Today’s Edition: A win-win-win.
August 25, 2021
Speaker Pelosi struck a deal with moderate Democrats that allowed the reconciliation resolution to proceed and fixed a date for a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal (in September). See Axios, “House Democrats pass $3.5 trillion budget resolution.” The result of this compromise is that future bills included within the ambit of the resolution can be passed with a majority vote in the House and the Senate. Although the $3.5 trillion budget resolution will likely be trimmed in both chambers of Congress when specific bills are put to a vote, Democrats can object to particular expenditures or bills without tanking Biden’s entire agenda.
The outcome is a win-win-win for Biden, Congress, and the American people. The process of getting to this point was tumultuous and bruising for Democrats, but the accomplishment of Democratic unity at the end of the process is worth celebrating—for at least a moment. The “but for” cause of the deal was the agreement of moderate Democrats who threatened to hold up the budget resolution unless the bipartisan bill proceeded on a separate track. To their credit, they relented when Speaker Pelosi agreed to schedule a vote on the infrastructure bill at a future date. Pelosi deserves credit for holding together a fractious caucus with thin margins.
Although there will be future disagreements among Democrats, it is clear that most of Biden’s agenda will be passed under the umbrella of the reconciliation resolution. Biden and his staff deserve kudos for achieving a major legislative victory amidst a major military withdrawal and an ongoing battle against a resurgent pandemic. Biden had reliable and skilled partners in Pelosi and Schumer, but other administrations may have lost sight of legislative priorities when faced with the twin crises of Afghanistan and Covid. For that, Biden deserves recognition that his administration can do at least three things at once. It was a good day, and we should take it for what it is worth.
House Passes John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
It is worth noting that the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Act on Tuesday. The bill did not garner a single vote from Republicans. So much for bipartisanship. The vote moves the bill to the Senate, where it will run into the brick wall of Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema. See The Hill, “House approves John Lewis voting rights measure.”
President Biden decided to keep in place the August 31st withdrawal date from Afghanistan but ordered the military to create a contingency plan if that date cannot be met. See WaPo, “Biden pushes to end Afghan evacuation by Aug. 31--but orders backup plan.” In announcing the decision Biden said that “The sooner we can finish, the better [because] each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.” Biden qualified his statement by noting that meeting the date was contingent on the absence of disruption of the withdrawal by the Taliban—an obvious truism. Nonetheless, according to the Post, Biden’s acknowledgement of the obvious “stoked a new round of outrage and confusion about the United States’ exit from a two-decade war.” I suspect that ground zero for the outrage and confusion was the Post’s newsroom.
Per the Post’s reporting, the Taliban are allowing “foreign nationals” to leave the country but has asked the U.S. to stop encouraging Afghans to leave the country. On Monday, the U.S. evacuated 21,000 people. If that pace continues, the airlift from Afghanistan will the largest in U.S. history.
The Supreme Court orders the Biden administration to reinstate Trump’s “Stay in Mexico” policy.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court left in place a lower court ruling that ordered the Biden administration to reinstate a policy that requires the U.S. to secure an agreement with Mexico. Think about that for a moment: The Supreme Court just told the Biden administration how to conduct foreign policy. That is an unprecedented, unconstitutional, and unenforceable order.
Here are the facts: The “Stay in Mexico” policy was the result of an agreement between Mexico and the U.S. It was terminated under Trump in 2020 as a result of Covid. Under the policy, asylum seekers must remain in Mexico while waiting for a ruling on their application (as permitted by federal law). A Texas federal judge ordered the Biden administration to reinstate the terminated policy—skipping over the pesky fact that Mexico’s cooperation is required for the policy to be reinstated.
A federal appeals court affirmed the trial court’s ruling, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the Biden administration’s request for a stay of the ruling. Therefore, the Biden administration is now under order from a federal court to negotiate an agreement with Mexico. That ruling violates the fundamental principle of separation of powers. The Supreme Court’s reactionary majority could not care less about the upending of the Constitution. For a detailed explanation, see Ian Milhiser in Vox, “The Supreme Court’s stunning, radical immigration decision, explained.”
Readers have corrected my usage of the term “conservative” to describe the Supreme Court majority and have instead insisted that “reactionary” is the appropriate term. I agree. The reactionary majority just upended 230 years of constitutional jurisprudence in a one-paragraph order. We can’t expand the Court fast enough to dilute the reactionary majority of the Court.
Yesterday, I discussed the Kaiser Family Foundation study that showed that the lowest vaccination rates were among uninsured people. I added an aside that the reason for the low rate was that “uninsured people could not pay for the vaccine.” In fact, the vaccine is free to everyone. The confusion is caused by the fact that vaccine providers ask for health insurance information so they can recoup the cost of administering the vaccines to insured patients. The request for insurance information may create the impression among some uninsured patients that they must have insurance to get the vaccine. See CNN, “If COVID vaccine is free, why are pharmacies asking for insurance?” That confusion—not the inability to pay—may explain the why uninsured people have the lowest vaccination rate even though the vaccine is free to everyone. Apologies for the misstatement.
In the edition of the newsletter entitled “You are not a horse. You are not a cow,” I described the trend among antivaxxers of self-administering a livestock deworming drug purchased from feedstores to prevent and treat Covid. Sadly, I heard from two readers whose family members have fallen victim to the “livestock” ivermectin scam to treat Covid and could not be dissuaded. (Note: Ivermectin is approved for use in humans for intestinal parasites, scabies, and lice. I am not discussing those approved uses when prescribed by a doctor.)
Another reader sent a note saying that the “The research on the use of Ivermectin for Covid19 prevention is quite robust.” The reader provided a link to two websites that provide impressive looking citations to journals and studies regarding the efficacy of ivermectin in preventing or treating Covid. Despite the aura of authenticity and authority of those websites, with a little research effort, someone interested in ivermectin can determine there is, in fact, no scientific basis for ivermectin’s purported efficacy in preventing or treating Covid.
If you run into someone who tries to tell you that there is a scientific basis for ivermectin for Covid prevention or treatment here are some key facts to know:
The leading study on ivermectin in treating or preventing Covid (by a researcher named Elgazzar) has been withdrawn from a preprint server because of obvious plagiarism from websites promoting ivermectin and because the data that doesn’t match the description of participants in the study. See The Guardian, “Huge study supporting ivermectin as Covid treatment withdrawn over ethical concerns.” According to one researcher who investigated discrepancies in the Elgazzar study, it appears that 20% of the patient records in the study were manipulated, i.e., they were “cloned” from other patient data with minor changes to conceal the cloning. Other discrepancies in the data are discussed in the Guardian article, above.
The Elgazzar study—now withdrawn—has been viewed over 150,000 times and cited more than 30 times in other studies, including in reputable journals like the American Journal of Therapeutics, where it was included in a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of ivermectin. That meta-analysis is in turn highly cited. Despite the fact that the Elgazzar study has been withdrawn because of serious doubts about its legitimacy, the meta-analysis in the American Journal of Therapeutics continues to rely on the Elgazzar study without noting that it has been withdrawn.
That is the way pseudo-science works. Poorly done or fraudulent studies proliferate and then are cited frequently enough that no one bothers to question their validity. The journal Nature has addressed this problem with respect to studies surrounding ivermectin. See Nature, “Flawed ivermectin preprint highlights challenges of COVID drug studies.” As noted in Nature, studies of ivermectin have been ‘dogged by scandal’ and “many rely on small sample sizes or were not randomized or well controlled.” Other ivermectin studies have also been withdrawn due to suspicions over their legitimacy.
I could go on, but I have probably bored most readers by now. Here’s the point: The FDA and NIH say there is no scientifically reliable proof that ivermectin is effective in treating or preventing Covid. That view may change based on future studies, but the fact that existing studies have relied on poor science or questionable ethics to support their conclusions is a red flag. Until there is a high-quality, double-blinded, randomized trial that says ivermectin is effective in treating Covid, get a vaccine and wear a mask. And don’t self-administer a livestock version of ivermectin purchased at a local feed store. As the FDA said, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow.”
One of the problems with pseudo-science it that its proponents try to overwhelm the system with dozens of shifting claims designed to exhaust people like me who are interested in learning the true facts. The reader mentioned above directed me to a website that included citations to dozens of purported scientific studies on ivermectin. The proliferation of poor (or fraudulent) studies is designed to create a sheen of respectability to squelch inquiry. This problem is compounded by the fact that discredited ivermectin studies have spread like wildfire on social media. (Facebook has flagged some posts about ivermectin as misinformation.)
You don’t need to read dozens of studies about ivermectin to spot a hoax. Instead, you can ask a simple question: If ivermectin is 90% effective in reducing deaths from Covid (as claimed by the Elgazzar study) why is one of the major manufacturers of ivermectin, Merck Pharmaceuticals, warning people that the studies to date show “no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19” and that most of the studies suffer from a “concerning lack of safety data.”
Merck is in business to make money. If a drug manufactured by Merck is a miraculous cure for Covid, why would Merck advise people against using ivermectin to treat Covid? Ivermectin promoters have a an easy (but nonsensical) answer to that question: Merck is part of a worldwide conspiracy to prevent people from using a cheap, accessible drug to cure Covid. That explanation makes perfect sense because . . . well, it makes no sense at all. But that hasn’t stopped Fox news personalities from promoting ivermectin as a miracle cure that is being suppressed by a worldwide conspiracy.
Here is my point (at long last): Pseudo-science is a danger to democracy because it encourages people to ignore the facts and concoct conspiracy theories whenever the facts don’t agree with their political views. Science matters. Education matters, Dedication to truth matters. It may be exhausting (or boring) to rebut the endless fabrications of pseudo-science, but it must be done. If you don’t have the energy or time to do so yourself, you can (at the very least) refrain from forwarding dubious articles that claim miraculous cures are being suppressed by a worldwide conspiracy. If it seems too good to be true, check it out before sharing it with others.
Talk to you tomorrow!