Friday, January 28, 2022

January 28: N95, Pegasus

We Syrians Are Not Surprised by This Betrayal . In June, the World Health Organization appointed Syria to its executive board. Interpol readmitted Syria to its network in October. Algeria and Egypt have pushed to reinvite Syria to Arab League membership, and other Arab nations have gestured toward a rapprochement with Mr. al-Assad. And throughout, Mr. al-Assad’s relationships with Iran and Russia appear to have deepened. .......... the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Uighurs in Xinjiang. ......... I was 13 when protests erupted in our eastern Damascus neighborhood of Al-Qaboun, back in 2011. I remember feeling hopeful watching Syrians call for a country free of the al-Assad family, which had ruled us for 40 years. When the regime violently cracked down on protesters, countries severed ties with Mr. al-Assad and froze his regime’s assets abroad. The Arab League suspended Syria from its membership. .......... Back then, I felt betrayed by the al-Assad family, who we’d long been told was Syria’s protector. Now, nine years after fleeing my home, I feel betrayed by an international community that is inviting Mr. al-Assad back into its fold. ......... what has happened in Syria exposes the deep contradictions and flaws within the international human rights system. .......... A regime that has been known to bomb hospitals cannot be a member of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization. A regime that tortures and tracks its dissidents at home and abroad through intelligence services must not regain access to Interpol’s databases. ......... Syria is not a nuclear power or the regional power it once was. Nor is it a major energy supplier. Standing firm against his rehabilitation does not cost much. .

Five Action Movies to Stream Now . .

Kamau Bell: Bill Cosby Is Key to Understanding America The comic and commentator discusses his new documentary, “We Need to Talk About Cosby,” and what Cosby’s story reveals about the “two runaway forces of oppression in America.” ........ Cosby was freed from prison in June 2021 after an appeals court ruled that his due process rights had been violated. .......... Cosby continues to deny all allegations against him. ...... There are two runaway forces of oppression in America: One, how we treat nonwhite people. The other is how we have treated women through the history of this country........ [Cosby is] one of the key figures for Black America and America in the 20th century. And one of the greatest standup comedians of all time. And the creator of one of the best sitcoms of all time. And, throughout a lot of his career, an advocate for Black excellence. ....... No matter what you think about Bill Cosby’s story, it is critical that we create a society that treats survivors of sexual assault better. .

Searching for America, South of the Mason-Dixon . The conviction of this book is that race and racism are fundamental values of the South, that “the creation of racial slavery in the colonies was a gateway to habits and dispositions that ultimately became the commonplace ways of doing things in this country.” In other words, the South is America, and its history and influence cannot be dismissed as an embarrassing relative at the nation’s holiday dinner table. ....... “the major metropolis of the South doesn’t have a sufficient mass transit system or a polyglot culture....” .

How Long Can I Keep Wearing the Same Respirator Mask? With the right care, your high-performance mask can last for multiple uses. ........ (The Biden administration has announced it’s giving away 400 million nonsurgical N95 masks at community health centers and retail pharmacies across the United States, with a limit of three per person.) ........... 40 hours of use per mask .......... Never try to clean your high-performance mask. ...... and keep it in a clean, dry place when you’re not wearing it. ........ an N95 is designed to handle 200 milligrams of particles, which would be equivalent to wearing it nonstop for 200 days in very polluted air such as in Shanghai. ......... Over time — several hours — the virus will die off, so we probably don’t need to worry about accumulating more than one day’s worth of infectious virus on the material. ........ the virus decays to nearly undetectable levels in 30 minutes. ........ Consider it ruined if it has gone through the wash or otherwise gotten soaked. .

The Battle for the World’s Most Powerful Cyberweapon A Times investigation reveals how Israel reaped diplomatic gains around the world from NSO’s Pegasus spyware — a tool America itself purchased but is now trying to ban. ......... For nearly a decade, the Israeli firm had been selling its surveillance software on a subscription basis to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, promising that it could do what no one else — not a private company, not even a state intelligence service — could do: consistently and reliably crack the encrypted communications of any iPhone or Android smartphone. .......... it had helped Mexican authorities capture Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the drug lord known as El Chapo. European investigators have quietly used Pegasus to thwart terrorist plots, fight organized crime and, in one case, take down a global child-abuse ring, identifying dozens of suspects in more than 40 countries .......... criminals and terrorists had better technology for encrypting their communications than investigators had to decrypt them. The criminal world had gone dark even as it was increasingly going global. .......... Mexico deployed the software not just against gangsters but also against journalists and political dissidents. The United Arab Emirates used the software to hack the phone of a civil rights activist whom the government threw in jail. Saudi Arabia used it against women’s rights activists and, according to a lawsuit filed by a Saudi dissident, to spy on communications with Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, whom Saudi operatives killed and dismembered in Istanbul in 2018. ............

What they could see, minutes later, was every piece of data stored on the phone as it unspooled onto the large monitors of the Pegasus computers: every email, every photo, every text thread, every personal contact. They could also see the phone’s location and even take control of its camera and microphone.

........ F.B.I. agents using Pegasus could, in theory, almost instantly transform phones around the world into powerful surveillance tools ......... Phantom allows American law enforcement and spy agencies to get intelligence “by extracting and monitoring crucial data from mobile devices.” It is an “independent solution” that requires no cooperation from AT&T, Verizon, Apple or Google. The system, it says, will “turn your target’s smartphone into an intelligence gold mine.” ........... sales of Pegasus played an unseen but critical role in securing the support of Arab nations in Israel’s campaign against Iran and even in negotiating the Abraham Accords, the 2020 diplomatic agreements that normalized relations between Israel and some of its longtime Arab adversaries. .......... The current showdown between the United States and Israel over NSO demonstrates how governments increasingly view powerful cyberweapons the same way they have long viewed military hardware like fighter jets and centrifuges: not only as pivotal to national defense but also as a currency with which to buy influence around the world. ........... Foreign-service officers posted in American Embassies abroad have served for years as pitchmen for defense firms hoping to sell arms to their client states, as the thousands of diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010 showed ..........

when American defense secretaries meet with their counterparts in allied capitals, the end result is often the announcement of an arms deal that pads the profits of Lockheed Martin or Raytheon.

.......... Cyberweapons have changed international relations more profoundly than any advance since the advent of the atomic bomb. In some ways, they are even more profoundly destabilizing — they are comparatively cheap, easily distributed and can be deployed without consequences to the attacker. Dealing with their proliferation is radically changing the nature of state relations, as Israel long ago discovered and the rest of the world is now also beginning to understand. .............. By the mid-1980s, Israel had firmly established itself as one of the world’s top arms exporters, with an estimated one in 10 of the nation’s workers employed by the industry in some way. .......... Recruitment was the essential ingredient of their business plan. The company would eventually employ more than 700 people in offices around the world and a sprawling headquarters in Herzliya, where individual labs for Apple and Android operating systems are filled with racks of smartphones undergoing constant testing by the firm’s hackers as they seek and exploit new vulnerabilities. .............. There was a particular concern about Israeli companies that were staffed by former top intelligence officials; potential customers feared that their spyware might be contaminated with even deeper spyware, allowing the Mossad access to their internal systems. .......... They fed the mobile phone number of a person connected to Joaquín Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel into the system, and the BlackBerry was successfully attacked. Investigators could see the content of the messages, as well as the locations of different BlackBerry devices. “Suddenly we started to see and hear anew,” says a former CISEN leader. “It was like magic.” In his view, the new system had revitalized their entire operation — “Everyone felt like maybe for the first time we could win.” It was also a win for Israel. Mexico is a dominant power in Latin America, a region where Israel for years has waged a kind of diplomatic trench warfare against anti-Israeli groups supported by the country’s adversaries in the Middle East. .......... “its guardianship of the capital of the world — Jerusalem.” ....... “NSO was providing the means for states to spy on their own people,” he says. “From my point of view it’s straightforward. This issue is not about Israel’s security. It’s about something that got out of control.”

How a Syrian War Criminal Was Brought to Justice — in Germany When refugees won historic convictions against the Syrian torture regime, they also opened a new front in the global fight for human rights.

January 28: Omicron, Krugman, Afghanistan, Pakistan

Omicron’s Radical Evolution Thirteen of Omicron’s mutations should have hurt the variant’s chances of survival. Instead, they worked together to make it thrive...... Whereas earlier variants had differed from the original Wuhan version of the coronavirus by a dozen or two mutations, Omicron had 53 — a shockingly large jump in viral evolution. ......... 13 of those mutations were rarely, if ever, found in other coronaviruses, suggesting they should have been harmful to Omicron. Instead, when acting in concert, these mutations appear to be key to some of Omicron’s most essential functions. ............... In December 2020, British researchers were jolted to discover a new variant in England carrying 23 mutations not found in the original coronavirus isolated in Wuhan a year before. That variant, later named Alpha, soon swept to dominance worldwide. Over the course of 2021, other fast-spreading variants emerged. While some remained limited to certain countries or continents, the Delta variant, with 20 distinctive mutations, ousted Alpha and became dominant over the summer. And then came Omicron, with over twice as many mutations. .................. Two of the clusters change the spike near its tip, making it harder for human antibodies to stick to the virus and keep it out of cells. As a result, Omicron is good at infecting even people who have antibodies from vaccinations or a previous Covid infection. ................ Because an immunocompromised host doesn’t produce a lot of antibodies, many viruses are left to propagate. And new mutant viruses that resist the antibodies can multiply.

Wonking Out: Are We in Another Housing Bubble? . people have been building houses for thousands of years; what could justify those extraordinary prices? ......... ........ Anyway, the bubble eventually burst, taking a large part of the financial system down with it. That is a worrying precedent, because housing prices have once again been rising rapidly. In fact, the average real price of housing in major markets is now higher than it was at its 2006 peak ......... America was effectively divided between Flatland — places where it was easy to increase the housing supply — and the Zoned Zone, where “a combination of high population density and land-use restrictions” made it hard to build new houses. And the big price increases took place only in the latter. ....... By the mid-2000s, real home prices at a national level were up by “only” about 50 percent, a number you could, with painful intellectual contortions, try to justify on the basis of low interest rates. But there was no way to justify the 100 percent or more increases we were seeing in places like Miami and San Diego. ........ the reason the national average is so high is that prices are surging everywhere — even in small towns that used to be bargains. ........ This time, however, record home prices haven’t led to a boom in housing construction ......... It’s the supply chain, stupid. Look at what is happening to the price of building materials ........ Real estate people I know tell me that there’s still a feeling of unhealthy frenzy, and people who paid high prices for small-town houses may regret it once supply chains get unsnarled and more houses get built.

Let Innocent Afghans Have Their Money . The Afghan government had been heavily dependent on foreign aid, which was largely cut off when the Taliban took power. .........

International assistance made up 45 percent of Afghanistan’s gross national product and funded 75 percent of the government’s budget.

Doctors, nurses, teachers and other essential government workers haven’t been paid in months, and it’s not clear when they will ever be. The Taliban remain on the U.S. sanctions list, so the international community has refused to give them money. .......... Right now the entire financial system in Afghanistan risks collapse. Ordinary people who have nothing to do with the Taliban have been largely cut off from the international banking system, simply because they live in Afghanistan. Even though U.S. Treasury Department officials say that the central bank of Afghanistan is not under sanctions, financial institutions around the world are treating it as if was. Foreign banks are refusing to wire money to Afghanistan, not only because they don’t want to deal with the reputational risk, but also because they fear that the long arm of the U.S. Treasury might one day punish them for it. Many banks say it is not worth the hassle. As a result, it has been difficult to get cash into the country. .......... If the formal banking system in Afghanistan collapses, then the entire economy could be driven into the shadows, where illicit activities like kidnapping and drug trafficking would play an even bigger role than they do now. Entrepreneurs who could be a counterweight to the Taliban would struggle to survive. ......... The Biden administration was right to offer aid to stave off the immediate humanitarian crisis caused by hunger, drought and a harsh winter. The administration has also issued a flurry of licenses to allow personal remittances and humanitarian aid to pass through banks unmolested. But the very existence of those licenses implies that the rest of Afghanistan’s economy is off limits. That means shopkeepers can’t open lines of credit to import goods, and farmers can’t receive payment for their crops through international banks. Aid is not enough. Commercial activity is what feeds a nation. .........

“The economy is not just in free fall; it’s being strangled”

......... The entire banking system could fall apart. ....... Since commercial banks in Afghanistan are required to keep some reserves in the central bank, hundreds of millions of dollars in the frozen overseas accounts are part of the life savings of Afghan citizens, which should not be rendered inaccessible because the Taliban took over the country. ......... the world will be treated to the spectacle of Americans and Europeans paying to mitigate a humanitarian disaster caused, in part, by the fact that many Afghans have been cut off from their own money. ......... When banks splinter and fail, they exacerbate crises, as happened in Yemen ...... Small efforts now could avoid big problems later — such as another mass migration in Europe. They could also preserve a toehold in the country. The war has been lost, but that doesn’t mean every institution that Americans worked with is destined to disappear. There’s still time to save Afghanistan’s central bank.

The U.S. Needs a Reset With Pakistan . For decades, U.S. policy toward Pakistan has been predicated on America’s goals in Afghanistan. Pakistan both helped and hindered the U.S. war on terror, making for a notoriously dysfunctional relationship. .......... The United States must treat Pakistan as a country in its own right, not as a fulcrum for U.S. policy on Afghanistan. That starts with America disentangling itself from the close military relationship with Pakistan. ......... Resentment is rife. America sees Pakistan’s support for the Taliban as one reason it lost in Afghanistan; Pakistan sees the Taliban insurgency it faced at home as blowback for partnering with America next door. In Washington the grim mood has led to talk of disengagement and sanctions. Neither approach will work or be satisfactory in the long run. ........ Pakistan, meanwhile, wants a broad-based relationship with the U.S. focused on geoeconomics — which is not realistic. ........ a repetition of the old, failed cycle, missing the opportunity to steer Pakistan away from its own harmful overreliance on the military to a more productive future. ........ It would be smarter and safer for the United States to pivot to a multidimensional approach that acknowledges the realities of the country and its neighborhood. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country with a population of more than 220 million, neighboring not just Afghanistan but also Iran and Pakistan’s close friend China and nuclear-armed rival India. Pakistan faces immense domestic challenges, including with governance and terrorism. It also has unrealized economic potential. ........... military spending accounts for about 16 percent of Pakistan’s annual expenditures. (U.S. military spending accounts for 11 percent.) .........

Pakistan’s dominant military has kept active the specter of potential conflict with India, and its intelligence services have cultivated relationships with an array of dangerous nonstate armed actors.

......... Once America’s reliance on Pakistan’s military is explicitly and clearly reduced, U.S. policy toward Pakistan can be steered toward economic and other forms of engagement. ....... The United States is Pakistan’s top export destination .......... Mr. Biden’s focus is on the Indo-Pacific. ....... Pakistan is simultaneously important and complicated.

Four critical ingredients that Pakistan needs to rev up its economy and realize its potential Pakistanis working abroad sent home about $18.5 billion in FY2014/15 which contributed to financing the trade deficit. ........ The share of investment to GDP remains minimal at 15%, about half of the South Asian average at 30% and one of the lowest in the world. This means not that enough infrastructure is being built, people don’t have access to sufficient levels of energy and water, the quality of schools and hospitals are not optimal. ........... One of Pakistan’s biggest assets is its large and young labor force. But this young population will contribute to higher and sustainable growth only if it’s healthy and well educated. .

Afghanistan Is in Meltdown, and the U.S. Is Helping to Speed It Up . The United States should swallow the bitter pill of working with the Taliban-led government in order to prevent a failed state in Afghanistan. Kneecapping the government through sanctions and frozen aid won’t change the fact that the Taliban are now in charge, but it will ensure that ordinary public services collapse, the economy decays and Afghans’ livelihoods shrink even further. ....... Afghans are already on a countdown to calamity. Their cash-based economy is starved of currency, hunger and malnutrition are growing, civil servants are largely unpaid, and essential services are in tatters. ......... It’s no surprise that the United States and its allies responded to the Taliban takeover with punitive measures: halting the flow of aid that had been paying for three-fourths of public spending, freezing Afghan state assets abroad, cutting the country off from the global financial system and maintaining sanctions on the Taliban — which now penalize the entire government they head. That playbook is how Washington typically tries to punish objectionable regimes. But the result has been catastrophic for civilians. ....... Devastating droughts, the pandemic and the Taliban’s incompetence in governing have all played roles in creating what may be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. But the West’s immediate steps to isolate the new regime triggered Afghanistan’s meltdown. This was especially the case because the countries that shut off the aid spigot had, over 20 years, enabled the Afghan state’s dependency on it. ......... I’ve seen over the past two decades how Western powers have consistently overestimated their ability to get Afghan authorities — whoever they are — to acquiesce to their demands.

Governments that were utterly dependent on U.S. security and financial support brushed off pressure to adopt Washington’s preferred peacemaking, war-fighting and anti-corruption strategies.

......... The Taliban are never going to have a policy on women’s rights that accords with Western values. They show no signs of embracing even limited forms of democratic governance. Nor is it likely they will ever take active measures to destroy or hand over remnants of Al Qaeda

January 28: Slavery, Polarization, Moon, Pakistan, Putin

Democrats Moved the Filibuster Overton Window Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema may be the last in their party to support maintaining the procedure. .......... for activists, the long battle over voter protections hasn’t been entirely in vain: It’s fundamentally changed the center of gravity in the Democratic Party to the point where those two holdouts are likely to be the last Democrats ever elected to the Senate who support maintaining the filibuster, at least for voting rights. ............ The leading Democratic Senate challengers for 2022, even in tough swing states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, have already indicated support for changing the rules. ......... Key party constituencies are pledging to withhold support for Democrats who do not back filibuster reform. The movement has been as striking among incumbents, including those from tough swing states. ......... If Democrats lose unified control of Congress in November, it’s not clear when they will regain it and the power to implement their new consensus on retrenching the filibuster. But it is clear that Manchin and Sinema are holding to a position that leaves them almost completely isolated in the party. “I think it is very likely they are the last two elected Democrats who support the filibuster,” Eli Zupnick, the spokesperson for Fix Our Senate, a group advocating for filibuster reform, told me. “It is no longer a tenable position to defend the broken status quo.” ........... All of this may be cold comfort to advocates smarting from last night’s defeat—and facing the prospect that

red states could have almost unfettered freedom to restrict voting rights over the next few years if Republicans regain one or both Congressional chambers this fall

. ............. by forcing the voting-rights fight to a climactic, if doomed, vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has accelerated the development of a new consensus position in the party. ......... EMILY’s List, the fundraising behemoth that supports female Democratic candidates who endorse abortion rights, said in an unusually pointed statement that it would no longer support Sinema if she maintained her opposition to changing the filibuster. ......... “Sen. Sinema’s decision to reject the voices of allies, partners and constituents who believe the importance of voting rights outweighs that of an arcane process means she will find herself standing alone in the next election,” the group wrote. ........... “If the Senate cannot even begin to debate and vote on something as foundational as voting rights, we must reform Senate rules” ........

Sinema’s Arizona colleague, Senator Mark Kelly, announced that he would support changing Senate rules for voting-rights issues “to pass them with a majority vote.”

.......... It’s easy to lose sight of how big a change this represents for Democrats. Zupnick said that when the party won the Senate majority last January, “we had a list of 10 Democratic senators who were reluctant or flat-out opposed” to changing the filibuster, or who would not commit to any position on the issue. At that time, another prominent former senator, the newly elected President Joe Biden, was openly resistant to changing the rules too. ...... “This is no longer just a progressive issue—it is a consensus Democratic position” ....... solidified the Democratic consensus on changing the filibuster by demonstrating how completely the congressional GOP has turned against virtually any federal role in protecting voters ........ The League of Conservation Voters alone spent about $52 million supporting Democratic Senate candidates over the past three elections, including nearly $4 million for Sinema in 2018. EMILY’s List recorded nearly $46 million in direct contributions and outside spending for Democrats in the 2020 election cycle and, two years earlier, was among Sinema’s biggest donors ......

Republicans need a net gain of only five seats to win back the House majority in November’s election and the party out of the White House has won at least that many in all but four midterm elections since the Civil War.

...... November, Republicans could post considerable gains in both chambers ......... by blocking any federal response to the voter-suppression legislation advancing across so many red states, the two Democratic holdouts are increasing the chances that it will be Republicans who next seize unified control of Washington.

We Still Can’t See American Slavery for What It Was . An estimated 12.5 million people endured some version of this journey, captured and shipped mainly from the western coast of Africa to the Western Hemisphere during the four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Of that number, about 10.7 million survived to reach the shores of the so-called New World. ......... “After every deduction, the trade retains its gigantic character of crime.” ....... A large majority of people taken from Africa were sold to enslavers in either South America or the Caribbean. British, Dutch, French, Spanish and Portuguese traders brought their captives to, among other places, modern-day Jamaica, Barbados, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Haiti, as well as Argentina, Antigua and the Bahamas. A little over 3.5 percent of the total, about 389,000 people, arrived on the shores of British North America and the Gulf Coast during those centuries when slave ships could find port. ..........

by 1787, most of the states of the newly independent United States had banned the importation of slaves, although slavery itself continued to thrive in the southeastern part of the country.

........ Slavery remained a big and booming business, driven by demand for tobacco, rice, indigo and increasingly cotton, which was already on its path to dominance as the principal cash crop of the slaveholding South. .......... Within a decade of the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, annual cotton production had grown twentyfold to 35 million pounds in 1800. By 1810, production had risen to roughly 85 million pounds per year, accounting for more than 20 percent of the nation’s export revenue. By 1820, the United States was producing something in the area of 160 million pounds of cotton a year. .......... spectacularly violated, objectified, disposable, hypersexualized, and silenced ........ information about the people, the humans, who actually bore the brunt of this violence. And that’s important. It is important to humanize this history, to understand that this happened to African human beings.” .........

a young man sold for the purpose of “breeding” more people.

........... to have this visual in your head of these young people, chained on a boat, not really knowing where they were going.” ..... “I actually want to understand tiny moments of violence, because that’s what I see as adding up to a kind of numbness — a numbness of empathy, a numbness to human interconnection.” .......... W.E.B. Du Bois once called the trans-Atlantic slave trade “the most magnificent drama in the last thousand years of human history”; a tragedy that involved “the transportation of 10 million human beings out of the dark beauty of their mother continent into the newfound Eldorado of the West” where they “descended into Hell”; and an “upheaval of humanity like the Reformation and the French Revolution.”

America Has Split, and It’s Now in ‘Very Dangerous Territory’ . Polarization has become a force that feeds on itself, gaining strength from the hostility it generates, finding sustenance on both the left and the right. A series of recent analyses reveals the destructive power of polarization across the American political system. ......... None of the wealthy, consolidated democracies of East Asia, Oceania or Western Europe, for example, have faced similar levels of polarization for such an extended period. ......... “the United States is the only advanced Western democracy to have faced such intense polarization for such an extended period. The United States is in uncharted and very dangerous territory.” ......... there are “a number of features that make the United States both especially susceptible to polarization and especially impervious to efforts to reduce it.” .............

The United States is perhaps alone in experiencing a demographic shift that poses a threat to the white population that has historically been the dominant group in all arenas of power, allowing political leaders to exploit insecurities surrounding this loss of status.

........... “The Senate is highly disproportionate in its representation,” they add, “with two senators per state regardless of population, from Wyoming’s 580,000 to California’s 39,500,000 persons,” which, in turn, “translates to disproportionality in the Electoral College — whose indirect election of the president is again exceptional among presidential democracies.” .......... aggressive redistribution policies designed to lessen inequality must be initiated before polarization becomes further entrenched. The fear is that polarization now runs so deep in the United States that we can’t do the things that would help us be less polarized. ......... a deeply polarized electorate is highly unlikely to support redistribution that would benefit their adversaries as well as themselves. ......... Interactions with more diverse out-group members pool greater knowledge, applicable to a wider variety of situations. These interactions, when successful, generate better solutions and greater benefits. However, we also assume that the risk of failure is higher for out-group interactions, because of a weaker capacity to coordinate among individuals, compared to more familiar in-group interactions. ..........

after Levi Strauss & Co. pledged over $1 million to support ending gun violence and strengthening gun control laws, the jean company became progressively aligned with liberals while conservatives aligned themselves more with Wrangler

........... the stereotypes of “Tesla liberals” and “bird hunting conservatives” ........... “cultural products are four times more polarized than any other segment.” .......... greater levels of prejudice among conservatives .......... “people high in cognitive ability are prejudiced against more conservative and conventional groups,” while “people low in cognitive ability are prejudiced against more liberal and unconventional groups.” ........ those on the extreme right and extreme left exhibited cognitive rigidity on neuropsychological tasks, in comparison to moderates. .........

the electorate as a whole is moving farther and farther apart into two mutually loathing camps.

.......... By the 2000s, party explained about 80 percent of the variance in senators’ racial conservatism and nearly 100 percent of the variance in the mass public. ......... Today, across all offices, conservative states are largely dominated by Republicans, whereas the opposite is true of liberal states.

The ideological nationalization of the party system thus seems to have undermined party competition at the state level.

................ the pool of people that run for office is increasingly extreme. ........... only 16 of the 52 countries that reached levels of pernicious polarization succeeded in achieving depolarization and in “a significant number of instances later repolarized to pernicious levels. The progress toward depolarization in seven of 16 episodes was later undone.”

Joe Manchin Thinks James Madison Is on His Side. Nope. . .

Why is Ukraine such an economic failure? . Ukraine is a middle-income country. Its GDP per capita (PPP) is somewhere around $13000, which is similar to Libya or Paraguay. That’s not terrible, but what is terrible is how Ukraine has stagnated since the fall of the Soviet Union. By the World Bank’s reckoning, Ukraine is about 20% poorer now than it was in 1990! ......... If Ukraine had experienced growth similar to that of Poland or Romania since the fall of communism, it would now have a GDP in the $30,000-$35,000 range, and would essentially be a developed country. ......... Putin’s portrayal of Ukraine as a basket case has been a key part of his justification for aggression. ........ In general, the rule for countries is that they’re poor until something happens to make them rich. Thus, many disappointing growth stories (e.g. Pakistan) can be explained simply by a lack of pro-development policy. ......... Ukraine proceeded with shock therapy, and in proportional terms it had the most to shock. ........ exporting manufactured goods is the best way to boost a country out of poverty ....... Countries that specialize in resource extraction or agriculture, or which fail to make their products competitive in global markets, tend to fall behind in the development race. ........ Poland, Romania, or Turkey — three countries that have enjoyed rapid growth and are now on the cusp of developed-country status — and you’ll see that they all export a lot of cars car parts and some electronics, with Germany and the other rich countries of Europe as their biggest markets. ....... they’ve become a sort of Tennessee/Kentucky for Europe — a cheap zone for high-value manufacturing. ........ Ukraine, and we see that it mostly exports very basic, simple, low-value stuff — food, metals, and minerals. ........ in the 2000s, Ukrainian policy tended to reserve manufacturing industries for domestic oligarchs — most of whom had gotten rich by owning Ukraine’s old inefficient Soviet-era manufacturing industries. It thus tried to discourage foreign investment in the manufacturing sector — a huge, tragic mistake. The oligarchs didn’t do much with Ukraine’s manufacturing sector; they just kept collecting their checks and allowed the sector to slowly decline. Meanwhile, the country’s leaders encouraged foreign investment in sectors like finance and real estate. .......... But Ukraine also hit another big shock right around this same time: The end of cheap Russian gas. In Soviet times Russia had piped cheap gas to Ukraine to subsidize the area’s inefficient heavy industry, and this policy basically continued after 1991. But from 2007 through 2009, Russia mostly ended this sweetheart deal, raising the prices Ukraine would have to pay for gas. This dealt a blow to Ukraine’s inefficient, oligarch-controlled manufacturing sector. In 2010 the cheap gas subsidy was partly restored when Ukraine elected a pro-Russian president (Yanukovych) who negotiated a new discount. But of course that ended in 2014 when Yanukovych was ousted and the war began. ...........

So Ukraine made a big mistake in its FDI policy, which left it vulnerable to the twin shocks of the global financial crisis and the end of cheap Russian gas.

....... it makes it hard to raise tax revenue, which forces tax rates to be higher, which forces much of the economy off the books. In 2014, Ukraine’s shadow economy was estimated to comprise a whopping 50% of the total. That in turn encourages a pervasive culture of bribe-taking and extralegal means of property protection and contract enforcement (i.e. organized crime), which exacts its own toll on the economy in myriad ways. ......... What’s good for enriching the country is not always the same as what’s good for enriching oligarchs. ....... Official corruption also inhibits good governance. The Yanukovych administration is thought to have been especially corrupt, with tens of billions vanishing from government coffers during his rule. Those kinds of “rents” reduce the leadership’s incentive to invest in public goods; why build roads and schools and export industries to make your country rich, when you can just raid its treasury to enrich your own family and depend on Russia for protection? .......... Becoming a rich country like Poland is Ukraine’s best chance for standing up to a domineering neighbor three times its size. External military threat has been a catalyst for development for countries throughout the ages, most notably Japan and South Korea. Hopefully it will do the same for Ukraine now.

Why would Pakistan grow? Bangladesh’s startling and encouraging economic growth......... countries are poor until they get rich. India and Bangladesh have been doing things that have made them grow steadily richer; Pakistan, in general, has not. ........ The average Pakistani household consumes as much as the average Indian household, and more than the average Bangladeshi household. ........ Pakistan is eating its proverbial seed corn instead of planting it in the ground. Bangladesh and India, in contrast, are planting their seed corn — foregoing current consumption in order to build productive capital and be richer tomorrow. ........ Pakistan is behaving like a lot of natural resource exporters behave — but without the natural resources. Instead of a middle-income or high-income consumption society, it’s a low-income consumption society — keeping its people barely treading water, with lots of help from external largesse. That largesse is doubtless partly motivated by Pakistan’s strategic importance; it sits at the confluence of the War on Terror and Asian geopolitics, and it has nuclear weapons that no one wants to see fall into the wrong hands. ....... the “selectorate” — is some elite subset of the populace, rather than the whole populace at large ....... If Pakistan’s leaders chose to do what Bangladesh does, and divert another 16% of its GDP to building capital instead of giving people the necessities of life, they might be kicked right out of power by a disgruntled populace. Bangladesh, with its greater political stability, is able to make the far-sighted choice instead. ......... Push-button superweapons greatly reduce the need for a state to be rich and effective — or even particularly stable — in order to maintain security from external threats. Perhaps we can see this with North Korea as well, or possibly even Russia...... the right political incentives for growth-oriented policy are not in place yet. Perhaps a long period of stable civilian rule, or nationalistic envy of Bangladesh’s success, can change the calculus.

Bangladesh is the new Asian Tiger . It's succeeding using the classic formula, and defying the skeptics. ......... Bangladesh has now surpassed both India and Pakistan in terms of GDP per capita. That’s an astonishing milestone. ........ Bangladeshi growth is accelerating, from around 5% in previous years to 7% in 2019 .......... Pakistan is mostly stagnant, languishing in poverty ........ it’s doing the very same thing that Britain did when it became the first country to industrialize, over two centuries ago.

It’s making and selling a bunch of clothes.

.......... Bangladesh has become known as a hub of the world’s garment industry. ........ This transformation through garment exports did not occur in a vacuum: the government decided very early on to promote the sector and to provide incentives to get it where it needed to be. As in many countries, an important part of that strategy entailed designing special economic zones, areas in which regulations, incentives, and basic infrastructure could be provided to ensure conditions for success. This also made it easier for FDI to engage in production… .......... Bangladesh picked a traditional labor-intensive light manufacturing industry, laid out plans for promoting that industry, and successfully built a dominant position in that industry. ............. Bangladesh ignored the dire warnings that labor-intensive manufacturing was about to be automated away, and ignored the skepticism about whether a country outside Europe or East Asia could pull off manufacturing-led industrialization, and simply powered ahead with a traditional development strategy. And dammit, it’s working. .......... Bangladesh needs to diversify into other light manfuacturing industries like toys and furniture, etc. And to really climb up the value chain, Bangladesh needs to start making electronics. ........ growth seems to have taken on something of a life of its own ......... this is still a very poor country, with a per capita GDP (PPP) of only around $5800, similar to that of Ghana or Honduras. It’s going to be many decades yet before Bangladesh can reach developed-country status ........ Bangladesh’s growth should remind us that globalization is still an incredibly powerful force for good. Access to European and U.S. export markets has been crucial. ......... far away from our bickering culture wars and policy debates, the lifting of the world’s indigent masses to the safety and comfort of material plenty is still the biggest and most important story in the world.

Republicans Think There Is a ‘Takeover’ Happening. They Have Some Reading to Do. . Congress has absolute, unbending power to regulate federal elections as it sees fit. ...... it has been strange to see Republican politicians — including some self-described “constitutional conservatives” — denounce the Democrats’ proposed new voting rights legislation as an illegitimate “federal takeover” of federal elections. ......... overall voter turnout has increased significantly since the Supreme Court undermined the Voting Rights Act in 2013. ........ There are times when the federal government needs to take election rules out of the hands of the states. Looking at the restrictions and power grabs passed by state Republican lawmakers in the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat, I’d say now is one of those times.

It’s 2086. This Is What American History Could Look Like. . President Andrew Jackson’s dueling pistols — once proof of the aggressive populism of a fighter honored in Democratic banquets and the names of generations of boys — now could not be displayed without mention of the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans for which he often fought. ........ The elections in 2022 and 2024 will help determine whether the big lie becomes the official truth. ...... more than 30 percent of respondents said they do not accept the legitimacy of President Biden’s 2020 victory, and 25 percent opposed investigating those who sought to overturn the election. .........

As curators, as historians, as citizens, we are frequently reminded that the past is a foreign country. But so is the future.

Putin Is Caught in a Trap of His Own Making . The question is on everyone’s lips. Will President Vladimir Putin go to war against Ukraine? To judge by Russia’s propaganda machine, where media moguls are predicting a victory “in 48 hours,” the answer is an emphatic yes. ........ While Mr. Putin undoubtedly regards Ukraine as little more than a Russian province, as he argued in a lengthy pseudo-historical treatise in July, it’s far from clear his aim was war. Outright conflict — as opposed to sudden swoops, covert operations or hybrid warfare — isn’t really Mr. Putin’s style. ....... It’s probable that the troop buildup in November was an attempt to force the West to relinquish any claims over Ukraine. That would be a great P.R. victory at minimal cost. ......... Instead of trapping the United States, Mr. Putin has trapped himself. Caught between armed conflict and a humiliating retreat, he is now seeing his room for maneuver dwindling to nothing. He could invade and risk defeat, or he could pull back and have nothing to show for his brinkmanship. What happens next is unknown. But one thing is clear: Mr. Putin’s gamble has failed. ....... Mr. Putin — whose instinctive cautiousness I’ve observed at close quarters for two decades — has a record of withdrawing at the first sign of real conflict. When Russian mercenaries were killed by U.S. troops in Syria in 2018, for example, he had the perfect opportunity to retaliate. Instead, Russia denied the slaughter ever took place. .......... Tellingly, Russia’s major successful military operations under Mr. Putin — the defeat of Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 — happened when the West was looking the other way. In both cases, the world was caught unawares and Russia could complete its designs without the threat of armed international opposition. That is not the case now. ....... What’s more, there are no internal reasons for pursuing a war. Yes, Mr. Putin’s ratings are down and prices are up, but there’s no major domestic unrest and elections are two years away. ........ Russia would not be assured of victory. The Ukrainian Army is much improved, having upscaled its equipment and preparations for a ground invasion, and the Russian troops deployed near the border are most likely insufficient to conquer the country. ........... Without the usual bargaining chips — no sound economy, no superior weapons, no fanatical followers — he fell back on unpredictability. The more irrational his behavior, went the thinking, the more likely the United States would accept his demands. ....... Those demands, published in mock-treaty form in December, were in many cases absurd. ......... The core request — that NATO deny membership to Ukraine — was silly in a different way. There was no chance of Ukraine becoming a member any time soon, ultimatum or not. But that was Mr. Putin’s point: By demanding something that was already happening, Mr. Putin aimed to claim a victory over the West. ............ he could test the waters with a deniable provocation undertaken by supposedly private Russian citizens, those Mr. Putin once called “coal miners and tractor drivers.” That may be a small way to save face, but it could easily spill out of control. The risk of outright war is enormous. ...... one certainty to hold on to: Mr. Putin will never start a war he’s likely to lose.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

January 27: Russia, Crypto

Biden Promised a Black Woman on the Supreme Court . The perception of Biden as a disappointment has been hardening among Black voters, the voters he needed to win in 2020 and the ones he would need again in 2024.

Our Tribalism Will Be the Death of Us . while a virus isn’t partisan, many Americans’ responses to this one have been emphatically so. ......... One of this tribalism’s obvious drivers is many Americans’ substitution of investment and involvement in physical communities with investment and involvement in online ones that more efficiently sort them into cliques of the rigidly like-minded.

Russia’s Military, Once Creaky, Is Modern and Lethal A significantly upgraded military has emerged as a key tool of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy, as he flexes his might around the globe and, most ominously, on the Ukraine border. ......... It is Mr. Putin’s highest-stakes use of the military to muscle Russia back into the global relevance it lost with the ending of the Cold War. Mr. Putin laid out that doctrine in 2018, when he used his annual state-of-the-nation speech to unveil new nuclear weapons that could fly 20 times the speed of sound. ......... The T-72B3 tanks amassed on Ukraine’s border have a new thermal optics system for nighttime fighting as well as guided missiles with twice the range of other tanks ........ Kalibr cruise missiles deployed on ships and submarines in the Black Sea and Iskander-M rockets arrayed along the border can hit targets just about anywhere inside Ukraine ......... The military relies less on a dwindling number of conscripts and more on a slimmed-down, well-trained core of roughly 400,000 contract soldiers. .........

“cross-domain coercion” — blending the real or threatened use of force with diplomacy, cyberattacks and propaganda to achieve political aims.

........ For all its strides in recent years, Russia’s military retains a critical weakness of its Soviet predecessor: the civilian side of the country’s economy, nearly devoid of high-tech manufacturing and corporate investment in research and development. Army expenditures amount to a far higher percentage of the gross domestic product than in most European countries, starving other sectors.

Russia Isn’t a Dead Petrostate, and Putin Isn’t Going Anywhere . The European Union typically relies on Russia for about 40 percent of its natural gas, making it by far the continent’s largest supplier. With an estimated 127,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, Europe seems torn between responding to what would be an egregious upset of its security and safeguarding its own energy requirements. ........... Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Russia’s Rosneft are all investing large sums to increase future oil production. ...... If the world reaches its climate goals of net-zero emissions by 2050, the International Energy Agency and others predict it will still be using roughly one-quarter as much oil and one-half as much natural gas as it does today. ....... From France’s “yellow vest” protests to Kazakhstan’s recent unrest over fuel price hikes, it is increasingly clear that if climate ambition comes into tension with energy reliability or affordability or the security of energy supplies, climate ambition will lose.

How Crypto Became the New Subprime . If the stock market isn’t the economy — which it isn’t — then cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin really, really aren’t the economy. Still, crypto has become a pretty big asset class (and yielded huge capital gains to many buyers); by last fall the combined market value of cryptocurrencies had reached almost $3 trillion. ............... So crypto has become a large asset class even though nobody can clearly explain what legitimate purpose it’s for. ............ 44 percent of crypto investors are nonwhite, and 55 percent don’t have a college degree. This matches up with anecdotal evidence that crypto investing has become remarkably popular among minority groups and the working class. .......... “Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers?” He then declared, “The question answers itself.” Homeownership dropped sharply once the bubble burst. ......... regulators have made the same mistake they made on subprime: They failed to protect the public against financial products nobody understood, and many vulnerable families may end up paying the price.

It’s Hard to Tell When the Crypto Bubble Will Burst, or If There Is One Crypto prices are highly volatile, as this week’s sell-off showed. But die-hard enthusiasts believe prices will keep soaring in a world where traditional notions of value don’t apply.......... Traditional financial analysis doesn’t apply here. A stock analyst, for instance, determines whether a company’s shares are expensive or cheap by assessing its business model, future prospects and leadership. But few, if any, of those metrics translate to cryptocurrency valuation. Belief alone can drive value. ........

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Reshma Saujani's Book: Pay Up (Or Go Home)

Motherhood in America is broken, and we need a plan to fix it,” Saujani said in a statement Wednesday. “I wrote ‘Pay Up’ because mothers are tired of being America’s social safety net and working for free. And we know that equity in the workplace will only be accomplished when there is equity at home. I want women to see themselves and their worth in this book and it provides a guidepost on what we can do to bring about change on a structural, cultural and personal level.”

Deep in the archives of this blog are several months of blog posts from when I volunteered for Reshma Saujani's campaign for Congress on the Upper East Side, and Astoria. She has impressive political instincts, not to say amazing intellect. To me it felt like a product launch before the market was ready. Gender is not a statement on Reshma Saujani, it is a statement on the rest of us, particularly men. I am very selective about who I volunteer for. For example, right now my focus is on this dude in Nepal who has never held any office but who I think is going to pull a Macron in Nepal. Dr. CK Raut. When America is trying its best to become South Africa, I think Nepal where I grew up and which has been seeing revolutionary fervor since 2006 just might give the world its most cutting edge democracy.

At the election returns party, when it became obvious she had lost, Reshma Saujani's then fiance Nihal approached me. To console him I said, Bill Clinton lost his first election for Congress, so did Barack Obama. To console me he told me how many times Lincoln had lost!

Might I suggest, a Marshall Plan for women can only be global. There is no other way for it to succeed.

Earlier this year, Saujani placed an advertisement in The New York Times, with co-signers including the actors Julianne Moore and Charlize Theron, urging President Joe Biden to pass a “Marshall Plan for Moms” that called for mothers to receive $2,400 monthly checks for unpaid labor at home. For her book, Saujani interviewed hundreds of women, and also shares her story of “waking up to the notion that overwork is a path to burnout, unhappiness, and rage,” according to One Signal.

Go big or go home!

Sunday, January 16, 2022

January 16: Republican Party, Omicron, Penélope Cruz

The Republican Party Is Succeeding Because We Are Not a True Democracy The Jan. 6 attack would not have happened in a genuine democracy. ........ the roots of the crisis run deep into the undemocratic features of our constitutional system. ......... In a simple system of majority rule, Mr.

Biden’s thumping margin of more than seven million votes

would have been the last word. For that matter, so would Hillary Clinton’s national margin of nearly three million votes in 2016: Mr. Trump would not have had a 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address in which to barricade himself in 2020. ............... today’s Republican Party succeeds only because the Electoral College, the Senate and the Supreme Court all tilt in its favor ........... That system has handed conservatives a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, despite the fact that only one Republican has won the presidential popular vote after 1988. ......... A party doesn’t have to persuade majorities that it has the best vision for the country. It only has to persuade a selective minority that the other side is a mortal threat. ............. Its grasp on power may be too tenuous for the party to govern effectively, but it has offered conservatives a fine perch to weaken economic and environmental regulation, appoint conservative judges and launch attacks on the democratic system itself. ......... In a more democratic system, the Republican Party’s extreme elements would have been sent packing long before they stormed the Capitol because they couldn’t muster enough votes to win a national election. Instead, they have perfected minority rule as a path to political success.

An antidemocratic system has bred an antidemocratic party. The remedy is to democratize our so-called democracy.

................. James Madison boasted that the Constitution achieved “the total exclusion of the people, in their collective capacity.” Its elaborate political mechanics reflect the elite dislike and mistrust of majority rule that Madison voiced when he wrote, “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” Madison’s condescension has never gone away. Walter Lippmann, perhaps the most prominent intellectual of the short American Century, reckoned that citizens were ignorant, confused and emotional. Democracy brought “an intensification of feeling and a degradation of significance” to whatever it touched. If Madison and Lippmann could have seen the “QAnon Shaman” break into the Capitol, then meander around like a tourist whose phone has lost its signal, they would have muttered, “This is what democracy looks like.” ................ Jan. 6 and the four years before it were a forcible reminder that democracy is a task, not a birthright. ............

Majorities of the people, not the Electoral College, should be able to pick the president and decide who controls the House and Senate. All who make their lives in the United States — including the incarcerated, people convicted of felonies and noncitizens — should be allowed to vote.

................ in a working democracy, there are no permanent majorities or minorities. Forging partnerships in a truly democratic system, inland conservatives would soon find new allies — just not ones determined to break democracy itself. ........... Shortly before World War I, activists successfully pressed state legislatures to ratify an amendment giving up their power to choose U.S. senators. Maybe we can revive mass movements for amendments, starting with one that would make the amendment process itself more democratic. .......... If the public supports a constitutional amendment to limit money in politics, restrict gerrymandering or enshrine a core abortion right, a committed majority should be able to say what our fundamental law is by popular vote, rather than having to go through the current, complicated process of ratifying amendments through state legislatures or dozens of constitutional conventions. ............ Even our terribly flawed legacy is rich in examples of majoritarian emancipation: New Deal programs, the Civil Rights Acts and the Voting Rights Act and Medicare. Majorities can change the world for the better, when they have the chance. Giving one another that chance, over and over, is how equals share a country. .............. Majorities should be able to choose parties and leaders to improve their everyday lives, starting with child care, family leave, health care and the dignified work that still evades many even at a time when employers are complaining of difficulty hiring workers and there is upward pressure on wages after decades of stagnation. ............ If we don’t claim that power, the market, a court or a minority government will always be pleased to take it off our hands. .......... If Jan. 6 was a symptom of a crisis of democracy, the best answer we can give is more democracy.

We might not be capable of that, in which case the future is bleak.

But the only way to find out is by trying. .......... Democracy’s vitality is not handed down from on high. It comes from actually ruling and being ruled in turn and learning to live with both. It comes from the constant search for new majorities, new coalitions, new ways to avoid disaster and even make life better.

My Dinner With Sidney Poitier But Poitier wasn’t just a star, he was a legend, a lion, an almost mythical figure in Black culture and the culture at large. He was Black royalty. ......... before one civil rights march in Mississippi in the 1960s, the singer Sammy Davis Jr., “who avoided the Deep South, swallowed his fear and flew to Jackson. He remembered feeling safe around Belafonte and Poitier,” calling them “two Black knights.” .......... As I approached the table, Poitier greeted me with a blinding smile, the kind that beacons and beguiles, the kind that makes you feel that you have known a complete stranger your whole life. He insisted that I sit next to him. ............ From beginning to end that evening, Poitier whispered slick, salty jokes to me with the devilish satisfaction of a schoolboy. He was 87 at the time. .......... I now knew, at close range, what star power was. His enchantment settled on you, like a soft sweater. Cashmere, of course. .......... He had learned that sometimes, when people say something can’t happen, they simply haven’t tried hard enough. Sometimes, can’ts are soft. ..........

When Poitier arrived in New York, he did odd jobs until, as he wrote in his memoir, he said, “What the hell,” and tried his hand at acting.

...... “I had no training in acting. I could barely read! And to top it off, I had a thick singsong Bahamian accent.” ........ Undeterred, Poitier would will himself into becoming one of the greatest actors America has ever known. .......... For people like Poitier, who have lived a life in which, by sheer grit and determination, they turned noes into yeses, noes lack finality. .........

He was the epitome of Black dignity, Black beauty, Black pride and Black power.

He was the epitome of Black dignity, Black beauty, Black pride and Black power. For a year, activists have been screaming and pleading and begging and getting arrested, trying to get the White House to put the full weight of the presidency behind protecting voting rights, only to be met by silence or soft-pedaling. ........... When Biden fully entered the battle, the other warriors were already bloody, bruised and exhausted. ......... Biden has been dillydallying on getting rid of the filibuster to protect voting rights for essentially his whole administration, until this week. ........ Even a cursory reading of American history reveals a long legacy of extremely effective voter suppression and intimidation. ............

McConnell is an accomplice to the crime of voter suppression

......... States like Texas, with new voter suppression laws and new racially gerrymandered maps, begin early voting in February. ......... During Biden’s victory speech he said, “Especially at those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African American community stood up again for me,” and he continued, “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.” Well, if voting protections fail, many in the Black community will feel like they have been stabbed in the back.

Here’s When We Expect Omicron to Peak The Omicron variant is spreading widely and infecting large numbers of people, including the vaccinated and those previously infected with the virus. While spikes in cases have been the norm for the past two years, there are clear indications this wave will differ substantially from previous ones. ............ it’s less common for people infected with Omicron to experience severe disease and end up in the hospital ......... Our models project that the United States is likely to document more Covid-19 cases in January than in any previous month of the pandemic, but a smaller fraction of those cases will require hospitalization. ........ Our projections depict a rapid surge of cases nationally that peaks at record high numbers during the first one to three weeks of January. ..........

New York City is projected to peak during the first week of January; other locations peak later.

........... whether the steep rise of Omicron cases is followed by a rapid decline, as has been seen in South Africa. This would make the Omicron wave intense but short-lived ......... While Omicron is causing record numbers of infections, the hope is that vaccinations, booster shots and prior infections by other variants will still protect most people from the worst effects of the virus. Early evidence supports this conclusion. ........ The long-term implications of Omicron remain unknown, but in the near term, everyone should expect an intense month of disruption. Still, the familiar advice remains the best: get vaccinated, get booster shots and prepare for a bumpy January.

We Must Stop Showering the Military With Money the nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars that we are spending this year on a military that has become the epitome of governmental dysfunction, self-dealing and overspending. ............ Right around the time he was bayoneting Build Back Better, Manchin joined 87 other senators — Democrats and Republicans — in rubber-stamping another gargantuan budget for the Pentagon. They allocated $768 billion for the military in 2022, roughly $24 billion more than the White House requested from Congress. ............

The Pentagon has never passed an audit and says it may not be able to until 2028.

.............. In 2020 the U.S. military’s budget accounted for almost 40 percent of the world’s military expenditures. This level of spending has long been excessive, but after a pandemic that has claimed the lives of more Americans than any war we fought, continuing to throw money at the military is an act of willful disregard for the most urgent threats we face. ........... Congress is projected to spend about $8.5 trillion for the military over the next decade — about half a trillion more than is budgeted for all nonmilitary discretionary programs combined (a category that includes federal spending on education, public health, scientific research, infrastructure, national parks and forests, environmental protection, law enforcement, courts, tax collection, foreign aid, homeland security and health care for veterans). .................. When we face so many other major challenges — from climate disasters to political instability and insurrection — shouldn’t we ask whether it remains wise to keep handing the military what is effectively a blank check? ...........

might the Pentagon’s near-bottomless access to funds have encouraged a culture of waste and indulgence that made it easier to blunder into Iraq and contributed to its failures in Afghanistan?

............. why should we keep building aircraft carriers — each of which costs about $1.5 billion a year to operate — when we’ve already got most of the world’s fleet of active aircraft carriers? ............ it could save $125 billion a year by, among other measures, reducing overstaffing through retirements and attrition. ............

The military-industrial complex is every bit as politically powerful as Dwight Eisenhower warned it would be.

............... “Who Won in Afghanistan? Private Contractors.” ......... “It’s going to take members of Congress to really step up,” she said. That seems about as likely as pigs flying — or, more aptly, F-35s.

This Presidency Isn’t Turning Out as Planned The Obama administration was bedeviled by crises of demand. The Biden administration is struggling with crises of supply. ........... The 2009 stimulus was too small, and while we avoided a second Great Depression, we sank into an achingly slow recovery. .......... Wages are high, new businesses are forming at record rates, and poverty has fallen below its prepandemic levels. ............ Since March 2020, Americans saved at least $2 trillion more than expected. ......... we met the pandemic with tremendous, perhaps excessive, fiscal force. We fought the recession and won. The problems we do have shouldn’t obscure the problems we don’t. ............ Year-on-year inflation is running at 7 percent, its highest rate in decades, and Omicron has shown that the Biden administration wasted months of possible preparation. It is not to blame for the new variant, but it is to blame for the paucity of tests, effective masks and ventilation upgrades. ............. many of the delays and shortages reflect unexpectedly strong demand, not a pandemic-induced breakdown in production .............

How about building the vaccine production capacity needed to vaccinate the world and prevent future strains from emerging?

............ Biden’s task now is clear: to build a government that can create supply, not just demand.

The Economic Case for Goldilocks
Ukraine Is Only One Small Part of Putin’s Plans A call between Mr. Putin and President Biden on Dec. 30, where the leaders traded threats, did little to take the sting out of the situation. Any incident along the Russian-Ukrainian border could bring an inferno......... Mr. Putin’s design is grand: to refashion the post-Cold War settlement, in the process guaranteeing the survival of Russia’s personalized power system. And judging from the West’s awkward, anguished response so far, he might be close to getting what he wants. ......... No longer content with upsetting the West, Mr. Putin is now trying to force it to agree to a new global dispensation, with Russia restored to eminence. ............ the West, by accepting Russia’s geopolitical position, would effectively underwrite its domestic agenda, too .........

confrontation is not the Kremlin’s goal. The escalation is about peace on Russia’s terms.

............. One success is already clear: The West has been forced to reward Russia — through outreach, diplomacy and, above all, attention — for the charitable act of not invading Ukraine. .......... Mr. Putin’s method is tried and tested: He ratchets up the tensions and then demands “binding agreements,” which he does not take seriously. The aim, really, is a Hobbesian world order, built on disruption and readiness for surprise breakthroughs. ........... This order has nothing in common with those fashioned at the Yalta Conference in 1945, say, or the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Their architects followed the rules. The Kremlin is suggesting something very different: the irrelevance of rules. The norms by which the world has been governed for the past three decades would be thrown out, in favor of creative interpretation of the possible. In this free-for-all, Mr. Putin — mercurial master of suspense and the sudden move — can pursue his fusion of geopolitical power and personal rule............. By forcing the world to guess what Russia is up to and pursuing mutually contradictory policy lines simultaneously, the Kremlin keeps the West disoriented. Accustomed to functioning in rational, risk-averse ways, the West doesn’t know how to react to such “organized chaos.” ......... Any bargain that would allow the Kremlin to interpret the global rules of the game would undermine Western principles. Yet rejecting the bargain could incite the Kremlin to wreck the whole shop. The world’s liberal democracies are hardly ready for a clash with a nuclear opponent.

A Library the Internet Can’t Get Enough Of Why does this image keep resurfacing on social media? ......... “For me, I think that photo is as stunning as a sunset. I could spend days and days locked in that library examining each book.” He noted that there’s something comforting about the image, since “it’s a room you could happily get lost in.” ............ Dr. Macksey’s book collection clocked in at 51,000 titles, according to his son, Alan, excluding magazines and other ephemera. ........... Several first editions by 20th-century poets and novelists sat on a shelf in the laundry room. .......... the “satisfying” sense of organized chaos, and the awe inspired by the high ceilings.

The Visions of Penélope Cruz She already felt a mystical connection with the director Pedro Almodóvar. For their seventh collaboration, “Parallel Mothers,” she gave her all, even collapsing after one scene. ........... Their latest, “Parallel Mothers,” is also one of their greatest, starring Cruz as a mother wrestling with a terrible secret. ........... it may also earn the 47-year-old Cruz, an Oscar winner for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” her fourth Academy Award nomination. ......... “Penélope has a blind faith in me,” Almodóvar wrote in a lengthy email. “She is convinced that I am a better director and writer than I really am. This blind faith fills me with the confidence to request anything of her, while the trust that she deposits in me allows her to do things during filming that she might not dare try with other directors because she knows I am watching her as if through a thousand eyes.” ........... Cruz asked for an unusually long rehearsal process of a few months, trying to reach the core of a character who’s in constant conflict with her own feelings. ............. playing this woman brought Cruz further from herself than she ever could have anticipated ......... it wasn’t until she reteamed with Almodóvar for “Volver” in 2006 that she earned her first Oscar nomination and truly showed Hollywood what kind of full-bodied lead performance she was capable of. ......... And every few years, she reunites with Almodóvar, who is always eager to push her to the next level. ........ but I cannot look back and judge them only by their result, or the awards or reviews. Every step counts.” ........ “Nature gives you a few months to prepare, but from the second you see your son or your daughter, it changes everything,” Cruz said. “It even changes your ego. It immediately puts it in a more healthy place.”

January 16: Boris Johnson, January 6 Terrorism

An Evangelical Climate Scientist Wonders What Went Wrong The biggest struggle I have is that in the Bible, Jesus says to his disciples, “You should be recognized as my disciples by your love for others,” and today when you look at people who self-identify as Christians in the United States, love for others is not one of the top characteristics you see. .......... Christianity is much more closely linked with political ideology and identity, with judgmentalism, partisanship, science denial, rejection of responsibility for the poorest and most vulnerable who we, as Christians, are to care for. ....... it said that about 10 years ago

if you asked people, “Do you consider yourself to be evangelical?” and they said yes, and then you asked, “Do you go to church?” about 30 percent would say no.

But nowadays something like 40 percent of people who self-identify as evangelicals don’t go to church. They go to the church of Facebook or Fox News or whatever media outlet they get their information from. So their statement of faith is written primarily by political ideology and only a distant second by theology. ............... People might show up for one hour on a Sunday morning, and half of that is singing, and there’s some entertaining talking because they want to keep people coming in the door because that’s how you fill the coffers. Churches are not teaching and people are spending hours and hours on cultural and political content and that is what is informing our beliefs. .............

more than 70 percent of people in the U.S. are already worried about climate change, and about 35 percent of those are really worried

. .......... Add your hand to that giant boulder. Get it rolling down the hill just a little faster. Even if we live in a progressive bubble, most of the people are not activated, and we activate them by using our voice. ...........

all we see is companies squabbling and avoiding action and the government in deadlock

......... We use moral judgment to make up our minds and then use our brains to find reasons that explain why we’re right. There’s no way to separate the emotional from the logical. ......... We think it’s possible to convince people to act rationally in their best interests: Well, look at people who, as they are dying, are rejecting the fact that they have Covid. Look at people who are still rejecting simple things like taking a vaccine and wearing masks. We are primarily emotional, and emotions are engaged deeply with climate change because it brings up the most profound sense of loss: People on the right, for example, deeply fear losing their liberties because of climate solutions. So what we need to do is to show everyone how climate solutions are not only not incompatible with who they are but help more genuinely express who they are and what we care about; make us an even more-genuine advocate for national security, an even stronger supporter of the free market, an even more independent person or, in my case, a more genuine expression of my faith. .................. When someone on Twitter has just called me a whore and I go to their profile and it says something about “loving others” and “so blessed” it makes me feel so discouraged. .......... When that happens, almost always within a day or two or sometimes even within an hour, I hear from somebody who is expressing love and joy and peace and patience and kindness .......... Part of the active hope is recognizing that there are people out there who are motivated from the heart, who are expressing love for others. Some of them call themselves Christians and some of them don’t, but those expressions restore your faith in the goodness of people, in the goodness of creation and, ultimately, the goodness of God. But, yes, I certainly have moments when I just say, “God, where are you?”

Boris Johnson Has Survived Many Scandals. This One Is Different.
Every Day Is Jan. 6 Now what happened on Jan. 6, 2021 — a deadly riot at the seat of American government, incited by a defeated president amid a last-ditch effort to thwart the transfer of power to his successor ...........

Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

....... It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties. ............. the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends .......... the violence and mayhem broadcast live around the world was only the most visible and visceral part of the effort to overturn the election. The effort extended all the way into the Oval Office, where Mr. Trump and his allies plotted a constitutional self-coup. .......... top Republican lawmakers and right-wing media figures privately understood how dangerous the riot was and pleaded with Mr. Trump to call a halt to it, even as they publicly pretended otherwise ......... those who may have critical information about the planning and execution of the attack are refusing to cooperate with Congress, even if it means being charged with criminal contempt. ........ Over the past year, Republican lawmakers in 41 states have been trying to advance the goals of the Jan. 6 rioters — not by breaking laws but by making them. ....... Hundreds of bills have been proposed and nearly three dozen laws have been passed that empower state legislatures to sabotage their own elections and overturn the will of their voters ............ Many of these laws are being proposed and passed in crucial battleground states like Arizona, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania. ...........

the Capitol riot continues in statehouses across the country, in a bloodless, legalized form that no police officer can arrest and that no prosecutor can try in court.

............... A healthy, functioning political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican Party, like authoritarian movements the world over, has shown itself recently to be incapable of doing this. ........... the overwhelming majority of Republicans believe that President Biden was not legitimately elected and that about one-third approve of using violence to achieve political goals. Put those two numbers together, and you have a recipe for extreme danger. .......... Democrats aren’t helpless, either. They hold unified power in Washington, for the last time in what may be a long time. Yet they have so far failed to confront the urgency of this moment — unwilling or unable to take action to protect elections from subversion and sabotage. Blame Senator Joe Manchin or Senator Kyrsten Sinema, but the only thing that matters in the end is whether you get it done. For that reason, Mr. Biden and other leading Democrats should make use of what remaining power they have to end the filibuster for voting rights legislation, even if nothing else. ......... Above all, we should stop underestimating the threat facing the country. Countless times over the past six years, up to and including the events of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and his allies openly projected their intent to do something outrageous or illegal or destructive. Every time, the common response was that they weren’t serious or that they would never succeed. How many times will we have to be proved wrong before we take it seriously? The sooner we do, the sooner we might hope to salvage a democracy that is in grave danger.

America Is Falling Apart at the Seams “All Kinds of Bad Behavior Is on the Rise.” Not only is reckless driving on the rise, Yglesias pointed out, but the number of altercations on airplanes has exploded, the murder rate is surging in cities, drug overdoses are increasing, Americans are drinking more, nurses say patients are getting more abusive, and so on and so on. ........ “Schools have seen an increase in both minor incidents, like students talking in class, and more serious issues, such as fights and gun possession. In Dallas, disruptive classroom incidents have tripled this year compared with prepandemic levels, school officials said.” ........ drug deaths had risen almost continuously for more than 20 years, but “overdoses shot up especially during the pandemic.” For much of this time the overdose crisis has been heavily concentrated among whites, but in 2020, the essay observed, “the Black rate exceeded the white rate for the first time.” ........ “Hate Crime Reports in U.S. Surge to the Highest Level in 12 Years, F.B.I. Says.” The F.B.I. found that between 2019 and 2020 the number of attacks targeting Black people, for example, rose to 2,871 from 1,972. ........ The number of gun purchases has soared. In January 2021, more than two million firearms were bought ......... “an 80 percent year-over-year spike and the third-highest one-month total on record.” ........ the share of Americans who give to charity is steadily declining. In 2000, 66.2 percent of households made a charitable donation. But by 2018 only 49.6 percent did. ......... The share who gave to religious causes dropped as worship service attendance did. But the share of households who gave to secular causes also hit a new low, 42 percent, in 2018. ........... When I went to college, lo these many years ago, I never worried that I might say something in class that would get me ostracized. But now the college students I know fear that one errant sentence could lead to social death. That’s a monumental sea change. ......... I doubt as many people would be punching flight attendants or throwing temper tantrums over cheese if there weren’t mask rules and a deadly virus to worry about. .......... But something darker and deeper seems to be happening as well — a long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility. This is what it feels like to live in

a society that is dissolving from the bottom up as much as from the top down

. ........... the high rates of depression, suicide and loneliness that dogged Americans even before the pandemic and that are the sad flip side of all the hostility and recklessness ......... “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time.” ....... “U.S. Has World’s Highest Rate of Children Living in Single Parent Households.” .......... “America Is a Nation of Narcissists, According to Two New Studies.” ........ there must also be some spiritual or moral problem at the core of this. Over the past several years, and over a wide range of different behaviors, Americans have been acting in fewer pro-social and relational ways and in more antisocial and self-destructive ways. .........

the situation is dire.

Why Democrats Are So Bad at Defending Democracy The emergency is in the third phase — Republican efforts to overturn votes that have been counted. But Democratic voting bills — the For the People Act and its update, the Freedom to Vote Act — were not overhauled to address the threats that have been blindingly obvious since Jan. 6 last year. They are sprawling measures covering everything from mail-in ballots to campaign finance. They basically include every idea that’s been on activist agendas for years. These bills are hard to explain and hard to pass. By catering to D.C. interest groups, Democrats have spent a year distracting themselves from the emergency right in front of us. ................. “Expanding voting options to make it more convenient hasn’t seemed to have a huge effect on turnout or electoral outcomes. That’s the finding of decades of political science research on advance, early and absentee voting.”

America Is Getting Meaner I went to see my doctor the other day for a Covid-delayed physical. Instead of talking about what ails me, he wanted to talk about what ails us. A dystopian country. The Babel of misinformation. The lack of trust in everybody and everything. ........... Trust in institutions — government, the press, religion, big business — is at or near record lows. My own profession, journalism, has been kicked to the cellar of disdain. Almost 40 percent of Americans have little or no confidence in newspapers .......... 50 percent distrust our electoral system .........

Diminished confidence in elections is among the worst of the many awful legacies of Donald Trump.

........... a truly sad development: The United States is becoming a mean country. .......... It was a truly shocking breach when Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, shouted “You lie!” at President Barack Obama in 2009. Now an entire political party is shouting the Big Lie of election fraud, and will punish those who insist on the truth. ......... I trace the contempt of the press to Rush Limbaugh, whose longstanding goal was to equate what he called the “drive-by media” — that is, fact-checking news organizations staffed by underpaid people devoted to their craft — with

fact-challenged, overcompensated, partisan gasbags

like himself. It worked. ................... up to one-fourth of Republicans believe the country is under the control of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, as they huff the vapors of QAnon .............

The jump from a provably false premise to physical attacks doesn’t require skill. In mean America, in January, nearly three in 10 people surveyed expressed support for politically motivated violence, if necessary.

............. Sadly, the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol — so heartbreaking and so norm-shattering — was much more of a reflection of the times than an aberration. ............ the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, a time when up to five million Americans belonged to the nation’s oldest hate group. That was

a mean decade

, with Jim Crow locked in place, Prohibition the law of the land and immigrants who weren’t white Protestants all but locked out. .................. A favorite tactic of the Klan in the ’20s was night-riding to people’s homes to terrorize them. ........... There’s an old saying, attributed to the Sioux: A people without history is like wind on the buffalo grass. What may be worse are a people without a heart, unable to see half their countrymen and countrywomen as anything but the enemy.