Lazy linking

One of the clear signs that US society doesn’t work probably, is the fact that people have to do fundraisers to cover medical costs and increasingly, to cover basic costs of living. One of the big platforms for these fundraisers, is GoFundMe. Now, the CEO of GoFundMe is speaking out, pointing out that this is wrong

GoFundMe CEO: Hello Congress, Americans need help and we can’t do your job for you

Coronavirus surge of fundraisers on GoFundMe shows why Congress must pass emergency aid for monthly bills, restaurants, small businesses and food.

The opinion piece in USA Today doesn’t tell us anything that most of us didn’t already know, but it is good that a CEO of a company, which is benefiting greatly from the current situation, is speaking out.

The Burger Flipper Who Became a World Expert on the Minimum Wage

As a 16-year-old kid flipping burgers at a Seattle McDonald’s in 1989, Arindrajit Dube was earning the state minimum wage of $3.85 an hour. “I remember feeling privileged that I was going to go on to college, while there were many older workers working at that wage,” he recalls.

He still thinks about the minimum wage, only now it’s from his perch at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he’s possibly the world’s leading authority on its economic effects. Dube’s research is guaranteed to get a bigger audience as Democrats in Congress attempt to make good on President Biden’s pledge to raise the federal wage floor to $15 an hour by 2025.

Intuitively, it makes sense that increasing the minimum wage, would force companies to increase prices, drive down sales, reduce company profit, and will even force companies into closing. Fortunately, as with many things, intuition is wrong in this.

This is for a few reasons:

  • Wages only form a portion of the costs, and the costs can be spread over many items. E.g. in the classic example of a burger joint, the employer sells many burgers per hour, meaning that the price increase per burger will be minimal.
  • Increasing minimum wages will allow people to work fewer hours, and not e.g. two jobs as we see all too often now, thus opening the job market up for more people.
  • It will give minimum wage employees more money to spend, thus increasing the demand on goods.

Yes, there might be companies surviving on the very margins, which can’t increase their sales, which will close, but my guess is that many of those companies already have closed during this pandemic.

Further reading: Home Articles Making the Case for a Higher M… SHARE: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call Making the Case for a Higher Minimum Wage by Arindrajit Dube

Big Tech as an Unnatural Monopoly

Interesting piece by Tim Brennan in the Milken Institute Review, where he takes a look on Big Tech as monopolies, why they defy the current anti-trust laws, and what can actually be done about Big Tech.

Further reading: Rethinking Antitrust by Lawrence J. White (also in the Milken Institute Review)

This COVID-vaccine designer is tackling vaccine hesitancy — in churches and on Twitter

Immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett helped to design the Moderna vaccine. Now she volunteers her time talking about vaccine science with people of colour.

Kizzmekia Corbett’s twitter feed can be found here.

It is a low bar that President Biden has to clear, but I find it so nice that the US now has a president who is willing to thank people for their hard work

 

A decent start

I saw a tweet shortly after the US election results became known, about having the feeling of a background process running in your brain, draining energy, suddenly being shut off. This seems like an apt description, and if that was true after the election, it is even more true after the inauguration ceremony.

Like so many others, Biden wasn’t my first pick, but unlike many others, I didn’t buy into the rhetoric painting him as a Republican lite, since his voting records simply didn’t back this up. I am not claiming that his voting record was far-left, but it was firmly to the left of even the most moderate Republican in recent times.

What did worry me a bit about him, was that he has been part of the political system for so long, that it might be hard for him to fight the urge to compromising, which most politicians develop over time. On the other hand, the fact that he has been part of the political system, also means that he wants to restore it to something not serving the political urges of a would be despot.

Now, Biden has been in power a few days, and I must say that I have been delighted beyond expectation by his actions.

Opening Arguments has gone through Biden’s actions on his first day. They were happy, to put it mildly.

I am looking forward to seeing what Biden will be bringing to the table in the coming period. For an indications of what that might be, I think we could do worse than look at the Biden Promise Tracker created by Politifact.

As an aside, isn’t it great that there are websites tracking promises, rather than lies.

It sure looked a lot like an attempted coup

Wednesday the whole saw how Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, and tried to keep elected politicians from doing their job, as defined in the constitution. There is a lot of hand-wringing among certain parties about what to call it, though it seems like a lot have settled on insurrection, edged on by Trump and his surrogates.

From outside the US, a different word springs to mind.

Some among America’s military allies believe Trump deliberately attempted a coup and may have had help from federal law-enforcement officials

The supporters of President Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday to stop the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory were attempting a violent coup that multiple European security officials said appeared to have at least tacit support from aspects of the US federal agencies responsible for securing the Capitol complex.

Insider spoke with three officials on Thursday morning: a French police official responsible for public security in a key section of central Paris, and two intelligence officials from NATO countries who directly work in counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations involving the US, terrorism, and Russia.

There is no doubt that the Capitol was not as secured as one would have expected, given the fact that the insurrection has been planned fairly publicly .The unpreparedness and outright willingness to help, does leave one wondering whether at least some of the people responsible for the security of the Capitol would have been okay with Trump staying in power, by any means necessary.

Luckily, the coup was not successful, but have instead resulted in a backlash against Trump, even getting Twitter to ban his account (something long overdue).

Dominion and Smartmatic are tired of the Trump lies

One of the attack vectors of Trump and his allies has been to attack the voting machine used during the election, claiming that they were used for fraud.

This obviously have negative effects on the companies behind the voting machines, and they are clearly not going to just accept this. The two main companies behind the voting machines, Dominion and Smartmatic, have started to take steps towards legal action. On top of that, at least one employee from one of these companies has also taken steps.

Smartmatic started out by demanding that Fox News, Newsmax and One America News Network retracted their fraud claims. This led to at least Fox News fact-checking their own claims, finding the false, as did Newsmax.

Dominion also came out swinging with 21 retraction and/or record preservation demand letters, some of which were quite brutal – see e.g. the letter to Mellissa Carone. Before those 21 letters, they had already sent one to Sidney Powell.

From the news articles I have read and the law podcasts I have listened to, both Dominion and Smartmatic have strong cases, so it seems likely that a number of news sources and Trump allies will find themselves in deep legal trouble. It is also going to be interesting to see what will be turned up during discovery.

Bette Midler should stay in her lane

I am generally not a great fan of people telling actors that they should stay in their lane, but occasionally they really should stay in their lane. Bette Midler demonstrates a clear example of this.

It all started with a tweet by Dr. Jen Gunter

Which caused Bette Midler to write the following

It is hard to surprise me these days, but I must admit I hadn’t considered Bette Midler attacking Dr. Jen Gunter as being alt-right as one of the missing ingredients of 2020. Bette Midler’s defense was much appreciated by Marianne Williamson

Unsurprisingly, Dr. Jen Gunter actually knew what she was talking about.

Bette Midler is probably not going to admit that she is wrong about Marianne Williamson, but hopefully this will be a lecture in humility, making her actually do a little research before tweeting, and especially before accusing someone like Dr. Jen Gunter as being alt-right.

Dancing in the streets

If you ever think you are not doing a good job, just remember, people are not literally dancing in the streets because you are leaving.

The same can’t be said of Trump.

When the Biden/Harris win was announced it led to partying in the big cities all across the US.

LA Times have some great photos from Los Angeles.

USPS workers often took part in the celebration, which this Mashable piece shows.

New York knows Trump the best, and they probably celebrated the hardest – see the coverage at NY Magazine – Intelligencer

Outside the US, there were also celebrations: Fireworks in London, church bells in Paris as Biden win celebrated abroad

On a personal level, I cannot begin to express the joy and relief I felt when I saw the results, and the pleasure I took from seeing the anxiety turn into happiness in my facebook and twitter feed.

A great relief

Like most other people, I have been in a state of anxiety for the last of couple of weeks due to the US presidential election. When there wasn’t a decisive result on election night, it didn’t exactly help my anxiety. When my brother called me a couple of hours ago, and told me that the news media have called the election for Biden/Harris, it lifted a considerable weight of my chest.

The pattern of the election results followed what was expected, the first few releases of counted votes would bring Trump strongly in front, but as more populated areas, and especially the mail-in votes, got counted Biden would surge, and take the lead.

What we hadn’t expected, was how long it would take for the surge to overtake Trump’s lead, and thus how long time it would take before the election could be called, and by how slim margins.

Biden currently set to get 306 votes in the electoral college, but some of them will be won with razor thin margins – in Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, Biden is leading with less than 1% of the votes. These numbers are expected to increase, but not into huge margins.

A few thoughts:

First of all, thank you to everyone who fought so hard for Biden to win. It could have been easy to become complaisant after the polls showed Biden well ahead, but people didn’t stop up, but instead fought to get people registered and interested in voting.

As an outsider, it is incredible to me that the margin of victory is so small – especially as it looks like Biden got at least 4 million votes more than Trump, which in a normal democracy would leave little doubt about the results. I guess the US presidential election system shows its ugly side once again.

I see a lot of people claim that the razor thin victory was because it was Biden, and not someone more progressive, like e.g. Bernie Sanders. It is very hard to say anything meaningful about such a claim, but I think it is important to point out how large Trump’s support was. As it stands right now, he is the candidate who got the second most votes ever in the US presidential election, only beaten by Biden. He got a million more votes than Obama in 2008, and more than 8 million more votes now than he got in 2016.

I really have a hard time seeing anyone matching Trump’s results, and I find it impressive how much better Biden did. I think any other Democratic candidate would have failed.

This doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t rather have had a different, more progressive president, but I think such a candidate wouldn’t have had broad appeal, which was necessary to win this election.

Speaking of necessary for winning, it is important that the Democrats fight voters suppression. Stacey Abrams did this in Georgia, with such great results, that the state might turn blue (fingers crossed) and that the two senate races are going into run-offs.

And speaking of the Georgia run-offs – these two elections are extremely important for the Democrats effort to take over the Senate. Put simply, the Democrats needs to win both of these races in order to take the majority in the Senate, which is the only way that Biden and the Democrats can introduce any progressive ideas.

 

The very real cost of racism in human lives

There is a very important article in Slate that everyone should read.

Racism Is a Pandemic

When two colleagues and I started examining infectious mortality rates during the early 20th century, we were looking for regional differences in how the United States handled influenza, tuberculosis, and other kinds of infections. Of course, we were especially interested in that era’s deadly pandemic. The 1918 flu had killed on a scale that’s hard to fathom: an estimated 50 million people worldwide, and half a million in the U.S.

To get a detailed look at infectious disease mortality in that era, we digitized and carefully checked old public health records, linked them to census population estimates, and categorized the causes of death. We didn’t believe the results. We discovered that white mortality during the 1918 flu pandemic was still lower than Black mortality, up to that point, had ever been. This wasn’t only true in the South, but in every region of the United States. This wasn’t about regional public health—it was about racism.

[…]

This spring, while recovering from my own COVID-19 infection, I wondered whether the same thing would still be true today. I found it unfathomable that the disaster unfolding around me that spring in New York, where my parents live and where I had become sick, could bear any resemblance to more typical life in the United States. And yet, thinking about how the 1918 results had stunned me, I wanted to see for myself. As life ground to a halt in the midst of another cataclysmic pandemic, how did the toll of this one compare to that of the more ordinary, ubiquitous catastrophe? Will white mortality during the coronavirus pandemic still be less than what Blacks experience routinely, without any pandemic? I began to work out equations and search for data.

[…]

If the Black population did not experience a single death due to COVID-19, if the pandemic only affected white people, Black mortality in 2020 would probably still be higher than white mortality.

This is a thought experiment. In reality, of course, COVID has hit Black populations hardest, and the inequality in death rates is likely to greater than it has been in many years. Racism is making Black Americans, along with indigenous and immigrant populations, most vulnerable to the pandemic. But the hypotheticals give us an important perspective on the reality: Racism gave Black people pandemic-level mortality long before COVID.

And it is racism that is killing Black people. “Mortality modelers” like me know that there are an awful lot of reasons one person might live longer than another. But when we see that one group in a society consistently dies at younger ages than another, we can look for trends. America excludes Black people from mechanisms of generating wealth, consigns them to the worst schools, confines them to neighborhoods with more pollution and more poverty, targets them with routine violence by state authorities, and treats them with suspicion and hostility when they seek medical care. There is no mystery in those early deaths.

We all know the devastating cost of COVID-19, yet as the article makes clear, the cost of racism on the Black communities is as high, or even higher, year after year.

This has to change. As the article states:

It is time we honestly confront the magnitude of racial inequality in the United States: a pandemic’s worth of death, every single year. Once we do that, our question about radical proposals to combat racism should shift from what is politically palatable to, simply, what will work.

Honoring RBG, a surge in donations to the Democrats

After the news broke about the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Democratic campaigns and organizations have raised record numbers in donations. It is clear that the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has galvanized the support of the Democrats and the opposition to Mitch McConnell. Since the death, the fundraiser to defeat Mitch McConnell has raised more that 17 million dollars from more than 200,000 donators.

Fundraiser to Defeat Mitch McConnell Raises $13 Million Overnight After Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death

A fundraiser to defeat Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky Senate race has raised over $13 million overnight and continues to rapidly increase since the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Update 4:00 PM: Since publishing at 9:51 AM PT, the campaign has now raised over $17 million from nearly 200,000 donors.

[…]

The campaign called “Get Mitch or Die Trying” is led by ActBlue, a non-profit that funds left-leaning and progressive groups. Donations to the campaign are split among candidates in races in key swing states where Republicans are defending seats and could be at risk of losing a majority, including Colorado, Maine, Iowa, Alabama, Michigan, Texas and Kansas.

An tweet from Tommy Vietor, founder of Crooked Media, the organization between the campaign, shows how stark the effect of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the campaign was

This is not the only group seeing a rise in donations after her death.

Democrats shatter ActBlue’s donation records after Ginsburg’s death

Friday after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death was announced — $6.2 million — than in any other single hour since ActBlue, the donation-processing site, was started 16 years ago.

Then donors broke the site’s record again in the 10 p.m. hour when donors gave another $6.3 million — more than $100,000 per minute.

The unprecedented outpouring shows the power of a looming Supreme Court confirmation fight to motivate Democratic donors. The previous biggest hour, on Aug. 20, when Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke on the final night of the Democratic convention, saw $4.3 million in donations processed, according to an ActBlue spokesperson.

Before noon on Saturday, donations to Democratic causes and campaigns on ActBlue since Justice Ginsburg’s passing had topped $45 million.

According to this US Today article, the donations kept coming

Record-breaking donations pour in from the left after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death

Record-breaking money poured in from the political left to Democratic candidates following the death Friday of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as Democrats braced for a nomination fight ahead of the presidential election and looked to build momentum for a Senate takeover.

[….]

The progressive-backed ActBlue — a donation-processing site that helps Democratic candidates, committees and organizations raise money — reported more than $95 million raised between the time Ginsburg’s death was announced and Sunday morning Eastern time.

The donations to both Get Mitch or Die Trying and ActBlue are spread across candidates, especially in close races, so even if it is highly unlikely that McConnell is going to loose his race, his behavior after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might be the final push that is going to cost the Republicans not only the presidency, but also the senate – and maybe even a few governorships.

Let’s mourn Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I woke up to the horrible news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, 87 years old.

As probably was the case for most of you, I immediately start thinking about the consequences of her death – i.e. what horrible candidate Trump would think up, how the Democrats could fight that, and what the consequences would be of that. This is of course, important, and if you want to hear some good thoughts about that, I recommend listening to the Opening Arguments podcast special episode, made just after the hosts learned about her death.

But I also think it is important that we pay proper respect to Ruth Bader Gindburg, or Notorious R.B.G. as she was often referred to on the internet. She was a icon of feminism and civil rights, and should be remembered for her role in fighting gender inequality in the US.

Before becoming a judge, she worked at the ACLU, and they have released an obituary of her.

In Memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who first rose to national prominence as an ACLU lawyer fighting for equal rights for women, has died at 87 years old.

She began Harvard Law School as a young mother and one of only nine women in her class, and became the architect of a legal strategy to eradicate gender discrimination in the United States. She modeled her approach after that of Thurgood Marshall on race discrimination, planning for a series of cases at the Supreme Court, each precedent paving the way for the next that would further expand rights and protections. In 1993, she joined the court as an associate justice, and over the decades became a cultural icon beloved for her vision and passion in defending the rights of women.

As the obituary makes clear, RBG’s impact came from not just her work as a justice on the US Supreme Court, but also from her work before becoming a justice.

This is also the point of the obituary of the Guardian

Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed America long before she joined the supreme court

The most important feminist lawyer in the history of the American republic has died. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supreme court justice and singularly influential legal mind, was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993, the court’s second-ever female justice, and served for nearly 30 years. She passed away due to complications from cancer on Friday. She was 87.

Strategic, contemplative and disciplined, but with a passion for the feminist cause that is rarely admitted into the halls of power, Ginsburg established an impressive legal legacy long before she became a judge. Over the course of a two-decade career as a lawyer before her appointment to the DC circuit court of appeals, she successfully argued cases that expanded civil rights law and 14th amendment protections to women, undoing a dense network of laws that had codified sex discrimination in all areas of American life. After she was elevated to the nation’s highest court, she found her own views moving left as the institution was pushed to the right. Her career was defined by courageous dissents that stood up for the principle of equal justice and kept alive the promise of a more free and fair America.

In the coming days, where the death of Ginsburg undoubtedly will expose the hypocrisy of McConnell, it will be all too easy to forget to mourn Gindburg the person, and not just mourn and feel angry at the consequences of her death. She doesn’t deserve that. She deserve to be remembered as the force of good that she has been through her life.

Rest in power Ruth Bader Ginsburg.