes were razed. Hundreds of businesses were lost. On Claiborne Avenue, the central boulevard in the neighborhood, hundreds of oak trees were torn out of a wide median that neighbors had used as a park. A coalition of community members now want to take the aging highway down--and it's the type of project that the new administration could help make possible.

"There was a lot of disinvestment after buildings fell into disrepair. We lost a lot of historic building stock in terms of homes and commercial buildings," says Amy Stelly, a designer and planner whose family has lived in the community for generations and who is now part of Claiborne Avenue Alliance, the group pushing to restore the former boulevard. "And it also changed the climate, because we now have cars instead of trees." The now-missing park in the center of the avenue had mitigated the urban heat island, the effect that makes concrete-filled neighborhoods hotter on hot days. The greenery had also helped absorb rainwater in storms. As the new highway physically divided the area and destroyed the neighborhood's economy, it also added pollution: People living nearby have a higher risk of asthma and other diseases.

Cities throughout the country are facing the same challenges--almost always in communities of color--and as roads wear out they now have the choice of repairing highways or completely transforming them. "There are many highways in the United States that are simply underutilized and therefore are ripe targets," says Ben Crowther, who studies urban highway removal at the nonprofit Congress for New Urbanism. The nonprofit publishes biannual reports about which highways should come down first.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The right is hooked on a feeling (Bonnie Kristian, January 6, 2021, The Week)

How do President Trump's truest believers explain their certainty he won the 2020 election?

They don't. It doesn't need explanation. They just know it. They feel it. And they have public figures -- pundit and politician alike -- willing to validate those feelings and channel them via political performance art into a perpetual motion machine of grievance, animosity, dreampolitik, and fundraising.

The notion that populist variants of the American right run on feelings more than fact or reason is not new, of course (nor is it a phenomenon exclusive to the right). Stephen Colbert introduced "truthiness" the better part of two decades ago, and President Trump's whole political career is constructed on emotion. Many of his major policy "accomplishments" are barely connected to reality: The wall, what little of it has been built, will have minimal effect on border security. The trade war with China significantly consists of taxes paid by Americans. And Trump's ostensible record of ending "endless wars" includes zero concluded conflicts.

Still, there's a new and remarkable purity of this politics of feeling where the 2020 election is concerned. The conservatives I was raised among saw themselves as the temperate, hardheaded counterweight to illogical, irresponsible "bleeding heart liberals." The right-wing slogan of recent years declared "facts don't care about your feelings." But the conviction that Trump won is wholly felt.

It's why facts don't matter to them. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


With Britain gone, smaller nations are banding together to fight EU integration (William Nattrass, 1/06/21, CapX)

Brexit has broken the EU's equilibrium. Britain was seen as a  vital counterweight to the calls for greater European integration by socially conservative countries like Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. With that individualist voice gone, the so-called 'Visegrád Four' have recognised the need to assert themselves - western Europe should be worried.

As the recent rule of Law dispute - which nearly derailed the new EU budget - showed, Poland and Hungary are increasingly determined to pursue domestic cultural agendas regardless of the EU's institutional values. France and Germany may be fast assuming powerful roles as directors of EU economic, cultural and security policy, but that has spurred nations to the east of the bloc, which reject the EU's liberal cultural goals, to band together and make sure their voice is heard in the new order.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Impossible Foods cuts prices for foodservice distributors, moving closer to parity with meat (Amelia Lucas, 1/06/20, CNBC)

Impossible Foods is cutting its wholesale prices, drawing it closer to achieving price parity with the meat its products mimic.

On average, U.S. foodservice distributors will pay about 15% less for Impossible's burger and sausage alternatives in the second price drop in a year. International distributors in Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau can also expect to see slashed prices on Impossible products.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Georgia's Warnock defeats Loeffler; Democrats close in on Senate majority (ALEXIS SIMENDINGER AND AL WEAVER - 01/06/21, The Hill)

The potential loss for the GOP rocked the party as Republican officials and analysts castigated Trump for his refusal to concede the Nov. 3 election while presenting a muddled, false message to Georgia voters that their participation was part of a rigged electoral process. 

In November, the incumbent Perdue led challenger Ossoff by 88,000 votes only to see that advantage wiped away in Tuesday's runoff following a tumultuous two months and intense campaigning and organizing by Democrats in the now blue-hued state. 

"When the president convinces senators to go along with overthrowing the election results, the upscale white voters in 'burbs don't break your way. And then when he says elections are rigged, so don't bother, the base doesn't show up," one source familiar with the race told the Morning Report. 

Trump's refusal to concede the November result in Georgia, having lost to Biden there by 11,779 votes, also created headaches for the party as they lost a key messaging opportunity. According to a Senate GOP campaign official, the most persuasive message to Republican voters in the Peach State was to return Perdue and Loeffler to Washington to hold the Senate majority as checks on a Democratic executive branch. But Republicans could not sustain that message because Trump will not acknowledge Biden's victory and continues to baselessly lob claims of widespread voter fraud. 


Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Facing Economic Woes, North Korea Admits Failure, Mulls Future (William Gallo, January 06, 2021, VOA)

North Korea has opened a major, multi-day political gathering in the capital, Pyongyang, with leader Kim Jong Un using the forum to acknowledge recent economic failures.

Addressing thousands of tightly packed delegates at an auditorium in Pyongyang, Kim admitted his country had not reached the goals set out in an economic plan for the five-year period that just expired.

"The goals we set were immensely underachieved in almost all areas," Kim said in an opening speech at the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party, according to state media.

The last five years, Kim said, were "unprecedented" and "the worst of the worst" for North Korea. In response, he said the country should "strengthen our own power and our own self-reliant capacity."

Pictures posted by the official Korean Central News Agency showed thousands of participants seated close together in a large hall, with no observable social distancing measures. No one appeared to be wearing masks.

January 5, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Police: Protesters outside Sen. Hawley's home were peaceful (MICHAEL BALSAMO, 1/05/21, AP)

Protesters who gathered outside the Virginia home of Republican Sen. Josh Hawley Monday evening were peaceful and they left when police explained they were violating local picketing laws, police said Tuesday. The Missouri senator on Twitter accused the protesters of vandalism and threatening his family.

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


Norway Says More Than 50% of New Cars Are Electric (VOA News, January 05, 2021)

Norway's Road Traffic Information Council (Opplysningsradet for Veitrafikken) says electric vehicles accounted for 54.3 percent of new car sales in 2020, up from 42.4 percent a year earlier.

The group says the four best-selling models in the Nordic country were the Volkswagen/ Audi e-tron, the Tesla Model 3, the Volkswagen ID.3 and the Nissan Leaf -- all fully electric.

It'll never fly, Orville...
Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


George Washington, American (Richard Samuelson, 12/15/16, Law & Liberty)

In my "Age of Washington" class the other day, I stumbled over the start of his Last Will and Testament.  I regard the will as a partly public and partly private document--the last of his great "farewells," including his farewell to the Virginia Regiment in 1759, his last Circular to the States in 1783, and, of course, his Presidential Farewell Address of 1796.
It states "I George Washington of Mount Vernon--a citizen of the United States, and lately President of the same, do make, ordain and declare this Instrument."[1]   Why begin that way?  It occurred to me that it may have had a public purpose in addition to a private one.  "I don't think that was typical," I said to the class.  "I wonder what Jefferson said."  Next thing I know, I was on the computer, googling "Thomas Jefferson's last will and testament," and up comes the link. Sure enough, Mr. Jefferson (as we Wahoo's call him), began his will, "I Thomas Jefferson of Monticello in Albemarle, being of sound mind and in my ordinary state of health, make my last will and testament in manner and form as follows." Fascinating.

Both begin with the names of their residences, but Washington turns immediately to his status as a citizen of the United States.  Jefferson says nothing about his status as a citizen of the United States or, for that matter, of Virginia.  Instead he merely lists his county of residence, perhaps simply because that was where his will would go through probate.

A few further reflections.  Washington prefaced his Will with the same words with which the Mayflower Compact began, "In the name of God, Amen."  For God, and then for country.   In his will, Jefferson turns immediately to bequests, "I give to my grandson Francis Eppes, son of my dear deceased daughter Mary Eppes, in fee simple, all that part of my lands at Poplar Forest lying West of the following lines, . . ."   Washington is different.  He begins with his legal obligations, "Imprimus. All my debts, of which there are but few, and none of magnitude, are to be punctually and speedily paid."   (Another interesting contrast with Jefferson, who begins with a bequest--and ironic given how much greater Jefferson's debts were.)  Washington then turns to his marital obligation, "To my dearly beloved wife Martha Washington I give and bequeath the use, profit and benefit of my whole Estate, real and personal, for the term of her natural life."

And then comes his moral obligation as our founding father:  "Upon the decease of my wife, it is my Will & desire that all the Slaves which I hold in my own right, shall receive their freedom."  Why not emancipate his slaves right away?  That would be insuperably difficult. It would be:

To emancipate them during her life, would, tho' earnestly wished by me, be attended with such insuperable difficulties on account of their intermixture by Marriages with the dower Negroes, as to excite the most painful sensations, if not disagreeable consequences from the latter, while both descriptions are in the occupancy of the same Proprietor; it not being in my power, under the tenure by which the Dower Negroes are held, to manumit them.

The majority of slaves under Washington's control were, in fact, held in trust for Martha's descendants.  Washington had no legal right to free them.  To free those he could free and leave the others in slavery, during Martha's lifetime, at least, was unworkable.  Note that Washington insists that to free them all, and to do so right away is "earnestly wished" by him.

If we regard the Will as a teaching document, a final farewell from a founding father, the first sentence and the criticism of slavery are of a piece.  America was founded upon the principles of 1776.  According to the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God," slavery is a wrong ("in the name of God, Amen.")  As a "citizen of the United States," and, we should add, its founding father, Washington had a special responsibility to work to make the practices of the United States come to be in line with the nation's principles.

Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


What do magpies want?: I am left feeling unnerved by the sudden presence of a bird wreathed in superstition and legend at my kitchen window.  (HELEN MACDONALD, 12/10/20, New Statesman)

We're in second lockdown as I write. The sky outside is rain-wet steel and my garden is littered with fallen leaves I can't quite be bothered to rake. I've fallen far behind with correspondence, and this morning I was trying to catch up with unanswered emails when I glanced up from my laptop on the kitchen table and saw a magpie hoiking itself about my lawn: skittish, suspicious and glamorous all at once, an unlikely combination of Arthur Daley and couture catwalk model. I watched it through the French windows for a while before turning my eyes back to the screen. Then I jumped. The magpie was attempting to get into my kitchen, hopping up and flapping frantically, claws scratching at the pane. Soon it stopped, stood on tiptoes, craned its neck and tilted its head to stare at the kitchen floor before trying to enter the house again.

Magpies are wreathed in superstition and legend. In ancient Rome they were associated with fortune telling and magic; in Christian traditions they were reviled as the only bird that did not mourn the Crucifixion. Across most of Europe they're birds of bad luck, witchcraft and devilry, but in China they portend happiness and good fortune. They're bold, raucous, obvious and familiar creatures, loved and loathed in equal measure, and they still inspire superstitious behaviour. I've met people who doff their hats at magpies, anxiously count their numbers, speak rhymes at them out loud.

As I stared at the magpie battering itself against the glass I thought, suddenly, This means something. It's an omen. My conviction startled me. I'm not prone to magical thinking. I've always scoffed at the notion that birds entering houses is a harbinger of ill fortune, though it's a belief so widely held that the debunking website Snopes has found it necessary to host a page explaining it's merely a legend.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


A salute to our oldest ally (James Jeffrey, 5 January, 2021, The Critic)

"Because maybe / You're gonna be the one that saves me / And after all / You're my wonderwall," the pink-haired Portuguese busker sang, channelling Oasis's 1995 Britpop classic in the city of Porto shortly after Christmas Day. British pop songs seemed to dominate the playlist as those of us listening at the café tables opposite nibbled on Portugal's fabled Pastel de Nata cream custard tarts, and masked Portuguese thronged the shopping thoroughfare of Rua Santa Catarina.

Never would I have thought that lyrics spun by the unruly Gallagher brothers could prove so moving and pertinent to our muddled times--"And all the roads we have to walk are winding / And all the lights that lead us there are blinding"--but neither had I expected to find myself taking refuge from the UK's cycle of lockdowns and quashing of civil liberties on the Iberian Peninsula while hiking an ever-lengthening Camino pilgrimage. Though perhaps it isn't such a surprise: Portugal is the UK's oldest ally, after all.

The Portuguese deserve more credit of a different nature to the purely financial kind

The friendship between the two countries goes back to 1147, when English crusaders helped King Alfonso I to capture Lisbon from the invading Muslims. And as the actor Sean Bean aptly demonstrated playing the fictional British soldier Richard Sharpe in the 1990s television series based on the Bernard Cornwell novels, the Anglo-Portuguese alliance came to the fore during the Napoleonic Wars. Portugal, isolated in a Europe usurped by Napoleon, continued to trade with Britain despite French restrictions; and after Portugal finally was invaded, British fighting power helped it regain its sovereignty.

Not to mention the dictatorship's help in WWII & the Cold War.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Qanon is the new Protocols of the Elders of Zion: A small group of people, in dark smokey rooms, control the banks, make war and plant Manchurian candidates. Sounds familiar (Michael Harvey, JAN 5, 2021, Times of Israel)

It is impossible not to notice the rising numbers of "believers" in the Qanon conspiracy theory which alleges "that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against US president Donald Trump, who is fighting the cabal."  Several members of congress and high powered attorneys working for Donald Trump openly embrace the theory, most notably Lin Wood, who recently tweeted that "There are THOUSANDS of videos of pedophilia crimes committed by powerful people" and that videos were hidden by a hacking group called "Lizard Squad."

Now, while Lizard Squad is not a reference to the antisemitic slur of "lizard people," it did bring up an important note regarding the antisemitic foundation of the Qanon conspiracy.  It goes without saying that Qanon followers have dived deep into an old trope that the world is controlled by a small group of people, in dark smokey rooms.  They control the banks, they make and end war at will, they put Manchurian candidates on the political stage, etc.  This rings eerily similar to the ideas of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from the early 20th century.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


The Forrest Gump of baseball? How Clyde Sukeforth played a pivotal role in baseball's biggest moments (Steve Wulf, 12/30/20, ESPN)

CLYDE SUKEFORTH IS SMILING. He's holding a Brooklyn Dodgers cap in one hand and pointing to the sky with the other.

He's one of the characters in the Norman Rockwell painting "Tough Call," although you can barely see him poking out behind the three umpires at home. The men in black are deciding whether to call off the game at Ebbets Field, and Sukeforth is representing optimism, while his counterpart, Pittsburgh manager Billy Meyer, is playing up the foreboding conditions. Painted by Rockwell for the April 23, 1949, cover of The Saturday Evening Post, this masterpiece of Americana now hangs in the art gallery of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

There's a certain magic to the painting, and also to the notion that Sukeforth is visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year. He's not in the Hall of Fame, per se, but he certainly belongs in Cooperstown.

For one thing, his father was once an actual cooper. More important, this humble, athletic, smart, thoughtful and resolute man from Lincoln County, Maine, changed the course of baseball history in many ways -- most of them good, one not so much if you were a Dodgers fan in 1951. Sukeforth was, in the words of the great writer Jimmy Breslin, the "third-base coach of history."

The proof of his reach in the game is in the sacred enclave adjacent to the Hall of Fame's gallery. That's where the plaques are, and Sukeforth would have been a wonderful guide for the folks strolling among them. He saw Babe Ruth pitch for the Red Sox in the 1918 World Series. He caught Eppa Rixey, Waite Hoyt and Dazzy Vance. He played with Edd Roush, Harry Heilmann, Hack Wilson, Al Lopez and Leo Durocher. He played for Casey Stengel and Max Carey and against Hall of Famers too numerous to mention. He was traded for one (Ernie Lombardi), replaced by another (Billy Herman) and took a job away from Rogers Hornsby.

Heck, he could have even corrected one of the plaques. It's the one that says Hack Wilson hit 56 homers for the Cubs in 1930. "Hack really hit 57," Sukeforth once recalled. "He hit one up in the Crosley Field seats so hard that it bounced right back. The umpires figured it must have hit the screen. I was in the Reds' bullpen and we didn't say a word." Or he could have pointed to the plaque for Dennis Eckersley and admitted he might have been wrong about him.

But there are three plaques in particular that speak for Sukeforth. If not for him, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente might never have been waved home to Cooperstown. And then there's Branch Rickey, who always wanted "Sukey" by his side.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


I Will Never Watch "Children of Men" the Same Way Again: How my feelings about this dystopian film changed after living through a dystopian time (ANNA NORTH, 1/05/21, Electric Lit)

I rewatched Children of Men the other day. I'm 37 years old now; I have a two-year-old son. We put him in a little mask when we take him to the park, so he doesn't give or get a deadly virus. My appetite for dystopia has never been lower--at night I want cooking shows, or dramas about the English landed gentry. Still, I was curious. I wanted to see how the end of the world hit me now.

Turns out I'd forgotten almost everything about this movie. Spoilers follow: the world's youngest person, age 18, dies at the very beginning. His baby pictures, splashed across TV screens within the TV, nearly destroyed me. Also, the main character has lost his only child, a little son, to a flu pandemic. Upon learning this I had to disengage and look up biographies of the actors on Wikipedia. Clive Owen, it turns out, is a fan of the soccer team Liverpool FC. Julianne Moore writes children's books.

As I acclimated, I could see glimpses of what I'd loved so much back in 2006--the intrigue of the plot, the code names, the way Theo makes contact with the underground through posters reading "Have you seen this dog?" I remembered the humor and ease with which Clare-Hope Ashitey plays the pregnant Kee, a light in the darkness.

And then there were things I'd never seen.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


How a Negative Income Tax Could Fight Poverty (Dakota Hensley January 4, 2021, Exponents)

Many of these programs are inefficient and keep people in perpetual poverty. We have about eighty programs that altogether cost $1 trillion. That's enough for every poor person to get $25,000 a year. However, poverty is still rampant with 10.5 percent of Americans mired in it (not counting those on social security) and that was before the coronavirus pandemic. Why?

Well, if you're on any anti-poverty programs like SSI, a job is sometimes not worth it. Many who get jobs lose benefits and the pay they earn amounts to less than simply not working. This is most prominent in SSI where one can lose benefits if one can get a job that makes a little over the income limit. A minimum wage job, for example, allows someone to save some cash for emergencies, but they would lose their benefits and it's hard to live on just $15,000 a year.

Social security is the same way. If one claims benefits and makes too much money, they lose those benefits. Often, the increase in income does not offset the decrease in benefits; from the worker's perspective, it's just not worth it. So, they're forced to surrender to the system and just not work. This creates terrible conditions for many of these programs, as they depend on friends and family members for other forms of support, which can often create coercive and abusive relationships. This is not a solution to poverty.

There is one solution to poverty, however, that doesn't suffer from these problems, and that is the negative income tax (NIT).

The NIT was proposed by the libertarian economist Milton Friedman. It is both a Left and Right idea, reducing poverty and promoting economic equality while cutting costs and rewarding work. In simple terms, it's the idea that you set a cap (say $25,000 a year) and anyone making less than that gets half the difference between the cap and their income level (assuming the tax rate is 50%). Those making above a certain amount pay a tax proportional to their income, while those between the guaranteed minimum income's cap and the income tax cap pay nothing and get nothing.

January 4, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Georgia GOP Election Official Goes Off on Trump's 'Easily, Provably False' Fraud Claims (Lachlan Markay, Jan. 04, 2021, Daily Beast)

A top Republican elections official in Georgia held a press conference on Monday to push back on what he characterized as rampant disinformation spread by President Donald Trump and his allies in their efforts to overturn the results of the state's presidential contest in November.

"This is all easily, provably, false. Yet the president persists," said Gabriel Sterling, Georgia's voting system implementation manager. "And by doing so undermines Georgians' faith in the election system."

Sterling spoke just days after his boss, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, spoke on the phone with Trump for more than an hour, and pushed back on both the president's outlandish conspiracy theories about the election and his efforts to pressure Raffensperger into changing enough votes in the state to tilt the contest in Trump's favor. Raffensperger told ABC News on Monday that he wanted to make clear to Trump "that the data that he has is just plain wrong."

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Sovereignty is all well and good - but it's what you do with it that counts (Victoria Hewson, 1/04/20, CapX)

Much of the debate on Britain's future relationship with the EU has centred on concepts of sovereignty and independence. This very lengthy deal delivers them, but as with most things in life - it's what you do with it that counts. And our new relationship with the EU gives us the opportunity to legislate differently and better, in all kind of areas of our economy - to say nothing of defence, foreign policy, justice and home affairs (though sadly, Northern Ireland will remain tied to EU regulations across many areas, at least until there is a vote on the Northern Ireland Protocol in around four years time).

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement finally published on Boxing Day does not include a ratchet clause obliging the UK to follow new EU laws or face tariffs, reportedly one of the EU's most contentious demands during negotiations. It does, however, include a commitment not to move away from the existing baseline of laws in areas like environmental protection and workers rights. This seems strangely undemocratic, and inefficient, as it assumes that the present levels of protection in such areas are by definition beneficial and effective, and can only be improved by being increased - but the provision is broadly worded and not linked specifically to EU rules. This means reforms that improve regulations and deliver protections to workers and the environment in different ways will be possible.

Instead of the ratchet, rightly rejected by UK negotiators, the deal includes a 'rebalancing' provision, that allows either party to take measures if there is future divergence in labour, social, environmental or climate protection, or with respect to subsidy control (i.e. if the UK does not keep up when the EU changes its laws, or vice versa). In principle, this is undesirable, premised as it is on the idea that regulatory competition is to be discouraged; that somehow, one side or the other has alighted on the best way of legislating environmental or employment regulations and divergence is to be treated with suspicion.

The EU seems to fear that if the UK starts to move away from its highly interventionist and prescriptive regulatory approach, it will make British businesses more competitive. Instead of seeing such competition as good a thing for prosperity on both sides, the EU seems to see it as a threat, not just to its established businesses but to its entire model - hence its prioritisation of the so-called 'level playing field'.

...by deregulating and getting rid of trade restraints unilaterally.
Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Simpler weddings could be key to increasing marriage rates - think tank (Christianity Today, 04 January 2021)

Commenting on the figures, the Marriage Foundation said the perception that weddings are expensive could be a deterrent to more people tying the knot. 

In a 2012 survey by law firm Seddons, cost was the biggest reason why over half of men (51%) and a third of women (38%) either cohabiting or in a relationship said they had not married.

In 2018, a survey by wedding planner app Bridebook found that the average cost of a wedding in the UK had reached £30,355. 

Marriage Foundation founder, Sir Paul Coleridge, said that glossy magazines and "far-fetched" social media posts had created "unrealistic expectations" about the big day. 

"For too many, the idea of marrying has meant primarily a huge and overly expensive reception which misses the real point of the marriage," he said. 

"So, our message is clear, keep it simple and never let the cost of a wedding be a barrier to marriage.

"If family breakdown is to be tackled effectively the place where policies should be concentrated, is on the reduction in the rate of marriage. And the place to start is with the pernicious perception that marriage is out of date and only for the rich." 

January 3, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 PM


Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Vivid action-packed espionage thriller (Justine Carbery, January 03 2021, Independent.ie)

Set against the backdrop of this highly charged political scene, Walter Ellis's Franco's Map takes us behind the scenes to Madrid, where Englishman Charles Bramall, newly recruited by MI6, is sent to help drive a wedge between Franco and Hitler. His brief is to gather as much information as possible about German plans to enlist Francoist Spain's support. The city is rife with espionage, counter-intelligence and intrigue, and it's hard to separate friends from enemies.

Franco was the wedge.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Life imitates art as Ó Cadhain's voice heard from beyond the grave (Lorna Siggins, January 03 2021, Independent.ie)

Cré na Cille, which is regarded as comparable to James Joyce's Ulysses or the work of Samuel Beckett, is set in a graveyard where the corpses gossip endlessly about each other and life above ground and has the famous opening line: "I wonder am I buried in the Pound Plot or the Fifteen Shilling Plot?" [...]

The recording of Ó Cadhain reading from the book is part of a tape made by Egon Felder, a student at Trinity College, Dublin (TCD).

"Ó Cadhain had been appointed professor of modern Irish at TCD at the time, and was on a visit to Germany in the summer of 1964," Irish language scholar Dr Feargal Ó Béarra said.

"When he was there he met up with Felder, and agreed to be taped by him."

Writer and republican Ó Cadhain - who taught himself many languages, including Russian when he was interned in the Curragh Camp during World War II - had been very popular with the TCD students for his use of wit and humour.

He once asked his students to translate Mao Tse-tung for an exam, and on another occasion asked them to write a dialogue between the statue of British admiral Horatio Nelson in Dublin's O'Connell Street and the person who blew the monument up in 1966.

Felder passed his tapes on to Professor Barbara Wehr, who kept a copy for many years and digitised them.

She offered them to Dr Arndt Wigger, a colleague of Dr Ó Béarra's at the SKSK, a Celtic language institute associated with the University of Bonn.

"When we played them, what we thought was a recording of Irish tuition took on another dimension when we heard Ó Cadhain's voice reading his own text," Ó Béarra said.

The writer's nephew, also Máirtín Ó Cadhain, of Iontaobhas Uí Chadhain, the Ó Cadhain Trust, said it was the only recording he knew of his uncle reading from his classic.

The recording has been included in a CD with a new book on the writer's methods of teaching Irish, compiled by Ó Béarra and Wigger.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Trump Shares Clip Promoting January 6, D.C. Protests That Proud Boys Will Attend Incognito (CHRISTINA ZHAO, 1/2/21, Newsweek)

President Donald Trump shared a video on Saturday encouraging supporters to join protests in Washington D.C. on January 6, which will be attended by members of the far-right Proud Boys group.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Trumpism has never been about policy. It still isn't. (Josh Kraushaar,  Jan. 3, 2021, National Journal)

The final week of 2020 offered clarity into the Republican Party's future relationship with President Trump, because he's about to lose the power that drove the GOP's self-interested decision-making. While in the Oval Office, Trump has controlled the direction of his party, so it has made little strategic sense for congressional Republicans to break with him when working together would advance conservative policy goals. By contrast, as the sun sets on his presidency, Trump can now only shape the mood of GOP voters. Soon enough, he'll be unable to cause any damage beyond polluting the political discourse with his Twitter feed.

In this transition period, Trump has advanced three key tests of his fellow Republicans' continued loyalty: whether they would support his push to raise the stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 (a move that nearly scuttled the bipartisan government-spending package and COVID relief deal); whether they'd back his veto of the defense-funding bill; and whether they'd challenge Joe Biden's electors during Congress's certification of the results on Jan. 6. A fourth test, this week's Senate runoffs in Georgia, will also be a measure of the political cost Republicans bear when unequivocally embracing Trump in a battleground state.

What's been fascinating is how most Republicans have broken with Trump on policy grounds, feeling little commitment to back him on legislation that defies conservative principles. Republicans are still the party of a strong national defense and opposing free giveaways, despite Trump's Twitter pressure. Only 66 of 195 House Republicans (and seven of 53 GOP senators) voted to sustain Trump's veto of the defense authorization bill. And just 44 House Republicans supported more-generous stimulus checks, as even plenty of Trump's most slavish allies in Congress broke with him. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn't even allow a standalone vote on the larger checks. (Notably, most of the GOP support for the $2,000 stimulus checks comes from more-moderate lawmakers, many hailing from swing districts.)

There are no footprints in the sand.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


How Biden can future-proof America's immigration system (Shikha Dalmia, January 3, 2021, The Week)

For the last four years, the headlines focused on the administration's more sensational anti-immigration initiatives including the "Muslim" travel ban; scrapping the DACA program that gave deportation relief to those who were brought to the United States without authorization as children; the Great Wall of Trump; a zero-tolerance border policy that ended up snatching babies from migrant moms seeking asylum and viciously separating families. In addition, the Migration Policy Institute has identified more than 400-plus behind-the-scenes executive actions and rule changes that have received less attention but have been even more effective in walling out immigrants.

Consider immigrant visas for the overseas family members -- spouses, minor children, parents and siblings -- of American citizens and permanent residents. Even before the pandemic, Cato Institute's David Bier calculated that immigration under this category had declined by about 24 percent compared to 2016 because the administration slowed processing and doubled the denial rate. But things came to a near complete halt during the pandemic. In May, the administration allowed a measly 782 immigrants in this category compared to the monthly average of 55,000 four years ago. How did Miller accomplish this feat? He used the pretext of the pandemic to shut down consular offices so that they could no longer conduct the mandatory in-person interviews. However, he did not allow them to switch to online interviews, putting applicants in a complete bind. All in all, under this administration, about 738,000 fewer overseas family members of Americans will be admitted into the country -- the other family separation policy that no one talks about.

But it's not just foreigners abroad whom Miller has thwarted. He also made it infinitely more difficult for foreign professionals and others already in the U.S. to upgrade temporary visas to green cards or permanent resident status. Compared to 2016, the Trump administration is approving less than half of their applications and by January, if the current rate persists, about 246,313 fewer such applicants will be able to get green cards.

It took Miller a few years to implement his diabolical plans to slam these two categories of immigrants. Not so with respect to refugees. Right off the bat he slashed the annual refugee cap from 110,000 under Obama to 15,000 now, a historic low. And he subjected them to such "extreme vetting" that the U.S. isn't even going to hit that ceiling. All in all, during Trump's tenure, America will end up admitting nearly 300,000 fewer refugees than if 2016 levels had been maintained.

Refugees of course settle permanently in the U.S. as do others seeking green cards. But Miller hasn't even spared tourists and business travelers who want to just visit America for a short time. Bier estimates that the Trump administration has issued nine million fewer visas than would have been the case had it maintained the 2016 rate. Some of this drop can be attributed to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, but much of it happened before that.

The upshot is that the backlog of applications for any kind of immigration benefit -- green cards, temporary work visas, tourist visas, you name it -- has skyrocketed. Before Trump assumed office, this backlog was two times the quarterly number of new applications, which was shameful enough. But now this backlog has almost doubled. Currently, seven million people wishing to come to the U.S. for any reason are cooling their heels.

America's immigration system is restrictive but it is not this restrictive. Congress has created all these programs to give immigrants functioning pathways to come to the country. But Miller and Trump have jammed literally all of them. Moreover, Bier and his Cato colleague Alex Nowrasteh point out, Miller's actions have contradicted every principle that Congress has enshrined in immigration law including family reunification, equal treatment by nationality, and humanitarian relief for those escaping persecution or political turmoil.

How did he accomplish this? Essentially by abusing grants of executive power in immigration law when he could. And when he couldn't, he grabbed these powers from other laws.

Because Donald could not get anything through Congress for four years, it's easy enough to undo all this damage.  But Joe should go further and issue immigration pardons every six months until Congress reforms immigration law. This would not only clear the queues but build in the expectation that the existing immigration regime will not be enforced, thereby  encouraging everyone who can get here physically to come. Americans consistently approve of immigration but oppose illegality.  Make immigration legal again. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


How a Fictional Soccer Coach Showed What the World Should Be: Ted Lasso and the simple power of forgiveness. (David French, 1/03/21, The Dispatch)

And that brings me to the Apple TV dramedy Ted Lasso, why it briefly took the internet by storm, and how it reflects and models profound redemptive values--values that directly contradict our present toxic moment.

It's not giving away much to say that the conceit of the show is basically an updated and revised version of the 1989 movie Major League. It's set in the English Premier League rather than in Major League Baseball, and the owner, Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), is trying to ruin the team as an act of vengeance against her estranged husband (who left her for a younger woman) rather than to engineer a franchise move. And how does the new owner try to ruin the team? She hires an American football coach, Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), to coach an elite English soccer team. Hilarity ensues.

I started watching the show because I like Sudeikis, Nancy and I were looking for something new to stream, and I'd heard some buzz that it was far, far better than you had any right to expect. I'm not ashamed to say that it was not just marvelous, it had a moment that brought tears to my eyes. Ted Lasso isn't just a fun show to stream. It's a countercultural masterpiece.

Ted Lasso is the antidote for everything that's wrong with America (GREG GARRETT, DECEMBER 30, 2020, Baptist News)

At year end, as always, I am reflecting on the books, movies, music and TV that shaped me. During the week that my wife, Jeanie, and I finished watching the acclaimed 2020 Apple TV series Ted Lasso, thousands of Americans died of Covid-19, millions of Americans dealt with hunger insecurity, eviction, and the loss of their jobs or businesses, and the president of the United States pardoned dozens of criminals and obsessed over losing an election.

Many critics have spoken about Ted Lasso as the antidote for 2020, and they're absolutely right, but I believe this smart, funny and surprisingly moving show about an American college football coach from Kansas who moves to London to coach Premier League soccer is also the antidote for everything that's wrong with America moving forward. It's a show about amazing grace, about the importance of community and about the necessity for curiosity about those we would usually judge. I can't recommend it highly enough.

As we were falling asleep the night after finishing the series, Jeanie told the ceiling -- and me, mostly unconscious at that point, "I think it's about grace." And so it is. Ted Lasso is a show about a person who sees the best in people instead of the worst, who believes that everyone, no matter how difficult or awful, can be better.

In the process of Ted (Jason Sudeikis) extending grace to everyone -- which is such a hopeful and ridiculous idea -- one character after another begins to change. In the Christian tradition we talk about how in response to amazing grace we hope for what in New Testament Greek is called metanoia -- the 180-degree turn that represents our becoming what God calls us to be instead of what our fear and selfishness often make us.

Coach Ted Lasso says that what he cares about is transformation instead of wins and losses -- how counter-cultural is that? -- and he extends grace and forgiveness to people who most of us would write off.

Ted Lasso Nails Brits and Americans (KYLE SMITH, November 30, 2020, National Review)

Which is why Ted Lasso is cunningly engineered for our peculiar cultural moment, right here on the best side of the Atlantic. It isn't exactly a family show -- there is a lot of R-rated language -- but its wonderful first season makes for the kind of easygoing, big-hearted watch that constitutes ideal viewing among adults seeking something to watch with their parents, especially around the holidays when we're all in need of something cheery that brings us together and steers clear of divisive stuff like explicit sex, gory violence, and politics. In this season of discord, disease, and dismay, Ted Lasso reminds us of a powerful unifying force: Thank God we're not English.

January 2, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


To the Editor:  (NY Times , 1/01/21)

Re "Bullets Ravaged Iraqis. Pardons Renew the Pain" (front page, Dec. 24):

I was the F.B.I. case agent who led the investigation of the Blackwater massacre in Baghdad. We originally went to Iraq thinking this shooting was some form of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire between Blackwater guards and insurgents. After only one week, we determined that this incident was not as presented by Blackwater personnel and their State Department lackeys, but it was a massacre along the lines of My Lai in Vietnam. Three of the guards were convicted of manslaughter and one of murder.

I only recently became aware of the concerted effort for the pardons, which I understand started with a political push by members of Congress. President Trump should have had staff members review the trial evidence that led to the convictions and read the judges' opinions and sentencing statements. God forbid they might have actually picked up the phone and called the investigators who built the case. I'm so disgusted with the president's actions!

Having spent many hours with the innocent Iraqi victims who are permanently maimed and crippled because of the actions of these Blackwater guards, and the heartbroken family members of those killed, I am embarrassed for our country. I believe we will pay a heavy price in our relationships with other countries as a result of these pardons.

I'm so glad that I'm retired and will never again be asked to risk my life and those of my fellow investigators, only to have killers pardoned for purely political reasons.

John M. Patarini
Charlotte, N.C.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Homage to Catalonia (1938) by George Orwell: Vivid, partisan portrait of war (Brian Maye, 1/02/21, Irish Times)

He found the first talk of treachery and divided aims deeply disturbing. "It set up in my mind the first vague doubts about this war in which, hitherto, the rights and wrongs had seemed so beautifully simple." Animal Farm (1945), described as "his scintillating satire on Stalinism", was part of Orwell's response to what he considered the betrayal of the Spanish republic.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


January 1, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


Gen Z Republicans see new era for party after Trump (Nicole Via y Rada, 1/01/21, NBC News)

Now that the election dust has settled just weeks until President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, the Republican Party is beginning to take stock of its future beyond President Donald Trump.

For many young Republicans, Trump's loss signals an opening for new directions within the party. Several said in interviews that they want the party to become more tolerant and inclusive while staying true to conservative values.

"The GOP has a lot of really good policy, a lot of winning policies, but it does seem like often we can get caught up on the losing ones and fight like hell for them," said Cameron Adkins, a sophomore who is vice president of College Republicans at Columbia University. "When in reality, they're losing issues with the American people."

Thirty-one percent of voters ages 18 to 24 supported Trump in November, according to exit polls, down from 37 percent in 2016. The Generation Z bloc, born after 1996, makes up at least 10 percent of the U.S. population, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, and it will only grow as the next election approaches. [...]

"I think the term 'conservatism' has been given this really bad rep for so long," he said, predicting that the ethos of the party will evolve to become, for example, less religious and more forward-thinking.

"I feel like that should change in a way, so that people can understand it a lot more than just 'a bunch of old racist white people' as they like to see it, you know, but in reality, it's a lot more than that."

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


What does sovereignty mean in the age of Brexit? (Rupert Gather, 1/01/20, CapX)

Finally they got it. In the end the EU team realised that Brexit wasn't a dumb, dry economic calculation by deluded Brits, but was about the desire to become an 'independent coastal state', with all the risks and opportunities that entails. Ursula von der Leyen however, having belatedly identified the stick, firmly grasped the wrong end of it. Only late in the day, with Brexit upon us, did she identify sovereignty as the key driver of the 2016 referendum result, whilst claiming nonetheless that real sovereignty is about "pooling our strength and speaking together".

She was right to suggest that sovereignty is an abstract concept. True, it has a legal structure and can often be born out of physical boundaries defined by an island, river, desert or mountain range. But really it is about the feelings of the people who live within a particular jurisdiction. The emotional attachment that this engenders, the love of the sovereign nation, is how we define patriotism -- and where the EU struggles.

We have to be cautious not to confuse love for one's own country with hostility to others. As Voltaire said "it is lamentable that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind"

America redefined sovereignty as democratic legitimacy in 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

But the one area where national sovereignty may have to yield to a transnational authority and rules is in trade, if your nation seeks to enforce trading rules against others.   To the extent that the original united Europe was just such a free trade scheme Brits could abide it. But when regulations adopted remotely began to be applied domestically there was little chance of their accepting its continuance.  The most important thing now is for them not to trend towards the antagonistic nationalism that reflects the weakness of a people but to maintain an open society that exploits the economic benefits of the free movement of goods and peoples. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


To Fight Thanos, the Avengers Needed a Better Leader Than Capt. America: The Battle of Wakanda is a short and approachable case study in what not to do with an infantry battalion. (The Angry Staff Officer, 1/01/21, National Interest)


To set the stage - Captain Rogers and his host nation ally Black Panther positioned a Wakandan infantry battalion in close order on the plains outside Benin Zana, the capital city of Wakanda. While they were transported to the battlefield by vehicle, these craft were sent away. This dramatically cut down on the tactical mobility of the overall force and forced an engagement at that location. Given the enemy had superior numbers, this complete disregard of manoeuvre was a critical mistake.

It is true that the transport craft were unarmoured and open-topped. If fighting an adversary with strong anti-armour or indirect fire capabilities, sending them away would be reasonable. However, the Thanosian forces lacked this entirely. Their troops were incapable of using ranged weapons, or indeed, higher brain functions. They traveled on foot and bit the opposition to death.

Captain Roger's disregard for vehicles is perhaps excusable as being on brand for a career light infantry officer. However, his next sin was far more grievous.


Captain Rogers failed to keep any sort of reserve force back from the fighting. Instead, he committed them all into one action. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


How the idea of the tiny house evolved in 2020 (ADELE PETERS, 1/01/21, Co.exist)

If you've been living with roommates during the pandemic, 2020 might have felt like you were already living in a tiny house, just one you shared with other people you may have come to not like as much. Maybe you began to seriously fantasize about living in a tiny house on your own. The experience isn't always as idyllic as tiny-house shows portray it. But if 200 square feet may not be the ideal amount of living space for everyone, it's still true that smaller homes are a viable part of the solution for the challenges of affordable housing and homelessness. Here are a few of the ways that the field advanced this year.

In March, just outside Austin, giant 3D printers squirted out a concrete-like mixture to form the walls of six tiny homes in a small community designed for people who used to be chronically homeless. Icon, the company that designed the technology, is also working with a nonprofit to build a 3D-printed neighborhood for people living in extreme poverty in Mexico. (These houses are roomier than many tiny homes, at 500 square feet.) Ultimately, Icon projects that the tech could cut costs in half and make the homes twice as fast to build as standard construction. Mighty Buildings, another startup, created an innovative process that makes it possible to 3D print more of the shell of a tiny home, including the roof.