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Matthew Rozsa

Elon Musk becomes Twitter laughingstock after Bolivian socialist movement returns to power

Tesla CEO Elon Musk became an internet punchline on Monday after the party of Evo Morales, a left-wing Bolivian president whom Musk intimated that America had every right to overthrow, was restored to power by the Bolivian people.

The redemption at the ballot box of Morales' party, Movement Toward Socialism, was seen as a rebuke of the role of American elites in helping to oust Morales last year. Why this political battle became a viral moment for media pundits to own the brash billionaire CEO, however, is a longer story.

Recall that then-President Evo Morales won the Bolivian election last year, facing off against far-right forces backed by the American government. In that election, however, US-backed watchdog groups intentionally cast doubt over his victory to try to instill uncertainty in the democratic process and undermine his party's claim to power, something that should seem familiar to Americans now that Trump is poised to do the same. The elite media consensus that the election was "rigged" was also aided by the propaganda campaign waged by a US Army veteran who created a vast botnet on Twitter that sent out huge numbers of tweets trying to push the narrative that Morales' opponent won fair and square.

This week, Morales watched as the Movement Toward Socialism party achieved almost certain victory in elections held on Sunday. Morales himself is not en route to be Bolivia's new leader — that distinction belongs to his former finance minister, Luis Arce, as Morales is in exile in Argentina. Morales himself claimed at the time that he was pushed out by forces which opposed him because of his Aymara background (he was Bolivia's first president to come from its indigenous community, which comprises nearly half of Bolivia's total population) and because of his attempts to nationalize Bolivia's lithium.

This is where Musk enters the story. Musk's business empire is reliant on cheap lithium, a fact which some saw connected to a tweet from the SpaceX CEO, who gloated after Morales' ouster last year: "We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it." Though Musk himself states that his companies get their lithium from Australia, global lithium prices and access are intimately connected to nationalization (or privatization) policies in countries with vast reserves, like Bolivia.

In any case, Musk's words were interpreted as an object demonstration of American neo-imperialism — that is, a foreign policy implemented by the United States which holds that the country has the right to meddle in other nations' political affairs to serve its own self-proclaimed interests. America has done this on a number of occasions throughout its history, from Guatemala and Nicaragua to Chile and Iran. The billionaire class, which Musk is a part of, benefits from this kind of oft-violent intervention by American military and intelligence apparatuses that encourage privatization and resource control of foreign assets for the benefit of US companies and their CEOs.

Now, Twitter has been dunking on Musk in the aftermath of Arce's victory.

"Elon Musk in July on removal of former Bolivian President Evo Morales. Bolivia holds world's largest lithium deposits - critical for powering electric cars," journalist Daniel Medina tweeted. "Today: No comment from Musk as Morales' Movimiento al Socialismo party won Sunday's presidential election in landslide."

Political cartoonist Carlos Latuff expressed a similar thought, tweeting that the "people of Bolivia said NO to the military coup, the CIA and the coup-monger asshole @elonmusk! Congratulations @LuchoXBolivia and @evoespueblo."

Journalist Ken Klippenstein was more succinct, tweeting that he was "calling in a wellness check on elon musk."

Comedian Christine Sydelko tweeted that people should not forget Musk's comment, writing that it is "just your friendly reminder that Elon Musk is a giant steaming pile of dog s**t."

The Bolivian president that Acre is replacing, Jeanine Áñez, has been accused of racism against Bolivia's indigenous population. In 2013 she tweeted that the Aymara's New Year celebration was "satanic" and, six years later, mocked Morales as a "poor indian" who was "clinging to power." Áñez herself is, in the mold of the American evangelical right, openly a right-wing Christian in her views; she even brought a giant Bible with her as she entered the national palace to assume her position as interim president. Although she initially ran in the 2020 presidential election, she withdrew in September so that opponents of Morales' socialist party could unify against Arce. That plan failed.

Musk has not publicly commented on the Bolivian political situation at the time of this writing.

A physics Nobelist has an odd theory about black holes and the universe. Here's the evidence for it

University of Oxford mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose won a Nobel Prize earlier this month for a lifetime of work studying black holes, singularities from which not even light can escape. Yet he is also behind a provocative and controversial theory about the formation of the universe — namely, that the Big Bang did not mark the beginning of the universe as we know it, but merely started the next iteration of our universe. In his theory, known as conformal cyclic cosmology, our current conception of the universe is merely one of a series of infinite universes that came before it and which will come after, too.

Cosmology, of course, is full of theories of assorted degrees of harebrainedness, and many of the most famous ones — such as string theory — lack any observational evidence. But Penrose's prediction is different, as there is some evidence in observations of the cosmic background radiation — meaning the average background temperature of the entire night sky, in which one can see remnant heat from the Big Bang and differentiate bright patches in the sky. As pictured in the featured photo on this story, some of those "bright spots" could be, as Penrose believes, radiation emanations from ancient black holes that predate this universe.

"The idea of Roger's 'conformal cyclic cosmology' [CCC], is based on three facts," Pawel Nurowski, a scientist at the Center for Theoretical Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences, explained to Salon by email.

"The idea of Roger's 'conformal cyclic cosmology' [CCC], is based on three facts," Pawel Nurowski, a scientist at the Center for Theoretical Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences, explained to Salon by email. Specifically, Nurowski says, in order for Penrose's theory to make sense, one would have to observe a universe that has a positive cosmological constant (meaning the mysterious, constant repulsive force that pushes everything in the universe which is not gravitationally bound away from everything else), as well as a universe that would look similar at its end as it did in its beginning. Observations of our universe suggest that it will end in a disordered, empty state, with all matter converted to stray photons that never interact with each other.

Nurowski concluded, "We believe that every possible universe will have all these three features," that "we have an infinite sequence of universes (eons)" and that "Penrose considers this sequence of conformally glued eons as the full physical Universe."

"In this picture, our standard cosmology Universe is only one of the eons," Nurowski added. "So the main difference between 'conformal cyclic cosmology' and the standard cosmology is that our Universe is only a part of Penrose's universe," whereas adherents to the traditional idea of a Big Bang believe that that specific event began our current universe.

This brings us to the recent discovery that may support Penrose's CCC hypothesis. According to a paper co-authored by Penrose, Nurowski and two other scientists, unexpected hot spots that have been discovered in the cosmic microwave background of the universe suggest that there are "anomalous regions," perhaps enormous black holes left over from previous universes that have yet to decay. These regions are known as "Hawking Points," after Stephen Hawking, who first came up with the theory that black holes would very slowly decay over unimaginably long timescales, emitting what is called Hawking radiation in his honor. The discovery of these Hawking points suggests that Penrose's cosmological model is accurate.

"The existence of such anomalous regions, resulting from point-like sources at the conformally stretched-out big bang, is a predicted consequence of conformal cyclic cosmology (CCC)," the paper explains, adding that these so-called Hawking points would be caused by radiation emanating from "supermassive black holes in a cosmic aeon prior to our own."

It must be emphasized that Penrose's Nobel Prize was not awarded because of his theory of a conformal cyclical cosmology. Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb clarified in an email to Salon: "In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a paper in Annals of Mathematics doubting that black holes exist in nature. Roger Penrose demonstrated that black holes are a robust prediction of Einstein's general theory of relativity and in doing so invented a new mathematical tool to depict spacetimes, called Penrose diagrams."

Loeb added, "He also showed that it is possible to extract energy from a spinning black hole as if it was a flywheel, through the so-called Penrose Process."

Loeb says that Penrose's belief that the hot spots prove that the black holes in question came from previous universes is controversial.

"The particular theory advocated by Penrose, Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, asserts that the Big Bang expansion repeats in succession of cycles of expansion, implying that one can see through our current Big Bang into past Big Bangs, giving rise to patterns in cosmic microwave background," Loeb explained. "Penrose made the controversial claim that such patterns are seen in data, but it was shown by others that the patterns he identified are not statistically significant.... and so his claim is controversial."

There are skeptics in the astrophysics community. Ethan Siegel, an astrophysicist who pens a science blog that is published in Forbes magazine, was very critical of Penrose's theory. Last week, he penned an article titled "No, Roger Penrose, We See No Evidence Of A 'Universe Before The Big Bang.'"

"The predictions that [Penrose] has made are refuted by the data, and his claims to see these effects are only reproducible if one analyzes the data in a scientifically unsound and illegitimate fashion," Dr. Siegel wrote. "Hundreds of scientists have pointed this out to Penrose — repeatedly and consistently over a period of more than 10 years — who continues to ignore the field and plow ahead with his contentions."

Nurowski and Loeb both pushed back against Siegel's claims.

"The person that wrote this article seems to never read our recent Monthly Notices paper," Nurowski wrote to Salon, linking to he and Penrose's article showing evidence for Hawking points. "[Siegel] also seems not to read our three other papers. He gives a quote of a picture from an old paper with Penrose and Gurzadyan. He has not a single argument against our newest MNRAS [Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society] paper.... I stress that the statistical analysis in our paper is at the highest astronomical standards."

He added, "I am happy to answer any critics, provided that I hear a single argument against this what we have written, and not the repetition of this what the standard cosmology says. Either we are talking about facts or beliefs. Our paper is about facts. But to talk about them, one has to read the paper first."

Loeb seemed to echo this view, despite his own skepticism about CCC.

"My problem with Penrose's theory is that it is not fully worked out and that there is no statistically irrefutable evidence to support the patterns that he claims to have identified in the cosmic microwave background, but we should remain open minded to new ideas on what preceded the Big Bang," Loeb explained. "This is the story of where we came from, our cosmic roots. The simple picture we have now is clearly incomplete and requires more scientific work. Not more bullying of any new idea."

A 3-way fight between Pelosi, McConnell and Trump rages — and stimulus hangs in the balance

With less than three weeks until Election Day, Donald Trump faces the increasing likelihood that millions of struggling Americans will languish in needless poverty after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Thursday that he does not plan to bring either the president's or House Democrats' stimulus proposals to the Senate floor.

The underlying issue is the proposed size of the stimulus legislation. McConnell, a Republican, is pushing for a $500 billion proposal, claiming that pricier alternatives are too expensive. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, is pushing for a bill that would spend $2.2 trillion in relief, while Trump's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been dispatched to suggest stimulus relief in excess of $1.8 trillion.

The dynamics behind these stimulus negotiations are unusual in at least one key respect: Trump, a Republican, is veering from his party's traditional support for fiscal austerity and moving closer toward the Democratic proposals for more robust relief measures. The Democratic proposal would include $600 in weekly enhanced unemployment benefits, checks of $1,200 to qualifying adults (or $2,400 for couples) and $500 for their dependents, child care and education assistance, housing assistance, an extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, an increase in SNAP benefits and increased funding for the Paycheck Protection Program.

Republicans, by contrast, want to strip relief to all but the barest bones, prompting Democrats to block a $300 billion plan that the GOP proposed last month. While McConnell has subsequently slightly increased the measure to $500 billion, Trump has made it clear that he wants more from Senate Republicans, tweeting earlier this week that they need to "go big or go home!" His underlying political rationale for wanting Republicans to break from their conservative orthodoxy and back more generous legislation was perhaps best summed up in a letter Pelosi sent to her Democratic colleagues on Tuesday.

"A fly on the wall or wherever else it might land in the Oval Office tells me that the President only wants his name on a check to go out before Election Day and for the market to go up," Pelosi claimed.

This is not to say that McConnell and the Republicans are ideologically motivated. As Bloomberg reported earlier this week, many Senate Republicans believe Trump is going to lose to his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, and want to make sure he will be unable to benefit from a healthy economy:

A GOP strategist who has been consulting with Senate campaigns said Republicans have been carefully laying the groundwork to restrain a Biden administration on federal spending and the budget deficit by talking up concerns about the price tag for another round of virus relief. The thinking, the strategist said, is that it would be very hard politically to agree on spending trillions more now and then in January suddenly embrace fiscal restraint.

Trump himself is not opposed to accusing Democrats of excessive spending, telling Fox Business' Stuart Varney that Pelosi is "asking for all sorts of goodies. She wants to bail out badly run Democrat states and cities. She wants money for things that you would never, you just couldn't — just — your pride couldn't let it happen." At the same time, it is conventional wisdom at this point that any hope Trump might have of winning the upcoming elections rests on at the very least being able to claim that the American economy is strong.

Instead, now that the stimulus passed earlier this year has worn off, the economy is getting progressively worse. A pair of studies have found that anywhere from 6 million to 8 million Americans have fallen into poverty since May, after the sole federal stimulus check sent to American families had been disbursed. Roughly 898,000 Americans filed initial jobless claims last week, an increase of 53,000 from the previous week and higher than economists had expected. Research indicates that, to the extent that there has been any kind of economic recovery, it has been "K-shaped," meaning that the wealthy have gotten even richer while ordinary Americans are worse off than before.

"Both sides are gaming the election by calculations about what mix of specifics would, if passed, boost their vote," Dr. Richard D. Wolff, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, told Salon by email. "They may still reach some deal (less likely with each passing day) if they can find a mix that each thinks will advantage it in the election. The delay for months now (and especially since July 31 when the extra $600 for the unemployed was cut to $300-400) has kept the stimulus far below what is needed to offset the current depression."

He added, "Absent from it most notably is a provision for public jobs for the 26 million now collecting state and federal unemployment benefits: (1) public jobs is what the unemployed want and need, (2) it would cost only a bit more than is now paid out in unemployment benefits, and (3) it would give back to society the product of those public employees. That was done successfully during the 1930s; it is a shameful display than today's stimulus talks omit public jobs altogether."

Top Republicans call to punish social media sites for limiting reach of dubious Biden exposé

Top Republicans are lashing out at Facebook and Twitter — and even calling for legal retaliation against the social media platforms — after the two companies decided to limit the spread of a dubious New York Post story about the Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

The Post article suggested Biden and his son behaved improperly with a Ukrainian business leader, but has been criticized for lacking proof for its assertions and for relying on questionable sources.

"Section 230! Time's up, @jack," the Republican House Judiciary Committee's official account tweeted at Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. "Section 230" refers to part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that protects online platforms from potential liability for content posted by their users.

"Twitter is attempting to meddle in the election with anti-conservative bias," Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado, posted on Twitter. "@jack is acting like a publisher, making the case yet again to reform Section 230."

Buck's views were echoed by another Republican congressman, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who tweeted that "big Tech claims they aren't biased against Conservatives. So why are they suppressing speech to help the Democrats? Section 230!"

President Donald Trump lashed out against Facebook and Twitter on the latter platform. "So terrible that Facebook and Twitter took down the story of "Smoking Gun" emails related to Sleepy Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the @NYPost. It is only the beginning for them. There is nothing worse than a corrupt politician. REPEAL SECTION 230," he wrote. In later tweets, the president posted two subsequent video clips from Fox News related to the Post story.

Trump has previously been at the forefront of conservatives threatening to revise Section 230 as a way of punishing social media platforms that they perceive as hostile to right-wing views. His efforts have been condemned by legal experts, with Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe telling Salon by email in May that "the threat by Donald Trump to shut down social media platforms that he finds objectionable is a dangerous overreaction by a thin-skinned president. Any such move would be blatantly unconstitutional under the First Amendment."

His views were echoed at the time by former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who wrote to Salon that "Trump is confused about whose First Amendment rights are involved. The First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging the free speech rights of private actors. As President, a government actor, Trump cannot silence a private entity like Twitter based on the content of its message because the First Amendment protects free speech rights."

Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California–Irvine, expressed the same view, emailing Salon at the time that "Twitter is a private company and it is entitled to include or exclude people as it sees fit. And if Trump tries to bring DOJ forces against social media companies (perhaps raising antitrust concerns) but does so for partisan reasons, then Trump would be violating the First Amendment."

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested a different reading of the law, writing on Tuesday that "extending §230 immunity beyond the natural reading of the text can have serious consequences," that it would "behoove" judges to consider narrowing the law's scope and arguing that internet companies had benefited from "sweeping protections" beyond what the law intended.

Both Facebook and Twitter defended their decisions regarding the New York Post story by arguing that they were consistent with existing company policies.

"While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook's third-party fact checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform," Facebook spokesman Andy Stone tweeted on Wednesday. "This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation. We temporarily reduce distribution pending fact-checker review."

Twitter outright blocked the story, with CNBC reporting that the company felt the story lacked "authoritative reporting around the origins of the information in it." The company also claimed that the story violates its Hacked Material Policy, which does not "permit the use of our services to directly distribute content obtained through hacking that contains private information, may put people in physical harm or danger, or contains trade secrets."

The story, which claimed to have unearthed "smoking gun" emails about the relationship between Biden, his son Hunter and a Ukrainian energy executive, has sparked questions over its veracity because it does not prove that the former vice president talked with the businessman in question and includes evidence allegedly obtained by a laptop repair store owner and presented to the lawyer of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani has served as Trump's "personal lawyer," and the Post is a notoriously right-wing publication and a sister company to Fox News parent Fox Corporation. The Trump campaign and the president himself have tried on previous occasions to smear the Bidens by falsely accusing them of behaving illegally in Ukraine, a smear campaign that culminated in the president's impeachment earlier this year.

Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesperson, made a statement addressing the odd journalistic inconsistencies in the Post's reporting:

Investigations by the press, during impeachment, and even by two Republican-led Senate committees whose work was decried as 'not legitimate' and political by a GOP colleague have all reached the same conclusion: that Joe Biden carried out official U.S. policy toward Ukraine and engaged in no wrongdoing. Trump Administration officials have attested to these facts under oath.

The New York Post never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story. They certainly never raised that Rudy Giuliani - whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence have been widely reported - claimed to have such materials. Moreover, we have reviewed Joe Biden's official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.

"The conservative New York Post has a credulous account of how Rudy came across these emails," commentator Jonathan Chait wrote in New York Magazine. "The Post claims somebody brought the computer to a repair shop in Delaware, but then never bothered to pay for the repair. The shop owner saw that the computer had a sticker for the Beau Biden Foundation. But instead of returning the computer to the Biden family, he made a copy of the hard drive and gave it to Rudy Giuliani's lawyer, before turning it over to the FBI."

This is not the first time that the two social media platforms have attracted controversy for their role in controlling the flow of information — or misinformation. Facebook has previously been criticized for not doing enough to crack down on right-wing misinformation. Recently, perhaps in response, the company banned QAnon Facebook groups, Holocaust denial groups and anti-vaccine advertisements.

Twitter stoked Trump's wrath in May when it fact-checked two of his tweets, prompting him to threaten that he would "strongly regulate" or "close" down social media platforms that "totally silence conservatives voices." Later that month he signed an executive order that ordered the Federal Communications Commission to examine exempting social media platforms from Section 230 protections.

CDC director warns 'small gatherings' like Thanksgiving could spread coronavirus

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned America's governors on Tuesday that "small household gatherings" have been proved to spread the novel coronavirus, a fact that he urged the state executives to keep in mind as their citizens prepare for Thanksgiving.

"In the public square, we're seeing a higher degree of vigilance and mitigation steps in many jurisdictions," Dr. Robert Redfield told America's governors during a Tuesday call, the audio of which was obtained and initially published by CNN. "But what we're seeing as the increasing threat right now is actually acquisition of infection through small household gatherings. Particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it's really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting."Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, made similar remarks last week, telling reporters at a media briefing in Massachusetts that "it's important for all of us to not let our guard down during Thanksgiving. We see that from the High Holy Days, people are just yearning to be together."

The health experts' concern has new urgency now, as Johns Hopkins University reported that America's 7-day average for new daily cases rose above 50,000 for the first time in more than two months on Tuesday. It is now 51,000. The 7-day new case average hovered around 35,000 as recently as one month ago.

Medical experts agree that when people are gathered they should practice social distancing, wear masks and make sure rooms are properly ventilated. All of these steps help to keep people safe from the novel coronavirus, influenza and other respiratory diseases.

"Biologically, both influenza and the common cold are respiratory viruses that share the same airborne modes of transmission as SARS-CoV-2," Dr. Russell Medford, chairman of the Center for Global Health Innovation and Global Health Crisis Coordination Center, told Salon last month. "The use of face masks, for example, would be expected to not only protect against the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by infected persons but also influenza and the common cold. Equally important is the growing evidence that supports the use of face-masks to protect the healthy wearer from acquiring respiratory infections such as SARS-CoV2, influenza and the common cold."

Indeed, while it is widely understood that coughing and sneezing can spread the novel coronavirus, a May study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that even normal speaking can also infect people with the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.

"There is a substantial probability that normal speaking causes airborne virus transmission in confined environments," explained the study's co-authors.

From pandemics to climate change, the real problem is capitalism itself

Last week President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, engaged in a fierce debate that was noted by millions for the unpleasantness of Trump's repeated interruptions. During those interruptions, Trump frequently denounced Biden as either radically left-wing or a hostage of the radical left. Eight days later, Vice President Mike Pence made similarly insinuations that Biden's running mate (and his potential replacement), Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California, is some kind of socialist.

If only it were so. The truth is that the ailment afflicting America is capitalism, and the difference between the two parties is that the Democrats will only describe some of the symptoms but refuse to provide an honest diagnosis, while the Republicans outright defend the disease.

Most of the major problems with America, and the world, can be traced back to the singular cause of capitalism, an economic system in which a society's means of production are primarily controlled by private individuals hoping to make a profit. It is a system that has devastated our planet to the point where it may sound be largely uninhabitable, created massive income inequality and left us woefully unprepared for crises like the novel coronavirus pandemic.

We can start with the last item on that list, the coronavirus pandemic. Because capitalist systems require perpetual consumption and growth to maintain prosperity, any little hiccup in the ability of most industries to stay profitable causes the whole economy to crash. This is why, despite the economy doing relatively well prior to the mandatory shutdowns in March, whole sectors began to collapse while unemployment skyrocketed once the pandemic forced people to shelter in place.

If America had a universal basic income in place — that is, a monthly amount of money guaranteed to every citizen to keep each one above the poverty line — ordinary people would have had at least been able to stave off desperate poverty during these trying times. The same is true of the eviction epidemic: Although Trump has announced a mostly symbolic eviction moratorium, he has refused to implement the real thing, and as a result millions of Americans face the likelihood of being thrown out of their homes... assuming that has not already happened to them.

Yet on a deeper level, the problem with capitalism is that it is built on the need for private enterprises to make money, no matter what. During a pandemic in which everyone will ultimately require some kind of medical care — for some to treat the disease, for others to be vaccinated once one becomes available — the need for corporate profit clashes with the needs of the general public.

"There is a unique incapacity of the capitalist system — by which I mean, a system of private enterprises owned and operated by shareholders, families, individuals producing for a profit and the ordering about of the majority of people involved in every enterprise or the employees — that system is uniquely incapable of securing public health," Dr. Richard D. Wolff, the professor emeritus of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, told Salon earlier this month. "And since public health is a basic demand, a need of human communities, this represents a profound disqualification of capitalism. And to spell it out just briefly: it is not profitable for a private, profit-driven competitive capitalist to produce masks by the millions, or gloves, or ventilators, or hospital beds, or all the rest of them."

Wolff noted that the government is entirely capable of stepping in and filling a void left by the private sector when a given industry deems this to be in its best interest. This is what happens, for example, with the military-industrial complex.

"A government failure cannot be excused on grounds of the government not doing such things or conceiving of such things, because that's not true," Wolff told Salon. "The government does exactly what it failed to do in the maintenance of public health. It does that for the military. It is just as unprofitable for a private capitalist to produce a missile and then store it in some warehouse and monitor it and clean it and replace it and repair it, waiting for God knows however long a time until the next war makes this missile something the government buys."

The problem is that the American health care industry — including doctors, drug and device makers, hospitals and medical insurance companies — do not want to establish any precedent that could lead to socialized medicine. Therefore, even though we have the resources to help everyone during this pandemic, we do not avail ourselves of them.

A similar dynamic is at play when it comes to the issue that most immediately threatens the survival of our species — climate change. 2020 saw some of the worst wildfires in recorded history on the American west coast because humanity has artificially warmed the planet through emission of greenhouse gases. A report by the World Wildlife Foundation identified global warming as the primary culprit for the cataclysmic decline in animal population sizes, with a 68 percent drop being recorded among "mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish" since 1970. If global warming is not brought under control, and soon, we can expect a world in which "a large part of the planet will become unlivable (either too hot or too dry)," Penn State climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann told Salon in 2018.

"More and more of the available land surface will be used for agriculture and farming to feed a growing global population. That means more concentrated human settlement—and probably a lot more conflict," Mann added. His colleague, Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, also predicted at the time that "food and water become major issues with costs and shortages."

If it's so clear what's happening, why doesn't humanity take the steps necessary to fight climate change?

In the words of Ted Morgan, a professor emeritus of political science at Lehigh University: "The vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the world's developed capitalist economies, with China and the US leading the way." He added that "each of the capitalist powers is loathe to weaken its competitive position vis à vis the other capitalist economies. In a capitalist world, each economic unit must act to protect what it deems its own interests. The only counterweight comes from the public sector." Yet government authorities are reluctant to aggressively curtail capitalist industries that emit greenhouse gases — from the fossil fuel industry and big agriculture to those that cut down rainforests — because they are "constrained by the fear that pushing public interests too far will cause capital flight, thereby undermining its viability. And, of course, corporations and the wealthy dominate the shaping of public policy — nowhere more than in the US."

That term, "capital flight," is absolutely critical here. Under capitalist systems, companies that do not like potential government regulations often have the right to threaten to close up shop or move their businesses elsewhere, in the process taking away people's jobs and hurting local economies. This is known as a "capital strike" and it has been used since the Industrial Revolution to do everything from get tax breaks from the state and break up labor movements to killing legislation that business magnates oppose, particularly when they help workers' rights.

Capital strikes are ethically dubious even when permitted for those purposes, but allow them is literally suicidal when an issue like climate change is at stake. Because capitalism encourages businesses to coerce governments into allowing them to destroy the planet, most of humanity is forced to watch helplessly as the Earth literally burns up. And it is not as if there are any eventual winners in systems where capital strikes are allowed: In the end, the 20 firms that contribute to one-third of the planet's carbon emissions will eventually suffer just like the rest of us, since they inhabit the same planet.

Finally there is the issue of systemic poverty. In 2020 we have seen the problem of capitalism in the fact that our supposed economic recovery has been "K-shaped," meaning that the wealthy have disproportionately gotten better while everyone else suffers more than they did before. Yet this severe income inequality long preceded the pandemic: For more than forty years, in fact, businesses have manipulated the government into making sure that the super-rich gain far more than their fair share of our wealth. Indeed, if income had kept pace with overall economic growth in the United States since 1970, the bottom 90 percent of our country would be earning an average of $12,000 more each year.

With income inequality comes not only poverty, but economic injustice. According to the Brookings Institute, as of 2018 American households held over $113 trillion in assets. If that was distributed evenly among the 329 million US citizens, each person would have more than $343,000. Yet as of 2016 the top 20 percent of households held 77 percent of the wealth, while the top one percent owned 29 percent of the wealth. This is the direct result of capitalism for two reasons: First, it allows the wealthy to make sure that the government does not restrain their greed through policies that require a fairer distribution of resources; and second, it continuously empowers the rich compared to everyone else by making sure that they have far more means of influencing policymakers than their significantly disempowered non-wealthy counterparts.

This brings us back to those presidential debates, in which precisely none of these observations were made. On the one side you had the Democratic candidates for president and vice president, Biden and Harris, who sounded like latter-day examples of America's most left-wing president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. To be clear: It is unambiguously good that Biden wants to put America back in the Paris Climate Accord (which would help fight climate change, but not do nearly enough to eliminate it entirely); that he wants to create a Pandemic Testing Board on the scale of Roosevelt's famous War Production Board, with the goal of using science to fight the pandemic (Trump, by contrast, has deliberately ignored science since the pandemic reached our country at the start of the year); that he wants to invest in trillions of dollars in stimulus spending that would create millions of jobs; and that he supports other progressive measures like improving regulations on banks and other powerful industries, providing free public college to lower-income and middle-class individuals, forgiving federal student-loan debt at a minimum of $10,000 per person and requiring businesses to provide paid emergency sick leave.

These are all very good things — and they are certainly a far sight better than Trump and Pence shilling for the status quo. Yet Biden and Harris also went to great pains to emphasize that they are not socialists, that they support capitalism, and that their proposals would only nibble at the edges of the problem rather than obliterate it entirely. Indeed, Biden even bragged in his debate with Trump that he had barely conceded at all to the Democratic Party's anti-capitalist wing — led by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who almost became the party's presidential nominee this year — and he is absolutely right. When Salon spoke with Sanders insiders who had tried to get Biden to move to the left, they all agreed that they won only modest concessions.

This approach is not going to cut it in the future.

"It really has to be an 'all hands on deck' that allows our economies to be completely transformed in order to literally allow human survival," Professor Julia K. Steinberger, a professor of ecological economics at the University of Leeds, told Salon in June. "That's what's at stake in terms of the gravity of the situation and the rapidity with which the climate crisis is unfolding."

Steinberger says Biden doesn't "fully understand" the magnitude of the crisis. She sounded very much like Bernie Sanders himself, who last year rejected the claim by another Democrat that you could support meaningful change while remaining a capitalist by arguing "I think business as usual and doing it the old-fashioned way is not good enough. What we need is, in fact—I don't want to get people too nervous—we need a political revolution. I am, I believe, the only candidate who's going to say to the ruling class of this country, the corporate elite: Enough, enough with your greed and with your corruption. We need real change in this country."

I think it is best to close this with a personal story. Last year I interviewed Ben Shapiro, one of the most popular conservative commentators in America today, and confronted him about his belief that if there are starving children in America, one possible solution is to take them away from their parents. His reasoning was that, because capitalism provides everyone with an opportunity to support themselves and their families, the parents must be at fault if their children can't afford to eat. When I argued that he was ignoring the problem of systemic poverty under capitalism and lacking compassion for capitalism's victims, he responded:

No, I don't see how that lacks compassion in any way. If you are unable to feed your child, and you cannot find a social fabric to help you take care of that child, your child should not be with you. You're living in the freest, most prosperous country in the history of the world. It is not all that expensive to pay for a child's lunch.

When I pointed out that millions of Americans work full-time and are still unable to support their families. Shapiro cut me off.

"I do not accept your premise that we live in a society where people literally cannot afford to feed their children, [where] their children will starve without a free school lunch."

Shapiro's inability to even comprehend economic realities hints at the root of the problem. While Biden and Harris may not outright detest the poor as Shapiro does, they still share his unwillingness to accept the premise that there could be anything wrong with capitalism as a system.

Unfortunately, to quote President John Adams, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

The state of facts and evidence proves that capitalism is condemning millions upon millions to hopeless poverty, rendering us incapable of effectively coping with manageable problems like a pandemic and literally destroying the planet. Unless that reality becomes part of our mainstream political discourse, humanity is doomed.

Nobel-prize winning CRISPR researchers say the technology could defeat coronavirus

Earlier this week, the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to a pair of scientists who discovered a genetic technology that can alter DNA — and, perhaps, help researchers treat COVID-19 and other future diseases.

The scientists who discovered this technology, known as the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors (or CRISPR for short — clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), are Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, and Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna from the University of California, Berkeley. In an interview with TechCrunch last month, Doudna explained that their technology could prove essential in fighting both the novel coronavirus and other dangerous microorganisms.

"It's really interesting to think about the ability to program CRISPR to be detecting not only the current coronavirus, but also other viruses," Doudna told Tech Crunch in September. "I don't think any of us think that, you know, viral pandemics are going away — I think this current pandemic is a call to arms, and we have to make sure that scientifically, we're ready for the next attack by a new virus."

CRISPR has become a household acronym, famous because of its potential to easily edit any organism's genome. CRISPR technology can and has been used to modify crops into genetically modified organisms (GMOs), correct genetic disorders and prevent or treat diseases.

CRISPR works by using a version of the protein Cas9 (one that has been complexed with a synthetic guide RNA) as a pair of molecular scissors, capable of "cutting" strands of DNA at pre-specified locations and adding new genes, removing existing ones or both.

The award of the Nobel Prize to CRISPR researchers symbolizes its tremendous promise to medicine. Indeed, scientists are already trying to use this technology to treat people with COVID-19. Scientists at Stanford University and the Molecular Foundry were working on using CRISPR technology to fight influenza when, in January, they decided to pivot toward trying to fight the novel coronavirus. Those scientists developed a technique known as PAC-MAN, or Prophylactic Antiviral CRISPR in human cells. Their next step is to try to synthesize PAC-MAN with other gene altering technologies and use that on animals. If that works, they will then try to test this technology on people, in the hope of more effectively treating those whose novel coronavirus infections developed into the COVID-19 disease.

CRISPR technology was developed after scientists learned how bacteria and archaea (single-celled organisms that do not have a nucleus) use CRISPR-derived RNA and a variety of Cas proteins to demolish the DNA of viruses and other foreign invaders. In 2017, a team of scientists led by researchers at the University of Tokyo managed to show CRISPR in action for the first time. Yet knowledge of CRISPR was taken one step further when Charpentier was studying a deadly bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes and discovered tracrRNA, a previously unknown molecule that the bacteria used to slice up DNA.

After publishing her discovery in 2011, Charpentier began working with Doudna to both recreate this genetic manipulation tool and simplify its molecular structure so that it can be more easily used by human beings. Finally they figured out how to use the genetic scissors to alter not just virus DNA, but DNA molecules from any predetermined site.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and one of the first people to decode the human genome, expressed great satisfaction at Charpentier's and Doudna's recognition.

"This technology has utterly transformed the way we do research in basic science," Collins told The New York Times. "I am thrilled to see Crispr-Cas getting the recognition we have all been waiting for, and seeing two women being recognized as Nobel Laureates."

Trump dodges tough questions on his health during rambling Tucker Carlson interview

Donald Trump's appearance on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show, less than a week since the president returned from being hospitalized for COVID-19, revealed very little about Trump's health or infectiousness. Yet unintentionally, the president seems to have dropped some clues about the seriousness of his condition during the rambling, tangent-ridden interview.

The interview on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" was conducted by Dr. Marc Siegel, a Fox News contributor who has defended Trump's poor handling of the American coronavirus outbreak, compared the pandemic to the flu and in 2016 raised concerns about the neurological health of then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton despite never having examined her in person.

Carlson set a hagiographic tone for the segment at the beginning, describing Trump's supposed "remarkable turnaround" before allowing Siegel to conduct the interview. The two were not in the same room: Siegel was in a studio and Trump was in the White House, being filmed separately. Trump and Siegel's conversation wandered, from Trump blaming China for the virus and repeatedly mentioning Regeneron (a company that gave him an experimental drug and with which he has personal ties) to describing himself as "very strong," offering to donate his plasma and claiming that he has improved faster and better than others who have had COVID-19.

Despite these attempts to project that he was "virile," Trump admitted that the disease had made him feel "tired," adding that "my life is based a little bit on energy and I didn't have it." While downplaying his symptoms, however, Trump promised to freely give away the drugs that he has previously claimed constituted a "cure" for him. (Curiously, Trump has been consistently opposed to universal healthcare policies that might make such drugs free and accessible, though he was treated by the military healthcare system that has been likened to an exclusive form of universal healthcare).

Trump also stated that was "medication-free." "I'm not taking any medications as of eight hours ago," he claimed.

Trump also claimed that his Secret Service agents did not mind his Walter Reed hospital drive-by, which involved close physical contact with the security detail. Some current and former Secret Service agents interviewed by CNN were "frustrated" by Trump's publicity stunt. "We're not disposable," one said.

Trump declined to say if he had received a test for the virus today that might definitively say if he had cleared the virus from his system. "I have been retested and I haven't even found out numbers or anything yet .... I'm at either the bottom of the scale or free," the president said. Based on reports of infections, the CDC recommends that those who have had COVID-19 refrain from being around others until at least 10 days since their first symptoms appeared and 24 hours since their fever waned without the use of "fever-reducing medications."

Trump also denied experiencing any of the psychological symptoms that frequently accompany dexamethasone, the steroid that he is using to stop his immune system from destroying his infected lungs.

"The interview yielded little useful clinical information," Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA) and former secretary of health in Maryland, wrote to Salon about the Siegel-Trump exchange. "The physician interviewer asked questions that were superficial and President Trump gave no specific answers. He did admit to getting a CAT scan but we are not sure of what body part. He also said he got a lung test but no specific insight into what test. I suspect it was a breathing test since he said they told him he could keep his jacket on. He did not seem out of breath but he did not exert himself during the interview. Basically no new information."

One expert who spoke to Salon said that, based on Trump's self-described symptoms, there is reason for concern about whether he could infect other people.

"Based on the limited public data available, and the President's own description of imaging results and tests tonight, we must assume that he presented to Walter Reed Hospital with a severe case of COVID-19 as defined by the Center for Disease Control," Dr. Russell Medford, Chairman of the Center for Global Health Innovation and Global Health Crisis Coordination Center, told Salon by email. "The CDC's own guidelines advise that patients with severe disease may be infectious for up to 20 days after symptom onset."

He added, "To release the President earlier should require the President's physician to provide the necessary assurances that the President is no longer infectious and to consider releasing the key medical information that supports those assurances."

The Commission on Presidential Debates cancelled the second scheduled event between Trump and Biden earlier on Friday, after Trump refused to do a virtual debate that would prevent Trump from spreading the virus. While Biden had been willing to debate Trump virtually, the president insisted that the two men had to meet in person. Because both Biden and Trump are men in their 70s, they are at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

Right-wing QAnon groups see their pages banned across all Facebook platforms

Facebook announced on Tuesday that it is banning QAnon content across its platforms, an action that it characterizes as part of a larger effort to stop "Militarized Social Movements" from recruiting people through their social media sites.

"Starting today, we will remove any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content," Facebook explained in a statement. "This is an update from the initial policy in August that removed Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts associated with QAnon when they discussed potential violence while imposing a series of restrictions to limit the reach of other Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts associated with the movement."

They added, "Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts that represent an identified Militarized Social Movement are already prohibited. And we will continue to disable the profiles of admins who manage Pages and Groups removed for violating this policy, as we began doing in August."

QAnon is a conspiracy theory "based upon the idea that there is a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who rule the world, essentially, and they control everything," Travis View, the host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, told Salon last year. Adherents claim that this cabal has managed to control politicians, Hollywood, and the media, and that "they would have continued ruling the world, were it not for the election of President Donald Trump."

He noted that QAnon views Trump as a hero fighting these malevolent sex criminals — even though the president has his own shared of sexual misconduct and assault allegations, and been accused of unwanted sexual contact by more than two dozen women) — and that soon, a great event will unearth the conspiracy. Adherents also believe that they are privy to these "truths" about the world due to the online posts of an anonymous individual known as "Q," who they perceive as an insider and freedom fighter. QAnon followers have been linked to acts of violence, including a shooting at a D.C. pizza place which Q followers believed ran a child sex ring out of its basement. (It didn't.)

The movement is considered a domestic terrorism threat, according to an FBI document leaked last year. QAnon's haplessness has actually impeded legitimate efforts to stop child sex trafficking, as Colorado's Human Trafficking Hotline reported last month that it was having trouble doing its job after being flooded with spurious calls by QAnon supporters.

Anti-Defamation League spokesperson Jake Hyman told Salon that QAnon "contains a number of deeply convoluted and all-encompassing conspiracy theories," noting that "several aspects of QAnon lore mirror longstanding anti-Semitic tropes. The belief that a global 'cabal' is involved in rituals of child sacrifice has its roots in the anti-Semitic trope of blood libel, the theory that Jews murder Christian children for ritualistic purposes."

He added, "In addition, QAnon has a deep-seated hatred for George Soros, a name that has become synonymous with perceived Jewish meddling in global affairs. And QAnon's ongoing obsession with a global elite of bankers also has deeply anti-Semitic undertones."

A number of prominent Republicans have been linked to QAnon conspiracy theories. Trump himself has praised the movement, saying that "I don't know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much. Which I appreciate."

Republicans have been hesitant to disavow QAnon, lest they lose one fringe wing of their support base. Notorious GOP political strategist Karl Rove called QAnon "lunatics peddling theories that discredit conservatives," while the rest of his party has been more gracious. Eighteen Republican legislators voted against a bipartisan bill earlier this week condemning QAnon, including four from Texas — Reps. Jodey Arrington, Brian Babin, Michael Burgess and Bill Flores. Likewise, A number of Republican congressional candidates have either openly embraced QAnon conspiracy theories or expressed indirect sympathy for the movement's ideas. These include Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Jo Rae Perkins of Oregon, Theresa Raborn of Illinois, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Erin Cruz of California, Mike Cargile of California and Lauren Witzke of Delaware.

While many conservatives have taken to social media platforms like Twitter to accuse Facebook of violating QAnon's free speech rights, legal experts agree that the First Amendment only prohibits the government and its leaders from censoring individuals who disagree with them, not private companies. As Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California–Irvine, told Salon in May when Trump threatened to retaliate against Twitter for fact-checking two of his tweets, a private company like Facebook and Twitter is "entitled to include or exclude people as it sees fit." (Ironically, any actions undertaken by Trump to punish social media platforms he regards as hostile, legal experts like Hasen and Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe agreed, would actually violate the First Amendment.)

"Courts have made clear that the First Amendment protects the ability of private companies, including Facebook, to remove content that users post on the company's platform," the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Frank Stanton Fellow Naomi Gilens wrote to Salon. "Facebook's most recent removal decision targets QAnon's dangerous disinformation, and it's easy to see why many people are fine with this decision. But Facebook and other platforms have a long history of removing innocuous or socially beneficial content as well, often without as much public notice and with more harm."

She added, "For that reason, it's essential that Facebook and other platforms voluntarily adopt and abide by transparent content moderation practices found in the Santa Clara Principles, including by establishing clear takedown rules and mechanisms for users to appeal takedown decisions."

While QAnon's beliefs are patently absurd, there are real-life examples of pedophilia enablers in elite circles of American life.

"The interesting thing about QAnon is that there's always at least this tiny hint of truth to it," View told Salon last year, citing pedophile rings led by Catholic clergy and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein as examples. "I've talked about sometimes they're sort of right, maybe in a very broad general sense, but their specific particular claims are always insane and far, far detached from reality. In the case of secret pedophile rings, I mean, you don't have to look very far to see that kind of thing actually happens."

That said, there is no factual basis for any of the claims made by QAnon about Satanic pedophile conspiracies among Democrats, Hollywood, the media, Jews or other groups.

Here's what we know about Dexamethasone, the COVID-19 drug that can cause delirium and hallucinations

In order to help treat COVID-19, President Donald Trump is taking a steroid that can cause mood swings, confusion, depression, delirium and nervousness.

Trump was prescribed the drug, known as dexamethasone, after being diagnosed with COVID-19 and staying at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. for four days. Despite being released on Monday, there is no indication that Trump will stop taking dexamethasone, which can cause a number of psychological side effects. The more common psychological side effects include mood swings, nervousness and insomnia, according to WebMD. Less common side effects include hallucinations, delirium, confusion, depression and paranoia. The medical website also says that the mood swings are the only common psychological side effect that can express itself severely.

Though rare, WebMD reports that paranoia, delirium and hallucinations "tend to have a Severe expression" when exhibited by dexamethasone users.

Scrutiny over Trump's drug regimen increased yesterday after the president returned to the White House after being treated for COVID-19 in Walter Reed Medical Center. After returning to the White House, the president said he felt "better than (I) did 20 years ago." Earlier on Monday between and 6:47 AM and 7:14 AM Eastern Time, when he was still in the hospital, the president issued 16 tweet missives in all capital letters of varying degrees of comprehensibility.

The International Myeloma Foundation says that dexamethasone can lead to difficulty thinking and personality changes, according to Reuters. An infectious disease expert who spoke to the wire service, Dr. Edward Jones-Lopez of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, said that "steroids are always very dangerous medications to use. That is why it (dexamethasone) is used in severe to critical patients... There can be neuropsychiatric side effects. These are medications that we use very, very carefully."

In addition to the potential psychological complications, there are also serious potential physical complications from using dexamethasone. Although the drug has reduced death rates by roughly one third among people with severe cases of COVID-19, it can also harm people who are not as sick by artificially suppressing their natural immune responses. Common physical side effects include infection, water retention and weight gain.

"Dexamethasone is only approved for patients with very severe disease mechanically ventilated in the hospital, so the President does not fit the criteria for dexamethasone by the statements coming from his doctors, and this drug can cause harm in more mild disease," Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California–San Francisco, told Salon by email on Monday.

Gandhi also told Salon that there was a contradiction between the White House's rosy statements on Trump's health and the cocktail of medications he has received so far, which also include remdesivir and an experimental drug called REGN-COV2 from the biotechnology company Regeneron. Dexamethasone, for example, is prescribed for COVID-19 cases when doctors are concerned about severely lowered oxygen levels and need to stop a patient's immune system from fatally overreacting to the disease. Remdesivir is prescribed to patients to help them recover at a faster rate and REGN-COV2 is prescribed, according to Regeneron, "in patients who had not mounted their own effective immune response prior to treatment."

"The drugs the President got are not given to ordinary Americans, especially the antibody cocktail which has not been approved and is still under study," Gandhi wrote to Salon. "Similarly, a patient of his description would not be given medications for severe disease (Remdesivir, dexamethasone) since the steroids can be harmful and the anti-viral is of uncertain efficacy in that situation."

Because of Trump's age, weight and sex, he is at an advanced risk of terminal complications from COVID-19. One recent compilation of COVID-19 studies reported in Nature noted that among patients in their mid-seventies and older who tested positive for COVID-19, roughly 116 out of 1,000 (meaning 11.6%) wound up dying.