Vincent van Gogh Laboureur dans un champ 1889
The 21st second of the 21st minute of the 21st hour of the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century.
All good now, but what a blunder.
Thousands of National Guardsmen were allowed back into the Capitol Thursday night, hours after U.S. Capitol Police officials ordered them to vacate the facilities, sending them outdoors or to nearby parking garages after two weeks pulling security duty after the deadly riot on Jan. 6. One unit, which had been resting in the Dirksen Senate Office building, was abruptly told to vacate the facility on Thursday, according to one Guardsman. The group was forced to rest in a nearby parking garage without internet reception, with just one electrical outlet, and one bathroom with two stalls for 5,000 troops, the person said. Temperatures in Washington were in the low 40s by nightfall. “Yesterday dozens of senators and congressmen walked down our lines taking photos, shaking our hands and thanking us for our service.
Within 24 hours, they had no further use for us and banished us to the corner of a parking garage. We feel incredibly betrayed,” the Guardsman said. All National Guard troops were told to vacate the Capitol and nearby congressional buildings on Thursday, and to set up mobile command centers outside or in nearby hotels, another Guardsman confirmed. They were told to take their rest breaks during their 12-hour shifts outside and in parking garages, the person said. Top lawmakers from both parties took to Twitter to decry the decision and call for answers after POLITICO first reported the news Thursday night, with some even offering their offices to be used as rest areas. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted: “If this is true, it’s outrageous. I will get to the bottom of this.”
And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) noted that the Capitol complex remains closed to members of the public, “so there’s plenty of room for troops to take a break in them.” By 10 p.m., Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said the situation was “being resolved” and that the Guardsmen would be able to return indoors later in the night. “Just made a number of calls and have been informed Capitol Police have apologized to the Guardsmen and they will be allowed back into the complex tonight,” added Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both of her legs in combat. “I’ll keep checking to make sure they are.”
“This characterization of America’s worsening racism is not just factually ungrounded, it is also a tasteless rhetorical move in an inaugural address. Reflexive invocations of “systemic racism” and “white supremacy” have become the Tourette’s Syndrome of left-wing professors and activists.”
It’s an odd way to seek national unity: call a significant portion of the American public white supremacists, racists, and nativists. Welcome to the Biden presidency. Joe Biden’s inaugural speech as 46th president is predictably being hailed for its “unifying” message. And just as predictably, his invocations of the divisive bromides of the identitarian Left are being swept under the rug. According to Biden, we are a “great nation” and a “good people.” But we also oppress minorities with an ever-rising fervor. “Growing inequity” is among the greatest challenges facing the country, according to Biden, along with the “sting of systemic racism” and encroaching “white supremacy.” Only now are we confronting “a cry for racial justice, some four hundred years in the making.”
One might have thought that more than 50 years of civil rights legislation; the banishing of Jim Crow segregation; the ubiquity of racial preferences throughout corporate America, higher education, and government; trillions of dollars of tax dollars attempting to close the academic achievement gap; and the election of black politicians by white voting districts would have reduced inequity, not increased it. But to Biden’s speechwriters, steeped in academic victimology, racial inequity is always with us, requiring constant remediation from government. Biden rattled off a litany of white America’s sins: the “harsh, ugly reality” of “racism, nativism, fear, [and] demonization”; “anger, resentment, hatred, [and] extremism.” He did not name white Americans as such, but he did not need to. That qualifier is inherent in the language he chose to adopt.
This characterization of America’s worsening racism is not just factually ungrounded, it is also a tasteless rhetorical move in an inaugural address. Reflexive invocations of “systemic racism” and “white supremacy” have become the Tourette’s Syndrome of left-wing professors and activists. They are au courant, shallow terms of the moment, lacking depth or weight. In fact, such terms are so overused today that it is easy to tune them out. But that would be a mistake. The “systemic racism” conceit means that every American institution is illegitimate and needs to be reconstructed. Biden’s cabinet nominees, whether in health, finance, environmental policy, or education, have declared that eradicating systemic racism is their top priority. How this agenda will play out has already been adumbrated in the CDC’s initial priority list for Covid vaccinations: hold off on vaccinating the elderly, despite their higher risk levels, because the elderly are disproportionately white. Racial quotas will become even more the order of the day than now.
“The Democratic Party remained a safe vehicle for corporate agendas for the next 20 years – until an Orange Demon was conjured to scare the Democratic base back into the party’s corporate bosom, in 2016.”
Donald Trump has slunk off the national stage for the time being, but we must remember who made him a contender for president in the first place: the Democrats and their corporate media. As Wikileaks revealed , the Clinton campaign encouraged friendly media to boost Trump’s Republican primary prospects, hoping to set up a straw man that could easily be knocked down in November, 2016. By Election Day, the corporate press had lavished $5 billion in free media on Trump – more than Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and all of Trump’s Republican presidential competitors, combined. If you are desperate to flush the stink of four years of Trump out of your brain, remember who put it there, through constant, daily repetition.
How long will the Orange Menace stay gone? Not long; soon either Trump will make a comeback or the corporate media will inflate another racist straw man to run against. The only way the corporate Democrats can mobilize their base to eek out slim national victories while keeping Joe Biden’s promise to the rich that “nothing would fundamentally change ,” is to position themselves as the sole defense against the racist hordes. That’s how Bill Clinton succeeded in completing Ronald Reagan’s quest to “end welfare as we know it,” while vastly expanding the structures of mass Black incarceration (Sen. Joe Biden proudly “wrote the bill”), gutting safeguards against bankers blowing up the economy, and facilitating the exodus of good jobs to sweatshops overseas. Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America confederacy stampeded Blacks and “progressives” into the corporate Democratic corral, where they were politically neutered.
The Democratic Party remained a safe vehicle for corporate agendas for the next 20 years – until an Orange Demon was conjured to scare the Democratic base back into the party’s corporate bosom, in 2016. [..] When Blacks and progressives rallied behind Bill Clinton to defeat Gingrich, the corporate rulers were enabled to plunge the society into a great leap backward that wiped out the last vestiges of the New Deal, condemned another generation of Black youth to the Gulag, and set the stage for two economic catastrophes that rivaled the Great Depression, while the U.S. military vastly intensified its rampages around the world, the national security state penetrated every digital device on the planet, and huge corporations perfected the tools of public self-surveillance.
But, don’t go away, Russia, not just yet. The MICIMATT still finds you convenient as the kind of “threat” it can cite to justify spending untold billions of dollars on defense, enriching the already rich. The way the U.S. system is structured, it matters little in the grand scheme of things on where the money is spent – whether a Republican or Democrat sits in the Oval Office. In short, the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-MEDIA-Academia-Think-Tank complex rules the roost (MEDIA in all caps, as the linchpin). Clinton wonders aloud who Trump “is beholden to”. Well, speaking of beholden, Joe Biden enters office with zero vaccination against being beholden – to the MICIMATT. It is fair to say that, without that the MICIMATT’s blessing, candidates end up like Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard.
There are just enough straws in the wind to make the MICIMATT and its clients and supporters nervous. What would happen, should Putin and Russia become less demonized? Could there be a thaw in the unnecessarily chilly relations with Moscow? What could that mean for bloated defense spending – particularly at a time when those funds are so desperately and demonstrably needed at home? It appears likely that strategic arms negotiations with Russia will be high on President Joe Biden’s agenda, as will cooperation with Russia and the other parties to the Iran nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew. Assuming William Burns, former ambassador to Russia, is confirmed as CIA director, Biden will have at his beck and call a straight-speaking, highly experienced expert who has dealt with President Putin. Burns was also one of the chief US negotiators of the Iran nuclear deal.
In my view, it is also significant that President-elect Biden has held back from explicit condemnation of Russia by name amid the recent flurry of accusations of Russian hacking of several US institutions over the past several months. Yes, he has referred to what Secretary of State Pompeo and Attorney General Barr have said blaming Russia, and it can be argued that he has indirectly implicated Russia in the context of his sparse statements on this issue. In my experience, though, the Kremlin is likely to have taken note of the caution that Biden has exercised on this neuralgic issue. Nor has this likely escaped the attention of the MICIMATT and induced some worry about the long-term viability of the portrayal of Putin as villain.
Oliver Stone told me recently that, in one of his conversations in Russia, Mr. Putin, somewhat exasperated, said something along the lines of, “Now Russians are thought of like Jews before World War II”. Think about that. Amid the Russia Russia Russia over the past four-plus years, Putin has kept his voice down – and his powder dry – while staying open to negotiations to reduce arms competition, cyber warfare, and other facets of bilateral tension. If past is precedent, he is likely to see opportunities to take a fresh look at US intentions under President Biden – especially during the traditional “honeymoon” period normally accorded a new president. But clearly, Putin is also aware of the parallels between the demonization of him and Russia and how Jews were blamed for just about everything during the Thirties. Evidence-free accusations by the likes of Pelosi and Clinton will make the task of restoring a modicum of trust an uphill battle.
“It was the refusal of American media to question the necessity of these extraordinary measures that will be one of the longest-lasting consequences of the entire bizarre affair.”
The US military is routinely shown to be one of the most trusted institutions in American life — so it wasn’t as though their mere presence on the streets of Washington automatically provoked universal horror. After the massive nationwide riots last summer, virtually everyone I spoke to expressed satisfaction with the National Guard’s handling of the chaos. Similarly, the vast number of soldiers deployed to DC this week to ward off a potential “insurrection” were greeted with plentiful selfies and free cheeseburger deliveries. But this operation, which reportedly consisted of 25,000 military personnel — not including the innumerable federal, state, and local law enforcement officials on the ground — was another thing altogether. Downtown DC had been transformed into a brazenly fortified, militarised zone unlike anything in living memory.
Roads were blocked off by oversized armoured vehicles which had been stationed for maximum visibility. The boarding-up of endless storefronts — a result of both the Covid-related economic downturn and prolonged riot-induced anxiety — added to the sense of dystopia. Soldiers patrolled with large rifles slung around their shoulders, directing traffic and checking the “papers” of motorists. One Guardsman from Pennsylvania told me that “legitimate business” was the standard by which they were to adjudicate whether cars would be allowed to pass through. The rifles brandished by many of the troops were conspicuously without a magazine loaded. This is not uncommon for a peacetime mission. The aim was evidently not to subdue any kind of imminent, actionable threat that would require live ammunition, as many politicians and journalists had frantically warned was the case, but to simply act as a gigantic deterrent.
That objective was apparently accomplished. I did not see a single protester anywhere in the city on Inauguration Day, much less any “insurrectionists” or “armed rebels” trawling around, as had been so gravely forecast. The FBI (then still technically under the jurisdiction of Donald Trump) had warned that all 50 state Capitols were at severe risk, and therefore also needed to fortify their defences with military deployments and obtrusive fencing and barriers. Then the day came and went, and… nothing. In both Albany, NY, and Sacramento, CA a total of one Trump hat-wearing man showed up at each.
And so Joe Biden was sworn in without incident, appealing for “unity”, while the city surrounding him was essentially under full-scale military occupation. The night before, I saw multiple platoons marching the streets in two-by-two formation — en route to who knows where. The general public couldn’t get anywhere close to the Inauguration site, the interior of which had been cordoned off with barbed wire. The few stragglers who hopelessly tried to enter the outskirts of the National Mall — mostly foreign media desperate for a story — were fooled by the Secret Service into standing in a line-to-nowhere that never moved.
It was the refusal of American media to question the necessity of these extraordinary measures that will be one of the longest-lasting consequences of the entire bizarre affair. It confirmed that journalists will uncritically accept extravagant shows of intrusive state force, so long as the political incentives are correctly aligned. During the riots in the summer, the US media generally reacted with horror to the prospect of the American military being deployed to allay “civil unrest,” with many claiming that it would be tantamount to white supremacy for soldiers to deter arson attacks against small minority-owned businesses and private residences. But place DC under complete military occupation as a final rebuke to Trump and his shameful supporters, and the show of state force is to be celebrated rather than adversarially probed. Particularly with Democrats now controlling the House, Senate, and Presidency, the wisdom of this occupation is probably never going to be examined in any meaningful way. Will we ever learn how much it cost taxpayers? Doubtful.
Fear rules fear.
Elly Page had never seen anything like what’s happened in recent days. A senior legal adviser at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, Page has been tracking the proliferation of anti-protest bills across the U.S. since Donald Trump became president in 2017. “The number of bills we have seen in the past three weeks is unprecedented,” she said. Since the day of the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, at least nine states have introduced 14 anti-protest bills. The bills, which vary state by state, contain a dizzying array of provisions that serve to criminalize participation in disruptive protests. The measures range from barring demonstrators from public benefits or government jobs to offering legal protections to those who shoot or run over protesters. Some of the proposals would allow protesters to be held without bail and criminalize camping. A few bills seek to prevent local governments from defunding police.
The pushes by close to a fifth of state legislatures are part of a pattern that began to pick up speed after the summer’s uprisings in response to the police killing of George Floyd, which in many communities included significant property damage. In a handful of states, lawmakers did what they often do: introduced new legislation — however unnecessary — to show that they were responding to their constituents’ concerns. The rate of new bills being offered sped up dramatically this month as lawmakers kicked off their legislative sessions at the very moment that Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Bills quickly arose in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island.
“There has generally been an uptick at the beginning of odd-numbered years, when most states begin their biennial legislative sessions. But this year beats prior recent years,” Page said in an email. Since January 1, she noted that 11 state legislatures have introduced 17 bills, including those filed before the Capitol insurrection. “Compare that to 0 during the same period in 2020, 9 in 2019, 5 in 2018, and 13 in 2017,” she said, adding that the 2017 spike was mostly due to North Dakota responding to that winter’s Standing Rock protests.
That’s a lot, no matter how you see it.
More than 12,400 people in Israel have tested positive for coronavirus after being vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, including 69 who had received their second dose, the country’s Health Ministry said. Some 189,000 people were tested for Covid-19 after being vaccinated, with 6.6 percent getting a positive result, according to ministry data reported by Israeli outlets. The majority were apparently infected shortly after receiving the first jab of the two-part vaccine – a period when the inoculation isn’t expected to have kicked in yet. However, 1,410 people tested positive two weeks after their first injection, by which time partial immunity should have already taken effect.
Moreover, 69 patients became infected with the novel coronavirus despite already having been administered both shots of the vaccine, the ministry said. Israel began administering the second doses almost two weeks ago, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being the first to complete the course. Pfizer has said that a spike in immunity occurs between Day 15 and Day 21 after the first jab, when the effectiveness of its vaccine increases from 52 to 89 percent. According to earlier trials, the protection offered by the vaccine reaches the 95 percent level a week after the second dose is administered, the pharma giant said. When it comes to vaccines, the results of clinical trials may differ from how the immunization performs in the field, where it’s administered to a much greater number of people.
On Tuesday, Israel’s coronavirus tsar, Nachman Ash, reportedly complained to Israeli ministers about the insufficient protection provided by the first shot of the American vaccine. It turned out to be “less effective than we had thought” and “lower than Pfizer presented,” Ash said, as cited by Army Radio. However, the head of the infection unit at Sheba Medical Center – where Netanyahu got his jabs – told Israeli media that the Pfizer vaccine “works wonderfully” after two shots. According to Professor Gili Regev-Yohai, 102 of the medics at the center were tested a week after completing the vaccination course, and all but two of them showed antibody levels between six to 20 times higher than seven days earlier.
[..] Despite already vaccinating more than 20 percent of its own population, Israel doesn’t seem as eager to share immunization with Palestinians in the occupied territories. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization expressed its “concerns” over unequal access to vaccines between Israelis and Palestinian. A WHO representative for Palestine said that the UN body has been in discussions with Israeli authorities on the possibility of allocating vaccines to the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Israeli Health Minister, Yuli Edelstein, has said her department may offer the Palestinian Authoritiy surplus doses after Israelis have received their jabs.
Scientist Angela’s not liking what she sees..
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the European Union must find common ground in fighting coronavirus and stopping the spread of new strains that have already swept through the UK and Ireland recently. On Tuesday, Merkel warned that Germany could close its borders unless neighboring states acted together. “We need to make sure that everyone around us is doing the same. Otherwise we have to look at measures such as entry restrictions.” “The EU is one area,” Merkel said in Berlin on Thursday morning, hours before she was scheduled to join a video summit of EU leaders focused on Covid-19. The chancellor warned about the dangers from the spread of the new mutant virus and that they need to be “taken very seriously.”
“We act out of precaution for our country,” Merkel said, adding that everything is now about getting the getting the pandemic under control. EU leaders are to consider whether to approve vaccine passports, which would allow for inoculated people to travel more freely, and whether to apply travel restrictions. Merkel said Germany is at a difficult stage of the pandemic. “On the one hand, the number of daily infections is gradually going down,” she told a press conference. “But the virus is still very dangerous. We have a shockingly high death count, more than 1,000 people today.” On Wednesday, Germany extended its national lockdown until February 14 and brought in new rules making it mandatory to wear medical-grade masks in shops and on public transport. So far, Germany has recorded 50,010 deaths and 2.1 million cases of coronavirus.
Has anyone seen any reported evidence of vaccine efficacy?
New data shows that the Covid-19 vaccines currently on the market may not be as effective in guarding against new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday. A handful of new strains of the coronavirus have emerged overseas that have given scientists some cause for concern. Some variants that have been identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil appear to be more transmissible than previous strains but not necessarily more deadly. While it’s no surprise the virus is mutating, researchers are quickly trying to determine what the changes might mean for recently developed lifesaving vaccines and therapeutics against the disease.
Some early findings that were published in the preprint server bioRxiv, which have yet to be peer reviewed, indicate that the variant identified in South Africa, known as 501Y.V2, can evade the antibodies provided by some coronavirus treatments and may reduce the efficacy of the current line of available vaccines. “Furthermore, 501Y.V2 shows substantial or complete escape from neutralising antibodies in COVID-19 convalescent plasma,” researchers with South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases wrote. Their conclusions, they said, “highlight the prospect of reinfection … and may foreshadow reduced efficacy of current spike-based vaccines.”
Even if the drugs are less effective, they will still likely provide enough protection to make the vaccines worth getting, Fauci said during a White House press briefing. Both vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have proven to be highly effective, creating a “cushion effect” that would allow for some dip in their effectiveness. “We’re following very carefully the one in South Africa, which is a little bit more concerning, but nonetheless not something that we don’t think we can handle,” Fauci said.
Stimulus arriving in the wrong places.
Margin debt – the amount of money that individuals and institutions borrow against their stock holdings – spiked by 56 billion in December, after having already spiked by 63 billion in November, by far the two largest month-to-month increases on record, to $778 billion, according to FINRA which regulates brokers and exchanges. Since March, this measure of margin debt surged by nearly $300 billion, or by 62%. Margin debt as tracked by FINRA at its member firms isn’t the only form of stock market leverage, but it’s the only form that is disclosed monthly. There are many other forms of stock market leverage by institutions and individuals that are not disclosed, or are only disclosed voluntarily in SEC filings by the brokers and banks that lend to their clients against their portfolios, such as “securities-based loans” (SBLs). We don’t know how much total stock market leverage there is, but margin loans indicate the trends, and we had another WTF moment:
High margin balances tend to precede epic stock market sell-offs, as annotated in the chart above. With these two-decade charts, the long-term changes in the dollar amounts are less relevant since the purchasing power of the dollar has dropped over the period. But on a short-term basis, the movements are very indicative about rising or falling leverage in the stock market. On a year-over-year basis, margin debt surged by nearly $200 billion in December, by far the most ever. Stock market leverage is an accelerator. When stocks already rise, and investors feel confident, they borrow money to buy more stocks, and they can borrow more against their stocks because their value has risen. And this additional borrowed money is then chasing after stocks and thereby creating more buying pressure, and prices surge further.
Aaannd …we’re baaack!
A large U.S. military convoy was seen entering northeastern Syria on Thursday, marking the first time since Damascus issued its letter to the United Nations Security Council demanding the immediate withdrawal of American forces from the Arab Republic. According to a field report from northeastern Syria on Thursday, the U.S. military convoy entered the Al-Hasakah Governorate from neighboring Iraq, as they were observed entering the Arab Republic via the Al-Waleed Crossing. The report said the U.S. military convoy consisted of a large amount of weapons and logistical equipment, which were transferred to their bases inside the Al-Hasakah and Deir Ezzor Governorates east of the Euphrates River.
They would add that the U.S. military convoy consisted of over 40 trucks and armored vehicles that were escorted by helicopters until they reached their destinations. These movements by the U.S. military have become routine, with the latter often moving troops and equipment back and forth from neighboring Iraq.
Oz threatens to make them pay for news, they threaten to limit/cut their “services”, and then decide themselves what constitutes news. Major legal battle.
Google and Facebook Inc have granted an Australian local government news provider status, drawing questions about the internet giants’ efforts to curate news media. Bundaberg Council, a regional government, told Reuters a website it runs received classification as a Google “news source”, making it the country’s first local government with that accreditation. That means a council-funded website containing only public relations content gets priority in Google News searches about the agriculture hub of 100,000 people, accompanied by a “news source” tag. Bundaberg also has the country’s only confirmed council-run Facebook page tagged as a “News & Media Website”. The designation shows the gaps left in the country’s traditional news market as smaller publications wither and disappear.
Bundaberg Council’s news website says it does not publish court and crime reports, politics, “investigative journalism” or “negative stories”. “It’s just another example of the way these tech giants are allowed to operate outside any accountability framework at all,” said Denis Muller, an Honorary Fellow at University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism. “If they want to classify a council PR website as a news website, well, they can, and there’s nothing stopping them.” Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook are fighting an Australian federal government plan to make them pay media outlets for original content that appears on their platforms, telling a Senate inquiry that the new rules may lead them to cancel some core services in the country.
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was rewatching Ferris Bueller's day off when suddenly… pic.twitter.com/RWpkcziceI
— Mo ☭ (@MozFrame) January 21, 2021
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