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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Americans Notice the Increase in COVID

Linley Sanders at YouGov:
In the last few days, the United States has set new daily records for the number of positive COVID-19 tests reported. Recent infection levels have been higher than they were even during the July peak.

The latest Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that the increase has not gone unnoticed by voters. The percentage of registered voters who say "the number of cases is increasing" in the United States jumped nine percentage points over the last week, from 63% to 72%.

That number has been steadily rising throughout October, and across party lines. At the beginning of the month, a quarter (24%) of Republicans saw the case count rising. This week, that recognition has doubled (48%). Two-thirds (68%) of Democrats in early October said coronavirus cases were increasing; this week, 90% believe this to be the situation.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Largest US Employer

 From the Census:

Which industry had the highest employment and annual payroll in 2018?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns (CBP), the 907,426 businesses in the Health Care and Social Assistance sector topped all others with 20 million employees and over $1.0 trillion in annual payroll in 2018.

And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects this sector will grow 14% from 2018 to 2028, due largely to an aging population with increased health care needs. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Foreign Policy: Experts and the Public

Foreign policy might not be the primary issue of the 2020 presidential election campaign, but Americans have clear ideas on the various threats facing the United States. Recent Pew Research Center surveys find that Americans are especially concerned about the spread of infectious diseases and are more likely than not to blame China for its role in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

But foreign policy experts have distinctly different perspectives. A September survey of 706 international relations scholars in the U.S. as part of the College of William & Mary’s Teaching, Research and International Policy (TRIP) poll found that their assessment of the current crises facing America and the world are often at odds with those of the U.S. general public.
These experts are less concerned about terrorism, more concerned about climate change and much more positive about China’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, even as they are harshly critical of the U.S. response. However, scholars and the American people do agree that U.S. policy should work to promote human rights in China, even at the expense of economic relations.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Right-Wing Media

The Epoch Times is a right-wing newspaper affiliated with the secretive Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong, Kevin Roose at NYT:

The publication and its affiliates employed a novel strategy that involved creating dozens of Facebook pages, filling them with feel-good videos and viral clickbait, and using them to sell subscriptions and drive traffic back to its partisan news coverage.

In an April 2017 email to the staff obtained by The New York Times, the paper’s leadership envisioned that the Facebook strategy could help turn The Epoch Times into “the world’s largest and most authoritative media.” It could also introduce millions of people to the teachings of Falun Gong, fulfilling the group’s mission of “saving sentient beings.”

Today, The Epoch Times and its affiliates are a force in right-wing media, with tens of millions of social media followers spread across dozens of pages and an online audience that rivals those of The Daily Caller and Breitbart News, and with a similar willingness to feed the online fever swamps of the far right.


 It is a remarkable success story for Falun Gong, which has long struggled to establish its bona fides against Beijing’s efforts to demonize it as an “evil cult,” partly because its strident accounts of persecution in China can sometimes be difficult to substantiate or veer into exaggeration. In 2006, an Epoch Times reporter disrupted a White House visit by the Chinese president by shouting, “Evil people will die early.”

Stephen K. Bannon... former chairman of Breitbart, said in an interview in July that The Epoch Times’s fast growth had impressed him.

“They’ll be the top conservative news site in two years,” said Mr. Bannon, who was arrested on fraud charges in August. “They punch way above their weight, they have the readers, and they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Justin Baragona at The Daily Beast:

It seems Newsmax TV—the decade-old, also-ran, right-wing cable channel hoping to compete with Fox News—may have finally found a way to boost its dismal ratings.

In recent months, Newsmax chief Chris Ruddy has gone on a hiring spree, snapping up a bevy of former Fox News personalities ... and right-wing media hangers-on to reshape and fill out the channel’s lineup. Furthermore, the network has made it a point to embrace disgraced TV hosts or heretofore unemployable pundits mired in scandal.

Benny Johnson, a serial plagiarist who abandoned his notorious career as a clickbait writer to become a “meme lord” for right-wing student group TPUSA, now hosts a Saturday program titled The Benny Report. Johnson’s most recent prior media gig was as a writer for The Daily Caller, where he landed after being fired by BuzzFeed over at least 40 instances of plagiarism and then ousted from conservative news site Independent Journal Review following a series of incidents including publishing baseless conspiracies and, naturally, more plagiarism.


And then there’s Michelle Malkin. Once a right-wing media superstar and a fixture on Fox News for more than a decade before she leaned hard into supporting the “groyper” movement and white nationalists last year, she now hosts a Saturday evening show for Newsmax. The program’s title, Sovereign Nation, underscores how Malkin, always an anti-immigration hardliner, has repositioned herself as a leading voice of the xenophobic fever swamp. (She was fired from the Young America’s Foundation in Nov. 2019 over her support for Holocaust denier and anti-Semitic internet personality Nick Fuentes.)

Friday, October 23, 2020

Avoidable Deaths

 From  Irwin Redlener, et al., “130,000 – 210,000 AVOIDABLE COVID-19 DEATHS –AND COUNTING – IN THE U.S.”, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute, Columbia University 

This report looks at the staggering and disproportionate nature of COVID-19 fatalities in the United States, which now ranks first in the world in the total number of fatalities, to estimate how many  deaths were “avoidable.” With more than 217,0001, lives lost, and a proportional mortality rate twice that of neighboring Canada and more than fifty times that of Japan -- a country with a much older population than the U.S. – the United States has turned a global crisis into a devastating tragedy.

Through comparative analysis and applying proportional mortality rates, we estimate that at least 130,000 deaths and perhaps as many as 210,000 could have been avoided with earlier policy interventions and more robust federal coordination and leadership. Even with the dramatic recent appearance of new COVID-19 waves globally, the abject failures of U.S. government policies and crisis messaging persist. U.S. fatalities have remained disproportionately high throughout the pandemic when compared to even other high-mortality countries.

The inability of the U.S. to mitigate the pandemic is especially stark when contrasted with the response of high income nations, such as South Korea, Japan, Australia, Germany, France, and Canada, as well as low- and middle-income countries as varied as Thailand, Pakistan, Honduras, and Malaysia. All of these nations have had greater success in protecting their populations from the impact of the coronavirus.

Given the United States’ unique social and political realities, we recognize that it might have been particularly challenging to implement the same caliber of response as South Korea and Japan, both of which maintain centralized unitary governments. Nonetheless, the range of “avoidable deaths” outlined above stems from data illustrating how some of the best performing nations have achieved much greater results in protecting their populations.

Thursday, October 22, 2020


At WSJ, Christopher Mims reports on social media and polarization:
One such model, just published by researchers at Northwestern University, incorporates recent, and in some ways counterintuitive, findings by political scientists. One, from a 2018 study by [Duke sociologist Christopher} Bail, is that when you repeatedly expose people on social media to viewpoints different than their own, it just makes them dig in their heels and reinforces their own viewpoint, rather than swaying them to the other side. (Dr. Bail’s study was conducted on U.S. users of Twitter, but other studies have begun to replicate it, he adds.)

In the past, social-media giants have been accused of only showing us content that agrees with our preconceptions, creating echo chambers or “filter bubbles.” The proposed solution, trumpeted by pundits of every stripe, was to change the social-media algorithms so that they would show us more content from people who disagree with us.

According to David Sabin-Miller and Daniel Abrams, creators of this latest model, exposing us to viewpoints different from our own, in whatever medium we encounter them, might actually be part of the problem. The reason is probably intuitive for anyone who has the misfortune to spend an unhealthy amount of time on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or even cable news. (During the pandemic, that’s more of us than ever.) Because social media and Balkanized TV networks tend to highlight content with the biggest emotional punch—that is, they operate on the principle that if it’s outrageous, it’s contagious—when we’re exposed to a differing view, it often takes an extreme form, one that seems personally noxious.

Mr. Sabin-Miller and Dr. Abrams, both mathematicians, call this effect “repulsion.” In addition to the “pull” of repeatedly seeing viewpoints that reinforce our own, inside of our online echo chambers, repulsion provides a “push” away from opposing viewpoints, they argue. Importantly, this repulsion appears to be a more powerful force, psychologically, than attraction to our own side of a debate.

Bad actors on social media—such as Russian agents who have been active in advance of the 2020 election, attempting to divide Americans further—already appear to recognize repulsion as a tool, says Mr. Sabin-Miller. These trolls will assume roles on both sides of an ideological divide, and play dumb to make one side of the debate look foolish, while playing down the extremity of views on the other side.

Another model by Vicky Chuqiao Yang, an applied mathematician at the Santa Fe Institute, explored a phenomenon political scientists have previously described: the way political parties have themselves become more polarized over time. Her model buttresses past work that suggested that political parties play to their more extreme constituents because it’s more strategically advantageous than trying to go for ideological moderates, who often swing to one party or the other.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Curbing Presidential Power

 At NYT, Peter Baker reports on bipartisan proposals from Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith, an assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush, and Robert F. Bauer, a White House counsel under President Barack Obama.  Their ideas include:

  • Provide more authority and protection for future special counsels investigating presidents or other high-level officials and have them report their findings to Congress and the public rather than to the Justice Department.
  • Prohibit presidents from pardoning themselves and amend the bribery statute to make it illegal to use the pardon power to bribe witnesses or obstruct justice.
  • Bar presidents from managing or supervising private businesses or establishing blind trusts for their financial assets and require any business in which they have an interest to file public reports.
  • Authorize inspectors general to investigate and report on reprisals or intimidation of journalists.
  • Revise the authorization of force passed after Sept. 11, 2001, to prohibit humanitarian military intervention without additional votes by Congress and limit the use of nuclear weapons to self-defense in extreme circumstances.
  • Ensure that the attorney general makes decisions on prosecutions involving the president or presidential campaigns, not the F.B.I. director, as happened during the Hillary Clinton email case.