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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)

New strains of SARS-COV-2, from South Africa, Britain, Brazil, and elsewhere: more contagious and possibly more lethal. Sequencing is essential.

2021-01-27

New strains of SARS-COV-2 have appeared in the United States recently. This is inevitable and foreseeable. One strain, first seen in Britain, has been tested and found to be more contagious than the original strains. Another strain, both more contagious and possibly more lethal, has been found in South Africa and may soon appear in the US. A third originates from Brazil and was found here (in Minnesota) in a traveler from there.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published a paper on January 15, 2021 outlining current knowledge about the new strains. At the time this was published, the Brazilian variant had not been seen in the US (further discussion about surveillance below).

From the CDC paper:

In the United Kingdom (UK), a new variant called B.1.1.7 has emerged with an unusually large number of mutations. This variant spreads more easily and quickly than other variants. Currently, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or increased risk of death. This variant was first detected in September 2020 and is now highly prevalent in London and southeast England. It has since been detected in numerous countries around the world, including the United States and Canada.

In South Africa, another variant called 1.351 has emerged independently of the variant detected in the UK. This variant, originally detected in early October, shares some mutations with the variant detected in the UK. There have been cases caused by this variant outside of South Africa, but it has not been detected in the US.

In Brazil, a variant called P.1 emerged and was identified in four travelers from Brazil, who were tested during routine screening at Haneda airport outside Tokyo, Japan. This variant contains a set of additional mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies. This variant has not been detected in the US.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html

Note that these variants are found by sequencing viruses isolated from human samples taken to detect infections. Currently, in the US, surveillance is weak: less than 0.3% of isolates are sequenced. In Britain, by contrast, nearly 10% of isolates have been sequenced. The detection of SARS-COV-2 in patients with COVID-19 by RT-PCR (reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction) depends on certain signatures found in the SARS-COV-2 virus proteins; false-negative results in one of the three separate analyses can result from mutations in the virus RNA that cause changes in the spike protein, in particular.

Once the virus has been detected by RT-PCR, if there is a sufficient number of virions, the virus’ genetic code can be sequenced to find mutations. This process is essential for surveillance for several reasons. The first is that every isolate from a single patient is likely to contain at least one mutation from the isolate from other patients. This allows scientists to determine the likely source of the individual patient’s infection.

Another reason is that groups of mutations that have significant effects on the virus’ ability to spread (its contagiousness) or its lethality (the severity of the resulting infection) can be detected and adjusted for.

The vaccine in use in the US today, whether from Moderna or Pfizer, is based on MRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) which is ingested by the patient’s individual cells and used to transcribe into proteins (just like the body’s normal mRNA, constantly produced in the process of cell metabolism). The mRNA codes for the spike protein, which, when synthesized in the body, provokes an immune reaction that produces antibodies and primes immune cells to recognize and attack the virus.

Mutations that change the spike protein can and do affect the ability of the vaccine to produce effective antibodies. If a virus were to have sufficiently different spike proteins than the protein produced by the vaccine, it would become ineffective. Indeed, one mutation recently discovered reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine six-fold. Luckily, the immune reaction is so intense that the body produces 800 times as many antibodies (and immune cells) as are needed to fight off the virus.

Therefore, the current vaccine is expected to be effective against the new strains of virus, at least for now. In the near future, it will be necessary to produce a different vaccine to account for the mutations yet to arise. In fact, Moderna has already begun developing a new version of its vaccine. (More information about the new variants can be found in the same NYT article.)

Again, luckily, the process of producing a new vaccine is quick and easy; one scientist estimated that it would take about six weeks to create an entirely new mRNA vaccine from scratch. If the Food and Drug Administration is sufficiently receptive to rapid changes in this vaccine (which makes perfect sense because the differences would be trivial and previous clinical trials have clearly established the vaccine’s safety), the new vaccine could be available within a couple of months whenever it is thought necessary to make a change.

In this respect, however, one thing needs to be changed in the US: our surveillance capabilities. We must sequence several times as many virus isolates as we do now. We should aim to sequence 10% of the viruses obtained from RT-PCR tests, just as they do in Britain. This depends on a government subsidy to labs that do this sequencing and collation of the results into databases. The information will inform us of new variants and at the same time make contact tracing much easier by enabling the tracing of mutations from one host (infected person) to the next.

An organization called NextStrain has been collating the sequences of SARS-COV-2 genomes as they are reported, although they have been hampered by poor support from the US federal government. A very out-of-date situation report is available here (from August).

At the same time, prevention of transmission by mask-wearing, hand-washing, and isolation still works, even if the virus is more contagious than before. So it is essential that we continue these preventive measures at least until herd immunity is attained in the US.

Estimates of when herd immunity will be reached in this country have generally been in the range of June to October of this year; other countries may not achieve protected status until 2022 at the earliest. Positive test results have so far been found in about 7% of the US, while estimates of actual infection rates range up to 20% or more. Some counties (eg, in Arizona and Texas) are reporting case rates of 0.1-0.2% per day (see New York Times interactive page for details.)

I have blogged about this before, but it bears repeating: one aspect of our federal government’s response to this pandemic must be provision of sufficient funds and administrative efforts to perform sequencing and gathering the data about virus signatures. Plenty of labs and equipment are available; what is needed is money and administrative time. There are many other things that must be done, and they all require money, lots of it, from the federal government, along with organization and direction from the top. Anthony Fauci, MD is an ideal person to direct this effort, and he has been placed at the head of the US effort. By the way, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom back in 2008, when it meant something.

(photo: sars-cov-2 budding from apoptotic cells–electron microscopy by NIAID)

Impunity and sedition: Capitol Hill trespassers will continue to get more aggressive unless they are stopped. The ex-president is one who will continue to get worse.

2021-01-26

Some of the demonstrators and rioters at the Capitol on January 6 are gradually being arrested, one by one. There is an FBI-sponsored page with 700 photos asking “Do you know this person?” But there have been no estimates of exactly how many people were there with the intent to reverse the results of the presidential election. My own guess is between 10 and 30 thousand people, perhaps a thousand of whom managed to penetrate the building. Almost two hundred of these have been arrested, and the rest have gone back to whatever they were doing the day before.

During the riot or insurrection, or whatever you want to call it, the police were outnumbered. Even after calling in reinforcements, law enforcement was limited to pushing the interlopers out of the building. Apparently, only a few were arrested on the scene.

Many of these people are guilty of trespass (technically, of entering and/or remaining in a restricted area) and a significant number are guilty of insurrectionary acts, like vandalizing the building, stealing trophies, carrying weapons in restricted areas, and attacking police officers.

One of these trespassers was at first said to have hit Capital Police Officer Brian Sicknick in the head with a fire extinguisher, thereby inflicting a fatal wound– apparently he temporarily recovered but was taken to the hospital later that night and died the next night. This assessment has been changed because the autopsy apparently concluded that the officer did not have a traumatic head injury. Now speculation includes the possibility of a reaction to toxic sprays like “bear spray” or “pepper spray”. Responsibility for the death of Officer Sicknick– has not been charged nor the offender identified.

Most of the instigators, or those guilty of “inciting to insurrection”, will never be arrested, much less convicted or imprisoned. The FBI has been trying to develop conspiracy charges against some of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, or Three Percenters, but they may not be able to obtain sufficient evidence to try them in court.

This is a bad omen for our country. People who are not punished for lawless deeds will continue to perform those lawless deeds, and some will continue on to worse things. Violence, robbery, theft, and sexual assault are particularly prone to repeat themselves and to lead to worse.

There is no good that can come of leaving these miscreants “in the wild” and not subjecting them to punishment. Our country is less safe for not having brought these dangerous people to heel.

Now that the Senate has absolved him of any responsibility (not), or at least acquitted him of impeachment, state or federal courts should indict and try him for “shouting fire in a crowded theatre.” Lacking ten Republican Senators with the guts to convict him, he will claim that he has been exonerated and is free to continue his race-baiting, hate-filled rants, only not on Twitter.

(photo by Andrew Martin courtesy of pixabay.com)

Alexander Hamilton: “The hope of impunity is a strong incitement to sedition; the dread of punishment, a proportionably strong discouragement to it.”

2021-01-26

This quote comes from Federalist No. 27, published under the pseudonym “Publius” and later confirmed to be written by Alexander Hamilton. The paragraph continues,

Will not the government of the Union, which, if possessed of a due degree of power, can call to its aid the collective resources of the whole Confederacy, be more likely to repress the FORMER sentiment and to inspire the LATTER, than that of a single State, which can only command the resources within itself? A turbulent faction in a State may easily suppose itself able to contend with the friends to the government in that State; but it can hardly be so infatuated as to imagine itself a match for the combined efforts of the Union. If this reflection be just, there is less danger of resistance from irregular combinations of individuals to the authority of the Confederacy than to that of a single member.

https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed27.asp

It comes to mind from an article I have just read, which immediately disappeared from my iPhone– as such things often do. I re-located it by using Google: Alexander Hamilton “The hope of impunity” and it was the first item on the “found” list– a page from the Avalon Project at Yale, “The Federalist Papers No. 27”.

The Federalist Papers were written in support of the new Constitution which was being debated in Congress. Not many people know that there was a first version of the Constitution we so revere; this first version had many defects, many more than the version accepted on July 6, 1787. At any rate, the new Constitution had many detractors even though it was vastly better.

The Paper No. 27 continues a discussion of the assertion that a federal government would need a standing army in order to survive. Hamilton says it doesn’t, because the federal government would be better than any of the state governments. He didn’t operate during the historical period in which politicians were full-time employees of the federal, state, or local governments– nor during the period after which parties came to control the actions of full-time politicians.

Thus, he had no way of knowing (or anticipating) that the Senate would be beholden to the party that controls or controlled its President (or the party which is controlled by its former President)– which led to the impunity which *r*** now enjoys in his “retirement”.

You don’t need to be watching politics very closely to know that the news article (the one I couldn’t find) had to do with the Republican Senators’ reluctance to convict he-who-must-not-be-named after he was impeached for “inciting to insurrection.”

Since the riot/invasion of the Capitol on January 6 and the House vote to impeach, there have been a few significant revelations and occurrences. The biggest revelation was that T*’s campaign paid over $2.5 million to the people who organized the demonstration (that is, the presence of a huge number of lie-enabled anger-addled white men) on January 6.

The second-biggest was the revelation that T—- had tried to get a Mr. Clark, who was then a deputy Attorney General (AG) (for the civil division of the Department of Justice, DOJ), to take over from Mr. Rosen (the actual AG) and send a letter to the Georgia State Legislature demanding that they hold a vote to overturn the state’s Electoral College selection and choose a College delegation that would vote for Mr. T^^^^^– thereby annulling the votes of the people of Georgia.

This nefarious scheme was stopped only because the four highest-ranked members of the DOJ aside from Mr. Rosen all threatened to resign en masse.

The biggest occurrence, that happened only today, was that the Senate voted 55-45 against the proposition that a trial of Mr. ****p would be unconstitutional because he had already left office. Never mind that 1) he was impeached before he left office and 2) Mitch McConnell refused to call the Senate back into session two weeks early (he could have, with the minority leader’s agreement, called them in on January 13, the day the House impeached Him) and gave the earliest start date of a trial as 1 hr. after Mr. Biden would be inaugurated into the presidency.

Besides that, most constitutional scholars who are not Republican Senators agree that a person can be tried for an impeachment after they have left office; in part, because one of the potential objects of impeachment is to disqualify that person from ever holding office (nor any assignment of “trust or honor” within the US government) again.

So this is a political circus, not because the Democrats want it that way, but because the Republicans insist that it be that way. Which bodes ill for the future of the United States, as the next President who feels unmanly and/or unmoored from fact and ethics will simply incite another insurrection if things don’t go his (it’s always a him, I hope) way.

So Alexander Hamilton said it first: if you don’t convict **u** for his crimes, the next guy will be worse– and He will have a death-lock on the Republican Party until he dies (and possibly long afterwards).

PS I apologize for not posting more often, but I have been ill (no, it’s not THAT virus.) PPS I’m eligible for a vaccine but none is available. Go figure. PPPS Thanks for the kind words from the last two commenters, Gretel Hartley and SoundEagle; and thanks to SoundEagle, I now know what an “ochlocracy” is.

(my photo: cat named “Olive Oyl” at 9:17 (AM or PM?))

Josh Hawley and “religious freedom”: his freedom means your slavery.

2021-01-16

Josh Hawley believes in religious freedom– his own, that is. He has made the assertion, in published documents and speeches, that only Christian values are “in the right” and that his way is the only right way. This means, to him, that American law should privilege Christian rights over the rights of all other religions and particularly over secular rights. Notice from the photo that he also doesn’t bother to wear a mask in public.

First, there has been blowback over Hawley’s support for the insurrectionists and rioters at the Capitol on January 6. His support was notoriously evidenced by the photo above, in which he walked past the crowd in front of the Capitol and raised his fist in support. The photo comes from an NBC news article about him, which is titled (in its URL) as “Sen Josh Hawley becomes public enemy no 1 on cap hill” although the article itself is titled “Sen. Josh Hawley becomes a pariah on Capitol Hill.”

Second, there are his previous writings and speeches, which are described in this January 11 New York Times opinion piece by Katherine Stewart titled “The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage”. Ms. Stewart has reported on the religious right for over a decade.

Mr. Hawley claims his bona fides based on a deep reading of ancient Christian history and condemns the heresies of a monk named Pelagius who was born in 4th century Britain. Pelagius was known for his teachings on Christian morality. Ms. Stewart’s article begins with the note that:

In a 2019 commencement address at the King’s College, a small conservative Christian college devoted to “a biblical worldview,” Mr. Hawley denounced Pelagius for teaching that human beings have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/opinion/josh-hawley-religion-democracy.html

Ms. Stewart describes Mr. Hawley’s address as subscribing to the Church Father’s denunciation of Pelagius’ teachings. They called Pelagius’ doctrines a “terrifying variety of heresy.” Mr. Hawley denounced Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in the 1992 ruling on Planned Parenthood vs. Casey. In that opinion, Kennedy wrote: ““At the heart of liberty… is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Thus, Mr. Hawley believes that individuals do not have the right to define their own concepts of existence, meaning, the universe, or of the mystery of human life. The Christian (Catholic, in this case) Church is the only sanctioned arbiter of the concepts of existence. Ms. Stewart says that “Mr. Hawley’s idea of freedom is the freedom to conform to what he and his preferred religious authorities know to be right.”

In another speech, in 2017, Mr. Hawley endorsed the views of the neo-Calvinist Dutch Reformed theologian (and onetime prime minister) Abraham Kuyper, who died in 1920. Kuyper believed that Dutch society should be separated by religion with distinct primary and secondary schools, universities, and social organizations for each denomination. Kuyper is associated with the philosophy of Christian nationalism, which maintains that Christian values should be codified in the legal structure of government.

Mr. Hawley’s takeaway from the philosophy of Abraham Kuyper is that, as Ms. Stewart says, “Christianity has sole legitimate authority over all aspects of human life.” Thus, secular values, even though they match Christian values in such essential aspects as the prohibitions against violence, theft, fraud, incest, and so on, are not sufficient to give us our full framework of laws.

According to Christian nationalists, law should include prohibitions against such aspects of personal freedom as control over one’s own body. Homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, miscegenation, contraception, and abortion are subject to the control and prohibitions of law and government according to this worldview. This view also includes the prohibition of the use of a number of drugs including cannabis, mescaline, peyote, and “magic mushrooms”, even under a doctor’s prescription.

These views are profoundly alien to secular thought. Only a religion-centered thinker who ignores our Constitution would believe that a person should be bound under a national government to the rules of that religion. Yet these are Josh Hawley’s views.

In his 2017 speech to the American Renewal Project (founded by David Lane, who has tried to connect right-wing pastors with Christian nationalists in politics) Mr. Hawley made the following statement with reference to Abraham Kuyper’s view that Christianity is the sole legitimate authority in government:

“We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch, including the political realm… That is our charge. To take the lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/opinion/josh-hawley-religion-democracy.html

In this respect, Mr. Hawley’s views mesh closely with those of the former Attorney General William Barr, who made similar remarks in a speech to the University of Notre Dame Law School:

[Mr. Barr blamed] “the growing ascendancy of secularism” for amplifying “virtually every measure of social pathology,” and maintained that “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/opinion/josh-hawley-religion-democracy.html

These views are contrary to the First Amendment of our Constitution, as interpreted by our Supreme Court. The First Amendment states that there shall be no “establishment of religion” and this means that the views of any one religion (including the Christian religion) cannot bind citizens or residents of the United States. Freedoms established by the common consent of secular persons cannot be abridged by our laws.

The tendency of our government over the last four years has been towards Christian religious control over the freedoms of our people. Continued control by our current president would trend ever more dangerously towards restriction of our secular freedoms.

Due to his policy and promotion of conservative anti-abortion judges, Christian nationalists have tolerated the outrageous amorality of he-who-must-not-be-named and have tried to nullify the results of the November 3 election with spurious claims of fraud. Numerous right-wing pastors have supported the attempts to decertify the Electoral College results, although they have shied away from support for the violent attempts to take over the Capitol and possibly to assassinate members of Congress on January 6.

Mr. Hawley has fully supported the current president and has made claims to be anti-elite or populist, although the elites he seems to object to are of the secular type. He favors the religious right’s idea of elites, as Ms. Stewart describes:

Yet Mr. Hawley isn’t against elites per se. He is all for an elite, provided that it is a religiously righteous elite. He is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, and he clerked for John Roberts, the chief justice. Mr. Hawley, in other words, is a successful meritocrat of the Federalist Society variety. 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/11/opinion/josh-hawley-religion-democracy.html

Mr. Hawley is a dangerous opportunist who subscribes to Christian nationalist views and wants to restrict our secular freedoms by passage of laws and institution of government policies. He has in mind running for higher office, particularly the presidency, with the support of a large minority of Americans who subscribe to Christian nationalist views. Only the unified opposition of Americans who believe in secular human freedoms can stop his usurpation of power.

We, the secular majority (and religious people who believe in the freedoms of others) must emphasize that Mr. Hawley’s views are contrary to our Constitution and that the freedoms guaranteed in this Constitution must not be abridged under our laws or government.

(Josh Hawley with raised fist to rioters via AP)

Rates of colds and flu have dropped dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic: at least some people are wearing masks.

2021-01-14

Despite the spiraling rates of coronavirus infection over the last few months, the rates of colds, flu, and other respiratory infections have plummeted. A Washington Post article from January 12 has graphs showing that the winter influenza season this year has simply not materialized. Other respiratory viruses like parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus, and human metapneumovirus, have not increased this winter the way they normally do every year.

A news feature article in Nature from December 15, 2020 has similar information. The subtitle says, “Measures meant to tame the coronavirus pandemic are quashing influenza and most other respiratory diseases, which could have wide-ranging implications.” The article says this isn’t just an artifact of reduced reporting: “After the pandemic started, positive tests for the flu virus plummeted by 98% in the United States, for example, whereas the number of samples submitted for testing dropped by only 61%. “

The Nature article states that the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere didn’t happen: “In Australia, Chile and South Africa, a grand total of just 51 cases of flu were spotted in more than 83,000 tests. “We know it’s less transmissible than coronavirus, so it makes sense,” says Olsen, but the decline was still “greater than expected”.”

It’s important to know that the coronavirus is more contagious than regular influenza. So even mask-wearing won’t completely stop SARS-COV-2, but it will block the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a weekly influenza surveillance report; the latest I could find is for January 2, 2021. It states that the incidence of positive influenza tests is 0.1% and that “Flu activity is unusually low at this time but may increase in the coming months.”

So getting a flu shot (which more people than usual have done this year) is not as important as wearing a mask when you go out– but getting your coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible is very important.

On this note, the New York Times reports incredible bureaucratic difficulties in getting reservations online and over the phone for coronavirus vaccines in New York City. Comments to the article indicate a similar situation all over the country. The failure to prepare for the vaccine is yet another disaster preventing the timely suppression of the pandemic in this country.

(photo by pedro wroclaw courtesy of pixabay.com)

A very brief essay on American government: what is a “democratic republic” and what is “freedom”?

2021-01-14
photo by Wynn Pointaux courtesy of pixabay.com

The US is a “democratic republic” in theory. A “republic” is a country ruled by written laws, not run by personal leaders like kings or dictators. A “democratic” country is one that elects its leaders through periodic, ideally secret, voting; the leaders who receive a majority of votes are chosen to represent the people in governing bodies.

What is “freedom” under the law?

Certain written rules make a “democratic republic” a free country. The rules that limit the power of the government are set out in the Constitution or bodies of law. Such rules include, in our Constitution, freedom of speech, freedom of association, the right to petition peaceably for redress of grievances, and the right to worship (or not) in the religion of one’s choice (with the prohibition of government from favoring or restricting any particular religion.) One unwritten rule is that the majority of the people, through their government, cannot restrict the rights of minorities to exercise their freedoms.

Additional written rules characterize the United States as a nation with voting rights for all people who have reached adulthood, automatic citizenship for everyone born within the country, equal protection of the laws, and a prohibition from holding government office to people who have advocated or performed acts of sedition (defined as violent attempts to overthrow the government.)

The right to keep and bear arms– not within an organized militia, but on your own.

The US has enshrined certain unique laws within its written and interpreted (by the Supreme Court) Constitution. One of these, possibly the most unique, is the right of all adults who have not been convicted of felony acts (violent or nonviolent) or certain violent misdemeanors (specifically acts of intrafamily violence known as spouse abuse) to possess and carry in public certain relatively small firearms.

Restrictions upon this right to possess firearms are few in this day and age and include certain weapons that could be construed as “weapons of war” or those that may confer “unfair” advantages upon the possessor. Thus, automatic weapons (those that fire multiple cartridges with a single press of the trigger) and weapons that incorporate noise reducers, known colloquially as “silencers.”

Restrictions upon specific types of firearms vary from state to state. For example, “silencers” (or “suppressors” more accurately, since a silencer merely reduces the very loud noise of a firearm to more tolerable levels rather than silencing it) are broadly prohibited in the state of California but not in many other states.

Limitations upon firearms vary even more. Automatic weapons are not completely prohibited in most states, but regulated by very large taxes that dramatically reduce their availability to the general public. Even ordinary firearms generally are expensive, making the possession of a firearm that is more effective at killing more of a luxury than it would otherwise be.

What is wrong with “freedom” in the US?

The upshot of “freedom to carry a firearm” is that poor people can only afford knives. Freedom comes at great financial cost. Wealth in a capitalist society brings more “freedom.” This is the ugly truth behind American worship of “freedom.”

True freedom means personal responsibility, not the license to impose your opinions on others. That is what too many right-wing people don’t understand: your freedom does not mean that you can impose your ideas of what is right and wrong upon other people. That is what is wrong with the 40% of people who ascribe to the notion that they are “Christian conservatives”: they want to use government to limit the freedoms of other people who don’t agree with them.

What about freedom in other countries?

This essay will be expanded at a later date, and the title will be changed to alert readers of new material.