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Author Archive for JOHN ADAMS

Daily Bread for 6.29.20

Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will see afternoon thundershowers with a high of eighty-eight. Sunrise is 5:19 AM and sunset 8:37 PM, for 15h 17m 20s of daytime.  The moon is waxing gibbous with 63.2% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand three hundred twenty-ninth day. 

On this day in 1975, Steve Wozniak tests his first prototype of Apple I computer.

Recommended for reading in full —

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Craig Timberg, and Tony Romm report Zuckerberg once wanted to sanction Trump. Then Facebook wrote rules that accommodated him:

Facebook has constrained its efforts against false and misleading news, adopted a policy explicitly allowing politicians to lie, and even altered its news feed algorithm to neutralize claims that it was biased against conservative publishers, according to more than a dozen former and current employees and previously unreported documents obtained by The Washington Post. One of the documents shows it began as far back as 2015, when as a candidate Trump posted a video calling for a ban of Muslims entering the United States. Facebook’s executives declined to remove it, setting in motion an exception for political discourse.

The concessions to Trump have led to a transformation of the world’s information battlefield. They paved the way for a growing list of digitally savvy politicians to repeatedly push out misinformation and incendiary political language to billions of people. It has complicated the public understanding of major events such as the pandemic and the protest movement, as well as contributed to polarization.

And as Trump grew in power, the fear of his wrath pushed Facebook into more deferential behavior toward its growing number of right-leaning users, tilting the balance of news people see on the network, according to the current and former employees.

Facebook is now confronting a mounting advertiser boycott that has pushed down its stock price as companies demand stricter policies against hate speech. Starbucks became the latest on Sunday to say it would hit pause on social media advertising.

J. David McSwane reports He Removed Labels That Said “Medical Use Prohibited,” Then Tried to Sell Thousands of Masks to Officials Who Distribute to Hospitals:

“He kind of takes us on this tour of his facility, which is essentially a shelled out warehouse,” Rensko, 36, told me over the phone, detailing how Rivera described the work at the warehouse. “He was saying they were designated for personal or residential use, not for medical. And so what he was doing was basically putting them into other packaging where the city of San Antonio and the state of Texas are able to look at them and then sell them for medical purposes.”

Rensko knew something wasn’t quite right and walked away from the TaskRabbit gig. He told his wife, who told a friend, who told another friend, who told me.

Over weeks of reporting, I’d learn that Rensko had scratched the surface of a larger scheme involving a Silicon Valley investor named Brennan Mulligan to sell what Texas health officials later flagged as “fraudulent” masks to the agency directing protective equipment to hospitals. Mulligan had enlisted Rivera, who was desperate for money after the pandemic had sapped his primary source of income, building furniture and manual labor via TaskRabbit. As countless others have, the two had a chance to make money off of the country’s public health nightmare.

What Makes These Potatoes Stretchy:

Daily Bread for 6.28.20

Good morning.

Sunday in Whitewater will see scattered afternoon thundershowers with a high of eighty-seven. Sunrise is 5:19 AM and sunset 8:37 PM, for 15h 18m 29s of daytime.  The moon is waxing gibbous with 51.9% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand three hundred twenty-eighth day. 

On this day in 1846, Adolphe Sax patents the saxophone.

Recommended for reading in full —

Joshua Partlow and Josh Dawsey report Workers removed thousands of social distancing stickers before Trump’s Tulsa rally:

In the hours before President Trump’s rally in Tulsa, his campaign directed the removal of thousands of “Do Not Sit Here, Please!” stickers from seats in the arena that were intended to establish social distance between rallygoers, according to video and photos obtained by The Washington Post and a person familiar with the event.

The removal contradicted instructions from the management of the BOK Center, the 19,000-seat arena in downtown Tulsa where Trump held his rally on June 20. At the time, coronavirus cases were rising sharply in Tulsa County, and Trump faced intense criticism for convening a large crowd for an indoor political rally, his first such event since the start of the pandemic.

As part of its safety plan, arena management had purchased 12,000 do-not-sit stickers for Trump’s rally, intended to keep people apart by leaving open seats between attendees. On the day of the rally, event staff had already affixed them on nearly every other seat in the arena when Trump’s campaign told event management to stop and then began removing the stickers, hours before the president’s arrival, according to a person familiar with the event who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

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They also told us that they didn’t want any signs posted saying we should social distance in the venue,” [executive vice president of the venue’s owners, ASM Doug] Thornton said.

Derek Willis and Yeganeh Torbati report A Company Run by a White House “Volunteer” With No Experience in Medical Supplies Got $2.4 Million From the Feds for Medical Supplies:

A company created by a former Pentagon official who describes himself as a White House volunteer for Vice President Mike Pence won a $2.4 million dollar contract in May — its first federal award — to supply the Bureau of Prisons with surgical gowns.

Mathew J. Konkler, who worked in the Department of Defense during the George W. Bush administration, formed BlackPoint Distribution Company LLC in August 2019 in Indiana, state records show, but had won no federal work until May 26. The Bureau of Prisons chose the company with limited competition for a contract to supply surgical gowns to its facilities.

It is at least the second contract awarded to a company formed by an individual who had worked in or volunteered for the Trump administration; a company formed by Zach Fuentes, a former White House deputy chief of staff, won a $3 million contract just days after forming to supply face masks to the Indian Health Service. The masks did not meet FDA standards for use in health care settings, and an IHS spokesman said this week that the agency is trying to return the masks to Fuentes. Members of Congress called for investigations into the contract, and the Government Accountability Office now plans to review the deal “in the coming few months, as staff become available,” spokesman Charles Young said last week.

A Decade of Sun:

Republican Voters Against Trump: John from Wisconsin

While not a member of a political party, one can still sympathize with – and support – the many thousands of Republicans each day who reject Trumpism.  John from Wisconsin is one of them:

“Left unchecked, this man will single-handedly destroy the great legacy which was handed to us by past generations. Is this the country we want to leave to our children?”

Are you a Republican, ex-Republican, or Trump-voter who won’t support the president this November? Share your story here: https://rvat.org/tell-your-story.

Daily Bread for 6.27.20

Good morning.

Saturday in Whitewater will see scattered thundershowers with a high of eighty-six. Sunrise is 5:18 AM and sunset 8:37 PM, for 15h 18m 29s of daytime.  The moon is waxing crescent with 40.6% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand three hundred twenty-seventh day. 

On this day in 1937, Solomon Juneau founds the Milwaukee Sentinel.

Recommended for reading in full —

Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt, and Michael Schwirtz report Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says (‘The Trump administration has been deliberating for months about what to do about a stunning intelligence assessment’):

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

 Philip Bump describes The ridiculous coronavirus denialism of Trump’s top economic adviser:

Larry Kudlow came to President Trump’s National Economic Council by way of a stint on cable television, a not-uncommon path for members of Trump’s team. His job is straightforward: He is responsible for ensuring that the administration enacts policies aimed at bolstering the economy, a central concern for the president as his reelection looms.

Kudlow’s most obvious efforts at massaging the economy, though, seem to echo those of Trump: assuring Americans and U.S. businesses that the coronavirus pandemic is under control.

That’s been his role for a while. In late February, Kudlow appeared on television to assure the country that the virus was contained “pretty close to airtight.” It wasn’t: The virus was already spreading without detection and the first case of that spread would be reported less than 48 hours later. It’s not just that Kudlow was incorrect. It’s that he was obviously incorrect at the time he made the claim he made.

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“There are some hot spots. We’re on it,” Kudlow reiterated Monday. “We know how to deal with this stuff now, we’ve come a long way since last winter and there is no second wave coming.”

That was Monday, when the seven-day average of new cases in the United States was 27,645, according to a Washington Post analysis. That was already up 28 percent from the average June 15. Since Monday, that average has climbed another 12 percent, leading to one of the highest averages the country has seen since the pandemic emerged.

How Laser Cleaning Works:

Candidates’ Expectations

An out-of-town candidate for a public job in Whitewater should do some research on both the job and the community. Along the way, the candidate will visit the city, and perhaps be introduced to so-called stakeholders in Whitewater. Those introductions may be revealing, but they’re sure to be brief, and blur with other events on a visit.

More significant, however, is what happens when the candidate for a major public position interviews in closed session. The candidate will remember those questions, and those interviewers. In those closed session moments, a candidate will learn what those with hiring authority want and expect from an applicant.

And so, and so — this question about those closed-session interviews: how likely is it that any candidate is asked to undertake a program of substantive change?

Here, one presents the question straightforwardly, but the probable answer renders the question rhetorical. It’s likely that candidates are asked for no more than slight improvements, and a more polished approach, than their predecessors. There’s almost certainly an emphasis on not embarrassing the hiring body, while simultaneously fulfilling stakeholders’ wishes.

What’s improbable is that a candidate is asked to make substantive, root-and-branch changes. Changes like that would necessarily call into question longtime stakeholders’ own records.

‘Do what we want while looking somewhat better than your predecessor’ is a low bar for any candidate, in any community. In a town that’s been through the Great Recession, an opioid epidemic, economic stagnation, repeated incidents of sexual harassment, a pandemic, and now another recession, it’s a recipe only for community disappointment.

And yet, and yet – from the candidate’s vantage, shouldn’t a new coat of paint be more than enough? Isn’t that, after all, what his or her hiring committee wanted? If they’d wanted more, wouldn’t they have asked for more?

A person looking at Whitewater should be able to see that she needs more than a new coat of paint. In fairness, however, when those appointed to high public positions face requests or demands for deep change, they have reason to be surprised: those are not the terms under which they were hired.

Those candidates should have wanted better for Whitewater, surely. Yet for it all, the aging stakeholders of Old Whitewater should have wanted better for Whitewater long before those candidates ever heard of this town.

Daily Bread for 6.26.20

Good morning.

Friday in Whitewater will see afternoon thundershowers with a high of eighty-two. Sunrise is 5:18 AM and sunset 8:37 PM, for 15h 18m 58s of daytime.  The moon is waxing crescent with 29.4% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand three hundred twenty-sixth day. 

On this day in 1963, Pres. Kennedy deliver his Ich bin ein Berliner speech in West Berlin.

Recommended for reading in full —

Neil Paine and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux write New research explores how conservative media misinformation may have intensified the severity of the pandemic (‘The three studies paint a picture of a media ecosystem that entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking steps to protect themselves and others’):

In recent weeks, three studies have focused on conservative media’s role in fostering confusion about the seriousness of the coronavirus. Taken together, they paint a picture of a media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others.

The end result, according to one of the studies, is that infection and mortality rates are higher in places where one pundit who initially downplayed the severity of the pandemic — Fox News’s Sean Hannity — reaches the largest audiences.

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In April, Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Dolores Albarracin of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign published a peer-reviewed study examining how Americans’ media diets affected their beliefs about the coronavirus.

Administering a nationally representative phone survey with 1,008 respondents, they found that people who got most of their information from mainstream print and broadcast outlets tended to have an accurate assessment of the severity of the pandemic and their risks of infection. But those who relied on conservative sources, such as Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories or unfounded rumors, such as the belief that taking vitamin C could prevent infection, that the Chinese government had created the virus, and that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exaggerated the pandemic’s threat “to damage the Trump presidency.”
….

A working paper posted by the National Bureau of Economic Research in May examined whether these incorrect beliefs affected real-world behavior.

The authors used anonymous location data from millions of cellphones to explore how the popularity of Fox News in a given Zip code related to social distancing practices there. By March 15, they found, a 10 percent increase in Fox News viewership within a Zip code reduced its residents’ propensity to stay home, in compliance with public health guidelines, by about 1.3 percentage points.
….

Another recent working paper, by economists at the University of Chicago and other institutions, similarly finds that Fox News viewers are less likely to comply with public health guidelines than consumers of other media. But their paper takes the analysis two steps further: It finds that Fox viewers aren’t a monolith, with fans of some media personalities acting distinctly from others. It also provides evidence that those behavioral differences are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus and mortality rate of covid-19 the disease it causes, in certain areas.

Philadelphia Police Violated Their Own Guidelines, Here’s How:

See also Philadelphia Officials Apologize For Using Tear Gas On Protesters; SWAT Officer In Viral Video Suspended With Intent To Dismiss.

Built Against Substantive Change

Over time, no matter how small the city, national conditions and trends make their way to the edge of town. Some towns will address these conditions, but others will be resistant to substantive change. For those towns in the latter category, business as usual and rhetorical feints suffice in response to powerful forces to which other communities more significantly respond.

A culture of boosterism – accentuating the positive regardless of actual conditions – is the single most evident cultural trait of Old Whitewater. Politicians, office holders, many town figures: their principal job has been to promote the city positively, real conditions notwithstanding. (From their point of view, boosterism is policy.) This sweet talk unforgivably diverts attention from residents who are in need. When boosterism is combined with a metaphorically narrow perimeter fence (in which decision-making is confined to a few), the town becomes even more resistant to effectual (rather than rhetorical) change.

The same few people occupy multiple positions sometimes because they feel themselves entitled and sometimes because other residents won’t join this insular culture.

These last dozen years have seen a Great Recession, opioid epidemic, economic stagnation, repeated incidents of sexual harassment, a pandemic, and now another recession. Whitewater has been deeply affected during this time (over the last decade, she has more poverty than before), but her governmental approach has been mostly business as usual, with the occasional – and brief – rhetorical nod to national conditions and movements.

If most of the same policymakers haven’t ventured farther than rhetoric (if that far) after so many significant events, they’re not likely to do so now. 

Indeed, there’s no notable official expectation – or desire – for those hired for public positions in Whitewater to be agents of significant change. Hiring committees don’t want that sort of change – they want more of the same, with perhaps a slightly more presentable, professional manner from their selected candidates.

It would better – of course, of course – for officials to make much greater changes, but having been recalcitrant for so many years, it’s unlikely to happen now. In any event, many longtime policymakers wouldn’t know substantive change if it bit them on the ankles. (They may think that press releases are an expression of change, in the way a child thinks declaring a thing makes it so. Another version of this approach is insisting that while officials elsewhere might be in the wrong about something, that couldn’t possibly happen with our officials, in our town.)

Fortunately, no matter how hard the conditions, Whitewater will not collapse as long as she has some sort of public university (even if a smaller one). She is likely, however, to continue a sad, relative economic decline. A commuter class of daytime professionals has neither the ability nor likely the desire to bring substantive change to Whitewater. Those who are brought in, like those homegrown, are often mentored poorly (since boosterism is superficial and calls for no lasting insights).

There is deep tragedy in this, but it is a tragedy that policymakers have, themselves, brought about by an unwillingness to act far earlier. People choose freely, sometimes well, sometimes poorly. Having chosen poorly for so long, and defended those choices so often, officials have consigned the city to a more difficult near and medium future.

In this way, while writing about the city has a necessary, meaningful aspect of advocacy for a better way, another (profoundly sad) aspect of writing involves chronicling missed opportunities and their debilitating effects.

Daily Bread for 6.25.20

Good morning.

Thursday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of eighty-two. Sunrise is 5:17 AM and sunset 8:37 PM, for 15h 19m 21s of daytime.  The moon is waxing crescent with 19.6% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand three hundred twenty-fifth day.

Whitewater’s CDA board meets at 5:30 PM via audiovisual conferencing. 

On this day in 1950, the Korean War begins after North Korea invades South Korea.

Recommended for reading in full —

Neil Paine and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux write What Economists Fear Most During This Recovery:

In partnership with the Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, FiveThirtyEight asked 34 quantitative macroeconomic economists what they thought about a variety of subjects around the coronavirus recession and recovery efforts. The most recent survey, which was conducted from June 19 through 22, echoed many of the predictions from the last round — though there were also a few new wrinkles in their forecasts.

When we first asked about the shape of the recovery, 58 percent of respondents thought the trajectory of future U.S. gross domestic product looked like a Nike “swoosh” — a sharp downturn followed by a long, slow recovery. This time around, however, a consensus has formed around a slightly different shape: a reverse radical (i.e., a mirrored version of the square-root symbol).

This shape — which 73 percent of our economists predicted for the country’s economic future — implies a steep drop followed by a quick partial recovery and a longer period of slower, mixed growth. But it isn’t necessarily an improvement over the swoosh. “There is nothing standard or smooth about this recovery,” said Lisa Cook, professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University. In her view, a reverse-radical-shaped recovery could be shaped by a spike in infections and hospitalizations, a wave of bankruptcies as unemployment benefits expire or consumers’ unwillingness to return to gyms, nail salons or other parts of their routine. That could make the bounce back from this recession bumpier than previous recessions.

Radley Balko writes Both parties’ police reform bills are underwhelming. Here’s why:

The Republican bill places no restrictions on the dangerous practice of no-knock raids. Instead, it asks that states collect data. The Democratic bill bars the use of no-knock warrants for federal drug investigations and cuts funding for any state or local jurisdiction that doesn’t do the same. But the Democrats’ bill requires only that police officers execute drug warrants “only after providing notice of his or her authority and purpose.” This “knock and announce” requirement is all but meaningless if you know that police officers frequently do so either simultaneous with or just seconds before entering. (The cops who killed Taylor, for example, claimed they did knock and announce.) A truly meaningful reform would go further and bar any forced entry into a private residence unless the police have reason to suspect someone inside presents an imminent threat to others, such as an active shooter, a kidnapping or a robbery in progress.

Neither bill satisfactorily provides for changing the current reality that bad cops are rarely held accountable. Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, had 17 misconduct complaints in 18 years. He received only two letters of reprimand. The New York Times reported that since 2012, the Minneapolis Police Department received over 2,600 civilian complaints of police misconduct. Just 12 were upheld.

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Mentoring

When a small community like Whitewater comes to rely on hundreds of non-resident commuters to provide services (for city, schools, or university), those commuters will have a different work relationship than resident workers. (About these workers see The Commuter Class.)

Many will be less attached to the community (as they’ve freely chosen to live elsewhere for housing, activities, etc.). Some will see that they’re working in a community whose residents cannot fill all the available professional positions (and so come to see the community as dependent). Some will look on the community merely as a job opportunity and so come to look for other opportunities if any moment in the community goes poorly. Others will look on the community merely as a job opportunity and so bend easily to bad local ideas simply to retain employment.

Mentoring new employees or leaders is difficult in this situation: they may not be amenable to longterm guidance, either because there are too few resident leaders to provide guidance or because some of those resident leaders won’t have serious mentoring to offer non-resident professionals in any event.

In this way, a local deficiency of professional workers becomes worse through an inability to mentor adequately those commuting workers who do take employment in the city.