by A. Richard Miller
Begun September 29, 2008; last updated May 31, 2020

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On the eve of USA's November 2008 national election, an urgent proposal for an unsecured $700-Billion, maybe $800-Billion loan to mismanaged banks and stockbrokers was generating understandable controversy. In its initial form the Bush Buddies Bailout was one more Weapon of Mass Deception, a (later, a two-step) public welfare program for wealthy people who game the system. But the problem remains.

What, exactly, went - and continues to go - wrong? What ARE reasonable goals, what are NOT, and how might a more populist government reach good ones?

Jill and I searched, asked friends, and found part of the discussion in the mainline U.S. Press. It is dominated by large corporations, and is quickly becoming a large corporation that reports with bias and too-often avoids reporting. We find the parts they don't want us to find - overseas, in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and in the Alternative Press. Some favorites are: Alternet, Campaign for America's Future, Common Dreams, Daily KOS, Demand Progress, Democracy Now, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Mother Jones, The Nation, Nation of Change, Dan Rather's News&Guts, Politico, The Raw Story, TruthOut, and Russ Baker's But we keep a sense of perspective; know which news is biased, and how.

The more we read, the more we realize that - as much as we want our money back - that is only one of many ways our country is becoming impoverished. Often by corporations, which most definitely are NOT people! (For one thing, these rapacious corporations have no shame.)

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. What I mean by that, is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.
- Rahm Emanuel (Wall Street Journal Weekend Interview, Nov. 7, 2008)

Never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis.
- Niccolo Machiavelli (Fifteenth Cent.Florentine writer and statesman)

Yes, as through this world I've wandered,
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

- Woody Guthrie, Dust Bowl Ballads

What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?
- Bertolt Brecht

Yes, We're Corrupt.
A List of Politicians Admitting That Money Controls Politics

Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.
- Jimmy Carter (1979, as U.S. President)

NEW: Cycling Is Bad For The Economy
A cyclist is a disaster for the country’s economy: He does not buy a car and does not take out a car loan. He does not buy car insurance
. He does not buy fuel. He does not send his car for servicing & repairs. He does not use paid parking. He does not become obese.
Healthy people are not needed for the economy. They do not buy drugs. They do not go to hospitals and doctors. They add nothing to the country’s GDP.
On the contrary, every new McDonald's creates at least 30 jobs: 10 cardiologists, 10 dentists, 10 weight-loss experts
apart from people working in McDonald's.
Choose wisely: A bike ride, or a Big Mac with cheese? Think about it!
Walkers are even worse. They do not even buy a bicycle.
- NOT Sanjay Thakrar, CEO at Euro Exim Bank Ltd. (2018)

It is not particularly easy for one to climb up out of the working-class - especially if he is handicapped by the possession of ideals and illusions.
- What Life Means to Me, by Jack London (1905)

... peace was not in the interest of a stable society, that even if lasting peace "could be achieved, it would almost certainly not be in the best interests of society to achieve it." War was a part of the economy. Therefore, it was necessary to conceive a state of war for a stable economy. The government, the group theorized, would not exist without war, and nation states existed in order to wage war. War served the vital function of diverting collective aggression. They recommended "credible substitutes" and paying a "blood price" to emulate the economic functions of war. Prospective government-devised alternatives to war included reports of alien life-forms, the reintroduction of a "euphemized form" of slavery "consistent with modern technology and political processes", and - one deemed particularly promising in gaining the attention of the malleable masses - the threat of "gross pollution of the environment".
- Wikipedia's summary of The Report From Iron Mountain (1967)

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
- U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower (April 16, 1953)

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.
- John Adams, letter to Jonathan Jackson (2 October 1780), The Works of John Adams, vol 9, p.511.

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.
-- President Abraham Lincoln (1864 letter to William Fletcher Elkin), or faked in Caldwell Remedy Company pamphlet (May 10, 1888), or...
<> (pp. 4-6)

What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth. For the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish, and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs to him only?
- Massasoit

Only when the last tree has been cut down, only when the last river has been poisoned, only when the last fish has been caught, only then will you realize your money cannot be eaten.
- an old Cree saying? Maybe not; but good.

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.
- U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1938

Train communities through all their grades, beginning with individuals and ending there again, to rule themselves.
- Walt Whitman

This planet has -- or rather had -- a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
- Douglas Adams, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (1979)

The Fragile States Index (Fund For Peace)

US National Debt Clock, by Ed Hall

The Freecycle Network (Good. A grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and neighborhoods. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills.)

Time Trade Circle (Good. Time Banking in eastern Massachusetts.)

Buy Nothing Project (Bad?)
(See its Person-to-Person section - on Facebook - and then see Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life , below).

Calculated Risk (blog)

The Conscience of a Liberal (NY Times blog by Paul Krugman)

To Build A Better Ballot; an interactive guide to alternative voting systems, by Nicky Case, 2016) (Campaign for America's Future)

NEW: Secret Worlds: The Universe Within (Molecular Expressions, 1998)
View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth. Then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf into a microscopic world that reveals leaf cell walls, the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA and finally, into the subatomic universe of electrons and protons.

Lifton's Thought Reform, (ca. 1997; Changing Minds)
Milieu control, mystical manipulation, confession, self-sanctification through purity, aura of sacred science, loaded language, doctrine over person, dispensed existence.

The 14 Characteristics of Fascism, by Lawrence Britt (Free Inquiry magazine, 2003)

The Market as God, by Harvey Cox (The Atlantic, 1999)
Living in the new dispensation.

Global surveillance disclosures (Wikipedia, 2013–present)
Ongoing news reports in the international media have revealed operational details about the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and its international partners' global surveillance of both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. The reports mostly emanate from a cache of top secret documents leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The Strange Disappearance of Cooperation in America, by Peter Turchin (Cliodynamica, 2013)

Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life (Institute for Critical Digital Culture, 2018)
Every click on a website and every swipe on a smartphone may trigger a wide variety of hidden data sharing mechanisms distributed across several companies and, as a result, directly affect a person’s available choices. Digital tracking and profiling, in combination with personalization, are not only used to monitor, but also to influence peoples’ behavior. ...
"Facebook uses at least 52,000 personal attributes to sort and categorize its 1.9 billion users by, for example, their political views, ethnicity, and income. In order to do so, the platform analyzes their posts, likes, shares, friends, photos, movements, and many other kinds of behaviors.
"In addition, Facebook acquires data on its users from other companies. In 2013, the platform began its partnership with the four data brokers Acxiom, Epsilon, Datalogix and BlueKai, the latter two of which were subsequently acquired by the IT giant Oracle. These companies help Facebook track and profile its users even better than it already does by providing it with data collected from beyond its platform.

Help Us Cure Online Publishing of Its Addiction to Personal Data, by Doc Searls (Linux Journal, March 14, 2018)
(and The Big Datastillery that targets YOU)

It's Official: Watching Fox Makes You Stupider (The Nation, 2012)

Ten True Facts Guaranteed to Short-Circuit Republican Brains (Daily Kos, 2012)

ALEC Exposed (Center for Media and Democracy, 2011)

His Grief, and Ours: Paul Ryan's nasty ideal of self-reliance (New Republic, 2012)

We All Built This Great Nation Together: Ayn Rand, Paul Ryan, and the Myth of Radical Individualism (Nick Gier)

The Foul Reign Of Emerson's "Self-Reliance (New York Times, 2011)

"A Declaration of Conscience, June 1, 1950 speech by U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith (U.S. Senate, 1950)
(The beginning of the end for Senator Joe McCarthy but, unfortunately, not for McCarthyism.)

The Death Of God, by Friedrich Nietzsche (1885)

Losing my religion for equality (Jimmy Carter, 2009)
"The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God."

RELIGION: What It Was For; What Went Wrong; How To Fix It, by Benjamin Becula

The New Populism (Campaign for America's Future, 2014)

Grokking Republicans: The Non-Cooperator's Dilemma (Daily Kos, 2014)
"To create More and Better Democrats means to increase cooperation. Punishing cooperation is the declared Republican mission. 'The Evolution of Cooperation', by Robert Axelrod, proposes a theory that says they lose, and recommends particular political strategies to make it happen faster.

Freethinkers and Libertarianism, by David Niose

EXXON: The Road Not Taken (Inside Climate News, 2015)
"This multi-part series describes how Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then, without revealing all that it had learned, worked at the forefront of climate denial, manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus that its own scientists had confirmed.

NEW: The history of volcanic eruptions since Roman times (Past Global Changes Magazine, 2015)

What's Really Warming The World? (Bloomberg, 2015)

NEW: Vanishing: The Sixth Mass Extinction (CNN, 2016)
We're entering the Earth's sixth era of extinction -- and it's the first time humans are to blame. CNN introduces you to the key species and people who are trying to prevent them from vanishing.

Yale Climate Opinion Maps, U.S. 2016

NEW: History of Boston's Water System (slide presentation; Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, October 6, 2016)

Earthquakes of the First 15 Years of the 21st Century (4-min. video; NOAA, December 2, 2016)

Why Excessive Consumption Limits your Creativity (Medium, May 2016)

Is the World Ready for a Guaranteed Basic Income? (Freakonomics, 2016)

Scientists Are Pro-Testing (Science, 2017)

The Gerasimov Doctrine (Politico, 2017)
"It’s Russia’s new chaos theory of political warfare. And it’s probably being used on you.

We All Want Healthcare To Cost Much Less  -  But We Are Asking The Wrong Question, by Joe Flowers (Medium, 2017)
"Imagine this: Healthcare  -  the whole system  -  for half as much. Better, more effective. No rationing. Everybody in.

Kim Hill: Sustainability is Destroying the Earth: The Green Economy vs. The Planet (Deep Green Resistance News Service, May 25, 2017)
What is it we are trying to sustain? A living planet, or industrial civilization? Because we can’t have both.

Thirteen things the public sector does better than the 'free' market (Daily Kos, October 1, 2017)

What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest An Answer. (New York Times, November 7, 2017)

Our Revolution

Angry White House Staffer

GOP Rape Advisory Chart

The Loneliness of Donald Trump; On the Corrosive Privilege of the Most Mocked Man in the World, by Rebecca Solnit

Vote Sleuth: Investigating Democracy (Los Angeles Times, 2017)

The way Donald Trump is handling his job as president (Gallup Poll Daily Data)

Donald Trump (Vice)

Obamacare 101: Here's what you need to know (Los Angeles Times, 2017)

Duty To Warn (Duty To Warn, 2017)
Duty To Warn is an association of mental health professionals and other concerned citizens who advocate Trump’s removal under the 25th Amendment on the grounds that he is psychologically unfit.

The way Donald Trump is handling his job as president (Gallup Poll Daily Data)

"Who am I? Why am I here?" (#25thAmendmentNow)
A running thread of Trump not knowing where he is, how he got there, or the appropriate response to give in the moment. Some mental health professionals are concerned that he may be exhibiting signs of Alzheimer's, but he might just be an idiot.

The Hamilton 68 Dashboard tracks Russian influence operations on Twitter. (Hosted by the Alliance for Securing Democracy.)

How Facebook’s destructive ethos imperils democracy (The Guardian, March 17, 2018)

Atlas Of Utopias (Transformative Cities, 2018)

CONGRESSIONAL SCORECARD; Congressional Civil Liberties Record in the Trump Era ACLU, 2018)

Chart: The percentage of women and men in each profession (Boston Globe)

Smoking bans in private vehicles (Wikipedia)

Light Cycles, by Quinn Norton

"The Suffocation of Democracy", by Christopher R. Browning (New York Review Of Books, October 13, 2018)
If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments.
Trump's personal flaws and his tactic of appealing to a narrow base while energizing Democrats and alienating independents may lead to precisely that rare wave election needed to provide a congressional check on the administration as well as the capture of enough state governorships and legislatures to begin reversing current trends in gerrymandering and voter suppression. The elections of 2018 and 2020 will be vital in testing how far the electoral system has deteriorated.
Alongside the erosion of an independent judiciary as a check on executive power, other hallmarks of illiberal democracy are the neutralization of a free press and the steady diminution of basic human rights. On these issues, often described as the guardrails of democracy against authoritarian encroachment, the Trump administration either has won or seems poised to win significant gains for illiberalism. Upon his appointment as chancellor, Hitler immediately created a new Ministry of People's Enlightenment and Propaganda under Joseph Goebbels, who remained one of his closest political advisers. In Trump’s presidency, those functions have effectively been privatized in the form of Fox News and Sean Hannity. The highly critical free media not only provide no effective check on Trump's ability to be a serial liar without political penalty; on the contrary, they provide yet another enemy around which to mobilize the grievances and resentments of his base. A free press does not have to be repressed when it can be rendered irrelevant and even exploited for political gain.

She Votes (NPR's special SERIES on women and the vote, October 20, 2018)

Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2017 (ADL Center on Extremism, February 27, 2018)
Over the past 10 years (2008-17), domestic extremists have been responsible for at least 387 murders; of these, 274 (71%) were committed by right-wing extremists of one type or another.

Quantifying Hate: A Year of Anti-Semitism on Twitter (ADL Report, May 7, 2018)

NEW: Why read Aristotle today? (Aeon, May 29, 2018)
Modern self-help draws heavily on Stoic philosophy. But Aristotle was better at understanding real human happiness.

NEW: The Next Plague Is Coming. Is America Ready? (Atlantic, July 1, 2018)
The epidemics of the early 21st century revealed a world unprepared, even as the risks continue to multiply. Much worse is coming.
On average, in one corner of the world or another, a new infectious disease has emerged every year for the past 30 years: mers, Nipah, Hendra, and many more. Researchers estimate that birds and mammals harbor anywhere from 631,000 to 827,000 unknown viruses that could potentially leap into humans. Valiant efforts are under way to identify them all, and scan for them in places like poultry farms and bushmeat markets, where animals and people are most likely to encounter each other. Still, we likely won’t ever be able to predict which will spill over next; even long-known viruses like Zika, which was discovered in 1947, can suddenly develop into unforeseen epidemics.
One hundred years ago, in 1918, a strain of H1N1 flu swept the world. It might have originated in Haskell County, Kansas, or in France or China—but soon it was everywhere. In two years, it killed as many as 100 million people—5 percent of the world’s population, and far more than the number who died in World War I. It killed not just the very young, old, and sick, but also the strong and fit, bringing them down through their own violent immune responses. It killed so quickly that hospitals ran out of beds, cities ran out of coffins, and coroners could not meet the demand for death certificates. It lowered Americans’ life expectancy by more than a decade. “The flu resculpted human populations more radically than anything since the Black Death,” Laura Spinney wrote in Pale Rider, her 2017 book about the pandemic. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in history—a potent reminder of the threat posed by disease.
Humanity seems to need such reminders often. In 1948, shortly after the first flu vaccine was created and penicillin became the first mass-produced antibiotic, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall reportedly claimed that the conquest of infectious disease was imminent. In 1962, after the second polio vaccine was formulated, the Nobel Prize–winning virologist Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet asserted, “To write about infectious diseases is almost to write of something that has passed into history.”
Hindsight has not been kind to these proclamations. Despite advances in antibiotics and vaccines, and the successful eradication of smallpox, Homo sapiens is still locked in the same epic battle with viruses and other pathogens that we’ve been fighting since the beginning of our history. When cities first arose, diseases laid them low, a process repeated over and over for millennia. When Europeans colonized the Americas, smallpox followed. When soldiers fought in the first global war, influenza hitched a ride, and found new opportunities in the unprecedented scale of the conflict. Down through the centuries, diseases have always excelled at exploiting flux.
Humanity is now in the midst of its fastest-ever period of change. There were almost 2 billion people alive in 1918; there are now 7.6 billion, and they have migrated rapidly into cities, which since 2008 have been home to more than half of all human beings. In these dense throngs, pathogens can more easily spread and more quickly evolve resistance to drugs. Not coincidentally, the total number of outbreaks per decade has more than tripled since the 1980s.
Globalization compounds the risk: Airplanes now carry almost 10 times as many passengers around the world as they did four decades ago. In the ’80s, HIV showed how potent new diseases can be, by launching a slow-moving pandemic that has since claimed about 35 million lives. In 2003, another newly discovered virus, sars, spread decidedly more quickly. This is a new epoch of disease, when geographic barriers disappear and threats that once would have been local go global.
The United States has nationwide vaccination programs, advanced hospitals, the latest diagnostic tests. In the National Institutes of Health, it has the world’s largest biomedical research establishment, and in the CDC, arguably the world’s strongest public-health agency. America is as ready to face down new diseases as any country in the world.
Yet even the U.S. is disturbingly vulnerable—and in some respects is becoming quickly more so. It depends on a just-in-time medical economy, in which stockpiles are limited and even key items are made to order. Most of the intravenous bags used in the country are manufactured in Puerto Rico, so when Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September, the bags fell in short supply. Some hospitals were forced to inject saline with syringes—and so syringe supplies started running low too. The most common lifesaving drugs all depend on long supply chains that include India and China—chains that would likely break in a severe pandemic. “Each year, the system gets leaner and leaner,” says Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “It doesn’t take much of a hiccup anymore to challenge it.”
Perhaps most important, the U.S. is prone to the same forgetfulness and shortsightedness that befall all nations, rich and poor—and the myopia has worsened considerably in recent years. Public-health programs are low on money; hospitals are stretched perilously thin; crucial funding is being slashed. And while we tend to think of science when we think of pandemic response, the worse the situation, the more the defense depends on political leadership.
When Ebola flared in 2014, the science-minded President Barack Obama calmly and quickly took the reins. The White House is now home to a president who is neither calm nor science-minded. We should not underestimate what that may mean if risk becomes reality.
American hospitals, which often operate unnervingly close to full capacity, likewise struggled with the surge of patients. Pediatric units were hit especially hard by H1N1, and staff became exhausted from continuously caring for sick children. Hospitals almost ran out of the life-support units that sustain people whose lungs and hearts start to fail. The health-care system didn’t break, but it came too close for comfort—especially for what turned out to be a training-wheels pandemic. The 2009 H1N1 strain killed merely 0.03 percent of those it infected; by contrast, the 1918 strain had killed 1 to 3 percent, and the H7N9 strain currently circulating in China has a fatality rate of 40 percent.
That the U.S. could be so ill-prepared for flu, of all things, should be deeply concerning. The country has a dedicated surveillance web, antiviral drugs, and an infrastructure for making and deploying flu vaccines. None of that exists for the majority of other emerging infectious diseases.
The Hospital Preparedness Program is a funding plan that was created in the wake of 9/11 to help hospitals ready themselves for disasters, run training drills, and build their surge capacity—everything that Shelly Schwedhelm’s team does so well in Nebraska. It transformed emergency planning from an after-hours avocation into an actual profession, carried out by skilled specialists. But since 2003, its $514 million budget has been halved. Another fund—the Public Health Emergency Preparedness program—was created at the same time to help state and local health departments keep an eye on infectious diseases, improve their labs, and train epidemiologists. Its budget has been pruned to 70 percent of its $940 million peak. Small wonder, then, that in the past decade, local health departments have cut more than 55,000 jobs. That’s 55,000 people who won’t be there to answer the call when the next epidemic hits.
These sums of money are paltry compared with what another pandemic might cost the country. Diseases are exorbitantly expensive. In response to just 10 cases of Ebola in 2014, the U.S. spent $1.1 billion on domestic preparations, including $119 million on screening and quarantine. A severe 1918-style flu pandemic would drain an estimated $683 billion from American coffers, according to the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health. The World Bank estimates that global output would fall by almost 5 percent—totaling some $4 trillion.
The U.S. is not unfamiliar with the concept of preparedness. It currently spends roughly half a trillion dollars on its military—the highest defense budget in the world, equal to the combined budgets of the next seven top countries. But against viruses—more likely to kill millions than any rogue state is—such consistent investments are nowhere to be found.
Organizing a federal response to an emerging pandemic is harder than one might think. The largely successful U.S. response to Ebola in 2014 benefited from the special appointment of an “Ebola czar”—Klain—to help coordinate the many agencies that face unclear responsibilities. In 2016, when Obama asked for $1.9 billion to fight Zika, Congress devolved into partisan squabbling. Republicans wanted to keep the funds away from clinics that worked with Planned Parenthood, and Democrats opposed the restriction. It took more than seven months to appropriate $1.1 billion; by then, the CDC and NIH had been forced to divert funds meant to deal with flu, HIV, and the next Ebola.
At some point, a new virus will emerge to test Trump’s mettle. What happens then? He has no background in science or health, and has surrounded himself with little such expertise. The President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, a group of leading scientists who consult on policy matters, is dormant. The Office of Science and Technology Policy, which has advised presidents on everything from epidemics to nuclear disasters since 1976, is diminished. The head of that office typically acts as the president’s chief scientific consigliere, but to date no one has been appointed. Other parts of Trump’s administration that will prove crucial during an epidemic have operated like an Etch A Sketch. During the nine months I spent working on this story, Tom Price resigned as secretary of health and human services after using taxpayer money to fund charter flights (although his replacement, Alex Azar, is arguably better prepared, having dealt with anthrax, flu, and sars during the Bush years). Brenda Fitzgerald stepped down as CDC director after it became known that she had bought stock in tobacco companies; her replacement, Robert Redfield, has a long track record studying HIV, but relatively little public-health experience. Rear Admiral Tim Ziemer, a veteran malaria fighter, was appointed to the National Security Council, in part to oversee the development of the White House’s forthcoming biosecurity strategy. When I met Ziemer at the White House in February, he hadn’t spoken with the president, but said pandemic preparedness was a priority for the administration. He left in May.

ADL H.E.A.T. Map (ADL, August 9, 2018)

Mapped: How every part of the world has warmed – and could continue to warm (Carbon Brief, September 26, 2018)

The Future Of Electric Cars Is China (Quartz, ?? 2018)
The world awaits an electric-car future, but that future is rapidly becoming the present in China. The country is on track to sell more than 1 million electric vehicles in 2018, nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. And with tens of billions of dollars already invested to build up an electric-car infrastructure (and tens of billions more on the way), China is not letting up in its pace to become the world leader in EVs.

The Great Filter - the most important question in history (Daily Kos, November 3, 2018)

Voices From The Field; FBI Agent Accounts of the Real Consequences of the Government Shutdown (FBI Agents Assn., January 2019)
If the FBI and Dept. of Justice are not funded, the Agents will continue to face challenges in carrying out our mission to protect the nation.

50 Moments That Define an Improbable Presidency (The Atlantic, January 21, 2019)

Tracking Trump: The President’s Standing Across America (Morning Consult)
On a daily basis, Morning Consult is surveying over 5,000 registered voters across the United States on President Trump. Each month, we’ll update this page with the latest survey data, providing a clear picture of Trump’s approval and re-election prospects.

Russia Investigation Summary (Teri Kanefield, continuing)
Muller Probe Overview: Documents Filed, Crimes, etc.

A Timeline of Earth's Average Temperature Since The Last Ice Age Glaciation (xkcd)

Global Climate Change; Vital Signs Of The Planet (NASA, current)

Climate Change (United Nations)

Bernie Sanders: The Green New Deal (2019)

Sizing Up the Carbon Footprint of Cities (NASA, April 11, 2019)
Large and wealthy cities have the biggest carbon footprints.

Earthquake and Volcano Activity, Worldwide, 2001-2015 (NASA, NOAA)

Nancy Pelosi, by Hillary Rodham Clinton (Time100, 2019)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by Elizabeth Warren (Time100, 2019)
Greta Thunberg, by Emma González (Time100, 2019)

The Privacy Project (New York Times, 2019)

Zero Waste: Our country has a waste problem. It’s time for new solutions, and a renewed commitment to move toward zero waste. (MassPIRG, 2019)

50 Days to the Moon (Fast Company, 2019)

On Bullshit, by Harry Frankfurt (Princeton University)
I propose to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis.

It’s Time to Break Up Facebook, by Chris Hughes (New York Times, May 9, 2019)
Mr. Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, is a co-chairman of the Economic Security Project and a senior adviser at the Roosevelt Institute:
"Mark Zuckerberg’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook have taken a nose-dive. The company’s mistakes - the sloppy privacy practices that dropped tens of millions of users’ data into a political consulting firm’s lap; the slow response to Russian agents, violent rhetoric and fake news; and the unbounded drive to capture ever more of our time and attention - dominate the headlines.
Mark’s influence is staggering, far beyond that of anyone else in the private sector or in government. He controls three core communications platforms - Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp - that billions of people use every day. Facebook’s board works more like an advisory committee than an overseer, because Mark controls around 60 percent of voting shares. Mark alone can decide how to configure Facebook’s algorithms to determine what people see in their News Feeds, what privacy settings they can use and even which messages get delivered. He sets the rules for how to distinguish violent and incendiary speech from the merely offensive, and he can choose to shut down a competitor by acquiring, blocking or copying it.
"Mark is a good, kind person. But I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks. I’m disappointed in myself and the early Facebook team for not thinking more about how the News Feed algorithm could change our culture, influence elections and empower nationalist leaders. And I’m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them. The government must hold Mark accountable."

Demand an impeachment inquiry (Common Cause, July 25, 2019)
No American, especially not the President, is above the law.

United States Of Plastic (The Guardian, August 2019)

100 Photos - The Most Influential Images of All Time (Time Magazine, 2016)
Explore the stories behind 100 images that changed the world, selected by TIME and an international team of curators.
Top 100 Photos of 2018 (Time Magazine)

Globalization Isn’t Dying, It’s Just Evolving (Bloomberg, July 23, 2019)
We are entering a new era in which data is the new shipping container and there are far more disruptive forces at work in the world economy than Trump’s tariffs. New manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing and the automation of factories are reducing the economic incentives to offshore production. The smartphones we carry with us are not just products of globalization but accelerants for it. For good or bad, we are more exposed to a global culture of ideas than we have ever been. And we are only becoming more global as a result.

The 1619 Project (The New York Times, August 14, 2019)
In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. In the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

"Tending Soil", by Emma Marris (Emergence Magazine, October 2019)
In almost every culture, Earth is female: Mother Earth, Gaia, Pachamama, Terra, Prithvi - goddesses that, like the soil, have the power to create new life. The mystery of working with soil is that the best way to make it more fertile - more life-giving - is to mix in dead things. Soil is the medium through which death becomes life. It is the liminal stuff that exists after death and rot but before sprouting life, growth, and nourishment.

Millionaires Surtax: A Winning Issue In 2020 (Surtax, October 2019)

WMO Provisional Statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2019 (World Meteorological Association, December 3, 2019)

Global Transport of Smoke from Australian Bushfires (2-min. video; NASA)

The Deep Sea (Neal Agarwal)

The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report (U.S. House Intelligence Committee, December 3, 2019)

Impeachment in the United States (Wikipedia)

President Trump House Impeachment Brief (U.S. House of Representatives, January 18, 2020)

Tracking President Trump's Unprecedented Conflicts of Interest (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington)

Environmental voter guide (Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, 2020)
We graded the 2020 Democratic candidates on four key environmental areas, and produced this environmental report card.

100th Anniversary of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU, January 2020)
"So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy." - ACLU founder Roger Baldwin
When a roomful of civil liberties activists - led by Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, and Albert DeSilver - formed the ACLU in 1920, the Supreme Court had yet to uphold a single free speech claim. Activists languished in jail for distributing anti-war literature. State-sanctioned violence against African-Americans was routine. Women won the right to vote only in August of that year. And constitutional rights for LGBT people were unthinkable.
The ACLU was founded to ensure the promise of the Bill of Rights and to expand its reach to people historically denied its protections. In our first year, we fought the harassment and deportation of immigrants whose activism put them at odds with the authorities. In 1939, we won in the Supreme Court the right for unions to organize. We stood almost alone in 1942 in denouncing our government's round-up and internment in concentration camps of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans. And at times in our history when frightened civilians have been willing to give up some of their freedoms and rights in the name of national security, the ACLU has been the bulwark for liberty.

NEW: Neo-Völkisch (Southern Poverty Law Center)
Born out of an atavistic defiance of modernity and rationalism, present-day neo-Völkisch, or Folkish, adherents and groups are organized around ethnocentricity and archaic notions of gender.

NEW: Political Coordinates Test (Individual Differences Research, 2020)
This free political observance test will allow you to obtain your scores on the two major political scales found in Western democracies. Though there are several other "political coordinates" and "political observance" tests in existence, these tests have commonly been criticized for seeking to trick the respondent into answering in a certain way, for example by applying spin to the questions or framing them in such a way as to provoke emotional reactions in the respondent. By contrast, this test attempts to simply confront you with the questions without any coating or spin.

NEW: Benjamin Franklin and the Power of Long-Term Investing (Edelman Financial Engines, 2020)
Remembered for being a publisher, scientist, diplomat and inventor, he was also the first truly long-term investor.

NEW: Shoshana Zuboff: You Are Now Remotely Controlled. (New York Times, January 24, 2020)
The belief that privacy is private has left us careening toward a future that we did not choose. Surveillance capitalists control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth.

NEW: The Day Democracy Died (9-min. YouTube video sung by The Founding Fathers, February 8, 2020)

NEW: White-Collar Crime (Huffington Post, February 10, 2020)
Over the last two years, nearly every institution of American life has taken on the unmistakable stench of moral rot. Corporate behemoths like Boeing and Wells Fargo have traded blue-chip credibility for white-collar callousness. Elite universities are selling admission spots to the highest Hollywood bidder. Silicon Valley unicorns have revealed themselves as long cons (Theranos), venture-capital cremation devices (Uber, WeWork) or straightforward comic book supervillains (Facebook). Every week unearths a cabinet-level political scandal that would have defined any other presidency. From the blackouts in California to the bloated bonuses on Wall Street to the entire biography of Jeffrey Epstein, it is impossible to look around the country and not get the feeling that elites are slowly looting it.
And why wouldn't they? The criminal justice system has given up all pretense that the crimes of the wealthy are worth taking seriously. The rich are enjoying a golden age of impunity unprecedented in modern history. Elite deviance has become the dark matter of American life, the invisible force around which the country's most powerful legal and political systems have set their orbit.

NEW: Opinion Polls (Civiqs)

Resources re Coronavirus pandemic:
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak (World Health Organization, latest status and advice
From Camping To Dining Out: Here's How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities (NPR, May 23, 2020)
NEW: The Risks - Know Them - Avoid Them (Erin Bromage, May 6, 2020)
Comprehensive COVID-19 reporting (by Seattle-area 17-year-old Avi Schiffman)
Infection Trajectory: See Which Countries are Flattening Their COVID-19 Curve (Visual Capitalist)
The 7 Best COVID-19 Resources We’ve Discovered So Far (Visual Capitalist)
NEW: Coronavirus Worldwide Graphs (Worldometers)
NEW: How to Talk About the Coronavirus (The Atlantic, March 31, 2020)
Four ways to help those around you be better informed about the pandemic.
Epidemic Calculator (GitHub)
U.S. Projected hospital resource use based on COVID-19 deaths, assuming continued social distancing until the end of May 2020 (IHME Group at the Washington Univ. St. Louis)
Daily Coronavirus Briefing (New York Times)
What Is Coronavirus? (Johns Hopkins Medicine)
Coronavirus Myths and Facts (Johns Hopkins Medicine)
NEW: Misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic (Wikipedia)
NEW: How to Wear a Face Mask Correctly: Common Mistakes to Avoid (NBC Boston, April 22, 2020)
Here’s What We Know about the Most Touted Drugs Tested for COVID-19 (Scientific American, April 16, 2020)
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Research and Statistics (Our World In Data)
Coronavirus Resource Hub (Consumer Reports)
Information on the Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (Massachusetts Department of Public Health)
2020 coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts (Wikipedia)
Information about the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Stanford CA Hospital)
Coronavirus is most contagious before and during the first week of symptoms. (Science News, March 13, 2020)
People stop making infectious virus once the body’s antibody response kicks in. All symptoms may not appear, and NO symptoms may appear until after most contagious period.
Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen, MD: Safety tips for grocery and take-out shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic (14-min. video; YouTube, March 28, 2020)
Michael Osterholm on the Coronavirus pandemic (1.5-hour video; Joe Rogan Experience #1439, March 10, 2020)
Michael Osterholm is an internationally recognized expert in infectious disease epidemiology. He is Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, a professor in the Technological Leadership Institute, College of Science and Engineering, and an adjunct professor in the Medical School, all at the University of Minnesota. Look for his book "Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Deadly Germs" for more info.
Doctors and nurses demonstrate breathing techniques proven to help with coronavirus symptoms. (Daily Kos, April 8, 2020)
NEW: How Trump Gutted Obama’s Pandemic-Preparedness Systems (Vanity Fair, May 1, 2020)
Former officials: Trump’s reshuffling of positions and departments, focus on business solutions, downgrading of science, left the country dangerously unprepared for an unprecedented pandemic.
A Complete List of Trump’s Attempts to Play Down Coronavirus (New York Times, March 15, 2020)
He could have taken action. He didn’t. Instead, he has continued many of his old patterns of self-congratulation, blame-shifting and misinformation. Trump now seems to understand that coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon. But he also seems to view it mostly as a public-relations emergency for himself rather than a public-health emergency for the country.
NEW: 'It will disappear': the disinformation Trump spread about the coronavirus – timeline (The Guardian, April 14, 2020)
Heather Cox Richardson: Today, Trump and his supporters doubled down on the idea that the coronavirus is a “hoax”. (Letters from an American, February 28, 2020)
Today, Trump and his supporters doubled down on the idea that the coronavirus is a “hoax,” as Trump said, perpetrated by Democrats eager to tank his presidency. That would explain the dramatic drop of the stock market this week as nothing but an emotional reaction to “fake news.” It would mean that the strong economy Trump has hyped as his major contribution to the country—he denies that his predecessor Barack Obama had anything to do with it, although economic numbers under Obama were as good or better than today’s—remains intact, so long as people will ignore those dastardly Democrats... the Democrats that Donald Trump, Jr. says are hoping the coronavirus “comes here and kills millions of people so that they can end Donald Trump’s streak of winning.”
This is one heck of a gamble, and it reveals the corner into which the administration’s reliance on a false narrative has painted it. Under Trump, the country is great again… so the virus can’t be a problem. The rising stock market has proved that the economy is brilliant and Trump gets all the credit for it… so the falling stock market must be fake, or else the fault of jealous Democrats.
But the virus isn’t playing Trump’s game. It is spreading. Today, after we learned there are more than 85,000 known cases in the world and more than 2,900 known deaths, the director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program warned “every government on the planet” to “wake up. Get ready. You have a duty to your citizens. You have a duty to the world to be ready.”

Pertinent Posts

Nicaragua has resisted imposing lockdown rules. Now the virus appears to be raging through the country. (New York Times, May 31, 2020)
As protesters flood streets across the country, officials worry that they could be spreading the virus. (New York Times, May 31, 2020)
Mass protests over police violence against black Americans in at least 75 U.S. cities have spurred concern that the gatherings will seed new outbreaks. The protests could increase infections in communities of color, which are already being disproportionately hit by the disease. Death rates among black Americans are double those of whites, and the economic toll of lockdowns has also inflicted disproportionate economic pain.
World alarmed by violence in U.S.; thousands march in London. (Los Angeles Times, May 31, 2020)
Nations around the world have watched in horror the days of civil unrest in the United States following the death Monday of a black man being detained by police. But they have not been surprised. Racism-tinged events no longer startle even America’s closest allies, though many have watched coverage of the often-violent protests with growing unease.
Burning cars and riot police in the U.S. were featured on newspaper front pages around the globe Sunday — bumping news of the COVID-19 pandemic to second-tier status in some places. George Floyd died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for eight minutes. It was the latest in a series of deaths of black men and women at the hands of police in America.
Microsoft has plans to use Artificial Intelligence to vet news stories for inclusion on the MSN web site, replacing a staff of human journalists. (The Guardian, May 30, 2020)
Dozens of journalists have been sacked after Microsoft decided to replace them with artificial intelligence software. Staff who maintain the news homepages on Microsoft’s MSN website and its Edge browser have been told that they will be no longer be required because robots can now do their jobs. Around 27 individuals employed by PA Media – formerly the Press Association – were told on Thursday that they would lose their jobs in a month’s time after Microsoft decided to stop employing humans to select, edit and curate news articles on its homepages. Employees were told Microsoft’s decision to end the contract with PA Media was taken at short notice as part of a global shift away from humans in favour of automated updates for news.
What Happened in the Chaotic Moments Before George Floyd Died (New York Times, May 30, 2020)
The episode began with a report of a $20 counterfeit bill. It ended in a fatal encounter with the police, which the authorities have described in detail for the first time.
LA Times reporter recounts being hit with tear gas and rubber bullets by Minnesota police. (1-min. video; Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2020)
When Minnesota police advanced on peaceful protesters gathered at an intersection outside the Fifth Precinct late Saturday, I didn’t expect them to fire on reporters.
I was wrong. At about 8:30 p.m., a group of about two dozen Minneapolis police and sheriff’s deputies appeared from behind a chain link fence opposite protesters. They were in riot gear and grasping batons.
A young African American woman approached the police, arms raised. An officer sprayed her in the face with something that smelled like pepper spray, and the woman ran to seek help from fellow protesters. A young African American man approached the officers, outraged, but another man pulled him back to the main group. The police retreated back behind the fence. But moments later, a much larger phalanx of officers in riot gear emerged to block the street.
George Floyd Updates: ‘Absolute Chaos’ in Minneapolis as Protests Grow Across U.S. (1-min. video; New York Times, May 29, 2020)
Minnesota’s governor said the police and National Guard had been overwhelmed by protests, which raged even after a former police officer was charged with murdering George Floyd.
George Floyd Death Protests In Minneapolis And Around The U.S. (8-min. video; NBC News, May 29, 2020)
Where does the phrase 'When the looting starts, the shooting starts' come from? (3-min. video; NBC News, May 29, 2020)
Before Trump used it re Minneapolis, it was uttered by a Southern police chief during civil rights unrest in the 1960s.
What we know about George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody (NPR, May 29, 2020)
The police officer who was seen kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, the black man who died in custody on May 25 following the exchange with police, was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on May 29. Derek Chauvin was fired following the incident, along with three other officers. A bystander video captured Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, despite his pleas that he could not breathe.
The account from Darnella Frazier, who filmed the now-viral video showing part of the police encounter and said she watched Floyd being suffocated, differs from that of the police, who said Floyd was stopped because he matched the description of a suspect in a forgery case, resisted arrest and then suffered “medical distress.”
The incident has prompted investigations from state and federal authorities, an apology from the city’s mayor and comparisons to other uses of deadly force against black Americans, particularly the death of Eric Garner. It has also sparked thousands to pour out into the streets of Minneapolis to protest, largely around the intersection where Floyd died. The gatherings were a rare sight amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept  most people in some form of isolation for weeks.
The World Is Still Far From Herd Immunity for Coronavirus. (New York Times, May 28, 2020)
 The coronavirus still has a long way to go. That’s the message from a crop of new studies across the world that are trying to quantify how many people have been infected. Official case counts often substantially underestimate the number of coronavirus infections. But in new studies that test the population more broadly, the percentage of people who have been infected so far is still in the single digits. The numbers are a fraction of the threshold known as herd immunity, at which the virus can no longer spread widely. The precise herd immunity threshold for the novel coronavirus is not yet clear; but several experts said they believed it would be higher than 60 percent.
Florida forced medical examiners to stop reporting death results, and now we know why. (Daily Kos, May 28, 2020)
With 52,600 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Florida is in the top ten states when it comes to infections. But the 2,300 recorded deaths is less than half of those from Michigan, a state with a similar number of cases. Considering the number of elderly residents and retirement communities, Florida’s relatively light death toll seemed somewhat miraculous, and DeSantis has been bragging both about the “success” of his policies and sneering at pundits that warned of potential disaster from his refusal to enforce social distancing guidelines.
But there’s still more evidence that “miracle” isn’t the right word. The correct word is “con.” Because it looks like DeSantis has been taking COVID-19 deaths out of one column and inserting them into another.
Trump's Executive Order Is a Blatant and Unconstitutional Attempt to Silence Critics and Fact Checkers. (Free Press, May 28, 2020)
Trump’s threat to use the executive branch’s power to punish internet companies for Twitter’s mild fact check of his statements is exactly the kind of abuse of power that the Constitution and our First Amendment were written to prevent. It’s undoubtedly the first step down an increasingly dark path of Trump using the power of his office to intimidate and silence media companies, journalists, activists and anyone else who criticizes or corrects him.
The FCC is supposed to be an independent agency, not the censorship or propaganda arm of the White House. That Brendan Carr, an FCC commissioner, would go on TV cloaking himself in the language of free speech while entertaining Trump’s authoritarian actions is shameful and antithetical to the rights and principles of a free society.
Trump could not be more wrong on the law, the facts and the scope of his power.
Trump’s Order on Social Media Could Harm One Person in Particular: Donald Trump. (New York Times, May 28, 2020)
President Trump, who built his political career on the power of a flame-throwing Twitter account, has now gone to war with Twitter, angered that it would presume to fact-check his messages. But the punishment he is threatening could force social media companies to crack down even more on customers just like Mr. Trump. The executive order that Mr. Trump signed on Thursday seeks to strip liability protection in certain cases for companies like Twitter, Google and Facebook for the content on their sites, meaning they could face legal jeopardy if they allowed false and defamatory posts. Without a liability shield, they presumably would have to be more aggressive about policing messages that press the boundaries — like the president’s.
That, of course, is not the outcome Mr. Trump wants. What he wants is the freedom to post anything he likes without the companies applying any judgment to his messages, as Twitter did this week when it began appending “get the facts” warnings to some of his false posts on voter fraud. Furious at what he called “censorship” — even though his messages were not in fact deleted — Mr. Trump is wielding the proposed executive order like a club to compel the company to back down.
It may not work even as intended. Plenty of lawyers quickly said on Thursday that he was claiming power to do something he does not have the power to do by essentially revising the interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law passed by Congress in 1996 that laid out the rules of the road for online media. Legal experts predicted such a move would be challenged and most likely struck down by the courts.
But the logic of Mr. Trump’s order is intriguing because it attacks the very legal provision that has allowed him such latitude to publish with impunity a whole host of inflammatory, harassing and factually distorted messages that a media provider might feel compelled to take down if it were forced into the role of a publisher that faced the risk of legal liability rather than a distributor that does not. “Ironically, Donald Trump is a big beneficiary of Section 230,” said Kate Ruane, a senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, which instantly objected to the proposed order. “If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump’s lies, defamation and threats.”
Heather Cox Richardson: Trump tests what he can get away with, how far he can move the goalposts for his own campaign. (Letters From An American, May 28, 2020)
Today Trump’s reaction to Twitter fact-checking him was so extreme that #TrumpMeltdown trended on Twitter. This morning, to his audience of more than 80 million, he tweeted: “Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices [sic]. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen….” Then he went on to reiterate that mail-in ballots would “be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots.”
This evening, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump would be signing an executive order pertaining to social media companies, although just what that might look like is unclear. Brian Fung, CNN’s technology reporter, says that the White House did not consult the Federal Communications Commission about the forthcoming executive order, suggesting that the order has not gone through the normal review process.
This means that any executive order he issues—if he issues one—is unlikely to withstand legal scrutiny. Rather than actually affecting the law, he is likely simply trying to pressure Twitter into leaving his own disinformation unchallenged. It is also likely he is eager to change the subject to anything other than our growing numbers of Americans dead of Covid-19. (None of his tweets today acknowledged our dead.)
Finally, he is seeing what can he get away with. Will he be able to bully Twitter’s moderators into leaving his own disinformation unchecked?
The question of what Trump can get away with, how far he can move the goalposts for his own campaign, was in the news tonight over another issue, as well. In the past two months, Trump has cleaned house of five inspectors general. By law, though, he cannot fire them cleanly; he has to give Congress thirty days notice so it can prevent the president from firing an inspector general because of an investigation.
The White House thumbs its nose at GOP critics of inspectors general purge. (Washington Post, May 27, 2020)
“There’s little they can do to actually prevent the president from removing a presidential appointee,” watchdog Walter Shaub recently told NPR. “But the purpose of the law was to give Congress 30 days to raise the stakes for the president, the idea being that they would either shame him publicly, and it would cause a public reaction that would cause him to back down. Or they would use more direct leverage, like refusing to confirm his nominees.”
That’s the leverage Congress has in this case, but only if it chooses to exercise it. With Cipollone practically shrugging off the whole thing and telling members like Grassley to pound sand, the ball is now in their court.
What’s even more remarkable about Cipollone’s letter is that Grassley essentially volunteered potential justifications for Linick’s firing, but Cipollone opted not to use them. It’s apparently an attempted power play — one in which Cipollone is daring these members to push harder and believes they ultimately won’t.
Either that, or the White House worries that delving into its actual justifications will inevitably point in the direction of retaliation — which Trump’s own comments certainly have.
The Trump administration may be turning a corner in its war with Huawei. (Washington Post, May 27, 2020)
The Trump administration has scored a major victory with the United Kingdom's decision to launch an emergency review of Huawei’s role in its 5G telecommunications networks. The review is expected to conclude that a series of increasingly harsh U.S. sanctions have made it impossible for the United Kingdom to work with the Chinese telecom.
Lawmaker told his GOP peers he had COVID-19, but waited a week to inform fellow Democrats. (Daily Kos, May 27, 2020)
“If it was known yesterday that members were either positive or in quarantine, we needed to know that yesterday. We absolutely need to know more. There needs to be transparency about this. These members are pushing us to reopen the state. The hypocrisy is astounding.”
Trump’s mockery of wearing masks divides Republicans. (Washington Post, May 27, 2020)
A growing chorus of Republicans are pushing back against President Trump’s suggestion that wearing cloth masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus is a sign of personal weakness or political correctness. They include governors seeking to prevent a rebound in coronavirus cases and federal lawmakers who face tough reelection fights this fall, as national polling shows lopsided support for wearing masks in public. "Wearing a face covering is not about politics — it’s about helping other people,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said Tuesday in a plea over Twitter, echoing comments by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) last week. “This is one time when we truly are all in this together."
The comments come as Trump continues to treat face masks as something to mock, refusing to wear one in public and joining his staff and family in ridiculing his Democratic rival Joe Biden for doing otherwise. White House staff members are required to wear masks in the building, though Trump is exempted from that rule.
a divide that recent polls show largely exists within the Republican Party, as clear majorities of Democrats and independents have embraced the need for mask wearing, in line with the scientific consensus that it is an effective method to slow the spread of the virus, potentially speeding a recovery of the economy.
A poll this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 89 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of independents report wearing a mask every time or most of the time when they leave home, compared with 58 percent of Republicans. Three recent public polls have found that between 64 and 72 percent of the public says Trump should wear a mask. Between 38 and 48 percent of Republicans say Trump should do so. That is an issue that divides Republicans and not anybody else.
When asked Tuesday by CNN if wearing a mask projected strength or weakness, Biden offered a third option, saying it projected leadership. He called Trump “an absolute fool” for his mockery of protective measures. “Presidents are supposed to lead, not engage in folly and be falsely masculine,” Biden said. “It reminds me of the guys I grew up with playing ball. They would walk around with a ball, but they didn’t like to hit very much.”
George Floyd's death sparks large protests, confrontations with police. (10-min. video; CBS News, May 27, 2020)
Large crowds gathered Tuesday to protest at the site where a man was violently arrested the night before. George Floyd, who was black, repeatedly told a white police officer kneeling on his neck that he couldn't breathe. But despite Floyd's pleas for his life, the officer didn't let up for more than seven minutes, and Floyd died hours later. The incident was caught on video by an onlooker.
Minneapolis Mayor Frey To County Attorney: Charge Arresting Officer In George Floyd's Death. (19-min. video; WCCO/CBS Minnesota, May 27, 2020)
As of yet, no arrests have been made, which Frey said inspired him to speak out Wednesday afternoon.
Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo: 4 Police Officers Fired Following Death Of George Floyd. (CBS, May 26, 2020)
"Four responding MPD officers involved in the death of George Floyd have been terminated. This is the right call." — Mayor Jacob Frey
Trump Team Killed Rule Designed To Protect Health Workers From Pandemic Like COVID-19. (4-min. audio; NPR, May 26, 2020)
When President Trump took office in 2017, his team stopped work on new federal regulations that would have forced the health care industry to prepare for an airborne infectious disease pandemic such as COVID-19. That decision is documented in federal records reviewed by NPR.
Twitter Must Cleanse the Trump Stain. (New York Times, May 26, 2020)
The president is spreading a vile conspiracy theory on the platform. Maybe Twitter should finally hold him to its rules.
“Please delete those tweets,” the widower begged in a letter last week to Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey. “My wife deserves better.”
Yes, Twitter, Lori Klausutis certainly does deserve better, nearly two decades after she died in a tragic accident that has morphed into a macabre and continuing nightmare for her husband, Timothy Klausutis. The boogeyman plunging him and the family of his late wife into the very worst of memory holes is a conspiracy-theory-loving, twitchy-fingered and often shameless tweeter who also happens to be the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.
Tweeting misinformation is not new for Mr. Trump, who uses the service as his political cudgel to govern, campaign, wage petty digital wars and, more recently, peddle dangerous medical advice about Covid-19. All of this Twitter has allowed, because it has deemed even the most inane of the president’s utterances as “newsworthy.” At least Mr. Trump is consistent in his lowering of the bar. As the number of Americans who have died from the coronavirus approached 100,000, the president declined to address the virus’s tragic toll and chose instead to keep up the series of tweets about Ms. Klausutis, all aimed at attacking Mr. Scarborough, who is now a high-profile MSNBC host.
Our Economy Was Just Blasted Years Into the Future. (Medium, May 26, 2020)
The crisis is compressing and accelerating trends that would have taken decades to play out.
Before the coronavirus, surveillance capitalism was already a big worry — Big Tech companies were vacuuming up data from laptops, front doors, appliances, kitchens, living rooms, and smartphones and selling the resulting market intelligence for hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Now, touchless technology suggests a new front in the age of around-the-clock commercialized surveillance, hackable by Iran, China, North Korea, Russia, or any number of private actors, well- or malignly intended. It is an unusual, once-in-a-lifetime, super-charging event for surveillance companies, rebranding themselves while becoming an answer for companies, offices, and agencies everywhere contemplating how to safely reopen. “It’s a one-time shift in technology. After this, it’s going to stay like this forever,” says Saurabh Bajaj, CEO of Swiftlane, a Silicon Valley touchless startup using facial recognition. He says that Covid-19 had enabled technology to leapfrog into an immediate future of touchless elevators, doors, and trash cans. The barriers, for the most part, are gone: “We will just move on into this new world.”
The auto industry is feeling its own mortality: Ford expects to lose $5 billion this quarter after a $2 billion loss in the first three months of the year. Fiat Chrysler also lost just under $2 billion the first quarter. GM made a little money — $294 million — but that was an 86% drop year-on-year. It has been the same abroad: VW’s earnings plunged by 75% in the first quarter, and Toyota says it expects its full-year profit to plummet 80%.
But the auto industry has also lost confidence that a fully autonomous, go-anywhere vehicle is possible any time soon. In a Wall Street Journal report on May 18, Uber — whose business model until recently centered entirely on mastering autonomy — was said to be reevaluating driverless research after burning through more than $1 billion. It was stunning news since just last year, Uber’s self-driving unit was valued at $7.25 billion. In addition to the major players, tens of millions of dollars of venture capital has gone into countless startups, among them Argo AI, Zoox, Aurora, and Voyage. No one is publicly giving up — that would be too much of a concession given the hit they would probably take from Wall Street. Rather than an admission of failure, look for one after the other to embrace lesser, limited autonomy such as lane changing, highway driving, and automatic parking.
A primary economic bright spot in 2019 was the lowest-paid tier of workers, whose wages rose by a dramatic 4.5% after decades of a shrinking share of the economic pie. The coronavirus has erased all of that, returning many of the newly hired workers to jobless status and making the prior year’s wage raises look hollow. According to a new paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, 42% of those laid off won’t get their jobs back. How most will ever regain what they have lost is not clear since the economy had almost no cushion for them, says Rick Wartzman, director of the Center for a Functioning Society at the Drucker Institute. “The progress that was finally beginning to be made in raising all boats is now sinking the smallest boats most rapidly,” says Josh Bolten, head of the Business Round Table and former chief of staff to President George W. Bush.
One reason for the doubts about the revival of gains for workers is yet another byproduct of the coronavirus: an accelerated automation of jobs. Some parts of the country were long fearful of the possibility of robots taking over swaths of the economy, and companies, big consultants, and thought leaders worked overtime to assure people that automation would help workers, not replace them.
But the moment of truth forced by the virus has seen worker-replacing automation even by companies that had not previously turned to robots. The trend is more pronounced in China, where investment in automation technologies is surging, but U.S. companies are trying out more robots, too. “Many companies are experimenting with automation in ways that they might not have today without necessity — from A.I. to replacing shut-down call centers in the Philippines and India to robots using ultraviolet light to sanitize,” says Karen Harris, managing director of Bain Macro Trends. “As we have a greater installed base of automation, the cost will come down, and the number of use cases will rise.”
One of the key buyers of these new robots are retail stores, already among the most disruption-stressed sectors on the planet. Since 2015, about 32,600 stores have shuttered across the U.S. as consumer taste shifted online. Since the virus, the industry’s implosion has sped up, with new bankruptcy filings this month by J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, and J.Crew and forecasts of 100,000 more store closings over the next five years. Combined March and April sales fell a calamitous 24%, a record. Yet, look closer at the numbers: Leading up to Covid, just 15% of retail sales happened online. Now, during the coronavirus — with almost every store around the country shuttered, apart from groceries, pharmacies, and some other essential shops — the number rose to 25%, UBS said. That is, despite a majority of the country sheltering at home, captive to their computers with all those online websites, physical stores still rang up three-quarters of all sales.
What most of the biggest American companies will be able to count on is their own survival. For years, trends have favored so-called “superstar companies” — Big Tech and other mega-businesses that typically attract the best research talent, buy up the most valuable new patents, and cut the most advantageous deals. The Covid-19 age is entrenching their dominance, says Tania Babina, a professor at Columbia University. Babina is the co-author of a new paper called “Crisis Innovation” in which she describes how, during the Great Depression, the most important inventions, regardless of the creator, ended up in the hands of the largest companies, too. Not right away, but eventually. Under pressure, it turns out, future corporate behemoths may simply be faster, hardier versions of their current selves.
The Rabbi and the Pandemic (Psychology Today, May 25, 2020)
Hasidic rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810): “When a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, the general principle and the essential thing is not to frighten yourself at all.”
Prepare for a Behavioral Disaster Wave: Resilience If and When COVID-19 Returns. (Psychology Today, May 25, 2020)
Psychological distress caused by disaster produces cycles lasting up to a year.
Scientists vs. politicians: The reality check for “warp speed” vaccine research (Ars Technica, May 25, 2020)
Hollywood-style messages from politicians about beating the pandemic downplay technical complexity.
NEW: For Memorial Day 2021, how about we get rid of the rest of the Confederate statues in the Capitol? (Daily Kos, May 25, 2020)
The living death: Memorial Day in America (AlterNet, May 25, 2020)
The United States likes to act as though it honors its dead. But if it did, there’d be a whole lot more people alive.
‘Everyone knows he’ll cheat’: Here are 5 ways Trump and his GOP allies could steal the 2020 election. (AlterNet, May 25, 2020)
President Donald Trump and his Republican allies appear to be cooking up some schemes for stealing the 2020 election — each one more worrisome than the last.
Trump Sows Doubt on Voting. It Keeps Some People Up at Night. (New York Times, May 24, 2020)
A group of worst-case scenario planners — mostly Democrats, but also some anti-Trump Republicans — have been gaming out how to respond to various doomsday options for the 2020 presidential election.
Changing the date of the election is not the main worry. The bigger threat is the possibility that the Trump administration could act in October to make it harder for people to vote in urban centers in battleground states — possibilities that include declaring a state of emergency, deploying the National Guard or forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people. Such events could serve to depress or discourage turnout in pockets of the country that reliably vote for Democrats.
To ward off such a scenario, multiple lawsuits aim at making it easier to cast absentee ballots by mail and making in-person voting more available, either on Election Day or in the preceding weeks.
Competitive birding turned me into a monster. (Boston Globe, May 24, 2020)
Isolation, hubris, binoculars: How Mass Audubon’s Bird-a-thon nearly broke our reporter.
[And from its Comments thread:
1. I’ve planted special flowers in various gardens, to attract certain birds. I don’t deadhead my flowers, so to leave for the birds. I don’t use chemicals on my lawn or in my gardens, so the birds can eat without worry!
2. Please remember to vote this November. Out of the approximately 11,154 known bird species, 159 (1.4%) have become extinct, 226 (2%) are critically endangered, 461 (4.1%) are endangered, 800 (7.2%) are vulnerable and 1018 (9.1%) are near threatened. There is a general consensus among scientists who study these trends that if human impact on the environment continues as it has one-third of all bird species and an even greater proportion of bird populations will be gone by the end of this century.  <> ]
National Poll: How satisfied are you with the U.S. government’s current response to the coronavirus outbreak? (Civiqs, May 24, 2020)
Moody’s chief economist pours cold water on Trump’s boast he’ll bring the economy back quickly. (4-min. video; AlterNet, May 24, 2020)
It’s difficult for me to see this economy getting back on the rails until the other side of that vaccine. and then, John, even after that, it’s going to be a struggle because we’re going to see lots of businesses fail, bankruptcies, you can already see that in the headlines yesterday with Hertz filing for bankruptcy. It’s going to take a long time to get this economy back to where it was.
We’ve lost — peak to trough will lose 25 million jobs. of course, there’s tens of millions of more people who have lost hours and wages,” Zani explained. “But 25 million jobs? We’ll get half of those back by Labor Day. and the unemployment rate is going to remain around 10% until we get that vaccine. and it won’t be until mid-decade until the economy can adjust and we get those jobs back. The kind of jobs we’re going to get back are different than the ones we have now. We’re going to lose a lot of jobs in the retail sector, hospitality, we’re going to have a lot of work re-educating people to make sure they have the skills necessary to take the jobs.”
Trump on the golf course for a second day. (Daily KOS, May 24, 2020)
Nearly 100,000 Americans are dead. With no plan of in sight, church "rights" crusader Donald J. Trump is not going to church this fine Sunday on his way to golf.  Though he will likely drive by many large churches in McLean, Langley, Potomac, Ashburn and Sterling on the way to his sons' golf course.
The Project Behind a Front Page Full of Names. (New York Times, May 24, 2020)
A presentation of obituaries and death notices from newspapers around the country tries to frame incalculable loss.
Sweden 'was wrong' not to shut down, says former state epidemiologist. (The Guardian, May 24, 2020)
Scientist who oversaw Sweden's response to Sars says country has failed the vulnerable.
Nike refuses to allow county health inspector into facility after worker dies of COVID-19. (AlterNet, May 24, 2020)
The next day the inspector received a call from an administrator at the facility, who advised her that the company had installed plexiglass shields and painted  floor markings which separated and designated safe distances between Nike employees.
But the county employee was apparently properly intimidated. After Nike assured her that it had been taking measures to ensure social distancing at its facilities, the inspector didn’t go to determine whether Nike was telling the truth. Although she had the power to summon police to accompany her on a walk-through—the county had used that power previously—she did not follow-up, presumably because Nike is such a big and powerful corporation with such a massive “footprint” in the Memphis area.
In the space of the month that followed a total of twenty one more people employed at Nike’s five Memphis facilities tested positive for Covid-19, more than doubling the number testing positive three weeks earlier.  This suggests that literally hundreds of employees at these facilities may be carrying the Covid-19 virus home with them and into Tennessee’s reopened businesses, bars, gyms, hair salons and restaurants.
Nike Turned Away a Public Health Official From Its Warehouse Days After a Worker With COVID-19 Died. (ProPublica, May 23, 2020)
The Health Department received a complaint that a Nike warehouse wasn’t being cleaned thoroughly or allowing for social distancing. Its inspector wasn’t allowed inside. Twenty-one workers have tested positive for COVID-19 at Nike’s Memphis locations.
From Camping To Dining Out: Here's How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities (NPR, May 23, 2020)
It has been around two months of quarantine for many of us. The urge to get out and enjoy the summer is real. But what's safe? We asked a panel of infectious disease and public health experts to rate the risk of summer activities, from backyard gatherings to a day at the pool to sharing a vacation house with another household.
"Think of transmission risk with a simple phrase: Time, Space, People, Place." The more time you spend and the closer in space you are to any infected people, the higher your risk. Interacting with more people raises your risk, and indoor places are riskier than outdoors.
"Always choose outdoor over indoor, always choose masking over not masking, and always choose more space for fewer people over crowding."
There's no such thing as a zero-risk outing right now. As states begin allowing businesses and public areas to reopen, decisions about what's safe will be up to individuals. It can help to think through the risks the way the experts do.
White Supremacist Groups Are ‘Thriving’ On Facebook, Despite Extremist Ban. (Huffington Post, May 23, 2020)
With many Americans vulnerable to fascist ideologies during the pandemic, Facebook could be fertile ground for recruitment.
Mass death and economic devastation in Sweden, and U.S. conservatives want to be like them. (Daily Kos, May 22, 2020)
New study shows Trump is racking up a second body count with his claims about hydroxychloroquine. (Daily Kos, May 22, 2020)
Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis (The Lancet, May 22, 2020)
In summary, this multinational, observational, real-world study of patients with COVID-19 requiring hospitalisation found that the use of a regimen containing hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine (with or without a macrolide) was associated with no evidence of benefit, but instead was associated with an increase in the risk of ventricular arrhythmias and a greater hazard for in-hospital death with COVID-19. These findings suggest that these drug regimens should not be used outside of clinical trials and urgent confirmation from randomised clinical trials is needed.
Migration patterns reveal an Eden for ancient humans and animals. (Arizona State University, May 22, 2020)
Home to some of the richest evidence for the behavior and culture of the earliest clearly modern humans, the submerged shelf called the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain (PAP) once formed its own ecosystem. Teams of scientists worked for decades to reconstruct the locale back into the Pleistocene, the time period that spanned from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago. The researchers looked specifically at antelope migratory patterns at Pinnacle Point. This series of cave sites that sit on the modern South African coast offers archaeological materials from humans who were living and hunting there back to 170,000 years ago.
Mississippi Delta marshes in a state of irreversible collapse. (Tulane University, May 22, 2020)
Given the present-day rate of global sea-level rise, remaining marshes in the Mississippi Delta are likely to drown, according to a new Tulane University study. A key finding of the study, published in Science Advances, is that coastal marshes experience tipping points, where a small increase in the rate of sea-level rise leads to widespread submergence.
The loss of 2,000 square miles (5,000 km2) of wetlands in coastal Louisiana over the past century is well documented, but it has been more challenging to predict the fate of the remaining 6,000 square miles (15,000 km2) of marshland. The study used hundreds of sediment cores collected since the early 1990s to examine how marshes responded to a range of rates of sea-level rise during the past 8,500 years.
Oriented hexagonal boron nitride foster new type of information carrier. (Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, May 22, 2020)
Today's computers use the presence or absence of charge (0s and 1s) to encode information, where the physical motion of charges consume energy and cause heat. A novel alternative is to utilize the wave quantum number of electrons by which information encoding is possible without physically moving the carriers. This study shows that manipulation of the wave quantum number is possible by controlling the stacking configuration and the orientation of different two-dimensional materials.
'It started as a joke': Animal Zoom calls are delighting a locked-down public. (The Guardian, May 21, 2020)
From throwing an alpaca party to adding a goat to a work call, video calling is providing a financial lifeline for businesses
Linux desktop org GNOME Foundation settles lawsuit with patent troll. (The Register, May 21, 2020)
Shotwell case ends with Rothschild Patent Imaging backing off for good.
Pelosi, Schumer ask Trump to lower flags when coronavirus deaths reach 100,000. (NBC News, May 21, 2020)
Their request comes as the U.S. death toll has surpassed 94,000.
Pelosi also took aim at the president’s physical appearance this week in response to his decision to take the drug hydroxychloroquine. “I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group, morbidly obese, they say,” Pelosi said. Elaborating on the comment Wednesday, Pelosi told reporters, “I gave him a dose of his own medicine. He's called women one thing or another over time, and I thought he thinks that passes off as humor in certain cultures, and I thought that was what that was.”
The FDA issued a warning last month that cautioned against the use of the medicine outside of a hospital setting or a clinical trial due to risk of heart rhythm problems.
It looks like Donald Trump's finally lost patience with actual pandemic experts. Daily Kos, May 21, 2020)
'Ridiculous,' 'scary,' 'distraction': Whitmer berates Trump's threats to cut off Mich. funding. (2-min. video; NBC News, May 21, 2020)
Trump had threatened to "hold up" federal funding to Michigan for sending absentee ballot applications to millions of voters. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that he “will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!” and said, falsely, that Michigan was sending "absentee ballots" to 7.7 million voters. Trump said the move was done “illegally and without authorization from a rogue secretary of state." The president later corrected his tweet to refer to absentee ballot "applications."
Michigan's secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, also a Democrat, had said Tuesday that all registered voters in the state will be mailed applications for absentee ballots for the elections in August and November — not the absentee ballots themselves.
Trump, who has been battling Whitmer for weeks over her restrictive stay-at-home order to limit the spread of the coronavirus, later walked back his comments, telling reporters he didn't think it would be necessary to withhold funding from Michigan. Later Thursday, Trump was scheduled to visit a factory near Detroit that has been repurposed to manufacture ventilators — a trip that Whitmer pleaded not include any “petty political stuff.”
Whitmer said she and Trump had no plans to meet, but said she made the case to him in a phone conversation on Wednesday that “we all have to be on the same page here. We have to stop demonizing one another and really focus on the fact that the common enemy is the virus. This is what all the focus should be on,” she said, adding later, "We've got to be focused on doing the right thing right now on behalf of the people."
Critical dams shouldn’t be privately owned, Gov. Whitmer says after Michigan dam break caused record flooding. (Michigan Live, May 21, 2020)
Dams and other pieces of critical infrastructure shouldn’t be owned by private entities, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday after record-breaking flooding caused by a dam break forced thousands of Michigan residents to evacuate their homes. On Tuesday, May 20, the Edenville Dam collapsed after several days of heavy rain in the region. The resulting floodwaters destroyed bridges and overtopped the downstream Sanford Dam on their way to Midland, where the Tittabawassee River was cresting at about 35 feet on Wednesday evening. The crest tops the river’s 1986 all-time record level but falls short of the 38-foot mark predicted earlier.
Whitmer said during a Thursday news briefing the incident laid bare the need for increased investment in infrastructure, an issue she ran on during her candidacy for governor.
Michigan dam failures force 10,000 to evacuate and could leave one city under 9 feet of water. (3-min. video; CBS, May 21, 2020)
The National Weather Service on Tuesday evening urged anyone near the river to seek higher ground following "castastrophic dam failures" at the Edenville Dam, about 140 miles north of Detroit and the Sanford Dam, about seven miles downriver. The Tittabawassee River rose another four feet by Wednesday morning, to 34.4 feet in Midland. According to the National Weather Service, the height has set a new record for the river, beating the previous record of 33.9 feet set during flooding in 1986. Downtown Midland, a city of 42,000 about 8 miles downstream from the Sanford Dam, faced an especially serious flooding threat. Dow Chemical Co.'s main plant sits on the city's riverbank.
"In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water," the governor said. "We are anticipating a historic high water level. It's hard to believe that we're in midst of a 100-year crisis, a global pandemic, and that we're also dealing with a flooding event that looks to be the worst in 500 years," she said.
A resident, Linda Chartrand, said she had to leave her Wixom Lake home. "Our whole life was in that house underwater. We called the insurance company and they said they won't cover anything," Chartrand said. "We're retired, this is all we have and now there's no help whatsoever."
In 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, revoked the license of the company that operated the Edenville Dam, Boyce Hydro Power, due to non-compliance issues that included spillway capacity — essentially an overflow valve — and the inability to pass the most severe flood reasonably possible in the area.
In its revocation proposal, FERC wrote that Boyce had a "long history of non-compliance," and listed numerous offenses. The commission's "primary concern" however, was Boyce's "longstanding failure to address the project's inadequate spillway capacity." According to FERC's 2018 proposal, the spillway was only designed to handle "approximately 50 percent" of potential flooding. "(Boyce) failed to increase the capacity of spillways to enable them to pass the probable maximum flood (PMF) as required by Regional Engineer directives," FERC wrote. And further warned that "failure of the Edenville dam could result in the loss of human life and the destruction of property and infrastructure."
In response to the revocation, Detroit News reports that Boyce Hydro wrote in a request that the "odds of a 'probable maximum flood' event occurring in the next 5 to 10 years is 5 to 10 in one million," according to federal records. The Edenville Dam, which was built in 1924, was rated in unsatisfactory condition in 2018 by the state. The Sanford Dam, which was built in 1925, received a fair condition rating. Both dams are in the process of being sold.
Midland City Manager Brad Kaye said at a press conference Wednesday that the Edenville Dam failed. "The structure has been outright eroded and all of the water from Wixom Lake is going to be coming down the river valley and will come through the city of Midland," he said. The issue of the Sanford Dam, however, is less clear, he said, as water is running over the top of the structure. "It is what we consider — for our purposes — failed, because the water is coming at us, and that's close enough to call it a failure." He said they will not be able to determine what went wrong with the Sanford Dam until the water begins to recede. According to Kaye, the water is expected to rise another three feet from where it's currently at. "That is a tremendous extent of property, tremendous extent of area that will be covered by water," he said.
Pilot captures aerial footage of roaring water as Edenville Dam bursts in Midland County, Michigan. (1-min. video; Michigan Live, May 19-20, 2020)
If he could redo the pandemic response, Trump would change 'nothing'. (Rachel Maddow Show, May 21, 2020)
Trump has either convinced himself of a fantasy or he's peddling a falsehood that few will take seriously.
Warren pivots on 'Medicare for All' in bid to become Biden's VP. (Politico, May 21, 2020)
She's pitching herself as a governing partner to Biden, despite their past clashes over policy.
New poll puts Biden 11 points ahead of Trump nationally. (3-min. video; MSNBC, May 20, 2020)
As the candidates prepare for a digital campaign unlike any we've ever seen before, a new national poll shows Trump trailing fmr. Vice President Biden by double digits.
Trump has a new harebrained scheme to defeat Biden, and it's his dumbest yet. (Daily Kos, May 20, 2020)
Trump’s problem isn't that Biden—his actual opponent—is too beloved, it’s that he himself is loathed. That’s why double-haters are flocking to Biden. How does driving down Obama’s negatives help with that?
B-1 Bomber may become the new face of US military power in the Pacific. (We Are The Mighty, May 20, 2020)
Supercomputer model simulations reveal cause of Neanderthal extinction. (Institute for Basic Science, May 20, 2020)
Climate scientists from the IBS Center for Climate Physics discover that, contrary to previously held beliefs, Neanderthal extinction was neither caused by abrupt glacial climate shifts, nor by interbreeding with Homo sapiens. According to new supercomputer model simulations, only competition between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens can explain the rapid demise of Neanderthals around 43 to 38 thousand years ago.
Not Everyone Hates Remote Learning. For These Students, It’s a Blessing. (New York Times, May 20, 2020)
“At home, it seems to be a bit easier to focus on all the work,” said one eighth grader who was struggling in school. “Everything in general is easier.”
Google pledges not to make custom software for oil and gas extraction. (Ars Technica, May 20, 2020)
Google, Microsoft, and Amazon cloud divisions have sought oil and gas business.
Google says that it will not "build custom AI/ML algorithms to facilitate upstream extraction in the oil and gas industry," the company announced on Tuesday. This represents a small but significant win for climate activists.
Google's comment coincided with the release of a new Greenpeace report highlighting the role of the three leading cloud-computing services—Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure—in helping companies find and extract oil and gas. Greenpeace notes that extracting known fossil fuel reserves would already be sufficient to push the world over 2 degrees of warming. Uncovering additional reserves will ultimately lead to even more warming. All three companies have actively courted business from oil and gas companies that will ultimately contribute to a warmer planet. Microsoft and Amazon both sponsored oil industry conferences last year. Until recently, all three companies had "oil and gas" sections on their cloud-computing websites touting the use of their machine-learning algorithms to find fossil fuel deposits.
What’s really behind Republicans wanting a swift reopening? Evangelicals. (Washington Post, May 20, 2020)
there is something more to the partisan divide than the age-old contrast between conservative and liberal politics. But our reluctance to discuss religion beyond its basic political impact often results in skirting honest evaluations. Let’s try anyway.
It’s noted so often that evangelical Christians are a cornerstone of modern GOP support that the point is in danger of losing its impact. But it’s helpful to be reminded what, exactly, makes an evangelical, because to understand it helps to understand so many Republican positions. The National Association of Evangelicals has identified four statements that it says define evangelicals, the last of which is most pertinent for this discussion: “Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.” This literal belief in eternal salvation — eternal life — helps explain the different reactions to life-threatening events like a coronavirus outbreak.
What was somewhat surprising is how the beliefs of evangelicals compare to Catholics, another group that might be considered biblical literalists. According to Pew polls, 84 percent of evangelicals believe the Bible is the word of God, compared with 62 percent of Catholics. Fifty-five percent of evangelicals agree that the Bible should be interpreted literally — twice the percentage of Catholics.
Among those who hold literal biblical interpretations is the certainty that waiting at the end of this terrestrial journey is eternal life in Heaven. Evangelicals take it to heart when James reminds them, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes,” or when Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” or when Jesus asks, rhetorically, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
The coronavirus? Christian fundamentalism is often fatalistic. As far as many evangelicals are concerned, life passes quickly, suffering is temporary and worrying solves nothing. That’s not a view that comports well with long stretches of earthly time spent waiting out business closures or stay-at-home orders. It should be no surprise that a person’s deepest beliefs about the world influence how they measure the risks they’re willing to take. Former six-term Ohio Rep. Bob McEwen (R) is a longtime evangelical leader who serves as an advisory member of James Dobson’s Family Talk board of directors. McEwen told me this week that evangelicals aren’t rattled by covid-19, either the disease or the government’s response to the pandemic, because the Bible instructs them not to let earthly fears overwhelm them. “They steal your life, your liberty and your freedom by using fear,” said McEwen. “Man, on his own without God, will always be fearful,” he added. “But the Bible says, ‘Fear not.’”
Evangelicals aren’t just twiddling their thumbs until Heaven beckons, of course. Most of them aggressively pursue careers, enjoy television shows, cheer their favorite sports teams, and take pride in the achievements of family and friends. They do good things in their communities, and sometimes they do bad things, just like everyone else. They’re in no hurry to exit this world. But when ruminating over why there are millions of people who don’t seem to panic over a global pandemic or other life-threatening event, critics should remember that, right or wrong, it often involves a belief in something even bigger than people named Trump, Hannity or Limbaugh.
As lockdowns ease, a new surveillance reality awaits. (ZDNet, May 20, 2020)
Expect a surge in development of surveillance and crowd monitoring technologies post-pandemic.
Your face mask selfies could be training the next facial recognition tool. (C/Net, May 19, 2020)
Researchers are crawling the internet for photos of people wearing face masks to improve facial recognition algorithms.
NEW: 'Ridiculous' to think another $1,200 stimulus check is enough: Expert Ric Edelman (7-min. video; Yahoo Finance, May 19, 2020)
Edelman Financial Engines Founder Ric Edelman joins Yahoo Finance's Zack Guzman to discuss the latest stimulus outlook as the House passes $3-trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
As Machines Get Smarter, How Will We Relate to Them? (Wired, May 19, 2020)
Millennia of evolution have left us ill prepared to crack open the black box of AI and peer inside.
Microsoft To Support GPU Acceleration, Linux GUI Apps On WSL2. (Phoronix, May 19, 2020)
Microsoft says that Linux GUI applications should "just work" under Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 without the need for any third-party software, unlike past work by the community on getting an X11 server working with WSL.
Could it be? Really? The Year of Linux on the Desktop is almost here, and it's... Windows-shaped? (The Register, May 19, 2020)
Windows Subsystem for Linux to gain out-of-the-box support for GUI apps, GPU chippery.
6 Ways Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Can Help Transition to Clean Energy (Visual Capitalist, May 19, 2020)
The world obsesses over battery technology and manufacturers such as Tesla, but there is an alternative fuel that powers rocket ships and is road-ready. Hydrogen is set to become an important fuel in the clean energy mix of the future.
“With Obama He’s Going For the Jugular”: As Trump Goes After Obama, Some in Trumpworld See a “Big Risk”. (Vanity Fair, May 19, 2020)
Frustrated with his campaign (he “feels he’s doing it all alone”), Trump has settled on a campaign bank shot: hit Obama to destroy Biden. But there’s a problem: “Obama can’t be ‘softened’ up.”
“Trump hates Obama; he used to go around calling Obama a ‘child.’ --former Trump advisor
[More Trump projection of his failings onto others.]
The woman behind ‘Roe vs. Wade’ didn’t change her mind on abortion. She was paid. (1-min. video; Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2020)
When Norma McCorvey, the anonymous plaintiff in the landmark Roe vs. Wade case, came out against abortion in 1995, it stunned the world and represented a huge symbolic victory for abortion opponents: “Jane Roe” had gone to the other side. For the remainder of her life, McCorvey worked to overturn the law that bore her name.
But it was all a lie, McCorvey says in a documentary filmed in the months before her death in 2017, claiming she only did it because she was paid by antiabortion groups including Operation Rescue. “I was the big fish. I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they’d put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say. That’s what I’d say,” she says in “AKA Jane Roe,” which premieres Friday on FX. “It was all an act. I did it well too. I am a good actress.”
In what she describes as a “deathbed confession,” a visibly ailing McCorvey restates her support for reproductive rights in colorful terms: “If a young woman wants to have an abortion, that’s no skin off my ass. That’s why they call it choice.”
Trump Allies Are Recruiting ‘Pro-Trump’ Doctors To Prescribe Rapid Reopening. (Huffington Post, May 19, 2020)
The Trump campaign communications director confirmed that an effort to recruit doctors to publicly support the president is underway.
Iran Sees New Surge in Coronavirus Cases After Reopening Country. (New York Times, May 18, 2020)
Health experts say the government did not heed the warnings about easing restrictions too soon. Cases spike in eight provinces.
French Covid-19 Drones Grounded After Privacy Complaint. (Bloomberg, May 18, 2020)
French top judges banned the use of surveillance drones by police to monitor public compliance with coronavirus-related restrictions, citing privacy issues. The authorities’ use of drones to help contain the spread of Covid-19 “constitutes a serious and manifestly unlawful infringement of privacy rights,” the court said on Monday. The Paris-based Conseil d’Etat ruled that drones with cameras can no longer be used until the concerns are addressed, either via a privacy-friendly law or by equipping the drones with technology that makes it impossible to identify the people filmed.
Germany and France Propose $545 Billion Coronavirus Fund for Europe. (New York Times, May 18, 2020)
The U.S. sharply criticized the World Health Organization, while China pledged $2 billion to fight the pandemic. President Trump said he has been taking hydroxychloroquine, an unproven drug against Covid-19.
Pompeo refused to cooperate with watchdog probe into $8B arms sale to Saudi Arabia. (CNN, May 18, 2020)
Trump’s purge just got much more corrupt. Here’s what’s coming next. (Washington Post, May 18, 2020)
President Trump’s abrupt decision to remove the inspector general of the State Department constitutes the latest in a string of corrupt efforts to remove public servants who prioritize real oversight and accountability over protecting Trump at all costs.
But in the case of Trump’s termination of Steve Linick, the State Department IG, this could end up looking far worse than we know. There’s a backstory here that has not yet gotten scrutiny — one that could make the firing appear even more corrupt. House Democrats have discovered that the fired IG had mostly completed an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s widely criticized decision to skirt Congress with an emergency declaration to approve billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year. “I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing,” Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement sent to me. “His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia.”
Committee Democrats have also learned that the State Department was recently briefed on the IG’s conclusions in that investigation, aides say. They do not know what role this investigation — and its conclusions — played in Linick’s removal, if any. But the committee is now trying to establish what those conclusions were and what links they might have to the firing, the aides confirm. “We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” Engel said in the statement to me.
The White House has confirmed Linick’s firing came at Pompeo’s request. Trump claimed he no longer has “confidence” in Linick, a thin justification that highlights Trump’s purging of officials exercising oversight on his administration. Many news organizations have reported that the fired IG had been examining charges that Pompeo had been directing a staffer to run errands for him. Some reported that Pompeo has undertaken abuses of taxpayer funds, including frequent visits to his home state of Kansas. It’s unclear whether these are linked to Linick’s firing.
But the fact that Linick has also mostly completed an investigation into the decision to fast-track arms to the Saudis adds another layer to this whole story. Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — and its Senate counterpart — have launched an investigation into Linick’s firing.
Trump fired watchdog who was probing Saudi arms sales. (Reuters, May 18, 2020)
Trump announced the planned removal of Linick in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday. He was the fourth government inspector general that the Republican president has ousted in recent weeks.
Pompeo told the Washington Post he had asked Trump to fire Linick, while declining to describe specific concerns. Pompeo said no reason had to be given, contradicting Congress’ interpretation of the inspector general law. “I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department,” Pompeo said.
Another State official told the Post concern over Linick had grown because of leaks about investigations, although there was no evidence Linick was responsible.  Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member on Senate Foreign Relations, said Linick had been investigating Trump’s declaration of a national emergency last year to clear the way for $8 billion in military sales, mostly to Saudi Arabia. “I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. His office was investigating - at my request - Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Engel said in a statement. Engel called on the administration to comply with the probe and turn over records by Friday.
Congressional aides had said Linick was investigating whether Pompeo misused a taxpayer-funded political appointee to perform personal tasks for himself and his wife. Trump said Linick had been appointed by former Democratic President Barack Obama, and that he knew nothing about him, but had the right to terminate him. “I just got rid of him,” he said.
Trump infuriated many members of Congress last May, including some Republicans, by declaring a national emergency related to tensions with Iran to sidestep congressional review and push ahead with $8 billion in military sales, mostly to Saudi Arabia. The House and Senate passed resolutions to block the sales. But Trump, a staunch promoter of both arms sales and ties to Saudi Arabia, vetoed them. The Republican-led Senate upheld his veto.
Menendez said he believed Linick was close to coming to a conclusion in his investigation of the arms sales. He also introduced legislation to protect inspectors general.
Some Republicans also expressed concern. Senator Chuck Grassley wrote to Trump and asked for a detailed explanation of Linick’s removal by June 1. “Congress’s intent is clear that an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the IG Reform Act,” Grassley said.
Activists Are Trying to Stop the FBI From Snooping on Your Web History. (Motherboard, May 18, 2020)
Last week, the U.S. Senate voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act, the sweeping surveillance law that infamously expanded the U.S. security state in the aftermath of 9/11. The vote came after a failed bipartisan effort to change the law to explicitly forbid federal agencies from collecting Americans’ web browsing history without a warrant. The amendment, introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Steven Daines (R-MT), failed by just one vote on the Senate floor, with several senators notably absent.
Now, activists are trying to push Democrats to add the privacy protections back into the bill when it returns to the House this week, preventing the Trump administration from gaining more internet surveillance powers in the middle of a global pandemic.
NEW: BP Smacks Exxon Upside Head With New Green Hydrogen Scheme. (Clean Technica, May 18, 2020)
Green hydrogen, also referred to as renewable hydrogen, can be produced from water by applying an electrical current. Source the electricity from renewable energy, and there you have sustainable hydrogen from renewable resources.
Green hydrogen has yet to plant its feet in the commercial market, but the technology has been improving and costs have been coming down, partly because the cost of renewable energy has been dropping. Renewable energy is already threatening gas in the power generation market, and if all goes according to plan renewable H2 will push gas out of the coveted industrial energy marketplace, too.
Back in 2017, BP revived its once-dormant interest in solar power by forming a 50/50 partnership with the solar company Lightsource to form Lightsource BP, and it seems that the partners are already looking beyond clean power to dip into the renewable hydrogen field. Last week BP Australia announced that it has been greenlighted to explore the idea of producing ammonia with renewable hydrogen at a facility in Geraldton.
NEW: Chattanooga software firm Transcard terminates employee after firestorm over Obama noose meme. (Chattanooga Times Free Press, May 17, 2020)
Microsoft president admits they were wrong on open source. (Gaming On Linux, May 16, 2020) 
How Many People Die Each Day? (Visual Capitalist, May 16, 2020)
While these numbers help provide some context for the global scale of COVID-19 deaths, they do not offer a direct comparison. The fact is that many of the aforementioned death rates are based on much larger and consistent sample sizes of data. On the flipside, since WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, daily confirmed deaths have fallen in a wide range between 272 and 10,520 per day—and there is no telling what could happen in the future.
On top of this variance, data on confirmed COVID-19 deaths has other quirks. For example, testing rates for the virus may vary between jurisdictions, and there have also been disagreements between authorities on how deaths should even be tallied in the first place. This makes getting an accurate picture surprisingly complicated.
While it’s impossible to know the true death toll of COVID-19, it is clear that in some countries daily deaths have reached rates 50% or higher than the historical average for periods of time.
Hydroxychloroquine drug promoted by Trump as coronavirus ‘game changer’ increasingly linked to deaths. (Washington Post, May 15, 2020)
For two months, President Trump repeatedly pitched hydroxychloroquine as a safe and effective treatment for coronavirus, asking would-be patients “What the hell do you have to lose?”
Growing evidence shows that, for many, the answer is their lives.
'Not on our watch': Immigrant advocates lead car caravan protesting Trump's Pennsylvania stunt. (Daily Kos, May 15, 2020)
“Thousands of my constituents are sick, unemployed or dead. I don’t want a photo op, Mr. President. I want a plan,” state Rep. Mike Schlossberg said in a statement received by Daily Kos. “How are we going to give out PPE? How are we going to do mass testing? How are we going to protect front line workers or my most vulnerable constituents?”
Allentown, where the impeached president was headed for what was really a political rally amid a pandemic that has already infected over a million people in the U.S., has been particularly hard-hit, the group said. “Allentown, whose population is 52% Latino, has a per capita infection rate nearly 4.5 times higher than the rest of Pennsylvania. At least 3,943 Pennsylvanians have died from Coronavirus so far.”
In a tweet, the organization said, “Now he has the audacity to come to our state and ask for our votes. Not on our watch.”
Joe Biden Is Pivoting to the Left. What? Why? (Slate, May 15, 2020)
The conciliatory nominee-in-waiting has a grandiose belief in his own strengths and his place in the historical moment.
Zoom is Now Worth More Than the World’s 7 Biggest Airlines. (Visual Capitalist, May 15, 2020)
Zoom benefits from the COVID-19 virtual transition—but other industries aren’t as lucky. The app is now more valuable than the world’s seven largest airlines.
Why America Resists Learning From Other Countries (The Atlantic, May 14, 2020)
The pandemic may pose the greatest threat yet to the belief that America has little to learn from the rest of the world.
The United States had the advantage of being struck relatively late by the virus, and this gave [us] a priceless chance to copy best practices and avoid the mistakes of others. Instead, the United States squandered that advantage on many fronts. The Obama administration had developed a playbook for pandemic response that drew in part on lessons from other countries’ experiences, but the Trump administration disregarded it. When China began confining millions of people to their homes in January, the U.S. government should have gotten the message that the Chinese were grappling with a grave threat to the wider world, the Yale sociologist and physician Nicholas Christakis told me in March. “We lost six weeks” in the United States to prepare—“to build ventilators, get protective equipment, organize our ICUs, get tests ready, prepare the public for what was going to happen so that our economy didn’t tank as badly. None of this was done adequately by our leaders.” By one estimate, from the epidemiologists Britta L. Jewell and Nicholas P. Jewell, if social-distancing policies had been implemented just two weeks earlier in March, 90 percent of the cumulative coronavirus deaths in the United States during the first wave of the pandemic might have been prevented.
Amid all this, Trump has exhibited more hubris than humility. The president has repeatedly claimed that the United States is leading the world in testing, which in part is an unflattering reflection of the U.S. outbreak’s huge scale and also is not true on a per-capita basis. He has stated, referring to America’s coronavirus response, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and “so many” other world leaders, “almost all of them—I would say all of them; not everybody would want to admit it—but they all view us as the world leader, and they're following us.” Even after he has asked the South Korean government to send tests and medical equipment to the United States to help combat the coronavirus, Trump is insisting that the country cough up much more money for the privilege of stationing U.S. troops there. Trump’s proposal in April that people inject themselves with disinfectant, to the horror of scientists and laughter of people at home and abroad, marked an acceleration point for a post-American, post-coronavirus world … in which American opinions will count less.
The United States, of course, still has tremendous capacity to teach. But it also may need to emerge from this crisis recognizing that it has equal capacity to learn. To learn is to admit room for improvement, and thus to improve, especially in dealing with modern-day threats such as pandemics, which America doesn’t have much experience contending with as a superpower.
India made its contact tracing app mandatory. Now people are angry. (Wired UK, May 14, 2020)
India’s contact tracing app playbook comes straight from China. People are being forced to download the app – if they don’t, their freedoms are limited.
Secret NHS files reveal plans for UK's coronavirus contact tracing app. (Wired UK, May 13, 2020)
Documents left unsecured on Google Drive reveal the NHS could in the future ask people to post their health status to its Covid-19 contact tracing app
When Manhattan Was Mannahatta: A Stroll Through The Centuries (New York Times, May 13, 2020)
From lush forest to metropolis, the evolution of Lower Manhattan. Our critic walks with Eric W. Sanderson of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
NEW: Under Trump border rules, U.S. has granted refuge to just two people since late March, records show. (Washington Post, May 13, 2020)
Citing the threat to public health from the coronavirus, the Trump administration has suspended most due-process rights for migrants, including children and asylum seekers, while “expelling” more than 20,000 unauthorized border-crossers to Mexico under a provision of U.S. code known as Title 42.
Department of Homeland Security officials say the emergency protocols are needed to protect Americans — and migrants — by reducing the number of detainees in U.S. Border Patrol holding cells and immigration jails where infection spreads easily. But the administration has yet to publish statistics showing the impact of the measures on the thousands of migrants who arrive in the United States each year as they flee religious, political or ethnic persecution, gang violence or other urgent threats.
Lucas Guttentag, an immigration-law scholar who served in the Obama administration and now teaches at Stanford and Yale universities, said the border measures “are designed to pay lip service” to U.S. law and international treaty obligations “without providing any actual protection or screening. The whole purpose of asylum law is to give exhausted, traumatized and uninformed individuals a chance to get to a full hearing in U.S. immigration courts, and this makes that almost impossible. It’s a shameful farce.”
It Is Becoming Much Harder to Access Mental Health Support Anonymously. (Slate, May 13, 2020)
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just a physical health crisis—it’s also a mental one. But online resources for mental health come with privacy risks.
Viral Japanese Video Shows How Easily Infection Can Spread Through Indirect Contact. (IFL Science, May 13, 2020)
NHK conducted an experiment to see how germs spread at a cruise buffet. They applied fluorescent paint to the hands of 1 person and then had a group of 10 people dine. In 30 min the paint had transferred to every individual and was on the faces of 3.
Democratic coronavirus bill shows how partisan election security has become. (Washington Post, May 13, 2020)
Democrats yesterday released their most ambitious and detailed plan yet to fundamentally reshape U.S. voting systems in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Their new virus stimulus bill includes $3.6 billion to run elections safely and securely during the pandemic. But it couples that money with a slate of new mandates for state and local election officials that will last long after the pandemic ends.
Many of those mandates are sure to irk Republican election officials at the state and county level — even those who broadly agree with Democrats’ goals of ramping up voting by mail and polling-place safety during the pandemic. And they're probably nonstarters with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has fiercely blocked such conditions in the past.
The bill comes as the brief moment of crisis-driven bipartisanship that helped rush through four earlier coronavirus relief bills is starting to wane. “While the first four bills were the result of urgent bipartisan compromise in the early days of the pandemic, now the two sides aren’t even talking and are moving in radically different directions. It’s unclear when they will come together to produce another bipartisan response, but some Republicans suggested it might not be anytime soon,” Erica Werner reports.
Trump broadly threatens criminal charges against his enemies; the press can't keep hiding from this. (Daily Kos, May 13, 2020)
Even in describing Trump's various false statements, the Post ignores the obvious dangers—the inherent threat to democracy—of an installed national leader threatening his political opponents and public critics alike with criminal prosecution. And again it is baffling, because any other nation's leader engaging in similarly punitive and authoritarian thinking would result in plain statements identifying it as such. Faced with this national leader, our press goes to great lengths to obscure the implications from their readers. Again, and again, and again, we learn that Trump is demanding his detractors and his investigators be locked up. Again, and again, and again, an American president calling for the jailing of his detractors and investigators is treated as a novelty, rather than an unforgivable sin against his nation.
As coronavirus roils the nation, Trump reverts to tactic of accusing foes of felonies. (Washington Post, May 12, 2020)
On a day when coronavirus deaths passed 80,000 and top government scientists warned of the perils of loosening public health restrictions too soon, President Trump used his massive public platform to suggest a talk-show host he has clashed with committed murder. His baseless charge capped a 48-hour stretch in which he accused scores of perceived opponents of criminal acts ranging from illegal espionage to election rigging.
Heather Cox Richardson: Why is Trump Administration not concerned about Democratic revenge after 2020 Election? (Letters From An American, May 12, 2020)
A lot happened today, but I am grappling with just two things tonight.
White House coronavirus task force medical expert Anthony Fauci testified remotely before a Senate health committee. He warned that reopening states too aggressively would lead to “needless suffering and death.” He also said the death toll from coronavirus—currently more than 80,000-- was “almost certainly” higher than known.
The other big event was that the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether Congress or state prosecutors can subpoena information from the president or from his accountants or his bankers. The questioning appeared to go poorly for Trump’s lawyers, who had to argue against precedent and in favor of the idea that the president can largely act without oversight, but we will not know for a while—until June, at least—how the court will decide.
To me, the two big stories from today were about what I see as a gamble on the part of Trump and his sycophants to grab power of the national government, and a surprising move on the part of a judge to undercut that power grab.
[One action] suggests that the Trump administration does not anticipate a Democratic presidency following this one, since it could expect any precedent it now sets to be used against its own people. That it is willing to weaponize intelligence information from a previous administration suggests it is not concerned that the next administration will weaponize intelligence information against Trump officials. That confidence concerns me.
But that’s only one side of the story with the Flynn case. The other side is just as interesting. The Justice Department’s move to drop the case against Flynn had to be approved by a judge. Tonight, that judge, Emmet G. Sullivan, moved… sideways. It was a really interesting move. Rather than deciding the issue at hand, the U.S. District Judge, who is known as a stickler for institutions, said he would receive briefs from interested third parties to offer opinions about the case. This means that the 2000 former Department of Justice employees (of both parties) who demanded Barr’s resignation over the Flynn case can now be heard. It will invite public scrutiny of the case, and means the case will not get swept under the rug. Flynn’s lawyers instantly cried foul. Not only do they not want more attention to the facts of the case, but also it is possible that Sullivan’s order will permit him to require both sides to revisit the case, producing evidence and calling witnesses. Rather than enabling Trump to turn the tables on the original Russia investigation and invert it so that it serves his purposes, Sullivan’s move could remind people that there was a reason for the Russia investigation in the first place and rehash some of the stories of the Trump campaign's contacts with Russian operatives.
Both of these stories seem to me a preview of the 2020 election. Trump is going to attack his predecessor and argue that Obama officials engaged in an illegal underground campaign to weaken him. He might even try to prosecute officials who were part of the investigation into Russia’s actions in 2016. Sullivan’s unexpected move suggests that not everyone will let this attempt to sway the 2020 election go unchallenged.
Less momentous, but still eye-opening, was the president’s tweeted suggestion that MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough had murdered an aide in 2001 when he was a congressman from Florida. It’s mind boggling that a president would make this sort of unhinged allegation, but here we are.
Credit card companies are tracking shoppers like never before: Inside the next phase of surveillance capitalism. (Fast Company, May 12, 2020)
In the battle between data brokers and privacy advocates, the latest front is the credit card. 
Where COVID-19 is Rising and Falling Around the World (Visual Capitalist, May 12, 2020)
For many of the world’s major economies, containing the spread of the virus has proven exceptionally difficult. Despite increased testing and lockdown measures, the United States still has one of the steepest infection trajectory curves. The UK also has a very similar new case curve.
Coronavirus: The lost six weeks when US failed to contain outbreak (7-min. video; BBC, May 12, 2020)
Having watched Asian and European countries struggle against Covid-19, the US was slow to ramp up testing and order its residents to stay at home. We look at this crucial time period and what exactly was done to prevent the outbreak.
NEW: Mysterious Blips Raise Questions About COVID-19 Timeline. (Psychology Today, May 11, 2020)
What was known and when was it known?
Trump’s Favorability Falls Among Seniors Amidst Pandemic. (PRRI, May 11, 2020)
The spread of the coronavirus pandemic and President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis may have caused his favorability among seniors, the age group most vulnerable to the coronavirus, to fall substantially. In April just over four in ten (42%) seniors said they have a mostly or very favorable view of Trump compared to a 57% majority who are mostly or very unfavorable to the president. This represents a 14 percentage point drop since mid-March when a majority (56%) of seniors said they view Trump favorably.
Currently, seniors display a notable divide in their views on Trump based on age. Older Baby Boomers represent a majority (59%) of seniors, while 41% are ages 75 and over.[4] Members of the Silent Generation (ages 75 and over) are less likely than older Baby Boomers (ages 65-74) to hold a favorable view of Trump (34% vs. 45%, respectively). This stands in sharp contrast with previous findings where the Silent Generation and older Baby Boomers were in lockstep in their views on Trump in March (56% vs. 54%), February (46% vs. 43%), and 2019 (47% vs. 46%).
Fauci Says Reopening U.S. Economy Too Soon Could Lead to Needless Deaths. (New York Times, May 11, 2020)
The risks of reopening the country too soon will be a focus of government hearings tomorrow. The White House’s new mask requirement won’t apply to President Trump.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a central figure in the government’s response to the coronavirus, intends to warn the Senate on Tuesday that Americans would experience “needless suffering and death” if the country opens up too quickly. Dr. Fauci, who has emerged as perhaps the nation’s most respected voice during the coronavirus crisis, is one of four top government doctors scheduled to testify remotely at a high-profile hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
It will be his first appearance before Congress since President Trump declared a national emergency in March, and a chance for him to address lawmakers and the public without President Trump by his side. He has been largely out of public view since last week, when Mr. Trump abandoned his daily briefings with his coronavirus task force.
In an email late Monday night, Dr. Fauci laid out what he intended to tell senators. “The major message that I wish to convey to the Senate HLP committee tomorrow is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely,” he wrote. “If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to: ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.”
Dr. Fauci was referring to a three-phase White House plan, Opening Up America Again, that lays out guidelines for state officials considering reopening their economies. Among its recommendations: States should have a “downward trajectory of positive tests” or a “downward trajectory of documented cases” of coronavirus over two weeks, while conducting robust contact tracing and “sentinel surveillance” testing of asymptomatic people in vulnerable populations, such as nursing homes. But many states are reopening without meeting those guidelines, seeking to ease the economic pain as millions of working people and small-business owners are facing ruin while sheltering at home. “We’re not reopening based on science,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We’re reopening based on politics, ideology and public pressure. And I think it’s going to end badly.”
The comments came as the United States has recorded more than 1.35 million infections and over 80,000 deaths, according to Reuters' figures, while worldwide the number is nearly 4.2 million infections and more than 285,000 deaths.
The much-feared second wave of infection may not wait until fall, many scientists say. Instead, it may become a series of wavelets occurring unpredictably across the country.
Dr. Fauci himself is now in “modified quarantine,” he has said, after what he described as a “low risk” exposure to someone infected with the virus.
White House Orders Staff to Wear Masks as Trump Misrepresents Testing Record. (New York Times, May 11, 2020)
At a news conference, the president reiterated that he would not wear a mask himself and again exaggerated the availability of testing for the coronavirus.
Asked at a Rose Garden news conference whether he had ordered the change, Mr. Trump — who did not wear a mask and has repeatedly said he sees no reason to — said, “Yeah, I did.” But officials said the new requirement was not expected to apply to Mr. Trump or to Vice President Mike Pence.
White House officials have scrambled since last week’s positive diagnoses to keep the virus from spreading throughout 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue even as the president, Mr. Pence and many other senior administration advisers who may have come into contact with Ms. Miller and the valet declined to self-quarantine. Mr. Trump said on Monday that he and Mr. Pence had tested negative for the virus.
Three top public health officials have chosen to remain isolated for a period of time — Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Trump unveiled new props at bizarre COVID-19 briefing that spurred instant memes. (Daily Kos, May 11, 2020)
Donald Trump held a bizarre pep rally press conference type thing on Monday. Trump and others spoke in the Rose Garden with two identical posters hung on each side of Trump’s dumb head, boasting a lie about America’s primacy in testing for the novel coronavirus. Americans with even the smallest level of critical thinking could see what was happening. Trump is attempting to sell America Trump steaks made out of Grade Z beef.
The signs, in big sans serif lettering, said: “AMERICA LEADS THE WORLD IN TESTING.” This was a last-second deal and, as George Orwell’s 1984 has taught us, simple bold lettering is how you drive home propaganda. Of course, simple bold lettering on a blank white background is also wildly easy to photoshop.
Donald Trump explains how great his administration is doing on COVID-19 testing. (Daily Kos, May 11, 2020)
Donald Trump once again stood in the Rose Garden to brag about his administration’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the message was clear: Mission. Accomplished. With U.S. COVID-19 deaths having passed 80,000, Trump’s bragging centered on testing—so long a major failing of his response and only now, with the virus raging through the country, getting to the levels it needed to be at long ago.
Paul Krugman: How to Create a Pandemic Depression (New York Times, May 11, 2020)
Opening the economy too soon can backfire, badly.
Getting the virus under control doesn’t mean “flattening the curve,” which, by the way, we did — we managed to slow the spread of Covid-19 enough that our hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. It means crushing the curve: getting the number of infected Americans way down, then maintaining a high level of testing to quickly spot new cases, combined with contact tracing so that we can quarantine those who may have been exposed.
To get to that point, however, we would need, first, to maintain a rigorous regime of social distancing for however long it takes to reduce new infections to a low level. And then we would have to protect all Americans with the kind of testing and tracing that is already available to people who work directly for Donald Trump, but almost nobody else.
Crushing the curve isn’t easy, but it’s very possible. In fact, many other countries, from South Korea to New Zealand to, believe it or not, Greece have already done it. Bringing the infection rate way down was a lot easier for countries that acted quickly to contain the coronavirus, while the rate was still low, rather than spending many weeks in denial. But even places with severe outbreaks can bring their numbers down if they stay the course. Consider New York City, the original epicenter of the U.S. pandemic, where the numbers of new daily cases and deaths are only a small fraction of what they were a few weeks ago.
But you do have to stay the course. And that’s what Trump and company don’t want to do.
Fox offices staying closed for another month. (CNN Business, May 11, 2020)
Fox News stars are echoing President Trump's call to "reopen the country" and urging people to get back to work in the face of the coronavirus threat. But Fox's offices won't be opening up anytime soon.  A Friday memo from Fox Corp chief operating officer John Nallen extended the company's work from home directive through June 15. On that date, at the earliest, Fox Corp properties like Fox News will begin a gradual reopening of offices. The date could very well be delayed further.
Texas salon owner who was arrested for breaking quarantine admits she received $18,000 in funding. (Daily Kos, May 11, 2020)
While Shelley Luther  [see May 7th, below] claims she had “no choice” but to stay open and is being applauded by conservatives nationwide for her “selfless” act of defying the government to feed her family, many are forgetting that she did in fact receive government funding. During her court hearing, Luther argued that she had to stay open in order to feed her children in addition to supporting the hairstylists she had who “are going hungry because they’d rather feed their kids.”
While Luther stood strong in her stance that her actions were unselfish and she needed to provide her workers with financial support, she later admitted on ABC’s The View that she received stimulus funds prior to her hearing. “You applied for small business loans and unemployment, and you did receive some aid from the government,” said The View host Sunny Hostin. “You received $18,000 from the government.” Hostin added: “So I understand why people feel so strongly about going back to work because they feel that the government isn’t doing its job and taking care of people, but in this instance, two days before you went to court, the money went into your account. So I’m troubled by that.”
Luther replied that while she understood why some may feel troubled by this revelation, she was unsure what to do with the money, claiming it appeared in her bank account with no instructions. Luther’s lie could not be more obvious—the funds were received from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which distributes funds based on how many employees a business has and what their salaries are. Applicants must declare the information themselves during the vigorous application process, and it’s clearly explained what the funds can be used for. But of course, despite applying for the loan and certifying she understood the terms while doing so, Luther claimed she did not want to spend the money until she was sure how to do so without going into debt.
In addition, Luther added that the very hairstylists who she argued in court that she was supporting by staying open are not actually her employees. “And giving me $18,000 to spend when my stylists aren’t actual employees of mine, they’re actually subleasing,” she said. “So I wasn’t sure if I was even able to give them any of that money as employees because I don’t pay them.”
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the PPP program is designed for businesses to keep workers on the payroll. Employers are encouraged to apply for the loan in order to pay employees for at least eight weeks amid the current crisis, and the employers are rewarded with loan forgiveness for doing so. If Luther really does not have any employees, why did she receive $18,000 for a loan that represents at least 75% of employees’ salaries? As Luther’s lies continue, we wonder which Republican will come to her defense next.
Republican Congress members are upset because banks are dropping support for fossil fuels. (Ars Technica, May 11, 2020)
A letter to the president ignores some inconvenient facts: that wind and solar also employ people, that wind and solar generation have become cost-competitive with fossil fuels in most markets, that some of the resources now held as assets by fossil fuel companies will end up "stranded"—meaning the assets will turn out to have no value...
Our weird behavior during the pandemic is messing with AI models. (MIT Technology Review, May 11, 2020)
Machine-learning models trained on normal behavior are showing cracks —forcing humans to step in to set them straight.
With everything connected, the impact of a pandemic has been felt far and wide, touching mechanisms that in more typical times remain hidden. If machines are to be trusted, we need to watch over them.
Animation: The World’s Rapid Rise in Life Expectancy, in Just 13 Seconds (Visual Capitalist, May 11, 2020)
The Vast Bettmann Photo Archive Is Hidden Inside a Cold, Heavily-Guarded Limestone Mine. (Atlas Obscura, May 11, 2020)
Over 11 million Getty images are on ice near Pittsburgh.
Coronavirus: How South Korea 'crushed' the curve (2-min. video; BBC, May 10, 2020)
As coronavirus spread outside China, South Korea was at risk of becoming among the world's worst affected countries. The country managed to avoid the peaks and fatalities seen elsewhere due to the government's implementation of an aggressive test, trace and contain policy.
Coronavirus: A Cape Cod ice cream shop reopened — and faced harassment so bad one staffer quit, owner says. (Washington Post, May 10, 2020)
NEW: A Failed Deception: The Early Days of the Coronavirus Outbreak in Wuhan (Der Spiegel, May 9, 2020)
On the morning of Dec. 20, 2019, the Chinese fish monger Chen Qingbo was cleaning out his stand at the market, completely unaware that he would soon become the focus of intense scientific research, that he was carrying a virus within him of a kind the world had never seen before. He was unaware that his fate was linked closely with that of all of humanity.
Mapped: The Geology of the Moon in Astronomical Detail (Visual Capitalist, May 9, 2020)
It is clear that there are resources earthlings can exploit. Hydrogen, oxygen, silicon, iron, magnesium, calcium, aluminum, manganese, and titanium are some of the metals and minerals on the Moon. Interestingly, oxygen is the most abundant element on the Moon. It’s a primary component found in rocks, and this oxygen can be converted to a breathable gas with current technology.
[OTOH, earthlings could stop exploiting and begin limiting their own greed.]
The real Lord Of The Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months (The Guardian, May 9, 2020)
The real Lord Of The Flies is a tale of friendship and loyalty; one that illustrates how much stronger we are if we can lean on each other.
NEW: Found: Possibly the First Recorded Death-by-Meteorite (Atlas Obscura, May 8, 2020)
Call it a cold case from space.
NEW: A Brief History of TP, From Silk Road Hygiene to Pandemic Hoarding (Atlas Obscura, May 8, 2020)
An author’s end-game expertise has never been more timely.
Hunger Pandemic: The COVID-19 Effect on Global Food Insecurity (Visual Capitalist, May 8, 2020)
While COVID-19 is dominating headlines, another kind of emergency is threatening the lives of millions of people around the world—food insecurity. The two are very much intertwined. By the end of 2020, authorities estimate that upwards of 265 million people could be on the brink of starvation globally, almost double the current rate of crisis-level food insecurity.
Will Antibodies After COVID-19 Illness Prevent Reinfection? (NPR, May 7, 2020)
It would have huge public health implications if it turns out people can still spread the disease after they've recovered. Studies from China and South Korea seemed to suggest this was possible, though further studies have cast doubt on that as a significant feature of the disease.
Nadeau is also trying to figure out what can be said about the antibody blood-tests that are now starting to flood the market. There are two issues with these tests. First, a positive test may be a false-positive result, so it may be necessary to run a confirmatory test to get a credible answer. Second, it's not clear that a true positive test result really indicates a person is immune and, if so, for how long.
Companies would like to be able to use these tests to identify people who can return to work without fear of spreading the coronavirus. "I see a lot of business people wanting to do the best for their employees, and for good reason," Nadeau says. "And we can never say you're fully protected until we get enough [information]. But right now we're working hard to get the numbers we need to be able to see what constitutes protection and what does not."
It could be a matter of life or death to get this right.
Shelley Luther, Who Was Jailed After Reopening Her Dallas Salon During Quarantine, Has Been Ordered Released. (BuzzFeed, May 7, 2020)
The Texas Supreme Court has ordered the release of Shelley Luther, a Dallas salon owner who was jailed on Tuesday after violating state and local stay-at-home orders by reopening her shop and flouting a judicial restraining order in front of television news cameras.
Luther’s release came after she had become a cause célèbre among conservative activists and politicians around the country who had been calling on Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to take swift action to come to her aid. Abbott has modified his original executive order, explicitly saying local officials can no longer jail people who violate the state’s stay-at-home order. Previously, Abbott had said jailing offenders was an option for local officials but should be considered the last resort.
The state's lieutenant governor has also paid Luther's fine.
After Luther was jailed, Texas Republicans began calling for her immediate release.
“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” Abbott said in a statement on Wednesday. “That is why I am modifying my executive orders to ensure confinement is not a punishment for violating an order.”
Defenders of the sentence say Luther was not jailed just for violating state and local stay-at-home orders, but instead for contempt of court charges stemming from her decision to disobey a state judge’s temporary restraining order prohibiting her from continuing to operate her salon. Moyé offered to let Luther go with just a fine if she apologized for what he called her “selfish” actions. “Feeding my kids is not selfish,” she told the judge. “If you think the law is more important than kids getting fed, then please go ahead with your decision, but I am not going to shut the salon.”
In his decision, Moyé pointed out that Luther had “expressed no contrition, remorse or regret” for her actions. “The defiance of the court’s order was open, flagrant, and intentional.”
At least one Texas state legislator believes that she has received special treatment because she is white. “I wish Black and Brown people could be offered the chance to apologize instead of going to jail,” Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, said in a tweet on Wednesday. “I wish people wouldn't be put back into prison because they couldn't pay their fees or fines.”
On Thursday, a group of 12 Texas judges wrote to Paxton saying that his actions in the Luther case had violated state rules concerning judicial conduct.
Luther’s release comes as Texas is reopening large swaths of its economy even as the state has recorded some of its highest numbers of new COVID-19 cases in recent days. As of Friday, salons and barbershops will be allowed to reopen across the state.
In leaked audio from a call last week with Texas legislators, Abbott announced that “much every scientific and medical report shows that whenever you have a reopening…it actually will lead to an increase in spreads.”
NEW: Why Fake Video, Audio May Not Be As Powerful In Spreading Disinformation As Feared (NPR, May 7, 2020)
Sophisticated fake media hasn't emerged as a factor in the disinformation wars in the ways once feared — and may have missed its moment. Deceptive video and audio recordings, often nicknamed "deepfakes," have been the subject of sustained attention by legislators and technologists, but so far have not been employed to decisive effect.
NEW: 11 Cognitive Biases That Influence Political Outcomes (Visual Capitalist, May 7, 2020)
Humans are hardwired to make mental mistakes called cognitive biases. Here are common biases that can shape political opinion, and...
FFRF promotes ‘Day of Reason’ in provocative New York Times ad. (Free From Religion Foundation, May 7, 2020)
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is running a full-page ad in the national news section of the New York Times today that urges: “We need reason, not prayer, to combat the coronavirus.” FFRF’s ad notes that “Nothing fails like prayer. Prayer cannot stop a virus. Pious politicians should get off their knees and get to work.”
An eye-popping cartoon drawn by Steve Benson, formerly with the Arizona Republic, depicts Jesus being transported by gurney into an ambulance while asking: “Is there a doctor in the house?”
The ad deliberately coincides with the congressionally-mandated National Day of Prayer, occurring on the first Thursday in May (today), which requires the president to unconstitutionally enjoin citizens to “turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups and as individuals.” Ironically, the National Day of Prayer theme this year is “God’s glory across the Earth,” chosen by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, an evangelical outfit that has hijacked the date to promote an exclusionary Christian viewpoint.
FFRF’s ad notes that House Resolution 947, introduced by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, calls on making today a “National Day of Reason,” because “irrationality, magical thinking, and superstition have undermined the national effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.” “Science works,” FFRF asserts in the ad: “We’re all in this together — that’s why we need actions based on science, evidence and compassion, not prayer or ‘alternate facts.’ ” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is quoted as saying, “Our behavior has stopped the spread of the virus. God did not stop the spread of the virus. And what we do now, how we act, will dictate how the virus spreads.”
The ad concludes, “Our work to uphold the constitutional principle of separation between religion and government has never been more essential.”
[What better day than today, to join FFRF and to contribute to this effort? We did!]
Visualizing America’s Energy Use, in One Giant Chart (Visual Capitalist, May 6, 2020)
'Polar opposites:' May cold snap to leave eastern US chillier than parts of Alaska. (Accuweather, May 6, 2020)
NEW: Was COVID-19 Already in France Last December? (Psychology Today, May 6, 2020)
Revisiting the coronavirus timeline.
NEW: Coronavirus mutations: Scientists puzzle over impact. (BBC, May 6, 2020)
Researchers in the US and UK have identified hundreds of mutations to the virus which causes the disease Covid-19.
AI: Decoded: Cold winds are blowing around regulation — The ethics of contact-tracing — Doubts over AI to treat COVID-19 (Politico, May 6, 2020)
Experience has shown that many AI models, which work great in theory, don’t survive the process.
But these are not normal circumstances, and a pandemic leaves no time for that process. That’s why it’s becoming ever more important to share data and make sure researchers have access to decent data they can train their models with. The reasoning that ‘any model’ is better than nothing is not true.
Paul Krugman: The push from Trump and many others on the right to relax social distancing look even more irresponsible than it already did. (New York Times, May 5, 2020)
For the past couple of months one epidemiological model — the IHME model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — has played an outsized role in public discussion of Covid-19.
It’s not at all clear that it deserved this role. Among other things, its predictions have been highly unstable, sometimes revised sharply downward and sometimes sharply upward. Many epidemiologists have criticized the model as simplistic. But its very simplicity let it offer state-by-state predictions other models couldn’t. And the White House liked it, at least better than many other models, because it generally predicted a lower death toll than its rivals.
But the White House probably likes IHME less today than it did yesterday: the institute just drastically revised its projected death total upward, from 72,000 to 134,000. This is terrible news, and makes the push from Trump and many others on the right to relax social distancing look even more irresponsible than it already did.
But it also tells us something about the field of epidemiology. It turns out that epidemiologists often disagree, sometimes by a lot. Their forecasts are often wrong, sometimes very wrong indeed. They are, in fact, the worst people to rely on in a crisis — except for everyone else. In other words, they’re a lot like economists.
Here we are in a pandemic, a complex phenomenon that depends on human behavior as well as biology. Like financial crises, different pandemics share many common features but differ in detail, in ways that can create huge uncertainty. Nobody can forecast their course especially well, but you do much better listening to the professional epidemiologists than to law professors, politicians, or, yes, economists who claim to know better.
Heather Cox Richardson: There has been another leak from the White House, and this one is colossal. (Letters From An American, May 4, 2020)
The New York Times obtained a document suggesting that the administration has misrepresented the numbers of American deaths expected from this pandemic by pushing an artificially low estimate for close to a month.
Coronavirus model projects 134,000 deaths in US, nearly double its last estimate. (CNN, May 4, 2020)
An influential coronavirus model often cited by the White House is now forecasting that 134,000 people will die of Covid-19 in the United States, nearly double its previous prediction. The model, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, had predicted 72,433 deaths as of Monday morning.
Relatedly, a Trump administration model projects a rise in coronavirus cases and deaths in the weeks ahead, up to about 3,000 daily deaths in the US by June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times. Over the past week, about 2,000 people died daily in the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray said "I think the challenge for us all is to figure out what's the trajectory of relaxing social distancing on a measured pace that will protect us from big increases or even a full-scale resurgence." The projections make clear that these reopenings come with fatal risks.
"It's simple logic," CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen said. "When you tell people, 'Hey, you can go to bars, you can get your nails done, you can go to a restaurant,' those numbers are going to go up."
The novel coronavirus's incubation period -- or the time from exposure to developing symptoms -- ranges from two to 14 days, according to the CDC, and the virus can even spread among people who show no symptoms at all. With widespread testing still limited, the consequences of these reopenings may not be evident for several weeks.
President Donald Trump had previously said he expected 65,000 Americans to die, but on Sunday night, he revised that estimated death toll up to 80,000-90,000 people. It may not be the last upward revision; Dr. Deborah Birx, a White House coronavirus task force official, said projections have shown between 100,000 to 240,000 American deaths, even with social distancing.The public pressure to ease restrictions is rising even in states with significant outbreaks. This weekend, thousands gathered in California to protest coronavirus restrictions, leading to 32 arrests at the state Capitol.
In Massachusetts, a few hundred demonstrators on Monday gathered outside the State House in Boston. Some of the hundreds of protesters wore masks as is required, but most did not.
Three people charged in Michigan killing of Family Dollar security guard over mask policy. (Washington Post, May 4, 2020)
The argument began when the security guard told a woman that customers needed to wear face masks in the store. She yelled at him, spit on him and drove off. About 20 minutes later, her car returned to the store, and her husband and her son, 44 and 23, stepped out and confronted the guard. The son pulled out a gun and shot the guard.
The COVID-19 Impact on App Popularity (Visual Capitalist, May 4, 2020)
This Pandemic Popularity Quadrant illustrates the types of apps that are either growing or slowing in popularity in North America.
7 open source alternatives to Skype (Red Hat, May 2, 2020)
Communicate without compromising your open source ethos or your computer data with these alternatives (Jitsi Meet and more) to Zoom and other proprietary web-conferencing software.
The FSF reveals the software it uses for chat, video, and more. (Free Software Foundation, May 1, 2020)
Take a look at the Free Software Foundation's recommended communications tools that respect your freedom, privacy, and security.
Incredible Map of Pangea With Modern-Day Borders (Visual Capitalist, May 1, 2020)
NEW: How Trump Gutted Obama’s Pandemic-Preparedness Systems (Vanity Fair, May 1, 2020)
Former officials: Trump’s reshuffling of positions and departments, focus on business solutions, downgrading of science, left the country dangerously unprepared for an unprecedented pandemic.
“President Trump has, throughout this, seemed a little schizophrenic about his role,” Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development who ran USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in the Obama administration, told me. “On the one hand, he clearly wants all the credit for it when things go right. On the other hand, he has furiously attempted to avoid having to take ownership for the success of the effort…he wants the credit without the accountability.”
The biggest difference between Obama’s approach and Trump has to do with science. “Traditionally, we have had a situation where the response is always scientifically, technically proven,” says a former government official. “Of course there are political considerations. But the options that are presented are fundamentally sound from a scientific perspective.”
The novel coronavirus is exposing the inadequacies of a cornerstone of Trump’s (and Kushner’s) governing philosophy. “The entire argument behind electing Donald Trump is that business can handle anything better than the government, right? So the entire philosophy, the entire ideology of every senior leader in the White House and that they’ve installed across the federal government is, ‘Get the private sector to do it. Government shouldn’t be picking winners or losers and coordinating these efforts,’” the former administration official told me. But the problem is, there are some things only the federal government can do, after all. “This is the crisis for this administration, just as every administration faces, that challenges its ideology and worldview to its core and cannot be effectively addressed with that worldview.”
“This president doesn’t make decisions based on objective criteria.”
Republican host let loose on her frustration with Trump. (1-min. video; Daily Kos, May 1, 2020)
"Where do we look?", Nicole Wallace asks as if throwing her hands up in the air. "We have a White House that is what it is. We have a liar-in-chief who's pushed hoax treatments, who's diminished his scientists. We have a VP who for some reason doesn't wear a mask because it obscures his vision or something. I mean, WHERE DO WE TURN!"
Trump's Nazification of the GOP is why there's serious discussion of killing off the 'unfit'. (Daily Kos, May 1, 2020)
Pence’s staff threatens action against VOA reporter who tweeted about visit to clinic without surgical mask. (Washington Post, April 30, 2020)
A copy of the document obtained by The Washington Post explicitly stated that masks are required for the visit and instructed reporters to wear them. “Please note, the Mayo Clinic is requiring all individuals traveling with the VP wear masks,” the document said. “Please bring one to wear while on the trip.”
The directive confirms that Pence’s staff was well aware of the need for masks, raising the possibility that none of his aides had alerted him to the requirement or that Pence had intentionally flouted it, perhaps to avoid being photographed in a mask. (Pence himself told reporters after the visit that because he doesn’t have the coronavirus — he is tested frequently — he decided he could “speak to these researchers, these incredible health-care personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you.”)
Voice of America is a government-funded but independent news agency that has lately been the object of White House criticism. The Trump administration accused VOA this month of promoting Chinese government propaganda in its reporting about the coronavirus.
On Thursday, Pence wore a mask as he toured a General Motors auto plant in Indiana that has been converted into a factory making ventilators for hospitals around the country.
Texas reports record coronavirus deaths the day before stores open. But Gov. Greg Abbott sees hope in other metrics. (Texas Tribune, April 30, 2020)
Abbott is looking at two figures: the percentage of tests in the state that come back positive and the percentage of patients with COVID-19 who are hospitalized.
Animated Map: An Economic Forecast for the COVID-19 Recovery, 2020-21 (Visual Capitalist, April 30, 2020)
According to the most recent forecast from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it’s projected that the global economy will contract by 3% in 2020, followed by 5.8% growth in 2021. In today’s Markets in a Minute from New York Life Investments, we take a look at the country-level economic forecast to highlight which areas may recover the fastest.
NEW: Coronavirus contact tracing apps were meant to save us. They won’t. (Wired UK, April 30, 2020)
With little evidence to show how effective such apps are and growing privacy concerns, there’s a risk they could do more harm than good.
Frontier’s Bankruptcy Reveals Why Big ISPs Choose to Deny Fiber to So Much of America. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, April 30, 2020)
Giant monopoly ISPs have had decades to bring America's Internet into the 21st century. They have been singularly terrible at delivering decent speed, reliable service, reasonable customer support, or competitive prices. The only thing these companies have demonstrated competence in is making money for their investors. And Frontier's bankruptcy reveals that even that core competence is vastly overrate).
It's long past time we gave up on waiting for Big Telco to do its job. Instead, America should look to the entities with proven track-records for getting fiber to our curbs:  small, private, competitive ISPs and local governments. These are the home of the "patient money" that doesn't mind ten-year payoffs for investments in fiber. Fiber is vastly superior to every other means of delivering high-speed Internet to our homes, schools, institutions, and businesses. Nothing else even comes close (not 5G, either).
NEW: An unlikely coronavirus hotspot in the US (3-min. video; BBC, April 29, 2020)
How poverty and economic inequality are threatening an entire generation of African Americans.
NEW: The Great Realisation (4-min. video; Probably Tomfoolery, April 29, 2020)
A bed time story of how it started, and why hindsight’s, uh, 2020.
The environment won’t be helped by oil producers declaring bankruptcy. (Popular Science, April 29, 2020)
In the past, low oil prices have led consumers to use it more, not less. Some economists say that for this situation to be any different, regulators need to step in and help steer our society away from fossil fuel reliance. The present, extremely low oil prices are the result of a few things, but the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an “absolute collapse” in demand for petroleum. We’re staying at home, not driving, and spending much less money.
With a drop in revenue from oil due to low prices, companies will reap less profit and thus have less money to spend on expanding into clean energy. Fossil fuel interests have dragged their feet on addressing their contribution to climate change and have actively worked to crush measures to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Based on their history of committed fossil fuel extraction, it’s unlikely we’d see any meaningful change from energy companies now, even as their profits plummet.
If we want to steer towards a clean energy future, one place to start is putting a price on carbon. One method, a carbon fee and dividend program, could be just what America needs right now. It would take the carbon taxes from fossil fuel companies and issue the money back to households. That means you reduce the oil energy dominance and you’d be able to help people right now with a check.
A more radical solution would be to buy out the fossil fuel industry, coupled with a green stimulus program to support jobs. Right now, in theory, the government could buy the entire oil and gas industry for cheap, then dismantle it. Markets are bad at making these kinds of transitions themselves, so this massive purchase could be a way to end fossil fuel dominance for good.
Why Rooftop Wind Power Hasn't Really Worked—Until Now (Popular Mechanics, April 29, 2020)
The surprising secret to unlocking the energy's potential? Airfoils.
Link identified between dietary selenium and outcome of COVID-19 disease. (Science Daily, April 29, 2020)
Selenium is an essential trace element obtained from the diet (i.e. fish, meat and cereals) which has been found to affect the severity of a number of viral diseases in animals and humans. For example selenium status in those with HIV has been shown to be an important factor in the progression of the virus to AIDs and death from the condition. China is known to have populations that have both the lowest and highest selenium status in the world, due to geographical differences in the soil which affects how much of the trace element gets into the food chain.
Examining data from provinces and municipalities with more than 200 cases and cities with more than 40 cases, researchers found that areas with high levels of selenium were more likely to recover from the virus. For example, in the city of Enshi in Hubei Province, which has the highest selenium intake in China, the cure rate (percentage of COVID-19 patients declared 'cured') was almost three-times higher than the average for all the other cities in Hubei Province. By contrast, in Heilongjiang Province, where selenium intake is among the lowest in the world, the death rate from COVID-19 was almost five-times as high as the average of all the other provinces outside of Hubei. Most convincingly, the researchers found that the COVID-19 cure rate was significantly associated with selenium status, as measured by the amount of selenium in hair, in 17 cities outside of Hubei. The report states: "There is a significant link between selenium status and COVID-19 cure rate, however it is important not to overstate this finding; we have not been able to work with individual level data and have not been able to take account of other possible factors such as age and underlying disease."
Which Video-Call Apps Can You Trust? (Mozilla, April 28, 2020)
Right now, a record number of people are using video-call apps to conduct business, teach classes, meet with doctors, and stay in touch with friends. It’s more important than ever for this technology to be trustworthy — but some apps don’t always respect users’ privacy and security. So today, Mozilla is publishing a guide to popular video-call apps’ privacy and security features and flaws. Consumers can use this information to choose apps they’re comfortable with — and to avoid ones they find creepy.
How to Discover the History of Your Neighborhood, Without Leaving Home (CityLab, April 28, 2020)
Even during social distancing, you can time-travel back. Here's how I explored the history of my own street.
Why fighter jets are flying over New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania today. (Popular Science, April 28, 2020)
The aircraft are F-16s and F/A-18s, flown by the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels, the Air Force and Navy aerial demonstrations teams. The purpose of the flights is a chance “to salute those working on the frontline of the COVID-19 response.”
Here’s when and where you might see F-16s and other high-performance aircraft in the sky. The Air Force and the Navy say that more of these flights over additional cities will be happening over the “coming weeks.” (For a critical take on the operations, check out this post on the military-focused site Task & Purpose.)
UFO Pentagon video: Is it Aliens? 8 questions and answers. (1-min. video; Inverse, April 28, 2020)
The Pentagon formally released yesterday three videos taken by US Navy pilots that show an "unidentified aerial phenomenon." These videos were leaked back in 2017, and stirred up major UFO rumors. The footage shows a cluster of odd-looking aircraft flying over the East Coast with unidentified maneuvers, unlike anything the Navy pilots had seen before.
De Blasio Breaks Up Rabbi’s Funeral and Lashes Out Over Virus Distancing. (New York Times, April 28, 2020)
After overseeing the dispersal of hundreds of Hasidic mourners in Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio called the gathering “absolutely unacceptable.”
NEW: Inside Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s Two Months of Magical Thinking (Vanity Fair, April 28, 2020)
Obsessed with impeachment and their enemies and worried about the stock market, the president and his son-in-law scapegoated HHS Secretary Alex Azar, and treated the coronavirus as mostly a political problem as it moved through the country.
NEW: What Trump voters think of his handling of crisis (3-min. video; BBC, April 28, 2020)
"Dumbfounded" or "great job" - Americans who backed the president in 2016 rate his pandemic response.
Supreme Court requires government to pay health insurers under Affordable Care Act. (USA Today, April 27, 2020)
Paul Krugman: Peacocks and Vultures Are Circling the Deficit. (New York Times, April 27, 2020)
The government will be able to borrow that money at incredibly low interest rates. In fact, real interest rates — rates on government bonds protected against inflation — are negative. So the burden of the additional debt as measured by the rise in federal interest payments will be negligible. And no, we don’t have to worry about paying off the debt; we never will, and that’s OK.
The bottom line is that right now, the only thing we have to fear from deficits is deficit fear itself. In this time of pandemic, we can and should spend whatever it takes to limit the damage.
The Man Who Thought Too Fast (New Yorker, April 27, 2020)
Frank Ramsey—a philosopher, economist, and mathematician—was one of the greatest minds of the last century. Have we caught up with him yet?
It didn’t have to be this way. (Aeon, April 27, 2020)
A bioethicist at the heart of the Italian coronavirus crisis asks: why won’t we talk about the trade-offs of the lockdown?
Trump says he knows about Kim Jong Un's health 'but I can't talk about it now'. (Yahoo, April 27, 2020)
There have been multiple media reports in recent weeks that Kim, who is 36 and has ruled North Korea as “Supreme Leader” since 2011, is either dead or incapacitated after heart surgery. The rumors and speculation have been fueled by the fact that Kim hasn’t appeared in North Korean state media for two weeks and missed the April 15 birthday celebrations for his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, founder of the repressive regime.
The president also said he didn’t think Kim made any statements over the weekend. However, the North Korean government did release a statement that purportedly came from Kim, but Trump was seemingly unaware of that communiqué. He cut off a reporter, and indicated it would not have been possible for Kim to have issued a statement. “He didn’t say anything last Saturday, nobody knows where he is, so he obviously couldn’t have said it."
Trump campaign lashes out over 'Don't defend Trump' memo. (Politico, April 27, 2020)
A strategy memo on coronavirus distributed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee infuriated Trump aides.
Earlier this month, the Senate Republican campaign arm circulated a memo with shocking advice to GOP candidates on responding to coronavirus: “Don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban — attack China.”
The Trump campaign was furious. On Monday — just days after POLITICO first reported the existence of the memo — Trump political adviser Justin Clark told NRSC executive director Kevin McLaughlin that any Republican candidate who followed the memo’s advice shouldn’t expect the active support of the reelection campaign and risked losing the support of Republican voters.
McLaughlin responded by saying he agreed with the Trump campaign’s position and, according to two people familiar with the conversation, clarified that the committee wasn’t advising candidates to not defend Trump over his response.
The episode illustrates how the Trump political apparatus demands — and receives — fealty from fellow Republicans and moves aggressively to tamp down on any perceived dissent within the GOP. The president maintains an iron grip on his party, even as his poll numbers sag and he confronts fierce criticism from Democrats over his response to the coronavirus pandemic. During the conversation, McLaughlin called the line in the memo inartful in its wording and argued that the overall thrust of the document was about pushing candidates to go on offense over China — something that Trump has done frequently in recent days — and not to evade defending the president. “There is no daylight between the NRSC and President Trump,” McLaughlin said in a statement, adding: “Senate Republicans have worked hand in glove with the Trump administration to ensure a highly effective federal response to Covid-19.”
The 57-page memo, which was authored by a top GOP strategist, was perceived by Trump aides as giving candidates leeway to avoid backing the president on what could be the defining issue of the 2020 campaign. And they held a series of conversations on Friday and over the weekend figuring out how to respond. The memo urged GOP Senate candidates to stay relentlessly on message with attacks against China, where the coronavirus originated, when pressed about the pandemic on the campaign trail. When asked about Trump’s response to the pandemic, the document advised candidates to pivot to an attack on the authoritarian country rather than offer an explicit defense of Trump’s response.
But the Trump team didn’t take kindly to the guidance. Senior Trump campaign officials, including campaign manager Brad Parscale, political advisers Clark, Bill Stepien and Chris Carr, and communications director Tim Murtaugh, decided to reach out to the NRSC to convey the campaign’s displeasure. Top Republican National Committee officials were also involved in the deliberations and the White House was kept apprised of developments. Clark said in a statement that Republican candidates “who want to win will be running with the president. Candidates will listen to the bad advice in this memo at their own peril. President Trump enjoys unprecedented support among Republican voters and everyone on the ballot in November will want to tap into that enthusiasm. The president’s campaign, the RNC, and the NRSC are firmly on the same page here.”
Trump campaign officials said they were rankled by other passages in the memo, including one line that advised Republican candidates to say: “I wish that everyone acted earlier - that includes our elected officials, the World Health Organization, and the CDC.”
Presidential Swing State Polling Results (eBay Main Street, April 27, 2020)
New York Times Waves Off Hannity Threat: No Retraction Coming. (Daily Beast, April 27, 2020)
Sean Hannity and his lawyer allege the Times mischaracterized his coverage when it published columns claiming he downplayed the virus early on.
Despite Hannity’s protestations, the unofficial adviser to President Donald Trump repeatedly minimized and downplayed the pandemic during the critical early weeks of the crisis. The Fox News fixture spent weeks comparing the deadly coronavirus to the seasonal flu while insisting Democrats were “politicizing and actually weaponizing an infectious disease” to “bludgeon” Trump. He also suggested in early March that the outbreak was a “deep state” plot to destroy the economy, and Democrats’ concerns over the virus were a “new hoax” to take down the president.
In a letter delivered to Harder, New York Times newsroom lawyer David McCraw bluntly responded that there would be no retraction.
For Trump, Lying Is a Super Power. (New York Times, April 27, 2020)
He will use deception to keep his bungled response to Covid-19 from ruining his re-election chances.
After Donald Trump’s ridiculous and dangerous suggestion last week that household disinfectants injected into people’s bodies might be a treatment for Covid-19, Republicans intensified their hand-wringing over whether his daily briefings were doing more harm — to his political fortunes and theirs — than good.
The coronavirus has completely reshaped the coming election. The economy is in dire straits. Trump’s polls have taken a dip. People are anxious and afraid. The outlook isn’t good … at the moment.
The Republican Party see similarities to 2006: “In 2006, anger at President George W. Bush and unease with the Iraq war propelled Democrats to reclaim Congress; two years later they captured the presidency thanks to the same anti-incumbent themes and an unexpected crisis that accelerated their advantage, the economic collapse of 2008. The two elections were effectively a single continuous rejection of Republican rule, as some in the G.O.P. fear 2018 and 2020 could become in a worst-case scenario.”
But I would caution all those who take this fear as encouragement that Trump is weakened and vulnerable: Trump is not George W. Bush. This is not the Republican Party of 2006. This is not a cultural environment in which social media is in its infancy.
Trump, as a person and politician, is riddled with flaws. But he also has an ignominious super power: He is completely unencumbered by the truth, the need to tell it or accept it. He will do and say anything that he believes will help him. He has no greater guiding principles. He is not bound by ethics or morals. His only alliances are to those who would support and further his devotion to self-promotion.
I don’t look back to the 2008 campaign for parallels, but to the 2016 one. When the “Access Hollywood” tape, on which Trump bragged about groping and sexually assaulting women, came out, Republicans were worried. They began to openly reject him. Some called for him to drop out of the race. “But the image of Republicans running for the exits, a month before a presidential election, is as extraordinary as a party’s nominee using vulgar, violent language that seemed to reduce an entire gender to sexual anatomy. And this time, no amount of spin seems sufficient to control the damage Mr. Trump has wrought.”
But, as we now know, that damage was short-lived. The Republican Party would rally to Trump’s side. Indeed, the party would be completely remade by him, and become loyal to only him.
Testing Remains Scarce as Governors Weigh Reopening States. (New York Times, April 25, 2020)
In both red and blue states, governors, health departments and hospitals are finding innovative ways to cope, but still lack what experts say they need to track and contain outbreaks. While the U.S. has made strides over the past month in expanding testing — about 1.2 million tests were done in one week alone — its capacity is nowhere near the level President Trump suggests it is.
We Need Herd Immunity From Trump and the Coronavirus. (New York Times, April 25, 2020)
It will take more care than the president is currently demonstrating to loosen restrictions but still protect the vulnerable.
With each passing day it becomes more obvious how unlucky we are that one of the worst crises in American history coincides with Donald Trump’s presidency. To get out of this crisis with the least loss of life and least damage to our economy, we need a president who can steer a science-based, nonpartisan debate through the hellish ethical, economic and environmental trade-offs we have to make.
We need a president who is a cross between F.D.R., Justice Brandeis and Jonas Salk. We got a president who is a cross between Dr. Phil, Dr. Strangelove and Dr. Seuss.
Sure, Trump isn’t the only one sowing division in our society, but as president he has a megaphone like no one else, so when he spews his politics of division, and suggests disinfectants as cures, he is not only eroding our society’s physical immunity to the coronavirus but also eroding what futurist Marina Gorbis calls our “cognitive immunity” — our ability to filter out science from quackery and facts from fabrications. As a result, the Trump daily briefing has itself become a public health hazard.
If we don’t have a president who can harmonize our need to protect ourselves from the coronavirus and our need to get back to work — as well as harmonize our need to protect the planet’s ecosystems and our need for economic growth — we are doomed. Because this virus was actually triggered by our polarization from the natural world. And it will destroy us — physically and economically — if we stay locked in a polarized, binary argument about lives versus livelihoods.
When you simultaneously hunt for wildlife and push development into natural ecosystems — destroying natural habitats — the natural balance of species collapses due to loss of top predators and other iconic species, leading to an abundance of more generalized species adapted to live in human dominated habitats. These are rats, bats and some primates — which together host 75 percent of all known zoonotic viruses to date, and who can survive and multiply in destroyed human-dominated habitats. As we humans have become more numerous and concentrated in cities, and as deforestation has brought these generalized species closer to us — and as countries like China, Vietnam and others in central Africa tolerated wet markets where these virus-laden species were mixed with domesticated meats — we’re seeing ever more zoonotic diseases spreading from animals to people. Their names are SARS, MERS, Ebola, bird flu, and swine flu — and Covid-19. Add globalization to this and you have the perfect ingredients for more pandemics. We need to find a much more harmonious balance between economic growth and our ecosystems.
The same kind of harmonic approach has to be brought to our current debate about reopening the economy. We’re having this important debate about our health and economic future in an incredibly uncoordinated way. Instead, we should have federal government experts on one team offering their approach — and a Team B of independent medical, economic, public health, data and strategic analysts offering an alternative approach. And then go for the best synthesis. For instance, if we concluded that an identified group of a quarter of the population face an unacceptable risk of death from coronavirus, but that for the other 75 percent, with appropriate precautions like social distancing and masks, face no greater risk than other risks of death we accepted before coronavirus, would it be possible to design a response that protected the most vulnerable while simultaneously reopening most of the economy for others?
The bottom line is that Mother Nature has been telling us something huge in this crisis: “You let everything get out of balance and go to extremes. You ravaged my ecosystems and unleashed this virus. You let political extremism ravage your body politic. You need to get back into balance, and that starts with using the immune system that I endowed you with.” Herd immunity, which kicks in after about 60 percent of the population is exposed to and recovers from the virus, has historically been nature’s way of ending pandemics. We need to bend with her forces, while concentrating our health services and social services on protecting those most vulnerable who need to stay sheltered until there is a vaccine.
Nervous Republicans See Trump Sinking, and Taking Senate With Him. (New York Times, April 25, 2020)
The election is still six months away, but a rash of ominous new polls and the president’s erratic briefings have the G.O.P. worried about a Democratic takeover.
Mr. Trump’s advisers and allies have often blamed external events for his most self-destructive acts, such as his repeated outbursts during the two-year investigation into his campaign’s dealings with Russia. Now, there is no such explanation — and, so far, there have been exceedingly few successful interventions regarding Mr. Trump’s behavior at the podium.
Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, said the president had to change his tone and offer more than a campaign of grievance. “You got to have some hope to sell people,” Mr. Cole said. “But Trump usually sells anger, division and ‘We’re the victim.’”
The White House tried to move a reporter to the back of the press room, but she refused. Then Trump walked out. (Washington Post, April 25, 2020)
NEW:  Private gain must no longer be allowed to elbow out the public good. (Aeon, April 24, 2020)
The logic of private interest – the notion that we should just ‘let the market handle it’ – has serious limitations. Particularly in the United States, the lack of an effective health and social policy in response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has brought the contradictions into high relief.
Around the world, the free market rewards competing, positioning and elbowing, so these have become the most desirable qualifications people can have. Empathy, solidarity or concern for the public good are relegated to the family, houses of worship or activism. Meanwhile, the market and private gain don’t account for social stability, health or happiness. As a result, from Cape Town to Washington, the market system has depleted and ravaged the public sphere – public health, public education, public access to a healthy environment – in favour of private gain.
Simply put, a market system driven by private interests never has protected and never will protect public health, essential kinds of freedom and communal wellbeing. Many have pointed out the immorality of our system of greed and self-centred gain, its inefficiency, its cruelty, its shortsightedness and its danger to planet and people. But, above all, the logic of self-interest is superficial in that it fails to recognise the obvious: every private accomplishment is possible only on the basis of a thriving commons – a stable society and a healthy environment.
U.S. Navy leaders recommend Captain Crozier's reinstatement. (1-min. video; ABC News, April 24, 2020)
Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned due to backlash after firing Navy Captain Crozier, who raised concerns over coronavirus spreading on the aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt. New Acting Secretary of the Navy James E. McPherson also is dragging his heels.
Trump Speech to Force 1,000 West Point Cadets Back to Campus. (New York Times, April 24, 2020)
The president’s off-again, on-again speech in June will bring back cadets who had scattered across the country to help counter the coronavirus.
The Naval Academy, for its part, decided it was too risky to recall its nearly 1,000 graduating midshipmen to Annapolis, Md., for a commencement. Those graduates will have a virtual event. But the Air Force Academy, in contrast to the other schools, sent home its underclassmen, locked down its seniors on campus, moved up graduation, mandated social distancing — and went ahead with plans for Vice President Mike Pence to be its speaker.
And so last Friday, the day before Mr. Pence was to speak at the Air Force ceremony in Colorado, Mr. Trump, never one to be upstaged, abruptly announced that he would, in fact, be speaking at West Point. That was news to everyone, including officials at West Point, according to three people involved with or briefed on the event. The academy had been looking at the option of a delayed presidential commencement in June, but had yet to complete any plans. With Mr. Trump’s pre-emptive statement, they are now summoning 1,000 cadets scattered across the country to return to campus in New York, the state that is the center of the outbreak.
Heather Cox Richardson: Trump lies re internal disinfectants "sarcasm" and CNN calls it a lie. (Letters From An American, April 24, 2020)
Media outlets have been uncomfortable calling out Trump’s lies, instead using words like “untruths,” but Dale has fa ct-checked every Trump rally and speech in real time and regularly uses the word “lie” on Twitter. That the word is showing up more in news media suggests editors are rethinking how best to cover this president.
Their problem is that everything a president does and says is newsworthy, but reporting what a lying politician says without identifying it as false puts the media in the position of amplifying the skewed message, rather than delivering accurate information. This tactic was pioneered by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.
Heather Cox Richardson: McConnell lies re "Blue State bail-out" but Cuomo corrects. (Letters From An American, April 23, 2020)
Today the House of Representatives passed a new $484 billion coronavirus relief bill by a vote of 388-5. The Senate passed it Tuesday. $381 billion is for small businesses left out in the cold when the money from the previous coronavirus relief package quickly ran dry. Republicans wanted to stop there, but Democrats demanded $75 billion for hospitals, and $25 billion for coronavirus testing, as well as a requirement that the administration figure out a strategy to get tests to states. The relief bill comes as more than 26 million Americans are out of work and almost 50,000 Americans have died of Covid-19.
But the Democrats did not get any more aid to states, crippled by the crisis, than the $150 billion previously provided. The bipartisan National Governors Association, headed by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, has asked for $500 billion to help the states replace lost tax revenues. Democrats wanted such aid, but Republicans refused. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) went on talk radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show on Wednesday and tried to make the question of state aid partisan. He said that he opposed granting money to states whose problems, he said, stemmed from their underfunded state pension plans. Instead, the states should consider bankruptcy. A document put out by McConnell’s office called aid to the states a “blue state bailout.”
McConnell has it wrong. States have not been overspending; their expenses for education and infrastructure are actually significantly below what they were in 2008, despite more inhabitants, and they have put about 7.6% of their budgets into rainy day funds, a historic high, up from the previous high of 5% they held in reserve in 2006 before the Great Recession. The problem is that states have to balance their budgets annually, and they depend on sales and income taxes for 70% of their revenue. The shutdowns have decimated tax revenues as shopping ends and people lose their jobs. At the same time, unemployment claims are climbing dramatically. States are looking at a $500 billion loss between now and 2022. States need money to avoid massive layoffs and deep spending cuts, actions that would make the economic crisis continue much longer than it would if they do not have to make them.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was blunt. “New York puts into that federal pot $116B more than we take out. Kentucky takes out $148B more than they put in,” he said at a press conference. “Senator McConnell, who’s getting bailed out here? It’s your state that’s living on the money that we generate.”
NEW: Stop Looking on the Bright Side: We’ll Be Screwed By the Pandemic for Years to Come. (Politico, April 23, 2020)
Unfortunately, the history of the past generation justifies pessimism about the next one.
NEW: Two Errors Our Minds Make When Trying to Grasp the Pandemic (The Atlantic, April 23, 2020)
Disappointment and uncertainty are inevitable. But we don’t have to turn them into suffering.
NEW: The Nuclear Ban Treaty and the Green New Deal (NuclearBan.US, April 22, 2020)
A Webinar on Wednesday, April 29th, from 7-9PM Boston time, featuring Timmon Wallis, PhD of NuclearBan.US and US Representative Jim McGovern. Register in advance for this webinar. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Climate crisis, expanding nuclear arsenals, extreme inequality, and now a pandemic – the challenges confronting our species are beyond daunting. Yet with extreme threat and great loss come an opportunity to change priorities and construct a path toward a more sustainable and harmonious future. Our upcoming webinar shows how. An initiative of NuclearBan.US, Wallis’ report details what it will take to adequately address the climate crisis and where the needed funds and scientific and engineering expertise could come from: the nuclear weapons program. “These weapons threaten our very existence as a species. And so does the climate crisis. But if we eliminate nuclear weapons, we can convert an industry of death to an industry of life. We can shift massive amounts of money and scientific talent to green technologies we need to survive – and we can create millions of jobs.” – Timmon Wallis
So join us for an evening of practical hope. Warheads to Windmills: Wednesday, April 29th, 7-9PM.
UN warns of 'biblical' famine due to Covid-19 pandemic. (France 24, April 22, 2020)
World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley told the U.N. Security Council that even before COVID-19 became an issue, he was telling world leaders that “2020 would be facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.” That’s because of wars in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, locust swarms in Africa, frequent natural disasters and economic crises including in Lebanon, Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia, he said.
Beasley said today 821 million people go to bed hungry every night all over the world, a further 135 million people are facing “crisis levels of hunger or worse,” and a new World Food Program analysis shows that as a result of COVID-19 an additional 130 million people “could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020.”
The Economic Damage Is Barely Conceivable. (Nautilus, April 22, 2020)
In America, people who lose jobs don’t necessarily get them back.
France and COVID-19: Incompetence and Conceit (Counterpunch, April 22, 2020)
The French government’s mantra, that every minister and secretary of state is expected to chant in unison, is: “masks are useless, the tests are unreliable”. They all swear by handwashing and lockdowns. No reference is made to the way things had been handled in Seoul, Hong Kong, or Taiwan, where free masks were distributed and people were required to wear them, and large-scale testing was carried out, and where economic life goes on, in slow motion, but it goes on. Today, with 23 million inhabitants, Taiwan has recorded 6 COVID-19 deaths; Hong Kong, with 7 million inhabitants, has lost 4. As for the French doctors who were in Wuhan working alongside their Chinese colleagues and thus well informed, they were not even consulted.
The French police stop and fine transgressors, solitary walkers or joggers, while the metro, airports, trams, and buses are all operating and supermarkets and tobacconists are open for business. The police are themselves without masks and many fall victim to the virus, becoming potential carriers. The same is true of healthcare and administrative personnel, working without personal protective equipment in retirement homes. The authorities refused to report the number of victims among healthcare workers, citing “medical secrecy” concerns. The elderly die but are not counted in the official statistics. Nor are those who die at home. Now that their numbers are so high and can no longer be ignored, we discover that the residents of these retirement homes account for 40% of the deaths recorded in France. They are not hospitalized. Their treatment? Paracetamol for the mildly afflicted, morphine for the rest. Close to half of the nursing staff in retirement homes are affected by the epidemic. But the government is powerless: it does not have sufficient testing solution and will not allow tests to be conducted in retirement homes unless there is a confirmed case there. The borders remain open. President Macron refuses to close the border with Italy.
Sweden becomes the third European country to close its last coal power plant. (Electrek, April 22, 2020)
Just days after Austria shut its last coal power plant, Sweden has followed suit with the closure of Stockholm Exergi AB’s Värtaverket plant, two years ahead of schedule. Belgium shut down its last coal power station in 2016. The coal-fired cogeneration plant Värtaverket has been in operation and supplied heat and electricity to Stockholmers since 1989. Now it is closed down for good. Our goal is for all our production to come from renewable or recycled energy. Stockholm Exergi’s CO2 emissions will be reduced by about half.
[A happy note for the 50th Earth Day!]
On this 50th Earth Day, "On The Fifth Day" (Brain Pickings, April 22, 2020)
Jane Hirshfield wrote this poem for 2017's March For Science in Washington, D.C.
Forget About Zoom — Here are 3 Open Source Zoom Alternatives. (FOSS Post, April 22, 2020)
The Zoom developers were depending on security through obscurity. Their so-thought private chats and calls were discovered to be publicly accessible, and their claimed end-to-end encryption wasn’t actually an end-to-end encryption. Many other security vulnerabilities were discovered in their infrastructure, too. (Here’s a full list of them). All of this happened because Zoom was closed source, and no one was able to review its source code and confirm its claims.
You’ll be glad to know that there are many open source Zoom alternatives for video conferencing. And in today’s article, we’re gonna introduce 3 great ones.
Zoom: Former Dropbox staff say Zoom stalled on security fix. (C/Net, April 21, 2020)
Here's a timeline of every security issue uncovered in the video chat app.
Advancing high temperature electrolysis: Splitting water to store energy as hydrogen (Science X, April 21, 2020)
The reaction now happens faster and more efficiently, so the operating temperature can be reduced while maintaining good performance. The trick was figuring out how to add the element to the perovskite electrode material that would give it the triple-conducting properties—a process called doping. "We successfully demonstrated an effective doping strategy to develop a good triple-conducting oxide, which enables good cell performance at reduced temperatures," said an engineer at Idaho National Laboratory's Chemical Processing Group.
How Oil Prices Went Subzero: Explaining the COVID-19 Oil Crash (Visual Capitalist, April 21, 2020)
On April 20th, futures for crude oil's U.S. benchmark (WTI) went into negative territory - meaning for the first time in history, producers would pay traders to take oil off their hands.
NEW: Origins of human language pathway in the brain at least 25 million years old. (Science Daily, April 20, 2020)
The human language pathway in the brain has been identified by scientists as being at least 25 million years old -- 20 million years older than previously thought.
Open-source firmware turns CPAP machines into coronavirus ventilators. (ZDNet, April 20, 2020)
The Airbreak firmware is a big step toward transforming the Airsense 10 CPAP machine into a non-invasive ventilator.
The man leading U.S. COVID-19 testing was forced out of his last job. (Daily Kos, April 20, 2020)
Brett Giroir, the federal official overseeing coronavirus testing efforts, says that his experience working on vaccine development projects at Texas A&M University helped prepare him for this historic moment. He once said that his vaccine effort was so vital that “the fate of 50 million people will rely on us getting this done.” But after eight years of work on several vaccine projects, Giroir was told in 2015 he had 30 minutes to resign or he would be fired.  His annual performance evaluation at Texas A&M, the local newspaper reported, said he was “more interested in promoting yourself” than the health science center where he worked. He got low marks on being a “team player.”
Giroir has worn a number of different hats in this administration.  As Assistant Secretary of Health, Giroir has worked to take away access to birth control and abortion—he is a forced birther.
Massachusetts self-employed, independent contractors, and ‘gig’ workers can now apply for state unemployment benefits. (Boston Globe, April 20, 2020)
NEW: Want to Ditch Zoom? Jitsi Offers an Open-Source Alternative. (Wired, April 20, 2020)
As we spend more time on videoconferences, concerns mount about trust. Emil Ivov says you shouldn't have to trust anyone.
Coronavirus pandemic has not stopped cyberattacks on hospitals and other vital infrastructure. (Washington Post, April 20, 2020)
Attempted cyberattacks against several hospitals and an airport in the Czech Republic show the coronavirus pandemic has not slowed down the West’s digital adversaries. While those attacks were successfully foiled, Czech leaders fear more attacks from highly sophisticated adversaries are on the way. The nation’s top cybersecurity agency has warned it expected imminent “serious cyberattacks” against its health-care sector aimed at disabling computers and destroying data.
Czech officials didn’t name the suspected attacker but the language they used suggested greater concern about hackers backed by a national government rather than criminals. The stakes are high: A cyberattack that takes the lives of coronavirus patients would likely prompt serious retaliation, Painter notes. That could draw countries into a conventional military conflict.
Nation-backed hackers are also trying to steal information from companies that are researching coronavirus treatments. The cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike has also tracked multiple government-linked hacking groups launching sophisticated data-stealing operations during the pandemic. Those include groups linked to China and North Korea, the company said.
Hacking by criminal gangs has also continued unchecked, though few thought criminals might temper their actions out of global health concerns.
Coronavirus: Will Covid-19 speed up the use of robots to replace human workers? (BBC News, April 19, 2020)
For better or worse the robots are going to replace many humans in their jobs, analysts say, and the coronavirus outbreak is speeding up the process.
"People usually say they want a human element to their interactions but Covid-19 has changed that," says Martin Ford, a futurist who has written about the ways robots will be integrated into the economy in the coming decades. "[Covid-19] is going to change consumer preference and really open up new opportunities for automation."
Companies large and small are expanding how they use robots to increase social distancing and reduce the number of staff that have to physically come to work. Robots are also being used to perform roles workers cannot do at home. Walmart, America's biggest retailer, is using robots to scrub its floors. Robots in South Korea have been used to measure temperatures and distribute hand sanitiser.
Food service is another area where the use of robots is likely to increase because of health concerns. Fast-food chains like McDonald's have been testing robots as cooks and servers.
In warehouses, like those operated by Amazon and Walmart, robots were already used to improve efficiency. The Covid-19 outbreak has both companies looking to increase the use of robots for sorting, shipping and packing. This may reduce the number of complaints by warehouse workers who say they cannot social-distance from their colleagues under the current conditions. But, according to technology experts, it would put some of them out of work.
Once a company has invested in replacing a worker with a robot it's unlikely the firm will ever rehire for that role. Robots are more expensive to create and integrate into businesses but once they are up and running, robots are typically cheaper than human workers.
According to the futurist Martin Ford, using robots in the post Covid-19 world also presents some marketing advantages. "People will prefer to go to a place that has fewer workers and more machines because they feel they can lower overall risk," he explains
What about service roles where a person is needed to offer a lesson or guideline? Artificial intelligence is being developed that can replace school tutors, fitness trainers and financial advisers. Big tech companies are expanding the use of artificial intelligence. Both Facebook and Google are relying on AI to remove more inappropriate posts since the companies' human content moderators can't review certain things from home.
Robot sceptics had believed humans would have an edge in those jobs. That could be changing as lockdowns have made humans more comfortable with the idea of connecting remotely. The instructor or adviser on the screen doesn't need to be a real person, it just needs to think and act like one.
A 2017 report by global consultants McKinsey predicted a third of workers in the US would be replaced by automation and robots by 2030. But events like pandemics have the potential to change all the timelines and experts say it's really up to humans to decide how they want to integrate this technology in the world.
Supporters Of Digital Currency Say Pandemic Bolsters Case For A New Approach. (NPR, April 19, 2020)
Direct-deposit economic relief money is expected to be weeks ahead of physical checks. Supporters of digital currency say that transaction could — and should — be even faster.
However, digital wallets, or software programs that store passwords to access funds, have often been the source of cryptocurrency hacks that have lost customers millions of dollars. The unbanked may not have the technology to keep their funds safe.
Regulation of digital currency has also been a concern. Facebook's proposed Libra coin faced congressional scrutiny last year when members raised questions about Facebook's trustworthiness after its issues with user privacy and misinformation. Facebook has since scaled back the project and decided to ditch the idea of becoming a global financial payment system after several of its supporters abandoned it last year.
The United States might be years away from developing the necessary infrastructure and helping people adapt to digital currency, but it might be a huge help for the next economic catastrophe.
The Coronavirus and Post-Traumatic Growth (Scientific American, April 19, 2020)
Surviving an awful experience can lead to some surprisingly positive psychological effects in many people.
A stark coronavirus reality: Sunday’s Boston Globe runs 16 pages of death notices. (Boston Globe, April 19, 2020)
Trump’s Two Horrifying Plans for Dealing With the Coronavirus (The Atlantic, April 19, 2020)
The administration has two plans for the next six months. It is implementing them at the same time. They reinforce each other, and each can replace the other if either fails. If he can’t confine the suffering to his opponents, he is prepared to incite a culture war to distract his supporters.
Plan A is Russia's old Chernobyl plan: trading higher human casualties in hopes of a triumph for the central state. By reopening some aspects of the U.S. economy in the next few weeks, Trump hopes to goose the stock market and restore jobs. It’s plainly impossible to return to full employment by November 2020, but Trump can hope that the trajectory of the economy will matter more than the economy’s absolute level. It did not have to be this way. If the Trump administration had not bungled testing, if it were not to this day jerking and lurching in obedience to the president’s latest ego demand, we could by now begin to see the way to a safer reopening in the next few weeks. As is, the testing regime remains bottlenecked and slow. Contact tracing barely exists. The United States will be nearly as blind in May as it was in March.
In the event of an early and partial reopening, the disparities can only widen. Those who can telecommute, who can shop online, or who work for health-conscious employers like public universities will be better positioned to minimize their exposure than those called back to work in factories, plants, and delivery services. The economy will be further divided along its widening class fault: those who can control their contacts with others, and those who cannot. To look at casualties as numbers on the curve is to misunderstand what the Fox talkers and the Trump donors are telling us. The political calculus of Trump’s Plan A depends less on containing the total number of casualties than on confining the casualties to people deemed expendable. From his entry into presidential politics, Trump has divided Americans into first class, second class, and third class. He has continued that politics of division into this pandemic. On Saturday, Trump retweeted an ugly insinuation that state governments were favoring Muslim Ramadan observance over Easter worship. The division is more than rhetorical. It shapes who gets economic assistance, who gets aid, and now, whose deaths are acceptable in order to put the country back to work.
But what if the calculus of Plan A is wrong? What if reopening leads to a surge in deaths that cannot be politically contained? In that case, Trump reverts to his Plan B: a culture war against Democratic governors and blue states. On April 16, Trump tweeted “Liberate Michigan!” in apparent support of protesters who blocked traffic around the state legislature in Lansing. To date, the great majority of Americans support the lockdown, according to polling by Pew. Twice as many fear that the lockdown will be ended too early than those who worry it will be ended too late. In the face of this decisive opposition to the president’s wishes, the president’s supporters are borrowing the tactics of the early Tea Party. They are protesting in aggressively obnoxious ways to entice the TV cameras to overlook their tiny numbers and fringe membership: Confederate-flag wavers, militia cosplayers, anti-vaxxers. The Lansing protesters used their cars to impede ambulances. They brandished guns on the steps of the step legislature. Behave obnoxiously enough, and the television cameras will disregard your scanty numbers. The Lansing protests have been joined by even smaller protests in California and North Carolina, each numbering fewer than 100 people. And of course, America’s most powerful cable-news network is more than a passive victim of disinformation. As with the Tea Party a decade ago, so now with the anti-lockdown protests: Fox News acts as the co-author of the pseudo-events staged for its cameras, as in this fanciful graphic showing half the United States colored red in protest, as if the whole country were aflame rather than a few hundred oddballs.
For Trump, it's win-win. Either he pushes the country to trade poor people’s lives for the pursuit of economic recovery, or he gets a cable-TV culture war to distract his supporters from the troubles he himself aggravated by his own negligence. President Trump’s bad leadership has inflicted terrible hardship on Americans. Trump’s Plan A is to use the pain of that hardship to justify more bad leadership. His Plan B is to use the pain as a way to shift odium: Don’t blame me, the guy who failed to prepare for the pandemic. Blame the governors who are now forced to respond to my failure. The tools entrusted to the administration to protect the country are being used by the administration to protect the president.
A Beloved Bar Owner Was Skeptical About the Virus. Then He Took a Cruise. (New York Times, April 18, 2020)
Joe Joyce oversaw JJ Bubbles, a welcoming tavern in a conservative corner of Brooklyn, for 43 years until he died of Covid-19.
He was a Trump supporter who chose selectively from the menu of current Republican ideologies, freely rejecting what didn’t suit him. He didn’t want to hear how much you loved Hillary Clinton, as one regular at his bar put it to me, but he was not going to make the Syrian immigrant who came in to play darts feel as if he belonged anywhere else. Where these kinds of voters align is not in the right’s hatred of the marginalized but in its distrust of the news. If the “liberal” media was telling us that a plague was coming and that it would be devastating, why should anyone believe it? Joe Joyce had his skepticism.
On March 1, Joe Joyce and his wife, Jane, set sail for Spain on a cruise, flying first to Florida. His adult children — Kevin, Eddie and Kristen Mider — suggested that the impending doom of the coronavirus made this a bad idea. Joe Joyce was 74, a nonsmoker, healthy; four years after he opened his bar he stopped drinking completely. He didn’t see the problem. “He watched Fox, and believed it was under control,’’ Kristen told me.
Early in March Sean Hannity went on air proclaiming that he didn’t like the way that the American people were getting scared “unnecessarily.’’ He saw it all, he said, “as like, let’s bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.”
Eventually, Fox changed course and took the virus more seriously, but the Joyces were long gone by then. There was a way he might have avoided the trip, his daughter speculated. “If Trump had gone on TV with a mask on and said, ‘Hey this is serious,’ I don’t think he would have gone.”
Visualizing the Length of the Fine Print, for 14 Popular Apps (Visual Capitalist, April 18, 2020)
[For example, compare iffy Zoom's 7,243 lines and secret code to Jitsi Meet. Just one of the many reasons that MMS avoids all of these but YouTube. Hurray for FOSS - Free, Open-Source Software!]
A Sobering Astronomical Reminder from COVID-19 (Scientific American, April 18, 2020)
We must treasure all the good that nature gives us rather than take it for granted, because it can easily disappear. Over the next century, trillions of dollars could be lost not just from pandemics like COVID-19 but also from major solar flares or asteroid impacts. We’d better prepare protections for those before they hit us.
Life as we know it is merely an afterthought in the global scheme of the cosmos. The universe started off consisting mainly of hydrogen and helium. Heavy elements like carbon and oxygen, which enable the chemistry of life, are the “ashes” from nuclear burning in the hot cores of stars. Our transient existence has lasted for less than 10 one-billionths of cosmic history so far on a tiny rock we call Earth, surrounded by a vast lifeless space. We should be thankful for the fortuitous circumstances that allow us to exist, because they will surely go away one day, with or without COVID-19.
Warmest Oceans on Record Could Set Off a Year of Extreme Weather. (Bloomberg, April 18, 2020)
Parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans all hit the record books for warmth last month, according to the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Information. The high temperatures could offer clues on the ferocity of the Atlantic hurricane season, the eruption of wildfires from the Amazon region to Australia, and whether the record heat and severe thunderstorms raking the southern U.S. will continue.
Yes, you can still get a package delivered. Just wash your hands, expert says. (Boston Globe, April 18, 2020)
The Coronavirus In America: The Year Ahead (New York Times, April 18, 2020)
There will be no quick return to normal American life, but there is hope for managing the outbreak now and in the long term.
The lockdowns will end haltingly. Putting safety first could mean reopening only after coronavirus cases declined for 14 days, 90 percent of contacts of infected people could be traced, infections of health care workers were eradicated, recuperation sites existed for mild cases — and many other hard-to-reach goals.
It is not clear whether recovery from the virus and antibodies confer immunity. If they do, or are believed to, America could be split into two classes: those protected (or thought to be) and those still vulnerable.
The virus can be kept in check, but only with expanded resources like widespread testing. The U.S. needs to triple the number of coronavirus tests it is currently administering before the country can reopen. And treatments are likely to arrive before a vaccine.
Germany was the first large democracy to contain the spread of the virus, and is now the first to methodically go about reopening its economy: It is aiming to test the entire population for antibodies in the coming months to assess the virus’s spread.
Stimulus check glitches: Why you’re having trouble and what you can do about it. (Washington Post, April 18, 2020)
Tens of millions of Americans got their stimulus payments, but many others reported receiving the wrong amount and frustrating online issues.
The key to getting your payment in the first batch sent out was whether the IRS had direct deposit information for you as a result of a refund. If you owed the IRS or did not get a refund in 2018 or 2019, the agency doesn’t have a way to send your money electronically. This does not mean you won’t get a payment. It means you need to either go to “Get My Payment” on the IRS website or wait for a paper check in the mail.
If you don’t get the money, you’ll have to wait for a letter from the IRS. The agency is required to mail a letter to your last known address 15 days after sending your payment. As described in the Cares Act, the notice from the IRS is supposed to indicate the method by which your payment was made, the amount of the payment and a phone number for the appropriate point of contact at the IRS to report any failure to receive the money.
Lots of people are worried that the message “Payment Status Not Available” means they may not get their stimulus money. It is very likely that the system hasn’t been able to process your information from a recently filed 2019 tax return. Or, it’s like a waiting room where you sit until you are called.
Many people have complained about a glitch that won’t allow them to move forward because they neither owed any money to the IRS nor received a refund for 2018 or 2019. Initially, IRS spokesman Eric Smith suggested that people type in zero for either answer. However, this does not work. Others tried using information from their 2018 return. That didn’t work either. “We are aware of the problem and we are working hard to find a solution,” Smith said. “In these very difficult times, we know how very much people need their money, and we are working hard to get it to them as quickly as we can.”
To prevent fraud, the “Get My Payment” portal will lock you out after multiple failed attempts to enter information. You may be locked out by no fault of your own. The information the IRS has on file may be outdated or wrong. Perhaps you moved and the IRS has an old address. A Social Security number may be incorrect in the system. If you get a message that your payment status can’t be determined, wait a day. Because information is updated once a day, overnight, there is no need to check back several times during the day.
The incredible shrinking president (Boston Globe, April 18, 2020)
As the country staggers through the coronavirus pandemic, Trump appears increasingly irrelevant.
Democrats confront Pence: 'I have never been so mad about a phone call in my life.' (CNN, April 17, 2020)
Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said to Pence and everyone on the call, "I have never been so mad about a phone call in my life." King called the administration's failure to develop a more widespread national testing regime a "dereliction of duty."
Access to testing has been uneven throughout the country amid the pandemic even with efforts to expand capacity -- and pressure is intensifying on the President and the administration to ensure adequate testing, which is widely viewed as a requirement to reopening the shuttered US economy.
Why We Don’t Know the True Death Rate for Covid-19 (New York Times, April 17, 2020)
Determining what percentage of those infected by the coronavirus will die is a key question for epidemiologists, but an elusive one during the pandemic.
NEW: Coronavirus Testing Needs to Triple Before the U.S. Can Reopen, Experts Say. (New York Times, April 17, 2020)
As some governors consider easing social distancing restrictions, new estimates by researchers at Harvard University suggest that the United States cannot safely reopen unless it conducts more than three times the number of coronavirus tests it is currently administering over the next month.
Trump Encourages Protest Against Governors Who Have Imposed Virus Restrictions. (New York Times, April 17, 2020)
President Trump on Friday openly encouraged right-wing protests of social distancing restrictions in states with stay-at-home orders, a day after announcing guidelines for how the nation’s governors should carry out an orderly reopening of their communities on their own timetables. In a series of all-caps tweets that started two minutes after a Fox News report on the protesters, the president declared, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” — two states whose Democratic governors have imposed strict social distancing restrictions. He also lashed out at Virginia, where the state’s Democratic governor and legislature have pushed for strict gun control measures, saying: “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
The president’s stark departure from his message on Thursday night, when he announced guidelines for governors to reopen their states and said they would “call your own shots,” suggested he was ceding any semblance of national leadership on the pandemic.
Falsehoods and Failures: Trump During COVID-19 (People For The American Way, April 17, 2020 update)
These Charts Put the Historic U.S. Job Losses in Perspective. (Visual Capitalist, April 17, 2020)
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into the economic status quo, creating a situation that is incomparable to any previous downturn. Instead of a gradual economic transition to slower growth prospects, business operations have suddenly screeched to a halt with no clear window to resume. The Great Lockdown of the economy has been completely unprecedented, both in terms of the speed of the shutdown and its impact on jobs.
The New Fault Lines in a Post-Globalized World (Brave New Europe, April 17, 2020)
The coronavirus pandemic has upended the global economic system, and just as importantly, cast out 40 years of neoliberal orthodoxy that dominated the industrialized world. Forget about the “new world order.” Offshoring and global supply chains are out; regional and local production is in. Market fundamentalism is passé; regulation is the norm. Public health is now more valuable than just-in-time supply systems. Stockpiling and industrial capacity suddenly make more sense, which may have future implications in the recently revived antitrust debate in the U.S.
Biodata will drive the next phase of social management and surveillance, with near-term consequences for the way countries handle immigration and customs. Health care and education will become digitally integrated the way newspapers and television were 10 years ago. Health care itself will increasingly be seen as a necessary public good, rather than a private right, until now in the U.S. predicated on age, employment or income levels. Each of these will produce political tensions within their constituencies and in the society generally as they adapt to the new normal.
This political sea change doesn’t represent a sudden conversion to full-on socialism, but simply a case of minimizing our future risks of infection by providing full-on universal coverage. Beyond that, as Professor Michael Sandel has argued, one has to query the “moral logic” of providing “coronavirus treatment for the uninsured,” while leaving “health coverage in ordinary times… to the market” (especially when our concept of what constitutes “ordinary times” has been upended).
Internationally, there will be many positive and substantial international shifts to address overdue global public health needs and accords on mitigating climate change. And it is finally dawning on Western-allied economic planners that the military price tag that made so-called cheap oil and cheap labor possible is vastly higher than investment in advanced research and next-generation manufacturing.
Using Misinformation as a political weapon: COVID-19 and Bolsonaro in Brazil (HKS Misinformation Review, April 17, 2020)
With over 30,000 confirmed cases -as of April 16th- Brazil is currently the country most affected by COVID-19 in Latin America, and ranked 12th worldwide. Despite all evidence, a strong rhetoric undermining risks associated to COVID-19 has been endorsed at the highest levels of the Brazilian government, making President Jair Bolsonaro the leader of the “coronavirus-denial movement”. To support this strategy, different forms of misinformation and disinformation have been leveraged to lead a dangerous crusade against scientific and evidence-based recommendations.
His election mirrors the process of rise of right-wing populist leaders who came to power in other countries during the past decade16. Bolsonaro successfully mobilized part of society against an “enemy” to be beaten (primarily the “left” or “communists”, among others), normalizing discriminatory discourses, while leveraging the capillarity of social media. Several candidates in the 2018 presidential race used mass messaging services on WhatsApp (one of the most popular communication apps in Brazil) offered by the company Yacows for their campaigns. Bolsonaro’s campaign particularly stood out among the candidates because of its massive and orchestrated use of disinformation, and the fact that it was financed by private companies (which is currently prohibited in Brazil), as shown in several investigations published by the national and international media. As the Folha de São Paulo newspaper has reported, the content was spread both from outside the country, as well as from Brazilian telemarketing companies. The collaboration of Steve Bannon, former vice president of Cambridge Analytica, is a strong indication that Bolsonaro’s campaign has acquired databases for the distribution of messages to targeted micro-segments of the electorate.
Since the beginning of his term, Bolsonaro has remained an agent of information disorder, leveraging his massive audience and making recurring use of bots. He also uses what Giuliano Da Empoli calls “saturation of the public debate” with controversial and false statements.
The Mystery of a Medieval Blue Ink Has Been Solved. (Atlas Obscura, April 17, 2020)
Turns out it was hiding in plain sight by the side of a Portuguese road.
China’s Economy Shrinks, Ending a Nearly Half-Century of Growth. (New York Times, April 16, 2020)
The contraction comes at a time when the rest of the world needs an economic boost, underscoring how momentous the task of reviving the global economy will be.
What caused the coronavirus? A skeptical take on the theories about the outbreak’s Chinese origin. (Washington Post, April 16, 2020)
Of all the mysteries about the novel coronavirus, its origin excites the most fervent debate. At the outbreak’s beginning, there were conspiracy theories that the virus was man-made; recently, questions have focused on whether a natural virus was accidentally spread through research.
Carnival Executives Knew They Had a Virus Problem, But Kept the Party Going. (Bloomberg, April 16, 2020)
More than 1,500 people on the company’s cruise ships have been diagnosed with Covid-19, and dozens have died.
Jitsi Meet (Free Software Foundation, April 16, 2020)
Go ahead, video chat with the whole team. In fact, invite everyone you know. Jitsi Meet is a fully encrypted, 100% open source video conferencing solution that you can use all day, every day, for free — with no account needed.
What else can you do with Jitsi Meet? Share your desktop, presentations, and more Invite users to a conference via a simple, custom URL Edit documents together using Etherpad Pick fun meeting URLs for every meeting Trade messages and emojis while you video conference, with integrated chat.
[MMS videoconferences using Jitsi Meet, without any special software. To begin, browse using open-source Chromium.]
Secret Military Task Force Prepares to Secure the U.S. Capital. (Newsweek, April 16, 2020)
District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser yesterday ordered a one-month extension of the state of emergency, as cases in the region grow at a rapid pace. Federal officials in the nation's capital expect a New York-like epidemic in the District, Maryland and Virginia, one that could potentially cripple the government.
Activated on March 16, Joint Task Force National Capital Region (JTF-NCR) is chartered to "defend" Washington on land, in the air, and even on its waterfronts. The special task force, the only one of its kind in the country, demonstrates how there are two sides of government preparedness. The public face, and even the day-to-day work of most men and women assigned to JTF-NCR, is the same as it is everywhere else in the country—medical support, delivering supplies, manning health-check stations. But behind the scenes, JTF-NCR is responsible for what the military calls "homeland defense": what to do in the face of an armed attack on the United States, everything from guarding Washington's skies to preparing for the civil unrest that could occur if a nuclear weapon were detonated in the capital. But most immediate, JTF-NCR is charged with facilitating continuity of government, particularly moving civil and military leaders to secret locations were the order given to evacuate the city.
Ever since National Guards started to activate countrywide, Pentagon officials have insisted that men and women in uniform are not conducting secret missions and that they will not administer or enforce "stay at home" quarantines. The Pentagon has also rejected reports, including articles in Newsweek, about martial law or other extreme contingency plans, arguing that the Guard remains under strict control of state governors, while federal troops support civil agencies like FEMA.
And yet the activation of Joint Task Force National Capital Region, including almost 10,000 uniformed personnel to carry out its special orders, contradicts those assurances. JTF-NCR is not only real and operating, reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense for some of its mission, but some of its units are already on 24/7 alert, specially sequestered on military bases and kept out of coronavirus support duties to ensure their readiness.
NEW: What scientists know about Covid-19 immunity can help us fight the pandemic. (Quartz, April 16, 2020)
As of April 8, there are over 100 Covid-19 vaccines in development, using a variety of tactics to prompt the immune system into action. Vaccines show the immune system a biological mugshot of the pathogen: Some use proteins and peptides, others use bits of genetic material encapsulated in other viruses, and others use weakened or immobile bits of the pathogenic virus itself.
The resulting race likely won’t have a single winner, but rather a handful. “It’s possible that out of the 50 or 80 candidates, there could be three or four that could be effective,” says Mark Poznansky, an immunologist and director of the vaccine and immunotherapy center at Mass. General Hospital. This is the best case scenario: More kinds of vaccines mean that more people can receive them, safely.
But testing, treatments, and vaccine development will all need to stay abreast of continual updates in our understanding of the virus. “We’re after a moving target,” said Poznansky. “Fundamentally viruses have been infecting humans for millions of years, so it’s unlikely this represents a new type of battle. But because there’s a lack of immunity in most of the population of humans, it’s like a vast, horrendous experiment on our immune systems.”
NEW: A New Statistic Reveals Why America’s COVID-19 Numbers Are Flat. (The Atlantic, April 16, 2020)
Few figures tell you anything useful about how the coronavirus has spread through the U.S. Its U.S. test-positivity rate does.
Because the number of Americans tested for COVID-19 has changed over time, the U.S. test-positivity rate can’t yet provide much detailed information about the contagiousness or fatality rate of the disease. But the statistic can still give a rough sense of how bad a particular outbreak is by distinguishing between places undergoing very different sizes of epidemics, Andrews said. A country with a 25 percent positivity rate and one with a 2 percent positivity rate are facing “vastly different epidemics,” he said, and the 2 percent country is better off.
In that light, America’s 20 percent positivity rate is disquieting. The U.S. did almost 25 times as many tests on April 15 as on March 15, yet both the daily positive rate and the overall positive rate went up in that month. According to the Tracking Project’s figures, nearly one in five people who get tested for the coronavirus in the United States is found to have it. In other words, the country has what is called a “test-positivity rate” of nearly 20 percent. That is “very high,” Jason Andrews, an infectious-disease professor at Stanford, told us. Such a high test-positivity rate almost certainly means that the U.S. is not testing everyone who has been infected with the pathogen, because it implies that doctors are testing only people with a very high probability of having the infection. People with milder symptoms, to say nothing of those with none at all, are going undercounted. Countries that test broadly should encounter far more people who are not infected than people who are, so their test-positivity rate should be lower. 
The positivity rate is not the same as the proportion of COVID-19 cases in the American population at large, a metric called “prevalence.”* Nobody knows the true number of Americans who have been exposed to or infected with the coronavirus, though attempts to produce much sharper estimates of that figure through blood testing are under way. Prevalence is a crucial number for epidemiologists, in part because it lets them calculate a pathogen’s true infection-fatality rate: the number of people who die after becoming infected.
If the United States were testing more people, we would probably still be seeing an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases. And combined with the high test-positivity rate, it suggests that the reservoir of unknown, uncounted cases of COVID-19 across the country is still very large.
Each of those uncounted cases is a small tragedy and a microcosm of all the ways the U.S. testing infrastructure is still failing. When Sarah Pavis, a 36-year-old engineer in New York, woke up on Tuesday, she was out of breath and her heart was racing. An hour of deep breathing failed to calm her pulse. When her extremities started tingling, she called 911. It was her ninth day of COVID-19 symptoms. New York City’s positivity rate is an astonishing 55 percent. More than 111,000 of the city’s residents have lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, but Pavis is not among them. When the ambulance arrived at Pavis’s apartment, an EMS worker took her vitals, then explained there was little he could do to help. The city’s hospitals only admitted people with a blood-oxygen level of 94 percent or lower, he said. Pavis’s blood-oxygen reading was 96 percent. That 2 percent difference meant that her illness was not serious enough to merit hospitalization, not serious enough to be tested, not serious enough to be counted.
Trump Says States Can Start Reopening While Acknowledging the Decision Is Theirs. (New York Times, April 16, 2020)
President Trump told the nation’s governors on Thursday that they could begin reopening businesses, restaurants and other elements of daily life by May 1 or earlier if they wanted to, but abandoned his threat to use what he had claimed was his absolute authority to impose his will on them. At the evening briefing, the president conceded that the choice of how and when to reopen the country would not be his. “If they need to remain closed,” he said, “we will allow them to do that.” Mr. Trump’s choice of words amounted to a significant reversal only three days after he insisted that “the president of the United States calls the shots” and that he had the “total” authority to decide how and when the country would end widespread lockdowns. Several governors rebelled at the notion, defying Mr. Trump’s assertion of unilateral power and declaring that they would come to their own conclusions.
On a day when the nation’s death toll from the coronavirus increased by more than 2,000 for a total over 30,000, the president released a set of nonbinding guidelines that envisioned a slow return to work and school over weeks or months. The guidelines released by the president effectively mean that any restoration of American society will take place on a patchwork basis.
The guidelines envision proceeding without the comprehensive testing program that many public health experts have sought and opened the president to criticism that in his eagerness to start rebuilding a cratered economy, he may have encouraged some states to move too quickly and leave themselves exposed to a second wave of the coronavirus. Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed the guidelines even as she pushed for more testing. “The White House’s vague and inconsistent document does nothing to make up for the president’s failure to listen to the scientists and produce and distribute national rapid testing,” she said in a statement.
The 18-page document released by the White House provided mostly general guidance and did not confront some difficult questions, including how to finance the billions of dollars necessary for expanded testing; whether travel should be restricted between states; when the ban on international travel from Europe and elsewhere would be lifted; and how the states should deal with future shortages of protective equipment if the virus resurged in the fall.
The president said a little more than three weeks ago that he wanted to reopen the country by Easter, April 12, then changed the date to May 1 before declaring that when to do it would be “the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make.” He has repeatedly lurched from one position to another as his administration has struggled to confront what he calls an “invisible enemy.” For weeks, he played down the threat from the coronavirus, predicting it would “miraculously” disappear in warm weather. As the number of cases overwhelmed some hospitals, Mr. Trump blamed governors for failing to prepare, even as he claimed credit for federal help that was slow to arrive.
The federal guidelines, which recommend phased reopenings depending on case levels and hospital capacity, came as governors were already setting their own courses. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced that the state’s sweeping shutdown would last until at least May 15, while Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said he planned to begin lifting restrictions on public activities starting May 1. Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin said residents must stay at home until May 26, and in Missouri, Kansas City and St. Louis County both extended similar orders. A bipartisan group of governors from the Midwest that included Mr. DeWine and Mr. Evers announced the formation of a regional coalition to weigh next steps, which the governors said would be “fact-based” and “data-driven.” Other coalition members include Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana and Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky. States elsewhere in the country with fewer cases and smaller, more rural and more distant populations may take their cue from Mr. Trump and begin moving to lift restrictions.
The fitful movement toward reopening came as another 5.2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits, bringing the total number of people put out of work in the past four weeks to a staggering 22 million. Facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression only six months before an election, Mr. Trump has felt enormous pressure to get business restarted and put Americans back to work. A federal loan program intended to help small businesses keep workers on their payrolls has proved woefully insufficient. The administration said Thursday that the Paycheck Protection Program had run out of money, leaving millions of businesses unable to apply for the loans while Congress struggled to reach a deal to replenish the funds.
Could Trump Be Criminally Liable for His Deadly Mishandling of Coronavirus? (Newsweek, April 16, 2020)
As Dr. Anthony Fauci has said, it didn't have to be this bad in the U.S. The world's richest country with the strongest economy and a population of 330 million people has more coronavirus cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any other country, including China, whose population is more than four times larger. The U.S. accounts for just 4.2 percent of the world's population but 30 percent of COVID-19 cases and 19 percent of COVID-19 deaths. In 12 other countries, the virus's spread has slowed. China is returning to work while the U.S. remains shut down.
The U.S would have experienced fewer deaths and less economic damage had the federal government been better prepared—or simply as prepared as some other countries, even smaller and poorer ones.
While China provided thousands of virus-fighting supplies to countries on three continents, including all 54 African nations, the U.S. was so short it had to ask other countries for help. Publicly, Trump boasted, "We have so many companies making so many products" and "We have millions of masks being done. We have respirators. We have ventilators." Privately, he called South Korean President Moon Jae-in for supplies, though the call doesn't appear in the White House call readout.
Many U.S. deaths—now over 28,000—and much economic damage could have been avoided if Trump hadn't crippled U.S. biodefense capabilities. Obama officials said they presented incoming Trump officials with a pandemic simulation, but Trump's team ignored it, "convinced they knew more than the outgoing administration." Trump also ignored multiple warnings that cutting pandemic defense would expose Americans to the "significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic," that that U.S. capacity wasn't "sufficient to fight many types of infectious disease outbreaks," and that unless he invested more in biodefense now, we'd pay much more in "human and economic costs" later.
Undeterred, Trump's fiscal year 2019 White House budget proposal cut funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and a $30 million emergency response fund. Trump fired Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert, who advocated strengthening our pandemic defenses. Trump's National Security Council adviser disbanded our entire pandemic response team and never replaced it. When the World Health Organization (WHO) urged global testing and sent test kits to 120 countries, the CDC failed to request any.
The results were catastrophic. Large-scale testing needed to identify hot spots and implement early quarantines never materialized. The U.S. suffered acute shortages of test kits, and many of the kits the CDC did produce were unusable. The CDC briefly posted 472 test results on its website, then removed the figure because it paled in comparison to other countries. Ventilators and the drugs needed to use them, as well as nasal swabs for testing, are running out. Protective equipment is so scarce, health care professionals have to wash and reuse masks. States compete against one another and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for supplies, bidding up prices, because the federal government failed to centralize procurement and distribution.
In 2009, H1N1 influenza triggered the largest federal distribution ever, sending respirators, protective masks, gowns and gloves to the states. Yet Trump told governors that the federal government is "not a shipping clerk" and that states should procure their own supplies. That's an unconscionable abdication of responsibility. The Defense Production Act authorizes the president to force production and distribution of materials needed in a crisis precisely because it's a federal responsibility.
Having failed to control the massive spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump turned to massive misinformation and scapegoating. He's attempted to shift blame to Obama, governors, Democrats, the media and, most bizarrely, the WHO, whose funding he recently suspended. He predicted the mortality rate "within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero," that it would "disappear like a miracle," and claimed that "we're very close to a vaccine," which Fauci and the WHO said would take a year to 18 months at best. Trump assured the public he had COVID-19 "totally under control," that everybody "infected is getting better," and suggested the common flu was worse.
Such misdirection and false statements have led more Americans to eschew caution and subject themselves to more infection and death. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said her city would have canceled Mardi Gras if Washington had taken the outbreak more seriously and sent clearer signals. Orleans Parish now has the highest per capita death rate of any U.S. county.
The definition of involuntary or negligent manslaughter encompasses unintended killing through negligence, as well as knowledge that one's actions pose a risk to life. Irresponsible actions or failure to perform a duty can constitute the crime. Do Trump's actions and omissions rise to that level? Ask the families of the 28,000 Americans and counting who have died.
Bill Gates says Trump's decision to halt World Health Organzation funding is 'as dangerous as it sounds'. (CNN, April 15, 2020)
"Their work is slowing the spread of Covid-19 and if that work is stopped no other organization can replace them. The world needs @WHO now more than ever," the Microsoft founder and philanthropist said in a tweet. The WHO declared coronavirus a public health emergency of international concern in late January and a week later, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged up to $100 million to help contain the outbreak. Bill Gates, who since March cautioned about the effects of delayed social distancing measures, urged the United States to implement a country-wide shutdown, saying a state-by-state strategy wouldn't work as effectively.
"If you don't want many more body bags, then please refrain from politicizing it. My short message is: Please quarantine politicizing Covid. The unity of your country will be very important to defeat this dangerous virus," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Gates' concerns over the president's announcement echoed ones made by the American Medical Association on Tuesday, which also called Trump's decision "dangerous." "During the worst public health crisis in a century, halting funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating Covid-19 easier," the association's president, Dr. Patrice Harris, said in a statement. Harris urged Trump to reconsider, saying AMA was "deeply concerned by this decision and its wide-ranging ramifications."
Republicans Endorse Biden. (Daily Kos, April 15, 2020)
Lots of stories out about former President Obama endorsing Joe Biden, Bernie endorsing Biden, Warren endorsing Biden, pretty much every Democratic candidate for the nomination has stepped up to endorse him. (Even Tulsi Gabbard did so a month ago.) So now people are asking, what about Republicans? Especially “Never Trumpers”? Well, that dam is also starting to crack. The Lincoln Project posted this op-ed in the Washington Post today by George Conway, Reed Galen, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson: "We’ve never backed a Democrat for president. But Trump must be defeated."
The Lincoln Project says its mission is to defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box. "We do not undertake this task lightly nor from ideological preference. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain. However, the priority for all patriotic Americans must be a shared fidelity to the Constitution and a commitment to defeat those candidates who have abandoned their constitutional oaths, regardless of party. Electing Democrats who support the Constitution over Republicans who do not is a worthy effort."
[Also see the Lincoln Project's New York Times op-ed on December 17, 2019, below.]
Insects are being deployed in the war against invasive species in Connecticut. (Connecticut, April 15, 2020)
The emerald ash borer was first discovered in the U.S. in 2002 near Detroit, and it slowly expanded into ash forests in nearby states. It was found in New York in 2008 and Connecticut and Massachusetts in 2012, though it probably arrived a few years earlier. Although its rampage through the region isn’t expected to end before every mature ash tree is dead, scientists hope that efforts to control the insect by releasing the parasitic wasps will allow future generations of the trees to fend off the invader.
Non-native insects and plants have been invading the U.S. for more than a century, costing billions of dollars and causing significant ecological harm. Removing these invaders by conventional means — the application of chemical pesticides and herbicides or manual removal of plants — is a labor-intensive exercise that seldom works for long. And although biological control does not completely eliminate the problem either, practitioners say it is a self-sustaining strategy that is cost-effective and causes less harm to the environment than chemical methods.
Think This Pandemic Is Bad? We Have Another Crisis Coming. (New York Times, April 15, 2020)
On the last Friday in March, I lost hope.
I have always believed in America: not in our inherent goodness — I am too black for that — but in our sheer animal will to survive. Crisis after crisis, our country has evolved to meet the moment, even if that meant changing the way we thought the world worked or striving to upend the imbalance of power. But on that Friday, I was on my couch working when the messages started to pour in. Friends sent me video after video of Republican senators debating stimulus measures to address the coronavirus crisis, standing in the Senate chamber, saying that the Green New Deal — a proposal that I helped create — was the reason millions of Americans would not receive the help that they need.
I was furious. Of the nearly $2 trillion in aid proposed in that first version of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, $500 billion went toward a business-relief fund with little to no oversight. Fifty-eight billion of this was earmarked for airlines, and a lax definition of eligible businesses created a loophole for oil and gas. The bill included no climate protections, so the claim that it was being held up over Green New Deal provisions was absurd. And the changes proposed by Democrats — emissions reductions for airlines, limiting bailouts for fossil fuel industries, protections for airline workers — were modest.
The senators I saw did not mention those things. Nor did they mention that the airlines had requested $50 billion after spending $45 billion on stock buybacks over the past five years. They did not mention that emissions reductions requested would not be required until 2025 or that when they were, the reductions would be less than 3 percent per year. And no one stood up and asked why corporations should be exempt from loan terms when the rest of us are not. Why is it “opportunism” when we try to design policy that would address more than one problem at a time, but it’s “efficiency” when businesses do the same? (The final version of the CARES Act does not provide targeted funding for fossil fuels and reduced the aid for passenger airlines to $25 billion. None of the climate policies mentioned were included in the final version of the bill.)
Covid-19 and the economic collapse it has caused have laid bare how connected our problems are. Congress and the Federal Reserve are not going to lay out trillions of dollars, over and over, in perpetuity. Refusing to include measures related to climate and environmental justice in economic stimulus packages related to the coronavirus is not neutral when there is no guarantee of other opportunities to do so later. We need to design the stimulus not only to help the U.S. economy recover but to also become more resilient to the climate crisis, the next multitrillion-dollar crisis headed our way.
Addressing climate change is a big-enough idea to revive the economy.
New York Orders Residents to Wear Masks in Public. (New York Times, April 15, 2020)
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said all New Yorkers must wear face coverings when social distancing is not possible, including on public transport, in stores and on crowded sidewalks.
Ivanka Trump, Disregarding Federal Guidelines, Travels to N.J. for Passover. (New York Times, April 15, 2020)
Testing Falls Woefully Short as Trump Seeks an End to Stay-at-Home Orders. (New York Times, April 15, 2020)
Flawed tests, scarce supplies and limited access to screening have hurt the U.S.’s ability to monitor Covid-19, governors and health officials warn.
Locast Offers Free Local TV - No Antenna, No Cable, No Problem. (Ask Bob Rankin, April 15, 2020)
Locast takes broadcast TV signals from the air and converts them to streamable Internet content. A subscriber can stream content to their computer, TV, Roku, smartphone, or other device, enabling them to watch favorite shows anywhere or record them for later viewing. Yes, that means you can watch The Price is Right, Judge Judy, or local news broadcasts, even if you don't have an antenna on the roof, or cable TV service.
Copyright law restricts nonprofit re-transmissions to local markets in which a nonprofit’s antenna receives broadcast signals. So unlike Aereo, Locast sets up physical facilities in each market it chooses to serve. Since launching in New York City in January, 2018, Locast has expanded to Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Rapid City, San Francisco, Seattle, Sioux City, Sioux Falls, and Washington DC. Those markets include 36% of U.S. TV households, or about 42 million people.
Under the microscope: Just a splash of seawater (Dive-Shield, April 15, 2020)
Scoop up a bucket of seawater (or swallow a mouthful) and this is what you get: a bizarre menagerie of plants and animals, some of them known to us, others a complete mystery. The Earth's open seas are home to countless tiny animals and plants that are known collectively as plankton.
This extraordinary photograph shows a random splash of seawater, magnified 25 times.
[Or is it a sketch with dabs of water-color? But good!]
What the Administration is Missing About Huawei and 5G (The Standards Blog, April 15, 2020)
A few weeks ago it seemed likely that the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”), would issue new guidance that might free standards setting organizations (SSOs) from the difficult position they have found themselves in for almost a year. But that didn’t happen. Instead, most SSOs have concluded that they still cannot allow Huawei and its affiliated companies to return to the working groups that are creating the essential standards that will make the roll-out of 5G networks become possible.
How much does that matter in the context of the overall U.S.-Chinese confrontation? The answer is a great deal, as continuing to bar Huawei and other Chinese telecom giants from standards development may weaponize the patent portfolios of those companies in a way that could prove disastrous for the U.S. and other Western nations.
Apple: We respect your privacy so much we've revealed a little about what we can track when you use Maps. (The Register, April 15, 2020)
But we've only done it to help governments understand that virus thing you may have heard about lately.
April 2020 and – rest assured – your Windows PC can still be pwned by something so innocuous as an unruly font. (The Register, April 14, 2020)
Adobe and Intel add their woes.
We lost another good one: Mathematician John Conway loses Game of Life, taken by coronavirus at 82. (The Register, April 14, 2020)
British mathematician checks out.
Explore Two of Pompeii’s Newly-Excavated Homes in This Virtual Tour. (8-min. drone video; Mental Floss, April 14, 2020)
See drone footage of two middle-class houses and surrounding ruins, along with Italian commentary that explains what exactly you’re looking at and what types of people lived there in 79 AD. You can read a separate English translation.
Massive forest fires around Chernobyl power station put out. (New York Post, April 14, 2020)
Crews have prevented the flames from engulfing the radioactive waste sites in Chernobyl.
Officials said they registered short-term rises in Caesium-137 particles in the Kiev area about 60 miles south of the plant, but that radiation levels were within normal limits overall. They did not say why the particle levels rose.
Last week, officials said they tracked down a 27-year-old man suspected of igniting dry grass in the area. The man said he burned grass “for fun” and then failed to extinguish the flames when the wind caused them to spread.
[Hey, everybody needs a hobby.]
Coronavirus Has Paralyzed Europe’s Far Right. (Foreign Policy, April 14, 2020)
The continent's borders are closed, like extreme nationalists always wanted—but they're one of the pandemic's victims anyway.
Mapped: The World’s Ultra-Rich, by Country (Visual Capitalist, April 14, 2020)
The Wisconsin Results Should Worry Republicans Everywhere. (New York Magazine, April 14, 2020)
My initial reaction to the upset win by Jill Karofsky in Wisconsin’s officially nonpartisan but intensely ideological State Supreme Court election was all about karma: Republicans went to epic lengths to hold down turnout (including forcing citizens to vote in public despite the need for social distancing!) in order to reelect conservative judge Daniel Kelly, and lost anyway.
Indeed, they lost badly, as the final returns indicated, with Karofsky winning by ten points, achieving the standard definition of a landslide in a state where virtually every recent election has been close. Given Wisconsin’s key role in electing Donald Trump in 2016, and its potential status as a tipping-point state this year, the judicial results may have more national significance than one might immediately discern.
T]he scope and nature of Kelly’s defeat was historically humiliating. No incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court justice had been defeated since 2008, when a conservative challenger ousted liberal justice Louis Butler. That victory turned out to be part of a remarkable run for conservatives who would go on to build a 5-2 majority on the court. (It will now be 4-3.) And until Monday night, no incumbent conservative justice appointed by a Republican governor had been defeated.
Wisconsin’s map on Monday night looked like a dream general election result for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee — stronger than typical for Democrats in the suburbs, and a respectable showing among the state’s blue-collar white voters in rural counties.
Vote and Die: Covering Voter Suppression during the Coronavirus Pandemic (Nieman Reports, April 14, 2020)
The United States has a long history of disenfranchisement and voter suppression; struggles to achieve full voting rights are targeted by disinformation campaigns to keep already marginalized voters home on Election Day. As more of our political communication moves online, concern grows that misleading information is being micro-targeted to impact national and local elections. Research indicates that online voter suppression campaigns are tailored across race, class, and age. But, there is a gap in understanding how Covid-19 or health disparities may contribute to voter suppression
Journalists must cut through rampant disinformation around the pandemic to robustly report on efforts to suppress voting and delegitimize election results.
Trump declares himself a dictator. Blue-state governors organize. A breakup is now on the table. (Daily Kos, April 14, 2020)
Trump: "When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that's the way it's gotta be. It's total." Declaring his power “total” and claiming the states couldn’t do anything without his approval was just another whole level of delusional. Asked where such power derived, he said “We are going to write up papers on this. It's not going to be necessary because the governors need us one way or the other. Because ultimately it comes with the federal government.” Don’t ask what the hell he’s talking about. Even he doesn’t know.
We saw in Wisconsin how both their state Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court were happy to subvert democracy for their own partisan gains. The move backfired, Democrats won anyway, but it shows that we cannot depend on the judicial branch to defend our democracy.
California, which already calls itself a “nation-state,” has joined with Oregon and Washington to forge regional consensus on both the response to the pandemic, as well as how to best open their economies back up. (Hawaii shouldn’t be too far behind.) The same has happened in the East Coast, with New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts banding together. It is beyond remarkable that states have been forced to join for collective action because of the rank failure of Trump and the federal government. This isn’t just a difference of opinion, this is responding to Trump’s “I am in charge and my power is absolute” insanity with a big, fat, “screw-you.”
But it’s even more than that—it’s the seeds to something history-altering dramatic, a hint to what might happen if conservatives decide to overtly subvert democracy this November.
U.S. Governors Defy Trump by Forming Regional Alliances. (Foreign Policy, April 14, 2020)
In a move that puts them at odds with the White House, the governors plan to chart their own path.
Der Spiegel on Trump's America: 'Is the world witnessing the collapse of a superpower?' (Daily Kos, April 13, 2020)
Hares and Chickens Were Revered as Gods—Not Food—in Ancient Britain. (Smithsonian Magazine, April 13, 2020)
New research indicates that Iron Age Britons venerated brown hares and chickens long before modern Easter celebrations.
Apollo 13: Enhanced 50-year-old images reveal life on stricken spacecraft. (BBC News, April 13, 2020)
Deadly olive tree disease across Europe 'could cost over €20-Billion'. (BBC News, April 13, 2020)
Spread by insects, the bacterium now poses a potential threat to olive plantations in Spain and Greece. The disease could increase the costs of olive oil for consumers.
Xylella is considered to be one of the most dangerous pathogens for plants anywhere in the world. The organism is transmitted by sap-sucking insects such as spittlebugs. At present there is no cure for the infection. It can infect cherry, almond and plum trees as well as olives. It has become closely associated with olives after a strain was discovered in trees in Puglia in Italy in 2013.
Wildfires edge closer to Chernobyl nuclear plant. (BBC News, April 13, 2020)
[While we are diverted, global warming continues.]
Boston COVID-19 Community Care (via Sierra Club/Massachusetts Chapter, April 13, 2020)
There are drastic differences in how this pandemic impacts various populations. Check out this comprehensive Massachusetts mutual aid spreadsheet to support those in need during this time, or to ask for what you need. There are sections on health (mental and physical), housing, childcare, location-specific aid resources, and more.
In 2015 TED Talk, Bill Gates predicted an epidemic would kill millions. Here’s what he says now. (9-min. and 19-min. videos; Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2020)
George Stephanopoulos and wife positive for COVID-19. He's asymptomatic; she's 'never been sicker'. (Daily Kos, April 13, 2020)
Other TV News anchors also affected. Iceland reports 50% of COVID-1 positives are asymptomatic.
Airborne COVID-19 virus can travel 13 feet, Wuhan study suggests. (SF Gate, April 13, 2020)
“The aerosol distribution characteristics … indicate that the transmission distance of [COVID-19] might be 4 m (meters),” the report says. “Furthermore, half of the samples from the soles of the ICU medical staff shoes tested positive. Therefore, the soles of medical staff shoes might function as carriers.”
NEW: Life Under Lockdown in Wuhan, China (Bloomberg News, April 13, 2020)
Professional photographer Daniel Xie documented the eerie desolation of the quarantined city.
Stockpile of 39 million masks exposed as fake. (SF Gate, April 13, 2020)
A major California labor union that claimed to have discovered a stockpile of 39 million masks for health care workers fighting the coronavirus was duped in an elaborate scam uncovered by FBI investigators.
Investigators stumbled onto the scheme while looking into whether they could intercept the masks for the Federal Emergency Management Agency under the Defense Production Act. The federal government has been quietly seizing supplies across the country as the outbreak spreads. But in this case, there was no warehouse, and there were no masks to seize. Investigators tracked the tip back to a Pittsburgh businessman, who said he had been working with the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West to secure millions of masks. The businessman had been using WhatsApp to connect with a broker in Australia and a supplier in Kuwait, who are both now the target of a federal investigation.
One month after Rose Garden speech, Trump's pandemic response is near collapse. (Daily Kos, April 13, 2020)
The grand total of testing sites now, one month later? A National Public Radio report says the total has increased from five to eight.
We can't say that the failure is surprising. It has been clear, every week of the pandemic, that Trump's interest lies in making grandiose claims about his successes, not in actually succeeding. While even the most marginally competent leader might see a grand total of eight testing sites as an abject failure of a much-vaunted program, find the failure humiliating or infuriating, and seek to take action to remedy that failure, Trump's response is to continue to assert success while ignoring all such evidence.
The federal emergency response to a pandemic is in chaos, with nearly all aspects having so far collapsed. And Trump is a liar; he stood in the Rose Garden and lied, outright, about efforts that he and his administration never even bothered to further pursue.
Trump says it's his call when to ease virus rules, not governors', and threatens to fire Dr. Fauci. (Associated Press, April 13, 2020)
President Donald Trump claimed the authority Monday to decide how and when to reopen the economy after weeks of tough social distancing guidelines aimed at fighting the new coronavirus. But governors from both parties were quick to push back, noting they have the primary constitutional responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states and would decide when it's safe to begin a return to normal operations.
Trump's claim that he could force governors to reopen their states represents a dramatic shift in tone. For weeks now, Trump has argued that states, not the federal government, should lead the response to the crisis. And he has refused to publicly pressure states to enact stay-at-home restrictions, citing his belief in local control of government.
Trump's frustration was amplified by comments made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's nation’s top infectious diseases expert. Asked Sunday on CNN if acting earlier could have saved lives, Fauci said that, "obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated.”
Trump responded by reposting a tweet that referenced Fauci’s comments and included the line, “Time to #FireFauci," raising alarms that Trump might consider trying to oust the doctor. Fauci, 79, has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations and has emerged as one of the most recognizable and trusted faces of the federal government’s response.
NEW: The U.S. Postal Service Has Never Been More Important, or More Endangered. (Bloomberg, April 13, 2020)
The agency was already facing tumbling mail volume, financial losses, and hostility from Washington. And then coronavirus hit.
Independents are abandoning Trump. (Daily Kos, April 13, 2020)
Independents disapprove of Trump’s coronavirus performance in every state, and by large margins in the key battlegrounds of Arizona (36-62, or a -26 net approvals), Florida (-8), Georgia (-23), Michigan (-13), North Carolina (-18), Pennsylvania (-17), and Wisconsin (-24). In every one of these states, those numbers have fallen in the last two weeks. It’s a uniform nationwide realization that maybe, just maybe, the country isn’t going in the right direction.
How Mitch McConnell Became Trump’s Enabler-in-Chief (The New Yorker, April 13, 2020)
The Senate Majority Leader’s refusal to rein in the President is looking riskier than ever.
On Thursday, March 12th, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, could have insisted that he and his colleagues work through the weekend to hammer out an emergency aid package addressing the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, he recessed the Senate for a long weekend, and returned home to Louisville, Kentucky. McConnell, a seventy-eight-year-old Republican who is about to complete his sixth term as a senator, planned to attend a celebration for a protégé, Justin Walker, a federal judge who was once his Senate intern. McConnell has helped install nearly two hundred conservatives as judges; stocking the judiciary has been his legacy project.
McConnell, who is known as one of the wiliest politicians in Washington, soon reframed the narrative as a personal success story. In Kentucky, where he is running for reëlection, he launched a campaign ad about the bill’s passage, boasting, “One leader brought our divided country together.” At the same time, he attacked the Democrats, telling a radio host that the impeachment of Trump had “diverted the attention of the government” when the epidemic was in its early stages. In fact, several senators—including Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, and Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut—had raised alarms about the virus nearly two months before the Administration acted, whereas Trump had told reporters around the same time that he was “not concerned at all.” And on February 27th, some three weeks after the impeachment trial ended, McConnell had defended the Administration’s response, accusing Democrats of “performative outrage” when they demanded more emergency funding.
Many have regarded McConnell’s support for Trump as a stroke of cynical political genius. McConnell has seemed to be both protecting his caucus and covering his flank in Kentucky—a deep-red state where, perhaps not coincidentally, Trump is far more popular than he is. When the pandemic took hold, the President’s standing initially rose in national polls, and McConnell and Trump will surely both take credit for the aid package in the coming months. Yet, as COVID-19 decimates the economy and kills Americans across the nation, McConnell’s alliance with Trump is looking riskier.
 Indeed, some critics argue that McConnell bears a singular responsibility for the country’s predicament. They say that he knew from the start that Trump was unequipped to lead in a crisis, but, because the President was beloved by the Republican base, McConnell protected him. He even went so far as to prohibit witnesses at the impeachment trial, thus guaranteeing that the President would remain in office.
Trump was the moral test, and the Republican Party failed. It’s an utter disaster for the long-term fate of the Party. The Party has become an obsession with power without purpose.
Bill Kristol, a formerly stalwart conservative who has become a leading Trump critic, describes McConnell as “a pretty conventional Republican who just decided to go along and get what he could out of Trump.” Under McConnell’s leadership, the Senate, far from providing a check on the executive branch, has acted as an accelerant. “Demagogues like Trump, if they can get elected, can’t really govern unless they have people like McConnell,” Kristol said. McConnell has stayed largely silent about the President’s lies and inflammatory public remarks, and has propped up the Administration with legislative and judicial victories.
McConnell and the President are not a natural pair. A former Trump Administration official, who has also worked in the Senate, observed, “It would be hard to find two people less alike in temperament in the political arena. With Trump, there’s rarely an unspoken thought. McConnell is the opposite—he’s constantly thinking but says as little as possible.” The former Administration official went on, “Trump is about winning the day, or even the hour. McConnell plays the long game. He’s sensitive to the political realities. His North Star is continuing as Majority Leader—it’s really the only thing for him. He’s patient, sly, and will obfuscate to make less apparent the ways he’s moving toward a goal.” The two men also have different political orientations: “Trump is a populist—he’s not just anti-élitist, he’s anti-institutionalist.” As for McConnell, “no one with a straight face would ever call him a populist—Trump came to drain the swamp, and now he’s working with the biggest swamp creature of them all.”
When Trump ran for President, he frequently derided “the corrupt political establishment,” saying that Wall Street titans were “getting away with murder” by paying no taxes. In a furious campaign ad, images of the New York Stock Exchange and the C.E.O. of Goldman Sachs flashed onscreen as he promised an end to the élites who had “bled our country dry.” In interviews, he denounced his opponents for begging wealthy donors for campaign contributions, arguing that, if “somebody gives them money,” then “just psychologically, when they go to that person they’re going to do it—they owe him.”
McConnell, by contrast, is the master of the Washington money machine. Nobody has done more than he has to engineer the current campaign-finance system, in which billionaires and corporations have virtually no spending limits, and self-dealing and influence-peddling are commonplace. Rick Wilson, a Never Trumper Republican and a former political consultant who once worked on races with McConnell’s team, said, “McConnell’s an astounding behind-the-scenes operator who’s got control of the most successful fund-raising operation in history.” Former McConnell staffers run an array of ostensibly independent spending groups, many of which take tens of millions of dollars from undisclosed donors. Wilson considers McConnell, who has been Majority Leader since 2015, a realist who does whatever is necessary to preserve both his own political survival and the Republicans’ edge in the Senate, which now stands at 53–47. “He feels no shame about it,” he said. “McConnell has been the most powerful force normalizing Trump in Washington.”
McConnell’s political fealty to Trump has cost him the respect of some of the people who have known him the longest. McConnell also appears to have lost the political support of his three daughters. All three daughters declined to comment, as did their mother, Sherrill Redmon, whom McConnell divorced in 1980. After the marriage ended, Redmon, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, left Kentucky and took over a women’s-history archive at Smith College, in Massachusetts, where she collaborated with Gloria Steinem on the Voices of Feminism Oral History Project. In an e-mail, Steinem told me that Redmon rarely spoke about McConnell, and noted, “Despite Sherrill’s devotion to recording all of women’s lives, she didn’t talk about the earlier part of her own.” Steinem’s understanding was that McConnell’s political views had once been different. “I can only imagine how painful it must be to marry and have children with a democratic Jekyll and see him turn into a corrupt and authoritarian Hyde,” she wrote.
Although McConnell and Trump almost always support each other in public, several members of McConnell’s innermost circle told me that in private things are quite different. They say that behind Trump’s back McConnell has called the President “nuts,” and made clear that he considers himself smarter than Trump, and that he “can’t stand him.” (A spokesman for McConnell, who declined to be interviewed, denies this.)
In a forthcoming book, “Let Them Eat Tweets,” the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson challenge the notion that the Republican Party is riven between global corporate élites and downscale white social conservatives. Rather, they argue, an “expedient pact” lies at the heart of today’s Party—and McConnell and Trump embody it. Polls show that there is little voter support for wealthy donors’ agenda of tax cuts for themselves at the expense of social-safety-net cuts for others. The Republicans’ 2017 tax bill was a case in point: it rewarded the Party’s biggest donors by bestowing more than eighty per cent of its largesse on the wealthiest one per cent, by cutting corporate tax rates, and by preserving the carried-interest loophole, which is exploited by private-equity firms and hedge funds. The legislation was unpopular with Democratic and Republican voters alike. In order to win elections, Hacker and Pierson explain, the Republican Party has had to form a coalition between corporatists and white cultural conservatives who are galvanized by Trump’s anti-élitist and racist rhetoric. The authors call this hybrid strategy Plutocratic Populism. Hacker told me that the relationship between McConnell and Trump offers “a clear illustration of how the Party has evolved,” adding, “They may detest each other, but they need each other.”
[That's just the start of this big, must-read article! I'll add the following little chunk, re 2017 actions leading to this year's Trump/McConnell Coronavirus Pandemic.]
The costs of the Senate’s dysfunction stretch in all directions, and include America’s vulnerability in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. For seven years after Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, passed, in 2010, Republicans in Congress tried at least sixty times to repeal it. In 2017, McConnell, who called it “the worst bill in modern history,” led the charge again and, among other things, personally introduced a little-noticed amendment to eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which provided grants to states for detecting and responding to infectious-disease outbreaks, among other things. The fund received approximately a billion dollars a year and constituted more than twelve per cent of the C.D.C.’s annual budget. Almost two-thirds of the money went to state and local health departments, including a program called Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Prevention and Control of Emerging Infectious Diseases, in Kentucky.
Hundreds of health organizations, including the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, sent a letter to McConnell and other congressional leaders, warning them of “dire consequences” if the Prevention Fund was eliminated. Public-health programs dealing with infectious-disease outbreaks had never been restored to the levels they were at before the 2008 crash and were “critically underfunded.” The letter concluded, “Eliminating the Prevention Fund would be disastrous.”
In a column in Forbes, Judy Stone, an infectious-disease specialist, asked, “Worried about bird flu coming from Asia? Ebola? Zika? You damn well should be. Monitoring and control will be slashed by the Senate proposal and outbreaks of illness (infectious and other) will undoubtedly worsen.” The cuts, she wrote, were “unconscionable—particularly given that the savings will go to tax cuts for the wealthiest rather than meeting the basic health needs of the public.”
On July 28, 2017, a dramatic thumbs-down vote by Senator John McCain stopped Senate Republicans from eliminating the entire Affordable Care Act, including money for the Prevention Fund. McConnell and other Republicans subsequently tried again to gut the C.D.C. fund. Much of the funding survived, although some of it was later shifted, with bipartisan support, to cancer research and other activities. McConnell’s attempt to kill the fund was just a small piece of the Republicans’ much larger undermining of Obamacare. According to Jeff Levi, a professor of public health at George Washington University, one result of the Republicans’ efforts is that many Americans who lack insurance “will likely avoid getting tested and treated for COVID-19, because they fear the costs.”
Chinese Aircraft Carrier Sails into Pacific as State Media Mock U.S. Navy's Coronavirus Troubles. (Newsweek, April 13, 2020)
Nearly 600 USS Theodore Roosevelt Sailors Catch Coronavirus, Navy Evacuates Thousands From Aircraft Carrier. (Newsweek, April 13, 2020)
NEW: We Need to Talk About What Coronavirus Recoveries Look Like. (New York Times, April 13, 2020)
They’re a lot more complicated than most people realize.
When I tested positive for coronavirus on March 17, I didn’t know what to expect. Much remains unknown about the virus, and many of the symptoms I experienced, such as gastrointestinal issues and loss of smell, were only just being identified. In the weeks since, the world has learned more about what the virus’s symptoms can look like, but we still don’t know much about the long-term health impacts, the possibility of immunity, how long infected patients remain contagious, or what recovery looks like. We need to start paying closer attention to the stories of coronavirus survivors.
When I first came home from the hospital, I felt alone in my healing process. I wanted information, and to connect with others who shared my experience, so I started an online support group for people experiencing Covid-19 symptoms or recovering from the virus. Over the past two weeks, people from all over the world have joined. And one of the most common topics of discussion has been how complicated the recovery process has been — more complicated than is widely realized. People have shared stories of symptoms cycling on and off, and recoveries — even for mild cases — that have taken much longer than two weeks.
The Coronavirus Class Divide: Space and Privacy (New York Times, April 12, 2020)
“Shelter in place” is a dictate that assumes the existence of shelter — the safe, stable, controlled environment that poor people often lack.
Quantum Theory Proves That Consciousness Moves To Another Universe After Death? (Physics and Astronomy Zone, April 12, 2020)
A book titled “Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the Nature of the Universe” has stirred up the Internet, because it contained a notion that life does not end when the body dies, and it can last forever. The author of this publication, scientist Dr. Robert Lanza who was voted the 3rd most important scientist alive by the NY Times, has no doubts that this is possible.
Fox News host hits back at Trump over Chris Wallace criticism: 'Enough with the 3rd grade name-calling.' (The Hill, April 12, 2020)
White House rejects bailout for U.S. Postal Service battered by coronavirus. (Washington Post, April 11, 2020)
The pandemic has pushed USPS to the brink, but Trump and Mnuchin shot down emergency aid.
The secret weapon in the fight against coronavirus: women. (The Guardian, April 11, 2020)
What do Germany, Taiwan and New Zealand have in common? Well, they’ve all got female leaders and they’re all doing an exceptional job in their response to the coronavirus crisis. Denmark (ditto) and Finland (whose female prime minister is the head of a coalition whose four other parties are all led by women) are also doing noteworthy jobs in containing coronavirus.
Being a woman doesn’t make you better at handling a global pandemic – but women generally have to be better in order to become leaders.
He Could Have Seen What Was Coming: Behind Trump’s Failure on the Virus (New York Times, April 11, 2020)
“Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion,” President Trump said last month. He has repeatedly said that no one could have seen the effects of the coronavirus coming. An examination reveals the president was warned about the potential for a pandemic but that internal divisions, lack of planning and his faith in his own instincts led to a halting response.
Apple and Google are building coronavirus tracking into iOS and Android. (MIT Technology Review, April 10, 2020)
Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting. (Medium, April 10, 2020)
Gaslighting, if you don’t know the word, is defined as: manipulation into doubting your own sanity.
Pretty soon, as the country begins to figure out how we “open back up” and move forward, very powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal. That never happened. What are you talking about? Billions of dollars will be spent in advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make you feel comfortable again. I urge you to be well aware of what is coming.
For the last hundred years, the multi-billion-dollar advertising business has operated based on this cardinal principle: find the consumer’s problem and fix it with your product. When the problem is practical and tactical, the solution is “as seen on TV” and available at Home Depot. But when the problem is emotional, the fix becomes a new staple in your life, and you become a lifelong loyalist. Coca-Cola makes you: happy. A Mercedes makes you: successful. Taking your kids to Disneyland makes you: proud. Smart marketers know how to highlight what brands can do for you to make your life easier. But brilliant marketers know how to re-wire your heart. And, make no mistake, the heart is what has been most traumatized this last month. We are, as a society, now vulnerable in a whole new way.
What the trauma has shown us, though, cannot be unseen. A carless Los Angeles has clear blue skies as pollution has simply stopped. In a quiet New York, you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue. Coyotes have been spotted on the Golden Gate Bridge. These are the postcard images of what the world might be like if we could find a way to have a less deadly daily effect on the planet.
Our way of life is not ruinous. The economy is not, at its core, evil. Brands and their products create millions of jobs. They make up a system that keeps us living long and strong. We have lifted more humans out of poverty through the power of economics than any other civilization in history. Yes, without a doubt, Americanism is a force for good. It is not some villainous plot to wreak havoc and destroy the planet and all our souls along with it. I get it. But its flaws have been laid bare for all to see. It doesn’t work for everyone. It’s responsible for great destruction. It is so unevenly distributed in its benefit that three men own more wealth than 150 million people. Its intentions have been perverted and the protection it offers has disappeared. In fact, it’s been brought to its knees by one pangolin.
And so the onslaught is coming. Get ready, my friends. What is about to be unleashed on American society will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again. It will come from brands, it will come from government, it will even come from each other, and it will come from the left and from the right. We will do anything, spend anything, believe anything, just so we can take away how horribly uncomfortable all of this feels. And on top of that, just to turn the screw that much more, will be the only effort even greater: the all-out blitz to make you believe you never saw what you saw. The air wasn’t really cleaner; those images were fake. The hospitals weren’t really a war zone; those stories were hyperbole. The numbers were not that high; the press is lying. You didn’t see people in masks standing in the rain risking their lives to vote. Not in America. You didn’t see the leader of the free world push an unproven miracle drug like a late-night infomercial salesman. That was a crisis update. You didn’t see homeless people dead on the street. You didn’t see inequality. You didn’t see indifference. You didn’t see utter failure of leadership and systems. But you did. And so we are about to be gaslit in a truly unprecedented way. It starts with a check for $1,200 — don’t say I never gave you anything — and then it will be so big that it will be bigly. And it will be a one-two punch from both big business and the big white house — inextricably intertwined now more than ever and being led by, as our luck would have it, a Marketer-in-Chief. Business and government are about to band together to knock us unconscious again. It will be funded like no other operation in our lifetimes. It will be fast. It will be furious. And it will be overwhelming. The Great American Return to Normal is coming.
From one citizen to another, I beg of you: take a deep breath, ignore the deafening noise, and think deeply about what you want to put back into your life. This is our chance to define a new version of normal, a rare and truly sacred (yes, sacred) opportunity to get rid of the bullshit and to only bring back what works for us, what makes our lives richer, what makes our kids happier, what makes us truly proud.
Trump calls reopening U.S. economy ‘biggest decision of my life’ as his advisers urge against rushing. (NY Daily News, April 10, 2020)
The Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services warned in a joint report Friday that as many as 200,000 Americans could die if the restrictions are lifted on April 30. Trump told reporters at the White House he hadn’t seen that report and reiterated his dubious belief that people will die regardless. “Staying at home leads to death also. It’s very traumatic for this country," Trump said. “But staying at home, if you look at numbers, that leads to a different kind of death, perhaps ... so it’s a very big decision. It’s the biggest decision I will ever make.”
Trump’s daily White House coronavirus briefings have been marred by contradiction and misinformation, as the president tends to offer one set of advice and his health experts another. The president also frequently veered off-topic, including jokingly telling Fauci at Friday’s briefing that he should move back to his native New York City and launch a campaign to unseat progressive Queens-Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Trump said he ultimately wouldn’t rely on anyone or anything but himself to make the momentous decision. “The metrics right here," Trump said, pointing to his head, when a reporter asked what sort of data he’ll lean on. "That’s my metrics. That’s all I can do.”
[No! You could listen to experts.]
Trump responds to Wall Street Journal criticism of his daily clown show briefings. (Daily Kos, April 10, 2020)
NEW: The Supreme Court is poised to extend gun rights at the worst possible time. (Raw Story, April 9, 2020)
As the deadly COVID-19 contagion sweeps across the country, gun sales are surging, spurred in many regions by panic buying and purchases by first-time firearm owners. Fearful and insecure Americans are taking advantage of weak and ineffective gun-control laws and stocking up, as President Trump might say, “like never before.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is poised to issue its first major Second Amendment opinion in more than a decade in a case that originated, fittingly, in New York City, now the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. The case—New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York—has the potential to vastly extend the rights of gun owners, and not just in New York, but throughout the entire nation.
Trump to launch second pandemic task force, one that does away with irritating medical experts. (Daily Kos, April 9, 2020)
The Wall Street Journal Board Has Had Enough Of Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Briefings. (Huffington Post, April 9, 2020)
In the editorial titled “Trump’s Wasted Briefings,” the conservative newspaper’s board said the pressers had started off as “a good idea to educate the public” about the pandemic but had now descended into “a boring show of President Vs. the press” after Trump decided to make them all about himself. Trump’s frequent “outbursts against his political critics” were “notably off-key at this moment” given the “once-a-century threat to American life and livelihood,” it added, noting how public health officials have in the briefings been relegated to the role of “supporting actors.”
“If Mr. Trump thinks these daily sessions will help him defeat Joe Biden, he’s wrong,” the board wrote, suggesting Trump’s 2020 campaign against the de facto Democratic nominee Biden is “about one issue: how well the public thinks the President has done in defeating the virus and restarting the economy.”
White House reverses position after blocking health officials from appearing on CNN. (CNN, April 9, 2020)
Vice President Mike Pence's office reversed course on Thursday afternoon, after declining for days to allow the nation's top health officials to appear on CNN and discuss the coronavirus pandemic, in what was an attempt to pressure the network into carrying the White House's lengthy daily briefings in full.
After this story was published, Pence's office allowed the bookings.
Emily Maitlis, BBC: They tell us Coronavirus is a great leveller. It's not. (4-min. video; BBC, April 9, 2020)
The Invisible Vector (Hakai Magazine, April 9, 2020)
Ships and their crews crisscross the planet, but their travels are largely unaccounted for in epidemiological modeling.
AIS is a global tracking program that all passenger ships, international ships over 270 tonnes, and cargo ships over 450 tonnes are legally required to take part in. Over a half million vessels carry onboard transceivers that broadcast messages on the ship’s location, speed, course, destination, and estimated time of arrival, as well as static information like the ship’s name, type, and size.
With so many messages coming at any given time from the hundreds of thousands of ships at sea, scientists could better understand the risk of a disease crisscrossing the planet.
Despite ships’ close association with historical pandemics, they have been overlooked. That’s largely down to the field’s reliance on aviation data, which dwarfs maritime traffic with nearly 40 million flights in 2019. The stories of cruise ships being floating infection hubs, however, might make using ship data seem less far-fetched.
Korean CDC investigates possible reactivation as 51 coronavirus patients retest positive after recovery. (Daily Kos, April 9, 2020)
Study from China raises serious questions about both COVID-19 immunity and vaccine effectiveness. (Daily Kos, April 9, 2020)
Since the early weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak in Hubei province, China, there have been reports of patients who were released after testing negative for the virus, only to test positive again at a later date. These numbers have definitely raised concerns over whether it is possible to be reinfected by 2019 novel coronavirus, and whether having the disease and recovering really confers lasting immunity. On the other hand, there has been every reason to expect that immunity is a given, based on the example of many similar viruses.
A new study in Shanghai may have the answer: Having COVID-19 provides lasting, strong immunity … for most people. But there may actually be a group that’s vulnerable to reinfection, and that group may not be what anyone was expecting. While the distribution of those catching COVID-19 may be more or less even across age brackets, the distribution of these “low antibodies” cases was not. Most of those who had low antibodies were young. In fact, the study showed the level of antibodies increased with age. Patients over 60 had three times the amount of antibodies as those under 40, even though both groups had mild cases of COVID-19.
If accurate, these results have a number of considerations:
- A portion of low-symptom COVID-19 patients may be subject to reinfection or rebound. It’s completely unclear whether a second round of infection is more or less mild than the first round, or whether this second round would increase the number of antibodies present.
- This weak response to the virus may also have implications for teams working on vaccines for COVID-19. If the fragments of the virus chosen for vaccine mimic this result, some portion of those vaccinated might not develop sufficient antibodies to proof them against infection. This may lead to suggestions for increased dosages or multiple-shot vaccines.
- A portion of those now considered “safe” because they’ve had the disease and recovered may be subject to reinfection, representing a danger to both themselves and acting as a vector to others.
- Vaccines may actually work better for the older population most at risk from the COVID-19 infection.
All of this is very early, unconfirmed research and 175 patients is still a very small group to characterize the tens of thousands who have already recovered from COVID-19 or the millions who will follow. Nothing about this study suggests that it was done in any randomized way, and the lack of peer review on the published paper means that there could be serious issues in methodology, even aside from some obvious issues with how the test group was defined.
One very interesting point: The researchers in Shanghai excluded any patients who had more serious cases of COVID-19 from the study exactly because use of plasma or antibodies from recovered patients has become common in treatment of critical cases there. So in anyone who had a more serious cases of COVID-19, they would have a mix of their own antibodies and those given to them as treatment. That this treatment has become so common in the country where the pandemic began may suggest that they’ve seen good results with these treatments. But, just as with the antibody study covered here, those results don’t seem to be well-documented.
Ventilators: From the "Iron Lung" to the Coronavirus (Quartz, April 9, 2020)
The history of the device we forgot we'd need more of - and what's being innovated now.
China Holds Navy Drills in Pacific As U.S. Aircraft Carriers Hit by Coronavirus. (Newsweek, April 9, 2020)
Oversight erased, Supreme Court hijacked: Trump turns the presidency into a dictatorship. (USA Today, April 9, 2020)
In the course of three days, Trump fired an IG for telling the truth, attacked another for exposing the totality of a health care pandemic, and removed another in a brazen effort to avoid being held accountable for how trillions of taxpayer dollars will be allocated. The sum of these actions is nothing short of blatant corruption in plain sight. Free from the limitations of accountability, there is nothing stopping the president from turning the so-called “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (CARES Act) into a $2 trillion personal slush fund.
Trump feels empowered to obliterate the guardrails of checks and balances. Bit by bit, he has stripped away the levers of oversight until there's nothing left. It started by ignoring congressional subpoenas for his financial records. It continued as Trump refused to cooperate with the House impeachment investigation, stonewalling Congress’ attempts to hear witness testimony and conduct depositions with administration officials close to the president. And now he is leading a purge of the final remaining frontier of oversight — the inspectors general.
Trump has stripped away the levers of independent oversight until there's nothing left. Our democracy is in the midst of a three-alarm fire.
NEW: These New Solar-Pavement Driveways Made of Plastic Bottles Can Power the Average Household. (Good News Network, April 9, 2020)
Sanders ends White House bid, clears way for Biden’s nomination. (Washington Post, April 8, 2020)
The exit by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 78-year-old democratic socialist from Vermont, marked the close of a roller-coaster primary race. The move came after decisive losses to Joe Biden and the novel coronavirus pandemic that halted all traditional forms of campaigning.
Humans living in Amazon 10,000 years ago cultivated plants. (The Guardian, April 8, 2020)
The new findings from Bolivia offer direct evidence such plants were grown in south-west Amazonia, meaning the region has a claim to join the Middle East, China, south-west Mexico and north-west South America as locations where wild plants were domesticated shortly after the last ice age.
What The Heck Is This Long, Hypnotic Stringy Thing Floating in The Indian Ocean? (Science Alert, April 8, 2020)
Known in some regions as the "long stringy stingy thingy", siphonophores blur the line between organ and organism. They somehow manage to be both at once.
"The whole thing looks like one animal, but it's many thousands of individuals which form an entity on a higher level," marine biologist Stefan Siebert of Brown University told Wired.
Our Journey to a Better Internet (Mozilla Foundation, April 8, 2020)
The internet is now our lifeline, as a good portion of humanity lives as close to home as possible. Those who currently don’t have access will feel this need ever more acutely. The qualities of online life increasingly impact all of our lives.
Mozilla exists to improve the nature of online life: to build the technology and products and communities that make a better internet. An internet that is accessible, safe, promotes human dignity, and combines the benefits of “open” with accountability and responsibility to promote healthy societies.
NEW: Google bans its employees from using Zoom over security concerns. (The Verge, April 8, 2020)
The Zoom backlash has arrived at Google.
Coronavirus home work: Zoom sued over security lapses as stock slides. (ZDNet, April 8, 2020)
Zoom faces class action, as security criticisms hit its share price, which has skyrocketed in the coronavirus pandemic.
Zoom's fall: Google bans Zoom from staffers' gear. (ZDNet, April 8, 2020)
Google follows many others in banning use of the popular but troubled Zoom video-conferencing program. This move comes after Taiwan told government employees not to use Zoom. Earlier, New York schools told its teachers to "gradually transition" from Zoom to another video-conferencing service. Other groups are also distancing from Zoom.
Zoom just announced that former Facebook CSO Alex Stamos is joining Zoom as outside security consultant.
[Facebook? WHOSE security?]
Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 (US Centers for Disease Control, April 8, 2020)
The Pandemic Economy: What are Shoppers Buying Online During COVID-19? (Visual Capitalist, April 8, 2020)
A funeral and a birthday party: CDC traces Chicago coronavirus outbreak to two family gatherings. (Washington Post, April 8, 2020)
Case study shows how a single person can set off a chain reaction of infections.
Most New York Coronavirus Cases Came From Europe, Genomes Show. (New York Times, April 8, 2020)
Travelers seeded multiple cases starting as early as mid-February, genomes show. Two teams analyzed genomes from coronaviruses taken from New Yorkers starting in mid-March. The research revealed a previously hidden spread of the virus that might have been detected if aggressive testing programs had been put in place.
On Jan. 31, President Trump barred foreign nationals from entering the country if they had been in China during the prior two weeks.
The genome of the new virus contains a number of mutations in common with strains of coronaviruses that infect bats. The most closely related coronavirus is in a Chinese horseshoe bat, the researchers found. But the new virus has gained some unique mutations since splitting off from that bat virus decades ago. That ancestral virus probably gave rise to a number of strains that infected horseshoe bats, and perhaps sometimes other animals.
The deepest branches of the tree all belong to lineages from China. The Nextstrain team has also used the mutation rate to determine that the virus probably first moved into humans from an animal host in late 2019. On Dec. 31, China announced that doctors in Wuhan were treating dozens of cases of a mysterious new respiratory illness.
In January, as the scope of the catastrophe in China became clear, a few countries started an aggressive testing program. They were able to track the arrival of the virus on their territory and track its spread through their populations. But the United States fumbled in making its first diagnostic kits and initially limited testing only to people who had come from China and displayed symptoms of Covid-19. “It was a disaster, that we didn’t do testing.”
While the coronavirus mutations are useful for telling lineages apart, they don’t have any apparent effect on how the virus works. That’s good news for scientists working on a vaccine. Some viruses evolve so quickly that they require vaccines that can produce several different antibodies. That’s not the case for Covid-19. Like other coronaviruses, it has a relatively slow mutation rate compared to some viruses, like influenza.
Trump team blocked Colorado order for 500 ventilators. Now Trump says he'll give them 100 instead. (Daily Kos, April 8, 2020)
NEW: Prediction models for diagnosis and prognosis of covid-19 infection: systematic review and critical appraisal (British Medical Journal, April 7, 2020)
Prediction models for covid-19 are quickly entering the academic literature to support medical decision making at a time when they are urgently needed. This review indicates that proposed models are poorly reported, at high risk of bias, and their reported performance is probably optimistic.
Voting in Wisconsin During a Pandemic: Lines, Masks and Plenty of Fear (New York Times, April 7, 2020)
Wisconsin’s primary showed an electoral system stretched to the breaking point by the coronavirus crisis, as people weighed the health risks against their desire to vote. Many others across the state, however, appeared inclined to stay home as the fear of contracting the disease outweighed their desire to participate in the most fundamental ritual of democracy. Late Monday, Republicans in the state legislature had gone to court to block the Democratic governor’s order to postpone the primary.
“No one should have to choose between risking their health and possibly dying and going to vote,” said a county supervisor for Milwaukee. She said she was unsure she could vote safely after having been exposed to the coronavirus herself.
In Milwaukee — where the number of polling stations was reduced from 180 to only five — voters tried to exercise proper social distancing as they waited, in some cases, for more than two hours. Milwaukee has the biggest minority population in the state, which means that geographic and partisan differences in access to voting often overlap with racial ones.
The scenes that unfolded in Wisconsin showed an electoral system stretched to the breaking point by the same public health catastrophe that has killed thousands and brought the country’s economic and social patterns to a virtual standstill in recent weeks. And in Wisconsin, the political institutions proved overmatched, with a Republican legislature and a conservative state and federal judiciary resisting efforts to reschedule the election or revise the procedures for voting.
The result was a dangerous spectacle that forced voters to choose between participating in an important election and protecting their health. While election administrators said they were trying in myriad ways to make the voting process safer, the long lines, last-minute judicial rulings and backlogged absentee ballot requests added up to something resembling system failure. Ellie Bradish, for instance, said she was forced to vote in person in Milwaukee after attempts at early voting and absentee voting failed.
The array of procedural problems led some state party officials to predict that the results would be contested by whichever side loses. National voting rights experts said the turmoil and acrimony surrounding the election could be an unsettling example of what might happen across the country later this spring if states do not manage to implement new methods of voting during the coronavirus outbreak — or even in the November general election if the pandemic has not abated by then.
An Unconscionable Choice for Wisconsin Voters Highlights Need for States to Prepare for November. (Public Citizen, April 7, 2020)
Today millions of Wisconsin voters are faced with the choice of protecting their health and for some, their lives, or losing their right to vote. Every voter deserves a chance to cast their ballot safely by mail, drop box or curbside, or to be able to vote early. Forcing voters to choose between preserving their health and casting a ballot is unconscionable.
Wisconsin State House Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) proclaimed by their refusal to delay today’s state primary that they will require people to put their lives at risk to gain what they view as an election advantage for their party. They know that voters risk contracting COVID19 if they go to the polls today and that some of those who get sick may die. They know that both Republicans and Democrats are still waiting for absentee ballots that will not arrive on time.
But Vos and Fitzgerald know that, with only five polling locations open in the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee, holding the election now will suppress the Democratic vote more than the GOP vote. That outcome will skew votes for some statewide elections, such as for the state Supreme Court, to their party. The conservative-led Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed that the election should be held, even if it means that some voters will have to risk death. The U.S. Supreme Court later blocked a federal court order allowing an additional week for absentee voting.
Acting Navy Secretary Resigns After Outcry Over Criticism of Virus-Stricken Crew. (New York Times, April 7, 2020)
Thomas B. Modly, the acting Navy secretary, resigned Tuesday after his bungled response to an outbreak of the novel coronavirus aboard the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt engulfed the Navy in a command crisis and a public relations disaster. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper accepted Mr. Modly’s resignation Tuesday morning, as a growing chorus of lawmakers and former military officials called for the firing of the acting Navy secretary, who single-handedly turned a health issue into a crisis of morals and morale for the Navy.
Mr. Modly became the acting Navy secretary after Mr. Trump fired Richard V. Spencer in November. He will be succeeded by yet another acting secretary, Mr. Esper said. The move continues the revolving door of appointees that has characterized the Defense Department’s civilian leadership since Mr. Trump came to power. Next up for the Navy’s top civilian job, Mr. Esper said, will be Jim McPherson, the current Army under secretary.
Trump Ousts Pandemic Spending Watchdog Known for Independence. (New York Times, April 7, 2020)
President Trump moved on Tuesday to oust the leader of a new watchdog panel charged with overseeing how his administration spends trillions of taxpayer dollars in coronavirus pandemic relief, the latest step in an abruptly unfolding White House power play against semi-independent inspectors general across the government. The official, Glenn A. Fine, has been the acting inspector general for the Defense Department since before Mr. Trump took office and was set to become the chairman of a new Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to police how the government carries out the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill. But Mr. Trump replaced Mr. Fine in his Pentagon job, disqualifying him from serving on the new oversight panel.
The move came at a time when the president has been reasserting authority over the executive branch and signaling impatience with independent voices within the government that he considers disloyal. In recent days, he fired an inspector general who reviewed the whistle-blower complaint that led to his impeachment, nominated a White House aide to another key inspector general post, declared that he would ignore certain oversight provisions in the new relief law and attacked another inspector general who criticized virus testing shortages.
Mr. Trump even cheered the firing of the captain of an aircraft carrier for sending a letter to fellow Navy officers pleading for help for his virus-stricken crew, castigating the officer for airing unfavorable information. Only after a loud backlash over the firing and the acting Navy secretary’s speech calling the captain “stupid” did the president partly reverse himself and say he would look into it. The acting Navy secretary, who said he had ordered the firing because he assumed Mr. Trump might have done it himself otherwise, took the hint and resigned on Tuesday.
How COVID-19 Has Impacted Media Consumption, by Generation (Visual Capitalist, April 7, 2020)
Paul Krugman: And Now For Something Completely Different (New York Times, April 7, 2020)
The coronavirus slump actually makes the case against universal basic income, even though part of that $2 trillion not-a-stimulus bill did involve sending everyone a check. What’s happening now is that a large number of American workers — maybe as many as one in four — have lost their income because of social distancing. These workers have bills to pay; they need replacement income close to what they were making before. The rest of the work force doesn’t need anything comparable. If you just send everyone a check, it will be either grossly inadequate for the newly unemployed, impossibly expensive, or both. Universal income, independent of circumstances, won’t do the job.
Over the past week or so mainstream economists have largely converged on the view that we should focus not on economic stimulus — we want part of the economy shut down for the time being — but on disaster relief for those losing their incomes.
Patent holders urged to take “Open COVID Pledge” for quicker end to pandemic. (Open COVID Pledge, April 7, 2020)
The Open COVID Pledge (Open COVID Pledge, April 7, 2020)
Immediate action is required to halt the COVID-19 Pandemic and treat those it has affected. It is a practical and moral imperative that every tool we have at our disposal be applied to develop and deploy technologies on a massive scale without impediment.
We therefore pledge to make our intellectual property available free of charge for use in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and minimizing the impact of the disease.
[FOSS against the coronavirus pandemic!]
Virtual campaigning could give hackers new ways to attack the 2020 election. (Washington Post, April 7, 2020)
Zoom, which the Biden campaign has used for town halls, has been blindsided by a number of security concerns. After multiple reports of anonymous trolls targeting educators with racist and pornographic material, the FBI issued a warning last week advising that Zoom users should opt to keep meeting private and use participant-screening features. But thousands of private Zoom calls, including confidential therapy sessions, were found online last week, raising concerns about the company's privacy features.
NEW: Trump’s Aggressive Advocacy of Malaria Drug for Treating Coronavirus Divides Medical Community. (New York Times, April 6, 2020)
While Dr. Anthony Fauci has urged caution in using hydroxychloroquine, some doctors are prescribing it to patients who have the virus despite the fact it has never been tested for it.
President Trump made a rare appearance in the Situation Room on Sunday as his pandemic task force was meeting, determined to talk about the anti-malaria medicine that he has aggressively promoted lately as a treatment for the coronavirus. Once again, according to a person briefed on the session, the experts warned against overselling a drug yet to be proved a safe remedy, particularly for heart patients. “Yes, the heart stuff,” Mr. Trump acknowledged. Then he headed out to the cameras to promote it anyway. “So what do I know?” he conceded to reporters at his daily briefing. “I’m not a doctor. But I have common sense.”
Day after day, the salesman turned president has encouraged coronavirus patients to try hydroxychloroquine with all of the enthusiasm of a real estate developer. The passing reference he makes to the possible dangers is usually overwhelmed by the full-throated endorsement. “What do you have to lose?” he asked five times on Sunday.
Dr. Fauci made his concern clear last week. “I think we’ve got to be careful that we don’t make that majestic leap to assume that this is a knockout drug,” he said on Friday on Fox News. “We still need to do the kinds of studies that definitively prove whether any intervention, not just this one, any intervention is truly safe and effective.” At his briefing after the meeting, Trump said it was wrong to wait for the kind of study Dr. Fauci wanted. “We don’t have time,” the president said. “We don’t have two hours because there are people dying right now.”
If hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, several pharmaceutical companies stand to profit, including shareholders and senior executives with connections to the president. Mr. Trump himself has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine. Some associates of Mr. Trump’s have financial interests in the issue. Sanofi’s largest shareholders include Fisher Asset Management, the investment company run by Ken Fisher, a major donor to Republicans, including Mr. Trump. Another investor in both Sanofi and Mylan, another pharmaceutical firm, is Invesco, the fund previously run by Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary. As of last year, Mr. Trump reported that his three family trusts each had investments in a Dodge & Cox mutual fund, whose largest holding was in Sanofi. Several generic drugmakers are gearing up to produce hydroxychloroquine pills, including Amneal Pharmaceuticals, whose co-founder Chirag Patel is a member of Trump National Golf Course Bedminster in New Jersey and has golfed with Mr. Trump at least twice since he became president, according to a person who saw them. Amneal announced last month that it would increase production of the drug and donate millions of pills to New York and other states. Other generic drugmakers are ramping up production, including Mylan and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries.
Head lice drug Ivermectin is being tested as a possible coronavirus treatment, but that’s no reason to buy it. (The Conversation, April 6, 2020)
Where Have All the Heart Attacks Gone? (New York Times, April 6, 2020)
Except for treating Covid-19, many hospitals seem to be eerily quiet. Across the United States and in many other countries, doctors are all asking: Where are all the patients with heart attacks and stroke? They are missing from our hospitals. Almost half of the hospitals reported that they are seeing a 40 percent to 60 percent reduction in admissions for heart attacks; about 20 percent reported more than a 60 percent reduction. Colleagues also report a decline in many other emergencies, including acute appendicitis and acute gall bladder disease.
In this time of social distancing, our meals, social interactions and physical activity patterns tend to be very different. Maybe we have removed some of the triggers for heart attacks and strokes, like excessive eating and drinking or abrupt periods of physical exertion. This theory merits research but seems unlikely to explain the dramatic changes we’re observing.
The most concerning possible explanation is that people stay home and suffer rather than risk coming to the hospital and getting infected with coronavirus. And when they do finally seek medical attention, it is often only after their condition has worsened. Doctors from Hong Kong reported an increase in patients coming to the hospital late in the course of their heart attack, when treatment is less likely to be lifesaving.
NEW: Everyone But Us; The Trump Administration and Medical Supply Exports (Report by the Office of Congresswoman Katie Porter/CA-45, April 6, 2020)
Rep. Porter released a report showing that in spite of growing concerns and warnings about the potential oncoming pandemic threat of the COVID-19 virus from top officials and experts, Donald Trump not only did nothing about it, he allowed ramped up exportation of much-needed medical supplies. The report, titled “EVERYONE BUT US,” charges Donald Trump with misapplying and mismanaging our nation’s medical supplies in the months leading up to our current crisis.
NEW: Horrific Twitter thread by New York City health committee chair raises concerns on COVID-19 deaths. Daily Kos, April 6, 2020)
As the death toll resulting from the novel coronavirus continues to rise, some New York cemeteries are facing difficulties despite the ability to operate 24 hours a day. New York City has begun to store bodies in freezer trucks to accommodate the number of victims the pandemic has claimed. In a series of viral tweets Monday, Mark Levine, the chair of the New York City Council Committee on Health, claimed that officials are considering temporarily burying people who die from COVID-19 in local parks due to the number of increasing dead bodies and lack of space in freezers at Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) facilities in the state.
Amid stay-at-home orders, domestic violence police calls increase nationwide. (Daily Kos, April 6, 2020)
As social distancing and staying at home is encouraged survivors and victims of domestic violence may be safe from COVID-19 but not their abusers. Domestic violence is rooted in power and control, and all of us are feeling a loss of power and control right now. With isolation efforts in place to slow down the pandemic, survivors are put in a difficult position potentially being trapped inside their homes with their abusive partners or parents.
Cities across the U.S. are reporting increases in domestic violence cases. As gun sales reach a record high, advocates also worry incidents of violence will worsen.
Captain Crozier: Navy Hero, or Unsteady Leader? (New York Times, April 6, 2020)
The acting secretary of the Navy explains why he removed the captain of a ship with many infected sailors. Another reader found that action “clearly excessive.”
It is clear from the enthusiastic cheers the captain received from his crew as he disembarked the ship that he was motivated only by the well-being of his crew and had their confidence and admiration. Tragically, Captain Crozier himself has contracted the disease. Once he has recovered, as we trust he and the other sailors will, President Trump, as commander in chief, should reinstate Captain Crozier to his command, not unlike how he intervened when he restored the rank of Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL. This would send the message to our military commanders that the health and welfare of our servicemen and women are paramount.
Inspector General Fired by Trump Urges Whistle-Blowers ‘to Bravely Speak Up’. (New York Times, April 6, 2020)
Michael Atkinson, who President Trump made clear was dismissed in reprisal for his role in revealing the Ukraine matter, broke his silence.
NEW: Trump's daily stream of coronavirus lies are all about to hit a wall. (Daily Kos, April 6, 2020)
Donald Trump's relentless string of lies about the coronavirus going away, being just like the flu, being a media hoax, and being a problem that governors and governors alone should handle are all about to hit a wall as the death toll mounts across the country. Americans of all stripes will have the opportunity to see with their own eyes the deadly results of a president who was too incoherent, too incompetent, and too inhumane to worry about leading an unprepared nation into an ambush blindfolded. And no region will be spared, not even those that rabidly support Trump.
NEW: Wisconsin Supreme Court site says it's closed due to COVID-19, just above order saying election must go on. (Daily Kos, April 6, 2020)
NEW: Evangelical churches run smack into coronavirus' lethal reality, but some continue to resist. (Daily Kos, April 4, 2020)
NEW: Coronavirus Reveals What Really Makes the World Go Round, and It's Not Money.  (Haaretz, April 4, 2020)
A structure, whether economic or mental, is usually hidden from view, but crises have their own ways of exposing their patterns to the naked eye. The bluff of neo-liberalism is being called out.
We now all watch, transfixed, as the world as we knew it has shut down and the pandemic continues to unfold. The coronavirus is an event of a magnitude that we struggle to grasp, not only because of its planetary scale, not only because of the speed of the contamination, but also because institutions whose titanic power we never previously questioned have been brought to their knees in a matter of few weeks.
Health, according to Michel Foucault, is the epicenter of modern governance (he called it bio-power). Through medical and mental health services, he claimed, the state manages, watches and controls its population. Although Foucault would not have put it this way, we may say that there is an implicit contract between modern states and their citizens, based on the capacity of the former to ensure the physical security and health of the latter.
The crisis highlights two opposite things: that this contract, in many places in the world, has been gradually breached by the state, which has seen its mission instead as enlarging the volume of economic activity, lowering the costs of labor and facilitating the transfer offshore of production (among other things, of such key medical products as masks and respirators), deregulating banks and other financial institutions, and generally responding to the needs of corporations. The result has been, whether by design or by default, an extraordinary erosion of the public sector. The second obvious thing, visible to all, is that only the state can manage and overcome a crisis of such scale.
Many (including philanthropist Bill Gates and epidemiologist Larry Brilliant) have been warning for more than a decade that previously unknown viruses will increasingly threaten human beings. But in the industrialized West, no one paid attention. In fact, in 2018, President Donald Trump closed down the National Security Council department responsible for dealing with pandemics. Trump also famously derided the danger of the coronavirus, suggesting it was a Democratic hoax, and describing it as a “foreign virus” to bolster his trade war with China. The United States now has the highest number of people sick with the virus worldwide, paying the price for Trump’s criminal lack of attention to the importance of rapid action in combating the epidemic. But Trump was not alone: To some degree or another, both American and European societies lacked imagination, in that they were too busy, pursuing profit and exploiting land and labor whenever and wherever they could.
But what is new about this crisis is how much it is haunted by “economism.” The British model for responding to the medical threat initially embraced (and subsequently abandoned) the least intrusive path of intervention, for the sake of maintaining regular economic activity. It opted to let nature take its course, according to the model of auto-immunization (that is, contamination) of the younger 60 percent of the population, even though that would mean sacrificing an estimated 2 to 4 percent of its population (this model was also adopted by Holland and Sweden). In the Italian city of Bergamo and its environs, industrialists and governing officials demanded that workers keep working, even when the virus was already present. In Brazil, the courts ruled against President Jair Bolsonaro’s claim that the health of the economy could not be sacrificed for an imaginary threat to the health of the populace. Germany and France, too, initially responded in a way that was similar to the United Kingdom, ignoring the crisis as long as they could, until they couldn’t anymore. Even China, which has an appalling human rights record, did not use “economism” as a yardstick for its fight against the virus as overtly as European nations did (at least initially and until it was almost too late).
The choice that has been laid in front of contemporary societies is unprecedented. Which do we choose to risk sacrificing: the lives of the vulnerable or the economic survival of the young? While the moral questions raised by this dilemma are genuine and profound (how many lives is the economy worth?), it also points to the ways in which public health has been neglected and been relegated to a place of lower priority than the health of the economy. It is with no small irony that the world of finance, usually arrogant and so often unaccountable, was the first to collapse, showing that the continued and unfathomable circulation of money in the world relies on a resource we all took for granted: the health of citizens. Markets feed on trust as a currency to build the future, and trust, it turns out, rests on the assumption of health.
Health was taken for granted, so much so that, in recent decades, politicians, financial institutions and corporations in the West converged in pushing for policies that severely decreased public budgets for services ranging from education to health care, ironically ignoring the ways in which corporations had been enjoying the fruits of public goods they never paid for. In the United States, the wealthiest country on the planet, doctors are currently scrambling to obtain face masks to protect themselves (The New York Times has reported that paramedic workers are improvising masks out of coffee filters). Hordes of politicians worldwide, have treated the health of their own citizens with an unbearable lightness, failing to grasp the obvious: Without health there can be no economy.
The capitalism we have come to know in recent decades – which is deregulated, which penetrates all state considerations, which benefits the rich, which creates abyssal inequalities (among others in the health system itself) – will have to change. The pandemic is going to cause unfathomable economic damage, massive unemployment, slow or negative growth and it will affect the entire world, with Asian economies possibly emerging as the stronger ones.
Banks, corporations and financial firms must be made to bear the burden, along with the state, of coming out of the crisis and becoming partners in the collective health of their employees. They will have to contribute to research, to emergency preparedness, and to massive hiring drives, once the crisis passes. They will have to bear the burden of the collective effort to rebuild the economy, even at the price of lower profits. Capitalists have taken for granted resources provided by the state – education, health, physical infrastructure – without acknowledging that the resources they were squandering from the state could, in a situation like this, ultimately be responsible for withholding them from the world which makes the economy possible. This must stop. For the economy to have meaning, it needs a world. And this world can only be built collectively, by the joint efforts of corporations and the state.
Heather Cox Richardson: Trump late-night firing further weakens US Intelligence. (Letters From An American, April 3, 2020)
At about ten o’clock tonight, Trump notified Congress he has fired the Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.
In September 2019, Atkinson made sure Congress knew that then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was illegally withholding from the congressional intelligence committees a whistleblower complaint. Atkinson had examined the complaint, as required by law, and had determined it was “credible” and “urgent” and so sent it on to the acting DNI, who was supposed to send it to Congress. Instead, Maguire took it to the Department of Justice, where Attorney General Barr stopped the transmission by arguing that since it was a complaint about the president, and since the president was not a member of the intelligence community, the complaint shouldn’t go forward. And we know where it went from there.
The sentence announcing that he no longer has “the fullest confidence” in Atkinson is working hard. Why has his confidence faded? Why now? Is there something that was about to come out and he wants to keep it hidden? It was the intelligence community that repeatedly tried to get him to take the coronavirus seriously; perhaps there is a whistleblower complaint over that. In the chaos over supplies it seems likely that there is profiteering going on; perhaps someone knows something about that.
Or perhaps this is part of Grenell’s longer strategy to stop any investigation of Russian attacks on the 2020 election. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not dropped his determination to end the US sanctions imposed on the country after Russia invaded Ukraine, sanctions that hit oligarchs, especially Putin, hard. These sanctions were at the heart of Putin preferring Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, and have been key to much of our international affairs ever since.
Hospitals, Universities Push For Treatment Using Plasma From Recovered COVID Patients. (NPR, April 3, 2020)
With few tools in their medical kit, doctors are turning to an old idea for treating COVID-19: using plasma from recovered patients to treat patients infected with the coronavirus. The idea is fairly straightforward: patients who have recovered from the virus must have mounted a robust immune response to the infection. Sharing the antibodies from that immune response that linger in their plasma could help others recover. The approach has been around since the 1890s. More recently it has been used to treat SARS and Ebola.
It's unlikely that using the plasma when patients are in extremis will be very helpful. Experience shows it is best to give it in the first few days of illness.
A Russian doctor is detained after challenging the country’s official count of coronavirus cases. (New York Times, April 3, 2020)
Russian authorities detained the leader of an independent doctors’ union, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin who has dismissed as “lies” the country’s low official numbers for coronavirus infections. Anastasia Vasilieva, the head of the Alliance of Doctors, was stopped by the police on Thursday and held overnight while traveling from Moscow to an impoverished rural town to deliver masks, gloves and other supplies to a hospital, according to a colleague who was traveling with her.
The detention of Dr. Vasilieva, an eye specialist who has been highly critical of Russia’s response to the pandemic, added fuel to already widespread skepticism, particularly among Kremlin critics, about the accuracy of official figures showing relatively few coronavirus cases in Russia. Her detention also increased skepticism about the readiness of Russia’s health care system to cope with the pandemic.
New York's coronavirus death toll surpasses that of 9/11. (Politico, April 3, 2020)
Over the course of nearly five weeks, the coronavirus has killed more New Yorkers than the terrorists who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. And the death toll is only expected to grow — by leaps and bounds. The terrorists killed about 2,700 people in New York state. The coronavirus has so far killed 2,935 state residents — moms, dads, grandparents, brothers and sisters, a grim toll that’s straining the state’s morgues and funeral homes.
Coronavirus Live Updates: C.D.C. Recommends Wearing Masks in Public; Trump Says, ‘I’m Choosing Not to Do It.’ (New York Times, April 3, 2020)
U.S. elections will take place as scheduled on Nov. 3, the president said, and Alabama became the 41st state to issue a stay-at-home order.
At Risk From COVID-19: The Geography of America’s Senior Population (Visual Capitalist, April 3, 2020)
A small trial finds that hydroxychloroquine is not effective for treating coronavirus. (The Conversation, April 3, 2020)
There are already other clinical studies that showed it is not effective against COVID-19 as well as several other viruses. And, more importantly, it can have dangerous side effects, as well as giving people false hope. The latter has led to widespread shortages of hydroxychloroquine for patients who need it to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the indications for which it was originally approved.
45's Falsehoods And Failures (People For the American Way, April 3, 2020)
NEW: Better than Zoom: Try these free software tools for staying in touch. (Free Software Foundation, April 3, 2020)
[FSF uses Jitsi Meet to videoconference, as do we.]
NEW: Zoom’s Encryption Is “Not Suited for Secrets” and Has Surprising Links to China, Researchers Discover. (The Intercept, April 3, 2020)
Meetings on Zoom, the increasingly popular video conferencing service, are encrypted using an algorithm with serious, well-known weaknesses, and sometimes using keys issued by servers in China, even when meeting participants are all in North America, according to researchers at the University of Toronto. The researchers also found that Zoom protects video and audio content using a home-grown encryption scheme, that there is a vulnerability in Zoom’s “waiting room” feature, and that Zoom appears to have at least 700 employees in China spread across three subsidiaries. They conclude, in a report for the university’s Citizen Lab — widely followed in information security circles — that Zoom’s service is “not suited for secrets” and that it may be legally obligated to disclose encryption keys to Chinese authorities and “responsive to pressure” from them.
NEW: Zoom: We're freezing all new features to sort out security and privacy. (ZDNet, April 2, 2020)
As SpaceX bans its workers from using it, Zoom says all feature development is halted to work on security.
NEW: FBI sees spike in gun sale background checks amid coronavirus pandemic. (CNN, April 2, 2020)
The FBI reported a 41% surge in background checks by individuals attempting to purchase firearms in the United States last month, according to newly released data from the agency, a significant increase over the same period last year. The new figures indicate 3.7 million gun purchase background checks were conducted in the month of March alone, marking the greatest number of background checks conducted in a single month since the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was launched in 1998. By far, the state leading in federal firearm background checks numbers for the month of March was Illinois -- with over half a million background checks conducted -- followed by Texas, Kentucky, Florida, and California.
NEW: Texas racist says coronavirus fears made him stab an Asian American family as they grocery shopped. (Daily Kos, April 2, 2020)
The Texas stabbing incident is not isolated. It is just one example of the many cases of xenophobia Asian Americans are experiencing in addition to the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S. Hate crimes are at an all-time high nationwide. A new website, Stop AAPI Hate, which was launched in order to document racist acts, received more than 650 reports within eight days of its launch.
Macroeconomic Implications of COVID-19: Can Negative Supply Shocks Cause Demand Shortages? (MIT, April 2, 2020)
Jean-Baptiste Say is famously misquoted for stating the Law “supply creates its own demand.” In this paper, we introduce a concept that might be accurately portrayed as “supply creates its own excess demand”. Namely, a negative supply shock can trigger a demand shortage that leads to a contraction in output and employment larger than the supply shock itself. We call supply shocks with these properties Keynesian supply shocks.
Heather Cox Richardson: The Trump administration wants to abandon responsibility for American citizens. (Letters From An American, April 2, 2020)
Behind the confusion and foot-dragging as the White House confronts the global pandemic is the administration’s desire to dismantle the federal government and give power to businesspeople.
The Trump administration has been clear that it does not want the federal government to assume responsibility for American citizens any longer. Trump has refused to issue a stay at home order from the federal government, insisting instead that governors make their own calls. He has refused to use the Defense Production Act to mobilize industry to produce the masks and ventilators Americans so desperately need. He is refusing to tell manufacturers where to place their supplies. In place of government coordination, his administration officials are counting on business people to assume leadership.
Instead, the fifty states are trying to respond on their own. They are making their own decisions about what to shut down, when, and are bidding against each other for supplies. This piecemeal response to the pandemic crisis means we are not effectively cutting off the spread of the virus, or supporting the healthcare we will need.
Putting Jared Kushner In Charge Is Utter Madness. (New York Times, April 2, 2020)
Trump’s son-in-law has no business running the coronavirus response.
Reporting on the White House’s herky-jerky coronavirus response, Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman has a quotation from Jared Kushner that should make all Americans, and particularly all New Yorkers, dizzy with terror. According to Sherman, when New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said that the state would need 30,000 ventilators at the apex of the coronavirus outbreak, Kushner decided that Cuomo was being alarmist. “I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.” (Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert on infectious diseases, has said he trusts Cuomo’s estimate.)
Even now, it’s hard to believe that someone with as little expertise as Kushner could be so arrogant, but he said something similar on Thursday, when he made his debut at the White House’s daily coronavirus briefing: “People who have requests for different products and supplies, a lot of them are doing it based on projections which are not the realistic projections.”
Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures. Undeterred, he has now arrogated to himself a major role in fighting the epochal health crisis that’s brought America to its knees.
Corporate Medicine to doctors and nurses: "We saw you were on fire, so we brought this gasoline..." (Daily Kos, April 2, 2020)
Corporate “medicine” is a malignancy.  And it grows like one, too.
Here is a chart, showing the number of jobs in the healthcare sector from 1970 to 2009. Now granted, this study is 10 years out of date, but I suspect the curves are pretty unchanged. Want to know where your healthcare dollars go? The red area is physicians. Not much growth in the time frame is there?
The yellow zone is healthcare ‘administrators’. Can you say ‘metastatic’?
Doctors Say Hospitals Are Stopping Them From Wearing Masks. (NPR, April 2, 2020)
Trump Administration Officials Weigh How Far to Go on Recommending Masks. (New York Times, April 2, 2020)
The expected change in position reflects concern over a worrisome rate of infection spread by people with no symptoms.
Georgia governor says he didn't know asymptomatic people could spread coronavirus. (The Hill, April 2, 2020)
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), while announcing a statewide stay-at-home order, said Wednesday that he only recently became aware the coronavirus could be spread by asymptomatic people. "The reason I'm taking this action, like I've continued to tell people, I'm following the data. Finding out that this virus is now transmitting before people see signs, so what we've been telling people from directives from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] for weeks now that if you start feeling bad, stay home... Those individuals could've been infecting people before they ever felt bad, but we didn't know that until the last 24 hours. And this is a game changer for us."
Public health officials have long warned the virus can be carried and passed on by people not displaying symptoms, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who became the first senator to test positive for the virus (announced March 22nd), reported that he had not experienced any symptoms before testing positive.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said earlier this week that up to a quarter of all cases do not show symptoms, telling NPR "This helps explain how rapidly this virus continues to spread across the country because we have asymptomatic transmitters and we have individuals who are transmitting 48 hours before they become symptomatic."
NEW: A silver lining to the current crisis: Rethinking work (Enterprisers Project, April 2, 2020)
The surprising link between remote work and coming together - and why work culture will strengthen.
The playbook for working remotely that existed even a month ago has been thrown out the window — as I discovered myself, just the other day. While on a call with our board of directors, I was interrupted by two of my college-age children. They walked into the room and asked me for the Wi-Fi password, which I had changed the night before. As I wrote it down for them, we kept talking — none of it on mute. None of it dismissed or disguised. And, most important, no one cared as the board waited patiently for me for several extra seconds.
There was a time, not so long ago, when people went to great lengths to avoid the telltale signs and sounds of “I’m working from home.” Now, it’s the soundtrack of our lives — and leaders need to send the message that it’s not only okay; it’s wanted. Welcome to the new world of work and the culture that goes with it. Here are some thoughts.
Coronavirus Live Updates: Job Losses in America Soar, Part of Global Economic Collapse. (New York Times, April 2, 2020)
More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. Federal stockpiles of medical supplies are running low as the death toll rises and global infections approach one million.
The Patriots’ team plane is delivering more than a million masks from China to Massachusetts. (Boston Globe, April 2, 2020)
The Patriots team plane is making its most important trip of the year before the season even starts.
NEW: Build Cities for Bikes, Buses, and Feet—Not Cars. (Wired, April 1, 2020)
San Francisco's MTA boss Jeff Tumlin is one of a new breed of planner trying to kick cars out of the city. That's good for business, good for people, and amazing for the planet.
NEW: How International Fraud Rings Operate and Target Older Americans (AARP, April 1, 2020)
From phone and email scams to imposter fraud, see how they operate.
A Ventilator Stockpile, With One Hitch: Thousands Do Not Work. (New York Times, April 1, 2020)
Federal officials revealed on Wednesday that their stockpile of medical gear was nearly depleted. FEMA has shipped 26 million surgical masks, 11.6 million respirator masks and more than five million face shields to states, setting off a race to obtain millions of recently produced masks from a variety of manufacturers at a moment of huge price spikes for respirators that previously sold for about 85 cents.
The bigger struggle, however, has focused on ventilators because states have asked for tens of thousands more than the approximately 9,400 that the U.S. government currently has in its stockpile. The Defense Department is also making 1,065 ventilators available, although those require special training and are not used as frequently in hospitals.
As White House officials have for the first time looked at a supply they had not thought about, they have discovered it is not only far smaller than what they need — it is also in constant need of maintenance. While President Trump has assured states that thousands of ventilators remain at the ready, thousands more are in storage, unmaintained or otherwise unusable.
As of Wednesday morning, FEMA had sent about 7,000 ventilators to a number of states, with 4,000 directed to New York. Mr. Trump said he wanted to hold the current stockpile in reserve until it was clear where new hot spots would emerge. Even with the federal help, states are scrambling for their own ventilators. They have flooded the few manufacturers in the country with orders, only to discover that the machines are largely made abroad, in China, Ireland, Switzerland and elsewhere.
Officials in Illinois say they asked for 4,000 and got 450. New Jersey sought 2,300 and got 300. New Mexico has only 370. Virginia requested 350 ventilators but has not received any. The governor of Illinois asked Vice President Mike Pence for 4,000 ventilators this week and was told the state would not need that many.
At the same time, states are trying to grab whatever else they can, converting anesthesia machines for use as ventilators and sometimes fashioning new valves on 3-D printers so that multiple patients can share the same machine. That has never been tested on a broad scale, and it carries some risks.
Every Vaccine and Treatment in Development for COVID-19 (Visual Capitalist, April 1, 2020)
NEW: Why we need women’s leadership in the COVID-19 response (Thomas Reuters Foundation, April 1, 2020)
Heather Cox Richardson: The USA has deprived our own health care workers while shipping masks and more overseas. (Letters From An American, April 1, 2020)
The United States has been sending medical supplies to other countries while our own health care workers don’t have masks or PPE (personal protective equipment). Politico revealed that an administration official called counterparts in Thailand to ask for PPE, only to be told by a confused official on the other end who said that the U.S. was shipping those very supplies to Thailand. One shipment had already arrived, and another was on its way. Vice President Mike Pence, who is in charge of the administration’s coronavirus task force, immediately halted the shipment. It appears that there has been no coordination between the administration and USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, so we have apparently been exporting the very supplies we need at home.
This created a furor over the fact that we also sent 17.8 tons of medical supplies, including masks, gowns, gauze, and respirators to China in February, after the severity of our own impending crisis was already clear. The administration has said these supplies were “donated,” but I have not been able to track down by whom.
Politico also broke the story that since March 12, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been in charge of his own coronavirus response team to get the private sector on board to fight the crisis. Trump has been reluctant to activate the Defense Production Act, a law that enables the government to encourage manufacturers to produce vital equipment and protects them from losses when they do. Bizarrely, the Trump administration—like all others since the law went into effect in the 1950s—uses this act all the time to respond to natural disasters, to move supplies around during emergencies, and so on, but refuses to do so now. Instead, it appears Trump has tapped Kushner to coordinate with private industry. In that capacity, he and his outside experts—including a number from the consulting firm McKinsey—are acting as a sort of independent cell without government oversight and are overruling the teams already in place.
Should You Be Wearing a Face Mask? Why Not? (People's Pharmacy, March 31, 2020)
Public health officials have told us wearing face masks are unnecessary. Were they wrong? Could wearing a face mask help you avoid catching COVID-19?
The Italian COVID-19 hospital where no medics have been infected. (Sky News, March 31, 2020)
What is really striking here is that the rules of separating infected environments and the clean areas are followed by everyone. But armed security guards are on every connecting corridor in case anyone forgets.
Everyone and anyone can get infected, not just the old. There are many young patients being treated here and interestingly they are finding that the middle classes are being infected the most. I asked why? The answer is obvious really - they travel.
Key ingredient in coronavirus tests comes from Yellowstone’s lakes. (National Geographic, March 31, 2020)
Microbiologist Thomas Brock was tramping through Yellowstone in the 1960s when he stumbled upon a species of bacteria that would transform medical science. Brock was investigating the tiny life-forms that manage to eke out a living in the superheated waters of the park’s thermal pools. There, he and a student found golden mats of stringy growth in Yellowstone’s Mushroom Spring containing a microbe that produces unusual heat-resistant enzymes.
Today, those enzymes are a key component in polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, a method used widely in labs around the world to study small samples of genetic material by making millions of copies. This technique, which would have been impossible without the discovery of heat-resistant bacteria more than half a century ago, is now being used to boost the signal of viruses in most of the available tests for COVID-19.
Captain of U.S. aircraft carrier with growing coronavirus outbreak, now in Guam, pleads for help from Navy. (San Francisco Chronicle, March 31, 2020)
The captain of a nuclear aircraft carrier with more than 100 sailors (out of 4,000) infected with the coronavirus pleaded Monday with U.S. Navy officials for resources to allow isolation of his entire crew and avoid possible deaths in a situation he described as quickly deteriorating. “This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do,” Crozier wrote. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset — our Sailors.” In the four-page letter to senior military officials, Crozier said only a small contingent of infected sailors have been off-boarded. Most of the crew remain aboard the ship, where following official guidelines for 14-day quarantines and social distancing is impossible. “Due to a warship’s inherent limitations of space, we are not doing this,” Crozier wrote. “The spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating.”
The Navy did not respond to The Chronicle’s requests for comment Monday, but on Tuesday morning as the news spread, the Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly spoke to CNN. “I heard about the letter from Capt. Crozier (Tuesday) morning, I know that our command organization has been aware of this for about 24 hours and we have been working actually the last seven days to move those sailors off the ship and get them into accommodations in Guam. The problem is that Guam doesn’t have enough beds right now and we’re having to talk to the government there to see if we can get some hotel space, create tent-type facilities,” Modly said. “We don’t disagree with the (captain) on that ship and we’re doing it in a very methodical way because it’s not the same as a cruise ship, that ship has armaments on it, it has aircraft on it, we have to be able to fight fires if there are fires on board the ship, we have to run a nuclear power plant, so there’s a lot of things that we have to do on that ship that make it a little bit different and unique but we’re managing it and we’re working through it,” he said.
So far, none of the infected sailors has shown serious symptoms, but the number of those who have tested positive has jumped exponentially since the Navy reported infections in three crew members on March 24, the first time COVID-19 infections had been detected on a naval vessel at sea. Senior military officials said last week that the entire crew of more than 4,000 will be tested. The carrier’s home port is San Diego. At the time, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly expressed confidence that they identified all the sailors who had been in contact with the trio of infected sailors and they had been quarantined.
Paul Krugman: We have always been at war with the Chinese virus. (New York Times, March 31, 2020)
Needless to say, the mounting coronavirus death toll hasn’t produced any apologies from pundits who previously claimed that the virus was a hoax, let alone admissions that the terrible, horrible, no-good mainstream media were actually giving accurate information. Perhaps more surprisingly, as far as I know there haven’t been any howls of protest from Fox viewers, or Rush Limbaugh listeners, who are now being told something completely different from what they were hearing three weeks ago. Their trust in Fox, their disdain for The New York Times and The Washington Post, and, above all, their faith in Donald Trump are apparently unshaken.
The parallels with George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” are obvious. Orwell wrote a great essay a few years before “Nineteen Eighty-Four” titled “Looking Back on the Spanish War.” In it he wrote of his vision of a “nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs.”
Well, a lot of Americans evidently already live in that nightmare world. And that scares me more than Covid-19.
Plastic Wars (full film) | FRONTLINE (53-min. video; PBS, March 31, 2020)
Despite efforts spreading across America to reduce the use of plastic and the crisis of ocean pollution growing, the plastics industry is rapidly scaling up new production and promoting a familiar solution: recycling. But it’s estimated that no more than 10% of plastic produced has ever been recycled. The documentary “Plastic Wars,” from FRONTLINE and NPR, reveals how plastic makers for decades have publicly promoted recycling, despite privately expressing doubts that widespread plastic recycling would ever be economically viable.
Plastic Wars: Industry Spent Millions Selling Recycling — To Sell More Plastic. (4-min. video; NPR, March 31, 2020)
For decades, Americans have been sorting their trash believing that most plastic could be recycled. But the truth is, the vast majority of all plastic produced can't be or won't be recycled. In 40 years, less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled. Oil and gas companies — the makers of plastic — have known that all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite.
NEW: Tinker, Tailor, Mobster, Trump (Greg Olear, March 31, 2020)
What happens when a Confidential Informant becomes President?
We don’t need more careful legalese. We don’t need more cryptic phrasings along the lines of “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” We need to hear, loud and clear, what the FBI knows. We need to be told, unequivocally, that Trump is an inveterate crook—a real crook; an actual criminal; not just a cute Twitter assertion—and, even more surprising, and contrary to all recent evidence, that he is capable of telling the truth when it serves him.
NEW: No, Trump Cannot Move the General Election. (Democracy Docket, March 31, 2020)
The president has no legal authority to change the date of federal elections — period. And though one court — one time — found that a congressional election, in part of one state, could be postponed by a few weeks, the circumstances under which the court found that was warranted does not apply in 2020 and could never apply to the office of the president.
With respect to congressional elections, the Constitution gives states the power to set the “times, places and manner” of elections, subject to Congress’s ultimate authority to “make or alter” state regulations. This means that while states have the power to enact rules around how elections for federal office are run, ultimately Congress can overrule the states. Congress has used this power in a number of ways including requiring states to ensure that military and overseas voters receive mail ballots in time for them to be able to vote.
Most importantly, more than 100 years ago, Congress set, by federal statute, the date on which congressional elections are to be held as the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Neither the president nor a state can alter or postpone that date and only once has a court done so.
Republicans Don't Want You To Vote. (4-min. video; The Young Turks, March 31, 2020)
Includes the famous 1980 "Goo Goo" film clip of Paul Weyrich—who started the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and others—saying, "I don't want everybody to vote … Our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down."
That's why Republicans oppose sensible measures to make it easier for eligible citizens to vote—such as universal vote-by-mail, same-day voter registration and restoring full voting rights for those formerly incarcerated for a felony. They know that if everybody voted, as Trump would say, no Republican with their extreme views could get elected.
NEW: Trump says Republicans would ‘never’ be elected again if it was easier to vote. (The Guardian, March 30, 2020)
President dismissed Democratic-led push for voter reforms amid coronavirus pandemic during "Fox & Friends" appearance.
NEW: Over 100 Years Ago, Artists Were Asked to Depict the Year 2000. These Were The Results. (Can You Actually, March 30, 2020)
The images depict the world as it was imagined it would be like in the year 2000. Some of these unique illustrations are actually quite accurate vision of the current era today, including farming machines, robotic equipment, and flying machines.
New York Attorney General Looks Into Zoom’s Privacy Practices. (New York Times, March 30, 2020)
As the videoconferencing platform’s popularity has surged, Zoom has scrambled to address a series of data privacy and security problems.
Taxpayers Paid Millions to Design a Low-Cost Ventilator for a Pandemic. Instead, the Company Is Selling Versions of It Overseas. (ProPublica, March 30, 2020)
Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tried to plug a crucial hole in its preparations for a global pandemic, signing a $13.8 million contract with a Pennsylvania manufacturer to create a low-cost, portable, easy-to-use ventilator that could be stockpiled for emergencies.
This past September, with the design of the new Trilogy Evo Universal finally cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, HHS ordered 10,000 of the ventilators for the Strategic National Stockpile at a cost of $3,280 each.
But as the pandemic continues to spread across the globe, there is still not a single Trilogy Evo Universal in the stockpile. Instead last summer, soon after the FDA’s approval, the Pennsylvania company that designed the device — a subsidiary of the Dutch appliance and technology giant Royal Philips N.V. — began selling two higher-priced commercial versions of the same ventilator around the world.
The contracted company was acquired by Covidien, in Ireland. A spokesman for the still-larger firm that acquired Covidien in 2015, Medtronic, said that the prototype ventilator created by Newport Medical “would not have been able to meet the specifications required by the government, nor at the price required.” In a statement responding to a story in The New York Times, Medtronic said it left the federal government with all the designs and equipment created in the project.
[See the Medtronic article, below!]
Medtronic is sharing its portable ventilator design specifications and code for free to all. (TechCrunch, March 30, 2020)
This move by Medtronic makes freely available everything needed to spin up new production lines at existing manufacturers around the world — without any costs or fees owed to Medtronic.
It is also intended to provide the resources necessary for anyone looking at what they can build today — a blueprint to spawn new and innovative ideas. Manufacturers might be able to look at Medtronic’s proven design and engineer something they can build at scale relatively quickly that offers the same or similar performance characteristics.
Coronavirus: Mercedes F1 to make breathing aid. (BBC News, March 30, 2020)
A breathing aid that can help keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care has been created in under a week. University College London engineers worked with clinicians at UCLH and Mercedes Formula One to build the device, which delivers oxygen to the lungs without needing a ventilator.
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices are already used in hospitals but are in short supply. China and Italy used them to help Covid-19 patients.
Forty of the new devices have been delivered to ULCH and to three other London hospitals. If trials go well, up to 1,000 of the CPAP machines can be produced per day by Mercedes-AMG-HPP, beginning in a week's time. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has already given its approval for their use.
Debian Linux readies an anti-coronavirus hack-a-thon. (ZDNet, March 30, 2020)
Open-source developers are uniting to create and improve code and programs to help fight COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Virus May Have Been in Humans For Years, Study Suggests. (Physics & Astronomy Zone, March 30, 2020)
As COVID-19 has hitchhiked around the globe, causing lockdowns, pneumonia and fear, scientists have been racing to determine where the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has come from. While we don't have all the answers yet - including whether it came from an animal reservoir - a new analysis has definitively put to rest the conspiracies that claim it's a lab-made disease.
The study raises some interesting possibilities regarding the origin of the new coronavirus. One of the scenarios suggests the virus may have been circulating harmlessly in human populations for quite a while before it became the pandemic that's now stopped the world in its tracks. "It is possible that a progenitor of SARS-CoV-2 jumped into humans, acquiring [new genomic features] through adaptation during undetected human-to-human transmission," the team from the US, UK and Australia writes in the study. "Once acquired, these adaptations would enable the pandemic to take off and produce a sufficiently large cluster of cases."
A president unfit for a pandemic (Boston Globe, March 30, 2020)
Much of the suffering and death was preventable. The president has blood on his hands.
While the spread of the novel coronavirus has been aggressive around the world, much of the profound impact it will have here in the United States was preventable. As the American public braces itself for the worst of this crisis, it’s worth remembering that the reach of the virus here is not attributable to an act of God or a foreign invasion, but a colossal failure of leadership.
The outbreak that began in China demanded a White House that could act swiftly and competently to protect public health, informed by science and guided by compassion and public service. It required an administration that could quickly deploy reliable tests around the nation to isolate cases and trace and contain the virus’s spread, as South Korea effectively did, as well as to manufacture and distribute scarce medical supplies around the country. It begged for a president of the United States to deliver clear, consistent, scientifically sound messages on the state of the epidemic and its solutions, to reassure the public amid their fear, and to provide steady guidance to cities and states. And it demanded a leader who would put the country’s well-being first, above near-term stock market returns and his own reelection prospects, and who would work with other nations to stem the tide of COVID-19 cases around the world.
What we have instead is a president epically outmatched by a global pandemic. A president who in late January, when the first confirmed coronavirus case was announced in the United States, downplayed the risk and insisted all was under control. A president who, rather than aggressively test all those exposed to the virus, said he’d prefer not to bring ashore passengers on a contaminated cruise ship so as to keep national case numbers (artificially) low. A president who, consistent with his mistrust and undermining of scientific fact, has misled the public about unproven cures for COVID-19, and who baited-and-switched last week about whether the country ought to end social distancing to open up by Easter, and then, on Saturday, about whether he’d impose a quarantine on New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. A president who has pledged to oversee the doling out of the $500 billion in corporate bailout money in the latest stimulus package, some of which will go to the travel industry in which his family is invested. A president who spent a good chunk of a recent press conference complaining about how hard it is for a rich man to serve in the White House even as Americans had already begun to lose their jobs, their health care, and their lives. A president who has reinforced racial stigma by calling the contagion a “Chinese virus” and failed to collaborate adequately with other countries to contain their outbreaks and study the disease. A president who evades responsibility and refuses to acknowledge, let alone own, the bitter truth of National Institutes of Health scientist Dr. Anthony Fauci’s testimony: that the country’s testing rollout was “a failing.”
Timing is everything in pandemic response: It can make the difference between a contained local outbreak that endures a few weeks and an uncontrollable contagion that afflicts millions. The Trump administration has made critical errors over the past two months, choosing early on to develop its own diagnostic test, which failed, instead of adopting the World Health Organization’s test — a move that kneecapped the US coronavirus response and, by most public health experts’ estimation, will cost thousands if not hundreds of thousands of American lives. Rather than making the expected federal effort to mobilize rapidly to distribute needed gowns, masks, and ventilators to ill-equipped hospitals and to the doctors and nurses around the country who are left unprotected treating a burgeoning number of patients, the administration has instead been caught outbidding individual states (including Massachusetts) trying to purchase medical supplies. It has dragged its heels on invoking the Defense Production Act to get scarce, sorely needed ventilators and masks into production so that they can be distributed to hospitals nationwide as they hit their peaks in the cycle of the epidemic. It has left governors and mayors in the lurch, begging for help. The months the administration wasted with prevarication about the threat and its subsequent missteps will amount to exponentially more COVID-19 cases than were necessary.
In other words, the president has blood on his hands.
Many pivotal decision points in this crisis are past us, but more are still to come. For our own sake, every American should be hoping for a miraculous turnaround — and that the too-little, too-late strategy of the White House task force will henceforth at least prevent contagion and economic ruin of the grandest scale. But come November, there must be a reckoning for the lives lost, and for the vast, avoidable suffering about to ensue under this president’s watch.
The Contrarian Coronavirus Theory That Informed the Trump Administration (The New Yorker, March 30, 2020)
President Trump, who at one point called the coronavirus pandemic an “invisible enemy” and said it made him a “wartime President,” has in recent days questioned its seriousness, tweeting, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” Trump said repeatedly that he wanted the country to reopen by Easter, April 12th, contradicting the advice of most health officials. (On Sunday, he backed down and extended federal social-distancing guidelines for at least another month.) According to the Washington Post, “Conservatives close to Trump and numerous administration officials have been circulating an article by Richard A. Epstein of the Hoover Institution, titled ‘Coronavirus Perspective,’ which plays down the extent of the spread and the threat.”
The Meaning of Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Quackery (The New Yorker, March 29, 2020)
The President’s pronouncements are a reminder, if one was needed, of his scorn for rigorous science, even amid the worst pandemic to hit the U.S. in a century.
Trump’s Message to U.S. Intelligence Officials: Be Loyal or Leave. (The New Yorker, March 29, 2020)
The nomination of Representative John Ratcliffe is the clearest sign yet that powerful spy agencies are being politicized.
California proves that stay-in-place saves lives; Florida and Texas hurl toward 6-figures dead. (Daily Kos, March 29, 2020)
California, by far the largest state, is over 12% of the population of the United States. Any state that loses more people to COVID-19 than California—despite the state being an early foothold for the disease—has so mismanaged its response that its leadership deserves to be tar and feathered. That the states above still haven’t taken this disease seriously enough to issue shelter-in-place orders is downright criminal. Hundreds of thousands of people might die as a result.
Now, those numbers aren’t set in stone. The models provide the dates upon which these states will hit their point of no return. For example, Tennessee still has three weeks before its hospitals are overloaded. Texas about two and a half weeks. Florida a little over two weeks. We can still avoid the worst of this disease if the leadership in those states acts.
The problem, of course, is that those states are all run by Republicans, Trump-loving Republicans. And if Trump is talking about opening up the country by Easter, which is Sunday, April 12, then they won’t want to do anything to undermine Trump’s “leadership” of the crisis. (Mississippi’s useless Republican governor even invalidated local stay-in-place orders from mayors!) The rot starts at the very top, with a president who only cares about the immediate message and PR, as opposed to listening to the experts on the long-term (very painful) solution.
[This graph of milestones isn't written in stone, but later adjusted versions should prove interesting.]
Fox News is worried about legal action after misleading viewers about coronavirus. (Media Matters, March 29, 2020)
Gabe Sherman (Vanity Fair): When I've been talking to Fox insiders over the last few days, there's a real concern inside the network that their early downplaying of the coronavirus actually exposes Fox News to potential legal action by viewers who maybe were misled and actually have died from this. I've heard Trish Regan's being taken off the air is, you know, reflective of this concern that Fox News is in big trouble by downplaying this virus and The New York Times reported days ago that the Murdoch family was privately taking the coronavirus seriously. The Murdochs, of course, own Fox News. So, they were taken personal steps to protect themselves while anchors like Trish Regan and Sean Hannity were telling viewers that it's a hoax and putting themselves in potentially mortal danger. So I think this is a case where Fox's coverage, if it actually winds up being proved that people died because of it, this is a new terrain in terms of Fox being possibly held liable for their actions.
Coronavirus Split-Screen: Pandemic Sends Presidential Candidates Toward Collision. (The Recount, March 28, 2020)
NEW: Corona blue: New highs in clear skies, clean air in New Delhi, India (Times of India, March 28, 2020)
Reduced vehicular movement on the roads and an early morning shower led to not only a dramatic improvement in air quality, with the PM2.5 level dropping to 20 micrograms per cubic metre by Friday, afternoon, but also unusually clear blue skies, a sight rarely seen in the capitol at this time.
The Math Behind Social Distancing (Visual Capitalist, March 28, 2020)
Limbaugh Defends Trump Coronavirus Response: He ‘Has a History of Solving Problems’. (Breitbart, March 28, 2020)
“You know, we’ve talked about the deep state all these years since Trump was elected, the Trump-Russia collusion, the FBI — well the deep state extends very deeply. And the American people did not elect a bunch of health experts that we don’t know. We didn’t elect a president to defer to a bunch of health experts that we don’t know. And how do we know they’re even health experts? Well, they wear white lab coats, and they have been at the job for a while, and they are at the CDC, and they are at the NIH. Yeah, they have been there, and they are there, but have there been any job assessments for them? They are just assumed to be the best because they are in government. These are all kinds of things I have been questioning. And I have been watching  people routinely accept whatever the authorities say.”
Defiant evangelicals are part of Trump’s death cult with Americans’ blood on their hands. (PoliticusUSA, March 28, 2020)
Trump Reportedly Wants His Signature on Coronavirus Stimulus Checks. (Slate, March 28, 2020)
Even though the president thanked “Democrats and Republicans for coming together and putting America first,” it seems he wants Americans to thank him for any checks they receive. Trump has told people he wants his signature to appear on the direct payment checks, an administration official told the Wall Street Journal. A civil servant would normally sign the checks.
Trump says he won’t comply with key transparency measures in the coronavirus stimulus bill. (Vox, March 28, 2020)
The administration says it won’t provide documentation for audits into $500 billion in corporate bailout funds.
That bill also establishes a Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR) within the Treasury Department to audit and investigate half a trillion dollars in loans for large businesses. In his signing statement, Trump said that this provision raises “constitutional concerns,” adding that his administration would not comply with such an official’s request for documents. “I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required by the Take Care Clause,” part of Article II Section 3 of the Constitution that states a sitting president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” This seems to suggest the administration believes it is the president’s duty and not that of an inspector general to ensure the funds are distributed as the law intends.
The special inspector general, as authorized within the bill, would be able to request information from government agencies and report on failures to comply with those information requests. In his signing statement, Trump essentially stated that he will not let such reports reach Congress without his approval, which many fear directly undermines the provision’s goal of maintaining transparency in how that fund is handled.
NEW: The bad news for Trump, amid his coronavirus poll bump (Washington Post, March 27, 2020)
Trump’s handling of this situation has been unsteady and consistently factually challenged. Many people are either not consuming this or are willing to look past it for now. And his most devoted supporters will probably continue to do so regardless of what happens from here on out. But that doesn’t mean it will always be thus for people in the middle. And this poll, for perhaps the first time, speaks to lingering doubts about how up to the task he has been.
U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 100,000 As Trump Demands Praise From Governors. (8-min. video; MSNBC, March 27, 2020)
As the number of coronavirus cases continues to surge across America, Trump took time at his briefing and on Twitter to go after the governors of Michigan and Washington as dire reports pour out of American hospitals. He no longer calls it a hoax, but is still passing out pens when trying to fight a virus pandemic?
The White House chose the week the USA became the epicenter of a historic pandemic to virtually stop policing big polluters, privatize a bedrock federal food safety job, advance a mining road through a pristine swath of northern Alaska and revive a regulatory rollback so difficult to defend that the administration [had] abandoned the effort last year at the peak of a high-profile fight. On Thursday, the EPA announced it would suspend enforcement of bedrock clean air and water laws, leaving the fossil fuel, chemical and agribusiness industries to police themselves amid a historic public health crisis.
Coronavirus Live Updates: U.S. Cases Top 100,000, Deaths 1,500; Trump Signs $2 Trillion Relief Bill. (New York Times, March 27, 2020)
President Trump, who had questioned the need for additional ventilators, pushes industry to make more. A new survey of mayors finds dire shortages of urgently needed medical supplies. And in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive.
President Trump on Friday evening lamented the loss of economic gains that he had often used to measure his success in office and that served as the heart of his re-election message until the coronavirus hit the United States. And he attacked Democratic governors for being insufficiently grateful for his efforts. “Think of it, 22 days ago we had the greatest economy in the world,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference. “Everything was going beautifully. The stock market hit an all-time high again for the over 150th time during my presidency.”
He singled out the governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, and the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, for his primetime scorn. Mr. Inslee, he said, was “a failed presidential candidate” who was “constantly tripping and complaining.” Ms. Whitmer “has no idea what’s going on,” he said. He then said he told Vice President Mike Pence, his coronavirus coordinator, to stop calling Mr. Inslee and Ms. Whitmer: “Don’t call the woman in Michigan, doesn’t make any difference,” he said of Ms. Whitmer. “Very simple. I want them to be appreciative,” he said, saying his administration has “done a hell of a job.”
Mr. Trump said he planned to visit Norfolk, Va., to wave goodbye to the U.S.N.S. Comfort, the Navy hospital ship, on Saturday, despite the danger of making such a trip when any gatherings of more than ten people nationwide are still considered dangerous. “I have spirit for the country,” Mr. Trump said. “I’m not going to be jumping around in a huddle.”
House Debates $2.2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Package Amid Last-Minute Snag. (Time, March 27, 2020)
The House kicked off debate Friday on a $2.2 trillion package to ease the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating toll on the U.S. economy and health care system, even as a maverick conservative threatened to delay passage until most lawmakers return to Washington for a vote. That left many angry lawmakers scrambling to return to the nation’s capital amid a pandemic in which Americans have been urged to self-quarantine or keep their distance from one another.
President Donald Trump vented his anger as well, on Twitter. Shortly after the House opened, Trump called Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who had threatened to try to force a roll call vote, “a third rate Grandstander” who “just wants publicly.”
No, the entire GOP is not being blackmailed. (Teri Kanefield, March 27, 2020)
There’s a theory on Twitter (and perhaps elsewhere) that the GOP bows to Trump and does his bidding because they are being blackmailed. Proponents of this theory point to the fact that the Russians also hacked the GOP computers but never released stolen information. They point to Sen. Lindsay Graham’s abrupt turnaround after a golfing meeting with Trump.
People. This theory gives way too much credit to the GOP. They prefer Trump’s politics to the Democrats.
If there is dirt, the dirt would be the extent of their willingness to work with Putin. But you know what? Their hardcore supporters wouldn’t even care about that. Wanna know why? They not only prefer Trump’s politics to the Democrats, they also prefer Putin’s Russia to liberal democracy.
Want proof? Buckle your seat belts. Here we go.
Thinking You Had the Virus Is Going Viral. (Medium, March 27, 2020)
People are playing a dangerous game online by speculating they had the coronavirus.
Thousands Turn Out in Melee on Bridge Linking Hubei, Jiangxi as Lockdown Eases. (Radio Free Asia, March 27, 2020)
The clashes came as travel restrictions on Hubei and its capital Wuhan were lifted after more than two months after the emergence of the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan late last year. Jiangxi police on a checkpoint on the bridge had allowed a group of migrant workers stranded during the lockdown to pass, but had refused to allow Hubei residents through. After angry disputes broke out, Jiangxi police sent in riot police to seal off the entrance to Jiujiang.
Video footage posted to YouTube showed thousands of people marching up the approach road to the bridge, shoulder to shoulder with uniformed police from Hubei, shouting "Go Hubei! Go Hubei!"
A local resident who gave only his surname He said the past few months have seen people from Hubei -- who can be identified by their birthplace on their national ID cards -- being denied entry to places across China, including accommodation in hotels and guesthouses. "All the other provinces are discriminating against people from Hubei right now; stopping them from coming in," He said. "Everyone has been cheering Wuhan and Hubei during the epidemic, but they are very discriminatory towards them when they try to travel to where they are, and demand that they be isolated."
Estimates Show Wuhan Death Toll Far Higher Than Official Figure. (Radio Free Asia, March 27, 2020)
As authorities lifted a two-month coronavirus lockdown in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, residents said they were growing increasingly skeptical that the figure of some 2,500 deaths in the city to date was accurate.
Since the start of the week, seven large funeral homes in Wuhan have been handing out the cremated remains of around 500 people to their families every day, suggesting that far more people died than ever made the official statistics. "It can't be right ... because the incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died?" an Wuhan resident surnamed Zhang told RFA on Friday.
A new FDA-authorized COVID-19 test doesn’t need a lab and can produce results in just 5 minutes. (TechCrunch, March 27, 2020)
There’s a new COVID-19 test from healthcare technology maker Abbott that looks to be the fastest yet in terms of producing results, and that can do so on the spot right at point-of-care, without requiring a round trip to a lab. This test for the novel coronavirus causing the current global pandemic has received emergency clearance for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and will begin production next week, with output of 50,000 per day possible starting next week.
The new Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test uses the Abbott ID NOW diagnostics platform, which is essentially a lab-in-a-box that is roughly the size of a small kitchen appliance. Its size and that it can produce either a positive result in just five minutes or a negative one in under 15 mean that it could be a very useful means to extend coronavirus testing beyond its current availability to more places including clinics and doctor’s offices, and cut down on wait times both in terms of getting tested and receiving a diagnosis.
The coronavirus test that wasn’t: How federal health officials misled state scientists and derailed the best chance at containment. (USA Today, March 27, 2020)
From its biggest cities to its smallest towns, America’s chance to contain the coronavirus crisis came and went in the seven weeks since U.S. health officials botched the testing rollout and then misled scientists in state laboratories about this critical early failure. Federal regulators failed to recognize the spiraling disaster and were slow to relax the rules that prevented labs and major hospitals from advancing a backup.
The nation’s public health pillars — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration — shirked their responsibility to protect Americans in an emergency like this new coronavirus, USA TODAY found in interviews with dozens of scientists, public health experts and community leaders, as well as email communications between laboratories and hospitals across the country. The result was a cascading series of failures now costing lives.
The FDA, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, regulates according to laws passed by Congress and guidance laid out by the administration. Yet Trump has blamed the initial approach on the prior administration, which he said created barriers that made it difficult to rapidly ramp up testing. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said at a news conference two weeks ago. The White House did not respond to requests for comment and directed USA TODAY to the health department, which also did not respond.
Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who served as commissioner of the FDA under former president Barack Obama and helped oversee the agency’s response to the H1N1 flu outbreak, said there was nothing stopping the administration from acting sooner. “I’ve been confused by those characterizations of the FDA’s inability to move swiftly in a crisis,” Hamburg said.
NEW: Scientists, Lawyers Create Coronavirus IP Pledge. (Bloomberg Law, March 27, 2020)
Hundreds of Volunteers Are Working to Create Open-Source Ventilators to Fight Coronavirus. (Medium, March 27, 2020)
The goal is to create one million devices that cost less than $200 and operate with little to no power.
Trump Demands GM, Ford Produce Ventilators 'Immediately'. (International Business Times, March 27, 2020)
US President Donald Trump demanded Friday that automakers Ford and General Motors start making ventilators to help ease the growing pressure on hospitals to care for coronavirus patients. "General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!" Trump tweeted. "FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!" he added.
According to The New York Times, the White House had been planning this week to announce a joint venture between GM and Ventec Life Systems to jointly manufacture some 80,000 ventilators, as many areas of the country already report a dire shortage of the machines necessary to help COVID-19 victims continue breathing. GM had been expected to retool a mothballed car plant for the production.
But the announcement of the deal was cancelled at the last minute, the Times wrote, due to the substantial, $1 billion cost involved.
Trump though promised Friday that more ventilators were coming.
Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, the US region most heavily impacted so far by the coronavirus, has repeatedly pleaded with the government for more ventilators to be able to contend with patient needs as infections soar. Cuomo said he expects the epidemic won't peak in his region for another three weeks.
Coronavirus Ventilator Shortage: Trump Says GM Won't Meet Need Despite Promises. (International Business Times, March 27, 2020)
President Trump criticized General Motors Friday, saying it will be able to deliver only 6,000 of the 40,000 ventilators initially promised to help victims of coronavirus – and that won’t happen for another month. “As usual with this General Motors, things just never seem to work out,” Trump tweeted, blaming CEO Mary Barra.
GM had said it would retool its Kokomo, Indiana, plant to produce ventilators with technology from Ventec Life Systems. The company said it would put several hundred million dollars upfront to get production started but the effort would cost more than $1 billion.
‘I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators’: Trump questions New York’s plea for critical equipment. (Washington Post, March 27, 2020)
“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they’re going to be,” Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity in a phone interview. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes they’ll have two ventilators, and now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”
The president’s comments came shortly after the New York Times reported that the White House had abruptly called off a plan to announce this week that General Motors and Ventec Life Systems would be partnering to produce as many as 80,000 ventilators, citing concerns with the deal’s $1 billion price tag.
As Coronavirus Crisis Unfolds, Sanders Sees a Moment That Matches His Ideas. (New York Times, March 26, 2020)
With the odds of winning long, some Democrats wonder why Bernie Sanders is still in the presidential race. He’s still pushing his agenda, though it’s not clear who’s listening.
2019 saw over 60 gigawatts of wind power installed. (Ars Technica, March 27, 2020)
Slower growth likely as attention shifts and pandemic adds uncertainty.
Ring Doorbell App Packed with Third-Party Trackers. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, March 27, 2020)
Ring isn't just a product that allows users to surveil their neighbors. The company also uses it to surveil its customers.
An investigation by EFF of the Ring doorbell app for Android found it to be packed with third-party trackers sending out a plethora of customers’ personally identifiable information (PII). Four main analytics and marketing companies were discovered to be receiving information such as the names, private IP addresses, mobile network carriers, persistent identifiers, and sensor data on the devices of paying customers.
The danger in sending even small bits of information is that analytics and tracking companies are able to combine these bits together to form a unique picture of the user’s device. This cohesive whole represents a fingerprint that follows the user as they interact with other apps and use their device, in essence providing trackers the ability to spy on what a user is doing in their digital lives and when they are doing it. All this takes place without meaningful user notification or consent and, in most cases, no way to mitigate the damage done. Even when this information is not misused and employed for precisely its stated purpose (in most cases marketing), this can lead to a whole host of social ills.
Ring has exhibited a pattern of behavior that attempts to mitigate exposure to criticism and scrutiny while benefiting from the wide array of customer data available to them. It has been able to do so by leveraging an image of the secure home, while profiting from a surveillance network which facilitates police departments’ unprecedented access into the private lives of citizens, as we have previously covered. For consumers, this image has cultivated a sense of trust in Ring that should be shaken by the reality of how the app functions: not only does Ring mismanage consumer data, but it also intentionally hands over that data to trackers and data miners.
[Ring Inc. (formerly Doorbot) is a home security and smart home company owned by Amazon.]
Oil Price Crash Opens A Window Of Opportunity For Renewables. (Oil Price, March 26, 2020)
Just a month ago, companies and investors had a financial incentive to continue investing in new oil and gas projects despite the societal and environmentalist backlash against fossil fuels. Not anymore. In just a couple of weeks, the oil price crash made investments in renewable energy starting to look more attractive. Or at least as attractive as investment in oil and gas.   
The oil price collapse and the expected economic depression as a result of the coronavirus pandemic—as analysts are now warning of depression rather than recession in many major economies—could slow down the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs). Yet, history suggests that investments in renewable energy, especially wind and solar, are not expected to take a major hit during an oil price collapse, analysts say.
E.P.A., Citing Coronavirus, Drastically Relaxes Rules for Polluters. (New York Times, March 26, 2020)
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.
The move comes amid an influx of requests from businesses for a relaxation of regulations as they face layoffs, personnel restrictions and other problems related to the coronavirus outbreak. Issued by the E.P.A.’s top compliance official, Susan P. Bodine, the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.
Gina McCarthy, who led the E.P.A. under the Obama administration and now serves as president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called it “an open license to pollute.” She said that while individual companies might need flexibility, “this brazen directive is nothing short of an abject abdication of the E.P.A. mission to protect our well being.’’
Cynthia Giles, who headed the E.P.A. enforcement division during the Obama administration, said: “This is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. It is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.”
COVID-19 Crash: How China’s Economy May Offer a Glimpse of the Future (Visual Capitalist, March 26, 2020)
Zoom iOS App Sends Data to Facebook Even if You Don’t Have a Facebook Account. (Motherboard, March 26, 2020)
Zoom's privacy policy isn't explicit about the data transfer to Facebook at all.
Surging Traffic Is Slowing Down Our Internet. (New York Times, March 26, 2020)
With people going online more in the pandemic, internet traffic has exploded. That’s taking a toll on our download speeds and video quality.
In late January, as China locked down some provinces to contain the spread of the coronavirus, average internet speeds in the country slowed as people who were stuck inside went online more and clogged the networks. In Hubei Province, the epicenter of infections, mobile broadband speeds fell by more than half.
In mid-February, when the virus hit Italy, Germany and Spain, internet speeds in those countries also began to deteriorate.
And last week, as a wave of stay-at-home orders rolled out across the United States, the average time it took to download videos, emails and documents increased as broadband speeds declined 4.9 percent from the previous week. Median download speeds dropped 38 percent in San Jose, Calif., and 24 percent in New York. Company officials said they had never seen such a steep, sudden surge. The chief technology officer at Telefónica, a Spanish telecommunications company, said: “In just two days we grew all the traffic we had planned for 2020.” As the use of YouTube, Netflix, Zoom videoconferencing, Facebook calls and videogaming has surged to new highs, the stress on internet infrastructure is starting to show in Europe and the United States — and the traffic is probably far from its peak.
The demand has pushed up failure rates delivering video conferencing. “I don’t know if we’ll soon see a peak, not for weeks to come,” he said. “The reason I say that is because we aren’t seeing traffic in Asia slow down even now.”
To head off problems, European regulators have pushed streaming companies such as Netflix and YouTube to reduce the size of their video files so they don’t take up as much bandwidth. In the United States, regulators have given wireless carriers access to more spectrum to bolster the capacity of their networks. YouTube, which is owned by Google, said this week that it would reduce the quality of its videos from high to standard definition across the globe. Disney delayed the start of its Disney Plus streaming service in France by two weeks, and Microsoft’s Xbox asked gaming companies to introduce online updates and new releases only at certain times to prevent network congestion.
'For Common Benefit of All,' Ireland Nationalizes Hospitals for Duration of Coronavirus Crisis, Sparking Demand for US to Follow Suit. (Common Dreams, March 26, 2020)
"For the duration of this crisis the State will take control of all private hospital facilities and manage all of the resources for the common benefit of all of our people," Ireland's Health Minister Simon Harris announced Tuesday. "There can be no room for public versus private when it comes to pandemic."
'I won't survive': Iranian scientist in US detention says ICE will let Covid-19 kill many. (The Guardian, March 26, 2020)
Although he was exonerated, Dr Sirous Asgari remains locked up and tells the Guardian ‘inhumane’ jail is denying detainees masks and hand sanitizer.
Dr. Fauci: "You don't make the timeline; the virus does." (11-min, video; CNN, March 26, 2020)
Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci explains the reality of crafting a timeline to reopen parts of the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
USNS Comfort prepares for deployment to NYC. (5-min. video; MSNBC, March 26, 2020)
Naval ship, the USNS Comfort, is expected to depart from Virginia for New York City where, early next week, it will serve as a 1,000-bed hospital for non-COVID-19 patients so other area hospitals can focus their attention on the coronavirus.
In same video: US military orders no troop movements to or from overseas for 60 days.
The coronavirus threat to public health is no time to restrict abortion access. (Washington Post, March 26, 2020)
Texas, Ohio and Mississippi have halted abortion services during the coronavirus outbreak — and they’re unlikely to be the last states to institute such restrictions. Some policymakers are using the pandemic as an excuse to try to achieve a political, and perhaps moral, goal that is not currently supported by law. The facts are clear: Abortion is legal. The procedure is usually carried out in facilities that do not also take care of people with respiratory illnesses, which means it does not take up needed hospital beds. The right to an abortion is guaranteed under the law.
Pastor Who Claimed Covid-19 ‘Hysteria’ Was Plot Against Trump Dies From Virus. (Patheos, March 26, 2020)
On his Facebook page Spradlin shared a misleading meme attempting to minimize COVID-19, comparing the virus to the swine flu, and suggesting that the response to the coronavirus pandemic was media created “mass hysteria” to damage Trump.
The Ibuprofen Debate Reveals the Danger of Covid-19 Rumors. (Wired, March 26, 2020)
An online furor over whether it’s safe to use the fever reducer reveals how people are sharing incomplete—and sometimes bad—information.
Inside One Distillery’s Pivot to Hand Sanitizer (Atlas Obscura, March 26, 2020)
The small Massachusetts outfit supplies local police, firefighters, and hospitals.
Biden's new ad attacks Trump for repeatedly downplaying the coronavirus outbreak, using the president's own words against him. (MSN, March 26, 2020)
Biden's new video mirrors a similar ad by Priorities USA Action, a Democratic political action committee, which superimposes Trump's words over a graph that shows reported U.S. coronavirus cases increasing.The Trump campaign called for that ad to be taken down in a cease-and-desist letter to television networks, claiming it was "patently false, misleading, and deceptive" because it appeared to stitch together two soundbites that made it sound like Trump was calling coronavirus a hoax at a February 28 rally in North Carolina. Trump's rally remarks actually claimed that the Democrats were were politicizing the rally, in the manner that he claims they politicized impeachment. "Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right?" Trump said. "Coronavirus. They're politicizing it ... They tried the impeachment hoax ... and this is their new hoax." 
Heather Cox Richardson: The questions raised by this life-changing crisis are open… and so, suddenly, is America’s future. (Letters From An American, March 25, 2020)
Trump is using his daily briefings on the coronavirus in place of his rallies, and media channels are trying to figure out how both to cover the briefings and to avoid spreading disinformation that will hurt Americans’ ability to respond to the crisis. It is clear Trump is relishing the constant television coverage, and is using it to advance his reelection campaign. In the process, he is playing fast and loose with the truth. Media channels are aware that Trump got scads of free press coverage by engaging in shocking behavior, and are trying to cover the news without repeating that mistake. Today an NPR station in Seattle announced that it will no longer cover his briefings because they disseminate misleading or false information.
Increasingly, the reality is that Trump is outside the real action in the fighting against the pandemic. As the federal government has dropped the ball, state governors and local leaders have stepped in. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who leads the National Governors Association, dismissed out of hand the idea of ending the national lockdown by Easter, as Trump has suggested, and Republican and Democratic governors both have prioritized public health over the national economy.
Similarly, Trump played little if any role in drafting and passing the stimulus packages, leaving the largest stimulus bill in history in the hands of Congress and his Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, while he tweeted (incorrectly) that “the United States has done far more ‘testing’ than any other nation, by far!” and that the “LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!”
The country is reordering itself as we hunker down for this crisis. Already our work habits, our social habits, our shopping habits, and our personal lives have been knocked into new grooves. It is a mistake, I think, to imagine that when we finally get a handle on this disease, America will go back to what it was before coronavirus. Observers cannot help but note that such profound dislocation presents a perfect opening for an authoritarian power grab. The Department of Justice’s recent attempt to get Congress to pass legislation permitting the arrest and detention of defendants at will during a time of emergency is a troubling step in that direction. During past crises, a number of Americans have welcomed such authoritarianism, hoping to ditch the slow messiness of democracy in favor of quick, strong fixes. Notably, during the Depression, fascism didn’t strike everyone as a bad idea.
But while it is imperative for citizens of a democracy to watch for and resist the rise of such authoritarian power during a crisis, these times are also open for a redefinition of the nation, not only of our government, but also of how we live. We are learning that many of us can work from home—how will that change our urban and rural spaces? We are learning that our lives depend on a strong government response to pandemics and economic dislocation—how will that change our government? We are learning that our families and friends are even more important than even we knew—how will that change our priorities?
The questions raised by this life-changing crisis are open… and so, suddenly, is America’s future.
After Caving on ‘Orphan Drug’ Designation, Gilead Must Commit to Licensing and Mass Production. (Public Citizen, March 25, 2020)
It was outrageous that Gilead ever sought an “orphan drug” designation for remdesivir, which aims to treat a patient population that easily may number in the tens of millions in the U.S. alone. That designation would confer a special seven-year monopoly on the drug. Thankfully, under pressure, the company has backed down. There’s no doubt that the prospect of an enormous public backlash is what made the difference.
Here’s the story of a corporate profiteering scheme thwarted:
- Gilead Sciences makes an experimental medication that might prove effective in treating COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
- The company — which saw its revenue top $22 billion last year — rushed to acquire special monopoly privileges meant to spur development of medications that treat rare diseases.
- A disease qualifies as “rare” if it afflicts fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. at the time a company seeks the monopoly privileges.
- Those privileges stay in place even if the patient population later exceeds 200,000.
- And, as we all know, it is entirely possible that tens of millions of people will contract COVID-19.
- Public Citizen and allies jumped into action, denouncing Gilead’s unconscionable effort to exploit the coronavirus crisis.
And yesterday, Gilead backed down, rescinding its immoral monopoly claim.
But today’s action is not enough. If remdesivir proves to be a viable treatment for COVID-19, then the world cannot afford to have one manufacturer maintain a monopoly over it, particularly given the huge amount of public investment that has gone into the drug. Gilead must do more than make vague promises of reasonable pricing. It should commit right now to license the right and needed know-how to manufacture remdesivir to all qualified producers, in exchange for a modest royalty. If the drug proves viable as a COVID-19 treatment, the U.S. and the world will need the product available at a low price that reflects both the public health need and the potentially enormous market – with production at an unprecedented scale.
Gilead Sciences requests FDA rescind 'orphan drug' status for potential coronavirus treatment. (The Hill, March 25, 2020)
The federal agency awarded Gilead special status over its drug remdesivir, prompting backlash.
Gilead Must Relinquish Monopoly on Potential Coronavirus Treatment. (Public Citizen, March 25, 2020)
51 Groups Warn Gilead Against Profiteering Off the Pandemic.Senate Approves $2-Trillion Stimulus After Bipartisan Deal. (New York Times, March 25, 2020)
The plan would provide direct payments to taxpayers, jobless benefits and a $500 billion fund to assist distressed businesses, with oversight requirements demanded by Democrats. The measure, which the Senate approved unanimously just before midnight on Wednesday, amounts to a government aid plan unprecedented in its sheer scope and size, touching on every facet of American life with the goal of salvaging and ultimately reviving a battered economy. Its cost is hundreds of billions of dollars more than Congress provides for the entire United States federal budget for a single year, outside of social safety net programs. Administration officials said they hoped that its effect on a battered economy would be exponentially greater, as much as $4 trillion.
The deal is the product of a marathon set of negotiations among Senate Republicans, Democrats and Mr. Trump’s team that nearly fell apart as Democrats insisted on stronger worker protections, more funds for hospitals and state governments, and tougher oversight over new loan programs intended to bail out distressed businesses. The perils of the pandemic, which by Wednesday had spread within the marble halls of the Capitol to infect lawmakers themselves, prompted Republicans to put aside their usual antipathy for big government and spearhead an effort to send cash to American families, while agreeing to astonishingly large additions to the social safety net. Democrats, for their part, dropped their routine opposition to showering tax cuts and other benefits on big corporations — all in the interest of getting a deal.
On Wednesday afternoon, four Republican senators said they were concerned the new benefits would be larger than some people’s wages, prompting employers to lay off workers and some employees to prefer staying home and collecting unemployment payments. The Republicans’ threat to hold up the bill because of the issue prompted Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont and a Democratic presidential contender, to issue his own warning that he, too, would seek to block the legislation for being too lenient on corporations. Later, in a speech on the floor, Mr. Sanders said he would support the bill despite his many reservations.
The agreement came together after a furious final round of haggling between administration officials led by Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Mr. Schumer after Democrats twice blocked action on the measure as they insisted on concessions. In the end, though, not a single senator voted “no.”
And even as they prepared to approve it, lawmakers were already discussing the likelihood that they would soon have to consider yet another package to respond to the pandemic and the toll it was taking on the United States. Some states said they needed far more government aid than it planned to provide. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, whose state is battling by far the largest outbreak of the virus in the United States, said Wednesday that the package was “terrible” for New York, and that the $3.1 billion earmarked to help the state with its budget gap was not nearly enough.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California endorsed the deal, and planned to push it through the House on Friday by voice vote — meaning that no roll call would be taken — given that the chamber is in recess and its members are scattered across the country, some in places that have imposed travel restrictions and quarantines.
Paul Krugman: Is Density Deadly? (New York Times, March 25, 2020)
New York is in a class of its own, with the average resident living in a census tract with more than 31,000 people per square mile. (My own neighborhood has about 60,000 people per square mile.) That’s two-and-a-half times the density in San Francisco or L.A., four times the density of Chicago.
$2 Trillion Senate Stimulus Deal Reached. House to weigh in - No $ For Trump. (Daily Kos, March 25, 2020)
In Fiery Floor Speech, Senator Bernie Sanders Rips GOP for Relentless Efforts to 'Punish' Poor People. (2-min. video; Common Dreams, March 26, 2020)
"Meanwhile, these very same folks had no problem a couple years ago voting for a trillion dollars in tax breaks for billionaires and large profitable corporations. Not a problem."
How the Pandemic Will End (The Atlantic, March 25, 2020)
The White House is a ghost town of scientific expertise. A pandemic-preparedness office that was part of the National Security Council was dissolved in 2018. On January 28, Luciana Borio, who was part of that team, urged the government to “act now to prevent an American epidemic,” and specifically to work with the private sector to develop fast, easy diagnostic tests. But with the office shuttered, those warnings were published in The Wall Street Journal, rather than spoken into the president’s ear. Instead of springing into action, America sat idle.
Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”
Man Suspected of Planning Attack on Missouri Hospital Is Killed, Officials Say. (New York Times, March 25, 2020)
According to officials, the man had expressed racist and anti-government sentiments.
Trump sends cease, desist letter on ad featuring one giant sound bite of his mad coronavirus musings. (Daily Kos, March 25, 2020)
Donald Trump is angry. The Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA assembled a 30-second TV ad that features the sound bites of Trump and Trump only, and guess what? Turns out he’s an unhinged maniacal liar who’s gotten everything about the coronavirus wrong. That may not be news to you, but it is apparently news to Trump. And his dangerously factless musings on the coronavirus over the past several weeks have not worn well.
So on Wednesday, a Trump campaign attorney released a cease and desist letter demanding that TV stations across the nation pull the ad immediately. “On behalf of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., President Trump’s principal campaign committee, this letter notifies you that your station is airing a patently false, misleading, and deceptive advertisement,” wrote Alex Cannon, special counsel to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. “Because [the] ad’s central point is deliberately false and misleading, your station has an obligation to cease and desist from airing it immediately to comply with FCC licensing requirements, to serve the public interest, and to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation.” Um, yeah, the ad simply regurgitates all Trump’s falsehoods on the virus, sound bite by sound bite. So if it’s “patently false” and “misleading,” that’s because Trump narrates the entire thing in his own words.
Why Trump's plan is more than just sacrificing old people. It's guaranteed to destroy the nation. (Daily Kos, March 25, 2020)
Donald Trump is suggesting that we should rescind efforts at coronavirus suppression in order to “save” the economy, while Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas calls on patriotic grandparents to sacrifice themselves to drive up the Dow. Across the pond, the U.K. government already mulled over the idea of allowing that nation to become a viral incubator until it reached the level required for “herd immunity”—though at least their plan called for sequestering the vulnerable while the nation sweated things out, rather than tossing them all into the Save the Stock Market National Patriotism Volcano.
There’s another name for the daring plan now being promoted by the right: It’s called “doing nothing.” It’s called letting the disaster play out, or allowing the disease run to its course, or simply permitting the wildfire to burn unchecked. But the problem is that when it’s done, what they get would not be a nation going “back to normal.” It would be ashes.
Catastrophic earthquake, oil rig blowout, fire, storm or pandemic: Thinking about the unthinkable (Temblor, March 25, 2020)
 In the U.S., we were unprepared, flat-footed and arrogant in response to this pandemic. We had nowhere near enough test kits and still don’t; we had nowhere near enough respirators and still don’t; and nowhere near enough hospital beds and still don’t. New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo has asked the National Guard to turn the Javits Center into a huge, 1,000-bed field hospital. It’s a good idea, but who could have imagined it. Cuomo says it’s the first of four: a proportionate response.
We could have and should have been better prepared for the virus. But the notion of prediction that we are so invested in as natural scientists in seismology, climatology and volcanology has no place here. Preparing for the unprecedented is really tough, but not impossible. Viruses have ravaged humanity for centuries. We learn from them and we put them out of our minds in the belief—hope, really—that something so terrible will not repeat itself in the modern world. Then they do, and here we are, wondering again how to respond and how to prepare for the next time.
How to Help Scientists Without Leaving Home (Atlas Obscura, March 25, 2020)
Gaze out the window or at your computer, in the name of data.
The therapeutic value of the garden in trying times. (Washington Post, March 24, 2020)
If someone were to say I must self-isolate in the garden for the next few weeks, I would shake him or her by the hand. If I could. Here’s a thumbs up from a distance of six feet or more. The neighborhood sidewalks and nature trails are thronged with the cabin-fevered, so what better place to be outdoors and yet away from others than in your backyard and garden?
Announcing a National Emergency Library to Provide Digitized Books to Students and the Public (Internet Archive, March 24, 2020)
The Internet Archive will suspend waitlists for the 1.4 million (and growing) books in our lending library by creating a National Emergency Library to serve the nation’s displaced learners. This suspension will run through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later.
NEW: MIT-based team works on rapid deployment of open-source, low-cost ventilator. (MIT News Office, March 26, 2020)
Clinical and design considerations will be published online; goal is to support rapid scale-up of device production to alleviate hospital shortages.
[Placed two days earlier, alongside related articles.]
Can low-cost, open-source ventilator designs help save lives? (MIT Technology Review, March 24, 2020)
An MIT team is racing to publish designs it hopes could help as the escalating pandemic strains supplies of the machines. The team recently launched a website unveiling the MIT Emergency Ventilator Project, or E-Vent, which now states the device "is being submitted" to the Food and Drug Administration for rapid review under an “Emergency Use Authorization.” “At present, we are awaiting FDA feedback," one member of the team told MIT News. “Ultimately, our intent is to seek FDA approval. That process takes time, however.”
NEW: The coronavirus’s survival mechanism is what makes it so dangerous. (Quartz, March 24, 2020)
For most people, Covid-19 seems to be pretty mild. And it takes a while—to the tune of five days to two weeks—to cause symptoms, if it does at all.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what makes the novel coronavirus so dangerous. In the period that an infected person is asymptomatic or mildly ill, they could transmit the virus to dozens of other people through water droplets expelled by coughs or sneezes, transferred on skin and other surfaces. One person in South Korea, known only as patient 31, transmitted the virus to over 1,100 people as she went about her life.
Silver lining: Could COVID-19 lead to a better future? (The Conversation, March 24, 2020)
It’s an uncomfortable but inescapable historic fact that great pandemics often bring about social reform.
Historians note that the most fatal iteration of the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, from 1347 to 1351 resulted in improved working and living conditions for low-income workers of that era, which in turn led to healthier diets and better resistance to later recurrences of the disease. The 1854 cholera epidemic in London allowed pioneering epidemiologist John Snow to establish the link between clean drinking water and the disease, which eventually led to government infrastructure investments in water and sanitation.
The influenza epidemic of 1918-19, like the bubonic plague and cholera, was a “crowd disease” that fed on social inequalities. People living in overcrowded homes or in the trenches of the First World War who were poorly fed and cold were more susceptible. In the aftermath of the pandemic 100 years ago, many countries recognized the importance of universal health care and better housing. In the United States, where the male workforce was decimated due to the absence of “social distancing,” women workers gained a measure of financial independence, which furthered the suffrage movement.
Best-Case Scenario: August Peak For Virus In Middlesex County, Massachusetts (Patch, March 24, 2020)
If everyone in Middlesex County adheres to social distancing, the virus may not peak until late summer, according to a recent analysis. Under the best-case scenario, including strict imposition of measures like closing schools, banning mass gatherings, and testing and quarantining sick people and their contacts, the peak of infection could be pushed past July 31, with as few as 32,000 cases — just 2 percent of the county population.
If severe control measures including strict social distancing are NOT put in place, coronavirus infections could top 900,000 in Middlesex County by early May - 60 percent or more of the population.
Governor Charlie Baker stressed the importance of social distancing Monday as he explained his new stay-at-home advisory. But social distancing in the U.S. isn't as easy as telling everyone to stay home, said Mary Travis Bassett, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. "The United States has particular vulnerabilities that make it possible that we'll have the worse coronavirus epidemic of all," Bassett said, citing the country's health, economic and social inequalities. "These inequalities... mean that we are both more susceptible and more likely to have people who are not going to follow the public health advice of social distancing, hand-washing and seeking prompt medical care because they risk their livelihood," Bassett said. She added that many low-wage workers in the health care sector can't afford to miss a day of pay or take a sick day. "The infusion of financial support to people who are no longer working is absolutely critical," Bassett said, "People are not going to stay home and not feed their families."
COVID-19 news: GOP floats 'sacrifice the elderly' trial balloon; U.S. becomes new world hotspot. (Daily Kos, March 24, 2020)
Rachel Maddow: Mardi Gras, coronavirus make 'perfect storm' crisis in Louisiana. (6-min. video; MSNBC, March 24, 2020)
Dr. Rebekah Gee, CEO of LSU Healthcare Services, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the skyrocketing spread of the coronavirus in Louisiana threatens to overwhelm hospital resources there, not just the bed capacity but the staffing resources as well.
Cuomo to Feds: ‘You Pick the People Who Are Going to Die’; WH Tells Those Recently in NYC to Self-Quarantine. (ABC News, March 24, 2020)
NY COVID-19 Cases Doubling Every 3 Days; 50% of All New U.S. Cases Coming From Metro Area, Feds Say.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo sounded his loudest alarm yet on New York's coronavirus crisis Tuesday, warning the curve was showing no signs of flattening out and was in fact rising faster and more dangerously than projected. He said last week that peak infection was 45 days out; now, he says, the state may see it in two weeks.
Cuomo initially projected the state would need 110,000 hospital beds at the peak of the crisis. Now he believes New York will need up to 140,000 hospital beds. That's more than double current capacity. The intensive care situation is worse; the state has 3,000 ICU units and may need up to 40,000, Cuomo said.
The federal government has sent supplies, including masks and gowns and another 400 ventilators that arrived in New York City this week. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the city needs 15,000 — the state needs double that, on top of the 7,000 it already has procured. The governor's frustration boiled over Tuesday. "What are we going to do with 400 ventilators when we need 30,000? You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators," Cuomo said.
McConnell's toxic, partisan game has wasted 10 days of critical coronavirus response time. (Daily Kos, March 24, 2020)
Trump privately says he's facing pressure over refusal to use Defense Production Act. (CNN, March 24, 2020)
Trump himself has caused confusion over the process. In a briefing Friday, he argued he had already used the act, though aides later clarified he had only signed it and the status had remained unchanged, which his FEMA administrator Pete Gaynor confirmed during an interview on CNN Sunday. "If it comes to a point we have to pull the lever, we will," Gaynor said.
Two people familiar with the President's thinking said he's now languishing in a place where neither side is satisfied by his moves on Defense Production Act. Those who wanted him to sign the act aren't pleased because he did but isn't using it. And the people who didn't want him to sign it aren't because he did, while holding out hope he won't actually use it.
Fox News sneered at coronavirus, but owner Rupert Murdoch isn't taking chances with his own health. (Daily Kos, March 24, 2020)
Trump wants ‘the country opened,’ but easing coronavirus restrictions now would be disastrous, experts say. (Washington Post, March 24, 2020)
A growing debate pits the health of the U.S. economy against the health of its people. With President Trump saying he wants “the country opened” by Easter to salvage the U.S. economy, a fierce debate is now raging among policymakers over the necessity of shutting down vast swaths of American society to combat the novel coronavirus. Health experts point to overwhelming evidence from around the world that closing businesses and schools and minimizing social contact are crucial to avoid exponentially mounting infections. Ending the shutdown now in America would be disastrous, many say, because the country has barely given those restrictions time to work, and because U.S. leaders have not pursued alternative strategies used in other countries to avert the potential deaths of hundreds of thousands.
“To be a week into these restrictions and already be talking about abandoning them is irresponsible and dangerous,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Removing restrictions now would allow the virus, he said, to “spread widely, rapidly, terribly, and could kill potentially millions in the year ahead with huge social and economic impact.”
While not mentioning the president by name, Bill Gates — who co-founded Microsoft and now leads a global health foundation — rebuked Trump’s approach in a Tuesday interview with TED: “There really is no middle ground, and it’s very tough to say to people: ‘Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts.’”
Trump Doesn’t Have the Attention Span to Fight Coronavirus. (New York Times, March 24, 2020)
He already seems to be losing interest. Look elsewhere for hope. The deep problem with Trump is that he completely squandered whatever remained of the moral capital of the presidency long before any of us had heard of the coronavirus. So even if he were getting everything right — and he hasn’t — he would be failing at his task because he inspires zero trust with at least half the country.
The federal government needs to create some kind of mechanism that can provide low-interest loans to every business that needs one, without political demands or heavy paperwork in order to speed the transmission of funds. Another idea, suggested by a friend who is savvy in these matters, is to use the tax laws to impose a four-month moratorium on interests and rents, since rent and interest are often the biggest expenses for many businesses. Congress could pass a 100 percent tax on rental and income interest during this period to enforce compliance without needing to void contracts.
My own brainstorm (not deeply thought through, so I’ll be grateful for reader comments on this) is to hand every American adult in a lockdown zone a government-backed credit card — call it a CovidCard — so that they can cover their essential expenses now and begin repayment, at zero-interest, starting in 2023, or at a gradually rising rate later on. Obviously there would have to be a fairly strict maximum limit to keep people from bankrupting themselves, but if the government worked with the credit card companies it should be relatively easy to do from a technical standpoint.
Trump Lashes Out as Americans Remain Under Lockdown: A Closer Look (17-min. video; Late Night with Seth Meyers, March 23, 2020)
Top Senate Democrat and Treasury Secretary Say They Are Near a Stimulus Deal. (New York Times, March 23, 2020)
The Treasury secretary and the top Senate Democrat said late Monday that they were on the brink of a deal on a nearly $2 trillion emergency economic aid measure to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, after a marathon day of talks as Democrats demanded stronger protections for workers and restrictions for bailed-out businesses.
Paul Krugman: Republicans Add Insult to Illness. (New York Times, March 23, 2020)
Greed, germs and the art of no deal. If you want a quick summary of the state of play over fiscal stimulus legislation, here it is: Republicans insist that we should fight a plague with trickle-down economics and crony capitalism. Democrats, for some reason, don’t agree, and think we should focus on directly helping Americans in need.
Let’s talk about the nature of the economic crisis we face. At the worst point in the 2007-2009 recession, America was losing around 800,000 jobs per month. Right now, we’re probably losing several million jobs every week. What’s causing these job losses? So far it’s not what usually happens in a recession, when businesses lay off workers because consumers aren’t spending enough. What we’re seeing instead are the effects of social distancing: restaurants, entertainment venues and many other establishments have been closed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.And we neither can nor should bring those jobs back until the pandemic has faded. What this tells us is that right now our highest priority isn’t job creation, it’s disaster relief: giving families and small businesses that have lost their incomes enough money to afford necessities while the shutdown lasts. Oh, and providing generous aid to hospitals, clinics and other health care providers in this time of incredible stress.
Now, while social distancing is currently driving employment destruction, there will eventually be a second, more conventional round of job losses as distressed families and businesses cut back on spending. So there is also a case for stimulus to sustain overall spending — although helping Americans in need will provide much of that stimulus, by also helping them continue to spend.
If legislation is stalled, as it appears to be as I write this (although things change fast when we’re on Covid time), it’s because Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is holding needy Americans hostage in an attempt to blackmail Democrats into giving Donald Trump a $500 billion slush fund.
Funny, isn’t it, how helping ordinary Americans is always framed as a “Democratic demand”? And even there the legislation includes poison pills, like a provision that would deny aid to many nonprofit institutions like nursing homes and group homes for the disabled. And it also includes that $500 billion slush fund for corporations that the Trump administration could allocate at its discretion, with essentially no oversight. This isn’t just terrible policy; it’s an insult to our intelligence. It would be hard to justify giving any administration that kind of power to reward its friends and punish those it considers enemies. It’s almost inconceivable that anyone would propose giving such authority to the Trump administration.
Remember, we’ve had more than three years to watch this administration in action. We’ve seen Trump refuse to disclose anything about his financial interests, amid abundant evidence that he is profiting at the public’s expense. Trump’s trade war has been notable for the way in which favored companies somehow manage to get tariff exemptions while others are denied. And as you read this, Trump is refusing to use his authority to require production of essential medical gear.
Cronyism aside, there’s also the issue of competence. Why would you give vast discretionary power to a team that utterly botched the response to the coronavirus because Trump didn’t want to hear bad news? Why would you place economic recovery efforts in the hands of people who were assuring us just weeks ago that the virus was contained and the economy was “holding up nicely”?
Finally, we’ve just had a definitive test of the underlying premise of the McConnell slush fund — that if you give corporations money without strings attached they will use it for the benefit of workers and the economy as a whole. In 2017 Republicans rammed through a huge corporate tax cut, which they assured us would lead to higher wages and surging business investment. Neither of these things happened; instead, corporations basically used the money to buy back their own stock. Why would this time be any different?
As I write this, Republicans are ranting that Democrats are sabotaging the economy by refusing to pass McConnell’s bill — which is a bit rich for those who remember the G.O.P.’s scorched-earth opposition to everything Barack Obama proposed. But in any case, if McConnell really wants action, he could get it easily either by dropping his demand for a Trump-controlled slush fund or by passing the stimulus bill House Democrats are likely to offer very soon. And maybe that will happen within a few days. As I said, we’re now living on Covid time. But right now Republicans seem dead set on exploiting a crisis their own president helped create by his refusal to take the pandemic seriously.
The Senate Is Mad. Tempers flare as the chamber tries to close out a $2 trillion coronavirus deal. (Slate, March 23, 2020)
Early Sunday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a procedural vote for the roughly $2 trillion stimulus package that Senate Republicans and Democrats had been negotiating over the weekend. Democrats hadn’t signed off on the deal, though, and were still pushing for increased benefits for the unemployed, hospitals, and states, as well as stronger guardrails and oversight of the roughly $500 billion fund for large corporations, disbursement of much of which would otherwise be largely left to the treasury secretary’s discretion.
So Senate Democrats successfully filibustered. An unusually mad McConnell blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who flew back to D.C. from San Francisco on Saturday, for blowing up the negotiations by bringing with her a new wish list of demands. Later in the night, when McConnell tried to schedule a do-over on the same procedural vote for 9:45 Monday morning—15 minutes after the stock markets opened, in an effort to terrify Democrats—Democratic leader Chuck Schumer objected. The Senate opened at noon on Monday instead.
The coronavirus isn’t alive. That’s why it’s so hard to kill. (Washington Post, March 23, 2020)
The science behind what makes this coronavirus so sneaky, deadly and difficult to defeat
How Singapore waged war on coronavirus (Irish Times, March 23, 2020)
Singapore reported its first two deaths from the pathogen only this weekend, despite being one of the first countries to be hit by the outbreak outside China two months ago. That has made it one of the safest places in the world for patients of the disease, which has already killed almost 13,000 people globally. The city’s success in dealing with the outbreak is attributed to the government’s speed in imposing border controls soon after the disease first erupted in China, meticulous tracing of known carriers, aggressive testing, a clear public communication strategy and a bit of luck.
Before Trump called for reevaluating lockdowns, they shuttered six of his top-earning clubs and resorts. (Washington Post, March 23, 2020)
President Trump’s private business has shut down six of its top seven revenue-producing clubs and hotels because of restrictions meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, potentially depriving Trump’s company of millions of dollars in revenue.
Those closures come as Trump is considering easing restrictions on movement sooner than federal public health experts recommend, in the name of reducing the virus’s economic damage. In a tweet late Sunday, Trump said the measures could be lifted as soon as March 30. “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” he wrote on Twitter.
In his unprecedented dual role as president and owner of a sprawling business, Trump is facing dual crises caused by the coronavirus. As he is trying to manage the pandemic from the White House, limiting its casualties as well as the economic fallout, his company is also navigating a major threat to the hospitality industry. That threatens to pull Trump in opposite directions, because the strategies that many scientists believe will help lessen the public emergency — like strict, long-lasting restrictions on movement — could deepen the short-term problems of Trump’s private business, by keeping doors shut and customers away.
The latest MAGA nonsense: “Grandparents would be willing to die to save the economy for their children.” (Teri Kanefield, March 23, 2020)
Sending People Back to Work Now Will Not Save the Economy. It Will Doom It. (Slate, March 23, 2020)
President Donald Trump is already having second thoughts about telling Americans to stay at home in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus, because he is worried about how badly it will hurt the economy (and, presumably, the Dow). The president reportedly began talking privately about “reopening” the country as early as last week. He’s also being nudged in that direction by conservative pundits, advisers within his own administration, and Wall Street figures who have urged a quick return to normalcy, in order to limit the blow to businesses and workers.
Trump Already Trying to Find a Way Out of His Own Inadequate, Mostly Made-Up Lockdown. (Slate, March 23, 2020)
Democrats Are Getting What They Bargained for Out of Joe Biden. (Slate, March 23, 2020)
Which is maybe just enough to get by.
Young Voters Know What They Want. But They Don’t See Anyone Offering It. (New York Times, March 22, 2020)
The oldest of them were just out of college on 9/11; the youngest were not yet born. Over the two decades that followed, they all came of age under storm clouds: of war, of recession, of mass shootings, wildfires and now a pandemic. The result is perhaps the most profound generational gap since the 1960s: between the Generation X, baby boomer and Silent Generation voters who remember one world, and the millennial and Generation Z voters for whom that world never existed.
In November, for the first time, the new generations will have enough electoral clout to seriously compete with the old. But, with Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign barely clinging to life, many feel more disillusioned than empowered.
Lost Sense of Smell May Be Peculiar Clue to Coronavirus Infection. (New York Times, March 22, 2020)
Doctor groups are recommending testing and isolation for people who lose their ability to smell and taste, even if they have no other symptoms.
Anosmia, the loss of sense of smell, and ageusia, an accompanying diminished sense of taste, have emerged as peculiar telltale signs of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and possible markers of infection. On Friday, British ear, nose and throat doctors, citing reports from colleagues around the world, called on adults who lose their senses of smell to isolate themselves for seven days, even if they have no other symptoms, to slow the disease’s spread. The published data is limited, but doctors are concerned enough to raise warnings.
Tormented Italy tries to get to grips with coronavirus epidemic. (Irish Times, March 22, 2020)
Initial hesitation and failure to grasp scale of the threat were likely factors in the sharp rise in deaths. Covid-19 had been circulating in Europe since December. It took too long to recognise all the atypical cases of pneumonia that arrived in hospitals between January and February. We should have had a more open mind and think that Chinese coronavirus would become Italian, French, Irish and so on.
Fox News' COVID-19 Lies Are DANGEROUS. (6-min. video; The Young Turks, March 22, 2020)
A mashup of clips from right-wing media compiled by TYT's Jayar Jackson makes a compelling case that Fox News and other similar outlets have consistently downplayed the threat from Covid-19, blamed Democrats and the media for using the coronavirus to attack Trump, encouraged viewers to continue going out, traveling and patronizing bars and restaurants, and even suggested that the virus may have been unleashed on the US by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Seeing the poll figures, Francesca expresses genuine frustration and anger at Fox and other news outlets for misleading their audience over a matter of life and death on a global scale.
U.S. axed CDC expert job in China months before virus outbreak. (Reuters, March 22, 2020)
The American expert, Dr. Linda Quick, was a trainer of Chinese field epidemiologists who were deployed to the epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases. As an American CDC employee, Quick was in an ideal position to be the eyes and ears on the ground for the United States and other countries on the coronavirus outbreak, and might have alerted them to the growing threat weeks earlier.
No other foreign disease experts were embedded to lead the program after Quick left in July, according to the sources. An embedded expert can often get word of outbreaks early, after forming close relationships with Chinese counterparts.
Restoration Hardware Sees Itself As ‘Critical Infrastructure’ During Coronavirus Outbreak. (Huffington Post, March 22, 2020)
Employees at the company’s California call center have been told to continue working despite a statewide shelter-in-place order.
Workers at Restoration Hardware were given a letter to show police this week if they were stopped on their way to work in California. The letter argues that employees of the upscale furniture company can work despite a statewide shelter-in-place order prompted by the coronavirus outbreak because they are part of “critical infrastructure.” Restoration Hardware sells high-end furniture, bedding, bath fixtures and lighting through its stores and website. It’s not clear how the company is part of what the state of California describes as “functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.”
The company had concluded after a legal review that its customer call center was an essential service. Cassidy said customers may be wondering what happened to their orders and the company needs to be able to let them know. Asked if it was essential that a customer receive a Restoration Hardware order during a pandemic, Cassidy said that if the company’s orders don’t continue to move out of the ports, it could affect the movement of critical items like food and toilet paper.
Shocking video captures Trump supporter buying Dollar Tree store out of toilet paper during coronavirus crisis. (Raw Story, March 21, 2020)
DOJ seeks new emergency powers amid coronavirus pandemic. (Politico, March 21, 2020)
One of the requests to Congress would allow the department to petition a judge to indefinitely detain someone during an emergency. The move has tapped into a broader fear among civil liberties advocates and Donald Trump’s critics — that the president will use a moment of crisis to push for controversial policy changes. Already, he has cited the pandemic as a reason for heightening border restrictions and restricting asylum claims. He has also pushed for further tax cuts as the economy withers, arguing that it would soften the financial blow to Americans. And even without policy changes, Trump has vast emergency powers that he could legally deploy right now to try and slow the coronavirus outbreak.
White House Won’t Say When More Masks Will Be Available To Health Care Workers. (Huffington Post, March 21, 2020)
During Saturday’s coronavirus task force update, Trump once again blamed his administration’s bungled response on Obama.
COVID-19 By the Numbers: The View of a 20-Year Veteran of Pandemic Preparedness. (Daily Kos, March 21, 2020)
Italy is the canary in the coal mine. Don’t count cases (testing rate is still too low/spotty). Count deaths per day. It is a lagging indicator, but the most solid trend for decision making.
U.S. FDA approves first rapid coronavirus test with 45 minutes detection time. (Reuters, March 21, 2020)
The test’s developer, California-based molecular diagnostics company Cepheid, said on Saturday it had received an emergency use authorization from the FDA for the test, which will be used primarily in hospitals and emergency rooms. The company plans to begin shipping it to hospitals next week, it said.
The diagnostic test for the virus that causes COVID-19 has been designed to operate on any of Cepheid’s more than 23,000 automated GeneXpert Systems globally, the company said. The systems do not require users to have special training to perform testing, and are capable of running around the clock, Cepheid President Warren Kocmond said in the statement. The company did not give further details or say how much the test will cost.
The Emissions Impact of Coronavirus Lockdowns, As Shown by Satellites (Visual Capitalist, March 21, 2020)
Impact of coronavirus on Census could weaken democracy for a decade. (Daily Kos, March 21, 2020)
Lawmakers and civil rights groups are warning that the novel coronavirus crisis could devastate minority communities for the next decade if the outbreak upends the 2020 census, which normally takes place in Spring.
How It All Came Apart for Bernie Sanders (New York Times, March 21, 2020)
The Sanders campaign appeared on the brink of a commanding lead in the Democratic race. But a series of fateful decisions and internal divisions have left him all but vanquished.
Twitter Suspended Cory Doctorow For Putting Trolls On A List Called 'Colossal Assholes'. (TechDirt, March 20, 2020)
Content moderation at scale is impossible to do well. Mistakes will always be made, or even "legitimate" decisions will appear "wrong" to many, many people.
The latest example: Twitter -- which has received criticism for being both too aggressive in shutting down accounts and not nearly aggressive enough (sometimes by the same people) -- suspended Cory Doctorow's account earlier this week. The reasoning for the suspension? He would put various trolls onto a Twitter list called "colossal assholes" before muting them, and Twitter claimed this violated its policies (though the company only told him well after it suspended him).
NEW: A Home-Grown Response to Insect Population Collapse (NOFA/Massachusetts, March 20, 2020)
In this time of the Anthropocene, when human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment, stories about biodiversity loss have become heartbreakingly common. Once limited to the occasional report of a notable megafauna—the endangerment of pandas, snow leopards, elephants—today our awareness of species engagement extends to those small and oft-taken-for-granted service workers of earth’s ancient plant propagation engine: pollinators.
[Plant these for bees.]
Meet the Ecologist Who Wants You to Unleash the Wild on Your Backyard. (Smithsonian Magazine, March 20, 2020)
Fed up with invasive species and sterile landscapes, Douglas Tallamy urges Americans to go native and go natural.“The little things that run the world are disappearing,” he says. “This is an ecological crisis that we’re just starting to talk about.”
NEW: The cure for COVID-19, and so much more, is global cooperation. (The Hill, March 20, 2020)
There is much to be learned here for the current crisis and for the longer term in a multitude of other areas. There are pools of experts — scientists, doctors. engineers, humanitarians, financial professionals — who see problems not in a partisan political context (which frequently is infused with misinformation or incomplete information) or within the constraints of national borders (which limits the number of minds and experience being brought to bear on the problem) but in global terms and as urgent challenges to lives and societies across the world. For example, cooperation between Chinese and American doctors and scientists is essential; “decoupling" most definitely is not an option here. And experts from other countries also must be engaged, as must the World Health Organization (WHO), which plays a critical role. This requires global cooperation at its most intense and urgent.
If the centerpiece of the 21st century version of globalization encouraged and elevated such collective endeavors to deal with this virus and similar challenges in a systematic way — and if it gave greater visibility and weight in our respective political systems and public discourse to scientists, researchers, engineers and other experts with deep knowledge of global challenges — then the credibility of the global order would be enhanced. So would the stature of political leaders who recognized that their own credibility would be enhanced.
Hospitals and doctors are wiping out supplies of an unproven coronavirus treatment. (Washington Post, March 20, 2020)
Lack of definitive evidence has not stopped exploding demand for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two old anti-malarial drugs. The sudden shortages of the two drugs could come at a serious cost for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis patients who depend on them to alleviate symptoms of inflammation, including preventing organ damage in lupus patients.
Call Trump’s News Conferences What They Are: Propaganda. (New York Times, March 20, 2020)
Then contrast them with the leadership shown by Andrew Cuomo, Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel.
In a time of global emergency, we need calm, directness and, above all, hard facts. Only the opposite is on offer from the Trump White House. It is therefore time to call the president’s news conferences for what they are: propaganda.
We may as well be watching newsreels approved by the Soviet Politburo. We’re witnessing the falsification of history in real time. When Donald Trump, under the guise of social distancing, told the White House press corps on Thursday that he ought to get rid of 75 to 80 percent of them — reserving the privilege only for those he liked — it may have been chilling, but it wasn’t surprising. He wants to thin out their ranks until there’s only Pravda in the room.
Coronavirus Could Overwhelm U.S. Without Urgent Action, Estimates Say. (New York Times, March 20, 2020)
The coronavirus has infected far more people in the United States than testing has shown so far, and stringent measures to limit social contact in parts of the country not yet seeing many cases are needed to significantly stem the tide of illness and death in the coming months. The estimates are inherently uncertain, and they could change as America adopts unprecedented measures to control the outbreak. But they offer a stark warning: Even if the country cut its rate of transmission in half — a tall order — some 650,000 people might become infected in the next two months.
The growth is driven by Americans with mild symptoms who are carrying and spreading the virus without being aware that they have it, the researchers say. The number of undetected cases — 11 times more than has been officially reported, they estimate — reflects how far behind the United States has fallen in testing for the virus. We’re looking at something that’s catastrophic on a level that we have not seen for an infectious disease since 1918. And it’s requiring sacrifices we haven’t seen since World War II. There are going to be enormous disruptions. There’s no easy way out.
Senate Republicans’ cash assistance plan is far too limited. (Vox, March 20, 2020)
Too little help for children, low-income people, and those hit hard by the crisis.
Forecasts worsen as experts say trillions of dollars needed to stimulate economy back to health. (Daily Kos, March 20, 2020)
Senate Republicans are pushing what chief White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow calls more than a $2 trillion injection. But that huge amount—$1.3 trillion more than the 2009 Obama stimulus that only three congressional Republicans supported—won’t be enough if the COVID-19 plague takes longer to conquer than a few months, which many health experts say is possible, and even likely. Said Yale’s Andrew Metrick, a leading expert on economic crises: “If it lasts a year, it's going to be several trillion they have to spend to keep people from starving."
In 2008, Richard Burr Also Told The Public Not To Panic While He Cashed Out. (Huffington Post, March 20, 2020)
During the 2008 financial crisis, he withdrew as much money as possible from the ATM. This time, he dumped his stocks before the coronavirus crisis fully took hold. In 2012, Burr was one of three senators who opposed the STOCK Act, legislation that bars members of Congress and their staff from using nonpublic information to make financial trades.
Sen. Kelly Loeffler and her NYSE owner CEO husband defend stock sales after her coronavirus briefing. (CNBC, March 20, 2020)
Republican senators who dumped stocks ahead of pandemic take withering fire from their own party. (Daily Kos, March 20, 2020)
A massive new scandal unfolded Thursday when ProPublica reported that Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina had sold as much as $1.72 million in stock holdings just before the markets tanked as the coronavirus pandemic worsened. Later that same evening, the Daily Beast reported that Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia had similarly liquidated her assets and even bought shares in a teleworking company that has seen its price tick up.
At least three other senators, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe, and Georgia Republican David Perdue, also recently sold stock in large quantities, but none of the sales appear timed to have taken advantage of any possible foreknowledge of the downturn.
Burr, however, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had been receiving intelligence briefings on the threat posed by the virus and had offered reassurance to the public, even saying on Feb. 7 that "the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus."
But in private, as NPR separately reported earlier on Thursday, Burr was issuing dire alarms about the disease. "It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history," he told members of a high-priced North Carolina social club, according to a secret recording from Feb. 27. "It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic." He urged travelers to Europe to instead stay home and warned that school closures would be forthcoming—two weeks before the Trump administration or local officials took either step. Burr, it appears, believed what he was telling wealthy donors rather than ordinary Americans: On Feb. 13, he sold a large portion of his stock portfolio in more than 30 separate transactions. That included hospitality companies like Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, whose share prices have since collapsed, saving Burr considerable sums.
Apparently Burr is a repeat offender. In 2008, Burr told his constituents not to panic to give himself time to get as much cash as possible before a run on the banks. In 2020, he told them there was nothing to worry about to give himself time to cash out his stocks before a market collapsed.
Republican Stimulus Plan Gives Less Money to Poor Households. (New York Magazine, March 20, 2020)
Last night, Mitch McConnell unveiled the Republicans’ economic rescue plan. The good news is that Senate Republicans have abandoned their Obama–era position that fiscal stimulus can’t work and the government should respond to tough times by cutting spending. The bad news is that they haven’t abandoned their long-standing belief in screwing over poor people just for the sake of it.
NEW: Is Our Fight Against Coronavirus Worse Than the Disease? (New York Times, March 20, 2020)
There may be more targeted ways to beat the pandemic. We routinely differentiate between two kinds of military action: the inevitable carnage and collateral damage of diffuse hostilities, and the precision of a “surgical strike,” methodically targeted to the sources of our particular peril. The latter, when executed well, minimizes resources and unintended consequences alike.
As we battle the coronavirus pandemic, and heads of state declare that we are “at war” with this contagion, the same dichotomy applies. This can be open war, with all the fallout that portends, or it could be something more surgical. The United States and much of the world so far have gone in for the former. I write now with a sense of urgency to make sure we consider the surgical approach, while there is still time.
The coronavirus crisis shows what happens when a country puts its workers last. (Los Angeles Times, March 20, 2020)
In recent days, alarm about the economic effect of the novel coronavirus has turned conservatives who weeks ago were boasting about the shrinking of the U.S. government into raving Keynesians, proclaiming the virtues of deficit-financed economic stimulus. The same leaders who were pushing reductions in Social Security benefits, Medicare and other “entitlements” for the working class because they were supposedly unaffordable by the richest nation on Earth now call for a trillion-dollar pump-priming for American households and industries. Those who defended mortgage foreclosures and tenant evictions by pointing to the sanctity of contracts are now on board with legislation prohibiting both, at least for the duration of the emergency. And many who sounded the siren about the economic drag of government deficits and the national debt are saying, “Never mind.”
Meanwhile, Democrats and some business leaders are talking about the need to avoid the mistakes of the last major economic stimulus, in 2009, which shored up banks guilty of plying Americans with unaffordable loans while leaving the bankers free to impose punishing foreclosures on mortgage borrowers. As the federal government prepares to funnel hundreds of billions of dollars to the private sector, the danger is that businesses will treat these new bailouts as they have before: as cash to give top executives raises and divert capital to shareholders, leaving the working class with empty hands.
Proponents of financial aid to industry are calling for strict oversight of how businesses use bailout funds. “We’re not writing blank checks to giant corporations,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted. In her view, companies receiving government assistance should be required to set their minimum wage at $15 an hour within a year of the emergency ending, be permanently barred from share repurchases, forbidden to pay dividends or executive bonuses for at least three years, be required to keep their union contracts in effect, and set aside at least one board seat for worker representatives.
The question is not merely whether the recognition that rank-and-file workers need immediate help, perhaps more than their employers, will take root rather than evaporate as the crisis ebbs. It’s also whether the crisis will awaken Americans to the folly of what has been a systematic dismantling of the public sector over the decades. The safeguarding of workplace rights and income has been privatized, ceded to employers who view their workforces as expense items, not assets to be invested in. The best evidence of that trend right now is the scarcity of paid sick leave for American workers.
The 5 Scariest Moments From Trump’s Coronavirus Briefing Today (New York Magazine, March 20, 2020)
President Trump has used his daily coronavirus press briefings to drive home two messages: He is in charge, and things are running smoothly. Unfortunately, the two messages are in direct conflict with each other. The only moments of success the administration has enjoyed in advancing its “things are running smoothly” message have come when Trump recedes into the background. But Trump himself places more value on the unsettling “Trump is in charge” message, which dominated today’s proceedings.
Trump Lies His Way Through a Pandemic. (New York Magazine, March 20, 2020)
The president who is leading this country into battle cares about no one but himself, continues to lie to Americans daily about the most basic imperatives of a public-health catastrophe, and presides over an administration staffed with incompetent, third-tier bootlickers and grifters. And I am not just talking about Mike Pence, Jared Kushner, and Wilbur Ross. There are now three college seniors serving in White House positions, thanks to a new purge of ostensibly disloyal staffers. Trump calls himself a “wartime president,” but his only previous wartime experience was partying during Vietnam, when he was spared military service because of “bone spurs.” If America rises to the occasion, it will be despite him, not because of him. We’re at the point where even if Trump were to start telling the truth, no one except the most mad-dog MAGA-ites would believe him.
Rachel Maddow slams Trump's COVID-19 lies in epic rant. (1-min. video; Indy100, March 20, 2020)
Maddow went through a litany of lies by the president, She points out that every press conference turns out to be one that tells the American population that the president is executing actions he is not.
Ranked: Global Pandemic Preparedness by Country (Visual Capitalist, March 20, 2020)
While there may be top performers relative to other countries, the overall picture paints a grim picture that foreshadowed the current crisis we are living through.
“It is likely that the world will continue to face outbreaks that most countries are ill positioned to combat. In addition to climate change and urbanization, international mass displacement and migration—now happening in nearly every corner of the world—create ideal conditions for the emergence and spread of pathogens.” – The Global Health Security Index, 2019
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California Orders 40 Million Californians to Stay at Home. (New York Times, March 20, 2020)
In making the announcement, Mr. Newsom has taken the most drastic step of any state leader to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Just 2 in 5 Americans canceled plans to be in crowds last week as coronavirus pandemic escalated, polls show. (CNN, March 20, 2020)
Photos of crowded beaches, packed bars and large crowds at amusement parks like Walt Disney World last weekend shocked many Americans who had decided to heed warnings to hunker down amid the coronavirus pandemic.
[What fools these mortals be!]
Almost half of coronavirus patients have digestive symptoms, Chinese study finds. (CBS News, March 19, 2020)
Clinicians must bear in mind that digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea, may be a presenting feature of COVID-19, and that the index of suspicion may need to be raised earlier in these cases rather than waiting for respiratory symptoms to emerge.
Newest Trump Attack Ad Is Scathing and It Was Done by Republicans. (Daily Kos, March 19, 2020)
White House itself is choosing which immigration courts get to close amid COVID-19. (Miami FL Herald, March 19, 2020)
According to an email obtained by the Herald, immigration court staffers and judges at a courthouse were told by court management on Wednesday that the decisions to close are out of their control. “Decisions for closure are beyond the agency level; but rather are forwarded to [the Department of Justice] and ultimately the White House,” the email said. “Please understand that decisions for court closures are based upon individual incidents at each respective court. I have not been privy to the incidents that ultimately led to the closure[s].”
“The politicization of the immigration courts has now infected the decision-making process of the agency as to the health and well-being of immigration judges, staff and all who appear before the court,” said A. Ashley Tabaddor, president of the union that represents all U.S. immigration judges. The lack of communication during the global pandemic has made immigration judges, prosecutors and court staff anxious. Though the government recently canceled all preliminary hearings at all courtrooms, which has lowered attendance, judges are still concerned about their own health as well as their families’ because courthouses are still crowded by court goers and employees.
In almost a dozen letters, the employees have asked that the government consider their plight and at least explain why some courts are being prioritized over others. The DOJ and the White House have not responded to their various requests for a telephone meeting. According to three court staff members, employees have been told in meetings that the directive to shut down courthouses is coming “from the very top of the administration.”
Although the government has shut down a handful of courts across the country one by one, dozens remain open, despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the president's urging that the public avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. The government also issued a directive that all immigration courts take down CDC coronavirus posters, though it later rescinded that.
“The health of no one seems to be their primary concern,” Tabaddor said. “We are guessing that ‘incidents’ refers to potential exposure to coronavirus at the courts. We’ve heard that people in management were told that they can’t put anything relating to COVID-19 or coronavirus in any email unless it’s been cleared.”
Total Cost of Her COVID-19 Treatment: $34,927.43 (Time, March 19, 2020)
Public health experts predict that tens of thousands and possibly millions of people across the United States will likely need to be hospitalized for COVID-19 in the foreseeable future. And Congress has yet to address the problem. On March 18, it passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which covers testing costs going forward, but it doesn’t do anything to address the cost of treatment.
‘At War With No Ammo’: Doctors Say Shortage of Protective Gear Is Dire. (New York Times, March 19, 2020)
The lack of proper masks, gowns and eye gear is imperiling the ability of medical workers to fight the coronavirus — and putting their own lives at risk.
NEW: COVID-19 Shows Us a Green New Deal is Possible. (Medium, March 19, 2020)
The COVID-19 mitigation effort presents an unexpected blueprint for what rapid change in the face of a climate crisis might look like. In fact, the current situation should give us hope in our ability to cope with rapid change and encourage us to recognize our resilience.
Former Obama official: We knew we were due for a pandemic. (CNN, March 19, 2020)
Ambassador Susan Rice, National Security Adviser to President Obama, said that the US government has been aware of the threat of a global health crisis for decades, and she personally briefed President Trump's then-incoming National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn on the matter during the transition.
NEW: Drone footage captures Boston emptied by coronavirus. (5-min. video; Boston Globe, March 19, 2020)
The Staggering Rise in Jobless Claims This Week (New York Times, March 19, 2020)
As the accompanying charts show, jobless claims rose sharply in the vast majority of states. These figures come from state unemployment insurance offices tallying up the number of people newly applying for unemployment benefits.
The big picture is clear: When we write the history of the coronavirus recession, we’ll say the downturn started in early March. But don’t take these official numbers or the preliminary reports from individual states as providing precise signals: There are numerous anecdotal accounts of phone lines to unemployment offices that are jammed, offices that are closed, or websites that have crashed. The official data is on the number of claims filed, whereas the number eligible and attempting to file may be much larger.
The stark rise in jobless claims reflects the unusual nature of this recession. In a “normal” recession, the economy slows over a period of months, and joblessness rises over an even longer period as individual employers see the effect on their businesses. The resulting rise in initial unemployment claims tends to be spread over several months.The stark rise in jobless claims reflects the unusual nature of this recession. In a “normal” recession, the economy slows over a period of months, and joblessness rises over an even longer period as individual employers see the effect on their businesses. The resulting rise in initial unemployment claims tends to be spread over several months.
This is different. State government directives shut down many businesses, leading to an unusually rapid downturn. A rapid spike in jobless claims will also be an extremely large spike, as what would normally be a few months’ worth of job loss happens in a few weeks. As you look at what’s going on in your state, keep in mind that these numbers reflect developments last week, but that in most states, the more draconian changes in economic life were imposed this week.
Senator Dumped Up to $1.7 Million of Stock After Reassuring Public About Coronavirus Preparedness. (ProPublica, March 19, 2020)
Intelligence Chair Richard Burr’s Feb. 13th selling spree was his largest stock selling day of at least the past 14 months, according to a ProPublica review of Senate records. Unlike his typical disclosure reports, which are a mix of sales and purchases, all of the transactions were sales.
On February 27th, Burr told wealthy attendees of the luncheon held at the Capitol Hill Club: “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history ... It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.” He warned that companies might have to curtail their employees’ travel, that schools could close and that the military might be mobilized to compensate for overwhelmed hospitals.
Weeks Before Coronavirus Panic, Intelligence Chairman Privately Raised Alarm, Sold Stocks. (NPR, March 19, 2020)
Intelligence Chair Richard Burr’s selloff came around the time he was receiving daily briefings on the health threat.
[Q: Why did Republicans call COVID-19 a hoax before the Stock Market crashed?  A: They were getting their money out before you could.]
Reports reveal what officials are being told about COVID-19 … and it's not what they are telling us. (Daily Kos, March 18, 2020)
Yes, the Internet can handle the coronavirus traffic jam, with hiccups. (Boston Globe, March 18, 2020)
The data’s running smoothly, except for a few chokepoints like videoconferencing.
How the Coronavirus Could Take Over Your Body (Before You Ever Feel It) (New York Magazine, March 18, 2020)
As your friend walked through the door he took a breath and 32,456 virus particles settled onto the lining of his mouth and throat. Viruses have been multiplying inside his body ever since. And as he talks, the passage of his breath over the moist lining of his upper throat creates tiny droplets of virus-laden mucus that waft invisibly into the air over your table. Some settle on the as-yet-uneaten food on your plate, some drift onto your fingers, others are drawn into your nasal sinus or settle into your throat. By the time you extend your hand to shake good-bye, your body is carrying 43,654 virus particles. By the time you’re done shaking hands, that number is up to 312,405.
One of the droplets gets drawn into the branching passages of your lungs and settles on the warm, wet surface, depositing virus particles into the mucus coating the tissue. Each particle is round and very small; if you magnified a human hair so that it was as wide as a football field, the virus particle would be four inches across. The outer membrane of the virus consists of an oily layer embedded with jagged protein molecules called spike proteins. These stick out like the protrusions on a knobby ball chew toy. In the middle of the virus particle is a coiled strand of RNA, the virus’s genetic material. The payload.
As the virus drifts through the lung’s mucus, it bumps into one of the cells that line the surface. The cell is considerably larger than the virus; on the football-field scale, it’s 26 feet across. A billion years of evolution have equipped it to resist attackers. But it also has a vulnerability — a backdoor.
A bloody battle or a long war? The ethical dilemma of tackling coronavirus (MIT Technology Review, March 18, 2020)
Francois Balloux, a computational epidemiologist who worked on an influential new coronavirus model, on the trade-offs that have to be made.
A Chilling Question - Coronavirus Death Toll vs. Economic Collapse (Daily Kos, March 18 2020)
The bottom line is that we can save 2+ million of our fellow citizens with our sacrifice. But is that sacrifice finite? Is the limit 10% unemployment as businesses collapse? Or 20% unemployment with more of the house coming down into a new Great Depression that lasts years? Or is there no level of economic collapse that would justify opening things back up sooner, knowing that that will accelerate coronavirus spread, at least some?
The Leader of the Free World Gives a Speech, and She Nails It. (New York Magazine, March 18, 2020)
Let them eat coronavirus: Trump says wealthy getting tested first is just 'the story of life'. (Daily Kos, March 18, 2020)
Trump's decision to loosen rules for digital doctors visits raises hacking concerns. (Washington Post, March 18, 2020)
A Trump administration decision to loosen privacy requirements for doctors treating patients over phone and video apps during the coronavirus pandemic raises the risk of hackers snooping on people’s highly personal medical information. But even cybersecurity experts say it's worth making this compromise on cybersecurity to protect public health during the rapidly worsening crisis. “We’re in a different environment today with this pandemic … Putting a patient in front of a doctor is what’s important,” said Curtis Dukes, a former top National Security Agency official who’s now executive vice president of the Center for Internet Security. “Given where we are today … this is a prudent step.”
But this raises the risk that doctors will use video services without full encryption protections or that companies will store data from the chats in insecure ways. Hackers, preparing for an influx of digital visits, could compromise doctors’ computers to snoop on and record medical consultations. The risk is especially high for top government officials and executives who probably are already being tracked by foreign intelligence services that know which doctors they visit and are eager to find information that they could use to blackmail or extort them. Cybersecurity experts pointed to the relaxed requirements as just another way in which the government is accepting digital risks that would have seemed too dangerous just weeks ago – but that now look minor compared to the public health benefit of keeping people separated to prevent the virus’s spread.
“The most important thing now is diagnosing people and getting ahead of the virus,” Mick Baccio, a former cybersecurity official at the Obama White House and for the Pete Buttigieg presidential campaign, told me. “Ordinarily, I’d say, ‘No, don’t do this. It introduces too much risk.’ But, given what we all woke up to the last few weeks, it makes sense.”
[And yet, it still introduces that "too-much risk". Medical records are now subject to new levels of theft and misuse.]
Hydroxychloroquine is found to be more effective and potent than chloroquine in vitro treatment of coronavirus. (Tech Startups, March 18, 2020)
A new controlled clinical study conducted by doctors ​in France shows that Hydroxychloroquine (an over-the-counter malarial drug) cures 100% of coronavirus patients within 6 days of treatment. A loading dose of 400 mg twice daily of hydroxychloroquine sulfate given orally, followed by a maintenance dose of 200 mg given twice daily for 4 days is recommended for SARS-CoV-2 infection, as it reached three times the potency of chloroquine phosphate when given 500 mg twice daily 5 days in advance.
This blood test can tell us how widespread coronavirus really is. (MIT Technology Review, March 18, 2020)
A test can see if a person has ever been infected, even if they had no symptoms. Currently, the US and other countries are ramping up efforts to test people quickly. That diagnostic test, called PCR, looks directly for the genetic material of the virus in a nasal or throat swab. It tells people with worrisome flu symptoms what they need to know: Are they infected with the new coronavirus right now?
The new type of test asks a different question: Has a person’s body ever seen the germ at all, even months ago? If someone has been exposed, their blood should be full of antibodies against the virus. It’s the presence, or absence, of such antibodies to the virus that the new test measures.
The new test could help locate survivors, who could then donate their antibody-rich blood to people in ICUs to help boost their immunity. What’s more, doctors, nurses, and health-care workers could learn if they’ve already been exposed. Those who have, assuming they are now immune, could safely rush to the front lines and perform the riskiest tasks—like intubating a person with the virus, without worrying about getting infected or bringing the disease home to their families.
NEW: Trump's Coronavirus Calendar (1-min. video; The Recount, March 17, 2020)
How Long Will Coronavirus Live on Surfaces or in the Air Around You? (New York Times, March 17, 2020)
A new study could have implications for how the general public and health care workers try to avoid transmission of the virus.
The virus lives longest on plastic and steel, surviving for up to 72 hours. But the amount of viable virus decreases sharply over this time. It also does poorly on copper, surviving four hours. On cardboard, it survives up to 24 hours, which suggests packages that arrive in the mail should have only low levels of the virus — unless the delivery person has coughed or sneezed on it or has handled it with contaminated hands. That’s true in general. Unless the people who handle any of these materials are sick, the actual risk of getting infected from any of these materials is low, experts said.
“Everything at the grocery store and restaurant takeout containers and bags could in theory have infectious virus on them,” said Dr. Linsey Marr, who was not a member of the research team but is an expert in the transmission of viruses by aerosol at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. “We could go crazy discussing these ‘what-ifs’ because everyone is a potential source, so we have to focus on the biggest risks.” If people are concerned about the risk, they could wipe down packages with disinfectant wipes and wash their hands, she said.
It is unclear why cardboard should be a less hospitable environment for the virus than plastic or steel, but it may be explained by the absorbency or fibrous quality of the packaging compared with the other surfaces.
That the virus can survive and stay infectious in aerosols is also important for health care workers. For weeks experts have maintained that the virus is not airborne. But in fact, it can travel through the air and stay suspended for that period of about a half-hour. The virus does not linger in the air at high enough levels to be a risk to most people who are not physically near an infected person. But the procedures health care workers use to care for infected patients are likely to generate aerosols. “Once you get a patient in with severe pneumonia, the patients need to be intubated,” said Dr. Vincent Munster, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who led the study. “All these handlings might generate aerosols and droplets.”
Health care workers might also collect those tiny droplets and larger ones on their protective gear when working with infected patients. They might resuspend these big and small droplets into the air when they take off this protective gear and become exposed to the virus then, Dr. Marr cautioned. A study that is being reviewed by experts bears out this fear. And another study, published March 4 in JAMA, also indicates that the virus is transported by air. That study, based in Singapore, found the virus on a ventilator in the hospital room of an infected patient, where it could only have reached via the air. Dr. Marr said the World Health Organization has so far referred to the virus as not airborne, but that health care workers should wear gear, including respirator masks, assuming that it is. “Based on aerosol science and recent findings on flu virus,” she said, “surgical masks are probably insufficient.” Dr. Marr said based on physics, an aerosol released at a height of about six feet would fall to the ground after 34 minutes. The findings should not cause the general public to panic, however, because the virus disperses quickly in the air. “It sounds scary,” she said, “but unless you’re close to someone, the amount you’ve been exposed to is very low.”
He said the aerosols might only stay aloft for about 10 minutes, but Dr. Marr disagreed with that assessment, and said they could stay in the air for three times longer. She also said that the experimental setup might be less comfortable for the virus than a real-life setting. For example, she said, the researchers used a relative humidity of 65 percent. “Many, but not all viruses, have shown that they survive worst at this level of humidity,” she said. They do best at lower or much higher humidity. The humidity in a heated house is less than 40 percent, “at which the virus might survive even longer,” she said. Mucus and respiratory fluids might also allow the virus to survive longer than the laboratory fluids the researchers used for their experiments.
Other experts said the paper’s findings illustrate the urgent need for more information about the virus’ ability to survive in aerosols, and under different conditions. Dr. Munster noted that, overall, the new coronavirus seems no more capable of surviving for long periods than its close cousins SARS and MERS, which caused previous epidemics. That suggests there are other reasons, such as transmission by people who don’t have symptoms, for its ability to cause a pandemic.
We’re not going back to normal. (MIT Technology Review, March 17, 2020)
Social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. It will upend our way of life, in some ways forever.
The world has changed many times, and it is changing again. All of us will have to adapt to a new way of living, working, and forging relationships. But as with all change, there will be some who lose more than most, and they will be the ones who have lost far too much already. The best we can hope for is that the depth of this crisis will finally force countries—the US, in particular—to fix the yawning social inequities that make large swaths of their populations so intensely vulnerable.
How long will social distancing for coronavirus have to last? That depends on these factors. (Washington Post, March 16, 2020)
Some good news about coronavirus the media won’t tell you. (Tech Startups, March 16, 2020)Here is a list of coronavirus scientific breakthroughs that are not making the news.
SoftBank-Owned Patent Troll, Using Monkey-Selfie Law Firm, Sues To Block Covid-19 Testing Using Theranos Patents. (TechDirt, March 16, 2020)
I'm used to all sorts of awfulness, but this one piles awfulness upon awfulness, and takes it to a level of pure evil. The lawyers filing this lawsuit on behalf of "Labrador Diagnostics LLC" should remember what they've done -- filing a bullshit patent trolling lawsuit, on behalf of a shell company for a notorious giant patent troll, using patents from a sham company, and using them to try to block the use of Covid-19 diagnostic tests in the middle of a pandemic. I wonder how they sleep at night.
I understand the need for zealous representation of a client in court, but this seems even more despicable than your everyday patent trolling, and people should associate these lawyers names with the truly despicable behavior on display here. Similarly, it should be a reminder of why it's a good thing that the Supreme Court decided a decade and a half ago that injunctions are often inappropriate in patent cases. I know that there's an effort underway to have Congress change the law to overrule the Supreme Court decision on that point, but imagine how that would play out in this scenario, in which necessary diagnostic testing might get blocked due to some patent troll with deep pockets.
NASA Worried Astronauts Could Spread Coronavirus on Space Station. (Futurism, March 16, 2020)
Dow Falls by Nearly 3000 in Renewed Coronavirus Collapse. (Breitbart, March 16, 2020)
Stocks fell sharply in the final hour of trading, accelerating the decline that began anew Sunday night in the futures market and took down the major indexes at the open of trading Monday morning. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 2.997 points, or 12.93 percent. The S&P 500 fell 11.98 percent. The Nasdaq Composite fell 12.32 percent. The Russell index of smaller companies fell 14.27. This was the worst percentage drop since October 1987 for the Dow and S&P 500. It was the worst drop ever for the Nasdaq.
The sell-off in stocks became more intense after the Trump administration announced new recommendations for dealing with the coronavirus that made the likely economic toll look more severe. Those include the recommendation that bars, restaurants, and public gathering places be closed and that people avoid gathering in groups of more than 10. The Trump administration also said schooling and work should be done at home and discretionary travel should be avoided. President Donald Trump acknowledged that stocks have fallen sharply but said that the administration would focus on combating the virus rather than worry about the stock market. “The market will take care of itself,” Trump said. “The market will be very strong as soon as we get rid of the virus.”
Federal Reserve cuts rates to zero to support the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. (CNN, March 16, 2020)
The Fed's board of governors had been set to meet this week and report on the results of its meeting on Wednesday. Central bankers were widely expected to cut rates to zero at that meeting, after they slashed rates to a half a percentage point in another emergency cut on March 3. Sunday's latest emergency action suggests the Fed believed the cogs of the US economic machine were getting gummed up, and it was concerned that waiting even three more days could be too late to prop up the economy.
NEW: Microsoft frees Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 from the shackles of, er, Windows? (The Register, March 16, 2020)
Windows Update for the Linux kernel? No wonder Gates stepped down
Surveying the Suburbs: How Amazon Ring and a Racialized Fear of Crime is Ushering in a New Period of Mass Surveillance (Radical History Review, March 16, 2020)
As of this moment, there are supposedly over 1 million surveillance cameras and microphones screwed into the front doors of people all across the United States. It doesn’t matter if a community is safe, suburban, rural, middle class, rich – they all have front door security cameras regardless.The marketing materials used by companies like Amazon to convince residents of a suburban single-family home that they need constant surveillance are historically familiar. The suburbs have always operated under the pretense of “surveillance for thee and not for me.” The idealized life for a middle-class white American relied on home ownership and the privacy that supposedly accompanied it.
New technology, however, has reshaped those relationships. Suburbanites are opening themselves up to greater surveillance and privacy violations in an attempt to police and gatekeep racial outsiders. By creating a technologically-augmented way of policing the racial boundaries of the suburbs, white residents compromise their own historically protected privacy by explicitly inviting police, corporations, and bad actors into their homes as they never have before.
For the most part, life outside of the city came with an expectation of privacy and freedom from state interference. But now, with Ring cameras on the outside of homes, people are inviting the state back in. What motivates this move to allow more and more prying eyes into the formerly sacred sphere of the white suburban middle-class family? As Ring says: fear. The fear stems from more than just the encroaching racialized criminal. It’s coming from inside the house. Baby sitters, house sitters, dog walkers — Ring encourages you to keep an eye on all of those people. Not necessarily racial others, but often class others, that by necessity suburbanites allow into their homes to do their labor.
As of March 2020, Ring now has over 1,000 partnerships with police departments. These partnerships allow police access to a special law enforcement portal that they can use to bulk request footage from Ring cameras within a half mile radius. The requests appear as an email in which users are asked to “share” their footage with police, usually for windows of between eight and twelve hours. With cameras inside and outside of people’s homes, this extends the reach (and vision) of police into once protected spaces.
Suddenly, there are rooms in a person’s private home that may not be private by virtue of a small window that the state, and others, can peer through. And peer they have. Recently it was reported that four Ring employees were fired for watching footage from user’s cameras. Bigger news emerged late in 2019 when footage began to surface of malicious actors seizing control of Ring cameras inside peoples’ homes and using them to harass children, traumatize families, and hurl racial epithets.
Infection Trajectory: See Which Countries are Flattening Their COVID-19 Curve. (Visual Capitalist, March 16, 2020)
Now Is the Time to Overreact. (The Atlantic, March 16, 2020)
If the measures we're taking to fight the coronavirus work, they'll look excessive later on. But the alternative is worse.
NEW: Top 4 Moments from the Biden/Sanders Debate (5-min. video; The Recount, March 16, 2020)
Trump claims coronavirus is under control -- contradicting reality and his own top expert. (CNN, March 16, 2020)
America's top infectious diseases expert is warning that hundreds of thousands of Americans could die unless every citizen joins an effort to blunt the coronavirus pandemic -- only to be contradicted by President Donald Trump, who insists the virus is under "tremendous" control.
The fresh sign of Trump's unwillingness to accept the full, sobering reality of the outbreak came as an anxious America knuckles down to its new self-isolating reality. The country is bracing for the full fury of the virus that is already escalating sharply and is set to subject the foundations of basic life — the nation's health care, economic and political systems — to a fateful test.
A Complete List of Trump’s Attempts to Play Down Coronavirus (New York Times, March 15, 2020)
He could have taken action. He didn’t. Instead, he has continued many of his old patterns of self-congratulation, blame-shifting and misinformation. Trump now seems to understand that coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon. But he also seems to view it mostly as a public-relations emergency for himself rather than a public-health emergency for the country.
Poll: Voters split on Trump’s handling of coronavirus outbreak. (Politico, March 15, 2020)
The poll also shows a significant share of voters shrugging at the idea of major disruptions to their lives.
“Simply put, it is very clear that partisanship has infected our views of the coronavirus,” Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt told NBC News.
Trump 'offers large sums' for exclusive US access to coronavirus vaccine. (The Guardian, March 15, 2020)
German government tries to fight off aggressive takeover bid by US, say reports. The German health minister Jens Spahn said that a takeover of the CureVac company by the Trump administration was “off the table”. CureVac would only develop vaccine “for the whole world”, Spahn said, “not for individual countries”.
Ex-Obama Official Reports It’s Too Late to Stop ‘over 1 Million’ U.S. Coronavirus Deaths. (Breitbart, March 15, 2020)
Andrew Slavitt, Barack Obama’s former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), is quoting experts who say more than one million Americans are already doomed because the “virus was not contained.”
“Currently experts expect over 1 million deaths in the U.S. since the virus was not contained & we cannot even test for it,” Slavitt tweeted Thursday. “The original sin is Trump’s months long denial and his dismantling of public health and response infrastructure.” How to Protect Older People From the Coronavirus (New York Times, March 14, 2020)
People over 60, and especially over 80, are particularly vulnerable to severe or fatal infection. Of the confirmed cases in China to date, nearly 15 percent of patients over 80 have died. For those under 50, the death rate was well below 1 percent.
There is no evidence yet that older people are significantly more likely to acquire the coronavirus than younger people. But medical experts say that if people over 60 are infected, they are more likely to have severe, life-threatening disease, even if their general health is good. Older people with underlying medical conditions are at particularly high risk. Experts attribute some of the risk to a weakening of the immune system with age.
Here are some steps to reduce their risk.
NEW: Faith Over Fear? No, It’s Political Ideology that Keeps People Unafraid of COVID-19. (Christianity Today, March 15, 2020)
How much does religious devotion affect Americans’ levels of fear? It would seem likely that the more often people attend church services, the more exposure they would receive to the biblical admonitions to run from fear, to “be strong and courageous” and “do not be afraid or terrified … for the Lord your God goes with you” (Deut. 31:6).
The statistical evidence is mixed, however. Before the coronavirus hit, conservative Protestant churchgoers were least concerned about a future pandemic. Protestants and Catholics who never attend church are only slightly more likely to say they’re afraid of a major epidemic than those who go more than once a week.
The concern around the severity of COVID-19 can depend on political orientation. For instance, a recent Quinnipiac University poll, conducted the first week in March, found that 63 percent of Republicans were not especially concerned about the virus, compared to 31 percent of Democrats. In the Chapman Survey, when looking just at regular churchgoers who described their political ideology as conservative, a clear outlier emerges. Politically conservative Protestants who attend church frequently are far less concerned with a major epidemic than conservative, devout Catholics.
Josh King, a pastor at an Arkansas church, provided a timely example of this when he told the Washington Post: “In your more politically conservative regions, [church] closing is not interpreted as caring for you. It’s interpreted as liberalism, or buying into the hype.” And data released Sunday from an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicates that Democrats are twice as likely to avoid large gatherings because of COVID-19 as Republicans.
Visualizing the History of Pandemics (Visual Capitalist, March 14, 2020)
As humans have spread across the world, so have infectious diseases. Even in this modern era, outbreaks are nearly constant, though not every outbreak reaches pandemic level as the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has. Today’s visualization outlines some of history’s most deadly pandemics, from the Antonine Plague to the current COVID-19 event.
100 years ago, another epidemic terrorized Boston. (Boston Globe, March 14, 2020)
When, in late August 1918, a handful of sailors stationed at Commonwealth Pier in what is now the South Boston Seaport fell terribly ill, no one in the city paid much mind. Beyond the pier, in fact, no one really noticed at all. Quietly, a few sailors became two dozen. Soon there were scores of sick men at naval installations around the city. And then, in the span of a few weeks, thousands all over Boston and beyond were infected, with more falling ill each day. Public gatherings were shut down, hospitals overwhelmed. Daily death tolls soared above 100. And even as authorities argued over the seriousness of the outbreak and how to contend with it, the sickness known as Spanish flu turned into a virulent and terrifying wave that would sweep from Boston across the country and ultimately kill millions around the world, casting a shadow of fear that would span a generation.
Boston’s reaction to a dangerous virus hasn’t changed much in a century: A narrative of the Spanish flu in the city where it began.
Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve” (Washington Post, March 14, 2020)
They’ve Contained the Coronavirus. Here’s How. (New York Times, March 13, 2020)
Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong have brought outbreaks under control — and without resorting to China’s draconian measures.
If the United States is a week behind Italy … brace yourself for horror that still seems impossible. (Daily Kos, March 13, 2020)
Coronavirus is most contagious before and during the first week of symptoms. (Science News, March 13, 2020)
People stop making infectious virus once the body’s antibody response kicks in.
China Spins Tale That the U.S. Army Started the Coronavirus Epidemic. (New York Times, March 13, 2020)
After criticizing American officials for politicizing the pandemic, Chinese officials and news outlets have floated unfounded theories that the United States was the source of the virus.
Meet the 17-Year-Old Behind a Website Tracking Coronavirus Cases That Is Now a Vital Global Resource. (15-mion. video; Democracy Now, March 13, 2020)
A teenager’s website tracking coronavirus has become one of the most vital resources for people seeking accurate and updated numbers on the pandemic. The URL is (and later will be We speak with 17-year-old Avi Schiffmann, a high school junior from Mercer Island outside Seattle, who started the site in late December, when coronavirus had not yet been detected outside of China. Now the site has been visited by tens of millions, from every country on Earth. It tracks deaths, numbers of cases locally and globally, and provides an interactive map, information on the disease, and a Twitter feed. The resource updates every minute or so, and pulls information from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and elsewhere.
Why is Katie Porter (Congresswoman from California) not being talked about every day on this site? (w/videos; Daily Kos, March 13, 2020)
NEW: Harvard students sue the university over its investments in the prison industrial complex. (Daily Kos, March 12, 2020)
Students have been calling upon university leadership to draw the connection between its past complicity with chattel slavery and their present-day investment in the prison industry.
Lawmakers, technologists fight over encryption in child exploitation bill. (Washington Post, March 12, 2020)
The dispute prompted by a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing demonstrates the vast gulf between advocates of super-strong encryption, who say it’s vital for cybersecurity, and law enforcement hawks who fear encrypted communications could give free rein to child predators and other criminals.
The bill at issue, the EARN IT Act, would strip tech companies of liability protections when their users share child pornography and other materials that exploit children. It would also establish a 19-member commission to create rules companies can follow to earn back that liability shield.
Days Behind Italy - For Doctors and Clinical People, by Dr. Jordan Shlain, M.D. (LinkedIn, March 12, 2020)
Iran's coronavirus burial pits are so vast they’re visible from space. (Washington Post, March 12, 2020)
NEW: Can a pandemic turn the tide of war? (We Are The Mighty, March 12, 2020)
The Athenian experience with the plague should remind us of the power of the unseen. Disease can reshape society. It can influence the outcome of war. And although we have not experienced the devastating effects of contagion on a mass scale in modern times, we may only be standing in the proverbial eye of the storm.
One can argue that microscopic parasites could be placed on equal footing with geography, war, and migration in shaping the world that we know today.
NEW: German Climate Activist Luisa Neubauer: More than a Virus: What the Coronavirus teaches us (Der Stern, March 12, 2020)
For the first time in the history of "Fridays For Future" we are cancelling our climate-crisis strikes. They were supposed to take place all over Bavaria before the local elections. Then came Corona. And with it much more than a Virus.
Whoever is listening very carefully to the medical experts and takes especially firm and unflichning action, is being celebrated as a Savior in times of great need. Whoever would want to do exactly the same with regard to the climate crisis would immediately be sent home, branded an economic traitor, radicalinski and arch-enemy of the little man.
Thus, the decision in Bavaria to cancel the important mega-strikes can be seen as a reversal of the generation justice. Medically, the ‘Fridays-for-Future’ generation belongs to those who have to fear the least [from the virus]. The threat to get seriously - or fatally- ill from Coronavirus increases with age. We don’t cancel the strike for ourselves, we are cancelling it for our grandparents. Just as we are wash our hands, sneeze into our ellbows, and wash our hands again for our grandparents and parents, just to be safe. Because we have a societal interest in minimizing the spread.
This feeling of responsibility doesn’t have to appear in this form - disgusting examples of the opposite are also revealing themselves outside empty supermarkets. That is a question of leadership. But just as politicians can take a crisis seriously, when they really want to, a society can decide to respond with love and solidarity. That’s why we are cancelling our events, that’s why we are protecting our elders and keeping our hands in our pockets.
And in turn we ask older people to think of us. In the short term this will be less about Coronavirus, but about a politics of a sustainable future. And that can be elected on Sunday in Bavaria. It’s not the young people who will determine the results of the local Bavarian election, who will determine the political course that is chosen today. They are just the ones who will be affected the longest by its outcome. The election will be determined by the old. We count on them, even without huge climate strikes, to think of us and the climate on Sunday.
U.S.-European virus cooperation breaks down as E.U. leaders say travel ban came ‘without consultation’. (Washington Post, March 12, 2020)
Of all the slights between Washington and Europe in recent years, the new travel restrictions represented a blow an order of magnitude beyond previous disputes. In a short statement on Thursday morning rare in its directness, the European Union expressed only exasperation.
"The Coronavirus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," the statement read, co-signed by E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel. “The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation.”
NEW: Paul Krugman: It’s a MAGA Microbe Meltdown. (New York Times, March 12, 2020)
Trump utterly fails to rise to his first real crisis. His response has been worse than even his harshest critics could have imagined. He has treated a dire threat as a public relations problem, combining denial with frantic blame-shifting. His administration has failed to deliver the most basic prerequisite of pandemic response, widespread testing to track the disease’s spread. He has failed to implement recommendations of public health experts, instead imposing pointless travel bans on foreigners when all indications are that the disease is already well established in the United States. And his response to the economic fallout has veered between complacency and hysteria, with a strong admixture of cronyism.
It’s something of a mystery why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, normally a highly competent agency, have utterly failed to provide resources for widespread coronavirus testing during the pandemic’s crucial early stages. But it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the incompetence is related to politics, perhaps to Trump’s desire to play down the threat.
According to Reuters, the Trump administration has ordered health agencies to treat all coronavirus deliberations as classified. This makes no sense and is indeed destructive in terms of public policy, but it makes perfect sense if the administration doesn’t want the public to know how its actions are endangering American lives.
And when it comes to the economy, Trump seems to fluctuate day to day — even hour to hour — between assertions that everything is fine and demands for enormous, ill-conceived stimulus. His big idea for the economy is a complete payroll tax holiday. According to Bloomberg News, he told Republican senators that he wanted the holiday to extend “through the November election so that taxes don’t go back up before voters decide whether to return him to office.” That is, he apparently said the quiet part out loud.
This would be an enormous move. Payroll taxes are 5.9 percent of G.D.P.; by comparison, the Obama stimulus of 2009-2010 peaked at about 2.5 percent of G.D.P. Yet it would be very poorly targeted: big breaks for well-paid workers, nothing for the unemployed or those without paid sick leave
Trump also reportedly wants to provide aid to specific industries, including oil and shale — a continuation of his administration’s efforts to subsidize fossil fuels.
What we’re seeing here is a meltdown — not just a meltdown of the markets, but a meltdown of Trump’s mind. When bad things happen, there are only three things he knows how to do: insist that things are great and his policies are perfect, cut taxes, and throw money at his cronies.
Now he’s faced with a crisis where none of these standbys will work, where he actually needs to cooperate with Nancy Pelosi to avoid catastrophe. What we saw in Wednesday’s speech was that he’s completely incapable of rising to the occasion. We needed to see a leader; what we saw was an incompetent, delusional blowhard.
Trump’s travel ban sidesteps his own European resorts. (Politico, March 12, 2020)
The president announced new travel restrictions on Europeans as the coronavirus pandemic escalated, but a few key spots on the continent were spared. President Donald Trump’s new European travel restrictions have a convenient side effect: They exempt nations where three Trump-owned golf resorts are located.
Trump is already under fire for visiting his properties in both countries as president, leading to U.S. taxpayer money being spent at his own firms. The president has been saddled with lawsuits and investigations throughout his term alleging that he’s violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause by accepting taxpayer money other than his salary.
The U.S. government proclamation initiating the ban targets 26 European countries that comprise a visa-free travel zone known as the Schengen Area. The United Kingdom, which is home to Trump Turnberry and Trump International Golf Links, and Ireland, which is home to another Trump-branded hotel and golf course at Doonbeg, do not participate in the Schengen Area. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are also not part of the Schengen Area. All three of the resorts are struggling financially.
NEW: White House told federal health agency to classify coronavirus deliberations. (Reuters, March 11, 2020)
The White House has ordered federal health officials to treat top-level coronavirus meetings as classified, an unusual step that has restricted information and hampered the U.S. government’s response to the contagion, according to four Trump administration officials.
One of the administration officials suggested the security clearances for meetings at HHS were imposed not to protect national security but to keep the information within a tight circle, to prevent leaks. “It seemed to be a tool for the White House - for the NSC - to keep participation in these meetings low,” the official said.
Two Democratic senators, both senior members of the Intelligence Committee expressed dismay Wednesday in statements to Reuters.
“Pandemics demand transparency and competence,” said Mark Warner of Virginia. “Classification authority should never be abused in order to hide what the government is doing, or not doing, just to satisfy domestic political concerns.”
Ron Wyden of Oregon said: “The executive branch needs to immediately come forward and explain whether the White House hid information from the American people as a result of bogus classification.”
‘He’s gonna get us all killed’: sense of unease after Trump coronavirus speech (The Guardian, March 11, 2020)
The president began his speech as many leaders do, then reverted to his familiar nationalism and threw in a bit of campaigning.
NEW: Seattle lab only uncovered extent of Washington coronavirus outbreak after breaking government rules. (Independent, March 11, 2020)
Tests performed without specific permission from relevant authorities showed that virus had already established foothold in US and was spreading in Seattle area.
NEW: COVID-19: Further Evidence that the Virus Originated in the US (Global Research, March 11, 2020)
Trump’s Company Paid Bribes to Reduce Property Taxes, Assessors Say. (ProPublica, March 11, 2020)
Five former city employees and a former Trump Organization employee say the company used middlemen to pay New York City tax assessors to lower building assessments and pay less taxes in the 1980s and 1990s - testimony implicating Trump’s business interests more directly in connection with a real estate housing scam that came to light in 2002. The five former city employees were among more than a dozen who had been indicted in 2002, in what The New York Times called the “largest tax fraud case in the history of New York City government.”
Trump has always maintained that he was ignorant of any of this happening, including the claim that in “one instance, tax payments on property owned by Donald Trump were instead applied to the account of a corrupt property owner.” After the indictments, two Trump entities sued New York City, claiming that he had not paid bribes to lower assessments and thus the Trump World Tower near the United Nations was unfairly valued by assessors higher than it should have been. When Trump filed the suit, he was quoted in The New York Times saying, “It is impossible for any one of those property owners who used Schussler not to have known what was going on.”
The entity that owned the Trump World Tower separately sued the city seeking a tax break for creating affordable housing, and the city ultimately settled both suits together. Trump’s company received a tax break worth more than $100 million.
Let's just stop and review what a useless bunch of creatures Senate Republicans really are. (Daily Kos, March 11, 2020)
Our first clue that Senate Republicans planned to be exactly useless for the entirety of the 116th Congress was when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, backed by his caucus, conspicuously stood on the sidelines for weeks on end during what turned into the longest government shutdown in history, from Dec. 22, 2018—Jan. 25, 2019. Donald Trump alone manufactured that shutdown by demanding that nearly $6 billion in border wall funding be tucked into the budget deal, and McConnell decided he would simply let Nancy Pelosi and her newly elected majority tame Trump rather than help find a solution.
In fact, McConnell seemed to have a good sense of exactly how useless Senate Republicans would be pretty early in Trump's administration. After the GOP-led Congress squandered most of 2017 on its Obamacare repeal debacle, Republicans just barely squeezed out their tax giveaway to the rich and powerful before the end of the year on December 20, 2017. By February 2018, McConnell was already selling his Senate majority as being "in the personnel business"—he just forgot to add the word, exclusively. Gloating over his chamber's unique lack of productivity, McConnell even embraced the nickname "Grim Reaper" for making his Senate the place where the people's business goes to die. McConnell has single-handedly refused to consider more than 400 bills passed by Pelosi’s House of Representatives.
As for the one major piece of legislation Senate Republicans did manage to pass, that tax bill has now ballooned the deficit to nearly $1 trillion, hamstringing the government's ability to respond to a sudden jolt to the economy like the coronavirus. Speaking of which, McConnell's now running his "let Pelosi handle it" 2.0 play, tagging House Democrats with the sole responsibility of negotiating an economic response to the crisis with the White House.
Simultaneous to that dereliction of duty, Republicans have stayed almost completely mum as Trump has spewed harmful lie upon harmful lie about the coronavirus. In fact, when Trump went to visit with the do-nothing GOP caucus Tuesday (because he refuses to meet with Pelosi), Trump told reporters the coronavirus would simply "go away, just stay calm," adding, "It's really working out. And a lot of good things are going to happen." No. Hard no. A lot of good things are not happening. But to date, Senate Republicans have taken a total pass on correcting any of Trump's disinformation campaign.
Instead, they seem pretty content to rest on their success of banding together to run a sham impeachment trial with zero witnesses and ultimately vote to keep the most corrupt president in American history in office. And by single-handedly refusing to remove Trump, Senate Republicans can now proudly share the credit for the epic economic and public health crisis that is quickly rippling through the country now. Heckuva job, Mitchy. See you in November.
Heather Cox Richardson: Today was the day the seriousness of the novel coronavirus finally sank in at the level of the federal government. (Letters From An American, March 11, 2020)
On Monday, NBA player for the Utah Jazz Rudy Gobert touched every microphone at a media event, seemingly to show he was not concerned about the coronavirus; tonight he tested positive for it, and the NBA suspended the remainder of the season.
Gobert’s rapid swing from flippancy to involvement looked a lot like that of the administration. We learned today that the National Security Council within the White House has classified all top-level meetings about the novel coronavirus. This is unusual and, of course, meant the number of people in the room was small (you needed a security clearance to be there), and the chance of leaks low, so that much of the official discussion of this public emergency remains secret. Nonetheless, the NSC’s spokesman says that ““From day one of the response to the coronavirus, NSC has insisted on the principle of radical transparency.”
After weeks of downplaying the dangers of Covid-19, the administration today changed its approach. This morning—a million years ago—Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the president’s coronavirus task force, repeatedly told the House that the president was wrong to downplay the virus, and then, abruptly, the hearing ended when the expert witnesses were called to a meeting at the White House. By afternoon, though, it was no longer possible to stifle bad news: a staffer in the office of Washington Senator Maria Cantwell’s Washington, D.C. office tested positive for the virus, and married actors Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks announced that they have contracted Covid-19.
At 9:00 tonight, Trump made the second public address of his presidency, this time to announce the measures his administration would take to combat the viral infection the World Health Organization is now calling a pandemic. The speech was more a performance than a set of policies; his people had to correct the misstatements right afterward. In the speech, in a monotone except for one short moment when he went off script and seemed to come alive, Trump took credit for acting quickly early on to stop flights from China. He went on to announce a ban on flights from Europe for 30 days beginning Friday (the policy is actually quite a bit more limited than he suggested), blaming Europe for “seeding” the virus in America-- his focus still seems to be on containment. He made it sound as if there would be an embargo on cargoes from Europe, too, but that was a misstatement. There was no mention of more testing, which is key to controlling the spread of the coronavirus which is obviously already spreading domestically within the country, except to say that he had arranged for health insurers to drop the co-pays on the tests (that no one can get). There was no mention of testing for uninsured people.Trump also said that the government would defer tax payments for some businesses, but made no mention of unemployment benefits, food assistance, or paid leave, and he reiterated that the economy is strong.
As soon as he finished speaking, stock futures began to drop. And drop. And drop. By midnight, it looked as if the Dow will open tomorrow with a decline of about 950 points or 4%.
While we are all focused—with excellent reason—on the pandemic, I cannot help but worry about what is happening when our eyes are elsewhere. Trump has always cared primarily about money, and this sudden drop of the market at night, thanks to his words, seems to me terribly opportune. I am 100% willing to accept that I am just too cynical about politics and money, but “follow the money” has always stood me in good stead when trying to figure things out. I do not know what it means that the market took such a tumble thanks to words that pretty clearly were going to make it fall—perhaps Trump just made an embarrassing mistake, not realizing it would tank the markets—but I think it bears watching.
Two days ago, I missed altogether something else that bears watching, and the fact that I missed it suggests it was barely covered—I’m generally all over the news. On March 9, 2020, the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov met Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and, according to the press release from the Russians, discussed “implementation of the arrangements reached by Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump during the summits in Helsinki in 2018 and Osaka in 2019.” There was virtually no coverage of this meeting in the United States; the only record I found was a readout from the Treasury Department, saying just that the meeting had happened. The Helsinki meeting is the one where Trump and Putin met for two hours alone with only their interpreters in the room. The Osaka meeting came just after Putin declared western liberalism obsolete. Perhaps this meeting was nothing. But, coming as it does in the midst of Russia’s oil war with Saudi Arabia, and alluding to the two-hour conference that so irregularly cut all the usual advisors and staff out of the room, it would sure be nice to know a bit more about it.
Dow Ends 11-Year Bull Market as Coronavirus Defies Economic Remedies. (New York Times, March 11, 2020)
Stocks plunged anew as the outbreak was officially declared a pandemic and policies to address its impact proved lacking or ineffective.
Governments in Europe were struggling to manage their budgets even before the virus struck, limiting their ability to spend heavily to keep their economies afloat. And in the United States, which faces no such constraints, President Trump has resisted aggressive stimulus measures that many economists say are necessary to contain the damage. “If the Trump administration and Congress can’t get it together quickly and put together a sizable and responsible package, then a recession seems like a real possibility here,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. He said he saw a roughly 50 percent chance of a recession in the next year.
As recently as a week ago, few economists thought a recession was likely. Most thought that any damage from the virus would be brief, and that the economy would experience a sharp, “V-shaped” recovery. Forecasts have become significantly gloomier, however, as the virus has spread in the United States and as the effects around the world have become more pronounced. Italy on Wednesday ordered almost all businesses nationwide to close after earlier travel restrictions failed to contain the virus. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said that as much as 70 percent of her country’s population was likely to become infected. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, acknowledging its worldwide scope.
Coronavirus crisis spreads: Google tells North American employees to work from home. (USA Today, March 11, 2020)
It extended that recommendation to employees in Europe, the Middle East and Africa starting Thursday.
Michael Osterholm on the Coronavirus pandemic (1.5-hour video; Joe Rogan Experience #1439, March 10, 2020)
Michael Osterholm is an internationally recognized expert in infectious disease epidemiology. He is Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, a professor in the Technological Leadership Institute, College of Science and Engineering, and an adjunct professor in the Medical School, all at the University of Minnesota. Look for his book "Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Deadly Germs" for more info.
F.D.A. Halts Overseas Inspections of Drugs and Devices, Citing Coronavirus. (New York Times, March 10, 2020)
The agency said the spread of the virus globally prompted its decision. It had already pulled back from China, but this move will also affect India. Experts estimate that about 80 percent of the materials for active ingredients used in American drugs are made in India or China.
DHS Must Suspend Certain Immigration Enforcement Practices During the Coronavirus Outbreak. (Center for American Progress, March 10, 2020)
Public health officials are advising that we are past the point of trying to avoid an outbreak through containment and must now begin adopting policies to mitigate the spread. According to a letter by more than 800 public health and legal experts, one important step that the Trump administration could take to ensure that all people in the United States have the ability to seek necessary medical care—regardless of immigration status—is to issue a formal statement assuring the public that health care facilities will be “immigration enforcement-free zones” for the duration of the outbreak. Such a statement would be appropriate—and, indeed, entirely expected—under any circumstance, but it is particularly important in light of the current administration’s track record on immigration.
Echoing the call of these experts, lawmakers in both the House and Senate have urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—specifically U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—to suspend all immigration enforcement actions at or near hospitals or other medical facilities. Additionally, lawmakers have demanded that CBP and ICE formally announce this suspension to the public, consistent with historical practices taken during national disasters and other public health emergencies.
Coronavirus Conference Gets Canceled Because of Coronavirus. (Bloomberg, March 10, 2020)
‘It’s Just Everywhere Already’: How Delays in Testing Set Back the U.S. Coronavirus Response (New York Times, March 10, 2020)
A series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing came during the early days of the outbreak, when containment would have been easier.
CDC says nearly 4,900 people tested for coronavirus by public health labs. (The Hill, March 10, 2020)
Health officials have acknowledged there are likely undetected cases of the disease in the U.S. due to the slow start in testing caused by a faulty test developed by the CDC that was sent to public health labs. The CDC and the public health labs it works with throughout the U.S. also have a very small capacity to perform tests.
Commercial labs and hospitals will be testing the majority of possible cases, but those operations are just now starting to pick up. Public health labs received 75,000 tests last week. More than 1 million tests were sent to commercial labs and hospitals last week. NEW: Bridging the Gap: Wealth Isn’t Just for the Wealthy. (Visual Capitalist, March 10, 2020)
NEW: Visualized: Where 5G Will Change The World (Visual Capitalist, March 9, 2020)
An hour after landing on Air Force One, Matt Gaetz announces he's under self-quarantine for virus. (Daily Kos, March 9, 2020)
CPAC Attendees Insist COVID-19 Is No Big Deal; Then Freak Out When It Turns Out They Were Exposed. (Daily Kos, March 9, 2020)
How the Trump Campaign Took Over the G.O.P. (New York Times, March 9, 2020)
President Trump’s campaign manager and a circle of allies have seized control of the Republican Party’s voter data and fund-raising apparatus, using a network of private businesses whose operations and ownership are cloaked in secrecy, largely exempt from federal disclosure.
Working under the aegis of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, with the cooperation of Trump appointees at the Republican National Committee, the operatives have consolidated power — and made money — in a way not possible in an earlier, more transparent analog era. Since 2017, businesses associated with the group have billed roughly $75 million to the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and a range of other Republican clients.
The takeover of the Republican Party’s under-the-hood political machinery parallels the president’s domination of a party that once shunned him, reflected in his speedy impeachment trial and summary acquittal. Elected Republicans have learned the political peril of insufficient fealty. Now, by commanding the party’s repository of voter data and creating a powerful pipeline for small donations, the Trump campaign and key party officials have made it increasingly difficult for Republicans to mount modern, digital campaigns without the president’s support.
Ancient shell shows days were half-hour shorter 70 million years ago. (American Geophysics Union, March 9, 2020)
Beer stein-shaped distant relative of modern clams captured snapshots of hot days in the late Cretaceous.
Apple: Worried about coronavirus? You can now clean your iPhone with alcohol and Clorox disinfecting wipes. (USA Today, March 9, 2020)
U.S. markets crater as coronavirus, oil prices trigger brief halt in trading. (Washington Post, March 9, 2020)
Oil prices dive to the $30s while investors flee for safe havens like U.S. treasuries and gold, amplifying recession fears.
The threat of a coronavirus-fueled oil war and ongoing panic around the outbreak brought markets to stunning lows Monday, triggering a forced halt to trading after the Standard & Poor’s 500 index sank 7 percent shortly after the opening bell. The Dow Jones industrial average cratered more than 2,000 points at the open, clawed back some losses, then drove the day’s lows to new depths.
The New York Stock Exchange tripped the so-called “circuit breaker” at a time of relentless volatility for global markets, which have been battered for weeks as the deadly outbreak continues to unfold. The forced 15-minute brake initially appeared to have a stabilizing effect, but by mid-afternoon, the Dow had skidded more than 2,100 points, or nearly 8 percent. The S&P 500 was down 7.4 percent and the Nasdaq off 6.8 percent.
Europe, With Eye on Italy Coronavirus Quarantine, Plans Next Moves. (New York Times, March 8, 2020)
Italy’s decision to quarantine a quarter of its population, paralyzing its economic heartland and affecting about 15 million people, sent tremors throughout Europe’s economy. It will deprive German carmakers of critical parts, force factories in other parts of Europe to close and almost certainly tip the continent into recession, according to analysts.
It is also testing Europe’s unity, which was already frayed by Britain’s departure from the bloc six weeks ago. Officials in Brussels appealed fruitlessly to France, Germany and the Czech Republic to lift controls on the export of protective medical gear, which they imposed to head off shortages at home. In Britain, some stores began imposing peacetime rationing.
NEW: There Is a ‘Tipping Point’ Before Coronavirus Kills. (Bloomberg, March 8, 2020)
The new coronavirus causes little more than a cough if it stays in the nose and throat, which it does for the majority of people unlucky enough to be infected.
Danger starts when it reaches the lungs. One in seven patients develops difficulty breathing and other severe complications, while 6% become critical. These patients typically suffer failure of the respiratory and other vital systems, and sometimes develop septic shock, according to a report by last month’s joint World Health Organization-China mission. The progression from mild or moderate to severe can occur very quickly.
ER Doc 411: Report from the front lines on COVID19 and some practical thoughts (Daily Kos, March 8, 2020)
While the virus may live on surfaces, there is little evidence that transmission can occur from contact with surfaces touched by infected patients. This is important: you most likely CANNOT catch COVID19 from handling mail or shipping boxes from China, Italy or other areas with currently high prevalence rates of the disease.
NEW: Not His First Epidemic: Dr. Anthony Fauci Sticks to the Facts. (New York Times, March 8, 2020)
Where politicians fumble and other government health officials step back, he steps up to explain.
For Trump, Coronavirus Proves to Be an Enemy He Can’t Tweet Away. (New York Times, March 8, 2020)
Defending against criticism of his handling of the coronavirus, President Trump suggested the other day that he could hardly have been expected to be ready for such an unexpected crisis. “Who would have thought?” he asked during a visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nerve center for the government’s response to the outbreak. “Who would have thought we would even be having the subject?”
Actually, quite a few people would have thought, and did — including the officials in his own White House who were in charge of preparing for just such a pandemic only to have their office shut down in a reorganization in 2018. “The threat of pandemic flu is the No. 1 health security concern,” one of the officials said the day before that happened two years ago. “Are we ready to respond? I fear the answer is no.”
For a president who lives in the moment, rarely planning too far ahead, the coronavirus has proved to be a leadership challenge he was not prepared for either. The outbreak that has rattled the nation does not respond to Mr. Trump’s favorite instruments of power: It cannot be cowed by Twitter posts, it cannot be shot down by drones, it cannot be overcome by party solidarity, it cannot be overpowered by campaign rally chants.
Mr. Trump, who is at his strongest politically when he has a human enemy to attack, has seemed less certain of how to take on an invisible killer. The role of calming natural leader is not one that has come easily as he struggles to find the balance between public reassurance and Panglossian dismissiveness. He has predicted that the virus will “miraculously” disappear on its own with warmer weather, suggested a vaccine will be available soon and insisted anyone who wants to be tested can be — all overstated or inaccurate.
He has expressed an astonishing lack of knowledge while at the same time claiming to be a medical savant. He has treated the crisis as a partisan battle, wearing his red Keep America Great campaign cap to the C.D.C. and calling the governor presiding over the state with the highest death toll a “snake.” He even admitted that he wanted to leave passengers stranded on a cruise ship rather than see statistics for the number of cases on American soil go up because it would look bad.
“If we really want to talk about what is going to potentially create panic in this country, it’s an administration that’s just not being straight with the American public about the extent of this epidemic and the real-life consequences that could be put upon Americans,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS.
Dr. Jonathan S. Reiner, a prominent cardiologist who treated former Vice President Dick Cheney and wrote a book with him, said he was convinced that the Trump administration failed to move more quickly to test for the virus after it emerged in China because the White House did not want to admit the scope of the threat. “When the story is finally written,” he said on Sunday, “we’ll come to understand that tens of thousands of lives were placed at risk because of a political decision made by the president.”
Paul Krugman: Thomas Piketty Turns Marx on His Head. (New York Times, March 8, 2020)
Seven years ago the French economist Thomas Piketty released “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” a magnum opus on income inequality. Economists already knew and admired Piketty’s scholarly work, and many — myself included — offered the book high praise. Remarkably, the book also became a huge international best seller.
In retrospect, however, what professionals saw in “Capital” wasn’t the same thing the broader audience saw. Economists already knew about rising income inequality. What excited them was Piketty’s novel hypothesis about the growing importance of disparities in wealth, especially inherited wealth, as opposed to earnings. We are, Piketty suggested, returning to the kind of dynastic, “patrimonial” capitalism that prevailed in the late 19th century.
But for the book-buying public, the big revelation of “Capital” was simply the fact of soaring inequality.
His new book, “Capital and Ideology,” weighs in at more than 1,000 pages. There is, of course, nothing necessarily wrong with writing a large book to propound important ideas: Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” was a pretty big book too (although only half as long as Piketty’s latest). The problem is that the length of “Capital and Ideology” seems, at least to me, to reflect in part a lack of focus.
To be fair, the book does advance at least the outline of a grand theory of inequality, which might be described as Marx on his head. In Marxian dogma, a society’s class structure is determined by underlying, impersonal forces, technology and the modes of production that technology dictates. Piketty, however, sees inequality as a social phenomenon, driven by human institutions. Institutional change, in turn, reflects the ideology that dominates society: “Inequality is neither economic nor technological; it is ideological and political.”
But where does ideology come from? At any given moment a society’s ideology may seem immutable, but Piketty argues that history is full of “ruptures” that create “switch points,” when the actions of a few people can cause a lasting change in a society’s trajectory.
To make that case, Piketty provides what amounts to a history of the world viewed through the lens of inequality. The book’s archetypal case study is French society over the past two and a half centuries. But Piketty ranges very far afield, telling us about everything from the composition of modern Swedish corporate boards to the role of Brahmins in the pre-colonial Hindu kingdom of Pudukkottai.
He describes four broad inequality regimes, obviously inspired by French history but, he argues, of more general relevance. First are “ternary” societies divided into functional classes — clergy, nobility and everyone else. Second are “ownership” societies, in which it’s not who you are that matters but what you have legal title to. Then come the social democracies that emerged in the 20th century, which granted considerable power and privilege to workers, ranging from union representation to government-provided social benefits. Finally, there’s the current era of “hypercapitalism,” which is sort of an ownership society on steroids.
Piketty tries to apply this schema to many societies across time and space. His discussion is punctuated by many charts and tables: Using a combination of extrapolation and guesswork to produce quantitative estimates for eras that predate modern data collection is a Piketty trademark, and it’s a technique he applies extensively here, I’d say to very good effect. It is, for example, startling to see evidence that France on the eve of World War I was, if anything, more unequal than it was before the French Revolution.
But while there is a definite Francocentric feel to “Capital and Ideology,” for me, at least, the vast amount of ground it covers raises a couple of awkward questions.
The first is whether Piketty is a reliable guide to such a large territory. His book combines history, sociology, political analysis and economic data for dozens of societies. Is he really enough of a polymath to pull that off? I was struck, for example, by his extensive discussion of the evolution of slavery and serfdom, which made no mention of the classic work of Evsey Domar of M.I.T., who argued that the more or less simultaneous rise of serfdom in Russia and slavery in the New World were driven by the opening of new land, which made labor scarce and would have led to rising wages in the absence of coercion. This happens to be a topic about which I thought I knew something; how many other topics are missing crucial pieces of the literature?
The second question is whether the accumulation of cases actually strengthens Piketty’s core analysis. It wasn’t clear to me that it does. To be honest, at a certain point I felt a sense of dread each time another society entered the picture; the proliferation of stories began to seem like an endless series of digressions rather than the cumulative construction of an argument.
Eventually, however, Piketty comes down to the meat of the book: his explanation of what caused the recent surge in inequality and what can be done about it.
For Piketty, rising inequality is at root a political phenomenon. The social-democratic framework that made Western societies relatively equal for a couple of generations after World War II, he argues, was dismantled, not out of necessity, but because of the rise of a “neo-proprietarian” ideology. Indeed, this is a view shared by many, though not all, economists. These days, attributing inequality mainly to the ineluctable forces of technology and globalization is out of fashion, and there is much more emphasis on factors like the decline of unions, which has a lot to do with political decisions.
But why did policy take a hard-right turn? Piketty places much of the blame on center-left parties, which, as he notes, increasingly represent highly educated voters. These more and more elitist parties, he argues, lost interest in policies that helped the disadvantaged, and hence forfeited their support. And his clear implication is that social democracy can be revived by refocusing on populist economic policies, and winning back the working class.
Piketty could be right about this, but as far as I can tell, most political scientists would disagree. In the United States, at least, they stress the importance of race and social issues in driving the white working class away from Democrats, and doubt that a renewed focus on equality would bring those voters back. After all, during the Obama years the Affordable Care Act extended health insurance to many disadvantaged voters, while tax rates on top incomes went up substantially. Yet the white working class went heavily for Trump, and stayed Republican in 2018.
Maybe the political science consensus is wrong. What I can say with confidence, though, is that until the final 300 pages “Capital and Ideology” doesn’t do much to make the case for Piketty’s views on modern political economy.
Official: White House didn’t want to tell seniors not to fly. (Associated Press, March 8, 2020)
The White House overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and physically fragile Americans be advised not to fly on commercial airlines because of the new coronavirus, a federal official told The Associated Press.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention submitted the plan this week as a way of trying to control the virus, but White House officials ordered the air travel recommendation be removed, said the official who had direct knowledge of the plan. Trump administration officials have since suggested certain people should consider not traveling, but they have stopped short of the stronger guidance sought by the CDC.
For weeks, cases in the U.S. remained very low, but the count has been accelerating in the last several days.
President Donald Trump visited the CDC in Atlanta on Friday, where he defended his administration’s handling of the outbreak and tried to reassure Americans that the government had the virus under control. But Trump also detoured from that message, calling Washington state’s governor a “snake” and saying he’d prefer that people exposed to the virus on a cruise ship be left aboard so they wouldn’t be added to the nation’s tally.
Chris Hayes explodes Trump's deliberate gaslighting lies about CoronaVirus. (Daily Kos, March 7, 2020)
This week we’ve had quite a show on display. That show would be Donald John Trump repeatedly lying about the impact, scope and reaction to the CoronaVirus in the U.S. But it’s not just a random string of boneheaded lies, it’s part of a plan. A plan that Trump thinks will keep himself in the White House in 2020.
NEW: Boston ER Doctor Argues Coronavirus Isn't As Deadly As Suspected. (WGBH, March 6, 2020)
A doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston says data from cruise ship passengers suggests the fatality rate of coronavirus may be lower than expected, but the virus is a potentially devastating one for the old and chronically ill.
Dr. Jeremy Faust, an attending physician in the emergency room and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, reached the conclusion after he reviewed data from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined off the coast of Japan, after more than 700 people contracted the virus in February.
Faust says he took a deep dive on the data because friends and family members kept asking him how deadly the virus is and how worried they should be. After studying the issue, he wrote about it in an opinion piece published in Slate Magazine titled "COVID-19 Isn’t As Deadly As We Think."
Faust first looked at the figures in Wuhan, China at the early days of the outbreak. In China, 25,000 people die per day, but at the zenith of the coronavirus, 25 people per day were dying from the virus, a tiny fraction of daily deaths, he explained. Then, he studied other epidemics, such as the 2009 H1N1pandemic, where early fatality estimates were 10 times greater than the actual death rate of 1.28 percent. And Faust goes one step further, arguing people shouldn't compare COVID-19 — and the virus that causes the disease — to the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed tens of millions of people. If his hypothesis holds up, the mortality rate for coronavirus will be much lower than the initial 2 to 3 percent that was predicted.
Paid to Stay Home: Europe’s Safety Net Could Ease Toll of Coronavirus. (New York Times, March 6, 2020)
Europe’s social policies are sometimes seen as overly generous. Yet they may help cushion the economic impact of the virus.
How Working-Class Life Is Killing Americans, in Charts (New York Times, March 6, 2020)
NEW: The Roberts Supreme Court's Assault on Democracy (Harvard Law & Policy Review, March 6, 2020)
This article argues that economic and political developments in the last fifty years have in many respects undermined America’s democratic institutions and that, instead of working to strengthen democracy, the Supreme Court over which Chief Justice Roberts presides, is substantially contributing to its erosion.
The Court has done this in two ways, first by carrying on a sustained assault on the right of poor people and minorities to vote. The Court has virtually eviscerated the landmark Voting Rights Act, it has upheld strict voter identification laws that serve no purpose other than to make voting more difficult, and it has authorized states to purge thousands of people from the voting rolls. In addition, the Court has abdicated its responsibility to end the anti-democratic process of partisan gerrymandering.
The second way in which the Court is weakening democracy is by reinforcing the enormous imbalance in wealth and political power that has developed in recent decades and that has contributed to undermining democracy. The Court has done this by consistently strengthening the economic and political power of corporations and wealthy individuals, as, for example, through its campaign finance decisions, and by reducing that of ordinary Americans as, for example, through its decisions involving labor unions, forced arbitration and the expansion of Medicaid.
The battle over encryption is now an open war. (Washington Post, March 6, 2020)
Tech companies and cybersecurity advocates are now in an open war with Congress as they face the most serious legislative threat to strong encryption protections in more than a decade. Hours after leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced the EARN IT Act — which threatens to weaken encryption in order to better curb online child sexual exploitation — industry leaders and cybersecurity advocates savaged the bill. They called it dangerous and unconstitutional, and a sneaky way to force companies to abandon strong encryption.
Will Elizabeth Warren Endorse a Candidate? She Has a Few Options. (New York Times, March 6, 2020)
Ms. Warren’s support is being sought by both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, and her political future is of great interest to Democrats.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren to end presidential campaign. (Washington Post, March 5, 2020)
Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts who promised to deliver “big, structural change” and vigorously fight corruption, ended her presidential bid Thursday after a series of devastating primary results crippled her once-promising campaign. “We didn’t reach our goal, but what we have done together – what you have done – has made a lasting difference,” Warren said in a phone call with her campaign staff. “It’s not the scale of the difference we wanted to make, but it matters – and the changes will have ripples for years to come.”
Warren, 70, entered the Democratic Party race in February 2019 after months of anticipation and quickly built a formidable organization. She eschewed large-dollar fundraisers, often saying that defeating President Trump would take a true grass-roots movement. Warren at times electrified voters and attracted big crowds, and at several points she seemed a good bet to win the nomination. She turned in powerful debate performances, issued dozens of policy proposals and was an impassioned, efficient campaigner.
NEW: James Lovelock: Gaia Will Soon Belong to the Cyborgs. (Nautilus, March 5, 2020)
The father of the Gaia principle on the coming age of hyperintelligence.
The EPA says these cleaning products kill coronavirus. (SlashGear, March 5, 2020)
Judge agrees to give House Democrats more time in Trump tax-returns case. (Politico, March 5, 2020)
The decision comes in the wake of a recent ruling in a similar case that lawmakers don’t have the power to sue the executive branch.
The Trump effect: Democratic turnout soars on Super Tuesday. (Daily Kos, March 4, 2020)
participation in Democratic primaries is soaring in 2020 as compared to 2016 and even 2008 in some places.
In some states, that's partly a function of moving from the caucus system to the much less time-intensive primary process. Those states include Colorado, where turnout was up about 517% over 2016; Maine quadrupled voter participation from about 47,000 in '16 to some 194,000 with 90% reporting; Minnesota also almost quadrupled from 205,000-plus in ‘16 to 745,000-plus Tuesday night; and Utah is up about 120% over last cycle.
But where participation soared was another important part of the story, with the suburban areas that helped push Democrats to sweeping victories in the midterms again showing a surge in voting. Virginia participation nearly doubled to 1.3 million voters, and Joe Biden won nearly every county there, including in the suburbs that surround D.C. Additionally, Biden beat Sanders by double digits in the suburb-heavy counties of Texas that include Dallas and Houston. And much like the results from South Carolina, Biden also turned in dominant performances among black voters in Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama.
Sanders, on the other hand, drew a shrinking share of the electorate compared to four years ago in every one of the 15 states and territories. In his home state of Vermont, for instance, he claimed just over 50% of the vote compared to 86% four years earlier.
The coronavirus test will be covered by Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance, Pence says. (CNBC, March 4, 2020)
The COVID-19 test will be covered by Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance plans, Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday. “HHS has already denominated a test for the coronavirus to be an essential health benefit,” Pence said. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans must cover essential health benefits.
When the Show Must Go On, Even Amid a Coronavirus Outbreak (New York Times, March 4, 2020)
Learning to perform without live audiences, or sometimes even theaters, as artists adapt to trying circumstances.
NEW: China’s Coronavirus: A Shocking Update. Did The Virus Originate in the US? (Global Research, March 4, 2020)
Japan, China and Taiwan Reports on the Origin of the Virus. Fort Detrick MD lab indicated (see below).
NEW: Fort Detrick laboratory studying new coronavirus. (Frederick MD News-Post, March 3, 2020)
Other units in Maryland working on vaccine.
How Pandemics Change History (The New Yorker, March 3, 2020)
Epidemics are a category of disease that seem to hold up the mirror to human beings as to who we really are. That is to say, they obviously have everything to do with our relationship to our mortality, to death, to our lives. They also reflect our relationships with the environment—the built environment that we create and the natural environment that responds. They show the moral relationships that we have toward each other as people, and we’re seeing that today.
Voting Issues Across the Country on Super Tuesday (Common Cause, March 3, 2020)
NEW: Paul Krugman: Can the Fed and Friends Save the Economy? (New York Times, March 3, 2020)
Don't put too much faith in central bankers. Markets actually had more reason to place faith in Alan Greenspan 2000 than they do to have faith in Jerome Powell 2020, because Greenspan had a lot more ammunition. The short-term interest rates the Fed effectively controls were above 6 percent in late 2000, and the Fed ended up cutting rates by about 5 percentage points — which was, it turned out, still not enough to prevent a big stock slump and a recession.
Before today’s rate cut, the Fed only had around 1.5 percent, leaving far less room to cut. And the Fed’s counterparts abroad are in even worse shape: short-term interest rates in Europe are actually negative, so the European Central Bank has basically no room at all to cut further.
Kept at the Hospital on Coronavirus Fears, Now Facing Large Medical Bills (New York Times, February 29, 2020)
Care was mandated by the government, but it’s not clear who has to pay.
These hospital stays could prove expensive. The International Federation of Health Plans estimates that the average day in a U.S. hospital costs $4,293, compared with $1,308 in Australia and $481 in Spain. The hospital stays may be especially costly for patients without health insurance or for those who have large deductibles, which they must pay before their health benefits kick in.
High charges for mandatory isolation could make patients wary of seeking needed medical treatment. The most important rule of public health is to gain the cooperation of the population. There are legal, moral and public health reasons not to charge the patients.
Oil Supermajor Dutch Royal Shell Is Diving Into The Green Hydrogen Game. (Oilprice, February 29, 2020)
Royal Dutch Shell has announced a new large-scale project to create green hydrogen using offshore wind farms in the Dutch North Sea instead of the traditional fossil fuels. The project is being developed by a consortium along with Gasunie and Groningen Seaports. Industry news site Offshore Wind reports that, “the NortH2 project partners aim to generate around 3GW to 4 GW of wind energy for the production of hydrogen before 2030, and possibly raise the capacity to 10GW by 2040.” The project is still in its infancy, and will officially get kickstarted later this year with a feasibility study. If all goes well, the consortium reports that we can expect the first green hydrogen production as soon as 2027.
U-2 Spy Plane Photos Are Windows Onto Ancient Civilizations. (Atlas Obscura, March 2, 2020)
Traces from the ancient past are hidden in photographs from the Cold War.
NEW: The Supreme Court faces a critical abortion case — and a test of its integrity. (Washington Post, March 1, 2020)
Jimmy Kimmel brutally exposes Republican voters' deep ignorance and Ted Cruz's devious duplicity. (Daily Kos, February 29, 2020)
She blinded him with science: AOC dissects Ted Cruz after he tries to come at her on Twitter. (Daily Kos, February 28, 2020)
Key Missteps at the CDC Have Set Back Its Ability to Detect the Potential Spread of Coronavirus. (ProPublica, February 28, 2020)
The CDC designed a flawed test for COVID-19, then took weeks to figure out a fix so state and local labs could use it. New York still doesn’t trust the test’s accuracy.
NEW: Ranked: The Most Innovative Economies in the World (Visual Capitalist, February 28, 2020)
Amazon’s bestselling products read like a coronavirus prep guide. (Vox, February 28, 2020)
As shoppers stock up, Amazon is scrambling to block scammers and schemes.
Amazon said on Thursday that it blocked more than a million items from sale on its marketplace in recent weeks that made false claims about defending against the novel coronavirus, as schemers across the globe looked to make a quick buck amid a global health threat. But what’s left when searching “coronavirus” or “Covid-19” on the e-commerce site is a grab bag of rushed-to-publish pandemic books and protection gear, a mix of products that could be disorienting to the average shopper.
As the global count of confirmed deaths from Covid-19 approaches 3,000, small-time authors and all kinds of businesses are flooding the Everything Store’s digital shelves with inventory. Meanwhile, Amazon is working to eliminate scams and block merchants from engaging in price-gouging, as uncertainty mounts about where else the virus will spread in the world and what impact it will have.
The company has also been placing larger-than-normal orders from some brands and manufacturers to guard against a bigger slowdown in China’s manufacturing sector. The CDC says “there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures“ and that there is currently “no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods.”
Officials Rush to Respond to a Drumbeat of New Coronavirus Cases. (New York Times, February 28, 2020)
More than 83,000 people in at least 56 countries have been infected. Many patients are linked to Iran or Italy. Fears that a global pandemic is inevitable take hold. Markets slide as virus spreads across the globe. New infections are reported across Europe. Nigeria records the first infection in sub-Saharan Africa. Fears take hold that a global pandemic is inevitable. W.H.O. raises its risk assessment to the highest level. Trump administration says it could use 1950 law to step up production of emergency supplies. Mick Mulvaney criticizes the media for reporting on the virus.
How bad will it get? Here are six important factors.
Heather Cox Richardson: Today, Trump and his supporters doubled down on the idea that the coronavirus is a “hoax”. (Letters from an American, February 28, 2020)
Today, Trump and his supporters doubled down on the idea that the coronavirus is a “hoax,” as Trump said, perpetrated by Democrats eager to tank his presidency. That would explain the dramatic drop of the stock market this week as nothing but an emotional reaction to “fake news.” It would mean that the strong economy Trump has hyped as his major contribution to the country—he denies that his predecessor Barack Obama had anything to do with it, although economic numbers under Obama were as good or better than today’s—remains intact, so long as people will ignore those dastardly Democrats... the Democrats that Donald Trump, Jr. says are hoping the coronavirus “comes here and kills millions of people so that they can end Donald Trump’s streak of winning.”
This is one heck of a gamble, and it reveals the corner into which the administration’s reliance on a false narrative has painted it. Under Trump, the country is great again… so the virus can’t be a problem. The rising stock market has proved that the economy is brilliant and Trump gets all the credit for it… so the falling stock market must be fake, or else the fault of jealous Democrats.
But the virus isn’t playing Trump’s game. It is spreading. Today, after we learned there are more than 85,000 known cases in the world and more than 2,900 known deaths, the director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program warned “every government on the planet” to “wake up. Get ready. You have a duty to your citizens. You have a duty to the world to be ready.”
White House chief of staff claims press is covering coronavirus to take Trump down. (The Hill, February 28, 2020)
What Has Mike Pence Done in Health? (New York Times, February 28, 2020)
When President Trump announced Wednesday that Vice President Pence would take charge of the nation’s coronavirus response, he repeatedly touted the “great health care” in Indiana during Mr. Pence’s time as governor there, adding, “He’s got a certain talent for this.”
So what does Mr. Pence’s record on health care look like? He has no training or expertise in health policy. Paradoxically, the two health initiatives that he got the most attention for in Indiana are actions that many in the Republican Party have strongly opposed.
In 2015, he was one of the first Republican governors who agreed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that others in his party have shunned because of their opposition to the law.
That same year, he allowed — albeit reluctantly — a program to provide clean needles for intravenous drug users in a rural county that was in the throes of an HIV outbreak. For weeks, Mr. Pence delayed permitting public health workers to distribute the clean needles to slow the epidemic, stating moral opposition to drug use. He relented as the number of HIV cases approached 100 (they ultimately surpassed 200) and doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pleaded with him — and after taking a few more nights to “pray on it,” according to Dr. Jerome Adams, the state health commissioner at the time and now the United States surgeon general. Today, his decision to allow a needle exchange - initially only for 30 days - is believed to have played an important role in slowing the epidemic. But while his decision allowed such exchanges to open statewide, no state funding was made available for them.
More broadly, critics said that Mr. Pence, like previous Indiana governors, had failed to invest adequately in public health. “All his public health policies in Indiana were more about his beliefs or ideology, and not evidence based or around data,” said Carrie Ann Lawrence, associate director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention at Indiana University.
Stephen Colbert said, “This is the greatest crisis of Trump’s presidency, and his first response is, ‘Mike, you’re up. You take it.’”
Heather Cox Richardson: We are in the chaos that churns in between more stable eras. (Letters from an American, February 27, 2020)
The coronavirus is grabbing the headlines, and it is a huge story in its own right, but it also lays bare the rot in the Republican Party that has put Trump in the White House. The coronavirus is a pandemic now, meaning it is a disease that has appeared on a number of continents, and it is killing people.
The coronavirus and the subsequent selling-off in the stock market of the last several days reveals what feels to me like an endpoint of a political era.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan won the White House by arguing that the activist government of the New Deal, the laws that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure, were destroying American liberty. “Government is not the solution to our problem;” Reagan said in his inaugural address, “government is the problem.” After 1981, America entered a period when we turned for solutions not to educated experts informing government policy, but rather to individuals who claimed to be outside that sphere of government expertise: men of the people. As we celebrated those “self-made” individualists—usually men-- Congress cut taxes and regulation to free them to run their businesses as they saw fit. After 1981, wealth began to move upward, and yet the Republican Party continued to howl about socialism and insist that we would not have true freedom until all regulations, all taxes, and most government programs were abolished. In their place we would have businessmen who had proven their worth by creating successful businesses. They would run our country in the best way for all of us.
That this system worked well for everyone was a fiction, of course. Republican leaders stayed in power not because a majority of voters agreed with their ideology, but because as their policies moved wealth upward and hurt most Americans, they blamed those economic hardships on people of color, women, and other minorities: “special interests” who were demanding government policies paid for by the taxes of hardworking white men. They also increasingly jiggered the political system to make sure they stayed in power. They disenfranchised Democratic voters and carved up districts so that in 2012, for example, Democrats won a majority of 1.4 million votes for candidates to the House of Representatives, and yet Republicans came away with a 33-seat majority.
The election of Donald Trump to the White House in 2016 was the high water mark of this political mindset. He was an outsider who posed as a successful businessman, disdainful of politics, who promised to gut government bureaucrats—the swamp-- and put into office only the best people, people known for their business acumen or their family connections to others with that skill. Expertise and loyalty to the American government was unimportant—even undesirable. What mattered was the ability to make money and be loyal to the president.
Following in his predecessors’ footsteps, Trump slashed regulations, opened up resources to businessmen, and passed a huge tax cut for the wealthy, a tax cut which was supposed to stimulate investment in the economy and promote economic growth. In the midst of growing administration scandals, Trump banked on the fact that a strong economy would keep him in office for a second term and insisted that those opposing his administration, regardless of party, were hostile Democrats who wanted big government “socialism.”
Now, a virus from China is exposing the hollowness of a generation of relying on businessmen to manage our government. The administration’s response to the coronavirus has been shockingly bad. In 2018, it got rid of the government leadership for handling a pandemic, so we have no one in charge who is trained to handle such a crisis. Then, when the virus broke out, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention insisted on developing its own test, rather than using the guidelines established by the World Health Organization. Their test didn’t work, making health officials unable to test people in danger before they got sick. Then, over the advice of the CDC, administration officials decided to evacuate 14 infected patients who had been stranded on a cruise ship in Japan along with healthy travelers. We learned today from a whistleblower that, once landed in the U.S., workers came and went from the facility that housed the patients with no precautions. Now, we have our first case of the coronavirus that appears to have appeared here on its own, and it happened in the same place where these workers came and went (although it is too early to say if there is definitely a connection).
Trump has excused his dismissal of all the experts by saying that they were easy to rehire when necessary, but it has not turned out to be that easy. Today, he appointed a third person to be in charge of the response in addition to the two others he has already named, and, angry at the CDC official who warned Americans that the virus would arrive here sooner or later, he arranged for all statements about the disease to be cleared through Vice President Mike Pence’s office. He also revealed his key interest in protecting the stock markets today when he named two new members to the coronavirus task force: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, who has insisted on television that the virus is “contained.”
In a moment that perfectly encapsulated the problem of handling a public health crisis of this magnitude when you are equipped only to promote business, today Secretary of Health and Human Services Alexander Azar, a former drug company executive and pharmaceutical lobbyist, told Congress that when scientists manage to make a vaccine for the coronavirus (12 to 18 months out, by all accounts), not everyone will be able to afford it. “We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price, because we need the private sector to invest. Price controls won’t get us there.”
This is the modern Republican Party laid bare. Profits before lives, because only businessmen, not government policy, can manage the country.
This moment makes it really clear what happens when the Republicans’ ideology comes up against reality. While GOP leaders over the years, and Trump of late, have managed to silence opponents by calling them socialists or making sure they cannot vote, the virus is not going to stop simply by changing the narrative or the body politic. Investors know this, and the dropping stock market shows their realization that you cannot shut down entire countries and keep supply chains and consumer goods moving. The stock market has fallen 11.13% in the past four days, erasing a third of the gains it has made since Trump was elected. We are facing an economic downturn, one that will strain an economy that was excellent indeed for those at the very top, but not good for those who now will be vital to keep consumption levels up… but those very people will be hard pressed to come up with extra income in an economic downturn. It is a problem that the markets are acknowledging with their biggest drops since the 2008 crisis.
This is a crisis that demands expertise and coordinated government health programs, but we no longer have those things. Instead, Trump and his surrogates on the Fox News Channel are falling back on the old arguments that have worked so well for GOP leaders in the past: Democrats are hyping the coronavirus and spooking the markets to hurt the president.
Trump, and Americans in general, are about to discover that there comes a point when image can no longer override reality. We are in the churn of that chaos now. But on the other side of it, we have the potential to rebuild a government that operates in reality, and that works for all of us.
The world’s scariest facial recognition company is now linked to everybody from ICE to Macy’s. (Vox, February 27, 2020)
Clearview said it only sold facial recognition tech to cops. Its leaked client list says otherwise.
Sen. Edward J. Markey, who has been highly critical of the company, said in his own statement that Clearview’s comments would be “laughable” if its “failure to safeguard its information wasn’t so disturbing and threatening to the public’s privacy.”
“This is a company whose entire business model relies on collecting incredibly sensitive and personal information, and this breach is yet another sign that the potential benefits of Clearview’s technology do not outweigh the grave privacy risks it poses,” Markey said.
Though Clearview is playing the breach off as a minor and quickly solved problem, it brings up larger issues that have been bubbling under the surface since Clearview’s existence was made widely known last month in a New York Times report. Those include worries about what would happen should Clearview’s data fall into the wrong hands, and how much confidence we should really have in the cybersecurity practices of a private company we know little about and have no reason to trust.
No Email. No WhatsApp. No Internet. This Is Now Normal Life In Kashmir. (Buzzfeed, February 26, 2020)
Since August 5, Indian authorities have kept the people of Kashmir in a digital blackout, restricting most internet access. At 205 days and counting, it’s the longest-running internet shutdown in any democracy so far, seven months in March. Normal life has ground to a halt in the region as businesses lay off workers, hospitals struggle to care for patients, and ordinary people despair.
They Were Infected With the Coronavirus. They Never Showed Signs. (New York Times, February 26, 2020)
In Anyang, China, five members of a family came down with the coronavirus after hosting a guest from Wuhan in early January. But the visitor, a 20-year-old woman, never got sick herself.
Some individuals who are infected with the coronavirus can spread it even though they have no symptoms, studies have shown. Asymptomatic carriers are a well-known phenomenon. But the coronavirus is a new pathogen, and these cases may complicate scientific efforts to detect cases and to curb transmission.
Even asymptomatic people who are infected may be able to spread the virus. But people without symptoms are rarely tested.
“This implies we may need many more tests that can be used out in the field, at the point of care,” said Dr. Judith N. Wasserheit, co-director of the University of Washington MetaCenter for Pandemic Preparedness and Global Health Security. “We’re still learning about the biology of this virus and how it causes disease.”
Dr. Sandra Ciesek, of the Institute of Medical Virology at University Hospital Frankfurt, who was one of the authors of a letter in The New England Journal of Medicine that described the German patients who did not become ill, said the problem was that “normally, you don’t screen asymptomatic healthy people for the virus because it’s too expensive. This shows we might have more infected people already all over the world than we expect,” she said.
House passes historic anti-lynching bill after Congress’s century of failure. (Washington Post, February 26, 2020)
H.R. 35, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, was approved on a bipartisan 410-to-4 vote. Only a handful of lawmakers — Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert (Texas), Thomas Massie (Ky.) and Ted Yoho (Fla.), and independent Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) — voted against the measure.
My journey to see if the Bernie Bro stereotype holds up. (Philadelphia Inquirer, February 26, 2020)
Bloomberg, in his paid advertising, invokes “Bernie’s Angry Bros” as a reason to oppose Sanders, and Mayor Pete raises similar concerns. This strikes me as a cynical political tactic on the part of Sanders’ rivals, intended to tar all Sanders backers with the same brush.
In a generally rancid political environment, the idealism I found on display within the Sanders cause is a bright flower in the turf, in need of nourishing, not crushing. My journey to gauge the hearts — and tempers — of Bernie supporters did not lead me to bullying bros. It led me to a political movement I can and still believe in.
How schools are using kids' phones to track and surveil them. (CNet, February 25, 2020)
A technology used in a number of prisons is tracking students now, too.
Senate Democrats go around Moscow Mitch to do something about Russia election interference. (Daily Kos, February 25, 2020)
Schumer, Menendez, Brown Demand Secretaries Mnuchin And Pompeo Use Authority Congress Granted Them In 2017 And Executive Orders To Immediately Impose New Sanctions On Russia For Reported Ongoing Efforts To Interfere In U.S. 2020 Election. (US Senate Democrats, February 24, 2020)
You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus. (The Atlantic, February 24, 2020)
Most cases are not life-threatening, which is also what makes the virus a historic challenge to contain.
Justice Sotomayor has to remind conservative peers they don't work for Trump. (Daily Kos, February 24, 2020)
Trump is prepping a massive purge of officials seen as disloyal. (Daily Kos, February 24, 2020)
Advisor: Sanders could beat Trump in Texas. (The Hill, February 24, 2020)
Chuck Rocha, a senior adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential campaign, argued that the senator can compete with President Trump in Texas, a state Democrats haven’t won in a presidential election since 1976. Asked by Krystal Ball in a Hill.TV interview whether Texas was in play in the general election, Rocha said “I truly do,” pointing to Sanders’s success with Latino voters in Nevada’s caucuses.
UK's 5G network well within safety limits, Ofcom tests find. (BBC News, February 24, 2020)
The rollout of ultra-fast 5G mobile connectivity has sparked some fears the new transmission masts could be dangerous to humans.
But Ofcom, the UK regulator, found no identifiable risks in its first tests since 5G technology was deployed. The highest result they found for the 5G band was 0.039% of the recommended exposure limit. Those limits are set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) - non-ionizing meaning the type that does not damage DNA and cells.
Reliability of expensive new voting machines called into question. (CBS News, February 24, 2020)
The most pricey solution available, they are at least twice as expensive as the hand-marked paper ballot option. They have been vigorously promoted by the three voting equipment vendors that control 88% of the U.S. market.
Some of the most popular ballot-marking machines, made by industry leaders Election Systems & Software and Dominion Voting Systems, register votes in bar codes that the human eye cannot decipher. That's a problem, researchers say: Voters could end up with printouts that accurately spell out the names of the candidates they picked, but, because of a hack, the bar codes do not reflect those choices. Because the bar codes are what's tabulated, voters would never know that their ballots benefited another candidate. Even on machines that do not use bar codes, voters may not notice if a hack or programming error mangled their choices. A University of Michigan study determined that only 7% of participants in a mock election notified poll workers when the names on their printed receipts did not match the candidates they voted for. ES&S rejects those scenarios.
Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. voters will be using ballot-marking machines this year, compared with less than 2% in 2018, according to Verified Voting, which tracks voting technology. Critics see them as vulnerable to hacking. At last year's DefCon hacker convention in Las Vegas, it took tinkerers at the 'Voting Village' not even eight hours to hack two older ballot-marking devices.
Tampering aside, some of the newer ballot-marking machines have stumbled badly in actual votes. That happened most spectacularly in November when ES&S's top-of-the-line ExpressVote XL debuted in a Pennsylvania county.
Even without technical troubles, the new machines can lead to longer lines, potentially reducing turnout. Voters need more time to cast ballots and the machine's high costs have prompted election officials to limit how many they purchase.
Americans should not be confident about security of 2020 election, experts say. (Washington Post, February 24, 2020)
The assessment from 57 percent of The Network, a panel of more than 100 cybersecurity experts who participate in our ongoing informal survey, puts a serious damper on the years-long push by federal, state and local government officials and political parties to bolster election security since a Russian hacking and influence operation upended the 2016 contest.
“There are no signs that any part of our institutions are capable of providing an election that is reasonably secure from tampering and manipulation,” said Dave Aitel, a former NSA computer scientist who is now CEO of the cybersecurity company Immunity.
“Every part of the voting process is vulnerable. This includes the voter registration process, the voting itself, the vote tabulation, and the results-reporting system,” said Bruce Schneier, fellow and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called for “more serious security measures for voting, from registration through to reporting the results back to the central voting authority.”
Trump’s new acting Director of National Intelligence conducted undisclosed work for Hungary’s far-right government. (Responsible Statecraft, February 24 2020)
President Trump’s newly installed acting Director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell, knowingly provided public relations services directed at U.S. media on behalf of a project funded by Hungary’s far-right government. Grenell didn’t register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), which is a requirement applying to individuals and entities operating inside the U.S. as an “agent” of a “foreign principal.”
Grenell’s appointment as acting Director of National Intelligence, which was announced last week, was met with widespread ridicule and disbelief. “President Trump selected an unqualified loyalist as his top spy,” said International Institute for Strategic Studies senior fellow Jonathan Stevenson in a New York Times op-ed. “Mr. Grenell, who currently serves as ambassador to Germany, is manifestly unqualified for the job, even in an acting capacity,” the Washington Post editorial board said. “He has no experience in intelligence or in managing large organizations – like the 17 agencies that will now report to him.”
Transcript: On "Face The Nation", National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien lies for Trump re Russian election interference. (CBS News, February 23, 2020)
MARGARET BRENNAN: But the White House was briefed on February 14th. Were you not in that briefing when the president was informed?
O'BRIEN: Well, there's no briefing that I've received, that the president has received, that says that President Putin is doing anything to try and influence the elections in favor of President Trump. We just haven't seen that intelligence. If it's out there, I haven't seen it. I'd be surprised if I haven't seen it. The leaders of our- the IC have not seen it. So I- again, I don't know where this is coming from. I've heard these rumors and these leaks from Adam Schiff's committee, but I- I have not seen them myself and I've seen no intelligence along those lines.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But just to clarify, are you saying that Joseph Maguire, the former acting director of national intelligence, did not inform you about the U.S. Intelligence Committee's- community's findings?
O'BRIEN: No. I, look, I think- you know, and again, I- I don't want to get into private conversations in a- in a presidential daily brief, but I- I don't think Admiral Maguire was necessarily informed of what was going to happen at that hearing in the House either. And- and again, there's nothing that he's given up, no information Admiral Maguire gave us, Gina Haspel has given us- Director Haspel, Ambassador Grenell the new acting DNI, that comports with what was leaked out of that House Intel Committee. So I haven't seen it. The leaders of the intelligence community that I've spoken with haven't seen anything that comports with what was leaked out. But again, those leaks, I don't know if that's what the briefers told the House committee. I mean those were simply --
MARGARET BRENNAN: But- well, that- that's contradicted by reports that the director of national intelligence, Maguire, did brief White House officials. But more broadly, the FBI director at the beginning of the month, Chris Wray, testified that Russia continues to try to influence the elections mainly through social media manipulation. So this pattern of behavior has continued, Russia is undeterred. Are you denying that that is happening?
O'BRIEN: No, no. What I- look I- what I've heard from the FBI, you know- well, what I've heard is that Russia would like Bernie Sanders to- to win the Democrat nomination. They'd probably like him to be president, understandably, because he wants to- to spend money on social programs and probably would have to take it out of the military, so that would make sense. And- and look, the Russians have always tried to interfere with elections because they want to divide Americans. They want to undermine our democracy. But the idea that they want to- they want to influence the election and somehow cause the president to win, I just don't see it. But look, I think there are a number of countries: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, that would like to influence our elections to- to get the candidate that they feel would be best for their country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you are saying that it is not, in fact, the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia has a preference for President Trump?
O'BRIEN: I-I have not seen that.
Super Archaic Humans Mixed with Unknown 'Ghost' Species. (7-min. video; Ancient Origins, February 22, 2020)
Heather Cox Richardson: Has America ever been in such a crisis before and, if so, what did people in the past do to save democracy? (Letters From An American, February 22, 2020)
The answer to the first question is yes, it has, three times, although only once was this bad. In the 1850s, the 1890s, and the 1920s, oligarchs took over the nation’s government, controlling the White House, Congress, and the courts.
Democrats are on a perilous course as they seek a nominee to challenge Trump. (Washington Post, February 22, 2020)
Sanders wins Nevada caucuses, stretching lead over rivals. (Washington Post, February 22, 2020)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has won the Nevada caucuses, winning a plurality of county delegates. In a speech, Sanders sounded a hopeful tone, saying, “When I look out at an audience like this and I see the diversity and beauty in this audience ... I have absolute confidence we can create a government based on compassion, based on love and based on truth, not what we have now of greed, corruption and lies.”
Bernie is The Real Deal. (Daily Kos, February 22, 2020)
During the Iraq War the military did all it could to discourage a diagnosis of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury. Because if the troops were given these diagnoses the military the VA would have a higher number of cases along with responsibility to care for these troops, the Department of Defense either did not want to treat them or didn't know how.
I know Bernie Sanders understands these problems because he talks about it in his speeches and I have watched him as he provided leadership to the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs. Bernie Sanders was very helpful and responsive to our requests in the 2000s and I saw him provide leadership in resolving the Walter Reed scandal of 2007.
Los Angeles Was Sick of Tech Disruptors. So It Decided to Become One. (CityLab, February 21, 2020)
To rein in traffic-snarling new mobility modes, L.A. needed digital savvy. Then came a privacy uproar, a murky cast of consultants, and a legal crusade by Uber.
Revealed: Quarter of all tweets about climate crisis are produced by bots. (The Guardian, February 21, 2020)
Draft of Brown study says findings suggest ‘substantial impact of mechanized bots in amplifying denialist messages’.
JP Morgan economists warn climate crisis is threat to human race. (The Guardian, February 21, 2020)
The world’s largest financier of fossil fuels has warned clients that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity and that the planet is on an unsustainable trajectory, according to a leaked document. The JP Morgan report on the economic risks of human-caused global heating said climate policy had to change or else the world faced irreversible consequences.
The study implicitly condemns the US bank’s own investment strategy and highlights growing concerns among major Wall Street institutions about the financial and reputational risks of continued funding of carbon-intensive industries, such as oil and gas. JP Morgan has provided $75bn (£61bn) in financial services to the companies most aggressively expanding in sectors such as fracking and Arctic oil and gas exploration since the Paris agreement, according to analysis compiled for the Guardian last year.
Hillary Clinton calls Trump 'Putin's puppet' amid reports of Russian interference in 2020 election. (The Hill, February 21, 2020)
"Putin’s Puppet is at it again, taking Russian help for himself," Clinton, Trump's 2016 election rival, tweeted Friday. "He knows he can’t win without it. And we can’t let it happen."
NEW: Will Richard Grenell Destroy the Intelligence Community? (New York Times, February 21, 2020)
New White House personnel chief tells Cabinet liaisons to target Never Trumpers. (Axios, February 21, 2020)
Johnny McEntee called in White House liaisons from cabinet agencies for an introductory meeting Thursday, in which he asked them to identify political appointees across the U.S. government who are believed to be anti-Trump, three sources familiar with the meeting tell Axios.
McEntee, a 29-year-old former body man to Trump who was fired in 2018 by then-Chief of Staff John Kelly but recently rehired — and promoted to head the presidential personnel office — foreshadowed sweeping personnel changes across government. But McEntee suggested the most dramatic changes may have to wait until after the November election.
Trump has empowered McEntee — whom he considers an absolute loyalist — to purge the “bad people” and “Deep State.” McEntee told staff that those identified as anti-Trump will no longer get promotions by shifting them around agencies.
The intelligence community erupts as Trump purges everyone opposed to Russian election interference. (Daily Kos, February 21, 2020)
On Friday morning, NBC News was one of several outlets reporting a “near meltdown” in the intelligence community after the news was released that acting direct of national intelligence Joseph Maguire was to be replaced by xenophobic hate-bomb specialist Richard Grenell. Much of what’s happening inside the ODNI hasn’t become public, but there has apparently been enough pushback that Trump has already announced that Grenell will be a short-term appointment until he picks someone else.
Then, on Thursday evening, Trump offered the role to Doug Collins—an offer that still seems to be open. But Collins has already declared that he doesn’t want the job, because he’s still intent on running for a Senate slot in Georgia, a task that’s been complicated by Trump’s praise for the recently appointed Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
As of Friday morning, Trump has announced that he will be appointing someone other than Grenell, but who that someone will be is still up in the air. In the meantime, the intelligence community has joined the Judiciary Community at full boil. It’s become absolutely clear that Trump is purging intelligence officials whose only crime is that they provided accurate intelligence to a committee that is not just cleared, but required to receive that information.
Trump misrepresents 2020 Russia briefing as Democratic "misinformation". (Axios, February 21, 2020)
Trump angry after House briefed on 2020 Russia election meddling on his behalf. (NBC News, February 21, 2020)
The briefing cost the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, a shot at the permanent DNI job, current and former officials said.
President Donald Trump pushed aside his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, because he was angry about a briefing to lawmakers that said Russia is interfering in the 2020 election to aid his re-election, current and former intelligence officials briefed on the matter told NBC News. At issue was an election briefing to House members last week by Shelby Pierson, the DNI's election security czar. The news was first reported by The New York Times.
The fast-moving developments have caused serious concern among intelligence officials. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence "is nearing a meltdown," one former official said after news broke about Maguire being forced out over the Russia briefing. The episode has raised the specter that Trump is punishing intelligence officials for providing accurate intelligence to members of Congress who are cleared to receive it.
While the U.S. government is working to secure the 2020 election from hackers and disinformation, Trump has avoided publicly commenting or holding meetings about the subject because he believes the issue reflects badly on his 2016 victory in an election beset by Russian interference, officials have told NBC News.
Trump can't win in November without foreign help, everyone knows it, and it's eating him alive. (Daily Kos, February 21, 2020)
The mere acknowledgment that Trump will actually receive the help he has sought is cause for heads to roll. That's what the intelligence community dared to assert in a congressional briefing last week, setting up that latest Trump administration purge at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Elizabeth Warren ‘Crushed’ the Debate. But Is It Too Late? (New York Times, February 21, 2020)
She laced into Michael Bloomberg in a bid to invigorate her campaign, and then had her biggest 24 hours of fund-raising yet.
Washington journalist: Democratic candidates 'assumed the premise' that Sanders would take most delegates to convention. (The Hill, February 20, 2020)
Only Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is leading in polls, particularly in delegate-rich Super Tuesday states like California and Texas, said during the debate Wednesday night that Democrats should nominate the candidate with the most delegates. His five rivals on the stage, however, indicated that they’re spoiling for a convention fight even if Sanders comes in with the lead.
Grim said the most telling aspect of that exchange was that the candidates “assumed the premise” that Sanders would take the delegates to the Democratic convention in July.
“The most important part of it was not their answer but that they assumed the premise, which is that Bernie Sanders is going to go into the convention with the plurality,” Grim said. “If you think about that entire stage accepting that premise as the most likely outcome, and you rewind one month ago, that’s a stunning turn of events for this party.”
How Bloomberg Bungled a Debate That He Had Been Prepped For (New York Times, February 20, 2020)
His campaign had anticipated the unsurprising questions about allegations of a hostile workplace for women at his company, stop-and-frisk policing in his city, the unseemliness of a Democratic contender who has long written checks to Republicans. And Mr. Bloomberg recognized that he would have to answer them, or at least deflect serviceably enough to survive.
But Mr. Bloomberg’s debate performance on Wednesday proved so lackluster that both supporters and rivals counted themselves taken aback, leaving his campaign more rattled than at any point since he entered the race. While Mr. Bloomberg sought to project a steely calm on Thursday during a swing through Utah, he and his team have been left to explain away a comedown that exposed some of his gravest liabilities.
Former congressman confirms he offered to broker pardon for Assange. (Ars Technica, February 20, 2020)
Rohrabacher offered Assange a pardon if he implicated Seth Rich in DNC email leak.
Trump ally Roger Stone sentenced to over 3 years in prison. (Associated Press, February 20, 2020)
NEW: Trump puts an unqualified loyalist in charge of national intelligence. (Washington Post, February 20, 2020)
President Trump's campaign to purge the government of anyone not blindly loyal to him continued Wednesday with the appointment of Richard Grenell as acting director of national intelligence. Mr. Grenell, who currently serves as ambassador to Germany, is manifestly unqualified for the job, even in an acting capacity. He has no experience in intelligence or in managing large organizations — like the 17 agencies that will now report to him.
Mr. Grenell has nevertheless won the president’s favor in a familiar way: by loudly praising him and his agenda on Fox News programs and social media. Probably, he has convinced Mr. Trump he can be counted on to put the president’s personal and political interests above those of national security — something the two previous DNIs would not reliably do.
Lawmakers Are Warned That Russia Is Meddling to Re-elect Trump. (New York Times, February 20, 2020)
A classified briefing to House members is said to have angered the president, who complained that Democrats would “weaponize” the disclosure.
While Republicans have long been critical of the Obama administration for not doing enough to track and deter Russian interference in 2016, current and former intelligence officials said the party is at risk of making a similar mistake now. Mr. Trump has been reluctant to even hear about election interference, and Republicans dislike discussing it publicly.
The aftermath of last week’s briefing prompted some intelligence officials to voice concerns that the White House will dismantle a key election security effort by Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence: the establishment of an election interference czar. Ms. Pierson has held the post since last summer. And some current and former intelligence officials expressed fears that Mr. Grenell may have been put in place explicitly to slow the pace of information on election interference to Congress. The revelations about Mr. Trump’s confrontation with Mr. Maguire raised new concerns about Mr. Grenell’s appointment, said the Democratic House committee official, who added that the upcoming election could be more vulnerable to foreign interference.
Mr. Trump, former officials have said, is typically uninterested in election interference briefings, and Mr. Grenell might see it as unwise to emphasize such intelligence with the president.
Global GDP Hits $88 Trillion: Environment Reeling, Economy Threatened (Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy/CASSE, February 20, 2020)
Global GDP is forecasted to reach $88 trillion at approximately 2:00 PM GMT today, resulting in unprecedented environmental impacts. GDP has become the single best indicator of environmental impact including biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change.
A growing GDP entails increasing population × per capita consumption, and therefore a growing ecological footprint. As it grows, the human economy displaces non-human species and habitats. Due to the laws of thermodynamics, a growing economy must generate more waste heat and materials in the aggregate (not necessarily per capita). Meanwhile, GDP is the key variable in the climate change projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
$88 trillion of economic activity has caused (among other threats): 30,000 species to be threatened with extinction; air pollution to become the fifth highest risk factor for mortality; climate-changing CO2 levels to reach >413 ppm (and rising).
The timing of the $88-trillion impact is indicated by the CASSE GDP Meter, a real-time, rolling, 12-month GDP calculation. Given the severity of the impact, CASSE calls for “degrowth toward a steady state economy.” Otherwise - and ironically - the push for higher GDP will cause not only further environmental deterioration but economic crisis and conceivably collapse.
Neanderthal-Denisovan Ancestor Canoodled With Mystery Group Of "Super-Archaic" Humans. (IFL Science, February 20, 2020)
There could be yet another new character in the story of human evolution – and even more evidence of hanky panky within our evolutionary family. A new study suggests that the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans, two of Homo sapiens’ closest cousins, interbred with a mysterious population of their own Eurasian predecessors 700,000 years ago, and it's the earliest interbreeding between ancient human populations we know of yet. It’s unclear “who” these hominins were, but they are known to be members of a “super-archaic” population that separated from other humans about 2 million years ago. By the researchers' workings, this population was made up of as many as 20,000 to 50,000 individuals.
“Super-archaics:" Meet the humans who may have mated with your ancestors. (Inverse, February 20, 2020)
These ancient humans were likely the first inhabitants of Eurasia.
NEW: ‘Radical Change’ Needed After Latest Neutron Star Collision. (Quanta Magazine, February 20, 2020)
A recent neutron star merger has defied astronomers’ expectations, leading them to question longstanding ideas about neutron stars and the supernovas that create them. “We have to go back to the drawing board.”
NEW: What Really Inflamed the Coronavirus Epidemic (Nautilus, February 20, 2020)
Censorship didn’t worsen the deadly virus outbreak. Incompetence did.
Hackers Are Using the Coronavirus Panic to Spread Malware. (Vice, February 20, 2020)
Hackers are posing as the CDC and public health organizations to get people to open virus-laden files.
Humans are producing a far larger share of methane emissions than we thought. (MIT Technology Review, February 20, 2020)
If more methane is created by humans, there’s an even bigger opportunity to rein in how much we release. Methane stays in the atmosphere for only a decade (compared with 200 years for carbon dioxide). So efforts to cut methane, which mostly comes from the production and transportation of gas and oil, could pay big dividends right away.
Benefits of Public Transport (10 Memes, February 20, 2020)
[Some pictures are worth 1,001 words.]
William Barr’s America vs. reality in 2020. (Washington Post, February 19, 2020)
It has become conventional wisdom on the right that religion is under assault from secular liberals — and that the waning of faith is bad for America.
Attorney General William P. Barr, a conservative Catholic, summed up this alarmist outlook last fall during an incendiary speech at Notre Dame. He bemoaned “the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system” and the “growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism. By any honest assessment,” he thundered, “the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim.” He went on to cite statistics on rising out-of-wedlock births (“illegitimacy”), along with “record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence, and a deadly drug epidemic.”
This tendentious reading of U.S. history ignores reality. By most metrics, the country is far better off than when Barr was a boy. He was born in 1950, when segregation was legal and homosexuality was not.
Barr’s simplistic idea that the country is better off if it is more religious is based on faith, not evidence. My research associate Sherry Cho compiled statistics on the 10 countries with the highest percentage of religious people and the 10 countries with the lowest percentage based on a 2017 WIN/Gallup International survey of 68 countries. The least religious countries are either Asian nations where monotheism never took hold (China, Japan) or Western nations such as Australia, Sweden and Belgium, where secularism is much more advanced than in the United States. The most religious countries represent various faiths: There are predominantly Christian countries (the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Armenia), Muslim Pakistan, Buddhist Thailand, Hindu India — and countries of mixed faiths (Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Fiji).
Indicators suggest that the less religious nations are much better off. Average GDP per capita in the least religious countries is more than five times higher, while the unemployment rate is more than twice as low and the poverty rate is one and a half times lower. The homicide rate is five times lower. Life expectancy is 22 percent higher, and infant mortality is 1,000 percent lower — in part because the least religious nations spend 50 percent more per capita on health care. The least religious countries are also better educated, with a mean 12 years of schooling per capita vs. 7½ years in the most religious countries. Income inequality is 24 percent lower in the least religious countries, and gender inequality (as measured by the World Bank) is more than 400 percent lower. Finally, the least religious countries are freer, with an average score of 87.6 from Freedom House, compared to 56.5 for the most religious countries.
Gallup notes that “levels of religiosity diminish as income and education levels of the interviewees increase.” Put another way: Declining religiosity is not the result of a leftist plot. Capitalism has done more than the Supreme Court to break down traditional beliefs.
The United States is unusual not because religious observance has declined over the years but because it remains much higher than expected.
Boston harbor brings ashore a new enemy: Rising seas. (Washington Post, February 19, 2020)
Facing climate change, Boston must gird itself for an era of rising water - or be inundated.
What AI still can’t do (MIT Technology Review, February 19, 2020)
Artificial intelligence won’t be very smart if computers don’t grasp cause and effect. That’s something even humans have trouble with.
There Are Far More Americans Without Broadband Access than Previously Thought. (CityLab, February 19, 2020)
The Federal Communications Commission says 21 million Americans lack high-speed internet access, but a new report says the actual figure is double that.
White House spokesman offers bizarro explanation for Donald 'Lock Her Up' Trump's pardons. (Daily Kos, February 19, 2020)
Heather Cox Richardson: Did Trump attempt to bride Julian Assange? And, the US Nomination Process. (Letters From An American, February 19, 2020)
Sanders surges into national lead in new Post-ABC poll. (Washington Post, February 19, 2020)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), on the strength of his performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, has surged nationally and now holds a sizable lead over all of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination. Former vice president Joe Biden, who led Sanders in a Post-ABC national poll in January, has seen a sharp drop in his support after finishing fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary. Biden is now in a battle for second place with former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
NEW: The Coronavirus Outbreak Could Bring Out the Worst in Trump. (Atlantic, February 18, 2020)
Virology isn’t politics. When a senior White House aide would brief President Donald Trump in 2018 about an Ebola-virus outbreak in central Africa, it was plainly evident that hardships roiling a far-flung part of the world didn’t command his attention. He was zoning out. “It was like talking to a wall,” a person familiar with the matter told me.
Now a new coronavirus that originated in China is confronting him with a potential pandemic, a problem that Trump seems ill-prepared to meet. A crisis that is heading into its third month could draw out every personal and managerial failing that the president has shown to this point. Much of what he’s said publicly about the virus has been wrong, a consequence of downplaying any troubles on his watch. He has long stoked fears that foreigners entering the United States bring disease. Now he may double down on xenophobic suspicions. He has hollowed out federal agencies and belittled expertise, prioritizing instead his own intuition and the demands of his political base. But he’ll need to rely on a bureaucracy he’s maligned to stop the virus’s spread.
Warming, acidic oceans may nearly eliminate coral reef habitats by 2100. (, February 18, 2020)
The results highlight some of the devastating impacts Earth's warming climate will have on marine life, according to the researchers. Although pollution poses numerous threats to ocean creatures, the new research suggests corals are most at risk from emission-driven changes in their environment.
Warmer waters stress corals, causing them to release symbiotic algae living inside them. This turns typically vibrant-colored communities of corals white, a process called bleaching. Bleached corals are not dead, but they are at higher risk of dying, and these bleaching events are becoming more common under climate change.
In the new study, Setter and her colleagues mapped what areas of the ocean would be suitable for coral restoration efforts over the coming decades. The researchers simulated ocean environment conditions like sea surface temperature, wave energy, acidity of the water, pollution, and overfishing in areas where corals now exist. To factor in pollution and overfishing, the researchers considered human population density and land cover use to project how much waste would be released into the surrounding waters.
The researchers found most of parts of the ocean where coral reefs exist today won't be suitable habitats for corals by 2045, and the situation worsened as the simulation extended to 2100. Rising temperatures and ocean acidification are mostly to blame for diminishing coral habitats, according to the researchers. Projected increases in human pollution have only a minor contribution to the future elimination of reef habitat, because humans have already caused such extensive damage to coral reefs that there aren't many locations left to impact.
NEW: Amazon Patent Design To Whip Cargo Into Orbit. (IFL Science, February 18, 2020)
NEW: Hate Those Robocalls? This Service Lets You Sue Them for Up to $3,000 Per Annoying Call. (Gizmodo, February 16, 2020)
Bloomberg is spending his way to the top. (CNN, February 16, 2020)
A new Quinnipiac University poll shows that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is leading the Democratic primary nationally with 25%. He's followed by former front-runner and ex-Vice President Joe Biden at 17%, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg at 15%, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at 14% and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 10%.
The average poll also shows Bloomberg at 15%, up considerably from 9% before the Iowa caucuses and 3% when he first entered the race in November. Much to my surprise, Bloomberg can now be considered a real player in the Democratic primary. He's seen his numbers go up nationally and in a number of state polls as well. Bloomberg is showing that with a massive war chest, you can, in fact, buy yourself a lot of goodwill. Bloomberg has spent $129 million on ads in the Super Tuesday primary states, after deciding to skip the first four contests. No one else is even within $100 million of him. Beyond fellow billionaire Tom Steyer, no else has even spent $10 million.
American politics has never before seen this kind of financial firepower in a presidential campaign. Bloomberg is spending much of it on traditional television advertisements, but has spent money on digital as well. He's sponsored a bunch of memes, for example.
But it's not just the media where Bloomberg is finding success. He has found a home among the establishment as well. As of this writing, he has racked up 22 endorsements from members of Congress, governors and major city mayors - second only to Biden. During February alone, he has picked up nine endorsements from this same group. That is more than the rest of the field combined. Bloomberg, of course, has made many connections to elected Democrats through his Bloomberg Philanthropies activities and donations to members of Congress.
Many of the Democrats endorsing Bloomberg are moderates. They are the types of politicians who you might have expected to endorse Biden. With Biden falling in the polls after his disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, they've decided to put their stock in Bloomberg. Many of them are on the record as fearing a Sanders nomination because of his progressive views.
But I'm not sure Bloomberg will have his intended effect. In a way, he could make it easier for Sanders to win the nomination.
Documentarian Ken Burns warned Trump's rise would be 'Hitler-esque'. Here's what else he predicted. (Daily Kos, February 16, 2020)
Why have you been so publicly opposed to Donald Trump?
I have never in my professional life ever spoken out in this way. I certainly have my own opinions and have a yard sign at elections and make sure I vote. But I spoke out because he represents the greatest threat to American democracy since the Second World War. He is so fundamentally un-American, and not only because he is unqualified, but because he is mentally unsuited. He represents a kind of strong man, narcissistic thing that represents the potential death of the Republic. All of my films are about the United States and all of them are about trying to understand how it works and how it doesn’t work, and I just felt compelled to speak out.
What’s so dangerous about his appeal?
He has tapped a dark unconscious, in which it is easier to vilify the other than to see what you share in common. It’s easier to be afraid than to welcome change. It’s always been there. We had a civil war, you know. We killed 750,000 of ourselves over this issue. He’s appealing to that in the most venal and vulgar ways.
I could have answered your question in a much simpler way by just saying he’s too vulgar for me. There’s no one who has occupied the presidency of the United States like that. This is coming from a person who has just finished a ten-part series on the Vietnam War, so I have been listening for years to Johnson and Nixon on tapes that they forgot were being recorded, and the vulgarity there is pretty extreme, but nothing compares to the vulgarity of this man.
Do you think he’s a fascist?
Absolutely. When you talk about having extra-judicial, threatening rivals with jail. You can call it fascistic or you can call it dictatorial. You can call it monomaniacal or imperial. Whatever you want to say, this is not the way that our country works.
Why President Trump asked Ukraine to look into a DNC "server" and CrowdStrike. (14-min. video; CBS News, February 16, 2020)
The consensus view of the CIA, NSA, FBI and a Senate investigation is that Russians interfered in the 2016 election. But those findings don't line up with the ever-evolving story President Trump has been telling about Ukraine.
OUCH! FOX News Reminds Kellyanne Conway that Trump is a Serial Sexual Predator. (Daily Kos, February 16, 2020)
There are innumerable reasons to be disgusted by Donald Trump. He is an unapologetic racist who praised neo-Nazis as "very fine people.". He ripped babies from their parents arms and warehoused them in cages. He gushes affection for hostile foreign dictators. He maligns his critics as "enemies of America." And he lies with every breath he takes.
Those atrocities only scratch the surface of Trump's loathsome character (or lack thereof). But high on the list of his noxious behaviors has to be his abusive treatment of women. It's an appalling fact of the Era of Trump that a political figure can be charged with committing dozens of sexual assaults and not be punished or cast out of public life. A new book, "All the President's Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator", documents 43 new allegations against Trump. But somehow Trump has gotten away with all of this as new scandals emerge every day to wipe the previous ones from the public's mind.
More than 1,100 former prosecutors and other DOJ officials call on Attorney General Bill Barr to resign. (4-min. video; CNN, February 16, 2020)
More than 1,110 former Justice Department officials who served in Republican as well as Democratic administrations posted a statement Sunday calling on Attorney General Bill Barr to resign:
"Mr. Barr's actions in doing the President's personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words. Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice's reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign. But because we have little expectation he will do so, it falls to the Department's career officials to take appropriate action to uphold their oaths of office and defend nonpartisan, apolitical justice."
NEW: Lessons from the ancient philosophers to help improve our lives today (The Guardian, February 15, 2020)
Trump brags that he's all about getting revenge on those who failed to 'kill the king'. (Daily Kos, February 14, 2020)
Every day of the Senate trial, Adam Schiff made the cases that Donald Trump is not a king. He’s not free to use the weaponry of the state as his personal tool, and not exempt from the consequences of his actions. He’s a citizen, constrained by law like the rest of us.
But of course, Republicans disagreed. And on Saturday morning Donald Trump made it clear that not only does he consider himself a king, he intends to make the remainder of his rule all about “grievance, persecution and resentment.” Trump based his morning tweets on a two-week old article from The New York Times which looked at Trump’s post-impeachment actions. Susan Collins may have claimed that Trump was going to be chastened by the hearings, impeachment, and trial.
And Trump has made it clear that he did learn something from the whole process. He learned that he can get away with anything — absolutely anything — without being concerned that Republicans will hold him accountable. Following the impeachment, Trump has fired those who testified against him like Lt. Col. Vindman and Gordon Sondland. He’s taken petty vengeance on people like Vindman’s twin bother for having the bad taste of being related to someone on Trump’s enemies list. He’s held a White House session of self-congratulation in which he pointedly left out even most of the Republicans who voted to acquit over their failure to be sufficiently loyal. He’s continued hollowing out agencies across the government. He made it clear that he did send Giuliani to Ukraine to mine for political turds, and he told Geraldo Rivera that the way he will deal with phone calls to foreign leaders in the future is by conducting them in secret with no one listening in.
The series of revelations that spilled in the last three days showing that not only was Barr putting pillows in place to protect Trump’s associates from facing consequences of their crimes, but building a whole team designed to second-guess and undermine veteran prosecutors shows how far down the fascism path Trump is already gone. Trump has already embraced “jokes” about naming himself president for life. Now he’s putting out tweets in which he’s the king.
And his rabble is applauding.
Oil-flowing Bible exposed as a fraud. (Daily Kos, February 14, 2020)
[Converting mineral oil to snake oil is not a miracle.]
Bloomberg is running the billionaire vote-buying campaign we expected from Trump. (Quartz, February 14, 2020)
In 2016, Trump spent far less than his general election opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and he didn't contribute much of his own money to the campaign. During the 21 months he officially contested the 2016 election, primary and general, Trump spent $325 million, contributing one-fifth of the total himself.
In the first two months of his primary campaign, till the end of December, Bloomberg spent $188 million, and all of it came out of his own pocket. That means he'd already spent, personally, more than twice as much as Trump did with outside help.
Canadian Doctor Danielle Martin Explains Why Americans Need Universal Healthcare. (2-min. video; YouTube, February 14, 2020)
[Also see her 30-min. 2017 interview, "Treating Canada's Health Care System".]
'Parasite' paints a nightmarish picture of Korean inequality. The reality in America is even worse. (Washington Post, February 14, 2020)
Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s "Parasite" is a dark parable about the yawning gulf between the rich and the poor in South Korea. It's a story of a society where the working class have no hope of attaining a better life, and instead squabble among themselves for the literal scraps of prosperity cast off by the wealthy as they move serenely through their charmed lives.
The film and its message have strongly resonated with American audiences, and last week's best picture win means its stateside influence is only likely to grow. That's probably not an accident: By any number of measures, inequality here in the States is much, much worse than in Bong's South Korea.
Tiny area of brain may be 'engine of consciousness', scientists suggest. (Big Think, February 14, 2020)
A recent study on monkeys found that stimulating a certain part of the forebrain wakes monkeys from anesthesia.
The biology of love (Aeon, February 13, 2020)
Humans teeter on a knife's edge. The same deep chemistry that fosters bonding can, in a heartbeat, pivot to fear and hate.
Michael Bloomberg’s Campaign Suddenly Drops Memes Everywhere. (New York Times, February 13, 2020)
A campaign of sponsored content for the candidate flourished suddenly on Instagram. A new outfit, called Meme 2020, is behind it.
Oracle tells Supreme Court: Fair use? Pah! There's nothing fair about 'Google's copying'. (The Register, February 13, 2020)
Should they be allowed to grab our stuff just cos it's 'popular' and it works? The firm filed a brief yesterday to fend off Google's appeal in the highest court in the United States. The search giant is trying to overturn a Federal Circuit ruling over Google's use of Java code in the Android mobile operating system that would leave it on the hook for copyright damages estimated at $9-billion+.
Oracle characterised Google's problem was that Sun's "APIs are copyrighted". It remarked: "Google could have taken the open-source license for free. But Google considered the give-back obligation 'unacceptable'."
Oracle also said, seemingly in opposition to its own argument, that Google had "admitted that it purposely made Android incompatible with Java".
Free Software is Being Abandoned by Opponents of Software Patents and It's Being Attacked by Patent Trolls. (TechRights, February 13, 2020)
…then, companies that are arming those trolls suddenly pretend to come to our 'rescue'.
Scientists say the pangolin endangered by Chinese smuggling may have passed the coronavirus to humans. (Quartz, February 13, 2020)
Before now news stories about pangolins, endangered ant-eating scaly mammals found in West and Central Africa and Asia, have focused on how China's insatiable thirst for their meat and scales has led to a rapid decline in its global population.
The recent news linking the animal to China may change this trend as pangolins have been reported to have likely transmitted to humans the novel coronavirus that has caused the death of over 1,300 people in mainland China. The pangolin was reported to be the most likely intermediate host from which humans contracted the coronavirus. The pangolin-vector claim was made public on Feb. 7 by researchers at South China Agricultural University, who said they found the genome sequence of the coronavirus separated from pangolins to be 99% identical to that collected from infected people.
China has been in the news as the major consumer of pangolin which is smuggled in mostly from Africa. The massive demand for pangolin in China and Vietnam, where the animal is consumed as meat and their scales used for traditional medicine, has led to the decimation of the animal in these countries.
Though trade in pangolin meat and scales has been banned internationally, domestic sales of medicines containing pangolin scales are still allowed in China. Many of the first people to become infected by the coronavirus worked at a seafood and wild-animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and the virus is thought to have first spread to humans there in December.
As China has become a global economic powerhouse over recent decades, Chinese demand for African mammals for medicines and other products has had a significant impact in countries which have lax conservation laws. In recent years, rhino and elephant populations have been devastated in southern Africa, driven in part by demand for their horns and tusks.
NEW: The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic”. (MIT Technology Review, February 12, 2020)
Social media has zipped information and misinformation around the world at unprecedented speeds, fueling panic, racism … and hope.
Susan Collins' defense of her Trump vote just keeps looking worse and worse. (2-min. video; CNN, February 12, 2020)
Eight days removed from Donald Trump's acquittal on both articles of impeachment, the President is leaning heavily into a revenge tour against his political enemies - an effort that makes Maine Sen. Susan Collins' claim that Trump had learned his lesson from the impeachment proceedings all the more outlandish.
When she said that, it was obviously not true. Nothing in Trump's behavior - either in regard to the impeachment effort or more generally - offered even a shred of evidence to make that claim seem anything but laughable. But now, eight days removed from his impeachment and in the midst of Trump's reign of revenge, it's an even more indefensible position.
Bomb cyclones poised to form in the North Atlantic will rake Europe with high winds, ‘phenomenal seas’. (Washington Post, February 12, 2020)
Hot on the heels of Storm Ciara in the U.K. will come Storm Dennis.
Europe's center isn't holding. (Washington Post, February 11, 2020)
In Ireland, Sinn Fein, the left-wing nationalist political party with historic ties to the militant Irish Republican Army, achieved its strongest-ever performance in elections over the weekend, smashing Ireland's center-right status quo by finishing ahead of the country's two traditional establishment parties. It's still unclear what shape the next government will take, but Sinn Fein's leaders believe they have the mandate to govern.
In Germany last week, the far-right Alternative for Germany cooperated with a local branch of the ruling Christian Democrats and a smaller pro-free market, liberal party to help form a government in the eastern state of Thuringia. The AfD, a vehemently anti-immigrant party brimming with both neofascist rhetoric and members, has surged into prominence in recent regional and national elections and commands the third-largest bloc of seats in the Bundestag, or parliament. Establishment parties have sought to keep them at arm's length, aware of the taboo of associating with Nazi-adjacent politics.
But no longer. "The alignment shook German politics, breaking a pledge from mainstream parties that they would not cooperate with the far right," my colleagues reported. "Spontaneous street demonstrations took place in German cities after the move, which was seen as a break in the post-World War II political consensus."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European embodiment of centrist, consensus-driven politics, branded the maneuver by members of her own party to collaborate with the AfD in Thuringia as "unforgivable." But the political tremors unleashed there shook the center, instead: On Monday, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel's designated successor, said she would step aside as leader of the Christian Democrats - a consequence in part of divisions with Merkel's own party, where many want to pivot their politics in the direction of the AfD.
Bloomberg's Super Tuesday splurge (Axios, February 11, 2020)
While most candidates are focusing their dollars and efforts on early primary states, the Democratic presidential candidate has his eyes set on the states he thinks he can win - and those with the most delegates. 35% of Bloomberg's ad money has been spent on the four states with the largest number of Democratic delegates - California, New York, Texas and Florida. Nearly half has been spent on Super Tuesday and Rust Belt states.
So far, the investment seems to be paying off. The billionaire former New York mayor's rise in national polls is due largely to his growing popularity in Super Tuesday states, according to FiveThirtyEight. He's even surpassed Warren in Florida.
While skipping the early primary states ensures that the presidential nominee comes out unscathed ahead of Super Tuesday, it also means Bloomberg has missed out on potentially building more earned media support nationally.
NEW: Green Hydrogen Is Right Around The Corner. (Oilprice, February 11, 2020)
Hydrogen is often touted as a green and nearly inexhaustible source of clean energy. The first element of the periodic table burns completely clean, leaving nothing behind but water vapor. This makes it extremely enticing and sellable as a fuel source option for a decarbonized future economy. However, the reality is much more complex and much less green. Hydrogen power is nothing new, and is already used in industrial processes such as ammonia production, in refineries and as a feedstock for chemicals. This hydrogen, however, like most hydrogen currently in production, is created through the use of fossil fuels, primarily coal and natural gas. This hydrogen is known as “grey hydrogen” and is useless when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The fossil-fuel-free production of “green hydrogen” is not only possible, it’s already being produced as well, just not at the same scale or as cheaply as conventional fossil-fuel-produced hydrogen. As Recharge News reports, system costs of green hydrogen are certainly the biggest hurdle for green hydrogen at present, but likely not for long.
Spring Is Here... But It's Still Winter. (Gizmodo, February 11, 2020)
Spring has arrived across the Southeast earlier than at any point in the last 39 years. Leaves and flowers appearing this early in the year could spell trouble for crops and wildlife in the region.
And you know what's likely to blame? You got it: climate change.
Coronavirus slows China's economy. (New York Times, February 11, 2020)
As it works to contain the spread of a dangerous epidemic, one of the world's largest economies has been largely idle, threatening a sharp reduction in the production of everything from cars to smartphones.
Chinese health officials said today that the death toll from the new coronavirus had passed 1,000. In Hong Kong, two people living on different floors of an apartment building were found to be infected, raising fears about how the virus can spread. Here are the latest updates and maps of where the virus has reached.
Quotable: "Let's not shake hands in this special time," said China's leader, Xi Jinping, as he toured Beijing on Monday after facing criticism for his relatively low profile.
Another angle: During an Ebola outbreak in 2014, Donald Trump, then a private citizen, called for measures like canceling flights and forcing quarantines. Public health experts are now concerned that a president who has spoken openly about his phobia of germs might overreact to the coronavirus crisis.
Perspective: In an opinion piece for The Times, an epidemiologist discusses what is known, and not known, about the virus.
China Is Spraying Entire City Blocks in Wuhan to Contain Coronavirus Outbreak. (Futurism, February 10, 2020)
The footage is apocalyptic: Workers roll giant machines down empty streets, blasting huge plumes of disinfecting spray.
NEW: Trump vowed to not cut Social Security and Medicare — hours before proposing just that. (Vox, February 10, 2020)
The president is either brazenly lying about his 2021 budget or doesn’t know what’s in it.
White-Collar Crime (Huffington Post, February 10, 2020)
Over the past two years, nearly every institution of American life has taken on the unmistakable stench of moral rot. The rich are enjoying a golden age of impunity unprecedented in modern history. Elite deviance has become the dark matter of American life, the invisible force around which the country's most powerful legal and political systems have set their orbit.
NEW: Late capitalism (Quartz, February 10, 2020)
$400 jeans flecked with fake mud. Chernobyl tourism. When a geopolitical spat on Twitter leads to a real-life war. These are, debatably, all symptoms of late capitalism (or late-stage capitalism). Over the past few years, the phrase has become shorthand to describe, as one active Reddit community calls it, “our social, moral and ideological rot.” But as the phrase has transitioned from arcane German economic theory to meme-ified vernacular, its definition has shifted to encompass pretty much everything ironic about money—who has it, how they get it, and who suffers—in our modern era.
Iceberg that's twice the size of Washington cleaves off Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica, in a sign of warming. (Washington Post, February 10, 2020)
An iceberg about twice the size of the District of Columbia broke off Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica sometime between Saturday and Sunday, satellite data shows, confirming yet another in a series of increasingly frequent calving events in this rapidly warming region.
The Pine Island Glacier is one of the fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica, and along with the Thwaites Glacier nearby, it's a subject of close scientific monitoring to determine whether these glaciers are in a phase of runaway melting, potentially freeing up vast inland areas of ice to flow to the sea and raising sea levels.
According to NASA, the region surrounding the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers contains enough "highly vulnerable ice" to raise global sea levels by about four feet.
NEW: What lies at the bottom of one of the deepest holes ever dug by man? (14-min. video; CBS News, February 9, 2020)
A South African gold mine that goes two miles beneath the Earth's surface holds far more than just precious metals.
For Thousands of Years, Egypt Controlled the Nile. A New Dam Threatens That. (New York Times, February 9, 2020)
Ethiopia is staking its hopes on its $4.5 billion hydroelectric dam. Egypt fears it will cut into its water supplies. President Trump is mediating.
Bloomberg's big bet on the power of money (Axios, February 8, 2020)
Michael Bloomberg’s prolific spending aims to make him as legitimate and familiar as his rivals. It also confronts two realities: President Trump is out-raising all the other Democrats with ease, and the Democratic National Committee is anemic.
NEW: Very dumb congressman forgets that recessions almost always start under Republican presidents. (Daily Kos, February 8, 2020)
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is not a fan of history, apparently. This pervasive, lingering myth that Republicans are great for the economy and Democrats are poison never ceases to baffle me.That’s why they need to be reminded of their incompetence at every turn.
The opposite is true. On every important measure - GDP growth, job creation, deficit spending, business investment growth - Democrats beat Republicans’ brains out, and they have for decades. This only makes sense, of course. Democrats want to invest broadly in our economy, whereas Republicans love to balloon the deficit and hand fistfuls of cash to obscenely wealthy plutocrats just because.
So what would a “socialist Democrat” do? Probably invest in infrastructure and a forward-looking green economy; unshackle financially strapped workers who are burdened with crushing student loan debt; free would-be entrepreneurs who are scared to leave their jobs because they can’t lose their insurance; put more money in the hands of poor and middle class workers, who would be more apt to spend it; and protect our air, water, and natural resources, thus ensuring a sustainable future economy.
Heather Cox Richardson: Trump's tax cuts are designed to take American government back to the 1920s. (Letters From An American, February 8, 2020)
On Monday, Trump will release his 2021 budget. It contains $800 billion worth of cuts in Medicaid over the next decade. On January 22, in an interview on CNBC when he was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, when pressed on the enormous budget deficits his policies have created - he has added almost $3 trillion to the national debt - he suggested that he is considering cutting Social Security and Medicare in his second term. "That’s actually the easiest of all things, if you look," he said.
One of the reasons the nation’s deficit and debt is soaring is that Trump's 2017 tax cut slashed tax revenues. And rather than helping regular Americans, "the plumbers, the carpenters, the cops, the teachers, the truck drivers, the pipe-fitters, the people that like me best," as Trump put it, 60% of the tax savings went to people whose incomes were in the top 20%.
These cuts to both social programs and taxes are the end game of a movement that started in the 1930s. It is designed to take American government back to the 1920s, when Republicans led by Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge turned the government over to businessmen in the belief that they alone truly knew what was best for the country. For eight years, it seemed like this system was the best ever designed as the economy appeared to boom and some men became very rich indeed.
But the Roaring Twenties came to a crashing end in 1929, and in the introspection that followed, Americans discovered that some businessmen and financiers had been cheating, while even those who were trying to live within the law were gambling with customers' money or taking advantage of risky schemes.
The accelerating health crisis in China is testing the authoritarian system President Xi Jinping built around himself. It may be difficult for him to escape blame. (New York Times, February 8, 2020)
As the government struggles in its fight to stop the coronavirus, it is also having trouble controlling the narrative, and Mr. Xi now faces unusually hostile public discontent that even rigorous censorship cannot stifle entirely.
Meanwhile, the death toll in China has risen to more than 800, surpassing the death toll from the SARS epidemic of 2002-3. Among the dead is a U.S. citizen.
And with flu season in full swing, hospitals are preparing for another surge of patients if the coronavirus spreads widely in the U.S.
Trump publicly admits he fired White House official as retaliation for impeachment testimony: 'He was very insubordinate.' (The Independent UK, February 8, 2020)
US president lashes out at Lt Col Alexander Vindman hours after Ukraine expert escorted from office.
Mr Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, had earlier appeared to suggest Lt Col Vindman and Gordon Sondland, who was recalled as US ambassador to the European Union, were sacked for their testimony in the inquiry.
Mr Trump was acquitted this week by Republican allies in the Senate, even though some admitted they did not dispute the allegations against him.
The GOP Is Sending Out Political Mailers That Look Like Official Census Documents. (Mother Jones, February 7, 2020)
They’re continuing despite criticism.
The U.S. Government Uses 'Near Perfect Surveillance' Data on Americans. (New York Times, February 7, 2020)
"When the government tracks the location of a cellphone it achieves near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone's user," wrote John Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, in a 2018 ruling that prevented the government from obtaining location data from cellphone towers without a warrant. "We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier's database of physical location information," Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the decision, Carpenter v. United States.
With that judicial intent in mind, it is alarming to read a new report in The Wall Street Journal that found the Trump administration "has bought access to a commercial database that maps the movements of millions of cellphones in America and is using it for immigration and border enforcement." The data used by the government comes not from the phone companies but from a location data company, one of many that are quietly and relentlessly collecting the precise movements of all smartphone-owning Americans through their phone apps.
Surely, Congress has time to hold hearings about a matter of urgent concern to everyone who owns a smartphone or cares about the government using the most invasive corporate surveillance system ever devised against its own people.
Warning Shot The German Conservatives' Faustian Pact With the Far-Right (Der Speigel, February 7, 2020)
German conservatives in the eastern state of Thuringia have drawn scathing criticism for relying on the far-right to get a gubernatorial candidate elected. In a DER SPIEGEL editorial, our author argues that anything short of unequivocal rejection of political extremism is ultimately damaging to liberal democracy.
Democracy in the USA is still alive, but the alliance between Donald Trump and the Republicans has damaged it. Because many Senators hope they can retain
power with Trump's help, they follow him unconditionally, also in the obvious lie that he has not abused the power of his office. It seems that about 50% of Americans also see it this way.
The broader article examines how democracy fails, with examples from Nazi Germany, Brazil, Venezuela, and Peru. The common first step in the failure is the willingness of moderate politicians to ally themselves with undemocratic elements in order to retain power. Then the fascists take over.
Trump seems to be intensifying his program to pack the government with his supporters, in the courts, in the executive branch, and most recently in the intelligence and security services.
Germany's Post-Nazi Taboo Against the Far Right Has Been Shattered. (New York Times, February 7, 2020)
Events this week in German politics were horrifying. But they shouldn't have been a surprise.
Windows 10 warning: anger at Microsoft rises with serious new failure. (OS News, February 7, 2020)
Windows 10 may now be essential but users new and old have had a rough ride in recent weeks. And it has just gotten a lot worse after a new, high-profile Windows 10 failure has left more questions than answers and some seriously angry users. The drama began yesterday as Windows 10 users suddenly found that Search was broken with a black bar showing where search results should be, even for those who tried to perform a local search of their files.
This is the future of proprietary operating systems like Windows, macOS and iOS as their parent companies move towards services and subscription models. More and more, they'll use their operating systems to push their services and subscriptions, to the detriment of the user experience. It's been happening in Windows 10 for a few years now, and iOS, too, is riddled with ads for Apple's services.
[This is just one reason why MMS is committed to Linux and free, open-source software (FOSS).]
Here's why NSA rushed to expose a dangerous Microsoft computer bug. (Washington Post, February 6, 2020)
The National Security Agency is known for keeping secrets. But a bug it recently discovered in Microsoft's operating system was so potentially catastrophic that it fast-tracked a lengthy decision-making process to alert the company and the public as quickly as possible.
The quick disclosure marks a big pivot for the agency, which has historically been eager to hold onto hackable computer bugs that it can use to spy on U.S. adversaries - at least temporarily - before sharing them with companies and has been loath to advertise its role in uncovering them.
It also underscores the havoc the Microsoft flaw could have caused if it was discovered and exploited by U.S. adversaries in Russia, Iran or elsewhere who could have compromised millions of computers for surveillance or sabotage. NEW: The Very Limited Republican Concern about FISA (emptywheel, February 6, 2020)
There are a number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act submissions made by the Trump Administration that the FISA Court has found problematic. The FISA Court has complained about FBI surveillance practices all occurring under Trump affecting up to 135,476 Americans. And Republicans claiming to give a goddamn about FISA are really just concerned about one of those Americans.
NEW: How the Iowa caucus app went wrong and how open source could have helped. (ZDNet, February 6, 2020)
Opinion: It was incompetence, not politics, that led to the Iowa caucus app misfiring. Above all, it was poor programming. Open-source software techniques could have prevented this blunder.
NEW: Greenland’s ice sheet is melting in more ways than we thought. (Popular Science, February 6, 2020)
A channel of warm water is threatening a glacier that holds back a massive ice river.
Caffeine has been a boon for civilization, Michael Pollan says. But it has come at a cost. (Washington Post, February 5, 2020)
Pollan, the author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," "The Botany of Desire," "In Defense of Food" and "How to Change Your Mind" - in which he has explored our complicated relationship with food, plants, drugs and many other things we take for granted - has turned his imposing analytical skills to caffeine, the most popular mind-altering chemical on the planet.
"For most of us, to be caffeinated to one degree or another has simply become baseline human consciousness," Pollan writes, well, reads in "Caffeine." "Something like 90 percent of humans ingest caffeine regularly, making it the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world and the only one we routinely give to children, commonly in the form of soda. It's so pervasive that it's easy to overlook the fact that to be caffeinated is not baseline consciousness but, in fact, is an altered state."
And in its Comments thread, these compelling comments by Robert Riversong (February 7th):
As to whether civilization is a net plus for our species, the answer is clear.
The most significant mistake humans ever made was giving up their in-balance, sustainable gatherer-hunter lifestyle (which also kept their population in check) for the sedentary agricultural lifestyle. In every part of the world, following the "agricultural revolution", humans got sicker, shorter, had more tooth decay, and shorter lifespans.
Grain-based agriculture required a sedentary lifestyle, active manipulation of the environment, longer hours of more strenuous work, a system of storage and distribution and record-keeping, non-productive classes to control and safeguard both croplands and stored grains, a peasant class to supply the non-productive hierarchy, a permanent military for territorial protection and expansion, an expansionist paradigm to control more croplands and water sources for the inevitably growing population, and the development of more efficient technologies with almost universal unintended consequences. In almost every case of these early civilizations (from Sumer and Mesopotamia to the Americas and Easter Island), the result was deforestation, soil erosion and/or salination, loss of fertility, catastrophic flooding, human slavery or taxation/tribute, regular warfare, human sacrifice, and eventual societal collapse.
When we domesticated animals for human consumption, we introduced diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, leprosy, influenza and aids (humans now share 65 diseases with dogs, 50 with cattle, 46 with sheep and goats, 42 with pigs, 35 with horses and 26 with poultry).
In addition, permanent settlements made it difficult to provide clean drinking water and a number of diseases became endemic, such as typhoid, dysentery, cholera and intestinal worms and flukes.
Second, the development of cities brought humans together in numbers (at least 250,000) sufficient to allow the major epidemic diseases, such as smallpox and bubonic plague, to develop and eventually spread. Third, the gradual drawing together of human communities around the globe spread new diseases to peoples who had no natural resistance.
Finally, medical treatment had a significant but limited impact and, by the late 20th century, it faced a new threat from the changing pattern of disease – the diseases of affluence, which include cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and the growing number of antibiotic resistant pathogens.
Pompeo tries to mock Pelosi. Instead, he mocks himself - with Lisa Simpson's help. (Daily Kos, February 5, 2020)
Here is Mike Pompeo, secretary of state in theory, responding to the speaker of the House tearing up a copy of Trump's white nationalist speech to Congress on Monday night. There are several problems with this bold Pompeo dive into popular culture. A lot of problems, actually.
The Simpsons image in question is from the season three episode, "Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington." In it, Lisa Simpson, who is canonically the smartest person in her family and, off and on, one of the smartest people in Springfield, wins a rah-rah-America essay contest and goes to present her essay in Washington. While there, she witnesses an act of corruption: a congressman asking for and receiving a bribe. She is so devastated that she returns to her room, crying, and rips her rah-rah Americanisms to pieces. She has learned that they are a lie.
An epic breakdown in Iowa casts a spotlight on the caucus system. (Washington Post, February 4, 2020)
Iowa Democrats spent a year evaluating a record-large field of presidential candidates, all in search of someone they believed could defeat President Trump in November. But on the night they were asked to deliver a definitive result, the precinct caucus system broke down, and Iowa's place in the nominating process became the story.
NEW: Who Should Control the Internet's .Org Addresses? (Wired, February 4, 2020)
The group that administers .org domains may be sold to a for-profit company. Critics worry that nonprofits and activists could suffer.
NEW: Tool to Help Journalists Spot Doctored Images Is Unveiled by Jigsaw. (New York Times, February 4, 2020)
The company, owned by Google's parent, introduced a free tool it calls Assembler to sort out real images from fake ones. Jigsaw, known as Google Ideas when it was founded, said it was testing the tool, called Assembler, with more than a dozen news and fact-checking organizations around the world. They include Animal Politico in Mexico, Rappler in the Philippines and Agence France-Presse. It does not plan to offer the tool to the public.
"We observed an evolution in how disinformation was being used to manipulate elections, wage war and disrupt civil society," Jared Cohen, Jigsaw's chief executive, wrote in a blog post about Assembler. "But as the tactics of disinformation were evolving, so too were the technologies used to detect and ultimately stop disinformation."
Government may be too slow to tackle cyberthreats, outgoing NSA attorney warns. (Washington Post, February 3, 2020)
(Washington Post, February 4, 2020)Glenn Gerstell says technology "has been a tsunami hitting us within a 20-year period."
NEW: Sanders campaign rejects Trump claims: Democratic primary is 'not currently rigged'. (The Hill, February 3, 2020)
Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Bernie Sanders's 2020 presidential campaign, on Monday pushed back against President Trump's accusations that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is working to "rig" the primary contest against the Vermont senator. "It is not currently rigged. Last time it was rigged," Weaver, who as served Sanders's 2016 White House campaign manager, said on MSNBC as the Iowa caucuses got under way.
Weaver added that Trump's comments are an attempt to paint the primary as a tool of the political establishment - and himself as the only candidate working outside of the machine. "We’re not going to play that game," Weaver said. "The danger for Trump is the people who support Trump, working class people in Pennsylvania, people who voted for Barack Obama twice and then voted for Trump, people in Iowa [are the] same way. Those people could be brought back by Bernie Sanders, not Joe Biden."
The comments came after the DNC abruptly announced that it was nixing the donor threshold for a primary debate in Las Vegas later this month. The move could present an opening for Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman self-funding his entire campaign, to reach the debate stage.
Heather Cox Richardson: In the short term, Trump and his supporters appear to have won. But... (Letters From An American, February 2, 2020)
As House impeachment manager Adam Schiff warned them, if they acquit Trump, they will be part of the cover up, and they will be tied to Every. Single. Thing. That. Drops. From. Here. On. Out. And there will be plenty.
Last night, around midnight, just after Senate Republicans blocked testimony from witnesses and the admission of new documents, the Trump administration admitted in a court filing that it was withholding 24 emails from between June and September 2019 that describe "communications by either the President, the Vice President, or the President's immediate advisors regarding Presidential decision-making about the scope, duration, and purpose of the hold on military assistance to Ukraine."
There are nine months to go before the 2020 presidential election.
People are saying this is the end for American democracy, but I see the opposite. Radical ideologues who want the government to do nothing but protect property, build a strong military, and advance Christianity took over the Republican Party in the 1990s. They have been manipulating our political system to their own ends ever since. They want to destroy the government regulation of business and social safety net we have enjoyed since the 1930s. But they have done so gradually, and not enough people seem to have noticed, even when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the shocking step of refusing to permit a hearing for a Supreme Court nominee named by a Democrat. Now they have gone too far, out in the open, and it looks to me as if Americans are finally seeing the radicals currently in charge of the Republican Party for what they are, and are determined to take America back.
Ironically, this moment looks a lot like the moment that created the Republican Party. In the 1850s, elite slaveholders, who made up less than 1% of the population, took over the Democratic Party, which dominated national politics as their opponents kept squabbling amongst themselves. The slaveholders insisted that the government’s only job was to protect them and their property, and they stifled opposition as well as calls for government projects to spur the economy, getting poor white southerners to rally behind them with increasingly vicious racism.
Finally, in 1854, they went too far. In 1820, Congress had divided western lands evenly between slavery and freedom, but by 1854, the South had spread into all the lands reserved for slavery. So in 1854, planters demanded the right to take their enslaved workers into western land that was reserved for freedom. The proposed law, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, meant that rich planters would keep poor white men from moving west and taking up land. At the same time, adding new slave states in the West would break the balance in Congress. A few wealthy slaveowners would have the power to make slavery national. Free men would fall into poverty, and American democracy would end. Surely, northerners thought, Congress would never pass such a dastardly law.
You know what’s coming, right? It did. Under enormous pressure from the Democratic president Franklin Pierce, the Democrats passed the hated bill. Northern Democrats, who loathed the act, signed on, putting party before country.
[And the rest is history. But DO read this article in full!]
NEW: The Trump Recession. It's already happening. (Daily Kos, February 1, 2020)
Donald Trump says that America should re-elect him in 2020 because he's doing such a great job with the economy. Never mind that he's been caught soliciting and cooperating with foreign interference in elections and obstructing justice, has locked kids in cages, and has been impeached. His foreign policy has also been a disaster. But according to Trump, he's created "the best economy in history", and that's why we should vote for him.
Of course, it's nowhere near the best economy in history, but it's still a strong economy. At least that's what most people believe. But is it really? A closer look reveals that the economy isn't really all that great, and rather than an asset to Trump's re-election, it should be a liability.
The GOP doesn't deserve to survive this debacle. (Washington Post, February 1, 2020)
Trump will leave office some day (I hope!), but he will leave behind a quasi-authoritarian party that is as corrupt as he is. The failure to call witnesses in Trump's impeachment trial revealed the GOP's moral failure.
As New Coronavirus Spread, China's Old Habits Delayed Fight. (New York Times, February 1, 2020)
At critical turning points, Chinese authorities put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis and risking public alarm or political embarrassment.
NEW: US Rescinds Ban on Use of Landmines (US Dept. of Defense, January 31, 2020)
NEW: Democrats come out swinging against new debate criteria. (The Hill, January 31, 2020)
The DNC said it would drop the donor threshold for the Feb. 19 primary debate in Nevada. The move could open the door for Bloomberg, a billionaire who is refusing any donations to his White House bid, to win a spot at the event.
Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign ripped the DNC over its new debate qualifications, saying it is supporting “a rigged system.” “To now change the rules in the middle of the game to accommodate Mike Bloomberg, who is trying to buy his way into the Democratic nomination, is wrong. That’s the definition of a rigged system,” said Jeff Weaver, a senior adviser to Sanders’s campaign.
DNC members discuss rules change to stop Sanders at convention. (Politico, January 31, 2020)
The talks reveal rising anxiety over the Vermont senator's momentum on the eve of voting.
A new type of DNA analysis has turned up ancient secrets. (New York Times, January 31, 2020)
Researchers concluded that a wave of modern humans departed Africa far earlier than previously known: some 200,000 years ago. The study also revealed traces of the DNA of Neanderthals, like the fossil above, in all living humans, including Africans, who were thought to have little to no Neanderthal DNA.
How Chaos at Chain Pharmacies Is Putting Patients at Risk (New York Times, January 31, 2020)
The Election Cybersecurity Initiative is a new cross-country effort to train election and campaign pros on digital security. (Washington Post, January 30, 2020)
A team from the University of Southern California has embarked on a 50-state tour to give cybersecurity training to poll workers and state and local campaign staffers who will be the last line of defense against Russian hacking in 2020. The group, called the Election Cybersecurity Initiative, views itself as a bottom-up, grass-roots counterpart to national-level election security efforts led by the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of Russia’s election interference in 2016. It's hoping to advise local election officials, Election Day volunteers, ground-level campaign door-knockers and even interns in both political parties who national officials are unlikely to reach. The group also wants to build a network of cybersecurity experts at universities across the nation who can help secure local races and polling sites.
The Google-backed group's tagline is "our candidate is democracy."
NEW: Guardian to ban advertising from fossil fuel firms. (Guardian, January 29, 2020)
Move follows efforts to reduce carbon footprint and increase reporting on climate crisis
Trump is seriously frightened of man who begged him for a job and tried to start 'World War VI'. (Daily Kos, January 29, 2020)
Trump says that the manuscript that John Bolton has submitted to his publisher is "nasty and untrue". At the same time, it is "all classified and national security". It might seem like it would be impossible for a book to be both an untrue personal attack and chock-full of classified national security information. But apparently Bolton is super-talented that way.
White House has issued formal threat to Bolton to keep him from publishing book. (CNN, January 29, 2020)
The White House has issued a formal threat to former national security adviser John Bolton to keep him from publishing his book, "The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir," sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.
In a letter to Bolton's lawyer, a top official at the National Security Council wrote the unpublished manuscript of Bolton's book "appears to contain significant amounts of classified information" and couldn't be published as written. The letter, which is dated January 23, said some of the information was classified at the "top secret" level, meaning it "reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security. The manuscript may not be published or otherwise disclosed without the deletion of this classified information".
Anti-Trump Republican group drops the most brutal ad of all time against 'full Trump' AZ senator. (1-min. video; Daily Kos, January 29, 2020)
Trumpworld torn over running against Bernie. (Politico, January 28, 2020)
Some advisers are salivating over running against a socialist. Others say they need to be careful what they wish for.
Poll: Warren fares better against Biden than Sanders. (Politico, January 28, 2020)
Warren allies seize on new survey to argue she's the progressive candidate most likely to defeat the former veep. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Warren has sought to position herself as a unity candidate who can bring together the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic Party. \
But progressive leaders and organizations have increasingly consolidated behind Sanders, who has risen in early-state and national polling. He is first in Iowa and New Hampshire, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.
NEW: The Bolton Bombshell and the Unwaveringly Pro-Trump G.O.P. (New Yorker, January 28, 2020)
By the time Kenneth Starr started speaking at the Senate impeachment trial of Donald John Trump on Monday afternoon, it was hard not to wonder whether the whole thing was meant as a monumental distraction. Certainly, it was a bizarre spectacle: the man who brought us the last impeachment of a President lecturing the Senate on the dangerous evils of impeachment.
I’m old enough to remember when, in 1998, Starr produced the most X-rated document ever to be printed under congressional seal, in service of lobbying for an impeachment. The document, which will forever be known as the Starr report, detailed Bill Clinton’s Oval Office trysts in painfully graphic detail.
GOP Doesn't Now Have Votes to Block Witnesses. (Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020)
On the third and final day of presentations by the Trump legal team, lawyers tried to cast doubts on the importance and credibility of allegations by former national security adviser John Bolton about the president's motives for freezing aid to Ukraine. Republicans had hoped to wrap up the trial with an acquittal of the president by this week, but Democrats have said Mr. Bolton should appear under oath to offer a firsthand account of the president's motivations for freezing aid to Ukraine - a matter at the heart of the impeachment case.
Trump team warns: Stand strong or prepare for an endless trial. (Politico, January 28, 2020)
The president's aides are urging senators to wrap up the impeachment trial quickly or face the prospect of legal fights that drag on for weeks - or even months into the campaign season.
White House aides said they were satisfied with the Trump team's opening statements, particularly singling out remarks late Monday by Alan Dershowitz, who argued among other things that the claims in Bolton's unpublished book - if true - wouldn't constitute an impeachable defense.
"Professor Dershowitz made it very clear last night even if everything that came out in the New York Times article were true, there would not be an impeachable offense and I think the basic principle remains that it is not the role of the Senate now to begin taking new witnesses when the House didn't even seek a subpoena," an official on the president's legal team told reporters. "That would fundamentally change the relationship between the House and Senate in this kind of proceeding."
If they vote against witnesses, senators risk the potential for more news to surface after the trial that could indicate they made the wrong call. Some Republicans already sense a looming Democratic plot to gradually release more Ukraine bombshells as Trump fights for reelection.
[Some? Are any so dumb that they don't realize that will happen?] NEW: Act Now to Prevent an American Epidemic. (Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2020)
Quarantines, flu vaccines and other steps to take before the Wuhan novel coronavirus becomes widespread.
Donald Trump slams Democrats' 'deranged partisan crusades' but says they will suffer 'crushing defeat'. (USA Today, January 28, 2020)
President Donald Trump claimed Tuesday that while he has been busy creating jobs and killing terrorists, Democrats have been focused on "demented hoaxes, crazy witch hunts and deranged partisan crusades."
'Screaming the Quiet Part Into a Bullhorn': Sen. Joni Ernst Admits GOP Using Impeachment Trial to Damage Biden in 2020. (Common Dreams, January 28, 2020)
"Trump is trying to use the trial to do what Ukraine wouldn't - destroy his political rivals."
U.S. Budget Deficit to Top $1 Trillion for Next Decade. (New York Times, January 28, 2020)
The Congressional Budget Office predicted on Tuesday that the United States deficit will top $1 trillion annually over the next 10 years, ultimately reaching $1.7 trillion in 2030. The ballooning deficit is being fueled by increased borrowing by the federal government, which continues to spend more money than it takes in. By 2030, the C.B.O. projected, federal debt held by the public will surpass $31 trillion - about 98 percent of the forecast size of the nation's economy.
US dropped record number of bombs on Afghanistan last year. (The Guardian, January 28, 2020)
Warplanes dropped 7,423 bombs and other munitions, the most since Pentagon began keeping track in 2006.
Facebook will now show you exactly how it stalks you - even when you're not using Facebook. (Washington Post, January 28, 2020)
The new 'Off-Facebook Activity' tool reminds us we're living in a reality TV program where the cameras are always on. Here are the privacy settings to change right now.
Even with Facebook closed on my phone, the social network gets notified when I use the Peet's Coffee app. It knows when I read the website of presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg or view articles from The Atlantic. Facebook knows when I click on my Home Depot shopping cart and when I open the Ring app to answer my video doorbell. It uses all this information from my not-on-Facebook, real-world life to shape the messages I see from businesses and politicians alike.
You can see how Facebook is stalking you, too. The "Off-Facebook Activity" tracker will show you 180 days' worth of the data Facebook collects about you from the many organizations and advertisers in cahoots with it. This page, buried behind lots of settings menus (here's a direct link), is the product of a promise CEO Mark Zuckerberg made during the height of the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal to provide ways we can "clear the history" in our accounts.
Alan Dershowitz called Trump corrupt in 2016 and said he could be corrupt as President. (CNN, January 28, 2020)
'You Did a Good Job on Her': White House Audience Laughs as Trump Praises Pompeo for Bullying NPR Reporter. (Common Dreams, January 28, 2020)
"That was very impressive, Mike," the president said to applause during a press conference in the White House.
NPR reporter removed from Pompeo trip in 'retaliation', says press group. (The Guardian, January 27, 2020)
State department denies journalist seat on official plane, following public feud with news outlet over tough questions on Ukraine.
NEW: Two Soldiers Recall the Liberation of Dachau and Auschwitz. (Der Speigel, January 27, 2020)
Seventy-five years ago, Auschwitz was liberated, with Dachau to follow a couple of months later. Here, a Soviet soldier and an American soldier recall the moment they first set eyes on the camps.
Republicans are trapped, thanks to Nancy Pelosi. (Washington Post, January 27, 2020)
With an assist from former national security adviser John Bolton, Pelosi cornered Senate Republicans who had hoped to escape the spectacle of a full airing of President Trump's unconscionable conduct. They can acquit, and in all likelihood will, but they cannot facilitate Trump's cover-up without implicating themselves and entirely discrediting the process. They face humiliation when evidence eventually comes out. If they vote to acquit without hearing from Bolton, Trump will be denied the satisfaction of exoneration by a credible process.
This one on John Bolton was a big, stupid lie even by Trump standards. (Daily Kos, January 27, 2020)
According to an early morning Trump rage-tweet, "The Democrat controlled House never even asked John Bolton to testify. It is up to them, not up to the Senate!"
John Bolton's bombshell gives the GOP a glimpse of its nightmare scenario. (3-min. video; Washington Post, January 27, 2020)
The nightmare scenario for the GOP is that they give Trump the quick and witness-free acquittal that he apparently desires, but then information like Bolton's keeps coming out. Bolton now suggests Trump was indeed telling people privately that the withheld military aid was part of a quid pro quo - a quid pro quo that Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that he communicated to the Ukrainians. This is something Trump's team has strenuously denied, including at the impeachment trial. What if Bolton isn't the only person Trump told this to who might suddenly contradict them? However closely this has already been tied to Trump, it can always be tied more closely. Bolton's upcoming book - slated for March 17 - is a great example of how the hastily assembled walls the Trump team have built around its defense can quickly crumble and, in some cases, already have.
NEW: German Foreign Minister on the Legacy of the Holocaust "For A Long Time Now, Words Have Not Been Enough." (Der Speigel, January 26, 2020)
Speeches and warnings are insufficient when it comes to anti-Semitism in Germany and Europe. We need concrete programs to counter the hatred of Jews, including better education and harsher penalties.
Trump Tied Ukraine Aid to Inquiries He Sought, Bolton Book Says. (New York Times, January 26, 2020)
Drafts of the book outline the potential testimony of the former national security adviser if he were called as a witness in the president's impeachment trial.
20 (More) Questions With Democrats (20 videos, etc.; New York Times, January 26, 2020)
We sat down again with Democratic presidential candidates and asked them a new set of questions.
[Excellent! But where are Biden and Sanders?]
Endorsement: Elizabeth Warren will push an unequal America in the right direction. (Des Moines IA Register, January 25, 2020)
Many of her ideas aren't radical; they are right. She must show that her vision will lift people up rather than divide them. She cares about people, and she will use her seemingly endless energy and passion to fight for them.
The outstanding caliber of Democratic candidates makes it difficult to choose just one.
'Absolutely nothing wrong': Quotes from the fifth day of Trump's impeachment trial (Reuters, January 25, 2020)
The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the U.S. Senate entered a new phase on Saturday as Trump's legal team began to lay out its defense.
White House Counsel Pat Cipollone: "We believe that when you hear the facts ... you will find that the president did absolutely nothing wrong. They're asking you to do something that no Senate has ever done.
For all their talk about election interference ... they're here to perpetrate the most massive interference in an election in American history, and we can't allow that to happen. It would violate our Constitution. It would violate our history. It would violate our obligations to the future. And most importantly, it would violate the sacred trust that the American people have placed in you."
Heather Cox Richardson: "Republicans' strategy makes them seem disdainful not simply of the impeachment process, but of our government itself. It's not playing well. (Letters From An American, January 24, 2020)
Republicans are trying to pretend that the impeachment trial is so boring and unimportant that no one should bother watching. They are reading, chatting, playing with Fidget spinners. On Fox News Channel, Sean Hannity is assuring viewers he will protect them from the boring proceedings.
But it does not appear to be working. Americans are glued to the House managers' telling of the Ukraine Scandal, which they have made a compelling story of intrigue and corruption at the highest levels of our government, calling Americans back to the higher meaning of American democracy. As of tonight, more than 6 million people had watched a single clip of Adam Schiff's closing at last night's session. Further, the Republicans' strategy makes them seem disdainful not simply of the impeachment process, but of our government itself. It's not playing well.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo melted down at NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, insisting that he had defended Yovanovitch (he has not), and then after the interview cursing her, asking "Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?," and challenging her to find Ukraine on a map, going so far as actually getting aides to bring in an unlabeled map (on which she successfully identified Ukraine). "People will hear about this," he told her.
And that's the mounting problem for Trump's GOP. Over the coming months, people will definitely hear about many, many things.
NEW: Shoshana Zuboff: You Are Now Remotely Controlled. (New York Times, January 24, 2020)
The belief that privacy is private has left us careening toward a future that we did not choose. Surveillance capitalists control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth.
Can Face Masks Protect You From Catching Coronavirus? (Columbia University News, January 24, 2020)
Studies suggest they may provide some benefit, but what's out there isn't conclusive. The best evidence suggests that face masks catch the bacteria shed in liquid droplets, splashes or sprays, and virus-containing droplets, but are less effective in filtering out fine viral particles in the air.
The Food and Drug Administration has cleared certain filtering (face mask) respirators, known as N95s, for use by the general public, which is considered to provide greater protection. However, they are more difficult to wear and require a tighter fit to your face.
Emotional Schiff Speech Goes Viral, Delighting the Left and Enraging the Right. (1-min. video; New York Times, January 24, 2020)
Representative Adam B. Schiff took a risk in telling senators they must convict and remove President Trump because, "You know you can't trust this president to do what's right for this country."
Anne Milgram, a former attorney general of New Jersey and now a law professor at New York University, described Mr. Schiff's sharp criticism of Mr. Trump as a "wise calculation" because, unlike a regular jury trial, Mr. Schiff does not need a unanimous verdict. The argument was aimed, she said, at the four or so moderate Republicans whose votes Democrats will need to call witnesses at the trial.
Regardless of the risk, it was clear on both sides of the aisle - and to experienced prosecutors who watched - that after a long day of complicated and sometimes monotonous testimony, Mr. Schiff's oratory broke through.
Office 365 forces switch to Bing on Chrome browser. (Office Watch, January 24, 2020)
Yuval Harari at Davos 2020: "How to Survive the 21st Century< (50-min. video; YouTube, January 23, 2020)
Tennessee senator tries to burn Adam Schiff, but Twitter roasts her almost instantly. (Daily Kos, January 23, 2020)
Adam Schiff's brilliant presentation is knocking down excuses to acquit. (Washington Post, January 22, 2020)
The facts are overwhelming.
Let them speak: Most Americans want witnesses in Trump impeachment trial. (Reuters/Ipsos poll, January 22, 2020)
A bipartisan majority of Americans want to see new witnesses testify in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, and the public appears to be largely following the proceedings even after a bruising congressional inquiry that lasted several months, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling released Wednesday.
The poll showed that Republicans and Democrats want to see people like Bolton and Pompeo tell the Senate what they know about the administration's policies in Ukraine. About 72% agreed that the trial "should allow witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the impeachment charges to testify," including 84% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans. And 70% of the public, including 80% of Democrats and 73% of Republicans, said senators should "act as impartial jurors" during the trial.
The poll showed that two out of three Americans are paying attention to the proceedings, with Democrats more interested than Republicans.
A Guide to the Case For and Against Removing Trump (New York Times, January 22, 2020)
NEW: Ancient viruses never observed by humans discovered in Tibetan glacier. (NBC News, January 22, 2020)
Melting ice from climate change could release the pathogens into the environment, one researcher said, calling it a "worst-case scenario."
NEW: Trump's Campaign Manager Responds to Bleak FOX News Poll by Insulting the American People. (Daily Kos, January 21, 2020)
From its Comments thread:
Clinton's remark about Trump’s “basketful of deplorables” was not stupid, per se, as with Trump’s blather. It was in fact true, but it was incredibly stupid for Clinton to say it publicly as a candidate who entered the race with high negative polling, second only to Trump.
Yes she won the popular vote, by large margins in blue states that were not going to vote for Trump no matter what. Trump won the electoral college by small margins in swing states where every single vote mattered much more than in places like Massachusetts or California.
Bernie Sanders polled with much higher positives than Clinton among rank and file Democrats and voters generally, and would have won those swing states that got Trump elected.
By the same token, a Republican like Kasich, who also had high positive poll results, would likely have beaten Clinton in the traditionally Democratic blue collar precincts that Clinton ignored, because those voters just did not like her and liked Kasich better than either Trump or Clinton. That fact might have given Kasich a slight majority in the popular vote as well. He would then have put another reactionary “conservative” on the Supreme Court, and could claim a popular mandate for doing so. Again, blame for the Trump fiasco falls squarely on the shoulders of Wasserman Schultz, the DNC’s “superdelegates” and candidate Clinton.
The Republicans just stood back, laughing when Trump was sworn in January 2017, while the progressive cause has been set back decades no matter who is elected president in 2020 or whether there is any shift of power in Congress. That is true even if Trump were to be impeached.
Greta Thunberg: "Our house is still on fire and you're fueling the flames." at Davos 2020 (full 8-min. video; World Economic Forum, January 21, 2020)
Trump and Greta Thunberg clash at Davos over climate change. (2-min. video; YouTube, January 21, 2020)
Donald Trump hits out at 'prophets of doom' in climate row with Greta Thunberg at Davos. (31-min. video; Telegraph UK, January 21, 2020)
Donald Trump hit out at environmental "alarmists" and "prophets of doom" in a thinly-veiled attack on Greta Thunberg on the opening day of the World Economic Forum at Davos. The US president said it is a "time for optimism" as he claimed he was a "big believer in the environment".
The Swedish climate activist warned the global elite that "our house is still on fire", adding that their inaction was "fueling the flames". She hit back at Trump, saying the president's backing of the one trillion trees initiative is "nowhere near enough".
Greta Thunberg in panel: "Forging a Sustainable Path towards a Common Future" at Davos 2020 (44-min. video; World Economic Forum, January 21, 2020)
The Cybersecurity 202: Here's the inside story of U.S. Cyber Command's campaign to hack ISIS. (Washington Post, January 21, 2020)
Cyber Command had to overcome intense hurdles within the U.S. government to launch the first hacking operation it ever acknowledged: Sabotaging the Islamic State's online propaganda.
"This was U.S. Cybercom’s first cyberwar," Michael Martelle, a National Security Archive cybersecurity fellow who led the effort to obtain the documents, told me. "This was the largest-scale operation and the most complex… We can draw a straight line from the counter-ISIL cyber mission to how U.S. Cybercom and the NSA are looking to counter Russia today."
'Constitutional Nonsense': Trump's Impeachment Defense Defies Legal Consensus. (New York Times, January 20, 2020)
The president's legal case would negate any need for witnesses. But constitutional scholars say that it's wrong.
McConnell Impeachment Rules Modify Clinton Precedent. (New York Times, January 20, 2020)
The Senate Republican leader proposed impeachment trial rules that push the 1999 precedent toward President Trump’s preferences.
NEW: Path to Hydrogen Competitiveness: A Cost Perspective (Hydrogen Council, January 20, 2020)
The cost of hydrogen solutions will fall sharply within the next decade – and sooner than previously expected. As scale up of hydrogen production, distribution, equipment and component manufacturing continues, cost is projected to decrease by up to 50% by 2030 for a wide range of applications, making hydrogen competitive with other low-carbon alternatives and, in some cases, even conventional options.
Conservative States Seek Billions to Brace for Disaster. Just Don't Call It Climate Change. (New York Times, January 20, 2020)
A $16 billion federal program to help states prepare for natural disasters reflects the complicated politics of global warming in the U.S., even as officials are increasingly forced to confront its effects. States applying for funding must explain why they need the money and describe their "current and future risks." When those include flooding, states must account for "continued sea level rise," a consequence of warming.
But some conservative states have submitted proposals that mostly avoid mentioning climate change. Texas refers to "changing coastal conditions" and South Carolina talks about the "destabilizing effects and unpredictability" of three major storms in four years. One exception is Florida, whose proposal calls climate change "a key overarching challenge."
[It depends upon the percentage of their voters who will be below sea level.]
China virus prompts U.S. precautions as human-to-human transmission confirmed. (CBS News, January 20, 2020)
Richmond Gun Rally: Thousands Of Gun Owners Converge On Virginia Capitol On MLK Day. (NPR, January 20, 2020)
Beyond Monday's gun-laden march in Richmond, militias' plans for a 'civil war' look to go national. (Daily Kos, January 19, 2020)
Thanks to an encouraging tweet from Donald Trump, militias around the United States are preparing to assemble in Richmond, Va., on Monday, to protest gun-control legislation - many vowing to bring their guns, in open defiance of Gov. Ralph Northam's declaration of emergency and its accompanying ban on any kind of weaponry at the state Capitol.
On Friday, Trump tweeted an attack on Northam that aligned perfectly with far-right extremists' paranoid claims about the planned legislation: "Your 2nd Amendment is under very serious attack in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia," he wrote. "That's what happens when you vote for Democrats, they will take your guns away."
The violent nature of the "Boogaloo" was emphasized this week by the FBI's arrests of seven members of The Base, a neo-Nazi paramilitary group openly dedicated to training for a "race war." The first three were arrested Thursday, including Canadian fugitive Patrik Mathews; in addition to being caught with multiple weapons (including an illegal automatic rifle) and a large cache of ammunition, the men had spoken openly of attending Monday's rally in Richmond and opening fire there. Three more were arrested Friday in Georgia, charged with plotting the murders of a local antifascist couple, as well as overthrowing the local county government. A seventh member of the base - Yousef O. Barasneh, 22, of Oak Creek, Wisc. - was also arrested Friday, charged with committing civil-rights violations by vandalizing a synagogue in Racine, Wisc.
Heather Cox Richardson: Of Heroes, on Martin Luther King Day (Letters from an American, January 19, 2020)
Who's afraid of the 1619 Project? (Daily Kos, January 19, 2020)
The 1619 Project, the brainchild of New York Times staff reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, has had an impact on the foundation of the way in which we approach American history and its intertwined Black history, which is often dusted off and separated out into a neat package for educational consumption during the month of February, languishing the rest of the year.
When the project launched, I sent my husband out, in vain, to get a copy of the launch magazine — which sold out almost instantly. I had to make do with a download. Since that moment in August of last year, the project has continued to affect teaching, curricula, and has sparked an unlearning of what we thought we knew about enslavement and this nation.
He helped make burgers safer. Now he's petitioning USDA to ban more than two dozen strains of salmonella from meat. (Washington Post, January 19, 2020)
Leading food safety lawyer Bill Marler, who represented hundreds of Jack in the Box victims in the 1990s, wants the Department of Agriculture to ban some of the most virulent bacteria on meat.
Ukraine's President Said He'd Fight Corruption. Resistance Is Fierce. (New York Times, January 19, 2020)
For Volodymyr Zelensky, taking on the oligarchs and organized crime is a domestic test with geopolitical consequences.
Trump mocks New Yorkers, tells them to get their 'mops and buckets ready' for next Hurricane Sandy. (Daily Kos, January 19, 2020)
The object of Trump’s derision here was the building of a sea wall proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect greater New York City from the next Superstorm Sandy and the encroachment of rising sea levels caused by man-made climate change. Trump has already secured approval for two sea walls to protect his Ireland golf course from rising seas attributable to climate change.
Transcript: Republican Sen. John Cornyn on "Face the Nation," January 19, 2020. (8-min. video; CBS News, January 19, 2020)
SEN. CORNYN: [Trump has] been charged with abuse of power, which is not treason, which is not bribery, which is not a high crime and misdemeanor. So, this is the first time in history where a president has been impeached for a non-crime for events that never occurred. Ultimately, the investigation never took place and ultimately the - their aid was delivered.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about the legal brief that Democrats did submit. It included a number of things, including documents that have been revealed recently by Lev Parnas, an indicted business associate of Rudy Giuliani. Among them, a letter that says that Rudy Giuliani himself was acting with the approval and knowledge of the president when he was reaching out to the president of Ukraine. Should all of these items be admissible during trial?
SEN. CORNYN: Well, as you know, MARGARET, I was a judge for 13 years in- in state courts and in no court in America would that kind of hearsay be admissible. But having said that, I would be--
MARGARET BRENNAN: It's a letter from Rudy Giuliani.
SEN. CORNYN: Well, I would be careful before crediting the veracity of somebody who is under indictment in New York, the southern district of New York, and who's trying to get leniency from the prosecutor and who has ties to Russian oligarchs.
'Once this is over, we’ll be kings': How Lev Parnas worked his way into Trump's world - and now is rattling it. (3-min. video and others; Washington Post, January 18, 2020)
A cascade of revelations by the former associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani overshadowed the opening of the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, raising a host of new questions about the Ukraine pressure campaign.
In 1788, Alexander Hamilton predicted the Senate's corrupt acquittal of President Donald J. Trump, despite a mountain of incriminating evidence that demands his removal from office to save the republic. (Thread Reader, January 18, 2020)
Impeachment "will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties, more or less friendly, or inimical, to the accused....
In many cases, it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side, or on the other....
And in such cases there will always be the greatest danger, that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt."
- The Federalist, No. 65 (Alexander Hamilton)
Trump's Defense Team Calls Impeachment Charges 'Brazen' as Democrats Make Legal Case. (New York Times, January 18, 2020)
In a six-page filing formally responding to the impeachment charges, President Trump's lawyers called the case against him illegitimate and the effort to remove him dangerous. The response came shortly after the House impeachment managers formally outlines their case and called his conduct "the framers' worst nightmare."
President Trump House Impeachment Brief (U.S. House of Representatives, January 18, 2020)
The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It (New York Times, January 18, 2020)
A little-known start-up, Clearview AI, helps law enforcement match photos of unknown people to their online images - and "might lead to a dystopian future or something," a backer says.
NEW: ICANN Needs To Ask More Questions About the Sale of .ORG (Electronic Frontier Foundation, January 17, 2020)
Over 21,000 people, 660 organizations, and now six Members of Congress have asked ICANN, the organization that regulates the Internet’s domain name system, to halt the $1.135 billion deal that would hand control over PIR, the .ORG domain registry, to private equity. There are crucial reasons this sale is facing significant backlash from the nonprofit and NGO communities who make the .ORG domain their online home, and perhaps none of them are more concerning than the speed of the deal and the dangerous lack of transparency that’s accompanied it.
NEW: Esther Dyson: Don’t give your dot-org domain away to a private company. (Washington Post, January 17, 2020)
One of the Internet's most trusted assets - the dot-org domain used by nonprofits from UNICEF to your local food bank - is being hijacked. Dot-org, which was built to support nonprofits globally, is being sold by ICANN to the highest bidder with almost no public discussion or consideration of alternatives. Organizations and their supporters who rely on dot-org for website and email access deserve an open process. The institutions that govern the Internet should be transparent. It is up to those of us who believe in a free and open Internet to demand this deal be reconsidered.
'You’re a bunch of dopes and babies': Inside Trump's stunning tirade against generals. (Washington Post, January 17, 2020)
(This article is adapted from "A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America," which will be published on Jan. 21 by Penguin Press.)
Six months into Trump's administration, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had grown alarmed by gaping holes in Trump's knowledge of history, especially the key alliances forged following World War II. Trump had dismissed allies as worthless, cozied up to authoritarian regimes in Russia and elsewhere, and advocated withdrawing troops from strategic outposts and active theaters alike.
Trump organized his unorthodox worldview under the simplistic banner of "America First," but Mattis, Tillerson, and Cohn feared his proposals were rash, barely considered, and a danger to America's superpower standing. They also felt that many of Trump's impulsive ideas stemmed from his lack of familiarity with U.S. history and, even, where countries were located. So on July 20, 2017, Mattis invited Trump to the Tank for what he, Tillerson, and Cohn had carefully organized as a tailored tutorial. What happened inside the Tank that day crystallized the commander in chief's berating, derisive and dismissive manner, foreshadowing decisions such as the one earlier this month that brought the United States to the brink of war with Iran. The Tank meeting was a turning point in Trump's presidency. Rather than getting him to appreciate America's traditional role and alliances, Trump began to tune out and eventually push away the experts who believed their duty was to protect the country by restraining his more dangerous impulses.
Dunford sought to explain that he hadn't been charged with annihilating the enemy in Afghanistan but was instead following a strategy started by the Obama administration to gradually reduce the military presence in the country in hopes of training locals to maintain a stable government so that eventually the United States could pull out. Trump shot back in more plain language. "I want to win," he said. "We don’t win any wars anymore . . . We spend $7 trillion, everybody else got the oil and we’re not winning anymore."
Trump by now was in one of his rages. He was so angry that he wasn’t taking many breaths. All morning, he had been coarse and cavalier, but the next several things he bellowed went beyond that description. They stunned nearly everyone in the room, and some vowed that they would never repeat them. Indeed, they have not been reported until now.
"I wouldn’t go to war with you people," Trump told the assembled brass. Addressing the room, the commander in chief barked, "You’re a bunch of dopes and babies."
For a president known for verbiage he euphemistically called "locker room talk," this was the gravest insult he could have delivered to these people, in this sacred space. This was a president who had been labeled a "draft dodger" for avoiding service in the Vietnam War under questionable circumstances. Trump was a young man born of privilege and in seemingly perfect health: six feet two inches with a muscular build and a flawless medical record. He played several sports, including football. Then, in 1968 at age 22, he obtained a diagnosis of bone spurs in his heels that exempted him from military service just as the United States was drafting men his age to fulfill massive troop deployments to Vietnam.
Trump's defense will be led by a 'lunatic,' 'wacko' and 'off his rocker' Ken Starr, according to Trump himself. (Washington Post, January 17, 2020)
Collins lies about Sackler contribution, won’t return Eli Lilly money. (Maine Beacon, January 16, 2020)
In a conversation with a constituent last week, U.S. Senator Susan Collins at first flatly denied she had accepted money from both the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, and drug company giant Eli Lilly. The Sacklers have admitted to misleadingly pushing the addictive painkiller OxyContin and are currently being sued by Maine and other states over their role in the opioid crisis. Eli Lilly has dramatically hiked the price of insulin and faces a class action lawsuit for their alleged price gouging.
Collins has, in fact, received contributions from both sources - and at least $400,000 over her career from pharmaceutical companies.
Tweeting the Extreme Summer Down Under (NASA, January 16, 2020)
Baked by heat and drought, deluged by rain and floods, scorched by wildfire, and blanketed by dust, Australia has faced several months of extreme weather.
Why Manhattan's Skyscrapers Are Empty (The Atlantic, January 16, 2020)
Approximately half of the luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold. The confluence of cosmopolitan capital and terrible timing has done the impossible: It's created a vacancy problem in a city where thousands of people are desperate to find places to live.
NEW: Next Gen TV is free 4K TV with an antenna, and it's coming to TVs this year. (CNet, January 15, 2020)
CES 2020 saw the official arrival of TVs with Next Gen TV, also known as ATSC 3.0. Upgrades for antenna users include 4K, HDR, 120Hz refresh rates and better indoor reception.
If you get your TV from streaming, cable or satellite, Next Gen TV/ATSC 3.0 won't affect you at all. The transition is voluntary. Stations don't have to switch. Many will, however. It's not backwards-compatible with the current HD (ATSC 1.0) standard, so your current TV won't be able to receive it. Your current antenna should work fine though. 20 models from Sony, Samsung and LG will have built-in tuners starting with the 2020 model year.
Stations that switch to Next Gen TV will still have to keep broadcasting ATSC 1.0 for five years. Stations across the country are already receiving 3.0 licenses, and several are already broadcasting. Stations in the largest 40 TV markets in the US have committed to broadcasting Next Gen TV by the end of 2020, with over 60 markets total covering roughly 70% of the US population.
The Fog of Rudy (New York Times Magazine, January 15, 2020)
Did Rudy Giuliani change - or did America?
During his second and this time successful mayoral campaign, Giuliani's public speeches were almost comically grandiose and self-dramatizing, full of phrases like "We have a city to save." He vowed to return New York to some golden age from which he - the son of a hard-working, Italian-American tavern owner; proud product of Brooklyn's Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School; lifelong Yankee fan - had sprung. We would learn years later that Giuliani had left some key details out of this founding mythology: His father, Harold, had in fact been a collector for a loan shark and served time in prison for armed robbery.
Giuliani was among the first of a new breed, a publicity-obsessed, reality-defying master of resentment politics - that is, just the kind of figure who is now ascendant across the globe in the form of strongmen, oligarchs and even populist Tories. These are not men of vision, but men of appetites. They are typically unrefined and streetwise; they practice their populism with a knowing wink, issuing fact-indifferent, emotion-based appeals to their constituents, while focusing, with impunity, on consolidating their power, satisfying their hungers and enriching themselves.
Lev Parnas tells Maddow 'Trump knew exactly what was going on.' (1-min. video; MSNBC, January 15, 2020)
Lev Parnas breaks his silence in an interview with Rachel Maddow. He says, "President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the President. I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials."
The TOUGHEST Question at the Iowa Democratic Debate (11-min. video; The Young Turks, January 15, 2020)
Buttigieg's toughest question was why he hasn't earned the support of Blacks.
Minnesota 'Teacher of the Year' kneels during college football championship. (The Hill, January 15, 2020)
Federal judge temporarily halts Trump administration policy allowing local governments to block refugees. (Washington Post, January 15, 2020)
State and local officials cannot block refugees from being resettled in their jurisdictions, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, finding the Trump administration's new refu­gee policy is likely to be "unlawful" and "does not appear to serve the overall public interest."
How China Obtains American Trade Secrets (New York Times, January 15, 2020)
Companies have long accused Chinese rivals of swiping or seizing valuable technology. Beijing promises to ban those practices, but enforcement could be tough.
Rand Paul threatens fellow Republicans with explosive witness votes. (Politico, January 15, 2020)
The Kentucky senator is vowing to squeeze vulnerable GOP incumbents if they side with Democrats during Trump's impeachment trial.
McConnell and his Republicans cooking up tricks to give gloss of legitimacy to impeachment trial. (Daily Kos, January 14, 2020)
Treasure Fever (Hakai Magazine, January 14, 2020)furth
The discovery of a legendary, lost shipwreck in North America has pitted treasure hunters and archaeologists against each other, raising questions about who should control sunken riches.
A Homecoming at Taal Volcano: 'Everything’s Gone in the Blink of an Eye.' (New York Times, January 14, 2020)
At least 30,000 people have fled since a mammoth eruption in the Philippines, and a new blast is feared. These islanders went back anyway.
NEW: Major investment firm to prioritize sustainability, back off on coal. (Ars Technica, January 14, 2020)
When it comes to taking action on climate change, the world has entered a very strange place. Scientific results continue to indicate that the consensus on our role in driving climate change has every reason to be accepted. Several years of the predicted impacts of climate change—record-high temperatures, massive storms, and out-of-control wildfires—have left ever more of the public ignoring the few skeptics and denialists who persist. Aside from a handful of holdouts, governments have accepted that they need to do something about climate change.
Despite all that, we continue to do very little, and carbon emissions have continued to rise. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the financial markets. It's very clear that companies are assigning value to the rights to extract fossil fuel deposits, even though governments will almost certainly block some of them from being developed. And they continue to do so because governments and investors allow them to.
Divestment campaigns have started to change that, causing $12 trillion in assets to be pulled from businesses dependent upon fossil fuels. But the movement may have picked up some significant additional momentum this week as one of the largest investment firms, BlackRock, announced that it will be making sustainability, and climate change in particular, central to its strategies. Included in its announcement is that it would immediately begin pulling out of many coal investments and complete the change before the year is out. Managing roughly $7 trillion in assets gives BlackRock's decisions a major impact.
Russians Hacked Ukrainian Gas Company at Center of Impeachment. (New York Times, January 13, 2020)
The timing and scale of the current attacks suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens - the same kind of information that Mr. Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that led to his impeachment.
The Russian tactics are strikingly similar to what American intelligence agencies say was Russia's hacking of emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign. In that case, once they had the emails, the Russians used trolls to spread and spin the material, and built an echo chamber to widen its effect.
Paul Krugman: Trump's Plot Against Health Care Continues. (New York Times, January 13, 2020)
He is still coming for your coverage - and lying about it.
Biden's and Trump's farewell tweets to Booker show you everything you need to know about them. (Daily Kos, January 13, 2020)
Cory Booker Drops Out Of Presidential Race. (2-min. video; NPR, January 13, 2020)
"Our campaign has reached the point where we need more money to scale up and continue building a campaign that can win - money we don't have, and money that is harder to raise because I won't be on the next debate stage and because the urgent business of impeachment will rightly be keeping me in Washington."
Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories. (New York Times, January 12, 2020)
We analyzed some of the most popular social studies textbooks used in California and Texas. Here's how political divides shape what students learn about the nation's history.
The textbooks cover the same sweeping story, from the brutality of slavery to the struggle for civil rights. The self-evident truths of the founding documents to the waves of immigration that reshaped the nation. The books have the same publisher. They credit the same authors. But they are customized for students in different states, and their contents sometimes diverge in ways that reflect the nation’s deepest partisan divides.
Esper Says He Saw No Evidence Iran Targeted 4 Embassies, as Story Shifts Again. (New York Times, January 12, 2020)
The disparity between the defense secretary and President Trump added another twist to an ever-evolving explanation for a strike on an Iranian general that led to the brink of war.
They had to kill him because he was planning an "imminent" attack. But how imminent they could not say. Where they could not say. When they could not say. And really, it was more about what he had already done. Or actually it was to stop him from hitting an American embassy. Or four embassies. Or not.
The latest twist came today. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said he was never shown any specific piece of evidence that Iran was planning an attack on four American embassies, as Mr. Trump had claimed just two days earlier.
Iran Cracks Down as Protests Over Downing of Airliner Grow. (New York Times, January 12, 2020)
A top Iranian military commander made a rare public appeal for forgiveness on Sunday as security forces fired on protesters and outrage over the mistaken downing of a jetliner reignited opposition on the streets and stirred dissent within the government's conservative, hard-line power base.
Taiwan's president wins second term with landslide victory over pro-Beijing rival. (Washington Post, January 11, 2020)
Taiwanese voters demonstrated their overwhelming desire to distance themselves from China and to reject its proposal of living under a Hong Kong-style "one country, two systems" arrangement, returning both the presidency and the legislature to the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.
President Tsai Ing-wen won a resounding reelection, taking 57 percent of the vote in a three-way race and a record 8 million votes.
Senator Bernie Sanders: The Challenge Of Our Time (Bernie Sanders, January 11, 2020)
The challenge of our time is not simply to begin a war that will result in the deaths of many people - young Americans and innocent families overseas - but the real challenge of our time is to see how we can use our power in a different way to stop aggression and keep our people safe. Because if we are not successful right now, then I think all this world has to look forward to in the future for our children is war, and more war, and more war... as if we haven’t had enough war already.
It is almost beyond impossible to imagine that after nearly 17 years of war in Iraq - a war that upended the regional order of the Middle East and resulted in untold loss of life - that this administration is putting us on such a dangerous path toward more war.
This time with Iran. Apparently for some, decades of constant war is not enough.
Let us not forget that when Trump took office, we had a nuclear agreement with Iran, negotiated by the Obama administration along with our closest allies. Countries from all over the world came together to negotiate that agreement, which put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program. The wise course would have been to stick with that nuclear agreement, enforce its provisions, and use that diplomatic channel with Iran to address our other concerns with Iran, including their support of terrorism. Unfortunately, Trump followed his reckless instincts and listened to right-wing extremists, some of whom were exactly the same people that got us into the war in Iraq in the first place.
Now, as you all know, last week President Trump ordered the assassination of a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, along with the leader of an Iraqi militia. Trump justified the assassination of Soleimani by claiming that it was necessary to prevent 'imminent' attacks on U.S. forces, but his administration has offered no evidence to back that claim up, even in a classified setting.
Then he claimed that there were plans to attack U.S. embassies, again offering no evidence. And now, unbelievably, we find out that Trump himself told people he was under pressure to deal with Soleimani from GOP senators he views as important supporters in his coming impeachment trial in the Senate.
Once again, we see Trump making enormously consequential national security decisions for selfish reasons and without regard for the Constitution.
As a United States senator, I will do everything I can to rein in this reckless president and prevent a war with Iran.
As president, I will offer a different vision for how we exercise American power: one that is not demonstrated by our ability to blow things up, but by our ability to bring countries together and forge international consensus around shared challenges.
A test of a great nation is not how many wars we can fight or how many governments we can overthrow, but how we can use our strength to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful way.
Iran admits to downing airliner amid calls for justice, transparency. (Washington Post, January 11, 2020)
Iranian officials said that military personnel targeted the Ukraine jet as it turned toward a "sensitive military site" shortly after departing from Tehran. The General Staff of Iran's Armed Forces said it was "human error that caused the crash" of the Boeing 737-800, killing all 176 passengers on board.
Evolution of a lie: from 'imminent attack' to 'four embassies' with no facts in between (Daily Kos, January 11, 2020)
Sometimes deception generates a "tangled web," other times just a hilarious mess. But Donald Trump’s war-triggering assassination and post-drone strike rationalizations show two things: one is how clumsily Trump shifts his lies from day to day, the other is how Mike Pompeo and Fox News hurry along in Trump’s wake, trying to paper over irrational statements with a thin veneer of claims that all fall apart on even the most cursory examination.
Seven Days in January: How Trump Pushed U.S. and Iran to the Brink of War (New York Times, January 11, 2020)
The story of that week, and the secret planning in the months preceding it, ranks as the most perilous chapter so far in President Trump's three years in office.
The episode briefly gave Mr. Trump's allies something to cheer, distracting from the coming Senate impeachment trial, but now he faces questions even among Republicans about the shifting justifications for the strike that he and his national security team have offered. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo initially cited the need to forestall an "imminent" attack and the president has amplified that to say four American embassies were targeted. But administration officials said they did not actually know when or where such an attack might occur and one State Department official said it was "a mistake" to use the word "imminent." And some senior military commanders were stunned that Mr. Trump picked what they considered a radical option with unforeseen consequences.
This account, based on interviews with dozens of Trump administration officials, military officers, diplomats, intelligence analysts and others in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, offers new details about what may be the most consequential seven days of the Trump presidency.
Heather Cox Richardson: Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are trying desperately to justify the assassination after the fact. (Letters from an American, January 10, 2020)
All current evidence suggests that Trump ordered the killing of General Qassem Soleimani either to please his base or to curry favor with key senators before the Senate impeachment trial. It blew up in his face, and now he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are trying desperately to justify the action after the fact.
At stake is the issue that Trump acted without advising Congress. The Constitution provides that Congress alone shall declare war, but it also makes the president the commander-in-chief. During the Nixon administration, when congress members sometimes discovered that America was militarily engaged in entirely unexpected places, Congress pushed back to reassert its role in military actions.
South Korea's government explores move from Windows to Linux desktop. (ZDNet, January 10, 2020)
In what may prove to be the biggest migration from Windows to the Linux desktop, the South Korean government is looking into shifting from Windows 7 to a trio of Linux desktops - including a version of Ubuntu.
The South Korean Ministry of Strategy and Planning has announced the government is exploring moving most of its approximately 3.3 million Windows computers to Linux.The reason for this is simple. It's to reduce software licensing costs and the government's reliance on Windows. As the head of the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, said, "We will resolve our dependency on a single company while reducing the budget by introducing an open-source operating system."
Plants growing around Everest as ice melts on Himalayas. (Daily Mail, January 10, 2020)
Plants are growing in new areas around Mount Everest as rising temperatures melts ice on the Himalayas, according to a new report. Increased vegetation coverage across the Himalayas could have consequences for water supply from the range on which some 1.4 billion people rely.
Trump Administration Says Obamacare Lawsuit Can Wait Until After the Election. (New York Times, January 10, 2020)
The Trump administration came into office with its top legislative priority clear: Repeal the Affordable Care Act. It failed. Then, when a group of Republican states tried to throw out Obamacare through a lawsuit, the administration agreed that a key part of the law was unconstitutional.
But now that defenders of the law have asked the Supreme Court to settle the case quickly, the president's lawyers say they are in no particular hurry.
George Conway and Neal Katyal: How Pelosi should play her impeachment cards (Washington Post, January 10, 2020)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has announced that she plans to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, but that does not mean she has lost in the seeming standoff with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over whether to call witnesses at the Senate trial. McConnell has said "there’s no chance the president's going to be removed from office" and "there will be no difference between the president's position and our position." In response, Pelosi still has cards in her hand - if she plays them - because the House approved two articles of impeachment against President Trump.
The first article of impeachment effectively charges the president with shaking down Ukraine; the second impeaches him for his unprecedented obstruction of Congress. That gives the speaker room to maneuver. She could choose to tweak her announcement and send only the second article, on obstruction, for trial. Or she could transmit them both - along with a House-approved provision advising the Senate that if it fails to obtain adequate witnesses and documents, the House will reopen the investigation into Article I and subpoena that material itself.
Separating the two articles - our preferred approach - would make perfect sense. When it comes to the second article, all the evidence about Trump's obstruction is a matter of public record. There's nothing more to add, so the second article is ripe for trial. But as to the first, although there is plenty of evidence demonstrating Trump's guilt, his obstruction has prevented all of the evidence from coming to light.
Pelosi alerts House to be ready to send Trump impeachment articles next week. (Boston Globe, January 10, 2020)
In a letter to colleagues this morning, the speaker moved to end an impasse over the impeachment process that had left the president's fate in limbo even as he navigated escalating hostilities with Iran in recent days. She did not announce which Democrats she would name to manage the case at trial, but said the House should be ready to vote to appoint them sometime next week and to formally deliver the Senate charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Killing of top Iranian general occurred alongside a secret, failed mission in Yemen, officials say. (Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2020)
The U.S. military tried, but failed, to take out another senior Iranian commander on the same day that an American airstrike killed the Revolutionary Guard's top general, U.S. officials said Friday. The officials said a military airstrike by special operations forces targeted Abdul Reza Shahlai, a high-ranking commander in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but the mission was not successful. Both Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani and Shahlai were on approved military targeting lists, which indicates a deliberate effort by the U.S. to cripple the leadership of the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S.
Trump now claims four embassies were under threat from Iran, raising fresh questions about intelligence reports. (Washington Post, January 10, 2020)
"I can reveal that I believe it probably would've been four embassies," Trump said.
But a senior administration official and a senior defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified information, said they were only aware of vague intelligence about a plot against the embassy in Baghdad and that the information did not suggest a fully-formed plot. Neither official said there were threats against multiple embassies.
Trump angered by House ally's push to limit his authority on Iran. (Washington Post, January 10, 2020)
"Reclaiming Congressional power is the Constitutional conservative position!", Devin Murphy, legislative director of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, wrote to all Republican offices around 11 a.m. Thursday, underlining the text.
GOP Senator Breaks Ranks to Attack Trump on Soleimani. (11-min. video; The Young Turks, January 10, 2020)
Republican Senator Mike Lee says it was an unacceptable side-stepping of the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. Intel: Iran Shot Down Plane, Then Realized Mistake. (Daily Mail, January 9, 2020)
The Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Iran the night of the mi