Later On

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Back from walk

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I saw a couple of these on my walk. They come through the neighborhood from time to time.

A good walk, including a stop by the little neighborhood market, where I restocked my supply of fresh San Marzano tomatoes: “Make hay while the sun shines.” My little backpack has proved invaluable — in its pouch it fits comfortably in my pocket, and then when needed it has good capacity (18L) — and leaves my hands free for the Nordic walking poles.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2020 at 5:02 pm

Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History

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Book description:

During the twentieth century, America managed to make its economic and social systems both more and more fair and more and more prosperous. A huge, secure, and contented middle class emerged. All boats rose together. But then the New Deal gave way to the Raw Deal. Beginning in the early 1970s, by means of a long war conceived of and executed by a confederacy of big business CEOs, the superrich, and right-wing zealots, the rules and norms that made the American middle class possible were undermined and dismantled. The clock was turned back on a century of economic progress, making greed good, workers powerless, and the market all-powerful while weaponizing nostalgia, lifting up an oligarchy that served only its own interests, and leaving the huge majority of Americans with dwindling economic prospects and hope.

Why and how did America take such a wrong turn? In this deeply researched and brilliantly woven cultural, economic, and political chronicle, Kurt Andersen offers a fresh, provocative, and eye-opening history of America’s undoing, naming names, showing receipts, and unsparingly assigning blame—to the radical right in economics and the law, the high priests of high finance, a complacent and complicit Establishment, and liberal “useful idiots,” among whom he includes himself.

Only a writer with Andersen’s crackling energy, deep insight, and ability to connect disparate dots and see complex systems with clarity could make such a book both intellectually formidable and vastly entertaining. And only a writer of Andersen’s vision could reckon with our current high-stakes inflection point, and show the way out of this man-made disaster.

Amazon, of course, has a Kindle edition.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2020 at 12:19 pm

The Post Office Is Deactivating Mail Sorting Machines Ahead of the Election

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Aaron Gordon shows that Postal Service incapability is due to deliberate actions by the Trump administration: President Trump is deliberately breaking down the US.

The United States Postal Service is removing mail sorting machines from facilities around the country without any official explanation or reason given, Motherboard has learned through interviews with postal workers and union officials. In many cases, these are the same machines that would be tasked with sorting ballots, calling into question promises made by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that the USPS has “ample capacity” to handle the predicted surge in mail-in ballots.

Motherboard identified 19 mail sorting machines from five processing facilities across the U.S. that either have already been removed or are scheduled to be in the near future. But the Postal Service operates hundreds of distribution facilities around the country, so it is not clear precisely how many machines are getting removed and for what purpose.

Even to local union officials, USPS has not announced any policy, explained why they are doing this, what will happen to the machines and the workers who use them. Nor has management provided a rationale for dismantling and removing the machines from the facility rather than merely not operating them when they’re not needed.

“I’m not sure you’re going to find an answer for why [the machines being removed] makes sense,” said Iowa Postal Workers Union President Kimberly Karol, “because we haven’t figured that out either.”

The postal workers Motherboard spoke to said having machines removed, replaced, or modified is nothing new, but this time it seems to be more widespread, include a larger number of machines at their respective facility, and potentially impacts the facility’s ability to process large numbers of mail, including ballots, in a short time span.

“Look at it this way: Your local grocery store was forced to cut 1/3 of its cash-out lines, but management expected the same productivity, quality, and speed for the customer,” said an employee at a Buffalo distribution facility, which they said is set to lose six out of 21 mail sorting machines. “It’s just never going to happen.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

A mail-sorting machine in action, including slo-mo:

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2020 at 12:08 pm

The pandemic shows that the US is broken: Postal Service warns 46 states their voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots

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Erin Cox, Elise Viebeck, Jacob Bogage, and Christopher Ingraham report in the Washington Post:

Anticipating an avalanche of absentee ballots, the U.S. Postal Service recently sent detailed letters to 46 states and D.C. warning that it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted — adding another layer of uncertainty ahead of the high-stakes presidential contest.

The letters sketch a grim possibility for the tens of millions of Americans eligible for a mail-in ballot this fall: Even if people follow all of their state’s election rules, the pace of Postal Service delivery may disqualify their votes.

The Postal Service’s warnings of potential disenfranchisement came as the agency undergoes a sweeping organizational and policy overhaul amid dire financial conditions. Cost-cutting moves have already delayed mail delivery by as much as a week in some places, and a new decision to decommission 10 percent of the Postal Service’s sorting machines sparked widespread concern the slowdowns will only worsen. Rank-and-file postal workers say the move is ill-timed and could sharply diminish the speedy processing of flat mail, including letters and ballots.

The ballot warnings, issued at the end of July from Thomas J. Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president of the Postal Service, and obtained through a records request by The Washington Post, were planned before the appointment of Louis DeJoy, a former logistics executive and ally of President Trump, as postmaster general in early summer. They go beyond the traditional coordination between the Postal Service and election officials, drafted as fears surrounding the coronavirus pandemic triggered an unprecedented and sudden shift to mail-in voting.

Some states anticipate 10 times the normal volume of election mail. Six states and D.C. received warnings that ballots could be delayed for a narrow set of voters. But the Postal Service gave 40 others — including the key battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida — more-serious warnings that their long-standing deadlines for requesting, returning or counting ballots were “incongruous” with mail service and that voters who send ballots in close to those deadlines may become disenfranchised.

“The Postal Service is asking election officials and voters to realistically consider how the mail works,” Martha Johnson, a spokeswoman for the USPS, said in a statement.

In response to the Postal Service’s warnings, a few states have quickly moved deadlines — forcing voters to request or cast ballots earlier, or deciding to delay tabulating results while waiting for more ballots to arrive.

Pennsylvania election officials cited its letter late Thursday in asking the state’s Supreme Court for permission to count ballots delivered three days after Election Day. But deadlines in many other states have not been or cannot be adjusted with just weeks remaining before the first absentee ballots hit the mail stream. More than 60 lawsuits in at least two dozen states over the mechanics of mail-in voting are wending their way through the courts. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2020 at 12:00 pm

“Benevolent” sexism is still oppressive sexism

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Sexism consists of “keeping women in their place,” which means in roles that sexists have prescribed for women to avoid having to face them on a equal footing. The French artist Emma shows  in the Guardian how it works:

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 August 2020 at 9:35 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

I’m starting to think the US is not going to make it

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Remember, the House of Representatives passed a Covid relief bill in May, thanks to Democrats. Mitch McConnell did not allow the Senate to take up the bill. Now there is nothing but some ineffective and poorly written executive orders that will do nothing. The Republican party is destroying the US (with the help of Russia).

Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Today was another one for the history books.

This morning, in an interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo, Trump came out and said it: he wants to starve the United States Postal Service to destroy mail-in voting. Claiming that mail-in voting favors Democrats, he said: “Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots… Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”

The president’s acknowledgement that he is deliberately sabotaging an institution established in the Constitution to steal the election provoked outrage. He is tampering with an election by attacking mail-in voting even as he and Melania Trump have requested mail-in ballots for themselves. And the USPS does not simply handle ballots, it also handles many aspects of our lives: packages, medicines, and so on—things vital to our economy and way of life. “When the president goes after the Postal Service, he’s going after an all-American, highly approved-by-the-public institution,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said.

The attack on the USPS dovetails with the push of the Trump administration to privatize the USPS, a push launched shortly after Trump took office. This week we learned that Trump’s new Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, retains at least $30 million in holdings of the company XPO Logistics, a private competitor to the USPS, and that on the same day in June that he got rid of a large number of shares of Amazon, he bought stock options at a lower price. Amazon would be hard hit by the disintegration of the USPS. “The idea that you can be a postmaster general and hold tens of millions in stocks in a postal service contractor is pretty shocking,” said former director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub.

But the bottom line is that, until the Senate decides to do something about it, the House is powerless to fund the USPS to help it survive the economic crisis sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. In the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act the House passed in May, there was a $25 billion support for the USPS. But the Senate declined to take up the HEROES Act. When the Republicans could not agree on a new measure at the end of July, the Democrats began to negotiate directly with the White House, which proposed a more limited, $1 trillion bill. Democrats suggested a compromise at $2 trillion, but the White House has refused to budge. With this stalemate, Congress has gone on vacation for the rest of the month, while negotiators continue to try to reach a deal.

Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) noted that DeJoy’s new regulations are slowing the mail dramatically. He tweeted: “Here is the truth and I need you to spread it: the voters need to take control. Voters need to [vote by October 22] if using USPS.”

Other Democrats pushed back on Trump in their own way. In his interview, Trump said of New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat: “AOC was a poor student. I won’t say where she went to school, it doesn’t matter. This is not even a smart person, other than she’s got a good line of stuff. I mean she goes out and she yaps.” Ocasio-Cortez retorted: “Let’s make a deal, Mr. President. You release your college transcript, I’ll release mine, and we’ll see who was the better student. Loser has to fund the Post Office.”

The admission he is sabotaging the post office was not the only piece of news in Trump’s morning interview. He made it clear that he is eager to have Attorney General William Barr counter the story that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in Trump’s behalf. Trump wants Barr to reach a different conclusion based on a new Department of Justice investigation. When it became clear that the DOJ’s own inspector general would conclude that the FBI probe of certain of Trump’s campaign advisors was begun legitimately and without partisan bias—as he later did– Barr launched his own, separate investigation, placing U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut John Durham in charge of it.

This morning, Trump indicated he has great hopes that the Durham investigation will establish that former FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spied on his campaign and lied to Congress about it. “Bill Barr can go down as the greatest attorney general in the history of our country, or he can go down as an average guy,” Trump said, depending on whether or not he produced a report that, according to Trump, is not tainted with political correctness. “We’ll see what happens…. It goes all to Obama, and it goes right to Biden.”

The president’s campaign has also . . .

Continue reading. There is much more.

It should be noted that the GOP is attacking Kamala Harris without knowing much about her. Tucker Carlson was attacking and he doesn’t even know how to pronounce her name, a clear sign of his ignorance regarding her.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2020 at 8:37 pm

How our gut bacteria can use eggs to accelerate cancer

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2020 at 3:20 pm

More on the paleolithic (soapless) shower

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Amy Fleming reports in the Guardian:

When James Hamblin tells people he has not used soap in the shower for five years, they tend not to hold back in expressing their disgust. “It’s one of the few remaining things for which we feel fine telling someone that they’re gross,” he says. “It’s amazing to me, honestly.”

Yet despite people’s “clearly moralising judgments”, Hamblin is no hygiene slouch. Even pre-pandemic, he made a point of washing his hands with soap. He is, after all, a doctor who lectures at the Yale School of Public Health and a medical writer and podcaster for the US magazine the Atlantic. At 37, he looks so youthful that he still gets compared to the fictional child doctor Doogie Howser.

But eschewing soap on your pits and bits does raise awkward technical questions, more on which after some context. Hamblin’s minimalist showering habits evolved gradually, after he relocated from California to a studio apartment in Brooklyn, New York, to pursue a writing career. He needed to save time, money and space. Simultaneously, he says: “I started learning about emerging microbiome science and decided to try going all-out for a bit.”

Even if you have not yet read up on our microbiomes – the trillions of microbes that lead symbiotic lives with humans, colonising our skin and our guts – you may have spotted vague statements such as “microbiome-gentle” printed on bottles of shower gel. This because microbiologists – and brands – are learning more and more about the complex relationship we have with our germs. These include their starring roles in developing our immune systems, protecting us from pathogens (by creating antimicrobial substances and competing with them for space and resources) and lessening the likelihood of autoimmune conditions such as eczema. So, there is a growing awareness that scrubbing them off, along with the natural oils on which they feed, or dousing them with antibacterial products may not be the best idea after all.

Hamblin’s new regime got him thinking about modern notions of cleanliness, what is natural and how these two issues are, frankly, all over the shop. Stigmatism of body odour began as an advertising strategy that helped quadruple the sales of Lifebuoy soap in the 20s. A century later, we still live in fear of anyone detecting the slightest hint of BO on us. We are more perfumed, moisturised and exfoliated than ever.

Yet despite advances in skincare and modern medicine, conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis, as well as other autoimmune diseases, have been rising steadily. Also, while we attempt to appear squeaky clean, research has revealed that many of us don’t wash our hands properly – or at all – when it matters most: before eating and after going to the toilet. (That said, awareness of the importance of handwashing has certainly risen as a result of Covid-19.)

“It’s all mixed up right now, right?” says Hamblin, who set out to explore these paradoxes in perceived cleanliness in his book Clean: The New Science of Skin and the Beauty of Doing Less. He says the key to the success of his experiments, which saw him all but give up deodorant, was his “slow-fade” approach. “As I gradually used less and less, I started to need less and less,” he writes. “My skin slowly became less oily, and I got fewer patches of eczema. I didn’t smell like pine trees or lavender, but I also didn’t smell like the oniony body odour that I used to get when my armpits, used to being plastered with deodorant, suddenly went a day without it.” As his girlfriend put it, he smelled “like a person”.

It is not that we were unaware of bodily odours before “BO” was coined, but Hamblin thinks our natural smells are far more nuanced and informative than we give them credit for. “We know from historical writings that certainly people smelled bad. We didn’t just accept all smells,” he says. “Now, if someone smells sweaty or of anything less than soap, perfume or cologne, we think of that as being unclean.”

Hamblin started to notice that he smelled less pleasant when stressed. He interviewed a researcher who could train dogs to sniff out cancer in humans, while lovers he spoke to told him they thought the way their partner smelled naturally was good. He writes: “The hundreds of subtle volatile chemical signals we emit may play roles in communicating with other people (and other species) in ways we’re just beginning to understand.”

Hamblin also highlights the bare-faced cheek behind the rise of the skincare industry, as soap progressed from a multipurpose, often homemade product to a seemingly infinite parade of near-identical concoctions advertised for different problems, genders and occasions, at wildly different prices. Once hooked on daily soapings that remove our natural oils, we needed moisturisers and hair conditioners to replace them. In the 50s, the industry further cashed in by highlighting the drying effects of soap and offering milder detergents. Today, Hamblin writes, we have come full circle; many people seek products that are “as close as possible to nothing at all”.

He writes about a fellow journalist – and soap dodger – Maya Dusenbery, who had been prescribed every acne treatment going. The only one that worked? Nothing at all.

She had tried astringents, to dry out the skin; oral and topical antibiotics; the pill; and isotretinoin, a drug that has been linked to side-effects such as suicidal thoughts and inflammatory bowel disease. Not only were these ineffective, but she also developed rheumatoid arthritis – an agonising autoimmune condition. When she started taking immune-suppressing medication for that, her hair started falling out.

Enough was enough: Dusenbery stopped taking any medication for her skin. After an extremely oily few months, it settled. Now, the only things that touch her face are a microfibre cloth and water. Thanks to her adoption of a more holistic approach to her rheumatoid arthritis, in consultation with a specialist, this has gone into remission, too.

On the subject of antibiotics, Hamblin writes that they have commonly been prescribed for acne; he says they “seem to play a part in causing and exacerbating autoimmune disease” and that “antibiotic overuse is likely to be a bigger threat to biomes than hygiene”. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Moreover, James Hamblin himself wrote in the Atlantic in the July/August 2020 issue (and the article is doubtless an extract from his book Clean: The New Science of Skin):

In October, when the Canadian air starts drying out, the men flock to Sandy Skotnicki’s office. The men are itchy. Skotnicki studied microbiology before becoming an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Toronto. She has been practicing for 23 years, always with an eye to how the environment—including the microbial one on our skin—affects health. “I say to them, ‘How do you shower?’ ” she told me. “They take the squeegee thing and wash their whole body with some sort of men’s body wash. They’re showering twice a day because they’re working out. As soon as I get them to stop doing that and just wash their bits, they’re totally fine.”


“Bits would be underarms, groin, feet,” she said. “So when you’re in the shower or the bath, do you need to wash here?” She pointed to her forearm. “No.” Even water alone, especially hot water, slowly strips away the oils in the outer layers of skin that help preserve moisture—and the drier and more porous someone’s skin, the more susceptible it is to irritants and allergens.

Skotnicki believes that this is one way overwashing prompts eczema to flare in people with a genetic predisposition to the disease. While eczema itself can be debilitating, it often does not travel alone. It seems to be part of a constellation of conditions caused by immune-system misfires. Infants with eczema have an increased risk of developing allergic rhinitis or asthma in childhood, part of a cascade of immune-system overreactions known as the “atopic march.”

Now couldn’t be a weirder time to question washing. I’ve spent the past three years reporting on how our notions of what it means to be “clean” have evolved over time—from basic hygiene practices to elaborate rituals that involve dozens of products targeted at each of us by gender and age and “skin type.” At the same time, the incidence of immune-related skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis has risen in the developed world, while acne is as pernicious as ever, despite the constant stream of expensive new medications and unguents sold to address it.

Though no one would ever wish it to happen this way, the pandemic could mark a chance to reexamine how much cleanliness is good for us, and what practices we’d be better off without. Let’s start with the obvious: Wash your hands, for 20 seconds, many times a day. It’s possibly the single most valuable thing you can do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 August 2020 at 11:56 am

Pandemic and depression

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Quoting The Eldest: “The mental health issues related to our lockdown and the pandemic are especially hard for people with depression. NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Health have a 24 hour helpline: 800-950-6264.”

I will note that in some cases people suffering from clinical depression don’t realize (a) that’s what’s wrong and (b) it can be helped. From an article by the Mayo Clinic:

Although depression may occur only once during your life, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include:

Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Some people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.

Depression symptoms in children and teens

Common signs and symptoms of depression in children and teenagers are similar to those of adults, but there can be some differences.

• In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.

• In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.

Depression symptoms in older adults

Depression is not a normal part of growing older, and it should never be taken lightly. Unfortunately, depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated in older adults, and they may feel reluctant to seek help. Symptoms of depression may be different or less obvious in older adults, such as:

Memory difficulties or personality changes
Physical aches or pain
Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems or loss of interest in sex — not caused by a medical condition or
Often wanting to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things
Suicidal thinking or feelings, especially in older men

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2020 at 1:58 pm

During covid-19 crisis, American billionaires have increased their wealth by more than half a trillion dollars: $685 billion

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Turn the sound off for this one

That’s from a Mother Jones article by Mark Helenowski, which begins:

President Trump thinks he is delivering the average American a winning hand right now—despite a cratering economy, mass unemployment, and no clear plan to fight the cause of all this calamity, the coronavirus. At a Monday afternoon press conference at the White House, Trump went so far as to say that “carpenters and policemen and farmers”—millions of ordinary Americans—are “the ones that benefit by having a good stock market, probably more than anybody else.”

Probably more than anyone else? That’s absurd on its face (only 55 percent of Americans report owning stocks, a number that correlates with higher household income, among other things.) But it’s even more disconnected from reality when you collect the receipts: This pandemic period has been a bonanza for billionaires, for whom Trump’s brutalist coronavirus denial and inaction have reaped untold rewards, as our new video infographic above shows.

This cadre of 643 Forbes-certified billionaires grew their collective wealth by an estimated $685 billion, from mid-March through early-August of this year. That’s according to a fresh analysis of Forbes’ Real-Time Billionaires Data by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies. To be clear, that’s just the increase in wealth. In total, the richest 0.00019 percent of the US population—which includes household names like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates—hold $3.6 trillion in combined wealth, as of August 5, 2020.

In February, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2020 at 12:18 pm

Journalist offers mea culpa, in new book, for undercovering Black working class

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James Hohmann writes in “The Daily 202” in the Washington Post:

New York Times correspondent Jim Tankersley lays out in his new book how reducing barriers for minorities and women to participate in the workforce helped fuel the boom that gave America the world’s most prosperous middle class in the decades after World War II. “The Riches of This Land,” published on Tuesday, tells the story of the stagnation that followed through the struggles of individuals he has met from Oregon and Ohio to North Carolina and California during two decades of covering economic policy. Tankersley argues that combating persistent discrimination based on race and gender could go a long way toward restoring upward mobility and creating a new golden age for the middle class.

The 320-page book offers deep introspection on mistakes that Tankersley believes he and other journalists inadvertently made when framing the hollowing out of the middle class for readers, especially during the 2016 presidential campaign. He argues that the mainstream media erred by devoting vastly more attention to the plight of non-college-educated White men in the Midwest than their Black counterparts who were also feeling left behind.

While many White people in the region were deciding whether to vote for Donald Trump and his nativist rhetoric after previously backing Barack Obama, a lot of African Americans who had turned out twice for Obama were deciding whether to vote at all. Ultimately, many of them stayed home. Trump won the battleground state of Michigan, for instance, with fewer votes than Mitt Romney lost it with as the GOP presidential nominee four years earlier.

“We missed a big and important story about Black workers and their economic struggles and how it was going to affect their decision to vote or not. But we also misled our audiences by showing them a picture of the working class that was not complete and allowed politicians to distort it,” Tankersley explained in a telephone interview. “The sad and unfortunate product of that was we perpetuated this myth that working-class White men are suffering alone in America and do not have anything in common with these other struggling workers. The idea that women, immigrants or workers of color are in competition with them for prosperity is wrong. It’s not what American history shows us.”

As Tankersley writes in a chapter of his book devoted to this theme: “We whitewashed the middle class, and in the process, we legitimized a lie.”

Tankersley covered economic policy for The Washington Post during the 2016 election cycle and has been on the same beat for the New York Times since 2017. After growing up in a working-class Oregon logging town and serving as editor in chief of the Stanford Daily, Tankersley worked at the Portland Oregonian and Toledo Blade before coming to Washington to work for the Chicago Tribune and National Journal.

“To be really clear, I think it was good that we did a lot of stories about the struggles of White workers,” he said. “I just think we needed to do even more stories about other workers who were struggling. I also don’t want to at all downplay the economic distress that the White working class in the industrial Midwest has gone through in the 21st century. It is severe, and if you are a worker without a college degree in states like Ohio or Michigan or Pennsylvania, you have a lot to be angry about. The economy has not performed for you the way that it did a generation before and the way that you were told that it was going to. Obviously, discrimination is acute against workers of color in different ways, but in terms of the economy not working for them, everybody’s feeling it.”

The novel coronavirus has underscored many of the fragilities in our economy that Tankersley addresses in the book. It has demonstrated how tens of millions of Americans were living on the edge of poverty, despite a decade of uninterrupted GDP growth. The book was mostly written before the pandemic plummeted the country into its worst economic crisis in a century, but Tankersley was able to update the conclusion with some fresh thoughts. None of the developments of the past five months, though, change any of his recommendations for restoring upward mobility.

When we chatted, Tankersley emphasized that minority groups are suffering the most both from the virus itself and its economic contagiousness. They disproportionately work in jobs that cannot be completed from home. White workers who were laid off in the spring have been hired back at higher rates than Black workers. Unemployment benefits tend to be less generous in the Southern states, where African Americans make up a higher share of the unemployed. “All of these things speak to the idea that these are the workers we need to be finding better and greater opportunities for,” he said.

Tankersley plans to watch closely during the Democratic convention next week and the Republican convention the week after that to see what Joe Biden and Trump specifically promise to do for everyone in the working class. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2020 at 8:57 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Media

How America Became an Idiocracy

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umair haque (he uses lower-case) writes in Medium:

“What the? What’s wrong with them? Don’t they care?” That’s what the world is asking about Americans. Don’t take it from me, here’s Canada speaking for itself. You see, to the rest of the world — all of it, more or less — what America’s let itself become is mind-blowing, bizarre, bewildering: mass death, rampant disease, economic ruin, a grinning dictator atop it all — and this sense that Americans just don’t care.

Americans will tell you that they do care. And maybe that’s true. But it’s also plain to see that either they don’t care enough, enough of them don’t care, they don’t care in the right ways, or all of those things. As I often say, in most other countries, the head of state would be either exiled, in prison, or at least ousted by now. But there’s this sense that Americans just shrug — and get on with it. What the?

The world’s long suspected America to be an especially brutal and unintelligent country. (It is the 75th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which should remind us that America is the only country to have dropped an atomic bomb.) And yet there is also a suspicion that this judgment was unfair, uncharitable, unforgiving.

Surely that was going too far. Yes, America’s been the world’s aggressor, it’s most violent country — but maybe that was just the fault of a few bad apples, wielding big guns.

But this America, Trump’s America, seems to have confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt what the world’s suspected about America: it’s a nation of idiots. Not all of them. Enough of them, anyways, to have caused this kind of spectacular and nightmarish collapse of a society.

I don’t mean that as an insult, or as a jeremiad, or even a rebuke. I mean, funnily enough, analytically. To the Greeks, the idiots was someone only interested in private gain, private advantage. And America is a nation like that. The Greeks thought, though, that such societies — made of too many idiots, or at least enough idiots — wouldn’t prosper: they’d be unable to cooperate to provide any form of public goods, or even cultivate virtues, which are allocentric (I care about us, you, not just me) human qualities. The Greeks, it seems, were far, far smarter than America’s crop of intellectuals — because if America’s a nation of idiots, then the Greeks were right: idiots do cause the ruin of a society, by leaving it unable to have any real form of common wealth, public good, functioning systems, or even gentle virtue.

There are three kinds of American idiots that the world sees.

The first is the one that you’re probably familiar with: the dummy. Just think of the Trumpist. How many Americans would take a Covid vaccine? Just sixty five percent. Fully one in three Americans would not take a vaccine to fight a pandemic. That’s a pretty good proxy for the number of dummies in a society. Vaccines are one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. If you doubt me, go ahead and live in a place where polio still runs rampant, or google a picture of smallpox. Smallpox was eradicated, by the way, in 1977. That’s how brief this interregnum of good human health has been.

This kind of American Idiot is constitutionally incapable of cooperating. They’re extreme individualists, and pride themselves on their self-absorption, narcissism, cruelty, selfishness. Ask them to cooperate with something in the name of human decency, and they’ll react furiously, indignantly yelling at you about “freedom” and “rights.” Nobody’s ever taught them that there are higher freedoms and even more fundamental rights than, say, guns — like healthcare, retirement, pensions — which can only come about through cooperation. And so America has no functioning social institutions or systems largely thanks to this first kind of idiot.

The dummy is the one who made Coronavirus explode in America, by refusing to cooperate with any kind of social distancing, any measures to contain the virus. Bang! Pandemic. By refusing masks, distancing, and even a future vaccine, this first kind of American Idiot — the dummy — has made America have the world’s worst Covid outbreak.

The Greeks would have put that more simply. “Aha!,” they would have cried, “We told you! What’s the world’s worst Covid outbreak? A lack of public health. Public health is a public good. Idiots are only interested in themselves. A society of idiots can’t have public goods, and that’s how America was always going to end up with a massive lack of public health in a pandemic. Idiots predict social collapse.”

Meanwhile, American intellectuals have been penning hoary and cheesy defenses of radical individualism — self-reliance! Emerson! Bootstraps!! John Galt!! — for decades now. Didn’t they ever read Aristotle? Plato? Ayn Rand was a greater thinker than the people who…invented democracy? But I digress. The point is that the danger of idiots was familiar to those who created democracy, so many millennia ago — but America conveniently forgot all about it.

Like I said, that kind of American Idiot — the dummy — is familiar even to Americans. But the next one might not be.

Who else does the world see when it looks at America? It sees two more kinds of idiots, working in tandem: the wise man and the fool.

To understand the fool, think of the kind of American who knows exactly the danger of concentration camps, bans, raids, purges. He or she’s been taught, over and over again, what Nazism is. First in grade school, then high school, then college. They’ve been to good schools, they’ve had a decent education, unlike many of the Trumpists. They know. What to call all this, how dangerous it is, where it leads.

And yet there they are, deafeningly silent, for years now. So much so that America’s now got just what it condemns in other countries: a silent majority. America’s silent majority is made of fools — people who know better, but. They smile, sometimes, and say, “It’ll be fine!” Or maybe they express outrage for a day or two — and then forget all about it. Or maybe that outrage and horror simmers away — but they repress it deep down, in the name of politeness.

This kind of American Idiot is literally fooling themselves. Playing dumb. It’s not just that they should know better. They do. But they can’t bring themselves to say it — utter basic social truths in times of collapse and crisis — for foolish reasons. Reasons that usually orbit around . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and I think his gloomy conclusion is justified.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 August 2020 at 8:47 am

How Suffering Farmers May Determine Trump’s Fate

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I found the Canadian reference interesting. Dan Kaufman writes in the New Yorker:

Last October, Jerry Volenec, a dairy farmer from southwestern Wisconsin, took the morning off to go to Madison for the World Dairy Expo, an annual cattle-judging contest and trade show. Volenec wanted to hear a town-hall discussion led by Sonny Perdue, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture, to learn how the Administration planned to address the economic crisis gripping Wisconsin’s family dairy farmers.

Volenec’s farm sits atop Bohemian Ridge, a jagged plateau named for the Czech immigrants who settled there in the late nineteenth century. Among them was Joseph Volenec, Jerry’s great-great-grandfather, who established the farm, in 1897. In the nineteen-fifties and sixties, Volenec’s grandfather milked a herd of sixteen cows; he could make a living because New Deal policies used price supports and other measures to boost farmers’ earnings and limit overproduction.

Jerry Volenec always wanted to become a farmer. “You couldn’t keep me out of the barn,” he said. “I was milking cows by myself by the time I was fourteen.” By the early nineties, when Volenec began farming full time, the New Deal policies had largely been dismantled. The family increased its herd to about seventy, and Volenec’s father started paying him a salary, enough money for his education at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and to start an I.R.A. In 2000, Volenec installed a milking parlor, and since then he has increased the herd to three hundred and thirty cows. “We’re the biggest of the small guys,” Volenec, who is forty-five, with a sturdy build and a thin goatee, said. “But I was making more money, doing less work, when I started, twenty-five years ago. I’m basically paying myself living expenses now.”

Five years ago, the price of milk fell precipitously, accelerating the long unravelling of rural Wisconsin. Since 2010, the population in two-thirds of the state’s rural counties has decreased, leading to a shrinking workforce, fewer jobs and businesses, and slower income growth rates than in metro counties. More than seventy rural schools have closed, and for the past three years the state has led the country in family-farm bankruptcies. “The level of desperation and lack of hope in our phone calls has increased,” Angie Sullivan, who supervises caseworkers at the Wisconsin Farm Center, part of the state’s Department of Agriculture, said. “Dairy farmers are working on their fifth year of low milk prices. Many banks have stopped loaning them money.” Wisconsin has seven thousand dairy farms, roughly half the number that it had a decade ago. Yet the number of cows has remained constant, because of consolidation and the proliferation of factory dairy farms, some of which have herds of more than five thousand cows.

“It’s like a never-ending cycle, almost like a hamster on the wheel,” Travis Tranel, a Republican state representative from Cuba City, forty miles south of Volenec’s farm, told me. Tranel is an organic dairy farmer with a five-hundred-cow herd. “You just keep running and running. Your only option is to produce more.” Tranel said that consolidation has all but wiped out small dairy farms in Wisconsin and now threatens medium-sized farms such as his. “We can see the future if we stay on the path we’re on,” he said, noting that the consolidation of hog farming had already transformed Iowa. “I definitely do not want to see rural Wisconsin become as empty as rural Iowa.”

After the town hall, Perdue took questions from reporters, one of whom asked if the state’s loss of small farms was inevitable. “In America, the big get bigger, and the small will go out,” Perdue said. “I don’t think in America for any small business we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.” Volenec wasn’t surprised by Perdue’s answer. “I walked in there knowing that’s how they felt,” Volenec told me, referring to the Trump Administration. “The part that was unnerving to me was that he said it to our faces. They’re not trying to hide it anymore. They’re telling us flat out: You’re not important.”

In 2016, after voting for Barack Obama twice, Volenec voted for Trump. Volenec had grown disenchanted with Obama after his Administration banned whole milk from schools and did little to slow the loss of family farms. “I wasn’t following politics closely,” he said. “I never listened to Trump give a speech, just commentary over the radio. I had the general impression that what’s wrong with the agricultural economy was that too many politicians were involved, and that having a businessman in the White House would benefit me.”

As rural Wisconsin’s fortunes have declined, its political importance has grown. Trump won the state by less than twenty-three thousand votes. If the 2020 election is close, Trump could lose Michigan and Pennsylvania—the other Rust Belt states he flipped in 2016—and still win a second term by holding Wisconsin. Trump underperformed in the suburban counties of Milwaukee, the Republican Party’s stronghold, while overperforming in the state’s rural areas, where he won nearly two-thirds of the vote. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that the largest shift in voting between Obama’s seven-point victory in Wisconsin, in 2012, and Trump’s one-point win came in communities that cast fewer than a thousand votes. (Nationally, Trump won sixty-two per cent of the rural vote.)

Four years ago, Trump promised to reverse the economic decline of family farmers. “Hillary Clinton wants to shut down family farms just like she wants to shut down the mines and the steelworkers,” he said, during a campaign stop at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. “We are going to end this war on the American farmer.” In early 2018, he launched a series of trade wars, which provoked China, Mexico, Canada, and the European Union into imposing penalties on American dairy products. Mexico, the largest importer of Wisconsin cheese, levied a twenty-five-per-cent tariff on American cheeses. Last summer, Trump allotted fifteen billion dollars in compensation to farmers, but the vast majority of it has gone to the largest farms. In a tweet, he called farmers “great patriots” and promised that they would eventually be better off.

In June, as Trump’s poll numbers dropped nationwide, the Washington Post reported that his campaign advisers were losing hope for Michigan and Pennsylvania, and would focus on holding Wisconsin. “It’s baked into the cake that Trump will lose the state’s large metro areas in a landslide, while the suburbs have been fleeing him,” Ben Wikler, the head of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, told me. “Trump can’t win a second term unless he racks up enormous margins in rural Wisconsin.”

For Volenec, Trump’s appeal vanished almost immediately. “If I had known the things I know about him now, I wouldn’t have voted for him,” he said, when I visited him at his farm in February. As Trump’s trade wars escalated, Volenec’s problems worsened. In March, 2018, Canada effectively cut off all dairy imports from the United States, and milk from Michigan that had previously been exported began flooding into Wisconsin’s processing plants. The co-op where Volenec sent his milk for processing was now competing with cheap out-of-state milk, and put a cap on the amount that it would take from him. That week, Volenec heard about a meeting of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, a family-farm advocacy group, in nearby Dodgeville, to promote a version of supply management, a system used in Canada that sets a quota on the production of dairy, eggs, and poultry. Designed, like the New Deal policies, to prevent overproduction and to guarantee farmers a stable income, the system relies on higher prices for Canadian consumers. Trump’s trade war with Canada is aimed at dismantling supply management, which has long been deplored by Republican politicians. John Boehner, the former Speaker of the House, called it “Soviet-style” agriculture. For Volenec, it was a revelation. “This was my first glimpse into a world where the dairy farmer is not subservient to The Market,” he wrote in an essay called “Groomed for Apocalypse.”

Volenec lives on the farm with his wife, Jennifer, and their four daughters. His parents still live and work there, too, and the family employs four farmhands, Mexican immigrants who milk the cows three times a day, in five-hour shifts. Volenec spends most of his time feeding cattle and doing maintenance. His workday begins at five in the morning and, in the spring and summer, ends at nine or ten at night. It was bitterly cold the day I visited, so Volenec led me into a small office adjacent to the milking parlor. On the wall was a whiteboard with numbers detailing the farm’s milk production, which averages roughly thirty thousand pounds a day. A truck picks up the milk every day and takes it to the co-op, where it is turned into cheese. (Ninety per cent of Wisconsin’s milk is used to make cheese; if the state were a country, it would be the fourth-largest cheese-producing nation in the world.)

Dairy farmers have felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic acutely. As schools and restaurants closed, they abruptly cancelled their contracts with milk bottlers and cheese factories. The price of milk dropped by more than thirty per cent, and some processors began asking their farmers to dump milk. By late April, as hungry people lined up at food banks, one farm had already dumped more than five million pounds of milk, according to “The Mid-West Farm Report.” Mitch Breunig, a dairy farmer in Sauk City, had to dump all of his morning milking for ten days. “We took a hundred-and-fifty-foot hose and ran it from the milking parlor right into the manure-storage unit in the barn,” he told me. Breunig wound up dumping eighty thousand pounds of milk, for which he received no money. “I would just look at it and think, Wow, everything we did was for nothing.”

State agencies issued protocols for dumping milk, which can pollute groundwater and decimate fish populations. Though Volenec has not had to dump any of his milk, he’s been worrying about the environmental costs of large-scale dairy farming, from water contamination to climate change. Manure runoff from industrial dairy farming has contributed to a dramatic increase in bacteria and nitrates in the state’s groundwater, according to a study funded in part by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources. (A farm with twenty-five hundred cows produces as much waste as a city of four hundred thousand people.) The E.P.A. recently sampled the groundwater in a thirty-mile area of Juneau County that’s dense with dairy cows and found that sixty-five per cent of the sites had elevated levels of nitrates, which have been linked to birth defects, colon cancer, and “blue-baby syndrome,” a condition that reduces oxygen in an infant’s blood and can be fatal.

“You’re now looking at three or four generations of depletion,” Curt Meine, an environmental historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told me. “Depletion of rural communities, rural landscapes, rural soils and water, depletion of the land and local economies. And you have the brain drain that followed it. This is why we have this deep urban-rural divide. We have concentrated and exported the wealth. Everyone sees it, but neither party has wrestled with it. One party exploited it, the other party has ignored it.”

“It’s hard, because I’ve built my life around a system that I believe now is extremely problematic from an environmental, social, even a personal level,” Volenec said. “It’s not the farming that I was brought up with. It’s not really even farming anymore. It’s mining. We’re extracting resources and shipping them away, and they’re not coming back. There’s no cyclical nature to it. It’s a straight line out.”

Volenec and I walked across the road to see his great-great-grandfather’s homestead. The land begins behind . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Basically, Republicans do not want the common people to do well.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2020 at 7:14 pm

Walkies, produce haul, and some plants observed

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One walk today for exercise, another for groceries. On the exercise walk I saw this horse topiary and the two crane topiaries at the right. They were both in the same yard, which was a hotel (with tea room) in a predominantly residential neighborhood. The hotel was not out of character for the neighborhood and fit in well.

I also walked by this tree overhanging the sidewalk and admired the blooms. That yard and many of the yards I walked past was given over to a flower garden. As you walk along you’ll find yourself engulfed in a cloud of fragrance that fades as you move beyond that yard, but then another fragrance will waft across the sidewalk from the next yard. And the colors!

Altogether, it made me appreciate urban living rather than suburbs with their vast empty lawns, spread out so that cars are required to get anywhere. In this little neighborhood, I walked by a variety of little cafés, tea rooms, and bars, all nestled into the neighborhood.

And once I returned home and had lunch, I set out again for the local store that sells bulk foods and someproduce — that’s the store where I got the San Marzano tomatoes. None of those today (they will get more tomorrow), but I did get some very nice Roma tomatoes, a young onion (the stem was still green), and couple of male eggplants. (Males eggplants are preferred because they have many fewer seeds, and the seeds tend to be bitter — this I learned today, along with how to tell the difference, from a recipe video.)

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2020 at 4:34 pm

Mitochondria May Hold Keys to Anxiety and Mental Health

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This is interesting, and surprising only in that it didn’t occur to anyone sooner: of course cellular energy-production problems could affect nerve cells as well as muscle cells, and clearly the effects would differ. Elizabeth Landau writes in Quanta:

Carmen Sandi recalls the skepticism she faced at first. A behavioral neuroscientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, she had followed a hunch that something going on inside critical neural circuits could explain anxious behavior, something beyond brain cells and the synaptic connections between them. The experiments she began in 2013 showed that neurons involved in anxiety-related behaviors showed abnormalities: Their mitochondria, the organelles often described as cellular power plants, didn’t work well — they produced curiously low levels of energy.

Those results suggested that mitochondria might be involved in stress-related symptoms in the animals. But that idea ran contrary to the “synapto-centric” vision of the brain held by many neuroscientists at the time. Her colleagues found it hard to believe Sandi’s evidence that in anxious individuals — at least in rats — mitochondria inside key neurons might be important.

“Whenever I presented the data, they told me, ‘It’s very interesting, but you got it wrong,’” Sandi said.

Yet a growing number of scientists have joined her during the past decade or so in wondering whether mitochondria might be fundamental not just to our general physical well-being but specifically to our mental health. In particular, they have explored whether mitochondria affect how we respond to stress and conditions like anxiety and depression.

Although much of the evidence so far is preliminary, it points to a substantial connection. Mitochondria seem to be central to the very existence of a stress response, serving both as mediators of it and targets for the damage it can do. To some of the researchers involved in this work, the stress response even looks like a kind of coordinated action by mitochondria throughout the body that interacts with the neurological processing.

“I think mitochondria are underrated,” said Martin Picard of Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center in New York, whose laboratory has helped to pioneer this research. “They’re the chief executive organelle of the cell.” Now scientists can explore what the implications of the organelles’ importance might be for future therapies.

Mitochondria and Mental Health

Mitochondria are the tiny structures inside complex (eukaryotic) cells that manufacture adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, the chemical fuel for most metabolic processes. “ATP is the energy that sort of allows for living cells to do what they do when they’re alive,” said Lisa Kalynchuk, vice president for research at the University of Victoria in Canada. The organelles are ancient invaders — the remnants of symbiotic bacteria that integrated themselves into host cells about 2 billion years ago and specialized for energy production. Mitochondria still carry a small amount of DNA of their own, although with just 37 genes, they have less genetic material than any living bacteria.

A relationship between mitochondria and disease started to become apparent in 1975, when Douglas Wallace and his colleagues, then at Yale University, described an association between mitochondrial DNA and a genetic disorder. During the 1990s, researchers linked the effects of mutations in mitochondrial DNA to various other conditions. One in 5,000 people has an inherited mitochondrial disease of some kind, with consequences that can include diabetes, vision and hearing problems, learning difficulties and other disorders. Only in the last decade or so, however, have scientists seriously explored the influence of mitochondria on mental health and well-being, especially when it comes to stress, anxiety and depression.

Sandi’s work sprang from an intuition that mitochondria might alter the operation of select brain pathways. Our brains eat up 20% of the oxygen our bodies take in, even though the brain accounts for only 2% of our weight. A deficit of cellular energy production in critical neural circuits, she hypothesized, might explain an overall lack of motivation and self-esteem seen in anxiety-prone people.

When Sandi put rats in competition to establish a social hierarchy, she saw that the animals with less anxiety were more likely to acquire dominant rank. Further study showed that these less anxious animals had greater mitochondrial function in the nucleus accumbens, a part of the brain vital to motivated behavior and the production of effort.

Other research in many laboratories unearthed further ties between stress and mitochondria. In 2018, Picard and the stress research pioneer Bruce McEwen, who died earlier this year, published a meta-analysis of 23 studies on mitochondria and anxiety: 19 demonstrated “significant adverse effects of psychological stress on mitochondria” and even the other four noted changes in mitochondrial size or function in response to stress.

2018 review article by Anke Hoffmann of the Museum of Natural History in Berlin and Dietmar Spengler of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich summarized evidence that mitochondria could mediate the brain’s structural and functional responses to early life stress and serve as “a subcellular substrate in the programming process.” The experimental evidence for connections between mitochondrial function and mental health is still tentative and has important limitations, but it is strong enough to convince scientists to look deeper.

The Cross-Talk of Mitochondria

One mystery still under investigation surrounds the details of what happens to mitochondria under stress. Picard’s best guess is that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2020 at 2:37 pm

Pencil production: Memes in action

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I thought this brief video illustrates how memes form networks that direction human activities on a widespread network of activities: a constantly motion of adaptation and evolution.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2020 at 9:57 am

What if a friend or family member drifts into conspiracy ideation?

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The Eldest shared in Facebook a post by David Troy, CEO at 410 Labs, Curator at TEDx, a former speaker at TED. Troy writes:

In the last week, I have heard from multiple friends who are concerned about family, friends or other loved ones who seem to be losing their grip on reality and falling into conspiracy thinking and other destructive online communities.

As someone who studies this closely, I believe radicalization is accelerating right now. Some conspiracy communities (such as QAnon) have created powerful incentives for participation and can take people from no exposure to a break from reality in a matter of just a few weeks. This is not something to brush off.

For those of you left in the position of wanting to help but are not sure what to do, it is useful to first understand the problem: it is not a “beliefs” problem but a social problem. People get pulled into these communities because they feel alienated, and are looking for sense-making and connection. It is often driven by an overwhelming fear that “we aren’t being told the truth,” and the feelings of having been deceived that come with that. That tends to be a powerful driver of radicalization and can quickly re-wire people’s social landscape.

Individuals become enmeshed in this new world of fake truth-tellers and movements that seem to provide connection and identity, but these relationships are not real: anything requiring actual time or money is out of reach for this fake network of support. Family and longtime friends, by contrast, are real and persist. The challenge comes when people begin to confuse this new identity with their “old” one.

The worst thing you can do to someone who has been pulled into these networks is to attack them, or focus too much on correcting their false “beliefs.” The ideas are secondary artifacts of the social pathology.

Instead, it is necessary to aid them in minimizing their connection to the destructive network while bolstering their ties to their “real world” support network. This can be done by asking open-ended, respectful questions, and leaving space for answers. “You seem to have really changed your thinking a lot lately. Can you tell me more about what’s behind that?” or “Wow, I’ve never heard that point of view until now. Are you sure that’s really true?”

Simultaneously, it is a good idea to reinforce ties to positive, stable life relationships. Maybe suggest a family outing, or find some way to spend more time with the person, away from online communities. Maybe suggest new hobbies or otherwise distance from destructive content channels, whether internet, tv, or radio. Help them find new patterns and habits, and always with love.

To be clear I am not a clinical expert on this; I just study radicalization behavior. But as part of that I have been working this year with Steven Hassan, who is one of the top experts on this topic in general and on cults in particular, and I have squared his work with my own studies and with other experts in the field. So I am echoing many of his ideas above. For more on this topic I am recommending his book “Freedom of Mind” as well as his website “freedomofmind. com.”

Americans in particular have a hard time with the relationship between individual and community. We mostly think in individual terms; if someone is acting strange, they have “mental health” problems and need “therapy” or drugs. And certainly therapy is an invaluable resource for all of us, and is frequently called for as part of helping people recover from undue influence.

But it is also important to understand that many kinds of individual pathologies are social in nature. We are the average of the people around us; so disrupted social ties can lead to disruptions in ourselves and in our outlook. We must properly understand online radicalization and conspiracy theories within this framework. People are falling into believing crazy ideas not because they are stupid, mentally ill, or because they lack critical thinking capacity or intellect. They are manifesting a lack of strong social connection, which in turn is born of a desire for meaning, connection, and identity.

If we focus on providing those core human needs then we address conspiracy radicalization at the same time. Our culture and social structures do not do a great job at meeting those needs, so it’s not surprising that in this time of massive uncertainty we are seeing a spike in radicalization. And many people are suffering from various kinds of trauma as well.

Please treat your friends and loved ones with care, help knit them better into normative social fabrics, and ramp down destructive channels. This will work far better than arguing with them or trying to “fix” their false statements. That will just make them dig in further, and will work against you. Consider also doing this in person or by video/phone, and off of social media, as online dynamics can often be counterproductive and destructive.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you think may benefit. Every situation is a bit different, so seek professional help as needed, but I do hope that having a little better understanding of the nature of the problem will be useful. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2020 at 8:15 am

Warren Buffett: America’s Folksiest Predator

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

One of the more important figures in American capitalism over the last forty years is Warren Buffett, the legendary investor who is now the fourth richest man in the world. Buffett is an icon, the ‘Oracle of Omaha,’ who lives a simple lifestyle based on folksy wisdom, eating Dairy Queen ice cream, and drinking Coca Cola. Or so goes the myth. In this issue, I’m going to do an interview with an author who presents a very different side of Buffett, the side that is key to his wealth and power. Specifically, the monopolist side, and how Buffett’s way of investing has been a multiplier force for dominant corporations.

Also in this issue:

  • The timing of the Google antitrust case and changing Senate politics
  • The growing business rebellion against monopoly power
  • A merger of 7-Eleven
  • The Intuit-Credit Karma merger
  • Another weird monopoly

Some housekeeping. First, I was on a lovely Irish podcast called The Stand with Eamon Dunphy. Second, a lot of readers of the last BIG issue, which was on Chinese apps, seemed interested in exactly how Facebook’s market power led to the rise of TikTok. National security expert Lucas Kunce wrote that up for the University of Chicago’s Stigler Center ProMarket magazine.

And now…

America’s Folksiest Predator

Journalists have always served an important function in addressing corporate power. The great anti-monopolists of the 1880s were journalists such as Henry Demarest Lloyd, muckrakers whose words gave voice to a movement seeking to reign in corporate power.

Journalist Dave Dayen is an heir to this tradition. He’s the executive editor of one of the most important political magazines today, the American Prospect. He did groundbreaking (and lonely) journalism on foreclosures and financial corruption throughout the Obama years, and his 2016 article on antitrust in The New Republic laid the groundwork for Elizabeth Warren’s key speeches on the issue that rocketed the importance of monopoly into the political stratosphere.

For today’s post, I’m going to do an interview with Dayen on his new book, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate PowerMonopolized is a mix between a business book and a travelogue, a set of stories about people living under the control of various powerful corporate entities, from Wall Street to Amazon to prison and the military. There’s also a roadmap for how to fight back, and Dayen profiles Israeli anti-monopolists who successfully did just that. One interesting aspect of Monopolized is that Warren Buffett is a silent presence throughout, profiting quietly in the background from virtually every monopoly Dayen describes. We don’t often hear of Buffett as a great monopolist, but that’s what he actually is. So in this interview, that’s who we focused on.

If you’re interested in a sweeping but detailed take on the modern landscape of corporate power, you should buy a copy of Dayen’s Monopolized; it’s enormously well-researched, and you will know more about corporate power after you are done. I learned a lot, even though studying monopoly is what I do.

Thanks for writing this excellent book. I want to get into Warren Buffett, but first I want to ask a basic question that I hear a lot in policymaking circles, which is that the problem of monopoly is just too complex for voters to really get. You wrote this book by traveling around the country and reporting stories of people dealing with corporate power. Did you get the sense that the public at large understands the problem of monopoly and concentrated finance?

People know that something is terribly wrong. They might not be able to articulate it using technocratic antitrust jargon, like no one mentioned the Herfindahl–Hirschman Index in terms of market share, but they understand the system is rigged. When I talked to a woman who is renting a home and she got an alert for her own home being put on the market without her knowledge because the house is owned by a private equity giant, well, she knows that something is terribly wrong. She’s a big Trump supporter, but now hates the private equity firm Blackstone, which she also knows is full of Trump donors.

Another woman I interviewed, she lives in Tennessee and classifies herself as a libertarian, she knows something is wrong. Her husband has diabetes, and she’s tracking his blood sugar on this wearable device. If she gets an alert on her phone, when he has low blood sugar, she goes and gives him a little piece of chocolate. Turns out there was a gap in her wifi conductivity, because she lives out in this rural area and they are literally forbidden from getting broadband by a law that the telecom industry got passed. She tells me she saw a 15-minute gap in her tracking, and found her husband slumped over his chair because that’s the moment in which he crashed. She calls herself a libertarian, but she knows something is terribly wrong with the governing structures of the economy and the power of these corporations that have insinuated themselves to American life.

People might not be able to call it monopoly power, but they know something isn’t working.

Your book is about monopolies. One character who keeps popping up in the book, surprisingly, is Warren Buffett. He’s a genial kindly old man in the media. But who is Warren Buffett in this book?

Buffett is the avatar of monopoly. This is a guy whose investments philosophy is literally that of a monopolist. I mean, he invented this sort of term, the economic “moat,” that if you build a moat around your business, then it’s going to be successful. I mean, this is the language of building monopoly power. He not only looks for monopolies in the businesses he invests in, but he takes it to heart in the business that he’s created, Berkshire Hathaway. Berkshire Hathaway owns something like 70 or 80 or 90 companies and they have large market shares in all sorts of areas of the economy.

It’s kind of like an old school conglomerate from the sixties and seventies, but there are certain facets of it, where he’s clearly trying to corner a market. Buffett’s initial businesses that he actually outright purchased were newspapers. It started with the Buffalo News in Buffalo, New York. And he used anti-competitive practices to put the competition, his rival newspaper, out of business. That was literally his MO there.

What are some of the surprising businesses or sectors he’s involved in? We don’t typically hear Warren Buffett and opioids in the same sentence. And yet…

Teva Pharmaceuticals is one of the companies in which Buffett has had a huge investment. And Teva is one of the manufacturers of generic opioid based products. Buffett knows well that there’s no better way to put a moat around your business than to sell an addictive product.

We don’t usually typically think of Buffett as sort of a drug dealer, but he certainly sells a lot of opioids or makes money from those who do sell it by owning the stock. It just seems to me like his real job is to put a happy genial face on abusive power. You know, everybody in the investment world loves Buffett. But the Sherman Act is a criminal statute because traditionally monopolization was understood as a crime. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2020 at 8:17 pm

The Unraveling of America

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Wade Davis, an anthropologist who holds the Leadership Chair in Cultures and Ecosystems at Risk at the University of British Columbia and author of award-winning books including Into the Silence and The Wayfinders and his new book, Magdalena: River of Dreams, writes in Rolling Stone:

Never in our lives have we experienced such a global phenomenon. For the first time in the history of the world, all of humanity, informed by the unprecedented reach of digital technology, has come together, focused on the same existential threat, consumed by the same fears and uncertainties, eagerly anticipating the same, as yet unrealized, promises of medical science.

In a single season, civilization has been brought low by a microscopic parasite 10,000 times smaller than a grain of salt. COVID-19 attacks our physical bodies, but also the cultural foundations of our lives, the toolbox of community and connectivity that is for the human what claws and teeth represent to the tiger.

Our interventions to date have largely focused on mitigating the rate of spread, flattening the curve of morbidity. There is no treatment at hand, and no certainty of a vaccine on the near horizon. The fastest vaccine ever developed was for mumps. It took four years. COVID-19 killed 100,000 Americans in four months. There is some evidence that natural infection may not imply immunity, leaving some to question how effective a vaccine will be, even assuming one can be found. And it must be safe. If the global population is to be immunized, lethal complications in just one person in a thousand would imply the death of millions.

Pandemics and plagues have a way of shifting the course of history, and not always in a manner immediately evident to the survivors. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed close to half of Europe’s population. A scarcity of labor led to increased wages. Rising expectations culminated in the Peasants Revolt of 1381, an inflection point that marked the beginning of the end of the feudal order that had dominated medieval Europe for a thousand years.

The COVID pandemic will be remembered as such a moment in history, a seminal event whose significance will unfold only in the wake of the crisis. It will mark this era much as the 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the stock market crash of 1929, and the 1933 ascent of Adolf Hitler became fundamental benchmarks of the last century, all harbingers of greater and more consequential outcomes.

COVID’s historic significance lies not in what it implies for our daily lives. Change, after all, is the one constant when it comes to culture. All peoples in all places at all times are always dancing with new possibilities for life. As companies eliminate or downsize central offices, employees work from home, restaurants close, shopping malls shutter, streaming brings entertainment and sporting events into the home, and airline travel becomes ever more problematic and miserable, people will adapt, as we’ve always done. Fluidity of memory and a capacity to forget is perhaps the most haunting trait of our species. As history confirms, it allows us to come to terms with any degree of social, moral, or environmental degradation.

To be sure, financial uncertainty will cast a long shadow. Hovering over the global economy for some time will be the sober realization that all the money in the hands of all the nations on Earth will never be enough to offset the losses sustained when an entire world ceases to function, with workers and businesses everywhere facing a choice between economic and biological survival.

Unsettling as these transitions and circumstances will be, short of a complete economic collapse, none stands out as a turning point in history. But what surely does is the absolutely devastating impact that the pandemic has had on the reputation and international standing of the United States of America.

In a dark season of pestilence, COVID has reduced to tatters the illusion of American exceptionalism. At the height of the crisis, with more than 2,000 dying each day, Americans found themselves members of a failed state, ruled by a dysfunctional and incompetent government largely responsible for death rates that added a tragic coda to America’s claim to supremacy in the world.

For the first time, the international community felt compelled to send disaster relief to Washington. For more than two centuries, reported the Irish Times, “the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger. But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the U.S. until now: pity.” As American doctors and nurses eagerly awaited emergency airlifts of basic supplies from China, the hinge of history opened to the Asian century.

No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. Bled white and left bankrupt by the Great War, the British maintained a pretense of domination as late as 1935, when the empire reached its greatest geographical extent. By then, of course, the torch had long passed into the hands of America.

In 1940, with Europe already ablaze, the United States had a smaller army than either Portugal or Bulgaria. Within four years, 18 million men and women would serve in uniform, with millions more working double shifts in mines and factories that made America, as President Roosevelt promised, the arsenal of democracy.

When the Japanese within six weeks of Pearl Harbor took control of 90 percent of the world’s rubber supply, the U.S. dropped the speed limit to 35 mph to protect tires, and then, in three years, invented from scratch a synthetic-rubber industry that allowed Allied armies to roll over the Nazis. At its peak, Henry Ford’s Willow Run Plant produced a B-24 Liberator every two hours, around the clock. Shipyards in Long Beach and Sausalito spat out Liberty ships at a rate of two a day for four years; the record was a ship built in four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes. A single American factory, Chrysler’s Detroit Arsenal, built more tanks than the whole of the Third Reich.

In the wake of the war, with Europe and Japan in ashes, the United States with but 6 percent of the world’s population accounted for half of the global economy, including the production of 93 percent of all automobiles. Such economic dominance birthed a vibrant middle class, a trade union movement that allowed a single breadwinner with limited education to own a home and a car, support a family, and send his kids to good schools. It was not by any means a perfect world but affluence allowed for a truce between capital and labor, a reciprocity of opportunity in a time of rapid growth and declining income inequality, marked by high tax rates for the wealthy, who were by no means the only beneficiaries of a golden age of American capitalism.

But freedom and affluence came with a price. The United States, virtually a demilitarized nation on the eve of the Second World War, never stood down in the wake of victory. To this day, American troops are deployed in 150 countries. Since the 1970s, China has not once gone to war; the U.S. has not spent a day at peace. President Jimmy Carter recently noted that in its 242-year history, America has enjoyed only 16 years of peace, making it, as he wrote, “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” Since 2001, the U.S. has spent over $6 trillion on military operations and war, money that might have been invested in the infrastructure of home. China, meanwhile, built its nation, pouring more cement every three years than America did in the entire 20th century.

As America policed the world, the violence came home. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, the Allied death toll was 4,414; in 2019, domestic gun violence had killed that many American men and women by the end of April. By June of that year, guns in the hands of ordinary Americans had caused more casualties than the Allies suffered in Normandy in the first month of a campaign that consumed the military strength of five nations.

More than any other country, the United States in the post-war era lionized the individual at the expense of community and family. It was the sociological equivalent of splitting the atom. What was gained in terms of mobility and personal freedom came at the expense of common purpose. In wide swaths of America, the family as an institution lost its grounding. By the 1960s, 40 percent of marriages were ending in divorce. Only six percent of American homes had grandparents living beneath the same roof as grandchildren; elders were abandoned to retirement homes.

With slogans like “24/7” celebrating complete dedication to the workplace, men and women exhausted themselves in jobs that only reinforced their isolation from their families. The average American father spends less than 20 minutes a day in direct communication with his child. By the time a youth reaches 18, he or she will have spent fully two years watching television or staring at a laptop screen, contributing to an obesity epidemic that the Joint Chiefs have called a national security crisis.

Only half of Americans report having meaningful, face-to-face social interactions on a daily basis. The nation consumes two-thirds of the world’s production of antidepressant drugs. The collapse of the working-class family has been responsible in part for an opioid crisis that has displaced car accidents as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50.

At the root of this transformation and decline lies an ever-widening chasm between Americans who have and those who have little or nothing. Economic disparities exist in all nations, creating a tension that can be as disruptive as the inequities are unjust. In any number of settings, however, the negative forces tearing apart a society are mitigated or even muted if there are other elements that reinforce social solidarity — religious faith, the strength and comfort of family, the pride of tradition, fidelity to the land, a spirit of place.

But when all the old certainties are shown to be lies, when the promise of a good life for a working family is shattered as factories close and corporate leaders, growing wealthier by the day, ship jobs abroad, the social contract is irrevocably broken. For two generations, America has celebrated globalization with iconic intensity, when, as any working man or woman can see, it’s nothing more than capital on the prowl in search of ever cheaper sources of labor.

For many years, those on the conservative right in the United States have invoked a nostalgia for the 1950s, and an America that never was, but has to be presumed to have existed to rationalize their sense of loss and abandonment, their fear of change, their bitter resentments and lingering contempt for the social movements of the 1960s, a time of new aspirations for women, gays, and people of color. In truth, at least in economic terms, the country of the 1950s resembled Denmark as much as the America of today. Marginal tax rates for the wealthy were 90 percent. The salaries of CEOs were, on average, just 20 times that of their mid-management employees.

Today, the base pay of those at the top is commonly 400 times that of their salaried staff, with many earning orders of magnitude more in stock options and perks. The elite one percent of Americans control $30 trillion of assets, while the bottom half have more debt than assets.  . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Finns live longer and are less likely to die in childhood or in giving birth than Americans. Danes earn roughly the same after-tax income as Americans, while working 20 percent less. They pay in taxes an extra 19 cents for every dollar earned. But in return they get free health care, free education from pre-school through university, and the opportunity to prosper in a thriving free-market economy with dramatically lower levels of poverty, homelessness, crime, and inequality. The average worker is paid better, treated more respectfully, and rewarded with life insurance, pension plans, maternity leave, and six weeks of paid vacation a year. All of these benefits only inspire Danes to work harder, with fully 80 percent of men and women aged 16 to 64 engaged in the labor force, a figure far higher than that of the United States.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2020 at 11:36 am

The health care scare

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Confession relieves one of a moral burden, but this confession strikes me as rather late.

Wendell Potter @wendellpotter is a former vice president of Cigna who became a whistleblower against the health insurance industry. He serves as president of the Center for Health and Democracy.

He writes in the Washington Post:

In my prior life as an insurance executive, it was my job to deceive Americans about their health care. I misled people to protect profits. In fact, one of my major objectives, as a corporate propagandist, was to do my part to “enhance shareholder value.” That work contributed directly to a climate in which fewer people are insured, which has shaped our nation’s struggle against the coronavirus, a condition that we can fight only if everyone is willing and able to get medical treatment. Had spokesmen like me not been paid to obscure important truths about the differences between the U.S. and Canadian health-care systems, tens of thousands of Americans who have died during the pandemic might still be alive.

In 2007, I was working as vice president of corporate communications for Cigna. That summer, Michael Moore was preparing to release his latest documentary, “Sicko,” contrasting American health care with that in other rich countries. (Naturally, we looked terrible.) I spent months meeting secretly with my counterparts at other big insurers to plot our assault on the film, which contained many anecdotes about patients who had been denied coverage for important treatments. One example was 3-year-old Annette Noe. When her parents asked Cigna to pay for two cochlear implants that would allow her to hear, we agreed to cover only one.

Clearly my colleagues and I would need a robust defense. On a task force for the industry’s biggest trade association, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), we talked about how we might make health-care systems in Canada, France, Britain and even Cuba look just as bad as ours. We enlisted APCO Worldwide, a giant PR firm. Agents there worked with AHIP to put together a binder of laminated talking points for company flacks like me to use in news releases and statements to reporters.

Here’s an example from one AHIP brief in the binder: “A May 2004 poll found that 87% of Canada’s business leaders would support seeking health care outside the government system if they had a pressing medical concern.” The source was a 2004 book by Sally Pipes, president of the industry-supported Pacific Research Institute, titled “Miracle Cure: How to Solve America’s Health Care Crisis and Why Canada Isn’t the Answer.” Another bullet point, from the same book, quoted the CEO of the Canadian Association of Radiologists as saying that “the radiology equipment in Canada is so bad that ‘without immediate action radiologists will no longer be able to guarantee the reliability and quality of examinations.’ ”

Much of this runs against the experience of many Americans, especially the millions who take advantage of low pharmaceutical prices in Canada to meet their prescription needs. But there were more specific reasons to be skeptical of those claims. We didn’t know, for example, who conducted that 2004 survey or anything about the sample size or methodology — or even what criteria were used to determine who qualified as a “business leader.” We didn’t know if the assertion about imaging equipment was based on reliable data or was an opinion. You could easily turn up comparable complaints about outdated equipment at U.S. hospitals.

(Contacted by The Washington Post, an AHIP spokesman said this perspective was “from the pre-ACA past. We are future focused by building on what works and fixing what doesn’t.” He added that the organization “believes everyone deserves affordable, high-quality coverage and care — regardless of health status, income, or pre-existing conditions.” An APCO Worldwide spokesperson told The Post that the company “has been involved in supporting our clients with the evolution of the health care system. We are proud of our work.” Cigna did not respond to requests for comment.)

Nevertheless, I spent much of that year as an industry spokesman, my last after 20 years in the business, spreading AHIP’s “information” to journalists and lawmakers to create the impression that our health-care system was far superior to Canada’s, which we wanted people to believe was on the verge of collapse. The campaign worked. Stories began to appear in the press that cast the Canadian system in a negative light. And when Democrats began writing what would become the Affordable Care Act in early 2009, they gave no serious consideration to a publicly financed system like Canada’s. We succeeded so wildly at defining that idea as radical that Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), then chair of the Senate Finance Committee, had single-payer supporters ejected from a hearing.

Today, the respective responses of Canada and the United States to the coronavirus pandemic prove just how false the ideas I helped spread were. There are more than three times as many coronavirus infections per capita in the United States, and the mortality rate is twice the rate in Canada. And although we now test more people per capita, our northern neighbor had much earlier successes with testing, which helped make a difference throughout the pandemic.

The most effective myth we perpetuated — the industry trots it out whenever major reform is proposed — is that Canadians and people in other single-payer countries have to endure long waits for needed care. Just last year, in a statement submitted to a congressional committee for a hearing on the Medicare for All Act of 2019, AHIP maintained that “patients would pay more to wait longer for worse care” under a single-payer system.

While it’s true that Canadians sometimes have to wait weeks or months for elective procedures (knee replacements are often cited), the truth is that they do not have to wait at all for the vast majority of medical services. And, contrary to another myth I used to peddle — that Canadian doctors are flocking to the United States — there are more doctors per 1,000 people in Canada than here. Canadians see their doctors an average of 6.8 times a year, compared with just four times a year in this country.

Most important, no one in Canada is turned away from doctors because of a lack of funds, and Canadians can get tested and treated for the coronavirus without fear of receiving a budget-busting medical bill. That undoubtedly is one of the reasons Canada’s covid-19 death rate is so much lower than ours. In America, exorbitant bills are a defining feature of our health-care system. Despite the assurances from President Trump and members of Congress that covid-19 patients will not be charged for testing or treatment, they are on the hook for big bills, according to numerous reports.

That is not the case in Canada, where there are no co-pays, deductibles or coinsurance for covered benefits. Care is free at the point of service. And those laid off in Canada don’t face the worry of losing their health insurance. In the United States, by contrast, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 August 2020 at 5:47 pm

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