Sunday, September 26, 2021

Sunday Reading

Buh-Bye — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

“If you want to leave, take good care, hope you make a lot of nice friends out there”

— from “Wild World” by Cat Stevens

This is for those of you who’ve chosen to quit your jobs rather than submit to a vaccine mandate.

No telling how many of you there actually are, but lately, you’re all over the news. Just last week, a nearly-30-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department surrendered his badge rather than comply with the city’s requirement that all employees be inoculated against COVID-19. He joins an Army lieutenant colonel, some airline employees, a Major League Baseball executive, the choral director of the San Francisco Symphony, workers at the tax collector’s office in Orange County, Florida, and, incredibly, dozens of healthcare professionals.

Well, on behalf of the rest of us, the ones who miss concerts, restaurants and other people’s faces, the ones who are sick and tired of living in pandemic times, here’s a word of response to you quitters: Goodbye.

And here’s two more: Good riddance.

Not to minimize any of this. A few weeks ago, a hospital in upstate New York announced it would have to “pause” delivering babies because of resignations among its maternity staff. So the threat of difficult ramifications is certainly real. But on the plus side, your quitting goes a long way toward purging us of the gullible, the conspiracy-addled, the logic-impaired and the stubbornly ignorant. And that’s not nothing.

We’ve been down this road before. Whenever faced with some mandate imposed in the interest of the common good, some of us act like they just woke up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. “There’s no freedom no more,” whined one man in video that recently aired on “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.” The clip was from the 1980s, and the guy had just gotten a ticket for not wearing his seatbelt.

It’s an unfortunately common refrain. Can’t smoke in a movie theater? Can’t crank your music to headache decibels at 2 in the morning? Can’t post the Ten Commandments in a courtroom? “There’s no freedom no more.” Some of you seem to think freedom means no one can be compelled to do, or refrain from doing, anything. But that’s not freedom, it’s anarchy.

Usually, the rest of us don’t agonize over your intransigence. Often it has no direct impact on us. The guy in “The Daily Show” clip was only demanding the right to skid across a highway on his face, after all. But now you claim the right to risk the healthcare system and our personal lives.
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So if you’re angry, guess what? You’re not the only ones.

The difference is, your anger is dumb, and ours is not. Yours is about being coerced to do something you don’t want to do. Like that’s new. Like you’re not already required to get vaccinated to start school or travel to other countries. For that matter, you’re also required to mow your lawn, cover your hindparts and, yes, wear a seatbelt. So you’re mad at government and your job for doing what they’ve always done.

But the rest of us, we’re mad at you. Because this thing could have been over by now, and you’re the reason it isn’t.

That’s why we were glad President Biden stopped asking nicely, started requiring vaccinations everywhere he had power to do so. We were also glad when employers followed suit. And if that’s a problem for you, then, yes, goodbye, sayonara, auf wiedersehen, adios and adieu. We’ll miss you, to be sure. But you’re asking us to choose between your petulance and our lives.

And that’s really no choice at all.

Doonesbury — You say you want an evolution…

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Friday, September 24, 2021

Happy Friday

Well, this went sideways for Trump and his minions:

PHOENIX — After months of delays and blistering criticism, a review of the 2020 election in Arizona’s largest county, ordered up and financed by Republicans, has failed to show that former President Donald J. Trump was cheated of victory, according to draft versions of the report.

In fact, the draft report from the company Cyber Ninjas found just the opposite: It tallied 99 additional votes for President Biden and 261 fewer votes for Mr. Trump in Maricopa County, the fast-growing region that includes Phoenix.

The full review is set to be released on Friday, but draft versions circulating through Arizona political circles were obtained by The New York Times from a Republican and a Democrat.

Late on Thursday night, Maricopa County, whose Republican leaders have derided the review, got a jump on the official release by tweeting out its conclusions.

“The county’s canvass of the 2020 General Election was accurate and the candidates certified as the winners did, in fact, win,” the county said on Twitter. It then criticized the review as “littered with errors and faulty conclusions.”

TL;DR: Biden got more votes than originally reported.

It makes me wonder if they’re going to insist on further audits in Pennsylvania and Texas.

Tropical Update: TS Sam is moving to the northwest, but at this point it doesn’t look like it’s going to come near populated land.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Hack Job On The Whack Jobs

This is hilarious.

Epik long has been the favorite Internet company of the far-right, providing domain services to QAnon theorists, Proud Boys and other instigators of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — allowing them to broadcast hateful messages from behind a veil of anonymity.

But that veil abruptly vanished last week when a huge breach by the hacker group Anonymous dumped into public view more than 150 gigabytes of previously private data — including user names, passwords and other identifying information of Epik’s customers.

Extremism researchers and political opponents have treated the leak as a Rosetta Stone to the far-right, helping them to decode who has been doing what with whom over several years. Initial revelations have spilled out steadily across Twitter since news of the hack broke last week, often under the hashtag #epikfail, but those studying the material say they will need months and perhaps years to dig through all of it.

“It’s massive. It may be the biggest domain-style leak I’ve seen and, as an extremism researcher, it’s certainly the most interesting,” said Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who studies right-wing extremism. “It’s an embarrassment of riches — stress on the embarrassment.”

Epik, based in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish, has made its name in the Internet world by providing critical Web services to sites that have run afoul of other companies’ policies against hate speech, misinformation and advocating violence. Its client list is a roll-call of sites known for permitting extreme posts and that have been rejected by other companies for their failure to moderate what their users post.

Online records show those sites have included 8chan, which was dropped by its providers after hosting the manifesto of a gunman who killed 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019; Gab, which was dropped for hosting the antisemitic rants of a gunman who killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018; and Parler, which was dropped due to lax moderation related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

The right-wing nutsery lives on the web — dark or otherwise — so kicking over the rock and exposing the wriggling bugs is the price you pay for lax security and the hubris of thinking that using their cat’s birthday as their password would keep them safe.

Oops.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

I’m Shocked, Shocked

To quote the dude in Star Wars, “She lied to us.”

Two weeks after the 2020 election, a team of lawyers closely allied with Donald J. Trump held a widely watched news conference at the Republican Party’s headquarters in Washington. At the event, they laid out a bizarre conspiracy theory claiming that a voting machine company had worked with an election software firm, the financier George Soros and Venezuela to steal the presidential contest from Mr. Trump.

But there was a problem for the Trump team, according to court documents released on Monday evening.

By the time the news conference occurred on Nov. 19, Mr. Trump’s campaign had already prepared an internal memo on many of the outlandish claims about the company, Dominion Voting Systems, and the separate software company, Smartmatic. The memo had determined that those allegations were untrue.

The court papers, which were initially filed late last week as a motion in a defamation lawsuit brought against the campaign and others by a former Dominion employee, Eric Coomer, contain evidence that officials in the Trump campaign were aware early on that many of the claims against the companies were baseless.

The documents also suggest that the campaign sat on its findings about Dominion even as Sidney Powell and other lawyers attacked the company in the conservative media and ultimately filed four federal lawsuits accusing it of a vast conspiracy to rig the election against Mr. Trump.

According to emails contained in the documents, Zach Parkinson, then the campaign’s deputy director of communications, reached out to subordinates on Nov. 13 asking them to “substantiate or debunk” several matters concerning Dominion. The next day, the emails show, Mr. Parkinson received a copy of a memo cobbled together by his staff from what largely appear to be news articles and public fact-checking services.

But it kept the lies alive long enough to get the gangs together for the insurrection on January 6, and more importantly, kept Trump assured that he was really still the president, and kept his machinery going to grift from his pigeons out there who still believe in his magical powers, just like the guy who sells miracle water in a Baggie for $29.95 plus shipping and handling.

What’s catching up with the lawyers is that they know that if they present false evidence in court, they’re the ones who will be sanctioned and possibly disbarred, and you can’t chase ambulances or suck up to dictators if you’re no longer allowed to practice law. They’ve already got enough trouble as it is; they could easily be sued by the voting machine companies for libel.

Frankly, I don’t thing anyone’s really surprised at this news. Part of being a lawyer for Trump is being able to suborn perjury in public and then not get paid for the effort. These people sound like they’re just the kind who’d do that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Short-Term Memory Loss

Daniel Drezner in the Washington Post reminded me of some recent history that is now history.

Remember Afghanistan? It would be understandable if some readers did not, since mainstream media coverage of events there has nosedived over the past few weeks. If you recall, however, a month ago, a lot of U.S. analysts and commentators (myself included) were fretting about the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the rapid Taliban takeover of the country. The frenzied efforts to get Westerners and Afghan allies out of Kabul in the face of a Taliban deadline of Aug. 31 seemed daunting.

The take industry was churning out a lot of copy during this period, most of it heavy on the pessimism. I would wager, however, that Noah Rothman, online editor of Commentary and an MSNBC columnist, generated the most hyperbolic take of the past month. He tweeted, “This is the worst display of presidential maladministration in my lifetime.”

Now this was quite the empirical claim. Was the Biden administration’s handling of Afghanistan in August really the worst? Worse than 1983 terrorist attack in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. Marines? Worse than trading arms with Iran for U.S. hostages held in Lebanon? Worse than standing idly by while genocide tore apart Rwanda? Worse than failing to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks? Worse than deciding a year after 9/11 to prioritize the invasion of Iraq over finishing the mission in Afghanistan? Worse than the planning for postwar Iraq? Worse than the response to Hurricane Katrina? Worse than the confused intervention in Libya and the schizophrenic intervention in Syria? Worse than the abandonment of the Kurds in Syria? Worse than the initial federal response to the coronavirus pandemic? Worse than fomenting an armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol? That is quite the maladministration!

Rothman was not just venting on Twitter, however. The next day, he published “The Worst Presidential Dereliction in Memory” in Commentary. And lest one think that headline was misleading, Rothman closed out his essay with the assertion, “This is, I would argue, the worst dereliction of presidential responsibility and the most sordid example of maladministration in my four decades of life.”

Needless to say, at the time I expressed some … let’s say skepticism about this claim on Twitter. In our subsequent exchange, Rothman not only stood by his assertion but pledged that the situation would worsen. And to be fair, it does not take too much squinting to see the basis for his concern. He explained, “From my vantage, leaving upward of 10k US citizens behind enemy lines to fend for themselves takes the cake.” He further elaborated, “There is no contingency to get American citizens out. And if they don’t get out under our protection, they’re bargaining chips. Lots of bargaining chips.”

I suggested that we revisit this question in a month — and hey, what do you know, it is a month later. Has Rothman’s dire prediction come to pass?

It would appear not. Contra Rothman’s supposition, In the latter half of August, the U.S. military and allied forces were able to ferry considerable numbers of people out of Afghanistan. In his Senate testimony, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that in August, the United States and its allies “completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety.” This includes most of the Americans whom Rothman referenced in his tweets (though, to be fair, it is possible that he was unknowingly relying on inflated numbers at the outset).

[…]

The withdrawal of Afghanistan was rough. Congress is right to hold hearings on the issue, and reasonable people can disagree about whether the withdrawal could have been handled better or whether the Biden administration should have engaged in better contingency planning. Reasonable people cannot call it the worst case of presidential management in four decades. That would be reckless hyperbole. As Rothman himself noted last year, hyperbole is a plague affecting far too much political commentary. So I sure hope Rothman acknowledges that maybe, just maybe, he exaggerated a wee bit last month.

And we’ve moved on to other shiny objects of distraction: a missing white woman, a recall election in California that cratered GOP hopes, yet another assault on reproductive rights, more deaths from Covid-19 along with rank stupidity from various state governors and their depraved indifference. In other words, life has gone on. In another month, the only reminder of the evacuation of Afghanistan will be the charge on your credit card that you made when you sent money to help the Red Cross, assuming you did even that.

Sometimes our collective national short-term memory loss is a good thing. It allows us to keep going, getting back to work, picking ourselves up and walking it off. Then again, the wounds leave scars and the memories haunt us, especially when there’s a tinge of guilt or regret associated with it — “we could have done more,” or the ruefulness that we never seemed to learn from the last debacle. As the Pete Seeger song asks, when will we ever learn?

Back To Where They Started From

The federal election in Canada turned out to be as predicted: the Liberals would retain the government but not win a majority.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has won enough seats in this 44th general election to form another minority government — with voters signalling Monday they trust the incumbent to lead Canada through the next phase of the pandemic fight by handing him a third mandate with a strong plurality.

After a 36-day campaign and a $600-million election, the final seat tally doesn’t look very different from the composition of the House of Commons when it was dissolved in early August — prompting even more questions about why a vote was called during a fourth wave of the pandemic in the first place.

As of 2:30 a.m. ET, Liberal candidates were leading or elected in 157 ridings, the exact same number of seats that party won in the 2019 contest.

It’s a reversal of fortunes for Trudeau. He launched this campaign with a sizeable lead in the polls — only to see his support crater days later as many voters expressed anger with his decision to call an election during this health crisis. Two middling debate performances by Trudeau and renewed questions about past scandals also put a Liberal victory in question.

But in the end, voters decided the Liberal team should continue to govern a country that, while battered and bruised by a health crisis, has also fared well on key pandemic metrics like death rates and vaccine coverage.

[…]

In his victory speech in Montreal in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Trudeau said the result suggests Canadians are “sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic and to brighter days ahead.

“The moment we face demands real, important change, and you have given this Parliament and this government clear direction.”

After a divisive campaign that saw a great deal of partisan sniping, Trudeau struck a more conciliatory tone on election night when he spoke directly to opposition leaders and those who didn’t vote for a Liberal candidate.

“I hear you when you say you just want to get back to the things you love and not worry about this pandemic or about an election,” he said. “Your members of Parliament of all stripes will have your back in this crisis and beyond. Canadians are able to get around any obstacle and that is exactly what we will continue to do.”

So basically Mr. Trudeau broke even.  That’s better than getting a nasty surprise, and he’s got at least another five years to make it work.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Elections Canada

I’m pretty sure you didn’t know that Canada is holding a national election today.

Canadians head to the polls today for the final day of voting in this 44th general election and surveys suggest the result is far from certain with as many as six parties in contention for seats in Parliament.

More than 5.8 million Canadians have already voted in the advance polls, and Elections Canada has received nearly one million special ballots — a record-setting early turnout that suggests there’s an energized electorate.

Poll workers will start the vote count tonight, but the outcome may not be known until tomorrow after the many mail-in ballots are verified at hundreds of returning offices nationwide.

This 36-day election featured policy talk on everything from housing and the COVID-19 response to Canada’s place in the world, but there were also heavy doses of partisan sniping as the leaders jockeyed for front-runner status in a very close race.

They do things differently in Canada. Since they have a parliamentary system, the people don’t vote for a national candidate; they vote for their local Member of Parliament, and the party with the most seats gets to choose the prime minister. There are 338 districts, called ridings, across Canada. Since there are more than two major parties in Canada — the four big ones are the Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats, and the Bloc Quebecois — the winner may not have a majority of 170 seats, so they have to work with the others to get things done. There are other, smaller parties, including the Greens and a populist quasi-Trump group called the People’s Party of Canada, but the odds are very long that they’ll win even one seat.

As of this morning, the Liberals have the lead in seats, but not a majority.

Canada also does not have permanent election campaigns like we do. Parliament was dissolved and the election was called on August 15, and the campaign ends today, 36 days later. The prime minister can call for an election any time he or she wants, with one required at least every five years. Justin Trudeau bet that he could pull off a majority win based on his performance dealing with Covid-19 and other issues that made his party popular, but it’s not always a sure thing; other PM’s have had their garter snapped and found themselves out of office and out of a job. After all, to be prime minister, you have to win your seat in your own riding, and it’s happened where the incumbent PM has had his poutine handed to him by his own constituents.

One other way that Canadians do it differently is by having the national election run by a federal agency, Elections Canada. They handle all of the process across all the provinces and territories, and they present the results. Here in the U.S., it’s up to each state to do it, which, as we’ve seen in the last few years, can be a clustasrophe with different rules for different people in different states. On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to rig a national election with over a thousand different systems running in 50 states, each handled by local officials.

Like I said, they do things differently in the True North.  I’m not sure I’d want a parliamentary system here — although the idea of Nancy Pelosi as Prime Minister has a certain charm — but I like the idea of having an election over and done within a month, and I like the idea of a representative knowing that their job could be up for grabs at any time.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Sunday Reading

Don’t Tell DeSantis — The Miami Herald editorial on the history of getting vaccinated goes far beyond his beady little eyes can see.

In 1777, there weren’t chants of “My body, my choice” at political rallies or governors selling “Don’t Fauci my Florida” campaign T-shirts.

But George Washington’s decision to mandate that Continental Army soldiers be inoculated against smallpox wasn’t easy. There were no safe, widely tested vaccines like the ones used for the coronavirus today, and inoculation in the 18th century was controversial and risky. It required exposing healthy people to the smallpox virus by scratching it into their arm or having them inhale it through the nose, generally causing a mild infection that led to immunity but, also — occasionally — death.

Washington wrote that if his army got widely infected, “We should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy.”

That was the first mass military inoculation, according to the Library of Congress. Since then, vaccine mandates inside and outside the military — and opposition to them — have been woven into the fabric of American life. In fact, we’re living with vaccine mandates right now — and not just for COVID-19.

But in the GOP playbook, vaccine mandates are a new concoction by the freedom-hating far-left and government bureaucrats. Could long-standing vaccine mandates be the next target in Republican-led states like Florida? We once thought that would be a far-fetched possibility. Not so much today.

Want to attend state-funded Florida International University? You must show proof of two MMR shots, for measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination for hepatitis B and meningitis are also “strongly recommended,” but not mandatory, and require the signing of a waiver.

Want to work at taxpayer-funded Jackson Health System? Whether you’re a doctor or a cafeteria worker, you’ll need a flu shot and proof of MMR and chicken pox vaccination. The hospital system also requires workers to get COVID shots or face restrictions, such as wearing an N95 mask at all times. Religious and medical exemptions apply for the COVID and flu shots, spokeswoman Lidia Amoretti-Morgado told the Herald Editorial Board.

Want to send your children to a public school in Florida? Unless you have a religious or medical exemption signed by a doctor, get ready to prove they received shots for polio, hepatitis B, chicken pox, MMR and DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis).

Florida’s school mandate is stricter than those of other states such as Colorado, where parents can object to vaccination on “philosophical” grounds or because of personal beliefs. But don’t tell Florida’s lawmakers. They don’t need any help coming up with bad ideas.

Vaccine mandates have been part of everyday life for Americans for more than a century for the simple reason that they work in controlling or eradicating diseases. Thanks to widespread vaccination, the last natural outbreak of smallpox in the United States happened in 1949.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is leading the charge against local governments that require COVID vaccination from employees, announcing in a recent news conference that he will start fining local officials. Mandates seem to be a greater issue than the misinformation that was propagated at his own event, when a Gainesville employee took the stage to claim falsely that the COVID vaccine “changes your RNA.” DeSantis, apparently suffering from a case of amnesia, said he doesn’t “even remember” what the man who was standing next to him said.

Many say the COVID vaccine is just too new to be mandated. But the approval standards set by the Food and Drug Administration — which gave the Pfizer shot full authorization last month after reviewing data from more than 40,000 people who participated in a clinical trial — are more stringent than what was in place in 1809, when the first state vaccine law was enacted in Massachusetts for smallpox.

In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in Jacobson v. Massachusetts upholding a Cambridge City mandate. The court rejected the idea of an exemption based on personal choice because it would strip the legislative power from its function to “care for the public health and the public safety.” In 1922, the court denied a challenge to childhood vaccination requirements. More recently, the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to a Maricopa County policy that excluded unvaccinated children from school when there is an unconfirmed but reasonable risk for the spread of measles.

“The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good,” the court wrote in the 1905 case.

In other words, the Supreme Court said freedom doesn’t give you the right to harm others.

But these days, the liberty that Washington’s inoculated troops fought for has been turned into a cloak for anti-vax entitlement and selfishness. Those attitudes have always been part of American society, but partisan politics has never played such an important role with conservative principles becoming intertwined with vaccine hesitancy.

And that raises a scary possibility: If so many Americans believe the COVID vaccine to be harmful or ineffective, who’s to say vaccine mandates for diseases that we thought long eradicated won’t come into question next?

A flawed — and later debunked — study and online conspiracies fueled by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy led many parents in the late 1990s and 2000s to believe MMR vaccines caused autism. There were 22 measles outbreaks across the nation in 2019, the second highest number of reported outbreaks since measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We’re already seeing that the fervor against the coronavirus vaccine has jeopardized public access to information about immunizations in general. Tennessee health officials, under pressure from lawmakers, stopped all adolescent vaccine outreach for COVID as well as other diseases in July. Health department employees were told to remove the agency logo from vaccine information given to the public, and the state fired its top vaccine official. After The Tennessean broke the story, drawing national condemnation, the state resumed most outreach efforts.

In past times, we would brush off what happened in Tennessee as an isolated case of lunacy. But today we cannot so easily dismiss the idea that lunacy might prevail against established — and effective — public-health measures.

Doonesbury — Dream a little dream…

Saturday, September 18, 2021