Archive for November, 2021

An alternate USA vs. a new America

November 30, 2021

I enjoy science fiction.  It’s good escape literature, but, at its best, it is a vehicle for thought experiments—asking “what if” such-and-such were true.

Charles Stross is one of my favorite SF authors.  He’s good at world-building, the SF art of creating a convincing imaginary background for his stories, he’s good at asking “what if” questions and he’s good at creating thrilling action-adventure plots.

But I can’t recommend any of his recent books because they’re all parts of long series of novels that are hard to understand unless you’ve read the preceding books.

His current book, Invisible Sun, is the third book in a trilogy, which is a sequel to a previous series (three or six books depending on which edition you’ve read). There’s lots of stuff that needs explaining if you’re entering the series at this point.

But I think it is worth writing about because of its interesting premise—a possible inter-dimensional nuclear war between two North American republics, both ostensibly developed to liberty and justice, but products of different histories in different time lines.

One is an exaggerated version of the present US warfare / surveillance state, in which Washington, D.C., has been wiped out by a nuclear weapon planted by terrorists from a different time-line. 

The other is the newly-independent New American Commonwealth, threatened by a global French Empire, a British royal family in exile and now by Alternate USA.  

A defector explains threat Alternate USA poses to New America:

They’re a planetary hegemonic power with a very aggressive foreign policy, a tendency to project their own worst intentions onto others, and a system that makes it really difficult to back down from a fight.  Any leader who shows weakness hemorrhages support with the electorate, and the foreign affairs hierarchy is structured to systemically filter out doves and promote hawks.

If they look at us and think we’re weak, they’ll try to manipulate us, and if they look on us and see their own mirror image—a nuclear-armed superpower with pare-time capability and a revolutionary ideology, they may panic and attack.  Possibly with a nuclear first strike.

The founders of the New American Commonwealth were aware of the history of our timeline and wrote a constitution intended to avoid the mistakes made by the founders of the USA.  A character’s said New America’s constitution had a closer resemblance to the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran than it did to the 1789 Constitution of the USA.  

Now, the Iranian government overthrown in a CIA coup in 1953 was a democratic government.  The Shah’s dictatorship, which replaced it, lasted for 26 years.  The Islamic Republic of Iran has lasted 42 years despite continuous economic warfare and covert action against it.

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SNL: Republican or not?

November 27, 2021

USA tops peer nations in COVID-19 deaths

November 26, 2021

Click to enlarge

LINKS

Health Experts Worry CDC’s Covid Vaccination Rates Appear Inflated by Phil Galewitz for Kaiser Health News. [Added 12/10/2021]

The Pandemic of the Vaccinated Is Here by Rachel Gutman for The Atlantic.  [Added 12/10/2021]

Omicron Happy Talk in the US v. Toughening Restrictions in the UK, Israel by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism. [Added 12/9/2021]

Vaccine Politics Not Working to Biden Administration Advantage by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.  [Added 11/30/2021]

We Got a Head Start on Omicron, So Let’s Not Blow It by Zeynep Tufekci for the New York Times.  [Added 11/29/2021]

The Covid pandemic is not taking the very best of turns by Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution.  [Added 11/27/2021]

Wednesday Addams’ Thanksgiving pageant

November 25, 2021

This is from the 1993 movie, Addams Family Values, which is based on the TV series, The Addams Family.

Covid vaccinations keep people alive

November 24, 2021

Vaccination for COVID-19 won’t necessarily prevent you from catching the virus.  It won’t necessarily stop you from infecting other people.  It won’t even guarantee you won’t be harmed by the virus.

And of course there are good reasons to be suspicious of the big drug companies

But the facts show that, unless you’re a special case, vaccinations will definitely reduce the odds of you dying from the disease.

LINKS

How do death rates from COVID-19 differ between people who are vaccinated and those who are not? by Eduard Mattieu and Max Roser for Our World in Data.  This is the most complete survey I could find, but I was unable to extract charts from their web site.  Below are some of the charts I did find.

Covid death rates in U.S. counties with high and low vaccination rates

As Covid Cases Rise All Over U.S., Lower Vaccination Rates Point to Worse Outcomes by Lauren Leatherby for the New York Times.

Covid vaccination and death rates in Europe in one devastating chart by Ryan Heath on Twitter.  This decodes the abbreviations for countries.

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Inequality & politics: Links 11/24/2021

November 24, 2021

Michael Hudson on Truth Jihad Radio Discussing Super Imperialism, Rentierism and the American Political Duopoly.

Michael Hudson explains how the fact that the world economy operates in dollars gives the U.S. government the powers to assume debt that will not be repaid, to finance the world’s most expensive military, and to wage economic war on countries that oppose it, and why this cannot go on forever.

The  1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made America Less Secure by Nick Hanauer and David M. Rolf for Time.

Can Hagerstown Kick Its Habit? by Ron Cassie and Lauren Larocca for Baltimore magazine.

I grew up around Hagerstown, Md., and spent the first 16 years of my working life there.  It was a nice place then, but it has been devastated by deindustrialization and the drug epidemic. (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Big Business Declares War on Lina Khan by Matt Stoller for BIG.

Lina Khan has been confirmed by the Senate as one of the two main anti-trust enforcers for the Federal Trade Commission, and it appears she means business.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has declared political war on her.  She has many opponents, including some in the FTC.  

But it appears she has support from some conservative Republicans as some liberal Democrats.  Not all of the U.S. business community feels its interests are served by the monopoly power of Amazon, Facebook and other giants.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Too Big to Sail: How a Legal Revolution Clogged Our Ports by Matt Stoller for BIG.

Matt Stoller specializes in reporting on business monopoly and its consequences.  In this post, he reports on how economic concentration among ocean carriers and port terminal ownership has led to bottlenecks in the U.S. economic supply chains.

I’m a Twenty-Year Truck Driver, I Will Tell You Why America’s “Shipping Crisis” Will Not End by Ron Johnson.

The Big Money Behind the Big Lie by Jane Mayer for The New Yorker.

“Donald Trump’s attacks on democracy are being promoted by rich and powerful conservative groups that are determined to win at all costs.”

Only the Rich Can Play documents how a Republican program to help the poor didn’t by Albert Hunt for The Hill.

Democrats are pushing for tax breaks for the rich | They’ll cry when voters punish them by David Sirota for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to O)

The Vacancy and Cynicism at the Heart of “Mayor Pete” by Piper French for The Daily Poster.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

Facebook’s Russian (Gangster) Money by Seth Hettena on his blog.  (Hat tip to O)

How Hunter Biden’s Firm Helped Secure Cobalt for the Chinese by Michael Forsythe, Eric Lipton and Dianne Searcy for The New York Times.  (Hat tip to O)

The case against infrastructure

November 23, 2021

STRONG TOWNS: A bottom-up revolution to rebuild American prosperity by Charles L. Marohn Jr. (2020)

I wish I’d read this book before I posted anything on my blog about infrastructure.  Charles L. Marohn Jr., an engineer and land-use planner, calls attention to something important and obvious, once pointed out, but which I overlooked.

It is that infrastructure involves a maintenance cost as well as a benefit, and the cost can and often does exceed the benefit.

When you buy a house or a car, the longer you have it, the more it costs to keep it in repair.  The same is true of public roads, water and sewerage systems,  and other physical infrastructure.

The long-range cost of maintaining a road or a water and sewerage system can exceed the economic benefit of the system.  Benefit can be measured in the willingness of the property-owner to pay taxes and fees in return for the benefit, or in the revenue per acre from the land whose value is enhanced by the infrastructure.

Neglect of this truth is a main reason why so many American cities are in financial trouble these days.  The other reason is the financial obligations, such as employee pension funds, that they’ve taken on over the years.

Something beneficial was done, or some problem was solved, in the short term by taking on a long-term obligation.  Future growth was supposed to take care of the long-term obligation.  For many decades, it did.

I’ve posted a good bit on my blog about declining infrastructure.  I’ve quoted estimates by the American Society of Civil Engineers about the huge cost to bring existing U.S. infrastructure up to snuff.

But I failed to make a distinction between spending to maintain existing infrastructure and spending to build new infrastructure.  As I’ve said, it’s not feasible to be constantly building new stuff if you can’t afford to keep up the old stuff.  I can’t figure out from news accounts how much of President Biden’s infrastructure bill is for maintenance and how much is for new construction.  

Marohn wrote that the USA doesn’t need one brick of new infrastructure, but only to maintain what it’s got.  I wouldn’t go so far, but I understand what he’s getting at.

We in the USA have come to the end of the era of growth, Marohn wrote.  U.S. cities are limited by what they can afford, and should not make capital investments that do not produce a return.

Now, this kind of reasoning sounds like the rationale given for red-lining poor and majority-black neighborhoods in the bad old days.  The decision to disinvest became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Nowadays this is understood to have been a terrible wrong, whose consequences continue today..

But Marohn argued that the poor neighborhoods aren’t usually the ones that don’t pay their way.  He gave examples from his home city of Brainerd, Minnesota.  

On one side of a street is an Old and Blighted Block, on the other a New and Shiny one.  On one side are  nine marginal businesses, including a pawn shop, a bankruptcy attorney, a couple of liquor stores, a barbershop and a neighborhood restaurant.  On the other is a Taco John restaurant franchise, with plenty of green space and off-street parking.

But the assessed value of Old and Blighted is $1.1 million.  New and Shiny is only $620,000.  Furthermore the Old and Blighted businesses hire local accountants, attorneys, printing shops and other services; it’s not known whether Taco John does.  And the nine marginal businesses may well employ as many full-time equivalent workers as Taco John.

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A message from the labor movement

November 22, 2021

Sara Nelson is president of the Fight Attendants Union.  (Hat tip to Gene Zitver)

Book note: The Good Lord Bird

November 20, 2021

Mural of John Brown by J.C. Curry in Kansas State Capitol

THE GOOD LORD BIRD by James McBride (2013)

The Good Lord Bird is the story of the abolitionist John Brown as it might have been written by Mark Twain, if Mark Twain had been black.  I happened to pick it up at a neighborhood free book exchange.

One of Brown’s beliefs is that the ivory-billed woodpecker, the “Good Lord bird,” is sent by God with the mission to destroy dead and rotten trees so the good trees can grow. This is a symbol of his own mission. 

The narrator is Henry Shackleford,  a young black boy growing up in the Kansas territory during the guerrilla war of the late 1850s to determine whether Kansas will enter the union as a free or a slave state.

He is a more-or-less contented slave until he is “liberated” after a shoot-out by John Brown and his sons, who adopt him as a kind of mascot and good luck charm.  Brown has the idea that Henry is a girl, because he was clothed in a gunny-sack that looks like a dress, and he plays along. 

Henry is like Huck Finn.  He is naive and ignorant of politics and religion, not to mention grammar, but a shrewd judge of human nature and human pretensions.  

The language and way of speaking McBride gives him is highly entertaining and full of what you might call black humor.

 Henry shares the hardships of Brown’s band and learns about all their eccentricities.  All his efforts to save his own skin are interpreted by Brown as heroism.

At one point he is separated from the band, is enslaved again and winds up as a servant in a Missouri whorehouse, where he is more or less content, until he is liberated again by Brown’s men.

The last half of the book is devoted to the planning and execution of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, an apparent failure, but the spark that set off the Civil War.  We see Brown as erratic, often foolish, but with an indomitable will and energy that prevails over setbacks, hardship and danger, and a charisma that binds his followers to him in spire of everything. 

We get Henry’s view of historic figures such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.  

Tubman is depicted as a majestic figure, but Douglass as a speechifier who is unwilling to give up his good life in Rochester, N.Y., with his black wife and white mistress.

That’s harsh. I wouldn’t condemn Douglass for holding back from joining what is obviously a suicide mission.

The Harper’s Ferry raid is shown as a true tragedy. We see how bad decisions of Brown and his lieutenants lead to mistake after mistake, depriving them of what little chance they had of accomplishing their plan to ignite a slave rebellion.  There is a final, fatal mistake that is Henry’s fault.

But ultimately Brown was successful. The raid precipitated the American Civil War, which brought about the end of slavery and, in the course of time, full political rights for African-Americans.

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Vaccine resistance is an identity movement

November 18, 2021

Chris Arnade is a former Wall Street bond trader who has spent the past 10 years of his life photographing and talking to poor and working-class Americans.

Click to enlarge.

His latest article is about why so many Americans over 50 refuse to get vaccinated, and why some regard not getting vaccinated as a badge of honor.

For one thing, he said, they don’t regard risk in the same way that college-educated, professional class people do. They aren’t the ones who work at home to be safe from the coronavirus. They are the ones who make package deliveries to the ones who work at home.

A number of the people to whom Arnade talked regard the pandemic as just one of life’s many risks, along with accidents, overdoses, firings, bankruptcies, felony gun charges, addictions and so on, which you deal with as they happen.

They don’t trust the government, they don’t trust the politicians, they don’t trust the drug companies and the health insurance companies, all with good reason.  By and large, they thinking voting is a waste of time.  And they very much resent being talked down to by out-of-touch elites.

Being unvaccinated is… …a badge of honor, a club membership card, among people who have never trusted authority, and see being unvaccinated as a way to take control of the situation.

A way to stick it to the upright scolds who have been telling me what to do all the time and are always fucking things up.  [snip]

That people have decided to turn not being vaccinated, a damn reckless position for someone over 50 to have, into an identity, shows how desperate people are to join a club.

To find a place that accepts them.  Come on in.  Join us.  The losers everybody hates.  The dumb, the dropouts.  The people with bad taste.  The people who make bad decisions.  Own your loser-dom.  Make one more stupid decision.  Come on!

No doubt these are very sweeping generalizations, and no doubt have many exceptions.  Anti-vaxxers include people in different walks of life.  But Arnade is not making things up.  His writing is based on his reporting.

He said the only way to reach the people he’s writing about is to find key people in communities, and talk them at the bowling alley or church or bar, and talk to them individually.

Sit them down, talk them through it, without scolding, without scorn, without talking down.  Refute the rumors, one by one.  No, Miss Betsy’s stroke had nothing to do with the vaccine, and her sister didn’t have a stroke.

But he said there’s a core group that is unreachable.  His guess is that it is 15 to 30 percent of the population.  Opposition to vaccination is the hill that they have chosen, so to speak, to die on.

The vaccine resistance movement is not limited to the USA.  Protests are worldwide, and probably reflect the same attitudes.

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Civil liberties are for all, not just for good people

November 17, 2021

Good old Glenn Greenwald remembers what some self-described liberals and progressives have forgotten: that basic rights such as due process of law and the right to a fair trial are meaningless unless they apply to foes and well as friends.

Kyle Rittenhouse, Project Veritas and the Inability to Think in Terms of Principles by Glenn Greenwald.

“Those whose worldview is bereft of universally-held principles, and based solely on tribal allegiances, assume everyone else is plagued by this same deficiency.” 

 Democrats Are Profoundly Committed to Criminal Justice Reform—for Everybody But Themselves by Glenn Greenwald.

“Principles of rehabilitative justice, reform of the carceral state and liberalized criminal justice evaporate when Democrats demand harsh prison for their political adversaries.”

US Media Cowers, Not Covers, Chevron’s Persecution of Human Rights Lawyer Steve Donziger by Greg Palast and Zach D. Roberts.

That’s not to say that the threat to the rule of law comes exclusively or even mainly from liberals and progressives.

Tales of rich and poor: Links 11/17/2021

November 16, 2021

As America Falls Apart, Profits Soar by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

On the Duty to Obstruct: If conflict is the only route to a moral outcome, embrace it by Thomas Neuberger for God’s Spies.

How Wealth Inequality Fuels the Climate Emergency: George Monbriot & Scientist Keith Anderson on COP26 for Democracy Now!  Hat tip to Bill Harvey,

Make extreme wealth extinct: It’s the only way to avoid climate breakdown by George Monbriot for The Guardian.

The federal poverty line struggles to capture the economic hardship that half of Americans face by Celine-Marie Pascale for The Conversation.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Over Half of Households Are Having Trouble Paying Their Bills by Doug Henwood for Jacobin.

Hope for Labor at the End of History by Steve Fraser and Joshua Freeman for Dissent Magazine.  Hat tip to Gene Zitver.

One man’s experience with monopoly drug prices

November 16, 2021

Will Astor, a semi-retired journalist in Rochester, N.Y., the city where I live, depends on drugs to keep his prostate cancer in check.  Recently his physician put him on a new drug, abiraterone, a generic form of Johnson & Johnson’s brand-name Zytiga.

His monthly co-pay: $1,700 a month.  The total cost of the drug: $11,000 a month.  How much would Zytiga have cost? J&J wouldn’t say.

I was under the impression that generic drugs, which can be sold when the brand-name drugs are no longer under patent protection, were cheaper than the brand-name drugs.  But Astor’s research indicated that this is only true when two or more companies make the drug.  When only one company makes a generic drug, it is only slightly less than the brand-name version.

Some countries set drug prices, based on the cost of manufacturing plus a reasonable mark-up.  The Biden administration’s Build Back Better bill passed by the House of Representatives includes a provision allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare patients, which is now forbidden.  Republicans in the Senate oppose that provision of the bill, and it may not pass.

A pharmacist at the University of Rochester Medical Center found Astor a charity, called the Assistance Fund, that gave him a one-year grant to cover virtually all of his co-pay.  That’s fortunate for him, although he has no guarantee the grant will be renewed, but of course this isn’t available to most people.

Astor wrote a well-researched article about the high price of generic drugs in the Rochester Beacon, a local on-line publication. It’s well worth a look.

LINK

Life-Threatening Costs by Will Astor for the Rochester Beacon.

Book note: Jan de Hartog’s The Captain

November 15, 2021

THE CAPTAIN by Jan De Hartog (1966)

I picked up Jan de Hartog’s novel, The Captain, by chance at a Little Free Library free book exchange in my neighborhood.  It is about a little-known (at least to me) aspect of World War Two, the ocean-going tugboats that accompanied Atlantic supply convoys.

Many of these convoys were merchant ships of nations that had been overrun by the Nazi German armies—French, Dutch Norwegian or other nations’ ships that were at sea when their home countries fell to the invaders, or that fled home ports to offer their services to the British.

The mission of ocean-going tugboats was to tow disabled ships into port, and also to rescue survivors of sunk and disable ships.  Usually they had little or no armaments to defend against German aircraft or submarines.  The Dutch historically were preeminent in ocean-going tugs.

Martinus Harinixma, the protagonist and narrator of The Captain, is a young Dutchman who has fled to England after the German conquest, and, despite his inexperience, is made captain a tugboat when its beloved previous captain dies unexpectedly.  

He has to learn the art of command by trial and error, while dealing with an exploitative employer, a British fleet commander with a grudge against him, and a resentful and difficult crew.

He has to walk the fine line between antagonizing his crew and seeming weak and indecisive, even when the situation is ambiguous and his knowledge is incomplete.

He is soon put on the lethal Murmansk run, sending war supplies to the Soviet Union to its only open port, which is north of the Arctic Circle.  

Casualties were high, and the novel’s characters believe the convoys were more of a political gesture than something of real importance to the war effort.  Then they become part of a strategic deception plan, which goes horribly wrong.

Over time, Harinixma masters the arts of seamanship and the arts of leadership, although he still makes one nearly fatal misjudgment, which is revealed at the end of the novel.  The stress of constant danger and little rest tells on him, and he nearly, but not quite, breaks under the strain.   Another character, an idealistic and naive young Canadian liaison officer, does break down and loses his life. 

Harinixma soon forgets the larger goal of liberating the Netherlands.  His concern is to protect the lives of his crew, the lives of members of the convoys and his own life.  He succeeds by reason of skill and courage, but also good luck.  

He comes to hate war, but without weakening in his sense of duty.

The Captain can be enjoyed as an action-adventure novel.  It is also a coming-of-age story, and also a story about how men react differently to the stress of war.

Reading the battle scenes is as near as anyone sitting in a comfortable armchair can come to understanding the reality of war.  Along with the horror, there is a lot of grim humor.

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Can progressives win U.S. workers’ votes? (2)

November 13, 2021

The Commonsense Solidarity poll indicates that the priorities of working-class American voters are the same as mine. Given a choice of five alternatives, they preferred the Progressive Populist option.  I do, too.

The problem is the topics the soundbite poll didn’t cover.  None of the soundbites mention the forever wars, civil liberties and voting rights, and climate change is an afterthought.  These are all fundamental problems that have to be solved if the Progressive Populist agenda is to be enacted.

Mainstream Moderate

America is better than this.  We have to stop demonizing each other based on which party we support, how much money we make or the color of our skin—it’s time to heal.  We need common sense leaders who will stick up for working people, listen to the experts, reach across the aisle and get things done.

Republican

What makes America great is the freedom of the American people.  But today, freedom is under threat from radical socialists, arrogant liberals and dangerous foreign influences.  We need strong leaders in Washington to protect conservative values and defend the Constitution against those who want destroy the greatest country in the world.

Two things are important to remember.  One is that the survey is not of a cross-section of the American public, but of the working class—defined as non-Republicans without college educations, earning less than $100,000 a year.  These are the voters whose support Democrats need to win.

The other is that poll covers the entire working class, not the “white” working class.  Poll respondents were opposed to “systemic racism”; this just wasn’t their top priority. 

I assume that, all other things being equal, working-class Americans would be in favor of winding down the wars, reining in the military and dealing with the effects of climate change, but most of them are more concerned with bread-and-butter issues.  The poll doesn’t go into that, however.

Some self-identified conservatives endorse the Republican agenda, as outlined in the soundbite, but at the same time are anti-war, pro-civil liberties and, up to a point, pro-worker, although not defenders or voting rights or action on climate change.

If I was forced to choose, I’d prefer one of them to a mainstream moderate, woke moderate or even a woke progressive who won’t stick up for peace, freedom of speech or labor rights.

LINKS

Commonsense Solidarity: How a working-class coalition can be built and maintained by Jacobin, the Center for Working-Class Politics and YouGov.

The Left Needs More Than Low-Hanging Fruit to Win by Jared Abbott for Jacobin.

Can progressives win U.S. workers’ votes?

November 10, 2021

Jacobin magazine, the YouGov polling organization and the newly organized Center for Working-Class voters did a poll to find out what progressives need to do to win working-class voters.  Here are the key takeaways.

Working class voters prefer progressive candidates who focus primarily on bread and better issues, and who frame those issues in universal terms. This is especially true outside deep blue parts of the country.

Candidates who prioritized bread-and-butter issues (jobs, health care, the economy) and who presented them in plainspoken, universalist rhetoric, performed significantly better than those who had other priorities or used other language.  This general pattern was even more dramatic in rural and small-town areas, where Democrats have struggled in recent years.

Populist, class-based progressive campaign messaging appeals to working-class voters at least as well as other varieties of Democratic messaging.

Candidates who named elites as a major cause of America’s problems, invoked anger at the status quo and celebrated the working class were well received by working class voters—even when pitted against more “moderate” strains of Democratic rhetoric.

Progressives do not need to surrender questions of social justice to win working class voters, but “woke” activist-inspired rhetoric is a liability.

Potentially Democratic working-class voters did not shy away from progressive candidates or candidates who strongly opposed racism.  But candidates who framed that opposition in highly-specialized, identity-focused language fared significantly worse than candidates who embraced either populist or mainstream language.

Working class voters prefer working-class candidates.

A candidate’s race or gender does not appear to matter much to potentially Democratic working-class voters. But candidates with upper-class backgrounds performed significantly less well than other candidates.  Class background matters.

Working-class non-voters are not automatic progressives.

We find little evidence that low-propensity voters fail to vote because they don’t see sufficiently progressive views reflected in the political platforms of mainstream Democratic candidates.

Democratic partisanship does not hurt progressive candidates.

Working-class voters prefer progressive candidates running as Democrats to candidates who stress their independence from the party.

Blue-collar workers are especially sensitive to candidate messaging—and respond even more acutely to the differences between populist and “woke” language.

Primarily manual blue-collar workers, in comparison with primarily white-collar workers, were even more drawn to candidates who stressed bread-and-butter issue, and who avoided activist rhetoric.

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The infrastructure bill: Better than nothing?

November 8, 2021

Correction: The spending is for a five-year span, not 10 years as I originally wrote.

Click to enlarge. Source: New York Times.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill is better than nothing.  Whether it will be enough to do the job is another question.

Some news articles call it a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, but it only includes some $550 billion.  The rest is money that is normally spent each year for highways and other projects.

All these figures are for a planned five-year span.  If the proponents quoted the annual budget cost, they wouldn’t seem so huge.

More spending is certainly needed.  The latest infrastructure report of the American Society of Civil Engineers gives a dismal picture of frequent water main breaks, un-maintained highways and flood control levees whose location and condition aren’t even known.

It says $2.69 trillion in infrastructure investment is needed over the next 10 years, although not all of that would necessarily have to come from the federal government.

I am sure that figure is based on deterioration continuing at the same rate as it is.  The expected climate-related increase in destructive storms and floods will almost certainly increase the strain on roads, rail systems, water and sewerage systems, dams and levees.

The ASCE gives the U.S. a C-minus grade (mediocre, requires attention) on infrastructure overall, which is up from D-plus (poor, at risk) in its previous report, which was in 2017.

The ASCE attributes the improvement mainly to action by state and local governments.  For what it’s worth, the ASCE is a supporter of the Biden infrastructure bill.

The original idea was to have a omnibus bill that would include infrastructure improvements, climate change mitigation and improvement of the social safety net.

The emergency measure enacted last year—the eviction moratorium, the student debt collection moratorium, extra funding for unemployment insurance, etc.—have run out or will soon run out.

A lot of people are going to be hurting next year, and blaming Democrats for not keeping their promises.

Although increased infrastructure spending will create jobs and help the economy, but it won’t be in time to affect the 2022 election.

I blame Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema for being spoilers, I blame President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for lack of leadership and I blame Senate Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell and Republicans generally for their irresponsible and blindly partisan obstructionism.

But the problem is deeper and more systemic.  Blaming individuals implies that it is by accident of personality that Manchin or McConnell choose to do what they do, and also by accident that people like Manchin or McConnell are in a position to do the damage they do.

We have a political system that prioritizes the wants and needs of monied interests over the public, and makes it nearly impossible to do what’s plainly necessary.  Maybe I’m over-optimistic in sticking in the word “nearly.”

LINKS

American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 Infrastructure Report Card.

What’s in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package by Heather Long for The Washington Post.

The Infrastructure Plan: What’s In and What’s Out by Actish Batia and Quoctrong Bai for The New York Times.

How Democratic Party Progressives Got Outmaneuvered by Their Corporate Wing by Dr. Jack Rasmus.

Is This the End of the Unreformable Democratic Party? by Michael Hudson.

Truth and doubt in a time of pandemic

November 4, 2021

In the pandemic, I find it hard to decide who I can trust about questions such as vaccine effectiveness, lockdown effectiveness, ivermectin effectiveness and so on.

Authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization haven’t always told the truth, or at least not the whole truth.  But this doesn’t mean the critics of the CDC and WHO are necessarily reliable.   When doctors disagree, how can I, a layman, decide?

That’s why I’m impressed with this interview of Eric Osgood, a physician, by David Fuller, a co-founder of a podcast called Rebel Wisdom, even though I don’t usually spend time watching long videos on computer screens.

Fuller is more interested in getting the facts right, and Ogood more interested in what is best for his patients, than about defending one side or another.

Osgood recommends vaccination to most of his patients, but also prescribes ivermectin.  He gets flak from the right-wing anti-vax fanatics, who tell him he is a tool of the establishment, and the left-wing anti-ivermectin zealots, who say he is helping the anti-vaxxers.  

 He used to be a member of the Frontline Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance, which is the chief promoter of ivermectin, but now has reservations about Dr. Pierre Kory’s recommendation to double the dose against the Delta variant, which he doesn’t think has any empirical basis.

I think Dr. Kory has followed a common path by those who question an ideological orthodoxy. A dissenter is cast out by those he had been accustomed to thinking of as his friends.  His dissent is welcomed by those of the opposing ideological orthodoxy.  Gradually, the opposing orthodoxy comes to seem more and more reasonable.

One interesting fact that I hadn’t known is that Dr. Kory himself and his daughter caught Covid-19.  Dr. Kory is not explicitly anti-vaccination, but he didn’t get vaccinated himself. 

His infection was a mild case, so maybe ivermectin did some good.  Dr. Osgood’s view is that ivermectin is harmless, cheap and of some benefit, and just possibly the wonder drug that Dr. Kory thinks it might be, so there is no reason not to use.

For what it’s worth, that’s what I now think, too.  I was much more of an ivermectin enthusiast when I first heard about it than I am now.  I still oppose the campaign to prevent it being prescribed or discussed.

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Julian Assange tortured for revealing crimes

November 2, 2021

Torture is worse than killing.  All of us must die sometime.  Torture is intended to destroy its victim mentally and spiritually while the body still lives.

The United Nations special representative on torture says Julian Assange is being tortured.  No-one in the USA or UK would have any doubt of this if a Russian dissident in a Russian prison were being subjected to what Assange is.

Julian Assange

Assange is being tortured because he and his friends are a genuine threat to state power.  Back when he was unknown, he came up with the theory that governments or other powerful institutions require secrecy in order to commit atrocities.

Revealing the atrocities threatens the legitimacy of governments.  The danger of the atrocities being revealed creates a breakdown in internal communications necessary for the criminal conspiracy.

When Assange put his theory into practice by revealing U.S. atrocities in Iraq, he really did threaten state power.  CIA director Mike Pompeo called Wikileaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” as if it were comparable to the Russian or Chinese intelligence services.

The long drawn-out torment he is suffering is an object lesson to others who might be tempted to commit the crime of truth-telling.

If someone can commit crimes in secret, and punish those who reveal the secret, there is no limit to their power.  Julian Assange’s crime has been to try to stand between us and absolute power.

LINKS

Conspiracy as Governance by Julian Assange (2006)

In Conversation with Julian Assange Part One and Part Two (2011)

Assange behind glass: Shards of a shattered life by Patrick Lawrence for The Scrum.

The experiment of total domination: Assange behind glass Part 2 by Patrick Lawrence for The Scrum.

The “sacred outcast”: Assange behind glass Part 3 by Patrick Lawrence for The Scrum.

Courage Beyond Doubt by John Pilger for The Scrum.  [Added 11/4/2021]

Berry Street Essays: 200 years of UUism

November 1, 2021

THE THROUGH LINE: 200 Years of the Berry Street Essay, edited by Kate R. Walker (2021).

In 1820, the Rev. William Ellery Channing, minister of Boston’s Federal Street Church, was the proponent of a heretical theology called unitarianism.  He called together fellow unitarian ministers to hear a lecture entitled, “How Far Is Reason to Be Trusted in Explaining Revelation?” and to talk about the new ideas.

They agreed to meet the following year, and they and their successors have met every year down to the present.  The talks are known as the Berry Street Lectures because the building in which they originally met opened on Berry Street; the meetings currently are held in a different place each year.

They are of interest not just to us Unitarian Universalists, but to anyone interested in the trajectory of religious liberalism.

The Rev. Kate R. Walker found that the present-day record of the Berry Street Essays was woefully incomplete.  She and her helpers did a great service to history and to Unitarian-Universalism by tracking down missing texts.  The archive now includes roughly three-quarters of the original essays, some of them in the form of summaries or reports.

Her new book, The Through Line, consists of reviews of the essays during 13 different periods of history, plus texts of essays for 19 different years, and an introduction and conclusion by herself.

Two essays are by UU ministers I personally know and greatly esteem, the Rev. Richard S. Gilbert and the Rev. Mark D.  Morrison-Reed.

The essays are interesting snapshots of liberal religious thinking, past and present, but the reviews don’t add much.

The reviews are marred by “present-ism,” aka “the whig interpretation of history.”  UU ministers of the past are condemned for not sharing the present-day understanding of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, etc., not to mention most of them being white, male and members of the New England elite.  

It would have been better to omit the reviews and include more essays, at least one more for each era reviewed.

Fortunately the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association has created a web page with links to all the known essays.

You can browse through them on the Ministers’ Conference at Berry Street: Essays web site.  In my opinion, you’d get as much or more out of checking out the complete series of essays on-line as by reading the book.

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