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Sunday, May 31

Two Americas

Man in Elmo mask dances down Philadelphia street wrecked by rioting


One of many huge crowds gathered to watch manned SpaceX launch


Top photo from Daily Mail's Anarchy in USA, May 30, as mob violence took over anti-police protests in 25 American cities.

Second photo from CNN's In pictures: SpaceX's historic launch, May 30.


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DC National Guard mustered to defend White House. Looting, violence break out in DC

Statement from Commanding General, D.C. National Guard, 
posted on their Facebook page on May 30 at about 9:00 PM ET:
The District of Columbia National Guard (DCNG) has been activated at the direction of the Secretary of the Army in response to a request for assistance from the U.S. Park Police to help maintain order during protests in the vicinity of the White House.
The DCNG, the Nation’s only Federal National Guard, reports to the President of the United States through the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army. [...]
This news report from a Washington, DC television station WUSA9, published at 1:03 this morning, states that "some members" of the DC National Guard were deployed around 11:00 PM ET (5/30). From the report, the protests and violence are continuing.

From Fox5 News, another Washington, DC television station, about 30 minutes ago:

WASHINGTON - What began as peaceful, disciplined protests in the District in the wake of George Floyd’s death Saturday afternoon devolved into looting and violence around midnight.

Tensions between police and protesters escalated quickly as the night drew on, with demonstrators hurling burning debris and fireworks, and police in riot gear firing rubber bullets.

At one point, demonstrators could be seen shoving a burning dumpster down a roadway, and near the White House at least one crane and one vehicle could be seen burning.

The demonstrations evaporated, however, and were followed by ... people smashing windows, tagging vehicles with graffiti and looters pouring out of stores with armloads of liquor bottles.

FOX 5 reporter Josh Rosenthal noted that the looting caught on camera was just one spot in the city, which was dotted with crowds and protests at that point.

[END REPORT]


Returning to the WUSA report:
[BEGIN QUOTES]
Multiple levels of scaffolding in an alleyway behind the iconic Hay Adams Hotel in downtown D.C. went up in flames as Justice for George protests continued on their second night [Fri, Sat].

Smoke and flames could be seen from nearby blocks and thousands continued to be in the area for demonstrations. D.C. Fire and EMS responded to the scene just after midnight with crews extinguishing the flames and keeping pedestrians out of the nearby alleyway where the flames went up.

No injuries from the fire have been reported at this time and the fire did not spread to the nearby Hay Adams Hotel.
[...]
The hotel is just north of the White House and blocks away from Lafayette Park, an epicenter for the protests on both nights.

Other fires have broken out throughout the night as protest activity picked up, with some members of the DC National Guard employed around 11 p.m. Multiple uses of tear gas have been employed with many pedestrians having a hard time breathing.

[Photos, video]
[END REPORT]
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Saturday, May 30

St. Paul police deny one of theirs escalated rioting by smashing windows

I have deleted yesterday's post that mentioned the window-smashing incident and the claim that it was done by a policeman out of uniform. I did so after reading RT's report on what is currently known about the accusation and the official police denial. 

I don't know what to believe at this point about the situation. All I know is that I am weary of the constant uproar in the United States, the lies and counter-lies, claims and counter-claims, the protests and counter-protests, the shrieking news media and social media, the unrelenting political campaigning.

One commenter called my kind of weariness it "bluster fatigue." 

When it comes to the point where news about virus death rates is a welcome relief from the din, I think this is a sign of bluster fatigue and that I have a serious case of it.  

But weariness is no excuse to pass along an unproven accusation about a serious matter. My apology to Pundita readers. 

I think it's time I took a break from the internet and blogging. I'll return in two weeks. Until then,

Stay safe,
Pundita     

********

Thursday, May 28

I don't think America's economic recovery will be consumer driven.

Mark Cuban has been brainstorming, which is what wealthy business investors are supposed to do.  He's proposed a "use it or lose it" prepaid debt card for about $1,200 for each American household. Well, 1,200 bucks is a drop in the bucket next to what millions of American households need at this time. And I think many people would demand to use the debit card to pay for rent and other critical necessities, rather than helping to boost sales at stores even if the stores are in desperate straits. 

Right now at least one big rental company in Washington, DC is allowing tenants to work out long-term rent payments, and this is probably the same for big rental companies and mortgage lenders across the USA where pandemic lockdowns have brought business to a virtual standstill. 

But these are stopgap measures that can't hold for many more months if tenants and homeowners who are now months behind on their payments can't get work at a high enough salary that will allow them to repay. 

Mark Cuban's other idea is somewhat more realistic:
Cuban has also called for the implementation of a transitional federally-guaranteed jobs program to jumpstart a recovery giving people "confidence in their jobs."
But he's talking about making a temporary industry out of Covid:
"We're going to have to have a transitional, not permanent transitional federal jobs program,” he said, linking such efforts to the massive COVID-19 testing regime that’s been touted as a linchpin of getting the economy restarted.
“And so we're going to need to hire people, millions of people, you know, preferably for testing, tracing, tracking, supporting vulnerable populations, long-term care, you know, giving people jobs that they know, are stable, because that gives them the impetus to spend money," Cuban added.
I'm sorry but Cuban isn't confronting how badly Americans have been burned. They know there's no such thing as a temporary stable job.  Give them temporary jobs and they will save whatever money they can from the salaries, not make the kind of retail purchases that might save stores. 

The government needs to throw in the towel and create millions of long-term jobs in industries that build and repair infrastructure in the United States -- and in other countries. 

In short, the government needs to copy Beijing's vast make-work scheme for Chinese citizens, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative. Part of doing this would be to set up an American version of the World Bank. 

Such a bank would also sop up Americans who aren't fit to do actual construction work but have skills that a construction/reconstruction bank needs such as accounting, statistics, engineering, and the hosts of 'soft' sciences that contribute to numerous types of World Bank-funded projects around the world that aren't purely construction. 

Standing in the way of an American Bank has been  'geopolitics.' The U.S. state department and various other American players haven't wanted to relinquish the U.S. role at the World Bank because it gives them leverage with other Bank members.  

They need to change their thinking.  This needs to be done fast because of the really bad news, which the Yahoo! report today about Mark Cuban's debit card idea explains:
For many businesses, the future is uncertain. Some can't afford to bring back laid-off employees because they can only operate at partial capacity.
The other challenge they face is that 68% of people on unemployment are currently making more than they did in their previous job. In the past 10 weeks, more than 40 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance.
With much of the economy still shut down, “employers can't afford to bring them back. So they're stuck in never Never-never land,” Cuban said. “That's a huge problem."
Why yes, it's a huge problem, and it will an even huger problem when the unemployment benefits run out or are scaled back:  
The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed in March, expanded existing unemployment benefits by adding an extra $600 weekly payment on top of the amount someone receives under state law through. However, Cuban pointed out that those extended benefits are expected to run out before August.
Against this, Cuban expects Americans to use a prepaid debt card to buy clothes and appliances? I think he's dreaming. 

******** 

Wednesday, May 27

China-India border dispute escalates. Trump pats air with his hands.

“This escalation is serious; I don’t think this is just a localised incident. China’s behaviour is more aggressive this time, backed up by a fairly large number of troops, which is not typical of this border where troop levels tend to be low on both sides. ..."

Does the big escalation also mean Beijing is sending a message to Washington to back off? We'll find out soon enough.

China and India move troops as border tensions escalate
By Hannah-Ellis Peterson
May 27, 202
The Guardian

Thousands of Chinese troops reportedly move into sensitive areas along Himalayan frontier

Tensions between China and India over their Himalayan border have escalated, with China accused of moving thousands of troops into disputed territory and expanding a military airbase in the region.

Thousands of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops are reported to have moved into sensitive areas along the eastern Ladakh border, setting up tents and stationing vehicles and heavy machinery in what India considers to be its territory.

In response, the Indian army has moved several battalions from an infantry division usually based in the Ladakh city of Leh to “operational alert areas” along the border, and reinforcement troops have been brought in.

The aggressive military posturing follows two skirmishes between the two sides on 5 and 9 May in the border areas of Pangong Lake and North Sikkim in Ladakh, in which more than 100 soldiers from both sides were injured.

On Wednesday Donald Trump waded into the heightened standoff, claiming that he had “informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute”.

The high-altitude border has been aggressively contested and heavily militarised since 1962 when China launched an offensive into Indian territory, sparking a short but bloody war.

Ashok K Kantha, a former Indian ambassador to China and now director of the Institute of Chinese Studies based in Delhi, said the recent incursions and border aggressions from China were “far from routine occurrences”.

He said: “This escalation is serious; I don’t think this is just a localised incident. China’s behaviour is more aggressive this time, backed up by a fairly large number of troops, which is not typical of this border where troop levels tend to be low on both sides. It could be a territorial claim or part of a wider messaging to India that they need to be more mindful of China on sensitive geopolitical issues.”

Kantha said it was “in the interest of both India and China to keep the situation under control and maintain relative peace”.

China’s actions appear to be a response to India’s construction of roads and airstrips adjacent to the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which will improve connectivity and enable easier mobility for Indian troops in the area. Construction has paused during the coronavirus lockdown but is due to resume imminently.

There have been diplomatic discussions as well as multiple meetings on a local level in an attempt to defuse the tensions.

On Tuesday India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, held a meeting with his national security adviser, Ajit Doval, plus his chief of defence staff and three security chiefs to discuss “bolstering India’s military preparedness to deal with external security challenges”.

According to satellite footage published by the Indian news channel NDTV, there has been large-scale construction work at a Chinese military airbase less than 120 miles from the border in recent weeks, including the building of a new runway suitable for warplanes.

“China is committed to safeguarding the security of its national territorial sovereignty, as well as safeguarding peace and stability in the China-India border areas,” a Chinese foreign ministry statement said.

In a recent statement, India’s external affairs ministry blamed China for provoking the military escalation. “In fact, it is the Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India’s normal patrolling patterns,” the statement said. “The Indian side has always taken a very responsible approach towards border management.”

[END REPORT]

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Tuesday, May 26

When saving face is more important than life itself. U.S.-China dispute.

There are so many subplots in Story of Yanxi Palace that I'm not being a plot-spoiler when I note that one of the emperor's consorts commits suicide because she lost face. Wei Ying Luo, the heroine of the tale, is horrified by this. New to the Forbidden City, she tells her supervisor in the embroidery department that she wouldn't kill herself even if a million people spat on her.  The supervisor replies that without maintaining face there is no surviving the Forbidden City.

That is still how a great many people think, and nowhere is this truer than with governments, whether democratically elected or imposed. Face is everything for governments. They will do anything to save face. 

Would anything include nuclear war? It could.  

That is why I hesitate to say there will be no war between China and the United States. If you remove the face factor, if those countries were run by people who thought like Wei Ying Luo, then I'd state with confidence there would be no war because so many things mitigate against it. But humanity does not have that much advantage at this time. So I think it's fair to say we are now in a very dangerous period.

*********

Monday, May 25

Top Five Reasons for Americans not to observe Memorial Day

Because --

5. It's not to observe the start of Summer.
4. It's not to kick off the political campaign season.
3. It's not to revile the other political party.
2. It's not to comment on the awful state of government.
1. It's not the start of barbecue season.

If Memorial Day stands for none of those reasons, then what use is it?

It's to honor the American soldiers who died in the line of duty. 

If that sounds like a dumb reason for a federal holiday, look at it this way. You have 364 days out of every year to express your grievances. But on one day, Memorial Day, you can take a moment to be thankful there are Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice to fight on behalf of their fellow Americans.

So this has nothing to do with your feelings about war or any particular American war.  You have a whole 364 days to protest wars and tell how awful they are. But on this one day, can you find it in your heart to act human?  

********    

Saturday, May 23

Through it all, Syrians rebuild. "Aleppo is on its way back to its former glory."

A 20 year old Syrian interested in construction has put together a 'before-after' video of devastated Aleppo City sites that have been rebuilt, which he's posted at his Twitter page, "Rebuilding Syria." He's also posted many photos of sites in other regions of the country that have been reconstructed or are in the rebuilding process.  And he has much discussion about real estate development projects and other construction-related Syrian news. 

Here's the link to the video and his comment:
I have finally finished making this video showing Aleppo before and after reconstruction, 2016 vs 2020. There is of course more than this that has been done, but this video highlights some of the most important places in the city. Aleppo is on its way back to its former glory.
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Friday, May 22

Stunning revelations about breathing

Science has found links between improper breathing and weak bones as well as hosts of chronic mental and physical illnesses. 

So if you read nothing else the rest of this year, I hope you'll read the following essay, adapted by the Wall Street Journal from a new book by James Nestor,  “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art” to be published May 26 by Riverhead Books. I've copied the entire essay, below, with profound thanks to the WSJ for highlighting Nestor's book. 

I do have a warning. Proper breathing, which Nestor describes, is not the same as breath manipulation. I'd say just focus on learning to breathe correctly.   

How we inhale and exhale has profound effects on our health—and not just during a crisis like the pandemic
By James Nestor
May 21, 2020 -- 6:04 pm ET
The Wall Street Journal

Breathing is not an activity that anyone is feeling confident about right now. We spend our days covering our mouths and noses with masks, struggling to inhale and exhale. We toss and turn at night, worried that we might be feeling a cough coming on or some tightness in our chests. Covid-19 has turned us into a planet of breath-obsessed people.

But as hard as it might be to fathom now, there is a silver lining here: Breathing is a missing pillar of health, and our attention to it is long overdue.

Most of us misunderstand breathing. We see it as passive, something that we just do. Breathe, live; stop breathing, die. But breathing is not that simple and binary. How we breathe matters, too.

Inside the breath you just took, there are more molecules of air than there are grains of sand on all the world’s beaches. We each inhale and exhale some 30 pounds of these molecules every day—far more than we eat or drink. The way that we take in that air and expel it is as important as what we eat, how much we exercise and the genes we’ve inherited.

This idea may sound nuts, I realize. It certainly sounded that way to me when I first heard it several years ago while interviewing neurologists, rhinologists and pulmonologists at Stanford, Harvard and other institutions. What they’d found is that breathing habits were directly related to physical and mental health.

Breathing properly can allow us to live longer and healthier lives. Breathing poorly, by contrast, can exacerbate and sometimes cause a laundry list of chronic diseases: asthma, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, hypertension and more. Poor breathing habits can even change the physical structure of our skeletons, depleting essential minerals and weakening our bones.

The ancients understood this. Almost every major religion and many cultures—from the Greeks to the Buddhists, Hindus to Native Americans—considered proper breathing essential to health. Starting around 400 B.C., Chinese scholars wrote several books on breath, believing that it could be a medicine or a poison, depending on how we used it. “Therefore, the scholar who nourishes his life refines the form and nourishes his breath,” says a Tao text. “Isn’t this evident?”


Not really. Think back to your last health check-up. Chances are that your doctor took your blood pressure, pulse and temperature and then placed a stethoscope to your chest to listen to your heart and lungs. Maybe she discussed diet, taking vitamins, stresses at work. Any issues digesting food? How about sleep? Were the seasonal allergies getting worse? But she likely never checked your respiratory rate or breathing habits. And yet how we breathe affects all of these things, and much more.

Today, doctors who study breathing say that the vast majority of Americans do it inadequately.

We can blame some of our poor breathing habits on morphological changes in the human skull. Over the past 300,000 years, our mouths and sinuses have shrunk. It’s gotten so bad that today humans are the only species whose teeth no longer fit in our mouths; they grow in crooked. A smaller mouth and obstructed nose make it harder to breathe. Humans now have the sad distinction of being the most plugged-up species in the animal kingdom.

We can also blame our middle-aged bodies. Starting around 30, bones in the chest become thinner and collapse inward. We lose about 12% of our lung capacity by the time we hit 50, and then the decline speeds up. We’re forced to breathe faster and harder, making it even more difficult just to catch a breath.

But it’s not all bad news. Unlike problems with other parts of the body, such as the liver or kidneys, we can improve the airways in our too-small mouths and reverse the entropy in our lungs at any age. We can do this by breathing properly.

In the 1980s, researchers with the Framingham Study, a 70-year research program focused on heart disease, gathered two decades of data from 5,200 subjects, crunched the numbers and discovered that the greatest indicator of life span wasn’t genetics, diet or the amount of daily exercise, as many had suspected. It was lung capacity. Larger lungs equaled longer lives. Because big lungs allow us to get more air in with fewer breaths. They save the body from a lot of unnecessary wear and tear.

That’s the first step in healthy breathing: extending breaths to make them a little deeper, a little longer. Try it. For the next several minutes, inhale gently through your nose to a count of about five and then exhale, again through your nose, at the same rate or a little more slowly if you can. This works out to about six breaths a minute.

When we breathe like this we can better protect the lungs from irritation and infection while boosting circulation to the brain and body. Stress on the heart relaxes; the respiratory and nervous systems enter a state of coherence where everything functions at peak efficiency. Just a few minutes of inhaling and exhaling at this pace can drop blood pressure by 10, even 15 points.

Two New York psychiatrists, Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg, found that patients who practiced these slow-and-low breaths could blunt the symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental disorders. It even helped 9/11 survivors restore airway damage caused by debris, a horrendous condition called ground-glass lungs. Where other therapies failed, breath alone offered significant improvement.

By building healthy breathing habits we can stop the entropy of our respiratory systems and increase our lung capacity. We can also reduce—or in some remarkable cases, reverse—modern maladies such as asthma and allergies and even emphysema and autoimmune diseases.

Last year, I wanted to see just how dramatically breathing habits—good and bad ones—could affect my own brain and body. I’d learned that up to 50% of us are chronic mouth breathers, a problem well described by an ancient Tao text: “The breath inhaled through the mouth is called ‘Ni Ch’i, adverse breath,’ which is extremely harmful.”

Scientists have known for decades that inhaling through this pathway saps the body of moisture, irritates the lungs and loosens the soft tissues at the back of the mouth. Mouth breathing has also been linked with neurological disorders, periodontal disease and increased risk of respiratory infection. But nobody knew how quickly this damage came on.

Working with Dr. Jayakar Nayak, chief of rhinology research at Stanford’s Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery Center, I spent 10 awful days with silicon plugs up my nose, breathing only through my mouth. Within a single night, my formerly minimal snoring increased 13-fold. I suddenly had sleep apnea. My blood pressure shot up to stage 2 hypertension while my stress levels spiked and cognitive scores plummeted. I felt anxious, stressed, fatigued.

Within a day of switching back to nasal breathing, my snoring began to revert and soon was almost gone. I went from having two dozen sleep apnea events a night to zero. My blood pressure dropped 20 points from its peak. The other subject in the experiment suffered the same damage from mouth breathing and the same restoration from nasal breathing.

Which brings us to the second step in healthy breathing: Breathe through your nose. Nasal breathing not only helps with snoring and some mild cases of sleep apnea, it also can allow us to absorb around 18% more oxygen than breathing through our mouths. It reduces the risk of dental cavities and respiratory problems and likely boosts sexual performance. The list goes on.

Covid-19 has forced modern medicine to broaden its outlook and look for new solutions, even in the wisdom of the past. Fortunately, a remedy for many of our chronic health problems is right under our noses. It requires no batteries, Wi-Fi, headgear or smartphones. It costs nothing and takes little time and effort. It’s a therapy our ancestors self-administered for thousands of years with only their lips, noses and lungs. Let’s hope that this time around we don’t forget it.

—This essay is adapted from Mr. Nestor’s new book, “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art”, which will be published on May 26 by Riverhead Books.

[END ESSAY]

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Thursday, May 21

Rami Makhlouf's wealth is chump change next to what Assad needs.

What distinguishes the following Haaretz report from a Wall Street Journal one with a similar headline is that Haaretz provides useful information about the current state of the Syrian economy.  In my view, the WSJ provides propaganda.

Sure, Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, has an editorial policy that is not friendly to Assad, but one can always read past editorializing. However, I think they're making a mistake when they assume that Assad's dispute with Rami Makhlouf is about wringing money out of him.  

For crying out loud, Haaretz's own reporting about the economic disaster in Syria suggests that Rami's measly $3 billion isn't worth a family feud. Especially because the feud was guaranteed to drag the entire Syrian public into it. 

So what's it about, if money isn't the key issue?  I can only go by what I read in English-language reports. I was impressed with a May 7 analysis The Assad-Makhlouf Rift: A sign of Assad's Strength by Aiman Mansour, who served for years on Israel's National Security Council.

When I put the analysis alongside the thousands of reports and opinion I've read about Syria and Assad over the years of the Syrian War and place those next to the plot of Story of Yanxi Palace, which I've already admitted I've watched too many times, I'd say to Haaretz, "Guess again."

No matter how much mess the emperor's brother made for him, there was only one reason the emperor would ever move against the brother. That was if he had hard evidence the brother was mounting a coup against him. 

Assad Bets on the Wealthy to Bounce Syria Back From Economic Collapse

Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the country has lost more than $775 million a month, or about $26 million a day, and Russia is waiting for payment

By Zvi Bar'el
May 20, 2020 - 08:58
Haaretz

After months of near-complete lockdown, life in Syria is gradually returning to “normal.”

The authorities have permitted some movement between districts, public transportation has resumed in large cities, the textile firms that nearly went bankrupt have received work permits, and an estimated two and a half million civil servants have largely returned to work.

Ali Kanaan, head of the Department of Banking and Insurance at Damascus University, estimates that the country lost more than $775 million a month during the coronavirus period, or about $26 million a day.

The Syrian Research Institute predicts that with the current restrictions that are expected to last through June, the Syrian economy may go bankrupt due to revenue losses from the barely functioning tax collection system.

Government aid distributed to the neediest citizens, beginning in March, costs the government about $78 million a month and far from suffices for even the most basic of needs. The average wage is $38 a month, and the extra six dollars is significant, but estimates show that the average household needs $334 to subsist, leaving a massive gap between wages and basic needs.

In normal times, before the pandemic, many public and private sector workers supplemented their wages by moonlighting. These opportunities have disappeared as the restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus sent 80 percent of the population below the poverty line.
While the coronavirus crisis raged on, the Rami Makhlouf affair erupted. A cousin of President Bashar Assad, Makhlouf turned in an instant from a pillar of the Syrian economy into public enemy number one. 


Makhlouf, who amassed his billions during the two decades Bashar has been in power, owns the Syriatel cell phone company. He’s also one of the country’s largest oil and consumer goods importers and owner of dozens of subsidiaries in industry, commerce, and tourism.

Makhlouf was ordered to pay three billion dollars to the Syrian government – funds actually intended for Russia as part of Moscow’s “collection” campaign which aims to rescue Assad by extending his hold on the Syrian economy while repelling Iranian influence.

Makhlouf, who says he does not have the funds, began publishing video clips on social media claiming that his property has been impounded and complaining about the Assad family hurting his businesses.

Assad's economic security belt

The Assad family had long favored wealthy business people while pressuring them to hand over some of their capital to finance the regime. One of them, whose name has recently resurfaced in the headlines, is Samer Foz. Foz earned his fortune by taking over the wheat and oil trade in Kurdish areas and by controlling Islamic banks in Syria, through which sanctions on the country could be bypassed. Foz is not the liaison between the regime and the enclaves in Kurdish repel hands for wheat purchase. Syria published an international tender for the purchase of 200 tons of wheat which appears to be destined for Russia.

The economic security belt Assad has built also finances some of the army’s operations and contributes to the new welfare programs announced by the regime a few days ago. These plans are aimed at calming the storm surrounding the Makhlouf affair and its exposure of the regime’s corruption.

At the start of the week, the regime permitted private firms to import fertilizer, a product that has been controlled solely by the government, reduced customs taxes by about half on animal feed and seeds, and raised the quota on agricultural machinery imports from 1,000 to 5,000, which may be sold to farmers for loans on comfortable terms. 

At the same time the regime has ordered the establishment of popular markets where basic goods may be sold at wholesale prices, and even at a 15% discount, bypassing retail markups. 

Another order aims to encourage local production by listing 67 products whose manufacturers would win substantial benefits for making them locally instead of relying on imports.

Students from bereaved families and military personnel will also enjoy some benefits. Universities and colleges have been ordered to provide full scholarships for tuition, housing, and transportation for two percent of students, those who fall in these categories, even if they earn failing grades.

The costs of these orders to the state coffers are unknown and the criteria for the benefits are not set in stone. Based on past experience eligible people will have to tip officials and inspectors and navigate a complex web of mediators to receive any of the benefits provided under the law. Even the newly opened import channels for the private sector do not ensure that the government will abandon the system of charging additional fees that have lined the pockets of many people close to the regime, as well as contributed to a dizzying rise in prices and the Syrian lira’s nosedive to an unprecedented 1,500 to the dollar.

The Syrian finance minister had just one thing to say to citizens reading or hearing about the ring of wealth surrounding the president: “The citizens make enough money – if only they knew how to manage it.” 

The comment sparked such a storm on social media that the minister was forced to deny ever saying it. But the average Syrian citizen has already exhausted their toolbox of methods to maneuver around poverty, unemployment, the coronavirus, and the sweltering heat as the absence of any economic horizon extends before them.

[END REPORT]

********

The mask is coming off Britain's real role in the Syrian War

"The documents show that the UK was covertly running parts of the Syrian opposition."

Someone in the British government has been leaking documents to a publication called the Middle East Eye. The documents reveal that a British propaganda campaign against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government was mounted not just to rationalize Britain's entry into the Syrian War but to instigate the war in Syria and prolong it. The main targets of British actions were the Syrians inside Syria. 

So the British public, which its government repeatedly lied to about the Syrian conflict, was simply collateral damage. However, some British aren't taking this lying down, and so a document leak has begun. News of this was first written up for MEE by award-winning senior reporter Ian Cobain with award-winning co-author Alice Ross and published February 19 under the headline REVEALED: The British government’s covert propaganda campaign in Syria.
 
Then Mark Curtis, a British author and editor of "Declassified U.K." took up the cudgel: Revelations about UK media operations challenge narratives of war, which Middle East Eye published on March 18. The lede:

 "British government effectively ran Syrian opposition groups' media offices, countering the notion that the UK has not played a significant role in the conflict."

I hope that when American readers digest the news it will occur to them that for years the British government was fine with letting Americans take the blame for the propaganda war against Syria's president.

It's my view that with allies like the British, America doesn't need enemies. If Russiagate didn't bring that home to you, maybe Syriagate will.

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Monday, May 18

The food supply crisis isn't new. It's just Americans are now noticing it.

"The world may not actually be wasting more than normal, when a third of global food production ends up in landfills. ... Before the pandemic, an estimated $1 trillion of food production ended up lost or wasted." 

The quotes are from a report today at Bloomberg headlined Smashing Eggs, Dumping Milk: Farms Waste More Food Than Ever. But a big point in the report is that it's not possible at this stage of the dumping to know whether the waste is more than before the pandemic. 

In any case, the enormous waste generated by the way food is produced and sold wasn't obvious to Americans until the situation hit them personally because of  lockdowns in response to the pandemic:
What’s changing now is that rather than being thrown out by consumers as kitchen waste, an unprecedented amount of food is getting dumped even before making it into grocery stores.
Another point in the report is that despite the incredible amount of food produced on a global basis, this doesn't mean it's getting to all the people who need it.

I think people in other countries would be shocked to learn that millions of older Americans have gone hungry for years before Covid-19 appeared. As to how this could have happened in the world's hyperpower nation is a long story, which TIME magazine described in detail last August. But part of the story is that for decades U.S. government food programs focused on children. Many poor, older Americans got lost in the shuffle.

Last year the U.S. Congress made an effort to address the situation, as TIME explained, but the legislation wasn't signed into law until March 31 of this year. And the help from increased programs to feed the elderly may fall very short of what is needed.

So despite the mountains of food produced and shipped in this highly globalized trade era, many people are indeed going hungry.    

As to the immediate crisis -- the executive director of a nonprofit focused on reducing food waste told Bloomberg that a good deal of pandemic-induced food dumping in the U.S. is due to supply-chain disruptions because of "the rigidity of our food system -- highly specialized processing plants" that make food for restaurants and can’t redirect their products to grocery stores.

They'll have to learn to redirect, but you can always produce more food. That's provided you have the water to produce it with. Every bit of food used or dumped represents water, which is termed virtual water. Everything we use represents virtual water. But the thing about virtual water is that once the water is used to make something, it can't be converted back to water.

When you consider that every manufacturing, growing, and  shipping process uses water, the trillion dollars in wasted food production is a drop in the bucket next to the amount of water wasted just by our current systems of food production and food exports.

So where do we go from here? [shrugging] We radically alter the way we do things or we die off as a race.  

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Sunday, May 17

As close to an apology as we'll probably get from China's government

In China heads have already rolled, so to speak.  Meanwhile, Voice of America reports Europe is caught up in a bashing match between China and the U.S. at the United Nations over calls for ceasefires in conflict zones during the pandemic. 
Top Chinese Medical Expert Accuses Wuhan Officials of Slow-Walking Coronavirus Response
May 17, 2020
Sputnik

MOSCOW (Sputnik) - China’s preeminent coronavirus medical expert, pulmonologist Zhong Nanshan said Wuhan officials kept silent and minimized the extent of the coronavirus infections at the beginning of the outbreak in an interview with CNN.
"At the very beginning they kept silent", Zhong said, speaking of his trip to the city in mid-January.
According to CNN, Zhong understood that Wuhan officials were downplaying the severity of the outbreak and soon headed to Beijing where he briefed the central government and pressed for the world’s first coronavirus shutdown.
"I suppose they were very reluctant to answer my questions. The local authorities didn’t like to tell the truth at that time", Zhong said.
Beijing has dismissed a slew of local officials for their initial actions and Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang admitted to mistakes.
China’s actions at the early stages of the outbreak have become the subject of much debate, with US President Donald Trump laying the blame squarely at Beijing’s feet and threatening to cut off the relationship.
China has so far consistently denied the accusations, stressing that its policies were transparent throughout the outbreak.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) earlier in May reiterated that COVID-19's published genomic sequence proves the virus's origin is natural and not a laboratory construct. Prior to that, WHO officials were criticised for trusting China's statistics and taking too long to declare a pandemic, which has infected more than 4.5 million since emerging in Wuhan in December.
When pressed on what he believed the origin of the virus was, Zhong maintained that it was difficult to tell accurately but that it was most likely an animal source.
Zhong became known during the original SARS epidemic in 2002-03 and has since been Beijing's point man for infectious diseases and outbreak mitigation measures.
[END REPORT]
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Everyone can do something to help in this time of pandemic

Sad kids get a virtual visit from a virtual princess 


I still remember feeling devastated during my childhood when my parents refused to take me to Disneyland. I'd had my heart set on meeting Tinkerbell and visiting the Fairy Castle.    

From The people helping strangers during the coronavirus pandemic, CNN, March 26:
... Charlotte Bredael, 18, from Newcastle in northwest England runs a small business where she attends children's parties and events dressed as princesses.
Bredael saw Facebook posts from parents whose children were devastated that their planned trips to Disneyland were canceled.
"I thought that if the kids weren't able to meet a princess at Disney World, it might make it a little bit better for them if they could have a video from a princess," she told CNN.
Schools in the UK were told last week that they would be closing for most children, except those whose parents are "key workers."
Bredael is creating videos from her home dressed as Disney princesses for any child who is feeling down.
"I've had messages from parents saying that it's made their kid's day, which makes my day," she told CNN.Bredael has filmed 20 videos and is expecting to film more.
She added: "It's making the kids really happy and it's also making the parents happy to see their kids happy."
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Sathya Sai Baba charity feeds millions of India's poorest during lockdown

To date, May 1, they have cooked and served 5,68,000 food packets through 86 community kitchens. This isn't counting the grocery supplies they've distributed to almost 100,000 families.  

And they're preparing to feed millions more as the all-India lockdown moves today into the fourth and hopefully last phase. 

Sathya Sai devotees reach out to the needy
May 1, 2020
The Hindu

The guiding principle of Sri Sathya Sai Baba was, "Service to man is service to God," and Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations (SSSSO) have been implementing the principle in letter and spirit by extending a helping hand to migrant laborers and needy people through 86 community kitchens across the country.

The kitchens serve 28,000 to 33,000 packets of cooked food every day across different Indian states. [The majority of the kitchen space is provided by Sai Baba devotees] 

The organisation is cooking breakfast, lunch, and dinner in these community kitchens as per approved government norms and distributing meals through government nominated agencies. Under this initiative, it has already served 5,68,000 food packets to date.

SSSSO, whose motto is "Love all and serve all," also distributed ‘Amrit Kalash’ grocery packets to needy families across different states. These packets, which can last for 10 days for a family of four include 11 essential items like rice, wheat flour, pulses, salt and sugar. It has distributed [
11 lakh kgs] of cereals to over 86,000 families till date under the initiative.
[...]
SSSSO is planning to continue the two initiatives of community kitchens and provision of grains and cereals on a mass scale beyond the lockdown period, when restrictions are eased. It is enhancing the capacity of community kitchens to reach around 1,00,000 meals every day from the current 28,000 to 33,000 meals a day and reach out to around 4,000,000 needy families with a distribution of 50,00,000 kg cereals.

SSSSO All India president Nimish Pandya noted that the unprecedented crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic calls for united action to help the most deprived sections of society. The organization will continue the donated food service until the lockdown is completely lifted by the government.

In addition the Mahila Vibhag of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations has been making safety masks for distribution to frontline health and sanitation workers. It has already donated over two lakh [200,000] safety masks in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Punjab states to date.


[END REPORT]

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Saturday, May 16

The incredible FarmLink project "No food bank should have to turn people away during this crisis" ..."

A group of students has come together to link food banks across the U.S. with farmers who have been forced to throw away food because of the coronavirus pandemic

The report is from MSN's Good News page. FarmLink is one of the by now-countless ways that people are helping others in the time of pandemic. Yet I find it incredible how fast just two college students set up the complex project. Truly, the ways to help are as limitless as imagination.  


By Ashleigh Carter, May 12, MSN News

FarmLink is a grassroots movement created by two students from Brown University who are helping pay farmers while redirecting their food waste to charitable organizations. Since the group started in April, it has grown to a team of 20 students and recent graduates from University of Southern California, Dartmouth College, Stanford University, the Harvard School of Business, and Cornell University, along with a network of volunteers.

So far, the group has moved more than 239,000 pounds of food from farmers to food banks and paid more than $4,500 in wages, according to its website.

“Our goal is to get produce where it is needed most,” Will Collier, a senior at Brown and member of the FarmLink team, told NowThis. “No food bank should have to turn people away during this crisis."

As restaurants and schools have shut down, farmers that relied on supplying them food were suddenly left with cancelled orders and a surplus of products. As a result, farmers have been forced to dump millions of pounds of food, including potatoes, fresh produce, and milk. The meat industry also took a hit, as thousands of meatpacking workers tested positive for COVID-19, and labor union groups pressured the facilities to shut down.

While government bailouts and individual states are working to aid the agricultural industry during the pandemic, FarmLink is helping to reduce food waste by raising money to purchase the excess food from farmers, and rerouting the deliveries to food bank distributor partners. In April, the group completed its first delivery, which consisted of 50,000 pounds of onions from a farm in Oregon.

Collier said that FarmLink has grown thanks to a mix of the team’s personal and corporate relationships, along with donations — which pays for the wages of farm workers and truckers. 

The organization also recently partnered with Uber Freight in a deal that helps FarmLink with transports of food, Collier says.

As of May 8, FarmLink has moved food in Idaho, Oregon, Utah, California, North Carolina, and Virginia and has plans to start working in Texas, Wyoming, New York, Michigan and the New England area. The group is aiming to move at least 1 million pounds of food by the end of May and 5 million pounds by the end of the summer.

Volunteers, farmers, transportation companies, and food banks can get involved by contacting FarmLink here.

[FarmLink Video]

[END REPORT]

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Friday, May 15

Nitric oxide, testosterone: Is this virus trying to tell us something? UPDATED

Update
About 10 days ago the Daily Mail reported German doctors had found that male Covid patients with low testosterone were more likely to die from the virus. (See the report, below.) Today the Daily Mail reported that some scientists are saying testosterone itself could be the culprit in higher Covid deaths among males..

The research on the virus is still all over the place. It's the same with research on nitric oxide booster supplements and claims for the supplements' benefits. For example a study at MIT published in 2013 found that drugs that block nitric oxide could weaken cancer cells’ resistance to chemotherapy. Other studies laud the benefits of NO. 

If you are among the millions who use all kinds of supplements to ward off illnesses and the worst effects of aging, nobody should need to tell you that you're using yourself as a guinea pig. 

As Dr Barry Sears observed years ago, the taking of melatonin supplements, available without prescription, represents the largest uncontrolled medical experiment in history. It's the same with nitric oxide boosters; taking them is still a pioneering effort. 

Sunlight, however, is not only a 'natural' way to boost one's nitric oxide and testosterone levels, which clearly nosedive during aging, it's also free.

In short, do your homework and proceed with caution when taking any supplement, including NO and testosterone boosters.   
END UPDATE

Indonesians take up sunbathing. Will wonders never cease?

Daily Mail: 

KHOU-11:
Nitric oxide could reduce COVID-19: "It's already being used to treat patients with lung failure"

Medscape:
Inhaled Nitric Oxide Explored for COVID-19 Oxygenation


For gravely ill Covid patients, I guess there's no harm in inhaling nitric oxide gas. But the human body makes and stores the nitric oxide (NO) gas, and releases it on demand. 

From the Sunlight Institute:
"Ultraviolet A (UVA) light (part of sunlight) stimulation of the skin causes the release of nitric oxide (NO) from pre-formed stores of NO in the skin. NO is a potent vasodilator, and when released into the arteries by UVA stimulation, causes increased blood flow and lowered blood pressure."
So instead of fooling around with inhaling the gas, why not do something radical and get out in the sunlight? 

As soon as sunlight hits the skin, this tells the body to make or release nitric oxide, which gives the energy needed to do physical labor. The effect is transient -- about 20 minutes, if I recall from what I read about it, but if you're in the sunlight hours a day, then of course the body keeps making the NO.

From what I've read, I think the body's ability to make nitric oxide decreases with age; that would make sense because old people aren't expected to do hard labor. But thanks to the wonders of biochemistry, there are non-prescription supplements that boost the body's nitric oxide level.  

And many vegetables boost the level. Thus, the fad for beets and beet-based supplements, but actually beets don't even make it into the top five of NO-booster foodstuffs. You'll never guess what's Number 1. Arugula.

As to testosterone (T) -- again, it is sunlight that automatically stimulates the body's T production. 

Indeed, researchers have been learning that sunlight stimulates a vast range of critically important bodily processes, including waking up. 

As I've pointed out before, you don't want to use the high-lumen 'wake-up' lights. Of course if a bright light shines on your face you'll wake up, but this isn't the body's idea of waking up.

For the body to power up all its processes after you've slept,  it needs full-spectrum sunlight, which the high-lumen lights don't provide. 

But if you're covered head to toe with clothing when you're out in the sunlight, or slathered with sunblock lotion, at the least this defeats the production of Vitamin D, which is involved with all sorts of bodily processes. 

Sunlight doesn't directly make Vitamin D. It needs to mix with body oils, which are then absorbed by the skin. So there has to be exposed skin for the absorption to happen, of course. And the sun can't get past the sunblock stuff, which is why it's called sunblock.

So trust Indonesia's government -- and just about every other government today -- to screw up a healthy practice.  The Economist reported on May 9 that Indonesians have taken up sunbathing in hopes this will protect them from the Covid virus. 

I think they're reacting to news reports about preliminary research that shows sunlight can quickly destroy the coronavirus.  So Indonesian women are getting out of their hijabs and men are going shirtless to get the sun's rays. That's great. But now their government is worried about skin cancer, so it's urging the public to use suntan blocking preparations.

My understanding is that sunlight DOES NOT cause skin cancer. (See research published by the Sunlight Institute.)  I don't know whether that's the case with tanning beds, or whether it applies if people strip down and stay motionless in the sun for hours; i.e., if they take to 'sunbathing' instead of being active in the sun.  In any case, I think the numerous health risks in avoiding sunlight far outweigh any risk from skin cancer.      

Above all, Indonesians need to know that sterilization is only one among the many benefits of sunlight.  So if they continue to get in the sun on a routine basis and expose more of their bodies to the sun, they can expect to see much healthier people in their society. It is the same for every society.

What about people who can't get sunlight on a routine basis? You can get tanned on a cloudy day and even a rainy day. 

The human organism isn't an idiot. It's built to be enormously flexible; it has evolved all kinds of fail-safes and will accept certain workarounds -- such as NO booster supplements and Vitamin D pills. 

It's over long periods of flouting Nature that we get into big trouble. That's now the case for societies that for decades have avoided sunlight.

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