Archive for the ‘Public Policy’ Category

COVID-19 and the war on populism

September 13, 2021

Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Thomas Frank had a good interview last week on the Breaking Points TV show.  It’s worth watching.

He talked about how failure to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, instead of being blamed on the failed health care system, is instead blamed on people who are skeptical of established authority.

The problem is that there are good reasons to be skeptical of authority.  It was Anthony Fauci, who is nowadays considered to the voice of science, who in the early days of the pandemic said that it was not to be taken seriously, it was just like the ‘flu, and that masks were useless.

It was the Centers for DIsease Control that, in the early days, advised the U.S. government not to screen air travelers coming in from China. 

Established authority nowadays tells us that vaccination will prevent the spread of the disease, when, so far as is known, it merely suppresses the symptoms and does little or nothing to stop the spread.

Nobody is being called to account for this.  The bulk of the press, the political establishment and the medical establishment say that everything that has gone wrong, and everything that is predictably going to go wrong, is the fault of right-wingers who refuse to get vaccinated.

There are all kinds of reasons why people don’t get vaccinated.  There are medical reasons.  There are economic reasons.  There are religious reasons.

And of course there are conspiracy theorists who think the pandemic is a Democratic hoax.  I don’t share their views, of course, but conspiracy theories flourish in times like these, when established authority can’t be trusted.

Whatever the reasons people have for not getting vaccinated, ridicule and scapegoating are not good methods for bringing them around.  They are, however, good tactics for diverting blame for failure from the people in charge.

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The plan is for all Americans to get COVID

September 10, 2021

The Biden administration’s plan for fighting COVID-19 is for all Americans to get vaccinated. But that won’t stop the spread of the disease.  Being vaccinated just means you’re less likely to die or need hospital care if you get it.

But there is nothing in place to stamp out the disease and very little to stop the spread of the disease.  This means that all of us Americans are bound to get it, sooner or later.

I’m in favor of vaccination.  I’ve received two shots myself.  I would like as many people as possible to get vaccinated.   Mandatory vaccinations are nothing new.  Schools and other institutions have every right to require masking and vaccinations.

The thing of it is—the vaccines now available are not sterilizing vaccines, at least not as far we know.  They do not kill the virus, just rally the body’s defenses to resist it.  Other things being equal, a vaccinated person is just as potentially infectious as an unvaccinated person.

The way to stop the spread of the virus would be to require everyone entering an indoor public space to be tested, whether vaccinated or not.  As in China, there would be a temperature check, and everybody running a temperature would get a test.

Those infected would be isolated and treated until the infection goes away.  Do this long enough and the virus dies out.

Why isn’t this being done?  Probably because the U.S. pubic health system and medical care system don’t have the capacity to carry it out.

Of course, there are other ways to slow the spread.  Indoor ventilation would be a big help.  Indoor masking also would be a big help. 

But the disease won’t be stopped until there are treatments that kill the virus, as penicillin kills bacterial infections.  There is no national effort to develop one.

The Biden administration is content to push vaccination alone, vaccination and nothing else, and it blames people who don’t get vaccinated for the spread of the disease

The unvaccinated are conflated with deplorables who believe in crazy conspiracy theories, and both groups are conflated with Trump voters.  They will be the scapegoats for the comeback of COVID-19 this winter.

I’ve even heard people say that the unvaccinated do not deserve to be treated for the coronavius. 

Would such people say that cigarette smokers do not deserve medical care lung cancer? that sexually active gay men do not deserve medical care for AIDS? that people who’ve attempted suicide, and failed, deserve no medical care at all?

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Public schools can be petri dishes for coronavirus

August 25, 2021

Back during the George W. Bush administration, Carter Mecher was head of a White House task force charged with making a plan to prevent pandemics.  He was contacted by Robert Glass, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, who’d been running computer simulations of pandemics.

Glass’s models indicated that kindergartens and schools were potential petri dishes for the spread of contagious disease.  I don’t think this would have been surprising to most parents and teachers.

At that time, there were more than 100,000 K-12 schools in the U.S., with 50 million children in them.  There were 500,000 school buses in operation, compared to 70,000 in the regular U.S. transportation system.  On an average day, school buses carried twice as many passengers as the entire public transportation system.

Michael Lewis, author of The Premonition, told what happened next.  Becher decided to visit schools. He found school classrooms were more crowded than any other public space.  Chlldren sat, on average, three and a half feet apart; they could touch each other.

In hallways and at bus stops, young children crowded together.  They lacked the adult idea of personal space.  School bus seats were on average 40 inches wide, just wide enough for three children close packed together.

School bus aisles were narrower than aisles of regular buses. Paramedics used special stretchers for school buses because regular stretchers wouldn’t fit.

Becher made videos of homes where the ratio of children to floor space was the same as in public schools.  They looked like refugee prisons, Lewis wrote.

Glass had concluded that closing schools and reducing contacts among children were the key to controlling pandemics.

That doesn’t necessarily apply to the present situation, because teachers and children over 12 can get vaccinated.  Many schools try to practice social distancing, although this doesn’t protect from an airborne virus in an enclosed space.  Glass’s model assumed no vaccines and no treatments.

But vaccines don’t eliminate the danger.  They suppress the symptoms of the disease, but they don’t necessarily kill the virus.  Vaccinated people can still be spreaders of the disease.  And vaccines may not be 100 percent effective.

I don’t know what I’d do if I were a parent, except listen to the teachers rather than the politicians or the CDC.

Children in families with a lot of books in the home, who watch educational programs on TV and talk about current events and books around the supper table—the education of these children would not suffer all that much from school lockdowns.

But children in families without books in the home, children with parents who work multiple jobs and don’t have time for suppertime conversations, children who depend on school lunches for their main nourishing meal of the day—these children would be hurt a lot by long-term school closing.

Wearing masks can help some.  Good ventilation can help a lot.  Vaccine mandates for teachers and staff might help, but regular tests for the virus would help more.

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The U.S. eviction crisis is (nearly) upon us

August 4, 2021

The eviction moratorium was a short-range solution to a long-range problem.  

The problem arose from income and wealth inequality, acquisition of housing property by speculatprs, and building and zoning regulations intended to keep the riff-raff out.  If the Covid-19 crisis hadn’t brought it to a head, some other crisis would have.

The eviction moratorium cannot continue forever.  Therefore, someday it has to stop.

LINKS

Evictions and the U.S. Supreme Court by Dr. Jack Rasmus

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A vaccination-only anti-virus strategy

July 22, 2021

It seems as if the Biden administration intends to rely on vaccines alone to fight the COVID-19 virus.

The official advice is that once you get vaccinated, it’s safe to do anything you want, including spending time unmasked in poorly-ventilated indoor spaces.

That’s wrong.  Even if you’re vaccinated, you can be infected and you can infect others.  Masking, ventilation and other safety measures are still needed.

It’s true that availability of vaccines has dramatically reduced the death rate from COVID.  The chart above, showing waves of COVID infection before and after vaccines were available, indicates this.

Vaccination, however, does not confer 100 percent immunity.  The vaccines stimulate the immune system, so that, if you are infected, you are unlikely to experience symptoms of the disease and even less likely to be hospitalized. 

But they often fail to kill the virus.  You can be vaccinated and symptom-free and still be a spreader of the disease.

I’m in favor of vaccination. I got two shots of the Moderna vaccine as soon as I could, one in March and one in April.  I don’t take that as guaranteeing perfect safety.

It’s going to be a while before I eat a restaurant  meal indoors or watch a movie in a theater.  I may never take an airplane trip again.  I intend to wear a mask any time I am indoors with people I don’t know.

That’s not because I like masks.  I get short of breath when I wear one for a long time.  Everybody looks like they’re either terrorists, robbers or assisting in surgery.  But I can put up with this minor annoyance in order to reduce my own risk and the risk I create for others.

I understand that not everybody is willing to live as I do, or in a position to do so.  I am 84 years old, retired, unmarried, an introvert and a recluse. 

I don’t have to venture out into the world to earn my daily bread, and my temperament makes it easier for me than for most people to do without hugs and kisses.

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Why the U.S. failed to avert the pandemic (2)

July 21, 2021

Like Michael Lewis’s The Premonition, Andy Slavitt’s Preventable is a story of how people in authority disregarded warnings and allowed the COVID-19 virus to gain a foothold in the United States.

But while Lewis described the efforts of a number of far-sighted prophets, Slavitt concentrates on just one—himself.

Slavitt is an interesting figure—a political operator and member of the professional-managerial class, who influences policy, moves back and forth between government and the private sector, but would be unknown to the public except for this book.

He was an investment banker with Goldman Sachs, a consultant for McKinsey & Co., and founder of a company called HealthAllies, and then worked for United Health Group after it acquired HealthAllies. 

He served the Obama administration as head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services from 2014, and was a medical adviser to the Biden administration during its first few months.

His power comes from being embedded in a network of politicians, corporate CEOs, wealthy philanthropists and academics, who all answer his phone calls and listen to what he has to say.

Preventable is about how he tried to alert the public to the danger, while also trying, from behind the scenes, to influence the Trump administration to take action before it was too late.

His book is a good overview of the Trump administration’s pandemic response and of the inadequacies of the American medical care system generally.

Much of the criticism of Trump is based on a knee-jerk response to his vulgar and offensive comments on Twitter and elsewhere, which don’t matter, and on a gullible acceptance of charges of collusion with Russian and Ukrainian leaders, which were either bogus or trivial.

Slavitt did a good job of showing the real problem with Trump, which was his inadequacy as an administrator and leader.  Trump refused to face unpleasant facts.  He thought of policy only in terms of public relations, not in terms of consequences, and he failed to think ahead even about public relations.

He calculated that closings are unpopular and openings are popular, so he shifted responsibilities for closings onto governors of states while positioning himself as the champion of openings.

As damning as Slavitt’s portrait of Trump is, it will not change the minds of Trump’s admirers because of Slavitt’s obvious bias and partisanship. 

The only named persons he holds accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic are Trump supporters, members of Trump’s administration and Donald Trump himself.  Democrats get a free pass.

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How the virus took hold in the U.S.

July 21, 2021

The following timeline is from Andy Slavitt’s Preventable.  It shows when there was a window of opportunity to prevent the COVID-19 virus from establishing itself in the United States, and when that window closed.

Nov. 17, 2019.  First COVID-19 case in Wuhan, China.

U.S. total cases: 0.

U.S. total deaths: 0.

U.S. daily cases: 0.

Jan. 20, 2020.  First COVID-19 case in the United States

U.S. total cases: 1

U.S. total deaths: 0.

U.S. daily cases: 1.

Jan. 29, 2020.  White House task force created.

U.S. total cases: 6.

U.S. total deaths: 0.

U.S. daily cases:  1.

Jan. 31, 2020.  First COVID-19 case in Italy.

U.S. total cases:  9.

U.S. total deaths:  0.

U.S. daily cases:  1.

Feb. 26, 2020.  First COVID-19 death in the United States

U.S. total cases: 16.

U.S. total deaths: 1.

U.S. daily cases: 1.

March 3, 2020.  100th U.S. case.

U.S. total cases: 100.

U.S. total deaths: 14.

U.S. daily cases: 50.

March 9, 2020.  1,000th U.S. case.

U.S. total cases: 1,000.

U.S. total deaths: 35.

U.S. daily cases: 292.

March 17, 2020.  10,000th U.S. case

U.S. total cases:  10,000.

U.S. total deaths: 123.

U.S. daily cases: 2,570.

March 20, 2020.  100th COVID-19 death in South Korea.

U.S. total cases:  24,100.

U.S. total deaths: 273.

U.S. daily cases: 6,090.

Why the U.S. failed to avert the pandemic (1)

July 20, 2021

Michael Lewis’s The Premonition tells stories of Americans who foresaw the danger of a pandemic and created workable plans and technologies to fight it, but in the end were brushed aside.

He throws light on U.S. unpreparedness to deal with pandemic disease and how COVID-19 was allowed to take hold when it could have been eradicated.

The stories of his heroes are oddly inspirational, even though they mostly failed in the end.  Their plans and inventions were usually not tried, or tried too late.  They were like Winston Churchill’s in a world in which he was never called to power and World War Two ended in stalemate.

Lewis’s book leaves off in the spring of 2020 when it became plain that a pandemic was not going to be averted.  Andy Slavitt’s Preventable takes up the story at that point. 

Slavitt’s provided a good overview of the Trump administration’s failures, but I learned little that was new to me.  Lewis’s book is more fragmentary, but his insights are deeper and his writing is much more readable.

The back stories of Lewis’s heroes are as illuminating as their responses to the pandemic.  I’ll just give the highlights of one of them.

Charity Dean was public health officer for Santa Barbara County, California.  In 2013. she was alerted that a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara had symptoms of meningitis B, a rare infectious disease that attacked healthy young people and could kill them in hours.  The test for the disease was inconclusive.

She asked the Centers for Disease Control what to do.  The CDC advised her to do nothing.  She didn’t have enough data.  She ordered the university medical authorities to test any student with a low-grade fever four the disease.  Three tested positive.  The CDC still advised her to do nothing.

Instead she ordered lockdowns of the fraternities and sororities and to gave the 1,200 students a prophylactic (preventive medicine).  Over the objections of the CDC, she thinned out the dormitories by sending some students into hotel rooms, shut down intramural sports and administered a vaccine that had been approved in Europe, but not by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

There were no more cases.  Two years later, the CDC drew up a plan for best practices for an outbreak of meningitis B, which included most of the things Dr. Dean had done.

Another time she was faced with the decision as to what to do about a home for the elderly, which was within the path of a possible mudslide that would kill them all. 

Meteorologists said there was a 20 percent chance of such a mudslide.  The medical director of the home said that maybe 5 percent of the 100 residents were so frail to they would die if they were moved.

Based on those figures, she ordered the evacuation.  Seven of the old people died.  There was no mudslide.

A short time later, Karen Smith, public health director for the state of California, asked Dean to become deputy state public health director. 

Dean asked, Why me?  Smith answered, Because you make decisions.

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The infrastructure bill is a built-in failure

June 25, 2021

American infrastructure is in a bad way.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers:

  • There is a water main break somewhere in the USA every two minutes.
  • About 43 percent of U.S. roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
  • The USA has an estimated 40,000 miles of flood control levees.  The location and/or condition of 10,000 miles of them is unknown.
  • The ASCE’s overall rating of U.S. infrastructure is C-minus.

If reports are accurate, the compromise infrastructure bill agreed to by the Senate will not meet the USA’s infrastructure needs.  It has failure built in.

The ASCE estimates than an additional $2.58 trillion is needed in the next 10 years to bring U.S. public works up to a B level.  The compromise infrastructure bill is only $579 billion. 

Only a fraction of that will go to actual infrastructure.  Much of it will go to welfare programs and corporate subsidies.

And it will be financed neither by increased taxes on the rich (best) nor by borrowing or money creation (acceptable because it is an investment in the nation’s future wealth), but by raiding funds appropriated for other purposes and, worst of all, by selling off or leasing public assets.

The problem with privatization is shown by the City of Chicago’s selling a private company the right to collect parking meter revenues for 75 years.  The city met a short-term revenue shortfall by imposing an additional cost on the public.

Some of the non-infrastructure things in the infrastructure bill are necessary and good.  Others need more discussion.  I’m not opposed to subsidies for corporate research and development, but there should be some way to guarantee that the benefits help to build up the American economy.

Better than nothing?  A plan that merely allows the USA to deteriorate at a slower rate is not good enough.

LINKS

American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure report card – executive summary.

American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure report card – full text.

Biden’s Infrastructure Capitulation by Jack Rasmus.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Agreement Is Embarrassing by Benjamin Studebaker.

Progressives Alarmed by Privatization Dub Infrastructure Deal ‘a Disaster in the Making’ by Jessica Corbett for Common Dreams.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Is a Stalking Horse for Privatization by David Dayen for The American Prospect.  [Added 7/1/2021]

Follow the science, or follow the money

June 23, 2021

I had forgotten this until recently, but there was an earlier version of Covid, which the U.S. and other countries eliminated without vaccines and without lockdowns.

The technical name of the current virus is SARS-CoV-2, which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-CoronaVirus-version 2.

The earlier version, SARS-CoV-1, emerged in 2002-2004.  It was contained by means of testing people with symptoms, isolating and quarantining infected people and restricting travel to and from infected regions.

Only about 8,000 people worldwide were ever infected, and about 10 percent of them died.

SARS-Cov-2 would have been more difficult to control.  It is less deadly, but more infectious, and it is infectious before symptoms appear.

Even so, governments such as Taiwan and New Zealand acted immediately to trace contacts and isolate and quarantine the sick.  They succeeded in stamping it out with relatively few deaths.

The USA, UK and European Union nations did not follow suit.

Here in the USA, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the President’s chief adviser on the coronavirus, said the coronavirus was just like the ‘flu.  Back in February, 2020, he said the danger was “miniscule” and wearing of masks unnecessary.

By the time the U.S. government and state governments decided to take the virus seriously, it was already well established.  More than 600,000 Americans have died. 

The conventional wisdom now is that Covid may never completely go away.

What explains governmental failure, and apparent refusal to learn from failure?  I don’t know. 

The policy of the U.S. and many other Western nations is to rely exclusively on patented vaccines to control Covid. 

I’m all for vaccines.  I got vaccinated myself as soon as I could.  But the vaccine-only policy harms people in poor countries who won’t get vaccines anytime soon.  The policy only helps the big pharmaceutical companies.

I strongly recommend reading Thomas Neuburger’s good article on this topic.

LINK

The Politics of ‘Follow the Science’ by Thomas Neuburger for God’s Spies.  “Ivermectin is cheap and exists.  Undeveloped vaccines, with governments desperate to finance and promote them, are money in the bank for years.”

Matt Stoller on toleration of corporate crime

June 16, 2021

Matt Stoller is a journalist whose specialty is business monopoly.  He is the author of Goliath: the 100-year war between monopoly power and democracy. 

In a recent interview, he talked about how much better off we Americans would be if our government simply enforced the law against rich and powerful individuals and corporations.

So I’m reading this book, Empire of Pain [by Patrick Radden Keefe], which is on the opioid crisis … … … And it’s a really fun read. It’s not just a good story, it’s actually fun.  I mean, it’s this depressing topic, but it’s actually not a depressive book, which is very hard to do.

I think it’s a really amazing story about modern America and how our economic order works.  Because it’s basically the story of heroin dealers.  The Sackler family, they made Oxycontin knowing that it was addictive, that it was very similar to heroin.  And they induced a prescription drug and then [there was a] heroin crisis.

And they knowingly did it, but they didn’t do it alone.  They did it by taking advantage of a corrupt political system.  They hired corrupt actors and they also corrupted others.

They corrupted the FDA.  They hired Mary Jo White, who you and I know well as Obama’s SEC chair, but she was working for the Sacklers in the mid- 2000s as was Rudy Giuliani, Eric Holder.

There were some Virginia federal prosecutors who had the Sacklers dead to rights probably with felony charges, mail fraud, wire fraud, so on and so forth.  And they were going to bring those charges against the executives at the firm and then they were going to flip to the Sackler family themselves.

How you flip the mob, you start with the mid-level guys and then you go the way up. They were going to do that.

And Mary Jo White actually went over their heads, went to the political people and got them off the case basically. … … …

And just kind of at every stage, Mary Jo White has been helping really the bad guys here. … … …

This happened in lots of different ways. McKinsey was helping them. I mean, we know this. They funded lots of think tanks in DC.  We know why we have a heroin epidemic and it’s not because people just like drugs.

It’s because we allowed the Sackler family to turn our doctors into pill pushers.  And we did it by allowing them to corrupt our politics.  And these are people who should be in jail.

And people like Mary Jo White should be in jail. And the McKinsey consultants who helped set up this heroin epidemic should be in jail, but they’re not. 

And it’s because we have a broad crisis with the rule of law as applied to the powerful.

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They say Covid-19 is here to stay

June 11, 2021

The economic incentive of the drug companies is to reduce Covid-19 to a continuing low level threat, both in the USA and abroad, and to have a monopoly on the means of controlling it.

The model is the Great Influenza of 1918.  The ‘flu never went away, it just became something we learned to live with, and people like me get a ‘flu shot every year.

The drug companies seem to be getting their wish.  But their problem is that they do not have a monopoly on Covid-19 treatments.

There is ivermectin. There are other treatments.  There are the vaccines developed by Russia and China.

The U.S. government claims the Russian and Chinese vaccines are ineffective.  Maybe they are, I can’t judge, but an imperfect cure that is available and affordable is better than a perfect cure that you can’t get or can’t afford.

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The pushback against ivermectin for covid

June 9, 2021

Ivermectin is a well-known anti-parasite drug, cheap to make and proven to be safe, that a lot of physicians think is effective against Covid-19.

Several states in India tried it out.  New Covid-19 cases dropped dramatically.

Ivermectin results in three Indian states, vs. one where it was banned

The reaction of India’s public health agency?  Astonishingly, following the guidance of the World Health Organization, they dropped invermectin from a list of recommended treatments.

Physicians in India are still free to prescribe invermectin, but the only treatments with the official seal of approval are the expensive vaccines made by major drug companies, all still in short supply in India. 

I don’t see how this decision benefits anyone except the drug companies themselves.

Nick Corbishley, posting on the Naked Capitalism blog, tells the story:

India’s Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has executed a policy reversal that could have massive implications for the battle against covid-19, not only in India but around the world. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives, are at providing stake.

Providing no explanation whatsoever, the DGHS has overhauled its COVID-19 treatment guidelines and removed almost all of the repurposed medicines it had previously recommended for treating asymptomatic and mild cases.

They include the antibiotic doxycycline, hydroxychloroquine zinc, ivermectin and even multivitamins. The only medicines that are still recommended for early treatment are cold medicines, antipyretics such as paracetamol and inhaled budesonide.

“No other covid-specific medication [is] required,” say the new guidelines, which also discourage practitioners from prescribing unnecessary tests such as CT scans.  [snip]

The decision to remove ivermectin, multivitamins and zinc from the treatment guidelines is hard to comprehend given the current state of play in India — unless one assumes foul play.

After suffering one of the worst covid-19 outbreaks since the pandemic began, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, India is not just flattening the curve, it is crushing it.

And the widespread use of ivermectin, a potent anti-viral and anti-inflammatory with an excellent safety profile, appears to have played an instrumental role.  [snip]

Other countries in the region have already taken notice. Indonesia just approved the use of ivermectin in Kudus, a local contagion hotspot.

This is the last thing the World Health Organization (WHO) and the pharmaceutical companies whose interests it broadly represents want.

As such, it was no surprise that WHO was delighted with the DGHS’ policy reversal. “Evidence based guidelines from @mohfw DGHS – simple, rational and clear guidance for physicians,” tweeted WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, of Indian descent. “Should be translated and disseminated in all Indian languages.”  [snip]

It’s worth noting that while India’s DGHS has dumped most cheap off-patent treatment options against Covid, including even multivitamins, more expensive patented medicines continue to get the green light.

They include Gilead’s prohibitively expensive antiviral Remdesivir, which DGHS continues to recommend for “select moderate/ severe hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” even though “it is only an experimental drug with potential to harm.” It has also authoriszed the use of the anti-inflammatory medicine tocilizumab, which costs hundreds of dollars a dose.

Source: Naked Capitalism.

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COVID and “the crime of the century”

June 4, 2021

In this eye-opening video, Dr. Brett Weinstein, a biologist, interviews Dr. Pierre Kory, a physician, about the pandemic, the care of Covid-19 patients and the amazing recent of Ivermectin, for his Dark Horse podcast.

Ivermectin has been shown to be effective in both preventing and treating Covid-19, and also in treating the inflammation caused by the immune system’s response to the virus. 

It is cheap to make, and not restricted by anybody’s patent.  It has been in use for more than 30 years as a treatment for bacterial parasites, and is proven safe—unlike the new vaccines, whose long-term effects are unknown. 

Yet its use is being suppressed here in the United States.  Physicians are discouraged from even talking about it, and the record of Kory’s testimony before Congress was banned from YouTube. 

There is a race on to immunize the world’s population before the coronavirus mutates into a form that can resist both vaccines and Ivermectin.

There aren’t enough available vaccines to immunize the world’s population within the next year or two.  Preventing the use of Ivermectin could cost hundreds of thousands of lives, maybe millions.  Many lives have already been needlessly lost.

That’s why Weinstein calls suppression of ivermectin “the crime of the century.”

Kory is a member of the FLCCC—the Front-Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance.  This is a group of physicians who joined together to do what the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health should have been doing, which was to investigate ways to better treat the virus.

The video runs for two and a half hours, which is a long time to watch something on a computer screen.  Unfortunately, no transcript is available, so I’ll hit highlights.

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Why don’t we Americans demand what we want?

June 3, 2021

A short answer is that not enough of us are like Bill Harvey and Dennis Kucinich.

A longer answer is that our political process has induced a state of learned helplessness among American voters.

Our leaders are constantly promising “hope and change,” and then telling us that, regrettably, it wasn’t really possible.

We saw this with the Obama administration. We are seeing the beginnings of this with the Biden administration.

So over time we become conditioned to the idea that universal health care, or a minimum wage that is a living wage, or anything else that would make life better, are impossible dreams.

Why can’t we Americans get what we want?

June 2, 2021

Here are some bits of information I pulled from a post by a blogger named Benjamin David Steele.

###

Columbia law Professor Tim Wu wrote an op-op in the New York Times that included the following list of things he observed the public wants, but is not getting:

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy.

The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support.

Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws.

Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.

The list goes on.

Michael Moore included a segment in his film “Fahrenheit 11/9” released last fall (pre-election) intended to bring home the realization of how much more to the left the American public is than what the political establishment is providing.

Here are the facts.

The vast majority of Americans are pro-choice. [Slide: 71% pro-choice (NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 2018)]

They want equal pay for women, [Slide: 82% Equal pay for women (YouGov, 2013)]

  • stronger environmental laws, [Slide: 74% stronger environmental laws (Gallup, 2018)]
  • legalized marijuana, [Slide: 61% legalized marijuana (Pew, 2018)]
  • a raise in the minimum wage, [Slide: 61% raise the minimum wage (National Restaurant Association Poll, 2018)]
  • Medicare for all, [Slide: 70% medicare for all (Reuters, 2018)]
  • tuition-free college, [Slide: 60% tuition-free public college (Reuters, 2018)]
  • free child care, [Slide: 59% free child care (Gallup, 2016)]
  • support for labor unions, [Slide: 62% Approve of labor unions (Gallup, 2018)]
  • a cut in the military budget, [Slide: 61% a cut in the military budget (University of Maryland, 2016)]
  • break up the big banks. [Slide: 58% Break up the big banks (Progressive Change Institute, 2015)]

Most Americans don’t even own a gun. [Slide: 78% Don’t own a gun (Harvard University, 2016)]

And 75% believe that immigration is good for the U. S. [Slide: 75% Immigration is good for the U.S. (Gallup, 2018)]

And on and on and on.

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Court rules against SBA minority preferences

May 28, 2021

The Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit of Appeals ruled that a provision of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, designed to grant preferences to minority-owned small-restaurant owners for COVID relief, are unconstitutional

The specific provision struck down was part of the law’s $29 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant program for small, privately owned restaurants struggling to meet payroll and rent due to the COVID crisis.

The law grants priority status in filing for aid to restaurants that have 51 percent ownership or more by women, veterans and specific racial and ethnic groups. 

The court ruled that the COVID relief program violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the laws, because it effectively requires struggling businesses owned by white males or certain other ethnicities and nationalities to go to the back of the line.

The lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a nonprofit conservative law firm, on behalf of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tennessee. 

The bar is co-owned by Antonio Vitolo, who is white, and his wife, who is Hispanic.  If the wife’s ownership had been 51 percent instead of 50 percent, they would have qualified for preference. 

The decision by the three-judge panel was 2 to 1.  Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, who’s African-American, filed a dissenting opinion.  She said the record shows that minority groups have lagged behind in getting access to SBA loans and the law is a reasonable remedy.

“The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which centuries of intentional discrimination and oppression of racial minorities have been eradicated,” she wrote. “The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which the COVID-19 pandemic did not exacerbate the disparities enabled by those centuries of discrimination.”

Circuit Judge Amul Thapar, who is the son of an Asian Indian immigrant, said there are race-neutral remedies for racial disparities.  If minorities had trouble getting access to capital or credit during the pandemic, then give preferences to all who have been denied capital or credit, he wrote.  Or simply give priority to all who have not yet received coronavirus relief funds.

Judge Donald said this would be cumbersome to administer, and would delay getting needed funds to small businesses who need it most.

Judge Thapar also criticized the definition of which minority groups are eligible and which aren’t. 

As Glenn Greenwald noted, every minority group in the chart below is eligible for preferences under SBA rules, even though many are doing better than the average American or average white American.  Among those excluded are refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, who most certainly have a lot of problems.

Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald. Click to enlarge.

I think Judge Thapar’s ruling is right and just, and has a good chance of being upheld by the Supreme Court.  If it is, conservative judges will have done President Biden a political favor by taking this divisive issue off the table for the 2022 elections.

LINKS

Appellate Court Strikes Down Racial and Gender Preferences in Biden’s COVID Relief Law by Glenn Greenwald.

Decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Antonia Vitolo and Jake’s Bar & Grill vs. Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the Small Business Administration.

The limits to growth

May 28, 2021

Stein’s Law: If something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.

I’ve completed a series of posts about China’s technological and economic progress, and how the United States may be falling behind.

The problem with framing things in this way is that, in the long run, there are limits to economic growth and someday the race will have to come to an end.

So maybe, instead of asking how we Americans can avoid being overtaken and left behind by the Chinese, I should have been asking how to disconnect from a economic system that requires ever-increasing consumption and create one based on sustainability and security.

Can we disconnect from an economic system that requires ever-increasing consumption and create one based on sustainability and security?

Even though I am not particularly extravagant by American standards, a sustainable world would require a greater degree of austerity than I have ever experienced.

I am one of the lucky ones.  Millions of Americans live in dire poverty even by world standards and millions more live in a precarious state where they could sink into dire poverty at any moment.  How could they be expected to embrace austerity.

Any political program based on shared sacrifice because “we’re all in this together” requires a certain basic economic justice in which there is no gross exploitation, and a certain economic security in which nobody has to fear being without food, shelter or medical care.

This would only be a starting point, and we Americans are a long way from this starting point.  And time is running out.

I think the pandemic, severe storms, wildfires and other emergencies of the past few years are just the beginning.

We as a nation are not coping well with these emergencies.  People on the left and right are losing confidence in our governing institutions with good reason.

I hope for reform that will create a better-functioning government and a greater degree of social justice, and then it will be possible to tackle the long-range issues. 

Of course none of this can be accomplished unless we bring a stop to the forever wars.

A long, complicated and difficult agenda!

But the alternative is a slow decline, followed by a sudden collapse, followed by something else.

The something else might resemble Bolshevism or fascism, evolving into something resembling ancient despotism or medieval feudalism. 

Ideally, the something else could be radically decentralized democracy, with communities providing for most of their own basic needs.

Or maybe something good will happen that I can’t even conceive of.  One can hope.

I admit I don’t have any personal plan for dealing with what I foresee except to continue to enjoy my pleasant life and hope that the crisis doesn’t happen during my lifetime.  (I’m 84.) 

I do not act on what I think I know.  Do not follow my example.

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Ivermectin, an ignored Covid miracle drug

May 24, 2021

Invermectin is an anti-viral, anti-inflammatory drug that is cheap, effective against COVID-19 and already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

It has been approved for use in 20 countries, including India, Brazil and Mexico.

Yet the World Health Organization and U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not recommend it.  Many American physicians refuse to prescribe it, including some cases in which patients are dying.

News about it has been suppressed.  Even announcements by health ministries of Brazil and Slovakia have been canceled by social media, as has a YouTube video of testimony of Dr. Pierre Kory, a leading Ivermectin expert, before a congressional committee.

I learned about Ivermectin’s through a link on the Naked Capitalism web log to an article by a journalist named Michael Capuzzo.

I’m not a physician or medical expert, but the evidence presented by Capuzzo in his article, by Dr. Kory in his testimony, and by a team of physicians in a peer-reviewed article is so strong I can’t see how it can be refuted.

Why the opposition to use of this drug?   Nick Corbishley, writing for Naked Capitalism, suggested three possible reasons.

# As a generic, ivermectin is cheap and widely available, which means there would be a lot less money to be made by Big Pharma if it became the go-to medicine against covid.

# Other pharmaceutical companies are developing their own novel treatments for Covid-19 which would have to compete directly with ivermectin. They include ivermectin’s original manufacturer, Merck, which has an antiviral compound, molnupiravir, in Phase 3 clinical trials for COVID-19.  That might explain the company’s recent statement claiming that there is “no scientific basis whatsoever for a potential therapeutic effect of ivermectin against COVID-19.”  The company also flagged up “a concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies.”  Despite its obvious conflict of interest, Merck’s objections were recently cited by WHO in a statement aimed at browbeating India’s government into withdrawing its approval of ivermectin.

# If approved as a covid-19 treatment, ivermectin could even threaten the emergency use authorization granted to covid-19 vaccines. One of the basic conditions for the emergency use authorization granted to the vaccines currently being used against covid is that there are no alternative treatments available for the disease. As such, if ivermectin or some other promising medicine such as fluvoxamine were approved as an effective early treatment for Covid-19, the vaccines could be stripped of authorization.

Source: naked capitalism

I can think of an additional reason: the tribal nature of politics these days.  President Donald Trump criticized the WHO and CDC and speculated about unconventional therapies for COVID-19.  So anybody who is skeptical about WHO and CDC recommendations supposedly is an ignoramus who doesn’t “believe the science.”

LINKS

‘I Don’t Know of a Bigger Story in the World’ Right Now Than Ivermectin by Nick Corbishley for Naked Capitalism.

The Drug That Cracked Covid by Michael Capuzzo for Mountain Home.  It’s a real commentary on things that this article was published in a obscure regional magazine rather than the New York Times or The Atlantic.

Testimony of Pierre Kory, M.D., on Dec. 8, 2020, before the Homeland Security Committee on early treatment of COVID-19.

Review of the Emerging Evidence Demonstrating the Efficacy of Ivermectin in the Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19 by Drs. Paul Marik, Pierre Kory, Joseph Varon, Gianfranco Umberto Meduri, Jose Iglesias and five others for the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance.  These guys are heroes.

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The case for economic nationalism

May 11, 2021

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson often points out that the United States, unlike other rich nations, has never had a labor party—a political party dedicated to the cause of organized labor.

Instead, Ferguson says, the conflict of political parties in the USA is a conflict of business interests—protectionism vs. free trade, tight money vs. low interest rates, public works vs. low taxes and so on.

That’s not to say that wage earners have no stake in the outcome of elections. Some business interests are more favorable, or less unfavorable, to working people than others.

It is just that no political party or political faction gets far without the backing of some business interest. Labor unions reached the height of their political power during the New Deal, but even in that era, they were only one seat at the table along with others, such as the oil industry (then aligned with Democrats), the real estate industry and so on.

Bernie Sanders tried and failed to make the Democratic Party into a labor party. Now Republicans such as Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio hope to win the allegiance of working people through a political program called “national conservatism.”

It is basically the program of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay and William McKinley.  If you squint your eyes, it also includes much that Donald Trump talked about doing.

The idea is to concentrate on rebuilding American industry, which of course would be good for manufacturers and investors but also for working people, and not just factory workers.

The elements of such a program would include:

  1. Public-private partnerships to improve technology and productivity.
  2. Use of tariffs to protect key American industries, but also maintain access to key raw materials.
  3. Rejection of trade treaties or international institutions that limit national economic sovereignty
  4. A strong focus on competing with China.
  5. A massive public infrastructure program to rebuild and maintain roads, bridges, harbors, airports, railroads, dams and levees, the electrical grid and water and sewerage systems
  6. Investment in scientific research.
  7. An end to regime change wars and reduction in military spending.
  8. An end to weaponized economic sanctions
  9. Control of unauthorized immigration.
  10. Support for public education, with an emphasis on vocational training and STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  11. Tax credits as an alternative to welfare programs.

What is left out?  Stronger labor unions.  A inflation-adjusted minimum living wage.  Reductions in energy use and consumption to fight climate change.

Politically, this is a more feasible program than the Green New Deal.  It probably would be better than what we have now.

In particular, I think anyone who believes in democratic governance has to be a nationalist to some extent, because, at the present moment in history, national governments are the highest level of institutions over which voters have any influence.

I think the world needs more, rather than less, international cooperation, but that’s different from having the world run by the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and global corporations.

Would economic nationalism solve our problems?  No, not by a long shot.  But it could be a step in the right direction. 

LINKS

Rebooting the American System on American Compass, a symposium including essays by Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton.

The Bully Platform , a review of Josh Hawley’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt for American Compass.

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COVID-19 links and comments: May 8, 2021

May 8, 2021

Click to enlarge. Source: ScienceDirect

Why DId It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid? by Zeynep Tufekci for The New York Times.  The importance of airborne transmission of the virus, rather than droplets, has been known for many months, but the WHO and CDC have been slow to admit it.

If the importance of aerosol transmission had been accepted early, we would have been told from the beginning that it was much safer outdoors, where these small particles disperse more easily, as long as you avoid close, prolonged contact with others.  We would have tried to make sure indoor spaces were well ventilated, with air filtered as necessary.  Instead of blanket rules on gatherings, we would have targeted conditions that can produce superspreading events: people in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, especially if engaged over time in activities that increase aerosol production, like shouting and singing.  We would have started using masks more quickly, and we would have paid more attention to their fit, too.  And we would have been less obsessed with cleaning surfaces. 

Our mitigations would have been much more effective, sparing us a great deal of suffering and anxiety.

The difference between droplets and aerosols is like the difference between raindrops and fog.  Droplets fall to the ground and sick to surfaces.  Aerosols float in the air indefinitely. 

If you’re out of doors, and not in a tightly-packed crowd, you’re not in much danger from aerosols.  But if you’re in a poorly ventilated space for a long period of time, you’re going to breathe the same air as other people in that space, no matter how far apart you are.

This makes a big difference in how you protect yourself from the virus.  For example, masks are important indoors.  Outdoors, not so much.

To see this misunderstanding in action, look at what’s still happening throughout the world. In India, where hospitals have run out of supplemental oxygen and people are dying in the streets, money is being spent on fleets of drones to spray anti-coronavirus disinfectant in outdoor spaces.  Parks, beaches and outdoor areas keep getting closed around the world.  This year and last, organizers canceled outdoor events for the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.  Cambodian customs officials advised spraying disinfectant outside vehicles imported from India.  The examples are many.

Meanwhile, many countries allowed their indoor workplaces to open but with inadequate aerosol protections.  There was no attention to ventilation, installing air filters as necessary or even opening windows when possible, more to having people just distancing three or six feet, sometimes not requiring masks beyond that distance, or spending money on hard plastic barriers, which may be useless at best.  (Just this week, President Biden visited a school where students were sitting behind plastic shields.) 

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Adam Tooze on the Biden administration

April 30, 2021

For some Joe Biden has already exceeded expectations. For others his economic program is nowhere near enough to address the climate crisis and American decline.  While his Covid relief package has seen billions dispensed immediately, the Jobs Plan proposes to invest $35 billion in green R&D over eight years – less than Americans spend annually on pet food. 

So how radical is President Biden? Is there such a thing as ‘Bidenomics’?  And does the new President represent a break with the orthodoxy of Democrat predecessors such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama?

Discussing all those questions on the UK’s Downstream with Aaron Bastani is Adam Tooze, Professor at Columbia University.

He is the author of The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916-1931; The Wages of Destruction: the Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy and Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World —all outstanding books.

The video interview runs about an hour, which is long to watch something on a computer screen, but I think it is worth taking the time.  Tooze has a wide range of information, a powerful analytical mind and a sharp tongue.  He takes a global view rather than an American view.

All this makes him interesting.  He is, possibly, a little more inclined than I am to regard politics as a clash of opinions than a struggle for power or a conflict of interests.

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Biden my time – some links and comments

April 16, 2021

Here are some links to articles that I found of interest. Maybe you will, too.

Canción de Trump by Sam Kriss for Idiot Joy Showland.

Sam Kriss is a British blogger, new to me, who wrote a hilarious but insightful takedown of the Trump administration, with a sideswipe at Joe Biden and the Black Lives Matter protests.

Trench Warfare: notes on the 2020 election by Mike Davis for New Left Review.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

A detailed analysis of the vote shows only a little change from 2016.  The election hinged on a narrow margin of victory in a few key states – less than 1 percent in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona and only 2.6 percent in Michigan.

Donald Trump, strangely enough, did best where COVID-19 was worst and unemployment was highest.  He probably has a rock solid 40 percent of the electorate behind him, and he is still a kingmaker in the Republican Party.

Barring some unlikely great achievement by President Joe Biden that will make voters’ lives noticeably better, the coming elections are likely to be a continuation of the back and forth struggle of the past 20 or 30 years. 

My Predictions for Biden’s Probably Truncated Presidency by Ted Rall.

Joe Biden faces extraordinary problems, and he is not an extraordinary statesman.  Ted Rall argues that he probably won’t complete his first term, for both health and political reasons.

Contrary to What Biden Said, U.S. Warfare in Afghanistan Is Set to Continue by Norman Solomon for Common Dreams.

The U.S. government announced a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but said assistance to Afghan national defense and security forces will continue.  This likely means continued bombing and missile attacks launched from outside Afghanistan, plus secret Special Operations forces, Pentagon contract forces and CIA operatives.

Taiwan—the Thucydides Trapper Who Cried Woof by ‘Gary Brecher’ for Radio War Nerd.

Threatening war with China over Taiwan is a bad idea.

Ukraine Redux—War, Russophobia and Pipelineistan by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Threatening war with Russia over Ukraine is a bad idea.

Big Corporations Now Deploying Woke Ideology the Way the Intelligence Agencies Do: As a Disguise by Glenn Greenwald.

Talk of social justice, feminism and racial diversity gives secret intelligence agencies and big corporations cover for a multitude of sins.

1619 Project lead writer Nikole Hannah-Jones paid $25,000 for virtual lecture by Trévon Austin for the World Socialist Web Site. 

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, also has done very well for herself.

Biden infrastructure plan isn’t all that big

April 1, 2021

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out that Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion-dollar infrastructure plan isn’t all that big, when you consider that it’s going to be spread out over 10 years.

Biden himself proposed a $7 trillion-dollar plan while campaigning, as Krystal Ball noted on her TV show.  Bernie Sanders proposed $11 trillion. 

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has proposed $10 trillion.  Even Joe Manchin of West Virginia, possibly the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, suggested $4 trillion.

The President has limited himself by proposing to finance it on a pay-as-you-go basis.  Since infrastructure contributes to future economic growth, it makes sense to finance it by borrowing, the same as taking out a mortgage on a house or any other long-term investment.

Politically, there is little to gain by holding back.  Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would be just as opposed to it if it were $2.25 billion or $2.25 million.

There are a lot of good things in Biden’s plan.  It’s bigger and better than anything Presidents Trump or Obama tried to do.  But is it enough?  Is it a first step, or is it all there’s going to be?

LINKS

Ocasio-Cortez on Biden infrastructure plan: “Not nearly enough” by Dominick Mastrangelo for The Hill

Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Is More Than That – But Does It Go Far Enough? by Kara Voght and Rebecca Leber for Mother Jones.

Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Needs More Climate Spending by Kate Aronoff for The New Republic.

Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Is No Green New Deal, Left Says by Zahra Hirji and Ryan Brooks for BuzzFeed News.

Biden’s New Deal and the Future of Human Capital by David Wallace-Wells for The New Yorker.  Hat tip to Steve from Texas.

Despotism or paralysis? Which is the problem?

March 16, 2021

Donald Trump never was a potential dictator, as so many Democrats and progressives feared. 

Rather he was part of a continuing a rear-guard action by conservatives and Republicans to thwart the will of the majority.

That’s the view of Corey Robin, a political scientist writing in the New Yorker.

Robin noted that Trump accomplished virtually none of his announced goals, not even when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.

That’s because Republicans and conservatives are a minority, he said. 

The GOP failed to get a popular vote majority in four of the last five elections.  No conservative or right-wing group had the massive support that the Black Lives Matter protests did last year.  Religious conservatives such as Rod Dreher rightly note that they are losing the culture wars.

The problem, according to Robin, is that the U.S. Constitution gives right-wingers the power to thwart the will of the majority because of the undemocratic nature of the Senate, the Electoral College and the Supreme Court.  The result, he wrote, is paralysis.

There’s something to what he says, although our 18th-century Constitution did not prevent Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, or, for that matter, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, from enacting ambitious political programs. 

The Constitution is not preventing change now.  What’s holding back change is the reluctance of the Biden administration to keep its promises.  Nothing prevents the Democratic majority in the Senate from abolishing the filibuster, as the Republican majority in the House of Representatives did way back in 1888.

Nor does anything prevent the calling of a convention to rewrite the Constitution and ask for ratification by the voters.  But the ones calling for a new Constitutional convention are the Koch brothers and other conservatives.  Liberals and progressives generally fear what a new convention would come up with, and cling to the Constitution as it is.

Then, too, paralysis only in one direction.  Nothing holds back or limits appropriations for the military.  Nothing hold back war-making by the President.  Nothing holds back upper-bracket tax cuts or bailouts for big financial institutions.

Paralysis does not hold off dictatorship.  Rather people come to accept dictatorship as the only possible solution to paralysis.

Authoritarian governments in the 20th century have arisen in three ways.  Revolutionaries take power from weak ineffective governments.  The military takes power to prevent revolutions.  Pseudo-revolutionary movements take power with the silent consent of the military, the landowners and big business.

Trump antagonized the military, and was regarded by Wall Street as a loose cannon, so he never had a chance of becoming an authoritarian ruler.  He did do a lot of damage to the normal functioning of government, but that is a separate issue.

I think there is a strong possibility of some future crisis, in which some right-wing pseudo-populist could succeed where Trump failed.  But for now, there is no reason for the military or big-money donors to be dissatisfied with the Biden administration.

There is also such a thing as creeping authoritarianism, which I think is what we’ve got now.  I think the proposed “domestic war on terrorism” is a greater threat to what’s left of American freedom and democracy than anything proposed during the Trump administration.

Rulers of empires in decline all had broad powers to wage war and crush dissent, but they were paralyzed when it comes to reforming themselves.

LINKS

Trump and the Trapped Country by Corey Robin for The New Yorker.  “For years we debated whether Donald Trump would topple democracy.  But the threat continues to come from the system itself.”  I say it all depends on what you mean by “the system.”

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