Vincent van Gogh Landscape with House and Ploughman 1889
Bit of a strange news day, it seems incoherent, maybe that’s just me. What I do notice is the increasing pressure to promote vaccines, as in this:
Washington Post: The anti-vaccine movement is comparable to domestic terrorism, and must be treated that way
Pfizer not only gets governments to first fund research, then purchase billions of doses, it now also gets them to pay for their advertizing.
They’ll shame and threaten you for asking questions about untested substances, and call you anti-vaxxers.
“In a way, governments have to work on a parallel vaccine rollout – immunising the public against science denial.”
Who’s doing the denying here?
In England, the NHS signed up Elton John and Michael Caine for a lighthearted social media campaign aiming to convince the public that Covid vaccines are safe and effective. In Germany, a more sober public information campaign has been led by a virologist and health workers. And in France and elsewhere there have been no mass campaigns aimed at driving up vaccine acceptance. Government attempts to drive up vaccine acceptance will come under increasing scrutiny in the coming months as more jabs are made available. Public health experts say they have to walk a fine line between boosting trust and not being seen to force the jab on the public.
Germany’s campaign, called Germany Pulls Up Its Sleeves, has run across radio, regional newspapers and billboard posters. At a time when the public is being urged to stay at home and avoid commuting, the health ministry chose to spend more than half of its €25m campaign budget on outdoor advertising. A new campaign aimed at spreading confidence among younger people is due to launch when the vaccine becomes more widely available. In France there has been no major mass information campaign. Instead, the prime minister, Jean Castex, the health minister, Olivier Véran, and the country’s “Monsieur Vaccin”, Prof Alain Fischer, who is overseeing the programme, give weekly televised press conferences to update on progress and announce when different groups will be eligible for a shot.
In the US, the federal government is holding off on a nationwide push to raise awareness until vaccine supply increases, and is instead focusing its efforts on vaccine-hesitant minority communities. “When it comes to shifting attitudes to vaccines, it is crucial to distinguish between public information campaigns that seek to educate the public and those that seek to persuade them,” said Philipp Schmid, a behavioural scientist researching vaccine scepticism at the University of Erfurt. “In Germany at least, the latter would risk a backlash. But if you don’t proactively tackle the problem at all, you end up playing catch-up with the anti-vaxxers. In a way, governments have to work on a parallel vaccine rollout – immunising the public against science denial.”
Jonathan Cook gets a bit lost in this very long piece. But he means well. And the Dr. Seuss is a great find.
For decades our societies have worshipped a single value with two faces: money and power. But we are suddenly being told by the very people who atomised our communities, who created an economic system of dog eat dog, who wrecked the planet with their greed – the people who made a religion of neoliberal orthodoxy – that we must trust that they have our best interests at heart during the pandemic. They cared not one whit for the common good until now. But suddenly, after many months of economic contraction, when corporations finally have a chance to make a quick buck again – either by producing and selling vaccines to desperate governments and their populations or by demanding a hurried return to business as usual through enforced vaccination programmes – the corporations and their dutiful servants in the media and political class are shocked that some of the public, those most betrayed, are indicating a lack of “trust”.
Nick Cohen offers an interesting survey result: “In Birmingham – the only city to have produced detailed statistics – just 60% of people over 80 accepted the jab in Alum Rock, a deprived and racially mixed part of the inner city, while 95% accepted it in Sutton Four Oaks, an overwhelmingly white commuter suburb.” Why would that be? Why would affluent white people whom the system has always favoured be quicker to trust a system that cared for them than the poor and ethnic minorities who have always been treated with contempt by that system? To ask the question is to answer it. Affluent liberals like Cohen understand that too. Which is why they hope to revive social controls that tightly police or censor information not to their liking, leaving them once again with exclusive rights to tell the poor and marginalised what constitutes the truth, to define for them what is in their interests.
An alien studying western societies from the heavens for the past half-century could better explain the problem than Cohen. People are being asked to trust the corporate medicine industry, the corporate media and the politicians dependent on the good will of profit-obsessed corporations to decide what is best for us, to believe that this time the corporate elite won’t take short cuts, that they won’t conceal information, that they won’t cause harm, that they won’t externalise the costs on to us, the public. That this time it will be different.
These are exactly the same corporations and their functionaries who in the past destroyed manufacturing industries that were the lifeblood of now-decimated communities; that approved the intensified militarisation of institutionally racist and corrupt police forces, turning them into domestic armies; and that are engaged in ransacking and destroying the planet on which we all depend.
We do not ban nor burn books.
eBay still sells Mein Kampf.
On Thursday, reports surfaced that eBay, the online auction and shopping website, had blocked the sale of certain Dr. Seuss books. One eBay lister received the following response: “We had to remove your listing because it didn’t follow our Offensive material policy. Listings that promote or glorify hatred, violence, or discrimination aren’t allowed. What activity didn’t follow the policy[:] Dr. Seuss Enterprises has stopped the publication of this book due to its negative portrayal of some ethnicities. As a courtesy, we have ended your item and refunded your selling fees, and as long as you do not relist the item, there will be no negative impact to your account. Please review our Offensive Materials Policy prohibits this item for more information. What you need to do next. You can’t relist items we’ve ended. Please ensure your current and future listings follow this policy.
[..] In light of the fact that books such as “Mein Kampf” can be offered on eBay while some Dr. Seuss books are banned, it is important to examine what the company’s Offensive materials policy states: Listings that promote, perpetuate or glorify hatred, violence, or discrimination, including on the grounds of race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender or sexual orientation, aren’t allowed. This includes but is not limited to the following: • Slurs or epithets of any kind • Slavery items, including reproductions, such as tags, shackles, documents, bills of sale, etc. • Items with racist, anti-Semitic, or otherwise demeaning portrayals, for example through caricatures or other exaggerated features, including figurines, cartoons, housewares, historical advertisements, and golliwogs • Black Americana items that are discriminatory •Confederate battle flag and related items with its image • Historical Holocaust-related and Nazi-related items, including reproductions • Any item that is anti-Semitic or any item from after 1933 that bears a swastika • Media identified as Nazi propaganda • Listings that imply or promote support of, membership in, or funding of a terrorist organization
This week, Dr. Seuss Enterprises told The Associated Press that the books “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!,” and “The Cat’s Quizzer” portrayed “people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” adding, “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.” “Dr. Seuss Enterprises listened and took feedback from our audiences including teachers, academics and specialists in the field as part of our review process,” the company continued. “We then worked with a panel of experts, including educators, to review our catalog of titles.”
Running down the clock.
A World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of COVID-19 is planning to scrap an interim report on its recent mission to China amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington over the investigation and an appeal from one international group of scientists for a new inquiry, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. “The full report is expected in coming weeks,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told Reuters news agency. No further information was immediately available about the reasons for the delay in publishing the findings of the WHO-led mission to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first human cases of COVID-19 were detected in late 2019.
In an open letter (PDF), a group of 26 scientists called on Thursday for a new international inquiry. They claim that “structural limitations” made it “all but impossible” for the WHO mission to adequately pursue its investigation. Among other issues, the scientists questioned the scientific independence of the “Chinese citizens” composing half of the team. “We have therefore reached the conclusion that the joint team did not have the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation into all the relevant SARS-CoV-2 origin hypotheses – whether natural spillover or laboratory/research related incident,” read the letter.
China refused to give raw data on early COVID-19 cases to a WHO-led team investigating the origins of the pandemic, Dominic Dwyer, one of the team’s investigators, said last month, potentially complicating efforts to understand how the outbreak began. The investigation had been plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between Beijing and Washington, which accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research. The team, which arrived in China in January and spent four weeks looking into the origins of the outbreak, was limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and prevented from contact with community members, due to health restrictions. The first two weeks were spent in hotel quarantine.
Doesn’t say which aspects.
A new opinion poll in the UK finds that over half of Brits say they will miss either “some” or “many” aspects of lockdown despite the country now having been under some form of restrictions for nearly a year. Yes, really. The YouGov survey asked participants, “Do you think you will or will not miss any aspects of lockdown when it is over?” 9 per cent of respondents said they would miss “many” aspects of lockdown while 46 per cent said they would miss “some” aspects of lockdown – a combined total of 55 per cent. Just 39 per cent of respondents said they won’t miss any aspects of lockdown.
Previous polls have routinely showed majority or plurality support for lockdown, with little concern for what innumerable observers have called the biggest imposition on civil liberties in British history. One aspect that many will “miss” about lockdown is undoubtedly getting paid for doing nothing. Under the government’s furlough scheme, those who can’t work from home have had 80 per cent of their wages covered by the state for almost a year, with that program to be extended until September despite the government saying all restrictions will be lifted by the end of June. The prospect of having to work for their money will become a reality for some once again soon, although not for all given that the UK’s economy contracted the most in 300 years as a result of the lockdown, leading to 726,000 job losses.
Biden’s entire presidency under siege.
The U.S. Capitol Police on Thursday asked the Pentagon to keep National Guard troops stationed at the Capitol past March 12 – the date at which they are scheduled to depart, citing a 93% increase in threats to lawmakers this year. In a statement, the Capitol Police announced that acting Cchief Yogananda Pittman “formally asked the Department of Defense to extend the support provided by the National Guard.” The statement didn’t specify the length of time for which the Guard troops have been requested, though multiple outlets reported Pittman wants them for an additional 60 days. The statement noted Pittman’s testimony in a House appropriations subcommittee hearing that “threats to members are up 93% during the first two months of this year” compared to 2020.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), the chair of that committee, credited the National Guard presence in part for his belief that a Jan. 6-style attack on the Capitol could now be effectively dealt with. The statement noted the Pentagon “takes its mission seriously and will do whatever is necessary to achieve that mission,” adding that the Capitol Police is “extremely grateful” for their support. Thousands of National Guard troops have been stationed in and around the Capitol since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, in which Trump supporters stormed Capitol Police and attempted to stop lawmakers from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory. “We understand the Guard has a tremendous service need back home responding to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement concluded.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the request for an extension is “an outrage,” according to pool reports. “That’s not their function, that’s not their mission. They cannot do it,” he said, claiming it’s “destroying careers of people.”
The White House is weighing whether to engage in talks with Republicans on a minimum wage hike once Congress passes its Covid relief bill, two sources with knowledge of their strategic thinking say. White House aides said they believe there’s room to bring Republicans into the fold because raising the minimum wage is popular across ideological grounds. They pointed to the recent $15-an-hour wage increase passed in Florida, a state that voted for Donald Trump, as evidence that the issue has widespread support. In a sign that the White House is looking to broaden the coalition behind a wage hike, administration officials reached out to trade groups last week to gauge their willingness to support legislation, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Negotiations with Republicans would be another step entirely. And it would likely frustrate progressives and raise alarms among labor and advocacy groups who are looking to Biden to make good on his promise to deliver a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Progressives argue that a phased-in $15 floor over five years is already a compromise and would likely oppose any deal that would go significantly lower. “They don’t want to blow up the world politically and pay a huge political cost, but if the politics aligned for a smaller increase, Joe Biden generally wants to get deals done,” said a source with knowledge of the administration’s thinking. The White House is “not doctrinaire on policy grounds about what it is they sign” the source added.
Cedric Richmond, a White House senior adviser, would only say that the administration is “exploring all options,” and that internal deliberations were still in the preliminary stages. “It’s still early in the game,” Richmond said. “This is not the point where you lay your whole strategy out for the world to see.”
Oh sure, let’s pretend that Manchin keeps Biden from keeping his promises.
For the last week, Americans paying attention to politics have learned an important truth: Joe Biden may live in the White House, but conservative Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is effectively president. This depressing reality can certainly be fixed, but only if progressive Democrats in Congress are willing to actually change the dynamic — and they have a rare opportunity to do that right now by using their power to raise the minimum wage. But so far, they aren’t choosing to use their power — which is a huge structural problem not just now, but also for the foreseeable future. Some have argued that the way to fix this situation is by ending the filibuster, but that’s a catch-22: It is absolutely a necessary reform, but President Manchin is pledging to veto it.
Even if Democrats were to eliminate the filibuster, they would still need Manchin’s stamp of approval for virtually all legislation, given the Senate’s current 50-50 split. The way to fix this dynamic is for a decisive number of House Democrats or Democratic senators to make clear, line-in-the-sand demands, and demonstrate they will vote down Democratic legislation that does not honor those demands. And they must do this specifically on must-pass legislation for which Biden can find zero GOP votes. That is the way to force Biden to stop pretending he has no agency and instead motivate him to use the overwhelming power of the executive branch to press the conservative wing of the party to back down. It is also the way to get Manchin himself to negotiate — right now, he gets to operate with impunity because there is no counterforce.
The COVID relief bill provides progressives this game-changing opportunity, and in the process they can heroically deliver not on some unimportant issue or tangential agenda item — but instead on the crucial cause of delivering a desperately needed higher minimum wage to millions of Americans. The debate over the legislation also gives the public a way to see whether self-identified progressive heroes are as serious about actually using power as President Manchin is. We can see this opportunity in the current wrangling over a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, where Manchin has successfully pressured the executive branch to support further limiting eligibility for survival checks, devising a phase-out policy so absurdly punitive that even reliably partisan Democratic pundits and centrist think tank wonks can’t support it. The payments — which are $1,400 instead of the $2,000 people were promised — will likely now go to 17 million fewer people than the last round of checks under Donald Trump, as a result of Manchin’s handiwork.
Boris: “I’m sure with a bit of goodwill and common sense all these technical problems are eminently solvable..”
Brussels has warned it will launch legal action “very soon” following a move by the UK to unilaterally delay implementation of part of the Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland. The European commission vice-president, Maros Sefcovic, said the announcement by the government on Wednesday had come as a “very negative surprise”. David Frost, the Cabinet Office minister, said the UK was extending a series of “grace periods” designed to ease trade between Northern Ireland – which remains in the EU single market for goods – and Great Britain while permanent arrangements are worked out. It provoked a furious response in Brussels, with the EU accusing Britain of going back on its treaty obligations in the Brexit withdrawal agreement intended to ensure there is no return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Sefcovic – who is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the agreement – said the European commission was now working on “infringement proceedings” against the UK. “We are currently preparing it and it would be really something coming to our table very soon. The most precise term I can give you is really very soon,” he said. His warning came after Boris Johnson had sought to play down the dispute, saying the government was simply taking some “temporary and technical measures” to ensure that trade kept flowing. “I’m sure with a bit of goodwill and common sense all these technical problems are eminently solvable,” he said on Thursday.
Where is that money?
The father of Michael Brown and other activists from Ferguson, Missouri, are demanding financial support from Black Lives Matter after the organization revealed it raised over $90 million last year. Michael Brown Sr., whose son was fatally shot by a white police officer in August 2014, along with the other activists who helped propel the movement, want $20 million from the group to help their community. “Where is all that money going?” Brown Sr. asked in a Tuesday press release from the International Black Freedom Alliance. “How could you leave the families who are helping the community without any funding?”
The police shooting of Michael Brown sparked months of unrest in Ferguson and helped solidify the national Black Lives Matter movement. “We’re not asking for a handout, but for the funding to keep the movement strong where it began,” said Tory Russell, a Ferguson activist and co-founder of the International Black Freedom Alliance. The funds in Ferguson would be used in part to build a community center in honor of Michael Brown, the press release said. Last month the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation shared its funding numbers in an impact report first provided to the Associated Press.
Alhambra’s Jeffrey Snider says deflation.
The ISM reported its manufacturing index at highs on Monday, then today releases its non-manufacturing headline falling sharply. The result is an odd appendage to post-2008 history where these sentiment indicators are concerned; they are upside down to the usual configuration when it’s been more likely manufacturing suffers while services are to a greater extent immune to each successive suppressing downturn influence. The most notable aspect of the non-manufacturing index has to be the specific segments most responsible for the sharp decline. The overall number had been relatively flat/sideways stuck around 57 or 58 going back to last June; and had bumped up slightly to 58.7 for January 2021 as government money hit the stores. The February reading instead comes back to 55.3, the lowest since the earliest days of reopening.
Not only that, around 55 places the number into the same context as mid-2019 (or early 2016) when the US economy, like the rest of the world, was facing increasingly serious downturn pressures. Its employment subcomponent had indicated a contrary bump up in hiring of late (when compared to the more austere rebound in payroll estimates for these same few months) that likewise fell back in February. The subindex had reached 55.2 in January, the highest since late 2019 (so, not that impressive) only to decline to 52.7 last month.
New Orders, these apparently plummeted for reasons that aren’t well explained at the moment. Not only have COVID restrictions increasingly been removed, vaccines plus two full months of that $600 helicopter drop should’ve (if you believe in these things) produced more than a single January effect (as in retail sales). As for the ISM, forward-indicated orders in the service sector crashed by very nearly an even ten points (-9.9). As of this February figure, the New Orders index stands at just 51.9, which, outside of last April and May, isn’t close to anything since 2016’s Euro$ #3 bottoming out.
This is made all the more unsettling given the similar direction and intensity in Chinese sentiment of late. As if determined to further corroborate this interpretation, private payroll processing firm ADP reports also today another serious shortfall in the employment rebound. First, the series had undergone benchmark revisions which stripped a few hundred thousand jobs from the series (meaning they probably never happened) and then reported that for the month of February private payrolls gained just 117,000 last month (compared to revised +195,000 in January and Economist expectations for about the same). Around one hundred thousand would have been considered an alarmingly weak month before 2020; in this situation with the labor market struggling to gain any momentum, it’s yet another contrary signal (deflation, rather than the other one).
“..grasping the awful truth: we all, eventually, run out of patches…”
I turned fifty-one this week. Terror of age is becoming a key comic subtext of my life. The first line of a novel I tried to write recently read, He looked in the mirror and shrieked. There’s a scene in Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat where the hero, a dim and nervous clerk named Akaky Akakievich, goes to the tailor to try to patch up his ancient greatcoat. It’s coming apart at the seams, the victim of St. Petersburg’s relentless winters and too many years of service. Akaky asks for one last repair job, but the merciless tailor Petrovich, having laid the coat out on a table, quickly pronounces the patient dead. “No, it can’t be repaired, the wretched garment,” he snaps. Akaky, in denial, tries to protest: it’s just a bit worn on the shoulders! Petrovich cuts him off. “The stuff is rotten, if you put a needle in it, it would give way.” “Let it give way, but you must patch it,” counters Akaky. “There is nothing to put a patch on,” Petrovich says, and Akaky recoils in horror, grasping the awful truth: we all, eventually, run out of patches.
Gogol, my childhood hero, died 169 years ago today, on March 4, 1852. Fitting for him, it might have been the most preposterously horrific act of self-destruction in literary history.Gogol was a genius, but a peculiar and probably very unpleasant kind. If Mozart came out of the womb hearing symphonies, the baby born in Sorochintsy, Ukraine in 1809 had a different fate. It was as if God whacked him with a shovel, locking his brain in the moment of hearing the funniest joke ever told. That may sound wonderful, but there’s a reason we eventually have to stop laughing — it hurts. The line between hilarity and terror is a thin one, as people who drop acid find out all the time. Gogol was a depressive who cheered himself up by imagining the funniest situations possible, but his gift in that area was so prodigious that he ultimately scared himself to death.
“The cow is very sacred for us, but no-one cares for their life.”
Indian vets have extracted 71 kilograms (156.5 pounds) of plastic, nails and other garbage from a pregnant cow, but both the animal and her baby died. The case has highlighted the country’s twin problems of pollution and stray cattle. An estimated five million cows roam India’s cities, with many gorging on the vast amounts of plastic litter on the streets. This cow was rescued after a road accident in late February by the People For Animals Trust Faridabad. A vet soon noticed the pregnant bovine was struggling. In a four-hour operation on February 21, vets found nails, plastic, marbles and other garbage in its stomach, said trust president Ravi Dubay.
They also attempted a premature delivery. “The baby did not have enough space to grow in her mother’s belly so she died,” Dubay told AFP. Three days later, the cow also died. “In my 13 years of experience, this is the most garbage we have taken from a cow… we had to use muscle power to get it all out,” Dubay said. Previous surgeries done by the organisation based in the northern Indian state of Haryana have found up to 50 kilograms of waste in cows’ stomachs. “The cow is very sacred for us, but no-one cares for their life. In every corner in every city they eat the waste,” Dubay added.
We were warned. Only one day after Texas succumbed to neanderthal thinking and reversed the mask mandate, experts reported an estimated 9 billion people around the world have already died as a direct result of this foolish action. “We estimate there are now negative 1.3 billion people alive,” said one expert solemnly. “We’ve never had a negative number like that before. Shucks– I’m not even alive anymore, come to think of it. Sad.” Scientists have followed the science very scientifically to determine this catastrophic end to all human life on Earth immediately began after Governor Greg Abbott called his press conference, announcing his plan to literally murder everyone by not making them wear t-shirt fabric on their faces.
“Too bad, humanity had a good run,” said another expert, who is also dead now. “That’s what we get for electing Republicans. Hopefully, humanity learned its lesson.” The expert, who was literally dead from the Texas mask mandate reversal, then joined his friends at the local bar for some beers.
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