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Politics & Religion / WSJ: Florida, Felons, and Judicial Bullying
« on: August 13, 2020, 01:20:19 PM »
Florida, Felons and Judicial Bullying
Democratic Senators try to intimidate federal judges into recusing.
By The Editorial Board
Aug. 12, 2020 7:06 pm ET


The 10 Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to three federal judges recently, demanding that they “explain” how their conduct in a pending case doesn’t break ethics rules. It’s another attempt by Democrats to intimidate the judiciary, similar to their threat last year that if the Supreme Court upheld gun rights, it might be “restructured.”

Jones v. Governor of Florida is being heard en banc by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. It involves Florida’s Amendment 4, passed in 2018, which restores voting rights to many felons “upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” Do fines, court fees and restitution count as “terms of sentence”? If so, felons would have to pay financial obligations before voting.


The Florida Supreme Court took up that question in a Nov. 6 oral argument. Two of the sitting judges, Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, were soon thereafter, on Nov. 19 and 20, confirmed by the Senate to the federal bench on the Eleventh Circuit. On Jan. 16, the state Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion saying Amendment 4 “can only reasonably be understood” as saying that felons must settle debts before voting.

Meantime, felons and advocacy organizations sued in federal court. In May a federal judge ruled that Florida’s “pay-to-vote system,” as he called it, violates the U.S. Constitution as applied to felons who “are genuinely unable to pay,” and also those for whom the owed amounts “cannot be determined with diligence,” given aging and disorderly paperwork.

Once the Eleventh Circuit took up the case en banc, there was a push to force Judges Lagoa and Luck off of it. Their colleague Judge Andrew Brasher, who also received a Senate nastygram, has recused, reasonably enough, citing an amicus brief in the case filed by his old employer, the Alabama Attorney General’s office.

For Judges Lagoa and Luck, the recusal argument was nothing but furious pounding of the table. “While a member of the Florida Supreme Court, you participated in an Advisory Opinion on this very issue,” wrote the 10 Senators, who included Dianne Feinstein, Kamala Harris, Sheldon Whitehouse and Amy Klobuchar. They cited the judicial Code of Conduct, which tells judges to recuse from “a proceeding” if they “participated as a judge (in a previous judicial position)” or have “expressed an opinion concerning the merits of the particular case.”

Judges Lagoa and Luck sat for oral argument in an Amendment 4 case, but they left long before the ruling came down. Also: It was a different case. After they exited, the Florida Supreme Court offered an interpretation of the phrase “all terms of sentence,” while insisting it would “express no opinion on any question other than the narrow one presented.” Judges Lagoa and Luck are not prejudiced in a completely separate federal lawsuit asking whether Amendment 4 violates the U.S. Constitution.

Late last month Judges Lagoa and Luck denied a court motion to disqualify them, saying “there is no occasion for us to recuse.” But it’s obvious why the 10 Democratic Senators might prefer to try them in public. The Eleventh Circuit has 12 active judges, seven nominated by Republicans and five by Democrats. If three Trump appointees were recused, it might be enough to shift the outcome.

It’s clear this is what the Senators wanted, since they wrote that the case implicates “the voting rights of 750,000 Florida residents.” It’s another example of Democrats in Congress trying to bully judges to rule the way they demand.

4
Science, Culture, & Humanities / Wolfowitz: The Gulf War Ended Too Soon
« on: August 13, 2020, 01:04:30 PM »
The Gulf War Ended Too Soon
Bush was right not to go all the way to Baghdad, but he should have backed Shiite rebels in southern Iraq.
By Paul Wolfowitz
Aug. 12, 2020 5:53 pm ET

Thirty years ago this month, on Aug. 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The U.S. mounted an impressive response, but strategic errors at the end of the Gulf War had consequences the world still lives with today.

As Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s representative on the Deputies Committee, I had the privilege to observe President George H.W. Bush from the second row. I have nothing but admiration for Bush’s leadership in responding to an aggressive act virtually no one had anticipated. Swallowing an entire country and its oil wealth shocked the world. While it left no doubt about the danger Saddam posed, it made the challenge all the more formidable. In less than a week from a cold start, Bush put together the basic elements of a political-military strategy to force Saddam to relinquish his conquest—peacefully if possible, by force if necessary.

Bush recognized that he could do little, and nothing militarily, without Saudi support. But he also understood the dilemma at the heart of Riyadh’s thinking. For them, the one thing worse than dealing with an aggressive Saddam on their own would be to accept U.S. support only to see it waver, as Jimmy Carter did with Iran and Ronald Reagan in Lebanon.

Bush ignored advice to play down the size of the force the U.S. would have to deploy to defend Saudi oil fields. He authorized Mr. Cheney to tell them the full extent of what was needed. The Saudi ambassador swallowed hard, then said: “At least we know you’re serious.”

The president reinforced that seriousness by his spontaneous statement to reporters: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.” Implicitly it committed him to taking military action if all else failed. Asked where that phrase came from, Bush replied: “That’s mine. . . . That’s what I feel.”

Throughout the next seven months, Bush made repeated difficult decisions crisply after consulting with his advisers. Some involved great risks, and often the advisers didn’t all agree. By the beginning of March 1991, Saddam’s army was evicted from Kuwait with miraculously low American and coalition casualties.

But unlike his principal advisers, Bush was not “exhilarated” by the outcome. “How can I be exhilarated,” he said to reporters, “when Saddam Hussein is still in power?” That unhappiness, only briefly displayed publicly, comes through clearly in Jon Meachem’s authorized 2015 biography of Bush, who allowed the author access to his diaries.

“I don’t feel euphoria,” Bush wrote on Feb. 28, 1991, the day after the combatants announced a cease-fire. “Hitler is alive, indeed, Hitler is still in office, and that’s the problem. . . . American people elated, [but] I have no elation.” What Mr. Meachem calls “Bush’s postwar despondency” was rooted in the “failure to bring about Saddam’s fall” and some specific contributing failures.

Bush regretted the decision not to force Saddam to the surrender table at Safwan, just across the Kuwaiti border, where U.S. and Iraqi troops had a standoff after the withdrawal and cease-fire. “More substantively,” Meachem writes, “when the rebellions against Saddam began after Safwan, everything went wrong. The United States did nothing to support the insurgents, and the uprising was put down in part by Iraqi helicopters,” which Saddam’s army had been allowed to keep on the pretext that it needed them because the bridges had been destroyed, not strafe and drop mustard gas on the Shiite rebels.

Historians examining how that happened need to ask why the formal decision structure, which Bush had used masterfully until then to make critical decisions almost daily, broke down at the very end.

I still believe Bush was right not to risk American lives pursuing the retreating enemy into Iraq or all the way to Baghdad, particularly since Iraqi defenses against Iran had stiffened when on their own territory. It turned out also that several Republican Guard divisions were still intact.

But there were at least three alternative courses of action that should have been considered, separately or together, as part of a postcombat strategy: Demand that Saddam or one of his principal subordinates surrender personally; secure United Nations Security Council endorsement of the large “disengagement” zone along Iraq’s entire southern border, which our U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering had proposed; and insist that Saddam stop using at least his helicopters, if not his tanks as well, to slaughter the Shiite rebels in southern Iraq.

The helicopters were a focus of attention because Iraq had been permitted to keep them on the pretext that they were needed for transportation because of the damage done by coalition bombing. At that point, the fate of the rebellions was the single most important issue for the future of Iraq and for the reputation of the U.S. in the eyes of the Iraqi people. The president himself, personally and publicly (at a March 13 press conference in Canada), had warned Iraq to stop using helicopters against the rebels.

Moreover, Saudi leaders had urged Secretary of State James Baker, during his early March visit to Riyadh, to support the Iraqi rebels. They said, as I remember, that Saddam was still dangerous, “like a wounded snake,” and added that “we’re not afraid of the Shia of Iraq,” who are “Arabs and not Persians,” and had remained loyal to Iraq during eight years of war with Iran.

None of those alternatives would have caused the coalition to collapse—particularly with the Saudis on board—nor would they have required the U.S. to occupy Baghdad. In combination, they would have been an appropriate response to Iraq’s treacherous abuse of the permission it had obtained to fly helicopters.

Supporting the rebellions had risks of its own, but those risks should have been deliberated carefully, as so many others had been over the course of the preceding seven months. But leaders were anxious to end the war and avoid mission creep that would get the U.S. stuck in Iraq, so they weren’t. As a result, Saddam played a cat-and-mouse game that kept the U.S. stuck anyway for 12 more years and beyond.

There was time to allow the president to think things through, but it wasn’t used. The lesson: If time is on your side, don’t succumb to a self-generated sense of urgency. Take the time to examine whether there are better outcomes than simply abandoning “endless wars” in the mistaken belief that you won’t be forced back to war again.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, served as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia (1986-89), undersecretary of defense for policy (1989-93) and deputy defense secretary (2001-05).

5
Politics & Religion / Wolfowitz: The Gulf War Ended Too Soon
« on: August 13, 2020, 01:04:03 PM »
The Gulf War Ended Too Soon
Bush was right not to go all the way to Baghdad, but he should have backed Shiite rebels in southern Iraq.
By Paul Wolfowitz
Aug. 12, 2020 5:53 pm ET

Thirty years ago this month, on Aug. 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The U.S. mounted an impressive response, but strategic errors at the end of the Gulf War had consequences the world still lives with today.

As Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s representative on the Deputies Committee, I had the privilege to observe President George H.W. Bush from the second row. I have nothing but admiration for Bush’s leadership in responding to an aggressive act virtually no one had anticipated. Swallowing an entire country and its oil wealth shocked the world. While it left no doubt about the danger Saddam posed, it made the challenge all the more formidable. In less than a week from a cold start, Bush put together the basic elements of a political-military strategy to force Saddam to relinquish his conquest—peacefully if possible, by force if necessary.

Bush recognized that he could do little, and nothing militarily, without Saudi support. But he also understood the dilemma at the heart of Riyadh’s thinking. For them, the one thing worse than dealing with an aggressive Saddam on their own would be to accept U.S. support only to see it waver, as Jimmy Carter did with Iran and Ronald Reagan in Lebanon.

Bush ignored advice to play down the size of the force the U.S. would have to deploy to defend Saudi oil fields. He authorized Mr. Cheney to tell them the full extent of what was needed. The Saudi ambassador swallowed hard, then said: “At least we know you’re serious.”

The president reinforced that seriousness by his spontaneous statement to reporters: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.” Implicitly it committed him to taking military action if all else failed. Asked where that phrase came from, Bush replied: “That’s mine. . . . That’s what I feel.”

Throughout the next seven months, Bush made repeated difficult decisions crisply after consulting with his advisers. Some involved great risks, and often the advisers didn’t all agree. By the beginning of March 1991, Saddam’s army was evicted from Kuwait with miraculously low American and coalition casualties.

But unlike his principal advisers, Bush was not “exhilarated” by the outcome. “How can I be exhilarated,” he said to reporters, “when Saddam Hussein is still in power?” That unhappiness, only briefly displayed publicly, comes through clearly in Jon Meachem’s authorized 2015 biography of Bush, who allowed the author access to his diaries.

“I don’t feel euphoria,” Bush wrote on Feb. 28, 1991, the day after the combatants announced a cease-fire. “Hitler is alive, indeed, Hitler is still in office, and that’s the problem. . . . American people elated, [but] I have no elation.” What Mr. Meachem calls “Bush’s postwar despondency” was rooted in the “failure to bring about Saddam’s fall” and some specific contributing failures.

Bush regretted the decision not to force Saddam to the surrender table at Safwan, just across the Kuwaiti border, where U.S. and Iraqi troops had a standoff after the withdrawal and cease-fire. “More substantively,” Meachem writes, “when the rebellions against Saddam began after Safwan, everything went wrong. The United States did nothing to support the insurgents, and the uprising was put down in part by Iraqi helicopters,” which Saddam’s army had been allowed to keep on the pretext that it needed them because the bridges had been destroyed, not strafe and drop mustard gas on the Shiite rebels.

Historians examining how that happened need to ask why the formal decision structure, which Bush had used masterfully until then to make critical decisions almost daily, broke down at the very end.

I still believe Bush was right not to risk American lives pursuing the retreating enemy into Iraq or all the way to Baghdad, particularly since Iraqi defenses against Iran had stiffened when on their own territory. It turned out also that several Republican Guard divisions were still intact.

But there were at least three alternative courses of action that should have been considered, separately or together, as part of a postcombat strategy: Demand that Saddam or one of his principal subordinates surrender personally; secure United Nations Security Council endorsement of the large “disengagement” zone along Iraq’s entire southern border, which our U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering had proposed; and insist that Saddam stop using at least his helicopters, if not his tanks as well, to slaughter the Shiite rebels in southern Iraq.

The helicopters were a focus of attention because Iraq had been permitted to keep them on the pretext that they were needed for transportation because of the damage done by coalition bombing. At that point, the fate of the rebellions was the single most important issue for the future of Iraq and for the reputation of the U.S. in the eyes of the Iraqi people. The president himself, personally and publicly (at a March 13 press conference in Canada), had warned Iraq to stop using helicopters against the rebels.

Moreover, Saudi leaders had urged Secretary of State James Baker, during his early March visit to Riyadh, to support the Iraqi rebels. They said, as I remember, that Saddam was still dangerous, “like a wounded snake,” and added that “we’re not afraid of the Shia of Iraq,” who are “Arabs and not Persians,” and had remained loyal to Iraq during eight years of war with Iran.

None of those alternatives would have caused the coalition to collapse—particularly with the Saudis on board—nor would they have required the U.S. to occupy Baghdad. In combination, they would have been an appropriate response to Iraq’s treacherous abuse of the permission it had obtained to fly helicopters.

Supporting the rebellions had risks of its own, but those risks should have been deliberated carefully, as so many others had been over the course of the preceding seven months. But leaders were anxious to end the war and avoid mission creep that would get the U.S. stuck in Iraq, so they weren’t. As a result, Saddam played a cat-and-mouse game that kept the U.S. stuck anyway for 12 more years and beyond.

There was time to allow the president to think things through, but it wasn’t used. The lesson: If time is on your side, don’t succumb to a self-generated sense of urgency. Take the time to examine whether there are better outcomes than simply abandoning “endless wars” in the mistaken belief that you won’t be forced back to war again.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, served as U.S. ambassador to Indonesia (1986-89), undersecretary of defense for policy (1989-93) and deputy defense secretary (2001-05).

6


A Deadly Coronavirus Was Inevitable. Why Was No One Ready?
Scientists warned of a pandemic for decades, yet when Covid-19 arrived, the world had few resources and little understanding
By Betsy McKay and Phred Dvorak
Aug. 13, 2020 9:29 am ET

Hunkered around conference tables at the World Health Organization’s Geneva headquarters, a group of scientists debated which of the world’s most frightening epidemic diseases deserved the greatest attention.

Ebola, a ferocious killer that drains its victims of bodily fluids, made the list. So did Nipah, which makes the brain swell before most of its victims die. So, too, did severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which burrows into the lungs, leaving the sick gasping for air.

At the end of the two-day gathering in February 2018, the group topped the list off with the most terrifying entry of all: Disease X.

It was meant to capture what scientists had warned about for decades: an unknown pathogen with no known treatment or cure that would likely originate in animals, jump to humans and start spreading silently and quickly.

Scientists couldn’t predict the precise genetic makeup of the pathogen, or when it would strike. But they knew it would come. A succession of outbreaks and near misses since the late 1990s, along with increasingly sophisticated scientific research, made clear a major pandemic was inevitable.

Researchers pinpointed hot spots, including southern China, where such a virus might originate. They had ideas about how it might begin infecting people and how easily transmissible it could be. They even had plans for how to detect and stop it.

When Disease X actually arrived, as Covid-19, governments, businesses, public-health officials and citizens soon found themselves in a state of chaos, battling an invisible enemy with few resources and little understanding—despite years of work that outlined almost exactly what the virus would look like and how to mitigate its impact.

Governments had ignored clear warnings and underfunded pandemic preparedness. They mostly reacted to outbreaks, instead of viewing new infectious diseases as major threats to national security. And they never developed a strong international system for managing epidemics, even though researchers said the nature of travel and trade would spread infection across borders.


The real-world Disease X has killed more than 750,000 and sickened more than 20 million. The virus and the response have wrecked economies, destroyed families and altered the fabric of daily life across the world.

Officials made mistakes earlier this year when the severity of the outbreak became clear. Some were understandable blunders made during a panic; others were simply blunders. Underlying it all was a failure that stretches back decades. Most everyone knew such an outcome was possible. And yet no one was prepared.

“They said we need strategies for ‘Disease X’ and gave it a cool name,” said Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist and virus hunter in New York who was at the 2018 WHO meeting. “The problem is, we never did anything about it.”

Two recent epidemics—SARS in 2002-03 and its viral cousin, Middle East respiratory syndrome, which emerged in 2012—made clear that coronaviruses were dangerous. Researchers including Dr. Daszak identified evidence of hundreds more coronaviruses that could strike, including one very similar to the virus causing the current pandemic.

“Essentially, SARS-CoV is alive and well in bats in Yunnan Province!” Dr. Daszak emailed officials at the WHO in 2015.


They found evidence over years of research that villagers in southern China were being exposed to coronaviruses. “They actually are infecting people,” Dr. Daszak said he told the WHO meeting in 2018, adding that with no pipeline for drugs or vaccines for the viruses, it was “a clear and present danger.”

Last year, a Chinese scientist he worked with published a specific forecast: “It is highly likely that future SARS- or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China.”

Number of human infectious disease outbreaks by host type
Source: Journal of the Royal Society Interface
Originating in humans
Originating in animals
1981
'85
'90
'95
2000
'05
'10
0
100
200
300
400
500
600
700
800
Annual funding from America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, for research on coronaviruses peaked after SARS and then fell for years, according to NIAID.

“The political and economic community took it for granted that everything could be dealt with,” said Malik Peiris, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong who has been on the front lines of epidemics for two decades.

More and more outbreaks

Humans today are exposed to more deadly new pathogens than ever. They typically come from animals, as global travel, trade and economic development, such as meat production and deforestation, push people, livestock and wildlife closer together. The human population has more than quadrupled since the 1918 flu pandemic.

Scientists knew infectious disease outbreaks were becoming more common, with 2010 having more than six times the outbreaks of pathogens from animal origins than in 1980, according to data in a study by Brown University researchers.

Dr. Daszak, who is president of EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit that studies connections between human and animal health and the environment, said three-quarters of the new diseases afflicting humans since 1960 have originated in animals.

In some ways, government leaders and scientists are far more prepared and smarter about pandemic risks than they were 20 years ago. Billions of dollars have been spent on technologies to make drugs and vaccines more quickly and to prevent and train for pandemics. Advances in genomics have made it easier to identify viruses quickly and track how they evolve.

Governments have plowed money into tracking new forms of influenza, which public-health leaders long considered the greatest pandemic risk. Influenza viruses are constantly circulating in animals and people, spread easily and can mix and mutate fast into forms potentially lethal to humans.

Ad hoc funding

Yet plenty was left undone, in areas including funding, early-warning systems, the role of the WHO and coordination with China. A big chunk of U.S. funding went toward protecting Americans against a bioterror attack. Government funding for pandemics has come largely in emergency, one-time packages to stop an ongoing outbreak.

Vaccine development has been hard to fund. Some might never earn profits for manufacturers because they are often distributed at low prices and are given less often than new drugs to treat lung cancer or diabetes.

Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID and a point man for the U.S. government on the Covid-19 response, put it plainly in an interview: “We undershot in our preparedness.”

Federal money to help U.S. states and cities prepare for pandemics and other emergencies fell 35% between fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2020.


Federal funds to prepare for emergencies, including pandemics

For U.S. states and local

public-health departments*

For U.S. hospital preparedness†

$1.0

 billion

$1.0

 billion

0.8

0.8

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.4

0.2

0.2

0

0

FY2003

’05

’07

’09

’11

’13

’15

’17

’19

’21

FY2003

’05

’07

’09

’11

’13

’15

’17

’19

’21

*CDC Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement Funding   
†ASPR Hospital Preparedness Program Funding
Note: FY2020 figures are estimates; FY2021 are budgets.

Source: Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security
“We have a cycle of crisis, and then we become complacent, and [then] the tendency is for the focus and the investment to be repurposed for other issues,” said Julie Gerberding, who was director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2002 to 2009 and is now chief patient officer at Merck & Co.

She said a better solution would be to fund public health more like national defense, with much more guaranteed money, year in, year out.

A half-century ago, many scientists thought fearsome infectious scourges might be a thing of the past. Antibiotics and vaccines snuffed out outbreaks of polio, measles and other diseases. Smallpox was eradicated in 1980.


Funding for coronavirus research from NIAID

$500

 million

After Covid-19

400

300

200

Surge

after SARS

Small pickup

after MERS

100

0

FY2000

’05

’10

’15

’20

Note: FY2020 figures are obligated supplemental funds.

Source: U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

But a new generation of viruses began to emerge in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as HIV and Ebola. A 1992 report by a U.S. Institute of Medicine committee warned that infectious diseases were evolving and posed a global threat.

Prominent scientists, including influenza expert Robert Webster at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., rang alarm bells, and warned that pandemics like the 1918 flu—which killed an estimated 50 million people—would happen again.

A New Zealander, Dr. Webster, now 88 and considered an elder statesman of pandemic preparedness, had studied birds—ducks in Canada, penguins in Antarctica—showing how deadly viruses might hop from animals to humans, causing devastating disease. He commissioned a stained-glass window for his home showing that process.

“Will there be another human influenza pandemic?” Dr. Webster asked in a paper presented at an NIH meeting in 1995. “The certainty is that there will be.”

Over the next decades, a series of outbreaks would show how that scenario could unfold and how the official reaction was found wanting.

‘Spillover’ infections

In May 1997, a 3-year-old Hong Kong boy named Lam Hoi-ka came down with a sore throat, stomach pains, cough and fever. A week later, the boy was hospitalized, struggling for air. He developed double pneumonia, blood clots and kidney failure. Five days after being admitted, Hoi-ka died.

“We all thought it was something mild,” Hoi-ka’s father told the South China Morning Post. “They sent my son to the intensive care unit, and he never came back.”

When doctors identified what killed him, the answer was a shock. It was a strain of influenza virus, named H5N1 after the mix of proteins on its surface, that was often deadly in birds but had never been known to infect humans.

Suddenly, Dr. Webster’s scenario of a lethal pandemic spreading from animals to people, through a process called “spillover,” looked more plausible.

Spillover happens when viruses living in one animal host, often harmlessly, come into contact with a new one. Often, the virus may not be able to infect the new host, or it may not cause illness or spread further. But viruses are always mutating and exchanging genes, and every now and then the result is lethal, as with rabies, which can hop from bats to other animals, including people.

Experts including Dr. Webster were particularly concerned about the potential for spillover in southern China, where large, densely populated cities were expanding rapidly into forests and agricultural lands, bringing people into closer contact with animals. Two of the three influenza pandemics of the 20th century are thought to have originated in China.

Food-market vendors sold chickens, pigeons and ducks, with different types of birds sometimes sharing cages. Often markets were full of bird droppings. When a sale was made, stall proprietors would typically kill the bird, pluck it and gut it on the spot—throwing out a spray of blood and fluids that could carry viruses.


Right before Hoi-ka’s death, researchers at the University of Hong Kong had been following a virulent outbreak of H5N1 influenza in chickens they suspected came from southern China—a “chicken Ebola,” as Dr. Webster described it, with thousands of birds keeling over gasping for breath, blood oozing from their insides.

In November came a burst of new infections, including a 13-year-old girl, a 37-year-old bank worker and a 54-year-old dentist. Two young cousins who had lived together in the same apartment were infected and a third came down with symptoms, raising fears the virus was spreading between humans.

“All hell broke loose,” recalled Dr. Peiris, the HKU researcher, whose lab became a hub for testing.

Dr. Webster flew to Hong Kong and found that 20% of the chickens his team examined had the virus. The government dispatched officials to markets to kill more than a million birds, initially using carbon-dioxide gas, and then slitting the animals’ throats when the gas ran out. A group of 80 monks led a chant for the birds’ souls.

In all, 18 people were infected with H5N1 before it disappeared, with six dying.

The 1997 bird flu turned out not to spread easily between people and was snuffed out with the infected chickens.

Dr. Webster and others warned it could re-emerge or mutate into something more contagious. With U.S. funding, he set up an animal influenza surveillance center in Hong Kong. The WHO, which hadn’t planned for pandemics before, started compiling protocols for a large-scale outbreak, including contingency plans for vaccines.

Yet outside of the scientific community, few people took the possibility of a pandemic seriously, said Keiji Fukuda, an American epidemiologist then at the CDC who had gone to investigate the Hong Kong outbreak. At a dinner back in the U.S., he remembers one guest saying, “Oh, you really needed to have someone in the U.S. to be impacted to really galvanize the government.”

New look at coronaviruses

At the end of 2002, a mysterious and deadly new pneumonia began tearing through hospitals in southern China.

Dr. Webster and his colleagues in Hong Kong thought it was bird flu again. The symptoms were similar: Patients had high fevers, coughs and trouble breathing as the virus attacked their lungs. Some suffered from terrible muscle aches, exhaustion and diarrhea. The decline was rapid.

The disease would be named SARS, and it overturned much of the world’s thinking about epidemics. It was caused by a lethal new bug that jumped to humans from animals, but to everyone’s surprise, it wasn’t an influenza virus.

It was a coronavirus—a pathogen thought so negligible at the time that it didn’t even rate a chapter in the classic Manual of Clinical Microbiology, recalled Kwok-Yung Yuen, a microbiologist and physician at HKU, who with Dr. Peiris identified the virus.


A SARS patient in Guangzhou in 2003.
PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

It also spread more easily and widely, mostly through respiratory droplets, than the 1997 flu. At one point, 213 people in a Hong Kong apartment complex were diagnosed with SARS in five days.

A doctor visiting Hong Kong from mainland China gave the disease to his brother-in-law, wife, sister and daughter and eventually hundreds of others. Visitors staying at the same hotel as the doctor carried it back home, leading to 71 cases in Singapore, 29 in Canada, 58 in Vietnam, and one each in the U.S. and Ireland by the end of March alone.

That “drove home the reality in my own mind of globalization,” said Dr. Fukuda. SARS showed that viruses can crisscross the globe by plane in hours, making a local epidemic much more dangerous.

China was in the midst of a leadership change, and many officials initially covered up the extent of the outbreak, reluctant to rock the boat. Chinese hospitals didn’t share medical specimens, making it hard for scientists to investigate.


The WHO’s director-general, Gro Harlem Brundtland, publicly criticized China.

The government under new leaders reversed course. It implemented draconian quarantines and sanitized cities, including a reported 80 million people enlisted to clean streets in Guangdong.

China suspended trade in wild-animal markets, where barking deer, Himalayan palm civets and other animals were sold, often as novelty items on local menus or ingredients in traditional medicines. At one market, researchers found evidence of the SARS virus in three civets, a Chinese badger and a fox-like animal called a raccoon dog.

In Guangdong, authorities in “Operation Green Sword” confiscated more than 30,000 animals from markets, hotels and restaurants. Eventually, some 10,000 civets would be drowned, electrocuted or incinerated. Shanghai ordered the slaughter of more than a million pheasants, mallards and partridges.

By May 2003, the number of new SARS cases was dwindling. It infected around 8,000 people world-wide, killing nearly 10%.


After SARS, China expanded epidemiologist training and increased budgets for new laboratories.

It started working more closely in public health with the U.S., the world’s leader. The U.S. CDC opened an office in Beijing to share expertise and make sure coverups never happened again. U.S. CDC officials visiting a new China CDC campus planted a friendship tree.

But cooperation between the U.S. and Beijing would fray.

New controls on the wild-animal trade in China were eased in August 2003, after pressure from businesses. What restrictions remained were loosely enforced, conservationists say. The risk of viral spillovers remained.

An awakening U.S.

In Washington in 2005, a powerful player started driving U.S. efforts to become more prepared. President George W. Bush had read author John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza,” a history of the 1918 flu pandemic, over a long August vacation at his Texas ranch.

The 2004 book recounted the social and economic devastation a pandemic could cause. Mr. Bush had already had to lead the country out of 9/11, and more recently had seen the damage wrought overseas by SARS. Then, Hurricane Katrina struck, and his administration was criticized for a slow and disorganized response.

The H5N1 virus, which first jumped to humans in Hong Kong in 1997, had resurfaced in poultry flocks across Southeast Asia, causing more than 40 human infections in 2004. It had killed nearly 70% of the people it infected.

Dr. Webster, the Memphis-based flu expert, had published a paper saying the virus had been found at a major migration stop for wild geese in China, warning that the birds could carry it to India and Europe next.

Up to that point, Washington had poured billions of dollars into measures to protect Americans against smallpox, anthrax and other biological threats, a legacy of 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks. It had apportioned relatively small amounts for animal-virus pandemics.

At an Oval Office meeting on the morning of Oct. 14, 2005, Rajeev Venkayya, Mr. Bush’s special assistant for biodefense, summarized what the government was doing to respond to the latest H5N1 threat.

Mr. Bush leaned toward the group of 10 or so officials and said, “I want to see a plan,” according to Dr. Venkayya.

“He had been asking questions and not getting answers,” recalled Dr. Venkayya, now president of Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. ’s global vaccine business unit. “He wanted people to see this as a national threat.”

By the end of that month, health leaders pulled together a 12-page strategy involving stockpiling vaccines and antiviral drugs, expanding outbreak detection and otherwise improving pandemic responses. Mr. Bush launched the strategy in November, and Congress approved $6.1 billion in one-time funding.


President Bush launched a pandemic preparedness plan in 2005.

A fleshed-out plan had more than 300 action points, including responsibilities for the heads of each federal agency and teleworking guidelines for businesses.

The CDC began exercises enacting pandemic scenarios and expanded research. The government created the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to fund companies to develop diagnostics, drugs and vaccines.

A team of researchers also dug into archives of the 1918 pandemic to develop guidelines for mitigating the spread when vaccines aren’t available. The tactics included social distancing, canceling large public gatherings and closing schools—steps adopted this year when Covid-19 struck, though at the time they didn’t include wide-scale lockdowns.

A year after the plan was released, a progress report called for more real-time disease surveillance and preparations for a medical surge to care for large numbers of patients, and stressed strong, coordinated federal planning.

The WHO also updated its pandemic preparedness plan in 2005 and revised longstanding International Health Regulations to require member countries to report diseases like SARS and new types of influenza.

A European vaccine makers’ association said its members had spent around $4 billion on pandemic vaccine research and manufacturing adjustments by 2008.

Dangerous gaps

Most of the work on pandemics focused on influenza—a big threat, but not the only one. Funding for research on coronaviruses, which rose after the SARS epidemic, started declining. SARS hadn’t come back, and other coronaviruses known to infect humans caused only common colds.

In 2004, NIAID awarded $104.7 million in funding for coronavirus-related research. Funding fell to $14.9 million by 2010, but climbed after another coronavirus, MERS, emerged. By 2019 it was $27.7 million, according to NIAID.


Global hotspots of emerging diseases originating in animals

Europe,

Middle East and Africa

Asia Pacific

Americas

JAPAN

U.S.

CHINA

EGYPT

MEXICO

INDIA

BANGLADESH

PHILIPPINES

NIGERIA

INDONESIA

BRAZIL

Risk of disease spillover*

Lower

Higher

*Indexed by taking variables into account, such as human population density, wildlife biodiversity, climate and land-use changes.

Source: EcoHealth Alliance

Researchers made some progress after SARS toward vaccines against the disease, which could have paid dividends later when Covid-19 emerged. While the two diseases are different, having a vaccine for another coronavirus could have made it easier to create a new one for Covid-19.

One potential SARS vaccine didn’t get beyond the early stages, because NIAID couldn’t find a pharmaceutical company willing to take it on, according to Dr. Fauci. Vaccines for epidemic diseases are “a risky business,” he said. Demand is sporadic and an epidemic can end before researchers finish testing it.

The $6.1 billion Congress appropriated for Mr. Bush’s pandemic plan was spent mostly to make and stockpile medicines and flu vaccines and to train public-health department staff. The money wasn’t renewed.

“The reality is that for any leader it’s really hard to maintain a focus on low-probability high-consequence events, particularly in the health arena,” Dr. Venkayya said.

Plan is tested

In early 2009, two children in southern California fell ill with fever and coughs. Both recovered, but tests by the CDC showed they had been infected by a new strain of the H1N1 influenza virus, the type that caused the 1918 pandemic. Mexican health authorities then disclosed an outbreak there had killed at least 20 people. Soon, the virus popped up in Europe and elsewhere.

On the night of April 23, Nancy Cox, then the CDC’s flu chief, called Dr. Fukuda, the former CDC official, from her car. Her Atlanta home had been struck by lightning in a thunderstorm and burned while she was at work. But she was determined to reach her colleague, who had left the CDC for the WHO four years earlier, in order to activate an emergency response.

Dr. Cox was alarmed that the new flu appeared to be a mix of pig, bird and human viruses, was appearing in multiple locations and was spreading rapidly from person to person—all hallmarks of a potential pandemic.

By 4 a.m., Dr. Fukuda had set up an emergency response center and the WHO started implementing its pandemic influenza preparedness plan, which outlined steps from handling surging demand for hospital beds to preparing vaccines.

In the U.S., President Barack Obama’s administration put Mr. Bush’s new plan into action for the first time.

By mid-June, swine flu, as it was dubbed, had jumped to 74 countries. The WHO officially labeled it a pandemic, despite some evidence suggesting the sickness was pretty mild in most people.

That put in motion a host of measures, including some “sleeping” contracts with pharmaceutical companies to begin vaccine manufacturing—contracts that countries like the United Kingdom had negotiated ahead of time so they wouldn’t have to scramble during an outbreak.

In August, a panel of scientific advisers to Mr. Obama published a scenario in which as many as 120 million Americans, 40% of the population, could be infected that year, and up to 90,000 people could die.

H1N1 turned out to be much milder. Although it eventually infected more than 60 million Americans, it killed less than 13,000. In Europe, fewer than 5,000 deaths were reported.

Cried ‘wolf’?

The WHO came under fire for labeling the outbreak a pandemic too soon. European lawmakers, health professionals and others suggested the organization may have been pressured by the pharmaceutical industry.

The vaccine took so long to manufacture that the virus was ebbing when it was finally ready. In Europe, especially, governments had ordered huge numbers of doses, often at high cost, then tried to cancel them when it became clear they weren’t needed.

France ordered 94 million doses, but had logged only 1,334 serious cases and 312 deaths as of April 2010. It managed to cancel 50 million doses and sell some to other countries, but it was still stuck with a €365 million tab, or about $520 million at the time, and 25 million extra doses.


The WHO had raised scares for SARS, mad-cow disease, bird flu and now swine flu, and it had been wrong each time, said Paul Flynn, a member of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and a British lawmaker, at a 2010 health committee hearing in Strasbourg. The Council of Europe has 47 member-states and was set up in 1949 to protect human rights and the rule of law.

“I thought you might have uttered a word of regret or an apology,” Mr. Flynn told Dr. Fukuda, who as a representative of the WHO had been called to testify.

Vaccine policy has to be decided early, before anyone knows how severe a disease will be, Dr. Fukuda replied.

Privately, he was seething, remembering all the efforts scientists and public-health officials had put into trying to tame outbreaks.

“To have that thrown back to you that you’re trying to make money for somebody is really offensive,” Dr. Fukuda said. Being accused of creating the idea of a pandemic is still one of the most painful experiences in his career, said the doctor, who is now at HKU’s School of Public Health.

Ultimately, an investigation by the council’s committee accused the WHO and public-health officials of jumping the gun, wasting money, provoking “unjustified fear” among Europeans and creating risks through vaccines and medications that might not have been sufficiently tested.


Dr. Keiji Fukuda, a WHO official at the time, discussed MERS at a press conference in 2014.
PHOTO: FABRICE COFFRINI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

“There is a real danger of now having cried ‘wolf,’ ” the report concluded.

Scientific leaders
Many scientists were more convinced than ever that a devastating pandemic was coming. A handful believed there was a big threat in addition to the most obvious one, influenza, and they put their energies into studying coronaviruses.

One was Dr. Daszak, the New York-based virus hunter, a self-described reptile fanatic who kept pet vipers in his bedroom as a boy in the U.K. He grew interested in how human activities moved dangerous viruses around the world.

By 2004, Dr. Daszak had joined with two other scientists in a search for the source of SARS, the deadly coronavirus, in hopes of preventing its return. Linfa Wang, a Shanghai-born virologist, had spent years at a lab in Australia studying pathogens in bats. He suspected SARS resided in bats too—not in civets, as was initially thought.

For help in China the pair brought in Shi Zhengli, then a shrimp-disease researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who had considered becoming a singer instead of a scientist. Dr. Shi would eventually publish the paper warning that a new coronavirus outbreak linked to bats was likely.


Dr. Shi has recently become known after U.S. officials and others suggested, without evidence, the coronavirus that caused Covid-19 emerged from her lab in Wuhan, which she has denied. International scientists generally believe the pathogen crossed into humans from animals.

Drs. Daszak, Shi and Wang, now at Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School, sampled throughout China, including an area near Guangzhou, where limestone hills full of caverns, some the size of airplane hangars, housed thousands of bats.

Dr. Shi and researchers stretched nets on bamboo poles to capture the bats, placing each into cloth bags. After collecting and analyzing swabs, fecal pellets and blood samples, the scientists found SARS-like viruses.

It was among the first indications that SARS originated in bats, and a key part of the evolving understanding of the risk from coronaviruses.

Back in Washington, scientist Dennis Carroll, at the U.S. Agency for International Development, was also convinced that flu wasn’t the only major pandemic threat.

In early 2008, Dr. Carroll was intrigued by Dr. Daszak’s newly published research that said viruses from wildlife were a growing threat, and would emerge most frequently where development was bringing people closer to animals.


If most of these viruses spilled over to humans in just a few places, including southern China, USAID could more easily fund an early warning system.

“You didn’t have to look everywhere,” he said he realized. “You could target certain places.”

He launched a new USAID effort focused on emerging pandemic threats. One program called Predict had funding of about $20 million a year to identify pathogens in wildlife that have the potential to infect people.

Dr. Carroll, who once worked in a leprosy colony in India, dove into tropical jungles and wildlife markets with Predict-funded researchers. The program operated in 30 countries, including China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

He frequently met with decision makers in Washington and urged them to expand the virus-hunting work. Accompanying him on one visit to the White House was Dr. Daszak, dressed in a suit, while Dr. Carroll, known for his unique style, wore purple John Lennon-style glasses, white-and-blue saddle shoes and a fedora.

Drs. Daszak, Shi and Wang, supported by funds from Predict, the NIH and China, shifted their focus to Yunnan, a relatively wild and mountainous province that borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.

In one site known as the Shitou Cave, Dr. Shi’s researchers found a huge variety of SARS-like coronavirus strains among horseshoe bats.

One key discovery: a coronavirus resembling SARS that lab tests showed could infect human cells. It was the first proof that SARS-like coronaviruses circulating in southern China could hop from bats to people.

The scientists warned of their findings in a study published in the journal Nature in 2013.

In another project, Dr. Shi found a coronavirus that was later determined to closely match SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Evidence grew that showed people in the area were being exposed to coronaviruses. One survey turned up hundreds of villagers who said they recently showed symptoms such as trouble breathing and a fever, suggesting a possible viral infection.

In some caves, researchers found bottles, plastic bags or other signs that people had been there. Dr. Daszak said he was told a sign went up on one of the caves saying “Do not enter.” Little else changed.


Plans fall short

Over the next several years, governments in the U.S. and elsewhere found themselves constantly on the defensive from global viral outbreaks. Time and again, preparedness plans proved insufficient.

One, which started sickening people in Saudi Arabia and nearby countries in 2012, was dubbed MERS. It was a new coronavirus, carried by camels, and it killed about 34% of those it infected. It turned out to be relatively hard to spread, infecting only about 2,500 people over several years.

On a weekend morning in January 2013, more than a dozen senior Obama administration officials met in a basement family room in the suburban home of a senior National Security Council official. They were brainstorming how to help other countries upgrade their epidemic response capabilities, fueled by bagels and coffee.

Emerging disease threats were growing, yet more than 80% of the world’s countries hadn’t met a 2012 International Health Regulations deadline to be able to detect and respond to epidemics.

The officials jotted ideas on flip charts: The CDC, Department of Defense, USAID and other U.S. agencies would use their expertise to help other nations improve disease surveillance, build better laboratories and train epidemiologists.


The session led to the Global Health Security Agenda, launched by the U.S., the WHO and about 30 partners in early 2014, to help nations improve their capabilities within five years.

Money was tight. The U.S. was recovering from the 2008-09 financial crisis, and federal funding to help U.S. states and cities prepare and train for health emergencies was declining. Public-health departments had cut thousands of jobs, and outdated data systems weren’t replaced.

U.S. funding for the new GHSA relied initially on existing money in budgets, including $40 million for CDC activities in priority countries.

“It was a Hail Mary pass,” said Tom Frieden, who was director of the CDC from 2009 to 2017 and a force behind the creation of the GHSA. “We didn’t have any money.”

Ebola wake-up call

Around then, Ebola was breaking out in West Africa, and the deadly consequences of an underfunded, patchwork approach to global health became apparent.

At the WHO, Dr. Fukuda was in charge of health security. When the Ebola outbreak was found in March 2014, he and his colleagues were already stretched, after budget cuts and amid other crises.

After a few weeks, new Ebola cases appeared to be declining. But fearful families had hidden their sick loved ones. They were afraid of the Ebola treatment centers, where many who were taken in never came out, with the death rate soaring over 70% at times, and they chased away health workers.


It took the WHO until August to raise an international alarm about Ebola. By then, the epidemic was raging. It would become the largest Ebola epidemic in history, with at least 28,600 people infected, and more than 11,300 dead in 10 countries. The largest outbreak before that, in Uganda, had involved 425 cases.

The United Nations created a special Ebola response mission that assumed the role normally played by the WHO. Mr. Obama sent the U.S. military to Liberia, underscoring the inability of international organizations to fully handle the problem.

Congress passed a $5.4 billion package in supplemental funds over five years, with about $1 billion going to the GHSA. The flood of money, along with aggressive contact tracing and other steps, helped bring the epidemic to a halt, though it took until mid-2016.

Global health experts and authorities called for changes at the WHO to strengthen epidemic response, and it created an emergencies program. The National Security Council warned that globalization and population growth “will lead to more pandemics,” and called for the U.S. to do more.


Dr. Carroll of USAID, who had visited West Africa during the crisis, and saw some health workers wrap themselves in garbage bags for protection, started conceiving of a Global Virome Project, to detect and sequence all the unknown viral species in mammals and avian populations on the planet.

Billionaire Bill Gates warned in a TED talk that an infectious disease pandemic posed a greater threat to the world than nuclear war, and urged world leaders to invest more in preparing for one. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped form a new initiative to finance vaccines for emerging infections, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Yet when the next epidemic, Zika, came to the Americas in 2015, the CDC needed more supplemental funding to fight the epidemic, which caused severe birth defects in the unborn children of infected women. It took Congress so long to approve it that the agency had to divert funds from other public-health needs, including $38 million from operations in West African countries recovering from Ebola.

Congress established a permanent Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Fund for the CDC in fiscal 2019, with $50 million for that year and $85 million in fiscal 2020.


Distractions and missteps

The Trump administration supported some pandemic-related programs, and worked with Congress to add funds to the GHSA when Ebola money ran out.

But many efforts were weakened by a revolving door of officials, among other distractions and missteps.

In May 2018, John Bolton, then President Trump’s national security adviser, dismantled an NSC unit that had focused on global health security and biodefense, with staff going to other units. The senior director of the unit left.

Mr. Bolton and others have said the step was designed to improve NSC operations and that global health remained a priority.

It pushed emerging disease threats down one level in the NSC hierarchy, making pandemics compete for attention with issues such as North Korea, said Beth Cameron, a previous senior director of the unit. She is now vice president for global biological policy and programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

Deteriorating relations with China reduced Washington’s activities there just as researchers were becoming more certain of the threat from coronaviruses.

Primary drivers of past disease emergence*
Source: Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases
*Between 1940 and 2004Note: Figures don't add up to 100 due to rounding.
31%
15
13
11
7
6
4
3
3
2
4
Land use changes
Agricultural industry changes
International travel and commerce
Medical industry changes
War and famine
Climate and weather
Human demography and behavior
Breakdown of public health
Bushmeat (meat from wild animals)
Food industry change
Other
The CDC cut personnel in China from 44 to 14 and said it expects to have 10 U.S. and local staff by the end of this year. The agency said it reallocated programs to other countries with greater needs.

EcoHealth Alliance, Dr. Daszak’s group, has wrangled this year with NIH over its bat-research grant, which has also supported some Chinese researchers, Dr. Daszak said.

Dr. Carroll had earlier been ordered to suspend his emerging pandemic threats program in China.

Dr. Carroll pitched to USAID his Global Virome Project. USAID wasn’t interested, he said. He left USAID last year. A meeting that Dr. Carroll planned for last August with the Chinese CDC and Chinese Academy of Sciences to form a Chinese National Virome Project was postponed due to a bureaucratic hang-up. Plans to meet are now on hold, due to Covid-19.

—Illustration by Angie Wang

Write to Betsy McKay at betsy.mckay@wsj.com and Phred Dvorak at phred.dvorak@wsj.com

7
Politics & Religion / WSJ: Getting to know Sen. Kamala Harris
« on: August 13, 2020, 09:50:24 AM »
Getting to Know Kamala Harris
How Biden’s running mate blocked a hospital rescue to help the SEIU.
By The Editorial Board
Aug. 12, 2020 7:09 pm ET


In choosing Kamala Harris, Joe Biden ticked all the boxes his party demanded: a progressive, minority woman who could succeed him as president in 2024—if not sooner. Image: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris made their first appearances as a campaign ticket on Wednesday, and Americans still know little about the running mate who may be President sooner rather than later. One way to fill in the gap is to inspect Ms. Harris’s record as California’s Attorney General, and one revealing episode is the way she used her power to blow up a deal to rescue struggling Catholic hospitals.

The saga started in 2014 when for-profit Prime Healthcare Services made an $843 million bid for six insolvent hospitals operated by the Catholic Daughters of Charity Health System. The hospitals had been bleeding cash for years due to inflexible labor contracts and miserly Medicaid payments.


Prime Healthcare was the only bidder that agreed to assume Daughters’ $300 million liability for worker pensions, and it scored high on the bidding criteria that included financial wherewithal and service quality. Nurses, physicians and the public supported the deal.

But the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), which represented 2,000 hospital workers at Daughters, opposed Prime’s takeover because the company refused to sign a neutrality agreement that would let them organize all of Prime’s hospitals. Only four of Prime’s 15 hospitals in California at the time were unionized.

California’s Attorney General must approve nonprofit hospital acquisitions, and Ms. Harris attached dozens of poison pills to the deal. They included requiring 24-hour nursing, surgery, anesthesia, laboratory, radiology and pharmacies for five years and mandating that hospitals offer an additional 12 to 18 “essential services” such as orthopedics for 10 years. These conditions were unprecedented.

Prime walked away from the deal and sued Ms. Harris for violating its due-process rights. According to the lawsuit, Daughters’ executives had told Prime that Ms. Harris would block the sale “or require financially crippling approval conditions” if Prime did not reach an agreement with the union. The lawsuit alleges that in return the union promised to support her with $25 million in political contributions.

Ms. Harris denied the accusations, and a federal judge in 2017 ruled that she had “qualified immunity”—the doctrine that shields public officials from liability for violations of constitutional liberties. This is ironic since Ms. Harris earlier this summer introduced a resolution in the Senate to abolish qualified immunity for police officers.

Later in 2015 Ms. Harris approved the Daughters’ hospital sale to the BlueMountain Capital hedge fund for $260 million including $160 million in debt. The SEIU supported that deal. While imposing similar conditions on BlueMountain as on Prime, Ms. Harris allowed the hedge fund to operate the hospitals as tax-exempt nonprofits for several years.

Yet burdened by debt and expensive collective-bargaining agreements, the hospital chain declared bankruptcy in August 2018 and was put up for sale. The federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. assumed its pension obligations and slashed payments to workers and retirees. Two hospitals were sold to local governments for a pittance.

The state government this year leased two others that had been on the verge of closing in order to ensure ample hospital capacity to treat Covid-19 patients. Prime this spring offered to buy another, but the SEIU again objected to the takeover and refused to renegotiate its existing collective-bargaining agreements.

A bankruptcy judge recently said the SEIU had rejected Prime’s proposals "without good cause.” The judge said the hospital “would not continue to operate as a going concern, and all of the [union] represented employees would lose their jobs” unless the labor agreements were renegotiated. Ms. Harris’s successor as AG, Xavier Becerra, approved Prime’s acquisition last month.

Hospital workers, patients and taxpayers paid a fearsome price for Ms. Harris’s intervention on behalf of the SEIU. As troubling was Ms. Harris’s use of her authority to help a political supporter and punish a business she didn’t like. She was in the vanguard of the new progressive state AGs who use prosecutorial power against opponents. Watch for this in the Harris Administration in 2025, if not sooner.

10
Politics & Religion / George Friedman: Hiroshima and Moral Revisionism
« on: August 13, 2020, 06:45:30 AM »
   
    Hiroshima and Moral Revisionism
Thoughts in and around geopolitics.
By: George Friedman

Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the first of two strikes on the Japanese mainland that forever changed the face of war. Since they effectively meant the end of World War II, the bombings were met in much of the world with joy. That general view discounted the death of Japanese and focused instead on the lives the bombings supposedly saved, an attitude owing partly to the attack on Pearl Harbor and partly to the idea that the Japanese were especially barbaric in the Pacific theater. As all people do at all times, we loved our own more than we loved others.

Three arguments were made against the strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. First, that the Japanese were prepared to surrender anyway; second, that fears of U.S. casualties in Japan were exaggerated; and third, that the bomb was not dropped to defeat Japan but to intimidate the Russians. All are plausible but none stands up to serious scrutiny.

The Japanese were never going to agree to unconditional surrender, as was demanded by the Potsdam Agreement. Recall that in the day prior to the final surrender and after the atomic attack, elements of the Japanese army attempted a coup to block the surrender. It’s true that they had approached the Soviets and Sweden to resolve the war, but Moscow rejected the idea, and the efforts in Sweden were made by officials that didn’t speak for the Japanese government. The goal, in any case, was to achieve some sort of armistice. Moreover, the Japanese had been engaged in negotiations when they attacked Pearl Harbor, so there was some natural distrust in Washington as to their intentions. Japan meanwhile still occupied large swaths of China, where it killed between 15 million and 20 million people. The violence there continued as Tokyo never seriously discussed withdrawal.

No one knows how many would have been killed in an invasion of Japan. There was a strong case that enormous casualties would have been incurred based on Okinawa, where resistance was brutal. In other places it was less so. To dismiss the fears of American deaths is, I believe, unreasonable. The U.S. had as its primary goal the defeat of Japan at the lowest possible cost to American lives. It had the moral right and obligation to take all radical measures to minimize American casualties.

Last, the United States was not trying to intimidate the Soviets. At the Potsdam Conference, President Harry S. Truman, who had just been informed that the tests in New Mexico were successful, approached Josef Stalin to discuss a major new weapon the U.S. had developed. Stalin wasn’t interested. In retrospect, Stalin’s decision to avoid the discussion made sense. Soviet intelligence had penetrated the Manhattan Project and already knew that the bomb worked. If the U.S. used the weapon to intimidate the Soviets, then Truman would likely not have brought up the subject. He could have intimidated the Soviets easily in many other ways. The charge linked to a claim that the U.S. started the Cold War and initiated it with Hiroshima. This charge is unsupportable.

The dispute over the propriety of Hiroshima and Nagasaki arose neither during nor immediately after the war, when Americans were grateful for the fact that they and their loved ones would not have to fight in Japan. It arose during the Vietnam war. The bomb was taken by a political faction as a symbol of American imperial cruelty. Those who opposed the war tended to demonize the use of atomic weapons, while those who supported the war saw it as a necessary and just action. The debate has subsided since Vietnam, of course, but there is still a sense of illegitimacy of the bombing, and it was born from a struggle for political power by a faction opposed to the Vietnam War that meant to shame the American victory.

The critics' goal was to delegitimize an event that had overjoyed Americans and, in doing so, delegitimize the American experience in World War II. What had been seen as the essence of morality was now presented as the essence of immorality.

The generation of new moral standards that render the past evil, and therefore the society that emerged from it as corrupt, is common enough. But it uses a past that cannot be revised to carry out political agendas of the moment. Few thought in 1945 that Hiroshima was immoral; fewer would have believed that anyone could think it immoral. The revenge of the past, of course, is anticipating how critics will be judged by their descendants. The anti-war movement of the baby boomers will likely face its own judgment when they are no longer alive to defend themselves.   




14
Politics & Religion / Suarez on Lasers
« on: August 12, 2020, 11:21:55 PM »

17
Politics & Religion / Re: The Great American Reopening , , , or not?
« on: August 12, 2020, 07:40:51 PM »
The Consumer Price Index Rose 0.6% in July To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Date: 8/12/2020

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.6% in July, coming in above the consensus expected 0.3%. The CPI is up 1.0% from a year ago.

Energy prices rose 2.5% in July, while food prices declined 0.4%. The "core" CPI, which excludes food and energy, rose 0.6% in July, versus a consensus expected 0.2%. Core prices are up 1.6% versus a year ago.

Real average hourly earnings – the cash earnings of all workers, adjusted for inflation – declined 0.4% in July but are up 3.7% in the past year. Real average weekly earnings are up 4.3% in the past year.

Implications: Mirroring yesterday's report on producer prices, consumer prices also posted above consensus gains in July, rising 0.6% for the second month in a row. The typically volatile food and energy categories moved in opposite directions in July as the effects of gradual re-openings from Coronavirus lockdowns began to show up in the data. Energy prices rose 2.5%, primarily due to a 5.6% increase in the price of gasoline as demand for fuel continues to rise along with other measures of mobility. Meanwhile, the 0.4% decline in food prices was largely driven by the food at home category which fell 1.1%, as Americans became less reliant on grocery stores for their meals and food supply chains finally caught up with demand. Strip out the impacts from the food and energy sectors, and "core" prices also increased 0.6% in June, the largest monthly increase since 1991! One of the biggest drivers of "core" prices in July was used cars and trucks which saw prices rise 2.3%, as dealers had lower inventory levels due to fewer trade-ins during the pandemic while they also experienced a surge in buyer demand. Some other contributors in July were apparel (1.1%), new vehicles (0.8%), and medical care services (0.4%). Amazingly, consumer prices never fell on a year-over-year basis during the short but sharp coronavirus recession, bottoming out in May at 0.1%, and rebounding since then to 1.0% in July. We expect prices will continue to rise in the months ahead toward the 2% - 3% annual pace of inflation that was in effect before the Coronavirus wreaked havoc on global economies. However, underlying fundamentals point to a higher risk of rising inflation than during the 2008 recession. The Coronavirus pandemic is the first recession on record where personal income has actually risen, due to government stimulus checks and boosted unemployment insurance payments that replaced greater than 100% of wages for many workers. Meanwhile, measures like industrial production and the unemployment rate demonstrate that the actual production of goods and services remains depressed relative to pre-pandemic levels. That mismatch between supply and demand will eventually mean too many dollars chasing too few goods, especially if further stimulus measures continue to lean on the same policies. That said, it's clear that the economic recovery has begun, the worst economic quarter in the post-World War II era is behind us, and the question now shifts to how quickly we recover.

24
A better thread would have been Citizen-Police interactions

26
Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Hong Kong 2.0
« on: August 11, 2020, 01:23:23 PM »
Beijing Moves to Temper Tensions in Hong Kong With an Extended Legislative Term
3 MINS READ
Aug 11, 2020 | 19:49 GMT

HIGHLIGHTS

Beijing's recent decision to extend the Hong Kong legislature's term creates a cover for Chinese action, which seeks to temper tensions both within the city as well as with the United States, while still emphasizing the continuity of One Country, Two Systems by putting the responsibility in the hands of the Hong Kong government. On Aug. 11, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee approved extending the term of the current Hong Kong legislative council for at least a year, leaving the Hong Kong government to decide whether the four pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified from elections will keep their seats in the legislature. Reports suggest that lawmakers will not be required to swear new oaths of office or make a controversial pledge to uphold the new national security law. ...

Beijing is adopting more measured tactics to manage Hong Kong's legislative affairs, calibrating levers that enable it to control dissent without unduly distressing the city's business communities. Allowing Hong Kong's government to internally manage the interim plan for the legislative council is the next step in this strategy, having already escalated tensions in the city by delaying the elections and carrying out high-profile national security arrests.

Beijing's recent decision to extend the Hong Kong legislature's term creates a cover for Chinese action, which seeks to temper tensions both within the city as well as with the United States, while still emphasizing the continuity of "one country, two systems" by putting the responsibility in the hands of the Hong Kong government. On Aug. 11, China's National People's Congress Standing Committee approved extending the term of the current Hong Kong legislative council for at least a year, leaving the Hong Kong government to decide whether the four pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified from elections will keep their seats in the legislature. Reports suggest that lawmakers will not be required to swear new oaths of office or make a controversial pledge to uphold the new national security law.

On July 30, Hong Kong authorities disqualified 12 pro-democratic candidates, including the four incumbent lawmakers, from running in the next election for allegedly violating the new national security law.

An anonymous pro-Beijing Hong Kong politician said that China's decision on the term extension was based on input from Lam and pro-Beijing moderates, and was motivated by concerns about overly provoking tensions with the United States ahead of the November presidential election.

On July 31, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the September legislative council elections would be delayed to 2021 due to a surge of COVID-19 cases in the city. She then submitted a request for Beijing to decide on how to proceed with the delay, given that the Hong Kong Basic law limits legislative terms to four years.

On Aug. 10, Hong Kong's new National Security Department police unit conducted a series of arrests and raids targeting activists and prominent pro-democracy figures, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

The Chinese government is adopting more measured tactics to manage Hong Kong's legislative affairs, calibrating levers that enable it to control dissent without distressing the city's business communities.

Over the next year, Beijing will have minimal tolerance for major disruptions to Hong Kong legislative activity and will not hesitate to target sitting lawmakers if necessary, likely relying on Hong Kong authorities to do so, as it works to enact policies that stabilize the city's politics and support its allies. Under the national security law, Hong Kong authorities can remove pro-democracy politicians from their seats or press charges should they disrupt parliament or stand in the way of the pro-Beijing agenda.

The legislative council has the potential to vote on controversial legislation, including limitations on the filibuster, which has often been used by pro-democracy lawmakers, as well as measures that could allow Hong Kongers in mainland China to vote in Hong Kong elections.

31
But why complicate the waters by starting the prosecution during the election if it hurts him electorally?  Barr won't be able to finish the prosecution unless Trump wins.

32
Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Hong Kong
« on: August 10, 2020, 03:32:52 PM »
In Hong Kong, a Series of Raids and Arrests Portends Further Crackdowns
3 MINS READ

Aug 10, 2020 | 21:25 GMT
With elections now delayed to 2021, the recent arrests of activists and a pro-democracy media tycoon in Hong Kong likely herald a new period of more aggressive crackdowns on figures Beijing perceives as threats to the city's stability. On Aug. 10, Hong Kong's newly established National Security Department police unit carried out a series of raids and arrests across the city that netted 10 individuals for allegedly violating the new national security law.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai is the most high-profile figure arrested in the Aug. 10 raids, with allegations including foreign collusion under the national security law and conspiracy to defraud. Police also arrested his two sons and several corporate leaders at his newspaper, Apple Daily, seizing laptops, phones and bank documents. Police are also seeking a top Lai aide, U.S. citizen Mark Simon, who is currently outside of the city. Lai was also arrested in February 2020 for illegal assembly after attending protests in August-October 2019.

Police also detained prominent activist Agnes Chow, reportedly for foreign collusion or inciting secession. Chow was a standing committee member of Demosisto, a pro-democracy organization and political party that had advocated for Hong Kong's self-determination until it dissolved itself following the passage of the national security law in January.

Police arrested two pro-democracy activists for alleged foreign collusion related to the U.K.-based nongovernmental organization and lobbying group "Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong," which recently published a report on Hong Kong police brutality.

Hong Kong's year-long election delay will grant Beijing and city authorities greater room to escalate crackdowns without undermining the legitimacy of pro-Beijing candidates, or sacrificing the city's political system and jeopardizing its role as a global financial hub. Hong Kong authorities have been gradually increasing the scope of their national security law's application since its June 30 promulgation — using it first to arrest protesters, then charging activists posting online, disqualifying legislative council candidates and issuing warrants for overseas activists.

The next year in Hong Kong's ongoing political crisis will be defined by the interim plan for the legislative council until 2021, but a more heavy-handed approach — or an attempt to ram through controversial legislation — would risk inflaming Hong Kong's already polarized political scene and providing another rallying point for dissent. In the National People's Congress Standing Committee meeting ending Aug. 11, Beijing will decide on how to proceed following the current legislative council term's expiration, as it remains unclear whether the election delay is constitutional. This could include measures that limit the power of the pro-democracy camp, either by ejecting some lawmakers on national security grounds or by wielding the national security law to prevent disruptive behavior. Beijing could also limit the legislative council to only emergency business.

33
Politics & Religion / WSJ: Millenials double fuct
« on: August 10, 2020, 12:13:14 PM »
Millennials Slammed by Second Financial Crisis Fall Even Further Behind
The economic fallout of the Covid pandemic has been harder on millennials, who are already indebted and a step behind on the career ladder from the last financial crisis. This second pummeling could keep them from accruing the wealth of older generations.

By Janet Adamy
Aug. 9, 2020 1:07 pm ET




The economic hit of the coronavirus pandemic is emerging as particularly bad for millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, who as a group hadn’t recovered from the experience of entering the workforce during the previous financial crisis.

For this cohort, already indebted and a step behind on the career ladder, this second pummeling could keep them from accruing the wealth of older generations.

Jaclyn Jimenez put herself through college working for her father’s manufacturing company, but couldn’t find anything comparable when she graduated amid the economic slump of 2008. Even though she lowered her sights, she was turned down for roles from office assistant to drugstore worker. As credit-card debt piled up, she took a job selling wedding gowns at a bridal salon, then leveraged that experience to land a sales position at Nordstrom. She was finally gaining traction, she says, having worked her way up to manager.

Then the pandemic struck the nation in February, sending the economy into a tailspin. She lost her job, and Ms. Jimenez has now joined the 4.8 million millennials who the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis says lost work since the new coronavirus triggered a recession. The group had more losses than the two previous generations.

“It’s been difficult to struggle so much and think that you’re getting somewhere, and you’re moving forward, and you finally see a glimmer of hope, and then this all hit,” said the 34-year-old Orange, Calif., resident. “Am I ever going to have an opportunity to have what my parents had?”

The 12.5% unemployment rate among millennials is higher than that of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980), and baby boomers (1946 to 1964), according to May figures from the Pew Research Center.

One reason is that some of the hardest hit industries, including leisure and hospitality, have a younger workforce.

Millennials have found it fundamentally more difficult to start a career and achieve the financial independence that allowed previous generations to get married, buy a home and have children. Even the most educated millennials are employed at lower rates than older college graduates, research shows, and millennials’ tendency to work at lower-paying firms has caused them to lag behind in earnings.

“It’s a sign that something has broken in the way the economy is working,” said Jesse Rothstein, professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former chief economist at the Labor Department during the Obama administration. “It’s gotten harder and harder for people to find their footholds.”

As a result, the millennial generation has less wealth than their predecessors had at the same age, and about one-quarter of millennial households have more debt than assets, according to the St. Louis Fed.

Harder Hit

More millennials than older generations have lost jobs because of the coronavirus-triggered recession.
People who became unemployed between February and May 2020*
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
*Not seasonally adjusted
.million
Millennials
GenX
Boomers
0
1
2
3
4
5
About one in six were unable to cover a $400 emergency expense before the pandemic started; that share is about one in eight among all Americans, the bank found.

Millennials are now at risk of falling further behind because they entered the pandemic in a weaker position than older Americans.

Caitlin Robles, 35, said she felt lucky to get a job maintaining a website for Sacred Heart University when she graduated from there in 2007 with a business management degree. But with $67,000 in student loans, she needed a second job to pay for them and cover $650 a month in rent to live with two friends in Milford, Conn. Ms. Robles eventually got a second job working the front desk at a Massage Envy wellness franchise 15 hours a week. She planned to work there just long enough to make a dent in her debt.

Instead, she’s still working there nine years later and doubled her hours to pay the rising interest rates on her student loans and knee-surgery bills. Even after being promoted at both jobs, to associate director of web content at the university and to assistant manager at the spa, the $70,000 to $80,000 she earned a year wasn’t enough to pay down all her debt. She skipped a family vacation to save money. Her 70-hour workweeks left little time for dating.

To improve her credit score and lower her interest rates, Ms. Robles last year borrowed $30,000 from her 403(b) retirement account to pay off her student loans. She planned to pay off that loan in five years and start saving so she could buy a home when she turned 40.

That plan got derailed in March when Massage Envy shut down because of the pandemic, leaving Ms. Robles without a second income for three months. Since her location reopened in June, she has worked only seven hours a week because the company cut its hours and services. To conserve cash, Ms. Robles deferred payments on her retirement loan. Now she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to buy a home.

“I don’t want to work this way for the rest of my life,” Ms. Robles said. “I thought I had that figured out. And I don’t think I do now.”


Caitlin Robles graduated in 2007 and has worked two jobs for years as she chips away at her school debt.
PHOTO: TRACY DEER-MIREK
Economists are most concerned that millennials’ scars from starting their careers amid the last recession never went away. Millennials on average missed out on more than $25,000 in pay, or 13% of their total earnings, during the decade that ended in 2017 as a result of the rising unemployment rate that started in 2007, according to an analysis published last year by Census Bureau economist Kevin Rinz.

That was a greater share than Gen X, which had their earnings reduced 9% over that time, and baby boomers, which didn’t get 7%. That’s mainly because millennials were less likely to work for high-paying employers than older Americans.

Although younger workers’ employment rates recovered more quickly than those of older workers, millennials’ earnings didn’t bounce back, Mr. Rinz found.


Lead barista Dani Marina cleaned tables last month at Albi in Washington.
PHOTO: ALYSSA SCHUKAR FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Demographers say that financial instability is prompting some millennials, who are aged 24 to 39 this year, to cohabit instead of wed, and to delay or forgo childbearing. Millennials helped push down the marriage rate to its lowest level on record in 2018, and drove the general fertility rate to an all-time low the following year.

“Exposure to something like this twice in the early part of your career,” Mr. Rinz said, “could certainly have important and negative long-term effects on people’s finances, on their work prospects and all sorts of other family outcomes as well.”

Millennials’ early headwinds mirror those of the G.I. Generation, born between 1901 to 1924, said Neil Howe. The economist and demographer coined the phrase “millennial generation” in 1991 with co-author William Strauss. The G.I. Generation was first hit by recessions that followed the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, and then the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression. They recovered economic ground later in life thanks to a sharp rise in schooling and a booming post-World War II economy.

Michael Rafidi, a 35-year-old chef, spent more than a decade working at top eateries in Philadelphia, Washington and San Francisco while dreaming of opening his own restaurant. In 2016, he started raising more than $1 million to develop an upscale Levantine restaurant that drew on his Palestinian heritage with dishes like smoked lamb and sumac carrots. He named it Albi (“my heart” in Arabic) and opened its doors in Washington’s hip Navy Yard on Feb. 20.

“I didn’t think twice about the timing being wrong,” Mr. Rafidi said. “D.C. is going in the right direction with restaurants. The dining scene is incredible. Everything was aligning perfectly.”

For the first few days, Albi was so popular that it was hard to get a table. Three weeks later, the pandemic forced Mr. Rafidi to shut down and switch to a limited takeout menu. He secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan. He said it isn’t enough to replace the lost revenue from operating at just over a third of his original capacity.

“I’m worried,” said Mr. Rafidi, who is relying on outdoor seating, a few inside tables and a newly added cafe serving pastries and coffee. “I put everything on the line these last couple of years to do this.”

Millennials with a bachelor’s degree have about four times as much wealth as their peers who lack that diploma, according to Ana H. Kent, a policy analyst at the St. Louis Fed. Yet the most educated millennials lag behind older college graduates in the job market.

Old Scars

Millennials came into the pandemic in weakerfinancial shape than older generationsbecause they haven't recovered from the lastfinancial crisis. They have less savings...
Percentage of households that wouldn't beable to pay for a $400 emergency
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis
Note: Data as of 2019
%
Millennials
GenX
Boomers
All
0
5
10
15
20
...They had bigger losses on overall earningsduring and after the last recession...
Average cumulative loss of earnings from2007 through 2017
Source: Kevin Rinz, Census Bureau
%
Millennials
GenX
Boomers
0.0
2.5
5.0
7.5
10.0
12.5

...And even after the overall jobs picture recovered, millennial jobs continued to lag behind older workers.
Employment rate among college graduates
Source: Jesse Rothstein, UC Berkeley
Note: Seasonally adjusted
%
RECESSION
Age 22-30
Age 31-40
1980
'85
'90
'95
2000
'05
'10
'15
70
75
80
85
90
Berkeley’s Prof. Rothstein studied employment rates among recent college graduates and identified what he calls a dramatic structural break for the group that entered the workforce around 2005. He found that each successive year’s group of college graduates has had lower employment rates relative to older workers in the same labor market than those before them.

Prof. Rothstein concluded that adverse early conditions permanently reduce college graduates’ employment prospects. That adds to a body of research showing that starting your career in a bad economy often carries a long-term penalty.

What surprised him was that when employment rates rose significantly following the 2007-09 recession for those already in the workforce, new entrants didn’t share in this improvement, he found in a paper he released last month.

Even college graduates who started their careers in 2015, and enjoyed several subsequent years of a strong labor market, were less likely to work.

For example, 24-year-old college graduates had an employment rate of 79.8% in 2015. Had the age-24 employment rate improved at the same rate as for older workers from 2009 to 2015, their employment rate would have been 81.6%, Prof. Rothstein found.

“It’s a finding that I don’t have a great explanation for,” he said. “I would have thought that the people who finished college in 2017, 2018 would be doing pretty well. But you don’t see that.”

Seeking to mitigate that penalty is Ankur Jain, an entrepreneur who founded the venture fund Kairos, which builds businesses that help make life more affordable for young adults. Last month, Kairos started to place thousands of young adults in home health-care jobs through CareAcademy and Care.com and pay for them to earn the necessary certification.

Although home health jobs typically pay low wages, Mr. Jain said the program will include a path toward becoming a licensed practical nurse, which pays more and can act as a springboard for a career in health care. “What we need to do is find ways to get people back on their feet,” said Mr. Jain, chief executive of Kairos.


Millennials have some advantages as they face a second severe recession. A larger percentage have college degrees than previous generations, which could pay dividends over time. They will also help fill gaps in the workforce as the large baby boomer cohort retires. The young workers behind them, members of Generation Z, who this year are 23 and younger, have even higher rates of unemployment and less experience to buffer them from the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Ms. Jimenez, the former Nordstrom employee, paid her way through college at California State University, Fullerton, with the roughly $45,000 a year she earned helping run her father’s printed circuit boards design and fabrication business. She expected she would at least match that salary soon after graduating with a business degree in 2008.

But as she sent out resumes during the crisis, no one wanted to hire her. Even office manager or executive-assistant jobs required five years of experience that she didn’t have. As her father’s business took a turn for the worse, she started applying for hourly positions at CVS and Disneyland. They didn’t bite either.

Desperate for a paycheck, Ms. Jimenez took a few shifts a week at a bridal shop in Orange, where her mother worked. She was barely getting by when the bank foreclosed on her parents’ home, where she lived with her younger sister. Ms. Jimenez moved into an apartment with both of her sisters and a niece and leaned on her credit cards.

“That really locked me into being permanently behind,” she said.

By 2013, she was still struggling to get traction. She parlayed her bridal-salon experience into a job selling wedding dresses at Nordstrom in Brea, Calif., for $12 an hour plus commission. She made about $22,000 a year. Although she was grateful for the steady paycheck, her inability to find a professional job felt defeating, she said. “This is not where I thought I would end up.”

Still, she stuck with the upscale retail chain because it offered a path for advancement. Over the next six years, she moved up little by little, first to an interim wedding suite manager, then to an assistant manager in a few other departments. Last year, she clinched a job as service experience manager at the chain’s Riverside location, which paid $56,000 a year plus a $4,300 bonus.

Ms. Jimenez grew more optimistic about her career. She started thinking about one day becoming a Nordstrom regional manager, or even a director. With her bonus, she set her sights on whittling down the $12,000 of credit card debt she had accumulated during years of scraping by.

“I was finally on the track of basically almost becoming an adult because honestly I have never felt that way,” said Ms. Jimenez. “Then Covid hit.”

Nordstrom told workers in May that it would permanently close the Riverside store as part of a broader retrenchment. That put Ms. Jimenez out of a job in early July. Now she feels like “it’s 2008 all over again.”

Ms. Jimenez got $7,000 of severance that will help her pay the $700 a month she spends to live with her younger sister, a friend and the friend’s 7-year-old daughter. She is considering going back to school to earn an advanced degree in psychology so she can eventually become a therapist.

Recently a friend offered to help her get a job as a front office administrator at a dermatology practice in Newport Beach. It would pay about $15 to $17 an hour. She hasn’t decided whether to pursue it.

“I do feel like I’m starting back at square one,” she said.


35
An Autopsy of New York’s Mail-Vote Mess
Lax deadlines. Late ballots. Carelessness. Missing postmarks. And a warning for Nov. 3.
By The Editorial Board
Aug. 7, 2020 6:58 pm ET
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TEXT
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PHOTO: GLEN STUBBE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Six weeks after New York’s primary elections on June 23, the final vote tally in the 12th Congressional District remains a mystery. On Monday a federal judge ordered the counting of certain mail ballots that arrived after Election Day but without a postmark to prove when they were sent. Imagine this kind of mess 45 days following Nov. 3.

After primary day, an initial count of 40,000 ballots had Rep. Carolyn Maloney beating progressive challenger Suraj Patel by 648 votes. The canvassing of some 65,000 absentee ballots didn’t start until July 8, but unofficial data last month showed a preliminary rejection rate of 28% in Brooklyn. Mr. Patel joined a federal lawsuit, and Judge Analisa Torres held two days of hearings last week. The court transcript is a bracing read.

How Much Mail Arrives Late?

The share of election and political mail that was delivered on time during the 2018 elections. Shown below are the USPS's seven lowest-performing processing and distribution centers.

SITE   PERCENT ON TIME

Anaheim, Calif.   83.8
Cleveland, Ohio   79.4
Dominick V. Daniels, N.J.   90.9
Eau Claire, Wis.   86.6
Fox Valley, Ill.   88.8
Royal Palm, Fla.   75.7
Suburban, Md.   84.2
Average   84.2
Source: USPS Inspector General's audit, Nov. 4, 2019

City officials were deluged. Eleven days before the election, “the Manhattan borough office had something like 30 or 40,000 pending applications for absentee ballots, and I was told that they could only process 5,000 per day,” testified Douglas Kellner, the co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections. “Basically my view is that they threw up their hands and said, ‘Well, there’s nothing more that we can do.’”

As a result, many ballots were sent to voters late. Allen Tanko, a marketing manager with the U.S. Postal Service, said that one day before the voting, on June 22, the city Board of Elections dropped 34,359 items, presumably ballots, into the mail stream. Postal workers tried to expedite them, but some of these ballots were sent to New Yorkers temporarily out of state, who could not possibly have received them in time.

New York lets voters request an absentee ballot with a mail application, which can be postmarked a mere seven days before the election. “The state Board of Elections has repeatedly advised the legislature and the executive chamber that that date is unrealistic,” Mr. Kellner said. Fourteen days would be better, he added, but New York’s political leaders “have rejected that because they don’t want to be perceived as doing something that’s not voter friendly.” For the record, the USPS suggests that voters allow seven days for mailing their completed ballots.

The USPS’s policy is to postmark all ballots, and the city was assured it would happen. What went wrong? Testimony by Michael Calabrese, a manager at a New York postal processing facility, offered two possibilities. First, postmarking machines can reject mail if, for example, it isn’t “folded over properly.” On Election Day, USPS staff were ready to grab bypassed ballots and postmark them by hand. “We were doing so for thousands of ballots,” Mr. Calabrese said. He wasn’t sure, however, if this happened before June 23: “That’s the only day I recall doing so with a hundred percent certainty.”

Second, most prepaid mail usually skips postmarking altogether and goes “directly to a sortation machine,” Mr. Calabrese said. On Election Day, USPS staff overrode that procedure and forced everything through the postmarking system. But again, he wasn’t sure about before June 23, saying it was “very possible” that some ballots went straight to sorting.

Stranger mishaps suggest carelessness. Raymond Riley, the chief clerk at the Kings County Board of Elections, testified that someone on his staff went to a local USPS office to drop mail, and postal workers unexpectedly gave over “a hand cart of ballots.” His office then complained to the USPS: “Obviously, staff safety was my biggest concern.”

Another incident: In the spring of 2018, Mr. Riley said, the USPS delivered “several hundred absentee ballots from the previous November.” Many of these votes were valid, except “this was five months after Election Day.”

Under oath, the skepticism of the USPS was broad and deep. “We certainly did alert the governor’s office to the fact that partnering with the U.S. Postal Service in running an election has a lot of risks,” Mr. Kellner said. Later he was more direct: “I don’t have a great deal of confidence in the U.S. Postal Service.”

Emily Gallagher, a Democratic candidate for state Assembly, testified: “I myself had an absentee ballot and went and voted in person because I had a sense of distrust of what would happen with my ballot once I mailed it in.” City attorney Stephen Kitzinger, in his closing argument, said that if voters dropped their ballots in a mailbox, “they bore the risk of it not being postal marked, timely or otherwise, if they relied on the postal service for delivery.”

Judge Torres issued a preliminary injunction on Monday. Because the USPS’s delivery process takes two days, she said, it’s a “virtual certainty” that any ballots received by election officials on June 24 or 25 were in fact mailed by Election Day, even if they don’t have any postmark saying so. Judge Torres therefore ruled that all such ballots, statewide, must be counted.

On Tuesday the city certified Ms. Maloney as the victor, up by about 3,500 votes, not including the ballots Judge Torres ordered counted. New York state officials plan to appeal her ruling. Mr. Patel is refusing to concede.

Whose Mail Votes Are Rejected?

Rates of ballot rejection during Florida's 2018 elections, by voter group.
RACE/ETHNICITY   TOTAL BALLOTS   REJECTED BALLOTS   PERCENT REJECTED
Black   240,254   4,713   2.0
Hispanic   356,917   7,325   2.1
White   1,926,619   17,340   0.9
Other   148,196   3,055   2.1
Total   2,671,986   32,433   1.2
Source: ACLU Florida: Report on Vote-by-Mail Ballots in the 2018 General Election

What a fiasco. Meantime, the national debate over mass mail voting proceeds like two postcards passing in the night. President Trump uses the word “fraud.” The factotums of conventional wisdom hit their computer hotkeys for phrases like “no evidence” of “widespread fraud.” Why focus on criminality? Old-fashioned government incompetence is clearly sufficient to create a mail-vote debacle the country might come to regret in November.

38
There may be a political calculus not to stir things up until/if Trump wins.

39
Politics & Religion / GPF: Lebanon's Breaking Point
« on: August 10, 2020, 11:13:03 AM »
August 10, 2020   View On Website
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    Lebanon’s Breaking Point
Conditions are ripe for an uprising, which would have profound geopolitical consequences for the region.
By: Caroline D. Rose

Roughly this time last year, I spent a week in Beirut for field research. I was there to learn about drug markets, specifically how drugs make their way into Lebanon from Syria. I left Beirut with an even greater impression of the country’s burgeoning political crisis. Even in 2019, you could feel Beirut was reaching its breaking point. Frequent electricity cuts, trash-littered streets, high inflation, a paralyzed government, sectarian infighting and waning protection of civil liberties created an aura of doom and gloom. The hopelessness was tangible. Whoever you asked, the answer was generally the same: Lebanon was on the precipice of collapse.

It got worse as the year went on. A combination of poor living conditions and chronic governmental mismanagement sparked months of nationwide protests and crackdowns. Frequent resignations and low public trust in officials created a leadership deficit that current Prime Minister Hassan Diab is still struggling to fill. The economy, meanwhile, fell into disrepair. Rampant inflation, sky-high fuel and food prices, and an 80 percent decline in the lira created new levels of destitution. And to top it all off, Lebanon was also devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Throughout the year many believed nationwide protests, a currency collapse, or even then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation would send the country over the edge. Yet none did. Its breaking point came last week, when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stockpiled for six years at the Port of Beirut exploded – with a yield estimated equal to about 15 percent of the Hiroshima bombing – and quite literally shattered the city. It exposed new levels of government negligence, fueling resentment that has simmered for a year and costing the country an estimated $15 billion.

Conditions are ripe for an uprising, which would have profound geopolitical consequences for the region. Expansionist powers like Iran and Russia would likely use the instability to their advantage. Violence and political infighting could easily spill over into neighboring countries, too, drawing in Western nations, most notably France, in an effort to stabilize the region. Put simply, insecurity in Lebanon will threaten the Middle East with a new dimension of instability and further demand countries’ attention.

Little Confidence

Lebanon’s economy was in disarray even before the Port of Beirut was leveled in last week’s blast. The port handles about 60 percent of imports for a country that relies heavily on imports. Some 90 percent of wheat consumed in Lebanon comes from foreign imports – 80 percent of which enters through the Port of Beirut. Its largest grain elevator (which held 85 percent of the country's grain) was also ruined, making Lebanon’s food crisis even worse. The damage done to commercial and residential infrastructure will take years to recover from.
 
(click to enlarge)

For those familiar with corruption in Lebanon, the inattention that led to the explosion comes as little surprise. Gridlock and insufficient oversight are hallmarks of Lebanese politics. Soon after the incident, reports emerged that Lebanese customs officials appealed six times between 2014 and 2017 about disposing of the stored stocks. All were ignored.

What little confidence the Lebanese people may have had in the government has all but disappeared. Public outrage is clear. When people learned that the appeals were ignored, hashtags that translated to “hang up the nooses” began trending on Lebanese Twitter. Protests are everywhere in Beirut. Upset has turned into rage, the financial crisis has turned into financial collapse, and calls for reform have turned into demands for a systematic overhaul.

Into the Hands of France

Whatever happens next will affect the rest of the Middle East. Its commercial links to the region will affect some of its top export recipients, particularly the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Syria and Iraq, and will undercut the capabilities of countries that use Lebanese ports. Political violence and unlivable conditions create migrant flows into nearby countries and increase the risk of violent spillover, particularly with Syria and Israel.

As in Iraq and Syria, insecurity in Lebanon will practically invite more external influence. With a foothold already in the country, anchored by its relationship to Hezbollah, Iran will perceive Lebanese instability as both a risk and opportunity. Iran will try to secure its access to the Mediterranean Sea, control over local formal and informal markets, and support of Lebanon’s Shiite political leadership. Israel, in turn, would become more active on its border with Lebanon as it seeks to counter Hezbollah, especially in hotspots such as the Golan Heights and Shebaa Farms.
 
(click to enlarge)

Russia, already a major trade partner and supporter of the Lebanese Orthodox Christian community, has been steadily trying to increase its influence in Lebanon. For Moscow, instability can open up opportunities to profit from future shares in Lebanese natural gas and construction contracts and leverage its ample wheat supplies. Not to mention the fact that Russia wants additional ports outside Syria that can be used for commerce and naval buildup against the U.S. Sixth Fleet.

Perhaps most notably, the conditions in Lebanon play into the hands of France, which has had a key interest in keeping a foothold in the Middle East to secure natural resources, vital trade routes and maritime power. After World War I, France and Britain signed the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, a deal that laid the groundwork for 23 years of French administration in Lebanon and 26 years of French military occupation. But even after France’s official departure, its imperative to retain influence in Lebanon has remained. As France builds up its naval capabilities in the Mediterranean to counter threats to energy assets, it is committed to protecting its influence in the Levant through Lebanon.

In the wake of the explosion, Paris has led the charge for increased assistance and political intervention in Lebanon, made evident by President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the country days after the blast. (Ironically, many Lebanese protesters have begged their former colonizer to intercede as a guarantor in a new political system.) Macron’s visit wasn’t made purely out of sympathy, of course. France intends to reassert political stability through arbitration. Following meetings with government officials, Macron made sure to publicly criticize the government in Beirut, meeting with the Lebanese people in the streets, where he promised to return on Sept. 1 to ensure a new “political pact” was enacted. France also announced it would launch an external tribunal into the government’s ties to the explosion, hoping to create an opportunity that can reset the Lebanese political system before the situation devolves much more.

France will likely act alone in Lebanon, though, with tacit, indirect support from the West. Over the past year, the U.S. has adjusted its Middle East policy, opting for a more distanced, transactional approach toward Lebanon and its peers. Earlier in the year, the U.S. tried to tie aid to conditional austerity measures, withholding assistance so that Lebanese federal funds don’t find their way into Hezbollah’s pockets. The urgency of Beirut’s economic and political crisis, though, has prompted the U.S. and others to dispatch relief supplies and financial aid to Beirut with no strings attached.

Still, Western governments have not budged on reconstruction aid, and it's unlikely that they will support France’s campaign for political intervention. While the U.S. is interested in keeping Lebanon stable, it’s tried its hand in intervention before to little effect. Mounting political pressure at home and coronavirus-related financial constraints have begun to rule out more adventurous policies. The U.S. is trying to reduce its global military footprint, especially in the Middle East. Absent an all-out conflict between Iran, Saudi Arabia or Israel, the U.S. will resist greater engagement in the Levant and offer France quiet, indirect support.

Of course, even that may not be enough to save Lebanon from itself. The atmosphere of resentment and dissatisfaction I encountered a year ago in Beirut has, inevitably, metastasized. Beirutis have started the long road to recovery, sweeping away broken glass, volunteering in field hospitals and with aid deliveries, and helping each other collectively process the trauma of Aug. 5th. It’s become clear that the incident at the Port of Beirut is not just another chink in the government’s armor. Instead, the blast made things so much worse, with the potential to destabilize the region at large.   




40
Politics & Religion / Wesbury
« on: August 10, 2020, 10:54:43 AM »
Monday Morning Outlook
________________________________________
A Healing Economy To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Date: 8/10/2020

It's going to take years for the US economy to fully heal from the economic disaster brought about by COVID-19 and the government-mandated shutdowns which continue to limit economic activity across the country. When we talk about a full recovery, we don't simply mean getting real GDP back where it was in late 2019; a full recovery comes when the unemployment rate gets back below 4.0%, and we don't see that happening until at least late 2023.

Yet last week's key reports on the economy clearly show we're recovering. The ISM Manufacturing and Service indices, autos sales, and the employment report all beat expectations. The Manufacturing index came in at 54.2, while the sub-indices for new orders and production both exceeded 60.0 for the first time since 2018. The ISM Services index hit a robust 58.1 for July, the highest reading so far this year, including back in January and February when the economy was doing quite well. The new orders sub-index for services hit 67.7, the highest on record (dating back to 1997).

Meanwhile, consumers felt healthy enough to keep increasing auto purchases. Cars and light trucks were sold at a 14.5 million annual rate in July, the highest since February, when sales were 16.8 million annualized. To put this in perspective, auto sales bottomed at an 8.7 million annual rate in April, so this is one sector which is very nearly healed.

Of course, the big news for the week came with Friday's employment report, which showed payrolls expanding faster than anticipated while the unemployment rate declined further. Nonfarm payrolls rose 1.763 million, while civilian employment, an alternative measure of jobs that includes small-business start-ups, increased 1.350 million. Combined with jobs gains in May and June, these figures show that we've recovered roughly 40% of the jobs lost in the carnage of March and April.

The best news was that both average hourly earnings and the total number of hours worked rose in July, with earnings up 0.2% and hours up 1.0%. Recently, these two figures have moved in opposite directions. At first, layoffs tilted toward lower paid workers, which meant average earnings for the remaining workforce were rising while total hours worked fell. Then, as hours rebounded and (disproportionately) lower-paid workers were rehired, the pattern reversed. Now they're rising at the same time.

In addition, recent declines in unemployment claims signal that the improvement in the labor market is continuing. Initial jobless claims came in at 1.186 million in the latest week, 249,000 fewer than the prior week and the lowest level since March. Continuing claims for regular benefits fell 844,000 to 16.1 million, the lowest since April.

It's still early – the initial report on real GDP growth in the third quarter won't be released until October 29 – but plugging all these reports, as well as earlier ones, into our models suggests growth at a 15.0% annual rate.

But along with faster growth, we're also going to see higher inflation. Broad measures of the money supply are growing rapidly, while the Federal Reserve remains committed to keeping short-term rates low as far as the eye can see. The Fed doesn't think we'll hit its 2.0% inflation target until at least 2023. We think inflation will get there, and beyond, before the calendar closes on 2021.

49
Politics & Religion / What happened in Beirut?
« on: August 09, 2020, 03:06:41 PM »
Someone of proper background recommends this analysis:

https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2020/08/what-happened-in-beirut.php

50
Politics & Religion / Guess who came to dinner?
« on: August 09, 2020, 03:04:05 PM »
I've not verified for myself that the following names are actually in the document, the compilation is by someone else:

From the Maxwell files that were released:
Compiled list of names from Epsteins Island flight logs..GB (Businessman) first 200 pages of 2K.
● Huma Aberdin
● Laura Silsby
● Rachel Chandler
● Jeffrey Epstein
● Ghislaine Maxwell
● John Podesta
● Michael Podesta
● James Alefantis
● Anthony Wiener
● Leslie Wexner (Limited Inc Chairman)
● Herbert Strauss
● Isidor Strauss
● Martin A. Nowak
● Steven Spielberg
● Edgar Bronfman Sr. (Seagram Chairman)
● Charles Bronfman (Seagram Co)
● Michael Steinhardt (former hedge-fund manager)
● Sara Bronfman
● Clare Bronfman
● Niles Lehman (Professor at Portland State University)
● Seth Roger
● Ruth Ginsberg
● Alison Mack
● Robert Maxwell
● Wendi Murdoch
● Jonathan Cheban
● Naomi Campbell
● Maximiliam Chow
● Val Kilmer
● Marina Abramovic
LIST OF HOLLYWOOD PEDO-NAMES:
● Steven Spielberg
● Michael Jackson
● Kevin Spacey
● Alison Mac
● Marc Collins-Rector (Founder of Den)
● Chad Shackley
● Brock Pierce
● David Geffen
● Tom Hanks
● Dustin Hoffman
● Andrew Kreisberg (American television writer, producer)
● Bryan Singer
● Harvey Weinstein
● Bob Weinstein
● Roman Polanski
● Ruma Hazard
● Charlie Sheen
● Madonna
● Kate Perry
● Miley Cyrus
● Errol Flynn
● Walt Disney
● Michael Laney (Former Walt Disney vice president)
● James Gunn (Disney)
LIST OF NAMES OF CELEBS CONNECTED TO THE DEEPSTATE, CIA & MOSSAD:
● Heidi Fleiss
● Jeffrey Epstein
LIST OF NAMES CONNECTED TO SATANIC CULTS:
● Alison Mack
● Stormy Daniels
● Rachel Chandler
● Ghislaine Maxwell
LIST OF NAMES OF VISITORS ON EPSTEIN ISLAND:
● Ghislaine Maxwell
● Chris Tucker
● Larry Summers
● Lisa Summers
● Bill Murray
● Bill Hammond
● Ehud Barak
● Andrés Pastrana (Former President of Colombia 1998-2002)
● Jean Luc Brunel
● Doug Band
● Ron Burkle
● Woody Allen
● Sarah Kellen
● Ray Barzanna
● Sandy Burger
● Andrea Mitrovitch
● Peter Marino
● Shelley Lewis
● Paul Hala(t) (d) a
● Richardo Legoretta
● Tom Pritzker
● Kelly Spamm
● Tiffany Gramza
● Claire Hazel
● Paula Epstein
● Mark Epstein
● Ralph Elison
● Sophie Biddle
● Audrey Raimbault
● Shelley Harrison
● Melinda Luntz
● Gwendolyn Beck
● Albert Pinto
● Linda Pinto
● Gary Roxburgh
● Mandy Elison
● Jean Michelle Gathy
● Virginia Roberts
● Kristy Rodgers (Kristina Real Rodgers)
● Greg Holbert
● Alyssa Rodgers
● Juliette Bryant
● Heather Mann
● Ed Tuttle
● Glen Dubin
● Ellen Spencer
● Chris Wagner
● Casey Wasserman
● Laura Wasserman
● Paul Mellon
● Oliver Sachs
● Henry Rosovsky
● Lynn Forester (de Rothschild)
● Joe Pagano
● Naomi Campbell
● Nicole Junkermann
● Rodney Slater
● Magali Blachon (Deperrier)
● Svetlana Griaznova
● Emmy Tayler
● Larry Visoski
● Teala Davies
● Juan (Pablo) Molyneux
● Freya Willemoes) Wissing
● Adam Perry Lang
● Fleur Perry Lang
● Caren Casey
● Hank Coller
● Cindy Lopez
● Mark Lloyd
● Alan Dershowitz
● Seth Green
● James Gunn
● Steven Spielberg
● Tom Hanks
● Steven Colbert
● Jimmy Kimmel
● Barack Obama
● Kevin Spacey
● Kathy Griffin
● Oprah Winfrey
● Shawn Carter
● Beyoncé Knowles
● Anthony Kiedis
● John Legend
● Chrissy Tiegen
● Jim Carrey
● Steven Tyler
● Ben Affleck
● Stephen Collins
● Will Ferrell
● Aliaune Damala Badara Thiam (Akon)
● Marshall Matters
● Jeffrey Jones
● Victor Salva
● Mark Collins Rector
● Charlie Sheen
● Tyler Grasham
● Madonna Ciccone
● Katheryn Hudson
● Gwen Stefani
● Stefani Germanotta
● James Franco
● Will Smith
● Justin Roland
● John Cusack
● Anderson Cooper
● Demi Moore
● Brian Affleck
● Meryl Streep
● Wanda Sykes
● Chelsea Handler
● Michelle Wolf
● David Yarovesky
● Pharrell Williams
● Quentin Tarantino
● Courtney Love
● Alec Baldwin
● Robert Downey Jr.
● Disney Corporation (Offering kids “scuba-diving” trips, to the Epstein Island)
● Bill Clinton took a helicopter with Maxwell and Epstein
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6250471-Epstein-Docs.html?s=09

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