Saturday, March 20, 2021

COVID: How the Loss of the Outer Circle Has Changed Community

What has happened to our extended network of workplace peers and what you can do about it

As we approach a year since the initial lockdowns, we are beginning to register and process the effects of pandemic-induced lifestyle changes. Most analyses of the digital workplace either cite the feeling of being “Zoomed out” or celebrate the benefits of working from home. These points are valid, but I fear we may be missing the forest for the trees.

A recent article in The Atlantic examined the way relationships have changed in the wake of the pandemic, particularly how different types of relationships have adapted to an online world. In the last 12 months we have worked hard to stay connected with our close, inner circle of friends and loved ones; but many of us have lost the outer circle, the peripheral relationships. The Atlantic article describes these relationships as “the guy who’s always at the gym at the same time as you, the barista who starts making your usual order while you’re still at the back of the line, the co-worker from another department with whom you make small talk on the elevator.”

Zooming in (pun intended) on the peripheral relationships in our workplaces encourages us to think about how engagement has changed in those workplaces. Early in the pandemic, the Davenport Institute hosted a webinar with Engaging Local Government Leaders on “work from home” best practices. We explored tips on intentionally maintaining a balance of social and professional interaction given the loss of break room conversations. Some of those engagement mechanisms included socially distanced walking meetings and virtual book clubs. While those are helpful, they are limited to the inner circle in the workplace i.e. the immediate team.

But what about everyone else?

A focus on the inner circle in every type of relationship has adversely affected not only engagement within the workplace but also community building outside the workplace. I am close to my supervisor and direct reports, but I can count on one hand the relationships I have fostered across departments which have grown into friendships.

Organic social interactions in the breakroom or hallway provide a respite in an otherwise busy work environment. Those interactions are often the time gaps that allow us to get to know our colleagues beyond their title and responsibilities. There is no digital equivalent, but there are ways in which we can seek to regain peripheral relationships while working from home.

To reestablish the outer circle, we must first recreate the environments which foster the peripheral relationships. For example, arriving to Zoom calls early is the digital equivalent of walking into a meeting room early and chatting about the weekend. If the meeting group is small enough, allowing team members to stay unmuted creates a digital openness to chime in with thoughts without the awkwardness of unmuting then waiting to be called upon. Zoom background themes for meetings could service as the jumping off point for casual conversation on favorite foods or dream vacations.

While it is impossible to fully recreate digitally what was lost during the shift to online, there is still hope for rebuilding some of the outer circle. The first step is to acknowledge that there was an outer circle and that it is now missing. Next, we must seek ways to recreate the environments which fostered those relationships and allow ourselves a social break from the litany of emails and Zoom meetings. Who knows, we may even make new work friends while working from home.


Russia, not China, tried to influence 2020 election, says US intel community

The Russian punching bag again

Russia’s government tried to seed the 2020 US presidential campaign with “misleading or unsubstantiated allegations” against then-candidate Joe Biden through allies of former President Trump and his administration, US intelligence officials said on Tuesday.

The assessment was made in a 15-page report into election interference published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. It underscores allegations that Trump’s allies were playing into Moscow’s hands by amplifying claims made against Biden by Russian-linked Ukrainian figures in the run up to the November 3 election.

Biden defeated Trump and took office on January 20.

“We assess that Russian President Putin authorised, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted, influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidaccy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US,” the report stated.

US intelligence agencies found other attempts to sway voters, including a “multi-pronged covert influence campaign” by Iran intended to undercut Trump’s support. The report also punctures a counter-narrative pushed by Trump’s allies that China was interfering on Biden’s behalf, concluding that Beijing “did not deploy interference efforts.”

“China sought stability in its relationship with the United States and did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk blowback if caught,” the report said.

US officials said they also saw efforts by Cuba, Venezuela and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to influence the election, although “in general, we assess that they were smaller in scale than those conducted by Russia and Iran.”

US intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller previously concluded that Russia also interfered in the 2016 US election to boost Trump’s candidacy with a campaign of propaganda aimed at harming his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

The Russian, Chinese and Cuban Embassies in Washington did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The Iranian mission to the United Nations and the Venezuelan Ministry of Information also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Moscow, Beijing and Tehran routinely deny allegations of cyberespionage and subterfuge.

The new report said Putin knew of and “probably directed” the election interference efforts. As an example, Putin “had purview over the activities of Andriy Derkach,” a Ukrainian lawmaker who played a prominent role in the effort and has ties to Russian intelligence, the report said.

“We assess Russian leaders preferred that former President Trump win re-election despite perceiving some of his administration’s policies as anti-Russia. We have high confidence in this assessment,” the report stated.

A key role was also played by a second man with Russian intelligence ties, Konstantin Kilimnik, according to the report. Kilimnik and Derkach met with and gave materials to Trump-linked people to push for formal investigations, and Derkach released four audio recordings to try to implicated Biden in corruption, it said.

That refers to conversations that right-wing figures in the United States cited as evidence that Biden tried to protect his son Hunter from a probe in Ukraine.

Kilimnik was an associate of Paul Manafort, who served as Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman. Trump last year pardoned Manafort for a criminal conviction that stemmed from Mueller’s investigation.

Russian agents also tried to “phish” employees of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, “likely in an attempt to gather information related to President Biden’s family,” it said. Hunter Biden had served on Burisma’s board.

As in the 2016 election, the Russian so-called troll factory formerly known as the Internet Research Agency pushed disparaging stories on social media about Biden and Democrats and complained about censorship by the tech companies, the report said. It also sought to exacerbate US divisions on racial justice issues, the report said.



ChiCom Virus begets new high in perceptions of China as U.S.'s greatest enemy — as it should (Gallup)

"China-backed Confucius Institute rebrands to avoid scrutiny." —Free Beacon

DHS says illegal crossings are on pace to hit 20-year high (Daily Caller), but President Joe "Open Border" Biden says he has no plans to travel to the southern border (Fox News)

These deaths are on Biden's hands: Eight illegals killed in another horrific car crash near Mexican border (Disrn)

FBI: Christmas bomber in Nashville was driven by paranoia and acted alone (Disrn)

Blue states move to tax PPP loans, collect millions from small businesses that were (and still are) unfairly hamstrung by shutdown-happy Democrats (Just the News)

Quid pro quo: Of the top 20 states getting "COVID" bailout money, 13 voted for Biden (FEE)

Retail sales suffer big chill in February amid stormy weather (NPR)

Eight killed in metro Atlanta spa shooting spree (AJC)

And oh, by the way, two New York black teens set mentally ill white man on fire (Daily Wire)

Grammy ratings hit lowest of low: Only 8.8 million tune in vs. 19 million last year (Daily Wire)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam restores voting rights for 69,000 Democrat-leaning ex-felons (Axios)

"Hiking has a diversity problem. These BIPOC groups are working to fix it." —Los Angeles Times

Policy: America and Brexit Britain: Time for an economic alliance? (Heritage Foundation)

Policy: The U.S.-Chinese rivalry is a battle over values (Foreign Affairs)

President Unity blocks press access at the border, constructs false narratives (Washington Times)

Trump vindicated: Judge rules Michigan secretary of state violated election laws (PJ Media)

Addendum: "Months after Trump complaints, some courts are finding irregularities in 2020 elections." —Just the News

Georgia deputy secretary of state outed as source of fake Trump quotes in WaPo story (

Twenty-one states sue Biden to overturn the ridiculous canceling of Keystone XL pipeline (Daily Wire)

RIP, Tea Party: House Republicans drop decade-long opposition to earmarks (Examiner)

It sure looks like Joe Biden lied about his tax plan (National Review)

Political theater: House passes bill to award Congressional Gold Medals to Capitol police (Roll Call)

CNN hemorrhaging viewers since Trump left office, down nearly 50% in key measurables (Fox News)

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signs law to expand abortion coverage "without limits" on taxpayer dime (Disrn)

Judges pacify Planned Parenthood, block Indiana's parental consent requirement for abortion (Disrn)

Preemption winning streak continues for gun advocates: Judge strikes down Boulder's AR-15 ban (Free Beacon)

Texas to forgive $29 million in electricity bills after historic winter storm (Disrn)

"Mistakes made": DHS chief admits release of untested illegal immigrants into communities (Washington Times)

Biden says May 1 deadline to pull troops from Afghanistan will be "tough" to meet (AMN)

Ford plans to move new vehicle construction from Ohio to Mexico (The Hill)

IRS announces extension of filing deadline to May 17 (The Hill)

Americans are spending their Joe "Buy a Shotgun" Biden stimulus on guns (Forbes)

Policy: What the U.S. must do to beat China (National Review)

Policy: Would Biden's tax hike really spare the middle class? Nope (AEI)

Unity! Lefty lawmaker acknowledges Democrats will exploit procedural tactic to pass massive infrastructure bill without Republicans (Daily Caller)

Radical leftist Deb Haaland confirmed 51-40 as interior secretary (ABC News)

Trump's exit from the world stage led to a network ratings bloodletting (Daily Caller)

"Incredible potential to taint the jury pool": Defense in Derek Chauvin trial asks judge to delay the trial following $27 million settlement (AP)

Columbia University joins 75-some schools hosting segregated graduation ceremonies (Daily Wire)

Policy: Border crisis: Incompetence or part of the president's plan? (Daily Signal)

Policy: How to end Biden's fake climate apocalypse (American Spectator)




Misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations

With more than 85 million people across the globe now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, suggestions that the jab may be causing death among some populations have quickly spread online, undermining inoculation efforts.

Claims that a number of elderly people died as a result of the jab in Norway, for instance, have been debunked by the country's health officials, who said the deaths were likely to be coincidental.

Vaccines not more dangerous to Israelis than COVID-19

With nearly half of its population fully vaccinated, Israel has fast become a world leader in the effort to inoculate its citizens against COVID-19.

But on social media and misinformation-spreading news websites, claims that the vaccine may be more dangerous than the disease itself have also gained traction.

One such "news" story, sent to Fact Check by a concerned reader, suggests that the Israeli health ministry had warned that the Pfizer vaccine had killed more people than the disease itself.

"New analysis from the Israeli Health Ministry concluded Pfizer's COVID vaccine killed 'about 40 times more (elderly) people than the disease itself would have killed' during a recent five-week vaccination period," reads an article published by Children's Health Defense, a site which has been accused of promoting "pseudo-science".

The story further claims that the Pfizer vaccine led to the death of "260 times more younger people than would have died from the virus".

An investigation by fact checkers at Health Feedback, however, found that data published by the Israeli health ministry "actually points to the vaccine reducing the likelihood of dying from COVID-19, in both the young and the old".

"The data showed that the majority of COVID-19 deaths in vaccinated people occurred in those who had received only one dose," Health Feedback reported.

"This isn't as unexpected as the post claimed, as these people hadn't fully developed immunity and were still as vulnerable to COVID-19 as unvaccinated people."

The findings may not be surprising to those familiar with Children's Health Defense, which was given a low trustworthy rating by Media Bias/Fact Check, a website dedicated to cataloguing media bias and deceptive news practices.

"Overall, we rate the Children's Health Defense a strong conspiracy and quackery level advocacy group that frequently promotes unsupported claims," the website concluded.

In the UK, reports that more than 400 people have died following a COVID-19 jab are missing some crucial context, fact checkers at Reuters and Full Fact have noted.

Under the UK Government's "Yellow Card" scheme, information on suspected side effects and adverse reactions to medicines is collected and monitored by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), including those related to COVID-19 vaccines.

According to the latest Yellow Card report, a total of 508 people have died following a COVID-19 vaccine in the UK. But that doesn't mean the vaccine caused their deaths.

According to the MHRA, the reported adverse events following a COVID-19 vaccine are not always a proven side effect of the jab, and some events "may have happened anyway, regardless of vaccination".

"A high proportion of people vaccinated in the vaccination campaign so far are very elderly, many of whom will also have pre-existing medical conditions," the agency notes in its report.

"Older age and chronic underlying illnesses make it more likely that coincidental adverse events will occur, especially given the millions of people vaccinated."

Full Fact also noted that the MHRA has asked for any suspicions about adverse effects to be reported, "even if the person reporting it is not sure that it was caused by the vaccine".

"This means that many suspected [adverse reactions] reported 'do not have any relation to the vaccine or medicine and it is often coincidental that they both occurred around the same time'," Full Fact said.

In a similar misunderstanding of correlation and causation, a claim that a Japanese woman died of a brain haemorrhage in the days after receiving a Pfizer vaccine has been debunked by AFP Fact Check.

According to the fact checkers, posts spread online showed a portion of a news report on the woman's death, but failed to include the section of the report in which experts clarified that no link had been established between the woman's death and the vaccine.

As pointed out by AFP Fact Check, the missing section of the news report reads: "[A Japanese health official] clarified that the vaccine was not linked to the brain haemorrhage of the senior citizen who died, because this is a common cause of death for people within the 40 to 60 age group."

An official Japanese Government report also "does not implicate Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine in the death", the fact checkers added.

World famous boxer not vaccine victim

When boxing great Marvelous Marvin Hagler died this week, aged 66, rumours swirled that a COVID-19 vaccine had caused his death.

But that wasn't the case, according to Hagler's widow, Kay G Hagler. "I was the only person close to him until the last minute, and I am the only person that know [sic] how things went not even his family know all the details," Ms Hagler wrote on Facebook. "For sure [it] wasn't the vaccine that caused his death".

Did 80% of the crew of Australian warship fall ill after COVID jabs?

A Facebook post claiming 80 per cent of the crew of the HMAS Sydney suffered "severe illness" following COVID-19 vaccinations has been rubbished by the Department of Defence.

The post, published by a Facebook group serving the Australian veteran community, also suggested that eight crew members had been admitted to intensive care after receiving the jab.

In a statement published in response to questions put forward by Fact Check, the Department of Defence confirmed that the crew had voluntarily received the vaccine, and were encouraged to report to medical personnel if they subsequently felt unwell.

"Several members of HMAS Sydney's crew did present to hospital after hours with mild side effects," the department said. "They were assessed in the emergency department before being released — they were not admitted to hospital. A number of other members also reported mild side effect symptoms that did not require medical care. All symptoms experienced were within the broad range of routine side effects associated with receiving any vaccination."

According to the department, the ship had departed for the US on March 11 with a full crew. "No members of the Ship's company failed to deploy as a result of taking the COVID-19 vaccine.

From Washington, D.C.

Soon after signing the latest COVID-19 relief legislation last week, US President Joe Biden made his first prime time TV address to the nation, while fact checkers watched on closely.

Speaking about COVID-19 vaccines, Mr Biden claimed that two months prior, the country "didn't have nearly enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all, or even near all, of the American public" but soon would. found this claim to be missing some crucial context.

"While the Biden administration has increased vaccine orders from the companies with authorised vaccines, the Trump administration had contracts in place for plenty of vaccines for all Americans — provided other vaccines gained authorisations," the fact checkers said.

"And Biden's predecessor also had options to increase orders from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, the first two vaccines to get Food and Drug Administration authorisation." also noted that Mr Biden's claim to be on track to deliver on his promise to administer 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days in office was helped along by the former administration.

"The US — even before Biden took office — was virtually already on pace to administer that many additional vaccine doses in his first 100 days."

CNN Facts First, meanwhile, found that while Mr Biden's claim that the US had administered more COVID-19 vaccines than any other country was correct, other nations had inoculated a greater proportion of their populations.

"Fourteen countries including Chile, Israel and the United Kingdom have vaccinated more people per capita," the fact checkers noted.


Mask Mandates Do Not Save Lives

Although some studies have concluded that masks help stop the spread of COVID-19, usually they have failed to replicate real-world situations. A common approach is to evaluate the effectiveness of mask material at stopping the expulsion or intake of the aerosols presumed to be the airborne carriers of the virus. Useful information, perhaps, but at this stage, what we need to know is whether the widespread use of masks is measurably reducing the risk of death from the disease. To continue requiring the use of masks makes sense only if there is compelling data that death rates are lower for people who wear masks than it is for people who do not.

We have no way of measuring whether or how much and how appropriately individuals wear masks, but state mandates that people wear them are predicated on the notion that more people will do so if they are threatened with a fine or punishment. Thus, it makes sense to demand that states with mask mandates have lower COVID-19 death rates than states that don't. If states with mask mandates are not experiencing lower rates than states without them, the citizenry should insist that the burdensome policy of requiring masks be abandoned.

Logic or speculation alone cannot provide a reliable answer to the question of mask effectiveness. Neither can the judgments and proclamations of politicians or even public health experts. What we need is data.

The Data

The Centers for Disease Control maintains a website that reports the total number of people who have died from COVID-19. Updated daily, the table provides the figures for each state and for the country as a whole. The state figures for virus deaths were extracted from this source on or about February 16.

U.S. News and World Report published an article identifying which states have and have not mandated masks. For those states with a mask mandate, the article tells when the mandate was put into effect.

Those three sources provided the raw data for everything that follows. At the end of this article, I will link to a table containing all the data that were extracted from those sources to answer the question of mask effectiveness.

The Study

The question is, "Do states with mask mandates have lower COVID-19 death rates than states with no mandate?" If they do, the enforced wearing of masks may have been a reasonable approach to limiting deaths from COVID-19. Otherwise, the rationale for imposing mask mandates disintegrates. In a similar fashion, states that never imposed a mask mandate can readily justify their behavior only if their COVID-19 death rates do not exceed those of the mask-mandated states.

Only ten states have had no mask mandate of any sort; the other forty imposed mask mandates that required one to be worn at all indoor venues and in all outdoor situations that challenge the six-foot distancing expectation.

Using the data sources above, figures for the total population and the total number of COVID-19 deaths were extracted for each of the fifty states. A COVID-19 death rate was calculated for each state by dividing its number of COVID-19 deaths by its population and then multiplying the result by 10,000. The result was a COVID-19 death rate indicating the number of deaths per 10,000 people. By sorting these individual state rates into two groups — masks mandatory versus masks voluntary — I could calculate the average COVID-19 death rate for each group.

States with a mask mandate: 13.0 deaths per 10,000 population.

States with no mask mandate: 12.6 deaths per 10,000 population.

Since the average COVID-19 death rate is actually lower for the voluntary mask states than it is for the mandated mask states, it is incumbent on advocates for the mask mandate to either reveal the data upon which they arrived at their conclusion or else stop making the claim that masks help keep people safe.

A variant on the theme of mask-mandated safety is the notion that states that adopted a mask mandate early on have lower death rates than the states that did so late. Since the basis of this contention is that a greater length of time under the rule of mask has been an effective way of assuring low death rates, let us compare the performance of the ten earliest mask mandate states to the performance of the ten states that have never required a mask.

The US News & World Report article provided the information on the start dates for mask mandates.

Once again, the notion that masking up keeps us safe receives no support from the data. In fact, the "bottom ten" outperform the "top ten" by a small but noteworthy margin (12.6 deaths per 10,000 versus 13.3 deaths per 10,000). This hints at the possibility that masks actually elevate the death rate. Would anybody care to investigate?

The impotence of mask mandates is particularly sobering since they usually proceed in lockstep with the other mandated actions intended to control the virus: hand-washing, social distancing, and lockdowns. Since all four control tactics are chasing the same goal (stop the spread of the virus), these data revealing the ineffectiveness of masks may suggest that the other three control tactics are less effective than hoped.




Thursday, March 18, 2021

A Study Shows VERY FEW Capitol Hill Rioters Were QAnon Red-Staters With Ties to 'Right-Wing' Groups

A survey by the University of Chicago finds that most Capitol Hill rioters had no ties to any fringe right-wing groups and were merely engaged people outraged by what they believed was a rigged election.

While colorful weirdos with names such as QAnon Shaman and Baked Alaska stole the headlines, people who were arrested by federal officials during and after the riot were a “broader core of people” with a healthy skepticism about the veracity of the November 2020 election, according to the study.

There was plenty of reason for the skepticism, considering the collusion between Big Tech, unions, lawfare, and Democrats’ combined efforts to sway the election. Those efforts were at the very least unethical.

As Time Magazine enthused in an article entitled, “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election,” “there was a conspiracy unfolding behind the [election] scenes” of an “informal alliance between left-wing activists and business titans” to “save” the election from Donald Trump.

The handshake between business and labor was just one component of a vast, cross-partisan campaign to protect the election–an extraordinary shadow effort dedicated not to winning the vote but to ensuring it would be free and fair, credible and uncorrupted. For more than a year, a loosely organized coalition of operatives scrambled to shore up America’s institutions as they came under simultaneous attack from a remorseless pandemic and an autocratically inclined President.

[…]Their work touched every aspect of the election. They got states to change voting systems and laws and helped secure hundreds of millions in public and private funding. They fended off voter-suppression lawsuits, recruited armies of poll workers and got millions of people to vote by mail for the first time. They successfully pressured social media companies to take a harder line against disinformation and used data-driven strategies to fight viral smears"

Rather than being ill-informed, it appears that the Capitol Building rioters may have been better informed than most on these moves to sway the election.

In a “working paper” that is considered to be a “novel approach” to “estimating community-level participation in mass protest events,” Asst. Prof. Austin Wright of the Harris School of Public Policy and David Van Dijcke of the University of Michigan found a surprising number of the people arrested at the Capitol Hill riot who were business owners and other professionals obviously upset over election fraud.

The paper found that those arrested were “more likely to have traveled to the Capitol from Trump-voting “islands,” where residents are surrounded by neighborhoods with higher numbers of Biden supporters.” More than half came from counties that Joe Biden carried.

Though the researchers include the fact that the overwhelming number of people live in Democrat areas, they also highlighted the fact “that proximity to Proud Boy chapters and local levels of engagement with misinformation posted on Parler, the exiled social media platform popular with the far right, are robustly linked to participation in the Capitol rally.”

However, researcher Austin Wright said living in those leftist areas “played a significant role.”

Social isolation and the perception of being threatened by neighboring areas that largely hold opposing political views also played a significant role in who was there.

The researchers also looked at cell phone data such as where in the country Capitol rioters called. Most were in the eastern, central, and southern parts of the country.

Could the cancel culture and being surrounded by people with Trump Derangement Syndrome and other anti-conservatives have helped trigger the attack?

They claimed some of the rioters were on the social media app Parler, though efforts to discover other social media apps used by the people arrested were not noted.

The survey found that approximately 10% percent of the Capitol rioters had a connection with Proud Boys, which they describe as a “hate group,” and Oath Keepers.

Nearly 90% had no ties or right-wing affiliations whatsoever.

And they found out that 85% of the people arrested were business owners or held down white-collar jobs.

WTTW TV reported that researchers hadn’t even needed a “business owner” category before when looking into protest groups. Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago, oversaw the study and said the caliber of people at the riot was surprising.

“Normally, we don’t even have a category for ‘business owner’ when we study political violence, so this is a very big sign that we’re dealing with a new political movement with violence at its core that can’t be reduced to the usual suspects.”

President Trump also appealed to a wide variety of Americans from all socio-economic backgrounds. The fact that the rioters were not red-meat, right-wing fanatics threw researchers for a loop. It also forced some reflection by researchers about the people who believe there was election fraud, according to the study.

What we are dealing with here is not merely a mix of right-wing organizations, but a broader mass movement with violence at its core. We need to do more to understand who we are dealing with in the new movement. Targeting pre-2021 far right organizations alone will not solve the problem.

Perhaps they should consider that the 2020 election was seen by half the country as rigged. Election integrity efforts, not name-calling, lawfare, and canceling others who hold politically opposing views, will be key in winning back confidence in the elections process. If Democrats pass HR 1, all bets will be off.


Joe Biden’s biggest headache seen on US-Mexico border

The mainstream media are beginning to recognize the immigration disaster under Biden. Below is a Reuters dispatch

Almost two months into his presidency, Joe Biden has plenty to feel pleased about. Coronavirus cases in the US have plummeted since the start of the year, the pace of vaccinations has increased dramatically and last week he signed a giant $2.5 trillion economic recovery package into law.

But one issue is fast becoming a major vulnerability for the US President, in terms of both policy and politics: immigration. A surge in migrants trying to cross from Mexico into the US at the southern border has given Republicans an opening to go on the attack against the new administration.

A Honduran man seeking asylum in the United States wears a shirt that reads, “Biden please let us in,” as he stands among tents that line an entrance to the border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico.

According to Biden’s Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, US officials soon expect to encounter more more individuals at the south-west border than they have in the past 20 years.

US Border Patrol agents apprehended nearly 100,000 migrants at the US-Mexico border in February, and that number is expected to balloon in March. An estimated 5000 people are now being apprehended at the border each day.

The number of apprehensions was already increasing steadily during the final months of the Trump presidency, but has accelerated since Biden’s inauguration. Such a surge was entirely predictable.

After all, Trump was famous for his hardline immigration policies, including his signature pledge to build a wall on the border and his controversial family separation policies. Biden came to power promising a more “fair, orderly and humane” approach, and quickly steps to soften Trump’s tougher policies.

On day one of his presidency, Biden suspended Trump’s so-called “remain in Mexico” rule which requires asylum-seekers trying to enter the US from the southern border to wait in Mexico for their American court hearings.

Crucially, Biden also tweaked emergency restrictions introduced by Trump at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Under Biden’s changes, unaccompanied minors can now enter the US and, after a short period in detention, live in the community while their immigration claims are processed.

Biden administration officials have insisted that the border is not open, and urged migrants not to try to enter the US right now. But that message isn’t cutting through.

Apprehensions of unaccompanied minors rose by 63 per cent from January to February while family arrivals soared by 168 per cent. Some of the unaccompanied minors apprehended at the border have been as young as six.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has made clear he is concerned about the surge and that he believes it has been driven by the change from Trump to Biden.

Children play as people who are seeking asylum in the United States are gathered outside the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico.

“They see him as the migrant president, and so many feel they’re going to reach the United States,” Lopez Obrador said earlier this month after a meeting with Biden.

“We need to work together to regulate the flow, because this business can’t be tackled from one day to the next.”

Some migrants have even shown up at the border wearing T-shirts, styled in the manner of Biden’s election campaign merchandise, reading: “Biden, please let us in!”

Big increases in the number unaccompanied children pose particular difficulties for immigration officials. Under US law, unaccompanied children are only supposed to remain in immigration detention for three days but that timeframe has proven impossible to stick to with the current influx.

The need to enforce social distancing rules has also made it hard for officials to cope with the surge in arrivals. In recent days, the administration has opened new detention facilities in Texas and enlisted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help shelter migrant children.

Democrats are happiest when the public is focussed on issues such as education and healthcare. As a rule, it’s good news for conservatives when immigration is in the headlines.

That’s why a slew of Republicans have hot-footed it to the border region in Texas to highlight the issue in recent days.

“It’s more than a crisis, this is a human heartbreak,” Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy said during a visit this week. “This crisis is created by the presidential policies of this new administration. There’s no other way to claim it than a Biden border crisis.”

A YouGov poll released this week found that 52 per cent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of immigration - significantly below his approval ratings on the pandemic or the economy.

As well as distracting from his achievements, the surge in unauthorised arrivals at the border will limit Biden’s ability to overhaul America’s immigration laws.

Biden wants to provide a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the US. That would be difficult to achieve at any time, let alone when the migration system is widely perceived to be out of control.

It’s one thing to promise an immigration system that is “fair, orderly and humane”. It’s far more difficult to deliver all three at once, as Biden is quickly learning.


Trump Vindicated as Judge Rules Michigan Secretary of State Violated Election Laws

A judge in Michigan has vindicated President Trump by ruling that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, broke state law when she unilaterally changed election rules concerning absentee balloting in the 2020 election. This ruling legitimizes a key claim made by the Trump legal team in its challenges to the 2020 election.

A major change imposed by Benson was loosening the signature verification requirement for absentee ballots. Michigan Court of Claims Chief Judge Christopher Murray ruled that this change violated Michigan Administrative Procedures Act.

The court made the following conclusion:

…nowhere in this state’s election law has the Legislature indicated that signatures are to be presumed valid, nor did the Legislature require that signatures are to be accepted so long as there are any redeeming qualities in the application or return envelope as compared with the signature on file. Policy determinations like the one at issue — which places the thumb on the scale in favor of a signature’s validity — should be made pursuant to properly promulgated rules under the APA or by the Legislature.

Over 3.1 million Michiganders voted by absentee ballot in November. Biden “won” the state by just over 154,000 votes, according to the state-certified results.

Michigan was not the only state where Democrat state officials unilaterally changed election laws, so this ruling certainly raises legitimate doubts whether Biden truly won the election without invalid votes.




Wednesday, March 17, 2021

No indication AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots, says regulator

A number of European nations, including Germany, France, Italy and Sweden, have suspended use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid‑19 vaccine over blood clot concerns.

The World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have both emphasised that there is currently no evidence linking the vaccine to blood clots and recommend that countries continue using it. Emer Cooke, director of the EMA, reiterated in an online press conference today that the agency remains firmly convinced that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any risks.

Both organisations are performing a thorough analysis of all the available data and the EMA will be making a statement with its conclusions on Thursday 18 March.

Among 17 million people who have received the vaccine in the EU and the UK, 15 cases of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) and 22 cases of pulmonary embolism have been reported as of 8 March, AstraZeneca said in a statement on 14 March. DVT is a blood clot in a vein, which has the potential to travel to the lungs, causing a blockage, or what is known as a pulmonary embolism.

“Many thousands of people develop blood clots annually in the EU for different reasons,” the EMA said in a statement. The number of blood clotting incidents in vaccinated people “seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population”.

In Germany, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which advises the government on covid-19, said it had recommended the temporary suspension of the vaccine following a “noticeable increase” in cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a blood clot in a major brain vessel, soon after vaccinations.

Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, said at a press conference on 15 March that there had been seven reported cases that may be related to CVST out of 1.6 million vaccinations in Germany. Estimates of how many incidences of CVST you might expect in the general population over a year vary from two to five cases per million people to more than 15 cases per million, depending on the study.

“There is absolutely no data that supports [the German government’s] decision,” says César Muñoz-Fontela at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Germany. He says that older people and people with pre-existing health conditions, who are more at risk of blood clots generally, have been prioritised for the vaccine, which may have skewed the apparent side effects. He would like to see a comparison with a control group that has the same characteristics as the people so far vaccinated.

The International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis recommends that all eligible adults continue to receive their covid-19 vaccinations. “At this time, the small number of reported thrombotic events relative to the millions of administered COVID-19 vaccinations does not suggest a direct link,” it said in a statement.

“In weighing up the merits of a medical intervention, it’s really important to consider both sides of the argument: how risky is it for someone to have it versus how risky is it for them not to,” says Lucy Walker at University College London. “An increased risk of thrombosis is one of the known complications of [coronavirus] infection. The vaccines we have are incredibly good at preventing the illness caused by this virus. They will therefore prevent people from having thrombosis associated with the infection itself.”

The decision to halt use of the vaccine could have wider consequences, Walker adds. One is that it could lower vaccine uptake in general by increasing vaccine anxiety. To get the upper hand with the coronavirus, we also need to vaccinate people as quickly as possible to suppress the evolution of dangerous variants. “To have stocks of a safe, effective vaccine not being used, through an abundance of caution, potentially hinders this mission,” she says.


Italy and France fold over AstraZeneca jabs: Mario Draghi and Emmanuel Macron vow to 'quickly resume' using vaccine

The leaders of Italy and France today committed to 'quickly' resume inoculations of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine once the European regulator gives the all-clear.

Italian PM Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to roll the pitch for an imminent climbdown.

On a call the two leaders agreed they were ready to resume using the jab 'quickly' if the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives the green light on Thursday.

'The preliminary statement today from EMA was positive,' a statement from Draghi's office said.

They are among a host of EU nations to have suspended use of the jab after some people it was administered to suffered blood clotting problems.

Boris Johnson, the UK's medical regulator the MHRA and the World Health Organisation have insisted the vaccine is safe and continues to roll it out at pace.

It comes as a top European Commission official urged EU governments to stop sitting on their vaccine stockpiles as several countries suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine amid blood-clotting fears.

Stella Kyriakides, the health commissioner, said the bloc was in a 'race against time' to rollout out of the vaccine or face several more spikes in infections.

The EU has already seen a disastrous rollout of the vaccine across the continent, with just 8 per cent of adult receiving a jab compared to a third in the UK.

There have been supply problems with both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs, but it was revealed earlier that several countries including Germany are sitting on stockpiles.

'Even with the immense and regrettable challenges around production capacity and deliveries, there are reports of unused reservoirs of vaccines across the EU, said Kyriakides following talks with European health ministers.

'We are racing against time and the rollout of vaccination is more than ever key to decrease the number of infected people as much as possible.'

While Italy has used all of its Pfizer jabs, the country still has 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines that it banned from going to Australia in storage.

According to The Times, there are some 14.2 million jabs (60 per cent) delivered to EU governments that are yet to be used.

Her comments came shortly after the European Union’s medicines regulator said it was still 'firmly convinced' of the benefits of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Fourteen European countries including 12 EU members have now suspended their use of the shots altogether - with Sweden joining the list today - while another five have black-listed specific batches and a handful of governments outside Europe have also pulled the emergency brake.

EMA safety experts say a 'very small number of people' have come down with blood disorders but there is 'no indication' that these were caused by the jab, which has already been given to 11 million people in the UK.

'We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death outweigh the risk of these side effects,' said EMA chief Emer Cooke.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, UK regulator the MHRA and the WHO have all insisted that the vaccine is safe and that there is no evidence of a link to the sporadic blood clots.

This evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock reiterated the AstraZeneca was safe and urged people to get it when offered.

'The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, we know that over 10million people have had it in this country. That’s what the British regulator says but also the World Health Organisation and even the European regulator,' he said.

'We keep the effects of these vaccines under review at all times and we know the AstraZeneca vaccine is saving lives right now. So if you get the call, get the jab.'

Italy earlier admitted that its suspension of AstraZeneca jabs was a 'political' move while French doctors accused Emmanuel Macron of 'giving in to panic' and a German lawmaker said the ban could cause a 'catastrophe'.

Germany sought to justify its move by saying that one particular kind of blood clot, a 'sinus vein thrombosis', had occurred seven times among the 1.6million people vaccinated when only around one case would be expected. By contrast, only four such cases have been identified in the UK out of 11million doses administered.

Nicola Magrini, the head of Italian medicines regulator AIFA, said politicians had come under pressure to call off the jabs after Germany and France made similar moves in what one Tory MP described as a 'Brexit sulk'.

In Italy's case, the suspension means around 200,000 fewer vaccinations this week, government sources said, expressing confidence that they could make up for the setback.

'We got to the point of a suspension because several European countries, including Germany and France, preferred to interrupt vaccinations... to put them on hold in order to carry out checks. The choice is a political one,' Magrini said in an interview with La Repubblica.

President Macron has previously undermined the efficacy of the jab, declaring it 'quasi-ineffective' for the over-65s - a position he also later rowed back from.


Paralyzed by Fear? Johns Hopkins Doctor Notices Something Peculiar About the COVID Vaccine Guidelines

Dr. Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine was bold in his projection that we’ll have herd immunity by April. This has been disputed by those who are nowhere near his level of expertise when it comes to public health, but I get the pushback since it shreds the Democratic Party’s COVID lockdown regime. In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Makary says that we’re underestimating natural immunity and with the pace of vaccinations, we’ll reach that critical benchmark towards reclaiming normality by tax season.

“About 1 in 600 Americans has died of Covid-19, which translates to a population fatality rate of about 0.15%. The Covid-19 infection fatality rate is about 0.23%,” Dr. Makary wrote. With those figures, he estimates that two-thirds of the country has already had the infection. We’re rapidly approaching 100 million vaccinations. It’s not an insane projection, but one he says other health experts are afraid to push for fear of impacting the rate of vaccinations. That’s not their job, he argued. Good health news should be disseminated, not buried. There was pushback, and there will be more when he recently wrote about the vaccine protocols.

The good doctor cited an Israeli study that shows those given the Pfizer vaccine are virtually “bulletproof” four weeks after the first dose. That’s the keyword right there. So, we can be returning to normal if the CDC wasn’t so busy peddling exaggerated threats about the virus and being stricken with fear, which Makary noted with their latest guidelines. Is it ‘follow the science’ or ‘be afraid, be very afraid'?

Get the shot, wait a month, and start rebuilding our lives. That’s fair. That seems to be based on the science, which the CDC might be ignoring. You be the judge (via WSJ):

"Parts of the new guidelines are absurdly restrictive. For example, the CDC didn’t withdraw its advice to avoid air travel after vaccination. A year of prevaccine experience has demonstrated that airplanes aren’t a source of spread. A study conducted for the defense department found that commercial planes have HEPA filtration and airflow that exceed the standards of a hospital operating room.


An unpublished study conducted by the Israeli Health Ministry and Pfizer showed that vaccination reduced transmission by 89% to 94% and almost totally prevented hospitalization and death, according to press reports. Immunity kicks in fully about four weeks after the first vaccine dose, and then you are essentially bulletproof. With the added safety of wearing a mask indoors for a few more weeks or months—a practical necessity in public places even if not a medical one, since you can’t tell on sight if someone’s immune—there is little a vaccinated person should be discouraged from doing.

On a positive note, the CDC did say that fully vaccinated people who are asymptomatic don’t need to be tested. But that obvious recommendation should have come two months ago, before wasting so many tests on people who have high levels of circulating antibodies from vaccination.

In its guidance the CDC says the risks of infection in vaccinated people “cannot be completely eliminated.” True, we don’t have conclusive data that guarantees vaccination reduces risk to zero. We never will. We are operating in the realm of medical discretion based on the best available data, as practicing physicians have always done. The CDC highlights the vaccines’ stunning success but is ridiculously cautious about its implications. Public-health officials focus myopically on transmission risk while all but ignoring the broader health crisis stemming from isolation. The CDC acknowledges “potential” risks of isolation, but doesn’t go into details.

It’s time to liberate vaccinated people to restore their relationships and rebuild their lives. That would encourage vaccination by giving hesitant people a vivid incentive to have the shots.

Throughout the pandemic, authorities have missed the mark on precautions. Hospitals blocked family members from being with their loved ones as they gasped for air, gagging on a ventilator tube—what some patients describe as the worst feeling in the world. In addition to the power of holding a hand, family members coordinate care and serve as a valuable safety net, a partnership that was badly needed when many hospitals had staffing shortages. Separating family members was excessive and cruel, driven by narrow thinking that focused singularly on reducing viral transmission risk, heedless of the harm to the quality of human life."

He added the mental health issues that have exploded due to the lockdown regime that teachers’ unions, Democrats, and the liberal media ignore. Kids are committing suicide. Anxiety and depression have also spiked among students. Loneliness and isolation are going to be the real ‘long haul’ symptom of this pandemic, which could be alleviated partially if our experts actually gave us advice that wasn’t so covered in crap.




Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Even the NYT has noticed the better COVID results in Florida

They say:

"Florida’s death rate is no worse than the national average, and better than that of some other states that imposed more restrictions, despite its large numbers of retirees, young partyers and tourists. Caseloads and hospitalizations across most of the state are down. The tens of thousands of people who died were in some ways the result of an unspoken grand bargain — the price paid for keeping as many people as possible employed, educated and, some Floridians would argue, sane.

“There’s no better place to have spent the pandemic than Miami,” said Patricia García, a freelance writer who moved from New York in 2017. Her 5-year-old daughter has been in school since August. She put her 1-year-old son in day care in July.

Ms. García, a 34-year-old Democrat, said she found herself unexpectedly defending Mr. DeSantis’s policies to her friends up north.

“People here, they’ve been able to work. The kids have been able to go to school,” she said. “We have this reputation in Florida of being all Florida Man and crazyland. But I’d much rather be in Florida than California, New York or Chicago.”

NYT reporter Patricia Mazzei did her best to frame the report with lots of worry over Florida’s neanderthal reopening, but there’s really no getting around the facts that Florida reopened sooner, had fewer restrictions to begin with, and still has a death rate lower than Luv Gov Cuomo’s New York.


$27 Million for George Floyd's Family Isn't Justice

The city of Minneapolis has effectively convicted Derek Chauvin before the trial starts.

We wondered last week whether former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin could expect a fair trial. After the city settled Friday with the family of George Floyd for an astonishing $27 million in a civil rights wrongful death lawsuit, we know the answer: It should be declared a mistrial.

In the aforementioned story, our Douglas Andrews recounted the evidence that Floyd died of something other than Chauvin’s knee — something of his own doing, like an overdose of fentanyl. Yet because Floyd’s death lit the fuse for urban violence that destroyed much of Minneapolis (likely prompting Target to abandon its headquarters there), and because that “mostly peaceful” violence then spread nationwide, the city is effectively convicting Chauvin while fleecing taxpayers to give Floyd’s family what is essentially the winning ticket in the legal lottery.

Perhaps that’s a strident characterization, but what else can you call such an outlandish reward for the tragic and untimely death of a petty criminal, wrongful or not?

“It’s going to be a long journey to justice. This is but one step on the journey to justice,” said family attorney Benjamin Crump. “This makes a statement that George Floyd deserved better than what we witnessed on May 25, 2020, that George Floyd’s life matters, and that by extension, Black lives matter.”

Black lives do matter. George Floyd’s life mattered. But his death ignited a national fiasco of political posturing as morally bankrupt as almost anything we’ve seen.

Back in 2015, the early days of Black Lives Matter as an organizational force, Baltimore settled with the family of Freddie Gray, another petty criminal who died in police custody, for $6.4 million. That was shortly after Eric Garner’s family received $5.9 million from New York City. Last September, Breonna Taylor’s family received $12 million from Louisville for her death, the one-year anniversary of which was Saturday.

In 2015, we noted that settlements like this are typically based on earnings capabilities over the lifetime of the deceased. So where did these cities get such sums? And why are cities settling before the police officers involved even go to trial — heck, before the jury is even selected?

The answer is that this is effectively a form of reparations.

That’s been a buzzword in leftist circles for decades, and they mean it to be a massive transfer of wealth from those who did not perpetrate the crime of slavery to those who were not victims of it. Practically, reparations have been paid in the form of “Great Society” welfare — for more than 50 years. And in some ways, reparations are even a part of the Not COVID Relief bill just signed by President Joe Biden.

Justice has never been an easy thing for humans to mete out. Sadly, this settlement only furthers that sad legacy.


Jordan Peterson: The Archetypal Male

“If you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.” - Jordan Petersen

Fascist. Toxic. Is he left or is he right? To postmodernists, he’s a formidable foe. To ideologues, he’s a mystery. To atheists, he’s a problem. Canadian professor and political commentator Jordan Peterson might be the most significant mind of our day, yet even with high tech mass exposure, most coverage gets him wrong.

At the University of Toronto, Professor Peterson’s rise to fame came with his “here I stand” moment that challenged the change in Canadian law for the mandatory use of gender pronouns. His controversial opinions sparked a flame that attracted considerable attention to his sizable library of lectures on the Internet, everything from Piaget to Pinocchio.

Petersen promotes the hero archetype, or manliness, defined by ancient stories

He derives his project from a deep concern with the direction of Western history, informed by a vast knowledge of philosophy and religion. Where his arguments do take a hard stand is when calling out ideas that contradict nature or dismiss human need. Ideas made destructive by the toxic forces of postmodernism and Marxism.

YouTube gave him a platform from which to reach a generation of males desperate to speak truth back to the growing anti-male, anti-West, anti-family bias. For many, Peterson was a welcomed father figure, who filled a sizable hole left by the culture’s move toward the radical left. His book, "12 Rules for Life" restored their pride with a simple tenet, “Clean your room.”

Peterson passes through America’s divided mind because he operates in multiple worlds at once, organized by what he refers to as “the logos” — truth spoken into creation. The same word is used for Christ in the Gospel of John. Maps of Meaning reflect a triumvirate mind with an uncommon sophistication absent in political thought.

Peterson also travels a path between philosophical nihilism and religious fundamentalism, his penetrating mind a lens focused through Carl Jung’s prism of archetypal story. The story allows for non-partisan, universal, life lesson appeal to all human audiences.

Confusion is caused when the listeners require ideological purity and cordon off spheres in the divided brain: no overlap between conservative and liberal views, or critical thought (academic) and faith, or progress and the fixed natural order. For narrow thinkers his independent mind wreaks havoc.

With the aid of postmodernism, Peterson, the well-trained professor, detects modern cultural ills rampant in the academy today. Not for its challenge or even its suspicion, but for the fact that in the name of deconstructed ideology it joins with Marxism to do just that. Peterson argues the system won’t stand.

Where postmodernism has a helpful role in added perspective, but without the fortitude of positive philosophy, it becomes another political tool to rewrite history, distort gender relations, and break down traditional life, traveled by generations of lived Judeo-Christian souls.

Peterson identifies Marx as a source of the threat, perhaps as equal to the influence of Nietzsche on the Nazis.

In certain hands, Marx becomes political division replacing individual virtue or redemption with suspicion and political power, intending to destroy the role of the male.

Nietzsche warned that the end of Christianity would leave open a door to the very nihilism of which Peterson warns his audience. Postmodernism would tear down the sacred system, and Marxism would serve as the new religion. Peterson warns while we know when the right goes too far, we do not know when the left has reached extremes.

Peterson is a transformational figure, able to separate the contingent from the constant in history. In other words, when reflecting on the West’s philosophical and religious roots or great literature, he knows how not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

He seeks a way to transform the power of logos into a new perspective, able to withstand the radical left. Not escapist religion, as Marx promotes, but the redemption of our present world, one life at a time. Peterson cautions, before you can change the world, you must change yourself. Take responsibility, speak the truth, train your mind, and in doing so you will save the world!

In other words, strive to be the archetypal male.



Judge rules Texas can remove abortion mill Planned Parenthood from Medicaid program (The Hill)

San Francisco's "tent village" program now cost taxpayers more per night than a hotel stay (Disrn)

COVID-19 killed nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. in 2020, making it the third-leading cause of death (Politico)

Novavax reports its COVID vaccine is 96% efficacious (Time)

"Guardian of this city": Tampa police officer dies after steering into path of reckless driver to save others (Disrn)

Policy: Governors, just say no to federal bailouts (Heritage Foundation)

Policy: Biden's climate report is based on personal values, not science (RealClearPolicy)

America was forewarned: Spendthrift Biden planning first major tax hike in nearly 30 years (Disrn)

President Biden deploying FEMA to the overrun border that was self-inflicted (Washington Post)

Cognitive dissonance: Portland mayor looks to refund police as homicides spike (Fox News)

Art of the deal: Trump's 200-plus judicial appointees give Republicans hope to revoke Biden's flood of unconstitutional executive orders (Washington Times)

Federal "COVID" spending just hit $41,870 per taxpayer (FEE)

Double standards: Nancy Pelosi says it's okay to overturn an election if a Republican wins (Post Millennial)

We're Shocked — Shocked! U.S. Army reconsiders "gender-neutral physical test" after most women fail to keep up with men (Daily Wire)

Democrats represent 26 of 27 richest congressional districts (Daily Caller)

40% of small business owners can't fill job openings thanks to Democrat unemployment handouts (FEE)

Road to recovery: American daily travel now exceeding pre-pandemic levels (Disrn) while airports see most air travelers since March 2020 (UPI)

More than 1,000 Baltimore school officials make $100,000 a year as students continue to fail (Daily Wire)

Friendly fire: Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand (but not Biden) call for Governor Andrew Cuomo's resignation (The Federalist), though Cuomo remains defiant, saying he won't resign even as 7th accuser comes forward (Disrn)

Target is abandoning its Minneapolis headquarters (FEE)

Policy: Critical Race Theory aims to upend the civic order (Heritage Foundation)




Monday, March 15, 2021

COVID cases: South Africa’s mysterious coronavirus turnaround

Just weeks ago it seemed as if a nation was on the brink of chaos as a new strain tore through its population. Then something wild happened.

It has been a matter of weeks since South Africa was on the verge of a disaster.

Experts had predicted chaos as a new variant of the coronavirus tore through the country of 60 million people at the start of the year, and doctors were bracing for the worst.

The strain — which appeared to be reinfecting people who had recovered from a previous bout of COVID-19 and raised serious questions about an impending vaccination rollout — was infecting nearly 22,000 people a day by the middle of January.

In a sign that health agencies were missing cases, one in three tests taken in January were coming back positive.

Adding to the uncertainty about how the nation would cope, thousands of holiday-makers returned home from their Christmas breaks leading to fears of a number of superspreading events being thrown into the mix.

At the second wave’s peak, on January 19, there were 839 deaths linked to the disease in a single day.

But then, something remarkable happened. The number of new daily cases fell off a cliff and the number of deaths linked to the virus naturally followed.

On the latest count overnight, South Africa recorded just over 1000 new cases and 65 deaths.

The incredible drop in cases and deaths is even more remarkable because it happened without a large-scale vaccination campaign or a strict lockdown.

Now, fewer than 5 per cent of tests are finding traces of the virus and the government has lifted most of its remaining restrictions.

The reason for the monumental turnaround is not clear.

Other nations have seen cases suddenly drop without lockdowns too, but experts are beginning to piece together the reasons for this.

In India, for example, experts have suggested that many parts of the nation have reached herd immunity or that Indians may even have some pre-existing protection from the virus.

With the situation in South Africa, experts have basically thrown their hands in the air and admitted they do not know what has happened.

“Anybody who professes certainty (about why infections started dropping) is lying,” Harry Moultrie, a senior medical epidemiologist at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, told The Wall Street Journal. “There is so much uncertainty in all of this.”

One trait that South Africa shares with other nations that have seen mysterious drop-offs in cases is the limit to its testing capabilities, meaning there is likely to have been a lot more cases than the official figures suggest.

It also took measures to stop the spread, with the government making masks mandatory, closing beaches, enforcing a nightly curfew, stopping large social gatherings and even banning the sale of alcohol.

However, families were allowed to gather for Christmas and New Year, and the restrictions came after tens of thousands of South Africans working in big cities like Johannesburg had already travelled to see family in provinces where COVID-19 case numbers were growing.

The fears of superspreading events occurring as South Africans piled onto tightly-packed buses to return home after their holiday never materialised, and experts are still trying to figure out why.

Herd immunity is one suggestion, despite only about 1.5 million South Africans, around 2.5 per cent of the population testing positive.

The true number is likely to be much higher due to limits to the nation’s testing capacity, but experts have cast doubt over whether it is high enough to point to herd immunity as a reason for such a sudden and uniform drop in cases on a national scale.

Dr Moultrie told The Wall Street Journal scientists were looking at the role of certain networks, or individuals with many social or work contacts, in driving and eventually slowing down localised outbreaks in South Africa.

Another issue experts are looking at globally is whether people are voluntarily making changes to their lifestyles that will reduce the spread of the virus, without the need for government enforcement.

While, experts try to piece the puzzle together in South Africa, the government has declared that the nation’s second wave is over.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the end of last month that an evening curfew will remain in place between midnight and 4am, gatherings will be permitted subject to limitations on size and health protocols, and alcohol will be back on sale.

It has opened five international airports, but some land border posts remain closed.

While it remains to be seen what impact this will have on case numbers in the coming weeks, it is clear that the pandemic is far from over on a global scale.

Coronavirus cases are beginning to rise again worldwide, with a number of countries seeing their new infections surging in recent days and weeks.

In particular, Europe is seeing cases soar, with a third wave advancing swiftly across much of the continent.

The total of worldwide cases have been slowly climbing in recent weeks, bringing up the seven-day average.

On February 20, global new cases dropped to their lowest number since the middle of October with 398,366 new cases recorded and a seven-day average of 360,664.

However, on the last count on March 13 new cases had climbed to 492,351 and the seven-day average to 442,494.

Many nations that were badly hit over the northern hemisphere winter like the US for example saw cases sharply drop through February, bur the drop has levelled off since the start of March with a seven-day average of around 61,400 new cases a day.

However, there are many countries where cases are increasing, contributing to the upward curve of daily new cases worldwide.

The infection rate in the EU is now at its highest level since the beginning of February, with the spread of new variants of the COVID-19 virus being blamed for much of the recent increase.

Several countries are now set to impose strict new lockdown measures in the next few days.

Italy is set to reimpose restrictions across most of the country on Monday — a year after it became the first European nation to face a major outbreak.

There, authorities recorded more than 27,000 new cases and 380 deaths on Friday

Schools, restaurants, shops and museums will close with Health Minister Roberto Speranza saying he hoped the measures and vaccination program would allow restrictions to be relaxed in the second half of spring.

France meanwhile has recorded more than 26,000 new cases on the last count overnight. While the figure is a drop from 29,759 the day before, the situation in the nation’s hospitals is worsening.

Those in intensive care units edged higher by 57 to 4127, while emergency resuscitation units were running at nearly 82 per cent capacity, the highest since late November.

The French government has so far resisted pressure from health experts to impose a new, third lockdown in the face of rising case numbers.

Instead it has imposed a 6pm nationwide curfew and weekend lockdowns in two regions struggling to contain outbreaks while big shopping centres have been required to close.

In Poland, 17,260 new daily coronavirus cases were reported on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since November. New pandemic restrictions are likely to be announced this week.

In Germany, 12,674 new infections were reported on Saturday, a rise of 3117 from the previous week, as the head of the country’s infectious disease agency acknowledged that the country was now in the grip of a third wave.

According to John Hopkins University data, the worst affected nations per capita are in eastern and central Europe.

The Czech Republic is being hit the hardest with 1411 cases per one million people.

The country’s case rates have put a massive strain on its public health system – on March 5, the Czech government announced publicly that it had asked Germany, Switzerland and Poland to take in dozens of COVID-19 patients, in order to ease the burden on Czech hospitals that were running out of bed space.

The other worst affected nations include Estonia, Hungary, San Marino and Montenegro.


Capital and Labor Both Suffer under Minimum Wage Mandates

President Biden and the Democratic Party have pushed hard to more than double the national minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour over the next four years. This aggressive intervention in the functioning of labor markets has been heavily criticized, including in two recent Mises Wire articles. Resorting to both theoretical arguments and results of empirical studies, Robert Murphy and Martin Jones show in a convincing way that such a drastic increase in the minimum wage is bound to have a negative impact on employment and in particular on low-skilled workers. Yet their case focuses primarily on the short-term job losses stemming from such an ill-suited policy. One should not overlook that the minimum wage hike is likely to impair capital accumulation, productivity growth, and future wages as well. It means that this supposedly welfare-increasing measure is actually going to hamper not only employment, but the improvement of standards of living in general.

As Ludwig von Mises wrote in Human Action, wages are set on a free market in accordance with the marginal productivity of the labor services provided. As the types of labor supplied and their performance are very specific, there is no uniform wage rate throughout the economy. In that respect, setting a universal wage rate for the whole economy, even if it is a minimum threshold, doesn’t make sense either. Moreover, once the government or trade unions succeed in imposing a wage level above the marginal productivity of labor, institutional unemployment results. It is hard to imagine how a mandated national minimum wage of $15 per hour would remain below the marginal productivity of all current employees in the US and would not produce additional unemployment. As a matter of fact, the proposed increase would make the US minimum wage the highest among OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries and probably in the world, both in absolute terms and relative to the median wage in the economy. The closer the minimum wage is to the median one, the larger is the probability that lower-productivity workers cannot be hired at an artificially imposed minimum wage level, and will be swallowed by the ranks of the unemployed. The risk of a large increase in unemployment is quite high given that a nonnegligible 19 percent of the wage-earning workforce currently makes less than $15/hour.

Several US states have already imposed higher minimum wages than the national one of $7.25 an hour. Yet none of the state top-ups has reached $15 an hour as of 2021, which means that the negative impact on employment will be felt in the entire country. Nevertheless, states where average wages are lower and which have not gold-plated the national minimum wage yet will be affected most. A cursory look at wage statistics shows large differences between annual median wages among US states. An increase of the minimum wage to $15/hour would be equivalent to an annual minimum wage of about $31,200 (OECD data), representing about 90 percent or more of the 2019 annual median wage in about twelve US states: Florida, Oklahoma, Kentucky, New Mexico, Idaho, Alabama, South Dakota, South Carolina, Louisiana, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Mississippi. This ratio is very high compared to the OECD average of about 55 percent. Seven of the US states have not even gone beyond the mandated national $7.25 per hour minimum wage so far, illustrating how disastrous the effects of this one-size-fits-all measure could be.

Dozens of empirical studies have shown that hiking minimum wages undermines employment opportunities among low-skilled workers and increases unemployment, in particular when the increase is massive like the one proposed by the Democrats. A study by the Congressional Budget Office quoted by both Murphy and Jones estimates that employment would be reduced by 1.4 million by the minimum wage increase while the number of people in poverty would decline by a nine hundred thousand. Yet the negative economic impact would not end with the labor market effects. According to the same study, a higher minimum wage would also “slightly reduce real GDP, primarily because of reduced employment,” redistribute family income, and increase the budget deficit by a cumulative $54 billion over 2021–31. Significant income redistribution would take place from wealthier families that suffer a decline in business income estimated at $333 billion over 2021֪–31 or face higher prices for goods and services to the families of workers that either benefit from higher wages or have lost employment because of the minimum wage hike.

It should not be overlooked that, in addition to the direct rise in institutional unemployment, second-round effects in terms of lower output and real national income and a new redistribution thereof to the benefit of households with a lower propensity to save are likely to impact negatively savings and investment. Although one cannot predict how US families will shape their savings and investment patterns in the future, statistics show that over the last three decades only the two top income quintiles recorded positive saving rates consistently. The average savings of the two bottom income quintiles have been stubbornly negative while the gap between the top and bottom income groups’ savings has actually widened

If past saving trends continue, the contemplated minimum wage hike is likely to depress further the relatively low savings propensity of US households. The latter save only about 8 percent of their disposable income, part of a long-term declining trend since the early 1970s (OECD data). Moreover, this lasting decline has gone hand in hand with a persistent slowdown in private investment, capital accumulation, and labor productivity. It is obvious that the US economy should be spared another government intervention in the form of a massive minimum wage hike which can only reinforce these trends and undercut the rise in standards of living. Moreover, if minimum wages actually depress savings and hamper capital accumulation how could businesses respond to a mandated increase in wages by substituting more machinery for labor, as claimed by certain pundits? With impaired investment and capital stock, this would only be possible in specific cases and not for the overall economy. As a matter of fact, the causality runs in the opposite direction: capital accumulation and technological improvement support higher wages whereas mandatory minimum wages undermine them.


The lasting negative impact of minimum wages not only on employment, but also on standards of living in general, can only be fully grasped by taking into account also their long-term effects on output, capital accumulation and labor productivity. Mises1 understood very well this phenomenon when he claimed that “No one has ever succeeded in the effort to demonstrate that unionism could improve the conditions and raise the standard of living of all those eager to earn wages.”

Like in the case of unionism, the alleged benefits of mandated minimum wages are restricted to a minority of workers who see their wages rise in the short term. For the rest of the society, which must finance this immediate income redistribution and also face lower prospects for higher standards of living in the future, minimum wages are of no benefit at all.




Sunday, March 14, 2021

Saliva Tests Comparable With Nasal Swabs for SARS-CoV-2 Detection

During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, polymerase chain reaction testing with nasopharyngeal swabs has been the standard diagnostic approach, but the method is uncomfortable and requires a trained health professional. Now, 2 meta-analyses have concluded that self-administered saliva tests are on par with nose and throat swabs for detecting severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

The first analysis, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, examined 37 studies with 7332 paired samples. It found that saliva tests’ sensitivity was 3.4 percentage points lower than that of nasopharyngeal swabs.

The second article included 16 studies involving 5922 patients. It determined the tests’ sensitivity and specificity to be almost identical. Considering saliva tests’ ease of use, comfort, and good performance, “testing centers should strongly consider adopting saliva as their first sample choice, especially in community mass screening programs,” the article’s authors, from Montreal’s McGill University and the US National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine.


What Was In Ashli Babbitt’s Backpack When She Was Shot Dead by a Capitol Hill Police Officer Will Shock You

A clear case of manslaughter

On January 6th, 2021, Ashli Babbitt, a 14 year Air Force Veteran, was shot and killed by a Capitol Police Officer. The Capitol Police continue to hide details of her shooting death from the American public.

It was the only shooting incident at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The Officer who shot Ashli Babbit reportedly said Ashli’s backpack factored into him killing her. But what was actually inside Ashli’s backpack? So does wearing a backpack give an officer an excuse to shoot you dead now?

In a public statement made by the Police Officers’ Attorney, Mark Schamel, he states the backpack Ashli was wearing compounded the Officers fears.

In the same statement, he directly contradicts himself by saying he could not see the three uniformed officers, only a hallway full of people. He also couldn’t see how far the hallway extended. If he could see Ashli Babbitt was wearing a backpack, he could see the three uniformed officers within the direct vicinity of her.

So what is the truth?

The Officer clearly states Ashli’s backpack compounded his fears and led to his decision to shoot and kill Ashli Babbitt. Due to the slight chance that there might be a bomb or a weapon of some sort, he chose to be the judge, jury, and executioner based upon a what-if scenario.

So what did Ashli Babbitt have in her backpack? Was it a bomb or a weapon of mass destruction? Maybe a chemical weapon or high-capacity firearm?

It was a wool sweater and a scarf.

Ashli Babbitt was killed for carrying a wool sweater and a scarf.


Caring More About the Punishing the Rich Than Either the Economy or the Constitution

Elizabeth Warren has again proposed a federal wealth tax.

The reality that the Supreme Court could declare a federal wealth tax to be unconstitutional is apparently irrelevant to Senator Warren. The possibility of a deep negative economic consequence to the United States as the result of a wealth tax is apparently irrelevant to Senator Warren. The probability that the stock market would be slaughtered by wealthy investors all simultaneously selling stocks and bonds is apparently irrelevant to Senator Warren. The probability that the only buyers of stocks and bonds after a wealth tax would be foreign governments is apparently irrelevant to Senator Warren.

For a wealth tax to be constitutional, two of the six conservative Supreme Court judges and all three of the liberal judges would be required to determine that a wealth tax is not a direct tax. These Supreme Court judges would need to conclude that more than a century of precedent need be obviated. These justices would need to conclude (a) that the 125 year old Pollak decision was incorrect, (b) Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts was incorrect in what he wrote in NFIB v Sebelius in 2012 and (c) that most of the Supreme Court tax decisions over the past 100 years requiring what is referred to as a recognition event for income to be taxable are all moot. This is a tall order for a Court that reveres stare decisis, the legal principle of determining points in litigation according to precedent.

While there are progressive lawyers and progressive academics who insist that a wealth tax would be constitutional and that the Supreme Court would provide its stamp of approval, there are equally qualified lawyers and academics who believe that a wealth tax would not be constitutional.

Why Senator Warren is not pursuing a wealth tax as a constitutional amendment is a question she has not addressed. Likely, this is because she does not believe the country would support a constitutional amendment to impose a wealth tax. There should be a message in that line of reasoning.

If there is only a 20 percent chance that Senator Warren’s tax plan would be unconstitutional, implementation of a federal wealth tax and creation of programs that would be supported by the wealth tax would be a fool’s errand. (This author believes there is a near 100 percent chance that the current Supreme Court would find a national wealth tax to be unconstitutional.) Congress could not in good conscious implement any continuing new programs after passage of a wealth tax, lest the funds no longer be available in year three or four after a negative decision by the Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court ruled against Senator Warren’s wealth tax, the Treasury would be forced to return every wealth tax dollar previously collected (with interest) along with eliminating every new program funded with the wealth tax unless other taxes were raised significantly.

Senator Warren’s wealth tax provides for a 2 percent tax on net assets between $50 million and $1 billion and a 3% tax on net assets above $1 billion. Her projections show that $252 billion in federal taxes would be raised in year one. She is wrong by a factor of about 100 percent.

A wealth tax would be accompanied by the sale of assets by taxpayers in order to raise the capital to pay the wealth tax. Should the Senator’s wealth estimations hold true, along with her proposed increase in capital gains taxes, the combination of her new wealth tax accompanied by her new capital gains tax be a tax of 4% to $1 billion and 6 percent for and remaining assets. This would put the total wealth and income taxes raised by Senator Warren’s wealth tax to $500 billion per year.

Nothing Elizabeth Warren can pass in Congress will change the underlying basics of supply and demand. The estimates being made with respect to the funds that would be raised from a wealth tax are wildly optimistic. There would appear to be an assumption that the sale of $500 billion of assets every year to pay the wealth tax along with the necessary income taxes would not be accompanied by a reduction in the price of the assets to be sold.

It is axiomatic that the value of investment assets would decline dramatically if an annual wealth tax was imposed on the wealthy. New investment would decline if not cease. When everyone is a seller, prices go down. Faced with a ten-year $5 trillion tax bill over ten years, the wealthy would not be buying stocks and the value of pension plans would collapse along with the revenues collected.

As pointed out by the Tax Foundation, the only possible buyers would be foreign governments who would be purchasing at bargain basement prices. Who would think that selling America to foreign nations is a great way to move forward toward the middle of this century?

The more famous quote is that a rising tide raises all ships. Senator Warren’s wealth tax would create the reverse which is equally true: A falling tide lowers all ships.


Washington Must Face the Coming Medicare Crisis

Official Washington, D.C., just got another early warning. The Congressional Budget Office recently confirmed the Medicare trustees’ 2020 report that the Medicare trust fund—the Part A account that funds the hospitalization and related services—faces insolvency in 2026.

Insolvency means that Medicare wouldn’t be able to fully reimburse hospitals, nursing homes, and home health agencies for promised benefits. In 2026, Medicare payments would be immediately cut by 10%, and the payment cuts would continue each year thereafter.

Medicare patients would be hit hard. You cannot cut provider payments for medical services without impacting the beneficiaries of those services.

The COVID-19 pandemic briefly highlighted Medicare’s vulnerability to economic setbacks when the Congressional Budget Office last September projected trust fund insolvency even earlier: 2024.

Statewide lockdowns shocked the economy, spiking widespread business closures and driving high unemployment. These disruptions reduced Medicare’s job-based federal payroll taxes, threatening insolvency earlier than anticipated.

Insolvency two years earlier or later makes little difference. Washington policymakers must soon make some big decisions and cannot escape responsibility for what will happen to the program, its beneficiaries, or the taxpayers.

There is nothing new here. Year in and year out, the Medicare trustees have repeatedly warned Congress and the White House that the Medicare trust fund meets neither short- nor long-term financial standards. It has been routinely running tens of billions of dollars in annual deficits, and is expected to generate red ink well into the future.

A demographic imbalance is increasing the pressure. The trustees report that over the last 35 years, Medicare enrollment doubled, and is projected to grow by 50% over the next 35 years. Meanwhile, the number of workers supporting Medicare beneficiaries is shrinking.

In 2008, there were four workers per beneficiary, but in 2019, that declined to three workers per beneficiary. By 2030, there will be only two and a half workers supporting each Medicare beneficiary.

What to do? If Congress and the White House really wanted to eliminate Medicare trust fund deficits altogether—a big if—the trustees say that Washington could either raise the standard payroll tax from 2.9% to 3.66%, immediately, or reduce Medicare trust fund expenditures by 16%. That is unlikely.

The Medicare trustees nonetheless posit these stark options simply to “illustrate the magnitude” of the changes needed to eliminate deficits and insolvency. They recognize, however, that such immediate changes would be unpalatable, and measures are likely to be more gradual. Even so, the longer Washington waits, the more painful the solutions become.

Any hike in the federal payroll taxes to stave off the impending insolvency would be an untimely blow for small businesses, their workers, and their families following the government lockdowns, the recent economic contraction, and massive job losses.

The other option—cutting Medicare payments to Part A providers even more—carries risks of its own.

The Affordable Care Act already authorizes big future Medicare payment reductions to hospitals, nursing homes, and home health agencies. Within the next 20 years, government actuaries report, Affordable Care Act provider payment reductions will guarantee financial losses and jeopardize Medicare beneficiaries’ access to quality care.

More recently, these institutions suffered a serious financial blow from government edicts to cancel scheduled care in response to the pandemic.

Even though hospital revenues have begun to rebound, and Congress provided hospitals with emergency payments, some hospitals are still struggling financially. This would not be a propitious time to hit them with another cut in Medicare reimbursement rates.

Finally, Congress could turn on the general revenue spending spigot to cover the trust fund losses. That would drop the pretense that Medicare Part A can continue as a “social insurance” program paid for by Medicare beneficiaries during their working lives. But that would pour more gasoline on Washington’s raging fiscal fires, generating even higher deficits and dangerous debt—now estimated at over $27 trillion—beyond that incurred by recent pandemic spending.

Painless solutions are nonexistent. But targeted solutions are available. Congress could enact a temporary Part A premium—the equivalent of a surcharge—to cover the Medicare trust fund’s projected deficit, and eliminate it when the fund is rebalanced.

But addressing the hospitalization trust fund crisis is only the beginning of serious Medicare reform. Washington policymakers must also phase in more substantial changes, including raising the age of eligibility to 67 in harmony with Social Security and indexing it to life expectancy, and further expanding “means testing” to reduce the burdens on middle-income taxpayers and beneficiaries.

The big change would be to build on the successes of Medicare Advantage, Medicare’s system of competing private health plans, and enact a comprehensive defined-contribution program and harness the powerful forces of consumer choice and market competition. That would not only improve the quality of care, but also control costs for beneficiaries and taxpayers alike.

That is a big job, and it must start sooner rather than later. It will take a combination of brains, guts, and bipartisan cooperation. It’s called statesmanship.