Author Archives: richardbrenneman

Aussie ‘Black Summer’ fires were just the beginning


Things are heating up Down Under, as Sky News reports today:

Australia’s largest city has sweltered through its hottest November night on record.

Sydney’s overnight low was 25.3C [77.4F], recorded just after 1am on Sunday, smashing a record that had stood since 1967, before it shot up to 30C [86F] by 4.30am.

This followed two consecutive days of temperatures climbing above 40C [104F], which were also record-breaking for November.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said the weekend also saw 47.5C [117F] in Marree [South Australia], 47.4C [117F] in Roxby Downs [South Australia], and 46.4C [116F] in Birdsville [Queensland].

In New South Wales [NSW], the Rural Fire Service [RFS] issued a total fire ban for most of the east and northeast of the state, saying there was a “very high to severe fire danger”, with hot, gusty winds and dry conditions.

It’s that extreme fire danger warning that really terrifies Australians.

Fears of another Black Summer

They called it Black summer because of a massive wave of fires that darkened the sky and caused billions of dollars in damages.

From Wikipedia:

The 2019–20 Australian bushfire season, colloquially known as the Black Summer, was a period of unusually intense bushfires in many parts of Australia.

In June 2019, the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service acting director warned of the potential for an early start to the bushfire season which normally starts in August. The warning was based on the Northern Australia bushfire seasonal outlook noting exceptional dry conditions and a lack of soil moisture, combined with early fires in central Queensland. Throughout the summer, hundreds of fires burnt, mainly in the southeast of the country. The major fires peaked during December–January.

As of 9 March 2020, the fires burnt an estimated 18.6 million hectares [46 million acres; 186,000 square kilometres; 72,000 square miles], destroyed over 5,900 buildings [including 2,779 homes] and killed at least 34 people.

Economists estimated that the Australian bushfires may cost over A$103 billion in property damage and economic losses, making the bushfires Australia’s costliest natural disaster to date. Nearly 80 percent of Australians were affected either directly or indirectly by the bushfires. By 7 January 2020, the smoke had moved approximately 11,000 kilometres [6,800 mi] across the South Pacific Ocean to Chile and Argentina. As of 2 January 2020, NASA estimated that 306 million tonnes [337 million short tons] of CO2 had been emitted.

Assessing readiness for another Black Summer

On 20 February, while the fires were still burning, the Australian government created the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements to assess the country’s ability to handle similar disasters in the future.

Their exhaustive report, issued at the end of October, predicts the worst is yet to come.

This chart from the document gives the major reason:

Report

The report places Black Summer in context:

The 2019-2020 bushfires started in Australia’s hottest and driest year on record. Much of the country was in drought, and the first bushfire started in the middle of winter. Over the following months, fires burnt across tens of millions of hectares of land, threatening and displacing hundreds of communities. Many thousands of volunteers and professional emergency responders worked tirelessly and made great sacrifices to save lives, homes and precious natural landscapes.

Thirty-three people died, including six Australian firefighters and three American aerial firefighters. Thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged. Smoke blanketed much of Australia, including capital cities, and contributed to hundreds of deaths. Nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced, and the fires harmed many threatened species and ecological communities. Overall, the fires caused billions of dollars of damage.

For many communities, the bushfires were not the only disaster they faced that summer. After the drought and the fires came storms and floods, and before the last fire was extinguished, Australia announced its first case of COVID-19. Australia’s ability to coordinate nationally, learn and adapt, in the face of deep uncertainties and rising risks, had been tested.

Looking to Australia’s original inhabitants

Both California and Australia had neglected the wisdom of the wisdom of their respective land’s original inhabitants. But the U.S. is now looking at Native American traditions and discovering that the “primeval forest” of North America were, in fact, a landscape sculpted by intentionally set fires.

From a 2000 report for the U.S. Forest Service:

Prior to European discovery of the New World, aboriginal use of fire was widespread in both western and eastern forests. In fact, the Americas, as first seen by Europeans, had largely been crafted by native people, not created by nature. Thus, the only way to preserve original vegetation conditions in parks and other natural areas is for modern land managers to reinstitute historical burning regimes. A hands-off or “natural-regulation” approach by today’s land managers will not duplicate the ecological conditions under which eastern deciduous forests developed. Instead, letting-nature-take-its-course creates highly unnatural conditions that have never before existed in eastern or western forests. Unless the importance of aboriginal burning is recognized, and modern management practices changed accordingly, our ecosystems will continue to lose the biological diversity and ecological integrity they once had even in parks and other protected areas

The report includes a photo showing how forests once looked:

It’s ironic that the very beauty American colonists discovered had been profoundly shaped by the people they saw as uncivilized savages.

And now Australia is turning to the original inhabitants for lessons learned.

From the Royal Commission report:

Indigenous land management is an example of how local knowledge has successfully informed land management, and it has done so for tens of thousands of years. Indigenous land management draws on a deep knowledge of Australia’s landscapes. It is based on cultural understandings of Country, is tailored to specific places, and engages local people in development and implementation. Partly for these reasons, Indigenous land management differs widely across Australia.

There is a growing recognition of the value of Indigenous land and fire management practices as a way to mitigate the effects of bushfires and improve disaster resilience. Governments should continue to engage with Traditional Owners to explore the relationship between Indigenous land management and disaster resilience.

The reasons for urgency

More Black Summers are just part of what the commission sees coming as global temperatures rise:

Extreme weather has already become more frequent and intense because of climate change; further global warming over the next 20 to 30 years is inevitable. Globally, temperatures will continue to rise, and Australia will have more hot days and fewer cool days. Sea levels are also projected to continue to rise. Tropical cyclones are projected to decrease in number, but increase in intensity. Floods and bushfires are expected to become more frequent and more intense. Catastrophic fire conditions may render traditional bushfire prediction models and firefighting techniques less effective.

Natural disasters are expected to become more complex, more unpredictable, and more difficult to manage. We are likely to see more compounding disasters on a national scale with far-reaching consequences. Compounding disasters may be caused by multiple disasters happening simultaneously, or one after another. Some may involve multiple hazards – fires, floods and storms. Some have cascading effects – threatening not only lives and homes, but also the nation’s economy, critical infrastructure and essential services, such as our electricity, telecommunications and water supply, and our roads, railways and airports.

Headline of the day: ‘Mad King George’ erupts


From the Independent:

Trump spews discredited conspiracy theories in first TV interview since defeat, as aide dubs him ‘Mad King George’

Alabama prosecutor fired for rent eviction protest


A public servant who tried to help the public lost his job because he stated he hated an Alabama law that allows landlords to file criminal charges against delinquent renters, even in the midst of the pandemic.

ProPublica, the non-profit public interest investigative news group that works in cooperation with major media, covers the story of the firing and an ouster resulting from a story they published.

Journalists Maya Miller and Ellis Simani write the followup for ProPublica:

A Deputy Prosecutor Was Fired for Speaking Out Against Jail Time for People Who Fall Behind on Rent

An Arkansas prosecutor has been fired after speaking out against the state’s criminal eviction statute in an October ProPublica story. Garland County deputy prosecutor Josh Drake was let go from his position on Oct. 31 by Michelle Lawrence, the prosecuting attorney.

Arkansas is the only state where landlords can file criminal charges rather than civil complaints against tenants for falling behind on rent. Drake told ProPublica, “I hate that law. It’s unconstitutional.” It constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, he said, echoing other Arkansas legal experts and advocates across the political spectrum.

Under the law, which dates to 1901, if a tenant’s rent is a day overdue, they forfeit their right to be in the property. If they don’t leave their homes within 10 days of getting a notice from their landlords, they can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined for each day they overstay.

Evictions in the state can snowball from charges to warrants to arrests to jail time, leaving people with criminal records that hinder their ability to find a new home or get a job. In civil evictions, by contrast, landlords can pursue unpaid rent and other additional fees from tenants, but the process doesn’t include daily fines for staying in the property without paying or put tenants at risk of jail time.

ProPublica found that since 2018, more than 1,000 cases have been filed under the criminal eviction statute. During that time, judges have sentenced at least 37 renters to jail after charges stemming from the law, which is officially known as “failure to pay rent, failure to vacate.” Women and people of color have disproportionately been charged.

Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national moratorium on evictions did not stop the criminal filings. Since the Sept. 4 order, at least 49 people have been charged, with more than two dozen cases filed in the last month. Meanwhile, the number of new cases of the coronavirus in Arkansas has risen dramatically since mid-September. The state now has over 1,000 hospitalized because of the virus, according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Landlords told ProPublica they preferred the criminal statute to civil evictions because the criminal process is cheaper. Taxpayers shoulder the cost when county attorneys like Lawrence and Drake pursue tenants. In civil eviction hearings, landlords have to cover their attorney fees.

Drake had been prosecuting cases on behalf of Garland County, in central Arkansas, since March 2018 on a part-time basis. Lawrence called Drake into her office the day after ProPublica’s story ran and said she was firing him because his remarks drew media and statewide attention to her office, Drake said.

Lawrence, who began working in Garland County’s prosecuting attorney’s office in 1994 and was elected as the prosecuting attorney in 2016, declined to comment, citing an office prohibition on speaking about personnel matters.

During Drake’s tenure, he handled at least a dozen criminal eviction cases. Like many landlords, state legislators and prosecutors, he had the impression that the statute never led to arrests or jail time. That’s not true, however. Since 2018, 45 people have been arrested exclusively for failing to pay rent and not leaving, according to state records.

Evictions in Arkansas can snowball from criminal charges to arrests to jail time because of a 119-year-old law that mostly impacts female, Black and low-income renters. Even prosecutors have called it unconstitutional.

Despite his misimpression, Drake nevertheless disliked the statute because he said it effectively transformed county attorneys and law enforcement officers into collection agents for landlords. But he said he felt he had no choice but to prosecute the cases because it was his job. He never voiced his objections until the ProPublica story.

“I stand by what I said. I still feel the same way,” he said. “It’s one of those things that I’ve always been ashamed of, but I’ve never been in a situation where I could do anything about it.” Now, he said, “I can at least call more attention to it.”

Continue reading

Chart of the day: Bill Gate’s chippin’ them


Or so say a helluva lot of Republicans,

From Yahoo News, a fascinating poll about a Republican COVID phobia:

From the report [emphasis added]:

As the coronavirus has spread across the United States, so has rampant misinformation about the illness. A new poll from Yahoo News/YouGov asked about some of the more prevalent Internet theories that have little or no basis in fact, and the results show some strong partisan divides.  

Most Republicans (57%), for instance, believe a widespread myth that Chinese scientists engineered the coronavirus in a laboratory in Wuhan, China, from where it accidentally escaped. About one-quarter of Democrats (23%) think this is true, and most (53%) believe it is false. 

A plurality of Republicans (44%) also believes a claim that appears to have originated on Facebook: that Microsoft founder Bill Gates wants to use a mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 to implant microchips in people that would be used to track people with a digital ID. The post was removed by Facebook as an attempt to halt the spread of misinformation.  

Despite that, half of Americans who watch Fox News as their primary news source (50%) indicated that they believe the statement about Gates is true. In contrast, most Americans who cite MSNBC as their primary source of TV news (61%) believe the statement is false. 

Michael de Adder: A Presidential parable


Canada’s best, via Twitter:

Climate change linked to animal disease spread


And very probably to humans as well.

From the University of Notre Dame:

Global warming likely to increase disease risk for animals worldwide

Changes in climate can increase infectious disease risk in animals, researchers found — with the possibility that these diseases could spread to humans, they warn.

The study, conducted by scientists at the University of Notre Dame, University of South Florida and University of Wisconsin-Madison, supports a phenomenon known as “thermal mismatch hypothesis,” which is the idea that the greatest risk for infectious disease in cold climate-adapted animals – such as polar bears – occurs as temperatures rise, while the risk for animals living in warmer climates occurs as temperatures fall.

The hypothesis proposes that smaller organisms like pathogens function across a wider range of temperatures than larger organisms, such as hosts or animals.

“Understanding how the spread, severity and distribution of animal infectious diseases could change in the future has reached a new level of importance as a result of the global pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2, a pathogen which appears to have originated from wildlife,” said Jason Rohr, co-author of the paper published in Science and the Ludmilla F., Stephen J. and Robert T. Galla College Professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Notre Dame. “Given that the majority of emerging infectious disease events have a wildlife origin, this is yet another reason to implement mitigation strategies to reduce climate change.”

The research team collected data from more than 7,000 surveys of different animal host-parasite systems across all seven continents to provide a diverse representation of animals and their pathogens in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. The study showed that pathogens found at warm locations outperform their animal hosts during cool weather as warm-adapted animals perform poorly. Similarly, pathogens found at cool locations thrive at warm temperatures, while cold-adapted animals are less tolerant of the heat.

Researchers also collected historical temperature and precipitation records at the time and location of each survey, and long-term climate data for each location to understand how temperature affected animal disease risk in different climates, and how these patterns varied depending on traits of animals and pathogens. The study also revealed that cold-blooded animals tended to offer stronger support for the thermal mismatch hypothesis than warm-blooded animals.

Next, they coupled their models to global climate change projections to predict where the risk of animal infectious diseases might change the most. The analysis suggests that global warming will likely shift infectious disease away from the equator, with decreases of animal infectious diseases in the lowland tropics and increases in the highland tropics, temperate and cooler regions of the planet.

“When each pathogen species was given equal weight, the predicted increases in infectious disease at cooler locations outweighed the decreases at warmer locations, potentially suggesting a net increase in animal infectious diseases with climate change,” said Rohr, who is also an affiliated member of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative and the Eck Institute for Global Health.

As for next steps, Rohr says the researchers aim to evaluate whether similar patterns exist for human and plant diseases, the latter of which could have implications for food security.

Co-authors on the study are Erin Sauer of South Florida and Wisconsin-Madison, and Olivia Santiago and Samuel Spencer of South Florida. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Tweets of the day: Another reason to like AOC


She sees a problem, then gets to work.

Marvels ensue in just four hours.

Via Twitter:

Parsing the vast, deadly problem of e-waste


In a telling move that could hint of good things to come, a committee of the British Parliament has called for rules that would force tech companies and giant vendors like Amazon and eBay to recycle the electronic gear they sell.

In addition, they propose that companies should be responsible and pay for the return and safe recycling of those products.

Also included in their plan are proposals that would guarantee the user’s ability to repair the products themselves, and a reduction in sales taxes on repair services.

From the Guardian:

Global giants such as Amazon and Apple should be made responsible for helping to collect, recycle and repair their products to cut the 155,000 tonnes of electronic waste being thrown away each year in the UK, MPs say.

An investigation by the environmental audit committee found the UK is lagging behind other countries and failing to create a circular economy in electronic waste. The UK creates the second highest levels of electronic waste in the world, after Norway. But MPs said the UK was not collecting and treating much of this waste properly.

<snip>

MPs accused online retailers including Amazon and eBay of freeriding as they are not considered retailers or producers, and are therefore not legally liable to contribute to the collection and recycling of e-waste.

“For all their protestations of claimed sustainability, major online retailers and marketplaces such as Amazon have so far avoided playing their part in the circular economy by not collecting or recycling electronics in the way other organisations have to,” MPs said.

“Given the astronomical growth in sales by online vendors, particularly this year during the coronavirus pandemic, the EAC calls for online marketplaces to collect products and pay for their recycling to create a level playing field with physical retailers and producers that are not selling on their platforms.”

Recycling e-waste: a dirty, deadly business

Disposing of electronic waste is becoming more complicated because the world’s largest recycler of e-waste, China, announced in 2017 that it would no longer handle most electronics.

As Columbia University reported in 2108:

When China banned 24 kinds of solid waste last September, countries such as the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan realized they had a big problem. Until last year, China accepted 70 percent of the world’s electronic waste—discarded computers, cell phones, printers, televisions, microwaves, smoke alarms, and other electronic equipment and parts. After China stopped accepting this e-waste out of concern for its environment, Europe and North America began shipping more of it to Southeast Asia—but now Vietnam and Thailand, whose ports have been overwhelmed, are curbing imported e-waste as well.

The reason they’re not taking the waste was spelled out earlier this year in a study of recycling in Thailand reported in April in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health which summarizes the dangers resulting from recycling process:

Electronic waste [e-waste], discarded electrical and electronic equipment that is outdated, damaged, or malfunctioning, is one of the major sources of environmental and health-related problems worldwide. It has emerged as the fastest growing waste stream due to technological advancement, fashion style, market expansion, end of product life, and misuse or lack of maintenance of electrical and electronic equipment. Since e-waste contains several toxic substances, inappropriate management can contribute to environmental contamination leading to adverse effects on human health, the environment and ecological systems. Especially, in the informal sector, manual dismantling and open burning is commonly used for recovering valuable materials without adequate and proper personal protective equipment (PPE], which results in significant risk of exposure to toxic substances of the workers and communities. In addition, several studies have reported levels of toxic substances such as heavy metals and persistent halogenated compounds in air, water, soil, sediment, and dust in and around e-waste sites.

Looking for solutions

A report from the United Nations, sponsored by the International Telecommunication Union, the United Nations Environment Program, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, the International Labor Organization, the Center for Global Public Goods, the World Economic Forum, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, United Nations University, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and the secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, offers a clear idea of the dimensions of the problem, summed up in this chart:

From the report, A New Circular Vision for Electronics: Time for a Global Reboot:

E-waste is defined as anything with a plug, electric cord or battery [including electrical and electronic equipment] from toasters to toothbrushes, smartphones, fridges, laptops and LED televisions that has reached the end of its life, as well as the components that make up these end-of-life products. E-waste is also called waste electrical or electronic equipment, or WEEE for short.

Currently, only a few countries have a uniform way of measuring this waste. E-waste comes from many sources including households, businesses and governments.

E-waste may contain precious metals such as gold, copper and nickel as well as rare materials of strategic value such as indium and palladium. A lot of these metals could be recovered, recycled and used as secondary raw materials for new goods. The challenge is the incredible complexity of doing this; a product can be made up of more than 1,000 different substances.15 E-waste may represent only 2% of solid waste streams, yet it can represent 70% of the hazardous waste that ends up in landfill. Up to 60 elements from the periodic table can be found in complex electronics, such as smartphones, with many being technically recoverable.

The prevailing “take, make and dispose” model has consequences for society, a negative impact on health and contributes to climate change. It is time for a system update. We need a system that functions properly – in which the circular economy replaces the linear. In the short-term, electronic waste remains a largely unused, yet growing, valuable resource.

Nearly all of it could be recycled. Urban mining, where resources are extracted from complex waste streams, can now be more economically viable than extracting metal ores from the ground. It is largely less energy intensive. E-waste can be toxic, is not biodegradable and accumulates in the environment, in the soil, air, water and living things. It can also have an adverse impact on health. Children and women are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of e-waste exposure.

It is time to reconsider e-waste, re-evaluate the electronics industry and reboot the system for the benefit of industry, consumer, worker, health of humankind and the environment. The incredible opportunities here are also aligned to the globe’s “just transition” to environmental sustainability and to shaping a future that works for all in the circular economy

This map from the UN report shows which nations are producing the waste and where they send it:

Running some numbers

According to the UN’s Global E-Waste Statistics Partnership, the United States generated 7.6 million tons of electronic waste in 2019 [42 pounds for every person in the country] and recycled only 15 percent of it. China, the world’s largest producer and consumers of electronic gear, generated an astounding 11.1 million tons of waste [15.9 pounds per capita], while recycling 16 percent.

Norway, by contrast, produced 153,000 tons of e-waste [57 pounds per person], but recycled 72 percent of it, the best recycling record for any country.

By way of contrast, India produced 3.5 million tons of e-waste [5.3 pounds per capita] and only recycled one percent.

For the United Kingdom, the figures are 1.6 million tons of e-waste [52.7 pounds per person], with 57 percent collected for recycling.

And as the UN noted in July, at least $10bn worth of gold, platinum and other precious metals are dumped every year in the growing mountain of electronic waste that is polluting the planet.

The e-waste problem is a major issue in Africa as well, as the AllAfrica news service reported from Nigeria this week:

The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency [NESREA] is to collect over 300,000 tonnes of e-waste in Lagos.

This is part of the project on circular economy approaches for the electronics sector in Nigeria.

Director-General of NESR A, Prof. Aliyu Jauro disclosed this in Lagos during the opening of a four-day training for government regulators and the value chain as part of awareness creation on the circular economy approaches in the electrical electronics sector.

The Global Environmental Facility [GEF] fund project is implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP] and executed by the NESREA with the project location is in Lagos.

Documenting the misery e-waste produces

Two videos document the misery that happens to the world’s poor when they tackling the dirty job of handling of digital profligacy.

First, from Journeyman Pictures:

The E-Waste Curse: The deadly effect of dumping E-waste in Pakistan

Pakistan has become an illegal dumping ground for some of the 50 million tons of e-waste created each year. Karachi’s poor earn a living from the toxic detritus, but the vicious cycle of consumption could prove fatal.

In Pakistan, the massive arrival of electronic waste has created an informal substance economy that feeds 150,000 people. The country’s poor salvage what they can from the cast-offs of the electronic revolution: copper, steel, brass. Nassir is one who has cashed in on the opportunities found in old cables and hard-drives. “It’s a good business. I have more and more work”, he says. Yet workers pay the price for a few grams of copper; 4 million people die every year because of electronic waste and recycling workers have the lowest life expectancy in Pakistan. In his recycling shop, Akhbar earns 2€ on a good day. It feeds his family of six, but his health has suffered. “This job is dangerous. It’s very toxic”. And the toxic legacy is far-reaching – “It’s a catastrophe…especially for the children”, warns Saba, an activist for the WWF. “They will continue to live here and be poisoned, it’s dangerous for them and it’s dangerous for the next generations”. In our relentlessly consumerist world, can the global poor be saved from the toxic trade in e-waste?

And from RT Documentaries:

ToxiCity: life at Agbobloshie, the world’s largest e-waste dump in Ghana

E-waste, the term given to discarded electronic appliances, is often shipped by developed nations to poorer countries such as Ghana. RTD visits the country’s most infamous dumping ground, Agbogbloshie. Locals call it “Sodom and Gomorrah” after the infamous Biblical sin cities. Its air and soil are polluted with toxic chemicals, while extreme poverty, child labour and criminal gangs are also rife.

Atop our blog you’ll see a quote from Aldous Huxley’s last book, Island, that gets to the core of the problem: “Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence — those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.”

It’s worth thinking about the next time you feel impelled to by the latest upgrade of your iPhone.

[And, by the way, Leonardo diCaprio is currently preparing a television series based on the book, which we eagerly await.]

T

Quote of the day: The law is an ass


Our headline phrase come from Oliver Twist, and it’s never proved so accurate as in a case summarized by Matt Taibbi in a new essay on the impossible legal hurdles faced by indigent criminal suspects in Iowa, Once case stands out:

In December of 2015, a woman named Lori Dee Mathes was charged with a single count of possession of a controlled substance. Police were really interested in someone else, but executed a warrant on her property and charged her with a low-level offense based on what they found. Nearly two years later, in October of 2017, the state filed a motion to dismiss “upon agreement of the parties.”

Mathes was off the hook — sort of. She was sent multiple bills: $40 for “court reporter fees,” $100 for “filing and docketing fees,” and $1,815.28 in “indigent defense fee recoupment,” i.e. counsel fees.

When Mathes tried to argue an inability to pay these bills, the state balked. After all, there was no more case! On what basis could she argue?

It was a classic Catch-22. If Mathes had been found guilty, she’d have a right to appeal not only the disposition of the case, but also an ability to pay penalties. However, as a higher court eventually ruled, there was no right to appeal anything after a case like hers had been dismissed.

Citing a case called Berman v. United States, the Iowa Court of Appeals wrote that judgment is final when “‘it terminates the litigation between the parties on the merits’ and ‘leaves nothing to be done but to enforce by execution what has been determined.’”

Meaning: if we find you guilty, there’s something to argue. If we drop the charges, there’s “nothing to be done.” Thanks to this logic, as Kornya put it, “people who have dismissed criminal charges end up owing more money than people who are convicted.” As a cosmic punishment, it seemed, for arguing an inability to pay the initial few thousand, Mathes ended up owing $3000 more in appellate fees.

Canada blocks some prescription drugs from U.S.


Because the U.S. allows prescription drugs to be sold domestically at far higher prices than their manufacturers charge in other countries, Americans who are unemployed or on fixed incomes have crossing the border to to buy fill their prescriptions at Canadian and Mexican pharmacies.

Donald Trump has just put a serious dent in their plans, at least for patients who’ve been buying in Canada.

From Reuters:

Canada on Saturday blocked bulk exports of prescription drugs if they would create a shortage at home, in response to outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to allow imports from Canada to lower some drug prices for Americans.

“Certain drugs intended for the Canadian market are prohibited from being distributed for consumption outside of Canada if that sale would cause or worsen a drug shortage,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in a statement.

“Companies will now also be required to provide information to assess existing or potential shortages, when requested, and within 24 hours if there is a serious or imminent health risk,” the statement said.

The Canadian measure went into effect on Friday, just days before a U.S. “Importation Prescription Drugs” rule that would eventually allow licensed U.S. pharmacists or wholesalers to import in bulk certain prescription drugs intended for the Canadian market.

Many patients in the northern U.S. travel to Canada, even organizing drug-buying caravans.

Trump’s strategy is diabolical.

Rather than taking action to force Big Pharma to cut their exorbitant prices, he instead implements a policy certain to bring the Canadian action and creating a scapegoat in the process.

Many Southern Californians buy their prescriptions in Mexico, and when I asked an elderly friend why, he said “It’s either that or I don’t eat for a couple of days.”

And often the border-crossers would die with the medications they buy, especially diabetics.

From the Kaiser Family Foundation:

The U.S. government estimates that close to 1 million people in California alone cross to Mexico annually for health care, including to buy prescription drugs. And between 150,000 and 320,000 Americans list health care as a reason for traveling abroad each year. Cost savings is the most commonly cited reason.

In Utah last year, the Public Employee Health Plan took this idea to a new level with its voluntary Pharmacy Tourism Program. For certain PEHP members who use any of 13 costly prescription medications — including the popular arthritis drug Humira — the insurer will foot the bill to fly the patient and a companion to San Diego, then drive them to a hospital in Tijuana, Mexico, to pick up a 90-day supply of medicine.

“The average cost of an eligible drug in the US is over $4,500 per month and is 40-60% less in Mexico,” PEHP clinical services director Travis Tolley said in an announcement of the program in October.

More in insulin prices from Medscape:

The average US manufacturer price per standard unit for all insulins was $98.70, compared with $6.94 in Australia, $12 in Canada, $7.52 in the United Kingdom, and $8.81 for all 32 non-US countries.

Average prices in the United States were highest for rapid-acting insulins ($119.36 per standard unit, vs $8.19 in other nations) and lowest for intermediate-acting insulins ($73.56 vs $5.98). In the United States, the average manufacturer price per standard unit for human insulin was $85.21, compared to $7.11 in Canada and $5.13 in the United Kingdom.

The United States consumes more insulin and accounts for more sales than the other nations, with 32% of volume and 84% of sales. The next-closest nation is Germany, which accounted for 12% of volume and 3% of sales. Analogue insulin accounts for 91% of US volume and 92% of sales.

Long-acting insulins represent a higher share of volume — 54% — in the United States than in any comparison country except Finland and Chile. Long-acting insulins accounted for a smaller share of sales — 48% — than of volume in the United States. The United States is in the middle of comparison countries in terms of the share of sales for long-acting insulins.

Germans have it even better, via Time:

German law requires public [health insurance] plans to cap out-of-pocket health care costs, and to cover all medically necessary treatment, including insulin. For people with chronic conditions the out-of-pocket limit is set at 1% of household income. For those without such a condition, out-of-pocket costs are capped at 2%. After you hit the limit, the plan pays the rest. In fact, German diabetes patients have some of the lowest out-of-pocket costs in the world for insulin, according to T1 International, an advocacy group for people with type 1 diabetes.

The University of Florida puts a rough number on Americans crossing the borders to fill their prescriptions:

A University of Florida study published in JAMA Network Open, finds that 1.5% percent of adults, or more than 2 million Americans, purchase their prescription drugs from outside the U.S. to save money.

The UF researchers caution that with the rapid growth in unemployment related to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent loss of health insurance, the number of Americans searching for cheaper prescription drugs is likely to rise. Their findings may actually be an underestimation.

“With the economic and health consequences of COVID-19 disproportionately impacting minority and low-income populations, more people in those groups may be seeking an alternative way to meet their medication needs,” said the study’s lead author Young-Rock Hong, Ph.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of health services research, management and policy at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and a member of the UF Health Cancer Center.

One more protest: This time it’s in India


From the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

Thousands of angry Indian farmers protesting against new agricultural laws were allowed to enter the national capital late Friday after they clashed with police who had blocked them at the outskirts of the city.

The farmers, who fear the new laws will reduce their earnings and give more power to corporations, will be escorted to a protest site in New Delhi, police said in a statement. It was not immediately clear where the protests would be held.

For the last two months, farmer unions unwilling to accept the laws, which were passed in September, have camped on highways in Punjab and Haryana states.

They say the laws could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their being exploited by corporations that would buy their crops at cheap prices.

The government has said the laws are aimed at reforming agriculture by giving farmers the freedom to market their produce and boosting production through private investment.

So they’re giving farmer’s “freedom,” the freedom of losing farms that have been operated by their families for generations.

That’s neoliberalism in a nutshell.

Map of the day: Where the protests are


The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Global Protest Tracker has been charting major anti-government protests around the world on an interactive web page. This map shows the where protests were happening as of it’s most recent update on Tuesday, 24 November:

Accompanying the map is a large searchable database, listing the causes of the protest, crowd size, event duration, and the nature of the governments targeted.

Global protest roundup: Poland, Thailand, Brazil


Following up on our earlier post about protests in France over a new law and a beaten Black man, reports of more protests in Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

Protestors have taken to the streets in Poland to protest an abortion ban, hit the bricks in Thailand over an increasingly repressive government, and Brazilians are up in arms about the beating death of a Black man, chanting “I can’t breathe.”

We begin in Poland with the Associated Press:

Protesters marched in Warsaw and other Polish cities Saturday against an attempt to restrict abortion rights and the police violence that occurred in response to other recent protests over reproductive rights.

In Warsaw, protesters “renamed” a downtown square where they have often met recently to Women’s Rights Roundabout. An activist climbed onto a ladder on a van to hang a new street sign over the official one reading Roman Dmowski Roundabout.

Women’s rights activists have been calling on city authorities in Poland’s capital to approve a formal name change. They say it would honor a movement for equality rather than Dmowski, a statesman who had a key role in helping Poland regain national independence in 1918, but also an anti-Semite.

The protests in Krakow, Gdansk and other cities on Saturday were planned to coincide with Polish women gaining the right to vote 102 years ago. The events were organized under the slogan, “In the name of mother, daughter, sister.”

More from the German wire service DPA:

Rally organizers symbolically renamed a square in the city centre as “Women’s Rights Square.”

Smaller rallies were held in other Polish cities, including Krakow and Wroclaw. The demonstrations also marked the 102nd anniversary of the introduction of women’s suffrage in Poland on November 28, 1918.

In October, Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled that women are not allowed to have an abortion even if a foetus has severe health defects.

Since then there have been regular protests. The abortion law in the strongly Catholic country is one of the strictest in Europe.

Troubles in Thailand and lèse-majesté

First this from Al Jazeera:

In Thailand, what started some months ago as a seemingly minor student movement against the oppressive and anti-democratic practices of the military-led government has developed into a full-blown, nationwide uprising demanding a major upheaval of the predominantly Buddhist Southeast Asian nation’s political system.

Despite strict COVID-19 protocols restricting the right to peaceful assembly and extensive laws penalising dissent, tens of thousands of people are still taking to the streets across the country regularly to demand change. The mostly young protesters have three core demands: the resignation of General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government to pave the way for fresh elections, the rewriting of the 2017 constitution that entrenches the army’s role in the government, and an end to the systematic harassment and persecution of government critics.

The protesters’ demands seem to resonate with millions of Thai citizens who have grown weary of military rule. Indeed, in the almost nine decades since the dawn of constitutional democracy in Thailand, a succession of military regimes gradually curtailed the rights and freedoms of Thai citizens, raising questions about the country’s democratic moorings.

Among those who are raising their voices in support of overdue political reforms in Thailand are the Malay Muslims who reside in the provinces of Patani, Yala and Narathiwat, and some parts of Songkhla, collectively known as the country’s “Deep South”.

The latest from Reuters [and note a certain similarity to Donald Trump, emphasis added]:

Thai anti-government protesters demonstrated in Bangkok’s outskirts on Saturday with a duck parade and speeches demanding the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a new constitution and reforms to the monarchy.

Protests have been stepped up this week despite threats by Prayuth, a former junta ruler, to use all available laws against protesters who break them and charges of insulting the monarchy against several protest leaders.

Hundreds of people gathered in both Nonthaburi and Bang Na, to the northwest and southeast of Bangkok respectively.

“We have had too many years of corrupt dictatorship. We want an election in which our voices are really heard,” said one 24-year-old recent graduate, who gave only her nickname “A”.

Protesters are seeking the removal of Prayuth, accusing him of engineering an election last year to keep power that he seized from an elected government in a 2014 coup. He has said the vote was fair and he will not resign.

Protesters have also broken taboos by seeking reforms to curb the powers of the monarchy of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, saying the institution has enabled decades of military domination.

The Diplomat examines a notorious Thai law the government is vowing to implement against the protesters:

To much shock around the country, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gave notice on Thursday last week that “all laws and all articles” would be used against the protesters, and on Tuesday the worst fears were confirmed when 12 protest leaders were charged under Thailand’s notorious lese majeste law, Article 112.

As of Wednesday, the protests’ biggest names — Parit “Penguin” Chiwarak, Anon Nampa, Passaravalee “Mind” Thanakitvibulphol, Mike Rayong — are all now facing Thailand’s infamous lese majeste law, which carries a penalty of 15 years in prison for insulting the monarchy. 

Article 112 has not been levied in earnest since 2017, with the government relying on vague charges of sedition and computer crimes to silence critics. The resurrected and notorious Article 112 could be levied for almost any reason. In the past, it was used against people for sharing a BBC article or discussing historical battles.

Nonetheless, the protest leaders showed up at the protest.

Donald Trump surely wishes he had his own version of Article 112, given this exchange earlier this week in which he explicitly endorsed the concept of lèse-majesté, via People:

The president was being asked about how he would respond to the results by Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason when he began chiding the journalist.

“Just to be clear: If the electoral college votes for Joe Biden, will you concede?” Mason asked Trump at the start of their exchange.

“Well, if they do, they’ve made a mistake, because this election was a fraud, just so you understand. This election was a fraud,” Trump responded, again repeating unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud. “They have Biden beating … Obama’s vote … and yet he’s losing to Obama all over the place … so, no, I can’t say that at all.”

As Mason continued to ask his original question, Trump appeared to grow agitated and interjected.

“Don’t talk to me that way. You’re just a lightweight. Don’t talk to me that way,” Trump said. “Don’t talk to — I’m the president of the United States. Don’t ever talk to the president that way.”

In Brazil, massive protests over beating death of a black man

Just as a beaten black man inspired protests in Paris, the beating death of a black man has fueled massive civil unrest in Brazil.

From CNN:

Brazilians outraged by the death of a Black man after being beaten by supermarket security guards have been protesting in major cities across the country, chanting a phrase familiar to Americans: “I can’t breathe.”

Security camera footage from a Carrefour supermarket in the southern city of Porto Alegre obtained by the Brazilian news program Fantástico shows two security guards escorting João Alberto Silveira Freitas out of the store on November 19. Freitas, for reasons unclear, appears to punch one of the men. The guards then beat him, including with blows to his head, knocking him to the ground and pinning him face-down with a security guard’s knee bearing into his back and neck.

After several minutes immobilized by the guard, during which numerous shoppers, employees and other guards appear to stand by as Freitas moans and struggles, he stops moving. The police chief investigating the killing said Freitas appeared to have died from suffocation, according to CNN affiliate CNN Brasil.

A preliminary analysis by the state’s General Institute of Forensics said the death was due to asphyxiation, the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported. Freitas’ father has called the death a “murder” in interview with CNN Brasil and demanded justice.

The protests are breaking out in advance of Sunday’s national election and a campaign season filled with massive violence.

From the South American news agency MercoPress:

Brazilians return to the polls in 57 cities on Sunday for the runoffs of municipal elections that have seen surging violence involving assassinations and physical attacks on candidates.

In two months of campaigning leading up to the first round of voting on Nov. 15, there were 200 murders, attempted murders or otherwise injured candidates, according to Brazilian electoral authority TSE.

That compares to 63 cases of political violence in the first eight months of this election year, and just 46 such cases in the previous municipal elections in 2016, the report by the TSE’s security and intelligence unit found.

<snip>

On Sept. 24, three days before campaigning began, a town council candidate in the state of Minas Gerais, Cassio Remis of the centrist Brazilian Social Democratic Party, was assassinated with five shots in a public killing caught on security cameras. The same day in Pernambuco state, another candidate Valter do Conselho from the center-right Democrats (DEM) party also was shot dead.

The violence is hurting all parties, including the right and left. Four days before the Nov. 15 vote, in the Rio suburb of Nova Iguaçu, local DEM candidate Domingo Cabral, was shot dead by hooded men in a bar. The day before, Mauro da Rocha, of the Christian Workers Party, was murdered in the same town.

Dissecting the proposed French cop photo ban


Luisa von Richthofen, a journalist at Deutsche Welle, parses the origins and implications of the proposed draconian new French security law that would effectively criminalizing capturing images of police behaving badly:

With an eye on the next elections, the French president is hoping to woo right-wing voters and is trying to come across as a man of “law and order.” But critics say the new law is a shameful attack on press freedom. They are right.

Police violence is not uncommon in France. There have been numerous incidents of excess violence in recent years. Adama Traore was 24 when he died in police custody. During the Yellow Vest protests, four people were killed and there were almost 350 head injuries, 28 eyes were damaged and five hands were ripped off.

A democratic society should encourage those who document state-sanctioned excesses of violence. The new law makes this almost impossible.

The law has provoked the ire of many, including journalist associations. Even the European Commission felt compelled to point out to Macron’s government that members of the media should be able to “work freely.” Amnesty International said the law was “dangerous for basic rights.” As a result, the government added a clause to Article 24 saying that it should not “prejudice the legitimate interest of the public to be informed.” But this is a ridiculous fig leaf.

The only way to protect freedom of the press would be to get rid of the article altogether. If this is really about protecting police officers, it is unnecessary anyway. It is already illegal to threaten and insult police officers, even on social media. Article 24 does not add anything in this regard.

Moreover, it is worded so vaguely that it opens the floodgates to abuse. Who will judge whether a police officer’s “physical or mental integrity” has been harmed? The person concerned by the offense and making an arrest, i.e. the police officer. It is enough for a police officer to feel threatened.

This law will allow the police to take action against journalists and others filming demonstrations and broadcasting on social network platforms. Even if in the end they are not charged, they will have been forced to interrupt their work. Yet, such footage is an important means of documenting police violence.

This is a dangerous law. France is a free and democratic state and should remain so. There are reactionary forces in the country who would like to come to power. Every law that restricts basic rights today offers future governments the possibility to clamp down even further.

Journalists in France — or anywhere else in Europe — should not have to fear being arrested by the police at will.

It is sad that the French president — who just weeks ago was presenting himself to the world as the defender of freedom of speech — does not necessarily agree.

Massive protests over police violence, proposed law


It’s Black Lives Matter across the pond.

We begin with the Associated Press:

Thousands of critics of a proposed security law that would restrict sharing images of police officers in France gathered across the country in protest Saturday, and officers in Paris who were advised to behave responsibly during the demonstrations fired tear gas to disperse rowdy protesters in the largely peaceful crowd.

Dozens of rallies took place against a provision of the law that would make it a crime to publish photos or video of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity.” Civil liberties groups and journalists are concerned that the measure will stymie press freedoms and allow police brutality to go undiscovered and unpunished.

In Paris, several thousand people packed the sprawling Republique plaza and surrounding streets carrying red union flags, French tricolor flags and homemade signs denouncing police violence, demanding media freedom or calling for Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin’s resignation. Officers fired tear gas as scuffles broke out.

The crowd included journalists, journalism students, left-wing activists, migrants rights groups and citizens of varied political stripes expressing anger over what they perceive as a hardening police tactics in recent years, especially since France’s yellow vest protest movement against economic hardship in 2018.

The Wall Street Journal covers the demonstration in Paris:

Saturday’s protest, which took place as France began a gradual relaxation of a month-long lockdown, is shaping up as a test of civil liberties in an era of coronavirus-linked restrictions. Police had initially banned the protest because of limits on public gatherings, only to have their order struck down Friday by a Paris administrative court.

The protest began in relative calm along a roughly mile-long route, from Place de la Republique to Place de la Bastille. Some protesters held a black banner reading “Police Mutilate, Police Assassinate,” while others chanted “everyone detests the police” and called on President Emmanuel Macron to resign.

Later in the afternoon, some people in the protest threw objects toward police and set fires along the sidewalk of a large avenue sending plumes of black smoke into the clear blue sky. Police dispersed crowds near Bastille with clouds of tear gas.

More on the Parisian protest from the Washington Post:

An internal letter from Paris Police Prefect Didier Lallement called on officers to use “probity, the sense of honor and ethics” when policing the protests, which were authorized by authorities.

Hundreds of police in body armor, some with truncheons, others with tear gas launchers and a few with rifles, lined the march route and side streets. They erected tall metal gates barricading all main roads leading out of Bastille plaza at the end of the march route.

Through most of the march they hung back, chatting while holding their helmets or watching silently as protesters shouted “Shame!” at them.

The officers jumped swiftly to action after some objects apparently were thrown at them. The crowd was overwhelmingly peaceful, but some in the unruly minority came equipped with gas masks and helmets. An Associated Press reporter heard about 10 rounds of tear gas being fired and saw some small rocks and a couple of paving stones being thrown.

Similar protests occurred throughout France, Sky News reports:

In Lille, Rennes, Strasbourg and other cities, thousands more took to the streets.

People took part in dozens of rallies against the legislation which would make it a crime to publish photos or video of an on-duty police officer with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity”.

Civil liberties groups and journalists have reacted with concerns that the measures will prevent police brutality from coming to light.

The new security law would impose a 45,000 euro [$53,000] fine and up to a year in jail for anyone who photographs police with the intention of harming them, a notorious hazy concept.

If a photograph of a cop beating a passive civilian costs the cop his job, that’s harm, and if the photographer hoped the miscreant would lose his job, does that make the photographer a criminal?

Ann Telnaes: SCOTUS besieges church/state wall


From the editorial cartoonist of the Washington Post:

Headlines of the day: Trump plans and a big fail


Once again, two from the London Daily Mail.

First up:

Trump ‘is planning a MAGA campagin event DURING Biden’s inauguration to announce his 2024 run’ and thinks the networks will continue to cover him because Democrat is ‘boring’

  • Three sources told The Daily Beast Trump is plotting various ways to boycott Biden’s administration including ways to detract attention from the inauguration 
  • Sources said Trump is considering timing a kick-off event for his 2024 White House campaign to clash with inauguration week or with the ceremony itself
  • This would be a marked departure from protocol with the outgoing president traditionally attending the incoming president’s inauguration 
  • The tradition is part of a peaceful transition of power – a grace then-President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden both afforded Trump back in 2017  
  • Obama and Trump were even seen sharing a joke on the steps of the US capitol
  • Obama gave his successor a letter congratulating Trump and offering his support for his coming term – something Trump called ‘beautiful’ at the time 
  • Trump continues to refuse to publicly concede to Biden 
  • This week he finally admitted he would leave the White House in January if the electoral college certifies his rival’s votes
  • He appeared to walk back on this the next day saying Biden can only enter the White House if he can prove votes are not ‘fraudulent’. 
  • Sources said Trump is already planning his comeback 2024 campaign 

And some Schadenfreude:

Vote recount in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County which cost Trump campaign $3 million sees Biden’s lead INCREASE by 132 votes

  • The Trump campaign paid $3 million for recounts in Milwaukee and Dane County
  • The Milwaukee County recount actually increased Joe Biden’s lead by 132 votes
  • The Dane County recount is ongoing, but is expected to conclude by Sunday
  • The Trump campaign is preparing a new legal challenge in Wisconsin
  • The state is set to certify their election results on Tuesday 

Trumpsters drop another bomb, hit the OMB


This time it’s the Office of Management and Budget, the staff that handles the most critical part of government, ensuring that all that cash and those government personnel work as intended.

The Civil Service was created after the Andrew Johnson administration filled the civil service with pro-Southern hacks who would ensure the continuity of racial hierarchy would continue in the South after the Civil War, and to reduce the graft and corruption that so impaired the legitimate operations of government.

From Wikipedia:

In the United States, the federal civil service was established in 1871. The Federal Civil Service is defined as “all appointive positions in the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the Government of the United States, except positions in the uniformed services.” (5 U.S.C. § 2101). In the early 19th century, government jobs were held at the pleasure of the president — a person could be fired at any time. The spoils system meant that jobs were used to support the political parties. This was changed in slow stages by the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and subsequent laws. By 1909, almost two thirds of the U.S. federal work force was appointed based on merit, that is, qualifications measured by tests. Certain senior civil service positions, including some heads of diplomatic missions and executive agencies, are filled by political appointees.

Purging the civil service is, in effect, lobotomizing government, killing it’s collective memory to ensure that government serves party instead of the people.

The latest, via the New York Times:

The move to pull off an executive order the president issued less than two weeks before Election Day — affecting tens of thousands of people in policy roles — is accelerating at the agency closest to the White House, the Office of Management and Budget.

The budget office sent a list this week of roles identified by its politically appointed leaders to the federal personnel agency for final sign-off. The list comprises 88 percent of its workforce — 425 analysts and other experts who would shift into a new job classification called Schedule F.

The employees would then be vulnerable to dismissal before Trump leaves office if they are considered poor performers or have resisted executing the president’s priorities, effectively turning them into political appointees that come and go with each administration.

The Office of Personnel Management is also rushing to shuffle many of its own roughly 3,500 employees into the new category, a senior administration official said. Other agencies are pulling together lists of policy roles, too — but the budget and personnel offices volunteered to be test cases for the controversial policy, this official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.

Is Trump trying to provoke war with Iran?


Could launching an assault on Iran be the closing gambit of a dying administration? The ultimate distraction for an incoming Biden administration, preventing them from undoing all of that last-minute systemic vandalism Trump has wrought upon the operations of government?

Trump’s what Harry Truman would’ve called a vindictive SOB, two of the top players in his administration, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are End-timers, are rabidly supportive of Israel because they believe returning Jews to Israel is the necessary to bring about the Rapture, which will swoop up a handful of Jews — those who accept Jesus as their savior — and condemn the rest to eternal damnation.

Benjanin Netanyahu, of course, is quite willing to play along, since the rabid support of the White has given him almost everything he wants, from approval of the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to approval of the ongoing seizure of Palestinian land on the West Bank.

And now the latest from Simon Tisdall of the Guardian:

The assassination on Friday of Iran’s leading nuclear scientist has heightened suspicions that Donald Trump, in cahoots with hardline Israeli and Saudi allies, may be trying to lure the Tehran regime into an all-out confrontation in the dying days of his presidency. Trump’s four-year-long Iranian vendetta is approaching a climax – and he still has the power and the means to inflict lasting damage.

Speculation that Trump might soon initiate or support some kind of attack on Iran, overt or covert, kinetic or cyber, had swirled across the Middle East in the wake of last weekend’s unprecedented meeting in Saudi Arabia between Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

What the three men discussed remains a closely guarded secret, a fact that has only served to encourage conspiracy claims. In the absence of an official statement, it’s suggested they may have agreed to intensify efforts to provoke and weaken the Tehran regime. Any ensuing retaliation by Iran might then potentially be used to justify an attack on its nuclear facilities before Trump leaves office on 20 January.

The meeting in Neom, a city near the Red Sea, and the possibly deliberate leak revealing it had taken place, served another important purpose. By presenting a united anti-Iran front, the participants put US president-elect Joe Biden on notice that his plans to resume dialogue with Tehran, and revive the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by Trump, will face fierce resistance and may have to be rethought.

The $14 billion election: Who paid for it?


OpenSecrets.org and Followthemoney.org have published a fascinating analysis of where all the election cash came and who gave it.

It’s a fascinating read, and holds a few surprises.

Politics is a cash game, and the players really upped their antes this year.

Here’s the report:

Unprecedented donations poured into 2020 state and federal races

Political donors gave far more money than ever before to candidates for Congress and the presidency in the 2020 election cycle, and they’re also on track to break donation records to state-level candidates. 

However, while donations to federal candidates have doubled since the last presidential election cycle, the same kind of unprecedented increase hasn’t translated to the state level where contribution records were broken but not obliterated. That’s according to a joint analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in Politics.

Federal and state elections broke money records, but federal elections saw larger increase

On the federal level, the total cost of the 2020 election is expected to near $14 billion, more than twice as expensive as the 2016 cycle. House and Senate candidates smashed fundraising records, bringing in twice as much money as they did in the previous cycle. 

Democrats were the driving force behind those unprecedented fundraising figures, capitalizing on their supporters’ enthusiasm to unseat President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress. Democratic congressional candidates raised $1.2 billion compared to Republicans’ $691 million. 

While the increase at the state level was significantly smaller, contributions to gubernatorial and state legislative candidates are expected to set new records for a presidential election year, nearing $1.9 billion in the 2020 cycle, up from nearly $1.6 billion in the 2016 contest. The Institute’s projection is based on campaign finance trends, which may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and prospective donors voting early then potentially disengaging from making political contributions.

Democratic gubernatorial and state legislative candidates saw the biggest boost in contributions. Donations to Democrats accounted for 54 percent of the money given to state candidates in the 2020 cycle. That marks a reversal from the 2016 and 2012 cycles, when Republicans raised 52 percent and 55 percent of all state-level campaign cash, respectively. 

“This year saw unprecedented campaign finance trends in virtually every way,” said Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in Politics. “For starters, elections were more expensive. But donor engagement patterns changed as well. At the state level, out-of-state contributions from individuals began significantly favoring Democrats. Small donors to state candidates continued to play a modest role but edged up slightly for Democratic state candidates. And a significant trend of increased female donor participation occurred, largely because of an increase in women giving to Republican state candidates.”

Small donors changed the federal landscape, but didn’t wade into state elections

Small donors — individuals giving $200 or less to each candidate — transformed the fundraising landscape for congressional and presidential candidates thanks to a perfect storm of technological innovation and political polarization. It’s easier than ever to donate to a political campaign online, and candidates invested big money into reaching those donors.

Small donors gave a total of $1.8 billion to federal candidates through mid-October, three times as much as they contributed through the entirety of the 2016 cycle. Overall, small donors accounted for 27 percent of contributions to federal candidates in the 2020 cycle. That’s up from around 21 percent in 2016 and 19 percent in 2012. 

Democratic Senate candidates got 41 percent of their money from small donors compared to Republicans’ 28 percent. But Republican House candidates raised a higher percentage from small donors than did Democrats, 23 percent to 19 percent. President-elect Joe Biden raised 39 percent of his money from those unitemized donors compared to 45 percent for Trump, who had the best small-dollar showing for a Republican presidential candidate. 

“2020 is the cycle where we really see the potential for small donor engagement on full display,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “Moving forward, the question for many will be whether this intense interest from small-dollar donors will be maintained in a post-Trump era. Another question is whether the parties will seek to redirect small donors, especially given that the historic surge in small donations to Donald Trump and to Democrats in competitive Senate races was not matched by success at the ballot box.”

That small donor revolution didn’t arrive at the state level. The percentage of fundraising from donors giving $200 or less remained relatively flat in state legislative races. In gubernatorial contests, small donors accounted for 11 percent of fundraising, up from 5 percent in 2016 but down from 16 percent in 2012. 

Republican gubernatorial and legislative candidates saw the proportion of contributions from small donors fall from 9 percent in 2012 to 6 percent in 2020. Democrats, meanwhile, benefited from a modest increase in funding from small donors, bringing in 12 percent of their money from bite-sized donors, up from 9 percent in the last two comparable election cycles. 

Out-of-state donations dominated federal elections 

The explosion of small-dollar contributions to federal candidates correlated with candidates’ increased reliance on donations from individuals who live nowhere near their state. Democratic Senate candidates Amy McGrath of Kentucky and Jaime Harrison of South Carolina, who hold the top two spots for most money raised by a congressional campaign, each brought in more than 90 percent of their money from outside their home states. 

Overall, Democrats running for Senate raised 80 percent of their money from out-of-state donors in the 2020 cycle. That’s up from 57 percent four year earlier. Senate Republicans saw their out-of-state donations rise, too. As did candidates of both parties running for House. 

That kind of enthusiasm didn’t manifest for state candidates, whose races don’t receive the same kind of national attention. In 2012, 87 percent of contributions came from in-state. In 2016 it increased slightly to 90 percent before returning to 87 percent this election cycle.

Democratic candidates for state office benefited most from faraway donors. So far in 2020, only 25 percent of contributions from out-of-state donors went to Republican candidates while Democratic candidates brought in 74 percent of all contributions from outside their state. That’s a change from previous election cycles when a larger share of the out-of-state money went to Republicans. For example, in what was expected to be a highly contested gubernatorial race in Montana, out-of-state donors gave $2.5 million, and $1.8 million went to Democratic candidates in the race, predominantly to Mike Cooney’s failed bid.

There’s lots more after the jump, including the large role women played in fund-raising.

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