Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Millions of India’s farmers fight for their economic lives

As a bit of a comparison, the 2018 Distribution of Federal Payroll and Income Taxes shows 761,000 household taxpayers making up 4 tenths of 1% of all taxpayers having the highest income in the US. I am not sure if we can get it as finite as what India shows in wealth. With a population of ~1.3 billion, the wealth of 831 individuals amounts to 25% of the nation’s GDP. The 831 are calling the shots for farmers in India and the nation.

Millions of India’s farmers are in a fight for their economic lives,” New Europe, Sonali Kolhatkar , December 21, 2020

Dale Coberly, Angry Bear Blog

India’s farmers are revolting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in a mass movement that has drawn international attention. The world’s largest democracy is witnessing a collective groundswell of protest as hundreds of thousands of farmers, largely from the states of Punjab and Haryana, have laid siege to the outskirts of the capital of New Delhi, determined to occupy the edges of the city until Modi reverses unpopular new laws that they say are anti-farmer.

About half of India’s workers depend on the agricultural industry, and the government has long had in place regulations to protect farmworkers, acting as a middleman between farmers and buyers of their produce. Now those protections have been upended. In September 2020, Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pushed three deregulatory bills through Parliament amid chaos and even some opposition from within his own party.

Three laws now threaten the likelihood of farmers and subsequently the population’s food supply.

Politics and Spending Bills In Congress

MacRumors: Apple’s New Privacy-Focused Tracking Prompt Begins Appearing for iOS 14 Users

As a privacy measure for their customers, Apple will be requiring developers of iPhone and iPad “apps” to request permission from users to track their activity across other apps and websites for personalized advertising purposes starting early next year. iOS 14.4 should be publicly released in January or February.

Facebook pulled out the usual canard; “They (Apple) are hurting small businesses and publishers who are already struggling in a pandemic. These changes will directly affect their ability to use their advertising budgets efficiently and effectively.”

I think Zuckerman should be more worried about what happens to section 230 than Apple allowing iPhone owners blocking their collection of personnel information. He and Facebook have lived way too long under the protection of being a small business as detailed in Section 230.

WSJ: Senate Approves Trump’s Pick for FCC

During a lame-duck session, Republicans have added a new member to the FCC an action which typically has been left to an incoming administration.

Along party lines, the Republican-led Senate voted 49-46 to approve Nathan Simington for a five-year term on the FCC.

Mr. Simington told the Senate Commerce Committee last month he saw “no reason” to change the FCC’s approach to the regulation of internet-access services, a signal he could oppose Democrats’ expected efforts to restore net-neutrality rules that Republicans recently dismantled. The rules, if reinstated, would require internet-access providers to treat content equally. Cable and telephone companies have opposed them.

If cable and telephone service providers oppose net neutrality, then there must be more to this. I do not know about you; but, 90% of the calls to my regular phone are BS calls to sell me something, “spoofing” or the fake IRS.

Yes, let’s vaccinate twice as many people against covid-19

I am very sympathetic to Robert Waldmann’s argument that we should give twice as many people one dose of the new Pfizer/Moderna vaccines, at least until supply constraints are eased, instead of following the FDA approved vaccination protocol and giving everyone two doses right from the beginning. What follows is a rough way of thinking about the logic and perhaps the magnitudes involved. Let me emphasize that this is just a finger exercise and I am not an epidemiologist, but with those important caveats I will share my work.

Here are my assumptions. The reproduction number of the virus is currently 1. This means that if behavior, transmissibility, and natural and vaccine acquired immunity are all unchanged, the number of people getting infected each day will remain the same. I assume that there are 300 million people in the United States, 40 million of whom are currently immune due to prior infection, and 260 of whom are susceptible. There are 400,000 new actual infections each day (two times the reported number of cases). These infections lead to 3,000 deaths per day (roughly the current number).

Covid 19 Vaccination: One Dose or Two ?

I am going to write more on the topic of Covid 19 vaccines. I will argue that it would be better to give second (booster) shots only when vaccine supplies are plentiful. I think that so long as the vaccine is in short supply, people should be given one dose. I criticise the current policy of withholding vaccine to make sure that everyone who gets a first dose gets the scheduled booster either 3 weeks later (for the Pfizer vaccine) or 4 weeks later (for the Moderna vaccine). I argue that more lives will be saved with the one dose until supplies are plentiful strategy (even if many people don’t show up for the booster when supplies are plentiful). I think that the current policy will lead to tens of thousands of un-necessary deaths in the US alone with worse consequences for countries further back in line for vaccine supplies.

The post will have two sections. One will be an attempt to analyse the published data, which are mostly Kaplan and Meier plots with numbers read off by eyeballing. I will conclude that the best (poor) estimate of the reduction of infections from the first dose is more than 18 times the reduction due to the second dose. This calculation requires the key unproven assumption that the effect of one shot is weaker than but as durable as the effect of two shots.

This would mean that efficient deployment is one dose for as many as possible as soon as possible and second doses when giving them doesn’t interfere with this. I will go on to bore people with some p-values. I think that the null that it is as efficient to give second doses on schedule is rejected at at the 5% level (given published data). I note that benefits probably include the (unproven) prevention of transmission as well as benefits for the vaccinated people. I also note that giving two to some and zero to others is unfair especially given the difficulty of deciding who gets vaccinated first and the necessarily partly arbitrary decisions. The second section will come back to arguing about public policy and ethics as I just did.

Monarch Butterflies are Disappearing from the Environment

Conservationists were disappointed on Tuesday when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would not recommend putting the monarch on the threatened species list. It’s not that the species isn’t edging to extinction—the monarch meets criteria to be considered threatened, the service admits. But there are “higher priority listing actions.”

Rachael BaleANIMALS Executive Editor, National Geographic. The Big Question is: Why IS The U.S. Letting These Monarch Butterflies Disappear?

Every fall, the iconic orange-and-black monarch butterflies begin their migration to warmer weather. In central Mexico, monarchs by the hundreds and thousands have been arriving from the eastern U.S. and Canada, coating oyamel trees so densely that the bark can’t be seen. In the space of 10 minutes this past October, one volunteer counted 505.

On the California coast, it’s a different story. At a time when western monarchs (which live west of the Rocky Mountains) should be showing up in droves to spend the winter in groves of eucalyptus and Monterey cypress, there is mostly silence. Fewer than 2,000 have been counted this year, down from last year’s count of 30,000. And way down from the four million that wintered there in the 1980s. It’s a drop of 99 percent.

And despite the spectacle in central Mexico, even eastern monarchs, which last year numbered about 60 million, have dropped by 80 percent in recent decades.

Quote of the Day – “very, very Concerned”

A comment from Kentucky State Senator Rand Paul on voter turnout. Paul who has falsely claimed the election was “stolen” from President Donald Trump (without any evidence), warned that increased voter turnout in Georgia could cost Republicans the Senate majority and urged Republican state officials to stop encouraging people to vote.

Senator Paul is actually very worried about the mailing of absentee ballots for the senate vote given what took place during the 2020 Election. His concern is Democrats still may win in Georgia even with all of their fumbling around.

Senator Rand Paul:

“I’m very, very concerned that if you solicit votes from typically non-voters, that you will affect and change the outcome. I am very worried the Democrats will control all three branches of Government and they will very truly transform America and not for the better.”

Now isn’t that what many of us had hoped would happen in November?

If you do not like to read or can not imagine how concerned Rand Paul is, here is the Maria Bartiromo Fox Business News of Senator Rand Paul as captured in a tweet by Eric Kleefeld.

Rather Than

Rather than the Constitution granting us our rights, it should protect our inalienable rights.

One might ask how is it that the constitution grants citizens the right to own a gun, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, privacy in their own home, …, all, notably, rights the colonists might not have had under a monarchy, but does not grant: every citizen the right to vote, personhood to all, women the freedom of choice? Much of the 18th century model constitution addressed the issues of that time, in the context of that time. The framers thought in terms of monarchies, class and race distinctions, male dominance, …; of the 18th century. A constitution more suited to the 21st century would move beyond class, gender, and race.

The 18th century constitution sought to protect us from the abuses of a monarchy. Today, we are being abused by those who take advantage of the flaws of the 18th century constitution. We are being tyrannized by a minority lead by mean, small-minded, white men using the strictures and inadequacies of the 18th century model. We now have a supreme court majority bent on bringing religion into government and ensuring that persons of wealth retain power. This court, in concert with the wealthy, would gleefully impose 18th century values on us, all in the name of our 18th century constitution.

GOP ‘Electors’ In Michigan Turned Away By State Police

Michigan did not miss out on all the fun on Elector’s Day this last Monday.

I was listening to Stephen Miller talk (Fox New Telecast) about sending Alternative Electors to state capitals to vote for a “trump” in place of Biden President as selected by the popular vote in each state. Sending alternative electors did not include every state in the union and just the ones which had voted with mail-in ballots. And illegally according to the claims of some pundits and commenters. To which every level of court in the US up to SCOTUS have proclaimed the voting process was legal. Still the contesting is going on today with trump filing in New Mexico also.

Stephen never mentioned Alternative Electors for Michigan in a Fox New Telecast (displayed at Crooks and Liars) early on in his broadcast which I thought was rather odd since trump met with the Michigan Senate Leader (Shirkey) and the House Speaker Lee Chatfield. “trump” after calling for them to come to Washinfton D. C. Like good boys, they went. The after-thought was, Shirkey and Chatfield would do something stupid and rile people . . . most likely Dems . . . up. The Repubs are devious; but not smart.

Karoli Kuns writes at Crooks and Liars,

SCOTUS: States Can Regulate Insurance Plan Contractors

While briefly discussing (accessible link below for addition information) this decision, keep in mind this is a big deal in lowering the costs of pharmaceuticals as it goes right to the source of some of the excess takings involved in the distribution of drugs from manufacturer to drug stores.

December 10, 2020: the Supreme Court handed a win to states and broadened the path for state health care cost control efforts. In Rutledge v. Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, the Court ruled 8-0 that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) did not preempt Arkansas’s law regulating pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), the intermediaries that administer prescription drug benefits for health plans.

Speaking for an unanimous Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, held that “state laws requiring PBMs to pay pharmacies no less than their acquisition costs for prescription drugs was not preempted by ERISA (the federal statute governing employee benefits). ERISA does not pre-empt state rate regulations that merely increase costs or alter incentives for ERISA plans without forcing plans to adopt any particular scheme of substantive coverage.”

Liveblogging the FDA hearing on the Moderna Covid 19 vaccine

So Far the efficacy data has been presented. As reported in the press earlier, the vaccine is roughly 95% effective, that is roughly 95% of people who got Covid 19 during the trial were participants who received the placebo.

Importantly, the null hypothesis that just one dose is just as good as two was not rejected. The test of this null had extremely low power as almost all participants received both doses, so basically this means cases less than 4 weeks after the first dose (so one week after the second dose). However, note the extreme rigidity of the FDA.

Before allowing vaccination, the FDA required proof of efficacy. Before allowing a modification from two doses 4 3 weeks apart to one dose, the FDA requires … I don’t know maybe if Jesus Christ returned and petitioned them for some flexibility, they would give Him a hearing, but I guess they would tell him he needed to propose (and fund) a new Phase III trial.

update: incorrect assertion of fact crossed out

It is also true that there is no evidence of benefit from the second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine. It is clear that people who have received one dose of either vaccine are among those least at risk of Covid 19.

See the raw data below from Polack et all 2020 . Can anyone see from the Kaplan Meier plot when the second dose was given ?

The vaccines are in very short supply. People are anxiously waiting for vaccination. Because the protocol had two doses, half of the vaccine will be reserved for the people who will benefit least.

Here there is a difference between careful science and optimal policy. In science it is crucial to write the protocol first then follow it mechanically. This is necessary so that the experimental interventions are exogenous and one can be sure they cause the observed outcomes and are not caused by observations.

However, it is not optimal policy to reduce the possible decisions to two, a priori with extremely limited data. This is what the FDA does. I think they should approve a single dose. Their rule is always to only act on extremely firm knowledge. It is, in this case, not going to be first do no harm. The second dose has side effects (mild but not zero). There is, I think, no weak evidence of benefits. (Again, the test has extremely low power (and I’m not sure protocol did not say the question would be addressed — if it didn’t then there is a problem — the rule decide what to do in advance applies to data analysis too — it is vital that the data not be dredged looking for a significant coefficient)). I think the point estimate is pretty much exactly zero benefit. of a benefit of the second dose much lower than of the first (and without proof of any benefit.

I think that people should be given a single dose. After everyone who wants one dose has been vaccinated, then it makes sense to give people a second dose. There is no reason to think spacing 4 3 weeks apart is optimal — the spacing was decided in advance (and it was 4 weeks for the Moderna vaccine hence my mistake).