Data Dive on Taxes and Infrastructure Proposal, Surprising Bipartisan Public Agreement, Vaccine News, Covid Disinformation Galore
Threats, Fact Checks, and Reads #4.7.21
Information Risk Index
The Dynamic Infodemic Risk Index estimates the rate at which users engage and endorse content that points to mis/disinformation online. The risk is calculated by counting the number of retweets and replies of unreliable news against that of all news. If a misleading piece of information is re-shared by a large number of users, it will have a stronger effect on the Dynamic IRI.
People in the US are at moderate risk for encountering mis/disinformation and other unreliable content.
For answers to frequently asked questions about these indices, please see: COVID-19 Infodemic Observatory FAQ.
Last week, Russian state media—and in one instance the Russian Foreign Ministry—continued to characterize the migrant crisis at the U.S. southern border as a humanitarian disaster and highlighted shocking incidents involving migrant children.
The situation is dire, but the evidence doesn’t support the claim that it has to do with the President in office. That is the claim Russian media is furthering.
We also have in the past had an issue with elected officials furthering Kremlin disinformation narratives and failing to warn the public when it was politically advantageous.
That’s incredibly dangerous; adversaries won’t stop with disinforming us on the subjects approved of by our leadership.
Often Russia highlights inequality in the US to cast a bad light on democracy, while also publishing hyper-partisan articles that sow division.
The aim is to convince partisans that a parody of their fellow Americans exists, which leaves people angry and drives them into further extremes.
Several news outlets reported that the University of Oxford staff said the halt was not over safety concerns with the trial itself. The trial on children aged six to 17 began in February.
While the US acquired AstraZeneca vaccines, none have been given to Americans and it is unlikely we will use them. Rather we will probably share them strategically once it’s clear that all Americans who want the vaccine have been vaccinated.
The US rate of vaccination has been truly exceptional and now ranks the fastest in the world, with over 4 million in one day. That is well over the original lofty goal of 1 million per day. Initially, the administration’s goal was to get everyone vaccinated by fall 2021. We may do that well ahead of schedule.
As the country struggles to secure vaccines, clerics are pushing unproven remedies. Many of the claims have already traveled to the US.
In late January 2020, the Iranian cleric Abbas Tabrizian publicly set fire to a copy of “Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine,” a foundational text for doctors around the world. It was a dramatic gesture to his hostility to modern medicine.
The following month, when Covid-19 began to ravage his home city of Qom, he had an immediate alternative remedy. “Before going to sleep, put a cotton ball soaked in violet oil into your anus,” he told his 200,000 Telegram followers.
A year on, he made international headlines by declaring that coronavirus vaccines would “make people gay.”
This is under threat for reasons discussed in the section.
The Biden plan includes many different types of expenses, and it’s reasonable to debate whether some of them are infrastructure in the commonly understood sense of the word. No one debates that fixing 20,000 highway miles and 10,000 bridges, as Biden’s plan calls for, clears the bar.
In English common usage, the definition of “infrastructure,” or at least “public infrastructure,” has grown over time to encompass new inventions such as electricity, railways and, more recently, broadband pipes and fibers. Although newer, these are still concrete-and-steel structures for transportation, and wires and pipes for utilities. (The Federal Communications Commission regulates some aspects of broadband Internet service but not like other utilities).
To say that only 7% goes to infrastructure is patently false. Certainly, we should debate what merits investment, and there may be valid concerns about the proposal. That is a healthy part of democratic governance. Lies, however, are not.
The State of Infrastructure
Worthy of consideration is that the US infrastructure continues to fall away from other developed nations. Recent infrastructure updates in China and Scandinavia look otherworldly compared to the American landscape.
Our infrastructure averaged a D+ before scoring a C- in early 2021. The cost of poor infrastructure can be extreme.
To pay for it, Biden proposes a 28% tax rate on corporations, which was 35% prior to the tax cut from the Trump administration. The Trump tax cut may add as much as $6 trillion to the national debt at maturity and has failed to deliver on any of the promised benefits.
In return, we did not see appreciable gains over what would have otherwise happened. Buybacks were a large contributor to the ‘08 market crash. Penn-Wharton estimates the overall economic impact of TCJA to be negative.
Companies like Amazon and Chevron now pay little to no federal taxes. The wealthiest individuals (specifically the wealthiest 0.01%) are avoiding taxes too and the threat to society is real if it continues to this extreme. The IRS simply doesn’t have the funding or capability to go after the wealthiest tax evaders. There are proposals on how to change that but elected officials have to have the political will.
Economists describe the relationship of big industry to the public as increasingly extractive. It’s parasitic to be more precise. Rather than discuss the numbers, we will show them.
The question of what we got for the tax cuts—a less resilient stock market and even further entrenched inequality—makes clear that corporate taxation to pay for infrastructure is not unreasonable.
Empirically the taxpayers have bailed out big businesses many times over in the form of tax rebates, credits, and bailouts—all of which were given regardless of if the bailout recipients paid into federal taxes. Big businesses that had alternate means to get by still received a large chunk of the coronavirus relief intended for small businesses. Because of that, small businesses capable of making it with a little help did not.
We pay taxes to fund public goods that benefit all of society. Instead, our taxes have increasingly been redistributed to the extremely wealthy, while we get less and less in return for our hard-earned money. This is not sustainable.
Related Read from Foreign Affairs: The Starving State: Why Capitalism’s Salvation Depends on Taxation
Most economists rightly emphasize the role of the state in providing public goods and correcting market failures, but they often neglect the history of how markets came into being in the first place. The invisible hand of the market depended on the heavier hand of the state.
The state requires something simple to perform its multiple roles: revenue. It takes money to build roads and ports, to provide education for the young and health care for the sick, to finance the basic research that is the wellspring of all progress, and to staff the bureaucracies that keep societies and economies in motion. No successful market can survive without the underpinnings of a strong, functioning state.
That simple truth is being forgotten today. In the United States, total tax revenues paid to all levels of government shrank by close to four percent of national income over the last two decades, from about 32 percent in 1999 to approximately 28 percent today, a decline unique in modern history among wealthy nations.
The direct consequences of this shift are clear: crumbling infrastructure, a slowing pace of innovation, a diminishing rate of growth, booming inequality, shorter life expectancy, and a sense of despair among large parts of the population. These consequences add up to something much larger: a threat to the sustainability of democracy and the global market economy.
A leaked conversation with political strategists detailed the finding that Republican voters broadly support HR1. The strategists didn’t see any good avenues for dissuading the public successfully.
They lamented having tried everything, including associating the bill with AOC. It remains broadly popular because it gets billionaires out of elections.
The discussion concluded with advisement that Republican lawmakers ignore their constituents because they had bigger issues to focus on right now.
The full call can be heard online.
Related False Claim: TV Ad Distorts Facts on Federal Voting Rights Bill
TV ad falsely claims, “No more voter ID. Signature verification on absentee ballots virtually eliminated. And effectively allowing noncitizens to vote.”
This is not true.
There still have not been claims of fraud before a judge concerning the 2020 election. Several judges asked outright and attorneys denied that their claims were about fraud. This conflicted with what the public was told.
Election Integrity Report on the 2020 election, included Republican and Democrat researchers who compiled all evidence concerning the election and the events leading up to Jan 6th.
The report included Chris Krebs, the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in the Trump administration, who led the effort to secure electoral infrastructure and the response to mis- and disinformation during the election period.
Multiple Facebook posts have shared a claim that “not a single politician in the world” died of Covid-19 except John Magufuli, a former president of Tanzania known for downplaying the scale of the pandemic. An identical claim was also shared in Facebook posts here and here.
Many politicians in the US and in other counties, former and current, have died of Covid-19.
South Dakota state Rep. Bob Glanzer
Louisiana state Rep. Reggie Bagala
Michigan state Rep. Isaac Robinson died at age 44
Texas state Rep Ronald Wright
Louisiana state Rep-elect Luke Letlow
US Court of Appeals for DC Circuit Stephen F. Williams, and many others.
A Facebook post showing a medical encyclopedia from 1989 claims that coronaviruses cause the common cold, which could imply that Covid-19 is no different from a cold. This is false. They differ significantly. This is like saying that a wolf is genetically similar to a pug so don’t worry about it hurting you.
The difference matters. The same is true of the influenza viruses. Some strains are of little consequence while others are deadly and would be catastrophic if they spread person-to-person.
Some coronaviruses cause much milder diseases, such as the common cold. An estimated 15% of adult colds are caused by coronaviruses and tend to mostly affect humans during the winter. That does not mean it is true of SARS-CoV-2.
Narratives involving both Fauci and Bill Gates have been the product of an extremely long game, dating back to Operation Denver/Infektion in the 80s, as well as in the late 2000s and onward. Children’s Health Defense is the website of RFK Jr., a website well known as a vector for misinformation in the extreme. It’s a sad turn for RFK Jr. whose earlier work on environmental health was ground-breaking.
The website depicted, Global Research, is known for being a Kremlin-aligned source of disinformation. In 2010, the fully formed Bill Gates narrative appeared on Russian Website War and Peace. Bill Gates-related vaccine conspiracies have expanded to now include vaccine passports.
Elizabeth Jacobs, Ph.D., better known as @theAngryEpi, had this to say:
Politicians told us repeatedly that lockdowns were causing increased numbers of deaths by suicide. We kept asking to see the data. Now, we have it, and apparently, this was not true. In 2020, deaths by suicide were lower than in the previous three years.
Related Fact Check: Biden says suicides are up because of covid. That may not be true.
A research paper published by a for-profit science publishing mill is rousing fear about the vaccine's safety on social media.
"Covid19 vaxines (sic) are associated with Prion's disease (sic), which you may better recognize Mad Cow Disease," writes Facebook user Rachel LeBert Cox in a March 23 post.
The source behind Cox's bold claim is a paper titled "COVID-19 RNA Based Vaccines and the Risk of Prion Disease," written by J. Bart Classen.
A screenshot of the first page accompanies the post and says: The messenger RNA, or mRNA, used in the vaccines trigger abnormally shaped proteins, the basis for prion and other neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
This is all false. Prion diseases have nothing to do with the mRNA vaccine.
VAERS Cannot and Has Never Been Able to Show Causality
"VAERS has received no reports of prion-related diseases, Alzheimer's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) after COVID-19 vaccination," said Martha Sharan, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to PolitiFact in February.
"No evidence to date indicates a causative association between COVID-19 vaccines and these conditions."
Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist affiliated with Georgetown University, told USA TODAY Classen's paper held "no scientific weight at all" and that the journal his article is published in, Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, was "not a reputable or reliable journal."
Dr. David Gorski, professor of surgery and oncology at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, echoed Rasmussen in a Feb. 22 blog post for Science-Based Medicine.
Does a video about COVID-19 vaccines contain only factual and proven statements?
No, that's not true: It's a hodgepodge of disproven claims.
Among the recycled allegations are that antibodies will cause the messenger RNA (mRNA) to replicate indefinitely, that they will destroy your lungs and trigger cytokine storms, an overreaction of the immune system.
None have been proven to be true, and all have previously been debunked by independent experts.
Does the existence of a fictional pandemic exercise scenario conducted by the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University prove that the COVID-19 pandemic is a globalist plot for world domination?
No, that's not true: Conspiracists are misrepresenting the design of this exercise and professional familiarity with various aspects of global health emergencies as proof that those professionals created and are controlling the pandemic for their own benefit.
Our lead editor has both taken part in a pandemic exercise and knows many of the people at the Center for Health Security. They are top notch scientists who care deeply; they’re also humans just like you and me.
No credible evidence for this claim.
As of 2018, the last year when lawmakers filled out financial disclosures, 61 were worth $1 million
Many of the newly-elected members of the Senate are also millionaires
Did Ted Cruz say "the Alien Invasion Is orchestrated" in a quote about "illegals" who arrive at the southern border of the United States?
No, Cruz did not make the comments. A viral message about the appearances of the people trying to cross into the U.S. at the southern border was not made by Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas.
The original quote was posted on a Twitter user's account on March 27, 2021, and then falsely attributed to Cruz. A spokesperson for Cruz told Lead Stories, "Senator Cruz never made that statement. This is a categorically false quote that is being wrongly attributed to him on social media."
Stays are not long-term, an ICE spokesperson told AFP by email.
“The contract with the non-profit provides for the acquisition of approximately 1,200 hotel beds and other necessary services in Texas and Arizona,” the spokesperson said. “Under the contract, shelter is intended to be short term, and generally less than 72 hours.”
Sarah Pierce, analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said by email that such stays “tend to be used when the government is in a tight spot -- a very temporary measure.”
Bus company Greyhound said that the vouchers claim is also inaccurate.
“Greyhound has not provided any vouchers to the government,” a spokesperson for the company said by email. AFP Fact Check has debunked other inaccurate claims about the southern US border here.
The American Jobs Plan builds on Biden’s campaign promise to invest $1.3 trillion over 10 years on American infrastructure.
The $2.3 trillion plan includes:
$621 billion in transportation infrastructures such as roads, bridges, airports, public transit, rail, and electric vehicles;
$689 billion in community infrastructure such as expanding broadband access, clean drinking water, upgrades to the electric grid and housing;
$580 billion in research and development, manufacturing, workforce development, and eldercare.
It would be paid for, Biden says, mostly by increasing the top corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act championed by President Donald Trump in 2017 lowered the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%.
Biden’s infrastructure plan comes just weeks after the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed into law by Biden on March 12.
The claim that it would make 19 million jobs is true but misleading.
The infrastructure adds around 3 million more jobs on top of the 16 million likely to be created through other policies. Even without the additional jobs, American infrastructure is sorely in need of updating.
A video has been viewed thousands of times in multiple posts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube alongside a claim it shows a man throwing money to bystanders in New York’s Times Square after his friend died from coronavirus.
The video, however, has been shared in a misleading context: the man who created the video said he was paying tribute to a friend who was allegedly shot dead.
The video was published here on Twitter on March 27, 2021. It has been viewed more than 6,400 times and retweeted more than 170 times.
Credible Coronavirus Content
U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that all U.S. adults would be eligible to receive a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine by April 19, accelerating a timeline he laid out last month.
Biden had previously called for states to expand vaccine eligibility to everyone over the age of 18 by May 1. Every state but Hawaii already has met that threshold or has said it will meet the April 19 date.
Biden also announced that the U.S. administered 150 million doses of vaccine in his first 75 days in office, putting him on pace to pass his recently stated goal of administering 200 million doses in his first 100 days.
Nearly 1 in 4 American adults — 24.4% — are fully vaccinated, according to federal data.
Antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 are likely to wane at different rates depending on the severity of the infection, new research suggests.
Studies suggest fully vaccinated people pose a low risk for transmitting the coronavirus.
Some vaccines only prevent disease but a person can still become infected and spread the virus. This is the case with the current US polio vaccine. The good news is that the mRNA vaccines appear to stop both the spread and the sickness.
Covid has become the country’s third-leading cause of death and could be on its way to outpacing cancer.
A single pill of the investigational drug molnupiravir taken twice a day for 5 days eliminated SARS-CoV-2 from the nasopharynx of 49 participants.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on mental health, particularly on that of young people.
Reactions reflect each person’s immune system and can vary a lot. Not having symptoms is not a reason to suspect that you do not have immunity. In general, females have a stronger immune response to vaccination.
The innate immune system responds with a one-size-fits-all approach to invasion. It cannot effectively combat the coronavirus in the way the adaptive immune system can. That system requires learning.
Vaccinations provide that “lesson.” For some viruses, the first lesson is good enough. For other viruses, the body needs several lessons—we call these boosters.
New Polling from Data for Progress finds broad bipartisan support for the American Jobs Plan. Elected officials remain divided on the issue. There was broad bipartisan support in the American public for HR1 and the Relief bill that passed as well.
Gallop returned its latest findings on political identity. We put that in a graph using data from 2004 through 2021.
More Americans today identify as Independent, which suggests that although we perceive ourselves as more divided than ever before, more people may be trying to avoid group-think.
It also means the extreme rhetoric found in the party extremes may be repelling people. This is commensurate with the finding that the moderates in both parties are closer in policy than either are to their party extremes.
A new study suggests that when men and women express the same amount of pain, women's pain is considered less intense based on gender stereotypes.
If Sherlock were here, I think you know what we’d say to him.
For this reason, research on autoimmune disorders is far behind what it might have been if it affected men more often. 8/10 autoimmune disorders happen in women and when existing tests turn up little they tend to be dismissed.
The death rate rarely moves more than 2 to 3 percent per year. We have not seen death on this scale since World War 2, globally. The US ranks among the worst for average years lost off of life expectancy related to Covid-19.
To identify popular climate change misinformation circulating online, First Draft analyzed climate change-related conversations over the past year on the fringe platforms 4chan and 8kun.
We found over 2,000 posts on 4chan falsely claiming “climate change is a scam.”
A further 250 similar posts were identified on 8kun, the smaller, more radical board that took over from 8chan.
We know from previous work that communities use and repurpose external links to news and blog articles, for example, to build support for a conspiracy theory.
To identify the material being used to support these false narratives and conspiracy theories, we extracted the most common domains found in those 4chan and 8kun posts.
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