Opinion | The Presidential Nominating Process Is Absurd – by David Leonhardt – The New York Times

“The current system may seem as if it’s simply an expression of democracy, but it’s not. It’s one version of democracy. And it’s one that virtually no other country uses. In other democracies, political parties have more sway in selecting the nominee, and voters then choose among the major nominees. Until recently, the United States also gave party leaders a larger role in selecting nominees.

Today’s leaders have abdicated this job, afraid to do anything that might appear elitist because it substitutes the judgment of experts for that of ordinary citizens. The irony is that the new process may actually do a poorer job of picking nominees whom ordinary citizens like, as research by Dennis Spies and André Kaiser, looking across countries, suggests.

How could this be? When voters are given the dominant role in choosing a nominee — as with primaries here — only an unrepresentative subset tends to participate, which skews the process. Party leaders, on the other hand, have a big incentive to choose a broadly liked candidate. Just think about American history: Nominees chosen by party leaders have included Abraham Lincoln, both Roosevelts and Dwight Eisenhower.”

Opinion | How to Help Brazilian Farmers Save the Amazon – By Daniel Nepstad – The New York Times

By 

Dr. Nepstad is a forest ecologist who has worked in the Brazilian Amazon for more than 30 years.

Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

“When I moved to the Amazon “Wild West” town of Paragominas in northern Brazil in 1984 as a young scientist studying forest recovery on abandoned pastures, I expected a town filled with bandits and land grabbers. Instead, what I mostly found were courageous, hard-working families from across Brazil who had come to the rugged town of sawmills, cattle ranches and smallholder settlements to improve their lot in life.

But as the global outcry over recent Amazon fires and the rise in deforestation has demonstrated yet again, the stigma surrounding Amazon farmers as accomplices in this destruction remains, making enemies of would-be allies.

Indeed, outrage over the fires and President Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and actions obscures a central question: Can responsible, law-abiding landholders and businesspeople in the Amazon — like those I met in Paragominas — compete with people who break the law, grab land and forest resources and drive much of the deforestation?

The simple answer is no. And until that changes, it will be difficult to stop the cutting and burning of these forests, which worldwide account for about a tenth of the carbon dioxide emissions that are warming the planet. But two recent developments suggested things may be changing for the better.

One turn of events was the decision by the California Air Resources Board in September to endorse — after 10 years of design and debate — a Tropical Forest Standard that could protect the forests of the Amazon and beyond. The standard sets rules for state, provincial and national governments in the Amazon to limit deforestation so that they can qualify to sell credits to companies seeking to offset some of their greenhouse gas emissions.

This standard is designed to make sure that the carbon offsets that companies are buying are actually going to real, verifiable deforestation efforts. What’s significant about the standard is its size — it focuses on recognizing and rewarding successful forest conservation across entire states, provinces or even nations in the Amazon. Moreover, and this is critical, it includes principles for guaranteeing that indigenous groups and other local communities have a voice in the policies and programs that are developed.”

Opinion | The Media Is Broken – by David Brooks – The New York Times

“Events don’t seem to be driving politics. Increasingly, sociology is.

Do you want to predict how a certain region is going to vote in the 2020 presidential race? Discover who settled the region in the 17th and 18th centuries. If the settlers were from the East Anglia section of Britain, then that region is probably going Democratic. If the settlers were from the north of Britain, that region is very likely to vote for Donald Trump.

Do you want to predict how a state is going to vote? Find out how that state voted in the 1896 presidential election. As Washington University political scientists Gary Miller and Norman Schofield have observed, 22 out of the 23 states that voted Democratic in 1896 had turned Republican by 2000. Similarly, 17 of the 22 states that voted Republican in 1896 had turned Democratic by 2000. The parties have flipped regions.

Do you want to predict how an individual is going to vote? Ask a simple question: Is she urban or rural?

Geographic and psycho-sociological patterns now overshadow events in driving political loyalties and national electoral outcomes. Demography is destiny.

There’s a more precise way to put this. An event is really two things. It’s the event itself and then it’s the process by which we make meaning of the event. As Aldous Huxley put it, “Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”

When a whole country sees events through a similar lens, then you don’t have to think a lot about the process people use to make meaning. It’s similar across the land. But when people in different regions and subcultures have nonoverlapping lenses, the process by which people make sense of events is more important than the event itself.

For reasons I don’t understand, we’ve had an epistemic explosion over the past few decades. Different American regions and subcultures now see reality through nonoverlapping lenses. They make meaning in radically different ways. Psycho-social categories have hardened.”

David Linday: Everything is great about this op-ed piece except it’s title, which misses completely. I sense that David Brooks here is explaining why the blue coastal areas fail to see the perspective of more conservative folks who are from redder, more rural, less urgan and coastal communities. Warren and Sanders might be shining stars, even saints, but that doesn’t mean that they appeal to everyone everywhere. Its geography and sociology, as Brooks argues effectively, that create important constituencies that should not be ignored by politcal operatives.

Opinion | The Iraqi Comedian Animating a Political Revolution – By Tina Rosenberg – The New York Times

By 

Ms. Rosenberg is a co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network, which supports rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

“Last week in the studio where he tapes the “Albasheer Show,” Ahmed Albasheer put on a dark presidential hat and a jacket covered in an absurd amount of medals and gold braid, and sat at his desk in an office adorned with the seal of the president of the Republic of Albasheer.

The republic is his invention of course, but Iraqis know what he is mocking. Mr. Albasheer, a 35-year-old journalist, fights for his country with his sense of humor. He has a repertoire of slightly deranged expressions and inspired comic timing, in Arabic (I’m told) and, more surprisingly, in English — a language he didn’t really speak until recently.

Since it began airing in 2014, Mr. Albasheer’s weekly show has become one of the most popular shows in Iraq, airing on YouTube and satellite television. In the past few weeks, the show has taken on new importance. Thousands of young Iraqis are demonstrating, in ways the country has never seen before. The “Albasheer Show” is deeply intertwined with the protests. Mr. Albasheer exposes the workings of power in Iraq, covers the protests and the government’s brutal response, exhorts the protesters to stay peaceful, amplifies their voices and boosts their morale. Some in Iraq believe the protests wouldn’t be happening without him.

Opinion | What Will It Take to Beat Donald Trump? – By Bret Stephens – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

President Trump at a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Mich., on the night he was impeached by the House of Representatives.
Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both campaigned for, and won, the White House on the watchword “hope.” What watchword will it take for a Democrat to win this time?

My suggestion: soap.

Nearly three years into Donald Trump’s presidency, America needs a hard scrub and a deep cleanse. It needs to wash out the grime and grease of an administration that every day does something to make the country feel soiled.

Soiled by a president who, Castro-like, delivered a two-hour rant at a rally in Michigan the night he was impeached. Who described his shakedown of Ukraine as “perfect.” Who extolled the world’s cruelest tyrant as someone who “wrote me beautiful letters. … We fell in love.” Who abandoned vulnerable allies in Syria, then opted to maintain troops in the country “only for oil.” Who, barely a year before the El Paso massacre, demonized illegal immigrants who “pour into and infest our Country.”

The list goes on, and most everyone feels it. In June, the Pew Research Center published a survey on how the country sees the state of public discourse. The most striking finding: “A 59 percent majority of Republicans and Republican leaners say they often or sometimes feel concerned by what Trump says. About half also say they are at least sometimes embarrassed (53 percent) and confused (47 percent) by Trump’s statements.”

J.K. Rowling’s Maya Forstater tweets support hostile work environments, not free speech – Washington Post

“But here’s what really happened.

In early September 2018, Forstater had been a consultant to the Center for Global Development, which focuses on economic inequality, when she began using her personal Twitter account to tweet about her opposition to potential changes to the U.K.’s Gender Recognition Act, writing, “I share the concerns of @fairplaywomen that radically expanding the legal definition of ‘women’ so that it can include both males and females makes it a meaningless concept, and will undermine women’s rights & protections for vulnerable women & girls.”

She then added: “Some transgender people have cosmetic surgery. But most retain their birth genitals. Everyone’s equality and safety should be protected, but women and girls lose out on privacy, safety and fairness if males are allowed into changing rooms, dormitories, prisons, sports teams.”

Note that, in both cases, Forstater explicitly and unmistakably referred to trans women as “males”; the law to which she was referring — the Gender Recognition Act — explicitly recognizes trans women as female, not male, and the changes being contemplated were about increasing transgender women’s inclusion.

Later that month, in a long series of tweets, she repeatedly misgendered Credit Suisse senior director Pips Buncewho identifies as gender fluid, referring to her as “a man who likes to express himself part of the week by wearing a dress,” “a part-time cross dresser” and “a white man who likes to dress in women’s clothes.” As part of that discussion, she also tweeted, “I think that male people are not women.” (In her own words, Pips prefers to “default to ‘she’ as a pronoun.”)

After that series of Tweets, in a Slack conversation published by the court, Forstater reiterated that her stances — “‘women are adult human females’ or ‘transwomen are male'” — are “basic biological truths,” and “‘transwoman are women'” is one of a number of “literal delusions.” “

Source: J.K. Rowling’s Maya Forstater tweets support hostile work environments, not free speech

J.K. Rowling tried to make her work more inclusive. Then she tweeted support for an anti-trans researcher. – The Washington Post

Dec. 19, 2019 at 12:24 p.m. PST

“J.K. Rowling has long used the Internet to tweak the Harry Potter universe she created, surprising fans with trivial revelations from Ron Weasley’s patronus to the fact that wizards used to poop in their robes. But on Thursday, Rowling changed many fans’ views of her own character when she tweeted her support for a woman who was fired over her anti-trans social media posts.

“Dress however you please,” Rowling wrote on Twitter early Thursday. “Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill.”

The woman named in Rowling’s tweet is Maya Forstater, a tax expert who lost her job at a think tank after tweeting that trans women can’t “change” their biological sex. Forstater’s contract as a visiting fellow at the Washington- and London-based nonprofit Center for Global Development was not renewed in March, according to the Guardian, after they found her tweets to be exclusionary toward trans people. On Wednesday, Judge James Tayler at the Central London Employment Tribunal dismissed Forstater’s claims of wrongful termination, per the Guardian, calling her “absolutist in her view of sex” and her expressed beliefs “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.”

Rowling’s tweet triggered backlash almost immediately, attracting condemnation from individual users and organizations alike: “Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary people are non-binary. CC: JK Rowling,” the Human Rights Campaign account tweeted. Replying to Rowling’s tweet, one fan wrote that she grew up reading the Harry Potter series as a trans child, and that the author’s decision “to support people that hate me” brought tears to her eyes.

Rowling’s representatives declined to comment to The Washington Post.”

Source: J.K. Rowling tried to make her work more inclusive. Then she tweeted support for an anti-trans researcher. – The Washington Post

Killer Slime, Dead Birds, an Expunged Map: The Dirty Secrets of European Farm Subsidies – The New York Times

“In the spring of 2017, a European Union working group of environmentalists, academics and lobbyists was having a technical discussion on green farming practices when a map appeared on an overhead screen. In an instant, the room froze.

A farm lobbyist objected. Officials murmured their disapproval.

The map juxtaposed pollution in northern Italy with the European Union subsidies paid to farmers in the region. The overlap was undeniable and invited a fundamental question: Is the European Union financing the very environmental problems it is trying to solve?

The map was expunged from the group’s final reports, those in attendance say. But using the European Union’s own economic models, The New York Times created an approximation that confirms what European officials did not want seen: The most heavily subsidized areas had the worst pollution.”

Overlapping E.U. subsidies with Italy’s nitrate pollution

E.U. farm subsidies                                                Nitrate pollution

More subsidies                                                     Higher pollution

 Pierre Philippe’s fight began when people and animals started dying on the beaches of northwestern France.

A man’s body was pulled from a pile of green slime. A rider was discovered unconscious beside his dead horse. A beach worker slipped into a coma, and a jogger fatally collapsed.

The reason seemed obvious to Dr. Philippe, an emergency room doctor. Every summer, algae coats the Brittany beaches with bright green slime. As it decomposes, it gives off hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas that can kill in seconds.

Dr. Philippe tried for years to persuade government health officials to acknowledge the threat, or even discuss it. They refused. “If they recognize the problem, they also indirectly admit responsibility,” he said. “And they know that.”

That’s because talking about the algae meant talking about farming.”

Crisis Looms in Antibiotics as Drug Makers Go Bankrupt – By Andrew Jacobs – The New York Times

“At a time when germs are growing more resistant to common antibiotics, many companies that are developing new versions of the drugs are hemorrhaging money and going out of business, gravely undermining efforts to contain the spread of deadly, drug-resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic start-ups like Achaogen and Aradigm have gone belly up in recent months, pharmaceutical behemoths like Novartis and Allergan have abandoned the sector and many of the remaining American antibiotic companies are teetering toward insolvency. One of the biggest developers of antibiotics, Melinta Therapeutics, recently warned regulators it was running out of cash.

Experts say the grim financial outlook for the few companies still committed to antibiotic research is driving away investors and threatening to strangle the development of new lifesaving drugs at a time when they are urgently needed.

“This is a crisis that should alarm everyone,” said Dr. Helen Boucher, an infectious disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center and a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT comments:
Merry Christmas, Hannukah and Solstice. Thank you Andrew Jacobs and the New York Times for this important, though alarming and depressing piece. I am not surprised. This type of news was completely expected here. I recommend to one and all the non-fiction book, “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” by Tracy Kidder, about the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, and his work fighting MDR’s, medically Drug Resistant diseases. The good news, is there is a good chance we will kill off the human race, which should help stop the Sixth Extinction of all species. It would make a good movie if we survive. Will human greed and stupidity in the form of MDR’s kill off the human race in the next one or two hundred years, before climate change does? This would perhaps be morally superior to our killing off 50 to 80% of all other species, which is the future that scientists like E O Wilson of Harvard say we are headed towards.
David Lindsay blogs at InconvenientNews.Net and at TheTaySonRebellion.com

A Trump Policy ‘Clarification’ All but Ends Punishment for Bird Deaths – By Lisa Friedman – The New York Times

“WASHINGTON — As the state of Virginia prepared for a major bridge and tunnel expansion in the tidewaters of the Chesapeake Bay last year, engineers understood that the nesting grounds of 25,000 gulls, black skimmers, royal terns and other seabirds were about to be plowed under.

To compensate, they considered developing an artificial island as a haven. Then in June 2018, the Trump administration stepped in. While the federal government “appreciates” the state’s efforts, new rules in Washington had eliminated criminal penalties for “incidental” migratory bird deaths that came in the course of normal business, administration officials advised. Such conservation measures were now “purely voluntary.

The state ended its island planning.

The island is one of dozens of bird-preservation efforts that have fallen away in the wake of the policy change in 2017 that was billed merely as a technical clarification to a century-old law protecting migratory birds. Across the country birds have been killed and nests destroyed by oil spills, construction crews and chemical contamination, all with no response from the federal government, according to emails, memos and other documents viewed by The New York Times.

Not only has the administration stopped investigating most bird deaths, the documents show, it has discouraged local governments and businesses from taking precautionary measures to protect birds.”

David Lindsay:  Thank you Lisa Friedman. The comments are also excellent, though deeply disturging. Here is perhaps my favorite:

froze
Indiana

What this sort of thing concerning bird population drop off is not addressing is that birds are starving for natural food which are insects. The insect population is dramatically down due to insect resistant modified plants and insecticide used on crops. I remember as a kid in the 60’s and 70’s bugs would smear the windshield like crazy while driving through the country, now bugs rarely hit the windshield! This massive decline in bugs is a HUGE reasons the bird population is way down, if the birds don’t have their natural food sources then they won’t survive and won’t have as many fledglings. But no one wants to address this reduction in insects due to insect resistant plants and insecticides because that’s what’s making money for the farmers. And as a side issue, how good is this genetically altered insect resistant crops for humans to eat over the long haul? I have a feeling we’re in for a very bad surprise.

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