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“T. saw these people as… sympathetic to the idea that the election was stolen.”– Lindsey Graham. Steve Scalise implies election was really stolen.

2021-02-25

Just when you thought the election was over and Biden won fair and square, along comes Steve Scalise who refuses to admit that he didn’t steal the election. During an interview last week, Scalise refused to say: (via Huffpost)

“There were a few states that did not follow their state laws,” Scalise said. “That’s really the dispute that you’ve seen continue on.”

“At the end of the day, when you look at where we are in this country, either we’re going to address the problems that happened with the election that people are still ― millions of people ― are still concerned about,” he added. “The Constitution says state legislatures set the rules for elections. That didn’t happen in a few states.”

The problem with his argument is that this very question was put to the courts, and they disagreed. The courts all said that constitutional rules were followed. Pro-Republican lawyers filed over 60 lawsuits, and they all failed. So the judicial branch of government has decided that Biden didn’t “steal” the election– he won by getting 81 million votes to “the former guy” getting 74 million votes. No matter what Scalise thinks, he can’t go around saying that the Constitution wasn’t followed, because the Courts say it was.

It was T who told everyone the election was going to be “rigged”, and afterwards he insisted that it was “stolen”– the Big Lie. He started it, spread it, insisted on it, and refused to back down when the Courts decided otherwise.

The rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6 were shown live on television and the president was watching with sympathy for his allies who believed the election was stolen. He wasn’t thinking about stopping the riot until he was reminded by his staff.

Somewhere in that delusional journey. Somehow he has won the election, except he didn’t.

So he gets together a mob that he has been carefully preparing for at least the last year, keeping them in conspiracy rabbit-holes. He’s studied the chokepoints in the Constitutional procedure for endorsing elections and he plans to apply pressure to the Congress at their weakest point in the process: the normally formulaic opening and counting of the Electoral College ballots by the Senate.

Electoral counting ceremony is presided over by the Vice President. It has a reputation for being painful to perform when the party of the Vice President loses the election. Nonetheless, Vice Presidents have followed protocol to the letter every time. This time Vice President Pence fully intended to do the same, despite heavy pressure from the president.

Except that the president was giving a speech to a crowd of supporters who immediately marched a mile and a half to the Capitol. The speech was timed to finish before Vice President Pence was due to start counting.

A mob broke into the Capitol building shortly after the president’s speech and forced the Secret Service to rush the Vice President to a secure location. House and Senate members were also sent to secure locations in the basement.

There was a significant delay in calling up the National Guard to help the Capitol Police recover from the assault. The President didn’t order them up; the Vice President was the one who did that. They weren’t called up for over two hours after the breach.

As a result, the outnumbered forces had to push the mob out of the building instead of arresting anyone.

The former president has returned to his private club in Florida, a safe space where he can vent about all the “unfair” treatment he’s received.

Somehow he’s still fuming about his psychotic fraud allegations and all the traitors who have betrayed him. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is issuing real executive orders and getting ready to pass through Congress a $1.9 trillion cash infusion into the federal budget. The only way to justify this is that it is an emergency, and it is.

Meanwhile, the infection numbers are gradually going down, apparently because people are following isolation rules more carefully– although no-one knows for sure. Hospitalizations have dropped, and even the death rate is subsiding. That sounds like good news, but the economy won’t recover just because the pandemic is receding.

The Republican moderates who met with Joe Biden offered $618 billion. This is not enough. There is a chance that even $1.9 trillion will not be enough. Just hope that the vaccines work. (PS: I got my first shot, by Pfizer, last week.)

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com and Erika Wittlieb)

Human sperm counts have fallen over 50% in the last 50 years. Abnormal sperm cells are increasing. Toxic chemicals in the environment are to blame.

2021-02-25

A systematic analysis of research on sperm counts in humans that was published in 2017 showed that there had been a 59 percent reduction in total sperm counts over the period 1973-2011. The drop in counts was consistent and steady over the 38-year period that data had been collected and was analyzed. This information was reported in the Human Reproduction Update for November-December 2017 published by Oxford Academic Press. In the last ten years the total sperm count in humans has continued to fall unabated.

Little attention was given to this information as the research on sperm counts had been inconsistent and inconclusive for many years. This systematic analysis was the first to show clear, consistent reductions over time associated with increased abnormalities in sperm structure and motility. A book that was published this week describes the current state of research and its dismal implications that are finally clear and convincing.

There are many other signs of deleterious effects of toxic chemicals in our environment, including: the unusual appearance of intersex characteristics among many animal species, including unusually small penises in some species, and individuals with both male and female organs in other species.

A New York Times opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof on February 20 describes the new attention to this research:

Now [Shanna H.] Swan, an epidemiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, has written a book, “Count Down,” that will be published on Tuesday and sounds a warning bell. Her subtitle is blunt: “How our modern world is threatening sperm counts, altering male and female reproductive development, and imperiling the future of the human race.”

Swan and other experts say the problem is a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors, which mimic the body’s hormones and thus fool our cells. This is a particular problem for fetuses as they sexually differentiate early in pregnancy. Endocrine disruptors can wreak reproductive havoc.

These endocrine disruptors are everywhere: plastics, shampoos, cosmetics, cushions, pesticides, canned foods and A.T.M. receipts. They often aren’t on labels and can be difficult to avoid.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/opinion/sunday/endocrine-disruptors-sperm.html

These chemicals are ubiquitous because they are extremely useful for many purposes, readily made from petroleum derivatives, and cheap. But they have not been tested for toxicity consistently. The companies that created and continue to produce these chemicals have prevented large-scale testing of synthetic organic compounds because they superficially appear to be safe and the testing is expensive.

The toxic nature of these chemicals has not been widely appreciated, but there have been recent changes. Research on known endocrine disrupters has revealed the widespread damage they are causing to every multicellular species on Earth.

The chemical companies are trying to prevent further research and regulation of endocrine disrupters because they are making good profits on producing them and don’t want to have this profit line disrupted. In a way, these companies are like the tobacco companies were in the 1960’s: they are powerful, popular, and they support politicians regardless of party. As a result, the US government has not properly evaluated or regulated them.

Now it is past time to study and control these chemicals. There are thousands of them currently produced, and some are potent disrupters of many physiological functions, not just reproduction. Screening of these chemicals and more intensive study of those that appear to be potent toxins is an urgent matter.

The way to regulate chemicals properly is to have a federal government agency sponsor and collate research on them. This must be followed by effective regulation to reduce human and animal exposure to chemicals. especially the more potent ones.

If we do not start the work of research on synthetic organic chemicals now, the effects in 50 or 100 years will be extreme and unknowable. We cannot allow poisons that disrupt normal cellular functions to be dumped into the environment without proper regulation and control.

The problem of inadequate regulation is pervasive in this country, and it is primarily due to the ability of large companies with big profits to control politics. The Supreme Court decisions that allow big money to influence politics has perverted the purpose of government. Contributions by companies and rich individuals to political parties and politicians have made them beholden to private interests instead of the public interest.

The solution for this problem is better separation of big money from politics. Corporations must not be allowed to contribute to political people or causes. Contributions by individuals must be publicly known and limited to reasonable amounts of money. The current contribution limits are somewhat reasonable. But they are easily circumvented by the use of political action committees (PAC’s) and other gimmicks that allow companies to contribute and allow individuals to anonymously donate vast quantities of money to their favorite causes and people.

The classic example is the tobacco companies’ campaign of lies, subversion, and intimidation that suppressed publicity about the malign effects of tobacco products and prevented effective regulations. This playbook has been followed by every other large company with a questionable product. Fossil fuel companies have used the same techniques, ever since they discovered in the late 1960s through internal research that continuing to burn fuels for energy and transportation would lead to disastrous climate change within a hundred years.

Drug companies that made opioids used the same techniques and brought on a pandemic of overuse of addictive prescription pain killers followed by conversion to heroin use and eventual suicide or drug overdose after vanishing personal productivity and intimate tragedy.

Ubiquitous contamination of the environment by synthetic organic chemicals that produce endocrine disruption, falling sperm counts, infertility, and abnormal sex organs is a result of willful ignorance by companies that produce these chemicals. The companies were aided and abetted in their failure to adequately research the side effects of these chemicals due to lax regulation of chemical production by government agencies. Inadequate regulation was allowed by the malign influence of company money on political systems, particularly in the United States.

Companies that make large profits by production of toxic chemicals have used some of their profits to influence government. By controlling politician responses to publicity about toxic effects of chemicals, they have been able to avoid effective regulation and control of their behavior. The end result has been the conservative dream: privatize profits and socialize costs. “Externalities” have been allowed to wreak havoc on the people while “internalities” have been used to raise stock prices.

(image of sperm and egg cell by Thomas Breyer via pixabay.com)

Jainism– an early parallel to Buddhism and Hinduism. Free Dictionary on Mahavira. If you want more posts like this, please comment.

2021-02-21

Below is a direct copy of the Free Dictionary’s piece on “Mahavira”, the individual person who may have been the spiritual author of Jainism. He was said to have lived contemporaneously (or nearly so) with the Buddha. There are other similarities: he stepped down voluntarily from a high position at a young age and became an ascetic. He spent years practicing “intense meditation and severe austerities” after which he achieved enlightenment and began preaching.

There are differences, too: the four critical points upon which Mahavira insisted are: nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, chastity, and non-attachment (more on these points in a future post). Mahavira’s teachings were transmitted orally at first, making them susceptible to interpretation and confusion with rapid degradation of their meanings.

Mahavira’s teachings became incomprehensible by being scrambled in repeated oral translations before they could be fully written down. Hinduism and Buddhism almost suffered the same fate. The three foundational religions of India, then, are Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Sikhism arose later. The rest of the common religions of India are not native: Christianity and Islam (Mohammedanism).

Here is what it says in the Free Dictionary:

Mahavira (Mahāvīra), also known as Vardhamāna, was the twenty-fourth Tirthankara (ford maker) of Jainism. In the Jain tradition, it is believed that Mahavira was born in early part of the 6th-century BC into a royal family in what is now BiharIndia. At the age of 30, he left his home in pursuit of spiritual awakening, abandoned all worldly possessions, and became an ascetic. For the next twelve-and-a-half years, Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities, after which he is believed to have attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience). He preached for 30 years, and is believed by Jains to have died in the 6th-century BC. Outside the Jain tradition, scholars such as Karl Potter consider his biographical details as uncertain,[1] with some suggesting he lived in the 5th-century BC contemporaneously with the Buddha. Mahavira died at the age of 72, and his remains were cremated.[2][3]

After he gained Kevala Jnana, Mahavira taught that the observance of the vows ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity) and aparigraha (non-attachment) is necessary to spiritual liberation. He gave the principle of Anekantavada (many sided reality),[4] Syadvada and Nayavada. The teachings of Mahavira were compiled by Gautama Swami (his chief disciple) and were called Jain Agamas. These texts were transmitted by an oral tradition by Jain monks, but are believed to have been largely lost by about the 1st-century when they were first written down. The surviving versions of the Agamas taught by Mahavira are some of the found-ational texts of Jainism.

https://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Mahavira

(photograph by Manfred Antranias Zimmer courtesy of pixabay.com)

Wearing two masks and making sure they fit tightly increases protection: experiments by US CDC

2021-02-10

The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted experiments in January to determine the effectiveness of wearing a cloth mask over a three-ply medical procedure mask and found them encouraging. They estimated that wearing two masks reduces exposure by more than 90% under laboratory conditions.

If both source and recipient of potentially infected aerosols wear double masks, then exposure is reduced 96%.

The CDC report, dated February 10, 2021, is available here.

(corona photo by mohamed Hassan courtesy of pixabay.com (creative commons))

Vaccines and new variants of SARS-COV-2: already one vaccine is ineffective against South African variant.

2021-02-10

USA Today ran a report that the Astra-Zeneca vaccine was suspended from South Africa because preliminary studies had shown “minimal” effectiveness against the South African variant. The developers plan to adjust their vaccine to better match the genetic makeup of the newer strain.

The virus has had a tremendous opportunity to mutate because there have been so many infections throughout the world, approaching 100 million cases. On top of that, patients who are severely immunosuppressed have been treated with courses of monoclonal antibodies as well as convalescent serum. They often survive for long periods with high levels of virus circulating in their systems, providing an environment in which mutations will thrive.

Frequent changes in vaccines will be needed to suppress new variants. Of course, more virus genome sequencing will be needed to help detect mutations.

In a better development, genome sequencing is taking off in the United States. Federal support for sequencing has begun to develop. Op-eds and opinion pieces have begun to emphasize the need for added resources for sequencing as well.

(SARS-COV-2 Electron Microscopic photo courtesy NIAID

Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”– a repost from 2018

2021-02-01

Actually, according to this blog (which looks authoritative), posted by Richard M. Langworth in 2011, Churchill didn’t say that; there are no references available, or no attribution for that statement was found.  Neither is the statement pictured authentic (according to Mr. Langworth), although it is frequently attributed to Churchill as well as Lincoln.  Churchill did, however, say, “…do not be carried away by success into demanding more than is right or prudent.” (He was speaking before the House of Commons in March of 1919, shortly after the Allies had won the First World War.)  Which is not nearly as inspiring although it may be much more practical.

I heartily recommend, despite the error of attribution (the quote titling this post) that occurs at the end, the movie “Darkest Hour”, a dramatization of Churchill’s election as prime minister and the British strategic miracle of Dunkirk– the rescue of nearly 300,000 men from the beaches at Dunkirk was only made possible by the sacrifice of a much-better equipped pocket of 4,000 soldiers at the nearby port of Calais, who provoked the wrath of Hitler’s panzer tank army.  The movie covers Churchill’s speeches to the Commons, including his famous, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds… we shall fight in the fields; we shall fight on the streets… we shall never surrender.”  Much of the latter part of the movie concerns Churchill’s decision not to negotiate with Hitler (although a channel was opened through Mussolini, Neville Chamberlain decided to go along with Churchill and Lord Halifax, the other powerful pacifist, was exiled to Washington after Churchill’s defiant speech.)

This speech is re-enacted at the end of the movie; the quote attributed to him (mistakenly: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts”) appears at the very end after a few sentences describing the evacuation of Dunkirk after May 28 1940, and, five years later on May 8 1945, the victory over Germany.  Then the text states, “a few months later he was defeated for re-election.”  So that quote fits in that place well in the movie, although it is disappointing to find out a few minutes later through Google that the statement is apocryphal.  The statement actually fits his life quite well too, since he was in the War Cabinet in the First World War and spent the entire peacetime interval between wars as a back-bencher, a lonely bellicose voice. As soon as the war was over, he lost his prominent position in government.

Donald’s Nazi Connection: He has Copied Hitler’s Speaking Style– an autopsy from 2015 and repost.

2021-02-01

Those who have heard Donald speak at one of his many well-attended rallies wonder where he got his mesmerizing speaking style and why people who support him appear to be hypnotized, or at least deeply affected by his personality.  There is a simple reason: he studied Adolf Hitler’s speaking style and copied it.

We know why Donald has become such an effective speaker: he had a book of Hitler’s speeches.  He may have read the speeches, and this would be why Donald’s speeches have such a mesmerizing quality to them, a quality which is rarely mentioned but becomes obvious when one listens to even a short excerpt from his speeches.  Here’s his final campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It seems easy to imagine that Donald has studied Hitler’s speeches and is copying his style.  This is not to imply that Donald intends to employ the same techniques and perform the same atrocities that Hitler did.

From an article by Marie Brenner published in Vanity Fair in 1990 (reposted in July 2015, when Donald went for the nomination):

Donald Trump has always viewed his father as a role model. In The Art of the Deal, he wrote, “Fred Trump was born in New Jersey in 1905. His father, who came here from Sweden . . . owned a moderately successful restaurant.” In fact, the Trump family was German and desperately poor. “At one point my mother took in stitching to keep us going,” Trump’s father told me. “For a time, my father owned a restaurant in the Klondike, but he died when I was young.” Donald’s cousin John Walter once wrote out an elaborate family tree. “We shared the same grandfather,” Walter told me, “and he was German. So what?”
Although Fred Trump was born in New Jersey, family members say he felt compelled to hide his German background because most of his tenants were Jewish. “After the war, he thought that Jews would never rent from him if they knew his lineage,” Ivana reportedly said. Certainly, Fred Trump’s camouflage could easily convey to a child the impression that in business anything goes. When I asked Donald Trump about this, he was evasive: “Actually, it was very difficult. My father was not German; my father’s parents were German . . . Swedish, and really sort of all over Europe . . . and I was even thinking in the second edition of putting more emphasis on other places because I was getting so many letters from Sweden: Would I come over and speak to Parliament? Would I come meet with the president?”
Donald Trump appears to take aspects of his German background seriously. John Walter works for the Trump Organization, and when he visits Donald in his office, Ivana told a friend, he clicks his heels and says, “Heil Hitler,” possibly as a family joke.
Last April, perhaps in a surge of Czech nationalism, Ivana Trump told her lawyer Michael Kennedy that from time to time her husband reads a book of Hitler’s collected speeches, My New Order, which he keeps in a cabinet by his bed. Kennedy now guards a copy of My New Order in a closet at his office, as if it were a grenade. Hitler’s speeches, from his earliest days up through the Phony War of 1939, reveal his extraordinary ability as a master propagandist.
“Did your cousin John give you the Hitler speeches?” I asked Trump.
Trump hesitated. “Who told you that?”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
“Actually, it was my friend Marty Davis from Paramount who gave me a copy of Mein Kampf, and he’s a Jew.” (“I did give him a book about Hitler,” Marty Davis said. “But it was My New Order, Hitler’s speeches, not Mein Kampf. I thought he would find it interesting. I am his friend, but I’m not Jewish.”)
Later, Trump returned to this subject. “If I had these speeches, and I am not saying that I do, I would never read them.”
Is Ivana trying to convince her friends and lawyer that Trump is a crypto-Nazi? Trump is no reader or history buff. Perhaps his possession of Hitler’s speeches merely indicates an interest in Hitler’s genius at propaganda. The Führer often described his defeats at Stalingrad and in North Africa as great victories. Trump continues to endow his diminishing world with significance as well. “There’s nobody that has the cash flow that I have,” he told The Wall Street Journal long after he knew better. “I want to be king of cash.”

An article in Business Insider from August 2015 references the interview that Marie Brenner had in 1990, and goes on to explain the probable reasons for Donald’s odd reading material:

Hitler was one of history’s most prolific orators, building a genocidal Nazi regime with speeches that bewitched audiences.

“He learned how to become a charismatic speaker, and people, for whatever reason, became enamored with him,” Professor Bruce Loebs, who has taught a class called the Rhetoric of Hitler and Churchill for the past 46 years at Idaho State University, told Business Insider earlier this year.

“People were most willing to follow him, because he seemed to have the right answers in a time of enormous economic upheaval.”

Thus, we have a reason why Donald has become such an effective speaker, and why his speeches have such a mesmerizing quality to them, a quality which is rarely mentioned but becomes obvious when one listens to even a short excerpt from his speeches.  Here’s his final campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It seems easy to imagine that Donald has studied Hitler’s speeches and is copying his style.  This is not to imply that Donald intends to employ the same techniques and perform the same atrocities that Hitler did.

A video clip from Business Insider tells us an interesting factoid about Donald: he has for years subscribed to a “clipping service” which employs an assistant to go through all the newspapers and clip out stories about Donald.  Every morning, he is given a stack of these clippings, with his name circled in red, and he goes through them.  It is said that he doesn’t read them word for word, but just skims the stories and gets the gist of whether he is being lauded or ridiculed.

So we have an insight into Donald’s success in roping together gullible people, especially those who have received little information other than attending one of his speeches: Donald copies Adolf Hitler’s speaking style.  It is likely that Donald does not consciously intend to copy Hitler’s ruling style or his policies, but the Republican Party is not so terribly far away from fascism.

 

 

(cartoon courtesy of pixabay.com)

Ronald Reagan, Our Most Demented President: a repost, plus the national debt. From ancient history: 2015.

2021-02-01

A new analysis of Ronald Reagan’s news conferences demonstrates that he showed evidence of dementia while he was still president, in fact during his campaign for a second term.  Everyone knows that Reagan wasn’t diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease until 1994, six years after he left the presidency.

The analysis, reported in the New York Times (NYT), shows that Reagan developed changes consistent with early Alzheimer’s Disease while he was still president.  He is not known to have displayed any clear loss of decision making ability or memory, but certain subtle changes were already obvious during his debates with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in 1984.  Compared to the elder President Bush, Reagan showed signs of using words repetitively and substituting nonspecific words like “thing” for specific nouns.  He also showed a progressive impoverishment in his vocabulary.

Another telltale symptom is the routine that Reagan used when participating in Cabinet meetings.  He had a set of index cards that spelled out how he was to respond to each Cabinet member’s speech.  The cards were prepared by his staff to cue him what questions to ask of each member; at the end, he was given an exit line, just as if he were reading from a script.

Although the author of the NYT article, Lawrence K. Altman, MD, claims that there was no evidence of loss of decision making ability, we can confidently conclude that Reagan entered office with a weak grasp of politics and a superficial knowledge level in general.  Reagan’s decision to dramatically lower taxes, especially on wealthy people, led to a sudden deficit in current accounts, and he was later forced to raise taxes again to close the gap.  He was warned by his economic advisers of the likely result of his tax reductions, but he clung to the mistaken belief that lowering taxes would somehow increase collections.

At the same time (August 1981), Reagan suddenly fired all the striking air traffic controllers, ignoring their legitimate grievances about working conditions that had prompted the strike.   The controllers had actually supported his candidacy for president, based on promises his campaign made to the union about how negotiations would go after he was elected.  After Reagan won the presidency, his negotiators took a hard line with the union, basically going back on the promises he had made to get elected.

The controllers had been losing money to inflation for the past decade, and their demands included a large pay raise.  This was unpopular with the general public, and sympathy was on Reagan’s side.  Since civil service employees were forbidden by law to strike, they were taking an extreme risk.  Reagan fired all the striking workers (the majority of the workforce) and banned them from civil service jobs for life.  It took almost ten years (according to Wikipedia) for the air traffic control system to return to full operation; ironically, many of the changes that the union had demanded were instituted because of the shortage of controllers caused by the firing.

Many controllers were forced into poverty by this action, and only 800 of them got their jobs back when Clinton rescinded Reagan’s orders blacklisting them.  The cost to the airlines and the flying public was vastly greater than if Reagan had acquiesced to the controller’s demands, but to Reagan it was the principle of the thing (an extremely simplistic point of view, as opposed to a nuanced perception.)

Reagan’s action gave private employers a tremendous boost in confidence in dealing with their own workers.  They began to treat them as if they could be hired and fired at will, without giving any cause.  The result has been a steady erosion in the number of workers represented by unions and the rights of workers in general.  The most negative result, indirectly, was to force down the average wage despite dramatic increases in productivity.  The average wage is less now than it was forty years ago, in part because of how Reagan treated the air traffic controllers.

The end result of Reagan’s actions was to reverse the improvements in conditions for workers that had occurred since WW II.  The level of income and wealth inequality has returned to the unsustainable levels that prevailed just prior to the Great Depression.  This inequality is destabilizing to society; if current trends continue, democratic government will be lost, and the United States will be governed by a small oligarchy, with a large police force and many people in jail.  Such a situation is conducive to social unrest and possibly even civil war.

(Ronald Reagan courtesy of WikiImages)

How Ronald Reagan and George Bush increased the national debt to unheard-of levels. How about now?

Ronald Reagan campaigned partly on the assertions that the national debt was “the highest ever” and “out of control.”  The national debt at the time he was elected was about 33% of the gross domestic product (GDP); this was the lowest proportion of GDP in 50 years, and could only be described truthfully as “the highest ever” if one ignored inflation and the relationship of debt to GDP.  The national debt was not “out of control” until he got his hands on it.  He presided over a nearly 190% increase in the national debt as a proportion of GDP, from approximately $1 trillion to $2.9 trillion.

Reagan performed this magic by dramatically reducing taxes on the wealthy in his first year in office.  The deficit increased so rapidly that he was forced to slightly scale back his tax reductions later.  His excuse for this maneuver was the notion that cutting taxes on the wealthy would inspire them to increase their income so greatly that total tax collections would actually increase.  There was no sane precedent for this notion, and George HW Bush famously called it “voodoo economics” when he campaigned against Reagan (before he was selected as the vice presidential candidate.)

The notion that lowering taxes would increase tax receipts was based on the idea that the wealthy would work harder and produce more income if a larger percentage of their income was left to them after taxes.  This is known as the “Laffer curve.”  The notion that if you tax the wealthy too much, they will “goof off” (not work as hard), is essentially this: why bother to work as hard when you only get to keep 50% of your income after taxes than when you get to keep 85% of your income after taxes?  The problem is that the wealthy are struggling to spend even a fraction of the money they are getting, and usually add the surplus to their savings or brokerage accounts (instead of spending it, as a poor person would…)

Before Reagan, the national debt had been dramatically increased during WW II to allow for arming the rest of the free world and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire.  At the end of the war, the national debt was 120% of the GDP.  After the war, a booming economy and relatively high taxes allowed us to pay down the debt while at the same time increasing our GDP steadily.  Before the war, our economy had been in the doldrums and had not recovered from the Great Depression.  Deficit spending, on disposable items like bombs and bullets, primed maximum employment and increasing wages, with notable prosperity as a result.

Reagan’s deficit spending, by contrast to WW II spending, had only marginal beneficial effects on the economy.  This was because the deficit was created by tax cuts that resulted in a loss of government revenue rather than spending on tangible items which transferred revenue to the producers of those items.  After Reagan, GHW Bush continued the deficit spending by not raising taxes to previous levels; in his single term, the first Bush increased the deficit a further 54%, from $2.9 trillion to $4 trillion.  The economy continued to function marginally, and income inequality increased.

The next president, Clinton, took a different tack: he raised taxes and tried to balance the budget.  The total national debt increased 41% during his two terms.  By the end of his second term, the budget was nearly balanced.  If he had not had to pay interest on the new debt, it is estimated that he would have paid off all of the remaining debt from WW II; he paid about $2.2 trillion in interest on the debt accrued from before he assumed office.

The second President Bush increased the national debt by a further 72%, primarily by cutting taxes and pursuing an off-the-books war in Iraq.  He was also forced to pay some $800 billion to bail out the banks after the crash of 2007-8.  During his first campaign for office, he promised to “retire nearly $1 trillion in debt over the next four years.  This will be the largest debt reduction achieved by any nation at any time…”  He increased the debt by at least $6.1 trillion, starting in his first year in office.  Much of the increase in debt was interest paid on the previous deficits.

When Obama took office, he inherited an economy in free fall and a nearly $1 trillion yearly deficit.  This shortfall has been dramatically reduced, year by year, and is now estimated at $400 billion a year.  At the same time, jobs have increased every month since 2010, and the unemployment rate has decreased to below 6%.  Unfortunately, part of this percentage decrease has been a result of people dropping out of the workforce, despairing of finding work.  During his terms in office so far, Obama has increased the national debt by 23%.  The debt now represents between  72 and 80% of GDP, depending on how the terms are defined and whose figures you use (see Wikipedia.)

The inescapable conclusion is that Republican contenders for presidential office will lie to get elected (not that Democrats are necessarily any more truthful.)  We must also conclude that the Republican policy of reducing taxes results in deficit spending which does not stimulate the economy, in contrast to deficit spending that is used to produce something (even if that something is blown up or scrapped.)

Thus, we see that, in order to stimulate the economy and improve prosperity (meaning growing incomes and improving income equality), it is necessary to 1) raise taxes on the wealthy and 2) spend some of the money on producing something rather than just paying down the debt.  The obvious thing to produce (or repair) is, based on observation, infrastructure like roads and bridges.

Most of the information in this post was taken from a site called http://zfacts.com/ which has a segment on debt as a percent of GDP: http://zfacts.com/p/318.html as well as a lot of other material I haven’t dived into just yet.

How the Buddha got a face– reposted

2021-01-31

photo by Einfach-Eve courtesy of pixabay.com

[Somewhere in India, now known as Sarnath] It was here, scarcely 15 miles from the airport, among fields now yellow with mustard flowers, that a renunciant prince had, upon gaining enlightenment some 25 centuries ago, given his first sermon, setting what Buddhists call the Wheel of Dharma into motion. At a deer park once called Isipatana, now Sarnath, a 35-year-old Gautama Buddha, hardly older than Christ when he climbed the hill of Calvary, revealed the eightfold path to liberation from suffering, his four noble truths and the doctrine of the impermanence of everything, including the Self.

FOR THE FIRST six centuries after his death, the Buddha was never depicted in human form. He was only ever represented aniconically by a sacred synecdoche — his footprints, for example; or a parasol, an auspicious mark of kingship and spirituality; or the Wisdom Tree, also known as the Bodhi Tree, under which he gained enlightenment.

How does one give a human face to god, especially to he who was never meant to be a god nor ever said one word about god?

(Gandhara Buddha, Tokyo, 0-100 CE, courtesy wikimedia commons)

The other problem with representing the Buddha in human form, as the great Sri Lankan art historian Ananda K. Coomaraswamy points out in his 1918 essay “Buddhist Primitives,” is that early Buddhism was disdainful of art itself. He writes: “The arts were looked upon as physical luxuries and loveliness a snare.” Quoting the Dasa Dhamma Sutta, an early Buddhist text, Coomaraswamy adds: “Beauty is nothing to me, neither the beauty of the body nor that that comes of dress.”

“In the omission of the figure of the Buddha,” writes Coomaraswamy, “the Early Buddhist art is truly Buddhist: For the rest, it is an art about Buddhism, rather than Buddhist art.”

Kushans were descendants of pastoral nomads who settled in India during the second century BC– pushed out of China into Afghanistan, then finally reaching India.  They developed a form of Buddhism called Mahayana (“Great Vehicle”).  They were heirs to Greek, Chinese, Persian, and Indian ancestors.  They spread their religion along the trade routes that extended into China and Korea, and eventually Japan.

The Kushans were syncretic, that is, they mixed and synthesized cultural and religious traditions from all four of the areas they entered: Greece, China, Persia, and India.  They adopted Bactrian (a middle Iranian language), which they called “the Aryan language”.  They adopted Buddhism but venerated the gods of Greece, India, and the Zoroastrians.

The greatest Kushan king was Kanishka, great-grandson of Kujula Kadphises, who conquered Greek Bactria (Afghanistan) in the first century A.D.  A headless statue of him in the Mathura museum carries the inscription, “The Great King, King of Kings, Son of a God, Kanishka.”  He was something of a narcissist– a quality with which most kings are endowed.

The Kushans established two centers of statuary production, Mathura (which has a speckled red sandstone), and Gandhara (which has an ash-colored schist).  Both centers produced Buddhas, with heads.  The Gandhara center’s Buddhas have a Hellenistic (Greek) appearance, slender (and idealistic?); the Mathura statues are fuller-bodied, with soft stomachs.  The latter resemble the Buddhas of the East, more obese-looking.  They have a slight smile.

Under Kanishka, monasteries and other Buddhist centers were established, and the Buddhist texts were translated into Sanskrit.  This became the major language of Buddhism.

Kanishka issued coins bearing the image of Buddha– his face.  He was recognized as the great patron of Buddhism in China and is related to the establishment of the first Buddhist temple in China, the White Horse Temple near Luoyang.

After the collapse of the Han empire, the Chinese warlords embraced Buddhism as being more egalitarian than Confucianism, which made them feel disrespected as commoners.  Between the fourth century BC until after the sixth century AD, when Buddhism was fully established in China, Buddhist texts were translated into Chinese and became the source of Chinese knowledge about Buddha’s life.

The traffic of monks and scholars between India and China lasted well until the 12th century, when Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji, a Turkic chieftain, destroyed the great Buddhist university of Nalanda, in what is today the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

The statues of the Kushan empire and the coins of Kanishka represent the first time the Buddha’s face was pictured– six centuries after his death.  Buddhism started as a religion without art.  It was not until the Kushan, with their syncretism, that he became visualized.

(From the New York Times magazine, “How the Buddha got a face”, Sunday, May 10)

Update on new strains of SARS-COV-2: first case of South African strain in US reported: B.1.351 in two people in South Carolina with no travel history

2021-01-28

The first cases of COVID-19 caused by the South African variant, designated B.1.351, were found in two people in South Carolina who reported no travel history, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced in a news release on January 28, 2021.

They reported that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had advised them late yesterday of a LabCorp (a large hospital and outpatient laboratory company) report of a positive sample with the South African variant. The DHEC had tested another sample on January 25 that turned out to be positive for the same variant yesterday.

The South African variant has been discovered in patients in more than 30 countries, but these are the first known cases in the United States. South Africa has been suffering with a huge wave of new cases and deaths due to the new variant. This variant is able to elude some of the antibodies against the original variant and renders some antibody treatments ineffective; vaccines also may be affected by this evasion.

The South Carolina DHEC has been performing sequencing on random samples of virus isolates since June 2020 to look for mutations that indicate new strains. Sequencing is a valuable tool for detecting mutations and helps for contact tracing of infections. Unfortunately, sequencing is performed on an ad hoc basis in with surplus funding in this country rather than being organized nationally, and thus is not done in most cases.

The news release states that the currently available vaccines appear to be effective against the South African variant; while it is more transmissible, it doesn’t cause more severe disease.

The news release emphasizes that preventive measures including mask-wearing, washing hands, and social distancing are equally effective against the new variant and should be carefully followed. Other sources have also suggested doubling up on masks, and this represents a useful addition to prevention given that most masks are not as effective as the N-95 masks mainly used by medical professionals.

Not mentioned by the news release is the detail that cases with no travel history suggest the possibility of community transmission. The two (unrelated) cases announced today may have been contracted from someone else in the community who traveled to South Africa (or one of the 30 countries in which the variant has been discovered), or may be part of a chain of transmission from a traveler.

This detail has potentially grave implications, as most virus isolates are not sequenced and the traveler from overseas may have been asymptomatic.

In other South Carolina news, a rabid otter was found in Ridgeway, Kershaw County. It is the fifth animal in South Carolina this year with rabies, while an average of 148 cases a year are found. “Keeping your pets up to date on their rabies vaccination is the easiest way to protect you and your family from this deadly virus,” said Terri McCollister, Rabies Program Team Leader. (This tidbit was included to help you keep the current pandemic in perspective.)

(sars-cov-2 virions by electron microscopy: NIAID)