Friday, July 3, 2020
Aida Chavez, "The Intercept"
California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris is widely seen as a frontrunner for a spot on the ticket with presumptive nominee Joe Biden, with vetting well underway.
Presidential vetting operations have entire teams of investigators, but for the public, when the pick is announced, the most common source for information about the person chosen is Wikipedia. And there, a war has broken out over how to talk about Harris’s career.
At least one highly dedicated Wikipedia user has been scrubbing controversial aspects of Harris’s “tough-on-crime” record from her Wikipedia page, her decision not to prosecute Steve Mnuchin for mortgage fraud-related crimes, her strong support of prosecutors in Orange County who engaged in rampant misconduct, and other tidbits — such as her previous assertion that “it is not progressive to be soft on crime” — that could prove unflattering to Harris as the public first gets to know her on the national stage. The edits, according to the page history, have elicited strong pushback from Wikipedia’s volunteer editor brigade, and have drawn the page into controversy, though it’s a fight the pro-Harris editor is currently winning.
In 2016, The Atlantic published an article about Wikipedia edits and how a burst of activity could foreshadow Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential pick, noting that Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine’s page had seen significantly more edits than any other candidate’s in the weeks leading up to the announcement. The article also cited a 2008 Washington Post report about Sarah Palin’s Wikipedia page seeing more than 65 edits in the hours leading up to John McCain’s announcement.
Last month, a Reddit user remembered this Atlantic piece and wrote a Jupyter script to see which 2020 vice presidential contender had the most edits in a span of three weeks: Harris had 408, Stacey Abrams had 66, Sen. Elizabeth Warren had 22, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar had four. Another Redditor pointed out that a majority of Harris’s edits were coming from a single person.
Harris has been working to distance herself on the national stage from her prosecutorial record in California, which has increasingly become a political liability, while taking a lead on Democratic police reform legislation after the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. During the 2020 primary, she branded herself as a “progressive prosecutor” and shifted left on issues like health care and climate change. But the most drastic gap is between her current messaging on crime and her past.
A section in her bio that detailed her decision not to prosecute Mnuchin for financial fraud, despite recommendations from her staff attorneys, has also been deleted:
In 2013, Harris did not prosecute Steve Mnuchin‘s bank OneWest despite evidence “suggestive of widespread misconduct” according to a leaked memo….In 2017, she said that her office’s decision not to prosecute Mnuchin was based on “following the facts and the evidence…like any other case”. In 2016, Mnuchin donated $2,000 to her campaign, making her the only 2016 Senate Democratic candidate to get cash from Mnuchin, but as senator, she voted against the confirmation of Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury.A section on an Ethics Commission finding Harris guilty of a campaign spending violation during her San Francisco district attorney race has also been deleted. A line about Harris traveling to Israel and the West Bank in November 2017, where she met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was removed altogether.
The Wikipedia user, who goes by the username “Bnguyen1114,” has made hundreds of edits to Harris’s page throughout the last several months, often getting into fights over the proposed edits with other Wikipedia editors, who pointed out that the language was getting pulled directly from press releases and campaign literature. “You seem to have gone through a database of press releases from Harris’s office, cataloging every single one and adding it to the article,” one Wikipedia editor said. “That is not how we write encyclopedic articles.”
On June 11, the Wikipedia user removed this section referencing the Orange County scandal from the page, saying that they were proofreading for length:
Later that year, Harris appealed a judge’s order to take over the prosecution of a high-profile mass murder case and to eject all 250 prosecutors from the Orange County District Attorney’s office over allegations of misconduct by Republican D.A. Tony Rackauckas. Rackauckas was alleged to have illegally employed jailhouse informants and concealed evidence. Harris noted that it was unnecessary to ban all 250 prosecutors from working on the case, as only a few had been directly involved, later promising a narrower criminal investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation into Rackauckas in December 2016, but he was not re-elected.In her first bid for public office, Harris embraced a “tough-on-crime” approach in the San Francisco district attorney race and unseated Terence Hallinan, who was considered one of the “most left-wing politicians in the country.” Under Hallinan, the district attorney’s office focused on rehabilitative justice initiatives instead of incarceration, which led to the lowest felony conviction rates of any county in California.
While campaigning in the Mission District, SF Weekly reported at the time, Harris slammed Hallinan for failing to prosecute anti-war protesters for property destruction. “It is not progressive to be soft on crime,” she said.
On June 8, the Wikipedia user removed this quote from the page, saying that the changes made were “minor edits for length.”
In a paragraph about Harris announcing a new state law requiring law enforcement agencies to collect statistics on how many people are shot, seriously injured, or killed by police officers throughout the state, the user removed the following sentence: “Harris was later criticized by criminal justice advocates for her measured approach.”
This user also tried to make edits to the “Bernie Bro” Wikipedia page, a term that refers to the persistent myth that Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign had a monolithic base of support concentrated only among young white men.
According to the user’s edit history, they tried to remove a paragraph explaining that although Sanders’s base skewed white in 2016, the Vermont senator actually had the most diverse base of any of the Democratic presidential candidates.
Harris’s most fervent online supporters, or stans, call themselves the “KHive.” Though members of the KHive are excited by the prospect of Harris, a daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, shattering another glass ceiling, they also cite her policy positions as a reason for their support. They generally consider her background as a prosecutor to be a political strength.
How do COVID-19 symptoms progress?
Day 1: The symptoms usually start with a fever, a dry cough and mild breathing issues which may get worse over the next week. You also may have symptoms of a sore throat, coughing up mucus, diarrhea, nausea, body aches and joint pain.
Day 7: Breathing may become difficult or laboured. This is called dyspnoea.
Day 9: Sepsis may start, this is the body's extreme response to an infection that can lead to organ failure or injury.
Day 10-12: People who have mild COVID-19 start to have an improvement in their fever and cough, but in serious cases their fever and cough continues. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) starts to be diagnosed, this is a respiratory problem when there is widespread inflammation in the lungs.
Day 12: This is the median day to be admitted into the intensive care unit (ICU).
Day 15: Acute kidney and cardiac injury becomes evident.
Day 18.5: The median time it takes from the first symptoms of COVID-19 to death is 18.5 days.
Day 22: This is the median amount of days it takes for COVID-19 survivors to be released from hospital
...what could POSSIBLY explain it?
Note - Day 12: This is the median day to be admitted into the intensive care unit (ICU) after 1st onset of symptoms.
As the Fourth of July holiday weekend begins, Maryland officials confirmed 538 new cases of the coronavirus Friday, the second straight day the figure has topped 500 after being under that total for two weeks.
With the additions, the state has confirmed 68,961 cases.
Thirteen more deaths due to complications from the illness also were reported, raising the state total to 3,099. In addition, 124 people have probably died due to the disease or complications of it, but their diagnosis has not been confirmed by a laboratory.
The coronavirus updates came as the nation headed into a holiday weekend typically marked by large gatherings. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has cautioned residents to remain vigilant, saying young people in particular can take safety guidance too lightly.
While the number of new cases rose slightly, coronavirus-related hospitalizations fell again — from 441 Thursday to 422 Friday — with 5,023 people released from isolation since the pandemic hit the state in mid-March, the state reported. The declines followed three consecutive days of slightly increasing hospitalizations.
The state’s number of coronavirus patients currently requiring intensive care was 143. It was the second day in a row that the figure was below 150 after three months of being above it.
The state’s positivity rate among those tested remained just below 5%, a threshold set by the World Health Organization showing that most cases are being identified. The rate reported Friday was 4.92 %.
With testing increasingly available, the state’s health department recently instructed health care providers to order a COVID-19 test “for any individual who believes it necessary, regardless of symptoms.”
Prince George’s and Montgomery counties continue to lead the state in total coronavirus cases, with 18,861 and 15,021, respectively, followed by Baltimore County with 8,183 cases and Baltimore City with 7,789.
from The Hill
The Senate on Wednesday rejected an attempt by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to include a proposal on withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in a mammoth defense policy bill.
Senators voted 60-33 to table Paul's amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, effectively pigeonholing it
The proposal, which was also sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), would remove troops from Afghanistan within a year and give them a $2,500 bonus. It would also repeal the 2001 authorization for the use of military force once U.S. troops have left the country.
"Our amendment will finally and completely end the war in Afghanistan. ... It is not sustainable to keep fighting in Afghanistan generation after generation," Paul said.
Udall added that their proposed amendment was "the responsible way" to end this war.
If the amendment had been included in the bill, it would have needed to survive a House-Senate conference committee, where the two chambers will work out the differences in their competing versions of the legislation.
But Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) urged senators to vote to set aside the amendment, saying that the Paul-Udall amendment wasn't the "best way" to end the war in Afghanistan.
"The amendment directs a calendar-based withdrawal from Afghanistan rather than a conditions-based. ... It undermines peace negotiations in the Trump administration's Afghan strategy," Inhofe said.
The Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in February that would reduce U.S. troops to 8,600 by mid-July. The Taliban has refrained from attacking U.S. forces since the deal’s signing but has stepped up attacks on Afghan forces in the ensuing months.
There's also been a raise in targeted killings as the peace talks have stalled, The New York Times reported earlier this week.
RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules. (This is a serious rule. The besieged entity’s very credibility and reputation is at stake, because if activists catch it lying or not living up to its commitments, they can continue to chip away at the damage.)
Thursday, July 2, 2020
The government’s disease-fighting agency is conflating viral and antibody tests, compromising a few crucial metrics that governors depend on to reopen their economies. Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, and other states are doing the same.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conflating the results of two different types of coronavirus tests, distorting several important metrics and providing the country with an inaccurate picture of the state of the pandemic. We’ve learned that the CDC is making, at best, a debilitating mistake: combining test results that diagnose current coronavirus infections with test results that measure whether someone has ever had the virus. The upshot is that the government’s disease-fighting agency is overstating the country’s ability to test people who are sick with COVID-19. The agency confirmed to The Atlantic on Wednesday that it is mixing the results of viral and antibody tests, even though the two tests reveal different information and are used for different reasons.
This is not merely a technical error. States have set quantitative guidelines for reopening their economies based on these flawed data points.
Several states—including Pennsylvania, the site of one of the country’s largest outbreaks, as well as Texas, Georgia, and Vermont—are blending the data in the same way. Virginia likewise mixed viral and antibody test results until last week, but it reversed course and the governor apologized for the practice after it was covered by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Atlantic. Maine similarly separated its data on Wednesday; Vermont authorities claimed they didn’t even know they were doing this.
The widespread use of the practice means that it remains difficult to know exactly how much the country’s ability to test people who are actively sick with COVID-19 has improved.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ashish Jha, the K. T. Li Professor of Global Health at Harvard and the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told us when we described what the CDC was doing. “How could the CDC make that mistake? This is a mess.”
Viral tests, taken by nose swab or saliva sample, look for direct evidence of a coronavirus infection. They are considered the gold standard for diagnosing someone with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus: State governments consider a positive viral test to be the only way to confirm a case of COVID-19. Antibody tests, by contrast, use blood samples to look for biological signals that a person has been exposed to the virus in the past.
A negative test result means something different for each test. If somebody tests negative on a viral test, a doctor can be relatively confident that they are not sick right now; if somebody tests negative on an antibody test, they have probably never been infected with or exposed to the coronavirus. (Or they may have been given a false result—antibody tests are notoriously less accurate on an individual level than viral tests.) The problem is that the CDC is clumping negative results from both tests together in its public reporting.
Mixing the two tests makes it much harder to understand the meaning of positive tests, and it clouds important information about the U.S. response to the pandemic, Jha said. “The viral testing is to understand how many people are getting infected, while antibody testing is like looking in the rearview mirror. The two tests are totally different signals,” he told us. By combining the two types of results, the CDC has made them both “uninterpretable,” he said.
The public-radio station WLRN, in Miami, first reported that the CDC was mixing viral and antibody test results. Pennsylvania’s and Maine’s decisions to mix the two tests have not been previously reported.
Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson for the CDC, told us that the inclusion of antibody data in Florida is one reason the CDC has reported hundreds of thousands more tests in Florida than the state government has. The agency hopes to separate the viral and antibody test results in the next few weeks, she said in an email.
But until the agency does so, its results will be suspect and difficult to interpret, says William Hanage, an epidemiology professor at Harvard. In addition to misleading the public about the state of affairs, the intermingling “makes the lives of actual epidemiologists tremendously more difficult.”
“Combining a test that is designed to detect current infection with a test that detects infection at some point in the past is just really confusing and muddies the water,” Hanage told us.
The CDC stopped publishing anything resembling a complete database of daily test results on February 29. When it resumed publishing test data last week, a page of its website explaining its new COVID Data Tracker said that only viral tests were included in its figures. “These data represent only viral tests. Antibody tests are not currently captured in these data,” the page said as recently as May 18.
Yesterday, that language was changed. All reference to disaggregating the two different types of tests disappeared. “These data are compiled from a number of sources,” the new version read. The text strongly implied that both types of tests were included in the count, but did not explicitly say so.
The CDC’s data have also become more favorable over the past several days. On Monday, a page on the agency’s website reported that 10.2 million viral tests had been conducted nationwide since the pandemic began, with 15 percent of them—or about 1.5 million—coming back positive. But yesterday, after the CDC changed its terms, it said on the same page that 10.8 million tests of any type had been conducted nationwide. Yet its positive rate had dropped by a percent. On the same day it expanded its terms, the CDC added 630,205 new tests, but it added only 52,429 positive results.
This is what concerns Jha. Because antibody tests are meant to be used on the general population, not just symptomatic people, they will, in most cases, have a lower percent-positive rate than viral tests. So blending viral and antibody tests “will drive down your positive rate in a very dramatic way,” he said.
The absence of clear national guidelines has led to widespread confusion about how testing data should be reported. Pennsylvania reports negative viral and antibody tests in the same metric, a state spokesperson confirmed to us on Wednesday. The state has one of the country’s worst outbreaks, with more than 67,000 positive cases. But it has also slowly improved its testing performance, testing about 8,000 people in a day. Yet right now it is impossible to know how to interpret any of its accumulated results.
Texas, where the rate of new COVID-19 infections has stubbornly refused to fall, is one of the most worrying states (along with Georgia). The Texas Observer first reported last week that the state was lumping its viral and antibody results together. On Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott denied that the state was blending the results, but the Dallas Observer reports that it is still doing so.
While the number of tests per day has increased in Texas, climbing to more than 20,000, the combined results mean that the testing data are essentially uninterpretable. It is impossible to know the true percentage of positive viral tests in Texas. It is impossible to know how many of the 718,000 negative results were not meant to diagnose a sick person. The state did not return a request for comment, nor has it produced data describing its antibody or viral results separately. (Some states, following guidelines from the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, report antibody-test positives as “probable” COVID-19 cases without including them in their confirmed totals.)
Georgia is in a similar situation. It has also seen its COVID-19 infections plateau amid a surge in testing. Like Texas, it reported more than 20,000 new results on Wednesday, the majority of them negative. But because, according to The Macon Telegraph, it is also blending its viral and antibody results together, its true percent-positive rate is impossible to know. (The governor’s office did not return a request for comment.)
These results damage the public’s ability to understand what is happening in any one state. On a national scale, they call the strength of America’s response to the coronavirus into question. The number of tests conducted nationwide each day has more than doubled in the past month, rising from about 147,000 a month ago to more than 413,000 on Wednesday, according to the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic, which compiles data reported by state and territorial governments. In the past week, the daily number of tests has grown by about 90,000.
At the same time, the portion of tests coming back positive has plummeted, from a seven-day average of 10 percent at the month’s start to 6 percent on Wednesday.
“The numbers have outstripped what I was expecting,” Jha said. “My sense is people are really surprised that we’ve moved as much as we have in such a short time period. I think we all expected a move and we all expected improvement, but the pace and size of that improvement has been a big surprise.”
The intermingling of viral and antibody tests suggests that some of those gains might be illusory. If even a third of the country’s gain in testing has come by expanding antibody tests, not viral tests, then its ability to detect an outbreak is much smaller than it seems. There is no way to ascertain how much of the recent increase in testing is from antibody tests until the most populous states in the country—among them Texas, Georgia, and Pennsylvania—show their residents everything in the data.