Daily PNUT Newsletter

Daily Pnut
AUGUST 28, 2020
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“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it”

— Mark Twain

The Not-So-Special Relationship

(Saul Loeb via Getty Images)

This just in: the majority of Americans don’t think their government has done a good job of handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings, based on the latest Pew Research survey, were released Thursday.

The Washington, DC-based think tank interviewed 14,276 adults in 14 advanced economies in North America, Europe, and Asia between June 10 and August 3. A clear majority of people across the 14 countries said their own nation had handled COVID-19 well: 73 percent agreed, while 27 percent disagreed. But in the UK and the US, the figures were much lower: 46 percent and 47 percent respectively, tying them for last place.

Unsurprisingly, in America there’s a huge chasm between Republican and Democratic views of whether the Trump administration has handled the pandemic well. 76 percent of Republicans and independents leaning Republican said the government has done a good job, while only 25 percent of Democrats and independents leaning Democratic agree.

Economic confidence is also linked to the belief the government is doing well. In all 14 countries surveyed, people who said the current economic situation is good were more likely to say the government was doing a good job on COVID-19.

The US is again the most extreme example of the trend, with a 44-point gap between those who say the current economic situation is bad but the government is handling the crisis well (34 percent) and those who say the economic situation is good and the government is handling the crisis well (78 percent).

The US wasn’t the only country where support for the government’s coronavirus response broke along partisan lines — the same pattern was detected in the UK and Spain. Those results demonstrate it’s not a matter of being on the left or the right of the political spectrum that predicts whether you think your government has done well. The US and UK have right-leaning governments, while Spain’s is left-leaning. In each country, people with the same political bent as the government tend to say it’s done well in the crisis.

Polling experts say that phenomenon is well understood. “Generally speaking, it doesn’t matter what you’re asking: the government in power is more likely to be seen well by people who voted for it than people who didn’t,” one social scientist said. 

Putin Doesn’t Minsk Words

(NurPhoto via Getty Images)

  • Belarus’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, has lost legitimacy among broad swaths of the population, after rigging his reelection and ordering a violent crackdown on protests in the aftermath.
  • Lukashenko characterized the recent protests against his rule as part of a NATO plot to carve up Belarus; last week he put his military on full combat alert on Belarus’s western borders.
  • He also asked President Vladimir Putin about the possibility of Russian military intervention; on Thursday Putin said the Kremlin was ready to provide military or other law enforcement assistance should Lukashenko’s standoff with the demonstrators escalate.
  • The remarks alarmed EU leaders who’ve called on the Belarusian dictator to negotiate with the opposition movement rather than try to crush it. On Thursday, Lukashenko said he was ready for dialogue with “labour collectives, student collectives … and farmers,” but not with the leaders of the protests.
  • “Not the rogues who are committing outrages, roaming the streets and shouting that they want dialogue. They don’t want any dialogue. No one from the authorities is sitting down with street protesters,” he said.
  • Putin has been careful in his response to events in Belarus, but he’s apparently backing the dictator for now, offering economic support as well as potential boots on the ground. Lukashenko said he had discussed with Putin the refinancing of $1 billion of Belarusian debt to Russia. (Guardian)

Syria’s Beef Between the US and Russia

  • Several American troops were injured in a collision between Russian and US armored vehicles in northeastern Syria this week. A video of the collision broadcast by a Russian nationalist website was widely retweeted.
  • The video appears to show a Russian military vehicle in a desert convoy ramming a US armored car as a Russian helicopter flies low overhead. A US official said that Russian forces had entered a “security zone” that they had agreed to stay out of, while a Russian official said the US obstructed a patrol.
  • Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had given the US military prior warning it would be patrolling in the area. While there have been numerous past incidents between Russian and US forces, this one was different — it involves a direct confrontation between the official Russian military and US troops.
  • Americans say this is part of a pattern of incidents in which Russia is breaking a variety of local coordination agreements, and essentially harassing US forces. President Trump withdrew the majority of US troops that were operating in support of Kurdish allies in northeastern Syria, leaving a much smaller number in a more restricted area.
  • Putin knows Trump wants to reduce Washington’s overseas military footprint, and he appears anxious to hurry up our departure. (BBC)

Additional World News


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Things Get Noisy in Boise

  • Idaho’s Republican governor Brad Little declared a state of emergency last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, 15 Republican state legislators met out-of-session to air their grievances over the way the governor had handled the emergency orders, and spending.
  • Republicans wanted him to call a special session, which Democrats opposed due to health concerns. Little faced continual pressure as the state navigated its reopening amid the pandemic. Finally, he announced a special session beginning August 24, with two main topics: the pandemic and the November election.
  • Monday was the first day of the special session, and as Idaho has one of the highest rates of new COVID-19 cases per capita right now — especially in Ada County where the state capital of Boise is located — some precautions were in place; to enforce social distancing the gallery area above the House chamber was restricted with limited seating.
  • But chaos erupted before the session could begin. Dozens of unmasked protesters, some of them armed, shoved their way past state troopers to pack the gallery overlooking the state’s House of Representatives. The group included supporters of a far-right militia and anti-vaccine advocates who came to demand an end to the current state of emergency and blast a proposal that would limit civil liability for businesses, schools, and governments.
  • The bill would also open up those entities to litigation if they don’t follow laws and ordinances, including mask mandates issued by public health districts. The foreboding protesters later made their way into committee rooms, defaced paper signs meant to leave one empty seat between those in the audience and laughed at one Democratic state lawmaker who refused to participate in the hearing because of the lack of social distancing.
  • A Boise resident claimed the bill was insane and added: “We don’t stop our lives, suspend our civil rights and panic each year for the flu.” It’s worth noting that according to the CDC, more than 180,000 people have died of coronavirus in the first eight months of 2020, compared with an estimated 24,000 to 62,000 people who died last flu season. (Idaho Statesman, NPR)

Facebook Caught Off Guard

  • New evidence suggests that Facebook had been given ample warning about a militant account and posts by a self-proclaimed militia group called Kenosha Guard, which issued a “call to arms” in advance of a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin over the shooting of a black man by a white police officer.
  • A 17-year-old youth from Illinois — a police admirer and group member —  took his semi-automatic rifle and went to the protest. He was later arrested and charged with killing two people and wounding a third. While Facebook took down the Kenosha Guards Facebook page on Wednesday, at least two separate users had reported the account for inciting violence prior to the shooting.
  • In each case, the group and its counter-protest event were examined by Facebook moderators and found not to be in violation of the platform’s policies. One user said she had reported the Kenosha Guards event in advance of the protest.
  • Facebook moderators said the event itself was not in violation of platform policy, but specific comments could be reported for inciting violence. She reported a specific comment threatening to put nails in the tires of protesters’ cars but it was found to be within the bounds of Facebook policy. “There were lots of comments like that in the event,” she says. “People talking about being ‘locked and loaded.’ People asking what types of weapons and people responding to ‘bring everything.’”
  • Facebook said the company’s investigation had produced no direct links between the shooting and the Kenosha Guards accounts. “We’ve designated this shooting as a mass murder and have removed the shooter’s accounts from Facebook and Instagram,” a representative said. (The Verge, USNews)

Additional USA News

Elon Musk Wants to Put a Computer in Your Brain

  • Elon Musk says his secretive neurotech firm, Neuralink, will demonstrate a working “device” at 6 pm ET Friday, August 28. The device is presumably a brain-machine interface (BMI). Musk has said often he believes the BMI devices are needed to help humans keep up with artificial intelligence (AI) by supplementing a human’s brainpower.
  • Right now, however, his goal is simpler: to create an implantable device that lets people control phones or computers with their minds. His vision for the future is more ambitious. Musk wants to connect to the brain using flexible electrodes, thinner than a human hair, that he calls “threads.”
  • Current BMI devices use stiff electrodes for this job, which can cause damage. Musk says Neuralink will focus on building a “sewing machine” like robot to implant the threads. Eventually, Neuralink hopes to make the installation process for BMIs as non-invasive as Lasik eye surgery; it wants to start clinical trials by the end of 2020. Keep an eye on the company’s YouTube channel for more news about Friday’s event. (The Verge)

Weekend Reads

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