How politicians’ books become best sellers

Prominent politicians write books and, despite the fact that the books may not contain a a single interesting or original thought, or indeed may not have been even written by them at all but instead by a ghostwriter, they usually end up on a best seller list. It is an open secret that politicians and their parties are the ones who buy many books in bulk and then give them away as gifts to party faithful, thus boosting their sales numbers. But who exactly ends up footing the bill for the purchases? It is the suckers who donate to their political campaigns.
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Sackler exploitation of bankruptcy laws

In an earlier post, I linked to an episode of Last Week Tonight where John Oliver explained how the odious Sackler family are trying to use the bankruptcy laws so that, while they claim that they will be paying $4.5 billion, they will end up with total immunity frrom future lawsuits, will not have to admit guilt, and likely end up even more wealthy than they are now. This article explains why this is such a bad deal for the public and how it lets the Sacklers off the hook.
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Where non-white majority counties are concentrated

The new census reports confirms the trend of the US moving towards becoming a majority non-white country, providing more fuel to the fears of white nationalists who see themselves losing what they think is their God-given right, to be the dominant group that runs the country for their own benefit.

But I was interested in the graphic that can be seen here that plots the demographic changes by counties for every decade starting from 1980.

Interestingly, most of rapidly growing majority-minority counties are in the south and southwest, the places that are commonly associated with fear-mongering about immigrants and xenophobic attitudes. Could that be because they can actually see these changes occurring all around them?

 White, non-Hispanic Americans are about 58% of the U.S. population, according to data from the 2020 census released on Thursday. That’s lower than the estimates of 60%, and it compares with about 64% in 2010.

They are no longer the racial-ethnic majority in 400 of the nation’s 3,100+ counties and county equivalents, up from 340 a decade ago.

Nonwhiteness and diversity are actually two different measures. The Census also has developed a way to calculate diversity based on how likely it is that two people chosen at random within a boundary will be of different races or ethnicities.

The least diverse state, by this measure, is Maine, at 19%. The most diverse is Hawaii, at 76%.

The problem of Facebook and mission statements

We know that misinformation via social media runs rampant around the world and has been the vehicle for creating massive amounts of conflict among various groups. But up to now, the havoc created worldwide has been localized, such as in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia, where it has fueled murderous conflicts between different ethnic, religious, and language groups in those countries. But the pandemic has more clearly revealed the global scale of the problem as lies and distortions about the virus and vaccines and masks have spread around the globe, hampering efforts to suppress the spread of the pandemic.
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When even fear of death is not enough

This video from Vice News shows how deeply some people have become buried in the anti-vaccine propaganda that even almost dying from covid-19 does not persuade them to get the vaccine. Instead they babble about how they have heard about vaccines changing their DNA and that they are not sure whom to believe. It is a frightening display of ignorance masquerading as knowledge.


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The real cost of imperial hubris is always borne by the victims

Now that the Taliban has swept back into power in Afghanistan with great rapidity, recriminations are pouring in with all the principal actors trying to avoid blame for the speed by shifting it to others. This is the normal aftermath of any debacle and the pattern is predictable. One target has been the intelligence services, blaming them for not knowing the strength of the Taliban. But the intelligences services like the CIA are experts at deflecting blame and they have produced background sources saying that they correctly predicted the rapid Taliban takeover but that the administration ignored their reports.
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Why do it?

I was intrigued by the news report that researchers had calculated the value of pi to 68.2 trillion figures. Pi (defined as the number obtained when the circumference of a circle is divided by the diameter) is a massively important quantity that occurs all over the place but it is hard to imagine what value is gained by achieving such a high level of precision. So my first reaction was, of course, “Why bother?”

This article looks at how much precision is neccssary for any practical application.
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SNAP benefits to increase permanently

In a welcome move, the Biden administration has permanently increased the amount of support families get under SNAP. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that we used to call ‘food stamps’, and is meant to provide needy families with assistance to buy food.

The Biden administration has revised the nutrition standards of the food stamp program and prompted the largest permanent increase to benefits in the program’s history, a move that will give poor people more power to fill their grocery carts but add billions of dollars to the cost of a program that feeds one in eight Americans.

Under rules to be announced on Monday and put in place in October, average benefits will rise more than 25 percent from prepandemic levels. All 42 million people in the program will receive additional aid. The move does not require congressional approval, and unlike the large pandemic-era expansions, which are starting to expire, the changes are intended to last.

For at least a decade, critics of the benefits have said they were too low to provide an adequate diet. More than three-quarters of households exhaust their benefits in the first half of the monthly cycle, and researchers have linked subsequent food shortages to problems as diverse as increased hospital admissions, more school suspensions and lower SAT scores.

Under the new rules, average monthly benefits, $121 per person before the pandemic, will rise by $36. Although the increase may seem modest to middle-class families, proponents say it will reduce hunger, improve nutrition and lead to better health.

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Lindsey Graham has always been a weasel

Color me unsurprised. Lindsey Graham had apparently called Joe Biden after his election victory to privately tell him that his attacks on Biden’s son Hunter during the campaign was the minimum that he had to do to stay in Donald Trump’s good graces. This is being treated as news.

The South Carolina Republican senator Lindsey Graham called Joe Biden after his victory over Donald Trump to tell the president he only joined attacks on his son, Hunter Biden, as a “bare minimum” to satisfy Trump supporters.

The detail was included in a lengthy profile of Graham and his Washington manoeuvres published by the New York Times. It said the call, intended to “revive a friendship damaged by [Graham’s] call for a special prosecutor to investigate the overseas business dealings” of Hunter Biden, was “short, and not especially sweet”.

In February the first lady told CNN: “I don’t know what happened to Lindsey. We used to be great friends. I mean, we traveled together with the [Senate] foreign relations committee, we had dinner, you know … And now he’s changed.”

The Times said Graham made his call to Biden in November, even while he actively supported Trump’s attempts to overturn his defeat, himself ending up under investigation for a call to an election official in Georgia.

Citing two anonymous sources close to the president, the Times said that shortly after the call, Biden said: “Lindsey’s been a personal disappointment, because I was a personal friend of his.

Why are people in politics and the media always acting surprised when Graham shows himself to be an unprincipled, self-promoting, duplicitous, back-stabbing, hack? He has not ‘changed’. There is a long trail of evidence that he has been this way all along, changing his views according to the prevailing winds and showing no hesitation on turning on is friends for political gain. When people like Jill Biden say that he has ‘changed’, surely they must realize that his character has not changed, what happened is that he felt that being friends with the Bidens was no longer to his advantage, and so he merely once again changed his alliances to advance his own interests?

Could the massive tragedy of Afghanistan have been averted?

So yet another effort by a foreign power to determine the future of Afghanistan has come to an ignominious end. (See here for a timeline of the US war in that country.) While the speed with which the Taliban finally entered Kabul and took control of the country may have come as a surprise, the end result is surely not. I am struggling (and failing) to think of any time in the post-colonial era where a foreign power invaded a country, overthrew the government, installed a new one more to its liking, and then left, leaving behind a stable society. There are going to be many heated arguments trying to identify who ‘lost’ Afghanistan and pin the blame on them but the reality is that it was always never winnable in the first place. Pouring weapons and soldiers and money into the country just provided an illusion of control.
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