Claude Monet Houses of Parliament (Sun Breaking through the Fog) 1904
“I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others–poor young clerks who loitered in front of the windows until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner–young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
Seems like a good time to open with Babylon Bee.
The nation is preparing to celebrate what is expected to become a beloved annual holiday: Two Weeks To Slow The Spread Day, to be held in March every year. “This time of year we like to come together to remember the historic day one year ago when we put on masks and locked ourselves down, trusting that the lockdown would be over in just two weeks,” said local man Paul Christof as he stared out his window longingly, his three masks securely in place. “This year, I’m going all out with a Zoom party with no more than five of my closest friends — I mean, closest, figuratively speaking, of course. We’ll be literally far apart, because I want to stay home and stay safe, and I don’t want grandma to die.”
Traditional festivities for the newly christened American holiday include remote Amazon gift exchanges, ordering DoorDash feasts for just yourself, and the customary binging of the Netflix. Historians believe the holiday will become a hit, and people will continue to wear masks and stay home throughout the year as the festive day is celebrated for hundreds of years to come.
“The Constitution, Justice Robert Jackson famously wrote, “is not a suicide pact.”
The US Supreme Court on Friday made clear to Team Biden and state governors that the fight against the pandemic doesn’t give them a blank check against individual liberties. In South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, the high court struck down a California emergency regulation that prohibited all indoor religious services. Six justices held that Gov. Gavin Newsom had violated the First Amendment by subjecting religious groups to a complete ban, even while groceries, public transit and retail shops remain open. Americans accepted a broad — but temporary — lockdown of society to slow the pandemic a year ago. Yet many still live under unprecedented restrictions: business and school closures, travel bans, curfews, quarantines, limits on groups and mask mandates.
Whatever the health benefits of these diktats (and many are questionable), they have been handed down with shocking disregard for the costs: strokes uncared for, cancers left undetected, psychological anguish (especially among young adults), skyrocketing domestic abuse and harm to children from lack of in-person schooling. Unemployment from lockdowns, meanwhile, will cause 890,000 additional US deaths over the next 15 years, according to a recent study. Lockdowns also inflict great harm upon liberty. Governments overrode the rights to meet, work, speak, worship or organize. Bureaucracies decided which businesses could open and which should die.
Our legal system understandably defers to the executive branch during an emergency, when swift action can save lives. The Constitution, Justice Robert Jackson famously wrote, “is not a suicide pact.” Emergency policies may prove imperfect, but our legal and political systems accept more mistakes during emergencies or war, because the costs of inaction are far higher. Still, our system doesn’t permit permanent dictatorial powers in the face of contrary data. In California, for example, the governor can unilaterally exercise any and all authority vested in the state, such as to impose quarantines and curfews, ration goods and services and regulate or even prohibit any economic and social activity.
mRNA and auto-immune.
For the second time in under a month, The New York Times has published an article about people who developed a rare autoimmune disease after receiving COVID vaccines. Monday’s article featured two women, both of whom were described as healthy before they received the Moderna vaccine. The women, ages 72 and 48, are now being treated for immune thrombocytopenia (ITP), a condition that develops when the immune system attacks platelets (blood component essential for clotting) or the cells that create them, according to the Times. On Jan. 13, the Times reported on the death of Dr. Gregory Michael, a Florida doctor who died 15 days after getting the Pfizer vaccine. Michael, who was 56 and described as “perfectly healthy” by his wife, developed ITP three days after being vaccinated.
He died of a brain hemorrhage on Jan. 3. As The Defender reported on Jan. 13, Dr. Jerry L. Spivak, an expert on blood disorders at Johns Hopkins University, said it was a “medical certainty” the Pfizer vaccine led to Michael’s death. Spivak, who was interviewed for Monday’s article in the Times, reiterated the link between the vaccine and ITP. Another doctor, Dr. James Bussel, a hematologist and professor emeritus at Weill Cornell Medicine who has written more than 300 scientific articles on the platelet disorder, also said he thinks there is a “possible” association between the vaccines and ITP. Bussel told the Times: “I’m assuming there’s something that made the people who developed thrombocytopenia susceptible, given what a tiny percentage of recipients they are. Having it happen after a vaccine is well-known and has been seen with many other vaccines. Why it happens, we don’t know.”
Bussel and a colleague, Dr. Eun-Ju Lee, have identified 15 cases of ITP in COVID vaccine recipients by searching the government’s database — the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) — or by consulting with other physicians treating patients, and have submitted an article about their findings to a medical journal, according to the Times. In a statement provided to the Times, Pfizer said it was aware of ITP cases in vaccine recipients and that the company is “collecting relevant information” to share with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The vaccine maker added, however that “at this time, we have not been able to establish a causal association with our vaccine.” Moderna also provided a statement, but didn’t address cases of ITP, only saying that it “continuously monitors the safety of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine using all sources of data” and routinely shares safety information with regulators.
Top members of President Joe Biden’s COVID response team are warning internally that the U.S. may not reach herd immunity until Thanksgiving or even the start of winter—months later than originally calculated—according to two senior administration officials. In an interview with CBS News this week, Biden hinted at some of these concerns, saying it would be “very difficult” to reach herd immunity—a population-wide resistance to the virus—“much before the end of the summer” with the current daily rate of approximately 1.3 million vaccine doses. Other top officials working on the federal government’s COVID-19 response say the are uneasy about vaccine supply long term and the impact on herd immunity, and have begun to explore ways to expand U.S. manufacturing capacity, potentially through new partnerships with outside pharmaceutical firms.
Beyond supply issues, though, top health officials say they are increasingly worried about the United Kingdom and South African COVID-19 variants, the likelihood that more variants will emerge in the coming months, and the possibility that those variants will evade the vaccines. There is some evidence to suggest that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines protect against the B117 United Kingdom variant, though a recent study shows a new mutation could make the vaccines less effective. Data gathered by the Novavax and Johnson and Johnson clinical trials in South Africa suggest their vaccines are less effective against the variant spreading rapidly in the country. And South Africa recently said it was halting the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine because evidence from clinical trials suggested the vaccine did not work well against the variant.
Tucker: Big Tech attempting to censor COVID-19 vaccine dissent
RussiaRussia is alive and kicking.
Few Trump-era mysteries are as intriguing as what the 45th president said to Vladimir Putin in at least a dozen rambling, off-the-cuff calls and meetings over four years. Understanding what was said between the two could help illuminate whether Trump ever revealed sensitive information or struck any deals with the Kremlin leader that could take the new administration by surprise. Now that President Joe Biden is in the White House, he can see for himself. “They don’t need our approval to see those [records],” a former Trump White House official said, referring to the new Biden national security team. “Biden owns all the call materials. There is only one president at a time.” The Biden White House did not comment on whether it had seen the content of the calls.
But so far, at least, the National Security Council has not registered any complaints with their ability to access relevant call records from the previous administration. “It is a national security priority to find out what Trump said to Putin” over his four years in office, said one former national security official who is close to the new president. “Some things, like what happened in some face-to-face meetings where no American translator or note-taker was present, may never be fully known. But I would be very surprised if the new national security team were not trying to access” the call records. Trump closely guarded his private conversations with foreign leaders while in office, going as far as to have some hidden in the NSC’s top-secret codeword system to limit staffers’ and even cabinet members’ access and prevent leaks.
Readouts of their calls would often come from the Kremlin first, or through Trump’s Twitter feed. But while the calls were not recorded, aides were typically still on the line and taking notes of what was said. The resulting loose transcripts are known as “memcons,” or memorandums of conversation. Trump went to particularly great lengths to keep his in-person conversations with the Russian leader private, from confiscating his interpreter’s notes to forgoing American translators and notetakers altogether in their meetings. That desire for secrecy has extended even past his time in office. One former Trump official argued last week that records of Trump’s conversations with Putin, which often lasted an hour or more, should not be made available to his successor. “There are certain things a president and his immediate staff should be able to hold privileged to do the work of government, without being subject to constant partisan gamesmanship,” said a second former Trump White House official.
Just give it a new name and you’re squeaky clean.
The Biden administration is opening a new child prison along the United States-Mexico border. The center, located in Carrizo Springs, around 100 miles southwest of San Antonio, is being specifically built for unaccompanied migrant children attempting to cross the border and will hold around 700 people when finished, although plans noted it will be expanded if the government deems it necessary. But corporate media do not see it that way. While the Trump years were filled with stories about “kids in cages” and ICE “concentration camps” along the border, they have instead almost universally referred to the new project as an “overflow facility” to help migrant children, as the following headlines demonstrate:
“Biden administration prepares to open overflow facility for migrant children,” CNN, “Biden administration to open overflow facility for 700 migrant children,” New York Post, “Biden administration to house migrant teens at overflow facility in Texas closed under Trump,” USA Today, “Biden Admin. to Open Migrant Overflow Facility amid Increase in Unaccompanied Minor Apprehensions,” Yahoo! News, “Biden administration prepares to open overflow facility for migrant children,” CBS. “Overflow facility” is a distinctly pleasantly sounding term for such an establishment, suggesting links to positively-charged services like swimming pools or libraries. The phrase is a completely new way to refer to prisons; a news search for “overflow facility” pre-January 2021 brings up only stories about COVID overflow clinics or emergency sewage treatment works.
The phrase “concentration camp” to describe the structure was completely absent. Searching for “Biden concentration camp” into news databases is more likely to generate stories about the plight of Uyghurs in Western China rather than domestic affairs. Perhaps the worst offender, however, was Fox News, whose headline informed readers: “Biden administration to open overflow shelter for migrant children in Texas” — a framing that invites the audience to see the move as a humanitarian gesture, along the lines of rape crisis shelters. None of the children who will be sent there will go of their own free will and it is doubtful whether many will appreciate the “shelter” that the U.S. government will provide them.
[..] Over much of the past three years, corporate media have been comparing the detention centers on the border to concentration camps, if not directly labeling them as such (e.g. CNN, Esquire, Washington Post). Data from Google Trends shows that phrases like “ICE concentration camp” were barely used until 2018, the term exploding into public consciousness a year later, especially after prominent Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez began using it. President Biden has promised to rein in many of the worst excesses of ICE policy, yet the organization’s role in society will not fundamentally change. Indeed, during the time he was vice-president (2009-2017), President Obama deported well over 2.5 million people through immigration orders, more than any other president in American history, earning him the moniker “Deporter-in-Chief” from critics.
Iran, Russia, China. Axis of ….
Tehran is continuing to reinforce its positions and pursue its interests. This is prompted by the fact that US President Joe Biden’s vow to rejoin the Nuclear Deal turned out to be entirely hollow. Iran demanded that the sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration be removed, otherwise rejoining the deal meant nothing. On February 8th, Biden confirmed that sanctions on Iran wouldn’t be lifted, with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying that such a “big policy change” wasn’t planned. To show some “reduction in pressure”, the USS Nimitz carrier strike group was pulled out of the region, in a signal that an escalation with Iran isn’t planned. That happened as Tehran, Moscow and Beijing announced they would hold joint naval drills.
In response, US Central Command’s Gen Kenneth McKenzie said that Iran was the “Main Driver of Instability”, in his first public address since Biden became president. McKenzie repeated a usual a US accusation against Tehran, claiming that for more than forty years it “has funded and aggressively supported terrorism and terrorist organizations.” The “maximum pressure” campaign is simply “on hold”, but is not canceled. [..] US and allied interests are being pressured all around the Middle East, as the Biden administration refuses to turn its back on any of Trump’s “maximum pressure” policies. The withdrawal of the USS Nimitz CSG is a likely a welcome sign, but the sanction regime remaining, surely, spoils the party.
Politico keeps the threat of Trump alive.
Three weeks ago may have been the nadir of Donald Trump’s political influence. A meager crowd of supporters gathered to send him off to Florida, he’d lost access to Twitter and the Senate’s most powerful Republican, Mitch McConnell, seemed fully prepared to ghost him out of the party. Now, heading into what could have been an historic bipartisan rebuke, the former president and his team are confident both of his acquittal and that he’ll come out of the trial with his influence over the Republican party all but cemented. Not even Trump’s closest allies can believe the turn in fortunes. “He’s Teflon, right. It’s been a month since the Capitol riot and I would say, for the most part, the GOP has coalesced back behind him,” said a former Trump campaign official.
The confidence from Trump allies heading into the former president’s second impeachment trial — this time over the deadly riots by Trump supporters on Capitol Hill — may seem premature, given the lingering political and legal hurdles he still must confront. But it provides a road map of sorts for how they view his path ahead. Already, Trump aides contend, the impeachment process has proved beneficial to the ex-president — exposing disloyalty within the party’s ranks and igniting grassroots backlash against Republicans who have attempted to nudge the GOP base away from Trump. Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse spent last week fending off constituent criticisms and censures from state party officials after he compared Trumpism to “a civic cancer for the nation.” And Trump’s allies believe the ex-president’s impending impeachment trial will further illuminate who the turncoats are.
“It’s going to help expose more bad apples that he can primary if any senators vote to convict,” added the former campaign official. While ensconced at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Trump has remained in touch with political allies and advisers. But he has intentionally kept a low profile, something that will likely continue this week. A former aide suggested Trump try to demonstrate his indifference to it all by spending much of impeachment playing golf, “as a way of sort of saying, ‘Who cares?’” Aides expect that to change once the trial wraps up though, with Trump gradually reemerging in public and turning his attention toward seeking revenge against Republicans who, he believes, crossed him after he left office.
A knack for picking lawyers.
Count former President Donald Trump among the many critics of attorney Bruce Castor’s widely panned performance on the first day of his Senate impeachment trial, with Trump reportedly outraged at his lawyer’s apparent inability to form a coherent argument, according to multiple reports. During Castor’s muddled, 50-minute speech, NBC News and the New York Times quoted an anonymous Trump source who said it was a “deliberative strategy” aimed at “lowering the temperature” after the impeachment managers’ emotional argument. But Trump had been prepared for his current impeachment team to be far less persuasive than the group of high-powered lawyers who defended him during his first impeachment trial, according to ABC News.
Still, Trump was “stunned to hear some of the arguments,” particularly Castor’s praise for his adversaries, according to ABC and the Times, which reported that “some in Trump’s orbit were unsure why Castor seemed caught off guard by video clips that were expected for days.” Trump was “deeply unhappy” with Castor’s performance and was “borderline screaming over what was going on as he was talking to people about this,” CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins said. Even Trump allies who voted to affirm Castors’ argument that the trial is unconstitutional lashed out publicly at his performance. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told reporters Castor “rambled on and on,” while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he was not “effective.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters, “I thought I knew where he was going, and I really didn’t know where he was going.”
“The collapse of the newborn population is really here..”
Preliminary numbers assessing China’s births in 2020 released by the country’s household registration system are setting off alarm bells for Beijing, suggesting a continued severe population decline, given the new numbers for last year show a whopping 15% decline in births from the year before. “Concerns over the outlook for China’s population have grown after the number of newborns recorded in the country’s household registration system declined 15 per cent during a coronavirus-hit 2020,” South China Morning Post observes of the new numbers. “Last year, a total 10.035 million of newborns were recorded in the household registration system, known as hukou in China, down from 11.79 million in 2019, according to figures released by the Ministry of Public Security on Monday.”
While the hukou system only reveals preliminary information on total births across the population, it’s official demographic stats for COVID-impacted 2020 is expected to come out soon via China’s National Bureau of Statistics based on a once in ten year national census it recently conducted. As SCMP underscores it’s predicted that when total official stats do come out, expectations are for a further decline after previously 2019 saw “the lowest level since 1961” and down from 2018 as well. China is the world’s most populous country with the number of people commonly estimated at just over 1.4 billion. When the current working-age population hits retirement, there are fears the decline in births trend will severely impact the world’s second largest economy.
This also given the latest official figures out of the National Bureau of Statistics show that some 18% of the population is already over 60, with this ageing demographic to grow to one-third of the entire population by 2050. The SCMP report cited one prominent research economics professor to say the writing is on the wall. “The collapse of the newborn population is really here,” he warned, writing that: “Although we cannot deduce the decline in the birth population in these regions as the annual decline in the country, we consider that idea of having two children is weak and the number of women of childbearing age has decreased, so we need not anticipate further that the birth population in 2020 will drop significantly compared with 2019. The collapse of the newborn population is really here,” said James Liang, a research professor of applied economics at the Guanghua School of Management, Peking University, in a blog post last week.
And we all care?!
Haven’t heard about any national anthem protests at Mavericks games? There’s a good reason for that: Dallas isn’t and won’t be playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” anymore. Mark Cuban told The Athletic it was his decision to eliminate the tradition of playing the anthem before games. The move went by unnoticed through the first 13 combined preseason and regular-season games at American Airlines Center because the Mavericks did not publicize it, either within the organization or through an announcement to media. Monday marked the first game in which the Mavericks allowed a limited number of fans into their arena.
Cuban has been vocal about his support of those who wish to kneel during the playing of the national anthem, the practice which former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began in 2016 and which became a lightning rod for partisan political debate. The outspoken Mavericks owner told ESPN last July of the potential for his team’s players to kneel during the anthem: “If they were taking a knee, and they were being respectful, I’d be proud of them” and that he hoped he would “join them.” He later tweeted, in response to what he called “The National Anthem Police,” that if critics of the nonviolent protest of systemic racism in the United States took issue then they could “complain to your boss and ask why they don’t play the National Anthem every day before you start work.”
The Joe Biden administration will continue to pursue extradition for Julian Assange, the Justice Department said, rebuffing calls from rights groups to reverse course ahead of an appeal deadline in the WikiLeaks co-founder’s case. DOJ spokesman Marc Raimondi said on Tuesday that Washington has not abandoned plans for Assange’s extradition from the UK, noting that Biden will still challenge a January ruling from a British judge barring extradition over concerns that Assange might take his own life in American custody. “We continue to seek his extradition,” Raimondi told Reuters, signaling that the new Biden administration will pick up where ex-president Donald Trump left off in seeking to charge the anti-secrecy activist for his publication of classified documents.
The statement from the DOJ comes mere days before a February 12 deadline for the US government to submit its “grounds for appeal” in Assange’s extradition case, in which American attorneys will argue against UK Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s ruling against the move. Calls on Washington to abandon the Assange case picked up momentum in the waning days of the Trump presidency, with activists and journalists across the political spectrum demanding he pardon the WikiLeaks publisher before his term was up. While Trump ultimately refused to grant clemency, much of the same pressure has carried over to the Biden administration, illustrated most recently in a letter from some two dozen civil liberties organizations condemning the indictments against Assange as a “grave threat to press freedom.”
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