Later On

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Archive for July 11th, 2021

There Is No Debate Over Critical Race Theory

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Ibram X. Kendi, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and the director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research andauthor of several books, including the National Book Award–winning Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and How to Be an Antiracist, writes in the Atlantic:

The United States is not in the midst of a “culture war” over race and racism. The animating force of our current conflict is not our differing values, beliefs, moral codes, or practices. The American people aren’t divided. The American people are being divided.

Republican operatives have buried the actual definition of critical race theory: “a way of looking at law’s role platforming, facilitating, producing, and even insulating racial inequality in our country,” as the law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who helped coin the term, recently defined it. Instead, the attacks on critical race theory are based on made-up definitions and descriptors. “Critical race theory says every white person is a racist,” Senator Ted Cruz has said. “It basically teaches that certain children are inherently bad people because of the color of their skin,” said the Alabama state legislator Chris Pringle.

There are differing points of view about race and racism. But what we are seeing and hearing on news shows, in school-district meetings, in op-ed pages, in legislative halls, and in social-media feeds aren’t multiple sides with differing points of view. There’s only one side in our so-called culture war right now.

The Republican operatives, who dismiss the expositions of critical race theorists and anti-racists in order to define critical race theory and anti-racism, and then attack those definitions, are effectively debating themselves. They have conjured an imagined monster to scare the American people and project themselves as the nation’s defenders from that fictional monster.

The evangelist Pat Robertson recently called critical race theory “a monstrous evil.” And over the past year, that “monstrous evil” has supposedly been growing many legs. First, Republicans pointed to Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Three days after George Floyd’s murder last year, President Donald Trump recast the largely peaceful demonstrators as violent and dishonorable “THUGS.” By the end of July, Trump had framed them as “anarchists who hate our country.”

Then “cancel culture” was targeted. At the Republican National Convention in August, Trump blasted “cancel culture” as seeking to coerce Americans “into saying what you know to be false and scare you out of saying what you know to be true.”

Next came attacks on the 1619 Project and American history. “Despite the virtues and accomplishments of this Nation, many students are now taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but rather villains,” read Trump’s executive order on November 2, establishing the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission.

And now the Black Lives Matter demonstrators, cancel culture, the 1619 Project, American history, and anti-racist education are presented to the public as the many legs of the “monstrous evil” of critical race theory that’s purportedly coming to harm white children. The language echoes the rhetoric used to demonize desegregation after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, in 1954.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the conservators of racism organized to keep Black kids out of all-white schools. Today, they are trying to get critical race theory out of American schools. “Instead of helping young people discover that America is the greatest, most tolerant, and most generous nation in history, [critical race theory] teaches them that America is systemically evil and that the hearts of our people are full of hatred and malice,” Trump wrote in an op-ed on June 18.

After it was cited 132 times on Fox News shows in 2020, critical race theory became a conservative obsession this year. Its mentions on Fox News practically doubled month after month: It was referred to 51 times in February, 139 times in March, 314 times in April, 589 times in May, and 737 times in just the first three weeks of June. As of June 29, 26 states had introduced legislation or other state-level actions to “restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism,” according to Education Week, and nine had implemented such bans.

I have been called the father of critical race theory, although I was born in 1982, and critical race theory was born in 1981. Over the past few months, I have seldom stopped to answer the critiques of critical race theory or of my own work, because the more I’ve studied these critiques, the more I’ve concluded that these critics aren’t arguing against me. They aren’t arguing against anti-racist thinkers. They aren’t arguing against critical race theorists. These critics are arguing against themselves.

What happens when a politician falsely proclaims what you think, and then criticizes that proclamation? Is she really critiquing your ideas—or her own? If a writer decides what both sides of an argument are stating, is he really engaging in an argument with another writer, or is he engaging in an argument with himself?

Take the journalist Matthew Yglesias. In February, in The Washington Post, he wrote that I think that “any racial gap simply is racist by definition; any policy that maintains such a gap is a racist policy; and—most debatably—any intellectual explanation of its existence (sociological, cultural and so on) is also racist.” But nowhere have I written that the racial gap is racist: The policies and practices causing the racial gap are racist. Nowhere have I stated that any intellectual explanation of the existence of a racial gap is racist. Only intellectual explanations of a racial gap that point to the superiority or inferiority of a racial group are racist.

Was Yglesias really arguing against me, or was he arguing against himself? What about the columnist Ross Douthat? In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, he did what GOP thinkers keep doing to Americans striving to construct an equitable and just society: re-create us as extremists, as monsters to be feared for speaking out against racism. Douthat accused me of “ideological extremism that embarrasses clever liberals,” comparing me to the late Rush Limbaugh. I’ve spent my career writing evidence-based historical scholarship and demonstrating my willingness to be vulnerable; Limbaugh had no interest in being self-critical, and for decades attacked truth and facts and evidence.

Douthat claimed that I have a “Manichaean vision of public policy, in which all policymaking is either racist or antiracist, all racial disparities are the result of racism—and the measurement of any outcome short of perfect ‘equity’ may be a form of structural racism itself.”

Where did he get perfect equity? In How to Be an Antiracist, I define racial equity as a state “when two or more racial groups are standing on a relatively equal footing.” I proposed that an example of racial equity would be “if there were relatively equitable percentages” of racial groups “living in owner-occupied homes in the forties, seventies, or, better, nineties.” By contrast, in 2014, 71 percent of white families lived in owner-occupied homes, compared with 45 percent of Latino families and 41 percent of Black families. That’s racial inequity.

What we write doesn’t matter to the people arguing with themselves. It doesn’t matter that I consistently challenge Manichaean racial visions of inherently good or evil people or policy making. It doesn’t matter that I don’t write about policy making being good or evil, or that I write about the equitable or inequitable outcome of policies. It doesn’t matter that I’ve urged us toward relative equity, and not toward perfect equity.

If you want to understand why I’ve made these arguments, you first need to recognize that for decades, right-wing thinkers and judges have argued that policies that lead to racial inequities are “not racist” or are “race neutral.” That was the position of the conservative Supreme Court justices who recently upheld Arizona’s voting-restriction policies. Those who wish to conserve racial inequity want us to focus on intent—which is hard to prove—rather than the outcome of inequity, which is rather easy to prove. Case in point: GOP state legislators are claiming that the 28 laws they’ve enacted in 17 states as of June 21 are about election security, even though voter fraud is a practically nonexistent problem. They claim that these laws aren’t intended to make it harder for Black voters or members of other minority groups to cast ballots, even as experts find that’s precisely what such laws have done in the past, and predict that’s likely what these new laws will do as well.

These critics aren’t just making up their claims as they go along. They are making up the sources of their criticism as they go along. Douthat argues that work like mine “extends structural analysis beyond what it can reasonably bear, into territory where white supremacy supposedly explains Asian American success on the SAT.” Who is giving this explanation other than Douthat? I’m surely not. I point to other explanations, including the history of highly educated Asian immigrants and the concentration of score-boosting test-prep companies in Asian (and white) neighborhoods.

White supremacy does explain why more than three-quarters of the perpetrators of anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents before and during the pandemic have been white. Asian American success as measured by test scores, education, and income should not erase the impact of structural racism on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. This group now has . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 July 2021 at 3:16 pm

Doctors Might Have Been Focusing on the Wrong Asthma Triggers

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Sarah Zhang writes in the Atlantic:

Nicole Lawson spent the beginning of the pandemic incredibly worried about her daughter, who has asthma. Five-year-old Scarlett’s asthma attacks were already landing her in the ER or urgent care every few months. Now a scary new virus was spreading. Respiratory viruses are known triggers of asthma attacks, and doctors also feared at the time that asthma itself could lead to more severe coronavirus infections. So Lawson’s family in Ohio hunkered down quickly and masked up often to keep Scarlett healthy.

The ensuing months, to everyone’s surprise, turned into “this beautiful year,” Lawson told me. Scarlett hasn’t had a single asthma attack. Not a single visit to the ER. Nothing. She’s breathing so much better, and all it took was a global pandemic that completely upended normal life.

All around the country, doctors have spent the pandemic wondering why their patients with asthma were suddenly doing so well. Asthma attacks have plummeted. Pediatric ICUs have sat strangely empty. “We braced ourselves for significant problems for the millions of people living with asthma,” says David Stukus, Scarlett’s doctor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “It was the complete opposite. It’s amazing.” (Fears about people with asthma getting more severe COVID-19 infections haven’t been borne out either.) Studies in other countries, including England, Scotland, and South Korea, also found big drops in hospital and doctor’s-office visits for asthma attacks.

The massive global experiment that is the pandemic is now leading doctors to rethink some long-held assumptions about the disease. Asthma is a chronic condition that occasionally flares up, leading to 3,500 deaths and 1.6 million emergency-room visits a year in the United States. These acute attacks can be triggered by a number of environmental factors: viruses, pollen, mold, dust mites, rodents, cockroaches, pet dander, smoke, air pollution, etc. Doctors have often scrutinized allergens that patients can control at home, such as pests and secondhand smoke. But patients have stayed at home for a year and suffered dramatically fewer asthma attacks—suggesting bigger roles for other triggers, especially routine cold and flu viruses, which nearly vanished this year with social distancing and masks.

With life in the U.S. snapping back to normal, asthma doctors and patients are facing another new reality. Masks are going away; schools will be reopening in the fall. The pandemic unexpectedly reduced asthma attacks, and now doctors and patients have to navigate between what they know is possible in extraordinary conditions and what is practical in more ordinary ones.


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The most compelling evidence that asthma attacks truly did go down during the pandemic exists because of a stroke of good luck. Back in 2018, Elliot Israel, a pulmonologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, began asking Black and Hispanic or Latino adults with asthma to track their attacks at home for a study called PREPARE. (These groups have disproportionate rates of severe asthma, compared with white patients.) Israel intended to compare two different ways of using long-term asthma medication, such as inhaled steroids. His team enrolled its last participant—patient No. 1,201—in March 2020. The COVID-19 shutdowns began a week later.

“We were very lucky,” Israel told me. Because of the study’s timing, his team had plenty of data from before the pandemic. And because the participants were filling out monthly questionnaires from home, the shutdowns did not affect the data collection.

Meanwhile, Israel, like his colleagues across the country, was noticing an eerie lack of non-coronavirus patients. Hospital visits for heart attacks and strokes were also dropping during the pandemic. Were asthma patients just avoiding the hospital because they were afraid of catching the virus? “That was the initial thought: What if these people are suffering at home?” says Justin Salciccioli, a pulmonologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a co-author with Israel on the resulting paper about asthma attacks during the pandemic.

The answer became clear as the monthly questionnaires started rolling in. The number of attacks the participants suffered at home really was dropping. It fell by 40 percent after the onset of the pandemic. “We know that this isn’t reluctance to go to the emergency room,” Israel said. “This is a true, real decrease.”

In that case, why? Israel and his team didn’t see a clear pattern connected to changes in air pollution. People who normally worked outside the home, however, had bigger decreases in asthma attacks than those who worked at home (65 percent compared with 23 percent), perhaps because they were no longer being exposed to viruses and irritants at work. And people whose type of asthma is driven by environmental triggers also saw bigger improvements than those whose asthma is driven more by underlying inflammation. All of this suggests that people really were able to avoid triggers during the pandemic.

Ordinary respiratory viruses may play a bigger role in asthma attacks than previously thought, Israel said. People with asthma, like everyone else who masked up and practiced social distancing, were this year exposed to many fewer viruses known to trigger flare-ups. Even asymptomatic infections that normally go unnoticed might cause an asthma attack in someone whose airways are especially sensitive. “That extra irritation, that extra inflammation, pushes them over the edge,” Israel said.

Asthma experts I spoke with all agreed that reduced viral exposure likely played a part in the drop, but the pandemic changed so many things at once that other factors are hard to rule out. Staying at home might have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 July 2021 at 3:01 pm

Texas Republicans rush to guard the Alamo from the facts

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Jason Stanford, the Austin-based writer of the Experiment newsletter and the co-author, with Bryan Burrough and Chris Tomlinson, of Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, writes in the Washington Post:

With more than 300 RSVPs, the event hosted by the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin was shaping up to be the highlight of our virtual book tour for “Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth.” But about four hours before showtime last Thursday, my co-authors, Bryan Burrough and Chris Tomlinson, and I received an email from our publisher. The Bullock had backed out, citing “increased pressure on social media.” Apparently, the state history museum was no place to discuss state history.

This isn’t how things are supposed to work, even in Texas, but the truth turned out to be even worse. The state history museum wasn’t bowing to social media pressure but to political pressure from the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who claimed credit for the kill the next day.

“As a member of the Preservation Board, I told staff to cancel this event as soon as I found out about it,” tweeted Patrick, adding, “This fact-free rewriting of TX history has no place @BullockMuseum.”

Minor umbrage compels me to defend the book as well as the museum, which currently is hosting a Jim Crow exhibition. As The Post noted in its review of our book, we “challenge the traditional view” of the Alamo saga, one popularized by Disney and John Wayne and cemented by politicians in the Texas school curriculum.

The Heroic Anglo Narrative is that in 1836, about 200 Texians (as White settlers were known, to distinguish them from Tejanos) fought a doomed battle at a Spanish mission in San Antonio against thousands of Mexican troops, buying Gen. Sam Houston enough time to defeat tyranny in the form of Mexican ruler Santa Anna and win freedom for Texas. The myth leaves much out, most notably that Texians opposed Mexican laws that would free the enslaved workers they needed to farm cotton.

Politicians barricading the figurative doors of the Alamo in defense of the myth are nothing new. In 2018, a panel reviewing the state history curriculum suggested not requiring seventh-graders to learn that those who died at the Alamo were “heroic.” Republican state political leaders, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Land Commissioner George P. Bush — the nephew and grandson of presidents and the state officeholder with oversight of the historic site — reacted as if the Alamo were once again besieged.

“Stop political correctness in our schools,” tweeted the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott. “Of course Texas schoolchildren should be taught that Alamo defenders were ‘Heroic’!”

In the past few years, the boogeyman for these self-appointed defenders of ersatz history has evolved from a generalized “political correctness” to the New York Times’s 1619 Project and other efforts to center slavery and the role of racism in the American story. More than 20 states have introduced or passed legislation that attempts to prescribe how racial matters can be taught. In Texas last month, Abbott signed into law an act establishing a committee called the 1836 Project (get it?) to “promote patriotic education.”

Texas conservatives continue to appear quite exercised about the possibility of public-school students learning more about slavery and racism. So much so that Abbott has added further discussion about a ban on the teaching of critical race theory to the agenda for an upcoming special legislative session.

This is the political flotsam in which our virtual book event was snagged. A couple of days before the scheduled talk, the head of a right-wing think tank in Austin took to Twitter to attack the Bullock Museum for using public resources to provide a platform for our “trashy non-history book,” taking care to tag the governor, lieutenant governor and house speaker. They sit on the State Preservation Board, which oversees the museum.

On the day of the event, July 1, the think tank posted: “Like the New York Times’s debunked 1619 Project, this is an effort to diminish the great figures of history and place slavery at the center of every story.” As it happens, several of the central figures in the story of the Alamo, including William Barret Travis and Jim Bowie, either enslaved people or had attested to the importance of slavery. A few hours after the think tank’s post, the event was canceled.

I’ll leave it to First Amendment scholars to say whether

Continue reading.

Republicans obviously like “cancel culture,” as they call it, and they are what they describe as “snowflakes” (a clear case of projection on their part). Their version of what is politically correct (for them) is highly sensitive to the discomfort of facing facts.

Written by Leisureguy

11 July 2021 at 2:30 pm

Tempeh curry

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Finished curry

I used the large-diameter 6-qt stainless pot because I thought I would be making a large batch, and I was right. Put in the pot and then sauté:

• 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 large leek, halved lengthwise and sliced thin (including leaves)
• 1 large carrot, diced
• 12 dried Sanaam dried peppers, cut up with scissors
• 14 oz tempeh, diced large (this was soybean & kodo millet tempeh)

After the leek seems done, add:

• 1/2 cup garlic, chopped small and allowed to rest
• 1/4 cup ginger root, chopped small
• 1/4 cup turmeric root, chopped small
• 2 tablespoons Penzey’s curry powder or Mahrajah curry powder 

I don’t bother to peel the ginger or turmeric. It’s good to sauté the curry powder a while so it tastes not so raw.

Photos below show the red Russian garlic I used — very fresh, very large cloves, and having a tough, flexible skin, not brittle at all but easy to peel

Continue sautéing for a few minutes, then remove that to a bowl. Then add a little more EVOO and cook:

• 4 Roma tomatoes, chopped (quartered lengthwise, then cut across into chunks)
• 1 fresh bamboo shoot, peeled and diced (see this post for an example of a fresh bamboo shoot)
• 1 chayote squash, diced
• 1 cup cooked black rice – 2 cups would have been better, but 1 cup is what I had
• 1/2 orange bell pepper, chopped
• about 1/2 teaspoon kala namak (Amazon has it)
• about 2 tablespoons ground black pepper (for the turmeric)
• about 2 tablespoons dried mint

I had thought about seeding the tomatoes, but then considered that I might need the liquid that would be lost by seeding.

Once the above has begun to simmer, cook it for about 10 minutes, then add the cooked leek, carrot, etc. that were set aside, and also add:

• 1 small can coconut milk – given the volume, a regular can would be better
• 300g frozen chopped spinach (1 block of frozen spinach)
• splash of sherry or Shaoxing wine
• about 1 tablespoon of Red Boat fish sauce
• [next time: juice of 2-3 limes]
• [next time: 3/4 cup cashews]
• 1/2 cup sultanas
• 1/2 cut-up dried apricots – I used scissors: cut in half lengthwise, cut each half in three

Simmer covered for 15 minutes, then break up the (now-thawed) block of spinach and simmer 15 minutes more. On my Max Burton 18XL induction burner, I set the burner at 225ºF and used the timer: very convenient. Once it’s done,  add:

• 1 tablespoon garam masala

A little more garam masala might be good, but I used just a tablespoon this time.

It tastes very good — a little spicy, but not intensely hot. It strikes me that cashews would have been good to include. The dried fruit was very good — might just go with a cup of (cut-up) dried apricots and skip the sultanas, but first I must use them up.

Written by Leisureguy

11 July 2021 at 2:13 pm

How your DNA may affect whether you get COVID-19 or become gravely ill

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Tweaks in people’s DNA may be partly to blame for why the SARS-CoV-2 virus (illustrated) can more easily infect some people than others and make some people gravely ill, while others barely notice they’re sick.RADOSLAV ZILINSKY/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES PLUS
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Tina Hesman Saey writes in Science News:

Some people can blame their DNA for making them more likely to get COVID-19 or becoming severely ill if they get infected.

A study of more than 45,000 people with COVID-19 has uncovered 13 genetic variants linked to an increased risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 or a higher chance of developing severe illness, researchers report July 8 in Nature. The team includes more than 3,300 researchers in 25 countries.

Some of the variants had been uncovered in previous studies. For instance, researchers again confirmed a genetic link between blood type and the likelihood of getting infected, but don’t know why people with type O blood may be slightly protected. The study also verified that a variant that disables the TYK2 gene raises the risk of critical illness and hospitalization. That variant is known to protect against autoimmune disease, but leaves people more vulnerable to tuberculosis.   

But at least one association was unknown: A variant in a gene called FOXP4 is associated with more severe COVID-19, the team found. That variant boosts the gene’s activity and has been previously linked to lung cancer and interstitial lung disease, a group of diseases that cause scarring and stiffness of the lungs. Yet-to-be-developed drugs that inhibit activity of FOXP4’s protein might help people recover from COVID-19 or prevent them from becoming very ill.

The disease-associated version of the gene is more common among . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 July 2021 at 8:56 am

Biden: “Capitalism without Competition is Exploitation”

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Matt Stoller has a good issue of BIG, in which he cover several topics in addition to Biden’s initiative against monopoly and oligopoly;

  • The FBI says big-rigging costs the Federal government $120 billion a year.
  • Another day, another hack, another private equity owned software firm.
  • FTC Chair Lina Khan takes on meatpackers on behalf of domestic cattle ranchers.
  • Chinese Fashion House Shein builds a $10 billion business on tariff loopholes.

The main article begins:

In 1938, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a speech to Congress on curbing monopolies. With the looming threat of of Nazi Germany’s growing power, Roosevelt warned Americans of the relationship between concentration and authoritarianism. “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself,” he said. Roosevelt called for the entire government to take on the problem of monopoly, encouraging stronger action on everything from antitrust to bank regulation to the misuse of patents.

And it worked – over the next few years, the Department of Justice brought more antitrust cases than had been brought from 1890 to that point. Congress passed laws regulating investment trusts, regulators cracked down on large banking houses, the Army and Navy kept contractors competitive and prevented price gouging in the build-up to war, and policymakers ended the misuse of patents that let monopolists dictate the roll-out of technology. With the Alcoa decision in 1945, the courts finally outlawed monopolies, and by the 1950s, powerful business leaders treated rivals, suppliers and workers reasonably, for fear of antitrust enforcement, setting the stage for the rise of Silicon Valley and the electronic century.

On Friday, Joe Biden reached back to that moment, and gave the most significant speech on monopolies by an American President since then. “Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism,” he said. “It’s exploitation.” The speech very much paralleled how FDR framed his talk, emphasizing the importance of small business, workers, and consumers. Biden talked of the need to take on Big Tech, Big Pharma, and Big Ag, and even cited FDR’s call for an economic bill of rights, quoting Roosevelt’s goal of ensuring the “right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.”

But far more important was Biden’s explicit criticism of the Chicago School, by name. “Forty years ago we chose the wrong path,” said Biden. “Following the misguided philosophy of people like Robert Bork, we pulled back on enforcing laws to promote competition. We are now forty years into the experiment of letting giant corporations accumulate more and more power.” The President of the United States does not typically wade into esoteric legal debates involving competition lawyers. But the policy he was introducing in this speech required it. Biden was giving a speech about an executive order mandating that the policy of the Federal government is to promote fair competition, not just through the antitrust laws, but through every agency with authority to structure markets.

Biden’s speech is as important an ideological turnaround as we see in politics, as big a deal as Ronald Reagan’s statement that “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Biden explicitly called out lax controls on corporate power as the causal factor behind American stagnation. “What have we gotten from it?” Biden asked. “Less growth, weakened investment, fewer small businesses. Too many Americans who felt left behind, too many people who are poorer than our parents. I believe the experiment failed.”

Right after his speech, Biden signed the executive order, and handed the pen he used to new FTC Chair Lina Khan, who was standing behind him. The message, in other words, was clear. This order is a mandate for agencies across government to follow Khan’s lead on competition. And if it weren’t clear enough, White House chief of staff Ron Klain approvingly tweeted out headlines about the order: “Biden targets corporate power,” (WaPost), “Biden order targets big business,” (WSJ) and “Biden aims at cutting dominance of big business” (FT).

And as if to add symmetry to the moment, a few minutes after the event wrapped, news broke that Khan’s FTC just opened a lengthy probe into Amazon’s acquisition of MGM studios, moving antitrust staff from other parts of the commission to the investigation of one of the largest and most powerful firms in the world.

Well then.

What Does the Order Actually Do?

The executive order does a lot, but to put it simply, if there were a way to write an executive order just for readers of this newsletter, that’s what this order would be.

The order has three basic parts. The first is a policy statement, an assertion that the U.S. government is dedicated to fighting against corporate concentration. The second is that the White House is going to ride herd on government policymakers, setting up formal council with the heads of most cabinet agencies and regulators to meet about competition. And the third is a list of 72 specific items, as well as reports, that agencies are ordered or encouraged to enact according to their existing legal authority.

Many of these items will be familiar to readers of this newsletter. The first item Biden mentioned in his speech, for instance, is having the Food and Drug Administration make it possible to buy over the counter hearing aids, a monopoly I noted back in May. Hearing aids cost thousands of dollars apiece, for no other reason than there is a cartel established by government that prevents firms from selling hearing aids without a prescription. In 2017, Congress passed an Elizabeth Warren bill mandating that the FDA fix this situation. But the bureaucrats at the FDA just… refused. Now Biden is explicitly ordering them to act. This action item could help up to 40 million people affected by hearing loss.

Biden next mentioned non-compete agreements, which I wrote about last January. The order directs the Federal Trade Commission to “curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility.” Between 30-60 million Americans have signed contracts with their employers that prevent them from working for a rival. There are reasonable grounds for preventing the theft of trade secrets or customer relationships, but these non-competes are mostly designed to suppress wages and prevent potential rival employers from hiring. While labor questions are often partisan, this one isn’t – Senator Marco Rubio has attacked non-compete agreements for low-wage workers.

Biden also included a provision ordering the Agriculture Department to address consolidation in the meatpacking supply chain. When I interviewed cattle ranch advocate Bill Bullard, this is something he mentioned. There are provisions to addressing consolidation and overcharges in railroads and ocean shipping, which I noted when that big dumb ship got stuck in the Suez Canal. There are provisions on consumer protection for airlines, which I touched on last June.

The list is too long, so I’ll just mention a few more items. The order includes  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including:

I spent Friday calling around and tracking the reaction to this order. And what’s interesting is that the response, positive or negative, was not partisan. A lot of Democrats praised the order, which one would expect, as Biden is a Democrat. Elizabeth Warren, who in many ways brought the monopoly power problem into politics in 2016, was jubilant. Progressives Ro KhannaMondaire Jones, and Chuy Garcia came out in strong support, as did Senator Amy Klobuchar, the chair of the antitrust subcommittee in the Senate.

What’s far more interesting is the amount of praise from traditionally rightwing rural groups. The American Farm Bureau, which is quite Republican-leaning, tentatively praised Biden for the right-to-repair mandate letting farmers fix their own equipment, as well as his attempt to do something about consolidation in the food supply chain. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, yet another right-leaning group, came out in support, attacking the big four meatpackers and calling Biden’s order an “important step.”

The Montana Farmers Union was supportive, as was the National Corn Growers Association and Family Farm Action, and the National Grange, a traditional agricultural lobby group that has existed since the 19th century.

The reactions from big business were not so kind. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was harsh, calling the order a “government knows best” approach. The Association of American Railroads, which is the trade association for the monopolistic rail industry, alleges the order threatens the very viability of our transportation system. Warren Buffett owns a large chunk of the American rail system, but his empire, as Dave Dayen noted, spans a number of monopolies across our economy. I suspect this order, if it is fully implemented, will hit Berkshire Hathaway fairly hard over time.

Libertarian mouthpieces were also upset by the order. Tyler Cowan, author of Big business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero, wrote in resigned frustration that the order benefits farmers. Meanwhile, Trump’s former FTC general counsel Aldon Abbott, a die-hard Chicago Schooler, echoed the Chamber of Commerce, and simply denied that corporate concentration is worth addressing. “The order commits the fundamental mistake of proposing intrusive regulatory solutions,” Abbott wrote, “for a largely nonexistent problem.”

The most interesting pushback was by . . .

And also this interesting observation:

Now, the biggest question with this executive order is not whether it’s a good idea, but whether Joe Biden can actually follow through on it. And there are multiple layers to this question. The first is something that makes liberals uncomfortable, which is that the stereotype of government bureaucrats is often true. Government staffers are deeply hostile to change. The deep state, in other words, is real.

Take the Food and Drug Administration, which handles large swaths of our medical regulatory system, and structures pricing across a host of markets. Congress passed a law telling the FDA to write new rules on hearing aids by 2020. The bureaucrats over there just refused to follow that law. Why would an agency like the FDA choose to flout Congress? I don’t know, but I suspect it’s because staffers at the FDA just don’t think competition is their job, and they want medical firms to make a lot of money because they believe that those firms will then be able to invest in more research.

The FDA’s refusal to follow the law isn’t an anomaly. For decades, the FTC has chosen not to enforce the Robinson-Patman Act against price discrimination, just as . . .

There’s much more on monopolies and Biden’s effort — and the resistance he will encounter within the government.

And, regarding big-rigging item:

FBI: Contractors Steal $120 Billion+ per year from the Federal GovernmentGovernment contracting in the U.S. is pretty corrupt. I’ve noted that the government pay scale for, say, McKinsey, is $3 million a year for one college graduate to work on a project. But it goes way beyond that. In 2019, the FBI put together a task force to look into bid-rigging in procurement, which is when bidders collude to rig an auction for government contracts.

The FBI noted that, “by some estimates, roughly 20% of government procurement spending is lost each year to bid rigging—a significant sum when the budget for discretionary spending on public procurement is more than $580 billion, as it was in 2019.”

The amount spent this year is $639 billion on procurement, and there’s no reason to assume the amount of bid-rigging has gone down. One fifth of that is stolen.

Written by Leisureguy

11 July 2021 at 8:50 am

Why the Delta variant is so contagious

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The numerals in this illustration show the main mutation sites of the delta variant of the coronavirus, which is likely the most contagious version. Here, the virus’s spike protein (red) binds to a receptor on a human cell (blue).
Juan Gaertner/Science Source

Michaeleen Doucleff reports at NPR:

After months of data collection, scientists agree: The delta variant is the most contagious version of the coronavirus worldwide. It spreads about 225% faster than the original version of the virus, and it’s currently dominating the outbreak in the United States.

A new study, published online Wednesday, sheds light on why. It finds that the variant grows more rapidly inside people’s respiratory tracts and to much higher levels, researchers at the Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

On average, people infected with the delta variant had about 1,000 times more copies of the virus in their respiratory tracts than those infected with the original strain of the coronavirus, the study reported.

In addition, after someone catches the delta variant, the person likely becomes infectious sooner. On average, it took about four days for the delta variant to reach detectable levels inside a person, compared with six days for the original coronavirus variant.

In the study, scientists analyzed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 July 2021 at 7:37 am

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