March 31, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


This company is 3D-printing houses in North America. Next stop? The moon (TALIB VISRAM, 3/31/21, Fast Company)

On this week's edition of our World Changing Ideas podcast, I spoke to Ballard about the mind-boggling construction process and Icon's larger goals. Ballard was dismayed with early renderings of 3D-printed objects, "plastic octopuses and spoons" that were not addressing real issues. "3D printing would be best on things that are big, slow, and bespoke," he thought.

The 10-by-35-foot printer, called the Vulcan, extrudes layers of concrete--or "Lavacrete"--from the concrete-maker, dubbed the "Magma." (You may sense a theme.) Ballard claims that the concrete-based houses are sturdier than timber, that the process is speedier (you can print a house in 24 hours), and that cheaper materials and labor cut overall costs by 10% to 30% compared to our current construction model.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


COVID: 14 countries cast doubt over WHO virus origin report (Deutsche-Welle, 3/30/21)

The US State Department said the 14 countries were calling for "momentum" for a second-phase look by experts and pointed to the need for further animal studies "to find the means of introduction into humans" of the coronavirus.

The countries expressed support for WHO's experts and staff, citing their "tireless" work. But the statement said the study had been "significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples."

Critics have accused China of using delaying tactics and that Beijing took too long to grant permission for a WHO investigation.

The State Department named Australia, Britain, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Slovenia and South Korea as the co-signers of the statement.

Open source everything. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Hunter Biden Says Work For Ukrainian Firm Wasn't Unethical, But He Wouldn't Do It Again (RFE/RL, 3/31/21)

[T]he 51-year-old presidential son writes in his memoirs, titled Beautiful Things, set to be released next week, that if given a chance, he wouldn't take the job again. [...]

E-mails and other potentially damaging materials related to him and Burisma circulated in some U.S. news media weeks before the vote, with former U.S. intelligence officials warning that the materials were part of a Russian hacking and disinformation campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is this Danish island soon coming to a coast near you? (Frank Jacobs, Mar. 30th, 2021, Big Think)

In February, the Danish government revealed how much this Energi-Ø would cost, how long it would take to build - and what it might look like.

Energy Island will be built via the caisson method - essentially, sinking a watertight box to the bottom of the sea. The island will be protected from storms by high seawalls on three sides. The fourth side will feature a dock for ships.

Construction could start in 2026 and is expected to take three years. Building the wind farms and transmission network will take a few years more. By 2033, it could be churning out its sustainable GWs.

In its initial phase, the island will have an area of about 12 hectares (30 acres, or about 18 soccer fields). It will centralize the production of about 200 offshore wind turbines, with a joint capacity of 3 GW. That's about the equivalent of 3 million households - slightly more than the total for Denmark.

When fully completed, the island will have an area of around 46 hectares (114 acres, just under 70 soccer fields), collect the energy of 600 turbines, for a total capacity of 10 GW (5). That covers 10 million households.

10 GW is equivalent to about 150 percent of Denmark's entire electricity needs (households, industry, infrastructure, etc.) That leaves plenty of scope for supplying neighbouring countries. Agreements have already been reached with Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The plan also foresees a plant for hydrogen production on the island, either to be piped onshore, or stored and transported in large batteries.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Republicans are unloading on Rep. Matt Gaetz in gossipy texts and snide asides (Business Insider, Mar. 30th, 2021)

Not long after, "Gaetzgate" was trending on Twitter. And former Trump White House and GOP officials who loathe the loquacious and pugilistic Gaetz were gloating. 

This account is based on interviews with a dozen current and former GOP and White House sources.

One former senior Trump White House aide was on multiple text chains with former colleagues gossiping about the deluge of news about Gaetz's legal predicament. 

The former Trump aides aren't necessarily happy to see the three-term lawmaker in trouble, but they "feel a little vindicated," the former White House staffer told Insider. "He's the meanest person in politics." 

A former congressional aide said GOP leaders could soon be rid of the self-styled provocateur without having to get their hands dirty. 

"Republican leadership will likely watch him completely implode in a matter of days without having to do a thing," the observer told Insider. Stripping him of committee assignments or taking other punitive steps "would require more action from the Justice Department."

Gaetz rose to prominence doing cable TV hits during the Trump era, and he's been bandied about for years as a possible Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate or even a White House contender in the style of Trump. He frequently bragged about his relationship with the Republican president and regularly rode on Air Force One. Gaetz even got engaged in December at Mar-a-Lago, the South Florida private club where Trump now lives. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Disgraced Trump trade official calls COVID-19 the 'Fauci Virus' followed by outlandish conspiracies (Matthew Chapman, March 30, 2021, Raw Story)

On Fox News Tuesday, former Trump administration trade adviser Peter Navarro uncorked a bizarre rant in which he suggested Dr. Anthony Fauci is "the father of" the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed the Chinese government to "genetically engineer" the "Fauci Virus."

...they still circle around to the racist hysteria.

March 30, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Matt Gaetz Is Said to Be Investigated Over Possible Sexual Relationship With a Girl, 17 (Michael S. Schmidt and Katie Benner, Mar. 30th, 2021, NY Times)

Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Ted Williams Goes to War (John Miles, March 2021, HistoryNet)

Williams made it back to Boston for the start of the 1946 season, and the next several years were the most productive of his career. The Baseball Writers' Association of America named him the American League's Most Valuable Player in both 1946 and '49. He earned his second Triple Crown in 1947--only the second major league ballplayer to have done so (Rogers Hornsby was the first, in 1922 and '25). Williams was also named the Red Sox's MVP in 1946 and '49. During the 1949 season he also set a record by reaching base in 84 consecutive games.

Probably the farthest thought on Williams' mind in those immediate postwar years was the possibility of renewed military service. After his 1946 discharge from active duty he'd retained his commission in the inactive component of the Marine Corps Reserve. As an inactive reservist he was exempt from attending either weekend drills or active-duty training in summer. His was but one name on a very long list. The odds seemed just as long his service affiliation would ever again interfere with his baseball career.

Then, on June 25, 1950, the Korean peninsula erupted in war.

In the aftermath of World War II all U.S. military branches underwent massive drawdowns. A vastly curtailed aviation budget prompted the Marine Corps to release large numbers of aviators to the inactive reserve, which meant the Corps was desperately short of pilots when war broke out in Korea. The obvious answer was to recall inactive aviators to service. To his surprise Ted Williams was among those summoned.

The pride of the Red Sox was preparing to enter spring training for the 1952 season when the call came on January 9, catching him completely off guard. Williams believed that at the conclusion of World War II he and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Alexander Vandegrift had reached a mutual agreement--the ballplayer would let the Corps use his name for public relations and recruiting purposes in exchange for Williams never having to serve another day on active duty. That understanding was voided, however, by a simple error.

As Marine Corps administrators reviewed the names of inactive reservists who hadn't been called up, they pulled the index card of one Theodore S. Williams in Boston. The clerk who read the name didn't connect it with the popular ballplayer and set the wheels in motion for his activation. Once news of the recall broke, it would have smacked of favoritism to refuse. So, on May 2, having played in only six major league games, newly promoted Capt. Williams reported for active duty--first attending a refresher course at NAS Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, Pa., followed by operational training at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.

After qualifying in the new Grumman F9F Panther, Williams was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33), comprising two fighter squadrons based at K-3 in Pohang, South Korea. He joined squadron VMF-311 in early February 1953, around the same time as Maj. John Glenn, the future astronaut and U.S. senator. Williams even served for a time as Glenn's wingman. The North Korean air force at the time was negligible, so most of the squadron's sorties involved flying close air support missions for Marines and soldiers on the ground.

The Panther was ideally suited to such a task. One of the first successful jet-powered carrier aircraft, the single-engine, straight wing F9F-5 flown by VMF-311 was armed with four 20 mm cannons, while its eight underwing ordnance racks could accommodate up to 3,465 pounds of bombs and rockets. Even though MAG-33's airfield was nearly 200 miles from the front lines, Panthers often led the attack in advance of propeller-driven F4U Corsairs. The Panther's flight characteristics were superior not only in sheer speed, but also in offering a stable platform that enabled more accurate gunnery, bombing and rocket fire.

On February 16 Williams participated in his first combat mission, a major strike against a heavily defended tank and infantry training complex south of Pyongyang, North Korea. The Panthers' main ordnance consisted of 250-pound bombs. On the attack run Williams' F9F-5 was hit--whether by ground fire or shrapnel from his own bombs was never determined.

The damage was extensive, and Williams elected to divert to airfield K-13, in western South Korea, rather than attempt a return to K-3. He emerged unscathed from the spectacular belly landing, but his Panther was a write-off. Back in the air the next day, Williams completed 39 combat missions in Korea before the armistice was signed on July 27.

Once again a civilian and back stateside, Williams practiced with the Red Sox for 10 days before playing in his first postwar game, on Aug. 6, 1953. While his appearance on the field as a pinch hitter in the ninth garnered an enthusiastic ovation from the crowd, he popped out, and the Red Sox lost to the St. Louis Browns (the soon-to-be Baltimore Orioles), 8-7. He'd soon find his groove. In the 1953 season Williams went to bat 110 times in 37 games and ended up hitting .407 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Never Ask a Question You Don't Need to Ask: Chauvin Lawyer Gets Clobbered by Witness's Gripping Testimony (ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, March 30, 2021, National Review)

[F]or whatever reason, Nelson asked her a few questions about her first interview by police -- not overly hostile, but it didn't get him anywhere. Then, because I guess he figured he had to end with something, he concluded by asking her whether recording what happened to Floyd "changed your life," to which, of course, she answered, "yes."

With the door swung wide open, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell got up on redirect examination and asked, "Darnella, could you tell the jury how it changed your life?" Her halting response, with trembling voice, was devastating. She said she blames herself for not doing more to help George Floyd in his time of distress. Further, she has great anxiety about her father, who is black, her brother, who is black, and some of her black friends, because she saw what Chauvin and the other policemen did to Floyd, and she worries that it could happen to them, too.

Blackwell knew better than to ask any more questions. He took his seat and left the jury with Darnella Frazier's changed life to think about.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


PODCAST: Pete Buttigieg's First Big Project Is Taking Down a Racist Texas Highway (HENRY GRABAR, MARCH 30, 2021, Slate)

Residents of Houston and elected officials have been trying to stop the largest urban highway project of their lifetimes. In 2017, the Texas Department of Transportation announced plans for the North Houston Highway Improvement Project, which would expand Interstate 45--and displace more than 1,000 homes, hundreds of businesses, five houses of worship, and two schools in neighborhoods like Houston's Independence Heights. It's essentially a battle between the state government and Harris County: The former says the expansion is needed because traffic will go up 40 percent by 2040, while the latter says traffic has been falling on I-45 since 2008, and mass displacement will only inflict more damage, among other points of dispute. This conflict has delayed construction of the project for four years now--and this month, Pete Buttigieg's U.S. Department of Transportation stepped in, asking Texas' DOT to pause the project as it investigates civil rights concerns. 

Actually take enough of them down and he'll be the greatest cabinet secretary since Washington's.

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Barghouti to challenge Abbas in parliament, ahead of possible presidential bid (AARON BOXERMAN, 3/30/21, Times of Israel)

Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti, convicted by an Israeli court of several acts of terrorism, has decided to run his own list of candidates in the upcoming election to challenge Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's official Fatah list, Barghouti's associates said on Tuesday night.

"The decision came after it was confirmed to Marwan Barghouti that the Fatah movement did not comply with what was agreed upon with regard to choosing the names on the movement's list," Barghouti's brother Muqbil told Qatar-based Al-Araby TV.

He's been the obvious national unity candidate forever.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Republican-voting states began with better COVID-19 outcomes but were hit harder as the pandemic unfolded. (Klaus Desmet & Romain Wacziarg, 3/30/21, LSE US Center)

These spatial patterns in the spread of COVID-19 had important implications for US politics. We showed this by analyzing whether counties with varying political leanings experienced different COVID-19 severity. The patterns we found were interesting and told a consistent story. Early on, Trump-leaning counties were less severely affected by the disease. As time progressed, however, there was a reversal: starting in the spring of 2020, Republican counties experienced a higher number of deaths compared to 'blue' and 'purple' counties. [....]

How can we make sense of this reversal? In America's polarized political context, the response to COVID-19 has been highly politicized. Early in the pandemic, locations that were less severely affected developed habits, attitudes and preferences that made people less keen on wearing masks, social distancing, and lockdowns. When the pandemic eventually spread to these locations, politicians and the general population may have been relatively unwilling to deal with the pandemic by adopting policies and behaviors that could slow its spread. In sum, our interpretation of the reversal is that Republican-voting counties acquired lax attitudes toward mask-wearing and lockdown measures when COVID-19 was less severe in their areas, leaving them unwilling to respond more decisively when the pandemic caught up with them over the late spring and summer of 2020.

Circling back to our initial question, are all locations in the US converging to similar degrees of COVID-19 severity? No. Our research has highlighted strong and persistent factors associated with counties' vulnerability to the disease. First, density matters - as long as it is properly measured. Second, vulnerabilities such as a high share of minorities and poor people, persistently predict a more severe impact of the disease. Finally, COVID-19 severity is politically patterned: in the second half of 2020, Republican-leaning counties started to experience significantly higher COVID-19 deaths. These results help make sense of the pronounced and persistent geographic differences in disease prevalence that are observed across the United States. 

Ideology trumps natural advantage. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why We're Obsessed Once Again With Covid-19's Origin Story (Mar. 30th, 2021, New Republic)

"It's natural to want to know the origin of an outbreak, especially a pandemic, so I don't think that particular interest is uncommon or unexpected," said University of Arizona epidemiologist Saskia Popescu in an email. But plotting the course of a virus in reverse is time-consuming with an unclear payoff: Notably, several decades of research has still not yielded an answer to the question of which bat species serves as Ebola's natural reservoir. Even if, in 2020, we have the technical capability to sequence the virus hundreds of thousands of times over, without more access to the much-debated labs in China, some experts say we may never answer lingering questions about Covid-19's beginnings. Outsized attention to various origin theories, Popescu said, "frankly distracts from the realities that we were entirely ill-prepared for a pandemic and that we continue to struggle with basic public health interventions."

Origin story fixation can also lead to a false sense of security--a belief that we are far enough from danger to make a complete assessment of it. Last week, for example, CNN packaged a slate of interviews by Dr. Sanjay Gupta with six of the country's leading health officials as an "autopsy" of the pandemic. But the pandemic is not even on its deathbed yet. Several countries in Europe have reinstated lockdowns to try and control rising case numbers. In the U.S., more transmissible versions of the virus continue to spread across the country. Vaccine hoarding by richer countries could allow the virus to circulate unchecked in poorer countries, which could lead to the development of new variants that existing vaccines are worse at protecting against. And even the U.S.'s daily death count from Covid-19 is still hovering around an unacceptably high toll of 1,000 lives lost each day.

Why are we so eager to conduct an autopsy on a body that's still blinking and wiggling its fingers, threatening to sit back up?

On Monday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky became emotional during a White House Covid-19 briefing, ditching her prepared remarks and telling the public that a recent uptick in cases and hospitalizations has left her with an sense of "impending doom." "I so badly want to be done," she said. "I know you all so badly want to be done.  We are just almost there but not quite yet."

Why are we so eager to conduct an autopsy on a body that's still blinking and wiggling its fingers, threatening to sit back up? And what makes us think that knowing how that body was born will tell us something useful?

Early on, pinpointing the source of an outbreak can guide the immediate efforts to contain it, Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, told me. If you identify the site where a pathogen originated and multiplied (whether that's a wet market or a research facility) you can close it down, contact trace and extensively test and quarantine any potential human vectors, she said. For Covid-19, that time has come and gone, of course. Instead, uncertainty about SARS-CoV-2--where it came from, what it does to the human body and how to combat it--has plagued us from the beginning.

Some fact-finding, clearly, is warranted. "In the wake of the COVID-19 disaster--the greatest disaster the world has faced since since World War II--an investigation of the causes of the disaster and policy changes to reduce the risk and impact of similar future disasters are urgently needed," said Rutgers University microbiologist Richard Ebrighs over email. "However, no such investigation has occurred."

A productive investigation doesn't need to resolve the lab-versus-nature debate. Even in the absence of a conclusive Covid-19 origin story, it is still possible to prepare better for the next pandemic.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


One Man's Quest to Crack the Modern Anti-Immigrant Movement--by Unsealing Its Architect's PapersA lawsuit seeks to reveal John Tanton's documents, which are locked away until 2035 (ISABELA DIAS, 3/30/21, Mother Jones)

In the days following the 2016 presidential election, then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and President-elect Donald Trump posed for photographs at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey. Kobach, an anti-immigration hardliner whose name was being floated to lead the Department of Homeland Security, held a binder and a stack of papers on his left hand. Zoomed-in images revealed the title--"Kobach Strategic Plan For First 365 Days"--and bullet-pointed agenda items that included reinstating a Bush-era registry for immigrants based on religion, ethnicity, and nationality and cutting off the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.

Hassan Ahmad, an immigration lawyer running a small law firm in Virginia, was familiar with Kobach's longtime efforts to curb immigration. Kobach had championed the infamous "show me your papers" law in Arizona that encouraged racial profiling by instructing law enforcement to request proof of citizenship or legal status from people suspected of being undocumented during routine traffic stops or other police interactions. He was also the mastermind behind 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's dubious "self-deportation" platform, which was premised on the idea that making work and living conditions in the United States worse for unauthorized immigrants would lead them to leave the country voluntarily. For Ahmad, a Pakistani-American, the photo of Trump and Kobach presaged the "kinds of people," as he put it, who would be calling the shots on immigration at the White House.

"I figured if we're going to be spending all of our time putting out fires for the next four years, maybe we should look and see where all this is coming from," Ahmad says. "Who is going to be telling the new administration where the buttons and levers are to turn the immigration machine into a deportation machine?"

"I figured if we're going to be spending all of our time putting out fires for the next four years, maybe we should look and see where all this is coming from."
Soon after he saw the Trump and Kobach photo, Ahmad set out to discover who was, in his words, "the flamethrower." That same month, he learned from a New York Times article that John Tanton, the nativist founder of prominent anti-immigration organizations, had donated a trove of documents to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, in the 1980s. With the help of an associate, Ahmad glanced through the papers' titles listed on the website of the school's Bentley Historical Library. Among the "really scary stuff" they saw was a reference to a box containing nine folders with 14 years' worth of material related to the Pioneer Fund, a foundation established in 1937 to promote eugenics and "race science." 

The more he read, the more concerned Ahmad became. The organizations Tanton founded include the lobbying group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the think-tank Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)--both of which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as hate groups--as well as their grassroots counterpart NumbersUSA. These groups had close ties to central figures in Trump's inner circle for immigration policy. "At the time, I didn't appreciate the centrality of his role in building the anti-immigrant movement," Ahmad says, "and the outsize influence that he continues to enjoy over immigration discourse to this day."

The John Tanton Papers are stored in 25 cardboard boxes containing correspondence, memos, legal filings, news clips, and photographs--documents dating from 1960 to 2007 that illuminate Tanton's relentless fundraising efforts and reveal that he "was obsessed with white nationalism," Ahmad says. But only part of the archive is currently available to the public. Tanton died in 2019, but under a gift agreement he reached with the University of Michigan, boxes 15 through 25 are required to remain sealed until April 6, 2035. Besides records related to the Pioneer Fund--which donated more than $1 million to FAIR between the mid-1980s and early 1990s--and other private correspondence, the remaining boxes are said to contain several folders on immigration issues, including the minutes from meetings of FAIR and its legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), where Kobach has served as senior counsel.

"If they are even remotely as informative as the first 14 boxes, there will be some incredibly damning facts to come out," says Devin Burghart, executive director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, a social justice organization that aims to combat white nationalism and nativism. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Case for Open Land-Data Systems (TIM HANSTAD, 3/30/21, Project Syndicate)

[W]hen recordkeeping is nonexistent or chaotic, who can confidently identify the rightful owner of a parcel of land? As the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and Transparency International put it in a report a decade ago, "where land governance is deficient, high levels of corruption often flourish." This corruption "is pervasive and without effective means of control."

Globally, one in five people report having paid a bribe to access land services. In Africa, two out of three people believe the rich are likely to pay bribes or use their connections to grab land. Uncertainty about land rights can also affect housing security - around a billion people worldwide say they expect to be forced from their homes over the next five years.

Inevitably, the marginalized and vulnerable are the worst affected, whether they are widows driven from their homes by speculators or entire communities subjected to forced eviction by developers. Weak land rights and corruption also fuel conflict within communities, such as in Kenya, where political parties promise already-occupied land to supporters in an attempt to win votes.

But there is reason for hope. The ongoing revolution in information and communications technology provides unprecedented opportunities to digitize and open land records. Doing so would clarify the land rights of hundreds of millions of people globally and limit the scope for corrupt practices.

Robust land rights upheld by strong institutions not only strengthen housing security but also boost countries' economic prospects, because people gain confidence to invest in land and businesses, and companies and individuals can use land as collateral to gain access to credit. Moreover, secure rights enable governments to increase revenue by collecting property taxes. And when land records are easily accessible for inspection, governments can be held accountable, ownership and use rights can be more easily protected, and land markets become fairer and more dynamic.

Given the benefits of open, accessible digital land records, it should come as no surprise that many countries, including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius, are currently digitizing their land records or have recently completed this process. Other governments seeking to reduce corruption and make development more inclusive can follow four recommendations - drawn from a new report by the German development agency GIZ and a related Land Portal webinar - for documenting, digitizing, and opening their own records.

For starters, existing property records should be verified and upgraded before digitization. Digitizing the inaccurate or incomplete paper records that exist in many settings will only perpetuate the problem.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Is Bitcoin Good for Business? (Willem H. Buiter, Mar. 29th, 2021, Project Syndicate)

First, it is unclear how buying Bitcoin can mitigate company risk. The only risk Moyo identifies is that of missing out on what could be one of the greatest speculative bubbles of all time. True, a company that missed out on a continued Bitcoin appreciation could face dire consequences - including acquisition by a Bitcoin-invested rival. Obviously, investing in Bitcoin is one sure way to avoid missing out on capital gains on Bitcoin. But that hardly makes it a wise investment, especially when one weighs the potential returns against the high risk of material capital losses.

Equally far-fetched is the idea that cryptocurrencies could provide solutions to problems often encountered in emerging economies. It is true that, unlike conventional fiat money - which includes central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) - decentralized private cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not at risk of being "over-issued" by profligate governments. It is also true that the risk of over-issuance is greater in some emerging markets than in most advanced economies.

But over-issuance of currency is just one possible threat to emerging-market financial stability, and removing it does not suddenly make Bitcoin a reliable store of value. Quite the contrary: Bitcoin's price volatility since its inception in 2009 has been staggering. On March 29, 2021, its price reached $57,856 - some distance below its all-time high of $61,284 on March 13 - with a market cap close to $1 trillion. According to a note from JPMorgan on February 17, its three-month realized volatility at the time was 87%, compared to just 16% for gold. Similarly, a recent study finds that Bitcoin's price volatility is almost ten times higher than that of major fiat currencies (such as the US dollar against the euro and the yen).

Moyo also suggests that Bitcoin could facilitate remittances to low- and middle-income countries. But this ignores the fact that Bitcoin transactions are notoriously inefficient. Because its block size is capped at one megabyte and the block-discovery process takes approximately ten minutes per block, only seven transactions can be completed per second. By contrast, Visa executes an average of 1,700 transactions per second, and could feasibly handle more than 65,000 transaction messages per second. By design, Bitcoin is simply too inefficient ever to become an effective medium of payment.

Similarly, the fact that Bitcoin's supply is fixed at 21 million units is more of a drawback than a selling point. A proper currency should be able to undergo a massive expansion in supply when circumstances demand it, such as in the case of a financial crisis or a shock to aggregate demand. There can be no lender of last resort or market maker of last resort capable of systemic rescue operations with Bitcoin and other decentralized cryptocurrencies.

Finally, is Bitcoin really the vanguard of a new digital-currency infrastructure that wise investors cannot afford to ignore? No, because the CBDCs under development in China and elsewhere have nothing in common with Bitcoin and other decentralized private cryptocurrencies. There is no blockchain or other distributed ledger technology (DLT) involved, nor is proof of work required to establish the validity of a transaction.

Rather, CBDCs function as straightforward digital versions of conventional bank accounts. In principle, they could be implemented as individual accounts with the central bank for every consumer and business in its jurisdiction. Alternatively, those accounts could be guaranteed by the central bank, but held with a wide range of private financial institutions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


High-Octane Earnings (Dr. Ed's Blog, 3/30/21)

I have also observed that the average of the business activity indexes compiled by the Federal Reserve Banks (FRBs) of New York and Philadelphia for their districts jumped from 17.6 during February to 34.6 during March, the highest reading since July 2004 (Fig. 1). This is a very significant development for the following reasons:

(1) Regional and national business surveys. Their average tends to be a good leading indicator for the average of the five surveys conducted by these two FRBs along with the ones in Richmond, Kansas City, and Dallas. The average of the five business activities indexes is highly correlated with the national M-PMI (Fig. 2). That means that the average of the New York and Philly indexes also is highly correlated with the national M-PMI and is signaling a solid number for the latter's March reading (Fig. 3).

(2) Business indexes and S&P 500 revenues growth. "What does this have to do with S&P 500 earnings?," you might be wondering. Good question. I won't keep you in suspense. Previously, I've observed that the M-PMI is highly correlated with the y/y growth rate in S&P 500 aggregate revenues (Fig. 4). February's M-PMI reading of 60.8 matches some of the best readings in this indicator since 2004! The March reading could be stronger, implying that S&P 500 revenues may be set to grow 10%-15% this year. That's certainly confirmed by the similar relationship between the growth in revenues and the average of the New York and Philly business activity indexes (Fig. 5).

(3) Profit margin. That strong outlook for revenues growth provides a very good tailwind for earnings growth, which will also get a lift from a rising profit margin. I think that the profit margin, which averaged 10.4% last year, could increase both this year and next year. Profit margins tend to rebound after recessions and during recoveries along with productivity.

(4) Bottom line on the bottom line. Let's put it all together now. I am raising my S&P 500 revenues forecast by $50 to $1,550 per share this year, up 14.0% from the 2020 level (Fig. 6). For next year, I am sticking with my $1,600 revenues estimate, representing just a 3.2% increase. That's because I believe that the relief checks, besides relieving pent-up demand, will pull forward some of next year's demand. Also, individual tax rates are likely to go up next year along with corporate ones.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Right Says Sorry In Advance for Going Fascist (Matt Lewis, Mar. 30th, 2021, Daily Beast)

One such example comes to us from The American Mind, a publication of the once-mainstream conservative Claremont Institute. In a recent piece that garnered some buzz, senior fellow Glenn Ellmers argues that "most people living in the United States today--certainly more than half--are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term." His level of despair can be felt when he writes that, "Practically speaking, there is almost nothing left to conserve" and concludes that we should "give up on the idea that 'conservatives' have anything useful to say. Accept the fact that what we need is a counter-revolution." Oh yeah, he also takes a shot at Joe Biden's Inaugural poet, saying, "If you are a zombie or a human rodent who wants a shadow-life of timid conformity, then put away this essay and go memorize the poetry of Amanda Gorman."

Human rodent? Sick stuff. But possibly less dangerous than my other example, which is Jesse Kelly's comments days ago on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight."

"I've said this before and I'm telling you, I'm worried that I'm right: The right is going to pick a fascist within 10 to 20... years because they're not going to be the only ones on the outs," Kelly said. "There's 60, 70 million of us. We're not a tiny minority, and if we're going to be all treated like criminals and all subject to every single law, while antifa Black Lives Matter guys go free and Hunter Biden goes free, then the right's going to take drastic measures."

Kelly wasn't lying when he said he's said this before. "The inevitable counter to communism is fascism," he tweeted in February. "We will see a monster rise on the Right in response to the Left's violence and censorship. It will be awful. But it is coming. I promise you that." Left unsaid are the illusions to Weimar Germany and the Weimarization of America. In the 1930s, many Germans were willing to give Hitler a try because they greatly feared Communism, saw their predicament as a binary choice, and chose (what they thought would be) the lesser of two evils. Kelly seems to be warning us that America (which is quite different from the Weimar Republic) is headed toward a similar fate.

Now, responsible conservatives do sometimes warn the left against pursuing radical ideas about identity politics, cancel culture, street violence, iconoclasm, etc., but our warnings are more sincere and less grandiose. If you've seen the "This is how you get Trump" tweets, you're familiar with the genre.

Kelly's playbook is much different. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Hamas submits slate for planned Palestinian election (AFP, 3/30/21)

Hamas on Monday unveiled its list of candidates for Palestinian elections, ending speculation over a joint list between the Islamic terror group ruling Gaza and the secular Fatah that runs the West Bank.

Legislative polls have been called for May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31, the first Palestinian elections in 15 years.

Hamas won a surprise election victory in 2006 but the result was not recognized by Fatah's leader, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, intensifying divisions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden announces massive offshore wind plan as pressure mounts on Morrison (Ketan Joshi, 30 March 2021, Renew Economy)

As part of the Biden administration's plan to hit 100% clean energy by 2035, a plan to expand the construction of offshore wind farms has been announced. 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity along America's east coast is targeted in the plan, to be built by 2030. [...]

And it comes as Biden invites 40 world leaders, including Australia's Scott Morrison, for a "climate summit" in April when Biden will unveil an enhanced emissions reduction target, and will expect his invitees to do the same.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Netanyahu brought Israel's biggest racists seats - and legitimacy - in parliament (David Sheen, 3/30/21, New Arab)

He did achieve success in one regard, however: finally finding seats in the parliament for the Jewish Power party, the current political vehicle of the Kahanists, followers of arch-racist American-Israeli Rabbi Meir Kahane. 

Kahanists aim to ethnically cleanse Israel and all the territories it occupies of non-Jews. To be sure, they are a fringe faction, but one that punches well above their weight: they have been responsible for more than 60 racist murders since 1971 - mostly of Palestinians, in Palestine - making Kahanists the group whose military wing has the highest body count of any Jewish political movement in the last half-century.

By 1988, Kahane's political party Kach was banned from Knesset for its unrepentant racism - even by Israeli standards - by both the legislature and the judiciary. Six years later in 1994, when almost half of the documented Kahanist killings occurred in one horrific massacre of 29 Palestinian men and boys at Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli government officially declared Kach and its offshoots terrorist groups. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Dominion Voting Systems building 'legal armada' to sue Trump supporters for billions: report (Bob Brigham, March 29, 2021,

The Beast interviewed Tom Clare from the firm.

"There are great synergies between the work that the Susman team had done on the 2020 election and the defamation cases we were pursuing for Dominion," said Clare. "As those discussions unfolded we also discovered the two firms have a great cultural similarity in having a ready for trial approach to litigation.

"I think it's going to be a very effective team," he added.

There may be more lawsuits coming.

"On Friday, Fox News was hit with a $1.6 billion lawsuit," The Beast reported. "Other conservative media outlets including Newsmax and One American News Network--also aired post election conspiracy theories and are among the top targets for Dominion's next round of lawsuits, according to two people familiar with the matter."

Better get to Donald quick while he still has some assets to sell. 

March 29, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


U.S. tries to break Iran nuclear deadlock with a new proposal for Tehran (NAHAL TOOSI, 03/29/2021, Politico)

Biden administration officials, mindful of the increasingly unfavorable calendar, plan to put forth a new proposal to jump-start the talks as soon as this week, two people familiar with the situation told POLITICO.

The proposal asks Iran to halt some of its nuclear activities, such as work on advanced centrifuges and the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, in exchange for some relief from U.S. economic sanctions, said one of the people, who stressed that the details are still being worked out.

Anything less than most-favored nation status should be a non-starter.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


White conservatives see gun ownership as patriotism -- and restrictions as an attack on their 'moral superiority': researchers (Matthew Chapman, March 29, 2021, Raw Story)

"Our data also show that Whites, and especially White men, are the demographic group most likely to associate gun ownership with good citizenship," said the report. "Specifically, our 2015 nationally representative survey of 1,900 Americans, conducted by YouGov, found that 43 percent of Whites but only 23 percent of African Americans view owning a gun as a sign of good citizenship. That gap persists when we compare White and Black men and even White and Black men who live in gun-owning households, as you can see in the figure below."

"Specifically, we find that Whites who think that Blacks are violent are 38 percent more likely to believe that gun ownership is a sign of good citizenship than those who do not view Blacks as violent," said the report. "Similarly, Whites who think that Blacks have too much political influence are 32 percent more likely to believe good citizenship and gun ownership go together than Whites who do not. These attitudes are broadly shared among White racial conservatives, even those who do not own firearms."

It's why they approve of murdering that uppity Trayvon Martin. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


PODCAST: 'The EU has gone full Trump'Brussels correspondent Bruno Waterfield on the EU's vaccine meltdown. (SPIKED, 29th March 2021)

spiked: Obviously, there has been a series of mistakes made in this crisis in relation to vaccines. But does that speak to a deeper problem with the EU's governing philosophy?

Waterfield: Yes, it really does. It speaks to a profound malaise in European political culture. What were the governments of important states like Germany and France thinking when they outsourced the commissioning of vital medicines to a bunch of middle-ranking lawyers in Brussels?

The EU wants to make decision-making technocratic and to hide behind institutions. It was very interesting to see the German health minister, Jens Spahn, talk about Germany's decision to suspend the AZ jab. He kept talking about public confidence in the vaccine and in the medical authorities. Of course, what Germany and other countries actually did was undermine trust in the vaccine, in the name of shoring up their own authority. This is the problem with the precautionary principle - it departs from science in favour of reassuring people. It has become about handing out comfort blankets rather than vaccines.

This saga has also shown how hostile the EU is when faced with a contest with an independent country like Britain. In many ways, that contest is one of ideas - and the EU is losing it. Instead of getting better, the EU just wants to kill the contest. After all, it is fundamentally an organisation determined to snuff out the idea of politics as a battle of ideas. If that battle isn't visible or isn't there at all, it's very difficult for the public to judge the rulers.

Hopefully, the EU might learn lessons from this mess. But looking back at the financial crisis, the Eurozone crisis, the migrant crisis and Brexit, we can see that the EU does not learn lessons.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


AP sources: SolarWinds hack got emails of top DHS officials (ALAN SUDERMAN, 3/29/21, AP)

Suspected Russian hackers gained access to email accounts belonging to the Trump administration's head of the Department of Homeland Security and members of the department's cybersecurity staff whose jobs included hunting threats from foreign countries, The Associated Press has learned.

The intelligence value of the hacking of then-acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his staff is not publicly known, but the symbolism is stark. Their accounts were accessed as part of what's known as the SolarWinds intrusion and it throws into question how the U.S. government can protect individuals, companies and institutions across the country if it can't protect itself.

The short answer for many security experts and federal officials is that it can't -- at least not without some significant changes.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Redfield accuses Azar of trying to interfere with CDC's COVID report (Rebecca Falconer, 3/29/21, Axios)

Former CDC chief Robert Redfield told CNN's Sanjay Gupta what he was "most offended by was the calls" from Azar's office "that wanted me to pressure and change the MMWR [Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on COVID-19]. He may deny that, but it's true."

"The one time that was the most egregious was not only was I pressured by the secretary and his office and his lawyers, but as I was driving home, his lawyer and his chief of staff called and pressured me again for at least another hour," Redfield said on CNN's "Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out."

"Even to the point of, like, accusing me of failing to make this change that would cost, you know, thousands of lives," he continued.

"I finally had a moment in life where I said, you know, enough is enough. You know? If you want to fire me, fire me. I'm not changing the MMWR."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump White House told doctors to remove masks for a press conference: 'They didn't take this seriously' (Sarah K. Burris, March 28, 2021, Raw Story)

"I have to tell you, when we last met in November at the White House, this is post-election, the president, members of his family and people within the White House had been infected with the virus," said CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. "And I was so struck inside at the White House at that time how few masks I saw. Did it strike you?"

"Well, that was my world every day," said Dr. Birx. "There was a feeling in the White House from the beginning. And I don't know if this is true or not because I never confronted the president because I didn't have access to him by that time -- that the president was not supportive of mask-wearing in the White House. And that trickled down through every single leader. There was one event in the Rose Garden. It was made clear that they didn't want us wearing masks. And, so, all of the cabinet officials, and even some of the military members, took their masks off. Dr. Fauci and I did not, and you can see we are way in the back because they didn't want us front-and-center and masked."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Burrowing Bunnies in Wales Unearth Trove of Prehistoric Artifacts (Livia Gershon, 3/26/21, SMITHSONIANMAG.COM)

Scholars studying prehistoric life in Wales recently got an assist from an unexpected source. As Steven Morris reports for the Guardian, rabbits making a burrow on Skokholm Island, two miles off the coast of the southwest county of Pembrokeshire, dug up two Stone Age tools, as well as early Bronze Age pottery shards.

Richard Brown and Giselle Eagle, seabird experts who serve as wardens of the otherwise uninhabited island, spotted the objects and sent photographs of them to archaeological researchers. Looking at an image of one of the artifacts, Andrew David, an expert in prehistoric tools, identified it as a 6,000- to 9,000-year-old Mesolithic beveled pebble that was likely used to make seal skin-clad boats or prepare shellfish.

"Although these types of tools are well known on coastal sites on mainland Pembrokeshire and Cornwall, as well into Scotland and northern France, this is the first example from Skokholm, and the first firm evidence for Late Mesolithic occupation on the island," says David in a statement.

Per BBC News, Jody Deacon, archaeology curator for National Museum Wales, notes that the pottery shards came from a thick-walled pot probably used as a cremation urn some 3,750 years ago. Like the older beveled pebbles, these burial vessels are not unusual in west Wales but are the first artifacts of their kind found on the island.

Brown and Eagle first moved to the remote Celtic Sea island in 2013, as Neil Prior reported for BBC News at the time. Skokholm is part of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, which purchased the island in 2006 for conservation as a national nature reserve.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Unlikely Team of Prosecutors Hunting Trump in GeorgiaThe public integrity unit at the Fulton County District Attorney's office once had a miserable reputation. Now, a new crew there is investigating the biggest target of them all. (Jose Pagliery,  Mar. 28, 2021, Daily Beast)

A sheriff's deputy who went to law school but remained a cop for another two decades. A prosecutor best known for tackling juvenile offenders. And the guy who literally wrote the book on racketeering cases against mafia goons.

This is the team Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is assembling to investigate Donald Trump--to go after his advisers and their attempts to manipulate election results in Georgia.

In interviews with Willis, her staff, five former members of the team, and several people who interacted with them, The Daily Beast has learned there are now two grand juries underway in Fulton County, and jurors in these secret proceedings will soon be asked to issue subpoenas demanding documents and recordings related to the Trump investigation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Batteries and renewables can replace coal and gas for reliable and cheap power, experts say (Michael Mazengarb, 29 March 2021, Renew Economy)

Wind, solar and big batteries will become the dominant providers of stable and secure electricity supplies, ably taking over the traditional role of emissions-intensive fossil fuel generators, new expert analysis has shown.

The study was commissioned by think tank The Australia Institute and undertaken by energy economist Professor Bruce Mountain and battery expert Dr Steven Percy from the Victorian Energy Policy Centre.

The study found that not only are clean energy technologies capable of providing reliable supplies of power, but that also battery technologies are set to become the dominant provider of system strength services within the energy market, displacing fossil fuelled generators from their traditional roles.

March 28, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Cases in Florida, a national Covid bellwether, are rising -- especially among younger people. (Apoorva Mandavilli, Mar. 28th, 2021, NY Times)

Over the past week, the state has averaged nearly 5,000 cases per day, an increase of 8 percent from its average two weeks earlier.

B.1.1.7, the more contagious variant first identified in Britain, is also rising exponentially in Florida, where it accounts for a greater proportion of total cases than in any other state, according to numbers collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Wherever we have exponential growth, we have the expectation of a surge in cases, and a surge in cases will lead to hospitalizations and deaths," said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Florida has had one of the country's most confusing and inefficient vaccination campaigns, and has fully vaccinated about 15 percent of its population -- well below what top states, like New Mexico and South Dakota, have managed. Still, immunization of older people and other high-risk individuals may blunt the number of Florida's deaths somewhat. The state has announced it will start offering the vaccine to anyone over age 18 on April 5.

At least some of the cases in Florida are the result of the state's open invitation to tourists. Hordes of students on spring break have descended on the state since mid-February. Rowdy crowds on Miami Beach this month forced officials to impose an 8 p.m. curfew, although many people still flouted the rules.

Miami-Dade County, which includes Miami Beach, has experienced one of the nation's worst outbreaks, and continues to record high numbers. The county averaged more than 1,100 cases per day over the past week.

In Orange County, cases are on the rise among young people. People 45 and younger account for one in three hospitalizations for Covid, and the average age for new infections has dropped to 30.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Cuban protesters demand US lift trade embargo, sanctions (Al Jazeera, 28 Mar 2021)

Hundreds of Cubans joined a protest caravan on Sunday along the seaside road in the capital, Havana, to demand an end to the longstanding United States trade embargo against the country.

Waving Cuban flags, the protesters - who participated in the rally in cars and on bikes and motorcycles - shouted "down with the blockade" as they passed the US embassy.

The caravan was one of several actions held this weekend in more than 50 cities around the world aiming to put pressure on US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo and reverse other harsh economic measures imposed by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

...allow for the free movement of our respective peoples too.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 PM


Lindsey Graham bought an AR-15 because he fears 'gangs' coming to South Carolina after a natural disaster (David Edwards, March 28, 2021, Raw Story)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) insisted on Sunday that he needs an AR-15 assault-style rifle to prepare for "gangs" that might attack him following a natural disaster.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Candace Owens under attack: Pro-Trump Black conservatives go to war -- against each other (ZACHARY PETRIZZO, MARCH 28, 2021, Salon)

In the strange and isolated realm of MAGA-loving Black activists, at least two groups are at war with one another, and insults are flying with no end in sight. 

Maj Toure, founder of a right-wing group called Black Guns Matter -- whose legal name is Martin A. Jones -- and his allies are at war with better-known Black conservative activists Candace Owens and Brandon Tatum. This conflict appears to have been brewing under the surface for some time but broke into the public sphere after a panel discussion led by Toure at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando last month. 

The apparent rift between the activists centers around claims that Owens and Tatum can't relate to the African-American communities because they aim their rhetoric almost entirely at white conservatives. Furthermore, activists on Toure's team have framed their argument through a difficult-to-follow analogy drawn from the classic sitcom "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," perhaps in an effort to ensure that white people don't know what they're talking about. 

When the only hiring criteria is identity, fights about identity follow. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A Tale of Two Cities: What the Cross of Christ Did (And Didn't Do) (Marc LiVecche,  March 28, 2021, Providence)

Christians acting Christianly in the context of this world will, almost without doubt, suffer for it. But neither suffering nor the risk of suffering is the esseof Christianity--neither describe it's essential nature. Suffering is an accident of history, not it's purpose. To say otherwise is to make a hash of our image of paradise and hamstrings any sense of urgency in the here-and-now to alleviate the plight of the poor, the orphan, or the widow. Their suffering, after all, is simply makes their Christianity comprehensible.

Stanley Hauerwas, naturally, is happily Zahndian, and he brings our attention back to the two processions. Reflecting on the events of Passion Week, Hauerwas writes: "We (that is, we Christians) have now been incorporated into Christ's sacrifice for the world so that the world no longer needs to make sacrifices for tribe or state, or even humanity." He continues:

Constituted by the body and blood of Christ we participate in God's Kingdom so that the world may know that we, the church of Jesus Christ, are the end of sacrifice. If Christians leave the Eucharistic table ready to kill one another, we not only eat and drink judgment on ourselves, but we rob the world of the witness necessary for the world to know there is an alternative to the sacrifices of war.

Hauerwas concludes from this that "the sacrifices of war are no longer necessary. We are now free to live free of the necessity of violence and killing. War and the sacrifices of war have come to an end. War has been abolished." How can this be? For "the church is the alternative to the sacrifice of war in a war-weary world. The church is the end of war."

Bless Stan's heart, but the world hasn't gotten the memo. But that is the point. The only way that Hauerwas can live in his alternative Kingdom is because the Earthly Kingdom of Pontius Pilate remains. Predominately military in nature, Pilate's primary tasks would have involved using his forces to maintain justice, order, and peace. The Pax Romana--the peace of Rome--was not perfect, not by a longshot. But Rome did a better job at keeping neighbor from eating neighbor than any of the alternatives then on offer. Rome was better--including better for the poor--than anarchy.

The belief that the power of Christian witness will end human conflict is something that history, a rudimentary understanding of human nature, and lived experience will not affirm. This is what makes Christian pacifism impossible for me to affirm. The Christian pacifist often assumes the classic Anabaptist position that while the government's use of force to punish the wicked is ordained by God, that is not the role of the Christian faithful who are, instead, to provide a peaceable alternative. But this distinction, as Nigel Biggar has often affirmed, is incoherent. If God Himself believed that Hauerwas' peaceable kingdom was currently practicable as an alternative to the more coercive kingdoms of this world, then presumably He--being a good God--would have ordained that peaceful alternative kingdom over the coercive kingdom. A good God would not, after all, ordain unnecessary coercion. As it is, were it not for this coercive kingdom, Hauerwas' kingdom would be overrun by the beasts. But at least in the suffering that followed Zahnd would find ample opportunity to comprehend his faith (!).

Snark aside, this latter point is the worse one. The implication of the fact that God has indeed ordained the coercive kingdom is that the just expenditure of force is actually necessary to prevent hells on earth and that, therefore, the peaceable kingdom of Hauerwas' inebriated imagination cannot be an alternative; it can only be parasitic. As Biggar puts it, pacifist believers are forced into "contradicting in principle what they depend upon in practice." They are able to keep their own hands clean only because others are willing to get theirs dirty. Ultimately, such a pacifist view is a crime against charity. Zahnd asserts that the constant rival to the kingdom of Christ is empire and that "the supreme obsession of empire is security." Empires, he tells us, "always justify their violence in the name of security." That may be. But for Zahnd to decry the Christian support for the sovereign's sword as a concession to empire is unjust. The Christian justification of violence--just force really--has never been security. It has always only been love.

The Palm Sunday processions into Jerusalem best signal not the entry of the peaceable kingdom over and against the coercive kingdom but, rather, of the Earthly Kingdom and the Heavenly Kingdom. In aspiration, these two kingdoms largely match Augustine's "two cities." Each was created by different kinds of love--the earthly city by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the Heavenly City by the love of God carried as far as contempt for self. Christians, however, presently live in both cities. Our dual citizenship is a calling.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


FADING STAR: The South Dakota governor has now managed to piss off almost everyone (Tom Lawrence & Will Sommer, Mar. 27, 2021, Daily Beast)

State Rep. Fred Deutsch, a chiropractor and one of the more conservative members of the Republican-dominated legislature, said the governor didn't have her eyes on the ball.

"My take only: She got into this situation because it was a historic year with COVID, marijuana, money and more," Deutsch told The Daily Beast. He added that her team should have gotten involved early with the bill, but didn't. "That led to her tweet that she looked forward to signing the bill even though she apparently hadn't yet read it," he said.

Noem, a first-term Republican who served four terms in Congress, has toured the country since 2019, appearing at dinners and other events to curry favor with Republicans and influential conservatives. She caught the eye of former President Trump, hosting him for a July 3 fireworks show and political rally at Mount Rushmore, handing him a mini-Rushmore before the event that had added Trump's face to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.

Trump recently listed her as a future GOP leader. And Noem has made no secret of her interests in that kind of higher profile, appearing at events with former Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski in what's seen as preparation for a national run.

She rose to prominence on the right after refusing to impose strict coronavirus restrictions, like mask mandates or business closures, in her state. In October, as the state's COVID death spiraled up, she insisted she had made the right choices.

"As you all might imagine, these last seven months have been quite lonely at times," Noem said during a special legislative session. "But earlier this week, one very prominent national reporter sent me a note that said, 'Governor, if you hadn't stood against lockdowns, we'd have no proof of just how useless they really have been.'"

It's a position she has stuck with throughout the pandemic, despite clear evidence that South Dakota has been one of the worst states for coronavirus.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 27, Noem suggested there was a political calculation behind the pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 570,000 Americans and more than 1,900 South Dakotans, the eighth highest death rate per capita of any state in the country.

"The question of why America needs conservatives can be answered by just mentioning one single year, and that year is 2020," she said in a speech that drew cheers and calls for her to run for the White House. "Everybody knows that almost overnight we went from a roaring economy to a tragic, nationwide shutdown."

Noem did urge schools to close and sports to stop in March 2020 as the pandemic spread across the state. When the Smithfield meatpacking plant in Sioux Falls was deemed a coronavirus hotspot, Noem pressured it to close for a cleaning and to install safety equipment.

But she welcomed thousands of bikers for the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally in August and appeared at events across the state and nation, often on horseback and seldom with a mask.

She basked in the attention, landing a prominent speaking slot at the 2020 Republican National Convention. That same night, Fox News aired a commercial promoting South Dakota. It featured bison, massive monuments, and Kristi Noem.

"South Dakota, the land of the free," she said.

The ad wasn't free, however. South Dakota spent $819,000 on it.

Noem's national profile was rising and Republicans in many states invited her to attend events, campaign for their candidates and speak at rallies. She also made appearances with Trump and supported him during and after the election.

But that was all before the transgender bill veto.

The conservative website The Federalist, which dubbed Noem a "rockstar" as recently as January, has now become a hub for Noem criticism. Federalist writers have accused Noem of ruining her political "star power" and "walking into a political buzz saw" with the veto.

Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter called the veto an "utterly insane unforced error" in a Wednesday column, claiming that he got "a weird vibe" from Noem after meeting her at a conservative conference. Schlichter compared Noem to former Alaska governor and failed vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

"She is the governor of a small state we don't think about much--hey, haven't we been down this road before?" Schlicter wrote.

Noem has also been slammed on right-wing cable news networks. On March 23, One America News host Stephanie Hamill claimed Noem's critics were saying she had "caved to the woke mob" by vetoing the bill.

Two conservative groups who back the bill, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Principles Project, sharply criticized Noem and suggested they would support a primary challenge.

"She was considered a shining star in the GOP with a bright future. No more," Michael Farris of the Alliance Defending Freedom posted on Facebook. "We don't need leaders who lack the courage to stand up to the corporate bullies who want to turn our country into an amoral wasteland filled with compliant consumers."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Photos show Biden 'cheat sheets' during first formal press conference (Thomas Barrabi, 3/26/21,  Fox News)

President Biden referenced "cheat sheets" detailing key policy points and the identities of attending journalists when he conducted the first formal news conference of his presidency on Thursday.

Photos taken at the event showed Biden holding a card labeled "infrastructure," with key statistics and talking points. One bullet point noted that "China spends 3 times more on infrastructure than U.S."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


People gave up on flu pandemic protocols a century ago when they tired of them -- and paid a price (J. ALEXANDER NAVARRO, MARCH 28, 2021, Salon)

Like COVID-19, the 1918 influenza pandemic hit hard and fast, going from a handful of reported cases in a few cities to a nationwide outbreak within a few weeks. Many communities issued several rounds of various closure orders - corresponding to the ebbs and flows of their epidemics - in an attempt to keep the disease in check.

These social-distancing orders worked to reduce cases and deaths. Just as today, however, they often proved difficult to maintain. By the late autumn, just weeks after the social-distancing orders went into effect, the pandemic seemed to be coming to an end as the number of new infections declined.

People clamored to return to their normal lives. Businesses pressed officials to be allowed to reopen. Believing the pandemic was over, state and local authorities began rescinding public health edicts. The nation turned its efforts to addressing the devastation influenza had wrought.

For the friends, families and co-workers of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who had died, post-pandemic life was filled with sadness and grief. Many of those still recovering from their bouts with the malady required support and care as they recuperated.

At a time when there was no federal or state safety net, charitable organizations sprang into action to provide resources for families who had lost their breadwinners, or to take in the countless children left orphaned by the disease.

For the vast majority of Americans, though, life after the pandemic seemed to be a headlong rush to normalcy. Starved for weeks of their nights on the town, sporting events, religious services, classroom interactions and family gatherings, many were eager to return to their old lives.

Taking their cues from officials who had - somewhat prematurely - declared an end to the pandemic, Americans overwhelmingly hurried to return to their pre-pandemic routines. They packed into movie theaters and dance halls, crowded in stores and shops, and gathered with friends and family.

Officials had warned the nation that cases and deaths likely would continue for months to come. The burden of public health, however, now rested not on policy but rather on individual responsibility.

Predictably, the pandemic wore on, stretching into a third deadly wave that lasted through the spring of 1919, with a fourth wave hitting in the winter of 1920. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The C.D.C.'s ex-director offers no evidence in favoring speculation that the coronavirus originated in a lab. (James Gorman and Julian E. Barnes, Mar. 26th, 2021, NY Times)

Despite Dr. Redfield's comments, officials briefed on the intelligence say there is no new evidence that would cause American spy agencies to reassess their views. [...]

The claims that the virus was created or modified intentionally in a lab were dismissed by scientists and U.S. intelligence officials. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the Trump administration concurred "with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified."

Although that statement was diplomatically worded, the message from the intelligence agencies was clear that, despite pressure from the Trump administration, they had no evidence that the coronavirus had escaped from the lab. And many intelligence officials remained far more skeptical than Mr. Pompeo, telling colleagues there was simply not enough information to say where the coronavirus came from, and certainly not enough to challenge the scientific consensus that was skeptical of the lab theory.

It's not about evidence.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Thomas Sowell: Tragic Optimist (Samuel Kronen, Mar. 27th, 2021, Quillette)

[E]ven though he knew his views would be greeted with hostility, Sowell began writing about race out of a sense of moral obligation. He set out his basic concerns about the course of post-civil rights liberalism in a 1970 New York Times article, excoriating the institutional practice of passing over highly qualified blacks who didn't fit a certain sociological or ideological profile. Consequently, Sowell gained infamy as one of the first "black conservative" figures on the American scene, despite never wholly accepting the label. Attacks from the media and from former colleagues came thick and fast and would continue for years to come. He would go on to publish two books about race in the 1970s--Black Education: Myths and Tragedies and Race and Economics--setting a new career trajectory that would earn him a National Humanities Medal among other accolades. After some time spent in and out of the business world, his career in academia was drawing to a close. Sowell ended the decade by publishing his crowning achievement, Knowledge and Decisions, a book that earned him a fellowship at Stanford University's Hoover Institute.

Published in 1980, Knowledge and Decisions crystallized Sowell's work in economics and life experience to that point, setting the stage for his later writings. Inspired by Friedrich Hayek's essay "The Uses of Knowledge in Society," the book emerged from the observation that the knowledge necessary for complex technological societies to function was increasingly uncoupled from the ability of everyday citizens to make decisions that impact the quality of their lives. In the same way that the objects we see in the world are mostly made up of empty space with dispersed specks of matter keeping them together, in modern societies "specks of knowledge are scattered through a vast emptiness of ignorance, and everything depends on how solid the individual specks of knowledge are, and on how powerfully linked and coordinated they are with one another."24 Each of us is ensconced in a wide spectrum of overlapping and interlocking institutions--families, friend groups, churches, schools, companies--that mobilize and coordinate the knowledge and experience of previous generations. These form the basis of individual decisions in the present--what to teach our children, what food to eat, how to help the less fortunate, and so on. But the dispersion and specialization of knowledge leads to a contraction and centralization of decision-making power, while the hard knowledge and practical wisdom passed down through the ages is overtaken by intellectual or technical expertise wielded by the few over the many.

The knowledge required to make decisions for an entire society can't be harnessed by any human being because most of us have no sense of the complex economic processes involved in producing a cup of coffee or a box of tissues. Given our lack of omniscience and the economic principle of scarcity, there can be no unequivocal solution to any major social issue, only trade-offs, which create their own undesirable outcomes. We can't merely choose to construct a better reality. Improving the conditions of society means setting certain systemic processes in motion that correspond to objective realities and abide by certain principles--representative democracy, the rule of law, universal humanism, due process--with inbuilt feedback mechanisms that constrain decision-making powers and mitigate bad incentives.

No matter how appealing a policy proposal may sound--the Green New Deal, the push to "Defund The Police," prison abolition, the War on Drugs--we should always ask what process we are setting in motion and who gains power to make decisions by it. "The most fundamental question is not what decision to make but who is to make it--through what processes and under what incentives and constraints, and with what feedback mechanisms to correct the decision if it proves to be wrong."25 There is an essential difference, Sowell argues, between market forces and government policy--the former result from the cumulative decisions of millions of people with immediate feedback through the price system, while the latter stems from the immediate decisions of politicians with cumulative feedback, if any, and practically no responsibility for the outcome.

The vision of humanity that informs Knowledge and Decisions is a tragic one. There are, Sowell argued, inherent limitations and constraints to the human condition and it is dangerous to ignore them. In his 1987 book A Conflict of Visions, which he cites as his favorite, Sowell shows just how deep ideological disagreements go. If you show up at a pro-life meeting, it's quite likely there will be much agreement to be found among attendees on many other unrelated political issues. Why is this? Because, at bottom, when we argue about politics or culture it is not about the details of this-or-that issue or policy, it is about our implicit understanding--or vision--of how reality works. Visions are what we feel before we think, an intuition about what causes things to happen in the world. Visions, according to Sowell, "fill in the necessarily large gaps in individual knowledge."26 We need them. But our respective visions conflict on a fundamental level, fashioning the psychological terrain upon which political and cultural debates take place.

The opposite of what Sowell calls the tragic or the constrained vision is the unconstrained vision. From the halls of Yale to the boardrooms of the New York Times, the unconstrained view is the prevailing vision in modern American culture. If the tragic vision works to check the darker elements of human nature, the unconstrained vision works to free our better angels from the chains of the past. While the constrained vision finds prosperity, peace, and public order unusual in an inherently chaotic and brutal universe, the unconstrained vision finds poverty, war, and criminality unusual and unnecessary in a world where things could be otherwise.

At bottom, the visions conflict over the meaning of history: Is our collective past a wellspring of knowledge and wisdom from which to draw, or a hornet's nest of injustice and oppression that we need to discard in the name of progress? A person's preferred vision also informs his attitude toward life itself. The constrained vision accepts tragedy as an unavoidable part of being human and seeks to make the best of things. The unconstrained vision takes human tragedy as evidence that something has gone wrong and someone is to blame--once we fix the problem and remove the blameworthy people we will return to our natural state of goodness. "We will do almost anything for our visions," Sowell writes in the preface, "except think about them. The purpose of this book is to think about them."

Accept the tragic nature of Man's nature and the rest is hilarious.  There is no funnier moment in existence than this: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


JOE BIDEN CLEARLY ISN'T RUNNING THE SHOWAfter Thursday's presser, Biden's staff owes American citizens some real answers. (Jeff Webb  |   March 27, 2021, Human Events)

My observations? Clearly, he was scripted. Clearly, he was struggling to hold his place and his thoughts. Clearly, the event was designed to minimize any sort of spontaneous interactions, follow-up questions, and the extemporaneous give-and-take exchanges that Americans are accustomed to between the press and presidents--a tradition dating back to those famous encounters between President Ronald Reagan and ABC News' Sam Donaldson.

By the end of the event, there could be no doubt we were watching something that was more akin to a staged theatrical production than Thursday Afternoon at the Improv.

An important reminder that even Donald could have had a successful presidency had he not been involved in government and hired competent staff.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A DNA Sequencing Revolution Helped Us Fight Covid. What Else Can It Do? (Jon Gertner, Mar. 25th, 2021, NY Times)

Edward Holmes was in Australia on a Saturday morning in early January 2020, talking on the phone with a Chinese scientist named Yong-Zhen Zhang who had just sequenced the genome of a novel pathogen that was infecting people in Wuhan. The two men -- old friends -- debated the results. "I knew we were looking at a respiratory virus," recalls Holmes, a virologist and professor at the University of Sydney. He also knew it looked dangerous.

Could he share the genetic code publicly? Holmes asked. Zhang was in China, on an airplane waiting for takeoff. He wanted to think it over for a minute. So Holmes waited. He heard a flight attendant urging Zhang to turn off his phone.

"OK," Zhang said at last. Almost immediately, Holmes posted the sequence on a website called; then he linked to it on Twitter. Holmes knew that researchers around the world would instantly start unwinding the pathogen's code to try to find ways to defeat it.

From the moment the virus genome was first posted by Holmes, if you looked, you could find a genetic component in almost every aspect of our public-health responses to SARS-CoV-2. It's typically the case, for instance, that a pharmaceutical company needs samples of a virus to create a vaccine. But once the sequence was in the public realm, Moderna, an obscure biotech company in Cambridge, Mass., immediately began working with the National Institutes of Health on a plan. "They never had the virus on site at all; they really just used the sequence, and they viewed it as a software problem," Francis deSouza, the chief executive of Illumina, which makes the sequencer that Zhang used, told me with some amazement last summer, six months before the Moderna vaccine received an emergency-use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. The virus's code also set the testing industry into motion. Only by analyzing characteristic aspects of the virus's genetic sequence could scientists create kits for the devices known as P.C.R. machines, which for decades have used genetic information to formulate fast diagnostic tests.

In the meantime, sequencing was put to use to track viral mutations -- beginning with studies published in February 2020 demonstrating that the virus was spreading in the U.S. This kind of work falls within the realm of genomic epidemiology, or "gen epi," as those in the field tend to call it. Many of the insights date to the mid-1990s and a group of researchers in Oxford, England, Holmes among them. They perceived that following evolutionary changes in viruses that gain lasting mutations every 10 days (like the flu) or every 20 days (like Ebola) was inherently similar to -- and, as we now know, inherently more useful than -- following them in animals, where evolution might occur over a million years.

An early hurdle was the tedious nature of the work. The Oxford group had to analyze genetic markers through a slow and deliberate process that could provide insight into a few dozen characteristics of each new variant. It wasn't until the late 2000s that drastic improvements in genetic-sequencing machines, aided by huge leaps in computing power, allowed researchers to more easily and quickly read the complete genetic codes of viruses, as well as the genetic blueprint for humans, animals, plants and microbes.

In the sphere of public health, one of the first big breakthroughs enabled by faster genomic sequencing came in 2014, when a team at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard began sequencing samples of the Ebola virus from infected victims during an outbreak in Africa. The work showed that, by contrasting genetic codes, hidden pathways of transmission could be identified and interrupted, with the potential for slowing (or even stopping) the spread of infection. It was one of the first real-world uses of what has come to be called genetic surveillance. A few years later, doctors toting portable genomic sequencers began tracking the Zika virus around Central and South America. Sequencers were getting better, faster and easier to use.

To many, the most familiar faces of this technology are clinical testing companies, which use sequencing machines to read portions of our genetic code (known as "panels" or "exomes") to investigate a few crucial genes, like those linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. But more profound promises of genome sequencing have been accumulating stealthily in recent years, in fields from personal health to cultural anthropology to environmental monitoring. Crispr, a technology reliant on sequencing, gives scientists the potential to repair disease-causing mutations in our genomes. "Liquid biopsies," in which a small amount of blood is analyzed for DNA markers, offer the prospect of cancer diagnoses long before symptoms appear. The Harvard geneticist George Church told me that one day sensors might "sip the air" so that a genomic app on our phones can tell us if there's a pathogen lurking in a room. Sequencing might even make it possible to store any kind of data we might want in DNA -- such an archival system would, in theory, be so efficient and dense as to be able to hold the entire contents of the internet in a pillowcase.

Historians of science sometimes talk about new paradigms, or new modes of thought, that change our collective thinking about what is true or possible. But paradigms often evolve not just when new ideas displace existing ones, but when new tools allow us to do things -- or to see things -- that would have been impossible to consider earlier. The advent of commercial genome sequencing has recently, and credibly, been compared to the invention of the microscope, a claim that led me to wonder whether this new, still relatively obscure technology, humming away in well-equipped labs around the world, would prove to be the most important innovation of the 21st century. Already, in Church's estimation, "sequencing is 10 million times cheaper and 100,000 times higher quality than it was just a few years ago." If a new technological paradigm is arriving, bringing with it a future in which we constantly monitor the genetics of our bodies and everything around us, these sequencers -- easy, quick, ubiquitous -- are the machines taking us into that realm.

And unexpectedly, Covid-19 has proved to be the catalyst. "What the pandemic has done is accelerate the adoption of genomics into infectious disease by several years," says deSouza, the Illumina chief executive. He also told me he believes that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of genomics into society more broadly -- suggesting that quietly, in the midst of chaos and a global catastrophe, the age of cheap, rapid sequencing has arrived.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New Poll Finds Biden Approval Rating High With Split By Gender, Race & Education (National Memo, 2021/3/27)

While Biden enjoys near unanimous support from Democrats, 96% according to Gallup's most recent data, 62% of women and 49% of men approve of Biden. Also,  64% of college graduates approve of Biden while only 51% of non-college grads approve. While 89% of black Americans and 73% of Hispanic Americans approve of Biden, only 45% of white Americans do.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


China sanctions US, Canadian officials over Xinjiang (Deutsche-Welle, 3/28/21)

On Saturday, China announced new sanctions on US and Canadian officials after several countries imposed measures over Beijing's treatment of mostly Muslim Uyghurs.

The sanctions targeted Gayle Manchin and Tony Perkins, two members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, who are now forbidden from entering mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong. Canadian MP Michael Chong and an eight-member Canadian parliamentary committee on human rights were also hit with a Chinese travel ban. [...]

Earlier this week, the US, EU, UK and Canada imposed sanctions on various Chinese officials accused of committing human rights abuses against Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang.

Beijing already slapped retaliatory sanctions this week on UK and EU lawmakers in response.

China has also faced criticism from foreign companies on the Uyghur issue, with the Swedish retailer H&M and other clothing brands deciding to boycott cotton from Xinjiang. H&M clothing disappeared from the internet in China as of Friday after Chinese e-commerce sites such as Alibaba removed its products from their listings.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Malicious incompetence': Dem lawmaker slams Dr. Birx for being complicit 'in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths' (Matthew Chapman, March 27, 2021,

On Saturday, in response to former President Donald Trump's COVID-19 task force adviser Dr. Deborah Birx's claim that hundreds of thousands of people could have been saved from dying with better health policies, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) furiously pointed out on Twitter that it was in large part Birx's own willingness to indulge Trump's fantasies that led to the government's inability to prevent the spread of the virus.

"The malicious incompetence that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths starts at the top, with the former President and his enablers," wrote Lieu, whose own state was one of the first to experience a deadly surge of the virus. "And who was one of his enablers? Dr. Birx, who was afraid to challenge his unscientific rhetoric and wrongfully praised him."

March 27, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


Helgoland by Carlo Rovelli review - a meditation on quantum theory: A skilled storyteller reflects on the genius of Werner Heisenberg, who developed the theory that explains the evolution of stars and makes computers possible (Manjit Kumar, 26 Mar 2021, The Guardian)

One of the most well-known counterintuitive discoveries was arguably Heisenberg's greatest act of quantum conjuring. The uncertainty principle forbids, at any given moment, the precise determination of both the position and the momentum of a particle. It is possible to measure exactly either where a particle is or how fast it is moving, but not both simultaneously. In a quantum dance of give-and-take, the more accurately one is measured the less precisely the other can be known or predicted. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is not due to any technological shortcomings of the equipment, but a deep underlying truth about the nature of things.

According to some, including Heisenberg, there is no quantum reality beyond what is revealed by an experiment, by an act of observation. Take Erwin Schrödinger's famous mythical cat trapped in a box with a vial of poison. It is argued that the cat is neither dead nor alive but in a ghostly mixture, or superposition, of states that range from being totally dead to completely alive and every conceivable combination in between until the box is opened.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Left-Wing Network Supporting Border 'Welcome Centers' (MICHAEL VOLPE, 3/27/21, Americanm Conservative)

After the electoral victory of 2020, the network of far-left immigration radicals in and out of government is gaining strength, and turning their attention to ambitious projects like the creation of what they call migrant "welcoming centers," discussed in a Friday, March 19, press conference cohosted by a number of immigration groups and pitched as "the new Ellis Island."

This is the third press conference TAC has covered which has featured a network of left-wing non-profits, buoyed by numerous powerful politicians like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Victoria Escobar (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-IL). What has become clear is that this network is potent, and has an agenda; they claim credit for delivering such states as Arizona and Georgia to the Democrats. 

At a January 27, 2021, press conference TAC covered, members of Congress including Jayapal, Garcia, and Ocasio-Cortez, introduced what they called "Roadmap to Freedom Resolution." The legislative wish list included full amnesty and citizenship from most illegal aliens, the acceptance of all asylum seekers, and defanging ICE. During that press conference AOC and others called for "ending the militarization" of the border. 

As Originalists, we believe Ellis Island was too restrictive as well, but a workable compromise.

March 26, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Assisting evolution: How much should we help species adapt? (Elizabeth Kolbert, 24th March 2021, BBC)

It's estimated that there are as many as six million feral cats in the country, and that they kill some 800 million native animals annually. (Foxes, also introduced by the British, are very nearly as widespread. They are somewhat easier to control, though, because they will more readily eat poison bait.)

Over the last several years, Moseby and her colleagues at Arid Recovery have experimented with two threatened marsupial species: the greater bilby, which looks like a small rabbit with a long nose, and the burrowing bettong, also known as the boodie, which has a squirrel-like face, skinny hind legs, and a long tail. They've added a small number of cats to some of the paddocks and then painstakingly recorded the results. The idea is to put enough pressure on the marsupials to produce behavioural or - even better - evolutionary change, but not so much pressure that all the animals wind up dead.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


European far-Right populism and ISIS: Two sides of the same coin?: From the populist rhetoric of Germany's far-Right AfD to ISIS's extremist religious ideology, polarizing discourse has universal features (Omar Alsawadi, 26 March 2021, openDemocracy)

"We will chase them away, and we will take back our land and our nation." You might be forgiven for thinking this is a line from a speech by ISIS leader Abu-Mohammad Al-Adnani. Rather, it was said by Alexander Gauland, the leader of the German far-Right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), in his famous 2017 speech after winning sufficient votes to enter the German Parliament for the first time.

Polarizing populist discourses often focus on a narrative about a historic land where people with certain characteristics lived, a land that has changed with the arrival of people who 'do not have the right to it'.

This nostalgia for bygone days is present in both AfD and ISIS discourses. For both, everything is either black or white, everyone either an enemy or a friend, a partner or a foreigner. Such longing for the past resembles the way an adult longs for childhood; it presents a simplified picture of a world far away from complexities - a childhood free from knowing more than one wishes to.

Throughout history, political discourses built around nostalgia have had many proponents, and have often found popular appeal with remarkable speed. This is because they provide simple answers to complex questions.

For example, when talking about high crime rates and the lack of assimilation in immigrant neighborhoods in a European city, it would be easier to blame the immigrants' culture and their insularity than talking about the challenges they face, the racism they suffer, and the discrimination in the labor or housing markets. To refrain from such stereotyping means that one needs to accept the other and communicate with them to find solutions to problems.

Likewise, when the Islamists discuss the reality of Arab countries, their most important arguments revolve around a conspiracy targeting Muslims since the end of the First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

As Hoffer put it: "The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause."

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


U.S. COVID response could have avoided hundreds of thousands of deaths: research (Howard Schneider, 3/26/21, Reuters) 

The United States squandered both money and lives in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, and it could have avoided nearly 400,000 deaths with a more effective health strategy and trimmed federal spending by hundreds of billions of dollars while still supporting those who needed it.

That is the conclusion of a group of research papers released at a Brookings Institution conference this week, offering an early and broad start to what will likely be an intense effort in coming years to assess the response to the worst pandemic in a century.

U.S. COVID-19 fatalities could have stayed under 300,000, versus a death toll of 540,000 and rising, if by last May the country had adopted widespread mask, social distancing, and testing protocols while awaiting a vaccine, estimated Andrew Atkeson, economics professor at University of California, Los Angeles.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


The Rise of the Biden Republicans (Zack Stanton, 3/04/21, Politico)

Every four years, as if driven by mainspring, presidents, those aspiring to be presidents and the reporters who cover them, return to the blue-collar Detroit suburbs to try out their messages and make sense of what's happening in middle America.

Presidents will visit the community college campus in Warren--where President Ronald Reagan famously declared, "I'm a former Democrat, and I have to say: I didn't leave my party; my party left me" and where President Barack Obama announced his ill-fated American Graduation Initiative, a planned $12 billion investment in community colleges. And thick in the campaign season, candidates will swing by local factories to make major economic speeches, as Hillary Clinton did in 2016; take shots at NAFTA and celebrate new trade deals, as Donald Trump did in 2020; and hold campaign-debilitating photo ops, as Michael Dukakis did when he donned a helmet and drove around in an M-1 Abrams tank. Reporters will talk to voters at the ubiquitous Coney Island diners, hold televised roundtables with average Joes at bars and pry political chestnuts from locals wearing cutoffs and playing Euchre.

It's been this way since the mid-1980s, when a Yale-based academic and pollster named Stanley Greenberg turned his attention from studying the interplay of class and race in apartheid South Africa to try and explain what was happening in Macomb. In 1960, it was the most heavily Democratic suburban county in the United States. By 1984, it was landslide territory for Ronald Reagan. The population was overwhelmingly white and thoroughly middle class, largely living in tract homes and driving their cars to industrial jobs throughout metro Detroit. They were, by all appearances, Democrats. But they weren't voting like it. Why not?

After convening a series of focus groups, Greenberg coined a term for these voters--"Reagan Democrats"--and a theory of the case. In these voters' eyes, "the leaders who were supposed to fight for them seemed to care more about the blacks in Detroit and the protesters on campus; they seemed to care more about equal rights and abortion than about mortgage payments and crime," Greenberg later wrote. "The old politics has failed them. What they really want is a new political contract--and the freedom to dream the American dream again." Macomb, he said, "is the site of an historic upheaval that has wrecked the old and promises a new volatile kind of politics."

For four decades now, that historic upheaval and the quest for the support of Reagan Democrats has defined American politics, from the rise of Bill Clinton's "New Democrats"--which Greenberg, as Clinton's pollster, had a central role in crafting--to George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism," to Barack Obama's poll-tested evisceration of Mitt Romney's venture capital experience, to Donald Trump's white-grievance mongering and tirades against NAFTA. After Obama won Macomb in 2008 and 2012, Trump captured it in 2016 and 2020.

Then something important happened: In leaning too hard into white identity politics--and perhaps being too focused on what he thought Reagan Democrats wanted--Trump accelerated the rise of a new voting bloc that is, in many ways, the mirror image of the Reagan Democrats.

Call them the Biden Republicans.

Like the Reagan Democrats, they're heavily white and live in suburbs. But where the Reagan Dems are blue-collar and culturally conservative, Greenberg sees the Biden Republicans as more affluent, highly educated and supportive of diversity. Historically, they identified with the Republican Party as their political home. But the leaders who were supposed to fight for them seem to care more about white grievance and keeping out immigrants; seem to care more about social issues and "owning the libs" than about child-care payments and college tuition. They don't consider themselves Democrats--at least not yet--but they are voting for them, delivering them majorities in the House and Senate, and making Joe Biden just the fourth candidate in the past century to defeat an incumbent president.

March 25, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


If America is a failed state, is it failing upward? (James Pethokoukis, 3/25/21, AEIdeas)

Even accounting for columnist and headline writer hyperbole, the notion of America as a failed state is kind of absurd. Where is America just a few months later? No rich country has spent a greater share of its economy on pandemic relief than the US. Pretty good numbers on vaccinations, too. Goldman Sachs notes that the share of the population having received a first shot stands at 59.9 percent in Israel, 41.2 percent in the UK, 24.9 percent in the US, 9.1 percent in Italy and France, and 9.0 percent in Spain and Germany. Looking ahead, plenty of big banks are looking for 5 percent to 7 percent real GDP growth this year and maybe another 3 percent to 4 percent next year. 

And don't forget: Last year was a pretty good one in terms of innovation. As I wrote around the same time as all those "failed state" pieces, 2020 was a year "when we witnessed -- among other things -- rapid vaccine innovation, good news about nuclear fusion, the AlphaFold breakthrough, a possible CRISPR-based gene-editing therapy for inherited blood disorders, AI as super research assistant, and a new age of human spaceflight for America. And there are actual driverless cars on the road. Definitely not a 'we have Twitter but no flying cars' sort of year."

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Why Australia doesn't need new baseload to replace old coal (Sophie Vorrath, 26 March 2021, Renew Economy)

According to Tristan Edis, a director at Green Energy Markets, Australia will need some new power plant capacity to comfortably cover the exit of the next major coal generator, which he said could well be Origin Energy's Eraring as early as 2025. But that new capacity is almost certainly not going to come from new gas plant and it definitely, absolutely should not involve a new coal plant.

"Solar and wind are not a complete replacement and new dispatchable capacity is required. New transmission will help too," Edis told told the webinar hosted by SEC CEO John Grimes and featuring Johanna Bowyer and Tim Buckley from IEEFA and Tim Finnigan from Numantian Advisory.

"The thing to keep in mind is ... what is needed [to fill near future generation gaps] is short duration bursts of a few hours in the evening," Edis said.

"So we don't need baseload to replace the closing coal, we need something that is only going to be used for short periods of time.

"And what our analysis finds is, there in the middle of the day, typically you've got more solar available... so there'll be some spillage of excess renewables ... and that creates a window of advantage to dispatchable plant that is storage, essentially, that can charge up and consume power in the middle of the day, and then dispatch that later on in the evening."

Edis went on to explain that challenge for the market, in this case, was that to meet the required levels of investment in this sort of disptachable energy storage capacity, such as big batteries, investors would have to be confident that a coal plant would exit - and the more certain they could be about that, and when it would happen, the better for the investment.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


As state loosens restrictions on bars and restaurants, workers feel at risk (Lola Duffort and Erin Petenko, Mar 24 2021, VTDigger)

Between January and March, food service workers in Vermont had the highest rate of Covid-19 infection of any occupation in the state.

That's according to a VTDigger analysis of case data provided by the Agency of Human Services. 

But for Rose Kenary, a server with 10 years of experience who's now working at Citizen Cider in Burlington, the numbers don't come as much of a surprise.

"When people come to my restaurant, it's like there are no rules," she said. 

In January, the state began tracking the occupations of Vermonters who tested positive for Covid. The data from more than 2,100 cases suggests that the state's low-wage workers have been at high risk during the latest stage of the pandemic. 

Occupations whose average annual wage is more than $50,000 a year had a Covid rate of 5.7 per 1,000 workers. For occupations less than $50,000 a year, the rate was 7.3.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Did You Know? The Campus COVID-19 Plan That Worked (Megan Zogby 3/25/21, James G. Martin Center)

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned a reputation for having a remarkably effective COVID-19 mitigation plan. Its experience is one that other colleges should pay attention to.

As mentioned in a previous Martin Center article, the success of the university's COVID-19 plan was applauded for strategically reopening in fall 2020. Urbana-Champaign kept case counts low and never ordered a lockdown like many other campuses.

The school created an app called "safer Illinois" that tracks test results (students, faculty, and staff must be tested at least once a week).

Without the keys on the app that confirm a negative COVID-19 test, students, faculty, and staff cannot access campus buildings. Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs, told the Martin Center that the university works with local governments, public health officials, and businesses to keep case counts low. This collaboration is the key to their success on campus.

Planning ahead also helped. Before the pandemic, the university already had worked with the city, hospitals, and public health districts on emergency responses to a disaster. "A collaboration between institutions is key to having an all-around safe environment full of awareness," Kaler said.

The university plan includes a saliva testing program called "SHIELD T-3," which Kaler noted can be used anywhere and encouraged other universities to copy from Urbana-Champaign. The SHIELD tests cost $20-$30, whereas standard nasal swab tests are $100 or more. The tests are saliva-based, which makes them non-invasive and don't require medical personnel to collect the samples.

The program has been so successful at testing people on campus that a local news bureau Champaign County "accounts for about 0.5% of all national testing."

The testing program also has teeth: Students who don't get tested are disciplined. The university dismissed a few dozen students for refusing to get tested, Kaler said, out of a student population of about 40,000.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


America's Allies Finally Take on the Uighur Genocide: Long reluctant to cross China, the EU and Canada have joined the U.S. in a new round of sanctions of the perpetrators of atrocities. (NURY TURKEL  MARCH 25, 2021, The Bulwark)

On Monday, the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, and Canada stated with unmistakable clarity that they will not stand idly by in the face of genocide. Following days of disappointing meetings with Chinese officials about China's human rights abuses against its Uighur population, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States and like-minded partners would be imposing sanctions on key leaders within the Chinese Communist Party who have orchestrated the mass atrocities suffered by the Uighur people. [...]

For all its power, the United States can only do so much on its own to combat China's horrific abuses, and under the previous administration there was little hope for international cooperation on this issue. Biden administration officials have preached a return to American leadership on the international stage and alliances with countries who share our core values, and their actions in defense of the Uighur people--at least thus far--are a credit to this aspiration.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


The Immigrant's Vote of Confidence in America : Why would millions of people be so eager to come to a nation where there is systematic racism, white privilege, and little social mobility? (John O. Mcginnis, 3/25/21, Law & Liberty)

[T]he fact of massive immigration, even illegal immigration, into the United States also undermines the left's complaints about American society. Why would millions of people, including millions of minorities, be so eager to come to a nation where there is supposedly systematic racism, a structure of white privilege, and little social mobility?

Every day, hundreds of people cast a vote with their feet by immigrating to the United States. Thousands more would add their thumbs up to this nation if they were permitted to do so. We have net positive immigration from almost all nations in the world, including developed nations. People of all income classes want to come here, from the very poor to the very rich. Immigrants of all races and ethnicities want to live here permanently.

And while it is true that some people immigrate to the United States because of desperate straits in their own nations, many still choose us over other developed nations if they can. Many others leave relatively comfortable lives, where they enjoy high status in their own societies. And these include people who are in the racial majority in their own nation but will become a racial minority here. Middle-class Nigerians and Blacks from the Caribbean Islands are examples are just a few of the groups who now form important communities in our nation.

And these immigrants flourish here. The income of almost all groups of "hyphenated" Americans is higher than in the nation from which they came. That is true not only of immigrants from poor nations but also those from wealthy ones. For instance, Americans of Scandinavian descent have higher incomes than those who stayed behind in their native countries. But so do people from the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Such universal flourishing undermines the claim that the United States is unfriendly to social mobility.

This better performance does not depend only on the selection effect--on the shared characteristics of those who decide to migrate--but also on the fine institutions of the United States. For instance, a recent study suggested that most talented migrants to the United States are up to six times more productive than migrants to other nations.

The United States certainly provides a stark contrast with a nation like France, which has struggled to integrate immigrants from Africa. The so-called banlieues--suburbs with high proportions of immigrants--have permanently high unemployment and high crime rates. The ability of the United States to assimilate immigrants is another reflection of its healthier society.

As much as the Left/Right hate America, they refuse to leave, darnnit.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


'Expel or kill': Dozens of cars vandalized in Arab Israeli town (Times of Israel, 3/25/21)

Dozens of cars had their tires punctured and a number of vehicles were graffitied in a suspected hate crime in the central city of Kafr Qasim overnight Wednesday.

One of the vehicles in the Arab town was sprayed with the slogan "expel or kill" while another was daubed with a Star of David.

Police said they opened an investigation into the attack.

Anti-Arab vandalism by Jewish extremists has become a common occurrence in the West Bank but is rarer inside Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


The Quest to Tell Science from Pseudoscience: Philosopher Karl Popper famously asked how to tell the two apart. His answer--falsifiability--hasn't aged well, but the effort lives on. (MICHAEL D. GORDIN, 3/25/21, Boston Review)

According to the logical empiricists of the Vienna Circle, a theory is scientific if it is verified by empirical data. For Popper, this condition was grossly insufficient.

All demarcation criteria are designed to exclude something. What Popper really wanted to do was to show why psychoanalysis and Marxism were not scientific. Those theories had been widely understood as "scientific" in his Viennese milieu because of a logical empiricist theory called verificationism. According to this view, a theory is scientific if it is verified by empirical data.

For Popper, this condition was grossly insufficient. There was plenty of data that apparently confirmed psychoanalysis, he claimed. Every piece of data about personalities might be another brick in the confirmatory edifice for Freud, just as every event in politics or economics seemingly further confirmed Marxist theories such as the centrality of class conflict in history or the surplus value of labor. What this meant for Popper is that logical empiricists were looking at things the wrong way around. The issue was not whether a theory was confirmed--anything might be interpreted as confirming if you formulated the theory flexibly enough. The point was whether it was possible to falsify the theory. Was there any imaginable observation such that, should it be found, Freudians or Marxists would concede that their theories were false? If the answer was no, these were not sciences.

The appeal of falsificationism is obvious. It provides a bright line, and it rewards the boldness that we often like to see exemplified in science. How well does it work?

The short answer is: not very. Philosophers of science recognized this almost immediately, for two main reasons. First, it is difficult to determine whether you have actually falsified a theory. This is largely a restatement of one of Popper's own objections to verificationism. How do you determine that an observation actually constitutes a confirmation of a theory? Well, you interpret it within its framework, and sometimes those interpretations produce the lamentable distortions that Popper decried. But the same holds true for falsifying a theory, too. Suppose you did an experiment in your laboratory to test a theory, which predicts that under certain conditions your fact-o-meter should register a value of 32.8, and you got a result of 5.63. What do you do? Should you run to the journals and proclaim the death of that theory?

For Popper, the logical empiricists were looking at things the wrong way around. The issue was not whether a theory could be confirmed, but whether it could be falsified.

Not so fast. How do you know that your experimental result was accurate? Maybe the reason you did not get the value of 32.8 is that your fact-o-meter malfunctioned, or perhaps you did not perform the experiment under precisely the right conditions. In short, it is rare to have a thumbs-up/thumbs-down result as in the 1919 eclipse expedition. (As a matter of fact, the results of that expedition were more equivocal than Eddington made them seem. It was several years before absolutely incontrovertible results in support of general relativity were obtained, largely by observatories in California.) If any disconfirming result stood to invalidate a theory, then every tenet of modern science would have already been falsified by middle school science students failing to replicate utterly uncontroversial standard experiments. This is clearly nonsense. While it sounds like a good idea to insist on falsifying observations, it is far from straightforward to determine when precisely this has been done--and that defeats the purpose of having a bright-line standard.

The second problem with Popper's proposal has to do with the actual demarcations it gives us. The very minimum we should expect from a demarcation criterion is that it slices the sciences in the right places. We want our criterion to recognize as scientific those theories that are very generally accepted as hallmarks of contemporary science, such as quantum physics, natural selection, and plate tectonics. At the same time, we want our criterion to rule out doctrines such as astrology and dowsing. Popper's falsifiability standard is not especially helpful in this regard. For starters, it is difficult to present the "historical" natural sciences, such as evolutionary biology, geology, or cosmology--those fields where we cannot "run the tape again" in the laboratory--exclusively in terms of falsifiable claims. Those sciences provide persuasive explanations of nature through the totality of a narrative chain of causal inference rather than a series of empirical yes-no votes. Popper thus inadvertently excludes important domains of contemporary science.

Hard to find a more revealing sentence than: "We want our criterion to recognize as scientific those theories that are very generally accepted as hallmarks of contemporary science, such as quantum physics, natural selection, and plate tectonics."  Wants are not scientific; they are ideological.  

March 24, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Restricting Immigration Harms Everyone: a review of Immigration and Freedom by Chandran Kukathas  (Daniel Griswold, March 16, 2021, Discourse)

The answer is not more controls but expansion of legal immigration. As many of us have long argued and Kukathas neatly summarizes, "Legalization is less expensive: immigrants tend to identify themselves voluntarily, pay fees and fines, remain in work, and continue to pay taxes without burdening their employers, who would otherwise have to replace them."

As America wrestles with questions of race and criminal justice, Kukathas contends that immigration laws are by necessity about classifying and discriminating against people perceived to be different from the native population. This approach was explicit in past decades when Australia, for example, implemented its "White Australia Policy" favoring immigrants from Europe, or when the United States applied national quotas from 1924 to 1965 aimed at favoring immigrants from Northern Europe and largely excluding those from Asia.

"Immigration control in the liberal democratic West has, to a significant extent, been about limiting the entry, or keeping out altogether, people of the wrong ethnicity, religion, color, or (more recently) culture," Kukathas writes. President Trump was channeling such thinking when he expressed his opposition to immigrations from "s--hole" countries in Africa and Latin America or when he imposed travel bans against several Muslim-majority nations.

Behind many of the economic concerns people express about immigration lie more subjective worries about culture, political cohesion and a state's "self-determination." As a political theorist, Kukathas dissects those terms and finds them lacking in any objective meaning.

Kukathas rightly notes that immigrants do, of course, influence the culture of the host country, but cultures are fluid, especially those of more dynamic and open societies such as the United States. And cultural influences can come from many sources and go in both directions. "In a world in which it is not only human beings who are mobile but also corporations, practices, and ideas that cross borders all the time, limiting who may settle more or less permanently in one place or another seems like a rather feeble mechanism for determining the cultural shape of human societies," the author concludes.

To critics who contend that immigration undermines a nation's political cohesion and sovereignty, Kukathas observes that the native-born population is typically quite divided itself over political preferences and views of the nation's history. Immigrants are not the only or even the main source of political strife. As the 2020 U.S. election highlighted, political divisions seem to run far deeper among native-born citizens than between citizens and the foreign-born.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


42 Million Want to Migrate to U.S. (JIM CLIFTON, 3/24/21, Gallup)

Here are questions every leader should be able to answer regardless of their politics: How many more people are coming to the southern border? And what is the plan?

There are 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Roughly 450 million adults live in the region. Gallup asked them if they would like to move to another country permanently if they could.

A whopping 27% said "yes."

This means roughly 120 million would like to migrate somewhere.

Gallup then asked them where they would like to move.

Of those who want to leave their country permanently, 35% -- or 42 million -- said they want to go to the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


The site of a former coal mine in Britain is being fitted with a solar farm and battery storage (Anmar Frangoul, 3/24/21, CNBC)

A coal mine turned waste depot in the northeast of England is to undergo a retrofit that will utilize a range of sustainable technologies and design features, with those behind the project hoping over 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be saved annually thanks to the changes. 

The £8.3 million ($11.37 million) project to update the Morrison Busty depot in County Durham will center around the construction of a 3 megawatt solar farm that will power the site's operations.

In addition, electric vehicle charging points will be integrated into the development's design, while a battery storage system will also be built.

Natural gas heating will be replaced with air source heat pumps -- devices which, as the Energy Saving Trust puts it, "absorb heat from the air" -- while office buildings will, among other things, benefit from new windows and doors as well as LED lighting. 

Breaking the funding down, £5 million will come from the European Regional Development Fund, with £3.3 million sourced from Durham County Council's Invest to Save fund.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Carl Marshall, who is the council's cabinet member for economic generation, said the project would be "a national showcase of how a depot can be transformed to substantially reduce its reliance on fossil fuels."

The depot, which is located in the village of Annfield Plain, traces its roots back to the 1920s, when it was known as the Morrison Busty Colliery. The coal mine closed down in 1973. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


College students hanging tight onto stimulus money (Neal Rothschild, 3/24/21, Axios)

Of the college students receiving stimulus checks, 62% plan to pocket or invest their new cash, according to a new Generation Lab/Axios poll.

Why it matters: It's money that won't be fed back into the economy, and one indicator that the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill will benefit many individuals in a way that won't necessarily help the economy roar back.

44% plan to spend the money on essentials, while 27% plan to pay off their credit card, student loans or other debts.

The notion that money that is saved/invested has not been fed back into the economy seems odd.
Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Where Do Posthumanist Fantasies of Tech-Enabled Life Fit Into Evolution?: Melanie Challenger on the Endless Desire to Be Done With Bodies (Melanie Challenger, March 24, 2021, Lit Hub)

The great minds of medieval Europe once spent a fair bit of their time struggling to make sense of angels. How could an angel, an ethereal being without eyes or ears, recognize Jesus's mother Mary among the other women of Galilee? For Thomas Aquinas, the solution was in the ability of angel consciousness to pick out the unique signature of a person's thoughts. Aquinas didn't consider the small matter of whether angels might be figments of human imagination. Angels had something irresistible to say about animal life. If disembodied entities like angels were above humans in the ranks of beings, then intelligence didn't need a body. The evolution into a superior state lay in the abandonment of flesh.

These days, we have our own latter-day angelologists. Roboticist Hans Moravec sees a future of "exes"--short for ex-humans--existing in a post-biological world. "Physical activity," Moravec tells us, "will gradually transform itself into a web of increasingly pure thought, where every smallest interaction represents a meaningful computation." Such flesh deniers are everywhere now. For a futurist like Giulio Prisco, the grand frontier of space "will not be colonized by squishy, frail and short-lived flesh-and-blood humans... It will be up to our post-biological mind children." Our enlightenment, these men claim, lies in the freedom from our animal bodies.

Similar views now motivate whole research programs and commercial enterprises dedicated to the notion that we can somehow exist without being animal. The embattled Human Brain Project, a multibillion-euro Swiss research initiative, alongside Hewlett-Packard, was conceived to build a whole simulation of the human brain in a supercomputer.

"The ultimate goal should be to model the unique capabilities that distinguish humans from other animals." Around the same time, Russian media mogul Dmitry Itskov founded the 2045 Initiative with the aim of life extension for humans in the form of computer avatars. The aim is "to create technologies enabling the transfer of an individual's personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier."

Not to be outdone, Google's Larry Page launched the Calico life-extension project, while its head of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, announced a few years ago that a "shot full of nanobots will someday allow the most subtle details of our knowledge, skills, and personalities to be copied into a file and stored in a computer." Even the physicist Stephen Hawking stated that it is "theoretically possible to copy the brain onto a computer and so provide a form of life after death." As a man whose body had forsaken him, we can hardly fault him for this.

Posthumanists are the intellectual heirs to ancient dualist ideas that it isn't our bodies that make us who we are. An offshoot of humanism, these thinkers see the human condition as nothing more than a technical issue we've not yet solved. Today's posthumanists are convinced that being human is neither here nor there, so long as personal consciousness is present. Individuals like Itskov and Prisco say to hell with the body. We can reboot the personality in an immortal form or project it out into space like human thought gone wireless. For them, the animal body is a problem best done away with. Where once humanists were concerned with making sense of how matter becomes thought, now posthumanists are concerned with how thought can escape matter. It's an exotic twist on an old tale.

What bodies?

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Abolish the Corporate Income Tax: For more than a century, its complexity and perverse effects have worked to the detriment of the American economy. (John Steele Gordon, Winter 2021, City Journal)

The original income-tax section of the tariff bill of 1913 ran a mere 13 pages. By 1942, the Revenue Act ran 208 pages, or 16 times as long. And of those 208 pages, 162--fully 78 percent of the text--dealt with closing or regulating the loopholes found in earlier revenue acts.

This expansion has continued ever since. Between 2001 and 2010, the tax code was amended no fewer than 4,130 times. Some amendments closed new loopholes, but others proved, in effect, to be new loopholes themselves. Many gave special treatment to just a few individuals or corporations. Thousands of lobbyists in Washington work solely on tax policy. In other words, the tax code's byzantine complexity helps not only the rich and influential but also the members of Congress themselves, who can trade favorable tax treatment for campaign contributions. After all, if the best place to hide a book is in a library, the best place to hide a tax fiddle is in a tax code consisting of 74,000 pages of numbing prose.

Who pays the corporate income tax? Not the corporations--they're just pieces of paper. The corporation writes the check, yes, but only people can actually pay taxes. As originally intended, the stockholders pay part of it because the tax makes the corporations less profitable, so their stock prices (and possibly dividends) are lower. But the workers also pay, receiving lower wages than they otherwise would, while customers pay higher prices. The exact ratio varies with each corporation's competitive situation, but the Adam Smith Institute's Ben Southwood calculates that, on average, workers pay 57.6 percent of the corporate income tax through lower wages. So a tax that began under William Howard Taft to assess the incomes of the rich mostly hits the average person.

By 2017, the United States had the highest corporate income tax in the developed world. And America was the only nation that taxed corporations on their global earnings, once repatriated, not just their domestic ones, as other countries did. The Trump administration took major steps toward reform, lowering the tax from 35 percent to 21 percent and joining the rest of the world in taxing only domestic profits, allowing $2.5 trillion in corporate profits parked overseas to be repatriated at much lower rates. Still, as the corporate income tax has entirely lost its original reason for being, it should be abolished altogether.

Abolition would certainly be expensive in the short term. The corporate income tax in fiscal year 2019 yielded about $245 billion, or 7 percent of total federal revenues. But much of that money would be made up quickly. With no corporate income tax, there would be no reason to tax dividends and capital gains at lower rates than ordinary income. That change would not only raise revenue but also put an end to a perennial bit of liberal demagoguery. And with no corporate income tax, the engine of tax complexity would disappear (as would a very large section of the tax code).

Today, corporate managers are mostly concerned with after-tax profits, since that's what the stock market cares about. But after-tax profit is an artifact of lobbying success in Washington. With no corporate tax, the managers would care about what are now considered pretax profits, an artifact of wealth creation--the very reason that corporations exist.

With no tax, corporate profits would rise substantially, leading to increased dividends (fully taxable) and greater investment. And with higher profits, stock prices would rise commensurately. (Trump's corporate tax reform was a factor in the notable rise of the stock market, pre-Covid.) Rising stocks would unleash a considerable "wealth effect," as people saw their 401(k)s and mutual funds fattening in value--boosting the economy.

With no corporate income tax, no reason would exist to distinguish between profit and nonprofit corporations. Nonprofits would not have to jump through hoops to qualify for that designation, and the IRS would have one less means of corruption available to it.

If the United States were to adopt the world's lowest corporate tax rate--zero--foreign companies would flock to invest here to avoid taxes at home. This development would force other countries to lower or eliminate their own taxes, spreading the boom worldwide.

Eliminating the corporate income tax would also strike a powerful blow against crony capitalism. Most federal government favors to industries come in the form of tax abatements. And subsidies for politically fashionable but unprofitable technologies, such as wind and solar power, are also part of the ever-expanding corporate tax code. Without a corporate tax code, there can be no favorable tax treatment and no subsidies except direct ones, and these would be much easier to hold to account.

The entire point of an economy being to generate wealth, let it do so.  Tax consumption, not profits/income.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


'My dream is to meet my dad': They crossed the border alone to reunite with parents (Damià Bonmatí, 3/23/21, Noticias Telemundo Investiga)

They represent a big challenge to the Biden administration as it grapples with the ongoing issues on the nation's southern border: unaccompanied minors -- children and adolescents who come to the United States alone or without any immediate family member. 

Some arrive with a name they have memorized, a phone number written down on a piece of paper, or a U.S. state they know by heart: the place where their father or mother now lives. 

What many do not have is a physical memory of that parent, who left when they were young or before they were born.

The migration of these minors -- some as young as 5 and others who are in their teens -- is the cause and consequence of migration itself: First their parents emigrated, and now they've come to the U.S. to reunite with their families.

There are currently almost 16,000 minors in the custody of U.S. authorities, 4,878 in Border Patrol facilities and 10,800 more in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, according to official data collected by NBC News. They are waiting to be released with a family member or sponsor in the United States.

We spoke to some of the children and teens, all Hondurans, after they crossed the Rio Grande and into Texas.

March 23, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


How Intelligent Could Life Be Without Natural Selection? (ARIK KERSHENBAUM, MARCH 17, 2021, Nautilus)

Consider an artificial intelligence (or even a biological organism) that creates a set of self-replicating intelligent robotic probes to fly off and explore (and colonize) the universe. Each probe will land on a different planet and begin to create new probes like itself, much like Dneprov's Crabs on the Island. Will each daughter probe be identical to the parent? Probably not. The parent probe may choose to make them slightly different from one another, with intelligent foresight: One may be optimized for swimming underwater, and one for flying in the air, for example. But will there be any errors, any mutations in the process? It would seem that, like any respectable engineer, the parent probe would make every effort to ensure that each replicated probe is exactly the way it was meant to be. The advantage of evolutionary mutation exists only because evolution has no foresight! If you do have foresight, it makes sense to dispense with the randomness.

But even if you can be 100 percent accurate, and are capable of completely stopping bugs from creeping into your software (our hypothetical parent is super intelligent, after all), we have seen that variation is, nonetheless, necessary. Even if you don't want mutations, you need a swimming daughter probe and a flying daughter probe. The offspring of each of those daughters will also change: one granddaughter probe for swimming in deep water and one for shallow water, for instance. As time goes on and the environment on the planet changes, a wide diversity of artificial creatures will arise. Not through the mechanisms we are familiar with on Earth, but diverse nonetheless. Each one will be perfectly engineered to its niche, without the awkward wisdom teeth and appendixes that we carry with us, and that betray our origins as creatures not designed by anyone.

Even if natural selection isn't operating on this well-oiled and super-intelligent community, some of the rules of evolution will still apply, no matter how flexible and self-designed they might be. Even super-intelligent artificial life forms are subject to the ruthlessly inevitable restrictions imposed on them by game theory--they would, after all, be competing against other super-intelligent organisms like themselves. If exploitation pays, exploitation will happen. Selfishness is a threat that will be present even in a community of super-intelligent artificial aliens. And some things like mutation, and even death, can't be eliminated just by being incredibly smart. Even for a radical, technological, non-Darwinian life form, so many of the principles that we use to understand the evolution of life on Earth, like trade-offs, still apply, and so it is unlikely that they would design themselves to live forever.

If astrobiologists wonder why we haven't found any indication of alien life so far, we should be doubly confused as to why we haven't found any indication of alien super-life. Once created, surely AI will take over the universe? Well, it hasn't happened yet, so perhaps the risk is less than we thought. And what about artificial life forms that are more modest in their abilities? Could a planet evolve an entire ecosystem all by itself, based on artificial life forms that accelerate evolution by having at least a basic Lamarckian ability, passing their lifetime experiences on to their offspring? It's possible that, because environments can rapidly change, such organisms may not have such an advantage over natural selection after all, at least not until they can evolve the ability to communicate, cooperate, and plan their evolutionary strategies intentionally. If you are an alien species seeding a planet with some prototypical artificial organism, maybe it's better to seed it with Darwinian creatures, rather than Lamarckians.

It's possible that we, ourselves, are artificial creatures, seeded onto planet Earth by intelligent aliens billions of years ago. But there is no sign of this, no fingerprint of alien interference. We might as well have evolved naturally--we show all the signs of natural selection pure and simple, with no trace of Lamarckian acceleration.

Unless ...

We actually do have the ability to adapt our evolution, to spread the ideas and experiences of our lifetime both to our own offspring and to others. We have Lamarckian abilities through our culture and through our technology, and what is more, we have the intelligence to know how and when to use them--although it remains to be seen whether we will be intelligent enough to be able to find our way out of the environmental dead end into which our expanding consumption has led us. Using modern techniques of genetic engineering, we can even alter the contents of our genes, eliminate the susceptibility to disease, and perhaps even stop aging. Eventually we may be able to change the shape of our very development, growing an extra arm, or wheels, or whatever takes our fancy.

Perhaps our alien seeders knew that consciousness would evolve. Perhaps this was the grand plan the whole time: Lamarckian artificial organisms could not survive their early evolutionary stages, but would one day mature. Our creators knew this and were patient enough to wait for the day when that would happen. This is possibly an unlikely scenario, but it does leave open the possibility that alien planets will be inhabited by "artificial" life forms that are nonetheless indistinguishable from what we would expect from natural selection.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


On an island north of Scotland, tidal power is providing juice for electric vehicles (Anmar Frangoul, 3/23/21, CNBC)

An electric vehicle charging point which uses tidal energy has started operations, providing road users on an island north of mainland Scotland with a new, renewable option for running their cars.  

The facility is located on Yell, which is part of Shetland, an archipelago of roughly 100 islands. The charging point gets its electricity from Nova Innovation's Shetland Tidal Array, a four turbine installation in Bluemull Sound, a strait between Yell and another island called Unst.

In an announcement Monday, Nova Innovation described the project as "the first ever electric vehicle ... charge point where drivers can 'fill up' directly from a tidal energy source." A battery storage system has also been deployed to ensure a constant supply for vehicles."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


NRA bragged about blocking Boulder AR-15 ban a week before Boulder mass shooting (Peter Weber, 3/23/21, The Week)

A Colorado judge blocked Boulder from enforcing its two-year-old assault rifle ban on March 12, ruling it violated a 2003 state law prohibiting municipalities from enacting their own firearms regulations. Boulder city spokeswoman Shannon Aulabaugh said city attorneys would meet to decide on whether to appeal the ruling by Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman, The Denver Post reported March 18, but in the meantime, the Boulder Police Department wouldn't enforce the ban on AR-15-style rifles and large-capacity magazines.

Teacher unions refuse to teach out of an excessive regard for safety.  Police unions refuse to enforce laws out of an excessive disregard for safety. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden first president in decades to have first-pick Cabinet secretaries confirmed (Kevin Liptak, 3/23/21, CNN)

While Biden did withdraw one nominee that he had designated Cabinet-level -- Neera Tanden, who he had selected as his budget chief -- the people now serving atop all the major administration agencies are his first pick.

That has not been the case since President Ronald Reagan, who was the last president who saw all of his Cabinet nominees confirmed.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Mo Brooks, Stephen Miller and the stunted legacy of Roy Moore (Kyle Whitmire,  Mar 21, 2021,

So far, Brooks's political career has been a lot of spite and little substance. In Congress, he's blamed rising sea levels on rocks falling in the water. (Whenever I mention that, somebody thinks I made it up, but that happened.) He has undermined the leadership of better Alabama officials, like when he called Gov. Kay Ivey's coronavirus mitigation efforts "nanny-state" directives, all while not having the sense to delete his dumbest tweets about the virus. Last February he shared death tolls from around the world.

"American healthcare: ZERO dead," he said. "Think about it."

After a half-million lives lost, we've had time to think about it. He still hasn't.

In January, Brooks led efforts to overturn a lawful presidential election and he still refuses to acknowledge the "fraud" he alleged has been dismissed or disproven in the courts.

The most effective thing he might have ever done was stoking a crowd of insurrectionists to pay a visit to the U.S. Capitol before they left Washington on January 6.

But he refuses to own it.

As the same folks he told to "start taking down names and kicking ass" beat up police officers and ransacked the Capitol, Brooks blamed Antifa. After he was called out for his incendiary comments to the mob, he insisted he was talking about 2022 elections.

Brooks is the type of political arsonist who'll strike the match and blame the fire department when it shows up to put out the fire.

This week, Brooks sent out invitations announcing former Trump advisor Stephen Miller would be joining him for his campaign announcement, perhaps because the actual Devil had other business next week. Miller, like Brooks, shares a deep disdain for immigrants, whom he's scapegoated and targeted for abuse. In the White House, Miller successfully advocated separating children from immigrant parents at the border, a policy even his old boss Jeff Sessions now regrets.

After Brooks's colleagues in the U.S. House proposed censuring him for his role in the Jan. 6 insurgency, Brooks published a bizarre, meandering diatribe online, boasting of, among many other things, his safe driving record and the fact he's never smoked a cigarette. If anyone is hoping some woman, or man, might come forward to end Brooks's career like Moore's, they could be waiting for a long time.

What you see is what you're going to get. And that should be enough to disqualify him.

Brooks has learned nothing in the last few years. But the question is, have we?

March 22, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The US is about to reach a surprise milestone: too many vaccines, not enough takers (Mia Satoarchive, March 22, 2021, MIT Technology Review)

The US has administered more than 118 million doses of covid-19 vaccines so far, and millions more are being injected every day. So far, demand from people who are desperate to get vaccinated has outstripped supply of the drugs, and when vaccine appointments are released, they're quickly scooped up. 

But jurisdictions across the country may soon face the opposite problem. 

As production ramps up, the US will soon have many more doses--and not enough people who want them. The change will be rapid: Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimated that supply and demand could shift "in the weeks to month ahead." Walmart, a major distributor of vaccines across the country, has said that the flip could happen within a month to 45 days.

In some states, the shift from scarcity to abundance is already here. In Idaho, where 20% of people have gotten at least one shot, many appointments have gone unfilled, causing state officials to increase eligibility ahead of schedule. The state plans to open up appointments to those 55 and up beginning March 22. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A new fashion trend looks set to boom -- here's how the pros are trading it (Vicky McKeever, 3/22/21, CNBC)

The global fashion resale market is still in its infancy, but research indicates it could be about to boom - and analysts have told CNBC where to cash in. 

It's no secret that consumers have become increasingly aware of the environmental and ethical issues around "fast fashion," and the growth of the fashion resale market is just one aspect of this shift toward more sustainable shopping. 

The Boston Consulting Group said last year that the global fashion resale market was likely to post a compound annual growth rate of between 15% and 20% over the next five years. 

Even cheaper? Just go pop some tags.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Blinken Heads To Europe For Talks With NATO Allies (RFE/RL, 3/22/2021)

Blinken's trip is another illustration of a foreign policy reset under Biden that stresses diplomacy and backing for long-standing relationships after former President Donald Trump pursued an "America first" policy that tended to treat traditional allies more as rivals than partners.

As the new Biden administration seeks to reassure NATO allies, it also has to coordinate with European partners on a host of issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, policy toward China, climate change, and lingering disputes over trade.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


U.S. economy is 'on the brink' of a complete recovery, says Richmond Fed's Barkin (Yen Nee Lee, 3/22/21, CNBC)

The U.S. economy is recovering from the Covid-19 recession, but some economic "scarring" may take a long time to heal, said Richmond Federal Reserve Bank President Thomas Barkin.

Economic scarring refers to damage left behind by crises that will suppress growth prospects over the medium or long term.

"I'm hopeful we're on the brink of completing this recovery," Barkin said Monday at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference that's being held virtually this year.

"Vaccines are rolling out, case rates and hospitalizations are falling, excess savings and fiscal stimulus should help fund pent-up demand from consumers who're exhausted by isolation and freed up by vaccines and warmer weather," he added.

The U.S. economy contracted by 3.5% in 2020 compared to a year ago, estimated the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD said earlier this month that the U.S. economy is forecast to grow by 6.5% this year and 4% next year.

March 21, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


'A nightmare scenario': Extremists in police ranks spark growing concern after Capitol riot: Racially biased policing was already a concern. Now, charges against officers in the Capitol riot inflame fears of extremists infiltrating law enforcement. (Bart Jansen, 3/21/21, USA TODAY)

Out of 324 arrests in the Capitol riot so far, 43 are current or former first responders or military veterans, according to USA TODAY analysis. At least four police officers and three former officers face federal charges. Two have been fired, one resigned and one was suspended without pay. Each of the officers charged has either pleaded not guilty or not yet been arraigned.

The alleged participation of public safety officials who have sworn to uphold the Constitution has led lawmakers to sound the alarm. [...]

Concerns about white nationalists infiltrating police departments have percolated for years. A 2006 FBI report warned that "white supremacist presence among law enforcement personnel is a concern due to the access they may possess to restricted areas vulnerable to sabotage and to elected officials or protected persons, whom they could see as potential targets for violence," as happened at the Capitol.

"Their presence in law enforcement impedes official responses to right-wing terrorism, places loyal officers in peril, and exposes vulnerable communities to lawless violence by white supremacists dressed in blue," said Raskin, who has investigated the infiltration of white supremacists in law enforcement as chairman of a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee.

Raskin has asked the FBI for a briefing about white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement by March 26, saying he was concerned the FBI lacks an adequate strategy to respond to the threat to public safety.

The FBI acknowledged receiving Raskin's letter, but declined further comment.

"It's alarming that the FBI has been unwilling to level with the American public and Congress about the full magnitude of the threat of domestic white supremacist infiltration of local police departments," Raskin said. "We await a comprehensive strategy on how federal law enforcement plans to cut the links between law enforcement and right-wing extremist elements, including militia groups like the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. There is no excuse for further passivity and denial in the face of clear complicity between officers and self-fashioned storm troopers."

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 2 that "the Capitol attack involved violent extremists" and that the FBI considered it "a form of domestic terrorism."

He had warned presciently six months earlier that domestic violent extremism was driven by perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach, racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny. And he said domestic terrorism cases investigated each year doubled during his three years on the job.

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., asked whether rooting out white supremacists and right-wing extremists was a challenge for local law enforcement.

Wray said the FBI works with local departments to address violent extremism, which the agency considers "a kind of insider threat," by referring cases for local investigation and discipline.

"As we're continuing to investigate the Jan. 6th attack, there have been some instances of current or particular former military or law enforcement who participated," Wray said. "And we want to pursue those cases just as aggressively as we would anybody else."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Proud Boys Indicted In Capitol Riot Have Police Ties (Meaghan Ellis, Mar. 20th, 2021, National Memo)

In the wake of Donohoe's recent arrest for his alleged participation in the Capitol riots, the New York Times did a bit of research to learn more about the Proud Boys leader. The publication reported that he and quite a few others have ties to law enforcement. When the Daily Beast reached out to Cole for comment, he claimed that he was not aware of Donohoe's arrest only saying, "Wow. Wow. Wow. I do not want to be associated with that."

He also claimed he had no knowledge of the far-right groups Donohoe spoke of when he'd tagged him to his previous posts. "I guess he was just warning me like, 'Be careful, Antifa's attacking,' but it wasn't anything past that," Cole said.

Further research also revealed Donohoe is not the only member of the Proud Boys with ties to law enforcement. The publication reports that Zach Rehl, identified as a Marine veteran who serves as the president of the Proud Boys' Philadelphia chapter, also has deep ties to law enforcement.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rehl--described as one of the far-right organization's "most visible representatives on the East Coast"-- has family ties to the police department. Last summer, Rehl was also seen "mingling with officers at the Philadelphia police union hall."

Previous reports also suggest Rehl has strong ties to the police department. Following a rally back in September, the Daily Beast noted that the "Philadelphia Proud Boys were accompanied back to their cars by a police caravan. A Philadelphia Police officer was filmed talking to and shaking hands with the group in what the city's district attorney described to The Daily Beast as an "extra-friendly" interaction."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why the Republic Can Hold (Richard M. Reinsch, II, 3/21/21, 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.

It's also what ultimately drives progressives to distraction. America's constitutional and policy processes are ordered to yield compromise between powers and parties as partisans come to realize their best course of action is to preserve freedom under the law and their independence from government power. Progressive ambition for bold social change experiences this arrangement as a source of constant vexation and failure: The system always stands in the way, and in key moments, the public seems always to fortify its resistance to change. Their frustration leads them to attempt end runs around the system through power grabs that undermine our constitutional order.

March 20, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Antony Blinken's Finest Hour (Eli Lake, Mar. 19th, 2021, Bloomberg)

Said top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi: "Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States." His message was clear: Don't criticize us about Uyghur genocide or mass arrests in Hong Kong. 

For a weak secretary of state, this would have been humiliation. An overconfident one would have pointed out the obvious hypocrisy of a senior Chinese official giving a lecture about democracy.

Antony Blinken showed he is neither. The U.S. will approach China with confidence, Blinken said, "even as we have the humility to know that we are a country eternally striving to become a more perfect union." He added that the U.S. had a long history of confronting its demons, "not trying to ignore them, not trying to pretend they don't exist, trying to sweep them under the rug."

In these impromptu remarks, Blinken captured the essence of American exceptionalism. Its greatness is defined not by strength alone, but by humility -- and the determination to confront past sins and strive to be more perfect. 

There is no such impulse within the Chinese Communist Party. To this day, journalists and activists who seek to keep the memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre alive are disappeared. Social media is monitored and censored by the state, forcing citizens to project public obedience to the party. If they want to complain, their complaints must be confined to what little private life Chinese citizens have.

This failure to reckon with its past has prevented China from evolving into a more open and transparent political society despite its near miraculous economic progress over the last 40 years. China has generated great wealth in this period, yet most Chinese citizens still live in fear.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Democrats Are Willing To Rein In Their Gun Control Ambitions To Break The NRA's Hold On Congress (Paul McLeod, 3/19/21, BuzzFeed News)

Senate Democrats have told BuzzFeed News they are considering curtailing their ambitions on gun reform and pushing a narrower piece of legislation that can actually pass, rather than sweeping reforms that would likely be doomed.

The party winning both chambers of Congress plus the White House may have raised hopes for long-sought gun control measures, such as a ban on assault rifles. But Democrats are instead starting to look at smaller measures that can win bipartisan support and break the National Rifle Association's strong influence over Congress.

With the Senate split 50-50, any gun control measure needs at least 10 Republican votes to overcome a filibuster. The shooting rampage in Atlanta that left eight people dead this week has not softened Republican resistance to any new laws that broadly restrict access to firearms. In interviews with BuzzFeed News, a half dozen Republican senators expressed opposition to universal background checks and said that policy would likely be dead on arrival in the Senate.

That leaves Democrats with a choice between lowering their aims or fighting for an extensive bill and risking coming away with nothing. There does not appear to be much appetite for the latter path.

"Do you try and move a comprehensive gun bill that will go nowhere?" said Delaware Sen. Chris Coons. "Or do you take a small bill, pass it, then a medium-sized bill and pass it?"

Let any 10 GOP Senators write a bill and then pass it. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Europe's bad science costs lives (New Statesman, 3/20/21)

The EU was slow to authorise the AstraZeneca vaccine and spent seven times less per head upfront than the UK and the US on vaccine development, procurement and production. Faced with a predictable shortfall in supply, the EU then sought to impose controls on vaccine exports to Northern Ireland - raising the spectre of the hard border it had previously resisted. The EU retreated after justified outrage.

On 15 March a group of EU countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over fears that it could cause blood clots. But this decision was driven by politics, not science or data. There is no evidence that the vaccine causes blood clots. Around one adult in every 1,000 suffers a venous thrombosis every year, but of the 17 million people who have received the jab in the EU and the UK, a mere 37 have reported blood clots, according to AstraZeneca. In other words, the incidence appears to be lower, not higher, than among the general population.

In defence of their actions, European states have invoked the precautionary principle, a concept which originated in Germany in the 1970s and which echoes the medical principle to "first, do no harm". The principle is a valuable one: as Harry Eyres wrote in the New Statesman last April, it strengthens the argument for pre-emptive intervention against threats such as pandemics and the climate crisis.

[See also: Is Europe misapplying the "precautionary principle" to the AstraZeneca vaccine?]

But far from justifying European states' behaviour, it invalidates it. Any lives that will be saved by suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine are far outweighed by the number that will be lost to Covid-19.

This is not the first time that European leaders have resorted to junk science and scaremongering. In January the French president Emmanuel Macron declared that the AstraZeneca vaccine was "quasi-ineffective" for people over 65, a claim that was echoed in the German financial newspaper Handelsblatt. President Macron's government later U-turned, but the damage was done. Even before the blood clot scare, millions of doses of the Oxford vaccine lay unused in Europe owing to such misinformation.

The EU's self-inflicted woes are no cause for Schadenfreude. As well as causing thousands of avoidable deaths, the advance of Covid across the continent heightens the risk of new variants.

But the vaccine debacle challenges Europe's progressive self-image. The continent that supposedly reveres the Enlightenment has disregarded empiricism and scientific inquiry. The continent that casts itself as a beacon of internationalism has succumbed to petty chauvinism. And the continent that claims to protect its citizens has left all too many defenceless.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Yang lays blame on teachers union for sluggish pace of school reopenings (SALLY GOLDENBERG and TINA NGUYEN, 03/18/2021, Politico)

Andrew Yang is fed up with New York City's school closures, and he's not mincing words about it.

The leading mayoral candidate, who has a 5-year-old son in a Manhattan public school, took aim at the city's 190,000-member United Federation of Teachers for its perceived role in delaying school openings during an interview with POLITICO this week.

"I will confess to being a parent that has been frustrated by how slow our schools have been to open, and I do believe that the UFT has been a significant reason why our schools have been slow to open," Yang said.

He has been among the most vocal of the Democratic mayoral candidates in expressing displeasure with how the de Blasio administration has handled school closures amid the pandemic.

Good Remnant podcast explains why this is so courageous. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Kremlin Assets Aided Pro-Trump 2020 Documentary Featuring Caputo, Nunes (Matt Gertz, 3/20/21,Media Matters

Russian government proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network" as part of the Kremlin's wide-ranging effort to influence the 2020 presidential election by falsely accusing President Joe Biden of corruption in Ukraine, the U.S. intelligence community revealed in a report Tuesday.

The report does not explicitly identify the documentary or network in question. But the timeline and subject matter match The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder, which the pro-Trump One America News Network aired in late January 2020. Former Trump aide Michael Caputo hosted that one-hour special, which featured separate interviews with a former Ukrainian official later sanctioned by the federal government for his role in a Russian influence operation and with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), at the time the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

To be fair, Mr. Nunes has never pretended not to be a Russian operative. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Anne Bradstreet & the Puritan Influence on America (Robert Stacey, August 12th, 2016, The Imaginative Conservative)

Contradictions aside, Bradstreet helps us identify four distinct principles that were dear to the Puritan colonists and which came to have a significant influence on the development of the American Republic. These are the notion of "covenant," the balance between individual and community, the identity of a "chosen people," and an abiding sense of optimism. Each of these, in turn, is worthy of a brief review.

The Covenant

Perhaps the single most important political and social concept in all of Puritan theology is that of the covenant. Modern readers often conflate the notion of covenant with the more widely understood notion of contract. A contract is a legal document between two or more parties that defines a quid-pro-quo exchange between them. For example, Party A might enter into a contract with Party B to mow his grass each week for fifty dollars. The two parties negotiate a price, terms of service, and other details and then bind themselves to the contract. The contract is legally enforceable should one party violate the terms.

A covenant is quite different. The covenant is a biblical concept and many examples can be found on the pages of Scripture. All covenants have certain common characteristics. First, a covenant is always made between God and people, as opposed to a contract which is made simply between people. Next, the terms of a covenant are non-negotiable. Whereas the parties to a contract typically collaborate on mutually acceptable terms, the terms of a covenant are dictated by God Himself and are not subject to amendment. Finally, a covenant is permanent, in many cases extending beyond the lifetimes of the initial generation of subscribers. Whereas a contract ordinarily concludes when the relevant parties have fulfilled their obligations to one another, a covenant has no earthly expiration date.

To further illustrate this principle, consider an example from the Old Testament. God famously enters into a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17. In declaring this covenant, the Lord issues the terms to Abraham: "I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you... And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojourning." For their own part, Abraham and his descendants (none of whom were even born yet) are to worship God and circumcise their children as a sign. And of course, several times throughout the chapter, God calls this Abrahamic covenant "an everlasting covenant," an indication of its permanency.

Even those unfamiliar with the Scriptures, however, may nevertheless recognize another biblically-based covenant that the Puritans observed, the marriage covenant. Contemporary views of marriage have drifted over time toward the contractual, but a more traditional view underscores its covenantal origins. For example, the pledge of marriage is not traditionally understood as an agreement between a man and a woman, but rather a commitment to God that a man and woman undertake together. In other words, the traditional vows are made before and to God Himself. And again, God and not man actually dictates the terms of traditional marriage. The duties of a husband to his wife (and vice versa), as well as the requirement of strict fidelity to one another, are covenantal terms of marriage not open to renegotiation.

Like most other American Puritans, Bradstreet absorbed the principle of the covenant into nearly every aspect of life. "To My Dear and Loving Husband," Bradstreet's most well-known poem, practically shouts out a covenantal understanding of marriage. The unity of husband and wife ("If ever two were one, then surely we..."), the requirement of exclusive devotion ("My love is such that rivers cannot quench..."), and the permanence of the marital relationship ("...when we live no more we may live ever") are all emphasized in this one brief poem.

Individual vs. Community

Bradstreet is best known as a poet, but she also wrote a series of short, aphoristic-style "Meditations" in prose. In one of these "Meditations," Bradstreet examines the injunction found in Proverbs 22, "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." She focuses on the phrase "the way he should go," that is, it behooves parents to discern the differences among their children and guide them appropriately. "Diverse children have their different natures," she writes, "some are like flesh which nothing but salt will keep from putrefaction, some again like tender fruits that are best preserved with sugar." Education and childrearing, thus, are not one-size-fits-all.

Bradstreet here captures something of the balancing act the Puritans performed between the autonomy and affirmation of the individual and the needs of the larger community. Of course, every culture must deal with this same problem, finding an acceptable equilibrium between the parts and the whole. Indulge too much individualism, and a society quickly declines into anarchic uncertainty. Subsume individual interests too much into the whole, and oppressive tyranny is never far behind.

The Puritans, not surprisingly, looked to the example of the Bible for guidance in balancing the interests of the one with the interests of the many. The Old and New Testament alike are replete with messages of individual salvation. Each and every one of us, we are told, will be judged by God for our personal sins, and only those meriting forgiveness through Christ the Son of God will be saved. Obviously, the needs, interests, and duties of the individual are critically important in the Christian economy. However, despite the fact that clergy and laymen of many stripes ignore it, the Bible also reveals God's interest in larger groups, communities, and nations. A careful reading of the Old Testament, the Puritans often pointed out, shows many instances of both judgment and blessings poured out on whole cities and nations. "[T]he day is coming... to cut off from Tyre and Sidon every helper that remains," Jeremiah warns, for example. Israel itself goes through cycles of collective judgment and redemption. And, of course, the collective destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is still a well-known Old Testament story. But the New Testament also indicates God is attentive to groups as well as individuals. In Revelation 2-3, for example, we see the Holy Spirit pronouncing judgments and blessings on the seven churches of the ancient world, suggesting that God certainly places value on both individuals and communities.

The American Puritans took to heart such passages, placing due emphasis on the individual's need for salvation and the community's need to maintain its shared obligations to God. Hence, Puritan colonists enjoyed a great deal of latitude in matters of politics and the disposition of property compared to their brethren in Britain. But Puritan communities also insisted on the necessity of maintaining proper order, especially when it came to worship. Their notion of religious liberty was not hyper-individualistic. The individual had the autonomy to engage in false or heretical acts of worship if he chose to (and to personally suffer God's wrath for doing so), but the community had no obligation to permit false worship in its midst. In fact, the community could be held accountable for tolerating such behavior. Still, despite popular misconceptions, very few heretics died at the hands of Puritan colonial governments. But a number of offenders were banished from Puritan colonial communities. In essence, the Puritan view was, "You may worship God in whatever manner you please, but if you insist on rejecting our community standards, you must do it somewhere else."

Covenant theology was semi-secularized in the Coronation charters that English monarchs issued leading up to the Great Charter, together forming the basis--along with the ancient republics--of our Founding. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Americans trimmed credit card debt during pandemic thanks to stimulus (Stephanie Asymkos, March 18, 2021, Yahoo! Finance)

Americans whittled down credit card debt and paid their bills on time more often during the pandemic, according to new data, thanks largely to government and lender largess and curtailed spending.

"The ongoing financial support for households, limited ability to spend the same during the pandemic as prior to it, and the widespread availability of payment relief for borrowers have led to lower credit card balances and much lower delinquencies than we'd expected this time last year," Greg McBride, Bankrate's chief financial analyst told Yahoo Money.

Read more: Coronavirus pandemic: How to rebuild after a financial hit

Between March 2016 and March 2020, the country's collective credit card loans or balances grew by 29%, but those balances dropped after the pandemic's arrival and now sit 13% below the pre-pandemic high, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis data by Nicholas Colas, cofounder of DataTrek Research. 

That works out to a reduction of $112 billion, or $350 per individual American, Colas found.

While the top-line story of the pandemic is the 300k excess deaths Donald was responsible for, he also gets credit for the Bushesque economic response.  Following the W/UR/Bernanke model and improving it by giving money directly to individuals worked again. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


The Science of Making Americans Hurt Their Own Country (Anne Applebaum, March 19, 2021, The Atlantic)

The National Intelligence Council has released an unclassified report assessing, retrospectively, foreign threats to the 2020 election. It has a few twists and turns: The Iranian government attempted to run some kind of online influence campaign; the Chinese government considered doing the same but then dropped the idea. But most of the report is about Russia. Unlike in 2016, Russian intelligence operatives weren't in the business of hacking and leaking this time around. Instead they concentrated on planting what they would call kompromat. The NIC focuses in particular on the activity of Andriy Derkach, a Russian agent and Ukrainian citizen who used former President Donald Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to spread disinformation about Joe Biden and his family. The report also mentions Konstantin Kilimnik, another Russian agent, who was playing the same game.

When I read the report, my instinctive reaction was I know all of this already. No wonder the story is familiar--most of it appeared in newspapers as it was unfolding. Giuliani's contacts with Derkach can't be described as an open secret, because they weren't secret at all. In 2019 the two men appeared together on the One American News Network, a far-right channel that breathlessly described Derkach as part of a group of "actual whistleblowers," talked about the "impeachment hoax," and referred to the FBI's "personal hatred for Donald Trump." Giuliani and Derkach provided the channel with doctored tapes and other material designed to create the impression that Biden was somehow involved in corruption in Ukraine.

Kilimnik, too, has become an old and familiar face in American politics, one that appears in election after election. During the 2016 campaign, Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager, passed polling information to him. Although this fact turned up in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of the 2016 election, nobody has ever explained why Kilimnik wanted this polling information or what he might have done with it. Now here he is, back again, front and center in 2020. The new report says that--in addition to providing kompromat to OANN--Kilimnik, Derkach, and others "met with and provided materials to Trump administration-linked US persons to advocate for formal investigations; hired a US firm to petition US officials; and attempted to make contact with several senior US officials." [...]

As a result, supplying an edited audiotape or a piece of false evidence to one of the bottom-feeders of the information ecosystem is incredibly easy; after that, others will ensure that it rises up the food chain. Russian disinformation doesn't succeed thanks to the genius of Russians; it succeeds thanks to the sharp partisanship of Americans. Russian disinformation works because Americans allow it to work--and because those same Americans don't care anymore about the harm they do to their country.

One begins to question the provenance of the laptop Rudy brought back from Ukraine....

March 19, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


N.H. Senate Advances Offshore Wind Procurement Plan With Near-Unanimous Vote (ANNIE ROPEIK, 3/19/21, NHPR)

The New Hampshire state Senate on Thursday advanced a plan to require utility investment in large offshore wind energy projects and other renewable sources. The proposal for what's known as a "procurement program" passed on a bipartisan 23 to 1 vote.

The amended bill would have a new state committee solicit proposals from New Hampshire utilities for connecting the regional grid to at least 600 megawatts of new offshore wind on the East Coast, and up to 800 megawatts of renewables total - two-thirds the output of Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Trump's Mar-a-Lago partially closed due to COVID outbreak (JILL COLVIN and TERRY SPENCER, 3/19/21, AP)

Former President Donald Trump's Palm Beach club has been partially closed because of a COVID outbreak.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Trump's 'Chinese Virus' tweet helped lead to rise in racist anti-Asian Twitter content: Study (Mishal Reja, March 18, 2021, ABC News)

"Anti-Asian sentiment depicted in the tweets containing the term 'Chinese Virus' likely perpetuated racist attitudes and parallels the anti-Asian hate crimes that have occurred since," said Dr. Yulin Hswen, an assistant professor of epidemiology at UC, San Francisco and the study's lead author.

The results, published in the American Journal of Public Health, come in the wake of a string of attacks on Asian communities in the U.S., including a series of shootings in Georgia that left six women of Asian descent dead.

The study indicated a difference in anti-Asian sentiment when using neutral hashtags such as #COVID-19 versus racist hashtags like #Chinesevirus -- 20% of the hashtags associated with #COVID-19 demonstrated anti-Asian sentiment, compared to 50% of hashtags with #Chinesevirus.

Dr. John Brownstein, an ABC News Medical Unit contributor and author of the study, said that such online conversations can spark violent reactions.

"We often see that online conversations that contain messages of hate don't stay online," Brownstein said. "Oftentimes, the conversations that take place on social media results in real world consequences."

Dr. Daniel Rogers, an expert on misinformation at New York University, said that hateful content on social media can lead to more of the same being served up to users via platforms' algorithms.

"As platform algorithms pick up on engagement around this toxic content, they recommend increasingly more extreme content to users until their feeds are dominated by nothing but the most extreme stuff, goading those users with a propensity toward violence to potentially committing hate crimes," Rogers said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


An American Defense of Britain's Constitutional Monarchy (JOSEPH LOCONTE, March 18, 2021, National Review)

Britain's monarchy stretches back over 1,000 years, even before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Although Britain has flirted with absolute monarchy -- in which the powers of the king or queen are virtually unlimited -- the English have always returned to constitutionalism. The signing of the Magna Carta (1215) was one of the great hinges of political history. The monarchy agreed that no political leader was above the rule of law. The monarchy asserted the principles of due process and trial by jury.

No other political system at that time, anywhere in the world, upheld these basic concepts of justice. Foundational to the American constitutional order, they still have no place in many parts of the world today.

When King Charles I tried to rule without Parliament, he set off a constitutional crisis. Although there were other issues in play, the English Civil War (1642-1651) was an existential struggle between political absolutism and constitutionalism. In the end, Thomas Hobbes and his Leviathan lost the argument. In the decades that followed, England became the epicenter of the most important debates occurring anywhere over mankind's inalienable rights: freedom of speech, of the press, of the right to assemble, and the right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience. All of these rights, of course, would be exported to the American colonists and enshrined in their state constitutions.

The British monarchy, despite its often-contentious relationship with Parliament, became an indispensable ally in the struggle for self-government: The Glorious Revolution (1688-89) marked another milestone in constitutionalism.

To most Britons, William of Orange was not an invader. The real invader was James II who, after ascending the throne, trampled the ancient English constitution underfoot. The new monarchs, William and Mary, came to restore it. They committed themselves -- as Protestant rulers, submissive to the authority of the God of the Bible -- to obey the laws of Parliament. They agreed to limit their own powers and defend the principle of government by consent of the governed. And they endorsed the English Bill of Rights, which is considered the model for the American Bill of Rights.

That the pretended power of suspending of laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal. That Elections of Members of Parliament ought to be free. That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.

John Locke's Two Treatises of Government (1689), his revolutionary defense of government by consent, was vindicated in this remarkable political and cultural moment. These and other documents, legitimized and enforced by the British Crown, laid a new foundation in the West for individual rights and constitutional government. Together, they shaped the fundamental laws of the North American colonies.

Thus, a century before the Americans launched a revolution to reclaim their "chartered rights" as Englishmen, England's monarchs had decisively rejected political absolutism. They presided over a culture of common law, rooted in a belief in mankind's "natural and inalienable" rights. In this way, they helped the West to reimagine the core purpose of government: to secure these God-given rights and freedoms for all citizens of the commonwealth.

The impact of all this on the American Founders was profound -- not only on the concepts embedded in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, but also on the very structure of the Constitution itself. As the Founders designed the separation of powers, for example, they turned to Montesquieu, the French theorist who prized the English example. "He was an ardent admirer of the English constitution," wrote Russell Kirk in The Roots of American Order. "He finds the best government of his age in the constitutional monarchy of England, where the subject enjoyed personal and civic freedom."

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM



THERE are many causes for the rediscovery in our time of the love of dictatorship, for the heartbreaking revival of the preference for what a sixteenth-century French thinker perplexedly called "voluntary servitude." Some of those causes are economic, but not all of them. We are witnessing also an intellectual convulsion. Not an intellectual war, exactly: one side has yet to come in its full force to the barricades. It has failed in this way before, and disaster ensued. That side is, of course, the liberal side. The rise of authoritarianism is nothing other than the decline of liberalism. In an alarming number of countries and cultures, some of which have experienced a liberal order and some of which have not, the liberal idea is being furiously delegitimated. And not only delegitimated, but also slandered. The description of liberalism as an evil may be the greatest lie of our exceedingly mendacious time.

I leave it for historians to document the plenitude of blessings that the liberal order conferred upon those societies which wisely joined it over the last seven or eight decades. Never has more progress been accompanied by less injustice than in the liberal era. Since I believe that this momentous progress has been owed as much to beliefs as to policies, and that political climates are prepared by intellectual climates, I am more concerned about the philosophical origins of our political circumstances. Intellectually, I am a warmonger. I confess to a lust for battle. It cannot be otherwise, since my enemies, the enemies of liberalism, also have a lust for battle, and they have launched their attack. It comes at us from all sides.  In some ways (but not as many as certain commentators think) we have been re-enacting the 1930s, and one of them is in the consensus among the right and the left, among the regressive populists and the progressive populists, that the liberals are the villains. 

The ultras can live happily with each other; they need each other; they thrive off each other. They share the revolutionary mentality, the excitement of apocalyptic feeling. Together, therefore, they must band together to destroy the anti-apocalyptics in their midst--the ones who worry about the means as well as the ends; who would rather repair institutions than destroy them; who remember the long history of venalities and atrocities committed in the pursuit of justice; who abhor mobs; who insist that authenticity must answer to morality; who despise simple explanations and worldviews that can be captured in slogans and flags; who dread redemptions and redeemers. Now all those convictions, all the great principles that constitute the liberal tradition, every single one of them, must be defended. After everything that liberalism endured and survived, after the unimaginably savage assaults of fascism and communism, we must steadfastly fight for it all over again, and we must begin again at the beginning. Many of our current opponents are the heirs of liberalism's older enemies, and we, too, must keep the faith of our fathers--not because it is ours, but because ethically and philosophically we can justify it. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Biden's new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland strikes fear into the heart of the GOP -- here's why (Sonali Kolhatkar, 3/19/21, Independent Media Institute)

The fear was on display during Haaland's confirmation hearings when Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) led the GOP opposition to her nomination, claiming that she had a "very well documented and hostile record toward made-in-America energy, toward natural resource development, toward wildlife management and sportsmen." Daines denounced Haaland's "very far left divisive positions that will fail to represent the West, to be in the mainstream of commonsense and balance." Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, concurred with his colleague, deeming Haaland's views as "radical." The Center for Responsive Politics points out that both Daines and Barrasso have each received more than half a million dollars from the oil and gas industry.

As interior secretary, Haaland is as much of an opposite of her white male predecessors as one can imagine. In 2018, President Donald Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told oil and gas industry representatives seeking to drill on public lands that the federal government should partner with them and "not be in the business of being an adversary." At another conference he told the industry that the U.S. government "should work for you." Zinke then resigned in a cloud of ethics scandals and went on to work as a consultant for the former industry clients he once was tasked with regulating. Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, known as "a walking conflict of interest," then replaced Zinke. As one analyst described it, Bernhardt had "alternated between lobbying gigs and jobs in the Interior Department since 1998."

Both Zinke and Bernhardt represent the epitome of the corrupt "revolving door" between corporate lobbyists and government. In contrast, before she ran for Congress, Haaland visited tribal leaders protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, and led the New Mexico Democratic Party's divestment from Wells Fargo over the bank's funding of that controversial pipeline project.

As interior secretary, Haaland will oversee the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has been accused of routinely auctioning off federal lands to oil and gas companies and ignoring tribal leadership in drilling projects. Haaland told me that her ancestral homeland of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico remains continuously under threat from the BLM, which favors hydraulic fracturing (fracking) projects on grounds that are considered sacred. Indeed, during his last year as interior secretary, Bernhardt proceeded to lease lands near Chaco Canyon for fracking and mining operations at the same time as tribes were occupied with trying to survive the coronavirus pandemic. Brian Sybert, executive director of Conservation Lands Foundation, complained that "[o]nce again, Secretary Bernhardt is putting profits ahead of the people, and is failing to recognize the impact of the pandemic on tribal communities who hold Chaco Culture National Historical Park sacred."

Now, for the first time in this nation's history, an Indigenous person not beholden to corporate interests will wield decision-making power over oil and gas projects on federal lands. While Biden's choice of Haaland to lead the Interior Department is indeed commendable and forward-thinking, the dangers of shaping policy through departmental discretion alone is that future administrations can easily reverse progressive trends. In order to truly cement a climate-justice-centered approach to the management of natural resources, Congress and the president need to lead through legislation. The environmental organization Food and Water Watch hailed Haaland's confirmation as the first step in a fracking ban. But, as the group rightly asserts, "Now the White House must follow through on a ban on fracking on public lands."

As soon as he took office, the president signed an executive order suspending oil and gas drilling on public lands for two months. But the move is symbolic and falls far short of an actual ban. Sensitive to relentless Republican accusations of wanting to ban the extractive industry, Biden took pains to reiterate as he signed the executive order, "Let me be clear, and I know this always comes up: We're not going to ban fracking."

During Haaland's confirmation hearings, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) was correct in seeing the battle over her nomination as a "proxy fight about the future of fossil fuels.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


DARPA Aims to Boost US Manufacturing of Certain Chips (Defense One, Mar. 19th, 2021)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced a program for expanding the access to domestic manufacturing capabilities for secured microelectronics development for defense systems, according to Thursday press releases. 

The Structured Array Hardware for Automatically Realized Applications, or SAHARA, program will enable the automated and scalable conversion of field-programmable gate array designs into Application Specific Integrated Circuit, or ASIC, platforms for defense needs, according to a DARPA press release. Intel will work with researchers from the University of Florida, University of Maryland, and Texas A&M, in a three-year partnership under the SAHARA program, according to an Intel press release. 

"SAHARA aims to enable a 60 percent reduction in design time, a 10X reduction in engineering costs, and a 50 percent reduction in power consumption by automating the FPGA-to-Structured ASICs conversion," Serge Leef, a program manager in DARPA's Microsystems Technology Office, said in the DARPA release. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Governors bullish about beating Biden's May 1 vaccine directive - if the doses keep coming (Courtney Subramanian & Joey Garrison, 3/18/21, USA TODAY)

Governors of both parties have said their states will have no trouble meeting the May 1 deadline as long as the federal government supplies state health officials with enough vaccination doses. National Governors' Association spokesman James Nash said no governors have expressed concern about the president laying down the May 1 marker or that it's an unrealistic goal. 

Some states had already planned to expedite eligibility before hearing from the president. 

Hours before Biden's address last week, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, outlined a May timeline for the general public to become eligible for vaccines in his state. The next morning, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, another Democratic ally of Biden, revealed all Michiganders 16 or older will be eligible by April 5 - nearly a month before the president's benchmark. This week, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, moved up overall vaccination eligibility to the same April 5 date.  

"Over the course of the next month, I think you're going to find that everybody has vaccines and appointments available to them," Lamont said of the situation in his state.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Business leaders: Give immigrant 'Dreamers' the legal status and certainty they deserve (Matt Shay, Jay Timmons, Chuck Robbins and Dan Carroll, 3/18/21, USA Today)

Far from affecting only the Dreamers themselves, the uncertainty in their lives has far wider impacts to the communities to which they contribute. Their inability to plan and build their lives, not knowing whether they may be forced out of their jobs or deported, has hindered our country's economic growth and job creation, while forcing them to live in fear that they may be separated from their families and loved ones. Congress can do right by these young people while helping ensure that all industries benefit from a more prepared, stable workforce.   

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the contributions of Dreamers into even sharper focus. Nearly 1 million Dreamers work in essential front-line roles -- in education, health care or medical research, in our food production supply chain and in vital sanitation jobs. They have helped to keep us all healthy, safe and cared for in the midst of this unprecedented crisis. Dreamers are our friends, colleagues and neighbors, as well as the parents of nearly 750,000 U.S. citizen children.They attend American schools, worship alongside us and contribute to our communities in countless ways. 

The overwhelming majority of Americans of all political backgrounds support offering legalization to Dreamers as a practical step because they understand that these young people -- who came to our country at the average age of 6 -- are American in every single way except on paper. Among our businesses and in nearly every sector across the economy, we are lucky to employ hundreds of thousands of these hardworking young people who bring their talents, skills and work ethic to growing the economy and driving innovation every day. They are valued team members whose contributions allow us to compete on a global basis, and many Dreamers are themselves entrepreneurs who have created American jobs for their communities.   

As Congress and the new administration work to advance our economic and public health recovery, it's well past time to act quickly and do the right thing for these young American Dreamers, and their families, communities and workplaces.

March 18, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 PM


'Face Shoot That F***er': California Cops' Group Texts Show Violent and Sexually Explicit Discussions About Suspects, Women, and Homeless (JERRY LAMBE, Mar 18th, 2021, Law & Crime)

Two police officers in Northern California were suspended on Wednesday evening pending an investigation into a series of violent, demeaning, and sexually explicit text messages sent in a group chat with other officers last year. The messages included discussions of shooting a recently freed prisoner and of beating protesters.

The graphic messages were first obtained and reported on by the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday afternoon. In response to inquiries from the newspaper, the Eureka Police Department announced that two of the officers who most frequently contributed to the discussion -- Sgt. Rodrigo Reyna-Sanchez and Ofcr. Mark Meftah -- were being put on paid leave "effective immediately."

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


US to Provide Coronavirus Vaccines to Neighbors   (Steve Herman, March 18, 2021, Voice of America)

"It makes sense for the United States to loan its surplus of millions of doses to neighbors where it can be put to good use right away," said Joshua Busby, assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas-Austin.

The pending deals with Canada and Mexico, Busby told VOA, do not go far enough because "more countries in the Americas and beyond will need vaccines. But I'm confident that the Biden team is aware of this."

Busby, author of the book "Moral Movements and Foreign Policy," said he expects in the coming months the Biden administration will make a major effort to increase global vaccine access "because the longer the epidemic persists globally, the greater the risk of variants that could emerge for which the current vaccines are ineffective."

Asked on Thursday about requests from other countries to make U.S. coronavirus vaccine stock available to them, Psaki replied: "Certainly we'll have those conversations, and we are open to receiving those requests and obviously making considerations."

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Far ahead of target date, 100 million vaccinated by Friday, Biden predicts (SEBASTIAN SMITH, 3/18/21, afp)

 US President Joe Biden said Thursday that his goal of getting 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses administered in his first 100 days in office will be met by Friday, far in advance of the original target.

"I'm proud to announce that tomorrow, 58 days into my administration, we will have met my goal of administering 100 million shots to our fellow Americans," he said in a White House speech.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Florida Republican taken into custody on felony election fraud charges: report (Bob Brigham, March 18, 2021, Raw Story)

"Frank Artiles, the Republican political operative suspected of secretly arranging a sham candidate to run in a key 2020 state senate race, surrendered to a Miami-Dade County jail on Thursday to face felony campaign finance charges," the Miami Herald reported Thursday. "Artiles, himself a former state senator, was seen arriving at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, along with his lawyer."

"Artiles is facing several charges, including felony charges for making illegal contributions and false swearing in connection to the election, according to a copy of the arrest warrant," the newspaper reported. "Prosecutors say Artiles offered Alexis (Alex) Pedro Rodriguez $50,000 to run in the race to 'siphon votes from the incumbent,' Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez. Half was to be paid during the election and the rest after the election, Alex Rodriguez told prosecutors."

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Veselnitskya's Trump Tower Coverup Linked to Secret Russian Chemical Weapons Program (Nico Hines, Mar. 18, 2021, Daily Beast)

Aeroflex, which is no longer trading, was busted by the State Department for hundreds of International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) violations "largely consisting of unauthorized exports." There is no indication that the company broke the law by delivering the rad-chips to Riol-Chemie--the transactions occurred years before the U.S. government announced that the German company was a secret part of Putin's illicit arms smuggling operation.

The repeated links between companies accused of laundering the $230 million and Riol-Chemie may point to a wider, calculated scheme with far-reaching political implications. Money stolen from the Russian people--while the authorities turned a blind eye--was apparently channelled into a black market weapons program. Whoever directed the dispersal of the stolen funds also played a top secret role in Russian national security.

"This clearly shows why Putin has become unhinged because of the Magnitsky investigation," said Bill Browder, who has led the anti-corruption campaign in the name of his former lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. "Every layer of this onion that is peeled, ever more dirty and dangerous information emerges."

Previous reports have also claimed that some of the stolen funds ended up in the hands of people connected to Syria's chemical weapons program.

The man given the task of shutting down the Magnitsky-inspired investigations that were blooming all over the world was Yury Chaika, one of Putin's top fixers and Russia's prosecutor-general up until last year. President Obama signed the anti-corruption Magnitsky Act into law in 2012, and Chaika's protégée, Veselnitskaya, was sent to make the case against the law at the notorious Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort in 2016.

Putin brought it up with Trump himself at the Helsinki summit in 2018. The former president listened, nodding along with a litany of distortions about election interference, Crimea, and Browder during a joint press conference.

Veselnitskaya was also part of the legal team defending Prevezon, another of the companies accused of laundering the stolen money, which was under investigation by the Southern District of New York. The case was eventually settled out of court with Prevezon paying $6 million. Velselnitskaya was charged with obstruction of justice for colluding with Chaika's office in Moscow to doctor evidence submitted to the court.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Battered by pandemic, some ultra-Orthodox question supporting Haredi parties (BEN SIMON, 3/18/21, Times of Israel)

Tensions between mainstream Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim, have roiled throughout the pandemic.

Top rabbis refused to close religious schools while hundreds of thousands of secular children stayed home, and street-packing Haredi funerals ignored restrictions on gatherings.

The public was infuriated, and blamed Haredi defiance for extended lockdowns.

But beyond hostilities between mainstream Israelis and Haredim, experts said the pandemic has ignited an internal debate within the ultra-Orthodox community over whether its conduct during the crisis was justified.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Yemeni women use solar to light up homes, one village at a time (BY CORRESPONDENTS IN SANAA WITH MOHAMAD ALI HARISSI, 3/18/21, AFP) 

In a conservative country wracked by hunger and poverty amid a devastating war that has destroyed most infrastructure, 36-year-old Iman Hadi and her burqa-clad colleagues are achieving what many would have thought unthinkable.

Hadi has been managing the all-female Friends of the Environment Station in the rebel-held area of Abs, northwest of the capital Sanaa, since 2019.

Equipped with six solar power grids, the station is the only source of electricity for dozens of houses in several villages.

Hadi said the idea started when the women imagined what they could do to help ease the impact of war on the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula.

"We were able to make many people happy by connecting their houses to electricity," said Hadi, wearing the all-covering robe and well-worn gloves as she sat behind her desk in a makeshift structure at the station.

The station, one of three in the country but the only run by an all-female crew, started with 20 houses. Today, it powers twice that number.

March 17, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The Cop Who Said The Spa Shooter Had "A Bad Day" Previously Posted A Racist Shirt Blaming China For The Pandemic (Stephanie K. Baer, 3/17/21, BuzzFeed News)

The Georgia sheriff's official who said the man accused of killing six Asian women and two others in shootings at spas in the Atlanta area had "a bad day" previously shared a photo of racist T-shirts on social media.

In a Facebook post from April 2020, Cherokee County Sheriff's Capt. Jay Baker shared an image of T-shirts based off the Corona beer label that said "Covid 19 IMPORTED VIRUS FROM CHY-NA."

"Love my shirt," Baker wrote. "Get yours while they last.'"

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


From Amazon To FedEx, The Delivery Truck Is Going Electric (Camila Domonoske, 3/17/21, NPR)

Whether or not you want an electric vehicle in your driveway, you might soon spot one showing up on your curb.

All major delivery companies are starting to replace their gas-powered fleets with electric or low-emission vehicles, a switch that companies say will boost their bottom lines, while also fighting climate change and urban pollution.

UPS has placed an order for 10,000 electric delivery vehicles. Amazon is buying 100,000 from the start-up Rivian. DHL says zero-emission vehicles make up a fifth of its fleet, with more to come.

And FedEx just pledged to replace 100% of its pickup and delivery fleet with battery-powered vehicles by 2040.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Florida Man Charged For Attacking Cops During Capitol Riot While Wearing 'Trump' Flag Jacket (Ryan J. Reilly and Jesselyn Cook, 3/17/21, Huff Po)

Federal authorities have charged a Florida man who was caught on video attacking police officers with a fire extinguisher while wearing an American flag jacket bearing the name of former President Donald Trump.

Robert Scott Palmer, a 53-year-old business owner from Clearwater, Florida, was arrested on Wednesday, according to court records. Palmer has been charged with assaulting/resisting/impeding officers, engaging in civil disorder, and entering restricted building or grounds, according to court records.

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


WHO Points To Wildlife Farms In Southern China As Likely Source Of Pandemic (Michaeleen Doucleff, 3/15/21, WBUR)

A member of the World Health Organization investigative team says wildlife farms in southern China are the most likely source of the COVID-19 pandemic.

China shut down those wildlife farms in February 2020, says Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist with EcoHealth Alliance and a member of the WHO delegation that traveled to China this year. During that trip, Daszak says, the WHO team found new evidence that these wildlife farms were supplying vendors at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan with animals.

Daszak told NPR that the government response was a strong signal that the Chinese government thought those farms were the most probable pathway for a coronavirus in bats in southern China to reach humans in Wuhan.

Those wildlife farms, including ones in the Yunnan region, are part of a unique project that the Chinese government has been promoting for 20 years now.

"They take exotic animals, like civets, porcupines, pangolins, raccoon dogs and bamboo rats, and they breed them in captivity," says Daszak.

The agency is expected to release the team's investigative findings in the next two weeks. In the meantime, Daszak gave NPR a highlight of what the team figured out.

"China promoted the farming of wildlife as a way to alleviate rural populations out of poverty," Daszak says. The farms helped the government meet ambitious goals of closing the rural-urban divide, as NPR reported last year.

"It was very successful," Daszak says. "In 2016, they had 14 million people employed in wildlife farms, and it was a $70 billion industry."

Then on Feb. 24, 2020, right when the outbreak in Wuhan was winding down, the Chinese government made a complete about-face about the farms.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


There were 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents, mostly against women, in past year (Kimmy Yam, 3/16/21, NBC News)

New data has revealed over the past year, the number of anti-Asian hate incidents -- which can include shunning, slurs and physical attacks -- is greater than previously reported. And a disproportionate number of attacks have been directed at women.

The research released by reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate on Tuesday revealed nearly 3,800 incidents were reported over the course of roughly a year during the pandemic. It's a significantly higher number than last year's count of about 2,800 hate incidents nationwide over the span of five months. Women made up a far higher share of the reports, at 68 percent, compared to men, who made up 29 percent of respondents. The nonprofit does not report incidents to police.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Electronic Umpires Are Good for Baseball (Tom Joyce, 3/16/21, Splice Today)

There's no perfect umpire and that's bad for the game. MLB defines the strike zone as, "the area over home plate from the midpoint between a batter's shoulders and the top of the uniform pants--when the batter is in his stance and prepared to swing at a pitched ball--and a point just below the kneecap."

MLB needs this to be a matter of right and wrong, not someone's opinion or a human being who'll make mistakes. A lot of baseball fans know who Angel Hernandez is, for example, and that's because he's a terrible umpire. Why should his poor decision-making impact the outcomes of games? A team deserves to win if they do everything right. However, someone like Hernandez making mistakes jeopardizes that success. We shouldn't dismiss umpire's miscues as part of the game.

Hernandez aside, there are other umpire problems. Different umpires call different strike zones. That's why we see pitchers talking to umpires between innings about certain pitches. They want to know how the umpire sees the pitch because it varies from umpire to umpire. That's stupid. This isn't a matter of opinion.

Additionally, umpires tend to give veteran players more leeway. Younger pitchers get a slightly less favorable strike zone from umpires while it's slightly more favorable for veteran pitchers. Those who watched former New York Yankees closer and Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera pitch have probably witnessed this phenomenon before. He got a wider strike zone than most, as data confirms.

Others argue that umpires are racist and that white umpires give more favorable calls to white pitchers than blacks and Hispanics.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Few Academics Support Cancel Culture (Eric Kaufmann, March 17, 2021, Heterodox Academy)

Most academics in the United States, Britain and Canada do not support dismissing politically-incorrect academics. In a major new report for the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology (CSPI), I draw on the largest set of surveys of academic and graduate student opinion to date to show that only 1 in 10 academics in the social sciences and humanities back campaigns to dismiss professors who report controversial findings around race and gender. In general, graduate students are at least 10 points more likely to favor dismissing controversial staff than academics the same age.

At Cambridge University, over 80 percent of more than 1,500 staff voted for Dr. Arif Ahmed's motion to replace a suggested university policy mandating 'respect' for others' beliefs with a more classical liberal duty to 'tolerate' others' beliefs. The picture that emerges of academics in the social sciences and humanities (SSH) in the US, Canada and Britain likewise suggests that most have a stronger free speech orientation than many conservatives or moderate observers assume.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Everybody Has a Sad Story (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, March 16, 2021, National Review)

A funny thing I've noticed about some of my friends: They are for the most part successful, high-income people with happy families and rewarding jobs, and they have enjoyed if not all the best that America has to offer then much of it: good-to-elite educations often paid for by someone else, social and cultural opportunities, travel, leisure, security. A few of them already are semi-retired in their late 40s. They are almost without exception in the top 10 percent when it comes to incomes, and many of them earn at even more rarefied levels.

But, strangely, many of them feel uniquely put-upon.

They believe their stories to be stories of hardship overcome. If they were poor families (as I was), then they feel that this presented them with a practically Dickensian disability; if they were from well-off families, then it is something else: They belong to a minority group, or they felt like outsiders for some other reason, felt like they didn't fit in in high school, had a bad relationship or marriage early in life, an alcoholic parent, that sort of thing. A few of my close friends growing up really did have heavy personal burdens, e.g., having arrived on these shores as a wartime refugee from Vietnam, speaking not a word of English. But most of us -- myself included -- had it pretty easy.

My impression is that what's at work in those stories is a kind of moral greed. It isn't enough that we get to enjoy the best of (almost) everything that money can buy or that social status can confer -- we also desire the moral pleasure that comes from feeling that we have earned these things in a special, personal way, that we overcame great barriers to achieve them. People lost their minds over the racial aspects of The Bell Curve, but what is really socially disruptive about Charles Murray's thesis in that book is that there isn't really any meritocracy -- if the most important life outcomes are conditioned on an immutable and largely hereditary gift that cannot be acquired through hard work and dedication, then you have an intellectual caste system, not a meritocracy. I think that is much more the case than most of us who have benefited from that arrangement would like to admit.

I suppose it is natural to believe that you had it especially hard and that everybody else had an easier time of it than you did. We experience our own hardships much more intensely than we experience those of other people, including people we care about. ("Empathy" is a literary device.) And envy comes to us more easily than does sympathy.

The one intolerable thought is that none of us is unique in any meaningful way. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Border Patrol agents are 'working to sabotage the Biden administration', according to insiders: The Trump-supporting Border Patrol labor union is reportedly teaming up with Republicans to launch a PR offensive on Biden's government. At the same time, officers have chosen to continue to treat migrants at the border like Trump is still president (Andrew Feinberg, 3/17/21, Independent)

But while Republicans and right-wing media outlets are making noise about a "Biden border crisis" in hopes of inflaming the anti-immigrant base that helped Trump win the White House in 2016, insiders who've worked at DHS, Border Patrol, and other executive branch agencies have a different view. These insiders say that many of the allegations being made by House Republicans and some of the problems arising at the border -- such as the large number of minors remaining in CBP custody longer than court-ordered and statutory limits -- have all the hallmarks of a coordinated push by Border Patrol officers, including the leadership of the Border Patrol's pro-Trump labor union, to undermine the current administration. 

"This is a planned, coordinated attempt to sabotage the Biden administration," said Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent-turned-immigrant rights activist who works with the Southern Border Communities Coalition. 

Budd added that the fact that unaccompanied minors are being kept at Border Patrol stations for extended periods of time appears to be "an internal crisis" of the agency's own creation: "It does not take that long to process children." 

Budd recounted a time when she approached a border station in 2019 and spoke to agents who were aware that she had been part of the agency but were not aware of her current immigration activism: "I asked them why it was taking them so long to process -- it didn't take that long [even] when I had to hand-write everything back in the day -- and they would say, 'We're trying to teach them a lesson'. So they were intentionally keeping people in there for over two weeks at a time in these conditions to punish them. That is the only reason why they were doing that." 

Budd continued on to say that the same people who responsible for harsh treatment of migrants during the Trump era are still in charge: "They do this on purpose. And none of that has changed in the management has not changed at all. But the same people who separated families and created the last crisis are doing it again."

Reassign them all to the Aleutian border. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


New era beckons for Cuba, without a Castro in power (Carlos Batista, 3/17/21, AFP)

Sixty-year-old Diaz-Canel, like many other members of the party's new decision-making politbureau, was born after the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro, who died in 2016.

And the new executive team "will have the task of building its own legitimacy, which could come from a political project that brings economic prosperity and social justice to Cuba," said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington DC.

There have already been some cautious shifts.

In recent months, artists and intellectuals earned themselves an audience with the government, rather than arrest, after several protests -- a rarity on the strictly-controlled communist island -- to demand free expression.

Animal rights activists, too, have made their voices heard with the first-ever non-political demonstration authorized by the state, culminating in the country's first animal protection laws.

The new executive will have to introduce further cautious political reform "to effectively manage the tensions in society" -- between the old guard and a new generation better connected to the rest of the world, said Shifter.

The arrival of internet on mobile phones at the end of 2018 has made for a societal paradigm shift, with never-before-seen access to information previously controlled by the state media, and new forums for expression, even organizing demonstrations.

The party has said next month's congress would have to reflect on how to better deal with "political-ideological subversion" on social media.

The country's direction will also largely be shaped by Cuba's relationship with the United States.

President Joe Biden had promised during his election campaign to reverse certain sanctions toughened under his predecessor Donald Trump.

But Cuba would have to give something back in the form of human rights reforms.

...just lift every sanction and allow the free movement of goods and people on our end.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


The Covid Queen of South Dakota: Gov. Kristi Noem's state has been ravaged by her Trumpian response to the pandemic -- but that hasn't paused her national ambitions (STEPHEN RODRICK , 3/17/21, Rolling Stone)

At first, the angel of death skipped over South Dakota. This pleased the Snow Queen.

It was Fourth of July weekend, and Gov. Kristi Noem was hosting Donald Trump for fireworks at Mount Rushmore. Covid-19 had already killed 122,000 Americans. Still, Noem cleaved closer to Trump's failed policies than any other governor. In public, she recited Trump's talking points: Covid was a Democratic plot to take over the country, masks were optional, and we're open for business. Superficially, the statements seemed less crazy when delivered in the calm voice of a rancher's daughter instead of that of an outdated tangerine con man. She even had South Dakota host a clinical trial for hydroxychloroquine, the president's preferred snake oil.

Noem made the bet that the novel coronavirus would miss her rural state, and so far she had been mostly right. As the holiday approached, South Dakota had lost only 97 people. Of course, those 97 died horrifically. Early in the crisis, ICU nurse Adam Drake monitored a Covid-positive young man at Rapid City's Monument Health Hospital. The man was intubated and allowed no visitors, per Covid protocol. He was heavily sedated and remained unresponsive until the 27-year-old Drake held up an iPad with the man's family on the other side of a video call. Then tears ran down the man's face. He died a few days later.

But those were isolated cases; some of the early casualties were immigrant meat-plant workers and Native Americans, not Noem's base. South Dakota was doing so well that Noem was the only governor to turn down federal unemployment assistance. Meanwhile, she spent $5 million on "South Dakota is open for adventure" travel ads that, coincidentally, starred Noem and appeared during the Republican National Convention and Tucker Carlson's show.

Noem likes to play up her ranch roots, often appearing in public clad in a trucker cap and jeans, but she wore a sleeveless red dress at Rushmore. That day, she privately presented the president with a bust of Mount Rushmore, with Trump's face added to it. He loved it. Noem and the president became so chummy that she flew to Washington, D.C., that night on Air Force One with Trump and his entourage, including Corey Lewandowski, a new friend. Rumors spread she might replace Mike Pence on the 2020 ticket. (Noem later made another trip to D.C. to smooth over things with Pence.)

Sure, she approved the call up of the National Guard on the Lakota Indian protest of Trump's visit that resulted in an activist being charged with four felonies for writing "Land Back" on a police shield. For Noem, that was fake news. The next week, she rode maskless into an indoor Sioux Falls rodeo show on a horse, an American flag in her hand. "I choose to rely on science and data and facts," said Noem, despite disregarding the actual science and data.

Then she pushed in all her chips. In August, she urged Americans to ride into Sturgis for the annual motorcycle rally. "We hope people come," Noem told Fox's Laura Ingraham. She lambasted the left's negativity. "We're in a good spot." So the Harleys came and their riders drank beer and shot pool in crowded bars, totaling 366,000. They stood shoulder to shoulder as Smash Mouth's singer screamed, "[****} that Covid [****]!"

And then the wave hit.

Given the advantages of youth and isolation, only concerted policy choices could have made SD the 8th deadliest state.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


8 dead in 3 shootings at Atlanta-area spas (Catherine Garcia, March 16, 2021, The Week)

The shootings all occurred at spas where the majority of employees are Asian, and officials said they are investigating whether they are linked. 

The folks calling it the Chinese flu got their wish.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Putin Authorized Smear Campaign Against Biden, US Intelligence Concludes (Mar. 16th, 2021, Defense One)

The National Intelligence Council report does not expressly mention the Hunter Biden laptop story that hit the front page of the New York Post last October. But it does mention Andrii Derkach, the pro-Russian Ukrainian politician sanctioned by the U.S. State Department who was trafficking information remarkably similar to what showed up in the Post report. Derkach gave material to Rudy Giuliani, the New York mayor-turned-Trump lawyer. Versions of the story had been floating around since 2014. The story was dismissed by experts on Russian active measures tactics as an obvious ploy. 

"Derkach, [Konstantin V. Klimnik], and their associates sought to use prominent US persons and media conduits to launder their narratives to US officials and audiences," the report said. "These Russian proxies met with and provided materials to Trump administration-linked US persons to advocate for formal investigations: hired a U.S. firm to petition U.S. officials; and attempted to make contact with several senior U.S. officials. They also made contact with established U.S. media figures and helped produce a documentary that aired on a U.S. television network in late January 2020."

Russian active measures researcher Thomas Rid said in a tweet: "Overarching takeaway: Russian intelligence actors and proxies were far more prolific, more aggressive, and more risk-taking in the 2020 election cycle than many assumed, myself included. They were also more covert and more disciplined than in 2016. Expect more."

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Biden: Cuomo should resign if investigation confirms sexual harassment claims (AP, 3/17/21)

The pressure against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over sexual harassment allegations reached the White House on Tuesday, with US President Joe Biden saying Cuomo should resign if the state attorney general's investigation confirms the claims against him.

Biden made the remarks in an interview with ABC News that is scheduled to air Wednesday. When asked by anchor George Stephanopoulos whether Cuomo should resign if the investigation confirms the women's claims, Biden said "yes" and added, "I think he'd probably end up being prosecuted, too."

"It takes a lot of courage to come forward so the presumption is it should be taken seriously," Biden said. "And it should be investigated, and that's what's underway now."

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


J.D. Vance Joins the Jackals: How the path-breaking writer became a Trumpist troll. (MONA CHAREN  MARCH 17, 2021, The Bulwark)

Rarely does a nonfiction book make the kind of splash Hillbilly Elegy did in 2016. I was part of the cheering section. At a moment when a thousand voices on the right were proclaiming that a failure to address the problems of the white working class was the root of Trump's rise, and conservative pundits were lining up to agree that the government had failed these people, Vance emerged as an authentic voice of the working class--a self-styled "hillbilly" no less--to declare that the problems of many working-class people were largely self-inflicted.

Or perhaps a better way to say it is that their problems are a matter of personal choices. Drug abuse, welfare dependency, domestic violence, irresponsible spending, and family disintegration were all omnipresent in Vance's family and community. He wrote of children suffering from "Mountain Dew mouth," because their parents plied them with sugary sodas, sometimes even in infants' bottles, to quiet them. "This book," he wrote, "is about . . . what goes on in the lives of real people when the industrial economy goes south. It's about reacting to bad circumstances in the worst way possible. It's about a culture that encourages social decay instead of counteracting it."

The stories of his upbringing are harrowing. He described his home life as "extraordinarily chaotic." His grandmother once attempted to murder his grandfather by dousing his bed with gasoline and lighting a match (he survived). As I wrote in 2016:

Vance's mother was an addict who discarded husbands and boyfriends like Dixie cups, dragging her two children through endless screaming matches, bone-chilling threats, thrown plates and worse violence, and dizzying disorder. Every lapse was followed by abject apologies--and then the pattern repeated. His father gave him up for adoption (though that story is complicated), and social services would have removed him from his family entirely if he had not lied to a judge to avoid being parted from his grandmother, who provided the only stable presence in his life.

In a 2016 interview, Vance told Rod Dreher that his mother probably cycled through 15 husbands/boyfriends during his childhood. Family disintegration was the greatest handicap Vance and others like him were saddled with. "Of all the things that I hated about my childhood," he wrote, "nothing compared to the revolving door of father figures."

In contrast to the popular impression, Vance noted that working-class white people were not that religious. "In the middle of the Bible belt, active church attendance is actually quite low."

Vance himself gained self-command only after enlisting in the Marines. It was there that he learned to balance a checkbook, make his bed, eat healthy, keep his appointments, and avoid scams. He described it as a "four-year program of character development."

His depiction of working-class life wasn't a complete rejection of his origins. He stressed that he loved his family, and that a majority (even if just a bare one) of his community does work hard. For children trapped in dysfunctional homes, one can have nothing but sympathy. And he believed that elites did fail to evince much understanding for people who were struggling. On the other hand, he was keen to counter the pervasive sense of helplessness in the community he was raised in. "There is a lack of agency here--a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself."

In a sense, Vance was the anti-Trump. He was a true son of Appalachia striving to lift his community, in contrast to the faux populist from Manhattan seeking to flatter and exploit them. Vance felt that they needed hope and a generous dose of honesty. Trump offered fantasies and cunningly curated hatred.

During his 2016 book tour, Vance was not shy about his disdain for Trump. When NPR's Terry Gross asked how he planned to vote that November, he said, "I think that I'm going to vote third party because I can't stomach Trump. I think that he's noxious and is leading the white working class to a very dark place." In the course of a conversation with Vox's Ezra Klein, he readily agreed that Trump's rhetoric was racially incendiary. And appearing on the podcast I hosted at the time, Need to Know, Vance said that as the election year progressed, he became more and more convinced that Trump could win. He had texted his book agent, he told Jay Nordlinger and me, saying that, "If Trump wins it would be terrible for the country, but good for book sales."

March 16, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Europe's vaccine lunacy (Noah Millman, March 16, 2021, the Week)

The safety concerns in question revolve around a handful of cases of abnormal blood clotting observed in people in the U.K. and elsewhere who received the vaccine. So far, though, it doesn't look like the numbers of such cases are out of line with the incidence in the general population. In other words, there isn't even evidence yet of an increase in abnormal blood clots, much less proof linking them to the vaccine. The European Medicines Agency has reaffirmed its conclusion that the vaccines are safe, as has the World Health Organization. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration still hasn't approved them for use in the U.S., but the expectation is that the approval will be forthcoming in April, notwithstanding the recent concerns in Europe.

In normal circumstances, then, the decision to pause would likely be criticized as an overabundance of caution that would cost lives. But these are not normal circumstances. In a pandemic, it is normal to cut a variety of corners -- using smaller-than-recommended doses of the vaccine, for example -- to halt the spread of the disease, because the trolley really is going to hit a whole lot of pedestrians if it isn't stopped as quickly as possible. In that regard, what makes the European pause especially maddening is that abnormal blood clotting is a well-documented symptom of COVID-19 itself, which the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has been demonstrably effective at preventing. Even if every case of abnormal clotting observed in the vaccinated population were due to the vaccine, the virus would cause them at a rate nearly a hundred times higher -- and if it continues to rage unchecked, most of Europe's population will get it.

Moreover, the pace of the pandemic in Europe is about to accelerate. Cases are rising again across the continent, even as they continue to drop in the U.K. and Israel, both countries that made rapid vaccination a clear priority -- and both countries where the new, more contagious and more deadly British variant is now dominant, as it increasingly is in Europe as well. Europe is already far behind both these leading countries, as well as the U.S., in vaccinating their population, partly because of lack of supplies due to poor procurement decisions at the EU level, and partly because of vaccine hesitancy that is much more widespread in Europe than in the U.S. They need a massive boost to their effort, not additional obstacles -- particularly not ones that reinforce the obstacles they already have.

So why on Earth have so many European governments decided to give the virus a greater lease on life? The answer might be politics: the desire to deflect blame for limited supplies and to tarnish the reputation of a company based in the land of Brexit. It's notable therefore that national governments, which are more responsive to the voters than Brussels bureaucrats, are the ones pulling the lever this time. If politics is the motivation, these governments must be convinced that their electorates will reward them for taking action ostensibly on their behalf, and won't punish them for the consequences in terms of future lockdowns and an economic recovery that lags East Asia and North America -- to say nothing of a higher ultimate death toll. In other words, they're betting that people only notice when someone pulls a lever, not how many people get hit by the trolley.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Russian Interference in 2020 Included Influencing Trump Associates, Report Says (Julian E. Barnes, March 16, 2021, NY Times0

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia authorized extensive efforts to hurt the candidacy of Joseph R. Biden Jr. during last year's election, including by mounting covert operations to influence people close to former President Donald J. Trump, according to a declassified intelligence report released Tuesday.

The report did not name those people but seemed to be a reference to the work of Mr. Trump's former personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who relentlessly pushed allegations of corruption about Mr. Biden and his family involving Ukraine.

"Russian state and proxy actors who all serve the Kremlin's interests worked to affect U.S. public perceptions in a consistent manner," the report said. [...]

The reports, compiled by career officials, amounted to a repudiation of Mr. Trump, his allies and some of his top administration officials. They categorically dismissed allegations of foreign-fed voter fraud, cast doubt on Republican accusations of Chinese intervention on behalf of Democrats and undermined the allegations that Mr. Trump and his allies spread about the Biden family's work in Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Biden Opened Temporary Legal Status to Thousands of Immigrants. Here's How They Could End Up Trapped. (Dara Lind, March 16, 2021, ProPublica)

President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are working to rescue immigrants who've been living in the U.S. for decades under a "temporary" legal status. But the Biden administration is simultaneously extending that same status to hundreds of thousands more immigrants -- putting them at risk of getting caught in a similar limbo.

The problems posed by the temporary protective status program came into focus last week when the administration used executive authority to grant the status to as many as 300,000 Venezuelans and about 1,600 Burmese currently in the U.S. who are deemed unable to safely return home because of humanitarian emergencies in their countries. Activists and some elected Democrats are pushing the Biden administration to issue more TPS grants for immigrants whose home countries are suffering from war, natural disasters or other emergencies, including Haitians who arrived in the U.S. after 2011 and Cameroonians.

But right now, there is nothing to ensure that any of these immigrants will have a path to eventual citizenship. Although the House of Representatives is working on bills that would create such a path for those who already hold TPS -- most prominently the Dream and Promise Act, which the House will vote on this week -- those proposals do not apply to the people who are getting temporary status now, or who might get it in the future.

This threatens to leave them in a state of uncertainty that has become all too common in the 30 years since Congress created the TPS program: The relief is often not exactly temporary, but it's not exactly permanent either.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The U.S. solar industry posted record growth in 2020 despite Covid-19, new report finds (Pippa Stevens, /16/21, CNBC)

U.S. solar installations reached a record high during 2020 as favorable economics, supportive policies and strong demand in the second half of the year offset the impacts from the coronavirus pandemic.

Installations grew 43% year over year during 2020, reaching a record 19.2 gigawatts of new capacity, according to a report released Tuesday from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenize.

During the fourth quarter alone, the U.S. added slightly more than 8 gigawatts of capacity -- a new quarterly record. To put the number in context, during all of 2015, 7.5 gigawatts were added. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's CFO's ex-daughter-in-law is cooperating with prosecutors and 'refuses to be silenced,' her lawyer says (Jacob Shamsian, 3/15/21, Business Insider)

An attorney representing the former daughter-in-law of the Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg says she's cooperating with prosecutors conducting an inquiry into Donald Trump's finances and "refuses to be silenced."

"Jennifer Weisselberg is committed to speaking the truth, no matter how difficult that may be," her attorney, Duncan Levin, told Insider in a statement. "She will continue to cooperate fully with the various law enforcement agencies that are investigating her ex-husband's family and the very powerful interests they represent."

"Jennifer refuses to be silenced any longer by those who are conspiring to prevent her from sharing what she has learned over the past 25 years," Levin added.

Levin's comments come in response to a request for comment Friday about a New Yorker story on Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s investigation into the former president and the Trump Organization. The story includes an anecdote from Jennifer Weisselberg, who told the New Yorker's Jane Mayer she met Trump at a shiva and that he shared photos of naked women at the Jewish mourning ceremony. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


2 men charged in assault of US Capitol officer who died after riot (MICHAEL BALSAMO and ALANNA DURKIN RICHER, 3/16/21, AP)

US officials have arrested and charged two men with assaulting US Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with bear spray during the January 6 riot, but they do not know yet whether it caused the officer's death.

George Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, and Julian Khater, 32, of Pennsylvania, were arrested Sunday on an array of charges, including assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy and other offenses. 

March 15, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Americans Have Saved Enough Amid Pandemic to Nearly Pay for Biden's Stimulus Plan (ALEXANDRA HUTZLER, 3/15/21, Newsweek)

During the yearlong coronavirus pandemic, Americans have accumulated nearly enough money in excess savings to pay for President Joe Biden's sweeping relief package.

In a report released earlier this month, Oxford Economics estimated that U.S. households saved $1.8 trillion from March 2020 to January 2021--just shy of the $1.9 trillion price tag for Biden's American Rescue Plan. [...]

Biden's package is estimated to bring accumulated excess savings to $2.5 trillion in the next three months, Daco added.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


GOP's Ron Johnson slammed by Black Christian historian for his 'chilling' and 'racist' comments (Matthew Chapman, March 15, 2021, Raw Story)

On CNN Monday, Black Christian historian and author Jemar Tisby tore into Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) following his remarks that he would have only been scared of Capitol rioters if they had been Black Lives Matter activists or antifa members, as opposed to people who "loved this country" -- and compared it to former President Donald Trump's infamous order for the far-right Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by."

"What did it feel like to feel that spoken out loud by a U.S. senator?" asked anchor John Berman.

"It's absolutely chilling," said Tisby. "Because there are multiple messages here. So we focused on the racist part. But what is Ron Johnson saying to these white supremacists, extremists willing to break into the Capitol to get their way based on a conspiracy theory about election fraud. It says, to me, the echoes of the 'stand by and stand back' comment. It's a wink and a nod to these forces that says, whatever you do, you will not face strong repercussions, at least from politicians like Johnson and those who agree with him. And then it's chilling because it opens up the pathway for more incidents like we saw on January 6th."

"He said, out loud, that he saw them as people who love this country," said Berman. "I mean, if that's not a permission structure, I don't know what is."

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


How the West Lost COVID How did so many rich countries get it so wrong? How did others get it so right?  (David Wallace-Wells, 3/15/21, New York)

I'm bashing my head as well," says Devi Sridhar.

It is January 2021, and the Florida-born, Edinburgh-based professor of global public health is looking back on the pandemic year, marveling and despairing at opportunities lost. From early last winter, Sridhar has been among the most vocal critics of the shambolic U.K. response -- urging categorically more pandemic vigilance, which she believed might have yielded a total triumph over the disease, a cause that has picked up the shorthand "Zero COVID." "This is where I started," Sridhar says. "An elimination approach to the virus. My mind never went, 'Oh, we should treat this like flu.' It started off with, like, 'We treat it like SARS until I see evidence otherwise.'"

In 2003, SARS had been eliminated after only 8,000 infections; its biggest foothold outside Asia was in Canada, which reported just a few hundred suspected cases. With COVID, Sridhar says, "I was following the response in China. They went into lockdown. You saw New Zealand pivoting that way and then Australia after." But not the U.K., where an erratic series of scientific advisories pushed the government first to embrace a target of herd immunity, then to backpedal, but not enough. Sridhar describes those advisories with retrospective horror, an inexplicable preemptive surrender by the public-health apparatus.

"Basically, going back to January, they'd be like, 'China's not going to control it; 80 percent of the population is going to get it; all efforts to contain it are going to fail; we have to learn to live with this virus; contact tracing and testing make no sense; this is going to be everywhere; right now we need to build up hospitals' -- which they didn't even do. But they really didn't think it was stoppable," she says. "And then all of a sudden you started to see, in February, South Korea stopping it, Taiwan stopping it, and China stopping it. Then, in March, New Zealand. And then Australia. And then there's this realization of, 'Oh, wow. Actually, it is controllable.'"

At the beginning of March, South Korea was averaging more than 550 new daily confirmed cases, compared with just 53 in the U.K. At the end of the month, South Korea had 125; the U.K. was at 4,500 and climbing. "In the UK we have had nine weeks to listen, learn and prepare," Sridhar wrote angrily in the Guardian, berating the British regime for failing to establish basic systems for supplies, testing, and contact tracing. "Countries such as Senegal were doing this in January," she wrote. "We had a choice early on in the UK's trajectory to go down the South Korean path," but instead the country was at risk of sleepwalking from small failures into giant ones. "We must race to make up for the time lost during two months of passivity," Sridhar concluded. Of course, the country didn't, and now its death toll measures in the six figures. Sound familiar?

"I mean, the U.K. was consumed with Brexit," Sridhar says now. "The U.S. had Trump. To them, this is something happening somewhere else across the world. And they just want to ignore it as long as they could." As the pandemic progressed, both exhausted countries flipped from denial to capitulation, choosing to treat almost any caseload plateau as an opportunity to relax, no matter how high a level of ongoing spread it represented. "It was like, 'We're gonna have a great summer and holidays,'" she says, laughing ruefully. "Can you believe it? Last summer, I was up on panels with Tory politicians where they're saying, 'You're safer flying to Greece or to Spain than being in the U.K. because they have lower rates than us.' And they are 100 percent serious! It's like it's a basic human right, to have a holiday and go abroad, and we can't possibly take it away. Everyone was saying elimination was impossible. You still hear it, right? 'Impossible, it's impossible.' Which is kind of the choice that we've made here. Elimination is just too difficult."

Sridhar is pointing her finger at British authorities, but in her diatribe you could comfortably substitute for the U.K. almost any nation in Europe. In its broad strokes, the picture has been the same in Belgium and France and Italy and the Czech Republic, too, in Portugal and Poland, Sweden and Switzerland and Spain, even Germany and the Netherlands, and dozens of other countries across the Continent. From the spring panic through the fall surge, pandemic policy differed nation to nation, but failure was general all across Europe. Aside from the three Nordic outliers of Finland, Norway, and Iceland, no European state has managed the coronavirus well by global standards -- or by their own much higher ones.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Tesla faces race with Volkswagen as German giant targets battery costs and new gigafactories (Jack Denton, Marc, 3/15/21, MarketWatch)

The race to dominate the electric-vehicle industry may be getting tighter between Tesla and Volkswagen, as the German automobile giant revealed plans on Monday to reduce the cost of its batteries and operate a wide-ranging charging network.

In its first-ever "Power Day," reminiscent of electric-car maker Tesla's TSLA, 1.48% much-hyped "Battery Day," the German group that owns Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche said it would rely on six gigafactories in Europe to secure supplies as the industry faces a looming battery shortage.

Shares in Volkswagen Group VOW, +3.55% jumped up around 3% on Monday as the company's top executives outlined a road map for technological expansion.

Electric vehicles have become Wolfsburg, Germany-based Volkswagen's "core business," said Herbert Diess, the chair of the group's board of management, and its new plans come as the battle to dominate the fast-growing electric-vehicle space heats up. 

According to analysts at UBS, EVs could penetrate 100% of the automobile market by 2040. Over the next few years, the Swiss bank projects that Volkswagen and Tesla will emerge as the market leaders, with the German company expected to catch up with Tesla in terms of total volume of cars sold as soon as next year.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wages Did Not Rise in Arizona After SB1070 (Alex Nowrasteh, 2/19/21, Cato)

National conservatives have latched onto the idea that cutting immigration will increase wages despite all of the evidence to the contrary. One of the pieces of evidence they cite most is a 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal that states that wages for construction and farm occupations in Arizona went up by 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively, in the 4 years after Arizona passed its immigration enforcement law SB1070 in 2010. Both Oren Cass and Christopher Caldwell use this data point.

The only problem is those claims about wages are not true. Wages did not rise in Arizona after the passage of SB1070. This blog post uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) and different methods to investigate whether wages for construction and farm workers rose in Arizona after the passage of SB1070. In every instance, wages did not rise in Arizona after that state passed immigration enforcement laws in 2007 and 2010. Just as economic theory would predict, there was no absolute rise in wages after Arizona cracked down on illegal immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


US secretary of state calls Taiwan 'country' (Keoni Everington, 2021/03/12, Taiwan News)

At the tail end of a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the Biden administration's foreign policy agenda, Representative Young Kim (R-CA) noted that Taiwan has served for decades as an "invaluable security and global health partner to the United States." She pointed out that given Taiwan's contributions to the international community and its "strong democratic system," it has earned "a seat at the table like the WHO to share its expertise."

Kim then called on the Biden administration to include Taiwan in the upcoming Democracy Summit and to commence talks with it on a free trade agreement. Blinken responded that he is "absolutely committed" to her suggestions and that he shares her view that "Taiwan is a strong democracy" and "a very strong technological power."

He went on to say that Taiwan is "a country that can contribute to the world, not just its own people. COVID is a very good example of that." Young agreed with the diplomat's remarks.

Blinken committed to trade talks, Taiwan's inclusion at U.S. summit (CNA, 3/11/21) 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said he is committed to pushing the administration of President Joe Biden to begin talks on free trade agreement negotiations with Taiwan, and for the latter to be invited to the Summit for Democracy, which the U.S. will likely host later this year.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


'Kung Flu': Texas Ramen Eatery Covered in Racist Graffiti After Owner Opposed Lifting Mask Mandate (CHRISTINA ZHAO, 3/14/21 , Newsweek)

A Texas ramen restaurant was vandalized with racist graffiti on Sunday after its owner spoke out against Republican Governor Greg Abbott's recent decision to lift the state's coronavirus mask mandate. [...]

Photos shared to Facebook showed racist graffiti in red ink on the windows of the restaurant, including the words, "No Mask," "Kung Flu," "Commie," "Hope U Die" and "Ramen Noodle Flu."

Navy probe finds contractor charged in Capitol insurrection was well-known Nazi sympathizer (Marshall Cohen, 3/14/21, CNN)

An Army reservist charged with storming the US Capitol was a well-known White supremacist and Nazi sympathizer at the Navy base where he worked as a contractor, and was even rebuked for sporting a distinctive "Hitler mustache," prosecutors said in new court filings.

Federal prosecutors revealed Friday that the Navy conducted its own internal investigation into Timothy Hale-Cusanelli that uncovered numerous incidents where he promoted racist and sexist views. The Naval Criminal Investigation Service interviewed 44 of his colleagues and 34 of them said he held "extremist or radical views pertaining to the Jewish people, minorities and women."

March 14, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Forget Batteries, This Electric Vehicle Startup Uses Solar Power to Charge Up Cars (Sissi Cao, 03/14/21, NY Observer)

At this year's (virtual) Consumer Electronics Show in January, Sono unveiled its latest prototype SEV (solar electric vehicle), a passenger car called Sion. The company also showcased a trailer outfitted with Sono's solar body panels to demonstrate the technology's potential to be integrated into other vehicles.

At first glance, Sion doesn't look much different than any other black compact car roaming the streets in European cities. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the car's exterior is made up of hundreds of solar cells molded into polymer. These solar cells (which total 248 in all) convert sunlight into energy, which is then stored in the vehicle's battery. Based on average weather in Munich, solar cells on a Sion can generate up to 1.2 kilowatts a day, which translates into 21 miles of driving range. That alone is enough for most commuters in Europe, who on average drive 11 miles a day.

In America, people drive a bit more (average 30 miles a day), but also likely live in places that have more sunny days than Munich.

Yet, it's still not quite a fully solar-power car. Combined with its built-in lithium-ion battery, a Sion can last for 155 miles on a single charge at a maximum speed of 140 km/h (87 mph).

But Sono's solar panels aren't designed to replace traditional charging methods anyway, Hahn stressed. Instead, it's supposed to be a power supplement to reduce a battery car's reliance on charging infrastructure. In Germany, for instance, where commuters drive 10 miles daily, solar integration in the Sion car extends the need to plug in from once a week to once a month.

The larger purpose is to integrate the technology into the rest of the transportation industry. "We have a two-fold goal: to build an affordable mass-market SEV and to make this technology available to other battery-powered vehicles, trains, boats, basically any moving thing that consumes electricity," Hahn explained.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Cruelty Is ApostasyReflections on Beth Moore's departure from the Southern Baptist Convention. (David French, 3/14/21, The Dispatch: French Press)

While the original reports about her departure accurately note that Beth faced angry resistance within the SBC when she opposed Trump, attacked Christian nationalism and white supremacy, and stood with victims of sexual abuse within the church (and even note that her ministry lost $1.8 million between 2017 and 2019), it's hard to fully capture the sheer, relentless cruelty, mockery, and malice she has endured for years.

You can go down entire YouTube rabbit holes featuring video after video of Christian critics attacking her in sneering and condescending terms. The online abuse has been astounding. Critics dissected her public statements syllable by syllable, and fired missile after missile from their theological and ideological citadels. The message was simple--Beth Moore is wrong. The gloves are off. 

In evaluating the reality of the last five years, what has been more salient and relevant to the daily lives of so many American Christians, the fact of disagreement with brothers and sisters or the manner of disagreement with brothers and sisters? 

There is a tremendous, yawning difference between humble and kind members of competing Evangelical factions and cruel and self-righteous gladiators in the public square. It's not merely or mainly the ideological differences that tear apart friendships, it's the knowledge--as my friend Russell Moore (no relation to Beth) wrote recently--that every word from your mouth "will lead to psychological warfare."

And make no mistake, while Beth has experienced an avalanche of rage and hate from the right, there is no single church faction or ideological side that has a monopoly on cruelty. The spirit of the age declares that if you get the "big" things correct (your political ideology, your complementarian or egalitarian theology) then cruelty and self-righteousness in the pursuit of those goals are either minor flaws ("bad manners") or outright virtues (after all, didn't Jesus drive the money-changers from the temple with a whip?)

But it's past time to acknowledge that we're often turning our priorities upside-down. It's past time to acknowledge that cruelty is its own form of apostasy. Cruelty is disobedience. 

The biblical evidence is everywhere. In Matthew 7, Jesus warned his disciples against "false prophets," declaring "You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit."

In Galatians 5, Paul says, "[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law."

Reflecting on the primacy of issues or ideology, consider the first verses of 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

And what is love?

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I can keep going and going. I will keep going. Recently a friend asked me to go back and reread the Westminster Catechism's explanation of the Sixth Commandment. "It's convicting," he said. And so it is:

Q134: Which is the sixth commandment?

A134: The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

Q135: What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?

A135: The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves  and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.

I wonder, does Beth Moore leave the SBC if the daily reality of her engagement with critics had been  characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness? Does this moment in the church feel so fraught if our disagreements are characterized by "compassion" and "patient bearing"? 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


3D-printed housing developments suddenly take off - here's what they look like (Diana Olick, 3/12/21, CNBC)

Barely a month ago, a 3D-printed house was listed for sale to the public for the first time in the U.S.

Now, a small, 3D-printed community in Texas is following suit. Another, larger community in California is also in the works.

In other words, 3D-printed real estate is taking off in a big way.

That first home that went up for sale hasn't even been built yet. The company, SQ4D, printed a model home at a concrete yard on Long Island, New York, and hosted more than a hundred showings. The new home will be printed on a lot nearby.

ICON, a pioneer in 3D-printed homes in the U.S., just completed four homes in East Austin, Texas. In partnership with Kansas City-based developer 3Strands, the two- to four-bedroom homes are now on the market, starting in the $400,000 range.

"The demand has been off the charts, hard to manage even," said Gary O'Dell, co-founder and CEO of 3Strands. "The feedback could not have been more positive."

The city of Austin, one of the fastest growing metropolitan markets in the country, has already embraced the concept of 3D-printed homes, so the zoning and permitting process was relatively easy, O'Dell said.

"We built four homes in the configuration we did because we could do it in the existing zoning," he added.

It's impossible to overstate deflationary pressures. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Popularity of US stimulus puts Republicans in a bind (Lauren Fedor, Mar. 14th, 2021, Financial Times)

The American Rescue Plan Act, the second-largest economic stimulus bill in US history, is Joe Biden's flagship legislative item. It includes one-off $1,400 cheques for Americans earning up to $75,000 a year, an extension of federal unemployment benefits until the beginning of September, and thousands of dollars in tax credits for children, among other provisions.

A Pew survey published on Tuesday showed 70 per cent of American adults favoured the bill, compared to 28 per cent who said they opposed it. Among Republicans or independents who said they "leaned Republican", a significant 41 per cent said they favoured the package.

"The package is popular and widely supported, and the Republican objections to it have not been persuasive enough or consistent enough to do the bill any real damage at this point," said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster. [...]

Most Democrats are not fazed by the criticisms. Matt Bennett, co-founder of the centrist Democratic think-tank Third Way, said Republicans were "living in the past" by trying to attack the bill in the same way they went after Barack Obama's response to the financial crisis in 2009.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Trump's Judges Stuck a Pin in the 'Stop the Steal' Balloon (Jake Whitney, Mar. 14th, 2021, Daily Beast)

On Monday, the last judicial shoe dropped on Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his third and final high court challenge. As America transitions to a Biden presidency, the court's ruling exemplifies why the judiciary is our nation's strongest bulwark against authoritarianism. Indeed, during the biggest threat to our democracy in modern history, the American court system was our last line of defense, proving, as Andrew Jackson once wrote, "All the rights secured to the citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing...except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous judiciary."

When Donald Trump left office in January as a one-term president, he had nonetheless made a vast impact on the American court system. In four years, Trump had appointed 226 justices to the federal bench, including 54 to the appellate court. This latter number is just one justice fewer than Barack Obama appointed to that court in his entire eight years as president. Of the nation's 13 federal appeals courts, Trump succeeded in flipping three from liberal to conservative majorities. His three Supreme Court justices, meanwhile, were the most appointed in a single term since Richard Nixon. Indeed, Trump's mark on the American judiciary will be long-lasting and profound.

Which is why it was so significant that Trump's bogus, execrable claim that the election was "stolen" from him--the "Big Lie" as many have called it--was unequivocally, even contemptuously, repudiated by the courts. In doing so, the American judiciary saved our democracy. That may sound hyperbolic, but in an age so politically volatile that members of the American right wing plotted to kidnap a governor, broke into the U.S. Capitol, and believed the Democratic party was being led by Satan-worshipping cannibals, the judiciary proved our only institution immune to the virulent hyper-partisanship infecting this country. It managed to maintain, if just barely, the legitimacy of both political parties.

Thanks, Federalist Society!

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Abandoning masks now is a terrible idea. The 1918 pandemic shows why. (John M. Barry, Mar. 11th, 2021, Washington Post)

[I]n the past several months, different variants have surfaced almost simultaneously in Britain, South Africa, Brazil, and now in California and New York. Each of these variants has independently developed similar and in some cases identical mutations and achieved greater transmissibility by binding more efficiently to human cells.

A virus that binds more efficiently to cells it infects would, logic suggests, also be more likely to bind to a larger number of cells, which could, in turn, increase disease severity and lethality. On Wednesday, BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal, reported that Britain's so-called U.K. variant was 64 percent more lethal than the virus it replaced.

There is not enough data to evaluate the variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil, but whether or not they are also more lethal, one thing is certain -- more variants will arise. Mutations are random. Most either make the virus so defective it can't function or have no impact at all. But this virus has already demonstrated that it can become more deadly and evade some immune protection, making vaccines less effective. If we allow the virus additional opportunities to mutate, it will have more opportunities to become the worst version of itself.

There is no reason to expect that this virus will suddenly turn into 1918. There are limits as to how far it can mutate. But the more people who abandon masks and social distancing, the more infections can be expected -- and the more variants will emerge.

In gambling terms: If you roll the dice once, yes, there is only a 2.77 percent chance you will hit snake eyes. But if you roll the dice 100,000 times, it is virtually certain snake eyes will come up several thousand times.

Right now, policymakers are making decisions that will limit -- or expand -- opportunities for the virus to spread and mutate. Most proposals will require weighing costs, benefits and risks, such as when and how much to reopen the economy or delaying second doses of vaccines.

Wearing masks requires none of these calculations.

We know masks decrease transmission. Lifting a masking order not only means more people will get sick and die. It also gives the virus more rolls of the dice. That is a fact.

March 13, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Sins of Omission: Far-right Catholic media spreads COVID-19 misinformation. (Paul Moses, March 13, 2021, Commonweal)

LifeSiteNews calls itself the number-one pro-life news website, a place where journalistic accuracy is "given high priority." It aims "to dispel confusion and ignorance, enable constructive dialogue and help informed decisions to be made and appropriate actions to be taken for the good of all," according to the "LifeSiteNews Principles."

But when it comes to reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, LifeSiteNews is a superspreader of confusion, not an antidote. In tightly written prose, it mimics journalism by reporting on scientific data and studies, but so selectively as to be highly misleading. The takeaways from this skewed coverage include: don't wear face masks; don't get a COVID-19 vaccine; view the pandemic as a tool of the elite to achieve global political domination.

This is standard fare in far-right and anti-vaccine circles, but LifeSiteNews (which publishes a "Catholic Edition") and similarly minded Catholic media appeal to their followers with the powerful additive of a common religious faith. Looking through some popular Catholic websites, I found that Catholic Family News will tell you the pandemic ended months ago. Another benignly named site, Catholic Parents Online, showcases a priest preaching that COVID-19 "is a man-made virus" and falsely claiming that it didn't cause a large majority of the deaths authorities attribute to it. (It's been viewed nearly 600,000 times on YouTube.) Church Militant bluntly urged churchgoers to rebel against wearing masks during services. In segments I listened to, other popular outlets such as the Catholic Answers forum at and Relevant Radio presented lopsided views of the scientific evidence that would lead their listeners away from the small sacrifice of wearing a protective face mask.

The inclination is to look away, but that would ignore the damage done. These sites alone garnered more than 6 million visits in January, according to data compiled by SimilarWeb analytics. A lot of bad information is being passed out by organizations that claim to speak in the name of Catholic orthodoxy.

To Dr. Paul Carson, a professor of infectious diseases at North Dakota State University who is active in Catholic medical organizations and a regular guest on the EWTN radio show Doctor, Doctor (which gave sound advice in the segments I listened to), it makes no sense. "This has been one of the most troubling things to me," he said in a telephone interview. "My Catholic brothers and sisters who are normally adamantly pro-life cannot see this sort of denial and lack of sense of solidarity with other parts of the population, like the elderly."

Pro-life until birth. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


How wind power is leading America's energy transition (Katie Brigham, 3/13/21, CNBC)

Wind is now America's top renewable source of electricity generation. 2020 in particular was a banner year for wind power in the U.S., with more capacity installed in the final quarter of 2020 alone than in all of 2019. Now, the total capacity exceeds 120,000 MW, enough to power about 38 million homes.

Essentially all of that growth was in the onshore wind sector. Developers are planning more offshore projects for the coming years, too. And they're pioneering advances in the field along the way, like the development of increasingly huge turbines, with individual blades larger than football fields.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM

LEROY WHO? (slur alert):

The Baddest Man in Town: On the trail of a historical figure immortalized in African-American folklore (Eric McHenry, March 13, 2021, American Scholar)

On Christmas night 1895, at Bill Curtis's notorious St. Louis saloon, a gun-toting carriage driver named Lee Shelton shot and killed his friend William Lyons. According to an account of the incident in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, "an argument was started" between the heavy-drinking hotheads, "the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon's [sic] hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Sheldon drew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. ... When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away."

That night, a man died and a legend was born. Shelton--alias Stack Lee--would be memorialized in song, becoming perhaps the most significant figure in African-American folklore. In a 1911 article in the Journal of American Folklore, the sociologist Howard W. Odum presented several versions of the song, which he'd been collecting throughout the American South:

Stagolee killed a man an' laid him on de flo',
What's dat he killed him wid? Dat same ole fohty-fo'.
Oh dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Mississippi John Hurt, Cab Calloway, Woody Guthrie, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, and Beck are among the hundreds who have sung a version of Stagolee's story. Lloyd Price took a rollicking rendition of "Stagger Lee" to the top of the pop charts in 1959.

The Annotated "Stacka Lee": Comments on the famous murder ballad's oldest known lyrics (Eric McHenry, March 13, 2021, American Scholar)

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


The digital bots coming for office jobs (Bryan Walsh, 3/13/21, Axios)

How it works: Think of bots as robotic assistants, acting in the background to simplify and streamline some of the less exciting but necessary aspects of digital work: scheduling meetings, approving expense requests, and probably somewhere, submitting TPS reports in triplicate, "Office Space"-style.

The broader industry goes by the faceless term "robotic process automation" (RPA), which perfectly describes the mundane nature of what the bots do, while obscuring just how enormous their impact might eventually be.

"When people think of automation, they think of actual robots," says Kevin Roose, a tech reporter at the New York Times and the author of the new book "Futureproof: 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation." "But RPA is a huge industry that basically no one knows exists, and it really is accelerating."

By the numbers: A recent report by Gartner found spending on enterprise software is expected to grow 8.8% to $505 billion this year, with much of the money flowing to RPA and other forms of digital work automation.

The forced shift to remote work sped the trend -- in a survey by Deloitte last year, 73% of global executives reported their company was investing in intelligent automation, up from 58% in 2019.

UiPath, a global leader in RPA, announced a $750 million fundraising round last month and is currently valued at $35 billion, with plans to go public later this year.

Be smart: Not every bot can be classified as AI, but they are getting smarter. And while artificial intelligence can't yet handle the general tasks that humans can in the workplace, the machines can be very good at automating specific tasks.

The more robotic that digital workflow in the modern office becomes -- meaning broken down into discrete, repeated tasks -- the more room there is for bots to take over.

A single intelligent bot can't fully replace, say, a human HR worker, but over time, bots will likely be able to perform more and more of the tasks that make up that worker's job.

No one finds fulfillment in being robotic (other than Michael Dukakis).

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Dr. Fauci Tells Stephen Colbert 'Everything' Changed Under Biden (Marlow Stern,  Mar. 13, 2021, Daily Beast)

Around 2 million people have been vaccinated a day, and the process has been going so well Biden says that by May 1 all adults in the U.S. will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Fauci mainly chalked this up to the improved coordination between federal and state governments under President Biden.

"In every aspect of the endeavor, Stephen, is that before, earlier in the previous administration, a lot of discretion, a lot of authority, a lot of decision-making was left to the states themselves... but what we have more now is a cooperation, collaboration, and a synergy between the federal government and the states to get things done," explained Dr. Fauci. "I have always felt, throughout the previous year, that there should have been more interaction in terms of synergizing."

To be fair, it was Obama's DARPA that developed the mRNA process.  

March 12, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Biden Moves to Relieve Strain of Child Border Crossings (Associated Press, March 12, 2021)

The Biden administration hopes to relieve the strain of thousands of unaccompanied children coming to the southern border by ending a Trump-era order that discouraged potential family sponsors from coming forward to care for them.

The 2018 policy called on Health and Human Services to share information about family sponsors with immigration authorities, a move that discouraged parents and other relatives from stepping forward out of fear they would be deported.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Burmese in US offered temporary refuge from coup crackdown (AFP, 3/12/21)

The US government said Friday that Myanmar citizens stranded by the violence following the country's military coup would be able to remain inside the United States under "temporary protected status."

"Due to the military coup and security forces' brutal violence against civilians, the people of Burma (Myanmar) are suffering a complex and deteriorating humanitarian crisis in many parts of the country," said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

"After a thorough review of this dire situation, I have designated Burma for temporary protected status so that Burmese nationals and habitual residents may remain temporarily in the United States."

Make it permanent. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


China's gas conundrum - cleaner air but growing security risk (John Kemp, Mar 12, 2021, Reuters)

By replacing solid fuel ovens and small, old and inefficient coal-based building and district heating systems, gas has helped cut urban air pollution.

Pollution has fallen in every one of the four megacities and 28 provincial capitals, based on measurements of the volume of small particles sampled from the air, in most cases by between 15% and 40% since 2006.

The expansion of the gas network is not the only reason for falling pollution; polluting industries have been relocated away from city centers and coal combustion boilers have been upgraded to more efficient models.

But the expansion of the gas distribution system has made a significant contribution to cleaner air in areas that do not depend on heavy energy-intensive industries such as iron, steel, cement and chemicals.

The principal drawback is that rising gas consumption has far outstripped the country's ability to raise domestic gas production.

In 2006, China was essentially self-sufficient in gas, with production and consumption both running at around 58 billion cubic meters per year.

By 2018, production had increased to 160 billion cubic meters, but consumption had surged to 280 billion cubic meters, leaving the country relying on imports for more than 40% of its needs.

China sourced roughly a third of its imported gas in the form of LNG from Australia, which is closely aligned with the United States, the country's major strategic competitor.

Slightly more gas was sourced in total by pipeline from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, according to BP ("Statistical Review of World Energy", 2020).

The rest is sourced from a range of smaller suppliers, either as LNG (Qatar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Russia) or pipeline gas (Myanmar and Russia).

The relatively concentrated sources of China's gas imports, and increasing importance of gas to the country's energy system, is a growing threat to national security.

Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


German steel powerhouse turns to 'green' hydrogen produced using huge wind turbines (Anmar Frangoul, 3/12/21, CNBC)

The development in Germany is centered around seven new wind turbines operated by Avacon and two 1.25 megawatt (MW) electrolyzer units installed by Salzgitter Flachstahl, which is part of the wider Salzgitter Group. The facilities were presented to the public this week. 

The turbines, from Vestas, have a hub height of 169 meters and a combined capacity of 30 MW. All are located on premises of the Salzgitter Group, with three situated on the site of a steel mill in the city of Salzgitter, Lower Saxony, northwest Germany.

The hydrogen produced using renewables will be utilized in processes connected to the smelting of iron ore. Total costs for the project come to roughly 50 million euros (around $59.67 million), with the building of the electrolyzers subsidized by state-owned KfW.

"Green gases have the wherewithal to become 'staple foodstuff' for the transition to alternative energies and make a considerable contribution to decarbonizing industry, mobility and heat," E.ON's CEO, Johannes Teyssen, said in a statement issued Thursday.

"The jointly realized project symbolizes a milestone on the path to virtually CO2 free production and demonstrates that fossil fuels can be replaced by intelligent cross-sector linking," he added.

According to the International Energy Agency, the iron and steel sector is responsible for 2.6 gigatonnes of direct carbon dioxide emissions each year, a figure that, in 2019, was greater than the direct emissions from sectors such as cement and chemicals. 

It adds that the steel sector is "the largest industrial consumer of coal, which provides around 75% of its energy demand."

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


Over-valued fossil fuel assets creating trillion-dollar bubble about to burst (Sophie Vorrath, 12 March 2021, Renew Economy)

According to the new report, co-authored by Rethinx research fellow Adam Dorr, analysts and the broader market are still getting energy valuation badly wrong, not just on the falling costs of solar, wind and batteries, or "SWB," but on the true value, or levelised cost of energy, of conventional energy assets.

"Since 2010, conventional LCOE analyses have consistently overestimated future cash flows from coal, gas, nuclear, and hydro power assets by ignoring the impacts of SWB disruption and assuming a high and constant capacity factor," the report says.

Where the analysts are going wrong, according to Seba and co, is in their assumptions that conventional energy plants will be able to successfully sell the same quantity of electricity each year from today through to 2040 and beyond.

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


Russia's Pursuit of Internet Sovereignty Backfires, Again  (Andrei Soldatov, 3/11/21, Moscow Times)

After eight years of heavy lifting, during which the Kremlin had tried almost everything, including content filtering, repressing social media users and banning social media networks -- LinkedIn is still unavailable in Russia -- what else could Russian legislators offer in time for the Duma elections in September? 

The direct blocking of global platforms was not an option, as Putin himself had made very clear. 

The sovereign internet was the most promising tool at the Kremlin's disposal. And so the day came for Lipov to try out his system. 

On the morning of March 10, Roskomnadzor announced that from that day on the agency would slow the speed of Twitter in Russia.

"The slowdown will be implemented on 100% of mobile devices and 50% of stationary devices," the agency said.

The deputy head of Roskomnadzor clarified that the restrictions will affect the transfer of photos and videos, but not tweets. Officials reported that the operation was conducted remotely -- so far it was going according to plan. 

And then, suddenly, it all went wrong -- government websites, including, experienced outages. 

At 10 am Moscow time, traffic dropped by as much as 24% to the Russian state telecoms provider Rostelecom, according to web evaluation data director Kentik.

And then things got even worse. According to Kentik, Roskomnadzor blocked all domains containing t[.]co -- including Microsoft[.]com and Reddit[.]com -- while attempting to block Twitter's link shortener t[.]co.

Finally, the Digital Development Ministry was forced to issue a statement admitting that Rostelecom was experiencing some failure on its routers which had caused website outages. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


U.S. condemns China at UN rights forum for abuse of Uighurs, Tibetans  (Reuters, 3/12/21) 

The United States on Friday condemned China's abuse of ethnic and religious minorities, including what it called "crimes against humanity and genocide" being committed in Xinjiang region against ethnic Uighurs and severe restrictions in Tibet.

Mark Cassayre, U.S. charge d'affaires, in a speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council, also said: "We condemn Hong Kong authorities' detention of democratic activists for exercising their rights and freedoms and call for their immediate release."

No more green light from the president.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


New child tax credit could slash poverty now and boost social mobility later (Christopher Pulliam and Richard V. Reeves, March 11, 2021, Brookings)

President Biden has just signed into law a bill that fundamentally restructures the child tax credit for one year as part of a larger relief package. The policy expands the child tax credit and delivers it periodically rather than as a lump sum at tax time--effectively instituting a child allowance administered through the tax code. Under the plan, low- and middle-income families with children will receive a yearly total of $3,000 per child aged 6 to 17 and $3,600 per child under 6.

Looking at the supplemental poverty measure (SPM), this single provision is projected to reduce child poverty from nearly 14 percent to 7 and a half percent--a 45 percent reduction--according to researchers at Columbia University's Center on Poverty and Social Policy. The payments are projected to drastically cut child poverty across racial groups, but with particularly large reductions for Black, Hispanic, and Native American children. Similar reductions are expected for the number of children living in deep poverty.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


This school teaches low-income students to renovate houses--and helps them become homeowners (ADELE PETERS, 3/12/21, Co.Exist)

When students graduate from a new kind of school in Birmingham, Alabama, at the age of 20 or 21, they could end up owning a house.

The program, called Build UP (Urban Prosperity) Birmingham, is unlike any other school in the country. Low-income ninth-graders enter to earn a high school diploma, and then an associate's degree, while also training as construction workers through paid apprenticeships. They learn in part by remodeling houses in Ensley, the blighted neighborhood where they live. Later, they can move into the newly remodeled homes, and eventually they get the chance to buy them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Are electric vehicles poised to kill the gasoline engine car? (Nathan Bomey, 3/11/21, USA TODAY)

After years of sluggish adoption, electric vehicles are poised for a sharp increase in sales, new products and investments that could eventually make the gasoline engine a thing of the past.

Look no further than Wall Street, where investors are positively giddy about the prospect of established automakers offeringfull lineups of electric vehicles, like General Motors, and about the chances of startups like Lucid Motors and Rivian that are promising groundbreaking EVs to come.

In recent weeks, GM, Volvo and Jaguar have announced commitments to phase out gas-powered vehicles within the next 15, 10 and five years. Tesla's lineup has always been fully electric.

Plus, the arrival of the Biden administration and a Senate controlled by Democrats are giving electric car proponents hope of a new round of tax incentives to encourage electric car buying.

"The EV industry is entering a golden age," Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives said in a research note, noting that improvements in battery technology, tax incentives and more affordable models could lead to soaring demand.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Ted Cruz's attack on Biden's 'radical agenda' actually shows how the GOP got backed into a corner (John Stoehr, The Editorial Board, March 11, 2021, Raw Story)

[S]aying the country is returning to normal has political benefits. Most Americans are conservative in that they fear newness. The problems of the status quo might be bad, but the solutions might be just as bad, or worse. What's more, the Republicans are masterful at exploiting that fear. Every time the Democrats propose a solution to the problems we all face, they find ways to heighten fears, or cast the Democrats as being so outside the boundaries of normal politics that anything they say is un-American.

Crises of the size and scope of the covid pandemic, however, destabilize everything, including the natural, understandable and conservative fear of newness. With so many Americans getting sick and dying, the electorate became (I'm speculating here) more receptive to experiment. Anything's better than living in fear of joblessness, isolation and death. The urge to act was so strong that even a formerly conservative political party, the same one that once said we're too "broke"2 to spend money in the aftermath of the 2008 panic, quickly embraced the idea of spending money like never before.

Which is to say the Republicans under Donald Trump normalized liberalism and its preference for a government that's more active in the lives of individuals. That's not to say they became a liberal party. Far from it. It's to say the party that demonized the very word "liberal" made it acceptable for Americans to receive government aid without thinking of themselves as communists. In a very real sense, the Republicans broke the spell that anti-government rhetoric cast over the electorate for 40 years.

Fear-mongering has always been the GOP's greatest weapon. With that mostly out of the way, thanks to the Republicans themselves, the Democrats are free to move ahead with policy ideas that have been incubating for years. The passing of the American Rescue Act marks their moment. Unlike previous stimulus bills, it pushes more money to more people living in the bottom half of society than any law since the Great Society programs of the late 1960s.3 If it works, it will not only normalize but solidify the idea of using the government as a clearinghouse for distributing wealth more equitably.

For the Republicans, this should be terrifying. They face the real possibility of being so outside the mainstream of political discourse the scariest of scare tactics won't work on a national audience. In the past, they could paint the Democrats as radical. Lots of people already believed they were. But now that Biden is making permanent what the GOP itself began, the Republicans must work twice as hard at demonizing them, coming off like fools. Ted Cruz said Biden's "radical agenda" is masked by being "boring." Translation: Bidenism could be a new acceptable and defensible norm.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Stocks, Real Estate Push US Household Net Worth To $130.2T (PYMNTS,  March 12, 2021)

The worth of U.S. households hit a new high at the end of 2020, hitting $130.2 trillion, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

That happened because of the rising stock prices, real estate and other things, which canceled out the losses from the pandemic.

The number was a 5.6 percent increase from the third quarter, and up 10 percent from the end of 2019, WSJ reports.

As that's going on, financial assets are rising steadily, particularly corporate equities and mutual-fund shares. Americans have also gotten boosts from rising real estate prices, and many have refinanced mortgages at lower interest rates, taking cash out in order to pay debt or renovate their homes.

The pandemic has seen household balance sheets remain intact as the government has intervened a few times with trillions of dollars of aid, including two previous rounds of direct payments (with a third coming), and more unemployment benefits.

The rising net worth is also a big part of the country's new optimistic outlook on the economic recovery this year. Household spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the country's gross domestic product. The $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, finally signed into law as of Thursday (March 11), will help the economy along faster than anything in almost 40 years, WSJ writes.

WSJ, for its part, has lifted the forecast for national growth from 4.87 percent last month to 5.95 percent.

Remember how the Right insisted the lockdown would crush the economy? 

March 11, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


States with Republican governors had highest Covid incidence and death rates, study finds ( Dareh Gregorian, 3/11/21, NBC News)

The researchers theorized that one reason for the change is that Democrats were in charge of states where people who had the virus first arrived in the country -- but Republicans were less stringent about safeguards, which could have contributed to their states' ultimately higher incidence and death rates.

"The early trends could be explained by high Covid-19 cases and deaths among Democratic-led states that are home to initial ports of entry for the virus in early 2020," the researchers wrote. "However, the subsequent reversal in trends, particularly with respect to testing, may reflect policy differences that could have facilitated the spread of the virus."

The study, which which was published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined Covid-19 "incidence, death, testing, and test positivity rates from March 15 through December 15, 2020," when there were 16 million confirmed cases in the U.S. and 300,000 deaths. It focused on per-capita infection and death rates in the 26 GOP-led states and 24 Democratic-led states and Washington, D.C., and made statistical adjustments for issues such as population density.

But "policy differences" between the Republican and Democratic leaders emerged as a big factor for the reversal of the states' fortunes, the study suggests.

"The response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic became increasingly politicized in the U.S. and political affiliation of state leaders may contribute to policies affecting the spread of the disease," the study said.

It pointed to a finding in another study that "Republican governors were slower to adopt both stay-at-home orders and mandates to wear face masks. Other studies have shown that Democratic governors were more likely to issue stay-at-home orders with longer durations. Moreover, decisions by Republican governors in spring 2020 to retract policies, such as the lifting of stay-at-home orders on April 28 in Georgia, may have contributed to increased cases and deaths."

"Governors' party affiliation may have contributed to a range of policy decisions that, together, influenced the spread of the virus," the study's senior author, Dr. Sara Benjamin-Neelon the Bloomberg School's Department of Health, Behavior and Society, said in a statement. "These findings underscore the need for state policy actions that are guided by public health considerations rather than by partisan politics," she added.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Justice Amy Coney Barrett riles conservatives with moderate rulings (Alex Swoyer, 3/08/21, The Washington Times)

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was billed as a jurist in the mold of the late conservative icon Justice Antonin Scalia, is raising eyebrows with early rulings in which she sides with the high court's moderates.

Justice Barrett appeared to break with her mentor Scalia, for whom she clerked, when she joined the moderates and liberals on the bench in rejecting a pro-Trump challenge to Pennsylvania's election laws and leaving in place some COVID-19 restrictions on houses of worship.

She was President Trump's third high court appointee and has been on the bench for only about four months, not leaving much time for her to craft her own opinions.

She cast votes in a few pivotal cases, though, and aligned herself more with the moderate Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh than with more conservative colleagues such as Justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas.

"I've heard some conservatives express frustration -- sort of lump her with Roberts and Kavanaugh," said Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice.

The Right, like the Left,  wants judicial activism, not legal reasoning. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


The Fugitive: TV's Enduring Morality Story (Chris Beck, 3/11/21, Splice Today)

Unlike many fictional mavericks, Kimble isn't weighed down by bitterness, contempt, or excessive self-regard.

He's a pragmatic, improvisational survivalist--quick on his feet, elusive, and adaptable to new environments. The Fugitive can be seen as an update of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Like Inspector Javert in relentless pursuit of ex-con-turned-do-gooder, Jean Valjean, Gerard won't cut Kimble a break, no matter how many good deeds he does. The disgraced doctor's ever-present virtue and integrity serve as constant amplifiers of his tragedy. This is the story of a spiritual quest presented as an adventure tale. As a spiritually-evolved man, Kimble is in the world, but not of it, meaning that not even continual persecution can rob him of the kind of freedom he's determined to maintain.

This program represents a major television achievement. Its finale had the highest ratings in the history of TV at the time. While The Fugitive could get mannered and melodramatic, and the storylines were sometimes predictable, it still holds up today, in part because of Janssen's performance. That was a time when TV characters could be presented as passing every moral test they face, but the saints have disappeared. We're now asked to like characters despite their constant moral failures. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


PODCAST: Rep. Andy Biggs Says Follow the Science, Open Schools (Rachel del Guidice, March 11, 2021, Daily Signal)

"Half of all the adolescents and young adults have experienced some suicidal ideation that they had never had before," Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., says of the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
It's past time to open schools, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., says.

"The percentages for teachers or students is really, really low," Biggs, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, says of the risk of contracting COVID-19. "In Florida, they're playing sports."

"The flip side of it, of course, is this isolation, this online learning, this basic lockdown for these kids is producing greater suicide rates, higher depression rates," Biggs says. "And something like half of all the adolescents and young adults have experienced some suicidal ideation that they had never had before. That's a result of these school lockdowns, which don't follow the science and they don't make sense."

Jonah Goldberg and daniel DiSalvo explained this week why you can't get teachers to teach or police to police

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Air Pollution Kills Far More People Than Covid Ever Will (Tyler Cowen, Mar. 10th, 2021, Bloomberg)

More than 10 million people die each year from air pollution, according to a new study -- far more than the estimated 2.6 million people who have died from Covid-19 since it was detected more than a year ago. And while Covid is headline news, ordinary air pollution remains a side issue for policy wonks and technocrats.

You might wonder whether the estimate of 10.2 million excess deaths from pollution is accurate. The study, which specifically examines global mortality from particulate matter generated by the combustion of fossil fuels, does deploy some complex measurement techniques. Still, if you believe that smoking is bad for people and sometimes kills them -- a well-established fact -- it stands to reason that air pollution is also bad.

I have been a frequent visitor to China and India over the years, and it was not unusual for the air pollution to be so terrible that I wanted to stay in my hotel room all day. As a relatively well-to-do visitor, I had this luxury -- but many of the city's residents do not. When they go outside, the air damages their respiratory and circulatory systems, shortening their lives.

The 10.2 million estimate draws upon 2012 data, and since 2012 China has cut its emissions considerably. Yet many other countries have seen more economic growth and more pollution over that time, so the inaccuracies from the limited data can cut in both directions.

If you are still skeptical, note that earlier World Health Organization estimates for annual deaths from air pollution typically range between 6 million and 7 million. To repeat: That is per year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Oklahoma House passes bill to protect drivers who hit protesters (Carmen Forman, 3/11/21, Oklahoman)

In a rare, early-morning vote, Republican lawmakers in the Oklahoma House approved legislation to grant immunity to drivers who hit protesters.

On a party-line vote Wednesday, the House passed a bill that grants civil and criminal immunity for drivers who unintentionally injure or kill protesters while "fleeing from a riot."

House Bill 1674 from Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, is just one of a handful of GOP-sponsored bills in the Oklahoma Legislature this year designed to crack down on protests. 

Ain't no law against killin' a black man.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Biden inherited a mess, but his first 50 days as president have been a historic success (John Haltiwanger, Mar. 10th, 2021, Business Insider)

President Joe Biden was inaugurated two weeks after a violent insurrection at the Capitol and at the height of a pandemic that had already claimed over 400,000 American lives and dealt serious damage to the economy by the time he was sworn in. 

But 50 days into his presidency, Biden already has a major legislative achievement under his belt. The House on Wednesday passed his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package, which economists have predicted will provide a massive jolt to the economy. The White House said Biden is set to sign the bill -- one of the largest economic relief measures in US history -- on Friday.  [...]

A Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday found that 70% of US adults favor Biden's bill -- including 41% of Republicans. A separate poll from Associated Press also found that 70% of Americans approve of the president's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Whether congressional Republicans like it or not, history has been made and Americans are seemingly all for it. 

Democrats are portraying the $1.9. trillion package as a historic anti-poverty measure.

Early analysis of the legislation found it primarily benefits middle and low-income households, and suggests it could drastically reduce poverty in the US. The non-partisan Urban Institute projected that the bill would reduce the annual poverty rate to 8.7% percent, as opposed to 13.7% without the legislation.  

March 10, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


The Unsettling Humanity Of Jesus (JOHN BACKMAN, MARCH 10, 2021, Relevant)

When you think of Jesus in the gospels, what images come to mind? Maybe, like me, you think of Jesus in the way we all know and love: He has compassion on the crowds, heals the lepers, raises the dead and endures the cross, identifying with us all the way to death. As God incarnate, He is both acquainted with being human and a model for being human.

But in one extended passage from the Gospel of Mark, this comforting image goes off the rails. Starting in chapter 7, He proceeds to:

Use an ethnic slur (7:24-30)
Sigh under the weight of exasperation and stress -- twice (7:34, 8:11-13)
Go into a tirade over a misunderstanding (8:14-21)
Ask a question that may indicate insecurity about His mission (8:27-30)

You don't hear this perspective from the pulpit very often. It's not the way I've read these passages in the past. But taken together as a narrative, they present a picture of Jesus considerably more unsettling than,"gentle Jesus, meek and mild."

That picture, in turn, raises an equally unsettling question: If this is God become human, what does it say about God -- or about us?

...which is why He was forced to forgive us who know not what we do.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Biden, like Trump, embraces the 'Buy American' folly (Jeff Jacoby, 3/10/21, The Boston Globe)

Trump was the most protectionist president of modern times. Hostility to free trade was a key theme of his 2016 campaign and of his inaugural address. "We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs," he declared. "Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.... We will follow two simple rules: buy American, and hire American."

He was wrong. His protectionist policies failed. Yet now comes Biden, and vows to go even further.

On Jan. 25, the president issued a series of directives toughening Trump's policy of requiring the federal government to buy US-made products. Biden's orders, as summarized by the White House, impose higher hurdles for imported components used in US manufacturing and direct government agencies to "crack down on unnecessary waivers" -- i.e., to allow fewer federal agencies to procure foreign-made goods in cases when they determine that a preference for American products would not be in the public interest.

But "buy American" mandates, though popular with the general public, are never in the public interest.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Voters Are Nearly United in Support for Expanded Background Checks (ELI YOKLEY, March 10, 2021, Morning Consult)

The House is moving forward this week with legislation to strengthen laws governing background checks for gun sales - and they're armed with public support. 

According to the latest Morning Consult/Politico survey, 84 percent of voters support requiring all gun purchasers to go through a background check - making the measure more popular than the widely backed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan or the policing and voting rights bills the chamber advanced last week.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


New York prosecutors now looking into Seven Springs Estate, one of Trump's "bigger legal nightmares" (JON SKOLNIK, MARCH 10, 2021, Salon)

Prosecutors in New York are advancing two separate probes into Seven Springs Estate, a 213-acre estate in Westchester County that Donald Trump unsuccessfully attempted to develop in conjunction with the Trump Organization. While not one of the former president's marquee estates, the twin investigations into Trump's sleepy mansion, Associated Press reporter Michael Sisak noted, "could end up being one of his bigger legal nightmares."

Trump originally valued the estate -- which he bought for $7.5 million in 1995 -- at up to $291 million in financial statements that New York prosecutors alleged were given to a variety of lending institutions. There is suspicion that Trump may have inflated the value of the property in order to secure larger loans. 

The grand jury subpoena demands access to documents related to Seven Springs' valuations, tax assessments, conservation easements, and tax appeals. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The stimulus money isn't going to be spent, Bank of America says, so here are the investment moves to make (Steve Goldstein, 3/10/21, MarketWatch)

The big talk not just in markets but in politics is whether the new round of stimulus will overheat the economy.

Bank of America's research investment committee say it won't, and brings some new data to the table. First, it cited data from the Census Bureau showing that of the households who received a $600 stimulus check in the first half of February, 73% saved or paid down debt. Consumer credit also unexpectedly fell in January.

Bank of America also surveyed more than 3,000 people to ask how they would spend the new stimulus check. Even in the lowest-income category, 53% say they plan to either save, pay off debts or invest.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The GOP's Foolish Campaign Against Vaccinating Undocumented Immigrants
It's not just immoral. It's self-destructive. (WILLIAM SALETAN, MARCH 09, 2021, Slate)

On Tuesday morning, House Republicans held a news conference to declare another crisis at the border. But this time, the warning came with a lethal twist. Rep. Liz Cheney, the GOP's third-ranking House leader, said Democrats had "decided to open the border and to let in thousands of people, potentially, who have got COVID." Rep. Steve Scalise, the party's second-ranking leader, warned, "There are super-spreader caravans coming across our southern border." Cheney and Scalise echoed Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, who accused President Joe Biden last week of "releasing hundreds of illegal immigrants who have COVID into Texas communities." Abbott also claimed that public officials "refused to test" the immigrants and that the Biden administration was "putting these people on buses and sending them" throughout the country.

All of these allegations are false or misleading. But Republicans aren't just lying. They're making the situation worse. While vilifying undocumented immigrants as potential COVID carriers, they're refusing to vaccinate them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The new doctrine of Joe Biden (JANE HARMAN, 03/09/21, The Hill)

Biden and his team know this and deserve credit for moving in areas that Republican giants like Richard Lugar and John McCain would have lauded. They are working as the "indispensable partner" to reconnect and rebuild our tattered alliances. They are confronting China and Russia for their bad behavior with intellectual property theft, human rights, and cyber attacks. They are wrestling with the best way to end the forever wars. But there is a new key ingredient, which is buy in from the public who must understand that these issues affect them. So part of the foreign policy doctrine of the administration is to engage Americans, and this new approach has a great chance to engage Congress and mobilize public opinion.

The misconception my constituents had around foreign aid came about years ago because it was viewed as unconnected from and unimportant to their lives. However, few would say that is the case on the coronavirus, climate change, or the rise of homegrown terrorism possibly inspired by foreign interests. Indeed, Biden and his team are taking the "foreign" out of foreign policy. All of us now have a stake in this. Bravo.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bible teacher Beth Moore, splitting with Lifeway, says, 'I am no longer a Southern Baptist'The famed Bible study teacher said she no longer feels at home in the denomination that once saved her life. (Bob Smietana, 3/09/21, RNS) 

"She has been a stalwart for the Word of God, never compromising," former Lifeway Christian Resources President Thom Rainer said in 2015, during a celebration at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville that honored 20 years of partnership between the Southern Baptist publishing house and Moore. "And when all is said and done, the impact of Beth Moore can only be measured in eternity's grasp."

Then along came Donald Trump.

Moore's criticism of the 45th president's abusive behavior toward women and her advocacy for sexual abuse victims turned her from a beloved icon to a pariah in the denomination she loved all her life.

"Wake up, Sleepers, to what women have dealt with all along in environments of gross entitlement & power," Moore once wrote about Trump, riffing on a passage from the New Testament Book of Ephesians. 

Because of her opposition to Trump and her outspokenness in confronting sexism and nationalism in the evangelical world, Moore has been labeled as "liberal" and "woke" and even as being a heretic for daring to give a message during a Sunday morning church service.

Finally, Moore had had enough. She told Religion News Service in an interview Friday (March 5) that she is "no longer a Southern Baptist."

"I am still a Baptist, but I can no longer identify with Southern Baptists," Moore said in the phone interview.

March 9, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Biden administration ditches Trump plan to limit immigration for those financially dependent on government (Pete Williams, 3/09/21, NBC News)

The Biden administration notified the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it will no longer defend a government policy seeking to impose new limits on the admission of immigrants considered likely to become overly dependent on government benefits.

The Department of Homeland Security announced in 2019 that it would expand the definition of "public charge" to be applied to people who could be denied immigration because of a concern that they would primarily depend on the government for their income.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


US says visa applicants denied by Trump 'Muslim ban' can reapply (Middle East Eye, 9 March 2021)

Most US visa applicants who were denied because of former President Donald Trump's travel ban on 13 mostly Muslim-majority and African countries can now seek new decisions or submit new applications, the State Department has said.

The department said on Monday that those who received a final refusal on their visa application on or after 20 January 2020 "could seek re-adjudication without resubmitting their application forms or paying any additional fees, provided the underlying visa petitions remain valid".

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


AOC Is Upset: Progressives Took Major Losses in Coronavirus Relief Bill  (Rachel Bucchino L, 3/09/21, National Interest)

The new version of the bill also has stricter income eligibility requirements for the $1,400 direct payments than the original bill passed by the House earlier this month. 

"Ultimately, given the makeup of the Senate, the House is always going to be more progressive than the Senate. That is actually our job, to make everything as progressive as possible in the House and then when it goes to the Senate to know that there are going to be some changes," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol on Monday.  [...]

Liberals also saw another brutal defeat after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that a $15 federal minimum wage could not be featured as part of the reconciliation process, a legislative shortcut that Democrats are using to push through the federal relief without the need of a single Republican vote. 

"If anybody thinks that we're giving up on this issue, they are sorely mistaken," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters after the wage hike looked like it would hit a brick wall. "If we have to vote on it time and time again, we will, and we're going to succeed." 

"Conservative Dems have fought so the Biden admin sends fewer & less generous relief checks than the Trump admin did,"  noted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a tweet on Wednesday afternoon. "It's a move that makes little-to-no political or economic sense, and targets an element of relief that is most tangibly felt by everyday people. An own-goal."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Power Plant of the Future Is Right in Your Home (Daniel Oberhaus, 3/09/21, Wired)

Katela Moran Escobar has always dreamed of being a homeowner, but she never imagined her first house would double as an energy experiment. Last July, Escobar and her family moved into Basalt Vista, a new affordable housing project in the small town of Basalt, Colorado, just north of Aspen. The development is a bulwark against the skyrocketing housing prices in Roaring Fork Valley, but it's also a living laboratory to test advanced power grid technologies that could turn every home into an appendage of a decentralized power plant.

Basalt Vista is designed to be an all-electric community that produces as much power as it uses. Each home comes outfitted with an electric vehicle charger in the garage, a large battery pack in the basement, and a roof covered with solar panels. The homes are linked together as a microgrid, a self-contained electricity distribution network that can operate independently of the regional electric grid. Their energy systems work together to balance the energy load across the neighborhood--the solar panels harvest energy, plugged in EVs can store electricity as needed, and large battery packs can supply power when the sun isn't shining.

But what makes Basalt Vista's microgrid unique is that it autonomously allocates power. There's an internet-connected control box in the basement of each home running experimental software that continuously optimizes electricity distribution across the microgrid and the flow of energy to and from the larger regional grid. When one home produces more energy than it needs, it can autonomously make the decision to redistribute it to its neighbors or store it for later. "We don't have to deal with any of the machinery," says Escobar. "The house works all by itself."

Basalt Vista is a testbed for a so-called "virtual power plant," a network of self-optimizing energy resources that unbundles the centralized utility and distributes it across the grid. Like microgrids, virtual power plants consist of distributed energy systems such as rooftop solar panels, EV chargers, and battery packs. The difference is virtual power plants aren't really designed to disconnect from the greater grid. Instead, they aggregate and control distributed energy sources so they can perform the functions of a large centralized power plant--generating and storing electricity--for the wider grid.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success (the Local, Mar. 8th, 2021)

Malmö's Sluta Skjut (Stop Shooting) pilot scheme was extended to a three-year programme this January, after its launch in 2018 coincided with a reduction in the number of shootings and explosions in the city.

"We think it's a good medicine for Malmö for breaking the negative trend that we had," Malmö police chief Stefan Sintéus said, pointing to the fall from 65 shootings in 2017 to 20 in 2020, and in explosions from 62 in 2017 to 17 in 2020. [...]

Sluta Skjut has been based around so-called 'call-ins', in which known gang members on probation are asked to attend meetings, where law enforcement officials warn them that if shootings and explosions continue, they and the groups around them will be subject to intense focus from police.

At the same time, social workers and other actors in civil society offer help in leaving gang life.

Of the 250-300 young men who have been involved in the project, about 40 have been sent to prison, while 49 have joined Malmö's 'defector' programme, which helps individuals leave gangs.

Kennedy warned not to focus too much on the number of those involved in the scheme who start to work with social services on leaving gang life.

"What we find in in practice is that most of the impact of this approach doesn't come either because people go to prison or because they take services and leave gang life," he said.

"Most of the impact comes from people simply putting their guns down and no longer being violent."

"We think of the options as continuing to be extremely dangerous, or completely turning one's life around. That's not realistic in practice. Most of us don't change that dramatically ever in our lives."

He stressed the importance of informal social control in his method, reaching those who gang members love and respect, and encouraging them to put pressure on gang members to abstain from gun violence.

"We all care more about our mothers than we care about the police, and it turns out that if you can find the guy that this very high risk, very dangerous person respects - literally, you know, little old ladies will go up to him and get his attention and tell him to behave himself. And he will."

March 8, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Biden offers temporary legal status to 300,000 Venezuelan immigrants living in U.S. (CAMILO MONTOYA-GALVEZ, NICOLE SGANGA, FIN GÓMEZ, MARCH 8, 2021, CBS NEWS)

The Biden administration on Monday announced it will offer deportation relief and work permits to hundreds thousands of Venezuelan immigrants living in the U.S., citing the political and economic turmoil in the South American country.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a decree making certain Venezuelans eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allows the U.S. government to grant provisional humanitarian protection to immigrants whose home countries are plagued by armed conflict, recovering from natural disasters, dealing with an epidemic or otherwise unable to guarantee the safe return of their citizens.

This is how you behave when you actually care about people's living conditions.

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Biden administration gives major push to giant offshore wind farm ( KELSEY TAMBORRINO, 03/08/2021, Politico)

The completion of the review is a breakthrough for the U.S. offshore wind industry, which has lagged behind its European counterparts and the U.S. onshore industry that has grown rapidly, even during the pandemic. It also marks a key acceleration for the Biden administration that has advocated renewables growth on public lands and waters.

"This is a really significant step forward in the process for moving toward more offshore wind development in the United States," Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Amanda Lefton told reporters.

"This is the day the U.S. offshore wind industry has been anxiously awaiting for years. Today's announcement provides the regulatory greenlight the industry needs to attract investments and move projects forward," said Liz Burdock, head of the non-profit group Business Network for Offshore Wind.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Jonathan Allen on Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency (Charlie Sykes,  March 8th, 2021, The Bulwark)

...the big takeaway is that it's a question of when Joe retires, not if. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


John Roberts issues lone dissent in Supreme Court campus free speech case (Nicholas Rowan, March 08, 2021, Washington Examiner)

The case, in which a majority led by Justice Clarence Thomas, decided in favor of the student, concerned whether Chike Uzuegbunam, a former student at Georgia Gwinnett College, could seek nominal damages for an incident when the school prevented him from preaching in public. Thomas wrote that Uzuegbunam could because an "award of nominal damages by itself can redress a past injury."

Roberts pushed back, arguing that because Uzuegbunam was no longer a student and because the school changed its rules when he complained, the case was moot. Roberts warned that the court's decision risked future situations where federal judges will be forced to weigh in on nonissues because the plaintiff seeks nominal damages.

"By insisting that judges be able to provide meaningful redress to litigants, Article III ensures that federal courts exercise their authority only 'as a necessity in the determination of real, earnest and vital controversy between individuals,'" Roberts wrote, arguing that the Constitution attempts to restrict how judges can rule in such cases.

"The Court sees no problem with turning judges into advice columnists," Roberts wrote of his colleagues.

Standing against performative "justice" further burnishes his reputation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


H.R. 1 for DummiesA layman's guide to understanding what the For the People Act is and why America needs it. (JUSTIN FLORENCE AND RACHEL HOMER  MARCH 8, 2021, The Bulwark)

Broadly speaking, H.R. 1 covers three major areas: voting and elections, campaign finance, and ethics.

First, it would:

reduce barriers that keep eligible citizens from registering to vote and then casting their vote;
set minimum, uniform standards for elections; and
provide funding to increase the security of our elections.
These reforms have a long record of bipartisan support and have already been implemented across many states.

Second, H.R. 1 would increase the transparency of spending on elections and campaign ads and strengthen protections against foreign interference in our campaigns.

Third is ethics: Requiring increased disclosure of lobbying activities, and putting into law ethical guidelines preventing conflicts of interest by staff, appointees, members of Congress, and even presidents.

...that by the time Congress takes up reforms they're already obsolete.  Go full Estonia instead.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


When Trump Caved to Xi and Threw Taiwan Under the Bus (Josh Rogin, Mar. 08, 2021, Daily Beast)

Everyone involved could agree, at least, that Trump was livid. "However the phone call happened, the president reads about it in The New York Times as the biggest blunder in forty years, which he doesn't appreciate," a senior transition official said. "His wonderful staff had just told him to do the call and promised him positive results."

Trump's defensiveness was on display when he tweeted the next day that he hadn't initiated the call: "The President of Taiwan called me today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!" This left Beijing in a pickle. Speaking with Taiwan's leader was an affront that the rulers in China could not ignore.

Xi wanted to come to Mar-a-Lago and cement his relationship with Trump. But he couldn't lose face. The Taiwan call had to be walked back. Otherwise, Xi would be seen as conceding on a core issue for China right off the bat.

Trump wanted the problem with Xi fixed as well. He had never intended to offend Xi with the call. Trump saw the two countries as two giant corporations and Xi as his opposing CEO. You need a good relationship with the other CEO to have productive negotiations, at least at the start. Trump also looked up to strongman rulers like Xi: He was jealous of Xi's power but at the same time sought Xi's validation. But most of all, for Trump, a close personal relationship with Xi was the prerequisite for getting what he wanted--a deal.

So Kushner, working with the Chinese ambassador, devised a plan to break the impasse. On the evening of Thursday, February 9, after most White House staff had gone home, Kushner called Bannon and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to the president's residence. There, Trump took a phone call from Xi. And, as Kushner had arranged, his father-in-law promised Xi directly that he would accept no more phone calls from the leader of Taiwan.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


These 'Dirtbag Left' Stars Are Flirting with the Far RightTheir podcasts and shows are full of Boogaloos, deep-state conspiracies, and even 'great replacement' talking points. Which side is this, again? (Alexander Reid Ross,  Mar. 08, 2021, Daily Beast)

Over the past year, as the far right trafficked in wild anti-masker and pro-Donald Trump fantasies that led to the Jan. 6 putsch on the Capitol, some prominent members of the so-called "Dirtbag Left" and radical left have been promoting figureheads in the Boogaloo movement, circulating deep-state conspiracies, and bantering about 'great replacement' talking points--ones that can sometimes sound an awful lot like the fever dreams of the alt-right.

Take, for instance, populist YouTuber and member of the Movement for a Peoples Party's Advisory Council, Jimmy Dore. He recently courted a public relations disaster when he offered a platform to Magnus Panvidya, a member of the Boogaloo Boys, a militant group that threatened violence ahead of Biden's inauguration. Emerging into the public eye last spring during right-wing anti-lockdown protests, the heavily armed Boogaloo Boys have promoted attacks against the state and government officials in retaliation for COVID safety restrictions. But Panvidya, who sports a rainbow flag in his Twitter bio, offered the movement a more palatable pro-LGBT and anti-racist face. (Panvidya also has tweeted that Kyle Rittenhouse, the Trump supporter who shot three men, killing two of them, during turbulent anti-racism protests over the summer, "was in his right to defend himself.")

During the interview with Dore, titled "Radical Michigan Anarchist Seeks Unity With the Left," Panvidya posed in front of a rainbow "Don't Tread On Me" flag and talked about why the Boogaloos are anti-cop. He asserted, "It is the top versus the bottom, it is not the left versus the right." Dore then listed the things they agree about: "We would agree on the war, we would agree on the corporate control of our government, we would agree on police brutality. We're not going to agree on the Second Amendment... you know what, I tell you what, I go back and forth on the Second Amendment."

Dore, who reportedly just dropped $1.9 million on an L.A. bungalow, has gotten populist mileage himself out of anti-lockdown sentiment, asking why small businesses closed while Amazon was allowed to remain open, saying that the World Health Organization was "cautioning against the lockdowns," and characterizing the lockdowns on gyms, salons and sporting goods stores as "creating death." He also aired a protester who opposed COVID-19 restrictions as "a conspiracy" and "a tyranny."

It's a complex ecosystem, when you map the strange areas of crossover between the political fringes. In some cases, leftists pay tribute to aspects of right-wing conspiracy theories ostensibly to coax some from the right into left-wing populism. On the other side, some leftists genuinely seek to transcend the boundary between left and right entirely to create a populist moment that challenges what they see as the elites.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


This startup has unlocked a novel way to capture carbon--by turning the fouling gas into rocks (RAGNHILDUR SIGURDARDOTTIR,  AKSHAT RATHI, AND BLOOMBERG, March 6, 2021)

A startup in Iceland is tackling a key piece of the climate change puzzle by turning carbon dioxide into rocks, allowing the greenhouse gas to be stored forever instead of escaping into the atmosphere and trapping heat.

Reykjavik-based Carbfix captures and dissolves CO₂ in water, then injects it into the ground where it turns into stone in less than two years. "This is a technology that can be scaled--it's cheap and economic and environmentally friendly," Carbfix Chief Executive Officer Edda Sif Pind Aradottir said in an interview. "Basically we are just doing what nature has been doing for millions of years, so we are helping nature help itself."

Once considered a pipe dream, capturing and storing CO₂ has in the last few years become an area of immense interest for high-profile investors, such as Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and Tesla Inc.'s Elon Musk, who are searching for solutions to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Scotch Whisky, English Cheese Prices Could Ease As U.S. Halts Tariffs (BILL CHAPPELL, 3/04/21, NPR)

The Biden administration will suspend steep tariffs on Irish and Scotch whiskies, English cheeses and other products, after reaching an agreement with the U.K. Former President Trump had imposed the tariffs in late 2019 as part of a long-running dispute over the aviation industry.

Scotch whisky and other products had been subject to a 25% tariff. But as of today, the tariffs will be suspended for at least four months. Other products, from pork to cashmere and machinery items, had also been hit by the tariffs that are now suspended. Their damage has been compounded in the past year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Trade is key to economic recovery," U.K. Trade Secretary Liz Truss said. 

March 7, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Iran Ready To 'Immediately' Take Measures If U.S. Lifts Sanctions, Rohani Says (Radio Liberty, March 07, 2021)

Iran says its prepared to take steps to live up to measures in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as soon as the United States lifts economic sanctions on the country.

"Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments just after the U.S. illegal sanctions are lifted and it abandons its policy of threats and pressure," Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on March 7.

They should hold out for a full free trade regime.  We're the ones who violate the nuke deal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


What if liberal anti-racists aren't advancing the cause of equality? (Bhaskar Sunkara, 3/07/21, The Guardian)

For starters, "diversity" and "inclusion" aren't synonymous with "equality" and "justice" and trainings themselves don't appear to be effective, even on their own terms. But even if they did work, the best we could expect from them is a more sensitive working environment for minorities lucky enough to be employed or for those customers who patronize them. If you don't have a job, or don't have any money, you're out of luck.

Why is there so much emphasis on these trainings, then? Part of the story is the budding industry emerging around them - expert guidance through "honest and raw discussions of white supremacy and implicit bias and an analysis of racial hegemony" doesn't come cheap, and is a job creation program of its own. But there are other reasons why even seemingly apolitical brands like Gushers and Fruit by the Foot, who make delicious varieties of candy, are jumping on the liberal anti-racism bandwagon.

First, it might satisfy younger staffers who want to feel like they're working for companies that are stalwarts of anti-racism. Second, some consumers might like such anti-racist gesturing. Third, showing a commitment to diversity and arranging for a diversity consultant to come in is cheaper than dealing with an anti-discrimination lawsuit, having to deal with a Twitter-led consumer boycott for a misstep, or paying black and brown workers more.

The really cancerous part of these trainings is their emphasis on Identity, the ideology we saw in action on January 6th. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


These US cities defunded police: 'We're transferring money to the community'More than 20 major cities have reduced police budgets in some form, and activists are fighting to ensure that is only the start (Sam Levin, 3/07/21, The Guardian)

Austin, Texas, has made some of the most dramatic changes in the country, directly cutting roughly $20m from the police department, and moving $80m from the agency by shifting certain services out of law enforcement. The city has gone from spending 40% of its $1.1bn general fund on police to now allocating about 26% to law enforcement.

"Public health and public safety are at the heart of this," said Chris Harris, the criminal justice director at Texas Appleseed, a local not-for-profit. "When we take policing away, we are actually filling that void with alternatives that we know are going to help."

The Austin police funds were reallocated to emergency medical services for Covid-19, community medics, mental health first responders, services for homeless people, substance abuse programs, food access, workforce development, abortion services, victim support, parks and more. The city council is using money saved from the police budget to buy two hotels to provide supportive housing for homeless residents.

"For decades, Austin has spent so many dollars policing homelessness, jailing the homeless, and paying for emergency rooms and 911 calls instead of reinvesting those same dollars to finally start reducing homelessness," said Casar, the local councilmember. "By adjusting the police budget even just a little bit, we are going to be able to house and help hundreds of people with these two hotels ... and I hope we'll be able to buy more."

Austin has started redirecting certain 911 calls to mental health professionals - a move meant to provide help to those crises instead of a potentially deadly response by police, Casar said: "We know that we can solve the mental health crisis with treatment and care, not with handcuffs and jail."

The redirected funds are also meant to benefit the crime victims who have been traditionally neglected and mistreated by law enforcement, advocates said.

Marina Garrett, a 25-year-old Austin resident and supporter of the defund efforts, has spoken out about how police mishandled her rape case. After she reported that she was sexually assaulted in 2015 at age 19, she submitted to a forensic exam, but detectives didn't move forward while awaiting results for her rape kit, which was impacted by a huge backlog.

During that time, the police forensic lab shut down amid claims of misconduct and incompetence, and Garrett's case dragged on: "It was completely devastating. You wake up every day, and it's all you can think about. My whole life was on pause for two years. "

It took two years for the results to come back, and ultimately police and prosecutors did not move forward with a case: "I started to realize that police were no help ... and that police were making survivors wish they had not come forward," said Garrett, who is part of a class-action lawsuit against Austin police.

With reinvested police funds, Austin is now moving forward with a new independent forensic science department. Garrett and other survivors have long pushed for the change. She said it was a small step to reduce some of police's jurisdiction over sexual assault survivors, but that law enforcement remained largely ill-equipped to support victims.

"We can't just keep throwing money at police and expect them to change their ways and culture, which is sexist and racist," she said. "There are groups that are trained to provide support to survivors and help them find healing and justice, separate and apart from police."

Alicia Dean, a city spokesperson, declined to comment on Garrett's case, but said the police department supported the change in forensics, adding in a statement, "the city is committed to improving best practices and outcomes of sexual assault reporting, processing, investigations and prosecutions. We want all victims to feel safe, heard and have confidence in every step of the process."

One of the greatest obstacles to defunding law enforcement agencies are powerful police unions, which have long opposed reforms and negotiated strong protections in their contracts that typically make it impossible for cities to terminate or lay off officers.

Unions have launched aggressive PR campaigns to counter the movement. In Austin, the Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA) created highway billboards saying "Warning! Austin Police Defunded, Enter at Your Own Risk" and "Limited Support Next 20 Miles" - and put up the signs in September, before the new budget had gone into effect.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Georgia Prosecutor Recruits Top Racketeering Expert In Trump Election Fraud Probe
(Darrell Lucas, Mar. 6th, 2021, National Memo)

Last month, Fani Willis, the newly elected district attorney in Fulton County -- home to Atlanta -- began a criminal investigation into the shakedown, including the infamous January 2 phone call. We expected that it would be a classic slow-motion strangulation -- the only proper way to take down a former president, especially one with a cult-like following. Things have moved along enough for Willis to empanel a grand jury as part of the investigation. Now, she has brought in one of the nation's leading racketeering experts to assist in the investigation.

According to Reuters:

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has enlisted the help of Atlanta lawyer John Floyd, who wrote a national guide on prosecuting state racketeering cases. Floyd was hired recently to "provide help as needed" on matters involving racketeering, including the Trump investigation and other cases, said the source, who has direct knowledge of the situation.

The move bolsters the team investigating Trump as Willis prepares to issue subpoenas for evidence on whether the former president and his allies broke the law in their campaign to pressure state officials to reverse his Georgia election loss. Willis has said that her office would examine potential charges including "solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, racketeering" among other possible violations.

Floyd's book, RICO State by State: A Guide to Litigation Under the State Racketeering Statutes, outlines the complex legal requirements that prosecutors must meet in order to win a state racketeering case.

The significance? Georgia's version of RICO makes false statements to state officials a predicate act. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Israeli 5-minute battery charge aims to fire up electric cars (ALEXANDRA VARDI, 3/07/21, AFP) 

From flat battery to full charge in just five minutes -- an Israeli start-up has developed technology it says could eliminate the "range anxiety" associated with electric cars.

Ultra-fast recharge specialists StoreDot have developed a first-generation lithium-ion battery that can rival the filling time of a standard car at the pump.

"We are changing the entire experience of the driver, the problem of 'range anxiety'... that you might get stuck on the highway without energy," StoreDot founder Doron Myersdorf said.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


New York's Incarcerated Need The Vaccine. Cuomo Isn't Giving It To Them (Melissa Jeltsen, 3/07/21, HuffPo)

[T]here is one high-risk group of New Yorkers who have not yet been prioritized for vaccination: people incarcerated in the state's prisons and jails.

The current vaccine distribution plan allows shots for residents of all adult congregate facilities as defined by the state (among them, nursing homes, homeless shelters and treatment centers for drug addiction) ― except correctional facilities. 

As a result, only a tiny fraction of the more than 45,000 people currently incarcerated in New York's jails and prisons have been offered the vaccine.

Fresh on the heels of a scandal over his handling of nursing home deaths, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now under mounting public pressure to protect incarcerated people. Public health experts and criminal justice advocates say the governor's vaccine rollout has put inmates and staff in danger, violates his pledge to ensure fairness in the distribution of the doses, and exacerbates racial disparities. Critics worry that the state still does not have a concrete plan for the vaccination of everyone behind bars.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Tobacco killed 500,000 Americans in 2020 -- is it time to control cigarette-makers?Four Americans die every year for every one person employed in the U.S. tobacco industry (JOSHUA M. PEARCE, MARCH 7, 2021, The Conversation)

Tobacco use killed an estimated 500,000 Americans in 2020, about the same number the pandemic killed in one year. Although education efforts by government and nonprofits have helped to curb tobacco use, 14% of American adults still smoke, even with warning labels on the packages. Tobacco deaths are so high that the World Health Organization calls smoking an epidemic.

A potential solution to tobacco-related deaths is a corporate "death penalty" - otherwise known as judicial dissolution - when a judge revokes a corporation's charter for causing significant harm to society. The legal procedure forces the corporation to dissolve; it ceases to exist. Both management and employees lose their jobs.

Although legal, corporate death penalties in the U.S. have not been used in years. Yet even the threat of one can be effective. For example, simply announcing the intention to revoke the charters of two tobacco industry misinformation groups (the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute, Inc.) resulted in both quietly closing in 1999.

March 6, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


6 takeaways from the Senate's approval of Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill (Joey Garrison & Ledyard King, 3/06/21, USA TODAY)

5. Price tag remains intact, a win for Biden

To fend off naysayers about the bill's hefty price tag, Biden regularly argued the biggest risk was not going "too big," but rather making the bill too small to address the scope of the pandemic.

It was a lesson learned during former President Barack Obama's first term, when Biden was vice president. Biden has said he regrets that the Obama-Biden administration did not put forward a larger stimulus in response to the Great Recession. 

In the end, the president got the dollar amount he wanted this time, a full $1.9 trillion, with little variation from the bill he introduced in January.

"The end result is essentially about the same," Biden told reporters. 

It's even more the case with the $15 minimum wage, but this wedding yourself to a number instead of to substance is a mark of the triviality of our politics.

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Iraqi PM declares National Day of Coexistence (nEW aRAB, 6 March, 2021)

Iraq's prime minister has declared March 6 a National Day of Tolerance and Coexistence in Iraq after Pope Francis' meeting with Iraq's top Shia cleric and a landmark inter-religious gathering.

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


Why I am Not a Neoliberal (Phil Magness, March 6, 2021, AIER )

At a time when many movements that are thought to be the intellectual mainstream, left and right, advocate further encroachments on free and open economic exchange, those who cherish voluntary human interaction are likely to expend their energies navigating a political wilderness. 

It is therefore natural for us to seek out common ground with professed advocates of a free and open market system, wherever they may manifest. Though we might call this underlying philosophical precept "market liberalism," certain strains of its current iteration diverge from that which is designated liberalism in the classical sense. There is danger in the confused condition that sees market liberalism as but an instrument by which to bring about scientific supervision of socioeconomic life wherein human behavior might be molded and subsequently fine-tuned to "correct" for unwanted products of voluntary exchange that attract the scrutinizing subjectivity of the technocrat.

With this concern in mind, I turn my attention to the nebulous concept of "neoliberalism" - a label that has, more than once, been involuntarily assigned to my own work, despite an explicit repudiation of it in the same. The peculiar term functions as both a fashionable bête noire of academic progressivism, and, to a much smaller extent, an articulated philosophy onto itself among a mostly center-right faction of market-oriented think tankers and policy professionals. 

Although it has become an ubiquitous feature of political theorizing in recent decades, neoliberalism's precise definition remains elusive.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


How Never Trumpers Are Becoming Pro-Democracy Republicans (Jonathan Chait, 3/06/21, New York0

[A]nti-Trump Republicans are refashioning their identity as pro-democracy conservatives.

Here are a few examples to give a flavor of their thinking. It's not close to an exhaustive list:

David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter who was one of the first conservatives to recognize the party's collapse into revanchism, wrote a column for The Atlantic arguing that Trump's rise reflects not the tendency of a demagogue to inflame the majority, as the founders feared, but the power of a minority. Frum called for democratic reforms to stop the conservative minority, given disproportionate representation by the House, Senate, and Electoral College, from exercising control. "The retreat from majority rule has not only weakened the American system's fairness, it has also wobbled that system's stability," he argued. "The path back to constitutional normality depends upon a reinvigoration of the majoritarian principle."

Anne Applebaum has argued for granting statehood to the District of Columbia. The Bulwark, a magazine that has become a hub of anti-Trump conservatism, has crusaded in favor of protecting and expanding voting rights. Its editor, Jonathan Last, argues that Democrats should prioritize pro-democracy reforms:

Any bill to expand voting rights would be subject to a filibuster and stand no chance of enactment in any form. Therefore, democratization requires eliminating or at least scaling back the filibuster, which is itself an impediment to democracy. Several anti-Trump conservatives, like Max Boot and David Brooks, have already endorsed this step.

Gary Schmitt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the former executive director of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, has argued that the Senate filibuster prevents rather than enables deliberation and debate. Schmitt made this case four years ago and reiterated it last month.

Why have a group of conservatives who not many years ago were prepared to happily vote for the likes of Ted Cruz come to embrace a cause that few of them displayed any interest in? For political elites, Trump's unconcealed desire to follow the path of figures like Orban, Erdogan, and Putin became the primary stakes of the era's political conflict. Their activism put them in touch with scholars of authoritarianism and democracy who studied democratic backsliding, and the insights of those thinkers became increasingly evident in the Never Trumpers' polemics.

The denouement of the Trump presidency was a series of hyperbolic lies that Democrats had stolen the election via systematic voter fraud. That idea, in turn, merely echoes claims that were circulating on the right long before Trump came along. But Trump's exploitation of Republican voter-fraud paranoia made it perfectly clear to anybody not in his thrall that the entire Republican agenda of restricting ballot access is part and parcel of Trump's authoritarian ambition. The connection has grown more obvious still, as Republicans seized on Trump's vote-fraud propaganda as a pretext to enact vote-suppression measures across the country.

Anti-Trump conservatives have a second motive for embracing democratization. Many of them hope to reclaim and reform the Republican party as a sane vehicle for center-right governing. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Ali al-Sistani: Spiritual leader and stabilizing factor (Cristina Burack, 3/06/21, Deutsche Welle)

Al-Sistani's involvement in politics was not inevitable. It was not something he sought; rather, he submitted to the requirements of the times. Before this, especially until 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq, he had maintained a low profile -- and with good reason. Shiite Muslims constitute the largest denominational group in Iraq, with around 60% of the population, but they were singled out for particular persecution under Saddam Hussein, the ruler of Iraq from 1979 to 2003.

Saddam consolidated his power by systematically playing off Shiite and Sunni Muslims against each other -- the dictator himself belonging to the latter group.

Eckart Wörtz, the director of the Institute of Middle East Studies at the GIGA Institute in Hamburg, is a political scientist and scholar of Islam. "Under these circumstances, al-Sistani had hardly expressed himself politically," he explains to DW. "On the one hand, this was consistent with his upbringing: He was born into a traditional Shiite family, and was more committed to a quietist worldview that keeps its distance from politics."

When he came to Iraq, al-Sistani initially maintained this course, especially as he was under house arrest for a long time under Saddam. In doing so, al-Sistani was considering not only his own situation, but that of all Shiite clerics in Iraq, many of whom were persecuted or killed under Saddam's rule. [...]

Al-Sistani is fundamentally inclined toward moderate positions. "Politically, he comes across as moderate and pragmatic," says Eckart Woertz. "This is precisely what his reputation and authority are based on."

Al-Sistani first saw a reason to take political action in August 2004. At that time, the forces of influential Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr were engaged in fierce fighting with the US military in Najaf. During the conflict, they barricaded themselves inside the Imam Ali Mosque.

When the Iraqi government issued an ultimatum to al-Sadr's troops, al-Sistani had his own followers march outside the mosque. As a result, al-Sadr's troops left the building. Al-Sistani made clear to Iraqi Shiites, even then, that it was unnecessary to fight the Americans. Rather, they could cooperate with them.

"In doing this, al-Sistani contributed significantly to preventing the violence in Iraq from escalating even further," says Woertz. "This commitment earned him considerable respect not only in Iraq, but also in the United States."

Al-Sistani was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, and again in 2014.

He acted even more decisively in June 2014, when he issued a fatwa -- strictly limited to the principle of self-defense -- against the Sunni jihadi organization calling itself "Islamic State" (IS). Citizens should take up arms and "defend their country, their people, and their holy sites," a spokesman for al-Sistani had explained in the Shiite stronghold of Karbala.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


'One day you're called an icon, the next a threat'- Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman said security guard questioned if she lived in her own building (Ciara O'Loughlin, March 06 2021, Independent ie)

A young poet who was praised for her insightful poem about race in the United States at President Joe Biden's inauguration said the security guard of her building questioned if she lived there.

Amanda Gorman (22) said on Friday that a security guard "tailed" her as she tried to enter her own building and he called her "suspicious".

Taking to Twitter, she wrote: "A security guard tailed me on my walk home tonight. He demanded if I lived there because you look 'suspicious.'

"I showed my keys & buzzed myself into my building. He left, no apology. This is the reality of black girls: One day you're called an icon, the next day, a threat."

A few hours later the poet quote-tweeted her comment, saying that she is in fact a threat.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Resurrect Reagan (Daniel Johnson, Mar. 2nd, 2021, The Critic)

By then dismissed by commentators as well into his anecdotage, the president defiantly told one of his stories: "A small story about a big ship, and a refugee and a sailor. It was back in the early Eighties, at the height of the boat people, and the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat -- and crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship, and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up and called out to him. He yelled, 'Hello, American sailor -- hello, Freedom Man.'" [...]

The party that purported to represent law and order, faith and family, prosperity and property suddenly saw life and liberty in jeopardy under a leader who, instead of lowering the temperature, exulted in stoking the flames. The realisation dawned on cooler heads that their Grand Old Party was now held hostage by diehard fanatics who owed allegiance, not to the republic, but to the narcissistic, paranoid, megalomaniac leader of a cult.

Having been confronted with the visceral truth at Trump's impeachment trial of how close senior statesmen like Mike Pence and Mitt Romney came to being lynched, some Republican senators, even those like their leader Mitch McConnell who saw the impeachment of an ex-president as unconstitutional, are rightly queasy about absolving Trump of responsibility: for his hysteria-inducing segue from "Make America Great Again" to "Save America"; for his "call to arms" to men who were indeed armed and ready to "fight like hell" to "stop the steal"; for goading the mob that had marched on Congress with tweets even as it rampaged through their chambers, corridors and offices. Trump may have his Götterdämmerung, but sober senators had no urge to perish with him.

It is easy to forget just how extraordinary the events of 6 January actually were. American society still has its trigger-happy cops and gangsters, but the institutions of freedom, democracy and the law are revered and have almost always been spared violence. Writing a preface to the twelfth edition of his Democracy in America in the revolutionary year 1848, Alexis de Tocqueville paid tribute to the rule of law across the Atlantic: "While all the nations of Europe were devastated by war or torn by civil discord, only the American people in the entire civilised world remained at peace. Almost the whole of Europe was turned upside down by revolutions; America did not have even a single riot . . ." Tocqueville did not foresee the impending Civil War; apart from that, his insight has held true for a century and a half. Only now, on 6 January, has a precedent been set for political violence of the most dangerous kind: a dagger aimed at the heart of the Republic, wielded by Republicans. 

There remain two powerful schools of thought on the centre-right: the neoconservatives and the classical liberals

There is, as conservatives are discovering no less than other Americans, life after Trump. They have been there before. In the aftermath of Bush, the liberal commentator Sam Tanenhaus published a crepuscular bestseller in 2008 entitled The Death of Conservatism. In 2012, perhaps hoping that Romney would defeat Obama, R. Emmett ("Bob") Tyrrell fired off a trenchant counterblast, The Death of Liberalism. As Trump's star neared its zenith in 2018, the Israeli scholar Yoram Hazony wowed American conservatives with The Virtue of Nationalism. Now the cycle may begin again and we may expect a spate of books writing the obituary of American conservatism.

They will all be wrong, because there remain two powerful schools of thought on the centre-right: the neoconservatives and the classical liberals. The former has a focus on the defence of democracy, the latter on the preservation of liberty. Trump was interested in neither, but both will be needed in the future if conservatives are to recover from the débacle he has visited upon their cause. Conservatives have been mugged by unreality and divided by a demagogue. What unites them is Reagan.

Republicans should embrace a new role: as champions of freedom against a Biden administration that may well prove to be as censorious as Trump's was incendiary. American conservatives have been confronted with the chilling consequences of conformism on their own wilder fringes. Perhaps this will better equip them to resist the conformism of "woke culture". Having seen how precarious democracy is even in its homeland, perhaps they will once again have the courage to defend it there -- and to the ends of the earth.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


New Polls: Biden's Approval Roaring As GOP Numbers Plunge (Kerry Eleveld, March 06 | 2021, National Memo)

A new Associated Press-NORC poll released Friday found that 70 percent of Americans back Biden's handling of the response to the pandemic, including 44 percent of Republicans--a very similar level of support to what most surveys have found for Biden's COVID-19 relief package.

Biden's overall job performance approval came in at a strong 60 percent, but it's notable that he's doing ten points better on pandemic-specific issues. It suggests the popularity of Biden's pandemic relief is redounding to his benefit more broadly, along with his other efforts to speed up vaccine distribution and more generally provide palpable leadership on the issue. A Harris tracking poll this week also found public approval of vaccine distribution has risen to 66 percent, a 15-point jump in a single month.

Republicans, by prominently opposing that relief bill, are also broadly seen by the public as trying to jam Biden's efforts to improve the economy and combat the pandemic. A new Navigator Research poll found that 52 percent of Americans say Republicans in Congress are "blocking" Biden's efforts to improve the economy (just 20 percent say Republicans are helping) while a plurality of 40 percent say the same about Biden's efforts to combat the pandemic (just 31 percent say Republicans are helping).

Uncle Joe had a good presidency. He should retire now.

March 5, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


The religion of Trump's Lost Cause (Mark Silk, 3/05/21, RNS)

The golden statue of former President Donald Trump that was wheeled through the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earned a full measure of derision as Trump's Golden Calf. It was also the first icon of Trump's Lost Cause religion.

That the Civil War cast its long shadow over the Trump presidency has long been apparent. 

The symbolism was there for all to see, from the "Unite the Right" rally against the removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville in 2017 to the insurrectionists carrying Confederate battle flags through the halls of the U.S. Capitol on June 6. Trump made the cause his own, standing up for keeping the monuments as well as the names of Confederate generals on military bases.

The message became clearer as his term went on: Just as white Southerners went to war to protect their slavery-based way of life, so white conservatives have been engaged in a proto-civil war to protect a way of life marked by structural racism. In Proud Boys v. Black Lives Matter, Trump left no doubt which side he was on.  

And then there was the role of religion.

White evangelicals' support for Trump manifested a Christian nationalism that harked back to the Southern nationalism of the Civil War era. Then, the leading ideologists of the Southern way of life were clergymen -- representatives of a trans-denominational  evangelicalism that came to dominate the region during the antebellum period.

For them, the defense of slavery was existentially connected to a defense of Christianity against godless egalitarianism. As the prominent Presbyterian divine Benjamin Morgan Palmer put it in a famous Thanksgiving sermon on the eve of the war:

"(I)n this great struggle, we defend the cause of God and religion. The abolition spirit is undeniably atheistic. The demon which erected its throne upon the guillotine in the days of Robespierre and Marat, which abolished the Sabbath and worshipped reason in the person of a harlot, yet survives to work other horrors, of which those of the French Revolution are but the type. Among a people so generally religious as the Americans, a disguise must be worn; but it is the same old threadbare disguise of the advocacy of human rights. From a thousand Jacobin clubs here, as in France, the decree has gone forth which strikes at God by striking at all subordination and law.

After the war, many of the same clergy refashioned this belief into a religion of the Lost Cause, which, as historian Charles Reagan Wilson shows in his seminal 2009 study, "Baptized in Blood," became the civil religion of white Southerners.

Posted by orrinj at 2:56 PM


A shocking number of Democrats voted against a $15 minimum wage (Ryan Cooper, 3/05/21, The Week)

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) were already assumed to not support the $15 mark. But opposition among the Democratic Party's conservative wing was much deeper than that. Six more Democrats voted against the measure aside from them, for a total of eight: Jon Tester of Montana, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Angus King of Maine (an independent who caucuses with the Democrats), and finally Chris Coons and Tom Carper of Delaware.

All these senators are from purple or red states -- except Carper and Coons, where Biden won by 19 percentage points.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Liberal Conservatism: a review of How to Be a Conservative by Roger Scruton (ANDREW KOPPELMAN, The New Rambler)

Conservatism at its core, as Scruton understands it, "tells us that we have collectively inherited good things that we must strive to keep" (vii). It "starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created" (viii). Our inheritance "brings with it not only the rights of ownership, but duties of trusteeship. Things fought for and died for should not be idly squandered. For they are the property of others, who are not yet born" (182).

But what are we preserving? Without further specification, these ideas lead nowhere in particular. Jerry Muller observes that "conservatives have, at one time and place or another, defended royal power, constitutional monarchy, aristocratic prerogative, representative democracy, and presidential dictatorship; high tariffs and free trade; nationalism and internationalism; centralism and federalism; a society of inherited estates, a capitalist, market society, and one or another version of the welfare state."[1] Samuel Huntington argues that conservatism has no continuing essence: it must be understood situationally, "as the ideology arising out of a distinct but recurring type of historical situation in which a fundamental challenge is directed at established institutions and in which the supporters of those institutions employ the conservative ideology in their defense."[2]

Scruton, on the other hand, has a specific answer. The goods that he wants to conserve are the achievements of contemporary democracies: the "opportunity to live our lives as we will; the security of impartial law, through which our grievances are answered and our hurts restored; the protection of our environment as a shared asset, which cannot be seized or destroyed at the whim of powerful interests; the open and enquiring culture that has shaped our schools and universities; the democratic procedures that enable us to elect our representatives and pass our own laws" (vii). 

Most liberals would agree with that list because what Scruton is interested in conserving is, well, liberalism. His ideology is a liberal conservatism. As Huntington observes, "in the proper historical circumstances conservatism may well be necessary for the defense of liberal institutions," for "the greatest need is not so much the creation of more liberal institutions as the successful defense of those that already exist" (460, 472). 

Then what is the disagreement about? He doesn't put it this way, but the most important line that divides Scruton from his interlocutors on the moderate left concerns how to defend liberalism. Conservatism, in all its many forms, aims to preserve an inarticulately valued inheritance. That leads it to rely on argumentative moves that many liberals distrust: a tolerance of imperfection, skepticism about experiments in social engineering, and an attachment to existing institutions, customs, and habits, particularly the irrational prejudices that lead one to defer to existing authorities. Those moves are useful today. In fact, they are constantly being used against Trump. Scruton offers a path for liberals to understand that they are already, in a certain way, conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


How Kenya is harnessing the immense heat from the Earth (Jacob Kushner, 4th March 2021, BBC)

Drive along the dusty dirt road that winds through Kenya's Hell's Gate National park, past the zebra, gazelles and giraffes, and you'll see a plume of steam shooting skyward in the distance. Vehicles must sometimes swerve to avoid running over warthogs as they enter a vast valley dotted with dozens of steam vents - a factory of clouds.

Blasts of steam billow loudly, releasing heat from deep within the Earth. But even more powerful is the steam you don't see: that which twists through miles of tubes to push past turbines, generating a type of clean energy that won't run out for millions of years.

Atop this infernal labyrinth of tubes is Kenya's Olkaria Geothermal Project, where a new addition to the powerplant is about to go online. At 86 megawatts, the Olkaria VI expansion will push the project's total production to 791.5 megawatts. That's about 27% of all the energy in Kenya, according to KenGen, the parastatal company that operates Olkaria. Already, Kenya relies on geothermal steam for 38% of its power - a greater proportion than any other nation.

"When Olkaria VI is complete, it will be the largest single geothermal plant in the world," according to Cyrus Karingithi, who leads infrastructure and resource development for Olkaria.

Globally, geothermal energy is a $4.6bn (£3.3bn) industry, with more than 500 powerplants electrifying millions of households across South-east Asia, North America, Europe and beyond. Geothermal is, after all, the second most abundant source of energy in the world behind solar.

But it in terms of how much we tap this source of power, geothermal lags well behind. In 2016, the energy the world harvested from geothermal was just 4% that from solar, despite geothermal having some important advantages. Wind turbines are useless on a still day, and solar panels' energy falls when the sun is covered by clouds and at night. Meanwhile, no matter the time of day, the Earth below us is steadily releasing vast quantities of heat, whatever the weather.

This is where the continent is breaking up - Anna Mwangi
To appreciate the potential of this heat, there is nowhere better to look than where it blasts through the surface in the towers of steam erupting from Hell's Gate, around 90 kilometres (56 miles) north-west of Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


When Matt Gaetz Met Up With White Nationalists At CPAC (David Neiwert, March 05 | 2021, Daily Kos)

A cluster of young white nationalists attending the simultaneous America First Political Action Committee convention--organized by notorious "Groyper Army" leader Nicholas Fuentes--invaded the CPAC gathering, where Fuentes has been banned, on Saturday. They managed to find Gaetz, who took photos with one of the group's leaders--an outspoken neo-Nazi who uses the nom de plume "Speckzo"--and briefly conversed with them, apparently acknowledging his familiarity with Fuentes.

The video of the interaction shows one of the Groypers asking Gaetz if he was familiar with Fuentes. Gaetz made an indistinct reply while walking away with an aide, pointing a raised index finger in the direction of the young men.

Gaetz has a history of such dalliances with far-right extremists. In 2018, he invited notorious white nationalist Chuck Johnson to the State of the Union address, giving Johnson one of his tickets to the event. Gaetz claimed disingenuously that Johnson had just happened to drop by his office the day before to discuss their mutual political interests--which Johnson claimed were marijuana, bitcoin, Trump, and animal welfare--and a spare ticket had become available.

In 2019, Gaetz hired a white nationalist named Darren Beattie to work in his office as a speechwriter. Beattie had been previously fired from the Trump administration after his connections to white-nationalist organizations was exposed. Beattie later was appointed by Trump to an international commission that oversees preservation of Holocaust-related historical sites, much to the dismay of the Anti-Defamation League. Gaetz later ran into trouble with House ethics rules for using taxpayer funds for Beattie's salary.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Branding liberal converts a demographic threat, Haredi campaigns get second wind: Israel's religious conservatives have spent the week warning of nonexistent conversion drives among migrants and foreigners, while ignoring the conversion crisis closer to home (Haviv Rettig Gur, 3/05/21, Times of Israel)

[U]TJ opened a Whatsapp group for political reporters this week - a first for the internet-shy party - to put out a campaign video that claimed that Reform Jewish communities think dogs are Jews.

Not to be outdone, Shas then issued campaign posters and offered interviews by party leaders in which they claimed that the Reform movement planned to convert tens of thousands of migrant workers and asylum seekers, granting them citizenship under Israel's Law of Return.

UTJ upped the ante on Thursday, with chairman MK Moshe Gafni doubling down on the dog video and connecting it to the asylum seekers.

"If I had made the dogs video, I would have made it even worse," he told an Army Radio interviewer who asked about the comparison of Reform Jews to dogs. "I would have filmed the Sudanese [asylum seekers] in south Tel Aviv explaining how the Reform are trying to convert them. You can't hide the truth. The Reform who conduct bar mitzvahs for their dogs are the ones comparing people to dogs."

The parties have taken every opportunity this week to raise the specter of mass-immigration from the third world that will allegedly result from Monday's ruling, of Israel losing its Jewish character amid runaway "assimilation" -- i.e., intermarriage -- and of a High Court committed, in the words of one prominent activist, to turning Israel from a "Jewish state" into a "state of many nations."

These Haredi reactions to Monday's ruling are fascinating not only for the lies they contain (more on that in a moment), but for the truths they carefully avoid.

March 4, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


The Recovery From The Great Recession: A Long, Evolving Expansion (Jay C. Shambaugh & Michael R. Strain,  February 2021, NBER Working Paper)

Prior to 2020, the Great Recession was the most important macroeconomic shock to the United States economy in generations. Millions lost jobs and homes. At its peak, one in ten workers who wanted a job could not find one. On an annual basis, the economy contracted by more than it had since the Great Depression. A slow and steady recovery followed the Great Recession's official end in the summer of 2009, but because it was slow and the depth of the recession so deep, it took years to reduce slack in labor markets. But because the slow-and-steady recovery lasted so long, many pre-recession peaks were exceeded, and eventually real wage growth began to accumulate for workers across the distribution. In fact, the business cycle (including recession and recovery) beginning in December 2007 was one of the better periods of real wage growth in many decades, with the bulk of that coming in the last years of the recovery. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Saudi Arabia 'fears defeat of Netanyahu' in upcoming Israeli election (Mustafa Abu Sneineh, 4 March 2021, MEMO)

Saudi Arabia is concerned about a possible election defeat for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who they consider a "spearhead" against Iran, according to i24 News.

A Saudi source close to the royal family told the Israeli channel on Wednesday that Riyadh is following the Israeli election campaign closely and hopes that Netanyahu will not be removed from power in the 23 March vote.

"[The Saudi royal family] not only prefer Netanyahu, but they love him," the source was quoted as saying.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


The Complex Role of Racism Within the Radical Right (Mario Peucker, Mar. 4th, 2021, Fair Observer)

Decades of extensive scholarship -- and the lived experiences of those affected -- have emphasized that racism is systemic and interpersonal; it is attitudinal, behavioral and structural; and it can draw on biological social constructs and on cultural or religious markers, actual or perceived. At least one (or many) manifestation of racism is present across all radical-right groups. But what kind of racism?

The diversity of radical-right movements and groups is well understood in academia, and there have been numerous attempts to develop typologies that capture divergent groups under the umbrella of right-wing extremism. Exclusivist and anti-egalitarian beliefs are a common denominator, but articulations of racism differ across various radical right groups, movements and ideologies. These nuances are important but often overlooked in public and political debates.

Some elements of the radical right, for example, mobilize in particular against Islam, expressing primarily anti-Muslim racism. This applies to what is often referred to as "counter-jihad" movements (a self-attributed and ideologized misnomer in many ways) and the anti-Islam protests that swept across Europe and Australia in the second half of 2010s. Non-white people are usually welcome there as long as they share anti-Islam sentiments. For example, in Australia, where most of my research has taken place, it was also not uncommon to see radical-right protesters at these rallies displaying Aboriginal flags and insisting they were reclaiming Australia from Islam also on behalf of indigenous Australians.

These anti-Islam groups and movements differ from white supremacy organizations. For example, one Australian white supremacy group expressed its disagreement with those prominent anti-Islam movements as thus: "We do not believe in multiculturalism minus Islam." Of course, these boundaries are blurry. There have been personal overlaps, and some radical-right groups with explicitly neo-Nazi convictions have strategically used the anti-Muslim movements to recruit more people to their white supremacy and antisemitic agenda.

Another example that illustrates the complex, fluid and sometimes contested role that different forms of racism play within the radical right are the Proud Boys in the United States. Founded as a self-described Western chauvinistic boys club by Gavin McInnes in 2016 with an explicit, culturally racist and misogynistic profile, the group quickly adopted the markers of a white supremacist network, despite its chairman, Enrique Tarrio, being himself of Afro-Cuban descent. Infighting between Tarrio and another openly antisemitic and white supremacist leading figure (who reportedly referred to Tarrio as a "token negro") in late 2020 revealed the internal fractions -- all racist, yes, but racist in different ways.

Racism as an Indicator of Radical-Right Ideology

While people associated with or sympathetic to radical-right movements generally seem to hold racist views, the majority of those with such exclusionary or prejudiced attitudes toward certain ethnic, racial, cultural or religious minorities are not affiliated with right-wing extremism or radicalism. Attitude surveys across the Western world -- from North America, the UK and Europe to Australia -- have shown high rates of anti-Muslim sentiments and prejudice, expressed sometimes (depending on the country and the nature of the survey questions) by a majority of the surveyed population. Some surveys revealed that a substantial proportion of respondents also express biological racist views. According to the results of the European Social Survey a few years ago, 18% in the British sample agreed that "some races or ethnic groups are born less intelligent." Considering the possibility of social desirability effects, we can only speculate as to whether this figure underestimates the true prevalence of biological racism.

It is impossible to determine how many of those who hold anti-Muslim or other racist views are affiliated or identify with the radical right -- certainly not all of them and probably only a small portion. This is not to disregard the higher susceptibility among these segments of society to mobilization and recruitment efforts of radical-right groups. The path into the radical right is slippery. A former radical-right activist, Ivan Humble, recalled how he became a member of the English Defence League: "I didn't identify as racist at the time, but I began to zero in on Muslim people in the belief that they were attacking the country I lived in, and that our society was being torn apart as a result. In hindsight, this was such a blinkered view but I couldn't see it."

In our recent research in Australia, we identified several factors that may help analyze the questions as to where and when racism becomes an indicator for radical-right ideologies. We conducted in-depth interviews with people who were invited to speak with us about the concerns they had about diversity and immigration in Australia. We found that most of those we interviewed expressed anti-Muslim racism and other forms of cultural racism, but our analysis concluded that only some of them were affiliated with the radical right. In what way did their articulation of racism differ?

We've established what you are, we're just haggling over specifics. 
Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Placebo effect explains benefits of psychedelic microdosing (TIM SANDLE, 3/04/21, Digital Journal)

New research suggests that the apparent enhancement effect from microdosing is based on the placebo effect, rather than a consequence of the administered low dose of the compound. The placebo effect is an established medical research outcome where a beneficial effect is produced by a placebo drug which cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself. Instead, the beneficial outcome is attributable to a patient's belief in the treatment.

This inference was drawn from a 'self-blinding' citizen science initiative. Here 191 participants were given instructions for how to incorporate a placebo control into a microdosing routine. It was found that all psychological outcomes improved significantly based on the starting baseline and as measured across a four week period. This was irrespective a study participant was a member of the microdose group or of the placebo group.

To assess the psychological outcome, this was assessed based on acute responses, like emotional state, and post-acute states, like anxiety. Across these scales there was no significant difference. On this basis, the research findings would suggest that anecdotal benefits of microdosing are not based on an actual fungal derived chemical and instead they can be explained by the placebo effect.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Sole GOP vote on House police reform bill says he 'accidentally pressed the wrong voting button' (ZACK BUDRYK,  03/03/21 , The Hill)

Rep. Lance Gooden (Texas), the only House Republican to vote in favor the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act on Wednesday, tweeted Wednesday evening that he cast the wrong ballot by accident.

"I accidentally pressed the wrong voting button and realized it too late. I have changed the official record to reflect my opposition to the partisan George Floyd Policing Act," Gooden said in a since-deleted tweet.

New Polling Finds Extraordinary Bipartisan Support for Policing Reforms (Evan Mintz, Aug 25, 2020, Arnold Ventures)

The poll, which was conducted under the joint direction of Beacon Research, a Democratic firm, Shaw & Company, a Republican firm, identified 11 specific criminal justice policies that had particularly strong bipartisan support, being backed by at least 80 percent of Democrats, two-thirds of Independents, and two-thirds of Republicans.

"These are extraordinarily strong numbers, particularly given the level of political polarization in the country," said James Williams, Arnold Ventures Vice President of Criminal Justice Advocacy. "The only comparable things that come to mind are like ice cream and puppies."

The poll found that this support is not only widespread, but also deep-rooted. Voters who expressed strong support for these proposals outweigh the combined weak and strong opposition by 30 points. This political intensity is driving voters' decisions in the 2020 election. Nearly two-thirds of all voters, including a majority of Democrats, Independents and Republicans, were more likely to vote for candidates who support reforms. And 60 percent of all voters, again including a bipartisan majority, were less likely to vote for candidates who block reforms.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


'It's over': Macron risks losing left in Le Pen battle (CLARE BYRNE, 3/04/21, AFP)

A leading French daily has rattled the ruling party and sparked intense speculation about next year's presidential election by suggesting that voters won't come to Emmanuel Macron's aid if he finds himself in a rematch with the far-right.

Votes from the left propelled centrist Macron to power in 2017 in a run-off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen, just as they had helped Jacques Chirac in the 2002 election against Le Pen's father Jean-Marie.

The report in Liberation newspaper, based on accounts from hundreds of readers, said many left-leaning voters would no longer support Macron to prevent Le Pen taking power.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


'Exit Counselors' Strain To Pull Americans Out Of A Web Of False Conspiracies (TOVIA SMITH, 3/03/21, NPR)

Michelle Queen does not consider herself part of QAnon, but she does believe some of its most outlandish conspiracies - including that Satan-worshipping elites in a secret pedophile cabal are killing babies and drinking their blood.

"When you are evil, you're evil," says Queen, 46, from Texas. "It goes deep."

Queen also believes the big lie that the Democrats stole the election from former President Donald Trump, and that the people who broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were actually undercover members of the left-wing Antifa, even though none of those who've been charged appears to have any connection with the far-left movement. FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday rejected conspiracy theories blaming left-wing extremists for the violence.

"That's who they said they arrested," Queen says. "They didn't tell you all the others. Y'know the news ain't gonna give you the whole thing."

Queen is among an alarming number of Americans responding to a recent Ipsos poll, who mistook several false conspiracy theories for truth. While delusional conspiracy theories go way back, experts say right-wing disinformation, in particular, is now spinning out on an unprecedented scale.

Experts see this spread of disinformation as a public health emergency that's threatening democracy, increasing the risk of further violence, and straining family relationships. It's also taxing a bevy of "deprogrammers" who are trying to help. More commonly referred to as "exit counselors" or "de-radicalizers," they help people caught up in cultic ideologies to reconnect with reality.

"I've probably got almost a hundred requests in my inbox," says Diane Benscoter, who's been helping people untangle from extremist ideologies since the 1980s, after she herself was extricated from the Unification Church, commonly known as the Moonies.

She recently founded a non-profit, to run Al-Anon style recovery and support groups for the unduly influenced and their loved ones. There's no end to the need for those kinds of services, Benscoter says.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


The United States installed more wind turbine capacity in 2020 than in any other year (US EIA, 3/03/21)

In both 2019 and 2020, project developers in the United States installed more wind power capacity than any other generating technology. According to data recently published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory, annual wind turbine capacity additions in the United States set a record in 2020, totaling 14.2 gigawatts (GW) and surpassing the previous record of 13.2 GW added in 2012. After this record year for wind turbine capacity additions, total wind turbine capacity in the United States is now 118 GW.

March 3, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 PM


In Britain, Jews lead fight against oppression of China's Uighur Muslims (CNAAN LIPHSHIZ, 3/03/21, Times of Israel)

Hasenson-Gross's efforts added to an unusual mobilization that has turned British Jews -- including their chief rabbi, who usually remains aloof from political issues that don't directly involve Jews or Israel -- into some of the most vocal advocates for the Chinese Muslim minority.

"Reflecting upon the deep pain of Jewish persecution throughout the ages, I feel compelled to speak out," Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis wrote in a December 15 op-ed in The Guardian titled "As chief rabbi, I can no longer remain silent about the plight of the Uighurs."

For British Jewry, the effort is akin to the fight by American Jews 15 years ago against the genocide in Darfur: a situation so resonant of the Jews' historical trauma that entire communities are joining in. Unusually, the push to draw attention to the Uighur cause is captivating not just liberal Jews often involved in issues of social justice but Orthodox Jews, as well.

"People in the rank and file of the community are talking about this issue," said Herschel Gluck, a prominent Orthodox rabbi who has fostered relationships with British Muslims. "This is something that is felt very deeply by the community. They feel that if 'Never again' is a term that needs to be used, this is certainly one of the situations where it applies."

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Stockton's Basic-Income Experiment Pays Off: A new study of the city's program that sent cash to struggling individuals finds dramatic changes. (Annie Lowrey, 3/02/21, The Atlantic)

The researchers Stacia Martin-West of the University of Tennessee and Amy Castro Baker of the University of Pennsylvania collected and analyzed data from individuals who received $500 a month and from individuals who did not. Some of their findings are obvious. The cash transfer reduced income volatility, for one: Households getting the cash saw their month-to-month earnings fluctuate 46 percent, versus the control group's 68 percent. The families receiving the $500 a month tended to spend the money on essentials, including food, home goods, utilities, and gas. (Less than 1 percent went to cigarettes and alcohol.) The cash also doubled the households' capacity to pay unexpected bills, and allowed recipient families to pay down their debts. Individuals getting the cash were also better able to help their families and friends, providing financial stability to the broader community.  

"It let me pay off some credit cards that I had been living off of, because my household income wasn't large enough," one recipient named Laura Kidd-Plummer told me. "It helped me to be able to take care of my groceries without having to run to the food bank three times a month. That was very helpful." During the study, Laura also experienced a spell of homelessness when the apartment building she was living in had a fire. The Stockton cash helped her secure a new apartment, ensuring that she could afford movers and a security deposit.

The researchers also found that the guaranteed income did not dissuade participants from working--adding to a large body of evidence showing that cash benefits do not dramatically shrink the labor force and in some cases help people work by giving them the stability they need to find and take a new job. In the Stockton study, the share of participants with a full-time job rose 12 percentage points, versus five percentage points in the control group. In an interview, Martin-West and Castro Baker suggested that the money created capacity for goal setting, risk taking, and personal investment.

"The big change was how it helped me see myself," Tomas Vargas, another recipient, told me. "It was dead positive: I am an entrepreneur, I think of business ideas, I make business choices, I want to be financially stable." When the program started, he worked in logistics. Now, in addition to nurturing his side projects, he is a case manager for individuals on parole.  

He noted that receiving the money had made him more civically and politically engaged, if also more infuriated at the country's scorn toward low-income households. "It's like it's a big game," he said. "These people are living with a silver spoon, talking--but how about you walk this life? Have you ever even seen it?"

Finally, the cash recipients were healthier, happier, and less anxious than their counterparts in the control group. "Cash is a better way to cure some forms of depression and anxiety than Prozac," says Michael Tubbs, a former mayor of Stockton, who spearheaded the project. "So many of the illnesses we see in our community are a result of toxic stress and elevated cortisol levels and anxiety, directly attributed to income volatility and not having enough to cover your basic necessities. That's true in the public-health crisis we're in now."

More work, less destitution, more family stability, less strained social networks, less stress, fewer incidences of homelessness, fewer skipped meals: This is what welfare could give the country.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Ilhan Omar introduces bill to sanction Mohammed bin Salman over Khashoggi murder (New Arab, 3 March, 2021)

The Biden administration has rejected imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.Tags:Saudi Arabia, US, MbS, Ilhan Omar, Mohammed bin Salman, Jamal Khashoggi, Biden, Khashoggi, Joe Biden, sanctions
Prominent progressive Democrat lawmaker Ilhan Omar introduced a bill on Tuesday to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The proposal puts Omar, a Somali-American Congresswoman, at odds with the Biden administration which has rejected measures against bin Salman.

A previously classified intelligence report released last week found the Saudi crown prince had approved the killing of Khashoggi, a journalist and regime critic who was resident in the US at the time of his death.

The State Department imposed sanctions and travel bans on dozens of Saudi nationals after the report's release but the Biden administration has avoided reprimanding bin Salman in order to not to "rupture" Washington's strategic relationship with Riyadh.

"This is a test of our humanity," Omar said in a statement on Tuesday.

Good to see Democrats call out Joe for failing tests.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


The search for animals harbouring coronavirus -- and why it matters (Smriti Mallapaty, 3/02/21, Nature)

It was the news Sophie Gryseels had been dreading for months. Almost a year into the pandemic, a seemingly healthy wild mink tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in Utah. No free-roaming animal was known to have caught the virus before, although researchers had been watching for this closely. "It's happened," wrote Gryseels, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, in an e-mail to her colleagues.

Ever since the coronavirus started spreading around the world, scientists have worried that it could leap from people into wild animals. If so, it might lurk in various species, possibly mutate and then resurge in humans even after the pandemic has subsided.

That would bring the tale of SARS-CoV-2 full circle, because wild animals probably brought it to humans in the first place. Strong evidence suggests that the virus originated in horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus spp.), possibly hitching a ride on other animals before infecting people1. In the current stage of the pandemic, with hundreds of thousands of confirmed COVID-19 infections every day, people are still driving transmission of SARS-CoV-2. But years from now, when community spread has been suppressed, a reservoir of SARS-CoV-2 in free-roaming animals could become a recalcitrant source of new flare-ups.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Biden vows enough vaccine for all US adults by end of May (ZEKE MILLER, LINDA A. JOHNSON and JONATHAN LEMIRE, 3/02/21, AP)

President Joe Biden said Tuesday the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccine for all adults by the end of May -- two months earlier than anticipated -- and he pushed states to get at least one shot into the arms of teachers by the end of March to hasten school reopenings.

Biden also announced that drugmaker Merck will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson's newly approved one-shot vaccine, likening the partnership between the two drug companies to the spirit of national cooperation during World War II.

"We're now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May," Biden said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Haredi party likens Reform and Conservative converts to dogs with kippot (Times of Israel, 3/02/21)

United Torah Judaism, an ultra-Orthodox party, released an election campaign video Tuesday night that seemingly compares people who convert to Judaism through non-Orthodox denominations to dogs wearing kippot.

The video, published online, drew condemnation from opposition leader MK Yair Lapid, who said that with this message, UTJ had joined the ranks of anti-Semites who often compare Jews to dogs.
The campaign video was released after the High Court of Justice ruled earlier this week that Reform and Conservative conversions to Judaism conducted in Israel would be recognized for citizenship purposes. The decision, which dents the Orthodox monopoly on religion in Israel, was widely condemned by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, who vowed to pass a law to overturn it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


BATS and the ORIGIN of OUTBREAKS:  As the World Health Organization reaches its findings on the zoonotic origins of the novel coronavirus, we explain why bats make such ideal hosts for disease-causing viruses. (Julia Janicki  and  Simon Scarr, d March 2, 2021, Reuters)

Scientists have long suspected that the rate of new infectious diseases could accelerate, especially in developing countries where human and animal interaction is increasing.

Changes in the environment are driving displaced species of animals into new habitats, allowing them to mix with other species or potential hosts.

Those shifts, combined with greater human interaction with animals as people move deeper into forests, increases the chances of a virulent virus jumping species.

This kind of spillover, when a pathogen in one species could start circulating in another and potentially create a new disease - is what appears to have happened in China with the virus that causes COVID-19. Like many infectious viruses introduced this way, the outbreak started with bats.

Many deadly viruses in the past have originated from bats including the deadly Ebola outbreaks in Western Africa. Nipah, also carried by bats, has already caused human outbreaks across South and South East Asia and has "serious epidemic potential", according to global health and infectious disease specialists.

The coronavirus family of viruses also includes diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Scientists have discovered that SARS and MERS were caused by viruses that originated in bats, with other animals serving as intermediate hosts.

Why bats?
Bats are a group of flying mammals, with more than 1,300 species in 20 families, according to IUCN. They make up approximately 20% of all mammal species and are found all over the world except for the Arctic, the Antarctic and a few oceanic islands.

Bats first appear in the fossil record roughly 50 million years ago and represent the third group of flying vertebrates in Earth's history, after the flying reptiles called pterosaurs and birds.

The only other group coming close to harbouring as many viruses are rodents, the most diverse group of mammals. There are approximately 2,300 species of rodents in 33 families, making up about 40% of all mammals. Rodents are believed to harbour more viruses as a group but bats harbour more viruses per species.

The diversity of both groups has been seen by scientists as a possible mechanism for driving virus diversity, as the greater number of species can create more potential niches for viruses. [...]

Studies have shown that bats are unique when it comes to hosting zoonotic viruses even when compared to rodents, as bats host more zoonotic viruses per species than rodents do. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


U.S. oil industry lobby weighs support of carbon pricing -source (Valerie Volcovici, 3/03/21, Reuters) 

The American Petroleum Institute (API) is weighing endorsing a price on carbon emissions, a major shift after long resisting mandatory government climate policies, a source familiar with the decision making said.

The API, the main U.S. oil industry lobby group that includes most of the world's biggest oil companies, is considering carbon pricing "among other policy solutions to reduce emissions and reach the ambitions of the Paris Agreement," the source said, confirming a report about the policy shift by the Wall Street Journal.

The group is confronting its previous resistance to regulatory action on climate change amid a shift in industry strategy on the issue and the new U.S. presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Texas must increase ties to the national grid and DER to avoid another power catastrophe, analysts say (Herman K. Trabish, March 2, 2021, Utility Dive)

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) competitive, energy-only market "seemed like it was saving money until last week, when losses equaled the cost of three years of generation," agreed Rice University Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Daniel Cohan. "The free-market ideology ignores risks. Most people want to keep the lights on more than to make a market theory work." [...]

Texas' historical opposition to FERC regulation has made it an "electrical island," ERCOT CEO Bill Magness said in a 2016 interview.

Renewables were more than a quarter of Texas electricity generation in November 2020, based on DOE data. With ERCOT's increasingly dynamic supply and load, Texans may prefer being able to access out-of-state markets, even under federal regulation, to being without electricity, Silverstein said. 

Texas should "immediately start negotiations to interconnect with the rest of the country," Wellinghoff said. "That's the fastest route to thousands of MWs of support and it would allow Texas to profit by selling its now-curtailed thousands of MWs of West Texas wind into other systems," he added.

"It is not a political issue," he insisted. "There are no red or blue electrons. This is about saving money and keeping consumers safe."

Texas leaders should also immediately order a study to identify the true costs and benefits of interconnection, both Silverstein and Wellinghoff added.

ERCOT, the PUCT, and the New York grid operator have testified to FERC that wide geographic access to diverse resources strengthens reliability and lowers costs, said Grid Strategies Vice President Michael Goggin. Those benefits were demonstrated in the MISO and PJM markets during the January 2019 Polar Vortex, he said.

In February, the "network inside Texas allowed solar, in-land wind, and coastal wind to work together," Goggin added. "More inter-regional transmission connecting ERCOT, MISO, PJM and the West could have relieved the shortages."

"In times of trouble, it may be that your neighbor or your neighbor's neighbor can help," said Energy Systems Integration Group (ESIG) Associate Director Debra Lew during a Feb. 23 webinar introducing ESIG's white paper on the urgent need for national transmission planning.

ESIG is a global energy industry consultant to power providers, developers, planners, and regulators.

The transition to a renewables-dominated, zero-emissions economy is accelerating, but transmission development is not keeping up, ESIG's Transmission Planning for 100% Clean Electricity reported.

An example is Pattern Energy's 2 GW Southern Cross transmission project to interconnect Texas with Louisiana, Mississippi and the MISO system. First proposed in 2011, construction has not begun, though both FERC and PUCT approvals of the high voltage direct current line "do not affect ERCOT's independent status," Pattern Vice President of Business Development Glen Hodges said.

"The ability to import up to 2 GW of power into Texas during such a crisis would be a tremendous benefit to stability of the ERCOT grid" and "a huge help to Texas consumers," Hodges added.

With unpredictable events and high power prices becoming more common, planners should recognize that inter-regional transmission allows responding "to anything, anywhere," Goggin said.

March 2, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


Israelis blame ultra-Orthodox for coronavirus pandemic, express hatred (Mazal Mualem, Mar 2, 2021, Al Monitor)

Nothing prepared Yakir Lance -- an ultra-Orthodox fellow who lives in the heart of Tel Aviv -- for his encounter with a secular cab driver at the end of January.

Lance ordered a cab through a taxi app, as he usually does, and waited outside his home. When a taxi drove past him without stopping, Lance assumed that it was some kind of mistake. Then he called the driver, who told him directly, "You are an ultra-Orthodox disease spreader; I can't take you," and sped away.

This event took place shortly after the Jan. 24 disturbances that erupted in Bnei Brak, Israel's largest ultra-Orthodox city; in the course of the riots a bus was set on fire and the driver was rescued at the last minute. The violent events erupted against the background of confrontations between policemen and ultra-Orthodox young people, as authorities tried to enforce the third lockdown in ultra-Orthodox cities. It was the low point of a violent week in the centers of ultra-Orthodox cities and localities, and the media was filled with reports on the sparring between police and the ultra-Orthodox.

The political responses were not long in coming. The chairman of the Yisrael Beitenu party, Avigdor Liberman, responded with sarcasm. "Who said the ultra-Orthodox don't know how to fight?" asked Liberman, who has long sought end exemptions that allow the ultra-Orthodox to avoid performing the country's mandatory military service.

 "The things we have been seeing over recent days remind us mainly of 'Wild West' movies or the Civil War in the States. Stop telling stories that we're looking at fringe groups; we're facing the most central currents of the ultra-Orthodox sector. The time has come to stop giving in to violence, and adopt real enforcement steps. So long as we don't stop funding law-breaking educational institutions, or shutting them down, we'll never end this chaos."

For Liberman and for hundreds of thousands of secular Jews, COVID-19 exemplifies the grim reality of their lives: the ultra-Orthodox don't serve in the army, they enjoy the fruits of inflated budgets, don't take a significant role in the labor market and, last but not least, don't even allow Israeli society to fight the COVID-19 plague.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


Over 160 Students At A Christian College Have Signed A Letter Accusing Rep. Madison Cawthorn Of Sexual Harassment (TYLER HUCKABEE, MARCH 2, 2021, Relevant)

Buzzfeed News spoke with over three dozen people from his former Christian college who either accused Cawthorn of a host of predatory activities, or corroborated the stories of accusers, detailing instances of "sexual harassment and misconduct on campus, in Cawthorn's car, and at his house near campus." Buzzfeed News spoke with four women who recounted instances that included "calling them derogatory names in public in front of their peers, including calling one woman 'slutty,' asking them inappropriate questions about their sex lives, grabbing their thighs, forcing them to sit in his lap and kissing and touching them without their consent."

Last October, over 160 members of the Patrick Henry community signed an open letter accusing Cawthorn of "gross misconduct towards our female peers, public misrepresentation of his past, disorderly conduct that was against the school's student honor code and self-admitted academic failings." The letter said that during his time at Patrick Henry, Cawthorn "established a reputation of predatory behavior."

The open letter and Buzzfeed News aren't the only sources of Cawthorn's accusers. WORLD Magazine, a conservative Christian publication, spoke with three women who accused Cawthorn of sexually harassing and verbally assaulting them.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Americans agree about more issues than they realize (Stef W. Kight, 3/02/21,  Axios)

Why it matters: The polling reveals that despite growing political polarization, Americans share similar long-term goals and priorities for the country.

Driving the news: Addressing climate change and preserving clean air and water landed in respondents' top 5 personal priorities for the future of the U.S. -- but they believe those issues rank closer to the bottom for "most others."

Biden voters ranked climate issues higher than Trump voters, but successfully addressing climate change still landed in Trump voters' top 15 priorities.

Meanwhile, most people said they care very little about the U.S. being the most powerful country in the world, even though they suspect it to be a middle-of-the-road priority for others.

Priorities differed very little along gender, ethnicity, income and educational lines.

Nine issues showed up in the top 15 priorities for both parties' voters. Biden and Trump voters both expressed a sense of urgency to address five: access to high quality health care; safety in communities and neighborhoods; criminal justice reforms; help for the middle class; and modernized infrastructure.

Partisanship is so vicious precisely because there is so little difference on policy at the End of History.  There's nothing left for partisans to fight over but Identity.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Rejoining the Iran Nuclear Deal Is Not Enough (Peter Beinart, 3/01/21, Jewish Currents)

In Washington, the first goal attracts the most attention because it's the most controversial. Virtually all the Republicans in Congress, and some of the Democrats, believe the nuclear deal was a mistake, and oppose reviving it. The second goal, obstructing Iranian regional influence, occasions less discussion because the presumption underlying it--that Iran is a uniquely bad actor in its neighborhood--is widely considered self-evident. 

But this rarely questioned assumption has enormous consequences for US policy in the Middle East. The Obama and Trump administrations used the specter of Iranian aggression to justify their support for the immensely destructive war that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have waged in Yemen. And although the Biden administration has ended support for "offensive operations" in that war and is reviewing arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the charge of Iranian malevolence will likely justify their continuation in some form, just as it helps to justify US military aid to Israel. The claim that Iran is especially destabilizing also rationalizes many of America's non-nuclear sanctions on the country, most of which will remain even if the Biden administration rejoins the nuclear deal, and which ensure that the US does not establish normal diplomatic relations with Tehran.

These US policies, which make the Middle East more violent and less stable, are built on a false premise. Whether one examines Iran's defense spending, its support for "terrorism," or its military intervention in other countries, the country's foreign policy is no more aggressive than those of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, or Israel, its chief regional competitors.

And only Turkey and Iran are pro-democracy. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Giuliani again suspended from YouTube over false election claims (ARIS FOLLEY, 03/01/21, The Hill)

A spokeswoman for YouTube said in a statement to The Hill that the attorney's channel will be blocked from posting content for two weeks for violating its "election integrity policy." The platform also said it removed content from the channel for violating its "sale of regulated goods policy."

"We removed content from the Rudy W. Giuliani channel for violating our sale of regulated goods policy, which prohibits content facilitating the use of nicotine, and our presidential election integrity policy," the representative said.

"Additionally, in accordance with our long standing strikes system, we issued a strike against the Rudy W. Giuliani channel, which temporarily restricts uploading or live-streaming," she continued. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Biden retreats from vow to make pariah of Saudis (ELLEN KNICKMEYER, 3/02/21, AP)

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden promised to make a pariah out of Saudi Arabia over the 2018 killing of dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi. But when it came time to actually punish Saudi Arabia's crown prince, America's strategic interests prevailed.

The Biden administration made clear Friday it would forgo sanctions or any other major penalty against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Khashoggi killing, even after a US intelligence report concluded the prince ordered it.

The decision highlights how the real-time decisions of diplomacy often collide with the righteousness of the moral high ground. And nowhere is this conundrum more stark than in the United States' complicated relationship with Saudi Arabia -- the world's oil giant, a US arms customer and a counterbalance to Iran in the Middle East.

Making the Sa'uds an enemy, not an ally.  But Joe is a Republican.

March 1, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


Democrats cheer New York AG's probe into sexual misconduct allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (JON SKOLNIK, MARCH 1, 2021, Salon)

Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," White House press secretary Jen Psaki expressed President Joe Biden's support for an "independent review" of the allegations made against Cuomo. "They're serious," she said. "It was hard to read that story as a woman. And that process should move forward as quickly as possible, and that's something we all support and the president supports."

Psaki's statement comes just after Cuomo backed down from attempting to dictate the terms of his own investigation. On Saturday, the Governor announced that the administration had tapped Judge Barbara Jones to lead the inquiry, drawing sharp criticism from both state and federal lawmakers, as Jones had previously worked with Steve Cohen, one of Cuomo's advisors. On Sunday, Cuomo finally ceded to calls for an independent probe by allowing Attorney General Letitia James to appoint an outside investigator. 

"I'm glad to see that there will be a full, independent, and thorough investigation," former New York state senator and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement. "These stories are difficult to read, and the allegations brought forth raise serious questions that the women who have come forward and all New Yorkers deserve answers to." 

"Lindsey Boylan and Charlotte Bennett's detailed accounts of sexual harassment by Gov. Cuomo are extremely serious and painful to read," wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y, on Twitter. "There must be an independent investigation -- not one led by an individual selected by the Governor, but by the office of the Attorney General."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who spearheaded an inquiry into the sexual assault allegations made against former Sen. Al Franken, echoed Ocasio-Cortez. ""These allegations are serious and deeply concerning," said on Sunday. "As requested by Attorney General James, the matter should be referred to her office so that she can conduct a transparent, independent and thorough investigation with subpoena power."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also joined the chorus of condemnation and expressed that he backed James' effort to assign to an independent investigator. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the allegations "credible."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


President Biden just made a serious human rights blunder (Jeffrey Salkin, 3/01/21, RNS)

Haman failed to shed a single drop of blood.

MBS succeeded in shedding many, many drops of blood.

This story proves what we have always known. Despotism is alive and well in the Middle East, and in numerous other places in the world.

And, as Donald Trump once implied, when you're rich you can get away with murder.

Let us wander more deeply into the cave of irony.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, President Biden called Saudi Arabia a "pariah" state with "no redeeming social value." He was absolutely correct, and every human rights organization worthy of its NGO status would echo that, and then some.

So why is the Biden administration, to quote Nicholas Kristof, "letting a Saudi murderer walk?"

It is called realpolitik. We need the Saudis and the Sunnis because of Iran -- which, of course, is the modern name of ancient Persia. Realpolitik is just another way of saying that we live in an unredeemed world, in which decisions are rarely neat and never come to us in a box with a ribbon attached.

In the modern Middle East, as in many situations in life, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

But, let me flee the particulars of this incident and come to an even more sobering reflection.

For many of us who supported his candidacy, this might be the first time that the Biden administration has disappointed us -- on a matter of deep principle. There might have been other times before this, as well.

It will not be the last time. Our leaders always disappoint us, and they always betray our heartfelt ideals.

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Killings by Police Declined after Black Lives Matter Protests: A study also found body-camera use and community policing increased in places with the most active movements (Jim Daley on March 1, 2021, Scientific American)

"Black Lives Matter represents a trend that goes beyond the decentralization that existed within the Civil Rights Movement," says Aldon Morris, a sociologist at Northwestern University who was not involved in the new study. "The question becomes, 'Are Black Lives Matter protests having any real effect in terms of generating change?' The data show very clearly that where you had Black Lives Matter protests, killing of people by the police decreased. It's inescapable from this study that protest matters--that it can generate change."

The study, published in February as an online preprint item on the Social Science Research Network, is the first of its kind to measure possible correlation between BLM and police homicide numbers. It found that municipalities where BLM protests have been held experienced as much as a 20 percent decrease in killings by police, resulting in an estimated 300 fewer deaths nationwide in 2014-2019. The occurrence of local protests increased the likelihood of police departments adopting body-worn cameras and community-policing initiatives, the study also found. Many cities with larger and more-frequent BLM protests experienced greater declines in police homicides. [...]

Pulley says the Black Lives Matter movement can take some satisfaction in its possible impact on police homicides. "We should use that knowledge to know that the work we're engaged in--the movement, the advocacy, the organizing--is what we need," she says. "And that needs to expand and get broader, so we can join much of the rest of the world in having zero police killings. We can get there. That takes continued and persistent organizing."

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


'Readers want the victims' stories': the writers exposing sexual abuse in France (Fleur Macdonald,  25 Feb 2021, The guardian)

France has long had a reputation for having a more relaxed attitude towards sexuality. From the Marquis de Sade to Michel Foucault, sex has often been viewed in intellectual circles as a matter of personal freedom. Matzneff and Springora's mother are part of the "soixante-huitards", a generation born from the protests of May 1968 who relished the freedoms of the sexual revolution. In the 70s, intellectuals including Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Roland Barthes and Bernard Kouchner signed petitions calling for a lowering of the age of sexual majority to 13. And while it is illegal in France for an adult to have sex with a minor under the age of 15, there is no age of consent; if there is no evidence of threats or violence, the adult will not be charged with rape. In 2018, after an outcry over the case that disgusted Springora, ministers proposed introducing an age of consent, which has yet to pass. A recent poll estimated that one in 10 French people have been the victim of sexual abuse within the family as children.

The initial response to #MeToo in France was unenthusiastic. In 2018, 100 women, including actor Catherine Deneuve, signed a letter published in Le Monde calling the movement "puritanical". Sandra Muller, the woman who started the French hashtag #BalanceTonPorc ("Rat on your pig") was sued for defamation by the man she accused. Journalists and public intellectuals railed against cancel culture and online witch-hunts. "The reaction was timid," says Dr Muriel Salmona, a psychologist, campaigner and founder of the support group Association Mémoire Traumatique et Victimologie. "Victims felt undermined."

But a wave of books have given fresh momentum to the movement in France, exposing underage sexual abuse at the highest levels of society. In 2016, the TV presenter Flavie Flament wrote The Consolation, an autobiographical novel about the rape of a 13-year-old girl. She then accused British photographer David Hamilton of raping her in 1987, prompting other women to come forward with allegations of their own. Hamilton, then 83, denied everything, then killed himself weeks after the book was published.

In 2018, Adelaide Bon published The Little Girl on the Ice Floe, a memoir about being raped at the age of nine and subsequent years of trauma-induced memory loss. Last year, France's figure-skating champion Sarah Abitbol revealed in her autobiography Un si long silence (Such a Long Silence) that her coach Gilles Beyer had sexually abused her when she was 15 and he was in his 30s. Beyer admitted to "intimate relations" with Abitbol and apologised, which she refused.

The rape accusations against the former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011 were more pivotal in France than #MeToo, Spingora says: "It was the beginning of the inversion of domination." "I resent the notion that #MeToo liberated women's speech," says Bon, who also finished her manuscript before the #MeToo movement took off. "There have always been books about it [sexual abuse], people have always spoken about it."

But #MeToo may have been crucial for readers. Bon's book has sold 40,000 copies and been translated into seven languages; Consent has sold 200,000 copies and has published in more than 22 languages. Caroline Laurent, an editor at publisher JC Lattes who wrote an op-ed in support of Springora's book, isn't surprised by their success. "In the #MeToo era, readers want the victims' stories," she says. "Not those of their tormentors. All these stories hold up a mirror to our civilisation and force us to look at ourselves with lucidity and courage, in order to make things better."

Springora has received hundreds of letters from women and men who wanted to share their experiences, many for the first time. "I became, inadvertently, the ambassador for all those silences," she says. "They gave me a glimpse of the extent of the malaise in which France finds itself." Bon also received emails, letters, messages and texts after her book was published. "I was even stopped in the street," she says.

Just when the Right embraces being French the bastards go and Anglofy....

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


GM's electric vehicle plans begin to take shape with new lower-priced Chevy Bolts (Michael Wayland, 3/01/21, CNBC)

General Motors' pivot to become an all-electric vehicle company by 2035 is starting to take shape as the automaker prepares to release two Chevrolet Bolt models this summer ahead of a flagship $113,000 GMC Hummer EV pickup later in the year.

The all-electric Bolts - a redesigned hatchback and a new crossover - will both start at under $34,000. They are the beginning of what GM hopes will eventually be a full lineup of "affordable" EVs as the company builds scale to reduce costs of its next-generation electric vehicles such as the Hummer with new battery systems and platforms.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ironically, this Zionist witch-hunt fails to protect Jews (Yvonne Ridley, March 1, 2021, MEMO)

Anti-Semitism is very real, of that there is no doubt, but the greatest threat to Jewish people today comes not from those on the political left who criticise the Zionist state of Israel. It comes from those on the far right whose pernicious influence is spreading across North America and Europe.

This is obvious to reasonable political observers. However, the facts are being masked by the pro-Israel lobby which insists on conflating anti-Semitism with criticism of Zionism, the ideology which underpins colonial Israel. It is enough simply to mention Israel's brutal military occupation of Palestine to incur the lobby's wrath. Ironically, though, this Zionist witch-hunt fails to protect Jews.

We should all be deeply concerned by this sinister development. Not only is this an attack on free speech and one step away from book burning, but it is also diverting attention from the real threat to Jews from right-wing anti-Semites who feel so emboldened that they have brazenly turned their guns on synagogues and carried out other atrocities against Jews.

The sight of armed thugs rioting in the US Capitol in mid-January was shocking enough, but this was compounded by the fact that some of them were wearing "Camp Auschwitz" hoodies and other Nazi regalia and symbols of hate; we should all be outraged. That they were incited in this extremely disturbing behaviour by the then US President Donald Trump -- someone who used anti-Semitic tropes in his speeches -- was no surprise.

Trump was forgiven for his blatant anti-Semitism by right-wing Jews because he was seen as Israel's greatest friend. the insistence that Israel ought not adhere to Western values. 
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How immigration reform would affect economic growth (Bruce Yandle, February 28, 2021, Washington Examiner)

I indicated the potential positive-or-negative effect of eight major policy proposals on 2021-2022 GDP growth. These included income tax increases (negative), loosened trade restrictions (positive), coronavirus mitigation (positive), a climate change initiative (negative), a higher minimum wage (negative), a healthcare plan (negative), overall regulatory policy (negative), and finally immigration (positive).

These were not necessarily assessments of whether the policies are appropriate for the long-term benefit of the nation. Rather, it was a simpler look at what to expect in terms of GDP growth over the next 18 months or so. Apparently, the positive nudge for Biden's immigration policy proposals caught the interest of at least one participant.

In answering, I made reference to the estimated 11 million illegal workers now employed in the shadows of the nation's otherwise-open economy. I also touched on the "Dreamers" who had come across our borders illegally as infants, many of whom are somehow educated, employed, and assimilated. Needless to say, people in illegal settings have to lay low, take low-profile jobs, and find ways to avoid deportation.

As I spoke, I recalled my own experience teaching in a Clemson graduate program in northern Italy. In order to gain a visa, I had to promise that I would not seek employment beyond my teaching assignment. I was also required to check in with the authorities periodically to be reassessed, always with the threat of deportation. You can be certain that I did not even pretend to be interested in doing any economic consulting while enjoying my stay, even though I may have had some small contribution to make to the Italian economy.

The point, and one sometimes missed in these immigration discussions, is that people living in the shadows are not able to search markets and discover or develop their full human potential. This causes productivity growth, at the margin, to stagnate, which takes the edge off GDP growth. It also limits the gains from trade that accrue to people who might be doing the hiring.

Think about how the ways in which racial segregation over the years have imposed costs on different groups of people. Certain job seekers earn less of a living in exchange for their work. Buyers get fewer choices and higher prices emerging from a less dynamic marketplace. We all get a somewhat-diminished economy with fewer people innovating and finding ways to create new jobs out of thin air.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Physicist creates AI algorithm that may prove reality is a simulation (PAUL RATNER, 01 March, 2021, Big Think)

A scientist devised a computer algorithm which may lead to transformative discoveries in energy and whose very existence raises the likelihood that our reality could actually be a simulation. [...]

Qin is now adapting the algorithm to predict and even control other behaviors, with a current focus on particles of plasma in facilities built for harvesting fusion energy powering the Sun and stars.

"Usually in physics, you make observations, create a theory based on those observations, and then use that theory to predict new observations, " said Qin. "What I'm doing is replacing this process with a type of black box that can produce accurate predictions without using a traditional theory or law. Essentially, I bypassed all the fundamental ingredients of physics. I go directly from data to data (...) There is no law of physics in the middle."

Qin was partially inspired by the work of Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, whose 2003 paper famously argued that the world we are living in may be an artificial simulation. What Qin believes he has accomplished with his algorithm is provide a working example of an underlying technology that could support the simulation in Bostrom's philosophical argument.

In an email exchange with Big Think, Qin remarked: "What is the algorithm running on the laptop of the Universe? If such an algorithm exists, I would argue that it should be a simple one defined on the discrete spacetime lattice. The complexity and richness of the Universe come from the enormous memory size and CPU power of the laptop, but the algorithm itself could be simple."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The New Foreign Flavor of CPAC's Red Meat (Ben Jacobs, 2/27/21, New York)

[T]he focus was on the type of culture-war red meat that had been a staple of Trumpism. There were strident warnings about Marxism and Black Lives Matter, hardline stances set out on immigration and the rise of China and newfound zeal to combat and regulate social-media companies.

This is not to say that libertarian tendencies disappeared. The mandate that all attendees at the event wear masks provoked ire among some attendees and required prominent signs and a reminder onstage. Speaker after speaker celebrated that they were in Florida, a state with relatively lax restrictions in place due to the coronavirus. Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, heralded her state's approach to COVID, saying proudly that she "never mandated masks" or "ordered a single business or church to close" to loud applause. More than 1 in 500 South Dakotans have died of COVID-19 in the past year and the state has the second highest rate of cases in the country. But as COVID restrictions have become a culture war battleground and mask-wearing a political signal almost as potent as a hybrid Subaru or a pair of cowboy boots, these attitudes seemed to be as much about "owning the libs" as libertarianism.

Another sign of the Europeanization of the American conservatism was the growing presence of the international far right at the conference -- and even the looming specter of white nationalism. There were recorded video messages from Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, as well as hard-right politicians in Spain and Croatia.

During breaks in the conference, a video from "samurai futurologist" Gemki Fuji repeatedly played proclaiming Trump to be "a real American samurai" while a right-wing South Korean politician claimed his country saw left-wing voter fraud too.

Perhaps most unsettling was the appearance of Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona on Saturday. Gosar, a hard right-wing backbencher who touted false claims of voter fraud before the assault on the Capitol on January 6, appeared on a panel on immigration less than 12 hours after appearing at a separate white-nationalist event sponsored by those who found CPAC full of squishy sellouts.

At that gathering, the six-term Arizona Republican's speech was followed by remarks from a Holocaust denier who said America needed to protect its "white demographic core" and called the attack on the Capitol "awesome."

They hate America first.